Prologue: The Battle

Disclaimer: I don't own Gorillaz. If I did, you can bet I wouldn't be living in a crappy apartment with heat that doesn't work :P

There hadn't been much time to catch up. She and Russel had finally made it back to their former bandmates just in time to take part in a battle. A battle that she knew next to nothing about, but one which she was already a part of. Those pirates had attacked her ship, after all, and now they were attacking her friends. Or Murdoc, at least, since 2D was nowhere to be seen. Where was he? She had missed him almost as much as she had missed Russel, and she wanted to see him. She had missed all of them terribly. It was even good to see Murdoc's glowering face.

She still had so many questions…why was Murdoc out here, how had Murdoc managed to release a new album without the rest of them, where was 2D, why had Kong Studios burned to the ground, why hadn't any of them tried to find her in all the time she had been missing…but all those questions had paled beside the one that came to her lips when she saw the slender figure standing on the beach beside the rest of Murdoc's crew. A young woman her size who wore her face and looked at her with her own eyes.

"How…how can this be?" It was her, and yet…it couldn't be. "I don't understand…" She looked at Murdoc, at a loss for the first time in her life.

"Doll, I can explain!" he said to her, and although he sounded nervous when he said it, there wasn't a trace of it on his face. He wore a look she had rarely seen on his face before, a look of disbelief, of hope, of…happiness. She could almost believe he was glad to see her. "She's a cyborg, a robot, and I know…I know it looks bad right now, but she's on our side, Love. Promise!"

Noodle could only look at her robotic replacement. It was grinning at her, one eye twitching slightly as if it had a tic, and it held a gun in each hand with an easy familiarity that Noodle herself knew well. She couldn't help but wonder how good of a copy it was. She assumed it had taken over her guitarist duties (that was one question answered, anyway), but could it also mimic her Super Soldier abilities? It was obvious from the weapons and the bullet hole glinting in the robot's forehead that it had seen combat, but that didn't mean it had her skill. Unless whoever had built it was familiar with all the training she had gone through in her childhood, she doubted that it could come close to her own abilities. Still, she'd make sure she didn't turn her back on the thing. That smile unnerved her, and it was due to more than its artificiality. The cyborg almost seemed delighted to see her, with that huge grin. It was leaking too, with viscous clear fluid running out of its nose and its twitching right eye. Not really wanting to look at it any longer, she put it out of her direct line of sight (but not out of her vision completely-she was no fool) and leapt lightly down from Russel's mouth to face Murdoc.

"We'll discuss it later," she said simply to him. His eyes were wary, and strangely exhausted, but they still mostly looked glad to see her. It was truly strange, but in a way, it was the most optimistic homecoming she could have hoped for. The leader of the band, the one who was in it all for himself, and who looked at everyone around him as nothing more than pawns to further his own happiness, had missed her. If such a thing was possible, then perhaps everything else would find a way to work itself out. Somehow.

"Where is-?" she started to say, but was drowned out by Russel's shout of "INCOMING!" Before she could even look up to see what was headed toward them, Russel's huge hand came down on top of her, shutting out the light and muffling the sounds of the battle as it pressed her gently into the sand.

She gripped her gun, but could do nothing but listen to the faint sounds of combat while Russel held her down. She heard the sound of machine gun fire, then what sounded like a muffled explosion far off. Russel's hand shifted and light crept into her makeshift shelter as the drummer apparently leaned over to strike at something. She heard shouting, then another explosion, this time coming from right overhead.

A moment later, Russel let her up. Blinking at the return of the sunlight, she got up, her gun at the ready, trying to look every whichway for attackers. She saw that there was a column of smoke from a downed plane nearby in the water, and another plume of smoke curling up from Murdoc's recording studio, although whatever damage there was was out of her line of sight.

"That was a close one, Baby Girl," said Russel, scanning the sky for more signs of trouble. "Didn't know they had missiles on them planes. Keep close to me, okay?"

She wanted to tell him that she could take care of herself, that she wasn't a child anymore, but now wasn't the time. Instead, she turned to Murdoc, who was looking at his now smoking recording studio with horror. She noticed that the rest of the crowd had dispersed during the attack, including the cyborg, which didn't sit well with her, since she didn't like not knowing where it was. She hoped Russel would watch her back.

"Murdoc, who are they?" she said, taking him by the shoulders and turning him gently to face her. "Why are they attacking you?"

He almost seemed to have forgotten about her. "My studio…all that work…this was gonna be my new beginning." He looked past her to glare out at the horizon. "Sod that bloody monster! " He pushed past Noodle to scream out at the sea. "You hear that? Sod you, you dammed freak! You aren't taking me no matter what you do! To hell with you, the deal, and the whole bloody business! Fuck you and the donkey you rode in on! You hear that? Fuck you to-"

"Murdoc!" she snapped at him, afraid that he had completely lost his senses. But when he turned back around to face her, there was no trace of madness in his eyes. Only anger and…was that fear? She had never seen the bass player look afraid before. Seeing that look in his eyes almost sapped her own courage, but then she forced herself to regather it. "Murdoc, how do we stop them?"

