The boat sailed through the choppy waters as it made its way toward the third outpost they were scheduled to operate at today.
Aside from a single staff member overseeing supplies (the boat was being remotely steered), the only people on board were Remo, Lorne, Lily, and Eight.
All four of them were Agents of the New Squidbeak Splatoon, Agents 3, 4, 5, and 8 respectively.
And unbeknownst to Grizzco, they were on a mission today.
This was their first day taking Grizzco shifts - their 'intended' job was to visit three sites in the territory, cull the Salmonid population as they came ashore to breed and lay Power Eggs, collect said eggs - especially the eggs that came from the bigger, more advanced Salmonids, what Mr. Grizz had called 'Golden Eggs' - and deposit them at a collection point before moving on to the next site to do the same thing.
Grizzco work was hard enough - the tiny Salmonids, the Chum, swarmed if you let them get too close and overwhelmed you, and the big guys, the Cohocks, hit hard with their frying pans and would down you quickly. Not to mention all of the horrifying machines and monsters that seemed to form the backbone of the attacks when the team stepped onto the ground, dividing your attention every which way just trying to stay alive long enough to figure out how to take them down to take their Golden Eggs. And the weather here was an anomaly - fog could roll in at short notice, plunging team efforts into chaos, and the unnatural tides sometimes meant there was nowhere to run or swim when you got surrounded.
Lorne was most used to the work, having done this the most. Remo, with all his New Squidbeak Splatoon training and the situations he'd been through with Cap'n Cuttlefish, had become more comfortable with the task, more quickly than Lily or Agent Eight, who had only been trained against Inklings or Octolings and were still reduced to panic and fright when the going got tough and Salmonids began swarming in on them.
Their mission, the one they had been forced to go to Grizzco for, only added stress to the team.
For it was known to the four agents that somewhere in this dreary, unnerving part of the world, was some item from the human era.
And they wanted to recover it before it was lost, or perhaps destroyed.
At the front of the deck, watching and waiting for the next outpost, the next chance to find this artefact, were Remo and Lorne chatting away about the better ways to take down the 'boss' Salmonid creatures. Meanwhile, Lily and 'Eight' sat just outside the cabin and shared one of the few food rations they had been allotted for the day.
Lily watched her coworkers suspiciously.
Callie and Marie, the Squid Sisters, and in a sense her superiors in the New Squidbeak Splatoon, had caught up to her and Lorne and, while talking, had learned that she still didn't remember the latter half of her encounter with Tartar. But more to the point, none of the others had seen fit to fill her in from their perspective, not even Lorne.
“She's just not ready yet!” Lorne had protested. “It'll hurt her!”
But the Sisters had, over Lorne's complaints, seen fit to tell Lily what had happened, as the Cap'n had told it to them - how she had been found linked to Commander Tartar, in the process of being cooked alive when the Cap'n, Remo, Lorne, Pearl, and Marina lost her radio signal. How she had 'totally lost it' as Marie put it, attacking him repeatedly with a makeshift weapon until he was totally destroyed, ranting and screaming throughout. And how she had simply keeled over once it was all over, and the others had carried her back to the train station and watched her nervously until they could get her back to Inkopolis and more importantly, to a hospital.
“It seems,” Marie finished, “that your actions out there frightened a few of our friends. And perhaps,” she glanced meaningfully at Lorne, “they elected not to tell you because they worried you would lash out at them…”
Of course Lily was angry - but moreso hurt. Her trust had taken a hit. But in her brief time at Grizzco, the first mission she had taken with the Squidbeaks since their expedition to the Triggerfish Forest, her diminished anger and frustration had turned to a new target: Mr. Grizz himself.
'Just stay alive til the end of your shift.' God the way he was so casual about saying that…
“Lily,” Eight grumbled, an Octoling boy with his tentacles styled in a mohawk, and Lily snapped out of her thoughts to glance at him. “Why'd you have to go and get one of your things lost in this awful place?”
Lily finally finished swallowing the small bite she'd taken from the bread they were sharing, and offered it to him again. “Excuse you, mate,” she told him flatly, her mood shot. “I hope you're joking, because I had no say in the matter, and I hate this as much as you do.”
