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 four, scene two

During the twenty minutes it took to walk to Forbes’s home, Forbes updated Finlay on what had passed between the alien and himself and did what he could to assuage his friend’s understandable unease. Such was the resulting level of conversation between them that they almost forgot they weren’t alone. The alien was grateful for the walk. In part, it was good to have time to allow its body to accustom itself to the environment, in particular to the gravity and the atmosphere, both of which are very different to those on its home planet. Mostly, though, it gave it a chance to process the data stream that had just been launched at it from the lips of this young earth male. It also listened, and learned, forging links between the language it had acquired from the planet’s data networks, and the spoken language it was now hearing. By the time they reached the house, it felt confident enough to engage in conversation.

Fillingham-Smythe Cottage is a misnomer. Located in the grounds of Fillingham-Smythe Towers, the ‘cottage’ is built in the style of a French Maison de Maître. With large rooms and high ceilings, it stands on two floors, plus dormer-windowed attic rooms, which at one time housed the servants, and a large cellar. It boasts five bedrooms and four bathrooms (three en-suite) on the first floor, study and games room under the roof, whilst the cellar has been converted to include a utility room, wine store, workshop and double garage. The ground floor consists of a very large kitchen/dining room, which has a triple aspect and covers almost half the ground floor on the right, a triple-aspect lounge covering almost half the ground floor on the left, and a vestibule and cloakroom in between, with a passenger lift adjacent, backed up by an ornate oak staircase leading up to the first floor. And they call it a cottage!

Once in the house Forbes, with a great show of bonhomie, announced “Welcome to Fillingham-Smythe Cottage – the centre of my world” followed, as a quiet aside intended only for Finlay, by “until the Earl croaks and I inherit the big house, that is”. They passed through the vaulted vestibule and entered the spacious farmhouse kitchen. One half was dominated by a large, solid oak antique table that had all the sturdiness of a butcher’s chopping table, along with a finish and size that wouldn’t be out of place in the most prestigious of boardrooms. The other end of the kitchen was what Forbes called the ‘business end’. An accomplished cook, Forbes had comprehensively furnished his kitchen with the very best equipment that money could buy, mixing and matching the businesslike layout of a restaurant kitchen in London or Stockholm with the flair and style of Paris and Milan. Forbes prepared coffee for Finlay and himself, having assumed that the lack of a mouth meant that a cup and saucer would not be of much use to their guest.

The alien looked at them and adjusted its position. Suddenly, the two friends became aware that it was speaking to them.

“Hello Forbes Fillingham-Smythe and Finlay Robinson. My name is Jinnis Keet. I am an explorer and a diplomat from the planet Grintsk, 23 light years from your system. We had long planned to send an ambassador to make contact with your planet’s dominant species, with a goal of exchanging technologies and insights to enrich both populations. However, some recent developments on your planet have caused us concern, and I need urgently to have talks with the people involved.”

“Okay,” Forbes said, “but, wow. How did you get here?”

“We use a transport that is effectively instantaneous, and we have data gatherers in place that can give us a detailed picture of any chosen landing zone. I wanted to arrive when there was no human presence, perhaps even in darkness, but the boffins said that I should make early contact with suitable adults who, they felt, would be the most accepting of my visit. The Institute agreed, provided the extraction team could pull me out if there was any serious threat to me. Like when Finlay fired a projectile from his weapon.”

“So that’s what happened. I wondered how you weren’t hurt.”

“They pulled me out and put me back immediately after the projectile had passed. We selected you and the algorithms suggested the clearing that you frequent as a suitable site. When you arrived, I was sent. I was confused when Finlay fainted as soon as I extracted in front of you. I didn’t know about fainting, and thought I must have somehow damaged him. I thought that I had blown first contact by accidentally committing what may have been seen as an act of aggression. I know now that it was simply a shock reaction. Then you started talking to me very rapidly. I had studied the language you call English, but not all its variations, and certainly the speed at which you delivered it meant that I only understood a part of what you said. I was grateful for the walk back to this place. It gave me a chance to process what I had heard, as well as making a link between the language I had learned from your data network, and the spoken language I was hearing.”

“Wow,” Forbes said, still reeling from the shock. Finlay, at least, had recovered his composure and took charge.

“Who are these people you need to see?” Finlay asked.

“I do not yet have their names. They are leaders of your Royal Space Regiment.”

“I’ll look them up on the internet. Bound to be something there,” Finlay said, walking off into the study. He came back a little later and said, “The top man, operationally, is Vice Admiral Alasdair Farquharson. A woman, Rear Admiral Meredith Winstanley is in charge of the projects division. I couldn’t find out anything about any projects that are on the go. Probably top-secret stuff.”

