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 nine, scene one
Two months after that initial meeting, Andy was able to present to Meredith and Joan, a fully costed proposal for phase one, which took them to the point where they could carry out test jumps in-system. If the timetable for this phase were to be believed, it would take a little under two years before the first jump could be tried. The personnel requirements were probably the biggest surprise. The number of mathematicians, scientists and engineers was roughly the same as were required for the combined FLATUS and Ubiquitron projects. This was good, in a way, because it meant no redundancies and little additional hiring. The plans allowed for the movement of Borborygmi staff back to the moon and included for enhanced communications between the two centres. One extra requirement, initially for humans only, was a squad of no less than fifty young men and women to enter the selection and training programme for what became known as the Golf Club – so named because a car with the name of Golf, made by a firm called Volkswagen, was the first to be given the designation GTi, which referred to the performance and comfort levels of the vehicle and that it made use of the then emerging technology of fuel injection. The training programme for the Golf Club, devised by physicians, physical training gurus, nutritionists and other specialists, and overseen by the chief of training for the Jinthae, was made up of an intensive eighteen-month body-building and mind-strengthening regimen, followed by regular booster sessions until the candidates were ready for the transport and the transport was ready for them. Indications from the Jinthae, which were ultimately proven to be correct, was for a drop-out rate over the programme of sixty percent. By the time trials were ready, there were twenty extremely fit and well prepared young people ready to face the challenge.
The bigger problem is one for which there’s no easy solution. The Borborygmi on their moon base came to the realisation that their physiology meant that if they were able to send some of their people through the gap, it wouldn’t be for a very long time. This did nothing for their commitment to the project. A meeting was hastily arranged at which Meredith Winstanley, Joan Weinberg, Andrea Smithson, Tarquin Stuart-Lane and Patsy Pratt were present for the Royal Space Regiment, Chief Marshgass, Artivon, Methanie, Norman the Nameless and his sister Norma the Nameless for the Borborygmi, and Jinnis Keet and Kala Kodash for the Jinthae.
Meredith called the meeting to order.
“What we need to talk about today is the position of our Borborygmi friends vis-à-vis the overall GTI project.”
“Is there a problem?” Jinnis Keet asked.
“There most certainly is,” the chief replied, “We have committed a lot of our time, personnel and energies to this project, and it looks like it will be a long time before we will be able to make use of it, if at all.”
“What makes you think it may never happen?”
“What did you say the training time was, to get potential travellers fit enough to withstand the journey?”
“We generally think ten to fifteen years.”
“And training starts when?”
“As soon as the subject reaches full adulthood.”
“So, for a human, about 18-20 years of age.”
“That sounds about right.”
“And what is the lifespan of Borborygmi?”
“Hmm. I see your point. Kala, do you have any thoughts?”
“Not immediately, Jinnis,” Kala said, “Let me consult with… better yet, I’ll get our senior training manager, Kitara Navilli, to join us here. It’ll know what can be done.”
“There is a solution,” another voice in everyone’s heads announced, “but I’m not sure they’ll like it.”
“Try us,” the chief said.
“I’ve looked at your physiology, and at these rather ingenious suits you wear to support your fragile structures in this high gravity.”
“And I think you could use them as a basis for a similar support outfit for Mass Transport.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is the materials they’re made from. It’s just not suitable for our purposes. The suits would need to be much more rigid.”
Tarquin understood where the Jinthate was going. At least, he thought he did. “You mean like a suit of armour like the Knights wore in the Middle Ages?”
It seemed that Tarquin didn’t understand what the Jinthate was trying to explain. How unusual.
“In fact, in a way you are rather close, except you need to think more like a cross between a vacuum suit for wear in open space and a deep-sea diving suit. It needs to deal with extreme pressures, internal and external, and incredibly high radiation. It also needs to be flexible enough for the wearer to be able to get around.”
“How on Earth can we manufacture something like that?” Andy asked, “We’ve nothing like it on the planet. Never had a need to.”
Tarquin was thinking again. “What if we got the chaps who make our EVA suits to make one big enough for one of our friends. Wouldn’t that be a start?”
“For a space-walk, yes,” Kitara observed, “but will it hold up against the forces involved in the matter-to-energy-conversion machine you’ll need to build? And, by the way, when you design your mass-to-energy-converter, you’ll need to take account of local gravity, as well as ambient atmospheric pressure and density, and the size and mass of objects you’ll be wanting to convert; but we’ll look at all that later. For the time being, we need to think very carefully about the design of the suit for your large, thin friends.”
“It all seems jolly complicated, if you ask me,” Tarquin complained, “surely there’s an easier way, some kind of workaround.”