Eight nodded, and sighed, taking the bread. What was left of their will after yesterday had worn away, and they still had two outposts to check out.
“Ye'll pull into Marooner's Bay shortly,” called the voice of Mr. Grizz, broadcasting over the boat's loudspeakers. “Lookin' clear on the coast, tide's low but not too bad. Yer doin' well so far, kids. Keep it up.”
Lily sighed, and once Eight has finished his bite, they set the rations aside and climbed to their feet, slowly making their way over to Remo and Lorne.
Together they watched the beached, deconstructed ship hull come into view, the abandoned refinery and wooded coast just beyond it. The odd towers and buoys hovering nearby... It made Lily uneasy, still.
Lorne bent down in front of the one carry-on they were allowed, on the floor with them, and with the others blocking the supply staff from seeing, pulled out an odd weapon-looking device.
It was a scanner, tuned to a uniquely trackable 'scent' particle that had so far emitted from every thing they had collected so far from the human era.
Lorne held it out toward the Marooner's Bay, holding the trigger down, and panned it in a slow arc, from one side of the area to the other. The others held their breath or crossed their fingers.
And as it pointed toward the small beach on the coast, the scanner started to make loud clicking noises, akin to a geiger counter.
The object they were seeking was here.
"Oh, thank goodness," Remo noted with a sigh of relief. "We've finally found it." He turned to Lily, a relieved but nervous look on his face. "That's something to be happy for, right?"
Lily grumbled. "I mean, yes, but I think we still need to actually hold the Salmonids at bay long enough to do what we need to..." She glanced at him with a concerned look, and Remo's eyes darted away.
The ex-human sighed and watched as their Grizzco boat inched closer to their destination.
The two boys had been almost keeping her at arm's length, especially while they were on this mission. They seemed almost scared of her when she started to get frustrated with Mr. Grizz, or the so-called 'Boss Salmonids', as if she was going to start hurting them instead if they interfered.
Lily shook the thoughts away. She didn't need to stress about that just yet. She turned her attention to the workspace in front of her. As the boat swung around, giving her and the others a complete view of the Marooner's Bay, Lorne continued to scan the boat's structure and the area around it, trying to narrow down the location of the artefact they were seeking.
"Alright, get your gear and prepare to go to work," Mr. Grizz ordered them over the speakers. "They're due to start coming up any moment, so DON'T MISS ANY PRECIOUS GOLDEN EGGS!"
Eight and Lily winced as Grizz suddenly shouted the last words, and everyone moved to various parts of the ship to get the tanks and weapons they had been allotted for the day. Lorne, as soon as she was done, rushed to move their carry-on.
As the single staff member on board quickly moved to find fresh stocks of special kits, Lorne approached Lily as she fastened the tank to her back and held the scoped E-Liter 4K Grizzco had lent her for the day, with a moment of just wishing she had something more similar to the weapons she had already used.
Lorne reached over the side of the boat, towards two tall, thin canisters that held legally mandated liferafts. She grabbed one, stuffed it into the carry-on, and held the full bag toward Lily. "Bad news, hun. Looks like it's in the water toward the coast. Stash this somewhere on that side of the worksite, and be ready to move as soon as it's clear. Alright?"
Agent 5 sighed, and nodded, taking the bag. "Alright. Here's hoping that old suit works still. Let's go to work."
"AND WEAR YOUR RADIOS, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!" Grizz barked again, apropos of nothing.
Everyone grumbled, gathering back at the front, fully equipped and radioed up. It was a requirement of the job - Mr. Grizz seemed the type to keep a very close eye on the job, and wanted to be able to hear every word of the team's communications - something the New Squidbeak Splatoon were not thrilled with... but they'd figured out a way to keep their plans secret, at least until they needed to take control of the situation.
"Everyone remember the strategy?" Lorne said confidently, the first words broadcasted back to Mr. Grizz, now that their 'break' was over. "Once we get on-site, spread out, cover the whole space. We need fast movement away from the Salmonids. Once that's done, or if they arrive prematurely, we'll meet on the low terrain. Since it's low tide, they'll likely make landfall there. Then it's just business as usual."
