Lily and the girls go shopping for a new weapon and a new look.
It had been over a week since Lily had talked to the Squidbeaks and Off the Hook about visiting Tartar's resting place, but now Marina had given her a timeframe, in her first text message to Lily.
This coming Friday, two days from now, Off the Hook would take the day off from the Inkopolis News studio and the three of them, with Lorne, Craig, Remo and Eight, would take the train out of Inkopolis heading north towards Camp Triggerfish, and from there head deeper into the forest on the public walking tracks.
From there, Marina explained to her, they would eventually diverge from the path when the foliage was at its thickest, and eventually make their way to a clearing.
This clearing was the resting place of Commander Tartar. And Lily would have as much time as she needed to ask him what she needed.
Lily had not been simply waiting, though. With the help of Lorne in Turf War, and more training alongside the Squidbeaks, Lily had surged all the way up to level 6, and had become fairly proficient in the Splattershot Jr., though perhaps not with its special.
But she was aching to try something new, to branch out. Plus, now she had the ability to buy new clothing for Turf War.
So, she, Lorne, and the Squid Sisters decided Lily ought to go for a shopping spree. To do that, she would have to re-enter a store she had avoided since a certain event at the New Albacore Hotel...
Sheldon's ears perked up as the door jingled open, early on a Wednesday afternoon, and after a moment to finish writing something down, he looked up, launching into his usual greeting. "Hi, welcome to Ammo Knights! What are you in the market for?"
"Well, y'know," said a voice he'd not heard in a while. "Looking to change up my play style."
Sheldon looked up, and saw the blue and orange tentacles of the two girls that had entered and were walking up to the counter. He blinked, realising with a start that Lily had entered his shop with Lorne and the Squid Sisters.
"L... Lily? Lily!!" He rushed out from behind the counter to hug the inkling, surprising her and the other Agents. "Are... are you alright? I'm so sorry I..."
Lily blinked, still feeling a little upset at him, but she tried to put on a happier face, not wanting to disappoint him. "I'm fine, Sheldon. I... just needed some time to recover and get better."
"I'm really glad to hear that... I was just... really worried after you stopped speaking to me. I knew I'd messed up, but... Well, Marie's been keeping me in the loop in the meantime, and I'm happy to hear Pearl and Marina are changing their mind about you... But... yeah... Please forgive me, Lily."
"Uuuh..." Lily just stared down at the horseshoe crab whose head was pressed into her belly. "It's... it's okay, Sheldon. What happened back at the hotel was... It was just wild, we weren't gonna be rational. I'm over it though, I think. It's nice to know you care so much though."
"She's been okay, Sheldon." Lorne smiled and bent down to his level. "Yeah, she got roughed up and freaked out a bit, but she spent the last few days off the grid with me. She's doing alright now."
"A...alright." Sheldon stepped back, took a deep breath and a few moments to calm himself. "Well, uhm, how can I help you two today?"
"Lily just hit level 6 earlier today," Lorne told him with a grin. "She's interested in trying something new."
"Oh? Congrats, Lily! And so soon after starting to battle, too!" Sheldon knew full well that many people got there quicker, but there was no need to discourage the girl. "May I see your ID, please? I have to, it's just for verification purposes."
Lily handed over the card, and Sheldon scurried behind the counter to fetch his ID scanner. They heard a pleasant tone a few seconds later, and he came back around with the card. "Yep, I can confirm! So, Lily! Changing it up, you said? At this point you can wield a couple of new types of weapon. You unlocked the Splat Roller at level 3, being a modified paint-roller with a wide splash range, as well as the Splat Charger which is great if you have a decent accuracy and like to hang back. At level 4, you've unlocked the Splat Dualies, a set of two smaller weapons with a combined higher fire rate, and a propulsion system that allows for you to execute a speedy dodge roll!"
Sheldon took another deep breath, and Lily wondered just how often he must go through this spiel. "Lessee what else... Level 5 makes the Blaster available to you, trading fire rate for high damage compared to the shooter class, and you can also take the Slosher for a spin now." He gestured at the literal bucket on the wall. "Which I think needs no explanation."
