Chapter 1: Universal Language
“You’re kidding me. This is an arena?”
Lily and Lorne stood together to one side of the building while more squids gathered, talking casually with each other and equipped for the battle they were about to have.
Their friendship was a strange one: Lorne used to partake in Ranked Battles more often, but now she had taken on the role of Agent 4 of the New Squidbeak Splatoon, an organisation dedicated to the protection of Inkopolis from enemies known and unknown.
And Lily was formerly human, transformed as a result of contact with squid ink. And because she was collecting human artefacts that had travelled through time with her, across Inkopolis and beyond, she was designated Agent 5.
After she had sat through a brief Turf War induction and received her ID card, Lily had been directed to a shuttle bus that drove her and Lorne to the arena they would be battling on. They and all the participants on board had been outfitted with a small earpiece that the game’s referee would communicate to everyone with, and an Anchor, a device that bound her to her team’s respawn point, which also changed the color of her tentacles and her ink temporarily.
But it was only after they’d been directed through a side entrance onto the field that she saw what the stage was.
“What, you’ve never been into MakoMart before?” called a nearby boy from the opposing team. His was a sort of greenish color; Lily and Lorne were both sporting purple today.
Lily gestured at her level 1 top and briefly adjusted the headband. “Different franchises back home,” she said. But he’d already turned away to talk with someone else from his team, supposedly a friend. “So I see some attitudes haven’t changed,” she said under her breath.
As they walked around the stage, getting an idea of the layout, Lorne listened to her friend rant about the strange nature of the supermarket they would be battling in. The stage itself was very separate from the rest of the supermarket - elevated, varied in height compared to the rest of the store being flat, and for whatever reason, surrounded by what seemed like a six-meter-wide pit, at the bottom of which was a carpark.
Some motion on the other side of the pit caught Lily’s eye, and the looked to see several jellyfish creatures queuing up at a counter recessed into the wall. She looked closely and… “Hey, there’s prepared lobster in there,” she realised aloud to Lorne. “Wait, is that one behind the counter a butcher?”
For whatever reason, she had forgotten to consider that not all marine creatures were herbivores. Lorne moved her along before she had time to think about this too much.
Their referee came in over the earpiece. “All of our participants have arrived and are ready, so be ready to start in three minutes. Please begin to make your way to your team’s starting point.”
They passed another member of the opposing team on their way back, a girl with their tentacles tied back, big studio headphones on and a jacket that Lily couldn’t help but envy. The three of them shook hands. “Good luck out there,” she said politely.
“You too!” Lorne smiled, and as they walked away, she smirked as an opportunity struck her. She gestured Lily toward a jellyfish child playing among the rubber balls in the toys aisle. As Lily stepped toward the barrier to look closer, she was unable to see Lorne briefly unclip and remove her Anchor, and unsheathe her Aerospray MG.
“Oh, here we go again,” said one of their two teammates, a boy leaning on his Splat Roller, watching this unfold by the respawn point.
“Again?” The other boy, idly spinning his Sloshing Machine on an edge, waiting for the two girls to come back, had a look of concern.
“Yeah, I keep getting matched up with this girl,” Roller said. “She likes to prank the fresh meat and claim their first splat. Watch.”
As they observed, Lorne, her hair and ink orange again, stepped up behind the ‘fresh meat’, and without any more warning, let loose a burst of ink at point blank. Her target was downed right away.
Slosh looked on, frowning. “How does she get away with that?”
“Seems like she does it regularly enough that they have looked into it, but they haven’t done anything about it.” Roller shrugged. “I guess it’s never really been done with malicious intent… Ah, here she comes.”
The tiny floating squid spirit that was Lily whizzed past them, and Roller walked back over to the Respawn point as it plunged into the ink.
Lily felt renewed, reinvigorated in the ink as she was pulled by some unseen force into it.
She knew exactly what had just happened. And she was both shocked and a little angry.
As she swam out of the respawn point’s ink pool, she was helped up by one of her teammates. His Splat Roller was leaning against a wall nearby.
“You alright?” He asked.
She immediately pulled her Splattershot Jr out. “I need revenge. One sec.”
“No need!” Lorne called, Anchor reattached and arms out, approaching her. “You can’t affect me, we’re the same color!”
“What was that about?!” Lily yelled. “We haven’t even started yet!”
“She does that to all the newbies she teams with,” said the boy with the Roller.
“You gotta be ready for everything, Lily!” Lorne nudged her as the referee announced the one-minute mark, and the team of four made their way onto the Spawn point. “And I kind of have an obligation now, yeah.” She rolled her eyes at Roller. “Look, just stick with me for this game and you’ll be fine. We’ll take the right path,” she directed at the two boys, “and hopefully flank someone going for the center.”
“I’ll head down the center then,” said the Slosher boy.
“Then I’ve got the left,” said Roller. “Lily, right? If you ever get separated, don’t be afraid to ink and fill out the areas nearby the spawn. Or follow me, and we’ll wreck shop with them.”
“Got it.” Lily took deep breaths. She was gonna have to focus her emotions on the battle. Glancing over to her right, she saw she would be headed up an incline, after which a drop would seem to lead them into the side corridor. Just follow Lorne, as much as you want to get back at her, she said to herself, and you’ll be fine.
“Ten seconds,” came the referee’s voice in their earpieces. “Time begins at the sound of the starter pistol, and ends at the whistle.”
The four of them got into position and prepared to move off, weapons at the ready.
A brief moment of silence, just the ambience of the supermarket around them.
The sound of the loud starter pistol going off in the enclosed environment nearly made Lily jump.
“Go, go, go!” Slosh called out as they all pushed off the spawn point and opened fire around them, covering the ground in their team’s purple ink.
Firing along the ground as they went, Lily and Lorne took off toward the right lane, The latter dropping down off the ledge before Lily who slowed to ink more of the ground. When she came to the ledge, Lorne called up, her squid eyes peeking out at her. “Quick! Get down here and transform!”
Lily did as she was told, and Lorne, topped off on ink, re-transformed and beckoned her to follow along the aisle they found themselves in. She noted that she felt much smaller as she cautiously swam behind Lorne’s steps, though she knew that was obvious.
Nobody from the other team had come down this way by the time they had reached the end of the aisle, now on the enemy side. “Okay, let’s flank,” Lorne called softly to her. “Weapons ready. If you see ‘em, get in close and let it rip.”
Lily jumped up from the ink, Splattershot Jr at the ready, firing into the corner around her. Then she joined Lorne as they both headed into the middle path, moving for the center platform.
There was one opponent unaware of their play, but another coming from the other corridor had spotted them and was firing away. Lily and Lorne jumped back in opposite directions, and the projectiles turned in Lily’s direction. She got off a few shots before she dipped down into the ink, making to swim around and surprise her opponent, and as she did so, Lorne focused her fire, and together their adversary didn’t stand a chance. They burst into purple ink, and a tiny squid spirit flew off out of the inksplosion, towards their spawn.
Lily came up from the ink, and looked over at the middle. Two more squids from the other team were engaged in a battle, presumedly with her teammates. She regrouped with Lorne and they both moved to engage.
At least, Lorne did. With Roller and Slosh on the other side of the green team, the two didn’t stand a chance.
But the fourth green opponent, the girl she had passed by before the battle, leapt out from cover towards Lily, holding her Roller like a sword of some kind. She had a moment to wonder what to do, before the enemy Roller came down, flinging a line of ink down on the ground, Lily caught in its path.
The second time was not as surprising and shocking as the first, Lily found. As she felt herself pulled in the direction of their respawn point, she had a brief thought: Better get ready for more of that…
She was reborn in the ink, and she leapt out and back into the fray, headed for the central platform of the Makomart arena.
The battle went about as well for Lily as she expected. She was taken out annoying often; meanwhile, she’d only managed a single splat of her own. So she quickly refocused on filling out the quieter parts of the arena.
They’d eked out her first victory, barely. When they had been led off the field afterward, Lily and Lorne stood off to one side of a corridor while their teammates, whom she had nicknamed Roller and Slosh for their choice of weaponry, stood and chatted nearby.
”...Certainly a better first experience compared to playing my first game of paintball,” Lily was saying to Lorne, recounting that experience as well. She was not a great shot then, either - and she was unlucky enough to be hit in the head a few times with paintball pellets, despite rules and wearing masks, which she admitted may have influenced her opinion.
“You did pretty well for your first game,” Roller called, walking over to join their conversation. “I mean, as always there’s things to improve on, from what I saw, but…”
“There always is,” Lily nodded. “All considered, I think I did fine.” She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Lorne had picked up her phone and was in the middle of her own conversation. “It’d be nice to be a pro player out of the gate, but let’s be realistic...”
“Just comes down to practice,” Roller said. “You’ll get it down in time. I’m surprised you never played before though. What’s up with that?”
“Oh, well…” Lily bit her lip. “Turf War wasn’t much of a thing when I lived out in the country, and even then I was more into music and video games and stuff,” she replied after a bit of thought, lying by omission.
“Ahh, no scene out there? Fair enough. Inkopolis is full of it, so you better get used to it!”
“Yo Lily," called Lorne as she slipped the phone away. "We gotta head out if you wanna see them take the car off the Albacore roof.”
“Albacore? The hotel?” Roller asked them. “They were turning the roof into a new arena, aren’t they?”
“That’s the one,” Lorne nodded. “They finally sourced some equipment to safely bring that thing down. Apparently it’s heavy, like several tons.”
The inkling boy whistled. “I kinda wanna come and see it. Mind if I join you girls?”
Lily made a slight frown and looked over to Lorne. “Uhhh… Anybody meeting us there?”
“Just our boy S. The others are busy.” Lorne cocked her head at her.
Lily thought for a moment. “Alright, well, if you want to come with, I would be okay with it. Lorne?”
“Yeah, okay,” Lorne said, and put on a smile. “Shall we go check out, then?”
Chapter 2: Hooked
Pearl, Marina, Sheldon and Lily have a heated exchange over a car.
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.
Chapter 3: Human After All
Lily's on the run.
In case Agent 8's dialogue seems strange in this chapter - I decided that Agent 8 would talk in this way because the recently released Octoling amiibos also speak in a broken English. I decided he would inherit this trait as he is still new to the surface, despite being among the rest of the Octo Expansion cast.
From somewhere deep underground, with the help of Pearl, Marina, and Captain Cuttlefish, who happened to be the leader of the legendary Squidbeak Splatoon, he had been given an entirely new life, here in Inkopolis.
But something about what he was doing right now, sprinting down the street after a fleeing Inkling, beside Marina Ida, felt very familiar.
And yet… after what he’d endured to get here, after what Marina had hurriedly told him as she had pulled him along, he knew something had to be done.
With his reddish tentacles styled like a Mohawk, and wearing casual clothing, he didn’t look entirely out of place among the people moving along the sidewalk, though they gave the two Octolings a wide berth as they chased Lily down. They both wore an earpiece hooked up to Marina’s radio. As they listened to Pearls’ impromptu interrogation, they chased the ‘Inkling’ down several blocks, even as she rushed into traffic just to attempt to escape the two.
They both saw her turn down another alleyway. Marina looked over at Agent 8 and noticed he had been carrying his backpack. “Hey, you got any of your old gear in there?”
“Uhh, I am having old Octarian gear still,” he replied. Inkling was not his native language, and though he was being taught by Marina in her off-time, he was still a ways to go. “I am not having the time for sorting yet.”
“That’s okay. Good actually. I have an idea. Stop for a moment.”
They halted just shy of the alleyway, and Marina rummaged through the pack quickly. “Come on… yes! A Disruptor! Oh! Even better, two!” She pulled two small devices from the pack. They looked like something that would play ultrasonic frequencies to repel mosquitos, but Marina took one and handed the other to Agent 8. “When we catch her, make sure we stick one of these on her.”
Agent 8 nodded. “Marina approach from opposite of the ends. And then… eliminate the threat?”
“No!” Marina said firmly. “As much as I want to, no. Not unless it goes real ugly. Just… apprehend her. Incapacitate her if you have to. Whatever you have to do to stop her being a problem.” Marina started to walk past the alleyway deliberately, as if she had not seen Lily turn down that way. “I’ll signal through the radio when it’s time to move in.”
Marina kept walking around to the end of the block and rounded the corner, leaving Agent 8 alone to listen to Pearl at work. She’d finished having a go at Sheldon and had now moved onto two squids, apparently friends of the fugitive.
“You. Boy. What’s your name?”
“How long have you known the human?”
“L-less than an hour really. I was on their team at Makomart…”
“And you didn’t notice anything weird about them?”
“Not until Lorne and her started talking about coming here and being secretive about Sheldon being their friend…”
“Is that it?”
“More or less. They seemed alright… Are they really as dangerous as you say?”
“For sure. But it’s okay. We’re on the case. That’s all. Thanks kid.”
Silence. Agent 8 adjusted his earpiece, continuing to wait for Marina’s signal.
“What the hell, Pearl?!” A new female voice came in over Pearl’s transmission. “We vetted her! We’ve watched her for weeks! She’s not evil or even dangerous! She just wants her old things so she can live a comfortable life like the rest of us!”
“Do you know that?”
“Yes! Even when she first came here—“
A series of loud beeps came in over the earpiece, interrupting the conversation. Marina’s signal. Time to move.
“What the heck was that?”
“Just my phone, don’t worry about it,” Pearl’s voice replied, before 8 lowered the volume and stepped into the alleyway, scanning for signs of the fugitive, from ground to sky.
The alleyway was quiet. Besides a few locked backdoors into various businesses, a dumpster bin, and an employee’s bicycle, there weren’t many places that Lily could hide.
As he made his way toward the middle of the alleyway, toward Marina, A whirring sound caught his ears. He looked up, in its direction.
Oh. It was just an air conditioning unit. It was situated next to some piping on the wall. It was vibrating though, just slightly…
The Octoling followed the pipes upward.
And there she was, pulling herself over the edge, from the pipes onto the roof.
“I have finding her!” Eight called in Marina’s direction, and set down his backpack to get out some climbing rope and a hook. How’d she get up there? He thought.
She’d climbed, of course. She didn’t need ink for that.
Unlike the rest of these fools, she thought smugly, I’m descended from the most well-known climbers in the animal kingdom. She wasn’t as great as climbing up things like poles when she’d put on weight as a human, but now that she was lightweight again, it had been nearly a breeze, once she got a feel for it again.
But the sound of Marina’s friend’s call made her pick up the pace. Now she stood on the rooftop of some building. More A/C refrigeration units up here. One corner housed the roof access, but there was a small gap between it and one of the raised edges that gave her an idea.
She rushed for it, and, transforming, wedged her squid self into the gap. She hoped that nobody would spot the light blue squid in her small space.
She didn’t have to wait long to find out. A hook, like a grappling hook, whizzed by her and wedged itself into the wall next to her. She adjusted her position, getting ready to make another run for it if necessary.
The boy appeared first, climbing up upon the edge, eyes scanning the rooftops around her. Lily, underneath his feet, in the little crevice, stayed absolutely still. He stepped off onto the ground, next to the stairs leading down into the building, and Marina appeared where the boy was. Neither of them noticed Lily slowly edge her way to the opposite end of the crevice, away from them. They spread out, searching the roof. Stepping around the A/C units and piping, they covered as much of the area as they felt was necessary. No sign of her.
“Is human of jumping from this platform to another?” Agent 8 asked, walking over to one of the sides facing the next building.
“I don’t think so. Not the way she was acting.” Marina sighed.
“Inkling girl and Sheldon crab is trust of her,” the Octo boy said to her, gesturing at something in his ear. “This human did something to them?”
Marina was silent for a moment, looking over at him. “…No,” she finally responded, with a sigh. “They looked completely normal. I don’t know… I’m just scared we’re going to have another repeat of NILS. I don’t know what she’s capable of. I still don’t know what humans are capable of.”
“What is Marina knowing of humans?”
“Well… she has access to human technology. I’ve seen her with a laptop and a phone. I think the car at the hotel might have been hers. She also hangs out with that one girl you heard from Pearl. I think she’s been her friend since she arrived.”
Lily took advantage of their inattention to inch her way over to the Octolings’ climbing rope, trying to get up onto the ledge without changing and making noise.
Eight turned to look at Marina. “I am meaning… Coming of another Tartar is scaring me too. He played a fiddle with me, and she maybe will play us in…” He trailed off.
“…What?” Marina asked, concerned. She noticed Eight staring off in the direction of the rope they used to get up, past her shoulder.
Marina turned around.
There was a light-blue squid frozen in place on the edge of the roof by the rope, its eyes frozen in their direction.
There she was.
They stared at each other for a few seconds.
And then Lily finally launched herself from the ledge, transforming, and as the Octolings ran over, they saw her rush back onto the sidewalk and disappear from view.
The human was gone.
Agent 8 and Marina both looked at each other, then leapt off from the roof and raced off in her direction.
Lily kept running until she was at least two blocks away from the alleyway. Getting closer to the main CBD, the foot traffic became thicker and it got harder for her to maneuver around the people. On the plus side though, to her, the Octolings would have also found it more difficult to push through the crowd to her, and she was eventually able to lose them in the crowd, for the moment.
Once she felt sure she wasn’t being followed anymore, Lily slowed down and found a bench to sit and think.
She took deep breaths, wiping sweat from her brow. She looked about at the crowd passing by her. For some reason she expected them all to avoid her, but besides being given an odd look by the folks she’d passed by on her run, nobody seemed to care who she was.
For now, anyway.
Okay. Let’s recap, me. You’ve been found out. By the news crew of all people. They seem to think you’re tied to some other human, whoever this ‘Tartar’ is or was.
And because of him they think you’re also going to try to ‘wipe out everyone’, whatever that actually meant.
And now they must believe that Sheldon and Lorne are part of some conspiracy to … I guess allow me to complete that task? Surely ‘everyone’ would include them, they realise? What did this Tartar guy do?!
Damnit, this life was too good to be true.
She spent a few moments just wallowing for a moment. She felt guilty, for some reason. She wondered where she could be safe. Then she realised…
Wait, shit. The news. They know what I look like, they think I’m dangerous, they have a motive. They… they could actually expose me to the world.
… I can’t be seen again.
Not if don’t want to ruin my friends’ lives here. Not if I don’t want people to stay safe.
So where do I go?
Lily looked at her phone. It was only 2:30pm. She also noticed several messages waiting for her from Lorne. “Where are you going??” “Don’t do anything rash”. “Marie says the Hideout welcomes you, use the sewers”.
Right… that’s right, I literally just ran off on them. They must be worried sick about me. Fuck, what do I do?
Our apartment is quiet enough that I should be able to get in without getting spotted by those two… three. Who even was that boy, anyway?
Lily typed out a quick reply. “I’m ok. Meet you at your place. Need to pack.”
She loaded up her map on her phone to figure out the quickest way back to the apartment, and set off again, following its directions.
“let me in” was the entirety of the text Agent 4 received as she paced nervously about her apartment. As soon as she saw it was from Five, she’d rushed over to the apartment door and opened it, the electronic lock automatically disengaging.
Lily entered quickly, this air of intense worry and panic about her. “Shut the door,” she said as she half-ran over to the bed, grabbing her backpack and starting to frantically pack her things into it.
“Lily, where are you going? I know they know now, but--”
“Lorne, I have to. I’m taking up Marie’s offer.”
“But just… just lay low here for a bit.”
“They’ll come after you. And Sheldon.” Lily stopped packing for a moment, and turned around to her, clinging to her. “They think I am going to kill everyone or something. They gotta think you’re my accomplices. I have to leave Inkopolis.”
“…That’s just ridiculous, Lily. How could they think that? You’re only one person.”
“I don’t know. There was apparently another.”
“Human, apparently. I have to do some research when I get to the Hideout. Now where’s my laptop…” She stopped holding onto Lorne and frantically swept the apartment for it, finding it on the couch.
“…Another human? Are you sure?”
“I don’t know! Whatever they did or tried to do though, they seem to think I’m going to try to do. I heard them talking about it.”
Lily shoved the laptop into the bag, checked her pockets for her phones, and picked up the backpack, swinging it onto her back.
“Lily. Remember what I said. Don’t do anything rash.”
“I’m not.” She started to move. Lorne grabbed her hand.
“If you have to go and stay with the Sisters, then sure. But stay. With. Them. I don’t want to see you get killed over this.”
“I’ll… I’ll be fine. I’ll text you when I get there.”
“Fine. Just… come back soon, okay? I’m gonna miss you.”
Lily turned to look at her pleading eyes. Her own eyes were teary. Quietly, she said, “I’ll miss you too. I hope this won’t be long term.”
Lorne nodded, and silently pulled her friend into an embrace. Lily clung tightly to her, burying her head against her shoulder.
“…So I follow the sewer system?”
“…yeah… Head towards the square and I think you’ll eventually figure out where you need to go.”
Lily nodded. A moment’s silence. “Lorne… I’m scared,” she choked out.
“…I know, Lily. I’m scared too. I don’t know what’s going to happen.” She leaned her head against Lily’s. “Just… try and be strong for me, okay? Come home soon.”
Lily gently pulled away from the hug, and her hands moved around to take Agent 4’s hands in hers. “I’ll… I’ll text you when I get to the Hideout.”
“…Okay.” Lorne was tearing up now too. She squeezed Agent 5’s hands tight, and then let go.
They both stared at each other for a few moments.
Then Agent 5 slowly turned away, and made for the door. She opened it and turned back to her friend. “Stay safe, Four.”
“…Look who’s talking. Take care of yourself, Five.”
Lily nodded, and stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
It wasn’t too difficult to find a sewer grate. They seemed to be fairly common, thankfully. Agent 5 had only to walk a few minutes in one direction to find one she could slip through.
The sewer canals themselves were more spacious than she expected. Walkways and maintenance ladders and inkrails and the like lined the side, above the multicolored liquid flowing through. The lighting down here was dim. Light sources about every 50 meters, or at every junction. Not black, but dark enough to instill some nervousness in any other person.
For Lily though, it certainly didn’t help her current frame of mind.
She stepped carefully along the pathways, her map pointing her in the direction of the Square. Occasionally she’d stop to listen out for other activity, but she could hear nothing else but the sound of her own echoing steps, the traffic above every grate she passed, and the river-like flow of sludge.
An hour and a half passed of walking through the sewers. Lily had begun to realise just how large of a city Inkopolis was.
Finally she started to hear music filtering down from a grate up ahead. She was approaching the Square from underneath! From here she recognised the way to Octo Valley, and the Tentakeel Hideout. She let out a sigh of relief. She was almost there.
Then something dropped from through the grate above. It didn’t look like a squid… but then it reformed and, in the light from the surface, Lily could see exactly what it was and her heart sank.
Marina was stood in front of her.
She started to walk towards Lily, and the scared inkling turned to flee.
Only to run right into the Octo boy.
They struggled briefly, but he quickly had her under his control. One arm tightly around her neck. The other gripping her hands behind her back.
Marina walked up to them. “Good work, Eight. You’ve still got it, I see.”
Lily looked about frantically at the both of them. “L-look, okay, yes, I’m… the ‘h’ word,” she said in a hushed voice, glancing about for anyone that might be watching, though they were alone. “But I’m not affiliated with anyone, not evil, I’ve honestly no idea who this Tartar guy is that you think I’m striving to emulate or something.” She thought they might have interrupted her by now, but they didn’t. “I didn’t even mean to get here, but since I’m in your world now… I’m just trying to make a life out of nothing. Honest.”
Marina frowned. She had taken something out of her pocket and lobbed it in the boy’s direction. Briefly, he took his arm away from Lily’s neck to grab the device, activate it and swiftly place it on Lily’s back where she would not be able to reach. It emitted ultra-low frequency rumblings that vibrated throughout her entire form. It felt uncomfortable…
“G-gghh,” Lily ‘said’, teeth clenched. “The hell is that?”
“Disruptor,” said the boy. "You will not getting away of this.”
“Did… did neither of you listen to me?” Lily started to struggle again, but Agent 8 was trained, and his grip was tight.
“What have you done to Sheldon and the girl?” Marina asked sharply. “Can it be reversed?”
“I’ve not… done anything to them! Ugh!” Lily grunted as Eight’s arm was back around her neck. Drawing in air as best she could, she continued, “I’ve just been as much of myself as I /can/ be in my situation. You’ve obviously talked to them, you know they’re— fine! Hey— you’re— choking—me!” She started to struggle more as Eight tightened his grip, trying to draw in more breath, but he wouldn’t budge.
Since her legs were unrestrained and he wasn’t giving her an inch, she decided that she had to take action. With an “I’m sorry” to Marina, she swiftly swung her leg up behind her, crashing her foot into the boy’s crotch. He howled in pain and reflexively let go.
They both collapsed to the ground, Lily on her knees as she drew a few deep breaths. She looked up briefly, to see Marina rushing up at her. She pushed herself to the side, up against the wall as she passed. As Marina ran past her, head turning to see what the squid was up to, Lily lashed out with her leg again and caught Marina, causing her to trip and tumble over Eight.
They were both dazed for a moment. Lily slowly got up, still catching her breath. “Look,” she said eventually, taking a few steps back. “I’m sorry about that. I genuinely wish I didn’t need to defend myself against you. You especially, Marina.” She sighed. “But I can see my continued presence in Inkopolis is going to cause problems. And I value my life, at least a little. So if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be leaving. You’ll not have to see me again.” She turned and ran for the hidden inkline just past the Square grate that would take her to Tentakeel, away from this madness.
“Aaaand…” An unknown voice from somewhere. Lily whipped her head around, trying to find the source as she ran underneath the grate.
A foot connected hard against Lily’s head, and it snapped backwards. Lily was reeling in an instant. But then the weight of an Inkling crashed down on her, and she was knocked to the ground. She was out cold.
Pearl was in the house.
She’d dropped in, literally.
“And that’s how it’s done!” She got up from on top of Lily’s unconscious form, dusting herself off. Then she noticed Marina and Eight on the ground a short ways away, and kicked Lily in the side again for good measure, before running over to check on her friends. “Shit, are you okay guys? What did she do?!”
“Ughh, I’m alright Pearl,” Marina said, rolling onto her back and sitting up, rubbing her knees. “She just tripped me. Eight on the other hand…”
They both looked over at him, writhing in pain, clutching himself.
“She uh, she kicked him in a… sensitive area to get loose,” Marina explained.
Pearl winced. “Yowch. Sorry Eight. Well, good job finding her, both of ya. I’m glad we didn’t let the human get away.”
“Yeah…” There was silence for a moment, except for the pained cries of Eight. “I wonder though…”
“Well, she’s a squid now, right? Means just one easy way to be done with the humans for good.” Pearl withdrew her Dualies from her pockets. “May I do the honors?”
“I want to know.” Marina finally got up and walked over to Lily’s body. Pearl followed her, and tugged the backpack off of her body and started rifling through it. “She’s basically confirmed for us that she is human. And that just raises more questions to me.”
“Mmm. The timing of her appearance, all that stuff falling down, and then this thing with Eight and Tartar and Craig… It’s all too suspect to ignore.”
“It’s all been rather strange, hasn’t it?” Marina knelt down, slipping her hand into Lily’s left shorts pocket and removing its contents. Both of her phones… “Well, before anything else, now’s a great time to find out what she’s doing here.”
She pocketed the devices briefly, and maneuvered herself to grab Lily’s shoulders. “Here, help me get her up against the wall. I don’t suppose you brought anything we could bind her hands with, did you?”
Chapter 4: Going Wrong
Lily and Pearl have a chat. Pearl and Marina have a chatroom.
With the posting of this chapter, I finally have posted all of the content I've written so far. A lot of it I've tightened up for posting here, or to add new content between chapters, which is why sometimes it's taken a while to post new stuff. On that note, updates will slow down now as I write.
With that news out of the way, I hope you enjoy the chapter! We pick up right where we left off..
“Marina, we’ve been keeping watch for eeever. Just wake her up already.”
“It’s been like half an hour, you two. You don’t take a hit like that and just get back up right away…”
Light streamed in from the open end of the sewer tunnel not too far away from the group that sat just inside. Marina and (reluctantly) Eight had carried Lily’s unconscious body away from the Square to a more secluded part of the system. A facility they had passed, built into the sewer tunnels, filtered the ink from the flows, and clear water and oil now emptied from here into the canals just ahead.
Initially, the plan was just to question the human where they were. But after a close encounter with an Inkling up on the surface nearly stumbling upon them, they had decided to move further up, to where the tunnels joined the main canal.
“Yeah, but we got things to do! We can’t just sit around like this! Why don’t we just chuck her in the canal and call it a day?”
Marina looked up from browsing through Lily’s iPhone. “Pearl, that’s called murder.” She had discovered the fingerprint lock mechanism, and had figured it out enough to try unlocking the phone with Lily’s thumbs. Naturally, it had worked. Now she sat next to the unconscious Inkling as she looked through random applications and messages, wishing she could understand the text…
“And? Marina, she’s human, remember?” Pearl turned her back to the tunnel entrance and faced the Octos. “She doesn’t belong here.”
“No, she doesn’t. But at the same time…” Marina paused to think. “No, I can’t allow it. I wanna know what she has to say first. Then if there’s any way to send her back…”
“Well, at least wake her up, yo! I’m tired of waiting around!”
Marina sighed, and thought out her options. “Well, perhaps some of those strong smelling salts would do the trick… I didn’t think to bring any with me, and I think that’s probably the quickest way to do that. I can go back and get some, if you and Eight will watch Lily.”
“Yeah, okay. We can handle her.” Pearl nodded, already forming a plan. “We’ve got this!”
“Great. Alright.” Marina stood up, having knelt and examined Lily carefully. “I’ll be back shortly, alright? Fifteen minutes, max.” She started to jog back into the tunnel, waving back at Pearl and Agent Eight.
Pearl waved until her bandmate had disappeared behind a corner, then turned to Eight. “She’s got a point, Eight, but we can’t afford to waste time on this. Who knows what’ll happen, eh? I know just how to wake her up. Watch this.”
Pearl pulled out her Dualies as she approached Lily’s body, straddling her. She watched her face quietly for a few moments, noticing she had gone into a regular sleep. Then she raised her right hand and smacked the side of one of the Dualies against Lily’s temple.
The low groan from the Inkling told Pearl what she wanted to know - she was waking.
Lily was smacked awake some unknown time after being knocked out. Her head seared with pain from the earlier blow and her vision swam briefly as she tried to make sense of where she was.
“Oy. Eyes up here.” Someone in white was standing in front of her. She blinked her eyes a few times, and they came into focus.
It was Pearl. And she was aiming a pair of Splat Dualies right at her.
She seemed to have been dragged up against the wall of the sewer tunnel. She guessed that she may have been too heavy to be moved away from the sewers, but she was now not too far off from the end of the underground tunnel. Her hands were also bound behind her back. The Octoling boy was with them, to her left - he had his own weapon, Splattershot-like, also aimed at her.
Lily sighed and closed her eyes. “Well? What’s the hold-up? Do it already.”
“Nuh uh,” Pearl said with a smirk. “It’s time to talk.”
Grumbling, Lily looked around for other options. Maybe she could get herself into the ink river, assuming it didn’t hurt, and get to safety that way? She focused for a moment, turning into a squid before they knew what was happening.
Except she couldn’t.
For whatever reason, the vibrations of the device that still rumbled on her back were preventing her from changing.
“Hey, what the?” Lily exclaimed. “What did you do to me?!”
Pearl smirked. “Eight tells me a Disruptor basically stops the target from changing forms while it’s active. So no way you’re going squid around us. And,” she let a bit of teeth show, stepping a bit closer, “that does mean you won’t be allowed to respawn if you’re a bad human. So you better behave, yeah?”
Lily thought about this. “That… basically means I’ll die, right?”
“Oh would you look at that.” The smirk grew ever-wider. “I guess humans are somewhat intelligent.”
“Why, Pearl?” Lily sighed, watching the Dualie barrels carefully. “Why are you guys so angry and scared of me? I swear I’m not dangerous…”
“You know exactly why, human. I guess it’s too bad your little toy statue didn’t kill us all, huh? ‘Cuz now we’re gonna take our revenge on you.”
Lily’s face dropped, and her brows furrowed in confusion. Oh… this is gonna suck…
“Alright kid, ‘fess up.” Pearl pressed the barrel of one of her Dualies against Lily’s forehead. “Why are you here?”
“… Fine,” Lily finally said, and her body slumped in defeat. “I’m here to rebuild my life, fuck you very much. Since I was so rudely pulled out of my own time. I don’t know why I'm here, though. I honestly don’t.”
“Why?” The barrel pressed into her forehead more firmly, leaving a mark.
“Because I don’t even know how I got here. What I do know makes no sense.”
Lily stared up at Pearl with a scowl. “Fell down a ravine, probably to my death, suddenly was above Octo Valley.” Her eyes narrowed. “No. Fucking. Sense.”
“I’m not sure I believe you… human.”
“Much as I really despise what you’re doing, I’ve no reason to lie.” One brief moment later, she revised: “Not anymore.”
Pearl slowly, cautiously, eased the Dualie barrel off of Lily’s head. “Then turn back. Show me what you really look like.”
Lily shook her head. “Goddamnit Pearl, that’s impossible. Humans can’t shape-shift.”
“Bullshit! Why are you disguised as an Inkling then?”
“I’m not disguised! … I am an Inkling now. I thought you would have asked Sheldon that. I heard you had quite the chat with my friends.” She sighed. “Cephalopods have been evolving without us for hundreds, thousands, I dunno, millions of years? Your ink as a defence mechanism has a much more violent reaction to humans now. I got changed because I landed in ink.”
“That sounds ridiculous.”
“I realise. But everything else has evolved with you guys. We haven’t.”
“And what does this have to do with NILS?”
“…What’s NILS? Pardon?”
“Don’t be daft! We know you worked with Tartar to try to kill us all and give humans back the world!”
Lily just stared at her. “…the fuck are you on about, Pearl?! I’ve no idea what either of those things are! I don’t want to destroy--”
“SHUT IT!” Pearl’s Dualie muzzles pressed firmly against Lily’s head, and the human-Inkling saw the other’s fingers rest on the triggers. “That’s enough. Ya done, son.”
Lily sighed and closed her eyes. As she waited for Pearl to make a move, almost hoping for Pearl to open fire on her, she wondered what death would feel like…
“Lily! Hang on!”
“Don’t come any closer!” Pearl and Eight stood up, training their weapons in the direction of the voice, further into the darkness of the sewer tunnels. Lily also looked over, hopeful.
