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Begin Again (Part 1 - Fish Out Of Water)

Chapter Text

Marie sighed as her new agent zoomed off to the second area in Octo Canyon, leaving her alone on the Tentakeel Hideout once again.

She seems very capable, her thoughts told her, and she agreed. Possibly even better than Agent 3, but that wasn’t his fault - with Sheldon to help us out now with his weapons, and his Enhancifier, we’re simply starting out on a better foot than Agent 3 had with the Captain.

Well, now that Agent 4 was safely on her way, she decided that she should make her way to her recon station, somewhere beneath the floating island. The platform had been there when she first went into hiding - once she had found the secret path that hid its existence, she found it was a safe area to set up her radio gear and ‘spy’ for her Agents.

But as Marie squidded her way through the ink trails left by Agent 4, something splashed deep into an ink splotch on her right. Oh kelp, she thought as she leapt out of the ink in Inkling form, brandishing her custom Splat Brella at the ink patch.

The unidentified object had sent ink flying everywhere. After the ink settled the looked over, and saw something sinking into the ink.

Then she saw the hand.

It was draped over the edge of the puddle, the rest of… whatever it was submerged in the ink. But it was definitely not an Inkling’s hand.

Fearing enemy conflict, she slowly stepped through the ink and brought herself before the odd appendage, training the end of her Brella at it.

It didn’t move.

She noticed that it was slowly slipping back into the ink. It felt as if the poor creature was… knocked out? Drowning? Marie frowned. How could that be possible? She put the Brella down briefly, grabbed the strange hand, and pulled. Oof, whatever it was, it was heavy. It was definitely not an Octoling either, having now examined it closely - this was larger. This was some other strange, perhaps close relative to either species.

She struggled, but slowly, she pulled the creature from the ink. Once it had been freed, she rolled the thing onto its back and examined it.

It was definitely not any kind of squid… and yet, it shared some similarities. It had hands and feet, just like Inklings; clothes, just like Inklings… but what was this stuff that sprouted from its body? It covered his legs and his arms, and parts of his face . Marie thought it looked pretty ugly. It was a lot thicker and darker on the top of the creature’s head, where her own species would have its tentacles.

She looked up again, scanning the skyline, trying to judge the angle at which this thing had jumped from. But from what she could tell, there was no nearby landmass from which this thing could have launched from. What a strange thing this is… I guess if it can’t survive in the ink, I should get it somewhere out of the way before something happens to it.

And so she began the slow task of carrying, or rather, dragging the alien creature over to her hut.


 

Marie looked at the strange creature on her bed. She’d removed its stained clothes and put them aside for now. The creature was definitely male, she could see that much… ink had stained his skin and the hairs on his body in various places. It also seemed that he was definitely unconscious, as he had not stirred the entire time.

Marie’s abode was small - most of the room was taken up by her bed, on the opposite corner of the doorway. There was a small dresser next to the bed, containing her changes of clothes. T he remaining corner was taken up by a mostly decorational shelving, upon which sat a portable TV. It was switched on for now - she figured if something had happened related to this thing, they’d get a message out pretty quickly. So far though, there was no special report yet. Marie checked a clock hanging on the wall. Quarter-past. Hmm.

The squid’s gaze laid upon Agent 3’s book of Sea Scrolls, next to the TV. She picked up the book and leafed through the pages, an… odd thought forming in her head. She’d asked Agent 3 for the scrolls after the return of the Great Zapfish to the old Inkopolis Square, as the material inside shed light on the history of her people and of her country. But the sight of the book had brought the memory of one of those pages to the front of her mind…

It wasn’t long before she found it - the page detailing the planet’s previous majority species.

Humans.

Just looking at the diagram on the page, she could see some strong similarities between the page and the person on her bed. No way, she thought. I thought they were totally extinct. But it seemed pretty clear to her that if this wasn’t a human, they were at least very closely related.

Well, I guess I’d better keep him here out of the way, where he can’t be found. Hopefully when he wakes up he can tell us how he got here… but I gotta get back to work.

Marie stepped out of the room, hung up a quick clothes line for the human’s clothes, and swam away to her recon station to assist Agent 4.

 


45 minutes later, right on cue, Marie’s radio sprung to life.

“It’s Off The Hook, LIVE from Inkopolis Square with breaking news!”

“Oh, you did not , Marina…”

“There are reports of small impacts across the city! Three have been confirmed so far, including one crashing through our very own window…”

“...Smashing.”

“Eyewitnesses say these came down from the sky, but it doesn’t appear to be space debris - at least because what we’ve recovered appears to be similar to Inkopolis’ own mobile phones! How weird is that?”

“Other impacts appear to have been made on rooftops with no access, so we don’t know what may be lying there, but we’ll update you on this story as it develops.”

“That’s right! And now here’s the current battle stages…”

Marie switched off the radio. A phone, huh? Probably belonging to this human. She gave it some more thought, but was interrupted by her walkie talkie.

“Marie? Marie! Are you alright? I haven’t heard from you for a while…”

Oops. Agent 4 had been trying to raise her for a while now, she guessed. She keyed the mic. “I’m here. After you get that Zapfish I’m going to need you to come back home, something potentially big just happened.” She consulted her map and her notes. “Ah! Yes. Now, those Octozeppelins can be quite tricky to get around…”

 


 

His head was swimming. So much was going on on him, so many pain points, that he wasn’t sure they weren’t overlapping. He remembered the falling - being swallowed by the earth, or something - and then a flash of bright light, and then he'd passed out.

Then he realised. I’m alive.

Somewhere amidst the darkness behind his eyes and the pain and the jumbled thoughts in his brain, he realised he could hear. Voices. Maybe. He couldn’t quite understand them. He waited for his thoughts to calm so he could focus a little more on understanding these voices. There were two of them, and they spoke… strangely. Like it was another language. But on top of that, it was as if they were trying to talk underwater or something. It was unintelligible to him. He wondered where it was coming from…

He opened his eyes, slowly.

There were two creatures, standing above him, vaguely human but not quite.

He was also apparently naked.

He closed his eyes again. Welp, he thought to himself . Wonderful. Let's try again tomorrow.

They must have noticed, because one of them spoke to him. It seemed like he was being asked a question. He opened his eyes again to look up at them. “I’m… sorry,” he spoke slowly, half in the way one speaks to someone who doesn’t understand his language, but half in the sense that he was simply still waking. “I cannot understand you.” He frowned.

Come to think of it, h apart from his fallow did he end up like this? In a bed, naked, with two ladies with weird head..things over him. He tried to think back to the previous night again, but couldn't remember much else.

The older, green-’haired’ woman spoke again. This time she seemed to point to a picture in a book she was holding. He reached for the book and looked more closely at it. The picture seemed to be of a stylistic human drawing. The next step up from stick figures. He wasn’t quite sure what they were implying, but he nodded anyway. “Yes… that looks like me,” he said in a deliberate manner.

The girls spoke excitedly amongst themselves.

*

“This is incredible! We could learn so much about life before us!” Agent 4 said, finding it hard to keep a grin off her face.

“Yes, but I still find it hard to believe that they still exist at all,” Marie replied while looking down at the human. It was unfortunate that they could not understand each other, but she was not giving up yet.

She turned to Agent 4. “I think Sheldon may be able to help us out with this, too, but we’ll see.” The Ammo Knights owner was pretty busy with weaponry and brand deals for said weapons, but she knew that Sheldon, the short crab fellow that ran the place, had a bit of tech in the back with his shooting range that might come in handy. “I wonder if he could whip up some sort of translator…”

Marie placed a hand on the Inkling’s shoulder. “We’ve got our own job to do right now. We’ll keep an eye on the human, but we really do need to make sure that we get the Great Zapfish and Callie back. So… try not to worry about him. From the looks of things he won’t be going anywhere for a while.”

The two stepped back outside. “Which means I’m going to have to find a place to sleep tonight. You don’t snore, do you?”

 


The next day was almost like any other.  Agent 4 penetrated deeper into Octoling territory, with Marie only a radio call away. Marie continued to provide tactical and emotional support from her station back home. Even the city, though buzzing with news of strange objects from the sky, was otherwise going through its regular routine.

Coming back in from Agent 4’s apartment, though, Marie noticed that the human’s clothes, hanging on the makeshift line, had mostly disintegrated where their ink had come in contact, to the point where they were mostly scraps. She found this odd, as from memory of their touch she figured that the clothes were made of a similar material to those made today.

Additionally, from reports on the field, it seemed that the Octoling squad that often attempted to take control of Inkopolis’s sanctioned Turf War arenas had not appeared at all since the day before. This made Marie nervous.  It might have been almost impossible to know just what they were up to, but between radio calls to Agent 4 she researched, and tried to work out what the enemy might do, the human far from her mind at that moment.

She only realised how much time had passed when Marie was buzzed awake at what must have been nearly midnight. “Yeah kid… I’m here,” she said through a yawn.

“I’ve found my way to what appears to be a safe area to sleep for tonight,” replied her agent through the radio. “Sounds like you beat me to it.”

“Yeah… sorry about that. Been trying to anticipate what is happening with the Octoling situation, musta dozed off.” Marie looked through her scribbled notes and tried to recall her thought process.

“Oh, don’t worry too much about them, I can take ‘em,” Agent 4 replied with what must have been a cocky grin.

“That’s just it though, I don’t know if they’re coming for you…” Marie paused upon a quick map she’d drawn of the area upon which her abode stood, which was circled. “Listen, before I turn in I’m gonna pull some strings and leave our human friend a weapon and some clothes just in case… I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Are you sure about giving them a weapon?”

“No,” Marie said quickly. She wasn’t lying - she hadn’t figured out yet whether the creature was even friendly - but if her troubles came to pass, they would need to defend themselves against a threat she didn’t want to see close to home anyhow. “We’ll splat them if we need to, and I really hope we don’t need to, but the way things are looking with our situation, I’d feel better giving them something in case of an attack on us .”

“Alright… be careful, ah, Agent.”

“You too, Agent 4. Goodnight.” Marie blinked her eyes back into focus. She really needed the sleep. Well, fifteen more minutes to fix him up wasn’t going to hurt...

She leapt upon the inkline that carried her from the secret recon station to the main platform of the Hideout, and from there swam through the ink trails over to the grate that would take her back to Inkopolis Square. She turned briefly, and her squid eyes scanned the hut and the sky above. It was night, but the moon was out and the stars seemed bright. On any other day she’d have thought this beautiful, but right now she was nervous. They couldn’t know about him… right?

She turned and slipped through the grate, and was gone.

She returned ten minutes later, jumping through the grate once again and landing back on her feet. She was carrying a biodegradable paper bag upon which the Square’s shopkeepers had helpfully placed some starter gear inside for cheap. Black shorts, light gray top, a headband, and a brand new basic Splattershot. She was proud of the bargaining done to get these things for cheap.

Sheldon had, of course, asked how her ‘guest’ was doing. His work on the translator had started okay , based on the small amount of language he’d gleaned from the phone the studio across the square had recovered, plus some recordings of the few times the human had actually spoken that Marie had gotten for him, but the translator was not ready for testing yet. She’d had to explain to him that she was busy guiding Agent 4, as he of course knew as he’d also been in communication with her, testing various products on the field. She promised that she’d let him know as soon as she returned to the tent, but that she hadn’t heard any noise from him, assuming he was in a deep rest, healing up.

Marie stopped before the door into her temporary home. What if he was awake in there, though? What kind of look would it give for her to come in with a weapon? What if he was gone? She calmed her mind quickly and reassured herself, that he would most likely still be asleep, and not hear her come in.

She turned the handle and stepped inside, and quickly realised there was another, altogether very strange possibility she had not accounted for.

Chapter Text

In the early hours of the morning, he awoke to the sound of an automated alarm.

“Warning. Unauthorized intrusion detected.” The alarm, coming through a tinny speaker somewhere to his left, then began making whooping noises, before repeating itself in its calm female voice.

He forced his eyes awake. It took him a few seconds to realise that he was in the strange room from before. He turned his head to the left, towards the source of the sound. It was a radio. It sat on the table next to the bed, next to which was a lamp, a neatly folded pile of clothing, and a water gun of some kind. It was a pile that seemed to be intended for him.

He reached out to take hold of the weapon, swinging himself to a sitting position on the bed, and as he did so realised that his arm was hairless, free of freckles. He frowned. In fact, it really didn’t look like his own arm at all. His gaze travelled up his arm and towards the shoulder, and it took for him to finally gaze down his body to realise this was NOT his body at all.

His mouth hung open. He stood quickly, ignoring the blare of the alarm for a moment as he searched frantically for a mirror. He found one in the dresser and stood before it. Thick, sky blue tentacles hung from his head, like long hair. A sort of black opera mask had grown in around his wider eyes. Hell, it was just plain to see that the body he had right now reminded him of one of the girls that had been in the room with him previously.

“Oh fuck me…” they said, in a voice that they didn’t recognise.

The radio siren suddenly stopped, which cut off their train of thought. Their head snapped to look at the radio, and they reached over to grab the weapon from the table.

They jumped when a less calm version of the alarm’s recorded voice came in over the radio. “Come in human. Come in, human.” It said loudly. “There are multiple enemies headed in your direction and nobody else is nearby to help you. I’m sorry about what’s happened to you, but...”

He… she… they… tuned out the voice as they examined the Splattershot Jr. It looked similar to an Uzi, but painted light gray, and orange in some parts, like it was some offbrand Nerf gun. The hastily-attached rounded container snapped onto the back of seemed to hold… some type of liquid inside, they couldn't tell what. Looking over it though, it seemed very similar to the water pistol comparison he had made just before.

“...may have to fight them. I’ll be there as soon as I can, but-”

A bang on the door caused them to fumble and nearly drop the Splattershot. They whipped around and focused on the door, weapon trained on it, trembling.

It was silent, for just a moment. And then the explosion of a Blaster burst the door wide open, and on the other side was a creature, similar to the two she had already seen, but less… friendly. It froze for just a moment, in some sort of surprise at the target’s form, but that was enough time for the newly-turned Inkling to jam her finger on the trigger.

She was surprised to feel the force of the Splattershot’s blast. But she was more surprised by the projectile itself. A shot of orange ink burst from the muzzle of the weapon, one after another, and pelted the other creature, quickly causing them to burst into orange ink, which covered her and most of the doorway.

She could barely register what had just happened, before a shot of reddish ink zipped through the doorway and splattered against the back wall of the room. I can’t stay here, she quickly realised. I’ll be a goner for sure. But I’ll have to get out there…with them.

She pressed herself against the wall next to the doorway, invisible to the attackers. Gun against her chest, she slowly attempted to lean out to see how many were out there.

She snapped her head back as more red ink loosed itself in her direction. She was pretty sure she saw three more of those… things. They seemed similar to her, and yet seemed more sinister to the creatures she’d already met. Domes like suction cups grew along their red tentacles, and they all had a distinct black outfit. She didn’t get a good look at their eyes, they seemed to have been covered in something black as well.

