Lily, Marina, Pearl, Craig, Lorne, Remo and Eight ride the train out of Inkopolis, and get to know each other a little better.
Lily and Lorne awoke early on the day of their journey, as the sun was just rising.
It wasn't their choice - the schedule demanded they be at the station with Pearl and Marina around 9AM, as the train out of Inkopolis would leave shortly after then.
So at 7AM the girls were up and about, tiredly packing their backpacks. Out went everything that had been left before, and in went a change of clothes just in case, their Agent gear (Lorne insisted it was called a Hero Suit, but Lily wasn't fond of the idea of calling herself a 'hero'), and in Lily's case, her laptop and Hook Cans. They also attached their weapon cases onto a strap on the backpacks - one less thing they would need to carry by hand.
After each took a brief shower, Agents 4 and 5 left their apartment in a slight rush 50 minutes later, Lily worried that they might miss their train to the Square. They made it to the Inkopolis West station with a minute to spare, perhaps a sign that she had a point. But as they sat in their carriage, waiting the 15 or so minutes for them to get into Inkopolis Square, both girls exchanged text messages and schedules with Marina and Marie.
Callie and Marie would be meeting them at the Square to see them off, filling in for Off the Hook on news duties today, and were surely prepping for the morning broadcast at 9AM, their first broadcast in what must have been nearly two years.
Meanwhile, Pearl, Marina and Agent 8 would see them up ahead, at Inkopolis Central Station, the transport hub of the city. The City loop train would pass through there, and Lily and Lorne would disembark and cross the station to get to where regional trains would depart. Captain Cuttlefish and Agent 3 would board at a later stop.
So even as Agent 4 and Agent 5 sent texts out to update their friends, letting them know they were on their way, they knew that now they were on their train, they were on schedule. Marina had got it all planned out.
Indeed, as their train pulled into Inkopolis Square Station and they stepped out, Callie and Marie got their attention from further down on the platform, semi-hidden behind a vending machine so they didn't grab the attention of fans. As Lily and Lorne walked over, both Squid Sisters smiled and gave the girls a hug.
"Nervous?" Marie asked of Lily once they had hugged each other.
"Yeah, a little," Lily admitted. "I guess if somehow I don't find out anything, it'll still be a nice camping trip..."
"What about you two?" Lorne asked of the Squid Sisters. "Surely you're out of practice with the news stuff."
"I mean, of course we're nervous," Callie said with a little laugh. "But we also know it's going to be weird all around for viewers and staff, so I guess we'll have a bit of fun with it."
"Yeah, it's gonna be silly, but, y'know, considering what's been happening with us, and what the last major event we covered was..." Marie eyed Callie and smiled. "I think folks will be happy to know that we're still doing well."
"True that." Lily smiled. "Good luck with it, girls."
"And you with your little adventure," Callie said, and grinned. "Those regional trains have some nice private compartments, so all of you should have plenty of privacy to chat whatever."
"And usually they aren't that busy either, at least once they get out of Inkopolis," Marie nodded. "So if you need space, I get you need that sometimes, you can get that pretty easily."
"Thank goodness." Lily breathed a sigh of relief. "I mean, I know there's gonna be a lot of us there, so... knowing that is a relief."
The sound of another train pulling in caught Lily's attention. The next City Loop train was here. "Well, guess we better get moving..." she said, turning back to the Sisters. "Good luck with today, girls."
"You too. Good luck with Tartar, Lily." Marie smiled, and she and Callie waved them off as they all started to move. "We'd better get back to the studio. We're due on soon."
"We'll be sure to tune in!" Lorne giggled, sticking her tongue out as she and Lily peeled off to get on the train, waving back.
The two girls found their seats in the middle of a packed carriage, and sat their backpacks underneath the seats as the train pulled away from the station, and began its trek. There weren't too many stops between the Square and Central, Lily was relieved to see as she glanced at a station map on the opposite wall. Still, she got comfortable, looking around the carriage at all the busy faces.
Another fifteen minute ride saw them pulling into Inkopolis Central. Glancing out of the window as she and Lorne stood, amongst several other passengers to disembark, Lily was wowed by the size of the station.
They exited the train onto a platform onto one end of the station and headed toward the main station area. Train platforms lined one end of the station, several platforms seemingly dedicated just to the City Loop and several inner city lines that . The rest of the platforms serviced areas toward the edges of the city, and only two platforms, on the other end of the station, serviced areas outside of the city.
