Deep in the desert, lies a circle of body bags. Not just any body bags, mind you, but body bags that belonged to perhaps the most malevolent force the Greater Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area has ever seen. StrexCorp Synernists Incorporated. These bags held the corpses of the desert's most dangerous rebels: members of the Killjoys gang; a gang hellbent and determined to bring down StrexCorp.
The desert was lined with these body bags, left there by Draculoids, StrexCorp's chosen security force, to be picked up in one of the many Street Cleaning Days now run by the S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W unit of StrexCorp.
This one area of land in particular held around 50 separate body bags. All causalities from a riot the previous night. All but one, that is.
A little after sunrise, a girl and her cat crawled out from one of the body bags, turning an old radio sitting next to the bag on.
“Look alive, listeners! It's Dr. Death-Defying in your speaker beater, revving up your morning engines. Your ear on the earth! Your voice in the desert! Your cataract in the clouds!” the voice from the radio yelled.
The girl, a teenager with long, dirty, braided, black hair, looked at the radio and sighed. “Why does Cecil keep calling himself that?” She moved around, letting the blood rush back to her legs as the radio kept talking.
“Something big went off late last night on the outskirts of the town, Night Vale. A StrexCorp bug bomb, they call it, and the bodies keep dropping. But don't get all choked up over it. Get your mask on before the blackout gas hits you faster than Medusa's motorbike. Grab your friends and hold them close. 'Cuz we got no time for heroes and no room for ghosts.”
The girl, Tamika Flynn, rose to her feet, scooping into her arms a small black cat that had emerged from the bag a short time after Tamika herself had.
“Speaking of apparitions – feeling a little green all in-between? John Peters, you know – the farmer?, got his prickly little limbs on a new batch of dupe-goop, for any still dealing with flash rash. Or, if you prefer to do the flashing... upgrade your StrexCorp issued blaster to “white hot” with today's lunch special! He'll be in room 4B of the Paradise Motel today.”
Tamika looked at the cat she held in her arms. “If we wanna get something to eat today, we better get moving.” She quickly grabbed the handle of the radio and began walking through the desert as the broadcast went on.
“On a sadder note, it's been twelve years since the four-man banger cell gave their colors to help end StrexCorp's reign of terrors. They called themselves Killjoys. Today the guns don't sound the same, the colors that we now buy, and the clothes are all the wrong size... yet we call ourselves Killjoys.
“Empty spaces. Lost traces. Night Vale races. Getting taller as our desert – smaller. Dreams. Visions. Suicide missions. Anniversaries are lies if we forget why the confetti flies. This morning, before the mask hides your eyes and last night's blood dries, before the bodies at the roadside rise, send your thoughts to the sky in hopes that their memories weren't taken along with their lives.”
A tear rolled down Tamika's face as she remembered the events of that day. The day she led her troops into battle. The day she showed the town just how tired she was of StrexCorp. The day that StrexCorp took from her everything she'd ever loved, changing the shape of her life forever.
Cecil's voice interrupted her thoughts. “And it looks like our two minutes of morning static is almost up. This 'voice of the desert' needs to hit the red before I end up DJ'ing for the dead. Goodbye, listeners, goodbye.”
The radio went dead.
A few miles away sat a woman who had been hardened by years of solidarity in the desert. A woman who managed to transgress dimensions in order to return to her home, only to find it a vastly different place than when she had left. This woman was sitting alone on a rock, staring into the barren Sand Wastes, deep in reflection. She thought of the Dog Park, and that oak-wood door that led her to the House That Didn't Exist. She thought of the years she spent in the desert, away from her loved ones, being nurtured and taught by a tribe of warriors. She thought of the years she spent as an intern at the community radio station, becoming friends with the star DJ.
It seemed like a lifetime ago. Back then, she was known as Dana. Intern Dana, as Cecil liked to call her. But those days were long behind her now. She was a different woman; a changed woman. Val Velocity stood up, turning away from the Sand Wastes, holding her head high. She began to walk towards the Paradise Motel, where her destiny awaited her.
As Tamika entered the Paradise Motel, her ears were assaulted with a wall of sound: loud music, loud talking, and the typical item slamming that anyone would encounter when entering a store. She tried to ignore the increasing loudness of the voices while she searched for something to eat, but was unsuccessful as a conversation from the counter found its way to her ears.
“I don't know. I think it makes me look fat!” rang a voice, Vamos.
“No way!” came another, Vaya.
“Vaya, are you kidding me?! I look like I actually ate a Draculoid!”
