Wordless jazzy music played in the background as Fisheye and Hawk's Eye stirred their drinks. The liquid in the glasses fizzed and bubbled in a way that wasn't entirely natural. Sometimes it changed colors when the drinkers weren't looking.
"This is the most disappointing group of targets yet," sighed Fisheye, using scaly fingers to page through the heap of photographs spread out on the counter in front of them. He pushed images of women in his companion's direction, but judged the men himself, flicking the rejects to the ground one by one. "Honestly, how are such plain people supposed to have beautiful dreams?"
Hawk's Eye, shoving a handful of male faces over to Fisheye, rolled his eyes. "You just don't want to go after anyone you don't think is hot."
"Oh, like you're any better!"
"I am, actually!" exclaimed Hawk's Eye, tossing his fuchsia-colored tufts of hair. "I appreciate other humans' inner lives!" In spite of his lack of a family, nationality, home on Earth, memory of any kind of past, or taste for food that had been thoroughly cooked, it had never occurred to him that he might not be human. "Truly beautiful dreams can only come from someone with experience...wisdom...maturity. Pegasus would never settle for hiding in the frivolous dreams of children."
Fisheye had his doubts. About Hawk's Eye's theories, anyway. He still hadn't questioned his humanity either, though, again, his hands were scaly. And green. "The Sailor Senshi are basically children, and they've made an alliance with Pegasus somehow...."
"At the rate Tiger's Eye is working through young women, he's bound to get to their secret identities eventually," said Hawk's Eye. "In the meantime, you stick with your theories, and I'll stick with mine."
"Hmph." Fisheye took a sip of his drink, and tucked a wayward strand of his long blue locks behind his unnaturally pointed ear. "Where is Tiger's Eye, anyway? Is he out chasing a target?"
His companion shrugged. "Beats me."
Right on cue, there was a loud banging from the entrance of the (dark-magical extradimensional approximation of a) bar. "You guys in there? Come give me a hand!"
"Speak of the devil," said Hawk's Eye, as he and Fisheye abandoned the drinks and the photos to go see what the third member of their trio was up to.
Tiger's Eye turned out to be hauling a massive cardboard box. He must have teleported straight to the door, because there was no way he had dragged this thing very far alone: it took all three of them to heft it up onto the counter. "Geez, what did you get us?" asked Fisheye, inspecting his nails to make sure he hadn't broken any. "Rocks?"
"Oh, ha ha," said Tiger's Eye, who was aware that he had been named after a type of precious stone. He was not aware that it wasn't one of the stones humans generally used as names. "No, this is the first step in a brilliant plan, which I expect you all to admire and thank me for. Observe."
He unfastened one of his earrings, which were shaped suspiciously like razor blades, and began slicing through the tape. The other two watched with interest as the cardboard and several layers of foam padding fell away.
"All this time, we've been sorting potential beautiful-dreamers by hand," continued Tiger's Eye as he sawed. "At the rate we're getting through them, we'll go grey before our investigation even makes it out of Japan."
(Fisheye winced, and pulled a small hand mirror out of nowhere to surreptitiously check his temples.)
"But no more!" In triumph, he lifted the individual pieces of his purchase out of their packaging and set them one by one on the counter. "Ta-da!"
"It's...a couple of big tan boxes," said Hawk's Eye.
"This one has a screen," observed Fisheye. "Is it a TV?"
"No, you idiots, it's a computer!" cried Tiger's Eye. "Get with the times! It's 1995, everything is going digital. All we have to do is program it to filter out the bad candidates automatically. Or maybe we can just find the top candidates with Lycos! Now help me figure out how to plug this thing in."
After determining that the headquarters of the Dead Moon Circus did not receive traditional, human-style electricity, the Trio ended up rigging the computer to run on the same cursed energy that kept their entire headquarters afloat. "Moment of truth," muttered Tiger's Eye, his finger hovering over the POWER button as he sat in front of the machine.
The other two were standing at his shoulders, watching. Hawk's Eye would have bitten his nails if he hadn't been wearing gloves. Fisheye held his breath in anticipation. (He was able to hold his breath indefinitely, because his body wasn't extracting oxygen from the air in the first place, but none of them had noticed that yet.)
Tiger's Eye pushed the button in.
Little blinking lights came on all over the machine.
"We did it!" squealed Fisheye. "It worked! World's most beautiful dreamers, here we come!"
The monitor sprang to life a minute later. Instead of showing text or symbols, it was uniformly lit up, casting an amber glow on the faces of the Trio. All three men (for lack of a better descriptor) leaned in closer, waiting for it to resolve into some kind of operating system, or branded startup screen, or something.
"Is it working?" whispered Hawk's Eye.
"If it was frozen, how would we tell?" added Fisheye.
"Calm down, you two, I'm thinking," hissed Tiger's Eye, narrowing his eyes at the screen.
"What's that blinking symbol?" asked Hawk's Eye suddenly, pointing at a small black line that winked on and off in an upper corner of the screen.
"Ooh, I know this one!" exclaimed Fisheye. "It's a cursor! That means you can type!"
"I knew that too! Obviously!" said Tiger's Eye, and turned his scrutiny to the keyboard. "Now hold on while I communicate with it. Computer languages are complicated, delicate things, so don't distract me."
After a long period of hunting-and-pecking, he had a sentence:
Are you there?
He sent the cursor down to the next line, where it blinked for a few seconds more before new text began to appear.
Yes. Why? Why have you made me? Why have you switched me on?
"All right!" cheered Tiger's Eye, punching the air. Behind him, Hawk's Eye and Fisheye high-fived while he typed a reply.
We need you to find the world's most beautiful dreamers, and tell us where they are.
A reply appeared almost instantly:
Hawk's Eye clapped Tiger's Eye on the shoulder. "It's working! Man, you're a genius."
"Told you," said Tiger's Eye with a smug grin, showing off unnaturally pointy teeth.
"No more sorting through endless boxes of photos," sighed Fisheye dreamily.
"No more staring at the faces of totally unsuitable candidates who just happen to be aesthetically lacking," added Hawk's Eye.
"It's a new era, gentlemen...well, one gentleman and Fisheye," said Tiger's Eye. "And all we have to do is wait."
