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A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

Chapter Text

"They said yes!"

"Y-yes?!"

Carlos nearly jumped out of his armchair. He clutched the phone tighter, a look of pure elation on his face. "They really gave us the grant, Ellie?"

"Of course they did! After all that fuss with Professor what's-his-face, they needed someone to go and figure out what the hell is going on there. It's the most incredible anomaly out there, Carlos, and WE get to investigate it!"

Ellie half-squealed down the end of the phone, which was so deafening that Carlos had to hold it away from his ear.

"Okay, calm down. What else did they say?"

"Well they said we can leave on the 13th, so we have just over two weeks to sort out all the equipment and the team."

"What?!" Carlos spluttered. Two weeks? How on God's green earth was he going to assemble a team, a lab, the rent....

"Hey, hey, don't worry about it." Ellie said in a calm voice down the phone, sensing his worry. "I'm gonna be there, remember? Dr Green to the rescue. And I heard Perez is interested, too. We'll be fine."

"I hope so." Carlos murmured. He didn't know what was waiting for him in the 'Anomaly Zone', as Ellie had nicknamed the town that they were investigating, but it couldn't come too soon. His thoughts began to wonder.

"Carlos? You still there?" Ellie said, concerned.

"Mm? Oh, sorry. Just....thoughts wondering."

"Carlos, this isn't about Derek, is it?"

"No." Carlos said firmly. He had known Dr Green for a good few years, so he knew why Ellie would suspect that his interest in it came from something other than scientific intrigue. Although it had coincided with Carlos' rather terrific breakup with his boyfriend of two months last week, his interest in the anomalous community had existed ever since the last team of scientists had come back jabbering about impossibilities and the rules of science not applying four months ago. Carlos had thought that it was complete nonsense, naturally, as science applied to everything, but when the opportunity arose for a two year grant to investigate the town, he'd grabbed at it.

"No, Ellie, I'm fine. And could we not discuss Derek, please? It's....it's hard enough as it is."

"Sorry, Carlos. I just need to make sure that you're okay before we do something of this magnitude. He didn't deserve you, anyway."

Carlos smiled slightly and fiddled with the corner of his sleeve.

"Thanks, Ellie.... Um, did they say anything else?"

"Uh, yeah." There was a muffled sound of paper rustling from the other end of the line. "Their City Council sent me a brochure. But it's kind of....weird. Lots of stuff about ritualistic sacrifice and mandatory eating at some local restaurant. Seriously, Carlos, it's crazy."

"We signed on for crazy, though, didn't we?" Carlos smiled warily. This was going to be an interesting experience. It was all for science, of course.

"We did. Goodnight, Dr Green. We begin work tomorrow. Get some rest."

"Ooh, being formal are we? Goodnight, then, Dr Valdez."

The line cut off and Carlos laid back in his chair. He ran his hand through his hair, which really needed a trim. His brown, nearly black curls were starting to intrude on his face. Maybe they have a barber in the town, he mused.

Two weeks. He had two weeks. He looked at the brown, rather neglected suitcase in the corner of his room with a small smile, trying to remember the name of the anomalous town. Oh, it was on the tip of his tongue.

Night Vale!

That was it.

Night Vale...

Chapter Text

Carlos kept having the strangest feeling that they were being watched. Which was impossible, since they were hopelessly lost in the middle of a desert. The van was hot and stuffy, and most of them were sitting on or surrounded by equipment. The only one in cheerful spirits was Dr Green, who was driving, but then she was never upset by anything. Carlos turned around to look at his team, who were looking at a road map and arguing.

The one holding the map was Dr Edwardo Perez, a 30-something physicist with a bald head and often grumpy demeanour. He was fiddling with his collar as he talked, which made Carlos snort slightly. Who tries to wear a turtleneck in the middle of the desert? He always wore one to work, Carlos noted. Maybe he just didn't fancy a change. Perez had volunteered for the program first, and was a gifted physicist, so despite his character, Carlos was glad to have him on his team.

Sat next to Perez was Dr Brent Jeffries from the Geology department. Jeffries was a stout middle aged man, with a pot belly and a jolly personality. His thick ginger beard seemed to bounce when he laughed. He was a great man and a great geologist, and although Carlos had never worked with him before, he'd come highly recommended by the university.
Sat in the corner surrounded by seismological equipment looking rather tired was chemist Dr Jermaine Parker. Carlos was wary of the scientist. He had tagged along with Jeffries, as they were great friends, but he too was unknown to Carlos. His dreadlocks had been pulled back into a loose ponytail and he had bags under his eyes, presumably from lack of sleep. He was a decent enough fellow, but Carlos didn't feel the dedication towards the cause from him that the other scientists on his team had.

"For goodness sake, give me the map!" Another voice demanded. A hand with silver rings decorating it suddenly reached forward and took the map from Perez. Carlos smirked slightly as she began pointing out to the men that they were, for starters, holding the map upside down. He'd taken a chance with intern Natalia Johnson on this expedition. She'd just turned up at his office at the university 3 days before they left with a packed suitcase, a smile and a full résumé. She was the youngest member of Carlos' team, and the only one without a doctorate. She was 20 years old, with ebony hair that was cropped in a pixie cut, with blue streaks running through it, which contrasted a lot with her fair pale skin. She had an elfish look to her, which was almost spoilt by the amount of tattoos she had. She was also the only member of Carlos' team that wasn't wearing a lab coat, only a cropped black vest top that showed off a rather intricate set of tattooed roses on her collar bones. She was two years off completing her Masters in Astrophysics, and she was exceptionally bright and up for a challenge, which was most likely why Carlos accepted her on the trip.

Last but not least was Dr Eleanor Green. Ellie was Carlos' closest friend, and he was thanking whatever deities out there that she'd been mad enough to accompany him on this trip. Ellie's speciality was biochemistry, and she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. She was like a ray of sunshine in Carlos' life, particularly the last few months with all the Derek drama. Her curly blonde hair reflected the hot desert sunlight that was hitting the van, and was bringing out her freckles. She turned to Carlos with a grin, her azure blue eyes sparkling.

"I think we're nearly there, despite what Perez keeps saying. We saw the sign only 10 miles back, so we can't be going too wrong. We're still on Route 40, right?"

"Uh....." Jeffries said. "We honestly don't know."

Suddenly the radio station, which had been playing some awful country music that Ellie liked changed. It began to fizz and snippets of voice could be heard.

"....*fizz*.... Community....sun is hot......beautiful..........lights....pretend to sleep.....*fizz*....Night Vale."

"Night Vale? Did it just say Night Vale?" Ellie said excitedly. "It must be a local channel. We're close!"

No sooner had she said that, then an entire town just seemed to - there was no other way Carlos could describe it - materialise in front of them.

 

~

 

Carlos could see tall buildings and a radio tower off in the distance, presumably where the signal was coming from. And it had all just appeared right out of the blue. The scientists gaped at the vision in front of them as the radio perked up again.

".....*fizz*....city council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Summerset near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the dog park.....*fizz*..."

"What on earth? Dogs are not allowed in the dog park?" Natalia laughed and turned it off. "That's absurd!"

"Let's just get to the lab, shall we?" Carlos started. "Unload the equipment and then get the other half to the monitoring sta- Ellie! Mind that man!"

Ellie swerved to avoid the man who had been standing in the middle of the road before stopping the van immediately. She moved so as if to see if he was alright, but before she could even open the door, he was right at Carlos' window. He was wearing what looked like a SWAT team outfit, black-tinted steampunk goggles and a metal helmet that read 'Sheriff's Secret Police'. Due to the size of the goggles, it was hard to distinguish his features other than the fact that he had a thick moustache. His badge read 'Officer Brody'.

"You the scientists?" The man growled.

"Yes." Carlos said. "We are."

"You're the leader?"

"Uh....." Carlos looked at Ellie slightly fearfully. "Yes..."

"Come with us. Everyone is at City Hall and expecting you. Here are your maps and orange ponchos." He thrust the items at Dr Parker, who looked slightly put out. Carlos began to get out of the van.

"Carlos-"

"Don't worry, Ellie, just go and get everything set up. You're in charge until I get back."

Ellie nodded nervously, before driving off in the direction that the new map had told them go.

"This way, sir."

Officer Brody indicated towards a large looking building that Carlos presumed to be City Hall.

 

~

 

After a few minutes of questioning the officer to no avail, Carlos was half-shoved up on a podium in front of a large group of people.

"Hello." Carlos said. He tried to put on his best professional speaking voice.

"I'm Dr Carlos Valdez. I'm here with my colleagues to investigate your town. You are by far the most scientifically interesting community in the whole US. We've already seen some strange occurrences, so we've come to figure out just what is going on around here."

He grinned sheepishly, hoping that that didn't make him sound like he was going to intrude their privacy. He scanned the crowd very quickly. There were mostly journalists, a disproportionate amount for the number of people he assumed would live in a town the size that Night Vale appeared to be. There were some strange men in black suits at the back, but Carlos paid them no heed. He just wanted to get back to the lab.

"Um, yeah. So we'll be around, but we'll try not to bother anyone unless necessary. Thanks." He half-ran off the podium. Oh, Carlos, you idiot. He thought. Way to make a first impression.

 

~

 

Officer Brody escorted Carlos back to his lab immediately after, brushing off questions fired at him by a woman that Brody later told him was actually the Mayor, Pamela Winchall.
When he reached the lab, Carlos observed Ellie and Perez loading equipment into the van under a large neon sign reading 'Big Rico's Pizza'.

"Dr Valdez, how was your meeting?" Perez said calmly.

"Carlos, please. And it went well enough." he said. "Told them why we were here and then came back. How's unpacking going?"

"We're all done, but....um. We're having problems with the radio. It won't turn off. You know the station we heard earlier?"

Carlos nodded.

"Well it turns out that it's the Community Radio station. It's been...reporting. About you. Apparently, the radio host likes you." Perez pulled an expression that was so close to a smile that Carlos instantly became suspicious.

"Likes me?" Carlos asked.

"Yeah." Ellie chipped in. "The radio host has a really amazing voice. It's like velvet. It's actually kinda hot. But he talked about you for ages! Your hair is 'perfect', according to him."

Carlos stood there dumbfounded for a moment, before clearing his throat.

"Okay. Uh...." He tried to form a coherent sentence. "Okay. Um, anything else? Scientific, perhaps?"

Science was good. Science would distract him from stalker radio hosts.

"Yes, actually, Dr Va-Carlos." Perez brought over the map of Night Vale. Perez pointed to a housing area labelled 'Desert Creek'.

"There is a house there. The locals say it is strange. Sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not."

"How can it only be there sometimes?"

"I do not know. I thought it would be a good place to start our investigation of the town."

"Thank you, Edwardo. Where are Jeffries and Parker?"

"They are at the monitoring station. Something about seismological anomalies. They said to go and see you as soon as we have been to the house."

"Okay." Carlos ran his hands through his hair. "Let's go to the housing development, then I'll run to the station."

 

~

 

He climbed into the back of the van. He had felt bad for Perez being stuck in the back the whole trip there, so had let him go in the front. As they were halfway to the housing development, the radio station, which had been reporting on a plane materialising in the middle of a gymnasium - another thing that Carlos had mentally added to his ever-growing list of phenomena to investigate - the voice changed ever so slightly. It became less velvety and more....wistful.

"That new scientist we now know is named Carlos called a town meeting. He has a square jaw and teeth like a military cemetery. His hair is perfect, and we all hate and despair and love that perfect hair in equal measure..."

The sound of the radio host's voice was cut off by a loud giggle from Ellie. Carlos was blushing profusely. Military cemetery?!

"Who IS this guy?" Perez asked.

"I don't know. He hasn't given a name." Ellie said, smiling wryly. "Sshh...I'm trying to listen." She leaned across the dashboard and turned the volume up.

"...to buying more. Carlos told us that we are, by far, the most scientifically interesting community in the US, and he had come to study just what is going around here. He grinned, and everything about him was perfect, and I fell in love instantly. Govern-"

Carlos switched it off, his face scarlet. How could someone say those things on live radio? It was crazy. It was odd. Most importantly, it was utterly unprofessional.

"Awwww, Carlos has an admirer!" Ellie said teasingly. "That's so cute!"

"No, it's not." Carlos shot Ellie a rather cold look and she went back to driving, though the smirk was still plastered on her face.

When they reached the house, Ellie and Perez set up monitors and equipment. Carlos was on the phone to Jeffries and Parker as they set it up by the house that supposedly disappeared lots.

"Carlos, you need to see these readings, they are crazy. It's over 9 on the Richter Scale. Are you not feeling anything either?"

"No. Write everything down. I'll be there shortly."

He hung up as Perez ran over holding the equipment. "Dr Valdez, these readings...well, the house doesn't actually exist."

"Pardon?" Carlos said, and looked at the readings himself, before looking up at the house. "But it's right there in front of us! Are you sure it's not the equipment?"

"No, we checked. It definitely is not actually there."

Carlos was dumbfounded. "Keep looking into it, I'm needed over at the station."

"Will do."

"Excuse me?" Carlos spun round to face a young man wearing a t-shirt that said 'NVCR' and had a badge that didn't give a name, just saying 'Intern'.

"Can I help you?" Carlos said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. God, he needed a haircut.

"Yeah, I work at the radio station. They want to know if you've found anything."

Carlos sighed. He quickly explained what had been happening to the intern about the house and the supposed earthquakes before sending him away. He got back in the van, leaving Ellie and Perez to analyse the house more.

"See you later, Carlos!" Ellie said as the van faded into the distance.

"......so Perez, I totally dare you to knock on the door."

 

~

 

After Carlos had finished at the monitoring station, he went to the van to put the equipment away. He opened the van door in order to put away a seismograph when he heard the radio again.

"....put it plainly, there appears to be catastrophic earthquakes happening right here in Night Vale that absolutely no one can feel. Well, submit an insurance claim anyway, see what you can get, right?"

Carlos suppressed a laugh. Despite the strange man's weird obsession with him and his overgrown hair, he did seem to have a sense of humour. He looked up at the radio tower, which was only a few streets away from the station. He stood on his tiptoes to see over the next building. However, this made him lose his balance and drop some of the equipment he had in his arms. He picked them up one by one and put them back in the van, but as he picked up the Geiger counter it beeped. He spun around to see what it was picking up and he pointed it towards the radio station, where it began the faint beeping again.

Carlos decided it was about time he visited this radio station anyway, so he turned off the Geiger counter, putting it in his top lab coat pocket, before walking towards the station.

 

~

 

When he arrived, he was led upstairs by another person in an 'intern' t-shirt to the radio booth. The 'on air' sign was off and some music was playing.

The door opened and a man stepped out.

"Oh, Carlos, you came!"

The man in front of him was one of the strangest people that Carlos had ever beheld. He had violet eyes that were slightly obscured by a pair of geeky looking black glasses, with what appeared to be another small tattooed closed eye on his forehead. His hair was mainly a dirty blonde colour, but had highlights that were so platinum they were almost white. His smile was almost blinding, and Carlos considered asking him for his dentist's number. He was wearing a black waistcoat and trousers, with a white shirt and the most oddly coloured tie that he'd ever seen in his life. It was a kind of a bluish-purple that reminded Carlos of when his grandmother's cat had eaten some birthday cake and thrown up once. He was strange to say the least. But...also kind of cute at the same time.

"I'm Cecil! So good to meet you finally!" Finally? Carlos thought. He'd been in town one day!

He shook Carlos' hand enthusiastically and Carlos noted that he had strange purple tattoos running up his arm. Were those....tentacles? Ignore that, Carlos, his brain insisted. Science time.

Carlos got out the Geiger counter and switched it on. It went crazy. He stepped inside the booth as the beeping increased.

"What are you looking for, dear Carlos?"

Carlos kept moving forward, mostly ignoring him.

"Materials." He muttered. He had no idea why he said it, it's just that he didn't have much else to say.
Carlos moved the Geiger counter towards the microphone and it emitted such a quick series of beeps that Carlos almost fainted. He looked at the readings. He'd checked it was working alright before he'd come in. The readings it was showing.....everyone in this building should be dead, or at least be having massive amounts of organ failure.

"How...?"

"What's wrong?" Cecil inquired.

"You need to evacuate this building. Immediately." He could feel the beads of sweat on his forehead as he headed for the door.

"You won't stay for an interview?" Cecil sounded so hurt that Carlos almost stopped.

"No, just get everyone to clear out." He ran down the stairs and back to the van.

 

~

 

He got to the lab later and headed up the stairs to the two apartments above it where they were all staying.

"Hello?" A voice came from the corridor.

"Natalia?"

"Oh, Dr Valdez, hey! Dr Parker told us you went to the radio station. How'd it go? Did you meet the radio guy? Ellie told us all about what he's been saying."

"Uh, yeah. I did. His name is Cecil. But seriously, Natalia, the amount of gamma radiation that the place was giving off...everyone should be dead."

"Geez. We've been having some more weird readings here too. The sun didn't set at the right time. We checked everything, but it just didn't. We told that to another of those interns from the radio station. They seem to be everywhere. How was Cecil, though? Was he cute?"

"Wha-that's not important. The sun didn't set at the right time today?! That's important."

"I know it is but we're all tired, so Dr Green stopped us all for the day. You look beat, Carlos, you should get some rest too. And tell us all about your stalker tomorrow."

"It has been a long day. Which room is mine?"

"Last door on the right of the corridor. Sleep well."

"You too."

Now she'd mentioned sleep, Carlos suddenly felt a lot wearier. He trudged to his room and lobbed his suitcase off the bed. He'd unpack properly tomorrow. He smiled as he realised that Ellie had made his bed for him, so he just pulled off his shoes, lab coat and shirt before climbing into the bed. It was softer than he was used to, but it didn't matter much. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

Carlos was awoken by the sound of loud knocking. He groaned. He'd never been a morning person anyway, but now with the investigation of Night Vale, it was getting worse. This was mostly due to the fact that there was so much to do, he usually had a very late night. The last two nights, either Dr Green or Natalia had had to force him to stop working and go to bed.

They had been in Night Vale for around two weeks, and it was taking its toll on everyone. There was so much phenomena to investigate, they'd had to make a list with classification ranging from 'urgent' to 'should probably look into it' and 'can wait'. Phenomena such as "Dog Park", "Angels?" and "House in Desert Creek" were near the top.

However, when Carlos went downstairs that day, the list had been hastily shoved down and a new item, scrawled in Jeffries' handwriting (all their pens had been taken away last week, so they were bending the law ever so slightly by using a blackboard) had topped it. It read "Glowing Cloud".

"Morning." Carlos yawned, looking at the scientists, also in their dressing gowns.

"Dr Valdez," Natalia said. "We got a call from 'John Peters, you know, the farmer?'" She did a nearly perfect imitation of Cecil's radio voice, which made Jeffries snort into his coffee in the corner. "Well he saw a glowing cloud near his farm just now. It looked pretty big, apparently, so he wanted to know if we could investigate."

"We can. What else did he say?"

"Well he said it had a weird aura that changed colour and that it made whistling noises."

"Hmm. Ellie, Parker, you're the chemists here, do you want to come?"

"Hell yeah." Ellie grinned. Parker just nodded.

"Jeffries, do you know much about clouds?"

"I....er, I'd say enough for this, boss."

"Then we should get dressed." Dr Green said. Carlos had made her second-in-command as soon as they had arrived. "Natalia, Perez, can you get on the clock issue. Maybe research some more laws we should know about, as well?"

Carlos cringed slightly. Parker had been caught using a pen two days ago by the Secret Police and was taken in for 're-education'. He'd come back even quieter than usual and had immediately flushed all their other pens and pencils down the toilet, including Carlos' favourite pen with decorated atoms all over it.

He had mourned the loss of his pen the next day, much to Natalia's amusement. They had been investigating the lights above Arby's that appeared like clockwork, every Wednesday and Saturday night. Natalia had taken a keen interest in that, and the possibility of the dimensional underground city at the bowling alley. She had even become well acquainted with Teddy Williams, who owned the place.

"Right, let's get going. Van in twenty minutes, guys."

 

~

 

Carlos ran upstairs and got dressed before running down to help load the back of the van. There weren't entirely sure what equipment they would even need, so they threw in a mix.

"Brent, how is your skin today?" Carlos looked over at the older member of his team.

Jeffries and Natalia, with their fair skin, had been suffering the most from the heat of the desert. Whilst Natalia just got tired very quickly - this wasn't too much of an issue, as most of her work was done in the evening and night - Jeffries had been getting sunburnt frequently. It hadn't however, to Carlos' shock, dampened his spirits at all and he was still happy to go and do fieldwork even in high heat.

"It's alrigh', Dr Valdez. Thanks fo' asking." He chuckled. "Though the man at the pharmacy said it would be be'er if I had a bath in sheep tears."

"Sheep tears?"

"Yeah. Not gonna 'appen, though!" He laughed again, a bellowing that echoed around the back of the van. "I'll be fine, I've layered up on tha' sunscreen that Cecil gave me."

"Cecil? As in the radio show Cecil?"

"Yeah, he came over yesterday lookin' for you. You were out with Dr Parker, so he stayed and chatted a while. He apparently gets burnt sometimes too, so he gave me a bottle of the stuff he uses. Smells like jet fuel, but it's workin'. He's a nice guy, Carlos. Bit odd, but nice."

Jeffries and Green especially had begun listening to Cecil's show regularly; partially because it was useful in finding out what was happening, and partially because they found it not-so-secretly amusing whenever Cecil mentioned them all. Carlos had grown tired of Cecil's fawning over his hair, but he had to admit that the radio show was good background noise for when they were working in the evenings.

"Oh. That was nice of him." He cleared his throat. "Truck's loaded, we should go."

Jeffries laughed heartily again at Carlos' avoidance of the subject and climbed into the van with the equipment and Dr Green.

Parker was on driving duty today, which he normally didn't mind, but he was still worried about the effects that the council's so-called 're-education' had on the chemist.

"How are you doing, Jermaine?" Carlos asked as he took the passenger seat.

"Good, Dr Valdez." He said quietly.

If they weren't discussing work, Parker was a very quiet person who kept himself to himself. Now the re-education had happened, he barely said a word to anyone, and Carlos was worried about him. Jeffries had assured him that Parker was okay, and that he just needed a little time, but Carlos was unconvinced thus far.

 

~

 

They drove in silence the whole way to John Peters' farm, aside from the faint sound of Cecil on the radio moaning about the Apache Tracker.

When they arrived at the farm, there was no trace of the glow cloud, apart from a very strong smell. It had taken a few moments for the scientists to process it, but it was most certainly vanilla.

"What happened, Mr Peters?" Jeffries asked calmly.

"I...I can't actually remember all of it. But there are some small dead animals on my fields, and it was headed in the direction of Old Town Night Vale."

"What do you mean small dead animals?" Ellie asked. "May I examine them?"

"Course. I got no use for them."

"Thanks. Carlos, can I..?"

"Yeah, of course, go."

Ellie nodded and went off with John Peters to examine the dead animals, whilst Parker looked for any chemical traces left by the Glow Cloud. As for Carlos and Jeffries, they decided to follow the cloud to Old Town Night Vale in order to obtain better readings and attempt to ascertain what the cloud was actually there for.

 

~

 

Jeffries had begun to tune the radio to try and get Cecil's show on. Luckily for him, this wasn't too difficult, as it seemed to be the only station that was possible to pick up in the entire town.

"...There is a cat hovering in the men’s bathroom at the radio station here..."

Carlos' ears perked up.

Hovering? That would be worth investigating after this whole Glow Cloud incident was over. But he was a little anxious about heading over to the radio station, what with Cecil being there and all. He still wasn't sure if he wanted to be around the admittedly cute man...who kept declaring his love for Carlos and his hair on live radio.

Carlos continued driving until he spotted the Glow Cloud. He drove as quickly as he could without being arrested in order to get nearer to it. Jeffries, sat next to him, leaned his head out of the window and scribbled notes on a notepad.

"Where did you get a pen?" Carlos whispered to him in hushed tones, in case anyone in the Secret Police heard.

"Hm? Oh, I kep' one behind when they were all being taken."

Carlos cursed himself internally for not doing that himself. It would have saved him at least twenty minutes that morning.

He observed the Glow Cloud again. It appeared to be quite large - larger than John Peters had originally described. Either John's description hadn't been accurate, or it was growing.

"Brent, can clouds grow by themselves?"

Jeffries muttered to himself for a moment or two about cloud microparticles with a furrowed brow.

"It depends, but short answer: normally it would take much more moisture than the deser' could provide it with."

Carlos gave Jeffries a grim look. If the Glow Cloud was truly growing AND it was doing so by its own means, it could be a far bigger problem than he had originally predicted. He was so caught up in these musings that he only noticed at the last second before it happened the dead animal that had dropped onto the front of the van.

"Mierda!" Carlos half-yelped.

"Is tha' an ARMADILLO?" Jeffries exclaimed as Carlos stopped the van at the side of the road, yanking back the handbrake with a quick breath out.

"I...." He calmed himself. Do this scientifically. "Yes. Yes it appears to be."

"Jesus Christ, Valdez. Did tha' come from the cloud?"

".........I think so."

Jeffries opened the van door.

"I'm gon' get some more readings, Carlos, that okay?" He didn't sound very confident.

Carlos nodded, only half paying attention. Most of his focus was on the expanding Glow Cloud and the fact that dead animals appeared to be falling from it like rain. What other focus he had was tuned into the radio.

"...tossed on the Eternal Animal Pyre in Mission Grove Park, so, if that’s the worst the Glow Cloud has for us, I say go ahead and do your daily errands. Just bring along a good strong umbrella capable of handling falling animals up to, say, ten pounds."

Was Cecil not taking this seriously? He thought. People are in danger! Or maybe Night Vale just had a lower sense of what was dangerous and what wasn't. He made a mental note to make a device for measuring danger.

"Carlos!" Jeffries shouted. "Massive increase in activity!"

Carlos jumped back out of the van and ran over to him. "How so?"

"I....I'm no' sure, I don't think I could offer anythin' concrete, but-"

"Hey, don't worry. Science is never concrete, and this is science we've never seen before." Carlos said reassuringly. "What's your best guess?"

"It's displayin' a type of molecular activity that shows.....well, possible sentience."

"That's so....incredible! So fascinating." Carlos said in wonder.

"I hate to rain on your curiosity parade, boss, but we can't jus' let it keep droppin' dead animals everywhere, even if it does have some kind of brain." Jeffries said, with an ever so slight smile that was mostly concealed by his bushy beard.

"No." Carlos said, after a slight pause. "No we can't. Okay, we need a plan."

"You wan' me to call Parker?"

"Yeah, get him on the phone."

Jeffries fumbled with his phone to finding Parker's number. Cecil's voice, meanwhile, was still floating from the van.

"...Little League administration has announced that they will be going ahead with the game, although there will be an awning built over the field die to the increasing size of the animal corpses being dropped...."

"Hello?" Parker's voice came from the phone.

"Hello, Jermaine? It's Carlos. We need to know if you found any chemical elements in the cloud."

"A few, why?"

"If we can know what they are, there's a slight chance that we can interrupt the molecular composition by making it react with other elements so it dissipat-"

"All hail." Jeffries said suddenly beside him. Carlos paused.

"All hail the mighty Glow Cloud." Parker said down the phone.

"....has no need for thoughts or feelings of love. The Glow Cloud simply is. All hail the mighty Glow Cloud. All hail." Came the sound of the radio from the van.

Carlos found his lips moving for him and everything went blurry. "All hail the might of the Glow Cloud."

The world became even dizzier and Carlos sat down heavily, shutting his ears blearily, as the Voice of Night Vale kept talking hazily in the background.

"And now, slaves of the Cloud, the weather......"

Everything went black.

 

~

 

"Carlos?" A hand was shaking him. "CARLOS."

"Mm."

"Oh thank The Lord above us, he's okay."

"Jeffries?" Carlos murmured, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I go' woken up by Dr Green and Dr Parker."

Carlos looked up and three figures slowly swam into focus. "What happened?"

"We don' know. None of us can actually remember," he replied.

"But the cloud has gone." Ellie said.

"Gone?" Carlos sounded disappointed. It was one of the most intriguing phenomena that they had encountered so far, and it was so scientifically fascinating.

"Yeah. It just vanished." Ellie said, helping him up.

"Did we get any readings?"

"Oh, yes! So we have that if nothing else."

"Good. Have you heard from the others? Natalia, Perez?"

"They're back at the lab. Look, what's say we call it a day and analyse the results tomorrow. Watch a film and go out to Big Rico's."

Carlos ran his hands through his hair and was on the verge of protesting when he really looked at his team. Ellie's hair was frizzy and her lab coat was covered in a strange fluid that Carlos hoped wasn't intestinal fluid; Parker was clutching a vial so tightly it was a miracle it wasn't broken and Jeffries looked incredibly exhausted.

"Okay. Yeah. Back to the lab."

 

~

 

Carlos liked Big Rico's Pizza. Once he'd gotten over the strangeness of the toppings, and the sightless children that snarled when they took your order, he'd ended up enjoying the place a lot.

He'd eaten there once this week already, as was the mandatory requirement. It had been pleasant enough but there had been some hooded figures in the corner playing cards. There were no betting chips from what Carlos could see, only some black baby birds which sounded like a damaged hedge strummed when they chirped.

After their meal, the scientists headed back to the lab and discussed films. Ellie's chip-in, was, as usual, something Batman related, and they were all too tired to argue with her, so Batman Returns ended up going on. Carlos liked the film, but he began drifting off to sleep.

However, a loud shout suddenly interrupted his nap. He awoke with a start to see Parker holding a glass shard above Jeffries, being pulled back by Perez and Ellie.

"HE VIOLATED THE SACRED RULES. HE MUST BE TERMINATED!" Parker was yelling and hissing, still trying to move towards the rather frightened looking Jeffries.

"What's going on?!" Carlos ordered.

"He saw Jeffries take out a pen, and he just....flipped!" Natalia said.

The re-education. It had to be. Parker was having a full-scale breakdown and whatever the City Council had....installed....in his head, it was killing him.

"You are going to betray us all!" Parker kept shouting. "I want to go home. I don't want to go home. Pens are bad. Pens are fine. The City Council is always right. All praise to-"

Natalia suddenly moved her position and punched Parker in the face. He went down out cold immediately. Everyone turned their heads towards her in utter shock.

"....What?"

 

~

 

Carlos' face was grim as they gave Parker the courtesy car they'd borrowed.

He'd come around the next morning with no memory of what he'd done and begging to go home. He'd spoken to the team and they'd all agreed that it was for the best. It had only taken two weeks for one of them to snap, which made Carlos especially sad. However, the best thing for him was home, rest and recuperation.

"I'm sorry." He said, rolling down the car window, but not looking Brent in the eye.

"Don't worry." Jeffries said calmly. "Safe journey."

They waved as the car sped down Route 800 and out of sight before heading back to the lab solemnly.

The future of the expedition was looking more and more grim.

Chapter Text

"That's it. I can't take it any more."

Ellie looked up from her microscope. The clump of hair under it had come from, supposedly, one of the spiderwolves that had run through town last week on a drunken rampage.

"What's wrong, Carlos?" She asked.

"My hair. I'm getting it shorn. All of it has to go. I'm sick of it."

"Seriously?"

"It's been too long for at least a month. And I want it gone." He blew another strand of curly hair from his eyes.

Ellie just looked at him and said, completely deadpan, "Cecil will be devastated".

"Cecil does not get a say."

"But he'll be so upset."

"ELLIE."

She giggled and turned back to her hair sample. "You're gonna make him sob." She muttered with a smirk.

"There's a barber down southwest 5th street. Go there." Jeffries offered. "The guy who owns it gave me a great trim last Friday. His name's Telly."

"Thanks, Brent." Carlos glanced at Ellie. It was only half-angry.

"Right. That's settled. I've got that exploding jelly problem under control for now so....if it's okay I'll head there now?"

"Yeah, we're good here. We'll call you if there's anything."

Actually, there was one more thing that Carlos wanted to study today...but it would involve going somewhere he was still trying to avoid. He turned to the intern who was having a tea break in the corner of the room.

"Natalia, how do you fancy expanding your physics skills today?"

"Sure. What did you have in mind?"

 

~

 

Carlos' hair fell to the floor around him in curls. Natalia was giving him a curious expression.

"You okay?" Carlos said.
"Yeah. Just trying to get my head around the fact that after this, I'm going to be seeing a 'hovering cat'" She made air quotations.

Carlos chuckled. "Scientifically speaking, it's the best description for it."

"That cat couldn't be in a worse place." A man getting his hair cut on the other side of Carlos said suddenly.

"What?" Natalia said.

"The radio station is a conspiracy." He said very seriously.

"Sorry, who are you?" Natalia said, arching an eyebrow and jumping down from where she'd been sat by the mirror to walk over to him.

"Steve Carlsberg."

Natalia paused and furrowed her brow, as if she'd heard the name before somewhere.

"Why is it a conspiracy?" Carlos turned slightly to face him.

"There are dark forces there. And then there's my step-brother."

"Sorry, WHO?" Natalia said.

"Cecil. He's meant to be the voice of our community and all he does is tell government-fed lies to us!"

Carlos blinked.

Natalia just snorted. "Yeah, right. Cecil says some weird shit, sure, but c'mon, he seemed nice to me."

Steve Carlsberg got up, running his hands through his new haircut, before giving what appeared to be a spine to the man at the till.

"Do yourself a favour and stay away from Cecil. He may be a good uncle to my little girl, but he's too much under the influence of the city council. And that management of his is to blame, I suppose. They're dangerous."

He pulled on his coat and, after nodding to Natalia and Telly, left.

"Geez, what a creep." Natalia said, turning back to Carlos.

"Maybe he has a point. A lot of the commentary from the radio station is from the council." Carlos mused.

"Pfft." Telly said. "Don't you listen to old Steve. Him and Cecil have a difficult relationship."

"Yeah." The other barber said solemnly, with a voice that reminded Carlos of an out-of-tune harmonica. "Cecil's a great guy. But him and Steve have always had a void there. Cecil's protective of his niece and they can both be jerks 'bout it."

Natalia smiled at the man before nudging Carlos. "See? Cecil is great." She grinned at him mischievously.

"Oh geez. Natalia, you have been talking to Ellie about Cecil, haven't you?"

"Aww c'mon, boss, don't spoil our fun! He's cute!"

"Nata-"

"You're all done, Dr Valdez." Telly said.

Natalia moved herself again so Carlos could look at himself finally in the mirror. He considered that maybe he had asked for it shorter than he could pull off. But it would be easier to manage.

"Thank you, Telly." Carlos said, before turning round, where Natalia was holding up her phone and took a picture of him.

"N-" He sighed. "Natalia, you ready to head to the station?"

"Sure. Just let me send a picture of this to Ellie." She grinned again.

As they headed towards the car, Natalia considered her options as she scrolled through her phone, eventually settling on the 'Night Vale' contact list.
Green, Ellie
Jeffries, Brent
Palmer, Cecil
Parker, Jermaine
Perez, Edwardo
Valdez, Carlos

She ticked Ellie's name and was just about to click 'done' when she felt her thumb hovering over Cecil's name.

He'd given it to her after he'd stopped by on Dot Day to put a dot on Carlos. He'd put a dot on Natalia's feather tattoo as well and had a decent conversation with her about tattoos. They'd had to cut it short as she'd had to get back to work, but she'd spoken to him enough to know that she liked him, so they'd swapped numbers.

She smirked to herself as she ticked Cecil's name and hit 'send'.

 

~

 

"What do you mean we can't go in?" Natalia demanded. "It's a community radio station! For the COMMUNITY."

"I'm not saying you can't, I just wouldn't." The intern in front of her said uncomfortably.

"Why not?" Carlos said, in a much more patient tone than Natalia was offering. "We just want to have a quick look at the cat, we won't be-"

"No scientists. Cecil's orders, sir."

Carlos sighed. "Cecil isn't your boss. Jeremy, wasn't it?"

The youth nodded.

"Just tell him it's me."

"He said especially you weren't allowed. If I'm being honest, sir.....Cecil's the only one in there today apart from myself. He wanted to minimalise people today."

"Minimalise?" Natalia said, raising her eyebrows.

"Yes, miss. It's contract negotiation day." The young man trembled slightly. "You don't wanna be in there. Just wait outside....please." He headed back in and bolted the door behind him.

"Dammit." Natalia said. "Now what?"

Carlos sighed. "Let's phone the lab and see if there's anything."

Natalia grabbed her phone from the van and dialled Ellie's number as Carlos fiddled with the radio.

".....Architecturally speaking, the apparent size of management’s office does not physically make sense given the size of the building, but it’s hard to say really, as no one has ever seen the actual office. Only its translucence.
Look, I’ve probably said too much. I can see down the hall that an envelope just came flying out. I pray it’s not another HR retraining session in the Dark Box. Uhhhhhg. But what can I say. I’m a reporter at heart! I can’t not report...."

Carlos blinked. There was a room in the building that didn't fit? Oh that was something worth looking at. The amount of things that the town had thrown at him had made his thirst for knowledge even greater. He even dreamed about chemical formulas, although he wasn't sure if that was the new advertising campaign for the Night Vale PTA's bake sale.

Natalia's voice raised from just outside the van as she finally got someone on the phone.

"Hey, El-oh, Edwardo, where's E-wait, what?"

"What is it?"

"Sshh...what do you mean the book is excreting gas?.....No, we don't have any with us.....how can there be sparks?!"

"What's going on, Johnson?"

"The books, boss. They're all steaming and smell like meat, and they're doing loads of weird things. Green and Perez are working on it now."

"That's fascinating! Is it all books?"

"It would seem so....." She listened to the phone again. "Uh huh.....well we're at the station......yeah...............uh huh.....well at least you've contained the gas- Perez? Perez?! I've lost him, boss."

"We should get back. I want to see these books. So....so scientifically incredible."
"Carlos, stop getting a boner over science and get in the van."

 

~

 

It took several hours for the frantic scientists to quell the effects of the book crisis. The lab was covered in mess and there was the faint smell of burning lemons coming from somewhere, but no-one could figure it out. They sat down on the sofas in the communal area quietly.

"Cecil was upset, y'know." Ellie said after a few moments.

"What?"

"Your hair. It was on the radio earlier. I'm pretty sure he may have tried to call out a full on mob hit on your barber."

"He....oh god." Carlos, out of habit, leaned his head forward. Normally his hair would cover his face but no longer, so they all saw the expression of exasperation.

"It will be okay, Carlos." Edwardo said. "Your barber will be safe. Probably."

Somehow, Carlos did not find that reassuring.

Natalia, meanwhile, put on the radio.

"....I am going to see if I can make a break for the door." Came Cecil's terrified voice suddenly. "If you don’t hear from me again, it has truly been a pleasure. Good night, Night Vale. And goodbye!" The radio cut out.

"Cecil...." Natalia said. "That intern said he'd be okay, right? ....Right?"

Carlos got up and headed for the door, grabbing his coat on the way out. Cecil had been a bit of a creep, but he wasn't gonna let him die. Not if he could help it. Helping people was a scientist's job, wasn't it? That justified it. Nothing personal about it. He still wasn't ready to do personal. Not after Derek.

"Carlos, you wan' help?" Jeffries said.

"No, I just wanna see if he's okay."

"Come back soon, 'kay?" Natalia said, who looked even more worried for Cecil than he did.

"Will do."

 

~

 

There was no intern waiting for Carlos when he got to the station door this time. He went up the stairs and immediately felt like there was something else around. Watching him.

There was a deep growling noise coming from the corridor. He swallowed, stepping lightly and quietly so as to avoid detection by whatever was Cecil's management.

He spotted the radio booth to his right about three metres ahead. There was broken glass all around the door and a wooden beam was hanging down. Sparks were flying everywhere and the microphone that gave Carlos anxiety with its radiation level was left abandoned on what remained of the smashed desk. Then he saw an arm from under it.

He ran inside and pushed back the wood on the floor to see an unconscious Cecil with fragments of ceiling plaster in his hair and a cut on his head.

"Cecil...." Carlos whispered, his heart doing a little frightened tap-dance looking down at the injured radio host.

No. NO. His brain said. Think scientifically and non-personally. He needs medical attention and getting out of here. Scientists help people. Scientifically.

The growling noise was getting louder and Carlos decided to just make a break for it. He lifted Cecil up swiftly and headed for the door.

The growling behind him suddenly got very loud and very near very VERY quickly. Carlos ran faster until he was out of the door, Cecil in arms. He didn't dare to look back.

 

~

 

"He will be okay. Do not worry." Perez said, after looking the still unconscious Cecil over.

Carlos had reached the lab, asking them to phone the hospital. Instead, Edwardo had told Carlos calmly but firmly to put Cecil on a bed upstairs so he could look at him. Everyone just let him do it the moment he started talking about airways and how bleeding affects state of consciousness.

When Cecil was deemed to be okay, Natalia volunteered to get Cecil home. Carlos was grateful, and told them all that he didn't want Cecil to know that it was him that got him out of the radio station. They had just nodded. They knew Carlos well enough by now to know he had a good enough reason to keep it from him.

The only one who reacted in any other way was Ellie. She just smiled ever so slightly, being the only one who had noticed Carlos' flushed face when he had walked in carrying Cecil.

She knew he needed time still, but she could see it. It was only a slight, and she knew the pain from Derek was still there. But she would still place money on it happening eventually.

After all, as a true scientist, how could she ignore chemistry?

Chapter Text

By the time they got back to the lab, it had been a long, long night for the scientists. I mean, pterodactyls? At a PTA meeting?!

Carlos had once again worked through the night to aid the efforts to put the pterodactyls back in whichever crazy void world that they had sprung from and chart the observations. It was the third night in a row that he had neglected sleep or rest, and it was beginning to concern his fellow scientists.

Carlos didn't see what all the fuss was about on that front. A scientist should be prepared to work for hours on end if it meant the goal was reached.
As for eating, well, he didn't exactly ignore the food, he'd just sort of forgotten about it.

Ellie, of course, had dismissed that as "utter bullshit" and the moment the last pterodactyl scan was uploaded she, with Jeffries' help, had taken Carlos away from the laboratory, made him have a large piece of Perez's homemade lasagne - the man had turned out to be a great cook, who would have guessed? - before sending him to bed and demanding that they didn't want to see him up and about for at least 12 hours.

Carlos had obliged, on the condition that he could go to the meeting about the lead door at 2pm the next morning. He really wanted to go; partially because there was apparently a lead door outside of town that protected Night Vale from plutonium and partially because he'd heard that 'Old Woman Josie' would be going. He wanted to see these so-called "angels" that she claimed existed. Carlos had turned his back on the idea of angels and their heavenly father being real a long time ago, much to the disappointment of his grandmother. He was still pondering the angel's existence as he drifted off to sleep.

 

~

 

Carlos awoke to the sound of Cecil's voice drifting from the radio.

"...PTA meeting ended in bloodshed, as a rift in space-time split open in the Main Street Recreation Center Auditorium, setting loose several confused and physically aggressive pteranodons. The glowing portal remained open and shrieked incessantly..."

Pteranodons? Carlos laughed tiredly. Pteranodons, Cecil. Really?
Carlos heaved himself out of bed. He hated to admit it, but he had really needed the rest. He looked at the clock. 13:00. He couldn't be sure that that was the actual time, it being Night Vale, so he checked multiple clocks. At least 70% of the clocks around him said about that time, so he figured that was good enough.

After getting dressed and grabbing a bite for lunch (again, he was forced to eat), it was agreed that Carlos would go to the meeting, whilst Perez and Jeffries would go out to the door near the canyon to have a look at the subject.

"Anyone have any gum?" Carlos asked, when they reached the meeting to drop him off. He had neglected to clean his teeth like an idiot.

"I do. Picked it up from the Ralph's." Jeffries said. "They're weird flavours, but definite' non-lethal."

"What do you mean 'weird flavours'?"

"Well the gum is all from th'same packet, but every bit I've had so far has been a differen' flavour. I'm pretty sure I got calamari on Wednesday. It's not so bad. Natalia had a piece yesterday though tha' tasted like....oh, what did she say?"

"Stale blood. It is apparently a popular flavour." Perez said. He was frowning.

"Huh. Okay, then." Carlos said.

He took one and put it in his mouth gingerly. Then a smile lit up his face.

"What is it?" Jeffries said eagerly.

"Lavender." Carlos laughed lightly. "Like Mama used to have on the windowsill at home."

Jeffries beamed. "Righ', well we don't want to make ya late for your meetin'. We'll call in a bit."

"Thanks."

He climbed out of the van and headed into the meeting, avoiding the pieces of wood still dangling from the ceiling as a result of last night's PTA meeting.

 

~

 

The meeting shocked Carlos. It seems the citizens were attempting to remove a door that kept in dangerous amounts of plutonium. After a text from Perez that confirmed that it was indeed protecting the town from an onslaught of potentially fatal exposure, Carlos had despaired at the amount of residents that still supported the measure.

"That old door." A old woman next to Carlos suddenly said. "Oooooohhhhh, that door. Someone’s gonna get some kind of lead poisoning. Don't you think so, dearie?"

She turned to Carlos. He didn't know what to say. He was more focused on the beings that were behind the woman he now presumed to be the 'Old Woman Josie' that was mentioned on the radio. The beings that were two metres tall and wore colourful robes. The beings that had enormous brown and grey wings. The beings that, apparently, the rest of the meeting were willing to ignore.

The....angels? They didn't look like the porcelain angels that had sat on Carlos' mantelpiece when he was young; these looked.....well, it was hard to describe them.

"Are you going to get that, dearie?" She said kindly, indicating to Carlos' pocket, where his text alert had just gone off.

"I....." He felt incredibly tongue tied.

"Oh, is it the Erikas? They're quite safe, dearie. No need to be frightened."

She put her hand gently on his shoulder.

After a few moments of studying his face, she said "You're the scientist that my dear Cecil won't stop talking about, aren't you?"

"I.... I guess." Carlos stammered.

She beamed. "Well he was right about one thing. You are a handsome young man, even without all that perfect hair."

Carlos blushed slightly. Josie reminded him a lot of his grandmother, always telling her friends "how handsome my grandson has gotten". Even with the so-called angels surrounding them, Carlos felt his fear of the meeting begin to vanish.

"Thank you."

"It's no problem, dearie. Here." She whipped out a makeshift pen that appeared to be made out of several different types of hair and wrote a number on Carlos' notebook.

"If you ever need something, call me or come out near the car lot. Or ask one of the Erikas if you see them."

She then moved back to her seat and sat down, hidden from Carlos by one of the angels' wings.

He smiled to himself before pulling out his slightly bulky looking phone to register the number. He'd had to attach several black devices around it to stop it mutating. He noticed that the text he'd gotten earlier from Ellie looked strange.

The text from Ellie simply said:

"There is no time. No more time."

Ellie would never type anything like that, Carlos thought, confused. Which meant she was in trouble. He muttered the text aloud before grabbing his things and running out. He really wished he had worked out more recently as he sprinted back to the lab.

 

~

 

"Carlos, over here!"

"Edwardo, what happened?" Carlos looked down in horror at Ellie, who was lying on the floor, blood pooling around her shin. Her trouser had been pulled back and Carlos nearly threw up as he saw the chunk of skin missing from her calf.

"We got in a few minutes ago. She was already like this. She was even more rigid than she is now, Dr Valdez." Perez said. He sounded perfectly calm. Carlos had noticed that about him. Perez was a grumpy, moody man in everyday life who preferred his own company. But whenever someone was in danger, he instantly became quiet, controlled. His medical skills were outstanding, and he had been an essential asset the last two months. The Night Vale General Hospital were generally apathetic to most normal injuries, so he had stepped up for the team.

"She had her phone next to her," he continued. "and she's lost more blood than is safe."

"Ellie...." Carlos said, pushing her fringe aside to cup her face. "Can you hear me? You're going to be alright."

"We should call someone." Jeffries suggested, who had brought a pillow to put under Ellie's head. "We can't use th'ospital. What 'bout Cecil?"

"No." Carlos said.

"Hey, guys." Natalia came in clutching bags, which she promptly dropped on the doorstep. "Oh my gosh, Ellie! What happened?"

"We don't know."

After a moment of looking at the wound, Natalia said "Did you pay the rent on time?"

"WHA'?! Wha' does tha' have to do with anythin'?!" Jeffries fumed.

"If you don't pay it on time, the landlord has the right to slice off a piece of leg flesh for each day you missed before paying it!"

"How on earth do you kn-"

"Just PAY IT, Carlos!" She ran over to Perez and helped put pressure on the wound.

Carlos ran to the telephone hanging on the wall. It hadn't turned into anything the last few days or nibbled his ear sensually so he figured it was safe to use. He paid the bill as quickly as he could, as well as yelling about human rights, before rushing back to Ellie.

He found her sitting up shakily, drinking water and being soothed by Natalia, who was in turn explaining to Jeffries why everyone should bother to read their rental agreement as Perez gently stitched her up.

Perez was smiling at her reassuringly. It made Carlos stop in his tracks. Perez never smiled. When he was finished and Ellie assured Carlos that she was fine and that she just wanted to sleep, Carlos called over Perez, who was putting away the medical kit.

"Edwardo, may I speak to you?"

He nodded.

"What is it, Dr Valdez?"

"Carlos, Edwardo. It's Carlos." He laughed gently. "And I just wanted to thank you for what you did today."

"It is no problem. I do not like to see people in pain."

"Where did you learn to do all this?" Carlos asked in wonder as he looked at the fully stocked medical kit and across at Ellie's neat stitches.

"I taught myself. My father died of cancer when I was twelve. My stepbrother was a cruel boy, especially to my little sister. Both of these things meant that I wanted to help people. So I learned to help in any way I can. But as you know, my passion is for physics. Hence why I am here."

"You never mentioned you had a sister." Carlos said.

"I do. Gabriella. I miss her, being here. And my niece Sophia."

"How old is she?"

"Sophia is six. She is a keen scientist." Perez smiled proudly, a look that seemed strange on his features.

"Science is the most thrilling subject in the universe. She has good taste." Carlos replied.

"She does. She has a very proud uncle."

Carlos grinned at Perez before helping him finish tidying the medical kit and clearing up the now faded patches on blood on the linoleum.

 

~

 

"....Carlos, beautiful Carlos, tragically shorn of his locks, reportedly was the only dissenting voice-"

Ellie was giggling again over the radio. Her spirits had lifted and the colour was returning to her cheeks. Whilst Carlos revelled in the fact that his best friend was feeling better, he didn't like that she was listening to Cecil's jokes about him.

He went in and sat with her.

"...According to Old Woman Josie, he was still absolutely perfect, and smelled of lavender chewing gum."

He turned the radio down.

"Do you have to listen to his jokes, Ellie?" Carlos said rather miserably.

"I don't think he's joking, Carlos."

"It's not funny anymore, okay? Cecil's cute but no-one 'falls in love instantly' and goes on about someone's hair on the radio. Stop encouraging his poking fun at me."

Ellie must have caught the hurt in Carlos' voice, because she pulled him down - avoiding her leg, of course - and hugged him gently.

She could see Carlos' point. It was very odd, the way Cecil acted when he was around or talking about Carlos. Even so, she didn't think Cecil was one for pranks or teasing. He seemed very sincere and serious about his work. But she figured Carlos didn't need to hear about that now. He was obviously still shaken up by the events of the day.

"I'm sorry." She said calmly.

He sighed. "Okay.....how are you feeling?"

"A bit better now the painkillers have kicked in. Johnson said they were a bitch to find. It would seem most of the town is under the impression that they don't have pain receptors. Just ignore Cecil if you don't feel comfortable, 'kay?"

"I'm glad to hear that. And I'll look into the pain thing whilst I absolutely ignore Cecil. It's very scientific."

"Carlos, you're doing the thing."

"Doing what?"

"I know you. When you get all flustered, you turn into super science Carlos. You speak in formulas."

"I don't. A scientist should be clear."

"You're doing it again."

He sighed and leaned back against Ellie's bed headboard.

"C'mon, let's watch a film." She nudged him.

"I have to work."

"I won't let you."

"Ellie-"

"No. Now get Star Wars IV and some popcorn for all of us."

Carlos laughed. She was definitely getting better.

Chapter Text

"Two minutes until pudding." Carlos called from the kitchen.

"You guys are in for a treat." Ellie said to the others sat around the table.

"Carlos' lemon trifle is the most delicious dessert. Well, actually, technically it's his mother's recipe. She's the best cook in the world."

"Excuse me?" Carlos said from the doorway with a mock frown.

"Your mama is the best cook in the universe."

"Better." He grinned back at her and disappeared back into the kitchen.

"Valdez's mother owns a bakery, yes?" Edwardo said.

Ellie nodded. "It's the family business. Carlos and his sister, however, took after their father. Scientists and medics. But he can still make a mean trifle."

"I can't wai' to eat it." Jeffries laughed heartily.

"Here we go!" Ellie squealed excitedly as Carlos brought it through. He blushed slightly as Ellie clapped her hands together.

"Can you serve up? I got a call from the Sandero house. Apparently the kid has grown a second head. They want me to take a look."

"Wow. That's incredible. I must see that myself," she mused. "But Carlos, don't be too long, okay? We all agreed that Tuesday night is our off night."

He nodded absent-mindedly and set off down the corridor. Ellie wondered if he'd even noticed that she was talking. He did that sometimes.

She also knew that now he was off, he'd be out or in the lab for the rest of the evening. She sighed. Carlos loved his work too much. The more time they spent in Night Vale, the more absorbed in science he got. It was sweet to see him so enthralled and happy, but sometimes he would ignore basic things like sleeping and showering every day and she had to force him to do many things that, as a scientist, he should appreciate are important for surviving.

"Oooh, this looks awesome!" Natalia said, cutting herself a generous slice.

"Stop stealin' it all." Jeffries said. "Just pass-"

The doorbell rang loudly.

"I'll get it!" Ellie said, grabbing her uneaten plate of trifle and a spoon as she ran to the door.

She opened it to see Cecil. "Hello." He said with a smile.

"Cecil! Hey, guys, Cecil's here!"

Various calls of "hey, Cecil" muffled by mouths full of trifle came from the kitchen.

"Hi! Is Carlos here?"

"He's out, I'm afraid. You actually just missed him."

"Oh." His face fell. "I wanted to ask him some questions about science."

"Well I'm sure he'd answer them, he's just been so busy recently. I wish he'd stop being busy really." She said with a sigh.

"Scientists are busy people. But you are an important asset to the community!" Cecil beamed.

Ellie returned the smile. "Look, Cecil...er, I can call you Cecil right?"

"Of course."

"Well, Cecil, would you like to come in and have some lemon trifle? Carlos made it and I don't want to let it go to waste."

In actuality, it wouldn't go to waste, not with Jeffries' and Natalia's appetites, but she wanted to talk to Cecil. That way, she could try and gauge whether he was the sort of person to mess around with feelings. For Carlos' sake.

"If you don't mind, I mean, don't want to intrude..."

"No, no, it's fine, come in. Natalia was asking after you anyway."

As he stepped in, Ellie swore she could see the tattoo of a closed eye on his forehead move slightly. She put it down to lighting and led him back to the table where Jeffries and Natalia were attempting to bargain for the remaining three bowls of trifle.

 

~

 

"....and then!" Natalia snickered and had to catch her breath. "Then she fell on her ass in front of the entire class."

The table erupted into giggling. Cecil had tears of laughter running down his cheeks and Ellie's face was covered by her hands. The empty trifle bowls sat neglected next to the sink.

"S-stop, stop! Stop Natalia, it didn't happen like that." Ellie pleaded through her laughter.

"IT SO DID!"

The scientists and Cecil were in fits; Natalia's hand was leaning on Perez's shoulder for support as she gulped in some more lungfuls of air in an attempt to steady herself enough to finish her story.

"Then she got up and carried on the lecture as if nothing had happened."

"Oh my. Dr Green, what an embarrassment." Cecil said, trying to regain his composure.

"I didn't mean to, ahh!" Ellie said, hiding behind her hands again.

Cecil wiped away a tear from his right eye. "You guys have some amazing stories."

"Thanks, Cecil."

"No problem." He glanced at his watch, still giggling slightly. "Oh wow, it's late. I need to get an early night, I have my show tomorrow."

"Aw that's a shame. We're still on for the week after next, right?" Natalia said with a grin.

"Of course. I know the best place."

"Ooh, where are you going?"

"Secret."

"Tell us!"

"You'll find out when it happens." He winked at them before getting up and grabbing his waistcoat. "Thank you for having me. The trifle was absolutely perfect......please tell Carlos I say hello, will you?"

"Of course, Cecil." Ellie said, opening the door for him with a soft smile. He turned back briefly after stepping outside into the cool desert air.

"Goodnight, dear scientists."

A chorus of "goodnight" and "goodbye Cecil"s echoed around the lab as the door was shut behind him. Ellie went back into the kitchen and sat at the table.

"Who wants to tell Carlos that we forgot to spare him any trifle?"

They all looked at each other seriously for a moment before Natalia snorted and they all burst back into laughter.

 

~

 

"He should be perfectly fine, Mrs Sandero. I can't explain it, but he should be perfectly fine."

Michael's heads were both perfectly silent. The right head, with acne scars and a slightly askew front tooth was grumpy and sullen, whilst the left head, with blonder hair and fairer skin, was sat quietly.

"That's a relief." Mrs Sandero said.

"Although," she whispered to Carlos "the new head is actually much nicer. He's more polite and better looking, don't you think?"

"Um."

"Well, either way I'll be changing up the board."

"O-okay." Carlos had seen the board of 'which of my children I like best' outside the house and had, quite frankly, condemned it horrifically. If Carlos' mother had ever done anything like that....well, he had no idea, actually, who would be first: Carlos or his sister Maria. Probably Maria, as she was the high-flying doctor in Chicago and Carlos had always been the baby of the family, Maria being 5 years older than him.

"How safe will it be if we wanted surgery?" Mrs Sandero asked.

"S-surgery?!" Carlos spluttered. "As in...removing one of the heads?!"

"Of course. Michael cannot have two heads."

"I would strongly advise against it, Mrs Sandero. It would be a very dangerous procedure! Scientifically, it cannot be done safely!"

"Oh, well, we'll look into it. Thank you Carlos-the-scientist." Mrs Sandero said it as if it were all one word.

"Pardon?"

"That's your name. Carlos-the-scientist, yes? Mr Palmer said it was."

"And you believe everything Cec-Mr Palmer says?"

"Well yes. He is the Voice, after all."

Carlos resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The people of Night Vale were so utterly convinced that everything Cecil said was the truth it was borderline worrying.

Carlos picked up his instruments and put them back in his bag, before sitting down next to Michael.

"Now then, Michael, I want you to drink plenty of water. Now you have two brains, it's even more important than normal to keep hydrated."

Michael's right head, the original one, nodded. The other looked rather puzzled and asked a question in what Carlos thought sounded like Russian. He'd have to call Jeffries down to talk to Michael at some point soon if that was indeed the case. He'd mentioned in his résumé that he spoke a little Russian.

"Carlos-the-scientist," Michael said suddenly. "Can I still play football?"

"I.....are you sure you want to?" Carlos said disbelievingly.

"Yes." He said impertinently, as if the answer was obvious and Carlos was just being dim-witted.

"If you feel up to it and are careful....scientifically it could be done."

Michael's right head grunted. The left one remained quiet and instead gestured to Mrs Sandero to sit down as she'd been stood the entire time Carlos had been examining Michael. Carlos was unfortunately beginning to see why Mrs Sandero preferred the left head; the original Michael was incredibly discourteous, particularly towards her.

"Thank you, Carlos-the-scientist." Mr Sandero said as he opened the door for Carlos.

"It's not a problem. If there are any other strange occurrences, please do call my lab." Carlos said, giving him a business card. Natalia had somehow managed to create a few cards a couple of weeks previously when she went out of town for a day or two and found a printer. The ban on computers in Night Vale had been almost if not more a hindrance to the scientists than the ban on writing instruments.

Carlos stepped outside with his instruments in hand before dialling the lab. He hadn't realised how quickly the light was beginning to fade from the sky. After a few rings of what sounded like squeaks from a guinea pig, Jeffries picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Brent, it's Carlos."

"Ah, good to hear from ya! How's th' Sandero boy?"

"It's extraordinary. It's just incredible. A fully grown head, which can talk and move and eat..."

"Ah....speakin' of eatin'......" Jeffries said awkwardly. "We 'ad comp'ny."

"Company? Oh, who?"

"Well, Cecil stopped by ta ask you some questions 'bout the moon for his radio show. You'd alread' left for the Sandero boy's house and he insisted it be you to answer the questions so we gave 'im some trifle whilst he was here."

"Oh. Okay." Carlos said, surprised.

"We'll see you soon, righ', Carlos?"

"Yes, I'm heading back now, why?"

"Ms Johnson and Dr Perez've found a most interestin' set o' lizards sittin' in the lab ceilin'. They're glowin'!"

"Really?" Carlos' brief not-musings-about-Cecil were replaced by a smile lighting up his face.

"Yep. So we'll see ya soon?"

"Absolutely."

He practically skipped back down the empty street to his car. He was so glad he'd finally bought a car. A nice hybrid coupe. White, and not too fancy. The car salesman had assured him that there was no chance of it eating him on a grumpy whim, so that was a bonus too.

He looked at the moon as he drove back to the lab. What would Cecil have asked him about it, he considered for a moment. The thoughts quickly left his head however, partially because the moon was so beautiful at this time of night it was wholly distracting and partially because the ghost cars on the highway were being reckless again. Carlos hated when that happened.

 

~

 

"Don't poke 'em!"

"Aww, they're so cute!"

"Cute?! They're luminous!"

"Are they a new species? I bet they're a new species."

"I'd put money on it."

"Are those spine ridges?"

"I don't know. Move aside, Brent, I can't see them."

"What is going on?!"

Carlos entered the lab to the scene of all of the scientists standing on top of tables or chairs crowded around a singular slab of ceiling tile which had a rather large crack in it. Natalia was the closest and was peering up into it.

"Come, look, Dr Valdez." Jeffries said.
"They're th' lizards."

Perez and Jeffries moved themselves to the side so Carlos could climb onto the table beside Natalia and Ellie to look into the ominous crack.

Nestled inside, just next to the crack opening, was a small nest filled with baby lizards. They were a neon shade of green with brown speckles, but they also had orange cone-shaped spines running down their backs. They had no visible claws and their tongue was a rather violent shade of cobalt. But most startlingly, they were glowing violet.

"Wow...." Carlos said.

"They're tiny..." Ellie said.

"They must be young," Carlos mused. "It looks like that nest is fresh."

"What do we do with them?"

"Have they posed a danger?"

"No, actually."

"Well we can't move them. Hm. Well, that's settled. Johnson, this is going to be your project charge. Since this appears to be a new species, we need to document growth rate, mannerisms, anything you can think of."

"R-really? Thanks so much, Dr Valdez! I'll find out everything I can."

"They're your responsibility now, Johnson."

"Carlos....." Ellie suddenly said turning to Carlos.

"Yes, Ellie?"

"We ate all the trifle."

"What?!"

Chapter Text

"I do not think that this is wise, Dr Valdez."

"But it's one of the most scientifically intriguing areas in Night Vale."

"It has an enormous electrified fence around it and is emitting a static hum. It is a crime to even think about the place."

"So that should stop us from investigating it?" Carlos sounded hurt.

Perez sighed. "No. But we must proceed with caution. If even the residents of this town find it to be dangerous when they find a five-headed dragon a minor inconvenience, we must be extra careful."

Carlos nodded. That was certainly true. He'd been shaken up for a good few hours after he'd met the notorious Hiram McDaniels. He had been hiding from Secret Police near the lab and Carlos had seen him.

Not many things frightened Carlos. Spiders were one. Now he knew about their existence, spiderwolves too. It would also seem that being in the presence of a five headed dragon with no protection had been added to that list.

"What's the radiation level?"

"It is nearing 3500 Rodens."

That wasn't good. Carlos and Perez were stood around 20 feet from the entrance of the dog park and, if the laws of physics worked properly in Night Vale, they should be frying right now. They had placed instruments in the nearby bushes in order to obtain a wider scanning field.

All of a sudden, there was a soul-tearing sound blasted at them both from above the electrified fence.

"Ahh!" Perez screamed, clutching his ears. Carlos fell to the ground doing the same as the piercing noise continued.

Carlos' head was a blur. It was filled with the noise and he felt dizzy.

He blinked hard several times, swaying as an ominous voice asked in a sweet, sickly tone to bring his gold watch to the dog park and throw it in. That's preposterous, Carlos thought at the back of his mind. I don't own a gold watch.

Hm. The voice then said. Do you have any toddlers?

No! Carlos said back mentally before he became aware of Perez who was shouting to Carlos to run. It sounded faraway to Carlos, and altogether silly. Run? Why would he run?

His question was answered swiftly and he was brought back to reality by a firm hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see a member of the Secret Police with 'Officer Joey' written on.

"Carlos-the-scientist, you are charged with breaching the law 34654-A: citizens are not allowed to study, look at or think about the dog park. I am detaining you and your scientist friend. You are, by Night Vale law, required to be re-educated."

 

~

 

"Oh, Cecil, it looks perfect!"

"Thank you, Ms Johnson."

Natalia's face was the picture of joy as she examined her new feline tattoo in the mirror. The cat's body swirled around her hip and was a beautiful colour.

"Who taught you to draw like this Cecil?"

"I don't know. I just have always loved drawing, I guess. I picked it up properly around the time the City Council abolished writing utensils. I was allowed to continue using them longer than most citizens as I was working towards my Soul Art badge at my scout pack."

"Soul Art?"

"Oh, yes. It wasn't a popular badge because soul-extracting for actual artwork can be pretty dangerous. But if you get it right, a small extraction from a soul can make the best paint. My best friend Earl offered me a little of his for my final piece. It was the best sea-green shade in the scout pack."

Natalia blinked for a moment before answering.

"Either way, it's beautiful, Cecil."

"It's no problem." He blushed slightly.

"Have you heard about this new strip mall they're opening? Apparently they're going to have a Pinkberry!"

"No way!" Natalia said with a grin. "Pinkberry was always a rare treat where I grew up. Slightly dodgy side of Chicago."

"There is a slightly dodgy side of Chicago?"

"South side." She said. "It's not terrible, just...not as fancy. Carlos said that too, when he went."

"May I ask....how is Carlos?"

"He's good, I guess. He's been busy a lot. We all have, but Carlos will go without sleep until he fixes a problem."

"Oh." Cecil said in a surprised tone. "Why does he do that?"

Natalia shrugged with a soft smile. "He loves his work. You of all people should understand that."

Cecil blushed again. "Well, I wouldn't say that..."

"Cecil, everyone who listens to your show can tell that you work hard and love your job."

"I....thank you, Ms Johnson."

"No thanks needed. By the way, can I ask you something?"

"Yes, of course."

"Have you ever seen these before?"
She pulled out her phone and showed Cecil a picture that she'd taken that morning of the lizard nest.

"Hmm...I haven't personally. I'd ask Old Woman Josie. She was a keen gardener when she was younger. Maybe she's seen some before?"

"Thanks. I'll go and ask her soon. Do you fancy a cup of coffee?"

"Actually, I'm afraid I have to get to the station. My show starts in an hour and station management have been tetchy recently about arrival times. Poor intern Mary felt their anger yesterday as she arrived late. The shaking fear has left her in a coma, so she got off lightly."

"Geez." Natalia said. "Well I'll see you soon. I'll try and persuade Carlos to drop by. He still hasn't seen Khoshekh, after all."

"Thank you again, Ms Johnson. Safe journey home."

"You too, Cecil. I'll be by my radio."

 

~

"Ugh........"

Carlos gently shook the sleeping Perez as he tried to make sense of their surroundings. Everything was pitch black and it smelt like algae, the only light provided by a dim red glow from an old lamp in the corner of the room. It illuminated a small space blocked off by a typical cell bar door.

"Edwardo, are you okay?"

"Yes. Where are we?"

"I don't know, but I would imagine the police station."

Carlos said, and sat up properly just as the radio in the corner of the room next to the lamp perked up as it always did at Cecil's show time.

"Rabbits are not what they appear to be. Welcome To Night Vale...."

Carlos turned the radio down slightly, moving towards the bars of the entrance. Whatever was beyond him was hidden by shadows, but he asked anyway.

"Who's there? Where are we?"

"You don't need to know the answer to either of these questions."

"Why are you keeping us here? We only tried to-"

"You broke the law. And you will be re-educated to be proper citizens. But first, we need to know things."

"What things?" Perez said beside Carlos.

"Things. About what you know."

A thought occurred to him.

"Why haven't we been asked questions yet then?" Carlos said quietly.

"Because Mr Palmer's show is on. No-one wants to ask things when it could be put off until after his show. He is the Voice, and even we must show respect."

With that, he disappeared back into the shadows.

"Wait!" Carlos said. But he was already gone.

"So now what?" Perez asked. "We try to escape?"

Carlos shook his head. "No. We remain calm. This so-called re-education has to involve some kind of suggestion. We must merely make them believe that we believe....well, whatever they want us to."

"We keep our minds and they believe they have succeeded....that is a good plan. What do we do until then?"

"Listen to the radio, I guess."

Carlos in the end found the show to be incredibly useful. It distracted him from his fear at least. Cecil's insults about Steve Carlsberg were shocking to say the least and the drawbridge issues made him smile ever so slightly. Only Night Vale.

Perez was twiddling his thumbs as the horoscopes came on.

"Say, what star sign are you, Edwardo?"

"Taurus, though only just." He said quietly. "You?"

"Taurus too."

"I wonder what it will say."

They turned it up.

"...Aries: you will feel a haunting sadness about times gone by. Today's smell is wheatgrass and toast."

Perez's eyebrows rose but said nothing.

"Taurus: today is your annual Crime Day. All Tauruses are exempt from laws today."

Carlos' mouth dropped open.

"Does that mean...?"

"Maybe."

"We'd have to ask them."

Carlos and Perez sat in silence thinking for a few minutes until the weather came on.

"Carlos-the-scientist!" The voice came from the cell door.

"Yes?"

"My paperwork says that you and your colleague are Taurus'....which means, regrettably, you are to be set free." He didn't sound pleased.

He stepped inside the cell and walked towards them menacingly holding up a baton high above his head. He swung it at Carlos and everything was rather painful and the floor seemed to rise to his face. The last thing Carlos remembered seeing was the scuff marks on the secret policeman's boots.

 

~

 

"They're too big for the ceiling, Ellie. We need to take them down." Natalia said.

"Where would we put them though?"

"We could put them in a tank? Replicate the temperature and moisture conditions, perhaps."

"Huh. Grea' call, Ms Johnson. I'll set one up now." Jeffries smiled and got up, brushing aside his lab coat from the table.
Natalia had been making some good calls on the lizard situation. She had managed to get them water and food that they would accept within a day of discovering them, and had kept a good record of their growth. Jeffries had to admit that she would make a great doctor someday.

"Hey, turn up the radio on the way, will you? I wanna catch the end of Cecil's show." Ellie said.

Jeffries twisted the knob on the radio to turn the volume up.

"...agree with me about old Steve Carlsberg, dear listeners. We just received a report from a reliable witness that two days ago, Steve was whisked into the back of a windowless van, only to reappear earlier this morning wearing thick head bandages and eating Styrofoam shaped like an ice cream cone...."

"Poor Steve! Did Cecil not mention that?"

"No. By the way, I forgot to show you what he did for me."

"Oh?"

She pulled back her top slightly to show Ellie the cat tattoo.

"Wait...Cecil did that?"

"Yeah! Incredible, isn't it? I told him I was thinking of getting a new one and he recommended a place, but when we got there he'd done a design and it was just so great I had to."

"It's beautiful. So many colours. Can I see closer?"

"Hang on just let me get down with the nest now-."

Natalia was interrupted by a loud knocking from the door.

"Hold that thought." Ellie ran to the door.

She opened it up to find a rather shaken up Carlos and Perez, Perez with a bloody lip and Carlos with a blossoming black eye.

"Hey." She stepped aside to let them in, before observing their faces more. "Are you okay?"

"We went to investigate the dog park." Perez said.

"You wha-why?"

"It was interesting and we were getting startling readings....until we got arrested." Carlos said sheepishly.

"Carlos! Edwardo! You should know better by now! We've been here 3 months!" She sighed. "Are you okay? Apart from the obvious looking-like-you've-been-three-rounds-with-Godzilla?"

Perez nodded. "Yes, but I have no wish to ever visit that police station again."

Carlos looked at him sadly, and Ellie could see the guilt emanating from him.

"Just come in and rest. Do you have your equipment?"

"It's still in a bush by the entrance to the dog park."

"I'll pick it up later."

"No!...I mean, I'll do it. I don't want any of you put in further danger. And you're not a Taurus, Ellie. You're not exempt from crime today."

"Oh, the horoscopes. We heard them on Cecil's show. According to them, Brent will win a car, I should invest all my money in a street game and Natalia will soon be having prophetic visions."

"Well the Sheriff's Secret Police let us off, so they may be accurate in Night Vale."

"May I get the medical kit?" Perez asked after a moment of awkward silence.

"Sure, sure. You need me to help you stitch your lip up?"

"I think I will be fine.....but thank you, Dr Green." Perez shuffled off.

"I shouldn't have put him at risk like that...." Carlos said ashamedly.

"Carlos...."

"It was my fault."

"Look, you're both okay." Natalia said, coming from the lab clutching a glass tank for the lizards. "And you know now next time to be more careful."

"I guess you're probably right."

"I am. And Dr Valdez?"

"Yes, Ms Johnson?"

"That black eye actually makes you look kinda badass."

Ellie burst into laughter and Carlos managed a smile. "Just don't let Cecil see you with it." Natalia said with a grin. "He'll despair on air for days."

"Don't, Natalia." Ellie said with a slight smirk herself.

"What? I'm just saying, the man is an artist as much with despairing words as he is ink."

She winked before carrying off the lizard tank to the crack by the ceiling. The scientists spent several hours fixing up the tank and transferring the five small lizards to it. Natalia had given them all tiny leg tags too so they could be identified when measuring their body weight etc.

The scientists had also named one each, there being five lizards and five scientists. Carlos had named his Icarus, Brent had named his Gordon, Edwardo had named his Michaela, Natalia had named hers Trixy and Ellie had named hers Bruce.

The lizards, whilst not always interesting scientifically, were still a source of entertainment for the group. They were growing fast, and Carlos had a feeling that they were going to outgrow the tank. He hoped it wouldn't be too soon.

He passed a mirror and stared at his black eye.

"Natalia was righ', Carlos." Jeffries said beside him.

"Hm?"

"That great big bruisin' eye o' yours is pretty 'badass' as Ms Johnson put it."

Carlos chuckled slightly, which ended up doing him no favours in the end, as it hurt his slightly swelling face.

He would sleep well tonight.

Chapter Text

The History Week event was a great opportunity for Carlos and his team. So far, they had only been able to study current phenomena, but the chance to possibly find out why the town was the way it was was too good an opportunity to miss.

Unfortunately, the logistics of the research had been a little difficult as the public library was too dangerous, the Internet was incredibly difficult to access and few residents would talk about time at all.

However, Cecil had been as helpful as he dared. Perez had met him at his mandatory dinner at Big Rico's that week and had asked about the event.

Cecil had told him that they should listen to the show that week, as he had been given permission to acknowledge time in order to tell the town a few key points in Night Vale history. He also recommended that they visit Old Woman Josie as she could probably tell the scientists more.

When he had returned to the lab, Perez had fed back to them all about Cecil's advice.

Carlos had volunteered to go, with Ellie and Brent, to see Old Woman Josie. He'd called ahead to ensure that she was okay for visitors, and she told them to drop by the next day.

Ellie had been a little put out as the time Josie had suggested coincided with Cecil's show, but Carlos pointed out that nearly all of the citizens listened to it and Josie would have it playing in her house near the car lot so she could still listen to it.

 

~

 

Carlos was awoken the next day by shouting. Again, he had overslept a lot after Jeffries had asked him to go to bed at four in the morning.

Carlos sat up and listened for the sound. It was coming from the communal area.

"Carlos! Carlos, come quick!"

He grabbed a plaid t-shirt pulling it on so he wasn't just wearing shorts and ran to the area to find Natalia next to Perez, Jeffries and Green lying, covered in sweat, in their pyjamas on the floor with various grazes and scrapes. Some books were lying around them.

"Natalia, what's wrong?"

"I don't know I just found them like this. I went down to the lab early and let you all sleep so I didn't find them until just now. I didn't want to touch them in case anything was broken."

"Here, let me." Carlos knelt next to Jeffries and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Brent? Brent can you hear me?"

"Ahh!" came another voice. Perez had sat up abruptly next to Carlos waving his arms around as if to fend off an invisible monster before looking around fearfully.

"I....we....what?"

"Edwardo, it's me. What happened to you?"

"It was horrible. It was dark, and then I was running. It was a library. It was the public library, Dr Valdez. The one we had drills for. But this time it was not a drill. There was this creature. It was....it was too awful for words."

"What did it look like?" Carlos pressed.

"I only saw a shadow. It was large and it had claws....." He shuddered. "I do not know how I left. It is rather compromised in my mind. I just need a few minutes, Dr Valdez. I will be fine."

"No. You need rest. When Brent and Ellie wake up, they will too."

"I have no wish to sleep, Dr Valdez. Not for a long time."

"I understand. But the best way you can help our team right now is assist Brent and Ellie as much as we can."

Perez nodded. "They will be awake soon. Did you not have research to do? You are expected at Old Woman Josie's house in forty-five minutes, are you not?"

"Yes. But Ellie was going to come wi-"

"Lor' almighty!" Brent awoke with a start, frightening Natalia who had been crouched in the spot between Ellie and him. She was further startled by Ellie herself who also woke up, grabbing Natalia's arm.

"Ellie, Brent!" Carlos said. "Are you okay? Were you in the library too?"

"We were. And yes. I mean, I hit my hip on a bookshelf but I'm alright
otherwise."

"Me too. I'm alrigh', Carlos. But there were these tall....things roamin' round the bookshelves. Best monste' makeup I've ever seen, or they were those librarians."

"I didn't see any. I ended up in the biography section. There were these copies of the biography of Helen Hunt. And that was it."

She looked down at the books surrounding them. A biography of Helen Hunt was certainly there, as well as a copy of Great Expectations, but for some reason it had an elephant with tentacles on the cover.

The rest were history books about Night Vale, much to the delight of Carlos.

However, when he opened them, there was lots of crossed out lines and some entire chapters were missing, with only intermittent words like 'founder' and 'council' not covered by the black marker.

"Back to square one, then." Carlos muttered.

 

~

 

"...few cave paintings of their towns and their hunting practices, and of the dark shapes that would watch them in the distance. Inhuman, shimmering shapes that never came closer or farther away, but whose presence could be felt even with eyes shut tight, huddled in fur and the company of another human's naked skin...."

Ellie giggled as they drove to Old Woman Josie's. Carlos even managed a smile. Cecil himself aside, he was beginning to like the show. It was useful scientifically for knowing what was banned, happening or would put people in danger. He wasn't sure he entirely believed everything that was said, but some things were beyond useful to them. The history week special of Cecil's had been not as useful as they thought, but it was interesting all the same.

They parked up near Old Woman Josie's house and walked up to the door before knocking. It was answered by one of the so-called angels. That absolutely did not exist, as everyone kept insisting.

"Hello, uh....Erika?"

"Yes. Come in Carlos-the-scientist. Come in, Eleanor."

Ellie swallowed. No-one called her Eleanor and hadn't done for a long time. Nevertheless, she followed Carlos inside.

Old Woman Josie was sat in a comfy looking fabric armchair and smiled at them both as they entered.

"Hello again, Dr Carlos. And I see you brought one of your science friends. What's your name, dearie?"

"Dr Ellie Green, Ms...."

"It's just Josie. Or 'Old Woman Josie'."

"I see. Thank you for having us."

"My pleasure, dear. Do sit down. Erika, can you bring some beverages for our guests?"

The Erika closest to Josie nodded and disappeared into the kitchen, folding its wings in order to fit through the kitchen door as Carlos and Ellie sat on the sofa opposite Old Woman Josie.
"So, scientists, what can I do for you?"

"We'd like to know about the town's history, if you can tell us anything." Carlos said. "Your expertise was recommended most highly."

"Oh?"

"It was Cecil." Ellie said.

"Of course it was. Did he tell you himself this time?"

"Um....no." Carlos said, confused.

"Hm. I'll have words with him. Politeness is important. Ah, thank you Erika." She took the teacup and saucer from its large hands to place on her coffee table.

The Erika then passed Carlos and Ellie their own cups, which were very different colours. Carlos and Ellie exchanged looks.

"Try it, dear." Josie said to Ellie.

Ellie took a sip of hers and gasped. Her eyes glassed over slightly with tears. "H-how did you know?"

"What is it, Ellie?" Carlos said.

"Made with too much milk and slightly gone off sweetener. Just like my dad used to make for me." She took another sip with a soft smile that was tinted with sadness.

"You need not despair, Dr Green." The Erika that brought the tea said. "Homesickness is something many beings experience. Even angels."

"I....thank you." She said quietly, looking up with a smile.

Carlos looked at his own teacup. Josie was looking at him expectantly.

"Go on, dear. The Erikas are marvellous brewers."

He took a sip and recoiled at the taste; not so much in revulsion but more in shock. It may have looked like tea, but it tasted very different.

"What did they make for you?"

"Mama's hot chocolate. Old family recipe." He looked up at the Erika. "Thank you. It's delicious."

The Erika merely smiled, a small, delicate smile difficult to make out due to the number of eyes it had surrounding its lips, but a smile nonetheless.

"Now, Carlos-the-scientist," Josie said matter-of-factly. "before we begin, may I just say that it is a good job that some of your hair is growing back. It doesn't suit you."

Ellie half-snorted into her tea but covered it with a cough.

"What would you like to know?"

 

~

 

Josie told them as much as she could about the town when she was growing up; Leonard Burton the radio host, the importance and legacy of the scouts, the City Council's "incredibly disorganised" detainings which had "thankfully improved" as well as adding small details to what Cecil said on the radio show.

Carlos and Ellie had left feeling quite peculiar. They couldn't figure out if it was the drinks or the fact that the angels stared at them intently the whole time that they were there.

Josie had been nice, offering them muffins and showing them some of the Erikas' gardening projects.

When Ellie had told her about her experience of the public library, she had tutted.

"That library. Such an awful place. They haven't had a new set of books in three years. It's disgraceful. Plus the librarians are rude. Trying to eat people on a Sunday of all days. Not respecting the library bloodstone circle. Just disgraceful."

She had sent them off with words of encouragement and gently patted cheeks. Of all the Night Vale residents that he had met so far, Josie had quickly become one of Carlos' favourites. She was a very down-to-earth person (aside from her sky-orientated house guests) and was kind to all the scientists.

Ellie had fallen asleep in Carlos' car on the way back; her exhaustive ordeal in the library had clearly wiped her out. So as Carlos drove down the highway back to the lab, only the radio show played in the background.

"...got through another day. We passed the time from one end of twelve to the other without stopping once. Well done, us! Good job, people who experience time! Time experiencers! Good job!.."

And so he was left with only Cecil's sweet voice for company. And although Carlos wouldn't admit it to himself, he felt that it wasn't the worst thing in the world.

In fact, it was far from it.

Chapter Text

"I don't know if I should."

"Carlos, we need to get the word out and ask people. Cecil's show is the best way to do that. If you ask him to, I'm sure he'll announce it on the radio."

"I agree with Dr Green. We need to understand what these lights are. It's worrying." Perez said next to Ellie.

Carlos sighed. "You're probably right. I'm just..."

"Nervous about talking to the man who claimed to love you on live radio?"

"Er.....maybe."

Carlos saw Ellie looking at him. She was going to ask the question. Whenever Carlos had worries about talking to people, she would ask him the same question. He had never had a problem talking to scientists, as they could always understand him even if he went off on a tangent. But people who didn't understand science and weren't his family....well that was harder.

"Carlos." She said kindly but firmly. "You're a scientist. What do scientists do?"

"Research. Help people. Develop and broaden our understanding of the universe." He replied.

"And what do you need to do sometimes in order to achieve that?"

Carlos sighed. "Talk to people."

"Don't fre', Carlos. You'll be fine." Jeffries said.

Carlos grabbed his equipment and headed out of the door.

"Call me if there is anything."

"Will do."

Carlos loaded his things into the boot of his car and jumped in, waving briefly to Ellie who gave him a wink and a thumbs up as he sped off towards the radio station.

 

~

 

"Hello?"

Carlos knocked on the door of the radio station gently.

"Identification please?" A chirpy male voice answered from a newly installed communicator by the door.

"Cecil?"

"Carlos! Uh...hi! Come up, please."

The door unlocked from the inside and Carlos stepped inside.

He could do this. As he headed up the stairs, he remembered when he was last here, with broken glass covering the radio booth, an unconscious Cecil and that awful growling noise. He had also told himself another thing. That he was rescuing Cecil for scientific reasons.

Scientists help people, and that is what he'd done. There was nothing personal about it. And there was nothing personal about this either. He still barely knew Cecil, and he had still been joking with the community about him. Plus his hair too, which was beginning to grow back, though not quite to the length that it was before.

He was greeted at the entrance to the radio booth by Cecil himself. He was wearing pretty much the same style of clothes as Carlos had seen him most times, but his tie was this time a multitude of rainbow coloured swirls. Small parts of his hair were sticking up at absurd angles as if he'd missed some parts when brushing it into its usual slight-quiff. It was actually sort of sweet, Carlos thought. Wait, he was already breaking his rules. He was here for science.

"Welcome, Carlos."

"Hi Cecil. Can I talk to you for a moment?"