He turned back around to the group and grinned at Lily. "I'd go more into detail, but look around you - you've got three experts in their class of weapon with you! I'm sure you'll find your weapon of choice, and don't be afraid to ask me if you still need information, or want to try any of these out on the range! Alright?"
"Sure thing, man." Lily shot him a thumbs up, and finally let herself smile.
"Okay then, I'll leave you girls to it!" The crab nodded and scurried back behind the counter to finish sorting coins into the register.
Lily almost didn't know where to start first - there was so much to think about! "God, where do I even start to look?" She wondered aloud.
"Why not consider a Charger?" Marie offered with a grin. "Take out your enemies from a distance."
"What about a Roller?" Callie grinned. "Lots of ink coverage, nice damage output, and it makes a nice blunt weapon in a pinch."
"Come on, girls," Lorne cut in. "Are you actually suggesting to her, or do you just want her to use your weapon?"
Marie raised an eyebrow at her. "I don't have an ulterior motive, Lorne. Though it'd be nice to have another Charger user on the team."
"Just saying, all the two of you really know of Lily's strategy is that battle we had last week."
"Well, alright, Lorne, keep your hair on... Lily, what's your playstyle like?" Callie asked. "Lorne's got a point, maybe there's a particular type that might suit it."
"Well... in Turf Wars I'm like, a defensive or stealthy player," Lily said, thinking. "I've been trying to avoid fights when I can, just inking turf, but sometimes if I can't help it, I'll hide in my ink for someone to get close and just pummel them with the Splattershot Jr until either of us splat. In video games though, that's another story. I kinda like to get in close, harass, pick off important targets, and get out real fast." She sighed happily. "I made a pretty decent Scout in my time... Not great, but decent. It was fun."
"Hmm..." Callie considered her. That tracked with the... odd way that Lily moved when the Cap'n had orchestrated his skill test. "The Roller could be a good fit for you, as would the Slosher, both have good damage output when used effectively, but if you want to emphasize evasiveness, we should try the Splat Dualies on you."
"What are they like?" Lily eyed the display Dualies, propped up on a shelf.
"Well... we don't really know," Marie admitted. "Callie and I never really tried them, they came out way after we settled on the Charger and Roller. Lorne?"
"I ran with them briefly before I settled back into the shooter class, yeah." Lorne nodded. "They might work well on you, Lily. They're two smaller pistol-like weapons, so you could split or focus your fire as needed, and they have a button on each one that will jet you around a bit, so once you get the hang of using them, it's like an assisted dash to the side. Or forward or back. If you wanna harass and annoy someone on the battlefield, dashing around them and making yourself hard to hit is a good way to do it."
"Okay..." Lily thought on it for a moment. It seemed like it would be hard to get used to the 'dashing' Lorne was talking about, but if they assisted in mobility then perhaps... "Could I... test all three? See what works best for me?"
"I don't see why not," Marie said, tilting her head as she glanced over at Sheldon's counter. "Hey, Sheldon. There shouldn't be an issue with Lily testing out three of the weapons, should there?"
"Not at all!" Sheldon looked up from his work, grinning at them. "What did you want to try out, Lily?"
"I uh, I guess we're gonna see which of the Roller, Slosher or Dualies speaks to me..." Lily had gone back to acting shyly/embarrased, not wanting to take too much time out of Sheldon's day.
"Sounds good! Alright, follow me through the back to the shooting range, girls!" The crab gestured to follow him behind the counter.
Some time and plenty of testing later, Lily and crew left Ammo Knights carrying a case containing her brand new Splat Dualies. She was excited to try them out after putting them through their paces in the range, though she needed more time to practice using the dodge mechanism.
The next stop for the girls was the shop next door, Headspace. This shop didn't seem to be just a pun for a name, Lily saw as the door jingled open - while there were indeed plenty of hats and other headgear on display on head models and on racks, there were also plenty of other items around that gave Lily the impression that this was a place to relax. Giant cushions by a seating area near the back of the shopfront. A few small plants grew in pots around the room. Cloth and ornamental pots hung from the ceiling And there was a distinct aroma throughout the room, thick and sweet - though Lily was unsure whether that was a result of the scented reed sticks or the shop's owner, a creature that looked more like a witch to her than anything that used to live in the sea, wearing clothing that seemed slightly too big for her.
