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Jennifer Pelland


This was the night that Nadia was finally going to get it. She was going to show her body who was boss.

Then the teacher said she was going to lead the class through a “fun shimmy drill,” and Nadia knew she was fucked.

Her body immediately rebelled. Her hip shimmies stuttered in a wild arrhythmia that set her incipient bingo wings flapping. When the teacher had the class layer on upper-body isolations, the shimmy escaped entirely from Nadia’s hips and traveled up to her shoulders, and for one horrifying moment, her neck. She tried to fight it back down, but her body just laughed at her.

The teacher came over and quietly said, “Just work on your hip shimmies. Don’t worry about adding anything to them yet.”

Nadia felt her face go flaming red and she looked down at the floor so she couldn’t catch the sidelong glances she knew she had to be getting from her fellow students. Slow, old Nadia, too ridiculous to realize that no one could pick up dance at the ripe old age of forty-five.

“It’s all right,” the teacher murmured. “We all learn at different speeds.”

She knew that was bullshit, if only because she’d been telling her physics students the same thing for over a decade. And even the slowest of them hadn’t had to take her course more than twice before moving on. Nadia, on the other hand, had spent a full two years in the beginners class before being allowed to move up to advanced beginners just last week. She was beginning to suspect she’d only been promoted out of pity.

She shot a quick look at her friend Meghan, an adjunct professor in the mathematics department who’d started tagging along to classes with Nadia a year ago. Damn it, she looked like she was actually enjoying herself. And her bingo wings were barely twitching.

The song ended, and the instructor said, “Good job, everyone!”

Nadia called bullshit on that as well.

“I’ve got a treat for you next week. One of my former students, Joy March, will be teaching class while I’m on vacation.”

Joy March?

But…Joy had been a classmate of hers the first time she took beginners. And Joy had graduated out of it at the end of her first eight-week session and had rocketed through the rest of the levels just as quickly. She’d been dancing in restaurants for nearly a year now, and had even started her own dance company with five other hot young things. She was so fucking cute and talented that Nadia could just vomit.

Meghan shot a knowing look at her, and mouthed, “Drinks.”

Nadia nodded, and stuffed her sandals on over her swollen, pink feet, vowing to herself never to come back to class again.

She followed Meghan across the street to the ice cream bar, where she ordered a cosmo and a petite hot fudge sundae, in token deference to her perpetual diet. “Joy? Seriously?”

“Fuck Joy,” Meghan said. “She’s a perky little bitch who probably isn’t old enough to have her period.”

Nadia downed her cosmo in one long gulp, then plunked the glass down on the table with a sigh. “A talented perky little bitch.”

“She may be talented, but have you ever noticed how her smile doesn’t actually reach her eyes? I think she’s dead inside,” Meghan said, swirling her straw through her rum-laden raspberry-lime ricky. “She’s got no artistry. It’s all technique.”

“I’d give my left ovary for her technique.”

“You’d give your left ovary for a Kit Kat.”

Nadia bobbed her head. “True.” She caught the bartender’s eye and pointed to her empty glass.

Damn it, she should have started younger. Back when touching her toes didn’t result in more popping sounds than a bag of microwave popcorn. Back when she could have impressed a guy with her dance moves instead of making him think she was having a seizure. Some nights she would lie in bed, headphones on, imagining just how she wanted her body to move. But once she got up and actually tried, the illusion revealed itself as being just that.

She was an old woman. She should have known better.

“Well, it could be worse,” Nadia said as her second cosmo arrived. “We could be taking burlesque with a bunch of firm-breasted sophomores.”

“Bitch, please,” Meghan said. “Your life is so hard. You have tenure.”

“I would trade that in a hot second to be able to dance without embarrassing myself.”

Meghan scoffed. “No you wouldn’t.”


She drained her glass. “I have to go. I just remembered, I left something in the office.”

Meghan waved her straw at her dismissively.

Nadia stumbled out the door and onto the subway. Time to put that grant she’d gotten to study time travel to good use.

Time travel. It was a load of hokum, but the grant money meant she didn’t need to teach classes for the next three years. Half of her students were morons who had only gotten admitted due to a family legacy, most of the rest only took her classes to fulfill their science requirement, and the handful of leftovers were her future competition. She didn’t need that continued reminder of her own academic mortality. Bad enough she had Joy to remind her of her body’s ticking clock.

Time to play a drunken hunch.

She’d been spending all her time trying to determine how to move a physical object into the past, but what if instead she used the university’s particle accelerator to shoot subatomic particles backwards through time and leave a Morse code message for her younger self? Not that she had access to it after hours. No, tonight she’d just play around with the old Van de Graaf accelerator to get a feel for the project. Mostly, she was too mad and drunk to just go home without doing something.

