“Stuart-Lane, you really are a first class idiot,” Rear Admiral Alasdair ‘Reggie’ Faquharson said. He was addressing Commander Tarquin Stuart-Lane, erstwhile number two on the intentionally ill-fated Moonship Waist of Space, now supernumerary on the Royal Space Regiment enforcement shuttle Sir Prijs. His leader on the MS Waist of Space, Captain Meredith ‘Merry’ Winstanley, is currently commanding the Sir Prijs.
“First class, eh, Admiral?” Tarquin said, “Gosh, that’s quite an accolade, Sir. And that would be idiot in the sense of…”
“You fail to understand me. That would be idiot in the sense of not. As in you don’t seem to have any.”
“Not with you, Admiral.”
“Precisely, Commander. Precisely.” Turning to his adjutant, Commander Algernon ‘Pipsqueak’ Pippington, he said, “Time for us to leave, Pippers. Ready the shuttle. I’ll tidy things up here and be with you in two shakes.”
From the bowels of the ship, three storeys down in the galley, came the remarkably rich, robust, rambunctious, reverberatingly resonant and ribald tones of CFP Patsy (the preposterously post-pubescent, permanently pouting, preternaturally pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties). “Two shakes coming up, Admiral. Any particular flavour?”
“Oh, bugger,” the Admiral responded in a half-whisper, “I suppose I’d best have them. Can’t afford to upset that one.”
“If you get two, Admiral, I’ll have one of them,” Tarquin said, mistakenly believing that he was helping the situation.
“Over my dead body!” the Admiral screamed.
“That can be arranged,” Joan Weinberg whispered.
“What was that, Joan?” the Admiral asked.
“I said, ‘That was a bit strange’, Admiral. As in ‘That was a bit of a strange thing to say’, Sir.”
“Quite so. Carry on, Lieutenant Commander.”
Admiral Farquharson picked up the intercom and said, “Strawberry, please, CFP.”
“On my way, Sir.”
“Shall I get on with the prepping, Sir?” Cdr Pippington asked.
“Yes, please. Make it snappy, too, eh?” the Admiral replied.
CFP Patsy (yada yada yada) appeared with two 1.2 litre tubs filled almost to overflowing with the thickest, gloopiest, pinkest strawberry milk shake she could possibly have made. Although the Royal Space Regiment, along with 95% of the world’s population, was fully metric, some old standards were still popular in a few places. Efforts to resize the forty ounce measure to one litre were met with a massive amount of resistance from the 5% who were still holding out against the global tide of metrication, and who, more importantly, were thoroughly peeved at the thought of a reduction of 15.5% in the size of their drink container. The Admiral took the two drinks, thanked Patsy profusely and dismissed her.
“Hold that, Stuart-Lane,” he said to Tarquin, releasing one of the containers to him so he could return Patsy’s salute.
“Don’t know if I can drink all that, Sir,” Tarquin said, “it’s rather a lot.”
“Would you like me to explain in detail, what will become of you if you don’t drink it all, Commander?”
“Have to have it cold for breakfast, Sir?”
“Oh, something a great deal worse than that, Commander. A great deal worse.”
“Drinking it all, Admiral.”
“Well done, lad.”
Tarquin drank it all down. It was a bit of a struggle, but he somehow managed. When he had finished, Admiral Farquharson handed him the other drink.
“Good lad,” he said, “down the hatch.”
Tarquin regarded the senior officer quizzically. The Admiral raised his eyebrows. Tarquin, against all odds and expectations, succeeded in emptying the second tub. His stomach, now containing two and a half litres of thick, gloopy milk-shake, joined in the conversation with an impressive example of rumbling, gurgling and other sounds indicating a massive relocation and consolidation of gases in that area of his anatomy.
“That reminds me, Stuart-Lane,” the Admiral said, “get back down there and sort out this asylum application mess.”
“Ahem. Admiral,” Merry interrupted.
“What is it, Captain?”
“My ship. My crew. My command. Sir.”
“Very well, Captain. Belay that order, Commander. Carry on, Captain Winstanley.”
Merry stood to her full height which, at 140 centimetres, was not a lot; she could still get on most rides that require one to pass under a bridge to keep grown-ups out. She directed a captainly gaze at Tarquin, and said, “Get back down there and sort out this asylum application mess.”
“What am I supposed to say to them?”
“Knowing you, Tarquin, whatever we suggest or even order you to say, you’ll say the first thing that pops into your head, won’t you?”
“Well, yah. Probably.”
“Main thing is, Stuart-Lane,” the Admiral added, as he was leaving, “don’t say yes, don’t say no.”
Tarquin turned to his captain, “Then what can I say?”
“You’re not going there to say anything. You’re going there to listen. That’s all, just listen, then come back and tell me what they say. Clear.”
“Okay. Yah. Well, no, actually. What if they ask me a question?”
“That depends on what they ask.”
“Oh dear. I don’t like ‘depends’. That means I have to make a decision.”
“Let me make this simple for you, Tarquin,” Merry said, “You cannot agree to grant them asylum, and you cannot deny them asylum. If they ask for asylum, you tell them they have to apply in writing, and you’ll pass their request to the authorities. Can you do that?”
“What, pass their request to the authorities?”
“No, stupid. Can you tell them what I’ve just told you?”
“Yah. Need it in writing, actually.”
“Well done, Tarquin. That’s perfect.”
“No. Can’t remember what you said. Need it in writing so I can learn it properly.”
“Comms,” Merry called out in frustration, “can you try to get the Borborygmus Flatulon Grumpblast on the horn, please?”
“Been trying all afternoon, Captain. Just goes to voicemail.”
“Okay. Get me his voicemail. I’ll leave him a message.”
“On now, Captain.”
Merry picked up the microphone. “Flatulon Grumplast. Captain Winstanley of the shuttle Sir Prijs here. I’m sending my man Cdr Stuart-Lane down to meet you. You’ll remember him; he was with me when your son Artevon was, shall we say, looking after us. Cdr Stuart-Lane will listen to what you have to say and report back to me on your needs. He is not authorised to grant or refuse any request for asylum or relocation to Earth. If you are able to write in our language, please do so and make your case in that way, so you can be sure that what you want to say will be placed before the authorities unchanged. Message ends.” She turned to Tarquin. “Have Comms arrange a meeting for you, and get on with it. And don’t screw up!”
“Oh, and Tarquin…”
“Do not screw up.”
“You already told me that, Captain.”
“I know, but I don’t want you to forget. Don’t screw up.”
“Aye Captain. I mean no, Captain.”
“He’ll screw up,” Joan Weinberg said.
“I know,” Merry replied, “I know.”
“Shall I have his uniform wired with sound and vision, so we can keep an eye on him?”
“Good idea, Number One. Make it so.”