The entire station itself - the platforms, customer service, and a few shops and food venues - were covered by a roof that undulated across the entire space, like a corrugated metal sheet, or... gentle ocean waves. Lily realised it was probably the latter the designers must have been going for. It was a soft blue color, and lights across each low section of roof lit up the space brightly. It was an impressive piece of building to Lily.
"Hey, it's Lorne." Lily glanced up to her girlfriend. She was on the phone, to Marina she supposed. "We just got into the station. Platform... 8 it looks like. Where are we meeting?" There was a pause as she listened to the response. "Sounds good, we'll meet you there for a quick brekkie. Seeya in a bit." She hung up and turned to Lily.
"Oh yeahhh, right, food," Lily nodded, and chuckled. "Sorry to eavesdrop. Where we headed?"
"There's a small cafe storefront in the station near the platform we're headed to. Follow me." Lorne smiled and they both walked across the station, past the different platforms, and towards a small café stall surrounded by tables.
Some of those tables were occupied with patrons, drinking their hot drinks and eating their breakfasts or meals.
One of those tables was occupied by Marina, Pearl, and Agent 8.
They were all in more casual clothing today. Marina was sporting some light denim jeans, a crop-top of sorts and a du-rag headband, while Pearl was in a pink hoodie (that looked slightly too big for her, Lily noted, to where she could barely see Pearl's shorts peeking out from underneath) and, oddly, a crown. Both girls were also sporting thick necklaces with their own symbols, which Lily now recognised were the iris shapes of the Octolings in Marina's case, and the Inklings in Pearl's. They looked very 'bling-y' in Lily's eyes.
Agent 8 was dressed more simply - he wore a Grape Hoodie, currently pulled up over his head. He also carried a backpack, like Agents 4 and 5 were. Lily wondered what he might be carrying - his weapon, surely, though she couldn't see a case on his pack... clothes? Did he have Agent gear yet? The only thing she remembered him having in the way of clothing was that tight-fitting black outfit...
Marina was the first to notice the girls as they approached, and waved them over. "Hi girls! Glad you could make it!" Pearl and Eight turned in their seats to see them, and Pearl nodded in greeting while Eight raised an open palm to acknowledge Four and Five.
"Of course we were gonna make it," Lorne commented as she and Lily pulled over two chairs from a neighboring table to join them, taking a seat. "Lily was stressing over leaving on time," she teased, putting her arm around her partner's shoulder.
"To be fair, I did that in the past too," Lily sighed. "Just... y'know, this is important to me. Thanks for coming out with me, guys." She smiled. "I'm still a little surprised you're coming with us, Eight," she noted, raising an eyebrow.
"I get to learn more about the surface," Eight shrugged. "And I get to learn about you."
"Oh, man. Speaking of getting to know you..." Pearl turned to look over at Lily. "Did Sheldon show you the thing he was doing with those earbuds?"
"Uh... yeah." Lily raised an eyebrow. "Why, do y'all have-- yep, you sure do," she cut herself off as Pearl tugged off her hood and Marina lifted one of the headphone ears away, showing off their own earbuds. "I guess that's not terribly surprising."
"Well, it's good timing on Sheldon's part," Marina noted with a smile as she checked her watch, then gestured for Pearl and Eight to get up, and the lot of them grabbed their bags. "If we're gonna be eavesdropping on your conversation with Tartar, it's good we can make sure we understand what's being said..."
"I mean, sure I guess..."
The chatter continued as the group of five headed back down to the platforms, Marina guiding them to the train they would be riding. It looked slightly older than the one Lily and Lorne had ridden just before, but it was also longer and slightly wider.
As they stepped on board, Lily saw why - Though there were carriages with rows of seats like Lily was used to, one of the carriages they stepped onto was one long corridor, with small rooms to one side for travellers preferring more privacy. Marina stopped in front of one of them, turning to the group. "Well, here we are. This compartment's ours for the day. Shall we?" She slid the door open and stepped inside.
The compartment was a good size for five passengers. Two large seats, enough to sit three and a bit people each, were on either side of the space, and above them were luggage racks, which the group set about lifting their gear into the space. There was also a small table space next to each seat, and a cupboard underneath it which contained pillows and a blanket - no doubt for extended journeys.
