If you wanted to know the history of evolution and the creatures that roamed the planet, you would go to the Shellendorf Museum.
If you wished to learn about the weapons and traditions of the Turf War, you would visit the Skipper Pavilion.
But if your interest was in life before modern marine civilization… You'd visit the Tentaport Institute of Humanities.
Situated in the Inkopolis Bay Area, Tentaport collected scientists of different disclipines under one roof - biologists, archeologists, linguists, historians and more - working together toward a common goal.
The understanding of the human race.
Since the uncovering of a fossil five years prior, excitement among the scientific community had peaked at the opportunity to study and learn about a completely new species.
As they learned more and more, some dreamed of the opportunity to speak with a human from that time period.
'Hah, like that could ever happen.' Maybe there is a Cod out there…
Senior researcher and project manager Mia Tura, an adult Inkling, stared at the notes on her desk. A list of talking points sat on top of the messy pile of documents. A list of talking points planned for an interview she was about to have.
The most important interview of her career.
It had begun with a strange event over two months ago that had seen odd impacts around Inkopolis and the surrounding country. The announcement from current pop idols Off The Hook that one item recovered from these impacts was a mobile phone device unlike any they had seen had set off rumblings within Tentaport, which had only exacerbated with news of a equally unique four-wheeled vehicle on the roof of the city's New Albacore Hotel.
Then came a call from a colleague in the South-Central Medical Lab, some time later. A labelled blood and DNA sample in refrigeration had caught their interest: 'Inkling DNA sample, unknown virus'. They had found the researcher in charge of those samples, had read through the notes, and recognised a familiar DNA pattern in the isolated cells, one that (barely) matched with samples taken from the bones archeologists had excavated.
They had contacted Mia, provided the documentation, and together they had worked through it to trace down the provider of the samples: a horseshoe crab who ran a Turf War weapons shop in Inkopolis Square.
The impetus to reach out though, came after this 'Sheldon' fellow began to collaborate with other teams in Tentaport, and started to provide human speech recordings in hopes of fast-tracking a translation device. Some ancient recordings, and some clearly from a female inkling, speaking a phrase and then translating.
Mia had to know who this inkling was.
Despite their interest and the offerings of a financial reward, though, Sheldon would not reveal the subject's name or details for some time, and denied that there was anything special about them.
Mia had left a name and contact number, in case he changed his mind.
And only two weeks ago, Sheldon seemingly had. The 'truth', as he told it, was much grander than Mia had dreamed.
For 'Lily' was not simply a human enthusiast, had not just mastered the human language, was not simply collecting and restoring items from the human era.
Lily was, supposedly, born from the human era and was living among them as an inkling.
“They're a bit shy, and would prefer to stay out of the public eye, for the time being,” he had said over the phone, “but Lily has consented to talk with you. I will ask her to contact you when she is ready.”
Which led her to today. Lily, an Inkling with human DNA (or rather, an ex-human Inkling), would shortly be sitting across from her at this desk and answering any questions she had.
And she had a lot of questions.
The phone at her desk rang. Mia picked it up. “Mia speaking.”
“Hi Mia, are you expecting a Miss Lily Sunden today?”
Hoooo boy. Deep breaths, Mia. “Yes, has she just arrived?”
“Alright… send her in.” As she said that, looking about her office, she thought: This place is in no condition to receive a guest. “Actually,” she quickly interrupted, “direct her to the gardens. I will meet her there.”
“Alright… will do. Thanks.” The voice of Tentaport's receptionist clicked off.
The gardens that the Tentaport facility surrounded were also an exhibition of the discoveries that had been made. Human skeletons, fossilised contraptions, and recovered signage and objects from the human era were displayed proudly amongst beautiful flowers and hedges.
Mia walked through the gardens, clipboard in hand. She quickly found an inkling wearing the ‘Guest’ lanyard staring in awe at the original human fossil, recovered all those years ago.
“Good morning, madam,” Mia called as she approached, and the guest turned around. “Are you Lily Sunden?”
The girl wore a soft pink hoodie, and a blue tee underneath - Icewave, Mia believed. Today she was wearing black jeans and neon green sneakers. She had long, light-blue tentacles that hung lazily from underneath a beanie.
