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 four, scene four
While Jinnis was resting, guess what was going on downstairs in the dining room (apart, of course, from eating). That’s right, they were talking about Jinnis.
“Okay,” Meredith said, “let’s go around the table. Give me your thoughts on what you’ve heard so far. Joan?”
“I’m not sure. He sounds plausible enough and went into a lot of detail. Some of it, though, seemed a bit far-fetched.”
“What in particular?”
“Five hundred shielded satellites orbiting the planet, and we don’t know about any of them? I think our planetary defences are a lot better than that.”
“Thanks, Joan. Anything else?”
“Well, yeah. The whole question of this instantaneous travel is a bit suss.”
“I tend to agree, Joan,” Meredith said, “but what Forbes told me tends to support it.”
“Yah, absolutely,” Forbes interjected, “when Fin shot it, it somehow disappeared and came back when the bullet had passed.”
“And we’re being asked to believe that its disappearance and return in a fraction of a second was controlled from twenty-three light years away,” Joan said incredulously.
“Okay, Joan, but if we don’t believe that, we’ll need to come up with an alternative hypothesis. Patsy: any thoughts?”
“Didn’t follow it all, if I’m honest. I’m more interested in Forbes’s kitchen here.”
“Fair enough, lover. Tarquin?”
“Oh! Yah. What?”
“What did you think of what the alien said?”
“Believed every word of it. Funny thing is, he sounds exactly like a chap I grew up with.”
“Who?” Meredith asked.
“You wouldn’t know him. Before I met you. Very posh and well-spoken, though.”
“You kidding?” Patsy asked, “sounded broad Yorkshire to me.”
Finlay piped in, “That’ll be the mindspeak. It told us that it provides the concepts and structures and stuff, and our own mind provides the actual voice. What we hear is what we expect to hear.”
“Well, that at least makes sense,” Meredith said, “sounded to me like my old physics professor. What did you hear, Joan?”
“I heard a woman’s voice. Couldn’t exactly place it, but rather reminiscent of one of the women who did Tomorrow’s World on the telly.”
“Interesting. I heard a softly spoken, rather effete but supremely erudite young male. So that’s something else we’ve agreed he… it’s accurate on. What’s the possibility that if the part of its story that relates to itself is accurate, then perhaps the part that relates to its planet’s technologies is, too.”
“If it is all true,” Joan said, “including the shielded orbiting satellites, what do we do about it?”
“If it’s true,” Meredith replied, “then we want to talk to it about an exchange of technologies. There must be something they want; practically anything except the fruits of Project Prodigialis. Forbes, if it’s had long enough, we’re ready to hear its main message.”
Forbes left the room and went upstairs to collect Jinnis, while the rest of the group cleared the table after their lunch. Patsy took a long time clearing up, she was too busy loving Forbes’s many appliances in the kitchen.
“I could easily fall in love with a man who has a kitchen like this,” she said, prompting a harsh look from both Meredith and Joan. Before either of them could respond, Forbes returned with Jinnis.
“Thank you for coming back so promptly,” Meredith said, “I trust you’re adequately refreshed.”
“I am, thank you,” Jinnis replied, “Are you ready for my message now?”
“We are, but before you start, I have to tell you that we are having some difficulty accepting your story, particularly as it refers to hidden satellites and instantaneous interstellar travel.”
“That’s okay. They’re both technologies that we developed some time ago, and we just take them for granted.”
“Do many of your race carry out this type of travel?”
“Very few. The strains it places on mind and body can’t be withstood without many years of training and acclimatising. Added to that strain, those of us who do travel usually end up on a world where the gravity or the atmosphere, or both, aren’t really suitable for us. Is there a way I can convince you of the truth of what I’m saying?”
“You tell me. We know where in space the planet you say is your home is located, and we’ve confirmed it’s listed and it’s twenty-three light-years away, give or take. Whatever we ask you to do to demonstrate the travel, we’ve no way of knowing for sure that it’s come all that way. And we don’t know about the satellites, either.”
“That’s the easy one. Train a telescope on the coordinates I’ve just written down. That’s one of our units.”
Meredith went to the computer, brought up the Regiment’s telescope and displayed a piece of empty space.
“Okay, not that one. Try these,” Jinnis said, “there’s some small debris headed for it in thirty-seven seconds.”
Meredith keyed in the new data and looked at another chunk of empty space. A few seconds later, a small piece of space junk sped into view and promptly disappeared.
