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 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 three, scene one
Returning to the moon on the Sir Prijs, Patsy went immediately to her old domain, the galley, and started training the current crop of chefs, sous-chefs and pastry chefs with a view to making them almost, though not quite one hundred per cent as good as she is. Her aim, she explained earlier to Andrea, was to make sure that the quality of produce the crew enjoyed was high enough for her not to be ashamed of the galley crew, but not so high that she would cease to be held in the highest esteem and awe.
Andrea, meantime, spent more time with Jason Strangename, examining and becoming familiar with the theory and practicalities of the SEP generator. During a tea-break, Jason asked Andrea if she’d heard anything more about his possible promotion and reassignment.
“Not really,” she said, “last time I spoke with the admiral, she said that she had a job in mind for you, but I couldn’t draw her on what it was.”
“Not even a hint?”
“No. All I know is that you will lose your command of the Sir Prijs. Are you okay with that?”
“I should say. I didn’t join the Regiment to run a shuttle. If I’d wanted to do that, I’d have stayed on Earth and become a mass transit driver.”
“I take your point, Jason. We’ll both just have to wait and see what the admiral has in mind. One question, though: what about Postlethwaite?”
“Steady on old chap! That’s a bit excessive, isn’t it?”
“You plan to feed him into the energy shield?”
“No, Ma’am. The original SEP field, as envisaged by Doug Adams, wasn’t Shielded Energy Porosity, it was Somebody Else’s Problem.”
“And that’s what Postlethwaite will be…”
“Precisely, Ma’am. Although, in fairness to my successor, getting him transferred off this ship would be more of a kindness.”
“To your successor, if not to Postlethwaite himself.”
“Quite so, Commodore.”
“We’ll talk more on the return journey, Jason,” Andrea said, rising from her comfy chair and heading out of the Captain’s ready room.
The Sir Prijs having reached the transit coordinates, Andrea and Patsy boarded the SOPT and travelled down to the Moon.
They experienced an unexpected situation when trying to land on the SOPT’s allocated spot – the entire area was packed out with borborygmi – except for a small patch in the centre of the crowd that seemed to be occupied by a solitary human.
“Oh, God,” Patsy said, “what’s Tarquin done now?”
“Let’s find out, shall we?” Andrea replied, making a rapid descent to the landing pad, and causing a large number of borborygmi to make a hasty relocation to a less contentious space.
Tarquin came rushing up as the two women were climbing out of the transport.
“Thank goodness you’re back,” he exclaimed.
Andrea looked around and sensed the mood of the gathered crowd. Whatever it was, friendly wasn’t an accurate descriptor to use for it. She moved towards Tarquin and rested her hand … well, you don’t need to know exactly where she rested it, but I believe that if I tell you the effect it had, you’ll guess.
“Do you want to carry him in, Pats?” she asked, “It looks like the borborygmi aren’t too well disposed towards him just at the moment, and I don’t want to risk him being hurt.”
“Not until we’ve found out what this is all about, anyway, eh?”
Patsy picked Tarquin up from the ground and put him into a fireman’s lift to carry him through to the humans’ work area.
“Who is the senior Borborygmus here?” Andrea asked.
“I suppose I am,” Artivon said from the back of the crowd.
“No, that’d be me.” Andrea didn’t recognise the voice.
“And you are?”
“I most certainly am,” he replied, “Malodor Skatole, Chief of Staff to Chief Borborygmus Marshgass IV.”
“You’d better come with me, then, please. And you, Arty.”
“I think you’ll find that, as the Chief’s right-hand man, I deserve more respect than to be ordered around by a human.” The look on Arty’s face was one of pure embarrassment.
“And I think you’ll find,” Patsy said, making small movements with her hands, “that as chief representative not only of the Royal Space Regiment but also of the Earth authorities who, you may recall, are funding everything you are doing here, Commodore Smithson has the authority to make that request and to expect you to carry it out.”
“You’re right,” Maladore Skatole said in a tone of utter resignation, “I apologise.”
“Way to go, Patsy,” Andrea said quietly.
“Two-nil,” Patsy replied.
“Not with you.”
“I’ll explain one day.”
Inside their area, Patsy administered smelling salts to Tarquin while the two borborygmi waited in the ante-room.
“Oh, Andy,” Tarquin said.
