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 four, scene four
While Jinnis was resting, guess what was going on downstairs in the dining room (apart, of course, from eating). That’s right, they were talking about Jinnis.
“Okay,” Meredith said, “let’s go around the table. Give me your thoughts on what you’ve heard so far. Joan?”
“I’m not sure. He sounds plausible enough and went into a lot of detail. Some of it, though, seemed a bit far-fetched.”
“What in particular?”
“Five hundred shielded satellites orbiting the planet, and we don’t know about any of them? I think our planetary defences are a lot better than that.”
“Thanks, Joan. Anything else?”
“Well, yeah. The whole question of this instantaneous travel is a bit suss.”
“I tend to agree, Joan,” Meredith said, “but what Forbes told me tends to support it.”
“Yah, absolutely,” Forbes interjected, “when Fin shot it, it somehow disappeared and came back when the bullet had passed.”
“And we’re being asked to believe that its disappearance and return in a fraction of a second was controlled from twenty-three light years away,” Joan said incredulously.
“Okay, Joan, but if we don’t believe that, we’ll need to come up with an alternative hypothesis. Patsy: any thoughts?”
“Didn’t follow it all, if I’m honest. I’m more interested in Forbes’s kitchen here.”
“Fair enough, lover. Tarquin?”
“Oh! Yah. What?”
“What did you think of what the alien said?”
“Believed every word of it. Funny thing is, he sounds exactly like a chap I grew up with.”
“Who?” Meredith asked.
“You wouldn’t know him. Before I met you. Very posh and well-spoken, though.”
“You kidding?” Patsy asked, “sounded broad Yorkshire to me.”
Finlay piped in, “That’ll be the mindspeak. It told us that it provides the concepts and structures and stuff, and our own mind provides the actual voice. What we hear is what we expect to hear.”
“Well, that at least makes sense,” Meredith said, “sounded to me like my old physics professor. What did you hear, Joan?”
“I heard a woman’s voice. Couldn’t exactly place it, but rather reminiscent of one of the women who did Tomorrow’s World on the telly.”
“Interesting. I heard a softly spoken, rather effete but supremely erudite young male. So that’s something else we’ve agreed he… it’s accurate on. What’s the possibility that if the part of its story that relates to itself is accurate, then perhaps the part that relates to its planet’s technologies is, too.”
“If it is all true,” Joan said, “including the shielded orbiting satellites, what do we do about it?”
“If it’s true,” Meredith replied, “then we want to talk to it about an exchange of technologies. There must be something they want; practically anything except the fruits of Project Prodigialis. Forbes, if it’s had long enough, we’re ready to hear its main message.”
Forbes left the room and went upstairs to collect Jinnis, while the rest of the group cleared the table after their lunch. Patsy took a long time clearing up, she was too busy loving Forbes’s many appliances in the kitchen.
“I could easily fall in love with a man who has a kitchen like this,” she said, prompting a harsh look from both Meredith and Joan. Before either of them could respond, Forbes returned with Jinnis.
“Thank you for coming back so promptly,” Meredith said, “I trust you’re adequately refreshed.”
“I am, thank you,” Jinnis replied, “Are you ready for my message now?”
“We are, but before you start, I have to tell you that we are having some difficulty accepting your story, particularly as it refers to hidden satellites and instantaneous interstellar travel.”
“That’s okay. They’re both technologies that we developed some time ago, and we just take them for granted.”
“Do many of your race carry out this type of travel?”
“Very few. The strains it places on mind and body can’t be withstood without many years of training and acclimatising. Added to that strain, those of us who do travel usually end up on a world where the gravity or the atmosphere, or both, aren’t really suitable for us. Is there a way I can convince you of the truth of what I’m saying?”
“You tell me. We know where in space the planet you say is your home is located, and we’ve confirmed it’s listed and it’s twenty-three light-years away, give or take. Whatever we ask you to do to demonstrate the travel, we’ve no way of knowing for sure that it’s come all that way. And we don’t know about the satellites, either.”
“That’s the easy one. Train a telescope on the coordinates I’ve just written down. That’s one of our units.”
Meredith went to the computer, brought up the Regiment’s telescope and displayed a piece of empty space.
“Okay, not that one. Try these,” Jinnis said, “there’s some small debris headed for it in thirty-seven seconds.”
Meredith keyed in the new data and looked at another chunk of empty space. A few seconds later, a small piece of space junk sped into view and promptly disappeared.
“What just happened?” Joan asked.
“The debris was converted to energy by the device’s SEP field, as I said.”
“What’s an SEP field?” Tarquin asked, “Someone Else’s Problem? Like in the Hitchhikers Guide? Ha ha ha.”
“No. Shielded Energy Porosity,” Jinnis said.
“And there are five hundred of these?” Meredith asked.
“Would you be prepared to give us their co-ordinates?”
“All of them?”
“Okay, wait small,” Jinnis said. He shimmered briefly, then said, “okay. As a show of good faith, we will give you their locations. Now, as to the travel, I’ve just been back to my institute on my home planet, and brought you this as a gift.” He raised one hand from his lap and handed Meredith a small mahogany box.
Without touching it, Meredith asked, “What is this?”
The voice disappeared from their heads and a semi-mechanical voice came from the box. “This is a synthetic mindspeak audible cell.”
“But how,” Tarquin asked, “do we know you just brought it. Perhaps you had it with you anyway and you’ve just produced it. Hah!” he added, triumphantly.
“What can I do to convince you?”
“You could take one of us to your planet,” Patsy suggested.
“The combined stresses of the journey and my planet’s gravity would kill whoever I took. If that didn’t do it, the atmosphere would – you’d drown without the separation filter that we have evolved to have in our heads.”
“I know,” Tarquin said, “go back to your institute and take a digital camera with you. When you’re there, take some photographs of your colleagues and your office, then bring them back for us to see.”
“Will you trust that?” Jinnis asked Meredith.
“I think it would help. Good suggestion, Tarquin. I knew we were right to bring you.” Tarquin beamed with pride.
Finlay walked across to the bureau and extracted a pocket digital camera. He checked the state of the battery and made sure there was space on the card. Being satisfied that it was usable, he returned to the table and took a few images of the group, Jinnis included.
“There,” he said, handing the camera to the alien, “use that.”
Jinnis disappeared from view.