UGH. WHAT WAS SHE THINKING? This would never work. At best, once she got her hands on the actual particle accelerator, she’d create a fork in the time stream and give some other version of herself her dream life.

Well, one version of her might as well be happy.

Nadia waved her badge at George, the night guard, then swiped her way into the lab. “Fuck it,” she told no one in particular, and started fiddling semi-randomly with the accelerator’s settings, letting inspiration and alcohol guide her calculations. Sending Morse code back through time. This was so Star Trek. Good thing she hadn’t put this crazy-ass idea on her grant proposal form, because they never would have given it to her and she’d be stuck with the undergrads. Worse, she might be stuck on a dissertation committee.

So when should she aim for? She pulled out her phone and started scrolling through the physics department’s website. They had a picture of her in this lab when she was in grad school. Did it…? Yes, there was the date stamp.

She went over to the whiteboard and scribbled down the math, then pushed it out into the hallway. If this literally blew up in her face, she should probably leave a warning behind of what not to do. Then she programmed in her short Morse code message and switched the generator on…

…and staggered back as a wave of new memories hit her. Her twenty-five year old self, staring in amazement as the accelerator came to life without warning and received the message: “Nadia, this is you at forty-five. Start taking belly dance now or you’ll regret it.”

“Holy shit,” her professor had said. “You’re gonna discover how to send messages back through time!”

The story had been picked up by the local news, then went national, then international. Nadia smiled gamely for the cameras as she headed to her first belly dance class at the YMCA—she hadn’t liked that “or you’ll regret it” part. Eventually, the hubbub died down, and she…

Nadia winced and tried to stop thinking. It was too much.

This test wasn’t supposed to have worked. It was impossible.

But it had.

An impish smile creased her face as she stood up and got a steady hip shimmy going, then effortlessly layered a chest circle over it.


She headed out, and stopped, puzzled, at the whiteboard. What the hell? None of it made sense, even taking how drunk she’d been into account.

“I’ll figure it out later,” she said, and pulled her phone from her pocketbook to take pictures of it all. She emailed them to herself, then erased and spritzed down the whiteboard. No way she was going to let one of her colleagues stumble across this and take the credit.

She waved at George on her way out, headed back to the outbound subway stairs, then stopped. No, she didn’t live in the suburbs anymore. She was in the city.

Even better.

As she went down the stairs to the inbound platform, she realized that her new life was coming to her more easily now. She had a brownstone downtown, with a dance studio on the top floor. And a husband, Ben. A husband! Well, she’d been right to think that belly dance done properly would be a great way to bag a man. She’d met him at a restaurant show. He’d been mesmerized by her swirling hips, she’d been mesmerized by his cheekbones, his pecs, and his deep blue eyes. Turned out he was as shallow as soap scum, but with his chiseled physique and the money he pulled in at the bank, who cared?

She took a seat on the mostly-empty subway car and pulled out her phone to see if she had any bathing suit pictures of him. Yep, there was one with him and their daughter, Sylvia.


She yanked up her shirt and stared in horror at the pearly stretch marks and the little pooch of saggy skin. Son of a bitch. No wonder she wore body stockings at restaurant shows.

Well, at least the kid was pretty cute, with big brown eyes and natural ringlets that would have made Shirley Temple jealous. And look, she also belly danced. She watched a short video of Sylvia and felt a warm rush of pride. Yes, this little girl would be dancing circles around Joy before she even grew breasts. What a lovely double-whammy of revenge.

She unlocked the door to her elegant brownstone and stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of her husband having sex with Joy March on the living room sofa.

“Seriously? Her?”

Ben fumbled to pull his pants back up. “I—I thought you had a restaurant gig tonight.”

“You’re fucking Joy?”

Joy put her finger to her lips. “You’re going to wake Sylvia.”

“She’s my daughter, and I’ll damned well wake her up to tell her that her daddy is a two-timing man-whore if I want to.”

“I’m so sorry—”

Nadia pointed a well-manicured finger and said, “You, bitch. Get out of my house.”

Joy slipped into her dress, picked up her sandals, and dashed out the door.

How the hell had Joy gotten into her life in this timeline? Oh, she was on Joy’s dissertation committee, and she had introduced her to Ben at the physics department Christmas party. Well, wasn’t that just spiffy.

Ben buried his face in his hands. “I’ll move out.”

“That’s it? You’re not going to beg forgiveness? Not going to try to win me back?”

He looked up at Nadia with hangdog eyes and asked, “Would it work?”

She searched her new memories to see if she wanted to bother.

Oh hell, she barely knew him, so no great loss.

“You stay, I’ll go,” she said. “Keep the kid. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Time for the good stuff.