She also saw that there was some kind of rock formation, like an arch, to the right of the open doorway, and open sky. She figured if she could at least make her way in that direction she’d have a better chance of survival.

And so, without much of a plan, much of a hope, she leapt from the doorway, Splattershot blazing, landed on the cold concrete ground, and ran for it past the archway. Most of the ground was covered in orange and red ink, which she avoided, not knowing better - leaping between patches and lines and puddles, shooting aimlessly behind her. The octopus-human-looking creatures were just cresting the hill now and headed for her. She’d gained some distance, somehow.

She had a quick idea and, aiming carefully, placed a few shots of ink on the ground, so that the way to her was covered in ink. She was standing in the open, near some odd kettle concreted into the ground, but surely they couldn’t cross the ink?

The squad of three stopped before the ink. They looked at the veritable sea of ink that had been laid down over time, and then at the Inkling that was undeniably their target. The Octolings looked to each other, then nodded and aimed their weapons.

Their red ink splashed on top of the orange ink, as they made a red bridge towards her. The Inkling stepped back carefully from their shots, wondering what they were up to.

And then the leader of the three smirked at her, and leapt at the ink trail, transforming into some kind of squid before her very eyes, and disappearing into the ink, her two comrades following behind her.

Oh fuck, was the only thing that went through her mind as she turned and ran, trying to find a corner to get away from them, but as they snaked after her, gaining inch after inch on her, it seemed impossible. She turned and aimed as best she could at the leader. Half her shots missed, but even those landed in the ink trail, and seemed to slow the others. But she kept firing, and saw one more Octoling burst into orange ink, showering her friends and forcing them up out of the ink, struggling to get out of the orange ink.

Huh… she thought to herself, before they opened fire.

They were definitely better than her. Several shots pelted into her chest, causing her to scream out in pain. This body really didn’t like the red ink - it felt like poison was burrowing into her, and she staggered back and fell backwards onto the cold concrete floor, just inches from the edge of the platform.

One of the Octolings stepped out of the ink, and slowly stepped toward her, not stopping until it was standing right above her body, pinned by its legs on either side. Feeling like she only had one chance left, the Inkling girl snapped her weapon arm up so it was pointed right at the thing’s face, and held down the trigger.

Click.

The Octoling smirked. In a low, female voice, it said, “You’re coming with us now.”

And then she exploded into green ink.

The girl expected to feel more pain as it spilled down on her, but oddly she just felt soaked and shocked. She looked around to see what happened.

The green-tentacled girl had arrived. She was standing a few meters away, holding an umbrella out like a weapon. She ran over and reached a hand out to the confused Inkling. “Hi. Can you understand me?" The squid girl nodded dumbly, and she was helped up. "I’m Marie. Come on. The last one’s trying to get away.”

The squid girl climbed back on her feet, and sprinted in the direction Marie had pointed in, leaping over the ink puddles, before reaching an ‘impenetrable’ floor of red ink. The Octoling on the other side, preparing to jump away, turned to look at her.

It had removed the veil from its eyes. They were glasses, she realised, as they looked across the way right at her. The Inkling was surprised to realise that this one's features were softer than she expected, and she had dark brown eyes.

And while she was taking this in... The Octoling wolf-whistled at her.

In her confusion, she looked down at her hands, and then the rest of her.

And realised that she had been battling these things nude this whole time.

She heard a sound like a bottle rocket going off, and looked back up.

And the Octoling had launched itself away, into the sky.

“...What.”

Her gaze followed its trail into the night sky, and then just stared into the stars. A minute passed. The danger seemingly over, the adrenaline started to wear off and the full realisation of what had happened to her began to hit. She sank to her knees and continued to stare outward, thoughts rushing through her mind. She heard Marie walk up next to her, and didn’t turn.

They both sat and looked up at the stars for at least five minutes. The cold night air brushed past them, and the naked Inkling began to shiver.

“Why didn’t you put those clothes on?” Marie asked. It occurred to the other that she understood the green squid suddenly. She attributed this to the transformation she’d undergone.

“...No time.” She finally spoke, amazed at the sound of her own voice. Her older voice was a lot deeper, more… male, because of course. This one was strangely more in line with the voice she imagined herself having if she were female, only younger. “I’d only gotten to pick up the… the weapon before I had to…”

She went silent. Marie understood.

“I… I didn’t just murder, did I…?”

“No. They are still alive, for better or worse. They most likely ended up regrouping back home.”

More silence. The Inkling turned her head to look up at her. “Why were they after me, though?”

Marie thought. “That… I don’t know. When you fell, you were only out here for maybe five minutes, tops before I got you inside to safety. Unless they saw you fall out of the sky, they really shouldn’t have known you were here…” There was a pause. The Inkling realised she was still working things out too.

Marie continued, “If they saw you falling, then I guess they had to have put together that you were that person somehow, and that you were still here… Hmm. And they wanted to take you away…”

Marie turned to look at her. “Whatever is going on, we won’t let you get captured by them. It’s… making the best of a bad situation for you, I realise... but you’ll like being a part of this world. I promise.”

“Now get some clothes on, you silly squid, it’s like three in the morning.”

Chapter Text

“Is… this normal?”

“No, she’s just weird.”

 

Lily stood awkwardly as Agent 4 continued to walk around her, an orange-tentacled inkling to Lily’s sky-blue, examining her from seemingly every angle. Marie, standing two meters away, had just introduced the two.

She was glad that she was actually wearing this level 1 clothing - though she’d slept in, the late morning air was still a bit chilly. The clothes fit snugly on her - though she figured that was more due to the material than her size - and they hugged her form.

Apparently defeated in trying to find a flaw in Lily’s ‘disguise’, Agent 4 straightened up and crossed her arms, putting on some mocking voice. “So! Where’d ya come from, hooooman?  Gonna take over again, hoooooman? Where’d you learn to fight a squad of Octos, hoooooooman? Eh?”

Lily stared at her. She was still working out where the relation of her world, or time, to theirs was. “Uhhhhh… Earth? No? I didn’t? I was terrible?”

Marie interjected, a slight smirk on her face. “She’s only still here because I don’t think they expected someone to fight them without clothes.”

Lily sighed and rolled her eyes. “Give me a break! If I took the extra minute to put this stuff on I wouldn’t be here either.”

“I know, I know. I am at least glad that you held your own long enough for me to get there…” There was a slight pause, and Agent 4 settled back into her usual self. “Well, Agent 4, I figured, since you missed the action last night, would you show her around, help her settle in?

“Sounds great! Hooray, I have a new friend~!” Agent 4 said in a sing songy voice, and grabbed Lily’s hand, pulling her along toward the grate which led toward the Inkopolis Square. “Come on! Race you to the square!” She jumped into the air, transformed into a squid, and slid neatly past the grate cover, and vanished into the ink below.

Lily stood above the grate, staring down after her, a frown forming. About ten seconds later, the same orange squid reappeared underneath the grate and stared up at her.

“Oh right…” She thought she heard it say.

 


 

“Come on, say it!”

“It’s not THAT weird…”

“But look at all the tall buildings!”

“We had those!”

“There’s screens everywhere!”

“Times Square was a thing…”

“We’ve got creatures with fur, though!” Agent 4 gestured wildly at Judd and his kid snoozing by the entrance to the Battle Lobby.

“Cats existed where I came from!”

“Whoooooaaa. Judd’s oooold.

“I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that cat before…”

 

Lily and Agent 4 sat at a table off to the side of the square, eating soft-serve ice cream cones. They’d just spent some time walking around the different storefronts, Agent 4 giving her the guided tour. As it turned out , Lily thought, I guess it’s really difficult to describe how to do something that’s naturally inherent in your species. It had taken a few tries, and lots of awkward explaining, but they eventually managed to get Lily into a squid form so they could both travel to Inkopolis.

Going from the quiet, floating platforms in Octo Canyon to a bustling city was a shock to Lily, but she realised pretty quickly that things hadn’t changed much from the cities she’d been to. She watched the populace move by as she finished her ice cream, watching them go about their daily life. Groups of Inklings hanging out with each other. Some just slowly plodding by in front of their phones. She stared out into the crowd until Agent 4 nudged her to get her attention. “Mmm?”

“Shouldn’t we go see Sheldon now?”

“Who?”

“The guy who runs the weapons shop! Mar-- Our friend said you should get a checkup done, to see what was going on with you.”

“Aaaaand the weapons shopkeeper can do that.”

“Just going off of what I was told! Let’s go!”

And just like that, Lily found herself inside a shop called “Ammo Knights”. The shop was indeed dedicated to displays of different types of weaponry. She did a double take when she saw a simple metal bucket hanging off the wall. I mean, I GUESS, Lily screamed in her head.

According to Agent 4, they were all for handling ink in some capacity. “See, turf wars thrive with all the different strategies all these offer.”

“Turf wars? Is that… common in this city?”

“All the time! It’s an Inkling’s most popular pastime!”

Lily blinked. “I.. guess I must be thinking of something else.”

“Ahh, welcome, Agent!” A friendly male voice called from the back of the shop as a short crab-like fellow scurried out from behind the counter to meet them. He shook Agent 4’s hand and then turned to bow to Lily. “And you must be our special guest from the past! Welcome to our humble city!”

Lily shifted about, uncomfortable. “I uh, appreciate the gesture, Sheldon, but I’m not that special anymore.” Regardless, she reached out her hand to shake his.

“Pah! Always a pleasure.” Sheldon’s smile seemed at least genuine. “Miss Marie has kept me up to date on your situation, and if I may I’d like to perform a few tests if I could be so bold…?”

She looked at him, then at Agent 4. “I’m… assuming all this is staying confidential, right?”

“Of course,” Sheldon said with another smile and a bow. “For the time being, of course. I’ve not seen any cases of someone suffering from ink contact before, and I’m hoping to figure out why this has happened.”

He shifted his gaze toward the back door. “But also, if it would put you at ease, I have retrieved something that might belong to you.”

“Well…” Lily thought briefly about it. There wasn’t much she felt she could do to object, and her trust in Marie hadn’t felt particularly misplaced yet, so she nodded. “Lead the way.”

“Excellent! It was also recommended to me that we give you some time on the shooting range when we are finished. I assume you could help her there, Agent 4?”

“Of course.”

“Splendid! Now, please follow me through the back.”

 


Sheldon’s back offices were, to put it nicely, untidy. Each room seemed like it served a wildly different purpose. The room Lily was ultimately steered into was supposedly supposed to serve a medical purpose - there was a kind of dentist’s chair near the middle and various equipment around it. It was like the messy version of a TV studio’s picture of a doctor’s office. “Take a seat, please miss,” Sheldon said, gesturing at Lily toward the chair.

As she made herself comfortable, Agent 4 sat on the medical bed behind the chair, and Sheldon sat by the chair, getting protective gear on. As he did so, he finally asked Lily to talk about herself. She had to think about this, wondering how much to tell. She chose her words carefully. “So I’m… I’m basically a big computer nerd,” she began, staring up at the ceiling as she talked. “I lived for about… 26 years on…” She paused, unsure whether she was in another universe or something, or from the past. “Sorry, 26 years before I got… turned, I guess. Worked in cleaning, did some factory work. I guess most people in my life would call me a good friend, that I was there for them...”

“Good, good,” Sheldon said absentmindedly. “How did you come to arrive in Octo Canyon, then? Do you remember?”

Lily could feel Agent 4 leaning closer behind her. “I… remember, but I can’t make sense of it. My part of the world isn’t really supposed to get earthquakes or things like that, but that’s more or less what happened. This ravine opened up under my house and I just kinda got… thrown in. I thought for sure I was just dead. I guess I blacked out or something, but right before that the darkness of that ravine just sorta turned into bright light and… I guess that might have been when I ‘arrived’ here. But stuff like that isn’t supposed to happen where I come from…”

“It doesn’t happen here either,” Agent 4 chimed in. “Sounds like magic.”

“Don’t confuse the poor girl,” Sheldon admonished her. “Magic doesn’t exist here either, only in fiction.” He turned back to Lily, having now put on more appropriate doctor wear on top of his regular outfit and holding a small needle. “Hold still a moment, I’m taking a DNA sample. So tell me, are you… alright? I can’t imagine many people would be able to cope with what you’re going through, with the loss of your… identity, I guess.”

“You mean I’m not a boy anymore, don’t you? Ow.” Lily winced as the needle carefully entered her arm.

“Well, all of it, but… start with that if you want.”

“I miss it a little bit, if that’s what you mean,” Lily said, unimpressed. “As a whole, I’ve the same general body structure, so while yeah this all feels weird it’s not like I’m entirely out of my element. Most of the shock feels more from the fact this world feels so much the same but at the same so different to mine, and also y’know, I was friggin’ attacked last night. I’m more upset about that than losing my dick. Fuck!” She scrunched her face up like she’d tasted something awful. “Don’t usually talk like that. Sorry. Actually, also kind of in shock about losing access to my phone and my friends. May as well be the same thing, was never great at making local friends.”

“Interesting that you mention that.” Sheldon had transferred the sample to a small test tube, and put it aside in a storage fridge, and was now removing the doctor gear. “Okay, Miss Lily, that’s the sample done. I’ll let you know the results soon. Now let’s get you both out to the firing range where I have a few more things for you.”

The firing range was a rented warehouse behind the buildings of the Square, mostly concreted and with railings, walkways and tracks installed for various inflatable targets. It was a place for Inklings old and new to try out the latest weapons, or just the ones they are interested in. Sheldon led the two squids to the back of his shop, which looked out into the range, in which was a map of what seemed like the main region of the country in which Inkopolis and Octopia both resided, as well as several tables full of various things. There were several areas circled on the map, some close, some far, but what they meant was not immediately apparent.

“When you appeared in our world,” Sheldon began again, “you did not come through alone. Several items - by the sounds of things, some of your belongings - came through the supposed portal and scattered throughout our land. I’ve no idea what condition they may be in, but there are three that were found here in this city, four more within Octo Canyon, one outside of the city limits somewhere, and one more in the waters where a company called Grizzco operates, so you’ll more than likely have to go with them to get close to that one.”

“H-how do you know all this already?”

“I hear things here and there. I’m privy to some breaking news. These two in the city, for example,” Sheldon gestured at two points on the outer edges of the city, “were discovered almost right away I believe, but they’re on our skyscrapers. These particular ones, there’s no roof access and they were designed so you can’t ink and swim up them. It’s a building code of some sort,” he said. “These,” he gestured at Octo Canyon, “were picked up by Marie over sonar. No idea what they are, just that they have the same sort of ‘otherworldly scent’.”

Lily nodded. A plan was beginning to form. It was probably a stupid plan, but it was something. “OK, so where you do you recommend I get started?”

