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 one, scene three
Slowly but surely, the conversation drifted back to the matter in hand. During the minutes needed for Tarquin to calm down, it seemed that, somehow, there were five conversations running concurrently, which in itself was no mean feat with only three people involved. Okay, four, but Tarquin wasn’t exactly ‘in the room’ for most of that time. Once the poor, besotted lad had regained his composure and a modicum of control over his mental and other processes, things soon returned to normal. Finally, Meredith Winstanley called the meeting to order.
“The eyes to the right, the knees to the left. Order,” she bellowed.
“What?” replied three confused voices.
“Just do it.”
“What?” the voices repeated.
“Turn your knees to your left and look to your right. How hard can it be?”
“Commodore,” Patsy said, in a tone that hovered midway between pity and derision, “whatever you’ve been drinking, can I have a glass… or two?”
“Don’t know what you mean, sweetie,” she replied, “I haven’t been drinking anything… apart from the tea you brought, and we’ve all been drinking that.”
“What you’re saying doesn’t make sense,” Tarquin said.
Joan Weinberg followed with, “And if it doesn’t make sense to Tarquin, think how it must be for the rest of us.”
“Yah, absolument,” Tarquin agreed.
“Do you people know nothing? This is the normal way of bringing a meeting to order in the highest debating chamber in the land. Okay, the second highest; the highest goes on about content, or content, which I always see as the province of nerds that design websites.”
“And authors,” Tarquin added, helpfully.
“Shut up, Commander. Anyway, if it’s good enough for the speaker of the House of Commons, it’s certainly good enough for me. Now do it.”
“I think you may have misheard what the Speaker always says, Meredith,” Patsy offered.
That didn’t please Meredith at all. “Don’t you ever, ever dare to contradict me in front of my staff. Don’t think your position as CFP gives you special privileges – apart from, you-know. If you’re not careful, I’ll bust you down to—”
“To where, Commodore Winstanley, Ma’am? After seven years in the RSR, I still hold the rank of Rating. There is no lower rank. Bust me if you will, but if you do, you’ll have to bust me all the way back to civvy street and I’ll be able to open the patisserie I’ve always dreamed of. Go on, do me a favour. Bust me. BUST ME!”
“No need to scream, Patsy. I just got a bit defensive. No-one’s going to be busted today.”
“Phew,” Tarquin sighed with relief.
“Shut up, Tarquin.”
“As I was saying, Patsy, no-one’s going to be busted today. In fact, I was thinking of granting you a field promotion to Petty Officer.”
“Point of order, Commodore,” Joan Weinberg said, her hand lifted respectfully.
“Can you grant a field promotion when you and the person you’re promoting are both HQ staff?”
“Careful, Joan. I promoted you to Captain, I can just as easily bust you back to Lieutenant Commander.”
“Point of order, Commodore,” Joan Weinberg said, her hand once again lifted respectfully.
“Go ahead,” Meredith said, with an unspoken “What is it this time?”
“You didn’t promote me, Ma’am. Rear Admiral Farquharson did, and I think only he or an officer of equal or greater rank can bust me.”
“Or a Court Martial.”
“Are you considering Court Martialing me?”
“Of course not. I’m just saying that they can bust you. So it’s not just Reggie.”
Joan, Patsy and Tarquin turned their knees to their left side and looked right. Yeah – right foolish!
“Thank you, Ladies,” Meredith said.
“Ahem,” Tarquin coughed.
“What is it, Commander, soon to be subaltern?”
“Well, nothing really. It’s just said Ladies, and well… I’m not.”
“Not what, subaltern?” she asked pointedly.
“Nothing, Commodore. So— Ouch! Can you ask your steward to stop kicking me every time I start to say so— Ouch!”
“Patsy, don’t kick him every time he apologises. He does outrank you, you know, and kicking a superior officer is against code.”
“So what should I do?” Patsy asked.
“Slap him across the face with your rubber gloves.”
“But they’re wet and greasy from cooking, Ma’am.”
“I know,” Meredith replied with a mischievous grin. “Now. Can we get back to the matter at hand?”
Everyone present nodded, with the exception of Tarquin, who nodded off.
“Patsy?” Meredith said, pointing her head towards her erstwhile companion.
“May I?” Patsy asked.
“Be my guest,” Meredith replied.
Patsy removed her rubber gloves and swiped them heartily across Tarquin’s cheek.
He woke up. “Wh-what?” he asked.
“We’re working,” Meredith said, “care to join us?”
“Yah, okay, sure. What’re we working on?”
“Meredith?” Patsy asked, holding her gloves in readiness to administer what might, in some quarters, be referred to as ‘a right royal back-hander’.
“Best not,” Meredith replied.
“Best not what?” Tarquin asked.
“Need to know basis,” Joan suggested.
“And you don’t,” Patsy added.
“I don’t what?”
“Need to know,” Meredith said, with what sounded like finality.
“Ah. Okay. Right.” For a reason no-one present felt inclined to ask, he made the motion of zipping his mouth closed.
Meredith spoke to the device on her table. “Hey, bugler.” The lights blinked in sequence. “Get me a car and driver.”
“Sure, Commodore. Ordering you a car and driver. Destination?”