"Ah, welcome, little inkfishies," the creature said as she turned to meet them, her voice soft and kind. "Aah - the Calamari cousins - welcome back to my abode. And to you, my dear," she said to Lorne. "I can feel it, your aura has grown from experience since we last met. And your friend here," she turned to Lily, examining her and noticing her slight confusion. "She is new here, is she not? And yet, she is different. She is a breath of fresh air in this city."
"I think that's probably the nicest thing anyone outside of my friends has said about me," Lily breathed, slightly stunned.
After they had introduced her to Flow the sea slug and Craymond, the crayfish with seemingly no inside voice, Callie and Marie waited outside (Lily noticed as they left they had been holding their breath the whole time), while Lorne and Lily browsed through the supply available, from wide-brimmed hats to beanies to caps, glasses, and headsets.
The longer they browsed, the more Lily began to feel lightheaded and slightly intoxicated from the aromas in the shop. She started to realise this as she was trying on one of the short beanies, and eyeing a pair of on-ear headphones with the Squidfin branding. The inkling turned to Flow, who had been sat on one of the plush cushions in the corner. "H-hey..." Lily called quietly, more timidly than usual, her cheeks flushed involuntarily, "What is... this scent? It's nice but it's... starting to get a bit, overbearing..."
"Is it...? Oh, my dear little inkfish..." Flow gave a small smile. "I'm so happy that you like it. That would be a mixture of the floral scented oils I'm diffusing and my own natural scents."
"I see..." Lily blinked her eyes. "Well um, I should... come back another time and discuss those oils. It's... a very relaxing scent."
"C-come on Lily," Lorne said, tugging on her shoulder. She was less affected by the aroma, being more used to this store. "I'm not having anything this... strong in our home. Have you picked what you're getting?"
They left the shop a few short minutes later, with a paper bag with the Short Beanie and the Squidfin Hook Cans she had been eyeing, and Lily gulped in the fresh air outside.
"You alright, Lil'?" Callie asked, concerned as they noticed her flushed face.
Lily took deep breaths, trying to clear her system. "I think I'm right. I just wasn't expecting it to be that strong a scent inside..."
Lorne was watching over her. "Her pheromones were definitely strong today, whether she means 'em to be or not. It's probably good we got her out of there before too long. Though besides that," she glanced at Lily, "if she keeps that under control, I feel like those two might get along quite well."
"Well, more friends for Lily is always a plus," Callie said with a smile. "Shall we go get some clothes?"
When the girls left the shops of Inkopolis Square half an hour later to eat, the space underneath Lily's seat at their table was full of bags - Sheldon's Splat Dualies case, Flow's Short Beanie and Hook Cans, Jelfonzo's Pink Hoodie and Icewave Tee, and Bisk's Neon Sea Slug sneakers.
Jelfonzo had been... different, to Sheldon or Flow. His store was relatively minimal, but his quirky nature expressed itself in the way he talked - it seemed to Lily that he spoke with an Olde English-like vocabulary - indeed, his store was named "Ye Olde Cloth Shoppe" and he seemed to carry himself in a 'chivalrous' manner, almost like one of those 'milady' types (when he didn't seem to be trying to insult her choice in clothing through his overly flowery language, which she understood and ignored).
Bisk, who ran the Shella Fresh shoe store though, seemed actually cool, if a bit too sporty for her taste. He was actually quite respectful, and as Lily and her friends tried to decide on which shoes would work for her, based on style and the ability infused into them - something Lily hadn't wrapped her head around yet, the idea of clothing amplifying an aspect of her play - he offered a few of his own helpful suggestions.
And now, as Lily, Lorne, Callie and Marie ate Seanwiches from Crusty Sean's mobile stall, they chatted happily about Lily's purchases and the journey she would be making soon.
"So, wait, what did you think was outside of Inkopolis?" Callie prodded her between bites, after Lily had expressed some surprise that anything existed outside the city limits.
"I dunno! I kind of just assumed that all of marine-kind just sorta lived here or in Octopia!" Lily sighed and shrugged. "I kinda thought that, y'know, the rest of the planet was like, uninhabited or uninhabitable or something."