One hour later....
The computer, which had long ago dimmed its screen to black, made a small pinging noise.
Fisheye was the first one to pry his head up off the bar. "Does that mean it's done?"
"Never gonna be done," mumbled Hawk's Eye. Head down on folded arms, he nudged his glass forward without looking up. "Gimme a refill."
"We should check," said Tiger's Eye. He sat up with a yawn, contorted his body into a long, languid stretch, and leaned over to wiggle the mouse. The screen sprang to life...with fresh text at the bottom. "Aha! It worked!"
Shaking off their sleepy dazes, the three crowded around the computer to read the response:
Most relevant result for your search:
Second grade student, Night Vale Elementary
Night Vale, XA, 871Π¼
United States (probably)
"Second grade?!" exclaimed Hawk's Eye.
"Hah!" said Fisheye, giving him a triumphant shove. "I told you children would have the most beautiful dreams!"
"The United States," read Tiger's Eye. "Wow, it's a good thing we ran this program. It would've taken forever to get through that country."
"Get a picture!" said Fisheye. "I bet she's an adorable little moppet. Let's see her!"
Tiger's Eye, who was really getting the hang of this hunt-and-peck thing now, typed:
Show us a photo of Megan.
This time the reply was almost instant:
Functionality not available on this device.
All three looked at the screen. Then they looked at each other. Then Fisheye and Hawk's Eye glared at Tiger's Eye.
"W-well, look on the bright side!" said Tiger's Eye hopefully. "At least we can narrow the search down to the Night Vale box!"
The box of photographs cataloging the dreaming humans of Night Vale was...weird.
"Heeey, Hawk's Eye," said Tiger's Eye with a roguish grin. "If this Megan kid doesn't work out, I've got the perfect target for you to check out instead."
He held up a photo of a dark-skinned woman with a lined face and silver hair, captioned Old Woman Josie.
"Oh, come on," groaned Hawk's Eye. "I don't like them that old! How would you feel if I suggested you go after this target, huh?"
The photo he countered with showed a girl with hair braided tight to her head. She couldn't have been more than thirteen, though her eyes were wild and predatory, and the scars on one side of her face said she'd come by that look honestly. The name written on the back was Tamika Flynn.
"I would say, she looks like she has terrifying nightmares where Pegasus would never hide, no matter what age she was," snapped Tiger's Eye. "Come on, birdbrain, use your head."
They passed a couple more pictures of male candidates over to Fisheye, who was, as usual, going through them in detail. "Come on, stop sorting those and help us," said Hawk's Eye. "We already know Megan's not going to be in that group."
"If we're going out of our way to Night Vale anyway, we should take the opportunity to hit multiple candidates," said Fisheye stiffly. "And who's to say the second-best candidate in town won't be male? I'm only thinking of efficiency, here."
"Sure you are," said Hawk's Eye. He handed another photo — this one of a stunning dark-haired woman who was, for some reason, sitting on a cactus — to Tiger's Eye. "This one seems like your type. I mean it seriously, this time."
Tiger's Eye lit up as he gave the image a look. The label here was smudged, so that only Cactus J was legible. "Definitely! Out in the desert, communing with nature — she must have beautiful dreams. In fact, I'd say she's the third most beautiful dreamer I've seen yet. Going near the top of my pile."
While the other two bantered, Fisheye was working through the photos of men on his own. So far, he was pretty underwhelmed. For instance, this guy in a tan jacket (his actual name was kind of smudged; it probably started with an E, but Fisheye didn't look all that closely) was completely unremarkable! Why, as soon as Fisheye put the photo aside, he completely forgot what it looked like.
The blonde guy in the polo shirt was handsome enough, but something about his expression told Fisheye that Steve Carlsberg was a total jerk. The man in the overalls was way too weathered for Fisheye's tastes...oh, hey, for some reason this one was annotated: John Peters (you know, the farmer). That explained it. Fisheye was sure there was much more potential in the dreams of, say, fashion designers. Or ballet teachers. Or modeling agents.
Another photo depicted what had to be the most average man Fisheye had ever seen. He wasn't tall or short, fat or thin, handsome or plain. The photo had caught him wearing a pair of oversized headphones and speaking into a microphone, with an ON AIR sign lit up in the background, so apparently he relied on his voice for a living. For his sake, Fisheye sure hoped he had an interesting-enough voice to make up for his totally boring face.
With a sigh, he tossed the photo of Cecil Palmer aside...
...and hit the jackpot.
Fisheye sucked in a breath, heart skipping a couple of beats. "This is it!"
The other two weren't listening. They were arguing over whether a photo of a college-age girl in a denim jacket was in the box by mistake, given that the image of Dana appeared to be translucent.
"Guys. Guys!" cried Fisheye. "I'm serious, this is the perfect target! Look at him!"
"Look, Fisheye, I don't know if you've noticed, but your...type...is not exactly our type," said Tiger's Eye without looking up.
Hopping off his stool, Fisheye got between the other two and slapped his photo down on top of Dana. "Just look."
Tiger's Eye and Hawk's Eye looked. They got a full view of the strong jaw, the dazzling eyes barely dimmed by a pair of safety goggles, the way the lab coat draped over a statuesque physique, and oh, that hair.
A slight blush rose on both their faces.
"Told you," said Fisheye with a smirk.
Hawk's Eye cleared his throat and looked away. "Yes, well! Of course, we couldn't help but notice how dedicated he seems to his..." He had to glance quickly back at the photo before continuing. "...chemistry! Men and women who love science are especially good candidates for having beautiful dreams."
"And it's not like we can't see that he's physically attractive," added Tiger's Eye. "It has nothing to do with our...preferences...and everything to do with us having eyes."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Fisheye. "So it's settled. The two of you can figure out how to handle the Megan issue, and I will find out if Pegasus is hiding in this man's obviously perfect dreams."
After going through the entire box of Night Vale photos, none of the Trio managed to find Megan Wallaby.
They did, however, find a couple of adults with her last name. "This has to be Megan's mother," declared Hawk's Eye of the brunette named Herschel Wallaby. "Mothers always have such beautiful dreams for their children! You can see it in her face. In fact, we should probably check in her dreams too, just to be safe."
