Warp Riders – Chapter 35

The Captain, upon being shaken awake, would not agree that she’d had worse. The world was fuzzy, her head was swimming, and she was having trouble staying focused while the Bosun explained the plan to them. The Navigatrix was nodding very seriously, though, so that was good.

But then she and the Bosun left the tent together, and the Captain was alone. Time started slipping around, and she couldn’t tell if she was alone for hours, or only seconds, because she fell asleep again, and the Navigatrix had to shake her awake a second, or maybe third time.

She managed to connect a hand with her face and rub her eyes. 


“Captain, we could really use your tactical mind right now.” The Navigatrix got an arm under her shoulder and pulled her to sitting. 

The world wobbled a bit as the blood rushed to the Captain’s head.

“Please tell me you’re more awake than you look.”

The Captain squinted at her face. Had the Navigatrix gotten any rest at all? Her eye mask was perched crookedly on top of her head like a fascinator.

“Of course I’m awake.” Was that her own voice? This was bad. “Coffee?” she managed to yawn.

“Brewing it already. Double strong.” She managed a half-smile. “Can I tempt you with some cold leftovers?” 

The Captain’s stomach lurched. “Yes. No. Maybe.” She frowned, desperately trying to focus. “What’s the situation?”

The Navigatrix held the bowl and explained while she ate.

“Can we get to the ship?” The Captain did feel more lucid with food in her. “It’s taken worse hits than falling stones.”

“It’s not low tide yet – but maybe we can dance around until then.” 

That meant they’d barely gotten more than a few hours of sleep. No wonder she felt untethered.

“Let me grab the coffee. See if you can get your feet on the floor.” The Captain slowly maneuvered herself around, stretching out her good leg first, then the bad one. The splint was doing its job; she could rest her foot on the ground. The ground was vibrating? Was there an audible noise? Maybe?

“How close is it -” 

The Navigatrix held up a hand with two mugs in it, the other holding the percolator, and whispered; “Too close for comfort. The Bosun’s been able to distract it off course with loud noises; so keep your voice down.”

The Captain took the proffered cup.

“She’s drawing fire for me?” That felt wrong. “I need to get out there.”

The Navigatrix had a hand on her arm immediately.

“No. You stay put, well hidden, till they come and grab you.”

The coffee was working quickly. The Captain’s brain started ticking again.

“Till they do? –”


“What the hell are you planning, then?”

The Navigatrix looked furiously at her own mug, and quickly downed half.

“It’s… cryptic.”

“Cryptic as in secrets of the universe? Or as in not telling your goddamned captain what’s going on.”

That didn’t help. She only looked angrier.

“I am allowed to do the right thing sometimes, Captain.” Her voice was very, very quiet. “And you can be as mad as you want after, if I don’t make it back.”

“Back from what?!”

“I’m going to go get the orb.”

“And do what with it?” The Captain could feel the coffee and the meds stewing into something like a manic hangover in her brain.

“I can hear him calling it. So I’m going to take it to him.”

Did she miss something? “To who? Who’s calling?” 

The Navigatrix gestured vaguely.

“Is this like the orb talking to you?”

A bitter smirk. “Yes, actually.”

She stood up. “I see that you can’t hear him, but that’s probably for the best.” Her face was the hardest the Captain had ever seen it. “I hope you’ll forgive me eventually. I wish you’d forgive Lucy.”

The Captain felt like she’d missed a step on a ladder. “Why are you bringing Lucy into this?”

They both stared at each other for a moment. The Navigatrix looked close to tears.

“She loved you, Captain. She thought you were the smartest woman that ever lived. She was so proud to be your sister. And now you hate her?”

“I don’t – I don’t hate Lucy–”

“She didn’t want things to stay the same – she wanted something more – and–”

“I don’t understand! She never said that! And I don’t like your plan!” The Navigatrix flinched. “And I’m the captain and I say you stay put and we see this out together!”

How loud had she just yelled that?

In the awful silence that followed, they could both hear the tone of the rumbling change. It swept in a horrible circle around them, and they could hear the Engineer yelling as if from very far away, and then a loud hiss as fuzz grenades hit nearby.

The Navigatrix swept the tent door open, and they stared out onto an architectural marvel.

