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Read the Second Chapter of The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz!

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1992: After a confrontation at a riot grrl concert, seventeen-year-old Beth finds herself in a car with her friend’s abusive boyfriend dead in the backseat, agreeing to help her friends hide the body. This murder sets Beth and her friends on a path of escalating violence and vengeance as they realize many other young women in the world need protecting too.

2022: Determined to use time travel to create a safer future, Tess has dedicated her life to visiting key moments in history and fighting for change. But rewriting the timeline isn’t as simple as editing one person or event. And just when Tess believes she’s found a way to make an edit that actually sticks, she encounters a group of dangerous travelers bent on stopping her at any cost.

Tess and Beth’s lives intertwine as war breaks out across the timeline–a war that threatens to destroy time travel and leave only a small group of elites with the power to shape the past, present, and future. Against the vast and intricate forces of history and humanity, is it possible for a single person’s actions to echo throughout the timeline?

The Future of Another Timeline is on sale September 24. Please enjoy the following excerpt.

Two

Beth

Irvine, Alta California (1992 C.E.)

I love the pause right before an encore. We could pretend that Grape Ape wasn’t coming back unless we broke the world with our noise. The whole crowd stood up and screamed and I kicked the folded-up

seat of my chair until it felt like Irvine Meadows was the epicenter of a shallow quake, its high-frequency vibrations booming through the Earth’s crust. For a few rare seconds, we were a number on the Richter scale. I looked up at the sky, scattered with ancient blobs of exploding gas, and wanted the anticipation to last forever.

“Where’s Heather?” Lizzy leaned in close, and I could feel the prickly tips of her soap-stiffened mohawk on my cheek. People used to say we looked like sisters until she went bleach blond and pierced her lower lip.

I pointed at the mosh pit. “She went down there with Scott!”

Glorious returned to the stage, trailed by Maricela on guitar, and they tore into the title track from their first EP, Our Time Was Stolen. I still had the poster for it on my bedroom wall at home, with its lush drawing of what the Machines looked like hundreds of millions of years ago, before their interfaces eroded away to nothing. It was an aerial view, showing two red, crescent-shaped rocks curving around a circular pearlescent canopy that covered the entrance to the wormhole. From that angle it looked like a beautiful, stylized vulva and clitoris. But it was also an ancient rock formation. I loved it instantly, and loved everything Grape Ape had done since.

When the last chord died, everything sounded faraway and dull.

“I hope we can find Heather,” Lizzy grumbled. “She has my fucking cigarettes.”

Shrugging, I tried to hold on to the pre-encore rush but felt myself returning to a baseline of sadness. Maybe the concert had been pretty good, but I still hated everything. Grape Ape didn’t play that one new song I really loved. My tights were scratchy. Pretty soon I’d have to go home and deal with my parents. Music was nothing like life. When Glorious stopped singing, I missed her magnificent sound, with its power to merge my soul with the crowd and obliterate loneliness. I was stuck in a body. I had to communicate using the pathetic phonemes of language. Suddenly my throat hurt and my eyes were burning and I had to swallow hard to keep myself from breaking down right there in front of every punk rocker in Irvine. This was always happening to me—something random would make me want to cry. But it had gotten a lot worse lately. It was harder to stop the tears before they fell.

“There they are!” Lizzy pointed at Heather and Scott, waving to us from the bottom of the suddenly floodlit arena. Roadies were grabbing things off the stage and we joined the slow river of people draining into the parking lot.

Soojin had watched the show in rapt silence next to us, but now she wanted to discuss Maricela’s new guitar pedal in great detail. “I think she had that thing engineered just for her.” She readjusted a plastic barrette in her bobbed hair with thoughtful intensity. “I haven’t seen anything like it in the catalogues.”

Heather bounced up with the cigarettes and Scott played with the blood-caked safety pins in his ear as we made it out the front gate.

Everybody started talking about the show, and Scott disagreed with Soojin’s opinions about guitar pedals while Heather made faces behind his back. It was the same pointless debate they always had. With each passing word and sentence, I felt like I was lagging further behind the conversation. Their voices were nothing but a distant whine now. Maybe I was sliding downstream in time, doomed to vacillate endlessly between weeping and numbness. While my friends barreled into the future, I was back here in the past, unable to move on.

But when Lizzy spoke, I snapped back into the present. “You guys, let’s not go home yet,” she said. “We can drive up to Turtle Rock and look at the lights.”

Heather rubbed her hands together with a high-pitched giggle. “Let’s do it!”