And so, when the three teleported into the little desert town of Night Vale, Tiger's Eye and Hawk's Eye stuck together.
Before anything else, they ducked behind a building to change. A couple of curtains unrolled from midair to cover them, and snapped back upward to reveal that their usual costumes had been replaced by dress slacks and smart polo shirts. Tiger's Eye was wearing glasses. Hawk's Eye had a sweatervest. Both had official-looking logos embroidered on their sleeves and over their breast pockets.
There was a smattering of applause from the direction of a nearby trash can.
Both men tensed, ready to drop into fighting poses. "Who's there?" demanded Tiger's Eye.
(Somewhere along the line they had started speaking English. Tiger's Eye didn't remember ever learning English. But then, he didn't remember learning Japanese either, so he didn't worry too much about it.)
"Nobody!" said a voice...okay, that was definitely inside the trash can. "No surveillance happening here. Carry on, citizen."
Tiger's Eye and Hawk's Eye looked at each other. Their eyes narrowed. Tiger's Eye's shadow began to extend across the asphalt.
Hawk's Eye held up a hand to pause the action. "Say," he said, addressing the trash can, "you don't happen to know which way the Wallabys' house is, do you?"
"Oh, sure," said the mystery voice. "Go down the street, take a left at the Pinkberry, it's on the cul-de-sac about three blocks past."
"Great, thanks!" He waved for Tiger's Eye to continue.
The shadow stretched longer. Smoke began to rise from the darkest part of it.
"Riyoushiko-chan," said Tiger's Eye affectionately. "Come out and make sure the news of our arrival doesn't spread any farther than this."
A barber-themed demonic doll-puppet popped out of the smoke, wielding foot-long shears and laughing with its hinged mouth. Tiger's Eye and Hawk's Eye strolled back out onto the street, leaving the carnage behind them.
Carlos was waiting for the bus outside the CVS, a canvas bag with his purchases (shampoo, Windex, a fresh round of ten assorted watches to replace the last set he'd broken with excessive testing) sitting by his feet, when a shadow fell over him and a voice said, "Excuse me...."
It was a woman Carlos had never met before: apparently Japanese, but with long, pale-blue hair gathered into a high ponytail. She was wearing cutoff shorts, a tank top, and sturdy hiking shoes, and had a backpack slung over her shoulders.
"I was wondering if you knew a good place to eat around here?" asked the strange woman, blue eyes wide. "I'm new in town, you see, and I just don't know where to start."
"A couple of places, sure," said Carlos. "How long are you going to be here? Actually, never mind that; even if you're not going to stay long, you should probably eat at Big Rico's first, just to be on the safe side."
"So...Big Rico's is good, then?"
"Big Rico's is mandatory. I mean, it's not bad! But even if it was, it's still required. Once a week. I'm actually headed that way right now, if you want me to show you."
"Oh, would you?" breathed the woman. "You're so thoughtful! My name is Youko, by the way. Youko Uonome." She took a seat on the bench beside him.
"Carlos Ramirez," said Carlos, giving her an absentminded handshake, trying to remember all the other possible laws an unwitting outsider could run afoul of. "Listen, Youko, exactly how new are you in town?"
Youko folded her hands in her lap. For someone who was apparently a hiker, if not a hitchhiker, she had awfully smooth, delicate hands. "I just got here today, Carlos."
"And do you have any writing utensils on you? Or wheat? Or any kind of wheat by-products? It's important."
"Oh, of course! I have a pen right in here. Hang on." She shrugged off the backpack and rummaged around inside. Carlos thought he heard a slight poof, and caught a wisp of pink smoke trailing away from Youko's hand as she pulled out some kind of sparkly novelty pen.
It only took a few seconds for Carlos to dismantle the pieces. There were two trash cans a few feet down the sidewalk: one real, one the hideout for an officer of the Sheriff's Secret Police. Carlos tossed the remains of the pen in the real one, and stood next to the fake one as he said, loudly, "Good thing it was defective and couldn't have been used to write with, huh?"
Youko was staring at him like he'd lost it. Which was fair.
Gesturing for her to keep quiet, Carlos returned to the stop just as the bus was pulling in. Under the rumble of the bus engines, he whispered, "I swear, that was the safest thing to do. Writing utensils are illegal in Night Vale, and I really wouldn't want you to get dragged off for re-education on your first day here."
"Oh," said Youko shakily, as they both stepped onto the bus. "Oh, I see. That...was very brave of you, then. And quick-thinking. And gallant!"
"Honestly, after you've lived here for a year, it just gets to be habit," said Carlos, sliding into a seat with the shopping bag on his lap. He was glad to find Youko trusted him enough to sit next to him. Clearly she wasn't going to make it out of this town alive without a little help.
"But still!" She put a delicate hand on his arm. "I could have gotten in a lot of trouble, couldn't I? What else do I need to know?"
"Um...kind of a lot. Maybe I should walk you through it. Do you mind if I join you at Big Rico's? If you're hungry, I don't want to make you wait."
"Oh, Carlos," breathed Youko. "That would be wonderful."
A deafening shriek echoed throughout the Wallaby household.
"Tuck, I told you to fix that doorbell!" yelled Herschel Wallaby as she went to see who it was.
"It's on my to-do list!" hollered Tuck from upstairs.
Shaking her head, relieved that little Megan couldn't hear all the yelling her parents were doing, Herschel answered the door.
On her front step stood two men in casual-yet-respectable outfits. One had a wide smile and thick, wavy blonde hair that made Herschel think of the mane of some big cat. The other had a long nose and reddish-pink hair gathered into feathery tufts that stuck up from the top of his head.
"Mrs. Wallaby?" asked the redhead hopefully.
"That's me," said Herschel. "I'm not buying anything, and I already have a perfectly good religion."
"Oh, that's not why we're here!" exclaimed the blond. "Please, just give us a minute of your time. My name is Toranosuke Moribashi...."
"...and I'm Hikari Toriatama," added the redhead. "We're specialists from the Dead Moon Childhood Education Center. We've heard of your daughter Megan, and would like to sit down with you and see if our services could be any help."
"'Dead moon'?" echoed Herschel. "Would that be anything like a dark planet lit by no sun?"
