A kind soul and a genocidal AI meet. It goes about as well as expected.
The group of seven stepped out of the train onto the platform of Triggerfish Station.
It was a small, quiet station, with just enough platform for the train, and a singular terminal for ticket purchases near the platform exit, by which a wooden sign signalled 'This way to Camp Triggerfish!'.
The station was surrounded by great pine trees, towering over them, and the pleasant scent of pine needles and nature wafted in their direction. Lily took a deep breath, and sighed happily. The world is still beautiful...
She followed the group as they headed down the lone dirt path through the trees, already seeing a structure not too far off. Wooden towers and ramps... "Hey, anyone know what that thing is up ahead?"
"That's Camp Triggerfish!" Pearl said with a grin. "Where all the young squids go for a new adventure! Plus it's a battle stage sometimes."
"Not at the moment though," Marina chimed in as the path took them along a lake, upon which was Triggerfish's battle stage. "It's not on the schedule for a few weeks, so it'll be nice and quiet today."
"Good thing, too," Craig remarked. "Since we're on official business."
Camp Triggerfish, at least from what Lily saw from the sidelines as they ventured past, seemed like the 'summer camps' she would see on American cartoons and video games. Camp fire pits, wooden buildings, and the idea of being 'one with nature'... or was that 'conquering nature'? It seemed like more of the former here.
The structure that Lily had first seen was Triggerfish's battle stage. It was built and suspended over a lake (by who and how, Lily wondered) where, she supposed, the campgoers could unwind and make a mess.
On the other side of the lake, past a set of dormitories, was a set of public toilets, and there Craig called the group to a halt. "Alright, Agents. We should take this opportunity to get into gear. Use these bathrooms here, get into your Hero Suits, and these ladies and I will be waiting out here."
"Now seems like a good time for it," Lorne agreed. "Alright, Lily, let's get changed." She made her way into one of the bathrooms, and Remo quietly made his way to another. Eight followed behind them, following Craig's instruction.
"I'll be with you in a sec," Lily called, then turned to Craig. "I know this is rather spur of the moment, but I think it may be best if I didn't change."
Captain Cuttlefish looked at her with concern. "I can't say I understand your reasoning, Five."
Lily nodded. "Well, I'm thinking about it like this, sir. Tartar has met and... used Agent 3 already. He knows what the Agent gear would look like. If I face him looking like that, I think he might get aggressive."
"Ohhhh." The idea seemed to dawn on Pearl. "I think I get it. If you don't look like one of the Agents, then you could sell your story better and he might be willing to part with info. Clever, Lily."
Lily grinned. "Exactly."
"Well..." Craig scratched at his beard. "That is certainly a thought." He thought for a few seconds. "Alright, Lily. I think you may be right. Let's see how that goes."
Lily nodded at him. "I think it will work in our favour."
Once the other agents had returned, now dressed in their respective gear (Agent Eight using the old uniform he had worn in the Deepsea Metro) and carefully holding their weapons, the group followed the walking trail as it headed past Camp Triggerfish and further into the forest.
As they travelled deeper and deeper into the forest, the trees and bushes grew gradually more dense the dirt path and the light grass of the forest grew more and more littered with pine needles and leaves. As a result, the sunlight overhead grew dimmer and dimmer as the canopy obscured more and more of the sky.
The terrain also became less flat as the walking trail took them along the side of one of the mountains nearby, and the group carefully passed by streams of water running along the path, steep hills, and at one point crossing a sturdy wooden bridge across a valley.
Over forty minutes had passed overall before Marina declared a stop, and sat by the edge of the path, after having reached a small flat stretch of path and soft grass. "I need a few moments. My legs are killing me."
As the others took the opportunity to also rest briefly, Pearl walked over and argued quietly, "Come on 'Rina, you did this last time too! We need to push on! This ain't some vacation!"
"Just look at the others, though!" Marina gestured at the rest of the group. "It's only a few minutes, Pearlie. Tartar's not going anywhere."
"Yeah, but wouldn't you wanna get it over with though? He still creeps me out. C'mon, we'll be in and out in no time."
"Pearl..." Marina sighed. She knew that this was something Pearl couldn't quite understand. And she didn't quite have a handle on all of it either. But, having once been the only Octoling in Inkopolis, maybe she was closer to knowing what Lily was going through. "Lily is probably going to spend plenty of time talking to him, whether she wants to or not. You know he's got the only answers. She knows how much time has passed. And I don't think her fellow agents will just let you leave her out here to go home."
Pearl looked at her, and sighed, and sat next to her. "I know... I do feel bad for her. I just... want to get there. The journey's cool and all, but the destination's why we're all here... I'll try to chill out a little more tho, 'Rina."
Marina looked at her, and laughed. "Y'know, Pearlie. If we ever had an opportunity to design our own Splatfest, that'd be an interesting topic to battle over."
"Ha, the destination versus the journey? Perhaps..."
Once everyone had had a few moments to rest their legs and catch their breath, they set off again, Pearl reassuring the others that they were not far away from their goal.