“That’s Commodore Smithson to you, Captain,” Andrea said sternly. Tarquin started to cry. “Pull yourself together, man!”
“Yes, Ma’am. Sorry, Ma—”
Tarquin reeled from the hefty thwack across the face that he knew he deserved and which, by virtue of enhanced post-hypnotic suggestion, he truly believed he’d received.
“Report!” Andrea bellowed.
“I leave you here, unsupervised, for four days, and come back to find the borborygmi in open revolt – and you at the centre of it. You’re supposed to be Human/Borborygmi Liaison; now tell me: what the hell has happened here?”
“It’s a long story,” Tarquin stammered.
“Give me the executive summary.”
“The short version, idiot.”
“They wouldn’t accept my authority.”
“I’m not surprised. You don’t have any. What were you trying to do?”
“I just went into their labs to inspect them—”
“Inspect them. Listen: my Daddy had lots of chaps from other parts working for him, and he always made it clear how I should treat them.”
“And that is?”
“Iron fist. Not kid gloves.”
“So you went in there like a slave-owner and started lording it over them? I’m not surprised they objected. Look; I’m going to hate myself for doing this, but you will be confined to quarters for the rest of this week. When Patsy returns to Earth, you will go with her—”
“But nothing. You will return with her and you will receive appropriate re-training. You will remain on-planet until I see fit to call you back. Patsy, can you escort Captain Stuart-Lane to his quarters, please?”
“My pleasure, Ma’am.”
Accompanied by what sounded like the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah rendered on steel drums, Patsy frog-marched Tarquin through the ante-room and across the complex to his quarters where she deposited him. She then set a security over-ride code on his door, effectively locking him in.
On her return, she found Andrea speaking calmly with the two borborygmi.
“Ma’am?” she asked.
“Stupid boy. Believing he’d been left in charge, he tried to impress me by playing the big I am. Naturally enough, the guys here weren’t impressed. I think I’ve stopped them from lynching him, though.”
“I think we understand,” the Chief’s man said, “that he wasn’t being evil, just stupid.”
“I prefer misguided,” Andrea said.
“Either way, we’ll be happy to have him back here after a period of … re-education. We could have a lot worse – he is mostly a harmless idiot, and he does have his uses.”
“Sometimes,” Andrea offered.
“Yes, sometimes,” the borborygmus agreed.
“Now, before you go,” Andrea said, signalling that she expected them to go, “can you book Patsy in for a refresher course in EPHS, please?”
“But she’s already beyond most of us,” Artivon Grumpblast said.
“I know, but we have a job for her that will require the highest level of proficiency that she can attain.”
“Can we ask what it is?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you any details. I can tell you that it involves the benign persuasion of a large group of people around to our way of thinking.”
“Benign to whom? To them?”
“Heavens, no. Benign to us. Mostly harmless to them. It’s about calming a developing situation and making sure it doesn’t escalate.”
“So more like Jedi mind tricks than actual persuasion, then?”
“Look. If we don’t do this, the future of this project could well be in grave doubt.”
“Okay. Nine o’clock tomorrow morning okay?” Arty said to Patsy.
“What is this thing called, Love?”
“Are we playing that game again?”
“You give me the first line of a song and I have to answer it with the start of another song.”
“I want to know what this thing is called.”
“That coloured thing coming out of the tree, Dumbo. What thing do you think I mean?”
“I don’t know. It would probably be easier if I could read your mind.”
“Yeah – what a tale my thoughts could tell.”
“Okay, we’ll do it your way. Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue.”
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows?”
“Maybe it’s because…”
“Gotcha! You aren’t a Londoner.”
“That’s not what I was going to say. Maybe it’s because the colours of the rainbow will show the world to you.”
“Oh, very good. So you think I’m an ignorant savage and you’ve been so many places?”
“Is it true that at the end of a rainbow, you’ll find a pot of gold?”
“You’re not looking forward and you’re not looking back.”
“You’re right. We are going nowhere fast. It’s a rainbow.”
“What’s a rainbow?”
“Do you want a short answer or a proper one?”
“Yeah. I know your proper ones. Give me a short one.”
“What’s wrong with my proper answers?”
“They’re okay last thing at night; help me go to sleep, they do. Look. I don’t need detailed, scientific information. I just want to know what a rainbow is, how it’s formed and what it’s for.”
