Sunday serialisation – A Bump in the Knight, 3.4

In Knight & Deigh, confirmed bachelor and businessman Hannice Knight suffered a back injury that left him without the use of his legs. Sophie Deigh, physiotherapist and recent widow, devoted herself to supporting him.

On his father’s death, Hannice inherited a global business and great wealth. Then, together with Sophie, he embarked on a series of activities designed to give him some of the excitement and the freedoms that he felt he had missed out on, by being tied to his father’s business for two decades.

As Hannice’s body recovered, he became ever closer to Sophie, and found himself drifting into a relationship with her that neither had anticipated or intended, and for which neither was fully prepared.

This book follows Hannice’s new adventures as he tries to juggle business, hedonism, marriage and ultimately parenthood.

But all doesn’t go quite as he had planned…

Beginning on 14 January 2018, I am publishing Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one part each Sunday.

A Bump in the Knight. Chapter three, part four

Over the course of the following weeks, a number of important things happened: Sophie’s morning sickness came to an end and her tummy started to show larger, the building and decorating work in the new master suite was completed to everyone’s satisfaction, and Mrs Fan signed me off. Dr Harry now only wanted to see me once a year, to make sure there was no relapse or complication.

With the completion of the structural work, Kanene had gone back to Dar with Max. She had specified all the furnishings and fittings before her departure, and Sophie busied herself selecting and engaging suppliers to complete the bedroom, dressing room and bathroom fitting to Kanene’s specification. I had been excluded from all discussions about the design of the rooms and barred from going near the floor until the work was finished and ready for us to move in.

When that day came, Sophie bundled me into the lift and blindfolded me whilst we were ascending. She helped me out when the door opened, guided me to the spot where she wanted me to stand, and removed my blindfold. I was staggered.

“Is this how Kanene designed it?” I asked.

“It was a joint enterprise between Kanene and myself, but it would be wrong of me to describe myself as anything more than a very junior partner. So, yes. It’s fair to say that this is Kanene’s design.”

“So what’s she doing working as a house-girl? She has so much more to offer.”

“I think you’re right. With a bit of training, she could be a fine interior designer.”

“She doesn’t need training as a designer,” I said, “I think she could benefit from business training, so she knows how to run an interior design company, but she’s already a capable designer. A design course would most likely replace her ideas with theirs. Let’s give it some thought, and I’ll talk to Max. After all, she’s Max’s housegirl, not mine.”

We walked around some more, and Sophie pointed out some of her favourite features.

“All we have to do now is move our stuff in,” I said.

“Already done,” she said.

“When?”

“Yesterday afternoon.”

“You are supposed to be resting, Sophie.”

“Don’t worry. Mrs Cooper helped me, and I used the lift to save walking around too much.”

“I still would have preferred if you’d let me help.”

“You were busy. I didn’t want to disturb you.”

I set up a Skype call to Max and walked around the master suite while I was talking to her, so she could appreciate what I was talking about.

“Wow, Hannice. Did Kanene really do all that?” Max asked.

“Can you see why we think Kanene deserves more than a housegirl’s job?” I asked.

“I can, Hannice, but I don’t know what we can do for her.”

“I’ll give it some thought. Perhaps we can talk about it some more later. Meantime, how is Lindy doing? Was he okay while you were over here?”

“Lindy’s in his element. We have two clients now, and he’s managing accounts and admin for them, in addition to the Jaxsons joint venture and our own stuff. And he’s doing it without any extra staff.”

“Does he still have some ex-Jaxsons people with him?”

“Yes. Just the two he started with. They’ve settled in well and are giving him good support.”

“You did a good thing there, Max, promoting him like that.”

“I think you would have done it eventually, Hannice. I just got in there first.”

This new master suite really is something. We’re using the largest bedroom and its attached dressing room with its built-in wardrobes and dressers at one end and the en-suite bathroom/wet room on the other. So far, the nursery is an empty room, devoid of furnishings and with bare walls, waiting for us to call Kanene back to design its décor and furnishing. Across the corridor is the small but splendidly equipped gym, the nanny’s room; again, fully fitted and ready for anyone to move in, and the large room that can be used as a games room, a den, an office or a family room. Over its lifetime, it will most probably be used for all these purposes, and more. For the moment, it’s furnished and fitted as a den, with its full-wall television, wrap-around cinema sound and luxury sofa and armchairs.