He looked at her as if she had suggested the impossible. "Stop them? Oh no, we ain't stopping them, Kid. We're getting the fuck out of here. Right now. I already sent the others down to get the subs ready. You hear that? We got subs! Mine's shaped like a shark! You're gonna love it. I'll give you the co-pilot's seat, or whatever the hell they call it in the Navy." He was babbling, sounding like he had forgotten her age and was trying to entice a ten year old kid to follow him with promises of bells and whistles. "So let's blow this bloody dump. But before we go, I got a little going away present for that freak." Murdoc grinned out at the water, and some of his old mischievousness returned to his eyes.

Noodle felt strangely compelled to argue. She hated the thought of running from a fight and letting the enemy take what was yours, although she didn't know why she felt so strongly. Some part of her Super Soldier training perhaps. But mostly, she didn't want to let Murdoc's new studio get leveled. Blast it, despite everything that had happened, she still felt tenderness toward him, and she didn't want to see something he loved get destroyed. Not if she could help it. "Do we have to?" she started to say, but was cut off by a voice from down the beach.

"NOODLE!" She looked over and there was 2D, running toward her as fast as his long legs could carry him.

She had just enough time to put down her gun (didn't exactly want to have that waving around while her old friend manhandled her) and then 2D's arms were around her, and she was lifted off her feet into hem.

"Oh Noods," she heard him say in his high, Cockney voice. "I knew you were alive. All this time, I just knew it!"

Then why didn't you look for me? came a small voice in her mind, but it was mostly drowned out by her own joy at seeing the singer again. She threw her own arms around him. "Of course, 2D-san," she said softly. "I can take care of myself, and I can always find my way back home." She lifted her eyes to meet his and smiled at him.

"What're you doing out of your room, Faceache?" snarled Murdoc. Noodle saw that Murdoc didn't look very happy at seeing 2D, but then, he never did.

"Whale attacked me," said 2D, setting Noodle back down and turning to Murdoc. "I thought you said that he wouldn't so long as I stayed in the room!" 2D's voice had risen in his characteristic whine, and Murdoc clenched his teeth in irritation.

"Well, you obviously left the room, so it's no wonder he attacked you, you damned idiot! Don't come crying to me if you can't follow simple instructions!"

"No, no, I hadn't left the room yet!" 2D corrected the bass player, while Noodle began to wonder why on earth 2D had been forced to stay in one room with a whale outside. She knew he was terrified of whales, so why would Murdoc leave him with one? Just another action brought on by Murdoc's sadistic streak? Or had Murdoc been keeping him there against his will?

In fact, now that she looked at him, she saw that he looked positively awful. 2D had always been thin and unkempt, but now he looked absolutely scrawny, and his dark eyes were sunken as if he hadn't slept in days. His once youthful face now faintly showed traces of age lines, and he had a few days worth of dull blue stubble on his face. His skin was paler than she had ever seen it, even during the long cold English winters. He obviously hadn't seen the sun in days either.

She looked at Murdoc, but he wasn't meeting her eyes, instead concentrating on 2D. "-whale was gone!" 2D was saying, as if he were desperately trying to get Murdoc to believe him. "Then, the whole place started shakin', and when I looked up, the door had fallen over. Most of the wall too," he added. "So I came out here, wonderin' what was goin' on, and then I saw planes everywhere, and smoke too, and then I saw Noodle-"

"And me too," added Russel from above her. "Or am I chopped liver?"

2D looked up at him, his face wrinkled in confusion. He honestly seemed to see the giant looming over them for the first time. "Russel!" he shouted. "You got….bigger!"

"Nah, he just gained more weight," grumped Murdoc. "He's always been good at that."

Before Russel could reply, they all hear the whine of an approaching plane. It seemed their attackers weren't going to let them have their little reunion in peace.

"Shit, we gotta get to the subs!" said Murdoc, gesturing further down the beach. "Come on, let's move! Russel, you're just gonna have to swim!" Murdoc added, seeing as how Russel obviously couldn't fit into a sub. "Let's get out of here before they turn this place into World War III!"

"No wait!" shouted Noodle, trying to make herself heard over the drone of the approaching plane engines. ""We can stop them! We've got a crew of submarines, a cyborg, a giant, and a Super Soldier!" she said pointed out. "We should be more than a match for pirates!" If that's what they were anyway.

"Darlin', they aren't ordinary pirates," said Murdoc. That odd fear was back in his eyes. "At least, not anymore. Their leader…"

"Their leader!" interrupted Noodle, an idea coming clear. She turned toward the sea and moved down the beach a bit so she could see around Russel. Just as she thought, there was a wooden pirate ship out in the harbor. "That ship's not too far away. If we can get out there, we can take out the captain!" she told them. "Once the captain's gone, the others will probably retreat!"