“With this.” And Sheldon handed her a mobile phone.

“Err, thanks.” She glanced over it, and then made to put it in her shorts pocket, but it twigged what had just happened and she pulled it out, gave it another look. “No fucking way…” she thought, a bit loudly.

Sheldon had just given her her iPhone.

Her eyes lit up as she held the power button to turn it on. While it booted, she looked at him and Agent 4, beaming. “My goodness, you guys! I was starting to think you were just pulling my leg! It’s… entirely undamaged too, what the hell.”

“Now, there’s no real time limit to getting these,” Sheldon said, getting her back on topic, “but be aware that especially in the Canyon, you may have enemy parties looking for or defending them, so… if you decide to go for those, maybe go for them first.”

“Maybe I can help with at least scouting the Canyon locations,” said Agent 4, looking closer at the map. “These two locations nearest home I must have already been to, and I can give you an idea of what you’ll face there once I see it again. Same with the others but who knows, you may end up beating me there, since I’m grabbing Zapfishes as well.”

“Alright, well, let’s see…” Lily thought about it for a moment. “Okay, so why don’t we coordinate on the Canyon ones, grab a couple out there first, and then I could… maybe grab one or both of the city ones, outskirts, then see how we are by then? I figure, the ‘Octos’ as you call them probably know about some of these, and probably have one or two already, so it might be worth me doing what I can to get some experience in the field before I take them on more directly…”

“Oh! Speaking of!” Sheldon said excitedly, clapping his hands together and shuffling over to a corner, retrieving what looked like some more weapons from the table and bringing them over to Lily.  “The ink tank,
Splat Bombs, and Ink Armor mechanism to accompany your Splattershot Jr, seeing you’ll be able to use them now.”

“Oh, uh… thanks,” said the inkling girl awkwardly. “Is this supposed to be free, or..?”

“Well, no. See, at Ammo Knights we sell each weapon as a complete set. So every weapon you saw in the shopfront will always come with an inksplosive grenade or projectile of some kind, and what we call a ‘special’ weapon for Turf Wars, which is limited use but can turn the tide when used well. The sets basically cater to different play styles, so once you reach level 4 in the Turf Wars and you feel like your current set just isn’t cutting it, maybe take a look at the other sets available! We always recommend sticking with the Splattershot for a while though, it’s an all-rounder. These things are what come with it.”

Lily nodded. So this turf war thing is more like a sport and not so much to do with actual gangs… got it. “And this canister?”

“Oh, well, that’s what holds your ink! It’s what makes your set work together! Quite literally, actually,” he permitted himself a small chuckle. “When you go into your squid form and sit around in your ink, or your team’s ink, the tank will fill up, making sure you’re ready to get back into the fray in seconds. And then it comes with nozzles to connect to your weapons and projectiles, to make sure they’re ready to use when you need them!”

“And… I think that’s it! Oh, no, actually…” He ran off to the table again and grabbed a strange handheld device, bringing it over and placing it in Lily’s free hand, with a data cable wrapped around it. “I’ve been working on a translator at Miss Marie’s request, human-to-inkling and back. I’d much appreciate it if you could supply some more sample data for me.”

Lily examined it. It was a yellow, oddly-shaped device, some cross between a Yak Bak and a Digivice, with a plug that matched the connector for the iPhone she was continuing to hold in the other hand. The cable was, amazingly enough, seemingly designed to plug into both devices. “We managed to collaborate with the tech company behind this building to reverse-engineer the connection for your phone, so you should be able to record your voice and import that or any other voice recordings you may have on to this device, which’ll then be sent wirelessly to me. I mean, hey, if you are able to provide some of your own translations of things, that would be greatly appreciated, but there are certainly more important things at hand here…”

Lily nodded. “I at least know that I have some spoken podcasts… ah, audio shows on my phone that I can plug into it…”

Sheldon smiled. His work was done. “Well, that’s basically everything I can think of. Any questions before we get you out on the firing range?”

 


Agent 4 and Lily spent the next few hours alone in the firing range. The first thing she taught was that it was okay to start off with poor aim. In Turf Wars, she said, the aim was simply to cover the most territory in the set time, so while splatting opponents was important to stop them from taking it back, she explained it was perfectly valid to avoid combat and quietly reclaim the territory.

She taught the newbie more about how to use her squid form, and set her some small challenges, like swimming up inked walls, or jumping between puddles of ink. Once she felt the blue-tentacled girl had become more comfortable with the form, then they finally got out the Splattershot and practiced firing, first on the inflatable dummies, then on the moving targets.

At first Lily took her shots slowly, as opposed to her previous experience holding the weapon, and Agent 4 was patient with her. She’d aim carefully - only when she was sure that she would hit her target would she briefly pull the trigger, and a single shot of ink would fire from its chamber at the dummy. She missed, most of the time, and that upset her, but every now and then she’d remember to relax, take a few breaths, and try again. As the hour went by, and she started to understand the weapon and the aiming, the time from ‘concentrate’ to ‘fire’ went down, and she seemed to be getting more confident in her shots. She was still missing, but she was at least hitting them most of the time, so Agent 4 declared it a success, so she moved her onto the moving targets.

These targets were affixed to a motorized track that moved them back and forth across a section of the warehouse. First Lily tried her single-shot method out on them. She was only hitting them a third of the time to begin with, but with a few minutes of practice her accuracy was about 50%. Then Agent 4 told her to start using it full-auto. Lily braced herself and let it loose, covering things in ink. She fired for a few seconds at a time, attempting to adjust for recoil, and watching the targets start to pop more quickly. She smiled - she was beginning to feel more ready to take on the journey ahead.

When they left it was about 2PM, and the Square was a bit quieter. “...But really, the best way to practice is to get into the Turf Wars,” Agent 4 was saying as they left. “It’s all above board and designed so you can’t really get hurt… maybe you just hurt your pride a little.”

“I’ll manage,” Lily smiled. “So where next?”

“Oh! I don’t actually know…” said the orange-tentacled inkling, thinking. “Well, you’ve got your mobile back, but we should probably hook you up with something more proper if you’re gonna be sticking around. Y'know, so you can stay in touch with all of us. I know a provider a short ways away we can get a good price on.”

“That’d be cool, but, I dunno. I don’t exactly have cash to get on a plan with.”

“Look, don’t worry about that,” came the reply, Agent 4 grinning at her. “I’ll cover ya today. We’re only going pre-paid anyway, and I’ve been doing fine on the turf wars on my spare time so trust me, I can afford to do this.”

Lily let her mouth hang silently. These creatures were treating her so nicely, she thought. It felt like Agent 4 had brought her into the fold a lot more readily than she expected, and that surprised her. She knew though that they would have to part ways for a while for their respective missions, and it would most likely be her on her own…

“...You okay, Lily? You’re tearing up.” Agent 4 was staring at her, and she couldn’t help but blush. “It’s not that big of a deal…”

“Oh gosh, it is for me, though,” Lily quietly said. “Phones are really expensive in my time, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing anything like that for me…”

“Yeah? Well, maybe they should.”

“But…”

“Come on.” Agent 4 took her by the hand and began dragging her along. She quickly gave up and started walking behind her, but Agent 4 never let go.

After the phone store, they also went to the Shellendorf Museum - it was open for visitors on the weekdays, and Agent 4 took her to the human exhibit and they talked about her world. Lily would later remember standing in front of the human skeleton recovered from fossils and being amazed at how much shorter she was now. The exhibit also displayed some technology of the time - apparently recovered from various known ruin sites. Lily also decided she would visit those sites some day.

It was about 4PM when they finally made their way back to the grate that would take them back to the Tentakeel Hideout. “Look, seriously, thanks for showing me around,” Lily said. “It’s scary being a fish out of water here, but I feel like I’m gonna be at least mostly okay if I end up living here. Thanks. It means a whole lot, what you did today.”

Agent 4 blushed. “It’s been an honor to introduce someone new to my world, and a real human at that. I um… I hope that you stick around. You seem pretty cool.”

They both slipped through the drain and made their way back.

Chapter Text

Lily’s first expedition away from the relative safety of the Hideout was two days later. Marie had seen fit, given the scope of the work ahead, to name her Agent 5 of the New Squidbeak Splatoon. That, Marie had said to her during the final check-in before she had left, was the callsign she would use on the field and on the radios.

She’d been outfitted with a backpack to carry some camping gear, and a tracking device that was tuned to the ‘otherworldly scent’ Sheldon had talked about. It would click like a geiger counter whenever pointed at one of these items, which Marie and Lily had confirmed by pointing it at the scraps of her old clothes still hanging from the improvised clothesline. Her iPhone had been left back at the hideout, but she’d taken care to leave instructions on how to access it in case she didn’t return.

For now, she was rocketing towards the landing point of her first destination, having just taken a launchpad. She tried her hardest not to scream out, not being great with heights or falling of this nature. She slammed hard into the friendly ink pool that marked the beginning of her adventure. “Ughhh…” She slowly picked herself up out of the ink, climbed out of it, and surveyed the area.

She’d noticed as she’d flown through the air into it, but the area was contained within this… sphere that she had slipped between the gaps of. It seemed to be made up of light panels and displays, and right now they were transmitting bright lights and vistas of some beach somewhere.

Within this space though, were several floating platforms and structures sitting atop them. In the middle of it all was a place that seemed like it held something, but from where Agent 5 was, she couldn’t see anything there.

She could not see if there were any enemies around though. The immediate area on which she found herself did have a few simple wooden towers - she decided that would be a decent vantage point from which she could scout the area.

As she walked over to the base of one of the towers, though, she realised that there was no easy way to climb up. She figured that the wood looked textured enough to perhaps climb, and she wrapped her hands around the other side, put one shoe firmly against the wood, and pushed off. It wasn’t too bad of an idea, and it at least got her to the next story of the tower, so she paused to take another look.

Most of the surroundings were visible now, and it seemed the area had been evacuated for something - that said, she saw one straggler up ahead, a more monster-ish kind of tentacle creature in some robot suit, doddling about behind the first climb, and a similar encounter on the other side of the sphere.

Something compelled her to try a diplomatic approach first. She jumped down from her vantage point, scrambled her way up the series of short climbs, and found herself right above the creature. Man, I probably could just splat it from up here and it’d not see it coming. Let’s hope I don’t have to do it.

“Excuse me!” She called down. The Octotrooper snapped around, looking around for the source of the voice. “I’m coming down to ask you something!” Agent 5 pulled her Splattershot out, aimed carefully, fired once, and put it away. Then she jumped down.

She landed carefully in the spot she had marked. Diplomatic or no, she wanted to make sure she could stand somewhere to speak to it. Both her and the creature spun to face each other. Agent 5 put her palms out quickly. I come in peace. “Please, I mean you no harm. If you’ll not harm me, of course.”

The tentacle paused. Its eyes were focused very narrowly on the Inkling that had intruded on its territory, or more importantly, the weapons she was carrying. Its ink cannon was trained on her, but in its confusion it waited for the intruder to make her move.

“Please,” Agent 5 repeated, making up a story that would hopefully get her the information she needed, and not give up much of her own. “We uh, we’ve got reports of strange impacts around this state. Our intelligence suggests there may be… foreign creatures hostile to both our races landing here. Have you heard any loud bangs or thumps lately?”

The tentacle fired its cannon. Shit, she thought as she dipped into her ink, the shot whizzing past just above her. So much for that. Then she came back up, inking up a path around it, and racing along it, firing back at it in the tight space. It went down quickly, bursting in a splash of light-blue ink that covered her front. Ugh. She dipped back into the ink for a moment, scanning the area from relative safety.

This narrow passage between the two concrete cliffs didn’t lead anywhere. Each end seemed to just lead to a drop to one’s doom. She thought this rather strange. Partway up the cliff from which she had came, though, was glass. Curious, she inked a path up the opposite wall, and swam up it enough to look inside, finding herself looking into an office of some kind. A furnished desk faced the window, and behind it was a small mass of cubicles. Huh… she thought to herself. She reverted from her squid form for a moment to pull out the tracker, and pointed it at the window. Nothing. She put it away and swam up the wall to the top.

It took until Agent 5 was about a third of the way around the spiral of floating structure before she realised she should at least see if she could pick anything up at long range. From the peak of another structure she took out the tracker again, and slowly panned it around her in a 360-degree arc. Nothing. Grumbling, she let it hang from her hand for a moment as she considered leaving and trying a nearby area, when the tracker started going off like crazy, startling her.

She moved a short distance away, and slowly scanned the area on which she had just stood. Nothing again. What the…

It wasn’t until the tracker was pointing downwards again that it started clicking again, and it started to make sense to her. Agent 5 held the tracker in both hands, aiming at the depths of the sphere. A positive reading, again.

Her heart sank. “Well how the hell am I going to get down there…?” She said, to herself.

She soon got her answer.

A blast of red ink smacked her hard in the back of the head, knocking her off balance, and she started to tip over the edge.

As Agent 5 started to fall, she tried to turn herself around to grab the ledge, catching a glimpse of what had struck her.

An Octoling.

Fuck.

She missed the ledge. Plummeting down.

In her mad attempts to grab hold of something, she managed to get her hands around a length of steel sticking out of the concrete, and slid to a halt, suspended at least a hundred meters in the air above the screens that formed the sphere around her.

Agent 5 wrapped her body tightly around the metal and looked back up, shaking. She could at least see the edge from where she’d fallen. She debated in her head whether she could get up enough to at least swim up the wall.

Then the Octoling appeared at the edge, looking down at her. She was in the same outfit as the ones who had attacked her on her first night. It stared down at her through large, opaque black glasses, sizing her up. Then it smirked down at her.

“Well, look who it is,” The Octoling said, the smirk never straying from her features. “And here I thought you were just another squid-brat snooping around where she wasn’t supposed to.”

She pulled her weapon out. It looked like a sniper rifle. Lily had to assume it was also ink-based, but she realised that she really was in no position to fight back. “W-who’s to say I’m not?! You really think you’re gonna get away with basically murder?” She yelled back up at her.

“Do you really think you’ll get away with your terrorism, human ?”

Agent 5 froze. How does she know who I am? Hang on a second, terrorism?! “What are you talking about, ‘terrorism’?! I’m no fucking terrorist!”

The Octoling took her time aiming down the sights of her Charger, relishing the situation she found her target in. “Five days ago,” she yelled back down, “you launched several attacks upon our homeland with improvised missiles, damaging several buildings and injuring personnel. We estimate the damages at about three hundred thousand coins worth. Not only that ,” she spat at her, “but when we sent our squad to apprehend you, not only did you resist arrest, but you attacked and incapacitated most of that squad without reason, and disguised yourself as this… this inferior creature to attempt to evade detection. And even in just getting here, you splat one of our Octotroopers? What’s your problem?”

