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 RK Story - Penelope and Karin Part 1 
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Joined: March 29th, 2015, 12:28 am
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“Boarding for planetary shuttle A117 has begun. All passengers please report to Gate 7.”

Penelope looked up from her datapad as gentle chimes signaled the end of the message and then shoved the small device into her satchel. The other students buzzed among one another, all preparing for the last short hop of their field trip to Baradus Delta. She stretched as she rose to her feet and then walked to where Codifier Engali was taking a headcount. As she passed her fellows, all clad in the yellow and white of Tricea Academy, most of them unobtrusively moved away from her.

Penelope sighed. It was like being in a bubble. She obligingly stopped several meters short of where the others were gathering. Even then those nearest to her pressed slightly into the crowd, as if she had some kind of contagious illness that they were keen to avoid catching.

She was at the back of the line when they reached the shuttle. The last one off after planetfall. The last one on the bus to the hotel. Her roommate, a Tonnerian named Mika, had drawn the short straw when all the other girls had drawn lots to decide who would have to be her partner for the trip.

When Penelope got to her room Mika was already there, sitting on her bed and restlessly bouncing on the unfamiliar mattress.

“Hiya, Penny.” Mika said.

“Penelope.”

“Whatever.” Mika said, smiling slyly. “Hey, the rest of today is a free day. Some of the other girls are going to that Dan Starship concert that’s downtown.”

“Okay?” Penelope said.

“I got us tickets!” Mika squealed, happily. “I mean… I know it’s not really your thing, but since we’re partners and I can’t go unless you go…”

“Mika, it’s been a long day.” Penelope said. “Two jumpships and three shuttles to get here, and I really wanted to read more about the Esper Resonance of the Rooni Trees that we’re going to go look at later this week.”

“Sure, sure, you’re all business, hey, I get that! Nobody’s ever seen you do anything remotely fun, so I didn’t really expect you to take me up on it. Look. Why don’t we go to the arena, we’ll get our hands stamped, and then you can go do… whatever it is you do… and I won’t tell if you won’t.”

“We’re supposed to stay together, Mika.” Penelope said acidly.

“Pleeeeease? I’m begging you here!” Mika said, her tufted ears drooping. “When am I going to have a chance to do this again?!”

“Fine.” Penelope finally said.

“Thanks Penny! You’re the best!” Mika said brightly.

An hour later Penelope sat in the lobby waiting for Mika to arrive. She was just finishing the chapter about the Holy Forest of Barad when she heard someone clear their throat. She looked up to see Mika standing there, one hand on an out-thrust hip and the other curled into a paw shape next to her cheek.

She was wearing a short skirt, a stretchy tank top at least one size too small, bicep-length gloves with oversized padded hands, thigh high leggings, high heels, and a choker with a bell on the front.

“You’re going straight for the cat-girl fetishists?” Penelope said. “Really setting the bar high, aren’t you?”

“I’d tell you to bite me,” Mika said, flashing a one-fang smile, “but I’m the one that does the biting around here.”

“I really didn’t need to know that.” Penelope said, standing up and stowing her datapad.

“Besides,” Mika said, “Look at you still roaming around in your school uniform on your evening off! There’s a kink for that too, you know.”

The two of them stepped out onto the curb and were met by their taxi, a hovering rickshaw with an elderly Rhouss behind the stick.

“You girls goin’ to the concert I take it?” He chuckled as they climbed aboard.

“You got it, Pops!” Mika cheered, pumping a fist into the air.

The Rhouss expertly accelerated into traffic and set a course for downtown. Penelope went back to her reading while Mika chattered on with the driver about the big city and how different it was from the quiet little moon that the Doctrine had built Tricea Academy on, which was all rolling grasslands and ancient forests.

Penelope barely noticed when the transport stopped. She was still putting her things away when Mika jumped out of the taxi and headed for the arena.

“I bought the tickets, you get the cab fare, Penny!” Mika called back over her shoulder.

Penelope stared at her retreating form for a moment in disbelief before paying the driver and storming after the Tonnerian, cursing under her breath.

There were people everywhere, and the excited murmuring of the crowd was nearly deafening to her ears. She caught sight of Mika and some of the other girls from school just as they were admitted into arena. A minute or so later he swell of the crowd pushed her directly into a large, well-dressed man standing in front of a glass entry gate.

“Ticket.” He said, wearily. She looked at him blankly, her mind trying to process all the sights, sounds, and smells engulfing her.

“Ticket!”

Penelope blinked and held the ticket up. The man scanned it and then stamped her hand with some kind of shimmering rainbow ink.

“Enjoy the show.” He said mechanically, already looking over her shoulder at the next in line.

The glass doors slid open and the packed hallway into the arena was open to her. Penelope felt a sense of vertigo, like staring into a chaotic abyss of noise and color. The crowd started to press her through the gate. The man was staring at her. It was starting to be hard to breathe.