At first, they didn’t see anything.
Then two figures came around the corner, not too far away, coming towards them. The first was clearly Marina, and she had brought some smelling salts to awaken Lily.
But Marina had led someone to them. And judging by the custom Brella pointed at her back, not by choice. She looked ashamed as her eyes met Pearl’s.
The person behind Marina… Pearl’s hearts sank.
The intruder’s face dropped as she came closer, and her brandished custom Brella lowered slightly. Her eyes darted from Pearl, to Lily, to the Octoling boy in gear similar to, but not quite like, Octavio’s own forces.
“No…” Marie breathed, shocked. “I would never have believed you, both of you, would be working with the enemy.”
Marina blinked, and swapped glances with her friends, the color draining from her face. “M-Marie… No… We…”
“Let go of her and step aside. Now.” Marie refocused her Brella on Marina. “Don’t make me use this on her…”
“I can’t believe you’re working with the human!” Pearl spat, raising her Dualies again at Marie.
“Pearlie! Stop!” Marina gasped out. She was in the middle of this standoff. This was not a situation she wanted to be in.
“Yes, I am!” Marie slowly stepped towards them, keeping her Brella up, pushing Marina forward. “I don’t know why you’re spreading these rumors, but I will personally vouch for her credibility!”
Pearl seemed taken aback by the accusation. “They aren’t rumors!” she cried out. “We saw the threat with our own eyes! We stopped the threat, for goodness sake! We’re stopping her before the humans try again to wipe us all out for good! Including you, Marie!”
“You’re being ridiculous. What about him?” Marie pointed her weapon at Eight, and Eight reflexively trained his weapon on her. “Don’t try it, octoslob.”
“He’s on our side!” Pearl yelled. “I mean, he’s on your side. I mean…”
“He’s a refugee,” clarified Marina. “We helped him escape, and start a new life! What we went through to get him here is why we’re so concerned about the human!”
“Why are you telling her?!” hissed Pearl in Marina’s direction.
“She needs to know the facts,” Marina replied, facing them but clearly addressing Marie. “To know just what she has sided with.”
“I know exactly who I’ve sided with, thanks.” Marie inched the two of them closer, at least until the Octo boy raised his weapon again. “And she is nothing like I have heard from you both. I’d know, I found the poor girl in the first place.”
“You WHAT?!” Pearl yelled at her, astounded. “You are the one that unleashed Tartar upon us?”
“I didn’t unle— wait, who?” Marie furrowed her brows. “Who the heck is Tartar? I only know a Lily.” She nodded at the body sat on the ground. “And she’s been with me or A— …or her friend Lorne ever since she got here. You don’t truly believe me to be working against Inkopolis, do you?”
“Well… n-no but… humans—”
“Are extinct now.” Marie tried to put on a friendlier voice. She hoped she would be able to get them to at least stand down… “Yes, one has survived, somehow. But from all of my time working and hanging out with her, she has been the complete opposite of what you have said humans are like.” She sighed. “Even if humans do somehow become a threat in the future, I assure you that she will not be one of them. She’s embraced her new life, as one of us. Now lower your weapons and let me treat her.”
“You first,” Pearl said firmly, not entirely convinced.
“I’ll put my weapon down if you do,” Marie offered.
Pearl sighed. “Let Marina go and we’ll do it.”
Marie rolled her eyes. “I won’t let her go free, but I’ll let her return over to you.” She nudged the idol in their direction and, slowly, Marina got the hint, crossing the gap between them, returning to Pearl and Eight.
Pearl nodded. “Fine… We’ll all go on three.”
Marie nodded, and slowly began to lower the Brella, watching Pearl and Eight carefully. “One… Two…”
Both Pearl and Eight reluctantly began to drop their weapons to their side.
Marie’s Brella hung limply from her hand, as did Pearl’s Dualies and Eight’s Octoshot.
“Much better.” Marie closed the distance between them cautiously, and knelt down before Lily’s form, examining her bruises and squeezing her hand comfortingly. Now that Marie was up close with her, she noticed that her clothes were rough and worn from being dragged against the concrete for such a long distance.
“So… what’s actually going on, then?” Marina quietly asked. “Who is she?”
Marie looked at the three of them silently before answering, “She was brought here against her will. I was the one who found her, so… we became friends. I’ve been helping her settle into the city with the help of Sheldon and Lorne. That’s all I feel comfortable saying for now, especially after this stunt you’ve pulled.”
She stood up, turning to them. “Now I strongly recommend you three go back to whatever you were doing before you decided to terrorize this poor girl. I’ll be taking her back to her place. Come on, Lily, up you get…” She bent down briefly to help the pained Inkling slowly get to her feet. “We’ll chat about this some other time, girls. And I expect your full co-ordination from now on.” They started to walk down the sewer path, back the way they had came.
Pearl, Marina, and Eight stared after her as she left, then looked at each other.
“Oh, and Marina…”
“If I hear that you‘ve started working for Octavio again, I will be back. We will be back. Am I clear?”
“…Yes, Marie. No chance of that happening.”
“Good. You all take care now.”
And Marie half-carried Lily as they made their way back.
Pearl cocked her head in Marina’s direction. “What on Earth happened there?”
Marina sighed, not turning to face her. “She jumped me when I got back to the Square after getting those salts… Lily’s phone had gotten a message, but I didn’t know who it was from until I got back down into the sewers and was ambushed.” She sighed and finally turned back to Pearl and Eight. “Did you get much out of her?”
“A bit…” Pearl kicked the concrete ground in annoyance. “She’s really sticking to the idea that she doesn’t know about Tartar or NILS at all. Swears she is an Inkling now. Says she was brought to our time but not of her own accord.”
“Hm…” Marina thought quietly. Something is still clearly up, but… I guess it’s possible she could, in fact, be a bystander of sorts…
“Marina…” Pearl prodded her bandmate. “What did Marie mean? Who’s Octavio?”
“Ah… that’s a bit of a long story,” Marina said nervously, sharing a glance with Agent Eight. “I guess we can tell it on the way back. Wanna learn about my old boss?”
Agent 4 checked her phone yet again. Still no messages. Come on, Lily…
Since Lily had left about an hour and some ago, she had eagerly awaited her next message, that would tell her she had made it to the Hideout.
But that message had not arrived. She should have made it safely by now… What if they had caught her?
What if she had never arri—
The chime of the doorbell broke her chain of thought, and she panicked. Oh no, what if she was right, and they are here to… have words with me?
She grabbed her Hero Shot from the kitchen bench and inched her way over to the door.
Slowly, quietly, in case she had to pretend she wasn’t there, she looked through the peephole.
And saw Marie, Callie, and… a battered Lily.
She quickly unlocked and opened the door, tossing her weapon aside. “Oh my cod!” she cried out as she assisted them, guiding Lily to the couch to crash. “What happened?!”
“She got ambushed beneath the Square,” Marie told her. “They knew she was going via the sewers. I’m glad I thought to come and find her, as you can tell they got… pretty physical with her.” The two sat on either side of Lily, but Lorne quickly pulled her into an embrace while Marie leaned forward to look into the girl’s eyes. “Hey, you alright in there? You’ve not said a word since I found you.”
Lily turned her head slowly to look at her. Swallowing, she said, “They beat me around the head kinda hard. The pain is making it hard to think right now. But thank you for coming to help me. And sorry.”
“Ssshhhh. You’re fine.” Marie rested her hand on her shoulder. “We know you way better than they do. We’ve got your back.”
As Marie told Lorne about what she had found in the sewers, Callie placed her backpack down on the floor. Everything had (thankfully) been left intact. The bag was a mess though - it was clear that everything had been pulled out and then jammed back in. She did notice a lack of something though… “Uhh, Lily’s phones are missing,” she announced to the group.
“Oh, shit right…” Lily said, a little slowly as she nuzzled into Lorne’s shoulder. “Apparently Marina has them…”
“Oh, joy.” Lorne sighed. “So, what now?”
“Well… First I rest up.” Lily sighed deeply, noticing the pain was beginning to dull. “And then I guess I’m just gonna have to sit down with ‘em and prove I’m no threat.”
“And hopefully work out what the deal is with this Tartar nonsense,” added Marie. “They seem to have Lily confused for some other person that is or at least was a threat.”
“But to do this to her?” Lorne gestured at her friend. “I thought Pearl and Marina were better than this.”
“I mean, if they were convinced she was a world-ending threat…” Callie frowned. She was in the kitchenette, fixing everyone up glasses of milk as she spoke. “Not that that makes it right, but…”
“Of course it doesn’t!” Lorne said, raising her voice and startling Lily slightly. "They should know better than to just… do what they did, human or not!”
“Marina should know better,” Marie corrected. “And maybe she does now, now that we’ve shaken her up a bit. She’d’ve been in Lily’s shoes when she first arrived. Pearl, I’m not sure she gets it yet…”
“I don’t know her as well as you two probably do,” Lorne started, “but she doesn’t strike me as the type to think this sort of situation through!”
Callie and Marie both made non-committal grunts. “It’s hard to say,” Callie said, as she handed out glasses of milk to the rest of the crew, and sat on the couch arm next to Marie. “There are some things she does really well, I mean she promoted Off the Hook on her own when they first got together. And yeah, she got a little wild now and then, but this… Maybe it’s worth investigating this thing they keep mentioning, cous’.”
“…Yeah, I think you’re right.” Marie thought for a moment, looking intently at Lorne and Lily as she sipped at her milk glass. “Lily. Agent 5. Are… you still up for our kinda work? I know it’s been real rough today…”
Lily stared sleepily up at her, having curled up on the couch, her head resting in Lorne’s lap. She said simply, “I gotta…”
“Sure, but do you want to? Because if you do, I’ll have a task for you and Agent 4 that will involve this Tartar character.”
Lily thought for a few long moments, but nodded. “I’ll do what I can,” she yawned, “to keep everyone safe.”
Marie smiled, satisfied. “Alright,” she began. “When you do go and see Marina and Pearl again, first off I… think I’d like you to bring Four with you as support. No need for you to be on your own again if things go downhill. OK, Four?”
Lorne nodded. “I’d be glad to protect her.”
“Secondly, I want you to find out from them what exactly happened with Tartar, what NILS is, all that. Find out where they were last seen. Then report back to us, and we’ll all figure out where to go from there. That sound good?”
Lily nodded silently.
“Cool. Don’t worry, Lily. We’ve got your back.”
“I wish Gramps were here…” Callie sighed. “His insight would be so helpful…”
“Yeah…” Marie sighed. “He and Agent 3 have been gone for quite a while now. I hope that their work has been going alright…”
“They know what they’re doing. I bet they’re doing just fine.” Callie smiled. “I just wish he’d get in touch…”
Marie nodded. “I hope he comes back soon. I’m sure he would love to meet the new Agents.”
“I would love to meet him one day,” Lorne smiled at them. She had sat Lily up, who was still looking a little groggy, and sipped at her glass.
Marie nodded again, and the apartment was quiet for a minute as everyone drank up.
Lorne reached for the remote during this downtime and flicked on the TV. There was a League battle being broadcast, whom three of the girls recognised were two of the higher-ranked teams duking it out in a Tower Control setting. The network was providing its own commentary.
“Oh, sweet!” Callie perked up. I haven’t seen these guys playing in ages. Mind if we watch?” She asked Lorne.
“Not at all,” Lorne smiled. “You a sports person, Lily?”
“This sorta sports, I could get into I think.” Lily rubbed the back of her head and found her gaze drawn to the television screen. She found herself easily distracted by the battle unfolding.
“I heard you did pretty well for your first battle,” Marie complimented, glad the conversation was pivoting away from business. “Who knows, this could be you one day.”
“Well, keep training and battling and we’ll see, mm?” Callie smiled at her.
Everyone started to relax as they enjoyed the battles on TV. Callie and Marie both ended up staying for dinner, ordering from the local “Fish’s Chip Takeaway” and enjoying some hot, deep-fried, crunchy chips with their Agents. When they finally said their farewells, well after the sun had set, the mood had much improved, and Lily felt more confident that she might be able to deal with Off the Hook.
And as she and Lorne got into bed for the night, she was once again reminded of just how glad she was to have them as friends.
* DJ_Hyperfresh has joined the chatroom
* MC.Princess has joined the chatroom
DJ_Hyperfresh> Hey everyone, we’re back from work stuff.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Octagent: Are you doing OK?
Octagent> am using cold-pack
Octagent> less pain now
DJ_Hyperfresh> Thank goodness! That was quite the hit you took earlier
Octagent> yes. They will being sore for rest of day
* IAmThree has joined the chatroom
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well be sure to give yourself a break, I hear they get sensitive when people play rough with them…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Hi there 3!
IAmThree> I won’t ask
MC.Princess> I still think you should go with SquidbeakThreek, IAmThree
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yeah Eight got uh… kicked right between the legs today
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’ll explain shortly
IAmThree> Oh youch
IAmThree> MC.Princess: I made it my backup username, but it’s not really my style
IAmThree> So who’s who again?
MC.Princess> Yo it’s Pearl!
MC.Princess> Marina is DJ_Hyperfresh, Octagent is Agent 8
MC.Princess> No points for guessing who CraigCuttlefish is
MC.Princess> Hey Cap your boy IAmThree is here
CraigCuttlefish> hello again agent 3
DJ_Hyperfresh> Oh no…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Pearl, her phone’s locked again.
MC.Princess> Really?! Aw nuts
DJ_Hyperfresh> I guess when the screen turned off it must have auto-locked.
IAmThree> Whose phone?
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’d have to either get her fingerprint again or guess the code. And I’ve never seen her type in the code.
DJ_Hyperfresh> One sec Three
DJ_Hyperfresh> Remember when you came up to the surface, we mentioned a girl who seemed suspicious?
MC.Princess> SHE’S TOTALLY A HUMAN THREE
DJ_Hyperfresh> Aww, I wanted to be the one to tell him…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Are you going to do that every time?
IAmThree> Holy shit
IAmThree> Are you sure?
MC.Princess> HEARD THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF HER MOUTH
Octagent> I have hearing of the words too
IAmThree> But the fossils…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Oh no they are totally still extinct
DJ_Hyperfresh> It’s some weird time travel thing, seems like.
IAmThree> Soo… are they connected to NILS then?
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well we… haven’t been able to prove that yet.
DJ_Hyperfresh> I didn’t notice any familiar NILS/Kamabo logos or icons on her phone
IAmThree> They gotta be, right?
IAmThree> A machine created by humans shows up, then an actual human?
MC.Princess> See, me and Three are on the same wavelength
MC.Princess> Can’t be a coincidence
DJ_Hyperfresh> I get what you are getting at.
DJ_Hyperfresh> I just have to consider it’s possible they don’t know each other…
DJ_Hyperfresh> The statue and Tartar has to have been operating since humans went extinct. And we’ve only been seeing the human herself for like… a month.
DJ_Hyperfresh> MC.Princess: check PMs
* Private message with MC.Princess
DJ_Hyperfresh> Should we mention the Marie thing?
MC.Princess> Uhhhh good question
MC.Princess> With Cap about probably not
MC.Princess> That could cause some big problems
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yeah that might tear him apart… if he thinks his family is working opposite him
DJ_Hyperfresh> Maybe I’ll just… not mention it right now.
DJ_Hyperfresh> If it becomes important then yeah but for now…
MC.Princess> Good call
MC.Princess> I’ll zip it then
* Now chatting in #MarinasChatroom
IAmThree> So what happened?
MC.Princess> So this ancient car was found on the roof of the New Albacore Hotel right??
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yeah, they’re rebuilding the roof to be part of the Turf War circuit, so they can get more traffic and stuff. And then a few weeks ago, news gets out of this vehicle just… sitting on the roof. In the middle of a construction site.
MC.Princess> Totally weird yeah?
DJ_Hyperfresh> They finally got it down off the roof today, so we were there doing a piece on it for the news crew.
MC.Princess> And WHO HAPPENS TO BE IN THE CROWD but the weird girl, and her friend
MC.Princess> And SHELDON
IAmThree> Sheldon’s in on this? Wow
MC.Princess> Yeah he knows
MC.Princess> He was also the one who told us she was human
DJ_Hyperfresh> So we went in and had a talk with em
DJ_Hyperfresh> And things got kinda… heated
DJ_Hyperfresh> She tried to tell us she studied the human language or something like that.
IAmThree> I don’t remember any school offering anything like that
MC.Princess> Yeah they don’t
MC.Princess> She was totally making shit up
DJ_Hyperfresh> And then yeah, Sheldon cracked and confirmed it for us, and she ran off.
DJ_Hyperfresh> We caught her not too long ago to ask questions, but another… friend of hers arrived and hauled her off.
MC.Princess> So yeah it’s been wild today
DJ_Hyperfresh> A bit of an adventure, yes.
CraigCuttlefish> inklings helping humans? sounds like conspiracy
MC.Princess> Conspiracy adventure? I dig it
IAmThree> What are they actually doing then
MC.Princess> Settling in or some junk SO THEY SAY
MC.Princess> I still think they have something to do with NILS
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well… I’ve been thinking, after her friend came to rescue her
DJ_Hyperfresh> She did have her first Turf War game today…
MC.Princess> Yeah and?
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well, like… We haven’t seen much from her, she seems like she’s making an effort to blend into Inkopolis, right?
DJ_Hyperfresh> Tartar hated our culture entirely, Lily seems at least to be trying to embrace it
MC.Princess> I guess she does have friends in Sheldon and that one girl
CraigCuttlefish> so wait is the human good or not
DJ_Hyperfresh> Uhh… She’s not Tartar levels of bad, yet anyway
DJ_Hyperfresh> But I’m not ready to call her ‘good’ yet…
DJ_Hyperfresh> I don’t think she will want to talk to us anymore after how we handled her though…
MC.Princess> Let’s give her some space and see what she gets up to
CraigCuttlefish> I could get agent 1 and 2 on the case if theyre not busy
DJ_Hyperfresh> I dunno… She hasn’t tried anything yet.
DJ_Hyperfresh> But I’ll keep that in mind
MC.Princess> Hey Octagent hasn’t posted for a while
MC.Princess> You OK 8??
Octagent> screen is moving fast like
Octagent> makes the reading hard
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yeah this is the fastest this chatroom has ever gone!
MC.Princess> We’ll keep you guys informed
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yeah as the folks say at work, it’s a ‘developing story’.
CraigCuttlefish> don’t worry eight
CraigCuttlefish> it will die down again soon
MC.Princess> It just gets quiet sometimes 8
MC.Princess> Thats all he meant
Chapter 5: Something About Us
After the last chapter's events, Lily and Lorne take the day to rest and work through Lily's depressive episode.
It should be noted that Lily has some brief violent depressive and suicidal thoughts early on in this chapter, and there is discussion of self-doubt and self-loathing here as well. If you're willing to work through that, I've tried to make the rest of this chapter about Lily and Lorne opening up more about their friendship/relationship.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next morning, like most others, began with Lorne’s radio alarm. As always, it switched on at 8AM and the hosts of whatever Sunday breakfast show was actually going on handed off to the news bulletins.
“Y’all know what time it is!”
As soon as the voices of Off the Hook came on the air for the live morning news broadcast, both Lorne and Lily tensed, their eyes shooting open.
“It’s Off the Hook, live from Inkopolis Square!”
“Ah, fuck…” Lily said drowsily, and Lorne, turned the other way in their bed, felt her curl up. “Here it comes…”
Lorne turned over, shuffling in to cuddle her, wrapping her arms just under her friend’s chest, holding her close. “They wouldn’t, Lily. Just remember… no matter what they say, we’re here.”
“Before we announce the day’s stages, let’s kick it over to Marina for the news!”
“Hello! First off, our top story today: A large, ancient four-wheeled vehicle was finally lifted from the roof of the New Albacore Hotel yesterday.”
Lorne heard Lily hold her breath.
“There are plenty of rumors flying about for how it got there, but here are the facts - The car is still in decent condition, despite some water damage. It’s hard to accurately pinpoint the age of the vehicle, as it looks as if it was only made sometime in the last 30 years…”
“Twenty, but okay…” Lily said quietly, listening intently, anxious, still curled in her ball and leaning into Lorne for comfort.
“But the script that adorns the vehicle, however, that’s the most interesting part! It’s hard to tell whether this vehicle is connected to the strange event that struck Inkopolis nearly three weeks ago - you may remember we mentioned several objects that had fallen from the sky - but some of the characters that appear in places on this vehicle match those on the phone we recovered from that event, and from old artifacts recovered from human ruins in the past few years!”
“We still haven’t heard any word on why this stuff looks so much newer, though. What’s up with that, Marina?”
“That’s venturing back into rumors, but we’re chasing it up with persons close to the situation.”
“Yep! So y’all, if you know a girl in blue named—”
“Pearl, we can’t do that, there’s regulations about that. Folks, we’ll keep you updated as—”
“They need to know that—” Suddenly Pearl went quiet.
“Whoops~! Guess Pearl’s mic is uh, malfunctioning there. She’ll be back shortly. Anyway, moving on—”
“We’ll find you, Lily!” Pearl called out, yelling but quiet, distant, as if only caught through Marina’s mic.
Marina, for her part, ignored the comment and moved straight along to the next story.
Lily stared up at the ceiling, fear creeping back into her thoughts. Her breathing began to quicken as her mind went wild with thoughts about what was still in store for her.
They basically told the whole world what she was with that piece, her panicked, overreacting mind told her. They already beat her about, what else were they capable of doing to her? What would anyone do if they caught her? If they knew what she was? If they had heard what those two girls had been saying about her kind?
Violence? Assault? Torture? Murder? An image appeared in her mind of her stripped down and bound. Blood was running down her body. Her blood. A lot of her blood.
Maybe it would be better if she just gave up. Let them bleed her out. Cut her to pieces. Slice through her body. Yes, finally. Finally… Let them destroy her. Let them celebrate again. Be safe again. Be happy again. Let her death be something to be joyful for. It had to happen.
Honestly, why even wait for them to find her? Why make them work for it? The kitchen was right there. She could just walk over, open the cutlery drawer and—
Lorne’s hand smacked against her cheek, the impact jolting her back to reality. Lily blinked her eyes several times as she looked around. Lorne was sat up in their bed now, eyeing her nervously. “Whuh? What was that for?”
“You weren’t responding to me, and you’re starting to hyperventilate…” Lorne reached over and squeezed her hand. “Are you alright? What’s going on in that head of yours…?”
Lily looked up at her, noticing her breath was indeed much quicker than it should have been, and her heart-rates too. She forced herself to take slow, deep breaths, wondering what to say to her. Dare I tell my best friend that I wish I were dead? How would she react…?
Obviously she couldn’t tell Lorne nothing was wrong, she’d never believe that. This was not Lily’s first dance with depression, far from it. Nor even her first brush with suicidal thoughts. She’d ‘grown into’ the self-doubt and hatred and such over the last ten years of her human life, but she’d only ever thought about the idea of a world without her, after making a single attempt.
The thing was, in the past the threats were only in her head. The fact that Pearl had actively made threats to her, and had nearly made good on them, was almost too much to cope with.
Lily finally sat up on the bed, and clung to Lorne tightly, burying her head in her friend’s shoulder. “I… Lorne… I’m not sure I can cope with all this.”
Lorne quietly wrapped her arms around Lily again and held her close, cradling her against her warmth. “Come on, Lily. Talk to me.”
Lily looked up at her, and sighed, deciding to just out with it. “I… have never really ‘liked’ myself, Lorne. Not as a human, anyway. Didn’t think much of myself at all…” She paused and sighed, tearing up slightly. “It’s.. Been better, since I got here, being so far away from all of the things that used to cause those feelings…”
Lorne nodded, stroking the back of Lily’s head as she spoke. “But then yesterday happens and… suddenly it gets way too real, huh?”
Lily nodded her head slowly. “I always sorta just thought, but never acted on the idea, that the world might be better without me, that I was a burden that—”
“You’re not, though—”
“I know, but… Well, I did know…” Lily pulled away for a moment, and stared into Lorne’s eyes, worried. “But I’m just associated with… whoever it was now. Tartar. I am the representative for humanity now, whether I like it or not. And the fact that for his actions, they seem to want me gone, or dead, or something…” She let out a deep sigh, and learned into Lorne again. “I’m starting to agree with them. I’ve become a problem. Maybe it would be better if—”
Lorne cut her off, leaning in and softly kissing her lips. It was a brief, gentle kiss, the kind of casual kiss you might give regularly to a long-time lover. “Shh.”
As Lily sputtered, flustered, her mind racing with questions, and yet wondering if she was reading too far into it… Lorne held her close, speaking softly. “No way. It’s better for you, and us, and the world, if you keep living, and don’t let their hate get you down.” The way Lily seemed right now, she was a totally different squid to the one she’d known as of late… She told Lily, “Don’t worry about Off the Hook. As Marie said yesterday, when we talk to them, I’ll be right there with you. And I’ll make sure they know that she has friends that would hate to see her hurt like this again. Just… remember this. You are loved. We love you.” She closed her eyes for just a moment, taking a deep breath before staring into Lily’s eyes, trying to seem as truthful and genuine as she could muster. “We’ll get through this together. OK?”
“…Okay,” Lily said quietly, with a blush, unsure how to respond.
Lorne smiled softly at her. “Good. Now c’mon, let’s get up and get ready. I wanna try that new café place down the street.”
“A coffee of some description would be nice…”
“Great.” Lorne slid off of her side of the bed. “Dibs on the first shower!”
As the girls entered The Deck, the recent addition to the food and coffee industry in the suburb of West Inkopolis, Lily grabbed a table outside while Lorne grabbed their drinks.
Inkopolis is a strange city, Lily thought once again as she watched the traffic pass by. She didn't feel like she was too far from the CBD, but the buildings here were less densely packed. There was still plenty of traffic here, especially on this arterial road, but there was plenty of land here dedicated to small parks, or play equipment, or just... nothing. It was nice to see that not every bit of space had to be either traffic or building.
"Whatcha thinkin' there, Lily?" came Lorne's voice as she brought over their drinks, a latte for herself, and a hot chocolate for Lily.
"Thanks, dear," Lily smiled at her, taking a hold of her drink. She gestured to the street. "I'm just thinking again, how nice and aesthetically pleasing the city is. It makes it easier to think about living here than... out in the country."
"Mm." Lorne smiled at her. Lily figured she didn't really know what she meant, but that was okay. She never expected her friends to understand what she meant about her old world. "So, what do you think about this shop?"
Lily thought on it. "The people here seem relatively nice. I like what I saw of their design inside. Having a space outside is nice, I get to watch the world go by."
"Yeah, we should come back more often. I know you're not much of a morning person, but, y'know..."
"I'm not a morning person, but I'm always down for coffee." Lily smiled and took a sip of the hot chocolate. Mmm~! The chocolate was rich, it just needed a little sugar. She took a sugar packet from a cup of packets provided on the table, emptied it into the hot choc, and stirred. A second taste proved it had given her the lovely, sweet taste she craved.
They sat and drank quietly for a bit, and Lily's mind found itself wondering about Lorne's kiss earlier. They were close, she knew, but that was the first time they had had any kiss. She found herself thinking that she liked that... Come to think of it, they'd been really close for a while, hadn't they? Would she be OK with the idea of them being together?
“Hey… Lorne?” Lily shyly, quietly said.
Lorne could see that she was blushing, perhaps had been for a bit. “What’s up, Lily?”
“We’re… pretty close, right?”
“Wh— I would hope so, you silly thing!” Lorne giggled and sipped at her coffee. “I mean, we share an apartment, I’ve known you since you arrived… or were re-born, or whatever you wanna call it… We even share our bed, for goodness sake. Is… Is this more of your depression from earlier?”
“N-no, I promise, just…” Lily was quiet for a moment, drinking from her hot chocolate as she debated to herself whether she should say… She didn’t want to potentially damage their friendship… relationship? If she said it and her friend took it the wrong way… “Are… Are we… a thing?”
“A… thing?” Lorne was confused for a moment by the generic wording. Her brows furrowed as she thought back on Lily’s questions, trying to find the context. Then her eyes widened as she realised what Lily was asking. “Like, a couple?”
Lily’s face somehow reddened more as Lorne put the word out there. ‘Couple’. It was a nice sounding word… “I, uhm… I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it, but we… This morning kinda… made me realise, the way you were just, there for me… it was like we were always that close, and just… grew… into it the more we understood each other… I’m just, kinda worried that you like me for being human, or having used to be a boy, and I’m not sure I’m either anymo—”
Lily cut off as Lorne’s hand brushed against hers on the table. She glanced up into the eyes of her friend, and saw concern and worry in her eyes. Like this morning…
“Relax. Drink your drink.” Lorne smiled warmly at her, taking another sip of her own drink.
The conversation paused while they drank, and Lily felt rather flat, panicking again. Now I’ve done it… I shouldn’t have said anything, it was only a matter of time before I’m kicked ou--
“Yeah, I’ve thought about us as a couple.” Lorne suddenly said. Lily’s eyes went wide, and she opened her mouth, probably to object on the basis of her being awful or something, but Lorne raised a finger and she kept quiet. The orange squid wasn’t done talking. “Yeah, when we first met I… I thought it was incredible that I was friends with a real live human. Why wouldn’t I be, right?
“But… It was when I first got back home after retrieving the Great Zapfish…” Lorne took another sip of her drink as she recalled. “I’d splatted so many Octarians without much thought, and took on Octavio, and Callie head on… and yet, that night when I opened the door, and saw you snoozing peacefully in my bed…” She snorted, in disbelief at herself. “I had the warm and fuzzies, but I remember I just… was more nervous than I was battling all of them.”
“Nervous?” Lily raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t want to wake you. You were hurting - I remember that was the night you found out you weren’t human at all anymore - but you seemed… more relaxed in sleep, maybe happier when I got in that night. I wanted to be close to you. I’m glad I managed to get in without waking you, really. And my… appreciation and love for you just sorta… grew from there…” Lorne blushed as her mind ran back through their interactions. “So… yeah… I’ve uh, thought about us as a couple. I um… I think if that ever happened, I’d like that.”
“Even with… everything that I am?” Lily looked at her, a little awed, mouth ajar.
“Everything that you were. We’re not out of the woods yet with this human stuff, clearly, but… You’ve fit in as an Inkling so well. I am comfortable saying that you’re one of us, maybe you were destined to be or something.” Lorne smiled, pausing for another sip. “But for what you are, and were, that is who I’ve fallen in love with.”
Lily blushed deeper, and shyly twiddled her fingers together. “You’re… very well spoken sometimes, Lorne. I… honestly would love to have someone to love." She gave a soft smile, and shyly leaned in a little closer, cheeks burning. “If… if you want to… I would be happy with us… being that.”
“Of course!” Lorne laughed, and she pulled Lily's head forward for a kiss, both girls feeling relieved and their burdens much lighter. Lily smiled up at her, and Lorne could see that, at least for now, her sadness and her pain were very far away from her thoughts. As it should be, she thought.
It was after that fleeting moment, when Lily drank the last of her hot chocolate, that she noticed a male/female couple eyeing them and was suddenly aware again of their location, and Lorne laughed as she blushed furiously and buried her head in her arms on the table.
A lot of the rest of the day was spent in the apartment, celebrating their formalized relationship with... much of the same, but with more cuddling. This was Lily's 'day off', or supposed to be, so they relaxed and watched TV, and Lily either joined in, bathed, or played with her music program.
She'd been inspired over the last month to attempt to put together a mix of music (human music, she reminded herself) to introduce the wealth of old recordings to her friends. Beside her laptop sat the three Squid Sisters' albums she and Lorne had bought to see the other side of their bosses, and Lily was going to find a way to mix a song or two from them in, somewhere.
That night saw them laying in bed watching
"Hey... Lorne?" Lily said shyly, sitting on her side of the bed and paused midway through dressing for bed. "Before me, how'd you sleep, clothes-wise?"
"Uhh..." Lorne blushed, glancing over at Lily from behind her, in a loose-fitting white top and plain pink undergarments. She was half-way through putting on a pair of gray sweatpants. "Well, two things. One: Fuck you look so cute right now. Two: I never really changed how I slept. Besides like, hogging the bed and stuff, y'know? Why d'ya ask?"
"Well... Cuz... way back when I had my own bed, y'know... I used to like, undress for bed?" Lily blushed deeply, and let go of the sweatpants. "I just found that more comfortable. And like... I just sorta... I like how being in just this stuff feels and... I was wondering if you would mind if I just slept in this."
"...Nah, I wouldn't mind," Lorne said with a smile. "It'd be a nice view to wake up to." She let her smirk show. "Whatever's most comfortable to you."
With a smile and a blush, Lily nodded. "I never woulda asked if I didn't trust you completely. It's just... hard to ask, y'know? I'm used to just having my own bed, fuck the rules, I'll sleep naked if I want to. I jus—"
"It's fine, Lily." Lorne grinned, lifting the blanket for her. "C'mon, get in then. It's cold without you."
"Pff, I know how good this bed is with only one person, thanks." Lily obediently snuggled in, leaving her pants on the ground and snuggling up behind Lorne. "I know I say it often, but... thanks Lorne. For everything you've done for me."
"It's all good, Lily." Lorne turned her head and smiled. "Love ya."
"Love you too." Lily reached over to kiss her again.
"You ready for more Turf War tomorrow?"
"Sure. I got plenty of exercise the last time."
"Heh. Just wait til we get you to level 4, dear. Then you can finally wear something other than that basic tee to the games."
"Can. Not. Wait."
Both girls giggled tiredly, and laid their heads on the pillows. Lily found herself thinking about past relationships. She felt lucky to have Lorne at all - it must have been a one-in-a-million chance that of all the places to end up, she arrived somewhere where she wouldn't have been gawked at like a freak, surrounded by two sweet people who looked after her, and kept her secret to boot.
She wished she could have brought her old friends with her, but it wasn't exactly her decision to come here in the first place.
That said, she thought to herself, despite all the troubles, moments like this... This is probably the best fate I could have asked for.
I apologise that this chapter took so long to arrive! I actually started again on this chapter since I couldn't will myself to write a decent Turf War game - though that idea may return in the future.
I also found that I can't write this sort of lovey text as easily as I can everything from the past couple of chapters. (Hopefully this improves the more I do it.) I did want to write this though, since Lily did sort of need this.
Chapter 6: Piercing the Fog
Lily and Lorne finally learn about Tartar, a few days later. Marina, Pearl and the Metro Squidbeaks learn about Lily's affiliation.
