While Sheldon and Marie leave to assist Agent Four, Lily engages in some light reading.
Most of the rest of that day was spent back at Agent 4's apartment, making mashups and looking through what was on television. Lily had found that there was indeed a 'sports' channel, and while trying to make a Madeon song work with a song she had found through her squid phone's internet, she'd glance over at the TV screen at the replay of some earlier match, or talk show, or league game.
From this, she learned a few things. For one, Turf War was not the only sanctioned sport enjoyed with ink-based weaponry. Though the most common, there were more competitive sports that enjoyed more coverage, at least on the channel she was watching.
The other thing she learned is that this squid song really worked with the Madeon beat. She saved the sketch and made a note to herself to work on it more some other time.
Lily took the afternoon to walk through the city. She used her phone to plot out a path past one of the nearby buildings that supposedly held another human artifact on her way back to the Square.
The rest of the city felt very different to her, and as she walked through the busy streets, surrounded by all types of vehicles and sapient marine life, she felt like an intruder in an alien world, moreso than usual.
Her nerves stayed with her until she reached her first stop. She looked up at the building the mockup Sheldon had given her had directed her to: the New Albacore Hotel.
Whoa, she thought to herself. Wasn't expecting it to be THAT tall. Well, I guess it can't hurt to at least take a look...
She stepped inside, carrying her backpack, strode past the lobby, and into an elevator on the other side. Lily closed the doors and, left to herself for a moment, set her backpack down, and pulled out the Tracker.
Lily swept the tracker slowly from ground to sky. As Sheldon had predicted, it started to click when it pointed upward. Damn. Alright. The tracker went back in the backpack, and she pressed the button for the topmost floor.
As the elevator whizzed upwards, she had a moment to think. She was pretty sure she noticed some scaffolding outside, perhaps if there really was no roof access she could try to climb up that. Hopefully not though...
The lift slowed to a halt, and the doors opened onto a red carpeted corridor. Agent 5 stepped out to take a look through the corridors. Up here seemed to be some of the bigger suites, with all sorts of fancy names, like the Pacific Suite, or the Marianas Suite.
Wait, huh? Lily did a double-take when seeing that one. Huh. I mean, it makes sense, considering the naming scheme of this world, but...
She spent ten minutes walking around the floor, but indeed couldn't find any civilian roof access. There was a maintenance elevator that looked like it would go all the way to the roof, but it was locked behind a keycard system, and the main entry point seemed to be a floor below.
Okay, so when I come back here, I gotta either find a keycard, go up the scaffolding, or maybe... find a way up the side? Surely there's some way to get up there. But I have an idea of the place now... I better get moving just in case someone decides I look suspicious.
Lily returned to the elevator, went to the ground floor, and continued walking her way to the Square.
She would make it about an hour of walking later, slipping her way through the fence of the other side of the construction site that separated her from the Square, and crossing carefully and quietly. Using her squid form to slip back through on the other side, in the corner of the Square, she breathed a sigh of relief, and looked back past the site at the city. Smiling, she walked over to a railing near the Shoal, some arcade, leaning on it as she looked through the squid phone's app store for something to try.
Sheldon's call came in as the orange glow of the sunset began to fade into a deep blue night. It was a very quick message, but from what Lily could make out, something was happening, possibly "it", the big thing they'd been working towards, and both Sheldon and Marie were departing to assist Agent 4, and could Lily please watch over the Hideout.
"Of course," she'd said. Not that she had any other obligations.
So she found herself on an empty Tentakeel Hideout, at night, carrying her Splattershot Jr in both hands, ink tank strapped to her back. Octo Valley wasn't entirely silent tonight - strangely enough, there was the sound of some very muffled music far below her, just loud enough for the bass to be audible. Lily wondered to herself just what was going on down there...
Sheldon had left her some reading material, too - there was a short note on the bench outside of Cuttlefish Cabin, atop a couple of pages of documents. She'd had her attention drawn to them when she'd arrived, but she had decided to wait until she was at least sure that she was the only squid around.
After completing her second pass around the platform, she decided that she was not in any immediate threat and, radio nearby, sat by the Cabin bench and picked up the small note from Sheldon.
