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 three, scene one
“Put me through to Rear Admiral Farquharson, please,” Meredith said, calling from the car on the way back to HQ.
“Farquharson,” came the response.
“Winstanley here, Admiral.”
“What do you want, Commodore? I’m a busy man, you know.”
“I know you are, Admiral, and I’m sorry to bother you in the middle of… whatever you’re doing—”
“Using my dictaphone!”
“Whatever floats your boat, Sir.”
“Nothing, Sir. Listen. I have some information that may well please you, Admiral.”
“Well, don’t dither, man—”
“I’m a woman, Sir. You just called me man.”
“Just an expression.”
“What information do you have for me?”
“I was talking with Chief Marshgass—”
“He the clown chappie?”
“He is, Sir.”
“Bloody silly, if you ask me.”
“Sir, we spoke yesterday about not judging the aliens by our standards, didn’t we?”
“Get on with it. What were you talking about with Coco the Clown?”
“I was admiring their translator technology, Sir—”
“I should jolly-well think so. Brilliant. How’s it work?”
“That’s just it, Admiral. I asked if I could borrow one, intending that our chaps could look at it and figure out what makes it tick.”
“And? Did he agree? I’ll bet he didn’t.”
“No, Sir, he didn’t—”
“Dashed-well knew it. Can’t trust Johnny-alien, rum cove, eh? Keep their secrets to themselves. Can’t say I blame them, though; I’d do the same if I had any secrets.”
“You have many secrets, Admiral.”
“Not ones I can remember, though, eh what?”
“So. He wouldn’t lend me one, but he offered to have his scientists build us one.”
“So we can peek into it and see how it works for them, then see if we can’t make it work for us?”
“Not quite, Sir. He has offered to provide me—”
“You mean us…”
“No, Sir. me. He’s offered to provide me with one that will translate any language into English and back again.”
“Any language, Sir.”
“Does he know we’d need more than twenty just to speak to most nations?”
“He knows that there are almost 7000 languages spoken on earth, although less than 500 will cover the vast majority.”
“And his device will speak all 7000?”
“That’s what he implied.”
“Is it, Sir? Remember that they produced something that understands English after spending a small amount of time with Tarquin and me.”
“You think they’re that clever?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me, Admiral.”
“Okay, well done. Carry on Commodore.”
“Thank you, Sir. Goodbye,” Meredith said to what was, by then, a dead phone.
“Sounded interesting,” Tarquin said to her.
“Reggie doesn’t believe they can do it.”
“I wonder sometimes how he came to be Rear Admiral. There’s not much to him, is there— Ouch. What was that for?”
“No-one touched you, Tarquin. That’s you knowing you deserved it.”
Patsy started pouting. “Does that mean I can’t hit him anymore?”
Meredith couldn’t answer Patsy. She seemed to be fully occupied with something else. Whatever it was, she was making multiple appeals to her favourite deity.
“What’s with the Commodore?” Patsy asked, albeit with an exceedingly guilty look about her.
“I think you know, Patsy,” Tarquin said with a wink.
“Am I missing something?” Joan Weinberg asked.
“I rather think you are,” Patsy replied, then started to make some strange movements with her hands and fingers. It looked like a cut-down version of classical Indian dance.
When she had finished, Joan started moaning, too, and looking at Meredith with a strange, inscrutable, enigmatic smile that spoke more volumes than all the editions of Encyclopedia Britannica from its formation until the day it stopped publishing on paper put together.
Tarquin looked confused although, in fairness, this was nothing new for him. “Do I want to know what’s going on here?”
“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t,” she replied, “as far as I’m concerned, I’m just starting to line up my next promotion. I think I’ll go for a commission next time.”
“Well, good luck with that,” Tarquin said, “You seem to be having a lot more luck giving pleasure to the ladies than I’ve ever managed.”
Meredith and Joan came down from their relative highs and each made a steady, three-point landing. They looked at each other with a new-found appreciation, then at Patsy with a new-found trepidation. Whatever this enhanced post-hypnotic suggestion stuff was, it seemed to have the ability to change dramatically the balance of power in this little group.
Do you have any idea how excited I was when my agent called three weeks ago?
“I’ve got you a gig,” he said, “you’ll love it. It pays well and you don’t have to do anything. Just stand there.”
