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 seven, scene two
“Do you think he will do it, Ma’am?” Andy asked Meredith as they were leaving the Vice Admiral’s office.
“I certainly hope so, Andy. Either way, we’ll be checking, won’t you, Joan?”
Joan Weinberg looked sheepishly toward the floor then looked up at her boss with defiance in her eyes. “Are you suggesting that you want me to use the fact that Reggie used to have a bit of a thing for me, and advanced my career on the basis of that, to spy on him?”
“Did I say that? Did I even imply that?” Meredith asked angrily.
“What else could you mean, then?”
“I meant, Joan, that your office has a line to Trade and Industry…”
“You mean through Mary’s husband? He’s not with that department anymore. He’s in agriculture now.”
“But isn’t he still on the Overseas Trade select committee?”
“Only until they fill his position. They know they need to replace him, but—”
“Is there any reason he shouldn’t attend their sessions?”
“I’ll ask Mary to talk to him.”
“That’s all I’m asking, Joan.”
“But that’s a bit hit and miss for you, isn’t it? Relying on a possibility that the husband of a friend might just turn up for the sessions of a committee he’s no longer interested in?”
“It would be, were it my only line of attack.”
“What else have you got?”
“You know how I can get Tarquin to do anything I want…”
“Only because he’s desperate to have sex with you!”
“Hah! That’s not going to happen, is it?”
“So how can you control him, without that hope out there?”
“Did I say that he couldn’t hope?”
“He can hope for whatever he wants to. He can even hope to win the lottery if he wants.”
“We all hope for that, Ma’am,” Andy said.
“True, Andy. But most of us feed that hope by doing the lottery.”
“Are you suggesting…”
“Thing is, Joan, he doesn’t do the lottery, but that doesn’t stop him hoping he’ll win it.”
“So what you’re saying is…”
“If Tarquin wants to hold out in the belief that I’ll one day fall for his extensive charms, let him. It would be cruel of me to deprive him of that glimmer of hope. No, I’ll let him carry on as he is. It suits me because he seriously believes that every little thing he does at my bidding moves him a step closer to that Nirvana he so yearns for.”
“Which means that he will do anything you want him to…”
“In the hope that he will get something in exchange.”
“So what are you going to get him to do?”
“His father is a high-ranking civil servant in Defence…”
“Which may have some bearing on your promotion, as did Reggie’s fancying me to mine.”
“You may very well think that, Joan. I couldn’t possibly comment. But it may get me some information.”
“Can I help?” Andy asked.
“How?” Meredith responded.
“My step-father is a Private Parliamentary Secretary in Procurement.”
“How will procurement help?”
“Dad is on the distribution list for various committees whose decisions might impact on Procurement.”
“And would any of them be—”
“Trade and Industry, External Affairs, Overseas Trade and Defence. Plus a few others that won’t help us too much.”
“Can you get to see any of these minutes?”
“I think so.”
“I’ll just ask. He’s never refused to let me see any yet.”
“Don’t need to read all of them, though. Just scan for anything that looks like it’s about releasing the technologies we’re talking about and get what you can from it.”
“Sure, Boss. I’ll get started on it this evening.”
“Do you want to have sex with me?”
“Hadn’t thought of it, Ma’am, but now you mention it…”
“Don’t go there, Andy,” Joan said, “it’s a rocky road you may regret stepping onto.”
“I was only joking with the lad, Joan,” Meredith said.
“He’s a young, impressionable lad, Meredith. And you’re in a position of power over him. Look at the mess you could get into.”
“Good point, Joan.”
“Apart from which…” Joan added with a leer.
“Apart from which what, Joan?” Meredith asked.
“Well, Andy and I are at the same rank, so there’s no problem there, and he is, to quote the vernacular, well buff.”
“So you want him for yourself? Is that what this is?”
“Ma’am, you have Patsy. I have no-one.”
“Do I get a say in this?” Andy asked.
“NO,” the two women replied in unison.