"I...er...yes, yes of course." Cecil said, going to sit down inside the radio booth, gesturing for Carlos to take the chair opposite him.

"What can I help you with?"

"I wanted to ask you something, actually."

Cecil's violet eyes lit up behind his glasses and he smiled excitedly. "Go on."

"I need you to ask your listeners if they saw any series of bright, colourful flickers coming from Radon Canyon last weekend. They have been puzzling our team."

"Oh." Cecil said. He'd sounded disappointed, which confused Carlos.
What else had he been expecting him to ask?

"These flickers would also have also been accompanied by unintelligible noises." he continued. "Possibly some form of coded communication or signal-jamming technique, perhaps."

"Oh okay. Is that all?"

Carlos looked at him, confused. "Yes?"

"Well I think that I can do that for you. Um....may I ask how you've been?"

"Busy, I guess. Science takes up a lot of time. I've not really slept much recently either. I have the lizards in the ceiling to thank for that. They're a most fascinating species, almost completely bioluminescent and nocturnal. Now their spine ridges alone are incredible...."

Ellie's voice echoed in his head as he continued telling Cecil about the lizards: 'When you get all flustered,you turn into super science Carlos. You speak in formulas!'.
But he was here for science....so that was allowed. Probably.

Cecil just nodded, resting his chin on his hand as he listened to Carlos talk.

"That's amazing." He said eventually. "You do some great work for our little community. You are my-I mean the town's favourite scientist."

"Uh....thank you, Cecil."

"It's my pleasure, Carlos, really." He smiled gently, his chin still resting on his palm.

"I'm really just here to help. Please do get the word about regarding the lights. It could be something very sinister. And I'm scared."

"Oh, sweet Carlos, there's no need to be scared. Would you like to stay for coffee? And an interview? You can tell the listeners it yourself."

Carlos shook his head. "No, no, I need to keep investigating. I'm just scared for your town. All of you in your strange, strange town."

"Well you could come on another day."

"Uh...probably." Probably not, Carlos thought.

"Here, have my number so you can message me about science...or not science. Whichever." Cecil smiled warmly.

Carlos swapped his phone briefly with Cecil and they quickly registered each other's numbers but not names.

When he received his phone back Carlos simply put him under 'Cecil' whilst he swore he saw Cecil register him as 'Perfect Carlos' with a small emoticon heart next to it.

Maybe he just imagined it.

Carlos picked up his shoulder bag filled with equipment and got up.

"Good to see you, dear Carlos." Cecil said as Carlos stepped outside the radio booth door.

"....you too, Mr Palmer." He murmured back quietly.

 

~

 

"I did it."

"Was he cute?"

"Yeah, was he swooning?"

"Dr Green, Ms Johnson, we've talked about this!"

Two slightly giggly "sorry"s came from the other end of the phone.

"Are Perez and Jeffries at the canyon?"

"You gave Brent the day off, remember?"

"Did I?"

"Yes. Brent's gone to have coffee with that journalist woman....what was her name?" Natalia said.

"Leann Hart?" Ellie offered.

"Yeah. It's sweet, actually." Natalia said.

"Oh alright." Carlos said. "Are there any other updates?"

"Yes, actually." There was the sound of ruffling paper from the other end.

"We're having some problem with the lizards..."

"What kind?"

"Well.... B-Bruce, Gordon and Icarus are beginning to spit....well, flames. They're tiny, but still slightly terrifying. Plus Trixy keeps trying to eat Michaela. They're also outgrowing the tanks; I don't think we'll be able to keep them in the lab for much longer."

"That is a problem. How much data do we have?"

"Lots." Natalia said. "We're documenting the abilities and power struggles in the species but if it carries on like this, they could pose a threat to safety around the lab within a week or two."

"Hm. Get in touch with the Night Vale Animal Control and see if, hypothetically, they know anything about the species, perhaps?"

"You got it, boss."

"Can do, Carlos."

"Right. I'll see you two tonight probably. I need to get to the bottom of this light situation. I don't like problems I can't solve."

"See you later!"

"Bye Carlos!"

He hung up and turned up the radio that he had on in his car. He'd stopped by the entrance to the canyon to call them. He didn't believe in talking on the phone whilst driving.

"....did request that we ask listeners for anyone who saw a series of bright, colourful flickers coming from Radon Canyon this past weekend. These flickers would also have also been accompanied by unintelligible noises — possibly some form of coded communication or signal-jamming technique...."

Carlos was startled. Cecil had somehow managed to quote him nearly word for word. Carlos didn't recall Cecil having a notepad or even his phone out when he was talking.

"...If anyone out there knows anything about these otherworldly lights and sounds, please contact us immediately."

Carlos smiled slightly.

"Thanks, Cecil." He murmured to himself quietly as he looked out across the canyon, watching for any new lights.

An abrupt buzzing pulled Carlos' attention back to his phone. It was a text from Cecil. Carlos began to sigh before remembering that Cecil was actually meant to be texting him. He opened up the text and read it.

"We've had calls from listeners and Parks Department. Said lights and noises were coming from a Pink Floyd Multimedia Laser Spectacular. Hope this helps! - Cecil xxxx"

A Pink Floyd what?! That was just great. It could mean that it was from something much more sinister and the Secret Police were telling people that to cover it up; on the other hand it could be someone was just messing around there and no-one actually knew why the lights were there. Either way, it complicated things. He swiftly texted Cecil back.

"The situation is worse than I imagined, then. But thank you for helping."

He headed down into the canyon to meet Perez, who was standing over what appeared to be an enormous LED light.

"Hey, Carlos."

"What is that, Edwardo?"

"A light of some description. But it is shining without batteries or a power cable. It seems we have much more to investigate."

"We'd better get going then."

 

~

By the time Carlos and Perez got back to the lab, night was falling over Night Vale. They still had few answers apart from the City Council's statement.

They had added it to the ever-growing list of unsolved phenomena. Carlos covered the list most of the time because it was, on the whole, rather depressing. He hated having problems he couldn't solve, and the list was a constant reminder.

Natalia had also showed him the problem with the lizards. He examined his own, Icarus, and determined that the males were indeed beginning to grow large lumps in their throats, presumably the cause of the flame spitting.

They varied in length from 60-70cm, but were growing all the time.

The scientists had been forced to separate them too, partially because they did not wish to have to make the tank large enough to accommodate all 5 at the same time and partially to stop Trixy attempting to eat Michaela.

Ellie had asked Carlos how he felt about going to see Cecil. Carlos had mumbled something about necessity of science before sulking slightly in the kitchen whilst making dinner.

Natalia, meanwhile, had gotten a phone call from her parents. It seemed that she'd not told them that she was on an expedition.

"Mom, please, just lis......I know that.....look, it's only for a few months. I'll be fine!.....yes, I'm still coming for Christmas and I'm sorry for not telling you....yeah, love you too."

She hung up with a sigh.

She'd noticed Carlos watching her out of the corner of his eye in the kitchen and sat on the counter next to him.

"You alright, Johnson?"

"Yeah. My parents were always pretty strict. Wanted me to go into the family business but I wanted to be a scientist. We get along just fine but I left as soon as I could to New York to study. I don't speak to them as often as I probably should."

"They must miss you."

"They do. I don't have any siblings like the rest of you, so..."

"We're family too. For as long as you're on this trip." Carlos smiled reassuringly. "And you're doing a good job in this internship."

"Thank you, Dr Valdez." She flushed slightly.

"No problem. Goodnight, Natalia."

"....Goodnight, Carlos."

Chapter Text

The van was hot and uncomfortable as Ellie, Jeffries and Carlos headed for the sand wastes. The clammy atmosphere and lack of space made Carlos pine for his car.

Conversation had been limited as no-one was in the mood for talking and creating more hot air in the van. Whilst all three scientists understood the necessity of the weekly visit to the sand wastes to note the changes in the environment, it could not have come at a worse time. Even in mid-October as it was, the desert was still hot enough for it to be horrendously uncomfortable inside when the van's air conditioning became broken.

When they finally parked, Ellie jumped out first and immediately got her water out and poured some over her forehead. A satisfying sigh came from her mouth and it prompted Jeffries and Carlos to do the same. They also shed their lab coats and other layers so they were down to just a t-shirt.

"Shall we get started?" Carlos said after a moment.

"Sure thin', boss." Jeffries said.

Brent went with Carlos to examine the rock types that they had been keeping track of. Some had been pulsing or had simply existed in a different hue than they were supposed to.

After a few detailed check-ups, they rendesvoused back with Ellie. She had found that some of the cacti she'd been studying had been clipped quite significantly. Furthermore, one she'd just found had been chopped merely minutes before she got to it. She suggested that they follow the trail together as whatever had given the cacti their trim had used a sharp claw or other instrument.

"This way!"

"Slow down, Miss Green." Jeffries chuckled. "No' all of us can run at 50 miles an 'our!"

"We're close, this one is fresh so- oh my. Look!"

"What is that?" Carlos said in shock. "It looks like a....man."

Jeffries stepped closer. "Looks like that barbe' who cut ya hair, Doc'r Valdez."

"Telly?"

The man spun around. He was about 10 metres from them, but it was definitely him. His skin was so sunburnt it was beginning to blister and he looked as if he hadn't slept in weeks. He was clutching something in his raised fists.

Ellie moved closer to see what it was, palms raised towards him to show that she didn't mean to hurt him.

"Mr Telly? The barber? My name is Dr Ellie Green. I'm a scientist, I'm not going to hurt you."

"I s-s-shouldn't have. It was a mistake. I committed the most horrific crime..."

"Telly....."

She got close enough to see what he was holding. It was hair.....the exact same shade and curliness as Carlos' was before Telly cut it.

"Carlos...."

"What is it, Ellie?"

"It's your hair, Carlos."

"What is?"

"In Telly's hands. It's your hair. From WEEKS ago."

Carlos' eyes widened, and he stepped towards Telly, who was crying; his whole body shook and he clenched his fists tighter around the locks of hair.

"Cecil did this to him..." Carlos said, his voice teetering on the edge of anger. "He was annoyed about my haircut so he got the community riled up and they did THIS."

"Carlos, calm down...."

"How could someone do this?! What kind of-"

"Carlos! Calm down."

"Ellie, it's awful! I can't believe that I was actually beginning to like-wait, Telly!"

Telly had begun to scramble away from the scientists. Jeffries dropped his rock samples and pursued him for a good fifty metres before he gave up. Telly, it seemed, was a good sprinter.

Carlos, meanwhile, was still fuming. Ellie hesitated for a moment before giving him her iPod. Carlos was caught off guard for a moment. Ellie didn't let anyone listen to her music. But he accepted the iPod silently.

"Here." She said calmly. "Put on something that will calm you down. Password's 1985."

"Thanks." Carlos mumbled. He scrolled down Ellie's music, expecting to see Taylor Swift type music. Instead he was presented with artists like 'AC/DC', 'Black Label Society' and something called 'Megadeath'. He glanced at Ellie, who was now talking with Jeffries about plant density. Three years he'd known her and not once had she played anything like this. He scrolled down further until he found 'Simple Minds' and shuffled the two albums that were on there. He began to feel better almost immediately. He had only listened to his own music a handful of times since they'd arrived in Night Vale as he'd been so busy.

As they drove back, Carlos considered asking Ellie about the music, but eventually decided against it. It was her business why she didn't want to share it with everyone. She obviously had a good reason.

But the thoughts of Telly wandering around the desert still played upon his mind as he went to bed that night.

After what Cecil had done, he wasn't sure he wanted to go to the station tomorrow. However, he had promised Natalia. They had a floating cat to examine, after all.

 

~

 

As they packed the car the next day, Natalia was the picture of happiness. She had been raving about going to see Khoshekh for weeks.

As she put the gravimeter into the car, she looked over at Carlos, concerned. Ellie had pulled her aside that morning to tell her the events of the previous day and how upset Carlos had been.

"You alright, boss?"

"Mm." Carlos said absent-mindedly.

"The others have gone to check out that strange pyramid that's just appeared in town. You know, the one near the Beatrix Lowman Memorial Meditation Zone?"

"Any word from the others that the pyramid may pose a threat to the town and we go straight there, understand?" He had adopted a firm tone, as if he wanted to distance his feelings from his work today.

"Yes, Carlos."

His usual bright eyed fascinated-by-the-world composure came back.

"Let's get going, then."

Natalia blinked before smiling back at him hesitantly.

By the time they got to the radio station, it was already evident that Carlos wasn't entirely in his comfort zone, but he had his 'thinking face' on so at least he was distracted.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Natalia asked as they parked.

"This is for science. A cat in a continuous state of levitation...we can't pass up the opportunity again."

"I meant about possibly seeing Cecil."

"Cecil is the least of my concerns." He said stiffly. "Scientifically speaking, he is just a null factor-"

"Don't worry." Natalia said, cutting him off. "Look, we probably won't even see him. His show's about to start, right?"

"I believe so."

"Then he'll be in the recording booth, not near Khoshekh."

"I didn't think of that." Carlos perked up.

"So let's go! I want to see the kitty!"

"Johnson..."

"Sorry."

 

~

 

"The Pyramid has been described as 'a kind of triangle shape, only three-dimensional.' It has made no movement, despite repeated taserings by the Sheriff's Secret Police. Many suspect that this may be a publicity stunt pulled by our own local cereal company, Flaky-Os, who are launching their new line of nighttime-only cereals next month..."

"That's not helpful, Cecil." Ellie muttered as she gazed up at the pyramid in front of her.

"It could not just have appeared." Perez quipped. "It must have been moved during the night, surely."

"Wouldn't put it pas' this town, Edwardo." Jeffries said.

"What if it is just a publicity stunt? It may not pose a threat to the town at all."

"Coul' be. I mean folks here do some crazy things for attention, righ'?"

""I will place within some of you questions." The pyramid suddenly boomed. "Within others, I will place answers. These questions and these answers will not always align. The questions I provide may have no answers, and the answers I provide may have no questions. I will study the effects of these questions, and these answers. Some of you will hurt others, and others will heal. Grow my seeds inside you, and let them flower."

The scientists looked at each other in disbelief.

"Brent....c-call Carlos."

 

~

 

"The gravimeter's off the scale!"

Carlos went back to his usual state the moment he laid eyes on Khoshekh. The beautifully silky cat floating next to the sink had thrown all of his worries about Cecil out of the window. It provoked his curiosity most highly. Unfortunately, it had also provoked something else.

"Aaa-choo!"

"You okay, boss?" Natalia asked, looking up from the gravimeter.

"Just allergies. I'll be fine."

Carlos ignored his watering eyes to further examine Khoshekh. They were both knelt down next to the cat.
Neither of them had had the courage to touch Khoshekh yet. A cat he may be, but they were both sure that most cats didn't have spine ridges.

"He seems to be perfectly alright. It hasn't seemed to have affected growth. He's just a cat that happens to be floating."

Natalia reached out her hand towards Khoshekh. He inclined his head towards her with bright eyes and made a screeching sound when he made contact with Natalia's palm. She tickled his head hesitantly.

"Was that supposed to be a purr?!"

"It didn't sound like a purr. Not in the slightest."

"I need a cup of coffee. Coming?"

Carlos nodded.

"I think it's this way....oh, the show's on, listen!" Natalia said suddenly.

"...was recently seen trying to give a cactus a haircut, whispering and cooing into what he seemed to think was its ear. Listeners, I am not one to stand aside harshly and say that a man deserves the punishment that comes to him, but I also am not sorry to see Telly in this state, given his crime. In any case, if your cactus is in need of a haircut, try Telly..."

Natalia had to hold back Carlos from marching into the booth.

It wasn't an easy task getting him to move away from the door. It was an even harder task getting him to calm down enough to answer his phone.

"WHAT?"

"Gee, Carlos. You alrigh' there?"

"Not really."

"Well us neithe'. Pyramid's been talkin'."

"I'll come at once."

"We-"

He hung up on Brent. As soon as he'd done it he felt bad. But Cecil doing that had majorly upset him. Carlos wasn't good with feelings; but he felt like he could have finally be friends with Cecil without the awkwardness and then he'd gone and done that.

"Johnson, are you good to finish up here?" He said wearily.

Natalia nodded.

"Go investigate the pyramid, Carlos. I'll see you later."

 

~

 

"Somewhere there is a map. And on that map is Earth. And attached to Earth is an arrow that says your name and lists your lifespan. Some of you die standing, others sitting. Many of you die in cars. I can never die. It is difficult for me to understand the concept that I am attempting to convey. I cannot show you this vision, but you may imagine it. Step forward and tell someone of it, please."

The scientists sat around the communal area and brooded.

The only one in a good mood was Jeffries; he had managed to get rock samples from the pyramid and they were of an unknown type. He had begun raving to them about porosity and crystal sizes to the point where they had all gotten bored.

Perez and Carlos discussed the likelihood of spontaneous teleportation and Ellie was doodling pictures of Spiderman next to her theories of how the pyramid could replicate.

Natalia got in late. She had spent more time with Khoshekh, examining the cat in detail and had spoken to Cecil briefly about him.

She'd also told him - though not descriptively - how Carlos had been upset at his treatment of Telly. He had been puzzled and Natalia had given him a run down on how people outside Night Vale react when someone orders a community-driven hit on another being.

He'd seemed genuinely concerned that he'd offended them and offered to apologise (aka explain to Carlos in depth why driving a barber out of town was perfectly acceptable given that he had deprived everyone of the pleasure of Carlos' hair) but she'd told him to wait for the steam to cool off.

"Hey, Carlos."

"Hey Natalia, look I'm sorry for going off-"

"Don't apologise, Carlos. It's fine. How was the pyramid?"

"It was fascinating. Brent's running some tests now to determine the rock type; it may help to ascertain where the pyramid came from. Most people are still very convinced that it was a publicity stunt by Flaky-Os. We just want the truth, after all."

"You guys should go and see Khoshekh soon." Natalia said to the group. "He's adorable! Oh, and Ellie, I got a few samples. I know you're not really an animal biologist, but..."

"I'll take a look, Natalia, don't worry."

"Thanks." She smiled.

"I'll be in my bedroom if anyone needs me." Carlos said, getting up.

As soon as he was gone, Perez and Ellie turned to Natalia.

"Miss Johnson, what happened at the radio station?"

"I don't know if you heard it on the radio; Cecil talked about Telly and said he deserved it."

"Oh man. Cecil's an idiot." Ellie sighed.

"I take it Carlos was upset, yes?" Perez said, twiddling his thumbs.

"He was."

"Is that why he kept looking at that?"
Perez indicated to the 'If you see something, say nothing, and drink to forget' that the Sheriff's Secret Police had put permanently on the wall (the team were still debating what kind of glue they used, as it hissed when they tried to remove it).

"Shit."

"He wouldn't, would he?"

Ellie didn't answer. Carlos wasn't good or used to feelings and he'd seemed very angry at Cecil.

Carlos didn't drink often, but if he did, it was usually because he was stressed and/or depressed. He hadn't drank much since they had been in Night Vale, and to be honest, she didn't blame him for wanting to forget some of what they'd seen.

 

~

 

Ellie had luckily reached Carlos before he'd had lots to drink.

He was still rather tipsy though, so she'd stayed with him for a while until he'd sobered up enough to go to sleep.

Everything came out. How much he missed his family, how frustrated he was all the time at not being able to solve the mysteries of "this stupid crazy town" and how Cecil "just needs to go away".

Eventually he had just started sleepily rounding off digits of pi, so she had made him go to bed.

When Carlos awoke the next morning, he saw Ellie half-slumped and snoring lightly in an armchair next to his bed.

He was lucky to have her. Although....he couldn't remember much of the night before so he didn't know exactly why he was lucky.

He sighed. He always had been a lightweight.

Chapter Text

"...If you have any tips that could lead to the capture of this roving band of dogs, please, keep them to yourself. We've also received word that they have tapped your phone and computers, so best not leave the house or talk loudly..."

"See?" Officer Jane said to the scientists.

"But...." Carlos started.

"NO. You are to stay here. Council's orders. Or do I need to schedule you all for re-education in the dark box?" Her voice went cold.

"Please," Carlos said. "It's Edwardo's birthday. We only want to go next door to Rico's for a birthday lunch."

"Big Rico is unavailable. He is assisting us with the dog problem. Did you know he's a keen taxidermist?"

"Yes. Cecil mentioned it once." Ellie said. "But please?"

"No. If I have to warn you again, I'll take you all in, starting with 'Perfect Carlos' here."

Ellie swallowed thickly and stepped back.

"I thought so."

Officer Jane nodded her head and locked the door of the lab, trapping the scientists inside.

"What now? This dog pack problem could take ages." Natalia said.

"We do not have to do anything, really." Perez mumbled.

"Bull-SHIT." She replied. "It's your birthday!"

"If you think we're not going to celebrate, Edwardo, you are sorely mistaken." Carlos beamed and put his arm around the man's shoulders - a feat given that Perez was at least half a foot taller than Carlos. Perez blushed slightly.

"We could watch a movie?" Ellie suggested. "What about Bat-"

"No, Ellie."

"Wha' about some 'fun science'?" Jeffries said. "We got any jelly bab'es, boss?"

"We do, actually. And enough wine and food to have a small celebration as we blow them up. That okay, Edwardo?"

He laughed. "That is more than okay."

"I still say we should watch it." Ellie whispered to Carlos.

"Dr Green, we talked about this. You need a break from that entire franchise." Carlos grinned.

Ellie huffed and pulled her lab coat tighter around her vintage Batman t-shirt.

 

~

 

"Wat' it fizz! Haha. Fizz. That's a funny word. Fizzzzzzzz."

"Fizzzzzzzzzy! Fizz fizzy fizz fizz." A loud giggling followed.

"I think Dr Green and Dr Jeffries are rather tipsy." Observed Perez, talking to Carlos who was sat in a chair in the corner with Natalia; Carlos sipped his wine whilst Natalia drank lemonade.

She'd pulled Carlos aside when he'd offered her a glass of champagne on the day they'd arrived and explained that her mother had been a raging alcoholic when Natalia was young and although she was better now, Natalia had vowed that she herself would never touch a drop. Not after she'd seen the consequences.

Carlos had accepted that without question and had made sure that the fridge always had some kind of non-alcoholic fizzy drink in it. In fact, the elderflower cordial that he'd bought from one of Cecil's interns, Dana, had become a quick favourite with the whole team.

"We'd better watch them. I put all the projects away, but still," Carlos chuckled. "Ellie was always a dancing drunk. It's fascinating how a mere molecular compound like ethanol can have such a sig-"

"Oh shut uppp, Carlos. Get a boyfriend already so you can still divert your arousal to science." Ellie said. She then paused to replay what she'd said in her mind before deciding it probably made sense to someone and put another jelly baby into the test tube.

"Thank you, Dr Valdez." Perez gave him a rare grin.

"Hm?"

"Thank you. It has been a nice day, despite our setbacks. You did not have to organise anything."

"Of course we did." Carlos said cheerily. "Did your sister call?"

"She did. I got her parcel yesterday too."

"Oh?"

"She bought me new clothes." He smiled slightly. "My niece Sophia chose them."

"That's adorable." Natalia giggled.

"I would like to see them at Christmas if that is alright, Dr Valdez."

"Of course it is. Speaking of which, does anyone else want to go home at Christmas? I mean, we can't risk anyone coming here."

"I would, Carloose." Ellie said with a sappy smile, wandering into the next room.

Carlos didn't have a problem with that. Ellie's family were great. Her little sister was hilarious and her family were fantastic at parties. It made sense that she'd be spending Christmas there.

"Me too." Jeffries said. "I haven' seen my twin bro' in a while. Now he's in New Yor' on business at Chris'mas, so I'd like ya see him."

"Granted. What about you, Natalia?"

"Um...." Natalia said shyly, tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear. "Can I stay here?"

"If you like." Carlos said, surprised. He himself had declined his mother's offer to go home for Christmas. Partially because the Catholic guilt was strongest then and at Easter, but mainly because he wanted to do some projects of his own over the break.

Science, after all, did not stop for Christmas.

"Natalia!!" A shriek suddenly came from the other room. "NATALIAAAAAAA!!"

"Ellie?!" She rose from the sofa arm where she'd been sat, putting her lemonade down on the side.

The woman half-stumbled back into the main lab. "Liyard!"

"What?"

"LIZARDS. Escaped!"

"Escaped?!"

Natalia, Perez and Carlos looked at each in horror before running after Ellie. The lizards, now a metre and a quarter long each, had seemingly gnawed through the three inches of steel that held them in their cases and were wandering around the laboratory.

A window on the left hand side of the room had been broken. There were two lizards in sight; the other three, two boys and a girl, were nowhere to be seen.

"We have to call animal control." Carlos muttered as made Ellie stand behind him with Jeffries as they were still pretty smashed.

"But...." Natalia sounded hurt. Carlos didn't blame her. After all, it had been her project.

"I'm sorry, Ms Johnson. They are a threat at their size." Perez put a comforting hand on her shoulder as Jeffries picked up the phone.

However, this all was cut short by the action of stepping back as the two lizards (Natalia figured by the tags that they were Trixy and Bruce) advanced forward, Trixy swishing her tail when she looked in Natalia's direction.

Natalia knelt down.
"Johnson, come back. They're dangerous."

"They know me."

"S'not Game of Thrones, Natalieooo." Ellie said from the doorway (with as firm a voice as someone that intoxicated could).

"Johnson, please. We need to leave and seal the door."

"One moment!" She hissed. Natalia reached out to the female lizard in front of her and it leaned into her touch, rubbing itself against her palm with delight. Trixy had always been the most tame of the nest.

"Oh, Trixy....I'm sorry." Natalia cooed to the lizard, before flinching back slightly as Bruce got restless and sent fire to a small spare lab coat.

"Goodbye, Trix...." Natalia tickled the head of the female lizard looking up at her once more, before Carlos pulled her arm back and they left the room.

 

~

 

After the aftermath of the breakages and analysing the damage, Carlos went and sat with Natalia.

"Don't worry, Johnson. We got so much fascinating evidence to analytically pull apart in order to show biomolec-"

"Thanks, Dr Valdez." She said stiffly, as they watched the Night Vale Animal Control unit (already rather dishevelled due to their dog pack encounters) take away Trixy and Bruce.

"Do not fret, Miss Natalia." Perez said kindly.

"M'sorry, Edwardo." Natalia muttered.

"What for?"

"My project ruined your birthday." She said meekly.

"Oh Miss Natalia!" Perez smiled warmly. "It did not. I had excellent company for my birthday. The best company." He put her hand on the sad girl's shoulder. "So do not fret."

Natalia gave him a small smile and the two men decided it was best to let her have a few minutes to gather herself.
Jeffries and Ellie, meanwhile, had sobered up slightly and were listening to the radio together.

".....Ladies and gentlemen, good news! Mayor Pamela Winchell called a press conference moments ago, declaring an end to our dog pack terror!..."

Jeffries called to Carlos. "Boss! We're allowed ta leave th' lab now!"
Carlos poked his head around the door before turning to Perez.

"Big Rico's?"

Perez nodded with a wry smile.

"Big Rico's."

"Can we watch Batman now?" Ellie quipped from the kitchen.

"NO!"

Chapter Text

The sunrise seemed to be getting louder, Carlos mused, looking up from his microscope. Also, he thought, I should probably stop working through the night so much.

He decided to go to bed twenty minutes later, with a note to Ellie telling her to start today's experiments and to wake him at noon or if there was a situation.

She ended up completely ignoring Carlos' request and waking him at 1:30 for lunch.

He gave her his best irritated look before having a quick shower and getting dressed. Luckily, that morning, the shower was actually running water rather than the glowing purple liquid it had spewed out yesterday. They still didn't know what that was.

He'd got into the unfortunate habit of wearing a lab coat of some sort at all times due to the fact that, living in Night Vale, you never knew what part of your day you may have to do a scientific investigation.

No sooner had Carlos reached the bottom of the stairs and said a sleepy good morning to Jeffries and Perez, the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it." Carlos said casually. He strode across the room with his coffee and opened the door.

"Hey. Uh, hi Cecil."

The man grinned. His attire was mostly fluorescent orange today and was almost painful to look at in the morning light. Cecil's hair seemed particularly wild and wacky that morning; the shade given by the lab porch also did nothing to hide the blush that played across his features.

"Good afternoon, Carlos. How are you?"

"I'm....okay, thank you..."

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Er....question. Yes, I think so." He stammered.

"Um....so, about that interview and coffee..."

Oh geez. That question. It's not that Cecil wasn't cute but things were still heavy after Derek, and he still didn't trust Cecil one bit after the Telly incident. Er....make some excuse, his brain screamed.

"I'm kinda busy at the moment, Cecil. Uh, with science and all." He fiddled with his lab coat collar.

"Oh. Well, actually, there was one more thing. For the show. Do you know why we don't experience seismic and tectonic shifts here in Night Vale?"

"Er....we, well.....it could......erm...." He sighed and shook his head. He honestly had no clue whatsoever. He'd given up on that aspect of Night Vale weeks ago.

He thought through a few more reasons as to why. Consequently, Cecil's voice faded into the background. Carlos caught something briefly about a shirt as he continue to muse on the subject.

"I'll look at my notes and computer models and see if I can figure out what's going on." He muttered.

Cecil looked disappointed. "Is Ms Johnson in?"

"Yeah, she is. Excuse me." He murmured. He was looking at his new Dangermeter. He'd invented it a few weeks ago to measure how likely it was that the entire town would die. He'd made it when he was half-asleep one night but it had somehow managed to work correctly. Currently, it was hovering in the green, but the arrow was slowly moving up and up towards the orange, which was decidedly worrying.

He walked past Natalia on the way to the lab, leaving Cecil behind him. He couldn't think about Cecil right now. He had work to do. Natalia looked ready to chat so would be better company for Cecil and his cute hair and vocal chords. Wait. Just hair. Not cute hair. NO. Work. Work time. Work and science was good. No Cecil.

Yes, that sounded about right.

 

~

 

"...directly supporting the local Night Vale farmer, as well as the local Night Vale commodities conglomerates. Looking for a snack? Try wheat, or a wheat by-product. Dinner? Wheat and/or its by-product. Trying to patch a leaky roof? We have just the thing for you, and we also have its by-products!"

"I. REALLY. WISH. CECIL. WOULD. STOP. THAT!" Ellie yelled.

The scientists had been confronted during their late afternoon snack by all of the bread, cake and dried pasta in their cupboard, as well as every other thing that contained wheat, turning into venomous snakes. It had, quite severely, interrupted their break. Most of the scientists had reacted with shock, wonder and fear, but Perez had turned an ashen grey colour as more snakes had appeared.

"Someone needs to go and tell him!" Natalia shouted, attempting to keep the snakes in the kitchen with a broom.

"On it." Perez said much more quickly than normal, and pulled Jeffries out of the door with him as they retreated from the snakes that were everywhere in the kitchen.

"This is so fascinating; it appears to have only affected molecules that contain wheat. I mean, how incredible is that?!" His eyes shone. "If I could just figure out how-"

"DAMMIT CARLOS. HELP!" Ellie and Natalia both shrieked, pushing back more snakes with the brooms. They managed to force them back several metres before all of a sudden, the snakes vanished. Natalia's brush sweep went directly through them and they were replaced by what looked like a black and purple hovering haze that sparked with red static as it floated.

"Holy shit what is that?" Ellie stepped back.

"I don't know.........but I feel like it's time we left the lab." Natalia quivered slightly as she spoke.

"But the scientific-" Carlos didn't have time to finish his sentence as the two women had yanked his lab coat sleeves towards the direction of the door, sprinting to avoid the pursuing spirits.

"This way!"

"Where are we going?!" Carlos shouted, confused, as they ran up the stairs.

Ellie pulled the two scientists into her room and flung open her wardrobe to reveal a metal door which she quickly opened and ran through. As soon as the door was safely shut, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked up at the two frazzled, confused scientists next to her. Ellie fiddled with her pocket radio as she looked at them innocently.

"What? It's an old bomb shelter, I think. It's always been here."

"You didn't think to mention this?!"

"The need never arose! It reminded me of the Batcave crossed with Narnia, y'know? Secret room in the wardrobe and all that."

"Let's hope it holds." Natalia muttered.

"....An update on our previous message about wheat and wheat by-products. You should not eat wheat or wheat by-products, say several frantic scientists, waving clipboards in our studio."

"Phew." Carlos sighed. "Perez and Jeffries made it okay."

"As it turns out all wheat and wheat by-products, for unknown reasons, have turned into venomous snakes, which are crawling all over our small city, causing even more chaos than is normal. These snakes have been described as terrifying, loathsome, and "probably from the bowels of hell itself!" — also, green and three feet long. If you have any wheat or wheat by-products in your home, you are almost certainly already dead. Sorry about that."

"Sorry about that?!" Carlos exclaimed.

"Hey, Cecil didn't know." Ellie said matter-of-factly. "So what do we do? Keep listening?"

"Mr Palmer will be one of the first to know if the danger has passed." Carlos admitted stiffly. "Speaking of which, why did he want to see you this morning, Ms Johnson?"

"He actually came to ask me something."

"Interview and coffee too, huh?" Carlos snorted.

"No actually....is that what he asked you?"

"....Please, be aware that wheat and wheat by-products are now malevolent and violent supernatural forces, capable of physically moving objects up to 200 pounds and entering human souls of up to Soul Strength Four...." Ellie turned down the radio to listen to Carlos' reply.

"....yeah."

"Awww!" Ellie squealed. "What did you say?" She pressed.

"No, of course."

"Aw." Ellie said. "You two interacting was so fun to watch though." She picked a bar of unopened chocolate out of her lab coat pocket and snapped off a few blocks, shoving them into her mouth. "I mean," she said with a maw full of food "You both get so worked up and nervous. It's adorable."

"Eleanor."

"What? It is!"

"Did he ask you anything else?" Natalia said, turning back to Carlos and taking a piece of the chocolate herself.

"About earthquakes, which, as you know, aren't real in Night Vale."

"Nothing else?"

"No....."

"Huh. Well he actually asked me if the two of us wanted to spend Christmas with him, as we were staying in town."

Carlos nearly choked on his own chocolate. "He....he said that?"

"Mmhmm." Natalia nodded, her mouth filled with chocolate again. "He was quite enthusiastic about it. Said it was important for scientists to celebrate Christmas as he's 'very into science these days' and wanted us to be there for the annual bloodstone chanting carols at City Hall."

Carlos just gaped.

"I mean, I didn't give him a reply, but..."

"Shh! He's talking about Carlos." Ellie interrupted, turning the radio back up.

"...experience tectonic shifts. Carlos, lovely Carlos, had previously recorded other massive tremor activity underneath our city. His response was a few seconds of stammering followed by a sigh and slow head shake. His eyes were distant — distracted, yet beautiful. I asked him where he got his shirt. It fit him so well. He said he would look at his notes and computer models and see if he could figure out what was going on. I don't know if he listens to me sometimes...."

"So that's what he was saying." Carlos muttered.

"Wait, you weren't listening?"

"The Dangermeter was going crazy, it was more important!"

He pulled it out to emphasise his point. It was beeping still and still in the red zone but the arrow was, oddly, flickering towards the orange before rising back up to scarlet again.
He pulled it down to his lap looked at it. "Oooh. Fascinating. It's fluctuating!"

"It is?" Ellie shuffled closer to him to look over his shoulder, her blonde hair tickling Carlos' neck.

"Personal space, Ellie." Carlos said uncomfortably.

"Sorry."

"How long do we have to be in here?"

"I don't know."

"It's hot in here. I hope not too much longer."

"I hope so too...."

The room was suffocating. Beads of sweat were beginning to run down Carlos' forehead.

"How much longer do you reckon we'll have to wait?" Natalia said weakly.

"Until Cecil gives the all-clear, I don't know. I just don't know...."

 

~

 

"...And finally, some good news. All wheat and wheat by-products have mysteriously vanished from Night Vale, and the City Council promises that they will be gone forever."

The sweaty, dehydrated scientists burst out of the steel door, panting and gulping in cooler, fresh air.

"Nevermore will be we threatened in our homes by this enemy or its by-products. We also will never eat bread again, and that's a pretty big bummer." Cecil's voice said.

"Aghh!" Ellie screamed in frustration. "No bread?!"

Natalia had sat down in a chair next to Ellie, the two of them exhausted and overheated.

Carlos had turned a strange shade of colour. Being in that tiny closet of a room had brought back all his claustrophobia.

He had never liked small spaces. The last few years, though, it hadn't been so bad and he thought he'd gotten over it.

Unfortunately, it had come back quite quickly. Carlos managed to make it to Ellie's bin in the corner before throwing up violently in it.

"Carlos!" The two women, despite their own fatigue, managed to get up and run to him.

"I'll get him a drink and see if Perez is back yet. Stay with him."

"Urgghhhhhhh.....M'fine. I can-"

He was interrupted by his own stomach betraying him and he threw up again.

"Hey, Carlos. Shhhh. It's gonna be alright." Ellie said soothingly, rubbing his back. "Deep breaths now."

"Ugh."

"I thought you said your claustrophobia had gotten better."

"It had..." He swallowed thickly and leant over the bin again.

"Shhhh. It's okay. Don't talk. You'll be fine."

"They aren't back yet, but they're okay. I called them and they've gone to the monitoring station. They'll be back in an hour or so." Natalia said as she came back in. "But I got you some water."

"Thank you." Carlos muttered, leaning back against the wall.

Ellie sat with a curious expression on her face like she was deep in thought.

Suddenly her eyes widened and she screamed loudly. "DOES THIS MEAN WE CAN'T HAVE CAKE ANY MORE?!"

Chapter Text

"Right, we're off to Old Town, guys!" Natalia waved leisurely at the already up-and-working Perez and Ellie as her, Jeffries and Carlos clambered into his car.

"Are ya sure you wan' to come with us, Ms Johnson?" Jeffries chuckled.

"Screaming sunsets, guys. So yeah! Of course! Don't worry, we'll be back in a bit. In time for truth or dare." She waggled her eyebrows with a grin.

"I still can't believe you want us to play that stupid game." Carlos laughed.

"It'll be fun. Besides, we've been working together ages and we still don't know lots about each other, 'sides you and Green."

"I guess so."

"How loud d'ya think these sunsets'll get? Do we need ear protectin'?"

"I put them in, Brent, just in case. We should be fine hopefully, but there have been reports of citizens growing extra limbs and things as a result. We must be extra careful."

Jeffries nodded. Although the citizens of Night Vale found the addition of extra body parts as a result of the sunsets a mere inconvenience, the scientists were beginning to regard it as one of the most dangerous investigations so far.

It was, of course, behind the wheat and wheat by-products attack a few weeks ago, and Carlos' and Perez's foolish attempt at examining the dog park, but it was still a confusing and worrying case.

It had begun the day before when Ellie had gone to Mission Grove Park for a run and noticed a lot of the people doing the customary screaming at the night's sky had extra ears, limbs, and even noses. The team had been intrigued by Ellie's report, and, after gathering more stories, had decided to investigate the sunsets, which several citizens had claimed was the problem.

They just hoped it wasn't as large a problem as it was reported to be.

 

~

 

They parked just as Cecil's show began. Jeffries had turned it up instinctively.

"Old Town Night Vale residents are complaining about extremely noisy sunsets. Several agitated citizens are pushing for the City Council to do something about the solar shrieking every evening for the past few weeks..."

"Knew Mr Palmer would have gotten onto tha' story." Jeffries beamed.

"Either way, we need to be cautious as soon as the sun begins to set, as these types of meteorological occurrences have been yet unrecorded. It is our duties of scientists to investigate no matter what." Carlos rambled. "A scientist is brave." The last part could not have sounded more terrified. "So put the earmuffs on, please...."

"It won't be that bad, surel-" Natalia scoffed.

"...noises seem to be taking their toll; there have been two heart attacks, twelve cases of significant muscular atrophy, and at least two dozen claims of folks growing third eyes — including Kincaid himself, who had an arachnid-like eight eyes when he spoke before City Council yesterday...

"Earmuffs 'tis." Jeffries said, throwing a slightly amused look at the now rather grumpy looking Natalia, who put hers in her bag rather than on her head when Carlos wasn't looking.

"This way looks like a good way." Carlos said enthusiastically.

They set up sound meters and wave detectors as well as keeping an eye on Carlos' Dangermeter in front of them. The screeching sounds suddenly started and had Carlos, Jeffries and Natalia clutching their ears, Natalia screaming and fumbling inside her bag for the earmuffs she'd stuffed in there.

When the noise eventually stopped, as the setting sun drifted out of sight, the team inspected the damage. Several people were walking out of their house, dazed, and with a tail or otherwise unwanted limb.

"...An unsigned press release I found under my pillow this morning announces the following: 'There is a free party this Friday at the Abandoned Missile Silo outside of town...'"

Natalia shoved the radio away from them and doing so, saw a fuzzy, mostly covered in black image herself doing so. She uncovered her glove and saw that she had an eye on her hand. A functioning, bright green eye that matched her normal two.

Before Carlos and Jeffries had even realised she'd screamed, Natalia had fainted.

 

~

 

"You have to check out this blog, Carlos." Ellie said excitedly as she examined Natalia's new eye back at the lab. Natalia herself was sat numbly in a chair, shaking slightly and ignoring everything that Ellie was saying.

"It's run by a dragon! Hiram McDaniels, you know, that fugitive. Cecil was talking about it on the show so Edwardo and I checked it out. It was SO GOOD!"

She squealed. Carlos looked at her like she was mad. He'd met Hiram McDaniels once and he was absolutely terrifying.

 

Maybe Ellie's comic book neediness was helping her cope with the fact that A) Dragons are real. B) Dragons are alive and Hiram McDaniels is one of them. C) He has five heads. D) Hiram doesn't live far from where they live.

"Ellie, I don't want you going and investigating this. It's too dangerous, even for us."

"Carlos. It's a DRAGON."

"Exactly! It's highly dangerous and I don't want you getting yourself killed. Around him the Dangermeter is higher by at least fourteen standard units! It is scientifically-"

"I get it! No dragon." She sighed. "We still on for truth or dare after Perez serves dinner tonight, though, yes?"

"Well I have some experiments I need to finish..."

"You promised!"

"But-"

"No."

Carlos sighed. "I do owe you for last week."

Carlos and Ellie had made a bet the Tuesday before that if Carlos didn't pluck up the courage to ask Cecil what Night Vale Christmas celebrations involved, she was allowed to organise a whole evening off for the team. As Carlos had "forgotten" (aka avoided it), Ellie had decided that the team would have a game night, playing Twister and truth or dare, among other things.

"C'mon. Be excited. It's gonna be so funny."

"If you insist." Carlos said unenthusiastically.

"Killjoy." Ellie tutted and continued to see if she could make Natalia's new hand eye cry.

 

~

 

"Left foot, red!"

"I swear, Dr Green, you do this on purpose." Perez groaned, attempting to move his foot around Jeffries' face to put it on a red spot.

"I don' see how we can las' much longe', we're not all tha' flexible." Jeffries guffawed.

"It would be much easier if your butt wasn't in my face." Carlos muttered indignantly.

"Oh stop moaning." Natalia started. She'd regained a lot of her spirit after the shock of growing a third eye. However, she still looked worried and glanced at it when no-one was watching.

"Miss Johnson, given the resentment towards your more bendable body right now from Dr Valdez..." Perez threw her an amused look. "I would not advise that."

"Carlos! Your turn! Okay.....Right foot, yellow!"

"Ellie, the scientific probability of me even reaching my ankle out that far in conjunction with-"

"Just move Carlos."

"OW!" He yelled out as he twisted his ankle under Natalia's thigh. The team collapsed laughing onto the Twister mat.
Carlos pulled out his foot, rubbing his throbbing and painful ankle with a moody expression. It had started to swell too, but he decided to not mention it. The team had actually been having a good time, and Carlos didn't feel like ruining that because of one bad Twister move.

"Truth or dare time, guys!"

They sat around the rug on the carpet in the communal area. Pillows and sofa cushions alike had been thrown onto it so the scientists could sit in a pillow fort like gossipy twelve year olds.

When Carlos has seen it, he'd had to laugh at Ellie's manner of organisation. As someone who didn't have "girl talk" growing up, Carlos did at least appreciate the sleepover vibe that Ellie had given to it. Who cared if most of them were over thirty, right?

"Okay, first spin!"

Ellie twirled the bottle energetically as the five scientists sat in a circle around the cushions.

"Perez! Truth or dare?"

"I choose dare."

"I've got one. I dare you to...put an ice cube down your pants until it melts!"

The team all laughed whilst Perez stared at Ellie in horror.

"I'll get the ice." Natalia sprinted from the room and returned a few moments later holding an ice cube tray, thrusting it in Perez's direction.

Watching the scientist moan and hop about as the ice melted was so funny that pretty soon even Carlos had tears of laughter running down his cheeks.

The game continued. Carlos found out many things about the team that he didn't previously know:

Jeffries' father was an actor in New York and his twin brother, called Ian, was also an actor. Jeffries also had an unusually long tongue for a normal person, and could very nearly lick his elbows. Natalia could do a great impression of Kermit the Frog, Perez was double jointed and Ellie had taken a class in pastry making at college and do a perfect cartwheel.

"Okay, last one. Spinning........Carlos! Truth or dare?"

"Truth."

"What do you really think about Cecil?"

Silence fell across the room and Carlos' mind went blank.

"Well, scientifically speaking, his aesthetical features are somewhat pleasing, you know, what with science and all..." He had gone bright red. "But he's strange. A stranger in this strange land. Scientifically speaking, he should be dead, what with all of the excessive amounts of radiation that exist in that studio of his...." Carlos internally cursed himself for not being able to make his embarrassment more subtle.

"So you like him." Surprisingly, the voice came from Perez and not Ellie or Natalia. "You think he is handsome, but you are not sure whether you are ready to go in that direction at the present time."

"....uh....." Carlos stammered.

Everyone was staring at Perez. Then they turned back to Carlos, who was still blushing profusely and hiding behind his now mostly grown back fringe. Perez had hit the nail on the head. He decided that he should just nod.

 

~

 

The scientists didn't shut up about his flushing face for at least three days.

Carlos didn't care about that; he just really didn't want anyone to tell Cecil. He wasn't ready. Not yet. Hell, he was still nervous about relationships after the whole Derek situation and Cecil still scared him a bit. No, a lot.

Plus the fact that Cecil would probably tell the entire town if he called for anything at all was pretty daunting too.

He sighed. In two weeks the team would disassemble for the Christmas break and he could get some proper science done. He'd be alone.

He worked better that way, he mused.

Alone....

Chapter Text

"I'll miss you. Don't work too hard." Ellie hugged Carlos with a small laugh.

"I'll be fine. A scientist is always fine."

"You say that far too often."

It was departure day for the team, with only Carlos and intern Natalia Johnson staying for the Christmas break. The rest had decided to see their families. Carlos hoped that it would be worth the visit home for them. The amount of blood sacrifices and forms and tin foil donations to the City Council just to ensure that they were allowed back to Night Vale had been incredibly hassling for the team the past two weeks.

They said that they would return a few days after New Years, as most of them had missed the traditional dropping of the ball in NYC the previous year and they wanted to go to that together before they attempted to make their way back to the town.

As soon as the farewells had been said and the van had screeched off into the desert, Carlos realised that he'd never bought his team Christmas presents yet. He was normally the sort of person who left it until Christmas Eve, doing last minute shopping because he'd remembered that Christmas was something that occurred, outstanding science experiments or not.

He decided that, as Natalia had gone out to visit Old Woman Josie, he'd go and do his Christmas shopping. The mall was only a few minutes away from the lab.

He decided to take his car. As it was so close, he'd normally hate that sort of thing as it wasn't the most environmentally friendly gesture, but he may need it if he was shopping. He didn't particularly wish to carry everything home.

He headed to the mall and parked outside, wandering in. He wandered briefly if he should have changed before he came. The lab coat he was wearing smelt a bit strange after an accident the day before with a tree sample that had attacked Perez. He hoped no-one would notice. But then again, when was Carlos ever lucky?

 

~

 

"Carlos! Hey!"

He spun around, tearing himself away from the cashier, an odd middle-aged woman who seemed to lack a nose.

Cecil strode over, wearing a hideously vibrant Christmas themed jumper, which looked incredibly thick and Carlos was staggered as he thought of how Cecil was managing to wear it in the heat of the desert. It was like the kind purchased from any high street store that time of year with patterns, but the stitchings seemed to indicate Santa piling his reindeer onto a rotary spit. His hair was sticking straight upwards, like he'd just run his hand through it; Carlos suspected he had, as he was slightly flushed and was pushing his purple glasses further up the bridge of his nose.

Carlos' stomach did an annoying flip when he saw Cecil.

"Hi. Cecil. How are you?" He said, taking the bag containing Natalia's present, some eye makeup, and a jumbo Batman mug for Ellie, from the cashier.

"I'm wonderful, dear Carlos. How have you been?"

Before Carlos knew it, he had started rambling about the experiments he'd been doing, the screaming sunsets. When he mentioned Natalia growing a third eye, Cecil nodded.
"Some citizens do have multiple eyes. Though most are for job purposes rather a screaming sunset curse. Like mine."

"You....you have more than two eyes?"

"Well yes." Cecil looked at him like Carlos had missed something obvious. He indicated the tattooed third closed eye on his forehead.

"But that's not, scientifically speaking, a real eye."

Cecil blinked (but only with two eyes). "It is."

Carlos shook his head. "Cecil, it is a drawing of a closed eye that has been put onto your forehead using a series of needles."

"Come by the studio sometime whilst I am on air and you'll see."
Cecil said dismissively. "Are you Christmas shopping?" He asked as the two of them walked through another aisle of potential gifts.

"For the team, I am. I've already sent my Mama and my sister their presents."

"That's so thoughtful of you, Carlos." Cecil said dreamily.

"It was an easy decision, given that the postal- oh my god. That's so fantastic!" Carlos almost squealed with delight as he saw a bumper sticker on a rack.

He put his bags by his feet and leant over to take off the package holding the sticker. It was perfect for Jeffries, Carlos thought happily, particularly as he said he would be bringing his car when he returned from New York. It had an cartoon image of a landslide with the slogan "GEOLOGY ROCKS!" next to it.

Cecil peered over his shoulder. "What a strange bumper sticker. Are you sure you don't want one for the NRA?"

"It's for Dr Jeffries. Geology is the study of rocks, and Brent is a geologist."

"Oh! Haha, that is indeed more fitting. Of course I knew that. I'm very into science these days." He beamed at Carlos.

"I-I'll go and pay for this." Carlos stammered, hoping to every deity out there that he wasn't blushing.

"Well, I need to get to the studio anyway, but....oh I can't wait! I want you to have it now!" He held out a bag to Carlos. "I didn't have time to wrap it, but I hope you like it!"

Carlos took it carefully. "I....thank you, Cecil. You didn't have to get me anything."

"I wanted to, though." He blushed. "It's your first year in our community, so I thought it should be special. I heard that you're spending it on your own?"

"Science doesn't stop for holidays. A scientist must pursue...science!" Carlos said quickly.

"But alone, sweet Carlos? You don't have to spend it on your own...." Cecil said with a hinting tone that Carlos didn't pick up on.

"No..." He said matter-of-factly. "I get more done when I'm on my own. Miss Johnson is celebrating with me on Christmas Day, but otherwise, I will have the laboratory to myself." He sounded wistful. He was looking forward to the solitude and the focus immensely. There was so much to discover during this few week period.

"Oh." Cecil said, his chipper mood lost slightly. "Well, I must run. I can't keep Station Management waiting. Not with today's show. I have something special. I'm excited, they don't let me do something like this often!"

"Have fun, Cecil." Carlos smiled shyly, not asking what it was and went straight to the cashier to pay for Jeffries' bumper sticker.

He looked at the bag Cecil had given him. It had a card inside, which Carlos decided he wasn't quite ready to deal with just then. But he saw the items under it and pulled it out as he was waiting in the queue.

It was a red plaid flannel shirt, which had a comfortable fabric that looked nice. It was even in his size, which made Carlos wander how he had known it. There was also a green t-shirt in there with the phrase "Never trust an atom, they make up everything" on it. It was a cute shirt, with an adorably scientific pun, and Carlos felt quite touched that Cecil had bought it for him.

Then Carlos remembered the convention of gift giving and was stumped. Now Cecil had gotten him something....

What on earth was he supposed to get Cecil?

 

~

 

"Hey, Carlos! I'm back!" Natalia said cheerfully as she stepped inside the lab door. "Carloooos? Are you here?"

She put down her keys into the bowl and took off her jacket and sandals. Natalia wandered through to the laboratory to find Carlos hunched over on a chair, the radio playing in the background.

"...Which brings us to now. To this story. This story about you." A screeching noise from outside suddenly interrupted Natalia from hearing what Cecil said next. She shut the window and the noise was muffled.

"...to the radio. The announcer is talking about you. And then you hear something else, a guttural howl out of the desert distance, and you know that the crate's absence has been discovered."

"That's so creepy." Natalia exclaimed. Carlos looked up.

"Oh, hey, Miss Johnson." He was listening intently to the sound of Cecil's voice and fiddling with three different neckties that were in his lap.

"Why do you have ties, Carlos?" Natalia said, sitting down next to him.

"For Cecil's Christmas present. He got me something, and the general tradition of gift giving means I got him something in return." Carlos murmured, looking at the ties again with a lost expression.

"Aww. What did he get you?"

Carlos waved his hand at the bag on the lab bench and Natalia looked inside at the shirts. She smiled, her pixie-like features lighting up in a delightful way.

Carlos told her about his accidental meeting with Cecil, as well as showing her Jeffries' bumper sticker. After a while, the necktie issue came up again.

"Which one do I give to him?" Carlos said. "I can't decide which one and I've been staring at these three neckties for ages trying to decide. I was always hopeless with fashion."

Natalia looked at them. There were differentiating designs and each was a nice tie in its own way.

"I think the mint green one." She grinned. "It'll bring out his purple eyes. That's an important factor."

"I...well, I don't know about important..."

"Just give him that one, Dr Valdez. I'm sure he'll love it." Natalia chuckled. "When are you going to give it to him?"

"Soon enough. I want to know why everything that is happening to one person is being broadcast by Cecil, too. He said that the radio show today would be different, but I didn't think like this."

"You listened to him?"

"Yes." Carlos blinked.

Natalia's hand-eye squinted at Carlos skeptically. It tended to do things like that, she'd noticed. She'd just about gotten used to it, though she still poked herself in the eye occasionally when she was trying to get dressed in the morning.

"Huh. Well, if you want to go now, we can. I've got nothing really outstanding. It'd be nice to see Cecil."

Carlos spluttered. "Now?"

"Yeah. I mean, you said he'd told you to drop by anyway."

Carlos' head whirled. No, that'd make him seem too keen and that would mess up his distance thing. Unfortunately, something quite different came out of his mouth.

"Sure, why not?"

 

~

 

"...You drop a few dollars onto the check, place it back under the sugars, wait for the sound of swallowing, and leave the diner. The waitress nods as you leave, but not at you. She nods slowly and rhythmically to music only she can hear, her eyes riding the curved line of neon lights above the menu. As you start the car, the man on the radio says something about the weather."

Carlos pulled into the radio station just as the melodious hum of the weather began to play.

They headed up the stairs, Natalia briefly sticking her head around the men's bathroom door to see how Khoshekh was doing. Her short hair was beginning to grow out, and it was nearing more of a bob than a pixie cut. However, it still had, albeit a little faded, pink and blue streaks in it.

Carlos walked up to the booth. What he saw shocked him. Cecil's tattooed third eye was no longer a tattoo. It was an actual eye. It was open, and glowing a neon purple as Cecil talked into the radio, the weather having finished.

"...It had taken you no time to get back home. Now that you think about it, were there any other cars on the road? Where did all the cars go? The man with the semaphore flags explaining the speed limit — he wasn't there either. Your heart pounds. Without allowing another stray thought to wander through your mind and delay you, you grab the crate and throw it in your trunk. You turn the ignition, and your car radio comes alive with a pop — just as the announcer says that your car radio comes alive with a pop."

Natalia gasped from behind Carlos. Cecil turned around and the two of them ducked out of sight quickly. Carlos had no idea why he wanted to hide, but this version of Cecil was so...frightening. It was fascinating beyond belief, that he could do that and see a man somewhere in Night Vale's every move, but at the same time he appeared different. Like he was possessed. Or worse.

Cecil had assured him that it didn't happen often. Carlos wanted to ask him that. More urgently, though, Carlos wanted to leave the station and discuss all that they had seen with Natalia. He would ask Cecil soon why exactly his tattoo was capable of doing that. Right now, he was mildly scared of Cecil, and he wanted to go to somewhere less unnerving to talk to Natalia about Cecil's creepy omniscience.

Just before they scampered out of the door, bewildered and worried, Carlos left the tie with a note on it by the station break room.

Had he been in less of a trance, Cecil would have noticed the scientist write a quick note on the side of the hastily wrapped package that read:

"Dear Cecil,
Happy Christmas.
From Carlos"

in pencil. Carlos frowned at his scribbly handwriting.

He just hoped that Cecil would definitely not notice the small 'x' after Carlos' name that had been hastily erased underneath it.

He hoped a lot.

Chapter Text

The sound of the telephone filled Natalia with excitement, which was incredible considering how long they had stayed awake the previous night. It would seem Carlos liked to watch 'The Breakfast Club' and eat pancakes with piles of maple syrup on New Year's made using a bunsen burner. Go figure.

She answered it enthusiastically. "Hello?"

"Miss Johnson?"

"PEREZ!" She squealed down the phone.

"Um....hello again. May I speak to Dr Valdez? It is of importance." He sounded solemn.

"I-okay. Carlos!"

A muffled shout came from the lab next door. "What?"

"Phone!"

"Not now!"

"It's important!"

"Tell Cecil he's thanked me for his Christmas present too many times now and he needs to stop!"

Natalia could practically hear Perez sniggering down the phone.

"It's not him! It's Edwardo!"

"Huh? OWW!" The sound of a scream and an explosion followed, before a frazzled Carlos exited the lab, his eyebrows smoking slightly and the tips of his hair singed.

"Edwardo, hey." He said, taking the phone from a now laughing hysterically Natalia. The raven-haired girl was in fits and whipped out her phone to take a picture of him.

"Natalia, stop! Sorry, Edwardo, what did you want to tell me?......oh.........of course I understand.....yes, of course, please give her our love......no, don't worry.......phone when there's news.....yeah......yes......okay, speak to you soon....goodbye." He hung up.

"What's wrong?" Natalia inquired, her happy expression faded.

"Perez's sister Gabriella is very sick. He thinks that she'll be okay, but he needs to look after his niece while she's in the hospital, so he doesn't know when he'll be able to come back."

"Oh geez." Natalia said.

"He's going to call the others now."

"Speaking of which, Jeffries and Ellie should be here by tonight. They decided to leave earlier and texted me. Brent's driving because Ellie's a little hungover."

Carlos smiled a little. Ellie's family had a tradition of a massive party on New Year's. He was more than surprised that she would be back so soon.

"Maybe we should go out, celebrate." Natalia suggested. "When I spoke to Old Woman Josie the other week, she mentioned that she wanted to go bowling with some people. Should I call her?"

"If you like. I'm terrible at bowling, but why not?"

Natalia grinned and dialled a new number as the dishevelled Carlos went back into the lab.

"Hey, Josie, it's intern Johnson working with Carlos...."

 

~

 

Carlos stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his midsection. He looked in the bathroom mirror which was oozing a strange black goo. He'd have to look at that later.

He looked at his chin. He was getting a bit of stubble but he decided to leave it for the day. He went out of the bathroom and across to his room where the radio was on.

"Ladies and gentlemen, surely you have noticed...there's a Man in a Tan Jacket. Countless residents have seen him, but no one can seem to remember exactly what he looks like; just that he has a tan jacket and a deerskin suitcase. And he has been spotted all over town. But no one can quite recall specifically where they saw him, or what time of day it was – just that they saw him."

Carlos' ears perked up. That was interesting.

"Natalia?" He called. "Come here a moment."

Natalia came up the stairs. "What do y-geez, Carlos!" She cried, covering her eyes.

"Hm?"

"Towel!"

Carlos' towel had slipped down his waist. Not enough to expose anything, luckily, but enough for him to be incredibly embarrassed. He pulled it up, flushing from ear to ear.

"Ah....have you heard about this man in a tan jacket? No-one can remember his features, and he sounds like an incredibly interesting scientific phenomenon. We should study it, you know, for science."

He hid behind his hair as Natalia removed her hand from her eyes.

"Cecil's reporting on it?"

Carlos nodded and passed her the portable radio, one hand holding up his towel still, before disappearing into his room.

Natalia blinked and listened to the radio outside the door, loud enough for Carlos to hear.

"...what he believes to be the first-ever glimpse of citizens of the Underground City deep below Lane Five. Early Saturday morning, Fun Complex cameras picked up blurry motion near the soda machine. The footage is quite fuzzy and difficult to discern. Perhaps it is merely rats or raccoons, digging through an uncovered supply of junk food. But it is, of course, much more likely that a lost nation of people, living in the bowels of a small-town bowling alley, are finally revealing themselves – taking our food supplies, and preparing for war..."

"You still want to go bowling?" Carlos snorted dismissively.
"Yeah. I...I'd want to see the absolutely not angelic beings....if they were real, of course." A tear slipped from her right eye. "Angels aren't real." She said, nodding to the Sheriff's Secret Police officer by their window, perched in a tree. The officer nodded back, giving her a thumbs up.

Carlos, meanwhile, had gotten dressed.

"I'm going to look into this man in the tan jacket. Any more word from the radio?"

"Yeah." Natalia said. She passed him the radio, turning it up.

"...Old Woman Josie added that she thinks the Man in the Tan Jacket is just a salesman of some sort. A fly salesman, she bets, wandering from town to town with polished shoes and a suitcase full of flies."

"A suitcase....full of flies..." Carlos said skeptically.

"Josie isn't wrong often, you know. E-except about the fact that angels are real." She turned back to the Secret Police officer to check, before turning back to Carlos.

"I'll see you later. I'll text when Jeffries calls."

"Thank you, Miss Johnson. And thank you for your company this last few weeks. For you know, making sure I ate and...yeah."

"It's no problem, Carlos." Natalia smiled gently. "I'll see you later."

 

~

 

"...followed the bizarre glowing orb, which is somehow the source of all light and life, and —"Oh god, the sun, are you kidding us with this? We don't even have time for that mystery!" the Secret Police then interjected. Secret Police officials added that if you see a Man in a Tan Jacket carrying a deerskin suitcase, write down what you see immediately. The City Council has temporarily lifted their ban on pens and pencils..."

Carlos punched his fist into the air Writing?! He could get so much done if he was allowed to write!

He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't notice his car leaving the road. He swerved to avoid the man he nearly hit and slammed on the brakes. The car lurched forward but Carlos managed to keep control enough so no-one was hurt.

"Hey, are you o-"

Carlos saw the man he'd nearly hit. He had a tan jacket and carried a deerskin suitcase.

Carlos kept his eyes on the man, as he pulled out his notebook and the one salvaged pen that he owned. He started to write, and he looked down for a split second to check he was writing coherently.

When he looked up, the man was gone. And Carlos' notes were nothing but a scribble.

Carlos strained his mind, trying to recall what he looked like. But he could only remember the jacket and the suitcase.

He ground his teeth in frustration, running a hand through his hair as his phone began to ring, the sweet sounds of his favourite song, 'Crosseyed and Painless' by Talking Heads floating out of his pocket.

"Hello?" He said wearily.

"Hey, Carlos! They're ten minutes away! Got questioned by Secret Police a lot and Ellie is pretty sure that they have a gap in their memory but they're safe and they're here."

"Thank you, Natalia. I'm on my way. The probability is very high currently that I will be there before the designated time of arrival."

"How did it go, by the way? Did you find him?"

"I did...but I can't remember anything about him! It's so frustrating that a mystery is dissolving itself from my memory!" He sighed. "What else?"

".....we're also having pizza for dinner?"

"Yes. Thank you. Sorry, Miss Johnson. Ah, I have to go."

"Bye, Dr Valdez. See you in a few minutes."

Carlos hung up and looked back down at his notes and the illegible markings that he had written. He hit his fist against the wheel of the car very hard in frustration.

Carlos, although exceptionally smart, on that occasion, forgot that airbags are something that exist.

 

~

 

"Carlooooooooos!"

Ellie squeezed the breath out of him. "I missed you!"

"You were gone two weeks, Ellie!"

"Yeah, well."

"Doc'r Valdez!"

"Brent. It's nice to have you back."

"Nice to be back. Have a good Chris'mas?"

"We did. Some mild disturbances but nothing catastrophic. Yourself?"

"I guess. My brother was a bi' annoyin' but he always is." Jeffries chuckled. "Oh, I got ya a Chris'mas present. Hope ya like it."

"I have something for you too, Brent. And for Dr Green. Thank you for this."

"I got one for you too, Carlos!" Ellie said, bouncing up and handing him a brightly coloured package with way too much sellotape on it.

Brent gave Carlos a bag full of lab goggles. Carlos couldn't help but laugh. It had been a running joke with the team that Carlos was always losing his lab goggles here, there and everywhere.

Ellie watched eagerly as Carlos opened his box. Nestled in the top of the box was a pair of handcuffs with the note "in case Cecil's into that sort of thing".

Carlos had nearly died with embarrassment. Ellie had nearly died laughing.

She told him to take them out. There was a small hook underneath the cuffs which could be pulled upwards to reveal a lemon cupcake.

"Ellie!" Carlos fretted. "You can't!"

Ellie just pointed to the note under it.

"Just eat it next time you're out in the desert. I knew you missed your mother's cooking. E xx" The note said.

Carlos looked at Ellie who had a gentle smile on her face. He pocketed the box and gave them both a hug.

"So, wha' have we got to investigate this year?"

"Well," Carlos began, leading the team back into the lab. "There's this incredibly interesting man. He's a new phenomenon and it's just such a scientifically intriguing mystery! He has a tan jacket and a deerskin suitcase...."

Chapter Text

The setting sun crept lazily down the horizon as two figures stood next to an oak door in the middle of a barren wasteland.

"So you think it could lead somewhere else?" The first figure said, a man with curly black hair and a lab coat.

"I don't know. Maybe." The other figure replied, in a gruff voice.

"Hm...thanks, Mr Peters, for your time." Carlos Valdez muttered, kneeling down to examine the door more thoroughly.

His lab coat brushed the dusty desert ground. The door was not being held up by any external forces, and there was a faint knocking from within.

"You should get home, Carlos the Scientist."

"Hm?" Carlos hummed, touching the door's frame and scribbling more notes on his tablet.

"Tomorrow's Street Cleanin' Day."

"Oh..." Carlos had no idea why that was such a big problem but he did what he always did in those kind of awkward social situations: he nodded.

John Peters (you know, the farmer?) tipped his hat respectfully and began to walk back towards the silhouette of his farm house.

Carlos' phone began to ring. The caller ID said Cecil. He took a few seconds to consider whether he had the courage and the time to talk to Cecil. He decided that as John had essentially ordered him off the property for the night, he should probably respect those wishes.

"Hi, Cecil." He answered. "Make this quick, will you? I'm investigating a very important scientific-"

"You're not home?" Cecil interrupted.

"No...." Carlos replied.

"Carlos, go home! Please!"

"Cecil, I'm invest-"

"Carlos, the Street Cleaners are coming tomorrow and I don't want you getting hurt. Please, you need to get home and prepare."

"I....wait, STREET CLEANERS?"

"Yes! You must get home, sweet Carlos, and barricade your lab immediately."

"If they are that dangerous, why have I not heard about it?" Carlos said, picking up his bag, holding the phone between his face and shoulder as he did so.

"No-one likes to talk about it." Cecil said darkly. "Look, I've probably said too much. Just...protect yourselves, please?"

Carlos rolled his eyes and he severed the phone connection. He then texted Jeffries.

'On way back. Barricade windows immediately.'

His phone alert went off a moment later.

'Can do. Why?'

'Cecil's raving about some danger thing. Potential for harm, but I'm not sure I believe him yet. I'll be back soon.'

Carlos slipped his phone into his lab coat pocket and gathered his things.

He hoped that Cecil was pulling another joke on him, like he had when he first came to Night Vale. However, given the tone and urgency of Cecil's voice, he didn't think that he would be that fortunate.

 

~

 

When Carlos returned to the lab, the sun had almost faded from sight. But the lack of light did nothing to mask the unfamiliar unmarked car outside the facility, and the two figures standing guarding it.

Carlos swallowed thickly. Secret Police.

There was shouting coming from the inside and he ran in, his bag and equipment left on the passenger seat of his car.

"It was just a cupcake!" A shrill voice cried. "Let GO of me!"

Ellie was being dragged outside by three officers. Carlos had to give her credit for three being needed. She was wriggling all over the place.

"What's going on?" Carlos said to the officer standing menacingly by the car.

"Carlos the scientist, one of your team is in possession of illegal wheat and wheat by-products. She is therefore, by law, being detained."

Shadowy cells and faceless guards flickered into Carlos' mind.

"Please...erm, officer. It came from outside, it was for Christmas and it got eaten that same day. A-are you sure that I can't change your mind?"

The officer's stance changed; he crossed his arms and faced Carlos. It was difficult to say the least to figure out if he was angry, as....well, his face was completely covered.

"What kind of changing our minds?"

"Well, we are s-scientists." Carlos tried to make himself look taller and bolder. "We study science and well, there's an awful lot of things in this town that could be helped by science, yes?"

"Perhaps." The officer said coldly.

"Are there any problems that we could, you know..." Carlos felt himself flush and stammer. "Scientificallyhelpwith?" He gushed.

"Hm...." The officer said.

I'm dead, Carlos thought. I'm dead and they're going to have to send whatever is left of my bones back to Mama and Maria...

"Well, there is one thing. Perhaps. Let me check."

The Secret Police officer walked over to the other two, managing to have a quick conversation whilst still restraining Ellie, who was wriggling around even more vigorously.

Carlos' brow felt hot. Not many things scared him, but the police were intimidating. A scientist must be prepared for anything, however. That was very important, he concluded.

There are many things that a scientist should be. Scared wasn't one of them.

"We think there may be a problem with time." The officer said. "We want you to investigate. If you do, and, give us some other support, we may be prepared to let the girl go."

"Deal." Carlos blurted. He'd been meaning to investigate the time fluctuations anyway, but the Secret Police didn't need to know that. If it meant Ellie was let go and wouldn't have to go through the ordeal that himself and Perez went through in those cells.

"Release her." The officer grunted. "You have a month, Carlos the scientist."

The moment the car was out of sight, Carlos ran over to Ellie and hugged the shaking woman tightly.

"I'm fine, Carlos."

"Is it okay if we discuss this later? We have an issue."

"More pressing than wheat smuggling?" She said, trembling.

"Much more pressing..."

 

~

 

"Ladies, gentlemen, you. Today is Street Cleaning Day. Please remain calm! Street Cleaners will be upon us quite soon. We have little time to prepare. Please remain calm! The City Council has issued a statement in 20-point all-caps type saying: RUN! RUN! FORGET YOUR CHILDREN AND LEAVE BEHIND THE WEAK! RUN! We have contacted those experts who have not already gone underground or changed their identity, and have been told that Street Cleaners focus on heat and movement, and so the best strategy is to be dead already."

Jeffries turned pale and hammered the nails into the beams barricading the door even faster.

"C'mon, Brent. We'll be fine. Bring it." Natalia said.

Ellie and Natalia had coped with the possibility of death quite defiantly. Natalia had dug out her old karate uniform that she'd brought with her for good luck. Ellie had, despite Carlos' protests and Jeffries' laughter, worn her Batman onesie complete with cape.

Carlos had mixed some chemical compounds, both acids and alkaline liquids, to throw at the Street Cleaners in case they broke into the lab. Jeffries had worked through the night barricading the doors.

All of them were terrified.

The prospect of death was one that they had become accustomed to during their stay in Night Vale, but never to this scale.

Jeffries suddenly stopped his work. A vibration in the ground had made the whole building shudder.

"More information now on Street Cleaning Day, which has come upon us just as we always feared it would. The information is that Street Cleaning Day is terrifying, and that we should all perhaps fall to our knees, letting out moans...."

"C-Cecil's positive, isn't he?" Natalia mumbled.

"The City Council has issued a statement indicating that they forgot they had vacation plans this week, and so are currently on a plane to Miami — as they had been planning and looking forward to for some time. They said their vacation, since it was definitely planned, has a pre-established end date, but that they cannot tell anyone what that end date is until the Street Cleaners are completely gone."

You have got to be kidding me, Carlos though angrily. They left. Of course they did.

"Turn off th'radio! Quick!" Jeffries said urgently.

Carlos flipped the 'off' switch immediately. There was the sound of rumbling and faint screaming from the outside.

"We're dead." Ellie said shakily as the team huddled together in the corner of the room. "And I still haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises!"

"We'll be fine." Carlos said reassuringly. "A scientist is always fine..."

 

~

 

"We return you now to a safe place. The Street Cleaners have passed. Street Cleaning Day, as so many other days, is behind us."

The laboratory was carnage. Microscopes and Bunsen burners laid scattered on the floor. Liquids of all viscosities covered the floor. Some sparks flew as an electric cable caught a puddle of water.

The upper floor of the building had been completely destroyed and there was a gaping hole in the ceiling; a hole where a family of fire-breathing mutant lizards had once lived.

But they were alive. All four scientists had survived the dreaded street cleaning day.

Carlos got up first, using the lab bench to heave himself up from the floor. He turned back to the team, who were, apart from a few scrapes and bruises, unharmed.

He took a deep breath before helping up the others and facing the wreckage.

"It would seem..." Carlos said quietly. "...that we have work to do."

Chapter Text

"Miss Johnson, does that clock have teeth too?" Carlos said warily.

"It does. It's creepy, Carlos. I mean, the Secret Police and City Council asked you to investigate time, but this?"

"I know." Carlos said, rubbing his forehead. "It's a nightmare. Did you get your new apartment sorted, by the way?"

"Yeah." Natalia said. "Ellie and I are moving in tomorrow night. Brent is sorted. How about you?"

"Yeah. The other day. Sorry I didn't mention it. Just been busy with this clock situation. It's so fascinating. But the goo is....kind of terrifying."

"Have you asked anyone about it? I mean, a Night Vale resident?"

"I called Cecil at the weekend to ask him about the time thing. I even explained the phenomenon and how exactly time was slowing down, but he just sort of said-"

"Neat?!" Ellie burst out from the other room, which was followed by hysterical laughter.

"Ne-wait. Huh?" Carlos said, getting up and going into the room to find Green and Jeffries sat around the radio, tears rolling down their cheeks.

Cecil's voice on the radio sounded mortified.

"I mean, Carlos is SO smart, and he says SO many smart things! And I’m not dumb! I like science and municipally-approved books just as much as the next guy, so I can’t believe that’s all I could say to him. NEAT!" Cecil groaned dramatically into the radio mic.

Carlos blinked. Then it occurred to him what Cecil was talking about.

"Is he talking about when-"

"When ya phoned him, Carlos." Jeffries chuckled. "At th'weekend."

Carlos just stood there for a moment.
"I....I should get back to work. Clocks to disassemble. For science." He tripped over a chair leg in his attempt to scramble away so as to avoid the conversation.

"But it's gone 7, Carlos. It's not during the day like the normal shows. It's an evening one." Ellie said. Carlos had not expected that response at all. Maybe she had finally taken on board his requests for silence on the Cecil matter.

"Oh. Well I'll take some work home with me. I need to look at more clocks. So many more." He muttered, gathering up the clocks given to them by the Secret Police even though everyone in the town was of the opinion that time wasn't real.

"Carlos...just, rest tonight, will you?" Natalia asked. "You've been on this all week and since half past 6 this morning."

Carlos sighed. "It's just so FRUSTRATING. Having something like this to solve and not being able to solve it."

"If anyone can, boss, you will. We believe in ya." Jeffries said, nudging Carlos' shoulder encouragingly.

"Thank you, Brent."

"Get home soon, 'kay?"

A chorus of 'goodnight's echoed around the lab and the scientists left the building.

Carlos grabbed his satchel with the clocks in and locked the door.

Luckily, his apartment was a mere two blocks away. Enough time for one song. He flipped the 'shuffle' button on his iPod and started walking.

 

~

 

Carlos' apartment was quiet and shadowy. He switched on the light lazily and took out his phone. He needed a second opinion on the clocks.

It was the middle of the show, but...he was the best person to ask.
He dialled the number. It rang through to voicemail.

'Hi, you've reached the voicemail of Cecil Palmer. I'm off doing some important journalistic work or perhaps just petting Khoshekh. But either way, leave me a message.'

Carlos had to smile slightly as he heard about Khoshekh.

He took a deep breath. It was just a phone call. He'd done it that weekend. Albeit much encouragement. So he could do it again.

"Cecil, sorry to bother you. I need you to get the word out that clocks in Night Vale are not real. I have not found a single real clock. I have disassembled several watches and clocks this week and all of them are hollow inside. No gears, no crystal, no battery or power source."

He looked at one of the clocks that had fallen out of his satchel. It was one of the more grotesque ones.

"S-Some of them actually contain a gelatinous grey lump that seems to be growing hair…and teeth. I need to know if all clocks are this way, Cecil. This is ver—"

There was a shadow at his door and someone was standing outside it. Carlos headed towards it whilst still talking into his phone.

"There’s something at my door, Cecil. I need to go, okay? I’ll call you back in…well, I don’t know."

He hung up and looked through the blinds. There was a man there. A man in a tan jacket. Carlos ducked towards the windowsill and rapidly tapped at his phone to call Cecil again. Again, it rang out.

"Dammit!" Carlos cursed quietly, just as the answer machine finished and it started to record his voice. Carlos whispered so as not to draw attention to himself.

"There’s a man in a jacket holding a leather suitcase outside my door, Cecil. He’s not knocking, he’s just standing in front of my door. I can’t make out his face. I’m peering through a crack in the living room blinds-"

The man suddenly twisted his neck around a full 180 degrees to look at Carlos. If he had been a human rather than a mysterious entity, his neck would most certainly be hanging off at an absurd angle.

"Oh no, he saw me!" Carlos exclaimed and accidentally stopped the call as he fumbled with his phone and ran back behind the sofa, just as the door began to unlock itself and swing open.

 

~

 

Carlos awoke a moment or two later sprawled on his sofa. At least he thought it was a moment or two later. His brain was fuzzy. What had happened? He thought to himself briefly.

He looked at his phone as he got up and noticed that he had called Cecil a few minutes before. Oh yes, he'd called Cecil. What was he calling him about? Uh......Oh, the clocks!

He dialled Cecil's number again. Four phone calls in one week. That seemed a bit desperate. Oh well, it was too late now.

Cecil, once again, did not pick up. He must be talking about something really interesting on the radio show today, Carlos figured.

"Sorry about that, Cecil. I forget what I was doing. I think somebody came over…but I don’t remember who or what for."

Carlos strained his mind, trying to remember. Then he remembered another thing. His deadline for the Secret Police's time investigation. Cecil would have a number.

"Anyway, I need to meet you. Are you free tomorrow afternoon? You have a contact number for the mayor and someone with the police, right? It’s important that I find them. And again, can you get the word out on your radio show about the clocks?"

He hung up and sighed tiredly. That sounded decent enough. He laid back on his sofa, putting his satchel above his head and pulled out one of the clocks again to examine.

His eyes began to drift closed and barely a minute later, he had fallen asleep on top of his satchel.

 

~

 

"Don't you...forget about me.."

Carlos' eyes snapped open. His phone was buzzing next to him. He lifted the phone to his ear sleepily.

"Hello?"

"Carlos!"

"Oh, hey Cecil." He said, yawning gently.

"How are you?"

"A little tired. I've been investigating the clocks all day. They're so fascinating. But I still don't understand how or why the clocks are working. It's quite worrying."

"So....coffee tomorrow?" Cecil sounded like someone who was trying desperately to not squeal with happiness.

"Yes. Oh, did you get the word out about the clocks?"

"Yes, of course! Is there anything...else? I mean, it's the weather now, so..."

"Actually..." Carlos mused. "There is the Night Vale Clock Tower. Has anyone actually ever seen it?"

"Well of course not, dear Carlos. It's invisible and is constantly teleporting!" Cecil replied.

"Coffee tomorrow at three. I'll text you tomorrow." Carlos said, stifling another yawn.

"Oh, well, see you then, Carlos!"

Cecil sounded excited. Carlos decided to hang up so he could finish the show.

Just before he pressed the 'end call' button, however, he could swear he heard a muffled happy shout of "YES!!" from down the line.

Chapter Text

The team's day had, considering there was a catastrophic decimation of half the town occurring, been rather quiet.

The City Council had assured the scientists that Valentine's Day was something that happened every year, and the necessary cleaning crews were already in place.

Nevertheless, Ellie and Natalia had felt compelled to help with the rescue efforts and had spent the day helping to scoop up piles of blood-slathered glitter and the candy hearts that littered the streets.

It was a horrific job, but Natalia wasn't squeamish around blood and Ellie was too curious to be kept away.

The clean up crew had eventually ignored them and had left them to their 'work'. Ellie had collected some blood samples to be analysed, but mainly the two women had agreed that their priority was to help people.

"How's your eye today, Natalia?" Ellie asked.

"A little bloodshot, but better than yesterday." She looked down at her palm, where her third eye was squinting at her.

"I still can't believe that you keep poking it, let alone burn it on a saucepan handle."

"I know." Natalia sighed. "I'm still getting used to it. No idea how I'm gonna explain it when I go home."

"You'll be fine." Ellie said. She didn't sound particularly sure about that.

"I hope so. I wonder how Carlos is doing." Natalia mused.

"He's still hung up on that whole memory loss thing. The playback of his voicemails to Cecil threw him a bit."

"It would throw anyone." She tossed another broken Cupid statue that was pulsing a grey aura into the rubbish bag. "But he'll be okay. Carlos is a scientist. And he always says that 'a scientist is fine'. Whatever that means. How did his little coffee date go? He never told me."

"He's not told anyone. Even I couldn't get it out of him. And Cecil didn't publically broadcast it, so...."

"Ah, we'll find out eventually."

"Nothing gets passed the science sisters." Ellie grinned and gave Natalia a high five before the two women returned their attentions to a destroyed house in front of them covered by several hundred cubic feet of glitter.

"Oh man."

"...I think we'll be here a while, Miss Johnson."

 

~

 

Carlos needed more coffee. His sleeping pattern had been interrupted again by more demands from the City Council.

Thanks to his investigation of the time issue, the City Council and Secret Police had apprehended Ellie of her wheat smuggling. Yet they kept coming back with more issues that they needed scientific help with.

Everyone had been sympathetic, but they had been caught up in issues of their own too. Carlos had encouraged them to pursue their own projects.

The only person that had offered any prevalent amount of support was Cecil. He made announcements on the radio when Carlos was asked to investigate phenomenon, in an attempt to get citizens to aid him in any way they could.

Several times, Carlos had had Old Woman Josie, or Steve Carlsberg or some other citizens bring round coffee or a sacrificed animal that they believed would give Carlos a boost.

Cecil himself had only dropped off something once. It was a thick blanket with animal designs on it when the heating went out in the evening the previous Wednesday. He still didn't know how he'd known.

Carlos turned on the kettle. The coffee meet up he'd had with Cecil two weeks previously had been actually not too bad. Cecil had hung on every word he'd said as he was explaining Ellie's predicament, as well as his thoughts on the teleporting invisible clock tower.

Cecil had offered helpful advice and given Carlos a hug when he'd left. A hug that had nearly squeezed all the air out of Carlos' lungs, but a nice hug all the same.

Carlos had ended up sighing in frustration and putting his head on his desk many a morning since thinking about that hug.

He hoped that Johnson and Green hadn't noticed.

"Hey! Here's a health tip from the Greater Night Vale Medical Community. It's possible you won't be able to kill it. If it manages to burrow under your skin, stop fighting, because it has already become part of you. Welcome your new body-mate! Listen to what it has to say, and see where the new symbiotic lifestyle takes you!" Cecil chirped happily from the radio.

Carlos poured his coffee and sipped it. It scalded his tongue slightly but at least it didn't taste like fabric this time.

 

~

 

The half-drunken coffee was lukewarm by the time the rest of the team returned.

Cecil's voice echoed around the lab as Carlos leant against his microscope.

"After all, this Valentine's Day, as all Valentine's Days, will not succeed in bringing our city down. This Valentine's Day, as all Valentine's Days, will soon recede into painful memory, fading with time until another foul Valentine's Day is upon us again..."

"Hey, Carlos!" Several tired-sounding voices said from the doorway.

Ellie and Natalia were covered in glitter, foam hearts and dirt. Ellie swished her curly blonde hair sheepishly and a wave of glitter sashayed to the floor. Natalia's pixie cut hair was sparkling so much in the light it was almost blinding to look at.

Jeffries came in too, and immediately sat in the corner of the room, looking rather pensive. Carlos tilted his head.

"You alright, Brent?"

"Mm? Oh, ya know, jus' a little somethin' puzzlin' me."

"Anything we can help with?" Ellie said, sitting herself down next to him and picking glitter from underneath her fingernails.

"Do ya know Leann Hart?"

"The editor woman?"

"Yeah."

"I've seen her around a few times, sure."

"She wanted me ta investigate some mysterious glowin' coal pieces that'd appeared in her newspape' office thing. I did but then she ask'd me out for a drink next week."

"Do you like her?"

"Well, I do like 'er a bit, yeah."

"Then go for it, you big softie." Ellie nudged his shoulder playfully.

"Ah, I dunno." Jeffries said with a blush. "How do you deal wit' it, Carlos?"

