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The astronomer stared at his computer screen, flop sweat soaking through his shirt, thinking about fate, unaware that in the empyrean realm of Mt. Olympus, the Fates were arguing.

Clotho, the spinner, had gotten her thread tangled the wrong way round Lachesis' shuttle, or maybe Lachesis had carelessly wound the thread backwards. Inflexible Atropos was, as usual, being absolutely no help, waving her little knife about and threatening to simply cut the thread wherever she pleased, and thereby put an end to the confusion. Their sisters Eunomia and Eirene were clinging to each other in mutual distress. Only Dike, goddess of moral justice, had the presence of mind to march out of the house and go looking for her mother.

Themis was in her lab, frowning as she calibrated the scale she used to maintain divine order in the universe.

"Mother-" Dike began.

Themis cut her off. "Darling, you can see I'm busy. Whatever it is, please take it up with your dear papa."

Dike grimaced. "Mother, Papa is surely... busy. With all the ruling and whatnot."

Themis rolled her eyes as she carefully adjusted the balance. "More likely turning himself into a shower of gold or a new iPhone to get over on some mortal chippy."

"The Fates are fighting," Dike said. "Eunomia and Eirene are crying."

"Eunomia and Eirene are ALWAYS crying," Themis said. "They're oversensitive."

"It's hard not to be oversensitive, when your divine responsibilities are peace and good governance... The universe being what it is," Dike said, pointedly. She knew her mother wasn't to blame for the workings of the universe, but Dike thought that she might just once in a while put a thumb on the scale for good and order.

Themis sighed and laid the screwdriver down on her workbench. "Very well, Dike. Lead the way."

If anything, the hysterics had worsened in Dike's short absence. Clotho and Lachesis had graduated to hair-pulling, Eunomia was grappling with Atropos, preventing her from slashing the thread, and Eirene, her robe ripped and her face covered with snot and scratches, was trying to unwind the thread from Lachesis' shuttle and making an absolute mess of it in the process.

Themis' maternal presence was sufficient to make everyone freeze. Dike watched with satisfaction from the doorway.

"Stop that, Eirene, you're only making it worse," Themis said, plucking the shuttle from her daughter's hand. She separated Eunomia and Atropos, giving each a gentle kiss on the forehead, smoothed Clotho's hair, and sat Lachesis down in the pile of temporal flax.

"All right," she said. "No-one's getting punished. That's not how our branch of the family operates. What we're going to do is calmly – calmly! – unwind the thread, sort out this tangle, and make everything go the right way round."

There were a few scattered sniffles and a hiccupping half-sob from Eunomia. Only Atropos, the most stubborn of the fates, dared to challenge her mother. "They've made a complete botch of things," she said, gesturing towards her sisters, "and there's still so much spinning to do. We'll never smooth it out, so I say we cut the thread here and now-"

"And what would that do to the order of the universe, Atropos?" Themis asked. Atropos scowled.

"It's just one little thread," she said, petulantly. "One little life."

Themis unwound a length of shining thread from the shuttle and examined it closely. "Girls," she said, "You really must be more attentive to your work. This isn't just a single mortal life. This is an entire civilization. Here, look!"

The Fates and their sisters bent over the thread in Themis' hand. In the quantum entangled strands they saw a woman patiently chipping a stone tool, a man pressing marks into a clay tablet, a sacrifice aflame on an altar. There were wars and plagues, universities and kindergartens, herdsmen following sheep and scribes at work, hunters and cooks and at the very end, a learned astronomer sitting at his computer. "Look," Themis said wonderingly, "This one sees Atropos coming."

The goddesses peered at the thread. Then, chagrined, they sat down, methodically unpicked the whole tangled skein and rewound it, restoring the intended order of the universe. As the distaff end of the thread was finally looped around the shuttle, Themis bent over to examine it again. She nodded with satisfaction. "Now all proceeds as it should." Clotho pinched temporal strands from the distaff and set her spindle a-twirl. Lachesis took the resulting thread and wound it about her shuttle. Atropos, pacified for the moment, hovered nearby, knife in hand.

The astronomer wiped his brow. His graduate student stood nearby, clutching a sheaf of printouts. "Well?" the student demanded. "Is it going to hit us?"

The astronomer turned the monitor towards the student, showing the trajectory of the asteroid. "Look at this thing," he said unsteadily. "Twice as big as the dinosaur-killer. Passing within a million miles of the earth. Fate is on our side today."

In the far-off Olympian realm, Themis, goddess of divine order, smiled tolerantly at her daughters.

CONTEST

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Abigail Haworth · ago
Funny! And good characters