Warp Riders – Chapter 1

The thing was, they’d been living out of time for … well, some time, and maybe more than anything else it was the feeling of time, real time – linear time – passing, that made the planet grate on her so much.

They’d been there for something like 30 hours so far. The planet – well, honestly, it was a moon – was facing the lit side of a gas giant, and night never really fell. The lighting options seemed to be either a greenish sunlight or a warm planet-lit dusk. It made the Captain uncomfortable.

Their poor fallen ship was immersed in a briny lake at the moment, but there had been a couple hours under that green sun where the pull of that gas giant had tugged the water away, and she’d got a good look at it.

And they got some supplies out, which was the main thing.

The Bosun had a proper camp set up above the high tide line an hour after that, and the Engineer got her surveying equipment out, and the Navigatrix laid out all her charts on the flat slabs and got down to work figuring out where they’d landed.

The Stowaway even sat down and started putting a cooking fire together with dried lakeweed, following the Bosun’s instructions.

But the Captain didn’t really know what to do with herself, to be honest.

Warp Riders – Chapter 2

They agreed after the second or third cycle that the green sunlight was awful, and most of the crew took to sleeping during the sunlit parts of the day, and puttering around in the planet-lit dusk.

On the fourth night, as the dusk brightened on the horizon and the rest of the crew were filing into their mercifully dark tents, the Navigatrix pulled the Captain aside. She gestured with her eyes to the Stowaway, who was dusting themselves off fastidiously before going to bed.

“Have you made any progress on talking to them yet?”

The Captain frowned. “No.”

“When were you thinking of figuring that out?”

“I wasn’t. I’m busy.”

They were standing on the edge of the high plateau, and the Captain watched the tide pull the lake water away from them.

She had been flying with the Navigatrix for years before they left time; they used to work so well together. But now the Navigatrix had this … this pitying look on her face, and it was getting on the Captain’s nerves.

“You don’t seem to be doing that much,” she said gently, her eyebrows tightening a bit. It was infuriating.

“Well, no, I can’t, can I? Because someone crashed my ship on this damp moon while I did a routine computer reset!”

The Navigatrix did not have the grace to look at all guilty. And, to be fair, none of them knew how things had gone this wrong; they’d been safely outside time.

“Well, Captain, it seems somewhat urgent that you prioritize communicating with our quiet friend.” The Navigatrix paused, and leaned down and put her hand on the Captain’s shoulder. “I think they may know more about this whole debacle than we guessed.”

The Captain didn’t sleep after that; she just stared at the seam of her tent as it leaked green sunlight.

Warp Riders – Chapter 3

The Stowaway had shown up after their last gig. The four of them had fled back to the ship after things had gone sideways. They’d quickly battened the hatches and dropped through the warp, back out of time, and it was only afterwards they noticed them hiding in Lucy’s old bunk.

They weren’t a crew that got stowaways; the Engineer had set up very fiddly locking systems on all the doors of the ship, the sort that took a whole choreography of twists and turns to unlatch. So the first thing the Captain asked their guest was how the hell they’d gotten in.

But the Stowaway didn’t tell her. Couldn’t, maybe.

They opened their mouth and made noises, but not noises anyone thought of as, say, words. Noises that kind of slid in one ear and out the other, warped and slippery, without leaving any meaning behind whatsoever.

So the Engineer got them a keyboard to type on, and they frowned and made a good effort, clicked all the keys, and hissed audibly as the screen filled with punctuation and numbers, continuing to add more for a few seconds even after they raised their hands.

So the Bosun pulled out her personal notepad, tore off a sheet, and handed an analogue pen to the Stowaway. They all gathered round and watched as their guest wrestled with the pen, sweating and huffing, failing to make it put anything on the page that resembled a word.

At which point, the Navigatrix threw her hands in the air and called it futile, and they left the Stowaway in Lucy’s old bunk, locked the door, and spent another hour arguing as a crew over whether it was worth the risk to drop back into time immediately and kick them off.

In the end, they hadn’t really gotten around to it, was the thing.

There was always a lot to do between gigs, even without the pressure of time weighing on them. The ship needed repairs, their equipment had to be patched up, and this time, so did the crew themselves.

It didn’t take long for the Bosun to talk the Captain into unlocking the bunk and putting the Stowaway to work in the kitchen; and now it felt almost like they’d always been there, in their terrestrial outfit, silently doing odd jobs in all the quiet corners of the ship.

That was the thing about living outside time; it was hard to be sure of duration. 

Warp Riders – Chapter 4

The smell of coffee brought the Captain out of her tent as the green sun set. The Bosun and the Stowaway were working in quiet organization around the makeshift stove, and the Navigatrix was pouring herself a mug. No Engineer yet; her sleep cycle seemed to be slightly different.

No one was wearing their uniforms properly anymore. The Bosun had stripped down to her work tank; the Navigatrix had abandoned the ceremonial cape and gauntlets. The Captain would have worn hers, but evacuating the ship had cost her most of a sleeve.

