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 three
Everyone turned up to the next project meeting buzzing with excitement. The materials were piled on the table in the middle of the conference room. Tarquin went forward and picked some up.
“Gosh,” he said, “I expected them to be much heavier than this.”
“That’s the thinnest one, Tarquin,” Andrea purred (she didn’t, it just that’s how it seemed to Tarquin), “Try one of the ten-millimetre pieces.”
“Oh, that’s heavier,” he said, picking one up, but not showing any strain, because that would be unmanly, in front of the Angel Andrea, “a lot more rigid, too.”
“The ten-millimetre and the six-millimetre types are meant to provide support for the Borborygmi bone structure. The three-millimetre type doesn’t need to be rigid it just provides strength and radiation protection for us to go into the machine.”
“Does that mean when the first machines are built, I may be able to go?” Tarquin asked.
“Rest assured,” Meredith replied, “you’ll be on the first trip.”
“Oh, wow. Will I? Really?”
“Yes, really,” Meredith confirmed.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Andrea asked.
“That, Andy, rather depends on what it is you think I’m saying.”
“I think you’re suggesting that poor, sweet, innocent Tarquin—”
“Are we talking about the same Tarquin?”
“I believe so.”
“The Tarquin Stuart-Lane who’s a Captain in the Royal Space Regiment?”
“Is there another?”
“What’s your point?”
“You are suggesting sending Tarquin – that Tarquin – on an untested transport that could take him anywhere, with no idea (a) what state he’ll arrive in, (b) whether he’ll be able to get back, and (c) what state he’ll be in if he does get back.”
Meredith responded with a long, drawn-out “Yes.”
“And what did you think about the Waist of Space mission?”
“I thought that was inhuman, too. I mean, sending two officers, ill-equipped and, it turned out, unsupported, to see how long they’d live on the moon. I mean, was it ever the intention that you should come back? Alive?”
“And yet here we are.”
“Yes, you survived, on your wits, from what I’ve heard.”
“Indeed. On our wits.”
“No, not both of you, just you, Meredith. Tarquin would never have had the strength to get out of there himself, and you know it.”
“Oh, I see what’s going on here. You’ve tried coffee, now you want to try tea. Let me tell you something about tea, Andrea. It’s a very nice drink, and it’ll leave you feeling good, but tea will never, ever give you the buzz that good draught of coffee does.”
“Has it occurred to you that I may have a hankering for a longer drink?”
“What do you mean? Are you trying to tell me that… you can’t mean… what!?”
“While I enjoyed, you-know, Meredith, I think I prefer a relationship that’s not based on sex, but on an intellectual partnership.”
“What? Who? Tell me you’re joking!”
“I’m not joking, Meredith. Just at the moment, my mind craves stimulation more than any part of my body does. Arty and I are going to give it a go, have a couple of test dates and see how we get on. I want to introduce him to some of our culture and vice versa. Actually, I’m quite excited about the whole thing.”
“I’ll give it a month.”
“Because by then, your drives will kick in. You don’t know you’re thirsty until you’ve had a drink. You’ll find that a celibate relationship just can’t do it for you any longer. Unless you’re planning to…”
“Heavens no, Meredith. That couldn’t possibly work. Or at least, I don’t think it could. No, my idea, if I am beset with physical needs, is to offer the position of ‘friends with benefits’ to—”
“Me, me, me,” Tarquin shouted, stretching his hand into the air like an excited schoolboy who knows the answer to a really, really hard question, “offer it to me. I’ll accept, straight away, on your terms, whatever they are, regardless of how much I have to debase myself for you. Oh, please say it’s me.”
“It’s you, Tarquin.”
“Patsy,” Meredith said, “pick Tarquin up and sit him on a chair, then do whatever you need to do to bring him around again.”
“Rubber gloves, Ma’am?” Patsy asked, hopefully.
“No,” Andrea barked, “emphatically not. Use smelling salts.”
“Don’t have any,” Patsy said with a pout.
“Just open a tin of those sardines under his nose, Lovely,” Meredith said.
“Can I whip it up under his nose and maybe cut him a little?”
“No, Patsy, you may not.”
Patsy was clearly disappointed but did as she was told.
“I can’t say I’m not a little saddened by your choice, Andy,” Meredith said, somewhat dejectedly.
“You’ve no need to be, Meredith. What I was going to say before poor, sweet Tarquin became more than a little over-excited was: my idea, if I am beset with physical needs, is to offer the position of ‘friends with benefits’ to Tarquin and Meredith.”
Meredith smiled and gave Andy a hug.
Joan, however, was less pleased. “What about me?” she asked.