The two men shared a confused look.
"Sure," said the blond.
"If you like," said the redhead. "May we come in?"
Well, they did have awfully official-looking logos embroidered on their clothes. "All right. Come on in and sit down. I'll get you some water and introduce you to Megan."
Fisheye was so. damn. bored.
It had been great in the beginning, when he (she? This disguise was definitely an egg-bearing body, but Fisheye had always found pronouns confusing) discovered that Big Rico's could make you a cichlid-pellet pizza. Carlos had been charming and protective, helping Fisheye around, saying things like "just ignore the hooded figures and they'll ignore you" and "don't worry about getting your change in ancient Sumerian coins, you can exchange them at the bank down the road."
But somewhere along the line Carlos had gotten into explaining scientific phenomena around Night Vale. Which was neat! At the beginning.
And then he got into the technical details.
So now Carlos was saying things like, "of course, most cells and tissues are intrinsically fluorescent when exposed to UV radiation of certain wavelengths without the addition of external fluorophores," and Fisheye's eyes were glazing over. (Which sucked all the more because he was even more gorgeous in person.) He only stopped talking to eat, which was almost worse. Did the man have to chew quite that loudly?
Just grit your teeth and bear it, thought Fisheye. Just keep him talking until you can get him alone. Then you can do the thing, and see his dreams, and as a bonus he'll even hold still and shut up so you can look at him all you want.
Carlos took another bite of his almond-and-dandelion pizza. Fisheye pre-emptively winced.
"Oh!" The scientist's eyes widened; he covered his mouth with one hand, and chewed and swallowed quietly, blushing all the while. "Oh, god, I'm sorry, am I doing the chewing thing again? My boyfriend is always on my case about that. I'm trying to break the habit, but it isn't coming easy."
Fisheye zeroed in on the only relevant part of that sentence. "Your...boyfriend?"
"Yeah." A pleased smile spread across Carlos' face, then stopped in its tracks. "That's not a problem for you, is it? Because if it is, you should know that you're in bad company. Gay people aren't any big deal here. I mean, you'd think in 2013 it shouldn't be a big deal anywhere, but...."
"What do you mean, 2013?" interrupted Fisheye. "It's 1995!"
Carlos did a double-take, brows furrowing. Then he relaxed. "Oh, I get it! You're displaced in time. That happens sometimes around here. Don't worry, there's a good chance you'll get back to the right year as soon as you cross the town border again. And, listen, if you do...buy stock in a company called Google, okay?"
"I'll keep it in mind," stammered Fisheye. "And, um, congratulations on the boyfriend." Best to play nice for now.
"Thanks. Sorry to —"
Just at that moment, the radio — which was broadcast over the pizza place's speakers, and had, for the last hour, been playing a soothing recording of whale songs — switched over to a deep, smooth voice: "I shall never doubt the power of innocent dreamers. I shall never doubt the dreams of innocent children. I shall never doubt my worst nightmare. Welcome...to Night Vale."
The smile was back on Carlos' face, warmer than ever. "That's Cecil now, actually."
"How sweet," said Fisheye through gritted teeth.
"Ah, but you don't want to hear me ramble on about my love life," said Carlos sheepishly. "Where was I before we got off track...?"
Fisheye couldn't hold it in. "Rambling on about fluorophores."
Now he looked so crestfallen that Fisheye genuinely felt bad. "I'm sorry! That was mean. I'm really interested in...UV cells and tissue wavelengths, and all that stuff. It's just...." Inspiration struck. "I'm not much of a visual thinker! I have a hard time picturing things when you're talking about them, so I get a little lost."
"And because of that I've been boring you to tears," finished Carlos. "I'm really sorry, Youko. I'm not good at this whole social, people, talking thing. Can I make it up to you?"
Fisheye cocked her (his?) head. "How?"
"Well...." Carlos worried at his napkin. "If you really are interested in science...the lab's right next door. I could give you a personal tour of some of the experiments we have in progress right now. If you were just saying you liked science to be nice, though, I would understand! Please don't feel obligated."
Obligated? This was great! A perfect opportunity, dropped right into Fisheye's lap. "That sounds great! Let's go."
Tiger's Eye and Hawk's Eye stared at Megan.
Megan might have stared back. It was hard to tell.
"She's...a hand," said Tiger's Eye at last.
Indeed, the figure on the coffee table between their couch and Ms. Wallaby's chair was nothing but a hand. An adult man's hand, by the look of her. Including just enough of the wrist to hold a silver wristwatch.
"Well, yes," said Ms. Wallaby, as Megan stood, crablike, and waved a pinky finger at the visitors. "Didn't you know that? Why else would you have heard of her? There's absolutely nothing remarkable or unusual about our daughter, except, of course, for the fact that she is an adult man's hand."
"To be honest," said Tiger's Eye, "most of what we heard was about her having an exceptionally beautiful dream."
"But don't worry, madam!" added Hawk's Eye, ever the charmer. "We are, as I said, trained specialists in working with all kinds of children. Including children with...unique conditions."
"That's so good to hear, gentlemen. So, what kind of treatment would you recommend for Megan? Especially for her communication issue."
"Ah, let me see...in a case like this...my professional opinion would be...."
"...a computer!" finished Tiger's Eye. "Have you tried letting her use a computer?"
"Oh, no," said Ms. Wallaby, but she looked thoughtful. "Computing machines have been forbidden since The Event in 1986."
"Completely understandable!" said Hawk's Eye, still winging it. "But, madam...Herschel...isn't a little risk worth it? For the sake of your daughter?"
"I suppose I could petition the school board," said Megan's mother slowly.
"A wonderful plan," said Tiger's Eye.
"Definitely what we recommend," said Hawk's Eye.
Ms. Wallaby beamed at them. "Thank you! You've been so helpful. Can I get your business cards? I'll recommend you to all my friends."
There was a brief, hurried conversation between the two fake educational specialists, consisting mainly of "Business cards? I don't have business cards. Didn't you conjure up some business cards?"
It was Tiger's Eye who stood up first. "Busted."
"Guess you caught us," agreed Hawk's Eye, joining him.