The green light had an uncanny effect on the Navigatrix’s copper hair; sometimes it almost looked black in the light. The Captain thought it gave her a bit of an occult air; pale face and dark hair and those long, long limbs.

She was kneeling as she added spices to her coffee, and when she looked up and caught the Captain’s eye, she shot a wry half-smile through the haze of the stove.

“Guess who just finished the pot.”
“First time you’re awake before me and this is the shit you pull.”

She made her way over to join the Captain, and gestured with her cup.

“Want a sip?”

“The way you spice it? I can smell it just fine from over here.” Cinnamon and cloves, pepper and a pinch of salt and something sweet. “Impressed you got the Bosun to rescue your spice rack.”

“Got her to grab my best mug last night, too.” The Navigatrix nudged the Captain with her foot and proudly showed her the faded logo.

“Navigatrix, you piece of shit.”

The compass rose, sword and skull were all there, framing the cafe name, “Pirate’s Cove”, in melodramatic pink.

“That’s a fucking latte mug from the cafe on Ereb.”
“Oh, it might be!”
“This is when you tell me that you stole a shitty mug -”
“- well, now -”
“- from a cheesy theme cafe -”
“- okay, but -”
“- on the last planet we got arrested on?”

She winked. “You know I love a keepsake.”

The Navigatrix had never been the most straightforward person – folks who read star charts rarely were – but after they’d found the Orb, she’d become fully enigmatic.

The Captain hadn’t had this banal a conversation with her in, well, since they’d first left time. She didn’t trust it.

“I guess I’m glad you still found time to plot a route out of there, in between your thievery and cafe patronage.” The Captain felt herself getting angry. “Let me know when you make any headway on figuring out this novelty-tchotchke-free moon.”

But the Navigatrix never seemed up for a fight when the Captain wanted one, and she nodded as if that was a reasonable thing to say.

“You know, it’s a refreshing challenge, using analogue methods to locate us, both galactically and temporally. The light does complicate it.”

They both turned to watch planetrise, and watched a flock of aerial creatures scatter as the pink rays brought colour back to the landscape.

The Captain tilted her head back, trying to find the darkest part of the sky; between sun and planet, not a single star was visible.

“Talk to the Engineer. Get your equipment up and running. We need to know when we are.”

Warp Riders – Chapter 5

The Engineer was a helpful person at heart; she just, often, found herself worn out by the disinterest – honestly the ignorance – of everyone else regarding the inner workings of the equipment that kept them all alive.

That day, as she lay on her side in her tent smelling fresh coffee, she was building a radio.

She’d done the trek to the ship with the Bosun at low tide, under the heat of the green sun, and returned at a run with two clanking bags full of scrap parts from the upper store room, all mercifully dry, and a soldering iron she was going to hook up to their solar battery.

And, not that anyone asked, but the Engineer had also rebuilt the solar battery, so that it would work efficiently with the green sunlight. And she and the Stowaway had taken the camp stove apart and put it back together twice already, as they’d sourced new materials to combust.

She had a few radios in mind; one to communicate short range, so one person could work on the ship repairs and another could stand atop a hill and watch for the tide. Another broader, more sensitive receiver, to scan the system for noise.

And a third radio-like tool that she was particularly proud of, that would connect wirelessly to the ship’s research computer, where she had, before the crash, been building an ingenious translation software that she was confident would unlock the words of the Stowaway.

The Captain liked them all to have formal roles on the crew, but the Engineer had taken to thinking of the Stowaway in less rigid terms, referring to them as “kid” and “short stuff” and mostly, while they collaborated, “hey you.” It’d be nice, she thought, to learn their name.

The most delicious part of the communication puzzle, to her, was that the Stowaway clearly understood everything they said, or wrote, or typed. The kid was an active listener, and they followed instructions perfectly. She even caught them reading the waterlogged battery manual.

So, in her engineering mind, she pondered the similarities between the physical locks on the ship doors, and the linguistic lock on the Stowaway’s words, and the strange, locked-in-place feeling of being immersed in the flow of time again. Maybe she just needed a new kind of key.

Warp Riders – Chapter 6

The Bosun watched her superior officers bicker while she brewed another pot of coffee over the open flame. She and the Engineer had made good time earlier, wading waist deep through the receding lakewater to maximize time on the ship, and she’d been able to secure a few treats.

Were they treats if they were usually just parts of everyday meals? Well, they’d had a week of breakfasts on shore by now with only rehydrated emergency rations, and real toast felt very special after that. Flame-toasted toast, even. Fancy.

The Bosun thought of herself as the ship’s mom, which was the only time she ever had any interest in parenting, thankyouverymuch. She liked doing the daily cleaning, keeping meals on schedule, nagging everyone into doing their laundry properly. It was the best job she’d ever had.

Ship life had been pretty new to her, but old dogs learned new tricks all the time, and if it was going to be camp life for a bit now, well, she wasn’t particularly worried. They’d get some basic food testing equipment off the ship soon and then this moon would be her oyster.