- DJ_Hyperfresh has entered the chatroom
DJ_Hyperfresh> Good morning everyone! Who’s awake?
DJ_Hyperfresh> …No one? Hm…
IAmThree> Good morning Marina
IAmThree> You’re up rather early
DJ_Hyperfresh> Hi there Three! Speak for yourself.
IAmThree> Time doesn’t really matter down here…
IAmThree> But me and Cap are taking shifts watching over the Metro train
IAmThree> There’s not a whole lot of light outside the train with power knocked out since the Statue incident, and we don’t quite know what else is or isn’t running
IAmThree> Or what could escape its confines… ahem, the freaky undead Octarians
DJ_Hyperfresh> I see… Do try to stay safe though!
IAmThree> We'll do our best
IAmThree> It's been kinda funny, CQ.C hasn't been himself since it all went down. He can't do his testing. Nobody can get into the stations, besides Central.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Huh... Well, keep me informed I guess!
DJ_Hyperfresh> My life is… not as interesting. I’m on my way into work to help out some of the techs install stuff.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Did you check out Inkopolis Square when you were up here?
IAmThree> Briefly. Still partial to the Plaza though
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well, there’s a concert stage that we put up above the Deca Tower entrance for the Splatfest, but we want to include a ‘crowd cam’ for future Splatfest events, and we want to make sure it’s placed discreetly so not a lot of people can notice it or block it.
“Now arriving into: Inkopolis West. This service is now entering the City Loop.”
Marina stared at the laptop screen in front of her as her train paused at another station, on her trip from Pearl’s home into the Square. Her chatroom sat delegated to one half of the screen, a document full of notes in the other.
She heard a rapping on the window beside her, surprising her. She turned her head to see what had caused the noise.
It was Lily. And her friend. They were both carrying backpacks over their shoulders. They must have been boarding the train and had seen her.
Oh, right! I guess she does take my train - after all, there was the other time when she met up with Sheldon…
Lily seemed to sigh. Then she pointed at Marina toward the back of the train, and started to walk off.
Marina stared after her, then, remembering the chatroom, shot off a quick message to Three, shoved the laptop into her bag, and walked over to the door into the carriage.
DJ_Hyperfresh> One sec - Lily is getting on my train.
Marina met the two girls as they had got on and were headed back through the next carriage. Lily eyed her as they kept moving. “The rear carriage was empty. We’ll be down there if you want us.”
She stared after the girls as they moved on, considering the offer. Were… Did they want to chat?
Taking her seat again briefly, she whipped out the laptop again and checked the chat.
IAmThree> Uh oh
IAmThree> Are you alright, Marina?
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’m fine - I… think she and her friend want to talk to me about something.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Considering Pearl called her out on our Sunday broadcast I’m guessing it’s to do with that… but who knows…
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’m going to go and talk with them - sounds like they found an empty carriage on this train we can talk openly in. Don’t worry if I don’t respond - I will probably be engaged for a while. I’ll check back in when it’s over.
IAmThree> Alright. Be careful…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Will do. I'll just go message Pearl to get on here first.
The laptop went away and, before she stood up to go see what the girls wanted, she pulled her phone from her pocket and went into her text messages. She knew Pearl would be awake by now - she would be making breakfast. She typed out a quick message. 'Hey - Lily on my train - wants to talk - get in chatroom, will update everyone there.'
Then she opened the voice recorder and started recording, moved the phone to another pocket on her jacket, then stood up, making sure she had everything, and made her way down toward the back of the train.
Marina stepped into the rear carriage of the train, cautious. As they had said, as the train trundled along, this one was near empty.
Except for two people.
They were sat in the far corner of the train, on a four-seater cube. The both of them were in one side, Lily looking over her friend’s shoulder at her phone.
Oh, right… we still have her phones back at our place... Better message Pearl to bring them in later…
She approached them carefully, and took her seat opposite them, legs spread outward, and leaning forward, elbows resting on her thighs, hands clasped together. “So,” she said with a sigh. “Is this about the broadcast on Sunday?”
Lily glanced at her, and sat up. “Well, it’s about… everything, but yeah, let’s start with that.”
“Listen, I wanted to avoid starting any more—”
“I know,” her friend replied, putting her phone away. “Even if Lily did… freak out over being named at the time…”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Lily mumbled.
“She would at least agree with me that you were doing what you could to avoid getting people on a witch hunt for her. I get the impression that you’re softening on her. That’s why we’re approaching you and not Pearl. We feel like you’d listen to what we have to say.”
“So here’s our deal.” Lily sat forward. “This is all off the record. I don’t need a profile piece. I need information. Context. But, in exchange, let’s organise to meet up somewhere and… we’ll answer as much as we can about… me. I don’t want to be the enemy, Marina.”
Marina sat back, in thought. “Why? After everything that’s already happened, why now?”
“Two reasons.” Lily held up two digits to emphasize. “One: As just mentioned. I don’t want to be your enemy. I don’t want to be anyone’s enemy. I grew up with the mindset ‘treat others how you would want to be treated’. Life’s too short to worry about hating anyone I interact with, or would want to interact with. So I just would feel better about myself if I managed to at least get ourselves to the point of being, I dunno, friendly acquaintances.” She sighed, and thought for a moment. “Or, even if we never spoke again, it would just be nice if life got back to a point where I didn’t have to fear for mine.”
Marina nodded slowly. “Mm. And the second reason?”
Lily took a deep breath. This was the important one for her, Marina assumed. “There are two things that have kept being brought up since the Hotel, and I still haven’t heard anyone explain to me what they are. I’ve been associated with someone or something, and I don’t know why.”
Marina nodded again, understanding. “You want to know about Commander Tartar.”
Lily blinked. “Commander? …Yes, I want to know about them.”
The Octoling girl took a few breaths as she worked out how to best explain. She reached for her bag and pulled out the laptop, keeping its screen turned toward her. Pretending to look up notes, she checked on the chatroom. She sent a quick message, seeing Pearl had joined: 'Still talking, will check in soon - but Pearl make sure you bring the phones in today!'
Looking up from her screen, she finally spoke. “Well… Tartar… He is… Was… an AI created by humans before they went extinct. I guess he was built by some group called NILS, he mentioned them a lot. His... supposed goal was to pass on humanity’s knowledge to the next true sapient species, or something like that.”
“Seems noble enough so far. Up until I left, we were always fascinated with the idea of intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe.”
“Did you discover any?”
“Not that I know of, sadly.”
“Well, Tartar did not end up being… quite so thrilled with us.” She sighed, recalling all the video calls and chats from the past two months. “He posed as this… guide, of sorts. ‘Just bring me the four Thangs, and I can show you the promised land’, he said. That required Eight going through all sorts of—”
“’Eight’?” Lily’s friend’s brow furrowed, and the two Inklings exchanged glances. “Who’s ‘Eight’?”
“Huh? Oh— uh… The... The boy you’ve probably seen around us lately. Lily would know him. That's uh... our... nickname for him...”
Lily grumbled a quiet ‘yeah, I know 'im’. Marina glanced away, out the window. “Sorry. But, yes… Then he revealed his true colours, tried to blend up our friends - good thing Agent 3 broke them out - and then he—”
“Agent 3?!” Lorne shouted. “Hang on a sec! Like, ‘New Squidbeak Splatoon’ Agent 3?!”
“Quiet!” Marina hissed, and looked around to make sure anyone that might have entered the carriage hadn’t heard, but their carriage was still empty. “I’m only telling you because it’s important you know all the deta—” The Octoling froze. Hang on a second… Her brows furrowed suspiciously. “How… do you know about the New Squidbeak Splatoon?”
Lily bit her lip. Uh oh... We've been caught. She looked over at her friend, concerned, awaiting a convincing fake explanation.
The other Inkling paused, considering her options, then deliberately reached for her bag, turned to Lily, and nodded, before opening the pack and reaching inside.
“What? Here? Now?!”
“May as well,” came her friend’s reply. Lily just stared for a moment, then nodded back and reached for her own bag.
“Uh— hang on—” Marina was worried now. Had she stepped too far? What were these girls going to do to—
Both girls pulled an item from their packs. The same item.
They both held a pair of headphones, that wrapped around the back of the head. The conical earpieces glittered and pulsed with digital light patterns.
They were the same headphones Agent 3 wore, Marina realised.
Then a further realisation struck her, and her eyes went wide: But that must mean they’re—
The headphones went back in their bags, and the bags went back on the floor.
“Oh, fuck,” Marina mouthed, not meaning to say it aloud. “I, uhm, I’m—”
“I’m Agent Four,” Lorne said, gesturing to herself, her face more serious. Then, pointing at Lily, she simply said, “She’s Five.” She leaned forward. "How do you know about them?"
"We, uh..." Marina stuttered lightly, still mentally processing what she had just been shown. "We... Me and Pearl stumbled upon them. We discovered Captain Cuttlefish and Agent 3's distress signal a few months ago. They were stuck underground, and... me and Pearl helped them out. We’ve… been in contact since."
With a grim smile Lorne noted to Lily, “So that's where they went.” Glancing at Marina, she said, more seriously, “Does that mean your ‘Eight’ is…?”
Marina sighed. “…Yes. Agent 8.”
Lily nodded, and sighed deeply, remembering the sewer encounter. “Well, that’s gonna be a problem for me. But alright. So, your... our friends nearly got blended.”
“Huh? Oh, right…” Pretending to consult notes again, Marina shot off a quick message to the chatroom: ‘Is anyone awake that can confirm the existence of an Agent 4 or 5???’ Hitting the send button, she straightened up. “Anyway, yeah, Tartar revealed his true colors, went on some monologue - I remember the gist being that neither Inklings or Octolings were ‘worthy’ species because we, err, we fought over little things - like, the splatfests and things - and also something about our taste in fashion? And then--”
“Oh, that’s rich.” Lily laughed, thinking it absurd.
“Lily…?” Lorne was looking at her with an odd expression.
“We are guilty of the exact same shit!” Lily pointed at herself. “We’ve done that! He’s a fuckin’ hypocrite!”
"...Pardon?" Lorne looked at her quizzically, concerned. Marina had a similar look.
“I’m not going to tell you that humans as a whole were great people,” Lily said. “They had a capacity for greatness and kindness, just like you. In fact just about all of the people I miss from my world, had the well-being of their friends and even strangers in mind in day to day life." She paused, adding as an afterthought, "Probably exaggerating a bit."
After a moment to take a breath, she continued: "But humans as a species, holy shit... we hated each other for anything you could think of. The color of the skin, the people we loved, the cause we believed in, the clothes we wore, just… anything.”
“This is sounding familiar,” Marina realised. “He was going to wipe us out for that very problem.”
“Again, he would have known. We fought, we killed. We destroyed entire cultures, species and civilizations just so we didn’t have to change our own ways. It was easier to make the rich richer than to save the lives of millions. We have no place in the world of today. We do deserve to be extinct."
Marina stared at her for a moment. "I... guess you've got a bit of a bone to pick with humans, huh?"
Lily sighed, and threw her hands up. "Yeah... but I'm sorry, I really shouldn't be going off on a tirade. You were saying...?"
"Man... well, there's not that much else to tell." Marina adjusted herself in her seat, glancing at her notes again. “Oh, okay... he... very nearly fired this beam that would have destroyed Inkopolis and… made us all extinct. We only barely stopped him, thanks to Pearl...” She said the last part quietly, looking down.
“…I see…” Lily thought deeply, leaning forward, face half-buried in her hands. “So then… everything you guys had been saying is true. And then I come along, wrong place wrong time… I… get it. Fuck, man…”
Lorne leaned over to her, resting an arm around her shoulders.
The three girls were silent for a few minutes as the train got closer to the Square, passing through dark underground tunnels as it circled the City Loop.
Lily finally looked up. "Where... is he now? Is he... dead...?"
"He's...not, but... he's separated from the facility that gave him that power. There's a spot in the forests outside Inkopolis that we chose to leave him. He's not a threat anymore."
"That's... generous, after what you've just told us," Lorne pointed out with a raised eyebrow.
"Mmm. We considered it but... honestly, Three brought up the idea. Why not force him to keep on living in our world, if he hates it so much." She snorted, smirking slightly, and Lily allowed a dark smile and nod.
The carriage fell into silence again. Marina thought back over the conversation that had just happened. "So... you really didn't know about Tartar or NILS then."
Lily sighed, and shook her head. "I told you. But y'all were set on this weird... revenge thing."
"Lily, please... understand how we saw all this happening. These things fall from the sky. We start seeing you, with these things that nobody else can read. Then Tartar reveals himself, with a human statue, and created by some professor at least 12,000 years ago when humans died out. Then, well, that stuff at the hotel happe— Lily?"
Lily's hands were over her mouth, and her gaze dropped down to the ground.
Twelve thousand years. At least.
The train's PA announced that it was pulling into Inkopolis Square, putting a halt to their conversation, and the three of them stood and made their way to the doors, Lily walking slowly, deep in thought.
"I guess we'll have to continue this another time," Marina said as they waited for the train to stop. "Lily, Pearl is bringing in your phones today. Come by the studio later when you're done doing..." she eyed the girls' backpacks. "Whatever you're doing, and we'll hand them over.'
Lily nodded, bringing herself back to the present, having been distracted by her thoughts. "I... guess I can pass on some contact details then so we can organise this meeting."
The doors opened, and the three of them disembarked, heading towards the exit from the underground station that would lead them into the Square proper.
They reached the studio door, and Marina turned toward it. “Well uh… I guess… I’ll see you two around, huh?”
Lorne sighed and glanced between her and Lily. “Yeah, guess you will. We’re keeping quiet about this, yeah?”
Marina nodded. “I can keep a secret. Though you do realise, I will have to inform Pearl, Cra— the Captain, and Three that we met.”
“…Yeah, I realise. It’s probably better they know we at least made contact.”
Marina nodded, and the three stood awkwardly for a few moments. Then finally, Marina turned toward the door again, and unlocked it, making to step inside. “Well… see you soon, then.”
“See you, Marina,” Lily said with a nod. “I’m glad we got the chance to talk.” But as soon as Marina had stepped inside and shut the door, Lily doubled over, hands over her mouth. “Jesus Christ, twelve thousand fucking years... Fuuuuck...”
Somewhere off the coast, hundreds of meters below sea level, on a different train, two Inklings sat in a quiet carriage, their only companion at the moment a friendly, sleeping isopod. The lights in the carriage were dimmed as the simulated day cycle had not flicked over to being ‘day’ yet. As such, only one of the passengers were awake.
One of the inklings, a boy with long, green hair, regarded his surroundings once again as he waited for his phone to ping once more. His mantle was detached and was draped over his front as a makeshift blanket, covering a hi-vis vest. His clothing was odd for down here - then again, Inklings down here were very uncommon - but it wasn't the first thing that jumped out at people that met him down here.
For after an incident not too long ago, his right eye's iris and the skin around it was permanently stained a green-ish blue, contrasting against his regular creamy skin colour. It was an unsightly splotch of colour on an otherwise calm, matured face.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Hello everyone, I’m back! I just got into the studio.
MC.Princess> THERE YOU ARE
MC.Princess> Was starting to get concerned they’d abducted you or something
The Inkling's phone buzzed as Marina rejoined the chat. Time to find out what was going on.
IAmThree> Welcome back
IAmThree> One sec, gotta get the Captain in here
Agent 3 stood, stretching his legs and flexing them as he made his way over to the sleeping, elderly Inkling. This one was in a green tracksuit with white stripes down the sides, and he slept peacefully on the bench opposite his agent's. Agent 3 knelt down beside him and rested a hand on his shoulder, gently shaking him. "Good Morning again, sir. Marina's just returned from her talk with the human."
Craig Cuttlefish grumbled and groaned as he stirred from his nap. "And? Why can't you fill me in when I've gotten some proper sleep?"
"I'm making this assumption based on context but... it sounded like her and her friend were hired as Agents Four and Five. I figured you would have some questions."
One of Craig's eyes opened and examined Three. His expression told him he wasn't kidding....With a sigh and a grumble of "What are my granddaughters up to up there..." he sat up and stretched, reaching for his phone. "Alright Three, let's see what's good."
- CraigCuttlefish has joined the chatroom
IAmThree> There we go
DJ_Hyperfresh> Alright then. So…
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’ll just tell the story again for Pearlie and Craig.
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’ve been on my train in to work
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’m there earlier than usual since the tech crew is installing a crowd cam for the Splatfest events and I volunteered to help. Got to setup a discreet mount to catch as much of the Square as we can.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Anyway, Lily and her friend are heading in at the same time, see me on the train and invite me to chat.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Hooo boy. I learned two important points from that conversation.
CraigCuttlefish> is what 3 is telling me about a 4 and 5 true
DJ_Hyperfresh> I… was hoping you would confirm that for me. I only have their word.
CraigCuttlefish> i'll get on that
DJ_Hyperfresh> Though I did see they had headphones like 3 does.
DJ_Hyperfresh> You do keep files on your agents too, yeah?
MC.Princess> Hang on what
MC.Princess> Like agents 4 and 5? What are you talking about
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well I wanna make sure it’s real before I just start saying it as fact.
DJ_Hyperfresh> In the meantime, the other thing was that I can now confirm that Lily had no knowledge of Tartar or his work, nor was involved.
DJ_Hyperfresh> Though it’s possible she might have still been manipulated without her or our knowledge…
“Well I’ll be…”
Three looked up from his phone. “Is it true?”
Craig glanced at him, frowning. “Seems to be. I created a file on the human a while back for One and Two to keep an eye out, but, yes, they seem to have updated it recently with an 'Agent 5' designation and created their own file for an Agent 4. One second and I’ll post her file up. Might need to redact some things.”
"Wow. Alright then. While you do that, brief me real quick on Four."
IAmThree> Well that sounds good at least
IAmThree> I’d still like to have words with her about my eye though
MC.Princess> …Not really on his side? That still seems hard to believe
DJ_Hyperfresh> I know, but, the discussion we had has led me to that conclusion.
DJ_Hyperfresh> What she’s been doing, I don’t know yet, but we’ll be planning a proper meeting to talk properly soon.
DJ_Hyperfresh> One that I’ll make sure you’re part of, Pearl. She promised us that under agreement that we don’t mention her on the news anymore
MC.Princess> Awww but…
IAmThree> FYI - Cap’s just confirmed the info, he’ll be posting up Lily’s file shortly, Agents 1 and 2 seem to have updated it
DJ_Hyperfresh> Well then…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Alright. MC.Princess: Lily and her friend were just confirmed for being Agents 4 and 5.
MC.Princess> ARE YOU SQUIDDING ME
MC.Princess> Even if she wasn’t involved with that dumb telephone, what could she be doing for you guys??
IAmThree> Should say in the file he’s preparing, but this friend - Agent 4 - recently recovered the Great Zapfish from DJ Octavio and rescued Callie, apparently…
IAmThree> Sounds familiar…
MC.Princess> Wait huh??? I thought Zappy just… took a break
DJ_Hyperfresh> That lines up, Three. We reported on both their disappearances a couple weeks ago
IAmThree> Oh so that did happen again? Wow
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yeah... Octavio, huh? I thought after the last time, he’d’ve figured not to steal a major power source from a species that could fight back…
DJ_Hyperfresh> And that would explain the comment I got from Marie a few days back if he was recently acti—
MC.Princess> MARINA YO ARE YOU OKAY
DJ_Hyperfresh> I’m fine, Pearlie!
DJ_Hyperfresh> …Hey Caaaaap…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Are your granddaughters… involved in your operation at all…?
CraigCuttlefish> this is Lily, the human girl
New Squidbeak Splatoon Agent 5
- Current Assignment: artifact retrieval (combat training)
- Unknown method of arrival (Time travel??)
- Possible connection to Commander Tartar, both became active at the same time
Possibly seeks to complete Tartar's goal of worldwide elimination???(definitely not ~2)
- Connection to Sheldon (Ammo Knights) and at least one inkling (A1 comment: Agent 4)
- Age 26 before arrival
- Originally a human male, underwent transformation to inkling female after ink immersion. Almost identical to Agent 4 as a result
- Is unaware of how transportation happened, seems to be a real human from at least 12,000 years ago
- Pre-inkling life: cleaner, food production worker, mashup artist, computer/music enthusiast
- Currently sharing residence with Agent 4
DJ_Hyperfresh> Yep, that’s her…
CraigCuttlefish> DJ_Hyperfresh yes. 1 and 2
MC.Princess> ‘age 26’ Wow what an old fart
DJ_Hyperfresh> I wonder if human years are different to our years, like otherwise they'd be eight years older than me and they don't... seem it, mentally.
MC.Princess> ‘Originally a human male’ OH MY COD THAT EXPLAINS A BIT??? I always wondered why she seemed to carry herself differently to other girls
MC.Princess> I mean, even before the human discovery
DJ_Hyperfresh> That’s certainly an… interesting point. So not just changing species, but changing gender too?
IAmThree> ‘Artifact retrieval’ huh? What’s that involve…
DJ_Hyperfresh> Oh I think I know, actually! About the time she started showing up, this weird shower of… things happened across Inkopolis and beyond, including a phone right through our window, and that car.
DJ_Hyperfresh> And we saw her get the phone, and she was around the car when it got brought down… it would make sense if she was going around collecting everything.
MC.Princess> So hey is everything she’s collecting her things or just human things?
DJ_Hyperfresh> I haven't figured that out for sure yet, but I'm guessing it's all hers.
DJ_Hyperfresh> I mean, maybe she's collecting all that stuff just as her mission, but she seemed at least pretty invested in that phone and the laptop. And the car...
DJ_Hyperfresh> ...Hey, one of us is gonna need to tell Agent 8...
“Yessir?” Three looked up from the phone, hand now resting over his mouth, in thought.
“Schedule us a stop at the Central Station. I think we will need to head back up to the surface and get to the bottom of this ourselves.”
Three blinked. “As… as you wish, sir.” He pulled out an odd remote-looking device from a pocket on the hi-vis jacket, and clicked in the analog stick on it. "We testing your theory today?"
"We sure are. Let's see if there's any merit to it."
A screen materialized in front of him, with a complete map of the Metro facility open. This isn’t what Three wanted though, so he clicked onto the next tab, where the train lines were visible. His cursor moved over to the point in the middle of the map, the Central Station, and clicked on it. It pinged, and an ETA indicator arrived. One hour to wait, to get from the outer edges of the map where the train was currently moving, back to the central line. Three could deal with that.
The only issue was, the path they had taken through the NILS Statue to get back to the Metro was one they could not use anymore. The main elevator into the depths of the statue had been destroyed by Pearl's Killer Wail a week ago, and while they had been able to descend with climbing rope, it had been carefully hung from Off the Hook's heli and then retrieved. But the Captain suspected there may be another way back to civilization, and his suspicion was about the abandoned station where he and Agent 8 had awoken. What lay beyond...?
CraigCuttlefish> we’re coming up
DJ_Hyperfresh> Wait, up? To the surface? Now?!
IAmThree> Cap’s decided this situation needs his personal intervention
IAmThree> I mean it’ll be a while to get ‘up’ anywhere, we won't be able to get back up the statue way but we're hoping there'll be another way up somewhere in the Metro itself
DJ_Hyperfresh> Oh… okay. Just, uh, keep us informed I guess, and please give us plenty of warning if you need us to pick you up!
MC.Princess> Statue's a no-go then?
IAmThree> Too tough to organise any kind of rope ascent, elevator's gone, no super jump points
IAmThree> The final ladder to the surface is still there, but that's... kind of it in terms of climbing.
DJ_Hyperfresh> I don't know if this means much, Three, but if you can't find anything... there's an Octarian story about a town that was sealed off after something breached its cave's walls... due to the residents being killed or abducted and turned 'evil'.
DJ_Hyperfresh> I know it sounds weird, but if it's real, through a certain interpretation I could see that being something to do with the undead Octarians, hence the Metro broke into Octopia somewhere...
IAmThree> Hmm... Worth a thought
IAmThree> I suppose if we can find something like that, it would be a way to get home, a very roundabout one but...
IAmThree> We'll keep in touch
DJ_Hyperfresh> Sure. Stay safe Three, Cap!
The Deepsea Metro train continued speeding along, slowly calculating its route towards Central Station.
We'll see Three and Cuttlefish's journey back to the surface soon, but expect to see them again in this part of the story.
Chapter 7: Metal Bork
Agents 1 and 4's training plan for Lily has her facing more than just an old foe... friend? of the Squidbeaks.
Before we get into the chapter, I just wanted to thank everyone that's been reading, giving me their comments and kudos. I am astounded to say that at the time of writing this, Begin Again has been loaded more than 900 times across both parts! Thank you!
I am warmed that many of your comments throughout the fic have expressed concern for Lily and her wellbeing. She has a ways to go in her journey, and some walls are starting to come down, at least between her and Marina.
I thought I'd also take some time to outline some plans for the Begin Again world. I do want to keep writing stories about this human's experience in the Splatoon 2 world, but I'm not sure I'll be writing or completing another full 'part' of this size. I pretty much consider this series to be about Lily's story about settling into this new world, and her journey to find out why she was brought to Inkopolis, and we may be heading toward that conclusion soon.
So, fairly soon I'll be creating a new 'series' page for the short stories I'll be making in that world, titled something along the lines of "Short Stories of an Ex-Human In Inkopolis". I won't start publishing new stories until this part is complete, though.
So, yeah! Thank you all so much for continuing to read. <3 Happy reading!
The sun was still low over the horizon as Lily and Lorne arrived in Octo Canyon, ready to begin their training. The air was cool was it brushed through the Hideout, and Lily shivered. She couldn’t wait to get into that hoodie, and she set her backpack down, kneeling before it to retrieve the gear.
Lorne chuckled. “Hey, this’ll be the first time you put the gear on, right? I’m excited for you!” With a grin, she rested a hand on Lily’s shoulder as she carefully removed the headset, hoodie, boots and Hero Shot, staring at them in awe.
The gear was a gift from Callie. She had argued to her (in private) that Marie should have granted them to her at the beginning, but, hey, better late than never, right?
As she set the clothing down on the bench and begin to remove her civilian gear, Lorne started to move ahead of her. “Hey, where are you headed?” Lily called after her as she sat down next to the pile of gear and began untying her shoes.
“Prepping your training! Get the headset on - I’ll ping you to go to Beaker’s in a bit!” Agent 4 descended the ramp past the stone archway and was gone.
Lily watched her leave, then put her head down and quietly thought.
Twelve thousand years.
Twelve thousand years humans had been extinct.
Twelve thousand years, at least, that I’ve been gone.
It wasn’t like she didn’t know she was the last human - she had assumed that as soon as she’d stepped into Inkopolis for the first time. But it was the number that put things in perspective.
Twelve thousand years.
If it was something like three million years, it just wouldn’t have the same impact. But most recorded human history had happened within a three thousand year period. These creatures had had plenty of time since human extinction to evolve themselves and their culture.
Maybe, she thought to herself, this is why it’s important I grab this stuff.
It’s not just about making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands anymore.
This stuff needs to be preserved. My knowledge needs to be preserved.
She sighed, and pulled the Hero Headset from the neat pile of gear next to her. She examined it, watching the patterns of the pulsing earpieces, but thinking of home. Thinking of the friends she missed. Thinking of her previous life, almost a distant memory.
Lyrics from an old song formed in her mind. Without thinking, ‘knowing’ she was alone, she let the words come out:
“I could never find the right way to tell you
Have you noticed I’ve been gone?
Because I left behind the home that you made me
But I will carry i—”
“Oy. Human. You right over there?”
Lily’s eyes snapped up, glancing around frantically for the source of the voice. She pulled on the headset and grabbed the Hero Shot from the pile of gear and stood.
The voice had come from just to the left of her, in the formerly-empty space behind the grate back to the Square.
A mass of tentacles sat beneath a bulbous head with bulging eyes, making their owner look perpetually angry, even as they eyed her. Atop the creature’s head was a very ornate, almost ceremonial headwear.
This creature sat in an octopus-sized snowglobe, taller than she was.
The two watched each other in silence. As Lily watched, Octavio shifted, ‘sat up’ in his globe, taking interest.
Lily slowly, cautiously approached the globe, weapon up. From inside the globe, he didn’t seem to be able to touch her, despite its condition. “I’m fine. And just what makes you think I’m human? They’re extinct. Or did you not get the memo?”
The octopus thing scoffed. Lily noticed she couldn’t see the thing’s mouth behind its ‘moustache’. “Fine. ‘Formerly human’. You match the description my scouts gave. ‘Long hair, smaller frame, clueless’... About the only thing you’re missing is ‘buck naked’... unless you want to fix that for me?” Lily could just feel the guy’s smirk.
“Fuck off.” Lily turned and headed back to the bench to pull on the hoodie over her shirt. “I’m not having any of it right now.”
She kicked off her Cream Basics, pulling the Hero Boots on carefully and ignoring the octopus in the globe as it watched her. The boots seemed... a bit much. Lily wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was more shoe here than seemed necessary, or fashionable! Maybe the extra stuff was armor?
She made sure that the boots fit her carefully, then placed them neatly in her backpack. As she did, something clicked in her head about what the creature had said to her.
If these ‘scouts’ had said she was nude, then they had to have been the same ones that had attacked her at the Hideout when she was but a newly-turned, clueless Inkling.
And if that was the case, Callie had said at Agent 4’s debriefing that they had been sent by...
Lily turned around, geared up, looking the part of an Agent. “So. You’re the Octavio I’ve been hearing about. Been having fun in there?”.
The octopus rolled his eyes at her. “Clearly. All alone, trapped in this confined space for days on end? I’m having the time of my *life* here. I’d have at least expected your friend to come and gloat. You both look quite alike, you know.”
“We’ve been busy.” Lily watched him carefully, noticing out of the corner of her eyes that her tentacles had shifted from its usual blue and had taken on an olive-ish tinge. Huh, I didn’t realise it would do that... I guess it masks my identity a bit... “Nothing you should worry about.”
“You can’t get home, can you, human?” Octavio tutted, trying to contort his features into faking something approximating ‘worried concern’ and failing. “If only you had just let my scouts bring you to me, you’d be much happier. You wouldn’t need to pretend to be someone else. Our scientists would be much closer to solving your conundrum.”
“Who says I want to go back? Who says I am trying to be someone else?” Lily frowned, and checked the headset to make sure it was still on.
“I mean, really, who would willingly want to hide behind the facade of an Inkling of all things?”
“You say that like I have a choice in the matter.”
“So you don’t deny you’re human?” Octavio’s smirk had returned and taken on a smug quality.
Lily sighed. She knew he knew. “Formerly, to use your words. That was my previous life.”
“I’m just saying, you could be more than you are, even now. I can tell you have so much untapped power within you. I could help you realise that potential, human.” Octavio still had that sort of ‘smirk’ vibe about him, but his tone had become more serious.
“Funny. Thinking I have any sort of potential.”
“So the confidence could use a touch-up too. Trust me,” the octopus said to her, easing himself against the glass, eyes focused right on her. “Free me from this prison, and I will show you your true potential. I will guide you, and you will be a force to be reckoned with.”
“Sorry, I never let out on the first date.” She chuckled at her own dumb play on words, as a series of beeps played on the headset. “One sec,” she said to Octavio as she keyed the mic button. “This is Agent 5, come in.”
“Oh, don’t be so formal!” Lorne’s voice came in over the headset. “It’s just you and me out here.”
“And an octopus you never told me about,” Lily added, eyeing him.
“Wha— Oh! Did I not— Gah, sorry, Lily… Yeah, that’s DJ Octavio, we’ve been holding him since Callie and the Great Zapfish were rescued. I hope he’s not been giving you too much grief…”
“Eh… He’s trying to convince me to break him out. Keyword ‘trying’.”
“Heh, right… Well, anyway, your training is all setup here. Just had to calm your training partner, since Callie isn’t here yet.”
“Eh? Training partner?”
“Just get over here and I’ll show you! Remember, Beaker’s Depot, and then head for the boss kettle.”
“Wait— Your idea of training is putting me up against a—?!” She cut herself off, realising she probably shouldn’t divulge too much to the guy just in front of her. “Are you crazy?”
“Don’t worry, he won’t be too rough on you. He agreed to that.”
“I’m not convinced…”
“C’moooon. There’s a kiss in it for you if you meet me there…”
Lily sighed. “Damn you… I’m on my way.”
“Good girl. See you shortly.” With a click, the voice of Agent 4 was gone.
Lily sighed, and laughed softly to herself. Oh, how things are changing quickly between us.. “Looks like I’m headed out,” she said to Octavio. “I’ll be seeing you around, ‘DJ’ Octavio.”
“You’d better,” Octavio grumbled, pretending to be upset. “It’s so boring without company.”
“Noted.” She turned, and started to make her way toward the archway. Without looking, she waved at him with her free hand. “See you soon.”
The kettle was in sight almost as soon as Lily had arrived.
First though, Lily had to cross Beaker's Depot. And unlike the Hideout and Lookout before it, the Depot was not one cohesive platform. It was a series of separated platforms of different shapes and lengths, and it was not immediately certain just how one would get from place to place.
A glowing bulb fixed onto the edge of the platform just ahead of her caught her attention. Curiously, Lily leaned down and tapped it. Nothing seemed to happen at first, but when she tried firing at it with her new Hero Shot, the bulb lit up completely and a... line of wire and ink? emerged from it, curving and twisting around a smaller platform.
She realised she would have to use this rail to get across, and sighed deeply.
Agent 5 stepped up to the edge carefully, biting her lip as she couldn't help but look past the inkrail at the potential drop if she couldn't hold her balance.
Looking just ahead, she noticed that the next platform was not too far away. She wasn’t too sure if she could hold her balance around those turns, so perhaps a leap from the straight part of the rail would get her where she needed to go? Sure, it was still a little bit of a drop... She'd not have to worry about leaning into the turns...
"A...alright. Here goes..." She stepped up to the railing. Ink seemed to be propelled forward throughout the rail, so she supposed as long as she kept her balance, she wouldn't have to worry about her own momentum.
She took a deep breath, stepped up onto the bulb projecting the ink... and then did a tiny hop, and landed with both boots on the railing.
Agent 5 was immediately propelled forward under the power of the ink, and she nearly toppled over just from the unexpected force. She stuck her arms out to keep steady, but already the turn (and the point at which she'd have to leap off) was coming up fast.
She leapt from the rail just as it began to turn and fell toward the main platform, frightened and screaming, arms and legs wheeling about in the air.
