Marina was a little surprised to see the small crowd gathered around the concrete barriers that marked the planned drop point for the vehicle, as she was being miked up and made-up for her camera segment on the event. True, the news team had been tracking this, and news over the past month, even as she and Pearl took the occasional day off for their careers, or, in the most recent instance…
She glanced over at Pearl, who was making small talk with Sheldon, part of the crowd. Somewhere in the mass of people, she knew their newest friend was hanging about somewhere. Hoping he was coping alright, she let her mind drift back to the task at hand.
“Alright, Marina, you’re ready to go,” said the crew’s make-up artist, putting away their kit.
“Thanks,” Marina nodded and smiled, and got to her feet. “How long until it lands?” She addressed the crew around her. “We ought to time it so we can get in up close before we sign off here.”
A shorter inkling boy in a “Staff Technician” shirt had the answer. “Talked to construction a few minutes ago. They reckon about three minutes from now?”
The Octoling did the math. “So let’s say it takes about a minute and a half to run through the prepared part of our script. Why don’t we roll in about two minutes, and hopefully once we’re done with that they should be ready for us to move in and take a closer look.”
As Marina and the Inkopolis News field crew finalised the last few details, Lily, Lorne, and Roller were arriving at the scene, having caught a tram from a stop nearby the MakoMart.
“This is more of a crowd than I was expecting,” Lily said, scratching at the back of her head.
“But still pretty small,” Lorne nudged her. “Should be relatively easy to find him. Come on, you two.”
They took a walk around the crowd to see if they could spot their friend. Eventually it was Roller who called, “Oh hey, is that Sheldon and Pearl over there?”
Lorne looked in the direction of his pointing finger and indeed saw him, the trio having walked around to near the front and seeing the two chatting between a barrier. “Yes! Nice work.” The girls started walking over to him, Roller following sheepishly.
“Hey, we made it!” Lily called over to Sheldon as they gently made their way through the crowd to him, causing him to turn in their direction. Pearl had also glanced over at them and struck a pose, but looked rather unimpressed when she saw Lily.
“Ah, hello girls!” Sheldon nodded respectfully. “I see you’ve brought along a friend?”
“Yeah,” Lorne nodded, gesturing to Roller. “We just got off of Lily’s first Turf War game, and one of our teammates wanted to come take a look too.”
“I see! Well, welcome to the fun!” Sheldon smiled over at Roller, turning back towards the suspended car. “As Miss Pearl tells me, they should be allowing the public to get in closer once it’s all been signed off by the construction crew and news team.”
“Told ya not to call me that, Sheldon,” Pearl butted in, from the other side of the barrier. “It’s just ‘Pearl’, none of this ‘Miss’ crap.” She almost seemed to forget about responding to the rest of the comment, and quickly jumped in again, “but yeah, once they get done with it they’ll open it up to the people.”
“Oh, cool,” Lily said absent-mindedly. She was also looking over at the car now and, though it was still a bit above them, about three stories up, she’d caught sight of the licence plate as the car rotated around. It was definitely her car. Wow, what a sight, she thought to herself.
The four of them hung out and chatted about their recent battle while the crews went about their business. Pearl, letting herself be excluded from the conversation for a bit, turned to watch her partner in crime at work. She knew Marina didn’t handle too well in front of a crowd, when she wasn’t performing, but she was just killing it at the moment.
The car’s tires finally touched the ground and a trades-squid leapt up onto the vehicle to disconnect the harness holding it to the crane’s hook, and as soon as it was free, they waved the news crew over and another tradesperson, wearing a hi-vis vest, pressed a set of keys into Marina’s open palm.
Now that it was down on the ground and in front of them, she was surprised to see that even Marina wasn’t taller than the roof of the vehicle, as they unlocked and opened the right-hand driver’s side door. The Octoling idol gestured the camera crew closer as she climbed into the seat, pointing at and talking about the archaic driving technology inside.
Lily, gathered behind the fence with the others, bit her lip and tried not to let it get to her that these people were poking around her Ford. She also really wanted to talk about the car to Lorne and Sheldon, but knew she should keep her mouth shut for the moment... So she waited and listened as the news crew did their thing, as the tradespeople worked around them making the area safe for the general public.
Finally, though, Marina had signed off on her segment and, as the rest of the crew pulled back to their truck on the opposite end of the Hotel’s entrance, the vehicle was deemed safe for public inspection.
“Alright! Well, shall we go take a closer look, folks?” Sheldon gestured as the barrier between them and the car was removed. Lily excitedly nodded and Lorne and Roller followed behind them. Pearl, waving them off, jogged over to Marina to speak privately as soon as they were past.
“Oh man, I missed Greenie,” Lily finally said once they grouped up by the bonnet of the car. “I forgot that I’m smaller now though, this thing is huge.”
Lorne coughed, and cocked her head over in Roller’s direction. Oh right, Lily realised. “…compared to our cars,” she hastily added.
Roller, however was looking through the driver’s side window. “This car has seen better days,” he commented on the torn fabric of the seats.
“Yeah really,” came Marina’s voice from behind the group. She and Pearl had walked over to them. “It’s old, sure, but it hasn’t been looked after very well.”
Lily tried not to look too annoyed at the comment, but Pearl noticed her trying to keep her face straight and smirked. “Yo, newbie,” she said with a devilish grin. “We’ve seen you around a bit lately. Why only Turf War now?”