Soojin gave a thumbs-up sign.

I still had an hour before curfew and my urge to cry had evaporated. “Okay. As long as I’m home by midnight.”

Lizzy’s car was one of those infinitely long station wagons with two rows of generous seats and a long, carpeted cargo area that ended in a rear door designed to drop down and become a tailgate picnic table. It was designed for parties of another era. In the front seat, we were blasting The Bags, rehashing the best moments of the show, and smoking weed out of a perforated Coke can.

From the top of Turtle Rock, we could see a fringe of lights from the subdivisions around UC Irvine. Dark puddles of undeveloped land spread outward from our parking spot at the edge of the road. Lizzy started imitating the way our hippie social studies teacher always made air quotes around the phrase “Western belief system.” Soojin and I could not stop cracking up.

In the cargo area, Scott and Heather were making out.

“Let’s get some air.” Lizzy shook the pack of cigarettes and raised an eyebrow.

I nodded and spoke in a loud, stagey voice. “Yes, let’s stretch our legs.”

“We’re going to stay here where it’s warm!” Heather called from the back.

“No shit,” I mumbled.

We scrambled out of the car and walked up an unlit dirt path, sharing a cigarette and trying to find a spot with a better view.

When the car was out of sight, Soojin snorted a laugh. “It was getting a little awkward in there.”

“How long should we give them, do you think?” I picked up a rock and threw it down the hill.

Lizzy let out a long stream of smoke. “I dunno. Ten minutes? Fifteen? How long do you think it takes to give that dumbass a blow-job?”

We burst into giggles.

“Okay, I’m definitely going to need another cigarette then.” Lizzy handed over the pack and I slid out the matchbook she’d tucked into the cellophane.

That’s when we heard a noise almost like a wolf howl. “What the hell was that?” We stood silently for a minute and it came again. It almost sounded human.

Lizzy’s eyes widened and she stamped out her cigarette. “That’s Heather.” She took off running faster than I’d ever seen her, spiked hair wobbling as she scrambled past us and half skidded on the sandy path.

Soojin and I raced after. Within seconds we could see the car and it was obvious that Heather was screaming, “NO NO NO!” and Scott was laughing in a way that was the opposite of laughing and somebody’s bare foot was sticking out the back window at a weird angle.

Lizzy reached the car first and pulled open the tailgate door, launching herself inside the station wagon. “GET YOUR HANDS OFF HER, YOU FUCKER!” She wasn’t yelling. It was more like a war cry.

It was so dark that at first all I could see was the dim slope of Lizzy’s back. She was perpendicular to Scott, and had settled the weight of her left side against his throat while she looped her arms under his back, pinning him down uncomfortably. Every time he kicked the roof or tried to wriggle away, she followed his body with her own, levering herself against him with a bent leg. He groaned. “Can’t you take a joke? It was a joke, okay?”

Heather scrambled into the back seat, gasping and crying and holding her hand to a red bruise wrapped around the side of her neck. Her long black hair was tangled and eyeliner was smeared in wet streaks around her dark eyes. Soojin came in through the passenger door and scrunched next to her, gently touching the mark. “What did he do to you?”

“He was strangling me!”

“What the fuck are you talking about? We were playing around!”

“No, Scott! Don’t fucking lie! You said you wanted to kill me!”

Heather’s voice shook.

“I was joking, obviously!” Scott struggled again, trying to escape from Lizzy’s grip, but she twisted around to crush his right arm beneath her shin while she kept his chest pinned. He was practically immobilized.

“That hurts! My arm is going numb!”

“It should hurt.” Lizzy was growling. “I’m going to let you up, and you’re going to get out of the car and walk home. Do you understand?” He didn’t answer and Lizzy shifted her weight, pushing harder.

“Yes! Yes! I understand!”

Slowly she crab-walked backward, dragging him with her out the back door, yanking him onto the asphalt outside. It was only then that I realized he was naked from the waist down. Scott looked dazed for a minute, and Heather threw his underwear and jeans at him. “What the fuck is wrong with you, rapist!”

He stood up and lunged so fast it was like he was on angel dust. Hell, maybe he was. Before any of us could react, he was back in the car, reaching into the seat where Heather was cowering, smacking her face, head, shoulders—any part he could hit from that angle. Then he grabbed Heather’s breasts in clawed hands like he wanted to rip them off her chest.

Heather was screaming and Soojin was pulling at his fingers and then Lizzy was on Scott’s back, reaching around to put him in a chokehold.