A third voice chimed in, John Peters – you know, the farmer? “Will you two quit it already? I have paying customers here for a change!” He looked over at Tamika as she slowly made her way to the counter, not wanting to draw any attention to herself. “Will that be all, little miss? I've got a vintage issue of shiny back here-”
“No thank you. Just the food,” answered Tamika. As she reached into her bag, searching for money, a small yellow object laying on the counter caught her eye. “Hey... where'd you get this?
“Oh, I don't know,” said John Peters, barely looking at the object, “probably off a corpse, maybe a transaction. I'm not really sure.”
Tamika studied the object. It was a small yellow mask, no bigger than the width of her face, and the length from her forehead to her nose. To most people, the mask would be meaningless, but to Tamika, the mask was a grim reminder of a past she wished she could forget.
John Peters took notice of Tamika's intense look. “But... it can be yours for what you have in that container!”
The two girls were watching Tamika at the counter, talking amongst themselves.
“Isn't that...?” Vamos began, hesitating to complete the sentence for the fear she'd be mistaken and ridiculed.
“No Vamos, I think it is.” replied Vaya, staring in disbelief.
Tamika looked from the mask to the container of food and back again, clearly thinking her options through. At once, she decided on the mask and slid the food container to John Peters, leaving the counter.
“Don't worry,” she whispered to the cat that now rested on her shoulder, “we'll get something to eat soon. I promise.
Vaya and Vamos noticed Tamika leaving the motel, and quickly ran after her, yelling for her. Tamika, clearly didn't hear them, and continued on her way.
“Vinyl!” Vamos yelled, in desperation. “Stop her!”
A large man stepped in front of Tamika, stopping her dead in her tracks and allowing Vamos and Vaya to catch up to her.
“Jeez, couldn't you have just stopped? I'm all sweaty now!” complained Vaya.
“Turn around,” stated Vamos, “Let's have a look at you.”
Tamika hesitantly did as she was asked. Vamos and Vaya jumped back a step, surprised at what they saw before them.
“It is you!” yelled Vaya. “I knew it!”
“The girl who led the real Killjoys into battle!” exclaimed Vamos.
“Hey, Val! Come have a look.” Vaya turned to look at an approaching woman.
Dark skinned, hardened, and wearing what appeared to be a tribal mask, Val Velocity, formerly known as Intern Dana, approached Tamika. “I know who she is and I know what she's holding.”
“Holy crap!” uttered Vaya, “That's the mask, isn't it?”
Val ignored Vaya and spoke directly to Tamika this time. “You led them into battle, and they acted like you were their hero. Like you were some kind of messiah, right? Lot of good you did.”
“Hey!” Tamika retorted before she could stop herself.
“News flash, sweetie,” Val continued, “Jesus didn't save the world. He left it. And those “friend” you were leading... how did it feel to watch them die? You aren't a-”
“DRACS!” The word was screamed in unison by several surrounding Killjoys. One in particular, a spiky-haired man in his early 20's, Volume, came running over to the group. “Four Draculoids - no S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W chaperones – with two civilians! Outer Zone One! Let's hit the gas, V! Last thing we need is more static!”
“I'll give the orders around here, Volume,” stated Val coldly as she snatched the mask from Tamika's hand and ran off towards the battle.
“Give it back!” Tamika yelled after Val, trailing behind her.
“Come get it!” returned Val, smirking as she ran.
“Oh, this is gonna be good!” Vamos was out at the front of the group, leading them ahead. “I bet she'd dust 'em all in a second!”
“No!” retorted Vaya from just behind, “I bet those stupid Dracs just kill themselves when they see her!”
Val turned around to face Tamika, the smirk still planted firmly on her face. “Ready to fight, little one? Let's see what you're made of.”
Deep in the slums of Night Vale, a phone rang loudly. A disgruntled porno droid was putting her clothes on as the man, Daniel, answered the ringing phone.
“Where the hell are you?!” yelled the voice on the other end of the phone.
“I'm at the--”
“Scum district. With a porno droid. Your heart rate is climbing...”
“Ma'am, yes ma'am. Sorry, ma'am.”
“May I remind you those things were created as something for us to do after work not instead of?” The voice on the other end of the phone was not pleased. “I have no problem sending you back for reeducation if this behavior keeps up!”
“Ma'am, yes ma'am. Sorry, ma'am.”
A moment of silence passed as the porno droid eyed Daniel. “Hey,” she began meekly, “forgetting something?”
Without responding, Daniel dropped a bit of money next to the droid.
“Your heart rate is stabilizing,” the Voice on the phone continued, “I need you to get back out there. There's a disturbance in 11-C.”
