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 important 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 something 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. Eight turned to hear their conversation, now noticing the lady in black and green as well.

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, 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. "I'll be honest, I kinda figured it out already. 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 repeat, 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.

"Agent 5."

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."

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