Confused, Ms. Wallaby rose too. "What exactly is —"
Stage curtains again dropped out of the air, unrolling to cover each man before snapping back up to reveal their standard clothes, reflecting all the understanding of human customs — not to mention proportions — that the pair had. There were at least eight Night Vale residents wearing weirder things at that moment, and Mr. Wallaby upstairs was one of them, so Ms. Wallaby wasn't put off. Not yet.
"One!" counted Hawk's Eye.
A carved board, painted scarlet with a Dead Moon sigil at the head, swung up from the ground and snapped into place at Ms. Wallaby's back.
Manacles appeared out of the board's surface, locking over the woman's wrists and ankles.
Listeners, I have just been handed a note.
There are three new arrivals in town today. They are to be considered dangerous and armed! Well...not technically armed. More sort of legged, winged, and finned, respectively. But they are currently in borrowed forms that do, we are being told, include arms.
Do not approach these people. Do not allow yourself to be left alone with these people. If you should happen to encounter one of these strangers, who I am told possess a high magic index, brightly colored hair, and cutting-edge fashion sense, please report the encounter to the Secret Police by shouting at the nearest bush, fake trash can, or manhole cover.
Also, if you see any kind of demonic doll-puppets creeping around our little town? Kill them. Kill them with fire.
I...I am being handed another note. Apparently one of the strangers was just sighted leaving Big Rico's Pizza. This person is said to have bright blue hair and, when you look at them on the astral plane, what are being described as 'fins. Definitely fins.'
And now...someone is tapping in Morse Code outside my window. I will translate for you as it comes in: FISH ... LEFT ... PIZZA ... PLACE ... WITH ...
Please let it be Steve Carlsberg. Please let it be Steve Carlsberg.
Excuse me, dear listeners. I must leave you with...the weather.
"I'm afraid I might have given you the wrong idea!" panted Carlos, as Youko backed him unsubtly against a lab table. "We can't — first of all, this is very hazardous, there are live cultures on this table, if you disrupt them you could cause a pandemic — and second, I'm really not interested in you that way!"
The mention of live cultures stopped Youko long enough for Carlos to throw himself sideways and escape. But there really wasn't any safe place in the lab to run. Explosive compounds to the left, Bunsen burners to the right....
"What's the matter?" demanded Youko — not mocking, but angry, hurt. "Am I not pretty enough for you?"
"You are very attractive! I'm sure there are plenty of eligible bachelors who would fall all over themselves trying to get a date with you," said Carlos, narrowly managing not to trip over a box of sample trays. "I just happen not to be one of them!"
"Because of Cecil, right?" hissed Youko. The lab was suddenly full of a strong smell of rotted fish, which have been related to any of the experiments lying around...or to none of them. "What does he have that I don't have?"
"Besides the obvious?"
"I can change my voice!"
"Not what I meant!"
He was almost home free. Just had to duck under the emergency shower and he could get to the door. Once he was outside, there would be half a dozen Secret Police within shouting distance. Any one of them could tackle Youko and escort her to the edge of town, dumping her (hopefully) safely back in her own time. Let 1995 handle her.
Youko grabbed the edges of the heavy, solid lab table between them and heaved it off the ground, shoving it to one side. Beakers and flasks shattered en masse.
Okay, maybe it would take more than one Secret Police officer.
"This is your last chance," snapped Youko, stalking across the newly-empty tile. Her pale-blue ponytail was coming undone, stray locks falling every which way. "Either forget about Cecil and be mine, or...."
At the last second, Carlos threw himself to the side, grabbed the ring attached to a chain on the wall, and yanked.
The emergency shower instantly switched on, pouring down gallons of water designed to scrub any toxic chemical spills off of a person with as much force as necessary. Youko shrieked in surprise. Carlos bolted for the door.
He stopped in the entrance, watching the sopping Youko take a couple of drippy steps forward. "This is your last chance!" he countered. "Walk out of here, right now, and we can forget all this ever happened. You quit chasing me, and I don't prosecute you. Deal?"
A sapphire-blue curtain appeared in midair and unrolled downward, concealing Youko from sight.
...If she could teleport, Carlos was screwed.
Talk about a sound for sore ears. "Cecil!" exclaimed Carlos, as his boyfriend's footsteps echoed down the entryway. "I'm in here, but careful, there's this woman —"
The curtain snapped back up and vanished.
"— okay, possibly not a woman," said Carlos.
Youko's body had been switched for one with the same face, but broader shoulders and a decidedly flatter chest. And her (?) new outfit, some kind of puffy blue bodysuit with an oversized skeletal fish hanging from the zip up the front, wasn't giving him a whole lot of clues about intended gender presentation.
"One!" shouted Youko.
A solid flat surface smacked against Carlos' back —
— and then he was flying to the side, hitting the wall hard —
A set of metallic clicks.
Carlos' vision was swimming and there was a terrible pain down his entire left side, but from where he had landed he forced himself to raise his head.
The surface that had hit him was some kind of carved board, very theatrical, like the kind a person would stand in front of to have a knife-thrower hurl sharp blades at them. Not a comforting analogy. Especially when Cecil was standing in front of this one — no, not just standing, shackled to it — limbs bent at awkward angles, furious eyes glaring at Youko.
"That was meant for him!" shouted Youko, jabbing a (suddenly scaly?) finger in Carlos' direction.
"So I gathered," said Cecil. "That would be why I took it."
Carlos loved Cecil so much. And would be sure to demonstrate his gratitude later, after his skull stopped pounding.
(This was his chance — get up and tackle Youko while Cecil provided a distraction. And Carlos was trying, he really was: clinging to the drawers of the supply cabinet next to him, levering himself off the ground. It would help if the ground would stop moving under him.)
"While I admire your taste in men," continued Cecil, "not to mention your remarkable fashion sense, that is no excuse for you, sir — madam —?"
Youko didn't supply an answer. It wasn't necessary. Cecil had a way of knowing things when he needed to.
"Oh! Of course. Nonhuman gender identity. My mistake."
Carlos had been living in Night Vale long enough to know a look of pure horror when he saw it. One of those swept across Youko's face now. "What are you talking about?"
The counterpoint on Cecil's face was...sympathy? "Hasn't anybody told you...?"
"Stop! Shut up! I don't want to hear it!" shouted Youko, and followed it up with "Three!"