Received preliminary results back from DNA testing earlier today. I've left you a copy of what I received, with some annotations (laysquid explanations) where necessary. Top page is my summary. Please read when you can.
Oh, right... Lily thought to herself.
With everything that had happened, she had almost completely forgotten about why she'd become an Inkling in the first place. She looked down at the papers next to her. The top sheet was covered in the same handwriting, and glancing at the page underneath revealed printed text. Man, should I really look at this now...? She looked around, almost hoping for some distraction.
The radio crackled to life at that moment.
"Alright, I'm here Four. Nice work. Hold tight a moment..."
A few seconds silence...
"Holy carp! Did you mean to knock those right off?!"
"Heck yeah, Four! Keep at it, we'll win her back..."
Lily's hand reached for the transmit button, but she stopped herself. No, maybe not while they're working... I'm gonna have to just face the facts here. Her fingers instead twiddled the volume on the radio, turning the voices of Marie and Agent 4 down to a whisper. With a heavy sigh, she picked up the papers and read.
About a week ago now, she had fallen into their world, landed in an ink puddle, and been changed from her old human self into an Inkling like many of the inhabitants of the city. She had had a DNA sample taken from her arm, the hope being that she would one day find out why this had happened.
According to the documentation Sheldon had provided, when the sample was handed over, there were supposedly still some "unknown cells" (human DNA, she guessed), which were being eaten away and converted by the Inkling ink that had been absorbed into her body. Not being native to this environment, and indeed not having existed for however long, where most marine species would have at most a mild or irritating reaction to the ink, her human body had experienced a violent reaction as the ink completely seeped into her and, she guessed, somehow, completely rewrote her genetic code, causing her transformation.
That was what seemed to be implied, anyway. In reality, whichever genetic scientist, not named in the summary, saw the Inkling DNA eating away and converting the few unknown DNA cells they had been presented with, managed to isolate a few remaining, untouched cells, and was still working to identify what it belonged to. Sheldon had stated on the page that he could not (and would not) tell where the sample had come from, and that her true identity was safe. But, that said...
Whereas some time before, she might still have been partly human, besides the memories in her head, by now she was entirely Inkling.
Lily set the paper down and stared forward at the lone tree gently swaying in the wind.
....Man. I mean, I always kinda figured I was nowhere near human anymore. It feels... so heavy to have it be more or less confirmed.
She got up. Walked the perimeter again, Splattershot Jr hanging loosely in her hand. I shouldn't feel so bad about this. Why do I feel so bad about this?
This was her routine for the next couple hours. She tried to distract herself and deflect her emotions by focusing on her task, and ended up stewing in them instead.
It was about 9PM when she gave up patrolling until she fixed herself up, curled up on the bench of Cuttlefish Cabin, in the dim lights of the Hideout and accidentally fell asleep while attempting to calm herself.
As soon as she felt conscious she looked around, confused.
She had come to, in the middle of a forest path. It felt familiar, but she didn't quite understand why. She got to her feet and looked around. The path was asphalt, winding its way through the forest but off the path, the ground was covered in leaves and pine needles. To one side of the path, a small creek ran alongside it, the earth eroded around it from grander times, but now a small stream surrounded by reeds and tall grass.
She remembered the river and the path, but not the infinite forest that otherwise stretched around her. She found herself heading off, the river to her left.
A clap of thunder interrupted her thoughts. Looking up, she saw, partially hidden by the canopy, strange swirling clouds above her. Wait, she wondered to herself. Did I get here from whatever that thing is?
Somehow she just knew that above her, was some sort of giant portal. How did she know this? This all felt rather weird and surreal. She continued on, pulling out her Splattershot and treading forth carefully.
After a few minutes of walking, and calming enough to find the experience of walking through the forest relaxing, she came to a fork in the path. The left path, following closer to the river, went up a gentle rise in the terrain, while the right was more covered by the trees and went around the rise.
Without thinking, she pulled her radio from her belt and spoke into it. "I've come to a fork in the path. What's the way out?"
Marie's voice came through immediately on the other end. "They both lead the same way. Don't use your ink."
