Tracy McGinn got off the phone with the corporation head who was in control of her funding, and smiled. They were convinced she was on the right track and were upping her research budget. She wanted to celebrate, but everyone else had gone home hours ago. She had no partner, she didn't have time for such things. The work, that was what was important. So, in lieu of celebrating in any other way, she decided to get a chocolate bar from the vending machine in the hall.
She thought about it as she walked - she was going to build a time machine.
It had been her dream ever since she was a small girl. Travelling in time! She'd always been curious by nature, with time travel some of the great mysteries could be explained once and for all. But it would have to be handled delicately and carefully, you couldn't risk messing up the past.
She reached the machine and found she was five cents short of what she needed. "Damn," she said.
Then someone stepped out of the dark. "Would you like some money," asked her older self. She knew who it was immediately. In truth, she'd always half-expected to bend the rules in this way.
"So," she said with a smile to her older self, "I... We did it."
"No, I'm afraid not," said the older woman. "A man called Mendoza in Mexico does it in about ten years."
Tracy frowned, "Mendoza, never heard of him."
"No-one had, but still he did it, I'm living proof."
"So much for my dreams, then," she sighed. "So how did you get here, do we get a job on the project or break in or something?"
"No, I just paid for a ticket," said her older self calmly.
"What?! But how the..? I mean, it'd have to be carefully regulated to stop people from messing with time. How did you convince them to let you come back?"
Older Tracy looked slightly embarrassed. "Yeah, about that whole web-of-time thing... We were all wrong. You can mess about as much as you like, it actually makes very little difference. If you change something too dramatically, time seems to heal itself, no-one is sure how or why. Time travel is cheap and easy, so that's what people do now. We go on holiday to the past and future for fun."
Tracy's legs gave way from under her, and she sat down heavily in the middle of the dark, cold corridor. "Fuck," she said with feeling. Her older self sat down beside her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
"I remember feeling this way. That's why I came back to ten years before. Here, I've brought you something to cheer you up." The woman fished into her pocket, pulled out a sheet of paper, and handed it to Tracy. "I thought about bringing back the secret to cold fusion, you know, give you something new to work on. But then settled on the lottery numbers for next week," she explained.
Tracy sighed and took the sheet of paper. "Look thank you, but I don't really care about money that much. The only thing money was good for for me was research. My dream is ten years away and will be achieved by someone else."
"I sometimes forget that for someone so smart, I could be really dumb sometimes." The younger scientist looked at the woman and frowned. With great patience Future Tracy said "With the winnings from this, you should be able to help fund a little Mexican scientist with the same dream who's currently working out of his bedroom."
Tracy's jaw dropped, and her older self smiled.
"Trust me, you're going to have a ball!"