Chapter 1: Ch1, where The Girl has little to no idea what is going on
So. I lost my friend in a boating accident, unconsciously floated to an uninhabited island, met two secret agents, blew up an old building, and fought off a brutal onslaught of Salmonids with said agents. Then a pipe-frame helicopter with an exposed engine (and also an exposed everything else) arrived.
Marie, the second agent I met, helped pull me onto the heli after she hauled herself on. Then she did the same for Four, the first one I met. I don’t know her actual name, but her title is Agent 4 and Marie calls her Four so I call her Four. It's got a ring to it. Oh, and Marie. I should clarify that I mean the Marie. From the Squid Sisters. Personally, I just thought their music was just ok, but it’s still crazy to meet someone so famous. And if that's crazy, then having that same person save your life and then saving their’s back is all the mental illnesses you could imagine combined and then some.
Marie almost seems like a mom. Actually, more like a cool uncle, but as a cool aunt? She’s light-skinned with dyed milky-white hair and her eyes are golden with plus-shaped pupils. She seems to always know what to do and is great at staying calm. You’d think that having a double life as triple as hers would be stressful, but she doesn’t show it. I saved her, she saved me, we’re one happy fam-mil-lee. I hope so, at least. I think she likes me and she knows I look up to her, but she’s also seemingly great at masking her feelings.
Four. Not to brag, but I also saved her life. Long story, though, so I’ll skip it. She has short, macaroni-colored hair, cocoa skin, and somewhat off-putting bright red eyes. At first she acted rude and closed off, but now she acts rude like a friend would and is the sheer opposite of closed off. I think she thinks pretty highly of herself, and it might get annoying later. I like her well enough though. That might be a permanent statement.
The heli started to lift off and the pilot, Sheldon, told me that he was actually a part of Marie and Four’s ‘Splatoon.’ He’s a Horseshoe Crab, not an Inkling, and he’s the guy behind the counter at Ammo Knights. His fast, nigh-incoherent ramblings about the weapons he sells bother a lot of people, but I like them.
Anyway, I knew nothing about their group, the Squidbeak Splatoon, except for that its goal seemed very important. Or maybe it has multiple goals and they're all just important in general. Marie told me that she would tell me more once we’ve reached their humble abode. I would have asked her to tell me more during the heli ride but I was exhausted and she was too. So I sat, got as comfortable as I could in the cramped, loud, turbulent helicopter, and managed to defy all that I thought was possible and fall asleep.
I woke up probably less than an hour later to Four patting the right side of my face, telling me that “we have arrived,” along with the omnipresent whirring of the rotors of the helicopter. It was still the middle of the night. I sat up and realized I was resting my head on Marie’s lap while I slept. I pretended to ignore it and looked at my surroundings through one of the many empty spaces of the pipe-frame heli, and all I saw was the Ocean. I brushed Four out of the way and asked Marie, who didn’t fall asleep, where we were.
“We’re here,” she simply replies.
“I don’t see anything here,” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes.
“You’ll see in a moment.”
She was right. We kept flying in the same direction for about 30 seconds before stopping in the air, still nothing in plain sight. Before I could complain that we were in the middle of nowhere again, Sheldon turned around to face us.
“Wanna see something cool?” he asked me, obviously very excited.
Again, before I could answer, he pointed straight down and said “Watch.”
I turned to the edge again and leaned over as much as I felt was safe. I saw a giant metal box covered in barnacles and moss and things with an upward curve at the middle start to rise from the under the water. The slant caused all the water to flow off.
Once it was a few feet above the surface of the water, the slanted top split into two perfect halves and slid outward away from the box, revealing an opening on the inside. The halves kept sliding until they reached the edge. They were clearly attached to some kind of strong tracks; otherwise they would have either slid or broken off and fallen into the toxic water.
Sheldon started descending the helicopter down into the hole. For a few seconds it was pitch black. Then a few lights flickered on, revealing that we were in a room that resembled a small warehouse. We continued descending until we finally landed on the ground. Sheldon shut off the heli, jumped out, and pushed a button on the wall that caused the giant barnacle hatch to close again.
