Waist of Space, part one of the Unlikelihood series, followed Commanders Tarquin Stuart-Lane and Meredith Winstanley; hapless heroes of the Royal Space Regiment; who were sent on a mission to the Moon from which they were not expected to return. There they met with a group of aliens who had forged a living under the surface of the moon, and whose forbears
were testing a new kind of spacegoing vessel that had the ability to be in many places at the same time.
Part two, FLATUS, follows our dynamic duo as they help the aliens build their own multi-locatable craft (and the RSR to build one, too). Will the ships be built and if so, will the drives work? What are the possible effects of having potentially three such vessels in finite space at one time? Will the ineptitude of key personnel result in disaster, or avert it?
FLATUS — Fantastically Large Assembly for Travel at Unbelievable Speeds. The most unlikely spacecraft never built?
FLATUS. Chapter two, scene one
After the habitat design team had visited and the layout of the accommodation and offices agreed, the necessary materials were ordered and delivered, allowing the Borborygmi team set about building what they needed.
Although there were, at that time, only fifteen of them in the facility, they made provision for a further sixty, making seventy-five in all. Their outline plans allowed for an initial workforce of fifty, with a further ten to provide support services including catering, and ten for domestic and what they termed emotional support.
They notified these numbers to Tarquin during one of their regular progress meetings. He arranged for additional inflatable splints to be made and provided in time for the arrival of the extra personnel. The shuttle Sir Prijs was pressed into regular use to ferry Boborygmi between earth and its moon, much to the annoyance of its new captain, Jason Strangename who, when he was given the job on Joan Wenberg’s transfer to Meredith Winstanley’s team, believed (incorrectly, as it happened) that he would be commanding, if not a craft on active combat duty (why he believed that was a possibility isn’t known, there being no active conflicts in the sector), at least one on regular security patrol with the odd chance of some real action – that he was currently not much more than a glorified bus driver irked him considerably. You see, Jason was one of those who joined the service with the sole intent, or at least desire, of ending up in a combat situation, which he planned to come out of praised, lauded and feted – the fact that he’d be far more likely to come out of any such situation dead never entered his mind.
Over time, the Borborygmi completed the internal work and swelled their numbers to the level they needed to start work on FLATUS. The day came for work to start on that project but first, in keeping with the best traditions of Borbor and Earth societies, there had to be a ceremony.
Chief Borborygmus Marshgass III, accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Malodor Skatole, came down and appeared before the gathered masses of humans and Borborygmi. Because of the higher gravity, he too was forced to wear inflatable splints, which rendered it impossible for him to wear his full regalia. You will recall that when Tarquin first met the Chief, he was wearing his full ceremonial garb and looked like a five-and-a-half–metres-high Krusty the Clown, which scared Tarquin out of his wits, or would have done, had he any out of which to be scared. As it was, he now looked like a Michelin man wearing a Krusty mask, something that wasn’t entirely lost on Tarquin, whose reaction to it was identical to the reaction his claim to movie-star good looks received from Meredith, Joan and Patsy.
“Tarquin, what’s the matter with you, man?” Meredith asked while Patsy and Joan dragged him back to his feet.
“Have you seen old marsh gas?” he spluttered out.
“While you are composing yourself, Lieutenant Commander,” she said, “consider how you would feel, were these aliens or anyone else to treat His Majesty’s ceremonial robes and crown as an object of mirth. Consider also how His Majesty and his retinue would react to such a display of disrespect.”
“Wouldn’t happen,” Tarquin said, “our King never looks like a complete fool.”
Commodore Meredith Winstanley stood to her full height of 140 centimetres (as we have suggested before, this was not a lot; she could still get on most rides that require one to pass under a bridge to keep grown-ups out), fixed Tarquin with a harsh gaze, and said, “Consider yourself on report, Lieutenant Commander Stuart-Lane. You may absent yourself from this meeting.”
Tarquin looked at her blankly. “You ordering me out, Merry?”