“You are Meredith’s deputy, aren’t you?”
“Only in matters military.”
“Well then, let’s just designate this a military matter, shall we?”
“And me?” Patsy piped up as she returned from seeing to Tarquin – and not in the pugilistic way she would have preferred, either.
“Sorry, full up,” Andrea replied, “I’m sure you’d find me less… erm… whatever than Meredith and Joan.”
“I guess I’ll never know.”
“Can’t win them all, eh Patsy?” Joan asked as she gave the pastry chef a hug.
While all this was going on, the Borborygmi were studying the specifications for the materials that had been delivered from Grintsk. Artivon, hereinafter to be known as Andy’s chap, announced, “We can make all these things on our base on your moon. It will give us an immediate use for the facility we were setting up to build FLATUS – okay, different machines and so on, but our engineers will be all over that in a trice.”
“Why can’t you make it here?” Meredith asked.
“We could, but not wearing these suits. And apart from that, it’ll be easier to take delivery of the raw materials we’ll have to import from the asteroid mines, due to there being no atmosphere to negotiate, and I rather suspect that manufacture will be easier and faster in low gravity. So our clever engineers tell me, anyway.”
“Does that mean you won’t need to come down here, ever?” Andrea asked, hoping for an alternative response.
“Oh, no. It does mean that we can do without these massive support suits, though. If we all return to our base, then make enough of the six-millimetre suits, those who need to, or want to, can come straight back down.”
“Oh, that’s good. I don’t want our relationship to become a long-distance one before it really starts.”
“It won’t,” Meredith said, “I shall want you to divide your time between here and the moon until this first phase is complete. Tarquin will spend most of his time there, carrying out his duties as Human/Borborygmi Liaison Officer, and you will do a similar job on the technical, scientific and mathematics levels.”
“If I may say so, Meredith,” Tarquin said, “that’s a very astute decision you’ve made. I shall be able to carry out my main duties without having to worry about that blasted donkey; the Angel Andrea will spend some time with us and, we can but hope, fall prey to the occasional need of a non-intellectual flavour, if you get my drift; and I shall be there to help her deal with those needs. Ding bloody Dong, I should say.”
“Just keep your mind on your job, Tarquin,” Meredith said, “I have a feeling it will gain in importance during the course of the project and, if you do it well, who knows? There may just be another stripe to be had.”
“Gosh, Meredith. Commodore? Be assured, my nose will be the cleanest in the known universe.”
As always happens, the meeting finally broke up and the groups each went their own way. Andy found herself seated beside Meredith on the coach home.
“Can I ask you something, Meredith?” she said, notably not resisting her boss placing her hand on her knee.
“Of course,” Meredith whispered into her ear before planting the lightest of kisses on her lobe.
Andrea shivered. “When you decided Tarquin should spend most of his time on the moon, and I’d only spend half of mine,” she said, giggling a little because of… well, you can probably guess why she was giggling.
“MM-hmm,” Meredith said.
“Might that have been to ensure there’d be no, shall we say, distractions for me when I’m down here, with my chap and my ‘friend’ on the moon?”
“You may very well think that Andrea,” Meredith said, kissing her neck between each word, “I couldn’t possibly comment.”
“Ma’am, are you sure this is appropriate behaviour for two senior officers on the Regimental coach?”
“As the ranking officer here, my sweet, I think I get to decide what’s appropriate, and this seems very appropriate to me.”
“But Meredith, it’ll be the talk of the Regiment.”
“Oh, alright, spoilsport,” Meredith said, retracting her hand and sitting bolt upright.
The rest of the journey was passed in silence, although the two officers did hold hands for the whole time, and who can say what goes on beneath a Stuart-Lane tartan travel rug? (yes, his family have their own tartan, or so they claim. Personally, I think its one they fabricated themselves, or stole from a proper clan and just changed its name, but what do I know?)
Back at the barracks, Meredith called her little cabal into her office before retiring for the night.
“Ladies,” she said to Joan, Andrea and Patsy, “a lot has happened today and a number of decisions made on the fly that might have come as a surprise to you. They certainly did to me. Now, we can be professional and adult about this, can’t we? We’re all grown women and powerful women in our own rights. It is necessary for us to decide among ourselves, who will be joining whom for this night, and—”
“Meredith,” Joan said.
“And before anyone says anything, I bagsees Andrea. Any arguments?”
“No, Ma’am!” Andrea said with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm.
“No, Ma’am,” the other two said, with a show of disappointment, but that was just for show. They skipped out of the office, hand in hand.
“Sleepover?” Meredith said to Andy.
“I doubt it,” Andrea replied with what could well have been termed a wicked leer.