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 seven, scene one

“What the hell are you talking about?” Vice Admiral Farquharson asked of Rear Admiral Meredith Winstanley who, accompanied by her adjutants, Commodores Joan Weinberg and Andromeda Smithson, were attempting to sell the technology exchange offered by Jinnis Keet on behalf of the Jinthate of Grintsk to the Admiral.

“What we are saying, Sir, is that Ambassador Jinnis Keet—”

“This bloody alien, do you mean? My God, where are all these aliens coming from all of a sudden? Look at me. One hundred and twenty-eight years old, more than a century of it in the service of the Royal Space Regiment, and until a few short weeks ago, we’d never come across any aliens outside of the crank UFO stories from people who claimed to have been absconded—”

“I think you mean abducted, Sir,” Andy interrupted, helpfully.

“Shut up, boy. I don’t need you to tell me what I mean. Anyway – suddenly we get two lots. One lot, we find out, have been living on our moon; our moon; for five bloody centuries. Four hundred years before I was born. Good God, that must mean they arrived long before the war between you-know-who and anyone who insulted their so-called ruler. No doubt they were up there, watching what was going on here and laughing their socks off, just wondering how long it would be before we all wiped each other out and left the planet to them. That’s what they’re after, you know. Oh, they’ll tell you different, and the bleeding-heart liberals will tell you different, but I know. You don’t spend a century in the Royal Space Regiment without learning a few truths, you know.”

“Have you finished, Sir?” Meredith asked.

“No, I damned-well haven’t. And now, this other alien creature arrives. No ship, no transport at all. Just appears and tells us; not asks or suggests, mind; tells us to stop what we’re doing and do things his way. And you know what the funniest thing is?” he asked, breaking into what had all the hallmarks of an hysterical if not psychotic episode, “I’ll tell you. The funniest thing is, we roll over on our backs and agree. On our backs. As if we want our bloody tummies tickled like a submissive dog. That is what happens when you let aliens in. They bloody take over, just like the—”

“With respect, Sir—”

“Don’t give me that, Winstanley. You know as well as I do that when you, or anyone else for that matter, say ‘with respect’, that is exactly, exactly what you don’t mean. Look. If you’ve got something to say, spit it out. Don’t give me that ‘with respect’ nonsense.”

“Sir. Is there just the slightest smidgen of a chance that you’re letting your personal feelings get in the way of your judgement here?”

“What? How dare you? How very dare you?”

“How dare I what, Sir?”

“How dare you suggest that I am ever acting anything other than as the consummate professional? My personal feelings don’t come into it. Never do. Ever. My justifiable, right-minded, personal beliefs have never and will never affect my official decision-making. Oh, no, Sir. Indeed not. Now apologise, before I’m forced to take action against you.”

“Okay, Sir. I’m sorry if you misinterpreted what I said. I’m sorry if my professional analysis of the situation is not to your liking. Sir.”

“That’s better. Now, where was I?”

“You had finished, Sir. It’s my turn to speak now.”

“Well, don’t hang about blathering. Get on with it!”

“Ambassador Jinnis Keet did not demand that we stop development of the Ubiquitron drive. What he did was to give us a set of data, data that his own kind had amassed while trying to build a similar device themselves. They had got a long way with it; farther than we have so far; but the collected data persuaded them to stop work on the project. He gave us the data, which we passed to our best mathematicians and those on the moon. Those mathematicians, in consultation with some of the planet’s best engineers and physicists, experimental and theoretical, came to the same conclusion. They cross-checked their results and presented them to the joint committee, who decided, independently of the Ambassador, that the risks inherent in the project were unacceptable. And as for the Borborygmi, the aliens you so dismissively refer to as the first lot, not only is it not their intention to colonise our planet, but they have also found that they can’t even live comfortably here, on account of the gravity. It is too high for their bodies to cope with.”

“That’s all very well, but what about the second lot, this Ambassador’s kind. Try and tell me that conquest isn’t on their mind.”

“I’ll be happy to, Sir. You see, I took this up with the Ambassador, and this is what he told me. Our gravity is too low for them, our atmosphere is too thin and its make-up is inadequate for their needs. He explained that his species, in common with most life-forms on his planet, feeds by adsorption of nutrients from their atmosphere. They can supplement our atmosphere with daily use of a special nebuliser, but they can only do that for short periods. So it should be clear to you, that it would be impossible for them to colonise Earth unless they somehow change the atmosphere and increase gravity. Are you suggesting, Sir, that they are likely to want to do that?”

“Don’t try to tell me what should be clear to me, what I should understand. I haven’t been in this man’s navy for more than a hundred years for nothing, you know. I didn’t get where I am today without knowing a thing or two.”

“Of course, Admiral.”