She sighed. “But now we have you.” The Octo finally lowered her weapon, while Lily looked about for any kind of options. “So I’m going to give you a choice. You can give yourself up and face court, or I can knock you off that beam right now and you can fall to your death. Maybe not much of a choice, but oh well, you brought that upon yourself. So what’ll it--”

She cut herself off. Her eyes had moved away for just a moment, but when they went back to Agent 5, she had gone. The Octoling got down on her front and looked over the edge, but she couldn’t see her at all. She cursed in her native tongue. “Stupid human,” she said to herself.

For her part, Agent 5 had noticed more steel hanging from the underside of the platform, the scene looking like some surreal construction site, and had managed to leap from one to another, so that she was now obscured underneath the platform. She did not feel brave doing this. Rather, she was scared out of her mind. But she’d decided after the first attack that she would not be captured by them. She slowly swung from bar to bar, just hoping each one held.

The next one she grabbed, however, did not hold.

Its concrete support has crumbled long ago, and the added weight of an Inkling caused it to come sliding out.

Agent 5 screamed out. “No no no no no!!”

Agent 5 fell.

The Octoling rushed back to the edge, hearing the scream, and saw the falling Inkling.

She sighed, and pulled a length of climbing rope from her bag, preparing to come down after her.


Agent 5’s body impacted hard against one of the screens at the bottom of the sphere, knocking the wind out of her right away and shattering the screen. She bounced back up into the air from the impact, landing and rolling down the incline towards the center.

The impact had knocked her unconscious.

She finally came to rest next to a black slab of tough plastic, embedded in the screen at the bottom.

 

*

 

She awoke not too long after, very much an addled mess. As she lay there, looking up into the ‘sky’, she saw her again.

A long, dangling rope hanging from the platform hundreds of meters above, upon which an Octoling was slowly climbing down.

Lily groaned, forcing herself to get back up. Everything hurt. Her body screamed to just let go, but she tried to push on, grabbing the plastic slab and tugging at it til it came out. She knew it was what she’d come for. Too exhausted and in pain to put it away, she carried it with her, stumbling and limping her way up the strange landscape of screens, now lit up in pure white.

The Octoling, still some ways above, wasn’t going to let her escape just like that. The thunk and clatter of a Splat Bomb behind her reminded Agent 5 of that, and she tried to pick up the pace as it exploded just out of her range.

She spotted a small gap between the screens a bit further out, a view of the outside world. Maybe if she could just get there…

She stumbled onward.

The Octoling’s boots hit the ground. She could hear her sprinting up toward her. Oh no, Lily thought. 

The boots stopped somewhere close. Lily turned around slowly.

A blast from the Charger knocked her off her feet again. She smacked her head against a screen. Felt it crack. Her vision blurred.

The Octoling casually walked to her, taking her sweet time. She smirked. Lily knew it was over when she’d stepped over her bruised and battered body, very much letting her know, like the first night, who she was dealing with.

Agent 5’s vision focused enough to see her opponent take out what seemed like a jar and uncapping it. Just a regular old jar? “Wwwazzatfor?” She said, slurred in her disoriented state.

“Guess you wouldn’t know, huh?” The Octo snorted, mounting the jar onto the Charger in place of its scope. “Both our species’ has… something that seeks safe territory in which we’re reborn. This is to make sure that you don’t get away. You will face trial, rest assured of that.”

The Octoling aimed. Its barrel was pointed right at Lily’s head. Hopeless, the inkling closed her eyes and awaited it. “You’ll experience some pain,” The Octo said. “But not for long.”

 

 

 

Click.

“Guh, really?” She was annoyed. Out of ink, at this critical moment? “Excuse me, this won’t take a second…” She turned to her bag to extract another canister of ink.

But Lily, adrenaline flooding through her body from the hope spot, had gotten up as quickly as she could in her state, grabbed the jar from the Octo’s Charger, and had pulled out the Splattershot, letting loose a quick burst.

Splat.

In the burst of ink that was her opponent, Lily did notice the shimmers of a tiny squid… spirit… thing. Before it had a chance to float away to safety, she had caught it in the jar and sealed it shut.

Phew.

She was safe.

Somehow.

Putting the jar in her backpack for now, she noticed the Octo’s weapon lying on the ground.

The Charger.

She picked it up. It was an impressive weapon, alright. She decided to hold onto it for now.

The danger subsided for now, she used the last of her energy to put the slab of plastic, which she now recognised as a laptop of some kind into the backpack as well.

Then, with the knowledge that the Octo in the jar wouldn’t be escaping anytime soon, she collapsed on the floor and passed out.


 

She felt much more alive when she awoke a few hours later. She still hurt, and still felt woozy, but most of the pain was in her head and her back where she had hit the ground.

She also noticed that the screens had gone black, engulfing the whole place in darkness. Was it “night time”? She wasn’t entirely sure, but the lack of light made it really hard to navigate back to where the Octoling’s rope had been, taking her about ten minutes and plenty of trips.

It took her another twenty minutes to climb up the rope, all the while thinking about the what-ifs. She was no longer in any risk of immediate danger, besides falling down again, but that didn’t stop her.

Agent 5 finally made her way back to the launchpad after about fifty minutes total, fumbling her way around in the dim lighting on the platforms themselves. She sat down, putting down her backpack and retrieving two items from it: the Charger, and the jar that contained a very angry Octoling spirit.

She placed the Charger down on the ground by the Super Jump point, and the closed jar next to it.

“Look, I get it,” she said to the jar. “I understand , from your perspective, why you guys want me out of the picture. Thing is, I honestly don’t know how or why I’m even here, or why I became a squid girl thing. I didn’t even know who Inklings, or Octolings, or whoever were until I woke up and your squad tried to get me. I didn’t even know that things like… this were even possible.” She gestured as the octo-spirit. “I honestly thought you guys were trying to kill me for good.”

She sighed, and looked up into the blackness. “I guess I don’t blame you, when essentially an alien falls from the sky.” Lily was quiet for a few moments, just thinking back on that first night.

“Those things that fell down, they’re mine, but they’re just my belongings. I think. I don’t even know what most of them are. I’m just… I’m just trying to get them back.” She glanced back at her backpack, in which the laptop was poking out. In the dim light of the lights in this entry point, she could make out the reflection of her laptop’s Acer logo. She noticed the Octo had followed her gaze. “Like, that’s… that’s just a computer. I’ve seen a few in Inkopolis, so I assume you guys have them too. It’s… just what it is.”

More silence. “There’s honestly no reason why I’m not in there and you’re not out here.” Pause. “Maybe I will turn myself over eventually, once I’ve at least got my things back safely. I just… I don’t know what came through with me, and I guess I want to make sure that my stuff is in my hands, because I mean… stuff like the computer, and my phone, that’s basically my identity. And I guess I’d feel better if I was the one cleaning up my mess.”

Sigh. She was babbling on now. She picked up the jar and stood. “I guess I just had to get that off my chest. Well, I’m going to leave now, but now that you’re not a threat to my getting home, I’ll let you go. I’ll leave your weapon here, but it’s certainly a very nice weapon. I’ll have to look into getting one of my own sometime.” She grasped the lid, and popped open the jar, and the spirit zoomed out of the jar and looked at her angrily before speeding off into the blackness.

“Well, seeya soon, I guess…”

Chapter Text

Lily spent the next few days in the Square while she recovered. Agent 4 had committed to completing her mission, and had lent her the keys to her apartment while she was gone for the next day or two. Which meant for Lily that with Marie on full-time radio duty, she was alone.

As expected, while there was cellphone signal, Lily’s iPhone was woefully outdated to handle the newer protocol. Likewise, there was no Wi-Fi for it or the laptop to connect to, so she found herself browsing through week-old (to her) chats and text messages, and listening to the music stored on the phone.

Apart from some bandaging on her tentacles from where the glass from the screens had cut into her, she looked otherwise normal, with her clothing covering up the bruised skin from her fall. The table she’d commandeered in a corner of the Square, by a closed off construction site, was littered with her things: her newly found laptop closest to her, switched on, DAW loaded; her iPhone on one side of the laptop, and the device she lovingly referred to as her inkPhone on the other.

Lily’s composition was currently empty. From the music she had on her phone and her laptop, she couldn’t find any songs that played well together. She was into mashups - granted, she only made them for herself, but it was something, she said to herself.

Giving up on the music for now, she closed the laptop’s lid and put it in her bag, along with the iPhone.

Though not before someone across the Square, a smaller Inkling, casually glancing out the window from inside of a studio, noticed the familiar-looking phone, and wondered why some weirdo-looking inkling was holding it.

Swinging the bag onto her back, Lily grabbed her other phone and, getting ready to move off, checked a map in her messages app. Sheldon had sent a picture of the map on which they had worked out where all these mystery items were meant to be. Checking it against the phone’s own map app, there seemed to be one item a few blocks away, past the construction site she was right next to.

Hmm, do I wanna go check it out? Or…

Nah , she decided. Once her cuts and bruises healed up, perhaps. She needed a plan, and wanted to look inconspicuous in case she had to do do something bad.

She remembered that both of these ones in the city were on the roofs of skyscrapers, apartment towers she figured. She had to figure that there’d be a way up to at least the top floors, where she could investigate, and maybe hope there was some roof access anyway. Surely there had to be!

The alternative, she realised, was finding some way up the wall of the building. She immediately found herself thinking back to the fall, and shuddered. She didn’t want to have to go through that again.

She drove the subject from her mind. What I could use, she thought to herself, is a nice hot bath, a soft bed, and a place to be alone.

She decided, then, to make her way down to the underground train station. Consulting the phone’s map, she plotted in the address Agent 4 had given her, and walked across the square and down the ramp into the station.


 

As she walked past the Inkopolis News studio, following her phone’s directions, she missed the gaze of two curious girls sitting at a table inside.

“Are you sure it was the same one?” asked the taller, darker-skinned girl, leaning out of her chair, looking outside at the blue-tentacled Inkling with slight curiosity.

“I swear, Marina,” replied the shorter one, eyes focused. “It was exactly the same shape, and it was white on the back. It was exactly the one we gave to Sheldon.” Lily passed around the corner, and disappeared from view, so Pearl’s eyes snapped back to her friend.

“I mean, maybe the lil guy can’t work it out?”

“Apparently, because she was using it just fine!”

“Wait, really?” This got Marina’s attention. Ever the techie of the two, though she couldn’t read the strange characters on the phone, she had at least quickly recognised that the phone had been locked behind a password of some sort. “That’s exciting! I wonder what method she used to break into it?”

“I’m pretty sure if you or Sheldon couldn’t hack it, and this nobody has, it’s probably theirs.” Pearl crossed her arms, unamused.

“Huh.” Marina thought for a moment, leaning back into her chair. “So she understands the characters on the device then. Remind me to ask her about it next time we see her.”


One ride around the City Loop, ten-minute walk, and elevator ride later, Lily found the door to Agent 4’s apartment. Using the chip card she’d been given, she let herself in quietly, and looked around.

The Inkling’s apartment was similar in layout to something she might have seen back home. It reminded her of an old friend’s studio flat - the door opened into a walk-through kitchen, with most of the appliances and bench space off to the side, so one could walk straight in to the main living space, which consisted of a small couch, coffee table, and TV. There was a computer desk next to the TV, and next to that was a window, an average width but spanning from floor to ceiling, that looked out into the city. It was not really a great view by any means - the window only looked out across the road to some office building - but it was one that was new to Lily.

The decor was fairly typical, and while the colors were semi-typical to what she was used to, the color she had seen in the Square and in the storefronts she had passed was represented in posters on the walls. Art of musicians, commemorative concert posters and movie posters adorned the inside wall of the apartment.

She set her bag down next to the bed, and walked over to a door opposite the window, between the living and bedroom areas. It led to a fairly typical, tiled bathroom, with (thank goodness, Lily sighed internally) a bath long enough to lay in. She walked over and got the taps running, testing the temperature every few seconds with a finger. The liquid that came out wasn’t quite right, she noticed. A sniff test revealed the slight scent of oil. She figured this had to be normal, so she shrugged it off and went back briefly to grab her iPhone.

A few minutes later, Lily was submerged in the liquid, head resting on the edge of the tub, tentacles lazily floating atop the water, bandages removed, eyes closed, and an old cached Giant Bombcast playing from her phone’s podcast app. As the podcast hosts talked about the various games news of the past, she found herself transported to her old life, and the weirdness of Inkopolis faded from her mind.

Aaahh.

For just a few moments, she was back in her house, on the outskirts of an Australian country town, washing up for the next day’s work. Jeff and Ben were playing up #FreeScott. She could easily imagine the low muffle of the lounge room television across the house. She wondered, briefly, if she would ever be able to hear the next Justice live album, and thought back to the first concert she’d ever gone to.

Justice’s first show in her state’s capital city was an experience she widely considered the highlight of 2018. To see her idols perform live and have a near-front row seat to it was one thing, but their music, and the light show their team put on, was an experience she would not forget for some time to come.

“I wonder what the concerts here are like,” Lily murmured quietly to herself.

She let herself live in that world again for a while, letting the hot bath...liquid do its thing, and before too long, told herself, Alright, time to come back to reality.

She slowly opened her eyes. The memory of her old bathroom, with its many bottles, broken shelves, and moldy ceiling, faded, and she found herself looking at the clean, well-looked-after bathroom of Agent 4’s apartment.

Lily let out a sigh. She wasn’t gonna miss the work, or the obligations, or things like that, but… she did miss the way things were, kinda. It was predictable. She liked that. She could plan her day around that. If she had not had an objective to keep her going, and the few friends she’d made already, she knew she would’ve been much worse off by this point.

Sometime later she finally worked up the will to get out of the bath and drain it, not too long after the Bombcast had signed off and silence filled the room.

As she reached for a towel from the rack on the opposite wall, she saw herself in the mirror by the basin and stopped. She hadn’t really given herself a good look over since this all began, and seeing what she had become really made it begin to sink in. This is who I am now, she thought to herself, staring at her naked reflection. This is who I’ve become. She did briefly admire her form, doing the occasional pose and watching the girl in the mirror do the same.

When she did manage to tear her eyes away from the stranger in the mirror and get dressed, she tossed both of her phones onto Agent 4’s bed and pressed her hand into it, testing its softness. Compared to sleeping on concrete or the firm mattress in the Cuttlefish Cabin, this felt like a cloud! She leaned forward and let herself fall onto the bed, laying on top of the comforter that was draped over it.

Lily sighed happily as she stared at the ceiling. It would be interesting to see how she took to life here once she started making some money. She knew exactly what she had to do, since she had been reminded of it every day she had been in Inkopolis proper. She resolved to at least inquire about rookie matches or something to at least jump in and not feel too bad about being new.

She began to feel drowsy. This bed was almost too soft. But she could use a nap, after everything. She let her eyes close and listened to the sound of the wind and the traffic outside.

Before she knew it, she’d fallen asleep.

