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 four
The design and construct facility is vast. It is so thoroughly enormous that every single match in any round of the next FIFA World Cup series could be played concurrently and there would still be room for a 20/20 cricket cup match. The small group of Borborygmi occupying the space hadn’t been idle since Tarquin’s departure, either. The floor, vast as it was, they had marked out with lines and labels for the production and assembly lines and, along the length of one end wall, they had drawn up a floor plan for living accommodation, together with offices and the kitchen that they had discussed with Tarquin.
As soon as the Royal Space Regiment party entered the facility, the Grumpblasts broke away from the rest of their group and made their way across the floor to join them.
“Let’s talk about what you need to build FLATUS,” Meredith said when they finally arrived.
“We’d like that,” Flatulon replied after getting his breath back after the exertion of the long walk in the inflatable splints they needed to wear. Looking at Tarquin, he said, “As we told your boy here, we need materials, computational devices, benches, assembly lines and robots.”
“That much Lt Cdr Stuart-Lane has told us. However, we’re going to need more detail than that. We’ll have some of our own people come in to work with you to design and build the accommodation, offices and catering—”
“It needs to be suitable for us. We can’t use what would normally be used for humans,” Methanie said, “And we could do with some form of transport to take us around this place. We may be bigger than you, but it’s enormous – and these splints slow us down and make it harder to walk around.”
“Of course. Our team of habitat design engineers will work with you, and agree on all aspects of the work to be done. Our habitat construction crew will then, at your option, come in and build it for you. If you’d rather build it yourselves, we’ll simply deliver all the materials and tools you’ll need.”
“But how is that going to help us build FLATUS?” Artivon asked his father.
“We have to give the humans details of what we need for that. First, we need somewhere to live and work, so we can start to list out our requirements. Okay?”
“Can I just say?” Tarquin asked.
“What is it?” Meredith responded, somewhat tetchily, he thought.
“Not sure I like being referred to as ‘your boy’. Makes a chap feel he’s not valued, not respected.”
“And it’s jolly unkind of them. And, if I can say, jolly unkind of you not to stand up for me.”
“We are standing up for you, Tarquin.”
“Well, that’s all right then.”
“Just one thing.”
“How can I tell you’re standing up for me?”
“Is any of us is sitting down?”
“Oh, yah. Good point. Thanks, Meredith.”
“No. Thank you, Tarquin.”
That little distraction out of the way (if Tarquin knew that his boss thought of him as a little distraction, he’d be even more upset), Meredith addressed Flatulon again, “So, Flatulon. We’ll have our design team come tomorrow for three days. Will that be enough for you to design the accommodation and offices?”
“I hope so. If not, will they be able to stay longer?”
“We’ll talk about that later. Meanwhile, you still need somewhere to sleep while you wait for the dorms to be built.”
“These support outfits are comfortable enough for us for now. How many of your days will it take to build the sleeping quarters?”
“You’ll need to discuss that with the engineers when they come. We’ll be back once you’re in your quarters and have started work on the layout you need.”
Meredith and her retinue left the building and went looking for their car and driver, whom they expected to find waiting for them outside.
The four of them were, in a word, stranded – in a place that, if not in the absolute middle of nowhere, was pretty close to it.
“Anybody have a mobile phone?” Meredith asked.
“I don’t,” Joan replied, “I relied on you, as senior officer, to take care of that.”
“Tell me, Joan. Why does the King never carry cash?”
“Because he has other people to carry it for him.”
“You see where I’m going with this? Tarq?”
“Probably. What do I do?”
“Do you have a mobile phone with you?”
“Father always forbade it. Said they’re instruments of the devil; that they’d sap all the money out of me. Never touch the things.”
“Good God,” Meredith said.
“I’d heard that, too,” Tarquin replied, “from Father and his… forget I said that.”
“Shut up, Tarquin.”
“So— ouch! That hurts.”
“Not too hard, darling,” Meredith admonished her CFP.
“Okay. More gently next time?”
“I’d rather there weren’t a next time,” Tarquin objected.
“Then you know what you have to do, don’t you?” Patsy asked.
“Right. Okay. No apologising. But what if I do something wrong, something for which I really should apologise?”
“Then you take your punishment like a man. Builds character.”
“Oh, I understand that. That’s what Father used to say when he and his friend, the vicar… oh! I agreed with them that I’d never mention that.” He drew his finger across his lips again.
“Patsy,” Joan said, “do you have a mobile phone?”
“Not yet,” she replied, “not permitted to lower ranks. Chief Petty Officer and above only. And even with my promotion, I’m only Petty Officer.”
