It takes a lot of science, but Carlos and Rochelle convince the soda machine at the Moe's Subs & Sandwiches to start dispensing Diet Mountain Dew normally again, without ordering customers to solve a riddle first. To show his appreciation, Moe gives them each a complimentary foot-long sub — "but if anyone asks, you paid for it," he whispers, with a meaningful look at the tiny Proud Subsidiary of Strexcorp Synernists, Inc. plaque next to the registers.
They're feeling pretty proud of themselves as they pile into the coupe to head back to the lab...and turn on the radio just in time to hear Cecil growl:
"I hope that she will find you first, that is."
For a minute they listen, riveted, with Carlos trying to figure out if he should prepare to stage a rescue or if that'll only put Cecil in more danger by drawing extra attention. Then the thwok-thwok-thwok of helicopters echoes overhead, and Rochelle says, "Carlos. The car. Cecil's described the model on air, they'll know to look for the car."
"Yes. Yes, they will." Carlos powers it down, taking the key but leaving his sandwich, and they head for the street on-foot. "Where's the nearest non-Strex-owned building?"
The closest one they're sure of is the Pinkberry, halfway down the block. They run.
A trio of yellow helicopters are visible in the sky by the time they burst through the doors.
Cecil's voice is on in here too, with the customers and servers alike all riveted, listening. Everyone jumps at the intrusion...then a flurry of relief goes through the crowd as they realize who it is. "Dr. Scientist, Dr. Chemist!" calls a young woman behind the fro-yo counter. "I think you better come back here."
Carlos and Rochelle follow, stopping only long enough for Carlos to whip out a handful of bills (he carries a lot of cash these days; credit cards leave too much of a trail) and hand them to one of the servers. "Next round is on us," he announces to the customers. "Or rather, not on us, because we were never here. Understand?"
"Understand what?" asks a man with four arms, looking around. "Is somebody talking?"
The woman who called the scientists over leads them to a supply closet and shuts them in. Carlos lets out a breath and leans against the shelves, while Rochelle sits on a cardboard box full of extra plastic spoons. "You have any weapons on you? All I brought is my Svitz army knife."
Rochelle flips back her lab coat to reveal a shoulder holster. "I'm covered."
They wait for what feels like an eon...or at least, several substantial epochs. If the radio is still on at the front of the building, it's too muffled for them to hear whether Cecil is still speaking.
The helicopters are muffled too, but they keep getting louder — and then start fading. Does that mean they've moved on? Or have they landed?
A commotion outside. People in the hall. Carlos pulls out his knife and flips to the pickaxe extension. Rochelle draws her handgun, the muzzle pointed at the floor, but ready to be raised at a moment's notice.
They wait, hearts pounding.
The door flies open —
Both scientists raise their weapons — and then drop them, immediately, because that's the only reasonable thing to do when you realize you're facing down a couple of unarmed teenagers. In this case, sixteen-year-old girls, wearing the viridian vests and burn-marked, unknowable badges of the Girl Scouts.
"Awesome!" says the taller of the girls. "This will totally count toward our Dramatic Entrances badge."
"Message from Tamika Flynn," adds the shorter one, holding out her hand to Carlos. "Come with me if you want to live."
Rochelle stays hidden at the Pinkberry (with a couple of Book Club kids stationed out front, just in case) while the Girl Scouts lead Carlos, not to their stolen yellow helicopter, but into the middle of the road. It looks empty until they step past some invisible threshold, and the open scenery is replaced with four ancient stone walls.
Above them, resonant and echoing down a stone stairway, a bell begins to toll.
"The clock tower," realizes Carlos.
"Well, yeah," says the taller Scout. "Why, is it some other kind of building that's invisible where you came from?"
The bell tolls four times (though by Carlos's reckoning, it's definitely at least six in the evening), and then the shorter girl is ushering him out onto a different street: right across from the house he and the team have been renting. "How fast can you pack a bag?" she asks as they jog up the driveway.
"Depends," stammers Carlos. "Where am I going, and for how long, and will I have the chance to buy non-cursed clothing while I'm there?"
The questions turn out to be academic. No sooner has he gotten inside than he walks right into his suitcase, already full, with a note taped to the handle:
I packed you clothing for two weeks. Including your swimsuit, in case you go somewhere with a waterfront. Also, a box of nails. You don't get nearly enough iron in your diet. Enjoy your vacation.
This message brought to you by the Committee to Elect the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home.
"Wow, that was fast!" exclaims his escort as Carlos hauls the bag outside. "Did you do that with science?"
"Nope," admits Carlos. "With teamwork! Which is almost as important."
The next place the invisible, teleporting clock tower drops them off is right outside the Randy Newman Memorial Airport. From the outside, the building only looks big enough to serve a single charter airline, which would be more than enough to handle all the air traffic to and from Night Vale. Inside, it has check-in terminals for all the major airlines, dozens of different gates, and a tarmac the size of a lake visible through the windows.
