Category: FLATUS

FLATUS 3.6

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 forbearswere 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 six

Before the new steering group came together for the first time, Meredith ordered that Tarquin should also be included in the meetings.

“Are you sure we need him, Ma’am?” Andy asked.

“Would I order it if I weren’t sure?”

“But we’re balanced so far. Ten scientists and engineers from each side and one in charge of each group. Wouldn’t Tarquin’s presence upset that balance?”

“Are you forgetting what his job is?”

“I don’t think so. He’s in charge of the mascot, the donkey.”

“His position as Hotay’s keeper is a front. In fact, that’s done by Corporal Formme, who is a professional groom.”

“So what does Tarquin do?”

“Tarquin is Human/Borborygmi liaison.”

“What? I’ve met him. How can you trust such an important job to someone like him?”

“Simple. The Borborygmi like him and trust him. He’s very close to young Artivon Grumpblast. And I control him.”

“If you say so, Ma’am. I’ll set it up.”

“Thank you, Andy. Report back after the meeting, will you?”

“Of course, Ma’am.”

Andy saluted, turned and marched out of Meredith’s office. He had learned a lot in a very short time.

And so Tarquin was co-opted onto the Joint Project Working Group. At its first meeting, Andy proposed that Tarquin, as Human/Borborygmi Liaison Officer, be appointed chair of the group. Artivon seconded the motion and, of course, with that backing, the motion was carried unanimously. Well, almost. There was one vote against the motion – Tarquin himself.

When asked why he had voted against it, he said, “Well, look around. If I’m the chair, it means people will sit on me, and have you seen the size of some of the Borborygmi?”

“We may be taller than humans,” Arty said, “but we’re less bulky and probably lighter, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What are you talking about?” Andy asked, looking at Tarquin, “Being the chair doesn’t mean folk will sit on you. It means that you control the meeting, mediate disputes and have the casting vote in case of no agreement.”

“Oh, golly. Me? Actually in charge of the group? That, I can live with.”

“Yes,” Andy said, “but can we?”

“Haha. No choice now, old chap. The deed is done. The die is cast. The proverbial horse has, as they say, proverbially bolted. And I’m in charge. Now. Everybody. Do we have an agenda?”

“Shut up, Tarquin,” Andy said.

“So— ouch! Damn that woman.”

“Who?”

“Bloody Patsy. Put something called an enhanced post-hypnotic suggestion on me. Whenever I try to apologise, I feel that I need a slap across the face to stop me.”

“And?”

“And when I feel that I deserve one, I feel like I’ve had one. And it blooming-well hurts!”

“That must be jolly inconvenient. Anyway, let’s get on, shall we?”

Norman the Nameless spoke first. “What assurance do we have that this so-called Working Group isn’t just a way for the humans to steal even more of our secrets so they can do better with their own project?”

“Good question,” Tarquin said, “I was wondering that myself.”

“With respect, Mr Chair, you have yet to be briefed on the purposes, aims and objectives of this group, so have nothing to add at this point,” Andy said. Then, turning to Norman the Nameless, he added, “We have no need or desire to, as you call it, steal your secrets. No need, because we are paying for this entire project, hence under current copyright law, we already own the intellectual property rights inherent in your work; no desire because we believe that the two developments are, as of today, running pretty much in parallel. Let me refresh your memories as to the reasons for the establishment of this group. We are both experiencing spatial and temporal anomalies as a result of leakages from components of the drives that are under test. They only happen, naturally enough, when tests are being run. Your leaders and ours have agreed to delay further development and testing work until such time as we have identified a more effective insulating medium. This working party will operate as a single team, equally responsible to both projects. That way, whatever results we achieve will be known to both sides at the same time, so neither project team will gain any special advantage. Our job, then, is to design an insulating material that will resist and contain the leakages. We will each apply our best brains to it and we will share whatever we come up with. It’s important, not only for the smooth running of the project, but also for the safety of our two races, that we get to the bottom of, and find a solution to this leakage problem. If anyone is uncomfortable working in that framework, let me know now, and we’ll release you and replace you with one of your colleagues.”

Isn’t it amazing what putting on a uniform can do to a man?

FLATUS 3.5

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 forbearswere 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 five

“It’s kind of you to bring Lieutenant Pratt with us, Ma’ams,” Andy said to Meredith and Joan.

“Don’t be mistaken, Andy,” Meredith replied, “I didn’t bring her for your benefit.”

“That may be true, Ma’am, and yet I do benefit greatly from her presence.”

“How so?”

