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 three
“A quiet room is a busy room,” Patsy said as she walked back to the kitchen to make another apple pie for her boss. “Maybe I’ll make another one, a smaller one, for Joan,” she said to herself. Disregarding the constant stream of moans, whines and winges coming from the mathematician whom she’d logically chained to the kitchen sink for the rest of the day, Patsy busied herself with the preparation of two rather splendid apple pies: one medium and plain for Joan, the other large and lavishly (and lovingly) decorated for Meredith. Oh yes. We mustn’t forget that this activity also generated more dirty dishes and cutlery for the hapless number-cruncher, and then smile at the thought.
Later that afternoon, the pies came out. So, incidentally, did the mathematician, but that’s not something we’ll go into here. Oh, okay. The very briefest of conversations went like this:
“Ma’am, can I tell you something in confidence? Something I’ve never told anyone, not even my folks?”
“Provided you’re not coming out as gay.” Seriously, what were you expecting from Patsy? Tact? Diplomacy? Come on!
“You are? Sorry, I didn’t imagine for one minute that you…”
“I’m attracted more to boys than to girls. That’s not quite true, Ma’am. I find the thought of intimacy with girls most distasteful.”
“Thank you for telling me that. I shall certainly not pass it on – unless you want me to…”
“Oh, God, no Ma’am. I just feel somehow liberated for having told another soul.”
“I’m not the only one who knows though, am I?”
“No-one else does, Ma’am.”
“What about any men you’ve had a relationship with?”
“Oh, I’ve never done anything like that, Ma’am. I think about it a lot, and fantasise sometimes, but I’ve never actually, you-know.”
“Well aren’t you a little angel. I’ll bet your parents know, though. Your mother, especially.”
“Well’ Ma’am. My father keeps trying to line me up with girls, but Mum tells him to leave me alone.”
“She knows. Believe me.”
The young mathematician chuckled.
“What’re you laughing at?” Patsy asked.
“I was just thinking. When Mum and Dad used to argue, when I was, I don’t know, probably eight or nine, I always used to shut myself in a cupboard and try not to hear their shouting. Then, when they’d made up – and you really don’t want to know about that – Mum used to come into my room and call me and tell me that I’d have to come out of the closet some time.”
“That’s not funny. That’s sad.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“For not judging me. For not being horrified.”
“Listen – what’s your name, by the way?”
“My friends call me Andy, Ma’am.”
“Well, Andy, there’s nothing to be horrified about, Is there? Tell me, since you’ve been here, who’ve you seen me with?”
“The Admiral and Commodore Weinberg.”
“And I’ve just made pies for?”
“The Admiral and Commodore Weinberg.”
“What does that suggest to you, Andy?”
“You mean you’re…”
“Now I’d like you to help me deliver these pies, and when we come back, we’ll work out a schedule so I can teach you some baking skills in your spare time. And please, when it’s just us, call me Patsy.”
“That’s very kind of you… er… Patsy. But why are you doing this for me?”
“Because I like you, Andy. Don’t worry, I don’t mean like that, but you’re a nice lad underneath, and I want to give you something that you can offer when you do find the right person.”
“You mean the pies, Ma’am?”
“Exactly. And not just pies.”
“You’ll see. Come on, let’s deliver these pies and introduce you to the bosses.”
I’m delighted to say that Joan was much taken by Andy, and even offered to introduce him to Captain Pippington. Not that I’m commenting on the Commander’s preferences, but it is rumoured that his office is called ‘the closet’, because he never comes out!
The human mind is a wondrous thing though, isn’t it? When Joan Weinberg cut into what she thought was an apple pie, she found its filling was, in fact, steak and kidney. Did she query this? Did she call Patsy to let her know that she’d supplied the wrong filling, or at least to let her know that the filling wasn’t what she, Joan, was expecting it to be? No. She assumed she had misheard Patsy, although in what universe steak and kidney could possibly sound like apple is something of a mystery in itself. Or perhaps, she thought, Patsy had been so taken by the dishy young man she had with her, that she’d mixed up the fillings in her mind. Or mixed up the pies. Either way, it was a very nice steak and kidney pie, so no harm done, eh?