And she slept through the afternoon, and through the evening.

Chapter Text

Lily was awoken early the next morning by a pleasant ringing noise. It took her a few moments as she was jolted from her sleep to work out that it was her squidphone! Someone was ringing her!

She sat herself up on the bed as she thumbed the ‘answer’ button on the touch screen. “Hello?” Lily said groggily as she checked her iPhone for the time. Early 6AM. Still dark out.

“It’s Four,” came the hushed voice on the other end. “Sorry to wake you.”

“Oh gosh! Hey! Are you doing okay out there?”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s what you’d expect. Listen, I can’t stay long, just in case they can pick up this transmission too.”

“‘Too’?”

“I… have a favour to ask.” Agent 4’s voice was quiet, and sad. “We um… we found out some things last night. M’s real shaken up. Would you go check on her for me?”

“Uh, sure, I can do that. What…?”

“I shouldn’t say, not over the phone. Let her tell you if she wants to.”

“A-alright. Stay safe. Come back in one piece, alright?”

“I’ll try my best, Lily. I’ll see you soon.” Click.


 

The rear train carriage was empty save for Lily as it traveled the city loop. Further up the train, she’d noticed all types of passengers get on, but she enjoyed just the noise of the train as it passed the various stations. According to her phone’s map, she was a few more stops away from the Square. Lily’s leg bounced impatiently next to her backpack as she waited, her eyes occasionally zipping over to the picture of all the train lines and their stations, making sure she was going the right way and all that.

The City Loop was mostly underground, though it did dip above ground for some stops, giving Lily a view of the city lights, and the brightening sky beyond them.

Whenever the train made a stop, Lily would look outside and see two or three more passengers board, and eventually one of the small jellyfish creatures entered Lily’s carriage and sat off to a corner.

The train eventually announced its arrival at Inkopolis Square, and she got up and exited onto the platform. The underground station was well looked after, two relatively small platforms for the area’s popularity which exited through a ramp onto the main square.

While making her way toward the exit ramp, she spotted the musician and news anchor, Marina, exiting from the other end of the train. She didn’t put too much thought into this, and made her way along.

Marina did notice her though, and, remembering her curiosity about the inkling with the odd phone, kept an eye on Lily as they both made their way into the square among the group leaving the station.

They both reached the Square, quiet in the early morning, and Marina broke off her gaze to turn toward the Inkopolis News studio’s back entrance. She’d unlocked and opened the door and half-stepped inside when she heard Sheldon call for “Lily!” from the other side of the Square.

She turned around, peeked out from behind the studio wall, and saw him standing out the front of his store, holding two hot drinks, and apparently waiting for the blue squid in rank 1 clothing. Maaaan, what is going on between those two? Marina thought, standing in the doorway.

She turned and, making a note to message Pearl about it once she got to the break room, stepped inside, shutting the door behind her.


“Sorry I took so long to get here,” Lily sighed, walking up to the little crab fellow. “Still learning the train system. Enjoy your drinks.”

“Actually, these are for you to take to Miss Marie,” he said, handing them over. “Coffee. Flat Whites. One for her, and one for you since it’s still early.” He forced a smile. “I'm not a morning person, don't think too well before I've woken up y'see... But I thought this would help cheer her.”

“Same here, mate. Uh, friend. Sorry. But, uh, sure… I can take these along to her.”

Sheldon raised an eyebrow. “Excellent. Now hurry along! The three of us have important work to do, and a depressed squid is not fun to work with, believe me.”

“Well I got bad news for you there, friend.” Lily returned the grin. “I’ll do what I can. Thanks.”

Sheldon nodded, and waved her off. She turned to make sure she wasn’t otherwise watched, and dove feet-first into the grate to Tentakeel.


 

The lights of Cuttlefish Cabin weren’t on when Lily got there. It was dark, but the sky was beginning to brighten and a red tinge on the horizon told her the sun was not far off rising. She set one of the drinks down by her feet as she stepped up to the cabin, and used her free hand to very gently knock on the door.

There was a slight pause, then a muffled and tired “Yes…?” from behind the door.

“Agent 5. I brought drinks.”

“...Yeah, okay. Come in.”

Lily picked up the other coffee and pushed down the handle of the door, entering slowly. “It’s only coffee, but I heard you weren’t in the best way and thought maybe having someone here would help…”

Marie was laid on the bed, a bit of a mess. She looked like she hadn’t slept much, if at all. Her performance outfit had been taken out of the closet in the room and was draped over the television. “That’s fine,” she said. “I mean, I want something more alcoholic, but coffee will do I suppose. Take a seat.”

Lily placed Marie’s coffee on the bedside dresser, and sat on the end of the single-sized bed as the Squid Sister forced herself up from the mattress, turning herself around so that she was also sitting on the side of the bed next to the other girl.

“Did you manage to get any sleep last night…?” Lily asked her, in a worried tone.

Marie sighed, head down. “Maybe. I think I might’ve blacked out once or twice overnight, but no, I don’t feel like I’ve slept more than one or two hours.”

“Jeez, that bad, huh.” Lily frowned, and slowly, unsure if she should, placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I can’t say I understand what you’re going through, but I do know from experience that sleepless nights only make it worse. I… know you and Agent 4 have got a big job ahead of you, so I hope the coffee will help keep you going at least…”

Marie nodded quietly. She reached for her coffee, and took a sip. Lily took her cue and also dug into her drink. Not as sweet as she hoped, she thought, but coffee’s coffee. So nice and warm too…

Lily finished drinking some of the coffee, glancing over at the other squid to see that Marie was watching her. She blushed. “Do I look weird drinking? Sorry…”

“No, no. Just… It’s occurred to me I still don’t really know anything about you, besides what Agent 4 and Sheldon have told me.” Marie thought a moment. “And I suppose, what I’ve seen of you when I first took you in.” She let a small smirk stray onto her features.

Lily’s blush was coming back in full swing. “Aw, come on. Of course you’d still remember me fighting those Octarians naked.”

“I didn’t even mean that, though. You were the first living human I, or anyone really, have ever seen. Yeah, it was a short-lived experience, but… hey, some of those memories still have to be in that head of yours, right?”

“...Are you asking me to remember human life for you?”

“Look, I just want a bit of time to not be thinking about Callie. Distract me.”

“...Alright. Well, since the sun’s just about to rise, do you wanna head outside and we’ll talk?”

“Sure. That sounds nice. Just lemme get out of these pajamas. Meet you out there.”

 

A minute or two later, Marie emerged from the Cabin, holding her coffee and dressed, for the first time in a while, in her Squid Sisters outfit. Lily, waiting by the stone archway, stared in awe. “Wow. You’re looking pretty fancy there,” she managed to say. “Shame about the circles under… around… you still look tired.”

“Oh shush,” Marie replied, but she couldn't help but smile a bit. She gestured down toward the other end of the Hideout. “There’s a good spot down there past the kettle where we can watch the sunrise over the city, if you’re into that.”

And so, a short walk later, they sat together, feet dangling from the edge of the platform as they looked past Octo Valley towards Inkopolis. The dark blue night sky was slowly giving way to a vivid orange sunrise as they sat there, drinking their coffee.

“So?” Marie prompted between sips.

“I mean… I don’t know where to start. Prompt me.”

“OK then, what did your average day look like?”

“Weekday? I guess I could talk about both. I’d… wake up super early, usually it’s still dark. Thankfully I have an alarm and all that, and I’d have this smart light so I can just fade it on without getting out of bed so I can wake up better without blinding myself. Then uhh… I’d eventually get up and get ready for work, pack some food, and drive about… half an hour to work?”

Marie held up her hand to stop Lily briefly. “How’d it take half an hour to drive anywhere at that time of day?”

“Was commuting from one town to another. Sure, there were big cities like Inkopolis, but I was kinda on the outskirts of a smaller community. I lived out in the country. That’s still a thing, right?”

“Yeah, no, it totally is still a ‘thing’. I came from the country! Still got family out there, actually.”

“Oh, sweet. What kinda country is out there?”

“This is your story, not mine.”

“Oh.” Lily paused for a moment. “Well… I lived in this place where there were lots of farms, so there were lots of fields and trees, but I was basically on the edge of this big country city. It made for a nice relaxing drive. Wish work was like that.”

“Hm? What did you do for a living?”

Lily sighed. “I had a nice cleaning job for just over a year, got a qualification for that, tried and didn’t like hospitality, and ended up in a food production factory right up until everything happened. Basically packing things every day.”

“Oh…” Marie frowned. “That’s not what I would have thought you did. You seem… above that, in a way?”

Lily took a sip from her coffee and shook the cup. Nearly empty. “It was fine. It just made my hobbies that much more special when I wanted to do them. Y’know, I’d get home in the late afternoon, get on my computer and just… hang out online. Talk to friends. Try and do mashups. Play video games. Just sorta, whatever I felt I could do until I had to go to bed and do it all over again.” She was staring down at the coffee she was holding in her lap. “I’m glad I made friends at that job. I kinda miss them. I miss all my friends... But at the same time I just really needed that extra income.”

Marie nodded, with a slight smile. “Whatever helps keep you going, I get it. I gotta interrupt you again though… Mashups?”

“Oh, so the idea is, you take two or more--”

“No, I know what they are, just… really? You don’t make your own things?”

Lily blushed deeply and buried her head in her lap. “I’m sorry!” She said, muffled. “I just like having fun with the music… it’s my way of learning.”

“Heeey, hey.” Lily felt Marie’s arm over her shoulder. “You’re supposed to be the one comforting me.”

“I’m honestly just really bad at making my own music, so I’d play at being a DJ…”

“Look at me for a sec.”

Lily lifted her head, and Marie took it in her gloved hands and turned it to face her. “As an artist, I get it. You make music how you want to. Just, maybe don’t go claiming it as your own work.”

“I don’t.”

“Good.” Marie gently, carefully pulled the other squid into a sideways hug, and Lily blushed deeply, just sitting there for a moment before slowly reciprocating, hugging her friend close. After a minute, she gently let go, and rested her head on Lily’s shoulder as they watched the sun peek out from behind the city.

“Uh, what are you…?” Lily said, still blushing.

“Shhhh. Just lemme have this for a few minutes.”

Lily nodded quietly and let herself relax, looking out into the horizon. They let the conversation lull for a few minutes as the two sat together, Lily's arm around Marie's shoulder, and the green squid against her.

This was nice, Lily thought to herself.

“Hey,” Marie said quietly, a bit of her usual self starting to show again. “Speaking of music, do you have any human music on that phone of yours? I’m curious…”

“Uhh… yeah?” Lily dug out the iPhone and unlocked it. She was glad she’d gotten around to re-training the fingerprint sensor. Opening her music app, she thought aloud, “Hmm, a taste of music or a taste of my taste in music…?”

“I mean, either works,” Marie said, looking up at her. “Just play me whatever.”

Lily looked at her. “Well, if you say so.” She dug up the live version of a song called ‘Randy’, one of the last things she had added to her phone from the human world. “I’ll play one of my favorites, why not? This one brings me back to the first concert I attended, and while it’s repetitive, it was really good at getting me pumped and in a good mood. Heh, would probably do better than that here.”

She hit play, and let the sound of Justice fill the silence, nervous. As the tempo built up, it all came flooding back to her. The light show, the crowd, the heat, the excitement. She couldn’t help but start bobbing her head to the beat when it kicked in, and imagine it all over again, a smile on her face. Marie could feel this energy pouring from her, and couldn’t help but join her, sitting up and dancing from her seat.

After three and a half minutes of rocking out, the breakdown into the verse of the song brought some quiet, and before the vocals kicked in, Lily asked her friend quickly, “Do you want me to try to translate?”

“If you think you can.”

She nodded and thought hard, trying to recall the lyrics, and with some thought, not following the rhythm, but trying to keep the pitch, translated the lyrics from English to Inkling:

 

“Get up and shake it off

It’s time that you listen up and hear the call

Bail out the water

Better not, you’re on fire

Back against the wall

 

Don’t stop

Try to make your mark

And make your mind up

Don’t stop

Work it out and try to make it

 

Randy

Get yourself together

Got to get it up to make it better

Randy

You don’t have to suffer

Step outside and find yourself a lover

When you know you’ve arrived

And it’s time, don’t shoot low

Aim it high

When you know you’ve arrived

And it’s time, take it slow

Shoot it hiiigh-iigh-iigh~”

 

“Impressive.” Marie grinned, bobbing her head as the next part of the song kicked in. “I didn't know you sang. You were focused pretty hard for that.”

“Eheh, yeah.” Lily had put one of her arms out in the air, and was shaking to the beat. “I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally start singing in English with the guys on this track. I reaaally wanted to do that.”

“English… is that the name of the human language?”

“Er, one of. I wanna say there were probably more than a hundred languages being used on the planet when I left? English is the one I grew up with, and one of the most prominent.”

“Wow. I will say though, you were right. This song would be really good at getting the squids moving. There’s a certain quality to it that…”

The crackle of a radio in Marie’s pocket interrupted her, and she sighed. “Ahh, she had to interrupt this eventually.” She pulled it out and keyed the transmit button. “Come in?”

“Hello up there!” came the voice of Agent 4. “How are you both holding up?”

“Better, thank you,” Marie said into the radio, looking over at Lily and giving her a thumbs up. “You do alright overnight?”

“Yeah I’m good,” came the reply. “Found somewhere relatively safe to hole up.”

Lily gestured for the radio, and got it. “When you say ‘relatively’...”

“Hey, Li-- Agent 5! Yeah, look down from where you are now.”

Lily got up from the edge first, then, getting on her front, peeked her head over the edge of the platform.

Waaaaaaaaaaay down below them, on the watery floor of the Octo Valley, was a series of moving platforms surrounding a giant pit, with metal hatch doors recessed into the pit. It uneased Lily. “...Point taken,” she said, and handed the radio back to Marie.

Marie took the radio, and keyed it again. “We’ll get moving shortly. I know we’ve still got some things to do first, but with the help of the both of you, I think I’m ready to take this fight directly to him. Two out.”

“Four out.” The radio went quiet.

Lily and Marie both got up from the edge, and started to head back. “Look, thanks for coming around this morning. I hope that one day once things have settled that I’ll be able to explain what’s been going on.” She took a moment to glance at the back of Lily’s head. “At least that cut is healing well. You should be out on the field again before too long.”

“Mmm.” Lily stared forward. She immediately thought back to the fall. “I guess so, yeah. I’m a little nervous though. I guess I’m just gonna take the plunge and see if there’s any way I can get into those Turf War sports and build up my skill without getting my ass handed to me.”

Marie nodded. “Honestly that would be best. At the same time, once our work is done, we can probably help you with what’s left here in the Valley… I shouldn’t promise too much more though, I’m still technically holding the fort here while the Captain’s out on business.”