Lily shrugged. “Wasn’t a priority. I wanted to try to make ends meet in other ways first.”
“Hey,” Sheldon called from the front absent-mindedly. He was glancing at the licence plate. “What’s this say?”
Lily replied back automatically, “Oh it’s just like, letters and numbers and then underneath it says ‘Victoria the something state’. 'Education' I think? I forget if…”
Lorne nudged Lily hard in the side to shut her up, and Off the Hook exchanged looks as Lily looked over at her friend.
“Rrreeaaally?” Pearl finally said, looking a little scary real suddenly, while Marina looked more concerned, brows furrowed as she watched Lily intently. “How fascinating. And just how do you know that?”
“Huh?” Lily was confused for a brief moment, before realising she had just translated the text for them. Or rather, she’d remembered what it had said. “Oh, I studied exotic languages back in university. That… script belongs to one of those languages that I learned.”
Marina mumbled something quietly through her hands.
“You haven’t even seen the licence plate, you little shit!” Pearl barked at her, stepping towards Lily, causing her to back up against the vehicle.
“Pearl! Language!” admonished Sheldon.
“No way! Ive got words for you too, crab boy!” She pointed a finger accusingly at the Inkling girl, and Lily’s heart sank as she realised that she’d fucked up. “That phone! You got it from him, didn’t you?”
“…No, I got it from the store like everyone else…”
“Not that one, this!” Pearl launched herself at Lily and both of them tumbled to the ground.
“What’s gotten into you today?!” Sheldon rushed over and tugged at the back of Pearl’s outfit, pulling her off.
But Pearl was holding something she’d pulled from Lily’s pocket. Something glassy and white.
She whipped around to Sheldon. “We gave this to you to translate! Why’s she had it since?!”
“Because she could help me translate from human to—“
Sheldon’s eyes went wide, and his mouth snapped shut.
But it was too late. The group around him had heard.
Silence. Uncomfortable silence.
“Excuse me,” said a female crustacean to Lily, still pressed against the driver’s side door, and everyone either jumped or snapped into a fake cheery expression. It seemed their conversation was either not being heard or was simply being ignored. “Do you mind if we take a look at the driver’s seat?”
“O-oh, not at all!” Lily pushed herself off of the door, and the group as a whole stepped aside. “It’s very fascinating stuff.”
Once they were all a safe distance away from the public, in an alleyway on the side of the hotel, Lily caught her breath and tried to be respectful, feeling flustered. Lorne and Roller stood just outside the four-person circle that had formed between Pearl, Marina, Lily and Sheldon, shifting uncomfortably. “Look, yes, ‘human’ is one of the languages I studied. I’ve been using that phone alongside my regular phone to, uh… work out what humans back in the day were like. And grab stuff for Sheldon’s translator.”
Marina sighed exasperatedly. “And that’d be all well and good, if not for the fact that nobody in the world has completely deciphered the human language. Except for you. You’re making all this up to try to blend in.”
Lily’s gaze dropped, and she stayed silent this time.
More silence. Lorne looked over to Roller. He was definitely paying attention this time, and his mouth was slightly ajar as if he was starting to realise just what Off the Hook was implying about this girl he’d only just met.
“Let me be blunt,” Marina said finally, a very serious look on her face, arms crossed. “Are you human?”
“…Well that’s just ridiculous,” Lily said weakly, gesturing at her very-much-cephalopod body. “I’ve never… read anything about any human that could shape-shift.”
“Really, girls…” Sheldon was starting to have had enough. “I don’t understand what this is all about--“
“They’re fuckin’ deadly, Sheldon!” Pearl said, as if Sheldon should have known this all along. “They tried to wipe out everyone!”
“I’ve never heard anything about that,” said Sheldon flatly, briefly glancing in Lily’s direction.
Lily nodded, and glanced over at Lorne and Roller. Lorne raised an eyebrow. Roller just stared at her.
Sheldon continued, “Again, I don’t get why you’re so set on this. I’ve interacted with Lily quite frequently these past few weeks as she’s settled into the city and—“
“IS SHE HUMAN?!” Pearl barked at him, clearly very frustrated at the fact that nobody else was apparently seeing this as a problem. Her fists were clenched and her body language gave the impression she was aching to start manhandling the two.
“No!” Sheldon said firmly. “Not anymore. Now drop it, both of you!”
But nobody heard the last sentence.
Marina gasped in shock, one hand over her mouth again, the other clenched into a fist. Pearl’s mouth just hung open.
Lorne’s hands were also over her mouth, in disappointment. Roller was in genuine shock.
Lily felt the color drain from her face. Within seconds, the world around her felt cold and alien to her again. She had to get out of here. Her eyes darted about for any avenue of escape.
And so, without thinking, she pushed off the wall, past the two girls, nearly knocking them over, and took off sprinting down the alleyway, past the crowd gathered around the car.
“HEY!” Pearl yelled after her. Marina immediately took off after the escaping Lily, and her partner called, “Get Eight and kick her ass!”
“On it! Loop me in!” Marina called back, and she was gone.
Pearl sighed. Feeling in her pocket for her radio, locking down the transmit button discreetly, she turned back to the horseshoe crab and the two Inklings. “Sheldon…” she started. “Do you realise now what you’ve done? You’ve doomed us all.”
“I…” Sheldon let himself trail off. His eyes met Lorne’s briefly, and then darted down to the ground.