“What,” I said,” like one of those pretend statues? No way do I want to be standing in the middle of a town square being gawped at by all and sundry. And when they suss you’re a real person made up to look like a statue, they do things… they say things… trying to make you laugh or even just move. Last time I had a gig like that, I was supposed to be a Roman centurion, when some young women came up to me and started showing me things they should never show in the streets. Course, I reacted; what normal man wouldn’t? Then one of them says to her mates, ‘Look, we’ve just erected a statue,’ and they all run off giggling, leaving me feeling like a complete fool.”
You know what my agent said to that? I’ll tell you. He said, “and a horny one, too. Think of it as one of the perks of the job.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t want a booking like that again.”
“I promise you,” he says, “it’s nothing to do with statues. Now do you want the job or not?”
I’d been between jobs, as we call it in the business, for a couple of months and funds were getting a bit scarce, so I said I’d take it.
“Great,” he says, “report to Kennedy Space Centre tomorrow at ten, ask for a Commodore Lewanowski.”
Well, I turns up at ten, like he said, and this Lewanowski bloke takes me to a back room where he makes me put on an orange suit. When I saw it hanging there, I thought it was a prison outfit. It was only the badges and decals all over it that convinced me I wasn’t going to be parading about in ‘the new black’. That and the helmet, of course. I’ve seen loads of movies set inside a prison, even had small parts in a few, but I’ve never seen anyone wearing a helmet. Unless you count the riot gear the guards wear sometimes. No, this was a flipping space helmet. Then I worked out where I was and what I was expected to be doing. I was the astronaut on the old shuttle that’s parked up in Kennedy Space Centre as an exhibit.
“How come you can’t just dress a manikin in the suit for this?” I asked him.
“We tried,” he said, “but attendance was low. Seems the great unwashed like to look into the visor and see real eyes.”
“Surely you can make ‘em look real,” I suggested.
“Tried that too, till a little kid starts asking why the spaceman doesn’t blink. His dad tells him it’s not a real man, and the kid starts screaming, accusing us of cheating.”
“But that’s just one kid. You telling me you change your policy and add to your cost for one snotty-nosed spoiled brat?”
“Would that it were just one. Where one starts, others continue. Especially since this damned social media stuff. My geeks tell me that his winge and a photo of the suit went viral – whatever that means – and the higher-ups ordered that we put a real person in the suit. So here you are.”
So here I am. Standing stock-still all day, every day. That’s right, seven days a week. Apparently, the budget won’t stretch to stand-ins.
How do I do my business? I wondered that, too. My shift is ten hours long, and I can’t leave the deck. I can move around a little, in fact, they encourage it, but I have to remain visible at all times. There’s a special gizmo in the suit that sucks up anything that comes out of either end and pushes it int a removable bag in the trouser legs, the one on the left for liquid waste and the one on the right for solids. I get fresh bags every morning. It’s not so bad when you get used to it.
That’s not the worse part though. The worse part is people – and not only kids – pointing at you, saying things you can’t hear on account of the helmet and the cabin’s plexiglass window. You have an idea, though, by the faces they pull. And you just know what they ask most. That’s right. How does he go to the toilet in there? I’m gonna ask Lewanowski to have a sign made to explain it. As well as that, I want him to give me a list of things I can do to make it look like I’m a real astronaut, not just a statue!
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 170, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
Kreative Kue 169 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, and who blogs at Fiction Favorites, who sent:
“Okay, you guys. We need to take a break.”
“Gee, dad we just got started.”
“Well, we have been hiking for an hour, so we need to rest.”
“Aw come on Randy. Give pop a break. He’s getting older now and needs his rest.”
“Very funny, Joe. I think we need to conserve our energy is all.”
“You bring any snacks?”
“Yes, Randy. I brought some trail mix to munch on. It’s way too early for that though. We just had breakfast.”
“I was just checking.”
“So, pop what are we going to see today?”
“I’m glad you asked, Joe. Here is a booklet of the kinds of things we should see.”
“Awesome. Are you sure all of these are in this area.”
“Well, I can’t guarantee every one of those, but hopefully we will see a lot of them.”
“Let me look, Joe.”
“Here you go, little guy.”
“Wow. I can’t wait to get going again.”
“You guys know we have to be very quiet if we are going to spot them.”
“We know dad. Trying to keep pipsqueak quiet might be a chore.”
“I’m not a pipsqueak. Did we bring a camera?”
“Yes, Randy. We have a camera. Okay, guys, before we begin, let’s go over a couple of rules.”
“Aw, dad. We don’t need rules.”
“Quiet Randy. Let pop explain.”
“Thank you, Joe. Okay, here they are. Short and simple. Try not to make any noise. Don’t move when we get near them. This one is the most important. Do not run if they come toward us. Just hold still. Any questions?”
