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Offplanet Processing

"I've received this totally weird email," Kathy said, showing Emma a printout. "I thought that, being in Immigration, you might know something about it."

Emma glanced at the email.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
Please note that the place that you call Tau Ceti maintains strict border controls to prevent the introduction of socially transmitted pathogens such as anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, pride and sloth. Any incoming craft carrying lifeforms harbouring these pathogens will be turned back.

"You're not the only one to get it,"Emma said. "It's in every inbox all over the world. It's bypassed every spam filter, is in the recipient's preferred language, and contains no trace of who sent it except the reference to Tau Ceti."

"So what's it about?"

"That I can tell you,"Emma said, "because in five minutes it will be public knowledge." She paused. "You know that our lords and masters claim that there is a refugee crisis ..."

"... caused by the arrival of boatloads of people who want to be here and who, in the past we would have welcomed as good citizens," Kathy said.

"Precisely. The problem is that the pollies have run out of countries who can be bribed to take refugees, so they started looking for new places to send them. The original idea was to establish colonies on the moon or Mars. It worked with Australia, so they thought it was worth a try. Then they decided that it would be kinder to send them somewhere more earthlike, so they decided on the closest potentially habitable exoplanet, which is Tau Ceti e. It's pretty close. Under twelve light years away."

"Is it really habitable?"

"Nobody knows. It was detected by measuring the wobbles it creates by orbiting the star."

"What happens if it isn't habitable?"

"They've got a little list. They try the next one."

"When is all of this supposed to happen?"

"Today. They had the First Fleet lined up. Ten space shuttle look-alikes each with built in life-support systems and hydroponics to support a thousand people sustainably for an indefinite time. They were going to load up the refugees and launch them today."

"Do they want to go?"

"No."

"What is going to stop them turning back?"

"The guidance system is preprogrammed. When they get there they can manage the landing, but not before then."

"What happens if they find themselves heading straight at a lump of rock?"

"There is a built in collision avoidance system that then puts them back on course."

"What went wrong? You said they were going to load them up today."

Emma smiled. "There has been a minor accident. The pollies and their minders were inspecting the flagship. Mobs of journos and hangers on were milling around the control room. Someone must have pressed a button." She pointed to the sky. "The Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Immigration and the Minister for Multicultural Affairs are all up there, escorted by nine empty ships. If they make it back, it won't be for at least twenty four years."

Kathy looked at the email again. "So what we've done is sent them a plague ship," she said.

Copyright D.W. Walker, 2016


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