Warp Riders – Chapter 17

The Captain was cold, somehow still damp after hours of lying in the dark, headlamp off, trying to conserve battery while she let her knee calm down. Flexing it wasn’t too bad now, but putting weight on it was unsteady and threw her back into the water once already.

Climbing steep cliff walls was no joke with all four limbs; she wasn’t sure how she was going to get up them with only three, but, as she kept repeating aloud, she’d been in much worse scrapes than this before. Now, normally she wasn’t alone for them, but the point stood.

Normally, of course, she would be lectured at length by her crew; she thought fondly of the Bosun’s robust vocabulary of swear words, punchy little four letter additions to the mood, whether tense or triumphant; she could almost hear the Engineer’s elaborate threats and curses delivered in a spirit of motivating dialogue, despite the content thereof. She could remember, so clearly it hurt, Lucy’s stubbornly optimistic listing of all the cocktails and novelty foods they were going to eat once they were out of whatever scrape they’d all fallen in.

She could bring to mind the perpetual absentminded hum of the Navigatrix, some tuneless noise that was annoying in how relaxed it always sounded, as if she never really was worried, no matter how dire the straits they were in.

And honestly, after hours in the echoing dark listening to the kind of silence a huge body of utterly still water made, her ears were starting to hallucinate. It was as if that irritating hum was getting louder, realer, the more she thought about it – and that couldn’t bode well.

And then, blythely, her imagined Navigatrix shouted “Captain! Any chance you’re in this hole?” and, well, what was there to do but to reply?

“Navigatrix, you’re going to need a lot of rope, and an inflatable raft, and a splint, and hurry up!”

“Let me relay that to my guide here -” and then the imagined, or real, or did it even matter? – the Navigatrix could be heard, ever so quietly, talking to someone else. The Captain laid her head back down on the stone, and reached over to the water, to prove she was really awake – and confusingly, the water was farther away than she remembered.

That also didn’t bode well. She bit the bullet, sat up again and switched on the headlamp. Mercifully, the lake was still there – she hadn’t imagined it – but it was at least a foot lower than she remembered.

“Well, Captain, the Stowaway’s heading back for your shopping list, but I think I’ll stay here and keep you company by shouting into this hole.”

“Is it sunrise already?”

“Is it what? Sunrise? I can’t see it over the ridge –” Frustratingly, scuffling noises echoed down the tunnel.

And then silence, long enough for the Captain to return to her prior suspicion that this was all a stress dream, and yet; 

“I’m guessing it’s about half an hour after sunrise, maybe?”

“Ah shit, shit, the tide’s going out in here -”

“Are you … swimming?”

“You’re gonna need more rope.”

“Oh, I’ll tell camp -” and then a very confusing array of beeps and static echoed off the rock walls. A robotic version of the Engineer’s voice could be heard crackling through the static, and she and the Navigatrix had a clipped shouting match about rope and climbing equipment.

Further beeps and then silence, and then further scuffling.

“What are you doing? Don’t come down here and fall in as well!”

“I would never. I’m sitting down in the tunnel so I don’t have to bend over to talk to you.”

“Real brave of you to rest here instead of lug supplies.”

“You sound like you could use cheering up, honestly. Want to play Eye Spy?”

“Fuck you.”

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