"I mean, I think it's been stated in geography classes that like, 95% of sapient life lives around this part of the globe," Marie told her gently. "You're somewhat right in that the rest of it is basically uninhabited, but not so much for any bad reason. It's more that Inkopolis is the social hub for our kind."
"Yeah, there are a few towns outside of Inkopolis, within some hours' travel," Callie added. "Calamari County, for example, where Marie and I came from." She grinned. "There's a separate town right on the edge of Inkopolis that I believe your train will pass through, and it's way different to the many suburbs in the city. More traditional."
"Hey, speaking of, isn't there supposedly an artefact out around there? Maybe it's worth making a stop on your way there, or on the way back, and taking a look around for it."
"Oh yeahhhh." Lily nodded, remembering. Though she knew most of the human items she was seeking were around Inkopolis and Octopia proper, there was one item she knew of that was outside of the city. And depending on how far away this town was from the edge of Inkopolis, it might perhaps be found there. If not... who knew what kind of environment she would have to traverse instead.
They continued to talk for a while, but they were soon interrupted by the voice of Sheldon, who was on his way over to them.
"Hello again!" he greeted them happily. "I'm glad I caught you before you left the Square - I've realised I've been needing to share this invention with all of you!"
"Invention...?" Marie asked. "If it's a weapon, it can probably wait til things are quieter."
"Not to worry, girls. This won't take long." Sheldon caught his breath. "Marie, Lily, Lorne. You may remember when all this began with Lily, Miss Marie had asked me to design a translator tool for the human language."
"Yes, I remember," Lorne nodded.
"Well, I think it's finally ready for testing!" Sheldon excitedly pulled out a case which he opened to reveal several singular earbuds, enough for everyone, minus one for Lily. "Well, it maaay have been ready for a week, but, y'know... Please, take one and pop it in your ear. I'm tentatively calling it the 'Babelfish'... a name I'm sure Lily will appreciate."
Lily shot him a thumbs up and a grin.
"So, I'll need a demonstration, Lily. Could you please play the talk show episode you sent to me?"
"Uhhh... Sure." Lily pulled out her iPhone, glad to have it again. She quickly found her podcast app, and pressed play on the one Giant Bombcast episode she had had cached from 2018. And since she could, she skipped ahead to where the #FreeScott discussion had begun.
"Alright, we were gonna roll right into the regular news..." the voice of Brad, the show's main host, begun, speaking through the phone's speaker. Of course, for now, Lily was the only one to understand him, and the other people - other humans, Lily corrected herself - that began to speak up after him.
"Whoa..." Callie gasped. She'd never heard a recording of a human voice before, none of them had. It was so much... different to their own. "This is wild... You used to sound like this, Lily?"
"You could...say that, I guess."
Sheldon let them all listen for a moment, letting them take in just how humans sounded unaltered. Lily noticed that he had a similar earbud in his ear, too. "Thank you, Lily. Keep that playing for now. Alright everyone, now I need you to feel around the underside of the earbud for a switch, and flick it on."
He switched his on, and everyone else did the same. For a few seconds, nothing seemed different.
But then, something seemed to click.
"--Beast reached out to the host of HQ, which is the trivia app we talked about--- Scott, uh--"
\"They reached out to him like 'hey, what's up?'---asked him some questions, and at some point they contacted HQ and asked them some questions, at which point...\"
The whole group of squids was quiet, eyeing each other as they listened to the banter. Human banter. Three, maybe four humans in the same room, talking about a news article about another couple of humans. Sheldon and Lily both smiled as the others realised that the alien words started to make sense.
"Holy shit, Sheldon..." Callie was the first to speak. "How-- But they don't sound any different than before--"
"Correct." Sheldon grinned. "I'm proud of this - it's not directly translating the voices. Instead, using the data from the samples Lily has sent me, myself and a small crew of researchers and developers have made a tool that sends signals to the brain, telling you how to understand the language."
"That's incredible, Sheldon!" Lorne was visibly impressed. "This will open up so many avenues of research!"
"'He cannot say that people want trivia!' is a quote that the founder of the HQ trivia app said to the Daily Beast," one of the human podcast hosts pointed out, which caused both Lily and Marie to laugh quietly, separate from the conversation.