It was difficult to tell just by looking, but Kala Kodash gave off an aura that suggested it was, well, angry is probably the best word. It looked straight at Tarquin and said, “Son, we live in a universe that is governed by laws, physical laws. The relationships between matter and energy, within each dimension, are covered by a large and complex body of rules. The relationships between the laws that govern each dimension, which, incidentally, are not all the same, and the laws that exist in the gaps between dimensions, are so incredibly difficult that the brightest and best of our scientists, and I include myself in that number, and Kitara Navilli, undergo post-graduate and post-post-graduate studies that take twenty of your years and make your doctorates look, by comparison, like kindergarten stuff. You believe, and not entirely without cause, that your scientists are approaching a full understanding of how the universe works. They have, over the years, discovered, named and formalised a number of laws, all of which have one thing in common—”
“They’re wrong?” Tarquin offered.
“No, young human. They’re not wrong – well, not completely wrong, and not all of them, anyway. What they are is incomplete. Look at gravity. Way, way back, one of your physicists defined gravity, yes?”
“That was Sir Isaac Newton. Brilliant man. Discovered a number of theories. Quite a lot of them went on to become laws – fixed, immutable, and—”
“And incomplete. More recent discoveries on your planet have shown Newton’s theories to be deficient. As have most of the theories put forward by one of your greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein. They are right, but they don’t go far enough. They explain and predict behaviour in very large systems, but don’t apply at the quantum level.”
Meredith was becoming quite indignant at this disparagement of Earth’s finest minds. “That,” she said emphatically, “is why we have been investing a lot of time and energy – yes, and money, too – trying to track down a definitive unified field theory; a theory of everything, if you will; a single formula, as simple as E=MC², that will embrace the universe.”
“Doesn’t exist,” Kala said.
“What?” Meredith asked. “Our best brains are convinced that it must exist, and they can’t all be wrong, surely.”
“How long ago was it, Vice Admiral, that the best brains on your planet believed that the Earth was flat? How many years have passed since someone who actually understood planetary relationships was killed for disputing that your star, its planets and every other body in space, were in fixed orbits around your planet?”
“That was all ages ago,” Meredith said. “We’ve come on a long way since then.”
“It was no more than five hundred years ago as you count time. A blink of an eye, to use one of your sayings.”
“But look how far we’ve come in that time.”
Chief Marshgass felt that he had to defend his civilisation, at the same time bringing some context. “Meredith,” he said, “you speak with pride of your civilisation and its achievements in five hundred years, and rightly so. But remember this. My team landed on your moon before this man was killed for preaching that your planet revolves around its star, not the other way around. My forebears were proficient in inter-stellar flight twenty-three thousand years before that (or more, or less, because of the way the universe expands). Yours is a very young civilisation. That its rate of advancement is remarkable is beyond question, but you are only at the beginning of a very long road; a road that is badly signposted, if it is marked at all; a road that is on no map, and that will certainly allow you to branch off into many, many blind alleys. My advice? Accept the counsel of our friends from Grintsk. And consider this: when you go to your universities, you soon come to realise that the professors don’t know everything. This is good. This is true. It is also true, though, that they know a great deal more than you do. So it is with the Jinthae. They will, I hope, be the first to admit that they don’t have all the answers. However, they have discovered a lot more of the answers than you have; and the most important thing? They know where to look for the rest. Tell me I’m not right, Jinnis Keet.”
“You’re not right,” Jinnis answered, “not entirely, anyway. We don’t know where to look for all the answers we haven’t yet found. A lot of them, yes. But not all of them, not by any means. Let me give you an example. After many tens of thousands of years looking, we still have no idea how or why, against all scientific thought, against all logic and against all the evidence, belief in a supernatural creator-being who still influences if not controls at least some aspects of our daily lives is still prevalent, to the point of being pandemic.”
“You will never find that answer, my friend,” Patsy said, “for does not every religion say that you can’t find faith by looking for it? That faith requires believing without or even against the evidence of your own eyes?”
“And yet many do…”
“And many,” Patsy added, “not only live their lives according to the tenets of their faith but will also attest to a personal experience at the root of it.”
“I didn’t know you were religious,” Meredith said.
“I’m not. But, to quote one of your favourite sayings, Ma’am, I know stuff.”
“So,” Kala asked, “where does this leave us?”
Norma the Nameless raised her hand so high it almost disappeared into the clouds. “The material we were looking for to stop the leakages from FLATUS and your thing. Could that perhaps be suitable for this suit they’re talking about?”
“Send me what you have,” Kitara said. “I’ll have our experts analyse it.”