Margaret is on her way to work, walking instead of flying today so she can drink her coffee without spilling it, when she sees the cryptid. She's a truly far-out one, no limbs to speak of, just a long snaky body with a mirror for a face. Margaret smiles at her and goes to walk on by, but the cryptid slithers right at her all of a sudden and--hits?--Margaret with the giant mirror. Except she doesn't experience getting whacked with a sheet of glass.
And she's quite thoroughly elsewhere. The place is crowded, noisy, and smells industrial. Like heat and oil and exhaust. There's a metal grating beneath her feet, and there's several people turning to look at her. Their words are hard to catch, but either they have thick accents or a weird dialect or are only speaking something in English's general family.
And as someone reaches for their belt, this place is quite dangerous.
"Woah!" How on Earth does a mirror-headed snake count as pretty enough to do that? Also, aaaaa, she's gonna be attacked!
The people turning to look at her see: a horned woman with metallic silvery scales instead of skin, blue slit-pupiled eyes, and wide silver wings. Her white lace dress and copious jewelry look like a team of brilliant but old-fashioned seamstresses got handed the entire budget of a small country and told they could do anything except exercise restraint. Both her clothing and her body are covered in opals too perfect not to be manufactured.
She puts her hands in front of her, open-palmed, and says in a clear but frightened voice, "Hello! I'm very lost, I didn't mean to be here!" (Unspoken but obvious subtext: so please don't shoot me for trespassing.)
Several people, in what look like uniforms, two with what're probably handguns unsheathed, though there's something distinctly odd about the design. The front is a woman, her expression harsh, who barks something to her people when Margaret turns.
The street people are steering well clear of the uniforms.
They fall into a loose formation around her. She's led out of the industrial district, towards a large brick building set on a small hill. Smog lingers over the city, hiding any stars, but as they leave the taller buildings it becomes apparent this place has an active airport of some kind - there's large craft coming and going, and a trail of light like a meteor or descending shuttle blazes near the horizon.
They seem to have similar aesthetics in flags as many she'd be used to - broad stripes with stars, though these have stripes of what're probably greens and blues, and only three large stars.
The alphabet is... She could probably sound things out and even get most of them. It's definitely Latin-derived, including mostly familiar numbers, and if she sounds anything out it sounds vaguely like a romance language, maybe influenced heavily by Japanese or vice-versa. Though, there seems to be symbols that look a lot like Chinese or Japanese on some signs - if she's familiar with either language she'll be able to piece together some of the phrases, even with most of the symbols being simplified. The industrial district contains a lot of shops, most advertising repair work, or pawn, or cheap parts. The building she's being led to is marked as some kind of center.
"One minute I was walking down the street in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States. Then a cryptid that looked like a snake with a mirror for a face--I can give you a picture if you want--hit me with its mirror, and suddenly I was standing where you found me." Is this plausible? Not really! But it's the only truth she's got.
"I don't know what Edeneras are, but I'll explain my thing first. In the time and place I'm from, a small fraction of girls get the option to do magic sometime between the ages of eight and sixteen. It starts out as just the shapeshifting ability. If you use it to get far enough from human, you get the ability to shapeshift your clothes and some other powers unique to you. If you go too far from human, it scrambles your brain. We also have swarms, which are these little black bugs that appear out of nowhere and combine into monsters and attack people."
"We do not have that." Her eyes go unfocused for a few seconds - "There is no quick search for that in history. Edeneras have changed DNA, are less human."
Her accent's getting less, whatever translation software she's referencing getting better, or her getting more used to the pronunciation.
"If you don't have any records, that suggests I'm in some sort of parallel future, rather than my own. But either way I don't know how to get back. I should probably assume I'm stuck here and get a job and things, and then if I snap back to my own time or something it can be a pleasant surprise."
"That sounds good." And she's going to want to know what her comparative advantage is when she runs away to somewhere not run by kidnappers. Though she should probably pretend to be worse at things than she is, just for the sake of knowing things they don't. Relatedly, "Can I get something to eat first, though? I hadn't had breakfast when I had the magical accident."