Except it wasn’t a chokehold. A knife flashed in her hand—one of those Swiss Army deals that they always tell you to bring to Girl Scout camp.

“Lizzy, stop! What the fuck are you doing!” It felt like I was screaming underwater. I crawled into the back of the station wagon and reached out, connecting with her shoulder blade. It spasmed under my hand. Lizzy was stabbing the knife in the direction of her own body to penetrate his neck and face. Eventually she was going to miss and impale herself.

“LIZZY! STOP IT NOW!” I grabbed her arm in mid-puncture and she finally went still, her breath the loudest sound in the car. Scott slumped over the back of the seat between Heather and Soojin. His neck was wet and shredded. The knife was buried in what remained of his mouth.

Blood was everywhere. It was running in the seams of the faux leather blue upholstery. It was splattered on the steamy windows. It was dripping onto the floor. It was soaking Heather’s lacy dress. Soojin’s knees made indentations in the seat that quickly turned to bloody pools. It was like a burst watermelon, I thought in a surreal haze of incomprehension. Because this couldn’t be happening. My life hadn’t turned into a gore movie.

Heather was holding herself and hyperventilating. The bruise on her neck had darkened to purple. I crawled around Lizzy and Scott to hug her, the seat back an uncomfortable lump between us. She buried her wet face in my shoulder, whimpering words I couldn’t hear.

“It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay,” I said to her, to us, to myself.

Lizzy was more practical. She poked her head out of the rear door and checked whether anyone was watching us. Through the wind-shield, I could see the streets were empty except for a distant figure, a woman in a bulky jacket who kicked the front tire of her car before driving away. There was no way she could have seen anything.

“Coast is clear. Right now, nobody knows what happened here.” Lizzy climbed outside and wiped a bloody hand on Scott’s jeans, wrinkled on the ground along with his underwear. Glancing at his body next to me, I realized that he really had been getting off on this. From the waist down, it looked like he was raring to go. I crawled back through the cargo area, past his bare feet, and threw up. Down the hill I could see that woman’s car, headlights tracking the twisted streets that led back to reality. Lizzy yanked up the back door, slamming it hard. She led me around to the driver’s side and all four of us crowded into the front seat, away from the blood.

Heather talked between panicked hiccups. “What you did was right, Lizzy. That was self-defense.” A hiccup. “He said…he said . . . he was going to rape me to death. And then he started strangling me. He put his hand over my mouth. I thought he was going to . . .”

“We’re all witnesses. We saw it.” Soojin nodded vigorously as she talked, and the tiny plastic barrettes in her hair began to lose their hold.

“We should drive to the police station right now, and tell them what happened. He strangled Heather. He was raping her. You saved her, Lizzy. It wasn’t just a lucky edit. You saved her.” I was babbling.

I still couldn’t believe he tried to do that with us right there, a few yards from the car. But Scott had always been a dick—he thought rape was totally punk rock, in an ironic, GG Allin kind of way. We tolerated him because of Heather. But my guess was that all of us, including Heather, had fantasized about knifing him in the face at some point. Plus, fuck GG Allin. His music sucked, and so did his politics.

Everyone in the car was silent, and Scott’s body started to smell really bad, like diarrhea mixed with something worse. I returned to my earlier point. “Lizzy, he went full psycho and attacked Heather. We need to go to the police now.”

Lizzy was shaking her head slowly back and forth. “We’ve got to get rid of the body. And clean the car.”

For some reason Heather thought this was a great idea. “Yeah, we can’t go to the cops.”

“What. Why.” I had a terrible feeling it was already decided. Lizzy was always the decider.

Soojin looked at me, then back at Lizzy, waiting for an explanation. I rested my fingers on the door handle, wondering if I should get out right then. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Not yet.

“Beth, we can’t go to the cops. They’ll tell our parents. We’re not even supposed to be here.” Heather was right about that. We were supposed to be seeing a movie at one of the theaters near the South Coast Plaza megamall. “Plus my mom says that the police always take the easy way out. They won’t believe us. We have no proof.”

I thought about the time a cop stopped us on the street to ask Heather if she was “legal,” and demanded to see her driver’s license. When he saw her Iranian last name, Sassani, he asked where she was from. She lied and said the name was Italian. He apologized profusely, muttering something about how he should have known that her “olive skin” was Mediterranean, not Mexican. We laughed about all the intricate layers of racist bullshit at the time, but it wasn’t funny now.