"What? Where am I?"
"You tell me, human."
Lily looked around, confused. What was going on here? Hang on, was it just her or was Marie speaking perfect English? "Uhh... I don't know yet."
There was no reply from Marie.
Instead, a new voice spoke through the radio. "Unit 1 to Base. Are you catching any of this?"
Another new voice. "Affirmative, Unit 1. We count two entities of unknown origin, unknown language. Radar shows one new target under the vortex. You are cleared to engage the alien."
What?! Alien?! "Marie, what's going on? I think someone's coming to kill me." Lily spoke frantically into the radio.
But Marie, again, didn't reply. The second unknown voice came back. "Please identify yourself in English."
Wasn't she speaking English right now? "Please, I'm just a civilian. I don't know where I am. I mean no harm."
"I repeat, please identify yourself in English."
...Somehow, while she could understand them, she could not communicate with them. She replaced the radio.
She decided the best option was to stay among the trees. Whoever was coming for her would hopefully have a harder time getting a clear shot at her. Gripping the Splattershot tightly, and pulling the Splat Bombs from her pack to add them to her holster, she strayed from the path, making note of where she'd left off, and headed into the forest that stretched off into infinity.
It was not long before she found herself completely lost, surrounded by pine trees and oak leaves. She treaded carefully, looking all around her for some hopeful escape plan, but none came.
Wandering through the trees, Lily came across a grand oak tree. Its many branches looked majestic as they reached outwards toward the sky. She stared up at it, admiring the beauty of the forest at that moment.
It was then that she started to hear movement. Something, or some things, approaching, their feet loudly stamping the leafy ground somewhere behind her. She rushed for the tree and climbed up, getting up as high as she could until she felt obscured by the leaves and branches, at least fifteen meters up. Then she waited, not daring to move or even breathe, one hand holding onto the branch to stay steady, the other holding the Splattershot as it hung loosely by her side.
Not too long after, five people rocked up, dressed in all black, military-looking gear, and carrying some sort of assault rifle. Wait - these guys are human, Lily thought as she silently watched them fan out around the tree. Then that means...
She thought back to the path she had travelled on not too long ago. Now she remembered - One of the towns she used to live in had a path like that behind her house which she would walk along to get to the local lagoon. But something was not right - there wasn't much of a forest there, just sort of a strip of mostly-untouched nature between houses and paddocks.
Huh? Oh, shit.
Looking down, taking her finger off the Splattershot, she realised that she had been found. One of the men was looking right at her, weapon pointed right at her.
"Sweet Jesus, what the fuck are you?" said another of the men as he also whipped around to face her. The other soldiers were manoeuvring into position around the tree, covering every angle of any possible escape.
"Lay down your weapons and come down. Slowly." The first soldier was more measured.
"Uhh, okay..." Lily said, knowing they wouldn't understand her anyway.
Carefully, slowly, she placed the Splattershot down on the branch, trying to make sure it would not fall away from her.
She tried to do the same with the Splat Bombs, but in the process of placing it down, it did not hold, and it toppled and fell from the branch.
As she tried to grab it, one of the men opened fire.
And that's when things started to go to hell.
The burst of gunfire missed her just fine.
However, two very unfortunate bullets hit the ink tank on her back, and the falling Splat Bomb.
The Ink Tank shattered, and its contents burst out in a wide radius around her.
The Splat Bomb detonated instantly, as the bullet struck it.
This sent ink everywhere.
The surprise gunfire caused her to lose her balance, and she hugged the tree tightly to avoid falling. "No!" Lily yelled, trying to reach out for the now-detonated Bomb.
Lily's ink splattered the tree, coating whatever it touched in the light blue substance. It covered the ground around the tree as well.
The ink also landed on the men.
The five soldiers writhed and screamed as they were covered in the stuff, and Lily's eyes bulged wide. "Oh no no no no no..."
The changes began almost immediately, appendages sprouting from their heads, sending their helmets flying. Their screaming and flailing almost gave her the impression that they were burning up as the changes happened.
One of the men, partway in the middle of their transformation, their body looking freaky, half-humanoid, half-Inkling, their head bloated, managed to choke out a command: "Open Fire!"
