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 four
At this stage, it would be nice to be able to say that mathematician Andromeda Smithson turned into an accomplished and able patissier, that he rose to the occasion and was able, with Patsy’s help and guidance, to create mouth-watering masterpieces of savoury and sweet pastries, and that as a result, he became the toast of his circle.
At least one word was accurate – toast. That is what his career became when certain truths about the poor lad surfaced. Oh, it wasn’t his sexuality, or lack of, that earned him the ridicule of his peers, it wasn’t even his possibly inappropriate friendship with a commissioned officer in the Royal Space Regiment. Nor was it his aptitude – again, or lack of – in the catering division. No, what destroyed his reputation, and hence his ability to hold his head up in what soon became known as ‘Nerd City’ was the revelation that he had done no better than a B+ in one of his examinations, that his understanding of calculus was less than complete and that, horror of horrors, he only managed a Masters at what was thought of as one of the lesser universities. You see, all the others in Nerd City, mathematicians, programmers and scientists (theoretical and experimental) sported a PhD or, depending on their alma mater, a DPhil. Poor, inadequate Andy had only an MPhys to his name. Although it made him an extremely useful body, his areas of study spanning such advanced concepts as particle physics, topology and chaos theory, the very fact that he hadn’t secured a doctorate was enough to earn him the scorn and ridicule of the other mathematicians.
Happily for him, Patsy spoke with Meredith, who arranged for him to be interviewed by the senior scientists. That interview led to him being appointed to the science squad, where he became an invaluable bridge between the disciplines.
His baking was still rubbish, though, and he was still given a hard time by the other scientists. Not, as you may be tempted to suspect, on account of his ineptitude in the bakery, nor on account of his sexuality. He became the object of their ridicule and mirth because, at the age of thirty-something, he was still a virgin. He had not engaged in any sexual activity with another human being of any gender or persuasion. That didn’t bother him too much, though. He was still friendly with Patsy, who was still making near-heroic efforts to make a pastry chef of him. Theirs was a friendship based on determination. For her part, Patsy was determined to turn a humble nerd into a creative master in the kitchen. Andy was determined too, though his drive was simply to have a friend, and it didn’t really matter to him who it was, as long as he had at least one.
Life in the scientific arena was kinder to Andy than it ever was when with the other mathematicians. Because of the nature of the work they were doing, and its demands on their capabilities, they were less interested in what Andy had done in the past in terms of his academic qualifications and more interested in his fields of study and the uses to which he could put them in the advancement of the team’s goals. In short, what he could do was, to them, more important than what he had done in the past.
Andy’s main job became that of a translator. A major part of the mathematics team’s job was to provide theoretical support to the science team and of course, they needed feedback and experimental data from the scientists to do that. As an established pure mathematician and theoretical physicist, Andy became the teams’ equivalent of the Borborygmi’s translating device. And it was a relatively easy job for him, too. He didn’t have to do any maths or any science. He just needed to be comfortable, familiar and up-to-date with what both teams were doing, so he could act as a go-between. As an adjunct, Andy familiarised himself with the engineering aspects of the project (well, when you don’t actually have to do anything yourself, you can spend an awful lot of time watching what other people are doing and asking them questions about it) to the extent that he could give real-world, experimental engineering feedback to the pure scientists and mathematicians.
Development progressed slowly, though. In part, this was due to the ground-breaking nature of what they were trying to achieve, but it was also hampered by the occasional leakage of unlikeliness from the components under testing.
As the one person who was able to transcend the departmental division lines, Andy was often called in to the higher-ups to explain the state of progress as well as the anomalous events in the physical areas of work.
One such occasion saw him summoned into the presence of Vice Admiral Farquharson, Rear Admiral Winstanley, Commodore Weinberg and Captain Pippington. Let’s listen in on the meeting, shall we?
“Tell me, young man,” Vice Admiral Farquharson said, “was it one of these… erm… anomalies, these glitches that made the wife seem young, slim and blond last night?”
Captain Pippington leaned across and whispered, “Sir, that was the young Subaltern you asked me to acquire for you.”
“Ah,” the Vice Admiral said, “Belay that. Problem sorted. Case of mistaken identity, what, Pipsqueak?”
“Is the Vice Admiral in the habit of taking advantage of impressionable young women, Captain?” Meredith asked.
“What?” the Vice Admiral blustered, “Not at all. Tell ‘em Pipsqueak. Not like that at all, is it?”
“Shall I institute an enquiry, Ma’am?” Joan asked.
“Perhaps you should,” Meredith replied, “can’t let this sort of thing go on, can we?”
“Begging your pardon, Sirs,” Andy said, “we’ve had reports of several anomalies last night, both from our site and from the aliens’.”
“See?” the Vice Admiral said, “told you. Now, let’s hear no more about enquiries, eh? And, Rear Admiral Winstanley, I’m increasing your budget by five percent, effective immediately.”