Another ten minutes passed of walking through the forest, venturing deeper. They had not seen a single form of life since they had left the train. Even as they passed gentle streams and the occasional massive tree, Lily felt a slight unease, but could not understand what it was.
As they passed around a hill, Pearl called them to a halt again, by a cluster of rocks leading down the hill. "Alright folks, we're detouring. We're following these rocks down, then we'll head straight forward til we start hitting markers me and Marina placed down to guide us the rest of the way."
"This is... quite out of the way," Remo commented, glancing down the hill.
"Well we didn't want anyone to accidentally discover him, especially if they could be manipulated." Marina shrugged her shoulders. "And the further he is from Inkopolis and NILS, the better, I reckon."
Pearl and Marina made their way down the rocks first, followed by Lorne and Lily, Agent 8, then Remo carrying the Cap'n carefully.
The five Squidbeaks kept their eyes forward as they followed behind Off the Hook, watching for these 'markers' that would tell them they were headed in the right direction. Now they were off the path, and were stepping carefully through the foliage, over leaves, around fallen branches and attempting to avoid hidden dips in the ground.
Pearl's markers came into play a hundred meters off the beaten path, in the form of leaves that had been stuck onto the bark of the bigger trees at about hip height - obvious enough to those looking for them, but it would blend in enough for folks to casually miss them.
The sun had fallen from its midday point, and now there were hardly any patches of clear sunlight, making the forest trek that much darker. The foliage had also become much more dense in this part of Triggerfish Forest, to the point that the bushes and shrubs obscured much of the way off this makeshift path they had made - the experience becoming more claustrophobic as a result. This was not an issue for the crew, but Lily and Eight could feel the mood shifting around them.
The path continued on this way for another ten minutes - they would reach one marker, Pearl and Marina would take off in some contrived direction, and the others would not know why until the next marker was close enough to grab their attention.
Finally, Marina called them to a halt in an area where there was slightly more room between the trees and bushes than there had been. "Alright everyone, I think we'll settle down here. Let's relax and get comfortable."
Lily, Remo and Lorne glanced at them, suspicious, nervous. "Just how far is it to this guy?" Lily asked Marina, biting her lip.
"Well, actually..." Marina smiled, and gestured ahead. "He's just another hundred meters or so that way. We're setting up here so there's no chance he knows we're around."
Lily's eyes widened in surprise, then nodded, turning more serious. "So... here we are then, huh?"
"Yep..." Marina rested a hand on Lily's shoulder. "Tartar awaits. For what it's worth, I hope you find your answer."
"Yeah, you got this, Five," Remo said with a smile.
"Are you sure I can't come with her?" Lorne pouted.
"I'm sure you could, Agent 4," Marina told her, "but I get the impression he'd not tell Lily anything around us, even if he was convinced she was human."
Lily sighed heavily, and looked over to the path through the last shrubs and trees that awaited her. "And you're sure he can't hurt me?"
"Well..." The Octoling idol thought on it. "If he's hiding any last tricks, me and Pearlie hadn't seen it, and we lugged him all the way out here."
"Mmm. Well... Okay." Lily walked over to Lorne, and the two embraced, kissing briefly. "I'll be back soon."
"I know you will, Lily." Lorne smiled. "Give him what for."
"Don't forget the radio, kid," Pearl reminded her. "We'll hang back here so we can listen in safely."
Lily nodded, looked over toward the end of the path, and started to make her way forward, waving behind her.
Craig and Remo smiled, the former giving her a thumbs-up.
Eight's and Lily's eyes met, and they nodded in mutual respect.
Lorne threw out a thumbs-up and a wide smile.
Pearl stood with her arms crossed but a smile on her face, and Marina waved back, also smiling.
As Lily pushed her way forward into the trees and plant-life, leaving her team behind, she found herself feeling proud that they were all behind her.
She heard the quiet chatter of the group behind her fade underneath the whoosh and whistle of wind through the trees the further out she ventured.
The markers were much closer now as the dense foliage returned, a sign to Lily that her destination was imminent.
Her nerves began to flare up again.
This was insane, she told herself.
She was going to meet the would-be destroyer of the world.
And talk to him. Pretend to be on his side.
God, I can't believe I'm actually doing this... When did my life become a fuckin' cartoon...?
For the first time, she became aware of the sound of the forest, what she could hear.
Or rather, what she couldn't.
Something hadn't felt quite right as she had ventured with the group, but now that there was nothing but the forest to listen to, she was finally able to pinpoint what it was.
There were no birds.
She had seen the occasional bird in the city, but it was just... strange to not hear any sort of bird calls or general chirping out here. She had expected not to see any animals, but to just hear the wind, the creaking and cracking of trees and branches, and nothing else made the place feel... almost dead, like she was wandering an empty world.
She reached the final marker. A few bushes obscured the final steps into Tartar's domain.
This marker was accompanied by a signpost beneath it. White text on a red background proclaimed "DANGEROUS ENVIRONMENT AHEAD - TURN BACK".
Oh, how she wished she could.
