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 forebears were testing a new kind of spacecraft.
In part two, FLATUS, our dynamic duo help the aliens (and the RSR) build their own multi-locatable craft. Will the ships be built and if so, will the drives work? What are the possible effects of having three such craft in space at one time? FLATUS — Fantastically Large Assembly for Travel at Unbelievable Speeds. The most unlikely spacecraft never built?
Part three follows the preparation and development of the Gap Travel Initiative (code named GTI) and the developing relationships among and between species, races and genders. Will humankind achieve the nirvana of limitless travel and if so, at what cost. Stick with Tarquin and Meredith as they navigate their route through an uncertain future.
GTI. Chapter six, scene one
The trip to the moon was as smooth as should be expected from a ship-to-shore transport that was now, since its recent refit, fully automated. Yes, I know Andrea liked to pilot it herself, but that says less about the craft and more about her background, upbringing and personality – and especially the struggles she had being taken seriously as a remarkably (some would say dangerously) attractive young blond woman in fields of endeavour that are still traditionally reserved for men. In a nod to the military’s penchant for belt-and-braces, it is still possible for the pilot – referenced in the manual as ‘seat one occupant’ – to override the automation and take manual control, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Rear Admiral would at every opportunity take full advantage of what is affectionately known as the Smithson over-ride.
The landing was textbook. Had Tarquin not been in conversation with his superior officer, it is most likely he would have slept through the whole thing. Yes, it was that smooth. Looking out of the small window, Tarquin noticed something different.
“I say, Commodore, Sir…” Tarquin said, a hint of excitement in his voice.
“What is it, Tarquin,” Jason replied with a notably different emotion.
“They’ve sent someone out to meet us, Sir. Look.”
“So I see, Tarquin. Isn’t it normal practice? SRORs dictate—”
“Yes, Sir. I know what the regimental operating regulations say, but this is the moon. No-one ever comes to meet us. We just make our way to the centre and de-suit. Sir.”
The two officers secured and pressurised their helmets, popped the door, exited and climbed down the ladder. A space-suited individual beckoned them to follow him and marched off towards the office block. Yes, that’s right, he marched. Very smartly and very formally. Unusually, given the low gravity on the moon, he didn’t look like he was on a trampoline. He looked like he was on a parade ground. In fact, he appeared to have more gravity than the moon! Jason and Tarquin bounced along behind him.
Entering the building, they passed through atmosphere control and removed their helmets. Sorry, I forgot to mention that Jason and Tarquin were field-testing prototype 3mm GTI suits and so didn’t need the pressure suits worn on the moon by other humans.
Once he’d de-suited, they saw the newcomer in his full glory. He had the dress, attitude and demeanour of one more accustomed to commanding the parade deck of a training ship than meeting officer-class visitors at a regimental outpost.
“I’d hate to be one of his new recruits,” Tarquin whispered to Jason.
“And why would that be? Sir?” the new man asked pointedly, “Yes, I heard. Not much gets past these ears,” he added, touching his ears with extended index fingers; ears that Tarquin couldn’t help but notice were significantly smaller than he would have expected to see on a large man with tightly-shorn hair. Jason saw Tarquin’s eyebrows raise and heard his intake of breath preparatory, no doubt, to saying something, probably something at best insensitive, at worst downright stupid and rude. Jason touched his charge’s shoulder to attract his attention and shook his head gently to dissuade any possible embarrassing outburst.
Jason studied the newcomer’s uniform, its insignia and name badge. “Warrant Officer de Sauderley, is it?” he asked, trying his best to sound aloof.
“It is Sir.”
“And your purpose here is?”
“My brief is to maintain discipline and morale amongst the other ranks and civilians, Sir.”
“Then why did you meet us from the SOPT? We are neither other ranks nor civilians.”
“Begging your pardon, Sir, but I was specifically ordered to meet Captain Stuart-Lane and escort him to Rear Admiral Smithson’s ante-room.”
“I need to speak to the Rear Admiral before she meets with the Captain.”
“Yes, Sir. The Rear Admiral’s ante-room is a secure location—”
“You’re putting me in a holding cell, aren’t you?” Tarquin interjected.
“We don’t call it that, Captain.”
“But I’ll bet that’s what it bally-well is.” On anyone else, Tarquin’s expression would have been described as indignant or even incandescent. Being singularly ill-equipped to carry off such a complex emotion, the poor lad merely looked as though he were about to cry.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” the WO said to Tarquin, “I have my orders.” He barked something neither of the travellers understood and stepped back as two burly marines entered the room and as politely and gently as their dispositions allowed, escorted Tarquin away.
“Tell me about yourself, Warrant Officer,” Jason said.
“Not much to tell, Sir,” he replied, “Eighteen years in the Regiment; been in all the major kerfuffles. Injured, too. Oh, yes. More than once, but when WO de Sauderley gets knocked down, what does he do?”
“I imagine he bounces back again?” Jason offered.
“WO de Sauderley gets back up again, Sir. That’s what he does. The higher-ups finally decided to transfer me to what they called a place of safety. Prefer the heat of battle, Sir, truth be told. Spent the last three years as chief drill and discipline instructor.”
“And you fancied a change?”
“Not my place to fancy anything, Sir. Specially requested by the Admiral, I was. I go where I’m told, Sir.”
“You mean the Rear Admiral?”
“You were specially requested by Rear Admiral Smithson.”
“Oh, no, Sir. The request came from Admiral Winstanley herself.”
“But I was with her less than a week ago. She said nothing to me.”
“Not my place to comment, Sir.”
“Very well, de Sauderley. Can you tell me one thing, though?”
“What would that be Sir?”
“How do you march in this low gravity as though you were on Terra Firma?”
“Just a knack, Sir. Can’t tell you how; it just seems to come naturally. Earned me a nickname, it has, too. One I’m not unhappy with, as it happens.”
“What do they call you?”
“Gravit Ass, Sir,” he said with a chuckle, his face displaying something akin to pride.
Jason made his way with the WO to Andrea’s office. The Warrant Officer marched, Jason bounced. On arrival, the NCO knocked on her door and, on hearing the buzzer, opened it and announced Jason. He then turned and marched smartly away.
“Strange fellow,” Jason said, walking in and taking a seat opposite Andrea.
“Who, Gravit Ass?”
“Don’t let him hear you calling him that, though. No sense of humour, I’m afraid.”
“You think? He told me about the nickname. Said he didn’t mind it and looked almost proud of it. So, what should I call him? Warrant Officer’s too formal and his surname is—”
“I know. I had the same trouble. He’s happy with his given name, once he gets to know you.”
“And that is?”