“What just happened?” Joan asked.
“The debris was converted to energy by the device’s SEP field, as I said.”
“What’s an SEP field?” Tarquin asked, “Someone Else’s Problem? Like in the Hitchhikers Guide? Ha ha ha.”
“No. Shielded Energy Porosity,” Jinnis said.
“And there are five hundred of these?” Meredith asked.
“Would you be prepared to give us their co-ordinates?”
“All of them?”
“Okay, wait small,” Jinnis said. He shimmered briefly, then said, “okay. As a show of good faith, we will give you their locations. Now, as to the travel, I’ve just been back to my institute on my home planet, and brought you this as a gift.” He raised one hand from his lap and handed Meredith a small mahogany box.
Without touching it, Meredith asked, “What is this?”
The voice disappeared from their heads and a semi-mechanical voice came from the box. “This is a synthetic mindspeak audible cell.”
“But how,” Tarquin asked, “do we know you just brought it. Perhaps you had it with you anyway and you’ve just produced it. Hah!” he added, triumphantly.
“What can I do to convince you?”
“You could take one of us to your planet,” Patsy suggested.
“The combined stresses of the journey and my planet’s gravity would kill whoever I took. If that didn’t do it, the atmosphere would – you’d drown without the separation filter that we have evolved to have in our heads.”
“I know,” Tarquin said, “go back to your institute and take a digital camera with you. When you’re there, take some photographs of your colleagues and your office, then bring them back for us to see.”
“Will you trust that?” Jinnis asked Meredith.
“I think it would help. Good suggestion, Tarquin. I knew we were right to bring you.” Tarquin beamed with pride.
Finlay walked across to the bureau and extracted a pocket digital camera. He checked the state of the battery and made sure there was space on the card. Being satisfied that it was usable, he returned to the table and took a few images of the group, Jinnis included.
“There,” he said, handing the camera to the alien, “use that.”
Jinnis disappeared from view.
“Tell me again, why are we headed east?”
“It’s not rocket science! This queue on the westbound lane goes on forever. This way is practically clear.”
“And why do you suppose that is, dear heart?”
“Because, love of my life, everybody wants to be in the place we just left. It’s holiday season and the world and his wife are headed to the coast.”
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with the severe weather warning they gave out on the radio this morning, would it?”
“What severe weather warning?”
“The one that alerted risks of property damage, risks of injury and, oh yes, interruptions to travel.”
“Well, duh! Makes my point for me, doesn’t it? Travel can’t be much more difficult than that lot on the other side have it.”
“They said, if you were listening—”
“Which, incidentally, I wasn’t.”
“Then it’s a good job I was. They said that roads would be impassable—”
“Witness to the left, so they’re not wrong there.”
“No, Dumbo. Roads where we are going will be impassable.”
“And you believed them? Look to your left, my sweet. Look and learn.”
“Which part of ‘will be’ is confusing you, oh prince of dumbness? That lot is there now, before the weather hits.”
“Yes, and it will only get worse. No way we want to get mixed up in that lot.”
“We wouldn’t have had to, would we? We could have stayed where we were.”
“Because that’s where they’re sending people to escape the storms!”
“And you believe them…”
“You believe the weather forecasters.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why do I believe them? Because they’re the experts. Because they know what they’re talking about. Because they have information we don’t.”
“Like Michael Fish and that hurricane he said wasn’t coming and did?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Listen. I know thins will be hard for you to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway. They don’t know. They’re guessing.”
“No, they aren’t. They have data, models. They’re the experts.”
“And you’ve learned nothing from recent elections and referendums. We don’t want experts. We’ve listened to experts for too long and look at the mess we’re in.”
“So… what? We don’t listen to experts? We take our lead from people who live by hunches. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Experts have been forecasting things since forever and getting it wrong. People – senior politicians – that I don’t want to mention by name, though we all know who I’m talking about, know things that experts don’t know. Why are you laughing?”
“Are you listening to yourself? These people make things up, sell them as facts and, when proven wrong, deny what they’d said before; claim they were taken out of context or misrepresented. Or they say things like ‘the words themselves are not important and are used for illustration or to make a point, you should listen to the intention behind the words’. They are liars.”
“Well, I don’t happen to think so.”
“So that build-up of clouds ahead is what – an optical illusion? Some kind of metaphor?”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“I was talking about politicians; honest politicians.”
