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 five, scene one
The next morning, things were back to what, at least temporarily, passed for normal. The scientists in the working group were pushing on with the business of trying to find or create a material that could do the job of insulation while the engineers were investigating ways that a solution could be found using existing materials. The main area of their concentration was the design of the engine components themselves, to see if there was something in them that could be causing or permitting the leakage.
When Meredith and Joan entered, the room hushed and everyone stood smartly to attention.
No, they didn’t! Meredith would have liked that, but she knew that the extent to which she was able to impose Regimental military discipline on this group of human and Borborygmi civilians was only marginally more limited than the fabled King Canute’s ability to control the incoming tide.
One or two of the human team members looked up and briefly nodded, but otherwise, their arrival passed apparently unnoticed.
Patsy, who arrived with the two senior officers, approached an engineer, smiled sweetly, said, “May I?” and calmly took a spanner out of his hand. She then selected a suitable metal part, which she proceeded to bash twice with the spanner, and called out, “Quiet everybody. The Rear Admiral has something to say, and she will be heard.” She smiled sweetly towards Meredith and Joan, her sweet smile, as always, hiding an almost frightening amount of decided unsweetness.
“Thank you, Subaltern,” Meredith said then, raising her volume and addressing the room, she said, “We, Commodore Weinberg, Commodore Smithson and I, have received contact from an ambassador from another civilisation…”
A rising hubbub began among the Borborygmi, who had been convinced that theirs was the only other space-going planet in the universe. Their mutterings seemed to suggest that they wanted to know who these upstarts are to send emissaries to a system they had only recently started to colonise.
“This representative has come from a civilisation that claims to have abandoned the construction of a drive such as that we are working on, due to the dangers they believe are inherent in its use. We have satisfied ourselves that the ambassador is who he claims to be and that he is, indeed, a traveller from a planet twenty-three light-years distant. As to his claims about our drives, I have asked him and he has agreed to give us a copy of the data that convinced them of the alleged dangers. That data will be placed before our mathematicians, human and Borborygmi, and we will be guided by their advice. In the meantime, the hold on development stands, but I want you to continue investigating the leakage and insulation issues so that we won’t be further delayed, should we finally decide to go ahead with development and construction.”
“What’s the danger?” Tarquin asked, “It seems perfectly safe to me.”
“Except for the leaks,” Joan said.
“Yah, obviously, except for the leaks, but we’ll soon fix that, eh, chaps?”
“The danger,” Andy explained, “is that if we are able to produce a vehicle that has the ability to simultaneously occupy every point in the known universe, it will of necessity share space with other solid objects.”
“Such as?” Tarquin asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Andy replied, his voice carrying more than a hint of sarcasm, “things like planets, stars or, if both groups develop one, the other craft.”
Artivon spoke for all his group, when he asked, “What of the craft that our cousins on Borbor are developing? That could confuse things even more.”
“An emissary from the planet Grintsk—”
“Where’s that?” Tarquin asked.
“You were there, Tarquin, weren’t you listening? Grintsk is the planet our visitor came from, twenty-three light-years away. Do try to keep up,” Meredith said, “Carry on, Commodore.”
“Thank you, Rear Admiral,” Andy said, then resumed, “An emissary from the planet Grintsk has gone to Borbor with the same message that Jinnis Keet…” he looked pointedly at Tarquin and carried on, “that’s our alien’s name; the same message he brought to us.”
“What is that other alien called?” Tarquin asked.
“Does that matter?”
“It does to me.”
“I think it’s important to give people names. It makes it more personal and gives them some dignity. It makes them matter, it—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Tarquin. If you had been paying attention at the meeting, you would have heard the ambassador tell us, the other alien is called Eaten Messe. Happy now?”
“Eton Mess? That’s a pudding, not a name!”
“Not Eton Mess, idiot. Eaten Messe.”
“Still sounds like a pudding to me. So what do these aliens look like? Are they tall and thin, like the Borborygmi?”
“Tarquin, for pity’s sake. You were there. You saw the ambassador, you heard what he had to say. Why are you asking all these questions?”
“On behalf of those who weren’t there, obviously.”
“And you don’t think they’re capable of asking questions?”
“They may not know what to ask.”
“Lord, give me strength,” Joan said, “these aliens are not ‘tall and thin, like the Borborygmi’, as you so eloquently put it. Quite the opposite. Have you ever read any Billy Bunter stories?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Well, I suggest you toddle off and read some. They’re jolly good fun and the illustrations of Billy are very similar to what the Jinthae look like.”
“The Jinthae. They are the dominant life form on Grintsk.”
“Why aren’t they called Grintskians or something?”
“I expect, Tarquin, that they wonder why we are called human, not Earthlings.”
“That’s easy, even I know that. We’re not called Earthlings because we’re called humans.”
“Do you know, Tarquin, I would never have thought of that. Perhaps I’ve been over-thinking things for all these years,” Meredith said.