“Okay,” Meredith said, “as of now, you’re Chief Petty Officer. Better?”
“Much. Still don’t have a phone, though.”
“Okay, girls,” Meredith said, “heads together. Let’s work out how we can get out of this mess. Situation is—”
“Can I just say?” Tarquin asked.
“No. Situation is, we’re in the countryside, no car, no mobile phone and no—”
“Shut up, Tarquin.”
“Mmmm.” Zipping movement.
“No mobile phone and no car. So how do we—”
“WHAT IS IT?”
“I was just wondering whether this communicator thingy Reggie’s people gave me when I came here before would be of any help.”
“Let’s get this straight. You have a communicator.”
“The purpose of which is?”
“To talk to Reggie’s people.”
“And you didn’t think to mention it before.”
“Why the bloody hell didn’t you say before, if you have a communicator which, I shouldn’t have to tell you, is better than a mobile phone.”
“How is it better than a mobile phone?” Patsy asked.
“One, it connects directly to the comms room at HQ, so no need to remember the number to dial,” Meredith said.
“And two?” Tarquin asked.
“It doesn’t use up any of anyone’s precious minutes or data. In a word, it’s free.”
“That’s two words,” Tarquin said.
“Three if you forget the contraction,” Patsy added, much to her boss’s annoyance.
“Never bloody mind how bloody many bloody words it bloody-well is,” Meredith ranted, “give me the bloody thing, Tarquin. Now!”
Tarquin meekly handed the device to his chief, who passed it to Joan, with the words, “Call HQ. Tell them we’re here with no driver, and to send one. Stat!”
Joan passed the communicator to Patsy with a similar request. Patsy pressed the speak button and immediately received a healthy electric shock. Healthy for itself, that is, not healthy for her.
“Ouch, bugger. What was that?” She dropped the device to the ground.
Tarquin picked it up, pressed the speak button and said, “HQ. Come in.” He released the button and looked at the three women, all of whom were looking at him very, very strangely. “What?” he asked.
Patsy responded. “How come…”
“Oh, that. Security,” Tarquin said, “only my thumbprint works it. Anyone else gets a shot of elecrickery.”
“Hello, my boy. Farquharson here. How’re you doing in your new job?”
“Well, thank you, Admiral. How are Paula and the kids?”
“They’re okay, Tarquin. The old hippo’s a bit rum, though. Don’t know how much longer she’ll hang on.”
To his side, three women were signing furiously, indicating that it might be to their benefit, were he to mention to the Admiral why he had called. In fact, Patsy mouthed the words ‘tell him we’re stuck’ and held her rubber gloves in what can only be thought of as a threatening posture.
“Sorry to hear that, Admiral. Give her my best, will you?”
“Of course I will, boy. Paula’d like to see you for dinner sometime, too.”
“I’d like that. Meantime, Admiral, I could do with a bit of help.”
“What’s troubling you, my boy?”
“Well. I’m here at D&C—”
“DNC? Don’t think I know of it. Unless it’s the one in America, what?”
“Sure. Democratic National Committee.”
“No, Admiral. D and C. Design and Construct facility, just outside Swindon.”
“Oh, yes. Of course I know it. Think I’ve heard of it, anyway. What’re you doing there?”
“Talking with the Borborygmi about their craft, Sir.”
“On your own?”
“Who’s with you?”
“Oh, real corker, that one. Makes a chap almost regret being happily married. Anyone else?”
“You lucky young fellow. Two of the most desirable women in the regiment, and you’re there with both of them.”
“And Patsy, Sir.”
“The pastry chef?”
“Puts a dampener on things, doesn’t it? Scares the living daylights out of me, that one does. So, what can HQ do to help?”
“Trimbles, our driver, seems to have gone AWOL, Sir.”
“I’ll have him in the brig before you can say ‘lock him up’.”
“That’s not what we need, Admiral.”
“Then spit it out, lad. What do you need?”
“A car and driver to get us back, Sir.”
“Phone transport. They’ll arrange it.”
“Can’t do that, Admiral. None of us has a phone.”
“No phone? Who’s to blame for that?”
“I guess we all are, Sir.”
“You guess? You guess? You’re supposed to know!”
“Yes, Sir. Can’t you just send your adjutant to transport to fix it?”
“Okay. I’ll send Pipsqueak. D and C Swindon, you say.”
“Okay. That all?”
“Yes, Admiral. Thank you, Sir.”
Tarquin released the speak button, looked at his companions, and said, “You get all that?”
“Yes,” Meredith said.
“Can you explain it to me, then, please? Talking with old Reggie always leaves me awfully confused.”