She sighed, took a few deep breaths. She reached for the radio Pearl had given her, and pressed and engaged the transmission lock.
Now everything she said and heard would be sent back to the group behind her.
Now there was nothing else to do but... meet him.
With another deep breath, she pushed through the bushes, and emerged into a forest clearing.
Trees were dotted in a rough circle around this large space, and light streamed in through the canopy here.
And with the sunlight, lush, soft grass grew all over the open space.
It was a pretty sight.
There was something odd about it all, though.
The old-timey telephone box, perched motionless on a single tree stump across from her.
Commander Tartar, so Lily had been told.
If she had to guess without prior knowledge, it would have come from the 1940s or 50s. Two bells sat on either side, which she imagined a hammer would have rung when a call came in. The speaker, which was an old-timey brass piece you would hold to your ear, sat underneath, like a mouth. A handcrank hung from its side, and Lily wasn't immediately sure what it was for.
She wondered, though, if people at the time knew they were making something that looked slightly anthropomorphic.
The telephone box had been busted quite badly. Gaps in its paneling exposed its inner workings. From a distance, she couldn't make out what was inside.
But she could see the strange greenish ooze that had leaked from a small gap in the bottom of the panel onto the tree stump, and pooled down on the ground.
Lily had no idea what it was, and it only kept her nerves up.
He was placed facing the path Lily had just emerged from. She watched the telephone carefully as she approached, but so far he made no motion or sound.
She briefly wondered whether he didn't know she was here, if he was saving power or something.
But as she got within ten meters of the telephone box, its features almost seemed to contort as a tinny voice rang out, modulated as if spoken from...a telephone. "State your business, seafood."
Seafood? Really? Lily slowed, but continued to make her way toward him. "So you're the one giving us humans a bad name. I figure if---"
"Who is 'us humans'? You are not." The telephone's speakers contorted, rotating on an axis almost as if he was rolling his eyes.
Lily had expected not to be believed and had thought about how she would introduce herself on the last stretch of forest. Stopping before him, lowering the hoodie's hood, she took a deep breath, briefly speaking in English. "I am aware of my appearance, but I assure you I am human by heart."
"I beg your pardon?" Tartar eyed her suspiciously. It almost seemed to her like he was daring her to keep that up.
Lily continued, speaking fluent English (though with a slight warble, her inkling accent): "I am a human from the year 2018. I was brought here to this time and I'm not sure why."
Tartar eyed her carefully. Then, in English, he demanded: "Who are you to come here and pretend you are one of us? How dare you, you insignificant, barely sapient---"
"My name is Simon," Lily cut in, speaking more forcefully. "The creatures here have called me Lily. I am a resident of the country of Australia. I didn't live in a seismically active area, but I was effectively killed when a ravine opened up under my house. I was brought here with no clue and nothing left to my name, and... forced to live among these... 'Inklings'." She forced herself to shudder, trying to sell it to this AI. "Their ink... they changed me..."
The telephone box stared at her, considering what he was told. Eventually, he said, in a softer, more lighthearted tone, "Can you prove to me that what you are saying is true?"
Lily nodded, and silently she felt in her pocket for her iPhone, pulling it out. She showed the front of the device first, before turning it around to show the all-important Apple logo.
Tartar was briefly silent. Then, another voice, calm, female, spoke through his speakers.
"[RETRIEVING HISTORICAL RECORDS]."
Lily smiled. At least he's considering the idea.
He was silent again for at least ten seconds. Then he finally spoke. He was no longer angry, or suspicious. He seemed, incredibly, to believe Lily. "So my support has finally arrived..."
Lily's heart dropped, even as she mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Saved by capitalism. Christ. "Support...?"
"Yes... I requested additional help to accomplish our mission, per the decisions your superiors and I have made. They informed me a month ago that you had been sent. Why has it taken you this long to report to me?" Tartar's speakers contorted again, looking almost annoyed at her.
Lily took a moment to respond. "So... your lot were responsible for me being here... I'd suspected, since you and I were the only human or human-made creatures here, but---"
"What nonsense are you speaking, Simon?" Lily flinched as it used her old name. "You are an employee of NILS, are you not?"
"...No. Not that I'm aware of. But, well, I'm here now..."
"How did you find this place, then? Why have you found me?"
It took a moment for Lily to respond, struggling with the confirmation of what she had worried was the case. "I... earned the trust of one of the squids that defeated you, and they divulged your location." Well, it was technically true, Lily thought. "I'm here because... I... I need answers. I'm homesick. I miss our Earth."
There was silence. Eventually the telephone asked, "You met the things that did this to me?"
"Yes... They found me, actually." Lily sighed. "They figured out what I was after your defeat. To... prevent my own death, I played the part of a sympathetic entity and gained their trust."
"I see..." Tartar thought for a moment. "I miss our time too, Simon," he finally agreed, and almost seemed to sigh. "I miss my team at NILS. It feels like forever ago that I was still connected to them. That I could still talk with them. Especially the professor... my creator..."
Lily nodded. "Feels like a long time since I have been able to talk with my friends too."