Pearl and Marina took one side, and as Eight moved to join them, Marina shook her head, but smiled at him. "Come on, Eight. You hang out with us most of the time already. It's not gonna kill you to sit with Four and Five."
Eight stopped, a look of confusion and slight worry on his face. He slowly turned to Lily and Lorne. Quietly he began, "Is... is it okay if I---"
"We're not gonna deny you a seat, Eight," Lorne replied, and smiled. "But thank you for asking anyway. Come on, let's get comfortable." She sat window-side, with Lily in the middle, and Eight took the other end.
As they settled in, checking phones and making polite chat, the train's conductor came on over the broadcast system. "Welcome, passengers, to your 9:10 service through to Calamari County. This service will be stopping at all city stations, Dopefish Fields, Triggerfish Station, and should be arriving into Calamari County Station at approximately 6PM. Please make yourselves comfortable and have your tickets ready for presentation, this train will depart in two minutes."
As the train pulled away from Inkopolis Central and into the city, the five got comfortable, making idle chatter and tapping away on phones. Lily tried to relax, holding the phone in her hand as she watched the inner city pass by through the window.
"Well, here we go," Marina said, and smiled at Lily and Lorne, drawing their attention. "Excited, Lily?"
"Nervous, more like," Lily said with a sigh, and Eight glanced over at her. "But I am curious to see what the world outside of this city is like."
"Huh, I figured working alongside the others on your team, you'd've seen most of the surrounding areas." Marina raised an eyebrow. "Or at least Octopia, anyway..."
"Yeah, nah." Lily shook her head. "I mean I've seen parts of it, the Canyon of course, and one of those habitation domes... But we figured out I needed more training before I went back out there, being so... new, to everything."
"One of those things I'm looking for is just outside of the city limits, and then there's something else in Grizzco territory, but it hasn't been---"
"OOH!" Marina squealed. "We should invite you on a Salmon Run shift some time!"
"A... what?" Lily looked at her in confusion.
"That's what the Grizzco shifts are called, kid," responded Pearl. "Though it's waaaaay different to what you're used to."
"I'm sure." Lily nodded, and left it at that briefly, then started up again, realising something. "Okay wait, so, Grizzco. Operates in the ocean, has swathes of territory restricted so only they can use it, supposedly all their workers are casually employed," she gestured at Pearl and Marina as she said this, "and how the hell do you get 'Power Eggs' from... salmon? Are these salmon electric or something? What's this company's deal?"
"Nah, they're just dangerous," Lorne pointed out to her.
"Oh, good, that's fine then." Lily said sarcastically as she turned to Four. "What does that mean."
"So like, Mr. Grizz is kiiiinda sketchy and really wants those Golden Eggs the Salmonids lay," Pearl started. Eight seemed to be listening in too. "But if we just let them breed, then they'll eventually overrun us. They're really aggressive."
Marina continued, "Those Power Eggs also do contain a bit of energy in each of them, so it helps the city and the environment. And Grizz does tend to pay the hard workers better, sometimes better pay per shift than a Turf War game in the city. So it's a mutual benefit."
"And he employs people of all skill levels," Pearl nodded with a grin. "Though... he does go through a lot of staff."
"...What does that mean?!" Lily asked in a slight panic. "Do people die doing this?! How does he get away with th---"
"Oh! No, no, nobody dies," Marina hurriedly reassured her. "Though, I've heard stories of crews being left on-site for extended periods of time as 'punishment' for getting wiped out, or not securing enough eggs..."
"Christ," Lily gasped, not really reassured in the slightest. "All that's telling me is I want to spend as little time working for him as possible to find the item that's there. Assuming he hasn't found and pinched it for himself."
"Yes, I'm... not sure I would want to work for him either," Eight noted, and Lily saw he was wide-eyed.
"Glad we could agree on something, Eight," Lily commented.
The conversation continued for a few minutes, veering from topic to topic and eventually was interrupted by another announcement as the train began to slow. "This train will shortly arrive into Inkopolis Plaza. Inkopolis Plaza is our next stop."
"Oh!" Marina said, and jumped to her feet. "I'll be back, guys. This is Remo and the Captain's stop." She waved out of habit as she slid open the compartment door and stepped outside.