“I forgot something.” She said in a small voice, and ducked to the side. It took some time, but Penelope eventually managed to find her way clear of the throng and dazedly set off into the city.
The sound of fireworks and a heavy electronic beat in the distance shook her from her reverie. Her chronometer registered a half an hour, Galactic Standard, since she’d started walking. Penelope glanced around as she walked until she found a coffee shop and darted inside. She bought a hot local tea blend from the chee behind the counter and slid into a small booth, drawing out her datapad and pulling up a map of the city.

She wasn’t far from Ghost Town. Baradus Delta was well known for unusual Esper Resonance. Several places on the planet had particularly strong Esper related phenomenon. Ghost Town was a section of Agal City where the high concentrations of Essence and Corruption Esper occasionally manifested as spectral apparitions, psychic forms that appear as ghostly humanoids that were thought to be reflections of the emotions of the inhabitants of Ghost Town. They were supposed to go and visit the Doctrine research office there tomorrow, but there wouldn’t really be a lot of time to wander around.

Penelope set a waypoint on the map and activated a tour-guide app on her datapad, and then stashed it in her satchel and scooped up her tea. As she left the little coffee shop the virtual tour guide chattered away in the comm-bead that was in her ear, giving her directions and talking about whatever point of interest was in sight from her location.

She was approaching the line on her map that designated the beginning of Ghost Town when there was a loud boom and a coruscating column of light beaming into the sky. For moment, blinking away the dazzling after-image of the beam from her eyes, she thought that it might be the concert. A few moments later the screaming from ahead of her confirmed that something was very wrong indeed.

Penelope plunged forward toward the screaming as people began to stream past her, fleeing in the opposite direction. At the edges of her vision she started to see softly glowing ghostly forms moving among the people. Rounding a corner she skidded to a halt, finding a group of people huddled fearfully in the middle of the road, their way blocked by several floating apparitions. A man stood between the two groups, his back to the sinister specters. Relief flooded into Penelope as she saw him gesture with a glowing staff. He was Doctrine. She hustled toward him.

“It’s all right!” The man said. “They’re just psychic reflections of everyone’s panic. Incorporeal and non-sentient. They can be frightening but they can’t hurt you. Everyone please remain calm!”
He turned to look at the ghostly forms as a crackling deep purple apparition detached from the group and hovered toward him.

“Fascinating.” The man said as Penelope walked up behind him. “They don’t usually appear in such large numbers. I wonder- Aaagh!” His conjecturing was cut short as the purple ghost thrust its arm into the man’s chest.

There was a soft pulse of light and the man fell bonelessly to the ground.

“They aren’t supposed… to be able… to do… that.” He whispered in confusion, his voice breaking into a death rattle.

The small group of people he had been reassuring moments ago fled in all directions, screaming. The ghostly form crackled and hissed with energy and spite as it looked up from the body of the Doctrine agent. It didn’t really have a face…but the glowing points of light that were its eyes burned when they met Penelope’s gaze.

It started toward her and then began to shimmer. Tendrils of Corruption Esper started to stream off of it like smoke and burn into Penelope. It made some kind of noise, like a cry of rage, and then rocketed away from her and down a side street. Penelope staggered. She took a deep breath and then knelt and checked the man’s pulse, confirming what she already knew. Her eyes were drawn to his staff, gnarled and ancient, and shaped into a curl around a pulsing golden orb at the top.

Penelope became aware of a nearby presence and looked up to see what appeared to be two ghostly forms. A tall, yellow, vaguely female form and a smaller green specter, holding the “hand” of the taller one. As she looked into her eyes a brief wave of rage crashed over her, turning her vision black, filling her mouth with the taste of rusted metal, and her ears with a cacophony of discordant sounds. It passed in an instant.

“What?” She muttered.

The ghostly forms pointed at her, and then down the road leading deeper into Ghost Town.

Penelope stared at them. There was nothing in any of the literature about the Esper Spirits of Ghost Town ever attempting to communicate! She looked down at the man at her feet. They weren’t supposed to be able to hurt or even touch anyone either.

The two ghosts pointed again, this time joined by a third, a shimmering blue one. More of them began to swirl around her, all pointing the same direction.

“Okay.” She said. “Let’s see what you’re trying to say.” Penelope looked longingly at the glowing staff on the ground for a moment, and then set off deeper into Ghost Town, leaving the enchanted artifact where it fell.

Penelope stopped to get her breath back after jogging along the road for ten minutes. Every time she had been unsure which way to turn a ghostly form had drifted sight and pointed the way. She was close now.

The apparitions had pointed her to a wooden fence with no gate. Sighing heavily she backed up a bit to get a run-up, and then scrambled gracelessly over the top, dropping down the other side a little harder than she’d have liked. Climbing to her feet and rubbing her backside, she took two steps and then stopped dead in her tracks.

Penelope was standing just inside a large public square. She recognized the layout of the place as the center of Ghost Town, but it looked as though a bomb had been dropped on the place. On the north side of the square across from her were the Doctrine offices, or what was left of them. Every building surrounding the central square was in ruins, the twisted remains of vehicles scattered like children’s toys across the open ground, and small fires still burned here and there. Water from a broken pipe gushed high into the air on the east side of the square. And the bodies. Bodies everywhere.