Joan looked at him. “Okay, Andy. If you had to choose between us, which would it be?”
“Yes. Whatever you say, won’t be held against you,” Meredith said.
“Unless he says me,” Joan added, “I would definitely hold myself against him.”
“Ahem,” Andy coughed for attention. “You asked which of you I would prefer to have a relationship with. Are we talking about a sexual relationship?”
“We could be, possibly,” Meredith said.
“Oh, yes, Andy. We most certainly are,” Joan added.
“In that case,” Andy said, “I choose Tarquin.”
“You mean…” Joan said.
“Yes,” Andy said, ripping off his uniform jacket and undoing a pair of clasps to reveal a female form beneath the shirt, “Andy is short for Andrea, not Andromeda. I made that up. I knew that, as a woman, my chances of advancing in the ranks of science and maths were very slight. As a student, I aced everything. Top of my class in maths and physics, but when, as Andrea, I applied for post-grad studies, I was only ever offered low-level stuff. I knew I could do better, so I applied as Andromeda, and haven’t looked back since. I suppose you’re going to sack me now.”
“Hardly,” Meredith said with a twinkle in her eye, “as a strong, capable woman, you are very much more interesting to us than you are as a man.”
“And yes,” Joan said, “we do mean sexually—”
“But not just sexually,” Meredith added, “the Regiment needs more strong, capable women in its ranks.”
“That’s okay,” Andy said, “but I should tell you that I am straight. In my mind, anyway. Haven’t actually, you-know.”
“Let me ask you a question, Andy,” Meredith said, “I want you to take this away and think about it, because we’re loaded with enough for now, work-wise, and I do want the information from your Dad.”
“What do you want to ask me, Ma’am?” Andy asked.
“Would you decide whether you prefer tea or coffee—”
“Or both,” Joan interjected.
“Or both, without first sampling the two beverages, to equip yourself with the knowledge you need to make an informed choice?”
“I take your point, Ma’am. Can I give you an answer tomorrow?”
“When you’re ready, Commodore, when you’re ready,” Meredith said.
“Thank you, Ma’am. Good night.”
“Good night, Andy,” Joan said.
Meredith turned to Joan and said, “Fancy a nightcap?”
I wish you could have come with me, you know.
Well, I’m sure we could have got someone to sit with the kids and the dogs for the evening.
I know. It’s kind of you to let me come, but honestly, it’s not the same without you.
For starters, if you could see the people around me—
I know. I know you can hear everything, but hearing it through the phone isn’t the same as being here, is it?
No. Yeah. I get that. But still.
Of course I did. Let me tell you something. I’m sat here, union flag draped over my shoulders, union flag cushion beside me and a small one in my hand. And you know what?
Well, I’ll tell you. I’m the only one.
No, not the only one here. The only one here with any sort of patriotic symbol.
No, don’t hang up. You’re the only one I can talk to. You should see the rest of them. To look at them, you’d think we’re at a wake instead of an open-air classical concert. I’ve never seen such a miserable bunch.
Yeah, really. Take the woman sat beside me for starters. She was looking cold – well the temperature dropped quite quickly when the sun started to go down – so I offered to share my blanket with her—
Yes, you do. The open-weave one we bought for the kids when they were babies.
Yeah, it is; very old.
I look after things. I have to. You won’t let me buy new all the time, will you? So I make things last. Anyway, I put that blanket over her legs and mine—
Absolutely – it’s amazingly warm. Anyway, the last time I saw the front of her face was when she thanked me; she’s been looking away ever since.
No, not towards anybody. Not even towards the orchestra, just away from me.
Bloody rude, I’d say.
Me? I’m looking at the glass of wine beside me and loving it from afar.
Yeah, I do. Apparently, it’s a tradition that you don’t drink your wine until the orchestra strikes up Pomp and Circumstance.
Dunno. Soon, I hope.
It is a daft tradition. No-one seems to know where it came from or how it started, but people who’ve been coming here for years reckon it’s a thing.