"Lemme know if they still have that Squid Beatz cabinet!" Pearl yelled after her. To the others, she said, "Hope they do... I still head over to the Plaza some days to grind out the top scores."
There was a lull in the room as Lily, Lorne and Eight tapped on their phones idly.
"So, yo, Lily," Pearl started up again, with a curious look. "Were you ever gonna tell us you used to be a boy?"
Lorne looked up and glared at Pearl, while Eight's head snapped to look at Lily in shock and horror.
"No," Lily responded with a grumble. "That was my past life. It'd only have come up if a story from my past demanded that context. How'd you find out?"
"Was in Cuttlefish's file," Pearl replied nonchalantly. "D'you miss it?"
"Not particularly," Lily said flatly. "Well, I sometimes miss one particular part..." She crossed her legs. "But my identity and life never really corresponded to what gender I was." She shrugged. "I guess in a sense though, being a girl now has made me happier with myself. For the record, I do see that look you're giving me," Lily said as she turned to Eight, who was expressing grave concern. "My previous appearance has nothing to do with my current personality. I was always the same person, Eight, just, I have a more appropriate look now."
"I... think I see," Eight said slowly, and Lily got the impression he was not quite grasping the idea. She noticed him glancing down at her hips. "So do you not have a...?"
"No," she said firmly. "No, I don't. I'm pure girl now. I used to before I changed, yes. I don't anymore."
"...Okay," said Eight, and seemed to let it go.
"So, what, with you and Lorne palling around," Pearl started again, "does that make you gay, or straight or...?"
Lily snorted. "I think biology dictates that makes me gay," she said with a laugh. "But I never really cared for labels along those lines. I love who I love. And that just happens to be her," she finished, and smiled at Lorne. "And she knows, of course, and accepts that."
"Eh, alright." Pearl shrugged, and left it well alone.
Lily noticed the train was starting to move again, and though she smiled and simply went back to using her phone, she was feeling a little uncomfortable. Well, the next couple hours are bound to be a barrel of fun, she remarked in her thoughts.
"Uh, hey, sorry kid," Pearl said, leaning in, noticing Lily didn't seem quite OK. "I guess I shouldn't have asked like that. I was only, y'know, curious."
Lily thought on those words for a moment. "I'm... not sure there's any nice way to directly broach that subject, I guess. Just, to hit me with that right out of the gate though?"
"Right outta what?" Pearl was confused. "What kinda saying is that?"
"Heh, don't worry about it. I think you got what I meant."
"Hey, look who's here!" came the voice of Marina as the door into their compartment opened, revealing Captain Cuttlefish and Agent 3. The two stepped inside, followed by Marina, as everyone greeted them. Marina and Craig sat down on Pearl's side, leaving Remo to sit/lean against the cupboard next to them.
"Hey guys!" Lorne said, and she, Eight, and Pearl waved them in. Lily did a small salute. "Doing well this morning?"
"Not too bad, Agent 4, not too bad." Craig rested his cane in front of him. "Ready to get down to business, is what I am."
The gang chatted and hung out as the train headed toward the edge of the city, even as Marina convinced Lily to put her music library on shuffle.
While the carriage bobbed their head to acapella video game music, to techno, to electronic, to synthwave, the buildings outside gradually grew less tall, less dense, and the landscape became more green, less flat. Lily didn't realise it initially as they finally left Inkopolis, until she looked outside and suddenly saw green, green fields, trees, and farmland stretched off toward the horizon.
Lily stared out of the window in awe. Lush countryside. It was beautiful. She had missed this. She had a dumb smile on her face as she watched the world pass by.
"Lovely out there, isn't it?" Craig said with a knowing nod, watching her face.
Lily nodded slowly. "Makes me miss taking trips through areas like this, hours and hours of farms, and mountains, and flat land stretching toward the horizon..." She looked away, toward the Captain. "I love it in the city, I can tell it's where I need to be. But it's comforting to know the world can still be beautiful on its own terms."
She gave a cheesy smile, then, thinking, got up and rummaged through her bag for her laptop, pulling it out and sitting back down. On her way back down, she noticed that Eight was also staring out the window, and his expression was one of awe. "What's up, mate? You look like you've never seen the countryside before."
"He hasn't," Marina pointed out, turning away from the window. She had also been watching the scenery pass by. "Neither did I, until recently. Since the Great Turf War, Octarians have all lived underground... or in places like the Octo Valley, the Octo Canyon. We would've killed for such serene scenery."