I didn’t process what was or did happen for another few moments, but when I did, all I said was “Nice.” I scanned the room we were in for the first time.
I pushed myself to my feet and stepped out of the helicopter and onto the smooth but dirty floor. To the right of the helicopter was a wall with nothing on it but a few lights and a metal door with a window, so I turned back around. To the heli’s left was what looked like a normal speedboat, and the left of that was a space that looked as if one more vehicle was supposed to be there. I realized it was probably for the boat Marie originally intended to rescue me with that ended up being detonated.
The dull, rusting, expansive room seemed very empty apart from the two vehicles remaining. “Is this it?” I asked Marie.
“This is absolutely not it. This is just our hangar.”
“Ohhh,” I said. “That door leads somewhere, doesn’t it?”
“Yep,” Marie replied.
“Good problem solving for someone who isn’t awake yet,” poked Four. I could tell that she was also tired. I’m pretty sure that sleeping on cold sand for five or less hours doesn’t really do much for you.
“Where does the door-?” I got interrupted by Four.
“Wait,” she said, “Wait. First, before anything, you have to guess our ages.”
“Four,” said Marie, “You did this same thing to Eight and it didn’t-”
Four cut off Marie as she did me. “Guess,” she said firmly.
Still too not-awake to really object, I just went along with her. “Ok, Four, uhh, you’re probably, uh, like, fifteen?” Four nodded her head so I continued, “And, Marie, you look, uhh, like, early thirties?”
Marie grew a small smile and Four absolutely lost her mind. I’d never heard anybody laugh like that before in person, and, frankly, it was startling. Four noticing me jump only made her clutch her chest and cackle harder. Soon Four seemed to run out of breath and all that came out was a shrill wheezing noise.
She abruptly stopped, wiped her eyes, and in a totally flat tone said “Wrong. I’m sixteen and Marie’s twenty.”
I stood for a moment not knowing what to say before saying “Oh,” which is really still not knowing what to say. Marie smiled through the whole thing.
“Don’t worry,” she said, apparently able to see that I felt bad for missing her age by ten years, “You’re not the only one who’s guessed that. Trust me, the hair fools a lot of people.”
“Oh,” I said again, but in a relieved tone.
“And about what Four just… did,” Marie continued while Four stared at her, “she has violent swingings of the mood, as you saw on the island, but she’s also really good at faking it.” She takes a breath. “It gets confusing.”
Four stepped ahead of her. “When you put it like that, it sounds like a bad thing,” she complained. “I prefer the term ‘Talented and Skilled Actor from Date of Birth.’”
Marie walked toward me. “This door leads straight to HQ,” she said. "Where we all live." She opened the door, Four ran inside, and Marie gestured for me to follow. I stepped inside and Marie shut the door behind me.
The room was very dark, but it seemed much smaller than the hangar, maybe about the size of my bedroom in the tiny apartment that I lived in. Four was standing over a small, faintly glowing button. When she saw me seeing her, she pushed it and the lights in the hangar went out. We were now in total darkness. I couldn’t even see my own hands in front of my face. When I tried to focus harder, I only saw faded static.
Marie(?) stepped near the center(?) of the room. I heard a short metallic scraping sound.
“This right here where I'm standing is a grate. It leads directly to the base,” said Marie. “Follow me.”
I heard her slip through the grate in her squid form with Four following shortly after. Being paranoid of the dark, amongst other things, I quickly did the same.
The other side… wasn't what I expected, but I also don't know what I expected in the first place. We were on a small rectangular platform with nothing much on it but an old TV, the grate we just went through, and an entrance to a building straight ahead. None of that was too weird. The weird thing was that all of it was HANGING FROM THE GROUND. The ground was the ceiling and this structure was suspended from it. I looked over the edge for a brief moment to confirm and yes, although hard to see due to the darkness, below was a rocky canyon and we were suspended several hundred feet in the air. If I fell, there would be no hope for survival. There was also creepy-looking old-fashioned telephone that was dented as if someone used it as a punching bag.
Four and Marie were waiting for me. “You two are probably fully aware of this but I would like to point out the fact that we are like 40 miles above the ground,” I said.
