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 five
“It’s kind of you to bring Lieutenant Pratt with us, Ma’ams,” Andy said to Meredith and Joan.
“Don’t be mistaken, Andy,” Meredith replied, “I didn’t bring her for your benefit.”
“That may be true, Ma’am, and yet I do benefit greatly from her presence.”
“I think,” Patsy replied, “it’s because I don’t judge the lad. I believe in him and try to encourage him.”
“And how did the cooking go?” Joan asked bitterly.
“It’s not his thing. Andy’s a mathematician and physicist, and he’s learning engineering, too. Nobody can be good at everything.”
“Leave the lad alone, Joan,” Meredith admonished, “we’re here to find a way of getting around these anomalies. I have no ideas. Do you, Joan?”
“No, I don’t,” Joan replied.
“No ideas at all, I’m afraid.”
“Well, actually, Ma’am, there may be…” he trailed off.
“And that, my fellow officers, is why we have brought Andy with us,” Meredith explained, “He is the only one among us who understands what is happening, and he’s the only one likely to have any idea what we can do about it.”
“Thank you, Admiral. These anomalies result from leakage from components of the drives that are under test. They only happen, naturally enough, when tests are being run. My primary suggestion would be to postpone further testing until such time as we have identified a more effective insulating medium.”
“That’s easier said than done, Andy,” Joan said, “We are under extreme pressure from the top, present company unfortunately included, to keep our development ahead of the Borborygmi. There is no way we will get away with delaying further development and testing unless we know that the other side is doing the same.”
“Leave that with me, Commodore. I have a high-level contact in their camp. I know that they are as worried about this as we are and that the only reason they haven’t put a hold on further testing is that they’re required by their chief to keep ahead of us.”
“Who is this contact?” Meredith asked.
“I know that lad. Flatulon’s son. He doesn’t hold much sway there, does he?”
“Flatulon is nearly fourteen now and approaching the end of his days. Artivon is currently Assistant Project Manager and will be promoted to Project Manager when Flatulon dies. He will also inherit the role of Head Anemologist, not that that has much effect on this job. His is, though, a position of some importance already and will become more so over time. If I can convince him that we will defer testing if they do, too, I think he carries enough clout to get us a deal.”
“Okay, so that will buy us some time,” Meredith said, “Now, how do we deal with the fact that their chaps may design a better insulator before ours can? That would let them run ahead on testing and leave us behind, which would tick Reggie off no end.”
“I have a thought about that, too, Ma’am.”
“You see, girls—”
“And Captain Pippington?”
Meredith raised her eyebrows quizzically. “You see, girls – and Captain Pippington – I told you this guy was good. Alright, Andy, what is your thought?”
“I propose we form a joint working party, equal numbers of Borborygmi and Royal Space Regiment physicists and engineers—”
“No, Ma’am. I thought all the calculations and models could be farmed out to both sets of mathematicians and the results compared and blended.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. This working party should work as a single team, equally responsible to both projects. That way, whatever results they achieve will be known to both sides at the same time, so there’ll be no problem with timing.”
Captain Pippington saw his opportunity to make a contribution. “Sounds like an excellent plan, young man. Who do you see running this team? Have to be high-ranking people from both sides; people with equivalent positions in the structure.”
“Good point, Pipsqueak—”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that!”
“Captain?” Meredith said, pointing to the insignia of her rank.
“Of course, Rear Admiral. My apologies.”
“Accepted. Now, would it be reasonable to assume that Artivon Grumpblast would take charge on the Borborygmi side?”
“I assume so.”
“That means whoever we appoint will need to be of an equivalent station: number two in the project. That would be Joan Weinberg.”
“Begging your pardon, Meredith… Ma’am, but I don’t think I’m qualified to take on that job.”
“A sentiment that I fully support, Joan. The obvious person to take the job on is Andy. It is, after all, his brainchild, and he has a unique appreciation of the issues.”
“But does he, as a civilian contractor, have the authority to do that?”
“No, Pipsqueak, he doesn’t. Not as a civilian contractor anyway.” Turning to Andy, she continued, “That is why, Andromeda Smithson, I am hereby co-opting you into the Royal Space Regiment, with the honorary rank of Commodore, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that the rank brings with it. Congratulations, Commodore Smithson. I’ll send word to have the relevant papers, plus uniform and insignia prepared for you.”
