From the moment Theo stopped using actual speech on the bus, Noel had been worried. Everything had started out fine. Their agreement to talk like normal human beings while physically together still stood, and they were conversing about how mysterious it was that Dieter and Doug had been absent.
“And now, Lillian too,” Noel said. She faced Theo. “Say, haven’t you heard anything from them? Status reports, thought feeds, anything?”
He grimaced. “No.”
He said it again, this time in her mind. No.
“Theo, did you forget that we promised to talk normally when-”
Stop. Something’s happening to Carrie. I’ll relay it to you, just don’t interrupt.
Okay? Noel thought, more than a little confused.
She closed her eyes and a scene played out in her mind.
It was Carrie’s viewpoint. She was hanging out in Mrs. Johns’s room, just as she did every afternoon now. Some chairs were already stacked atop their desks, while Carrie did the rest of them.
“Um, Mrs. Johns?” the girl started, leaning over a lab bench covered in mostly-dead plants, “I know this sounds strange, but the people you told me were cold are starting to be absent. I’m sorta worried.”
“Hm? What was that again?”
“Mrs. Johns! My friends, the ones you said were cold, they’re starting to disappear! You can track the cold spot, right? Tell me where they are!”
A shriek wafted in from the hallway before a tall man with a white beard dragged in Yvette. “Hello, Mrs. Johns,” he said calmly, “I’ve brought in a little eavesdropper.”
“Oh, that thing? I still don’t understand why you hired her in the first place.”
By this point, Carrie was frozen in place, too scared to even move.
“Resourcefulness. I hadn’t thought earlier to factor her ability to befriend others. I thought I dismissed you, Yvette.”
The girl kicked wildly. “No. No you hadn’t. Why are you man-handling me for trying to help? And why are we involving earth-people?”
The bearded man, Mr. Wills, Noel remembered, shifted Yvette in his grip, putting his hands around her neck. His face was eerily happy. “You silly thing. The earth-people involved themselves. And besides, I demoted you. Based on your position, demotion and dismissal are quite the same.”
“You could have told me that, Sir.” Yvette’s face was red, and slowly edging on purple.
“Dang it, Mr. Wills!” Mrs. Johns interrupted, “Did you have to bring her in? I’d been hoping to catch this one quietly in case the host has fused far enough with the device!”
“Given that no one has come running to save the ones we already caught, I doubt he or she has.”
Yvette’s face was almost entirely violet, but she was still squirming. Mr. Wills turned his gaze towards Carrie, a scary grin on his face. “If you want to see your friend live, I suggest you hand yourself over, Miss Carrie Thornquist.”
Yvette pried Mr. Will’s hands from her neck and gasped for air. “Don’t do it, Carrie! We’re extraterrestrials, you hear? You shouldn’t want to help me! Think how I’ve deceived you! If you help these two, either Noel or Theo will die!”
Carrie’s vision whipped back and forth between Mrs. Johns and Yvette.
“Don’t listen, Carrie,” Mrs. Johns cooed, “Yvette’s only trying to destroy your planet.”
“No! If the device has fused with a person, then the planet’s not in any danger, but the host is! Don’t listen to them!”
Carrie was stammering, and she was anxious with the pressure being forced on her. Every feeling Carrie had was surging through Noel, forcing her to stop forming theories. What to do? What to do?
Carrie's voice silenced the room. “I’ll go with you,” she said, looking down at the tiled floor.
Yvette cried out, begging her to reconsider.
Too late. Mr. Wills knocked Carrie to the ground, and the vision faded in Noel’s mind. Theo’s voice echoed in.
What do we do now? Carrie reads as unconscious, just like everyone else did before they disappeared. We have to stop this before I lose her too.
For the first time, Noel came up with nothing.