“Even so,” Tarquin said, “You’re still—”
“I”m still what, Tarquin?”
“Phwoaaaar,” he replied.
“I’ve a good mind to charge you, Commander,” Meredith said angrily.
“What do you mean, how much?”
“How much are you going to charge me, and what do I get for it?” Tarquin responded, looking at his commanding officer in a most un-military manner.
“Not charge you like that, idiot.”
“Then how? Like a charging bull?”
“You know very well what I mean. One more remark like that and I’ll have you stripped of your rank.”
Tarquin started to giggle.
“What are you giggling about?” Meredith asked.
“You said you’d strip me, hee hee.”
“And I meant it!”
“Ding Dong,” he said, removing his jacket.
“What are you doing?”
“Saving you the trouble, Merry,” he said with a wink.
“Patsy,” Meredith called to her steward, “do you still have that spanner?”
“Can you do me a favour?”
“Lord preserve me from the Viagra generation. Just hit Tarquin over the head with it, will you?”
“How hard? Same as I did in the car on the way home?” Patsy asked, a wicked leer spreading across her face. That, at least, goes some way to explaining Tarquin’s precipitous descent from normality for most humans to normality for Tarquin.
And she did, although I get the impression that it was closer to extremely than very. Funnily enough, Tarquin got the impression, too; the impression of a twenty-four-millimetre ring spanner on the back of his cranium. Tarquin fell to the ground, eliciting an audible gasp from everyone else in the room. There was also in the air a reinforced, if not new-found respect for the Rear Admiral – oh yes, and for her steward.
“Get up, Tarquin,” Meredith said.
He sprung up and stood smartly at attention.
“How are you feeling, Commander?”
“Never better, Ma’am,” he replied formally.
“What are your duties this afternoon?”
“Ma’am, with your permission, I need to coordinate the efforts of the human and Borborygmi members of the joint working party.”
“To what end?”
“To be sure we’re ready with the upgraded insulation against temporal and physical anomaly leaks, should we receive the go-ahead to develop the vehicle, Ma’am.”
“And who do you report to?”
“Why, to Commodore Weinberg, Ma’am.”
“And what do you think of her?”
“A fine officer, Ma’am. It’s a privilege to serve under her.”
“And what do you think of me?”
“Don’t know what you mean, Ma’am.”
“When you picture me in your mind, what do you think?”
“Oh. Yah. Phwoarrr, Ma’am.”
“One more, please, then put him to bed in his quarters.”
“Not my type, Admiral,” Patsy said.
“I said put him to bed, Patsy, not take him.”
Meredith raised her eyebrows towards her steward.
“…Ma’am,” Patsy said, respectfully, and established fresh contact between the engineer’s spanner and the Commander’s cranium.
Patsy picked Tarquin’s lifeless form from the floor and carried him out of the area and through to his room, where she threw him onto his bed before returning to the meeting.
“Now,” Meredith said, “where were we? Oh, yes. The investigations must continue in case we are able to proceed. In the meantime, as soon as Commodore Smithson has the information from the alien, we’ll pass it around both sets of mathematicians, as well as making a set available for everyone here. I’d like as many eyes on it as we can muster.”
“Can I have a word alone with you, when we’re finished?” Artivon asked.
“I’m finished,” Meredith replied, “Andy and Joan, can I leave you to wrap it up?”
“Of course,” the two Commodores agreed.
“Arty, walk with me,” Meredith said, marching quickly to the side office. Of course, quickly for someone with a height of one point four metres is significantly less so for one of more than twice that height, so Artivon kind of marched with the pace and rhythm of a pall-bearer. Inside the office, the two sat at the specially-made desk that allowed them to use differently-sized chairs such as to put their heads at approximately the same level. That way, no one gets to feel small. I suppose the Rear Admiral’s seat could have had another cushion on it to raise her head above that of her interlocutor, to reinforce her position of power and authority, but hey-ho, there wasn’t another cushion, so what’re you going to do?
“What’s your problem, Arty?” Meredith asked.
“We’ve been on your planet for some months now, and we’re still having to wear these awkward inflatable splint things to support our bone structures. I’m afraid it’s looking like we may have been over-optimistic about our ability to adapt to the gravity here. Many of us are having increasing trouble, and I think 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.”
“That’s it!” Meredith said, excitedly.
“If we relocate the facilities to the moon, we won’t have any problems with the anomalies. Well, we will, but they’ll be well away from other people. How long will it take you to finish the investigations for insulating materials?”
“It’s impossible to say. If we get a breakthrough, it could be as little as a matter of weeks. If not, it could take years.”
“Either way, we should have the results of the analysis of the Jinthae data within a couple of weeks. I would expect to be in a position to give a go or stop command
within a month from now. If it’s go, we move all production to a new facility we’ll construct on the moon – your guys can help with that, you have experience building in the conditions there. If it’s stop, there’s an alternative long-term project we can all get involved in.”