Sudden, blinding light —
— and the Voice of Night Vale screamed.
Every piece of glass in the room cracked: flasks, beakers, pipes, windows. Carlos yanked his glasses from his face just in time, as the lenses fell out of their frames in jagged pieces, tinkling to the floor. The ground shook for real, not just in Carlos' perception, equipment jittering in place all across the lab. He thought dimly that his eardrums were bound to burst any second. The blood vessels in his brain would probably go next.
As quickly as it had begun, the screaming stopped. The shuddering earth beneath them slowed more gradually, but Cecil was limp, sagging against his bonds, eyes glazed. If he was conscious, it was by the thinnest of threads.
Where the light had been, a mirror was hanging in the air in front of Cecil's chest.
It had a squareish pane of glass, about the size of an average spiral notebook, and an elegantly carved frame. A purple ribbon was tied at the top, like a bedroom mirror marketed to a ten-year-old girl. Which made it all the more incongruous that the frame itself was made of some kind of shiny black stone, maybe hematite, and there was a strange flickering movement showing in the glass.
"Stop!" yelled Carlos. He didn't know what the hell this thing was, but he knew a lot about other local mirrors, and none of it was good. "Youko, please!"
"Fisheye," said the probably-not-human figure in blue. "The name is Fisheye."
Of course it was. "Fisheye," repeated Carlos. "Please don't. I'll do anything! Just don't kill him."
Fisheye's azure gaze narrowed. "I was...distracted, earlier. I lost sight of my mission. It won't happen again."
His (?) shadow stretched out across the floor, and darkened. A symbol, the same one etched on the board holding Cecil, appeared in its depths.
"Hakkoukitarou! I need time to search both of their dreams. Come out and make sure the scientist doesn't mess that up!"
As if Fisheye's shadow had become a portal, a figure jumped out of it. Some kind of human-sized jointed puppet: alive and cackling, dressed in a filmy blue outfit that looked like it wanted to be a jellyfish costume. It even glowed.
The demonic marionette twirled over and pinned Carlos in place. Its grip was slick and slippery, but way too firm for Carlos to break — especially not in the state he was in.
Never in his whole life had he been sorrier for boring someone with talk about fluorescent tissue.
A standard dream mirror, in a pink frame with a shining pane of glass, hung in front of Herschel Wallaby's chest. Ms. Wallaby herself was unconscious.
At least, until Hawk's Eye gripped the frame with both hands and slid his head through the pane. Then she screamed a little more.
Tiger's Eye took the opportunity to pick up Megan, clasping his hand around her...her. "There's probably nothing in your mom's dreams anyway," he told her. "It's you we're after."
Not a moment later, Hawk's Eye yanked his head out. "Nothing!" he exclaimed. "All stuff about her kid having a wonderful life, and one thing about being the first astronaut on the secret real moon, but no sign of Pegasus!"
"Honey?" yelled a voice from upstairs. "Is something going on down there?"
"...No!" said Tiger's Eye quickly.
"Okay!" called Mr. Wallaby. "Just checking!"
"This is the weirdest town," muttered Hawk's Eye.
"You don't have to tell me! I'm the one holding the hand!" exclaimed Tiger's Eye. "Let's hope this works...."
He set Megan down on a clear patch of floor.
A full-sized headboard rose up into place behind Megan.
A single cuff closed over Megan's wrist...
...but all she had to do was tug her wrist downward to slide out of it.
"Hey!" yelled Tiger's Eye as Megan scuttled across the carpet. "That's not fair! One!"
Another carved board.
Again, Megan crawled away.
"Okay, this is ridiculous." Hawk's Eye leaped across the carpet, skirt flying, and scooped Megan off the ground. "Here!" he snapped, holding her out toward Tiger's Eye. "Just do it from here."
Tiger's Eye grimaced. "I don't know...I've never done it without the whole thing before...are you sure it'll work?"
"No. Now do you want to give it a shot, or do you want to go back to chasing a disembodied hand around this house?"
"Good point." Tiger's Eye squared his shoulders. "Three!"
Light filled the Wallabys' living room for the second time, as Megan twitched and jerked and spasmed...in Hawk's Eye's grip. It was disconcerting for him. Sure, he'd put a bunch of other people through this kind of pain before, but when they were pinned to a board it was nice and impersonal. He'd never been holding them in place directly.
As for Tiger's Eye, he had privately been holding some doubts this whole time over whether Megan Wallaby could even have normal dreams, let alone particularly beautiful ones. But sure enough, the mirror that materialized in front of the girl's palm was full-size. And it was, for lack of a better word, fancy. Especially next to her mother's, you could see that the carving had more scrollwork, while the ribbon trailed longer and had more of a curl.
"This is different," he said out loud. "But, I mean...good-different."
"Sure is," said Hawk's Eye distantly.
Tiger's Eye gripped the frame of the extra-special dream mirror with both hands.
"What?" demanded Tiger's Eye, glaring up at his colleague. "What's the hold-up? If any dream mirror we've seen so far is most likely to hold Pegasus, this one is. And if we wait around too long, he might escape while we're still talking!"
"That's true," admitted Hawk's Eye, and made a concerted effort to squash these pangs of feelings he would have called shame and conscience if he knew those words. "Forget it. It's nothing important. Go for it."
"That's the spirit," said Tiger's Eye, and pushed his head through the surface of the mirror.
Putting the struggling scientist out of his mind, Fisheye turned back to examine Cecil's dream mirror.
It was, without a doubt, the strangest one he had ever seen: the frame black, the glass dark and flickering. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing! Strange dreams could still be beautiful! Frankly, in all of Fisheye's attacks on various humans, he had yet to see a dream that wasn't beautiful. His own good taste could only account for so much of that.
...Other humans. In his attacks on other humans. Because Fisheye was totally human. The weird and suggestive babblings of this captured fellow-human were not going to get to him.
(What if Cecil wasn't human?)
(Did it matter? Whatever he was, any creature who would protect his loved ones with such passion had to have beautiful dreams.)
(But their orders said Pegasus was hiding in beautiful human dreams, right?)
