Dani soared through the future, riding the furious currents of the timestream. Henri had said that jumping in the past was a calmer ride. Histories tend to be static, with alternate branches clearly marked, and the timestream was easier to navigate. The future, with its cascading waves of probability, ran rougher and harder and was nearly impossible to navigate. It was also the most fun, according to Henri, though Doug preferred the more orderly jump into the past.
Dani laughed as winds of time buffeted her and tossed her about. She saw humanity's greatest civilization fall into barbarism, only to rise and fall and rise again. She saw a future where an alien occupation interrupted the steady flow of human civilization, and another where humanity's fall into barbarism tore the planet itself asunder.
She was coasting through the utopian futures when she felt the tug on her calendar-pack. She felt herself jerked backward through a few decades of a Golden Age, the tug on her pack getting stronger until...
Her tether snapped. And she was freefalling toward realtime in an era far removed from her own. From the corner of her eye, she saw the glistening chronofilaments of her tether spiraling back toward her present. Then she hit the future face-first.
"Are you hurt?"
She looked up from the dusty hard surface she'd landed on. Her agesuit was still intact, including the helmet, which was good, since her visor was reading a highly toxic atmosphere. A smoky fume lay low about the area, casting the sunlight in a strange hue, and everywhere she looked were buildings, elaborate vehicles, factories and what appeared to be power plants.
A tall hairless man looked down at her with some concern. He seemed human, save for a leathery hide around his nose and mouth. His clothing was of alien appearance and the lack of any hair was a bit disturbing, but he spoke flawless unaccented American English, as did the others who'd begun to gather.
"Is she all right?"
"She looks okay, if a bit odd."
"Hmm. She is at that. Odd."
An older woman crouched down by Dani and held out her hand. "Pay them no mind, dear. You just come along with me and we'll get you looked after."
Dani nodded, rising slowly to her feet, and followed the woman. The others watched after them for a bit, then went back about their business.
"You're a time traveler, ain't yeh?"
Dani was a bit shocked by the question. How could this woman know that?
"Uhh..." she looked around.
The older woman smiled and waved a hand. "Nah, it's okay. I know you are. But don't worry. You're safe. Despite the look of the place, we're actually rather advanced from what you're probably used to."
Dani learned from the other woman, who's name was Alice, as it turned out, that at some point in her relative near future, the leading minds would decide that, rather than preserving a livable environment, they would instead work on adapting humans to thrive in an industrial environment.
So, a number of chemicals were added to the various immunizations and pre-natal treatments and within a few generations, humans found their organs augmented, or new organs grown altogether, to survive on polluted air and heavily-processed food. Their new lungs could glean even the smallest amount of oxygen from whatever was breathed in, and would condense everything else into a tiny globule that was coughed up later.
There were certain side-effects to this genetic manipulation, such as a surge in brain capacity. Humans now used nearly 60% of their brains, and had learned to communicate without words, mind-to-mind, even over great distances. It was how Dani was able to understand them so easily. It had also created a global consciousness, along with a greater awareness of their place in the universe and their responsibility to their planet. Over the last couple of generations, there had been significant work done at rebuilding some of the planet's ravaged ecosystem. Technologies had been created to explore the galaxy for new worlds.
"And we've got time travel too," Alice said with a wink. "So we can get you home."
"How did you know I was lost?" Dani asked.
Alice chuckled. "Because if you weren't, you would have made a more graceful entrance." She gestured for Dani to hurry. "Come on. I'll show you our machine."
Meanwhile, hundreds of centuries in the past, Henri and Doug were frantically trying to locate Dani through the vast maelstrom of the future.
"Well? Did you find her signal?"
"Not in the last 10 seconds, no, Henri, I didn't. If she were lost in the past..."
"Oh, don't start Doug. Just because I wanted a future jump, doesn't make this my--"
Doug waved him quiet, staring intently at his screen. "Shut up! I think I have her."
"What? Well, get her! Bring her back! Bring her ba--"
"I said, shut up." Doug fiddled with a few dials, flipped a switch or two, typed furiously at his keyboard and then pulled a lever on the side of the time machine.
Dani was secured to the frame of Alice's time machine, a series of cables running into and out of her calendar-pack. Alice fiddled with some dials on her control panel.
"Your calendar-pack seems to be a similar design to my own machine, so I shouldn't have any trouble getting you back where you need to be. Presumably, there's a base machine in your proper time and... ah. There it is. Hold on." She toggled a switch, and chronal energy flowed through Dani's pack.
Just as the tether from her present tried to latch on.
The chronal energies merged, overloading the pack and Alice's time machine. Dani screamed as raw time arced unimpeded through her body, surging up her nervous system directly to her brain. A wave of pure time exploded out from Dani, rippling through the multiverse and touching every conceivable timeline. Every single version of Dani that existed found themselves aligned at that moment, in body, mind and circumstance. Infinity coursed through her veins, and her consciousness spread across every one of her variant minds. She knew everything, she was everything, as each version of her collapsed into a singular Dani.
Dani floated along the timestream, sailing its currents with instinctive ease. She could no longer exist in realtime. This chaotic realm was her only home now, and she would ride its rapids through eternity and back.
She told all this to a grieving Henri during one of many jumps he made in an attempt to find her. She told him she was lost to him, and that he should look for her no longer and find love with another.
But Henri would not listen, jumping again and again into tomorrow and yesterday. Until the day he jumped without a suit, and was torn to dust by the ravages of time. Veteran jumpers would come to tell their pupils Henri's tragic tale.
The tale of the broken jumper, his soul scattered amid the currents of time, forever lost in his search for the Infinite Woman.