"No!" snapped Murdoc, and his eyes forbade argument. "You are not going NEAR that ship. Not you, not me, not anyone. There's a boogieman out there, and I am through tangling with it. If it wants this place, it can have it! WE, on the other hand, are getting the bloody hell OUT of here!"

Noodle turned back toward Murdoc. Perhaps her original thought about his sanity slipping hadn't been that far off. Murdoc thought the Boogieman was out there? She had lived in the West long enough to have been introduced to the idea of the "Boogieman," and although her own culture had no such creature in its myths, it did have its own share of creepy-crawlies who played a similar role, so she understood the concept. It was a concept to frighten children, and she didn't think a devout Satanist who had lived in a studio crawling with zombies and used to have a ghost performing in his band with him would be afraid of such things.

"Murdoc, there are no "boogiemen!" she told him, sounding like a stern mother. "The only thing that's out there is the captain of the ship, and I know that I can handle him. I spent my whole childhood being trained for situations like this. All we have to do is-"

"But Noodle," 2D cut in hesitantly. "It really IS the Boogieman. I saw it."

Murdoc whirled around to face 2D. "You saw it, D?"

2D nodded. "Yeah, right before the whale attacked. It was swimmin' under the water toward the ship. Had on a mask and a black cape and everything."

That gave her pause. Not that 2D was any more of a reliable witness than Murdoc, but taken together, it did raise the notion that maybe there was something out of the ordinary out there. Still, she doubted it was actually a childhood closet monster. And she had faced real monsters before, and had made short work of them. Man or monster, whatever it was, she was sure she could take it and save Murdoc's island. Heck, maybe the bass player would even finally see her worth and know that a cyborg would never be a proper replacement.

"Whatever it is, I will take it out," she told the two of them."

"NO!" Murdoc said again. "I'm not sending you out there against that thing!"

He seemed just as surprised that he had said it as she was that she had heard it. He did care. She tried to hide her grin and shook her head at him. Her desire to fight for his island had just become unshakable.

He had his hand over his mouth, as if he wished he could take the words back. He probably did wish that, actually. She knew that Murdoc did not like anyone to know that he held affection for anyone or anything. And that was enough of a weakness for her to exploit.

"Surely you don't mean that, Murdoc-san," she said to him coyly. "What does it matter to you if I get blown up, huh? You've already got a replacement lined up, after all."

It worked. He flushed slightly in embarrassment, and then his eyes hardened. A moment later he was in full damage control mode. "Don't be stupid," he growled at her. That's not the reason. I just don't want to lose such a good guitarist. The cyborg….she really can't hold a candle to you. Doesn't have your creativity and…stuff…and…oh sod it! You want to go out there, go out there! I ain't standing in your way. There are other guitarists! Knock yourself out, Love!" he turned his back on the rest of them.

She nodded to his back. "Thank you, Murdoc-san. Now…"

"But if you do go, I want you to take the cyborg with you," he interrupted.

She hadn't been expecting that. "What? No!"

The approaching plane engine got louder and changed in pitch. She looked up to see the fighter plane diving toward the island.

"If you guys are gonna go out there and fight this guy, I think you'd better get moving," said Russel. "We ain't got much time left." He readied his hand to bring down on Noodle again. 2D looked nervous and reached for his switchblade in his back pants pocket, giving Noodle a sudden mental picture of a knight attempting to fight a dragon with a toothpick. Murdoc pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt and muttered something into it.

An instant later she heard the sound of machine gun fire and Russel's hand came down on top of her again. Once more, she waited the sounds of the battle out while squashed between Russel's hand and the sand below her. Except, it didn't really feel like sand, she finally noticed. It felt more like squishy ground. Not mud; it was much firmer than that, but it didn't feel like real land at all…it had too much give to it. And it stank…

Russel finally let her up. She saw the smoke from another downed plane in the water, this time a bit further out. Russel lifted the hand that had been shielding her and rubbed at his cheek, which had a line of red dots on it.

"Damn, that stings," was all he said.

Noodle looked over at Murdoc and saw that the Cyborg had joined him on the beach. She started to protest again, but Murdoc silenced her with a wave of his hand. "You're taking her," was all he said. "You'll need backup if you're going on that ship. It's crawling with pirates. Don't argue with me," he said, when she still looked inclined to. "This will make it go faster. You're a good fighter, Love, so can you imagine how it will go with TWO of you out there? The Boogieman won't know what hit him!"

She almost smiled at that, not for the praise, but for the fact that she could tell he was trying the same psychological trick on her as she had recently used on him. Given that she could still hear the sounds of planes in the distance, she knew they didn't have time to argue. "All right, she said, picking her gun back up. "But let's hurry!" she didn't like the idea of Russel being turned into Swiss cheese bit by bit.

"Why don't you just have Russel swim out there and smash the ship?" asked 2D. He was rubbing his head slightly. Perhaps the noise was aggravating his headaches. She certainly hoped that Murdoc had allowed him to have his meds out here.