She handed the frozen loaf to the Stowaway, who deftly sawed it into thick slices with a mean looking knife that the Captain really wasn’t sure they should have access to. “That kid’s too good with it for my comfort,” she’d said. The Bosun found a lot of comfort in knife skills.

As soon as the bread started toasting properly on the stove, the smell gathered everyone together. The Engineer even emerged, clearly not having slept since the ship run, raw wires tucked into her braid. The Stowaway flipped a slice, revealing a golden crisp, and they all sighed.

Tomorrow night she thought she’d try and crack open the deep freeze. The whole storeroom was going to feel like a treasure trove, honestly, if the Engineer could find her blow torch and finally tear open the crumpled door.

She couldn’t stop thinking about all the leftover curry she’d packed in there; she wasn’t sure how old it was, but maybe being outside time meant that didn’t matter. The Bosun had found that thinking too much about the Orb and time and such was useless; she’d just check by smell.

Warp Riders – Chapter 7

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.

Warp Riders – Chapter 8

The Navigatrix found camp life surprisingly nice. She’d spent most of her life in flight; two or three more days and this would be the longest she’d been terrestrial since a brief stint in her teens.

She loved watching the sunset as they woke up, seeing the green rays turn blue and slide below the horizon; feeling the warmth of the planet glow on her back as the lake rushed in to high tide. There was faunal noise here, random and textural and sometimes quite annoying.

The wind was incredible, pushed around predictably by the solar cycle, but always a little surprising as it pulled at her hair and tunic like a living thing. So different from the forced air of any ship she’d been on. Sometimes if she turned her head just right, it hummed to her.

But none of it drowned out the silence she felt outside the Orb.

The crash had happened when she was out, arguing with the Captain about the computer; no one had been on the bridge at all, and they ended up doing the landing from the emergency controls in the back of the ship instead of trying to rush through all the tunnels and ladders.

And it was good they did, because the bridge took a serious hit upon impact, crumpling from the side in such a way that the sealed doors folded into locked origami steel structures. The Captain’s attempts to get into it while things were still hot had nearly taken her arm off.

So the Orb was, for the moment, locked up, away from the Navigatrix, and she felt like she’d lost a limb – or maybe more accurately, a sense.

Now time was all around her and she couldn’t feel it, couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it at all, and oh, how she missed it.

Warp Riders – Chapter 9

They’d crashed on a very accommodating moon, it turned out. The weather was clear, the temperature mild, the air breathable, the flora and fauna both edible and minimally aggressive.

The only discomforting element was the ruins.

They were so well incorporated into the landscape in some places, it was almost hard to notice them. All that was left was stone and metal, but enough of it was there to intrigue the Engineer.

“Just one day trip!”

She and the Captain were arguing while fishing in the briny lake. There was a stone plaza – or maybe a stone roof – that protruded out into the deeper part of high tide and made for good hunting; the construction of it was tantalizingly mysterious.

“We need you focused on getting us out of here, not settling in.” The Captain sighed and started pulling her line back in. “I need you to make the ship livable enough we can get inside and repair it.”

“I just need to collect some data; I can examine it after we leave.”

Around the camp stove at dinner, the Captain found few allies.

“They’re creepy,” said the Bosun. “Ruins don’t work like this, so evenly spread out. I say send her out for a day.”

“Don’t you want to get out of here? We need the ship working!”

The Navigatrix raised a hand –

“I agree, we can’t ignore how strange this place is. But if you can’t spare the Engineer, Captain, you could send someone working on less urgent things?”

“Everything is urgent right now! Are you angling for a day off too?”

The Navigatrix gave the Captain a withering look.

“Supervising is not an urgent role, Captain. Why not go take a walk tomorrow.”

The worst part was, everyone else agreed.

Warp Riders – Chapter 10

She tossed and turned in her tent later, trying to get some sleep, unnerved by the casual tone everyone had about being stranded here. Didn’t they want to get back through the warp? Escape time again? They’d had plans, schemes, jobs to do; important jobs, she thought.

When they had been flying outside time, everyone had been so… professional. The Engineer kept the ship’s systems running; the Bosun kept things comfortable; the Navigatrix kept track of where and when they were; and the Captain stood at the helm interface, making decisions.

And Lucy had – Lucy’s job had been – the Captain’s mind stuttered for a moment, like missing a step on a stair.

…Lucy had done a little of everything, she remembered. Lucy filled in all the gaps, covered breaks, watched the prox sensors, kept point from the ship on jobs…

The Captain huffed in her camp roll, trying to block out the tide of emotions that hit her as she remembered them running back to the ship, proud of their haul, ready to take off, only to discover Lucy gone. A quick “goodbye, good luck” left flashing on the helm screen.

It was so angering, such a betrayal, so pointless – they lived outside of time! They were immortal! They could pull off heists and runs and jobs no one else had ever dreamed of! The Captain could not understand why someone would walk away from that life.

It still stung, she had to admit. It still made her angry. She was lying in a tent on a moon with her ship half drowned and her crew going around telling her what to do, but she all she could really care about was how mad she was at Lucy.

What was wrong with her?