“Trying to buy me off, Sir?”
“Nonsense, Meredith. Fine officer and the project deserves it.”
“Then I thank you, Sir.”
Joan Weinberg asked, “What other anomalous incidents were reported, Mr Smithson?”
“Oh, the usual, Ma’am. Various people spoke of talking to long-gone relatives, oh, and one man claimed that an alien materialised in front of him.”
“Really? Where was that?”
“About twenty miles from here – roughly equidistant between our facility and the Borborygmi plant.”
“Just saw an alien. Another Borborygmus?”
“No, Ma’am. This one was short and squat. What makes it unusual—”
“Seeing a short, squat alien appear in front of you not unusual enough, lad?” Rear Admiral Farquharson asked.
“Well, yes, Sir. But the friend of the man who reported it apparently took out a gun he didn’t know he had and shot the alien,” Andy replied.
“Shot it with a gun he didn’t know he had? What manner of nonsense is this? How can the man not know that he has a gun? Damned thing sticks into your leg or wherever you keep it. Heavy, too. Can’t mistake it for a pack of cigars, eh?”
“With respect, Admiral—”
“You know my feelings about that.”
“About what, Admiral?”
“About this ‘with respect’ baloney.”
“Get on with it, young man!” the Admiral demanded.
“Sir. There were anomalies last night. It’s not unusual for things to appear and disappear, Sir,” Andy explained.
“He’s right, Sir,” Meredith said, “when in the wake of the alien craft, all manner of things: buttons, torches, manuals, appeared suddenly and disappeared as quickly.”
“Where’s the body now. Let’s bring it in,” Joan suggested.
“That’s the thing, Ma’am,” Andy said, “He didn’t kill the alien…”
“Rubbish shot, eh?” the Vice Admiral said with a chuckle, “A few days in the Regiment’d soon sort that out, what?”
“He didn’t miss, Sir. The alien apparently blinked out of existence and back again when the bullet should’ve hit him.”
“Are you sure about this, Andy?” Meredith asked, “Are you sure your recollection of this report isn’t itself a manifestation of an anomaly?”
“I don’t think so, Ma’am, but…” Andy was hesitant. “I suppose it’s possible, but if it is an anomaly and not a real memory, then we could be in trouble.”
“How so?” Captain Pippington asked.
“Isn’t it obvious, Sir?”
“Not to me, it isn’t.”
“No surprise there,” Meredith said, “My recollection, having known the Captain for a number of years, is that few things are obvious, or even clear to him.”
“If you were a junior rank, that would be insubordination, Meredith.”
“Yes, it would, Pipsqueak, but I’m not, so it isn’t. Your outburst, however, is.”
“Enough of this,” Vice Admiral Farquharson said, “Explain why and how we could be in trouble, young man.”
“Well, Sirs. We make decisions, multiple decisions every day. We make these decisions based on facts as we understand them. To do that, we have to rely on the facts as presented being reliable and accurate. That’s why we don’t like people who tell lies or half-truths, or who distort facts to suit their own agenda—”
“All obvious. Get on with it, man.”
“Yes, Admiral Farquharson. The problem, as I see it, is this. If we can’t be sure that the facts we have are true facts, and not results of some kind of spatial or temporal anomaly, how can we possibly rely on any decision we make on the basis of those facts?”
“You have a point there, Andy,” Meredith said, “Recommendations?”
“I would normally suggest relocating the command structure away from the influence of these anomalies—”
“Jolly good idea. Pipsqueak, set that up. Move us all.”
“Sir, if I may. I did say I would normally suggest that.”
“Belay that order. Carry on, Lad. I take it you don’t recommend that now.”
“Why not, pray?”
“I don’t think praying would help, either, Sir.”
“I didn’t say ‘Why not pray?’ I said, ‘Why not comma pray’.”
“Gotcha. Sir. Okay, here’s the thing. Wherever you sit to make the big decisions, Sirs, the information you use to make those decisions comes from inside the affected areas.”
“He’s right,” Meredith said, “we need a new approach.”
Captain Pippington leaned across and whispered to his boss, “I think they’re expecting you to issue an instruction, Sir.”
“You’re the boss, Sir. You need to tell them what to do.”
Rear Admiral Farquharson nodded, turned to the rest of the group and said, “The rest of you, and the number-cruncher, take yourselves well away from the area; maybe Scotland or something, and think up a plan. Then come back here and tell me what it is.”
“Should we take our opposite numbers from the Borborygmi with us, Sir?” Andy asked.
“They will be experiencing similar problems, Sir.”
“Then let ‘em find similar solutions. On their own. Test their mettle.”
“But they’re not using metal, Sir. It’s all new hi-tech materials.”
“Mettle, not metal!”