“What?” Captain Pippington objected, “How can you elevate this civilian,” he said that last word with real venom, “to such a high rank. Surely it would have been better to elevate… I don’t know, maybe me to that rank.”
“Two things, CAPTAIN. One: I am Rear Admiral. I have the authority to do that kind of thing, and two: I do not believe you have the knowledge or experience needed to carry a job like that. Clear?”
“Are we clear?” she asked, doing a passable impression of Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan Jessup from the film ‘A Few Good Men’
“Crystal,” Captain Pippington replied, channelling Tom Cruise’s Lt Daniel Kaffee.
“Thank you, Captain. The Commodores and I will now start to develop our strategy. You and Patsy are welcome to join in, and we’d value your input, but the decisions have to be taken by us and us alone.”
“I’m not so sure that I’m ready for all this responsibility, Rear Admiral,” Andy said.
“Well, I’m afraid you have it now, Commodore Smithson. I have no doubt you’ll make a good fist of it, but in any event, it’s yours. Suck it up and run with it. I’m sure all of us here will make sure you get all the help you need.” She turned to Pipsqueak again. “Won’t we, Captain?”
“Ma’am,” was all the Captain could say.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Andy said.
Joan and Patsy muttered more platitudes than it’s decent to put down on one page, but Andy seemed to be buoyed up by their support.
“I’ll give it my best shot. I promise to approach this new job with all the grit, determination and dedication I can muster.”
“That’s all we ask,” Meredith said, “let’s all get to the bar now and prepare to head back to headquarters in the morning.”
“It’s not too late to get the last train back this evening,” Captain Pippington offered, helpfully.
Patsy looked at him the way only Patsy can, and said, without malice but with plenty of menace, “With respect, Sir, the Rear Admiral said we should go to the bar now, so guess what we’re all going to do, Sir?”
“Okay. I suppose we’d better go to the bar, although I stand by what I said before.”
“As do I, Pipsqueak. As do I,” Meredith said, also without malice but with plenty of menace, “and, Captain Pippington, the first round is on you.”
“That’s hardly fair. I’m the only one here hasn’t had a promotion recently.”
“Ooh, what a whopper,” Joan said, “you were Commander until this latest round of promotions.”
“Yeah. One step. You’ve gone up three steps in that time, the Rear Admiral’s gone up three, Patsy’s gone up five and Andy’s come straight in at a rank higher than mine!”
“Sounds like sour grapes to me. And most uncharitable. And not in the spirit of the officer cadres of the Royal Space Regiment. I, therefore, sentence you to buy all the drinks this evening. And from your own pocket, not on expenses.”
“You can’t do that!” he complained.
Meredith once again pointed at the insignia of her rank and chuckled, “Oh yes I can, Captain. Oh, yes I can.”
So to the bar they went. What Pippington hadn’t reckoned on was the extent to which his fellow officers were bound by the rules and regulations of the Royal Space Regiment. You see, all of them were in uniform, with the sole exception of Andy Smithson, who would have been had his uniform arrived already, so he acted as though he were. And the rules and regulations of the Royal Space Regiment specifically forbade the consumption of alcohol whilst in uniform on active duty. Pipsqueak had a number of rounds to buy, but as they were a mix of fruit juice and tonic water with the odd virgin Mary, virgin mojito and similar non-alcoholic imitation cocktails, the total cost was probably less than he would have had to bear for a single round of what people insist on calling ‘proper’ drinks.
The following morning, at the hour of the passerine’s flatulence, the group departed for the rail station – not a hangover or sore head to be seen – and returned to headquarters.
Andy took delivery of his uniform, the trappings and insignia of his rank, as well as a copy of the regiment’s rules and regulations (and his first month’s pay as Commodore) and put in a video call to Artivon wherein he outlined and got agreement to his proposal, and asked Artivon to come across to headquarters with his team for a conference to set up the working group. Artivon wanted to know what this group was to be called, insisting that it be a name with great gravitas that he would be able to sell to Chief Marshgass and his father, the Project Manager. After some discussion, the two leaders agreed that it should be given the official designation of the ‘Joint Project Working Group’.