And, oddly, Mia noted that the inkling's right hand was covered in a black driver's glove. A fashion statement, perhaps?
The inkling girl nodded shyly, and bowed. “You… must be Doctor Tura?”
Mia smiled. She recognised the voice from Sheldon’s samples. “That’s right. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She glanced around - the gardens were nearly empty. “If I may ask, your contact Sheldon, he did ask you to bring some proof of your identity, yes?”
Lily nodded again, and looked around. Making sure nobody else saw, she slowly pulled a device from her pocket and placed it carefully in Mia’s hand.
Mia examined the device carefully. It seemed to be a display of some kind. Pressing the single button on its front lit up the screen and revealed its true nature.
It was a mobile phone. And on its display were characters she recognised from ancient texts.
This girl was the real deal.
Mia handed the device back. “Thank you. Wow. I uh… I admit I was quite skeptical about your credentials.” She gestured at some taller hedges in the corner of the garden. “There’s a meeting area nearby where we can talk in private, if you like.”
Lily nodded. “Lead the way.”
“Y'all know what time it is!”
“It's Off The Hook, live in Inkopolis Square to bring you an Inkopolis News Special Report!”
The Inkopolis News bulletins usually ran at 8AM and 5PM - almost never midday. The only exceptions were important breaking news - like the disappearance of, say, both the city's power source and one of its star idols - and its Special Reports.
And this wasn't just any special report, either. The news team had been hyping this up for a few days - a 'deep dive into the new discoveries surrounding humans'.
It seemed like the conclusion - or maybe the beginnings - to an ongoing series of discoveries of human artefacts and technology around the city. Few remembered the original story - about initial impacts around Inkopolis, and the recovery of a phone-like device from the Inkopolis News Studio - but interest had only grown since the next big story, the removal of an ancient car from the New Albacore Hotel a few weeks after.
Which is why many of the folks hanging out in Inkopolis Square at that time were focused on the screen affixed to the Deca Tower, where the familiar faces of Pearl and Marina, Off the Hook, introduced their story.
“So hey,” Pearl began, addressing her cohost, “the producers have been hyping up this 'human' story for a while, huh?”
“I don't blame them!” Marina replied excitedly. “Yes, folks. Ever since the initial fossil discoveries five years ago, scientists of all walks of life have gathered at the Tentaport Institute of Humanities to further their, and our, knowledge of what we now know as the human race. Who were they? What did they look like? What lives did they lead? What did they wear? What music did they listen to?”
“A week ago,” Pearl continued, straightening up in her chair, “the folks at Tentaport told us that they had made some key discoveries about humans, and asked if we would cover it. So, naturally, Marina went over.”
The screen then cut to a panning shot of the front of the Institute. As it cycled through establishing shots of the Institute, its interiors, and its people, Marina's voice introduced the piece. “The Tentaport Institute of Humanities may be a new development in the scientific community, but many of its staff are well established in their fields: biology, archeology, anthropology, linguistics, history… Nowadays they have come together to help each other build a more complete picture of humans and the world, and life, in which they lived.”
“As you can imagine,” said an older Inkling that had just appeared on screen, the lower third introducing her as 'Mia Tura, Senior Researcher', “we have to read very deeply and try new methods to grab new information from twelve thousand year old fossils. But the recovery of a working mobile phone, computing device, and car from that time period has blown open the doors in a way we didn't think was possible even two months ago…”
The meeting area consisted of a gazebo and several benches around the edges of what was otherwise an open, grassy area for gatherings. The tall hedges kept this area private, ‘separate’ from the rest of the garden.
“Well, Miss Lily,” Mia began, consulting the clipboard. “Let's start with the basics. Would you please tell me your full name?”
“Uhh, alright sure. Middle name too?”
Mia raised an eyebrow. “Just your first and family name shall be fine.”
“Oh, okay. Then uh, I'm Lily Sunden.”
“And your age?”
“20… in inkling years.”
“OK. What about your human name?”
“Oh. Uh…” Lily took a deep breath. She seemed nervous “S-Simon. Simon… Grey.”
“I see… Age in human years?”