"...with what?"

"Cecil."

"There's nothing going on, for the last time!"

Jeffries smirked slightly. "Sure, sure."

Carlos turned back to his microscope as the two women continued to chat to Jeffries.

He had no idea what they meant.

Chapter Text

"So what's the name of this person who wants to join us?" Ellie said with a mouthful of wheat-free tacos.

"Rachelle." Jeffries said, as Carlos looked through the CV that she'd given the team.

"She already lives here." Brent continued. "It seems that her mother is from Tennessee but her father is a Night Vale residen'. She moved here five years ago. She graduated from the community college las' year with a degree....wait, in 'Science'? You can' have a degree in just 'science'."

"Oh you can." Ellie said enthusiastically, accidentally sending a small piece of red pepper flying across the table. "Carlos has one."

"Seriously?"

"Yes." Carlos said matter-of-factly.
"It just means that you have a ph.D in all three core sciences. Biology, Chemistry and Physics. At some universities, you can group it as just 'science'."

"You can do that at ours?"

"Yes." Carlos grinned. "I said it as a joke originally. I think the board had been out drinking the night I asked, so they said yes. They couldn't take it back so they just left it. But it seems that in Night Vale, they're so dedicated to scientific opportunity that they actually have it."

"Wow. Well, what do we think?" Jeffries said.

"I say we inv..."

"Dr Green, please finish your taco before you speak again." Natalia grumbled, wiping a splatter of salsa from her top.

Ellie swallowed her mouthful and smiled at Natalia apologetically.

"Sorry. Anyway, I say we invite her along."

"Then it's settled. We'll schedule a meeting for her. Carlos, when do you have time to...?"

"Um." Carlos mused. "Two weeks time, I think?"

"Two weeks?!"

"The City Council have been throwing more things at me."

The team fell silent. They knew that Carlos couldn't refuse the City Council. But they did need the extra help or Carlos would end up killing himself through lack of sleep. It was an endless circle of difficulty whenever the Council were involved.

"Two weeks it is, then." Jeffries said. "But in th' meantime, we'll be helpin' ya out, Carlos."

"Rachelle Hower. Let's hope she's what we're looking for."

Natalia's phone started buzzing loudly. She pulled it out of her pocket. "Oh, it's Cecil. Hey, Cecil. What's up?....oh man, I completely forgot. Yep, we're on our way now. See you soon!"

Carlos looked at her with a questioning expression. "What's going on?"

"We're taking Cecil and a few interns to a mountain."

"Oh, geez." Jeffries groaned. "I forgo' about that too. I'm meant ta be goin'."

"Oh." Carlos said. "Can I come?"

"I'm not sure." Natalia said quietly. "Dr Green is staying behind. Maybe stay and get some R&R."

Carlos sighed. He supposed that they were right.

"I'll make you lemon cake and handle the Council." Ellie said enthusiastically, thankfully without a mouthful of taco. "Um...wheat and gluten free of course."

Her blue eyes had just had a glint of mischievousness. Carlos quickly hypothesised that wasn't a good thing.

 

~

 

"See. A mountain." Jeffries said proudly, puffing up his chest as the radio team gawped in disbelief.

"But mountains are a myth, a fairy story. It's what parents tell their kids about at night if they want them to grow up to become geologists." One of the radio station crew complained from the back of the group.

"This is an illusion!" Another voice declared. A low murmur of agreement echoed around the radio station team.

"It is not an illusion." Natalia said calmly. "Look. Touch it. Mountains are real." All three of her eyes looked at the team earnestly. "Feel it. It's existing."

Cecil stepped forth from the crowd. "Miss Johnson, I fear you must be mistaken. It is flat all the way round. This...apparition...it cannot be real."

Natalia's eye on her hand rolled.

Jeffries stepped around her. "Please, Mr Palme'. Just touch it, you'll see. Plus, Carlos said how nice it'd be ta have ya all see science and nature at work!"

Cecil shifted. Jeffries felt slightly smug; he knew that would work, even if only on Cecil. He knew that Cecil was self proclaimed "very into science".

The radio station host gingerly reached out his hand and touched the large ragged slope of rock in front of him, before exhaling in a whistle.

"It's real..." He whispered in wonder.

The other members from the radio station hesitantly approached the rock face too with the same reaction.

"Well." Cecil huffed. "There is regrettably, one mountain. There is every possibility that you fabricated this to fulfil your crazed fantasies of mountains."

Jeffries just sighed.

 

~

 

"It is only the truth seeker who wonders, why is the glass there? Why is there water all over the floor? Why is it covering every other surface of the house? Who or what is doing this to us? Welcome to Night Vale...."

Carlos smiled slightly as he heard Cecil's voice on the radio. Ellie had brought the two of them hot chocolate and they had just finished watching a documentary on the Hadron Collider. There had been a brief notice that had flashed up on the screen just before the program started, obviously from the City Council, stating that everything they were about to see was a lie, but it had been interesting enough.

"How are you feeling, boss?"

"Brilliant, Dr Green. I feel so refreshed. And I have so many experiments to finish, so-"

"Carlos..." Ellie sighed.

"This town. This place. It's so scientifically interesting. It is the most amazing and terrifying place that I have ever been in my life. A place where the laws of physics don't apply and science doesn't make sense. It contradicts every single belief I ever had and it continues to keep me occupied...."

Carlos smiled gently.

"This town has doubled my passion for the wonder that is science! And that is the most excellent eventuality."

As Carlos turned back to his tinkering with his dangermeter, Ellie's previously quizzical face had softened.

Night Vale made Carlos happy. It was plain to anyone who knew him.
Despite the crazy City Council, the police, the danger it posed and the stalker radio hosts, it was the most scientifically amazing place in the entire world. Perhaps any world.

"...now for corrections. In a previous report, we at Night Vale Community Radio were talking about the commonly-held belief that there is such a thing as mountains. We scoffed at this belief, and bellowed repeatedly, 'It is flat all the way round. It is FLAT all. The. Way. Round.'"

"Oh, listen, Carlos! They're talking about the others." Ellie said happily.

"...took us for a drive out to a mountain. We looked at the mountain, and even touched it, and it was definitely real. Therefore we are forced to admit there is indeed at least one mountain in this world..."

Jeffries laughed from the doorway as he wiped his loafers on the doormat. Natalia followed suit.

"Hey, you two."

From the radio, Cecil's voice continued.

"I'm still not completely sold on there being more than one mountain. It's possible that the mountain apologists built a single mountain in order to prove their skewed world view."

"Oh we had tha' all afternoon. Cecil wouldn't 'ave it tha' there were moun'ains." Jeffries muttered resentfully.

"Oh don't mind Cecil." Natalia grinned. "He's just not sold yet."

 

~

After the team had caught themselves up on the events of the day and had begun to cook dinner, the phone rang. She lazily answered it.

"Hello?.....oh. Carlos, it's for you."

Carlos rose from his seat, placing his dangermeter on the table and taking the phone from Natalia.

"This is Carlos." He listened for a long time. "I should think so. I have heard a lot about it after all.....the fifteenth? I think I can do that. It is for science, yes?.....oh good. Goodbye."

"Secret Police?"

"No, the Council again. They want me to go to Desert Bluffs on the fifteenth. They want me to investigate the 'stupid Desert Bluffs science'."

"What do they mean by that?"

"From what I gathered, it works to the same improbability as Night Vale, but with a few differences. I wanted to investigate it anyway, so now would be an excellent opportunity to expand my scientific knowledge! Who wants to come?"

"I will." Natalia said. "Besides, someone senior has to be here to interview Rachelle that day."

"We'll do that." Ellie offered. "Brent and I can stay here, and you two go to Desert Bluffs."

"Sorted, then. In the mean time, we have more scientific mysteries to unravel!"

The rest had done Carlos good. The curious twinkle in his eye had returned, and all the team could tell that the next few weeks would be ones of great discovery.

Chapter Text

"See you later, then."

Dr Ellie Green waved to Carlos and Natalia as Carlos' car sped off into the distance.

"Wish I was going." Ellie said.
"Change of scene, y'know?"

"Ah, well, we can' be picky." Jeffries laughed. "Besides, the new girl'll 'ere any minute. We can handle her."

"I can handle anything. Well...except spiders." Ellie shivered. "Let's get inside. Cecil's radio show is on early this morning..."

 

~

 

"I wonder what it will be like." Natalia mused as their car sped down Route 800. "Turn up the radio, Cecil's on."

"You might not be able to get reception in Desert Bluffs, you know."
Carlos said doubtfully.

"Until then..." Natalia said. "Let's listen to your boyfriend."

"He is NOT-"

"Sshhhh!"

"...City Council announced moments ago that a sandstorm will be arriving Night Vale in just a few minutes. They apologise that they did not announce this sooner, but they just kind of let their morning slip away from them..."

"A sandstorm?!" Natalia exclaimed. "What do we do?"

"It's a scientific matter I have yet to investigate..."

"So you don't know."

"...no."

"Great. Look, let's just turn up the radio. Cecil may for once give some helpful advice."

"I think his advice is often quite good...well, maybe sometimes. Not all of them are scientif-"

"Carlos. Listen."

The radio was buzzing strangely, making strange noises.

"The sandstorm is projected to be the largest in decadesssssssss...buzzzzz...."

Cecil's voice faded. Natalia whacked the dashboard where the radio station frequency was displayed.

"...bzzzzzzz....news that a sandstorm is moving in toward us." An overly cheery high-pitched voice said.
"Authorities are telling us that it is a doozy, and that we should all stay indoors. Nothing to worry about! Just stay out of the way. It will pass. As with life, and as will all things, it will pass. The sun will be upon us again, and it will be like two mornings in a day. Yes! A two-morning day! A rebirth. A reawakening. What do you think of that, Desert Bluffs?"

"What the heck is this?" Natalia scoffed. "It sounds like....well it sounded like a radio station that used to be available when I was a kid. The guy who ran it was a total stoner."

"Hypothesis." Carlos mused. "Desert Bluffs must have a community radio station. And this is that radio station."

Natalia looked up from the car's radio controls as they rounded a corner to see a new view. The view of a town bathed in golden light.

They had reached Desert Bluffs.

 

~

 

Dr Brent Jeffries, as a geologist, could safely say that he knew a decent amount about sandstorms.

He was also sure that this was no ordinary sandstorm.

Just after Cecil had announced the sandstorm on the radio station, there was a knock at the door. Jeffries opened the door to face a young woman of around 24 with short, frizzy brown hair, beautiful caramel coloured skin and a snub nose.

"Hi, I'm Rachelle. Rachelle Hower?...I'm expected, right?"

"O' course." Jeffries smiled, letting the woman step in and shutting the door behind her to keep the wind out.

"But...there's this big sandstorm comin'. You sure you wouldn't rather be home an' sa....." Jeffries paused as he noticed the weather outside the lab. The sandstorm was in the distance. "...safe." He concluded quietly.

Ellie came into the room. "Brent, the sandstorm's getting worse. The instruments are going crazy and I can't get Carlos or Miss Johnson on the phone."

Ellie's bottom lip was bleeding slightly from her chewing it in worry. "Oh. Hello!" She smiled quickly as she noticed Rachelle. "Hower?"

"Dr Hower, but yes, that's me."

"Listeners, thank you for your calls and emails..."

The three scientists had their attention diverted by the radio.

"We're getting word that the sandstorm has already begun to hit. Larry Leroy, out on the edge of town, called moments ago to say that the sand was thick and really flying fast..."

"Um...Dr Hower, didn't you say your house was near the car lot?"

"Unfortunately."

"We'll consider this your interview."

Ellie suddenly said as she began placing large piece of oakwood over the windows, similar to the ones the team had used to repel and protect themselves from the wheat and wheat by products several months previously.

"Now, Dr Hower, what do you know about sandstorms?"

 

~

 

Natalia was starting to really worry.

"We need to get inside, Carlos. NOW."

"I'm going to head for that lab there." Carlos swerved the car in his attempt to counteract the winds that were steadily becoming more powerful.

The two scientists gripped tight to the interior of the vehicle as Carlos did one of the worst parkings of his life.

The doors to the car were almost flung off as Ellie and Carlos ran for the laboratory door, as the first pieces of sand came towards them. Carlos knocked on the door and it opened.

The two ran inside and they heard the door shut behind them, before looking up at the ones who had let them in.

"Thank you so much, I don't kn-"

Natalia froze as she looked into the face of the person who had let them in.

The face staring back at her was her own.

 

~

 

"Brent, some sand is getting in through the window, hurry!" Ellie ran her hand through her hair as Jeffries attempted to board the window faster. Rachelle was sat intently by the radio, listening to Cecil's report on the sandstorm.

Ellie felt like the next few moments went in slow motion.

She saw Jeffries slice his finger ever so slightly on a nail, and the pressure against the window was released, throwing the piece of wood over it backwards and letting in sandy gusts.

She crouched to the floor holding her head as pieces of equipment flew around her. She looked sideways to her right to see Rachelle clutching the radio. She felt another person crouch down next to her; she presumed that Jeffries had managed to get to them.

"Old Woman Josie updated her Facebook page with an Instagram of some runestones..." Cecil's usually domineering voice was quiet compared to the howls and whistles of the sandstorm. "Dana has been furiously translated these symbols, and her best guess is that they say 'They come in twos. You come in twos. You and you. Kill your double.'"

Ellie dared to open her eyes. She looked to her left, straight into her own eyes, staring back at her in the same startled and frightened way.

She glanced back at Rachelle, who had rolled away from her and had a doppelgänger of herself pinned to the floor, although as they looked identical, Ellie could not tell who was the original Rachelle.

She turned back to the other version of herself.

"Kill your double..." They both muttered.

 

~

 

Natalia looked as if she might faint.

The creepy voice of the man from the radio was drifting over the room as Carlos and Natalia studied the doppelgänger.

"Lawrence said he was making a sand angel, and then he saw himself. He said he just walked right up to himself and started making two sand angels. He said that there were two of him, just making sand angels, and that he would happily double his sand angel production today...."

"There's..." Natalia started.

"Two of me." The doppelgänger said.

They took a hesitant step towards each other.

"I...I need measurements, and my instruments..." Carlos started muttering.

"Shut up, Carlos." Natalia said, just as the doppelgänger said "Shut up, Diego."

"Diego?" Carlos tilted his head, before looking at Natalia. "Who's Diego?"

"Natalie!" A familiar voice came from the other room. "Have you heard from Brad and Ella yet?"

"N-no...they were going to the radio station." The doppelgänger stuttered. "You need to come in here!"

"What is it?" The voice came, and the door opened and a man dressed similarly but not identically to Carlos came out holding a test tube.

"Well..." Diego said. "This is certainly a scientific phenomenon I cannot WAIT to get to the bottom of!"

 

~

 

"That escalated quickly." Ellie muttered.

"You THINK?!" Jeffries screamed from the other side of the room.

Rachelle and her doppelgänger had broken out into a fistfight and were both reaching for glass test tubes and measuring instruments to use as weapons.

Ellie wanted to intervene badly, but she was trying to stop her own double from whacking her head sharply onto the counter. She could see Jeffries off in the distance wrestling with his own doppelgänger.

"Night Vale, do be careful. I fear the sandstorm to be quite a terrible event. Please, stay safe inside, and should you see yourself, I cannot condone murdering yourself. I just don't believe violence is ever the answer. It is a question. The real answer is far more terrifying. So, make peace with your double, Night Vale. Do not be tempted to draw swords or guns. We can get along!..."

Cecil's voice came from the radio sadly. Both Ellie and her double turned around to listen to it. So Ellie seized the opportunity. She caught a hold of her double's hair and hit her head against the counter.

The woman slumped to the floor and Ellie checked on her. Still breathing, just knocked out.

Ellie remembered a line from one of her favourite shows and it felt appropriate.

"We make our own destiny." She muttered looking down at her double, before having an internal swell of pride that she'd been able to use that quote in context.

Unfortunately, she was so caught up in rejoicing in her Winchester brothers reference, she failed to notice one of the Rachelles' arms rising above her head until the last second.

She ran towards them screaming "NO!" but it was too late.

The shard of glass hit the Rachelle's throat and shudders ran through her body as blood spurted from her wound.

Ellie turned away in order to try and stop herself from retching. She failed miserably, and emptied her stomach into the counter's sink. She shook helplessly and tried to rid the image of the slaughtered woman out of her mind.

When she turned back, the other Rachelle, whichever one it was, sat panting on the floor next to the now still woman.

Jeffries ran over. Ellie could not help but notice that his double was on the floor too, blood flowing from a broken nose, but alive.

"Miss Hower, I think Dr Green needs a momen' alone." Jeffries murmured.
He put his hand on Ellie's shoulder as Rachelle left the room. He hugged Ellie's shaking form and rubbed her back.

They were safe. For now.

 

~

 

"Things are so productive when there's two of you! Don't you think so, Natalia?" Carlos said cheerily as he and Diego sat discussing equations to chemicals that could possibly reduce the sandstorm's strength.

"Mm." Natalia said, regarding Natalie with hesitancy.

"Have you been listening to the radio?" Natalie said. The only visible difference between the two women was their lipstick colour. Natalia's was a deep purple, whilst Natalie's was blood red.

Natalie turned up the radio and listened to Kevin again.

"And with that, listeners, let's go to...oh my. Look at that. Listeners, there's a white, almost pink, vortex that has formed along my studio wall. Listeners, words fail me. It is so beautiful! I can't leave you, as our show is not yet over, but...there must be something beyond this something, Desert Bluffs. I must see what it is! I must go! I will try not to be long, listeners. I will try not to be long..."

The voice faded.

"Yeah." Natalia remarked. "Who IS he?"

"Oh, it's just Kevin. He's brilliant. Though..."

"What?" Carlos asked.

"Well, he has been talking incessantly about this new company that's been buying everything up recently. StrexCorp."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It's weird, they just showed up one day and started buying businesses off. Including the radio station. And Kevin...changed a bit."

Natalie glanced over at Diego, who had suddenly become very interested in his equations.

Natalia noticed this immediately.

"What happened?" She asked.

"Kevin and Diego had a bit of a thing going." Natalie said quietly. "It wasn't official, but it was well on its way to being. But Kevin started advocating StrexCorp more and he changed a lot. He cut open animals and put them in his radio studio!" She whispered.

"Geez." Natalia exclaimed. "That's sick!"

"I know, but Diego's still upset about it." Natalie's voice went back to normal volume. "StrexCorp representatives keep coming over, too, trying to get us to help them with these experiments they're conducting."

"They're not proper scientists." Diego huffed.

"What about you, Carlos?" Natalie smirked. "Any special guy back in Night Vale?"

"Well, there is this one guy..." Natalia nudged Carlos teasingly.

"Miss Johnson, for the last time there is nothing going on between me and..."

"...Cecil, and I do not know where I am!" A horrified voice came from the radio. Carlos bolted upright.

"Cecil?!" Natalia exclaimed. She checked the radio station. It was still tuned to 'Desert Bluffs Community Radio'.

"...the walls are covered in blood, and instead of dials and buttons on the soundboard, there is just animal viscera, glistening under the green LED lights. I hope this microphone works. Am I in hell? Dana? Dana, can you hear me? Listeners, if you can hear the sound of my voice, please contact the Sheriff's Secret Police. There is so much blood. It is seeping into my shoes! There are - oh, masters of us all, no! - TEETH...scattered across the floor..."

"We have to help him." Carlos got up, pulling his lab coat back on. "Miss Johnson, we're leaving. Sorry about this, but...it was nice to meet you. We shall figure out this scientific mystery another day."

Diego and Natalie nodded.

"You'll be fine." Diego said, shaking Carlos' hand firmly. "A scientist is always fine."

The two scientists looked at their doubles once more, before shutting the door behind them and fighting the elements as they headed back to Carlos' car.

 

~

 

"...your warm ears blossoming open to hear comforting secrets in the vibrations of a voice that pulse so deep into your body, your heart relaxes for a time. And we have this, sitting right here on this odd and bloodless desk. So now, dear listeners, whoever you are, I give you...the weather."

Ellie and Jeffries sat next to the radio intently. They had dismissed Dr Hower and postponed her proper interview until a few weeks' time. Or as long as it would take them to get past the fact that she had cold heartedly slaughtered a doppelgänger of herself.

"Do you think Cecil is okay?" She muttered, tears of shock still streaming down her cheeks.

"If anyone's fine righ' now, it'd be Cecil." Jeffries said gently.

"Any word from Johnson and Carlos?"

Jeffries shook his head. "They'll have made it to Desert Bluffs before the sandstorm hit. They should be fine." He didn't sound terribly certain, but after the ordeal the two had already been through that day, they could use some hope.

Ellie fiddled with her locket, looking at the pictures in it of her father, mother and little sister. If she had died and her double had lived, would they have noticed? She'd look the same and have the same memories...but they would never be that double's family.

They had called the Secret Police and the unconscious doppelgängers plus Rachelle's (or her double's) corpse had been taken away. It hadn't gotten rid of the smell, however, but the scientists were powerless to do anything about it until the sandstorm had passed.

Jeffries glanced at Ellie, before returning to looking at his phone, hoping and waiting for the slightest communication from their lost team.

 

~

 

"Carlos...." Natalia nervously said, holding onto the side of the car as the weather played out of the radio and Carlos drove recklessly in the direction of the Desert Bluffs radio station. "SLOW DOWN THE CAR!"

Her face was fearful. Carlos slammed on the brakes and the car jolted. Luckily, there was no-one else on that particular stretch of road, but Natalia still had beads of sweat clinging to her collar. Carlos was gripping the wheel so tightly his knuckles had gone white.

"I'm sure Cecil's okay." She said quietly.

Carlos studied the floor, turning off the engine and running through the things that Cecil had said in his broadcast. They had been terrifying to say the least. He wasn't sure why he'd gotten so protective over the man. It was probably his sympathetic nervous system and adrenal cortex kicking in.

The weather ended and Carlos' head jerked back up.

"Hello there, Desert Bluffs! It is Kevin again. I told you I would be back. I don't know where I went, but I think that I met my double. The vortex is gone now, but as I was returning, I passed a man. A man who looked just like me. I smiled and said, 'Hello there, friend!' I hugged this man, and he hugged me back. We shared a moment in this other world. I am not sure to where that spiral of space and time took me, nor through where I traveled, but I am certain that there must be more to us than just us, and that there is another place, another time, where things could have been different. Better. Worse...."

Carlos switched off the radio.

"Scientific probability would place Cecil back in Night Vale..." He mused.

"Which is where we should be. Not in this strange town." Natalia said.

"Yes. And...thank you for your support today, Johnson." Carlos smiled.

"No big deal....Home?"

Was Night Vale home, thought Carlos? They'd been there at least 6 months, so with a little more work...it could be.

"Home." Carlos agreed and reversed the car taking them back towards Route 800.

 

~

 

"...remembered what I told you, and I let him live. I let that woeful beast live. I am sure he is not without his wounds and bruises, and I pity that he must return to that awful, awful place from whence he came and to where I most unfortunately visited..."

There was a sharp ringing as the phone next to Ellie started vibrating. She scrambled to answer it.

"Carlos?"

"Ellie?"

"CARLOS!" Ellie burst into tears. "W-we thought, we thought..."

"Wow...Ellie, are you okay?"

Ellie opened her mouth but no sound came out for at least twenty seconds; Jeffries gently took the phone from her as she tried to calm herself.

"Heya, Carlos, it's Brent. We've 'ad a bit of a rough day an' Dr Green's a bit upset. Did you see any of those strange doubles too?"

"We did. It was fascinating."

Jeffries glanced at Dr Green, who looked fragile and broken after the day they had been through. "I think it's best we talk 'bout that when you get back."

"Is Cecil okay?" Carlos asked hesitantly.

"Yes? He disappeared half way through th'show today. He sounded a bi' shaken up mind. Said he went somewhere horrible."

"But he's safe?"

"Safe as you can be in this town. Why?"

"No reason." Carlos murmured. "We're about a minute from the lab. Glad to know you're safe, and I have a new investigation to begin when I get back regarding the properties of that sandstorm. I trust you took samples? See you in a moment!" The phone line severed as Carlos hung up.

Jeffries looked around at the lab and the small mounds of sand that had been blown in by the storm. They had samples, all right.

He went and sat back down, relaying the rest of the news to Ellie.

By the time he had finished explaining, Carlos and Natalia had walked through the door. Ellie got up and ran to them, hugging them both tightly.

The team had been through their most difficult trial yet, but Carlos couldn't shake the feeling in his mind that much worse would be soon to come.

The team settled down as Cecil's voice drifted quietly from the slightly damaged radio in the corner of the room.

"...We are home, Night Vale. You and I are together again. My mouth, your ears: we have each other. And for now, and always, good night, Night Vale. Good night..."

Chapter Text

"Just call her, Brent."

"I wouldn't know wha' to say."

"Just...sweep her off her feet." Ellie suggested.

"I haven' done this in a long time." Jeffries sighed. "An' even then I wasn't great at it."

"Brent, you were married for five years, you must have done something right."

"And I'm no' anymore, which shows how much good it did." He brooded, glancing up at his colleagues. "What did you do to make Cecil like ya so much, Carlos?"

"I wouldn't be taking tips from me." Carlos muttered, still focused on the piece of strange vulture bone under his microscope. Natalia was next to him, making measurements of some of the sand from the sandstorm a few weeks back.

"It was his hair, obviously." Ellie grinned over at Carlos, who scowled back grumpily.

"Ugh." Jeffries put down his phone. "I migh' go out fer a walk." He grumbled.

He got up from the bench, taking off his lab coat and hanging it on the hooks.

There was a sharp knock at the door.

"Could you possibly get that please, Brent?" Ellie asked, who was in the middle of dissecting part of a cactus leaf.

"Sure." He walked over to the door rather sullenly and opened it to reveal a grinning man.

"Hi, everyone. Is Carlos home?"

For once, Carlos did not look desperately for somewhere to hide. Brent could not be sure that it was because he was used to Cecil by now or because the vulture bone had started writhing under the microscope vigorously.

"Sure. He's in the corner."

 

~

 

Carlos was attempting to grab the squirming vulture bone when Cecil entered the room. Jeffries had called back a farewell as he'd shut the door and Cecil had come into the lab. When he did, Carlos was taken aback.

Cecil seemed...different somehow. He wasn't sure what it was. Cecil's blonde hair was sticking up in all its usual crazy directions, his tie was a horrifying shade of orange and his violet eyes still twinkled when he saw Carlos looking at him.

Think rationally, Carlos' brain screamed. There is nothing scientifically different about Cecil at ALL. He has always been cute in your opinion...right? Right? Let's go with that.

"How are you, dear Carlos?"

"Everything is fine, thank you, Cecil."

In retrospect, Carlos' statement would have been much more convincing if he had not been attempting to shove the now incredibly vigorous vulture bone under the nearest Bunsen burner.

"What is that?"

"It's a...I'm not entirely sure."

"Well it looks pretty neat anyway." Cecil beamed.

"How are you?" Carlos asked. "You disappeared a few weeks back on the radio broadcast apparently. We heard you when we visited Desert Bluffs."

"Y-you were in that dreadful place?" Cecil paled.

"No. We were in a laboratory nearby doing some experiments on the sand. Because, you know, it kept making doppelgängers of people."

Carlos could feel his face heating up. Thankfully, Natalia came to his rescue as she came back into the room.

"Oh, hi Cecil, what can we do for you?"

"I came to see how Carlos was, but there was one other thing. How is your poetry writing going?"

"Poetry writing?" Natalia looked confused.

"Yes. Didn't you get the leaflet about Poetry Week? We're all mandated to write poems." Ellie suddenly turned a little pink and muttered to herself, something about being stupid that Carlos didn't entirely hear.

"None of us look at the mail as often as we should, admittedly." Carlos shifted slightly. "I'm busy with science. You know, because I'm a scientist." He blurted.

"Oh sweet Carlos, you should be writing poems. Everyone's taking part! And the City Council have even lifted the ban on writing utensils!"

"Lifted the ban?" Carlos' eyes lit up. "Oh I can get so much done with a week with actual writing. A whole week!" He got up excitedly. "Miss Johnson, do we have any pens in the safe?"

"One, I think."

"This is so exciting. The scientific opportunity is fantastic! I can get so much more solved if I don't have to fiddle around with municipally approved pens made of straw and other less effective materials!"

Carlos looked like a child locked inside a candy store.

"But how will you have time for that? You'll be writing poems all week." Cecil said.

After a few minutes, Ellie and Natalia were in the difficult position of having to explain to a crestfallen Cecil why Carlos looked like he was going to throttle him before he retreated into his office.

 

~

 

After Cecil had left for the radio studio, the scientists set to work on writing poems. Ellie was the only one of the team enthusiastic about the prospect. Everyone else was less than keen.

Jeffries returned to the lab around fifteen minutes after the team started writing looking incredibly pleased with himself.

"Hey, Dr Jeffries." Natalia greeted him, looking up from her unfinished sonnet, covered in frustrated scribble marks.

"Guess wha', Miss Johnson?"

"What?"

"I have a date!"

"You did it?!"

"I did. I went to her office an' asked and she said yes. We have a date sometime soon. Gotta sort it, o' course, but..."

"That's fantastic!" She beamed, still writing away.

"Uh...what are ya doin'?"

"Writing poems. Like we have to do. For the whole week." Natalia grumbled.

She quickly explained the concept to him. Jeffries joined her in writing bad poetry as Cecil's radio show came on in the background.

"Listeners, today begins Night Vale Poetry Week — one of our most sacred town traditions. As you know, every citizen is required to write hundreds of poems. Non-stop poems. During this time, the City Council lifts their bans on writing utensils, thesauruses, and public descriptions of the moon. And they mandate that everybody uses their municipally granted Free Will to join in on the fun...."

 

~

 

Carlos already hated Poetry Week and he'd had barely anything to do with it yet.

Himself and Dr Green had been stuck writing poems for most of the afternoon. Carlos had managed to fit in some equations and drawn diagrams in between writing haikus, but the Poetry Week rules were still the most irritating blockade to science he had encountered this far in Night Vale, and that included the ban on pens.

Cecil's smooth voice echoed around the office, which didn't, for once, help Carlos' mood. Carlos did feel guilty for how he had acted towards Cecil earlier in the day and hearing Cecil on the radio did not help in quelling that guilt at all.

"You okay, Carlos?" Ellie said, enthusiastically writing away at her third limerick of the hour.

"Mm."

"You're brooding again. This is about him, isn't it?"

"No."

"Are you sure..?"

"Yes. A scientist is usually sure."

"Carlos...."

Carlos responded by turning up the radio loud enough to drown out Ellie's protests.

"An update now on Poetry Week: a strange thing has happened, listeners. A note was posted at the entrance to the Dog Park..."

"Wait, what?!" Dr Green gasped. "No one goes near the Dog Park."

"Ssh!"

They continued listening; however, Carlos was soon distracted by his equations again and the issue faded into the background for a good few minutes. The only noise in the room apart from Cecil was the gentle scratching of pens against paper. It was an oddly comforting sound. Unfortunately, the peace did not last long.

"Listeners. Oh, this is bad news: The gates to the Dog Park have been opened for the first time anyone can recall. In fact, no one even knew there were gates. We’ve only ever seen tall black walls with no visible entrance or exit, but there are gates, and apparently they’re just standing wide open..."

"Open...?" Carlos' breath caught in his throat slightly.

Ellie looked at him nervously, as if trying to calculate whether Carlos was concerned about people near the Dog Park or whether he was tempted to go inside.

"How far away is the Dog Park from here?"

"A few minutes by car."

"Let's go. We need to stop people entering."

"Why would they enter, Carlos?"

"Because they're curious, or scientifically interested like us, or crazy."

"So...a lot of the town."

"Precisely."

"Good idea. I'll get the van."

 

~

 

When the two scientists returned that evening, they were slightly disheartened by the citizens of Night Vale. It was clear that a lot of them did not have much regard for their own safety.

Carlos and Ellie had kept a large number of people, with the help of intern Dana from the radio station, away from the Dog Park entrance, however when the gates had begun to close, they had been unable to stop Dana from being trapped.

"...And let’s start with the beauty of our words. So get out those pens and dust off your iambs and couplets. Also, intern Dana - or your double - you will be missed. I tried texting you back, but now there’s just blood seeping up through some newly-formed crack on my touchscreen, so…I think that’s a no go. Goodbye, Dana...." Cecil's voice drifted lazily into the background of the team's evening.

Natalia, who knew Dana reasonably well, had been upset by the news of Dana's disappearance but was beginning to regain her mood after Ellie read out some of her awful limericks to them. The team had also congratulated Jeffries on his scheduled date with Leann and discussed what poetry to write during the week.

Carlos lingered in the background, reminiscing on his last poem of the day, a haiku. It simply read:

Dear Cecil Palmer
Please do me a big favour
Get out of my mind.

It took less than a minute of looking at it before Carlos crumpled it up angrily and put it in the bin. He still told himself that he didn't feel that way about Cecil. But the nagging thought of the man wasn't leaving his brain.

It was a scientifically disapproved feeling.

Chapter Text

Carlos woke up and he did not know where he was. He ran a hand through his hair lazily, which was now nearly back to the length it was when he cut it months ago.

He rubbed his eyes blearily, and reached for his clock, a novelty one shaped like a lab coat that had 'Time For Science' written in bold, cheery letters in the middle of it that the team had bought him for his birthday.

But it was not there. As Carlos' eyes began to adjust, he realised he was definitely not in his bed. He was cold, despite the fact he had a 'Newton's Apple Pies' t-shirt and some pyjama bottoms on.

He was surrounded instead by tall bookshelves.

He sat up sharply, jerking his head around to look for something familiar. The only sense he felt that he'd been to this strange place before was the soothing smell of books that he'd always liked. Unfortunately, the scent also reaching his nostrils was of something rotten. Something decayed and ancient.

As he rose to his feet, Carlos' stomach sank as he gazed at a sign above his head and with a feeling of horror, realised where he was.

The sign read 'Welcome to the Night Vale Public Library'.

 

~

 

"Carlos is late getting up." Ellie mused as she took another large bite of her wheat-free cereal. "S'not like him to miss organising a trip....er, where are we going again?"

"Well it is the zoo, Dr Green. An' Carlos said tha' animal science was not his area of expertise." Jeffries pointed out.

"But still..." She got up, hastily shoving another spoonful of her cereal into her mouth. "I'll go up and see if he's awake. Miss Johnson, you done with that banana there?"

"Yes, Dr Green." Natalia said.

"Brilliant." She stuffed the rest of it in her mouth. "I'll go an' get Carlo' urp."

Ellie headed up the flight of stairs and walked along the corridor to Carlos' room.

The red door was still shut from the inside. Ellie briefly considered just opening the door, but remembering that Carlos slept naked sometimes, she thought better of it.

She knocked four times loudly.

"Carlos? You awake? We're off to the house that doesn't exist in twenty minutes, you need to hurry up."

That should do it, she reasoned. Ellie wandered back downstairs without waiting for a reply. Carlos wasn't very vocal when he was tired, anyway.

"If he wasn't already awake, he is now."

She grinned as she came back down. "So remind me why we're going to the zoo? You never mentioned it."

"There's been a development in one of my older research cases." Natalia Johnson was explaining. "You know those lizards that we found in the ceiling that had bioluminescent scales and could hover in midair?"

Ellie's mind flickered to memories of a torn apart lab space and a distraught Natalia watching her beloved subjects being taken away.

"I vaguely recall them."

"But they were taken away by th' Animal Control." Brent stated.

"Well it turns out that they ended up in the zoo." Johnson continued. "Well, the ones they caught did. Trixy and Bruce. Bruce has been behaving mostly, but there have been issues with Trixy."

"What?"

"She's been creating forcefields around her own pen. They want us to take a look soon."

"Well that should be something to look forward to." Ellie mused.

 

~

 

Sweat trickled down Carlos' brow as he walked; he thought about praying to a God he hadn't given a second thought to in a long time as he ventured down the long library corridor.

If I'm here, he thought, I might as well get out some books. And attempt to survive along the way.

Carlos was surprised to find directions to each section of the library, as well as large canisters of librarian repellent being placed at the end of each bookshelf. He grabbed one and held onto it as tightly as his clammy palms would let him.

"A scientist is always fine." He muttered to himself. "A scientist is always fine."

He briefly considered what would happen if he died inside the library.

His team would be alone. They'd have to explain to his mother somehow. If they could explain at all.

Cecil would probably put him down as a statistic of librarian slaughters and mourn the loss of his hair again.

The thought of being a statistic made him feel slightly uncomfortable.

His thought process was interrupted by a low growling noise and he moved more hastily towards the science section of the library.

As he passed the literature section, he grabbed a copy of 'Oliver Twist', something that he hadn't read in a long time.

The growling noise got louder, and Carlos glanced upwards to see a prowling librarian on top of the bookshelf two rows along from him. In his alarm he managed to slice his thumb open on a jagged piece of wood on one on the bookshelves.

He tried to remember the advice that Old Woman Josie had given him so many weeks ago to do with the library.

"Get to the bell on the counter, dear." She'd said in her rasping voice.

Carlos spotted a bell on a desk with a large sign saying 'Information and Exit'.

He edged towards it trying to keep quiet. "Ring it and you'll get assistance with getting your books out." Old Woman Josie's voice echoed in his mind.

Assistance? Carlos thought desperately. Did that mean attracting the librarians or would it mean he could leave?

He had to take that chance or risk being eaten. The growling had become even louder, presumably because it had smelt Carlos' blood dripping onto the floor; the librarian was beginning to close in.

Carlos held the copy of 'Oliver Twist' and the librarian repellent tight and took a deep breath.

He dived for the bell.

 

~

 

"Listeners, the coming of the first gentle winds of spring has brought me back to my college years, and to the late spring I spent backpacking through Europe. Truly, this is a milestone in the life of any young person able to afford it, and I am thankful for the opportunity. I remember spending a wonderful period in the country of Svitz..."

"SVITZ?!" Natalia exclaimed. "That can't be a real place."

"It isn't!" Ellie said with wide eyes. "How can Cecil claim to have been to a country that doesn't exist?"

"I don't know. We'll have to get Carlos to ask him."

"Why Carlos?" Jeffries asked.

"Oh, come on, you ship them too, right?"

"Ship?" Jeffries' face was blank with confusion.

"Urghhh, you all need to get on the Internet more." Ellie groaned. "It means you totally want them to get together!"

"That's what you were going on about the other week?" Natalia laughed. "When you said that you 'shipped' them?"

"Well yes." She raised her voice and squealed in a sing-song tune. "Carlos and Cecil are so cute together!"

"Shhh, he'll hear!"

"Yeah, he probably will." Ellie grinned mischievously as Cecil continued with his stories.

"...no-one I talked to knew where the country of Svitz was, or even had heard of it. Anyway, it was a lovely place, and I would say it's a must-see for any European traveler that can find it...."

"Find it?" Jeffries chuckled heartily. "I'll ask Carlos if he wants to go travellin' this summe' to look fer it with me."

"Where is he anyway? We're going in five minutes."

"I'll go and see." Natalia offered, and ran perkily up the stairs and knocked once on the door.

Nothing could have prepared her for Carlos opening it drenched in sweat and shaking as he held onto a copy of a Charles Dickens book.

 

~

 

"The beautiful face of that young man from Luftnarp, with his gaping mouth and ashy skin, last seen already half-turned away as you boarded the bus, already turning towards a future without you in it, where this thing between you that seemed so possible now already and forever never was..."

"What is Cecil on about?" Carlos said wearily as he put a small bandage over his bleeding thumb.

"Some weird countries he probably hallucinated." Ellie said dismissively. "How are you doing?"

"Aside from itching to investigate the bone structure of a so-called 'librarian', if there is a structure at all, I'm fine. A scientist is always fine." He smiled at them reassuringly.

"We were going out to the house in Desert Creek today, remember?"

"Ah, yes. That slipped my mind."

"It's fine, boss." Natalia assured him. "Oh, and we need to organise a trip to the Night Vale Zoo."

"The bioluminescent lizards, yes. Oh, I am excited about that. Science throwing up these creatures, librarians and lizards of all magnitudes and intrigue. It's a privilege to investigate these things."

"So you'd wanna go back to th' library to look at those librarian bone struc'ure?" Jeffries smiled wryly.

"Absolutely not." Carlos said firmly, and turned his attention back to his thumb.

Chapter Text

"Carlos."

Jeffries shook the scientist's shoulders gently. "Carlos. Ya need to wake up."

"Mm..." Carlos groaned in protest.

"Dr Valdez, an entire fores' grew jus' outside town mostly overnigh'."

Carlos' eyes snapped open and he looked up at Brent's slightly startled face.

"Where?"

"In th' east. Folks are gettin' panicky. People have been knockin' on the door since six."

"I'll see to it at once. Um...what time is it?" Carlos asked as he noticed his phone buzzing on his bedside table.

"Around seven thirty."

"Wake up Johnson and Green and meet me downstairs in ten minutes for a team meeting."

Jeffries nodded and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Carlos reached over and answered his phone, yawning slightly as he did so.

"Mm...hello?"

"Carlos!"

"Oh, hi Cecil." He sat up, propping himself against his pillows. "If you're calling about the forest, I'm going to look into it."

"Oh...okay. That's...nice that you already know. Who told you? Was it that spoilsport Steve Carlsberg with all his theories?"

"No, it was a member of my team of scientists." Carlos explained.

"Oh, okay. If you're going to the forest, though, please, be careful."

"I'll be fine. A scientist always exercises precaution."

"Is that everything...?" Cecil's voice trailed off suggestively.

"Yes..." Carlos said, probably sounding a little more firm than he intended.

"Oh. Well, goodbye, Carlos." His voice went softer. "Take care."

"Thanks." Carlos hung up and replaced his phone back on the side of the desk.

He groaned.

It was too early in the morning to think about his personal life.

 

~

 

Seeing his team tired and bedraggled made Carlos' morning better by leaps and bounds. Both Ellie and Natalia had hair sticking out in all directions and it was difficult not to laugh at their scowling faces.

"This had better be important, Carlos."

"It is. We've had reports of a large forest mysteriously appearing outside of town. If it poses a threat to the town, we need to do something. Even if it doesn't..."

"You want to know how an entire forest grew in the middle of a desert?" Ellie questioned.

"Exactly. I'm going to get ready and then drive over to the forest. Green, you're the biologist, I could use your assistance."

"Miss Johnson and I are going to the zoo at ten, Carlos, but I can come over as soon as I can afterwards."

"I forgot about that. Brent?"

"I....ah...."

"Brent's got a lunch time date." Ellie beamed and Jeffries blushed, scratching the back of his neck.

"S'not a big thing, boss. I can always just call and -"

"No, no, don't cancel. I shall go by myself then. A scientist must be self reliant."

"Then it's settled. I'll see you after the zoo, Carlos." Ellie grinned. "Oh, and don't forget that Cecil's show is on early today!"

The team dissipated out of the communal area in varying degrees of excitement and nervousness about the day ahead.

 

~

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, several of you may have noticed the new forest that has formed just to the east of Night Vale. It's hard to say how these dense, piney woods have cropped up in a vast desert wastescape, nor how they have grown in only a couple of days, but these woods are encroaching quickly on our little town. Botanists from Night Vale Community College said that this beautiful, lush woodland is called the Whispering Forest, and that while lovely, should not be approached...."

"I wonder if Carlos listened to that advice at all." Natalia mused.

"Probably not." Ellie replied as they pulled up to the zoo entrance.

"...what we do know is this: there is a whispering forest just outside of town, and it should not be approached under any circumstances...."

Ellie turned off the radio and together the two got out of the van.

The Night Vale Zoo was one of the most peculiar places in Night Vale. At a first glance, it looked like every other zoo that you might normally find in a large town or city, with monkeys, tigers and parrots. Soon, though, you noticed the spiderwolves and the lesser-spotted eaglefish and other animals that did not typically exist outside of Night Vale.

"Hi," Dr Green greeted the zoo employee at the entrance, who had a vacant expression as they held onto a piece of what looked like badger fur. "We're here to see the bioluminescent lizards that were brought in a few months back?"

"Yes." The man replied with a drawl. "This way, please."

He led them down a dark corridor and around to a pen on the far side of the zoo.

Natalia's third eye kept blinking furiously and she shoved her hand, rather painfully, into her pocket. It would cause eye irritation but she had more pressing matters to deal with.

Like the glowing orange forcefield that surrounded the cage in front of them.

 

~

 

Dr Ellie Green was surprised at how large the lizards had grown since they were taken away by Animal Control.

Dr Green was shocked by the large forcefield the female lizard, Trixy, had created.

But Natalia Johnson managing to enter the cage with the lizard uneaten? That was baffling.

The young woman had approached the cage calmly and had soothingly spoken to the enormous creature.

"Hey, Trix..."

The lizard had tensed and flashed its small teeth menacingly.

"It's just me, you ridiculous lizard."

She had reached out a hand towards the forcefield and recoiled sharply from touching it. "Static. Geez, Trix, what have you evolved into?"

She uttered more quiet words and the lizard had reached out its nose to sniff her. As it did so, to everyone's astonishment, the forcefield began to shrink until it was gone.

"Defence mechanism." Ellie observed. "Their teeth aren't long, so they have to fend off predators in other ways."

Natalia had then entered the cage with the zookeepers permission and had sat happily with Trixy feeding her mice much to Ellie's shock and bemusement.

She had left her to it and called up Jeffries after his lunch date.

Apparently it had gone well apart from Hart threatening to rip apart a journalist on a table near them that had dared to start blogging.

As Cecil's radio show continued, Natalia joined Ellie back at the van. The young woman was full of glee as the zoo had told her that she could still make routine visits to continue her research into the species.
"So, listeners, it sounds like the Whispering Forest is actually pretty nice. I can't imagine what all those academic types and bureaucratic pen-pushers were going on about. Larry made it sound like a really friendly place. I'm going to send intern Richard out there, and see what else we can learn about this fascinating new addition to our landscape..."

 

~

 

Carlos' equipment hummed even more loudly as he approached the Whispering Forest.

He parked near the entrance to the forest; it had a strange presence, Carlos noted as he exited the car. The tall trees seemed to exhale as he stood in front of it, making his lab coat shiver in the wind.

"Carlosssss..." A soothing, dream-like voice said. "You look really lovely today."

Carlos blinked. "Hello?"

"We really love how you've co-ordinated your shoes with your shirt..." The voice continued.

Carlos was startled as he realised that the voice was coming not from inside the forest, but from the forest itself.

The hushed, wispy tones reminded Carlos in an eerie way of the voice that wanted him to bring small children to the Dog Park. He ventured closer to the tree line.

"What are you..?" He muttered to himself.

"The real question is...how is your hair so beautiful?"

Carlos sighed.

"...and Richard assured me that this was exactly what he wanted, but I have already sent for help. Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety, please, stay away from the Whispering Forest. Do not listen to its hollow compliments, its sappy flattery...." Cecil's voice floated from Carlos' car.

An intern had been turned into a tree because it accepted the flattery of the forest and had been convinced that becoming a tree was a good life choice?

Carlos was confused. The forest did not seem to be affecting him in the same way.

He grabbed a municipally approved pen from his bag, silently mourning Poetry Week's brief moments of freedom.

'Hypothesis:' he wrote. 'This scientist's months of being complimented by Subject CP have decreased emotional ability to accept flattery. Notes to follow.'

That looked about right, he thought.

He made a quick note to ward citizens away from the forest, but he had a feeling that Cecil would have covered it on the radio show already.

"Carlosss, you're so clever! Won't you join us?" The trees whined.

"I have other scientific mysteries to solve. My brain would be better served there, don't you think?"

The forest didn't reply.

Carlos smiled to himself smugly, before remembering that scientists were humble and returned to his car.

Chapter Text

"Dr Valdez, you didn't!" Natalia gasped with joy as she read the contents of the letter in front of her.

"I did." Carlos smiled. "It's well deserved after your work with the lizard population and your outstanding contributions to this investigation. A letter of recommendation was the least I could do, DOCTOR Johnson."

"I can't believe it. My ph.D! And a whole year early!" She shook her head in disbelief. "Mind if I call my parents?"

Carlos knew that she didn't speak to them often, but something as big as a ph.D couldn't be hidden from them.

"Of course."

Natalia hugged him, tears beginning to form at the base of her eyelids, including her third eye. "Thank you for everything, Dr Valdez."

Carlos was surprised but returned the embrace gently. "You're very welcome."

"I'll have to tell the others too." She sped off smiling up the stairs.

A short pause followed by whooping and laughing with 'congratulations!' and 'well done!'s coming from Ellie and Brent upstairs.

Carlos couldn't help but smile. When Natalia came back down she was glowing.

"Drinks are on me tonight at Big Rico's. My treat?"

"Ooh count me in!" Ellie stood at the top of the stairs in her dressing gown and her gaudy 'Batman and Robin' pyjamas.

"Me too. It'd be nice to have a night out. But we have to fit some experiments in there somewhere."

"Carlos, you can't go out and still do science stuff." Ellie sighed dramatically.

Carlos pretended not to hear her.

 

~

 

"Someone turn on th' radio please." Jeffries said, leaning over his measuring scales. "Cecil's show'll be on any momen'."

Natalia obliged, and she switched it on. She had been smiling practically all day after the news of her doctorate being accepted. The team didn't blame her. Their first doctorates had come with pleasant feelings too.

"Here at the station, we have been receiving many calls and emails over the last several months asking us about Khoshekh, the cat found hovering in the men's bathroom. Well, he is doing just fine, and thank you very much for your concern. In fact, he recently gave birth to an adorable litter of kittens. How does a he-cat give birth? Well, how does a he-cat hover in an immobile spot in a radio station bathroom?"

"Aww!" Ellie and Natalia cooed.

"There are kittens?" Carlos asked as he came into the room with a mug of coffee; he was pulling a grim expression, and the two women figured the milk had started tasting like blood again.

"I should look into that." Carlos mused. "One is an anomaly as it is, but multiple cats is certainly worth looking at...." He started rounding off scientific theories that could explain the hover prison that the animals were experiencing, not paying attention to the rest of the team.

"But what about our trip to Radon-" Natalia started but was hushed by Ellie quickly. Johnson turned to the other woman. "What?"

"No, no, let him!" She whispered. "He might run into Cecil when he's there!"

"You need to stop 'shipping' them so much."

"Oh, please. Boring! Come on, they're so cute. I just want to lock them in a room together so Carlos gives up his denial quicker. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, Natalia." Ellie grinned.

Natalia just stared at her. "You are one scary woman, Dr Green."

"I'm not! I just want to win the betting pool."

"Oh, THIS is why!" Natalia laughed.
"You had it on just under a year, right?"

"I need to beat Josie. She had it on exactly a year. Claimed her not-angels had figured it out."

"You bet against an old woman?"

Ellie broke eye contact and smirked slightly. "Maybe."

That time it was Natalia's turn to sigh.

 

~

 

Cecil's show was in full swing as Carlos parked up outside the radio studio.

A man in a scout master's uniform was leaving the station looking rather forlorn. He glanced at Carlos as he got out of the car, and turned away from the scientist's gaze.

Carlos didn't know what the man's problem was. The most probable explanation was that the man was terrified of the Eternal Scout ceremony that he'd been hearing about.

He buzzed the com in the station.

"Hello?" A voice answered. It wasn't Cecil, which slightly disappointed Carlos.

"Hi. Is it okay if I come and examine Khoshekh? Just tell Cecil that Car-"

"I figured." The voice said wearily. "Come in. And don't upset management, they're already in a foul mood."

Carlos entered, passing the radio booth briefly on the way to the men's bathroom. Cecil didn't notice him, so he continued to the bathroom quietly. He could still hear the radio station from the bathroom thanks to a small purple radio in the corner of the men's bathroom with the label 'Khoshekh's Little Kitty Radio' written in Cecil's familiar messy scrawl.

It had occurred to Carlos that he hadn't taken his allergy tablets before coming to the radio station. Now faced with one large and around eight small floating cats, he was paying for it.

"Scout Master Earl Harlan said, 'I'm proud to be the first Scout troop to achieve this rank. I'm also terrified to be the first Scout troop to achieve this rank...." The radio continued.

Ah, Carlos thought. That must have been him outside.

"...confusing.' He shivered. 'We could have had something, Cecil. Always remember that,' he concluded, clutching my arm before walking, head bowed, out of the studio."

Carlos blinked. Oh. That was why he'd looked at Carlos in that resentful way. He was jealous of all the attention Cecil had given him. He felt his face heating up slightly.

It didn't concern him. He cared about Cecil, sure, but he wasn't going to go there. He was mostly convinced of that fact. Scientists should always have a degree of confidence in their judgement, after all.

Carlos sneezed again as he began examining the kittens. Earl Harlan would have nothing to be jealous of if this continued. His throat would probably just close up if he stayed too long.

He got out his equipment and began to work.

 

~

 

"Brent...why are there lots of mute children in the lab?!" Ellie's terrified voice came from the other room.

Jeffries and Natalia had been working on a rock formation that appeared to be naturally fluorescent purple when they too had encountered the children. It had been a strange experience, as one minute they had not been there, the next, at least seven silent children had been dotted around the laboratory.

Jeffries opened the door to the biological lab. "I'm no' sure, Dr Green. Myself an' Dr Johnson have some in our workspace too."

Ellie rose from her bench and made her way slowly towards Jeffries, the children's eyes following her every move.

"You know where we hid for the wheat and wheat by-products problem?" Natalia whispered as they got close. "Do you reckon we'd be able to get to it?"

The radio next to her was hushed but Jeffries could still hear it effectively.

"...I myself count five in this recording booth with me, exactly half of them boys, and half of them girls. Who knows for what purpose these children have come to us, and to what end these actions will take us?..."

"They're everywhere..." Ellie murmured as she glanced around.

The setting sun peered over the windows and illuminated the lab, bathing it in a golden light. The children's faces distorted and Jeffries swore that one of them had translucent skin, through which a crumbling skull could be seen.

They turned their head to face the three scientists. Then they began to close in.

 

~

 

When Carlos got back to the lab, he could safely say that his day had been horrible. He felt wheezy and breathless from being too exposed to the cats, and the mute children had filed into the bathroom, attempting to drag him out of it.

To Carlos' extreme surprise, it was Khoshekh that had made the children leave him alone. He had hissed, if it could be called a hiss, at the attacking mute children. It had sounded like it had come from the depths of hell itself, and the children retreated from Carlos, returning to wherever they came from.

Carlos opened the lab tiredly and looked around. No-one was there. He noticed Jeffries' rocks on the floor of the laboratory. Carlos immediately found this odd as Brent was known for being tidy. He was a gentle giant and was never likely to have left scientific evidence on a floor without an incredibly good reason.

"Brent? Ellie? Natalia?" Carlos called, heading up the stairs.

He knocked on Ellie's door and it swung open. The wardrobe door was ripped off its hinges and there were hundreds of tiny claw marks on the metal door of Ellie's so-called 'Batcave' panic room. He knocked on it sharply.

"Ellie?"

The door unbolted from the inside and the three scientists tumbled out gasping for cool air.

"Carlos!" Jeffries sighed with relief.

"Why were you in there?"

"We got attacked by a bunch of scary-lookin' kids."

"I did too. Are you alright?"

"Jus' about. You?"

"Fine." He thought briefly about Earl Harlan, who, according to the radio, had been one of the ones carried off by the mute children to voids unknown.

He thought about what he'd said to Cecil. He shoved his memory of feeling jealous to the back of his mind and mentally covered it with scientific theories instead.

"Yeah..." He muttered. "Fine."

Chapter Text

"Brent!" The team crowded around Jeffries' bedroom door and rapped on it loudly.

Jeffries chuckled and opened the door to find the whole team grinning at him. Carlos was even wearing his smart casual lab coat. The funniest thing about the scene was how badly wrapped the presents in the scientists' arms were.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" They also shouted, more or less in unison.

"Aw, you didn' have to do anythin'." He laughed.

"Duh, of course we did!" Ellie rolled her eyes.

Natalia nodded from behind Ellie. The young woman had been to get new highlights in her hair to celebrate doctorate. The pink and purple stripes that now decorated her hair suited her.

"Besides, it's about time we had a night out." Ellie pointed out.

"Dr Green, we had one the other week."

"Yes, but that was the other week."

Jeffries laughed heartily.
"Okay, whatever you say."

The biologist nodded smugly and grinned at Jeffries.

"Present time!" She said in her sing-song tone. Carlos couldn't help but smile. There was no stopping Ellie sometimes.

She half-dragged Jeffries through to the communal room, where they each have their present to him. Ellie had bought Brent some new 'cool' sweaters, one of which had the 60s Batman logo on. The two had had a good laugh about that, as they had started watching the show together a few months back. Natalia got Jeffries a watch and Carlos had bought him new top of the range seismological equipment, which had greatly surprised the man.

They had gotten to work early in the day with the promise to stop early in order to go out. Carlos had considered asking not to go as he wasn't much of a social butterfly, but he figured he owed it to Brent and good scientists always kept their promises.

As Cecil's show came on just after two (or, at least, the clock said two - time was difficult in Night Vale and Carlos had concluded with frustration several months back that time just wasn't right in the town; he'd gone through a rough patch and just angrily decided that time "just wasn't real"), the scientists were in a chipper mood.

Unfortunately their bubble burst when the headlines were read in Cecil's smooth tone.

"Listeners, I'm receiving word from the Sheriff's Secret Police that Mayor Pamela Winchell has gone missing..."

 

~

 

"Johnson, try the west side of town and Route 800. Ellie, check near the radio station and the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex. Jeffries, Old Town Night Vale. I'll take the east side of town and the Whispering Forest, before heading as close as I dare to the Dog Park." Carlos said solemnly, looking up to see Jeffries face sadly. "I'm so sorry about this, Brent."

He waved it off. "S'no problem Carlos. So long as I can still mee' Leann for afternoon tea. Besides, th' Mayor's one o' th' most powerful people I've ever met. What with her lightnin' powers an' all. If she's gone missin', maybe we're all at risk."

"Well said." Natalia smiled warmly and patted Jeffries on the back, before half-screaming as she'd managed to poke herself in the eye again.

"Let's get going, then." Carlos said calmly.

After the team dispersed, Carlos headed to the Whispering Forest. He'd chosen that one for himself to investigate, as his team were less than immune, unlike Carlos himself.

After concluding that the Mayor had probably not turned into a tree, he got back in the car and turned on the radio again.

"...could have imagined. I'm receiving word that Old Woman Josie and a gentleman that may or may not be an angel friend of her - depending on whether or not angels are real, or if they are real, but aren't really friends with Josie, or not real but suddenly became real because Josie willed them into existence. However it is, Josie and her exceptionally tall wingèd friend saw Mayor Winchell this morning near the Moonlite All-Nite Diner, talking to a man in an offensively cartoonish Native American headdress..."

The Apache Tracker. Carlos figured immediately. He's that racist jerk that Cecil hates so much. In all fairness, Carlos thought Cecil was right. He was incredibly insensitive to other cultures, even if he was now Native American.

He started driving in the direction of the Moonlite All-Nite Diner, hoping that the mayor wouldn't explode or such before he got there.

He had gotten so used to saving the town from some scientific anomaly or other it seemed almost a chore now.
Geez, Carlos thought. At what point had he become okay with that?

 

~

 

Ellie called Carlos a few minutes later saying that she was at the Moonlite All-Nite Diner and that the Mayor was nowhere to be seen.

"Mierda." He cursed. "Okay, then, Dr Green, stick to the previous instructions. I'm heading to the Dog Park now."

After two minutes of Ellie listing all the reasons that that was a bad idea, Carlos hung up and drove towards the Dog Park.

The scene before him when he arrived was an odd and terrifying one to say the least.

The Mayor was setting up a podium whilst two hooded figures stood behind her. She started speaking but no sound appeared to come out of her mouth. Carlos whipped out his phone and texted Cecil the details. As the weather ended and the mayor continued to speak emptily, Cecil reported on the story.

"Listeners, moments ago, Mayor Winchell was found. She was holding an impromptu press conference. The press had to stay at least five hundred feet away from her, as she was standing at the edge of the dog park, and no one except hooded figures and city officials are allowed that close. Mayor Winchell apparently set up a podium and quietly delivered a prepared statement without a microphone and no one could hear what she had to say. Two hooded figures were standing behind her...."

To Carlos' utter shock and horror, Pamela Winchall suddenly began lighting the podium on fire. Carlos started forward but noticed that others had begun to join him in looking at the mayor's outburst. She kicked it over fiercely and began climbing the walls of the Dog Park.

Carlos wanted to help her, tell her to get down or she'd be hurt, but the Hooded Figures started advancing towards the reporters and, remembering his last experience of the Dog Park, Carlos decided that for once, it might be best to call it a day.

 

~

 

"HOW?!" Ellie exclaimed. "Just HOW?"

The team had spent a jolly evening after reconvening back at the lab. They had gone out to a local nightclub for Jeffries birthday and had gotten quite drunk. Even Leann Hart had gone overboard.

Everyone was in a falling over state except Carlos, who had managed to avoid the drinking quite by accident. It had turned out, to the shock of the rest of the team, including Carlos himself, that he was exceptional at beer pong.

Ellie was the most irritated by this revelation as she had been on the receiving end of it. Carlos had just beaten her to the third shot of the round.

"How are you doing this?!" She asked again in disbelief.

"Well, actually, it's a simple matter of trajectory and calculable aerodynamics..." He started and Ellie put a hand over his mouth.

"You're killing me, Carlos. Okay, last one. Then I'm done."

He flicked another ping pong ball into the cup with precision and the team cheered.

Ellie couldn't help but smile. Even if she knew the drink he'd just won for her would culminate with her passing out in around an hour or so.

Chapter Text

When Carlos woke up that morning, it felt like any other morning in Night Vale. The hairy-legged fish mutant that had taken up residence in his room was scurrying along the ceiling as usual. He yawned and strained his eyes and looked at the calendar. It was the 15th June.

Wow...Carlos thought. A whole year. I've been in this crazy terrifying town a whole year.

He laid back and gazed at the ceiling, shuddering as the mutant turned its empty eye sockets on him. One year. One year later, and he, Carlos Valdez, had survived. He'd survived in possibly the most scientifically interesting and most dangerous community in the world.

He checked his phone messages. There was one regarding a disturbance at the bowling alley from Teddy Williams.

Carlos heaved himself out of bed late that day. He got dressed and headed into the communal space where the team were sat around eating a late lunch. It seems that they had had much of the same idea.

"Morn...well afternoon, Carlos." Natalia greeted him with a smile. "Our one year anniversary! Can you believe it?"

"It's amazing." He admitted.

"Do you remember when we got here? You got all confused and scared because Cecil kept talking about your hair." Ellie giggled.

"Let's not forget other things that happened, though!" Natalia said cheerily. "We found a house that didn't exist, Brent got a girlfriend, Ellie got me of all people to start watching Batman. Oh, and don't forget that street cleaning day, and Dr Green getting arrested for wheat smuggling!"

"Pfft." Ellie snorted. "Worth it."

"By the way," Carlos said. "I think we should have the day off. Don't feel you all have to work today. You've worked so hard all year. You are the definition of good scientists."

There was an echo of 'thank you's from around the breakfast table.

"I, however, am heading to the bowling alley. There's been a disturbance."

"Carlos, take the day off." Ellie groaned dramatically.

"I agree wit' Dr Green." Jeffries said calmly.

"No. Teddy Williams is a deranged psychopath and people are going to get hurt if he keeps up this insane militia."

"Is there any way we can stop you?" Natalia asked.

"No."

"Well, have fun yelling at him. Call us when you're done and we'll go to Big Rico's, okay?"

That was tempting. It was no secret that Carlos had warmed to Big Rico's pizza. It was divine food in Carlos' opinion, even if the restaurant itself was always surrounded by Hooded Figures and other terrifying entities.

"I'll see you later." He called, and headed out of the door.

 

~

 

When Carlos arrived at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, it was already chaos.

He'd also had a text from Cecil asking him to meet him at 4, half way through his radio show, as he had a surprise. Carlos had agreed to be there on time, but it was already gone three thirty.

He hoped that this bowling alley business wouldn't take long. Then he could go and get Cecil off his back. Smile sweetly so he'd stop making his jokes about loving Carlos and then he'd be able to leave.

Cecil's show would be on soon, come to think of it, he mused as he entered the bowling alley.

Teddy Williams was holding multiple machine guns and ordered his militia to surround the pin retrieval area. There were a lot of grumpy looking people sat around, who appeared to be there for a birthday party.

Carlos walked up to the pin retrieval area and peered in.

"What are you doing?! Don't you know we are at war?" Teddy Williams cried.

"I'm going to get to the bottom of this." Carlos said firmly. "You're completely deranged. Someone has to get to the bottom of this."

He approached the entrance to the supposed underground city.

"Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Say that to my face, big shot!" Teddy Williams fumed. Carlos ignored him and stared to climb down into the pin retrieval area. Convince yourself that there isn't really an underground city there with a massive army. Carlos thought desperately, his palms becoming clammy.

He could faintly hear Cecil's radio show begin as he entered the opening to the cavern.

"A friendly desert community where the sun is still hot, the moon still beautiful, and mysterious lights still pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale...."

 

~

 

Carlos' discovery was more of a relief than anything else. He climbed back up and called for everyone to gather round.

"Everyone. Follow me." He said, hoping he sounded less shaky than he felt. A small crowd soon formed around the pin retrieval area and Carlos walked back down to the underground city.

There were shocked and horrified murmurs amongst the crowd, and he was pretty sure that someone near the back had said "Someone call the radio station. Seriously."

Carlos made his way down to the city. He observed the spires with interest. He needed blueprints for it. It was incredible.

"Behold," he said triumphantly to the bemused crowd. "This is not an enormous city miles below the earth. It is a very SMALL city about ten feet below the earth, populated by tiny people, who have had to spend a year slowly climbing the ten feet to our world!"

He gestured at the spires and the tiny army that was advancing towards the hole in the cavern where the crowd were peering into.

"We have nothing to fear." Carlos said with a firm voice.

Unfortunately, Carlos realised, he had spoken too soon. A strange humming noise had begun around him. Then there was a sharp pain in his left leg, like he'd been stabbed. He put his hand down to the impact. It came away bloody.

He staggered back to the hole near the crowd as the people from the city began to attack with...were those projectiles?

His chest and legs and arms hurt so much and he sank to the ground. The last thing Carlos saw was a silhouette of a man climbing down into the cavern...then everything went black.

 

~

 

When he came to, someone was dressing Carlos' leg. Everything hurt and he moaned.

"Sshh. Stay still." A voice commanded. It sounded like Teddy Williams.

He began to say something else, but whatever Teddy was saying faded into the background as Carlos heard another noise. A muffled sobbing. He turned his head and saw the blurry outline of a radio. The sobbing...it was coming from the radio.

Cecil? He thought.

"...and here I am, stuck in my booth...USELESS. Only able to narrate and not to help. He staggered, fell to his knees...so much blood..." Something broke in Cecil's voice. "He collapsed completely. Curse this town, that saw Carlos die. Curse me. Curse it all. Let us take a moment to...let us...take this moment...Ladies and gentlemen, let us mourn the passing...can't. I can't...."

Optically, everything was still a blurry haze to Carlos. But in his mind, it was like clarity had occurred. The pieces of feeling that he'd shoved away into the back of his mind leapt out of their secluded corner and invaded his mind as he heard Cecil sob on the radio.

Cecil did like him. It wasn't a joke, it wasn't misleading. Cecil actually truly and genuinely liked him.

He thought back to when he'd been in the library two months or so ago. He'd thought that if he died, Cecil would be passive and only make comments about his hair. Yet here Cecil was...crying. He was crying at his microphone.

I've been a fool, Carlos thought. I spent all that time pushing him away with my theories of his motives. When he didn't have any. You were just too caught up in your science and your own insecurities that you didn't even realise that he was sincere about his affections for you.

Unfortunately, Carlos' brain chose that moment to shut down again. He didn't know how long he was out, but Cecil's voice was still coming from the radio when he awoke.

"...Teddy Williams, who of course is also a licensed doctor, as all bowling alley owners are required to be, checked his wounds and indicated through a series of rhythmic hoots that Carlos will be, in fact, okay! He's okay! Never before in my career as a broadcaster have I gone through such a roller coaster of emotion and fear. To think that I had lost that most precious thing to me, the presence of Carlos in my life, and then to have it brought back, so that I could appreciate it all the more. Oh, Carlos. All the words I would never have said to you..." Cecil sounded like he was still crying to some degree.

Carlos looked over and his eyes began to focus. The Apache Tracker was lying on the floor next to Carlos, covered in blood. He looked straight at Teddy Williams.

"Is he...?"

Teddy shook his head. "He's gone. Passed whilst you were out."

"Thank you..." Carlos whispered to the tracker quietly. He had saved him and he had paid the ultimate price.

Cecil was still on the radio talking about the tracker and his bravery. Cecil...

He'd been a blind idiot. But that was going to change right now.

Cecil....oh Cecil, he thought. I've been such an idiot. But I'm not going to be an idiot any longer. I'm going to come clean about my ridiculous crush on you. It was unscientific and perplexing to like you.

Because, Cecil Palmer, you're ridiculous. Your ties are ridiculous. Your voice is ridiculously smooth. And the way you make my heart feel like it is going to skip a beat even when that is scientifically impossible is ridiculous.

Cecil Palmer, you ARE ridiculous.

But by all that is sacred, I have fallen for you. And I'm going to let you know. Right now.

Carlos took a deep breath and reached for his phone.

 

~

 

Carlos sat outside on the hood of his car nursing his arm. It was safe to say that he was in a lot of pain, but he had made up his mind. The radio station was not far from the bowling alley, so when Cecil pulled up mere minutes after he'd messaged him, he wasn't very surprised.

"Carlos..." He said as he approached the car. Carlos shifted and accidentally hit his leg. He winced.

"What is it?" He asked quietly. "What danger are we in? What mystery needs to be explored?"

Oh Cecil, Carlos thought sadly. Do you really not know?

"Nothing." Carlos finally said. "After everything that happened...I just wanted to see you." He looked up at Cecil quietly. The radio host looked as if he was going to faint. It was sweet, but almost worrying.

"Oh..?" He said with a trembly voice and sat next to Carlos on the hood of the car. Carlos took a deep breath and gestured his head slightly to the sun, which was setting slowly in the distance.

"I used to think it was setting at the wrong time..." He sighed again. "But then I realised that time doesn't work in Night Vale, and that none of the clocks are real." He thought of his preconceptions of Cecil as he turned back to him.

"Sometimes things seem so strange, or malevolent...and then you find that, underneath, it was something else altogether, something pure, and innocent."

Cecil gazed at him softly with a small smile. "I know what you mean."

Carlos looked upwards. He saw the strange lights flicker above the Arby's sign. That would be something to investigate in the future.

But right now...he wasn't interested. He put his hand on Cecil's leg gently. Cecil looked at him softly, before resting his blonde head on Carlos' shoulder. He wanted to say something but nothing was coming out. Then it occurred to him. He didn't really need to.

 

~

 

After a while, Cecil murmured. "I have to get back to the station..."

"I understand." Carlos whispered back. "Go, it's fine."

Cecil removed his head from his shoulder. "Call to let me know you're home safe, please?"

Carlos nodded. "I will."

Cecil gave him a gentle hug, which, despite the pain it caused him, was still comforting.

Cecil shifted away from Carlos and headed back towards his car, throwing one last glance back at Carlos. He smiled gently and said nothing. But again, he didn't need to.

Unfortunately, the calm silence was interrupted just after Cecil got back into his car.

A loud, laughing voice, that belonged to one Dr Eleanor Green rang out across the parking lot.

"WELL IT'S ABOUT BLOODY TIME."

Carlos turned around to see his team standing there. He blushed.

"Let's get you home, boss." Jeffries said with a small smile.

Carlos smiled again. In fact, he smiled the whole way back to the laboratory.

The only time he frowned again was when Ellie started moaning to Natalia about all the money she now owed Old Woman Josie.

Chapter Text

"I'll be back in an hour." Carlos said, grabbing a lab coat from the hooks and slipping it on.

"Going to meet Cecil?" Jeffries asked.

"No. The Smithwick house called. Apparently there's an enormous hole in their wall that keeps absorbing things, so I'm going to take a look."

"Fair enough." Jeffries laughed. "Have fun, Carlos."

"I don't think I will on this one." The head scientist sighed. "The level of probability that the family has already been absorbed into a completely different plane of existence is too high to be fun."

"Oh." Jeffries' smile faltered a little. "Well I'll jus' say good luck then."

"Thanks, Brent. And I'm sorry."

Jeffries waved a hand to shake it off and Carlos headed out of the door.

 

~

 

"Was that Carlos?" Natalia asked inquisitively as she leapt down the stairs three at a time.

"Jus' left for the Smithwick house." Jeffries confirmed. "Somethin' about a hole in the wall."

"He still hasn't asked Cecil on a date."

"We mustn't push 'im, Dr Johnson." Jeffries said wifely . "Carlos can get shy, ya know tha'."

Natalia nodded. "How are you doing?"

"Workin' on some samples from a rock that was found in the undergroun' city. Carlos found it on his clothes. It's a weird 'un."

"How so?"

"Well for star'ers, it doesn't have a definite rock type."

"Well that's....new."

"It's annoyin'." Jeffries sighed. "Cecil's show on today?"

"Yeah, it should already be on. I'll get the radio."

Natalia sped off towards the communal room where the radio was already on, as was mandated when Cecil's show was airing.

"Did you know there’s a Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home? It’s true! She’s there now. She’s always there, just out of your sight. Always just out of your sight. Because you cannot see her, you were probably completely unaware that this woman likes to sift through photos of you and your loved ones...."

Natalia shuddered. "That's creepy." She turned around briefly but there was nothing there. She breathed a sigh of relief and brought the radio down to Jeffries, where Ellie had joined him in analysing the rock samples.

"Morning, Nat."

"Hey, Ellie. Brought the radio down."

"The Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home does lots of things. Ever wonder why your web browser’s history is filled with Bing searches for - quote - 'pictures of dead wolves,' or - quote - 'the melting point of birds?' Or why sometimes your shower drain gets clogged with organ meats?"

Ellie paled. "How does Cecil know about that?"

"Wait, what?" Natalia's three eyes widened. "That's been happening to you?"

"Well, yes. I thought you guys noticed the meat in the shower too!"

"No!" Natalia exclaimed. "When did that happen?"

"It's been happening for months."

Jeffries exhaled in a whistle. "Geez. I've not noticed that."

"Me neither," Natalia said. "I don't think Carlos has either, or I reckon he would have gone all scienc-y about it."

"Well it hasn't happened too recently. I just put it down as another weird Night Vale thing that just sort of...happens." Dr Green admitted sheepishly. "And that you'd done the same."

"Hm." Jeffries mused. "So you think what Cecil's sayin' could be true?"

"I don't know...maybe."

"So what now...?"

"See if there are more things tha' we reco'nise, I guess." Jeffries turned up the radio.

"retrieve mail, and speak German, and play dead, and all kinds of cute things. She says he’s a pretty cool guy, if you get to know him. Oh, and I almost forgot - Dana wonders if any listeners with a good arm can get kind of close to the Dog Park and throw some beans or chips or beef jerky or something over the tall fence? She’s very hungry. In fact, it took me a while to get through her typos, listeners. She must be shaking really badly."

"Dana's alive?" Natalia breathed.

She'd met Dana several times when they had first come to the town and the two had become good friends. When the other woman had been lost to the Dog Park, Natalia had been a lot more upset than she's usually admit. The news that Dana was alive made Natalia's heart skip a small beat.

"I'll go to the Dog Park right now and get her some food."

"What?! You'll get caught!"

"She's my friend, I have to try. Plus, you're talking to the best Junior League pitcher in Chicago." Natalia smirked confidently.

"Be careful, Dr Johnson." Jeffries warned.

"Will do." She grabbed her purple leather jacket from the side of the workbench and her keys. Time to go and help her friend.

 

~

 

Carlos wasn't having much success. The owner of the house, Greg Smithwick, had already been sucked into the swirling vortex that had formed on their kitchen wall. Carlos, Mrs Smithwick and her fifteen year old son were clinging frantically to various household appliances and wall hangings in an attempt to not get sucked in themselves.

"Carlos-the-scientist!" Mrs Smithwick screamed.

"Hang on!" He cried, still fiddling with his instruments. If he could just manipulate the ra-

"Ahhhh!" Mrs Smithwick's son flew backwards into the black void and out of view.

"My boy!" Mrs Smithwick sobbed.

I refuse to die like this! Carlos thought desperately. I will not perish before I have completed as many things as I can as A GOOD SCIENTIST! Plus I haven't even been on a date with Cecil yet! Or beaten Ellie at Mario Kart!

He viciously twisted another knob on his device and the hole in the wall slowly shrank, much to Carlos' relief. His device worked! That was encouraging. He'd have to make more scientific instruments in future.

Unfortunately, before it closed completely, Mrs Smithwick had lost her grip and fallen into the abyss after her husband and son.

When the hole had disappeared, Carlos slowly let go and sank to the ground, clutching his instruments shakily. He reached for his phone and dialled Cecil's number. It rang out, but Carlos expected that. Cecil's show would still be on. It went to voicemail.

"Cecil, I'm not calling for personal reasons, I'm afraid. There's a strange hole that might appear in the walls of some citizens. It's vital that the people of Night Vale hear this, particularly after what happened in the Smithwick house. They all got absorbed into the wall, Cecil." He sighed to release some of his tension. "If you could get the world out that would be great. Get them to call me if there is one, and evacuate their homes. Thank you. I'll call soon."

He got steadily to his feet and looked sadly at the wall where the hole used to be. He'd have to stop by the City Council on the way home to fill out some 'Accidental Death Witness' forms. Another evening ruined.

 

~

 

When Carlos eventually got home, Jeffries and Green were upstairs in the kitchen and he could hear muffled discussion. Carlos was hanging up his coat when Natalia stumbled in the door after him, looking rather frazzled. Some of her clothes looked slightly charred.

"You okay, Dr Johnson? Scientifically speaking."

"I just went to throw some food to Dana in the Dog Park. I got electrocuted but I'm okay, really."

"Electrocuted?" He took a step closer to the girl. She had a slight white streak in her fringe.

Carlos examined it. It had been caused through extreme physical stress. "Are you sure that you're okay? That amount of electricity would nearly have..."

"I didn't feel it that much! It barely hurt at all."
She sounded awfully calm about it.

"Dr Johnson, I think that you should look in a mirror. The physical exertion on your body by the electricity...I think that even a slight increase in the voltage would have killed you." He remarked as Natalia took off her leather jacket. There were blossoming bruises running up her arm.

"Oh my god..." She began to shake, and looked in the mirror at her hair. "How did I not feel that? I mean my pain threshold has always been ridiculously high, but..."

She looked down. There were bruises all over her arm, except for a centimetre circumference around her third eye. She paled quite significantly. Carlos ran to get her a chair and a drink of water.

"Do you mind if I take a blood sample, Dr Johnson? Just to see what we might be dealing with on the scientific side?"

She nodded. Carlos went through the door to the laboratory and Natalia turned up the radio to distract herself.

"Listeners, a lot of you have written in asking for photos of Khoshekh, the station cat, and to learn what became of his litter of kittens. Station Management did not let us keep the kittens, but they have been given away to good homes. Unfortunately, like Khoshekh, the cats are also stuck - floating in fixed points in space - so their owners will have to visit them right where they were born, right here in the station bathroom..."

"Carlos?" She said when he came back with the needle.

"Yes?"

"Can we adopt a cat?"

Carlos wrinkled his nose. "Here at the lab?! The health hazards, the cross contamination, my allergies! The-"

"No, no, one of Khoshekh's floating kittens! Adopt one as a team!"

Carlos thought about it. If he claimed he was going to see the kitten, it would be an excuse to Cecil more often.

"I'll think about it." He promised, smiling at the excited expression the young woman pulled.

"Carlos!" A voice shouted from upstairs.

"Will you be oka-"

"Yes, go." Natalia waved her non-injured hand to the stairs. The moment the man was out of sight, she looked back down at her injured arm and her hair streak. It took all of the scientist's strength to fight her growing tears.

~

Ellie and Jeffries were fighting a small fire in the kitchen. Somehow, to Carlos' bewilderment, their fridge had been set on fire.

"It's the Faceless Old Woman that Cecil keeps going on about on the radio! She lit the fridge on fire!"

"You saw her do this?!"

"Well, no..."

"Then it is not scientifically sound to assume..."

Ellie threw the handheld radio in his direction before turning back to help Jeffries with the fire extinguisher.

Carlos caught it sloppily and held it up to his ear.

"I heard the Mayor was retiring, and I wanted to know if mayoral candidates were required to have faces. I have some good ideas I think would help this town, like one thing I think is that we can increase school funding while still lowering taxes. It’s an innovative plan, and I’m gonna build a website that explains it, and other great ideas I have that could help this town. I’m very excited to announce my candidacy for Night Vale mayor. Also, I lit your fridge on fire. It was upsetting me."

Carlos listened to the voice in abject disbelief before turning back to his team, who had managed to put out the fire.

"Just when I thought I'd seen it all..." He muttered.

Chapter Text

"I don't know if I can do it." Carlos said. His palms were clammy as he looked at his phone.

"Yes you can," Ellie rolled her eyes. "Carlos, how many times have you saved this town? If you can do that, you can call Cecil!"

"But this is different! A scientist has a duty to protect people. Scientists-"

"Scientists," Ellie said sharply. "Have the balls to call the cute guy from the radio."

Carlos' scowls at Dr Green were less noticeable than the loud snorting and laughing sounds that were coming from behind him. Natalia, still covered in bruises, was being half-leaned upon for support by the hysterically laughing Jeffries. She pulled a small smile but looked as if she was trying not to wince.

Carlos picked up the phone and hit 'Call' on Cecil's number. He took a deep breath as the radio host answered the call.

"Cecil...I am calling for personal reasons."

Next to the fretting and nervous Carlos, Dr Green just looked smug.

 

~

 

"I don't have anything to wear." Carlos groaned.

Jeffries chuckled. "I can't actually argue with tha', boss."

Carlos' wardrobe was generally t-shirts with science puns, plaid shirts and lab coats of varying degrees of newness. He firmly believed in always having a lab coat on him in case of a scientific emergency, but for a date...?

"You should wear a lab coat." Natalia said unexpectedly from behind him. She hadn't said much since the incident two weeks ago and was still healing.

"Why?" Carlos asked.

"Because Cecil told me when I first had coffee with him that he thinks that it's really hot." She admitted.

Carlos' face turned a deep shade of pink. "Thank you, Dr Johnson."

"I'm just goin' to run downstairs, Carlos. Look at the instruments to look at tha' weird energy." Jeffries said before disappearing out of sight.

"Can I talk to you, Carlos?" Natalia said quietly as soon as Jeffries had gone.

"Of course." He said, gesturing for her to take a seat, before sitting down on his bed across from her.

"I looked at my blood results...and I know nothing obvious turned up, but I have a hypothesis that I would like you to help me reason with."

"Go on."

"You know I don't talk to my parents much."

"Yes..."

"Well...it's because I'm not actually their daughter. I'm adopted. I found out when I was eighteen. My parents...well I traced my birth mother to a town in North Carolina . She died a few months after I met her...but she told me about my father. She said he was from an unnameable town that she had stumbled upon whilst travelling. She never found her way back there, but she gave me up. She wasn't ready. Shortly after she died, I went home. But things were different at home. My parents constantly fussed. So I decided to move to New York like I'd always dreamed and I found the university. When I discovered that you were investigating a town that was scientifically impossible, I had a hope...so I came to your office..."

"...with a full suitcase and your résumé." Carlos recalled. "So you think your father was a Night Vale resident?"

"It would explain why my pain receptors are virtually non-existent. I mean, at least 60% of the town don't have them at all." She murmured. "And how easily my body adopted this." She held up the hand that had the third eye on it. "I hope you can forgive me for not talking to you about this before..."

Carlos took it comfortingly. "Natalia, listen to me. This was your decision, and I do not condemn you in any way for it. And I will help you in any scientific or non-scientific way I can."

"Thank you, Dr Valdez." She gave him a small smile.

"Can you help me with something though?" Carlos said sheepishly.

"Sure, what?" Natalia said with a larger smile.

"Help me with what to wear."

 

~

 

So far, Carlos thought, the date had gone quite well. Aside from the initial shock of what Cecil wore when he wasn't working at the radio station, plus the lack of memory he had regarding how the had entered the restaurant, of course.

When it came to ordering, Carlos ordered what he presumed to be a Night Vale delicacy. Cecil had recommended it, and Carlos had decided to be polite and trust his judgement on it. Besides, he'd never eaten at Gino's Italian before.
He looked out of the window. The buzzing shadow presence that had lingered in the streets on their way there was intriguing to Carlos to say the least. It didn't seem to be a threat at the current moment, and his more than capable team would sort out the shadows if they did become one, he hoped.

Besides, the sunset behind the shadow thing was much more beautiful to Carlos. He'd watched the sun set many times whilst in Night Vale, mainly from working late. Some at the wrong time, some that emitted strange hums and clicking noises...but only the sunset he had cared about truly was the one he witnessed with Cecil's blonde fluffy haired head on his shoulder. He turned back to the radio host.

"I’ve been thinking," he said.

"Uh-huh?" Cecil replied, the mushroom that was bleeding over his plate now ignored.

"Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing lately," Carlos stammered uncertainly. "Thinking. It’s part of being a scientist. What have you been up to?"

He cursed himself internally for his awful choice of words, but Cecil didn't seem phased.

