Warp Riders – Chapter 44

After they had coaxed her back into the makeshift infirmary for a proper walking splint and some ice for her fist, she said, “Find the Stowaway.”

And then she was reclining with her leg up on a chair in the galley, staring at a very sullen, utterly beat up looking kid.

They’d managed to convince the Navigatrix to join them. She still cradled the new Orb in the crook of her arm, but she looked attentive.

The Captain addressed the kid:

“You are going to have to explain yourself really, really well, because I normally toss assassins out the airlock.”

The Stowaway smirked, an expression they had definitely picked up from the Bosun.

“Great, that’s gonna go real fucking well for me.”

Then their eyes widened. And everyone leaned in just a little, and the Captain exhaled, like she had been betting on exactly this.

“You assholes can understand me now.”

“We sure can.”

And they stared at her, silent, for a full minute; and then shrugged, laughed, and told them everything.

They told the crew about the Witches, and their curse, and the time catalyst arrow they’d carved from that statue; and the prophecies, all eight of them, how they knew the way to unlock their ship, and the exact moment to pull it out of time and down to the moon. About the Chronomancer, and the Orbs, and the galactic rain of fire they’d been sent to prevent.

And the Bosun had her own questions, and so they told her about their life before, being angry, being a hired gun for the worst people they could find, never really hoping for anything, not even thinking about getting off planet. And even before that, their exile, the petty theft that had started it all.

After all of it, the Captain had more questions.

“Do these Witches want us dead?”

They shook their head. “They said one of you would get the Orb away from the Chronomancer; they didn’t say anyone would die.” 

“But you figured someone might.”

“Seemed possible.”

The Engineer was watching them carefully, chewing her lip, clearly conflicted.

“Are they going to send any more child assassins after us?”

The Stowaway snarled at the accusation. “I’m not a child.” The Bosun snorted. “They just wanted you to deal with the Chronomancer. That’s all I know.”

The Captain looked over at the Navigatrix, who had put one protective hand on her new Orb.

“Are they likely to decide they need someone to deal with our time wizard, too?”

The Stowaway turned to the Navigatrix.

“You saw what he was like. That moon was his tomb! They showed me – he raised a whole civilization to build it for him, and let them starve while he slept.” Their eyes were haunted. “You want to turn into that?”

The Navigatrix looked a question at the Captain.

“Yeah, I think we’ll notice if she starts talking about crushing civilizations under her heel. We’re gonna be rationing Orb use a little better, going forward.” The Captain leaned in towards the Stowaway, an elbow on her good knee. “So, knowing what we all know about each other now, should we toss you out the airlock?”

“No! I’m finally free!” Their eyes were wide. “Fuck, just drop me in a city somewhere, I don’t care. I’ll start over; change my name, no one will find me – and I won’t tell anyone where you went.”

“Those’re the magic words, kid. I might even believe them.” The Captain remembered the calm with which they’d hauled her out of the tower rubble. “You know what, why not. We’re missing our fifth; you seem competent. How do you feel about a little space piracy?”

The Stowaway looked a little stunned, and that was enough to let the Captain know she’d made the right call. Everyone else also looked stunned, but they’d come around.

Warp Riders – Chapter 43

The tide was pulling out, and the current of the rushing water had pushed them away from him, and the Captain was doing her best to grow the distance. The Navigatrix coughed and seemed to come back to herself, pulling one hand out of the Orb to keep herself afloat. She stared at the Captain for a moment, a strange look on her face.

No time for that, though.

“That was my only plan,” said the Captain. “You got any idea how to get us out of here?”

The Navigatrix’s eye caught on the wizard, hovering mostly out of the water now, five arms tying the scraps of blue glow into a long whip.

She looked down at her new Orb and a queasy look crossed her face.

“This is going to look extremely cryptic, Captain.” Then she pushed the Captain away, yelling loudly for their crewmates on shore, “get to the ship! the ship!” and then stuck both hands in the Orb again and sunk.

The Captain didn’t have time to yell about it before a pink and orange glow bubbled up from below the water, pulling it down into a trough that connected the shore to the ship. As soon as the Navigatrix’s head was safely above water, the Captain did as she was told and swam for her life.

