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 forbearswere 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 two


The Royal Space Regiment party shook hands all round, as far as it’s possible when dealing with four-metre high Michelin men, and started to leave the building. As they did, Artivon loped after them and said, “Meredith, my Dad wants to know if you’ll be here with your men tomorrow.”

“Tell him if he wants me, I’ll be here. I’ll wait while you check.”

“No need to check. He does want you.”

“Then I’ll be here,” Meredith confirmed.

“He said will Tarquin be coming, too?”

“I’m not sure how useful he would be.”

“Dad says he knows Tarquin is pretty useless, but he’s usually good for a laugh, now we know a bit more about humans.”

“Okay. Tell your father I’ll bring him, too. Will you be taking an active part, Arty?”

“I will. Chief Marshgass made me Dad’s assistant, so I’ll be ready to take over when his time comes.”

“When his time comes?” Meredith asked, a look of confusion on her face.

“Yes. This project is expected to take about five years to complete, and Dad’s thirteen already. He’ll be on the plate in two years.”

“On the plate? What’s that?”

“Sorry, that’s a slang term we use. It means he’ll be ready for recycling.”

“Oh, of course. I’d forgotten how you deal with your dead. Sorry. Rather crass of me.”

“No, that’s fine. We are comfortable with our life-cycle.” Arty turned and started to walk away. Looking back, he said, “See you tomorrow then, Meredith. Bye.”

“Bye, Arty.”

The Admiral approached Meredith from behind. “What was that all about?” he asked.

“Oh. Nothing really. They want me to be here with the team tomorrow is all. Somewhat inexplicably, they want Stuart-Lane, too.”

“That’s fine if you can put up with him, I suppose. What was the life-cycle stuff.”

“You know, don’t you, that their life-span is only fifteen years?”

“Is it? That’s not long.”

“It was in the briefing, Sir.”

“Oh. Perhaps I should read it.”

“Perhaps you should, Sir. That is why I produced it. Anyway, it seems Flatulon Grumpblast—”

“He’s the one who spoke after the clown, yah?”

“Yes, Admiral. It seems that he is thirteen years old. He only has a maximum of two years left to live.”

“That’s no good. Can they do this job in two years?”

“Initial projections suggest five years, Sir.”

“This chappie, what’s his name—”

“Flatulon Grumpblast, Sir.”

“That’s the fellah. Isn’t he in charge of the project?”

“Yes, Admiral. He is.”

“So what’s going to happen after he pops his clogs?”

“The young one I was just talking to is his son, Artivon. He has been appointed Assistant to the Project Manager.”

“Who’s the project manager, then?”

“Flatulon Grumpblast, Sir.”

“So he’s going to take over from his father, then?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Bit like nepotism, eh? Rum stuff that. Wouldn’t be allowed in this man’s navy!”

“It is the custom of this group for jobs to be handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, Admiral. We must try to avoid judging the aliens by our standards.”

“I suppose you’re right. What will they need for the burial of the body? Or do they cremate?”

“Covered in the briefing, Sir.”

“Remind me.”

Rolling her eyes more than a little, Meredith replied, “They eat them, Sir.”

“Eat them? EAT THEM?” the Admiral said, wobbling on his feet.

“Not so loud, Sir. You’re attracting too much attention.”

“They can’t be allowed to do that,” he said, more quietly, “That’s practically cannibalism. In fact, it is cannibalism.”

“As I said, Sir, we must try to avoid judging the aliens by our standards. They regard burial of remains as primitive, and cremation as wasteful.”

“Wasteful? How?”

“Because it results in all our stored energy doing nothing more than contributing to greenhouse gases. Burial feeds lower life forms and eventually works its way up the chain, but eating the remains keeps the accumulated energy within the group. Efficient and harmless. It’s similar, in a way, to the Tibetan Buddhist practice known as sky burial, a form of excarnation in which remains are left on a mountaintop, to be consumed by vultures. On top of that, they see eating their dead as a mark of respect.”

“I shall never understand these aliens,” the Rear Admiral said.

“You may understand them a little better if you take the time to read the briefing I prepared. Sir.”

“Was that a reprimand, Commodore?”

“Only if you wish it to be, Admiral.”

“Well, I blasted-well don’t wish it to be, and I’ll thank you to show me the respect my rank deserves,” he said, marching off to find his car.

“Of course, Sir,” Meredith said to his disappearing back. She eventually caught up with Tarquin, sat outside talking with the new driver. Joan and Patsy were with them, though talking with each other, not involved with the men.

“What ho, Tarquin,” Meredith chirped.

“Hey yourself,” Tarquin replied morosely.

“What’s eating you?”

“You,” he replied, “You had your steward throw me out of a major diplomatic event, the first I’ve ever attended, and one where I had an important role to play.”

“You did?”

“Yes. You know what my job is. Can’t say it in front of the driver. Frightfully hush-hush.”

“Oh, that. You didn’t miss anything. Just a few boring speeches.”

“Even so…”

“Even so, Flatulon wants the two of us to accompany the design team tomorrow, so you’d best be ready at oh-eight-hundred.”

“What’s oh-eight-hundred?”

“Eight o’clock in the morning.”

“Why not say so, if that’s what you mean?”

“Military practice, Tarquin, as you should know by now!” Meredith said tersely.

“Just us?”

“Just us what?”

“Good Lord. Just us, Ma’am?”

“That’s not what I meant. What did you mean by just us?”

“Is it just us coming here at eight o’clock in the morning tomorrow?”

“I shall bring my team.”

“Your XO and your steward,”

“Of course.”

“Then I shall want some sort of apology for the way the three of you treated me back there.”

“And if you don’t get it?”

“Then I shall jolly-well have to reconsider my position.”

“You’d best do that then, Tarquin, because none of us is about to apologise for doing our duty.”

“Oh, boo; Not even a simple ‘sorry’?”

“Not even a BoJo ‘I regret that my words were taken out of context’.”

“I suppose that’ll have to do, then.”

“Driver,” Meredith said, “can you stop laughing and open the doors for us?”

“Of course, Ma’am,” Leading Hand Jacob Postlethwaite said, suppressing further laughter and opening the door for the two officers. Patsy glared at him to such good effect that he held it open while she entered too.

“What about me?” Tarquin asked.

“You can get in’t front,” the driver replied.

“Gosh, I’m feeling rather queer. It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Jacob Postlethwaite regarded Tarquin with one eyebrow slightly raised.

“And driver…” Meredith said.

“Of course, Ma’am,” Jacobn replied, raising the soundproof screen and making sure the listening device was active.

“Can you hear me?” Meredith asked.

When Jacob didn’t reply, she was satisfied that their conversation wouldn’t be overheard.