"Mmm." Tartar fell silent, and Lily took the opportunity to glance again at the clearing around her."Very well then, Simon. I will tell you what you wish to know. In return, we shall collaborate to accomplish a task I have been working to complete for the last twelve thousand years. Do you agree?"
Lily was silent, and glanced down at the ground while she thought.
She realised she was going to have to commit to this facade, at least until she got what she needed.
She thought about her friends, listening to her every word.
And though she had told them, multiple times, that she would have to pretend to be on his side to get the answers she needed, she hoped that they understood what she would have to say in order to get there.
So, Lily glanced back up at Tartar, and with a deep breath, nodded. "Alright, Tartar. I'll play along. But I want my answers first. I've been put through this hell long enough."
"Very well, Simon." Tartar's voice softened. He was relaxed. \"Since you are not an employee, I suppose I shall inform you. The National Institute of Life Sciences has been a top-secret US project for quite some time, unknown to even the President. Our goal has changed over the millenia. At our formation, we wanted to do what we could to allow the human race to survive, as we faced rising temperatures and melting polar ice.
"I was brought online in the summer of 2015 to survey and collect meteorological data, and advise my colleagues via Temporal Networking. As you probably understand by now, I determined that we would be unsuccessful in our mission, with the methods we were using. And so---"
"Hang on." Lily stared at him in wonder. "'Temporal Networking'? Like time travel?"
"Yes and no," Tartar stated matter-of-factly. "We made use of a top-secret technology developed in the mid-2010s to connect their networks from 2017 onwards to my own servers at a time period of their choosing, but never travelling backward from a previous connection. The NILS Statue, where I was housed and where my servers were located, was fitted with one such temporal networking socket. The NILS offices were fitted with the other. The miniature time warp these created were way too small to transport anything more than data."
"Oh..." Lily felt disappointed. "So then, how did I get here?"
"I will get to that, Simon. Please allow me to finish." Tartar seemed to sigh. \"Now then. Since we determined that saving the human race was not possible, NILS' goal became two-fold. One, much like NASA's Voyager Record, we wanted to collect the knowledge from the greatest minds, the research of the whole of humankind, into one place where extraterrestrials or newly formed sapient species may find and make use of it.
"Two, I was authorized to begin a new experiment on behalf of my superiors. The theory goes that if one took the very best of humanity, you could create what the public would call 'superhumans'. So then, what if we applied this thinking to all of life, consuming its very best? Could we, then, create something larger than life? Could we create something truly... perfect?"
Tartar fell silent. Lily eventually realised that he was done talking. "And did you manage to...?"
"Not yet... But now, with human DNA to use, I feel we will be very, very close." The AI paused once again, thinking. "That ties into what I wish to ask you to do for me. But, as promised, Simon, I will allow you to ask what you desire of me."
Lily nodded, wishing he would stop saying her old name so often. She thought about the questions she had had. "Very well, Tartar. You implied that NILS had something to do with my getting brought here. This was my first question."
"Yes, we did. Staff at the Institute figured out how they may be able to create a larger time warp, and initiated a test. It seems then, that they were not able to control where it was created, the effects it would have when created under the earth, and how long it would last. We did not expect to collect a person as a result. But, as it turns out, despite the small impact on the local community, they would not be missed in their own time, and you would, in fact, be of much greater use here."
"Uh--- pardon?" Did he really just say I wasn't missed back home...?
"What was your next question?" Tartar said promptly, dismissing her concern.
"I--- uh... Right..." Lily ran a hand over her face, and her expression sank. Jesus Christ... "So, if...did they ever manage to find a way to create a portal back to that time? Could I return?"
"No," Tartar said flatly. "Besides, why would you wish to? Did you not hear what I said?"
"Oh, I heard. But I still have friends from that time who I'd want to talk to and let them know I'm OK..."
"Then perhaps this will give you some comfort, Simon. Take that iPhone of yours to the NILS Statue, out in the bay. The structure may be damaged beyond repair, but from my last diagnostics before I was torn from that structure, the temporal network is still online. You should be able to access the internet of 2018 from that phone. This is my gift to you, as a token of our working relationship."
Lily was almost about to cry tears of relief. There was a way to talk to her friends. Thank fuck. "Thank you... I'm so relieved to hear that. That would go a long way to easing my homesickness..."
"As it should. Any other questions? Or shall we get to business?"
"...One last question, sir." Lily sighed. "Clearly the human race did not survive, but...what killed us in the end...?"
Tartar did not respond for some time. When he did finally speak, his voice was more somber. \"I did mention that rising waters was a factor. But... it set off a chain of events that ultimately led to our extinction.
\"As you may be aware, Earth had a population of 7.6 billion by the time you left 2018. With less land for those people to live on, tensions and attitudes grew drastic. As soon as countries started to migrate to higher ground, into other lands, that ended up being the last straw for militaries and foreign governments. Global war broke out in weeks.
"Finally, several nuclear-capable forces used the panic to fire their arsenal, causing the US to retaliate..." Tartar paused, and Lily's hearts went cold, realising. "Most of the planet has been uninhabitable for some time since."