A ring of colonnades, stacked high beyond their line of sight, perfect and untouched by time. Behind them, walls were growing, bricks larger than their trike being pulled up from the ground and floated overhead; and then even the light from the planet was blocked out. All there was now was a blue glow and a low, musical, uncanny noise that the captain could no longer ignore. She watched the Navigatrix stand for a moment in the door of the tent, then she let the flap fall back in place, and crumpled to the floor. 


Warp Riders – Chapter 34

The Engineer was condemning the Navigatrix’s gun maintenance from inside her tent when the noise reached her. She pushed her way out of the tent and looked up at the Bosun, who was frozen, staring towards the ridge.

“What’s happening?”

“You oughta come look.”

The engineer could feel the rumble pushing up through her feet, like someone was operating an oversized rock tumbler. As she clambered up beside the Bosun, she saw something impossible.

In the distance, through the forest, enormous stone buildings were rising from the ground.

Blue light haloed them as the stones and mortar flew up from their bed below the sand and the trees to construct architectural skeletons of immense size – and then the blue glow would die away, and they would collapse back down.

The worst part was they were getting closer.

“This’s a first for me,” said the Bosun.

The Engineer made some sort of noise while her mind did calculations. The sound was still subtle, mostly ground vibrations, and the stones they’d seen in the ruins were huge, so it wasn’t … it wasn’t THAT close.

“I’d give it less than an hour to reach us.” She looked at the Bosun. “Any ideas?”

“You’re the one with the grenades and the tasers and the smoke bombs – can we drive it off course?”

The Engineer sat down and looked at the smaller raygun in her hand.

“Maybe. I want a few minutes to try something risky.”

The Bosun nodded curtly.

“You want me to watch it, or wake up our two sleeping beauties?”

“Probably a good idea to get them moving now; you really dosed the Captain.”

The Bosun snorted. “She’s had worse.”

Warp Riders – Chapter 33

The Bosun didn’t want to impugn the intelligence of her fellow crewmates, but there was no way the Stowaway had botched an assassination attempt in that cave. The kid had the eyes and the reflexes of someone who knew where the body’s soft spots were, from experience.

But something fishy had gone down, and whatever their intentions may have been, the Bosun wasn’t going to give the Stowaway the benefit of the doubt.

So after the Engineer had hidden the incapacitated half of their team in the camotech tent, rendering them fully invisible, the Bosun settled herself on a slightly higher pile of rubble to keep watch over the camp and assess their resources.

They hadn’t, it turned out, grabbed that much weaponry from the ship. For one, some of that tech could be pretty dangerous if shaken too hard in a bad landing. And secondly, it really hadn’t looked like they’d need much. The moon was so benign, so empty even of megafauna, that she’d prioritized comforts on her recent trips into the supply rooms. So at this point, she had a few knives, some construction tools, the camp stove…

She’d have to get creative.

The Engineer had always had a slightly more paranoid approach, and she was angrily working electrical charges into her otherwise benign perimeter sensors.

“If that fucking child tries to put an arrow in me they are going to be feeling every nerve in their body for the next year.”

She handed the Bosun a few things to attach to her knives. “These’ll zap them even if you can’t break skin.” They both took a moment, remembering their last big foray.

“D’you think the Navigatrix has any of her guns on shore?”

The Engineer raised an eyebrow.

“You said, and I quote, ‘I don’t fuckin pick people off from a distance.’”

“Well, might not be people, right?”

“You think a mysterious blue glow seriously climbed out of that cave and is tracking them straight to camp?”

The Bosun shrugged. “Maybe.”

They worked in silence for a bit, and then the Engineer stood up. 

“Fine, I’ll check her tent, but I’m not shooting anything with her rayguns; they’ve got brutal kickback.”

“More fun for me,” grunted the Bosun.

Warp Riders – Chapter 32

The gig that had given them the Stowaway had been suspect from the start.

The Captain had done a fair bit of sweet talking to get it, including going back and seeding some ideas a few years earlier; it was a bit confusing managing a reputation across time, but it’d worked.

In the end it was supposed to be a simple grab-and-go; they landed in the crepuscular zone of a tidally locked planet, drove over to the night side, set up watch from an abandoned skyscraper, and broke into the museum between shifts.

But it hadn’t been a museum.

They’d checked it in the future, they’d checked it in the past, but at the exact time they went to rob it, it was instead an active temple. It felt so disorienting, like the time stream had changed just as the Bosun and the Captain pushed in through the service doors.

