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Make a Noise and Make It Clear

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Go left, Scientist," ordered the voice in his headset. "If you go down another few meters, you can reach the point of access in 4 more minutes."

“Roger that,” said Scientist, wiping his brow with a gloved hand as he steered towards the direction given. “I still don't understand exactly why I have to do this. There's a reason why I got Scientist as a Codename during the Ceremony. It's implied that I don't do operations."

The voice snorted. "You joined a rebellion, which is not an army, it's a resistance. We don’t have that many people. Also, you joined us on a double barrelled resume. People would kill for that kind of history. "

"And yet, and yet.” murmured Scientist.

Quit complaining, S. You know what you have to do. The entrance opens inwards, not outwards.

He rolled his eyes, but steeled himself as he reached the point as directed by his handler. Shining a light using the torch from his watch, he directed the light upwards, stopping only when he saw the hatch that would lead him up to his mark.

“Okay, I have the hatch in sight. Going for the jump.”

He backed up against the wall, as close as possible. With a deep breath, he ran and made a running leap, grabbing for the iron rod at the ceiling and propelling his body forward. Both feet made contact with the hatch and the metal door gave way, leaving a square opening just big enough for him to crawl through. Silently thanking all those extra training sessions in agility and gymnastics, he landed on the ground feet first, only to make another jump upwards, both hands gripping the edges of the hatch and pulling himself upwards.

With both feet in, the man reached for the lid of the hatch and placed it over the hole, covering up his tracks. Dusting his hands off, the man stood up, scanning quickly for the exit of the basement.

He had a mission after all. Tick tock.

_________________

“ D, I have the location downloaded in the watch, what now?” said Scientist.

Okay, surveillance shows that the radio host usually arrives at 2030 hrs, so you probably wouldn't bump into him for a good hour. Intel says there’s only one intern on duty today, and she usually goes to make coffee at the intern break room first, before running off to grab Starbucks coffee for the radio-host. Security is ...well; only way to put it is ‘not there’. Portal trouble."

“So I have about....”

30 minutes. When people leave the station, they gotta get past the blood-stone doors, and it demands blood as identification. So that will buy you a little time.

“Sweet.”

The man makes his way down the hall into the studio, pausing only to make sure the coast was clear. A quick scan took in a large room, bare if not for the rather large chalk circle in the middle and mysterious runes scribbled all around. On the opposite side was the radio booth itself, unlit and empty.

He flicked the switch on his watch and switched to GPS mode, smiling ruefully as the watch unbuckled itself from his wrist and unfolded, pulling away from his hand. The small beacon of light came on and the watch started to float away from him. The man followed the watch, shaking his head slightly. A whole year and still not used to the way things ran in this town, he thought. Watches equipped with nothing but dark magic, things occurring with no shred of scientific evidence whatsoever...it was a wonder he was considered vital in the resistance.

In any case, he was still a scientist and occasional field agent, and his mission was something of scientific value. That still counted for something.

The watch led him to a bleak-looking room, with a defeated-looking sofa and a coffee maker sitting on the kitchenette top. The lit area from the watch showed an entertainment unit around the tv, the shelves around it crammed with leather bound books, files and what looked like a dismembered foot in a pickle jar. The end of the room had a large plot of deep, rich soil, which seemed odd in the middle of a supposed intern break room. The earth itself was not settled, in fact the soil looked recently dug up and- was that a finger sticking out of the dirt? The man was a little creeped out, but that was not his purpose. He was more interested in the kitchenette’s refrigerator.

The man walked over quietly to the fridge and opened the door, spotting his quarry easily through the frosted glass of the vegetable crisper.

Target acquired?” asked D as the Scientist got to work.

The Scientist stood up and closed the vegetable crisper, using his back to close the door. In his hands was the mission he was sent here for...

“Yeap, all 5 oranges in the radio station, retrieved. Sticker confirms they came local.”

Affirmative. Yes, S. Now all you need to do is to get the oranges and yourself out of there-“

But before he could hear any more, the lights in the previously dark room were on.

“Hello?” a deep, curious voice queried.

Shit, S!”

The Scientist stopped in his tracks, his mind panicked and racing through the numerous possibilities of what he could do to get out of the situation. He then did what any sane person would do in the situation. He ducked under the table and hid, curled up into a little ball, the oranges clutched in his gloved hands.

The source of the question walked into the room, footsteps light and quiet in contrast to the deep baritone of his voice. "Strange, I thought I heard something.”

The man kept silent as the footsteps got louder and louder. Apparently, the man was getting closer to the kitchen!

“Hm...” the voice mused , walking into the kitchenette. The Scientist could see a pair of Hush Puppies getting closer and closer, almost towards his hiding place. Even though he was a sometimes field-operative, he shut his eyes.

“Oh, there you are!”

Fuck fuck fuckity fuck!

The Scientist opened his eyes, but nothing happened. There was no one confronting him and dragging him out of his hiding place. He could see the Hush Puppies, they were right there at the table! So what-

“ I’mma gonna feed my cat, doo-dah, doo-dah,” sang the deep voice under his breath as he walked out of the room, shaking a bag of what he guessed was dried cat food. “ He’s gonna eat the food and poop, oh dah-doo-dah-day.” He continued singing as the Hush Puppies moved further away from him and the footsteps got softer.

And the man hiding underneath the table heaved a huge sigh of relief and crawled out of his hiding space, still clutching the oranges in his arms. He had to get out of there, and quickly. Intel was clearly compromised, it was barely even 15 minutes, how were there people already walking around the premises? Did Intern Brad from Tech Division use the wrong clock for the time in the watch again, and was that watch even a watch? What on earth was he doing with his life?

Right, concentrate. Get out via exit was the original plan, but now he had to subvert that plan to include the variables of the person in the building, possibly more. He had to improvise. Keeping the oranges tucked under his arm, he sprung into action.

The man went to check the windows and registered a three floor drop down. Nope, too dangerous, and easily spotted. He had to get out via the same way he got in, but how? He snuck out of the room, quietly listening for any footsteps, perhaps even the return of Hush Puppies, but hearing none, he quickly stole away to the emergency stairwell. He ran down the steps, doing his best to not seem like a random stranger running around the Radio Station emergency stairwell....

And came face to face with a man sitting at the bottom of the steps.

The Scientist froze. The man turned around at the sound of the running footsteps and looked at the newcomer, confusion and a little guilt written all over his face, a lit cigarette in his fingers. Not for the first time the Scientist was glad that he had the goggles on, tinted and mirrored as they were, they didn’t reveal a single feature of the upper part of the face. This gave him a very quick scan of the man who now stood up in front of him.

Average height, ash-blonde hair, wearing a neatly pressed shirt under a purple vest and ...the Scientist had to gulp a little. A pair of dark purple eyes stared back at him, looking unnatural in their state, in stark contrast of the pale face.

The man took a step forward. The Scientist stood still and did nothing, still trying to figure out how to deal with this situation.

And then the man spoke.

“Oh, I know you!”

He did? Was his cover blown already? Oh fuck it, was he going to have to kill this guy? No, no, he’s a sometimes field operative, not a full-time one, the full-timers do the killing! The Scientist opened his mouth and-

“Earl! Earl Harlan, you devil! Checking out the radio station again to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for the scouts this week,huh? Letting them get their Radio Station Obstacle and Warfare badges early, aren’t you?”

The Scientist could only nod once before he was cut off again.

“ Aw, you even have the old orange trick our old scoutmaster used to do to us! Planning to make orange juice related attacks to try and slow the scouts down, huh? Man, all the memories! Do you remember the time Scoutmaster Chen made us cook our own food to fulfill our Humanitarian Badge? Still have no idea what food had to do with charity, but man, there was a great feast that night! I wonder what kind of meat was that. Scoutmaster Chen was super secretive about where he got it from...”

The Scientist could do nothing but nod as the man continued talking. By then he had already recognized the voice as Hush Puppy Cat Poop Singing man, and also registered that the man had a deep baritone, near something he could fall into and live in forever. He had a beautiful voice, even when he sang silly songs about his cat.

“And we saved the town! Can you imagine we managed to do it with three packets of ramen noodles and 5 cans of whipped cream? Good times, good times.” continued the baritone voice of the man. The man then sobered up, as though realizing something for the first time. “Sorry, I just keep rattling on and on when I know that you can’t talk in preparation for the obstacle course this week, something about the throat spiders, right? I've already made an announcement in my show about it, but well, you know. I’m a radio talk show host. Sometimes I keep rattling on and on about things that don’t necessarily make sense-" here the man got even sadder, and it was a twinge in the Scientist’s heart to see a man like him look so defeated and melancholic. "But hey, you can’t hurt from the perks!”

The man then realised he was still holding a cigarette and quickly stubbed it out.

“Sorry sorry, I know, smoking is bad for me, but it helps, you know? I was alright a few minutes ago after feeding Khoshekh- you know, the cat? But then I see a bunch of guys from Strex,” Here, the Scientist tensed fractionally but the man had continued on, seemingly on a rant.

“And one of them's Daniel and it’s really annoying cause he and Station Management keep trying to get me to push their advertising for their new produce and some of it has wheat and wheat by-products in it and you KNOW how Town Council gets when they hear something like that occurring in the radio station, but then Lauren keeps reassuring me that they've already gone through Town Council and even had express information from the Mayor herself. I want to yell at her but I can’t muster up the feelings anymore, cause I keep telling myself that the citizens need me, and if I get angry at Lauren, they might just fire me and what will the people do without me? I know Town Council stone tablets state that radio hosts cannot be fired unless it was done literally, but if Town Council did not foretell a huge megacompany taking over a slew of towns and making everything change, and what more can I do?”

The man sighed. The Scientist had absolutely no idea what else he could do.

“ I- I just want to be able to speak up for myself.” He whispered.” But then, after...after Fey , nobody’s doing anything. And it’s hard, after all. Nobody wants to end up like Fey.”

The Scientist, who did know what had happened to the unfortunate Fey, nodded again. He wracked his brain trying to figure out what he could do to comfort this person, a man so clearly miserable and the picture of disillusion. After realizing that nothing of what he could say would be useful since he was supposedly being quiet to ward off the throat spiders, the Scientist did what only he could do.

He placed the oranges on the floor and wrapped his arms around the man, pulling him into a hug.

The man choked a little, but he settled into his arms with a little sniffle and hugged back.

Every nerve in the Scientist’s was telling him what he was doing was absolutely wrong, that there was a need for professionalism, this was not the time, and where was D when he needed her back on the headset? She had gone very quiet since the kitchenette, where was she anyway? But then the upset man nestled a little against his chest and the Scientist worried a little less. This was a warm hug, from a very warm man. And he had nice smelling hair, what shampoo is he using and can he replicate the scent in the lab with a bunch of chemicals and a flask and-

BEEP BEEP BEEP.

D had clearly decided it was a good idea to send a signal as a phone call during a rather tense moment. He should be grateful to her.

Really.

He should be.

The man clearly heard it too and loosened his arms around him, ruefully chuckling. When the Scientist tried to formulate an excuse, the man quickly said, “That’s HQ coming in, right?” He smiled , disguising any sort of emotion he had earlier in a short blink of an eye. "You scoutmasters, always on the go and so busy! Can’t believe you even had the time to be in character as a ninja-spy for the obstacle course!” He grinned, and the Scientist had a hard time deciding if the man was beautiful smiling or grinning with such wonderful teeth. "That’s what I like about you, Earl. When you dedicate yourself to a character, you go all the way! Alright, can’t keep you away from HQ, let them know it was my fault I kept you, though how do you tell them when they’re a bunch of gelatinous forms I have no idea.” The man chuckled slightly and patted the Scientist on the back. “Come back and visit your old friend Cecil when you have non-scout related business, we can have coffee and a slice at Big Rico’s!”

The Scientist nodded again. And before the man-Cecil- could say another word, the Scientist grabbed the oranges he had placed on the floor and ran off. He didn't stop running until he reached the hatch which he entered from and by the time he reached HQ, his heart and his head still felt like he had never stopped running from the strange man with the purple eyes.

Chapter Text

The first thing that greets Scientist when he gets back to the underground facilities that serves as the rebellion headquarters is, “You’re an idiot.”

The man removes his tinted mirrored goggles, revealing a strong angular face and a pair of light brown eyes, the colour of tea in the light. His brows furrows in annoyance and how could he not, when it is clear that the person most upset with him at the moment was a 13 year old girl? “I fail to see how exactly I am an idiot, Flynn.”

The little girl is hanging upside down from where her knees are hooked on to a pipe, eyes still ablaze with contempt despite the fact that the girl is not hanging the right side up and her features look weird with her cheeks and eyes angled like that. “De nada, the man says. I can get into the location and leave quickly, no contact with any of the people walking around, no one will see me, I will be like eyes on the wall. And then he goes and hugs one of them.”