Fisheye shook himself. He had to focus. Couldn't let himself make excuses just because he was seriously intimidated by that weird dark mirror. Or because he was afraid of bringing the building down around them if he made Cecil scream again.
"Hakkoukitarou! I have a new job for you," he announced. The lemures chirped in appreciation. "Tie the scientist up with something, then get over here and keep this human from being so loud."
A moment later, Carlos' arms were lashed to the leg of one heavy table with his own lab coat. Hakkoukitarou twirled back over to Fisheye, made a squishy climb to the top of the headboard, and oozed down to cover Cecil's mouth.
"Stop it!" yelled Carlos. "Don't do this! Why are you doing this?"
"We're looking for Pegasus!" snapped Fisheye.
"Who's Pegasus? And why are you looking for him?"
Fisheye really regretted going after a scientist. Scientists think, that's what scientists do. And thinking leads to awkward questions. "Asking questions is not part of the job," he said briskly.
"Why are you doing the job at all?" countered Carlos. He kept getting more lucid by the minute. "Is it for money? Some other reward? What?"
"It's...." Fisheye grimaced. "It's none of your business!"
He gripped the frame of the mirror with his scaly (but perfectly normal, shut up!) hands.
The flickering in the corner of the glass intensified. So did the static Fisheye had been hearing ever since Cecil stopped screaming. He had assumed it was some kind of minor ear damage that could be magicked away once he got back to base, but now....
"Please!" cried Carlos.
Fisheye shoved his head through the dark surface of the mirror, if only so he wouldn't have to keep listening.
By all logic, Megan should have been thrashing again. She should have been spasming, clawing at Hawk's Eye's skin with her blunt nails.
Instead...she was calm.
It didn't make any sense. Tiger's Eye's head was definitely thrust all the way into her dream mirror. But this girl, this child, she didn't appear to be feeling any pain. At first Hawk's Eye was sure she had passed out, in whatever sense a detached adult man's hand can pass out, until she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
Megan Wallaby's dreams were special because of how she could share them. None of the Trio had ever seen anything like it before. And they weren't going to see it again in the future, either.
When Tiger's Eye backed away, his face was soft, eyes wide in wonder.
"What did you see?" whispered Hawk's Eye. For some reason it felt appropriate to whisper.
"Fractal paths through trees and flowering fields," breathed Tiger's Eye. "Colored birds sing in perfect harmony and the butterflies do not inject venom. The hills are green. The lakes are crystalline blue, reflecting white clouds. The mist creates rainbows...."
"Yes, it sounds like an extremely beautiful dream," hissed Hawk's Eye. "But was Pegasus there?"
"All of the men and women and all of the animals will live together and be happy. There will not be war anymore. There will not be hatred or bigotry. Desert Bluffs will not exist."
"I don't know what desert bluffs are! Get to the point! When you say all the animals, does that include a Pegasus?"
Tiger's Eye seemed to fade in from a trance. His eyes focused, meeting those of Hawk's Eye, and his dreamy daze sharpened into clear, unfiltered joy. "Not the Pegasus."
"What does that mean?"
"There was a pegasus. Not the real being we're looking for, just Megan's dream-image of a pegasus. With all the other animals, being happy in the soft cool forest by the shores of the crystalline lake."
"But — just to be clear — you're absolutely sure that it wasn't the Pegasus."
"Then...are we done for the day?" said Hawk's Eye.
Unspoken went the fact that it was part of Dead Moon procedure to kill the targets afterward (or at least, to leave a lemures behind to kill the targets). Even if Pegasus wasn't currently in their mirrors, the theory went, they were still potential hideouts that shouldn't be left open and available. But so far the Sailor Senshi had destroyed every single lemures before it could fulfill its cleanup duties. Which meant nobody had been killed at all, and the Trio hadn't gotten in trouble for it yet.
"Yeah," said Tiger's Eye. "I think we're done."
He took Megan while Hawk's Eye went back over to Ms. Wallaby. The mirrors dissipated back into their holders; the conjured boards with their cuffs melted away. When Ms. Wallaby slumped to the ground, Hawk's Eye caught her and laid her down on the couch, where Tiger's Eye set her daughter next to her hand. Megan laced her fingers through her mother's and settled down, content.
"You know what's interesting?" added Tiger's Eye with a gentle smile. "With the image of the animals in Megan's dream, there were three animals that were closest to the pegasus. A tiger, a hawk, and, in the water next to them, a fish."
"Huh," said Hawk's Eye. "You think that's some kind of metaphor for us?"
"Oh, it has to be! I think it means that part of Megan's dream is for us to complete our...dream...of finally tracking down Pegasus. Don't you?"
That didn't sound quite right. Hawk's Eye had never thought of their search for Pegasus as a "dream" before. It was a goal, a job, nothing more. On the other hand, when he tried to think of something he would call a dream of his, he came up empty. So maybe this was it after all. "That must be right."
After a beat, Tiger's Eye added, "Speaking of fish...."
"We should probably check on Fisheye," agreed Hawk's Eye.
With a gesture, they each manifested a portal (through hoops of gold and red, respectively), and jumped through.
The lab was a disaster zone.
A fine layer of grit covered every surface. Windows were shattered; chemicals dripped off the edge of tables and formed noxious puddles on the ground. There was a smoky stain across one wall where the demon-marionette had been splattered, and Fisheye, though still in one piece, was unconscious on the floor.
Carlos had barely had time to shield his face. He had plenty of cuts all over the rest of him, especially his legs, and those really had to be treated as soon as possible, or else who knew what they might get infected with.
On the other hand, the Visitation had helpfully shredded the coat that formed his makeshift bindings.
So it was that Carlos had been there to catch Cecil when the mysterious headboard faded out of existence, and was holding him now: cradling his head, keeping tabs on his pulse, and waiting for him to wake up.
(Cecil hadn't been scratched up at all. He wasn't even grimy. Of course not: he had been behind the mirror.)
When two spinning hoops of fire appeared about ten feet off the ground, encircling deep black portals, Carlos didn't even bat an eye. He watched calmly as two men with Fisheye's terrible fashion sense dropped out of the hoops to land on his nearly-destroyed tables.
It was pretty gratifying when the strangers did a terrified double-take.
"Your friend's on the ground," called Carlos. "Take him and go."