And with Lucy gone, there was no one on the ship to check up on things from the high res scanners; they’d been relying on the portable screeners, which so often were blocked by different metal alloys and even just people’s bodies. So not only was it not the same layout, people inside were much better armed than they had predicted. 

And in a frighteningly specific way. The Bosun’s knives were no good against the aramid gloves and vests; and the Captain found her fists kept busy with what could best be described as a giant in a steel helmet.

With the interior layout changed, the Engineer’s charges did not take out any safe doors or structural walls, and the Navigatrix had no real sightlines from eight floors up the skyscraper. When the earpieces lit up with the curses and swears of the Captain and the Bosun, she and the Engineer had to improvise, and they’d come down to street level to try and get a handle on the situation.

The Captain was three or four rooms deep at that point, not wanting to leave a job undone, and the Bosun was covering her back as she dug through the temple, looking for their mark.

But the old statue they’d been sent to grab wasn’t there; and they’d ended up pinned in the basement, and someone got the Bosun’s shoulder with a lightning bullet, leaving her twitching, and the Captain’d fallen down under that asshole in the helmet, calling him all kinds of names, and so, of course, the Navigatrix had kicked in a door and snapped the focal tube off her precision ray gun and just started spraying plasma rays in an arc across every room they ran through, and the Engineer’d kept the exit open with the fuzz grenades, filling the air with charged gasses, and when they got into the basement she saw the Navigatrix pull that asshole in the helmet up by his belt and crack his collarbone with the focal tube like it was nothing. The Captain was up in a split second, pulling the shockdart out of the Bosun’s shoulder and tossing it like the electricity was nothing to her and yelling at them all to bail, call it, fuck off, get the hell out of that place. And they’d started pushing back out of the building, up one floor, into the central hall, just a few more goons to knock out of the way, but then that armored knife fighter caught up with them – and the Navigatrix had been behind, re-arming the Engineer’s fuzz grenades, and the knife had caught her right below the ribcage, and they’d almost been through the door when she managed to buzz the alarm on the earpiece.

The Captain had picked up a live fuzz grenade and smacked three goons in the face with it on her way to grab the Navigatrix. They got her into a locked piggyback and onto a ground effect cart they jacked and then very, very quickly back to the ship. The Captain flew them through the warp and out of time, and the Bosun did a little light surgery, and then, once the Navigatrix was moving around the ship with only a little wobble, they found that cursed Stowaway in Lucy’s old bunk, carving a strange piece of wood into an arrow, and covering the mattress in wood shavings.

The Engineer was pretty sure it was the closest call any of them had ever had. She’d never forget the look on the Captain’s face as they laid out the barely conscious Navigatrix in the galley-turned-infirmary. That woman translated almost every emotion into anger, and she had been incandescent with rage.

Bringing the Captain back into camp, the Navigatrix had looked almost the opposite – not a shred of emotion on her face at all. Given her usual easy calm, and the Captain’s comparably mild injury, the Engineer was feeling a bit off balance. But it definitely made her take the potential threat – either the Stowaway, or whatever was in that cave – very seriously.

Warp Riders – Chapter 31

The Stowaway was exhausted. They were baiting the Chronomancer like he was some rabid beast, staying ahead of him, shooting arrows and flinging stones and yelling to keep him focused on movement; he kept pausing, tendrils spreading out around him, pulling time backwards and rebuilding impossible structures from the ruins at his feet; and they had to stop him before anyone at camp saw anything new on the horizon and had time to prepare.

They thought, after meeting the Witches, that they’d seen everything, but his uncanny face, the noise he made, it felt like a hole in reality. All the subtle horror of the crew’s experience drifting into and out of time was magnified in this cursed man-turned-god, and honestly it was making their mind feel frayed at the edges. 

And they knew, viscerally, that those blue tendrils could deal a lethal dose of time if they were caught by them, and there was no rest to be had as they danced in and out, ahead and back, luring him closer, and closer, and so slowly and inexorably closer to the campsite.

All they could think now was how badly they wanted it all to be over.

Warp Riders – Chapter 30

“So they tried to kill you.” The Engineer had a very dark look on her face.

“And thank god they’re shit at assassination!” The Captain had been given some proper pain medication and it had not yet knocked her out.

“They did miss us by quite a bit,” added the Navigatrix.