Lily stared at the ground and slowly sank to her knees.
Of course we nuked ourselves into oblivion.
Fuckin' of course.
She looked up, and sighed. "I suppose I didn't expect any less from our species."
"I will not have you speak of our creators that way," the telephone said sternly. "Humans have had their failures, yes, but as a whole we have accomplished incredible things together. And the two of us still have our greatest work yet ahead. Shall we move on?"
Lily sighed, and sadly nodded, images of nuclear bombs still running through her head. "...A-alright. What do you have?"
"OK. Let's talk shop." His voice had reset to a more robotic speech, now that he'd supposedly won her over. "Simon. As you may have figured out, I am unable to move and undertake this task myself, so I must ask you to undertake this for me. But I must ask you first to pledge to me that you will do what I ask. It is of the utmost importance."
Lily stared at him. It didn't feel like a good sign that he wanted her allegiance before telling her what his deal was. She feared the worst.
A small part of her noted: You can just walk away at any time, you know. He can't stop you.
Lily's body, however, stayed rooted in place. Slowly, anxious about the consequences, she asked, "I am already here... Do you not trust me?"
"Simon..." Tartar sighed deeply. "I need you to trust me. I do hope you have not grown attached to these overgrown, pitiful excuses for seafood."
Lily had to bite her tongue to stop herself from saying what she was feeling at that moment. She turned away for a moment to keep the anger from showing on her face.
She turned back. In a voice of voiced calm, trying not to betray her true emotions, she said, "I... trust you, Tartar. What are you trying to do?"
Tartar seemed satisfied. \"Part of my research on creating the perfect lifeform involves cultivating the best of a worthy species, and disposing of those that are not. Through testing with my business partner, we have determined one candidate from the current gene pool. And as you are already aware, my plans to put that DNA to use have been... delayed, shall we say.
"To that end, I have two tasks for you. One, you must find Number 10,008 for me. He is the successful testing candidate. An 'Octoling'. Bring him here. Extract his DNA using the equipment left in the Statue. His will be used in the making of the perfect life."
Number 10,008? Does he mean... Agent 8? Deciding to feign ignorance, Lily asked, "What does he look like?"
"Like every other damned mutant octopus around here," Tartar spat. Then he paused. He seemed to have an idea. "Actually, I may be able to show you. Touch my essence, Simon, and I shall transmit the information."
Tartar's... essence? Lily's face scrunched up as her thoughts immediately went to less pure things. She glanced around him. Did he mean the... slime, or ink, or whatever, that was oozing from his frame? "This.. inky stuff?" She asked, gesturing at it. "What even is it?"
"Do not call it ink!" Tartar barked at her. "It is a biological byproduct of my research. I have learned to use it as an extension of my digital- and silicon-based self when it is connected to my circuits." He took a moment, again resetting his attitude. "Please, do not feel nervous. You should only feel a slight static shock."
She stared at the goop. I really shouldn't be doing this, she thought to herself.
But, let's... confirm for absolute certainty that he's really asking me to do away with Eight. And... everyone, I guess.
Nervously, she reached out... and dipped a finger in the sludge.
Immediately a loud 'snap' and an electric shock surged through her body, and she found herself frozen in place as the stuff latched onto her finger.
She blinked, and suddenly she was no longer in the forest. She could no longer see Tartar.
She could no longer see herself.
She was instead looking at a boy, in a dark, dimly lit, underground train station.
She was connected to Tartar, she knew.
And she immediately recognised the boy standing in front of her as Agent Eight. His face was much more confused, more... tense, than when she had first met the boy.
Captain Cuttlefish was next to him, enthusiastic and curious as ever.
The scene seemed frozen in time. An instant of when Tartar had first met them.
Shortly after Craig and Eight had teamed up, Lily realised.
Tartar's semi-robotic voice appeared in her head, in her thoughts. "This is Number 10,008. This is who you must find and return."
Lily was astounded at what was happening. Is this... safe? she thought to him.
"At this voltage, yes. Hmm - it seems you do recognise him..." She became deeply aware of Tartar glancing through other parts of her memory. "The other, the old man, he may be disposed of as you desire, unless you wish to let my backup plan do the honors..."
Before she could reply, the scene went black, and in the next instance, she was somewhere else again.
She was back in the forest. Back in the clearing.
This time, she was in the place of Tartar.
And in front of her stood Marina and Pearl.
They both wore the faces of two people who were exhausted, and wanted nothing more to be rid of the burden they had both been carrying.
"These two may be eliminated with extreme prejudice," Tartar said simply. "Make sure their last moments are filled with suffering. Make sure they know they're dying. ...Ah, seems you recognise them... hmm, from where...?"
The scene changed again.
This time, though, Lily recognised it immediately.
They were both looking through her own eyes, as Pearl and Agent 8 pointed their weapons at her, down in the Inkopolis sewers. "I see, I see..." Tartar's voice murmured in her head.
Hey hang on--- was all Lily managed to get out to him, realising that he had begun looking through her memories.