Remo, Eight and Lily nodded. "Any idea how long they'll attempt to come aground?" Remo asked.
"Not over til it's over, rookie," Grizz told them over the headsets, calmer. "Just get as many eggs as you can and stay alive."
The boat eventually came to a halt between the coast and the wrecked boat, and the single staff member immediately went to work lowering the ship's anchor from the controls in the cabin. "Alright, here's our stop," Grizz remarked. "Get to work."
"...Alright." Lorne nodded to her coworkers, then shifted and super jumped off toward the wrecked boat on the bay.
Remo, Lily, and Eight were right behind her, and as soon as they landed they were off, Remo covering the far side of the coast with a Roller, Eight inking the boat itself with a Blaster, Lorne heading south to ink up some of the beach with a pair of Dualies, and Lily left to cover the docks with her Charger-type weapon.
For Lily, she made a beeline for the farthest dock, closest to the coast, where a buoy gently bobbed just beside it. Inking straight lines with the E-Liter she was given, she raced over there with the bag she had been given, ran up the few steps toward it, then leapt up, lifted her body onto the buoy itself briefly, and deposited the bag, tying it to one of its supports to keep it safe.
Leaping back down, she looked up at it. No way to see it from down here. Excellent.
Waiting to charge up a shot was bothersome, but she quickly found that the resulting blast from the E-Liter travelled quite far - enough so that she was able to roughly coat the dock in ink from one end. She spent a minute or so inking up as much of the area as she could, working her way up back toward the beach, where the group were to meet.
"HEY!" The voice of Mr. Grizz barked in Lily's ear, and she winced. "Quit dallying, inkling! Your friends are waiting for you! Go go go!"
Well he wasn't watching then, Lily remarked in her head. At least I don't look suspicious, just stupid. I can deal with that for now...
She met up with the others down by a basket on the beach two minutes later. "All set?" Remo asked her as she arrived.
Lily gave the group a thumbs up. "All set. Let's do this."
"Noticing a bit more activity than normal around here," Grizz radioed to them. "I'll activate one of the cannons. Profreshional, I want you on that. Cover your friends."
"If you say so, Grizz," Lorne replied, and looked up toward the wreck they were standing in front of, where an odd orb-shape cannon blinked to life, switched on remotely. She began to make her way around the side, up the propeller lifts so she could get to it.
As they heard the cannon above turn on, Lorne manning the control, they all heard the sound of a horn being blown, somewhere off the coast.
The Salmonids were beginning their attack.
They rushed ashore from the leftmost stretch of beach, about ten of the small and regular Salmonids, the Smallfries and Chums as Lorne had told the others. They charged toward the three on the beach in a frenzy as more horns sounded in the background.
Lily, Remo and Eight launched into action. "Behind me!" Remo shouted, leading the charge, Roller down and splatting a line down the middle of the charging Salmonids. Eight followed, Blasting enemies down the side of the charge at any Salmonids that they passed while Lily, hanging back, carefully picked off the more distant targets.
Another horn sounded and Lorne's cannon turned. Over the radio she called, "Lily, take the right! They're coming up there now!"
Lily backed off and inked up a path over to the opposite stretch of beach, where indeed more of the crazed creatures were surfacing. Behind them emerged a Cohock, one of the larger Salmonids Lily had been told about, who looked tough and looked like a heavy hitter with that big frying pan he carried. And behind him...
Lily faltered for a moment as she saw the tower of pots rise into view. More and more of them. The collection was at least four times her height. And on top was a... mechanical head of sorts. It whipped around wildly as it searched for something to lock onto.
"There! Get its eggs!" Grizz called in her ear.
But the approaching Salmonids on the ground took Lily's attention first, and she pulled back as she charged up her E-Liter and let off a blast, taking out a line of Salmonids in a line, save the Cohock at the back - though well-inked it wasn't quite through yet.
The fire of a cannon behind her made her jump slightly, and a moment later a blast of explosive ink took out even more of the horde that had made it ashore. A second blast, aimed at the tower of pots, knocked many of them away. "Quick, knock the last few away!" Lorne called over her radio. "Before it can fire off its Sting Ray!"
