Garian saw her grip loosen from the rim of the glass vat, then she disappeared over the edge and he never saw her in the flesh again. He heard her scream, though, and he remembered the sudden change in her expression, a seed of creeping uncertainty, dissolving into terror at her own immanent mortality, where before she had only looked at him with fanatical hatred and revulsion in her eyes, an ugly expression on such a beautiful face. She had begun to have doubts at the last second. She might even have been reaching for his hand, ready to accept his offer of help, but not in time before her strength gave out and she fell to her death in front of his eyes.
It was such a stupid, pointless waste of life. The only reason she hated him enough to die rather than accept his help was something entirely out of his control; because they were from nations with a history of conflict, and they were both directly employed by their respective Governments. If he had the time, he could have made her understand that he was on a mission to recapture a highly dangerous criminal, that it was nothing to do with politics; that he had captured the criminal once and was escorting them to the prison island as an extra precaution, without having been ordered to, and so it was technically a personal mission; that he hadn't even been hired by the Agency, and he might even be disciplined for not requesting permission first. He could have convinced her that he had no reason to betray her, that he wouldn't have done so even if he had been ordered to by the Agency, unless he found out she was a serial killer or something, because he was a human being, not a trained attack dog like she seemed to think everyone from his country was.
He might have said all these things, if he'd had the time. If he had been in the attic just a few seconds earlier himself, he might have gotten to her in time, talked her into accepting his hand in time, pulled her back over the brink in time... If he could only stop being late for everything...
A second hanging on too long and you fall. A second too late to talk to a girl and she moves on. A second late to the Captain's Cabin and you find yourself stuck on a prison escort ship with no Captain, no piloting controls and no prisoners left to escort, only escaped prisoners and dead prisoners. It was amazing how much trouble it could get you into by being even a second late. The problem with being late is that once you're late, you don't stop being late. You're late for the next thing, and then the next, and before you know it, you've let your entire life pass by because you spent it repeatedly falling off the funnel of a boat because your retarded pet bird told you it was a shortcut.
"If I could only have another life," she had told him over a holographic transmission she had hidden for him inside the petals of a faded blue rose. He had even been able to talk to her through the hologram. He hadn't realised how technologically advanced Lavian was compared to Rajeen; all he had was a messenger pigeon that kept grabbing him by the hair and couldn't shut up for five minutes at a time. The hologram had been breaking up into static a lot, though, both the image and the sound increasingly distorted. He hadn't known how much of it was technical problems, either due to the distance or something blocking the signal, and how much was the actual damage being done to the person on the other end.
She had survived the fall, that much he knew. Anything else was hard to tell; he didn't know what happened to people when they fell into a vat of radioactive goo in an insane prison warden's experimental laboratory. It sounded laughable, like the plot of a B-movie. 'Night of the Zombie Chain Gang'. Things like that often weren't as funny when they really happened to you, or to someone you loved.
She had survived the fall, but every time she contacted him, she sounded more desperate, her voice weaker and more laboured, as though it was painful for her to speak. She looked in more pain, too; she had been walking around, trying to get a signal, trying to contact her employers to request backup, then she gave up on her Government, who weren't coming for her, started talking to him, started begging him for help, and she was crouched down, as if she was being crushed under a great pressure all around her. Then her image was breaking into static and disappearing from the legs up, as if she was dissolving, or maybe something was eating her. Her words sounded more as though she was giving up, even on Garian. Giving up because it was already too late.
If only they could live another life. Just one last chance. If some hand could turn back the clock to the last time he hadn't screwed up his life. Maybe back to the time he was running for the Captain's Cabin, so he could get a damn move-on. Or maybe he shouldn't have jumped on the stupid boat in the first place. He wouldn't have met the girl, of course, but at least he wouldn't care. He wouldn't know about her, he couldn't get her killed, he wouldn't have her death on his conscience, he wouldn't dream about her every day for the rest of his life, over and over again. He didn't know what kind of life he would have lived - there was no way he could know, he realised, as even a minor change, a couple of seconds here and there, could have a huge effect on his life. He couldn't predict the future and he couldn't be sure that a different future would be any better than the life he lived right now.
All that he knew was that, if he tried to sleep tonight, he would be able to do nothing but rehearse the day that it had happened, waking up back on that boat, finding the first Blue Rose pressed inside his journal, hearing the alarm, running to the Captain's Cabin...