Meredith wasn’t in her office when Patsy and Andy arrived, so Patsy left the pie on her desk with a note: Many congratulations on your well-deserved promotion, Meredith, and thank you for mine. I’ve made you a little pie as a sort of thank you and congratulatory gift. The young mathematician you met earlier is with me and he sends his respects. I’m going to teach him the patissier’s art, so expect more offerings like this. Love as ever, Patsy.
You may be wondering, dear reader, what is happening in the Ubiquitron work area. Unlike Moses’ followers, your years of wondering will not last long, for I shall tell you everything. And now I can’t rid myself of a picture of the gathered tribes of Israel, walking among the sand dunes, asking questions like, “Why are we here in this place?” and “Where does that food come from?” and “What’s the point of it all?” But that’s another story for another day.
Building the Ubiquitron engine was nothing like as straightforward as the top brass of the Royal Space Regiment had imagined. Of course, they were aware of the effects on the Waist of Space of passing through the wake of the Unlikelihood Drive propelled vessel from Borbor, and they had taken precautions against the risk of similar effects from Ubiquitron, as well, naturally, as from FLATUS. However, all their preparations were at a macro level and took account only of the effects of running the fully assembled engine in, and this is important to note, in a space-going vehicle. What does that mean in real terms? In layman’s language, that means that they had made no allowance for any localised effects that could arise during construction and testing of components of the engine, or of testing the completed engine in an enclosed, test-bed environment.
Yes, they had thought about that, which is why both the FLATUS and Ubiquitron facilities were encased in 125cm of solid lead. All their calculations showed that absolutely nothing, at whatever wavelength, could penetrate such a thick layer of the insulating metal. Had they perfected time travel at that time, they could have travelled forward and learned that there was, indeed, what Tarquin described when he inadvertently ended up in a scientists’ brainstorming session, as a ‘new particle thingy’. At the time, his suggestion was dismissed and handled by means of the tried and trusted mantra of ‘shut up, Tarquin’. Of course, it is also possible that, had time travel been perfected at some future date and someone returned from that future date to this particular date, then the scientists of today would, by dint of the arrival of the travellers from the future, have at the very least concluded the possibility, if not the method, of time travel and they, or some of them at least, would have travelled to the future to find out how their project eventually fared, and to apply what they had learned to their current endeavour – current as in related to their time of origin. But we know that didn’t happen, so we have to assume that no-one had come from the future, that time-travel was not and is not an available tool, and that if anything is, because of their naive and misplaced trust in their current technologies, going to go awry with the project, then it’s going to happen anyway. There. I’ve said my piece, and let that be an end to it.
Having said all that, it is always possible that time-travel is a thing, but that the disruptive effects of the drives got in the way of it happening; that scientists from the future did, indeed, try to come to warn their predecessors of the risks inherent in the project with, one hopes, a shopping list of suggested workarounds. But I guess we’ll never know, will we?
Over the course of the next weeks, a number of minor, seemingly unimportant… shall we call them ‘anomalies’ were noticed, not only in the lead-shielded construction and assembly areas, but also in the offices and accommodations outside. The two crews started talking to each other about it – yes, the Borborygmi were, by this time, aware that the Regiment was pursuing its own parallel development – and correctly concluded that it must have something to do with the work they’re both doing. Given that (a) none of these things happened before they’d both reached a point in their endeavour where small-scale component testing was taking place, (b) they were both experiencing qualitatively similar though not identical occurrences, and (c) there were parallels with the incidents experienced aboard the Waist of Space, the two teams correctly concluded that it might just have something to do with what was going on in their workshops. However, the result of a series of high-level meetings, after they’d been through a round of the Borborygmi blaming the Regiment and vice versa, was to deny that there was a problem, that if there were any issues it would be the fault not of the decisions made by the current administration, but by the disastrous policies and lack of provision for IT security by a previous administration.
So everything was left as it was. The meetings decided to adopt a wait-and-see approach, or as they termed it, an observe and analyse regime, meeting once each month to update the executive on the latest situation.