#4: Back to the Surface

Hey!” Mud calls after me, “S- slow down before you hurt yourself!”

“Oh, come on! We’re almost there!” I look back at him, smiling. “I’m gonna ru to get there that way I get there- h- whoa!?”My foot catches on a piee of debree from a broken building. Before I realize I’ve tripped and fallen face first into the concete.

“#3!” Mud gasps. He hurries to my side and kneels down next to me. “#3, are you o- oh! oh. oh…”

I have sat up. My head hurts. I put my hand to it and it comes away sticky and red. In addition to this, my hands and knees are stinging from scrapes. Tears well up in my eyes.

Mud sighs. “I told you.” he says, shaking his head. He pulls a bandage from his bag, then begins wrapping it around my gashed forehead. “You shouldn’t have been running like that. Especially in this place…”

I feel my face get really warm. I nod but say nothing in reply. He stops a moment and studies me The boy lifts my chin so that I’m looking straight at him.

“Hey. You ok?”

I don’t answer him. My head hurts and I’m embarrased by my childish foolishness. He sighs. Before long, he has finished bandaging my head and helps me to my feet. We start walking. For a time we say nothing and i deliberately avoid his gaze, but he seems concerned over me. So he starts to talk.

“Hey…. are you alright? I know you hit your head… did I say something that bothered you?”

I shake my head, no.

“You sure?”

I nod yes. He frowns, looking at my forehead.

“You hurt yourself pretty bad, girl… I think you’ll be ok, though…”

“I’m just tired…” I say truthfully, “I want to get home and curl up in my guardian’s lap.”

He looks surprised. “’Your guardian’? Who’s that?”

I jolt. I can’t tell him about Spyke! I can’t act suspicious either… being the adopted daughter of a theif is complicated.

“Well when I got to Inkopolis for the first time I was mostly on my own. I had some… problems… and ended up homeless. My guardian found me after I collapsed from lack of food. He took me in and now I live with him. I’m his assistant in his work. I deliver things and sometimes… er… obtain items for him…”

There really isn’t a good synonym for “steal”. I smile lighty as I think of Spyke. I miss him…

Mud smiles. “oh. Cool. Sounds like you got someone who really cares for you, eh?” He looks ahead of us. “The way to the surface is not far now. Should be only fifteen minutes from here.” I nod. That’s closer than I expected. Mud smiles at me gently. “Hop up. I’ll carry you the rest of the way.”

I look over at him in mild surprise. “Huh? Are you sure? Your arm…”

“It’s fine.” He assures me, “Trust me, I’m stubborn.”

I’m still hesitant, but I realize that I do feel weak again. Somehow, he seemed to have realized this before I did. I give in. As I’m going over to climb on, I think I detect a little sadness in his eyes. It’s only for a moment though, so I feel like I might have imagined it.

“Alright! Let’s finish this adventure!” He laughs as he starts to run ahead.

“Woah?!” I laugh too. I love this feeling. It reminds me of when I was little. When Tri and Clam and I used to do this same thing. It reminds me of a time that I wish I could go back to or completely forget…

Suddenly, he stops in his tracks. He doesn’t move a single muscle. I see his face go pail. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” I ask.

Ahead is an open field. Then a swirling crimson tornado falls from the sky. “They’re firing Instrikes on us!” He screams.

I feel the color drain from my face. My eyes open wide. All the happiness from ten seconds ago is gone. The laughter has faded into terror. “Oh no.”

Strike after strike and there is no end in sight. The open field is turning dark red.

“Just hold onto me.” Mud orders though gritted teeth, “We can still get through.” I keep my arms tight around him, my eyes shut, and my head buried in his good shoulder. “I have an idea, but it’s risky!”

“Riskier than jumping out of a collapsing building?!” I ask.

“Good point.” I feel him slip his gun into my hand. “Ok, here’s what you need to do. Shoot a path through the ink from the Inkstrikes that just hit. My guess is they won’t shoot in the same place twice!”

I swallow hard as I raise my head. Pulling my arms from around him, I prepare to fire. “Roger that.” Two strikes blast in front of us, rather close too. “Let’s book it!” I cry and start blasting away. He dashes into the field.