The water was lowering quickly as she swam and she wasn’t at her fastest with one leg out of commission, but she was nearly there by the time she had to settle down onto the sand. Behind her she could hear the Bosun yelling instructions at the Engineer, and then the Engineer had her by the arm and she managed to get up and hop.

As the Engineer unlocked the door, the Captain stared down the shallow trough that the Bosun was pulling the Navigatrix along. The horrible wizard had slid over into the trough and was screaming with rage while he strode unstoppably forward on too many legs towards them.

With the door open, the Engineer turned to grab the Captain, and seemingly from nowhere behind her the Stowaway landed hard in the shallow water and ran through the door.

The Captain swore once and the Engineer stood stunned.

“How did they know..?”

“Doesn’t matter,” shouted the Bosun. “Get out of the way!”

And the trough the Navigatrix had somehow summoned was visibly collapsing in the distance, the wall of water racing towards them. The four of them barreled through the door, and the Bosun slammed it shut as the water hit.

The Captain had landed hard on the sloped floor of their poor broken ship; the Engineer had her face to the porthole, and the Bosun had pushed the Navigatrix into the leaning bench.

“He’s still out there.” The Engineer confirmed; “Something there is still glowing blue.”

They all turned to the Navigatrix. She stared at them, exhaustion on her face.

“What the hell do you think I can do?”

“You’re also a time wizard,” said the Bosun. “Time wizard us out of here?”

The Navigatrix closed her eyes and sighed. “He’s calling himself a chronomancer. I’m a navigatrix, not a chronomancer.”

The glow appeared at the window, and they could hear stones scraping along the hull. The whole thing shuddered as metal bent and scraped and twanged under the pressure.

The Engineer slid down to join the Captain on the floor.

“I wish we’d never crashed on this cursed moon in the first place.” 

The Captain put one hand on her shoulder, trying desperately to summon any sort of further plan, when the Navigatrix inhaled sharply. She said firmly,

“Hold on; this is going to feel very strange -” and then she closed her eyes, both hands in the new Orb, and a soft green glow drifted out of it, spreading, never quite touching them all as it climbed the walls and seeped through the closed doors.

And the ship began to move.


And the Captain watched as the crushed door to the helm slowly unfolded, and they lifted up, back, higher, faster, and the sky outside the porthole darkened, until they were all weightless, floating inside their ship in space.

The Navigatrix opened one eye to look at the Captain.

“You’re going to have to take it from here.”

So the Captain grabbed the Engineer and pushed the doors open, and they swam as fast as they could onto the bridge, where the original Orb was pulsing in time with the green glow as well.

The Captain fell into her seat, checked the controls, switched everything to manual, and yelled down the hall: “Ready!”

Time came back like a sunrise, gentle and slow and then suddenly painful; the ship was back in freefall towards the moon.

The Captain signaled the Engineer, who released the manual lock on their emergency rockets, which kicked in like a hit to the face, and the Captain pulled them off course, much sooner than she had before, when they didn’t know they were back inside time until it was almost too late. This time, they only skimmed the edge of the atmosphere of the moon, heat glowing on the viewport, and then, miracle of miracles, they were safely out of its gravity well.

A few clumsy tweaks with the emergency rockets, and the Captain had them safely orbiting the gas giant, far away from any moons.

Warp Riders – Chapter 42

No one was responding, no matter how loud the Captain shouted. She had the distinct sense that bad things were happening, and she had one working leg and a foggy useless mind and a face full of dust, and she was angrily scooting her way up the side of a fallen stone on her ass.

A clap sounded from above her, and she nearly slid back down as she whipped around to look, mouth full of curses for the Bosun who had just left her there – but it wasn’t the Bosun.

“Well what the fuck are you trying to pull now?”

The Stowaway barely flinched, just tossed down a rope.

“You think I’m gonna trust you to get me out of here safely?”

They shrugged, and started pulling the rope back up nonchalantly.

“Fuck, fine, hold the hell on.”

They must have tied it off somewhere, because they let the Captain put her full weight into it as she clambered up.

From the top of the pile of fallen stone, she took one look at the Navigatrix, striding stubbornly forward inside that blue beam, and knew what she had to do.

“Get down there, and find me a crutch.” They tilted their head. “I can get myself down, you shit. A good crutch, not that emergency one, and fast.”