She wasn't expecting future food to taste familiar, but she was sort of expecting it to taste better than this. Hopefully this is just her captors failing to make an effort, rather than extreme stagnation in food technology. But it's free food and she can tell it isn't drugged, so she eats it.
The possibilities do, indeed, remain theoretical for quite a while - though their leader despite apparent curiosity does avoid directly meeting with her. There's intense curiosity about the limits of her powers, when they activate, how dangerous is 'danger', if they have a person involved administering a test that the administrator is convinced is dangerous but isn't actually will it trigger for instance...
And they put her to work. Mostly, they find, she's really good at keeping ships doing high-risk maneuvers from blowing up. Which means they can push the envelope on experimental hyperspace travel, and move 'workers' around faster - they're having trouble with raiders, is the rumor, though the supervisors are fairly good at keeping 'workers' from talking to each other.
But Margaret, if she's patient and watchful and diligent, will get a sliver of an opportunity, during one of the larger and more complicated movements of 'workers' (they're barely even pretending to not be slavers with this particular spaceship) to seize control. She's on the bridge near-constantly after all, and the captain's worked with her enough that he's forgotten he can't trust her...
Margaret plays along, outwardly, but all her attention is focused getting ready to run. She sees how they treat the people they find less interesting or less useful, and resolves to make some trouble on the way out if she gets half a chance. Maybe she can give someone else an opening too.
She lets the experimenters see how good she is at detecting physical danger, but conceals most of her ability to detect hostile intent. No matter what the experimenters believe while running the tests, she's always detecting the presence or absence of a real threat.
Guiding ships through hyperspace would be an amazing job if not for who she was working for. Between the danger sense and the advance perception, she always knows just which way to jink to reduce the stresses of the higher hyper bands. She gets prophecies too, more days than not; some of them are advice for ship captains (recommending slower and safer routes, and perhaps ignored); others are for her ears only. She manages to filch a couple things that might be useful: an extra ration bar here, a roll of duct tape there. It's easy to hide things in pockets that can seal themselves shut. She looks like a harmless, cooperative little navigator. And she waits.
Until the day when the bridge is just her and the captain and the first officer, and they make the mistake of standing too close too each other where she can come up behind them. Suddenly her hands hold the ends of rubber straps, wrapping around their eyes and noses and filling their mouths so they can neither give alarm nor draw a breath.
Margaret has no training either, just a lot of pent-up anger and the power of accessories.
She also doesn't have training in flying the ship by herself. Once she's made sure her opponents are unconscious and tied them up with the duct tape, she heads to the internal control board. If she can seal off the engine room from the rest of the ship, then a majority of the local ability to do things will belong to people with a reason to support this hijacking. (In the back of her mind, she remembers The Martian and wonders if this technically makes her a space pirate.)
The ship isn't in danger and the officers went down without giving the alarm; she can spare the time to check the manual and be sure she's doing this right.
Once the engine room is sealed, though, it's only a matter of time (and not much time) before someone there notices it. She needs to secure control of the rest of the ship by then.
Margaret flips on the main intercom, the one used to warn all aboard to brace for takeoff of hyper transition. "Prisoners!" she declares. "This ship has been hijacked by one of your own! Rise up, take down your guards, and we can all be free within the hour! They can't stop all of us! Guards, surrender if you value your lives above your masters' profit!" Then she leaps to stand to one side of the door, shield on one arm and the other ready to take out anyone bursting in.
Margaret feels their hostility while they're still outside, sees them enter a few seconds ahead. If they think they have the element of surprise, that mistake might just save her despite her own lack of a gun. Cables materialize in her hand, trying to entangle her opponents and especially their weapons.
The dropped gun gets kicked into a corner while she keeps getting in the way of their eyes and hands. It's three against one, but she knows every move they're about to make. Changing what's in her hands requires a moment in starscape, so she leaves the entangled guy as is and focuses on the one who managed to fire.
He's not used to this kind of combat, especially not against a precog, so she'll be able to anticipate his shots -
The one she disarmed pulls a smaller gun off his waist. They're not bullets, at least, more like really fancy tasers, but getting hit by one will hurt.
