The squids continue their march into the ruins of the once lively city. Hours pass until, at last, they approach a four story building, connected to various tunnels that go underground.
“Guys, welcome to your new Hq and the place I call home.”
Mud smiles softly. It’s easy to tell that he is happy to be back home and is more relaxed here. His expression puts me at ease too.
“Big place.” I note as I look at the building.
“Indeed,” agrees Mud. “The hideout is on the top floor.”
“Cool.” We go in and head upwards.
The building is an old subway station, with tunnels leading all over the ruins of the city. At the top floor, Mud opens a big rusty steal door.
“Make yourself at home guys. You will find beds in the room down the hall. Second room on the right.”
We go in and follow Mud’s directions. #1, #2, and Mud stay in the main room while the rest of us get settled in.
“I kind of like it here,” admits #6 as she lays her weapon on one of the beds. “I mean, I don’t want to move here, but it would be pretty cool to explore a bit.”
“Same. It’s amazing,” I agree
#5 cries out in delight. “Check out the view from here! I bet we can see half the city!”
We join #5 at the window and I catch my breath. This city is huge.
“How will we find the Great Zapfish in this maze?” he asks.
I shake my head. “No clue, but I do love the view.”
Before we can settle down and unpack, Mud calls us into one of two rooms we haven’t been into yet. #1 and #2 are already there.
The room is not big and has no windows. The wall on the left is covered in pictures of Octarians, some have a red “X” drawn on them while others have a yellow circle around the portrait, but most are unmarked all together. The wall on the opposite side has a large map that takes up most of the wall. The last wall has a desk and a few pictures above it with papers littering the work space.
“What kind of room is this?” agent Five asks.
Mud explains. “It’s my mission room, this is where I plan my missions and in this case, explain the mission to you guys!”
In the middle of the room, is a table. On it are copies of papers and a picture. To my horror, the pictures are of my brother!
Why?! Why is his picture…
I stop and stare at the photo. The other agents stop too and see what I see.
“That’s him,” #4 whispers. I merely nod.
“No way…” adds #6.
Agent #1 gets our attention. “Over here guys, by the table.” She looks over the map again then looks back at us. Her eyes land on me as I approach the table with the others. “What’s going on, #3? You look like you’re about to throw up!”
“I’m sorry… it’s…” I don’t know why I’m so hesitant. The others look at me, waiting. A lump forms in my throat. “Mud… what are all those photos?”
“Octarians of interest,” he answers as if it’s no big deal. “They are all Octos that I either need to watch out for, capture, or, if need be, kill. The pictures with an ‘X’ are targets I’ve taken care of already.”
My brother’s face has no “X”.
“I see, so why is there a picture of my brother?”
#1 and #2 look at each other. They seem to be at a loss for words.
Silence comes over us for a minute. Mud studies me. Searches me. Then tells me, his tone serious, “I think we need to have a little talk. Will you follow me to the room over?”
Fear grips my mind. What if… he already took my brother out and… just hasn’t marked his photo yet?
“Ok…” My voice is shaky.
We walk to where the others cannot here us talking. Mud pulls up two chairs. We sit.
“Tell me,” he begins intently, “how did you find out you had an older brother?”
I take a deep breath.
“After I joined the agency and returned the Zapfish to it’s place, #1 and #2 went looking for more agents. A boy who knew of the war, claiming his grandpa had been part of it, came to them and requested a place in the agency. He showed promise and became an agent. Agent #7. The boy came to me and he knew my real name. I asked him how he knew it. He said that he would be a bad brother if he didn’t know the name of his sister. That’s how I met him. He explained that his parents were my father and some other woman. I remember Papa telling me he had been in a relationship before my mom. Bro told me he never met dad. It’s likely dad doesn’t know he has a son.”
“How long ago was this?” asks Mud.
I think for a moment. “About a year ago. Maybe less.”
Mud continues. “Did you know that you had a brother before this?”
I shake my head. “No. Like I said, I don’t think Papa ever knew and, if he did, never told me or mama.”
“I see…” Mud is thoughtful for a moment, making me nervous. “Well, I have news about your brother, but I don’t think you’ll like it.”
Chills run through me. “What do you mean?” I ask, scared that Mud has already done something to my brother.
“We suspect that he is not your brother, but a traitor and a spy.” Mud tells me. I freeze.
He is not my brother? No… that’s not true… NO.
I can barely talk. My face turns pale. “Wh- what?”
“Please hear me out, and I’ll try to explain everything… ok?” Mud looks at me with sympathy. Slowly, I nod. Mud continues speaking. “About a year ago, I found out that the Octarians were getting information about Inkopolis and the Great Zaplfish. Naturally, I started keeping a close eye on them and found they had a contact in the city. An Inkling who, for some reason, joined the Octos and was giving information about the Zaplfish.”
His voice is gentle, but what he says is hard to take in. I continue to listen carefully.
“I would follow him into the city and I discovered him hanging around in the plaza a lot. I found him watching Spyke and a girl working in an alley way. To my surprise, that girl was Agent #3, the girl who single handedly defeated DJ Octavio. Of course I mean you.”
My face reddens a little.
“I feared he was an assassin out for revenge,” continues Mud, “but when he walked up to you I was astonished to see you embrace him! I was very confused by this, but I did not see what happened later because I had to deal with other things in the valley. Over the next year I would watch him enter the valley, talk with an octo contact, and go back to the city. When I found out agents #1, #2, and #3 were going on a mission in the valley I was very concerned. When I heard you were MIA, I was worried that he captured you. You know what happened next. I go in, I save your butt, and then Inkopolis in a black out. I later found out he was using you and Spyke to get close to the Great Zaplfish so he could plan an attack. Even after the attack he was giving the Octos information. I tried to find him after the attack, and succeeded… I’m sorry. This must be a huge shock to you.”
A huge shock? That is a huge understatement. I sit still a moment then put my face in my hands.
“You’ve gotta be squiding me…” I choke out, “he was using me and Spyke the whole time… but I though…” I’m near crying.
“The only thing that confuses me is why he didn’t kill you when you were in the valley?”
“I… I don’t know…”
Mud pulls his chair next to mine and sits down next to me, offering me a tissue. I take it gratefully as Mud puts a comforting arm around my shoulders. We both just sit for a few minutes. Not saying anything. Just soaking up what Mud had said.
A short while later, #2 walks in. “Mud,” she says quietly, “#1 and I explained to the others. If you’ve finished we should get back to work.”
Mud looks up and nods. “Alright.” He looks over to me. “I can give you five minutes alone, then please rejoin us in the Mission Room… ok?” I nod.
Mud sighs, gives me a quick hug, then stands up. He follows #2, but hesitates when he reaches the door.
The boy glances back at me in pity, then leaves the room.
That’s when I finally let out the tears I’ve been holding back. I can’t cry long though. I’ll have to pull myself together.
Not yet. I can’t yet. Right now all I can do is cry.