“I can’t wait.”
“Which is your favorite Randy?”
“I think I like the Rapters best.”
“I have to go for good old T-Rex. Those teeth. Massive.”
“Okay, boys. Let’s go.”
My effort was:
Luke Tarpals and his brother Hand were standing in the ancient woodland that forms part of their late father’s estate. It is now held in trust for the two of them, as their mother wanted no part of the financial and other responsibilities of owning and managing a two-thousand-hectare patch of countryside. Her firstborn, Cool, was with her husband when their quad-bike tumbled down the ravine that forms the eastern boundary of the Tarpals estate, an event that neither of them survived. Rightly or not, she blamed the estate for their deaths, and could no longer bear to have anything to do with it.
Traipsing together through the undergrowth, the boys came across a man they had never seen before. Dressed in blue-grey and carrying binoculars, his presence rang alarm bells in the boys’ minds.
Approaching the stranger, Luke asked, “What’re you doing here, Mister?”
“Hush,” Hand whispered to his sibling, “let’s go.”
“No,” Luke replied in a hushed tone, “this is our land. We get to say who can walk on it.”
“What’s it to you?” the man asked finally.
“This is private land,” Luke replied confidently, “and unless you have a good reason for being here, you are trespassing.”
“It’s a free country. Right to roam and all. Besides, what’s it to you? You’re probably trespassing, too.”
With an unaccustomed display of bravado, Hand said, “I hardly think one can trespass on one’s own property.”
“Ooh, get her,” the man mocked, “one cannot trespass on one’s own property. How do I know it’s yours. You got papers to prove it? If not, bugger off and leave me alone. I got work to do.”
“What kind of work?” Luke asked, “and why don’t we know about it? No work is undertaken on the Tarpals estate without our knowledge.”
“Well, maybe what I’m doing is above your pay grade to know about.”
“Nonsense. Our land, pay grade doesn’t come into it.”
“It does if it’s a matter of national security.”
“Is it?” Hand asked.
“Is it what?”
“Is it a matter of national security?”
“No, but it might be, for all you know.”
“Just tell us why you’re here, then we can let you carry on,” Hand said.
“Unless it’s something illegal,” Luke added.
The man sat on the ground, his back to a tree. “Come here, lads;” he said. The boys approached. He tapped the ground beside himself, at which the boys also seated themselves on the leaf-litter. “You wanna know why I’m here?”
“Yes,” the boys chorused.
“And why I’ve got these binoculars?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve been coming here every day since your dad and brother met with their accident—”
“Why?” Luke asked.
“Let me finish. You see, although the accident was nothing to do with me, I feel kind of responsible for it. I been coming here, keeping an eye on her every day since. Just to make sure she’s okay, you know?”
“But how can you be responsible, if it was nothing to do with you?” Hand asked.
“I suppose you’re old enough and strong enough to know the truth. You’re certainly inquisitive enough! Here goes. Prepare for a bit of a shock, perhaps.”
“Go on, then,” Luke said, impatiently, “tell us.”
“Okay. Your mother and I go back a long way, lads. She and I were sweethearts even before she met your dad. We both thought that we were meant for each other and that we’d end up married and having kids. Then along comes Mister Landed-gentry Tarpals, your father, and sweeps her off her feet.”
“That must have been horrible for you,” Luke suggested.
“It was, lad, it was. Fair knocked me off my feet for a while. I left the area, lived all over, doing whatever job I could find, as long as it paid enough for food and a roof over my head. Anything to be away from the source of my pain. Then, after a while, I thought no, why should I let that man ruin my life? So, ten years ago, I came back. As it happens, your father was away for a couple of weeks—”
“Was that when Dad was at the big conference?” Hand asked.
“I think I remember someone visiting. Was that you?”
“It certainly was, Hand. I stayed for four days. Got to know your mother again after all those years.”
“I don’t remember it,” Luke said.
“It was before you were born, Luke.”
“But you never came again,” Hand said.
“We both thought it best. Your mum was happy with your dad; I didn’t think it right for me to spoil that for her. Her happiness meant more to me than my own.”
The boys looked at each other. The physical differences between them had never mattered to them before, but now they were wondering. Cool and Hand both took their looks from their father, while Luke looked more like Mum, and yet…
“Is there something you want to tell us?” Luke asked.
The man chuckled. “I think you’ve just realised what your father worked out. Now do you get why I feel responsible for his accident?”
“Do you mean…”
“Yes. I’m your father, Luke.”
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 – 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.