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 three, scene two
Less than four months after arriving in Swindon, the Borborygmi started on their project in earnest. While they were developing the FLATUS drive, the computers backed up their current status to an account that the RSR specially set up for them (on their own servers). Thus any new discovery or advance made by the aliens was available to the RSR teams. Naturally enough, progress on the RSR’s own spacecraft proceeded at a much-enhanced pace – they took advantage of all the Borborygmi breakthroughs and avoided their mistakes, dead-ends and blind alleys. The RSR propulsion team had the job of designing and building their engine, codenamed Ubiquitron. Its design was based on the Heisenberg drive, which harnesses the potential of gravitational wave mechanics. Many had tried to develop this drive, but no-one had ever made it work. The RSR modified form exploits features of the craft that caused the strange events on the Waist of Space, and was hoped to avoid many of the difficulties of previous iterations of the drive. Meanwhile, the structural team was charged with producing a vehicle that could withstand the unbelievably large forces generated by this ‘engine’.
The FLATUS team also looked at the behaviour of the drive the Waist of Space had encountered, reached an understanding of the error that their home planet teams had made, and developed a corrected version (it turned out to be a simple software configuration error). This information was of great help to the RSR team.
The Royal Space Regiment included in its design teams some of the best brains on the planet. Opening the project to scientists from other countries also meant that funding for the project was coming from around the globe. A condition of granting access to any country’s scientists was that they contribute to the ongoing cost of the project according to their population and recorded GDP. This was, after all, a very expensive project; probably the most costly endeavour in the history of mankind.
You may be wondering how scientists from all over the globe were able to work together; what common language they would employ. The answer is as simple as it is obvious. Level 2 translation devices. For the first time in human history, or at least since the Tower of Babel was so cruelly and arbitrarily destroyed, each of the scientists and engineers was able to speak in his or her native language and be understood by every one of the others. That was, perhaps, one of the first big wins of the project. The engineers and linguists who studied the first translation device that Chief Marshgass had given to Meredith soon reverse-engineered and analysed its various modules, hardware and software, and were able, within a matter of days (and certainly before Meredith had occasion to use the device in the presence of the aliens) to replicate it and, ultimately, to mass-produce work-alike copies with, they assured Meredith, some ergonomic and performance improvements.
After the initial run of 1000, needed for the two teams working on the RSR project, the engineers came under pressure to provide five hundred to the General Assembly of the United Nations, which put all the simultaneous translators out of a job but allowed the assembly to conduct its business much more smoothly than had been the case previously. Ultimately, after discussion with the Borborygmi, the two groups agreed to monetise the devices. The Regiment quickly geared up a manufacturing unit to produce vast numbers of translators for general sale, the profits being used to fund the RSR project and a royalty paid to the Borborygmi for every unit sold. Of course, the devices offered to the public were not full Level 2 translators, they were referred to as Level 1a, capable of handling only one language plus the user’s own, the languages being provided by plug-in modules that had to be selected at time of purchase. Additional, hot-swappable modules were available through an after-market, but these were expensive beyond the means of many purchasers of the devices. Of course, selling an item once is only of limited value. Whilst a team of RSR boffins was fully occupied designing upgrades and enhanced devices, which as history shows, encourages users to spend a lot of money on a new, fancier toy, even if when old one is still fully functional, a small team of Borborygmi on their moon base spent their time maintaining and upgrading the language modules, thus ensuring a constant income stream in addition to the royalties on the hardware sales.
Development of a fully functional spacecraft, particularly one with a revolutionary new power source and which, by virtue of its power source, is likely to be subjected to stresses and loads that have never before been encountered and that can only be calculated at a theoretical level is, of necessity, a slow business. Indeed, one of the mathematicians on the RSR team quipped that were he to prepare a Gantt chart for the two parallel projects (for there was a multitude of overlaps as well as more than a few interdependencies), the world could kiss goodbye to the remaining rainforests. Of course, mathematicians at that level are not renowned for their senses of humour, and so it was that when one of the computer boffins (another breed that would be unlikely to be seen as the life and soul of any party) suggested that it wouldn’t be a problem as the data would be stored electronically, the mathematician wandered off into the kitchen and came back with a freshly-made apple pie, which he proceeded to rub into the IT guy’s face, with the words ‘compute that, nerd.’ He then started to laugh maniacally, to such good effect that the rest of the mathematics team, and most of the IT teams joined in – though few, if any of them, had any appreciation of what, exactly, they were laughing at. One of the few people not laughing, was Sub-Lieutenant Patsy Pratt, the preposterously post-pubescent, permanently pouting, preternaturally pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties. You see, she had made the pie as something of a thank-you to her top boss, recently-promoted Rear Admiral Meredith Winstanley (now the highest-ranking female officer in the Royal Space Regiment), who had arranged her promotion into the commissioned ranks. In case you were wondering whether there would be any conflict between Rear Admirals Winstanley and Farquharson, fear not. Reggie had already been made up to Vice Admiral. It happened when he took overall command of Project Prodigialis. At the same time as promoting Meredith, he raised his adjutant, Algernon ‘Pipsqueak’ Pippington from Commander to Captain. Tarquin? It was generally agreed that he has already fallen foul of the Peter principle, having risen to the level of his incompetence (indeed, some members of the promotions board think he has surpassed it).
Sadly for the poor, misguided soul who stole and so misused Patsy’s creation, although he was familiar with the effects of annoying other scientists (and his own partner, of course), he had no idea just how devastating could be the results of crossing Patsy Pratt.
“So you think that’s funny, do you?” Patsy asked, calmly and, for her, quietly.
“Actually, yah. I do,” the young mathematician said. Then, failing to heed the oft-given advice about what to do when you find yourself waist-deep in a hole, he continued, “I mean, did you see the look on that nerd’s face? Of course you didn’t, it was covered in pie! Ha ha ha.”
“I made that pie for Rear Admiral Winstanley,” Patsy said, still quietly, “The Admiral – oh, yes – your boss, likes my pies and was doubtless looking forward to the one I’d just made especially for her. She’ll be disappointed now. She might even be upset. Have you ever seen the Admiral when she’s upset?”
“N-no, I haven’t,” the lad said.
“Oh, you’ve stopped laughing. Is it not funny any longer?”
“No, Ma’am. I think it may have been—”
“So. What are you expecting to happen now?”
“I expect you’ll bring me up in front of the Admiral for a roasting, Ma’am,” he mumbled.
“And what will you say to her, if I do?”
“I’ll tell her that I’m sorry, Ma’am; that it was a silly and childish thing to do.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear that. Can you say it again, please? Loudly and clearly. I’d like everyone in the room to hear it.” Was there a note of menace in Patsy’s voice as she said that?
“I’m sorry. That was a silly and childish thing to do.” All present started laughing again.
“And if,” Patsy said, “I choose not to report this to the Admiral?”
“I’d be very grateful, Ma’am.”
“Grateful enough to spend the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen, washing dishes BY HAND?”
“You have machines for that, Ma’am, don’t you?”
“Okay, I’ll make it easy for you. Let’s call my left hand ‘going to see the Admiral’ and my right ‘washing dishes by hand’. Which hand would you prefer?”
“Speak up. Which hand?”
“Right hand what?”
“Right hand, Ma’am.”
“Right hand what, Ma’am?”
“Right hand please, Ma’am.”
“Off you go,” she said, patting his bottom as he walked by her.
“You can’t do that. It’s sexual harassment,” a voice from nearby said.
“Who said that?” Patsy yelled.
Never has a room been quieter.