“I see…” Mia wrote all this down. “How do you wish to be addressed?”
“Very well. Lily, As I'm sure you understand, we all have plenty of questions. But I guess I'll just start the interview proper with… well, how? Why?”
The younger inkling couldn't help but laugh a bit. “You know, I just found out for myself two months ago and I still don't get it.” She took a few breaths, collected her thoughts, and began. “You should… dispel any thought that I'm here for a greater purpose. The reality is… less fantastical. Well, actually…” She shook her head. “I'm… I guess I'm the result of a failed time travel experiment. I mean, it worked, but I don't think I was the intended target. I was just a nobody on the edge of countryside Australia.”
Mia's eyes lit up as she scribbled on her clipboard. “So… time travel is possible?”
“Eh…” Lily wobbled her hand from side to side, in a so-so manner. “I couldn't tell you how they did it. And besides me, I was only told they used it to transmit data between their time and one of their machines before it uh… broke down. But, theoretically yes…” She shrugged her shoulders.
“…Hm.” More writing. “So, knowing that now, how did you come to arrive in Inkopolis?”
Lily thought for a moment on how best to phrase her response. “So, when they did their experiment… These people… created their portal inside the earth underneath my home. That caused a ravine to form and split apart the earth. And from the sounds of things, while me and my family fell into it, along with these things that you've been seeing around the city… I was the only one that was 'lucky' enough to fall into the portal.” She sighed and looked away.
“I'm sorry, Lily.”
“It's… it's fine. I've had some time to come to terms with that. On… on this side of the portal, I guess it formed in the sky above the Octo Canyon, and I ended up falling into someone's ink. It's because of that that I became an inkling. But then… Hmm… Once I… made it to Inkopolis, two people in that area have been looking after and taking care of me since.”
“I see. I've not been to the Octo Canyon, but I've certainly heard stories from some of my colleagues hailing from that area.” Mia paused to write down what Lily had told her. “So how are you taking the form of an inkling, then? Does your species shapeshift, and if so, how often do you return to your human form?”
“Well…” Lily shifted about uncomfortably. “Humans don't really shapeshift in general. I mean, inklings and octolings have their respective marine forms, but humans don't have that. Everything we do, we do with our humanoid form.”
Mia looked up with her eyebrow raised. “So then, how did your species climb walls, or swim, or partake in Turf War games?”
“Uhh…with my arms and legs?” Lily looked at her quizzically. “Granted, some walls were too smooth for us, but usually, there'll be some means for us to get up something. If we don't injure ourselves in the process. Or even in spite of injuring ourselves, thinking about it. For swimming, we'd just propel ourselves in the water with our limbs.”
“In the water, you say?” Mia looked up with some interest, and wrote it down.
Lily nodded. “As for Turf War and weapons… well, actually, I think it would be best if I didn't answer that in detail. I'll only say that we did have weapons, and they were more destructive than the ink-based guns you have now, and I beg you and Inkopolis not to attempt to recreate our weaponry.”
“Because of their bone structure,” Mia would explain as she strolled alongside Marina in the gardens some time later, “they had no equivalent to the inkling squid form - they used locomotion to do everything, from swimming, to climbing. And they didn't have ink, to recharge, or fend off predators, or partake in turf wars. Instead to recharge themselves they'd drink water, and to defend themselves they'd make use of their limbs as weapons, or craft other weaponry to fight with…”
“So if you did not have an alternate form, then, how are you an inkling?”
Lily shook her head. “Sorry. I look like this for good now.” She gestured at herself. “As I said earlier, when I came through on your side of the portal, I landed in a puddle of ink. Medical tests say that the inkling cells were corrupting or replacing my own—”
“Aaaah.” Mia nodded suddenly. “Okay. Yes. I've been shown the test data.”
“You… know?” Lily actually looked surprised.
“It was how we started to learn about you, of course. From Sheldon's DNA samples. You probably understand then how long we've been hoping to talk to you.” She scribbled down some more notes. “So from your perspective then… why do you think that that happened?”