And when she slid finally down to solid ground, bruised and very, very angry, they were waiting for her with not the emergency crutch, but the Navigatrix’s 54″ precision plasma gun.

The Captain had to admit, it was sturdy. “She’s going to kill me for this.” And then she booked it.

She was wheezing when she got to the water’s edge, and the Bosun stepped up and offered her arm.

“She’s got a goddamned deathwish, Captain.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna kill her for this.”

“Gotta get her out of it first.”

The Captain and the Bosun went silent as the Navigatrix reached their antagonist and stepped into his spherical aura.

The Captain whispered “is that our Orb?”

“No, he brought his own.”

And then the Navigatrix shoved her hands into the uncanny Orb too, and then suddenly all this unholy noise started to pour into the world.

The static and the howling and the searing sparks flying off the edge of the blue sphere made the water ripple strangely – and then that blue glow started to throb, green and yellow shooting through it, then orange and red and purple, a spectrum of colours that seemed to each pull different things into being.

The Navigatrix was stretched into an unnatural pose, arms quivering and face staring into the Orb.

They could barely hear her over the noise, shouting at her adversary;

“I can do this all day!”

– then the static growled in the air and the colours ran faster in the glow – and she seemed to put her back into it, hair standing on end, and she yelled

“Do your worst! I know my way through time!”

and then the horrible wizard seemed to twist the Orb, bringing her to her knees, and she was just yelling animal noises of rage at him.

The Captain didn’t think. She just shifted her weight back onto her makeshift crutch and stepped onto the path the rainbow glow was carving through the water. Things were changing rapidly within that glow – cobblestones appeared and disappeared, sand grew around her feet and receded.

She felt like she was phasing in and out of existence, but she focused on her Navigatrix’s voice, shape, silhouette; and step after step brought her closer. She could almost hear the shouts of the Bosun and the Engineer, but the winds of time were in her face and the static and the whistling cries were too loud.

Closer, with each painful step she was closer. Ahead, the Navigatrix wasn’t letting go of that horrible Orb, and the Captain knew she couldn’t keep that up forever. Each step was surreal; grass grew around her feet, withered and died, and was replaced with lava which immediately cooled and became sand.

Until finally she was standing behind the Navigatrix.

She put one hand on her shoulder for balance, tossed the raygun onto the sand, pulled back, and punched that fucking wizard right in the face.

Two things happened – first, her hand screamed with pain, like she had punched a metal girder instead of a man; and second, he slipped up – he let go of the Orb.

As the glow rushed back into the Orb she held, the Navigatrix slumped against the Captain, and then the water rushed back in, knocking them head over heels, and the Captain was suddenly treading water with one good leg, trying to keep ahold of the Navigatrix and her Orb.

The wizard was screaming with rage, and he seemed to will himself to float half out of the water, but his arms and face were suddenly fixed and unchanging. Five arms, one ancient face with horrible eyes. Each hand was clenched around a tiny scrap of that blue glow.

Warp Riders – Chapter 41

The Bosun climbed over the fallen stones to find them lying on their backs staring at the sky. “Good job not dying.” The Navigatrix’s dusty face was streaked with tears and she was laughing, or crying, or both; and the Captain looked stunned. She blinked and looked at the Bosun.

“You’re gonna need a rope for me.”

The Navigatrix wiped her face and crawled out of the gap they’d hidden in. “I’ll get one.”

She climbed up beside the Bosun and waved at the Engineer on the ground below.

“How did you do it?”

“Camp stove plasma cannon!”

“My plasma? For my guns?”

“All of it!”

The Bosun laughed at the Navigatrix’s expression. “It was desperate times. You’ll forgive us someday.”

But the Navigatrix had quickly turned deadly serious. She was staring towards the water. The Bosun and the Engineer both looked quickly, and there they were. The Stowaway.

“What do you want, you little shit?” The Bosun could see that they looked much worse for wear.

They were staring at the Navigatrix, and when they had everyone’s attention, they lifted an arm and pointed out into the water.

The Engineer was already stomping their way, pulling her hair back. The Bosun wasn’t going to stop her, but the Navigatrix stepped back in horror, and yelled with an unholy rage, “NO!”

