Warp Riders – Chapter 38

The Captain watched the eddying gas swirling around the floor of the tent, gently frying their mugs, one of them the souvenir from that cafe on Ereb, and dancing all over the metal coffee percolator, and her shoes? When had she taken her shoes off? Had someone else? This whole injury business was much more overwhelming than she’d previously imagined.

At her back, she could feel the Navigatrix taking slow, steady breaths. How was she calm again already? Only moments ago she had looked like she was going to cry – and now they might end up trapped forever in this stone tomb being slowly shocked to death.

Some wheel in the Captain’s mind spun up and told her that no, this was not a calm Navigatrix. Calm people didn’t breathe in to a count of four and then out to a count of four, like an air cycler. A calm person’d make small talk, or discuss their escape options, not silently stew.

Well. Okay then. Maybe she could fix this.

“I’m not .. I don’t hate Lucy.”

The Captain kept her voice low this time. The Navigatrix stilled behind her, listening.

“I wish she was here. I – if she walked up right now I’d take her back, no question.”

“Back to the same routine?”

“Back to normal – yeah.”

The Navigatrix had gone from still to stiff. The Captain tried to look at her over her shoulder without making the pallet shift and stir up the electric fog, but it was awkward. The silence stretched out.

Finally she caved;

“Why? Is normal bad?”

The fog gently sparkled.

“Not bad, just..” The Navigatrix took in a deep breath. “Maybe normal wasn’t good enough anymore.”

“Well she never told me that!” The Captain cringed at her own voice. “I gave her everything she asked for.”

The Navigatrix didn’t say anything.

“She wanted to travel? We traveled. She wanted to man the helm? I bought her that ship piloting course. She wanted that one pastry on Ereb? I fucking trekked all over that planet till we found it in that novelty cafe, even after we got arrested!”

The Captain had so many of these, so many things that felt unappreciated now.

“We trekked,” the Navigatrix added, voice low. “You and I.”

“Right? Whatever she wanted – I wanted her to have it.” The Captain could picture Lucy, still just a teen, sitting at the helm, eyes shining. “Even when it was hard. That was the whole point.”

The Navigatrix’s pause sounded like a question.

“When we brought you on -” The Captain could picture the orbital dock, Lucy and her waiting to meet their new Navigatrix – “when we just had that little two-engine rig – and you walked up looking like the hero of some galactic adventure flick -” were her eyes pricking? oh no – “she pitched a fit the night before you moved in. She didn’t want anyone else; she just wanted it to be me and her against the whole galaxy -” the Captain sighed and rubbed her eyes before anything incriminating could happen there. “She made me promise her. Promise her that I’d never let anyone else get between us. Her and me, first and always.”

Her ears were ringing with the memory.

A barely perceptible sigh escaped the Navigatrix, but she didn’t say anything.

“Look, she was my responsibility! She was just a kid back then. I promised her we had each other and – no one else really counted.” The ringing was so loud. The Captain remembered standing at the helm, hands still bloody from carrying the Navigatrix back to the ship, pulling up the note Lucy had left. “I kept my promise. And she still left.”

The Navigatrix was perfectly still, perfectly silent, like she was holding her breath.

“It’s .. it’s stupid,” said the Captain, “but when you went and got yourself shot, it was my worst nightmare. And that meant I’d fucked up, because losing Lucy was supposed to be the worst.”

“And it wasn’t?” The Navigatrix’s voice was off.

“No. No. I’m mad! But I’m fine. And I know she’s fine. Of course she’s fine.”

“For a while there, Captain, we were all fine.”

The Captain looked around the tent, the smell of gently cooking canvas acrid in her nose. “Yeah, well, I’ve sure fucked that up.”

The Navigatrix did not laugh like she’d expected her to.


“Captain.” Her tone made the Captain’s neck hair stand on end. “What did you do, that night after you hired me, that made Lucy so upset.”

“Oh, I, uh-” She was sure she didn’t blush, but she could feel her face making the effort. “I told her, I, I said that you were -” this wasn’t supposed to come out this way, but oh well “- you were easy on the eyes.”

“Easy. On the eyes.”

Damn it all.

“That’s what you said?”

“Fine. I said you were everything I’d ever dreamed of, and if you were any good at your job I was going to marry you.” Silence. The Captain coughed once, her throat and chest much tighter than she was prepared for. “It was .. I was just excited about–”

“Am I any good at my job?”

Now? This was happening now?

“Captain, am I good at my job?”

“Yes, fine! Yes! You fucking mapped time!”

Was she laughing?

“Fucking be a shit about it then. I’m sure I’ll die soon anyways.”

The pallet was shaking with the Navigatrix’s muffled laughter. The Captain wanted to lie down in the sparking fog.

The laughter escalated, the Navigatrix wheezing and gasping and shaking, until she buried her face in her arms and let loose a loud, muffled yell. The Captain spun around, suddenly afraid again, but the other woman also spun to meet her, and pushed her down on her back – she was crying, and she looked like a vengeful goddess, and she shook the Captain’s shoulders as she hissed, “we had all the time in the world – all of it! – and you let a teenager talk you out of it?” And the Captain couldn’t understand, but god she looked beautiful–

– and then, the explosion happened.

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?

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 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.