“Right, ma'am. Of course. Just... one thing, if I may. Is there anyone to, well, meet me on the job? There's just... Sometimes I get the creeps out there alone.”
As the Killjoys arrive, they find a young couple on the ground, tied together, surrounded by men in white suits, wearing vampire masks – Draculoids.
One knelt in front of the woman, holding a mask in front of her face. “You were found with your headphones at an unreasonable volume,” he said menacingly to the woman. “What's it going to be? A mask, or death?”
The woman began to sob, unable to bring herself to answer. Without even a second passing, a second Draculoid fired a shot from his blaster into the back of her head, rendering her unconscious. The first Draculoid lifted her head up, sliding the mask over her face.
“Doesn't matter. One of us, now.” He walks around to face the man, who is now sobbing as uncontrollably as his wife was. “What's it going to be?”
“I...,” the man stuttered. “I -”
A sudden blast from another blaster struck the Draculoid square in the chest, knocking him to the ground, dead. Val, Tamika, and the other Killjoys had just gotten close enough to strike.
Vamos looked at Tamika over her shoulder, firing her blaster blindly ahead. “Got your gun out, girl?”
“Please. That's like catching cacoons instead of butterflies!” Tamika bluffed, attempting to hid the fact that she didn't even own a blaster. “I only kill S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W's. Dracs aren't worth my time.” She stands back as the rest of them rush forward, attacking the Draculoids head on.
Blasts of lasers flew through the sky, hitting Draculoids and bouncing off scenery. The battle raged, coming to a head when Volume was struck in the chest with a laser blast, falling backwards on top of Tamika.
As he lay dying on the ground, he looked into Tamika's eyes. “It's okay... I'm – I'm tired of hiding.” Those were his final words, his head slamming against the rocks that made up the ground.
In the middle of the battle, the man was knelt next to his wife, attempting to wake her up. “Honey? It's me!” he kept frantically saying, shaking her until, finally, she awoke. She managed to pull herself to her feet, and took an offensive stand against her husband.
“Honey? It's me! Listen, take off the mask!”
His voice was silenced by the science of the mask that now sat on her face. What she heard was not the voice of her husband, but instead the voice of the person she feared most. And what she saw was not her husband's face, but the face of a giant spider. She quickly and without warning pounced onto him, wrapping her hands around his neck in an attempt to strangle the life out of him.
A blast hit the woman square in the back, causing her to fall over. “Wait!” yelled the Man, trying to save his wife, but it was too late. Val had already struck her dead.
She turned away from the grieving man and faced her gang. “Volume is dead,” she said solemnly. “Wrap him up. Let's get him home.”
Tamika watched, stunned, as Vamos, Vaya, and Vinyl did as they were told, lifting Volume onto their shoulders and carrying him away. Tamika waited a moment before following them, unsure of where else to go.
Hours later, a lone man waded through the destruction from the earlier events. The man had his perfect brown hair pulled back into a pony-tail that even a model would be jealous of. He slid the masks off the Draculoids, and left the scene.
“They can turn you into a monster,” he said to himself as he walked purposefully toward what appeared to be an old-fashioned mailbox. “They can make you turn on your brother. But they can't touch your spirit.”
The man, Carlos, opened the mailbox, sliding the masks inside. “Be still now. Let the witch guide you. You are free.” He backed away from the mailbox, sliding his hands into his stained lab coat, and lowered his head, as if in prayer.
“Sad news, listeners,” rang Cecil's voice from the radio Tamika carried with her at all times. It'd been hours since their fight with the Dracs, and the group was weary and angry. “Volume, from the Ultra V's, was dusted this morning after a run-in with some black and whites. Word is, things got a little hairy when the V's, led by Val Velocity, tried to save a pair of undergrads from downtown. Services for our fallen brother will be held tonight at the nest.”
“Turn him off,” muttered Val, keeping her focus directly in front of her. A flash of memory ran through her head: the days when she joked with Cecil, sharing cat videos on his Facebook wall. She shook her head, forcing the memories back. “Turn him off! We can't trust him.”
“Yeah,” agreed Vaya, “how does he know about it already? I mean it just happened.”
“I know,” agreed Vamos, “and he's super old. Gotta be like forty something.”
“Be quiet,” Val coldly said.
The three of them stood back a moment, letting Val get a bit ahead of them. Tamika turned to Vamos and Vaya. “The nest?”
“A nonstop party-” began Vamos.
“And mom and dad never come home!” concluded Vaya.
Cecil's voice continued on the radio as though none of this had just transpired. “And just a reminder to you all, listeners: don't go looking for trouble. Skip the glory. Let's stay alive and see the sun rise. And remember, hope can come from the place where you least expect it.”
