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 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.”

Warp Riders – Chapter 25

Just like she scaled the stone pillar, the Navigatrix climbed the cliff surprisingly quickly, pulling herself up hand over hand, feet braced on the wall of ruined bricks. The Captain switched between watching her progress and eyeing the growing glow, which was spreading like ink.

The noise the Navigatrix had mentioned was now audible to the Captain as well, a strange, musical, rolling soundscape, vibrating up through the water. It was clear she could hear it too, most of the way up the wall – she turned and stared into the dark before finally reaching the lip.

“I’m going to set up the other rope!” The gravel rattled down to the water as she climbed to her feet in the tunnel. “Be ready to go!”

The Captain was staring into the glow now, and only managed a grunt in reply. It wasn’t moving like ink, it was moving like conscious tendrils.

The colour of it hurt her eyes; it felt like the colour you saw behind your eyelids after a bright flash. And it was reaching up to the surface of the water, wrapping around the stone pillars and testing the far wall and it was sinister how clearly it was searching for something.

And worst, it was getting closer.


No answer. The Captain watched as the roiling, curving, glowing feelers swept systematically closer and closer to the raft. The center of the flowering glow was moving as well, as if slowly walking along the lake floor.

And then the flare in the Captain’s hand started to sputter. “Nav…!”

And mercifully from up in the tunnel; “Almost ready, Captain!”

A brief moment of relief, and then the flare flashed and went dark.

The darkness made the glow feel even stranger; the line between water and air felt invisible, and the Captain was surprised when her hand broke the surface of the water as she leaned over the raft to stare down.

Was there.. a person? At the center of the glow?

The Captain leaned further over the edge of the raft without thinking, desperate to see what this strange thing was, and shocked herself with a wave of water. And just as she felt her eyes start to drift back to the approaching tendrils, the Navigatrix yelled “Heads up!” – and the rattle of falling gravel announced the rope, lowering quickly down from the tunnel with a lamp attached.

The Captain hauled herself up on her good knee, grabbing it as soon as she could reach it, and hooking her harness into the hardware.

“Let’s go!”

She felt herself hauled up out of the raft with surprising force, and spun to brace herself with her good leg and arms against the wall as the Navigatrix hauled her up.

Below, the swinging lantern light made the glow seem even more malicious, rippling the water with shadows.

It found the raft, drifting away from the wall, and the Captain watched in fascinated horror as it seemed to wrap around it from underneath and pull it down into the water. There was a loud pop as the seal on the raft broke, and the splash from the explosion shot up the wall.

The Captain could see light coming from the tunnel now, nice mundane light, and as the incline became less vertical, she started pulling with her hands and her good foot, pushing herself up inches more between hauls, laser focused on getting out of this cursed cave.

Until finally, sweet daylight – sweet lurid green sunset daylight, and a fresh breeze, and she was pushing herself backwards out onto the sandy slope, and the Navigatrix collapsed beside her, both of them breathing hard and dizzy from effort.

“Fuck,” said the Captain. “I coulda died.”

The Navigatrix half-smiled as she huffed out, “but you didn’t!”

Warp Riders – Chapter 24

The two of them looked at one another in the light of the flare.

“Shit aim, thank god.” The Captain sighed. “Do you think they sabotaged the rope?”

The Navigatrix was frozen, thinking.

“Nav. Can we get up this rope?”

She snapped back to the Captain.

“Sorry, I thought I heard something.” She handed the flare back to the Captain. “Let me test it.”

And so she was four or five feet up the rope, really putting her weight into testing it, when she froze, staring–

“Captain. Behind you.”

The Captain turned, and stared into the darkness of the cave, and at first all she was was the flare reflecting in the ripples of the water, but as her eyes adjusted, it was unmistakable – something had lit up in the depths of the subterranean lake.

“Is that where the water came in?”

The Navigatrix’s voice had a sharp edge to it. “I don’t want to find out, Captain. I want to get you out of this cave.”

The light was bright enough now it had a tint – maybe it was a faint teal? No, it was red, magenta, really – no, both.

The Captain tore her gaze away and looked up as the Navigatrix made her way back down to the raft.

“We’re going to have to trust this rope, Captain. I’ll get you hooked up, and then you get up as fast as you can, and I’ll follow as soon as you’re steady.”

“Nav, I can’t climb.”

They both looked at the Captain’s bad knee, visibly twice the size of the other one.

“I can’t bend it.”

The Navigatrix stared into the middle distance with visible distress on her face, and then snapped back to the Captain.

“There should be a second rope up there.”

“You’re gonna drag me up this cliff on your own?”