Lily rushed forward as the Stinger's eyes locked onto the duo of Remo and Eight on the other side of the beach, dealing with their own horde, and flung a Splat Bomb toward it even as she approached. The bomb, bouncing along the ground, detonated quickly and the two pots it still had were flung back into the sea, and the head slammed into the burner at its base and burst, revealing three Golden Eggs.
She ran up to them, grabbed one, and tried to grab another - but found that they were too big for her to do that. She fretted for a moment, wondering what to do...
"C'mon kid! Go!" Grizz shouted in her ear. "Deposit that one and come back!"
"Don't worry, Lily! I'll make sure they can't grab those in the meantime!" Lorne called.
Lily nodded and, leaving another bomb behind her, ran for the egg basket.
Meanwhile, Remo and Eight were taking care of their own rush of Salmonids. Neither had really worked with each other until now - the only idea they had of the other's competence was their battle from what felt like long ago.
It felt strange to Remo to put his trust in an Octoling, even after everything he and Eight had been through. But thankfully, either due to his military training or his time in the Metro, Eight was doing well with the weapon he'd been loaned. The Roller that Remo had been given was doing well enough for the small enemies, such that the two could just mow through them.
"Boss! To our left!" Eight called, suddenly firing at something emerging from the ocean. Remo whipped around, coming face to face with a Steelhead.
Remo's face dropped. They hadn't faced one of these yet. "Lorne!" He called into the radio as he and Eight backed off, firing at the great beast, though their ink splashed harmlessly off its armor. "We got a Steelhead. What's the strategy?"
"Not doing that," Mr. Grizz told them flatly.
"You wanna help them be a better worker or not, Grizz?!" Lorne chastised, hoping her profreshional status would protect her. "Wait for it to start charging a bomb, guys, then attack that!" As she spoke, another boom from the cannon sounded, and an explosive ink round landed among the mass of creatures further back on the beach, splatting and dispersing them.
"Got it," Remo replied, and glanced at Eight briefly. "I'm not sure I can get enough height with a Roller fling, Eight. I'll do what I can to fend everything else off if you can attack that."
Eight met his glance and nodded at him.
And then they both heard the sound of something growing, inflating.
Remo and Eight both turned toward the noise, and saw the Steelhead, and something filling up on its head.
Eight's weapon instinctively snapped back up and he fired his Blaster toward it, even as he and Remo backed away, Eight heading back through their ink and Remo pushing forward through with the Roller.
Despite several good shots on the Steelhead's bomb, it still shot off from its head, toward Eight.
"Three! The bomb! I'm backing off!" Eight called as he zipped backwards in octopus form as the projectile landed where he had been, exploding a moment later in a splash of dark, sickly green, after which he charged back into the fray.
The crew was kept busy over the next half-hour, even as at points the attack lulled and Lily, Remo and Eight were able to briefly regroup underneath Lorne's cannon, sharing encouraging words and checking on how many Golden Eggs they had accrued. Otherwise they worked in pairs as Remo and Eight, and Lily and Lorne repelled the Salmonids.
And then, suddenly there were none left ashore. The Agents looked around and waited for a minute, thinking it just another lull, but then Mr. Grizz's voice came in over the radios. "Looks like they're backing off. And we got a decent collection of eggs out of it. It'll do. Alright, come back to the boat."
Lily and Eight let out an audible sigh of relief. The former checked her hat. Excellent, she thought to herself. She still had both Splashdown charges. She'd need them.
Remo gave her a nod, knowing what was next, and after Lily handed him her weapon to take back, he and Lorne super-jumped back over to the Grizzco boat.
The remaining team, however, rushed away from the beach over to the dock area. As Lily climbed up onto the buoy to retrieve the bag she had left earlier, thankfully untouched, Mr. Grizz radioed them again. "Hey. Kids. Yer done here. And company rules forbid bringing external equipment on-site. Return to the boat."
