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The Dread Symmetry of Fate
by Tony Owens

Star-commander Watkins calculated the trajectory in his head. The ship’s nav-com would soon confirm what his gut feeling had already lit upon. Too far to starboard and they risked rematerialising inside a quasar, too far to port and they would miss the Silurean battle fleet entirely.

‘Captain?’ Navigator Johannsen smiled in anticipation. It was a game they had always enjoyed.

‘Set co-ordinates 234-893. Epsilon quadrant.’

Exactly 2.5 seconds later the nav-com boomed ‘Suggest co-ordinates 234-893.’ Pause. ‘Epsilon quadrant.’ There was the customary round of applause from those on the bridge. They had seen this act many times before but they never tired of it and the captain never tired of demonstrating it.

He nodded in acknowledgment and Johannsen punched in the numbers. There was the ten-second pause while the warp engines fired up and they got ready to make the jump. Something, however, was not quite right. There was a minor tremor. Nothing that a civilian would notice, but Watkins had flown this old tub across five galaxies and into countless battles. ‘Engineering. Status report.’ He barked into the commlink. ‘Something weird, cap. We seem to be down one mithrallian crystal in the hyperdrive. It’s thrown the vector feed into chaos. I’m not sure that we can guarantee a safe re-entry.’

Watkins did the calculations in his head again. This time he had less a gut feeling than a feeling that his guts were about to deposit lunch in the control room. He braced himself. There was nothing now he could do to stop him, his crew of four hundred and his intergalactic starfighter from rematerialising inside a large planet. Someone somewhere had really stuffed up this time.

Two days earlier - Jenkins calculated the trajectory in his head. It had to be just right. Too far to the left and he risked hitting Polly in Accounts and too far to the right and it would bounce harmlessly off the water-cooler. It was all or nothing now. Every muscle was tensed, every fibre of his being alert. The paper plane leapt from his outstretched fingers, a thing of beauty and a harbinger of doom. It embedded itself perfectly in the back of McDonald’s head, nestled in his greasy hair. Nobody applauded. They were sick of Jenkins and his stupid jokes. Especially McDonald, who was often the target. He picked the projectile out of his hair and carefully laid it on the desk in front of him. He turned to rebuke his assailant, knocking over his coffee cup. ‘Damn, look what you’ve done now. I’ve spent all morning on these requisition reports.’

Jenkins was chastened. "Let me help." He took the most sodden document and held it up to the light. As he read out the data, McDonald punched in the numbers. They continued apace until about three-quarters of the way down the sheet. "Can you read this? Is it a five or a six?"


"Here, next to the request for mithrallian crystals."

"Five. I think. Or is it a six?"

"Damn, look at the time. It’s five o’clock already."

"OK. Let’s make it five." Not that it really mattered. If there was a stuff up, someone somewhere would put it right.