Ghosts

Off the Hook and two of their new friends return from a rather eventful morning flight.

For the purposes of this story, the Octo Expansion 'started' on the day that the chapter Begin Again occurred, and this chapter begins shortly after the Expansion's story is completed.

Two days later, about an hour and a half after sunrise, the front doors of the Hime Mansion opened, and Pearl, Marina, and two boys stepped inside. None of them spoke.

Their relief and elation from just a short hour ago had worn away. Both boys looked positively exhausted. As Pearl lead them through the entry hall into the massive main living space, she threw herself onto one of the long couches that lined the TV space, and rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.

Marina sat on the ground just next to her, knees to her chest, curled up in a ball of sorts, just staring out into space. The Octoling of the two boys, unaccustomed to this kind of huge space, and still in his black military gear, stood awkwardly. The Inkling, still in full Agent gear, took the initiative and sat on the similar couch sitting perpendicular to Pearl and Marina's.

"It's OK, Eight," Marina said quietly, looking up at him out of the corner of her eye. "Take a seat."

The Octoling boy, 'Eight', nodded quietly and took a seat at the end of Pearl's couch. They were all silent, staring into space, and each was certain the others were thinking the exact same thought.

It wasn't, heck yeah we just saved the world.

Instead it was, oh my cod, we were just a coral's hair away from death.

We were this close to blowing it for everyone.

Marina became aware of the sound of Pearl growling to herself. She reached behind her to rest her hand in Pearl's, to attempt to comfort her, but---

"FUCKING HUMANS!" Pearl suddenly screamed out, in a half-croaky voice from ruining her voice earlier that morning, startling everyone. "Fuck! That was the most evilest shit I ever heard of! I can't believe that just fucking happened!"

"I can't believe they're extinct and they're still a threat," Marina agreed, speaking softly.

"I... am not believing I nearly become smoothie," Eight said slowly, staring at his hands.

The Inkling, Agent 3 of the New Squidbeak Splatoon, was silent for a moment. His headpiece pulsed as he looked up. "I can't believe that thing was able to take control of me."

"So were humans just evil, then?!" Pearl grumbled as she sat up. "Is that what we're learning today? Is that why history nerds say there weren't any land creatures on the planet when marine life evolved?"

"...Did they murder all those, too?" Marina found herself wondering aloud. After what she'd seen today, she would not put it past them...

"...So what now?" Three asked. "Is Eight gonna be safe here on the surface, what with... things being how they are?"

"Inkopolis will accept him," Marina replied, with a small smile. "He'll just... blend right in. Going from my own experience, anyway..."

"Eight can stay the night," Pearl said quietly. "Once we get back from work. We'll get him settled." She paused. "Marina... We should... talk later."

"...yeah, okay." Marina lowered her head into her knees and let out a heavy sigh. They had not been able to talk alone about Marina's... origins since it had been brought up. Pearl said it was fine, that she still appreciated and cared for her all the same, but there was still this nagging feeling in the back of her head...

Her mind briefly touched on Sheldon's work-in-progress translator, then jumped to... She looked up quickly. "Wait, I just realised something. Pearl, the phone."

"Mmh? What phone?"

"The one with the weird characters. The white rectangular thing. I swear some of the text we saw in the NILS facility on Eight's feed looked pretty similar."

"Oh, huh... so you reckon it's a NILS phone? Wait--- It might be a human's phone?"

"Huh? What's this about?" Three looked over, curious. He had zoned out, staring off into space briefly. "Like, one of these?" He pulled a mobile phone from his pocket. It had not been turned on for a long time.

"Yeah," Marina nodded. "I'm thinking, if we can get Sheldon or that blue-haired girl to transla---"

"She could use it just fine, remember?" Pearl reminded her. "She can read it. Call me suspicious, but considering what we've just been through..."

"...Huh." Marina was deep in thought, understanding what Pearl was getting at. If that inkling could supposedly fully understand the human language, something that no historian had managed to decode due to the lack of text to compare against... she could be a NILS agent. "Perhaps... But we don't have much more to go off of right now."

"Then we'll keep an eye on her."

"Yeah, alright. You gonna hang around, Three?"

"Actually," Three said, adjusting his hi-vis vest, "I feel my place right now is protecting the people of the Metro. I mean I'll enjoy the city today, get some supplies, but... my work is with the Captain. At least for now. That being said... I am interested in this human business. Are you implying this girl is a human in disguise?"

Marina and Pearl looked at each other. "...I hadn't considered that, to be honest," Marina said with an eyebrow raised. "That doesn't make a whole lot of sense though... they're most definitely extinct."

"With all the stuff that's been going on lately... who knows." Pearl thought briefly. "We can keep you informed if you like. We've been using this chatroom program to communicate with Craig and Eight. If you wanna hang out there with us, we'll keep you up to date on what's going on up here..."

"Hmm. I suppose so," Three nodded. "It would be nice to keep abreast of goings-on back home."

"Sweet!"

"I'll send you the app and our channel details a bit later then," said Marina with a nod. "It'd be nice to grow that room a little, and it'd be nice to have a bit of Squidbeak insight when things happen up here." She stretched and climbed to her feet. "For now though, I hope you two don't mind, but myself and Pearl need some time to ourselves to recover, so we'll retreat to our rooms for a while. Help yourself to what's in our fridge. Eight, we'll take you on a tour around Inkopolis Square later on today, yeah? So don't go too far," she teased with a smile.

"Yeah boy, you're part of our crew now," Pearl said, throwing up her hands in her signature pose. Then she got up and, with Marina, started to make her way out of the room. "Amazing work today, Eight."

"Thanking you," the boy said quietly with a nod, as he and Three were left to themselves in the lounge to awkwardly avoid eye contact or idle chat.

Silence had returned, if briefly, as the closing of a door somewhere in the depths of the Hime Mansion reverberated through the corridors.

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