“Ordering car and driver for immediate departure to Swindon.”
“Okay, people,” Meredith said, “we’re going to find out in detail what these aliens need to do their job. Joan, I’ll need your technical input.”
“Fair enough,” Joan said.
“Patsy, can you take notes?”
“What can I do?” Tarquin asked.
“You can keep quiet and let Joan and me do all the talking.”
“But I’m supposed to be Human/Borborygmi liaison,” he objected.
“Not when there are two senior officers present. You’re a liability.”
“What about my reliability?”
“We’d rather keep it in reserve,” Joan Weinberg said, “Don’t want to use up all our ammunition in the first skirmish.”
“Ooh,” Patsy said excitedly, “Are we having a skirmish.”
“Just an expression,” Joan said.
“What, like when Meredith said she wanted to kiss me?” Tarquin asked, to the confusion of all present.
“You poor, deluded soul,” Meredith said.
“I may be deluded, Meredith, but I’m not poor, what? Daddy’s frightfully rich; loaded. How do you think I got this commission in the regiment?”
“Same way I did, Tarquin, but I aim to make something of mine.”
“Me too. Having all sorts of adventures. Lots of stories of courage, danger and derring-do to tell my grandkids when they’re bouncing on my knee.”
Patsy looked confused, but no-one noticed any change, so it was ignored.
Joan asked, “Did you say grandkids?”
“Don’t you need kids first?”
“Well, yah. Goes without saying.”
“And to have children, you need…”
“Not with you.”
“I think Joan is implying that you need a woman to have children, Tarquin,” Meredith said.
“Are you sure that’s strictly necessary?”
“Okay. Best find a woman, then, eh?”
“Good luck with that,” Patsy said.
“Gosh, thanks. Don’t need luck, though.”
“Movie star looks and loads of dosh.”
“The money I know about,” Meredith said, “but who told you that you have movie star looks?”
“Mama. Always said I’d have girls falling at my feet.”
As if to prove Mrs Stuart-Lane right, three women immediately fell at her son’s feet… laughing.
The cleaner look-alike on the table buzzed. “Your driver is here, Commodore. Shall I open door 3?”
“No,” Meredith said, between bouts of laughter, “we’ll see him out there.”
Followed by Joan Weinberg, Patsy [does she even have a surname? I guess we’ll find out one day], and Tarquin Stuart-Lane, Meredith left her sumptuous office and met with their driver outside.
“And you are?” Meredith asked.
“Yes, I suppose I am, Ma’am,” the driver replied.
“I mean, who are you.” Meredith was clearly rather a long way from amused at the driver’s witty riposte.
“Your appointed driver, Ma’am.”
“Do you have a name?”
“What is it?”
“Shaky? What sort of name is that?”
“It’s what the lads call me, Ma’am.”
“You may have noticed, sailor, we are not your lads.”
“Let me ask again, then. What is your name?”
“Leading Hand Trimbles, Ma’am.”
“How unfortunate,” Tarquin said. The three women looked at him with assorted expressions of puzzlement, “His leading hand trembles. Must make his job that much harder.”
“Tarquin Stuart-Lane, you poor – okay, not so poor – unfortunate. His rank is Leading Hand and his surname Trimbles. Look at his badge, for goodness’ sake.”
“Begging your pardon, Ma’am,” LH Trimbles said, “If you can see my name and rank on my badge, why did you ask me to tell you? Ma’am.”
“It establishes what you may call pecking order. I am the most senior officer present, while you are the most junior rank. Get used to it.”
“But,” Patsy said, “Leading Hand outranks Rating.”
“Doesn’t outrank you, though, Petty Officer… what’s your surname?” [ah, perhaps this is where we find out]
“Pratt,” Patsy replied.
“Careful, Patsy. I’d hate to have to bust you for insubordination before I’ve even fully confirmed your promotion.”
“No, Ma’am, that’s my surname, Pratt with two t’s.”
Tarquin laughed. “What’s funny, sailor?” Meredith asked.
“Easy to trip up on double letters. Did the same with that corporal you sent to look after Hotay.” Meredith turned away from Tarquin’s unhelpful interruption.
“Fine, Patsy,” she said, “he doesn’t outrank you, Petty Officer Patsy Pratt, the preposterously post-pubescent, permanently pouting, preternaturally pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties.”
“And flans,” Tarquin added, helpful as ever. This time, four people ignored him.
“Everybody in,” Meredith said, upon which they all piled into the car, “Drive on, Trimbles, RSRD&C, Swindon.”
“Raise the soundproof glass, too. We’ve official business to discuss in here that you’re not privy to.”
“And turn off the listening device.”
“You know about the listening device, Ma’am?”
“I know about the listening device. Turn it off.”
“Is it off?”
There being no reply, Meredith assumed it was.
“Good,” she said. Obviously, Leading Hand Trimbles didn’t hear that. Or did he?
They drove in silence over the North Wessex Downs, arriving at the facility barely an hour later. Nothing was discussed en route. They all slept. For reasons that may or may not be obvious, Commodore Meredith Winstanley, the second-highest ranking female officer in the Royal Space Regiment, did not want this humble driver hearing and recording her walrus-like snoring!