“The Engineer sent instructions. I can do this. Just…” and the Navigatrix turned to look at the growing glow as she put a hand on the Captain’s arm, then made eye contact again. “Just don’t die.”

The Captain nodded. “Go!”

Warp Riders – Chapter 23

They didn’t light the next flare until they bumped the far wall, mercifully with the Captain’s good leg. It wasn’t far to the rope, and somehow the Navigatrix still had all the harnesses and winches strapped to her. While the Captain awkwardly rolled side to side to pull one on, the Navigatrix shouted up to the tunnel:

“We’re headed up, drop the other rope!”

She was half over the side of the raft, pulling her original rope up out of the water, when they both heard it – the rattle of disturbed gravel as it fell down the tunnel. But no rope fell.

Instead the Navigatrix felt her own rope being tugged on from above, and in defense she pushed them quickly away from the cliff wall, the end of her own rope wrapped tightly around one fist.

The Captain angled the flare, and they both looked up to see the Stowaway.

They weren’t wearing a headlamp, or any gear- they just had the Navigatrix’s rope wrapped around their waist, and as they looked down at the two of them, they saluted, and then pulled something long and thin from across their back; the Captain gasped as she saw them draw it tight and she pulled the Navigatrix down to the bottom of the raft again as a fucking arrow whizzed past them into the water past the raft.

“What the fuck!” she yelled from underneath her crewmate. The Navigatrix quickly dodged her grip and pointed the flare back at the tunnel, but the Stowaway was already gone.

The rope was slack in the Navigatrix’s hand again.

Warp Riders – Chapter 22

“Just going to have to rearrange us a bit, Captain, so I can reach the oars. Can you sit up properly?”

There was no way her knee was allowing that. After too much awkward fumbling in the dark, the Captain ended up reclining, feet on the edge, head on the other woman’s knee.

“How do you plan to find the exit, exactly?”

“Well, I have two plans, you’ll be pleased to hear. The worst involves me paddling until we hit a wall, and then slowly making our way along it in hopes I catch the rope. The other is simpler–” and she was leaning over the Captain, dripping on her as she fumbled along the edge of the raft – “as long as the instructions weren’t out of date–” and then a loud velcro noise and a self satisfied snort told the Captain she’d found what she was looking for. “Watch your eyes!”

The first flare screamed to life.

She held it high as they both craned their necks to find the cavern opening – and of course, they’d ended up almost over at the far wall from it. They both sighed.

The Navigatrix wordlessly handed the flare to the Captain, and picked up the oars and started paddling.

The emergency life raft was not particularly hydrodynamic, and they weren’t even halfway across when the first flare died.

“Hand me the next one?”

“I can paddle in the dark for a little; let’s save them for getting up the rope.”


Assessing the climb, the Captain sighed.

That made the Navigatrix stop paddling. Silence descended again, but now in much closer proximity.


“Are you angry with me, Captain?”

“I’m always angry with you.”

“I’ve always thought of you more as… grumpy.”

“Fine. I’m grumpy with you.”

A quiet snort.

“Look, do you need me to do the paddling? I’m done with this cave.”

“Oh, shush, you never let me rescue you.”

The Captain felt a gentle hand on her hair, which made her jump, which made the Navigatrix pull her hand away just as fast.

“Just – just get us out of here, Nav.”

Warp Riders – Chapter 21

Both headlamps swept to the far end of the cave, where an enormous fountain of water was pushing up from the floor.


“RIGHT NOW, get off the floor!”

Faster than the captain had expected, the Navigatrix leapt over to the nearest stack of ruins, and started climbing up.

The water had coalesced into a roiling wave, growing taller as it pushed down the cave towards them. The Captain bit her lip as she watched her crewmate drag herself and a significant weight of equipment up steeper and steeper slopes of bricks. The noise was filling the air – and then the water was right beneath her, rising much too fast, and the Captain could only yell as it snagged her legs and started pulling her away from the tower – and then there was a POP! – somehow audible over the rush of the waves – and the liferaft had inflated.

The Captain couldn’t watch any further, though, as the pillar of blocks she was sitting on was hit by the torrent and the shock nearly knocked her off again; she was out flat on her side, arms akimbo, breathing with relief, when the water bubbled up to touch her dangling feet, and then some further thrust of the tide pushed a wave right over the top and knocked her back in the drink.

It was worse this time – her knee was screaming as she tried to kick to the surface, and there was a brutally strong undertow dragging her deeper into the black water, clogged with silt and bubbles – and then she was pushed up to the surface again and knocked against stone.

It took out her headlamp, but mercifully not her skull, and she had the wherewithal to find an edge to hold on to as the water swept her up and down, back and forth, in a now very dark cave. Where was the Navigatrix? Where was the raft? Was the Captain getting them both killed?