She crashed onto the ground inelegantly, but who cared? She'd made it. She let herself lay there for a moment, then got onto her feet, and spent a moment to calm herself.
On the other side of the platform, she saw two more gaps between her and her destination.
This time, instead of a railing, a hovering bulb led the way. Once again, Five shot at it carefully, but this time, as the ink connected with the bulb, she found herself pulled toward it, and panicked. But as quickly as she had been pulled, the Grapplink had dropped her neatly beneath it, on the next platform, where Lily could already see another rail bulb.
The next obstacle she faced was the last, but was also the meanest. A long rail sped around and around the next platform, which Lily could see held the big kettle that the Hideout and Lookout had had.
Lily say for a while, thinking about how she could possibly get to that Kettle.
A part of her mind chimed in, see those two Grapplinks above the kettle platform?
She looked up. Indeed, there they were. One on the side to her left, and one on the right.
"Oh, hell..." Lily's face dropped. She was going to have to get on the rail, and fire at the Grapplink from the rail.
She took a few deep breaths and looked over the rail's path. The path acted like a rounded square, plenty of straight sections that curved around the platform. It also raised slightly, so that it could make another pass around the Boss kettle platform, before finally breaking away and returning to another part of the main platform.
OK, so, if I can at least keep my balance, if I can’t get a shot on the grapple thing, I’ll at least be put back on solid ground…
Lily stepped up to the beginning of the rail, nervous… Well, she wasn’t going to even get to the training unless she tried. Surely Lorne knew this was simple, right…? She wouldn’t put her through this if she didn’t know Lily could get there?
Lily stepped onto the rail, and was immediately whisked along.
Once again she immediately focused on balancing herself, letting herself center herself on the gentle slope that led into the main portion of the rail. Just don’t look down, she reminded herself.
She had made it to the first straight. Lily made sure her weapon was ready, but kept her focus on staying upright as she slid along the rails. The first Grapplink passed by her. That’s okay, I’ll come back to it…
The first turn nearly through her off completely, and she had to force herself to lean into the turn, briefly tipping herself forward into empty space as she hit the apex of the turn, and tipped back as she exited the turn. She frantically stabilised herself, glad she had at least made the first turn. She’d just have to do that a couple more times if she missed her shots…
She was already coming up to the next turn, and a shot at the next Grapplink. Briefly, before the turn, she tried to get her hands in front of her, holding her Hero Shot out. Leaning back slightly, it seemed like it might work…
But she leaned forward again as she was thrown into the next turn, and came back up ready.
Keeping as steady as she could, she aimed her Hero Shot up high, and fired a spray of ink above her, hoping that any of it would hit the Grapplink.
The first few shots didn’t, and the force and pushback from the weapon was not something she had accounted for.
She began to tip backwards.
Thankfully, though, one shot of ink did make its mark, and with a flash, Lily was pulled forward, from the railing.
Lily dropped onto solid ground, and she collapsed onto her knees, shaking.
She’d made it.
She crawled slowly up to the boss kettle’s grate, looking inside. No way to see what awaited her.
With a sigh, and a hope that Lorne and whoever was her training partner would go easy on her, she transformed and let herself fall inside.
“Hey, you made it!” Lorne called from the center of the arena as she arrived. “Holster your weapons and come on over, Five!”
She was standing with an absolutely massive... sentient box, as far as Lily could tell. Its comical face was contorted in a kind of worry as Lily had arrived.
Four grinned and waved at Lily after she had super-jumped into the arena. As Lily walked up to it cautiously, she nonchalantly noted, “Five, Octostomp here will be your training buddy.”
“W-what?!” Lily looked positively mortified. She stared up at the giant face of ‘Octostomp’ and bit her lip. She had a fairly good idea of why it might have been called that... “How’d you organise this?!”
“Well, I couldn’t have done it without Callie, actually. She came up with the idea. Turns out these guys still really like her. Now, don’t worry. He’s gonna play as nice as he can! Callie and I have made sure of it.”
“…Are you kidding?”
“Trust me, Lily. Basically, when you’re ready, he’ll rush at you and try to squish you. Oh, don’t fret!” She noticed the look on Lily’s face at the word ‘squish’. “He won’t actually. I wouldn’t let him. That’s why there’s a bit less panelling on his front than normal. Anyway, if you can get out of the way, that’s when you can climb his sides and get on top!
“Now, if you were against someone who *really* wanted to do you in, each of the creatures in these boss kettles are controlled by a main tentacle. You’d bust that a few times, and they’d go down. For your training, instead since Stompy’s in on this and we’re gonna play nice with him too, I want you to... hmm. Oh, I know! When you get up there, give the tentacle a big ol’ hug!”
“Is... is he down for that?” Lily glanced up at the big guy’s face, and he seemed to be smiling widely. “I think he might be?”
“Yeah he’s down!” Lorne chuckled. “In fact, why don’t you hug him right now? You’ve climbed walls with your ink before, right? Just climb up on his back!”
“Stand back, Five.” Lorne backed away, standing clear of Octostomp, and Lily did the same, her eyes flicking back and forth between the giant octo machine and her fellow Agent.
Once the girls were a safe distance, Agent 4 called over, “Alright, Stompy! I hope you trust us! Lily’s gonna come up and give you a hug, alright?”
Octostomp watched her carefully, and his eyes examined the ground in front of him.
Then he closed his eyes, and after a few long seconds, his massive body began to tip forward.
The noise he made when his metal front panelling slammed against the concrete platform was immense close-up. Lily cursed loudly and jumped back further, not expecting it.
“Alright, Lily!” Four called. “I mean, Five! Oh, whatever. Ink up the side of him and get on his back and go give him that hug!”
Lily nodded nervously. She ran around to Octostomp’s side, seeing all his panelling was intact, and carefully used her Hero Shot to create a path straight up his side. She leapt into it, changing as she did, and swam up through it in her squid form, quickly arriving atop his back.
Lily stepped carefully, wondering if the creature knew she was up here, wondering if he could feel her. She quickly saw the tentacle that Lorne had mentioned - it was the only feature on his otherwise featureless back. It was large, its suction cups along its outside. It wriggled slowly, knowing it was defenseless. Wow, he must really trust those two a lot to even let me do this...
She slowly approached the tentacle, slightly in awe of its size.
And carefully, slowly, she placed her hand upon it.
She felt it freeze and tense up. She gave it a few seconds to adjust to her presence, waiting to see if it would try to do anything to her.
But it didn’t. Feeling a little safer, she rubbed her hand along the tentacle, the texture new and strange to her. After a few seconds, she’d finally worked up the courage and leaned in, hugging herself against the tentacle, wrapping her arms around it and squeezing gently. “‘Salright, big guy. I won’t hurt you,” she said quietly. Then she called out to Four, “I’m OK! I made it!”
“Good going, Five!” Lorne shouted back happily, and as Lily let go to descend, she felt a rumble beneath her as Octostomp prepared to get back up.
She wasn’t quite prepared for how nimble he’d be though. As soon as she’d jumped down from his chassis, the Octo boss almost bounced up into the air, landing gracefully on his small two legs. He’d left a imprint of maroon ink on the ground, with little cutouts for his face and the cutouts in his front panelling.
“Tell you what,” Lily said with a smile to the two of them. “Hugging something that big felt pretty good. Glad I got that out of my system.”
“You did good.” Lorne smiled at her. “But now the training begins. So, here’s what you’ll do - he’ll be trying to rush you, as we mentioned before. Evade those as best as you can for a while and then, if he slams down, climb up and get the hug on ‘im! And then every time you do, he’ll—”
Lorne was cut off by a loud, powerful roar from Octostomp. Under its power, the ink that had already been laid down lifted off the various surfaces and dissipated.
This didn’t stop Lily from tensing and bracing herself, as if the beast was about to rush and eat her alive.
“...he’ll do that.” Lorne chuckled, and turned to Lily. “So, when you’re ready, give us some sorta signal, and we’ll get you going and watch over you two to make sure all is well!”
“Uh... alright.” With a bow toward the Octo box, Lily slowly made her way toward one side of the arena, and Lorne watched ‘Stompy’ made their way to the opposite, then super-jumped her way back to the platform that they had entered the area on. She was safe.
Once Lily had reached the other side of the boss platform, she checked the ink levels on her Hero Shot, and fired once, just giving herself an area to top up and mark where she had started. Then she stood tall and, after doing some quick stretches, held the weapon in front of her, ready to move, watching her opponent carefully.
Four’s voice came in over Lily’s headset. “Alright Lily, you ready to go?”
“I…I guess so… I’m still not sure about this.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll learn the same way I did. At the sound of my whistle, that’s your cue to start moving, alright?”
Lily didn’t get a chance to respond - because Four’s whistle went off immediately after she finished speaking, and ahead of her, the massive Octostomp leapt into action, putting on his ‘game face’ and only giving her a few seconds to prepare before he launched into a charge, grinding the corner of his frame against the ground right at her.
Lily briefly froze. The arena was a decent size, but again, the scale of that thing charging at her… For a moment she was simply a deer in the headlights.
But then Lorne’s voice called in her ear, “Lily, move!!” and she unfroze, her human self-preservation kicked in, and she sprinted and dove off to the left, two seconds before she watched Octostomp’s metal frame grind to a halt a few meters past where she was just a few moments ago.
…Holy shit, her human mind told her, breathing heavily as she stared at the spot where she would have been crushed. I’m going to die doing this.
She took a deep breath. Then, lifting her Hero Shot up and getting back on her feet, Lily began inking a path forward, around the beast. She keyed her mic between shots. “Sorry, I froze up! Friendly or not, that guy’s fuckin’ terrifying to face!”
“Just keep moving, and remember to use your ink! Remember, you move faster swimming in it!”
“Got… got it.”
Stompy was already up again and turning to see where Lily had gone. Lily leapt for the ink trail she’d made, transforming, and swam around, trying to keep him from getting a lock on her until she was ready.
She came up near the other side of the platform, breathing hard. She knew she was going to have to get him to attack again. She reminded herself, just get out of the way when/if he charges, and then I can ink my way up his side. “Hey!” She shouted at her, waving. “Come at me!”
He didn’t charge in quite the same way, though. He actually ran at her on his short little legs til he was about half-way to her, and then, when he was almost there, to Lily’s surprise, he stopped, bend down just a bit, then launched up into the air.
Lily saw quickly, despite parts in the front panelling missing, that she was about to be crushed if she didn’t get out of the way. She quickly kept moving, launching herself into her ink and swimming as fast as she was able.
If the noise Octostomp made when he simply tipped over was immense, the noise and force of at least tens of tons of metal and Octo crashing down almost right on top of her damn near blew her away.
Agent 5 was lifted from her ink by the rush of air, disoriented and ears ringing. She barely heard Agent 4’s voice in her ear, cheering her on. “Great! Now get up there!”
Stumbling, she turned to face the Octo boss again, to see that this time he couldn’t get up so easily - or wasn’t getting up easily. This was supposed to be ‘training’, after all - maybe he was giving her a break? Either way, she saw the path up Stompy’s side was clear, and she rushed at it, firing her weapon in a straight line up him, and flung herself into the ink and swam up.
She clambered onto the ‘top’, his back, his tentacle exposed and vulnerable. Whew, just a bit further…
“Remember, Five - hugs!”
Five glanced over to where Agent 4 was, off in the distance, and nodded.
Then, before Octostomp got any ideas about getting up and throwing her off, she sprinted across his back and flung herself at the tentacle. She caught it in a tackle-hug, wrapping her limbs around it as best she could.
Once again, the tentacle froze. Lily, once she was catching her breath and realising she’d ‘made it’, considered he probably didn’t expect her to hug him quite that roughly. She let herself just cling to it for a moment, letting the adrenaline wear off, letting the fear of death fade.
She realised, once more of her critical thinking had returned, that she would have respawned if she had been crushed or ground up. And she would have bet that no squid (or Octo, she reminded herself) would have had the same instinct, the same feeling that they only had one ‘life’.
Agent 5 finally let go of Octostomp’s tentacle and let herself fall onto his back, taking deep breaths. Slowly, she reached for her transmit button as she saw the tentacle curl down toward her, and gently caress her body in …appreciation?, causing her to tense regardless. “Agent 4… I know you and Callie mean well. And even this guy,” she added as she pet the tip of the tentacle brushing her. “But I had some strong human self-preservation stuff kick in with all that. Making me feel like I was gonna die and stuff…”
Agent 4 was silent for a few seconds. Then she replied, “You did well for your first time, Lily. I’m sorry that we put you through that…”
“No, I… I mean I’m committed to this work. This training is… a good idea. It’s just gonna be a while before I can… before I can break those human instincts. Before I don’t have to remind myself that I’m just more resilient than I used to be.” She sighed. “As I said… old habits will die hard, Four. But thank you. And you, ‘Stompy’,” she said as she finally got up, giving the tentacle another pat before she jumped down from his body, letting him get back up. “I’m glad we could do this in a controlled environment at least…”
“Yeah… same here. That’s why I’m so glad Callie managed to organise this.”
“You’re welcome!” A new voice called in over both their headsets. “Five, don’t worry. You know we’ll all be here to support you.”
“Heh… thanks, Callie. Welcome to the party. Where are you?” She looked about the place as Stompy launched back onto his feet, and then gently followed her over to the side of the arena where Agent 4 was Super Jumping over to.
“Back at the Hideout! Me and Marie just got in.”
“Morning, girls,” Marie’s voice joined the party. “You done with your training? Sheldon tells us you had an encounter on the way in, and I’d like to talk about that.”
“Ehh, we could be for now I guess,” Agent 4 responded. “Lily only got one point in, but she seems shaken enough that it’s probably a good idea to stop it there, and maybe go again another time.” Taking her finger off the transmit, she asked Lily and Octostomp, “You guys are OK with that, right?”
“Yeah, I’m happy with that,” Lily nodded. Turning her head to the massive box beside her, she smiled. “We mightn’t have gotten to know each other too well, but that was a good session. Thanks for not doing me in.” She patted his frame, yet again, in appreciation.
“Cool, then we’ll see you up here soon, then!” Callie said cheerfully over the radio. “One and Two, out!”
“Five out.” Lily moved her hand away from the headset, and sighed. “And this stuff just becomes normal eventually?”
Lorne made a sort of ‘ehh’ gesture with her hand. “It’s not so much that it becomes normal, but you sorta… adjust. I mean, by the time I took on this guy myself, I was kinda used to the job. Apparently he’s also fought against Agent 3. I suppose in a way, it makes sense to have him face you as well.” She chuckled softly, and gestured back to the platform that would contain their way out. “Well, shall we get going, then?”
“I guess so.” Lily turned to Octostomp, and bowed respectfully. “It’s been a pleasure. I hope to train against you again soon.” It was mostly a lie, Lily knew, but she wanted to be nice.
Octostomp bent his legs, and his structure tipped forward slightly as a kind-of bow in response.
Then both girls Super Jumped toward the platform, waved at him from there, then took the Launchpad home, speeding off toward the surface.
Chapter 8: Age of Enlightenment
Marina, Pearl and Agent 8 finally meet the Squidbeaks of Inkopolis to exchange information.
When Agents 4 and 5 returned from the Depot, fresh from training with Octostomp, Callie and Marie were hanging about at their usual spot in front of the Cuttlefish Cabin. Octavio’s eyes snapped over to watch 4 and 5 as they turned up.
"Hey, girls!" Callie waved, grinning. "You're looking great in the Agent gear, Lily!"
"Heh, thanks." Lily smiled and adjusted her headset, getting straight to business.
"Girls," Marie spoke softly, a more serious expression on her face. "Before we hear the details. Tell us. Did you hear about this ‘Tartar’ guy?”
“Yes,” Lily replied simply.
“Was his supposed threat real?"
Four took a deep breath. "...Yes, it was real. From what me and Five heard, if they had been just a bit slower..." Her breath hitched, thinking about it... "He would have wiped us all out for good."
"FINALLY!" Octavio bellowed, taking interest. Lily took another look at him. He was still very much an octopus - he seemed to have no interest in shifting into a humanoid form like the rest of them. Did he even have one of those? Actually, did his eyes ever stop bulging like that?
"Let me clarify," Agent 4 said, raising her voice, clearly directed at him. "That means every single living creature on this planet would be dead, or worse. That means you, Octavio."
"And just how and why would this 'Tartar' accomplish that?" Octavio said, unconvinced. "Y'all know it's no fun to rule when there's nobody under you, right?"
"I've never heard that saying before in my life. We were only told the guy nearly used a 'laser'." Lorne focused her eyes back on Callie and Marie. "But we should get some more in-depth information soon..."
"I'm surprised you're so interested in this," Callie mused at Octavio.
"It's MY world too!" The Octo King spat. "Besides, you've all left me here for days with nothing to do, this is the most interesting happening that's happened around here!"
"Heh, I guess that's true," Callie found herself nodding. "We've all been so busy with our own normal lives." She turned back to the girls. "Alright, so, without using their names, tell us what they told you."
Lily and Lorne took turns telling Callie and Marie (and Octavio, which Lily kept eyeing nervously, knowing that he was noticing) about what Marina had told them about Tartar, and his 'tests', and—
Agent 4 stopped herself as she realised something the girls had to know. "Hang on a sec, this is important too - Agent 3 and the Cap'n were there! Still are there!"
"They— what? They were dealing with this guy, huh?" Marie mused. "Well at least we know what they've been up to now..."
"Sure, but, but-- you've got an Agent 8 too!" Lorne blurted out. Lily could see that she was still processing this. And having run into Eight, she was still struggling with the idea herself.
"Uh— Hang on, what...?" Callie stopped, confused. "Agent Eight? But we don't even have..."
"He's an Octoling," Lily said, and Lorne and Callie both turned to look at her in disbelief. “Eight limbs.”
"WHAT?!" Octavio bellowed from behind her angrily. “Who is this traitor?!”
"It's true," Marie nodded at the girls, realising just who ‘Agent 8’ was. "He was with ‘those two’ when they ambushed Lily the other day. I guess it must have been real bad if the Captain felt it was worth joining forces with the Octolings... or at least one of them, to get out of his situation."
Callie was starting to join the dots. "And you had said Tartar was created by humans, didn't you? Wow... they really did think Lily was a world-ending threat, Two."
"Damn." Marie paused, thinking. "Alright, let's bring them in sometime." She removed a notepad and pen from a pocket in her yukata, and started scribbling a note. "Five, when you go collect your phones from them, I want you to hand them this note. We'll meet them at the Square and bring them here, at 11PM, in two days' time."
"We'll need to move Octavio somewhere, if we don't want any nasty shocks," Lorne pointed out.
"Ah, true. I think we can find a spot for him where he can't be found."
"Alright, is that everything then? Any questions? Objections?" Marie looked around, but no one spoke. "Alright, let's move out. Remember: Friday night, 11. Probably best to arrive a little early."
Lily and Lorne nodded. "Well uh, we should probably go change out of this gear then before we go back into the Square," Lily said with a small blush, glancing over at Lorne.
"Use the Cabin, it's fine," Callie smiled. "Take your time, we won't all be moving out all at—"
Before Callie could finish, Lily and Lorne had gone into the Cabin together and shut the door behind them.
She turned and raised an eyebrow at Marie. "Is it just me, or have those two been... a little closer lately?"
"They live together, cous'," Marie shrugged. "They're probably used to changing together."
"I'm just not sure that's all that is, but, alright." Callie eyed the door. "I hope they don't take too long..."
Pearl noticed from the studio right away as both Lily and Lorne appeared from the sewer grate opposite them.
“Yo, there they are,” she said loudly to Marina, focused on them. “Are you sure I gotta give ‘em back?”
“They are hers, after all…” Marina sighed. “I get it. They’re still… strange and new. But I’m pretty much convinced now. They’re alright.”
“Man, you really came around on her huh, Marina?”
“I mean, when I talked to her this morning, she was polite, I didn’t really get the sense she was deliberately hiding something… I mean, yeah, this Agent stuff is pretty crazy, but I get the impression that if we hadn’t… started down this path with her, things would still be more-or-less normal, y’know?”
“I dunno… something about knowing she’s not really one of us just…” Pearl creased her brow. “I don’t know what it is I’m feeling about her, but…”
“Then I ask that you trust me.” Marina rested a hand on Pearl’s shoulder, leaning toward her. “I understand, but when we talk to her, please give her a try. For me?”
Pearl looked into her bandmate’s eyes, and sighed. She knew Marina was a good judge of character. She guessed that she just felt the way she did because of Tartar and his origins… “Alright, ‘Rina. For you, I’ll give her a shot.”
“Thanks, Pearlie. Because—”
There was a gentle thump, then a second, on the glass panel that separated them from the Square. Pearl turned to look, and saw that both Lily and her friend were leaning against it. Lily had a letter or some kind of paper up to the glass, her right hand holding it at about hip-height, trying to look casual. Neither girl was looking. Instead they were in conversation with each other.
“…Because she’s here,” Marina finished. “Hey, that paper they’ve got. Is that for us?”
“Let’s take a look, I guess.” Pearl got out of her chair and walked over to the girls, kneeling down to read the message, and ignoring Marina’s snorts - the message was at about butt-height to the girls, and it was hastily scribbled so Pearl had to lean close to make it out. “OK, yeah, this is for us. I’m gonna take a pic so I can get back over there.”
“I’m gonna take a pic too,” Marina chuckled, and Pearl heard the click of her phone camera.
“Aw, come on!” Pearl blushed angrily, pulling her phone out. “It’s not my fault they— ugh, whatever…” With another ‘click’, a picture of the message was captured and Pearl quickly stood up to rejoin Marina at the table. Pulling up the image, she read aloud: “Pearl, Marina, and ‘8’. Meet us outside Sheldon’s, Friday, 11PM.”
“Oh! Wow, guess this is happening, huh?” Marina leaned back and thought. Two days from now… I wonder why so late? “Alright, before they disappear, you better bring them to the side door. I’ll be right over in a sec.”
“Uh— Right, right.” Pearl put her phone away and walked back over to the two girls, who had put the letter away and were about to leave. She tapped on the glass, and both girls turned to see her. Lily visibly gulped nervously at the sight of her. Well, I suppose she’s right to be nervous about me, Pearl thought to herself, feeling a little guilty. Considering I nearly killed her…
She pointed the two toward the side door, and made her way out of the studio herself to meet them there, stopping briefly to grab both of Lily’s phones from the bag she left in the break room.
She was quickly at the door, and she took a few deep breaths as she laid her hand on the door handle. C’mon Pearl… you can do this. For Marina…
The turned the handle and pulled the door open, and as Lily and Lorne saw her she’d put on her ‘persona’. “Ayo, girls!” She said with her usual enthusiasm, leaning her shoulder up against the door frame. “Got your message loud and clear.”
“Uhh, hey Pearl.” Lily looked quite uncomfortable doing this. Anxious, perhaps? “Listen I uhm… before anything else I just wanted to… apologise—”
Wait, huh? “Wait, why are—” Pearl started, confused.
“Why are you apologising?” Lorne said, confused and annoyed. Gesturing at Pearl, she said, “She should be the one to apologise!”
“Yeah, I uh…” Pearl took a deep breath. “Lily, I’m… really super sorry about what I did to you the other day. We… we didn’t know what we know now. And now that… we know you weren’t involved with… ‘you know who’, well… yeah, it doesn’t really, um, justify…yeah.”
“It’s, um…” Lily tried to find the right words, that weren’t ‘it’s okay’. “I guess I… I kinda deserved it… I never meant to intrude on Inkopolis, and I don’t have a way back…”
“Mmm…” Pearl was silent for a few moments, unsure of how to follow that up.
Marina walked up behind her. “I guess we’ll have plenty of time to discuss things like that on Friday, huh…?”
“Well… actually, that’s less to do with Lily and more to do with… our bosses wanting to know what’s been going on on your side. We have the brief from Marina, but, y’know…”
“Right, right… That’s fair.” Marina put on a smile. “Your ‘bosses’ being Callie and—”
“Yes, yes, alright!” Lily sighed exasperatedly. “Y’all know more than I expected you to about that… side of things.”
“Well, again, we do keep in contact with Craig and Three…”
“I guess they trust you two a bunch then..?” Lorne sighed. “You two are… Man, this basically means we’re two separate factions of the same team, then. It’d be nice to get everyone together for once.”
“Mmm.” Marina nodded. “Well, this meeting will be as close as we can get for a while.”
“Yeah…” Pearl sighed, then, remembering, dug into her pockets, pulling out Lily’s phones. “Well, we promised ya, kid. Here ya go.” She held them out to her.
“I promise I haven’t looked through them… since the sewers, anyway,” Marina admitted guiltily. “I never touched your squid phone.”
“…Well, I appreciate your honesty.” Lily held the phones carefully, relieved to finally have them in her hands again. “Well… it’s nice to have them back, at least. …Oh, man, finally, I have all my music back! Yes!”
“Music?” That caught Marina’s attention. “What kinda music you got on there?”
Lily held up her iPhone in response, with a grin. “It’s on this thing, if that answers your question.”
Pearl and Marina just stared at her and the phone for a moment, processing what she meant.
Then Marina gasped loudly. “Wait, wait - you have old music on that thing?! That’s so cool!” The Octoling idol let out a squee of excitement. “Any way you could share some of it with us?”
“Well, I haven’t really figured out how to get any of it off onto any other device, into a format that you guys could use… I guess I’ll keep you up to date.”
“Hmmm…” Marina thought for a moment, then reached out a hand. “Could I have your phone for a second? Your squid phone.”
Lily cautiously handed it over. “Why…? What are you thinking?”
“I’m gonna give you my details.” She tapped away at the device. “I’d love to help you get that stuff onto something more current. I’m not sure I’m the right person for that, but, I know one or two people who might be able to convert obscure formats like yours.” She handed the phone back to Lily, who saw that the display now showed a contact page for ‘Marina Ida’.
“Oh that’s funny. The most popular digital music format in human history… obscure.” She shrugged, and pocketed both phones. “Anyway, yeah, I guess I’ll be in touch if you wanna help with that, and I’ll… figure out how to get anything off my phone at all. Thanks.”
“No worries.” Marina smiled.
“So… Friday night, then?” Pearl asked, slightly impatient, ready to end this conversation.
“Yeah, I know it’s a bit of an odd time,” Lorne acknowledged. “I guess their reasoning is, hardly anyone will be around, and you two definitely won’t be working by then.”
“You got that right. Alright. We’ll be there.” Pearl nodded, and threw up a thumbs-up.
“Thanks for stopping by, girls!” Marina said cheerfully. “We’ll be in touch!”
“Sure thing.” Lily casually saluted as she started to make their way toward the Deca Tower entrance. “See you then, I guess.”
“Seeya,” Lorne said with a nod as both girls turned their backs to the idols.
Pearl and Marina watched them go, then closed the door and made their way back into the studio.
As the clock neared 11PM on Friday, Marina checked the time on her phone yet again.
"Hmm, this is strange," she remarked. "I hope things are OK..."
Neither Lily, Lorne, or the Squid Sisters were anywhere to be found, and the Square was empty as she, Pearl and Eight hung around outside the studio. The stores had long since shut, as had the studio, and so the light primarily came from the billboards and displays around them.
"They're actually coming, right?" Pearl asked with a hint of concern. "They wouldn't just pull our leg like this?"
"After everything, I don't see why they would..."
"Whoa. Hey, Marina?" Eight nudged her, and gestured toward Sheldon’s store.
Atop the grate just outside Ammo Knights that led to the sewer canals, was a woman, standing silently.
She was dressed in black, though her yukata was lightly patterned, and she held a traditional Brella over her head to block the sunlight. It was an oddly familiar sight…
"Huh... who's that? I get the feeling I've seen them before, in that exact spot..." Marina focused, trying to get a read on if it was someone they knew.
As the three watched her, she raised the Brella just slightly, enough to where they could see her eyes. And as the Inkling's gaze drifted over to them, Pearl realised just who it was. "Wait, isn't that... Marie?"
"I...think you're right. Let's go meet her." Marina started toward the grate.
But, having drawn their attention, Marie turned squid and dropped through the grate, and vanished.
“Hey— wait!” Pearl called out, as she and Marina rushed over to the grate, trying to peer inside.
“I thought we were meeting here…” Marina was confused. “Is she… leading us somewhere?”
“Do we… trust her?” Eight asked, cautious. His Inklish had improved more over the past few days.
“We have to,” Pearl responded. “Up here, she’s your boss, and the boss of Lily and the other girl.”
“Oh… yes.” Eight’s face sank. He wasn’t sure what to think about the human being on his side. In his eyes, he was firmly on the side of these two girls, and the Captain… and Agent 3, no matter how weird he seemed.
“Well, no use waiting around,” Marina sighed, and turned octopus, dropping down through the grate after Marie.
“Hey— Wait for me!” Pearl shouted after her, and also shifted, leaving Eight to chase after the two, following them where-ever Marie was leading them…
A minute or so later, following another strange, hidden grate inside the sewers, the three leapt from the last grate.
Marina’s shoes hit the ground first, and she looked around herself. Pearl and Eight were just behind her. She gasped and froze as she realised just where they were.
She had been led back to Octo Canyon.
“No…” Marina took a slow step back. “This has to be a mistake.”
“What do you mean?” Pearl asked, looking around. “Yeah this place looks crazy, but like… there’s her Brella right there.” She gestured at a little cabin just ahead of them, on which the Brella was indeed leaning against.
“Pearl, I mean…” Marina gulped, nervous. “Pearl, this place… this is the Octo Canyon. This is where half of the Octolings live. This is where Octavio lives. This is where I used to live.”
“…Oh.” Pearl bit her lip. “Well… they wouldn’t have brought us to this part of it if it wasn’t safe, yeah?”
Marina sighed. “I guess…”
“I think I’ve… never been here,” Eight said quietly, nervously holding the Octo Shot by his side. “I grew in the Valley.”
“Well, this area’s all new to me,” Pearl said, walking next to her band partner, looking around in semi-awe. “But check out all this cool floating stuff. Isn’t your workshop around here somewhere?”
“Yeah… Shifty Station’s around,” Marina said. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m just… I can start to see where you get the tech to build that kinda stuff.”
Marina sighed. “The Canyon’s not that obvious of an inspiration, is it?”
“Only now that I know,” Pearl nodded. Then she nudged Marina’s side. “It’s pretty rad, though. Like I tell you every time, that you build and work with all the things you do is pretty amazing.”
“Heh… thanks.” Marina smiled.
Marie and Callie were waiting for them on the other side of the Hideout, by the Octo Oven's kettle, dressed in Agent gear. Lily and Lorne were next to them, in casual clothing.
“Welcome, everyone,” Callie, Agent 1, said. “Thank you for your co-operation. I don’t believe we need to introduce ourselves…”
“Wait wait wait,” Pearl butted in, recognising the uniform immediately. “You two are part of the Squidbeaks? THAT’S what you had meant, Marina?!” She shot a glance at the Octo, then turned back to the Sisters. “I mean, I know Cuttlefish is your grandpa and all, but--”
“Is that a problem?” Marie, Agent 2, cut her off. “We’re involved in a bit more than just our music careers around here. Seems the same could be said for the two of you.”
Marina sighed. “Yeah… I guess you could say that. It all kinda happened by mistake.”
Callie prodded them. “Take a seat and take it from the top, girls. Tell us everything you can. What happened out there?”
With Pearl’s and Eight’s help, Marina told the Agents all about Off the Hook’s trip to Mount Nantai, the encounter with the Captain and Eight, Commander Tartar and the Thangs, the Kamabo Corporation, NILS, Agent 3, and the battle at the statue. Callie, Marie, and Agents 4 and 5 listened quietly as they told their story.
“After that all happened,” Pearl continued, bringing the story around to the present, “once we saw the weird newbie girl again,” she gestured at Lily, “we realised that with her sudden appearance, plus the phone, stuff falling from the sky, the car… things just seemed to add up, but we didn’t know for sure until Sheldon confirmed it for us.”
“So, well… You know what happened after that,” Marina added with a sigh. “We stopped Lily in the sewers to ask her some things, Pearl nearly… yeah, then after Marie rescued her was when we started to think about it more critically.”
“...I see.” Marie turned briefly to Agent 5. “And you definitely didn’t know anything about Tartar before?”
“Not until after it went down at the hotel, and only then it was his name and NILS. I haven’t been carrying any secret evil plans or anything. Unless he really did have something to do with me getting brought here, I’d have no way of knowing if it’s true or not.”
“Well that’s settled then.” Marie turned back to Off The Hook and their Octo friend. “Agent 4 had told us you had moved Tartar somewhere outside Inkopolis. Do you remember where he is?”
“Yeah,” Pearl nodded. “We took him deep into Triggerfish Forest, waaay out of the way. He can’t hurt anyone there. Can’t even move.”
“Could you take us there?” Five asked, seemingly unplanned as Callie, Marie, and Agent 4 looked at her with concern. “With everything that’s happened, I have some questions I’d like to ask him…”
“Uhh…” Marina raised an eyebrow, but seemed to understand. “I mean, we could, but it’ll take some planning. It’d have to be a day that we could dedicate entirely to this trip…”
“The edge of Triggerfish Forest is about an hour out of the suburbs,” Callie explained to Agent 5. “But it’s massive. Even if we started from Camp Triggerfish, depending how deep in we have to go, it could be several hours to get there, and back.”
“I understand. It’s just…” Lily sighed. “From all accounts, he seems to be the only connection to the past. I loathe him for the impression he’s made of humans on you guys, and the things he’s done of course, but… I feel like he’s the only lead I have on getting some answers about what happened… Why am I here, how did humans die out, is there a way back, that sort of thing…”
“…Mmm.” Agent 4 nodded. “Well, if you’re set on doing that, Lily, I’ll make that journey with you.”
“We’ll… keep in touch about that,” Marina nodded, but frowned. “If that is what you feel you need to do, we’ll… We’ll figure out some way to make that work. I would certainly be interested in those answers…”
“That’s all I ask.” Agent 5 fell silent again.
“Well, let’s let things calm down a bit before we settle on anything,” Marie said, mainly directed at Agent 5. “Lily, I’d like you to finish your training first before you make any sort of trip to meet Commander Tartar. I trust these two that he can’t hurt you, but it can only help to be ready when confronting a creature like that.”
“…Alright.” Lily quietly nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“Don’t worry,” Callie said with a smile. “You have our full support.” She turned to the Octoling boy who had been so far sitting quietly by Pearl and Marina. “There’s something we should address. If I understand this right, our leader Captain Cuttlefish named you Agent 8. Is that right?”