“I had to improvise, okay, Flynn? It wasn’t like I could just leave him there! What is worse, working on people’s assumptions or being totally unfeeling? Unfeeling is not normal and thus I would stand out more!” The girl snorts and lifts herself up to an upright position. Despite the feelings the older man has towards her, he had to admit that the girl had exception abdominal muscles to be able to do that easily. “Dude, you know the rules during missions and like it or not, we have to be the best. That means no compromise, no improvisation. Did you at least get the oranges here?”

The man walks over to the table and relinquishes his hold on the oranges. “ All 5 oranges, all local, all from the radio station. I need to run some further tests on them but if my theory is correct, the oranges when held with bare hands would cause a rip in transdimensional time-“

“Spare me the jargon, Science Boy. Ingles,” the girl drawled, hopping off from her exercise rod, her two hands still gripping the metal bar. She swung once, twice and three times before landing on her combat booted feet, nimble as a cat.

The man rolled his eyes at her. How easy was it for a teen to make him act like a teenager himself, he had no idea.“It’ll take the person holding them to disappear.”

Flynn looked at the oranges with a lot more trepidation and suspicion than she did before. “ So, oranges as portals? Really? What on earth is Strex doing with these?”

“I’m guessing that John Peters- you know, the farmer? He managed to make a crop of these and Strex commissioned him to grow more. You know how the man has problems with money, last year’s imaginary corn crop didn’t do as well as perceived. Apparently, most of the money didn’t show.” The man held up a container of blue coloured acid and frowned, “ Did you use the chemicals to make catapults again? I told you, I’m running low on testing agents as it is, I can’t get you –“

“Dude. How is he growing these? The reason why the imaginary corn money didn’t show is cause the earth John Peters was using was dried up. There was no way the soil would be able to help yield any hallucinatory corn.” Flynn asked.

That did make him pause for a moment, but only a moment. “Maybe he did something to the soil and it got better.”

“ That was two weeks ago, Science Boy.”

“ Also, how do you know so much about growing things?” the man shot back.

“ Well, I did read Thomas Jefferson’s horticultural diary, “ said the girl smugly. “Unlike you, Mr ‘I am a Scientist who studies science, not botany and therefore do not like to specialise or read anything outside of my field.’ Which is an irony, really, that you have a field you specialize in and yet you know nothing of plants.”

The multitudes of words flew over the man’s head, but he was not going down without a fight. “Well, I specialise, which is good cause I know what I want to do in life! You spend all your time reading books, and you’re 12. You know nothing of life!”

The girl’s forearms were tense and taut with anger, for this was an argument they have had many times. “ How dare you? I organized and led a group of children out of a labyrinth of books and slayed the Librarians that tried to eviscerate us! If anyone has no idea what he is dealing with, it’s you!” She emphasized the last word with a toss of her head. “You only came to Night Vale 6 months ago, practically begging to join the rebellion. And yet you still deal with the traditions of Night Vale with trepidation and contempt. Why even join us? We need courage, bravery and knowledge, not some townie with his inability to deal!”

What she said was meant to sting, and it did. He visibly flinched. “You know nothing of life, Tamika Flynn!”

“Well, you know nothing of US, Carlos Ciancia!” She roared back, preparing to launch herself at the man. The man anticipated this, and he shielded his body with his forearms, ready to counter her attack-

STOP.

The room was lit up with an unearthly glow. Fitting, considering the source of it belonged to something distinctly unearthly. Tamika Flynn’s attack was stopped midway and all she could do was hover in her spot, levitated by an unseen source. She gave a shrill cry and tried to claw her way out but to no avail as she was held still by a large shapeless beam of light, glowing and pulsing ever so subtly.

“ What is the matter with the both of you?” chided the old woman who had walked into the room, surrounded by many similar tall beams of light. She was tiny in comparison to her large protectors, her stooped shoulders and padding around her lower torso supposed to make her seem unthreatening and approachable, and yet her presence and voice still commanded attention as if she were nothing less than a general with his troops. “ I leave the main quarters for only 30 minutes and I have two of my best tearing into each other as though you both were common gangsters! “ She sank down on the nearest armchair slowly, two of the tall beams supporting her arms and back as she did. The rest of the tall beams glowed menacingly at the two other people in the room, and Carlos wondered if there was any other way to feel like a young child being scolded for trying to throw the pet turtle into the toilet. Not that he had ever done that, of course. Though if he did it for science...

“ Tamika Augusta Flynn, you’re 13 years old and leader of the first children militia ever organized to band together, you know young Carlos will not be able to stand against your attacks! Know your strength, young lady!”

Carlos, who was a man in his 40s, stood at the height of 6ft 1, had been eating spinach since he was young and watched all the Popeye cartoons claiming that the vegetable was good for his muscles only to go through a terrible age of disenchantment when he found out what he had learnt was not scientifically correct, but still ate healthy and worked out regularly, opened his mouth to protest against his sudden perceived inability to fend for himself.

“ And Carlos Alonso Roberto Esteben Alejandro Diego Ciancia!” The man winced at the use of his full name, but the old lady was not deterred in her speech. “You are a scientist! You have a PHD in Science! You should know better than to pick on someone who has faced the Labyrinth of Librarians and came out alive! For a man supposedly into science, you don’t think!”

Despite the fact that she was not picking up on the sensibility of the argument, both of them hung their heads.

“ Now, mayhaps we need to reiterate why exactly we are all here, hiding in an underground facility instead of going about our normal lives, not knowing each other or genially nodding when we pass each other on the street. Tamika?”

The young girl looked down at her feet, her tone surly and reluctant. “ Strexcorp has long been up to atrocities that are not open to the human public, and we are here in order to get rid of them, Ms Baker."

“ Do call me Josie, everyone does. What kind of atrocities are we talking about, Carlos dear?”

Carlos stood up straighter, and adopted a steadier, genteel voice, the one he used for scientific explanations and presentations. “ Ethics violations including but not limited to the genetic experimentation on humans and other biological material, weapons of warfare, literal censorship tools as well as possible weapons of mass hallucinations and brainwashing .”

“ Correct as usual. As we all know, Strexcorp is a huge corporation that has been founded since 1980 and is rolling faster than Marcus Vansten is in the dough. “ Old Lady Josie said, taking a cup of tea from a delicate set of china that one of the pulsing lights was carrying, sipping delicately, “ Thank you , Erika. As I was saying...Strex is very, very rich. And yet for the past few years they have been buying up multiple items of questionable choice. Animal corpses from the Glow Cloud’s passing. Water towers that hold much of the town’s drinking water supply. Weapons from known warlords in unknown countries and , as we all know, every fashionable clothing and accessory store available in each of these towns. ”

Both Carlos and Tamika shuddered.

“They have gone through a very huge amount of money and effort to buy up these towns, and yet there are troubling rumours afoot. The town of Nugorsk in Russia, for example has been a sister town to our own Night Vale and yet has never been seen again since the beginning of 1983. We have of course, HEARD from them. Only a few weeks ago, we received yet another bunch of letters from them still dated 1983. It’s gonna get very hard to tell young Anna about Michael Jackson dying, isn’t it Erika? I really have to stop writing to her, but she has these wonderful recipes for sweet potatoes...”

One of the large beams of light pulsed harder than before.

“Oh, my apologies, Erika. Despite our letters, we have of course never been able to find the town again. Friends who have arranged visits to the town have reported that the original coordinates of the town on the town map given predating 1983. However, after the takeover from Strex, Nugorsk has simply disappeared off the map. People from neighbouring towns swear that the place never existed. Similar occurrences happened to towns in Luftnarp, Franchia and Svitz.

“With the reappearance of Strex in Desert Bluffs, Desert Bluffs has become more...strange. We have a long standing rivalry with the denizens of Desert Bluffs, considering our blood feud stemming from a very long battle of Rock Paper Scissors and Dibs on area line. All of us still commemorate the memory of those fallen heroes in the Battle of the Interpretive Dance where 50 of our brave boys lost their lives on that bloody day. And yet, despite our knowledge that Desert Bluffs is and always will be the worst town to live in, magazines have praised the town for their perfect town planning and tourism. It is featured on Marie Claire, Ikea and Vogue as the place for people to visit. Desert Bluffs is, to put it bluntly, a shithole, and still people go there. Why is that?

“This is where Strex comes in.”

Carlos have, of course, heard about the rage inducing Desert Bluffs, of course. However, he had not heard about Nugorsk, nor about the missing towns in Luftnarp, Franchia and Svitz.Tamika had evidently known about this, because she snorted in derision and muttered ,"Jon Snow, alright.”

Old Woman Josie narrowed her eyes, and the girl quickly looked contrite. “ Sorry, Josie.”

The old lady continued her story. “ Strex has also taken the opportunity to acquire several towns in the neighbouring areas, such as Bartonsville, Mellark Falls, Prowlers Cliffs and of course, our very own Night Vale. Some towns have resisted and...well, you know the result of that. The story of Fey is now a boogeyman’s tale amongst the children here, but we all know the truth behind young Fey, despite the pressure Strex has put on the Town Council and the Sheriff’s Secret Police to conceal the details from the citizens. We also have surveillance and intel about the goings on at Strex, with talk of cannibalism, sentient machines with the ability to transform into ordinary machines, and- this is indeed the most troubling of news, talk of creating mountains.”

Tamika Flynn was the only one in the room that gasped and Josie nodded in understanding.

“ Yes, indeed. Thus, it is our duty to make sure the Strex does not get to Night Vale the way it has to the above towns. We may have our problems with censorship and deaths, but by God, they are OUR problems with censorship and deaths. We do not need a company who has been dabbling about in mass corruption and human experimentation to come to our towns to change our ways of life. Our eventual destruction is our own, and we do not need anyone else to hasten it for us.”

The woman ended her speech, the silence after it only accompanied by the quiet stirring sounds of a spoon in tea. Nothing else was said after as both Carlos and Tamika absorbed her words.

She stopped stirring her tea, and gave a look to the both of them.

“ Thus, my dear young people. We cannot afford to have division amongst our small ranks, nor should we be experiencing schisms and self-destruction. What we need is co-operation and hard work, and we can’t do that if both of my best people keep fighting between themselves. ”

Both Carlos and Tamika looked guilty as they gave aside glances to each other. They then turned to each other and held out their hands grudgingly, both holding palms and pumping it twice.

“ I’m sorry I called you an ignoramus, Carlos.” Muttered Tamika , eyes darted low and voice reluctant.

“ Likewise, Flynn.” Carlos grovelled. “ I really didn’t mean to be ageist, and we just have to deal with things as they go along, okay?”

The old lady beamed, cheerfully ignoring any latent tension between the two other humans in the room. “ Wonderful! Now, off to your duties! Tamika, I believe you have a training session with some of the other children in hand to hand combat, and Carlos, you have to get the oranges to Science Division, your handler has been most anxious to hear from you!”

The both of them left hurriedly, both of them refusing to look at the other in the eye.

Josie sighed as she leant back into her chair and turned to one of the beams , “Are you sure this has to be done by the both of them, Erika? Tamika is only a child. Granted, a child who has murdered many times and is reading War and Peace, but still young. And Carlos is a handsome capable young man, but will he be capable enough to deal with what is to come?"

YOU KNOW THE WAYS OF THE LORD CANNOT BE DEFIED, JOSEPHINE BAKER. THE PLAN IS SET IN MOTION, AND WHAT WE HAVE STARTED CANNOT BE STOPPED. THE WARRIOR CHILD YOU HAVE RECRUITED IS ESSENTIAL TO THE REBELLION AND THE MAN IS THE MOST IMPORTANT KEY TO THE WEAPON .

“Yes of course. But still. When they meet, they will not like what is going to happen.”

THE PLAN IS INEFFABLE, JOSEPHINE BAKER.

The old woman closed her eyes in resignation,“ At the very least, do go easy on him when it happens.”

WE DO NOT MAKE PROMISES, JOSEPHINE BAKER. WE ONLY PROTECT WHAT IS IN THE PLAN.

_________________________________________________________

“ S!” a small body threw herself against Carlos the minute he stepped into the Science labs. “ I can’t believe you’re okay! I am so sorry about what happened at the radio station, I have no idea the radio host was going in early to feed the station cat, they only did a cat feeding schedule on Thursday –"

Carlos chuckled slightly,awkwardly patting the panicked D on the shoulder. “De nada, D. Look, I got the specimens back and it’s definitely all cool, see? Nothing damaged or broken.”