“And you want that in a couple of short, pithy sentences.”
“Okay. What is it? It’s an arch of colours visible in the sky. How is it formed? It’s caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by rain or other water droplets in the atmosphere.”
“See? It’s easy.”
“So now you know and understand it?”
“I didn’t say that, did I? But I don’t want you to tell me what refraction and dispersion are, either. So what’s it for?”
“Does it have to have a purpose?”
“Everything has to have a purpose, otherwise why’s it there?”
“Duh! It just is?”
“Don’t buy that. Nothing just happens.”
“Okay. Some people believe that there was once a great flood that was sent by God. When he stopped it, he put that bow in the sky as a sign that he’d never do it again.”
“So there haven’t been any floods since?”
“Of course there have. But not one covering the whole planet.”
“The whole planet? Is there even enough water for that?”
“Who knows? We’re talking about ancient beliefs that are based on stories that may, in some cases, be more illustrative than fact-based.”
“Best not get into religion, though, eh?”
“No. Best not.”
“So why don’t we have rainbows? Is it because we have a don’t have the same god?”
“Take a look around. How many suns can you see?”
“Oh! Where’s the other one?”
“That’s the thing. This world only has one—”
“Which is why everything only casts one shadow?”
“Thank Vrag for that. I thought I’d lost one of mine.”
“Come on, my lovely. Time to fly.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 200, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
Kreative Kue 199 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
John W Howell is the author of the John Cannon trilogy of My GRL, His Revenge, Our Justice and Circumstances of Childhood, co-author of The Contract, and blogs at Fiction Favorites.
The Square by John W. Howell © 2018
“Okay this is part 24B so why doesn’t it fit in slot 24?”
“You sure you read the instructions right?”
“I did. The next step is to fit part 24B into slot 24.”
“Why is the part so short then? Slot 24 is a foot bigger.”
“Yeah, that has me puzzled as well.”
“I have never seen such a confused mess in my whole life.”
“What do you mean ‘confused mess?’”
“Just look at this thing. Half the parts are not the right size, and it seems some are missing.”
“I checked all the parts before I began and they were all here.”
“Then why do you seem to have run out of material?”
“If I knew that I would have this conundrum solved. I called you for help not for stating the obvious.”
“Okay. I get it. Let me look at the plan.”
“It’s over there under the coffee cups.”
“Let me see. I just love these Ikea directions. I have a mechanical engineering degree and feel underqualified.”
“So what do you think?”
“For starters did you look at the picture?”
“No. Can’t say I did.”
“If you had you would realize this is supposed to be a square.”
“A square? I didn’t buy a square. I bought a rectangle. The foundation is for a rectangle.”
“You better look at your order then. You have a square. Did you get this at the Ikea store?”
“No, I ordered it online.”
“I think you better return it. You will never have enough material to finish a rectangle.”
“Look at my order. It clearly says the measurements are a rectangle.”
“All the better. It is their fault then. Wait what is this message in red?”
“Please check your order carefully before you begin assembly. No refunds or returns once assembly has begun.”
“Looks like you are screwed.”
“What if I order another square?”
“Humm let me see. If I measure the sides and multiply by two. Yes, that will work.”
“I’m going to do it right now.”
“Just your luck you will get a rectangle.”
“That will work too.”
“Just think of the money you saved by ordering online.”
“Dark sarcasm in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, my effort was:
I don’t want to hear you grouse,
This will be your brand new house.
Its construction will bring you much fame and glory.
There’ll be room for all you need,
From restrictions, you’ll be freed
Even though it only has a single storey.
Do I look like I’m a prat?
I can never fit in that,
Though I know my height is somewhat short on inches.
Even my small bed won’t fit
And there’s no place to have a s**t,
And where can I put my gilded cage of finches?
I care nought about your birds,
Even less about your t***s.
You can stand because the roof has quite a pitch.
There’s enough room for your bed,
Just as sure as my name’s Fred.
For the rest, you must accept that life’s a bitch.
Fred is surely not your name.
You have always been the same.
I’ll move out, because I know that’s what you’d rather.
You really needn’t worry;
I will go, though I won’t hurry.
But I still say that’s no way to treat your father!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org before 6pm on 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, on Monday.