“And then they just… gave up and ran away?” The Bosun had taken a skeptical tack. “If I had the high ground like that, two targets literally sitting ducks in a raft right below me, I’d shoot till I finished the job.”

“Well maybe they haven’t taken quite the same career path as you–”

“No,” the Bosun said firmly, “I’d put good money on them having the exact same career as I did. You see that kid with a knife?” 

The Engineer growled. “I’ve been working overtime trying to help them and they pull this stunt?”

The Captain leaned over to her and shook her fist. “They’re lucky they didn’t try and come at me face to face.”

“Captain, I think you’re the lucky one.” The Bosun stood up. “If that kid meant to kill any of us, I think they’d just do it business-like with the kitchen knife.”

The Navigatrix had to agree. But not out loud.

“Whatever they were doing, it didn’t help us get out of there faster.” She stood up. “And I’m as worried about them showing up as I am about whatever was in the water.”

The Engineer gave her side-eye. “You sure you two weren’t sharing a little stress dream?”

The Captain spluttered and attempted to drunkenly explain the glow, the tendrils, the noise, but it was clear they weren’t taking her seriously.

“You must agree we should set a watch, at least?” All the Navigatrix wanted, suddenly, was a nap, and some pills for her own bruises.

They were able to agree on that, and the Engineer agreed to set up perimeter alarms and get their remaining camouflage screen working on one of the tents. She and the Bosun lifted in the Captain, and the Navigatrix grabbed her own bedroll and squeezed in beside the pallet.

She pulled on her sleep mask and was so, so close to properly drifting off when she felt the Captain shifting around, and a fumbling hand tapped her on the arm.



“Couldn’ve asked for a better rescue, y’know.”

She smiled, just a little. “I do know.”

Warp Riders – Chapter 29

The Navigatrix was extremely happy to see camp peeking between the trees; the Captain was gray in the face and had to be twice as hungry and thirsty as she was. The trike was in bad shape; they’d hit a few rocks harder than they should have, and one of the wheels had a flat spot.

The trike noises woke the Engineer as they pulled up, and she rolled out of the tent to help the Bosun unload. They both took one look at the Captain and didn’t bother saying anything, just hauled her out of the sidecar and onto a pallet. As the Bosun fussed and got cursed at, the Navigatrix hung back. This wasn’t really her wheelhouse; she’d done the daring rescue and someone else could figure out how to revive someone who was clearly both in shock and in denial about being in shock.

The Captain was explaining how it all went down, and the Navigatrix could hear her get to the flooding of the cave and decided to take a walk over to the stove and start brewing a pot of coffee. No need to participate in that either.

It wasn’t that she was embarrassed about any of it – the Captain was capable of stewing up enough barely concealed embarrassment for the whole crew – but it hadn’t been the dashing rescue she had planned. Too many near-death experiences, not enough swashbuckling glory.

She’d have to work on her heroic dialogue.

The Bosun came to join her at the stove, and pulled out a flask.

“You look like you need something a little stronger than coffee.”

She nodded and accepted a generous pour of something that smelled like a fire hazard.

“You’ve been rescuing all sorts of treasures from our wreck, Bosun.” 

“Well, I like a certain quality of living, and I think y’all do too, so I consider it part of my job.” The Bosun gave her an assessing stare. “You did good, y’know. She’s gonna be fine in no time.”

“Yes, yes.” The Navigatrix waved a hand in the air and swallowed a little too much spiked coffee at once. She felt her sinuses cringe. 

“What, not enough gratitude for you?” The Bosun winked at her, and the Navigatrix nearly spat her drink out.

“I’d never presume to hope for that, Bosun.”

“You’re not letting her get under your skin finally, are you?”

The Navigatrix did not dignify that with an answer.

She could hear the Captain talking about how she’d hauled her out of the cave single-handedly, and that did feel rather nice to hear, because it had been heroic.

But then the Bosun turned to her and said “Wait, where’s the Stowaway?” And then they’d had to explain all of that.

Warp Riders – Chapter 28

The Stowaway had pulled themselves up one of the alien trees within eyeline of the cave mouth. They’d watched the two of them crawl out and leave, and they knew that meant that he’d be coming out too, hunting for the person who dared disturb his tomb. They’d need to be smart now.