“I get it. Hell, you’ve done so much for me already, in you and Four just acclimating me to the world…”

They had made their way back to the Cuttlefish Cabin. Marie turned to Lily. “Well, so long as it makes our world worth living in, we’d welcome having you in it.” She turned toward the door to the cabin, making to enter, but turned back around shortly after. “Oh, before I forget. The News said there may be some rain in the next day or two, so be careful.”

“Will do!” Lily smiled, misunderstanding the idea of the message. “You take care, Marie. I guess contact me when everything works out. I’d love to be here to welcome Agent 4 back.”

“Heh, alright. Take care, Agent 5.”

Marie stepped into the cabin. Satisfied that her job was done, Lily casually binned her empty coffee cup and leaped through the grate to swim back to Inkopolis.

Chapter Text

Most of the rest of that day was spent back at Agent 4’s apartment, making mashups and looking through what was on television. Lily had found that there was indeed a ‘sports’ channel, and while trying to make a Madeon song work with a song she had found through her squid phone’s internet, she’d glance over at the TV screen at the replay of some earlier match, or talk show, or league game.

From this, she learned a few things. For one, Turf War was not the only sanctioned sport enjoyed with ink-based weaponry. Though the most common, there were more competitive sports that enjoyed more coverage, at least on the channel she was watching.

The other thing she learned is that this squid song really worked with the Madeon beat. She saved the sketch and made a note to herself to work on it more some other time.

Lily took the afternoon to walk through the city. She used her phone to plot out a path past one of the nearby buildings that supposedly held another human artifact on her way back to the Square.

The rest of the city felt very different to her, and as she walked through the busy streets, surrounded by all types of vehicles and sapient marine life, she felt like an intruder in an alien world, moreso than usual.

Her nerves stayed with her until she reached her first stop. She looked up at the building the mockup Sheldon had given her had directed her to: the New Albacore Hotel.

Whoa , she thought to herself. Wasn’t expecting it to be THAT tall. Well, I guess it can’t hurt to at least take a look…

She stepped inside, carrying her backpack, strode past the lobby, and into an elevator on the other side. Lily closed the doors and, left to herself for a moment, set her backpack down, and pulled out the Tracker.

Lily swept the tracker slowly from ground to sky. As Sheldon had predicted, it started to click when it pointed upward. Damn. Alright. The tracker went back in the backpack, and she pressed the button for the topmost floor.

As the elevator whizzed upwards, she had a moment to think. She was pretty sure she noticed some scaffolding outside, perhaps if there really was no roof access she could try to climb up that...

The lift slowed to a halt, and the doors opened onto a red-carpeted corridor. Agent 5 stepped out to take a look through the corridors. Up here seemed to be some of the bigger suites, with all sorts of fancy names, like the Pacific Suite, or the Marianas Suite.

Wait, huh? Lily did a double-take when seeing that one. Huh. I mean, it makes sense, considering the naming scheme of this world, but…

She spent ten minutes walking around the floor but indeed couldn’t find any civilian roof access. There was a maintenance elevator that looked like it would go all the way to the roof, but it was locked behind a keycard system, and the main entry point seemed to be a floor below.

Okay, so when I come back here, I gotta either find a keycard, go up the scaffolding, or maybe… find a way up the side? Surely there’s some way to get up there. But I have an idea of the place now... I better get moving just in case someone decides I look suspicious.

Lily returned to the elevator, went to the ground floor, and continued walking her way to the Square.

She would make it about an hour of walking later, slipping her way through the fence of the other side of the construction site that separated her from the Square, and crossing carefully and quietly. Using her squid form to slip back through on the other side, in the corner of the Square, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked back past the site at the city. Smiling, she walked over to a railing near the Shoal, some arcade, leaning on it as she looked through the squid phone’s app store for something to try.


Sheldon’s call came in as the orange glow of the sunset began to fade into a deep blue night. It was a very quick message, but from what Lily could make out, something was happening, possibly “it”, the big thing they’d all been working towards, and both Sheldon and Marie were departing to assist Agent 4, and could Lily please watch over the Hideout.

“Of course,” she’d said. Not that she had any other obligations.

So she found herself on an empty Tentakeel Hideout, at night, carrying her Splattershot Jr in both hands, ink tank strapped to her back. Octo Valley wasn’t entirely silent tonight - strangely enough, there was the sound of some very muffled music far, far below her, just loud enough for the bass to be audible. Lily wondered to herself just what was going on down there…

Sheldon had left her some reading material, too - there was a short note on the bench outside of Cuttlefish Cabin, atop a couple of pages of documents. She’d had her attention drawn to them when she’d arrived, but she had decided to wait until she was at least sure that she was the only squid around.

After completing her second pass around the platform, she decided that she was not in any immediate threat and, radio nearby, sat by the Cabin bench and picked up the small note from Sheldon.

 

Agent 5,

Received preliminary results back from DNA testing earlier today. I’ve left you a copy of what I received, with some annotations (laysquid explanations) where necessary. Top page is my summary. Please read when you can.

Sheldon

 

Oh, right… Lily thought to herself. With everything that had happened, she had almost completely forgotten about why she’d become an Inkling in the first place. She looked down at the papers next to her. The top sheet was covered in the same handwriting, and glancing at the page underneath revealed printed text. Man, should I really look at this now…?

She looked around, almost hoping for some distraction. The radio crackled to life at that moment.

“Alright, I’m here Four. Nice work. Hold tight a moment…”

A few seconds silence.

“Holy carp! Did you mean to knock those right off?!”

“Heck yeah, Four! Keep at it, we’ll win her back…”

Lily’s hand reached for the transmit button, but she stopped herself. No, maybe not while they’re working… I’m gonna have to just face the facts here. Her fingers instead twiddled the volume on the radio, turning the voices of Marie and Agent 4 down to a whisper. With a heavy sigh, she picked up the papers and read.

About a week ago now, she had fallen into their world, landed in an ink puddle, and been changed from her old human self into an Inkling like many of the inhabitants of the city. She had had a DNA sample taken from her arm, the hope being that she would one day find out why this had happened.

According to the summary, when the sample was handed over, there were supposedly still some “unknown cells” (human DNA, she guessed), which were being eaten away and converted by the Inkling ink that had been absorbed into her body. Not being native to this environment, and indeed not having existed for however long, whereas most marine species would have at most a mild or irritating reaction to the ink, her human body had experienced a violent reaction as the ink completely seeped into her and, she guessed, somehow, completely rewrote her genetic code, causing her transformation.

That was what seemed to be implied, anyway.

In reality, whichever genetic scientist (not named in the summary) saw the Inkling DNA eating away and converting the few unknown DNA cells they had been presented with, had managed to isolate a few remaining, untouched cells, and was still working to identify what it belonged to. Sheldon had stated on the page that he could not (and would not) tell where the sample had come from and that her true identity was safe. But, that said…

Whereas sometime before, she might still have been partly human, besides the memories in her head, by now she was entirely Inkling.

Lily set the paper down and stared forward at the lone tree gently swaying in the wind.

….Man. I mean, I always kinda figured I was nowhere near human anymore. It feels… so heavy to have it be more or less confirmed.

She got up. Walked the perimeter again, Splattershot Jr hanging loosely in her hand. I shouldn’t feel so bad about this. Why do I feel so bad about this?

This was her routine for the next couple of hours. She tried to distract herself and deflect her emotions by focusing on her task, and ended up stewing in them instead.

It was about 9 PM when Lily gave up patrolling until she fixed herself up, curled up on the bench of Cuttlefish Cabin, in the dim lights of the Hideout and accidentally fell asleep while attempting to calm herself.


 

As soon as she felt conscious she looked around, confused.

Lily had come to, in the middle of a forest path. It felt familiar, but she didn’t quite understand why. She got to her feet and looked around. The path was concrete, winding its way through the forest but off the path, the ground was covered in leaves and pine needles. To one side of the path, a small creek ran alongside it, the earth eroded around it from grander times, but now a small stream surrounded by reeds and tall grass.

The river and the path felt familiar to her, but not the infinite forest that otherwise stretched around her. She found herself heading off, the river to her left.

A clap of thunder interrupted her thoughts. Looking up, she saw, partially hidden by the canopy, strange swirling clouds above her. Wait, she wondered to herself. Did I get here from whatever that thing is?

Somehow she just knew that above her, was some sort of giant portal. How did she know this? This all felt rather weird and surreal. She continued on, pulling out her Splattershot and treading forth carefully.

After a few minutes of walking, and calming herself enough to find the experience of walking through the forest relaxing, she came to a fork in the path. The left path, following closer to the river, went up a gentle rise in the terrain, while the right was more covered by the trees and went around the rise.

Without thinking, she pulled her radio from her belt and spoke into it. “I’ve come to a fork in the path. What’s the way out?”

Marie’s voice came through immediately on the other end. “They both lead the same way. Don’t use your ink.”

“What? Where am I?”

“You tell me, human.”

Lily looked around, confused. What was going on here? Hang on, was it just her or was Marie speaking perfect English? “Uhh… I don’t know yet.”

There was no reply from Marie.

Instead, a new voice spoke through the radio. “Unit 1 to Base. Are you catching any of this?”

Another new voice. “Affirmative, Unit 1. We count two entities of unknown origin, unknown language. Radar shows one new target under the vortex. You are cleared to engage the alien.”

What?! Alien?! “Marie, what’s going on? I think someone’s coming to kill me.” Lily spoke frantically into the radio. At the same time, she wondered why she felt that way.

But Marie, again, didn’t reply. The second unknown voice came back. “Please identify yourself in English.”

Wasn’t she speaking English right now? “Please, I’m just a civilian. I don’t know where I am. I mean no harm.”

“I repeat, please identify yourself in English.”

...Somehow, while she could understand them, she could not communicate with them. She replaced the radio. This was not going to work.

She decided the best option was to stay among the trees. Whoever was coming for her would hopefully have a harder time getting a clear shot at her. Gripping the Splattershot Jr tightly, and pulling the Splat Bombs from her pack to add them to her holster, she strayed from the path, making note of where she’d left off, and headed into the forest that stretched off into infinity.


It was not long before she found herself completely lost, surrounded by pine trees and oak leaves. She trod carefully, looking all around her for some hopeful escape plan, but none came.

Wandering through the trees, Lily came across a grand oak tree. Its many branches looked majestic as they reached outwards toward the sky. She stared up at it, admiring the beauty of the forest at that moment.

It was then that she started to hear movement. Something, or some things, approaching, their feet loudly stamping the leafy ground somewhere behind her. She rushed for the tree and climbed up, getting up as high as she could until she felt obscured by the leaves and branches, at least fifteen meters up. Then she waited, not daring to move or even breathe, one hand holding onto the branch to stay steady, the other holding the Splattershot as it hung loosely by her side.

Not too long after, five people rocked up, dressed in all black, military-looking gear, and carrying some sort of assault rifle. Wait - these guys are human, Lily realised as she silently watched them fan out around the tree. Then that means…

She thought back to the path she had travelled on not too long ago. Now she remembered - One of the towns she had lived in had a path like that behind her house which she would walk along to get to the local lagoon. But something’s not right - there wasn’t much of a forest there, just sort of a strip of mostly-untouched nature between houses and paddocks.

“Freeze!”

Huh? Oh, shit.

Looking down, taking her finger off the Splattershot, she realised that she had been found. One of the men was looking right at her, weapon pointed right at her.

“Sweet Jesus, what the fuck are you?” said another of the men as he also whipped around to face her. The other soldiers were maneuvering into position around the tree, covering every angle of any possible escape. 

“Lay down your weapons and come down. Slowly.” The first soldier was more measured.

“Uhh, okay…” Lily said, knowing they wouldn’t understand her anyway.

Carefully, slowly, she placed the Splattershot down on the branch, trying to make sure it would not fall away from her.

She tried to do the same with the Splat Bombs, but in the process of placing it down, it did not hold, and it toppled and fell from the branch.

As she tried to grab it, one of the men opened fire.

And that’s when things started to go to hell.

 

The burst of gunfire missed her just fine.

However, two very unfortunate bullets hit the ink tank on her back and the falling Splat Bomb.

The Ink Tank shattered, and its contents burst out in a wide radius around her.

The Splat Bomb detonated instantly, as the bullet struck it.

This sent ink everywhere.

 

The surprise gunfire caused her to lose her balance, and she hugged the tree tightly to avoid falling.

“No!” Lily yelled, reaching out for the now-detonated Bomb. But it was too late.

Lily’s ink splattered the tree, coating whatever it touched in the light blue substance. It covered the ground around the tree as well.

The ink also landed on the men.

The five soldiers writhed and screamed as they were covered in the stuff, and Lily’s eyes bulged wide. “Oh no no no no no…”

The changes began almost immediately, appendages sprouting from their heads, sending their helmets flying. Their screaming and flailing almost gave her the impression that they were burning up as the changes happened.

One of the men, partway in the middle of their transformation, their body looking freaky, half-humanoid, half-Inkling, their head bloated, managed to choke out a command: “Open Fire!”

Lily scrambled down from the tree, certain that one of them would before too long.

But they were quicker. A fourth person, in the midst of their pain, gripped their weapon long enough to unleash another burst in Lily’s direction.

This one met its mark. Two bullets ripped into Lily’s shoulder and chest, throwing her backwards off the tree.

This was it, she knew. She was gon--


She hit the ground almost immediately, and her eyes snapped open. Wait, what just…

It took a moment for her to remember where she was, and realised what had just happened.

Ugggghh… Thanks, brain, she chided at herself. Just what I needed...

She sat up. She’d apparently rolled off the bench, back at the Cuttlefish Cabin, and the very short drop from it to the ground had jolted her. Rubbing her head, she checked the time on her phone. She’d been out for about three hours.

Man…

She got up, and gripped the Splattershot Jr in her hands again, rather tightly. “Well it definitely can't have been that bad,” she said aloud, to the empty platform, as she looked over at the notes that were slightly scattered on the ground. When it happened to me...

She reached over, tidying the notes and replacing them on the bench, then took her radio. Turning up the volume to around where it was before, she noticed it had gone quiet.

Actually, come to think about it, the Valley itself had gone rather quiet, hadn’t it? There was no more music playing from down below. She decided to call in and make sure everyone was OK.

...Buuuuut she’d better make sure that she did another round around the Hideout first. Make sure she hadn’t missed anything else.


“You seated back there, Agent 4?” Sheldon called from the driver’s seat. Marie and Callie, her cousin, were putting on their seatbelts in the two passenger seats next to him.

“Yep!” Four called back from a bench in the trailer of Sheldon’s hover-truck.

“Everything secured?”

“Don’t worry,” said Marie, loud enough so Four could hear her as well. “We made sure to chain him down before I got back in.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty cramped in here anyway, but he’s not going anywhere.” Four had her Hero Shot pointed right at the unconscious form of DJ Octavio, encased in Marie’s snowglobe prison. The giant eyes of the Great Zapfish stared at her, but it didn’t really seem to know what was going on. That was probably a good thing, Four thought to herself. Around and under Agent 4's seat was the scaffolding and equipment for the makeshift stage Marie had brought along.