“Don't worry,” Marie reassured me. “We're firmly attached to the ceiling. We’ve survived four earthquakes.”
“When do we get to show her her room?” asked Four.
“First, we have to introduce her to everyone else,” Marie responded.
I walked through the entrance and Marie and Four followed behind. “This is our kitchen,” said Marie as she flicked on the lights. “We have an electric stove, a fridge/freezer hybrid, a microwave/oven hybrid, a sink, a toaster, and a food cabinet.”
“So it's literally just a kitchen?” I asked, slightly disappointed.
“Well yeah,” Four shot back. “The kitchen is a necessity. It's where you go when you're hungry, thirsty, stressed or depressed.”
The kitchen wasn't very big but it was definitely big enough. The floor was smooth gray tile and the ceiling looked the same as a classroom ceiling. The electric stove was marked with remnants of food burned beyond recognition. There was a plastic orange bowl filled with crackers on the table. The whole room smelled faintly of burned toast.
“What's in the pantry?” I asked.
“Mostly just things that take a while to expire,” responds Marie.
“The next room is the living room,” said Four. “There probably won't be anyone in there except for Three because it's so early in the morning.”
“Who's Three?” I asked.
“Agent 3. She's the first agent the NSS hired,” said Marie.
“New Squidbeak Splatoon.”
“Now, before we go in there, Three isn't... the most social person out there,” Marie warned me. “She probably won't say much.”
“Don't worry, I'm used to not being talked to.”
I opened the door to reveal a large-ish room with a table, two couches, and a flat screen TV in much better condition and size than the one outside. I could see a couple video game consoles under it, including one I've wanted for a while. Each wall of the dark room lead to somewhere else; two doors and one hallway.
On the couch facing and illuminated by the TV was the girl I assumed was Agent 3. She had long, sea-green hair, and she seemed a bit more muscular than Four, but was really hard to tell since Four was wearing a jacket. Three had a strange-looking faded green scar on her right eye, along with more smaller, normal scars over her whole body. Her unscarred eye was a dark blue, like the blue that a box of colored pencils would call blue, or maybe cerulean? However, her scarred eye was a bright faded cyan. Her skin was pale, but slightly tanned. I could tell because the only things she were wearing were a neon yellow safety vest (closed, thankfully) and a pair of black shorts. I didn't recognize the show she was watching, but it had that late-night-sitcom-rerun vibe.
Marie laughed and shook her head, as if disappointed but unsurprised. “Three, how many times do I need to say to wear something under your vest?”
“But nobody's awake,” she replies with looking away from the TV. Her voice was kinda deep, like the kind of deep voice you couldn’t understand someone whispering in because it'd be too raspy.
“You knew we'd come back eventually,” Marie argued.
“We have a new one,” said Four.
“A new what?” Three responded flatly.
“A new recruit.”
This was enough to catch Three's attention. She turns toward the three of us and sees me for the first time. Her tired, discolored eyes look me up and down as if evaluating me based off of my appearance. I remembered that I was wearing nothing but a band T-shirt and socks and suddenly felt extra self-conscious.
Then she made eye contact with me. “What can you do?” she asked. Her intimidating gaze completely disabled my ability to speak, but thankfully Marie saved me. Three did not sound like she wanted to deal with me, ever.
“She and Four found each other on her last mission. She was stranded by a boating accident. She saved Four's life, and she also saved my life and completed Four's mission for her because she was injured.
“I saw potential in her and decided to bring her back here,” Marie finished.
Three seemed to consider this but didn't show any obvious reaction. “How well can she fight?” she asked.
“Well, I survived an ambush from an Octoling soldier,” I stammered out.
Three scanned me again. She was reevaluating me, and I could barely see a hint of a grin form on her face. “Alright,” she said before turning back to the TV.
I leaned over to Four and whispered “She's cool” in her ear. She just snickered like I had told a really stupid joke.
Marie gestured for me to follow her into the hallway while Four left to one of the doors in the living room. Marie told me where every single door in the hall lead. “The first door on the left is Eight's room, and across from it is Three's room. Second door to the left is the only bathroom, and across from it is Gramps’ room. Third to the left is the guest room for Pearl and Marina, and across from it is the guest room for Marina. Finally, the room at the end is for me and Callie.”
