FLATUS 6.2

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 two

“One thing I want to know,” Methanie said, “is what you want from us.”

“What makes you think we would want something from you?” Jinnis asked.

“Look. You are offering to give us not only your prized technology, the one thing that sets you apart from probably every other intelligent species in the galaxy, if not the universe, but also free use of your equipment. I just think there must be something in it for you.”

“There is. It means we shall have two civilisations with which we can share our experiences. We’ll have others we can talk to about our problems as well as our triumphs. We’ll be less lonely in the galaxy.”

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t buy that, won’t you? Shall I tell you what I think?”

“Please do,” Jinnis Keet said.

Chief Marshgass counselled her, “Be gentle with him, Methanie. You’re a good Borborygmus and a capable GDEA. Don’t spoil it.”

“What makes you think I will, Chief?”

“You are still in the post-digestive period of dealing with your bereavement, Methanie. It would be normal for you to be, shall we say, distracted.”

“I get what you’re saying, Chief, but I’m fine. Can I continue?”

“Of course, but bear my words in mind, eh?”

Methanie turned back to Jinnis Keet. “What I think is that your development of inter-galactic travel has reached a stage where you need to send a test subject through this gap you speak of. And I think your scientists are concerned at the risk involved and your politicians have decided it would be better if that subject were, perhaps, a human or a Borborygmus, rather than risk the life of a Jinthate. Now, tell me if I’m not right.”

“You’re not right, Methanie Grumpblast. Yes, we are close to testing inter-galactic travel. Yes, there are dangers inherent in it. Yes, we are reluctant to risk a Jinthate life in that venture. However, we have no wish to send a human, who as a race are at least ten years short of readiness for inter-gap travel, or a Borborygmus who are many more years short of being sufficiently robust, physically, to handle the stresses involved. We do wish to benefit from this, shall we call it an exchange of technologies, rather than looking at it as an un-requested and unconditional transfer of technologies.”

“A-ha! I knew it,” Methanie said, looking around with the Borborygmi equivalent of a smug expression, “come on, then. What is it you want?”

“When your Rear Admiral and her party first came to see me, they had trouble believing my claims.”

“Specifically?”

“My claims of apparently instantaneous transport; of the remote rescue that my Institute carried out when Finlay tried, and I’m not blaming him for this, but he did try to terminate me. I couldn’t take any of that party to Grintsk, as none of them was sufficiently fit or robust, and so I took what they called a digital camera. That technology is one of the two my institute asked me to barter in exchange for IGT.”

“Digital cameras?”

“Yes. It is so much better than what we have developed for ourselves. We also want to send a digital camera, one capable of capturing motion, through the inter-galactic gap. We would seek to co-develop this with you. We could not start it running on departure, as the actual, physical journey will take millions of years. Also, the camera would have been converted to pure energy for the transfer. We will need a mechanism to trigger it remotely.”

“Is that all?”

“No. We need to find ways of generating electricity that don’t involve burning fuels or nuclear fission. You have various methods in use. We’d like to get involved with you in the development of these things. You are already generations ahead of us, but we think that, as well as benefiting from your successes, we can possibly add insights of our own, to our mutual benefit.”

“And how does any of this help us Borborygmi?”

“On the Earth’s moon, you have been highly creative in exploiting the limited resources available. We’d like, as a separate exercise, to talk with you about that. My colleague, Eaten Messe, is having a similar discussion with your cousins on your home world. Our aspiration, and certainly my hope, is that we can have a four-way exchange: Jinthate, human, Earth-moon-Borborygmi and Home-World-Borborygmi.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Meredith interrupted, “but do I understand that, in exchange for the inter-gap travel capability, including use of your equipment and so on, all you want is wind farms and digital cameras?”

“You’ve simplified it somewhat, but that’s about right. Although what we value more is the opportunity of working cooperatively with other civilisations to our mutual benefit.”

“And you think a few wind farms and digital cameras will give you benefits that equate to the benefits we, humans and Borborygmi, will accrue from inter-gap travel?”

“I think you are expecting what your people call a zero-sum game. We Jinthae work on a simple system of perceived value barter. Under that system, an exchange is considered equal, not if the items of exchange have equal monetary or other intrinsic value, but if the parties are equally happy with the deal. For instance, I may have one hundred satellites that I no longer require and you perhaps have a working well that you no longer use. The two items are vastly unequal in absolute value terms, but if you have need of one hundred satellites and I have need of a well; and if we are both happy with what we part with and what we end up with, then the trade is deemed fair. Traditional bartering requires a lot of negotiation so everyone thinks they have something like equal value. That is based on a system based on individuals, not on collective well-being. The key with the system the Jinthae use is that everyone walks away happy.”

