Warp Riders – Chapter 13

The Captain thought of herself as the most physically capable of the crew. She was undeniable The Muscle on gigs – hauling storage crates, busting open doors, throwing the odd punch when things came down to it. Hiking uneven terrain was almost a welcome challenge, honestly.

She certainly didn’t get out as much as she used to, back before the Orb. Nowhere to go, really, outside of time, except what place you brought with you. Maybe it was silly of her to have stuck so close to the campsite so far; moving her limbs was definitely doing her good.

The ruins were less visible away from the lake edge; the landscape had a soft undulation to it, each hill covered in swaying treelike plants. The ground underfoot was a crumbling cinnamon soil, soft and porous and held together by tiny vines that formed a mesh at the surface.

The plants’ leaves were stiff blunt spines, the blue of oxidized steel, and they rustled and rattled in the morning wind. Now and then, a stone ridge would appear, thrust up through the netted vines, too regular to be natural; but overall, it was a fairly pastoral planet.

The high ground she had in mind was a sharp ridge they had picked out from camp. It had looked somewhat artificial in shape in the Navigatrix’s scope, which intrigued the Engineer to no end. The hike there took over two hours, up and down, and it was extremely good for her.

What an infuriatingly simple truth: she needed to be doing things. Everything was simpler when there was something to do! She hadn’t thought about Lucy the whole time she’d been moving – what a joy, what a pleasure, what a relief.

Of course, then Lucy was at the center of her thoughts again. Lucy would have loved this, maybe. She had loved the scenic tourist resorts they used to relax at between gigs, when it was just the two of them and the Navigatrix. At least, she loved the beaches.

It was strange how sandy the soil stayed, even as she started to climb the ridge. Could sand make a ridge? Questions like that probably meant it was time to take a sample; and the Captain paused between a few larger … trees, was a good enough word for them, and knelt down.

The Engineer didn’t want immediate surface soil – she said they’d probably already contaminated it, simply being out in the breeze, so the Captain used the provided tools to dig down half the length of her arm. As she scooped the sand into the vial, she brushed against something – something hard, but smoother than the stone ruins. She did something very unscientific and scrambled around in the soil with her hands until she unearthed it; smooth, tinted a little darker than white, dry as a – well, it was a bone. A human bone.

Probably even less scientific was the noise she made when she realized she was holding a jawbone, and flung it away from herself.

“Augh, augh, no, no, augh -”

It rattled against the tree needles as it rolled down the slope of the ridge.

Well, there was no retrieving it now, what a tragedy.

After a thorough session of sanitizing her hands, the sampling equipment, and her face for good measure, she pulled the pack onto her shoulder and turned back towards the peak of the ridge. Nowhere to go but up, old girl.

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