Dr Lockhart has been coming in two or three times every week, monitoring Sophie’s and the baby’s health and condition to the minutest degree, and we have been visiting Mr Fillingham-Smythe at the KGT clinic every week. On our last visit, he carried out another detailed scan and pronounced himself well satisfied with the result. He also confirmed to us that Kanene was right about something else: baby is a boy.

“Does that mean we can start thinking about a name now?” Sophie asked me.

“I’d like to name him after my father,” I said.

“Maurice?”

“Yes, Maurice.”

“No, Hannice. These days, he’ll be called Mo in school, and that’s horrible.”

“It was good enough for my father,” I said, pouting.

“Let’s compromise, and have Maurice as his second name.”

“What’s your idea for his first name?”

“I’d like to name him after my Dave if that would be alright.”

“David Maurice Knight. Hmm. I can live with that.”

“That’s agreed then?”

“That’s agreed. David Maurice Knight it is.”

“Let’s get Kanene across to design the nursery, then; unless you want to do it yourself.”

“No, I’d like to let Kanene do it. I’m beginning to find things quite tiring, and I don’t want to take on anything that involves a lot of running around.”

“I’ll call Max.”

“Can you get Max across, too? I enjoy her company.”

“I can. I’d like to move to the next stage with this India proposal, so I’ll set up a meeting with Henk and Danny Cho, as well.”

“Here or London?”

“Here, I think. Do we have enough guest rooms ready?”

“I’ll get Mrs Cooper on it tomorrow.”

“Allow for Lindy and Tanja, too.”

“You match-making, Mr Knight?”

“You may very well think that, Mrs Knight. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Tales of the land of Oh! — 4

A brief series of tales from the land of Oh!


The important message

“Husband!” the queen’s scream from her judging chamber could be heard clearly from the great hall, even through two closed, solid oak doors. “Come in here. There’s something important I want to tell you.”

“Velcro,” King Kannot said to his trusty retainer, “would you mind awfully going to my sweet bride and pointing out to her how castle etiquette works?”

“And how would that be Sire?” Velcro asked even though, as one of the king’s confidants, he was fully aware of all aspects of royal protocol and had even been the author of some.

“I am the king. I summon people to me. The queen does not summon the king. Tell her that if she has something to say, she should seek me out and request a moment or two of my precious royal time.”

“I’d rather not, Sire. You know how the queen scares me.”

“Delegate, then. Whom does she not scare?”

“No-one that’s met her, Sire. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.”

“Well, whom do you not mind being scared by her?”

“Let me think. Hmm. Jack, the stable boy, was caught nicking jam tarts last week—”

“Is that a euphemism?”

“I don’t hear anything, Sire.”

“What?”

“You asked if I heard a euphemism, Sire. I know there is one in the palace orchestra, or is it the palace band? I can never tell the difference.”

“Velcro, your brain is wearing out. I said euphemism – a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. I did not say euphonium.”

“Apologies, Sire. Is what a euphemism?”

“Nicking jam tarts.”

“No, Sire, that’s theft – petty larceny, really or even pilfering or defalcation.”

“Ewww.”

“Sire?”

“Defalcation? That’s nothing like stealing. That’s a posh word for sh—”

“Ha ha ha. Oh, Sire. I do so enjoy these word-games. Sire is such a wit. But, no. Nicking jam tarts is precisely what Jack did.”

“In that case, Velcro, it is most appropriate that his punishment includes having to face the wrath of the queen.”

The lady in question chose that instant to repeat her call to the king, three-quarters of an octave higher in pitch and a good twenty decibels higher in volume.

“Should Sire respond?” Velcro asked.

“No, Sire should not. Get hold of Jack, and have him give her a piece of my mind.”

“Perhaps the prince might?”

“What about the Prince Mite?”

“Not the Prince Mite, Sire: the prince might, that is to say, his royal sonship may.”

