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 eleven, scene one.
In the conference facility on Moon Base Alpha, three figures materialised directly in front of the table where were seated Andrea, Jason and Tarquin representing the human species, and Arty, Norman the Nameless and his sister Norma, representing the Borborygmi.
“You wanted to see us?” Jinnis asked.
“Yes,” Andrea replied, “it is at the request of my friend Arty. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“It’s what we do. What do you want to talk about?”
Turning to Arty, Andrea said, “You have the floor, Arty.”
“Thank you, Andrea,” Arty said. Looking at the three Jinthae, he asked, “Do you mind if I stand and walk about a bit? I find I can think more clearly that way.”
“Yah. I can vouch for that,” Tarquin interjected helpfully, “don’t let him do it outside, though – you’ll never keep up with him.” Tarquin guffawed. So amused was he by his little quip that he slipped off the side of the chair in his mirth and was again grateful for the lower gravity on the moon as he landed in a manner that was at best unceremonious, at worst highly unbecoming.
“Go ahead,” Jinnis said after looking expressionlessly at his colleagues for the briefest of intervals.
Arty raised himself to his feet, stood proudly at his full height of very nearly three-and-a-half metres and started pacing the room. “As you all know, this is not our true home. Although every Borborygmus alive today, and in fact for more than twenty generations, has known no other. However, we instinctively know that we are, as it were, strangers on a strange world—”
Arty was interrupted by loud applause and cries of ‘bravo’ from an ecstatic Tarquin.
“Turn your translator on, there’s a good boy,” Andrea said condescendingly.
“Oh, yah. Sorry. Turning it on now.”
“So what was the applause for?”
“Nicely themed medley,” he said, “First ‘Strangers on the Shore’ by that clarinet bloke—”
“Acker Bilk?” Jason offered.
“Yah. That’s him. Then ‘Strangers in the Night’—”
“And finishing up with ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’—”
“Iron Maiden! Yes! Ten out of ten.” Jason was clearly pleased with himself.
“Well, actually, three out of three, Jason.”
“That’ll be Commodore to you, Captain,” Jason replied with an attitude of one whose parade had just suffered an unexpected deluge, whose bonfire had just been treated to… but we don’t need to go there, do we?
“May I continue?” Arty asked.
“Shut up, Tarquin,” said just about everyone present (excepting, of course, Tarquin himself, although few would have been surprised had he joined the chorus).
“Please,” Jinnis said.
“Thank you. The thing is, we’ve had a team taking apart and analysing the dump that we took from the Unlikelihood all those years ago [Flatus, chapter 2, scene 5]—”
“Why?” Jason asked.
“Partly because we hoped to glean more information about the state of our home planet, but mostly because we could. We have a team of forensic data analysts who’ve never really been tested. Anyway, they have found evidence that the gene pool on Borbor has been significantly weakened by the removal of large swathes of its population.”
“How so?” Andrea asked.
“Imagine if you removed from the human population everyone with red hair—”
“Jolly good thing, if you ask me,” Tarquin said.
“Shut up, Tarquin,” just about everyone responded.
“And everyone with a genetic predisposition to various mental conditions, mild or severe; and everyone with markers for conditions that are deemed uncomfortable for society.”
“But that was more than twenty generations ago.”
“And those traits have been absent from the gene pool for all that time. How many of the important people in your past and present have been borderline psychotic, paranoid, schizophrenic, autistic, narcissistic etc, etc?”
“Most of them, I should think,” Andrea agreed.
“And redheads, some of them,” Tarquin said – I don’t need to tell you what happened next, do I? Okay, if you insist…
“Shut up, Tarquin,” just about everyone responded.
“Thing is,” Arty continued, “ Take them away, as well as the filthy rich, the privately educated and priveleged, the poorest and least empowered and what do you end up with? Mediocrity, and that’s what Borbor has now. We firmly believe that Borbor needs us. We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible we may be the only exploring team to have survived. I accept that we on your moon are considerably inbred but that’s the nature of Borborygmi society anyway, and our tribal genetic make-up; that is the parts that we have in common; has noticeable deviations from that of the homeworld. Our geneticists and our computer fundis have worked together to model the effect of merging the two strands—”
“And?” Andrea asked, almost (but not quite) excitedly.
“And the result was a halting and reversal of the decline in our race’s mental and physical condition.”
“We had no idea you were doing this work,” Andrea said.
“I apologise, but that was deliberate. It started as something of a vanity project, maybe even a make-work enterprise, but once it became clear which way things were going, we took it to the council and particularly to Chief Marshgass, who ordered us to keep it in-house and not to reveal it to our human or Jinthate partners until we had a solid conclusion. That we now have.”
“So,” Jinnis said, “what do you see happening next?”
“We want to go home,” Arty replied.