“Well… I'm attributing it to just evolution.” Lily shrugged. “Y'know, how life will gain new defenses and then evolve more potent defenses and so on. Now, I don't know this but, I imagine marine life has been doing that constantly for thousands and thousands of years. But I was exactly the same human from twelve thousand years back, with no opportunity to evolve against any of these traits. So I landed in the ink, and it just… went wild with my body. I had no chance.”
“So then you're… an inkling now?”
“Yes. Well, I guess an inkling with a human's mind, but, an inkling in form and function nonetheless.”
“I see, I see.” She sat back and thought for a few moments. “So, then, how have you taken to life in Inkopolis?”
“Hmm.” Lily took her time responding to this one. “I suppose things have been about fifty times more interesting since I got here. I'm certainly more physically active, with turf wars and such… Work is… well for now work is just finding stuff that arrived when I did, retrieving as much of that stuff as I can. Making sure that can all be preserved. I've already made a number of close friends, though more out of circumstance. I actually feel that I'm generally… happier here.”
Mia smiled. “We're glad to hear that. I'm no fitness expert, but I think some of your increased activity would also be responsible for your increased happiness.”
“We can be proud that today's society brings together marine life of all kinds,” spoke a biologist to the camera. “It appears so far that while humans shared the planet with all types of creatures, none of them shared quite the same sapiency. Some came close - an ancient marine species called 'dolphins' and the pre-human 'primates' - but humans and their cities and constructions dominated most of the planet's landscape at the time.”
The adult inkling checked her notes. “Any challenges you feel are unique to you? Any advantages?”
“Uhh, well certainly finding out what was the norm was a task…” Lily let out a little laugh. “The friends I had had at the time were busy, so while they'd taught me a little bit, I ended up having to just sorta observe and learn, and hopefully not draw too much attention… And that went, er… 'well'. Uh.. advantages… I suppose an outside perspective of the city and its people have allowed me to um… think outside the box a little bit?”
Mia nodded. From the sound of things, there didn't seem to be too many unexpected challenges. But as she looked through her notes so far, something was bothering her, the extreme difference between both ages she had given… “If I may return to your age for a moment,” she said, “How did you decide on 20 as your 'inkling' age?”
Lily nodded. She understood. “It was the best estimate that I could come up with, basically. Human years were 365 days. Well, not exactly 365, but for most purposes we go with that…”
“It seems the discoveries at Tentaport are only just beginning,” Marina explained in her report, “and they are even double checking their work with other fields outside of the Institute, like the little-known Dopefish Observatory, outside of the city.”
“We currently believe,” the chief astronomer at the Observatory communicated to Marina and the audience via a recorded video-link conversation, “that from what we've seen of Tentaport's findings, the earth and the moon used to spin just a little faster around our sun in the human era. That may not seem like much, but that means shorter, and fewer days compared to today. From what we know so far, it seems humans celebrated a new year every 365 days… except for once every four years, in which they added an extra day. We don't know why, yet.”
“In addition to that,” Marina told the camera in a new solo shot as she walked toward it, “humans marked their years differently to our society today. Whereas we mark the new year on the day the moon is closest to us, humans marked one full cycle of the planet around the sun on the day it was closest to the sun. Where we watched the tides, they instead watched the bright skies.”
Lily took a deep breath, and allowed herself a laugh and grin. “I promise I'm not actually that smart, but y'know, I got curious and had an idea of where to look. Plus I didn't feel comfortable just saying I was 26 while my friends and colleagues were more mature than me and yet were like 6+ years younger.”
Mia grinned. “That’s fair. We could probably have someone look into the math for you, figure out what your true age would be. Do any of your friends know about your true self…? Aside from Sheldon, of course.”
Lily nodded. “All of my closest friends, and a few that I check in with now and then. And the two that found me when I had first, ah, ‘landed’ and was unconscious. They've seen my human…self.”
“And you trust them?”
“Of course. You’ve not heard anything about me from the public, have you?”
“I suppose not,” Mia admitted. Then, thinking back, she added, “though there was that news story about the ancient car, and Pearl… oh! That was you she mentioned, wasn't it? So those two have figured you out, at least.”
Lily sighed, and nodded. She’d forgotten that Pearl, one half of Off The Hook and the Inkopolis News, had ratted her out before the duo had learned what was really going on. “I’m… surprised less people picked up on that. Maybe they did and thought it was a joke.”