“I think,” Patsy replied, “it’s because I don’t judge the lad. I believe in him and try to encourage him.”

“And how did the cooking go?” Joan asked bitterly.

“It’s not his thing. Andy’s a mathematician and physicist, and he’s learning engineering, too. Nobody can be good at everything.”

“Leave the lad alone, Joan,” Meredith admonished, “we’re here to find a way of getting around these anomalies. I have no ideas. Do you, Joan?”

“No, I don’t,” Joan replied.

“Captain Pippington?”

“No ideas at all, I’m afraid.”

“Patsy?”

“Nope.”

“Andy?”

“Well, actually, Ma’am, there may be…” he trailed off.

“And that, my fellow officers, is why we have brought Andy with us,” Meredith explained, “He is the only one among us who understands what is happening, and he’s the only one likely to have any idea what we can do about it.”

“Thank you, Admiral. These anomalies result from leakage from components of the drives that are under test. They only happen, naturally enough, when tests are being run. My primary suggestion would be to postpone further testing until such time as we have identified a more effective insulating medium.”

“That’s easier said than done, Andy,” Joan said, “We are under extreme pressure from the top, present company unfortunately included, to keep our development ahead of the Borborygmi. There is no way we will get away with delaying further development and testing unless we know that the other side is doing the same.”

“Leave that with me, Commodore. I have a high-level contact in their camp. I know that they are as worried about this as we are and that the only reason they haven’t put a hold on further testing is that they’re required by their chief to keep ahead of us.”

“Who is this contact?” Meredith asked.

“Artivon Grumpblast.”

“I know that lad. Flatulon’s son. He doesn’t hold much sway there, does he?”

“Flatulon is nearly fourteen now and approaching the end of his days. Artivon is currently Assistant Project Manager and will be promoted to Project Manager when Flatulon dies. He will also inherit the role of Head Anemologist, not that that has much effect on this job. His is, though, a position of some importance already and will become more so over time. If I can convince him that we will defer testing if they do, too, I think he carries enough clout to get us a deal.”

“Okay, so that will buy us some time,” Meredith said, “Now, how do we deal with the fact that their chaps may design a better insulator before ours can? That would let them run ahead on testing and leave us behind, which would tick Reggie off no end.”

“I have a thought about that, too, Ma’am.”

“You see, girls—”

“And Captain Pippington?”

Meredith raised her eyebrows quizzically. “You see, girls – and Captain Pippington – I told you this guy was good. Alright, Andy, what is your thought?”

“I propose we form a joint working party, equal numbers of Borborygmi and Royal Space Regiment physicists and engineers—”

“No mathematicians?”

“No, Ma’am. I thought all the calculations and models could be farmed out to both sets of mathematicians and the results compared and blended.”

“Carry on.”

“Thank you, Ma’am. This working party should work as a single team, equally responsible to both projects. That way, whatever results they achieve will be known to both sides at the same time, so there’ll be no problem with timing.”

Captain Pippington saw his opportunity to make a contribution. “Sounds like an excellent plan, young man. Who do you see running this team? Have to be high-ranking people from both sides; people with equivalent positions in the structure.”

“Good point, Pipsqueak—”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that!”

“Captain?” Meredith said, pointing to the insignia of her rank.

“Of course, Rear Admiral. My apologies.”

“Accepted. Now, would it be reasonable to assume that Artivon Grumpblast would take charge on the Borborygmi side?”

“I assume so.”

“That means whoever we appoint will need to be of an equivalent station: number two in the project. That would be Joan Weinberg.”

“Begging your pardon, Meredith… Ma’am, but I don’t think I’m qualified to take on that job.”

“A sentiment that I fully support, Joan. The obvious person to take the job on is Andy. It is, after all, his brainchild, and he has a unique appreciation of the issues.”

“But does he, as a civilian contractor, have the authority to do that?”

“No, Pipsqueak, he doesn’t. Not as a civilian contractor anyway.” Turning to Andy, she continued, “That is why, Andromeda Smithson, I am hereby co-opting you into the Royal Space Regiment, with the honorary rank of Commodore, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that the rank brings with it. Congratulations, Commodore Smithson. I’ll send word to have the relevant papers, plus uniform and insignia prepared for you.”

“What?” Captain Pippington objected, “How can you elevate this civilian,” he said that last word with real venom, “to such a high rank. Surely it would have been better to elevate… I don’t know, maybe me to that rank.”

“Two things, CAPTAIN. One: I am Rear Admiral. I have the authority to do that kind of thing, and two: I do not believe you have the knowledge or experience needed to carry a job like that. Clear?”

