Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




One Pinch, Two Pinch

The Countess pinches space-stuff between her fingers, touching the cold curve that dips luxuriously around Jupiter. She imagines two marbles rolling across the fabric of space, skirting the indentations that gravity produces. This visualization helps her to pinch space precisely.

One pinch, two pinch.

She counts, pummeled by space dust, wishing she had never fallen into that black hole.

• • • •

One million years ago, give or take any number of years, the Countess baked a blueberry pie. The blueberries were tart, the sugar blocked in perfect crystals. Flour dusted the air. Sunlight shone through the kitchen window.

There was nothing extraordinary about that day, which is perhaps why she decided to keep this memory folded against her mind throughout the millennia. This is who she used to be—a woman who baked pies. A woman who lived on a planet, always under the influence of gravity, but rarely conscious of it.

Or maybe it wasn’t so long ago. Time got very weird after she fell into that black hole.

• • • •

The Count appears in a glory of light. He brushes off his cloak, swears a bit as the gunky blackness of space sticks to his fingers, and straightens his beard hairs.

“Is it done?” he asks.

The Countess laughs because nothing is ever done. Or maybe everything that ever will be done already has been. It’s hard to keep it straight.

“I’m still pulling it all into place,” she says. Her dress of star-spun silver swirls around her.

A spaceship nears Jupiter, ready to shoot around for the gravity assist.

The Countess twists space.

One pinch, two pinch.

• • • •

The Countess has never been fond of history. What is history but a series of memories lodged in dead brains? What does it matter how many galactic wars were fought? Who cares about the civilizations that rose and fell, and rose again?

Even her own history is a mask of contradictions, lost affinities, and half-memories. She knows that once, in a past that has been smoothed over like a marble rolling across infinity, she was incapable of moving through time like a hand through water.

Perhaps to have an appreciation for history, it is necessary to have a linear view of time. This happened then. That happens now.

Perhaps to have a reverence for the past, you have to believe the past is dead.

When did time start happening all at once? She wishes she had never fallen into that black hole.

One thing she knows: She must stop the ship that is currently (always, continually, in the past, forever, at one particular moment) orbiting Jupiter.

• • • •

The Count has become a little strange over the millennia. He trims each beard hair individually. He drapes the folds of his cloak just so. He is very particular about his toenails. The Countess doesn’t mind. She still loves him, even when he recites bad poetry. (His poems have not improved over the millennia.)

While the Count waits for the Countess to finish up with the manipulation of space and time, he recites the poem about the bees. “One buzz, two buzz,” he says in a practiced theatrical voice.

“I’ve almost got it,” says the Countess.

“Circling in their lazy fuzz,” says the Count.

The Countess doesn’t want to hurt the inhabitants of the ship, two people cocooned within the metal hull, deliciously oblivious to the gloopy qualities of time. She only wants to stop them from going where they are inevitably going.

A fold of space puckers up, and the Countess knows who is coming, because each singular event has happened and is happening and is always constantly present, but still she can’t suppress a groan.

The Duke and Duchess appear in a flurry of colored cloths with a sound like millions of bat wings flapping.

“I hate this corner of space,” says the Duchess.

“Dreadful, dear, I agree,” says the Duke.

“Countess, must you insist on this course of action?” The Duchess places her hand lightly in front of the Countess. Her turquoise dress is exquisitely tailored, layered in skirts that seem to stretch out forever.

The Countess remembers when she fell into that black hole, how the Duchess reached out that same hand and welcomed her to this court of strange nobility. Through the millennia, they have come to know every intimacy of each other. They have been friends and enemies and something in between, twisted together through the long years like melted glass, shaped by each other, coming apart again. It was the Duchess alone who first witnessed the Countess pinching space. “You have a gift,” the Duchess had said.

“I am committed,” says the Countess. “This time, it will all happen differently.”

The Duke and Duchess laugh as if she’s said the most hilarious thing.

“One buzz, two buzz. This is what the bee does,” says the Count, but the Countess waves him to silence.

When the Countess moves to pinch space between her fingers, all mirth drains from the Duchess’s face. The Duchess tenses, tiger-like, her skirts whirling around her.

“So we proceed,” says the Duke.

A battle between nobility is never very interesting, because they all know what will happen, but they continue for the sake of propriety. Weapons are drawn. Light bends around them. Thrust, parry, dodge, roll.

The Duchess stabs the Count with a dagger pulsing like the molten center of a star.

The Count crumples, shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Oh, well,” then dies, sprawled upon his fabulous cloak.

The Countess swirls space-stuff around the Duchess, pinching her into a ball, imploding her until her skirts and her molten dagger and her face framed by her intricately coiffed hair are the size of a marble.

Beyond them, the ship rounds Jupiter, its occupants oblivious.

“I don’t know why you keep trying,” says the Duke. “If you succeed, it creates an obvious paradox.”

“What do you know of paradoxes? Of time?” murmurs the Countess.

“Nothing will ever change,” says the Duke.

Before the Duke can reach her, the Countess finds her way through time. It’s not so hard when she can see the way it curves.

One pinch, two pinch.

• • • •

In the kitchen, the Countess makes a blueberry pie. She measures a cup of flour, watches how the flour settles under its own weight.

Her husband comes up behind her and kisses her ear.

“Are you ready?” he asks.

When she turns, she can almost see the outline of a cloak, the shadow of a meticulously trimmed beard. She remembers that their survey ship is leaving tomorrow. That “tomorrow” used to have meaning, back in this part of her life where time flowed evenly onward. She wishes she had never fallen into that black hole.

“There are so many possibilities of what we could find,” he says.

They will make a gravity assist around Jupiter before hurling past the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud to whatever is beyond.

She wants to tell him to stay, that they should both stay, but perhaps the Duke is right when he says that change is impossible. She is trapped in the past that is always the present that is always the future. History is a myth she used to believe in. The future, a long expanse that curls right round to where it began.

“I don’t want to go,” she tells him, anyway. “Let’s stay.”

She won’t wait to hear his answer. There is somewhere else she needs to be. One more try.

A blueberry rolls across the counter like a marble.

One pinch, two pinch.

Beth Goder

Beth Goder. A middle-aged white woman in glasses and a floral print top standing in front of green leaves and a brown fence.

Beth Goder works as an archivist, processing the papers of economists, scientists, and other interesting folks. Her fiction has appeared in venues such as Escape PodAnalog, ClarkesworldNature, and Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy. You can find her online at