Lizzy turned on the overhead light. “What’s our proof? A bruise?” Heather’s makeup was smeared, and despite her shaking hands, she’d managed to pull a giant, furry sweater over her stained dress. “Look at her. Does she look like she’s been attacked? I mean, anybody can have a bruise like that. Maybe it’s a really giant hickey. Can you imagine the cops believing her against him?” She gestured at Scott’s white body, its fluids slowly leaking away.

I was being ripped into two versions of myself. One knew Lizzy was wrong. One knew she was right. And one of those versions had to die.

“Okay, so where do you think we’ll get rid of him?” Soojin sounded dubious.

“Woodbridge Lake. We can drive right up to that spot where there are no houses.”

There was a secluded place where we went to get stoned by the artificial lake at the heart of the Woodbridge subdivision, hidden from the street by a small rise in the carefully manufactured grassy hills.

“The water’s so shallow, though. Wouldn’t he stick out?” The words popped out of my mouth before my brain caught up. I guess I was doing this.

Lizzy thought we should make it look like a sloppy murder, something that Scott’s friends would do in a drug-fueled haze. Dump the body in the lake, no frills. Somebody would find him in the morning. If anyone asked, we’d say we had no idea what Scott had been up to. We’d been watching Lethal Weapon 3, and then we went to Bob’s Big Boy for fries. Lizzy outlined our lie while driving down the freeway. Nobody talked as she took the exit and followed narrow, townhouse-encrusted streets to the lake. Scott’s body made a farting noise and the smell got worse.

Heather stayed in the car while we dragged Scott to the water’s edge. She’d read in a true crime book that shoe prints are like fingerprints, so we went barefoot in the cool dew of the grass. We wrapped concert T-shirts around our hands to cover our prints. Lizzy tugged the body out into the water, hiking up her skirt to wade through the muck that softened the lake’s cement bottom. Scott was a lump of pale pink in the middle of an oily, spreading stain. When she emerged, a piece of algae clung to the place where she’d repaired her fishnet stockings with the thin wire from a twisty tie.

“Some poor jogger is going to find him tomorrow.” My voice sounded weird and my mouth throbbed like it did when the orthodontist tightened my braces.

“Yeah. Gross.” Lizzy shrugged.

Soojin started to shiver with more than cold. “C’mon, you guys, let’s go home.”

Back in the car, we cleaned most of the blood off ourselves with a pile of prepackaged wipes that Lizzy’s mom had left in the glove compartment for emergencies. Heather’s sweater covered the splatters on her dress, which she vowed to burn. Soojin took off her bloody stockings and wadded them into a baggie. Somehow, I’d managed to stay pretty clean. That left the horrific mess in the back seat.

“Don’t worry about that. I can deal with it.” Lizzy sounded utterly certain, and completely calm. It was why she was our decider. She always seemed to know what to do, even in the worst situations.

“Really? Are you sure? Can I help?” I knew I should offer, even though I wanted desperately for her to say no.

“It’s going to be fine. In the immortal words of Lynn Margulis, ‘We are the great meteorite!’” Lizzy glanced at me, smirked, and started the car. I cracked a smile for the first time in what felt like a thousand years. Lizzy and I were obsessed with that PBS series Microcosmos in middle school, watching it over and over. We loved when the famous evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis got all philosophical about how humans transform global ecosystems, her voice lowering to a portentous whisper: We are the great meteorite.

Thinking about Microcosmos made everything feel normal again. When we got to the curb next to my house, I opened the front door quietly and crept upstairs to take a shower. It’s exactly what I would have done if I’d been coming back from the movies.

Looking at my fluffy yellow towel through the tropical flowers on my shower curtain, I tried to convince myself that the whole night had been a hallucination. The hot water was washing everything away: blood, mud, smells, weapons, words. Everything except Glorious Garcia, singing. Maybe if I thought about Grape Ape hard enough, the sound of her voice would replace the images encoded by every memory-clogged cell in my brain.

My parents remained asleep down the hall, and I tingled with relief. Setting down my damp toothbrush, I stared at my face in the steamy mirror. An unremarkable white girl looked back: hazel eyes, skin heat-blotched red from the shower, shoulder-length brown hair that my mother called “dirty blond.” Did I look like a murderer? I peered more closely, relaxing the muscles of my jaw and lips. I knew from years of practice how to look innocent when I was guilty. Shrugging at my serene expression, I combed my hair and thought about those stupid, frantic seconds when I demanded that we go to the police. High on weed and horror, I’d almost forgotten that there was something more awful than being arrested for murder. It was what my father would do if he found out I’d broken the rules.

Copyright © 2019 by Annalee Newitz

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