“Now!” she yelled. She looked at Patsy and nodded.
Patsy grabbed Tarquin’s arm, and said, “Come on, Sir.”
“You can’t pull me about,” he yelled, “I am a commissioned officer in the Royal Space Regiment. Unhand me.”
Joan Weinberg walked across to Tarquin, placed her hand on his shoulder and said, “No, but I can. Now, are you going to walk out of your own accord, under your own steam? Or would you prefer I and CPO Pratt help you?”
“I’ll go,” he said, starting to walk towards the exit. Turning, he said rather loudly, “You haven’t heard the last of this, though. I’ll take this up with—”
Rear Admiral Alasdair ‘Reggie’ Farquharson, previously unseen by Tarquin, appeared from the midst of a group of higher-ups and asked, “With whom, Stuart-Lane?”
Tarquin turned and ran out of the building, weeping softly.
Outside, he saw Jacob Postlethwaite waiting for him.
“You crying, mate?” he asked.
“No. Not at all. Chaps don’t cry, do they?”
“Okay. What’s made your eyes leak?”
Tarquin told him the full story from the scare he had when he first saw the Borbor Chief, up to the indignity of being thrown out of a major diplomatic event by what he referred to as a jumped up pastry cook.
“And what’s more,” he added, “I am the official human/Borbo— Oh. I’m not supposed to talk about that. Supposed to be hush-hush. I didn’t say anything, okay?”
“Okay. But is that really a thing?”
“Being scared of clowns?”
“Yeah. It’s even got a name. Coulrophobia, it’s called. Lots of people have it.”
“So – what? All clowns, or just some?”
“Does that matter?”
“Only if you don’t want me to blab what you just told me.”
“Nearly told you.”
“Whatever. I got enough.”
“Okay. Yah. All clowns with me. But only if they have all the costume and full make-up.”
“And that’s why this chief fellah didn’t get you this time.”
“That’s right. He had the makeup and hat, but wearing the inflatables just made him look ludicrous.”
Back in the facility hall, three of the leading Borborygmi gave rousing speeches. Chief Borborygmus Marshgass III gave a keynote speech welcoming the first real development in Borbor diaspora society (or at least this branch of it) in more than half a millennium. When he stood down, Flatulon Grumpblast, having been appointed FLATUS Project Manager, spoke at length about his plans for the design and construction of the vessel, and his hopes for its eventual place in what he termed ‘the grand odour of things’. Both of these speeches sounded, to the humans present, like rousing, military marches; calls to arms with, of course, reggae overtones. It’s not every day that the audience to occasions like this take to the floor and start dancing. By way of balance, Methanie Grumpblast, in her role as Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers, laid out, in detail that was more pain-giving than painstaking, what could be regarded as the small print of the project. She spoke of safety matters, of terms and conditions, of … let’s be honest, if this were in a box on a screen, you’d just scroll down to the bottom without looking at it and click on ‘I agree’. The dancing had stopped. Well. Who dances at funerals? That was how Methanie’s speech sounded to human ears. Totally, utterly, unquestionably and, I dare to say, irredeemably dirge-like.
Following the Borborygmi, it was the turn of the senior RSR delegates to do some speechifying. Rear Admiral Farquharson gave a prepared speech in which he officially welcomed the aliens to Earth, to England and to Swindon. He expressed his gratitude that they had chosen this planet to bring their wondrous vehicle construction plans to fruition (”Who knew they had chosen Earth?” Meredith remarked to Joan, “I thought it was all just an incredibly intricate series of coincidences.”) and wished them great success in their endeavour. The last speaker of the day was Meredith herself. She was brief and to the point.
“What we have to do now, this very instant,” she said, “is to cut the cackle and get on with the job of fitting out the facility to allow our guests to start building FLATUS. To that end, the Royal Space Regiment’s work-area design team will arrive later today and hold initial talks right away.” Then, to great cheers, she shouted out, “Let’s get this show on the road!” and walked off the podium.