Electricity doesn't damage her as much as it would a baseline, thanks to her highly conductive outer layer, but if anything that actually makes it more painful. The injuries aren't visible enough to heal quickly, either. She shrieks, repairs the burns on her clothes and makes a knife to slash at the hand holding the new weapon, fights on unbalanced by the burns between her scales and her flesh.
Wrench woman isn't her only backup. A slighter boy - who looks grown into his features, though is still quite a bit more short and slender than most teenagers - slips in behind her, apparently having appropriated some jumper cables or similar as a weapon.
Between the three of them and surprise, the guards are going to go down quickly.
Apparently when you decide violence is the answer you have to keep doing violence until there's no more question. That thought didn't make a ton of sense. Whatever. She will follow the scary competent person into More Trouble.
"I can tell when hostile people are nearby," she says, as they presumably head out the door.
"I can see what people are about to do before they do it, and I can make things but they disappear when I stop holding them," she summarizes.
She looks at the downed guard, then away. Not thinking about it, what she's trying to stop is worse, just keep going.
People give her sort of first pick at leadership, but when it's clear she doesn't want the position, someone else takes over smoothly. The woman with the wrench who first rescued her is in charge of a major segment, in fact.
Slowly, violently, they take the ship, until the last guards are starting to surrender.
She knew this was going to be violent when she started it. It's still more injury and death than she's seen in the entire rest of her life combined. She's relieved when guards start to surrender, and even more relieved when it turns out a ship like this has enough places to confine people that they can respect those surrenders.
They're still all dead if they don't find anyone who can fly the ship.
...It's possible the people who know how to fly the ship are, themselves, already dead. They can manage sublight propulsion - that's practically automated - but they're floating far from any stars.
It's fortunate, someone mutters, they weren't in hyperspace during the revolution.
What, so they can die slow instead of fast, someone else mutters back.
(There's a creeping thrum of danger permeating the air, humming along the lines of the ship, swirling around everyone with a shortening temper and rising fear - )
Looks like "start things off and hope someone else takes over from there" wasn't a complete plan. She straightens up to her full height, spreads her wings a bit, and speaks over the muttering, trying to sound calm and authoritative.
"There is no need to panic. We don't need one person who knows how to fly the ship; we just need to be able to figure it out collectively. I watched it being done; some of the rest of you probably know important things about it. I'm going to the bridge; anyone who thinks they might be able to help should come with me, and together we can figure it out. Trouble will come and we will not end here."
This last is spoken in a voice no human can speak with; the words linger and echo in the air in a way that makes it obvious that they are magic.
Back to the bridge, then. Hopefully someone cleaned up the variously taken-out people.
Margaret attempts to decipher the control panels enough to determine where they are. Are they close enough to a civilized star system to reach it without hyper, or do they need to figure that out too? Probably the latter.
Okay, so even if you don't constrain "civilized" to mean "won't just re-enslave them all" they still have to learn to work the hyper drive. They could also try activating the emergency distress beacon, but between their location and their ship's ID she doesn't like their odds on who would show up to help. So, looks like it's down to their combined knowledge and any manuals they can pull up.
Fortunately, control panel configurations are one of the things the manuals have the most detail on. Unfortunately, that still leaves a lot of gaps. They debate options for many minutes. Margaret explains that her danger sense is uninformative about which actions will increase or decrease the danger she's in, so she can't just contemplate pressing a button and learn how it will go.
Eventually, they agree that a particular series of actions has about an 80% get them safely into hyper, and a 20% chance of splattering their atoms across a multi-light-second radius. Someone suggests telling the rest of the ship before they try it; someone else suggests definitely not telling. Margaret stands by the panel that would be her part of the sequence, twisting the rings on her fingers until someone with skin would have scraped it raw.
Everyone with their hands poised above consoles is glad enough to stop when she says, "Wait".
Can she figure out who's hailing before she opens a call? There's no time to steal a guard's uniform, but she can at least gesture at someone more human-looking to get in front of the video pickup.
A woman appears, dressed formally, but not in a recognizably military style.
"This is Captain Cherish Uccelo of the merchant liner Pinion. We're in need of medical aid and engineering assistance."