“I have several questions,” I said. “First of all, who are Eight and.. Gramps? Second, why does Marina have a separate room from Pearl and Marina's, and third, PEARL AND MARINA?”
“I'll answer all of those eventually,” Marie replied. “You'll be staying in Marina's guest room for now. Also, keep it down. Everyone but you, I, Three and Four are asleep. And,” she continues, “I don't remember anything about an Octoling ambush.”
“Oh, I didn't have Four's headset yet when that happened,” I answered.
“Congratulations," she yawned. "I'm going to sleep now and you should too. Tomorrow will be a busy day. For you and I. Everyone else too."
“Alright.” I turned to the room I was told to go to and entered, without yet considering what “busy day” or "everyone" could mean, relieved to actually have a bed. The room was dark and mostly empty. The only furniture was the bed and a small nightstand with nothing on it but an old looking lamp. I guess the room wasn't meant to be used often. The bed was small, but it was a real bed, with a mattress and all that. It had old but clean-looking pillows and sheets along with a heavy blanket too big for the bed and too thick for the incoming heat. The room was completely barren of windows or even a closet. Also, it was small.
With nothing else to do, I stripped down to my undershirt and shorts (resenting the fact that I'd been wearing the same pair for two+ days), got comfortable in the bed, turned on the thankfully functional dim lamp, and prepared to try and silence my thoughts and sleep.
Suddenly, I heard the door open and I opened my eyes again. I saw Three standing in the doorway. She was shorter than I expected, about my height. She was still wearing the same things, which didn't really surprise me. “Hi,” she said. I didn't know how to respond so I just said hi back. She stepped in closer so that I could see her better in the glow of the lamp. She was smiling, but she had her teeth clenched as if trying not to.
“I like the backstory Marie gave you,” she said. “Is it true?”
She looks to my side. “How'd you rip that tentacle?”
“Can I tell you tomorrow?”
“Sure.” Another silence.
“They're right, you have potential,” she said. “I… uh, you have potential.”
I don't know how to take compliments due to lack of experience, and she clearly didn't know how to give them, so I just sat without saying anything. I noticed that her scarred eye's pupil was white; I wondered if she could still see through it.
“What's your name?”
“My name is Jade,” I told her.
Chapter 2: In which Jade makes questionable decisions
Jade goes through a bit more introduction, achieves a privacy breacher, and starts her trial.
I honestly do not believe how much positive feedback I've received in only a few hours. Hopefully I don't disappoint!
And goddamnit the italics didn't carry over damn it.
Edit: I don't know what happened that made this turn into a giant block of text. Sorry!
When I woke up, the bedroom was still dark. The lamp's light seemed to have finally passed away. I tried to fall back asleep for a few minutes before I remembered where I was and sat up instead. There was light under the door, meaning someone was awake.
I groggily stood up to turn the light on, squinting early as a precaution. After adjusting to the light, I noticed some stuff on the nightstand. There was a pile of folded clothes, an old cell phone, and a sticky note. I stepped closer to investigate.
First thing I did was read the note, which was written in half-cursive:
“Good morning! I don't know how long you'll be asleep for, so I wrote this note for you. I brought you some clothes to borrow, I had to guess on the fit.
More importantly is the other thing. It's an old cell phone that I upgraded from. All of-” The writer ran out of room and continued on the back, writing smaller. “-the NSS members keep a digital log that they update daily. Basically, a diary. I'm giving you access to them so you can get to know them better.
Get ready and eat breakfast, then meet me on the balcony with the old Telephone. -Marie
I picked up the phone and powered it on. It had a single notification, a direct message from Marie: Read the note.
I changed into the new(?) T-shirt and shorts Marie lent me, put the phone in my pocket, and headed to the living room. Agent 3 was eating dry cereal on the couch. She was still wearing the same two things as she was last night. I thought she was going to ignore me, but she gestured for me to talk to her. I approached and she started to speak.
