A flying saucer hovered high above the Australian Parliament building, its stealth shield hiding it from vision and radar alike. Its occupant had 16 multi-jointed arms, compound eyes giving it 360 degree vision, and a wicked sense of humour. It listened in to Question Time below.
The Member for Melbourne said, “Mr Speaker, my question is to the honourable Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. Despite the government’s shameful law attempting to gag health care professionals who have evidence of sexual and physical abuse in Australia’s offshore concentration camps, a group of lawyers headed by Julian Burnside, QC has compiled an impressive and convincing dossier of such criminal actions by his Department’s contractors. Does the Minister intend to investigate these allegations, and prosecute any employees with a prima facie case of criminal actions?
Looking confident and arrogant, the Minister stood. “Mr Speaker, I am proud of this government’s record on saving lives by deterring people smugglers. We want potential illegals to know that Australia is not a suitable target. We have a humane and decent policy of assessing, and if appropriate, admitting refugees to Australia if they follow the regular channels, but must discourage people from boarding leaky, dangerous vessels and heading illegally for Australia.
“This policy is built on many years of experience, by both major political parties. It was instituted by the genius of John Howard, and followed by every government since. This is because it works to protect Australia’s quality of life and standard of living. It keeps potential terrorists out of our land.
“Our government is also very actively dealing with the causes of people seeking asylum at the source, by active involvement against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, still providing assistance to the government of Afghanistan against the Taliban, and supporting our magnificent allies all around the planet.”
He sat, self-satisfaction shining out of him. His thought was written on his face: “Take that, you bloody Greenie.”
The Member for Melbourne was on his feet again. “Mr Speaker, please direct the Minister to answer my question.”
At the same time, the Member for Moore said, “Mr Speaker, I have a question for the honourable Prime Minister.”
“Mr Speaker,” the Member for Melbourne shouted, “Please ensure due process and protect the integrity of this Parliament.”
The Speaker glared at Adam. “If the Member for Melbourne does not sit down and keep quiet, I will name him.”
As Adam furiously sat, all the Coalition and Labor members laughed.
Way up high in his vehicle, the alien also expressed strong amusement, by waving three of its arms in a certain pattern. However, the amusement was not directed at Adam.
It waited. When the session was over, it monitored the various Members as they emerged. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection climbed into the back seat of his limousine, tired, but happy with the way he’d handled the situation. Stupid Greenies, they had no appreciation of the needs of policy, of governing a country. All very well to be caught up in ethics, but it was necessary to tolerate anything that advanced one’s objectives, never mind collateral damage.
Stomach full after an excellent meal, still savouring the memory of the shiraz he’d shared with his table mates, he felt his eyelids drooping.
Way up high, the alien activated its extraction machine, which sucked the Minister’s soul up into a storage container.
For the moment, the Minister’s body in the limousine was deeply asleep.
It took three minutes for the flying saucer to reach Manus Island. The alien selected Ali, a 27 year old Hazara man from Afghanistan, who was already asleep, as a way of escaping from hopelessness and despair. The alien sucked up his soul, and inserted the Minister. It then sped back to Canberra, where the limousine was still on the road. With great amusement, it completed the exchange.
Ali woke. Everything felt strange. He was sitting, very comfortably, in the back seat of a huge car, with some man driving. He said, naturally in Dari, “Where am I?” but recognised the sounds coming from his mouth as English.
Without turning, the driver said, “Sir, you nodded off for a few minutes. We’re nearly at your place.”
Ali now had attention enough to take in a little more about his new circumstances. The huge car whizzed along a wide, paved road, with other cars in front, and cars coming the other way on the right side, with blinding headlights. Streetlights shone. Clearly, he was in a city somewhere, with many imposing buildings. He remembered seeing pictures of western cities on TV, years ago when he’d spent several months in a refugee camp in Pakistan. That’s more or less what this place looked like. Thinking back of course brought the pain. Oh, I wonder if they’re still alive! They pooled all the money they had to send me off, so at least one of the family would have a chance of surviving… and I ended up on Manus. But… where am I?
The car stopped in front of a building. The driver hopped out, ran around and opened the door for Ali. He clambered out, somehow having trouble coordinating his movements, because everything about his body felt strange. He said “Thank you” in Dari. Again, he heard it in English, noticing that the sound of his own voice was also entirely different. Maybe I am dreaming this?