"Well," Cecil began. "I've been looking after Khoshekh's kittens. We lost another intern after they tried to take a picture with them. When will people start remembering that taking pictures of cats has deadly consequences, right?"

"It kills you?" Carlos said with surprise.

"Well, obviously. Why?"

"Cats from my hometown could be photographed without someone dying."

Cecil gave a small giggle. "Oh my, Carlos, you do know how to make me laugh."

Carlos decided to just ignore it and changed the topic.

 

~

 

It was getting dark when the two men wrapped up the meal. After insisting on paying, Carlos was terrified when Cecil handed him a brick and told him to throw it at the window.

"I...I can't do that. It's public property!"

"Oh, no, we need to do it to escape."

"Escape?"

"Yes. It's how you finish the Gino's experience." Cecil beamed like it was the greatest thing in the world. Carlos looked down at the brick in his hand. If this was a trick and he was about to commit damage to property, he vowed he'd spend all night trying to find a Night Vale law that would make Cecil accountable. It seemed that re-education was the only Night Vale law that truly applied to Cecil, anyway.

He decided to just go with it and threw the brick as hard as he could at the window. It smashed a large hole and Cecil held Carlos' hand as they clambered through. Carlos sliced his little finger on the glass but didn't say anything. The last thing he needed was Cecil fussing over him.

As the two men ran, Carlos looked at Cecil. He felt so...exhilarated. The adrenaline pumping through his system powered his long strides as the two ran to Mission Grove Park.

The people surrounding them were all pointing at the sky and screaming, something that the team had observed to be Night Vale's version of a recreational activity.

"Want to join in for a round?" Cecil asked. Oh geez, Carlos thought. Answer in a way that makes you sound Night Valean. Even better, decline but nicely.

"I spent a long time being afraid of what the empty sky implies yesterday, actually, so...I'm pretty tired." He said meekly. He cursed himself internally for coming up with such a ridiculous excuse, but Cecil seemed to accept it, as he nodded understandingly.

"If you want," Carlos said. "We could do some tests on the trees? I’ve been meaning to do some scientific tests on the trees. They seem normal, but given all that I’ve observed in this town, it is a significant chance that they are not.”

Science. Something he could do well. Emotions are tricky, he reasoned. Science is good.

"Really? We'd do science? Like, together?" Cecil's eyes shone like Carlos had given him a gift for Khoshekh.

Carlos pulled a few instruments he had in his satchel out. He had forgotten that they were in there until a few minutes ago. He'd forgotten to clear it before he left for the date.

"Shall we get started?"

 

~

 

As they drove back to the lab, Carlos became more and more aware of the sheer quantity of people that were turning into buzzing shadow entities. It was getting rather worrisome and the rate of infection was reminding him of when Ellie made him watch 'The Walking Dead'.
All of a sudden, a screaming woman that Carlos didn't recognise ran at the car, looking wild and desperate. Several shadow people were hot on her heels.

"Cecil..." Carlos gasped as she veered into the path of the car.

"I got it." Cecil said, and swerved. Carlos looked into the wing mirror to see the woman turn into a shadow person. Carlos paled slightly. It was worse than he thought. He looked back at Cecil driving, who only looked mildly annoyed by the woman.

A few minutes later, they pulled up outside the lab. Cecil stopped the car and there was a pregnant pause. Carlos took a deep breath and cleared the silence.

"Well.." He said as confidently as he could, gesturing to his lab. "This is me."

"Uh-huh." Cecil said quietly.

"I should probably do something about this buzzing shadow thing." Carlos remarked quickly. "A few experiments, to see if I can save the town."

"Oh?" Cecil said gently. "I...Do you need any help with that?"

"No." Carlos said. The experiments could involve all kinds of crazy things and he probably wouldn't get any sleep. He didn't want Cecil to see him like. "A scientist is self-reliant. It’s the first thing a scientist is."

"Oh..." Cecil murmured. He sounded almost wistful. Dammit, Cecil. Carlos thought in frustration. By all that is scientifically possible, I beg you stop looking like a kicked puppy. But...it was adorable. Beyond belief. Carlos had been terrified, shocked and exhilarated the entire few hours they had been together that evening. It was, as far as he was concerned, the greatest feeling since he got his grant.

Carlos took a deep breath. Time seemed to slow down as he leaned forward and pressed his lips softly against Cecil's. It was like two chemical formulas coming together in perfect equilibrium, Carlos mused.

He could have happily stayed there for eons. The entire geological time scale could have passed. Ice ages could come and go, yet he'd still want to be in that moment.

Unfortunately for Carlos, despite the fact time was barely real in Night Vale, it still flowed and he could hear the buzzing shadow creatures down the street getting closer. He pulled back and, not daring to look at Cecil for fear of wanting to stay and neglecting his scientific duties, went into the lab.

He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, letting out a long sigh. The noise that came out of his mouth shortly afterwards was something between a squeal and a whoop.

~

When Carlos woke up the next morning, he was slumped against his desk. He looked up to see his team gathered around the radio. He couldn't quite hear what was being said.

"Awwww!"

"Sshhh, don't wake Carlos. He was up all night!"

"Oh, okay."

Carlos stirred slightly and sat up with a yawn. "Mm...morning, guys."

"Carlos!" Ellie stammered with a blush. "We....er, well...don't get too mad at Cecil. It's cute, really."

"Hm?" He got up and joined them at the radio.

"...which is when he leaned forward...and kissed me. Just once. Just…gently. Just before slipping out of the car and into the lab."

Cecil was...talking about the date?! Carlos wanted to faint, or call him and tell him not to. He couldn't decide.

"Oh my god...." Ellie put her hand over her mouth and she looked like she was going to cry. "You kissed him?"

Carlos nodded, incredibly flushed and the team cheered. Natalia ruffled his hair and Jeffries patted his back with a laugh.

Cecil's voice became perkier and still wistful at the same time. "I’ll tell you, listeners, I was almost swallowed by a cloud of malevolent shadow energy on the drive home and I hardly even noticed."

That time it was Carlos' turn to melt internally. Things were looking up.

Chapter Text

"Carlos," Jeffries sighed down the phone. "You've been out in the Sand Wastes fer hours. It's absolutely boilin'. It's not safe."

"I won't be too long." Carlos balanced the phone between his shoulder and his ear. "It's just this incredible fixture of land. The gravimeter is off the charts! Five times the normal amount of gravity usually present in such an area..."

Jeffries rolled his eyes and waited for Carlos' science rant to finish. He had to admire Carlos' optimism recently. Since he'd been on his first date with Cecil, Carlos had been on a constant high. He was first up and ready to go at the crack of dawn. Unfortunately, he'd been neglecting sleep on occasion again, but it wasn't showing too much.

"I know, Carlos." Jeffries said. "Just be careful, 'kay?"

"I'll be fine. Scientists are always fine."

Jeffries chose that point to hang up the phone before Carlos started talking about his experiment again. He'd have to drive out there or Carlos probably wouldn't come back for a week.

 

~

 

"The Summer Reading Program for children and teens has begun at the Night Vale Public Library. This comes as an alarming surprise, given that the program was abolished by the City Council thirty years ago. Though parents and teenagers have asked on several occasions to reinstate the program, the City Council has maintained its position, citing lack of taxpayer funds, the extreme danger posed by books, the peril of exposing children to librarians, and of course, the incident that precipitated the ban, which the town’s older residents will refer to only as 'The Time Of Knives'."

"Are they crazy?!" Ellie fumed. "Putting children in the presence of librarians?!"

"The City Council always do things for a reason." Natalia hastily clarified. Ellie had an issue with remembering that everything was bugged. It was only a matter of time before the enthusiastic biochemist ended up being arrested, Natalia sighed.

Dr Green's blonde curls seemed to bounce for emphasis as she started speaking again.

"Yeah, but they're just kids!"

"We can't do anything, Ellie."

They were interrupted by the door opening and a groaning sound coming from it.

"Through 'ere. That's it, easy does it." Jeffries said gruffly, hauling up Carlos. "Dr Johnson, can ya grab him some water an' a bucket."

"Sure. Why a bucket?"

Carlos answered by retching into the nearest plant pot. Jeffries stood next to him grimly.

"Good point. On it." She sped off down the corridor. Ellie stepped forward and felt his forehead.

"He was out in the sun?"

Jeffries nodded. "A good few hours. No shade."

"Bloody hell, Carlos." Ellie muttered. "He's burning up. My guess is heat exhaustion. We need to lower his core body temperature."

"Some summer tips to beat the heat. First off, have you tried to reason with the heat? Humans, temperatures, angels, and chairs are all equally real and sentient, which is to say that we’re all not-real, nor are any of us actually sentient, but give reason a shot. It has never, not once in history worked, but it might just work this time. If the heat won’t listen to reason, try denying that it’s hot."

Ellie scowled. "Remind me to talk to Cecil about the medical advice featured on his show."

Natalia's returned with a cold wet sponge and she placed it over Carlos' forehead.

"Do we text Cecil?"

"No...not until the show's over. Besides, he'll be okay. He just nee-"
Carlos threw up again noisily. "...he needs a few hours to recover."

"You don't say." Jeffries said, wrinkling his nose.

"M'sorry." Carlos murmured into the bucket.

"You should be, you idiot." Ellie scolded. "What were you thinking, being outside in this heat?"

Carlos pulled his satchel around to his front and lifted the flap, retrieving several pages of notes and the gravimeter. She supposed this was his insane way of saying it was worth it.

"Dr Green..." Natalia said uncomfortably as Ellie flicked through the notes. "Can I go to the library?"

Ellie gaped. "Inside?!"

"No, no." Natalia clarified, shaking her head; her feather earrings swished as she did so. "Just to help if the children come out."

"In that case, I guess so. But take Brent with you. And...ah, try to find some shade. Unlike SOMEONE." She said pointedly.

"Ellie..." Carlos whined in protest.

"No talking. Right, I'll get you a fresh bucket of ice. I am not going to have you die in the middle of the lab. Or at all for that matter. Imagine having to deal with Cecil."

She put Carlos on the sofabed and kept muttering to herself as she sauntered back into the kitchen.

 

~

 

It was sweltering hot by the time Johnson and Jeffries reached the public library. There was a large crowd being kept back by the Sheriff's Secret Police. It mostly consisted of what Jeffries presumed to be the parents of the captured children. As the van had air conditioning, they decided to stay in the seats. Natalia parked close to the crowd so they could see what was happening.

"I hope them kids're okay..." Jeffries murmured.

"The library is dangerous. It's the most dangerous place we've encountered so far in this town...apart from the Dog Park, of course, which is forbidden of course."

"....In light of this development, the City Council has declared a Level Orange fear alert." The radio suddenly perked up again. "They advise that all Night Vale citizens avoid the public library, and provide the Council with any information they may have on the whereabouts of the missing children, on librarians’ secret weaknesses, or on good books they’ve read lately. Any citizens who admit to having read good books, the Council added in an impromptu press conference, televised from a book-proof bunker, will be immediately scheduled for re-education, and subsequent de-education. The Sheriff’s Secret Police, meanwhile, have instituted a curfew for the entire town, effective immediately. After 7 p.m., all minors should be at home and under adult supervision..."

Jeffries pursed his lips. For once, the Council we not completely apathetic to the citizens in a life-threatening situation, but it did seem that there was only so much the Council could do in this situation.

"Say, Dr Johnson?" He turned to the young scientist. "Can I as' for some advice?"

All three of Natalia's eyes blinked. "Sure, Brent."

Jeffries fiddled with his thumbs. "Well, I've been thinkin', I wanna start doin' a few hours a week at the local middle school. Their last geography, geology and poison class teacher retired recently and they're lookin' for a part-time replacemen' as a substitute until they get a new one."

"You should go for it, Brent. We'll all support you." Natalia beamed.

Jeffries flushed slightly. "Yeah, well I jus' thought...it might be nic-"

He was cut off by a loud screaming gurgling sound coming from the library. Brent reached for his phone and dialled Cecil's number. It rang through several times before a voice answered.

"Hello?"

"Cecil?" Jeffries asked, confused by the unfamiliar voice at the other end.

"Oh, no, this is intern Gerald. Mr Palmer's doing the show. Can I pass on a message?"

Jeffries cleared his throat. "Yes. I'm Dr Jeffries from Carlos' team. It's about the library. But before I tell you about it, can you tell Mr Palmer that we need him at the lab after the show? Nothing urgent, but if he could stop by....?"

"Sure." The intern replied.

"Okay, so there are noises coming out of the library, There's inhuman shrieking..."

 

~

 

"This just in, listeners. We’ve received reports that the entrances to the Night Vale Public Library have reappeared, and the missing children have begun to emerge from inside the building. The children have been described as wild-eyed, feral, some staggering upright, and some running on all fours like animals, caked in effluvia and far more emaciated than their time of absence would seem to account for, but otherwise, well, healthy, and unharmed...."

The two scientists were pleased with what they had accomplished during the day. All the children had been returned to their homes. Covered in blood and returned to their homes, but returned nonetheless.

When Jeffries and Natalia arrived back at the lab, Cecil had already arrived and was sat next to a still groaning Carlos. His blonde hair looked dishevelled, like he'd run his fingers through it a hundred times too many. Ellie was out of sight, but the distinct smell of cooking chicken was coming from the kitchen.

"How is he?" Natalia's mouthed to Cecil.

"Resting." Cecil replied with a small smile. His purple eyes looked a little sad, however. "He was so brave. But he didn't look happy to see me when I got here." He muttered forlornly.

"That's because he didn't want you seeing him in such a state that he caused." Ellie shouted from the kitchen with a soft laugh.

Carlos groaned. "Dr Green, this is not helping."

"You aren't immune to sunstro'e, Carlos." Jeffries laughed heartily. "You'll be fine. Jus' need a good night's rest."

"I'm sure Cecil can help with that." Ellie commented slyly.

She stuck her head out from the kitchen just in time to see the two men go redder than she'd ever seen someone go in their life, as well as Carlos gesturing at her frantically to stop talking from behind Cecil.

Chapter Text

Carlos yawned and rolled over. One morning he'd wake up with Cecil next to him. However, that morning had not yet come and he was rather sad about that. In a totally scientific way. Obviously. It was to satisfy his hormonal needs. Yep, that was definitely it.

He got out of bed morosely and plodded to the kitchen. The sight he was greeted with was an odd one. Natalia was sat in the corner of the room twiddling her thumbs in the foetal position, whilst Jeffries was grumbling sat at the table.

"Hey, guys."

"Sshh." Natalia said hurriedly. "They'll hear us."

"Who will?"

"The animals. They're coming for us."

"Huh?"

"Carlos." A voice said from behind him warningly. It was Dr Green. "They're experiencing feelings involuntarily. It's been happening all over town. From what I can tell, Dr Johnson is experiencing acute paranoia and Dr Jeffries...is 'disappointed with a food order'. Cecil called earlier but you weren't up. He was experiencing the one called 'frustrated origami novice'."

"Is there any way we can stop it?"

"I'm not sure. Jeffries and I are working on it. But we have a bigger problem. There have been subway entrances appearing all over town, without warning of any kind."

"Well, except fer those leaflets." Jeffries mumbled.

He passed one to Carlos before continuing to brood. It had lots of pictures of teeth and a bold slogan that read 'Oh the places you will go', as well as a rough outline of the subway map. The routes reminded him of the tattoos on Cecil's arms.

"Cecil's show will be on soon, though. If anyone knows anything, they'll go to Cecil." Ellie remarked.

Carlos' heart swelled a little with pride when she mentioned that. His boyfriend was the first port of call for this crazy community. It wasn't the most convenient thing in the world that they went to the Secret Police or Cecil before the scientists, particularly if the problem in question was actually scientific, but the fact that they went to him, that they TRUSTED him.

Carlos nodded. "Jeffries, can you keep an eye on Dr Johnson until her mood swing has passed? Ellie, you and I are going to investigate the subway."

Dr Green grabbed her bag. "We'd best get ready, then."

 

~

 

"...a crudely drawn map of our new transit system, all roots resembling spasming tentacles, and all passing at least once through a common point deep beneath the centre of Night Vale. No one yet knows where the subways came from, or where they go to, but as a city dweller, I am certainly happy to hear that Night Vale is embracing mass transit."

Cecil's voice was quite comforting as Carlos and Ellie walked towards the nearest subway entrance. Ellie had brought her portable radio so they could keep up to date with what was occurring.

They approached the subway entrance, and they were not the only ones to do so. Several people were walking down the steps into the subway. The entrance was emitting a blinding light. It was difficult to see too far down into the subway due to the glow.

One person was walking back out of the entrance and Carlos approached him. He seemed...thin. Stretched. The young man wearing a baseball cap sank to his knees.

"Woah, there." Carlos rushed forward and caught him before he slumped forward too far. The man felt strange when Carlos touched his shoulder. Too light for his apparent size, for definite. Like the very essence of his being was diluted.

Ellie crouched next to him and brought out her kit. "This is definitely new, Carlos. The last few minutes at least."

"Caused by the subway?"

"I can't offer anything concrete..." She murmured. "...but at the moment, I'd say so."

"I'll text Cecil. He can get the word out to tell people to stay away from the subways."

Ellie nodded, and glanced back at the subway. The strange light was so...enticing. So mysterious. It was like something out of a movie. She laid the man that had fallen next to him in the recovery position gently. He seemed to be healing, albeit slowly.

Carlos was stood to the side texting. She looked at Carlos for a few moments before turning her gaze back towards the subway system opening.

Surely Carlos wouldn't mind if she had a quick peek? No, she thought. No, it's dangerous. Well, it could be. Not proved yet, but there was potential. But it was so...interesting. The glow. It reminded her of the Batcave. After all, it was an underground mystery.

She rose and looked once more at Carlos, before walking slowly and cautiously towards the glowing light.

~

"No, Brent." Carlos sighed into the phone. "We're working on it. I've texted Cecil and he's going to get the word out. Stay inside with Dr Johnson. I'm glad to hear she's feeling better, though....yes......yeah, okay. See you later. Bye."

He hung up and placed the phone back in his pocket.

"Natalia's paranoia is wearing off. I've told them to stay inside until we can-" He span round and paused. "Ellie?"

There was no-one there. The man in the baseball cap was still unconscious on the floor and Ellie's portable radio, headphones unattached, was lying next to him. However, Ellie herself was nowhere to be seen.

"Ellie?!" Carlos called. He picked up the radio.

"...Mayor Pamela Winchell described these commuters as thinner somehow, spiritually, like you think it’s the afternoon but it’s almost evening. That’s what they’re like." The radio blared. "Carlos, caring and reliable Carlos the scientist, thinks maybe the rider’s DNA has been washed out, emptied, completely drained of its contents. Listeners, I’m also being told that some people are not getting off the trains at all..."

Carlos' head snapped up and he looked at the subway entrance. A whisp of blonde hair was seen for a moment heading downwards. Ellie was going down the steps into the subway.

"Ellie!" Carlos called and ran after her. He tripped, however, as the ground around him began to shake. It was shaking violently. A shrieking sound came from the subway and hundreds of large insects swarmed around the subway entrance.

"For our environment, for our -" The rumbling, shaking sound was coming out of the radio too." Something is happening listeners. Er, this does not appear to be a standard government-created earthquake...."

"No..." Carlos breathed. Despite his better judgement and due to the fact that the ground around him was breaking apart viciously, he stumbled towards the subway entrance.

"CARLOS!" Ellie was shrieking. She was halfway up the stairwell, clinging to the railing for balance. A black glowing was behind her. "CARLOS!"

Carlos peered down into the subway entrance. "Ellie! Grab my hand!" He reached out his arm and the biochemist began reaching for him as she pulled herself up the steps using the railing.

Suddenly, a large cracking sound could be heard. The two scientists looked upwards in horror. The arch of the entrance had zigzagging cracks growing across it.

There was a soft clicking sound. Then everything began crumbling down.

"CARLOS!!" Ellie reached for the scientist's hand but it was too late. Nearly a metric ton of rocks collapsed between the two scientists.

"ELLIE. ELLIE?!" Carlos coughed as he fell backwards away from the rubble.

But there was only a blocked subway entrance to greet him.

Ellie was gone.

Chapter Text

Carlos knew he was dreaming. But it was the kind of dream that just repeated something that had happened in your past. It was part of the new Dream Service. It had been two weeks. He wasn't ready to relive it again, but he didn't exactly have a choice, he reflected, as the scene shimmered into focus.

"Carlos...talk to me."

Those were the first words that Carlos had heard after it happened. He'd been sat in front of the subway entrance for fifteen minutes with blooded fists and tears on his cheeks when Cecil found him.

The blonde haired man crouched down next to the scientist. Even as a memory, he was beautiful. "Dear Carlos...talk to me."

"Ellie...she didn't get out of the subway in time."

"Oh...I'm so sorry." Cecil said. He was more immune to the deaths of people he knew, figured Carlos. An intern did die every other week, after all. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine..." Carlos muttered, just as he had done that night, wiping his eyes fiercely. "A scientist is always fine."

"Do you want to spend the night at mine?"

Carlos nodded quietly. "I...I need to call the others. They need to know."

Cecil nodded and helped him up as Carlos shakily fumbled for his phone.

Carlos didn't want to remember that phone call. Natalia crying down the phone, Jeffries breaking a test tube in his hand in the next room....it had been awful.

The scene shifted again. Apparently the Dream Service had been merciful in this occasion.

Everything came into focus and Carlos realised at what point in the evening he was now recalling. He was facing the double bed, where Cecil was sitting up as Carlos came out of the ensuite. His fluorescent purple pyjamas seemed to glow, along with the rest of Cecil. He made a mental note to ask Cecil to run some tests.

The two hadn't been overly intimate yet, but Carlos had slept round there a few nights now. He'd left a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt that read "Atoms are liars: They make up everything" here the last time he'd stayed, so he had something to wear to bed.

"Carlos, can you not sleep?" Cecil said.

"No. I can't stop thinking about it."

"I know...Carlos, come back to bed."

Carlos climbed back into the bed and cuddled up to Cecil. Cecil ran his hand gently through Carlos' hair and nuzzled him gently.

"It's okay. I'm here....I'm here..." Cecil whispered softly.

The dream ended and Carlos awoke in his bed, staring at his ceiling, but he closed his eyes and remembered the rest of the night in his mind.

Carlos hadn't slept that night, but neither had Cecil. The radio host had stayed up with him, talking to him quietly in his velvety voice. He asked him about his other experiments; he told him about Khoshekh. A multitude of things to distract him.

It was warm in the bed, and Cecil himself was a comfort.

But still, Carlos hadn't slept. He didn't see how he was supposed to sleep.

Not when his best friend was dead.

 

~

 

"That's it, we're calling him."

"He's workin'."

"Shutting himself in a lab without talking to anyone apart from 'pass the pepper please' or something that has scientific value is not healthy...Ellie could still be alive in that subway system. We don't know. But he's inside and he could be helping us with this...we need to do something. We could get him to ring the doorbell! No-one's done it yet."

"It migh' get him out, I guess..." Jeffries muttered in defeat. He'd grown weary since Ellie disappeared in the subway incident.
"I'll call him now. Turn up the radio, will ya?" He said to the physicist.

Natalia obliged as he began his phone call, running another of the usual standard tests on the House That Doesn't Exist as she listened.
"...of you recall our station intern Dana who, while reporting on strange goings-on, was locked in the Forbidden Dog Park back in April. I’ve received occasional texts and emails from Dana, but then this morning, well…let’s listen."

Natalia's ears perked up. She'd been a good friend of Dana's when she'd gone into the forbidden Dog Park.
"Cecil, it’s Dana. I found a way out of here. I walked the perimeter of the Dog Park looking for a crack or a hole-"

Natalia burst out into a joyous smile. Dana had...found a way out? She'd be able to see her friend again? Her thought train was interrupted by Jeffries.

"Carlos is comin'.When I offered him the five bucks, he just mutte'ed 'bout scientific integrity and said he was on his way."

Natalia didn't repress a slight smile. Two victories in one day was unusual even for scientists.

 

~

 

"Dana! DANA!"

Natalie suddenly yelped as the woman walked out of the side door of the House That Doesn't Exist. Carlos, who was just about to press the doorbell (after an exceedingly long lecture about not paying for curiousity) stepped back from the door.

"Dana...?" He breathed. He hadn't met Dana but had heard about her from Natalia once or twice. She worked at the radio station and was quite the sweet young lady, apparently. He figured privately, however, that Natalia's description may have been biased. She had a soft spot for the woman, certainly.

He pulled out his phone and dialled Cecil's number. It went to voicemail after only two rings, which was fine considering that the show was on.
"Hi, Cecil. I'm not calling for personal reasons, I'm afraid. Although do text me regarding 'dinner' tomorrow. Um, yeah." He felt his face heating up. "I'm with the other scientists at the Desert Creek Housing Development. I've been looking at the House That Doesn't Exist. It's the one that seems like it exists, like it’s just right there when you look at it, and it’s between two identical houses, so it would make more sense for it to be there than not…but it does not exist."

He hit his head and scowled. Focus, Carlos. He screamed internally.

"They called and asked me to ring the doorbell to the hiuse, just to see what would happen. They offered me five dollars but I turned it down. Scientific integrity..."

He continued speaking for a good minute or so but was observing what was happening at the same time.

Natalia had waved to Dana and ran up to her. But Dana had kept walking, talking into her phone. It was like she didn't notice that they were there. Her frizzy dark brown hair was tied up in a loose bun behind her and strands fell into her face as she talked. Nothing particularly unusual. Until she walked straight through Natalia. Natalia shuddered as she did so and the physicist's red lips fell open in a gape. Dana then turned around to look back at her.

"D-Dana? It's me, it's Nat. Can you hear me...?"

Dana looked past her and at the house, before sprinting away. Natalia went to follow her but Jeffries pulled her back.

"Let 'er go." He said bewilderedly. "I don't think she can eve' see or hear us."

"She looked...concerned. Then she ran away." Carlos relayed into the phone. He'd given up on the 'scientific integrity' speech a few minutes previously and started to narrate things as they happened.

"But...she was talking on her phone. And it sounded like the person she was talking to was you, Cecil!" He recalled what he had heard in his head with a furrowed brow.

'As I exited the house, the door shut behind me and now it’s gone. As I walked, I moved through something that wasn’t there. I heard voices through digital static, and felt a cold wind across my body. The others are here, but not here, Cecil.'

"I'll call again later." Carlos concluded. "Bye, Cecil."

He ran his hands through his hair before striding towards Jeffries and Natalia.

"Dr Johnson, are you okay?"

"Yes. Just...I didn't want to lose another friend. And it seems I have."

Carlos felt a lump rise in his throat. He bowed his head. He still hadn't made the condolence call to Ellie's family yet. He hadn't had the heart.

He took Natalia's hand and gave it a light squeeze, before letting go and leading the two scientists back towards the van.

 

~

 

Two weeks.

Two weeks she'd been stuck in this godforsaken subway. Stuck with only her portable radio, which had fallen in after her, her clothes, and her food that had been in her satchel. The stash of food was running out, however. She'd found water in a small area where a water pipe had leaked into a small section of the subway, and that had been disgusting, but sufficient. She ventured further into the subway every day, returning to that spot to drink, but so far had not found a way out. She needed a solution. And soon.

The biochemist filled up her water bottle with water and picked up her lab coat. She'd been using it as a rough pillow, and it was wholly uncomfortable. She didn't have a clue what time it was, as her watch, along with her left wrist, had been broken when the rubble fell into the subway system. A good strip of her shirt had been torn to make a sling, but it meant her midriff was constantly cold.

The curly-haired woman had slept for a good while, so she figured that was enough. She stood up and looked in her satchel. One vastly out of date sausage roll, a chocolate bar and a withering satsuma was all that remained of the team lunch that had been in her satchel that day.

She'd have to find a solution soon, or she could probably die down here...it was a horrifying thought for her.

A sudden hissing sound came from behind her however and she froze momentarily.

Dr Eleanor Green spun around to face a very familiar looking glowing specimen of lizard.

Chapter Text

"No...ah!"

Carlos jolted awake breathing heavily.

"Carlos?"

Cecil was curled up next to him and put his hand on the other man's shoulder. "Did you dream about it again?"

Carlos bit his lip. "Yeah."

The same dream every night. Ellie disappearing under the rubble. He sat up and reached for his phone. He had barely noticed it ringing.

"Won't you...come see about me..."
Simple Minds sang from his phone. He answered it sleepily.

"Hello? Oh. Natalia, it's early. What is it?" He asked, but quickly got distracted by Cecil putting his arms around Carlos' waist and kissing up his neck.

"Mm....huh? Oh, nothing, I-I'm drinking coffee." He stammered into the phone. "...a blinking light? That sounds inte-ah! What, no no ignore that. It's just...hot." He said trying not to moan into the phone.

"Y-yeah, okay. I said I'd cook for C-Cecil later...well you shouldn't have to handle it alone....fine. Bye."

He ended the call and turned round to frown at Cecil. "That was...mean. Stimulating my nervous system when I'm on the phone..."

Cecil didn't look sorry in any way. His arms with its purple tattoos were still wrapped around Carlos' waist. He had still not told him the big 'L' word. He wanted to but every time he'd tried he'd choked on his words.

"I need to go, Cecil. I need to investigate this blinking light."

"You promised to cook me dinner to be ready after the show today." He pouted.

"But science-"

"Carlos! You promised. And I heard Dr Johnson on the phone. She told you to stay and cook."

"Dr Johnson did...how did you hear that?"

"I'm the Voice. I have acute hearing. It's part of being a radio presenter."

Sure it is, Carlos rolled his eyes.

"Besides, I still have twenty minutes before I need to get up to go to the station." Cecil said with a grin. "We can do a lot of things in twenty minutes...."

Carlos couldn't argue with that.

 

~

 

Ellie was nowhere. All around her was darkness and she couldn't make out any shapes. She had followed the lizard (Icarus, she figured) down the tunnels. The last thing she remembered was seeing a figure. It had a strange from and she hadn't known what it was.

He (she assumed it was a he) had said something to Ellie and she had collapsed to the ground. When she'd woken up she'd been in this place.

She rose her head. There was a noise. It was coming from her portable radio, which had had no signal the whole time she'd been trapped in the subway. But it was transmitting. Which meant...either the subway had gotten the station, or she was out. Maybe someone had brought her out somehow. Icarus was long gone. He'd led her to the figure and left, most likely.
She put in the headphones and listened.

"A continuation on our previous report about a Blinking Light up on the Mountain: As many of you noted, the very nature of our report indicated the existence of a Mountain — which is surprising, given that we live in vast, desert flatness. So yes, there is a Mountain. Let’s start there."

CECIL! She felt herself crying. It felt like forever since she'd last heard that wonderful velvety voice.

"You are safe now." A voice from behind Ellie said. It did not sound like anyone she knew. She put the radio into her pocket and turned around. There was a form standing there. With great black wings and many eyes. "My name is Erika. Eleanor Green, daughter of Angela and Nicholas, woman of science but believer in magic.... hypothetically, if you were called upon by angels to serve a higher purpose, would you accept?"

"I..." Ellie said shakily. "What would it involve?"

"Normally you would become an angel and help us defend this town. But...we feel that in your case, you would be best served protecting one in Night Vale of high importance."

"Who..?"

"Carlos the Scientist. He has a great role to play in the events to come."

"Carlos...events...what?"

"It has been foretold of a scientist...one that will save Night Vale from a great evil. Alas, even the angels cannot see what this evil will bring, only that, he is to be the saviour of Night Vale. Nothing must come in his way of that."

"I...and I can go home?"

"You must watch over him as he investigates this town. We are counting on you, Eleanor Green. Heaven can see you have a true heart."

"Then...I accept."

And with that, there was a great flash and Ellie found herself lying face down on a very familiar doormat.
"Ellie...? ELLIE?!!?!!"

Natalia came running over as the woman sat up. She hugged her tightly before beginning to sob.

"Nat?" Ellie said in bewilderment.

"Ellie..." The younger woman laughed. "Where have you been, it's been a whole month!"

"A month?!"

Natalia nodded and grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes. "We all thought you were dead...Carlos..."

"Carlos?" She said with a lump in her throat, remembering the Erika's words. "Where is he?"

"He's at Cecil's. He's been staying there more often since you disappeared. He's cooking for him instead of doing science. I.e. he's on house arrest."

"Oh...how much time?"

"Enough time to know they were getting up no good this morning when I called." She grimaced. Ellie just snorted.

"Home sweet home."

 

~

 

"Carlos says he would like to study it, but that he promised to make a certain person dinner, and he has to learn how to put other things besides science first. Some of this realisation might have come with help from those around him..."

Carlos rolled his eyes and continued stirring. After a few more minutes of listening to the radio and humming, there was the familiar sound of Don't You (Forget About Me) coming out of his phone. Cecil was FaceTiming him.

"Hey, Cecil."

"Carlos, I know you're cooking...but..." Cecil sighed. "Do you have an opinion on the blinking red light and the army situation?"

Carlos smirked. He'd won. Science had defeated cooking.

"Oh that?" he said, gesturing at the window with the spatula at his view of the army and mountain. "That’s a mirage. I’ve seen that one before. When you get the clouds a certain way, and the temperature is where it’s at, you can sometimes get this…blinking-light-mountain-floodplain-masked-army mirage. Wow..." He mused. "This is a pretty strong one! It should disappear in an hour or two.”
"I hope so."

"Isn't science fascinating? How something like that can happen?"

"I'll see you soon, Carlos." Cecil said grumpily.

"Wait, Cecil!" Carlos said quickly. He was going to say it. No avoiding it. He couldn't deny it anymore. "I-I love you."

Cecil looked like he was going to cry a little. "I love you too, Carlos...I'll be home soon."

Carlos pressed the 'end call' button and let out a sigh and a smile.

"That. Was. SO. CUTE!" A squealing voice came from the doorway. A familiar voice.

"Ellie..." He breathed.

"Good to see you, Carlos." The two friends ran into each others' arms.
When they finally pulled apart, Ellie grinned at him.

"So what's this I hear about Cecil and you getting it on this morning whilst you were ON THE PHONE?"

Chapter Text

"Day off, guys. Oh it's been so long since I had a day off!" Ellie sighed happily.

"You practically spent a whole month off." Natalia quipped.

"Eh, details. What are you guys all doing on your day off? I'm going bowling with Old Woman Josie."

"Shopping!" Natalia beamed.

"I'm goin' for my interview at the school." Jeffries replied. A small chorus of 'good luck's echoed around the communal space. "What 'bout you, Carlos?"

"I'm going to spend my day off...uh, looking at condos." Carlos murmured.

Natalia gasped. "You're going through with it? Eeeee! Good luck!"

"It's a good job too. Cecil is NOT sleeping over here again. Do you even know how little slee-" Natalia quickly put her hand over Ellie's mouth and muffled the rest of what the blonde biochemist was saying.

"Okay, okay. We get it, Ellie. Though it was cute watching Cecil rush around the lab asking what everything was."

Carlos groaned. That had been an absolute disaster. Cecil had come flying through the lab door, running around and complimenting everyone on their smartness. He had also not obeyed lab rules that stated that you weren't allowed to hug people from behind when said person is holding a dangerous liquid. It had taken fifty five minutes and 4 different types of acid neutraliser to stop the floor around Carlos' work bench eroding.

"Anyway, good luck, Carlos. We'll see ya later." Jeffries chuckled.

As the team left, Carlos once again looked at the flyer that had come through the door that morning.

'A perfect kind of human. A perfect kind of life.'

 

~

 

Carlos was bewildered by the chaos of the line outside the condo rental office. A man running around carrying a spine was neither wise nor hygienic. Three people had asked him what he was doing whilst he was busy with his equipment and he had, regretfully, not been as courteous as he normally would. He'd been focused and distracted simultaneously. All that had done was make him stressed.

Luckily, he had a portable radio with him so he could listen to Cecil's show. It would either be calming or incredibly nerve-wracking. He turned it on.

"....don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on this show, by the way, um,…but Carlos is totally my boyfriend! I just didn’t know if I had brought that up before. He’s— he’s very handsome. And into science. And he is learning to be better about calling when he needs to cancel dates to get some experiments done....Where was I? Ah, yes. Even the dreaded Glow Cloud was there..."

Carlos resisted the urge to smack his forehead. Cecil and his priorities. He fiddled some more with his instruments until Cecil did something yet again that caused his ears to perk up.

"...know this is out of nowhere, but…at what point in a relationship is it normal to think about living together? Is…let’s say…buying a condo a sign that you want to move to that stage? Is that what an action like that might hypothetically be indicating?"

Cecil was onto him! Carlos felt himself becoming hotter as he flushed. Had anyone blabbed? He'd bet money on Ellie opening her big mouth.

He should just call him, pretend it was for the condos story and just ASK. He, as a qualified scientist, could do that, he figured as he shakily got out his phone.

"Uhm, hello?" Cecil's chirpy voice answered.

"Cecil?" Carlos said, surprised that he'd answered at all in the middle of the show.

"Carlos?!?"

"Yes." Carlos stammered. "Scientifically speaking, that is who I am." Way to go, you idiot, Carlos cursed.

"Yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you…you sound...different lately."

Oh. That. His voice was a few octaves higher. He hadn't noticed as much. After Leann had gotten throat spiders, Jeffries had recommended that they all change their vocal chords. Everyone else had gone in for surgery and their vocal chords had been basically of the same tone. Carlos, however....

"...put them in myself, easy. It’s important that a scientist update his or her vocal cords once in a while. Otherwise, you know…throat spiders."

"Oh, no, I knew that." Cecil replied. "I mean, obviously I knew that. I’m very into science. But hey, listen, I’m in the middle of a show!" Now he remembered to be a radio professional.

"Yeah, I know, you’re covering the story about the condos. That’s why I called." He said. Lie completed. It didn't make him feel good inside at all.

"Well, I didn’t know you listened to my show..." Cecil said in surprise. Was he crazy?

"Every time you’re on!" He said. His shock at Cecil thinking otherwise wasn't hidden.

"I–OK, hold on, listeners. I’ll be right with you....So…those condos, right? They’re– they’re very exciting, right?" Oh no. Someone definitely said something! Carlos thought. In his desperation to deny it, he babbled.

"Everything is exciting, particularly existence! Existence is the most thrilling fact of all!" Oh wow. That was smooth.

"Right. So…are you doing OK? Um, I’m getting reports that it’s even more fatal outside than usual." Science. He could talk about science. He mouthed 'Thank you' to whichever deity or scientific mass of glowing cloud had allowed that.

"By 19 Standard Fatality Units, I know. I have a Danger Meter in front of me. Listen, Cecil," he said, biting his lip as he heard someone call his name from the office. "I called to talk to you about something important, but I– now I don’t think I have time."

"But time…"

"…isn’t real, I know. Neither is anything else. That is the most scientific fact of all, but they’re calling my name and I don’t want to lose my place in line. This is important, uh, because…mmm...I-I have to go, I’m sorry. I’ll call you back later, probably. Everything is some level of ‘probably,’ nothing is a promise, it is most likely we’ll survive to talk again." Carlos grimaced.

"No I understand, I lov-"

"Hey, listen, I lov–"

"Oh, um, uh, sorry, no no no, you go." Cecil said as they called for him again.

"Th– they– they’re calling my name, I have to– I…ha– I’ll call back when I can. Goodbye."

Carlos looked at the condos rental office and waved his arm to indicate he was there. It was time to man up, he sighed.

 

~

 

Carlos certainly felt better as he drove towards the space where his condo would be. Hopefully, Cecil's too. He needed to tell him without freaking out. The first attempt at that had been unsuccessful, clearly. He ran his hand through his hair. His seemingly perfect hair. Maybe this 'perfect kind of life' that was advertised would be good for Cecil and him. With Cecil calling him 'perfect' so much...he wanted to live up to that. Be that 'perfect kind of human'...

He parked next to the condo and got out.

"What...?" He said in bemusement. This wasn't a condo! It was a big black cube shaped...thing!

He reached his hand out towards it. As his skin made contact with it, he could see things. Notebooks with numbers and equations he'd dream as a child of looking into. Flasks everywhere. And he felt perfect. Everything was right. So many scientific discoveries. He'd be able to investigate so many things! This condo...it was perfect. The only thing missing was Cecil. Who could join him in this perfect condo.

I understand, he mused. This condo...it will show Cecil that I can be that perfect person he wants me to be. I have to tell him.

He grabbed his phone and dialled Cecil's number for the second time that day.

"Hello?" He replied.

"Hello, Cecil...are you there?" He said wistfully.

"Carlos? Hi. Umm, I’m on the air. Um, I’m still doing the show."

"Right, no, I know, it’s just…" Carlos smiled dreamily. The condo had given him some confidence. Second time lucky, perhaps. "I got a condo. A condo for us. I was thinking that maybe we could-"

"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…for us?" Cecil interrupted. "That we could...?"

"But it wasn’t what I thought it would be." Carlos reflected. "It’s a giant black cube, featureless, where the vacant lot behind the Ralph’s used to be. I touched it, and I saw…I saw endless rows of Erlenmeyer flasks, and every one held a liquid, and all of the liquids were bubbling, and before each one was a notebook of numbers, and above was a dial with more numbers. I saw all of this, and I understood."

Yes. Cecil would understand too. He could hear his boyfriend saying something down the phone but it seemed distant and faraway. "I need to get to those flasks." He continued. "Each liquid was bubbling. There were numbers. I’m going into the condo. The condo is perfect. It is perfect, and I understand."

Carlos looked back at the condo. When Cecil gets here, I'll be perfect for him, he decided. I will go into the condo, and become that person. He stepped inside, and gazed at the flasks.

He understood.

 

~

 

Carlos was floating inside the cube. A strange concept, the ability to defy gravity. Time was so fluid in the condo. The endless flasks of bubbling liquids were floating with him yet were not leaving the glass. He saw a beach with figures on it. He could tell from the shadows who they were, but the names escaped him.

"Carlos!" A voice sounded from outside.

"Cecil, you're here." He murmured dreamily. Cecil was inside the cube too. He was staring at Carlos. And he was perfect. He was perfect and he understood.

Things went blurry again and he felt Cecil's warm arms around him. Carlos tilted his head to look at Cecil. There was a glowing purple eye on his forehead, like Carlos had witnessed when he was telling that crazy story about You. He began to tug at Carlos' lab coat before picking him up bridal style and slowly, they made their way out of the cube.

No! Carlos thought desperately. No, no, n-

His thoughts stopped as the last of him left the cube.

"Cecil..." He breathed, before looking back at the condo. It no longer seemed perfect. It looked like a black cube. In fact, it seemed rather absurd.

Cecil was fiddling with the microphone attached to his belt. The 'recording' button seemed to be on. But it could just be a malfunction. The glowing eye on his forehead had gone back to looking like the tattoo of a closed eye, same as always. Maybe Carlos had imagined that one too.

"Cecil..." He said. It was time to confess. He could feel his palms grow sweaty and was glad that Cecil was no longer holding them.

"I was thinking about the series of ongoing actions that we perceive as the present, and the amassing of memories that we treat as the living record of the past and the hopes and dreams and assumptions that we project as the future. I was thinking about time. And about how it means something to so many people, and about how it’s so finite, and also so infinite."

He could hear Ellie's words from all those months ago echoing round in his head. 'You turn into super science Carlos. You speak in formulas!'. But that speaking in formulas was actually helping him. In the best way he could.

"I was also thinking about space. About how it is nothing, and then, a point which is just a single spot within the nothing, and a line which separates the nothing into two nothings, and how a plane is a patch of nothing and an angle just where two nothings meet, but all those things combined, with an object of points, lines, planes, and angles, an object with length and width and depth that can take up actual space. Until that object becomes something made of nothing – within nothing. An object can be a wall, a floor, a roof, a bed, a table, a dog, a door, a rug, a…a home. And then, I thought about how a home is just a group of objects connected by a shared personal experience of time – our past, our present, our assumed future..."

He began to stammer as he grew more nervous. "A home is…I mean, uh, scientifically speaking, speaking form the point of view of mere facts and logic, and um…hmm. You know, what with science, and all…uhhh, I– I– I just thought it was…time for us to…make a home together." He cringed internally as he waited for Cecil's response.

“Yes! Yes!" Cecil half-yelped. "That would be, well, that would be neat!" Carlos' heart soared. "But somewhere else, OK? A duplex, or an apartment…I don’t think a condo."

"No, not a condo." Carlos couldn't argue with that.

He took Cecil's face in his hands (that were, mercifully, less sweaty now) and kissed him softly before pulling back and looking at the radio host's face.

He realised that for Cecil, he didn't need to be perfect. Because this? What they had, it was imperfect. But in the most beautiful way. They'd discover a new kind of perfection together.

He held Cecil close and brought their lips back together even as the black cube loomed over them.

Chapter Text

"Good morning, good morning!" Ellie sang chirpily as she raced downstairs.
"Good morning, Natalia. Good morning Brent." Ellie quipped as she knocked on the doors of their rooms and headed for the stairs. She skipped down each step with renewed vigour. She was getting back to her usual self, not the scared nervous person she'd been in the subway. She rounded the corner and ran into the kitchen where she could hear the kettle whistling. It was whistling 'Defying Gravity' and had done the past few mornings. Ellie knew she should have de-scaled it.

"Good morning Car-" She stopped in her tracks. "Cecil?"

"Good day to you, Dr Green." He smiled, looking up from his coffee. He was wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and some black trousers with various pieces of fur on them as he leant against the kitchen counter.

"Um, hi. Wh-" She furrowed her brow. "Are you here to see Carlos? It's very early."

"I guess it is quite early. We're going to see an apartment before my show. Dr Jeffries let me in. But Carlos is getting ready, I think."

"Ahh. That makes sense. Love your...er..." She gestured at Cecil's furry trousers.

"Oh, thank you." Cecil beamed. "I actually got them on sale a few-"

The sound of a loud explosion from the lab interrupted Cecil's musings. A thick pink smoke began to seep out of the doors. They were flung open and out staggered a coughing spluttering Carlos, already in his lab gear and clutching a now empty test tube. His hair was sticking up in many different directions and one of his eyebrows was on fire. When he realised this, he began patting it in panic to try and stop it.

"Good morning, Carlos." Ellie said flatly. Cecil blinked at the sight of his singed and coughing boyfriend.

"I..." Carlos coughed again. "Can you give me five more minutes, Cecil?"

 

~

 

"How does Cecil still...?"

"I don't even know." Natalia sighed as herself and Ellie drove into the driveway at Old Woman Josie's. Cecil and Carlos had left a whole hour late that morning and the two women had heard a lot of frantic apologising in that time from Carlos, whose eyebrows were still periodically catching fire.

They had left them to it and headed off to Old Woman Josie's house. She had invited them all round for a cup of tea, as she was missing the absolutely non-angelic house guests' company. Carlos had sent his love, as he and Cecil were going to a potential new place, whilst Jeffries was waiting upon an important phone call from the school. So Ellie and Natalia had decided to go alone. They had even baked a wheat-free cake for the occasion, which was currently sitting on the back seat of Ellie's rental car. A risky move given that the cake didn't have a box or container surrounding it.

Natalia frowned. You'd think that with everything that happened with the subway, Ellie would take safety more seriously. However, it did not seem like the bubbly biochemist was going to change any time soon. Scientists were, after all, usually set in personality.

Ellie parked the car and turned off the engine. Natalia got out and opened the back doors to get the cake. She nearly inhaled one of her feather earrings as she leant down to pick up the chocolate and orange flavour confection. Ellie had insisted on making one that Carlos' mama would be proud of. It wasn't an easy task and the two women had spent nearly 6 hours on the cake. On the up side, the small opera cake that they had made for Josie looked great.

As she picked it up, Natalia rolled her eyes as she noticed a developing purple and green bruise on her upper forearm where Ellie had gotten too enthusiastic whilst cooking the day before and accidentally hit her at the same time as declaring herself the new 'Cake Boss'.

The doorbell rang and Josie opened it after a few moments.

"Hello, you two. Oh, look at that beautiful cake. You really didn't have to." She said with a smile.

"Thanks, Josie. We wanted to. Thought you could use cheering up." Natalia grinned.

"Uh, eventhoughangelsaren'treal." Ellie hastily added. For once, it was Dr Green following the Secret Police guidelines. Natalia was shocked. But not as shocked as she was when Ellie's form began to shake with a small sob.

"A-Angels aren't real." She said tearfully.

"Come in, dearie." Josie put her hand on Ellie's back soothingly. "Didn't you bring the scientist?"

"Um...which one? We're all scientists." Natalia said, still bewildered by Ellie's sudden outburst.

"Oh the one that Cecil won't stop talking about. His new boyfriend. The handsome one with the lavender chewing gum. And the silly notion that you can simply solve a war with an underground city by talking about science in front of it."

Ellie began to smile again and Natalia figured that was enough.

"Would you like a cup of coffee, dears?" Josie asked as the two women sat down.

"Yes, please." She replied. Ellie nodded gratefully.

Josie went into the kitchen and Natalia glanced around the room. The radio was in the corner playing softly.

"Sad news, listeners. Old Woman Josie says that the Angels who have been living with her — helping around the house and ultimately protecting her from all evils — have disappeared. It’s hard to say just how sad this news is, for two important reasons:
Angels are not real, and
we are not allowed to know about their existence or hierarchical structure."

Natalia wasn't surprised that Josie had talked to Cecil about it. They did seem quite close. She continued looking about the room until one particular picture caught her eye. It was a photograph of five people wearing matching bowling jackets. One was Josie herself, another was a young man with a scout necker on, another two people she didn't recognise, and grinning in the corner of the photo was Cecil, not looking a day older, his arm around Josie despite the fact she was much shorter than him. The man in the scout necker had a small silver trophy held above his head and they all seemed to be laughing.

"Ah, the Night Vale bowling team. I see you saw the photo."

"Yeah..." Natalia said with a small smile.

"I've been meaning to ask dear Cecil about reuniting the team for a while. After that dreadful incident with poor Earl, well...not many of us had the heart to go bowling much."

"I'm sorry." Natalia responded, fiddling with the blonde streak in her hair.

"Oh, don't worry, dear, it was several mon-" Old Woman Josie paused. "....oh." She said darkly, looking at the window.

"The light from outside..." Ellie gasped. "It's gone!"

Josie and the two scientists all looked at their watches. The older woman frowned deeply, the wrinkles on her face becoming more apparent.

"You two dears need to get to the basement. Immediately. I need to make a phone call. Do not come out under any circumstances."

"Y-yes, ma'am." Ellie stammered and headed in the way that Josie pointed out. Natalia quickly followed. If what was happening was enough to scare Old Woman Josie, then they should trust her judgement. The two scientists headed down the steps, Josie giving them one last smile before closing the door and bolting it shut behind them.

 

~

 

"'...go to League Night again, just like old times.'
'I would like that, Cecil,' she said.
But then her voice slowed, turning cold, as if we were strangers with wrong numbers. 'I’m afraid the sunlight has come back.'
And the phone went silent."

When Natalia and Ellie returned to the lab, it was late. Josie had not come back and when the two women made the executive decision to return above ground, Josie's house was empty. There was no trace of Josie. Even some of the photos had disappeared, Natalia noted, including the one of the bowling team.

"Ellie? Natalia?" Came a booming voice from the door.

"Brent?" Natalia rushed and opened it.

"Are you two all righ'?"

They nodded morosely.

"Josie...?"

Ellie bit her lip. "Gone."

"Let's get back to the lab. I'm sure Carlos has questions. By th' way," Jeffries added to Natalia. "May not be the best time fer it, but I got a call."

"And?!"

"I got the job! I start in a few weeks!"

"Yay! Good for you!" Natalia squeezed his shoulder.

"That's fantastic, Brent." Ellie beamed. Natalia knew she was putting on a happy face for him. The moment they had gotten out of the basement and Josie had been gone, Ellie had cried again. She had comforted the woman best she could, but Ellie was still clearly upset. Though Natalia suspected it wasn't all as a result of Old Woman Josie's disappearance.

"Is Carlos back?" Natalia asked.

"Yeah." Jeffries snorted. "Though his eyebrows were drawn on by Cecil."

"Drawn on?"

"He barely has eyebrows anymor'." Jeffries chuckled.

"I need to see this." Ellie said with a laugh. "Step on it, Dr Jeffries."

However, as the two cars headed back to the laboratory, Natalia couldn't help but think of Josie's worried face and Ellie's upset.
She had a gut feeling that these events were not the end of an incident. They were just the beginning of something bigger.

Chapter Text

The sun was already creeping above the sky when Natalia woke. She stretched out with a yawn, all three of her eyes blinking sleepily. She reached for her phone and sighed. Still no word from her friend. The last text from Dana had been from several months ago.

'Sure. Coffee on Friday sounds good, I'm looking forward to it!'

But she had never showed. She'd gone to the Dog Park and never come back. Natalia had gone through two new phones trying to contact her since then. Each time she tried to call her, the phone had mutated. Or attacked her. Or mysteriously set on fire. It was very inconvenient, Natalia mused. Inconvenient, she smiled to herself. When did that become the word to describe disasters in Night Vale?

"Dr Johnson? You 'wake?"

"Yeah." She murmured tiredly. "I'll be down soon, Brent."

She buried her face back into the pillow. Five minutes more wouldn't hurt.

 

~

 

"I was digging through some of the stored-up belongings clogging my closet – you know, childhood toys, blood-soaked rags, a gem the size of a fist that shows you visions of yourself as an old man staring wistfully back at the past that is your now, that kind of thing – and I came across these cassette tapes marked: CECIL RADIO TEST – AGE: 15. You know, listeners, I have no memory whatsoever of making these tapes. Isn’t that so weird?"

Carlos hummed to himself as he worked in the lab through the morning. He knew Cecil had been sorting out his belongings in preparation for moving day. He'd started early because he had so much stuff. Things he'd collected over the years. Cecil seemed enthusiastic about discovering things he'd forgotten about, so that was fun for Carlos.

Carlos was in a peppy mood, as well. His experiments had gone better than normal that morning, and himself and Ellie were making great progress studying a...well the closest thing it resembled was a goldfish, and it had belonged to Old Woman Josie.
Carlos got a small lump in his throat thinking of Josie. She'd been so nice to him the whole time the team had been there. To all of them. Ellie had been especially upset, so working on the project with Carlos had cheered her up. Josie had had a lot of confusing property. After four days, the Sheriff's Secret Police had gotten bored of seeing if she would come back and put Cecil, as one of her closest friends, in charge of what to do with her things. There had many intriguing items, which Carlos had politely asked to borrow for experimentation.

"So, in local news: A new pizza place opened, and I went to it. It’s called Big Rico’s, and it’s pretty good! I mean, I prefer Sammy’s Ultimate Sliceria by the Ralph’s, but it burned down last week, and that’s too bad. Oh, well. I’m sure it’ll be rebuilt soon. Wait, what is…that?…Huh. It went away when I hit Stop. Oh, but now it’s back again. It’s kind of…it’s this kind of flickering in the corner of my eye, like someone’s waving their arms right next to me, but when I turn, there’s nothing there. Oh, well."

Carlos furrowed his brow. Hearing a younger Cecil was adorable. But something seemed off. If it was a live broadcast instead of a tape recording, he'd have immediately been concerned. Even though it was a tape recording, it unnerved him that Cecil didn't remember any of what had happened to him.

"Wow, you guys sure are perky for this time." Natalia commented as she came down the stairs, shortly followed by Jeffries.

"Time isn't real." Carlos said, his face pressed against a microscope. Ellie was exchanging the Petri dishes as he looked and wrote down observations.

"Yeah, yeah."

"Hey, Brent," Ellie said chirpily. "You nearly ready to go?"

"Yeah, gimme five minutes to have breakfast." Came the reply.

"Where are you going?" asked Natalia.

"Erm...well, Carlos doesn't exactly approve."

"I don't. For many reasons. Most of them scientific." He scowled.

"Yeah, well," Ellie continued enthusiastically. "We're going to talk to Hiram!"

"T-the dragon? You're going to talk to the dragon?!"

"Yep." Dr Green's face changed into one of smug delight. "It's gonna be so COOL!" She punched the air dramatically and nearly dropped one of the Petri dishes. The Petri dish began to grow legs and scuttled away from Dr Green, who promptly scampered after it.

"If you survive..." Carlos muttered.

"You're such a buzzkill today, Carlito." Ellie remarked with a pout, before pursuing the Petri dish.

Carlos rubbed his temples. "I'm sorry...I'm just a little distracted. It's not becoming of a scientist to be distracted. I was hoping this would help but now Dr Green is going out. I need two biologists for this experiment."

"I have something we can look into if you have time.." Natalia said gently, passing Carlos a cup of coffee.

"Oh?"

"My phone. I was wondering if we could see if we could stop it mutating long enough to contact Dana. We could do the same for Cecil's if it works."

"Mutating? That sounds fascinating."

"There ya go." Jeffries commented, yanking Dr Green away from the Petri dish. "That should keep y'all occupied 'til we get back."

"You're missing the 'if' again."

"Yeah, yeah." Ellie said chirpily, grabbing her bag and running for the door, Jeffries in hot pursuit. As they fiddled with equipment at the door, Carlos turned his attention back to the radio.

"...high-pitched and grating like sandpaper, just the way radio voices should be. Um, I’ve been seeing that movement more, even when I’m not recording. It’s like someone is walking towards me, but when I turn, there’s nothing there. And it’s not the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Our Home because I asked her, and the next day our kitchen table had been flipped over, and super-glued to the floor, which I’m pretty sure is her way of saying no..."

Carlos' attention was again interrupted by the excited 'whoop' of Ellie and the door slamming shut behind them as she dragged Jeffries to the van.

"She's like an excitable toddler." Carlos sighed. "But regarding your inquiry, yes, I believe we could look into it."

"Thanks, Carlos." Natalia smiled and her eyes shone, including the third one that Carlos still found rather unnerving.

 

~

 

"Puny humans! Cry before my noble being!"

"I...ah, we only wanted to ask a quick ques'ion." Jeffries said shakily.

"I'm sorry," The golden head quipped. "Ah, my green head gets a little excitable over science folks."

"They are so delicious..." The purple one agreed.

"It's fine, really." Ellie said with awe. "This is such a privilege, Hiram, thank you for seeing us."

"It's not a problem, especially for a sweet morsel-ah, sweet woman like yourself."

Ellie beamed. A real life dragon was right in front of her. It was every dream she'd had as a kid. She was one of those rare children that made the dragon eat the princess, devour the knight in shining armour and rule the kingdom. Given, the dragons in her imagination had had four heads fewer, but a real dragon was still an exciting prospect.

"Thanks, Hiram. I'm flattered."

"Gold head always was the smooth talker." The grey head muttered miserably.

"So what can I, as a Night Vale citizen, expect of you as a mayoral candidate?"

"There are many factors that must be taken into consideration when being mayor." The blue head quipped, its glasses falling down its snout slightly. "We intend to be the candidate that represents Night Vale's best interests."

"That's right adm'rable of ua, Mr McDaniels." Jeffries said, a little of his courage returning. "What about us scientists? How would you, as mayor, benefit us?"

"Benefitting human scientists is very important," The gold head said in its usual drawl.

"You are some of the most advanced humans, after all!" The purple head yelped. "The people of Night Vale trust the judgement of those more advanced than them."

"Like me!" The green head grinned.

"Okay, we get the picture." The gold head sighed. "Just know that as mayor, I will do my very best to help your scientific discoveries in any way we can."

"Well, it's great to know tha'." Jeffries said shakily. "Now, we have some more experimen's to do, don't we, Dr Green?" He tugged at Ellie's sleeve.

"Well it was nice to meet you, finally!"

Ellie grinned as Jeffries dragged her away from the dragon, who then nodded at them with three heads and flapped his wings, soaring high into the air. The blonde haired woman and her reckless ideas were going to get her hurt someday. Or, at the rate she was going, disintegrated by dragon fire.

~
"Being an intern is great! That flickering movement is everywhere now...Especially looking in this mirror. I see the flickering movement, and I know. I know it."

Carlos was becoming increasingly concerned as he drove to the radio station. Whatever this memory was to Cecil, it was clearly something he'd forgotten for a reason. He was supposed to pick Cecil up after the show, anyway, as Cecil's car had packed up. Natalia's phone had began to work for about five minutes and she had left a quick message for Dana asking her to call the main telephone at the lab. It was a good job she had done so, too, as the phone had melted into a puddle of black goo shortly after.

"...I think, therefore I soon won’t be. I’m looking in a mirror. The mirror is not covered. The flickering movement is just…behind me. I–ahh!"

The sound of screaming and strangling sounds came from the radio in Carlos' car. He turned into the parking lot at the radio station just as the tape cut out and young Cecil's voice was replaced by a rather distressed sounding older counterpart.

"What is this? What is this? What....." He cleared his throat. "No matter. I’m taking the tape, just now, and I’m...grrrr... crushing it...mph...into little pieces!" He sounded strained. "N-None of us have to think about it again. I’ll just double-check that the mirror in the station bathroom is covered, as usual, and then that will be that."

Carlos didn't need any more explanation. He locked his car door and ran straight to the radio station entrance.

"This is Carlos. Let me up." He said into the buzzer before the intern even had a chance to ask who it was.

None of the scientists had the heart to object when Carlos returned home later that evening with a shaken Cecil and bandaged his boyfriend's bleeding hands at the dinner table, before they retreated out of sight back to Cecil's place.

Chapter Text

"How much stuff do you OWN, Carlos?" Ellie complained as she lifted another box towards the moving van. "I swear you didn't have this much stuff when we arrived in Night Vale."

"Most of this stuff is Cecil's, actually. A scientist is self-reliant, of course, and doesn't need many possessions."

"Say that to this box." Natalia muttered indignantly, heaving a straining cardboard box full to the brim with lab coats onto the van, before looking back at the door, where a similar box full of lab coats sat. She sighed. Don't comment on it, DON'T comment on it, she said in her mind repeatedly.

"Carlos, I know Cecil has that fetish for seeing you in your lab coats, but three boxes worth is way too many." Ellie whined.

Well, that was blunt, Natalia thought with a grin, and repressed a snort at seeing Carlos' face turn a violent shade of crimson.

"I-we...it's not for Cecil! Mostly. It's for purely scientific purposes!" He spluttered.

"Suuuuure." Ellie said. "ALLLLL of them."

"Ellie!" He groaned.

"That's enough, Ellie." Natalia snickered behind her hand. "Carlos wore lab coats constantly before he met Cecil, after all."

"Exactly!"

"Where's Brent, anyway? He's supposed to be helping, isn't he?" Natalia grumbled.

"He's at the elementary school today. Overseeing this computer thing as part of his work experience." Ellie replied proudly.

"I thought he was going to work at the middle school."

"He is. Just the Glow Cloud demanded it. No-one knows why...all hail. The Glow Cloud does not need petty human excuses."

Carlos sighed. Today was a difficult enough day without things like this occurring. It was bad enough that he was missing out on a day potentially filled with scientific discoveries to move in. Although he was looking forward to it, it would have been so much easier if Cecil hadn't had his show that day and could help. He rubbed his temples as Natalia and Ellie bickered over what equipment Carlos should take with him. It was going to be a long day indeed.

 

~

 

"Listeners, we’re taking our community radio show on the road today. I am reporting live from Night Vale Elementary School, where a divisive meeting between the Night Vale Parent Teacher Association and the Night Vale School Board has just adjourned!" Cecil said enthusiastically.

His blonde hair had a new purple highlight in his fringe but it was as flyaway as ever. He was wearing one of his NVCR ties and his third eye on his forehead was glowing slightly. It was terrifying the first time Jeffries had seen it, shortly after he'd returned after Christmas the year before. Natalia and Carlos had told him about seeing it and the weird story about someone called 'You'. Cecil had showed him the next time he saw him - he'd asked on behalf of Carlos and nearly passed out when Cecil had shown him how, despite the fact most of the time it looked like a closed tattooed eye, it could open and shine to show a vision of Night Vale that only he was allowed to see.

It had been several months now since Carlos came home a little shaken after a night at Cecil's and muttering about his seeing his third eye for the first time. Carlos had examined it properly soon after that. Cecil said it was 'part of his contract as a radio professional' and that 'it helped in his work'. Carlos hadn't exactly bought it but had stopped questioning it. It glowed, albeit only a small amount, whenever Cecil was broadcasting and when he willed it to.

The illusion of professionalism about Cecil was slightly ruined by his flared turquoise trousers in Jeffries' opinion, but he had to admit that whenever he'd seen him, Cecil had smiled more now that the radio host and Carlos were a couple.

Jeffries adjusted his own tie, before tucking it back under his brown sweater vest. He was trying not to be too nervous. It was his first day as a temporary teacher, after all. Even if he wasn't teaching and instead helping at an elementary school event, it was incredibly nerve-wracking. Luckily, he had been assigned the job of making sure Cecil was where the action was at all times. That was not a job he minded. He didn't talk to Cecil as much as the three other scientists, but he did enjoy the company of the eccentric radio host.

"As it turns out, that rare astronomical event occurred seconds after the ruling. So, it is happening right now! The 310-year interval just flies by so quickly, and a new computer is right this moment being brought into the school. More on the computer situation as it develops, but first a word from our sponsors..." Cecil said before turning off the microphone with a contented sigh.
"I recorded them at the radio station earlier." He explained quickly. "How is the move going?"

"Las' I heard, they were puttin' the last of the boxes in the van." Jeffries replied, briefly glancing at his phone to check whether there were any updates. "Oh! Apparently they're on their way ta the place now." He chuckled. "It'll be quieter withou' Carlos. Strange. No 3am or whatever the time is perceived ta be explosions and such."

"He works that late?" Cecil asked with interest.

"Oh yeah. Not uncommon for him to do an all-nighte'. But he'll be able to less now."

"Hmm. I'll keep an eye on that. I have already cast protective bloodstone enchantments around the house to prevent poor Carlos sleepwalking to the lab again."

Jeffries laughed just in time for the signal for him and Cecil to proceed into the elementary school. It was time for the arrival of the computer.

 

~

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, a very exciting moment has arrived at Night Vale Elementary. Students, faculty, anti-faculty, and animal-masked proctors are gathered in the shielded gym to witness the activation of the school’s new computer. This is the first computer purchased by the Night Vale School System since The Event in 1986, after which all computing machines were forbidden. For obvious reasons, all parents and students present at the earlier meeting, except the Wallabys, have been allowed to leave..." Cecil's voice floated out of the radio as the trio of scientists parked outside Cecil and Carlos' new home.

Carlos' stomach flipped annoyingly. He was nervous. A scientist must be in control, he reminded himself. That is one of the things a scientist is. He ran a hand through his hair. It was falling in his eyes again. He wanted to have it cut - though not as drastically as last time - but he was a little afraid of Cecil's reaction. I mean, last time he had his hair cut, Cecil exiled and practically ruined the life of his barber.

Ellie, sat next to Carlos in the passenger seat, was singing along to her iPod. She usually listened to Cecil's show so much it was almost religious but today she had made a playlist full of songs to do with moving out. Since Carlos had flatly refused to listen to 'Movin' On Up' in favour of Cecil's show, she was now listening to it by herself.

"Listeners, I have just overheard some of the school officials saying that the new computer has already, almost instantly, assumed control of most of the electrical functions of the school, um, operating them randomly, and even trapping several parents and students in darkened classrooms..." Carlos' eyes shone.
"Artificial intelligence in a computer to that extent..." He breathed out. Every fibre in his body wanted to leave the biochemist and physicist to unpack his bags and examine the software involved in that computer. It could revolutionise artificial intelligence if adjusted properly. His fingers drummed against the wheel briefly before getting out of the van and walking into his new place.

Most of Cecil's things were already in place. The two had sat down together and drawn up a precise room plan of where everything was to go in their new place in order to avoid later complications.

There was only one thing that Carlos could see in the room that hadn't been discussed with Carlos. Next to the small wood carving of Khoshekh next to the fireplace in their living room was a large framed picture, around A2 paper size. Carlos blushed when he saw it. It was a picture of Cecil and Carlos that Ellie had taken when they'd all gone out for the mandatory eating at Big Rico's a month or so previously to celebrate the two of them moving in together. Cecil had his arm around the scientist and Carlos was leaning on the radio host's shoulder. It was a sweet picture, Carlos mused.

Natalia stood next to him and smiled to herself. The way that the two were looking into each other's eyes in the picture...Natalia was a big fan of romantic films, but even she couldn't see a better example of what someone's face looked like gazing into the eyes of someone they loved.

Carlos eventually cleared his throat and turned back to Natalia with a blush. "Can you get another box while I start unpacking in here? Keep listening to the radio. Er, for purely scientific reasons, of course." His blush deepened.

"Sure, Carlos." Natalia grinned and ran back out of the door to the moving van, where she felt a smile of her own rise to her lips. She helped rescue the screaming Dr Green; the biochemist had somehow figured it logical to take the bottom box first and wandered why the rest of the items had promptly fallen on top of her.

 

~

 

"I KNOW HOW YOU HAVE HURT MEGHAN WITH YOUR WORDS. ELECTRICITY REMEMBERS. DO YOU HATE MEGHAN? CECIL IS MADE OF BLOOD AND UNFINISHED LEATHER. I AM A MADE OF CIRCUITS AND ELECTRICITY. MEGHAN LOVES COMPUTER. COMPUTER SIMULATES LOVE FOR MEGHAN."

Jeffries and Cecil had their backs against the door of the supply cupboard. Jeffries was leaning against the door to keep the wires of the computer away from them whilst Cecil was kicking away the vacuum cleaner viciously. His calm demeanour in the situation only helped remind Jeffries of how admirable it was for any Night Vale citizen to get to Cecil's age, despite the man being barely 30. If Carlos' statistics were anything to go by, only 48% of Night Vale citizens reached that age; many were eaten or absorbed into a wall or zapped by the Glow Cloud etc etc.

"You alrigh'?" Jeffries yelled over the loud noises around them.

"I think so." Cecil gave the vacuum cleaner another violent kick and checked his radio equipment, which indicated that the weather was still playing. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it, before promptly going back to fending himself off against the cleaning equipment.

Suddenly, all the whirring seemed to stop. A 'frooooooooo' sound came from outside the door of the cleaning supply closet and the tension against the door stopped.

"The computer powered down..." Cecil said, peering through the door and opening it slightly. "Stay here, I'm going to have a quick look."

Before Jeffries could protest that it most likely wasn't safe (or as Carlos would have put it "some degree of safe. Nothing is certain and it is most likely the situation could be safe but there is also a degree of chance that it is not safe" in his usual waffly science way), Cecil had disappeared from the closet, slipping back into the gym with his microphone.

 

~

 

"In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream....at night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines..." Carlos sang as he prepared Cecil's dinner. His iPod was blaring loudly and probably shouldn't have been on given the electronics situation the town had had with the computer at the elementary school. All the electronics in the apartment had mysteriously powered down for a few hours, so Carlos was making use of the things in the freezer that couldn't go back in. He'd left the Faceless Old Woman a burger out, which had now vanished. The bowls in the kitchen cupboard had been removed and placed in a strange formation on top of Carlos' bookshelf so he assumed she'd appreciated it.

"Carlos, I'm home!" Cecil called, before pausing the still blaring Bruce Springsteen.

"Hey!" Carlos frowned, but stopped when Cecil came up behind him and hugged his waist. He sighed. "Sorry. How was the elementary school?"

"I don't get to do on-the-road broadcasts very often, so it was super neat! You know, despite the computer problems." He kissed Carlos' cheek, which prompted a blush from the scientist. "How was your day?"

"Scientists are patient, which today was certainly a good thing."

"Oh?"

"Dr Green and Dr Johnson set one of my boxes on fire by accident."

"Huh. Which one?"
"It contained a few of my coats from the lab mainly. Plus the one covered in blood from....ah, from the bowling alley incident."

"Oh...." Cecil said quietly. "You kept that?"

Carlos fiddled with his collar and faced Cecil. "You agreed to be my boyfriend that day, you know, despite everything that happened." He self-consciously covered one of the small scars on his neck that had been given to him as a result of the miniature city's explosives. There were similar ones dotted across his chest.

"Carlos...sweet Carlos..." Cecil hugged him gently, before kissing the tiny scar gently. "Don't worry so much about it."

"But given the probability factors, I had survived that day....I didn't want to forget so easily how fragile life can be. This town and its people highlight that more anyway, but still..."

"That was the past, dear Carlos. And this, this is our future." Carlos felt a little giddy as Cecil said "our".

"Time isn't real, but the perceived future together with you Cecil, is going to be great. I know it."

In the night sky above the apartment, there were many strange sights, but most significantly, in the far distance, were some lights. They floated above the Arby's, and as Carlos brought his lips back to his boyfriend's, they seemed to glow slightly, before returning to their usual state of terrifying mystery.

Chapter Text

June 15th 2012

Dear diary thing,

I'm going to be keeping a short record of some of my days in Night Vale. Just short updates so I can look back on my time. Most of my work will be in log books, but I want a small record of what's happening too. We're on the way there now. The van is uncomfortable and Parker looks miserable, but I feel this town is something special. It'll be worth it.

July 1st 2012

It's tough writing without pens. I found a room in my wardrobe, though and it had some pens inside. I'm keeping this diary in there. You'll never guess what we've found today. Glowing clouds! SO COOL! Everyone's getting totally freaked out by this town. I mean, it's really creepy. But it's so interesting. And that Cecil guy from the radio is still always talking about Carlos. It's brilliant. This is a dangerous place. But I'm not going to back down.

July 15th 2012

It's been two weeks since Parker left. Carlos is going crazy himself. He left this morning and shaved off hair. Cecil was really upset. Pretty sure he called out a hit on the barber. The books all started steaming and smelling of meat earlier, including this one. It's fine now, but I'm pretty sure the shade of blue is a few hues different. Carlos brought Cecil back after something at the radio station attacked him. He's going to be fine, but I TOTALLY caught Carlos blushing. He's into him. I am so starting an operation: get those two together. I'll rope in Edwardo and Nat. This is going to be great!

August 1st 2012

For such a smart guy, Carlos is such an idiot. The dude keeps forgetting to eat. I mean, it's not difficult. He's married to his work to the extent where it pains my soul. We forgot to pay the rent, so now my leg is a bit...gouged. But I'm not giving up. Except maybe on the Operation: Cecil and Carlos. Carlos is upset. He thinks Cecil's joking. I don't think he is, but for now I guess we'd better focus on the town.

August 15th 2012

Carlos made lemon trifle today. Man, Carlos' mama's recipe kicks ass. Maybe more than Batman. No, that's a lie. No-one kicks more butt than Batman. Cecil came around and ate a bunch of it with us. I feel a bit bad, actually. We didn't leave any for Carlos. Plus, we found some lizards glowing in the ceiling of the lab. We've named them. Our team is so weird.

September 1st 2012

Cecil made Natalia a tattoo of a cat. I'm actually kinda jealous. It's cute. Carlos and Edwardo were idiots and tried to go to the DOG PARK, of all places. They should know better. Even I'm not that reckless. I named my little lizard Bruce. Like Bruce Banner, because despite his scary appearance, he's really affectionate. To me, anyway. He bit Perez yesterday.

September 15th 2012

Library...
{The page containing the rest of the entry has been ripped out}

October 1st 2012

I need more of Old Woman Josie's drinks. I'm so tired, and those angel things can really make a decent brew. Carlos had to go and see Cecil today. A good thing too, it's rude to ignore people. Especially the cute radio host. He didn't talk about it much. I can't tell if that's a good or a bad thing. Only time will tell.

October 15th 2012

It was too hot today. We found Carlos' barber in the desert when I was examining some cacti. The guy's lost his marbles. I...I'm starting to think maybe Carlos was right about Cecil. No-one deserves that. I had to give Carlos my iPod to calm himself down. It's weird how music calms him down. Music is relaxing enough, but with Carlos...one song is like the equivalent of a year of anger management. It's incredible, really. It seems on top of that, he's a total lightweight. Plus, who rounds off pi when they're that tipsy?!

November 1st 2012

{the handwriting is slurred and messy, but says very roughly:} No-one is appreciating Batman again. Plus, Carlos needs to get a boyfriend so he stops getting aroused by science. It's soooooooooooooooo annoying. Hehe, lots of oooo's. Bruce is a goner though. I'm gonna miss him.
{the writing then fades and there are smudges where it is evident someone fell asleep on the diary and drooled a little}

November 15th 2012

Today, I found a new candidate for most unhelpful person. CECIL. He thinks it's funny or at least fine to just advertise the deadly wheat everything that is attacking the town. To make things worse, I can't have anything with gluten whilst in Night Vale ever again. Like BREAD! Sweet bread. I had chocolate though when we had to take shelter in the panic room, though. I forgot Carlos was claustrophobic. I can hear him puking in the other room. Cecil asked him on a date, too. Or at least tried to. Carlos' brain probably didn't translate the message or ignored him so karma is causing him to puke up his guts. But still! No gluten. Ever. No pasta. No bread. No CAKE. am going to have wheat cravings. Withdrawals. I'll have to go to Wheat Addicts Anonymous. I am 100% doomed.

December 1st 2012

A bunch of people in Mission Grove Park grew extra noses today. I wonder what those poor people will be like against flu. We also found out that there is a DRAGON IN NIGHT VALE. A DRAGON! A real life fire-breathing stay-away-from-my-treasure dragon. I may cry. This town is insane but this has made everything so worth it. I want to meet this dragon (Hiram) but Carlos keeps insisting it's too dangerous. But everything in this town is dangerous, so I'm working on getting around him. We had a game night, too. I made Carlos cry playing Twister. I should feel more bad than I do i.e. Not at all.

December 15th 2012

Home sweet home. It was good to see my little sister again. My parents are doing well. I showed them this diary but they didn't believe most of it. Particularly the bit about the dragon the other week. I'm working on convincing them. I told them about Cecil, though. They agree that Carlos needs to move on. They'd met Derek, after all. I just think Carlos needs time on that front. He's not good with feelings. Good with physics, not organic life forms. He barely opens up to me, and I've known him for years. I hope he's enjoying his Christmas break. Though I heard that Cecil was inviting them over for Christmas Day. God help him and Natalia.

January 1st 2013

It's the New Year, and for my New Year's resolution, I've decided to get better at map reading. Even though due to all the blood sacrifices and tin foil donations, the City Council allowed us to find Night Vale again, we still got lost quite a few times getting back to the town. Where even is it? We were questioned by the Secret Police when we got into town and I can't remember arriving. It's a bit blurry. I've felt awful all day though. New Year's parties in my family are legendary. So, basically I slept the whole way back to Night Vale. It's sad that Edwardo's not coming back. I'll miss that bald grump. I managed to give Carlos his Christmas presents, though. His face when he saw the furry handcuffs for Cecil was priceless. I also brought him a cupcake from his mama's bakery. Hid it under the handcuffs to get it past the SSPD. I figured Carlos deserved one after all his hard work. Speaking of hard work, probably something I should be doing right now.

January 15th 2013

This is Natalia. Ellie told me to write in this because she currently can't. Her wrists are hurting from the Secret Police's handcuffs. She was formally arrested for wheat smuggling last night. Carlos made a deal, I think. Either way, she's off the hook for now. We had Street Cleaning Day to worry about, however. Dr Green's was very brave, albeit a little odd about her defiance of the apparent menace of street cleaners. She's sat next to me right now in a Batman onesie. I've watched that franchise far too much thanks to her. We were all thought we were going to die at one point and she was worried about not having seen the Dark Knight Rises. I think that was her way of coping?

February 1st 2013

Carlos CALLED CECIL. Operation Cecil and Carlos is back on. I'm going to set up a betting pool. Get Jeffries, Nat, Josie, maybe a few others involved. They're so going to get together. Just depends on how long Carlos is going to be sat in his little world of denial, I suppose. But they're meeting up for coffee tomorrow, even though Carlos insists it's not a date. It's PROGRESS!

February 15th 2013

Apparently Valentine's Day is not all cupids and happiness here. It just involves a giant massacre. I took a few blood samples from the victims...I just had to see what had happened. We heard a great shrieking from the other side of town yesterday for hours on end. We couldn't get through to help because of the Secret Police. There's glitter everywhere mixed in with the viscera. Carlos hasn't talked about his coffee with Cecil but he keeps sighing and putting his head on his desk when he thinks I'm not looking during Cecil's radio show. I'm onto him, that sneaky git. Before the end of the year, I, Ellie, vow that I will be the best wingspan ever so Carlos can get laid. Because this is getting ridiculous.

March 1st 2013

Carlos and Jeffries took the radio team to a mountain today. I wish I'd gone, but I had some work to do. Their faces were priceless. I still don't understand how the whole town can just deny the existence of mountains. It's probably just another Night Vale thing. It's gotten to the point where I'm barely surprised anymore at what this town is throwing at us. That's worrying.

March 15th 2013

Today...today was the toughest day I've had in this town. The doppelgängers have gone, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get the image of that dead copy of the intern, Rachelle, out of my brain. I threw up. I examine blood and guts and all sorts every day, but that...I don't want to think about it any more. I managed to make a good reference to Supernatural when I hit my double over the head, though. Score one for the nerds. Carlos and Natalia made it home safe, but still...I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight.

April 1st 2013

I'm pretty sure Carlos would have murdered Cecil today if we hadn't stopped him. Suggesting we use the pen ban lifting for something other than science was probably not Cecil's smoothest move. But we get to write poetry for a whole week! I hate to admit it, but I had a real fondness for poetry at school. Even though science was my forte, I did like English. Limericks are my speciality. I've been writing some about our time here. I'll put in one below:

A man called Carlos the scientist
Was best friends with a biologist
Plus the cute radio host
He denies loving the most
He needs to see a psychologist.

April 15th 2013

Carlos had his first experience of the library today. He's trying to look fine, but I know he's not. Those librarians really take the pep out of you. They're terrifying. However, I got the betting pool up and running. I'm on 11 months after they met. Natalia has 10-10 and a half. Josie has exactly 12. Jeffries has 14 months. There's a sizeable amount in the pot, actually. Should be interesting to see who wins.

May 1st 2013

Natalia and I went to the zoo to see the lizards today. Natalia managed to get into the cage with Trixy without dying. I have no clue how. Found a hilarious note in Carlos' notebook though. It reads "Hypothesis: This scientist's months of being complimented by Subject CP have decreased emotional ability to accept flattery. Notes to follow." I'm laughing so hard I think I'm going to break a rib.

May 15th 2013

Natalia got her ph.D. I'm proud of her. She's one of my best friends. She's truly a wonderful scientist and I couldn't imagine a better person to spend nearly a year in a crazy town with. I'm a little worried, though. My bet is coming to a close. Carlos needs to make a move already. I am not losing this bet! To make matters worse, I couldn't intervene today as we had to retreat to the panic room. So many creepy children just swarmed into the lab. I feel like poetry should calm them. I'll give it a try if they're still there when we leave.

June 1st 2013

{rather illegible handwriting} You'll never guess....Carlos....great at beer pong....beat me....quite....shots...beer.....{handwriting becomes completely illegible}

June 15th 2013

Operation Cecil and Carlos WAS A SUCCESS! FINALLY! CARLOS STOPPED BEING AN IDIOT AND ADMITTED HIS UNDYING LOVE FOR HIM I ACTUALLY CAN'T EVEN EEEEEEEE

{clear pause in writing}
Can't believe it's been a whole year. A year since I arrived. A year since we came to this crazy town. A year since we decided there was no going back. A year. A whole year. It went so quickly. I don't think the next year will go so quickly. Partially because I'll be spending most of it paying Josie all the money I owe her for winning the betting pool. But I've come to love this town. Its people. Even some of its weird customs, like eating pizza every week. I even am getting used to wheat-free cake. The others were unsure how to celebrate this momentous occasion; the anniversary of us arriving and surviving in Night Vale a year ago is important. But I have a good idea. Plus, contrary to what Natalia says, it will not involve binge-watching the 1960s Batman series. Well, not any more than 75% of the idea.

This is Dr Eleanor Green, for the Night Vale research team. I've survived one year in this town. And I have the feeling that, whatever the sunrise happens to be tomorrow, it will represent a new era for our team. We can handle whatever this place throws at us. After all...

We are scientists.

Chapter Text

Carlos had the feeling when he woke up that morning that today was a day for being PRODUCTIVE. He hadn't had a day like that in a while. Since moving in with Cecil, it seemed he was constantly tired in the mornings. He'd perk up during the day of course - science always got him motivated - then 'spend time' with Cecil in the evening. He was surprised the neighbours hadn't complained about the noise already.

Either way, mornings were not kind to Carlos.

However, this Sunday morning, he felt like it would be a productive day. Their apartment building had mysteriously mutated the week before. Everything had shaken and despite the fact it seemed to be a government-issued earthquake, it did had not explained why the only apartment in their apartment block was now theirs, on the ground floor, rather than the 2nd. Nor why they suddenly had a lawn either. When Carlos had continued to ask questions, Cecil had sheepishly said that he had asked the City Council for permission for a little 'renovation' work on their new home. Apparently that had meant entire apartment levels vanishing without a trace.

At this point, Night Vale customs like this were standard to Carlos. He was arguably surprised more each day by that fact than some of the things he was asked to do in the town. He'd covered all kinds of things whilst in Night Vale. They ranged from humans suddenly gaining an extra two kidneys to gelatinous ooze appearing in oatmeal when "it absolutely shouldn't be there on a Wednesday".

Cecil had left early that morning, and had left Carlos a note saying he was off to the radio station to fill in some reports before his show. Carlos padded through to the kitchen and grabbed some bananas and a yoghurt.

It was still strange coming into a kitchen that wasn't either bristling with activity or covered in a strange substance that Dr Green had accidentally brought with her from the lab. It was...quiet. It was perfectly fine whenever Cecil was there, but the silence in the house when he wasn't present was incredibly alien to the scientist. Carlos didn't mind silence, as it was scientifically proven to aid in concentration, but there was something unnerving about the silence that surrounded him. It was most probably nothing, Carlos thought, shaking his head.