“Okay, so, there's-” She swallows her food and tries again. “There's an Octoling in the kitchen, but don't freak out about her. She's with us, and she's my, uh, friend. She's officially Agent 8, but she likes to be called Eight.”
“Uh, alrighty, I don't really, uh, mind. I mean, there's plenty of Octolings in Inkopolis now,” I replied. I was still a bit surprised that the guys deadlocked on getting rid of Octolings, y'know, had one on their team. Maybe I'm missing something.
Slightly afraid of acting unnatural in front Eight, I went to the kitchen. I was hungry after two days without real food.
Inside were 3 people: Four, eating the bowl of crackers I saw last night, Eight, waiting by the microwave oven, and Callie, digging through the fridge.
I still felt like I didn't belong. Like I was in a place where I wasn't supposed to be, where I was unwelcome. Marie was welcoming and all, and Three and Four were, uh, nice? But I still really didn't know anyone. I pulled a chair from the table silently and sat by Four.
She looked up at me briefly, as if asking what I was bothering her for, before returning to the bowl.
“Hey,” I whispered to Four, “I don't know anyone and I'm uncomfortable.” I realized this is exactly what Marie gave me the phone for, but I'd check that out later.
“Just introduce yerself,” said Four, still eating. “Everyone's just as scared of you as you are of them. Try Eight first.”
The microwave and Eight were behind me. I saw that the time was 8:42. I turned around in my chair to face her. Her skin was the color of brown sugar, her hair was a light shade of scarlet-red, and her outfit was… very casual and regular. Normal shirt, pants, shoes, you name it. I hesitated and reached up to tap her shoulder.
“Hi,” I said when she turned around.
“Hi,” she said back. She had a distinct Octarian accent.
There was silence for a moment.
“Well, it seems as though we both have no social skills,” I joked.
“At least I have an excuse for that,” she shot back with a sincere smile.
“And I don’t?” I responded, knowing full well that I didn’t.
Another, albeit shorter, silence.
“What’s your excuse?” I asked.
Her smile evaporated and she broke eye contact. “That’s a long story,” she said. Welp. I'd definitely pushed the wrong button. Eight continued: “What’s yours?”
Before I could straight up lie to her face, the microwave finally dinged. I didn’t notice how loud it was until it stopped. Eight pulled out a plastic plate with a slice of cheese pizza on it.
“Pizza for breakfast?” I poked.
“What? It’s good.”
“I mean, can’t argue with that kind of logic.”
I decided to try talking to Callie next.
She was now neck deep in the fridge, searching for something. She never onced moved anything out of the way.
“Hey, Callie,” I called to her.
She pulls herself out of the fridge, sees me, and breaks into a smile. “Hi, Jade!” She sounded... very happy, but not to the point of being fake. “Marie told me about you! She said that when you woke up I’d make you a bowl of cereal, so… Whaddaya like?”
“What do you guys have?”
“Well, there’s a kinda bland off-brand one, and there’s the same thing but more colorful and sugary,” said Four from behind me.
“Uh, I’ll take the sugarier one,” I said to Callie. “Thanks.”
The door to the living room opened and in stepped Three. She walked straight across the room and started digging through the pantry.
“Three!” shouted Callie. “You know Marie doesn’t it when you wear that.”
“But Eight does,” Three responded bluntly. Eight refused to make eye contact with anyone.
“Yeah, and that’s exactly why she-” Callie started to protest but gave up. “Just change soon, okay? We have a new person and we want to make a good impression.”
“Alright.” She pulls a bag of potato chips out of the pantry, moves to the fridge, takes out a jar of relish, and exits back to the her room. I hurried to finish my cereal to meet Marie.
I walked out the kitchen door to the balcony and she was waiting for me with two clipboards in her hands. “Hello Jade,” she smiled. “I still have a lot to talk about with you; whether you want to officially join us or not, where you will live if you do/don’t, how we could get you a job, etcetera.
“I have a list of questions for you to answer depending on if you want to stay or go home.” She paused. ‘So… do you want to go back home or do you want to stay?” She paused again. “You can have if few days to think if you need to.”
I didn’t take too long to decide. I hate to say this, but my life really didn’t have much to offer. My parents and home and school all... were oppressive, and sticking with Marie and the Splatoon probably means the opposites of those things. All of them were acting nice and welcoming, even if I didn’t know how to take it.
