“Chief Marshgass,” Meredith said, “what could you possibly have that could be of even the remotest interest to our governments? By your own admission, you are twenty-three thousand years divorced from the current state of Borborygmi technology, and you’ve been on our Moon for three hundred years.”
“All that is true, Captain,” the chief replied, “but it’s not the whole story.”
“So… what do you have?”
“You recall the strange events that overtook you and your Commander Stuart-Lane when you arrived here?”
“I certainly do. They were caused by an Unlikelihood Drive, apparently. Rumour is that it was developed on Borbor.”
“As it was, Captain. What you experienced was from its maiden voyage. There’s still a lot to iron out.”
“I should think so. I wouldn’t have thought the leaks that affected us were intended.”
“That is our understanding, too. Shall I tell you what else was unintended?”
“That it would find our twenty-three thousand years old craft, link up and log in to it, and make a back-up of itself during its brief sojourn.”
“I mean that we have a full copy of its files; documentation and operating code; all stored in plain text on our ancient ship’s computer.”
“I suppose that means you’ll be off soon, then?”
“Sadly for us, we can’t get at the materials and power supplies we’d need to build such a craft, even if we do have everything except a YouTube video walking us through it.”
“And we have the materials on Earth…”
“And the electrical power and manufacturing facilities we would need.”
“If we were to give you access to everything you need to build such a ship, what would we get in return?”
“Two things, Captain: a copy of everything we have, so you can build your own Unlikelihood Drive, and the experience of helping us build ours.”
“We could simply take a copy of your information, then kick you off the planet, Chief. Have you thought of that?”
“Yes, we have, Captain. Our hope is that you are too honorable a race to do that. However, we know that there will be no asylum for us unless we give something significant in return. It’s is a risk we’re prepared to take, if only because it’s a risk we have to take. If we don’t share our information with you, you won’t help us, and we’ll be stuck here. If you steal what we have and refuse to help us, we’ll be stuck here, too. So there are three possible outcomes: in one we both win, in another you win and we stay as we are, in the third we both stay as we are. There is no ‘lose’ position.”
Merry looked toward her XO and ran her finger across her neck to signify that the transmission should be silenced. Joan Weinberg released the microphone trigger.
With the exquisite sense of timing that only a Royal Space Regiment enforcement shuttle can master, the artificial gravity generator chose that instant to report back for duty. The seven members of the bridge crew, with none of the dignity that their positions deserved, returned to the floor, covering the five metres in a little under half a second. Happily, the Borborygmi were not party to any of the exclamations of surprise uttered by the bridge crew of the Sir Prijs. Once they had figuratively and literally collected themselves, Merry addressed her senior staff.
“Interesting proposal?” she asked.
Joan Weinberg responded. “I think I can speak for us all, when I say, ‘Phwoar; I should say so’, Captain.”
“As I thought. Okay. Joan, get Marsh Gas back on; tell him we’ll communicate his offer to our governments and get back to him asap. Engineering; beam Start-Lane back up.”
“Ma’am?” the Chief Engineer said.
“What is it?” Merry responded.
“That technology hasn’t been invented yet, Captain.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, belay that order. XO?”
“Get Stuart-Lane back up here, please.”
“No, he has one there already. Tell Marsh Gas to send him back.”
“The rest of you, get his bridge cleaned up. It’s a mess.”
While the bridge officers busied themselves tidying up, CFP Patsy (you know the one; if you don’t, I’m not going through all that again) brought tea and tiffin.
“Captain?” Joan Weinberg called.
“What’ve you got for me, Joan?”
“Chief Marshgass says no Tarquin until a deal.”
“Tell him no deal until Tarquin.”
“Then, get me the Admiral. No. Hold that. Patsy! You’re with me.” Merry and Patsy disappeared into the Captain’s ready room, only to return, suitably disheveled, something over half an hour later.
“I’m ready for the Admiral now, Joan,” Merry said, panting a little more than was decent for a woman of her rank and status.
When Admiral Farquharson came on the line, Merry explained, in detail, as much of what Chief Marshgass had told her as she felt he needed to know.
“So what this Marsh Marigold, or whatever he’s called, is saying,” the Admiral said, “is that we give him accommodation, food, facilities, assistance, power; the whole shooting match; and he lets us send observers to watch what they do. Is that it?”
“That’s it, Reggie.”
“I’ve told you before, Winstanley, don’t call me that, or I’ll have you busted through the ranks.”
“No you won’t.”
“No, I won’t, but I jolly well could if I wanted to.”
“Whatever. By the way, Admiral, it’s Marsh Gas, not Marsh Marigold, and yes, that’s all.”
“We give the Borborygmi accommodation, food, facilities, assistance, power; the whole shooting match; and they let us send observers to watch what they do.”
“Doesn’t seem like much.”
“But if our observers are any good, they’ll come away knowing how to build an Unlikelihood Drive.”
“Okay, Captain Winstanley. Give the order your end, I’ll fix things up here… PIPPINGTON!”
The radio went dead.
“I’m confused, Captain,” Joan Weinberg said. “Marshgass offered us a lot more than you told the Admiral.”
“Did he? Oh dear. How forgetful of me. I do hope I didn’t leave out anything important; anything I may later rely on in Court Martial.”
“Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting, Captain?”
“That rather depends on what you think I’m suggesting, Lieutenant Commander.”
“Thank you. Get Marshgass back on, will you?”