Joined: March 29th, 2015, 12:28 am
After what seemed to Penelope like an eternity of rocketing through, around, and in some cases over traffic Karin slowed her bike down to something resembling the posted limits. Penelope felt the hoverbike start to shudder and rumble in protest as Karin throttled the speed down.
“We gotta be close!” Karin said. “They can’t be going but so fast with the weight of the Arkibra in their truck. Where now?”
Karin was answered by a distant explosion, the sound of sirens, and a squadron of police vehicles flying overhead in the direction of the blast.
“The freeway!” Karin shouted, the engines of her bike already smoothing out into a whine as she accelerated toward the knot of traffic backing up at the on-ramp to the freeway.
As they approached they could see the cause of the traffic. A law enforcement barricade had been erected to prevent civilians from getting tangled up with the incident.
Karin wasn’t slowing down.
“You’re not serious!” Penelope yelled into her ear.
“I’m NEVER serious!” Karin called back, pulling into the space between the two lines of traffic and gunning the engines directly toward the barricade. “Hang on!”
The hoverbike drifted upward on its repulsors, straining at the maximum height it could reach. Karin pushed it forward, and at this speed the bike was skipping in and out of its altitude tolerances like a speedboat running across a choppy lake. Penelope saw her flip open a small hinged panel on her console, revealing a small red button.
“What’s that button do?!” She asked.
“One of two things!” Karin yelled back. “Probably trigger the Quintalerium Boosters, give us some wicked lift and make us go even faster!”
“What’s the other thing?!” Penelope said, trying to keep the hysteria out of her voice.
“Well… we COULD blow up!”
The bike dipped back into its normal altitude limit and started to lift back into the next skip. The police officers, finally realizing that the hoverbike wasn’t going to stop threw themselves to the ground behind the barricade. As the bike reached the crest of its bounce Karin pressed the button.
There was a loud WHOMP from beneath and behind the bike and the ground fell away. Karin leaned into the bike and squeezed the handlebars, and Penelope leaned into Karin and squeezed her. Sparks blasted out from the bottom of the bike chassis as they bounced on the pavement beyond the barricade. Penelope felt her teeth rattle with the impact, but the bike was already lifting to cruising altitude.
“Lean right!” Karin yelled, and threw herself sideways. Penelope, hanging on to Karin for dear life, had no choice but to follow.
The ground whizzed by, inches from their faces as Karin took the curve leading to the freeway at suicidal speeds, stabilizers and inertial compensators shuddering. They righted themselves on the freeway and, faced with a wide open four lane straightaway, Karin maxed the throttle and started laughing maniacally.
They shot past a burning police car, and then another. Seconds later Karin jinked her bike between two police cruisers and left them in the dust. Ahead they could see a squadron of law enforcement on hoverbikes exchanging fire with pirate bikers. Beyond that, police air patrol was closely following a large, fast moving armored truck.
A trail of smoke drew a bright line between the truck and one of the flyers as someone inside took a shot with a rocket launcher, and the police vehicle exploded. A few seconds later Penelope saw the pirates and police ahead of them weave frantically as they drove through the falling debris. A moment later a shower of hot, sharp metal bounced past them.
Penelope cried out as something impacted her shoulder, nearly throwing her from the hoverbike. Karin reached back to stabilize her, and she saw a bleeding gash on Karin’s cheek.
“Hey!” Karin said. “That’s Kurt!”
“Kurt!” She pointed at a Hoverbike Cop up ahead as he shot a pirate gunner off the back of one of the bikes ahead.
“Used to be a friend of mine!” Karin continued. “Sold out. Went straight. Got married.”
Karin pushed her bike up into the pack of law enforcement.
“Hiya Kurt!” She called to him.
“Karin!?” He boggled at them. “Get out of here! This is- HEY! What have you done to my bike?!”
“Bye Kurt!” Karin said, with excessive cheer, and accelerated.
Karin rapidly started closing the distance with the pirates as Penelope heard Kurt calling for covering fire. Karin reached back by Penelope’s leg and grabbed what looked like a gear-shift with an 8-Ball on it and pulled. A metal rod slid free of its case, and as it cleared the sheath a bunch of wicked-looking spikes popped out near the end.
As the pirates dodged the incoming fire and kept their heads down, Karin pulled aside a pirate. She looked up from the road ahead just in time for Karin to hit her in the face with the spiked club. The pirate rolled the bike away hard to the left and braked, her bike dipping sharply. The pirate caught the front of her chassis on the pavement and spun away, flipping end-over-end into the tree line and exploding.
Penelope cried out in dismay and buried her face in Karin’s back.
“Remember all the people in Ghost Town?” Karin called back, not unkindly. “These yrgak scum have a lot of blood on their hands! Don’t feel bad for the pirates!”
Penelope looked back up in time to see Karin parry a sword strike from the right. On the left, another pirate dropped back, boxing Karin in, and held up a short pipe with a hook welded on the end.
Penelope hesitated a moment, and then pulled her satchel free, wrapped the strap around her hand, and smacked the hook pirate in the head.
