So, 5 years later in the future , aliens come from the Star System of Betelgeuse, where they have been mining an unobtanium/handwavium alloy. But they have problems with secure storage of this alloy, so they have shortlisted candidates to give some of it to. They choose planet Earth and announce on every means of comminucation ever known -

We, the Betelians, are giving you Unobwavium - an alloy which allows you to fly. Take 1 mg of it and you can fly for 1 h.

Hearing this, all the humans are like "YAY! I can fly!".

But wait!

When you take unobwavium, 1 year of your life is stripped off. Be careful, puny humans! Goodbye, say the Betelians and leave in their spaceship

What happens to the world? What are the good (and ill) effects of this?

EDIT - In response the @J_F_B_M, I have answered a few questions. There is a limit (around 1 ton a year) of this unobwavium. If you take more, everything is added (so if I take 2 mg, I get 2 h of flight and 2 years stripped off my life).

  • $\begingroup$ A lot of religions experience massive problems, scientists will go crazy (over the implied possibilities), population will go crazy (over... basically everything), I guess we get some economic and financial disasters, because no one can foresee the near future. Seriously, Unobwavium is your smallest problem. /-|-/ For your question How much Unobwavium do the Aliens leave? A defined amount, or can we assume it is just enough? How is the year stripped? Rapid aging seems most likely to me. What happens if I take more? Does it just scale up? Otherwise, interesting question. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ How does it make you fly? Is it antigrav kind of thing where you have to flap your arms to move or does it actually provide you with propulsion of some sort? $\endgroup$
    – ventsyv
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:55
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Everytime I go to the airport I feel like 1 year of my life is being stripped away in between lines and airport security and price gauging.... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ What happens if Superman takes it? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Kal-El is not human. Probably doesn't work on him. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 20:38

3 Answers 3


It will probably take about a day to establish how deadly is is.

Tests on animals would show it to be very instantly deadly.

Within hours of first use elderly people will drop while flying.

Doses above a couple dozen mg will just look instantly deadly.

If the aliens distribute it through human governments they're certain to run it through safety testing first which will show this deadliness within days.

If the aliens distribute it to ordinary people in some way then the corpses will pile up briefly as stupid teens take 100mg doses and die. within minutes stories will hit twitter and most will avoid taking it.

Once it's established to be deadly (and more deadly based on age) and deadly even when doses are split up people will almost totally avoid taking it.

Within months the dose-lifetime relationship will be established based on short lived animals and the deadliness to the elderly.

It may have some modest application in warfare with special forces soldiers willing to shorten their lives by a year in exchange for an hour of flight or for refugees trying to flee across borders but otherwise pretty useless.


Depends on how it is distributed by the aliens.

Governments will try to seize control of this assets with every ounce of their power. Possession and use of the alloy will be banned by the FDA (since there is a huge heath risk) and it will be rated a controlled substance. UN will move its member countries to also ban the substance use.

The government will divert the substance procured to research other properties in controlled facilities. Probably give it to flying black ops, but sparsely.

It will be a black market product, very costly but useful for robberies, etc.

Meanwhile, Authoritarian governments (you know who they are, i refuse to mention names) will use it to train flying suicide / dispendable soldiers. They will be massively effective in the first moments, but then security forces will adapt in the course of the following years.

All in all, people won't be flying around because it will be treated as a hazardous substance more than a boon. The few ones that can will either hide it or be shot on sight for fear of terrorism.

In the end the world changed as such:

  1. There is a new black market "drug" that is very expensive and regulated.
  2. Terrorists / Bandits have a new attack vector to exploit, increasing the costs of security.
  3. The governments will have a new classified toy to tinker with.
  4. The aliens will be probably politely asked to either go to hell or to deliver the substance directly to the coalition's research facility.

And honestly, IMHO, these aliens are a bunch of a****les if they just go and sprinkle it on the planet.

I'd be grounds for a declaration of interplanetary war for our newly elected second-term president-tycoon with a stylish hairdo.


Since unobwavium operates under handwavium mechanics, I assume this "one year off your life" rule targets whatever would naturally kill you. So if you have kidney disease, you die from kidney failure. After all, there's no such thing as "death by old age."

That being established, the immediate problem I see is a large population of people simply dying, and that will immediately cause problems.

In the United States, there's an average annual death rate of 8 people per 1,000 people in the population. So you can calculate how many people in a particular location within the United States, on average, would die in a year.

$deaths = 8 * (\frac{population}{1000})$

For New York City, that would come out to be about 67,200 deaths, which is about right if you compare it with Summary Of Vital Statistics 2013. Instead of these tens of thousands of deaths happening over the course of a year naturally, they all happen spontaneously and concurrently.

While not everyone of the people who were doomed to die that year would be taking the medicine, a fair amount of them might, for different reasons. The chance to fly while being terminally ill might be very charming for a lot of people. And remember, taking it takes off one year per dosage. This pulls in extra people from the next year into the mortality circle.

There's a process that goes into recovering the deceased and putting them to rest, and this influx would throw a wrench into everything from paramedics and coroners to funeral homes and cemeteries. There's not enough room on this answer to describe the nightmare.

  • $\begingroup$ If taking 1 mg of this substance means that "1 year of your life is stripped off", and you are already terminally ill to the point that you know how long you've got left to live... wouldn't that basically mean that you die immediately? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Yeah, that's a good point. I suppose it depends on when that effect starts happening - immediately or after the hour is up. If it's after the hour is up, maybe taking thousands will extend your lifespan. :') If it's the former, then it would be more like a suicide pill than a flying pill. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 21:58

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