We can see the kettle back to the surface now. We dart though the paths that I shoot, avoiding all the strikes around us. I do my best to keep us from being killed or trapped.

The Inkstrikes slowly stop, leaving us to run straight. The sound of super jumps fill the silence. “Sounds like they’re sending in ground troopers!” Mud notes tersly, “Listen, when we get to the surface kettle, there will be room for only one at a time. You will need to go first. Agent #2 will be waiting for you at the top.”

“Are you sure!?” I ask him.

“Yeah this is the same tube I came down to find you.”

I didn’t have time tell him that I was asking if he was sure about me going first. Sounds of shouting and weapons charging could be heard behind us. They were growing louder and closer.

“Hurry!” I gasp.

“I’m going!” Fifty feet from the kettle and something lands in front of us. “Splatbomb!”

“Gah!” The blast sends us flying in different directions. I hit the ground hard and black out.

**********************************************

Slowly, I open my eyes. My ears are ringing. Mud is leaning over me. He’s… trying to tell me something, but I have no idea what it is. He begins to drag me while firing at the enemy. I barely hear him over all the noise.

“Why can’t I have one easy mission?! That’s all I ask!”

I can’t focus. My head is spinning like mad. I feel myself lying on some sort of metal. A grate.

Suddenly Mud’s expression changes. I look at his face. Fear? Pain? What? I snap back to reality when I realize. He’s been hit.

I jump to my feet and send a blast over his head. It hits dead on. At the same time I attack, Mud falls to his knees. “Aggghh!” He looks like he’s in a lot of pain. Then he glances up at me and murmurs, “Thanks.” With that he shoves me in the tube and I shoot back up to the surface, safe from the fight.

I’m gone before I know it. He’s sent me here and he’s there alone. I have to go back and help. I’m just about to go when I hear a voice behind me.

It’s agent #2. “Don’t worry about him.” She tells me, “He’s got out of worse situations than that.”

“A- agent #2!”

“Good to see you in one piece.” She smiles. The sound of the fight, though muffled by the tube, can be heard intensifying.

“W- we have to help!”

“Just wait. If we go down, he can’t get up. We can only wait.”

I know she’s right. I hate it though. Waiting like this is torture. I bite my lip and keep silent. The fight sounds like it’s right at the bottom of the tube now. Then abruptly, silence takes over.

Nothing can be heard. I hold my breath without realizing it, fearing the worst.

Suddenly, in a flurry of tentacles, he pops out of the kettle, mutters, “That was close,” and falls flat on his face. I jump back in surprise, relief washing over me.

“Mud!” I help him to his feet, “Are you ok?!”

“Honestly… I’ve been better,” he admits, “But I can be glad that’s finally over.”

I smile. “Same here.”

Agent #2 claps the boy on the back. “Welcome back to the surface Cuz. Did you have a good trip?” She says to a pooped out Mud.

I’m surprised when she said “cuz”. Are they related?

“Oh it was lovely! Just stupendous! Next time I’ll send you a postcard.” He tells her sarcastically. I smile then become serious again.

“How is Agent #1? Her wound heal yet?”

“She’s much better. It was only minor wounds.” #2 replies.

“Thank goodness… have you er gotten any news about my… my brother?”

“Actually, I need to talk to Whitemud about that. Turns out he walked away from our fight without a scratch.”

I sigh. It’s not much. I feel the fatigue from the day bearing down on me. I look at the head agent. “#2… can I return to Inkopolis for a while? I need to check up with my guardian.”

“Of course you may. You’ve had a long few days. You have earned yourself a break.” She tells me kindly then looks at the boy, “but as for you Mud, you still have work to do.”

I glance between them then thank #2. Looking at Mud I say, “See you later?”

He gives a pleasant smirk. “Perhaps. I might need a partner on a mission later on.”

I smile. “Well I’ll fill that position if you want me to, since you saved my life. I usually work alone though. See you around!” With that I turn and head back to Inkopolis.

“Bye!” He calls after me. I grin.

I still have suspicions about him in the back of my mind, but #2 seemed comfortable with him. Over all, I liked the kid. He was kind, funny, and he saved my life.

I look up at the sky. The sun is starting to set. I hurry to get home to Spyke and tell him all that’s happened to me.