The boy nodded quietly. He was slightly unprepared for the attention being focused on him. “’Number 10,008’ was being… much of a mouthful,” he said quietly, with a gentle snort of almost-laughter.
“I… see. Well, from what we’ve heard of your adventure, you’ve certainly earned your place here.” Callie smiled at him, trying to come off as reassuring. “Do you have a name?”
This seemed to stun ‘Eight’. He mumbled quietly and looked down at the ground.
“It’s okay, they’ll understand,” Marina told him, resting her hand comfortingly on his shoulder. “May I tell them for you?”
The boy nodded silently, eyes closed.
“He’s… lost some of his memory, from before the Metro,” Marina explained to them. “From what I’ve been able to gather from talking to him and the Captain, the incident that caused him to end up in the Metro caused him to lose many details from his memory. Somehow… Cuttlefish told us that as he completed each station, he seemed to get memories about certain places and things back. But so far he has not been able to remember his real name. There still seems to be some gaps in the memory of his past.” She sighed, and leaned across to give Eight a hug. “’Eight’ has kinda stuck for us, so… that’s what we’ve called him.”
“Are you okay with us referring to you as ‘Eight’ in public then?” asked Marie, her voice softer than it was when talking to Lily.
“I…” The boy looked up at her, and slowly nodded. “I am okay with this.”
“Very well.” Marie nodded, and stood. “Before we move too far ahead, I feel that I should introduce you to the rest of the New Squidbeak Splatoon, Eight. My name is Marie - I’m Agent 2 on the team. I’m also one half of the pop duo ‘The Squid Sisters’.”
Callie volunteered next. “Welcome to the Squidbeaks, Agent 8. I’m Agent 1, my name’s Callie. And I’m the other half of the Squid Sisters.” She smiled. “From the sounds of things, you’ve already heard our rendition of the Calamari Inkantation.”
The melody etched on the soul… Eight nodded.
Callie’s smile widened. “Me and Marie’s job, outside of our personal careers, is to protect Inkopolis from possible threats, and retaliate against attacks to our city. This is the job of all our Agents, first and foremost.”
“We also occasionally run recruiting while the Captain’s away. When the situation calls for it,” Agent 2 added with a slight chuckle.
“You’ve already met Agent 3 of course. He’s our oldest agent, outside of the two of us. In a way, I suppose that it’s because of his determination to retake the stolen Great Zapfish two years ago that you’re here with us today. I’m not sure that he knows that yet, though.”
“Four, if you will?” Marie prompted, glancing at Lorne.
Lorne sighed. “Hi there, Agent 8. Yes, I’m Agent 4. Real name Lorne. I used to be a profreshional player in the Splat Zone leagues. I got enlisted about a month ago to beat back DJ Octavio for the Great Zapfish again, and rescue someone that had been captured by him.” She eyed Callie, saying nothing, then turned her attention back to Eight. “I may seem a little uncomfortable with the situation, Eight, but that is not because of you - though I can't say I was thrilled with yours and Pearl's treatment of Lily… But it wasn’t that long ago that we thought Octarians were the enemy. Sorry, Marina,” she said as an aside to the darker-skinned idol.
“Wh-what? I’m not an…” Marina’s eyes went wide and she immediately got all flustered, but went quiet as all eyes were on her, finally letting out a sigh and looking away. “Fine… I guess this isn’t the time to try to pretend I’m not…”
“We’ve known since you first arrived,” Marie said gently to her. “Me and Callie did, anyway. I believe Lorne is referring specifically to the Octarians under Octavio’s control.”
“And even then,” Lorne added, “I think the three of us have pretty much agreed that it’s only the big guy on top that’s the problem.”
“…Mmm.” Marina looked back at them. “Okay. I could agree with that.”
“I’m glad. I hope I didn’t offend,” Lorne sighed. “Though we should probably let Lily introduce herself now…”
Lily sighed, and glanced at Eight. He seemed like he didn’t know what to think of her being here, as his attention finally turned to her. “I guess so… Hello Agent Eight. I’m sorry that our first meeting was under such drastic circumstances. I’m Agent 5, Lily. I’m… I’m the human. Ex-human. Whatever you want to call it.” She paused for a moment to work out what she wanted to say next, knowing Eight was already judging, had already judged her. “I’m… an agent because the things that came through to this world with me are scattered throughout Inkopolis and beyond, including here in the Canyon, and while I don’t know what everything is, I want to make sure that anything that I’m responsible for that could be used as a weapon does not get into the hands of someone like Octavio.
“In regards to Tartar, well, I think my only connection to him is that while I…used to be human - and make no mistake, the only part of me that’s human anymore is my brain, my mind, my memories, whatever - he was created by humans, and survived all of this time that they’ve been extinct. He would, should know what happened in the time between when I was pulled from 2018 and dropped here. Course… After what what you, Marina and Pearl have told us about what happened out there… I kinda wanna just give him what for, on behalf of the rest of humankind.” She sighed.
“You know, Lily,” Lorne started. “I’m starting to notice you talk more when you’re nervous.”
“…Probably, yeah.” Lily nodded, looking down. Then, glancing back at Eight, she extended a hand. “I just hope that, if me and Eight are going to be on the same team, that we can improve relations.” She thought for a moment if she wanted to add anything else, but shook her head. “That’s it from me.”
“Thank you, Agent 5.” Callie smiled. “How are you feeling, Eight?”
Eight looked around, turning to look at their faces. They all seemed to be welcoming him - even the human and Agent 2, Marie, the one who, only a week ago had him at the end of a Brella. He looked down at Lily’s extended hand, and sighed. “I do not deserve this,” he said slowly, before finally extending his own hand and clasping it in Lily’s for a handshake. “Thank you to all. We have unfinished business,” he added to Lily, “but I am thinking it can be settled in the turf wars.”
“Sounds good,” Lily nodded. “Probably the better way to work out our… brief history.”
“Shouldn’t Eight introduce himself properly?” Lorne asked One and Two.
“I’m not gonna make him do that this time around,” Callie decided on the fly, eyeing the Octoling boy. “I am curious to learn more about him, but considering everything else that’s been going on, I’m happy to just let him do that when he’s ready.”
“Probably in smaller groups as well,” Marie added, “instead of all together like this. This meeting was more to get him to know us, and to finally know what this Tartar situation was.”
“Well,” Marina sighed, “We’re glad we could finally talk to you guys about this. And… Lily,” she turned to her. “I know we kinda said it the other day, but, just to get it on the record… We… were wrong. When we first found out you were human, we… well, you know. We thought you were part of Tartar’s team.”
Pearl continued. “We thought Tartar had summoned you to finish his job… I dunno, like maybe he had a backup weapon, and you were waiting for the right time and…”
“It’s dumb in retrospect, we know… but it wasn’t too long after we foiled him, that we met you at the Albacore Hotel. We were still coming off of that… that thing that we were moments away from the complete destruction of our world…”
“And we thought Octavio was the worst we had to worry about.” Marie sighed. “I appreciate that you’ve done that, girls. Thank you.” She pulled out her phone to check the time. “Goodness, we’ve been at this for a while. Alright, well, I think we should call it there, and reconvene at another time to let things cool off. I want to thank everyone who came out tonight. I know it wasn’t friendly to some schedules, so I appreciate the effort you’ve all made. Marina, Pearl, Agent 8. Are you three right to get home?”
“Yeah, we’ll be fine,” Pearl said nonchalantly, with a slight yawn. “We can take Eight back to his place, it’s cool.”
“Alright, well. Dismissed.” Marie stood up. “Again, thank you for coming by. We’ll be in touch.”
Everybody got up, stretching, everyone starting to make their way up to the grate back to Inkopolis. The Agents waved as Pearl, Marina and Eight disappeared down the grate, making their way back to the Square.
As Lily and Lorne waited by the grate, allowing the first group enough time to leave the Square so none of them stood out, Lorne took a deep breath. “Callie, Marie, there’s… something we ought to tell you, for transparency’s sake.”
Marie raised an eyebrow, asking “What’s up, Four?”. Callie grinned, to Lorne’s confusion.
“Well…Me and Lily have started dating,” she said quickly, trusting the two girls would understand. “Only recently, but… yeah. Now don’t worry, we’ve both agreed to make sure that we won’t let it impact our work, but—”
“Aw, that’s cute!” Callie squeed. “Congrats to both of you!” She pounced forward and embraced both girls in a hug, Lorne reciprocating. Lily blushed deeply, but also joined back in the hugging.
“Same,” Marie nodded. “I’m glad that both of you have found comfort in each other. I hope that doesn’t mean you’ll have less time for your work,” she added with a smirk, before also joining in briefly.
Smiles were wide when the girls pulled apart. “We’ll be fiiiine,” Lorne finally responded, finding Lily’s hand and squeezing it gently. “But thank you for understanding, girls.”
“Of course!” Callie grinned. “You two better get moving - we’ll need to change out of this gear before we head out ourselves.”
“Yeah, wearing this Agent stuff was more for showing off, to be honest.” Marie chuckled. “Kinda to increase the impact we had on those three. I’d say it worked.”
“I think so too.” Lorne smiled. “Alright, we’ll get moving, then, Lily. See you girls later.”
Together, Lily and Lorne plunged into the sewer grate heading back to the Square.
Lily and Lorne sat quietly as the train carried their tired bodies toward West Inkopolis. It was somewhere past midnight and all they wanted more than anything else was to get home, crawl into bed and sleep.
At this time of night, the train was mostly empty. Most of the nocturnal, social creatures that were on the train were in the front carriages. The two inklings had chosen, again, to hang out in the back carriage, where their only passenger was another inkling, sleeping, with long hair and a thin blanket with an odd symbol draped over himself.
“Lily…?” Lorne asked her partner, who’d briefly zoned out. Lily shook her head to wake herself up a bit as she looked over. “If…if Tartar did have a way for you to go home… back to your time… would you take it?”
The ‘sleeping’ inkling’s eye opened slightly, watching them discreetly.
Lily sighed. “It’s… complicated. I… would love to see my friends again. To see my family again. To let them know I’m OK. To tell them of the wonderful world I’ve found here. And I… I’d kind of love to be able to show you the world that I lived in.
“But…if it was a one way thing, if I couldn’t come back, or if I had to be an inkling forever, trapped in that old world… I just couldn’t. Not anymore.” Lily laid her head on Lorne’s shoulder, yawning softly. “I do miss them. A lot. But I think I’ve been more successful under my own power in this world than I ever was in my own. And I have you, of course.” She gently planted a kiss on her cheek. “And the others…”
“Okay…” Lorne rested her arm over the girl’s shoulder. “I just… Is it bad of me to think that when you were talking about asking if there was ‘a way back’, that you still wanted to leave?”
“…No, I don’t think you’re wrong to think that…” She sat quietly, her drowsy brain trying to come up with the right words to explain what she was feeling, but couldn’t think of any. Instead she simply said “I’m committed. To this team. To you. I just… want to know if that option was always there.”
Lorne was silent.
“I couldn’t leave anymore, Lorne,” Lily repeated, sensing her partner might have been concerned with the answer. “I don’t want to leave. I just… don’t blame you for thinking that I might have.” She checked her phone for the time. “God, can this train just get us home already? I’m too tired for this.”
As the girls finally arrived at the apartment, they dragged their feet in silently, throwing off their shoes. Lily detoured into the kitchenette to pour two cold drinks.
“Can you close the door, Lily?” Lorne said sleepily, already crawling into the bed.
“Yeah, okay,” replied Lily softly. She left the drinks on the counter temporarily, and walked back over to the apartment door.
As she moved to close it, a leg appeared and blocked the door from closing. Lily grumbled as its owner moved into view, an equally-tired inkling with lime-green hair and something around their head. “Excuse me,” Lily said grumpily. “1AM is not the time for visitors. If you really need to talk to us, there’s…”
Lily had begun to notice something about this person. It was the sleeping inkling from the train. His blanket was tied around his neck and hung down his back like a cape.
“Excuse me,” Lily said, a little angry now. Who was this stalker? “What are you doing following us? If you try anything, we’re the wrooong people to fuck wi—”
“I’m not going to try anything,” said the boy, “but I need to talk to you. …And I also need a place to stay for the night. I don’t know this part of town.”
“No chance. Goodnight.” Lily waved him off, but he didn’t move.
Lily stopped, stunned for a few seconds. Pretending like she didn’t understand, she replied, “Excuse me, what?”
“Agent 5. Real name Lily.” He reached his hand in and opened the door further. “And your friend, Agent 4, real name Lorne. I need to talk to you both.”
Lorne stared at him from the bed, before grumpily throwing the blankets aside and getting back up. She walked over to the doorway, and yanked the boy inside, closing the door with a thump. Lily flicked the kitchenette lights on. “OK, who the fuck are you,” Lorne asked the boy, “and why are you at our door in the middle of the night?”
The boy straightened up, freeing himself from Lorne’s grip. He undid the tie of the blanket around his neck again, and began to remove his bulky jumper. “I’m sorry to pull this on you so late. We only just got back a few hours ago, and only just found where you all were, but I had orders to find you…”
The jumper came free.
Underneath, the boy was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, a hi-vis construction vest on top. As he pulled a familiar headset from the jumper’s singular pocket, both Lily and Lorne’s mouths dropped.
The boy said, “My name’s Remo. I’m Agent 3. Captain Cuttlefish has asked me to come find you.”
Chapter 9: Heart Is King
Cap'n Cuttlefish and Agent 3 (Remo) call Lily and Lorne to the Hideout to meet and question them. And the New Squidbeak Splatoon participate in a group exercise.
The sun rose on another day in Inkopolis.
Lily was the first of the girls to wake in the apartment, as the sunlight reflected off the building across the road and into the room. She slowly shifted under the blankets and reached across her dresser to grab her phone, checking the time.
It was 10AM. Lily blinked in surprise. It had been a long time since she had properly slept in. It wasn't the best sleep, but she actually felt well rested for once, especially after how long she and Lorne had been up last night. Usually she always just felt tired no matter how she slept.
She carefully slid out of bed, trying not to wake her partner, and walked over to the kitchenette to pour a cold, water-like drink.
On the way past the lounge space, she glanced over the couch at their guest, expecting him to be asleep. Instead, Remo was silently tapping away on his phone, his blanket draped over him - wait, now that she saw it properly, it did seem more like a cape - and glanced up as Lily passed, acknowledging her with a nod.
Neither of the girls had been thrilled at his sudden arrival and demand to speak with them - but he had capitulated to their compromise to talk to him in the morning.
In the light of the morning, Lily noticed the discolouration on his face - a splotch of greenish-blue around his right eye, and the mismatched colours of his eyes as a result. It was... unnerving to look at, and even more so now that Lily knew the whole story, and knew that it was the mark left by a genocidal AI.
Remo cleared his throat conspicuously - he knew she was examining his eye, and seemed to not be comfortable with it. Lily sighed in response, as she continued into the kitchenette. “Sleep well? Want me to pour some naturals for you too?”
“Yes, please,” he said, quietly. “I slept alright. Beats subway benches.”
“Mmm.” She grabbed two plastic cups from the cupboards in the bench that separated her from the lounge space, and filled them with the watery oils from the taps. She walked back over to the couch, handed him one of the cups, and sat on the couch arm opposite his head, sipping at her own.
The silence lasted a few uncomfortable minutes, as Lily couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say.
“...Look,” Remo finally said with an exasperated sigh. “If you need to ask about the eye, just ask. Just get it out of the way.”
Lily finally looked back at him, and Agent 3 could see she was saddened. “I... don’t have anything to ask about it,” she said quietly, eyes flickering to the bed as he saw Lorne begin to stir. “I just feel awful because I finally know who did that to you. I don’t know what you must think of me, considering you probably know - you must know what I used to be - but I promise you that I have never worked with him, I have no intention of destroying anything, I...” She trailed off, not able to finish the thought, and sighed, looking down at the cold drink in her hand. Quietly she finished, “I’m sorry that my kind created the likes of him. I promise that I’m not the same...”
Remo watched her quietly for a moment, examining her in the soft morning light. Like his friends above-ground had said, she seemed like a regular inkling on the outside, if a bit odd. To think that she was a human in hiding... He remembered the conversation he’d overheard on the train. She was comfortable living here, even if she missed all her human friends...
Someone’s phone buzzed with a notification. Remo checked his phone.
“Lily,” Lorne groaned groggily from the bed, “your phone’s over here.”
“Oh... thanks hun.” Lily slid off the couch and walked back over to the bed, grabbing her phone off her dresser, leaning over to peck Lorne’s cheek while she was there.
Lily stood back up and started checking the phone. It was a message from Marie. She read it silently at first, and Remo saw her face drop. She read the message aloud to him and Lorne: “’Lily, please bring Lorne and your guest to the usual place as soon as you’re all awake’... signed M, C... and C.”
Lorne turned over in the bed to face her, drowsy. “Two Cs?” She couldn’t help yawning right after, and forced herself to sit up. “Who’s the second?”
“The Captain, I imagine,” Remo replied matter-of-factly. “He was taking after Agents 1 and 2 to talk to them while I tailed you two last night.”
Lily stared at him, then walked over to the couch, annoyed. “Alright, what’s this about, Three? I hope y’all know I’m on your side by now! What does he think I’m gonna do?! Turn around and shoot my bosses in the back? My girlfriend?! I’ve got no way back that I know of - I’m not just gonna blow away this new life I have!”
“Lily, please relax.” He sat up on the couch, stretching as he grabbed his hoodie and his cape. “I know you have not met him, but please trust me on this. I’m sure he trusts One and Two’s judgement.”
“I’m just...I mean Pearl nearly killed me over---”
“She WHAT?!” Lorne shouted as she finally got up, staring at her and frustrated. “Why didn’t you tell me this?! And you still felt the need to try to apologise to her on Wednesday?!”
“Yeah, hang on,” Remo said with a look of concern. “I never heard this.”
“Oh, yeah, you know how they had a ‘chat’ with me in the sewers? That was Pearl and your Agent 8 holding me at gunpoint with something called a Disruptor. I’m pretty sure it was just Pearl wanting me to admit to being this awful, evil creature y’all wanted me to be.”
“For the love of the Great Zapfish, Lily... and you STILL apologised to her.” Lorne was furious now.
“I’m sorry, hun, but like... I already told you how my mind works. I felt bad for even taking up their time.”
“Damnit, Lily...” Lorne sighed, grabbed her backpack from underneath the bed, walked over and hugged Lily tightly. “We have some work to do when we get you back on the training, alright? I need you to break this.”
“I’m... I’m sorr---”
“Stop that!” Lorne clung tighter, and Lily let out a sigh.
The three Agents were silent all the way in to the Square, Lily’s anxiety running rampant, Lorne hugging and comforting her while Remo shot off anxious texts to the Captain and Marina’s chatroom.
Lily didn’t expect anything good to happen as they approached the grate that would take them to the Hideout. She had no idea what kind of person Captain Cuttlefish would be, she could only make assumptions, but - c’mon, he was a Captain, for goodness sake! AND he’d seen first-hand what Tartar, and humans, could do, and he’d been hanging out in Pearl and Marina and Eight’s chat while they were all on the hunt for her.
And he was the leader of the Squidbeak bunch. Callie, Marie, Remo, and Eight knew him well. And after his absence, down in the Metro, he was finally back to... what? To pass judgement on her? To personally put an end to her? What if it was just to see her, though? To see what kind of person she was? Nah, her mind ‘assured’ her. He’d probably already decided what kind of person she was.
And now it was time to face the music.
“C’mon, Lily,” Remo said to her as they stood around the sewer grate. “You’ve got nothing to worry about.” He did a tiny hop and transformed, slipping through the grate first.
Lorne looked over at Lily again. “Easy for him to say,” she said. “But Lily, whatever happens... I’m in your corner. You know that. I know the girls are too. You have our support. Let’s go see what he wants.” She too, transformed and fell into the grate, leaving Lily alone for a few seconds.
She knew they would all be waiting for her. At this point, she realised it would be best to just get it over with. After a moment to work up the courage, she tipped forward and, transforming, fell into the sewer grate.
Agent Three was the first to arrive in the Tentakeel Hideout.
And as expected, Agents 1 and 2, and Captain Cuttlefish were there to greet them.
The three were already in a passionate conversation, though it seemed like they had briefly moved on from the subject of Lily.
“You two knew what he was capable of! Why would you let her get captured like that?” Cuttlefish was demanding of Marie.
“Hey, hang on!” Marie said with a hint of frustration in her voice. “We were going through a rough patch already, you saw how our last Splatfest ended! And we were already starting to have solo careers taking off, it just...”
“Gramps, yeah we were having some trouble with each other," Callie grumbled. "But the decision to go and vent to Octavio was my own! I’m the one that messed up! It’s not like I thought he could do anything!”
“Either way, Gramps, it’s not like we didn’t fix it in the end.”
Agent 4 was next to arrive, and as she heard the argument she also paused, just behind Remo. Seeing Captain Cuttlefish for the first time, Lorne thought he was much older than she had been led to believe, with all his wrinkles and that beard. And what was this old-person getup he was wearing? And the cane - if that was even a cane? After all, Marie’s Brella was more than just a prop...
“Yeah? Then where is he, girls?”
“We moved him temporarily to where that overcooked bread box used to be,” Marie said. “With Off the Hook visiting late last night, I didn’t want to create a situation between Marina and Octavio, with everything else going on...”
“Hmmm... That’s a good point.” Craig scritched at his tentacle beard. “And the human knows about him?”
Callie sighed. “C’mon, Gramps. For the last time, her name’s Lily, and yes, she’s met him up here. She knows his history---”
“Agent 3!” Marie called suddenly, noticing him and Agent 4, glad to have an out. “It’s been so long. It’s so good to see you again.”
Agent 3 walked up to the three of them, shaking hands with Callie, Marie, and the Captain. “It’s good to be back home, Agent 2, Agent 1. Is this a bad time?”
“No, no, it’s OK,” Cuttlefish told him. “We’re just working out a few details. Ah, Agent 4, I believe!” His attention turned to the younger Inkling, and came forward to shake her hand. “A pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard about your recent work - I’m very proud of you for being able to defeat DJ Octavio.”
“Uhh - Thank you, sir.” Lorne felt somewhat awkward about this whole situation, but shook the man’s hand anyway. “It’s an honor to finally meet you.”
Cuttlefish smiled warmly at her, then looked around, realising someone was missing. “Is the h...” He sighed and stopped himself, noticing Marie’s glare. “Is... Agent Five far behind you both?”
“She’s...” Agent 4 turned around to the grate. “She was very nervous about coming in, but she must’ve been only a few seconds behind us.” She walked over to the grate and knelt down over it, peering inside, trying to see how far away Lily might have been.
But to her surprise, the squid she was looking for was simply hiding in the inkrail, a blob of squid with her eyes sad, nervous. She had to have been there not long after she had arrived.
“C’mon Lily,” Lorne said, trying to comfort her. “I know this is scary for you, but I don’t think he’ll hurt you. One and Two are up here too. Remember what I told ya before.”
Lily simply stared up at her, but from her changing expressions it seemed she was at least thinking about it. Four heard Cuttlefish walking up behind her, watched him glance into the grate at Lily.
“Good morning, Agent 5,” he said simply down at her. “Nervous to meet me, eh? I guess I don’t exactly blame you, from the sounds of things we all have reasons to be nervous.” He adjusted his glasses. “Come on up, Five, let’s get a look at ya.”
Lily stared up at them for a few moments, then blinked her eyes, and leapt up into the air and through the grate, shoes landing on the metal bars as she fluidly transformed back into her humanoid self. Her face still showed nerves, but from what Lorne and Remo could see she was at least less frightened than she was before. Quietly, looking at the ground she said, “H...hello Captain.”
They guided her back to the Cabin and sat her down. Marie sat on one side of Lily while the Cap’n sat on the other side. As Marie calmed her and spoke to Remo, Agents 3 and 4 moving in a little closer, Craig examined Agent 5 carefully. As Remo had found, outwardly she didn’t seem too different from many of today’s Inklings he had seen - and like the profiles had said... “You and Agent 4 look almost alike,” Craig mentioned to Lily, watching her expression carefully. “Is there a reason for that?”
Lily sighed, and nodded. “I... didn’t just arrive fully transformed. I didn’t... didn’t just survive all these years. Like, it still doesn’t feel that long ago to me that I was just living at home, with my family, and all the humans were alive and I had had a much more boring life. But, we found out that like... everything on this planet has evolved, their defense and attack mechanisms have evolved and grown stronger, but everything’s still roughly at the same level, relatively, because everything was evolving to counteract each other. So my... my old body simply was not equipped to handle it.”
“Is... that true?” Craig raised an eyebrow at her.
“I don’t actually know,” she conceded with a shrug. “That’s only my guess. The explicit truth is, according to Mar... Agent 2, when I arrived in this world I was blacked out and fell into a pool of Agent 4’s ink. It... corrupted my DNA, or something along those lines. And uh... how long did it take to find out I was changed?”
Marie responded, “If I remember right, it was about a day and a... half? The time from us getting you into the Cabin to the next night when I checked in with some gear.”
“Gear...? For a human, Agent 2?”
“The Octolings had stopped attacking, and we were worried that they had managed to ping her or something, and wanted to kidnap her, too.” Marie shrugged. “I wanted to be sure that if me and/or Four were occupied, and they did try to attack the Hideout, or her, that she could at least fend them off long enough for us to get there.”
“And she ended up being right, they did try to capture me,” Lily chuckled. “I knew nothing, but I managed to surprise them and hold ‘em off long enough for Marie to come and save me.”
“I see. And what have you been doing since?” Craig prodded gently, Remo listening intently.
“Well...” Lily thought back over the past month. “I did look after the Cabin when Agent 2 and Agent 4 took on Octavio directly, been settling in to Inkopolis... I guess the main thing is I’ve been venturing out and collecting these items that came through the... portal, I guess, with me.” She dug into her pocket, pulling out the iPhone once again, and handing it to Craig to look at, and then opened up her backpack, sitting at her feet, and pulled out the Acer laptop sitting behind her Agent gear, sitting it in her lap, folded. “We have a rough idea of where things are, or rather, where things were when we started looking. Some of it, I assume has landed in Octarian hands by now. I definitely know a pair of headphones I used to have conked Octavio on the head. There’s at least one more thing in the city, something outside of the city limits... There’s something in Grizzco waters which will... be ‘fun’ to try and get...”
“Grizzco?” Captain Cuttlefish glanced at Callie and Marie.
“That’s that power-egg thing the younger kids are doing for work?” Marie explained.
“Y’know that weird company that’s operating out at all those small outposts in the ocean where the Salmonids lay their eggs?” Callie furthered. “Otherwise prohibited territory? That’s those guys.”
“Hmm.” Craig glanced down at the fancy human phone in his hand. It seemed similar in function to those other fancy cellphones the squids had nowadays, but it wasn’t shaped in any particular way. It was just... a box. A rectangle.
Her laptop looked more like something older squids would carry around. The main difference with this one was the brand logo was basically unreadable to him, and the few stickers adorning it were of things he had no idea of... besides the one Squid Sisters logo tucked into the corner. Craig chuckled, and handed the phone back over.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Remo piped in, gesturing at the laptop, “What are all these stickers about?”
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to explain them.” Lily pointed at the one at the top left, the more recognisable of the lot due to its D-Pad-like logo. The right side of the D-Pad was used to form part of the words ‘Games Done Quick’. “This one’s for a video game running marathon. People would get together and try to beat video games as fast as possible, and any proceeds they made would go to charity.” She began to smile as she did this, going through old memories as she talked through everything.
She moved to the next logos. One was a diamond-shape with two ‘arrows’ on the left and right sides, and the inside of the shapes depicted some sort of landscape. “This one is for one of the music artists I enjoyed listening to in my time. And this,” her finger moved to the logo below it, a 3D cross-type symbol with oil running over it, “is not only one of my favorite electronic music duos, but the first show I got to see performed live.”
The sticker under that was the text ‘still a piece of GARBAGE’ in an... interesting style, atop the pixellated icon of a trash can. “This one is for a guy who made these silly short videos that I used to love. The text says ‘still a piece of garbage’, and the icon... yeah. I’ve seen trash cans here in Inkopolis.” She moved her finger to the last sticker, the Squid Sisters logo she had had applied recently. “No comment. Bought it for obvious reasons, but also I figured it would help me blend in when I used it.”
“I’m... not sure what I expected human culture to be,” Callie noted as Lily put the phone in her pocket and the laptop back in the bag. “It’s cool you’re repping your favorite music though! I’m totally not just saying that because we’re also on there.” She grinned at Lily, who giggled softly.
“Well, Agent 5, consider me pleasantly surprised,” Craig said, tapping his cane idly against the ground. “I’m not entirely sure what I thought to find up here, but I admittedly believed it would not be much in the way of good things. For that, I apologise.”
Lily looked at him in surprise. Around her, Lorne breathed a sigh of relief, and Callie and Marie smiled, the latter resting a hand on Lily’s shoulder. “I... wow, sir. Thank you.”
“I do have a question about your future plans, though.” Craig watched her expression drop slightly. “Agents 1 and 2 tell me you want to visit the resting place of Tartar. That telephone. But they didn’t go into your reasoning...”
“We had a bit of an argument before you three turned up today,” Marie explained sadly. “We kept talking over each other. But Lily, if you could tell him what you told us last night...”
Lily nodded, and sighed. “As you know, Captain, it’s strange that I’m here at all. The circumstances around my arrival are still... unknown as far as I know.” She started to think back to when it had all begun, though the details on the other side were slightly fuzzier. “In this new reality, 12,000 years later, I should be the only human alive. If you can still call me human... But then we start hearing about Tartar, this thing that nearly destroyed your world, probably just because he wanted humans to evolve into existence again. But he was made from humans, back when I was alive. He’s existed for all of this time. He must know what happened to humans, why we died out.
“He... he might know what happened to me. Hell, he might be responsible for what happened to me. And if he brought me here... he may know if I was always just meant to be dropped here without a way home.” Lily closed her eyes and took deep breaths. “I hate that he may be my only chance to find this stuff out, but while he can’t do anything to us... my current idea is to... pretend to be on his side when I meet him. At least until I can't stomach him anymore. I can’t pretend I’m not an inkling. But if I say something like, ‘I’m a human who was turned against his will’, he might be more willing to give answers.”
"What will you do if he's no help to you?" Remo asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Then..." Lily shrugged. "I'm gonna give him what for either way. He shouldn't be the one representing humans in this world. It probably wouldn't do much, but maybe it'll make him think for a bit if not even humans like him."
"It probably won't," Remo sighed.
"Probably not," Lily conceded. "It'd make me feel better, though."
"Hmm." Captain Cuttlefish had stood and was pacing about nearby the group. "I suppose you're in a unique situation to speak to him. But what about after that? What do you plan to do next?"
"Well... train up more through battling and whatever the other Agents have planned for me... venture out and collect more artifacts... and I guess assist in other missions where needed."
Craig nodded, in thought. "Would you consent then, Agent Five, for me to test your current ability in arena combat?"
"Uh... why?" Lily glanced at him, confused.
"Simply to see where to focus your training." For the first time since they had met, Cuttlefish actually smiled at her. "And, selfishly, I would like to see my Agents in action."
"Oh? Are they training with me?" Lily asked, smiling.
"...This was... not what I had thought. This is... not going to last very long, you know."
Lily stared up at the group, already down on the now-unused Octo Shower's boss arena, dressed up in her Hero gear as the others prepared for the upcoming fight.
"Nonsense! This'll be fun!" Callie grinned down at her. "And we'll get to learn each other's technique!"
"Now, Agent 5," Cuttlefish radioed in to her headset as the others prepared, "Don't you worry. To account for your disadvantage in numbers you have your Agent gear, but none of your fellow Agents will. That will allow you to pick up armor we'll be placing just below, where you are now, so you can take more hits before needing to retreat."
"Just be sure to get away if it depletes, Five," Marie warned her, while adjusting her Charger. "And use it wisely. Once it's gone, it's gone."
"We'll all be using the radios too," Craig continued, "So you should know most of what your opponents will be doing. It'll just be a case of how to best use that information, Five."
"W-well hang on though - I'm not facing all of you at once, am I?!"
"Would you like to?" Remo teased, sliding on his headset, and having traded his Agent gear for some sort of polo tee and slip-ons.
"No!" Lily shouted quickly, eyes widening.
"Heh. Perhaps if you stay up long enough, Five," Cuttlefish thought aloud. "For now, let's start with a one-on-one. Then perhaps we'll put you up against some duos later if you're still running. Alright?"
"Uh... Okay." Lily nodded slowly, nervous.
"Good!" The old man beamed. "Agent 4, you're up first. Show me what you got!"
Lorne looked nervously between him and Lily as she stepped forward, holding her own Hero Shot. "Just pretend it's another Turf War scuffle, Lily, but don't think I'll go easy on you! You better start moving, 'cuz here I come!"
With that, Agent 4 crouched down, changed form, and Super Jumped up into the air toward the arena. Lily backed off quickly, inking her way around the closest block to get a safe distance.
Agent 4 splashed in, and immediately went on the hunt. "Here I come, Five!" She called as she followed Lily's ink trail.
Lily, however, was already starting to think. She rushed back around the corner at Four, causing her to jump back in surprise as Lily fired in her direction, rushing for another corner and diving behind it to avoid most of Lorne's return fire.
"Ooh, looks like Lily's defense is an offense," Callie commented over the radios, Four and Five hearing her as they fought.
"She can't push it too far though, and she knows it," Marie thought aloud. "Remember, Four's been up against all types of Octarians, so she's ready to deal with plenty of different strategies."
"I'm kind of excited to see what Lily might be capable of," Remo told the others. "What kind of fighting technique actual humans might bring to the table."
"God, way to pile the pressure on," Lily radioed in sarcastically. The spectators saw her come into view from the left, behind one of the blocks, and... she had her Hero Shot down? What was she doing...?
"Hey Fooourr..." Marie called, and Lily's head snapped up to see them, putting a finger to her lips. "Do you want us to let you know if we seeee her?"
They watched her look about frantically for a way to lose her trail. She saw that the next block across seemed slightly lower, and the dash pad she saw on it was operational. She seemed to get an idea, and ran toward it, not firing her ink...
"Well, yeah. It's not a stealth fight, is it?" Four responded.