"Because he could never get near enough to the ship to attack without them seeing him," Noodle told 2D. "All the planes would attack him as soon as they saw him trying. He's too vulnerable in the deep water. He can't raise his hands out of the water to hit the planes if he needs them for swimming."

2D looked like much of that explanation had sailed over his head, but he nodded dully, still rubbing his left temple with one hand and fingering his switchblade with the other. "Besides," Murdoc cut in. "I need him here near the island! Those planes'll blow this place sky-high if he's not there to knock 'em out of the sky!"

Russel looked annoyed. "Muds, I ain't your own personal King Kong. I was protecting Noodle before, 'sall. You reformed the band and replaced me with a drum machine! Now you want me to climb out of the water and swat at planes for you like the monster in some bad Japanese movie? No offense," he said, nodding to Noodle.

"None taken," she said simply. She had outgrown Godzilla and Gamera and all the rest quite a while ago.

"You'd better not climb out of the damn water," said Murdoc, glaring at the drummer. "The island won't take the weight. It's made out of rubbish, you know. Your fat ass'll sink it and there'll go my studio!"

Noodle looked down at the ground below her feet with interest, and saw that Murdoc was indeed telling the truth. They stood on a substrate made of soggy paper and junked appliances and empty plastic bottles and who knew what else. The island was a floating landfill. She'd heard about such places, where the sea currents brought trash and other debris together in huge floating rafts, but only Murdoc would be crazy enough to try and live on top of one. She looked up at Murdoc and shook her head. Her desire to save this place seemed slightly less noble now that she knew it was a giant garbage heap.

Murdoc was saying something to the Cyborg. He turned and gestured toward Noodle. The cyborg also turned and looked at her, still wearing that unnerving grin. "Go with Noodle, Love," said Murdoc to the robot. So he called it by one of her nicknames, did he? "Cover her once you two get onto the ship. And when you see the Boogieman, shoot him. Just like you did before, remember? Only don't miss this time."

The cyborg kept looking at her, one eye still twitching. "Noodle," was all it said, in a voice that sounded uncannily like her own. It moved to stand beside her.

Murdoc shook his head, as if in apology. "Sorry she ain't working so good right now," he told Noodle. "She got shot earlier, as I'm sure you can see, and I haven't had time to fix her. She knows what to do though. Now," he looked up as the sounds of the plane engines approached again. Following his gaze, Noodle saw three planes above them, all approaching from different angles. Russel would have a hard time repelling them all. "You'd better get going," Murdoc finished.

Noodle hurried toward Russel. The drummer was looking at her with open concern. "You know I don't like this any more than-" Russel looked at over at Murdoc and his suddenly murderous expression. "-any of the rest of us do," he finished. "But I also know your mind's made up, and we don't have time to argue. So I'll get you two to the ship as fast as I can. But be careful." With that, he lowered his head to the beach and opened his mouth. Noodle and her robotic counterpart climbed inside.

"Here," shouted Murdoc from behind her. She turned around in time to catch the walkie-talkie that he had thrown at her. "Let me know when Russel is about to get you aboard the ship. I'll send my special "weapon" to help you out."

"Special weapon?" asked Noodle.

"An Evangelist," replied Murdoc. "Met him on the beach one night, after a couple of pints. Well, maybe more than a couple. Thought I was so pissed I was imagining things…cause he was the strangest looking bloke I've ever met. But he was real enough. And what better way to defeat a Boogieman than with some holy roller? Creepy fucker won't know what hit him. Now go on!"

Russel's mouth closed around her, shutting out the sight of her friends.

As she felt Russel start moving, she turned toward the cyborg, even though it was too dark inside Russel's mouth so see it clearly. "If Russel is going to do what I think he's going to do, be prepared to get wet. And for a long drop. But once we're in the air, we're going to be vulnerable. I'm going to try and get the Boo-, uh, the captain as soon as I can see him, but I need you to back me up. Take out any other pirates that might start shooting at us."

"Noodle," was all it said. She hoped it understood.

She felt Russel stop moving, then felt his head begin to move downward. "Get ready," she told the cyborg.

Russel's mouth opened, and sea water began flooding in. Noodle held her breath and tried to hold the walkie-talkie out of the worst of it. She knew this would only last for a moment, and then-

Russel's mouth closed, trapping them in the dark water. Then it opened again, light flooding back in from an "O" shaped window in his lips. And then Noodle and the cyborg were moving upwards, out of his mouth in a fountain of water. There was water and foam all around her, but she was airborne, and she could see the pirate ship below her. She raised the walkie-talkie to her mouth, hoping it still worked.

"NOW, MURDOC!" she shouted. Then, in one quick motion, she stuck it into the top of one of her leggings, and then pulled out her gun. With her other hand, she pulled the cat mask down over her face.