And then she leapt precariously across the huge fallen stones, to land on the ground unsteadily and start running towards the water herself.

The Bosun, the Engineer, the Stowaway all stared as she ran, full tilt, into the water, eyes on something in the middle of the lake. As she got closer she yelled with audible rage;

“Stay the fuck away from my ship!”

And that fucking time wizard reappeared from a glowing point of floating light.

The Captain was shouting for information from deep within the ruins, but the Bosun grunted at her to hold tight, and scrambled her way down to run to the water’s edge.

The time wizard didn’t look quite the same as before; his blue aura was diminished down to a sphere around him that made the water fizz and disappear; and he stood on dry lake bottom, cobblestones just visible at his feet. In his many hands, that weird inverted Orb writhed and throbbed with awful light.

The Navigatrix pushed herself through the water, to her knees, to her waist, deeper still.

He turned and watched her approach, and the Bosun was impressed she kept going, because the expression on his many changing faces was pure murder.

But the Navigatrix was egging him on. “It’s my Orb! You’re not worthy! It won’t listen to you! Don’t you dare turn away from me!”

The Bosun looked at the Engineer, and she shrugged, an exhausted kind of confusion on her face.

“She’s gonna get herself killed,” the Bosun whispered.

The Engineer nodded. “Can you stop her?”

The Bosun sighed, and handed the Engineer her last few electrified knives.

But she barely had one foot in the water when the Navigatrix managed to finally really piss off the time wizard.

He shoved four, or seven, or eleven hands into that cursed Orb and shot that blue aura in a beam right at her, and for a moment, the Bosun thought she disappeared.

The water around the beam boiled as it grew in height, touching lake bottom, and then the Navigatrix was there, inside it, some magic wind pushing her soaked hair into her face, as she slowly and steadily walked through the blue towards the wizard.


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 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 16

It wasn’t that the Navigatrix was worried about the Captain, but it was very out of character for her to be late to dinner.

The Captain was the one who decided when dinner happened, for one. She was also usually the one to round the rest of them up when the Bosun gave the signal. She also, it turned out, carried a lot of the dinner conversation.

After the third attempt by the Engineer to draw them all into a rousing explanation of the microtransistors she was using in the short-range radio comms, the Bosun slammed the lid back on the pot.

“Why would she stay out this late?” She huffed. “Food doesn’t stay good forever.”

“I’m sure it’s not a personal slight.” The Navigatrix gently lifted the pot lid and served herself seconds. “It’s certainly her loss.”

“You don’t think there’s anything dangerous out there?” The Engineer let only the slightest hint of guilt into her voice.

The Stowaway also, somehow, looked guilty; they rarely wore emotions on their face, and the Navigatrix tucked that fact away for later contemplation.

“I’m sure she’s wrestled worse than this planet,” said the Bosun. “Saw her disable two security bots with one right hook once.”

There was a moment of silence while they all contemplated that feat. Then, one by one, they turned to the Navigatrix.

“Sorry, but I don’t throw hooks of any type.” She folded her arms. 

“Your entire job description is finding things,” countered the Engineer.

“Things in space!”

“We’re all technically in space!”

“Yelling at me won’t make me better at a thing I don’t know how to do.”

The Engineer huffed and sat back. “You want us to all sit here and wait to see if she’s coming back at all?” Behind her, the green glow of the horizon threatened sunrise.

Suddenly, the Stowaway stood up. They looked pointedly at the Navigatrix, and then grabbed a water bottle and walked to the edge of the camp. When the Navigatrix returned their gaze, they tilted their head to one side in a gesture that felt half challenge, half dismissal.

“Well.” She stood up and stared them in the eye a little longer. They didn’t flinch, just stood there. “Fine.”

The Navigatrix picked up a water bottle for herself, and looked at the Engineer. “Did you reassemble those short range radios? I see I’m going on a rescue mission.”

Later, as she and the Stowaway walked away from camp, the silent guest in front, she considered the possibility that this was a way to murder them all, one by one. They were small, yes, but who knew what skills they had besides, apparently, tracking captains through wilderness.

“For the record” she hissed, “I don’t really trust you.”

The Stowaway gave her a withering glare, then returned to scanning for signs of their errant Captain.