She went up to the third floor, to her home studio, and opened the closet.


It was stuffed to bursting. She had professional restaurant costumes, Ren Faire garb, fun fusion wear, even some American Tribal Style outfits. She knew ATS?

She pulled on a cherry red 25-yard skirt and started busting out classic Fat Chance combos in front of the mirror.

Yes, apparently she knew ATS. Awesome. She’d always meant to learn that style, but she’d always figured she should conquer basic shimmies first. It was amazing how much easier it was to have skipped past all the years of lessons and jumped straight into being a professional dancer with a well-trained body and a well-stocked wardrobe. Now there was a great way to monetize time travel! Maybe instead of publishing this in an academic journal, she should sell it to Google.

She heard footfalls on the stairs, and turned to see Ben standing in the doorway. “This is why it happened,” he said. “You spend too much time dancing, and not enough with me.”

“Oh, and Joy doesn’t?”

“What are you talking about? Joy doesn’t dance.”

“Joy doesn’t…” It took a second for the sentence to sink in. But once it did, she smiled so hard she could feel it all the way to her ears. “Holy crap, I’ve won!” Nadia didn’t care if the daughter she’d never met was sleeping right below her—this called for some ceremonial jumping up and down.

Which led to her sitting on the floor, cradling her aching knees, as shocked tears leaked down her face.

“What are you doing?” Ben said. “You know you’re not supposed to do that after the surgery.”

Nadia pulled her skirt and pants up and looked at the angry scars over both knees. “Well, fuck,” she grumbled, and swiped the tears away with the hem of her skirt.

“The fact that you’re still doing restaurant gigs is bad enough,” Ben said. “But you told me you were sticking to American Cabaret and not doing any of that Turkish hopping crap.”

“What is wrong with this timeline? I cannot believe I married a man that would call it ‘Turkish hopping crap’.”

“Nadia, what’s gotten into you?”

She shot him a level look. “Seriously? I walk in on you having sex in the living room while our daughter is asleep upstairs and you’re giving me shit? Fuck this, I need to fix things.” She pulled off the skirt, leaving it in an unceremonious heap in the middle of the studio floor, and headed back for the stairs. Her knees screamed at her the entire way down, but tough shit. She had to make things right.

“Where are you going?”

Work. That was where she was going. Time to send another message. She clearly hadn’t been specific enough last time.

As she sat on the subway, she stared in puzzlement at the photos on her phone. The math seemed correct, but she wasn’t quite sure why it had worked. Then again, in this version of her life, she hadn’t spent nearly as much time on research as she had originally, so that made a certain sense. Hell, she didn’t even have tenure. But who had time for that with a dancing career and a kid? At least she could understand the part of the math that targeted the accelerator to a specific moment in history.

So, should she just send a second message to arrive right after that first one, or should she try to intercept herself at an earlier time in her life?

Wait…hadn’t she visited that lab when she was a prospective undergrad? If she could send a message to her past self then, that would mean eight more years of belly dance experience. And maybe that would leave her too busy to disfigure her abdomen with a pregnancy.

She flipped through the calendar on her phone and yes, there it was. The campus visit. Date and time.


When she got back to the university, George shot her a puzzled look. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here after hours. Going for tenure after all?”

“Thinking about it,” she said.

“Well, good luck. After all, you’re the woman who’s gonna discover time travel.”

That she was. Hell, with her shitty grad school grades and lack of any meaningful publication credits, it was probably the only thing that kept her employed here. The university president would probably hang himself if he fired Nadia and she went and discovered time travel somewhere else.

She went back into the lab, set everything up again, programmed in the date and time, then set up the new message.

“Nadia, this is your future self. Start belly dancing, but take care of your knees or else.”

The new wave of memories sent her crumpling to the ground.

She remembered the professor asking which one of them was Nadia and saying, “Holy shit, you discover how to send messages through time!” He immediately tried to set her up with a full scholarship, but she rebuffed him, and instead got into a local school with a sports biology program. She hadn’t liked that ominous warning from the future about her knees. And while she was at it, she started taking belly dance lessons at the local YMCA, then moved on to intensive private lessons. Soon, she was gigging all over the state, then in neighboring states, and eventually got a coveted invitation to audition for the Bellydance Superstars and got in on her first try. With them, she toured the world, becoming famous for her killer shimmies, which she could keep going for hours straight. They’d even built an entire act around them—Shimmies Through Time! Because, after all, she was the woman who was going to discover time travel, even if she hadn’t studied a lick of physics since high school. And tomorrow, she was going to attempt to set the Guinness World Record for the longest sustained hip shimmy.

“What are you doing here?”

Nadia picked herself up off of the ground and waved at the security guard. “Hi, George. I’m just leaving.”