“Hmmph.”

“Are we clear?” she asked, doing a passable impression of Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan Jessup from the film ‘A Few Good Men’

“Crystal,” Captain Pippington replied, channelling Tom Cruise’s Lt Daniel Kaffee.

“Thank you, Captain. The Commodores and I will now start to develop our strategy. You and Patsy are welcome to join in, and we’d value your input, but the decisions have to be taken by us and us alone.”

“I’m not so sure that I’m ready for all this responsibility, Rear Admiral,” Andy said.

“Well, I’m afraid you have it now, Commodore Smithson. I have no doubt you’ll make a good fist of it, but in any event, it’s yours. Suck it up and run with it. I’m sure all of us here will make sure you get all the help you need.” She turned to Pipsqueak again. “Won’t we, Captain?”

“Ma’am,” was all the Captain could say.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Andy said.

Joan and Patsy muttered more platitudes than it’s decent to put down on one page, but Andy seemed to be buoyed up by their support.

“I’ll give it my best shot. I promise to approach this new job with all the grit, determination and dedication I can muster.”

“That’s all we ask,” Meredith said, “let’s all get to the bar now and prepare to head back to headquarters in the morning.”

“It’s not too late to get the last train back this evening,” Captain Pippington offered, helpfully.

Patsy looked at him the way only Patsy can, and said, without malice but with plenty of menace, “With respect, Sir, the Rear Admiral said we should go to the bar now, so guess what we’re all going to do, Sir?”

“Okay. I suppose we’d better go to the bar, although I stand by what I said before.”

“As do I, Pipsqueak. As do I,” Meredith said, also without malice but with plenty of menace, “and, Captain Pippington, the first round is on you.”

“That’s hardly fair. I’m the only one here hasn’t had a promotion recently.”

“Ooh, what a whopper,” Joan said, “you were Commander until this latest round of promotions.”

“Yeah. One step. You’ve gone up three steps in that time, the Rear Admiral’s gone up three, Patsy’s gone up five and Andy’s come straight in at a rank higher than mine!”

“Sounds like sour grapes to me. And most uncharitable. And not in the spirit of the officer cadres of the Royal Space Regiment. I, therefore, sentence you to buy all the drinks this evening. And from your own pocket, not on expenses.”

“You can’t do that!” he complained.

Meredith once again pointed at the insignia of her rank and chuckled, “Oh yes I can, Captain. Oh, yes I can.”

So to the bar they went. What Pippington hadn’t reckoned on was the extent to which his fellow officers were bound by the rules and regulations of the Royal Space Regiment. You see, all of them were in uniform, with the sole exception of Andy Smithson, who would have been had his uniform arrived already, so he acted as though he were. And the rules and regulations of the Royal Space Regiment specifically forbade the consumption of alcohol whilst in uniform on active duty. Pipsqueak had a number of rounds to buy, but as they were a mix of fruit juice and tonic water with the odd virgin Mary, virgin mojito and similar non-alcoholic imitation cocktails, the total cost was probably less than he would have had to bear for a single round of what people insist on calling ‘proper’ drinks.

The following morning, at the hour of the passerine’s flatulence, the group departed for the rail station – not a hangover or sore head to be seen – and returned to headquarters.

Andy took delivery of his uniform, the trappings and insignia of his rank, as well as a copy of the regiment’s rules and regulations (and his first month’s pay as Commodore) and put in a video call to Artivon wherein he outlined and got agreement to his proposal, and asked Artivon to come across to headquarters with his team for a conference to set up the working group. Artivon wanted to know what this group was to be called, insisting that it be a name with great gravitas that he would be able to sell to Chief Marshgass and his father, the Project Manager. After some discussion, the two leaders agreed that it should be given the official designation of the ‘Joint Project Working Group’.

FLATUS 3.4

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 forbearswere 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 four

At this stage, it would be nice to be able to say that mathematician Andromeda Smithson turned into an accomplished and able patissier, that he rose to the occasion and was able, with Patsy’s help and guidance, to create mouth-watering masterpieces of savoury and sweet pastries, and that as a result, he became the toast of his circle.