"I disagree!" Lily said loudly. "One sec..." She ran, leapt over the trail of ink Four had left between her and the dash pad, bent her knees, and then launched herself at the wall and the pad, trying to get herself over the top and out of sight before Four saw her. The pad, designed for swimming squids and not inklings trying to 'parkour' up walls, launched her feet straight upward, causing her to flip, catch her head on the pad and the wall and be hurtled upward, up onto the block.
She crashed nearly head-first onto the top of the platform, causing the spectators to wince, but apart from a gasp of pain she managed to keep herself somewhat quiet. She laid there for just a moment, the pain from the crash coursing through her body. "Stealth..." she groaned painfully, "may just be one of the only tools I have to get the upper hand."
"You... OK, Five?" Remo called in.
"Wait, what happened? What am I missing?!" Four radioed in a panic.
"Don't tell her a fuckin' thing!" Lily hissed. She could hear her somewhere nearby, down below on the ground, so she forced herself up onto her feet, trying to peek over the edge.
Lorne was below her, near the middle, trying to find Lily's trail. After all, with Lily not inking, she had basically vanished. She stalked around, trying to get a sign of her.
And thankfully, she'd not seen her head peeking out just above her.
Lily grinned. She readied a bomb and lobbed it over the edge in front of Four, then jumped down behind her, Hero Shot blazing.
Agent 4 saw the Splat Bomb clank down in front of her, and jumped backward to avoid it, turning to run, but Lily was already there and firing right at her.
"Wait, what the-?!" was all she managed to get out, plus the reflexive fire of her own weapon, before she burst in a splash of ink.
Lily was knocked backward by Four's own blasts of ink, but she'd managed to pull it off.
One person down.
She made her way back to the side where the Agents were gathered. "And that," Agent 5 said with a grin, rubbing her sore head, "is why. It's more fun when the people down here have only their own information on where the target is."
"Not bad, not bad," Cuttlefish nodded.
Agent 4 came up to the ledge. "Well, I was only going a little easy on you, Lily. But wow, I knew you had potential after those failed attacks from the Octolings."
"No way you're gonna be able to pull that strategy off again though," Marie told her, stepping up to the edge with Callie, and holding her Charger up to the sky, the barrel leaning on her shoulder. Callie was doing similar with her Roller. "Especially since you'll be up against us next."
"What?!" Lily cried out. Then, realising they might launch at her at any moment, she called, "Wait, wait, before you get started! Just... can I explain what happened to Four?"
"Hmm? Ah, yeah, sure."
"Thanks. OK, so..." Five gestured at a dash pad on one of the blocks that faced them. "Yes, I got away with not inking to try to get up one of these things, but, please don't. I tried to basically jump up with the help of these boost things, no squid form, and it basically flipped me around and I smacked my head on the wall." She made a shrugging gesture. "I learn these things the hard way so you don't have to."
"Lily, you idiot," Lorne sighed and shook her head. "You really do need to take better care of yourself. You think you're right to keep going?"
"I mean, that's the whole point of this exercise, innit?" Lily readied her Hero Shot once again. "I can keep going."
"Well... alright, you asked for it." She stepped back, and left Callie and Marie at the front. "Girls, I defer to you."
"Thanks," Callie nodded at her. Glancing at Marie, she smirked. Time to go old-school. "Classic duo strat, Marie?"
Agent 2 nodded and grinned. "Sounds good. One of these towers should do the trick." Then she focused her eyes on Lily. "Better get moving, Five, 'cause here we come!"
Lily took that as her cue to leg it, inking up a path ahead and diving for it, swimming ahead as Marie leapt down, Callie Super Jumping into the arena on the other side.
As soon as Callie had touched down she was on the move, Roller down, inking toward the middle of the arena while keeping an eye on where she had last seen Lily, and trying to predict where she might appear next. A part of her was excited - this would be her first time seeing the ex-human in action.
Lily appeared quickly in front of her, looking out for them, and panicked, letting loose a burst of ink fire while she ran back to cover, Callie chasing after her.
Marie, however, took her time using her Charger to climb up the tallest platform nearby, and knelt down on top, observing from above. "Alright, One," she radioed in. "I'm in position. Guide me."
"Last seen in the north east quadrant," Callie replied, and Marie watched her go around. "Not here anymore, but shouldn't be too far off."
Marie observed the area opposite to her for a moment. As she watched, she saw Lily emerge from a patch of olive ink in the center-east of the platform and dash across for one of the armor pickups that they had left on each side of the arena.
Her charger built up pressure and quickly, Marie let loose a Charger shot that laid down a line of ink in front of Lily. "You sure you want that armor?" She called out to Five over the radio, with a smirk.
Lily turned to see her with the charger pointed at her, and her face dropped. Turning again to see Callie coming up fast through her ink, she made a run for it, turning squid herself and swimming back into the maze of blocks, leaving the armor behind. She intended to circle around, but another blast of Marie's charger cut her off.
Lily was gotten herself pinned down.
Marie waited patiently for Lily to appear from behind the big stone block she was trapped behind.
And Callie was already on her way over, her Roller inking a path through the center over to her. She silently turned to Marie and gestured. I’ll go in on the left.
Marie nodded and shifted her aim to the right. Sorry, Lily, she thought to herself. Once she flushes you out, you’re through. She keyed the mic. “Well, Lily, looks like this is it. I think the Captain will be happy with your skill level, though.”
“Who says I’m done?” Lily said back, as Callie was rounding the corner.
“Marie! Look out!” Callie called in through the mic as a sky-blue Splat Bomb was kicked up into the air. Marie noted the impressive height as her aim snapped up, the blast from her Charger detonating the Bomb near the apex of Lily’s throw. “Nice try, Five! I--- huh?”
Suddenly the arena had gone dark, and what light was left had been turned blue. What in the...
“Hey! What just happened with the lights?!” Eight called in, Three and One voicing similar confusion underneath him.
The lights... Marie glanced upward.
Lily’s bomb, it seemed, hadn’t been lobbed toward her like she had thought. It had been thrown high up, and the ink from the detonated bomb clung to the giant bulb that illuminated the boss arena.
Cold ink. Hot glass. And a crackling sound...
Marie’s eyes bulged. “Duck and cover!” she called as she dove off her tower, pushing herself up against the walls, minimizing the possible impact.
Callie didn’t get the chance, as she was chasing Lily, out in the open.
With a loud cracking noise, the light globe exploded, and glass rained down upon the arena at high speed.
Spectators caught a glimpse of Callie bursting into a spray of ink with the rain of glass that bounced off the ground and the ink, as the arena was plunged into almost total darkness. Her glowing spirit rushed back toward them, toward the respawn point.
Marie cursed silently. It was an unorthodox move, but with it, Lily had managed to secure more time and weaken her team's attack. She began to stalk slowly, carefully around the arena, Charger up, ready to prepare another blast.
Cuttlefish whistled from the spectator platform. Most of Lily's tactics so far had been standard, but that...
“I heard her go, but, is Callie... OK?” Lily asked nervously over the radio.
“I’m fine!” Callie called in, having just respawned and walking up to the ledge. “That was... I can’t say I expected that, Lily. Good work.”
"How did she manage to get that Splat Bomb up so high?" Cuttlefish asked her, pointedly using the radios to keep Lily in the loop.
"She... man, she kicked the bomb like it was some kinda ball."
“I can’t track her anymore,” Marie transmitted, edging carefully around a corner, keeping a charge ready. "Without the lights I'm kinda reduced to just listening for sound."
“Don’t you literally have a Point Sensor sub you rarely use?” Callie pointed out to her.
A pause. “...Yes. It's no good when I don't know where to put it, though."
The Agents up on the viewing platform began to notice something. After all, the only lighting around the area now was the Octarian city below, but they noticed another source of light moving around the boss platform. Pulsing light, in fact.
Marie began to notice it too, emanating from something past the block she had made it to, and it twigged as she watched the gentle light on the ground pulse in blue: Lily's headphones were giving her away. With a smirk, she quietly followed the light source around the corner, readying a shot.
"Come out, come out, whereever you aaaare..." Lily whispered into the radio, almost creepily. Clearly she thought Agent 2 would be on the back foot, but Marie was seeing things differently. Five must not have considered she was emitting light.
The Charger blast that shattered her shield, then, took her by complete surprise. She had been making her way over to an armor pickup out in the open, but she tried to run - er, swim - back behind cover as soon as she was shot.
Funnily enough, the red light particles that emitted from the Agent gear as it tried to rebuild its shield only made her more visible, and Marie had the upper hand. Charging up another blast, before Lily was able to escape, Agent 2 blasted her one last time, and Five was out.
The exercise was over.
With a smile and sigh, Marie wiped her brow, and keyed her headset. "Target down," she said with a grin. "It was a good tactic, Lily, but it only made you more visible to us in the end."
"Excellent, excellent!" Cuttlefish proclaimed. "Well done, Agent Five."
They heard Lily respawning behind them, and turned to see her sigh and remove her headset. "Well... well done? I only made it through like, two of you."
"Yeah," Callie nodded, "But Marie and me have been doing this for years. Three, Four and Eight are already trained just through what they've been put through. And I'd say besides turf wars and the two times you've gone up against Octavio's forces you haven't had much practice yourself. That was natural talent you showed there."
"Preach it!" Marie called as she super jumped back up to them through Callie's signal. "You might not have been able to face us head on, but the fact that you made use of the environment and your own thinking to get around us showed promise. So, yes, Five. Well done."
The Squidbeaks hung about the platform and talked, and while answering questions Lily and Remo noticed activity below them. Three Octocopters were rising from the city below, and they seemed to be carrying a new globe. "Look out, we've got company," Remo warned, unholstering his Hero Shot.
"Hey wait, hang on," Lily said sharply, as the others turned to see the approaching Octarians. Eight glanced with concern at the other Agents. "I think they're just here to fix the light I broke."
Indeed, they watched as the 'Copters set the new light globe down, noticing the carnage that the Agents had caused, and with a tool they were carrying between the three of them, set about unscrewing the remains of the shattered light.
"We should maybe... leave before they notice we're here," Lorne pointed out.
"Good idea, Four. Let's go." Marie tapped on Callie's shoulder and headed over to the launchpad, and with Craig, Remo and Lorne, launched away.
Callie, Eight and Lily were left to watch them work briefly, but eventually Callie, too, turned to start back toward the Hideout. "Come on, Five, Eight. We should head home before the others start to worry."
Lily nodded, glanced at Eight, and the two of them followed the Squid Sister to the launchpad, rocketing after her.
Craig Cuttlefish saw the three approaching while he, Marie and Three caught up, Lorne listening quietly. He excused himself, and made his way over to Lily, pulling her aside briefly. Callie stopped and watched quietly.
"Is there an issue, sir?" Lily said with a furrowed brow.
"No, no," he said with a smile. "I just want to let you know that I've made a decision. One and Two have done well by keeping you close. While I'd like to see you train more, for someone who isn't a natural inkling, there's some talent and instinct there I'd like our team to help nurture."
"Well, thank you." Lily smiled. "I like to think there's more you guys can teach me than I could teach you."
"So, Agent Five... I will be organising with those girls from Off The Hook to take us to Tartar's resting place for you. But, being the leader of our group here, I should reaffirm our mission for you... Lily, are you willing to defend Inkopolis against threats to its people, and their way of life?"
Lily simply stared at him. She could see he didn't doubt her commitment to her new life now, but to ask this of her? She pursed her lips together, thinking. Of course the Squidbeak Splatoon - sorry, the New Squidbeak Splatoon - was about more than just hanging out and collecting stuff. Could she deal with actively protecting Inkopolis's borders? It would certainly be a more interesting life than the one she'd led previously, but was she cut out for—
Cuttlefish smiled. "Excellent," he said suddenly. "I will be in touch." And he turned and walked back over to rejoin Marie's and Remo's conversation. Lily noticed that the two of them were smiling at her.
Only later, after Lily and Lorne had returned to their apartment to figure out the rest of their day, did Agent 4 teach her the answer behind Cuttlefish's strange response.
Like with Agent 4, and Three before her, Captain Cuttlefish had taken her confused silence as a yes.
Chapter 10: Let There Be Light
Lily and the girls go shopping for a new weapon and a new look.
It had been over a week since Lily had talked to the Squidbeaks and Off the Hook about visiting Tartar's resting place, but now Marina had given her a timeframe, in her first text message to Lily.
This coming Friday, two days from now, Off the Hook would take the day off from the Inkopolis News studio and the three of them, with Lorne, Craig, Remo and Eight, would take the train out of Inkopolis heading north towards Camp Triggerfish, and from there head deeper into the forest on the public walking tracks.
From there, Marina explained to her, they would eventually diverge from the path when the foliage was at its thickest, and eventually make their way to a clearing.
This clearing was the resting place of Commander Tartar. And Lily would have as much time as she needed to ask him what she needed.
Lily had not been simply waiting, though. With the help of Lorne in Turf War, and more training alongside the Squidbeaks, Lily had surged all the way up to level 6, and had become fairly proficient in the Splattershot Jr., though perhaps not with its special.
But she was aching to try something new, to branch out. Plus, now she had the ability to buy new clothing for Turf War.
So, she, Lorne, and the Squid Sisters decided Lily ought to go for a shopping spree. To do that, she would have to re-enter a store she had avoided since a certain event at the New Albacore Hotel...
Sheldon's ears perked up as the door jingled open, early on a Wednesday afternoon, and after a moment to finish writing something down, he looked up, launching into his usual greeting. "Hi, welcome to Ammo Knights! What are you in the market for?"
"Well, y'know," said a voice he'd not heard in a while. "Looking to change up my play style."
Sheldon looked up, and saw the blue and orange tentacles of the two girls that had entered and were walking up to the counter. He blinked, realising with a start that Lily had entered his shop with Lorne and the Squid Sisters.
“L... Lily? Lily!!” He rushed out from behind the counter to hug the inkling, surprising her and the other Agents. “Are... are you alright? I'm so sorry I...”
Lily blinked, still feeling a little upset at him, but she tried to put on a happier face, not wanting to disappoint him. “I’m fine, Sheldon. I... just needed some time to recover and get better.”
“I'm really glad to hear that... I was just... really worried after you stopped speaking to me. I knew I’d messed up, but... Well, Marie's been keeping me in the loop in the meantime, and I'm happy to hear Pearl and Marina are changing their mind about you... But... yeah... Please forgive me, Lily.”
“Uuuh...” Lily just stared down at the horseshoe crab whose head was pressed into her belly. “It’s... it’s okay, Sheldon. What happened back at the hotel was... It was just wild, we weren't gonna be rational. I’m over it though, I think. It’s nice to know you care so much though.”
“She’s been okay, Sheldon.” Lorne smiled and bent down to his level. “Yeah, she got roughed up and freaked out a bit, but she spent the last few days off the grid with me. She’s doing alright now.”
“A...alright.” Sheldon stepped back, took a deep breath and a few moments to calm himself. “Well, uhm, how can I help you two today?”
“Lily just hit level 6 earlier today,” Lorne told him with a grin. “She’s interested in trying something new.”
“Oh? Congrats, Lily! And so soon after starting to battle, too!” Sheldon knew full well that many people got there quicker, but there was no need to discourage the girl. “May I see your ID, please? I have to, it’s just for verification purposes.”
Lily handed over the card, and Sheldon scurried behind the counter to fetch his ID scanner. They heard a pleasant tone a few seconds later, and he came back around with the card. “Yep, I can confirm! So, Lily! Changing it up, you said? At this point you can wield a couple of new types of weapon. You unlocked the Splat Roller at level 3, being a modified paint-roller with a wide splash range, as well as the Splat Charger which is great if you have a decent accuracy and like to hang back. At level 4, you’ve unlocked the Splat Dualies, a set of two smaller weapons with a combined higher fire rate, and a propulsion system that allows for you to execute a speedy dodge roll!”
Sheldon took another deep breath, and Lily wondered just how often he must go through this spiel. “Lessee what else... Level 5 makes the Blaster available to you, trading fire rate for high damage compared to the shooter class, and you can also take the Slosher for a spin now." He gestured at the literal bucket on the wall. "Which I think needs no explanation."
He turned back around to the group and grinned at Lily. "I’d go more into detail, but look around you - you’ve got three experts in their class of weapon with you! I’m sure you’ll find your weapon of choice, and don’t be afraid to ask me if you still need information, or want to try any of these out on the range! Alright?”
“Sure thing, man.” Lily shot him a thumbs up, and finally let herself smile.
“Okay then, I’ll leave you girls to it!” The crab nodded and scurried back behind the counter to finish sorting coins into the register.
Lily almost didn't know where to start first - there was so much to think about! "God, where do I even start to look?" She wondered aloud.
"Why not consider a Charger?" Marie offered with a grin. "Take out your enemies from a distance."
"What about a Roller?" Callie grinned. "Lots of ink coverage, nice damage output, and it makes a nice blunt weapon in a pinch."
"Come on, girls," Lorne cut in. "Are you actually suggesting to her, or do you just want her to use your weapon?"
Marie raised an eyebrow at her. "I don't have an ulterior motive, Lorne. Though it'd be nice to have another Charger user on the team."
"Just saying, all the two of you really know of Lily's strategy is that battle we had last week."
"Well, alright, Lorne, keep your hair on... Lily, what's your playstyle like?" Callie asked. "Lorne's got a point, maybe there's a particular type that might suit it."
"Well... in Turf Wars I'm like, a defensive or stealthy player," Lily said, thinking. "I've been trying to avoid fights when I can, just inking turf, but sometimes if I can't help it, I'll hide in my ink for someone to get close and just pummel them with the Splattershot Jr until either of us splat. In video games though, that's another story. I kinda like to get in close, harass, pick off important targets, and get out real fast." She sighed happily. "I made a pretty decent Scout in my time... Not great, but decent. It was fun."
"Hmm..." Callie considered her. That tracked with the... odd way that Lily moved when the Cap'n had orchestrated his skill test. "The Roller could be a good fit for you, as would the Slosher, both have good damage output when used effectively, but if you want to emphasize evasiveness, we should try the Splat Dualies on you."
"What are they like?" Lily eyed the display Dualies, propped up on a shelf.
"Well... we don't really know," Marie admitted. "Callie and I never really tried them, they came out way after we settled on the Charger and Roller. Lorne?"
"I ran with them briefly before I settled back into the shooter class, yeah." Lorne nodded. "They might work well on you, Lily. They're two smaller pistol-like weapons, so you could split or focus your fire as needed, and they have a button on each one that will jet you around a bit, so once you get the hang of using them, it's like an assisted dash to the side. Or forward or back. If you wanna harass and annoy someone on the battlefield, dashing around them and making yourself hard to hit is a good way to do it."
"Okay..." Lily thought on it for a moment. It seemed like it would be hard to get used to the 'dashing' Lorne was talking about, but if they assisted in mobility then perhaps... "Could I... test all three? See what works best for me?"
"I don't see why not," Marie said, tilting her head as she glanced over at Sheldon's counter. "Hey, Sheldon. There shouldn't be an issue with Lily testing out three of the weapons, should there?"
"Not at all!" Sheldon looked up from his work, grinning at them. "What did you want to try out, Lily?"
"I uh, I guess we're gonna see which of the Roller, Slosher or Dualies speaks to me..." Lily had gone back to acting shyly/embarrased, not wanting to take too much time out of Sheldon's day.
"Sounds good! Alright, follow me through the back to the shooting range, girls!" The crab gestured to follow him behind the counter.
Some time and plenty of testing later, Lily and crew left Ammo Knights carrying a case containing her brand new Splat Dualies. She was excited to try them out after putting them through their paces in the range, though she needed more time to practice using the dodge mechanism.
The next stop for the girls was the shop next door, Headspace. This shop didn’t seem to be just a pun for a name, Lily saw as the door jingled open - while there were indeed plenty of hats and other headgear on display on head models and on racks, there were also plenty of other items around that gave Lily the impression that this was a place to relax. Giant cushions by a seating area near the back of the shopfront. A few small plants grew in pots around the room. Cloth and ornamental pots hung from the ceiling And there was a distinct aroma throughout the room, thick and sweet - though Lily was unsure whether that was a result of the scented reed sticks or the shop’s owner, a creature that looked more like a witch to her than anything that used to live in the sea, wearing clothing that seemed slightly too big for her.
“Ah, welcome, little inkfishies,” the creature said as she turned to meet them, her voice soft and kind. “Aah - the Calamari cousins - welcome back to my abode. And to you, my dear,” she said to Lorne. “I can feel it, your aura has grown from experience since we last met. And your friend here,” she turned to Lily, examining her and noticing her slight confusion. “She is new here, is she not? And yet, she is different. She is a breath of fresh air in this city.”
“I think that’s probably the nicest thing anyone outside of my friends has said about me,” Lily breathed, slightly stunned.
After they had introduced her to Flow the sea slug and Craymond, the crayfish with seemingly no inside voice, Callie and Marie waited outside (Lily noticed as they left they had been holding their breath the whole time), while Lorne and Lily browsed through the supply available, from wide-brimmed hats to beanies to caps, glasses, and headsets.
The longer they browsed, the more Lily began to feel lightheaded and slightly intoxicated from the aromas in the shop. She started to realise this as she was trying on one of the short beanies, and eyeing a pair of on-ear headphones with the Squidfin branding. The inkling turned to Flow, who had been sat on one of the plush cushions in the corner. “H-hey…” Lily called quietly, more timidly than usual, her cheeks flushed involuntarily, “What is… this scent? It’s nice but it’s… starting to get a bit, overbearing…”
“Is it…? Oh, my dear little inkfish…” Flow gave a small smile. “I’m so happy that you like it. That would be a mixture of the floral scented oils I’m diffusing and my own natural scents.”
“I see…” Lily blinked her eyes. “Well um, I should… come back another time and discuss those oils. It’s… a very relaxing scent.”
“C-come on Lily,” Lorne said, tugging on her shoulder. She was less affected by the aroma, being more used to this store. “I’m not having anything this… strong in our home. Have you picked what you’re getting?”
They left the shop a few short minutes later, with a paper bag with the Short Beanie and the Squidfin Hook Cans she had been eyeing, and Lily gulped in the fresh air outside.
“You alright, Lil’?” Callie asked, concerned as they noticed her flushed face.
Lily took deep breaths, trying to clear her system. “I think I’m right. I just wasn’t expecting it to be that strong a scent inside…”
Lorne was watching over her. “Her pheromones were definitely strong today, whether she means ‘em to be or not. It’s probably good we got her out of there before too long. Though besides that,” she glanced at Lily, “if she keeps that under control, I feel like those two might get along quite well.”
“Well, more friends for Lily is always a plus,” Callie said with a smile. “Shall we go get some clothes?"
When the girls left the shops of Inkopolis Square half an hour later to eat, the space underneath Lily's seat at their table was full of bags - Sheldon's Splat Dualies case, Flow's Short Beanie and Hook Cans, Jelfonzo's Pink Hoodie and Icewave Tee, and Bisk's Neon Sea Slug sneakers.
Jelfonzo had been... different, to Sheldon or Flow. His store was relatively minimal, but his quirky nature expressed itself in the way he talked - it seemed to Lily that he spoke with an Olde English-like vocabulary - indeed, his store was named "Ye Olde Cloth Shoppe" and he seemed to carry himself in a 'chivalrous' manner, almost like one of those 'milady' types (when he didn't seem to be trying to insult her choice in clothing through his overly flowery language, which she understood and ignored).
Bisk, who ran the Shella Fresh shoe store though, seemed actually cool, if a bit too sporty for her taste. He was actually quite respectful, and as Lily and her friends tried to decide on which shoes would work for her, based on style and the ability infused into them - something Lily hadn't wrapped her head around yet, the idea of clothing amplifying an aspect of her play - he offered a few of his own helpful suggestions.
And now, as Lily, Lorne, Callie and Marie ate Seanwiches from Crusty Sean's mobile stall, they chatted happily about Lily's purchases and the journey she would be making soon.
"So, wait, what did you think was outside of Inkopolis?" Callie prodded her between bites, after Lily had expressed some surprise that anything existed outside the city limits.
"I dunno! I kind of just assumed that all of marine-kind just sorta lived here or in Octopia!" Lily sighed and shrugged. "I kinda thought that, y'know, the rest of the planet was like, uninhabited or uninhabitable or something."
"I mean, I think it's been stated in geography classes that like, 95% of sapient life lives around this part of the globe," Marie told her gently. "You're somewhat right in that the rest of it is basically uninhabited, but not so much for any bad reason. It's more that Inkopolis is the social hub for our kind."
"Yeah, there are a few towns outside of Inkopolis, within some hours' travel," Callie added. "Calamari County, for example, where Marie and I came from." She grinned. "There's a separate town right on the edge of Inkopolis that I believe your train will pass through, and it's way different to the many suburbs in the city. More traditional."
"Hey, speaking of, isn't there supposedly an artefact out around there? Maybe it's worth making a stop on your way there, or on the way back, and taking a look around for it."
"Oh yeahhhh." Lily nodded, remembering. Though she knew most of the human items she was seeking were around Inkopolis and Octopia proper, there was one item she knew of that was outside of the city. And depending on how far away this town was from the edge of Inkopolis, it might perhaps be found there. If not... who knew what kind of environment she would have to traverse instead.
They continued to talk for a while, but they were soon interrupted by the voice of Sheldon, who was on his way over to them.
"Hello again!" he greeted them happily. “I'm glad I caught you before you left the Square - I’ve realised I've been needing to share this invention with all of you!”
“Invention...?” Marie asked. “If it’s a weapon, it can probably wait til things are quieter.”
“Not to worry, girls. This won't take long.” Sheldon caught his breath. “Marie, Lily, Lorne. You may remember when all this began with Lily, Miss Marie had asked me to design a translator tool for the human language.”
“Yes, I remember,” Lorne nodded.
“Well, I think it’s finally ready for testing!” Sheldon excitedly pulled out a case which he opened to reveal several singular earbuds, enough for everyone, minus one for Lily. “Well, it maaay have been ready for a week, but, y'know... Please, take one and pop it in your ear. I’m tentatively calling it the ‘Babelfish’... a name I’m sure Lily will appreciate.”
Lily shot him a thumbs up and a grin.
“So, I’ll need a demonstration, Lily. Could you please play the talk show episode you sent to me?”
“Uhhh... Sure.” Lily pulled out her iPhone, glad to have it again. She quickly found her podcast app, and pressed play on the one Giant Bombcast episode she had had cached from 2018. And since she could, she skipped ahead to where the #FreeScott discussion had begun.
“Alright, we were gonna roll right into the regular news...” the voice of Brad, the show’s main host, begun, speaking through the phone's speaker. Of course, for now, Lily was the only one to understand him, and the other people - other humans, Lily corrected herself - that began to speak up after him.
“Whoa...” Callie gasped. She’d never heard a recording of a human voice before, none of them had. It was so much... different to their own. “This is wild... You used to sound like this, Lily?”
“You could...say that, I guess.”
Sheldon let them all listen for a moment, letting them take in just how humans sounded unaltered. Lily noticed that he had a similar earbud in his ear, too. “Thank you, Lily. Keep that playing for now. Alright everyone, now I need you to feel around the underside of the earbud for a switch, and flick it on.”
He switched his on, and everyone else did the same. For a few seconds, nothing seemed different.
But then, something seemed to click.
“--Beast reached out to the host of HQ, which is the trivia app we talked about--- Scott, uh--”
“They reached out to him like ‘hey, what’s up?’---asked him some questions, and at some point they contacted HQ and asked them some questions, at which point...”
The whole group of squids was quiet, eyeing each other as they listened to the banter. Human banter. Three, maybe four humans in the same room, talking about a news article about another couple of humans. Sheldon and Lily both smiled as the others realised that the alien words started to make sense.
“Holy shit, Sheldon...” Callie was the first to speak. “How-- But they don’t sound any different than before--”
“Correct.” Sheldon grinned. “I’m proud of this - it’s not directly translating the voices. Instead, using the data from the samples Lily has sent me, myself and a small crew of researchers and developers have made a tool that sends signals to the brain, telling you how to understand the language.”
“That’s incredible, Sheldon!” Lorne was visibly impressed. “This will open up so many avenues of research!”
“’He cannot say that people want trivia!’ is a quote that the founder of the HQ trivia app said to the Daily Beast,” one of the human podcast hosts pointed out, which caused both Lily and Marie to laugh quietly, separate from the conversation.
“So feel free to take these with you,” Sheldon said with a smile. “But keep them secret for now - I don’t think these will be a mass-market product...” He turned to Lily. “I must let you know, Lily, that I’ll be sharing the data we’ve created from your sample clips, and likely some of the clips themselves with the scientific community as a result of our development. No doubt they will want to teach your language in schools and the like. But rest assured, your voice and your name will not be coupled with what we have here.”
“Sure,” Lily nodded, relieved she would get to stay relatively unknown. “I get it. This is... a pretty big breakthrough, huh?”
“Absolutely,” Callie nodded. “We’re that much closer to translating your ancient materials and things. Now all we need is a cipher to read your written language... Nudge, nudge,” she added with a little giggle.
“Another time,” Lily chuckled. “Probably better that those ‘discoveries’ be a little separate...”
"Understandable," Sheldon nodded. "Well, I'm glad it seems to be working out... If I might, Lily... would you please say a phrase in your native language? I'd like to be sure that I haven't just tuned the translator to the voices of these specific people."
"Uhh..." Lily looked about nervously. "I guess..." She thought for a few moment, trying to decide on a phrase but her mind freezing up, put on the spot. The next words she spoke were in English, quoting an internet series from her childhood: "Everyone knows that auto mechanics tamper with the battery, so you have to go back to them in a week. But you can't do jack! Cause they're, y'know, tied! To the... mafia." Lily chuckled to herself afterward, amazed that after so long she still remembered the opening line.
"...Well, that's certainly not a phrase I'd ever expect Lily to say," Marie said in Inkling. "And I swear it doesn't sound completely correct, but I could understand all of the words."
"Yeah, nah, the original quote was like that," Lily told them. "It seems like your translator works pretty well, Sheldon. Awesome stuff."
"Thank you." Sheldon bowed. "Of course, I can't take credit for all of the work. I merely was the middle-man for all the voice samples that were used, and I suppose I designed the translator device based on the research of those I've been in touch with regarding this matter." He smiled warmly at Lily. "Now, their time will likely go toward collaborating with other federal departments to build a framework for teaching this language."
"Oh, for sure. Wait, what do you mean, federa— ohhh, of course Inkopolis has a government." Lily nodded. "Well, that all sounds fine to me. I think I'm about all set for this journey then."
"Excellent. I wish you the very best in your travels, Lily." Sheldon smiled warmly. "Have you figured out what you are going to ask this Commander Tartar creature?"
"Uh—" Lily was slightly caught off guard by his knowledge of Tartar, but she reassured herself that she should have realised he would know - the others would surely have kept him up to date. "Well... kinda. All I really planned was to ask if he brought me here, since I get the impression that's what Marina and Pearl think happened, how humans went extinct, and whether there was ever a way for me to return. Don't worry," she said as Callie and Marie raised an eyebrow at her, "Lorne and I have decided that I am not interested in going back. I just want to know."
"Hrmm." Sheldon nodded, a little concerned. "Well, if you get the chance, would you consider asking him where surviving human literature might be found?"
"Are you... even able to use that info, Sheldon?" Marie asked, with a slight frown.
"Not me, no." Sheldon shook his head. "But this human business has put me in touch with a group of researchers all working around the subject of humans and their history. If you were interested in speaking with them, they would know how to use that information best."
"Well, I could at least ask and relay the answer, but..." Lily paused, and her brows furrowed. "More than that, I'll get back to you on."
"That's all I ask. I get that you're still keeping quiet about your history, but I trust the staff on that project." Sheldon smiled at her. "They would take good care to keep your confidentiality intact and identity safe."
"That... sounds like they know about me already, Sheldon." Lily raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, well... as I was told, the right person in that institute recognised the blood and DNA samples that had been taken from you some time ago, and they got in touch."
"Hmm." Lily sighed. "Well, I guess I wasn't gonna be able to keep this secret from everyone forever. But okay. Let me learn what I can from Tartar first, and then I'll consider what to do from there."
"Again, that's all I ask. That's all I wanted to know. I'll be taking my leave now. For what it's worth Lily, I hope you find out what you're looking for." Sheldon smiled, bowed, and left to return to his shop.
The girls watched him leave, and Lily leaned back in thought as the others resumed their meal.
And found herself wondering if there was any truth in fiction to the idea of 'alien' creatures being experimented on.
Surely, she thought to herself, I just daydream too much.
Alright, so, where to begin?
What Lily's got here is her usual 'look' now, so she has finally moved on from wearing all that basic gear. And while the rest of this part won't include any combat/turf war, we'll get to see her break in those Dualies in the future.
The podcast episode mentioned here (the same one mentioned back in Part 1, the CHAPTER 'Begin Again') is the Giant Bombcast episode 508. Here is a link to the particular clip played out in this chapter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJjjCFpQqRI
My writing has begun to slow down again, so I'm not entirely sure when the next chapter will be. I'll be back soon though, as we roll toward the conclusion of this part/arc. I think there are about three chapters left...
Chapter 11: Terminal March
Lily, Marina, Pearl, Craig, Lorne, Remo and Eight ride the train out of Inkopolis, and get to know each other a little better.
Just in case you may not have realised it yet - all of these chapter titles (starting from the chapter "Begin Again" in Part 1) have been song titles! Don't read beyond the titles though - the content of the songs themselves don't mean anything here, besides it being music Lily would have listened to in the past.
That said, there are two Splatoon songs in that playlist as well, and that gives me a chance to expand upon something that I threw up as a tag in one of my updates: Though the series so far has been about a human/ex-human in the Splatoon universe, Splatoon the games never existed in Lily's timeline.
Everything else is still as it has been (Nintendo is still selling the Switch, everyone's still putting out cool music), but there was no opportunity for Lily to learn about Inklings, or Turf War, or anything from those games before she was dropped in the thick of it, because it had never been developed. Instead (and this will be expanded upon in the NEXT chapter), I'm taking from Splatoon's canon that their world and ours is the same - just far, far forward in time.
So while I use the song names "New You" and "Hooked" as chapter titles, the playlist is not part of the story's canon - it's just a silly thing I do when I name the chapters, finding a song name that fits the idea or theme of the chapter.
Alright, enough rambling - let us begin the Terminal March (y'see?) toward the climax of the story!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lily and Lorne awoke early on the day of their journey, as the sun was just rising.
