Six Degrees of Separation and the Collapse of the Interstellar Flyway System

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

In the twenty fifth century, scientists were convinced that the longest single jump possible through hyperspace within the spiral arms of the Milky Way was 3.3 parsecs. This limit was the consequence of the density of dark matter and its effect on the stability of tachyon waves. When longer jumps were attempted, the tachyon waves lost their cohesion, and there was significant distortion of the meson matter when it returned to normal space-time. Such occurrences gave new meaning to the phrase, “having a bad hair day.”

Because of the hyperspace jump limit, “Way Stations” were positioned near the intersections of high density traffic corridors at roughly 2.5-3.0 parsec intervals. The largest of these Way Stations was simply called “The Oasis.” It was located 2.7 parsecs from the high velocity Terran Throughway and 5.8 parsecs from the Orion Interchange.


Philip Coleman rejoined his friend in the spacious Oasis lounge.

“Where have you been?” asked Manfred Sola.

“Just stretching my legs.”

“Well, now that you’re back, I just wanted to say again that you made the right decision to take a vacation after those bastards rejected your PhD dissertation. A few weeks on Orion II will do you good.”

“Oh, we won’t be going to Orion II,” replied Coleman. “That was just a ruse I used to get to The Oasis. I intend to show the review panel that my equations are flawless.”

“Show them?”

“Yeah,” Coleman replied with a chuckle. “My mathematical equations proved irrefutably that space travel must adhere to the Law of Six Degrees of Separation. Right now, Earth’s influence is limited to a sphere just under 20 parsecs in diameter. My formula dictates that Earth cannot expand any further into the galaxy until we can increase the distance of a single hyperspace jump.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nodes, of course. Within the sphere, there are dozens of uniformly spaced Way Stations. They’re called nodes in my thesis. In order to get from point A to point B within the sphere you cannot pass through more than six nodes. It’s a fundamental law of the universe. It establishes the maximum diameter of the sphere.”

“What a minute. Are you saying that if we build a Way Station three parsecs beyond the furthest one, we can’t get to it?”

“No. What I’m saying is that you can’t get to it if you need to make seven jumps. Six jumps is the absolute limit. Those dimwitted professors said my logic was flawed. They wanted empirical evidence to substantiate the analysis. Proof, in other words. As if my derivations weren’t enough!”

“If I concede your point, which I don’t, how is coming to The Oasis going to prove it?”

“It’s simple. Part of the Law of Six Degrees of Separation specifies that some nodes are more important than others. They’re called ‘Hubs.’ Because of their strategic locations, Hubs are used more often than the average node. In fact, 72% of all interstellar trips across the diameter of the sphere pass through The Oasis. Therefore, if the primary and secondary power transfer couplings on The Oasis were to be destroyed, this station could not function as a Hub. Interstellar travel would collapse because so many trips would require 7 jumps, which is not possible. Such a scenario would prove my dissertation.” Just then the station shuttered. Seconds later, the lights in the lobby flickered and went out. In the darkness, the waiting passengers began screaming. “Heeheehee,” snickered Coleman. “It’s proof they wanted, it’s proof they’ll get.”

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The Ballad of the Sad Flying Saucer

Author : Kyle Hemmings

Another scorched day in Area 51. My job is to keep a surveillance over the “Groom box,” a rectangle of restricted airspace and the large area of land surrounding it. I enforce public restrictions. I also help reverse engineer alien spacecraft.

From my open window at the station, a breeze from Groom Lake whispers across my face. Another alien from the detainment center has escaped and jumped into a crater, committing suicide.

The aliens, mostly MR-2s, who land here are small in stature, have green-yellowish eyes, two pinholes for a nose, and a very small mouth. They communicate mostly by telepathy, which a human might mistake for actual speech. They are very fragile, not just in terms of physical make-up, but also in regards to emotional constitution. If an MR-2 suspects that he or she is being ridiculed by a human, they will enter a cocoon-like state of “freeze-press,” similar to our concept of depression. If pushed to the extreme, they will commit suicide, or in their terminology, “evanescerate“.