“What may he do?”

“Confront the queen, Sire.”

“Are you joking?”

“Word is, Sire, the prince has his mother exactly where he wants her.”

“Find out who started that filthy rumour and have him flogged. I will not have that sort of thing going on in my castle. Now, off you go, Velcro; see to it and make haste.”

“What sort of thing is Sire objecting to?”

“That sort of thing you mentioned. My gosh, you’ll be saying next that I have an inappropriate physical relationship with the princess.”

“But there is no princess, Sire.”

“Don’t you think I know that? How senile do you think I am?”

“I… I wouldn’t presume to entertain such conjecture, Sire,” Velcro replied, his confusion reaching levels that would guarantee silver, perhaps even gold, at the next inter-governmental games.

“So why are you suggesting that I don’t even know how many children I have?”

“I’ll go and fetch Jack, Sire.”

“Hmmph. Do that.”

Velcro trotted off as fast as his seriously aged legs could carry him.

Minutes later, the queen entered the great hall, where her husband was waiting for his retainer to return – although by then he’d probably forgotten what he needed him for.

“You didn’t answer when I called you,” she said in a shrill, ear-splitting and accusing tone.

“No, dear. You’re right. I didn’t.”

“And why not, may I ask?”

“You may, but you’ll need to wait for Velcro to return with Jack.”

“What, Jack the stable boy?”

“The very same.”

“Jack, the stable boy who stole a whole batch of my very best jam tarts?”

“Were they yours?”

“No, they were yours. I made them for you.”

“For me? For me? I’ll have him strung up. I’ll have him flogged. I’ll—”

“You’ll do nothing with him until he, or someone, has told me what I want to know.”

“And what would that be, dearest?”

“I want to know why you didn’t answer when I called you.”

Fortuitously, Velcro chose that moment to return with Jack, the stable boy.

“Now then, young Jack,” the queen bellowed.

“I’m s-s-sorry, ma’am,” Jack stuttered in reply, “I thought the tarts were for the staff.”

“When have you ever known me to make confections for the working classes?”

“I didn’t know you’d made them, ma’am. I thought they were from the kitchen.”

“From the kitchen? From the kitchen? They were in my private chamber. Come to that, what were you doing in my private chamber in the first place?”

Kannot looked at Velcro and winked. This was going so much better than he could have hoped. Diversionary tactics were always his trump card.

“Word in the staff quarters was that you were looking for some, erm, entertainment, ma’am, and I drew the short straw.”

“Entertainment? Why would I want entertainment? And what sort of entertainment could you provide? You’re just a stable hand.”

“They say I’m good with the fillies, though, ma’am,” Jack said with a wink and, truth be told, just a hint of a leer.

Kannot and Velcro looked at each other and sniggered; interestingly, in exactly the way that the queen didn’t.

“Never mind that,” the queen said, “I’ll deal with that impertinence later – in my judging chamber.”

Jack blanched. The queen continued, “Meanwhile, what have you to tell me? Why did the king not answer when I called him?”

“With respect, ma’am,” he started, “His Majesty is the king, the ruler of Oh!”

“Yes, I know that. And I am the queen.”

“Consort, ma’am.”

“What?”

“You, ma’am, are queen consort. You have authority only as granted to you by His Majesty.”

“What has that to do with his not answering me?”

“With the greatest respect, ma’am,” he said with appropriately downcast eyes (although if you could see where his gaze landed, appropriately would not be your adverb of choice), “it is not for the queen consort to summon the king. It should be the other way around.”

“But he didn’t want to speak to me, I wanted to speak to him.”

“Yes, ma’am. Nonetheless—”

“So? How am I to achieve that, except by summoning him?”

“Perhaps ma’am could request—”

“Request an audience? I’m not some commoner to bow and scrape to the crown.”

Velcro decided the boy had done enough and stepped into the breach. “Perhaps the queen could ask for a moment of His Majesty’s time,” he suggested.

“Maybe. Perhaps. But while we’re at it, why does no one ever call me by my name?”

“Ma’am,” Velcro responded with great respect and solemnity, “the queen doesn’t need a name. She is the queen. Isn’t that name enough?”