At least one word was accurate – toast. That is what his career became when certain truths about the poor lad surfaced. Oh, it wasn’t his sexuality, or lack of, that earned him the ridicule of his peers, it wasn’t even his possibly inappropriate friendship with a commissioned officer in the Royal Space Regiment. Nor was it his aptitude – again, or lack of – in the catering division. No, what destroyed his reputation, and hence his ability to hold his head up in what soon became known as ‘Nerd City’ was the revelation that he had done no better than a B+ in one of his examinations, that his understanding of calculus was less than complete and that, horror of horrors, he only managed a Masters at what was thought of as one of the lesser universities. You see, all the others in Nerd City, mathematicians, programmers and scientists (theoretical and experimental) sported a PhD or, depending on their alma mater, a DPhil. Poor, inadequate Andy had only an MPhys to his name. Although it made him an extremely useful body, his areas of study spanning such advanced concepts as particle physics, topology and chaos theory, the very fact that he hadn’t secured a doctorate was enough to earn him the scorn and ridicule of the other mathematicians.

Happily for him, Patsy spoke with Meredith, who arranged for him to be interviewed by the senior scientists. That interview led to him being appointed to the science squad, where he became an invaluable bridge between the disciplines.

His baking was still rubbish, though, and he was still given a hard time by the other scientists. Not, as you may be tempted to suspect, on account of his ineptitude in the bakery, nor on account of his sexuality. He became the object of their ridicule and mirth because, at the age of thirty-something, he was still a virgin. He had not engaged in any sexual activity with another human being of any gender or persuasion. That didn’t bother him too much, though. He was still friendly with Patsy, who was still making near-heroic efforts to make a pastry chef of him. Theirs was a friendship based on determination. For her part, Patsy was determined to turn a humble nerd into a creative master in the kitchen. Andy was determined too, though his drive was simply to have a friend, and it didn’t really matter to him who it was, as long as he had at least one.

Life in the scientific arena was kinder to Andy than it ever was when with the other mathematicians. Because of the nature of the work they were doing, and its demands on their capabilities, they were less interested in what Andy had done in the past in terms of his academic qualifications and more interested in his fields of study and the uses to which he could put them in the advancement of the team’s goals. In short, what he could do was, to them, more important than what he had done in the past.

Andy’s main job became that of a translator. A major part of the mathematics team’s job was to provide theoretical support to the science team and of course, they needed feedback and experimental data from the scientists to do that. As an established pure mathematician and theoretical physicist, Andy became the teams’ equivalent of the Borborygmi’s translating device. And it was a relatively easy job for him, too. He didn’t have to do any maths or any science. He just needed to be comfortable, familiar and up-to-date with what both teams were doing, so he could act as a go-between. As an adjunct, Andy familiarised himself with the engineering aspects of the project (well, when you don’t actually have to do anything yourself, you can spend an awful lot of time watching what other people are doing and asking them questions about it) to the extent that he could give real-world, experimental engineering feedback to the pure scientists and mathematicians.

Development progressed slowly, though. In part, this was due to the ground-breaking nature of what they were trying to achieve, but it was also hampered by the occasional leakage of unlikeliness from the components under testing.

As the one person who was able to transcend the departmental division lines, Andy was often called in to the higher-ups to explain the state of progress as well as the anomalous events in the physical areas of work.

One such occasion saw him summoned into the presence of Vice Admiral Farquharson, Rear Admiral Winstanley, Commodore Weinberg and Captain Pippington. Let’s listen in on the meeting, shall we?

“Tell me, young man,” Vice Admiral Farquharson said, “was it one of these… erm… anomalies, these glitches that made the wife seem young, slim and blond last night?”

Captain Pippington leaned across and whispered, “Sir, that was the young Subaltern you asked me to acquire for you.”

“Ah,” the Vice Admiral said, “Belay that. Problem sorted. Case of mistaken identity, what, Pipsqueak?”

“Is the Vice Admiral in the habit of taking advantage of impressionable young women, Captain?” Meredith asked.

“What?” the Vice Admiral blustered, “Not at all. Tell ‘em Pipsqueak. Not like that at all, is it?”

“Shall I institute an enquiry, Ma’am?” Joan asked.

“Perhaps you should,” Meredith replied, “can’t let this sort of thing go on, can we?”

“Begging your pardon, Sirs,” Andy said, “we’ve had reports of several anomalies last night, both from our site and from the aliens’.”

“See?” the Vice Admiral said, “told you. Now, let’s hear no more about enquiries, eh? And, Rear Admiral Winstanley, I’m increasing your budget by five percent, effective immediately.”

“Trying to buy me off, Sir?”

“Nonsense, Meredith. Fine officer and the project deserves it.”

“Then I thank you, Sir.”

Joan Weinberg asked, “What other anomalous incidents were reported, Mr Smithson?”

“Oh, the usual, Ma’am. Various people spoke of talking to long-gone relatives, oh, and one man claimed that an alien materialised in front of him.”