“I should damn well think so. So. If they’re not here to take over and kill or enslave us all, what do they want?”

“Mostly, they want us not to destroy the universe. After that, they want to trade with us.”

“What’ve we got that they want? We can’t travel the way they do, can we?”

“No, Sir. They want to give us that technology.”

“In exchange for what?”

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said, Sir?”

“Of course I have. Tell me again.”

“I’m tired, Sir. I’d like Commodore Smithson to explain it to you this time.”

“Ah, a man. That’s more like it. Hope he’s not emotional like these women. Are you, Son?”

“No, Sir.”

“None of it rubbed off on you, you being in close proximity and all?”

“Not at all, Sir.”

“Go ahead, then.”

“With respect, Sir—”

“Not you, too. Look, cut it out and say what you have to say.”

“Permission to speak freely and candidly, Sir?”

“Just get on with it, will you?”

“Sir. For reasons which would be too tiresome to go into now—”

“Go into them, please, Commodore.”

“Yes Sir, if you insist.”

“I do. Go on, spit it out.”

“Sir. When Rear Admiral Winstanley and her party first met the Ambassador, they had trouble believing his claims of apparently instantaneous transport and of the remote rescue that his people carried out when one of the people he first saw tried to kill him—”

“Who is this man? Give him a medal. Heroically trying to prevent a possible alien invasion—”

“Sir, If I may. He couldn’t take any of the party to his planet to prove his claims—”

“Why ever not?”

“Because their transport method is hard on the mind and body without years of training and preparation, Sir, and none of them was sufficiently fit or robust. So he took a digital camera with him and came back with some fascinating images. It seems our digital imaging technology is way ahead of theirs, and that technology is one of the two they asked him to barter in exchange for IGT. Sir.”

“IGT? IGT? What the hell’s IGT.”

“It’s an initialism, Sir, but that’s not important right now—”

“Initialism be damned. It’s an acronym.”

“Sorry, Sir, but an acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. If it can’t be pronounced as a word, Sir, it’s an initialism.”

“Well, I’ll be blowed. Never knew that before. Carry on, Son.”

“Sir. They also need to find ways of generating electricity that don’t involve burning fuels or nuclear fission. They have seen that we have various methods in use, and they’d like to get involved with us in the development of these things. We are already generations ahead of them, but they think that, as well as benefiting from our successes, they can possibly add insights of their own, to our mutual benefit.”

“So they give us their travel technology—”

“And use of their existing equipment—”

“What equipment?”

“They have been studying us for some time. They have about five hundred satellites in orbit around Earth—”

“Now I know you’re talking hogwash, Commodore. Were there any satellites around that weren’t of Earth origin, we’d certainly know about them.”

“They have a form of stealth technology, Sir. It’s all in the report.”

“Stealth technology. What are they, Klingons?”

“It’s all in the report, Sir.”

“Too long: didn’t read.”

“The executive summary is only two pages, Sir.”

“That’s one too many. Give me a two liner.”

“They don’t want to hurt us, they want to help us.”

“And what’s in it for them?”

“Improved digital imaging and clean generation technologies, Sir.”

“Are you trying to tell me that they will give us their instant travelling technology—” the Admiral started to laugh.

“May I ask what’s funny, Sir?”

“Instant travel. Just add water, ha ha ha.”

“Very droll, sir.”

“So they’ll give us that in exchange for digital cameras and wind farms?”

“That was our reaction, too, Sir.”


“And it’s an exchange they are happy with, Sir.”

“But we’d win massively. Wouldn’t that give them an advantage?”

“In what arena, Sir?”

“Well. If they give us more than we give them, which is what it sounds like you’re proposing, won’t we be in their debt?”

“That’s not the way they look at it, Sir.”

“According to their Ambassador chappie.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Tell me, Winstanley, if the deal’s so good, why didn’t you agree to it on the spot?”

“Because, Admiral,” Meredith replied, “neither I nor the Royal Space Regiment has authority over external trade deals. That is in the competence of Trade and Industry and External Affairs.”

“So why have you come to me with it?”

“Because I do not have clearance to speak with the civilian governmental authorities, Sir.”

“So, what you’re saying, Rear Admiral Winstanley, is that you want to use this office; me; as a go-between, a mouthpiece on your behalf.”

“On behalf of the Regiment, Sir.”

“And why, pray, would I agree to take on that task?”

“With or without respect, Admiral, because you have the means, the necessary authorisations and the contacts, the experience and the know-how and, not to put too fine a point on it, Sir, because it’s your damned job.”

“Give me the request in writing.”

“It’s in the report.”

“Haven’t read it.”

“Then may I suggest, Sir, that you read it, or if you prefer, have someone read it to you. Not me, and not one of my staff. Permission to leave, Sir.”

“Bah! Dismissed.”