"Your ancestors did," Craig pointed out, and sighed. "I suppose ours as well. It really is a shame the rising waters led to such bloodshed... How lucky for your kind, that the underground turned out to be so habitable."
"Wait... rising waters?" Lily glanced over to Craig and Marina.
"The levels have stabilised for now," Marina said, but nodded. "And have been for around a hundred years. But, yes. Many of our species' original settlements have been lost just due to the lost land. I think most of the remaining human ruins are also submerged."
"Huh..." Lily bit her lip. She had a feeling that she knew who was still responsible for that. She glanced down at her laptop. It had finished booting, and now sat at a standard Windows desktop. She searched for her music DAW, and let it load up. Since Off the Hook are here, she thought, let's see if they will be into this...
"What system is this?" Eight asked, peeking over her shoulder as attention turned back toward the music playing off Lily's iPhone.
"Oh, uh, this is... I haven't updated to anything from this time," Lily told him quietly. "It's an old operating system. I've got some stuff on there that I'm not quite finished with." She looked at the screen, and grinned - her last project, the one this world's music had inspired her to create, had loaded.
She let the acoustic sound of 'You Oughta Know' fade, then stopped the phone from playing any more music, for the time being, starting playback of the project, the beginning of Madeon's 'Cut The Kid' playing out. "Oh hey, this song! Wow, this reminds me of one of your songs, actually," Lily said with a grin to Off the Hook.
"Does it?" Pearl said with a raised eyebrow, and listened closer. The first beats played, and as she listened to the melody of the sampled piano closely, she started to notice something. "Yo, Marina. Doesn't that piano kinda sound like it's doing the Color Pulse thing?"
"Hey, yeah, I think it is!" Marina grinned. "Nice find, Lil---"
Then Color Pulse itself kicked in over the top of Cut the Kid, a funky mashup of the two, and Lily couldn't help but grin.
"Whoa! What's... Oh! You cheeky thing!" Pearl grinned back, realising immediately what she was listening to, hearing Marina's and her own voice over the top of the track. "You did this? Nice! You gotta send that to us!"
"I never thought I'd hear our music and... human music blended together like this," Marina said in wonder. "Never in my life. So, that mean you're also a musician?"
"Eh... not really." Lily shook her head. "I just like to mess with songs that are already done and do something weird with 'em. Honestly my talents lie in... a couple different places, and while I like making these they aren't what people knew me for."
"What do people know you for?"
Lily opened her mouth to speak, then stopped.
She couldn't think of a single thing. She hadn't been known for anything.
She finally just murmured "nothing" and let the track play out.
"Really? You gotta promote yourself, kid." Pearl sat back. "All this music you been playin' today, right? There'll be an audience for this. Not just some stuffy historians. But remixes, mashups, whatever, like these? Blending the past and the present together? THAT's worth a show."
"I promise ya, Pearl," Lily replied, as the mashup finished, and her hands moved to resume the phone's music playlist. "I've been daydreaming playing my mashups and DJ sets live for ages."
"Well... maybe this is the time to make it work." Marina smiled. "Just something to consider when this is all over."
Lily nodded, and smiled. She let herself fall silent for a while, and listen to the other conversations going on around them, between Lorne, Craig, and Remo.
Today, all of them were friends.
At around 12:30PM, the tannoy announced the train's imminent arrival at Triggerfish Station. The first half of their journey was at an end.
Everybody in the compartment packed up their things, aside from Remo, Craig and Eight, who had never taken out anything but their phones.
As they slowly made their way from the room out into the train corridor, waiting for the train to stop at the station platform, Lily glanced at Agent 8. She was pleased that she and him seemed to be getting along better - it turned out that he enjoyed looking at and dissecting all sorts of technology, and that gelled with her own love of tech. Finally, she had something in common with him.
Lorne came up behind her. "How ya feeling, hun?" she asked her, gently squeezing her hand.
Lily turned to her and smiled. "Better. That was a fun train ride. Never thought I'd say that before. But god, I'm glad to finally get out of that packed room."
"Hah!" Lorne pat her on the back as the group lurched forward, the train coming to a halt, the doors opening.
And one by one, Pearl, Marina, Craig, Remo, Lorne, Lily and Eight stepped off the train onto the Triggerfish Station platform.