The masts and rigging loomed in her sight as she dropped toward the wooden ship. There was a single pirate in lookout spot, a scruffy man whose eyes grew huge as he saw her falling toward him. He opened his mouth, but she took him out with a spray of bullets before he could sound an alarm. Reaching out with her free hand, she grabbed the rigging beside the mast and used it to swing one handedly into the crow's nest. Below her, pirates were shouting and scattering from the cyborg's gunfire, and a second later she saw it fall past her. It hit the deck of the ship with a loud THUNK, but was on its feet in an instant, guns blazing.

Noodle scanned the ship from her perch, looking for the captain, and soon spotted a black cloaked figure, similar to the one 2D had described, toward the front of the ship. She raised her gun and took aim at it, then fired.

Its head whirled around at the sound of the gunfire, and she saw it move impossibly fast, dodging out of the way. Her shot hit the wooden deck harmlessly a second later.

Swallowing a curse, she tucked her gun under her arm and seized the mast. She half climbed down it like a monkey, half slid down it like a fireman, trying to ignore the splinters that worked their way into her hands as she did so.

As soon as her feet touched the deck, she pulled out the gun again, scanning every direction for attackers. The cyborg had scattered most of the pirates, but that didn't mean it was safe. She looked in the direction the masked figure had gone, determined to go after it as soon as she could do so safely.

"Hey, Little Lady," came a voice from her right.

She whirled around and saw a pirate wearing a little sailor hat and missing most of his teeth leering at her. She raised her gun and blasted him with a stream of bullets. He disappeared into a puff of black smoke.

He…he wasn't real? Even as her mind tried to make sense of what she had seen, she heard something rushing towards her from the other direction. She whirled around and started shooting. The black cloaked figure broke off its charge toward her and dodged behind a pile of crates.

"Get back here!" she shouted at it, making as if to go around the side of the crates after it.

It leapt lightly over the top of the crates, coming for her from above, as she had known it would. She fired.

She was just an instant too slow. The bullet blasted a hole though its cape. It landed on the deck in front of her, tall and imposing in its black clothes, and she saw that it indeed wore a mask, just as 2D had said. Some sort of gasmask with wide staring red eyes. She tried to get her gun up to fire at it, but it whipped its long arms up over its head, its boney, clawed fingers spread wide. An instant later, she was surrounded by thick black smoke.

It really is a monster… She started firing wildly into the black smoke, no longer even trying to hit the creature, just trying to keep it back. She tried not to cough in the thick black gloom. Her eyes watered fiercely. It IS the Boogieman! I'm-

Bright white light filled her vision.

For a moment, for just a quick cold instant, Noodle thought she had been killed. Then both the light, and the black smoke drew back, and she found herself still standing on the deck of the pirate ship. The masked monster had fallen back, the smoke pulling in around it protectively, and she saw that the white light was concentrated in a strong beam that was slowly but surely pushing the smoke inward. Looking up, Noodle followed the beam of light to its source, a shining figure high above the ship, standing on what looked to be the crest of a tall, stationary wave.

Noodle blinked, barely believing what she was seeing. The figure, probably the "Evangelist" that Murdoc had been talking about, had a fishbowl for a head.

She fought the urge to rub her eyes. She blinked instead….once…twice…but it didn't change. Its head really was a fishbowl.

And the rest of the figure wasn't any less strange. Inside the fishbowl, four wide eyes and a set of disembodied teeth peeked out from among a mass of swirling kelp, swimming fish, and what looked like octopus tentacles. More of the tentacles and kelp protruded out the top of the fishbowl, waving in the wind like some strange mohawk. The rest of the creature's body was humanoid, although it was long and lanky and covered with red veins. Despite its strange body, its clothes were surprisingly normal, consisting of a white shirt with an "E" on it, a pair of low-riding shorts, and a set of rain boots. Two green, one-eyed octopuses clung to it, one on each arm.

"Begone, Demon from the Abyss!" it shouted in a burbling voice, reminding Noodle of the sound of an air filter in a fish tank. "Be gone, and do not trouble the righteous anymore with your trickery and empty promises!"

Noodle almost balked. Righteous? Did this…thing…even know who it was working for?

The shining figure raised what looked like a water gun and took good aim at the masked creature still standing in front of her. It squeezed the trigger and there was one more mighty push of white light. The black smoke pulled even further inward, paused, then faded completely away, leaving the black masked figure leaning heavily on the ship's railing, as though all its strength had left it.

Gunfire came from her left. The black caped creature had time to jerk its head toward the sound, and that was it. Bullets peppered the air around it, and Noodle heard the unmistakable sound of them hitting flesh. Ichor splattered from the creature's torso and then it was tumbling silently over the side of the ship, into the water below.

The cyborg walked up to stand beside her, smoke still trailing from the barrels of its twin guns. She almost though it looked pleased with itself as it gazed at the railing over which its target had fallen.

