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 five
“What happened? Where’d the little fellow go?” Patsy asked.
“I’m not sure,” Meredith said, looking around at the rest of the party.
For a couple of minutes, the group sat in near-silence, Joan studying the notes she had been taking and, in a whisper, talking through some of them with Meredith. Patsy quietly looked at her boss with an eye that was surpassed in its unprofessional nature only by Tarquin’s. Only Forbes and Finlay showed no confusion.
“I’m ready to be proved wrong—” Finlay offered, breaking the silence.
“Though he never has been yet,” Forbes interjected.
“Not sure about that, mate, but I’ll tell you what I think. I think Jinnis went to his planet to take some photographs, and he’ll be back before you—”
The Jinthate shimmered back into view and handed the camera back. Finlay extracted the card and inserted it into the computer’s card-reader. Twenty-eight new photographs were imported from the card to the computer’s photo programme. Everyone gathered around the monitor to view the images. The first ten had been taken in the dining area and showed the group now gathered around the computer. The rest drew gasps from the humans present. They were all clear, sharp images, showing various pieces of equipment that were unlike anything ever seen on Earth, and more than a dozen individuals, all looking similar to Jinnis Keet in the same way that all humans look roughly alike. They were clearly separate individuals of the same race as the alien present, and clearly as much at home in their surroundings as the group of humans were in Forbes’s dining room.
“Okay, Jinnis Keet of Grintsk,” Meredith said, “On behalf of the Royal Space Regiment, and of the governments and people of Earth, I admit and recognise your status and I welcome you to our planet. Now. About this message you have for us…”
“Thank you, Rear Admiral. On behalf of the Jinthae of Grintsk, I thank you for your words. I think we can work together for our common advancement. We possess a number of technologies that you have not yet developed, and you possess a number that we could profitably add to our repertoire. I look forward to making the exchange. This device is compatible with your computer in the corner,” he said, handing a memory stick to Meredith, “and contains the coordinates of every device we have orbiting your planet. It is our hope that you will allow them to stay where they are and continue their work. As part of our exchange of information, we will give you the ability to interrogate the devices for your own purposes. As to the message I came to deliver, it is simple. Please do not continue in your efforts to replicate or improve on the Unlikelihood Drive that is being developed on Borbor.”
“What?” Meredith asked, incredulously, “This is the biggest and most ground-breaking project this planet has engaged on in a large number of years, maybe ever. The governments of most countries are supporting it, both financially and with highly skilled personnel. The very existence of the project has the capacity to further peace on the planet. This will give us the ability to travel to parts of the galaxy we’ve never been able to reach, nor have we ever expected to reach. Why would you want us to stop?”
“The concept is fraught with danger. I have to tell you that our own scientists went down that path a long time ago, but were persuaded by their controlling body that it would be too dangerous. That was why we developed our interGap Mass Transport System.”
“Look, just because your scientists chickened out, doesn’t mean that we have to.”
“Agreed. But consider this. You are working on a drive…”
“The Borborygmi in your midst are developing one…”
“And the Borborygmi on their home planet are working on theirs.”
“Consider the possible effects of three craft, each with the ability to be in every point in space simultaneously.”
Meredith and Joan both paled a little.
“And consider the effect if the technology extends to the fourth dimension, time itself.”
“You mean,” Joan said, “that three vehicles would each be technically capable of occupying every point in space-time.”
“We need to take this to our mathematicians,” Meredith said.
“You’re right, you do,” Jinnis said, “I’ll stay here while you run it past them, then we’ll meet again here and talk about the alternatives.”
“But what of the Borborygmi on their home planet?”
“My colleague, Eaten Messe, is with them now, having the same conversation.”
“Way to break up a party,” Patsy said, wandering back into the kitchen.
While Meredith and Joan were at Forbes’s house, Andy and Artivon pressed on with the detailed work they needed to do before their respective projects could get back on line. Oblivious to the existence of Jinnis Keet, never mind the message he was sent to deliver, they continued to push on with the investigations and calculations needed to produce a more effective insulating material to prevent leakage from the engine components under development. So far, progress had been, at best, patchy.
“Arty,” Andy said, “can you look in the data dump you got from the Unlikelihood when it passed, to see if there’s anything there that might give us some pointers?”
“I looked already Andy. Nothing there.”
“So how did they get past the leakages?”
“They didn’t. Not with the prototype we took the data from, anyway.”
“Can you look again, please? I don’t know how they got as far as a testable prototype if they were still having the problems we are.”
“We know there was still leakage, Andy. That’s why Merry and Tarquin’s craft behaved so strangely as it approached the moon. The Unlikelihood’s wake was badly contaminated.”
“But they got it that far. We’re not even anywhere near assembling a drive, let alone building a prototype.”
“What are the maths telling you?”
“Simply that we need a material that is at least three hundred percent less transmissive than the best insulating material we have on Earth, and it needs to insulate against radiation levels at wavelengths never before encountered. We need either a natural material that doesn’t occur on Earth, or we need to quickly invent a synthetic material with properties we don’t even understand yet. Anything new on the moon?”
“Not that we found.”
“Maybe we will have to look to the asteroids, after all. Trouble is, if we get that order, the lead time jumps by a decade. What say we call it a day for today and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. The bosses should be back by then, too.”
“Good idea, Andy. I want to talk to the Rear Admiral, too. I’m afraid we may have been optimistic about our ability to adapt to the gravity here. Many of our people are having trouble, and I’m starting to get phantom pains in bones I don’t even have.”
“What are you saying, Arty?”
“I’m saying we may need to move our work area back to your moon.”