(Scans don't seem to indicate anything wrong with their ship, but, well, this is tricky equipment.)
There is a hasty debate over the medium of significant glances, which Margaret wins by dint of being able to hold up a sign with words on it ("Say yes and steal a uniform before they get here!").
"We can provide medical facilities," says the spokesperson, "though possibly not medical personnel, so if you have your own medic you should send them too." He glanced at some maps and tells her where her shuttle can dock.
The spokesperson takes too long to come up with a good lie, or even a bad one. It's obvious that the other captain is getting suspicious, and if she figures out what's up while they have a medical bay full of her wounded that will go even worse than whatever will happen if they put their cards on the table now.
Margaret steps into view of the camera, horns, wings, decidedly non-uniform gown and all. "We are not this ship's original crew."
Margaret almost collapses in relief at "good for you" and has to steady herself on the console. "I'm glad to hear it," she says, "but I'm afraid I don't actually know what the Audobon Ballroom is." She looks around at the others, hoping to at least find out if they're all confused too or if this is an obvious thing she's missed learning since she got to this time.
A few look confused, a few have a dawning look of disbelieving hope.
"We're an anti-slavery organization," says Captain X, "Though some call us terrorists. We had been going to a planet we heard was using slave labor - I suspect the same you were destined for. It's fortunate we ran into you here."
"I'm curious about you specifically - the one with the scales. I haven't seen genetic modifications like that, or heard about contact with a new alien species," Captain X addresses to Margaret. "Are you needed on your ship, or do you mind coming over to talk with me more? Some representatives from your people wouldn't hurt, either way, so we can figure out where to go from here."
"I can definitely come over and explain the scales, but someone else should come too, I'm kind of a bad representative. It's a long story." She looks around the bridge. "Now that we have a moment to actually think about it, who wants to be the representative? And someone should get on the intercom and tell the rest of the ship what's up, I can do that bit." She goes off a little ways and concisely informs everyone not on the bridge of recent developments while the people who are here figure out who's going.
"So, I think I'm from a parallel universe, where it's the twenty-first century and magic exists . . . " She gives an overview of magical girls and swarms, with illustrative minor shapeshifting, and explains about the mirror snake and subsequent events. "And then we all took out the guards, and tried to get the ship moving again, and that's when you arrived," she concludes. "I know it sounds rather implausible."
"Are you recruiting for jobs that don't involve much violence? Because today was my first time being in a fight between humans and. I don't want. More of that."
Today was not the first time she's heard someone break a bone. It was the first time she heard it and thought good, one more down.
Captain X is in one of the smaller conference rooms, a large, six-limbed cat-like creature perched on the table next to her, with a tabby sort of pattern.
"Margaret! Glad you could make it. I'd wanted to introduce you to Edna Millay, my ship's treecat, and get some more details on your power."
The 'cat blinks at Margaret.
Okay, is the critter a pet or a crew member, that was ambiguous and anything she does in response has a fifty percent chance of being super awkward. Or she can go for a guarantee of moderately awkward. "Hello Edna," she says to the treecat, then adds to the Captain, "I haven't heard of treecats, so I'm afraid I'm missing some context."
The 'cat's a crew member, then, got it. "That sounds neat. I've never met an empathic magical girl, but there might well be one. So, danger sense: I can tell roughly how much danger I'm in, what location it's coming from, whether the danger is of physical injury or something else or both, and whether it's from a hostile person or something in my environment." Or a swarm, but this place doesn't have those.
"Our sensors are pretty fast at picking it up, but a few extra seconds could still save lives - we might just put you on the bridge or medbay, which are some of the riskier places to lose pressure, with a specialized alert feed for pressure losses, and an ability to pre-alert the system."
"That sounds like a good plan. Also, I should mention, if I'm ever likely to need to wear a spacesuit I should sort something out in advance. I don't think I know enough about spacesuits to make one myself by magic, and if I just wear a random one I haven't decorated I'll have next to no powers except the shapeshifting. I might be able to modify one to be pretty and have room for my wings and then put it back to normal afterward."