Taking a shaky breath, Penelope ventured toward the center of the space. There was a large hole in the ground, but it was too cylindrical and regular to be a blast crater. She looked at the corpses that were strewn around this area. They looked like local law enforcement and Doctrine agents. Something about them wasn’t right.

A soft moan whispered in the breeze. It took a moment for Penelope to identify where it came from, but after shifting a broken car door she found an old man, dressed all in some kind of blue and white uniform, and with a shield-shaped pendant around his neck.

“You’re a Paladin!” She exclaimed, then frowned, her eyes drawn to the wound on his abdomen. “And you’ve been shot!”

The man groaned again and opened his eyes. She could see him grit his teeth against the pain as he tried to focus.

“Doctrine.” He said, grabbing her shoulder. “Don’t… recognize you. Doesn’t matter.” He took some deep breaths. “Pirates. Have to stop them. Took the Arkibra Crystal.”

“You need help!” Penelope said. “Sir! You need a medic, you’ve been shot!” He had closed his eyes and wasn’t responding, his breath coming ragged gasps.

There was a metallic noise from behind her, followed by a short hum. It wasn’t a noise that Penelope had ever heard before, but she knew…KNEW… that it was the sound of some kind of energy weapon being cocked.

“Hey, thanks girlie!” A rough voice said behind her. “I was wondering where that Shattered Sword jerk had gotten to.”

Penelope stood up slowly and turned around. Two people were standing there, both scarred and dressed for rough work. Skulls featured prominently on their clothing. The woman had some kind of large energy weapon resting on her shoulder, and smiled viciously at Penelope. The man standing in front of her had his weapon pointed at her chest.

“Step aside little girl.” The woman said. “We’ve got orders. No witnesses.” Penelope heard a strange high pitched noise coming from somewhere.

“Doesn’t that mean you’re going to kill me too?” Penelope said defiantly. The noise was getting louder.

“Ha! You got us!” The man said. “Nothing personal though.” He lifted his rifle to his shoulder.

A fast-moving hoverbike came over top of the nearby wrecked car and skidded sideways into the pirates, sending them tumbling away, limbs akimbo.

Penelope blinked a few times and then looked at her savior. It was a girl, perhaps her own age, seventeen or so, perched on top of a heavily customized brilliant green hoverbike painted to look as if it had snake scales. She was dressed like Penelope would envision a street racer, but all in black, with pale skin, heavily darkened eyes, black lips, and long black hair tied with ribbons into pigtails.

“Oops!” The girl said. And then “Hey girl, we gotta move! There’s ghosts all over the place. It’s bad out there. EMS and the police are coming, let them deal with it.”
The girl’s eyes set on the two pirates she’d hit while she was talking. She took in the weapons and the skull motif on their jackets. She looked at the hole in the ground.

“Are those real pirates? Where’s the Arkibra Crystal?” The girl asked.

“Pirates! Yes! This Paladin said that they took it. I read about it on the way to Baradus Delta, I was supposed to come here and see it tomorrow. I’m Penelope.” The words tumbled out of Penelope’s mouth. It took an act of will to stop talking. Penelope realized she was shaking.

“Karin.” The girl replied. “You’re an offworlder? That’s a long way to come for a pilgrimage. You know what? Nevermind. No time. I have to go after the Crystal. Nobody steals the Soul-Prism from MY people! You need to get out of here before the ghosts get you. They’re beyond angry!”

“I know! They asked me to come here!” Penelope said.

“They did the whatnow? The ghosts don’t actually TALK.”

“No, but they pointed me to this place. I’m not a pilgrim.” Penelope replied.

“What are you, some kind of witch?” Karin said, incredulous.

“Doctrine. Well, just a student really.”

“You ARE a witch!” Karin said. “Ha! Get on and let’s go get the Arkibra back!”

“But-“

“Better do what the spirits say! Come on!” Karin extended a hand.

Penelope paused for a moment, and then took Karin’s hand and climbed on behind her.

“Woohoo!” Karin cheered. “Now where do we go?”

“I thought you had some idea!” Penelope said.

“I thought YOU knew! You’re the witch here, not me!”

“I’m not a witch!” Penelope snapped, and looked around. After a moment found a shimmering green form. As soon as she saw it the apparition pointed at the westernmost road leading from the square.

“There! West!” Penelope said, and then grabbed on to Karin and squeezed for dear life as the hoverbike kicked and spun, then rocketed toward the road, Karin effortlessly sliding around wrecked vehicles and debris.

“I hope you’re right, Penelope!” Karin called back over the whine of the engines.

“It’s the way the ghosts want us to go!” She yelled into Karin’s ear. “And it’s Penelope! Not Pen-Uh-Lope!”

Karin laughed and whooped as they flashed past an oncoming ambulance, boosted up the side of some rubble, and jumped over a pair of police cars. Penelope buried her face in Karin’s back and closed her eyes.


End Part 1.


March 10th, 2017, 8:06 pm
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