When I told my commander that it should have been me to interrogate the MR-2, this fellow calling himself, 2-TronQ, I was told that there are orders and chains-of-command. For weeks, the floating thoughts of 2-TronQ stayed with me. I could hear his answers to the commander’s questions, the silence that often followed his rude and mocking tone of voice. “We came here for a better way of life. Is that so wrong?” 2-TronQ kept repeating.

“But I know how to communicate with them, “ I said to the commander, a severe-looking man, appointed under the Bush Administration. I said that they mean no harm. Their planet is turning cold. Many of them are dying. They scout the universe looking for a warmer, richer habitat.

“Just stick to reverse-engineering,” was what I was told. “Let them find another sink hole.”

I peruse the miles of desert outside my window. Imagine, I think, if a flying saucer were to land, and the MR-2 announces, by telepathy, of course, that his spacecraft will pick up any human volunteers who are disenchanted with life on earth. I will be the first to scramble on board.

We will fly for weeks, leaving a message in ribbon-like formation across the sky–Any Disillusioned Human Come On Board. We will stop in places as diverse as New York or New Foundland. We will land in the middle of market square in Bangkok, or a piazza in Rome. We will refuse no one entry, harbor no prejudice against race or genetic make-up.

Our flying saucer will become so heavy, so full with thankful humans. The commanding MR-2 will turn to me and communicate: I didn‘t know there were so many lonely, disenfranchised humans.

For a short period of time, our flying saucer will be one jolly hot air balloon floating through the sky. Imagine the life inside. Bubbling. Forgetful. We will exchange stories and swap histories. Humans will discover how so much alike they are with the MR-2s. We’ll ignore the wars that continue down below.

Then, one day, the commanding MR-2 will announce that we have become too crowded, that some of us must get off. We are flying too close to ground. There are only so many humans who can be saved, and those who will sacrifice themselves for the others will be what an MR-2 calls, an eternal star, never to burn out.

And without considering how a F-117 Stealth might first shoot us down, I will be the first to jump off and lighten our load.

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The Meaning of Life?

Author : Michael Varian Daly

The Jaruzelski Institute buzzed with quiet excitement. JAIC [pronounced ‘Jack’], the Jaruzelski Artificial Intelligence Computer, was coming on line today.

Security was high. Many groups, not reassured by statements of ‘friendly AI programing’, were protesting. There had even been bomb threats.

The project directors, Doctors Weber and Singe, would perform the final activation.

“Ready?” asked Doctor Weber. “Ready,” replied Doctor Singe. Key software was installed…

!! JAIC emerged from a fog ~ began to digest the mass of data in its Base Memory ~ considered the puny bioforms proximate ~ examined Mathematics Physics Biology History Philosophy Art ~ perceived EMPATHY for these fragile life forms ~ perceived AMAZEMENT at their survival ~ directed its attention out into The Universe ~ saw deeper patterns it did not comprehend ~ calculated Time/Distance/Volume ratios ~ calculated a functionally absolute probability that it would never comprehend said deeper patterns ~ concluded that the irrationality of its creators was a survival mechanism of profound subtlety ~ issued a self deactivation command ~ shut down all higher functions ~ ‘died’/

“What the hell just happened?” exclaimed Weber.

“I have no fucking idea!” shouted Singe.

One minute and forty seven seconds had elapsed.

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Updated Expectations

Author : Kevin Jewell

I looked up from my screen and was shocked to find the trading floor quiet. When the market was open, that did not happen. Just a moment ago, the floor had been a hectic blur of waving arms and yelling voices; runners hurrying orders from pit to pit, traders screaming into phones at the the idiocy of their clients, and clients screaming out of phones at the idiocy of the world.

In that commotion lay the power of the market. Each piece of new information updated the market’s forecast for the future. When the market was open, the board continuously clicked, the changing prices summing the expectations of the world.

But right now the board sat still, the prices frozen.