“Did you just hit me with your PURSE?!” The pirate yelled, and started laughing.
Red-faced, Penelope looked him in the eye and then watched the blood drain from his face as she swung the bag under his bike and into the turbine. His hoverbike lurched and bucked, and then came violently apart around him. Penelope looked away before she saw his flailing form hit the ground.
Karin was still locked in combat with the other pirate, and bleeding from a cut on her forearm. Penelope grabbed on to the handle behind the seat and waited for the next exchange. The pirate swerved close, watching for an opening to stab Karin. Penelope stretched a foot out and kicked the back of the pirate’s bike, causing it to wobble and throwing the pirate off balance, forcing her to stabilize. Karin seized the opportunity and cracked her spiked club down on the pirate’s sword hand, dashing the blade away. The pirate cursed and peeled away.
“Wow, girl!” Karin yelled. “You looking for a gang to join?”
“I think I’m going to throw up!” Penelope groaned.
“Just turn your head and aim for the cops!” Karin said, laughing and closing the distance with the large truck ahead.
The armored truck was huge, almost more train than truck, and mostly engines and repulsors to propel the weight of the armor and cargo at the kind of speeds needed to outrun most ground vehicles. They could see into the cargo area as two pirates leaned out and exchanged fire with the police flyers. Dimly, in the darkness near the back of the truck Penelope could see something glowing softly in iridescent hues.
Penelope and Karin looked up as a shadow covered them. A starship flew above the running firefight and pulled ahead of the truck. Ignoring the relatively small-arms fire from the police, it descended into the long straight section of the freeway ahead and matched speed with the truck.
“They’re NOT.” Karin said.
A large aft-ramp lowered from the back of the ship, and laser guidance systems locked onto the truck, lining it up with the ramp.
“THEY ARE!” Penelope yelled, aghast.
“That gives me an idea!” Karin called back. “Hugs!”
Penelope tightened her arms around Karin’s waist as she felt the bike start to accelerate and lift until it was skipping in and out of its altitude ceiling again. The top of each skip took the bike just high enough that it lined up with the truck bed.
“You’re crazy!” Penelope yelled, squeezing her eyes shut.
“You just realized that NOW?!” Karin said, standing up in the stirrups and red-lining her hoverbike.
The two pirates standing in the back of the truck could do little more than stare in horror as the green hoverbike bounced into the truck and slid sideways, taking their legs out from under them and sending them cartwheeling out onto the road.
For a moment the entire world was a directionless scramble of crashing metal, still images of wreckage and destruction, and flashes of pain and impact. Then, silence.
Penelope groaned and pushed herself to her knees.
“Karin?” She said, shakily.
“I’m here.” She struggled to her feet on the opposite side of the wrecked bike. Blood streamed down her face from a gash on her scalp and she was cradling one arm against her body.
“I think my arm’s broken.” Karin said.
Penelope grabbed some webbing hanging from the side of the wall and pulled herself up. Everything hurt, but it all seemed to be working properly. She looked around.
Near the back of the cargo container they were in was the Arkibra Crystal, a man-sized, softly pulsing yellow stone, shot through with vibrant greens and blues and jutting from a spiky crystalline nest of shimmering red, violet, and orange tones. Watching the glowing colors shift and flow across the crystal Penelope thought she could make out… faces?
Next to the crystal was a cage, and within the cage a battered man wearing an expensive suit with a silk tie embroidered in runic patterns. Standing between them was another man. He was middle aged, but in good shape and wielded a glowing scepter. A large tome floated nearby, chained to his belt and tugging at it as if it were trying to escape.
“What are you doing?!” The man screamed, his face twisted in rage.
“You’re the nyarlek that stole the Soul-Prism?” Karin said, limping forward. “That is one of my people’s holiest relics. Give. It. Back.”
“You hardly seem capable of making me do anything.” The man said, regaining some composure.
“Oh yeah?!” Karin snarled. “Well that’s where you’re wrong, mage-boy. I brought my friendly neighborhood witch-queen with me! Penelope, fry this yrgak-lover! Right in his stupid mouth!”
The man turned his attention to her and brandished his scepter. A brief shimmer in the air between them was all that revealed the force barrier that sprang into existence.
“Um,” Penelope said, weakly. “I can’t actually cast fire spells.”
“Lightning it is then!”
“I can’t do that either.” Penelope mumbled.
“Ice magic?” Karin said, hopefully.
“Hexes? Curses? Winds made of razors?”
“This is your witch?” The man chuckled. “It seems you pick your allies poorly.” He sneered.
“So… what, you just talk to ghosts then?” Karin asked, edging toward Penelope.
“Traitor!” Penelope shouted at the man, hot rage flashing through her. “How could you do this? You killed all those people! Stole their holy artifact!”
“Stupid girl!” The man screamed back. “We’re in a war for survival! How long do you think this planet will be safe from the great Calamity?! I’ve studied this crystal for ten years! I believe it can power a weapon capable of melting a capital ship to slag! A barrier so impenetrable that no force could overcome or bypass it! I said as much, but those fools wouldn’t listen! They aren’t willing to do what is necessary to win!”
