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 six, scene one

It was an odd party that made its way to the home of the Rt Hon Forbes Fillingham-Smythe and Dr Finlay Robinson, deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside. The converted coach in which the party was travelling at speed along the motorway was unexceptional from the outside, the only noticeable aspect of it being the uniformly mirror-tinted windows making it impossible for anyone outside to see inside. The driver’s position was curtained off so that he (or she) had a good, clear, unobscured view of the road ahead without the clear windscreen allowing a view into the back, where the main occupants were.

The seating on the driver’s side of the bus was elevated above that on the other side, allowing comfortable (well, nearly comfortable) seating both for humans and for the Borborygmi who were travelling.

On board the bus for this trip were five humans: Project owner, Rear Admiral Meredith Winstanley; Project Manager Commodore Joan Weinberg; Project Technical Lead Commodore Andromeda Smithson, Human/Borborygmi Liaison Officer, Commander Tarquin Stuart-Lane and Lieutenant Patsy Pratt, the preposterously post-pubescent, permanently pouting, preternaturally pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties (without whom, these days, Meredith will never go anywhere). There were four Borborygmi: Chief Borborygmus Marshgass III, Project Manager and Head Anemologist Artivon Grumpblast with his mother Methanie, the Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers, and Norman the Nameless, who had recently been appointed Scientific Adviser to the Chief. Yes, I know it’s unbalanced, but in reality, there should be two more humans than Borborygmi; Meredith and Tarquin weren’t really part of the project team as such. But then, neither was Artivon’s mum, but everyone felt sorry for her having so recently ingested her husband, and they wanted to give her a distraction.

The coach arrived at Forbes’s cottage and pulled around to the main entrance, where Forbes and Finlay were waiting for them. Jinnis Keet remained inside the house, in case some smart alec was flying a drone in the area to spy on things. The main entrance to Forbes’s house had recently been fitted with a covered walkway that made it look like something between a New York hotel and an international airport terminal. This was a feature that Meredith had suggested to Forbes when she started to arrange the Borborygmi’s visit, suspecting that a drone user, particularly one with links to a newspaper or television station, might be interested in the comings and goings that she was planning. Happily, the drone that was buzzing around a hundred or so feet above them was unable to see anything of interest to its controllers.

The party left the coach and, under the cover provided by the walkway, proceeded through into Forbes’s cottage and into the lounge, where a suitably high table had been set up with two levels of chairs. Scratch that. Three levels of chairs. The one Jinnis needed was higher even than the humans’, to make sure that his head would at least be at a similar level to Meredith’s (being the shortest of the humans, she was a kind of yardstick, or perhaps a yard-and-a-half-stick). Meredith had thoughtfully brought three extra Borborygmi translation machines with her: one each for Forbes and Finlay, and one for Jinnis Keet. However, because Eaten Messe had already made contact with Borborygmi on their own home planet, their language was accessible to Jinnis, and it was able to employ Mindspeak with them from the start. Meredith asked Jinnis how a Jinthate would get on having to deal with two very different languages at the same time, it simply reminded them how Mindspeak works.

“What I say, I say without words. The listener supplies the words, the pronunciation, intonation, accent and language. As for what I hear, dealing with only two languages is easy. Remember, among the humans I have met so far, although the words you use are the same, the way you pronounce them is very different.”

Forbes began by welcoming the group and placing himself and Finlay at the group’s disposal for any needs they may have.

“Finlay and I won’t be taking any part in the discussions,” he said, “we are neither diplomats nor technical people. We do know how to look after our friends, though, don’t we, Fin?”

“Yes we do,” Finlay replied, “but before we sit back and leave you to your deliberations, how about, for Jinnis Keet’s benefit, we all introduce ourselves and say a little about our part in the meeting and what we hope to get out of it. Okay, maybe scratch what we want to get out of the meeting; probably pointless at this stage.”

“Finlay has a PhD in parapsychology, you know,” Forbes said, “he’s good. Let’s do it, shall we?”

“I’ll start,” Meredith said. “Rear Admiral Meredith Winstanley, Royal Space Regiment, owner and sponsor of Project Prodigialis. Joan?”

“Commodore Joan Weinberg, Royal Space Regiment, Project Manager of Project Ubiquitron. Andy?”

“Commodore Andromeda Smithson, Royal Space Regiment, Project Ubiquitron Technical Lead. Call me Andy. Tarquin?”