The tiny girl pulled back to look at him, brown eyes terrified. “ But I froze, S! I didn’t know what to do when something unplanned happened, and I should have calculated for possible variables or change in the plans! What happens if this occurs again? The plans have to be perfect if we are going against Strex, S! I can’t let you down again like that!”

“D...” said Carlos, trying to find a way to comfort the terrified girl. “It’s really okay, D. We have gone through this before, remember? What you are doing so far is fantastic. Nobody else can organize the chemical flasks in the lab like you and understand the properties all the chemicals have. You also have intelligence on every single institution here in Night Vale as well as access to every path in and out of the buildings, and you meticulously observe and memorise every movement and schedule in the place and give out the best exit plan strategies. You can’t let this set you back.”

The girl managed a wobbly smile and Carlos ruffled her head, smoothing her curly hair that stood up in every direction. “ Alright, my dear,” as he went to the coat hangers and picked out his favourite labwork labcoat, putting his arms through both sleeves and strapping on a pair of lab goggles. “Now that we have the specimen....let us start doing SCIENCE!”

The girl laughed despite herself and handed out a pair of work gloves. “ Come on then, S. Let’s prove that science runs in your blood.”

Carlos smiled as D put on her own labwork labcoat as well as a matching pair of goggles to start working with the older man. He liked the tiny D, he really did. She was around 23, but the girl still had her coltish moments, and her self-consciousness always overshadowed her truly organized mind. He often made sure that she knew when she did a good job, but it was hard to get the girl to overcome her own fears of failure. It reminded him of- better not think about it.

“ So...you met Cecil, didn’t you?” Dana asked slyly as she put on her rubber gloves.

Carlos took the opportunity to trip over a stool.

Dana giggled despite herself . “I did overhear the entire conversation on my headset. It was so sweet. Cecil does tend to rattle on and on, but he’s really very nice and tells wonderful stories.”

Carlos picked himself up from the floor, slightly red .” Y-you know Cecil?"

Dana picked up a notebook already filled with concise notes in her neat handwriting. “ I used to intern at the radio station before I joined the rebellion. Cecil doesn’t know about the rebellion, he thinks I left the station to go finish up graduate school. But when I worked there, we always had lunch together...have you heard his radio show? He does a show every day and they feature every show as a sorta podcast on the radio website...you should subscribe to it and listen, he tells the most wonderful stories!”

“ I’m not really a radio person.” Murmurs Carlos as he picks up an orange, “ I mean, NPR is not really something I listen to. All these fat white guys just sitting around bashing other races, it’s not my thing.”

“ Ah, but Cecil’s show is different. I mean, it is the news, but Cecil does it with style and his delivery is impeccable. And he truly makes a difference. People hear all the radio programs in Night Vale but when he takes the mike...people listen. They really and truly listen and care. It’s all Cecil’s charm really. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about him, actually, but Cecil only did recently come back from a hiatus-"

Hiatus? “ Hiatus?” he repeated the thought in his brain out loud.

Dana smiled, but this time it was a sad smile. “ Death of a colleague from another town, “ she stated. “ It was all over the news. Cecil was so devastated ...he left Night Vale for awhile to go visit her family and stuff, but he was never really the same again. You’ll never guess from his radio show, but Cecil was quite a character back then.”

Carlos didn’t reply . Neither did Dana. Both of them worked quietly in silence after that.

--------------------------------------------------------

Carlos looked up from his work to realise that he had been working for a good solid 2 hrs and it was already midnight. He took off his googles and his labwork labcoat, made sure that the orange specimens were places in a secure container in the fridge before saying goodnight to D, putting on a much more casual labcoat and making his way out of the underground facilities and climbing the stairs of a secret passage way to make his way out of his normal labs, enjoying the cool breeze from the desert night.

The buzzing, bright sign for Big Rico’s Pizza was shut off but there were still signs of lights glowing above at the nearby Arby’s.

It was only then Carlos’s thoughts about the oranges faded and his own, much more personal thoughts returned.

While earlier he had been preoccupied with the argument with Flynn and his experiments on the oranges, he really had been most jarred by his run in with Cecil and D’s account of him. He was intrigued by this man. It wasn't anything to do with beauty, he decided. Cecil was unusually pale for a man, and his purple eyes were too weird to be considered classically beautiful. No, what stood out most was his voice.

Carlos replayed the conversation in his mind, letting imaginary Cecil prattle on and on in his head about many things. Sometimes the conversation would vary, but he liked the fact that Cecil’s voice always remained constant in his head. It was a steady thrum, and it made him wonder if it was possible to do experiments on his sound waves to see if it corresponded well enough to his heart, or if the timber was always as steady in every emotion. It then led to a very interesting line about performing all sorts of experimentation on Cecil, and if Cecil would agree, conceiving a few situations and forming all sorts of hypothesis. He would have to do a control experiment, missionary position being a good place to start with, and every variable had to be considered in order to see what he could do to make the man’s deep timber go gratifying high...

Okay, on second thoughts, maybe that would not be a good idea to think about stuff like that about a man he had only met once, and also when he was thought to be another person instead. The man was clearly mourning for a friend as well and it was not a good idea to think about him like that while the man was still so sad.

He took a walk back to his own apartment, stopping at the nearby Chinese restaurant to get take away on the way. He carried the food containers into his apartment and sat on his couch, eating his chow and mind still lingering on the science of the oranges and Cecil.

It wasn’t long before he fell into a deep, sleep haunted by screams, giant oranges taking over and a pair of purple eyes always just staring into the distance.

----------

Carlos woke up with a start. The sun was streaming into his apartment as he fumbled around for his glasses before he realized he had fallen asleep with his contacts on. He had to pay attention to that more often, proper eye care was imperative to stop his eyes from deteriorating any further. He already had enough trouble looking after his glasses as it was. The last pair disintegrated from the laser he was using to split the bullet casing he had gotten from a Strex gun. So he was a little careless and left his spectacles next to the testing area, but that’s okay, he ordered a new pair from his optician and it materialized on his lab desk the next morning.

Now, Carlos stumbled back into his room searching for his glasses. He usually left his glasses next to his bedside table, but all that was left on his table was a copy of the Princess Bride, rather dog-eared and worn. The Faceless Old Lady must have been reading it again. But still...where exactly were his spectacles?

He directed his voice towards the ceiling, feeling a little bit silly as he did so while trying to treat this like Tony Stark asking his AI for help.

“ Hi, erm...m’am? Yeah, I hope this doesn’t offend you or anything, but do you know where I left my glasses?"

A sound of a crash could be heard and Carlos ran out of his room, greeted by the sight of ten cans of tuna thrown across the kitchen floor. Wincing, he looked up at the ceiling, “ Erm, sorry. Won’t happen again.”

He’ll probably have to buy some fruits to apologize to her. It was a lot like living with a very easily offended cat.

His handphone buzzed in his labcoat and Carlos fumbled around his pockets. Finally grasping something big, hard and smooth, he drew out a black, rather battered phone.

Tapping clumsily due to his blurred vision (damn contacts), he brought up what seemed to be a text message from D.

Hey, S. I think you left your spectacles in the lab. I know you don’t like spending your full day without your glasses anywhere near you, so I think you should consider coming down earlier to get them. Also, if you are coming down, can you bring in some candy or something sweet? The children are getting a little bogged down with the trainings, and even Tamika looks tired.

Sweet D, always looking out for the children.

Carlos quickly tapped an affirmative reply, went to do his morning routine of a shower, brushing his teeth and shaving before putting on clean clothes under his casual labcoat and setting foot out the door. He strolled past the front lobby of his apartment building, deciding that it would be a good idea to get some cookies for the kids. Cookies distributed easily and it was substantially filling. Cookies were a fantastic idea. And maybe even throw in a couple of mints-

With that in mind, Carlos set off to the supermarket, a 5 minute walk enroute to his labs. His contacts were still giving him trouble, but Carlos had put in some eyedrops before he left and there was a bottle of eyewash at the labs, so he could quickly switch to his glasses once he got there. All he needed was to cross this rather empty road-

There was a scream and Carlos felt a tug pulling him back into the sidewalk. “ Madre de dios!” he screamed, mostly out of shock than actual pain from being yanked backwards by the collar. His arm quickly grappled onto his assailant’s shoulder....

...who turned out to be a rather stunned man holding a little girl’s hand, both taken aback having absolutely no idea why this man was yelling and about to attack.

Just Carlos’s luck the man turned out to be Cecil. Cecil who probably thought he was a freak now.

“ Oh hey, sorry Ce-,” DON’T LET HIM KNOW YOU MET HIM BEFORE YOU DOLT.“-eing is a bit of a problem for me!” Carlos finished weakly.

Nice job, Carlos. What an idiot you are.

Cecil was still staring at Carlos, but the girl holding his hand looked doubtful. She turned to Cecil and asked, “ Is it Eye Health Day already?”

Cecil replied without taking his eyes off Carlos. “ No, I think that’s a month from now, Janice.” His voice was distant and his eyes were glazed over.

Oh great, he already thinks I’m weird. Change the subject, CHANGE THE SUBJECT!

He then spotted his opening as he saw the girl was in a Girl Scout uniform.

“ Oh, you’re in the Scouts?”

The little girl shrieked a little and Carlos panicked, wondering what it was he said wrongly. Cecil quickly added, “ The Scouts and the Girl Scouts have a different affiliation, we try to separate them as much as possible in Night Vale.”

Looking him over again, Cecil asked, “ You’re not really from around here, aren’t you?”

The taunts of Tamika Flynn echoed around his head and Carlos mentally shook her off before replying, “ Erm...No! Not really, I moved here, been here. 6! 6 months! I’ve been here 6 months!”

Again, both of them stared at Carlos weirdly again, and Carlos’s brain screamed for him to shut his fucking mouth before he could say anything weird again. His mouth of course ignored his brain and it asked, “ Hah! Girl Scouts, eh? I don’t suppose you have any cookies for sale at the moment, cause I really love those. Like the Thin Mints! Thin Mints are cool! They taste cool too!"

The little girl looked at now with something akin to pity and asked, “ We’re doing a cookie sales drive at the moment, so maybe you want to join us at our booth?”

At that moment, Carlos would do anything to get out of this situation. How humiliating, the man was probably married and raising a young daughter and here he was crushing over him like a crazy person.

-----

D looked at the number of boxes towering on the tables before she turned to Carlos and said slowly, “ I was expecting ....not this."

There was a muffled sound where Carlos had buried his head in shame on the metal table.

Tamika Flynn sat at the table next to the despondent man, a cookie in her mouth and a glass of milk on her left. "Save me from this misery, D. This guy ran into Radio Man from the mission on his way here and tried to distract him by buying all the cookies from the Girl Scout Cookie drive." She said, munching loudly and downing the milk in a few gulps.

D paused, mentally processing what Tamika said before she squealed and said,“ So you did talk to Cecil!"

Another muffled sound, this time of a mumbled shriek. D didn't understand his reaction until Tamika rolled her eyes and said," This guy," gesturing with a thumb at the picture of despair, " Apparently went on a long monologue about the joy of parenthood and how he was sweet to help his daughter in the scouts before Cecil had to clarify that the girl was his niece, not his daughter. Also that Cecil himself was very very single and not at all in love with anyone at the moment.Or maybe he was."

" Well, at the very least, you talked to him, right? And exchanged digits and everything?"

There was strange silence emanating from Carlos. D was not encouraged from this.

“ You did introduce yourself to him, right? He knows your name, at the very least?”

Carlos looked up from his Curl of Shame with panicked eyes.

D sighed. “ S,you may be the smartest man we have, but you’re really bad at this.”

Tamika Flynn rolled her eyes in derision. " He's a fucking idiot, alright."

Chapter Text

In many aspects, Carlos felt very complicated feelings when meeting new people.

He wasn't exactly a very shy person. He had never suffered from stage fright and talking to masses of people about scientific discoveries was something he was really good at. It was something he knew best, of course, and it was known that Dr Carlos Ciancia was a good orator, explained jargon easily to people, but never tried to dumb down the science for anyone. It was a matter of scientific integrity, after all. Science knew no beauty nor ugliness, no shame nor glamour. A person who loved science loved how things work and what made them work meant that they were determined to imagine ways to explore and find out. Science was Carlos’s passion, and that meant science had to be shared with others. It was in his name, after all.

So Carlos often rattled on about thermodynamics and gushed about his feelings for the String Theory to his colleagues and his assistants. Most would nod genially or smile in a bemused manner, but Carlos didn’t care. The other people liked him despite his need to rattle on about science , so the man was still popular. Of course, unknown to the man, his tan skin, flashing honey tea eyes and bright, toothy smile helped in his likeability and his tendency to crack goofy science jokes endeared him to everyone, which meant that Carlos was well liked and everyone’s type. Female and male scientists sighed over their petri dishes and glass flasks, old ladies tended to approach him to get cans from the highest shelf in the supermarket and he had no shortage of men giving him surreptitious winks in the bathrooms.