An eerie silence filled the room. From outside the building, a faint, high-pitched whistling sound was heard. The eerie silence jumped up and ran out to its owner, passing right through the walls of the building.
“What was that?” Kitara Navilli asked.
“It happens,” Jason said nonchalantly, “it’s not a thing.”
“Some of us have pets,” Norman said, “Totally harmless and great companions.”
“Back to the matter in hand,” Jinnis said, “when you say you want to go home…?”
“As soon as the technology allows, we want to go to our ancestral home: Borbor.”
“So you can refresh the gene pool?”
“Amongst other things.”
“All five hundred of you?”
“Not with you.”
“There are five hundred and thirty-seven of us as of today.”
“Okay. My colleagues and I will discuss this with Admiral Winstanley and her people and we’ll get back to you.”
“When?” Arty asked, at which point he thought he detected just the slightest shimmer in all three of the Jinthae.
“Now,” Jinnis replied.
Yes, Laura; I’m on my way home now.
Where am I? I’m walking across the car park, the one in front of the old Mairie – you know, the building that lost a great chunk of its render in the riots last Michaelmas.
That’s the one.
I know it’s a long way off. I’ll be as quick as I can, but it’s going to take the best part of an hour, depending on the traffic.
You’d think, wouldn’t you? Trouble is, everything they do seems to make it worse, not better. Anyway, why did you want me to call? You know what time I’m expected.
I didn’t know you had an appointment this evening; there’s nothing in our shared calendar.
Okay. What time do you expect to be back? Do I need to walk and feed the dogs?
Fine, I’ll do that. You didn’t say what time you’d be back.
What do you mean, you won’t?
You’re leaving me?
Is it something I’ve done? Something I’ve said?
Are you still there? Laura? Hello… hello…
This was written in response to Kreative Kue 222 published on this site.
Kreative Kue 221 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.
“Merciful heaven, Mary. When was the last time we picked salad greens?”
“It’s been a while. Just see if you can find some young leaves.”
“Yes look under the plant. Those top leaves are way too big.”
“Okay, but I’m not holding my breath.”
“Yes, please breathe. Makes the work go easier.”
“Yeah, pretty funny. Whoa, what’s that?”
“I’m not sure. It looked like a dog with big ears.”
“Probably a bunny.”
“A bunny? I thought bunnies were small and furry.”
“What do you mean?”
“This was big and hairy.”
“Oh, stop. You said you would help me with the harvest. We have a lot to go before nightfall. These boxes won’t fill themselves.”
“I’m not kidding. This guy was huge. He had red eyes too.”
“Please. Just keep picking. Whatever it is it is more afraid of you than you are of it.”
“It must be plenty scared then. Ow.”
“He bit my behind.”
“I’m sure. No matter what you say I’m not going to stop the picking is that clear?”
“Crystal. Can I go get my gun?”
“No, you may not. You have fallen behind with your foolishness. Keep picking.”
“I heard a snarl.”
“Probably your deviated septum.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Fine. Go get your gun but I swear you are more of a danger to yourself than that animal.”
“I wish I could believe you. I’ll be right back.”
“I have to wonder about him.”
“Okay, I’m back, Mary. Mary?”
My effort was
“Are you sure it was here, Albert? It was a long time ago, you know.”
“As sure as I am of anything. I clearly remember bringing her out of the house and carrying her down to the garden, like it was yesterday. She was heavy, too, down all those steps.”
“And it was here, this close to the house?”
“Look, I told you she was heavy, didn’t I? I really wanted to put her down under the big oak tree at the bottom, but she was just too darned heavy for me to carry that far. I was only about eight at the time.”
“Couldn’t anyone have helped you with her?”
“Maybe, but Dad was in one of his moods at the time – you know he was sick, don’t you? He wasn’t just bad-tempered, there was something not right in his head. Doctors said he was going senile and that made him crotchety. It wasn’t the knowing he was going senile made him angry, his tempers were just one of the symptoms. They didn’t have fancy names for it back in them days. Didn’t really understand what was going on. Not like now-a-days with all these scans and such like. Anyway, that’s why he couldn’t help.”
“And your Mum?”
“Too busy looking after Dad and trying to keep him happy as well as all the work she had to do. And before you ask, I didn’t have any brothers or sisters; none that lived past five, anyway.”
“So you were an only child, effectively?”
“You cotton on quick, don’t you? I didn’t have brothers or sisters, so of course I was an only child. Queenie, our Alsation, was the only friend I had back then. Inseparable, we were.”
“And that’s what we’re looking for now? The place you buried Queenie?”
“Oh, no. We’re looking for where I buried that annoying little ginger kid I killed with that shovel over there.”
“Little… ginger… What?!”
“Well, she was asking too many questions. Got on my nerves, she did.”
“What sort of… oh, forget it. Let’s look some more.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 next Monday.