“Perhaps.” Mia stood, and gestured for Lily to do the same as she began to walk. “So how did you come to interact with them?”
“I mean…” Lily pushed herself up onto her feet as they made their way back out into the gardens. “I was there when the car was brought down from the roof of that hotel and they were doing that news piece. I…” She seemed to pause for a moment, like she had to decide what to tell, what to leave out. “I think they were starting to figure out where the things that struck Inkopolis a few months ago actually came from, and they kept seeing me with these things. I guess they pieced enough together to call me out directly, and… yeah, they found out. They were not very happy, hence Pearl's callout, but… I think we managed to convince them I was alright.” Lily frowned.
“Do you keep in contact with them?”
“A little. Not very much at the moment.”
“I see. Alright.” Mia looked at her notes so far. “Well, from what I've heard so far, I think you may be able to help us further in identifying some of our discoveries.”
As they walked along the gardens, toward the row of displays of human fossils and artefacts (none she recognised as belonging to her, so far), they passed along another tall hedge separating another private part of the garden. Mia led Lily into the area, and as she saw what was inside, the ex-human's mouth fell open.
Among the items gathered here at Tentaport, was the ancient car - a Ford Falcon - lifted from the New Albacore Hotel's roof.
“Interestingly,” Mia remarked to Marina, who was behind the camera in the current shot, “humans didn't only communicate in one language. Though most research has been done into what was apparently called 'English', several other writing scripts have been discovered in ruins and other discoveries. We think that humans in different cities, or perhaps different parts of the world, both spoke and wrote different languages, but we've not conclusively proved that yet.”
“Fascinating!” Marina said, genuinely excited. “Do you think the different humans would have ever needed to talk to each other? And if so, how do you believe they bridged the language gap?”
“So far we don't know enough to say for sure. But most of what we've found is in this 'English', and some of this text is in English alongside other scripts. It's possible that English was the 'main' language of humans, at least at one point, or common enough that many people knew it alongside their preferred language.”
Mia procured a key from a ring in her pocket, and carefully unlocked the display next to the vehicle that held its keys, and carefully handed them to Lily.
Lily clutched them tightly to her chest, like she had lost them for a long time. Mia supposed that she actually had. She turned toward the car and pointed a small device on the keyring toward it, pushing one of its buttons.
Mia jumped when the vehicle responded with a strange shifting noise. “Uh - what did you just do…?”
Lily smiled, and walked towards the vehicle, reaching for the driver's side door handle. “Unlocked it,” she told the older inkling with a smile as she pulled the door open.
The young inkling slid into the driver's seat of the vehicle as smoothly as any other driver would, Mia included. She sat back against the black seat cover with the red 'dragon tattoo'-styled print, taking it all in. “God, it's great to be back,” she said to herself, opening various compartments, checking what was there. “Though I did expect this,” she said to Mia, gesturing at the steering wheel. “Being unable to see out the front properly.”
“Well, humans were taller,” Mia noted with a grin.
“Sure, but, y'know, this world is sized for y'all so that I forget that a lot.” She leaned across to the passenger seat's glove compartment, and started rummaging through it, pulling out manuals and service logs. “But like I actually feel small in this thing.”
“How many people is it supposed to fit?”
“Five.” She nodded her head toward the back seats. “That middle seat is smaller, but yeah. Come, take a seat. I've got some driving stories to tell.”
“What we know about humans is increasing at a rapid pace now that Tentaport has decoded the English script,” Marina said as the camera panned across the institute's various displays. “And it's only bound to keep doing so. With so much to learn, wouldn't it be nice to just meet one and ask them about their lives?”
The last shot of the report was one more interview scene with Marina and Mia. “So far it seems that humans lived similar lives to our own, Mia. Do you think that they could live among us if they were somehow still alive?”
“Not at all, if the entire human race came knocking on Inkopolis's doorstep,” Mia laughed. “For just a few, or even one human, perhaps… They… would have plenty of trouble using many of the things that we do, due to their larger size, but who's to say that they, or we, couldn't adjust? As it stands now, however, with this old world essentially opened up to us, we feel that there is still plenty to learn about them, the past, and the planet we all live on.”
