David Moles

The Metric

Forthcoming in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Once, in ancient times, when the quintessence was weak, there were stars in the sky, and worlds around those stars, and great ships that plied the metric, knitting a web that spanned galaxies. Now the quintessence is strong, and the sky is empty, each star drowned alone in red darkness. And in Septentrion, the oldest city in the world, those times are no longer history, but myth.

Not in all Septentrion’s hundreds of centuries did any in the city imagine they might see a voyager again cross the gulfs that separated Earth from the invisible stars. But now, at the end of time, to the oldest city in the world, comes a message.

If the message is true, it means the end of everything. If the message is true, the end of everything is the only hope of a new beginning.

Petal and Piper Anchialine were born a hundred days apart, in the oldest city in the world. Petal was fourteen and Piper was fifteen, the day the message came. They were as alike and close as twins could get.

But the message will tear them apart.

Even now the mathematics of it, that only moments ago had seemed so clear, so much Petal’s own, were vanishing from Petal’s mind like frost in sunlight.

But Petal understood the conclusion.

There was one place — here, at the nexus where all the metric’s strands wound together; here, on this world built in memory of humanity’s birthplace — one place where the knot of the metric could be cut. Here.

The Earth, Petal knew, had to be destroyed.