That's it…it's over. We did it. Or rather, they did it, since all Noodle herself did was shoot a couple of smoke pirates. After that whole production she'd made on the beach, she hadn't even done anything to defeat their adversary. Instead, the threat had been vanquished by the cyborg and some strange monster with a fishbowl for a head.

But now was not the time for self-pity. She could see that there were still planes circling Plastic Beach, and there was more smoke coming from the island. The attack was still on for now. Maybe it would take the rest of the pirates a moment to realize that their leader was no more. She hoped Murdoc and 2D were all right, and that Russel could get back in time to help them, as he was still in the water near the ship. Deciding she had better let them know of the situation out at sea, she pulled the walkie-talkie out of her legging and pressed the "Talk" button.

"Murdoc, this is Noodle," she said into the device. "Do you read me? We defeated your "Boogieman," so if you can just hold out-"

A hand clamped down on her wrist, holding it in an unshakable iron grip. The walkie-talkie fell from her hand and broke into pieces on the deck.

The cyborg looked at her with those wild, leaking eyes. It grinned at her. "Noodle," it said.

Noodle went for her gun with her free hand, but it was much too late.

The cyborg seized the gun from her and threw it away. Noodle felt herself slammed into the ship's railing. Her mask came loose and fell from her face, landing at her feet. The cyborg grinned at her maddeningly.

"I'm Noodle," it said.

And then she was falling, falling from the side of the ship to join the Boogieman in the foamy waters below.

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

When things went wrong, they went very wrong very quickly. That's how Murdoc saw it.

He had gotten 2D to their submarine as soon as Russel had left the beach. Without the drummer there, they were hideously vulnerable, and the pilots of those planes knew it. If they were going to trash his island, Murdoc wanted to be nowhere near it. Already the studio had taken several more hits, and he knew that even if they did manage to save it, it was going to need major repairs. Still, it would be good to be rid of the Boogieman, even if the price was Plastic Beach.

And Noodle?

Murdoc tried to ignore his subconscious. The bloody girl had WANTED to go out there and fight the Boogieman. He had told her not to go, had even embarrassed himself practically pleading with her not to do so, but she had been insistent. It's her own fault if she gets it, trying to be a damn hero. Who the hell asked her? Still, he had been reluctant to get in the sub once he reached it, knowing that it would be difficult to keep tabs on the battle once he was inside. Instead, he lingered by the hatch, ready to jump inside at the first sign of danger.

From his post, he saw Russel rise out of the water. Saw him spit of stream of water directly at the ship. Saw two black specks contained within the water, falling toward the ship. Heard his walkie-talkie crackle to life.

"NOW MURDOC!" came Noodle's voice.

Murdoc immediately seized a smaller walkie-talkie that was clipped to his belt. One that was tuned to a different frequency, with a different audience. ""NOW!" he shouted into it. "Get your holy ass out to that ship on the double!"

"Murdoc?" came 2Ds hesitant voice. "What about Noodle? Think she's all right?"

Murdoc rounded on the singer, a clueless pain in the ass if ever there was one. "How the bloody hell do you expect me to know, Faceache? They just got sent out there. I ain't watching the battle on a wide-screen TV, you know!"

2D flinched at his tone and raised his hands to rub his temples again. Must have had a migraine. Good. Maybe the pain would keep him quiet. "Just get in the sub," said Murdoc. "We may need to get out of here quickly, so be ready."

As 2D obeyed him, Murdoc took out his nautical telescope. Just as he had pulled it to its full length, a blinding white light exploded out of the sea in front of the pirate ship.

Murdoc focused his telescope on the thing. It resolved itself into the Evangelist standing on top of a huge tidal wave. Nice touch, you crazy nut. Using such tactics had never been his style, but he was desperate, and if the freak accomplished the job he was hired to do, then Murdoc considered it worth the embarrassment. He watched as the Evangelist raised his gun, took aim at something on the ship, and fired a beam of white light at his target.

Shit, Noodle, be careful. He didn't know how good the Evangelist's aim was, or if the "magic" he was using could harm people other than demons. He didn't want his guitarist roasted by mistake. Not when she had just found her way back to him…

The Evangelist continued to blast the beam for a few seconds more, then stopped. Lowering the gun, he let the wave dissipate and disappeared back into the sea.

Murdoc's walkie-talkie crackled to life again. "Murdoc, this is Noodle!" came a familiar voice. "Do you read me? We defeated your Boogieman, so if you can just hold out-"

The walkie-talkie went dead.

Murdoc pressed the "Talk" button. "Noodle, do you read me?" Silence. He tried again. "Come in Noodle!" No reply. "Noodle!" he shouted into the device.


And then, out at sea, he saw Russel strike out toward the ship at a frantic pace. He made for it like he was going to plow right through it, and Murdoc felt his stomach sink. Whatever had happened out there, it had pissed Russel right the hell off. And Russel didn't get angry easily.

Unless you hurt his "baby girl."

"Shit," Murdoc said, under his breath. "Shit! Noodle!"