That being said, Carlos himself was not much of a people person. Outside of work, he was shy and never understood people’s intentions outside of biological functions and anything science related. He was a scientist and he was very good at lying and keeping cover, but being himself...that wasn’t something he was good at.


So talking to new people face to face about things other than science was harder.

He kept to the scientists that he worked with in the labs and the few that were in the resistance. He argued with Tamika Flynn because she was often so dismissive of his abilities and his contributions. He and D were allies, but she was young and he was more often than not rather involved in his scientific studies.

In short, Carlos was not good at talking to people he liked.

In the next couple of days, he would replay the entire scenario in his head again and moan quietly, banging his head on flat surfaces available to him. This would include his kitchen top table, the lab table in his usual daily labs, numerous bathroom walls, the lab table in underground HQ and the exercise equipment in the gym. It was only after waking up from a particularly hard hit, lying face up with numerous children pointing and laughing at him that he figured he was probably overreacting from this, and he should consider putting the incident behind him. He threw himself into his work, busying himself with his day job at the labs and the rest of his team, watching as they dared each other to go to the house that seemed to be there, like it was just there, standing between two other identical houses, so it would make sense for it to exist, but it didn’t ; his secret resistance research with the oranges and training the other scientists, as well as working out and sparring with Tamika Flynn. This arrangement went on for a good two weeks, and Carlos gained a mental barrier that helped him cope with the awkward incident better, while also gaining a certain amount appreciation of the poetry Flynn and her fellow erudite warriors would yell while pummelling a dummy horse.

Also, he had, under a lot of mental torturing, gone online to Google Cecil Palmer. He was hit with a deluge of results before he had the wisdom to add in Night Vale in the search bar. That narrowed the amount of hits on the name, mostly from the Night Vale Community Radio and his work on it, the online shop that sold mugs and t-shirts with the company logo on it, as well as commemorative bloodstones specially made for fans of the radio show. A number of sites also showed that Cecil had a small but dedicated fanbase, mostly from citizens of Night Vale though surprisingly, he had listeners from the nearby towns as well. The fanbase mostly raved about the radio host’s voice and took note of sightings of the stories the man seemed to mention on his show. Some managed to get a few pictures of the host himself on their phones, mostly blurred pictures of the man looking a little off ways from the camera. Clearly the host had not known about people taking photos of him then. Carlos scrolled back the pages of the fansite all the way to 6 months back, and stopped reading after a random story about doppelgangers on the site. He closed the tab and went back to the official Night Vale Radio site, where he found a profile of all the radio hosts featured in the site. Cecil Palmer seemed to be listed as the number one radio host in the station as well as the most popular radio host, which was not really a surprise, given that he also seemed to be the only radio host in Night Vale. Looking at a rather washed out picture of a slightly ruffled Cecil , Carlos had to admit that the man still held his charm despite the bad quality of the uploaded picture and had to remind himself that it was not a crime just admiring the guy...right?

He had tried not to squee in his seat as he found something even he wasn't anticipating...podcasts of Cecil’s recent shows. A whole list of them, dating back from a year ago to a new entry listed last Friday. His heart racing, Carlos convinced himself that he was merely being curious about D’s apparent admiration of the guy and downloaded every podcast entry into his iPod touch. He had the space after all and his iTunes had refused to accept any songs beginning with the letter A, T, M ,any song containing the words My, Hello and any songs related to the idea of farewell or breakups. This limited his collection of songs by a significant amount and Carlos was probably never going to ever listen to Adele again, but he had learnt to accept the eccentricity of his laptop when it started oozing blue liquid. As long as the laptop kept all the files he took on the happenings of Night Vale, as well as encrypted his mission logs, he let the laptop do whatever it wanted, including playing a medley of show tunes from various musicals. Today, as podcasts loaded onto his iPod, it was playing a rather unfamiliar tune of hums and beeps. He had no recollection of downloading that particular track, but then again, he found the track located in a playlist entitled, “Songs That Remind Me of Bacteria Forming and Killing In the Ballet of the Murderous Cosmos While Watching You Soaking In The Bath.” He left it alone, deciding that even supernatural Faceless Old Ladies that secretly lived in the bowels of the walls in homes needed auditory entertainment.

He clicked on a podcast episode at random and had found it...strange. While Night Vale Radio had mostly been showing basic community fare, the mundane way the host reported the fantastical news was jarring. However, and he may have been biased, the host did find a way to make the stories he told interesting and made the creepy aspects of the story lines less frightening and more practical.

“ In community news... Yesterday Yolanda Chang , a local entrepreneur, had recently given birth to her baby daughter. For those of you who may recall, Yolanda Chang recently arrived in Night Vale, pregnant and wielding a hanger calling herself the Queen Overlord of Darkness, claiming that terrible things would happen if she was not allowed sanctuary into our humble town. Well folks, she seems to have settled in well, and her baby daughter was born at 10 pounds 11 ounces, which is a very good weight considering. The baby girl is also shifting shape at 6 hour periods, turning into a very large roll of toilet paper. Doctors have no clue over the condition the little baby girl is suffering from, except that the baby is whole, white and is rather self-absorbent. She is also rather adorable and I for one am thrilled that Yolanda has decided to call our town home, and finding ways to make sure the baby gives back to the community. The baby is the first useful one to be found in Night Vale and Yolanda has chosen to give her baby girl the fine name of Fourply, so that the little girl would never forget who she is. Congratulations, Yolanda and baby Fourply!”

Okay, that one was still weird. Carlos had stared at his iPod in disbelief for a short while after hearing that story. But even so...
If Carlos had thought Cecil’s voice was a slow steady thrum in his eardrums, hearing him now while he was doing his radio show was like an electric jolt of the senses. The host’s voice was filled with a smoothness that was only hinted in daily conversation, and yet it gave sense to a feeling alike the deep roll of the dark emerging wave on a beach smoothed by years of movement. It made Carlos shudder a little ,the waves of sound pour all around him, and he had to let himself lie facing up towards the ceiling, doing nothing else but reach out and try to touch the stars that was Cecil’s little touches to making his show personal and so...him.
He didn’t do anything else for the rest of the day.

For the next 2 weeks, Carlos listened fervently to all the podcast episodes, leaving it switched on while jogging around the town, soaking in every word Cecil Gershwin Palmer said in his radio show. He listened to it while in the park, he left it switched on in the background of both his day job scientist labs and the underground labs he used, leaving confused giggles and a few heavy sighs of regret as rumours of Dr Ciancia having an obsession with the disembodied voice grew. He even replaced the Coms with a radio episode for at least two missions, which left D a little more anxious and a lot more jittery in her seat until The Scientist returned back from the missions, a little less put together and his mission clothes a little more torn. She did take a few minutes to peek at the golden brown skin revealed in the holes of his clothes, but then again, The Scientist did not notice. The Scientist , and the actual scientist Carlos were both a little bit more infatuated with the man , and nothing else mattered as much.

Except Science and the Cause, of course.

Tamika Flynn eyed the iPod speakers that were filled with The Voice of Night Vale with disapproval, as Carlos was using the time to practise his yoga positions before sparring with the young girl warrior.

“It’s going to go down in flames.” She muttered to D while wielding a crossbow. She released a bolt and it flew, lodging itself firmly in the seams between the stuffed sack that served as a head and the rest of a bigger stuffed sack dressed in an old lab coat.

“But it’s so cute!” D protested, while internally wincing at the vehemence Tamika seemed to be unleashing on the effigy that served as target practice. “He looks so sad sometimes when he leaves the labs and he realises that he only did Science the whole day and nothing else. It’s good he has someone to crush on!”

The girl snorted, pulling the trigger once again and releasing another bolt.” It’s pathetic, that’s what it is. The man has gotten soppy with feelings. I almost miss the days when he was nothing but a silly porca puttana-"

“Tamika!” exclaimed a scandalised D.

“What? It’s appropriate and I thought you said it was great I was keeping up with my studies-"

“I didn’t say you should swear in Italian!”

“Bah, who’s gonna stop me? I’m practically running the lessons for the rest of the children, I get to decide-"

“ But swearing-"

Carlos heard none of this of course. All he did was listen to Cecil’s voice narrating stories while doing everything else on auto-pilot. He continued his day job, busily jotting notes down for an upcoming presentation he had to give to City Hall, on the topic of how to introduce science to interest high school students and other citizens. He had of course been introduced to other scientists based in Night Vale and learnt a little bit more about their science education. He had to admit he was a little flabbergasted of the lack of consistency in the amount of science understood and taught in Night Vale. He had an argument with Professor Kim once on the topic of throat spiders and to this day, she still regarded him with a little bit of derision and a lot of hissing as she crouched below the table, her voice still ravaged from the attack of the throat spider that tried to eat her vocal chords. Carlos kept getting reassurances from her colleagues that it meant that Professor Kim liked him, and that her trying to claw out his throat with broken test tubes fashioned into a crude gauntlet was merely a courtesy she extended to people of her profession. But Carlos could swear that Professor Kim had a glint of rage whenever she saw him.

In any case, he still had a presentation to finish and he let Cecil’s voice lull him into a sense of concentration.

“...and of course, stay tuned for The Sound Effect Gameshow, where this week’s contestants would try to guess the scene of famous films from the sound effects played .”

It was going to be a very good presentation and Carlos was confident he would be able to pull it off in front of the Night Vale City Hall.

“And as always, dear listener...”

He added one more slide into the presentation and bit into his finger to draw blood, using the wound to press against the computer screen, letting the blood seep in to save his work.

It was going to be a routine presentation. It’ll go fine.

“Good night, Night Vale, good night.”

--------------------------------------------------------
It was NOT going to be a routine presentation after all.

“Oh! “ Said Cecil, face glowing a little with the familiarity of recognizing someone, despite the fact that he had met the person only once while said person was choking all over his own words while ordering boxes of Thin Mints in front of 12 rather unimpressed Girl Scouts. “I remember you! “

Said scientist and person who had indeed been stammering over the counter at the Girl Scout booth and while earlier had been pretty much composed and cool about his upcoming presentation until he had bumped into the radio host outside the men’s room at City Hall and then proceeded to have an internal monologue of screaming and mental alarms flashing behind his eyes, had then tried to swallow the sudden golfball that had appeared in his throat. “Garplnk.”

Cecil, who had been smiling at the appearance of Carlos, looked concerned. “Oh dear, are you alright?”

Carlos had then proceeded to wave his hands around in an attempt to placate the fairer man, but it only served to make Cecil look more alarmed. Cecil looked around in a panic, and then ran into the bathroom doors.

Carlos cursed. Madre de dios, he was an idiot. After a few weeks of not seeing the man he had a serious infatuation over, the first thing he did when finally meeting him was to make strange noises and wave his arms around? In some cultures, that was practically a threat! Who knew what that gesture was in Night Vale? The place had a tendency to hold alarm drills in the appearance of any wheat or wheat by-product that appeared in the middle of town square, including a rather memorable incident where what seemed to be an elbow macaroni piece had been found by a small 5 year old boy while playing in the middle of the sandpit in the Night Vale Elementary playground. The ensuing panic , taking away the child while sending for the town priest and his congregation to chant and give simple offerings to the sandpit for its apparent need to spurt out weapons of mass destruction was only dissipated when it was found that the piece of pasta was actually a small piece of play dough. The 5 year old had been returned safe and sound, if not for a tendency to glaze over and speak in ancient Akkadian.

He probably scared Cecil off now. He would most probably mention him in the radio episodes as the “ Labcoat Man”, the one who was absolutely creepy and haunted cookie stands and town halls stalking unsuspecting innocent Radio Hosts for nefarious purposes , probably to kidnap and make him perform tasks of a troubling nature while munching on a Do-Si-Do and cackling over a glass of milk. The Girl Scouts would turn him into an urban legend. Tamika Flynn would laugh at him forever. This was most probably-

“Here.” A small tumbler was pressed into his hands.

-a chance for a drink?

“It’ll help with the throat problems, here take a sip-“

The lid was already unscrewed and Carlos , encouraged, raised the rim to his lips. He was filled with the taste of honey and lemon on his taste buds, light and uncloying .

“ Honey Lemon water.” Cecil grinned a little, looking earnest and a little hopeful. “I’m a radio host, I always have a little bit of this with me somewhere around.”

Carlos swallowed and felt the golfball in his throat go down a little. “T-thanks.” He stammered, passing the tumbler back to the other man.

Cecil smiled a little and Carlos wondered if it was possible to bottle some of the sensations he was feeling at the moment in the wake of such a smile. “Glad I can help.”
The two of them stood there looking at each other.

