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 seven, scene one
Life on the moon base quickly returned to what passed locally for normal. Freed from the majority of her administrative and supervisory responsibilities, Andrea was able to devote her waking hours to the science and maths at which she so excelled and which gave her such a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. [To avoid any possible ambiguity, I should point out that the pleasure and satisfaction mentioned were, shall we say, non-corporeal in nature; and when I say ‘waking hours’, I exclude those that are, not to put too fine a point on it, horizontally aligned. Emphatically so. There. Clear? Good.]
The Borborygmi had completed the manufacture of the Jinthae-designed suits, and no member of either species, human or Borborygmi, was wearing cumbersome pressure-suits. Meanwhile, the main part of the project – the GTI pods themselves – was still very much on the drawing board. Despite numerous visits and conference calls, neither the human nor the Borborygmi team was anywhere near putting driver to screw or spanner to nut.
Back at regimental HQ, Admiral Meredith Winstanley had convened a virtual conference attended by virtually everyone who was anyone on the project – virtually. The Right Honourable (and Learned) Kayleigh Marsden PC, QC, MP was both Secretary of State for Alien Affairs and Chair of the Alien Affairs Oversight Committee and so was in the unenviable position of having to hold herself to account; a task she undertook assiduously and conscientiously. Indeed, she is on the record as the only inner-circle cabinet-member in the history of parliamentary endeavour not only to have chastised herself, but also to have tabled a motion of no confidence in herself (the motion failed, having been declared by the speaker to be possibly unconstitutional, probably vexatious and most certainly unimaginably silly). The Secretary of State lent to the meeting the weight of her presence – about 125 Kg – and pretty much nothing else, she being an accomplished administrator who still thought the designation GTI related to a small German motor car from the internal combustion era. By contrast, her private secretary and senior adviser, Ben Hussain, was as knowledgeable as anyone (which wasn’t very) and added some much-needed gravitas to the proceedings… speaking of which, Warrant Officer Duncan de Sauderley had by then been transferred back to RHQ and placed in charge of fitness training, discipline and morale (other ranks). There being no members of the other ranks beyond galley-staff and a handful of low-level administrative operatives, his was not an onerous post. You will recall that Gravit Ass had expressed a preference for the heat of battle and will therefore be less than surprised to learn that his latest posting left him as frustrated as a prize bull languishing alone in a field separated by an invisible but impenetrable force-field from an adjacent one containing a score or so of the world’s most receptive of cows.
In addition to the political hacks and senior military officers (Meredith, Joan Weinberg and Patsy Pratt), the meeting was remotely attended by Andrea Smithson and Jason Strangename representing the human contingent on the moon, as well as by Artivon Grumpblast and Norman the Nameless representing the Borborygmi. Kala Kodash and Kitara Navilli were physically present on behalf of the Jinthae.
Once recognised as chair, the Secretary of State called the meeting to order and under direction from Patsy, albeit unwittingly, she asked for reports on status and progress on the pod construction from Joan and Artivon. The two had spoken on the previous day to compare and synchronise their accounts, and had agreed that Joan should initially speak for them both.
“Progress is slow, Madam Secretary,” she admitted, “This is mostly because although we have the detailed specifications, we lack an overview.”
“An overview?” the Secretary of State said channelling, as she so often did, Oscar Wilde’s Lady Augusta Bracknell (Dame Edith Evans’ portrayal, of course), “explain yourself, child.”
“With respect, Madam Secretary,” Meredith said, “I think it inappropriate to address a Rear Admiral in the Royal Space Regiment as ‘child’.”
Suitably admonished [don’t you just love EPHS?] the Secretary of State continued, “Tell me about this overview you lack, if you please, Rear Admiral.”
“Gladly, Ma’am. Imagine, if you will, being given detailed plans for the construction of the engine and drive systems for a personal land transport vehicle—”
“A GTI? I knew it. You’re making a motor car again. Good for you.”
“We’re not, but never mind. Let me try something closer to home. Imagine you have been given a file of detailed clauses and amendments for a new Act of Parliament—”
“What’s the Act for? What does it do?”
“Precisely. You need the overview, the context. You need the preamble, the summary that lays out what the Act is for and what it’s supposed to do.”
“Thank you, Madam Secretary.” She turned to the Jinthae. “We know in detail how to build all the systems and subsystems, and even how to integrate them. We have test schedules for each component. But we don’t know what the final result should do. We don’t even know how the Human or Borborygmi interface is supposed to work.”
Kala Kodash stood to its full height of 118 centimetres. “That’s my failing, and I accept full responsibility,” it said, “We had intended to include that in your packages. Wait small.” It shimmered and suddenly held a pile of papers in its hands. The Secretary of State for Alien Affairs fainted. Simultaneously, the attendees on the moon came into possession of copies of the overview specifications, from the hand of Kitara’s sibling, Willy Navilli.
Secretary Marsden responded well to Patsy’s smelling salts, sat bolt upright and asked, “What just happened?”
“Apologies, Secretary,” Kala Kodash said, “My colleague went to get the papers that were missing. It can be disconcerting if you aren’t used to it.”
“But he didn’t go anywhere. One minute he was standing there, then suddenly he had a load of papers. What trickery is this?”
“This is what I was telling you about, Ma’am,” Ben Hussain said softly to her, “The Jinthate travelled to its home planet, twenty-three light years away, and returned with the papers.”
“Bah! Impossible. Some sort of magick [I think the way she spells that is enough to give a sense of how up-to-date the Secretary of State is in her thinking] or sleight of hand, I’ll be bound!”
“Clarke’s Third Law, Ma’am, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. What you have witnessed in action is the GTI technology we are seeking to develop.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before we came here?”
“I did, Ma’am.”
“Before we came here, Ma’am.”
“Well. Make it clearer next time.”
“If I may suggest, Madam Secretary…” Meredith said.
“What is it, girl … I mean Admiral?”
“It would be useful to give our people the rest of the day to study this new information. I propose we adjourn now and reconvene tomorrow morning.”