“On that basis,” Meredith said, “I am happy to recommend that we proceed as you have outlined. How do you feel, Chief Marshgass?”

“For the Sol 3a exploring team, I accept the offer outlined by Jinnis Keet.”

Jinnis spoke again. “I am confused, Meredith. I believed you were the person responsible for this project, yet you say you will recommend this arrangement. To whom will you recommend it, and why can you not make the decision yourself?”

“I have full responsibility for Project Prodigialis. This authority was given to me by my Vice Admiral—”

“Perhaps I should speak to him—”

“…on behalf of the governments and peoples of the planet. What you are suggesting goes well beyond what I was charged with achieving, which was limited to the design, construction, testing and commissioning of the spacecraft we have just agreed not to build. I am more than happy to share the technologies you have asked for, particularly in exchange for those you are offering. However, I don’t have the authority to make that agreement. I am a military officer, trained and equipped to execute military responses to any situations that arise. What you are asking is not something that a military response would be appropriate for. Normally, I would say that the decision should be made by the Foreign Affairs specialists and the Commercial interest committees. That is the way nations deal with each other. None of our governments has yet set up a committee to deal with, if you’ll excuse the expression, alien affairs. Because our involvement with the Borborygmi is a space-travel issue and so comes under the military – at least until someone finds a way to make a profit from it. The civilian governments don’t even know that the Borborygmi exist.”

“But isn’t this a space-travel issue?” Jinnis Keet asked.

“What you are offering us most certainly is,” Meredith replied, “but the technologies you want us to share with you and which, I say again, are technically easy for us to share as well as being more than equitable in exchange for what you are offering; these technologies are not military matters and must be approved by civilian governmental authorities.”

“When can I talk to these authorities?”

“Sadly, they don’t even exist.”

“So how can we move forward?”

“I will send a detailed report to my boss, Vice Admiral Farquharson—”

“Can I talk with him?”

“Probably not a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Are you familiar with the concept of racism?”

“I am.”

“That, only in relation to extra-terrestrial life forms.”

“You don’t have a word for that?”

“Not yet, Jinnis, but I’m sure that when the public becomes aware of the presence of Borborygmi—”

“And Jinthae.”

“Precisely. I am convinced that a word will soon be coined.”

“I see. So you will report to your boss.”

“Yes. I shall then talk with him to make sure he understands the net benefits of running with this deal. If he does, he will aim to sell it to the leaders of the governments of our major sponsors.”

“How long will this all take?”

“Some months, I should think. Maybe longer.”

“But I need to give my Institute something, otherwise they may veto the deal.”

“Leave that with me. We’ll think of something and I’ll get back to you. How long do you expect to stay here?”

“I shall go home after this meeting, but I’ll be keeping an eye on things here, and can come back at very short notice.”

“How will you do that?”

“I will give you my mindspeak cell. There is a button on top of it. If you press that button, someone from the Institute will answer. You can then ask to speak to me, or you can simply ask if I’m available to come to you.”

“Why can’t you stay here?”

“There are physiological reasons for me to return to Grintsk. Although I’m some time short of my next gen-cycle, I need to undergo medical examinations to be sure that when it does come, I shall be in top physical condition and able to reproduce.”

“Fair enough, Jinnis. Any more questions from anyone?” She looked around the room. “Joan?”

“Nothing from me.”

“Andy?”

“I’m good.”

“Tarquin?”

“Yah. Okay. Right. Ahm. No. All clear.”

“Patsy?”

“As if. I didn’t understand any of it. I’m just a humble pastry-chef”

“Thank you, Patsy,” Meredith said, “Chief Marshgass?”

“No, but I’d like to meet with Jinnis Keet on the moon once we’re settled.” Jinnis nodded.

“Arty?”

“Agree with the chief about the meeting on the moon, but otherwise nothing.”

“Methanie?”

“Yes. I still have a lot of questions, but they can wait until we meet on the moon.”

“Norman?”

“No, but I want to thank you all. At least I know what I should be advising the chief on.”

“Thank you all,” Jinnis said, “I’ll be in touch.” And with that, Jinnis Keet, Jinthate ambassador, handed his mindspeak cell to Meredith and disappeared from view.

“That’s it then,” Meredith said, “If we’re all happy, we can get back to our duties. Forbes; is the coach ready to leave?”

“I slipped out a few minutes ago,” Finlay said, “and told the driver to be ready soon. She said she needed twenty minutes more to get the coach fully charged for the journey back.”

“In that case,” Forbes said, “tea anyone?”

“Good idea,” Patsy responded, “and I’ve brought some pastries with me.”

“Ooh,” Joan cooed, “any apricot Danish in your bag?”

“You betcha,” Patsy replied, to the delight of the rest of the RSR contingent.

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