“Yah. Okay. Right. I’m Commander Tarquin Stuart-Lane, Royal Space Regiment, Human/Borborygmi Liaison Officer. Patsy?”

“Lieutenant Patsy Pratt, Royal Space Regiment. I act as the Rear Admiral’s steward, confidante, friend and—”

“Thank you, Patsy,” Meredith said, “Chief Marshgass, would you like to introduce yourself?”

“Of course. I have the honour to be Chief Borborygmus Marshgass III, leader of the Sol 3A exploring team of the Borbor Expeditionary Diaspora, and as such, the nominated owner and sponsor of Project FLATUS and its successors. Arty, you’re on next.”

“Hmm. Let’s see. I am Artivon Grumpblast, Explorer Grade III, Head Anemologist and Project Manager, FLATUS. Beside me is my mother.”

“Yes. I’m Arty’s mother, the recently widowed Methanie Grumpblast. My job is Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers. I expect to ask a lot of questions…”

“And I am Norman,” the last Borborygmus said, “but I’m not quite sure why I’m here. I’ve been called the Chief’s Scientific Advisor, but as yet, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be advising him on.”

“Thank you all,” Jinnis said, “I hope you have all seen the summary of who I am and where I have come from. It was I who provided the data that your specialists used to convince you that your Project Prodigialis is, or should be, a non-starter. I won’t go into that now, except to thank you on behalf of this universe. You have made the right decision. What I want to talk to you about now, is what we can offer you to replace the projects you have just cancelled. As a space-faring world, we are very much aware of what drove you, humans and Borborygmi, to attempt this drive. I have also read the books called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and am well aware of the perceived possibilities of the Maximum Improbability Drive. I am, as you are now, aware of why it cannot possibly work, why it must remain a purely fictional artifact.

“You will have seen, from the summary before you, that we Jinthae possess methods of transportation that differ significantly from anything either of your civilisations has attempted to date. These are technologies that allow apparently instantaneous transport to any part of the galaxy we share. And our scientists are pressing forward with extensions that will take us beyond the boundaries of our galaxy. That’s right, inter-galactic travel will be as straightforward as inter-stellar transport is now. That’s the goal, anyway, though it does seem to be rather a long way off at present.

“The Jinthae are prepared to make available to you the information necessary for you to construct your own pathways. We will even allow you to make use of the satellites we have in place around your planet to help you with the calculations and data storage you’ll need to have available. Once you’ve mastered the theory, we’ll even let you use them for test transfers. However, you’ll need to build your own vehicles for ongoing use. Once the technology transfer is complete, we’ll want to withdraw the bulk of our satellites so we can re-use them around another emerging world.

“One thing I must tell you. This method of travel involves conversion from matter to energy, moving outside of time and space, through an inter-dimensional gap, and conversion back to matter at destination. The processes are both demanding and punishing. We Jinthae are a hardy race, but even our sturdy bodies need many years of training and preparation before we attempt interstellar travel. You should expect, therefore, to start training suitable candidates at the same time as you start the processes needed to work toward your own Gap Transport System.”

Jinnis stopped for a breather. Before he could restart, Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers Methanie raised an arm. Jinnis invited her to ask her question.

“How long?” she asked.

“How long what? To master the technology, or to prepare a candidate to the point they are fit to attempt the journey?”


“Good questions. It took us the equivalent of hundreds of your years to develop and perfect inter-stellar travel. The first steps, moving around our own planet, took about fifty of your years. Training Jinthae to be fit enough to take the strains of such travel was a hit-and-miss affair that took much longer than it should. For you? I think, with our help, you can be fully operational in forty to fifty of your years, although I would expect first local transits, around your own star’s planetary system, to happen within the first twenty.”

“And what about the training?”

“That may be a problem. Human individuals should be able to achieve the necessary resilience in ten to fifteen years. I think it may take somewhat longer for a Borborygmus to reach that level of robustness. Your bone structure, due to the low gravity of your homeworld, is too fragile to withstand the forces inherent in inter-gap travel. I’m sorry.”

Chief Marshgass spoke, “We had planned to get everyone back to the moon, as this planet’s gravity is difficult for us. I now decree that a selected set of families will remain on the planet, to live and breed. In fifty years, we can achieve up to five generations. With the right dietary and exercise regimens, we may be able to give our evolution a hand.”

“We’ve been on the moon for hundreds of years, Chief, and nothing’s changed.”

“That,” the Chief said, “is because the moon’s gravity is, if anything, less than that on Borbor.”