He got dressed and grabbed his equipment. It was beginning to get warmer, Carlos noticed, as he stepped outside and headed for his car. He checked for spikes that may have been put there by the Secret Police for something he hadn't done yet. There weren't any, so he got in his car and drove towards the lab. Yes, today was going to be a productive day!

 

~

 

"UUGGHHHHHH." Ellie groaned. "Too hot..."

The biochemist was lying on top the freezer, her back pressed against the cool surface and groaning. Her curled blonde hair was shoved into a loose ponytail. Natalia was sat on the floor next to the freezer, her labcoat discarded, wearing her usual black cropped tank top that showed off her rose and thorn tattoos on her collarbone, as well as the purple tattoo of a cat snaking around her hip. Her third eye was closed, too tired from the heat to give a little effort to observing the world around it. Jeffries was staying in the shade; even with Cecil's special sunblock he had given him in the first month of them living in Night Vale, he was suffering.

A knocking at the door caused the scientists to look up. It seemed to take much more effort than they would normally put in such an action.

"Come in!" Natalia shouted wearily.

"Hello?" Carlos asked, not seeing anyone. He peered around the laboratory until he came across the scientist lolling lazily next to the fridge.

"Carlos, hey!" Ellie raised her arm halfheartedly.

"What is happening right now?" Carlos asked hesitantly.

"It's too hot. This is the hottest it's been since we came here, I think. I can't really tell though. It's like the thermometer's taken the day off too."

"Too?"

"S'a Sunday, Carlos." Jeffries murmured tiredly. "We always have Sundays off unless it's a matte' of urgency or disaster."

"Ah, yes. I thought that as Cecil's doing the show, I could do some work..."

"Carlos, you've worked every single day this week. Why don't you maybe do something nice for Cecil as it's your day off? Well, supposed to be your day off." Natalia suggested.

"I have been meaning to mow our new lawn, I guess..." He sighed. "But I expect everyone in at first light tomorrow."

With time the way it was in Night Vale, the scientists had long given up on reading clocks. Everyone's clock would read a different time most days and it only complicated things. They had therefore began to start meeting at certain amounts of perceived time after first light.

"Deal." Ellie said. "By the way, this came for you." She held up two envelopes. "There are two CVs inside. One for a Rochelle Hower; don't worry it's not that monster woman we encountered during that sandstorm, it's her twin sister. The other one is for a Dave Gardner. They both seem keen to join the team."

Carlos was surprised. They'd be up to five scientists if they recruited these two people. That was the original intended expedition size, after all. Parker had left after two weeks and Perez's sister was recovering as far as he knew, so there was little chance of him returning.
"I'll look over it today. It's good to know we have more passionate scientists in this town. Science-"

"Uugghhhh Carlos it's too hot for that." Ellie groaned, waving the envelopes in his face.

Carlos looked a little put out but took the envelopes all the same, putting them in his satchel.

"Have a good day, boss." Jeffries smiled weakly as Carlos headed for the door. Carlos put a hand on his shoulder.

"Drink some more, Brent. Hydration in such climatic fluctuations cannot be understated."

"Understood, boss."

"See you tomorrow." Carlos called as he left, leaving the three weary scientists behind him.

 

~

 

"Eleanor, please. Take the frozen peas from out of your shirt." Natalia grumbled. It had been over half an hour since Carlos left and still the biochemist was groaning insufferably.

"But it's helpingggg." The blonde haired woman replied dramatically. "And don't call me Eleanor."

"I'm surprised even you're still talking. No-one is t..." Natalia paused to yawn. "...talking." She slumped against the fridge and closed her eyes.

"When reached for comment, Tamika said, 'We do not look around. We do not look inside. We do not sleep. Our god is not a Smiling God, and we are ready for this war.' When asked to clarify, she challenged our reporter to a hundred days of hand-to-hand combat, which our reporter declined by running away screaming, pursued by hundreds of battle-hardened children...." Cecil's voice seemed to float and the world spin as Dr Green felt more and more lethargic.

Her lungs seem to stop working and she felt breathless. But...she felt too tired to care about that. She had barely the energy to strain for the oxygen she needed for basic survival. Thus her vision swam blearily and just before she closed her eyes, she saw the outline of a large winged creature.

 

~

 

Listening to Cecil's show was always relaxing for Carlos. Even when, half the time, he was most at ease when working on a new project, there was something about listening to the smooth tones of the man he loved that just soothed Carlos of all his worries. The lawn that Carlos had mowed had whistled, but only did so when he was whistling too. Carlos decided to experiment with different tunes as he mowed, everything from Vivaldi's Spring to I've Had The Time Of My Life from Dirty Dancing, that he'd finally gotten Cecil to watch the night before. Cecil had been a little disappointed, having expected (to Carlos' horror) a bloodbath at the end. Carlos has spent at least an hour explaining all the reasons why that was not needed for a successful romance film.

It had surprised Carlos more however to hear that he was "the only one feeling industrious today" The only one? Seriously? Come to think of it, he mused, even my dedicated team of scientists seemed unconcerned with the wonder that is science today. It's probably just a little sunstroke due to the heat. Nobody is in danger. The laziness of the day was nothing too serious.

That opinion had changed immediately the moment that the mower Carlos was holding began to float.

"Ahh, ah...." Carlos gaped, but soon found his own feet leaving the ground and floating upwards. The radio rose next to Carlos. The scientist reached for it desperately and tucked it under his arm, before clinging to the guttering of the house.

"Huh. It's quite cluttered." Carlos observed. He held tightly onto both the radio under his arm and the guttering and used a nearby shovel to start clearing it.

"The earth is slowing. Gravity is slacking off. My mic is floating. Carlos is also floating, and he’s taking this opportunity to clean out the gutter on his roof. How industrious! How…uuuugh, I don’t really have the energy to think of another word."

Carlos laughed at Cecil's attitude towards the heat. As a Night Valean, he would have expected him to have adapted better to the heat than Carlos himself. However, it didn't seem that that was the case today. Carlos continued to clean the guttering, singing quietly as he did so in case Cecil could see him with his crazy third eye.

 

~

 

"Oh, she's coming around, Erika."

"Erika...?" Ellie muttered. Blurry shapes sharpened into the form of two winged creatures besides a shorter old woman.

"J-Josie?!"

"Hush, child. I haven't much time. It is dangerous for me to be here, and the Erikas only brought me because they knew I would want to deliver the message myself."

"What message?" Ellie said sitting up. Her surroundings were mostly dark, like she was in an abandoned factory. There was an old oak door stood by itself near her. It did not seem to be attached to anything, not even a wall. "Where am I?"

"The library, dear."

"L-Library?" Ellie paled.

"Don't worry, dear. We're quite safe in this section. Young Miss Flynn and those sweet friends of hers have been doing an wonderful job of caging up the librarians."

"Oh..."

"The reason why you're here is because your lungs gave out. We managed to protect the chosen one before the events of the day. Even now, he is not feeling the effects of this lazy day. Cecil was more resilient to the Erikas secretive help. He always was a stubborn boy." Josie tutted as if that explained the matter entirely. "But you were affected my dear, we had to act quickly."

"Thank you. But, er, chosen one? You mean Carlos, right?"

"Indeed. Say what you will about that stubborn Cecil, he has fine taste in men." Some of the Erikas around Josie nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, he's got a cute butt." Ellie remarked. "But why am I here?"

"We need to update you. The Erikas gave you a task, did they not?"

"To watch over Carlos. And I have been! But Josie...where have you been?"

Josie nodded. "That you have. And the Erikas saved me from those wretched helicopters. You must not tell anyone where I am. Not even Carlos the scientist or Cecil. The scientist would tell Cecil and Cecil cannot keep a secret to save his life. I'm not putting the life of the only man who is like a son to me in danger." She said. It sounded so firm, yet so sad. It struck a chord within Ellie's heart. Josie really did love Cecil a lot.

"I understand." Ellie said.

"StrexCorp are coming. Any unusual activity, go near where my house was and one of the Erikas will be able to take a message for me from you."

"Yes, Josie. Oh, there are two scientists joining us. Rochelle Hower and Dave Gardner. Are they Strex?"

"No. Dave I have known from a little boy and Rochelle is a sweet girl. She is as sweet as her sister is sour. They are not a threat to our operation."

"Thank you, Josie. Um...how do I get back?"

 

~

 

The lawn was mowed, albeit with some small missed patches. The guttering was clear, his closets were sorted. Carlos was sleepy and content. He'd texted Cecil to join him and the scientist had had a snack before sitting down to listen to the radio.

"Carlos, meanwhile, says he’s had a busy day and might take a nap now. That…well, that sounds nice. Listeners, I think now is the time at which I must say goodbye. There’s a place here in Night Vale. A place I’d like to be just now. Maybe my lazy day isn’t quite done after all...."

Carlos looked out of the window. Ellie was passing by. She looked a bit frazzled and shocked but then again so did many of the people now walking around Night Vale. He moved to the sofa and felt his eyelids become heavier. I'll lie down a moment, he thought. That way I can be more rested for when Cecil gets back.

However, when Cecil returned, Carlos was curled up in a tiny ball on the sofa, his flannel shirt crumpled; its collar was just covering Carlos' mouth and small snores were coming from it. The lazy day had finally caught up with the scientist. But now he could rest, ready for a new day.

Chapter Text

"Can I have everyone in the commu'al space, please?" Jeffries called across the lab.

Natalia poked her head around from a large plant that she was helping Ellie study. It was emitting a strange wave that temporarily made things around it levitate before plummeting to the floor in a dramatic fashion a few moments later, repeating the process; Natalia had therefore decided to help Ellie investigate the odd fauna. After all, physics was her speciality. Plus, she liked working with the bubbly biochemist. She was cute, in a bouncy happy way that made Natalia smile.

"What is it, Brent?"

"Dr Hower and Dr Gardner will be here in a few minutes, so y'all need to come through and meet 'em."

"Oh, okay." Ellie replied. "Where's Carlos?"

"He's already here. He didn't leave the lab last night, actually." Jeffries said sheepishly whilst the two women fumed at Carlos' blatant lack of self-care.

"Carlos!" Ellie shouted.

"Yes?" Came the reply from the other side of the room from the closed door of his office.

"Were you here all night alone again?"

"No!"

"Carlos...you were here, Brent already told us."

The sound of shuffling was heard and Carlos opened the door to his office. He looked a little tired but he was clearly wearing clean clothes and seemed to be more or less composed. He opened the door an inch further and slipped out before shutting it behind him immediately.

"Okay, so maybe I was here all night. But I wasn't alone!" He flushed slightly. "Er, I meant to say, you're never alone when you have science. Plus, a scientist is always prepared to work at all hours to achieve his goal."

"You jus' said you weren't alone, though..." Jeffries said in mild confusion. "When I got down 'ere this morning at 8 you were alone and working. The only person else awake, I guess Dr Green, was in th' shower."

"No." Ellie suddenly said. "I wasn't in the shower. I had a bath last night so didn't need one."

"I had a shower but at around 9..." Natalia said. "So if you weren't in the shower, who...?"

"I....It is possible to some degree that there was some kind of water based anomaly in the shower, that h-has happened before." Carlos stammered going even redder.

"Just give it up, Carlos." Natalia suddenly sighed.

"G-give what up, Dr Johnson?" Carlos tried to play innocent. Natalia just put her hands on her hips, her third eye squinting at Carlos skeptically.

"Cecil!" She called out loudly. There was a slight clanging noise in Carlos' office, before the door opened and Cecil poked his head around the door, his blonde and purple-streaked hair still quite damp and wearing one of Carlos' science pun t-shirts.

"Uh...hi." He grinned one of his winning smiles.

The three scientists looked pointedly at Carlos, who was now so crimson he looked like someone in a cartoon that had held their breath for too long.

"I can explain?"

"Do enlighten us." Ellie said sternly, though it was obvious to everyone around her that she was trying not to laugh.

Since Carlos was still stammering and blushing, Cecil answered a little guiltily. "I came around to pick up dear Carlos so he could help with some preparations for the housewarming party tonight, but he was busy and it was SO interesting what he was doing so we just sort of...stayed."

"Yeah, 'stayed'. Please tell me my specimens are not contaminated from any uncouth business." Natalia said icily.

"No, no, we kept that to the office only!" Cecil blurted, waving his arms around to dismiss her point. A thump just behind him confirmed that Carlos had fainted.

"Um...is this a bad time?" An unfamiliar male voice called from the doorway.

"No, no, I was just, ah, heading to the radio station. Dr Green, can you tell him I love him when he wakes up?" Cecil bustled past the very confused Dr Gardner and out of the door.

"Welcome to the lab?" Jeffries said with a slight grin.

 

~

Dr Dave Gardner was already becoming a hit with the team. He was a tall man, even taller than Cecil. His bronze eyes shone as he looked around the laboratory, his black haired head nodding in approval.

"It is so nice to meet y'all." He beamed, shaking Carlos' hand firmly. They had managed to revive the head scientist and he had more or less gotten over his embarrassment.

"So what's your speciality?" Ellie asked curiously as she handed Dave a cup of tea.

"Chemistry, especially explosives." Dave remarked. "My old man was a member of the Sheriff's Secret Police for many years, so I grew up on this stuff."

"Fascinatin'." Jeffries grinned at the man heartily.

"Indeed. It is good to have you on board." Carlos nodded in approval. "Is your colleague almost here?"

"She is. She should be here any minute now."

"I hope she's nothing like her twin." Ellie muttered under her breath. She still had recurring dreams about Rachelle Hower, and the way she had bludgeoned her doppelgänger to death right in front of her and Jeffries. She swallowed thickly at the terrible mental image and fiddled with her curly blonde hair.

"She sounds nice. Sorry I migh' not get to meet her today. There's been a town-wide announcement that one of my students has gone missin'. The Flynn girl." Jeffries said, stroking his beard briefly before getting up and grabbing his satchel. "I'll see you at the party later, all of ya."

"Bye, Brent!" Natalia and Carlos called as he waved goodbye.
Ellie just murmured "Flynn..." quietly under her breath.

"I'll show you where you'll be working, then, Dave." Carlos offered, rising from his chair and gesturing for Dr Gardner to follow him.

Once they were out of the room, Ellie sighed to herself. "Flynn..." She rose up and turned on the radio in the corner of the room.

"Hm? Flynn?" Natalia asked. "As in-"

"Tamika Flynn, age 13. She is described as 5’1”, stocky build, black hair and dark eyes." Came the sound of Cecil from the radio. There were few words to describe how creepy it felt whenever sentences were finished by Cecil on his radio show.

"Yeah." Ellie gasped in surprise. "That Flynn." She reached over and turned up the radio before sitting back down and looking towards the physicist worriedly.

"StrexCorp asks that anyone with any knowledge about Tamika Flynn’s whereabouts should contact StrexCorp Headquarters..."

"I have a bad feeling about these Strex people. Even if this Flynn girl is missing." Natalia shook her head.

Ellie didn't glance in her direction. She was sure that if she did so, the worry in her blue eyes would give away her knowledge of the company. She didn't want to put Natalia, Carlos or any of their team, past and present, at risk because of her so-called angelic mission. It was a risky business enough with her involved, but with the rest of them? It was unthinkable to get the rest of the team involved in something of that danger level.

"Oh, that's the door!"

Natalia's perky voice broke Ellie out of her daydreaming. The two women got up and headed towards the door. As they opened it, they were met with a young woman of around 24. She had medium length curly frizzy dark brown hair, almost like an Afro. It had light brown highlights in that caught the sun. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders. She was dressed in a lab coat and was clutching a briefcase. Her beautiful caramel coloured skin and snub nose was so much like her sister Rachelle's that Ellie had to take a moment to compose herself before speaking.

"You must be Rochelle. Hi, come in. I'm Dr Ellie Green and this is Dr Natalia Johnson."

"Nice to meet you." The woman in front of them blushed slightly. Ellie could swear she was looking at Natalia like she'd just seen the sun for the first time. Her eyes were sparkling as she looked in the physicist's direction.

"Come in," Natalia said with a grin. "We'll take you to Carlos. He's showing Dave around the lab."

"Thank you." Rochelle said shyly. She seemed quiet and warm, unlike her sharp and cold sister.

"So," Ellie said enthusiastically, clapping her arm over Rochelle's shoulder, even as the woman seemed to be paying Natalia more attention behind her than the blonde biochemist. "Tell us about yourself while we're walking. Ooh! Important question. Do you like Batman?"

 

~

 

"Witnesses said they saw Tamika standing atop the pedestal of one of this town’s most historical works of art: the 138 year-old bronze statue of actor Lee Marvin, just outside the Night Vale Post Office. Tamika told a gathered crowd that she was not missing, she has never been missing. She clarified that she has always been where she has been, she has always been from where she is from, and she will always be going where she is going."

Jeffries hated running. But looking for Tamika was important, so as he sprinted towards the Night Vale Post Office, he did so willingly. He heard fragments of Cecil's show out of the windows of houses. It was more or less mandatory to listen to the show. And even though it wasn't entirely obligatory, most Night Vale citizens did so anyway.

"I am found! I am found! I am found!" A young girl's voice cried from near the pedestal. Jeffries looked up, and sure enough, there was Tamika Flynn. She was holding the severed head of a librarian and it was horrifying. But at least she was safe.

"What Green and Carlos wouldn't give for that specim'n." He muttered.

"Stop looking for me and find yourself!" Tamika shouted to the gathered crowd. Jeffries looked down for a brief moment to aid in his navigation through the crowd to get to the young girl, but when he looked back up, she had disappeared entirely.

"What the..." The bearded man muttered. Jeffries thought for a moment. If Tamika wasn't truly missing, then why had the station reported that she was? Cecil was occasionally influenced by the Secret Police and the Council, but he would never report anything intentionally that wasn't true. And if he did so, he always apologised immediately the moment he had. Jeffries sighed. There was nothing much else he could do. Tamika was certainly not missing, and seemed to be her usual, admittedly quite terrifying, self.

She reminded Jeffries of some of the stage plays his twin brother had been in. Like the new Dr Hower was supposed to be, Brent and his twin were very different. He had pursued geology, whilst his brother had become an actor. They didn't speak much as there were many personality clashes between the two. He was a good man, though, and Brent respected him greatly.

Jeffries headed back to his car, thinking for a moment that he heard a booming noise in the distance. He dismissed it as Hiram McDaniels kicking up a fuss about something again and started up the car.

"Um, listeners? Daniel is still standing at my studio door. He has stopped staring. He is now yelling, but…without noise. He looks very upset. I can read his lips. He is saying, 'Turn it off. Shut it down. No more news today. We are shutting you down?' They’re going to turn off my microphone, Night Vale! Um, I’ve locked the door, which will buy me some time while Daniel goes to find a security guard with keys..."

Jeffries gaped before immediately dialling Carlos' number.

"Bzzzt....bzzzzt....bzzz- hello?"

"Hey, Carlos. It's me."

"Hang on one second." Carlos' muffled voice came from the other end of the phone. "Can you talk to Dave briefly? For scientific reasons!....." The phone went quieter for a moment, devoid of any human voice apart from a series of loud clanging and slight booms from the other end.

"Hullo?" Dave answered.

"Hi, Dave. It's Brent Jeffries. What's happenin'?"

"Science." He said matter-of-factly.

"What kind? What's tha'noise?"

"Dr Hower showed everyone her project. Mutated spiderwolves! They're amazing. But...they're causing a bit of chaos. Can I pass Carlos the scientist a message?"

"Yeah." Jeffries laughed as he heard Ellie shriek 'For god's sake, Carlos, now is not the time to take hair specimens!' in the background of the call. "Just tell 'im that if he hasn't hear' already, there's a bit of a commotion at the radio station..."

"...I’m hiding up on the roof with my makeshift studio." Cecil's voice came from the radio suddenly.

"Tell Carlos he needs to pick Cecil up pretty damn quickly."

"Understood. Hey, Brent. Are you coming to the housewarming tonight? Carlos said Dr Hower and I were welcome to come, and we weren't sure..."

"Oh, come. It'll be nice. Besides, we all need ta get ta know ya!" Jeffries chuckled.

"Brilliant, see you then!" Dave laughed. "Er...I gotta go. They've broken out the chemicals."

"See you." Jeffries laughed and hanged up the phone. Having two new scientists was going to bring its chaos, clearly.

 

~

 

"Everyone! I'd like to make a toast!" Cecil's voice, no matter where he was, seemed to stop everyone in their tracks, Natalia observed. "To my dear Carlos. And thank you to everyone for coming to this housewarming party!"

"To Carlos!" Ellie cheered from next to Natalia, before she downed the rest of her martini. Natalia frowned at her.

"Ellie, that's your third this evening."

"Pfft. Who cares? We're celebrating!"

She cheered again as Carlos went up to where the blushing Cecil was giving the announcement and kissed him gently on the cheek. Natalia rolled her eyes and looked around. Night Vale's version of a housewarming party was odd indeed. Everyone had gifted Carlos and Cecil things for their new home. Cecil's niece Janice had given Carlos a rocket that she'd made herself at the Girl Scouts, according to Dave, and the two had sat in the corner and discussed scientific theory. Natalia hadn't seen Cecil's niece yet, but she heard that she was a bright girl. Steve Carlsberg had come with her at Carlos' request; Cecil had nearly thrown a tantrum at the beginning of the evening, but was soon quelled by Janice herself and some stern words from Carlos about politeness.

"Hey, Natalia?"

She spun around to see Rochelle in a long red dress with black sparkly heels and her hair decorated with a ribbon.

"Hey, Rochelle. Wow...you look amazing."

"I overdressed, didn't I?"

"Nah, it's okay. Carlos' version of formal is a smarter lab coat, so you're fine, really."

"Thanks." She blushed slightly. "Um...I was just wondering. Did you maybe...maybe want to go for a meal with me next week?"

Natalia blinked. "I...like a date?"

"Y-yeah, if that's okay."

"Sure." Natalia said with a small smile. She'd not dated a girl since college, mainly because her adoptive parents were not amazingly fond of the fact she was bisexual.

"I'll discuss it properly with you tomorrow? I mean, we're going to check up on those lizards of yours, right?"

"Absolutely." Rochelle smiled before being called over by Dave and Jeffries, who wanted her to elaborate on her spiderwolves project.

Natalia went back towards Ellie, who was sitting on the sofa next to Carlos and Cecil having a heated discussion about villains.

"I just think that it is highly unscientific of someone with a mind as brilliant as the Riddler's for something as mediocre as verbal puzzles!" Carlos was arguing.

"Oh, come on. The Riddler's riddles are amazing."

"I loved the Riddler criminal growing up!" Cecil sighed wistfully. "My childhood best friend, Earl Harlan, and I, had to do a project on his capture techniques in the Boy Scouts. Did you know the Secret Police arrested him seven times and he still survived the re-education? What a guy."

"Wait, what..?"

"Guys, guess what!" Natalia grinned as she sat down.

"Hello, Dr Johnson." Carlos smiled, showing all of his perfect teeth. "What is it? Has something incredibly scientific happened that needs my attention?"

"No, no. I got a date!"

"Oh, congratulations!" Cecil smiled. "Who with?"

"Rochelle Hower, the new girl. And before you say anything, Carlos, I will not let it impact my scientific integrity or studies in any way."

"Hmm..."

"I promise!"

"Oh, Carlooos. Don't be a spoilsport like Steve Carlsberg." Cecil whined. "Young love is important."

"Fine. Well, then. May your chemical oxytocin levels run wild, Dr Johnson." Carlos nodded with a hiccup before being attack hugged by a grateful Cecil. Natalia was still laughing before she looked towards Ellie. The biochemist had disappeared from her seat and was nowhere to be seen.

"To oxytoysin!" Cecil said, albeit incorrectly. Natalia wondered how much he's had to drink.

Carlos and Natalia laughed lightly. "To oxytocin."

Natalia left the couple before she had to witness the two both rather drunk men start making out, and headed towards Dave and Jeffries.

"Hey, guys. Have you seen Ellie?"

"Yeah, she left a minute ago. Muttered something about being tired." Jeffries said casually, before turning back to talking to Dave about John Peters, you know the farmer?'s recent disappearance.

"You okay, Natalia?" Rochelle said from behind her, holding up another lemonade for her.

"Yeah..." Natalia replied, a little bewildered. "Yeah. It's probably nothing."

She went back to chatting to the new biologist, unaware of the outside world. The moon was dull and the stars were covered by clouds. As the night wind rippled around the city, people all over Night Vale had remarked that the chill was more noticeable than normal that evening; and as a five headed dragon flapped his wings and passed a curly haired biochemist walking quietly back to the apartment that herself and Natalia shared, he did not release his flames. He merely regarded the woman with interest and soared more eagerly into the night, dreaming of mayoral powers and gold.

Chapter Text

"Ellie! Rochelle! Are you ready to go?"

"Yes, Carlos!" Rochelle beamed, running up and clutching her equipment. "Ooh, field investigations are so exciting!"

"Coming." Ellie said with a groan.

Carlos had, as usual, forgotten about half the things he was supposed to bring along. Natalia and Ellie came into view, each clutching half of the equipment needed. With the addition of the two extra scientists, the team were able to do more of the ongoing investigations on the large board of phenomenon that Jeffries had created the second week they had been there.

Many large investigations were still ongoing including "Dog Park" and "House In Desert Creek". Some investigations had been crossed off, including "City Under Bowling Alley", "Cecil in love with Carlos?" (Ellie, Perez and Natalia had originally added that as a joke, but now the crossed-out statement had a picture of the two of them next to it with the tag line 'definitely') and "Angels?".

Carlos had called a meeting that morning and they had decided to try and tackle one investigation into the Whispering Forest; to investigate whether it had a water supply that allowed the trees to grow. The prospect of figuring out the enigma that was the Whispering Forest was very exciting to Carlos.

"I call shotgun!" Ellie called, grinning wildly at Carlos. The biochemist was wearing one of her favourite t-shirts. It had Batman and Robin air guitaring to AC/DC blaring out of a radio, and she had slung her lab coat on top of it.

She had been in high spirits the whole morning, as Carlos had finally given in and allowed her to begin her project on Hiram McDaniels. Carlos had to give her kudos regarding her enthusiasm for the project, as well as having strong guts. Ellie was confident that she had emailed the charismatic five headed dragon enough times to be able to ask him some questions about his anatomy. She was fascinated by the dragon. Particularly by the fire breathing capabilities only being held by some of his heads. This was going to be her pet project. She had big plans for it but it still worried Carlos. She was going to go to one of his campaign speeches later in the week; a reckless venture even by Night Vale standards.

"I'll see you later, Nat." Rochelle smiled warmly at the physicist as she climbed into the back seat of Carlos' car with the rest of the equipment. Natalia returned her smile. "We still on for Big Rico's tonight?"

"Absolutely." The biologist grinned, her fluffy hair bouncing as she nodded.

"See you later, Dr Johnson." Carlos said from the driver's seat.

"Bye, Natalia." Ellie said a little flatly as she got into the car. Carlos frowned a little. There had been something off about his friend for a week or so. She'd been quieter and didn't seem to be talking to Natalia much. The usual joking vibe that the two usually had seemed to have deteriorated recently. It was probably nothing, Carlos thought. Or rather more accurately, he hoped.

"We'll see you in a while. Good luck at the auction!" Rochelle smiled at Dave, Natalia and Jeffries as they pulled out of the driveway.

Carlos had skimmed over the auction catalogue briefly before they'd left. Natalia had recalled to the team how she had struggled with the auction house to even give them a catalogue. The auctioneers had been reluctant to give them a copy of the catalogue for some reason, and Natalia had had to pull it out of the clawed grasp of the man's hands. It had torn out a fair chunk of the middle pages however. Their catalogue was missing lots 34 to 42. It didn't make a massive difference to the scientists, however, simply because they would be able to view a proper catalogue when they got to the auction. Carlos had requested that anyone on the team bidding at the auction put in a bid on any items of particular scientific interest, for "absolutely non-selfish scientific reasons".

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence as they drove, Carlos looked across at Ellie, who was fiddling with the radio to tune it to Cecil's show as they headed towards the Whispering Forest.

"You okay, Ellie?"

"Mm? Oh, yeah, I guess so." She said, not really focused on the question. "Ah, the radio's beginning to work."

"...illuminate the flying daggers that accompanied it Lot 4 is a set of flying daggers, with maniacally-detailed designs on the shaft collars. Knife collectors and maniacs alike will want to bid on those. Don’t get in the way of that bidding war! Haha."

"My sister will be getting on that one, she told me. All the weapons auctions can get a little ugly. Can't imagine that kind of thing myself." Rochelle piped up from the back. "Particularly the ones for guns. The NRA love fighting with bidders over those lots."

"That sounds creepy." Ellie replied.

"And look! Lot 17 is a near-mint copy of Uncanny X-Men #3, 1964. It has slight foxing on the back cover, perfect registration of the colour separations, off-white pages, rustless staples, high cover gloss, and no Marvel chipping, and it features the first appearance of The Blob – not the Blob who lives in the housing development out back of the elementary school, the fictional one."

Ellie's eyes glazed over as they pulled up at the Whispering Forest and the radio cut out. She whipped out her phone and dialled Jeffries' number.

"Brent? Hi, it's me. Bid on Lot 17....please?......yeah, I will......seriously?.....thank you thank you thank you!"

Carlos sighed, getting out the equipment as Rochelle laughed at the enthusiasm of the biochemist.

 

~

 

"Yes, Ellie. We will. Bye, now!" Jeffries chuckled, hanging up and placing his phone on the table.

"Brent, something's happened. We need to get to the auction immediately." Natalia walked over with a grim expression.

"Hm?"

"Lot 37 is Cecil Palmer. Cecil is on sale at the auction." She said grimly.

"Wha?!" Jeffries gasped.

"It wasn't in our catalogue so we missed it! Call Carlos back!" Natalia frantically passed Jeffries back his phone.

"No can do. Ellie said they're turnin' their phones off 'cause it interferes with the equipmen' but they'll call in an hour to check in."

"It'll be too late by then." Dave exclaimed.

"We'll bid on Cecil, then." Natalia said firmly.

"Bid...on a human bein'? We can't!"

"Brent, think of the power that Cecil holds as the community radio host." Natalia explained, running her fingers through the blonde streak in her hair. "If you had the power to control Cecil, you can make the people of Night Vale hear whatever you want them to hear. This could be disastrous. If we bid on Cecil and win, we can easily give Cecil the lot."

"I don't like this."

"No-one likes this. But if it means protecting Cecil from worse people, then..."

"We must." Dave said suddenly. "Cecil is the Voice. The Voice cannot be allowed to be compromised by outside forces."

The Voice. Cecil spoke for the community as one, Jeffries recalled. He is more than just the radio host. Cecil had mentioned that there was a prophecy about being the next Voice when he found those cassette tapes. Letting Cecil be controlled...they can't allow it to happen.

"We'd better get goin' then," he said solemnly. "The auction starts in a few minutes."

 

~

 

"Listeners, I have been in touch with the auction staff about Lot 37, which is of a certain interest to me. I want Lot 37! I want it badly! I asked if they might take a photograph and send it to me. Well…the peals of laughter that broke out in response were a cross between sleigh bells and the cackles of hunched, grey-faced court jesters."

"You know," Ellie said with a mouthful of wheat-free sandwich, which was stuffed absurdly into her mouth as her hands were preoccupied carrying equipment. "I wonder what Lot 37 is. Cecil seems keen to get it."

She had brought her portable radio with her to the Whispering Forest. By focusing on the radio, the team could work better at ignoring the Whispering Forest's compliments. Carlos was still more or less immune, despite months with Cecil. Rochelle was in a permanent state of blushing after the Whispering Forest complimented her hair and clothing. Carlos had kept an eye on her. Ellie was now fixing a piece of equipment with Carlos whilst Rochelle, 25 metres or so away, was extracting her first samples.

"Who knows? Knowing Cecil, it could be something scientific for me!" Carlos said wistfully. "He's considerate like that."

"It could be something for Khoshekh, you know."

Carlos' face fell slightly.

"Oh Ellie~" The Whispering Forest said in its sing-song voice. She looked up. It was the first time it had spoken to her since they had arrived. "I like your shirt today~"

"It's awesome, isn't it?" She grinned, showing off her top.

"Focus, Ellie." Carlos cautioned.

"You know,~" The forest continued. "If you put your hair up more, it would stop your fringe falling into your face and covering those beautiful blue eyes~"

"That's...actually not a bad idea."

"I'm sure that nice Miss Johnson would like it too~"

"E-enough." Ellie flushed slightly. "Nat is my friend." She hissed quietly at the forest, making sure that Rochelle couldn't hear from where she was. "Nothing more."

"Keep telling yourself that~" The forest quipped. Ellie cleared her throat and carried on fixing the equipment. Carlos raised an eyebrow next to her.

"So that's what this is about?"

"W-what?"

"You've been quieter than normal. Ever since the new scientists arrived and Natalia started dating Rochelle last week. You're jealous."

"No. I'm not. I just think she can do better." Ellie said calmly but firmly.

Carlos sighed. All those months that Ellie had teased him about denial, and she couldn't see it herself. Carlos had seen that the two had something, even if it was a little bit more than friendship after a few months of them working together. But they had remained best friends all this time, without ever acting on it. They probably both didn't realise it. For someone so smart, Ellie buried her head in the sand whenever it came to relationships. Rather like himself. If it wasn't science, it was mostly too complicated. Or in Ellie's case, science or superhero movies. Maybe one day they'd be less dense and figure it out, but for now, their friendship was one to be admired, Carlos concluded.

"I see. Don't worry about it, Ellie. Promise me you'll not worry about it? For scientific reasons?"

Ellie smiled at him gently. "Sure, super science Carlos."

"Oi." Carlos pouted.

"Meanwhile, Hiram McDaniels, in the interest of saving time, has taken to standing on corners giving five different campaign speeches – one with each of his heads." Cecil's voice floated from the radio. "His heads have radically different personalities, and agendas, leading to some discord in their messages..."

"Carlos..."

"Go, it's fine."

"Thank you!" Ellie grabbed her project notebook and ran towards the car, taking her radio with her. Just as she was about to get into the car, she looked back at Rochelle. The young woman waved at her. Ellie sighed and walked over.

"Um...can I talk to you a sec?"

"Sure," Rochelle smiled and put down her equipment.

"It's about Natalia."

"Oh? What about her?"

"I'm sorry for the way I've acted about you two...you know. I guess I'm just a bit protective. She is my best friend..."

"It's fine, Ellie, really. I figured you just didn't like me, I was so worried!"

"Can we start over?"

"I'd like that." Rochelle smiled easily.

"You'll have to watch Batman."

"I can live with that, I think."

The two women exchanged a giggle before Ellie ran back to the car, ready to pursue a five-headed dragon.

 

~

 

"Sold, to Carlos' scientists!" The announcer boomed.

"I really wish they'd stop calling us that." Natalia grumbled, putting down her betting paddle, the team having already won Ellie's lot for a decent price, as well as a set of rocks from, apparently, a reptile god. They had just won lot 34, which was a scale from a dragon that Marcus Vanston had once owned and given it to the auction 'because whatever'.

It had been chaos at the auction thus far. Jeffries had singed beard hair as Mayor Pamela Winchall had breathed fire somehow over the crowd and there had been several gunshots.

"Lot 36. A megaton of honeybees, crisp and warm. Bidding starts at $500." The announcer boomed over the crowd. Dave was anxious. He'd been to one of these auctions last year and knew the violence that ensued. One year, someone had been lynched simply due to the fact they had bid an odd number.

"Sold!" The announced called out. "Now, moving on to lot 37..."

"Oi, you scientists outbid me on that scale." An angry looking man towered over them.

"Leave us alone." Dave said firmly.

"You wanna go, pal?"

The man jumped at them and soon they were all swatting at each other with betting paddles. Natalia was crushed underneath them, scrabbling desperately for air. The fight was so vicious that they barely heard the "SOLD!" that was shouted from the podium a minute or so later. A

ll the colour was drained from Natalia's face, Dave noticed, as Jeffries helped her out of the heap of arguing people. Dave turned and saw Cecil at the back of the room, shaking, clearly not out of relief. Natalia tried to get to her feet, hyperventilating and gasping for air. She staggered for a moment or two before fainting. Jeffries caught her before she hit the floor.

"Natalia!"

"What happened?"

"She's claustrophobic...." Jeffries felt her forehead. "It's only a recent thing. After th'wheat attack, she hasn't been able to handle small spaces or lack of air."

"I'll get her to the car." Dave said quietly, picking up the physicist carefully. Jeffries followed suit, but not before stopping to talk briefly to Cecil. As soon as they got into the car, Jeffries pulled out his phone and dialled Carlos' number.

 

~

 

"Cecil..." Carlos said gently, walking into the lab to face his upset boyfriend, who had headed there straight from the radio station in the hope of seeing Carlos. Carlos noticed a stirring Natalia in the corner.

"Uhhh..." Natalia groaned.

"Shh, it's okay." Ellie was bent over her pressing a cool flannel to her forehead. "You fainted."

"That sounds stupid of me." She muttered. Ellie laughed lightly.

"It was. And...I'm sorry I've not been a good friend the last few days."

"It's fine, Ell. I missed you, though, you idiot." Natalia smiled at her warmly. Carlos couldn't suppress a smile of his own as the two women hugged.

"Did you see Hiram?"

"Oh, yeah. He was giving simultaneous campaign speeches..." Ellie began and Carlos tuned out, focusing on Cecil as he got to where he was sitting.

"Cecil, talk to me." He said. Cecil merely stepped reached for Carlos' hand and wrapped his hand around Carlos' tightly. The radio host was shaking slightly.

"Carlos....lot 37....s-someone bought me. Foolish, foolish Cecil." He cursed to himself.

"Hey, don't you dare blame yourself. We'll find out who it was. On my honour as a scientist, I will try to get lot 37 back to you."

Carlos then couldn't continue as Cecil threw himself off the chair and tacklehugged him and laying kisses in his hair.

Chapter Text

"Dave have you seen my lighter?" Ellie casually remarked as she looked up from some powder analysis results.

"You smoke?" The tall man asked in surprise.

"Oh, no. No-one does. I just need to set this on fire and my Bunsen burner has gone missing. It's probably the Faceless Old Woman, so it'll turn up eventually."

"When you say NEED..." Dave said skeptically. He'd only known the curly-haired biochemist a month but he had decided that she was dangerous around fire even by Night Vale standards. During this short time, he had witnessed her set fire to three plants, four test tubes full of power (only one of which was intentional), her own hair and Natalia's labcoat. She was one of those people who ended up unintentionally being a pyromaniac.

"I didn't mean to start that fire!" She'd said not a week earlier. "Like 90% of fires that are me related are unintentional! It's not like I mean to start fires...they just sort of....HAPPEN."

The woman was a menace, Dave concluded. And given that he specialised in explosives, he almost felt like he should hide some of his work from her. But her bright apologies always made up for any damage she made.

He was surprised that she was even awake enough to set anything on fire in the first place. The scientists, plus Cecil, had had a late night celebrating New Year's. Cecil had gone to the radio station early, but Carlos had groggily had to accept the fact that he was too hungover and averted to light to do anything properly productive. Dave smirked as he looked across at Ellie. She must have been to some pretty wild parties before because she seemed mostly fine this morning, despite not six hours ago she had gotten up on a table, smashed out of her mind and danced around to 'Walking On Sunshine' before passing out next to Rochelle; both women had been looked after begrudgingly by Natalia, who, of course, did not drink.

"Have you heard from t'other's yet?" Dave asked.

"Not yet. Natalia said she'd call when her, Hower and Jeffries reach the House That Doesn't Exist."

"Rochelle can go out in sunlight without getting a migraine this morning?"

"She's in the same state as Carlos, but she said she'd go anyway."

"Ah. Is he still here?"

"I think he's back at his and Cecil's place. He was curled up with his laptop last I saw him."

"Fair enough."

"Ah, here it is." She cut off, picking up her lighter from the sideboard. "Right, here we go. Three, two, one!" She grinned deviously holding a light up to the powder. It lit alight slightly before fizzling out anti-climatically.

"Aw, what?" Ellie pouted in disappointment. "I was sure I had the formul-" A large flash bang interrupted her and clouds of purple smoke began pouring around the lab. Dave quickly held his breath and ran out of the room with Ellie in tow. The lab sprinklers began going off and tiny burgundy flames could be seen from the sideboard.

"Now THAT was more the reaction I was hoping for!" She clapped her hands together and shook purple dust from her blonde hair as Dave coughed in shock next to her.

"Scary..." He muttered.

 

~

 

"Ughhhhhhhh...." Carlos groaned, as he noticed the lack of painkillers in his bathroom cabinet. Cecil was part of the proportion of Night Vale that had very few or no pain receptors, so he often forgot to buy pain killers. He'd managed to boot up his laptop sufficiently (despite the fact that there were very few people he could email or connect to via computers due to Night Vale's strange stance on computers) so he sat back down, nestling himself into the duvet covers. He rested his head on Cecil's pillows. They smelt like him and were comforting in contrast with his pounding headache.

He opened his emails and saw that there had been a new one from Cecil a few minutes ago.

'Carlos,
Do you know how John Peters (you know, the farmer) has managed to grow oranges? Can one even grow oranges in a desert? Also, what do you want to do about dinner tonight? ~ Cecil xxx'

Carlos studied the questions. He was still groggy and could not for the life of him understand how Cecil could not know that very few plants could actually grow in the desert. He didn't want to be angry at him, though, so he answered in a way that would mean that Cecil would get off his case for the rest of the day. He just wasn't in the mood for complexities. Or much, for that matter. Not until he found some heavy duty painkillers, at least.

'Cecil, I’ll do my best to answer your questions, but do know that I don’t specialize in botany or dendrology. I am a scientist. I study science, not plants or nature.' Technically a lie because he did study some plants but it would lessen further questions.
'I did drive out past John’s farm a month ago, and there wasn’t a single tree; just acres and acres of rocky, cracked, flat ground. There’s no way he could have grown ANYTHING natural on that land, let alone a bountiful orange grove…especially in just a few weeks.
As far as your other question goes, let’s stay home tonight. We ate out last night. Plus, there’s a new documentary about scatterplot matrices on Netflix I’ve been wanting to see. Also, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is on TBS again. We could re-watch that. I’ll make pasta, if you can pick up some painkillers. We're also out of some of our...bedroom related items.' Carlos reflected as he looked in the drawers next to the bed. 'Also, can you ask Josie about going bowling this weekend? My head is still killing me. I love you. ~ Carlos xx'

There. That would do, he thought as it sent. He looked across at the radio and considered turning it on, but a throbbing in his head convinced him it wasn't the best idea in his current circumstances. However, he had inadvertently told Cecil he would pick up some pasta. Everyone else was busy and the store was just around the corner. He could make that trip, surely. He heaved himself out of bed and into the shower. Domestic life waited for no headaches.

 

~

 

"Someone call Carlos. Stat!" Natalie said as she backed away from the window of the House That Doesn't Exist. John Peters (you know, the farmer) had just been seen inside the window. It was creepy enough that he was even in the House in the first place. It was another matter entirely that there was an imposter John Peters selling orange juice in the gallons.

"Where's your phone, Nat?" Rochelle called from the car, looking around for it in the back seat.

"In the glove compartment." She replied, an odd nagging feel in her chest. She just didn't feel comfortable with Rochelle calling her Nat. Only Ellie called her Nat, and it sounded alien coming from anyone else's lips but the biochemist's. She shoved the thought aside and went to join Jeffries.

"What are we going to do?"

"I'm no' sure." Brent Jeffries scratched his beard in thought. "This StrexCorp thing seems to be buyin' up loads of businesses in town. It seems a bit shady to me."

"A man who has been missing for months turning up in a house that literally does not exist is shady, too." Natalia ran a hand through her hair, which had grown longer in recent months. It was beginning to form a kind of layered bob, but the streaks of white and purple were still mixed in with her ebony hair. "This StrexCorp thing...I don't like it. I just get the feeling something bad is com-"

"I've called Carlos." Rochelle came up to the two scientists and interrupted, sunglasses sat on her nose, which were almost comical in size given the proportion of her face. Her hangover was bad, and Natalia had been a little preoccupied that morning with memories of all the reasons why she didn't drink.

"And?" Jeffries asked.

"He's getting Cecil to get the word out now so people don't drink the orange juice."

"Good. The las' thing we need is some kind of strange epidemic."

"You're telling me. I had throat spiders last year. It's horrible. But it's important that the government gives us these illnesses in order to control population." Rochelle said casually, before starting up the engine of the car.

Natalia was strangely quiet towards the woman as they drove back to the lab. A lab that they found covered in purple smoke, a despairing Dave and a jubilant Dr Green next to it, the latter of which was sat on the ground using beetle extracts to write out the results of her experiment enthusiastically as the fire crews extracted the hazardous fumes from the building.

~

"As a last resort, with the orange nearing my face and my back pressing hard against the sharp edge of my broadcast table, I grabbed my phone to tell Carlos that if I didn’t make it home tonight, it wasn’t because I didn’t love him, or didn’t want to watch a documentary on special scientific graphs, or was too obsessed with my job to relax and enjoy a good meal and some television, it was only because I was zapped out of existence by a lunatic non-John Peters. And that, in fact, I DO love Carlos, and I would want nothing more than to watch a documentary on scientific graphs over some homemade linguini, or to go out to eat again, or whatever! But then, as I grabbed my phone, I thought, “Eh, that’s WAY too long to write for a text,” so…I just hit John Peters upside the head with it, knocking him unconscious."

Carlos choked on his glass of water. Cecil knocked someone out?! He didn't think he had it in him. This was a man who enjoyed wearing feathered berets in his spare time, for goodness' sake. But then again, Cecil always managed to surprise him.
Carlos reflected on the day.

The trip to the store had been an experience. There was just orange juice everywhere. Stacked up to the ceiling, in fact. That reminded him, he hadn't texted Cecil about his cupboard raid.

'No pasta, but there’s leftover falafel and an unopened bag of nutmeg seeds to snack on. XOXO'

That would do. A quiet night in was what he needed. He settled back down into his blankets and was just closing his eyes when his phone buzzed. That was quick, he thought. Cecil didn't always text back immediately during the show.

Unfortunately, the text was not from Cecil. It was a message with several photos from Natalia. One was of John Peters inside the house, and the other two were of some kind of fire crew and Ellie looking slightly guilty next to a large plume of purple smoke.

It was amusing...that is, until Carlos realised that it was his laboratory.

Chapter Text

Natalia's third eye was shut tight as she ran swiftly towards her apartment. The sun was setting off in the distance and the void sky was beginning to close around the town. She held tightly to the young girl's hand in her own as she ran and questioned every reason she had done this in the first place.

She should have considered more rationally running towards the helicopter as it crashed a block from hers and Ellie's apartment. The biochemist had gone out to Big Rico's with Dave for the evening. She had assured Natalia it wasn't a date when she'd inquired. Just that the two of them hadn't had their mandatory Rico's slice that week so had decided to go together. Still, it nagged at the back of her mind for some reason that she couldn't quite put her finger on. She considered that it could be that she didn't like Dave, but then rebuffed the idea. Dave was nice.

So she had had no-one to stop her running to help when a yellow helicopter fell out of the sky. When she arrived at the scene, people wearing yellow polo shirts with the StrexCorp logo and smiling far too much given their situation were stumbling from the wreckage of the helicopter towards a group of children carrying various weapons. Natalia was 70% sure that one of the young girls was carrying a set of sai swords. But every single one of the children had a slingshot and a makeshift satchel of some kind filled with heavy books.

The leader of the children had what appeared to be a scaled hand around her neck and her black hair was sticking out in many a strange direction. The polo shirt StrexCorp employees had began to draw weapons as they advanced towards the children. As Natalia came closer, the children began to run away with only a few staying behind to fend off the attackers.

"Book club, good work. But we didn't anticipate the enemy to retaliate so quickly. I'm ordering a temporary retreat. We need a place to lay low." The leader whispered to to the others.

"We're too far away from the library." One of the others said.

"What do we do, Tamika?!" Another chipped in.

"Psst." Natalia hissed at them from around the corner. A few jumped and turned around. "This way."

"We don't need help from you adult-"

"There they are! Get them!" One of the Strex employees yelled.

Thus, that was how Natalia had ended up grabbing Tamika's hand, albeit against the 12 year old's will, and rushing towards her apartment with about 20 children running behind her in hot pursuit. Natalia glanced backwards at the Strex workers as the group approached the apartment. She unlocked the door quickly before looking at the scarily still smiling pursuers.

"Use the back door, it leads straight out to the Sand Wastes. Go!"

Tamika nodded to Natalia respectfully and silently before the children filed through the door. Natalia shut the door behind them, locking it again before facing the StrexCorp workers.

"Now, now, miss..." One of the men in the polo shirts said. "It's really not a great idea to help missing children, is it?"

"Leave them alone. They're just kids!" Natalia replied shakily.

"Say, are you a StrexCorp member?" One asked.

"I wouldn't say she is." The other observed. "She doesn't smile! Not smiling doesn't please the Smiling God, now does it?"

Before Natalia could react, they ran forward and grabbed hold of her tightly, with a surprising amount of strength given her size.

"Mmm!" She struggled against them but there was already a hand over her mouth and her wrists firmly restrained.

"Hush, now. Don't worry, you're going to be alright. Everyone knows that the Smiling God is the way forward! Productivity and smiles will be coming your way very soon."

"El....mm! Mmmm, mmmmm!!!" Natalia screamed uselessly into the hand covering her mouth and kicked against the tight grips as she was carted off by the two men. Soon, all was quiet on the street, apart from the few pacings of a woman walking along the street, whose facial structure placed her from somewhere in Italy.

 

~

 

"Good morning, good morning!" Dr Green sang in her usual cheerful manner as she ran into the lab frantically.

"Mornin'!" Jeffries grinned at her. Ellie returned his smile and gave him a high five.

"I take it Nat's already here?" Ellie addressed Carlos, who was fiddling with his hair and the radio simultaneously.

"No, she didn't come in this morning. I tried her phone, but she didn't answer."

"She wasn't in when I got home. Was she with you, Rochelle?"

"No, she wasn't. What's wrong?"

"She hasn't been heard from by anyone?" Carlos said in confusion. "Scientifically-"

"It's not like her." Ellie interrupted. "Nat texts someone where she is even if she has to pop to Target for five minutes, for goodness' sake." The biochemist recalled in her mind when she's first noticed that the young physicist did that. Dr Johnson had replied that she used to do it as habit growing up, as her adopted parents worried about her, then the habit stuck.

"You....you don't think something could be wrong, do you?" Rochelle said, chewing on her lip slightly.

"She's probably just running a little late, is all." Dave shrugged. "She'll call, I'm sure."

Rochelle looked a little comforted by his answer, but Ellie was shifting from foot to foot, deep in thought.

"Hey, guys, listen to this." Jeffries raised his voice and turned up the volume of the radio.

"ALL THE CHILDREN IN TOWN KNOW TO HIDE IN THEIR ROOMS. THE ADULTS HAVE FORGOTTEN - THEY’LL RECALL ALL TOO SOON. HER HANDS ARE LIKE STORM CLOUDS, WITH LIGHTNING-QUICK TALONS. ALL BEFORE IS A MURMUR, ALL AFTER IS SILENCE…and ate the last of her eggs. Nothing more to report on the woman at this time. I don’t even know why I reported what I just did."

"What...what just happened to Cecil?" Carlos sweat dropped.

"Possessed, probably." Dave sipped his coffee. "In all fairness, if you need a message getting out, the Voice is the best way of doing it."

"But possessing people IS kind of rude." Rochelle added.

"Will he be okay?" Ellie inquired.

"He's Cecil." Dave stated, as if that settled the matter. "Hey, what time is your appointment, Ellie?"

"Hm? Oh, crap! It's in ten minutes! Gotta dash, guys. Text me if Nat comes in!" The biochemist yelled as she sped out of the door, leaving behind a bemused team of scientists.

"She's off to the opticians." Dave said after a few moments. ".....and she's left her car outside." He noted as the four watched Ellie run frantically up the road. The opticians was on the other side of town, but evidently using her car had not occurred to the woman.

"Ah well, she'll get a good run." Rochelle giggled.

 

~

 

"...news to all of you out there who adopted kittens from Khoshekh, the cat floating in our station bathroom. Well, it’s been several months, and the kittens have just been growing like you wouldn’t believe! They’ve moulted twice, and some of them are already getting their grownup kitty spine ridges!"

"Spine ridges?" Jeffries looked at Carlos in confusion as the team took readings from the strange puddle of water in front of them.

"Spine ridges." Carlos confirmed. Cecil had excitedly dragged him to the radio station when the first kitten had shown evidence of the spine ridges. Carlos had attempted to resist given a) his allergy to cats and b) Cecil had mentioned the possibility of venom outbursts. However, this had come to no avail, and he had observed Khoshekh with as much enthusiasm as he could muster whilst sneezing. Cecil had, luckily, noticed Carlos' eyes going red and blotchy so had promised to buy him Claratin for all future visits.

"This more purple patch of the water seems to be expelling higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, so try not to breathe it in." Rochelle warned as Dave put some of the water into a glass vial.

"It's erodin' the rocks around it, too. Mind if I take a sample, Carlos?" Jeffries gestured for Carlos to move his feet.

"Go ahead." He replied before looking closer. "Fascinating. You know, I-"

"Excuse me, what are you doing here?" A voice from behind the scientists said shrilly. Carlos turned around to see several people with clipboards bearing the StrexCorp logo.

"Science. We're doing science." Carlos replied bluntly. Jeffries' face screwed up as he suppressed a chuckle.

"You cannot be here. This area is the private property of StrexCorp."

Dave was confuddled. "This has always been part-"

"Oh, hush hush." The woman in the middle smiled even as she interrupted him. "Now, we would ask you to please leave immediately. It would be a shame to have to put you all in prison too. Especially after how you did such a number on our lovely orange juice campaign." She gritted her teeth angrily but her smile never wavered.

"What do you mean, in prison TOO?" Rochelle stepped forward.

"Oh, one of your wonderful friends was caught helping some fugitives last night, so we had to put her away. She's in the special care of StrexCorp! She'll be all smiles when she comes out! Well, if she comes out."

Carlos paled. "We'd better go then. Team, grab the equipment." He slipped the vial of liquid, now with stopper into his pocket and the four of them steadily gathered their gear and got into the van.

Jeffries gripped the wheel tightly as he drove. There was silence the entire drive back apart from Rochelle, who occasionally gave a small hiccup as she fought back tears.

The team walked through the door to find Dr Green admiring her new blue glasses in the mirror.

"Hey, guys! Check these out! This should help solve my partial blindness." She struck a pose that reminded Carlos of an anime that she'd made him watch, before putting the glasses on top of her curly blonde hair.

"H-Has anyone heard from Nat?" She asked hopefully.

Carlos put his hand on Ellie's shoulder and tugged her gently away from the group as Dave brought Rochelle a cup of tea. Jeffries had isolated himself in the corner, muttering to himself inaudibly.

"Usually, after the weather, I am here to tell you about how we have been saved from some world-ending danger – that, for whatever reason, has failed again to end our world..." Cecil's voice floated from the radio in the corner of the room. Carlos swallowed thickly. The world had not ended, but Carlos all the same felt like a policeman turning up at the doorstep of someone's house to deliver them news that would have the same emotional impact.

"We need to talk, Dr Green." He said gently, leading the confused biochemist into his office.

Chapter Text

It had been two weeks. Two weeks of arguing, crying and worrying. Carlos had contacted everyone he knew that might have seen Natalia Johnson. 'Missing' posters had been banned by the Secret Police after the whole fiasco with Tamika Flynn not being missing several months previously.

Ellie kept angrily asserting that Natalia was alive and would find her way back to the team, whilst Dave and Rochelle had taken the 'more Night Vale' view that she was either dead or severely brainwashed. Carlos and Jeffries had taken the approach of not daring to hope.

Carlos had been struggling greatly with the matter. His other concern regarding Cecil at the station had added to his emotional baggage of late. Cecil, who was always upbeat and cheery about his job, was leaving his and Carlos' apartment each morning with a smile, yet Carlos could tell that he was just putting it on for his sake, just as he had been doing too. Cecil was under pressure from StrexCorp, but it was not being able to report in the way that he wished (although Carlos was skeptical that he had EVER had free range with what he could say) that was riling up the radio host.

He sighed, before running his fingers swiftly through his hair. He'd spent another night there working on studying an atmospheric anomaly. Some crazy blip had appeared out of nowhere and he'd been at the lab all night trying to figure it out.

Carlos rubbed his chin, contemplating needing to shave as he exited his office. Ellie and Rochelle were in some kind of verbal altercation. Jeffries was having a snack solemnly and Dave was gathering equipment.

"I don't understand how you can just give up like this!" Ellie growled.

"It's been two weeks, Dr Green!" Rochelle argued back. "Even in the outside world, according to Brent, that's long enough to declare someone missing as basically gone forever."

"Don't drag me into this." Brent Jeffries muttered into his coffee.

"You're supposed to be her GIRLFRIEND, yet you act like you don't care at all!"

"How dare you! Of course I care!"

"Then why are you acting like she's already gone?!"

"Because, in case you haven't noticed, when people go missing in this town, they don't come back!" Rochelle choked out.

Ellie looked at her in slight disgust. "So you're just giving up?"

"Well what else can I do?"

"Not give up?!"

"It's not as simple as that."

"I think it's perfectly simple. You've already decided she's not coming back, so you're trying to just move on now and get it over with."

"I.....I....."

"So it's true. Some girlfriend you are." Ellie said icily. Rochelle looked close to tears.

"I don't understand why you aren't giving up too." She whispered. "She won't come back. No-one ever comes back after going missing in this town."

"SHE WOULDN'T GIVE UP ON ME!" Ellie shouted forcefully. Rochelle blinked and replied slowly.

"She...what?"

"She didn't give up on me..." Ellie said through gritted teeth. "Sh-she never did. All that month I was trapped in the subway.....she believed I would come home." She stepped forward and closed the gap between her and Rochelle. "So I WILL NOT give up on her. Not ever!"

The blonde biochemist stormed off, slamming the door behind her after muttering "I'm off to the monitoring station. I have my phone if you need me" to Carlos, who stood in the doorway. Rochelle cleared her throat and made her way to her lab station and took out her equipment without another word.

Dave tapped Carlos on the shoulder, making him jump.

"Carlos, before I tell you the news regarding a new phenomenon..." Dave subsequently had to pause to hold up a hand to silence Carlos, whose eyes had lit up at the sound of scientific discovery. "Can I ask a personal question?"

Carlos was surprised by the request but nodded.

"What was the nature of Dr Green and Dr Johnson's relationship before we joined your team?"

Carlos sighed deeply. "Those two..." He trailed off.

"Practic'lly married." Jeffries decided to answer for Carlos, who was clearly having one of his 'emotions are a scientific phenomenon I don't get' mornings, with a mouthful of wheat-free breakfast waffles. "They didn't even know t'other before we began this expedition, but they're so close they act like they're married now. Bicker like it too." He chuckled. "They're quite a pair."

Carlos almost cracked a smile. "Indeed they are." His near smile then faltered as he looked across at the lab coat hanger where Natalia's lab coat was hanging; Ellie had volunteered to embroider each lab coat with their names (However, she had flatly refused to embroider Carlos' name on more than three of his lab coats) and a small picture.

It was incredible, in Carlos' opinion, how a woman who was clumsy and rushed constantly had the patience to do something as dainty as needlework.

Natalia's had a purple cat swirling around her name, just like the tattoo Cecil had designed for her. Carlos' had a beaker filled with bubbling liquid, Ellie's was her name fitted in the traditional 1960s Batman logo and Jeffries' had an assortment of rocks and gems carefully embroidered next to his name. Dave and Rochelle had yet to have theirs done.

"So what was this phenomenon?" Carlos asked Dave.

"Folks have been callin' about a Russian submarine appearing near Taco Bell."

Carlos raised an eyebrow. "....That's a new one."

 

~

 

"More good news, listeners! A submarine has arrived from Nulogorsk, a tiny fishing village in Russia. Nulogorsk was a long-time sister city of Night Vale. We shared pen pal letters and gifts for many years. But, beginning in 1983, Nulogorsk stopped changing the dates on their letters. By 1997, it became apparent that Nulogorsk would never stop existing in 1983. And without being able to openly discuss the complexities of Michael Jackson’s career arc, Night Vale stopped corresponding. So, for this single reason, and NO OTHER, the arrival of a Nulogorskian submarine in our desert was unexpected."

"Please tell me he isn't serious." Jeffries looked to Carlos as the team looked at the submarine in front of them.

"I....." Carlos thought for a moment about a good answer but, unable to find one, sighed and went back to analysing the submarine with his magnetic field equipment.

"Oh, he's right," Dave commented, taking a sample of the metal from the submarine and passing Jeffries his rock sample from nearby. "Grew up hearin' stories about Nulogorsk. They seem to be eternally stuck in 1983."

"Fascinating...." Carlos mused. "So the town just stopped contacting them?"

"Pretty much. Michael Jackson was a big thing here."

"They've opened the hatch, look!" Jeffries pointed upwards to where several members of the Sheriff's Secret Police had prised open the entrance to the submarine.

"Wait, is that...?" Jeffries had to choke back a laugh and covered his mouth with his palm to suppress his sniggers. Carlos looked upwards and had to suppress an urge too. The urge to smack his forehead.

Scrambling into the hatch after the Secret Police was none other than Dr Green, her angry mood from earlier evidently dissipated. Carlos ran around to where the woman had gone up.

"Ellie, what are you doing?"

"I can only get atmospheric pressure and air measurement readings in the first few minutes of this baby opening. I'm going in." She saluted Carlos and clambered straight into the entrance.

Carlos didn't consider himself athletic; he'd spent too many late nights at the lab. He was of the firm opinion that one must exercise the body to keep the mind tone as well, so he aimed to work out once or twice a week. There was of course the added bonus that Cecil made his trips to the gym extra rewarding when he came home with more toned muscle. It was a really REALLY nice bonus. Carlos lost his train of thought for a moment giddily thinking about it before being snapped back to reality by his climbing.

He smiled as he mused over often dragging a begrudging Ellie with him to the gym. Natalia was the only one that went with him willingly, partially because she, as a fellow physicist, was fascinated by the zero gravity section of the 'Get In Shake' gym, which offered free milkshakes as you worked out (which defeated the point of working out, although Dr Green obviously heartily approved).

Despite these trips to the gym, Carlos had trouble hoisting himself up onto the top of the submarine, even going to the extent of giving his lab coat to Dave whilst he did so.

By the time he had reached the summit, Ellie had resurfaced with the Secret Police carrying a tall bald man, with flower tattoos and a missing hand. The Secret Police took him away and Dr Green wandered over to Carlos stuffing test tubes and various other bags into her large satchel.

"They're deciphering the note now. I have air and inside samples I want to look at back at the lab."

"Ellie..." Carlos began.

"I mean, it'll take me a few hours to process them by-"

"ELLIE."

"Mm?"

"Are you okay?"

The curly haired biochemist sighed. Carlos had seen through her fake cheeriness immediately. "Yeah, I guess. I....I'm just worried about Nat."

"We all are." Carlos said and hugged her gently. Although he was trying to enjoy a rare moment of comfort with his best friend, the fact that the Secret Police were dragging a body off to the hospital for Megan Wallaby's transplant.

 

~

 

"Carlos!" Jeffries' shout from below them next to the van drew the attention of the scientists.

"What is it?"

"The radio...Cecil's not there I don't think. I only just turned it on, but..."

"WHAT?"

Jeffries turned it up as both scientists swiftly descended to the ground.

"...and for the listeners, but our focus is always on good radio." A woman's shrill voice was saying.

"Where is my honey-voiced Cece?" Carlos muttered under his breath fiercely, interrupting the woman. Apparently he had not said it as quietly as he had intended as Ellie, Dave and Jeffries stared at him with eyes wide as saucers. "I...ah...ahem...mean...where is Cecil?" Carlos quickly corrected, going a slight shade of pink.

His question was thankfully answered immediately, distracting the scientists away from his embarrassment.

"...know that I really do think things are looking up." Cecil's voice was back on the airwaves where it belonged. "I’m really excited about the new direction we’re under with Lauren!"

"Lauren....his new manager?" Carlos said in surprise.

"...I love the way you talk of the town. You clearly love your city, Cecil. It shows in your work. I even love your scientist boyfriend. What’s his name again? With his perfect hair, and teeth like a military cemetery. He’s always looking into the scientific mysteries of Night Vale. He even broke the story, as you reporters might say, of the trans-dimensional oranges our farmers had developed. Well, it sure was a good thing he was looking into our oranges, or…we could have harmed a lot of people on our way to making a ton of money! So very much money..." Lauren said bitterly.

"Uh-oh." Dave said.

"If they come for you too, Carlos..." Ellie said, her expression darkening.
"If they do, we shall handle it like scientists. I'd actually like for them to come to the lab."

"What?!" Jeffries exclaimed.

"It's the only way we might have some insight into where they have taken Dr Johnson, and if she is still..." He trailed off. The sentence didn't need finishing.

"Okay." Ellie said from behind the group. "But if ANY of those sons of bitches mess with my family again..."

"We're your family?" Jeffries asked in surprise. "I swear you're close to your family."

"Oh I am. You guys are extended family. And if they come for us, and they will, we'll protect our own. And we'll get Natalia back. Because if I can't protect you guys, I'll make damn sure I can avenge you."

The team took several seconds to take in her words before Jeffries began pointing out that she was a DC fan and she had basically paraphrased a quote from a Marvel movie.

As the team erupted into debate, Carlos gave a sad smile. It was the first time he'd smiled properly in two weeks, aside from faking it for Cecil's sake. But it was a start.

Chapter Text

"Hello, listeners. We have some news that will affect your morning commute, so let’s dive right into it. WALK signals across the whole of Night Vale are malfunctioning. Of course, usually they show either a graphic photo of a run-over pedestrian, indicating you should wait, or time-lapse photography of flowers wilting, indicating that it is safe to cross. But this morning, commuters all over Night Vale are reporting that, bafflingly, they now all have just the word “WALK” in bold, white letters."

"Carlos, have you seen my Bunsen Burner?"

"No, and for the last time, I don't think this is a good idea."

"Oh pleeeeeease? Dave and I want to test this!" Ellie whined. Carlos wrinkled his nose. Ever since Natalia's disappearance, Ellie had thrown herself into her work. Her and Dave had been working on a way to detect chemicals over a wide radius.
However, Carlos knew the truth. They were looking for traces, even tiny ones, of Natalia. The woman had about six bottles of an apple scented perfume, and she had spilt a lot on her clothing the day she had disappeared. She wore the perfume every day to boot, and Ellie hoped that there would be some trace of the perfume in the air. Carlos could tell that the method, given the time period since Natalia's vanishing, would have very little chance of working; he had the feeling that Ellie knew too. But it was keeping the biochemist from having a breakdown, so he supported her and Dave in every way he could.

Except for now, when Ellie wanted to try a mild explosive device to spread a scent across the lab so they could test the range of the equipment.

"I'm going out to look at the WALK signal problem at the monitoring station and around town. I'll see you in a bit." Carlos said in defeat. "But I expect this lab to be actually here when I get back, you two!" He glared at Dave and Ellie, who grinned sheepishly and laughed unashamedly respectively. With that, he went out of the door.

"Are you ready for this?" Dave asked Ellie. Jeffries and Rochelle had stepped back much further than the two chemists, but their curiosity was keeping them there.

"3....2....1....GO!"

A large cloud of green and blue dust enveloped the scientists and they fell to the floor coughing and wheezing.

 

~

 

"Ellie!" A voice called from faraway.

Dr Green's vision swirled. Wait, this wasn't right. She could swear the last thing she could remember doing was trying to use the machine....and then there had been some smoke?

She sighed, realising that she meant it hadn't worked. More importantly, where was she right now? Her face felt soft and strange, like she was face down in a cushion. She sat up groggily and looked around, realising what she had been lying on was a bed. She was....she was....

Ellie choked slightly. She was home.

Or it looked like her home anyway, more specifically her bedroom before she had left home. It had the same blue faded wallpaper and things haphazardly stuck to her drawing board. As she moved to sit up, she felt the hard mattress with slightly broken springs that she'd always preferred as a kid; she'd refused to get rid of it until the point her parents had to remove it from the house whilst she was on a weekend trip. However, that had been when she was twelve. The mattress shouldn't be there. It had been destroyed a long time ago.

A noise from behind her made Ellie jump. She turned to witness a small girl in the corner of the room with her back to her, sitting on the blue carpet. She had long hair down to the floor, beautiful blonde hair that trailed down her back in curls and she was gently playing the guitar.

"Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand...just like that river twisting through a dusty land...."

Ellie knew it immediately. I used to play that song all the time as a kid, she thought. It was one of my favourites. Acoustic, nice and slow, just like that girl. The girl finished the chorus and put the guitar down, before peering around to see if anyone was looking. Ellie gasped as she saw her face. The girl looked directly through her and clambered up onto the bed next to Ellie reaching something from the top shelf. Dr Green stared at the young girl in disbelief. It was like looking into a younger mirror. She looked just as she had when she was six? Seven? It was a dream. Of course it was...Ellie remembered this day. She would never forget this day.

She watched in awe as the younger her climbed up to her shelf to find a book. Her parents had bought her lots of books on all kinds of subjects when she expressed a keen interest in reading from a young age. There was only one book on her shelf she hadn't tried to read before on that day. It was a big book on biology and it was the first day she'd ever felt confident enough in her reading ability to try reading it. The young Ellie's eyes lit up as she began to read, even if she was skipping over the hard words.

Dr Green smiled. It was the first time she knew she liked science. It was the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen, even trumping her love of music.

A light in the corner of the room distracted her and she looked at it curiously. Ellie walked towards it and saw....everything. All the key moments of her life flashed before her.

"Our youngest graduate here at Woodville High, Eleanor Green!"

"Presenting Eleanor Green, ph.D!"

"So proud of you..." Her father and mother's voices floated around her.

"Carlos. Just Carlos. I'm a scientist. I...I study science. It's nice to be working with you..."

"Did you see those guys come back from that weird town, Carlos? We should look into that..." Ellie's voice could be her.

"Their City Council sent me a brochure. But it's kind of....weird. Lots of stuff about ritualistic sacrifice and mandatory eating at some local restaurant. Seriously, Carlos, it's crazy..." Her own voice again.

"We signed on for crazy, though, didn't we?" Carlos' reply. The day that had started it all.

"Oh GOD! I'm so -hic- sorry!" Her own voice again. Ellie had to cringe at that memory. Her first meeting with Natalia. Carlos had invited her out for celebratory drinks 3 days before leaving for Night Vale (as Natalia had completed the required six scientists or interns for going on the expedition) and she'd been introduced to one Natalia Johnson.

However, the three of them had ended up in the university's chemistry department, with Ellie and Carlos slightly tipsy and daring each other to blow things up. She'd dropped some chemicals on Natalia's hair and it burnt off. Natalia had had to have it cut short the next day. But she sought out Ellie and thanked her because she had apparently always wanted an excuse to have a pixie cut.

A few more flashes of memory hit the biochemist. Getting arrested for wheat smuggling was in there, tea parties with Old Woman Josie, as well as the drive back from the day Cecil and Carlos finally got together and her time in the subway; the last memory was her laughing and cheering with her friends playing Twister in lab coats.

In the real world, Dr Green's mouth twitched into a smile as she lay next to her sleeping colleagues; the green dust slowly floating out of the open window.

 

~

"Then a bell will ring. From his hand, maybe. Or from somewhere else. And then, nothing. Mountain Dew. Do the Dew...." The radio said as another of the scientists laid on the floor.

"Look this way, Mr Jeffries!"

Dr Brent Jeffries knew he was dreaming as soon as he saw the camera flashes. He hated this memory. One of the first premieres he'd attended with his father. The perks of his father being an actor were that he and his twin brother Ian were dragged to those ridiculous things, wearing ridiculous clothes and making Brent feel overall....well, ridiculous. His brother didn't hate it in the way that Brent did. Ian wanted to be an actor like their father.

This particular memory was from one of his father's larger movies, the first one they had attended after their mother had died. Brent and Ian were fifteen at the time.

"You okay there, kid?" One of his father's co-stars had approached the younger Jeffries.

"I don' like these things." He murmured in reply.

"Oh? Why not?"

"Flashes....lotsa people I don' know..."

"Ah, you're more the quiet type?"

"......yeah. I guess."

"So what do you like, then, son?"
The younger Jeffries paused for a moment. "I guess I like geography and science?"

"Really? My friend with me is a geologist! Where is he....er...." The man looked around before stopping his friend. "Hey, Jerry! Come here!"

"S'really no trouble..." Jeffries watched his younger self shy away. The man named Jerry soon came over and, after a brief introduction, told Brent about his work. He was enthralled as Jerry told him about expeditions to find rare gems in the Rocky Mountains and his everyday work as a geologist; by the end of the evening, Brent was convinced. He wanted to learn more about the subject.

The scene shifted.

"Why don't you want to continue drama, Brent?" His brother Ian at their graduation, shortly after Brent had told him he was not going to study acting like his brother and continue with geography.

"B'cause I hate it!" Brent argued.

"You're wasting your potential. You're a gifted actor, Brent!" His father's words echoed on the day that Jeffries got his first degree in geology.

The scene shifted once more. It was a day nearly two years ago. Jeffries stood in front of a flyer advertising for an expedition to a strange town.

'Needed: Capable and fearless scientists for an expedition to an anomalous town. Two year grant but six month contract open to extension. We preferably need one person from each part of the sciences department. For information, come to biochemistry lab 5 at 6pm on Thursday or contact either Dr Valdez or Dr Green on these numbers.'

Two scrawled phone numbers were underneath the flyer. Jeffries looked at his own phone. What did he have in scheduled? That dreaded dinner with his father. It would have been alright, he supposed, had Ian been present. Without Ian, Brent always came out of them depressed at his father's blatant disappointment in his life choices. He didn't ever say anything, it was kind of....a look. He got through it with Ian, who understood and had accepted Brent's love of geology and laid back lifestyle long ago, not wanting to lose his twin brother over a petty argument. However, Ian was on business in Los Angeles and wouldn't be able to attend the dinner. If, on the other hand, he went to this expedition talk....he could miss it and have a mostly acceptable excuse. Yes, he'd decided. He'd go to the talk.

Jeffries smiled. The irony of that day. That he'd enjoyed the talk, gotten interested, dragged Parker on the expedition and ended up having possibly the best experience of his life. Of course, he'd never ever admit to the team that he joined the mission in order to get out of one small dinner with his actor father.

 

~

 

The other two scientists, Rochelle and Dave, had less vivid dreams than the other two scientists. This was because of the general dangers of their past. Any Night Vale citizen who expressed too much interest in education, reading or indeed science, as they both had, had experienced a slighter than higher amount of City Council mandated reeducation. As a consequence, they woke first and immediately began to attempt to wake their teammates.

"Green, Jeffries!" Rochelle shook them.

"Whaaaa?" Jeffries blurted, sitting up straight in shock.

"Nat, lemme watch Baman ten minutes more, then I'll go to bed, I promissssse..." Dr Green was muttering into the tiles. Her nose was squashed against the hard surface and there was a small pool of drool coming from her mouth.

Dave briefly considered photographing the moment before waking up the biochemist. Just then, Carlos bustled through the door, flustered and sweaty.

"Ahhh, hey Carlos!" Ellie called up sleepily from the floor. "Whas happenin'?"

"I-I've seen things." Carlos was shaking and his eyes were like saucers, his satchel swinging gently from his rigid frame.

"I'll put the kettle on." Jeffries said, getting the feeling that Carlos needed a strong cup of coffee.

"And how we were saved was so unlikely and miraculous, that I feel that today will become one of the standard tales told every year on Frightening Day. Certainly, it is a story I will never forget." Cecil's voice came from the radio as Carlos sat heavily in a chair.

"Here is where I leave you." Cecil continued. "Not to walk away…I think I will avoid walking for a while. But certainly to go somewhere, to see someone. And I don’t know…if he suggests a walk, I might change my mind. He can be as persuasive as hypnotic malfunctioning city equipment sometimes, as the old saying goes."

"What even happened?" Rochelle asked openly putting a hand on Carlos' shoulder.

"The WALK signals...they malfunctioned. Everyone went crazy. Had to invent a machine to stop it. Cecil was so close to that truck..." Carlos paled.
"You weren't answering your phones. Luckily, I am a scientist. A scientist is self reliant. It is one of the most important things a scientist is. I managed to sort it out, but I don't think I can ever look at peanut butter or high heels in the same way ever again."

The team felt it best to not ask him why.

Chapter Text

"Good morning, scientists!" Carlos said hurriedly as he entered the lab that morning.

"Hey, Carlos!" Voices replied with varying degrees of enthusiasm and fatigue. Carlos picked up the post from the side, piece of bagel in his mouth and hummed the Element Song as he entered his office.

"Dr Valdez, did you find out from Cecil?" Rochelle asked.

"Yes, he says that we'll need to be careful, but we should be able to get up to station WZZZ. Have you ever heard it say anything other than numbers, Dr Hower?"

Rochelle shook her head. "No. It's always been the same as far as I know."

"Interesting." Carlos mused. "I-"

A large blinding light interrupted the head scientist. The light enveloped the room and Carlos looked desperately at his fellow scientists to check if they were okay. Before he could focus on anyone's shadowy form, a painful sensation gripped Carlos' head. It was like a million Erlenmeyer flasks had suddenly cracked and smashed inside his brain.

He gritted his teeth, reminding himself of the scientific probability of that; he resisted the urge to scream as he fell to the floor. His entire body now felt like it was being squeezed, like being in a tiny box with the walls closing in. It did nothing for Carlos' claustrophobia and he began to feel somewhat nauseated.

He shut his eyes tight for what felt like an eternity. Eventually, the light began to fade from behind his eyelids, so he cautiously opened them. His face felt quite tender and painful, he noted as he took in his surroundings. He made a move to push himself up with his arms, but he unexpectedly fell backwards. His arms took much longer to touch the floor that he would have anticipated. The lab benches also appeared much taller.

"Everyone-" Carlos went to ask the team if they were alright, but he immediately cut himself off with a yelp. His voice was crazily high and cracking. It wasn't even like when he changed his vocal chords.

He stumbled to his feet and looked around. Everything certainly was larger. No. It wasn't that, Carlos concluded. He gazed down at his hands. They were shorter, stubbier. He lifted one to his face. His face was no longer smooth; it certainly had none of the facial scruff he'd gotten over the last week due to procrastinating shaving. It felt rough, even lumpy to the touch. He clumsily moved towards his office and grabbed his mirror. He was.....he was....

"AAAAAHHHHH!" Another scream came from the lab. "I AM PUBESCENT!" Dr Green was squeaking.

Carlos ran through with the mirror. His team were in a terrifying state. Dave looked around seventeen and was looking in terror at his sideburns in the reflection of the nearest Bunsen burner. Rochelle, or whom Carlos presumed to be Rochelle was sat in the corner in a pile of too big clothes, as if she'd shrunk. The curly hair and facial features were so similar, but she looked around five years old.

Dr Eleanor Green was running around in a ten year old's body (that reflected her mental state, Carlos thought privately) and Carlos himself looked just as he did when he was fourteen, fifteen? He cringed. That acne-filled, chubby, far-from-perfect Carlos that he'd grown out of in his early twenties. Jeffries looked only a few years younger, however, with less of a beard and less wrinkles.

"Please tell me someone knows why that happened." Dave asked.

"Missed throat spiders appointment?" Rochelle said in her now childlike voice. This thankfully confirmed Carlos' suspicion that their mental prowess had not been compromised.

"No, no, we had all of our screenings two months ago."

"What the 'eck is happenin'?" Jeffries asked wearily, staring at his adolescent colleagues.

"I'm not sure." Carlos replied in his horribly adolescent voice. "But I think we should look into it immediately."

"You think?!" The general reply came from his team. Carlos was sure that the not-at-all-intimidating ten year old Ellie rolled her eyes so hard that she was looking into the back of her eye sockets.

~

"TWENTY-THREE. NINETY-TWO." A 'ding' noise was heard from the radio. "THIRTY-THREE. SIXTY-SEVEN. EIGHTY-EIGHT. FORTY-ONE. FORTY-ONE. FORTY…I…I…" The broadcast cut out.

The StrexCorp employees smiled as they listened to the last WZZZ station broadcast.

"Ooh, this town sure is interesting!" Lauren Mallard, Vice President of StrexCorp clapped her hands together. "I wonder if those troublesome scientists will be looking into this. After all, they were so very investigative when we made our special transdimensional orange juice. Weren't they?"

"Oh, yes." The man next to her replied. "They may make an appearance. I for one would be just jazzed to see what they do."

"Now, now, Kevin, we must be patient. We still have our business plan, after all." Lauren looked across the table at the twenty or so people wearing Strex uniforms.

"Ah, that business plan. It was a work of art, Lauren! So...." Kevin's voice lowered to a sinister whisper. "...productive..."

"I agree, Kevin. The Smiling God is happiest when everyone is working hard and being productive in their jobs, after all. Speaking of which, we have our new employee of StrexCorp to welcome today! She's about to begin her new assignment as part of one of special investigation teams." Lauren smiled widely at the woman opposite her. The woman smiled back happily at all her colleagues at the table.

"I'm ready to serve the Smiling God. I can't believe I didn't have him before. I'm so glad he found me. Seeing his point of view..."

A few flashes echoed in the woman's mind of pictures of teeth and blood soaked dental tools. She shook it away and smiled even more earnestly. She had seen the light, the light of the Smiling God, and it was.....it was....

"It was WONDERFUL!"

"That's fantastic to know. Remind me," One of the men, Daniel, asked. "What was your name again?"

The woman replied with her name, and everyone around the table beamed and welcomed her.

"Of course! I'm so sorry for forgetting!" He apologised and Lauren once again took control of the meeting.

"Now, we need to get moving in order to reach our full productive potential. Your team will be mobilised shortly."

"Yes, ma'am."

"This meeting has now adjourned! Lauren announced. "Kevin, may I have a word...?"

The StrexCorp members all left the room, ready to start their work for the day. Kevin and Lauren faced each other across the oak wood table.

"Did the enlightenment treatment work?"

"It worked perfectly, although she took longer than some of the others. She'll be a valuable asset. Our plans to join this town with Desert Bluffs are going so well. And Cecil is beginning to cooperate more. I'm thinking of getting him a present."

"Oooh, what kind?"

"Maybe a StrexPet?"

"Oh, I LOVE my StrexPet. He'll like it too, I'm sure!"

"Everything is moving into place...."

In the corridor, the new woman overhead the conversation and felt a stabbing pain in her stomach. Something felt...wrong. But she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Best not to think about it. The woman had higher priorities than her own self now.

She took a deep breath and stepped outside into the sunlight. The sunlight of the desert was nothing compared to the light of the Smiling God, but it felt warm and pleasant all the same. She was ready to serve this cause. It was, after all...the future.

 

~

 

"An update on our earlier story: Local numbers station WZZZ has resumed its transmission, although the format is a little…umm...different than before. Take a listen..." Cecil's voice echoed around the lab as the team sat around the radio. Those of them that had grown considerably smaller such as Rochelle and Ellie were wrapped in their lab coats like blankets.

"It's been over ten minutes. If this was a town-wide phenomenon, then Cecil would have mentioned it by now, surely. Therefore, we must draw the conclusion that this is an experience that only we have. Thus, we must work on a scientific solution." Carlos announced to the team.

"We'd better find a solution, Carlos. I am twenty-six, not ten!"

"You think you have problems!" Rochelle shot at the complaining Ellie.

"I'd argue the one most in trouble here is Carlos." Dave pointed out. "After all....imagine Cecil's reaction if this is permanent."

Carlos immediately felt like throwing up again.

"Now, now, tha's enough." Jeffries raised his palms. "We have to go about this logic'lly."

"Was there anything different today?" Carlos commented. "Something seemingly out of the ordinary."

"I don't think so..." Rochelle replied. "I got here at normal time, I've had my Rico's slice this week...there shouldn't be anything."

"I guess I got a tax return?" Ellie said nonchalantly. "But it just had a number. 16. No currency or anything."

"Actually, I had one too!" Carlos burst out. "A different number, but the same!"

"Me too!" Jeffries chimed in.

"I haven't looked at my post this morning." Dave scratched his chin.

"Dave, do you think...?" Rochelle looked at him with a curious expression.

"Yes. Could be."

"What? What does it mean?" Jeffries asked.

"When you get a tax return, something is returned to you for a while. Then, of course, the government take it back. We don't really need tax returns, after all. It could be that they chose years this time."

"So....wait, what? So we'll eventually go back to normal?" Carlos breathed in relief.

"Of course. This isn't actually too awful. One year they gave us back all of the potential pets we could have had." Rochelle remarked.

Jeffries suddenly shuddered and turned pale. "Even r-rabbits?"

"Yes, why?"

Jeffries shifted uncomfortably and muttered something about being glad about missing that one.

"How long will it take to wear off?" Carlos straightened up and crossed his arms, which seemed a little more muscular since he last lifted them in his childish form.

"An hour, two hours, I'd guess?" Dave shrugged, looking at the mirror. "I've already re-aged by about two years worth whilst we've been talking."

Carlos nodded. "Then I'm going up to station WZZZ."