It wasn't their choice - the schedule demanded they be at the station with Pearl and Marina around 9AM, as the train out of Inkopolis would leave shortly after then.
So at 7AM the girls were up and about, tiredly packing their backpacks. Out went everything that had been left before, and in went a change of clothes just in case, their Agent gear (Lorne insisted it was called a Hero Suit, but Lily wasn't fond of the idea of calling herself a 'hero'), and in Lily's case, her laptop and Hook Cans. They also attached their weapon cases onto a strap on the backpacks - one less thing they would need to carry by hand.
After each took a brief shower, Agents 4 and 5 left their apartment in a slight rush 50 minutes later, Lily worried that they might miss their train to the Square. They made it to the Inkopolis West station with a minute to spare, perhaps a sign that she had a point. But as they sat in their carriage, waiting the 15 or so minutes for them to get into Inkopolis Square, both girls exchanged text messages and schedules with Marina and Marie.
Callie and Marie would be meeting them at the Square to see them off, filling in for Off the Hook on news duties today, and were surely prepping for the morning broadcast at 9AM, their first broadcast in what must have been nearly two years.
Meanwhile, Pearl, Marina and Agent 8 would see them up ahead, at Inkopolis Central Station, the transport hub of the city. The City loop train would pass through there, and Lily and Lorne would disembark and cross the station to get to where regional trains would depart. Captain Cuttlefish and Agent 3 would board at a later stop.
So even as Agent 4 and Agent 5 sent texts out to update their friends, letting them know they were on their way, they knew that now they were on their train, they were on schedule. Marina had got it all planned out.
Indeed, as their train pulled into Inkopolis Station Square and they stepped out, Callie and Marie got their attention from further down on the platform, semi-hidden behind a vending machine so they didn't grab the attention of fans. As Lily and Lorne walked over, both Squid Sisters smiled and gave the girls a hug.
"Nervous?" Marie asked of Lily once they had hugged each other.
"Yeah, a little," Lily admitted. "I guess if somehow I don't find out anything, it'll still be a nice camping trip..."
"What about you two?" Lorne asked of the Squid Sisters. "Surely you're out of practice with the news stuff."
"I mean, of course we're nervous," Callie said with a little laugh. "But we also know it's going to be weird all around for viewers and staff, so I guess we'll have a bit of fun with it."
"Yeah, it's gonna be silly, but, y'know, considering what's been happening with us, and what the last major event we covered was..." Marie eyed Callie and smiled. "I think folks will be happy to know that we're still doing well."
"True that." Lily smiled. "Good luck with it, girls."
"And you with your little adventure," Callie said, and grinned. "Those regional trains have some nice private compartments, so all of you should have plenty of privacy to chat whatever."
"And usually they aren't that busy either, at least once they get out of Inkopolis," Marie nodded. "So if you need space, I get you need that sometimes, you can get that pretty easily."
"Thank goodness." Lily breathed a sigh of relief. "I mean, I know there's gonna be a lot of us there, so... knowing that is a relief."
The sound of another train pulling in caught Lily's attention. The next City Loop train was here. "Well, guess we better get moving..." she said, turning back to the Sisters. "Good luck with today, girls."
"You too. Good luck with Tartar, Lily." Marie smiled, and she and Callie waved them off as they all started to move. "We'd better get back to the studio. We're due on soon."
"We'll be sure to tune in!" Lorne giggled, sticking her tongue out as she and Lily peeled off to get on the train, waving back.
The two girls found their seats in the middle of a packed carriage, and sat their backpacks underneath the seats as the train pulled away from the station, and began its trek. There weren't too many stops between the Square and Central, Lily was relieved to see as she glanced at a station map on the opposite wall. Still, she got comfortable, looking around the carriage at all the busy faces.
Another fifteen minute ride saw them pulling into Inkopolis Central. Glancing out of the window as she and Lorne stood, amongst several other passengers to disembark, Lily was wowed by the size of the station.
They exited the train onto a platform onto one end of the station and headed toward the main station area. Train platforms lined one end of the station, several platforms seemingly dedicated just to the City Loop and several inner city lines. The rest of the platforms serviced areas toward the edges of the city, and only two platforms, on the other end of the station, serviced areas outside of the city.
The entire station itself - the platforms, customer service, and a few shops and food venues - were covered by a roof that undulated across the entire space, like a corrugated metal sheet, or... gentle ocean waves. Lily realised it was probably the latter the designers must have been going for. It was a soft blue color, and lights across each low section of roof lit up the space brightly. It was an impressive piece of building to Lily.
"Hey, it's Lorne." Lily glanced up to her girlfriend. She was on the phone, to Marina she supposed. "We just got into the station. Platform... 8 it looks like. Where are we meeting?" There was a pause as she listened to the response. "Sounds good, we'll meet you there for a quick brekkie. Seeya in a bit." She hung up and turned to Lily.
"Oh yeahhh, right, food," Lily nodded, and chuckled. "Sorry to eavesdrop. Where we headed?"
"There's a small cafe storefront in the station near the platform we're headed to. Follow me." Lorne smiled and they both walked across the station, past the different platforms, and towards a small café stall surrounded by tables.
Some of those tables were occupied with patrons, drinking their hot drinks and eating their breakfasts or meals.
One of those tables was occupied by Marina, Pearl, and Agent 8.
They were all in more casual clothing today. Marina was sporting some light denim jeans, a crop-top of sorts and a du-rag headband, while Pearl was in a pink hoodie (that looked slightly too big for her, Lily noted, to where she could barely see Pearl's shorts peeking out from underneath) and, oddly, a crown. Both girls were also sporting thick necklaces with their own symbols, which Lily now recognised were the iris shapes of the Octolings in Marina's case, and the Inklings in Pearl's. They looked very 'bling-y' in Lily's eyes.
Agent 8 was dressed more simply - he wore a Grape Hoodie, currently pulled up over his head. He also carried a backpack, like Agents 4 and 5 were. Lily wondered what he might be carrying - his weapon, surely, though she couldn't see a case on his pack... clothes? Did he have Agent gear yet? The only thing she remembered him having in the way of clothing was that tight-fitting black outfit...
Marina was the first to notice the girls as they approached, and waved them over. "Hi girls! Glad you could make it!" Pearl and Eight turned in their seats to see them, and Pearl nodded in greeting while Eight raised an open palm to acknowledge Four and Five.
"Of course we were gonna make it," Lorne commented as she and Lily pulled over two chairs from a neighboring table to join them, taking a seat. "Lily was stressing over leaving on time," she teased, putting her arm around her partner's shoulder.
"To be fair, I did that in the past too," Lily sighed. "Just... y'know, this is important to me. Thanks for coming out with me, guys." She smiled. "I'm still a little surprised you're coming with us, Eight," she noted, raising an eyebrow.
"I get to learn more about the surface," Eight shrugged. "And I get to learn about you."
"Oh, man. Speaking of getting to know you..." Pearl turned to look over at Lily. "Did Sheldon show you the thing he was doing with those earbuds?"
"Uh... yeah." Lily raised an eyebrow. "Why, do y'all have-- yep, you sure do," she cut herself off as Pearl tugged off her hood and Marina lifted one of the headphone ears away, showing off their own earbuds. "I guess that's not terribly surprising."
"Well, it's good timing on Sheldon's part," Marina noted with a smile as she gestured for Pearl and Eight to get up, and the lot of them grabbed their bags. "If we're gonna be eavesdropping on your conversation with Tartar, it's good we can make sure we understand what's being said..."
"I mean, sure I guess..."
The chatter continued as the group of five headed back down to the platforms, Marina guiding them to the train they would be riding. It looked slightly older than the one Lily and Lorne had ridden just before, but it was also longer and slightly wider.
As they stepped on board, Lily saw why - Though there were carriages with rows of seats like Lily was used to, one of the carriages they stepped onto was one long corridor, with small rooms to one side for travellers preferring more privacy. Marina stopped in front of one of them, turning to the group. "Well, here we are. This compartment's ours for the day. Shall we?" She slid the door open and stepped inside.
The compartment was a good size for five passengers. Two large seats, enough to sit three and a bit people each, were on either side of the space, and above them were luggage racks, which the group set about lifting their gear into the space. There was also a small table space next to each seat, and a cupboard underneath it which contained pillows and a blanket - no doubt for extended journeys.
Pearl and Marina took one side, and as Eight moved to join them, Marina shook her head, but smiled at him. "Come on, Eight. You hang out with us most of the time already. It's not gonna kill you to sit with Four and Five."
Eight stopped, a look of confusion and slight worry on his face. He slowly turned to Lily and Lorne. Quietly he began, "Is... is it okay if I—"
"We're not gonna deny you a seat, Eight," Lorne replied, and smiled. "But thank you for asking anyway. Come on, let's get comfortable." She sat window-side, with Lily in the middle, and Eight took the other end.
As they settled in, checking phones and making polite chat, the train's conductor came on over the broadcast system. "Welcome, passengers, to your 9:10 service through to Calamari County. This service will be stopping at all city stations, Dopefish Fields, Triggerfish Station, and should be arriving into Calamari County Station at approximately 6PM. Please make yourselves comfortable and have your tickets ready for presentation, this train will depart in two minutes."
As the train pulled away from Inkopolis Central and into the city, the five got comfortable, making idle chatter and tapping away on phones. Lily tried to relax, holding the phone in her hand as she watched the inner city pass by through the window.
"Well, here we go," Marina said, and smiled at Lily and Lorne, drawing their attention. "Excited, Lily?"
"Nervous, more like," Lily said with a sigh, and Eight glanced over at her. "But I am curious to see what the world outside of this city is like."
"Huh, I figured working alongside the others on your team, you'd've seen most of the surrounding areas." Marina raised an eyebrow. "Or at least Octopia, anyway..."
"Yeah, nah." Lily shook her head. "I mean I've seen parts of it, the Canyon of course, and one of those habitation domes... But we figured out I needed more training before I went back out there, being so... new, to everything."
"One of those things I'm looking for is just outside of the city limits, and then there's something else in Grizzco territory, but it hasn't been—"
"OOH!" Marina squealed. "We should invite you on a Salmon Run shift some time!"
"A... what?" Lily looked at her in confusion.
"That's what the Grizzco shifts are called, kid," responded Pearl. "Though it's waaaaay different to what you're used to."
“I’m sure.” Lily nodded, and left it at that briefly, then started up again, realising something. “Okay wait, so, Grizzco. Operates in the ocean, has swathes of territory restricted so only they can use it, supposedly all their workers are casually employed,” she gestured at Pearl and Marina as she said this, “and how the hell do you get ‘Power Eggs’ from… salmon? Are these salmon electric or something? What’s this company’s deal?”
“Nah, they’re just dangerous,” Lorne pointed out to her.
“Oh, good, that’s fine then.” Lily said sarcastically as she turned to Four. “What does that mean.”
“So like, Mr. Grizz is kiiiinda sketchy and really wants those Golden Eggs the Salmonids lay,” Pearl started. Eight seemed to be listening in too. “But if we just let them breed, then they’ll eventually overrun us. They’re really aggressive.”
Marina continued, “Those Power Eggs also do contain a bit of energy in each of them, so it helps the city and the environment. And Grizz does tend to pay the hard workers better, sometimes better pay per shift than a Turf War game in the city. So it’s a mutual benefit.”
“And he employs people of all skill levels,” Pearl nodded with a grin. “Though… he does go through a lot of staff.”
…What does that mean?!” Lily asked in a slight panic. “Do people die doing this?! How does he get away with th—”
“Oh! No, no, nobody dies,” Marina hurriedly reassured her. “Though, I’ve heard stories of crews being left on-site for extended periods of time as ‘punishment’ for getting wiped out, or not securing enough eggs…”
“Christ,” Lily gasped, not really reassured in the slightest. “All that’s telling me is I want to spend as little time working for him as possible to find the item that’s there. Assuming he hasn’t found and pinched it for himself.”
“Yes, I’m… not sure I would want to work for him either,” Eight noted, and Lily saw he was wide-eyed.
“Glad we could agree on something, Eight,” Lily commented.
The conversation continued for a few minutes, veering from topic to topic and eventually was interrupted by another announcement as the train began to slow. “This train will shortly arrive into Inkopolis Plaza. Inkopolis Plaza is our next stop.”
“Oh!” Marina said, and jumped to her feet. “I’ll be back, guys. This is Remo and the Captain’s stop.” She waved out of habit as she slid open the compartment door and stepped outside.
“Lemme know if they still have that Squid Beatz cabinet!” Pearl yelled after her. To the others, she said, “Hope they do… I still head over to the Plaza some days to grind out the top scores.”
There was a lull in the room as Lily, Lorne and Eight tapped on their phones idly.
“So, yo, Lily,” Pearl started up again, with a curious look. “Were you ever gonna tell us you used to be a boy?”
Lorne looked up and glared at Pearl, while Eight’s head snapped to look at Lily in shock and horror.
“No,” Lily responded with a grumble. “That was my past life. It’d only have come up if a story from my past demanded that context. How’d you find out?”
“Was in Cuttlefish’s file,” Pearl replied nonchalantly. “D’you miss it?”
“Not particularly,” Lily said flatly. “Well, I sometimes miss one particular part…” She crossed her legs. “But my identity and life never really corresponded to what gender I was.” She shrugged. “I guess in a sense though, being a girl now has made me happier with myself. For the record, I do see that look you’re giving me,” Lily said as she turned to Eight, who was expressing grave concern. “My previous appearance has nothing to do with my current personality. I was always the same person, Eight, just, I have a more appropriate look now.”
“I… think I see,” Eight said slowly, and Lily got the impression he was not quite grasping the idea. She noticed him glancing down at her hips. “So do you not have a…?”
“No,” she said firmly. “No, I don’t. I’m pure girl now. I used to before I changed, yes. I don’t anymore.”
“…Okay,” said Eight, and seemed to let it go.
“So, what, with you and Lorne palling around,” Pearl started again, “does that make you gay, or straight or…?”
Lily snorted. “I think biology dictates that makes me gay,” she said with a laugh. “But I never really cared for labels along those lines. I love who I love. And that just happens to be her,” she finished, and smiled at Lorne. “And she knows, of course, and accepts that.”
“Eh, alright.” Pearl shrugged, and left it well alone.
Lily noticed the train was starting to move again, and though she smiled and simply went back to using her phone, she was feeling a little uncomfortable. Well, the next couple hours are bound to be a barrel of fun, she remarked in her thoughts.
“Uh, hey, sorry kid,” Pearl said, leaning in, noticing Lily didn’t seem quite OK. “I guess I shouldn’t have asked like that. I was only, y’know, curious.”
Lily thought on those words for a moment. “I’m… not sure there’s any nice way to directly broach that subject, I guess. Just, to hit me with that right out of the gate though?”
“Right outta what?” Pearl was confused. “What kinda saying is that?”
“Heh, don’t worry about it. I think you got what I meant.”
“Hey, look who’s here!” came the voice of Marina as the door into their compartment opened, revealing Captain Cuttlefish and Agent 3. The two stepped inside, followed by Marina, as everyone greeted them. Marina and Craig sat down on Pearl’s side, leaving Remo to sit/lean against the cupboard next to them.
“Hey guys!” Lorne said, and she, Eight, and Pearl waved them in. Lily did a small salute. “Doing well this morning?”
“Not too bad, Agent 4, not too bad.” Craig rested his cane in front of him. “Ready to get down to business, is what I am.”
The gang chatted and hung out as the train headed toward the edge of the city, even as Marina convinced Lily to put her music library on shuffle.
While the carriage bobbed their head to acapella video game music, to techno, to electronic, to synthwave, the buildings outside gradually grew less tall, less dense, and the landscape became more green, less flat. Lily didn’t realise it initially as they finally left Inkopolis, until she looked outside and suddenly saw green, green fields, trees, and farmland stretched off toward the horizon.
Lily stared out of the window in awe. Lush countryside. It was beautiful. She had missed this. She had a dumb smile on her face as she watched the world pass by.
“Lovely out there, isn’t it?” Craig said with a knowing nod, watching her face.
Lily nodded slowly. “Makes me miss taking trips through areas like this, hours and hours of farms, and mountains, and flat land stretching toward the horizon...” She looked away, toward the Captain. “I love it in the city, I can tell it’s where I need to be. But it’s comforting to know the world can still be beautiful on its own terms.”
She gave a cheesy smile, then, thinking, got up and rummaged through her bag for her laptop, pulling it out and sitting back down. On her way back down, she noticed that Eight was also staring out the window, and his expression was one of awe. “What’s up, mate? You look like you’ve never seen the countryside before.”
“He hasn’t,” Marina pointed out, turning away from the window. She had also been watching the scenery pass by. “Neither did I, until recently. Since the Great Turf War, Octarians have all lived underground... or in places like the Octo Valley, the Octo Canyon. We would’ve killed for such serene scenery.”
“Your ancestors did,” Craig pointed out, and sighed. “I suppose ours as well. It really is a shame the rising waters led to such bloodshed... How lucky for your kind, that the underground turned out to be so habitable.”
“Wait... rising waters?” Lily glanced over to Craig and Marina.
“The levels have stabilised for now,” Marina said, but nodded. “And have been for around a hundred years. But, yes. Many of our species’ original settlements have been lost just due to the lost land. I think most of the remaining human ruins are also submerged.”
“Huh...” Lily bit her lip. She had a feeling that she knew who was still responsible for that. She glanced down at her laptop. It had finished booting, and now sat at a standard Windows desktop. She searched for her music DAW, and let it load up. Since Off the Hook are here, she thought, let’s see if they will be into this...
“What system is this?” Eight asked curiously, peeking over her shoulder at her screen, as attention turned back toward the music playing off Lily’s iPhone.
“Oh, uh, this is... I haven’t updated to anything from this time,” Lily told him quietly. “It’s an old operating system. I’ve got some stuff on there that I’m not quite finished with.” She looked at the screen, and grinned - her last project, the one this world’s music had inspired her to create, had loaded.
She let the acoustic sound of ‘You Oughta Know’ fade, then stopped the phone from playing any more music, for the time being, starting playback of the project, the beginning of Madeon’s ‘Cut The Kid’ playing out. “Oh hey, this song!" she proclaimed, pretending it was still music being shuffled. "Wow, this reminds me of one of your songs, actually,” Lily said with a grin to Off the Hook.
“Does it?” Pearl said with a raised eyebrow, and listened closer. The first beats played, and as she listened to the melody of the sampled piano closely, she started to notice something. “Yo, Marina. Doesn’t that piano kinda sound like it’s doing the Color Pulse thing?”
“Hey, yeah, I think it is!” Marina grinned. “Nice find, Lil—”
Then Color Pulse itself kicked in over the top of Cut the Kid, a funky mashup of the two, and Lily couldn’t help but grin.
“Whoa! What’s... Oh! You cheeky thing!” Pearl grinned back, realising immediately what she was listening to, hearing Marina’s and her own voice over the top of the track. “You did this? Nice! You gotta send that to us!”
“I never thought I’d hear our music and... human music blended together like this,” Marina said in wonder. “Never in my life. So, that mean you’re also a musician?”
“Eh... not really.” Lily shook her head. “I just like to mess with songs that are already done and do something weird with ‘em. Honestly my talents lie in... a couple different places, and while I like making these they aren’t what people knew me for.”
“What do people know you for?”
Lily opened her mouth to speak, then stopped.
She couldn’t think of a single thing. She hadn’t been known for anything.
She finally just murmured “nothing” and let the track play out.
“Really? You gotta promote yourself, kid.” Pearl sat back. “All this music you been playin’ today, right? There’ll be an audience for this. Not just some stuffy historians. But remixes, mashups, whatever, like these? Blending the past and the present together? THAT’s worth a show.”
“I promise ya, Pearl,” Lily replied, as the mashup finished, and her hands moved to resume the phone’s music playlist. “I’ve been daydreaming playing my mashups and DJ sets live for ages.”
“Well... maybe this is the time to make it work.” Marina smiled. “Just something to consider when this is all over.”
Lily nodded, and smiled. She let herself fall silent for a while, and listen to the other conversations going on around them, between Lorne, Craig, and Remo.
Today, all of them were friends.
At around 12:30PM, the tannoy announced the train’s imminent arrival at Triggerfish Station. The first half of their journey was at an end.
Everybody in the compartment packed up their things, aside from Remo, Craig and Eight, who had never taken out anything but their phones.
As they slowly made their way from the room out into the train corridor, waiting for the train to stop at the station platform, Lily glanced at Agent 8. She was pleased that she and him seemed to be getting along, at least a little better - it turned out that he enjoyed looking at and dissecting all sorts of technology, and that gelled with her own love of tech. Finally, she had something in common with him.
Lorne came up behind her. “How ya feeling, hun?” she asked her, gently squeezing her hand.
Lily turned to her and smiled. “Better. That was a fun train ride. Never thought I’d say that before. But god, I’m glad to finally get out of that packed room.”
“Hah!” Lorne pat her on the back as the group lurched forward, the train coming to a halt, the doors opening.
And one by one, Pearl, Marina, Craig, Remo, Lorne, Lily and Eight stepped off the train onto the Triggerfish Station platform.
Is it cheating if I use my own works from other projects in my other projects? Hmm... 🤔 I finally released a bunch of Splatoon-related mashups last week, so if you want to hear more of the result of 'music from the past and present blended together', here is a playlist for you to enjoy!
Today's chapter took a bit more time coming out as a result of getting this audio thing finished and uploaded - sorry for the delay!
Chapter 12: Vivid Memories Turn to Fantasies
A kind soul and a genocidal AI meet. It goes about as well as expected.
The group of seven stepped out of the train onto the platform of Triggerfish Station.
It was a small, quiet station, with just enough platform for the train, and a singular terminal for ticket purchases near the platform exit, by which a wooden sign signalled ‘This way to Camp Triggerfish!’.
The station was surrounded by great pine trees, towering over them, and the pleasant scent of pine needles and nature wafted in their direction. Lily took a deep breath, and sighed happily. The world is still beautiful...
She followed the group as they headed down the lone dirt path through the trees, already seeing a structure not too far off. Wooden towers and ramps... “Hey, anyone know what that thing is up ahead?”
“That’s Camp Triggerfish!” Pearl said with a grin. “Where all the young squids go for a new adventure! Plus it’s a battle stage sometimes.”
“Not at the moment though,” Marina chimed in as the path took them along a lake, upon which was Triggerfish’s battle stage. “It’s not on the schedule for a few weeks, so it’ll be nice and quiet today.”
“Good thing, too,” Craig remarked. “Since we’re on official business.”
Camp Triggerfish, at least from what Lily saw from the sidelines as they ventured past, seemed like the 'summer camps' she would see on American cartoons and video games. Camp fire pits, wooden buildings, and the idea of being 'one with nature'... or was that 'conquering nature'? It seemed like more of the former here.
The structure that Lily had first seen was Triggerfish's battle stage. It was built and suspended over a lake (by who and how, Lily wondered) where, she supposed, the campgoers could unwind and make a mess.
On the other side of the lake, past a set of dormitories, was a set of public toilets, and there Craig called the group to a halt. “Alright, Agents. We should take this opportunity to get into gear. Use these bathrooms here, get into your Hero Suits, and these ladies and I will be waiting out here.”
“Now seems like a good time for it,” Lorne agreed. “Alright, Lily, let’s get changed.” She made her way into one of the bathrooms, and Remo quietly made his way to another. Eight followed behind them, following Craig’s instruction.
“I’ll be with you in a sec,” Lily called, then turned to Craig. “I know this is rather spur of the moment, but I think it may be best if I didn’t change.”
Captain Cuttlefish looked at her with concern. “I can’t say I understand your reasoning, Five.”
Lily nodded. “Well, I’m thinking about it like this, sir. Tartar has met and... used Agent 3 already. He knows what the Agent gear would look like. If I face him looking like that, I think he might get aggressive.”
“Ohhhh.” The idea seemed to dawn on Pearl. “I think I get it. If you don’t look like one of the Agents, then you could sell your story better and he might be willing to part with info. Clever, Lily.”
Lily grinned. “Exactly.”
“Well...” Craig scratched at his beard. “That is certainly a thought." He thought for a few seconds. "Alright, Lily. I think you may be right. Let's see how that goes.”
Lily nodded at him. “I think it will work in our favour.”
Once the other agents had returned, now dressed in their respective gear (Agent Eight using the old uniform he had worn in the Deepsea Metro) and carefully holding their weapons, the group followed the walking trail as it headed past Camp Triggerfish and further into the forest.
As they travelled deeper and deeper into the forest, the trees and bushes grew gradually more dense the dirt path and the light grass of the forest grew more and more littered with pine needles and leaves. As a result, the sunlight overhead grew dimmer and dimmer as the canopy obscured more and more of the sky.
The terrain also became less flat as the walking trail took them along the side of one of the mountains nearby, and the group carefully passed by streams of water running along the path, steep hills, and at one point crossing a sturdy wooden bridge across a valley.
Over forty minutes had passed overall before Marina declared a stop, and sat by the edge of the path, after having reached a small flat stretch of path and soft grass. "I need a few moments. My legs are killing me."
As the others took the opportunity to also rest briefly, Pearl walked over and argued quietly, "Come on 'Rina, you did this last time too! We need to push on! This ain't some vacation!"
"Just look at the others, though!" Marina gestured at the rest of the group. "It's only a few minutes, Pearlie. Tartar's not going anywhere."
"Yeah, but wouldn't you wanna get it over with though? He still creeps me out. C'mon, we'll be in and out in no time."
"Pearl..." Marina sighed. She knew that this was something Pearl couldn't quite understand. And she didn't quite have a handle on all of it either. But, having once been the only Octoling in Inkopolis, maybe she was closer to knowing what Lily was going through. "Lily is probably going to spend plenty of time talking to him, whether she wants to or not. You know he's got the only answers. She knows how much time has passed. And I don't think her fellow agents will just let you leave her out here to go home."
Pearl looked at her, and sighed, and sat next to her. "I know... I do feel bad for her. I just... want to get there. The journey's cool and all, but the destination's why we're all here... I'll try to chill out a little more tho, 'Rina."
Marina looked at her, and laughed. "Y'know, Pearlie. If we ever had an opportunity to design our own Splatfest, that'd be an interesting topic to battle over."
"Ha, the destination versus the journey? Perhaps..."
Once everyone had had a few moments to rest their legs and catch their breath, they set off again, Pearl reassuring the others that they were not far away from their goal.
Another ten minutes passed of walking through the forest, venturing deeper. They had not seen a single form of life since they had left the train. Even as they passed gentle streams and the occasional massive tree, Lily felt a slight unease, but could not understand what it was.
As they passed around a hill, Pearl called them to a halt again, by a cluster of rocks leading down the hill. "Alright folks, we're detouring. We're following these rocks down, then we'll head straight forward til we start hitting markers me and Marina placed down to guide us the rest of the way."
"This is... quite out of the way," Remo commented, glancing down the hill.
"Well we didn't want anyone to accidentally discover him, especially if they could be manipulated." Marina shrugged her shoulders. "And the further he is from Inkopolis and NILS, the better, I reckon."
Pearl and Marina made their way down the rocks first, followed by Lorne and Lily, Agent 8, then Remo carrying the Cap'n carefully.
The five Squidbeaks kept their eyes forward as they followed behind Off the Hook, watching for these 'markers' that would tell them they were headed in the right direction. Now they were off the path, and were stepping carefully through the foliage, over leaves, around fallen branches and attempting to avoid hidden dips in the ground.
Pearl's markers came into play a hundred meters off the beaten path, in the form of leaves that had been stuck onto the bark of the bigger trees at about hip height - obvious enough to those looking for them, but it would blend in enough for folks to casually miss them.
The sun had fallen from its midday point, and now there were hardly any patches of clear sunlight, making the forest trek that much darker. The foliage had also become much more dense in this part of Triggerfish Forest, to the point that the bushes and shrubs obscured much of the way off this makeshift path they had made - the experience becoming more claustrophobic as a result. This was not an issue for the crew, but Lily and Eight could feel the mood shifting around them.
The path continued on this way for another ten minutes - they would reach one marker, Pearl and Marina would take off in some contrived direction, and the others would not know why until the next marker was close enough to grab their attention.
Finally, Marina called them to a halt in an area where there was slightly more room between the trees and bushes than there had been. "Alright everyone, I think we'll settle down here. Let's relax and get comfortable."
Lily, Remo and Lorne glanced at them, suspicious, nervous. "Just how far is it to this guy?" Lily asked Marina, biting her lip.
"Well, actually..." Marina smiled, and gestured ahead. "He's just another hundred meters or so that way. We're setting up here so there's no chance he knows we're around."
Lily's eyes widened in surprise, then nodded, turning more serious. "So... here we are then, huh?"
"Yep...” Marina rested a hand on Lily’s shoulder. “Tartar awaits. For what it’s worth, I hope you find your answer.”
“Yeah, you got this, Five,” Remo said with a smile.
“Are you sure I can’t come with her?” Lorne pouted.
“I’m sure you could, Agent 4,” Marina told her, “but I get the impression he’d not tell Lily anything around us, even if he was convinced she was human.”
Lily sighed heavily, and looked over to the path through the last shrubs and trees that awaited her. “And you’re sure he can’t hurt me?”
“Well…” The Octoling idol thought on it. “If he’s hiding any last tricks, me and Pearlie hadn’t seen it, and we lugged him all the way out here.”
“Mmm. Well… Okay.” Lily walked over to Lorne, and the two embraced, kissing briefly. “I’ll be back soon.”
“I know you will, Lily.” Lorne smiled. “Give him what for.”
“Don’t forget the radio, kid,” Pearl reminded her. “We’ll hang back here so we can listen in safely.”
Lily nodded, looked over toward the end of the path, and started to make her way forward, waving behind her.
Craig and Remo smiled, the former giving her a thumbs-up.
Eight’s and Lily’s eyes met, and they nodded in mutual respect.
Lorne threw out a thumbs-up and a wide smile.
Pearl stood with her arms crossed but a smile on her face, and Marina waved back, also smiling.
As Lily pushed her way forward into the trees and plant-life, leaving her team behind, she found herself feeling proud that they were all behind her.
She heard the quiet chatter of the group behind her fade underneath the whoosh and whistle of wind through the trees the further out she ventured.
The markers were much closer now as the dense foliage returned, a sign to Lily that her destination was imminent.
Her nerves began to flare up again.
This was insane, she told herself.
She was going to meet the would-be destroyer of the world.
And talk to him. Pretend to be on his side.
God, I can't believe I'm actually doing this... When did my life become a fuckin' cartoon...?
For the first time, she became aware of the sound of the forest, what she could hear.
Or rather, what she couldn't.
Something hadn't felt quite right as she had ventured with the group, but now that there was nothing but the forest to listen to, she was finally able to pinpoint what it was.
There were no birds.
She had seen the occasional bird in the city, but it was just... strange to not hear any sort of bird calls or general chirping out here. She had expected not to see any animals, but to just hear the wind, the creaking and cracking of trees and branches, and nothing else made the place feel... almost dead, like she was wandering an empty world.
She reached the final marker. A few bushes obscured the final steps into Tartar's domain.
This marker was accompanied by a signpost beneath it. White text on a red background proclaimed "DANGEROUS ENVIRONMENT AHEAD - TURN BACK".
Oh, how she wished she could.
She sighed, took a few deep breaths. She reached for the radio Pearl had given her, and pressed and engaged the transmission lock.
Now everything she said and heard would be sent back to the group behind her.
Now there was nothing else to do but... meet him.
With another deep breath, she pushed through the bushes, and emerged into a forest clearing.
Trees were dotted in a rough circle around this large space, and light streamed in through the canopy here.
And with the sunlight, lush, soft grass grew all over the open space.
It was a pretty sight.
There was something odd about it all, though.
The old-timey telephone box, perched motionless on a single tree stump across from her.
Commander Tartar, so Lily had been told.
If she had to guess without prior knowledge, it would have come from the 1940s or 50s. Two bells sat on either side, which she imagined a hammer would have rung when a call came in. The speaker, which was an old-timey brass piece you would hold to your ear, sat underneath, like a mouth. A handcrank hung from its side, and Lily wasn't immediately sure what it was for.
She wondered, though, if people at the time knew they were making something that looked slightly anthropomorphic.
The telephone box had been busted quite badly. Gaps in its paneling exposed its inner workings. From a distance, she couldn't make out what was inside.
But she could see the strange greenish ooze that had leaked from a small gap in the bottom of the panel onto the tree stump, and pooled down on the ground.
Lily had no idea what it was, and it only kept her nerves up.
He was placed facing the path Lily had just emerged from. She watched the telephone carefully as she approached, but so far he made no motion or sound.
She briefly wondered whether he didn’t know she was here, if he was saving power or something.
But as she got within ten meters of the telephone box, its features almost seemed to contort as a tinny voice rang out, modulated as if spoken from…a telephone. “State your business, seafood.”
Seafood? Really? Lily slowed, but continued to make her way toward him. “So you’re the one giving us humans a bad name. I figure if—”
“Who is 'us humans'? You are not.” The telephone’s speakers contorted, rotating on an axis almost as if he was rolling his eyes.
Lily had expected not to be believed and had thought about how she would introduce herself on the last stretch of forest. Stopping before him, lowering the hoodie's hood, she took a deep breath, briefly speaking in English. “I am aware of my appearance, but I assure you I am human by heart.”
"I beg your pardon?" Tartar eyed her suspiciously. It almost seemed to her like he was daring her to keep that up.
Lily continued, speaking fluent English (though with a slight warble, her inkling accent): "I am a human from the year 2018. I was brought here to this time and I'm not sure why."
Tartar eyed her carefully. Then, in English, he demanded: "Who are you to come here and pretend you are one of us? How dare you, you insignificant, barely sapient—"
"My name is Simon," Lily cut in, speaking more forcefully. "The creatures here have called me Lily. I am a resident of the country of Australia. I didn't live in a seismically active area, but I was effectively killed when a ravine opened up under my house. I was brought here with no clue and nothing left to my name, and... forced to live among these... 'Inklings'." She forced herself to shudder, trying to sell it to this AI. "Their ink... they changed me..."
The telephone box stared at her, considering what he was told. Eventually, he said, in a softer, more lighthearted tone, "Can you prove to me that what you are saying is true?"
Lily nodded, and silently she felt in her pocket for her iPhone, pulling it out. She showed the front of the device first, before turning it around to show the all-important Apple logo.