The film faded to black.
When it faded back up, viewers were greeted by Pearl and Marina, back in the studio. “Sounds like you had an enlightening time over there,” smirked Pearl to her co-host.
“That I did!” Marina squealed. “And I had such a great time putting all that together with our crew as well! Thank you to the staff and especially Doctor Mia Tura of the Tentaport Institute of Humanities for reaching out and collaborating with us on that special report.”
“And thanks for droppin' all that sweet knowledge!” Pearl grinned to the camera. “Both of you!”
“Aww, Pearlie…” Marina blushed and grinned. “Mia was a pleasure to talk to, and it was lovely to explore these …theoretical situations with her as well.”
“No doubt they'll continue to stun us with more stories about the human world in the future,” Pearl nodded. “Well, that'll do it from us! Thanks for checkin' this special report with us!”
“And until next time…”
“Don't get cooked, stay off the hook!”
“Don't get cooked, stay off the hook!”
The screen in Inkopolis Square cut back to its usual billboard display.
“…So,” Pearl started, a few seconds after they'd gone off the air and the crew manning the cameras and mics had left the studio. “You reckon she had a hand in that?”
“Lily? Yeah, of course she would,” Marina grinned. “I mean, I trust those guys at the Institute. But to suddenly get all this info, and an English cipher? Yeah, that's totally her.”
“You reckon she's 'out'?”
“Nah. I mean, Mia knew we knew about her, and even then, around the cameras she never mentioned Lily. I imagine she made sure they kept quiet about her. That girl's still keeping her old life secret.”
“Mmm.” Pearl paused and turned to her phone for a few moments. After a few seconds of silence she said, “I'm gonna message her. Get this confirmed.”
“Oh my gosh, that's a Wii U,” Lily stared in amazement as Mia introduced the fossil excavation.
“A… what?” Mia glanced at her, then back to the fossil. “It seems like it would be a game console of some kind, like those, er, Gamestations and Nintendos we have here.”
“It is!” Lily grinned. “Exactly like… those.” Even a month ago she was absolutely stunned that a company called Nintendo that produced game consoles and games still existed in Inkopolis - but the novelty had worn off since and she had accepted it as just another weird thing about this world. No doubt a wild coincidence.
“Well, that was easy,” Mia laughed. “Alright, well, that's about everything that I had to ask. This has been a very enlightening discussion, thank you, Miss Lily.”
“Not a problem, I hope I've been at least some help…” Lily smiled to her.
“More than you know. We just have one last stop before we send you home, though we would like to follow up on some of your answers in the future. How much do you know of the language you grew up speaking?”
Lily cocked an eyebrow. “I remember the English alphabet very well still. The structure of our languages seem to be similar enough that any translation should be relative light work, I would hope.”
“I see.” Mia looked like she had just struck gold. “Do you think you could provide some details and a cipher of your alphabet to ours to our chief linguist?”
Lily thought, considering the offer. Providing the basics wouldn't be too hard. I can only tell them so much with my limited knowledge, but with an alphabet they could at least start to decipher our text. “I don't see why not,” she finally replied, with a warm smile. “Again, I'm no expert, but I should be able to provide enough for you to do what you are trying to do…”
“That's all we ask.” Mia smiled, and started to head for one of the doors back inside, out of the gardens. “Please follow me, then.”
Lily stepped back out of the front doors of the Tentakeel Institute of Humanities nearly two and a half hours after she had entered them. She had poured as much of her knowledge of the old world as she could to the chief researcher who had sought her out.
And before she had left, she had given them the means to decode even more discoveries and knowledge from the human era.
She turned briefly to face the building again. She wondered what they would find first.
She pulled out her main phone. It was an inkPhone like most squids owned, and she'd put a snazzy retro case on it.
First things first. She opened the camera on the phone and took a selfie standing in front of the building, pulling her hoodie up as she did. She sent the resulting photo to her partner, with the message 'Just got out, how's Ranked treating you?'.
Then she plugged in some earphones, started up a music playlist on the phone, then popped the phone in her pocket and began to stroll along the street, blending in with the marine life walking along the sidewalk as she made her way toward a train station.