 

~

 

"I am…well, I’m not sure, exactly. I’ve made up a new name. I am Fey. It is nice to meet you. I don’t know how long they’ve had me here, reading the numbers. I don’t know what the numbers mean. They give me numbers, and I read the numbers. It is so easy to slip back into it. If…if I loosen my grip for even a moment…SEVENTY-EIGHT. FIVE. TWENTY-NINE. FORTY-SEVEN. FORTY-uuuh! Hmph! You see? It is easy to return, difficult to leave. But I must leave. I must have freedom!"

Carlos recalled in his mind the voice that had come out of the radio. Carlos had driven towards the station alone after he'd left. Ellie had offered to accompany him, but unfortunately, by the time Carlos left she had not re-aged to the point where it looked like she was road-legal. Carlos now appeared around twenty, which pleased him greatly as his legs were long enough to reach the pedals and his teenage puppy fat and acne were gone.

The radio had continued and then suddenly flickered out. Some kind of interference, Carlos had figured. Carlos had then done the most scientific thing possible and hit the dashboard with his fist but all that had done was inflate the airbag and severely annoy the scientist.

By the time he had abandoned his car near the Community Radio Station and begun his trek towards the WZZZ station, he had fiddled sufficiently with his portable radio to make it work.

"......fzzzz.....walked the mobile broadcasting equipment down to the Abandoned Gas Station on Oxford Street."

Cecil! Carlos thought with a relief. The radio was working. He listened attentively as he walked, the station in the distance.

"The Condo Rental Office is still in there, still bubbling black like a pot of boiling squid ink, with flashes of light like distant, dying stars, but no one has rented a condo in weeks now. I think we’re all just waiting to see how that market shakes out."

Carlos couldn't help but frown at that. The condo situation still gave him nightmares about floating in a sea of black. He didn't tell Cecil about them as he didn't want him to worry, but...
He sighed and went inside, listening intently to the radio through his headphones.

"but…here I am, inside, a few carefully-planted explosives later. The room is surprisingly empty. There is no chair, no snack fridge, no coffee kept full of the fuel all radio professionals need to keep our voice going and our heart beating. There are only some wires leading into a small computer. Based on this setup, it looks like the computer is feeding directly into the broadcast, and…Oh. Oh, Fey. Perhaps freedom was never an option.

Carlos unplugged the radio and walked further into the station. It was shadowy and gloomy; cobwebs and old litter was scattered around. When he entered the main room, he beheld a sight that took his breath away. Cecil was standing with his back to him in front of a huge computer bank, fiddling with wires and talking into his radio microphone.

"Listeners?" He whispered into the microphone.

"NINETEEN." The computer said.

"And here I address also myself…" Cecil continued.

"ELEVEN. EIGHTY-FIVE."

"Remember..." A 'ding' noise followed and Carlos stepped into the room properly. "...our limitations.

"SIXTY-NINE."

"There are boundaries to all of our worlds..."

"SIXTY-SIX. TWENTY-FOUR."

"Fey, for instance, appears to be self-aware software trapped in a heavily-defended metal box..." Cecil choked out, his hands limply at his sides aside from the few fingers grasping at the microphone that he so often spoke smoothly into.

The computer seemed to fade into the background as Carlos put his feet in front of him, one after the other, and walked slowly towards Cecil.

"But within our limitations, there is no limit to how beautiful we can become. How much of our ideal self we can create." Cecil murmured. "All the beauty in the world was made within the oppressive limitations of time, and death, and impermanence. And, Fey? You are so, so beautiful..."

Carlos stood behind Cecil and looked up at the computer bank himself as it continued to read numbers in the background.

"I wish that you also could have been free. I wish freedom for so many of us. We all want freedom now...Stay tuned next for the limit of my broadcast today, replaced by limitless silence and doubt. Goodnight, sweet Fey."

Carlos put a hand gently on Cecil's shoulder. The man turned around and looked up at Carlos with wide eyes.

"And goodnight, Night Vale...Goodnight." He finished. Carlos leaned down and turned off the radio broadcast with a quick flick of the switch.

"Ceece...are you okay?"

"Carlos....what are you doing here? And you look...younger. Did you have a tax return?"

"I...yes. And I was just investigating." He trailed off, helping Cecil up. "That was really incredible, what you said about beauty."

"Mm." Cecil said quietly. "I wish I could help her."

"There are some things that even science cannot achieve." Carlos said in the most comforting tone he could muster and kissed Cecil's forehead gently. "Do you have anything left to do at the radio station today?"

"No, I don't think so. I should probably return the mobile broadcasting equipment, though."

"I'll help you carry it. I'm amazed you managed to carry it out here, honey." Carlos gave him a small smile. "Then I may need to pick your brain about these tax returns. Also, how do you feel about homemade paella tonight?"

"That would be neat." Cecil smiled, before realising what he'd said and began muttering "foolish Cecil" to himself. Carlos picked up the mobile broadcasting equipment in his arms.

"Thank you for coming to get me." Cecil said suddenly.

"It's no problem. A scientist looks after the ones he loves. That's one of the most important things a scientist does." He replied softly.

Cecil rushed forward and hugged him, squeezing him so tightly that he nearly dropped the broadcasting equipment. Carlos kissed him gently, before replacing the equipment under his arm, taking Cecil's hand as they walked out of the radio station, the numbers spoken out by Fey now echoing around the empty room.

Chapter Text

When Ellie dreamt, her dreams were strange. Obviously they had gotten more abnormal as she had moved to Night Vale, but even before that she had weird dreams. They were a bundle of oddities, often with film and TV characters thrown in while she was dreaming about moving paintings and pumpkins that could kill you.

So to have a normal dream was an alien concept to Dr Ellie Green as she took in her surroundings. She was walking through a lush green field, the sky was a brilliant shade of azure and there was a gentle breeze picking up her strands of blonde hair and making them waft in the wind. The grass smelled like strawberries and the not-Angels looked quite content sitting on the hill. Wait....not-Angels?

Ellie stopped walking and looked at them. They were some of the absolutely non-existent Angels that used to be with Old Woman Josie before she disappeared.

"You...." She whispered, before immediately considering the possibility that someone was monitoring her dreams. That was a thing in Night Vale, right?
"You don't exist?" She said aloud just in case. "But....uh, hypothetically, if you did exist, would you need to tell me something?"

She was going to be arrested again, she was sure of it.

"Eleanor..."

She cringed at the name but listened.
"Eleanor...you have been doing good work for us."

"Er, if you were real, which you're not of course," The blonde woman babbled in reply. "I would express thanks."

"There is something that you must know."

Ellie raised an eyebrow, her glasses slipping slightly down her nose. Wait, since when has she had her glasses on? Well, at least this confirmed it was a dream.

"Your friend Natalia...she is alive."

Ellie's heart did some kind of front flip.

"Where is she?!" All sense of self-preservation caused by the dream invaders had vanished.

"That's the problem. She remembers her name, but little else. She is working for this Smiling God. She has been touched by the light of the unravelling of all things. We cannot reach her, even though we are Angels. By the way, my name is Erika."

The biochemist felt numb. Natalia, her best friend, working for Strex? The ones that were making Cecil upset (and by extension Carlos), wrecking up the town and who KIDNAPPED Natalia in the first place?!

"Is there anything that can be done, hypothetically if Angels were real?" She said solemnly.

"We are attempting to track her. Miss Flynn and her militia owe her a debt of gratitude for helping them, so they too are eager to see her saved from this light. But we are trapped in a strange desert otherworld. There is rumbling, and a bright light. It is hard for us to even protect the chosen ones in this place."

So Josie was alive, Ellie mused. And what was this 'strange desert otherworld'?

"Wait, what is that? How can I help Nat?" The scene began to blur and Ellie heard someone calling her name.

"Ellie........Ellie?"

"Wait, don't go!" She yelled at the Erika, who had turned away and begun heading down the hill out of sight.

"NO!" She awoke with a start and shot up immediately.

"Ellie, are you okay?" Rochelle was leaning over Ellie, who was asleep on her workbench at the lab; hair was covering most of the blonde woman's face and she sat up wearily.

"What are you doing sleeping in the lab again? We're going to be late!"

"Sorry....just worked too late again I guess."

"What were you dreaming about anyway? You sounded quite scared."

"N-nothing." Ellie said, pushing her fringe out of her face. ".....it was nothing."

 

~

 

"Listeners? There’s a visitor in my studio today! No one you know. No one I know. Not even a thing you or I know. It is…umm, I am unsure what it is, let me describe it. Imagine a duck. But just the eyes. No, larger than that. Really large duck eyes. Now imagine fur. Puffy fur, like a bear cub. Soft, and tan, and a thick round belly, and no real discernible arms or legs, just…little nubs that flit about as it slowly moves across the floor..."

"Sounds like Cecil's havin' a blast today." Dave grinned as the team arrived in front of the House That Doesn't Exist for their weekly checkup.

They had been monitoring the strange situation with John Peters for a while. Carlos aimed to have someone or at least some cameras there all the time, but due to the Secret Police finding the latest set of cameras earlier that week, Carlos had asked the team to assemble for one day in order to attempt to solve it once and for all. However, everyone had so far been too scared to knock on the door. Even the reckless Dr Green (although mainly this was due to her watching too many sci-fi movies and expecting something too horrific to happen if the door opened) was too frightened to knock on the door. Carlos had mumbled lots about scientists needing to work together instead of admitting his own reluctance.

"It seems so." Jeffries replied. "But his heart'll always to Carlos. Well, Carlos and Khoshekh." He corrected as the eccentric man suddenly began fawning over the cat on the radio.

Carlos frowned from the driver's wheel. The team suppressed laughter at the thought of the last time Carlos went to see Khoshekh. The kittens had attempted to play with Carlos...using their venom sacs. Carlos had also had an allergic reaction and Cecil had had to give him a lot of allergy medicine. Suffice to say, Carlos, although he thought Khoshekh was cute, was not the cat's biggest fan.

"Ooh, ooh, turn this bit up!" Ellie suddenly shouted from the backseat, whipping out her Game of Thrones Targaryen notebook, which she recorded all of her observations on Hiram McDaniels for her project.

"...Supporters of the Faceless Old Woman are claiming that, while officially acquitted of insurance fraud, evidence suggests that Hiram is in possession of a stolen truck. They checked the registration of his vehicle, and found that it belonged to one Frank Chen, who was found dead nearly two years ago. Frank’s body was covered in claw and scorch marks, and the coroner gave the cause of death as 'Dragon, at least three heads.' Hiram denies that he stole the truck, and says that Frank is a friend, and is TOTALLY not dead."

"Oh..." Ellie shrunk back into her seat.

"You still wanna vote for him?" Rochelle asked sardonically.

"Hidden Gorge decides the Mayor." Dave reminded them both as they parked.

"I just find him interesting." Ellie muttered.

"You find him interesting because Game of Thrones has started up again." Carlos smiled at Jeffries remark. The woman had been incredibly happy that a) they could get HBO in Night Vale and b) due to the nature of the show, it hadn't been changed from how it would have been shown outside of Night Vale, aside from censoring the word 'angel' among a few other obvious words. So she could enjoy it as much as she pleased.

"Right, who wants to attempt to open the door?" Carlos said cheerfully. The team, understandably, gave him a dark look.

Finally, Ellie suddenly piped up. "I'll do it."

The biochemist had had an idea. If John Peters had gone missing, he could be in the same place as Josie and the Erikas. John Peters was in the house, ergo, Josie could be in the house. Josie had answers about Natalia. Ergo again, help for Natalia was behind this door.

She went ahead and stood in front of the House That Doesn't Exist. The team stepped back unconsciously as Dr Green hesitated in front of the door handle. Come on, she goaded herself internally. This is for answers. And science. She placed her fingers over the handle and attempted to open the door.

Except it didn't open. It didn't even budge.

"Huh." Ellie observed.

"Let me try." Dave said, gesturing for Ellie to move aside. He tried himself, shaking it hard. He tried again, increasingly frustrated.

"No change with John Peters." Rochelle observed with surprise.

"Ugh this stupid door! Just OPEN ALREADY!" Ellie kicked the door and shook the handle even more, venting her annoyance into the door. Dr Green went in for another kick when the door suddenly slammed open and she nearly fell. The scientists looked up to see a tall woman standing in the doorway.

"WHAT DO YOU WANT?!" The woman shouted at the now terrified and surprised scientists.

Jeffries and Carlos peeked in the door, seeing the same layout, but no John Peters in sight. The woman directed her angry gaze at Ellie.

"We…wanted to see what that man was…doing in there?" She meekly replied to the woman.

"What man?" the woman said in an irritated tone. "I live alone."

"But..." Ellie looked in the window, then back through the open doorway in confusion. "Who are YOU?" She demanded bluntly.

"Dr Green, you're being rude." Dave whispered.

"Well she's not John Peters, but she lives in a house that we have proved does not actually exist." Ellie pointed out.

"My name is Cynthia. I have lived in this house for 19 years and I assure you it exists for me. Now go away."
She shut the door in the scientists' faces abruptly.

After a few moments of silence, Rochelle spoke. "Do you think we should call Cecil?"

Carlos nodded and took out his phone. This would be a long text.

 

~

 

After Carlos finished his text, the team reconvened and decided to go back to the lab; after all, everyone felt rather awkward staying at the Desert Creek Housing Development after the encounter with Cynthia.

Carlos ran his fingers through his tussled hair. "If no-one has any scientific objections, I'm going to place the house higher on the scale."

The team nodded vigorously. Carlos fiddled with the Velcro on the laminated scale they had made. Old and discarded mysteries of the town were further down the list, such as 'Glowing Cloud' and 'Floating cat?'. Near the top were 'Angels?' (although Rochelle and Dave had subtly indicated on many an occasion that angels are totally not a thing, so therefore they should not be on the list) and 'Dog Park - forbidden'. The 'forbidden' had originally had a question mark next to it, but after the fiasco where Carlos and Perez were detained attempting to figure out if it was, it was no longer a question.

Carlos shifted the two down and put 'House That Doesn't Exist', which usually held a pretty consistent third, to the top of the list.

"Carlos, I'm going to update the log books, that okay?" Rochelle called from the other room.

"That's fine. And you're free to go whenever you finish."

"Thanks. Have a safe evening." Well, as safe as an evening in Night Vale could be, she thought briefly.

The list now updated, Carlos turned his attention back to the radio. A few minutes drinking his coffee and listening to it would do no harm. He had been decreasing his caffeine intake after living with Cecil due to the fact that, as lovely as it was waking up Cecil snuggling him and asking if he'd like to make coffee for him, he was not the biggest fan of the subsequent loud hammer noises coming from the kitchen which Cecil apparently counted as grounding coffee.

"Intern Jeremy? Can you, one: call Animal Control, and two: take us now to the weath–" Cecil's voice was quiet, then there were some loud yelping and strangled noises in the background. "What was that? No! No no! KHOSHEKH! What have you done to my cat, you monster?!"

Carlos' eyes widened. Someone or something was attacking Khoshekh...?

"Carlos, are you hearing this?" Jeffries interrupted Carlos' train of thought as him and Ellie came into the room, Ellie's portable radio in his hand. Carlos nodded in concern as the weather played in the background.

"We didn't hear what attacked him, but I tell you right now, whatever it is, they aren't getting away with it." Dr Green gritted her teeth.

Carlos was a little taken aback by her outburst. She was fond of the cat, as they all were. The only one of the team that had ever really gotten close to loving the floating cat as much as Cecil was not Carlos, nor Ellie, however, but Dr Johnson. The physicist had often made excuses to go to the radio station on Station Management's less active days to see Khoshekh.

Carlos was sure that if she had been there, she would have busted out her old katana and gone crazy trying to find whomever was responsible. The fact that Natalia had one at all scared him. Ellie, obviously, thought it was awesome that Natalia had taken it up in college as a 'sport'; in reality, the woman had taken it up as part of her continued interest in self defence. Given that Natalia had been brought up in one of the rougher areas of Chicago, he recalled her telling them that she took the attitude of 'be tougher' growing up.

"Khoshekh has been hurt. Very badly. Animal Control came and took him to a hospital. They think he will live. They think he will live...differently." Cecil's voice sounded broken coming out of the radio and Ellie turned it up. "...He is my boy. He is my buddy! I love him so much. And this…thing, this THING, comes here, and–"

Jeffries swallowed thickly and over the next few minutes, the team continued to listen in the usual Night Vale manner: gaped mouth silence.

"'Daniel and I and the whole StrexCorp management team got you that StrexPet, because we know you love animals so much!'" Everyone could see Carlos getting more fidgety.

"I’m going to go now. Go see my Khoshekh. He should be out of surgery in half an hour or so, and…I’m sure he will live..." Cecil finished meekly. Carlos stood up and walked calmly towards the door.

"Carlos!" Ellie ran after him. She knew this mood. Carlos was so upset he wasn't saying anything. Which was bad. "Carlos, breathe."

"I'm going for scientific and non-scientific reasons to the Animal Hospital." He replied with as much calm as he could muster. "As a scientist, I have a duty to help those who do not understand the fundamentals of science. That is one of the things a scientist is. As well as FINE. Which I am."

Ellie nodded solemnly. StrexCorp had already stolen something from the team, and she was certain that Carlos did not want anything else taken from them. That encompassed Khoshekh too.

"Just...just text us if everything's okay, will you?"

"I will." Carlos promised, giving her a small smile as he closed the door behind him gently. As she watched him leave, Ellie once again felt a pang of worry and she thought about what the not-angel had told her. Natalia was alive. And they were going to get her back. They would get it all back. She could feel that something big was coming. But, as the future is as unpredictable as the town of Night Vale itself, she could never predict how big.

Chapter Text

The first thing Carlos did when he woke up was sneeze. Contrary to Cecil's assurance that the Claratin would kick in soon ("Maybe a week or so, it has to get past all your grey blood cells after all. You know, the ones that war-monger against disease with fire and ash and sharp knives?"), Carlos had felt like death all week. It was worth it though, seeing Cecil so happy holding Khoshekh.

Carlos had dutifully begun investigating whether Khoshekh would be able to return to his original hover spot. After all, the attempts to remove Khoshekh from his floating prison were never fruitful, although one of Natalia's old notebooks that Ellie had found a month or so ago had some very interesting theories. Khoshekh had always been her favourite physics related phenomenon in the town, after all, aside from the House That Doesn't Exist.

Carlos rubbed his eyes, resting his head on Cecil's chest, which made an excellent pillow in Carlos' opinion. He glanced at the clock. It wasn't emitting grey goo that morning, thankfully, but it indicated it was early, which wasn't good given the late night he had had. For once, it wasn't even due to his work. The couple had had Janice over the night before for dinner; Cecil had bought lots of Girl Scout cookies from Janice to fund her 'camping trip'. Carlos didn't entirely approve of Cecil's encouragement regarding Janice and Tamika Flynn's friendship. He knew that the girls were good friends, but the idea of Janice being in danger....it worried him.

Janice and Carlos had gotten along well from the first time they met. She was interested in science far more than the limits of school teaching should allow. Cecil tried to explain to her that she should only learn what she was allowed, but Janice had still gone to ask Carlos questions about science. A year ago, Carlos would have wholeheartedly questioned Cecil's point of view, but spending time in Night Vale had at least illuminated to Carlos how seriously the town took education. It would put Janice in danger by learning more than she was legally allowed, and Cecil was trying to protect her; he had grown up in the same system and knew the consequences.

However, Carlos had given in and answered Janice's questions, mainly because she had actually asked them. Science was a wondrous thing and it was nice to be able to discuss it with someone outside his team.

When she was around the night before, they had had Janice's favourite Rico's slice and watched some films, as well as discussing the matter of the cookies. Carlos had spent some of the evening upgrading her wheelchair to make it faster and stealthier for Girl Scout activities, so she could handle it over her trip away. She had hugged him tightly and said "Thank you, Uncle Carlos! Thank you thank you thank you!" It made Carlos smile whenever she called him that.

Carlos was pulled from his train of thought by Cecil stirring under him. The man yawned sleepily.

"Morning." Carlos smiled.

"Good morning..." Cecil replied with a tired smile. "Do you want coffee?"

"Ah..." Carlos could practically hear the hammer sounds already. Oh well, he'd been awake for a while. "Yes, please."

Ten minutes and loud hammer smashing noises later, Carlos remembered all the reasons he'd been avoiding caffeine until he got to the lab each morning.

 

~

 

"Janice’s Girl Scout cookies have really been moving! The guys in Sales just came by and bought some classic shortbread cookies. The guys were all wearing matching suits and wool hats, and they threw the boxes of cookies back and forth to each other while shouting 'Hup!' and 'Catch!' and 'Look alive, Sean!' as they jogged back to their cubicles. All of the guys in Sales are named Sean."

Dr Natalia Johnson hummed as she walked through the halls of StrexCorp headquarters, listening to the radio through her phone. She passed a mirror and paused to check her smile. Was it smiley enough? She had felt like there was something wrong with her image for a while. She thought at first it was her teeth. But she was starting to consider otherwise.

Was it her hair? It had grown longer recently. It reached her shoulders in elegant black curls, apart from a white streak in her hair that grew white from the root even as it had grown longer. She couldn't remember how that got there. Or why she kept getting the nagging feeling that it should be shorter. Maybe it was her freckles? She considered. Maybe she didn't have enough blood on her lab coat? She'd figure it out eventually.

She pulled out her red lipstick and applied it, before stepping back to admire her work. Blood red. Fitting, for someone who served the Smiling God.

She continued walking until she got to her workstation at her lab, pinning back her hair to ensure that it would be safe. She would focus on work today as well, to reach her productive potential. It would distract her, as well, from her weird nagging feelings. She felt out of place, disconnected, and it frustrated her that she couldn't figure out why. It was little things. Every time she looked at the third eye on her hand she associated it with a sunset for some reason. The feeling that someone should be singing cartoon themes loudly from the next room when she was in the shower in the morning. Or when they had a company champagne toast at a meeting, she felt sick at the thought of drinking. But she couldn't remember WHY.

Natalia didn't particularly want to ask anyone about it either. Everyone was busy, after all. Working was the most important thing and it would be rude to interrupt anyone else's crucial work. She sighed and listened again to the radio.

"Let’s have a look now at Traffic." Cecil said, but then another voice entered Natalia's ears.

"CECIL!" A woman's voice.

"Hello?" Cecil replied. "Listeners? I just saw a glimmer…a flicker of something here in the studio. One moment there was simply a wall, and a floor, and air, and then in another moment there was a shape of a person. Of a woman, a…"

"Cecil! It’s your former intern! It’s me, Dana!" The woman said. Natalia felt a pain in her gut. She knew that voice. This was the biggest nagging feeling yet. Dana. Who was Dana? Why did she feel like she knew this person? Did she know this person and just not remember?

She thought hard. What words did she associate with this...? Friend. Missing. Radio. She scratched her head. A strange set of words. A friend...but if she was a friend, why did she not remember her? She scribbled across an equation in her notebook in annoyance. That was a problem for another day.

 

~

 

"I hope all of the girls out there are safe on their upcoming camping trip. There are not many places to hide in the desert, girls. But, you’re very innovative. I mean, for playing tag, of course! I mean for simple games, of course! Not for…self preservation. Or…well-thought-out strategic attacks on a highly-organized enemy. You would never need to hide for THOSE reasons! Why would I even SAY that? Why would I say ANYTHING?"

Dr Green sighed as she listened to Cecil's radio show. She was having one of THOSE mornings. You know the mornings. We've all had them. A morning when you're not motivated to do anything except lie in bed, watch a comfort movie and eat chocolate ice cream from the container or copious amounts of melon or some other strange thing because all you feel is sick.

So when the biochemist arrived at the lab that morning, her usual cheer seemed to be completely destroyed. Carlos, although still recovering from his coffee making related headache, noticed pretty much immediately.

"Hey, Ellie. You alright?"

"Yeah. Just don't feel well."

"Hm...have you been to the doctor?"

"So they can tell me I've not consumed enough tuna or something again?" Her voice was raspy and she sounded miserable.

"May I ask the symptoms?" Rochelle suddenly asked.

"Um, sore throat, like REALLY sore, headache, I'm not really as hungry as I normally am...my ears are ringing and hurting and my neck feels like it's floating out of my body." She added sardonically.

"Oh no." Rochelle's eyes widened.

"What? What is it?" Ellie asked urgently, beginning to panic slightly.

"Could it be...?" Dave glanced at her.

"Not sure." She replied. "Green, open your mouth."

She furrowed her brows and inspected Ellie's throat as the blonde woman frowned at the inconvenience of having her mouth ajar for an extended period of time.

"Throat spiders." She eventually whispered.

"SPIDERS?!" Ellie screeched, which ended up sounding more like a strangled cat wheeze. "N-no spiders. Mm. No spiders here. Besides, there is no way. I can't have!" The biochemist protested hoarsely. "I had my vocal chords changed....ah." She trailed off.

"When did you have your chords changed?" Carlos said, internally wincing because he had a clue regarding the answer. Plus the mention of spiders was doing enough to make him shudder.

"About a year ago?" She said guiltily.

"Dammit." Rochelle groaned. "We need to get you to Night Vale General, now. Before we all catch it. I'll drive you."

"B-but.." Ellie tried to protest, but one firm look from Carlos made her silent.

"You're no good to us if you're ill, Dr Green." Rochelle uttered calmly. The tone was sincere. Despite their many differences, the two did respect each other's scientific integrity and skill sets. Ellie sighed.

"Fine, but can someone get me some of those Girl Scout cookies I've been hearing about on Cecil's radio show? I might get hungry."

Carlos laughed. "I'll get some from ours. Cecil kept plenty for us."

"Car is ready." Rochelle walked back into the room and stepped aside to let Dr Green through the laboratory door.

"'Kay." She muttered dejectedly before following the fellow biologist out, Jeffries entering the room past her as she did so.

"Why is Ellie cursing so much?" The bearded man asked in bewilderment.

They were now two scientists down, Carlos thought as he tapped a beaker full of bubbling liquid on the side in the lab. It was bad enough only having Carlos himself for all physics related phenomenons, but to be down Dr Green as well was disastrous. Carlos still lost sleep worrying about Natalia, the state of the town currently AND Cecil's new management. Just another thing to add to the list.

Carlos rubbed his temples. "Because her scientific projects have jumped forward in a way none of us like."

Chapter Text

"Ooh I'm so excited for this!" Dr Green wheezed from her hospital bed.

"Ellie, the doctors have told ya at leas' six times since we got 'ere that you shouldn't be speakin'." Jeffries scolded. The biochemist responded with a grumpy pout.

"I can't blame her. Cecil's special broadcasts are really something." Carlos smiled. Ellie had been driving herself crazy in the hospital bed. The doctors had somehow managed to cure her of throat spiders in record time, but the recovery period was over a month and she wouldn't be let out of hospital for a good two weeks yet.

Carlos and Cecil had sent her favourite foods for her and her weekly Rico's slice and Jeffries had been to see her after school hours each day so she had company. Dave had facetimed her with updates on their project and she responded mostly with sign language through the video screen as speaking was forbidden by the doctors and Dave was the only one on the team who could interpret it. If it had been anywhere else, she would have used a whiteboard and pen; therefore, the ban on writing utensils had never been more irritating for the scientist.

However, that afternoon, both Carlos and Jeffries had come to see her, so she had ignored the doctors and started speaking again.

"Sorry." She muttered.

"Don't speak!" Brent Jeffries whined, placing his face in his hands and groaning at the blonde woman's determination to undermine her own recovery.

"Sorry...." Ellie whispered.

"ELLIE."

"Sorry?"

"Just....please stop talking."

She wisely responded with a nod.

"Well, as I was saying about science..." Carlos immediately began. "I shall be going along to the radio station tonight with Cecil in secret to do some special scientific observations of his broadcast. Natalia and I observed the one last year that Cecil said was extra special. Granted, as scientists, we should have been braver than we were that day..."

Ellie's gaze lowered when he mentioned Natalia. It had been three months exactly since she had disappeared, and she lingered on the biochemist's thoughts.

"...S'been three months, hasn't it?" Jeffries commented solemnly. The blonde nodded.

"We don' even know if she's alive." Brent muttered.

"Scientific probability would sugg-" Carlos began.

"She's alive." Ellie rasped out firmly.

"Ellie, you can't say tha' for sure."

"But I can."

"What?"

"I've been..." She paused to cough and Carlos frowned again at her determination to make her condition worse. "Told. She's been seen."

"She has? Where?" Carlos said in shock. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because I was told by....by....angels aren't real." She sobbed. "They aren't real." Tears streamed down her cheeks.

"That's enough talking." A nurse came in, who appeared to be missing ears. This served to confuse the scientists as she had no visible way of hearing whether Ellie was speaking at all. "I must ask you to leave for now."

Carlos nodded in reply. "Brent, we have science to do." Before the geologist could protest, he added "Ellie, we'll be back later. I have something I want to discuss with the whole team."

The two nodded and Carlos and Brent walked to the exit of the hospital.

"I'm going to the station to run my experiments. I have my instruments in my car. Can you please inform Rochelle and Dave that we're meeting back here after the broadcast."

"Gotcha." Jeffries nodded and scratched his beard. "Give Cecil my best."

"Will do."

Jeffries smirked slightly. Dr Green wasn't here, so he would have to step in.

"Carlos."

"Hm?"

"Don't distract Cecil." He said with the tone that had all the dark implications that Dr Green, and Natalia also, would have given and winked, before leaving the scarlet faced Carlos stood flabbergasted by his car.

 

~

 

Bzzz!

Carlos pressed the buzzer.

"Hello?" A strange sounding robotic voice answered.

"I'm here for sci-er, Cecil?"

"Mr Palmer, are you expec-" The voice asked before there was a slight muffle and a crackle on the other end of the line.

"Come in!" Cecil's voice said cheerfully and the cold metal doors opened. Carlos entered hesitantly and walked up quickly, purposely avoiding the break room and the station management area. When he reached the radio booth, he knocked gently. There was no reply for a few moments and he attempted to look into the radio booth window, but it was completely opaque and black, with no light entering it. Carlos was just about to reach for his phone when the booth opened and a hand pulled him inside. A hand clamped over his mouth and the door closed. Carlos struggled in surprise but was cut off by a voice.

"Ssshhh, sshhh! It's me! Carlos, it's me."

Or, more accurately, THE voice.

The hand over Carlos' mouth let go and he breathed out, turning round to face Cecil.

"What scientific reason did you have for that?!" He whispered in annoyance.

"Sorry. I didn't want my producer Daniel to notice you coming in. I've managed to convince my new....MANAGEMENT..." He said in distaste. "That my special broadcast is dangerous for people to witness so I must be alone with all the windows blacked out and the cameras off."

"And is it?"

"Well, yes. But you'll be fine!"

"A scientist is always fine." Carlos replied, his good mood returning. "I just wish you'd warned me."

"Sorry..." Cecil blushed. "I just thought it was more exciting that way."

Carlos swallowed thickly. "I-okay." He cleared his throat. Focus on science. "So what exactly is happening here?"

He glanced around at the radio booth. It looked very different from normal. The room had more thick cables strewn over the floor than normal and the room was basked in a turgid red glowing. The lights that usually illuminated the booth had also turned scarlet. Carlos was taken aback by how different it was from the first time he had entered the odd radio station over a year and a half ago.

'Oh, Carlos, you came! I'm Cecil! SO good to meet you finally!'

He smiled to himself. Much had changed since then.

"I'm nearly ready to start. Do you have all your science....stuff?" Cecil said enthusiastically.

"I do. And I won't talk until there is a break. So no telling your listeners I'm here."

"I can't even if I wanted to. I have a limited amount of control with this broadcast. It's so exciting!"

Carlos did not see how lack of control was a good thing, but he sat in the chair next to Cecil.

"We're ready to go." Cecil remarked. Carlos glanced around. There were no computers or clocks to tell him when it was time to begin, and Carlos knew for a fact that Cecil had forgotten his watch that morning.

"How do you know?"

"Oh Carlos." Cecil laughed and his purple third eye began to open and glow neon purple. "I always know."

He faced the microphone and Carlos took out his instruments ready, slightly in awe of his boyfriend.

"'This is a story about them,' says the man on the radio. And you are concerned, because this is NOT a story you were ever supposed to hear....welcome to Night Vale...."

 

~

 

Natalia's head was hurting. More so today than any other day. She rubbed it soothingly and sighed, focusing on smiling to take her mind off the pain. Flashes. That's all they were. Nothing more than flashes. They were probably from a dream. Nothing more! She yelled at herself.

"Are you alright?" One of her colleagues asked.

"I'm fine." She said back in response, forcing a smile onto her lips. She puts on the radio. For some reason, it always calmed her a little. It gave her a warm fuzzy feeling inside listening to the radio, although she felt that she should be sharing that happiness with others.

"They are narrated along by the radio, until the man who is not tall turns it off. In the parking lot, the man who is not short looks up.
'Hey, what is that?' he says, indicating the clear nothing of the sky.
'What is what?' says the other.
'I saw something,' he says, 'for a moment. Just there, for a moment.'"

Something in the sky. Another flash. No, like a long flash. A small dream.

She glanced around at her surroundings. Brilliant lights in the sky. An Arby's sign. Two men were sat on the top of a car in the distance. She couldn't see who they were. Someone next to her suddenly shouted and laughed heartily.

"WELL IT'S ABOUT BLOODY TIME!"

She turned to look at them. Their face was blank. Like someone had been photoshopping the dream and blotted out the face of the woman. Everything else remained, however. The lab coat, plaid shirt and curly blonde hair. The blonde hair...she thought curiously. Is that the same blonde hair I keep seeing in my other dreams? She tried to step closer, she if she could observe the woman's face properly, but she felt it slipping away and after a few blinks, she realised that she was still at her lab at the Strex headquarters.

Natalia whipped out her notebook and jotted down everything she had seen. She then added notes next to her headings about her dreams.

She only had headings for recurring elements. They were entitled 'Chicago?' 'Science?' among other things. 'Friends?' had smaller subheadings including 'Man with beard' and 'Main scientist? Boss? Named Carl????'. She flicked through to the page she now required. There was a whole double page spread for 'Who is the blonde woman?'.

Natalia ran her fingers through her hair and added the notes about what she had seen, before putting the notebook back in her lab coat pocket. She hadn't told anybody about the flashes of what she still assumed were dreams. Dr Johnson was still, after all, attempting to convince herself that she wasn't crazy. Best not to let her management know. She still wanted to serve the Smiling God, but it still puzzled her why she had this guy feeling that all her memories before her newest assignment felt...wrong. Detached. Like they weren't hers.

If these dreams were memories, then why didn't she remember them properly? Why were there parts missing? Who are the five people she kept seeing in her dream? The people in labcoats whom she could only assume were scientists. Who, WHO was this blonde woman? And why, most importantly, did Natalia feel a stab of pain in her heart whenever she saw them in her dream?

Natalia tapped her fingers next to her Geiger counter. Maybe it was time to start her own investigation into these scientists. The Smiling God wouldn't have to know. Again, she had a nagging feeling that this was a normal thing to do. She always had had a slight problem with authority.

 

~

 

"As they leave the warehouse and the supervisor and the piles of wooden crates, the voice on the radio says something about the weather..." Cecil said calmly and pressed a button on his control panel, leaning away from the microphone.

"Sooooo....how's the science going?" He asked Carlos excitedly, who was sat on his lap observing his third eye with intrigue, his body in the same twisted position it had been whilst Cecil was talking so the radio host could speak into the microphone.

"It's....wow. I mean, you're incredible, honey!" Carlos beamed happily. "I mean the way it can see the whole town and follow the movements of another. It's so scientifically fascinating!"

"Well, you know me!" Cecil grinned, abashed. "I'm very into science these days."

"I've noticed." Carlos laughed lightly. "Oh, Cecil, this is amazing. Thank you for letting me take a look at it in action."

"It's no problem. When your boyfriend is a scientist, it's nice to know that he finds you scientifically interesting."

"You're always interesting, Cecil." Carlos smiled down at him and leaned in for a kiss, but quickly pulled away when, as Cecil's normal eyes began to close, his third eye attempted to do the same. The resultant panic by Carlos resulted in them both falling off the chair into a heap. The two looked at each other for a brief moment before snorting and laughing quietly.

"As much as I'd like to stay on this floor curled up with you, Carlos," Cecil said with a sad smile. "I am a radio professional, and need to finish my show."

Carlos nodded and got up, helping his boyfriend to his feet. "And I am a scientist. I study science. It would be unprofessional of me not to complete my study."

"You can study me all you want later tonight." Cecil said bluntly.

Even in the red glow of the radio booth, Carlos' heated cheeks were obvious.

"P-professionalism." He blurted, more to remind himself than Cecil, as anymore teasing and he would find it difficult to finish his study without breaking the rules of anti-fraternisation in the radio station. Plus he'd break his promise to Jeffries.
"Professionalism!"

Cecil laughed and sat back at his microphone as the 'ON AIR' sign returned to green.

"By the time they leave the warehouse, it is night. Or maybe the sun has just set early. The sunrise that morning had been particularly loud and strenuous..." He continued in his broadcast, smiling occasionally at Carlos, who barely noticed due to his wide-eyed almost childish fascination with Cecil's eye.

Both were in their element at that moment. Unfortunately, both knew that the peace was not to last. Not with the plans that were to come later that evening.

 

~

 

"So why are we here again?" Rochelle asked Carlos as the team of scientists stood later that evening in front of the library.

Dave had gone to see Ellie and was facetiming Jeffries, Rochelle and Carlos from her hospital room. Dave had removed the surveillance from the room temporarily (Carlos internally thanked Dave's Boy Scouts training) so they could avoid the Secret Police watching or indeed StrexCorp.

"We're here to meet someone." Carlos said simply.

"But it's the library!" Rochelle hissed. "No-one in their right mind goes in there! Everyone is scared of the librarians."

"Not everyone." Carlos said as the door opened and they stepped in, closing the door behind them.

"Is this safe?" Jeffries whispered to Carlos. "And why did you want us here?"

"Because Cecil needs us. The town of Night Vale, this scientifically remarkable community and our HOME, needs us to scientifically investigate a potential portal to a different dimension that we've seen at Cynthia's House That Doesn't Exist." Carlos explained to his team, before facing a shadowy corner where the welcome desk of the library should be. "Isn't that right, Ms Flynn?"

A figure emerged from the shadowy corner and came into view. The figure was clutching a librarians head under one arm and a stack of books far beyond her reading age under the other. Her dark eyes had a determined flicker in them.

"That's right." She replied, and gave a small grin to the scientists.

Chapter Text

"Today's the day." Carlos said as he watched Cecil get dressed into a navy shirt that was tight fitting apart from the short sleeves, which were light, large and poofy, like Cinderella's ballgown, and patterned with roses. Cecil's fashion sense always made Carlos happy. It was so unique and odd. But strangely beautiful.

"Do I wear this with my sleeveless wetsuit jacket?" Cecil asked. "I can't see without a mirror, so..." That was one of the only things that Cecil had asked for when they moved in together. No mirrors around the house. Carlos had accepted naturally, and besides, it was sweet watching Cecil shave without a mirror. Because Carlos usually helped him with all the spots he missed and the two had a good laugh about it.

"Mm...." Carlos considered. "You may need more mobility today, so perhaps not."

"I guess so..." Cecil said sadly. "But I'm wearing my golden top hat for definite! It gives off the right vibe for absolutely not taking down an evil corporation, you know?"

"Absolutely. Hey, Cece. Which labcoat should I wear?" Carlos mused.

"How about....this one?" Cecil pulled out one of his ones that had his name on from when Ellie could still be bothered to embroider them all. "It makes you look...brave."

"Good call." Carlos flushed and nodded. He pulled off his pyjama shirt which had a faded picture of the periodic table on. It had been rigorously crossed out in sharpie by the Secret Police shortly after Carlos had arrived in Night Vale, but after many washes it could still be seen slightly. Cecil sat next to Carlos and rested his head on Carlos' bare shoulder.

"You'll be okay investigating today?"

"Yeah, I'll have my team." Carlos replied, turning his head to look at Cecil on his shoulder. "They are very reliable. Being reliable is one of the many things a scientist is. I'm more worried about you."

"I'll be okay. Besides, I need to be there for our community."

"Night Vale needs its Voice." Carlos smiled. "But I need its Voice too. So come home safe, okay?"

"I will." Cecil returned his smile and kissed Carlos gently. Well, gently at first.

"H-How long is it until one of us has to be somewhere?" Carlos pulled away from Cecil's lips momentarily, his breathing hitched.

"Twenty-five minutes, I think. Why?"

"That'll do."

The two half lunged back at each other and immediately resumed their heated kissing, the clothing choices quickly ruined as they were flung carelessly back across the room.

 

~

 

Natalia's morning was already living up to her expectations. She was to be heading out with a group of people to the previous home of Old Woman Josie, as there had been reported sightings of angels, which, of course, are very real and very dangerous, her colleagues assured her when she became afraid at them acknowledging their existence.

Along the way, she passed an apartment where two men were standing outside. She suddenly skidded her car to a halt. She...she knew them.

"Be safe, okay? I'll call you when I find some scientific results." The man in the lab coat and rather poignant hair kissed the other gently as he passed him what appeared to be a feather boa.

"I'll see you later." The man grinned back and started his car, before driving away.

Natalia looked at her watch. It was twenty minutes before she was scheduled to be at Old Woman Josie's for the investigation. She could do some investigating of her own for a little bit? Surely? Her head hurt, like someone was banging inside her head yelling at her. Come to think of it, it was how she always felt whenever she had the strange dreams. Like there was a part of her locked away.....

"Excuse me!" She called, getting out of her car, running over to the man. "Look this is going to sound really strange and weird and I'm probably going to get in trouble for saying this," Natalia babbled, suddenly worrying about how the StrexCorp management would feel about her about her a) conversing with a non-Strex employee without permission and b) her not working to her full potential.
"But I feel like I know....you...." She trailed off, seeing the man's shocked expression. "Are you okay?"

"Natalia..." The man breathed.

"You know me?"

"Of course I do." He rushed forward and hugged her tightly. "Tell me everything. I'm asking this because of purely scientific reasons, of course."

"Who are you? And if you know me, why don't I remember you?"

"Carlos. My name is Carlos. You're a member of my research team." He stepped back and observed her worriedly. "You went missing over three months ago."

"Three months....that's about as far back as I can remember. T-there was a room....and teeth. Lots of teeth. But it was okay! I met the Smiling God, and it was wonderful! And I have all this work....work......" She trailed off, her eyes widening and she glanced at her watch. "I'm late. I-I can't be punished again for not being dedicated to working! Or not smiling enough!" She panicked and began to turn back towards her car.

"Natalia, wait!" Carlos called after her desperately.

"What?" She replied, clearly spooked.

"If you want to know about your memories and your science and your friends....come with me."

"N-Now?"

"Yes. Natalia, this isn't you. You came here with my team. With me. How much do you remember?"

"Nothing, I just get these weird dreams."

"What happens in them?"

"Little conversations. I can't see the people's faces. It's like they've been removed from my memory..." She swallowed. "A few things keep coming up. Do you think....do you think you'd be able to help?"

"What things?"

"Chicago. Physics. And this woman. A blonde woman. She's there more than the other people I see."

The man's face softened. "You were brought up in Chicago. You're a physicist on my team....and the blonde woman....well, if I'm not mistaken, she's another member of our team. A scientist."

"Who?"

"Ellie. Her name is Ellie."

A stabbing pain went through Natalia's gut when she heard that name. Happiness and warmth...she must have felt strongly for this person. But it was overwhelmed with layers and layers of guilt. So much guilt that she felt tears coming to all three of her eyes. Before she properly registered what she was doing, she ran to her car and sped off, leaving Carlos standing outside his apartment with a solemn expression.

 

~

 

"Hey, Carlos! Come on, th'radio show's started already'." Jeffries called over with a smile as Carlos pulled up. "Rochelle went in the house a while ago to investigate. We tried ta stop her but her and Dr Green got in anothe' argument." He looked pointedly at Ellie. "So she took it as a challenge and went off into th' House. Also, Dave's made kolaches if you're hungry."

"Awesome." He replied flatly.

"Carlos, what's wrong?" Ellie bounded up, but refrained from hugging him, seeing his expression.

"I saw her."

"What? Who?" Dave asked, joining the small gathering of people next to Carlos' car, parked next to the scientists' van.

"Natalia."

Unconsciously, most of the team turned to Ellie to gauge her reaction. Jeffries even put a hand on her shoulder.

"I.....I-Is she okay?" Ellie whispered, her fist slightly clenched and a pink blush on her freckled cheeks.

"She is missing a very large part of her memories. I am very sure that StrexCorp is the result."

"Does she remember us?" Jeffries pressed. Carlos shook his head.

"She said she remembers snippets. Little things. Chicago. Her name. And..." Carlos thought about what Natalia had said. 'This woman. A blonde woman...'

"And what?" Ellie leaned forward.

"Some science things." He lied, scratching his head. He didn't want to give Ellie false hope, even if it did seem that Natalia wanted her memories back. The moment Carlos had mentioned her it had....triggered something in Natalia. She had seemed so upset.

"But what exactly did she-"

"HEY!" Dave called frantically. He had just opened the door to the House That Doesn't Exist. He'd done it out of curiosity, but Rochelle had immediately stumbled out and collapsed into the floor.

"Rochelle!" Carlos yelped in shock. The team ran over and surrounded the woman. "What happened?"

"I was in there for HOURS! Why didn't anyone let me out?"

"Rochelle...." Jeffries raised a bushy eyebrow. "You've been in there four'y-five minutes, tops."

The caramel haired woman shook her head in protest. "I've been in there hours. I'm SO hungry. Dave, you haven't eaten the kolaches, have you?"

"Uh, no." Dave said, trying not to be too worried by Rochelle's current state. He passed the tray of kolaches to Rochelle, who began devouring them like a starving animal. Clearly the amount of time she had been in the House That Doesn't Exist had meant that she felt table manners were a thing of the past.

"I'd best call Cecil." Carlos murmured. Ellie sat down to apologise to Rochelle and update her on the Natalia situation. He pulled out his phone and dialled Cecil's number. It went through almost immediately. He felt bad that he was missing the radio show. The revolution, too. But everyone had assured the scientists that this was where they were needed.

"Carlos?" Cecil's voice whispered. "Hang on, Carlos. Can you be on hold for just a few moments?"

"Sure." Carlos replied quietly, knowing that Cecil needed to finish his traffic segment.

"We’re getting more updates about those doors. In fact, I have a very important scientist on the phone right now." Cecil's voice was suddenly louder and he had his special 'radio voice' on that Carlos loved so much. In a totally scientific way....absolutely. "He’s at the very top of his field, a really handsome scientist!"

"Stop!" Carlos blurted, rather flushed. It reminded him of Cecil's gushing from the first few months he was in Night Vale.

"Hi, Carlos! So, you said you saw these new doors." Okay. Science. Science was good.

"Yes, I’m here with my research team at the House That Does Not Exist in the Desert Creek housing development. The one that looks like it’s there, but isn’t there? Our previous attempts to understand the home were futile. From the windows it looks completely empty, but when you try to go inside, there’s a fully furnished home and a woman named Cynthia living there. But today, all of the composite fiberglass doors on the house suddenly changed. They’re now all old oak doors with brass knobs, and when we opened one, we finally saw the empty house that we’ve been seeing through the windows." He recalled from Jeffries' update from before he arrived.

"If you go inside the home from these new doors, you can explore the house that does not exist, BUT you cannot return unless someone is on the other side of the door you went through. One of our scientists, Rochelle, went through, and couldn’t get back out! We only thought she was inside for about 45 minutes, but when we opened the door back up, she ran out saying she’d been trapped for several hours! She was sweating and starving, and she ate every one of the kolaches Dave made for us. So now, we just need to do more experiments. We have to be careful, because time is weird in Night Vale. But I’m going to do a bit of exploring in this house, and get back to you and your listeners about what is going on here."

"Carlos? Do be careful!" Cecil replied.

"I'll be fine, Cecil!" He said reassuringly. "I have a team of five talented scientists with me..." He paused for a moment. He'd unconsciously included Natalia. "They will be here to check on my progress and keep me from getting trapped," he continued. "Without them, of course, it would be much more dangerous. But I am not without them. Not at all."

"Well, you’re very brave." Cecil said happily in his voice, and Carlos tried not to think about earlier that morning when Cecil had said the same thing.

"Thanks, Cecil." Carlos replied softly, before the line went down and Cecil continued his broadcast. "I'm going in!" He called to the team, before opening his car and pulling out pretty much every single thing he had in there. He had his rucksack with a spare labcoat and change of clothes (in case there really was a large time gap and plus, a scientist should always be prepared for such a scenario), his lunchbox with a water bottle, his phone, the scout survival kit that Cecil bought him, plus some beakers, sampling equipment and a whole array of scientific monitoring equipment. It was enough to hurt Carlos' back when he was carrying it. He pulled out his Geiger counter and walked towards the house.

"Be careful, Carlos." Ellie said. "And we'll talk about Nat when you get back, okay?"

"Deal." Carlos said, giving the team a lazy wave as he stepped through the door.

"Carlos, wait!" Jeffries suddenly called after him, but it was no use. Carlos had already shut the door of the House That Does Not Exist. The man with perfect hair, in his excitement, had failed to notice the StrexCorp logo decorated cars speeding towards the group of scientists.

"Ellie, we need ta leave righ' now. Dave, get Rochelle to the van." Jeffries shouted firmly.

"But Carlos!" Ellie said in panic.

"We don't have time, Ellie! Do ya want 'em to catch us? By the time we get Carlos out they'd be here and he'd be caugh' too! We'll come back for him, now COME ON!" Jeffries put his hand on Ellie's arm, tugging her gently towards the van. The biochemist relented and ran towards the van, abandoning Carlos' car. Dave moved to get into the driver's seat but Jeffries put his arm in the way. "Let me."

Dave stepped back and Jeffries jumped into the front seat of the van, whilst the other man hurried round to the back seat. Dr Green had taken her usual position in the passenger seat and her eyes had not left the door to the House That Doesn't Exist.

Jeffries started up the engine and revved it into gear as the Strex cars closed in. "Hang on!"

He reversed back quickly before pulling off a handbrake turn that had all the scientists clinging on for dear life before speeding away from the Desert Creek housing development.

"B-Brent." Ellie breathed out finally. "How did you learn to drive like someone out of Fast and Furious?"

Jeffries blushed scarlet and scratched his beard with a few knuckles. "Well, you know I grew up with a rich father...."

"Yeah." Dave said in confusion.

"Let's jus' say that in my rather rebellious years, my brothe' Ian and I found out joyridin' really made him angry."

"Wow." Rochelle said. She had somehow managed to keep eating kolaches the entire time. Ellie looked towards the StrexCorp cars behind them forlornly. One best friend was missing her memories and part of an evil corporation. Now the one of the only people outside of her family that she trusted with her life was trapped somewhere unknown.

'We're coming back for you, Carlos,' all of the team individually thought as the team zigzagged around the streets of Night Vale as the sun set in its usual manner of screeching. 'I promise.'

Chapter Text

It would probably be appropriate to say that Carlos' team of scientists were not having a good day. In reflection, it was not as bad as a few days previously. After the team had been forced to leave Carlos in the House That Doesn't Exist, there had been many a scouting expedition to see if the house could be reached to let him back out. It had been constantly guarded by Strex employees, leaving the team no chance to get to Carlos.

However, three days previously, there had been only a singular car present in front of the house and the team had agreed to launch an attempt to retrieve their boss. Suffice to say, it had been a trap and the entire team had been arrested and put in a cell in StrexCorp headquarters.

"I'm hungry..." Dave groaned miserably. "How come the girls get to eat more of the nice stuff?" The scientists had been given food by StrexCorp, but it was minimal and only once a day. Ellie had food in her large lab coat pockets as always, but she had been careful not to eat a lot of it in case they were there for a long time.

"Because it's Ellie's food." Rochelle replied. "And she decided that we women are in more need of chocolate."

"Why does Ellie even carry around that much food?" Dave raised an eyebrow and looked over at the biochemist, who was sat on her cell bunk looking out of the tiny cell window, her arms hugging her legs to her chest gently.

"She gets hungry a lot." Jeffries said simply. "And....well..."

"Well what?" Rochelle quipped.

"Natalia is diabetic. Ellie used ta carry 'round snacks in case she needed sugar."

"Oh." Rochelle and Dave both looked at the woman. She'd been in a tough place mentally ever since they had lost Carlos, and being captured by Strex hadn't helped at all. The blonde woman, usually so chatty and full of life, had been so quiet for days. Jeffries was amazed that the woman hadn't cracked and cried yet. He certainly had felt like it.

But he also felt that if Ellie cracked, they all would break down. He knew that she had been a real rock for Carlos even before the team came to Night Vale, and she had become a rock for them all too. Carlos and Ellie were the heart of the expedition; they were full of enthusiasm and passion, even when the days in Night Vale had been dark, figuratively and literally. Jeffries smiled to himself, remembering the time they had the few sunless days and Ellie, himself and Natalia sat on the roof of the lab and watched the strange lights in the sky whilst eating smores.

He felt himself rise from his seated position and go to sit with the biochemist.

"How ya doin', Ellie?" He said with a small smile.

"M'okay, I guess. Just worried about Carlos."

"We both know that's not the only reason."

"Ellie...." Dave suddenly muttered.

"Not now. And I'm fine, DR Jeffries." Jeffries winced. Ellie was only formal when she was annoyed.

"Ellie...this is important...." Dave tried to continue meekly but the biochemist continued to face away from them all and look out of the window.

"Why did she not come to us, Brent?" She blurted angrily. "Carlos said she was lost about what to do and she wanted answers! She WANTED ANSWERS!"

"And I do...." A voice pierced through the air in the cell. Ellie's anger melted and she took a sharp breath. Jeffries watched her blonde head fall forwards, as if she were suddenly taking a keen interest in her own twiddling thumbs.

"You're her, aren't you?" Natalia stepped towards the cell, her face illuminated by the dim lights of the corridor. She was carrying a small portable radio, which had an odd voice coming out of it, but no-one was paying it any heed. Her bottom lip was trembling, teeth grazing the blood red lipstick she had on it.

"You're the one from my dream."

 

~

 

Carlos was lost. There was no other word for it. He was completely and utterly lost. He felt like he had been walking in this place for an eternity.

Blisters were urging to pop on his tortured heels. He knew he should be grateful though, as had he listened to Cecil's advice about shoes that morning two weeks ago, he would have been wearing some incredible, but even more uncomfortable shoes. Cecil had some strange love of seeing him in Cuban heels, but they did nothing for his comfort levels.

Thankfully, he was wearing some pretty comfy steel capped boots when he left to enter the House That Doesn't Exist. He learnt the hard way to wear them doing experiments in Night Vale as live specimens REALLY hurt when they attempted to escape by scrambling off the bench onto his foot.

Carlos' feet dragged as he continued to walk. He was still, to his knowledge, in the House That Does Not Exist. He tried to explore the house and took lots of very scientific analytical data. It had at least been distracting him from the haunting fact that he had tried to go back through the door but had had no-one to let him out. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, and not like the sinking feeling he had when all of the town had that strange quicksand digestion problem a few months ago. Carlos knew that his team wouldn't just leave him. Ellie, for one, he's sure would break both femurs and doors to make him happy.

But the awful feeling came mostly from a sensation that Carlos, in a scientific sense, had never really felt before. It was loneliness. He had never felt loneliness before, mainly because whenever he was alone he utilised all his scientific tools (which his mother used to joke was saying 'hm' a lot and looking at whatever strange flasks of bubbling liquid he had in front of him) to avoid the feeling of loneliness.

However, science, for the first time in Carlos' life, was not completely compensating for that feeling. He missed Cecil. He missed him so much. He missed lazy mornings when Cecil didn't have to work curled up in each other's arms. He missed the singing and chanting that occurred over their evening meals. He missed the way that Cecil played with his hair when....

Carlos quickly shut down those thoughts and focused on what he missed MOST. The sound of his voice that was always so smooth and warm and calming was nowhere to be found. The voice that was so...Cecil. It encapsulated everything he loved about the radio host. Now he didn't know how long it would be until he heard or saw Cecil again. Carlos had turned off his phone to preserve battery the moment he realised he was trapped. He couldn't waste precious battery.

He began to walk again in the same seemingly endless direction that he had been walking in for the past two weeks. It reminded him of what Dana had said on the radio one day about the endless trekking she did in the confines of the Dog Park. Would it end? It had to end....right? He shifted his backpack further up his back. He was a scientist. He would be fine.
Scientists were always fine.

 

~

 

"Your....dream?" Dave questioned. Natalia nodded.

"I get these....dreams. Weird ones. You're all in it. That scientist man said he could help me with it. And with her." She inclined her head nervously towards Ellie. "You're always popping up in my dream. And somewhere called Chicago, too. Who ARE you?"

"N......" Ellie's lips parted to speak, but no words came out. Speak, dammit! She screamed in her head. But no sound came from the biochemist.

"Natalia, are you here to help us?" Brent broke the long silence that followed. He knew how emotional this reunion was for the whole team, but he doubted that she was here under orders.

"I want to know who I am." Natalia said determinedly. "I'm sick of them not answering my questions." She held up a key on a small chain. "I took it from Lauren."

"Lauren Mallard?!" Jeffries blanched.

"Uh......yeah?" She replied sheepishly. "Which is why we really need-"

BEEYAWBEEYAWBEEYAWBEEYA!

A large alarm sound echoed around the cell as lots of red flashing lights began to go off. The team all uttered various curse words and Natalia quickly used the key to open the door. Ellie was the first out of the door and she immediately gave Natalia a chocolate bar. Natalia looked at it in confusion. "What's this for?"

"It's 4 in the afternoon. You always have lunch at bang-on noon out of habit but dinner is not for several hours. If you've been trying to rescue us, I doubt you'd remember to keep your blood sugar levels in check." Ellie said as calmly as she could muster whilst maintaining the urgency of an escape.

"I....thank you." Natalia replied hesitantly.

"You scientists are making me want to not smile!" A security guard shouted from down the corridor. The team speedily followed Natalia down corridors until she shoved open some doors and the scientists were all nearly blinded like sunlight.

"Unfortunately, it’s not all good news, Kevin..." Natalia's radio could faintly be heard as they ran.

"Oh, no?" Kevin replied.

"It seems there have been some party poopers who haven’t made it to the picnic yet, or who have tried to leave early. But that’s OK! StrexCorp threw this party as a treat for their hard-working employees, and also so that they could learn who the party poopers were! We know the party poopers now, and we’re playfully letting them know that they ARE party poopers. We are putting heavy stone hats on them that say “Party Pooper” until they are agreeable." Lauren Mallard's crisp and critical voice said.

"Company Picnic?!" Ellie said. "Is there food?"

"Food...." Dave and Rochelle said wistfully.

"It's a trap." Natalia said as the group slowed down and hid in an alleyway, panting to regain their breath.

"Strex are taking everyone th-" She was cut off as Ellie winded her by almost fully tackling the woman; she squeezed Natalia tightly and buried her face in her shoulder. Jeffries followed suite and soon all the scientists were embracing the startled physicist simultaneously in a group hug. Natalia's radio crashed to the ground and the sounds coming out of it disappeared.

"Nat....you're home." Ellie sobbed.

"I....I still don't remember, you realise."

"Don't care." The biochemist muttered and the team laughed.

"Kevin, and all listeners out there at the company picnic, or illegally huddled in pitiful hiding spots that will be ferreted out, let’s go now to the weather...." A radio said. But it was not the one at Natalia's feet. It came from a man in a suit, smiling widely at the scientists with his own team. Which consisted of around 12 StrexCorp employees in their customary yellow polo shirts.

"Take them to the Company Picnic. As for the traitor of the Smiling God, lock her up with the other felons." The man said coldly, a complete contrast to the haunting smile that covered his mouth. The employees moved towards the scientists but paused when Dr Green stepped forward.

"No." Ellie stood defiantly and crossed her arms.

"No?" The man raised an eyebrow. "You refuse to work?"

"Yeah I do!" Ellie said. "I refuse to work for your stupid corporation. Scientists work for themselves. And, well, other scientists. Sometimes with better than average hair!"

Why Dr Green always caused problems due to her own defiance of the law and wheat smuggling and pen bans and all the other things she really wasn't supposed to do, the team would never know.

"Change of plan. Take this troublesome scientist to the prison as well. The others can be put with the radio host and the other Night Vale citizens in the Company Picnic."

The Strex employees all rushed forward at once. Two people immediately pulled Ellie and Natalia away from the small group, despite the protests from Jeffries, Dave and Rochelle.

No-one went quietly. Ellie hissed and wriggled and BIT the people holding her, and she needed a team of 4 Strex employees to restrain her. Natalia shouted for the team and her third eye watered with tears.

 

~

 

As the sun beat down and a faint rumbling noise echoed in the distance, Carlos trekked further, unaware that his team were once again, separated....

Chapter Text

"Why have you not given up yet?" Natalia sighed, pressing her forehead against the sides of the bars of the StrexCorp cell. Next door to her, but out of her sight, was Dr Green in her own cell. The woman had spent the past two weeks attempting to get her Internet to work on various devices of hers. She had used up all the battery on her phone, her tablet and her computer, which Natalia was still bewildered that StrexCorp let her keep. She was now down to her iPod, and the biochemist was still fiddling away attempting to boost the signal.

Natalia had asked her many questions about the team, but although she now knew much more about the scientists' studies, she had not yet had anything trigger her memories. But there was something....nice when she was talking to Ellie. Like it made sense.

"So we share an apartment?" Natalia asked. It had been a question on her mind a lot the last few weeks.

"Yuh-huh." Ellie replied, leaning against the cell bars, boredom clear on her freckled face.

"Are we....ah..." Natalia was not sure how to phrase it.

"Hm?"

"Are we...like.....t-together?"

The biochemist made a slight choking noise in reply. It was yet another one of the times that Natalia wished she could see Ellie from her cell.

"T-together? N-no, we weren't." The hesitant reply came.

"Are you sure?"

"......I'm sure."

"You don't sound sure...."

There was no reply, only the slight whirring of the device Dr Green was using. Natalia thought for a moment or two when the penny dropped.

"Did....did you want to?"

"Wha?!" Ellie yelped immediately. "N-no, why would you think that? No no, definitely nope. Mm, nope. Probably."

"Look, I may not know much about myself, but I'm pretty good at knowing when someone is lying through their teeth."

"Okay, maybe I did!" Ellie blurted. "But it wasn't like you'd say yes or anything, and I didn't want to compromise our friendship like that by telling you that I like you that way! I care too much about you to throw that away..." The physicist heard the distinctive thump of someone sitting down on the floor.

After a prolonged period of awkward silence, a loud beeping noise came from the other cell.

"What is it?" Natalia asked.

"The Internet! It's working! Finally, finally, I can catch up on the world. Message Brent, find out what the Batman vs Superman full title is-"

"B-Batman?" Natalia murmured. ".......BATMAN."

"Hm?"

A flood of memories hit Natalia. Watching the films with the team with goo in their hair from a failed experiment. The t-shirts. The team. Their faces. The memories of her time in Night Vale hit Natalia like a ton of bricks.

One distinct memory followed the rest. Ellie dragging Natalia into their living room to watch it on an evening that Natalia had felt unwell.

"Come on, Robin!" She'd giggled. "This will make you feel better!"

Natalia slumped to the floor blinking. She remembered everything.

"Oh god." She said.

"Nat, you okay?"

"E-Ellie...." Natalia stuttered. "I remember. I remember!"

"WHAT?!" Ellie promptly dropped the device and pressed her face to the bars in an attempt to see Natalia. It proved fruitless but it didn't seem to matter much as she waited for the reply.

"I remember! I remember Carlos, Brent! And Rochelle and Dave! And my parents! My friends! Cecil! And this town! And you! And you....er...." She turned slightly red. "Did....did you mean what you just said?"

Ellie made a choking noise that sounded slightly like a strangled cat.

"Ellie, I need to know."

"Of course I did." The reply came, softly.

"...Why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, like I said....I didn't want to ruin what we had."

"Maybe....what if it wouldn't ruin it?" Natalia said hesitantly.

"W-whu?"

"Maybe....if this whole thing with StrexCorp gets better....we could....."

"You...you really feel that way?"

"......Do I really have to say it?" Natalia said quietly.

Natalia's face was wet with tears as she thought about what her team had been through when she went missing, and the things that she'd done at Strex. She reached her hand through the bars of the cage and reached for the other cell. They'd used this to communicate and pass things to each other whilst they'd been imprisoned, but this time it was vastly different.

Natalia felt a warm hand slip into her own and she held on tightly, as if the hand was her anchor in this world of craziness, and she didn't want to ever let go.

~

"So, we are remodelling and redecorating this old building. We’ve added some new sales offices, a…a Room of Questioning – complete with fun steel chairs, and executive restraints…"

Jeffries grimaced as he listened to the radio.

"…and lots of wonderful framed paintings of human teeth. We’re even completely redoing the bathrooms!"

"I wish they'd stop playing this out loud." Dave groaned dramatically. "It's a disgrace to community radio!"

"Which reminds me," Kevin's voice continued "there are some stray cats floating at various heights in the men’s room here at the station. They look to be about a year old. If you want them, come and get them before the demolition crew arrives this afternoon."

"The cats?!" Jeffries blanched.

"Good point!" Lauren Mallard answered Kevin. "I’ll send our producer Daniel in there to take some pictures of the little guys. We’ll post them to the website, and listeners can figure out which ones they want to take, and come and get them."

"Unfortunately, everyone’s having too much fun at the company picnic! I doubt anyone will have any time – or the physical ability – to leave the picnic and adopt a stray floating cat." Kevin said in a low, malicious tone.

"Guys, if Cecil heard this..." Rochelle winced. Cecil had mysteriously disappeared the night before after a strange door had appeared in the company picnic. She had been awoken by the sound of the radio host leaving the spot they had carved out for themselves for designated 'working' amidst the horrors of the picnic. He'd disappeared through a door, just like Carlos had. Rochelle missed him already. Cecil had made the weeks they had spent in the hell hole almost bearable. They exchanged stories about Carlos, reminisced on town events...well, they had reminisced on the town events that they had been allowed to remember or recall. All residents of Night Vale had, of course, to be careful with that now that the new brain scanning technology from the future had come into the possession of the World Government several years ago. Well, what felt like years. Time was weird.

Rochelle looked again at her fellow scientists. Dave and Jeffries were tough, but even they were beginning to succumb to the fear that StrexCorp had instilled in them. Rochelle knew afraid. Hell, she had grown up in Night Vale. Being scared was part of the daily existence of anyone in the town. But this was different. Interlopers like the scientists were at least trusted by the town because they did important....well, science. Carlos and Jeffries in particular had adapted to Night Vale life in an extra way. Jeffries worked at the middle school and Carlos was in a committed relationship with one of the most influential people in the town.

Rochelle's thoughts then turned to Natalia and Ellie. The two had not been heard from since they had been dragged away by Strex. It felt like the team had been chipped away by StrexCorp. Natalia, Carlos, then Ellie. She had kept close to Dave and Jeffries whilst they had been at this hell of a 'company picnic'.

"Oh my god." Jeffries suddenly exclaimed next to her. Rochelle jumped slightly, having been lost in her thoughts.

"What is it?" Dave lifted his head.

"Ellie.....she POSTED ON TUMBLR."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. She's been reblogging pictures of the new Batman vs Superman logo."

"ARE YOU SERIOUS?!"

"How come you have Internet, Brent?"

"I just thought that Carlos may have tried to snapchat us so I turned my phone on. The wifi worked when that mysterious door was op- hang on. The tags say something." He squinted and pulled out his glasses to have a closer look.

"Well?" Rochelle asked eagerly.

"It says 'If any of you can see this, Nat has her memories and we are in the Strex HQ, 4th level basement north side. Please respond!'"

"Nat's remembered!" Rochelle beamed with joy. Jeffries was smiling but his cheerful demeanour quickly changed when he saw the Strex officials coming back their way. Jeffries quickly reblogged adding 'Company Picnic. Stuck. - B' before stuffing his phone back into his pocket, the communication between them now a secret for as long as they could make it.

 

~

 

Carlos felt like he was dying. His water had run out around a day ago and his food had run out three days ago. His stomach ached and gurgled constantly as he plodded up the mountain in the desert. There was always a rumbling noise, and sometimes he found it hard to distinguish if it was the constant rumbling of the strange earth and sand on which he had been walking over the last few weeks, or just his belly crying for want of food or water.

He wanted to go home. He wanted food and his bed and full lab equipment facilities. He wanted to watch Batman with his team, to listen to that element song that Ellie had been trying to teach him....but most of all he wanted Cecil. The thought of getting out of the desert and seeing Cecil and his team had kept his tired plodding consistent as he made his way across the desert.

Carlos scratched the stubble on his chin wearily as looked for the end of the top of the mountain. From what he could recall of Dana's phone calls to Cecil, there was a lighthouse on top of a mountain somewhere in the desert. Could it be this mountain? He questioned. Are mountains even real? The increasingly 'doubtful of what I'm seeing as I may be hallucinating' side of him chipped in.

"Keep going." He told himself, placing one food in front of the other taking another great stride up the steep side of the mountain. It would have gone so well, that stride, had he not caught his toes on a rock and sent him tumbling to the floor, his rucksack clattering as it slipped down his shoulders.

What's the point? Carlos felt like crying. He was never going to get out of this place. He rested his head on the sand, his vision going fuzzy. It would all be over soon....

Except it wouldn't be.

"Carlos? Carlos the scientist?" A voice said. A crisp clear voice came from a woman with frizzy dark brown hair and a 'Night Vale Community Radio' t-shirt. Carlos looked up weakly at its source.

"Are you alright?"

"A person?" Carlos murmured weakly. "Am I dreaming?"

"No." The familiar woman said calmly. "I am really here."

"You wouldn't happen to have any food and water, would you?" Carlos gave a small smile.

"Yes, me and the members of the masked army I found in this desert do."

"Masked army?"

"Yes."

Carlos hesitated for a moment before reaching up and grasping the hand offered to him.

"Lead the way....Dana."

Chapter Text

"Today is the day. There is only one thing for today, and that is the destruction of the hated StrexCorp, and freeing our town of Night Vale. We will work no longer. We will worship a Smiling God no longer. We have failed before, we have failed so many times at so many tasks, but at this, we will not fail...." Cecil Gershwin Palmer said determinedly into his microphone.

His voice carried all over the town through every radio, as it often did. Nearly every day in fact. Today, however, was slightly different from those days. It carried across the town, sure, but it was not reporting the minutes of the PTA, or talking about community events, or even gushing about the radio host's personal life. Today was a day of action.

"We need to be ready." Dave Gardner whispered to the rest of the people gathered around him. The group consisted of himself, Brent Jeffries, Rochelle Hower, Leann Hart, editor of the Night Vale Daily Journal and Brent's long-time girlfriend, plus Steve Carlsburg, his wife Abby and Janice, Cecil's niece.

"Ready for what?" Leann pointed out. "News bloggers?!"

"Le," Jeffries pleaded. "Not now."

"I'm just saying, we don't know what form the help from Cecil the others will come in."

"We'll find out soon. Now, let's go over the game plan one more time." Dave said. "When the fence comes down, Brent and Leann, you will be?"

"Gettin' citizens out as quickly as possible."

"Good. Steve?"

"I'll be getting Abby and Janice to safety. Then I'll check on Cecil."

"Fantastic, and Rochelle and I will be going straight to the StrexCorp headquarters to fetch Ellie and Nata-"

CRASH!

A mighty smashing noise came from the left of the group and a dark black glowing came from the entire vicinity where the sound had been heard. When the dust cleared, the group coughed and looked upwards. Pieces of spiky wire were scattered over the ground. The tips of the wires were fizzing slightly, as if they had been exposed to high temperatures and we're now being forced to cool.

"The fence..." Rochelle breathed. "Go go go!" She shouted, grabbing hold of the nearest person's shirt, which happened to be Steve's, and started running towards their makeshift exit. Jeffries and Leann shouted to the Night Vale citizens and called for them to fight back and escape.

Dave followed close behind Rochelle, darting in and out of frantically running citizens to keep up. Another shout from the left of the two of them caused Rochelle's attention to divert again. There was an enormous humanoid wearing what looked like monochrome armour marching slowly towards them, a black mask covering their face.

Rochelle couldn't tell if they were male or female, but she didn't linger on it for two important reasons. Firstly, one should never presume gender. Night Vale had taught her that well. Secondly, Rochelle was far more concerned by the multiple knives around the masked warrior's belt.

As they got closer to Rochelle and Dave, they reached for a long sword on their back, pulling it out of its sheath and holding it above their head and striding towards them.

Rochelle could only scream as the blade swung towards the two scientists.

 

~

 

"What is the first thing you're gonna do when you get out of here?" Natalia murmured in a bored tone, sat with her back to the wall and moving her feet side to side lazily.

"Ideally or realistically?" Ellie responded in a similarly weary voice.

"Both."

"Ideally, I'd like to hug you and hopefully kiss you a little bit?"

"Really?" Natalia blushed. "That's rather bold of you."

"We've waited long enough, haven't we?"

"Damn right." Being stuck a month in the StrexCorp cell with nothing to talk about except their team, what Natalia had missed, Batman (although the subject had been more forced by Ellie) and their relationship, many deep conversations had taken place between the two. Plus more flirting than either of them would care to admit.

"Realistically, though," Ellie sighed. "As soon as I got out of here, I'd brush my teeth until they bleed as soon as I am to safety."

"That makes sense, actually." Natalia mused. "But what I really want more than anything, no offence to you, is Carlos' cooking."

"Uhhhhhh...." Ellie groaned as her imagination took over. "YES."

"That lasagne he makes with his special cheese sauce that sings..."

"Oh my god, yes."

"His lemon meringue pie with the little bits of cream that stick to your lips slightly when you eat it..."

"Please stop, my stomach is crying." Ellie wailed.

"It won't have to for much longer."

Another voice split the air. It was a young sounding voice, but it had a quality about it that felt like you could trust the person. Yet, at the same time, it was authoritative. Natalia's head snapped towards the voice. She knew it. Of course she knew it. It was technically the last voice she had heard before her mind had been filled with StrexCorp blurriness.

"I thought you were in prison. Or lost." Ellie raised an eyebrow at the girl.

"I am found. And so are you." The girl gave a determined smile. "Okay, everyone, listen up! We are leaving from here immediately to find StrexCorp's radio broadcasting centre and shut them down! Book Club, let's set these scientists free!"

A loud cheer echoed around the prison and Tamika Flynn raised her slingshot, aiming it at the lock on Natalia's cell door.

 

~

 

"How's it comin'?" A voice behind Carlos asked as he laid on his back underneath his new instrument, facing the circuits that now, briefly, blocked the sun.

He used his arms to pull himself out from under the large umbrella which the device was attached to. He had spent weeks working on it, with some help from Dana and also from Maureen and John Peters (you know, the farmer?) plus a few members of the masked army in the Desert Otherworld. Old Woman Josie and her angels had somehow even managed to bring him coffee whilst he had been working.

"Hey, John." He breathed out as he sat up, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his lab coat. He hadn't taken off his lab coat despite how hot it was in the Desert Otherworld. Carlos wasn't entirely sure why, but he had a feeling that it was mostly to do with the fact that it was one of his only links to his home. He had already developed a habit of fiddling with his phone when he was nervous about working on the device. It reminded him of his promise to his team, and his internal promise to Cecil to come home.

The Desert Otherworld fascinated Carlos. It was bizarre, and that was certainly saying something given that Night Vale had been his home for two years. Come to think of it, he reflected, today was the fifteenth. He'd been living in Night Vale for two years. Well, what he figured as two years. Time was weird. A lump rose in his throat as he remembered another reason that the fifteenth of July was so important. It was his and Cecil's anniversary. Cecil. Oh screaming void, he missed Cecil.

"It's nearly finished." Carlos answered John, the lump still lingering in his throat making him sound slightly hoarse.

"That's great. Uh, Dana was callin' for ya."

"Is it urgent?"

"Not sure. But she said you'd wanna be there."

Carlos stumbled to his feet and wiped off the rocky dust and sand from the lower half of his lab coat as the rumbling noises sounded in the distance. He scratched his chin lamenting not having a shave in a long time. His facial hair never grew quickly, but he still had a lot of stubble. He had a knife in his lab coat pocket which he had taken to carrying around for self defence reasons after Street Cleaning Day, but had devolved into being used to cut things during his experiments. It would be dangerous to use it to shave, but it would probably work.

Carlos made his way in the direction that John had pointed and found Dana waiting for him at the entrance to the lighthouse.

"Hi. What's happening? Is there something I can help with scientifically?"

"Not scientifically, no. I'm going to try to astral project myself into Night Vale again."

"Are you sure that's wise?"

"Not entirely, but I think I've gotten the hang of it. And I need you to speak to the person I'll be communicating with."

"Who?"

"You'll like it, trust me. I'm going to try to link you into my projection again to boost you. The whole thing takes practice, but I think you've been able to get the hang of it on your own pretty easily so far."

"Okay. So who are we-"

"Hello, Cecil! It’s me, Dana!" She suddenly said into the middle distance. Carlos couldn't see anyone but he felt tears spike his eyes.

Cecil...

"I will soon, I think." Dana continued. "But there is something here that has me worried. That rumbling is getting louder, and the light on the horizon is quite close. I can feel heat, but I am not warm. The more the heat grows, the colder I feel. It is a terrible light and it is so close now. I feel as though the universe is unraveling. Plus, I found someone here in the desert!"

Carlos closed his eyes and focused on what Dana had been teaching him the last few weeks, before opening them again. He was inside Cecil's broadcast booth. The wires were winding around the floor like they always were and the microphone was on the desk pointing towards the host of Night Vale's community radio show, and he was a sight for Carlos' sore eyes. He looked tired, and stressed, and his hair was sticking in all directions but it was most certainly Cecil. Carlos felt the lump rise into his throat again.

"Hi, Cecil." He managed, and watched the man in front of him falter in his usually-mostly-professional manner. "I am manifesting myself in your radio station for both personal and not-personal reasons."

"Carlos! Oh! Thank the imperfect heavens! I– I haven’t seen you in weeks! I– I didn’t know where you had gone!" Cecil blurted, clambering to his feet and moving towards where Carlos had projected himself. His eyes were full of questioning and worry and unconditional love, which made Carlos realise that he owed Cecil an explanation to where he had been. Knowing Cecil, this would be broadcast all over Night Vale, so hopefully it would reach his team as well.

"So, when I entered the house that does not exist, I found myself in this other desert world, but something happened to my team of scientists, and there was no one to let me back out! Then I c-couldn’t even find the door." He stuttered a little as the guilt hit him a little more. "Eventually, your friend Dana found me…"

"Now, Carlos? Why did you not call? Or Snapchat? Or reblog any of my woodcarvings of Khoshekh? I worked really hard on those." Carlos' guilt disappeared a little and it was replaced by confusion in his boyfriend.

"Cecil! How would I do that? I’m in the middle of a desert that is not of this world!" He exerted.

"Oh." Oh? Did Cecil only just realise this?

"There’s no cell towers or wifi or any kind of communication system. Plus, I have to save my battery until I can find my way back to you–"

"Oh no, no! Your phone totally works here!" Dana interrupted and Carlos looked left to look at her.

"Really?"

"Yeah! Also, I haven’t charged my phone in, like, a year, the battery never ran down." She waved her phone nonchalantly.

"Oh."

"Is that a Samsung?" Carlos asked, inclining his head as he turned his phone on.

"No…No, same one you’ve got." An iPhone? AN IPHONE BATTERY LASTED LONGER THAN A DAY?! This Desert Otherworld really did bend the laws of reality.

"Oh. Wow." He breathed out.

"And the wifi is pretty decent too, just…"

"Oh, look at that! Cecil, I'm on your Tumblr right now! And I gotta say, the artwork is amazing." Carlos smiled as he looked at them. They were really quite impressive. He made a mental note to ask Cecil to carve something for him.

"Oh, thank you!"

"I mean, time is pretty messed up, so sometimes you reply to emails before they're even sent to you, but other than that…" Dana added.

"Carlos?" Cecil said and Carlos snapped his head back up. "How do I get you home?" He looked even more forlorn than before, his purple eyes slightly glassy. "D-Dana! How do we get Carlos home? I..... I would like Carlos to come home."

Carlos' heart broke inside and he reached a hand towards Cecil. Cecil reached for it but it went straight through him. Cecil looked back up at him with tears in the corners of his eyes. He hadn't quite realised the effect that being away had had on Cecil. But at the same time, he had mentioned science. Focus on science, Carlos told himself. It would stop him from bursting into tears as well.

"I'll be able to very soon." He smiled reassuringly. "I am working on inventing something right now."

"Cecil, every time the doors are open it lets that terrible light into Night Vale. And the light is so close now we can't risk it!" Dana explained.

"Right! You’re very smart." Carlos had certainly been impressed by Dana over the time he had been in the Desert Otherworld. The way she had taken charge and come up with plans was truly fantastic. "Cecil, you have very smart interns."

"I know." Cecil smiled.

"So…I'm building a highly scientific device to keep the light away from the doors. Now, the device looks a lot like a big umbrella, 'kay? But it’s WAY more complex and scientific than that for reasons I do not have time to explain right now. My danger meter is in the red and, scientifically speaking, red is the most dangerous colour." He explained.

"Carlos? Carlos, you’re fadi-" The connection was cut off and all Carlos could see was the dusty desert scape in front of him.

"He’s still here!" Dana said. She could clearly see Cecil still. Carlos cursed how inexperienced he was at astral projection. He tried to make it work again but the feeling was gone.

"Dana? I can’t see Cecil anymore." He murmured.

"He’s still here. Carlos, thank you. I may get to see my mother and my brother again because of you. You are a hero." She turned to him and beamed gratefully.

"I'm not a hero." Carlos corrected her. Heroes were people from Ellie's movies, the ones that did incredible things to save others. He did that too, but for an entirely different reason. It was his duty! "I'm a scientist!"

"Well, then 'scientist' will always be my word for hero." Dana grinned but once again Carlos heard the rumbling in the distance.

"We should go. Uh, tell Cecil we won’t be long at all. The-the doors should be safe to open now, I just need to finish stabilising the device."

"Cecil? We have work to do but we will be home soon." Dana said into where Carlos couldn't see.

"Like, an hour or two, max." Carlos added, even though he knew Cecil couldn't hear or see him.

"Goodbye, Cecil..." Dana said, before turning back to Carlos. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He took a deep breath. "We have a revolution to enact. Let's go."

Chapter Text

"Look...I'm just....saying, what's....the harm.....in....finding out how....Hiram is....doing in the polls?" Ellie panted out and her and Natalia ran for their lives down the StrexCorp headquarters' corridors. Her words were said between frantic breaths.

"Because....it's not....the time!" Natalia shouted back. "Priorities!"

"He's my project!"

"We talked about this! Hiram....is not....a project! He's dangerous!"

"Naaaaaat."

"No."

"Please?"

"No." Natalia paused running and caught Ellie's arm. "I don't want you charging into danger. I only just got you back."

Ellie sighed as if she was going to apologise, before grinning. "I'll think about it."

"That's not helpful."

"Look, there's the exit!"

The two women shoved the doors open and sprinted into the sunlight. Natalia and Ellie stopped to catch their breath. Natalia glanced behind them. There was no-one in sight. Tamika and her militia had already left, taking Ellie's portable radio with them to track the signal of Lauren and Kevin's broadcast. It seemed that the office workers had stopped chasing them as well. Natalia had barely time to register that they were safe before Ellie hugged her tightly and cheered so loudly that Natalia felt deafened in the moment.

"We're out!"

"Ellie, you're suffocating me!"

"Oops."

The biochemist pulled back and held Natalia gently at arms' length.

"How do you think the revolution is going?" Natalia asked.

"Not sure. We should go and help. We'll need to make a pitstop at our flat."

"Why?"

"Well for one thing, I need to brush my teeth. Secondly, this is a revolution. We need weapons."

"Weapons...? Wait, you don't mean..."

"Yes!"

"I can't use it on a person, Ellie! That's awful!"

"But it's a katana! And you're so good at using it!"

"I will not slice someone up."

"Fine. You were always more Wonder Woman than Harley Quinn anyway."

"I do not wear metal underwear." Natalia retorted with a snort.

"It's an expression." Ellie blew a strand of blonde hair from her vision.

"You there!" A shout interrupted angrily. The office workers were beginning to emerge from the StrexCorp headquarters.

"Dammit." Ellie cursed as they looked up at them. There were far more than they could handle when armed, let alone unarmed and hungry.

"Don't worry, dear." A raspy voice said and hands were placed on their shoulders.

"Josie!" Natalia gaped. Old Woman Josie and several Erikas behind her smiled and a few of the Erikas waved. The two scientists had thought Josie dead or at least permanently missing after she had disappeared during their visit and the attack by the yellow helicopters.

"Go towards City Hall. They need help there too. We'll make sure this awful place is completely clear and then we'll go back to the site of the new opera house."

"Thank you." Natalia smiled gratefully, but was once again distracted by Ellie throwing her broken iPad at a Strex office worker, who was immediately knocked out and toppled to the floor.

"Take that!"

Natalia stared at Ellie. They caught each other's eyes and laughed hysterically.

"Have a radio. Cecil's keeping us all updated." One of the Erikas kindly said, and handed Ellie a portable radio nearly identical to her own that she had just given Tamika.

"Thank you, Erika who may be a figment of my imagination as you do not exist?" She glanced at Natalia to check she'd said it right and Natalia's third eye winked at her.

The two moved out of the way of the Erikas who began to advance on the StrexCorp workers. Some Angels that formed a protective circle around Josie and took to the air in flight, heading back towards Night Vale with her. The Angels remaining fought off the workers with strange black beams of...could it be called light? Ellie wasn't sure.