That’s what the emcee was saying. Scotland has ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘Flower of Scotland’, Wales has ‘Land of my Fathers’ and ‘Men of Harlech’ and Northern Ireland has—
No, not ‘London Derrière’, ‘Londonderry Air’. But what does England have?
Yeah, I know. Cornwall and Yorkshire have their own, but England? Nothing. ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of the United Kingdom.
I was just about to say that. A lot of people reckon ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ should be England’s national anthem, and that’s what the emcee said, but its words are too imperialistic – although not as bad as the UK anthem’s – and it’s more British than English. I’d prefer Jerusalem. Nothing militaristic in there, nothing about England ruling the waves or being the master race. Don’t get me started on how many national anthems are more battle songs than anything else – designed to fire soldiers up to march to their deaths, or so it seems. No, I reckon Jerusalem is a hopeful song. It’s not saying let’s rule the world ‘cos we’re great, it’s saying let’s make our country a great place to live.
Yeah, I know it’s a bit religious, but aren’t they all? Doesn’t everybody claim the God they follow is on their side and no-one else’s?
Oh! Got to ring off now. They’re working up to start Land of Hope and Glory. That means I can have some wine, at last.
Yeah. Then as soon as it’s finished, I’ll make my way home.
Probably an hour or so.
Okay. Love you too. Bye.
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 187, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
Kreative Kue 186 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
My thanks to John W Howell, author of the John Cannon trilogy of My GRL, His Revenge, Our Justice and Circumstances of Childhood, co-author of The Contract, and who blogs at Fiction Favorites, who sent:
Birdland by John W. Howell © 2018
“Easy guys, easy.”“You say something, Frank?”“No, I didn’t say anything.”“Could have sworn I heard something.”“We need to get control of this bird.”“Fat chance Dumbo.”“Come on, Gerry. You don’t have to be insulting.”“What are you talking about?”” I said. ‘We have to get control of this bird,’ and you called me, ‘Dumbo.”‘“I did nothing of the sort.”“Sure you did fathead.”“Alright, Frank. I think we have had it for the day.”“Now what?”“You just called me fathead.”“You must be imagining things. I didn’t call you anything.”“Your mother wears combat boots.”“Okay, Gerry. Secure your bird. I definitely do not want to do this anymore.”“Fine with me.”“Sissy.”That’s it, Frank. As soon as I get this bird tethered you and I are going to have a serious discussion about friendship.”“Yeah, well bring it on.”“Okay smart guy. How about I give you a smack on the chin.”“I haven’t said a word, Gerry. You are getting worked up over nothing.”“And you are the nothing.”“Nice. Get that bird in the car and come on back. I think you have a whooping coming.”“Forget the bird let’s get it on. Oh, wait. He just broke loose.”“Hey, you guys. Bird one. Humans zero.”“You know that bird could talk?”“I think it is more like that bird can mind control. No, I didn’t. What about that whooping.”“Ah, that was just the bird talkin.’ How about a beer.”“You’re on. Too bad he got away.”“Why?”“Could have made some money.”“And lose your mind.”“Yeah, and that. Let’s go.”
My effort was:
Eddie had forked out a lot of money for this day’s adventure and was eagerly looking forward to a new learning experience. According to the blurb, there was to be a brief introductory session, followed by an intensely practical day during which he would handle and fly a bird of prey.
Having visited this place a number of times, Eddie knew that they housed some of the world’s largest raptors: Steller’s Sea Eagles, Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles as well as Andean Condors, Griffons and other large vultures. Thus it was that he was unable to hide the disappointment he felt when Frank came out with a bird that looked smaller than the chickens he kept in his back garden.
“What’s this?” he asked Frank.
“European Buzzard,” Frank replied, “like the ones you see soaring above the fields.”
“You mean Common Buzzard, don’t you?”
“I don’t like calling anything ‘common’. I prefer European Buzzard.”
“What’s wrong with common?”
“Simply this. Pretty well every animal on the planet is vulnerable to human activity. Look how many have gone extinct in the recent past.”