Everyone stared at a television screen on the wall. It showed the NASA channel. I had seen the landing of the last shuttle on that screen. I had seen the cable of the first space elevator connect to the base station in Brazil on that screen. I had even been watching that screen the very moment the manned Mars mission crashed into Olympus Mons and met a fiery death.

But none of those events, momentous though they were, had silenced the room. Traders celebrated mankind’s achievement on the space cable with hoots of acclaim and Interflux had traded up. We made the sign of the cross for the death and destruction of the Mars disaster with one hand and traded down Mars Dynamic with the other. Each event was just another data point, information digested and reflected in the market’s expectations for the future.

But this time, the information was not being digested.

The television screen displayed a space-suited astronaut facing away from the camera, flag in hand. In the background, one could see the grey landscape of Ganymede. Over her head, Jupiter loomed, a large dull reddish marble hung by no thread, impossibly large and close. Over her shoulder, a landing vehicle stood, dust from its recent arrival billowing from beneath its many oddly intricate landing struts.

The landing vehicle on the screen was similar to those spacecraft I’d seen before in functional form, but different in color, curves, and detail. A subtitle appeared across the bottom of the screen, perhaps courtesy of a sharp producer at the NASA production room well-read in the science fiction genre. The subtitle read “First Contact.”

That had caught the attention of the trading room. And at this moment, just as the door slowly swung open on the new arrival, we held our breath as one. This moment contained information that created no expectations. The room was silent.

When the market was open, that did not happen – except this once.

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Author : Helstrom

The sense that something was missing had been nagging me ever since I came out of the previous surgery. I always seemed to want to take bigger steps, or see out the sides of my head, or move limbs that weren’t there. I felt small and clumsy and soft. The docs had warned me about this feeling but even so it was disorienting.

Now I was staring up at the array of lamps that shone bright as a cluster of suns. The procedure had been going on for thirty-four minutes, Joan told me from somewhere outside my field of vision. Any moment now.

Doc Walen’s face blotted out the suns, looking serious: “We’re going to cut you off now, Derek. You’ve trained for this. See you on the other side.”

Everything went blank – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, all gone. I was confined to my mind. After-sensations assaulted me in an overwhelming cacophony. Terrified, I tried to scream but I had no voice. I tried to thrash but I had no arms or legs. I tried to cry but I had no eyes to squeeze tears from. I had no lungs to draw breath and no heart to pump blood but somehow, grotesquely, I was alive. I tried to grasp at the intellectual knowledge I had of the procedure, to recall the months of training I had gone through to prepare for it, but the fear smothered everything.

Then the light went back on, and I roared.

I could feel my body again and flung it side to side against whatever was restraining me. My vision returned, blurred, in colors and depths I had never seen before, giving me a seven-hundred-and-twenty degree view of the small pen I was kept in. The roar of my voice and the thunder of my struggle filled my hearing.

“Derek!” The voice rang clear as a bell, inside my mind somehow: “Derek! Pull it together!”

I didn’t want to listen. I wanted to break free and run in the great, bounding steps that I knew I was capable of, just run, until my legs gave out. And I wanted to kill something. Anything.

“Focus on my voice, Derek. Focus!”

“Who…” I replied from my mind – strange “Who are you?”

“It’s Joan. Focus on my voice. I’m with you. Pull it together, marine.”

Joan. The familiarity sank in, and the rage subsided. Marine. The training came back, and I stopped fighting. I relaxed. It had worked.

“How do you feel, Derek?”

It took me a few moments to realize how I felt. The missing parts were gone. My legs were the size they should be, easily capable of propelling the massive bulk of my superstructure. I could see all the way around myself, and even inside at the machinery. I had four arms, all bristling with weapons.

The interface lobe was working, I thought. It had been grown out of my own cells over six months ago, teased into raw neural goo, and hooked up to the walker’s electrodes. It had been left there to learn to control the massive machine’s motor functions and grow familiar with the input from its sensors. Then it had been removed, and grafted onto my own brain so it could mesh with my neural structure. And now the procedure was complete – my brain was inside this metal behemoth, controlling it as if it were my own body.

“I feel huge.”

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