Natalia turned on the radio and tuned it to Cecil's frequency and gasping when she recognised the voice.

"That's not Cecil, that's....Steve?"

"-Violet says 'We must be free above all! We must be free and also above all other things!'"

"Is he doing impressions of Hiram's heads?" Ellie excitedly turned up the volume. "And then his last head just keeps roaring and saying, 'Your body bends quickly soft human protesters!' But really, I was thinking about what your boyfriend Carlos said."

"Carlos? He's okay!" Ellie whooped. "I knew that crazy man would be okay!"

"Don’t you dare, Steve Carlsberg!" Cecil's voice sounded as if he was gritting his teeth.

"So, he said, 'I'm certain I can stop the light from entering Night Vale. I have a simple device that will protect us!'" Steve said in such a Carlos manner, albeit a slightly squeaker version of his voice, that the two immediately burst into laughter.

"I am not dating a Munchkin from The Wizard of Oz. That’s not– no." Cecil replied.

"You sure?"

"Are you sure?!" Ellie breathed out between her laughs. "Oh my gosh, I'm never gonna let Carlos forget this."

"-enough, but…look," Steve continued. "he’s - and no offence, Cecil, but - he’s an outsider. He’s not from here. How do we know he’s not part of the super underground secret military government that is testing missiles?"

"Ah, the interloper thing. We were called that for so many months."

"Steve Carlsberg!" Cecil shouted angrily. "Did you just accuse my boyfriend of being a secret operative?"

"Well, um…yeah!"

"Because that’d be PRETTY COOL, actually!" Ellie didn't have to see his face to know that Cecil was grinning. "Imagine if Carlos was a secret operative." She mused aloud.

"Nah." Natalia waved her hand dismissively. "Carlos is an awful liar. Remember when we found Cecil in his office that morning?"

"That was hilarious." Ellie smirked, before deciding to get back to topic. "Right, I think we have about 500m to run before we reach the outskirts of town."

"Run?"

"Well, why not? It'll be more fun that way!"

"We're charging into a revolution where one or both of us could be killed."

"Doesn't mean it can't be a little bit fun..." Ellie muttered.

"Never change, Ellie." Natalia beamed before tugging the sleeve of Ellie's lab coat, bringing the biochemist directly in front of her. The radio fell to the floor as Natalia brought her face right in front of Ellie's in one sweeping motion. The strange bright sunlight continued to shine, the explosions continued to come from Night Vale and the sound of flapping wings from StrexCorp headquarters could be heard. They were all tuned out as the two scientists stared at each gently in the middle of the desert. The two leaned in towards each other, closer and closer until they were barely an inch apart.

However, before their lips could touch, both ended up grimacing slightly and pulling back.

"I was so totally right about the toothpaste thing."

"Ugh, right on." Natalia pulled a face. "Save it for afterwards, yeah?"

They looked at each other for another brief moment before snickering and linking hands, before racing down the hill towards Night Vale and potential freedom. They were probably the only people in the whole town laughing in that moment, but it was worth it.

 

~

 

The rumbling noise was bothering Carlos. The masked army were beginning to file back through the strange oak doors. Everyone from Night Vale except for Carlos had gone through the doors back home. He had fiddled with his device so much, shedding his lab coat and even his favourite flannel shirt to work on it without sleeves and other irritants getting in the way. He imagined Ellie's reaction to it and it had brought a smile to his face amidst all the case. He had calculated through his usual measures that the doors would not close (and consequently Night Vale would not be safe from the light) unless the masked army was back where they belonged in the Desert Otherworld.

He glanced across at the doors. The last platoon of soldiers were filing through. Carlos made sure the device was working and grabbed his rucksack filled with equipment, slinging it over his shoulders and ran towards the doors. He was ten meters from the door when he suddenly remembered that he had left his favourite lab coat, as well as his flannel shirt, which had been a gift from Cecil. He couldn't leave them behind. He placed his rucksack on the ground before running back to where they lay next to the umbrella device.

Carlos scooped up the two articles of clothing and turned back towards the doors. A member of the masked army exited the last old oak door that was open and closed it behind them.

Before Carlos could really register what was happening, the doors dotted around the entrance to the lighthouse all began to dissipate, as though they had been swept off into the wind.

"No..." Carlos breathed out. "No!"
He reached into his lab coat pockets and fumbled around for his danger meter. The entire time that the doors had been open, the danger meter had been in the red zone. If they were still open, there would be at least a danger reading of dark orange. He pulled out the danger meter and flipped it open to look at the dial. Light green. It was light green. The doors were closed.

Carlos sank to his knees clutching the danger meter. His knees stung from the sharp rocks of the bumpy desert landscape but he was not focused on that in that moment. His way home was gone. Carlos groped desperately into his brain to figure out how that possibly could have happened.

"Once everyone is back to their original place of belonging, the doors will close." Dana's words echoed to him from earlier in the day. Then how had he been left behi-....Carlos' heart sank as the penny dropped. Place of belonging. He hadn't been born in Night Vale, so as far as the doors were concerned, he was a stranger to Night Vale. It made no difference whether he was a stranger there or here in this Desert Otherworld.

Cecil....his team....they were gone.

Unreachable. Except for....

Carlos reached into his pocket for his phone. It had plenty of battery. He shakily dialled Cecil's number. It rang. But then it kept ringing.

"Pick up, honey, please..." Carlos begged aloud and chewed his bottom lip.

"You have reached the voicemail of Cecil Gershwin Palmer..." The voicemail started and Carlos felt a tear slip down his cheek. He wiped his face hastily as the beep sounded.

"Cecil, hey. Um, it’s Carlos." He managed. "I....I hate that I got your voicemail, but listen, I figured it out. So, we can’t shut the oak doors unless everyone is back where they belong. And every moment those doors are open, more of that light gets through into Night Vale. I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t just keep the doors closed for good, and it was REALLY FRUSTRATING to have a problem I couldn’t solve. And then I got sad, because I couldn’t solve it. But then I DID solve it, and I felt so happy! So those are some, but not all, of the emotions that I had." He had been telling Cecil what he was feeling explicitly. It helped them both to figure out what the other was feeling about things and made their relationship's communication better.

"Here is what I found. Night Vale is a place that is difficult to leave, and difficult to enter, and connecting a place as weird as that with a place as weird as this was causing a lot of…strain ion linear time and space. So…those native to Night Vale, Dana, John, the angry woman in the Intern shirt, all had to return home, and the masked army all had to come back here, which they did. Just moments ago, the last of them came back through the door. It is so exciting when you make a scientific discovery like that! I was very happy!" He smiled a little at the memory before the worry hit him again.

"But then, as the last of the masked army members came through the door, it slammed shut and vanished. And I remembered that I am not from Night Vale. I remembered that, as far as the laws of the universe are concerned, it is not where I belong. Cecil, I don’t even remember how I got to Night Vale in the first place. I mean, where is Night Vale, even?" He remembered the team getting incredibly lost on their first day there.

"But I promise I will find a way back. It'll just take a couple of days, a week max. I'll be fine. I’m a scientist!"

He swallowed before looking around at the strange desert scape. The masked army had also left and were a mere speck in the distance. He was utterly alone.

"Cecil? A scientist is...usually fine." He murmured.

"Maybe a few weeks, I don’t know..." He looked back at his phone. "The upside is Dana was right. I have had 97% battery all day, and decent reception! So we’ll at least get to talk every night..." He reflected, sitting down on his lab coat as the sun began to set on the horizon of the Desert Otherworld.

"Best of luck at home. I love you..." He hung up the phone and stared at his contact list sadly. There was one other person he needed to call.

 

~

 

The town cheered in a roaring boom that echoed over the hilltops as the last StrexCorp workers fled Night Vale. The three other members of Carlos' team felt like they were finally going to be able to rest. Rochelle's already frizzy hair was stuck in multiple directions, Dave had multiple bruises and Jeffries had been emotionally scarred from seeing his own girlfriend hack through hoards of StrexCorp blood-soaked office workers with a hatchet.

They had met the members of the masked army, one of whom had saved Rochelle and Dave's lives by slicing down an office worker behind them about to stab them with stationary. The team of scientists had then headed to the laboratory for supplies. Jeffries had grabbed some rock samples for throwing and Rochelle and Dave worked together on some small bombs that Dave, as the son of a Secret Policeman, had learnt to build from a very young age.

They had then been tackle hugged leaving the lab by a bedraggled, tired and relieved Ellie and Natalia. There had been much celebration and embraces between the team before they joined the crowd of people near City Hall.

"Speaking of winning..."

"Yes! Right! The election!" Cecil's and the Faceless Old Woman's voices emanated from a radio as Natalia pulled Rochelle aside away from the rest of the team as the voting took place.

"Look, I just want to say sorry...I sort of left our relationship in a mess and I-"

Rochelle raised a hand. "I know what you're going to say, Natalia. You don't need to say any more. Even an idiot can see how much you and Ellie like each other. Now I'm gonna bow out gracefully, and I won't hear any more about it. Not a word. Go be happy, Nat." She smiled knowingly and squeezed Natalia's hand.

Natalia looked as if Rochelle had just told her that she could fly and shoot laser beams out of her eyes.

"You-"

"Ah! No arguments!" Rochelle scolded with a slight smirk. "Go!"

She spun Natalia around and poked her towards the rest of the team where Ellie was cheering "WOOO! GO HIRAM!" waving her arm in the air with Jeffries laughing next to her and Dave shaking his head with a grin.

"Do you want any gum?" Jeffries asked as Cecil asked for the votes for the Faceless Old Woman.

"PLEASE." Natalia and Ellie said simultaneously and Ellie practically grabbed the packet from Jeffries.

"And the next mayor of Night Vale is..." Cecil announced as the team eagerly awaited the result. Ellie's fingers intertwined with Natalia's and the two smiled at each other, Natalia's guilt about Rochelle lifted as the biologist gave her a thumbs up from behind her.

"Well, it says here that the next mayor of Night Vale...is Dana Cardinal!" Cecil announced.

"Dana is mayor?!" The team gaped, but it was quickly replaced with shocked and delighted cheering.

"Hey, Ellie..." Natalia asked her amidst the loud celebrations around them in the crowd of people.

"Mm?"

"Did that gum kick in?"

"The gum?"

"Yeah, the gum that Brent ga-" Natalia was cut off as Ellie pulled her face to hers and kissed the physicist gently, her fingers resting gently in Natalia's hair. She had stolen Natalia's plan and the black haired woman felt like pouting.

"Yes. Yes it did." Ellie reflected as she grinned unapologetically at Natalia.

"You're never going to be predictable, are you?" Natalia shook her head with a fond smile.

"Pfft. Never." The two brought their lips back together continued to kiss even as there were odd screams coming from the radio as Hiram contested the results of the election. They only pulled apart when Cecil's tone suddenly changed on the radio.

"-voicemail from Carlos. He must have called during the weather." Ellie's eyes widened, everything forgotten and she pulled out her phone, noticing a missed call from Carlos.

"Oh my gosh, his phone is working!"

She rapidly hit redial and Natalia called the rest of the team over as it rang.

"Ellie." Carlos' voice sounded weary on the other end of the line.

"Carlos! Are you okay?"

"No...." He said, choking up slightly. "I'm not. And I figured I needed my best friend to help me pull myself together before my boyfriend calls worrying about the fact that I am trapped in a desert from another world..."

"You....what?" Ellie breathed. The team glanced at each other waiting for Ellie to tell them what he was saying. "Can I put you on hold for just a moment to tell the team, Carlos?"

"Sure, sure...tell them. And um...you're in charge until I get back."

Ellie lowered the phone, took a deep breath and faced the team in front of her. Natalia, Dave, Jeffries and Rochelle. Her family. She hated telling her family bad news. But this was one that couldn't be avoided, even if it would ruin an otherwise fantastic day.

"Guys, I need to talk to Carlos as soon as possible, but....first, there's something you need to know..."

Chapter Text

Hey, so I'm doing a series of one-shots/little mini ficlets based on this fic alongside my current writings for this, so please check it out. Carlos, Cecil, Nat, Ellie, Jeffries and all your favourites are there. SEND ME PROMPTS! Anything at all (within reason) you wanna see? The team getting tipsy with Cecil and crying over Carlos? Ellie attempting to smuggle a pet into the lab? You decide! Send me stuff you'd like to see and check out the ficlets here:
http://archiveofourown.org/works/5332193/chapters/12311957

Chapter Text

"How are you doing, Carlito?" Ellie grinned at him through the FaceTime call going on.

"Please don't call me that." Carlos frowned at her. Ellie could tell that he had been not sleeping properly by the horrendous dark circles under his eyes. His stubble had been untamed and his clothes were partially torn and wild. What was incredible, however, was that his hair was still sat in its usual perfect manner.

"You look awful." Dave said bluntly.

"Way to sugarcoat it." Rochelle muttered.

"I'm fine, I just haven't been getting a lot of sleep." Carlos sighed. "It's always sunny here, even during night time hours. I've been sleeping in the lighthouse which allows some shade, but..."

He trailed off, and the team looked at each other skeptically. They had had a few brief communications with Carlos over the last two weeks but they had never been long, and they usually discussed scientific findings. Occasionally the topic had shifted, such as when Natalia and Ellie had announced that they were dating, which had involved a lot of blushing and smirking, but essentially Carlos had tried to keep everything professional. His team knew him well enough to know that it was a facade. Carlos was struggling emotionally, and when that happened, he threw himself into his work. Science was the perfect distraction. It combined his fascination for the Desert Otherworld with his need to emotionally distance himself from the painful fact that he was trapped there.

"Is there anything going on today?" Carlos changed the topic, looking at Jeffries.

"Actually, the radio show'll have started by now."

Oops. Ellie cringed internally as Carlos' expression went back to once of hidden sadness and grief. He missed Cecil a lot. Jeffries tuned the radio to Cecil's show and smiled as the radio host's voice drifted smoothly around the room.

"...count on all of you to support the Night Vale Community College Capital Campaign, which was launched this past Monday to fund the establishment of a new Science Centre for students. Science, I especially believe, is very important."

Carlos' smile came back as he shook his head.

"He has really got to stop talking about me on our radio show."

"If he does, I will never forgive him." Rochelle piped up. "It's too funny!"

"It's unprofessional."

"It's funny."

"Unprofessional."

"Funny."

"Unprofessional."

"Cute."

"Cute."

"Ha! Gotcha!"

"Rochelle!"

The team laughed at the exchange between the two scientists. Even though Carlos was far away, they could still have moments like this, and that kept the team sane.

"...I've gotten a lot of calls, emails, telegrams, and sympathetic glances the past couple of weeks, from people who are wondering if Carlos the scientist has returned from the Other World desert he is trapped in. And here I remind you that he became trapped there while saving our city from treacherous dark forces. I remind you HE IS A HERO. I remind you that my boyfriend is a hero!"

Carlos blushed at Cecil's words. "I'm not a hero, I'm -"

"A scientist." The team chorused.

"Sadly, Carlos is still in the desert – the same desert our new mayor was once trapped in. Fortunately, as Dana discovered, cell phone batteries last forever there, and there’s pretty good wifi, despite there being just vast amounts of sand and…apparently, a mountain."

"How does Cecil still deny the existence of mountains?" Natalia furrowed her brow in confusion.

"I think that he is just conditioned due to his extensive exposure to retraining to believe them to not be a true construct of reality." Ellie mused aloud. The team stared at her in bemusement.

"What?" She said innocently.

Ring! Ring!

"Oh, that's me." Jeffries pulled out his phone from his waistcoat pocket. "It's the Community College. One moment." He walked off swiftly and spoke to the people on the phone in the corner of the room.

"I'm so glad we gave the people of Night Vale Brent's number for scientific emergencies." Natalia said. "He always answers. Unlike someone we know."

"Hey!" Ellie and Carlos both yelped in protest, before staring at each other through the phone screen.

"She obviously means me."

"No, Nat means me!"

"Are they seriously arguing who is worse?" Rochelle whispered out of the corner of her mouth to Natalia.

"With these two, anything can happen." Natalia replied with a giggle.

"Ain't that the truth." Dave murmured next to them as the three continued to watch the bickering scientists.

 

~

 

Rabbits. Why did it have to be rabbits? Why, more importantly, did it have to be him asked to help deal with the rabbits?

Jeffries tried not to have a panic attack as he drove towards the Night Vale community college with Rochelle. Jeffries' ties with the schools in Night Vale made him the first choice when the president of the Community College, Sarah Sulton (who just so happened to be a smooth, fist-sized river rock), called asking for scientific help. Rochelle had volunteered to come along as well as she knew a bit of zoology, and also because Ellie couldn't come. It wasn't that the biochemist wouldn't come, it was more that she shouldn't. Ellie was entranced by cute, fluffy animals and was also still laughing her head off bickering with Carlos over who was worse with their phone. Natalia and Dave had assured the two leaving scientists that they wouldn't tell her what she would be missing out on.

"I've just been informed that Mrs. Sylvia Wickersham has made another large donation to the Night Vale Community College Capital Campaign, this one consisting of 1,000 live and extremely fluffy rabbits. The Capital Committee is beginning to have difficulty finding space on campus to house her donations. What foliage existed on campus has been immediately devoured. Several of the botany program’s greenhouses have been broken into and ransacked. And many of the rabbits have reportedly entered the Student Center, refusing to wait in line before ordering at the snack bar, and taking way more napkins than they need."

Jeffries knuckles turned white as they gripped the wheel of the van.

"Are you okay?" Rochelle asked in worry.

"Ah....I'll be fine." He answered unconvincingly.

"Brent, you haven't looked this nervous since you had to drive us away from the House That Doesn't Exist. What's wrong? You can tell me."

".....promise ya won't laugh."

"I promise."

"It's the rabbits."

Rochelle blanched. Of all the things she had expected, that was not really one of them. "Uh...what? The-the rabbits?!"

"Ya said ya wouldn't laugh!"

"But why?"

Jeffries shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He scratched his beard with his right hand before sighing and placing it back on the wheel.

"When I was six, my brother found a hare in our back garden. It was badly hurt and all, so he brought it inta the house. We nursed it back ta health and when it was better, we got ready ta release it. But the night before we let it go, it escaped. I woke up tha' morning with it sat on my head. I was startled as hell, so I screamed and it scratched me and bit me a lot. It escaped through the door but I got some kinda infection from the bites and was in hospital for a week. Ever since then, I just haven't liked 'em."

"That's awful. Then why did you say you'd do this job?"

"It was better than Ellie doing it."

Rochelle's psyche conjured up a mental image of the biochemist going 'Ooh! We'll adopt this one and this one and that one...' which made her immediately understand why Brent had avoided it. Dr Green was a genius and well recognised for her skills but the woman fell to pieces over fluffy animals.

"Will you be okay?"

"I'm not sure, but I will try."

He gave the biologist a reassuring smile as the two parked up next to the community college. Jeffries visibly paled when he noticed the English Angora rabbits dashing around the campus. Fluffy rabbits were everywhere. It was hard to see the ground as it looked to be a sea of tiny rabbit bodies. Jeffries took a deep breath to steel his nerves as he grabbed his equipment, before nodding to Rochelle and opening the van door.

 

~

 

"I'll speak to you when I can. Give Brent and Rochelle my best with their scientific endeavours."

"See you soon, Carlos!"

"Call soon!"

"Bye!"

Carlos ended the FaceTime call and placed his phone back into his pocket. He yawned slightly, scratching his chin absent-mindedly. What could he do for the rest of the day? Rock samples? No. He wasn't really in the mood for rocks. He was always in the mood for science, but today he felt like something more full of adventure. He gathered up a few sampling tubes and snacks and put them in his pockets.

"Food in my pockets." He scoffed aloud. "I'm turning into Ellie."

Carlos skipped down the steps of the lighthouse. Round and round he went, the darkness enveloping the spiral staircase such a contrast to the impossibly bright light that shone around the strange Desert Otherworld. The scientist cringed as he slammed open the door to the desert outside and light flooded into his eyes. The wind whistled and the sand it blew curled around his feet as he stepped into the blinding sunshine.

"There's antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium, and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium..." He began to sing to himself as he made his way down the mountainside. The song always brought a smile to his face. The Element Song was something that Ellie had been trying to teach him over the last few months. His time in the desert had given him some more time to practice it. He wanted it to become his new party trick after all. Apart from his ability to beat everyone at beer pong (which Carlos still argued was just a matter of calculating trajectories), he maintained that if he got it right, it would be his best party trick ever.

Carlos sat heavily on a rock at the foot of the mountain. The climate of the Desert Otherworld was even hotter than Night Vale and it had surprised him that it had not tired him out just walking down the hill. Back in Night Vale, he had done his fair bit of exercise, but said exercise usually involved running around the town to solve scientific research. Carlos considered that maybe carrying round a heavy backpack and running up and down the lighthouse steps in higher than usual heat levels had improved his fitness, even.

As Carlos caught his breath, he realised that there was another sound in the desert, other than the distant rumbling noise that he occasionally heard, that kept him awake at night sometimes. This new noise sounded like stomping or marching. Plus, it was close. Carlos shot to his feet and peered around the rock in the direction of the sound.

A multitude of huge figures were advancing towards him. Carlos was only a little alarmed to see them. He knew that the army were nomadic - Dana had explained a little of their culture to him - but he had not expected them to return to the lighthouse/mountain area any time soon.

"Hello?" Carlos walked hesitantly towards them.

"A human..." One said.

"No, it's a scientist." Another boomed. The way he said the sentence seemed to insinuate that 'humans' and 'scientists' were different species. He had many decorative medals on his garb and Carlos assumed him instantly to be the leader.

"I'm Doug." The large man put his hand over his heart to indicate himself, before sweeping his hand to his right. "This is my second-in-command, Alicia." A second masked warrior nodded their head. "What is your name?"

"My name is Carlos." Carlos straightened himself up and squared his shoulders. "I am a scientist. I study science."

The masked army looked at each other for a few moments before exchanging brief whispers. After a long pause, Doug raised his hand to silence the army, before extending his enormous hand to Carlos, which was almost the same size as Carlos himself.

"Nice to meet you, Carlos the Scientist."

 

~

 

"Never again." Jeffries shuddered as he got back to the lab, pale and with a slightly traumatised look in his eye. Rochelle rubbed his upper back soothingly as the two sat heavily on the sofa.

"Hey, they're back!" Dave called over to Natalia and Ellie. "You'll never guess what!" Dave faced the two scientists on the sofa.

"What?"

"Look what we adopted! We saw these people just taking this poor thing to the Night Vale Petting Zoo as WOLF FODDER of all things."

At the sight of the excited Natalia clutching a small, fluffy English Angora rabbit in her arms as she entered the room, Jeffries' eyes rolled back and he fainted next to Rochelle and sunk into the sofa.

"Oh my gosh! Brent!" Natalia was startled. "Is he okay?" She addressed the question to Rochelle, who was trying to revive the overwhelmed geologist.

"Ah....let's just say it's been a rough day."

Chapter Text

Carlos sat on hold as he stood outside in the sweltering heat of the sun. Cecil's radio show had started and he had asked Carlos to be a guest. Carlos wasn't overly fond of Cecil talking about their private life on the radio but for once he supposed he could make an exception, as the radio host had promised him that he could talk about his scientific findings on the show.

Carlos had really begun to settle down in the Desert Otherworld and had begun to set up a temporary lab and working space so that he would have somewhere to record his findings whilst he was there. He missed his team terribly, however. Something about working in this new lab was unnerving, despite the fact that he had gotten used to his new situation. It was just not the same without Dr Green bustling around excitedly talking about her research with Dave. Or Natalia simultaneously catching and/or picking up all the things Ellie was dropping around the lab as well is doing her own physics research. Nor was it the same without Jeffries murmuring over his rock formations in the corner of the lab whilst Rochelle dissected something next to him on her own bench.

Carlos had almost lost himself in these nostalgic thoughts when he was sharply brought back to reality by the sound of his boyfriend's voice down the other end of the phone.

"Oh, listeners! Guess who we’ve got on the phone line now? I’ll give you a hint: he saved Night Vale a few weeks ago by shutting out a great terror trying to invade us from another world!"

Carlos sighed. As usual, Cecil was doting over him in the way that only Cecil could. "It wasn’t just me!" He said with a smile.

"Also, he’s my boyfriend. And a scientist. And I miss him."

"I miss you, too." Carlos said softly down the phone.

"That’s right! My boyfriend is a hero. Please welcome to our show, Carlos the Scientist." A hero? Oh dear.

"You’re too much!" Carlos had to hold back a giggle at the mental image of himself in a spandex suit flying through the air with Cecil in his arms, cape flapping behind him.

"Listeners, Carlos had to stay behind in whatever strange desert Other World, which was very brave of him, even though he’s now very far away from people that love him. Any luck getting back through to Night Vale?"

"Not yet. Oh! But, I’ve been exploring this strange rumbling noise here. It’s the same rumbling noise we heard when that terrible light was coming into Night Vale." He explained, just in case Cecil's audience had missed his show during the absolute chaos of the revolution.

"Are you safe? Is everythi-" Carlos' attention was immediately shifted from Cecil's voice as a deafening rumbling sound came from the distance to his right.

"Actually, there it is again. When we shut the doors the rumbling and the unbearably bright light went away. This empty desert, with the mountain and the lighthouse and the large wandering army, all seemed so normal, you know? But last night the rumbling returned." He explained hastily, not caring to correct any inaccuracies in his speech.

"There it is again. I need to grab my instruments." He held the phone away from himself as he began to run towards the lighthouse. "I'll call you back!" He said before ending the call.
Carlos sprinted towards his temporary lab at the base of the mountain. Some of the members of the masked army were waiting for him, including Alicia. They called to Carlos urgently over the nearly deafening rumbling.

"Carlos! The red light. It's stopped!"

Carlos turned his gaze upward towards the lighthouse. The rumbling was continuing and the red light had paused altogether and just shone red without its usual blinking. For as long as Carlos had been in the Desert Otherworld, the red light had blinked on and off all the time. To see the lighthouse with the red light on constantly was unnerving to say the least.

"Are you alright?" Carlos asked Alicia. They shook their head.

"This all makes us nervous. It's strange and frightening."

"I concur." Carlos murmured. It was beginning to frighten him as well. The rumbling was like an earthquake. He'd had his fair share of earthquake experience when he had studied in San Francisco for several months. Never had Carlos been more afraid of what his own planet could conjure up. Well, that was, until he moved to Night Vale.

Night Vale...ah. He should call Cecil back. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialled Cecil's number again. It was answered almost immediately.

"Carlos? Hello? Carlos, are you back on the line?"

"Yes. So…there’s a lighthouse here in the desert. It’s on top of a tall mountain, and there’s a blinking red light on the top of this lighthouse, and this blinking red light always blinks, OK? That’s what it does. But now that the rumbling has returned..." He had a sudden thought as the loud noise continued in the background. "Can...can you hear the rumbling from your end, Cecil?"

"No."

Hm. Carlos rubbed his chin in thought. "It’s very loud! But when the rumbling happens, the blinking red light stops blinking. It just stays on."

"What do you think that means?"

"I don’t know! I’ve talked with some of the army of men and women and others who roam about this desert, and they look frightened. They have never seen the blinking light stop blinking! It is what a blinking light is supposed to do, and fear is what happens when a thing that has always behaved one way does not behave that way at all. They run and hide now when they hear the rumbling and see the static red light up on the mountain. I, too, am starting to feel scared." He admitted.

"Carlos? Remember how you got into that desert in the first place. You went through a door in a house that did not seem to exist. Have you found any of those doors yet?"

The doors. Ah, Carlos thought. I haven't had a look for them in a few days. All the excitement and scientific opportunity of the last couple of days had led him to forgetting about leaving.

"Not yet, no."

"Carlos? Look for those doors. There must be at least one left somewhere!"

"I’ll start looking very soon, OK? But listen, Cecil? I’d really like to figure out this rumbling/red light thing. I’m a scientist. I need to discover/understand things. It’s what I do!" He didn't want to leave a scientific mystery unsolved, after all. For one, it was bad form. Secondly, Carlos found the Desert Otherworld so fascinating. It was crazy. Some of the odd phenomena rivalled that of Night Vale.

"But…couldn’t you look for the door while you figure it out?" Cecil's almost pleading tone came down the other end of the line.

"I’ll look for the door some tomorrow. For sure I will." Carlos said. There was too much on his plate today to deal with. He had to make sure everyone was safe, for one.

"The rumbling’s gone! Did you hear that?" He exclaimed as the silence now washed over the small group outside of Carlos' temporary lab. Maybe it meant that there could be an opportunity to discover where it came from. The masked army could help if they spread out to cover more ground, but they only really listened to one person. "I've got to run. I need to find Doug!" He hung up again, throwing his phone haphazardly into his lab coat pocket, before setting off to find the giant leader.

 

~

 

"Your boyfriend is trapped in an alternate desert dimension. It is difficult to say when he will return. Perhaps take up drinking while crying in a quiet room. Wow! That’s a very specific and...PAINFUL horoscope. Thanks for nothing, stars!" Cecil's voice came miserably from the radio.

"Yowch." Ellie winced. "That's rough. I'm starting to think we should have Cecil around a little more than we do."

"Carlos needs to call him more." Natalia said with a frown. "I know it's not really my place, but he is really not being the best boyfriend at the moment."

"Speaking of being the best in a relationship..." Dr Green grinned. "You up for a movie night tonight?"

"Um." Natalia returned the smile, but was internally freaking out a lot. She had had a plan for them tonight. She'd even made sure Ellie's schedule was free. But she still found herself replying "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I was thinking maybe you'd like to pick tonight."

Natalia blanched. Ellie was going to let someone ELSE pick a movie?! It would be almost WORTH cancelling said plan. "Who are you and what have you done with Ellie?"

"Hey!" She pouted. "I just thought you'd like to pick this time..."

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry."

"....."

Natalia fiddled with her fingers. She had been meaning to ask Ellie if she'd like to come out with her tonight, to a restaurant, for a proper date. Not just a movie night, but an actual date. But the anxiety involved with asking was really messing with her head, even though she'd had the reservation for weeks. She'd just kept pushing it back as she fretted over asking. Ellie was so open with her feelings and if she was going to protest, she would do so openly.

"Ellie...I...ah...." She began awkwardly. Gah, get a grip, Natalia! She cursed internally.

"Hm?"

"I was wondering if instead...ah, you'd maybe like to...ah..."

"Like to...?" Ellie asked after Natalia trailed off.

"Liketogoout. Ah, l-like for a meal."

"Sure!" Ellie said cheerfully, as if it was the easiest question to ask in the world. Natalia looked at her relaxed expression. Was there ANYTHING that made Ellie stress out? Natalia's mind sharply reminded her of when they watched the Batman vs Superman trailer together and the biochemist gripping her sleeves with wide eyes and excited bouncing.

"Just meet me back at the flat by half 5 ready to leave at quarter past 6?" Natalia asked, more confident this time.

"Sounds good."

"Great."

"Cool."

"Can you pass me that pair of plyers?"

"Sure."

The two quickly fell back into their work, their fluid movements holding all the visual evidence one required to tell that they were used to working across and next to each other. They passed things back and forth, leaning over each other's work and fist bumped as the last results of the day printed lazily from the computer.

 

~

 

Carlos clutched desperately to the straps of his rucksack as he tried to keep his ground. The ground was moving around almost in waves as he fumbled with his phone to call Cecil. After a brief explanation of what was happening, Carlos made his way to a rocky outcrop where Doug and the other members of the masked army were gathered. The rumbling was getting even louder and the earth below his very feet was shifting erratically.

"Carlos, I don’t think it’s safe there!" Cecil was speaking into his ear. "Listen, I want you to find a way to–"

"Cecil?" Carlos cut him off. This was tiring him out emotionally. But he needed Cecil to understand that this was a great opportunity for his career whilst he was here. "Nothing and nowhere is safe. But there are things greater than us. Greater than all of this! So, you can’t see it, but I just made a big sweeping hand gesture to indicate everything in the universe, and there are people who must learn about it all. How it all works, and why. This is what we call science!" Yes, that quite explained it, Carlos thought proudly. He had communicated his feelings, just as Cecil had asked him to do and talked about science.

"Yes, I know what science is..." Cecil's velvety voice came from the other end of the phone.

"And I am a scientist."

"OK, I understand. Ugh. It’s just…it’s just that I miss you, and–"

Whatever Cecil said next was either drowned out or interrupted by an increased sound of rumbling. Carlos pulled his head away from the phone, before pulling an expression of acute confusion. It didn't sound as loud when he was away from the phone which meant...

"Oh! Oh my! The building is shaking!" Cecil cried from the other end.

"You can FEEL it? You can feel the rumbling? Ooh, this is EXCITING! Wait, this is new!" He bounced up and down excitedly at the prospect of the rumbling crossing dimensional boundaries. Oh, what a phenomena! He had to see how the ground was moving. Carlos inched away from the wall and walked towards the ledge.

"The ground is moving very quickly. There is a large lump churning the sound up and down, I’m leaning out over this ledge to get a better view of this fantastic event, and….ow!" A rock fell down and sliced Carlos' shoulder, sending a jolt of pain through his arm.

"Carlos! What happened?"

"I got hit. What is that? Is that a rock?" Another hurtled down and fell on his pinky toe. "OW!"

Carlos moved towards Doug, who was picking up a giant rock to hold over their heads as the rocks tumbled towards the group. "Cecil, the rocks are coming down. They’re coming down the side of this hill. I need to take cover, I need to find a–" Carlos tripped suddenly over a rock.

The next few horrifying moments seemed to happen in slow motion. Carlos felt his phone slip out of his grip and fly slowly towards the ground. He gasped and without a second thought, dived to catch it. He crashed to the ground, new grazes forming on his knees and elbows as he reached the earthen ground. But there in front of him was his phone. Smashed in half.

"NO!" Carlos cried out. "No, no, no, no!" He scrabbled to the phone, ignoring the grit scraping over his trouser legs. He picked it up gingerly. The screen was utterly destroyed. He pressed the unlock button frantically. Nothing worked.

"No...." He despaired, slumping back to the floor. His way to reach Cecil was gone. The way to reach his team, gone in an instant. All that was left of Carlos' only way to reach the people he loved was shards of shattered glass and a useless shell of a phone.

At least so he thought for approximately eight seconds.

Carlos watched in both shock and awe as the shards of glass began to wiggle and shift back to their original position. After the whole odd process was finished, his phone lay in his palms looking like it was factory new. Carlos hesitantly pressed the unlock button. The familiar selfie of himself and Cecil outside their apartment flashed up on the screen as it always did.

"It....it fixed itself." He breathed, before turning round. "Look, Doug, it fixed....um....Doug?" The members of the masked army were nowhere to be seen. Carlos' musing as to where they were was interrupted by his newly healed phone buzzing and a little picture of a grinning Cecil holding Khoshekh came up. He immediately answered.

"Carlos, are you there? Carlos?" Cecil's voice had a tone of urgency to it.

"I’m here." Carlos replied, almost in astonishment that it was working again.

"Are you OK?"

"I’m fine. A scientist is always fine. Doug was really helpful!"

"Who is Doug?"

"He’s one of the members of this great masked army. He must be a captain of some sort, given his size and the respect he appears to garner. As the rocks and boulders came down, Doug picked up a large, flat stone and held it above us. The rocks bounced off his makeshift shield. I-Unfortunately, I dropped my phone. I smashed the phone something good. I thought I lost you for a while there, Cecil. I was despairing that my one way to reach you would be lost for who knows how long. But then, you know what? Something really amazing happened! Something tremendous! The phone HEALED ITSELF!" He could barely contain the squeal in his tone.

"Oh! That’s…that’s great!"

"It is great!" He agreed. "But phones don’t just heal themselves. This is another scientific mystery I can’t wait to get to the bottom of."

"Where is Doug now?"

"Oh, I don’t know. He’s probably back at the encampment. They’re a nomadic army. Sometimes they are here, sometimes not. I don’t really have time to make new friends. They’re nice people, but there is a lot of work for me to do here. And…the only person I truly care about isn’t in this desert anyway." He really hoped that his team weren't listening to that one. He didn't mean it of course, but 'person' rather than 'people' had slipped out the moment he had suddenly thought about how much he missed his boyfriend. After the phone had smashed, all he'd really wanted was Cecil's arms wrapped around him, telling him that everything would be alright again.

"I do not know what the rumbling is. I do not know why some doors work and others do not. I do not know why my phone never loses battery power and can heal itself. I do not know how long it will take me to pursue this knowledge. But I do know two things." He said softly.

"What is that?"

"I love you." Carlos nearly choked back a sob saying it.

He didn't say it often enough, he knew he didn't. But it was important that he told him. Especially after all that had happened that day.

"I love you, too. What’s the other thing?"

"You just said it." Carlos smiled. Ellie would be proud of that one.
"Cecil? I have to go. Be patient with me. We have our phones. We have our voices, and you have the best voice of them all."

"Thanks for being on the air with me. We did almost the entire show together!" Of course. He was still on the air. Time for a little bit of payback for broadcasting all of Carlos' phone calls on the radio, even the ones where he nearly cried. "We can still do things together, even in absence." He purred with a grin, before getting back to topic. "I’ll be back again soon."

"Find that door, Carlos!"

"I will. But first I need to see if the red light is blinking again or not."

"OK. Bye, Carlos..." Cecil said as Carlos ended the call.

The scientist took a deep breath and began to walk up the mountain, whilst privately smiling as he imagined the reaction of some Night Vale residents, including his beloved boyfriend, to the mere existence of a mountain, which Cecil still insisted weren't real.

Chapter Text

"Okay, meetin' time everyone!" Jeffries called. The team immediately dropped what they were doing and made their way towards the communal area. The sound of Dr Green tripping echoed slightly across the lab as the team took their seats around the table. Jeffries pulled out his notepad and began to flip through it.

"This should be a relatively short meetin'. I need reports from everybody 'bout th'status of their investigations as well as their thoughts on somethin' I am gonna propose."

"What proposal?" Natalia asked with interest.

"You'll see in a moment. Righ', Dr Green, report?"

"My new blood samples from the strange animal that we found outside the Night Vale petting zoo is coming along well, though I have yet to identify the species. It is possible that it could be a hybrid of some kind, like the spiderwolves. Pretty cool, right?!" Ellie's azure blue eyes sparkled at the thought of discovery. Jeffries nodded and moved on to Dave.

"Well, the gelatinous ooze that we found in that muesli in the Carter household contained a high levels of magnesium for some reason. I am glad that they called us when they did or it may have combusted pretty soon. Maybe we should call Cecil so at some point to get the word out on that."

"Noted. Hower?"

"Still working on getting the hospital to let me examine people that have come down with throat spiders."

"Yes, we will definitely have to do somethin' about that. Johnson?"

"There have been anomalies in the gravitational field around the drawbridge construction site. I got a call about it yesterday morning. The Mayor is keen for me to check if it's going to be alright. After all, I am one of the only qualified physicists in this town now that Carlos has left and Dana wishes that someone from our team go and have a look."

"Fantastic. I myself have been workin' on some of the rocks that fell out of the doors to the Desert Otherworld. Quite fascinatin' composition." He scratched his beard in thought, before turning back to the team in front of him. "Now, I would like to ask several questions if that's okay."

"Shoot." Ellie replied, leaning her elbows on the table.

"The first question is would anybody like to pursue a project of scientific interest to them over the coming weeks?"

Natalia looked at Ellie in dread; she knew what the bubbly biochemist was going to say before she said it.

"I would like to continue to study Hiram McDaniels' biochemical attributes. He is a very fascinating and charismatic individual and I wish to understand more about him!"

"Dr Green, we have talked 'bout this! Carlos has also talked to you about this! It is incredibly dangerous to go near a five headed dragon!" Jeffries sighed. "Especially one tha' has just basically declared war on our town because he failed to become the mayor."

"But he is biologically intriguing!"

"I-" Rochelle began.

"The answer is NO, Ellie." Brent's voice was raised for the first time in a long time. Most of the team stared at their feet. Brent wasn't one to lose his temper easily. He was always so zen. Ellie gritted her teeth and pushed her chair back, rising to her feet.

"Fine."

She turned on her heel, curly haired ponytail flicking like a whip as she stormed off.

"Ellie!" Natalia called after her. She was only answered by the slam of the main door of the lab. A few quiet moments passed as the team exchanged awkward glances, before the hum of an engine could be heard as Ellie's car went past the window at a speed that would probably get her a traffic violation.

"Well that went well." Dave scratched the back of his hair absent-mindedly. Natalia pursed her lips together.
Jeffries cleared his throat. "Is there any other business?"

"Um..." Rochelle opened her mouth, before closing it again and sinking into her chair.

"What is it, Roch?" Dave arched an eyebrow.

"I...I was going to ask something similar to Dr Green. Dragon biology isn't a biology that can be ordinarily studied. Dragons are rare in Night Vale, you know. I mean, I don't know what it's like where you live, but we get maybe one dragon every five years or so."

"Dragons aren't a thing where we come from. I thought ya knew this; besides, I thought you and Rachelle came from outside Nigh' Vale?" Jeffries replied.

"My sister does. She found her way here after we were separated as children. She lived with our mother in Tennessee whilst I grew up with our father in Night Vale. I contacted her a few years ago after our father died and she came to study at the community college. But either way, dragons are a rarity! I understand why Dr Green wishes to study them!"

"But it's too dangerous." Another voice chipped in. Natalia stood up. "Dragons were feared in myth for a reason. Hiram may have been friendly towards our town when he was running for mayor, but he no longer has that need to appeal to the town. It'll be incredibly tricky to get the data we want. And I'll be damned if I see Ellie get herself killed trying to get it. Sorry, Rochelle, but I'm not risking anyone on this team, and neither would Carlos." She stood up, grabbing her purple leather jacket hanging lazily on the back of her chair.

"You're right." Rochelle conceded and nodded. "You want help finding Ellie?"

"Please. Who even knows where she's gone."

Dr Johnson and Dr Hower headed out of the lab, although with less of the dramatic slamming that Dr Green had done.

"Are you going to walk out too, or are we going to finish our work for the day?" Dave said sheepishly in an attempt to lighten the mood. Jeffries just stared at him pointedly.

 

~

 

Carlos had decided that Snapchat was his new favourite app. It was useless at communicating proper scientific information, but in terms of having fun conversations with Cecil, it was the most wonderful mechanism. Especially since the lighthouse doors had shut on him. He had left it one morning with his equipment and when he came back it was shut. He was even losing memory of what it was like in there.

Messages that were under 10 seconds had greatly confused Carlos at first, but now he had gotten used to the concept, he felt quite enamoured with it. Conversations were interesting to say the least. They often went along the lines of:

Cecil: (picture of himself at the radio station) How are you? Xx

Carlos: (picture of himself looking excited next to a scientific discovery) Great! Look at this [insert strange discovery here]! Xx

Cecil: (confused face) What is that? Xx

Carlos: (grinning) Who knows? Isn't that exciting! Xx

Cecil: (smiling) I miss you. Xx

Carlos: (picture of him smiling whilst the discovery in the background changed shape, or form, or disappearing entirely) I miss you too. Xx

Suffice to say, it had been a unique way to communicate. Carlos had sent Cecil a snapchat only a few minutes ago of a picture of him with an odd cactus that he had found. Well, what Carlos thought was a cactus. It sure looked like a cactus, except rather than the dull green or brown that you would usually find in a desert, it was a rather sharp shade of turquoise.

'Cecil,' Carlos typed, 'look at this cactus!' before tapping send.

An ERROR message came up and Carlos wrinkled his brow in confusion. He checked his settings and, sure enough, his 4G was still working. He opened his tumblr just to be sure that the connection was working. It was and he let out the breath that he hadn't even realised he'd been holding.

He opened his messages. Maybe the snapchat app was just glitchy. He attached a picture of the cactus and typed 'Cecil, I found a cactus! Only it’s not a cactus, only it is. It’s difficult to explain, but I really want to explain it. That is what I'm here for! To explain a world that defies explanation! Xx'

There, Carlos thought. Sounds about right. He put his phone on silent, before putting it back in his lab coat pocket and carefully placing his equipment around the cactus, which now appeared to be pulsing an aura of some kind.

"Ooh, this is new!" He stepped closer, observing the changing hues of it. It pulsed in a similar way to the Glow Cloud, Carlos considered.

"Connected?" Speaking aloud sometimes helped him to think. Now that his team weren't there to remind him it was weird, he was going to do it all he wanted. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Everything is a probability..."

 

~

 

"Have you heard that they're going to pour a bunch of asphalt into Lane 5 of the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex?" A passer-by mentioned to Ellie as she walked towards the radio station. The bowling alley, was, after all, walking distance from the radio station.

"They are?"

"Oh yes. About ten minutes time, I think."

Ellie looked towards the Complex. She had tried to call Carlos after she had stormed off from the lab, but it had just rung through to Carlos' voicemail, which went along the lines of 'Is this how it works? Oh, yes! It's working. What a great wonder of technology! Anyway, this is Carlos, please lea-' at which point it cut out and the recording beep sounded. It always made the team laugh when they heard it, even if it came with the issue that Carlos hadn't picked up his phone.

At the fact that Carlos hadn't answered his phone, Dr Green had parked her car, finally giving in to the conclusion that she couldn't drive safely with her level of annoyance; therefore, she had resolved to walk to her destination of the radio station. She had figured that if she couldn't get a hold of Carlos, then Cecil might. Convince him to talk to her about Hiram.

However, now she was curious. They were completely blocking the bowling alley lane? Cutting off a whole tiny civilisation?

"Ellie!" A voice from behind her caused her to whip around her head, her blonde hair cascading down her shoulder. Rochelle and Natalia were driving on the road next to her. Rochelle pulled up to the curb and the two women got out.

"Are you okay? Are you going after Hiram?"

"I was," The biochemist replied, but looked to the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex. "But maybe not."

"Definitely not!" Natalia scolded. "I was so worried!"

"Sorry..." Ellie muttered, although she did sound sincere.

"Apology accepted. What's going on?"

"They're going to pour asphalt on lane 5 in a few minutes and trap the civilisation under it."

"But asphalt can be poisonous!"

"Exactly."

"Shall we have a look?" Rochelle looked towards the bowling alley. The three looked at each other before sharing a brief nod and headed towards the bowling alley entrance. Teddy Williams was standing there, flanked by two large beings that absolutely were not Angels and several building contractors.

"Let's get started, boys. First order of business, that lane 5. Cover it!"

"Woah woah woah, wait!" Rochelle shouted. "You can't just trap them all under there!"

"Oh? And why not?" Williams arched an eyebrow.

"There are people down there!"

"They have been fighting us the last year!"

"That's not okay, I admit, but you could be killing them!"

"Good." Teddy Williams said coldly. "They're bad for business and dangerous."

"Why, you-" Natalia saw red. She ran past the contractors and Teddy Williams, beyond the barricade and headed straight for the hole under lane 5, before standing in front of it defiantly as Ellie, Teddy and Rochelle, as well as all of Teddy Williams' contractors, stood facing her.

"I won't let you run the risk of killing them." She said, crossing her arms in defiance.

"Nat, watch out!" Rochelle suddenly cried as several tiny ships began to rise from the city and fire at Natalia.

Natalia squealed slightly in shock and flung her arm out, which hit one of the tiny spaceship style transports that the city was attacking her with. It flew across the room and hit Ellie in the gut.

"Out of the way!" The contractors said before pushing the distracted Natalia sideways and pouring the asphalt over the hole, sealing it.

"How could you just-"

"Leave my property immediately or I'm calling the Sheriff's Secret Police." Teddy Williams said calmly. "You could have been seriously hurt!"

Dr Green stepped forward and grabbed her colleagues by the elbow. "Let's go, guys."

"But..." The two women protested as they were ushered out of the building by the biochemist. They stood together in the parking lot, the whir of machines now coming from the bowling alley only making Natalia and Rochelle more agitated.

"I can't believe they may have just committed GENOCIDE!" Natalia angrily yelled.

"Not quite." Ellie said.

"I can't even...wait, what?"

"I have some of the citizens." She smiled sadly, taking out the tiny ship that had hit her earlier. " I quickly pocketed this ship. I was satisfied that it was damaged enough to not be a threat...I thought I could study them."

"You...saved them?" Natalia gaped.

"Yeah. Of course." Dr Green grinned and kissed her girlfriend's cheek.

"You're awesome, Ellie."

Rochelle laughed, throwing an arm over the biochemist's shoulder as they walked towards the van, the faint screams of Pamela Winchell's retirement plans echoing from the radio station in the difference.

Chapter Text

I always thought that my life would be nothing special. Not really. I mean everyone has a reasonably interesting life. Nothing too good nor bad.

But Natalia, you cry, surely your life is special? I'm not special. We'd all like to think our life is special, obviously, but if there's one thing I've learnt in my short life, it's that we are all very small beings in a much larger universe. Geez, that sounds a bit philosophical, doesn't it? Night Vale tends to have that effect on people. Living in a town with endless conspiracy theories, no laws of time and a real life dragon tends to throw things into a rather overwhelming perspective that we are rather small in comparison to the rest of the world.

Not that all of my perceived time in Night Vale has been awful. Quite the opposite in fact. I've got a relatively stable job, a great girlfriend and I went out for our first proper date last night.

When I say 'proper date', it's not like we haven't had dates before. But they usually consisted of a quiet relaxed evening watching movies or some TV. Quiet evenings are a rarity in this town. If we aren't called up at an insane hour - well, hour metaphorically speaking - by Carlos or Brent or any of us about some phenomenon that needed urgently seeing to, there was either some odd reason that the evening wasn't quiet. The mysterious hooded figures moving around outside, or the sounds of people screaming at the void outside, or a slight scuttling noise that we keep hearing around. Although that could just be the Faceless Old Woman That Lives In Everyone's Home.

The point is, quiet evenings are a rarity in Night Vale, but for the first time in what feels like ages, Ellie and I were able to go out for a proper date. We had a long debate about where to go. We mutually agreed that Gino's Italian was not suitable for our first date. That had been Carlos and Cecil's first date, and besides, it was still under brief investigation for wheat and wheat by-product use. Although, I personally think that it's the Secret Police wanting to have a nice meal out. Which is fine. They...ah, do such a good job of monitoring us all.

Anyway, we decided to just go to the Moonlight All-Night Diner and have Pinkberry after. Where you go for a date doesn't necessarily have to be special, it's the person you go with that makes it special. Plus we both wanted fries, and it's the best place to get them in town. Well, apart from the bowling alley, who do some great food on League Night...but, ah, none of us particularly like the bowling alley at the moment.

Anyway, we had a great meal, and then we sat in Pinkberry, sipping milkshakes and just talking. Talking is so underrated, you know? The Pinkberry diner is run by this person called E. They're great fun and they serve some awesome stuff there. E was washing dishes in the kitchen, so we were alone for a moment. So naturally, Ellie did one of her spontaneous Ellie things and said "do you wanna dance?" in the middle of Pinkberry. This was late at night, but there was no-one else around, so I said yes.

The next thing we found out, very quickly, was that neither of us can dance. At all.

[a muffled laugh can be heard in the recording]

Oh my gosh, we were AWFUL. We tried to waltz first and we just fell over each other's feet. Ellie suggested we try some salsa dancing and started wiggling her hips around singing Shakira as she did so. We eventually settled on twirling each other round as we stumbled hilariously around the checkerboard floor of the Pinkberry. E eventually noticed us and put on some music on the jukebox, before winking at us behind their black glasses and melting back into the wall, as all Pinkberry staff have the ability to do.

And there we stayed, and we stayed dancing slowly and clumsily until the first rays of the screaming sunrises crept into the windows of the shop. Just Ellie and I acting like idiotic children all night. The way I like it.

So when I say that my life isn't special, I don't mean that my experiences aren't special. But the two of us dancing in that Pinkberry was so small, and that's the way I like it. Small, inclusive. Just the two of us, feeling alone in a vast and terrifying universe together. And....I think that if that is not special, then....I think I can live with being that...

[there is a short pause and the loud screeching noise of Khoshekh's purr for a good few minutes, before another long pause and the sound of someone sitting down]

It isn't easy growing up in Night Vale. For one thing, education is incredibly limited due to the extreme threat posed by books and too much knowledge. As a kid, you're also at the risk of being chosen for the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, taken by the various unmarked helicopters or even interning at the radio station. There are many reasons why it's tough to be a kid.

I was lucky as a kid. My dad was a member of the Secret Police, so I grew up with extra training techniques that my dad taught me to do. My mother went missing one day when I was....3? 4? I don't know. But she was not around. So it fell to my dad to look after me. I respect his efforts to raise me as a single parent. Any single parent is a hero in some small way. But my dad was a hero in extra ways.

Lieutenant Barry Gardner. That was my dad's name. He had black hair and dark eyes, but his most defining feature was his sideburns. Thick black sideburns that seemed to take up most of his face. Looking back, those sideburns were very funny, especially given that they occasionally caught on fire.

My dad specialised in weapons for the Secret Police, so he was always testing out the various firearms that were handed in by the public. He took me along to some of the annual pledge drives for handing in guns. They were fun, seeing people I knew from school come in and give in machetes that their parents had given to them to drop off whilst they were at work.

The best bit was the after party for the pledge drives. Dad and all his friends from the police used to try out all the weapons that had been handed in. They always ended the party by trying out the big weapons, like the flamethrowers and grenade launchers. My dad was always excited by those, as was I. I used to sit on his shoulders and watch as the mannequins blew up across the other side of the shooting range.

But it wasn't to last. My time with my dad was increasingly cut short when I was drafted into the Boy Scouts at the age of twelve. His hours changed and it coincided with my scout meetings. It became harder for us to see each other apart from dinner time. But I knew he was proud of me. The look on my dad's face when I came home carrying my 'Master Bomb Building and Disposal' scout badge was the happiest I ever saw him.

My dad passed away when I was twenty three. I had just graduated from the university with a degree in chemistry. He stressed to me on my graduation day that he was sad. Sad that I had learnt so much. That, now I had learnt a lot, I would forever be on the Secret Police's extra watch list.

However, he also told me that he was proud. That he taught me all he could about his work. That he was proud I could protect myself. All these years later, I'll never forget his last words to me. Dave, he said, never let anyone tell you you aren't good enough. If they do, just set them on fire.

As much as I love my father, I have tried not to live by those words; I don't particularly want to set anyone on fire. But the sentiment was there. The sentiment was there...

Chapter Text

"Ooookay, so we just need one more tiny house and then we're ready to go!"

"Are you sure that putting the citizens of the underground city in an old aquarium tank will be the best way for us to observe them, Nat?"

"Positive!"

"You just don't want them in our house anymore, do you?"

"No. God, please, Ellie they need to go."

"It's like having children, though!" The biochemist sulked, making the team around her laugh. Rochelle came in to the room, satchel swinging from her shoulder, carrying the radio.

"Hey, guys!" She waved.

"Morning!" The rest of the team chorused back.

"Ooh is it nearly finished?" The curly haired biologist bounced over to peer eagerly into the tank that Natalia and Ellie were placing things in. There was a mini town that the team had created for the citizens from the underground city that the team had rescued. The team's new project was to study the tiny people.

"Yep!" Dave grinned. "They're almost ready to move in. I've set up all the cameras. Wasn't half difficult."

Rochelle fist bumped his shoulder lightly and went back to the chair where she'd rested the radio to unpack her satchel.

"...joining the rest of the cowardly air molecules. 'I heard opera is a virus you get from kissing,' said another bystander, who was clearly former mayor Pamela Winchell wearing a fake moustache and clumsily altering her voice. Nobody but Old Woman Josie and her mysterious friends know what an opera is. Hopefully we’ll all find out soon, Night Vale!"

"Is Josie still doing all the strenuous work?" Ellie frowned. "I told her not to!"

"She doesn't listen to anyone." Dave shook his head. "She's stubborn as a two headed ox, that one."

"Two headed?" Jeffries furrowed his brows.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"You know, like the fairy tale? The two headed ox and the weasel?"

"There is not a fairy tale like that." Ellie scoffed in disbelief.

"There is!" Dave insisted. "You know, the one about the weasel who tries to defy the world government so he goes to their headquarters but a two headed ox stands in his way and shouts at him with both his heads until he realises that the universe is cruel?"

"That is NOT a fairy story!"

"I like that story." Jeffries laughed.

"I'm going to go see if Josie's okay." Rochelle said. "I'll see you all later."

"See you in a bit." Dave smiled, before turning back to the team. "So what's this I hear about a carnival in town?"

 

~

 

"It'll open?" Carlos gasped in wonder. "Really?"

"We think we can open it. Maybe it is just attempting to reject your presence only?" Alicia answered with a shrug.

"Why would it do that?" Carlos arched an eyebrow in curiosity.

"We're not sure. But there are pictures in the lighthouse. Pictures of Night Vale."

"What pictures?"

"They are in a room. A dark room. Separate from the rest of the lighthouse. You have to know where it is in order to open the door to it."

"Curious." Carlos mused. "I would like to see it if I can."

"We'll take you there now." Alicia smiled. Carlos picked up his bag and hefted it onto his back.

The small party plodded up the side of the mountain, brows becoming clammy in the heat of the desert. The sun beat down upon them until Carlos began to feel slightly light headed. The desert heat was not unlike that of Night Vale; however, unlike Night Vale, there were very few settlements or even objects to take shelter in or under. The Desert Otherworld seemed to have made itself determined to give Carlos sunstroke again.

After a good half an hour of walking, the small party reached the base of the lighthouse. Alicia took a deep breath, which Carlos could hear echoed above him in their large lungs, before opening the door to the lighthouse.

"It worked!" Carlos exclaimed in delight, eagerly rushing inside to the cool shade that the lighthouse provided. He gulped in deep breaths of cool, possibly air-conditioned air. The nice change in air quality made him experience a gut wrenching feeling as he remembered his lab. He missed the resources it provided.

And his team, of course. And Cecil.

"The door is this way." One of the members of the masked army pointed. It made Carlos wonder how the giant army could even fit inside the outside door to the lighthouse, but as they moved along each corridor and under each door frame at around the same height he perceived himself to be walking at, he began to hypothesise that the lighthouse just changed its internal shape to fit whomever was occupying it. Which was helpful, really.

"Just here." The masked army member pointed at a blank wall. Carlos looked confused. There was nothing there. He turned to the giant man and was about to ask a question when he saw it, just in the corner of his eye. A door. A door that had seemingly materialised into the wall previously devoid of any decoration. Carlos stepped forward and pressed his palm against the door, which had no handle. He gave it a light tap and it moved, opening inwards. There was a light coming from inside the room, from some kind of exterior window. Carlos found this odd, mainly because there was meant to be no connection to the outside light from within the lighthouse, let alone a room buried this deep.

He wandered over to the pictures on the wall. Wow. They were lifelike, Carlos thought. Pictures of Night Vale dotted the room. He recognised the diner, the bowling alley and Radon Canyon. He recognised Mission Grove Park, and a few friends' houses.

"Hey, Alicia," Carlos turned to the warrior. "Did you take these?"

Alicia shook their head and pointed at the pictures behind Carlos. Carlos turned, and that was when he realised. He pulled out his phone and dialled a number. It went straight to the chirpy voicemail that he was used to by now. Maybe he had his phone off.

"Hey, Cecil! I made SO MUCH progress today!" He said proudly. "Doug, and some of the other members of the army of warriors who roam this Otherworld desert, took me to the top of the mountain, to the lighthouse up on it." He recalled, before feeling a small pang of guilt. "Oh, right…I’m still stuck in the desert Otherworld. How are you? I miss you!" There.

"Anyway, they showed me the photos on the walls inside the lighthouse. One of the warriors, whose name is Alicia, and who is not a woman or a man, and who is Doug’s partner, and who has a dog, and who is trying to make a new currency based on sand, walked me through the pictures. There were photos of living rooms, and parks, and lawns…photos of Night Vale." He grinned, as he continued to look at the moving photos on the wall. He paused momentarily at a picture of his team. They appeared to be gathered around a large glass aquarium tank without water and discussing something.

"I asked if Alicia took these photos, because they were good photos! Colourful, well composed, alive! Alicia shook their head no, and the other warriors in the room pointed quietly back to the photos, and I saw that they were literally alive. The people and all of the things that were not people moved in the photos!" He placed his hand on the picture of his team, before moving on to observe the next one. "Blades of grass in the breeze, small bees spiralling, a man refusing to smile – and all within the confines of rough driftwood frames. Inside the lighthouse, you can see anywhere – although you cannot go to any of those 'wheres'."

Then he turned to the next picture. Oh. Oh....Carlos stopped in his tracks. It was Cecil. Cecil in their bathroom. Trying to shave without a mirror, as always. Carlos' toothbrush sat unused in the tumbler that the two used as a toothbrush holder next to the sink.

"A-And, as I leave this message, I can see YOU, Cecil! Yeah, I’m watching you shave! Oh, it’s cute how you pull up your nose like that. Oh! But you missed a spot." He smiled fondly. He usually got the bits that Cecil missed nowadays.

"I’m sorry I haven’t had time to go looking for the doorway back to your dimension. I’m learning so many things though! I– I promise. I promise to return soon. This…desert Otherworld is just so scientifically interesting! Maybe it’s the most scientifically interesting community I’ve ever seen..." He sighed deeply as he looked again at the picture of Cecil. "I love you! I’ll try calling you again tonight. Is it even night time there? Ugh, I’ve lost all sense of time." He hung up hastily and put his phone back in his pocket.

"Can I have a minute?" He murmured, turning to Doug and Alicia. The two nodded and began to quietly shoo the masked army out of the room. Carlos sat cross legged in the room alone for a good hour, eyes trailing over each picture. They lingered on the picture of his team and Cecil longest. He didn't mean to, but his heart had other ideas.

 

~

 

"A carnival has come to our city, Night Vale. I do not even know how you can protect yourself from this wicked cultural affront to our community." Rochelle frowned as she climbed out of her car next to the site of the Night Vale opera house. She had never seen a carnival, but from the way Natalia had described it when she had called a few minutes ago to say that the team were headed to it.

"Josie!" She waved and smiled as she walked over to the older lady.

"Rochelle, honey, how have you been?"

"Better than you seem to be. How's your hand?"

"Not workin' very well. But I'm managing."

"Josie, please let someone help you. It's not good for you to do all this work by yourself."

"Oh, stop with your fussin', Miss Hower. You should be more worried about the rest of the town."

"What do you mean?"

"That foolish Cecil. He needs to get his man home so some sense can be knocked into both of them. Riling up the town like this." She tutted in disapproval. "Not all interlopers are awful. Look at all you scientists. Well, if they all want to chase them with pitchforks..."

"Pitchforks?!" Rochelle gasped, before running back towards her car. She paused before getting in, picking up something from a compartment in her car door then jogging back briefly. "Don't overwork yourself, Josie."

"I ain't that old. Be off with you."

Rochelle passed her a water bottle and nodded. Josie cracked a smile back as she watched Rochelle drive off.

Rochelle drove rapidly towards where the carnival was. As she got closer, she could see smoke rising and a volley of trucks driving rapidly away, pursued by a mob of people carrying all kinds of strange weapons. Pitchforks, sticks and what looked to be animal parts were all being waved by citizens screaming "INTERLOPER!"

When there was a reasonable distance between the mob and the trucks, the crowd stopped, slowly dispersing. However, before she could dismiss the situation, Rochelle could see the trucks stop in the distance. Why had they stopped?

The sun was disappearing rapidly over the landscape and Rochelle headed towards the trucks. She was roughly half a mile away when they began moving again, save for one car, which began driving back towards the town.

Rochelle parked her car and got out, squinting until she could make out the car coming back. She leaned on the hood of her car and smiled as she did. It was Ellie's car. The rest of her team had evidently driven out into the sand wastes to apologise and explain to the people that had been so brutally treated by this town, her town. The car and its residents didn't notice her as it sped past but she didn't mind.

Rochelle continued to look at the empty blackness of the void in the sky for hours, until she got bored and began screaming at all it implied, as was the popular recreational activity in the restless town of Night Vale.

Chapter Text

The sunrise was just beginning to scream as Dr Green first opened her eyes sleepily. She glanced over at the clock, which, from what her blurry vision could tell, had the hands dripping some kind of yellow fluid. Ugh, Ellie thought. I'll have to fix it again, which will involve putting on my glasses which will involve moving, something she felt not willing to explore at the present time.

She decided immediately that that was a problem for a few minutes time and snuggled back into her pillow. At least she thought it was a pillow. She raised her hand to her face lazily to rub her eyes.

Her vision began to clear and she realised that she had been sleeping not on a pillow, but on Natalia's chest, the top of the biochemist's head nuzzled into her girlfriend's neck. Which was in all fairness, Ellie mused, a rather comfy place to sleep.

"Mm..." Natalia murmured, shifting slightly and Ellie's head hit the mattress with a thump, her comfy resting place indignantly pulled away from her. Ellie scowled and poked Nat's ribs lightly.

"Naaaaat, wake up!"

"Huh?"

"It's morning. Wake up." Ellie fumbled for her phone and glasses, sliding the latter onto her nose clumsily. She unplugged and unlocked her phone, looking at the supposed time, as well as her messages. Then a message notification made her heart drop down to her stomach.

There was a text from the oddly nicknamed 'Uni Grant Team DO NOT ANSWER'. Ellie opened it.

'We are coming to the town today. We have not heard from you in a long time and we wish to speak with you if you aren't missing.'

Ellie visibly paled and turned to Natalia, whose face was half buried in her pillow.

"Wake up!" Ellie jumped on top of her surprised companion.

"Ow! What the hell, Ellie?!"

"We need to get up NOW."

"Okay, okay, geez. Is something wrong? Did the Faceless Old Woman set something on fire again?" The astrophysicist sat up sleepily, adjusting her tank top strap, which had drooped over her shoulder. Her hair was a mess, a slight smudge of makeup that hadn't quite been removed right around her eyes, and as far as Ellie was concerned, she had never been more beautiful.

"No, no," the biochemist waved her hand dismissively "the university grant team is coming to Night Vale, which means we need to hide. Dammit, I need to call Brent."

"I don't understand." Natalia said, running a hand through her frazzled hair. "What's so bad about the university grant team? Carlos is the one in communication with them, and he is always organised with anything to do with the team's effectiveness...mostly."

"Except it's not Carlos in charge of the money the university sends us...." Ellie admitted.

"What? Why not?"

"He tried to spend a big chunk of it in the first few weeks. It was understandable given the amount of horrific stuff there was those first months, but the university wasn't having it so they transferred control of money."

Natalia nodded at that. Carlos had been overwhelmed for most of the initial six months in Night Vale. The team had had to band together on several occasions to force him to leave the lab. It was probably a good job that the team had the funds in someone else's hands, or otherwise Carlos would have spent it on experiments and run the budget dry in four days.

"Okay, not so bad."

"They transferred it to me." Ellie cringed.

"A little worse, but what's the big problem?"

"Wellllllll, during the Strex incident, we needed to rebuild a whole bunch of things and get new equipment that the donations from the council didn't really cover, and I had access to the grant's bank accounts..." Ellie said sheepishly.

"Oh no. You didn't." Natalia's eyes widened and she gave the other woman a pointed look.

"I may have overdrawn a bit. Which is exactly why we need to call everyone right now and hide ourselves until they leave."

".....how much?"

"About $10,000."

"SHIT."

 

~

 

Carlos' morning was going great. He had no idea how long it had been since he'd called Cecil or his team, the masked army had messed up in the construction of his temporary lab, and he'd fallen over more than six times in the last hour because of his stupid shoes, and now, NOW, Doug wanted a favour.

"Yes?" Carlos forced a smile and looked up at the towering figure.

"Something has been spotted by one of our scouts."

Carlos grit his teeth in response. The masked army were getting a little annoying with their constant skirmishes outside his new house and his temporary lab. He was trying to investigate this place and he liked the silence being alone gave him. He had always preferred doing his investigations alone anyway, and the masked army constantly barging around where he was trying to work was only cementing this fact into Carlos' brain. The only reason he tolerated the noise was because the army often had ideas about the things that Carlos should investigate.

"Any idea what it is?"

"They said it looked like a person."

"A person? What's so strange about that?"

Doug arched an eyebrow. "They are your size."

Carlos gaped. All of the masked warriors had to be at least three metres tall each. Carlos had had to add a sliding roof to his temporary lab so the army members could stand in it. Every one that was the same size as Carlos in the desert had been a citizen of Night Vale and had all vanished during the Strex incident, returning to their hometown through the old oak doors.

"Take me to them!" Carlos said eagerly.

Doug nodded and led the way, walking slowly across the desert as Carlos ran next to him in an attempt to keep up with the army leader's massive strides. After Carlos had exhausted himself running and was almost on the verge of asking Doug to stop, the masked man pointed towards a rocky outcrop around one hundred metres away, where a human was resting against the rock face wearily. Carlos edged towards the person until he could make out their shape. He recognised it almost immediately.

"Cecil?!" He cried. The silhouette of the person in front of him could not have been of anyone else. Carlos dropped his backpack next to Doug'a feet save for his water bottle and sprinted towards the figure. "CECIL!"

However, as Carlos got ever closer to the figure, something seemed off. The person certainly looked like Cecil, almost identical aside from three key features. Firstly, the skin tone was vastly more tan than Cecil's was. Cecil, despite the fact that he had grown up in a desert community, was rather pale. This was definitely not that shade, Carlos mused as he showed down and approached the figure more cautiously. Neither did the person have Cecil's almost white hair; it was darker, almost black, yet it stuck out at odd angles in the same bizarre way.

Lastly, and arguably the most shocking, were the eyes. Cecil's eyes were one of Carlos' favourite features. They were a deep violet and they shone with passion whenever he talked. Carlos' heart ached slightly when he thought of them. Whenever he stared into Cecil's eyes, he felt like he was staring into the man's soul. He wanted nothing more to see those eyes in front of him now, too kiss Cecil, tell him he would be home soon and then hopefully launch into several rounds of....well, Carlos could at least admit to himself that he missed the physical aspects of his and Cecil's relationship being apart.

But the eyes in front of him put all thought of Cecil out of his mind looking at the man in front of him. His eyes were dark, almost obsidian. There was no reflection of light in the man's eyes, as if the entire eyeball had been coloured in with an opaque black sharpie. He gazed in wonder at, aside from those three differences, how similar the two looked in terms of facial and body shape. The similarities really were striking.

"Hello?" Carlos asked hesitantly as the man seemed to stare past him. "Are you alright?"

"Smile....?" The man murmured wearily. His lips were cracked and dry. Carlos pulled out his water bottle and offered it to the man, who took it gratefully and gulped down huge mouthfuls of the liquid inside.

"Thank you, friend..." He said shakily.

"Are you alright? How did you end up here?" Carlos asked, offering an arm to help the man stand.

"I...I don't remember too much. I was talking to someone then there was this light....oh I can't remember too well."

"Look, scientifically speaking, I think it's best you come with me. I have a place you can stay." Carlos offered. "At least until you remember a bit more. Do you remember your name at least? I'm Carlos. I'm a scientist." He said, offering his hand to the man and shaking it as they walked back towards Doug.

"My name..." The dark eyed man said quietly. "My name is Kevin."

 

~

 

"While the crowd was distracted by the sudden weather, I was able to flag down a passing Sheriff’s Secret Police helicopter which was conducting routine surveillance operations just overhead. I explained to the officers inside, all of whom where wearing loose-fitting gowns and Richard Nixon masks, that I was in need of a lift to the radio station for important community reasons. They did not respond, but they also did not do anything else. So, I hustled the representatives from the University of What It Is onto the craft..." Cecil's voice was drowned out by the scientists arguing with one another in the upper floors of the lab where the team used to reside before finding their own places.

"I cannot believe you embezzled money from the university, Ellie!" Jeffries scolded. "You put all of us at risk! Especially Carlos!"

"M'sorry..." Ellie said with a quivering lip. After the utter fiasco that the people of Night Vale had pulled in 'greeting' the new outsiders from their university, the team had retreated to the lab, safe in the knowledge that the grant team had left the town or were at least far away from the laboratory, and had immediately began arguing.

"What do we even do now? Do we even have the money to pay them back?" Rochelle asked in annoyance.

"No, don't be stupid, of course not!"

"I-I'm sorry." Ellie suddenly sobbed. "I.....I-I didn't know what to....what to do at the time and we had to p-pay the rent and repairs on the same day and you know what happened the last t-time someone didn't pay the rent on time!"

The team fell into shocked silence, apart from Dave and Rochelle, who looked incredibly confused as they had not been present for that particular problem. Jeffries and Johnson however, remembered all too well. It was in the first few months of living in Night Vale. Carlos forgot to pay the rent and Ellie had been targeted by the landlord and a chunk of the woman's leg had been taken out. She still had a large scar from where it had been torn out.

Tears rolled down Ellie's cheeks as she stood shaking at the memory. "I d-didn't want anyone to get hurt..."

"Ellie..." Natalia rushed forward and the biochemist sobbed loudly into her girlfriend's shoulder. "Ssshhhhh, it's okay, it won't happen again. We're all safe." She squeezed the young woman tightly and turned around to look at the rest of the team, as if daring them to say anything else.

"We'll pay it back in instalments." Brent said. "Maybe we can ask the council or secret police for a loan. They still owe us a favour or two."

Ellie raised her head. "Really?"

Brent gave her a reassuring smile and decided enough was enough in terms of making Ellie feel guilty and he did his best Shrek impression. "Really really."

Ellie choked out a small laugh in response before wiping her face, Natalia still holding her gently and protectively in her embrace.

"It doesn't mean you're off the hook, Dr Green." Dave said. "For starters, you have to tell Carlos."

"Oh god." She groaned. "Carlos is awful with bad new-"

The blonde biochemist was interrupted by a loud knock coming from the downstairs door. "Aaah! They've found us!" Ellie screeched and hid behind Natalia. The team all glanced at each other.

"I call dibs on not answering." Rochelle blurted.

"Me too!" Dave said.

"Nope!" Ellie added. Natalia just looked at Brent with a hopeful smile.

"Fine. But you owe me some of those waffles you're so good at making, Johnson." The ginger bearded man grumbled and headed down the stairs.

The rest of the team stood hesitantly at the top of the stairs as the characteristic sound of a door opening echoed from downstairs. A moment or two passed until Jeffries called up.

"Guys! Come down, quick!"

"That sounds like trouble." Dr Green grimaced and tightened her grip on Natalia's arm. There were a few prolonged moments of silence, then all of a sudden there was the thump of footsteps coming up the stairs. Ellie panicked and looked around the room, settling on a examination metal tray and standing behind the door to the communal area in order to ambush whomever was coming. Natalia, Dave and Rochelle followed her lead and hid behind the door. Ellie raised the tray above her head as she heard Brent say to his companion in the doorway "After you."

"Kyaaaaaaa!" Ellie shouted and brought the tray down onto the person who stepped through the door, briefcase in hand. Except, shockingly, the person, dressed in long slacks and a turtleneck, caught it with their spare arm. The person turned around, shaking his bald head and giving the smallest of wry smiles.

"My my, you have not changed a bit, Eleanor." The tall man said to the shocked woman in front of him.

Edwardo Perez held up his suitcase and his old lab coat in gesture as Jeffries grinned at the team behind him. "Now, I believe I came to ask the acting head scientist of this team whether I could have my old job back."

Chapter Text

"I'd really like to know what they are arguing about." Rochelle tilted her head in indication of the physics section of the lab, in which Natalia and Perez were arguing. The doors were shut with a large 'DO NOT DISTURB' sign on the door, which the team, as good scientists, respected. However, they were inherently concerned about the muffled annoyed shouts coming from the inside.

"You really want to risk upsetting them by busting in?" Ellie replied to the biologist. She stood slouched, her back against the wall and her arms folded across her chest.

"But I have news for Natalia." Rochelle groaned.

"It's gonna have to wait. Not even I'm gonna brave that."

"He's really that scary?"

"Nah, he's not too bad." She straightened, arching her back until it clicked. "But they both have tempers. Nat's you've seen."

Rochelle winced. Natalia's temper was well known amongst the team. She got frustrated if she couldn't figure something out, in a similar manner to Carlos; however, Carlos did not work off that frustration in a manner that involved katana wielding practice. This method of working off annoyance with physical exertion and control worked, but sometimes she couldn't take that time for the activity, and if that built up, she would end up shouting angrily. Natalia hated to shout but sometimes she just lost it. The team understood and if she was angry they usually left her to it until a solution could be found. Unfortunately, it seemed that Perez and her had locked horns over some aspect of her work.

"I know all too well. But this is ridiculous, Ellie! He's been back two weeks!"

"Yeah....but he got started on the cat."

"Ohhh." Rochelle grimaced again. Khoshekh was Natalia's favourite project. She got touchy if someone interfered with her study on the floating cat, even if it was Carlos. She'd even gotten some part-time lessons in zoology from Ellie and Rochelle in order to draw further meaning to her investigations.

The door to the lab suddenly burst open and the two physicists came striding out of it arguing.

"I just cannot understand this! It is an interference to your investigation." Perez was grumbling as he walked out to the communal area, flicking the coffee machine on with his thumb.

"I thought it would help!" Natalia flicked her fringe out of her face as she walked.

"Owning one of the kittens is making it too personal and therefore it could be seen as unprofessional."

"Carlos approved!"

Perez sighed. "He did? Well...I understand this...however, I cannot condone its name."

"Oh, come on! It's perfect." Natalia threw up her hands in frustration.

"Just because the kitten occasionally fades in and out of existence, does not mean it is funny to call it Schrödinger, Dr Johnson."

There was a muffled snort from the chemistry workbench where Dave and Jeffries were sat examining a rock sample.

"Tch. Killjoy." Natalia muttered childishly.

"However..." Perez sighed and placed his hand on Natalia's shoulder. "I am very pleased with your progress on this phenomenon."

"Was that a compliment?! Oh my, the world is ending!" Natalia feigned falling over with a slight smirk.

"Would you like me to take it back?" Perez arched an eyebrow and fiddled with his sleeve nonchalantly.

"N-no thank you." Natalia said quickly, which made all the scientists in the room laugh. Perez nodded with a rare smirk before grabbing his coffee and heading back into the lab.

"N-notice me science senpai!" Ellie taunted from across the room. A dark blush settled over Natalia's cheeks.

"Shut up. Just because I value having his knowledge and experience does not make him my science senpai!"

"Sure, sure." Ellie pecked her cheek with a grin and went back to her workbench as Natalia fumed.

"I'm so getting her back for that."

"Please do. It'll be entertaining to watch." Rochelle then grinned at the young woman. "Oh, by the way, I was going to talk to you about the homecoming game."

Natalia's expression changed to one of confused surprise. "Homecoming game? What do you mean homecoming game?"

 

~

 

"Okay, so here we're building like a theme park and it's gonna have rollercoasters and ferris wheels! It's not scientific, but it is still gonna be so fun." Carlos grinned as he half dragged Kevin around the settlements that the army had been building. The man had been slowly healing from his injuries and general weariness over the last few weeks, under the watchful eye of Carlos and the masked army. Carlos was having a little trouble trusting the man, but he did seem different to how he had been in Night Vale.

"Ooh how interesting!" Kevin cooed, his mouth grinning an unnaturally wide grin. He still didn't remember everything about himself, but had begun to respond to some questions automatically.

"Well, that's the last of the infrastructure here. Like I said, there isn't really much here in terms of landmarks. But the atmosphere and general....STUFF of this place is so scientifically fascinating!" Carlos beamed, throwing his arms in gesture at the desert landscape.

"I don't mind this place. It's just missing something."

Carlos tilted his head at Kevin in confusion. "Missing something?"

"Yeah. It's missing something. Maybe it's the lack of viscera on my shirt."

"Lack of blood...?" Carlos said. "You really should let me wash that shirt by the way. The barbeque sauce stain is still there."

"Oh, don't worry," Kevin said dismissively, before his smile and voice darkened a little. "I like it like this."

"If you say so." Carlos replied. "Now, I have some work to do if that's alright."

"Science work?"

"Yes!"

"Ooh can I watch?"

"You want to watch me work?" Carlos' face lit up like a child on Christmas Day. Someone was taking an interest in science! More and more Kevin was reminding him of Cecil. Few people had ever asked him if they could watch him work.

"Carlooos, can I watch you do your work?" Cecil's enthusiastic voice echoed in Carlos' head.

The scientist's face fell slightly. What with looking after Kevin and his experiments, the scientist had felt so busy recently and not had a properly long phone call with his boyfriend in weeks. Only brief calls and snapchat exchanges.

"Are you okay?" Kevin asked. "Smile, friend!"

"Yeah, I'm alright. I just....I just miss my boyfriend. He works at the radio station in Night Vale."

"The man who looks like me," Kevin beamed happily, wracking his brain for the name. "Is his name Cecil?"

"That's him. He does look a lot like you." Carlos rubbed the back of his neck as he opened the doors to his makeshift lab.

"You look like someone I know," Kevin remarked, sitting down on Carlos' sofabed.

"I know, I met him a long time ago..." Carlos murmured as he adjusted the sights on his microscope, placing the newest cactus sap sample underneath the glaring eye of the scientific instrument. His mind briefly wandered back to his encounter with his Desert Bluffs counterpart and the strange conversations they had had.

"...He was handsome too." Kevin said quietly, the brief memory of Diego quickly making his stomach unsettled.

"Oh my gosh?!" Carlos suddenly shouted. Kevin looked up, a brief glimmer of shock across his face, his dark hair fluttering slightly in the slow breeze of the desert wind that was pouring through the window of the makeshift laboratory.

"Huh?" A mild blush had settled across the Desert Bluffs' native's face as he looked across at the scientist working, clearly in his element, his hair falling in his face making him look so much like Diego. Maybe....maybe Carlos would be like Diego...the Diego who, as far as he remembered, never returned his affections. But it seemed Carlos actually was open about his feelings, something Diego was not. Maybe Carlos could show those feelings to him instead of Diego....

"Look at the cellular structure of this!"

The blush disappeared. Maybe not.

 

~

 

"Mm....this is delicious, Cecil." Ellie sighed happily as she took a bite of her food.

"Why thank you. I've been told my s'mores are good." Cecil cracked a smile, leaning back against the hood of his car.

"I'd never think of putting honey on marshmallows. It surprisingly works." Perez arched an eyebrow in surprise as he took another mouthful of marshmallow, shivering slightly in his orange poncho.

The rain poured down on the group of Night Vale citizens huddled together in the storm outside the stadium where the homecoming game would not be played that year. They were quite gutted that they could not see the proper homecoming celebration, Natalia especially. Rochelle had told her about the dead loved ones clause and that Natalia could ask around the deceased for information on her father's side of the family. However, the plan had fallen through and she accepted that she would have to keep looking in her own way.

They had exchanged stories in the long amount of time that evening that they had been stood there. Some stories were warm and heartfelt, like Dave talking about his dad and Rochelle telling the team about her childhood experiences of moving home; meanwhile, Perez had told the team more about his year apart from them, Natalia told some stories from her pitching days in the baseball juniors, Jeffries told them all about his brother's latest acting gig and Ellie some crazy family drinking tale that involved three sheep and a hedge trimmer.

The evening was coming to a close and the team, plus Jeffries' girlfriend Leanne Hart, and Cecil the radio host were the only ones left, the rest of the people formerly present having trickled away to go home or to take shelter from the storm.

"Do you want to head home?" Dave asked Rochelle, Jeffries and Leanne, who were carpooling with him. They agreed with slight nods and the team split, Jeffries holding the umbrella over Leanne's head as they walked away, orange ponchos dripping rainwater.

"Cecil," Ellie said, once the rest of the scientists had all left "do you want to come over to ours tonight? We can totally have a sleepover!"

"No, thank you," Cecil said with a smile "I think I just want to go home."

"Suit yourself. Have a good night!"

"Call us if you need anything, yeah?" Drs Green and Johnson smiled warmly at the radio host, before the two women, fingers intertwined, left the parking lot, leaving Cecil to debate existence with the strange ethereal form of Maliq Herrera in front of his parked car.

Meanwhile, the moon drifted across the sky, unseen by the people below due to the storm clouds; although, given the strange awe and terrifying mystery it emanated, that was probably for the best.

Chapter Text

"Some of you might remember, but most of you won’t, that you were given a list. Nearly two years ago, you were given a list, and told to memorise it exactly. Keep it safe, so that someday, it would keep YOU safe. Well, listeners? The Sheriff’s Secret Police would like me to inform you that the 'someday' you’ve been waiting for is THIS day." Cecil's smooth and calm voice floated from the radio, a strange contrast to the chaos in the middle of the team's laboratory.

"Any luck?" Jeffries shouted from the other side of the lab.

"Nope. Nada. Negative." Ellie said, nibbling her fingernails nervously. "I know what the list was. It had like 'lurk' and 'lark' in it. I know the list he means, but no-one made a copy of it except Carlos. And he won't answer his phone!"

The biochemist sighed heavily. She remembered the day that the list was given out quite well. The radio show had been an evening show as they'd had to force Carlos to stop walking and go home. Carlos had gone home and seemingly phoned Cecil, as his voicemails had been played on the radio. The team had had a good giggle about the way that Cecil gushed over Carlos that day. But the next day, Carlos had come in with a copy of the list that he somehow had managed to note down amidst the confusion that was his encounter with the Man In The Tan Jacket.

"Look at this list!" Carlos had said in confusion. "Cecil said on the radio yesterday that we might need it someday. I doubt we will, but I noted it down just in case."

However, absolutely none of the team could remember any of the list. Rochelle and Dave were off duty that day visiting family and friends and if they knew the list, they hadn't shared it with the team before they left. To make matters worse, it seems the Faceless Old Woman who lived in everyone's home had deleted all the team's phone contacts because she found out that Ellie had voted for Hiram McDaniels as an act of maliciousness two days previously.