Agents Five and Eight ignored him. Instead Five radioed to their counterparts on the boat. "Aight Three, Four, I'm suiting up." They unzipped the bag and pulled everything out - the deployable liferaft, the old diving suit and the Tracker. Lily immediately set about putting the suit on, with Eight to help.
"Is that a liferaft FROM MY BOAT?!" Grizz shouted at them. "That's private property! RETURN TO THE BOAT, WITH THAT RAFT! Or we're writing you off," he finished, threatening them.
She tucked her tentacles into the suit, then fitted the diving helmet on over her head and fastened it to the rest of the suit. She keyed her mic as Eight grabbed the liferaft tube and deployed it into the water next to them, then began to use the Tracker to scan for the artefact they were here for. "We're not deserting. Give us three minutes and our mission will be over. Waters clear, guys?"
Remo, scoped in with Lily's loaned E-Liter, responded, Lorne with a pair of binoculars beside him. "Looks like it. Could change though. Better hurry. Hope that suit works."
"What is going on here?!" Grizz growled in frustration, realising the situation was falling out of his control.
Once Lily was suited up and the raft was ready to go, Eight pointed stood back and nodded. "Good luck, Agent 5," the Octoling said. "I'd better get back to the boat."
Lily nodded as she slid from the dock into the small liferaft. "Make sure he doesn't leave without me," she replied with a smirk.
As she heard Eight super jump away, she nervously took hold of the paddles the raft had been deployed with. Better work fast, she thought as she experimentally tested each one, taking a moment to remember how to row, before setting off, rowing as hard as she could against the waters, trying to move fast.
"...So, 'Agent', huh?" Mr. Grizz returned after a few quiet moments of rowing, quieter, calmer but still angry. "Yes, I've heard stories from the war, of the Squidbeak Splatoon and their so-called 'daring missions'. But I assumed you folks had disbanded long ago. Or perhaps," he wondered aloud to her, "you four are slimy hipster wannabes trying to play spy...Trying to follow in the footsteps of your heroes. What're you even here for, anyway? Why're yer disrespectin' my business, my efforts?"
"Oh wh— Lily, we're starting to move!" Lorne radioed in. Lily's eyes snapped toward the boat, to her right, and saw that indeed it was starting to slowly move off from its position.
"Stop it!" Lily called back anxiously, checking the waters around her again with the Tracker. She was now about thirty meters out, and judging by the clicking of the Tracker, she was nearly above it. She pushed herself to keep rowing further. "I'm almost there!"
"What're yer expectin' to find, kid?" Grizz chimed in again. "You realise that you're surrounded by death, right?"
"...I'm aware," Lily finally replied to him. "But there's something here we need to preserve. An item of the past that we can't lose."
"And? Even if that were true, you realise anything found in these territories belongs to Grizzco Industries? I'm not lettin' ya smuggle whatever it is out of here, not without some compensation at least. Either way, I've decided I'm not interested in sticking around to see if you survive. Thanks for the Golden Eggs. Farewell."
Lily grumbled, pushing harder, rowing as fast as she was able. Even with her friends struggling against the remotely-piloted Grizzco boat, she now had a time limit. Even if she did survive what she had to do... she did not want to be stranded.
"Five! Behind you!" Remo called over the radio, and Lily turned to see...
A bobbing fishing lure, making its way toward her craft.
As the boats grew closer together, the Grizzco boat taking a path around the Marooner's Bay to get back to the open waters, Remo let loose a shot of pressurized E-Liter ink that shot into the water, aimed at the creature that awaited just underneath the lure as it grew closer to Lily. It had no effect.
But then the lure disappeared beneath Lily's raft, and her eyes went wide.
"LILY! QUICK! BOMB!" Lorne shouted hurriedly.
Lily did two things.
She unholstered a Splat Bomb from its holster, set its fuse and dropped it on the boat.
And as she did, she pushed herself up and over the front of the boat as she tore open and activated one of the special sachets.
Activating a Splashdown.
Maws made its appearance as she did, crashing through the flimsy inflatable raft and tearing it to shreds, inadvertantly gulping down the Splat Bomb she'd left.
And as she hovered in the air, moments before the Splashdown mechanism would fling her downward toward the ground, she saw Maws burst, cooked from the inside by the bomb. Three Golden Eggs floated in the water next to her, amongst remnants of the raft she was just in.