“It probably would be, if I had a capital Q. I don’t even have that. I want to be Queen with a big Q, not queen with a little one.”

“The king himself only has a capital letter when the word is used as a title, ma’am; as a proper noun. He is either the king, with a little K or King Kannot with a big one.”

The king grinned. One can only surmise at what.

“Then I can be Queen… drat! Now even I don’t know what my given name is.”

The queen turned and stormed off into her judging chamber. King Kannot ran after her.

“My precious,” he called.

“What is it?”

“What was it you wanted to discuss with me?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I’ve clean forgotten. Too much upset for one day. I’ll see if there’s someone to judge. If not, send Jack in; I’ll judge him.”

The king walked back to Velcro and shook him by the hand. “Another crisis averted,” he said. Then, turning to Jack, he said, “Punishment served, lad. Let that be a lesson to you. Run off, now, before the queen decides to exercise her judge mental skills on you.”

Jack the stable lad bowed and walked out of the hall backwards as quickly as he could, dipping his head frequently as he did so, all in accordance with the very best of royal protocol.

Just then, the queen poked her head around the door to her judging chamber. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I’ve invited the other queens and their husbands for a curry night next weekend.”

“What’s a curry night?” the king asked.

“No idea,” she replied, “I was quite happy being a waitress in a cocktail bar until you came along. You’re supposed to be the smart one. Get Velcro to find out what one is, then he can organise it.”

 

FLATUS 2.4

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 two, scene four

After lunch, the two groups separated again. The technical group had complained that they didn’t want Tarquin with them. Joan had suggested they let him go in exchange for Patsy, a suggestion that Meredith had not taken too kindly, but had eventually agreed to. The admin group returned to the office meeting room and set about designing the systems that would be needed for the project to run as a division of the Royal Space Regiment. Initially, the Borborygmi, by which I mean Chief Marshgass and Methanie, wanted to run the project as a distinct enterprise, not connected to, subsidiary to or otherwise beholden to the RSR or any other human organism.

After many ‘yah, okay, super, smashing’ and other positive reactions from Tarquin, Meredith pointed out that there was no provision in any legislation or administration on Earth for an enterprise, which as she pointed out is a ‘legal person’, to be in the beneficial ownership of anything other than a human being, or another body that can trace its ownership back to one or a group of human beings.

“Doesn’t that fly in the face of your open, non-racist, non-sexist, non-ageist and non-anything-else-ist dogma?” Methanie, in her position of Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers, demanded to know.

“Never come up before,” Meredith replied, “mostly, I suppose, because you are the first non-terrestrial species we’ve encountered. None of our laws make allowance for your particular… erm… attributes and needs. Nor, I suspect, would they know how to do so.”

“I think that’s terrible,” Chief Marshgass said, “we’ve been on your moon, which means under your influence, for half a millennium!”

“Yes, and we’ve known about it for less than five months, and most of that was unofficially and only Tarquin and I. Officially, humanity has known about your presence, heck, your existence, for a little more than four weeks. It might just take a little longer for us to adapt to your needs and attributes, laws that were framed more than a thousand years ago.”

“So what are you saying?” You can see why Methanie got the job of GDEA; she has an uncanny knack of getting to the heart of the matter and asking just the right question to extract exactly the information she needs.

“I think Meredith is saying,” Chief Marshgass correctly assumed, “that this project will remain under her absolute command.”

“Absolutely,” Meredith said.

“Which meaning of absolutely do you mean?” the GDEA asked, “Absolute in terms of your command, or absolutely in terms of precisely.”

“Good question, Methanie. Here comes a good answer: both of them.”

“I’m not sure we can accept that,” the chief said.

“Get used to it, or abandon the project and return to the moon. The choice is yours.”

“Do you have a word for…” the chief followed with what sounded like a rendition on the steel drum of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 Op. 13.

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘pathetic’,” Tarquin offered, “which, if I may say, is jolly uncharitable of you.”

“Tarquin,” Meredith admonished, “remember your position.”

“What?”

“HBLO?”