“So... listen, I have to go and erm-“ said Cecil, looking rather uncomfortable and pulling his eyes away from Carlos’ own.

“ Oh- I’m erm, terribly sorry , I gotta go-“ mumbled Carlos, a little dismayed at the eagerness the radio host seemed to be exhibiting to get away from him. He took the opportunity to look at his shoes. They were nice shoes today, a little worn out from the running he did from the supernatural forces around town, but still decent for formal occasions. One of the shoes had a drop of water splattered on it. That was absolutely fascinating and strange and so weird and-

“Yes, I mean, I’m supposed to be ready at the town meeting in 10 minutes!” said Cecil earnestly. He looked down at his tumbler.“ A new scientist is giving a talk about revamping science education in the schools and it’s going to be a bit of a drag really, I mean , it’s not something I want to cover really, but I am a community radio host, and this is important to the –“

“That would be- that would be me!” Carlos blurted, running a hand through his black hair, suddenly a little self conscious about his appearance, especially his hair. He should have considered dyeing the grey hair at the temples; he probably looked like an old geezer to the other man, the differences made even larger when compared with the ethereal good looks of Cecil. “I’m the scientist giving the presentation.”

Cecil stopped fiddling with the tumbler and was about to open his mouth to say something else but Carlos had decided that enough was enough. “Which reminds me, I better get a move on-“

“Darn, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to-“

“That’s okay, it’s just-“

“It’s just that-“

“Science is –“

The both of them started to talk over each other until they both realised what they were doing and stopped. And Carlos realised how ludicrous this situation was and without warning, started giggling.

Cecil stared at the giggling man in wonder before he too, started chuckling. This then erupted into a full blown chuckle fest between the two men, who were so amused by how they were acting that they couldn’t even stand properly, weakened by the full blown chortles they were both making. Carlos had his back against the wall to prop himself up, while Cecil was bent over, fist over mouth to control his own laughter.

“Oh, thank you.” Said Cecil as he wiped a tear from his eye. “I needed that laugh, sometimes it feels like I haven’t laughed in ages.”

Carlos brushed off his formal labcoat as he straightened up, mumbling something unintelligible.

“I do look forward to your presentation then, if you’re the one giving it!” said Cecil, giving him a wink , a small flutter in Carlos’s stomach and an image that would play in his mind for the rest of the presentation.

Then he blinked and the Voice of Night Vale was not there anymore, but had turned around to walk determinedly towards the main hall the presentation was being given. And Carlos, now hit with a bolt of pre-performance jitters and a need to pee, ran into the bathroom .

-----------------------------------------

If the people at the City Hall that day were able to speak about the presentation Dr Carlos Ciancia gave that day, they would have said something along the lines of how Dr Ciancia was a handsome young man who smiled earnestly about science and spoke softly, though he was clearly distracted by something with the way he smiled into space a few times. They would have commented something about how the Voice of Night Vale was quietly recording down every word the scientist was saying, but had at some points looked up to smile and nod encouragingly at the man giving the talk. They would have brought up the fact that Dr Ciancia had stumbled on some words and choked a little, but was otherwise clear on what he said. They would have said something about how Dr Ciancia and the Voice of Night Vale were acting strange during QnA; that the Voice, who had been a little dismissive of science in previous radio broadcasts, was enthusiastically asking questions about every single aspect of science that the man specialized in. The scientist in the meanwhile blushed and looked down at his shoes when he saw that the Voice was asking him another question, though he answered each question patiently and with only the hint of a tremble in his oaky- honey like voice.

They would have said it was like the world had shrunk down till it seemed like only two people existed, the Voice and the Scientist.

But then again, nobody else spoke about the presentation that happened in City Hall.

The reporters that were supposed to be there had been killed off due to a small concentrated plague that only affected media personnel of the written word. The rest of the people attending the presentation were officials from City Hall who had been sworn to secrecy about anything they did in City Hall anyway, the hooded figures who couldn't speak anyway, and the people from the vague yet menacing government agency who looked at people who asked them what happened in meetings with such derision that the people simply wilted and lost petals that had till then not been there and developed leaves that drooped.

Fortunately, it had only been a small plague.

And only 5 people lost petals that day.

Plus, the leaves only drooped just a little.

It was a good day.

---------------------------

“So...” said D as she sidled up to Carlos during a late impromptu dinner at the labs.

Carlos looked up from his book with a raised eyebrow, a fry in his mouth. “Guh?” he said intelligently.

D pressed on, “So...you seem to be fairly popular today.”

Carlos chewed on the fry as he looked back on his book, concentrating on a very interesting passage about science. “Hmm?” he said, distracted and not paying full attention to what D was saying.

D smirked,” Yeah, I heard a very dashing, adorable scientist with’ the chiselled jaw of a Lancelot, the eyes of honey mead and hair as thick and shiny as an oil slick ‘spoke about science today.”

Carlos did not look up from his book. “Sounds like a man.” He murmured.

D rolled her eyes despite herself. “Of course he sounds like a man, Carlos. In fact, he sounds like a man we all know very well. Any idea who that man could be?”
“I bet it’s Grant Chen from the Chemistry department.” Carlos said, reaching out for another fry on his plate of baked chicken. “He’s quite dishy, and had really good ideas about science. Do you know he and Frank Bollard are flirting with each other? It’s really rather cute but they’re so oblivious and it’s obvious and everything and-“

“For goodness sake, S, I was talking about you!” D burst out.

There was an awkward silence before Carlos said slowly, “ D, you know I like you and I think your unusually skilled in organization and information, but you’re not really my type-"

If D was a bit more impulsive like Tamika Flynn, she would have hit the dark-skinned man on the back of the head. As it was, D did not do so, but Tamika Flynn had no such scruples. A small thunk was heard as the dark skinned girl used her palm to hit the older man on the head.

While Carlos howled a little in pain and shock at the girl’s sudden appearance and sneak attack, D turned to Tamika with disapproval. “No hitting, Tammy.” She chided.
Tamika did not look repentant. “But he’s an idiot!” she protested.

“He’s merely distracted, look at his book, he’s reading something about poisons-"

“Hopefully something related to horticulture-“

“Tammy...”

Said “Tammy” cut her off, “Oy, Ciancia. Pay close attention cause you’re an idiot and your brains are out to lunch. Radio man likes you. “A slight pause, then Tamika went, “See, this is how you give news, D. Look at him and his Jon Snow-ness. He needs to be told in more direct ways.”

“But hitting –"

“Is merely me beating the facts to his head, in a more direct way than usual.”

Amidst this, Carlos had a look of blanked out shock , followed slowly by growing panic. “Radio Man likes- Cecil likes-“

“See, look at him. “ Tamika snorts. “I tell him one thing, and he takes a few minutes to let it sink in. He’s hopeless.”

D tutted. "He’s just in shock...”

Carlos was still letting the information sink in. “ Where- how-where-"

D sighed, but in amusement.” It was on the radio show today, Carlos. I’m surprised you didn’t hear it. "

Carlos looked panicked. “I only managed to finish the second last episode yesterday while I was working on my presentation, and I just-“ Carlos hopped off the high stool and raced towards the other side of the room, where his laptop was now playing a track labelled, “ I Dreamed of Jeanie” but instead of the iconic theme song, the speakers seemed to be playing out the sounds of plastic bottles being squeezed , the crack and quaking sounds of plastic jarring and mildly upsetting. He paused the track and clicked on the icon to his Podcast subscription list. “I forgot to refresh for today! Oh no!” Carlos moaned as he quickly refreshed the page, found the new episode and started the download.

Tamika sighed and shook her head, but D giggled and sat herself down on Carlos’s vacated stool. The younger girl followed suit, but chose to leap onto the relatively empty table top and settled herself there, her stocky, well toned legs too short to reach the ground. She swung them up and down instead, indicating her impatience.
The newest episode finished downloading and Carlos quickly hit the play button.

The track started off with Cecil’s customary greeting message, the low, sonorous voice a welcome jolt back to Carlos’s senses. He and the two other people in the room sat through the opening bars of the theme music and the mundane reports of community news. Apparently there were new movie star sightings and an advertisement that spoke of a small ventriloquist doll sitting against the dark windows and coming towards the listener, singing of all of her favourite things in a high pitched, singsong voice. The advert of course was from Wendy’s, as the small ventriloquist doll wanted the listener to stay and play with them forever there.

And then...

“Listeners... I have a wonderful scoop for you! Well, as you may know, in the last broadcast, I spoke about how I had to go and report on the progress of science education in the Night Vale City Council today. I may have groused and moaned a little about how science education was pulling us back in progress ... I mean, we all know that science still has no good explanation about why planes stay up, or why ducks know how to swim with their legs downwards in the water, or even why Steve Carlsberg is such a hopeless nincompoop of tremendous proportions-"

Here, Carlos opened his mouth to point out that he DID know how planes stayed up in the sky, but a warning glare from D and Tamika made him close his mouth.

“But today, I had a change of heart . I had a change of heart about the topic of science, as well as on some other things. I’m recovering slowly, of course, but as we all know, changing of hearts is a rather routine process, and everyone goes through a period where you fall sick because you don’t change your hearts that much. Oh sure, some of you would try to go through work using your old hearts...’It’s still working!’ you might say, stubbornly clinging on to the notion that you are right and no one else is , but once you change your heart, you suddenly go through more changes. In fact, it has been proven that when you change your hearts, you change your minds as well. Case in point. I had a change of heart recently. I spent some time at the hospital to make sure that the heart transplant was successful and I was out within hours. It has helped me see that science is the wave of the future!”

The three occupants of the labs looked down at the laptop in incredulousness.

“So he likes science now.” Said Carlos weakly. “What does this have to do-"

“Shut up, HNOTP!” Tamika shot back fiercely, shushing him.

Carlos turned to D, who whispered, “Hopeless Nincompoop of Tremendous Proportions.”

“- This change of heart, of course, was motivated by a new man whom I had seen before. Who is he, though, I did not know. This may seem odd to you, Night Vale listeners, but a few weeks ago, this man and I had met under unusual circumstances. I had at the time not known about this newcomer, as you may all know, I had been away for a short ...sabbatical.”

Here, Cecil sounded a little subdued and he had paused before the word, seemingly displeased and frustrated. However, Cecil ploughed on with his hosting duties.

“ In any case, the newcomer and I met when I had saved his life pulling him back from a rushing car at the traffic lights- remember people : graphic photos of pedestrians being run over means stay where you are; time-lapsed pictures of flowers wilting means you can walk...”

Carlos knew that, of course he did.

Really.

“He was of course, charming and stammered his thanks and in gratitude, bought many boxes of Girl Scout cookies. You should have seen the looks of the girls’ faces, listeners, being told that they were able to get 100 boxes sold from one man, one beautiful, square-jawed man with a smile like a military cemetery.”

Carlos did not recall that. All he remembered was the look of contempt and pity from the girls when he received his boxes.

“Of course, the Girl Scouts were unable to speak their gratitude easily that week. It was “Practise Facial Expressions” season after all, and the girls were practising stoicism so that they could get that new badge. "

Oh that explained it then.

“In any case, I ran into the man again today during the Science Education presentation and due to possible jitters, he was in a bad way, but still breath taking. Unfortunately he was breathtaking that he was choking on lack of air, so I, being of civic mind and helpful spirit, gave him something from my tumbler and let me just say, nobody should look that good drinking water from a tumbler as he had been choking earlier. He thanked me and introduced himself as the scientist who was giving the presentation for science education. He , unfortunately did not give me his name then, and I only introduced myself as the Voice of Night Vale...you should have seen us, listeners, him in his beautiful, formal labcoat and whiskey like eyes, dark hair as thick and shiny as an oil slick, and me in my work clothes...we laughed and we smiled and we laughed some more before we realised that we had jobs to do and we had to do our duty to our profession...”

The speech was suddenly cut short as Cecil’s voice got noticeably panicked when he was told by his producer Daniel that he had to continue on with his other radio hosting duties, which included reading off the community week events as well as a few more adverts. Carlos moved to fast forward the episode, but D slapped his hands away from the mouse pad and even Tamika was pissed at his move. He figured that he didn’t want to anger the girls and went on to listen to the bulletins.
The bulletins continued on in their vaguely creepy way, and Carlos’s mind drifted, but never completely leaving the steady thrum of the voice on the speakers. If he didn’t concentrate on the words, the sound of his voice still enthralled the senses...

And then Carlos caught his name being spoken.