“Depending on which list you believe, it’s up to fourteen since the turn of the century.”
“That’s not many, there’s thousands.”
“The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species details more than seventy-six thousand.”
“That’s plenty, surely.”
“Perhaps, but only just over half are classed as ‘least concern’, which means they’re basically doing okay – at the moment. The rest are all endangered to some degree, and more than 900 are extinct or only exist in captivity. And that’s just the ones we know about.”
“Okay, you’ve made your point, but what’s that got to do with calling it common?”
“Because when you call something common, you’re implying that there are plenty of them, and we don’t need to worry about their conservation. And that’s not a good place to start from.”
“Okay. So, what do I have to do with this bird?”
“Just make a light fist with your gloved hand and let him stand on it. I’ll put his jesses, that’s the short leather straps on his feet, through your fingers and tie his leash off on the D-ring on your glove. Then you just stand for a couple of minutes without moving or making eye contact with him.”
“Why no eye contact?”
“Because you are a bigger predator than he is, and he knows that you fix a gaze on your prey before striking.”
“Can I take a photo of him?”
“Only if you agree to throw your camera to the ground if he spooks.”
“Is he likely to?”
“If I give you my phone, will you take a photo of him on my arm?”
“I’ve got another question.”
“How can he fly if he’s effectively tied to my glove?”
“But the brochure says—”
“I know what the brochure says, and you will fly him… later. We’ll take a walk around now so he can get used to you, and you can get used to having him on your fist. You can look at him but don’t stare, and if he looks fidgety, we’ll stop and let him calm down again.”
“What if I get fidgety?” Eddie asked, jokingly.
“We’ll stop and let you calm down again.”
“Does the bird have a name?”
“Yes. It’s Tysca.”
“Tysca? Does that have a meaning or is it just a name?”
“It’s an old Anglo-Saxon word for Buzzard.”
Two men and one bird spent an hour walking slowly around fields, along ancient pathways and bridleways until, finally, Eddie was as comfortable having Tysca on his fist as Tysca was being there. Of course, Tysca was just doing his job. Every day, he sat on a different fist; every day a new, nervous man or woman slowly became more comfortable with him, and as they became more accustomed to his presence, he became more relaxed in theirs. Finally, Frank asked Eddie if he was ready to do some flying.
“Ready?” Eddie responded, “I’ve been ready since I arrived here.”
“No you haven’t,” Frank suggested, “you think you were ready but you weren’t. I believe you are now.”
“Maybe you’re right. I am calmer now than I was, and I suspect Tysca is, too.”
“Okay. Make sure you have a good grip on the jesses. I’m going to untie him.”
Frank untied the leash from Eddie’s glove and pulled it through the slits in the end of the jesses.
“Can he go now?”
“Not yet. I need to change his jesses. The ones he has now are called mews jesses; they’re designed for securing him on the stand when he’s ready for work – they come off when he goes into his aviary. I want to replace them with field jesses. They don’t have slits in them.”
“What’s wrong with the ones with slits?”
“The slits can easily get caught on a twig or a barb, and leave your bird dangling more feet up than you can reach. Now, I’m going to pull one of the jesses out. Make sure you have a solid grip on the other one.”
Frank withdrew one of the jesses from between Eddie’s fingers, pulled it through the eyelet in the anklet and replaced it with a field jess, which he threaded back through Eddie’s fingers. He then repeated the operation for the other leg.
“That’s it. Ready to go. Stretch out your arm and open your fist.”
“He didn’t go.”
“Of course not. You’re a comfortable perch. Roll your hand forward slightly.”
Eddie did as he was instructed and the bird flew lazily off into a branch of a nearby tree.
“Now we’ll sit and have a rest and a bite to eat. After that, I’ll tell you how to get him back again.”
Eddie bristled with anticipation. It may not be a massive bird, but it’s his bird – for the day, anyway.
On to this week’s challenge: Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at email@example.com before 6pm next Sunday (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here.
Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries, with links to your own blog or web site, next Monday.