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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Foreclosure Sale

Author : D. R. Porterfield

“I believe I’ve found just the property you’re looking for, Mr. DelRay,” the agent smiled optimistically.

Across the broad, polished desk, his client nodded and said, “Show me.”

“Of course. Let’s start with the general area.” A holographic map appeared on the desk between them, the property itself outlined in luminous red. “As you can see,” noted the agent, “it’s well off the beaten path.”

“Practically the middle of nowhere,” his client replied flatly. “Zoning?”

“Zoning’s open. You can basically do whatever you want with it. Regs are a lot looser way out there, you know.”

A trace of a smile flickered over DelRay’s thin lips, vanishing just as quickly. “Do go on, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Alright. Here’s the local neighborhood,” the agent continued, zooming the map to a closer view. His client nodded perfunctorily and motioned him on, so Gilliam clicked the map to full zoom. “And the property.”

DelRay’s eyes widened slightly. The agent did not fail to notice this.

Smiling broadly, Gilliam said, “It is beautiful, isn’t it? Originally some kind of farm, I think. What’s really impressive is the unusual…”

“I’m an investor, Mr. Gilliam,” DelRay interrupted. “My associates and I are interested in water rights, not aesthetics. You have the specifications and inspection reports, I assume?”

“Certainly,” replied Gilliam, maintaining his smile with effort. “Here on this tablet, along with the map we’ve been looking at.” He handed the device across the desk to DelRay, who began scrolling through it intently. Gilliam noticed a flicker of a smile again as his client checked over the specs. Obviously DelRay was interested in the property, despite his efforts to seem detached. Maybe he wouldn’t notice, or at least not care, about the…

“What’s this?” DelRay turned the tablet’s screen toward Gilliam and tapped on it.

“Oh, ah, yes,” said Gilliam. “That.” He’d been afraid this might come up. “Well of course you realize, Mr. DelRay, that this property went into foreclosure a good while ago, and it’s been abandoned for quite some time now. That’s why it’s priced so attractively low. You can’t expect it to be entirely pristine.”

Gilliam’s client regarded him with sustained silence, his cold gray eyes unblinking and unreadable.

After an awkward moment, Gilliam went on, “And as you may know, Mr. DelRay, often this sort of problem eventually, well, takes care of itself. Those pesky vermin are just a little too clever for their own good, and they tend to…”

“I know what they tend to do, Mr. Gilliam,” his client said with audible disgust. “They tend to do a great deal of damage, and their toxins persist long after they manage to eradicate themselves, assuming they eventually do so.”

Gilliam felt the sale slipping away. He’d thought it would be a clench, but…

“However,” his client continued after a long pause, “perhaps we could negotiate.”

As the door to the agent’s office hissed closed behind him, DelRay allowed himself to smile freely. This transaction would be highly profitable; his associates would be pleased.

Though of course there was that little… problem. It would be fairly expensive to take care of, especially the clean-up. No matter. The property’s surface was over seventy percent extractable water, and its lone moon, though dry, could be leased out for strip mining. Once the operations got underway, his organization could recoup the cost in just two or three cycles.

Frowning at the tablet, DelRay examined the biological inspection report for Sol III, tapping an impatient claw against the offending item. “Humanoid infestation.”

He’d have to call the exterminators right away.

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A Hole in the Web

Author : Todd Hammrich

Martin’s Crawler moved along the outside of the web like a giant spider lightly dancing among the thin strings of light that made up its surface. A breach had been made in sector EZ-109 and he was moving with all speed for repairs. The Crawler was a small ship, less than a hundred meters long with multi-jointed legs made for pulling it along the web like a ballet dancer tiptoeing across the void of space.

Then Net itself was the greatest marvel of human engineering and was the cornerstone of the new world spanning government that had unified the various factions of mankind. The concept was similar to that of a Dyson Sphere, encapsulating the sun in a network of fibers broadcasting their photon capturing energy fields. The trillions of miles of cables and field projectors were tuned to capture only about ten percent of the suns energy, but even that amount numbered in the billion billions of megawatts. Unfortunately, the absorption also decreased the suns luminosity by an equivalent amount.

As Martin approached the disrupted field he was taken aback by the beauty he beheld, for as long as the web had lasted, perhaps the last 300 years, and as long as he had Crawling it, he had never before seen such intense light. It was like a ray of happiness shooting forth from the muted background of the functioning field areas. The intense light funneling through the opening, barely a thousand meters across was shining directly towards the distantly orbiting Earth. Standing in the forward viewing area of the Crawler, Martin saw the beam, like a giant finger, reaching out to touch the home world.

Staring, transfixed by the hole, he didn’t catch the beeping, flashing signal buttons on his control board for several minutes. Messages were coming in from his Crawler base asking for an update on the repairs. He cleared his head and got to work. The Crawler moved forward to the broken threads that negated the field and, like the spider extruded and patched in new threads to make the pattern whole again. When the repairs were finished the field activated and the light, brighter than had been seen for three hundred years slowly faded away, leaving the dull colorless light that was all that escaped the web’s draining energy.

Back at Crawler base EZ the signal came in that the patch had been successfully applied and the field was again functioning. The base commander nodded in satisfaction and again began to scan the reports from the hundreds of other crawlers in his quadrant. In thousands of other bases other commanders did the same for their crawlers. The net, surrounding the entire sun, must be kept whole, to supply Earth with its power, and to keep the people obedient.

On Earth, the people of a small city, going about their daily duties noticed the sunbeam playing down their main avenue. For a brief moment, all the restrictions of society and all their myriad worries seemed to melt away. For the first time in their lives, the people smiled. Children played in the warm light and people laughed at the wonders of the world. Then the light faded away to the grayness that had filled their lives since birth. They looked back down and continued about their business.

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