"I don't know how much you've been told, but the short version is I have magic powers and they work better depending on what I'm wearing and also mean I can modify what I'm wearing, so I'd like to try on a spacesuit and see if I can minimize how much it interferes with the magic. I won't do anything to it I can't reverse."
"Whichever is cheaper, I think--I'll want to adjust it anyway to fit my wings in it, unless there's enough internal complexity inside it that I can't make parts bigger without redesigning machinery. Can I get the manual too, actually, that should tell me which bits are safe to move around."
The reader is pretty easy to figure out; it's clearly a more advanced version of computing devices she's seen before. She looks over the manual and the spacesuit in parallel, determining which parts have stuff more complex than "layer of such-and-such material" in them. Is the whole thing form-fitting enough to put a dress over it without looking ridiculous?
It seems like part of the way it works actually involves being super form-fitting, and officers often wear them under uniforms. Most of the more complex stuff is in the neck, though it's slim enough she could plausibly rearrange a choker-like design over it, or just a dress with a high neck and enough fabric to conceal it. The base color is white.
Looks like today is her lucky day then! Once she finds somewhere private to change, and actually manages to get it on (it's been years since she had to put clothes on the normal way) she can experiment with her wings. Taking them off leaves her feeling awfully off-balance and missing-something, and she doesn't trust her ability to magic up an airtight seal, so she ends up extending the fabric of the back into a pair of wing-gloves and then adding a decorative overlayer that looks more like her wings usually do. Then she expands her helmet enough to fit her horns and adds some decorations until the magic doesn't hate it. It's still a decrease on what she had, but once she has the rest of her outfit on she's confident that her danger sense and predictive sense will both work even if she's unlikely to get as many prophecies while wearing it. The whole process, experiments and all, takes about two hours, and a big chunk of that is reassembling the stuff she had to delete to get the suit on.
"The helmet's got a couple of triggers for it to snap into place - if it receives pressure loss warnings from anywhere in the ship, or if it senses pressure loss on its own. Once the helmet's in place, it's airtight, assuming nothing's damaged. It should keep internal pressure on its own. You can also manually activate it..." They show her how. "The built in filters can give you up to three days of air in optimal conditions - don't move around too much, breathe slowly - and the suit has an emergency beacon, though it's fairly weak and short range, and unless you're about to fall unconscious you shouldn't set it to run constantly..." They show her how to activate it. "Suit's resistant to tearing but not immune. Avoid explosions and sharp objects. If we're getting depressurization warnings you should be trying to get to an emergency shuttle, though - they're safer, easier for search and rescue to find, have more air and better filters, and can be maneuvered a bit."
They'll explain all the little details, including some stuff most people know like how to activate any interface - the shuttles are mostly self-guiding and otherwise designed to have intuitive user interfaces, but that's 'intuitive' for a local, and sometimes things go wrong. There's also protocols about when you should override the shuttle's internal logic on when to launch - this is mostly 'don't', since you can get into legal trouble for launching early if the system thinks someone still could've gotten on, and you could endanger everyone already on the shuttle if you launch late. The seat belt analogues also work differently than Margaret's used to...
Margaret's used to a couple different ways user interfaces can be, and she's a quick study. When the explanation concludes she's pretty sure she can use the shuttles adequately, and also use other interfaces pretty well even if she sometimes messes up and has to backtrack.
"Thanks for teaching me all of this! As places I could have gotten lost in go, this world seems like a really comprehensible one."
"Yup! An Earth, and a way to communicate while I'm still learning the language, and food humans can eat and stuff." She's actually picked up a fair amount of the local language over the past several weeks of hearing it alongside translations; she's pretty understandable if you're good with accents.
"I'd hate being dropped somewhere they speak in scents and drink acid and eat food poisonous to humans!" they say with a laugh. "I've read science fiction like that - though so far most actual aliens have pretty human-compatible atmospheres, at least, even if communicating sometimes gets complex."
They summarize the ones they've heard about - the Medusans are pretty new, so a lot of people are excited about them, they've got a Bronze age culture and trilateral symmetry and they communicate with gestures so there's been Manticoran teams developing sign language holographs... (The Star Kingdom of Manticore being the closest human civilization to Medusa).