Carlos is holding a place in the ticketing line for Southwest when he hears a familiar voice — and this time, it's not over a speaker: "Carlos!"
Cecil is sprinting across the terminal, dragging a plaid purple suitcase with a wheel that squeaks (well, whistles) (is that Mozart?). A couple of Boy Scouts stand sentry in his wake. His glasses are askew and his dark hair is sticking up in all directions; he jumps into Carlos's arms and greets him with a deep kiss, and Carlos is too relieved to be embarrassed.
Even when people around them start applauding.
"So where are we going?" asks Carlos, as they inch toward the head of the queue. "Franchia? Luftnarp?"
"Franchia is covered with glaciers this time of year, and Luftnarp has been in the middle of a civil war since 2007," says Cecil, hanging on to his arm. "Of course we can still visit either of them if you want to! But my first suggestion was going to be Maui."
While the travel agent is printing their tickets and checking in their bags, Carlos says, "Hey, do me a favor? When you get home tonight, thank the Faceless Old Woman who Secretly Lives In Your Home for her prescient packing skills."
The line to go through security is longer and slower. Carlos holds on tight to his ticket and his ID (which now lists his name only as Carlos The Scientist). Cecil keeps throwing worried looks at the scattered crowd of Scouts, waiting unobtrusively along the front of the building and occasionally offering to help people with their bags.
"As long as we're waiting," murmurs Carlos, "can you tell me how long we're fleeing town for?"
"Fleeing town?" echoes Cecil, startled. "Where would you get an idea like that? I will admit that station management isn't terribly happy with me right now, but only to the extent that they're placing me on unpaid leave for a couple of weeks. And I'm seizing the opportunity to take my boyfriend on vacation."
"Excuse me, gentlemen?"
It's a TSA officer: tall, uniformed, with red-orange fur. Both Cecil and Carlos stand to attention.
"The two of you have been randomly selected to test a new, high-intensity screening procedure," says the officer. "Please step out of line and follow me."
Carlos's stomach sinks. He obeys, of course, but that doesn't mean he likes it. He's gotten so used to being harassed by the police and other authorities for every reason except "random" profiling....
Then he catches the thwok-thwok-thwok of helicopters outside, and no amount of just keep calm and don't make any sudden moves conditioning can keep him from flinching. These might be more of the helicopters stolen by Tamika and the Book Club...but they might not.
"It's all right, sir. You're not in any trouble," says the furry TSA officer (while Cecil puts a soothing arm around Carlos's shoulder and guides him onward). "As I said, it's by completely random chance that you two are going through a different screening, which you will notice that nobody else is in line for. And look on the bright side: see all these people in the regular line who haven't even taken off their shoes, belts, or tinfoil hats yet? At this rate, I bet anyone who isn't selected for the special screening will be held up for at least an hour before they get through."
The new security procedure still ends in a long white hallway, with strategically-placed grates in the ceiling. Carlos peers up at them. "Do we still have to do the part where we recite the names of every person we've ever kissed?"
"Eww, no," says a child's voice from one of the grates. "I don't wanna hear about Uncle Cecil kissing people. Just go, geez! Your gate number is C-3."
"How lucky for us!" says Cecil brightly. "Usually this part takes me forever."
At last, at long last, they're boarding the plane. Carlos sends a quick text to Rochelle and the others, letting them know he'll be back in town on the evening of the 14th, then powers down his phone so it won't tease the flight navigation computer during takeoff. (Phones tend to have a cruel sense of humor, and navigation computers are notoriously sensitive.)
"We made it," he breathes, lacing his fingers through Cecil's over the plane armrest.
Cecil rests his head on Carlos's shoulder. "We made it. Which is not to say that we were ever in danger, because we were not."
"Mmhmm. Is that so."
"After all," continues Cecil, "if my powerful and efficient new employers had been trying to take me into custody in order to conduct some more...extreme...disciplinary action, surely they would have managed to do it. Or, if by some stroke of luck I eluded them, they still would have been able to capture you, thus forcing me to turn myself over."
A chill runs down Carlos's spine. "Cecil — if something like that happens, you know I wouldn't want you to —"
Cecil shushes him. "Nothing like that is going to happen. We are going to take a lovely, peaceful vacation, and come safely back to Night Vale with all the photos and cheap souvenirs we can carry. And sure, perhaps some people will be tempted to conclude that Strexcorp is so bumbling and incompetent that its evil plans were foiled by a handful of teenagers and some quirky local architecture...but I'm sure Strexcorp will be quick to correct that impression by explaining that they have no intention of harming us, and never did."
"Cecil," says Carlos solemnly, "sometimes you are so logical, I forget you're not a scientist."
It sets Cecil into his third-most-adorable wriggle of delight. "Gentle, honey-tongued Carlos! If you keep talking like that the whole time, this is going to be the most relaxing vacation ever."