“Are you sure you can fly this thing with all of us on board?” Marie glanced over at the horseshoe crab, raising an eyebrow.

“Please,” Sheldon rolled his eyes as he keyed the engine and the truck roared to life. “I carry a full cargo of weapons across to Grizzco and beyond every other month. We’ll be fine.”

Gently, the truck lifted from the ground and stage of the Grand Octopia Amphitheatre and took off into the sky.

Sheldon’s, Marie’s, and Four’s radios all went off at the same time. “Five, reporting in. What’s your status?”

“Go on, Sheldon,” Marie said, glancing over at her cousin, who was still quiet and keeping to herself. She wondered what was going on in her head…

Sheldon keyed the mic as he steered the tree out into the open air of the Octo Valley. “Hey there, Agent 5. The mission’s a success. Everybody’s safe, just tired. How’s everything on the home front?”

“You didn’t miss anything, really. Just… nightmares about home, if I had to be honest. But nothing’s been disturbed, and none of the point sensors have gone off. I could hear the music from up here, honestly.”

“I’d believe that,” chimed in Four. “Octavio does his music way too high. My ears are still ringing.”

“Who?” called in Lily.

But her question was lost. “So I’m guessing you saw what I left you, then?” Sheldon asked, piloting the vehicle past the towering tentacle pillars.

“I read your summary between patrols,” Lily said with a sigh. “Didn’t have much else to think about so…”

“One sec, Five,” Agent 4 said suddenly, their speaking voice suddenly going more serious and professional. “He's coming to.”

“Wait, already?” Marie called from the front seat. “That was fast.” Keying her radio, she said, “We’ve got this from here, Five. Go on and head home. We’ll chat over coffee tomorrow morning. I’ll send Four the details.”

“Alright…” said Five with some uncertainty. “If you say so. Four, your card’ll be hidden under the welcome mat.”

“Good to know,” said Four with some relief. “It’ll be good to be back in my own bed after all this.”

“You guys take care. Five out.”

The radio went quiet.

The hover-truck continued its ascent into the night sky.

Chapter Text

Lily found consciousness after a good night’s rest the next morning. Once again, it felt weird to be sleeping in an actual bed. But, man, was it appreciated.  She pulled the warm, thick blanket a little tighter around herself as she waited to feel more alive.

The sound of something else shifting on the bed reminded her: Agent 4 was home. She gently turned onto her back and looked over. Sure enough, there she was, right next to her even, fast asleep. She obviously needed the rest more than she did.

Lily debated whether or not to read through her phone while she woke. That decision was made for her, as her friend stirred from the movement. She watched, somewhat shyly as Agent 4 slowly came to, shifting gently and eventually opening her eyes to see her friend. “Hey,” she said softly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “What’s the time?”

Lily reached behind her for her squid phone. “About nine-thirty, apparently. You been home long?”

“Mm. Six hours sleep ain’t too bad.” Four yawned. “Have you been awake for very long?”

“Nah, actually. Sorry if I woke you just now turning over.”

“It’s fine. It’s just, ya know, really nice to be sharing this bed with someone.”

Lily let a slight blush cross her cheeks. “Yeah. Just… Really comforting.”

Agent Four sighed happily, and leaned in to rest against her friend. This did not help the blushing situation. "I'm just... so glad to be back home." She took a breath. "And glad to have someone to share my home with."

Lily smiled, and held her close, assuming she was OK with this. "Thank you for letting me stay here for the last few nights."

"It's really not a problem. Once we get you trained up in Turf Wars and making some cash, I can help ya look for a place of your own if you like."

"You really are too kind, Fo-- ...uh. Huh..." Lily realised quite suddenly that there was a bit of an issue.

"What? Lily?"

"...I only know you as Agent Four, I just realised."

"What? How...?"

"I... I don't think you ever needed to tell me your name..."

They both stared at each other for a few awkward moments, and then burst out in laughter.

"Oh, that's ridiculous. I love it." Four rubbed her eyes as she calmed down. "My real name is Lorne. It's, ah, a pleasure to meet you." She stuck out her hand, offering a handshake. Lily shook it firmly, and they both laughed some more.

"Shall we get up yet? Do we need to?"

"Nah... Let me savor this," Lorne replied. "I earned this bedrest, thank you very much." 


 

As they prepared to leave for the cafe Marie had suggested to meet at, several days later, Four tugged at the back of Lily’s top. “Hey. I've been seeing you wearing that for over a week now. Off.”

Lily turned to face her, arms slightly raised in a “what did you expect” kind of pose. “These are the only clothes I have. My old ones sort of… melted away or whatever. And they’d be too big for me now anyway.”

“I’ll lend you some older clothes today, it’s fine. But that and your shorts need to get washed.”

A few minutes later, Lily left the apartment in an old blue-and-white-striped polo top and some tight-fitting denim jeans. As Four locked the door, carrying a small laundry bag, the two of them caught sight of a next-door neighbour, an older-looking snail lady, entering her apartment. “Hi, Shellie,” Four greeted happily. “Night shift treat you well?”

“Coulda been worse, Lorne,” Shellie replied with a bit of a sigh. “Y’know how it is with vocational schools. I just hope with the rainstorm today that nobody decides to track mud in. I’ll be cleaning those carpets for ages. But at least it pays alright.”

The two chatted briefly, and then Shellie stepped inside, supposedly to sleep.

 

The two girls took the metro again, and this time ended up on a busy train, such that both girls had to stand. Lily was glad to leave when they reached their stop.

“Hey, this is it,” Lorne said, nudging Lily to a halt about ten minutes of walking later in front of the Inkopolis Gardens Coffeehouse. It was located in a more suburban part of the city, the building separated from the sidewalk by a small hedge and a front patio where several tables were set. It was relatively quiet here, which was nice. Sheldon was seated at a table, waiting for them.

“Glad you could make it, Lily, Lorne,” Sheldon greeted with a wave. “The others are inside. Let’s get your order in first. Follow me.”

After Sheldon introduced them to the barista as part of Marie’s group and they both ordered, and received, their drinks, they were led behind the counter, through a hallway (Lily realised quickly that this coffeehouse was lived in) and out of a door, the two Agents found themselves in a tidy backyard.

Lily audibly gasped as she looked around. Green. So much green. The coffeehouse backyard was a well-kept and maintained garden, flowerbeds lining two of the sides, and a privacy hedge lining the back wall. Paving tiles from the back door to the furthest fence led to a wooden deck, upon which sat several chairs, including an outdoor couch and some small tables.

And on that couch sat Marie and her cousin, Callie. The Squid Sisters. They were both in casual clothing, and Marie was forgoing the kimono today in favour of warmer civilian clothing.

They seemed deep in discussion, but Marie lightly raised her hand, pausing whatever conversation they were having until later. Both of them turned to face Sheldon, Lorne and Lily, Marie waving and Callie with a big smile. “Hi, girls!” The latter called out to them. “Come, take a seat!”

“Thanks for waiting for them, Sheldon,” Marie nodded and fist-bumped him when the three joined them on the deck, carrying their drinks.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Lily started, as Callie was already getting up to shake hands with both Agents.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Callie beamed, and Lily wasn’t sure if she was being genuine but smiled anyway. “Just catching up with my cousin. I don’t believe we’ve met…?”

“This is Agent 5,” Marie promptly introduced. “Otherwise known as Lily. We spoke with her briefly over the radio last night?”

“Oh! Yes, I vaguely remember. So you’re the human, then!”

“Huh?” Marie looked confused. “I hadn’t told you that yet…”

“I… I had heard things.” Callie shrugged, leaving it at that for now. “So, is it true…?”

Lily looked around at the others as they all sat on the couch. Marie nodded at her, so she replied, “Kinda? I was… Long story short, I ended up here somehow about a week ago, and I got turned pretty much right away. Been living as a squid since.”

“Don’t worry, cous’,” Marie cut in before she could get more questions in. “We can interrogate her later. We do have a bit of business to get through first.”

The pink-tentacled girl nodded and sighed. “Alright…”

“Hey,” Lily said, gesturing with her paper cup before taking a sip. “I’ll be here as long as you need me.”

Marie nodded. “Alright, well, let’s recap, for Lily and Callie. Since you've both been out of the loop...” She referred to a notepad. “So, about two weeks ago now, we first discovered that the Great Zapfish had gone missing. It was about that time that I also discovered Callie had gone missing, and that DJ Octavio had broken out from his prison. We know now that these events were all connected.”

“Usually,” she continued conversationally to the two Agents, “and by that I mean the last time Octavio was a nuisance and pinched the Great Zapfish, we relied on our grandpa for the hiring and training. He and our previous agent have been away on business though, so with that in mind, I had to be the one to wait around the Square and hope that someone would notice and follow me. And that… took a few days.”

Lorne nodded. “I remember when I first spotted you hiding your face under the Brella. It really did feel like I was the only one who could see you. I swear it was like you were a ghost.”

“Yeah, it was a little demoralising,” Marie agreed. “There were more than a few squids that straight-up walked right by me to get to Grizzco and didn’t recognise me. But then, yeah, Agent 4 arrived on the scene. And I gave you a shot, and I am so glad we did. Seriously, Agent 4. Lorne. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make this happen.” Marie looked down at the coffee cup in her hands. “It’s not a glass, but it’ll have to do. Cheers.” She raised her cup, and everyone leaned in to tap their cups together, and took a moment to savour their coffee.

Sheldon, who finished his cup first while the others only gulped down a few mouthfuls, chimed in. “Meanwhile, Miss Marie and I were finalising a deal to test out some unfinished weapons on the Octarians. Of course, originally she was going to be the one to go after Octavio, since she ended up hiding in plain sight for a while.”

“Right. So by the time Agent 4 had cleared out the Hideout again and made it totally safe, we’d worked that out. Checked in with her before she took off, and then…”

Marie glanced meaningfully at Lily, who was taking another short sip and sitting leaned forward, listening intently. When she finished her sip and put the cup back down, she noticed that the group was staring at her. “Oh…” she said, embarrassed. “...So that’s when I entered the picture, huh?”

“And when those human artefacts fell from the sky.” Marie nodded.

“Oooohhhhh. I get it now.” Callie said suddenly, thinking hard. “I thought Octavio was making that up.”

“Eh?” Marie turned to look at her. “Making what up?”

“OK, so, I have a real quick story from while I was under. I think it’ll shed some light on things.”

“Wait…” Marie was confused. “Didn’t he call those things you were wearing ‘hypnoglasses’? How do you remember anything from being in them?”

“I’m not sure I can explain the sensation properly,” Callie said, carefully wording what she wanted to say. “But it was like… There was still a part of me that was… me, but that part was mostly trapped in my own head and more of a spectator? My body was doing and saying things, and I had no control over any of it.”

“OK, that actually sounds terrifying,” Lorne said, and Lily and Sheldon nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, but get this. One of those items was a pair of headphones or something? They’re like yellow and black? Anyway, fell from the sky, conked him right on the head.” Callie smacked her open palm against her clenched fist to emphasise the point. “When he came to he was pissed. Got his intel team to figure out where that came from. How they did it, and what they mean, I wasn’t privy to, but they figured out that you had the same sort of ‘signature’ as those headphones and I guess decided, ‘Oh they must have caused this, get them’.”

“Huh.” Lily was impressed. “That might not be far from the truth. See, from my perspective I was just falling down this ravine that was opening up, and then before I blacked out I’m pretty sure I just… appeared above whatsit-called, the Octo Valley.”

“Oh, so, the important thing is that they were still a human male at that time,” Marie mentioned to her cousin. “But yeah, they came down, landed in some of Agent 4’s ink, which caused them to change over the next day or so. They were pretty much down while those changes happened. We also noticed that Octavio’s strike team weren’t making any moves, which was strange.”

“Because they were planning an attempt at capturing her,” Callie filled in. “Partly because of the perceived slight against him, but mostly now because they worked out what you were from old documents or samples or something, and figured the stuff they’d detected landing around the place would be useful, or that you’d come looking for them. Seriously, when those Octarians aren’t being… creepy evil brainwashed things, they can be really friggin’ smart. I think they might’ve been planning to get you working for them too..?”

Lily raised an eyebrow and frowned slightly. “Well, it didn’t really work out well for them, thanks to Sheldon and Marie.” She grinned at Marie. “And a bit of luck in clothes selection.”

Marie snorted. “Or lack of. I still maintain that that threw them off quite a bit. Enough for you to get most of them, anyway.”

Callie furrowed her brow. “Wait, Marie, are you implying she…?”

Marie just moved right along, but not before she shared a quick smirk with the group and pulling her phone from her pocket, loading something up on it to share with Callie. Callie covered her mouth to chuckle. Lily missed this happening as she was finishing her drink.

“Anyway,” Marie continued, “Once we got her settled, things were more or less full steam ahead. Agent 4 was pushing hard. We were getting it done.”

“I do remember their strike team taking another crack at Agent 5, somewhere in there,” Callie pointed out.

“‘Crack’ would be the right word for it,” Lily nodded, and Lorne leaned back to take a look at the cut on her head. It was closed up now, just scarred. “Went on my first mission, going out to get what ended up being my laptop. They ended up taking a cheap shot on me and knocking me off the stage.” She leaned forward and placed her empty cup on the table. “They really had me dead to rights, the only reason I didn’t end up imprisoned or in someone’s dungeon or whatever is they used up their ink chasing after me, and I guess you can’t really lay down ink or get ink back on those screens their domes are made out of.”

“Yeah, just slides right off,” Callie nodded. “You’ll find that with some surfaces.”

“Mmm. It was just the one Octo there, though,” Agent 5 pointed out. “I imagine the other three went to take you on, Four?”

“Guess so,” Lorne shrugged. “So wait, I haven’t heard this story. You fell off the stage? Forget the Octolings, how are you alive?”

“I mean, I guess I probably had some adrenaline surging through me, by the time I’d actually fallen. Plus I actually /was/ really fucked up for quite a while. Vision problems, terrible pains, and the sort of stuff you might expect from getting knocked about.”

"They weren't in good shape once I found them back at the Hideout, asleep and all cut up," Marie continued, remembering her regret at sending them out so soon. "So... yeah, after that Agent 5 focused more on recovery and getting used to the world, and will be going back to the field soon, but as for us, it’s been more or less business as usual, compared to last time we ran the show.”

“And then we got to you,” Sheldon pointed out, his empty cup also on the table. The five of them had finished their drinks, and had either put their cups on the table or were cradling them in their hands or laps.

“Okay, so that’s I guess the one thing that’s actually fuzzy for me,” Callie frowned. “There’s a gap in my memory between Octavio and I fighting Four and us doing the Inkantation. How’d you get those glasses off of me?”