He saw Russel reach the ship and bring up his fist, and just as he brought it down on the ship, the Evangelist appeared on a wave on the other side of the ship, raised his gun, and white light enveloped Russel.

"NO!" Murdoc screamed. The pirate ship shattered in two, but Russel froze where he was, the white light holding him in place. "No, stop it!" Murdoc shouted into the other walkie-talkie. "Russel's on our side, you goddamn bloody idiot! Stop it!"

But the Evangelist didn't stop. Perhaps he didn't have the walkie-talkie with him anymore. Perhaps he was too caught up in the moment. Perhaps he had never been on Murdoc's side in the first place. Whatever the reason, he kept the white light on Russel, and Russel began to shrink.

"What-" Murdoc began, but whatever else he had been planning to say died out as Russel shrank into a tiny speck and dropped into the water like a stone. And as he did, the two halves of the now wrecked pirate ship began to sink.

"Fuck!" said Murdoc. Things had gone to hell in a handbasket in a span of five minutes. "Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck," he said under his breath as he leapt for the hatch of the submarine. He pulled himself inside, shut the hatch, and threw himself at the captain's seat.

"Murdoc?" came 2D's voice. "Murdoc, what happened?"

"Shut up, Faceache!" he screamed. "Just shut the hell up!" Murdoc flicked the switch on the control panel that operated the radio he used to communicate with the other subs. "Guys, we have an emergency! The Evangelist just shrunk Russel to normal size and dropped him into the sea, and the pirate ship is sinking, and Noodle and the cyborg are still on it. Everyone get your asses out there and find them!" He kept the radio on so he could keep in contact with the others and said over his shoulder: "That answer your question, D?" There was no reply from 2D, and Murdoc didn't wait for one. He started working the sub's controls to take it out into the sea after his crew and search for his missing bandmates himself.

The sub glided past heaps of rusted, disintegrating cars and other rubbish as Murdoc guided it away from the island and out toward the sinking pirate ship. He saw the shapes of the other subs around them, all converging on the same spot. The radio occasionally relayed some chatter as the other crewmembers communicated with him and with each other. Then, to his relief, he heard one of them report that he had found Russel, and they were bringing him aboard. One down, two to go… thought Murdoc as he brought his sub as close to the two sinking halves of the pirate ship as he could while staying safe from the suction. Just as it surfaced, he felt something hit the top of it lightly. He brought up the periscope and was greeted with the cyborg's face grinning at him.

"D, open the hatch!" he told the singer. "Cyborg's out there. Let her in." 2D quickly obeyed, and Murdoc heard a clang as the hatch opened, then a thunk as the cyborg joined them inside. As 2D closed the hatch, he turned toward his creation to ask where the real Noodle was. And then found that he didn't need to.

"Love," he choked out, staring down the barrels of the two guns she was pointing at them. "Love, what have you done?" His eyes moved from the guns to the familiar cat mask that was dangling by its string from her right hand. "Where's Noodle?" he asked anyway, even though he knew.

"I'm Noodle," said the cyborg.

She smiled at them.

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Noodle pulled herself to the surface of the water. She was at the base of the pirate ship. There was nothing to hang onto. She'd been pushed into the water by the cyborg. She didn't have her gun. She'd been on her way to Plastic Beach to see her friends. One by one, individual thoughts flashed through her mind as she tried to make sense of the situation. Then, she felt the water lurch around her, and saw Russel moving toward the ship, and everything came clear again.

Russel had seen.

And Russel was coming to save her.

The drummer reached the ship and brought his fist up into the air, then down on it. Just as he smashed the ship, Noodle heard gunfire from above her. Looking up, she saw that the cyborg was firing at her. The shock from Russel breaking the ship, however, knocked the cyborg sideways, and its shots went wild. Noodle dived under the water, trying to get out of its sight before it recovered and tried its luck again. When she finally surfaced, she was greeted by a white light enveloping Russel.

The Evangelist! What was he doing? Was he on the cyborg's side? As she watched, horrified, Russel shrank back to his normal size and dropped into the water.

"Russel!" she shouted, swimming in the direction he had fallen. In her panic, she forgot about the cyborg, and that turned out to be a bad mistake.

The gunfire came again from behind her. Relying solely on instinct, Noodle dove below the surface again. Bullets entered the water all around her, but she didn't feel anything hit her. Thanking her lucky stars, she made for the surface again, but felt something pulling her back. The water began to churn all around her as she felt something sucking her back toward the ship. Back and down.

The suction's got me! She struggled, but her muscles were no match for the current. It pulled her down into the darkness. I'm going to die. She finally decided to face the inevitable and stopped struggling, surrendering herself to the current.

She was pulled down faster amid a sea of bubbles and then suddenly she felt herself being pushed out and up. She found herself moving toward the surface with as great a speed as she had been pulled away from it. She broke the surface and filled her lungs with life-giving air. She groped all around her for something to hang onto as the stars began to clear from her vision. As she seized a piece of floating wreckage, her vision came clear and she saw that she was floating quite aways away from where the ship had gone down. The current had sucked her down, and then spat her back up again.