She thought she saw a flicker of a yellow headlamp beam, as the water started to calm and the roar of the tide in the cave started to quiet.


And, oh, what a relief, to hear in return,

“Captain! My light’s out, keep shouting and I’ll find you.”

So the Captain called “Marco!” and the Navigatrix called back “Polo!” and made a symphony of splashing noises, and the water finally calmed down, and then the squeaky rubber of the life raft bumped against the Captain’s outstretched arm, and an invisible Navigatrix pulled her up.

And for a second, or a minute, or ten, they lay on the bottom of the life raft gasping and breathing and then laughing. It wasn’t the first or the last time they were going to pull a stunt like that, and they both knew it.

“You fucking daredevil idiot,” the Captain wheezed, and the Navigatrix punched her in the arm, or near the arm,

“At least this idiot brought basic equipment with them into the cave!”

– and then they both dissolved into laughter and snorts and gasps until finally, the mania passed, and the Captain felt the Navigatrix sit up again.

Warp Riders – Chapter 20

The drips were louder, echoing all over the cavern. She didn’t feel like sitting up and checking, but the Captain thought the water must be meters lower than before. She was probably going to be stuck on this island till high tide again.

That is, unless she was on a particularly climbable island, and the squared off edges of the flat bit did not bode well. Ruins, ruins, everywhere on this damn moon.

“It’s like the whole damn thing is built of these horrible blocks!”

“The what? Oh-” and the Navigatrix was moving.

The Captain could hear her voice, talking to someone outside as the last pieces of disturbed gravel rattled down the cavern. Disturbingly, she didn’t hear them splash.

Caving in to curiosity, she sat up and turned her headlamp back on.

“Oh, shit.”

The water was gone – completely gone from anywhere she could see. And she was indeed resting atop a steep pile of overlarge stone bricks, stacked upon one another haphazardly, stretching hundreds of feet in the air above a sandy, silty floor. In fact, it was one of many.

In fact, it really did look like the only thing holding up a layer of sandy soil and foliage was piles and stacks of these worn out bricks. What the Captain had read as cliff walls were, closer to the bottom of the drained lake, clearly made of the same blocks.

The lake floor was sand and gravel and rubble, except for where the current of the draining water had revealed, underneath, bricks. In fact, it almost looked like the vertical piles were originally evenly spaced, as if this … cavern, had been made intentionally.

Grimacing, the Captain looked up to the ceiling – and mercifully she saw something that looked more like a natural cave. There were mineral deposits dripping down, and thin tendrils that could be roots. If there were ruins involved, they were hidden well.

Scuffling noises returned, the scrabble of gravel as it moved underfoot.


“Just had to secure the rope; heading your way now.”

“No, wait! Tide’s out, it could come back at any moment!”

But the Navigatrix’s headlamp was illuminating the tunnel now, growing brighter. The glare flooded the Captain’s eyes as she made it to the end of the tunnel.

“Lovely to see you, Captain!” Then the beam pointed away, at the rest of the cave, and the Captain could see her, loaded down with climbing harnesses, rolled-up raft, another rope, who knows what else. “Not what I was expecting, I have to admit.”

She started winching herself down the steep cliff side.

“Navigatrix, seriously, it’s going to flood again, just wait.”

“No – huff – I don’t think – hff – – that I’ll bother with waiting.”

She paused to salute the Captain.

The Captain pulled herself closer to the edge of the flat block she was reclining on, to better see as the Navigatrix landed on the cave floor and shook out the cramps from her legs and arms. She immediately bent down to poke at some rubble.

“Hey! No time for research!”

“There’s bones here, Captain.” She pulled out what was visibly a femur, even from a distance. “Human bones.”

“Are you – are you collecting them?”

Muffled, as she was half bent to the floor sifting through sand, the Navigatrix shouted “I promised the Engineer!”

Finally she started walking over the slimy, rubble-strewn terrain, picking her way towards the base of the Captain’s tower of blocks.

The Captain strained her ears desperately to try and catch any hint of water crashing back into the cave. The drips felt like a cacophony.

She looked down, and once again the Navigatrix was bent over something half buried in the sand.

“You are going to get very, very wet if you don’t hurry up!”

“Do you still have your scanner, Captain?”

“What?” The Captain had to pause to check. “No, no it fell first, then me.”

The Navigatrix pulled a rattling pile of rust out of the sand. “Well, I found it.” She tucked it into her pack. “Trust me, you’ll want to see it.”

“Could you please focus?”

“It’s fine, Captain, I’m sure–”

And that’s when the gurgling noise came back, but much louder.