“Your cousin is a really good shot,” Agent 5 said, recalling the moment and being visibly impressed. “Like, hitman-like levels of good.”

“That was a really rough shot to take, “ Marie said, looking down at the cup sitting in her lap. “For obvious reasons. I mean, it felt great when pulled it off, but there were a few moments there where I was worried I was going to splat you.”

“I mean if it had to come to that…” Callie trailed off.

“Stop,” Marie said firmly. “I would have never forgiven myself, not after the events that led the two of us to… this point.”

“Either way,” Sheldon said quickly, moving the girls right along, “you didn’t miss that shot, and Callie was rescued and Octavio defeated…”

Lily was the one to interrupt now. “Marie mentioned a Great Zapfish before. Is it still being looked for? What even is it?”

“Well, Octavio stole it to power his flying… DJ booth… bomb launcher… airship... thing,” Lorne explained to her. “We pretty much took that out of commission and brought the Great Zapfish back to its resting place on the Deca Tower. It supplies a not-insignificant amount of power into the Inkopolis power grid, as I understand.”

“So it’s like the name implies? A big electricity-giving dude?”

“Well… yes, if you want to put it like that,” Sheldon continued. “It also provides us with Zapfishes, and they also provide power, just not as much.”

“So then this Octavio guy’s booth is just so incredibly power-inefficient that he steals a major power source just to run it? That’d be just sad if it weren’t also evil. I almost wish I could take a look for myself, but as is I’d probably get my ass handed to me.”

“I mean, you can go talk to him," Marie said with a chuckle. "He’s not really a threat anymore, but don’t expect him to be friendly.”

Lily nodded. The conversation was at a lull. She sighed and leaned back on the couch, taking in the garden around her again.

“We should wrap this up soon,” Sheldon said, looking up at the gray clouds swimming into view over the skyscrapers of the CBD, “or at least get inside. I think we had a few more business points to cover?”

Marie nodded, glancing up at the clouds. “Yeah. So, now everyone’s caught up. Callie and I have decided that we’ll be taking some time away from work and music to sorta… patch things up between us. Now, in the meantime, I do have a task for both of you, Agents 4 and 5. How’s the cut, Five?”

“She looks fine,” Four replied for her. “I mean, it’s scarred, but it’s more or less healed over.”

“Great. I’d like you to take her out and get her into the Turf War scene over the next week. Five should get some more practice in combat, and get some more experience. Get her a Level 4 card. Then we ought to start giving her some assistance getting things from the Octo Valley.”

“I have some ideas if you want those headphones back,” Callie piped up. “But yes, some training would not go astray first.”

“I did scope out some options for getting up to whatever’s on top of the Albacore Hotel yesterday,” Lily admitted. “I was thinking when the time’s right, it should be fairly easy to get up there and collect it if I’m stealthy, as practice.”

“Maybe you should get on that soon,” Sheldon said. “The news said not that long ago that construction was on hold until they could get a crane in place to lift down a car that’s on that roof.”

“A… car?” Lily frowned.

“Yeah, there was a photo. It looks like it fell from a great height and just… splashed into… Oh.” Sheldon had made a guess at where the car had come from, and from the look of Lily’s disappointed face, so had she.

“...Hmm.” Lily finally said. “Well, I’d like to be there to see it when they get it down. If it is mine, no matter what condition it’s in, we can at least check it off the list.” She thought for a moment. “I’d likely be too short to see over the steering wheel now anyway,” she finished with a chuckle.

The conversation from there started to devolve and drift off-topic, so the gathering started to pack up, exchanging numbers, binning their coffee cups, making their way back into the coffeehouse and out onto the street. They all made sure to thank the baristas on duty, Lily and Lorne noting that they ought to come back some time.

 

After everyone had made their way back to the underground station, and were waiting for their train - the Squid Sisters and Sheldon heading to the Square, and the two Agents back to the apartment - rain had started to gently fall outside. As it increased in intensity, the ‘hiss’ of hundreds of raindrops hitting concrete reached their ears, and Lily turned to look back at the entrance.

“Good timing, Sheldon,” Marie said. “We made it out with minutes to spare.”

“Hey, uh, guys?” Callie was turned the other way, watching Lily.

The squid-girl was standing just shy of the entrance to the station and watching the rain fall and thud on the glass roof of the tunnel. Trails of water from outside were making their way down the floor of the tunnel and draining into the grate separating the ramp down to the platform from the platform itself. She sighed happily, enjoying the noise and the sights.

“You should probably get away from there, Lily,” Marie called over to her. “Just in case you get hurt.”

“Hurt?” Lily raised an eyebrow at her. “It’s just water.”

“That ‘just water’ is lethal to us,” Callie said, hands in pockets.

“What? That’s just saltwater, innit? I’m pretty sure rain is freshwater…”

Callie, Marie and Lorne stared at her. Sheldon had pulled out a notepad and was writing something, presumably about her.

“...Really? Squids can’t survive in water?” Lily was stunned. With a sad look out at the tunnel, she returned to the group. “But… that doesn’t make sense! Y’all used to live in the water! What’s in the taps then?”

“Natural oils,” Marie shrugged. “Not that crude stuff the rigs used to drill for. But that’s the stuff we squids thrive on.”

“...Huh…” Lily was slowly processing this. “Well, do any of you enjoy the sound of the rain, at least? Or does that just equate to danger nowadays?”

“Danger,” Lorne said definitively.

“Yup,” agreed Marie. Callie nodded.

“I’m somewhat lucky in that I can withstand the rain,” Sheldon said to her calmly, “but I quickly learned to be concerned for my squid friends when it starts to rain.”

“Fair enough. ...Wow, that’s just crazy to me.” Lily glanced back at the tunnel, and the noise of the rain. “Man.”

The group became aware of the sound of an approaching train, and Lily went quiet. A loudspeaker somewhere above them announced it as the City Loop train, and they all boarded.

The carriage was packed. Most of the squid passengers were wearing disposable ponchos of various colors to keep the rain off of their skin. Lily, Lorne and Sheldon had not managed to find a seat, and so stood close together near the seats Marie and Callie had managed to get. Lily watched Lorne pull out her phone and open up some social network app, and they both started to talk about them and which to join. Sheldon joined in their conversation shortly after.

Marie and Callie both sat back, the former looking around at the occupied and idle faces of the passengers on the carriage, the latter checking her phone.

“E-excuse me…”

A soft, shy voice nearby floated over to the Sisters. Callie looked up from her phone, and Marie looked over at the source of the voice. It was a squid, and she looked excited to see them. “Hi there,” Marie said, but trailed off.

It wasn’t quite a squid, actually. With her tentacles tied back and dyed purple, she could be easily mistaken for one, but both Sisters had both seen enough suction cups to know that this was an Octoling. In Inkopolis? How…?

Callie picked up the slack while Marie was momentarily stunned. “Hi! Always a pleasure to meet a fan. What’s up?” She said, immediately switching into her ‘idol mode’ and perking up, beaming at this unexpected guest.

The other three had heard the chatter and turned around. Agents 4 and 5 also both recognised the Octo (Lily, a little more slowly) and made to step between her and the Sisters, but Marie held an arm out to stop them. “Callie’s got this,” she said, just loud enough for them to hear over the noise of the train.

“I, um…” The Octoling girl was trying to overcome her nervousness, and seeing the commotion she was creating with Lily and Lorne was not helping. She made to back away. “N-nevermind, I’m sorry to int--”

Callie grabbed her hand. As calmingly as she could muster in their current environs, she said to the stranger, “It’s okay. They’re friends of ours. What did you want to say?” She continued grinning.

“Umm… I just wanted to say…” The girl took deep breaths. “I… saw you two at the concert in Octo Canyon two years ago. And, er, it honestly changed my life. So… I just wanted to say thank you. While I had the opportunity.” A small smile stayed onto her face.

“There you go!” Still smiling, more genuinely it seemed, Callie shook the poor girl’s hand. Callie fakes this role really well, Lily thought. “I’m glad that we managed to inspire you with our music!”

“Yeah,” Marie kicked in, having managed to flip her ‘in public’ switch. “And we’re glad you worked up the courage to come and see us. I hope you’ll come and see us perform again one day.”

“A-absolutely!” The girl’s smile widened. “Thank you! Sorry to bother you!” She waved and headed back to her seat down to one end of the carriage.

Encounter over, everyone returned to their posts, except for Lily, who wasn’t sure what had just happened. She looked about the carriage, but nobody else seemed to have paid much attention to the Octoling girl. In fact, more people were pointing and whispering about the Squid Sisters, though she supposed that was somewhat normal. But still… weren’t they the enemy?

Callie must have noticed Lily’s unease, and she said, “It’s the glasses. She doesn’t have ‘em. She’s as good as you or I.”

Lily thought on this. She didn't want to just let it go, but what Callie had said seemed consistent with the behaviour she’d seen so far. “If you say so…” After a bit of time, she returned to looking at her phone, installing the social app Lorne had shown her before.

The two agents said their farewells a few minutes later, as the train pulled into the Inkopolis Square station and the Sisters and Sheldon disembarked. Taking their seats, Lily and Lorne waved them off, then quickly returned to their previous conversation, talking about which accounts to follow.

Chapter Text

Two days later, about an hour and a half after sunrise, the front doors of the Hime Mansion opened, and Pearl, Marina, and two boys stepped inside. None of them spoke.


Their relief and elation from just a short hour ago had worn away. Both boys looked positively exhausted. As Pearl lead them through the entry hall into the massive main living space, she threw herself onto one of the long couches that lined the TV space, and rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.


Marina sat on the ground just next to her, knees to her chest, curled up in a ball of sorts, just staring out into space. The Octoling of the two boys, unaccustomed to this kind of huge space, and still in his black military gear, stood awkwardly. The Inkling, still in full Agent gear, took the initiative and sat on the similar couch sitting perpendicular to Pearl and Marina’s.

“It’s OK, Eight,” Marina said quietly, looking up at him out of the corner of her eye. “Take a seat.”

The Octoling boy, ‘Eight’, nodded quietly and took a seat at the end of Pearl’s couch. They were all silent, staring into space, and each was certain the others were thinking the exact same thought.

It wasn’t, heck yeah we just saved the world.

Instead, it was, oh my cod, we were just a coral’s hair away from death.

We were this close to blowing it for everyone.

Marina became aware of the sound of Pearl growling to herself. She reached behind her to rest her hand in Pearl’s, to attempt to comfort her, but—

“FUCKING HUMANS!” Pearl suddenly screamed out, in a half-croaky voice from ruining her voice earlier that morning, startling everyone. “Fuck! That was the most evilest shit I ever heard of! I can’t believe that just fucking happened!”

“I can’t believe they’re extinct and they’re still a threat,” Marina agreed, speaking softly.

“I… am not believing I nearly become smoothie,” Eight said slowly, staring at his hands.

The Inkling, Agent 3 of the New Squidbeak Splatoon, was silent for a moment. His headpiece pulsed as he looked up. “I can’t believe that thing was able to take control of me.”

“So were humans just evil, then?!” Pearl grumbled as she sat up. “Is that what we’re learning today? Is that why history nerds say there weren’t any land creatures on the planet when marine life evolved?”

“…Did they murder all those, too?” Marina found herself wondering aloud. After what she’d seen today, she would not put it past them…

“…So what now?” Three asked. “Is Eight gonna be safe here on the surface, what with… things being how they are?”

“Inkopolis will accept him,” Marina replied, with a small smile. “He’ll just… blend right in. Going from my own experience, anyway…”

“Eight can stay the night,” Pearl said quietly. “Once we get back from work. We’ll get him settled.” She paused. “Marina… We should… talk later.”

“…yeah, okay.” Marina lowered her head into her knees and let out a heavy sigh. They had not been able to talk alone about Marina’s… origins since it had been brought up. Pearl said it was fine, that she still appreciated and cared for her all the same, but there was still this nagging feeling in the back of her head…

Her mind briefly touched on Sheldon’s work-in-progress translator, then jumped to… She looked up quickly. “Wait, I just realised something. Pearl, the phone.”

“Mmh? What phone?”

“The one with the weird characters. The white rectangular thing. I swear some of the text we saw in the NILS facility on Eight’s feed looked pretty similar.”

“Oh, huh… so you reckon it’s a NILS phone? Wait— It might be a human’s phone?”

“Huh? What’s this about?” Three looked over, curious. He had zoned out, staring off into space briefly. “Like, one of these?” He pulled a mobile phone from his pocket. It had not been turned on for a long time.

“Yeah,” Marina nodded. “I’m thinking, if we can get Sheldon or that blue-haired girl to transla—”

“She could use it just fine, remember?” Pearl reminded her. “She can read it. Call me suspicious, but considering what we’ve just been through…”

“…Huh.” Marina was deep in thought, understanding what Pearl was getting at. If that inkling could supposedly fully understand the human language, something that no historian had managed to decode due to the lack of readable text to compare against… she could be a NILS agent. “Perhaps… But we don’t have much more to go off of right now.”

“Then we’ll keep an eye on her.”

“Yeah, alright. You gonna hang around, Three?”

“Actually,” Three said, adjusting his hi-vis vest, “I feel my place right now is protecting the people of the Metro. I mean I’ll enjoy the city today, get some supplies, but… my work is with the Captain. At least for now. That being said… I am interested in this human business. Are you implying this girl is a human in disguise?”

Marina and Pearl looked at each other. “…I hadn’t considered that, to be honest,” Marina said with an eyebrow raised. “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense though… they’re most definitely extinct.”

“With all the stuff that’s been going on lately… who knows.” Pearl thought briefly. “We can keep you informed if you like. We’ve been using this chatroom program to communicate with Craig and Eight. If you wanna hang out there with us, we’ll keep you up to date on what’s going on up here…”

“Hmm. I suppose so,” Three nodded. “It would be nice to keep abreast of goings-on back home.”

“Sweet!”

“I’ll send you the app and our channel details a bit later then,” said Marina with a nod. “It’d be nice to grow that room a little, and it’d be nice to have a bit of Squidbeak insight when things happen up here.” She stretched and climbed to her feet. “For now though, I hope you two don’t mind, but myself and Pearl need some time to ourselves to recover, so we’ll retreat to our rooms for a while. Help yourself to what’s in our fridge. Eight, we’ll take you on a tour around Inkopolis Square later on today, yeah? So don’t go too far,” she teased with a smile.

“Yeah boy, you’re part of our crew now,” Pearl said, throwing up her hands in her signature pose. Then she got up and, with Marina, started to make her way out of the room. “Amazing work today, Eight.”

“Thanking you,” the boy said quietly with a nod, as he and Three were left to themselves in the lounge to awkwardly avoid eye contact or idle chat.

Silence had returned, if briefly, as the closing of a door somewhere in the depths of the Hime Mansion reverberated through the corridors.