“How do you know my name?”

She waved vaguely at his badge, which not even Superman could have read from this distance. “I’ve got crazy eyesight. Anyhow, I think I’m lost. I was looking for a bathroom—”

She was unceremoniously escorted out of the building.

But that was fine with her. She was Nadia, Queen of the Shimmy. She set her hips going, and laughed at how effortless it was. No wonder she could do this for hours!

She pulled her shirt up and took a quick peek at her stomach. Chiseled, taut, and totally unmarked. Excellent. Between that and the shimmies, no wonder she had such an extensive collection of lovers.

Oh wow. Now that was an unexpected bonus.

She hiked her purse over her shoulder and started to head back to the subway, shimmying all the way. A cute undergrad sized her up as he whizzed by on his bike. Perhaps she’d add him to her collection. But first, she needed to get a little rest at the hotel before tomorrow’s big day…

She was stopped by the unmistakable sensation of a gun barrel being pressed into her ribs.

“Freeze,” someone whispered.

Nadia felt the entire contents of her large intestine liquefy and she clenched for all she was worth. “You—you can have all my cash—”

“I don’t want your money.” Her assailant grabbed her by the arm and pulled her off of the sidewalk and into the shadows.

“Then what—?”

“I want to thank you for ruining my life.”

The woman stepped forward into a sliver of light. She looked familiar. Was she one of her aunts? She hadn’t seen them in years, but maybe in this alternate universe—

“I’m you, dumbass, twenty years from how.”

Nadia looked again.


Oh dear.

As soon as this was over, she was going to make a beeline for the nearest drug store and stock up on the strongest anti-wrinkle cream she could find. Jowls were not a good look on her.

Old Nadia narrowed her eyes and said, “I was supposed to be the person who discovered time travel, and you went and fucked that all up with your stupid belly dance shit.”

“Stupid belly dance shit? I’m in the Bellydance Superstars!”

“Oh, yes, the Bellydance Superstars. Do you really think history will remember you for that?”

“Who cares? I’m happy. Besides, if I set that world record—”

Older Nadia waved the gun. “Blah blah, you followed your heart, blah blah, art is just as important as science. Trust me, I had all of these arguments with myself too. Fuck you, and fuck the stupid world record you were going to set tomorrow. I could have been someone important rather than a just footnote in a trivia book, and it’s all your fault.”

“Wait a minute, but I do discover time travel. I’ve done it twice now. And I’ve built an entire act around it.”

“Look at the math on your phone.”


Older Nadia pressed the gun to Nadia’s temple. “Look at it. Tell me you can make sense of it.”

With shaking hands, she pulled her phone from her purse and called up the first picture.

It was gibberish to her in this timeline.

“You set up an auction to sell the photos to the highest bidder tomorrow. Someone from M.I.T. hacks your phone and posts the photos to the web. Scientists all over the world try and fail to reproduce your results. Someone in the physics department eventually figures out that it’s because their Van de Graaf accelerator is borked. That person figures out how to really send messages through time, and eventually objects, then people. You’re discredited and kicked out of the history books.”

“But…all those lovers…”

“Abandon you once you grow these damned jowls. But do you know the worst part?”

Nadia shook her head.

“Do you know who it was that figured out how time travel really worked?” Older Nadia snorted. “It was Joy.”

“Well, fuck.”

With that, Older Nadia shot her in the kneecaps and vanished.

Nadia cried out and collapsed to the pavement, bleeding profusely from both knees. George ran out of the building, frantically calling 911 on his earpiece. She felt the world fading in and out around her with each heartbeat, and grabbed George by the shirt collar before it faded out completely. She was not going to let Old Her win, even if it might mean that she’d be erased from existence as Current Her died. Or would she? Ugh, maybe she should have studied some physics in this timeline. If she recovered from this, she’d try to send another message.

If she could just figure out the math. And get back into the building. And use the borked accelerator. And come up with a message that was Joy-proof.


“You’ll be all right, Lady. Help is on the way.”

No, no she wouldn’t. There would be no world record tomorrow, or ever. Not with these ruined legs. Her career was over. Maybe she could try to pick up physics again? No, she could hear the university admissions board now. Dumb, old Nadia, too ridiculous to realize that no one could pick up experimental physics at the ripe old age of forty-five.

George gave her a little shake. “Did you see who did this to you?”

If she told him that, they’d stick her in a padded room, even if for now she was still the woman who was going to discover how to send messages through time.

Then again…

Maybe she could salvage this day, if only a little bit.

And really, it wasn’t a lie, if you just looked at it the right way.

With her last bit of strength, she murmured, “Joy March.”

She heard the wail of the ambulance, and passed out.


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