She was somewhere else again - Tentakeel Hideout, the night the Octolings first attacked her. She was glancing back at the oncoming squad, hot on her tail.
Again - Standing in the crowd at the New Albacore Hotel with Lorne, Sheldon and that Roller boy. "Were these... friends of yours...?"
Again - talking with Lorne, Callie and Marie at the Hideout. "Hang on..."
Again - talking with Lorne and Marina on the train. "I don't believe this."
Again - the Squidbeak meeting with Off the Hook... and Eight.
"I DON'T BELIEVE THIS!" Tartar bellowed, staring at the scene through Lily's eyes, and a fresh, more powerful surge of electricity zapped through her body, causing her to scream involuntarily. The invisible grip on her finger tightened, and the goop she had nearly forgotten connected them crawled up the digit. "You befriended them! You gave up your humanity to be more like them!"
I...I told you I had to to keep myself from---
"LIAR!" Another surge of electricity, and her vision faded into glitchy static. "I am in here with your thoughts! You used me... In the name of what? To save them?"
I wanted these answers for myself! She thought at him, even as her body struggled to keep in control of itself under the increased current.
"Shame... Then at least I will have the satisfaction of disposing of you. You're a traitor to the human race! Be glad that what's left of your human DNA will be part of the perfect..."
The scene changed one last time.
It was herself, sat alone in the Tentakeel Hideout. It was nighttime.
She was holding a stack of documents.
...The documents that proved that I had no human DNA left, she realised grimly.
The frustrated noise that Tartar made was a squeal of digital noise, certainly inhuman as he cranked up the voltage, his grip extending up her hand as it itself began to sting and burn.
She heard a sizzling noise. She was burning up. She knew it was her own body. She knew that the electricity, the energy was cooking her alive.
She realised that Tartar was going to kill her. And there was nothing she seemed able to do to fight back except watch the whirlwind of memories flash in front of her.
But... I'm... human...
"YOU WERE NEVER HUMAN, YOU USELESS, TRAITOROUS WORM!" Tartar bellowed in her thoughts. "Now be a good boy and---"
The whirlwind of scenes halted, and Tartar went quiet briefly. His attack on Lily paused, at least briefly, and she took the chance to gulp down fresh, cool air to soothe her burning insides. She forgot where the air was coming from.
But what she was being shown made her forget the situation, for a moment.
They were both looking, again through Lily's eyes, at a long beach.
The sand stretched on into the distance, where eroded cliffs rose from sea level and shrubs and plantlife grew atop them. Washed-up seaweed was strewn on the dry sand, untouched by the lower tides.
It seemed untouched by civilization.
Except for herself and the six other people in front of her.
Lily stifled a sob.
For in front of her and Tartar, walking along the beach with her, frozen in time, was her family.
Her human family.
Her mother and her grandmother were just ahead, almost close enough to touch. She had been hanging back with them.
About fifteen meters ahead of them were the rest of them - her father, brother, younger sister, and uncle.
This was their Christmas gathering, last year.
Inky tears streaked down Lily's face. She missed them, so much.
They were so close, yet so far away.
"Hmm. Well isn't that nice," Tartar's voice mused casually in her mind. "A family of subhumans."
Lily blinked. Her mouth dropped open.
How... dare you.
Her free hand curled into a fist, and her struggles to free herself renewed as a rush of anger surged through her. HOW DARE YOU!
"You heard me, speck!" More electricity poured into her again, and she screamed out in pain as her body began to heat up once again. "Be glad they died in service of bringing you to this forsaken place, Simon! For even your mother could not love what you have become... RACE TRAITOR!"
The voltage climbed upward. The heat was unbearable. She could not think of another response, could only watch the image of her loved ones slowly fade as her vision dimmed.
"You'll be with them shortly."
She became vaguely aware that she was being pulled backwards, just as she thought she was going to black out for the last time.
And suddenly found her senses freak out as she was forcefully separated from Tartar, the force of whatever had been tugging her back, flinging her backwards onto the grass.
Separated from its host, the few tendrils of Tartar's biological mass that had attached itself to Lily, oozed onto the grass, melting away.
Leaving the skin underneath stained with its color.
Lily herself found it hard to take control of her own senses and breathing for a bit.
But as her mind came back to reality, the alarming smell of cooking squid filling her senses, she blearily blinked her eyes into focus, staring upward.
She was back in the forest. Back in the clearing.
And blocking the view of the blue sky above them were Pearl, Lorne, and Remo.
She became aware that she was being held down. Her arms and legs were being pinned to the ground and to her body.
The high pitched whine of the tinnitus from Tartar's connection faded away, and she started to be able to hear them.
"...Why are we doing this?" Lorne was saying to the other two. Somewhere in her addled brain, Lily remembered they were speaking in Inklish, not the English she had been communicating in with Tartar.
"Trust me, Four," Agent 3 said, glancing down at Lily. "If Tartar's got her under his thrall, it... won't be good if she gets free..."
"Uuunnder his... thralll...?" Lily slowly said, slurred. Her brain was still jumbled from the experience she had just had, and the shocks had messed with her badly. Steam poured off of her. But she could tell she was back in reality.