The Witches had been very clear about the signs; it was going to have to be the Navigatrix. Honestly they weren’t really even that sorry; they’d never really liked her. The Stowaway would describe her, at best, as overeducated. Maybe all navigators were? Or just ones with Orbs?

But to lead him to the Navigatrix, without getting caught by either party, well, this was going to take some creative cat and mouse work.

Which was, they had to admit, their specialty. They pulled their homemade bow tight, salvaged arrow notched, and aimed above the crevasse.

The sound was getting louder; and despite the rising planet’s light, they thought they saw a bluegreen glow in the darkness of the tunnel. Just stay focused, they thought, aim at something that will make some noise, that brick will do, let fly as soon as he’s within earshot….

They weren’t ready, even after everything the Witches had told them.

He emerged, blue tendrils of time sweeping the ground ahead of him, withering plants back to seedlings, back into the ground, then reversing, growing them too fast, then abandoning them to fall over from age.

He looked like an old man, or a young man, or possibly a withered corpse; there were too many arms, uncountable, with nimble hands, pulling power into and out of an Orb so dark it glowed, so bright it was a black spot in the world.

The roar of time was musical and horrible.

A tendril was sweeping down the slope, and the earthquake-like shudder as a nearby tree shrank to nothing backwards in time shocked the Stowaway back to themselves, and they drew in a breath, held it, and let their handmade arrow fly.

It rung like a bell as it hit that brick.

The universe held its breath for a moment, and then he turned uphill. The tendrils swept ahead of him, organized now, pulling time back and clearing his path, revealing the monumental architecture that had once stood before where the Stowaway clung to a limb in horror.

He moved slowly, inexorably, up, over, through the ridge, buildings rising around him and falling to ruin again behind, pointed like a terrifying arrow directly towards the camp.

They had done it.

They had called the Chronomancer back into time.

Warp Riders – Chapter 27

And so the Captain sat in the sidecar, her splinted leg resting on the dash, piled up radios and ropes in her lap, while the Navigatrix pushed the thing as fast as it would go over the sandy, forested terrain. The trike did make a horrible screaming sound for a bit, but once they were down from the ridge and the Navigatrix could properly put it in gear, it seemed to chew up and spit out whatever chunk of metal was in its way and actually sounded almost normal.

The shocks were absolutely gone, though.

As they hit a clear stretch, the Navigatrix glanced over at the Captain, who was scowling and biting her lip hard enough to draw blood. In response, she slowed and stopped the trike, and as it stopped rattling, the Captain exhaled gratefully.

“What, you need a break already?”

“Just checking the map, Captain.” And she did pull out a paper map she’d clearly drawn herself, covered in incomprehensible scribbles. Astronavigators’ approach to terrestrial cartography was usually overcomplicated; the Navigatrix only expanded upon that tradition.

The Captain took a moment to wonder if the ropes would provide any real padding for her splinted leg, and then a flap announced the Navigatrix was taking off her cape. “Hold onto this, would you Captain?” She passed it over, neatly folded into a very tidy pillow.

And then they were off, the cape wedged under the Captain’s splint, the Navigatrix shedding water like mist, as they rattled at the highest speed they could make back to camp.

Warp Riders – Chapter 26

They wheezed for a few minutes, the sand and dust of the slope getting into the Captain’s mouth when she rolled her head over to examine the landscape for further threats. Finally, she heard the Navigatrix sit up.

“I don’t want to wait to see if anything comes up this tunnel, Captain.” She tossed her a medpack. “Splint up, we’ve got a trip ahead of us.”

The Captain’s knee was in a sorry state; the splint and single emergency crutch weren’t as much a miracle fix as she’d hoped.

Finally she took in the makeshift rescue basecamp; two ropes secured to trees, one tied in a complicated zig-zag pattern with winches and pulleys and such; a box of electronic equipment, scattered around; the Navigatrix’s cape and gauntlets stacked next to it.

The Navigatrix herself was farther down the slope, pushing something up the hill.

“I hope you don’t mind a bumpy ride, Captain.”

“Is that … wait, who fixed it?” Their all terrain tricycle had been thrown around in the crash, and last the Captain had seen it, it was unusable.

“The Engineer took the initiative; I wouldn’t say it’s fixed though, just functional.” It did make a pretty terrible noise as the Navigatrix turned the ignition. “But I am grateful the Stowaway didn’t make off with it.” 

The Captain sighed away her concern. “It was good thinking.”