This time things will be different, she thought. This last jump is all I need to set things straight.
Disregarding the expense of each leap that she made, justifying it with the belief that each future she'd fallen from simply ceased to exist. From her perspective, at least, they all had; those countless slight variations of her days yet to come all erased like chalk from black slate, refreshed and blank again.
He'd observed that she'd aged, the last few times she'd seen him, those few times that he'd brought her up from the abyss. No matter, though; it was simple enough to explain away once she'd succeeded at her task. It wasn't like anyone else would be coming around to take note of the differences once it happened, anyway.
She took a breath, as she had so many times before. It had only taken once to train herself into the habit, that first time when her lungs filled with the cold water and she'd almost drowned. He'd pulled her to the surface, that time, pushing her onto some floating wreckage that kept her alive long enough for the rescue teams to come flooding in, like thousands of beneficial locusts descending upon them, a plague, even. She'd only have a few moments, this time, as she had so many times before. A few critical moments to alter the final detail revealed by decades of analysis, trial and error, and minor course corrections.
Time is a funny thing, she thought, pressing her palm against the activation pad. She blinked as the biometrics completed their tasks, bracing herself for the inevitable climate shock of her transition, though she'd long ago started setting the ambient temperature inside of the launching pod to match that of her destination. Checking the observation window, she gave a thumbs up to the cameras that surrounded her, her gesture activating the final key that the system required to initiate the procedure.
And then she jumped.
Water surrounded her, she splashed down, sinking deep below the surface. She relaxed her body, allowing the momentum she carried with her to push her deeper, having no desire to break a wrist or her fingers by thrashing about in the current. Live and learn, she thought to herself. This has become second nature to me now. She knew that above, he'd be diving down, trying to reach her. Those first few times, he'd managed it, dodging sinking debris, somehow pulling her back into the air above them so they could both choke on the smoke and fumes that filled the air. She'd developed modifications over time, though, and could hold her breath much longer than her original might have dreamed possible.
Down, down, the momentum carried her, and she watched the research pod flickering as water shorted out shielded circuits and sealed relays. The damage was irreparable, perhaps, but as long as the systems functioned - for the next two or three minutes, perhaps - she'd be able to recalibrate the necessary devices and change the final details, fixing everything that had gone wrong in the first place. Two or three minutes, the target time for several lifetimes of work. She wondered, briefly, if this was all anyone could ever expect as the sum of their entire career. Was anyone else so driven, though, so motivated? She knew she'd never know the answer and that it wasn't a question that could apply to anyone else. If it worked, this time, if she fixed things, no one would ever know the future that was about to be created.
The pod door was open, as she had expected, and she swam inside, heading straight towards the necessary console, straight past the technician, already drowned, a man whose name she'd forgotten long ago. Her vision was blurring around the edges by the time she'd entered the data required for proper realignment, and she knew that the time was close. She was running out of oxygen.
She turned the archaic locking mechanism, banging her knuckles against the edge of the handle's inlay, and cursed the terrible and inefficient design. One more button to push, right over here, she thought, searching for the activation pad, finding it, reaching for it. Pushing.
And then she jumped again, this time as a result of the pod's interaction with the five relay hubs she'd accessed and refocused just a moment before. The first jump in this time line, and to her knowledge (once she'd had a moment to collect her thoughts), the only jump within a jump that had occurred in any time line that she'd created.
Flat on her back, she opened her eyes and focused on an unfamiliar ceiling. She rolled onto her side, cautiously, because she was afraid that the jump hadn't worked. That she, perhaps, had died, or that she was dreaming. But she had succeeded, it seemed. He was there, just waking up. He sighed, stretching a little, and she smiled, because it was good to see him so healthy, so young.
He wouldn't recognize her this time, of course. She'd gone much farther back because of her last leap into the past. She wasn't even in her own body any more, which was both a blessing and a curse. She'd recaptured youth and vigor, but she'd lost all of her augmentations.
"I'm late for work, again," he said, looking at his watch, groaning.
"Don't go in, today," she replied, slightly startled at the sound of her new voice. It was going to take some getting used to.
"I have to go. If I don't show up again, they'll fire me."
"You can get another job, then. Don't you ever feel like you're destined to do something more than pop caps off of bottles for all the neighborhood drunks?" She asked him, trying to remember the right details.
"What are you talking about?" He asked. "I quit working there weeks ago."
He put a hand against her cheek, smiling. "Got a fever? Hangover?" He questioned.
"No, just woke up feeling a little bit thrown off, I guess," she answered, sitting up. "I'm sure it will pass in a little while."