“ ... Carlos, and when he gave the presentation, his eyes came alight, like the sun rising and bursting into flames when confronted with science. He spoke about the wonders of enriching the youths of today, and he spoke about how much he thought science explained so much of the universe. Well, as we all know, Night Vale, science has been getting a bad rap lately. Parents are turning their focus away from the subject because of its rather unmarketable skills and the subject itself has no real world application. Science has, for example, not managed to explain why people, like Steve Carlsberg, are idiotic idiots who have no sense of propriety or responsibility towards loved ones, whether it’s their car or their stepdaughters. Science has not managed to explain why jerk holes like the Apache Tracker...you know, that white man who wears that really offensive headdress...can get movie deals and be revered by millions of girls all over when really he is still a racist jerk who uses stereotypical tropes."

And here Cecil’s voice got a little lower, a little sadder and a little more resigned.

“ Science still does not explain how why despite our technology advances, we still cannot stop tragedy occurring, nor can we stop death from happening."

Carlos’s heart went out to the disembodied voice, full of despondence and pain. But before he could comment, Cecil’s voice took a turn for warmth.

“But listeners. As I sat there during the meeting, watching this man come alive with passion for this subject he clearly believed in so much, despite the fact that many others would deem him a fool or try to burn him at the stake, I felt something . A little of it was attraction towards this man, a little more of it was fascination and wonder at his passion for something that no one else believed in. It was... enlightening. Imagine... seeing someone give birth for the first time. Picture it in all its glory, that moment of seeing the black, matted hair emerging from the canal, the purplish head that is smeared with viscera and gore, the screams of the mother with shrill bloody murder as what she produces is not the diminishing of life, but still covered in blood and tissue all the same. She is tired and she is defeated, but she sees the life begin as the child takes loud breaths and cries. It’s a wailing that is considered customary, a cry of loss that can’t necessarily be answered in the dark silent night. But to all who see him born, life has begun for him. And it renews your own faith in life.

“And listeners, oh listeners. It was wonderful to see someone with so much commitment to something he loved so much.”

The three of them were silent, quietly taking the whole thing in.

“ He ended the presentation with an earnest smile and a plead to our town to not give up on science or the science program. His eyes were begging for us to understand his persuasion. And I fell in love with him instantly.”

Carlos choked on dry air. D gave a squeal of happiness and clapped. Tamika Flynn rolled her eyes and muttered, “ Oh brother.”

The broadcast went on but Carlos did not hear a single word of it, usually buzzing brain blanking out and what was left a blinking red light turning green. He could dimly hear D’s concern over his left shoulder and a warm hand grasping him gently but firmly. He ignored the gesture.

Then a sharp smack to his face snapped him out of his daze and he reeled from the pain. “Damnit, Flynn!”

Tamika was about to draw her arm back for another open palmed slap. “Come on now, just one more...”

Her eyes met the disapproving ones of D, and she sighed, relaxing her hand and putting it down.

“S, are you alright?” D gently said as she directed the older man firmly to his stool. “It’s a bit of a shock, you know, for someone to say something like that on the radio-“

“It’s fine.” His voice was dry and raspy.” I’m fine.” He cleared his throat and wet his tongue, swallowing hard, feeling better. “I’m fine, it’s cool.” He repeated with a steadier stance and voice.

Tamika was still lounging on the table, but even she was grudgingly concerned, her head turned towards Carlos in a look of empathy. She nodded in a “I’ve been there” way.

Carlos would have given her a look that would have translated as, “ What huh wait seriously I want to know what you mean tell me in words damnit!” but D clapped her hands suddenly. "Oh yes, I totally forgot, you have to hear what he said at the end!”

“There’s more?” Carlos said weakly, taking off the thick black rimmed glasses he wore and wiping them down with the corner of his white labcoat. “I thought the episode was over!”

“That was the weather report, HNOTP.” Tamika said, gesturing towards the laptop with a gloved gestured hand. “While you were freaking out, he introduced the weather and you’ve been freaking out for 3 minutes already. The weather should be done in-"

The dulcet tones of the speakers came back. “Welcome back listeners!”

“-Now.” Said Tamika triumphantly.

“To end off today’s story... the scientist...Carlos, had just finished the QnA section . He answered every question beautifully, and always with that little earnest smile he did to cover up that embarrassment. I asked him if he was able to help me to understand science phenomenon in Night Vale and he stammered before sighing and said that Night Vale in itself was inexplicable and he wished someone could be there to give context to the things we did in Night Vale. Can you believe he still had no idea that we had an invisible and always teleporting clock tower? I mean, I know he’s new and all, but geez-"

Both D and Tamika gave him looks of shock and Carlos waved them off. “Not now,” he said, still looking at the laptop, awaiting what the Voice would say.

“-But of course, we can excuse him for his inability to understand basic architecture...he’s a scientist, not an architect, so I smiled and told him that if there was any problem or things he wanted to know about Night Vale, a certain radio host was available to help show him around town and explain things to him. I also told him that it would be okay if we had food while I explained things, after all, scientists have to eat and they are known to have to eat at least three times a day after scienc-ing. He didn’t reply to that, but I gave him my contact number in case he ever needed help. It always feels good to help a fellow truth-seeker. It feels good that a man like him would need help. And it feels good when a man like him would direct a smile towards you in thanks and you know that for one short moment in time, you had someone you liked look at you in favour. And you’ll feel ten times better.”

At this point in time, Carlos’s heart was not feeling ten times better.

It was actually almost like he was having a heart attack and feeling every word hit him straight where it hurt. It was like his whole brain was feeling alight and every emotion went right to his stomach. His heart felt too big and too tight at the same time.

In short, Carlos felt like he was on fire.

And not like the disease that caused heart attacks and set victims on fire like it happened last week in Desert Gorge.

It was a good fire. It was the best fire.

The episode ended with a cheerful warning to stay tuned for an anonymous host that played songs that reminded people of bacteria forming and killing in the ballet of the murderous cosmos while watching the listeners soaking in the bath. The Voice of Night Vale bade farewell to his listeners in his deep, sonorous voice.

And Carlos turned away from the laptop to look at the two other people in the labs, one with huge eyes of anticipation awaiting his reaction, the other more withdrawn but still looking in his direction with a interest that disguised itself as nonchalance but really kinda sorta wanted to know what he was going to say as well.

He opened his mouth.

“Gah.”

Chapter Text

Carlos looked down at the series of numbers on the card, written in a dashing hand.

He had absolutely no idea what to do with the numbers.

As it was, it had been a few days after the confession of love over the radio, and Carlos still did nothing with the contact number Cecil had given him.

Oh sure, he did input the digits into his phone at the first minute, recording both the radio station number as well as the hand phone number the Voice of Night Vale had given him. He kept the card too, because the stylized name card had a white crescent moon emblazoned in the pupil of a purple eye and it was strangely pretty, despite the eeriness of an eye starting at you from a card. Not to mention the fact that purple was a color associated with the devil, who was currently touring America with sold out concerts and regularly had hordes of screaming fan girls swooning over his floppy hair.

But the point was, the card itself had the words, “The Voice of Night Vale” printed on it, in Sans Serif, and printed in smaller letters was the name Cecil Palmer. The name card also had the words, “Da mihi, aut libertatem a furfure muffin” printed in curling silver script at the bottom of the card, but Carlos had no understanding of Latin (his inner self was yelling, “I’m a scientist, Flynn!” to a snickering Tamika), so he could not understand what was written on the card. However, in his mind, a bald Canadian man yelled it while wearing a loudly colored Hawaiian t-shirt. It was weirdly entertaining.

So Carlos stared at the card, at the rather professional name card in contrast to the scribbled numbers of Cecil’s personal contact at the bottom with great apprehension. Clearly, Cecil had placed his cards on the table, but what about his own cards? Should he blurt out his own attraction to the radio host? But he wasn’t the type to jump into a relationship so quickly, he liked slow build-ups where the couple would dance around each other becoming strong friends until they finally admitted their love for one another after pining for 5 years and gazing at each other soppily until their mutual friends would groan and throw food at them in a bid to get them to make the first move.

However, he didn’t’t think he had mutual friends with Cecil. And Tamika Flynn was all too ready to throw food at him without any excuse whatsoever. In fact, she was currently at his lab table, lounging around in what seemed to be exasperation while sharpening a throwing knife. 

“Look, he said he likes you, “ said Tamika. “He did not say he wanted to marry you and go on to live in a white castle complete with unicorns and flying horses. Stop panicking here.”

“How can I not panic?” moaned Carlos, the older man slouched over his lab table at work staring at the name card again. If he squinted, he would swear the eye on the card blinked, slow and definitive, but when he opened his eyes properly, all he saw was a plain purple eye staring unblinking in the dark. “The man put his heart on the line there, and I didn’t even react to it! All I did after the broadcast was panic, drink a lot of water, pee,  panic again, and finally eat the rest of my dinner AND a whole box of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Someone saying “thank you” after such a pronouncement would have been much better! Oh gods, what do I do?”

Tamika sighed as though she was dealing with a rather stubborn second grader who had refused to acknowledge the fact that perhaps it was time to let go of the first grade reading level books and begin work on the second grade reading charts. “Look, HNOTP, if I tell you something, you got to promise you won’t tell anyone or so help me Athena, I will use this knife and throw it at your throat and claim Dragons did it. “

Carlos, who did not know the field specialist leader they code-named The Dragon, only that he worked with a team of specialists also known as Dragons and sometimes it was confusing when trying to figure out which voice was which because they kept yelling over each other in the coms, frowned a little. “I thought the Dragons worked with flame-throwers, not knives-“

“ Shut it.”

He did.

“ Now, awhile back, I was in pretty bad shape, okay? Just out from the Library Summer Reading Program, having no idea what I could do with myself and pretty much all I had were my books and a whole lot of anger.” Tamika said, with the wisdom of a war-worn veteran who Carlos still remembered had pouted a lot when told by the dentists that she had to get braces for her teeth a month back. It was a rather disconcerting picture.

“At that time, Josie had just asked me to join the rebellion, and I did after hearing her out. She was always kindly to me, came over with freshly baked cookies and a new dagger every visit, but I only agreed because she knew I had nothing to look forward to in school. The Strex people were sniffling around me, getting closer every day , and I knew it was only a matter of time before they would come get me. I was too much of a threat for a 12 year old kid. Besides, have you tried being in Eighth-Grade English with people who still thought Twilight was the epitome of an epic fantasy? It was like swimming with goldfish. I needed an out.

“So she had me ‘disappear’ one day after my 13th birthday. Managed to set up a scene with a bit of blood, a few feathers and a couple of dummy pages ripped out of a book, like I had been attacked and struggled. The Sheriff’s Secret Police never figured out what happened, and Strex stopped looking for me. I was free to help out, but still, I was aimless and still felt this huge ball of rage inside of me.”

Carlos had no idea what to say at this point. “I have no idea what to say at this point.”

“ Shut up, Science Boy, I’m establishing context, to explain how the character was feeling so that the events of what happened next would make more sense and give the reader a better sense of understanding and thus analyzing character development from a timeline. In this case, the character is me, and the reader is you. Geez, no wonder you do science, you can’t do shit for storytelling.”

Carlos felt abashed and a little hurt at that comment. “Sorry, do go on.”

“In any case, I was very angry. Imagine being the only 13 year old in a room full of adults, either getting told off every few minutes that I was not worthy, that I was too young to be much help, or that I was just a warrior, a machine who had no other skills and no emotions, just a fighter who fought for the love of violence. I fought off Librarians at the Library and led a children’s army alive out of the infamous Summer Reading Program, and this is how they see me? As a child who didn’t’t know the right side of the bow from the other? A tool that killed and killed and tasted blood of different colors and alien tastes? Josie had faith in me, and so did the angels, but Josie still also saw me as a young girl, cause she saw me grow up. She couldn’t help it, and neither did the angels. It wasn’t their fault, but it didn’t help. ”

There was a short pause, and then Tamika said softly.

“Then she came in.”

The one word that seemed italicized even in Carlos’s head was full of meaning, of soft wonderment, of questionable confusion, the word that was packed with so much emotion.

“She was the first, you know. The only one that treated me with absolute respect. When she first met me, she said, ‘You’re Tamika Flynn, the one with all the stars in the chart’ and asked me about my views on Cry, the Beloved Country. She had only read the book recently and had loved it, and she saw that I had read the book too.  She never tried to patronize me and she never tried to make me feel small. She treated me like I was just Tamika Flynn. A human.

“And that’s when I made my first mistake.”

Tamika then stopped , looking down at her small knife. Carlos saw that the handle of the throwing knife in her hands was small, delicately molded to fit her fingers. Clearly it was custom made, and judging by the way it was well-worn but also well kept. Clearly it had been a gift.

“I fell for her.”

The pronouncement was quiet and unassuming and yet it was also almost like the quiet thunk a huge pebble made when gently dropped cleanly into a deep pond.