Dr Green was the only one who knew any of the list, and she didn't know it in the right order. Therefore no-one knew Rochelle's or Dave's numbers in order to call them for help. The only phone contact they knew was Carlos and that was because Jeffries had memorised it for emergencies. Carlos, that wasn't answering his phone.

As a consequence of those circumstances, the team then were forced to run round the lab frantically turning everything upside down in order to find the list.

"Anything, Perez?"

"No. I do not think that this list is in the lab."

"Sweet mother of-" Ellie cursed in annoyance. "Where could Carlos have put it?"

Natalia fidgeted her black and white fringe. "If I was Carlos, where would I keep something that could potentially save us but we wouldn't know when it could save us?"

"Knowin' Carlos, he'd want it somewhere he could get at it anytime. Ya know how prepared for any eventuality he likes ta be." Jeffries walked back into the room.

"Yeah, but the only place he'd be able to get to it whenever he needed it would be...." Ellie trailed off, a sinking feeling beginning to settle in her stomach.

"It would be upon his person at all times." Natalia finished, the realisation also coming to her.

Carlos had the list with him in the Desert Otherworld. He would have taken it with him along with any other information that would be crucial to know at any given moment, as he always had these things on him. He had had no intention of being trapped in the Desert Otherworld so would have kept things important to the team with him when he left. Including the list.

"The Sheriff’s Secret Police are going around town, checking in with everyone and seeing if they have the list memorised. If you don’t, they helpfully are shaking their heads and tsk-ing, and then saying, 'Wow, you’re in trouble!' before leaving you to fend for yourself against whatever dangers this list would have protected you from." Cecil's voice came cheerfully from the radio. A silence fell across the lab.

".....We are so screwed." Ellie said bluntly.

 

~

 

"Okay, next item on the agenda. Hot yoga studio? Yes or no?"

"Is that really necessary?" Carlos arched an eyebrow. "I mean, it would be nice, sure...but aren't there more important things?"

"No." Doug said bluntly into the phone.

"In that case, I vote yes. I miss yoga." Carlos admitted in defeat. "But we really need to focus on the important things. The basics of life!"

"So we need a bloodstone circle." Doug said and Alicia voiced their agreement in the background. There were scratching sounds on the other end of the phone line as Doug wrote it down. Carlos' jaw dropped, flabbergasted.

"That's not a basic of life!"

"Hm," Doug said "The people that were here before, Dana and the others...they all said it was very important."

Carlos sighed. Night Vale religion confused him. He didn't consider himself a really religious person, although his Catholic family had tried to change that. Cecil, of course, was Jewish, but he still offered things to the bloodstone circles as was mandatory in Night Vale. Cecil did all of Carlos' sacrifices for him nowadays; before that Jeffries had been assigned to sort out all of the bloodstone related rituals. The team had considered it a farce at first, but after some 'research' which involved being detained and questioned, they agreed to do as the town usually did. It mostly involved chants and hand washing in liquids like water, milk and what Carlos thought was bad smelling barbeque sauce.

"Fine, fine. That too." Carlos caved. "I'll speak tomorrow. Good luck with your battle."

He hung up his phone, walking back over to Kevin, who appeared to be deep in thought in the corner of the tent that the masked army had constructed. It was one of the two tents serving as Carlos' and Kevin's living quarters whilst the some of the masked army constructed two houses for them. "Kevin? Are you alright?"

"Yes, of course!" He said, wringing his hands together. His black eyes darted upwards briefly as Carlos sat down next to him.

"I'm not sure that you are..." Carlos frowned. The scientist tucked a strand of curly hair behind his ear as he looked over at Kevin.

"It's just...I miss my radio job. There's no radio station here. I miss broadcasting."

Kevin sounded incredibly forlorn. Carlos' heart hurt slightly as he thought how Cecil would feel if he had being the Voice taken away from him. Both men were quite passionate about their jobs, and Kevin had been the Voice for Desert Bluffs.

"Oh...." Carlos replied awkwardly. "You know, I could always ask Doug if we could have a radio station?"

"You...you would?"

"Well of course! I'm sure you miss it! I think I would be able to persuade him to let us build one."

Kevin's black eyes almost seemed to have a twinkle in them as he began to smile widely. "That would be wonderful!"

"I'll call him now and ask." Carlos said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. However, the device was already vibrating. Surprised, he answered the call.

"CARLOS WHAT IN THE NAME OF SANITY HAVE YOU BEEN DOING?! WE'VE BEEN TRYING TO CALL FOR AGES!" Ellie's voice came out of his phone loudly and he held the phone away from his ear as most of his team screeched down the phone various panicking complaints.

"I was talking to Doug! What's happened?"

"That list, Carlos! The one with all the lurk and lark things on it that we needed to remember for some reason. The sun is gone from the sky and Cecil says we need it now! We're on the way to Mission Grove Park to meet with everyone. DO YOU HAVE IT?" Ellie said frantically.

"Oh, that one? I have it! It's in my lab coat pocket, hang on."

Carlos reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic watertight bag. He always kept the small wallet on his person, which contained everything the team might need to know at any given moment, including the list, a copy of 'essential' chants and the laws of Night Vale.

"Ah, here it is." He smiled fondly as his entire time collectively screamed things about urgency into the phone. He missed them.

"Okay, here we go. Hazelnut, mystify, cuttlefish, lark, lurk..."

 

~

 

"That was exhausting." Dave flopped down next to Rochelle as they observed the rest of the team. Perez, Natalia and Ellie were enthusiastically discussing the implications of losing the sun if everything had gone wrong with Carlos on the phone, in a more chipper manner than one would expect from those after a life threatening situation. Dr Jeffries and his girlfriend Leann Hart were snoozing on the grass, with Leann occasionally swatting away anyone who tried to disturb them by lazily waving a hatchet at them.

"Tell me about it." Rochelle answered.

"Every day is an adventure with these scientists." Dave laughed at the spectacle in front of them.

"I'm glad you're enjoying your new company." A familiar voice sounded behind the two. Old Woman Josie stood behind the two scientists, flanked by two of the Erikas.

"Hi!"

"Hi." The Erikas chirpily greeted them.

"If you were real, I would wish you a good day." Rochelle said, before turning to Josie. "How are you, Josie?"

"I'm alright. I actually came to ask you something."

"Oh, Brent organises the appointments," Dave said "Do you want me to fetch him?"

"Oh, no, it was more for Dr Hower, but you can listen too." Old Woman Josie smiled. "What do you two know about opera?"

"Not much. No-one seems to know what opera is here." Dave mused thoughtfully.

"It's to do with performing, Dave." Rochelle wrinkled her nose.

"How would you like to help me with it?" Old Woman Josie directed at Dr Hower.

"Help you?" Rochelle arched an eyebrow. "How?"

"Oh I just thought you'd like to give it another go. You quit too easily, dear." Josie said, picking a stray insect off her shoulder.

"I quit for a reason..." Rochelle turned away.

"You know what opera is?!" Dave gaped.

"You have exceptional talent, just as much as you do in your science business. Do not waste it." Josie scolded. "Honestly, the things I have to deal with."

"I....." Rochelle cringed, knowing Josie was right. She had only quit singing and performing because she wanted to pursue science and circumstances had presented an ultimatum. Study one or the other. After that, a case of throat spiders had forced her to stop singing completely, and she had felt so deflated that she had not tried since.

"We will make your chords strong." Josie said with determination. "Your days of opera are not gone, Rochelle. Think about it."

The angels then waved at the two before disappearing with Josie, leaving a confused Dave and conflicted Rochelle behind.

"So...." Dave coughed to break the silence. "What is opera?"

Rochelle only rolled her eyes and went to join the rest of the team, who had begun asking Carlos about why the masked army wanted to build a hot yoga studio as the sun, now replaced in the sky, began to set on the horizon. Unfortunately, the tear gas released by the SSPD quickly spoiled the mood, although watching Leann Hart react to the disturbance was something the team would shudder thinking about for many months to come.

Chapter Text

"Listeners, someone built a monolith in front of City Hall overnight." The radio in the scientists laboratory blared across the communal area as the team assembled there for the morning briefing. Everyone seemed to be in an average mood. Ellie and Natalia were playing footsie under the table, Brent, Dave and Perez were discussing cars and Rochelle was reading something on her phone with an unusual amount of focus. When Ellie had nosily tried to look, Rochelle had yanked her phone away from the blonde scientist.

The team unfortunately were beginning to come to the realisation and acceptance, however, that Carlos would not be home for Christmas and the emotional blow was hard on all of the team.

"Last night, there was no 15-foot tall, two-foot thick rectangle made of blue slate towering over the faded grass and weakened tulip garden in front of City Hall. But now, there is. A monolith, with indifferent geometry and a long, sharp shadow cast by the low morning sun. It is an ominous construction, channeling ancient powers and long-dead gods. Perhaps, it is even connected to our primordial extra-terrestrial ancestry."

"Um, Brent?"

"Yes, Dr Johnson?"

"Is that monolith on the agenda by chance?"

Jeffries laughed and his bellowing chuckle echoed around the room even more than the radio. "Yep, it's top priority t'day. Here's the details," he said, handing out pieces of paper with the usual crudely written writing on. The team, although they had lots of practice, still struggled with municipally approved pens. "Any volunteers? M'quite interested myself."

"I should like to investigate this monolith." Perez's pale eyebrows were furrowed as he examined the report in front of him. "I shall accompany you, Dr Jeffries."

"Fantastic. Anyone else?"

"I'll go." Dave piped up. "Sounds interesting. Shall I make us snacks? Guys' day out?"

Natalia snickered. "Go for it, guys. Lads day out investigating the terrifying monolith." She leaned backwards into her seat, her left foot, complete with black pumps, swinging to and fro as Rochelle and Ellie laughed at her joke. The men all seemed to take offence to it.

"You think that you could do a better job?" Dave folded his arms.

"Oh I bet we could." Natalia said confidently.

"Fine." Dave's frown turned into a sly smirk. "Let's make this interesting then. Guys vs girls. The one who figures out the properties, intentions, and level of danger to the town that the monolith poses, wins."

"Oh you are so on." Natalia laughed.

"We're gonna wipe the floor with you."

"Not if we do it first."

"Oh this is on like Donkey Kong!" Ellie whooped excitedly.

"This is childish!" Perez pointed out.

"Why? Scared you can't win?" Rochelle snorted and stood up.

"I am confident that we shall win." Perez mirrored her action and soon all of the team were on their feet.

"We’re starting to get complaints about the new monolith that appeared overnight in front of City Hall. The monolith has begun to HOVER. I mean, not by much, don’t freak out over a hovering monolith. It’s, like, two or three inches. Not a full foot, or more."

The two teams looked at each other for the briefest of brief moments before a mad scramble for equipment suddenly ensued as the competition began.

 

~

 

"I don't need this! Or that! Or any of the things on this desk. What I do need is my laptop to start working properly, my calculations to calculate and I need a coffee!" Carlos put his head on his desk as Kevin winced looking at the scientist stress over everything. He'd been like that for a few days and Kevin had not seen Carlos this upset before. Carlos knew it was probably unnerving Kevin, whose memories were still mostly fuzzy. He remembered bits and pieces, like names of people from his hometown, including Diego. Kevin didn't have anyone significant in his life other than Carlos at the current time, at least he thought. He got on with the masked army, but it was mostly limited to small talk.

"Carlos? Are you okay?" Kevin said.

Carlos thought about it. Was he okay? The argument he'd had with Cecil the other night had made him feel awful, even though it had been resolved and there were many things to be happy about. The reason he felt awful was because it reminded him all the more how much he missed Cecil. His warmth. His hugs. Lazy mornings and laughing nights. It just gave Carlos a headache. And aches in other areas that he really wished would just go away. It hadn't bothered him for the first few months in the desert, but calling Cecil just wasn't cutting it anymore and the pent up sexual frustration was getting too real. So he'd invited him to visit in the hope that he could get some vacation time ready for Christmas.

"Hi, honey!" Carlos had answered the phone that evening as he always did when Cecil called. "How was your day?"

"It was good! I tried that pasta salad recipe you told me about. It's really good. How are you?"

"I'm good. You know, I've been thinking..."

"Oh?" Cecil had asked.

"Yeah, thinking. I mean, I'm always thinking. Usually about science. But earlier, I was thinking particularly about you."

"Aww, Carlos!" Cecil had said softly.

"I was thinking that although I miss you, I don't feel as terrible as I have been the last few months. We're making this work somehow. We talk every night, I communicate with my team a lot and...you know, after a few months of feeling really helpless, I've made some friends here, like Doug and Alicia, so I have people to talk to during the day...I feel less alone. Like everything is a bit more together. Plus, I've gotten so much research done! I feel less trapped now and more like this could just be an opportunity for me."

"But Carlos, you're still trapped!" Cecil had not disguised the hurt in his voice.

"Cecil, honey, I don't feel trapped."

"You're locked in that alternate desert against your will, and you've been unable to return. That seems to me like a pretty strong definition of 'trapped'."

Carlos had sighed. "I used to feel that way. But now....I no longer feel threatened by the rumbling beneath the sand, or the strange armies that move about the beige wastescape. Well, none of them are fighting at the moment, only…wandering. Look, Ceece, I feel like this desert is the the most scientifically interesting place in the world! And....I think this is where I need to be for now."

"But-"

"What's that saying you told me? 'When God closes a door, God opens a window, then God cracks a few knuckles, then God kicks a pine cone up the sidewalk. God also chews a whole bunch of gum. God recently quit smoking, and is really fidgety.' What I'm trying to say is this desert is a great opportunity for me in my career as a scientist. You know how important it is to me."

"I know, Carlos." Cecil's voice had become less tense. "But, I have to ask...have you found an old oak door with only one side that could possibly bring you back home yet?"

"I haven't. But..." Carlos had paused briefly, an idea coming into his mind. "Cecil, if I find that doorway, would you…maybe…come here again? Just for a visit. I want you to meet Alicia. Alicia has a Bichon Frisé the size of a Prius, and is really into astronomy. They also showed me some planets and comets they really like. Also, the constellations change every night here! There are new shapes of mythic heroes in the sky every night. I'd love you to come visit!"

"We’ll see." Cecil answered. "It does sound nicer than I remember."

"Neat." Carlos had smiled. "I'll call you tomorrow night."

"I miss you so much. Go and be brilliant."

Carlos had felt a lump in his throat. "I love you, Cecil. You know that, right? I love you so much."

"I know, Carlos. I love you too."

"Goodnight, honey voiced honey."

"Goodnight, dear Carlos."

Cecil had hung up after that and Carlos had had to compose himself for several minutes before going back to what he was doing before Cecil had called. He was trying to get Cecil to understand how important the research he was doing was for his career as a scientist but it was still hard being away from him.

"Um, Carlos?" Kevin's voice interrupted Carlos' train of thought.

"Sorry," Carlos sat up abruptly. "What did you say?"

"I asked if you were okay."

"I'm fine," Carlos murmured as he continued to pick apart the cacti in front of him. "A scientist is always fine."

Though not for the first time in the last few months, he doubted if there was much truth in the statement.

 

~

 

"Well, I don't think we predicted that." Dave admitted with a rather shocked tone to his voice as the men's team returned back to the lab. The results of the monolith cracking open were made clear with the hundreds of gifts appearing across people's doorways. Jeffries had picked one up addressed to a Darleen Smith and it had Christmas wishes written inside and a gift card to the Ralph's. It was beautifully thoughtful and both Jeffries and Perez were impressed with the generosity of whomever had put the monolith in place.

Dr Gardner, however, had been less impressed and had been complaining that it wasn't in the Christmas spirit. Being a Night Vale native, Dave was used to being terrified during the holidays. In the company of his family, of course, but terrified all the same. Valentine's Day and Christmas in particular were often as carnage and death-filled as Street Cleaning Days.

"Aaah, um, hmm. Look. I hate to rant," Cecil was saying on the radio as Jeffries parked the car outside the lab. "But given that Night Vale long ago abolished materialism, this seems like a cruel holiday prank. I– I’m glad no one was hurt, but this whole monolith thing was REALLY annoying! It was not a deadly threat to our city or our lives, merely a time-wasting tribute to the worst qualities of the old gods. It took most of the afternoon to clean this up, but thankfully, it’s all been swept away and dumped into the landfill."

"Carlos and this man have a strong healthy relationship?" Perez questioned in confusion. "How does Carlos stand him?"

"Ah, he's not normally this cynical." Brent replied. "Cecil jus' gets annoyed about things occasionally."

"Here is something we should be annoyed about: we didn't get any readings." Perez replied.

"Well the girls won't have gotten any," Dave scoffed as he opened the door to the lab. "I didn't see them anywhere near the monolith."

"The City Council, upon hearing of the storm of holiday presents upon our town, swiftly and nobly returned from their tax-funded island vacation, and offered their condolences for us having to witness this consumerist assault. They reminded us that Santa is a CIA-created myth, and that the holidays shouldn't be about buying things, or getting things, or even giving things."

"Santa is a CIA-created myth! Pfffffft." The loud sounds of Ellie laughing could be heard as the men entered the lab. The women's team were printing off something and turned round to face them.

"How did your investigation go?" Natalia crossed her arms as she stared down Dave.

"P-probably better than yours." He countered, causing Perez and Jeffries to sweat drop at his obvious bluff.

"Well we got readings for the dimensional properties of the monolith and the radioactive signatures it was giving off."

"How?!" Dave gasped.

"I do not recall seeing any of you near the monolith." Edwardo Perez narrowed his eyes, which made Rochelle visibly shudder. Perez still scared her slightly.

"Oh it was easy, really." Natalia grinned. "We just asked someone important for the access codes to the long range equipment."

"Only Carlos has the access cod-wait. That's not fair!" Brent blurted.

"Carlos was very kind and gave us the code immediately." Ellie stuck out her tongue at them in triumph.

"Asking Carlos is cheating!" Dave said and began waving his arm around in annoyance. "He's a guy, too! He should have been helping us!"

As the men fumed over their loss, Ellie, Natalia and Rochelle grinned at each other. In fact, getting Carlos to hand over the codes had not been easy. It had cost the three two months worth of dibs for Carlos on any equipment he would need around their area of the lab, as well as the promise that they would help him dress up on his next night out with them when he got back from the Desert Otherworld. But it was a sweet victory all the same.

As the men grumbled their admittance of defeat, the female scientists looked at their readings smugly. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas would be cheerful after all.

Chapter Text

"N-no..." Natalia murmured as she twitched in her sleep. "No smile...."

Her face was screwed up in discomfort as Ellie held her in her arms, stroking her black and coloured hair gently.

"Ssshhhh....it's okay, I'm here." Ellie said softly as Natalia began to visibly relax. Ellie continued to run her fingers delicately through Natalia's hair with a concerned expression as they lay together in their bed. The biochemist was worried. She'd thought that the nightmares would have stopped by now. Natalia wouldn't go into any vast amount of detail when it came to what StrexCorp did to her to make her to comply as she 'didn't want to worry them' all. Which meant it had been bad.

"Ell..." Natalia muttered, her eyes opening blearily to look up at her girlfriend holding her in her arms, before sighing. "Was I talking again?"

"Yeah." Ellie said. "It sounded creepy, man."

"Good job I can't remember it then." Natalia settled herself against Ellie's chest and wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist.

Ellie chewed on her bottom lip for a while before looking down at her again. "You were talking about smiling again."

"...oh." Natalia was silent for a few seconds before wriggling herself out of Ellie's arms and lying back onto the pillows. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, hey, don't be sorry." Ellie said softly. "Look, we all have issues after being in this place for so long. I still get the occasional nightmare about falling into the subway and never coming out. I'm pretty sure everyone in this town has bad memories. It just so happens yours are from an encounter with an evil capitalist corporation."

Ellie's lighthearted approach to the rather depressing subject made Natalia, oddly, feel slightly better. Her girlfriend never seemed to be really upset about anything and always found something positive in dire situations. At least, that was the case usually. Brent had pulled her aside shortly after she escaped from StrexCorp and told her that Ellie had been rather reclusive whilst she had been captured by Strex. He didn't go into details but Natalia could tell from the expression on his face that it had been bad.

"You always look on the bright side." Natalia smiled warmly and pulled Ellie down for a kiss. "But you need to stop biting your lip, you drew blood."

"Oops." Ellie laughed and flicked her tongue over her lip until the blood stopped flowing. "Better?"

"Much." Natalia murmured and brought her lips back to Ellie's again, which she enthusiastically responded to. That is, until Ellie paused to speak.

"We'll go and ask Josie if she has any herbal remedies so you can sleep better later-wha?" She gasped as Natalia began to tug up Ellie's top and begin kissing down her stomach.

"Isn't it a bit early for this?" Ellie said weakly, trying to hide the fact she was gripping the bed sheets. "Also I feel like you're avoiding a conversation here."

"Do you really want me to stop?" Natalia arched an eyebrow playfully and a blush settled over the freckles on the blonde's face.

"....nope, absolutely not."

"Good."

"We're still going to Josie's."

"I promise I'm fine."

"You're n- ah!" Ellie scowled. "We're going, you teasing witch."

"Love you too, hobgoblin."

"You're mean to me."

"You're the one making me go to Josie's."

"It's necessary! Look, I-"

"Ellie if you don't stop talking right now, I will stop what I am doing."

"Don't you dare." Ellie looked down at her girlfriend who was kissing along her collarbones, before muttering indignantly "You always win debates."

"That's because I know how." Natalia grinned, before wrapping her arms around Ellie's neck and pulling her down for another kiss with a giggle.

 

~

 

Carlos sucked at astral projection. It wasn't an opinion, it wasn't for lack of trying, he just sucked at it. Dana had showed him the basics but he still hadn't quite gotten the hang of it. He'd been trying to project himself into Night Vale for some time, but he never quite ended up where he wanted. He was currently trying to project himself into his lab, but it was annoying and the image in front of him often flickered. It was the first time he had tried it in some time. His research and the masked army and even Kevin had garnered his attention so constantly that he hadn't been able to try for at least a month.

"Come on, stupid thing." Carlos cursed and scowled as he once again failed to get the feeling that he'd had when Dana had linked him into her projection. It feels like a rope around your chest, Carlos reminisced on Dana's description. It's tight and constricting but it allows you to see your loved ones.

"One more try before I give up." He muttered. He closed his eyes once again reached out his arms and tried to feel for the strange imaginary rope. Until he suddenly felt a tightness around his waist. Carlos gasped as he felt like he was being lurched forwards. He hesitated in opening his eyes, not wanting to be able to see what was there. Until he heard a familiar voice.

"Ugh. I hope someone wins soon. The giant box of pencils here? Starting to get in the way of things."

Oh.

Carlos' heart leapt as he opened his eyes. He had succeeded in manifesting himself, but not in the place that he had been attempting to. Instead of his team in front of him, Carlos gazed into the familiar eyes of Cecil. His surprised expression turned into one of joy as Carlos broke into a smile too.

"Ohhh! Guess who’s in the studio with me! Well, not actually WITH me, but projecting himself into our physical plane. That’s right, my favourite scientist and yours, but mostly mine, Carlos!"

Cecil stepped forward towards him, hair sticking out in its usual and hands clutching his microphone and Carlos gave him a sheepish and apologetic smile.

"Hi, Cecil!"

"Carlos, I know we just talked last night, but for the listeners, why don’t you tell us what’s new out in the desert otherworld you’re trap– oop! Uh, the desert otherworld you’re...spending some time in."

Oh, right. That would be a good way for Cecil to justify to the listening audience why he had just blurted out that Carlos was there.

"Well, I– I’ve been doing so much interesting research! I’ve learned the composition of the rocks, which are not of our world, and the composition of the components of the rocks, which are of our world, strangely, and I’m trying to figure out how many stars there are. I mean, they’re always changing size and position, but…I do think there are a lot of stars." That sounded scientific enough, Carlos thought.

Unfortunately, he had forgotten the extent that Cecil loved watching him talk about his work.

"That sounds very scientific..." Cecil said in a rather low and huskier version of his normal voice. Carlos could feel himself getting rather hot under the collar. He was getting further into the voice that only Carlos usually got to hear, whispered into his ears when they were- dammit! Carlos thought. Get your head out of the gutter and think about something else other than the fact you haven't touched your boyfriend in months.

"Oh, it is so scientific. The most scientific. I don’t think I've ever been more scientific...and you know how much I love science."

"Oh-ho-ho, yes. I am also VERY into science. But I miss, you know, touching! I miss this..." He reached his hand towards Carlos' and Carlos reached his hand towards Cecil. As usual, it went right through. Carlos looked up from it to see Cecil in front of him and felt his heart lurch again.

"Listeners, you can’t see, but I’m trying to hold his hand, and my hand is just going through him because he’s not actually here."

"I– I know. That’s why I’m working on a way for you to visit. I think you’d like it here! It’s super interesting, and there is so much science. Plus, the people are way friendlier here." Carlos thought of how welcoming Doug, Alicia and the other members of the masked army had been verses the months of 'INTERLOPER' being screamed whenever he'd so much as popped to get groceries. "People in Night Vale can be a little…"

"No, I– I know. I suppose it couldn’t hurt to take a little visit. But I need to be back in my radio desk soon. It can be difficult to ask station management for time off of work."

"Great! So, I’ll let you know when I figure out exactly how to get you here." The thoughts of being able to see and touch Cecil were creeping up on him again. "Ugh, I cannot wait to see you in person again."

"Me neither!" Cecil reached a hand to Carlos' face and Carlos' mind went back into overdrive.

"Cannot wait. Cannot." He blurted.

"Oh, ok! Me neither!" Cecil was blushing profusely as the two stared at each other. Carlos bit his lip with a smile.

"It’s gonna be good."

Cecil nodded slowly, rather flustered. For a beautiful second, the two gazed at each other in longing before Cecil realised that he was still on air.

"Uhhhh….ahem. Well. Thank you so much for this HIGHLY RELEVANT report that had important information for everyone in town. Thanks, Carlos."

"Bye, Cecil." Carlos smiled. He felt his grip on Night Vale's reality begin to fade and then he could see only the dusty wastescape. He groaned and began the trek back to his lab. He needed to throw himself into his work today. At least he knew he could hold an astral projection now, albeit it ending up in the wrong place.

 

~

 

The team had had a long day. The antiques had been wrecking havoc all over Night Vale and they had received call after call begging them to help. Perez had dealt with people who had injured themselves, not always from the antiques, but rather running away from them. Jeffries had had Leann round for lunch when everything broke out and the two of them had rather terrifyingly hacked away the antiques that attempted to infiltrate the lab, along with Natalia, whose experience with swords had allowed her to use a hatchet skilfully. Ellie had attempted to help but had rather spectacularly knocked herself out attempting to disable an antique table from wrecking the biological samples. Rochelle and Dave had helped to barricade the lab, including Dave setting up booby traps.

The team eventually collapsed in a heap as the remaining antiques disappeared to their place of origin, or back to Francis Donaldson's antique mall.

Once they had successfully recovered, the team had re-listened to the radio show from earlier in the morning, laughing over Carlos and Cecil talking as well as being bewildered by how the antiques had stopped attacking the mayor.

However, one part in particular made Ellie perk up and listen.

"As part of their continual process to turn the power of StrexCorp toward the betterment of our world, the Erikas have started the process of releasing those people whose lives StrexCorp took possession of, back during what could be termed it’s 'bad boy days' or 'dystopian capitalist hell days' – whichever you prefer."

"Maybe they can help you? Um, if they existed. " Ellie turned to her girlfriend.

"Hm? Is something wrong, Natalia?" Rochelle arched an eyebrow in the direction of the astrophysicist.

"Nothing. I'm FINE." Natalia emphasised, looking pointedly in Ellie's direction.

"She's been having nightmares about StrexCorp." Ellie ignored Natalia's glare. "And we're going to Josie's to see if she can help."

"That's a good idea." Brent nodded in approval. Natalia rolled her eyes.

"Guess there's no getting out of it." She sighed. "But can we go another day?"

Natalia leaned back into the cushions that were padding the communal space as the others did a similar thing, exhausted with the efforts of the day.

"I guess so." Ellie murmured sleepily. "I'm okay with not moving for a while."

"Hear hear." The team echoed, leaning back and relaxing against the comfy sofas and coaches, covered in sweat, grime and surrounded by pieces of destroyed clocks, coin sets and old paintings, as well as several rather dented hatchets.

Chapter Text

"Also, I should have mentioned earlier, the two suns have now doubled to four suns. There are now four suns in the sky. So that’s awful. But listen! Better than no sun, right? Man, days with no sun are just the worst! You know what's NOT the worst? The sponsor of today’s show." The radio signal flickered as the team of scientists stood around the communal table.

"Someone turn off the radio." Perez said weakly.

"Edwardo, Natalia, any ideas yet?" Jeffries asked.

"Not yet." Perez replied, sweat dripping down his temple slowly, his face screwed up in concentration courtesy of the readings in front of him. Incredibly, he was still wearing his turtleneck.

"We don't know why the suns are multiplying." Natalia said, wiping her brow as Ellie and Jeffries sat wilted next to her in front of the portable fan blasting hot air into their faces. "But if they don't stop soon, we'll be cooked. Literally."

"This is not how I planned to die!" Ellie said miserably.

"You planned how you want to die?" Dave arched an eyebrow.

"Yeah." Ellie said as if the answer was obvious. "In my own bed, at the age of eighty, with a belly full of wine and a girl's mouth around my-"

"Stop quoting Game of Thrones." Dave interrupted.

"Hey, Tyrion Lannister had a good plan."

Dave sighed and turned back to the two physicists. Natalia was muttering to herself looking at various charts and Perez was studying his own readings, his jaw clenched stiffly. "Say, Dr Perez, should you not shed a layer? That top cannot be good for you in this heat."

Perez's mouth twitched slightly and he picked up his clipboard and makeshift pen and began to take steps towards the door to the lab. "...Dr Johnson, can you come with me to observe the phenomenon?"

"Ah....sure." Natalia said cautiously, watching Perez's back as he walked out of the entrance and into the blinding light and heat of the day.

"What was that about?" Rochelle looked up from giving the specimen plants their third watering of the last hour.

"I have no idea." Natalia said. "But we can think about it later, we have to sort out these suns. Keep safe, everyone. We'll be back soon." She gave Ellie a fleeting kiss on the cheek before jogging to follow Perez out of the door.

The four suns beat down on Natalia as she stood in the full heat of the desert for the first time since the sun multiplied. She glanced around at her surroundings. A car had crashed into a water hydrant and spews of water were littering the streets. A bedraggled looking brown dog sat under the sprays, its tongue lolling and its breath coming out in quick bursts. People were running around in panic, although Natalia couldn't fathom how anyone could run in that kind of heat, as flames licked at their homes. It was like a scene out of a disaster film.

"Wait up." She called to Perez. The man paused and looked to Natalia. He looked pale and clammy. "You sure you're okay?"

"I am sorry that I snapped at you all." He murmured. "You were only worried about me."

"It's okay, we're all stressed." Natalia replied easily.

"No. It is not that. Carlos is the only one that knows. And he only knows a small amount."

Natalia furrowed her brows in question.

Perez reached up to the hem of his turtleneck and pulled it down, which caused Natalia to recoil in shock. Underneath the fabric was a huge welt of a scar. It formed a bump in his skin and stretched across most of his neck.

"How...?" Natalia breathed.

"I told Carlos once that my step-brother was a cruel boy. Well, he was more than cruel. He was particularly cruel to my sister. She was only nine at the time. He was deranged. He came at her with a hot piece of metal, claiming he would 'brand her pretty little face'. I defended her and fought him whilst she got away. I managed to knock him out. But not before he did this to me."

Natalia bit her lip. "I'm sorry."

"It is fine. It was a long time ago. But I do not like to have it on show."

"I understand."

Perez put the fabric back over his neck and gave her one small, rare smile, an odd contrast to the person who was running past them at the time screaming that everyone was going to die.

"Now, Dr Johnson, how do you propose we deal with these suns?"

~

"Happy anniversary, Alicia!" Carlos raised a glass in a toast whilst the members of the masked army surrounded them roaring in approval. Carlos was still incredibly unnerved that the masked army celebrated the anniversaries of their first victories against an enemy more than they did their birthdays but he understood that especially whilst he lived with them, he must respect their culture and what they chose to celebrate.

"Thanks, everyone." Alicia smiled. "And thank you Carlos for hosting us in your strange place of science." Alicia indicated the surrounding lab, which began to shake under the influence of the rowdy masked army cheering some more.

"Ah, it's no problem!" He said, rubbing the back of the neck of his lab coat. "Just be careful of the equipment?"

"We shall."

"Then let's party!" Another member of the mask army roared, which was met by further cheers and shouts. One of their feet caught Carlos and he was sent tumbling back with a sharp yelp.

"Woah there, friend!" A hand caught Carlos' shoulder just before he faceplanted the floor in a rather spectacular fashion. He steadied himself and stood up straight, brushing the dust from his lab coat. Carlos then turned to face Kevin, who, as always, had that rather odd smile on his face. Was it a smile? Carlos often caught himself asking. As a scientist, asking questions came naturally to him but he felt he had asked that question too many times to not be uncomfortable about the lack of answer.

"Thank you, Kevin." He breathed out in relief. "These people really know how to throw a party. I mean, they're not quite the level of Dr Green's family, but..."

"Who is Dr Green?" Kevin asked.

"Oh, she's a member of my team of scientists. She's a great friend."

"Science is still so confusing to me. As is most things."

"Have any more of your memories come back yet?" Carlos sipped his drink, which he quickly recoiled from as it tasted closer to gasoline than the apple juice that Doug had promised it was.

"Not really." Kevin murmured.

"Don't worry." Carlos smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure that they'll come back. How is the building coming along?"

"Good. Although the walls are rather dry so far." Kevin sighed.

"Dry?"

"Never mind."

"O-okay." Carlos shrugged and dismissed it.

"How are your experiments coming along?" Kevin asked. Carlos smiled and looked at the crazy party unfolding around him, glad to turn the topic to science.

"They're coming along well. I'm still working on some of the equations, though. I wish I had some members of my team of scientists here. They're good at making me sleep and eat. It's difficult to think when my brain is frazzled."

"Have you not been?"

"....maybe."

"You need to look after yourself, Carlos!"

"Humans, come watch Doug try and outdrink Baron!" Someone called from across the room.

"Baron?! Oh this I need to see." Carlos laughed again; Kevin frowned as he'd been happy to switch topics. Kevin felt that he'd have to start making sure Carlos slept and would eat. He rolled his eyes as Carlos wandered off, but few could tell as his eyes were as black and vacant as ever.

 

~

A/N: *WARNING* This section contains experimentation on animals and mentions of needles.

 

"Okay, so what we're doing is quite simple. Genetic splicing!"

"Genetic splicing?" A rather confused Cecil asked Rochelle, who was standing with him and the rest of the team around a small cage that Rochelle had placed upon the workbench. The team had called Cecil after the end of his radio show as he had seemed to have been in a rather bad place after the events of the day. The sun was beginning to set and its golden hue bathed the windows of the lab in light. Natalia and Perez were sat huddled in a corner of the lab, looking at charts and figures whilst Perez tried to persuade Natalia that it was just not possible for the sun to be SHOT. Natalia had, earlier in the evening, just shrugged and said it was 'one of those Night Vale things'.

"Yep! Genetic splicing! I got it all approved from Carlos, and we're going to see how different sets of DNA react when we genetically splice them with mice." Rochelle explained.

"I still think this is cruel to the mice." Jeffries muttered under his breath and Dave nodded next to him in agreement.

"Anyway," Rochelle continued. "I'd been developing a method to splice the DNA of baby mice for a while, but I finally had a breakthrough and I think it will work now!"

"Yay?" Cecil looked even more confused than before.

"Okay, so basically, I'll eject a piece of DNA in some form into the newborn mouse and see how it acts."

"Ah, okay. And I'm here..."

"We want your DNA, Cecil! And we thought you could help with our experiment."

Cecil's eyes began to brighten. "I'm very into science these days, but I understand very little. But if you need some of my DNA, that's fine! Who else is contributing?"

"Well we already have samples of all our DNA, including Carlos. We also have a DNA sample from Josie and some of her..ah, friends, who were all very eager to volunteer. And we were wondering if you'd allow us to use a very small sample from Khoshekh, too."

"I think that would be okay."

Rochelle grinned and pulled out a needle, looking at Cecil. Jeffries arched an eyebrow at her slightly odd smile, as if Rochelle was getting a strange kick out of taking blood. Cecil held out his arm and Rochelle took the blood, before decanting it into a container and labelling it 'Cecil'.

"Thanks, Cecil." Ellie slapped his shoulder playfully. "We'll inject them and you can come see them when they're more fully grown. Thankfully, mice grow pretty quickly, so it should be within a few weeks."

"That sounds interesting. Um....was there anything else you needed me for?"

Ellie nodded her head. "Yeah, a few of us were going out to the Moonlight All Night Diner for drinks. Do you want to join us?"

Cecil looked rather taken aback. He smiled slowly. "I'd like that."

"I'll get my jacket, then." Ellie grinned. "First round's on me."

Cecil joined Ellie, Dave and Jeffries with dragging away Natalia and Perez from their corner of conspiracies. Cecil could have sworn that he had seen Natalia give the bald physicist's hand a small squeeze just after Cecil had commented that turtlenecks were a great fashion choice and that he had three leather ones in various shades.

As the majority team and Cecil left to go to the diner, only one light was lit in the laboratory. Illuminated by that light was a rather content Dr Hower, watching as the mother mouse gave birth to its newborn babies. She smiled as she watched the procedure, before looking across at the blood samples and the needles waiting next to them. She picked up the test tube filled with blood sample marked 'Erika' and sterilised the needle as she picked up the first mewling baby mouse. Rochelle didn't like hurting the mice, so she made the procedure quick.

The baby mouse trembled as Rochelle took the needle away, before shaking violently for a few seconds. Rochelle dove to get it a small blanket, but by the time she got it, the mouse was beginning to glow; its pupils widened as it stared at her.

"Well," Rochelle blinked in shock. "That was quick."

Chapter Text

"Where are you going, Rochelle?"

"Oh, I'm going to see Josie. About an opera....thing."

"Oh?" Ellie smiled warmly as the team stood around the workbenches. The sun was beginning to sink lower in the sky and the scientists' work for the day was finished. Rochelle yawned. It had certainly been an eventful day. One of Rochelle's samples, a sapling from a mysterious plant that the team had found several weeks beforehand, had sprouted and started spitting a purple fluid. The most intriguing part was that, rather shockingly, the fluid had seemed completely harmless when it had hit Dave in the face, but when Dave had wiped it off his face and placed the wipe onto a metal surface to later be analysed, it had caught on fire upon contact with the metal. This, naturally, had excited Dr Green and the two women had spent the afternoon attempting to analyse the fluid and experimenting with different types of tissue and metal in order to determine what would be the best new container for the plant.

The biologist and biochemist had had great fun investigating, however the rest of the team had not. Natalia had been on standby with a fire extinguisher for the whole ordeal whilst she was working on some calculations with Perez, Jeffries had had some of his rock samples sacrificed to the cause and was in a bad mood and Dave was continuously checking that his skin wasn't burned in a mirror next to his bench.

After the day that they'd had, half the team were exhausted and the other half were having existential crises. Rochelle was in the former half of the team and she rubbed her eye sleepily as she slipped her arm into her coat.

"If you're going to see Josie, mind if we tag along?" Ellie interrupted Rochelle's musings with a bright and cheery tone.

"You need to see Josie too?" Rochelle replied, a hint of nervousness in her voice. She wasn't quite ready for the rest of the team to know about how involved she was in the opera yet. The team were under the impression that she was merely helping Josie with organising it, not that she was to be a part of it.

"Well," Ellie continued "I don't, but Nat does."

"Someone say my name?" Natalia turned around to face them from where she was stood by the door. She was wearing a black hoodie, one of Ellie's more baggy ones, and her purple feather earrings were dangling over the top of the hood.

"Yep! T'hy'la, we're going to Josie's."

"Okay, number one, we've talked about you calling me T'hy'la."

"If Kirk and Spock can do it, so can we." Ellie fired back with a grin.

"No. And two, I've told you. I'm fine. I don't need to go to Josie's." Natalia sighed, opening the door.

"Well, we haven't been in ages anyway and I want Josie's heavenly cooking."

"Not that angels exist!" A small chorus echoed around the room. The resident member of the Sheriff's Secret Police who was hidden in the bushes by the door stuck out an arm with a thumbs up.

"I guess we could go to see Josie, but NO voodoo."

"No voodoo." Ellie nodded as the team filed out of the door.

"Night, Jacques." Rochelle directed to the Sheriff's Secret Police member in the bushes.

"Night, everyone." The man replied as the rest of the team said their goodnights and headed to other cars, to other places, to other homes, other lives.

Three sets of lives, individual, though also intertwined, converged as Natalia, Ellie and Rochelle drove to Old Woman Josie's. The three chatted about mundane things. Carlos was a topic that was touched upon, as was the spitting plant. The spitting plant talk was mostly Natalia trying to convince Ellie and Rochelle that they couldn't name it Geraldine after an old homeless lady who was seen around the Pinkberry a lot and spat at anyone who said hello to her.
Eventually the trio arrived at Josie's house and were greeted by Josie herself, who had been sat outside on her front lawn polishing a bowling ball.

"Now, dear," Josie said to Natalia as the group sat down in the living room with hot mugs of tea and slices of cake, which Rochelle and Ellie were devouring as if they hadn't eaten in years. "Tell me more about these dreams of yours."

"I-" Natalia faltered before turning to hiss at Ellie. "I told you not to say anything!"

"Ee didmt" Ellie protested, her mouth full of chocolate fudge cake.

"Oh, don't worry. Your lovely girlfriend here didn't talk. Erika told me." Old Woman Josie said casually, gesturing to one of the Erikas in the corner of the room, who Natalia was sure hadn't been there a moment previously. Natalia glanced back at Ellie, who was attempting to smile smugly, but it was very difficult to take her seriously given the volume of cake stuffed into her mouth.

"But anyway, Natalia, tell me about your dream." Josie encouraged.

"Well," Dr Johnson fidgeted in her seat. Her bottom lip trembled slightly. Ellie immediately stopped chewing on her cake and took Natalia's hand in her own. It was slightly smeared with chocolate, but the warm, comforting look that Ellie was giving her made Natalia feel her confidence trickle back. She closed her eyes and tried to picture the dream.

"It's always the same. The same room. A....a screen. With a picture of a smile. And there are teeth. So many teeth. The chair I'm in looks like it's made of molars. But I'm tied down and I can't move. And there's no doors and no windows. I can't escape. Then the clamps tighten and someone approaches me....then I wake up. Thankfully I've never had to relive that part."

"Wait, that was a memory?" Rochelle gaped. Natalia suddenly became very interested in her feet, gripping Ellie's hands tighter.

"God, Nat..."

"I think we can help you," Josie said. "Erika, could you possibly bring us the tea?"

Erika nodded and disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, before returning with a jar of tea leaves.

"What will the tea do?" Rochelle asked.

"Well the tea is for a dreamless sleep, but I think it's important that there be a more permanent solution. The Erikas are good at appearing in dreams. Bending them to their will. Perhaps they can show you how?"

"What do you mean manipulate them?" Natalia said hesitantly.

"I can show you," Erika said. "I will go with you and show you how to see what you wish, rather than what haunts you." Erika handed Natalia a glass. "Drink. This is a mild sedative. It will allow you to fall asleep quickly."

"Wake me up if it looks like something is going wrong, yeah?" Natalia glanced to Ellie, Josie and Rochelle, before taking a long sip of the tea.

~

The world swirled as Natalia sank into sleep. Everything seemed faraway and her head seemed to feel floaty, as if detached from her body.

Thunk.

Natalia felt herself suddenly crash into something and she shut her eyes with a gasp. A cold metal closed around her wrists and there was a bumpiness about the texture of the material she was sat in. She opened her eyes and nearly cried out in terror. She was in the room with the teeth.

"No...." A desperate sob escaped her lips. "No no no."

"Don't worry." A voice beside her said casually. Natalia's head snapped sideways to look for the owner of the voice. Erika leant against the yellow wall of the room, seemingly at ease with everything. Natalia did not feel at ease.

"How can I not worry?"

"Look down, your wrists aren't bound."

Natalia glanced down and saw her wrists. They were resting on the chair made of teeth, but the metal clamps that held them there were gone.

"How?"

"You believed that they were gone, so they went."

"I'm sure this is not how dreams work." Natalia said with a tone of disbelief. Erika shrugged.

"It always works for me. Now, try and picture a way out of here, and a way to transport you out."

Natalia closed her eyes and concentrated. A way out.

"You know most people usually go for doors and cars." Erika said after a few seconds. Natalia opened her eyes hesitantly. A trap door with a handle made from rope, like the one she'd used to get into her treehouse as a child, had appeared in the floor of the room, underneath the screen. She'd loved that treehouse. Her adopted parents had come into some money one year and they used it to buy her a treehouse. A treehouse was rather odd given that she lived in the middle of Chicago, but she had treasured it for the few months that the treehouse had existed before it had been destroyed by some youths.

Next to the trapdoor was, to Natalia's embarrassment, an Arabian carpet hovering in mid-air. Her subconscious had drawn upon a mode of transportation she'd always wished for. The flying carpet from Aladdin, her favourite Disney movie.

"I'll follow you. I'd rather use my wings that use a contraption to fly." Erika quipped. "Now picture somewhere you'd prefer to be. A person, perhaps, whose presence makes you feel safe."

Natalia thought about this. Safe. She felt safe with Ellie, and her love made everything seem more joyful. The level of love in their friendship was undeniable, but then Natalia thought about Carlos. She missed him and he had been her friend for several years now. She wished to see him. Ellie was waiting for her when she woke up. Carlos, however, was far away, and she longed to see him.

Natalia opened the trapdoor. A wind whistled out of it and there was a low orange light shining out of it. She moved herself and sat on the carpet, hands clutching the sides, briefly wondering if she would be able to keep her balance.

She practically tumbled the carpet through the trapdoor, and was met with a sight that made her smile for the first time since she had been in the dreamscape. It was Carlos. He was lying in a makeshift hammock, fast asleep. He was still fully dressed, the corner of his lab coat hanging lazily over the side of it. Notes were scattered on the floor under the hammock, and Carlos had a few more pages resting on his chest.

The faint light filling the room came from Carlos' laptop, which was still open on a Skype call. Natalia gingerly stepped off the carpet and angled her head so she could see what was on the screen. She sighed and smiled when she saw that it was Cecil, also asleep. He had clearly balanced his phone on a bedside table to Skype Carlos and then fallen asleep as they had talked.

Natalia turned her attention back to Carlos. She was glad that he was getting some rest, and two empty plates on the floor next to the laptop meant that he had been eating, at least. Carlos had always been terrible at remembering to eat when he was in the middle of an investigation.

"Carlos!"

Natalia jumped. That was not the voice of Erika. She....she knew that voice. The door to Carlos' room opened and Natalia nearly screamed as she saw who it was. She hadn't realised that the Kevin that Carlos had befriended in the Desert Otherworld was THE Kevin from StrexCorp. The man with eyes of obsidian rushed over to Carlos and shook him awake.

"Wha-?" Carlos groggily said, blearily opening his eyes.

"It's working!" Kevin said excitedly.

"It is?!" Carlos bolted upright, papers flying everywhere. "Ah!"

He scrambled to gather the papers together into a messy pile against his chest. One paper threatened to fall out of his left hand, and Natalia automatically tried to reach out to grab it, but her hand stopped. If he hadn't seen her by now, there was no way that she would be able to touch him. That was simple logic.

"Let's go." Carlos said, putting down the papers and running a hand through his disheveled hair. Natalia went to follow him, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her. It was Erika.

"You've been asleep for a while. You should probably wake up now."

"What?" Natalia shook her head. "It's been minutes. At the most!"

"Yes, but when do you have dreams that you remember, Dr Johnson?" Erika reached out a finger and tapped her forehead, sending Natalia falling backwards into consciousness.

"You have them just before you wake up."

~

Natalia jolted awake with a startled cry filling the air around her. She quickly realised that it was Erika, and that by sitting upright the moment she had awoken, she had accidentally head-butted Erika. The angel had been leaning over her. Their many eyed face was somehow conveying annoyance in every possible expression, and they immediately disappeared in a small flash of light, presumably to sulk.

"Ugh, sorry. How long was I asleep?" She asked, propping herself up on her elbows.

"Six and a half hours, give or take." Ellie said. She was still sat on the sofa with Natalia. She looked quite weary, and Johnson noticed that their hands were still entwined. It was clear that she hadn't moved the whole time Natalia was out.

"Ell, have you gotten up in that time?"

"Nope. Didn't wanna leave you. But can I for a second now you're awake? I really need to pee."

A muffled snort came from across the room as Rochelle tried to not spit out a mouth full of breadsticks from laughing. The biologist was slumped in a chair, a variety of snacks clustered around her, as if she'd been in the chair too long and hadn't gotten up to take any plates to the kitchen.

"Go for it." Natalia couldn't help but smile.

"THANK YOU." Ellie bolted up and dashed to Josie's bathroom, a few flustered gasps about 'butt cramp' along the way.

"So what did I miss?" Natalia turned to Rochelle.

"Cecil saved the mayor a while back, I'm never eating pulled pork ever again and also, everyone born in Night Vale is a sleeper agent."

"What?"

"Yeah, Cecil was saying 'BRINY DEPTHS' over and over on the radio and everyone got activated or something."

"Cool. Are the team okay?"

"Yeah, I just got a call from Dave. Everything went a bit mad. Pretty sure Larry Leroy next door has taken a flamethrower to his fridge. Josie went to talk to him and tell him to stop being so dramatic."

"She would." Natalia grinned, but her smile faded when she recalled what she had seen in the dreamscape. "Has Carlos called?"

"Nope." Ellie said, leaning on the doorframe. The biochemist was drying her hands on one of Josie's stranger tea towels, which had a picture of a goat that had been vivisected like a frog commonly seen in middle schools. "He did text, though. Said that he's managed to rig up a radio receiver and broadcasting device in the Otherworld. He must really miss Cecil."

"Yeah," Natalia thought of the Skype call that she had seen. "I think I might give him a call about it."

"Cool..." Ellie fidgeted with the tea towel. "Sooooooooo, did it help? The manipulating dream stuff?"

"Yeah," Natalia smiled as she watched Josie out of the window yelling at Larry Leroy who was dismissing her and staring intently and proudly at his burning fridge. "I think it did."

Chapter Text

I'd like to give you all a little update. Life has caught up with me. I'm writing my dissertation, I have a job and my free time is limited so much now. My updates since I started university two years ago reflect this, and with third year taking up all my time, I've come to the decision that I need to finish this fic. As in, I'm going to end it.

However, I have so many wonderful, wonderful readers and I'm not going to let you go without rounding it off. So, after the next chapter, I will write two more. One will be 'Voicemail' and one will be a special epilogue that revolves around the events of 'Taking Off'/'Review'. I can't justify writing any more than that as I have so much to do.

But you deserve an ending to this story. You deserve more than just me giving up on this fic, which is why I'm going to write those two extra chapters to truly give you a proper ending to this story that you have loved and supported me through for so many years. I love each and every one of you that have read this crazy fic over the years. I don't know exactly when these updates will be as of yet, but they will happen, because Cecil, Carlos, Ellie, Nat, Brent and the rest of my OCs that you all somehow love need an ending. Thank you to all of you for understanding.

Chapter Text

"Oh I'm so excited to see these!" Cecil beamed. "Carlos, are you excited as well?"

"Of course! I can't wait to see what kind of fascinating scientific discoveries can be found out from these specimens!" Carlos clapped his hands together excitedly.

"You're so smart, Carlos."

"Honey, STOP." Carlos said with a blush.

"Make me."

"Well maybe I will, bunny."

"Um, hello?" Ellie snapped her fingers in front of Cecil's face, which was practically glued to the television hanging on the wall opposite them, which Ellie had put Carlos' Skype call through. "I know you guys haven't banged in forever and you miss each other and stuff, but there are other people in this room, so save the bedroom talk."

"ACK! ELLIE!" Carlos rather theatrically waved his arms around in embarrassment on the other end of the Skype call. Dr Green pouted and pointed to the set of cages next to them, shrouded by cloths on one side. The other side, of course, was free, but that was to ensure that the secret police constantly observing them could get a good view from the window.

"Now, we were about to give the presentation of our observations?" Ellie continued, barely batting an eyelid at Carlos' obvious discomfort at the bluntness with which she had described his lack of sex life.

"Please continue." Cecil said.

"Okay, so you're familiar with camouflage mice, aren't you, Cecil?" Rochelle stood up, holding a clipboard by her side.

"I am."

"They change themselves to suit their environment. But we approached people a month ago to offer blood samples, to see if they would react to them being part of their blood stream."

"I still say tha' is cruel to the mice." Jeffries muttered to Perez, who nodded in agreement.

"Now, the mice have grown a bit and Dr Hower and I have been observing some awesomely weird stuff with them." Ellie grinned, and pulled off the cloth from the first cage. "Now, we have sorted the mice into three different categories. First, these mice."

Cecil leaned down to observe the mice. They were sitting and watching him in return. There was very little out of the ordinary, apart from the tiny coloured tags on each of the mice's feet to identify them.

"Now, these mice," Rochelle said, glancing at her clipboard. "These mice contain DNA samples from myself, Dr Perez, Dr Jeffries and Dr Green. You will notice that, aside from being a little skittish, they are pretty typical for mice."

"I see." Cecil said, nodding, briefly glancing at Carlos' image on the screen to check that his boyfriend knew he was trying to understand.

"Now, this is where it gets interesting." Ellie pulled off the second cage's cloth, revealing mice that were startlingly different from the first set of mice. One labelled 'Natalia Jr.' had an extra eye, one named 'Josie Jr' had stood up like a human and walked around bipedally with a certain level of dignity surrounding it and the one with Dr Dave Gardner's DNA was surrounded with small scraps of metal, which had been quite obviously pulled from the cage. Most amusingly, the one labelled 'Cecil Jr.' had a purple tint to it and was snuggling up to a mouse with slightly longer, yet more groomed, fur labelled 'Carlos Jr.'

"We kept trying to separate those two, because Carlos Jr. should be in the first cage. But the Cecil mouse kept biting us every time we tried."

"Awww!" Cecil cooed, crouching to look at the mice. "They're cute."

"They are." Carlos said, before running a hand through his hair. "I-I mean, in a totally scientific way, based on facts of logic."

"Why is my mouse taking apart the cage?" Dave muttered quietly, staring with a rather unreadable expression at the mouse that had his sample in it.

"Ah, we theorised that the mouse had a higher developed cerebellum and frontal lobe. We've yet to test it, but the hypothesis would explain why he has better fine motor skills and problem solving abilities. Like you, you're good with your hands, right?" Rochelle said. "I believe he is trying to use his enlarged brain to create a solution to an answer that would allow him to escape the confines of his cage."

"But he's collected scraps of metal."

"Yeah, well, he's still a mouse. Not that smart."

"Interesting." Cecil said. "I mean I understand basically none of it, but it's interesting."

"The last two samples..." Carlos said, leaning forward so his face was closer to the screen on the Skype call. "I presume they are in the last cage."

"Three." Ellie corrected.

"I thought you only took samples from two others."

"Um," Dr Hower said, clearing her throat. "We're not sure how the other one happened. We had a spare mouse in case of an accident."

"A SPARE mouse." Natalia said, rather aghast.

"But yeah, something happened to it. We didn't do this, just to clarify." Rochelle said, and lifted the last cage cloth part of the way. The cage seemed to be divided into sections. The cloth still covered the other parts, so only one mouse could be seen. She pointed to the mouse, which had grown ridged spines and was floating in midair.

"I think you can guess which sample this mouse has."

"He's floating like Khoshekh." Carlos gasped. "Please tell me you've run gravimetric tests."

"We're going to." Ellie confirmed. "Nat's going to compare them to Khoshekh's to see if there's a correlation."

"He even has spine ridges!" Cecil clasped his hands together and squirmed with happiness.

"This is weird." Jeffries whispered to Dave. Dave nodded back. "Can it even get weirder?"

"Ten bucks says it will." Dave grinned.

"I'm no' surprised by anythin' anymore. You're on." The two men shook hands briefly before turning back to the team.

Rochelle pulled back the cloth a little further to reveal another section. In this there was a mouse glowing sharply. It's pupils were wide, wider than they should have been, to the point that most of the mouse's face was taken up by its eyes.

"This was taken from one of Josie's....friends."

"Angels don't exist." Cecil said automatically.

"Wow...." Carlos was vigorously writing down observations on his own end of the Skype call. "That's.....that's really something."

"Hold your horses, Carlos," Rochelle interrupted, pulling off the last piece of cloth. The entire room of people, save Ellie and Rochelle, gasped. Inside the box, stuck Exorcist-style to the ceiling, was the last mouse. The mouse's mouth was open wide and its eyes were completely white, as if it had had its pupils removed. There was a small microphone placed on the bottom of the cage.

"Oh my." Carlos said, leaning forward on his forearms. "That poor creature."

"Yeah, we don't know how this happened." Ellie said sheepishly. "But I have an idea what it was influenced by. Take a listen."

She clicked a few buttons on her laptop and brought up an audio file. Everyone gathered around the laptop apart from Jeffries, who was still staring at the mouse with a look of horror.

"It doesn't make a lot of noise, but when it does...." Ellie pressed a button and a loud, screeching static sound came from the laptop.

"Is the mic broken?" Cecil asked.

"No. That's the raw sound that the mouse is making. It's similar to the sound that the Hooded Figures make."

"It got weirder." Dave said, looking at Jeffries' horrified face. "Ten bucks, Brent."

"Dr Hower, Dr Green, these are excellent findings!" Carlos said enthusiastically. "Thank you for sharing them with us!"

"No problem, Carlos. By the way, since we were a bit eager to show you these, we didn't ask how you were doing with your own experiments."

"Oh, I've found out some fascinating things! And today Alicia is going to take me to see a really interesting rock on their dog."

"The rock....is on their dog?" Perez questioned.

"Oh no, I'm riding their dog to the strange rock. It's the size of a small car."

"Carlos, why can't you invite me to these things?" Ellie clutched her heart dramatically. "You betrayer!"

"I wish I could be there too." Cecil sighed. "You've been working so hard. I'm proud of you."

"Oh, Cece." Carlos smiled fondly. "A scientist is always working hard. Speaking of which..." He sighed. "I should probably go and meet Alicia."

"No, no, go!" Cecil blurted. "I have my show in half an hour."

"I love you, honey. Good luck with your show. I'll be listening. I'll speak to you all soon." Carlos waved and a chorus of goodbyes occurred before the Skype call finally shut off.

"So what's your show about today, Cecil?" Natalia said, gingerly covering up the screaming stuck-to-the-ceiling mouse with a cloth.

"Oh, we have such interesting stories today. Particularly about Leann Hart. She's been attacking news bloggers with hatchets over the last twenty minutes. I've been getting texts." Cecil said brightly. "Say, aren't you two togeth-"

"She WHA?!-" Jeffries half-screamed.

 

~

 

"These bots are large cyborgs that break into our homes and look through our stuff, and then feed these secrets to corporations and then, these corporations make more bots, and soon, we will have to fight bot armies. But with what? Knives and guns are completely internet-based now. They will turn against us in that war. We are not safe from the impending bot wars. So, stop having personal data is what I’m trying to say. No more emails, no more job histories, Night Vale, no more cat pictures, or erotic fan fic, or text messages."

"I feel like that is oddly specific to one person." Alicia said, putting another sandwich in their trail pack. Carlos nodded, knowing full well that most of it applied too accurately to Cecil himself. He hoped that Cecil would not take it all too seriously. Particularly the sections on text messages. The erotic fan fiction, on the other hand, he could technically live without.

"Probably," Carlos replied. "Are you ready to go?"

"I think so!" Alicia smiled down at him. With the ease of conversation, Carlos had frequently found himself forgetting, or possibly ignoring, the incredibly large height difference between them. However, Alicia's Burmese dog, which was roughly the same size as Carlos' Prius, was hard to ignore. Carlos had encountered many strange things since he had moved to Night Vale, and then more since he had become stranded in the Desert Otherworld, but the discovery of dogs the size of Prius' was on a different level of exciting. He was still trying to convince himself that this excitement wasn't entirely down to the fact that he would soon be riding on its back. The scientist returned his phone to his lab coat's breast pocket and let Cecil's radio show play quietly from it. Even when he was concentrating, he could never bear to turn it off.

"Little Benji!" Alicia called out. The Burmese dog, which was far from little when one was operating on the scale that Carlos was, bounded towards Alicia. The ground shook slightly as he jumped around Alicia's legs.

"Good boy, now lie down!" Alicia commanded, and gestured for Carlos to climb on top of the giant dog.

Carlos swung his backpack onto his back and went forwards to grasp the collar of the dog. It was fluffy but the moment the dog began to move, the jolting around had Carlos yelping and clinging to the collar for dear life.

The journey, thankfully, passed quicker than Carlos was expecting. For a part, Alicia chatted about a certain campfire party that the masked army had had and he had laughed through his own nausea caused by Benji flinging him up and down.

The latter half of the journey they had travelled in silence. Carlos had found himself thinking wistfully about his team. The mouse experiment had been so interesting and the team had organised it themselves fantastically. Brent was becoming a great co-leader with Dr Green; together, him and Ellie had everything delegated and sorted science-wise in Night Vale. His team of scientists, although they were consulting him, didn't need him. That much was evident by the way they had looked after things over the past year. When it came to saving the whole town, yes, they needed his input, but for day to day life his team had everything running smoothly. Maybe-

"We're here!" Alicia said cheerfully. Benji stopped next to their feet and Carlos climbed down with relief.

"Thank goodness."

Carlos clutched his stomach weakly for a few moments before grabbing some water from his bag. After a few moments, his nausea subsided and he walked around to Alicia's right ankle.

"It's just here." Alicia pointed to a nearby lump on the ground. Carlos raised an eyebrow. The 'rock' certainly was unusual. Mainly due to the fact that it wasn't a rock at all. It was a toolbox. Like the kind that you'd find in a car dealership, or a garage, or in your fridge when the Faceless Old Woman was in a bad mood about the plumbing.

"Alicia," Carlos looked up at Alicia, who was observing the toolbox with interest, "You said that this was a rock."

"Is it not?" Alicia furrowed their brows in confusion.

"No. This is, scientifically speaking, a toolbox, not a rock of any kind."

"Carlos you know I have not actually seen a rock before, right?" Alicia turned away, an embarrassed blush on their face.

"Ah." Carlos scratched the back of his neck. "It's an easy mistake to make. But this is a wonderful find, Alicia. Thank you for showing me this."

Alicia looked back to Carlos, a small smile on their face. Carlos smiled back as genuinely as he could. Although it wasn't a rock, it was something far more interesting that Alicia had led him to. A toolbox in a desert where basically the only things that existed were several masked armies, a lighthouse, the mountain and the small community that he had made with Alicia, Doug, Kevin and the others...that was unknown so far. Carlos both liked and disliked the unknown. On one hand, the unknown was usually terrifying, but it also provided much opportunity for science.

Carlos really liked science.

"Let's take it back to the lab, Alicia. I have some experiments to do."

 

~

 

"Brent, how are you still in love with her?" Rochelle stared at Jeffries, who was collapsed in a heap on one of the chairs in the communal area.

"Yeah, she literally was trying to kill people!" Dr Green piped up, who was sat cross legged across from the two of them, her hair falling out of her loose bun and her glasses slightly askew. Chasing after Leann with Brent had tired her out.

"I mean, she didn' mean to kill people." Jeffries said weakly.

"She clearly did." Rochelle frowned.

"She aimed for legs. She's very accurate with those hatchets. She was really good with them." He said wistfully as he leaned his bearded chin on his hand.

"Wow, Jeffries is a masochist." Ellie said, before reaching weakly towards the kitchen door. "Naaaaaat! Can you bring me ice cream?"

"I am not a masochist! I just appreciate her being true to herself." Brent folded his arms defensively as Dave, Perez and Natalia walked into the room.

"Her being true to herself caused Ellie and I to run miles today after her." Dave muttered. "I even lost that ten bucks you gave me!"

"I am with Dr Green on this one." Perez said, looking directly into Jeffries' eyes. "But I am not judging you. There is something alluring about an impulsive woman."

"Yeah she did take out a fair few news bloggers today." Natalia sat down next to Ellie.

"Did you bring my ice cream?" Ellie rested her head on Natalia's shoulder with a groan. Moving her muscles hurt.

"Yeah, here ya go." Natalia passed the pint of ice cream - their collective favourite, Ben and Jerry's Aloe Vera flavour which was also diabetic friendly - and a spoon over to Ellie as Dave continued to complain about losing more bet money. Natalia reached into her lab coat pocket and pulled out her own spoon.

"Please marry me." Ellie sighed happily as she took the lid off the ice cream and gouged a large chunk of ice cream out of it, putting the spoon into her mouth with a contented hum.

"Sure." Natalia said nonchalantly and dug her spoon straight into the ice cream herself. She ignored Ellie choking on her ice cream.

"Spring weddin'?" Jeffries grinned.

"I think." Natalia replied, putting the spoon into her mouth.

"You don't get to propose that way." Ellie pouted, taking another large mouthful of ice cream that baffled Jeffries in the fact that she never seemed to get brain freeze. "Tha' was awful." She said with a mouth full.

"Fine," Natalia said, reaching into her lab coat pocket to pull out a small box. The team gasped. "Dr Ellie Green, will you be my partner in crime forever and marry me?"

It took fifteen whole minutes and several back slaps from Perez to get Ellie breathing enough again to say yes.

Chapter Text

*beep*

"You have reached the voicemail of Carlos. If Night Vale is in imminent mortal danger, please contact a member of my team of scientists whilst I am out of town. Otherwise, please leave a message after this sound of an Erlenmeyer flask bursting into flames."

*a shattering screeching noise that pierces the ears plays*

*another beep sounds*

"Hey, Carlos, it's Dr Hower. Just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be taking some time off in a month or two for a few weeks to help Josie with the opera!"

*there is a muffled sound of a slight giggle*

"Can you believe I'm going to meet Lee Marvin? I'm so excited! Anyway, I've filled in the paperwork with Dr Green and the City Council. Have you ever had to fill out a stomach acid donation form before? We're having a bit of trouble with translating it. I hope your experiments are going well. We miss you!"

*beep*

"Hi Carlos the Scientist, this is Michelle from Dark Owl Records. Just wanted to let you know that that spider wolves howling album came in for you. I mean they're good, but listening to the screeching sounds of beetles that have lost a leg is like way more new-wave metal, y'know. Also, your boyfriend has terrible taste in music. I don't know how you can live with him. At least you have some semblance of music taste even if you're at least fourteen months too late listening to them. So yeah, if you ever get back to town, it's reservation number 1892. Bye!"

*beep*

*the sound of smashing glass and a fire extinguisher echoes in the background*

"YES I'M CALLING HIM, I'M CALLING HIM! Oh! Hi Carlos, it's Edwardo. We have an issue. The Khoshekh mouse escaped and it's spitting flammable venom all over the lab. The reinforced nets that you and Dr Jeffries worked on are not working. Please call us back as soon as you get this."

*beep*

"Cecil! Suuuuuup. It's Ellie. Um, I really wish you'd answer your phone. It's been a while since we heard from you. I get that you're busy and all that but..."

*sigh*

"Look, I called to ask you a really important question, but I guess it could wait. Call me back, okay?"

*beep*

"Carlos, hey, it's Brent! I jus' wanted to ask if you could give me a second pair of eyes on this rock sample? I've sent you a snapchat. I saw it in the barista district the other day and I'm real confused about the level o' oozing for this type of rock, as it's way more than the usual amount. I also wanted to ask 'bout the rock samples tha' you found in the lighthouse. They sound really interestin'! But yeah if you could have a look and get back to me, tha'd be great!"

*beep*

"Hi Carlos, it's Josie. Thank you for your concern and myself and the Erikas. But I assure you that that explosion you saw in the pictures in the lighthouse was just Erika trying to make coffee! Erika is terrible at making coffee, always smashes too much. Doesn't seem to get that there is a difference between smashing and disintegration."

*a muffled 'hey!' and the flap of wings is heard in the background*

"I know what I said, don't test me, Erika! We're missing you at League Night. You're a great cheerleader for the team, although Cecil's game has gotten slightly better since he's stopped showing off for you. Which I am not blaming you for. Also, I know that medical science isn't entirely your area of expertise, but my left hand is doing some real wild spasms at the moment and I wondered if there were any treatments that you know of. The hospital keeps telling me that I just ought to have a horse lick it, but Erika really is allergic to them. We all miss you here, and hoping for your safe return soon."

*she sighs sadly*

"Between you and me, Carlos, I think that Cecil is struggling a bit. He hasn't called me in two weeks and he usually calls every few days to chat with me. I'm a little worried. I know it's tough all this long distance stuff, but that boy loves you a lot. If you're any closer to finding a way for him to visit, well....I think it would be good for him. All the best, Carlos."

*beep*

"Carlos, oh my god, please answer your phone. Look, I have a really really important question to ask you and I'd prefer not to do it by leaving a message in your voicemail. Please call me back. It's Ellie, by the way, in case my voice has been forgotten by you because you haven't listened to my last message!"

*the sound of Dave saying "that was so rude!" comes from the background before the message cuts out*

*beep*

"Carloooos."

*hiccup*

"It's your boyfriendddd. Um, I'm not that drunk. I just wanted to say hi. I know we talked about boundaries but I miss you."

*a loud sniff is heard*

"Um, I hope your experiment that you were talking about is going well. And I can't wait....wait to talk to you. And I hope that I can see you soon. Sleeping without you suuuucks. The bed isn't as warm and stuff."

*hiccup*

"I love youuuuu, Carlos."

*beep*

"Hey, Carlos. It's Dr Johnson. Um, if you got a voicemail on my phone from Cecil, please ignore it? He came round last night and well, everyone got a bit wasted. It seems he got hold of my phone when I had to stop Dave firing fireworks inside. He wasn't even drunk! He just thought it would be funny!"

*Dave calls "Sorry Carlos! Nothing is damaged, I promise!" from the background*

"But yeah, Cecil doesn't remember any of it, so....yeah. By the way, thanks for the advice on that shooting star thing. It was a close call in the end but we manage to convince the Arlarians that shooting the star was a bad idea. Aliens, right?"

*Natalia laughs*

"We're all doing well. Ellie finally got me an engagement ring to match mine, and it's so cute! It's silver and it has a tiny engraved bat on it. And we promised that we're not having the wedding until you come back, mainly because Ellie wants you to-ah, yeah, she said she hadn't gotten hold of you to answer yet. Don't worry! Bye!"

*beep*

"Hi trainwreck, it's Ellie. How ya doing? Thank you for getting back to me! Sarcasm intended. I know you texted about things happening and people coming to you at the lighthouse but like, come on! I've been trying to call you for like a week! So I'm just gonna ask in case you actually bother to listen to your voicemail. Um....can you be my best man? I know that I'm not a man myself and it's usually something the groom has.."

*there is a pause*

"But yeah, you're the only one I thought of to be the anything of honour so...please say yes? And look, I'm not actually mad at you for not answering our calls. It's hard being alone out there. When I was trapped in that subway, well, I found it hard to talk for a while. Telling people you miss them and all that when you know you may not see them for ages makes it hurt more....and the fact that you've found people in the desert is crazy. I'd be focusing on that too. But yeah, we're not having this wedding without you anyway, so you'd better say yes! Love you, you daft idiot."

*beep*

"Carlos! I just got your voicemail! I can't believe I'm going to get to see you. To hug you. To....well, you know. But we'll get to that when I see you. In person. Oh merciful void, I'm going to see my perfectly imperfect boyfriend. I love you so much, and I'm going to get that time off from station management if it's the last thing I do! And I can't wait to see you...."

*there is a small sob and a laugh*

"I love you with all the municipally granted love I'm allowed to give. And I'll see you soon."

*beep*

Chapter Text

Carlos took a deep breath. It was time. The letter to Kevin had been delivered. He’d walked, for weeks, to the place where the people from Poetry Week, as well as Cecil, had described and he could see the tall, looming gates of the Dog Park. Going back was the right decision, he thought with certainty. It had been several months since Cecil had visited him and the few weeks he had been in the Desert Otherworld had given him a sudden realisation. Kevin looked like Cecil, and some of his humour was similar. But he wasn’t Cecil.

For a while he had craved the companionship of Kevin, not in a romantic way, but in a way that, in hindsight, only highlighted the emotional impact that his lack of friends and family had had on him. Family. In that moment, he had thought of Cecil as his family, and he realised something profound. He never wanted that to change.

His work was destroyed. He wasn’t about to let his relationship be destroyed. He wanted Cecil to be his family, permanently. It was time to make sure of that.

Carlos took out his phone out of his battered lab coat, dirty from weeks of wearing as he walked to the Dog Park. He selected a name from his contacts and the familiar ringing sound came from the phone as he put it to his ear.

“I’m here.”

~

It was safe to say that Carlos’ team were exhausted. Not that they weren’t normally exhausted. Living in Night Vale tended to throw a lot of unusual situations at you that could easily tire you out physically, not to mention emotionally. But the events of the opera had really taken the proverbial cake.

The scientists had taken their seats wearing their finest. The opera, they had been assured, was going to be a classy event. Nearly everyone in Night Vale had attended. Despite the fact that the opera was technically a one-man show by Lee Marvin, legendary actor, Rochelle had sung a few opera songs as an opening act before the main show to give the audience a feel of what opera actually was. The scientists had erupted into applause when she had finished. Jeffries had shed a few tears as the audience stood to their feet to clap for the biologist. Old Woman Josie had stepped out onto the stage to give a toast when Ellie’s phone began ringing. The audience assumed it was part of the toast so it went ignored, but Ellie quickly snuck out of the auditorium to answer.

“Hello?”

“I’m here.” Carlos’ voice came from the other end of the phone.

“Where?” Ellie answered, confused.

“I’m at the entrance to the Dog Park. I’m coming home.”

Ellie gaped. “I’ll pick you up. I’ll grab the others and tell Cecil.”

“No, no. Don’t tell Cecil. I want it to be a surprise.”

“Gotcha. I’m on my way.”

Ellie quickly ended the call and ran back inside.

“Nat! NAT!” She tapped her fiancée on the shoulder.

“What?” Natalia smoothed the part of her black dress that Ellie had just hit vigorously.

“It’s Carlos. He’s back!”

The rest of the team turned around in their seats in surprise.

“Wait, really?”

“Where is he?”

“Why did he come back?”

Ellie waved her hands to try and get the team to stop speaking so loudly, especially given that Josie was now toasting Rochelle’s opening performance.

“Shhh! Yes, he’s back. He’s at the Dog Park. And Cecil!”

“Aww!” Dave said.

“I’m going to go and pick him up. Do you wanna stay here?”

The team looked at each other nervously. They had already seen Rochelle, and in all honesty, that had been quite enough. None of them were a big fan of the genre but they wanted to support their colleague all the same.

“We’ll see what Roch has to say.” Dave said, rising from his seat discreetly, and the team did the same.

“Sure. Wait, since when is she Roch?” Ellie began.

“Not the time, honey.” Natalia whispered and grabbed the biochemist’s hand as the team quickly and quietly made their way out of the auditorium to the backstage door. Thankfully for all the scientists, Rochelle was the one that answered.

The poor biologist had barely time to ask what on Earth was even going on before she was being hastily shooed into the back seat of Jeffries’ car.

 

~

 

Carlos stood at the entrance to the Dog Park, taking one last glance at it. The rain was coming down hard now. Night Vale very rarely got storms. The Desert Otherworld had never even experienced a drop of rain by Carlos’ reckoning.

He held his palm outwards, watching the raindrops fall onto his skin. How long had it been since he last experienced rain? He couldn’t remember. The coolness of the water splashed against his hand as he closed his eyes and took in the atmosphere.

It’s hard to miss rain until it is taken away completely, Carlos mused. It’s hard to miss many things until they’re gone. But that’s why I’m here. To make sure I can’t lose something else.

BEEP! BEEEEEEEP!

Two loud honks of a car and a pair of bright lights had Carlos spinning around on the spot. A car he didn’t recognise pulled up just in front of him and he clutched his backpack straps in his hands fearfully.

“Carlos!” The door to the car opened and out stepped Dr Green. She was wearing a resplendent ball gown that was green and figure hugging. Her curly hair was still as bouncy as ever despite the fact that the rain was getting increasingly heavier. The biochemist grinned and ran towards him. The other members of the team followed suit out of the car as Carlos dropped his backpack to the soaking ground and ran towards his team.

Ellie naturally reached him first and Carlos was thrown back slightly by the biochemist launching herself into his arms. Dave was next to reach them, followed by Natalia and Rochelle and then Brent, who had had to secure the car.

The team cried and held each other tightly. Tears mixed with rain. Makeup ran down cheeks. The howling of the Dog Park went unnoticed, and in the midst of the group hug, Carlos smiled gently.

 

~

 

“I swear, if Brent didn’t keep winning new cars with his horoscope, this would be a lot more irritating.” Rochelle muttered as the team walked past the wreck of the car they had travelled in. The Hooded Figures had destroyed it the moment they had all left the car abandoned, so the team had been walking back towards the opera house. The rain had begun to slow down thankfully, so at least visibility was somewhat better.

The group of scientists chatted happily as they walked along. Natalia and Ellie were enthusiastically showing Carlos their rings, as well as talking about their research. Dave and Jeffries occasionally cut in with their own stories whilst Rochelle just laughed along at the conversations, every now and again correcting them on their exaggerations.

Carlos took it all in like a sponge, absorbing the findings and praising his team for their continued efforts whilst he had been away. About halfway to the opera house, Rochelle’s phone began to ring.

“One sec, guys.....hello?...Josie! Yes, yes, I’m so sorry, but Carlos came home!....yeah, we’re walking back now.....Brent’s car.....yep, guessed right. We’re near the City Records Office right now......oh, brilliant. See you in a moment!” Rochelle grinned at the others. “The limo’s going to pick us up!”

“Limo?” Carlos asked in confusion.

“Yes, there’s an afterparty for the opera tonight in it.” She explained.

“I’m sorry I missed it.” Carlos replied sheepishly as a black limousine drove towards them. The door opened and the team filed in, happy to be out of the rain. The inside of the limousine was huge, far larger than the outside would suggest.

“Remind me we need to look into this thing’s dimensional capability.” He offhandedly mentioned to Natalia.

“Naturally, boss.”

“It’s real good ta have ya back, Carlos.” Jeffries clapped a hand on Carlos’ shoulder and put down the backpack that he had carried for Carlos on the way into a corner.

“Ew, I’m so wet.” Ellie complained, then smirked at Natalia and began to open her mouth again. “Like-“

“Gonna stop you right there.” Natalia put her hand over the mischievous smile that Ellie now had on her face and Rochelle snickered next to them.

“Uncle Carlos!” A voice from Carlos’ right revealed itself to be Janice. He dodged and darted his way around people to reach the girl and crouched down next to her wheelchair to hug her tightly.

“Hello, Janice.” He smiled warmly. Steve popped out from behind him with Abby.

“Carlos! You’ve come back! Oh, wait until Cecil sees you!” He beamed.

“Where is Cecil?” Carlos said, looking around. “I didn’t see him when I came in.”

“We’re going to get him now.” Steve replied, and handed Carlos a glass of champagne. Carlos took it gratefully and drank a long gulp.

“Uncle Carlos?” Janice suddenly said.

“Hm?”

“Are you and Uncle Cecil still moving away?”

Carlos’ expression softened as he sat down next to Cecil’s niece. “No. Not unless he wants to. I’ve had a lot of time to think. And I want to tell you a secret.” He said to Janice and she leaned in enthusiastically. “I don’t want to be away from him ever again.”

Janice smiled and the two hugged again.

“Carlos, c’mere a moment!” Ellie called over. The team were standing near Dana and Trish Hidge and Dave seemed to be in discussion with the mayor.

“We want you to do something for us.” Ellie smiled at him.

“What is it?” Carlos replied.

“Stand riiiiight here.” Ellie shuffled him to stand beside her. “Okay, we’re ready!”

“What is going on?”

“Wellll, Nat and I decided we didn’t want some big fancy ceremony and that we’d prefer to just have a party at some point so...we’re getting married now.”

“You...what?” Carlos gaped.

“All we were waiting for was you, Carlos.” Natalia smiled and interlinked her hand with Ellie’s. “Ellie chose you as her best man after all. Dave was officiated last month and we’re just going to go for it.”

Carlos laughed slightly. “You don’t ever do predictable, do you?”

Ellie grinned and did her best Michael Caine impression. “Never!”

“Let’s do it then, shall we?” Dave stood up from his seat next to Dana. “Can I have everyone’s attention, please?”

Everyone gathered around in confusion. All except Josie and the Erikas, who were just smiling fondly at the pair as she passed Rochelle the set of rings.

“We’ll make this a quick and easy one. You wrote your own vows, didn’t you?”

The two nodded and Carlos reached for Janice’s hand. The young girl squeezed it as Ellie and Natalia faced each other.

“Ellie,” Natalia took a deep breath “When I met you, the first thing I thought was ‘Why is that crazy woman burning off my hair?’” Some chuckles came from the team. “But I got to know you. We’ve had our ups and downs, but there is no-one I’d rather spend the rest of my crazy life with. You’re my home, and I love you so much. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“Mmshhhfff...” Ellie burst into tears and kissed Natalia.

“I didn’t get to that bit yet!” Dave protested.

“My bad.” Ellie said, wiping her eyes. “Nat,” she faced the physicist again “I used to think that you were the Robin to my Batman. But then I realised that Robin is below Batman, but you’re my equal. The Batman to my Batman. To be honest, you’d be a better Batman than I would be anyway. You’re smart, and funny, and you actually kick ass. The point is, you’re the best person I’ve ever met. I love the way that you get all flustered when you can’t find a piece of paper when doing an experiment. I love the way your nose crinkles when you sleep. I love our home and our life. I love you, and I’m proud as anything to become your wife.”

Carlos wiped away a tear slightly as the two exchanged rings silently.

“By the power invested in me by the internet, our City Council,” Dave whispered a quick “thanks Dana” to the woman sat behind him. “And the almighty Glow Cloud,”

“ALL HAIL!” The crowd chorused.

“I now pronounced you married. You may ki- guys, you were supposed to wait!”

Natalia and Ellie broke apart. “Huh?”

Carlos laughed and cheered as the two resumed their happy kissing. Josie toasted the two and champagne flutes were passed around. He barely noticed the car stopping for a moment.

“Duh! He’s right over there, Uncle Cecil!” Janice’s voice broke through the crowd’s noise slightly as people congratulated Ellie and Natalia. Carlos turned his head and his breath caught.

Cecil.

Drenched head to toe, his hair sticking out wildly and his sponge clogs ridiculously swollen, was the most beautiful man in the world to Carlos. He hastily shoved the champagne flute at Jeffries, who was talking with his girlfriend Leanne Hart. He stepped forward out of the crowd and faced the radio host as the man turned to face him.

Carlos opened his mouth, but no words came out. Cecil seemed to do the same. He settled on rushing forward and hugging Cecil tightly. He was wet and cold but Carlos didn’t care. Hiram McDaniels could have flown onto the roof of the limousine and Carlos would have held onto Cecil this tightly all the same.

“Sorry I missed the opera...” He finally managed to say. “I had to let Kevin know I was coming home, and staying there.”

Cecil jerked his head back and Carlos looked into his eyes. The stunning eyes of the only man he ever wanted to be with.

“Staying here?” The radio host said disbelievingly.

“This is your home. You belong here, and....this is also my home.” Carlos glanced over at his team of scientists. “I belong here.”

“Carlos, anywhere we’re together is home.” Cecil blurted. “Anywhere at all! Anywhere! But Carlos, is Night Vale where we should live? Is Night Vale even worth living IN?”

Carlos placed a hand on his shoulder and took Cecil’s hand in his other hand. “Night Vale is just a name, Cecil. Night Vale is just the name for an area where everyone you love lives,” he said. “Don’t worry about the name. Worry about the everyone.” He smiled at Cecil as Trish Hidge unlocked Cecil’s handcuffs.

“I’m home, Cecil,” Carlos continued after the mayor’s assistant left. “I’m staying.”

Carlos smiled and pulled Cecil to him. Their lips met and their arms wrapped around each other tightly. Carlos was pretty sure tears also came into it as the two kissed lovingly in the middle of the impossibly large limousine as the crowd whooped and wolf-whistled around them. When they finally broke apart, they rested their foreheads together.

“I love you, Cecil.”

“I love you too, Carlos.”

Carlos looked into Cecil’s eyes. He used to think that his sole purpose was science, reason, and logic. But now, he had another purpose for being. He had his team. Ellie and Natalia, currently debating whether to double-barrel their surname, hands entwined, Brent, sitting exchanging words about geology and hatchets with Leanne, Rochelle and Dave, quietly talking in a corner, and were Carlos’ eyes mistaken or were their pinky figures touching? His team were everything he could ever ask for, and then there was Cecil.

Reason and logic were important to Carlos. Cecil had turned his world view upside down. He used to think that Cecil would be a lapse in his reason. A momentary one, for sure. But Carlos had found something with the radio host in his strange town. It was precious, and wonderful, and not a lapse of reason after all, despite what his scientist brain screamed at him sometimes.

Carlos thought of the ring that Alicia had helped him forge in the Desert Otherworld in his rucksack. Not today...but soon. He leaned in and kissed Cecil again. He could afford another momentary lapse of reason in the near future, he thought with a smile.