“I’ll stay,” I said.
“That’s under- wait, come again?”
“I’ll stay,” I repeated.
“Huh. I didn’t expect you to be so sure.”
“I have reasons.”
“I don’t doubt you do,” she said. “That means you get this clipboard.” She handed it to me, pulled a pen from her pocket, and gave me that as well. “Please have both pages filled before tomorrow.”
“Will do,” I said. I was strangely excited for this. I had always liked taking surveys that involved my personal opinions, and that’s what the packet Marie gave me looked like. I walked back through the kitchen to the living room to sit on the unoccupied couch. Three was dipping the potato chips into the relish.
I proceeded to answer all of the questions in one sitting:
How old are you? Fifteen and two thirds.
What grade are you in? Ninth.
What is your IQ? It was 121 when I tested two years ago.
How many friends do you have outside of the NSS? None now. None.
Do you have a significant other? If not, are you looking for one? No and No.
How many active social media accounts do you control, if any? None that I post on, I just look at other people’s art and stuff.
How much do you rely on technology for entertainment? Very.
What is your rank in Splat Zones? S.
What is your rank in Rainmaker? A.
What is your rank in Tower Control? A+.
What is your rank in Clam Blitz? B-.
Do you have any relation to Grizzco.? No.
How resistant are you to physical pain? Not very much, I don’t think.
Have you ever been hospitalized do to a sickness or an injury? No.
Do you have any mental illnesses, disorders, or phobias? Not that I know of.
This is weirdly specific. Does Marie really need all of this?
Do you have any allergies or strict eating habits? No, but I hate chocolate and most vegetables.
How clear is your eyesight? Very? I mean, I don’t need glasses.
How fast is your reaction time? Slightly above average because I play video games.
What are your hobbies, if any? Video games.
There was a question between this one and the next entirely scratched out by a thick black marker. Why? I couldn’t tell you.
Are you extroverted, introverted, or unsure? Introverted.
How prone are you to lonliness? Not much.
How prone are you to stress? Average? A little above average? Quite a bit? Yes?
How prone are you to lashing out due to anger? It builds up over time and eventually breaks out like an overfilled cheesy helium party balloon of rage.
How high is your stamina? Not.
Finally. Writing for so long on a clipboard with no support hurts your hand.
I pushed myself off of the couch and went back out through the kitchen again to see Marie because I didn’t know where else to start looking. To my surprise, she was still standing there, waiting for me.
“I’m done,” I announced.
“Didn’t take you long.”
“How’d you know I wasn’t going to take long?”
“You seemed excited.”
“Well… I guess.” I handed her the clipboard. She let me keep the pen.
“Follow me,” she said.
Marie led my back to the living room and to one of the doors that the living room contained. “Why don’t you ever tell me where you’re taking me?” I asked.
“I don’t know, actually,” she replied. “I’m taking you to Sheldon’s room, a.k.a. The Random Tools and Equipment room, to give you equipment for your admission test.”
“That raises more questions than you answered.”
“Just… You’ll see.”
Marie knocked on the door before letting herself in. The room was dark and thin and long. There was a bunk bed with a computer desk instead of a bottom bunk that you barely had room to walk around. At the end of the small room was a ladder leading downward, which I took with Marie. The room below was similar, but less decorated and much bigger. Two walls were lined with shelves, one with target dummies, and the last was barren. Sheldon was preparing the dummies.
“Hey,” Marie said. “Jade’s ready to get her stuff.”
“Oh, already?” he asked. “That was fast.”
“I was surprised too.”
I cut in. “What are you guys giving me? And what is my test?”
“Well, here’s the thing,” started Marie. “Normally we’d give our agents a set of regenerative lightweight armor that gives you extra durability, but… We don’t have any sets that would fit you. So, instead, we’re giving you some extra tools.
“While Three and Four got nothing but their weapons, 1-way headsets, and armor, you are going to get a special weapon, a 2-way headset, no armor, and- oh, this is the best part- a grappling hook.”