Lily started to scramble down the tree, certain one of them would before too long.
But they were quicker. A fourth person, in the midst of their pain, gripped their weapon long enough to unleash another burst in Lily's direction.
These shots met their mark. Two bullets ripped into Lily's shoulder and chest, throwing her backwards off the tree.
This was it, she knew. She was gon--
She hit the ground almost immediately, and her eyes snapped open. Wait, what just...
It took a moment for her to remember where she was, and realised what had just happened.
Ugggghh... Thanks, brain, she chided at herself. Just what I needed...
She sat up. She'd apparently rolled off the bench, back at the Cuttlefish Cabin, and the very short drop from it to the ground had jolted her. Rubbing her head, she checked the time on her phone. She'd been out for about three hours.
She got up, and gripped the Splattershot Jr in her hands again, rather tightly. "Well it definitely wasn't that bad," she said aloud, to the empty platform, as she looked over at the notes that were slightly scattered on the ground. When it happened to me...
She reached over, tidying the notes and replacing them on the bench, then took her radio. Turning up the volume to around where it was before, she noticed it had gone quiet.
Actually, come to think about it, the Valley itself had gone rather quiet, hadn't it? There was no more music playing from down below. She decided to call in and make sure everyone was OK.
...Buuuuut she'd better make sure that she did another round around the Hideout first. Make sure she hadn't missed anything else.
"You seated back there, Agent 4?" Sheldon called from the driver's seat. Marie and Callie, her cousin, were putting on their seatbelts in the seats next to him.
"Yep!" Four called back from a bench in the trailer of Sheldon's hover-truck.
"Don't worry," said Marie, loud enough so Four could hear her as well. "We made sure to chain him down before I got back in."
"Yeah, it's pretty cramped in here anyway, but he's not going anywhere." Four had her Hero Shot pointed right at the unconscious form of DJ Octavio, encased in Marie's snowglobe prison. The giant eyes of the Great Zapfish stared at her, but it didn't really seem to know what was going on. That was probably a good thing, Four thought to herself. Around and under Agent 4's seat was the scaffolding and equipment for the makeshift stage Marie had brought along.
"Are you sure you can fly this thing with all of us on board?" Marie glanced over at the horseshoe crab, raising an eyebrow.
"Please," Sheldon rolled his eyes as he keyed the engine and the truck roared to life. "I carry a full cargo of weapons across to Grizzco and beyond every other month. We'll be fine."
Gently, the truck lifted from the ground and stage of the Grand Octopia Ampitheater, and took off into the sky.
Sheldon's, Marie's, and Four's radios all went off at the same time. "Five, reporting in. What's your status?"
"Go on, Sheldon," Marie said, glancing over at her cousin, who was still quiet and keeping to herself. She wondered what was going on in her head...
Sheldon keyed the mic as he steered the tree out into the open air of the Octo Valley. "Hey there, Agent 5. The mission's a success. Everybody's safe, just tired. How's everything on the home front?"
"You didn't miss anything, really. Just... nightmares about home, if I had to be honest. But nothing's been disturbed, and none of the point sensors have gone off. I could hear the music from up here, honestly."
"I'd believe that," chimed in Four. "Octavio does his music way too high. My ears are still ringing."
"Who?" called in Lily.
But her question was lost. "So I'm guessing you saw what I left you, then?" Sheldon asked, piloting the vehicle past the towering tentacle pillars.
"I read your summary between patrols," Lily said with a sigh. "Didn't have much else to think about so..."
"One sec, Five," Agent 4 said suddenly, their speaking voice suddenly going more serious and professional. "He's coming to."
"Wait, already?" Marie called from the front seat. "That was fast." Keying her radio, she said, "We've got this from here, Five. Go on and head home. We'll chat over coffee soon. I'll send Four the details."
"Alright..." said Five with some uncertainty. "If you say so. Four, your card'll be hidden under the welcome mat."
"Good to know," said Four with some relief. "It'll be good to be back in my own bed after all this."
"You guys take care. Five out."
The radio went quiet.
The hover-truck continued its ascent into the night sky.