“Are you all right, Sir?” the driver asked as Ali just stood there, not knowing what to do. He heard the man mutter, obviously not intending to be overheard, “He must have had a bit too much wine.” He felt his elbow held in a firm but respectful grip, and the driver led him to the door. “Sir, your house key?” he said. “You usually have it in your right trouser pocket.”
Ali found the key. It didn’t look like any key at home, so he gave it to the driver. The man opened the door, handed the key back, and touched something on the wall by the door. A bright light started shining in the middle of a huge room. “Call me half an hour before you need to go tomorrow morning, Sir,” the man said, and walked back to the car.
This had to be a dream. Ali shut the door, and explored the luxurious place, working out how to turn lights on and off. The seven rooms of various sizes held strange furniture, and several things he had no name for. No other person was there. Seven rooms, for one person! The smallest room he recognised as a toilet, and used it.
In the second smallest room, he found a mirror over what had to be a hand basin, though it looked different from the hand basins on Manus. He stared at the face in the mirror with complete lack of recognition. Who is this… who am I, now? This has to be a dream.
A shrill repeating sound came. Ali found the telephone and picked it up. “Hallo,” he said, not knowing how else to respond.
A warm female voice answered, “Peter darling, I’ve been waiting for your call. Is there anything wrong?”
“Oh…” Ali muttered.
The woman said, “Harry has developed a bad case of flu and I’m keeping him home from school. Otherwise, I miss you. Just a moment…” Ali heard voices in the background, then she said, “Have to go! Talk to you tomorrow.”
Ali wandered around until he found the bedroom again, undressed, and went to sleep.
On Manus, Peter woke to bright light shining on his face. Horrible smells hit his nose, and his body hurt in various places. He tried to sit up, but fell back. What? Where am I? He managed to struggle up, to see he’d been sleeping on a mat on the floor, among many other men. He had to find someone with authority, and get information. Others were streaming out of the hut — In a hut? and he pushed to the front. Outside, the sunlight was so bright he had to close his eyes for a moment, and needed to squint even after that. He saw a large, muscular fellow in a uniform and strode up to him. He said, “There has been some mistake. I am–”
The man’s left arm moved, and Peter found himself on the ground, his face a flaring burst of agony.
“Don’t you gabble at me in your monkey language!” the guard said, sounding bored.
That’s when Peter realised, the sounds coming from his mouth had indeed been some strange language instead of English. Outraged at being struck, he managed to get up, noting the man’s name tag: Richard Cartonel. All the other men were now in a straggly queue in front of tables where some slop was being dished out to each. “Look here, Cartonel–”
This time, the fellow knocked him down with the right hand, then put a booted foot on Peter’s chest. Peter couldn’t breathe.
A phone rang, and Cartonel got it out of a pocket. “Yeah, mate,” he said. “Thanks for returning the call. I reckon it’s time I’m rostered in the playground again.” He listened, then laughed. “Nah, I prefer them too young to get preggers. Gotta be responsible, you know. OK, Thursday is fine.”
Shocked, disgusted, furious, Peter grabbed Cartonel’s ankle and wrenched, but he was too weak to budge the man’s foot. The fellow hauled him to his feet and dragged him to the open door of a shed. Inside, Peter saw an inclined board with loose straps. Waterboarding! he realised, with fear replacing fury.
The brute said, “Behave yourself, Ali, or you get a dose of this.” He shoved Peter so hard he sprawled on his face.
Subdued, terrified, Peter went to the end of the line. Eventually, he joined a group in a scrap of shade, all spooning their breakfast. “Ali, my young friend, you know you need to stay away from the Beast,” one of them said in a strange language.
“Yes, I realise that now,” Peter answered, no longer surprised that he understood, and that what he said — in a voice completely different from his own — sounded incomprehensible to his ears.
The other man said, “All my life, I’ve been a man of peace. I escaped so I wouldn’t have to fight. The thought of hurting another person used to horrify me. But now, after five years in Australia’s hell, all I want to do is to kill the real villains. Not the Beast, he’s only a tool, but the politicians who use the likes of him for their evil purposes, may they burn in Hell forever!”
In Canberra, the phone rang. What could he do? Ali picked it up. “Hallo?”
“Peter, where are you? Cabinet meeting to discuss that wretched report, remember?”
“I’ve developed a bad case of flu and have to stay home, sorry.”