I was disappointed? Excited? In shock? A lot of emotions that are hard to describe. “Are you serious?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Sheldon and Marie said simultaneously.
“Well, where’s the stuff and what do I have to do with it?”
“We’re not quite there yet,” said Marie. “By special weapons I really meant an intentionally trashy custom-made weapon designed to push your limits.”
“You’re sending mixed signals here.”
“Just- here.” Marie dug something off of one of the shelves of randomly assorted things behind her, handed it to me, and turned to get more things from elsewhere. What she gave me was a small weapon resembling a modern Splattershot, the newer version of what I used to have, except the one I was currently holding had a slide below the barrel.
Marie knew exactly what I was thinking. “Yes, that thing operates off of a pump. I’ve affectionately dubbed it the Splattershot Mini. Don’t worry, there’s a good side. Each shot is much more concentrated, accurate, and powerful. The range is also quite a bit better.
“It’s not a good weapon, per se, but it’s meant to challenge you,” Marie finished. She came back with two more things in her hands; the headset and the grappling hook. I still couldn’t believe that I was being lent the hook. It was hard to take seriously.
“If you can’t already tell, your trial will be a stealth mission of sorts. In short, Sheldon found some wonky energy outputs coming from somewhere in Ciseekeao and you’re going to wander around in that cesspool until Sheldon can get a more precise idea of where said energy signals are coming from. Got it?”
“Somewhere in where?” I’d heard the name before but I couldn’t remember anything about it or what the name was even of.
“Ciseekeao. You know, the one that’s halfway underwater?”
Ooooohhhhh. Ciseekeao. I actually have no idea what that is.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” I said.
“Well, that’s where you’re going,” replied Marie. “Right now.”
“Yep,” said Sheldon. “I’ll be the one taking you. In the heli.”
“Oh, goodie.” I paused. “How many more questions can I ask first?”
“You may have 3,” said Marie.
“Okay, first, do I have special clothes I need to put on before this?”
“You only get the tools I just gave you and the clothes on your back.”
“Great. Second, who built the helicopter?”
“Thought so. Third, uh, I actually don’t have any more questions.”
“Fantastic, go to the Hangar.” The two of them both climbed back up the ladder and I followed. Marie went to her room and Sheldon stayed in his as I made my way back to the grate. Three was still in the living room but she didn’t acknowledge me. She finally put on a shirt and also ditched the vest.
I fell through the grate back into the dark room and the yellowish lights flicked on automatically. I stood back up, pushed open the door, and saw Sheldon already there, waiting for me.
“Actually, do you want to take the heli or the boat?” he asked.
“Which is faster?”
“The speedboat, but there are other things to consider, like ‘do you get seasick,’ or ‘are you afraid of heights,’ or ‘is safety a concern?-”
“Then the speedboat, please,” I said. I just wanted to get this over with so the NSS would let me use better stuff.
The boat was on a platform raised slightly off of the ground, and there was a 6-inch or so circular hole on each of the 4 edges. Sheldon hauled himself up into the boat and I followed. “Did you know that this boat comes with wheels?” he asked while looking for the key.
“No, but that’s neat, I think.”
The boat was similar to Marie’s, albeit clunkier-looking and with a lack of an interesting paint job. There was also nothing shielding its passengers. And wheels. It had room for about seven people to sit comfortably, and the yellow, decently-cushioned seats folded back for storage. It smelled salty.
“Wanna see something cool?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “You said the same thing last night.”
“And it was cool, wasn’t it?”
“...yes, it was pretty cool,” I mumbled, failing at not smiling. “How long will this trip take?”
“Twenty minutes,” he said. “Now watch.”
He pushed a button on the dash and walls started to rise, surrounding and enclosing the platform and the boat. When they almost reached the ceiling, it split open the same way it did for the helicopter. Water started to stream in from the holes in the platform.
“Is this the most practical way to do this?” I asked.
“If we want to keep things hidden, yes, it is.”
The water flowing into the chamber elevated the boat until we were nearly even with the ocean and then the wall descended again, leaving Sheldon free to move. “Buckle up,” he said from the front. I did just that and found something to hold on to. My past two experiences with boats weren't pleasant.