Carlos whipped his head upwards to look at the young girl in the eye.

Tamika did not look back, but continued, “Till this day I have never told her  about it.”

“But why?” the man blurted out. When he realized what he had said, he quickly looked chastised.

Tamika sighed. “I kept telling myself, you know: You’ve never been in love, how do you know if you are? All you know of love is in books, and no allegory or metaphor would replace accurate feelings and thoughts. I was only 13, it’d go soon and in the end, she would find someone worthy. And there was the rebellion to consider. I did not work this hard for Night Vale and my Book Club just so that I would give it up for a chance at something so fleeting. If I had to tell her, the survival of Night Vale would have to be assured so that we would still have a future. I would not be that girl who is halfhearted about a revolution because of some girl she met a day before and was convinced I and her would live happily forever more . The work always comes first. And it’s not called a crush for nothing, right?”

But she looked at Carlos once, and Carlos was struck by how troubled her eyes were despite her rational explanation and steady tone of voice.

“So how does this help my situation?” he said.

“While I haven’t taken my chances with – mine, you need to take chances with yours.” Said Tamika. “Cause Radio Man has always been nice to me. When I met him that one time during the medal ceremony ...the man was always sweet and polite to me, and always treated me normally. For some reason, he’s taken a shine to you, so I can’t say much for his taste...but he likes you, so I’m going to give you a piece of advice to help you.”

Carlos was touched at this willingness to help him, a sense of trepidation rolling up his spine. He respected Tamika Flynn and admired her knowledge of poetry while throwing knives at effigies and read a little of her essays on Oscar Wilde, which spoke of a good analysis of the writer while having a lot of soul. She gave a lot of good insight and if she was truly helping him, he may actually garner some sort of purpose and wisdom in his decision.

Tamika looked around at all corners before she looked at Carlos straight in the eye and intoned.” Hashtag yolo.”

There was silence in reaction to this solemn pronouncement.

“So...what was the point of telling me that?” Carlos asked slowly, every word a show of rising disbelief.

“You should take the meaning of what it says and do it!” said Tamika primly, though her cheeks were red with embarrassment. “Sometimes life is amazing, even for a short while. You should take full advantage of it!”

“So why didn’t’t you say that first ?” cried Carlos.

Tamika groaned a little. “If you tell anyone in book club that I resorted to using a social media trend on you as advice, I will go book club on you and my book club.”


 

Despite the way the advice was given, Carlos had to admit it did serve to give him the motivation to dial Cecil’s number at the radio station.

Well, granted, it wasn’t for the reasons he actually wanted.  A new field mission had come into his laptop with the details to go and scout out the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, where talk of revolt from a nation of miniscule people was afoot. His mission was to go and scout out the army to see what it was they wanted and, if possible, score an alliance with the people.

But first, he had to get in with the owner of the Bowling Alley. And it was going to be a difficult one. Teddy Williams was known to be a bit ornery with the people he let in at the Bowling Alley and it would be hard to get a good excuse to why he wanted access inside the alley.

He had a plan though. It wasn’t going to be a fairly good plan, and chances were he was going to crash and burn, but he would try for the mission.

And for his own well-being, but not the point.

The phone was dialed, and Carlos awaited with bated breath before a small click as heard and the deep voice that haunted his dreams went, “ Hello?” The tone was in a curious, slightly suspicious tone, the tone that people had when they saw strange numbers pop up on their phone and were worried that the caller was going to be a telemarketer pushing forth fruit and vegetables.

Carlos steeled his nerves and said, “H-hello, Cecil?”

There was a short pause before Cecil replied, “Sorry, you do sound familiar, but who is this?”

Dismayed, Carlos tried his best not to panic before he went, “It’s, erm, Carlos. The scientist.”

He could hear the sound of scrambling and a yowl from something deep and guttural but before Carlos could reply, Cecil had quickly yelled, “ Oh hi, hi. Hello!” into the phone. Loud and shocked and happy at the same time.

Carlos tried again, “Hey, erm. I have to talk to you about something important.”

A short pause again...” Uhhuh?”

Carlos took a deep breath. Well, here went nothing. “Are you free Tuesday afternoon?”

A small thunk was heard and a screechy roar in response before the sound of clattering filled the receiver. Carlos near panicked but before he could do anything else, Cecil’s voice came back onto the receiver.

“Sorry, sorry! I dropped my phone in the food bowl and Khoshekh got mad.” Came the breathless reply.  Though curious about what exactly a Khoshekh was, Carlos was relieved and went on with what he had practiced a few minutes ago in the mirror.

“I was wondering if you would like to go to the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex on Tuesday afternoon. I’ve been p-picking up some unusual activity over at the arcade and it’s –“

“Yes! “ The loud yell made Carlos wince and pull his ear away from his receiver because of the shrillness of the scream. He shook his head to get rid of the ringing in his ears and when he placed his ear pack on his phone, Cecil was still talking.


“-yes, I mean, yes, of course yes –“

Carlos tried again, “It’s just that I was walking by yesterday with my Danger Meter and I saw that the Danger Meter was off the charts and-“

“Wow, a Danger Meter,  that sounds really neat!” Cecil said.

Carlos grinned despite himself. The people in the upper ranks had been rather hesitant when he had come up with the plans for the Danger Meter and were even more apprehensive when he had brought it to the PHD practical project thesis and the machine went crazy by registering 19 units of Danger off the normal range. But then that lion that escaped from the zoo had been nearby the lecture hall where he was presenting and if it were not for him, the University would have already built a statue of the lives lost due to Lionsgate. “ Well, yeah, it’s just a prototype-“

“ But an amazing one!”

“Well, I guess, but then again, it needs work, sometimes the pineapple taste turns into plain apple after a while, and you can’t tell the danger level at that point but-“

“You invented it?” If anyone could sound more impressed than Cecil at the moment, it would have probably been Cecil at another time when presented with something even more amazing. But that includes a theory on time and space and how time isn’t exactly seen as linear, so we would not going into that. Yet.

“Y-yes?” Carlos sounded out, hesitant.

There was a sound of a long indrawn breath. And a huge, “WOW.”

“It’s nothing, really, it was my PHD project , and I developed it from some other prototypes I worked on in college-“

“ You’ve been inventing since college?” the sound of Cecil would be easily visualized with a lot of shiny stars in his eyes and a look of wonderment if he was in front of Carlos instead of being miles away on the phone.

“ Yeah, it’s nothing really, I mean it’s just ...” Carlos tried to find a way to explain just how much fascination he had with danger, the way he figured that danger itself was always uncountable and always so figurative and subjective and wouldn’t’t it be fantastic if he could make it easier to detect and calculative? Something to make it concrete and understandable? But how to put it in words easy for anyone to understand? He tried out a few words fleetingly and in the end, he hit upon the only word that helped make the inconcrete concrete and more tangible.” It’s nothing. It’s science.”

“Wow, nobody told me science was even more cooler than what they taught in schools.” Mused Cecil, his voice turning coy. “You must be some sort of a genius.”

Carlos turned red and tried to flap a hand in dismissal, then remembering that phones responded far better to audio reactions, rather than visual or motion, so he quickly murmured a negative to that claim.

“ But why do you want me to go with you?” was the next question Cecil asked and Carlos tensed. This was going to be hard even without the true story, and Carlos had been trying his best to come up with a plausible reason to explain. In the end , he settled for the simplest answer, which in any case, was also quite true.

“ Because you told me to call you when I wasn’t sure of what was going on. And you seem to like bowling, so you’ve been there a lot-“

“Wait.” Confusion this time from Cecil’s voice. “ How did you know I liked bowling?”

A little part of Carlos had recognized the danger that he was about to talk himself into, but the rest of him that controlled his brain and mouth replied,” You mentioned it on a show once, I think you had a bowling team with John Peters...you know, that farmer-“

“You....you listen to my shows?” This question was laced with uncertainty and wonder.

Carlos fully recognized the stalkery feel of his next sentence, but went on anyway. “ Every time you’re on. I downloaded them and listen to them on my computer and iPod.”

A longer pause this time. This pause was awkward and full of tension so thick that a mammoth would have to exist in order to break the ice.

And then a sudden yowl broke the tension, full of menace and anger.

“Listen, I would love to go on that date with you on Tuesday, and I love to go and explore the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex with you, and....Khoshekh, baby boy, I’m sorry, I’ll pet you now okay- I’ll text you the meeting details and things over the phone, I have to go, my cat is angry I’m not paying attention to him-Khoshekh, no, that’s a –I gotta go!”

Carlos heard the hurried strains of Cecil singing, “Smelly Cat, smelly cat, what are we feeding-“before the click of the phone, but he only listened to the heavy beating of his heart pumping in his ears.

D turned around to see a red-faced Carlos walking back into the room.

“Well, did you..?” she asked.

Judging by the way the dark-skinned man flushed even further, he did, answering her incomplete question.

D grinned.


 

 

Carlos had agonized before the whole missions slash date, panicking a little at his labs. He had quickly managed to annoy every single child and teenager in the headquarters, and somehow even the scientists who sighed over him had to avoid him in order to retain part of their sanity. The only people who were able to stand being in range of a panicky scientist was D and Tamika Flynn. Josie herself had tried to calm him down but then one of the angels complained that Carlos in panic was even more beautiful than before and was thus ruining their concentration watching and understanding an episode of LOST, so Josie had left the man to the two females who handled him on a regular basis.

Tamika had suggested hitting him on the head a few more times, just for fun. D had protested on the harsh treatment and had settled Carlos down with a cup of sweet, milky tea, as well as a couple of blankets and a hardback copy of,” Science for you and me!” This seemed to calm the man down.

“Now,” began D as she sat down in front of the man, who was now bundled up in blankets, his glasses fogged up from the steam in the tea. “You know what you have to do during the date, right?”

“Firstly, it’s not a date, it’s merely recon.” Corrected Carlos, but only after a heavy sip of his tea calming him down. “ I’m only going there to get as much information from Teddy Williams on the situation of the small nation miles underneath the bowling alley, and scout out as much info as possible-“

“ No, no , no!” D said, head falling straight into her cupped palm. “I mean, you know what to do on a date, don’t you?”

There was silence from the man, and a small voice saying, “I haven’t...actually...”

D looked at him in shock. “You haven’t been on a date before? Carlos, you’re near 30 years old... how exactly have you not been on a date?”

“It’s because he’s a total science doofus and has been stuck in the lab since forever.” Said Tamika lazily, as she sat against the blankets Carlos was wrapped in, reading a rather thick copy of A Clash of Kings. “ It explains so much, like his inability to recognize a tree when he sees one, or when he had to observe oranges and didn’t realise that he picked the unripe ones. Or the time-“

“ Wait- of course I have been on a date!” blurted Carlos. “ You didn’t actually let me finish! I haven’t dated since my...”

He fell silent. In fact, the last time he saw his ex was three years ago, when he and his boyfriend had broken up due to a difference on how they saw his job. Carlos saw his job as a calling and something which was inevitable, as he was a problem solver, and science was always so often full of problems that it meant that he was often in his element, spending hours in the lab just trying to get to the root of the matter and figuring it out.

He never got to the root of the problem with his relationship though, and the ex basically rolled his eyes and told him to get his priorities right while packing his bag and walking out of their condominium. Since then, being alone in that condo was too much, too empty, there was just too much air surrounding the empty space that used to be known as Carlos’ boyfriend-

What WAS the name of the guy anyway?

Ah, great, he was going into an internal monologue again.

He did not know that Tamika had echoed the exact same words to D, who frowned at the girl slightly.

“Calm yourself, Bill Nye the Knock-Off Science Guy.” Said Tamika , who had registered the frown. “ It’s gonna be fine. Now give me back that book. I need it to read to the other books.”

Carlos gave the book back to Tamika, who proceeded to give the book a small hug. The book subtly arched a little into Tamika’s touch.

“Now, just go through the plans with us again.” D said.

Carlos settled back into the blankets and clutched his mug tighter to his chest. The rising steam from the mug gave him hope and strength to talk through the plans.

Well, for the next few minutes at the very least.


“ I will go meet Teddy Williams-“

“DATE!”

“ Right, sorry.” Carlos clutched his mug. “ I will meet Cecil at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley-“

“ Good, good, keeping it casual, no actual obligation nor nervousness in any way there.” D encouraged, a little excited now.

Carlos continued.” I will let Cecil take me to the shoe counter so that we can get my shoes.  I will insist on us going Dutch, and he and I will go bowl…”

“Do you even know how to bowl?” interrupted Tamika.

“I…” now that he thought about it, did he know how to bowl?

D clapped her hands in excitement. “YAS . I couldn’t have made it better myself-“

“What, you were gonna slap Science Guy out of remembering how to bowl?”