“Oh, yah. Okay, sorry, withdrawn. Golly. I just said the ‘s’ word without being— ouch!”

Tarquin looked around to see who had slapped his right upper cheek, but could see no-one.

“Who just slapped me?” he asked Meredith.

“Just a little trick we developed,” Chief Marshgass replied, “we call it enhanced post-hypnotic suggestion. You know you deserved a slap, so your mind told you that you’d been given one.”

“Gosh,” Meredith said, “that’s a neat trick. Any chance you can teach me it? I could try it out on Patsy.” Meredith started to squirm as though in the throes of a … perhaps it’s best that we don’t follow that line any further.

“Patsy knows about it, and has set a trigger,” the chief replied, “but I’m not minded to pass that particular secret on to you. Not just yet, anyway.”

Meredith just sat there for a while, trying to recover her composure and to get her breath back.

“So,” the chief said, “let’s get down to setting out how we can work within the restrictions this places on us.”

“Oh, goody,” Tarquin said, “that means you’re not going back to the moon.”

“No, we’re not. This project is more important than our pride.”

“Who’s going to look after them, then?”

“Who’s going to look after whom?”

“Your pride.”

“What are you talking about, boy?”

“Your lions. You know, your pride of lions. Ouch. I didn’t deserve that!”

“Bloody well did,” Meredith said, “Anyway, Chief Marshgass, I’m glad you’ve decided to stay. I can see great advantages for both our peoples – can I say people?”

“Say what you like. Our translator is culturally aware and gives an appropriate translation, not necessarily a literal one.”

“Wow. That’s some translator. I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could borrow one, is there?”

“It wouldn’t do you any good. It’s specifically designed for Borborygmi and wouldn’t work for you. All it would do is pump Borborese into your ears when anyone talks your language.”

“But if we had one, we could see how it works and try to replicate it to work for us.”

“Why don’t I have our scientists create you one modified to your needs.”

“That would be splendid,” Meredith said.

Once the meeting was over and the humans were preparing to go home for the night, Chief Marshgass called Meredith over. “I have spoken with our chief scientist. He wants to know if you are looking for a translator to translate Borborese to your language and vice versa, or would you prefer the full AI.”

“What does the full AI one do?”

“That’s the one we used first. It learns any language it hears and will translate between it and your language.”

“How long does the learning take?”

“It’s not quick. It learns like a child does, and can be used in a limited way after hearing a language spoken at normal speeds for about twenty minutes. Full proficiency can take as much as a week of near-constant exposure. Would such a device be of value to your people?”

“Chief Marshgass. Our catalogue of languages lists nearly 7000 languages in current use. Fewer than 500 of them have more than a million speakers each, but these account for more than 90% of the world population. In fact, only 23 languages will give access to half the population of the planet.”

“It sounds like you need a level two device, then.”

“Level two?”

“Yes. Level one is one-to-one; that’s what we’re using now. Level three is many-to-many. That’s a complex instrument that will hear any language and translate to any language. It’s theoretical, really. No creature is likely to need that kind of device. Level two, though. Many-to-one in, one-to-many out. That’s the machine I’d choose. Based on your own Google Translate, it calculates the language it hears, then translates that into your language and feeds it through the earpiece. It then takes your input and translates it automatically into the language it last heard.”

“But what if you meet someone, don’t know what language they speak, but you have to speak first? How will it know what language to use?”

“Basic stuff. You say anything; even nonsense. The person you say it to will automatically respond in their own language, probably to say they didn’t understand you, and that’ll be enough for the translator to configure itself.”

“How long will it take your scientists to produce a working level 2 translator for us?”

“Not long. They’ll modify their prototype level 3 device. When’s the next shuttle?”

“There isn’t one scheduled for tomorrow, but I can have the Sir Prijs rendez-vous with your scientists the following day.”

“Okay, it’ll be ready.”

Walking away from the facility, Meredith couldn’t help thinking that this was all too easy. Reverse-engineering and… well… plagiarising the translation device was at number two on the list of desired outcomes of this collaboration. They have number one: the copy of the original design specs, and when the robots and computation devices are delivered, they’ll automatically get the third and final element.