The Orb had come to them about a year after they’d officially started running gigs together – the Captain, the Navigatrix, the Engineer, the Bosun, and Lucy. At that stage, they’d pulled off a few good tricks for some high rollers, and they’d gotten cocky.
Mostly clients communicated via parcel coordinates – they’d send galactic positioning system coordinates, and the Nav’d find them on the map, and Lucy’d pilot the flight, and they’d all have a good nap until the ship dinged and they’d haul in a tiny little box with instructions.
They’d drop off scores and pick up payments the same way; they only went planet-side for the runs themselves, and the occasional shopping trip.
So it wasn’t unusual to pick up a faint signal full of numbers and letters; and it wasn’t particularly hard for the Engineer to decode.
It was, notably, a pretty remote corner to go fishing for a tiny box in, but the Captain’d told them that was how the best clients worked; they were too rich and powerful to know the difference between reasonable requests and inconvenient ones. So off they went.
But it wasn’t a box at the coordinates; it was a small, very small, very dark, very hard to find chunk of an asteroid. Lucy saw it first, noticed its dust trail on the scanner. They’d pulled it in, and the first person to pick it up had been the Navigatrix – and that was when things got weird.
First, she froze. For a full minute, no one could get her attention or pull the rock from her hands.
Then, the rock exploded, sending dust across the common room, larger fragments rattling against the ceiling, the floor, the lockers… when they blinked the dust away enough to see, the Navigatrix had pulled whatever was still in her hands right up to her face, and she humming the way she did when charting a drop, but faster, higher, frantically.
When she finally lowered them, she revealed the Orb.
They’d passed it around; the strange sphere of gas that simply… held itself together. It had almost no weight, but it also had no momentum – they could gently push it from hand to hand and it would simply stop midair if they disengaged.
The Captain had taken it first, eyes wide with fear even after the Navigatrix had woken up and laughed with delight. The Captain stared at it for a minute or two, then scoffed at it with some relief.
Next it went to the Engineer, who mostly talked about its mass and energy and glow.
She hadn’t bothered staring into it particularly; she just pushed it around until she got bored, and then gently shoved it over to the Bosun.
The Bosun cast a skeptical eye across it, shook her head, and handed the Orb, though they didn’t know it was the Orb then, to Lucy.
Lucy smiled, like it was all a fun game, as she caught the Orb and pulled it towards her face; but she grew deadly serious as she squinted into it. There was a hint of awe on her face when she locked eyes with the Navigatrix.
“Is this thing – is this a chart?”
The Navigatrix grinned like a mischievous child.
“If I’m right, Lucy, this thing is a chart of time.”
It took a few creative modifications to the ship, but within a month they were ready for their first trip outside of time. The Captain had brainstormed a list of new possible gigs to try if this thing really worked, and she kept them all on task.
First, they went into warp – as usual – but then came the new part: they went all the way through, out the other side of light speed. Suddenly, they weren’t going impossible fast – they were simply floating motionless in a churning, smearing maelstrom of stars.
Then the Navigatrix sat down at the helm and raised the Orb to her eye level. She shoved all ten fingers into its gaseous form and began to stretch it, pulling it wider, taller, deeper, until it became a huge bubble that she was completely hidden within.
Her voice was muffled as she hummed her busy-thinking hum, and the Orb started to churn in sync with the lights outside the ship — and then the ship began to move, driven by the Navigatrix from deep within the Orb.
And once she proved they could move in and out of time at will, the Captain sent word out that they had new, longer term capabilities, and the real fun began.
The Navigatrix started spending more and more time inside the Orb, coming out to locate more mundane locations on the usual computer, or to eat, or to sleep, but very rarely. She was the first one of them to realize that eating and sleeping had become … optional, essentially.
In fact, a lot of things felt optional after a while. The accounts they’d set up once while a century or two in the past were taking care of most of their material needs, and being outside of time really reduced those to almost nothing.
They still did client work, but more for the fun of it; maybe that was why the jobs they took got so much more dangerous.