She slowly lifted her head to glance at where she thought Tartar was, but Pearl grabbed her and guided it back to the ground. "Whoa there, kid. Take it easy. Y'know, when we say 'don't get cooked', we don't mean literally..."
"Wwwwhassgoin'on?" Lily asked, starting to get some feeling back in her extremities. She flexed her fingers on each hand, the movement of her right hand, where Tartar had connected with her, flaring up the stinging sensation again, causing her to curse and wince. Remo winced sympathetically.
"We came by as soon as your radio started sending static," Pearl told her. "Right after he wanted you to 'touch his essence' or some creepy thing like that. Once we saw you like that... we jumped in to separate you two."
"Do you feel in control of yourself?" Remo asked Lily, gently squeezing her arm.
Lily flexed her arms and fingers (ignoring the pain in her right hand this time), and then her legs and knees. It hurt, but she could do it. She slowly nodded at Remo, and took a few deep breaths. "I'm... sorry... for the things I had to say..."
"Shhh, it's okay," Lorne cooed, letting go of Lily's side to cup her cheek. "You went through this with us. We know what you were trying to do."
"You probably could have ended the charade sooner, though," Remo pointed out. "He wasn't gonna be able to stop you if you left..."
Lily nodded, and sighed. Slowly, she started to lift herself up, and Three and Four helped her to sit up.
She could now see Craig, Marina, and Agent 8.
They had surrounded Tartar, blocking his immobile body from Lily.
Seeing him... the fires of rage bubbled up from within her. He must pay.
She noticed something in Agent Eight's hands.
A metal pole of some kind, with a flat surface on the end.
Something had been mounted onto it at some point.
Eight seemed to be planning to simply tip Tartar over with it.
But all Lily saw was a tool. The means to get revenge.
Her lips curled upwards into a dark smile.
Lily slowly began to push herself up onto her feet.
"Whoa, hang on there kid!" Pearl called, and grabbed at her shirt.
Lily swatted at her hand, turning her head to glare at her with a fierce look neither Lorne, Remo nor Pearl had seen in her before.
"Pearl," she said calmly. "Kindly get the fuck off of me, or I'll do to you what I'm about to do to him."
Pearl and Lorne looked taken aback.
The former wisely let go, as the three backed off.
Unhindered, Lily stumbled to her feet. Her insides were burning. The residual electrical shocks were fucking with her motor skills. Her body wanted nothing more than to keel over.
But adrenaline, determination and rage pushed her on.
Slowly, calmly, she walked forward, toward Tartar once more.
"Eight." Again in that calm, unnerving voice. "Please hand me that pole."
Agent 8 glanced at her.
Saw the look in her eyes.
And slid the pole toward her.
"Oh, fuck," Pearl breathed, somewhere behind her.
Lily took the weapon in one, then both hands, ignoring the stinging in her right. "Stand back," she said.
Craig and Eight stepped aside.
Watching her, worried for her safety, Marina reached out, tried to stop her.
Pearl pulled her backward. "Trust me... you do not want to get in her way right now."
Marina looked at her, saw the fright in her eyes. Immediately realised that this was not going to be pretty.
And, as she looked back at Tartar, she recognised that the guy had had this coming.
What 'this' was though... Marina gulped, and reluctantly stepped aside.
The path between Lily and Tartar was clear.
Lily stared him down.
She felt the heft of the pole in her hands. Oh, this is going to be fun.
"Do you see this?" She said calmly to him.
"You think you can threaten me, Simon?" Tartar said coldly. "I have nothing more to say to you, traitor."
Lily was silent for a moment. Simply she said, "Very well."
She turned and took a few steps away.
Marina let out a sigh of relief...
Right before Lily turned back, swinging the pole over her head, the flat metal plate coming down, screaming out.
The pole slammed down hard on the top of Tartar's frame, caving inward as a robotic screech squealed out from his speakers.
The crew behind Lily let out a collective gasp of shock.
The dented front panelling popped free. Inside Tartar was a mess of wires and computer cards and leftover biomass that oozed out.
Not that Lily cared.
"YOU!" She bellowed in English, her words dripping with pure hate. Everyone got further back as Lily begun to swing the pole dangerously from side to side. "I'm more human than you'll ever be, you genocidal... freak!"
With the word 'freak', she swung hard again, smashing into Tartar's innards and breaking some of his expansion cards, severing some cables. Biomass flew with the force of the attack.
Tartar's speakers went silent.
Sparks flew, and shocks ran through the pole, zaps of current that lasted only an instant but left her reeling.
The force of Lily's swing knocked the telephone box off of its stump, and it crashed into the grass. Lily walked patiently around the stump.
"You took my life away from me!" she screamed, and swung again, above the head, damaging the frame again.
"You took my friends away from me!" Again. More cards splintered into pieces. More electrical shocks.
"And leave my fucking family out of this, you goddamned MONSTER!" The hardest swing of the lot. The metal plate went through Tartar's motherboard, and there was a loud 'snap' as it split in two.