“Hush,Tammy.  No, I think it’s good!” she said. “This way, you can get him to teach you! And then he can grab your hands to teach you how to grip the ball, and you look back at him and you both realise how close you guys are, and then your lips will quiver, and his will too, and then both of you will go closer and closer-“

“Am I the only one that imagined the whole shoujo manga-ness of  the entire situation?”

D squealed . “OMG JUST LIKE OURAN! THIS WILL BE SO ADORBS! I SHIP THIS ENTIRE THING SO HARD.”
But Carlos didn’t hear her. He didn’t see the fond eyeroll given by Tamika, nor did he hear D squeal about how she was gonna write fanfiction about this.

He was in a world of his own, just imagining the entire scene and again .

Hey, he read a few shoujo manga before, he knew how the thing went.


 

This was not anything that had ever happened in shoujo manga, thought Carlos glumly as he trudged a little ahead of the group he was now leading in the underground tunnels going towards the “legendary miniature city”. This was not how he had imagined the whole situation to go.

It had all gone so well though! He and Cecil had met in the inside of the bowling alley, where Cecil was already waiting for him,  looking as adorable and effervescent as the last time he had seen him. Sure he was wearing a pair of orange kitty ears and a casual kaftan , but it went very well with the purple eyes, which were as violet as ever. Carlos had already been bowled over and he hadn’t even put on his shoes yet.

And it didn’teven stop when they went to put on shoes! Cecil had been nice; taking the opportunity to introduce him to the people they kept bumping into. He had been introduced to the shoe guy, who also happened to be the guy who ran and owned the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, Teddy Williams. From the way the man looked at Carlos up and down before he gruffly said hello to Cecil and let him know that League Nights wanted him back. He then gave Carlos a pair of bowling shoes, and told him to have a good day.

Cecil went a little giddy at that and said that Teddy had never been this welcoming of anyone to the bowling alley before. Carlos had no idea what he went meant, but he decided that it was going to be cool, so yeah, he now apparently had an in to the bowling alley.

 So that was his in anyway.

The Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex turned out to be a rather surprisingly bustling bowling alley, with people ranging from awkward young teenagers fumbling for the bowl with their unusually largeish hands, to residents from the Desert Flower Old Folks Home hooting and cheering from every strike thrown by another. Granted it was a little awkward when they tried to bump chests but it seemed like a very lively place. Cecil then started to ask him about his Danger Meter and they shared a good thirty minutes just conversing about Carlos’ work in science. Carlos took an older prototype of the Danger Meter he had made before his current model ( he wasn’t forgetting his cover story, of course, but there was no way he was going to take the current Danger Meter he had made. It looked too high-tech for the residents of Night Vale to be able to take calmly without any comment and he was trying to fit in and not turn any heads) and showed the settings and modes to an enraptured Cecil, who was eager to test out the device right there on the bowling alley, with Carlos throwing the ball down the alley and Cecil examining the results on the meter.

Carlos, who had finally remembered that no, he had not learnt how to bowl before, was quietly puzzling over the different types of balls and alleys when Cecil noticed his hesitance.

“ What’s wrong?” asks Cecil. ‘Is the meter going crazy? Is there anything going on? “ And then a look of horror.  “Oh no, I bored you didn’t i? Oh god, I am so sorry, please don’t report me to the City Council Department of Entertaining,  the last time I went on and on about Khoshekh, I had to go in for re-education and the marks never left my back for months and-“

“ Oh, no, that’s not it!” Carlos reassured him. ‘ It has nothing to do with your Khoshekh, but it’s just, well, I have done lots of science and sports but this is kinda new, I haven’t really been to a bowling place before-“

“You haven't bowled before?" Cecil asked, with a confused look on his face.

Carlos shook his head no.

And Cecil took it very nicely, with what seemed to be something akin to relief, it seemed. He explained to Carlos the absolute basics of bowling and showed him how to place his fingers in the holes of the ball. He seemed to be blushing really badly though, under the crappy fluorescent lights. Carlos was wondering exactly what seemed to be ailing the man currently helping him with his fingering on a blue ball, when suddenly he turned and Carlos realized that they had both gotten so close during the lesson that their faces had gotten really close to each other. If one of them had chosen to close up the small inch between their faces, they could be kissing.

Those were really purple eyes, Carlos had marveled. So beautifully rich and purple-

Then bloody Felton Dean had ran past their way, screaming about how one of the alleys had opened after an old fellow had bowled ten strikes and a secret tunnel had formed and there was panic everywhere about how it was the apocalypse until Teddy Williams himself had to silence the menacing crowd who had their travel-kit fire torch at the ready and were clamoring for a mob. Cecil didn’t seem to find this troubling, as he had whispered to Carlos that it had been two days since the last scheduled mob, so they were due for a spontaneous one.

Then as they had all quietened down , they started hearing the chanting and the sound of war drums, while the tv screens that held the scores of the bowlers had changed to, “ THEY ARE HERE.”

And so they were now here, walking in the underground tunnels under the bowling alley.

How did Carlos get to be the leader of the growing mob? Well, Teddy Williams had been all yelling at the mob to calm themselves while he got his militia ready, when suddenly Carlos saw this opportunity as the best way to get all the information he needed for the mission. He stood up, rabbled something while Cecil had tried his best to get him to sit down, and one thing led to another, and so that was how Carlos became the leader of the search mob party militia.

One that included an ornery Bowling Alley owner who was resentful about not being the leader of the mob, a bunch of old men from the residents home, and a rather grumpy Jeremy Gottfried, who was grumbling about how this thing was already ruining his party, and that his father would hear about this.

Of course, that was when someone in his party told him to,” Stuff it, Jeremy, if we had gone to Rico’s Pizza like he had suggested, they wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Cecil was not in the mob party. When the alley way opened and Jeremy Gottfried had started being all mopey about how , “ This was his moment!” and that just his luck an apocalyptic event had to happen, of all days, on his birthday, Cecil’s eyes had lit up and told Carlos to stay in the alley so that he could go get his radio equipment to broadcast it to the people in the radio and in the podcasts and everywhere in town really, he just needed his equipment to attach to his phone.

Carlos did not stay of course. Carlos went down without waiting for Cecil.

He knew Cecil would be possibly upset about him disappearing like that but he had to do this.

The fact of the matters was, this was more than he could have hoped for. The original mission brief had merely listed for him to scout information and get an in somehow to go and talk to the nation down below. The mission was supposed to take months to accomplish, weeks to even get in with the owner and get info on the underground city, but here, as a rabble-rouser scientist who liked to get at the bottom of things, this was perfectly understandable. Scientists liked to find out about things. That’s what scientists do.

And he REALLY wanted to get to the bottom of this problem and this tunnel.

“It’s the Angels.” He could hear a murmur behind him, a tall lanky man with flip-flopping hair and a tweed suit, a strange sight even if you discounted the fact that they were in a desert and the heat was stifling. “They do all this so that they can travel us through time, you know. I once had an affair with an angel, she was a speedster, liked to take me through all of time and space all at the same time, hell on the heels after a bit-“

“Look! You guys!” Carlos yelled back to the crowd. He had caught sight of what he knew they were looking for, which was at the end of road, off the cliff and showing the caverns below. The crowd ran towards his voice, with the first guy stopping to a very exact halt right next to Carlos. This however led to a rather comical scene where the rest of the people all crashed into each other due to the exact halt and with so many of them bumping into each other, one of them lost his balance and fell off the side of the cliff.

The crowd stopped and turned towards the sound of the falling man as he screamed while falling towards the earth. He still kept on screaming as the sound of his body landing on the ground could be heard.

The crowd had gone silent as they regarded the still screaming man, who was screaming his fear of his sudden descent face down on the ground.

“Erm, Stanley? “ the floppy haired man who had an affair with the angel said. “You still alive?“

The screaming had trailed off rather awkwardly when the question was asked.  “Yes.”

“Any broken bones?”

The pause that came after that question was even more awkward than the previous trail off. “No.”

“Can you get up?”

A small shuffling sound could be heard, the scrabbling sounds of a man trying to get his bearings right. Then: “Yeah, I’m okay…Huh, doesn’t seem that far now.”

Teddy Williams took his torch and shone it down the cavern where Stanley had fallen off. “ Yeap, he looks okay.”

“ Wait a minute .”  Carlos said slowly, untangling everything he had learnt from the rather inane conversation.  He passed his torch to a nearby member of the mob, and took a running leap off the cliff.

There were a few screams and yells at his descent, some bursting into tears that the beautiful scientist had chosen to end his life in such a dashing manner, while others grumbled and moaned about how it was obvious the scientist was doing this just to specifically ruin his birthday, why was he ever born, he hated being 50. (That was just Jeremy Gottfried though.)

But Carlos had a theory, and as all good scientists, his theory could only be proven right if he had conducted an experiment.

And as he hit the floor, his body immediately doing the whole tumble and roll he had learnt back in 8th grade gymnastics, he knew that his theory was right, and the gasp from a man who had to be Stanley confirmed it.

He brushed his casual lab coat off and helped himself up.

“Guys, it’s okay. “ he said, raising his voice a little so that his mob allies could hear him. Note that he was merely raising his voice instead of yelling right up to them. “It’s actually about…I’ll say, 10 feet from the cliff. You can just jump off, it should be fine…”

And , as the group slowly took their time to jump off the cliff and land rather safely on the floor, they all agreed, rather grudgingly, that the ground was indeed a mere ten feet off the cliff.  

“So why were there rumours about the city being hundreds of feet below the surface of the bowling alley?” asked Stephanie Ho,  bowling alley employee.

Carlos opened his mouth to give a (fake) suggestion when suddenly there wasn’t any need. Maureen Yip had already nudged Stephanie in the arm and they both started gesturing wildly. They all turned to look at the direction they were pointing at…

…To reveal what seemed to be the smallest city Carlos had ever seen.

It wasn’t as though ,” smallest city” meant a rather sad looking lone skyscraper and two or three smaller buildings that served as housing buildings as well as a small but long bridge that often had a irascible kraken attacking and destroying the bridge.

When he said, “smallest city”, he literally did mean smallest city.

“What the hell?” said Jeremy Gottfried , as he picked up a small house that fit very neatly into the palm of his hand. “This is supposed to be a city , right? Where are all the people and why did they leave all these little toy houses around?”

“They’re not toys, people!” said Floppy Hair Angel Affair guy excitedly, waving his long limbs around. “ I knew it, Lilliputians! I’ve heard stories of these! They’re these aliens that come in through a rift through time underground and are secretly taking over the world underground, using the ants and termites to do their bidding-“

“They’re not Liliputians” said Carlos absently, observing the intricate designs of the buildings, noting the tiny engraved designs on the stone houses, standing out in stark relief of the pillars and roofs. Realising his mistake, he quickly covered it up with, “Whoever they are, they have been here for ages”.  He gestured towards the houses that ranged from ancient to rather tall skyscrapers and buildings styled in a more contemporary way.  

“ Cool, so what do you think they’re doing with these handkerchiefs anyway? “ said Maureen, pointing to what was indeed a large handkerchief serving as a banner  to the miniscule building that had to be the city’s City Hall building, on account of the fact that it was city-hall shaped and looked like any other city-hall  in the world and the fact that it had the words, “ City Hall” carved in relief near the arch.

The handkerchief itself was a sight to look at.

“ ‘War is declared against the Huge Ones, stay underground’, ” Murmured Stephanie, who had knelt down to look at the words stitched on the handkerchief. “ What does that even mean? That is really good stitching though, how do they get it to be so neat?”

But Carlos , who had turned those words over his head as he scanned the area, realized what it meant. He took in the signs, the empty city, the war banners, the fact that the bowling alley had opened mysteriously and spontaneously.

“ It’s a trap.” He murmured.  He raised his voice again, “ Guys, it’s a trap! We need to get away from this area, they lured us in here! Get going-“

But he yelled no more as explosions deafened him, and he felt multiple stabbing pains on his back and his ankle, and amidst the screams and yells of his mob group, he saw the people he was tasked to talk to, the ones who had so eagerly attacked him. His group was yelling, screaming at him to get away…

But Carlos couldn’t. He saw the stark whiteness of him labcoat now covered in blood, oh, that was a lot of blood, how did that happen? He collapsed, his eyes now fixated on the dark red of the blood. In some areas the blood was so dark it resembled purple…or was that an enclosing darkness mixing with the red?

He wondered if he had failed in his mission.

He could see D and Tamika in his head, they were the ones he spent the most time with…would they come and get him?

He wondered if Cecil would know what had happened to him deep below.

He hoped Cecil was okay.


 

 

Above ground, Cecil’s eyes startled open in pain and shock and a stabbing pain started pounding in his head.