“Don’t call me a moron! You’re my wife. You’re supposed to support me.”
“There’s a turnaround. All this time, I’ve been thinking that it was the husband’s job to support his wife.”
“Now it’s you twisting my words.”
“You ought to be a politician, you know. I could see you in public meetings, saying the first thing that comes into your head then denying it when it’s thrown back at you.”
“Okay. If you’re so clever, what do you think I should do now? Turn back?”
“Not going to happen.”
“So you’re going to navigate blindly into the eye of the storm?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
“Yup. Politician through and through.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 179, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
Kreative Kue 178 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
“What the hell?”
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Why is this thing telling me to sign in again?”
“Well. you have to use the sign in procedure to use the computer.”
“Come on sonny. I’m not that stupid. I’m talking about this website.”
“Oh sorry. I thought you were having trouble signing in.”
“Yeah if only. I got bigger problems than that.”
“Can I be of assistance?”
“Do you know anything about binary physics?”
“Then thank you very much but butt out.”
“Well. I never.”
“Experienced such rudeness.”
“Please. At your age, I’m sure you have.”
“I can’t remember when then.”
“So put on your big boy pants and get over it. I need to concentrate.”
“Fine. I’ll just finish my banking then.”
“Yes, I do my banking online.”
“What bank do you use?”
“I would take my money out of there if I were you.”
“What? Why would I do that?”
“Cause in ten minutes that place will be empty.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Look sonny. I’m giving you a hint since you tried to be nice. Take it or leave it.”
“What are you doing over there?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know? Now are you going to move your money or not? I’m ready to hit the enter button.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Believe it, sonny. Believe it.”
My effort was:
“You’ll never guess what I’ve found here, Eddie.”
“Enthral me. What have you found, Sybil?”
“No need to be rude.”
“Sorry. I’m just deep into something here.”
“I’m having a bit of trouble with the language, but I think I’ve found a backdoor into the North Korean state security server.”
“I didn’t know you could speak Korean.”
“So what makes you think it’s their server.”
“The text looks Korean, and there’s loads of pictures that show the kind of stuff we’ve been seeing on the telly recently.”
“You sure it isn’t Arirang?”
“South Korean TV? No, there’d be different languages and more cultural stuff on there. This looks kind of official.”
“And you just slipped in?”
“Hardly. I had to navigate a load of firewalls and security first.”
“What’s the URL? [coughs]”
“That’s the Uniform Resource Locator; a kind of address for the site.”
“I know what it stands for, smarty-pants. You want to teach me how to suck eggs, too?”
“Sorry, Sybil. The address is long and encrypted. It’s just a stream of random letters and numbers.”
“So how did you [coughs] get to it, then?”
“Didn’t you see? I just shut my eyes and hit a load of random keys, then did control-enter to put the www on the front and dot-com on the end.”
“And that got you North Korean secret service?”
“Doesn’t sound secure to me.”
“Getting there is only the first part. It’s like standing outside Buckingham Palace: easy to know you’re there, and easy to look at the public face of it, but to actually get inside—”
“You need an invitation? [coughs]”
“Either that or a way of getting past all the security.”
“But once you’re through the main gate, you’re there, aren’t you?”
“Would that it were that easy. No, once you’re through the gate, there are still loads of obstacles; loads of security checks to get past. Then, when you’re inside, if you can get through all the barriers, you need to be able to find the room you’re looking for… you okay?”
“Just bit chesty, that’s all.”
“If you must cough without covering your mouth, can you give the screen a wipe afterwards?”
“So. What did you find?”
“Yeah. I was looking around at various things, following leads, nosing [coughs] around here and there—”
“Get on with it, I haven’t got all day.”
“What’s with mister impatient all of a sudden?”
“Sorry. My mind is still on this Korea thing. Go on.”
“Well, you’ll never guess [coughs] what I [coughs]—”
“Sorry. I found out about your secret bank account.”
“What secret bank account?”
“Duh! The bank account you like to keep secret [coughs].”
“How did you find that?”
“I think [coughs] I’m getting quite good at this [coughs]. I even transferred the money you owe me from there to my [coughs] bank account.”
“I thought we were a team.”
“I thought you were [coughs] honest, trustworthy and reliable – to me, at least.”
“I am. I was planning to pay you that later.”
“Soon. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. [coughs] Doctor told me [coughs] I should give up this [coughs] game, though.”
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 – pingbacks don’t often work.
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.