And then Agent 5 was flung into the water, propelled by the Splashdown's power.
She sank like a stone.
"Lily?!" Eight radioed in in a panic.
"Lily, you alright?" Agent 4 also called in. "Let us know as soon as you can. I don't see your spirit, which I think is good..."
The water was murky with a greenish tinge. She looked around as she sank, trying to see anything around her. But she couldn't see a thing.
She got the impression after a moment that her descent had halted, or at least slowed to a crawl. She took the other Splashdown satchel and tore it open, and as it activated she felt the water rush past her as she sank with renewed force.
She was surprised when her feet touched the rocky, dusty ground. Sooner than she had expected. Visibility was rotten - she only seemed to be able to see two meters in front of her. The diving suit was holding up, but the water pressure pushing against her, trying to crush her, was incredibly uncomfortable.
She also realised quickly that she, and her fellow agents, had neglected to find a working oxygen tank for the diving suit. The oxygen she had was whatever had seeped in from the surface.
The sooner she finished this the better.
Agent 5 took steps through the water, working in almost slow motion, continuing toward where the Tracker had last indicated the presence of the artefact. Finally she breathed, "This is surreal... It has to be nearby."
"Oh thank goodness you're alive!" Four called in. "Any sign of it yet?"
"No," Five replied, scanning the area with her eyes - the Tracker would be rendered useless under the water, and so it was fixed to Lily's waist inside the suit. "I can't be far off though..."
The sea floor was nearly barren here. Here and there were vague signs that Salmonid nests may have passed through or lived nearby - frying pans and cooking utensils were the most common thing she saw down here.
She found herself approaching what looked like a nest of sorts. Uh oh... she stepped carefully, but couldn't see any creatures about. Not yet, anyway...
And then, among what was seemingly a pile of 'treasure', she saw it.
It looked like a black brick with wires hanging out of it.
It looked like an external storage drive, like those she'd seen in IT stores across Inkopolis.
Carefully, making sure nothing saw her, she picked it up to examine it.Though worn... the text and logo on its top was human.
This was it.
She held it tightly to her and leapt up, beginning to swim back upward, as her lungs began to ache, struggling to find new oxygen in her suit.
"Got it...!" she radioed in briefly. "Coming up..."
"Good work!" Remo said cheerfully. "We managed to stop the boat from moving, so we'll be right here for you. Eight and Lorne are on their way out in the other liferaft."
Agent 5 said nothing in response, trying to focus on swimming upward with one arm holding the device to her. Swimming like this only exerted her more, and she began to feel ill, and the pain in her lungs grew.
With the murky waters, she couldn't tell just how far it was to the surface. How far had those Splashdowns taken her?
The water started to lighten up as she swam, not sure how much longer she would las—
And then Lily broke the surface suddenly and the bright sunlight nearly blinded her as she treaded water, looking around.
"There!" She heard the voice of Lorne nearby, and spun around.
She and Eight were nearby, paddling over to her.
She was saved.
Once everyone had made it back to the Grizzco boat and Eight had disabled the jammer that had blocked Mr. Grizz from guiding the boat, Lily and the others laid on the deck as they were guided back toward Inkopolis.
Once Mr. Grizz had re-established contact with the boat, he was furious. His first order of business was to ban them from working shifts as one team. Then, despite having one more outpost to head to, he set about navigating the boat back to civilization. "The sooner you four are off this boat and out of my shop the better," he had grumbled.
The Agents would later leave the Grizzco front into Inkopolis Square, denied their bonuses (except for Lorne, but only because she was a proven profreshional) and head toward the subway station. Eight, having become one of the more technologically-minded of the group, took the drive they had recovered as Lily explained how old drive storage worked to the best of her ability. He would try to repair what he could of it, since the drive was waterlogged.
He left on the train, waving to the others.
They'd find out what was salvageable from the disk, eventually.
Remo, Lily and Lorne saw Eight off, and then headed back and over to Crusty Sean's stall to for a Schwaffle and a drink.
They'd earned it.