"So feel free to take these with you," Sheldon said with a smile. "But keep them secret for now - I don't think these will be a mass-market product..." He turned to Lily. "I must let you know, Lily, that I'll be sharing the data we've created from your sample clips, and likely some of the clips themselves with the scientific community as a result of our development. No doubt they will want to teach your language in schools and the like. But rest assured, your voice and your name will not be coupled with what we have here."
"Sure," Lily nodded, relieved she would get to stay relatively unknown. "I get it. This is... a pretty big breakthrough, huh?"
"Absolutely," Callie nodded. "We're that much closer to translating your ancient materials and things. Now all we need is a cipher to read your written language... Nudge, nudge," she added with a little giggle.
"Another time," Lily chuckled. "Probably better that those 'discoveries' be a little separate..."
"Understandable," Sheldon nodded. "Well, I'm glad it seems to be working out... If I might, Lily... would you please say a phrase in your native language? I'd like to be sure that I haven't just tuned the translator to the voices of these specific people."
"Uhh..." Lily looked about nervously. "I guess..." She thought for a few moment, trying to decide on a phrase but her mind freezing up, put on the spot. The next words she spoke were in English, quoting an internet series from her childhood: "Everyone knows that auto mechanics tamper with the battery, so you have to go back to them in a week. But you can't do jack! Cause they're, y'know, tied! To the... mafia." Lily chuckled to herself afterward, amazed that after so long she still remembered the opening line.
"...Well, that's certainly not a phrase I'd ever expect Lily to say," Marie said in Inkling. "And I swear it doesn't sound completely correct, but I could understand all of the words."
"Yeah, nah, the original quote was like that," Lily told them. "It seems like your translator works pretty well, Sheldon. Awesome stuff."
"Thank you." Sheldon bowed. "Of course, I can't take credit for all of the work. I merely was the middle-man for all the voice samples that were used, and I suppose I designed the translator device based on the research of those I've been in touch with regarding this matter." He smiled warmly at Lily. "Now, their time will likely go toward collaborating with other federal departments to build a framework for teaching this language."
"Oh, for sure. Wait, what do you mean, federa--- ohhh, of course Inkopolis has a government." Lily nodded. "Well, that all sounds fine to me. I think I'm about all set for this journey then."
"Excellent. I wish you the very best in your travels, Lily." Sheldon smiled warmly. "Have you figured out what you are going to ask this Commander Tartar creature?"
"Uh---" Lily was slightly caught off guard by his knowledge of Tartar, but she reassured herself that she should have realised he would know - the others would surely have kept him up to date. "Well... kinda. All I really planned was to ask if he brought me here, since I get the impression that's what Marina and Pearl think happened, how humans went extinct, and whether there was ever a way for me to return. Don't worry," she said as Callie and Marie raised an eyebrow at her, "Lorne and I have decided that I am not interested in going back. I just want to know."
"Hrmm." Sheldon nodded, a little concerned. "Well, if you get the chance, would you consider asking him where surviving human literature might be found?"
"Are you... even able to use that info, Sheldon?" Marie asked, with a slight frown.
"Not me, no." Sheldon shook his head. "But this human business has put me in touch with a group of researchers all working around the subject of humans and their history. If you were interested in speaking with them, they would know how to use that information best."
"Well, I could at least ask and relay the answer, but..." Lily paused, and her brows furrowed. "More than that, I'll get back to you on."
"That's all I ask. I get that you're still keeping quiet about your history, but I trust the staff on that project." Sheldon smiled at her. "They would take good care to keep your confidentiality intact and identity safe."
"That... sounds like they know about me already, Sheldon." Lily raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, well... as I was told, the right person in that institute recognised the blood and DNA samples that had been taken from you some time ago, and they got in touch."
"Hmm." Lily sighed. "Well, I guess I wasn't gonna be able to keep this secret from everyone forever. But okay. Let me learn what I can from Tartar first, and then I'll consider what to do from there."
"Again, that's all I ask. That's all I wanted to know. I'll be taking my leave now. For what it's worth Lily, I hope you find out what you're looking for." Sheldon smiled, bowed, and left to return to his shop.
The girls watched him leave, and Lily leaned back in thought as the others resumed their meal.
And found herself wondering if there was any truth in fiction to the idea of 'alien' creatures being experimented on.
Surely, she thought to herself, I just daydream too much.