Sheldon hits the gas and we're on our way. The engine sounded like it belonged to a truck, but that made sense. Riding was rough because the waves were hitting us at an angle and I concentrated on keeping my stomach in check for most of the luxurious cruise.
At one point, Sheldon caught me trying to get accustomed to the stuff I was given for the mission. “Do you have your phone?” he asked.
“I don't know if Marie told you, but to help you get to know the NSS, she gave you access to the personal diaries of herself, Callie, and Agents 3, 4, and 8.”
“Oh, yeah. I still don't understand why?”
“I just said, so you can know more about them.”
“What if I find something I don't want to see?”
“I don't know about that. Marie convinced everyone to keep digital journals to help themselves vent, and she's allowing you to look at them when you aren't busy. You should be able to find them in the files of your phone.”
“One more thing,” he said. “Marie convinced everyone to not swear around you so that they could make a good first impression. It lead to them not really talking much. Point is, don't be too shocked once you start reading/if you come back.”
“Mmhmm. OK.” Too much information as is, and now all this? It seemed like a breach of privacy, and I knew I was going to feel guilty later, but I also knew I was going to read anyway. Why would Marie let me do this?
Soon, I saw a large cluster of buildings in the distance, but no land underneath it.
“This is it, right? Ciseekeao?”
“Sure is,” replied Sheldon. “Prepare to hop out once we're close enough.”
As we got closer, I was able to see things a bit more clearly. All of the towers tall enough to protrude the water looked very old. Some were missing windows, others were boarded up. Since all actual doors were underwater, openings were sloppily carved into the sides of the buildings. They were connected by makeshift wooden bridges, partially afloat and partially suspended just above the water. Just the task of walking here would be dangerous.
Soon, we found a strip of buildings that just broke the surface of the water and made a lot of room to stand on. Sheldon moved closer to let me on.
“Alright, just some quick reminders for you,” he said. “Your job is essentially to wander around until I get a signal like the ones we mentioned earlier. You'll do that by carrying this.” He tossed a small metal box to me. “That will keep track of energy outputs around you and your location,” he said. “Keep it in your pocket and don't get wet.
“Oh, and one last thing,” he said. “These things will let you reform for a limited amount of times if you do happen to get wet and, well, die.” He tosses two more small metal things at me. I guess they were like portable spawnpoints?
“You put one in your pocket and the other somewhere safe so you can re-materialize in peace. And yes, I helped design them.” He smiled to himself. “Gotta go now. Good luck bye!” he called as he sped off.
The first thing I noticed when I turned around was that the buildings were even older than I originally thought. Like, hundreds of years older. The city was partially submerged because it was built unwisely while sea levels were still rising.
I assumed that I was currently standing on some form of shopping center. All of the buildings in this group were in a line and they all looked the same. Since they were close together, instead of having bridges thrown together, planks or sheets of metal were laid between them.
I started walking toward where I hoped was the center of the city and fiddled with the headset, trying to figure out how to turn it on. I found a dial on the side and turned it aimlessly, hoping I would hear something. It was mostly static, but I found one small bit that was clear and turned it back to there. I waited to hear something and for a moment I thought I turned it back off.
“Marie?” I called.
I heard someone running and then the sound a camera makes when you shake it while it’s recording. It was Marie. “You figured out how to use that pretty quick.”
“I thought you were going to wait until you needed me,” she said.
“I don’t exactly need you right now, but I do want to know some things,” I said. “Are there any people here?”
“Yeah, and they’re pretty freaky,” she replied. “There’s basically 3 types: People who came for the privacy and regret it, somewhat normal but not quite people, and those who’ve devoted themselves to Toni Kensa. That’s from best to worst.
“That third group is probably the most threatening. They’re like a cult. It’s creepy. Their ink colors are always monochrome.” Marie took a sip of something on the other side.
“Okay, I’ll keep an eye out,” I said. I was starting to doubt that this was gonna be pure stealth.
“More importantly,” I continued, “where do I go to.. do my business?”
“You’ll have to improvise,” she said. The line went silent.
The air smelled like unclean public bathroom and I didn’t like what that implied.