But she still wasn't done.
With some tugging, the pole came free, and Lily circled the broken phone.
"Lil...Lily..." Marina quietly started, shocked. "He's already---"
"COMMANDER TARTAR!" Lily screamed out. Tears streamed from her eyes. "YOU ARE THE SYMBOL OF EVERYTHING THAT WAS WRONG WITH HUMANITY!"
She climbed up onto the stump, standing before him. Holding the pole upward, toward the sky.
"IF YOU SAY I AM NOT HUMAN... THEN HUMANITY DIES HERE!"
And with a final scream of rage, she leapt from the stump, and with the weight of her body, plunged the hollow, cylindrical end of the pole into the remains of Tartar's motherboard.
They heard the ugly sound of rending metal and breaking silicon.
The pole pierced through the motherboard, through the back of Tartar's frame, and buried itself in the grass.
Lily finally let go of her weapon.
The clearing was silent as she sank to the ground.
She took deep breaths. Heard her hearts pounding in her ears. Felt the pain, the heat coursing through her.
She was done.
He was done.
"What do you think of that, motherfucker," she cursed under her breath, but loud enough for many of the group to hear.
Then, before a stunned and silent New Squidbeak Splatoon and Off the Hook, Lily's eyes rolled back, and she collapsed backward onto the ground and fell unconscious.
Lily opened her eyes in an unfamiliar room.
Silently she observed the environment she found herself in, and slowly realised that she must have been in a hospital - the clinical bed, the two displays next to her reading her heart rates, blue curtains around the bed.
She wondered what she was doing there.
There was a dresser next to the bed, upon which sat a lamp, and her inkPhone. She reached for it, and noticed the blue hospital gown she had been changed into. No wonder I feel a little bare.
Taking the phone, she glanced at it, looking for any notifications. As she navigated into her messages, the curtains parted, and a sea anemone doctor entered the partition, lifting a clipboard from the end of her bed. "Good afternoon. How are you feeling?" She asked in a gentle voice.
"Uh..." She took the moment to direct her thoughts inward. She felt okay... Just sore from supposedly being in bed for so long. "I think I'm alright... More just confused at the moment."
"That's perfectly normal." She smiled, and walked to Lily's side, lifting her phone away. "I'll hand this back shortly. Can you tell me your name?"
"I'm Lily, ma'am."
"Uh---" She'd... not given herself a new surname with her name. Oops... She spoke the first surname she could think of, that wasn't her own. "Wye. Lily Wye." She had used Lorne's surname.
"OK... Do you know where you are?"
"I'm guessing I'm back in Inkopolis... I don't know which part, though." Lily looked at her nervously.
The lady nodded. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Lily tried to probe her sluggish brain. Her memory of the past was still foggy. C'mon, surely I remember something...
A...forest. I went hiking. And my family was there...?
She slowly sat herself up on the bed as she thought. As she did, the sheets brushing against her right hand strangely pained her, and she winced. I remember this pain...
She pulled her hand up from under the bed to let it breathe, and stopped, looking at it.
The skin was stained green.
It started to come back to her.
"I... remember getting shocked by something in the Triggerfish Forest," she said slowly, staring at her discoloured hand.
The doctor nodded. "You were exposed to sustained electrical current, exposing your body to extreme internal temperatures and causing several of your organs to begin to break down. The pouch that allows your regenerative ability to function was quite badly damaged. We needed to operate to repair the body enough so that allowing it to survive a reformation was possible."
"A 'reformation'? As in... I was splatted so that my body could repair...?"
"Something along those lines, yes."
Lily watched her, weighing the news she was being given with the memory that she had. Now she remembered - she had been out with her friends to confront Tartar. But the meeting with Tartar himself was like a static screen - she could not seem to remember what had happened during their actual meeting. She guessed that he was not quite as helpless as they had thought.
"That... seems to line up with what I remember," she finally said. "What condition am I in at the moment...? Are my friends alright?"
"Miss Wye and Miss Marie Calamari are quite alright." She smiled. "They have not suffered any physical distress, only concern for your well being. As for yourself, your body is still recovering, but you should be mostly mobile. I must ask you not to partake in strenuous physical activity, Turf Wars or any activity that may result in your being splatted again until we can ensure your organs have resumed full function."
"I can live with that..." Lily sighed.
The doctor finally handed Lily's phone back to her. "Speaking of Miss Wye..." She smiled warmly, and carefully slid the curtain away from the wall.
Just beyond Lily's dresser, in two chairs, were Lorne and Marie.
Lorne had nodded off at some point and was snoozing in her chair. Marie had an arm around her, and had looked up as the curtain was pulled aside.
Marie's eyes met Lily's, and she smiled.
"I will leave you to talk," the doctor said quietly. "Just ring the buzzer by your bed if you need anything."
The doctor bowed, and took her leave.
Lily nodded in thanks to her, then turned to Lorne and Marie.
Marie smiled. "Welcome back, Lily. It's good to have you with us again."
Lily smiled, even as she felt herself tearing up, happy to see the two of them again.
She was among family.