“You’re as bad as any enemy we face!” Penelope retorted.
“I am a savior!” The man screamed, spittle flecking from his lips. “Now, DIE!”
The air around them crackled with power, and a torrent of lightning poured from the man’s scepter, filling the back of the cargo container with hot white energy.
Karin braced herself for the pain, but watched as the lightning redirected mid-bolt, arcing towards Penelope and transforming into yellow wisps of energy, which streamed into Penelope and absorbed into her skin.
“What?” The man said.
“I can’t throw fire or ice.” Penelope said, gritting her teeth and staggering forward. “I can’t electrocute someone.” She pressed a hand against the man’s force barrier, which stretched like a clear sheet of plastic against her hand.
“But I do have one particular talent, though it doesn’t win me any friends at school.” With great effort Penelope pushed forward until the barrier shattered like a pane of glass. Karin watched as the shards turned into a blue haze and sought Penelope out, flowing into her.
With the resistance of the barrier gone, Penelope lurched forward and grabbed the man’s hand. Instantly they were both surrounded by a coruscating nimbus of power, their backs arching, and bodies going rigid. They screamed in unison.
“She’s a Nullifier!” The man in the cage shouted. “You in the pigtails, get my book!” The man pointed at the hovering tome chained to the screaming villain’s belt.
Karin limped carefully around the edge of the screaming duo and grabbed the Tome with her good arm. She tugged at the book, but it was stuck fast. Sighing and taking a risk, she thrust her hand into the aura and grabbed the man’s belt buckle. There was no pain, just an odd tingle in her fingers.
Karin yanked the belt off of the man and watched the tome circle carefully around Penelope, and fly to its master.
“Opening Charm.” The imprisoned mage said, and the Book opened and flipped pages for a moment. The prisoner put one hand on the book and the other on the cage door. Karin watched the lock on the door pop open, and clang loudly on the metal floor in the sudden silence.
Karin turned in time to see the rogue Doctrine mage slump to the ground, moaning in pain. Penelope stumbled to the side and put her hand on the wall. She vomited, and looked up at Karin. Her eyes were glowing, her teeth chattered, and her hands shook. She looked like she could barely stand.
“I… feel sick.” She said. “I don’t think that I can hold all of this power.”
“Then don’t!” The prisoner said rushing toward her. “You have an incredibly rare gift, one that you haven’t learned to control yet.”
Penelope staggered and fell toward the man, who danced backward and thrust his hands behind his back as the girl hit the ground with a heavy thud. Karin looked at the other mage, now unconscious but still writhing on the ground as if in pain.
“Help her up!” The man said.
Karin knelt down and put her good arm around her. Penelope felt unnaturally hot, and her whole body was shaking. She got to her knees, and the man knelt beside her.
“Hold your hands out toward the cab of the truck, no, not toward the Crystal!” He said. “Yes, there. Now let it out.”
“How?” Penelope said through chattering teeth. “Usually I just get a little zap and let go. I’ve never… drained anyone before.”
“What does it feel like?” The man asked.
“It feels like I’m going to burst!” Penelope cried. “Like I’m going to split at the seams.”
“Her whole body is tensed up.” Karin said. “Every muscle.”
“If you relax then you’ll let it out?” The man asked.
“If I relax I’ll explode!” Penelope said. “It’s moving through me. It’s trying to get out!”
“Squeeze your hands as hard as you can.” The man said. “Squeeze all the muscles in your arms! Push the power out of your arms and into your body.” Karin watched as Penelope held her fists out and squeezed as hard as she could.
“Okay. Now what?” Penelope said through clenched teeth.
“Now open your hands and relax them!” He said.
“Do it! You’ve built up pressure, now give it a way out!” He said, forcefully.
Penelope opened her hands.
Blazing light poured from her palms and illuminated the cargo container. Karin and the prisoner shielded their eyes. It was suddenly uncomfortably hot. After a minute or so the glow subsided. Karin opened her eyes and blinked against the sudden wind.
The cargo container was slowing down. The cab of the truck was mostly gone, burned away into molten metal, half of an engine, and some sputtering repulsors. They could see directly into the hold of the starship. The ramp was gone, and the interior of the bay was a blackened, scorched mess. Nothing inside moved.
The ship shuddered and then started climbing, accelerating in an attempt to break atmosphere as local police and now military rose in pursuit.
Karin sank to her knees and put her unbroken arm around Penelope.
“I’m tellin’ ya Penelope,” She said, pronouncing it like antelope rather than the proper way. “There’s definitely a spot in my gang if you want it!”
Penelope said nothing, but rested her head on Karin’s shoulder as the rapidly slowing cargo container was surrounded by what must have been every police vehicle for a hundred miles.
"I hate being arrested." Karin said.
"You think you have it bad?" Penelope replied wearily. "I skipped out on my field trip partner and broke curfew."
"I think I can help both of you out." The prisoner said, drily.
"Hey, while you're working miracles, can you get me a new bike?"
"We'll talk." He replied. "Your friend needs some additional training, and I could always use a resourceful friend with a fast horse...."