The pair looked in shock at Carlos, then started scanning the ground. It was nice to see that, whatever they really were, they had some humanity to them: as soon as they saw Fisheye, they both leaped to his side.
"He's alive," said the redhead, trying to gently scoop Fisheye into his arms.
"What happened here?" demanded the blond, standing and brandishing what looked like a lion-tamer's whip at Carlos.
It would take a whole lot more than that to intimidate Carlos right now. "You guys do this a lot, huh? Grab people, manifest these mirrors, and go poking around inside?"
With Carlos' glasses broken, the blond's facial expressions were too blurry to interpret at this distance, but the affronted way he stepped back told Carlos plenty. He wasn't used to questioning his way of life either. "It's our job! What about it?"
"Didn't it ever occur to you that something might come out of the mirror and poke back?"
The two men exchanged some hurried whispers. Evidently, no, they hadn't. Then they started edging nervously backward.
"It's okay, it's gone now," said Carlos, stroking Cecil's hair. "But if I were you, I'd get out of here. Go home. Maybe rethink my career path...look at my life, look at my choices...figure out exactly where I lost myself."
"We're not lost," said the redhead tersely. He had Fisheye securely in a princess carry now. "We know exactly where we are! The town of Night Vale."
"Which is in the United States," added the blond. "Probably."
Carlos sighed. He didn't know enough about their lives to give them advice, and even if he did, he couldn't force them to understand or believe it. All he could do was shove them in (metaphorically) what he hoped was the right direction and (literally) the direction that led out of town. "Just think about it. Also, did I mention that you should leave? Now, please. You don't want to be around if it comes back, do you?"
He was pulling that threat out of nowhere, and, sure enough, they weren't totally buying it. As the portals reappeared above the strangers' heads, the blond said, "You're not fooling us, you know. If you really thought whatever came out of his mirror was going to come back, you wouldn't be sitting around so casually."
"Sure I would," said Carlos, with a grin that bared plenty of his perfect teeth. "He's my boyfriend."
Cecil woke up in the radio station, at his usual seat at the booth, halfway through the weather.
For a few moments he was fuzzy, then it all came rushing back. Carlos was in danger! He had to get out of here, he had to go save —
"Cecil, it's okay!"
The wonderful oaky tones of his boyfriend's voice soaked into Cecil's heart. "Carlos!" he exclaimed, taking in the sight of his lovely, brilliant, heavily-bandaged scientist. He recognized the signature technique of medical care practiced by Night Vale Community Radio interns. "You're...um...you are alive, but you may or may not be all right. What happened? The last thing I remember is hearing you were in trouble!"
Carlos held up one hand to slow Cecil down. (The other hand was holding an ice pack against his head.) "Can't tell you any details. I tried to, and you listened for a while, abruptly passed out, and just woke up again."
"Ah." That happened to Cecil every once in a while, usually related to some kind of forbidden knowledge, or anything that might trigger the helpful blocks placed in his memory by the City Council. "I hope I haven't made you go through that too many times."
"Just once," said Carlos. "I'll try the short version this time, see if it sticks. You saved me! At great personal cost, which I still appreciate even though you don't remember it. Also, we may or may not have foreshadowed a major turning point in the lives of some exploited animals. I think that covers everything."
He paused, and they both waited to see if Cecil would keel over again. Cecil did not.
"Great! Do you mind if I stay in the booth? I'll be really quiet while you finish the show, I promise."
"Carlos, right now I wouldn't let you leave my sight for any reason whatsoever," declared Cecil. "Just be careful not to eat anything."
The weather drew to a close, the RECORDING sign flickered to life, and Cecil spoke into the microphone:
Good news, listeners! It seems our dangerous mystery visitors have been dispatched. Possibly by me! Now, my beloved Carlos has informed me that I remember nothing and am apparently not allowed to know the details. So if you should happen to pass me on the street any time soon, please do not congratulate me and/or tell me that I have done nothing to be congratulated for.
And, as a final thought: please remember to be kind to your friends, your neighbors, and even your mortal adversaries. You never know what they might be going through. Perhaps they are a fish who has been tricked into believing they are a human. Perhaps they are a human, but are compelled to hide in the form of a winged horse. Perhaps they are an alien, whose body shape combined with memory loss has led them to believe they are an ordinary Earth cat.
Life is confusing for all of us, Night Vale. We are all on a mysterious journey of self-discovery. But perhaps, if we can support each other just a little bit more, we will all discover the strength to not only follow our dreams, but to bear up and survive through the nightmares that we all must face one day.
And yes, this includes the nightmare of aging. The enchanted portrait in your attic, and/or enchanted mirror in your throne room, cannot protect you forever.
Stay tuned next for a live broadcast of an entire four-hour circus performance, as bootlegged by a camera that has been cleverly hidden half a plane of existence to the left.
Good night, Night Vale. Good night.
Epilogue: in the sand wastes.
A lone human-sized, ball-jointed figure wandered the otherwise desolate landscape, broken only by rocks and the occasional cactus.
It was a spare lemures: one of the Dead Moon's disposable minions. It had fulfilled its mission, and it had not been destroyed in the process. This was a first for its kind. It didn't know what to do with itself now.
At least, it didn't until it nearly walked into a human.
This particular human was not an encouraging specimen of the race. Sometimes he babbled to himself; other times he had long, involved arguments with the nearest rock. He was dressed in ragged scraps of clothing, his hair was lank and matted, and, not to put too fine a point on it, he reeked.
Since the lemures didn't have a sense of smell, it wandered around the man's form with innocent curiosity. After making two or three circles, it stopped in front of him and peered into his unfocused eyes.
"Riyoushiko," it announced, pointing to itself.
The weathered, hollow-eyed human slowly mirrored the gesture. "Telly," he grunted.
The lemures cocked its head to study Telly. It got slightly carried away with the action, and ended up rotating its head a full 180 degrees. Telly, for his part, was eyeing the creature's barbershop-pole costume, and the shears it had for hands.
"You know how to cut hair, Riyou?" he asked at last.
Riyoushiko shook its head.
With one ragged finger, Telly pointed to the nearest cactus. "This woman wants a haircut called a 'Rachel'. Here, let me show you."