Directly ahead of the group, lies a modestly sized shack. This is the nest. The cat jumps down from Tamika's shoulder, running ahead and staring intently at the building.
Lauren Mallard stared at a large screen, mesmerized. She was deep inside City Hall, surrounded by a few of her most trustworthy StrexCorp officials, and a group of S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W's. Years ago, she may have been a measly manager of the Greater Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area Radio Station, but now she found herself head of StrexCorp, the entire company at her command. It was a power she definitely enjoyed.
“There's no doubt about it,” she said more to herself than to anyone else, “and there's nothing else it could be.”
“The nest,” said a S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W, “seems legitimate.”
“Strange sounds, notes of ozone, the smell of quiet,” replied Lauren. “Even spiders come up for air. Ten years of looking at body bags and tumbleweeds have finally paid off.” She continued to stare at the screen, a smile creeping across her face.
Kevin had just finished his evening broadcast on the Greater Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area Community Radio. It had been another great show at the end of another great day. He turned off his equipment, which was more difficult than it sounded due to the fact that the entire room was coated in a thick layer of human blood.
As he was about to turn the last light in the studio off, the phone rang. Kevin slowly walked over, picked up the receiver, and answered. “Hello?” He stood there in silence for a few moments, occasionally muttering an affirmative response.
"As always, I will do whatever it takes to create a better tomorrow," he said to the phone, an alarmingly large smile creeping across his face.
As he hung up the phone, his free hand instinctively went down to his belt, where it found a white blaster strapped to his waist. His hand wrapped around the blaster as he turned the last light off.
It was the next day, and Tamika had settled in at the nest. Sort of. She was as settled in as one could be in such a small place, with no power, no water, and no food. It had been a fairly quiet day, until noises were heard from the main room.
Tamika rushed out to discover the power had been turned on, and Vamos and Vaya were caught up in some video game she'd never heard of.
“What's dinner?” she asked?
Vamos laughed. “Dinner? Ha! That's a joke!”
Tamika scowled in response. “God, how can you guys just sit here and play games when you just buried one of your friends?”
“It's okay,” Vamos replied, “Volume's with the Phoenix Witch.”
“He's on her good side now,” continued Vaya, without looking away from the game. “Don't cross the witch, or she'll steal your soul!” She giggled and mashed the buttons on the controller.
“Never mention her to Val. She gets her pissed. She doesn't believe in her. Then again, she doesn't believe in anything you can't shoot. Forget about an afterlife. Dead is dead to Val. It's why she's taking it so hard.”
Tamika walked away from the two girls and their game, turning her attention to her cat. “We need to find something to eat,” she whispered, “get that mask back, and get the hell out of here-”
“Attention!” Cecil's voice rang loud and urgent from the radio. “Brothers and sisters! It's time to open those eyes and move those thighs. I never thought the time would come, dear listeners. Years of uninterrupted bliss. Word is... mom and dad are coming home!”
Outside the house, Val had turned on the man from the previous day, blaster pointed directly at his chest. “Who are you?” she asked angrily. “Years. We've been off the radar for years! Now they find us?! So let me ask you again... Who are you?!”
The man was unable to answer, and Val, losing her patience, unloaded multiple shots into his chest, leaving him for dead.
Cecil's voice continued to speak softly, as the various killjoys prepared for the fight. “If Satan screams out loud, and violence is the only sound... When the engines come squealing, demons reeling, the dance ground just a mask among the crowd, you need to hold tight to whatever gets you through the night.”
The Killjoys had just managed to get themselves together as the first wave of S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W's, led by Kevin, arrived at the nest, blasters aimed ahead. Most knew Kevin as the voice of the Greater Desert Bluffs Area, but the Killjoys knew him as the head S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W, a dangerous force to reckon with, and one that Val had not been counting on running into.
Tamika hid behind a tree, not wanting any part in this fight. Images flashed through her head; images of her last stand against Strex. She was just a child, leading a group of children against a giant megacorporation. She should've known there was no hope. She should've been smarter, she should've planned harder. Their deaths were on her head. Cecil's injury was on her head. This was all her fault, and she wanted nothing further to do with it.
Reality slammed into her, and she found herself back behind the tree, listening to Cecil's melodious tones as the two groups faced each other, blasters at the ready.
“Beyond the cover,” Cecil continued, “pages give you color. That ink will never dry. Killjoys...”
Kevin and Val faced each other, a moment of silent tension surrounding them both. Eyes locked together, fingers resting on the trigger.
“Killjoys never die!”
Something behind Val exploded, and her head was filled with noise.