On Manus, terribly disturbed, Peter excused himself and tried to seek solitude. There was no such thing anywhere. Finally, he found the toilets and went into a cubicle. The alien instantly sucked up his soul, so Ali’s body fell asleep on the seat. Within minutes, the flying saucer was over a ramshackle little ship in the Singapore Strait. Many having died during the past months, it was no longer as crowded, but it was still impossible to find a really secluded place. Kobir huddled in the very bow, eyes closed, wondering if he should just climb and jump. The alien sucked up his soul and inserted Peter, then returned to Manus and put Kobir into Ali’s body.
Feeling everything move around him, Peter at first thought it was an earthquake. He opened his eyes to realise he was at sea. Yeah, I’m at sea in more ways than one!
A warship was approaching: a frigate flying the Singaporean flag. Within minutes, drums of fuel, containers of water and bags of food were passed over. The brown-skinned man beside the Chinese Captain said through a loudspeaker, “My brothers, our crowded little island cannot take you. I hope God finds you a safe haven. If not, return here in a month’s time.” Then the frigate turned away and was out of sight in minutes.
Staggering with the unaccustomed movement of the ship, Peter made his way to the new supplies, because he was terribly thirsty. All the people had dark skin, and were gaunt like skeletons. A man was just inserting a spigot into a water container. Peter pushed past others, grabbed one of a collection of metal cups, filled and drained it.
Angry hands grabbed him from all sides. “Kobir, what do you think you’re doing?” an old man shouted. “Drink more than your share now, and die later?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise…”
“Have you gone crazy? Six months on this floating coffin and you didn’t realise?”
I don’t know what’s happening, but this must be one of those Rohingya ships no one wants. Not knowing what to say, Peter hung his head and returned to the bow. How did he land in this succession of nightmares?
Meantime, Kobir went outside and marvelled at the magical change. Perhaps a benevolent jinn had taken pity on him? He was on land. His body felt different, and without hunger pangs and that terrible, forever thirst. He didn’t know his new location, but it was heaven in comparison to the ship.
Noon came around, and Richard Cartonel’s shift ended. He went for lunch, making it more interesting with a bit of gin. Well, with a fair bit of gin. He felt his eyes droop.
Waiting for this moment, the alien above sucked up his soul, and took it to sea. There Peter was in Kobir’s body, huddled in the bow. The alien sucked up his soul and inserted Richard.
It only took a few minutes for the flying saucer to return to Canberra, where a similar exchange took place. Then, it took Ali’s soul and inserted it into Richard’s body.
Laughing with its arms, the alien happily watched the results.
Richard felt ravenously hungry. Strange, he’d just had a meal, right? He stood and staggered because the surface under him was moving, and because his body was weak beyond belief. He turned to see bedraggled, gaunt men, women and children with empty eyes. All of them were dark-skinned monkeys. He had no attention for the beauty of the sea, or for the island on the horizon. “Is there anything to eat?” he demanded, but to his surprise some monkey language came from his mouth.
An old man said, “Kobir, what’s wrong with you today? First you drink out of turn, then you demand food. You’ll get your ration when it’s time.”
Richard swore and tried to punch the old bastard. He felt himself held by several others. He tried to shake them off, but didn’t have the strength.
“He’s gone crazy, and no wonder,” a woman said.
Richard still had his martial arts skills, didn’t he? He relaxed his body, slipping down out of his captors’ grasp, then kicked up into a man’s groin. He rolled, stood, and charged at another. Then a blow to the back of his head, and darkness came.
The old man said, “We cannot have a violent crazy among us.” Everyone nodded. Four of them grabbed Kobir’s arms and legs, and on the count of three, heaved him over the side.
In Ali’s body, Kobir luxuriated over the lunch served up to him, perhaps four times the size of the daily ration.
In Richard’s body, Ali immediately realised what had happened, after his experiences as Peter. He knew he’d been given a wonderful opportunity. He said aloud, “This gives me a chance to do acts of kindness, and to ease the lives of all those in this hellhole.”
And back in his house, back in his body in Canberra, Peter made an urgent phone call. “Look,” he said, “I’ve been provided with some new knowledge. I know I missed the meeting yesterday on Julian Burnside’s dossier. I have a plan for handling it.”
Send the Australian Federal Police to Manus and Nauru, and prosecute all the criminals to the full. And I’m determined to change our treatment of boat people. We must stop the potential hordes in some way other than deliberate cruelty.”
Up above, the alien decided to care for Ali’s welfare in the event that Peter managed to change policy. It knew of many suitable candidates as occupants of Richard’s body, should he be arrested. The previous Minister for Immigration and Border Protection was top of the list.