Margaret helps out here and there, improves steadily at the language, and gets to know her fellow travelers, both the new ones and the ones she couldn't freely interact with before.
One afternoon she's chatting with one of the hydroponics techs when she cuts herself off mid-sentence with, "There is a poison; tank three is unclean."
She's long been used to her powers being public knowledge and generally regarded as useful, so it's nice to be moving back towards that state again. Also nice to feel like she can contribute to the ship; unemployment itches. She looks forward to getting an actual analyst job again, this time tracking baddies rather than pathogens.
She gets a couple more opportunities to contribute over the flight - space is big, travel takes a long time, and old ships like the one she's on are rife with problems that can easily edge into crises.
Still, nothing catastrophic happens, and soon enough they're being warned to prepare for a drop out of hyperspace (the protocols for this having already been covered. It's mostly 'seat belts').
Luckily, they thought to account for that - mostly by sticking her somewhere people are unlikely to need to rush by her, since they didn't have the time or capacity to custom make her a landing seat.
The drop's uneventful, and then they're being informed they can unbuckle their seats now - it'll be a while yet before they get clearance to dock at the space station, though.
Stargazing is the good kind of really painful. The first few minutes remind her that she's light-years and also regular years and an even more incomprehensible sort of distance from home, but once she pushes through the loneliness it instead starts feeling like it doesn't matter. There's so much universe out there: surely she'll find a place in it eventually.
The ship's a lot smaller than the one she was on previously, but it's also built for the comfort of its crew. There's a two story greenhouse with an elevated exercise track, and a rec room with a VR set up and an exercise panel with modular machines, and a minor projects lab she can go into with a 3D printer, and a cafeteria that actually pays any attention to aesthetics and acoustics.
She decides against actually printing anything, since she doesn't know the policy on using up consumables, but she has a nice time reading the manuals for things and hanging around the greenhouse and eating with whoever is in the cafeteria and doesn't look like they'll mind company. And soon enough it's time to move on.
The policy that gets relayed to her is that these materials over here are okay to use, but she should melt down whatever she's made at the end of the day, and if she wants something longer term she needs to put in a request.
The other crewmembers are mostly friendly, and even the ones that keep to themselves do so politely.
The ship moves on smoothly - it's faster than the old ship, too, able to get higher in hyperspace. The Captain stays busy until they've been in hyperspace for two full days, when her schedule clears enough she can afford to spend more time among her crewmembers - especially making sure Margaret gets acclimated well.
Then, soon enough, they arrive at their destination.
Margaret acclimates just fine. She doesn't make any things she wants to keep, or any friends she wants to keep in touch with, but she has a pleasant time. Her feelings about becoming a spy settle from mostly nervousness to mostly determination, though the nervousness definitely doesn't go away entirely. Overall, it's a relief when they arrive and at least this stage of waiting is over.
"History and also science, my knowledge of physics comes from when they thought FTL was impossible. Are there online classes I should be taking?" She's done this world's equivalent of wiki-walking on a number of topics, but nothing really systematic; it's been too long since she was in school.
She can watch the planet get bigger out her window, then. How densely populated does it look to be? She knows that with the profusion of earthlike planets out there, people haven't felt the need to crowd everywhere to the standards of her former home before spreading farther.
It isn't entirely uninterrupted mountains and plains, but it's not the tight network of lights Earth is from space or a plane. There's a few cities, connected to each other by corridors, with some sprawl out from the planetary surface and more than a few freight elevators going into space - which seem a better indication of population than lights. Either they don't like lighting their cities up at night or have figured out ways to avoid light pollution from doing that.
That's pretty cool! She has really good night vision with her shiny slit-pupilled eyes, so even if they've decided a clear view of the stars is more important than having streetlights she shouldn't be especially inconvenienced. And she can see where they'd conclude that; the stars as seen from a spaceship are really something.
"What is the whole getting-paid and paying-for-hotel-room situation going to be like?" She never actually got formal offer or onboarding paperwork and isn't sure if either of "being in an alternate future" or "being a spy" means she isn't going to get any; either way it's a far cry from her old job.