It was generally a rare sight to see a cephalopod on smaller seacraft, due to their general intolerance to water. It was generally not seen as a viable casual activity for their kind.
But the speedboat bouncing over the waves as it headed out into the bay, carrying four of them, was not on some casual endeavour.
Lily sat at the front of the speedboat's cabin, protected behind the extended glass windshield that protected its passengers from water spray, as she played back the same segment of recording on her phone.
"Take that iPhone of yours to the NILS Statue, out in the bay. The structure may be damaged beyond repair, but from my last diagnostics before I was torn from that structure, the temporal network is still online."
"Why do I still not remember this meeting...?" she asked herself in frustration.
Marina, behind her, rested a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Lily. Don't fret. At least you have Pearl's recording."
Marie, captaining the craft to her right, chimed in. "Not long to wait now to find out of he was being truthful."
Lorne, sitting behind Marie, sighed. "I think we had this discussion earlier. It sounded like he offered this information to get her on his side to get Eight. Knowing that he had no power beyond the clearing, I think he was actually genuine."
The boat started to slow. Lily looked up from her phone.
There it was, just a few hundred meters away.
The NILS Statue.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ...” Lily mouthed. She stood up to get a better look. Marie slowed the boat to a halt so that she and the others could observe it.
The NILS Statue reminded Lily of the head of the Statue of David, from what she could see from the surface of the water. It was tilted wildly off to one side, like its base had been collapsed, and above its face was a platform, scaffolding and antennae, still blinding. One of the eyes seemed to be missing, or rather, there was an eye socket in its place.
“Look familiar?” Marina prompted.
“Yes... but not in the way you’re looking for,” Lily nodded. “The Statue of David. It’s a historical art piece in my time. Historical even for humans. Someone took heavy inspiration from it when building this... thing, clearly.”
"Hey, what's that in its mouth...?" Lorne asked, squinting, stepping forward.
Lily glanced down toward the water's surface.
David had been weaponised.
The mouth housed some sort of massive cannon of some kind. It was hard to tell, as it was busted beyond repair. Parts of it hung limply from the mouth, or floated in the water, splintering apart in several places.
Marina shuddered behind them.
"You 'right?" Lily asked, turning to her.
"Yeah, just... this is the second time I've returned here and I still don't like it..."
Marie started to accelerate the boat again, bringing them in up close. "Alright Lily, time to put Tartar's money where his mouth is."
"Huh? Oh, right." Lily reached for her backpack, pulling out both her iPhone and her laptop. She sat the laptop on the dashboard of the speedboat, powering it on, and unlocked her phone, watching it carefully for any changes.
"So you're gonna check both?" Marina asked with a raised eyebrow. "Isn't that a little redundant?"
"Well... if it works and there is a mobile signal I can use here, I can use my phone to connect the laptop to it..."
Marie maneuvered the boat towards the left side of the head. where the 'roof' and antenna was closest, and again halted the boat beside it.
This was as close as they could get.
The sun shone brightly upon them as they waited for something.
It didn't take long to find out.
"Oh my god," Lily said quietly.
A single antenna bar has appeared on the iPhone.
As she watched it, one bar became two, two became three. A minute later she was amazed to see a full signal.
"It's... theoretically it's working," she said, astounded. She unlocked it quickly and browsed through her home screen to find an app to test with. It ended up being Twitter.
She waited anxiously, incredibly aware of Marina, Lorne and Marie watching over her shoulder, waiting for a sign that she wasn't being duped.
A gentle blue toast notification appeared briefly at the top of her screen.
"↑ New tweets."
Lily had to stop herself from screaming in joy as she scrolled upwards through the feed.
It was true.
She held in her hands a portal to her past.
Excitedly, amongst the cheering from her friends, Lily started the phone's hotspot, getting the laptop connected. "God, what first...?"
"Can we see what your internet looked like?" Marie suggested.
"What was that social network you were on just before?" Marina wondered. "That looked familiar..."
"Hey, what's that red notification?" Lorne asked her, pointing at an icon on the laptop's taskbar.
Specifically, the Discord app icon.
It was lit up.
Had someone noticed her...?
She clicked onto it.
Most of the notifications came from community servers, @everyone mentions or similar.
But at the top, there was one icon which put an even greater smile on Lily's face.
A private message from a girl she knew with a deer icon.
A soft two-tone jingle played, and Lily let out a squee of delight.
Jadoe, her furry friend, had noticed her.
Lily excitedly clicked on the icon and read.
Jadoe: 👀 Jadoe: You live!
As she read, another message appeared: 'Are you okay? I haven't seen you in months'.
"Are you guys able to read this?" She asked the others, not looking away from the screen as she typed up her reply. 'You have no idea how emotional it makes me to be able to see you all again'.
"Kinda..." Marie said slowly. "I mean, we're still learning that human script, but I mean I can understand some of the words."
"Hmm... I wanna do something about that..." Lily thought for a moment, then typed something else into the chat, reading it out for her friends. 'I want to call you just to hear your voice again, but just... be aware that things have... changed for me.'
Jadoe: How so? Neu: Just... You'll see when I call Neu: It's not bad, just, different
"You're going to call them?" Lorne asked. "Are you sure?"
"I mean... I trust them," Lily said, smiling. "They're cool. And I'd like you girls to introduce yourselves too."
Marina let out a small gasp. "Are you sure? We're not gonna cause some weird... time thing, right?"
"Considering the shenanigans Tartar got up to, I think we'll be fine whatever you decide..."
Marina nodded and thought.
"Well, I'm gonna do it. Hang tight." Lily took a deep breath, and hit the call icon.
The ring rang out over the laptop speakers.
"...Hello?" Came a voice from the laptop.
Lily was silent for a moment. Then, in English, she said, "It's... It's me, Jade."
"Well clearly it's you," responded the voice. "What's been happening? Did you do voice therapy? It's sounding a lot higher than I remember."
"God, I wish. That would imply something close to normal happened to me..." Lily sighed. "I'll... explain in a bit. I'm sorry I've been out of touch, had no internet the past... god how long has it been?"
"Our last chat was like... late June? So about two months."
"Huh, it's been about two months here too..."
"What? That's... not how time works."
"I'm... aware." Lily took a deep breath. "Jade... something happened to me back in late June, that... I don't think was ever meant to happen. That's not even going to sound possible or real. I trust you Jade, but I need you to promise me that you won't tell anyone outside of our community. Like, this is huge."
Jade paused briefly, but her response was confident. "I promise, dear. Deer. This doesn't leave our group. I trust you."
"Thank you, hun." Lily took a deep breath.
And once she started to go over the mental timeline of what had happened in her life since she had been hurled into Inkopolis, she couldn't stop talking.
And, amazingly, despite Jade's initial skepticism over the details ("we're twelve thousand years apart? How on earth?"), the more Lily spoke, the more she seemed to believe her.
And then eventually the other girls got in on the action too, Marina, Marie and Lorne meeting a new human for the first time, and the five of them talked excitedly, reminiscing over old events or talking about cultural differences, or just laughing at each other's puns or jokes.
For a few hours, the former site of a genocidal AI was host to a historic moment, filled with cheerful discussion and laughter.
It was a good day to be alive.