“I would like to meet this Rear Admiral Meredith Winstanley.”

“Hang on a minute,” Forbes said excitedly, “that sounds like Merry. I remember she and Tarquin signed up at about the same time. Jolly nice people, if a bit dim; Tarquin at least. Always thought maybe there was more to Merry than met the eye. I heard they’d gone on some secret mission, but nothing since. I’d love to catch up with them again.”

“Can you take me to them?”

“Finlay,” Forbes said, “Can you find out where they’re likely to be?”

“I know that their headquarters are near Stonehenge, so I’ll start looking there. Leave it with me. Meanwhile, you think about how we can get our friend in there without raising any alarm. And see if you can work out what that stuff with the gun was all about. I’ve never carried any kind of weapon.”

“I think I can help with that,” Jinnis said, “but if I do, I would need to give you a lot of information about the project I believe your people are working on.”

“Okay, I can deal with that.”

“I’m not sure you can. I believe that your military guard their information jealously and would react badly if any of that information were given to people who do not have a thing called clearance. Do you have a thing called clearance, Forbes?”

“Probably not, so best not to tell me anything.”

“Will you trust me that there is an explanation, and that, as soon as it becomes possible, we will tell you what it is?”

“I suppose I shall have to.”

Finlay came running into the room. “Found it,” he said, breathlessly, “Took a lot of digging, but there are two locations. One is their HQ in Wiltshire, near Stonehenge, the other is in a facility near Swindon. I’ve got phone numbers for both.”

“Good egg. I’ll try their HQ first.” Forbes grabbed his telephone and keyed in the number for the Royal Space Regiment HQ. It was answered on the second ring.

“Hello. Royal Space Regiment; my name is Amy, how may I help you today?”

“Yes, hello, Amy. I’d like to speak with Rear Admiral Winstanley, please…”

“Can I ask who’s calling, please?”

“Of course you may, my dear. My name is Forbes Fillingham-Smythe”

“Does the Admiral know you, Mr Fillingham-Smythe, and is she expecting your call?”

“The Admiral does know me, but no, she isn’t expecting my call.”

“May I ask what it’s about, Sir?”

“No, I can’t tell you what it is about, Amy. I don’t know your clearance.” He winked at Jinnis Keet – a gesture totally lost on the alien.

“Very well, Sir. I take it this is a personal matter.”

“No, it isn’t a personal call. Are you saying a Rear Admiral isn’t allowed personal calls?”

“Of course she is, Sir, but it is my job to screen her calls.”

“I see, you just need to tell her what it’s about. Well, can you tell her that her friend Forbes says it is both important and urgent.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, Amy.”

“Putting you through to the Admiral, Sir…”

The line clicked a couple of times.

“Is that you, FFS?”

“Merry, you old slapper. Good to hear your voice again.”

“You too, FFS. Listen. I’m a busy woman these days, so tell me what you need, and make it snappy, eh?”

“Right, yah. Listen. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t want to know, but I gather you’re involved in a hush-hush project these days.”

“What makes you think you know what I’m up to?”

“Let’s say a little bird told me.”

“What little bird?”

“A little bird who has travelled a long way to talk to you about the project. Something to do with space travel, apparently.”

“That’s not surprising, this is the Royal Space Regiment – it’s what we do. How far has this little bird travelled? Which country has he or she come from?”

“I don’t know about country, but this particular little bird is an alien from a planet twenty-three light years away.”

“FFS, have you been drinking?”

“No, Merry, but I think you want to meet this guy.”

“Okay, bring him to me, here.”

“That may be difficult, Merry. You see, Jinnis Keet is not human. His appearance may cause some unwanted interest. Any way you could come here?”

“Not human? Explain.”

“Hard to explain, old thing, but I do believe you would rather not have him wandering your corridors of power, as it were.”

“How do I know you’re not just pulling some kind of prank – trying to get back at me for—”

“For what?”

“You know very well for what. I’m not going into it here, this line isn’t secure.”

“I don’t, but that’s irrelevant anyway. Are you willing to come here against my word that this is no jape? I can guarantee you will be glad you did.”

“Okay, but I’ll need to bring some people with me. That a problem?”

“Not at all, Merry.”

“Where are you?”

“Arblington, Fillingham-Smythe estate.”

“You still in what you like to call your cottage?”

“I am.”

“Okay, I’ll come tomorrow, 10 am sharp. I can give you an hour, and you’d better not be wasting my time.”

“I’m not, I promise. But one hour may not be enough.”

“We’ll see. Tomorrow.”

And with that, the phone went dead.