Tartar was briefly silent. Then, another voice, calm, female, spoke through his speakers.
“[RETRIEVING HISTORICAL RECORDS].”
Lily smiled. At least he’s considering the idea.
He was silent again for at least ten seconds. Then he finally spoke. He was no longer angry, or suspicious. He seemed, incredibly, to believe Lily. "So my support has finally arrived..."
Lily's heart dropped, even as she mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Saved by capitalism. Christ. "Support...?"
"Yes... I requested additional help to accomplish our mission, per the decisions your superiors and I have made. They informed me a month ago that you had been sent. Why has it taken you this long to report to me?" Tartar's speakers contorted again, looking almost annoyed at her.
Lily took a moment to respond. "So... your lot were responsible for me being here... I'd suspected, since you and I were the only human or human-made creatures here, but—"
"What nonsense are you speaking, Simon?" Lily flinched as it used her old name. "You are an employee of NILS, are you not?"
"...No. Not that I'm aware of. But, well, I'm here now..."
"How did you find this place, then? Why have you found me?"
It took a moment for Lily to respond, struggling with the confirmation of what she had worried was the case. “I... earned the trust of one of the squids that defeated you, and they divulged your location.” Well, it was technically true, Lily thought. “I’m here because… I… I need answers. I’m homesick. I miss our Earth.”
There was silence. Eventually the telephone asked, “You met the things that did this to me?”
“Yes... They found me, actually.” Lily sighed. “They figured out what I was after your defeat. To... prevent my own death, I played the part of a sympathetic entity and gained their trust.”
“I see...” Tartar thought for a moment. "I miss our time too, Simon," he finally agreed, and almost seemed to sigh. "I miss my team at NILS. It feels like forever ago that I was still connected to them. That I could still talk with them. Especially the professor... my creator...”
Lily nodded. “Feels like a long time since I have been able to talk with my friends too.”
"Mmm." Tartar fell silent, and Lily took the opportunity to glance again at the clearing around her."Very well then, Simon. I will tell you what you wish to know. In return, we shall collaborate to accomplish a task I have been working to complete for the last twelve thousand years. Do you agree?"
Lily was silent, and glanced down at the ground while she thought.
She realised she was going to have to commit to this facade, at least until she got what she needed.
She thought about her friends, listening to her every word.
And though she had told them, multiple times, that she would have to pretend to be on his side to get the answers she needed, she hoped that they understood what she would have to say in order to get there.
So, Lily glanced back up at Tartar, and with a deep breath, nodded. "Alright, Tartar. I'll play along. But I want my answers first. I've been put through this hell long enough."
"Very well, Simon." Tartar's voice softened. He was relaxed. "Since you are not an employee, I suppose I shall inform you. The National Institute of Life Sciences has been a top-secret US project for quite some time, unknown to even the President. Our goal has changed over the millenia. At our formation, we wanted to do what we could to allow the human race to survive, as we faced rising temperatures and melting polar ice.
"I was brought online in the summer of 2015 to survey and collect meteorological data, and advise my colleagues via Temporal Networking. As you probably understand by now, I determined that we would be unsuccessful in our mission, with the methods we were using. And so—"
"Hang on." Lily stared at him in wonder. "'Temporal Networking'? Like time travel?"
"Yes and no," Tartar stated matter-of-factly. "We made use of a top-secret technology developed in the mid-2010s to connect their networks from 2017 onwards to my own servers at a time period of their choosing, but never travelling backward from a previous connection. The NILS Statue, where I was housed and where my servers were located, was fitted with one such temporal networking socket. The NILS offices were fitted with the other. The miniature time warp these created were way too small to transport anything more than data."
"Oh..." Lily felt disappointed. "So then, how did I get here?"
"I will get to that, Simon. Please allow me to finish." Tartar seemed to sigh. "Now then. Since we determined that saving the human race was not possible, NILS' goal became two-fold. One, much like NASA's Voyager Record, we wanted to collect the knowledge from the greatest minds, the research of the whole of humankind, into one place where extraterrestrials or newly formed sapient species may find and make use of it.
"Two, I was authorized to begin a new experiment on behalf of my superiors. The theory goes that if one took the very best of humanity, you could create what the public would call 'superhumans'. So then, what if we applied this thinking to all of life, consuming its very best? Could we, then, create something larger than life? Could we create something truly... perfect?"
Tartar fell silent. Lily eventually realised that he was done talking. "And did you manage to...?"
"Not yet... But now, with human DNA to use, I feel we will be very, very close." The AI paused once again, thinking. "That ties into what I wish to ask you to do for me. But, as promised, Simon, I will allow you to ask what you desire of me."
Lily nodded, wishing he would stop saying her old name so often. She thought about the questions she had had. "Very well, Tartar. You implied that NILS had something to do with my getting brought here. This was my first question."
"Yes, we did. Staff at the Institute figured out how they may be able to create a larger time warp, and initiated a test. It seems then, that they were not able to control where it was created, the effects it would have when created under the earth, and how long it would last. We did not expect to collect a person as a result. But, as it turns out, despite the small impact on the local community, they would not be missed in their own time, and you would, in fact, be of much greater use here."
"Uh— pardon?" Did he really just say I wasn't missed back home...?
"What was your next question?" Tartar said promptly, dismissing her concern.
"I— uh... Right..." Lily ran a hand over her face, and her expression sank. Jesus Christ... "So, if...did they ever manage to find a way to create a portal back to that time? Could I return?"
"No," Tartar said flatly. "Besides, why would you wish to? Did you not hear what I said?"
"Oh, I heard. But I still have friends from that time who I'd want to talk to and let them know I'm OK..."
"Then perhaps this will give you some comfort, Simon. Take that iPhone of yours to the NILS Statue, out in the bay. The structure may be damaged beyond repair, but from my last diagnostics before I was torn from that structure, the temporal network is still online. You should be able to access the internet of 2018 from that phone. This is my gift to you, as a token of our working relationship."
Lily was almost about to cry tears of relief. There was a way to talk to her friends. Thank fuck. "Thank you... I'm so relieved to hear that. That would go a long way to easing my homesickness..."
"As it should. Any other questions? Or shall we get to business?"
"...One last question, sir." Lily sighed. "Clearly the human race did not survive, but...what killed us in the end...?"
Tartar did not respond for some time. When he did finally speak, his voice was more somber. "I did mention that rising waters was a factor. But... it set off a chain of events that ultimately led to our extinction.
"As you may be aware, Earth had a population of 7.6 billion by the time you left 2018. With less land for those people to live on, tensions and attitudes grew drastic. As soon as countries started to migrate to higher ground, into other lands, that ended up being the last straw for militaries and foreign governments. Global war broke out in weeks.
"Finally, several nuclear-capable forces used the panic to fire their arsenal, causing the US to retaliate..." Tartar paused, and Lily's hearts went cold, realising. "Most of the planet has been uninhabitable for some time since."
Lily stared at the ground and slowly sank to her knees.
Of course we nuked ourselves into oblivion.
Fuckin' of course.
She looked up, and sighed. "I suppose I didn't expect any less from our species."
"I will not have you speak of our creators that way," the telephone said sternly. "Humans have had their failures, yes, but as a whole we have accomplished incredible things together. And the two of us still have our greatest work yet ahead. Shall we move on?"
Lily sighed, and sadly nodded, images of nuclear bombs still running through her head. "...A-alright. What do you have?"
"OK. Let's talk shop." His voice had reset to a more robotic speech, now that he'd supposedly won her over. "Simon. As you may have figured out, I am unable to move and undertake this task myself, so I must ask you to undertake this for me. But I must ask you first to pledge to me that you will do what I ask. It is of the utmost importance."
Lily stared at him. It didn't feel like a good sign that he wanted her allegiance before telling her what his deal was. She feared the worst.
A small part of her noted: You can just walk away at any time, you know. He can't stop you.
Lily's body, however, stayed rooted in place. Slowly, anxious about the consequences, she asked, "I am already here... Do you not trust me?"
"Simon..." Tartar sighed deeply. "I need you to trust me. I do hope you have not grown attached to these overgrown, pitiful excuses for seafood."
Lily had to bite her tongue to stop herself from saying what she was feeling at that moment. She turned away for a moment to keep the anger from showing on her face.
She turned back. In a voice of voiced calm, trying not to betray her true emotions, she said, "I... trust you, Tartar. What are you trying to do?"
Tartar seemed satisfied. "Part of my research on creating the perfect lifeform involves cultivating the best of a worthy species, and disposing of those that are not. Through testing with my business partner, we have determined one candidate from the current gene pool. And as you are already aware, my plans to put that DNA to use have been... delayed, shall we say.
"To that end, I have two tasks for you. One, you must find Number 10,008 for me. He is the successful testing candidate. An 'Octoling'. Bring him here. Extract his DNA using the equipment left in the Statue. His will be used in the making of the perfect life."
Number 10,008? Does he mean... Agent 8? Deciding to feign ignorance, Lily asked, "What does he look like?"
"Like every other damned mutant octopus around here," Tartar spat. Then he paused. He seemed to have an idea. "Actually, I may be able to show you. Touch my essence, Simon, and I shall transmit the information."
Tartar's... essence? Lily's face scrunched up as her thoughts immediately went to less pure things. She glanced around him. Did he mean the... slime, or ink, or whatever, that was oozing from his frame? "This.. inky stuff?" She asked, gesturing at it. "What even is it?"
"Do not call it ink!" Tartar barked at her. "It is a biological byproduct of my research. I have learned to use it as an extension of my digital- and silicon-based self when it is connected to my circuits." He took a moment, again resetting his attitude. "Please, do not feel nervous. You should only feel a slight static shock."
She stared at the goop. I really shouldn't be doing this, she thought to herself.
But, let's... confirm for absolute certainty that he's really asking me to do away with Eight. And... everyone, I guess.
Nervously, she reached out... and dipped a finger in the sludge.
Immediately a loud 'snap' and an electric shock surged through her body, and she found herself frozen in place as the stuff latched onto her finger.
She blinked, and suddenly she was no longer in the forest. She could no longer see Tartar.
She could no longer see herself.
She was instead looking at a boy, in a dark, dimly lit, underground train station.
She was connected to Tartar, she knew.
And she immediately recognised the boy standing in front of her as Agent Eight. His face was much more confused, more... tense, than when she had first met the boy.
Captain Cuttlefish was next to him, enthusiastic and curious as ever.
The scene seemed frozen in time. An instant of when Tartar had first met them.
Shortly after Craig and Eight had teamed up, Lily realised.
Tartar's semi-robotic voice appeared in her head, in her thoughts. "This is Number 10,008. This is who you must find and return."
Lily was astounded at what was happening. Is this... safe? she thought to him.
"At this voltage, yes. Hmm - it seems you do recognise him..." She became deeply aware of Tartar glancing through other parts of her memory. "The other, the old man, he may be disposed of as you desire, unless you wish to let my backup plan do the honors..."
Before she could reply, the scene went black, and in the next instance, she was somewhere else again.
She was back in the forest. Back in the clearing.
This time, she was in the place of Tartar.
And in front of her stood Marina and Pearl.
They both wore the faces of two people who were exhausted, and wanted nothing more to be rid of the burden they had both been carrying.
"These two may be eliminated with extreme prejudice," Tartar said simply. "Make sure their last moments are filled with suffering. Make sure they know they're dying. ...Ah, seems you recognise them... hmm, from where...?"
The scene changed again.
This time, though, Lily recognised it immediately.
They were both looking through her own eyes, as Pearl and Agent 8 pointed their weapons at her, down in the Inkopolis sewers. "I see, I see..." Tartar's voice murmured in her head.
Hey hang on— was all Lily managed to get out to him, realising that he had begun looking through her memories.
She was somewhere else again - Tentakeel Hideout, the night the Octolings first attacked her. She was glancing back at the oncoming squad, hot on her tail.
Again - Standing in the crowd at the New Albacore Hotel with Lorne, Sheldon and that Roller boy. "Were these... friends of yours...?"
Again - talking with Lorne, Callie and Marie at the Hideout. "Hang on..."
Again - talking with Lorne and Marina on the train. "I don't believe this."
Again - the Squidbeak meeting with Off the Hook... and Eight.
"I DON'T BELIEVE THIS!" Tartar bellowed, staring at the scene through Lily's eyes, and a fresh, more powerful surge of electricity zapped through her body, causing her to scream involuntarily. The invisible grip on her finger tightened, and the goop she had nearly forgotten connected them crawled up the digit. "You befriended them! You gave up your humanity to be more like them!"
I...I told you I had to to keep myself from—
"LIAR!" Another surge of electricity, and her vision faded into glitchy static. "I am in here with your thoughts! You used me... In the name of what? To save them?"
I wanted these answers for myself! She thought at him, even as her body struggled to keep in control of itself under the increased current.
"Shame... Then at least I will have the satisfaction of disposing of you. You're a traitor to the human race! Be glad that what's left of your human DNA will be part of the perfect..."
The scene changed one last time.
It was herself, sat alone in the Tentakeel Hideout. It was nighttime.
She was holding a stack of documents.
...The documents that proved that I had no human DNA left, she realised grimly.
The frustrated noise that Tartar made was a squeal of digital noise, certainly inhuman as he cranked up the voltage, his grip extending up her hand as it itself began to sting and burn.
She heard a sizzling noise.She was burning up. She knew it was her own body. She knew that the electricity, the energy was cooking her alive.
She realised that Tartar was going to kill her. And there was nothing she seemed able to do to fight back except watch the whirlwind of memories flash in front of her.
But... I'm... human...
"YOU WERE NEVER HUMAN, YOU USELESS, TRAITOROUS WORM!" Tartar bellowed in her thoughts. "Now be a good boy and—"
The whirlwind of scenes halted, and Tartar went quiet briefly. His attack on Lily paused, at least briefly, and she took the chance to gulp down fresh, cool air to soothe her burning insides. She forgot where the air was coming from.
But what she was being shown made her forget the situation, for a moment.
They were both looking, again through Lily's eyes, at a long beach.
The sand stretched on into the distance, where eroded cliffs rose from sea level and shrubs and plantlife grew atop them. Washed-up seaweed was strewn on the dry sand, untouched by the lower tides.
It seemed untouched by civilization.
Except for herself and the six other people in front of her.
Lily stifled a sob.
For in front of her and Tartar, walking along the beach with her, frozen in time, was her family.
Her human family.
Her mother and her grandmother were just ahead, almost close enough to touch. She had been hanging back with them.
About fifteen meters ahead of them were the rest of them - her father, brother, younger sister, and uncle.
This was their Christmas gathering, last year.
Inky tears streaked down Lily's face. She missed them, so much.
They were so close, yet so far away.
"Hmm. Well isn't that nice," Tartar's voice mused casually in her mind. "A family of subhumans."
Lily blinked. Her mouth dropped open.
How... dare you.
Her free hand curled into a fist, and her struggles to free herself renewed as a rush of anger surged through her. HOW DARE YOU!
"You heard me, speck!" More electricity poured into her again, and she screamed out in pain as her body began to heat up once again. "Be glad they died in service of bringing you to this forsaken place, Simon! For even your mother could not love what you have become... RACE TRAITOR!"
The voltage climbed upward. The heat was unbearable. She could not think of another response, could only watch the image of her loved ones slowly fade as her vision dimmed.
"You'll be with them shortly."
She became vaguely aware that she was being pulled backwards, just as she thought she was going to black out for the last time.
And suddenly found her senses freak out as she was forcefully separated from Tartar, the force of whatever had been tugging her back, flinging her backwards onto the grass.
Separated from its host, the few tendrils of Tartar's biological mass that had attached itself to Lily, oozed onto the grass, melting away.
Leaving the skin underneath stained with its color.
Lily herself found it hard to take control of her own senses and breathing for a bit.
But as her mind came back to reality, the alarming smell of cooking squid filling her senses, she blearily blinked her eyes into focus, staring upward.
She was back in the forest. Back in the clearing.
And blocking the view of the blue sky above them were Pearl, Lorne, and Remo.
She became aware that she was being held down. Her arms and legs were being pinned to the ground and to her body.
The high pitched whine of the tinnitus from Tartar's connection faded away, and she started to be able to hear them.
"...Why are we doing this?" Lorne was saying to the other two. Somewhere in her addled brain, Lily remembered they were speaking in Inklish, not the English she had been communicating in with Tartar.
"Trust me, Four," Agent 3 said, glancing down at Lily. "If Tartar's got her under his thrall, it... won't be good if she gets free..."
"Uuunnder his... thralll...?" Lily slowly said, slurred. Her brain was still jumbled from the experience she had just had, and the shocks had messed with her badly. Steam poured off of her. But she could tell she was back in reality.
She slowly lifted her head to glance at where she thought Tartar was, but Pearl grabbed her and guided it back to the ground. "Whoa there, kid. Take it easy. Y'know, when we say 'don't get cooked', we don't mean literally..."
"Wwwwhassgoin'on?" Lily asked, starting to get some feeling back in her extremities. She flexed her fingers on each hand, the movement of her right hand, where Tartar had connected with her, flaring up the stinging sensation again, causing her to curse and wince. Remo winced sympathetically.
"We came by as soon as your radio started sending static," Pearl told her. "Right after he wanted you to 'touch his essence' or some creepy thing like that. Once we saw you like that... we jumped in to separate you two."
"Do you feel in control of yourself?" Remo asked Lily, gently squeezing her arm.
Lily flexed her arms and fingers (ignoring her right hand this time), and then her legs and knees. It hurt, but she could do it. She slowly nodded at Remo, and took a few deep breaths. "I'm... sorry... for the things I had to say..."
"Shhh, it's okay," Lorne cooed, letting go of Lily's side to cup her cheek. "You went through this with us. We know what you were trying to do."
"You probably could have ended the charade sooner, though," Remo pointed out. "He wasn't gonna be able to stop you if you left..."
Lily nodded, and sighed. Slowly, she started to lift herself up, and Three and Four helped her to sit up.
She could now see Craig, Marina, and Agent 8.
They had surrounded Tartar, blocking his immobile body from Lily.
Seeing him... the fires of rage bubbled up from within her. He must pay.
She noticed something in Agent Eight's hands.
A metal pole of some kind, with a flat surface on the end.
Something had been mounted onto it at some point.
Eight seemed to be planning to simply tip Tartar over with it.
But all Lily saw was a tool. The means to get revenge.
Her lips curled upwards into a dark smile.
Lily slowly began to push herself up onto her feet.
"Whoa, hang on there kid!" Pearl called, and grabbed at her shirt.
Lily swatted at her hand, turning her head to glare at her with a fierce look neither Lorne, Remo nor Pearl had seen in her before.
"Pearl," she said calmly. "Kindly get the fuck off of me, or I'll do to you what I'm about to do to him."
Pearl and Lorne looked taken aback.
The former wisely let go, as the three backed off.
Unhindered, Lily stumbled to her feet. Her insides were burning. The residual electrical shocks were fucking with her motor skills. Her body wanted nothing more than to keel over.
But adrenaline, determination and rage pushed her on.
Slowly, calmly, she walked forward, toward Tartar once more.
"Eight." Again in that calm, unnerving voice. "Please hand me that pole."
Agent 8 glanced at her.
Saw the look in her eyes.
And slid the pole toward her.
"Oh, fuck," Pearl breathed, somewhere behind her.
Lily took the weapon in one, then both hands, ignoring the stinging in her right. "Stand back," she said.
Craig and Eight stepped aside.
Watching her, worried for her safety, Marina reached out, tried to stop her.
Pearl pulled her backward. "Trust me... you do not want to get in her way right now."
Marina looked at her, saw the fright in her eyes. Immediately realised that this was not going to be pretty.
And, as she looked back at Tartar, she recognised that the guy had had this coming.
What 'this' was though... Marina gulped, and reluctantly stepped aside.
The path between Lily and Tartar was clear.
Lily stared him down.
She felt the heft of the pole in her hands. Oh, this is going to be fun.
"Do you see this?" She said calmly to him.
"You think you can threaten me, Simon?" Tartar said coldly. "I have nothing more to say to you, traitor."
Lily was silent for a moment. Simply she said, "Very well."
She turned and took a few steps away.
Marina let out a sigh of relief...
Right before Lily turned back, swinging the pole over her head, the flat metal plate coming down, screaming out.
The pole slammed down hard on the top of Tartar's frame, caving inward as a robotic screech squealed out from his speakers.
The crew behind Lily let out a collective gasp of shock.
The dented front panelling popped free. Inside Tartar was a mess of wires and computer cards and leftover biomass that oozed out.
Not that Lily cared.
"YOU!" She bellowed in English, her words dripping with pure hate. Everyone got further back as Lily begun to swing the pole dangerously from side to side. "I'm more human than you'll ever be, you genocidal... freak!"
With the word 'freak', she swung hard again, smashing into Tartar's innards and breaking some of his expansion cards, severing some cables. Biomass flew with the force of the attack.
Tartar's speakers went silent.
Sparks flew, and shocks ran through the pole, zaps of current that lasted only an instant but left her reeling.
The force of Lily's swing knocked the telephone box off of its stump, and it crashed into the grass. Lily walked patiently around the stump.
"You took my life away from me!" she screamed, and swung again, above the head, damaging the frame again.
"You took my friends away from me!" Again. More cards splintered into pieces. More electrical shocks.
"And leave my fucking family out of this, you goddamned MONSTER!" The hardest swing of the lot. The metal plate went through Tartar's motherboard, and there was a loud 'snap' as it split in two.
But she still wasn't done.
With some tugging, the pole came free, and Lily circled the broken phone.
"Lil...Lily..." Marina quietly started, shocked. "He's already—"
"COMMANDER TARTAR!" Lily screamed out. Tears streamed from her eyes. "YOU ARE THE SYMBOL OF EVERYTHING THAT WAS WRONG WITH HUMANITY!"
She climbed up onto the stump, standing before him. Holding the pole upward, toward the sky.
"IF YOU SAY I AM NOT HUMAN... THEN HUMANITY DIES HERE!"
And with a final scream of rage, she leapt from the stump, and with the weight of her body, plunged the hollow, cylindrical end of the pole into the remains of Tartar's motherboard.
They heard the ugly sound of rending metal and breaking silicon.
The pole pierced through the motherboard, through the back of Tartar's frame, and buried itself in the grass.
Lily finally let go of her weapon.
The clearing was silent as she sank to the ground.
She took deep breaths. Heard her hearts pounding in her ears. Felt the pain, the heat coursing through her.
She was done.
He was done.
“What do you think of that, motherfucker,” she cursed under her breath, but loud enough for many of the group to hear.
Then, before a stunned and silent New Squidbeak Splatoon and Off the Hook, Lily’s eyes rolled back, and she collapsed backward onto the ground and fell unconscious.
She opened her eyes in an unfamiliar room.
Silently she observed the environment she found herself in, and slowly realised that she must have been in a hospital - the clinical bed, the two displays next to her reading her heart rates, blue curtains around the bed.
She wondered what she was doing there.
There was a dresser next to the bed, upon which sat a lamp, and her inkPhone. She reached for it, and noticed the blue hospital gown she had been changed into. No wonder I feel a little bare.
Taking the phone, she glanced at it, looking for any notifications. As she navigated into her messages, the curtains parted, and a sea anemone doctor entered the partition, lifting a clipboard from the end of her bed. "Good afternoon. How are you feeling?" She asked in a gentle voice.
"Uh..." She took the moment to direct her thoughts inward. She felt okay... Just sore from supposedly being in bed for so long. "I think I'm alright... More just confused at the moment."
"That's perfectly normal." She smiled, and walked to Lily's side, lifting her phone away. "I'll hand this back shortly. Can you tell me your name?"
"I'm Lily, ma'am."
"Uh—" She'd... not given herself a new surname with her name. Oops... She spoke the first surname she could think of, that wasn't her own. "Wye. Lily Wye." She had used Lorne's surname.
"OK... Do you know where you are?"
"I'm guessing I'm back in Inkopolis... I don't know which part, though." Lily looked at her nervously.
The lady nodded. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Lily tried to probe her sluggish brain. Her memory of the past was still foggy. C'mon, surely I remember something...
A...forest. I went hiking. And my family was there...?
She slowly sat herself up on the bed as she thought. As she did, the sheets brushing against her right hand strangely pained her, and she winced. I remember this pain...
She pulled her hand up from under the bed to let it breathe, and stopped, looking at it.
The skin was stained green.
It started to come back to her.
"I... remember getting shocked by something in the Triggerfish Forest," she said slowly, staring at her discoloured hand.
The doctor nodded. "You were exposed to sustained electrical current, exposing your body to extreme internal temperatures and causing several of your organs to begin to break down. The pouch that allows your regenerative ability to function was quite badly damaged. We needed to operate to repair the body enough so that allowing it to survive a reformation was possible."
"A 'reformation'? As in... I was splatted so that my body could repair...?"
"Something along those lines, yes."
Lily watched her, weighing the news she was being given with the memory that she had. Now she remembered - she had been out with her friends to confront Tartar. But the meeting with Tartar himself was like a static screen - she could not seem to remember what had happened during their actual meeting. She guessed that he was not quite as helpless as they had thought.
"That... seems to line up with what I remember," she finally said. "What condition am I in at the moment...? Are my friends alright?"
"Miss Wye and Miss Marie Calamari are quite alright." She smiled. "They have not suffered any physical distress, only concern for your well being. As for yourself, your body is still recovering, but you should be mostly mobile. I must ask you not to partake in strenuous physical activity, Turf Wars or any activity that may result in your being splatted again until we can ensure your organs have resumed full function."
"I can live with that..." Lily sighed.
The doctor finally handed Lily's phone back to her. "Speaking of Miss Wye..." She smiled warmly, and carefully slid the curtain away from the wall.
Just beyond Lily's dresser, in two chairs, were Lorne and Marie.
Lorne had nodded off at some point and was snoozing in her chair. Marie had an arm around her, and had looked up as the curtain was pulled aside.
Marie's eyes met Lily's, and she smiled.
"I will leave you to talk," the doctor said quietly. "Just ring the buzzer by your bed if you need anything."
The doctor bowed, and took her leave.
Lily nodded in thanks to her, then turned to Lorne and Marie.
Marie smiled. "Welcome back, Lily. It's good to have you with us again."
Lily was happy to see the two of them again.
She was among family.
It was generally a rare sight to see a cephalopod on smaller seacraft, due to their general intolerance to water. It was generally not seen as a viable casual activity for their kind.
But the speedboat bouncing over the waves as it headed out into the bay, carrying four of them, was not on some casual endeavour.
Lily sat at the front of the speedboat's cabin, protected behind the extended glass windshield that protected its passengers from water spray, as she played back the same segment of recording on her phone.
"Take that iPhone of yours to the NILS Statue, out in the bay. The structure may be damaged beyond repair, but from my last diagnostics before I was torn from that structure, the temporal network is still online."
"Why do I still not remember this meeting...?" she asked herself in frustration.
Marina, behind her, rested a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Lily. Don't fret. At least you have Pearl's recording."
Marie, captaining the craft to her right, chimed in. "Not long to wait now to find out of he was being truthful."
Lorne, sitting behind Marie, sighed. "I think we had this discussion earlier. It sounded like he offered this information to get her on his side to get Eight. Knowing that he had no power beyond the clearing, I think he was actually genuine."
The boat started to slow. Lily looked up from her phone.
There it was, just a few hundred meters away.
The NILS Statue.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ...” Lily mouthed. She stood up to get a better look. Marie slowed the boat to a halt so that she and the others could observe it.
The NILS Statue reminded Lily of the head of the Statue of David, from what she could see from the surface of the water. It was tilted wildly off to one side, like its base had been collapsed, and above its face was a platform, scaffolding and antennae, still blinding. One of the eyes seemed to be missing, or rather, there was an eye socket in its place.
“Look familiar?” Marina prompted.
“Yes... but not in the way you’re looking for,” Lily nodded. “The Statue of David. It’s a historical art piece in my time. Historical even for humans. Someone took heavy inspiration from it when building this... thing, clearly.”
"Hey, what's that in its mouth...?" Lorne asked, squinting, stepping forward.
Lily glanced down toward the water's surface.
David had been weaponised.
The mouth housed some sort of massive cannon of some kind. It was hard to tell, as it was busted beyond repair. Parts of it hung limply from the mouth, or floated in the water, splintering apart in several places.
Marina shuddered behind them.
"You 'right?" Lily asked, turning to her.
"Yeah, just... this is the second time I've returned here and I still don't like it..."
Marie started to accelerate the boat again, bringing them in up close. "Alright Lily, time to put Tartar's money where his mouth is."
"Huh? Oh, right." Lily reached for her backpack, pulling out both her iPhone and her laptop. She sat the laptop on the dashboard of the speedboat, powering it on, and unlocked her phone, watching it carefully for any changes.
"So you're gonna check both?" Marina asked with a raised eyebrow. "Isn't that a little redundant?"
"Well... if it works and there is a mobile signal I can use here, I can use my phone to connect the laptop to it..."
Marie maneuvered the boat towards the left side of the head. where the 'roof' and antenna was closest, and again halted the boat beside it.
This was as close as they could get.
The sun shone brightly upon them as they waited for something.
It didn't take long to find out.
"Oh my god," Lily said quietly.
A single antenna bar has appeared on the iPhone.
As she watched it, one bar became two, two became three. A minute later she was amazed to see a full signal.
"It's... theoretically it's working," she said, astounded. She unlocked it quickly and browsed through her home screen to find an app to test with. It ended up being Twitter.
She waited anxiously, incredibly aware of Marina, Lorne and Marie watching over her shoulder, waiting for a sign that she wasn't being duped.
A gentle blue toast notification appeared briefly at the top of her screen.
"↑ New tweets."
Lily had to stop herself from screaming in joy as she scrolled upwards through the feed.
It was true.
She held in her hands a portal to her past.
Excitedly, amongst the cheering from her friends, Lily started the phone's hotspot, getting the laptop connected. "God, what first...?"
"Can we see what your internet looked like?" Marie suggested.
"What was that social network you were on just before?" Marina wondered. "That looked familiar..."
"Hey, what's that red notification?" Lorne asked her, pointing at an icon on the laptop's taskbar.
Specifically, the Discord app icon.
It was lit up.
Had someone noticed her...?
She clicked onto it.
Most of the notifications came from community servers, @everyone mentions or similar.
But at the top, there was one icon which put an even greater smile on Lily's face.
A private message from a girl she knew with a deer icon.
A soft two-tone jingle played, and Lily let out a squee of delight.
Jadoe, her furry friend, had noticed her.
Lily excitedly clicked on the icon and read.
Jadoe: 👀 Jadoe: You live!
As she read, another message appeared: 'Are you okay? I haven't seen you in months'.
"Are you guys able to read this?" She asked the others, not looking away from the screen as she typed up her reply. 'You have no idea how emotional it makes me to be able to see you all again'.
"Kinda..." Marie said slowly. "I mean, we're still learning that human script, but I mean I can understand some of the words."
"Hmm... I wanna do something about that..." Lily thought for a moment, then typed something else into the chat, reading it out for her friends. 'I want to call you just to hear your voice again, but just... be aware that things have... changed for me.'
Jadoe: How so? Neu: Just... You'll see when I call Neu: It's not bad, just, different
"You're going to call them?" Lorne asked. "Are you sure?"
"I mean... I trust them," Lily said, smiling. "They're cool. And I'd like you girls to introduce yourselves too."
Marina let out a small gasp. "Are you sure? We're not gonna cause some weird... time thing, right?"
"Considering the shenanigans Tartar got up to, I think we'll be fine whatever you decide..."
Marina nodded and thought.
"Well, I'm gonna do it. Hang tight." Lily took a deep breath, and hit the call icon.
The ring rang out over the laptop speakers.
"...Hello?" Came a voice from the laptop.
Lily was silent for a moment. Then, in English, she said, "It's... It's me, Jade."
"Well clearly it's you," responded the voice. "What's been happening? Did you do voice therapy? It's sounding a lot higher than I remember."
"God, I wish. That would imply something close to normal happened to me..." Lily sighed. "I'll... explain in a bit. I'm sorry I've been out of touch, had no internet the past... god how long has it been?"
"Our last chat was like... late June? So about two months."
"Huh, it's been about two months here too..."
"What? That's... not how time works."
"I'm... aware." Lily took a deep breath. "Jade... something happened to me back in late June, that... I don't think was ever meant to happen. That's not even going to sound possible or real. I trust you Jade, but I need you to promise me that you won't tell anyone outside of our community. Like, this is huge."
Jade paused briefly, but her response was confident. "I promise, dear. Deer. This doesn't leave our group. I trust you."
"Thank you, hun." Lily took a deep breath.
And once she started to go over the mental timeline of what had happened in her life since she had been hurled into Inkopolis, she couldn't stop talking.
And, amazingly, despite Jade's initial skepticism over the details ("we're twelve thousand years apart? How on earth?"), the more Lily spoke, the more she seemed to believe her.
And then eventually the other girls got in on the action too, Marina, Marie and Lorne meeting a new human for the first time, and the five of them talked excitedly, reminiscing over old events or talking about cultural differences, or just laughing at each other's puns or jokes.
For a few hours, the former site of a genocidal AI was host to a historic moment, filled with cheerful discussion and laughter.
It was a good day to be alive.
It's about five hours from when I need to wake up for work in the morning but I just needed to get these last two chapters out. I wanted to have this Epilogue posted at the same time as Vivid Memories due to this being the end of this arc.
So, I'll use this space to quickly detail what's coming next, and then post it and sleep! :D
Begin Again, as a series, will continue. I mentioned in the notes of an earlier chapter that I was going to have a separate 'series' page for shorter stories, but I've changed my mind - they will be part of this series page, this universe, and any longer story I do in future will come alongside the short stuff I will do.
That said, I will probably take a month or so to relax before I start writing more of this world - especially with the release of new games on the way.
I do have the plots of the first two (shorter) stories I want to take on, though:
- A one-chapter fic, Lily tries to explain human things to a university researcher
- Lily is captured and brainwashed by Octavio (Or: Make The Refight Canon, But With Different Characters)
So look forward to those...! In the meantime, I will share my (mostly) gaming-oriented Twitter page for those who might want to check out what I share and talk about when I'm not writing. I do occasionally share updates from my projects, though!
And that's it! Sorry for using this notes box as essentially a blog. But thank you so much to everyone for coming along for the ride so far. Its' been a real blast using the Splatoon games to expand on my creative writing, and it makes me so happy that so many of you have enjoyed it.