The ship was gone. It had sunk. But in the water where it had been, she could see a series of long sleek humps break the surface. It took her a moment to realize that she was seeing the submarine army that was in Murdoc's service. Squinting, she could make out a large shape on the top of a yellowish submarine. There were two figures up there, trying to help the shape stand up, and as they did, she saw that it was Russel.

Thanking the heavens that he was all right, she shouted and waved her arm at the people on top of the sub, but she was too far away for them to hear her and she could only watch as they brought Russel inside and closed the hatch. She looked at the other subs, trying to see if she could get their attention instead, and she noticed a sleek, feminine shape standing on top of one of them.

The cyborg. Even as she watched, the submarine rose higher in the water, and she saw that it was shaped like a fish. No, not a fish. A shark. It was Murdoc's sub! The hatch flipped open and she saw a lanky silhouette emerge. Was it 2D? She wished she had some binoculars or another way to see more clearly. The cyborg didn't seem to acknowledge 2D, and instead jumped inside the sub. 2D returned inside after it, and closed the hatch.

Oh no… 2D and Murdoc likely had no idea that the cyborg was dangerous. And they had just allowed it inside an enclosed space with them, with its guns. And she didn't know if Murdoc could really control the thing. She didn't even know if Murdoc and 2D had any weapons with them with which to defend themselves. She leaned on the piece of wreckage, trying to hoist herself out of the water. She started screaming at the sub, screaming for them to watch out, screaming at the other subs to help them, screaming uselessly for anyone at all to so something, but of course no one could hear her, and soon the subs began to sink back below the water. Small trails of bubbles marked their paths, and as she watched, these trails began to move toward the east, away from Plastic Beach and way from her.

The shark shaped sub still sat there in the water, unmoving. What was going on inside? Murdoc…2D…Oh guys, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to warn you in time. If only I hadn't let the ship pull me under. She began to swim frantically toward the sub, using her piece of wreckage as a makeshift kickboard. She was too far away to get there in time to stop anything that might be going on, but she couldn't just float there and stare at the thing while her friends might be being butchered inside. She pushed herself toward the sub with all her might. I'm coming, guys. Hang on…

The sub started moving.

Noodle stopped in her tracks, not believing what she was seeing.

The sub slowly sank below the surface as the trail of bubbles it was leaving behind picked up speed. It headed east, after the others. Noodle watched as its wake slowly dissipated, leaving nothing but unmarred ocean in its place.

She was alone.

They had left her.

They had left her.

An explosion came from her right. She looked over feebly and saw that Plastic Beach was in ruins. Apparently the planes had kept bombing merrily away through the whole battle, and they had done their work well. There was nothing left of the studio. And as she watched, one of the planes flew in a close circle around the narrow column that supported the table-like upper part of the island, on which the studio had once rested. She saw it drop a small speck at the base of the column, and moments later she heard the explosion, and watched as the entire thing came down, crashing into the base of the island and sending a huge wave rushing out towards her.

She barely had time to brace herself before the wave was upon her, washing over her and sending her spinning dizzily below the surface. She opened her eyes but all she could see around her was blackness. She wasn't even sure she knew which way was up anymore. She could only wait it out, like she had before, and eventually she found herself rising toward the surface. As she got her head above the water, she heard the sound of the plane engines, fading off into the distance. Were they leaving? Opening her eyes again, she found another piece of floating wreckage and seized hold of it. She rested her face against it, eyes squeezed shut as she held on for dear life and waited for the seas to calm. She wasn't sure she had the strength to do anything else. A low moan came helplessly from her throat.

They left me…

The sea finally steadied itself, but it was a long time before Noodle found the strength to open her eyes again. When she did, all was quiet. There was no sign of the pirates, the subs, the Evangelist, or anyone else. It was just her and the remains of Plastic Beach, now a ruined silhouette with the sun going down behind it. She stared at it wearily, wondering if she could even make it back there. It looked so far, and she was so tired…

A small ripple broke the surface of the water beside her.

For a single useless instant, she felt a surge of hope, thinking that it was one of the submarines, come back to rescue her, even though she knew it was much too small of a ripple to be made by something that size. Then a purple jellyfish bobbed to the surface, smiling serenely at her.

She looked at it dumbly. It was a "Superfast Jellyfish." The candy-colored invertebrates had recently become the world's favorite choice of instant food. She had seen packages of them smiling at her from the shelves of every convenience store and supermarket in recent memory. This was the area they were native to? This stinking garbage swill of a sea? She suddenly felt glad that she had never dared to try one. Truthfully, she had found their constant, vapid grins a bit unsettling.

It bobbled a bit in the water, still smiling emptily at her, then slowly began to propel itself in the direction of Plastic Beach.

With nothing else to do, Noodle followed it.