“Really? Where was that?”

“About twenty miles from here – roughly equidistant between our facility and the Borborygmi plant.”

“Just saw an alien. Another Borborygmus?”

“No, Ma’am. This one was short and squat. What makes it unusual—”

“Seeing a short, squat alien appear in front of you not unusual enough, lad?” Rear Admiral Farquharson asked.

“Well, yes, Sir. But the friend of the man who reported it apparently took out a gun he didn’t know he had and shot the alien,” Andy replied.

“Shot it with a gun he didn’t know he had? What manner of nonsense is this? How can the man not know that he has a gun? Damned thing sticks into your leg or wherever you keep it. Heavy, too. Can’t mistake it for a pack of cigars, eh?”

“With respect, Admiral—”

“Bah!”

“Sir?”

“You know my feelings about that.”

“About what, Admiral?”

“About this ‘with respect’ baloney.”

“Sir?”

“Get on with it, young man!” the Admiral demanded.

“Sir. There were anomalies last night. It’s not unusual for things to appear and disappear, Sir,” Andy explained.

“He’s right, Sir,” Meredith said, “when in the wake of the alien craft, all manner of things: buttons, torches, manuals, appeared suddenly and disappeared as quickly.”

“Where’s the body now. Let’s bring it in,” Joan suggested.

“That’s the thing, Ma’am,” Andy said, “He didn’t kill the alien…”

“Rubbish shot, eh?” the Vice Admiral said with a chuckle, “A few days in the Regiment’d soon sort that out, what?”

“He didn’t miss, Sir. The alien apparently blinked out of existence and back again when the bullet should’ve hit him.”

“Are you sure about this, Andy?” Meredith asked, “Are you sure your recollection of this report isn’t itself a manifestation of an anomaly?”

“I don’t think so, Ma’am, but…” Andy was hesitant. “I suppose it’s possible, but if it is an anomaly and not a real memory, then we could be in trouble.”

“How so?” Captain Pippington asked.

“Isn’t it obvious, Sir?”

“Not to me, it isn’t.”

“No surprise there,” Meredith said, “My recollection, having known the Captain for a number of years, is that few things are obvious, or even clear to him.”

“If you were a junior rank, that would be insubordination, Meredith.”

“Yes, it would, Pipsqueak, but I’m not, so it isn’t. Your outburst, however, is.”

“Enough of this,” Vice Admiral Farquharson said, “Explain why and how we could be in trouble, young man.”

“Well, Sirs. We make decisions, multiple decisions every day. We make these decisions based on facts as we understand them. To do that, we have to rely on the facts as presented being reliable and accurate. That’s why we don’t like people who tell lies or half-truths, or who distort facts to suit their own agenda—”

“All obvious. Get on with it, man.”

“Yes, Admiral Farquharson. The problem, as I see it, is this. If we can’t be sure that the facts we have are true facts, and not results of some kind of spatial or temporal anomaly, how can we possibly rely on any decision we make on the basis of those facts?”

“You have a point there, Andy,” Meredith said, “Recommendations?”

“I would normally suggest relocating the command structure away from the influence of these anomalies—”

“Jolly good idea. Pipsqueak, set that up. Move us all.”

“Sir, if I may. I did say I would normally suggest that.”

“Belay that order. Carry on, Lad. I take it you don’t recommend that now.”

“No Sir.”

“Why not, pray?”

“I don’t think praying would help, either, Sir.”

“I didn’t say ‘Why not pray?’ I said, ‘Why not comma pray’.”

“Gotcha. Sir. Okay, here’s the thing. Wherever you sit to make the big decisions, Sirs, the information you use to make those decisions comes from inside the affected areas.”

“He’s right,” Meredith said, “we need a new approach.”

“I’m listening.”

Captain Pippington leaned across and whispered to his boss, “I think they’re expecting you to issue an instruction, Sir.”

“Eh?”

“You’re the boss, Sir. You need to tell them what to do.”

Rear Admiral Farquharson nodded, turned to the rest of the group and said, “The rest of you, and the number-cruncher, take yourselves well away from the area; maybe Scotland or something, and think up a plan. Then come back here and tell me what it is.”

“Should we take our opposite numbers from the Borborygmi with us, Sir?” Andy asked.

“Whatever for?”

“They will be experiencing similar problems, Sir.”

“Then let ‘em find similar solutions. On their own. Test their mettle.”

“But they’re not using metal, Sir. It’s all new hi-tech materials.”

“Mettle, not metal!”

“Sir?”