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Other Life Forms Are The Most Of Our Problems

Born in Singapore, Anya is a graphic designer, illustrator, cat minder, and ex-lawyer living in Melbourne. Her work has appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and Aurealis. Her first novella, Cradle and Grave, was published this year. She can be found on twitter: @anyasy or at uneasy.com.

"Crikey, it's a bit grim here in Canberra, innit?" said the PM as he bulled into the meeting room, peeling his facemask off sweaty skin. The men in the room nodded from where they sat clustered under the coldest vent. "How long have we got?"
The deputy PM checked his phone. "The fire front's still a fair bit away from Parliament House. Unless the wind changes, we won't need to evacuate."
Tossing his facemask onto the long table, the PM sank into a chair. "It's safe to hold the fort for now, then. That should satisfy the snowflake news media. What's the latest on the ET situation?"
The Major General consulted his notes. "As of five minutes ago, the UAP--"
"General, we've told you, it's 'UFO' or 'alien spacecraft,'" said the deputy PM, who'd been doing the rounds of the breakfast talk shows all morning. "'Unexplained Aerial Phenomena' doesn't have the right ring to it."
"All right, sir. The UFO is still hovering over the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. It hasn't responded to any of our attempts to communicate with it, nor has it done anything more than hover above the museum," said the Major General.
"Anything that we've been able to notice, you mean," said the PM.
"Sir, it's been so inert that seagulls have started to use it as a roosting site." The Major General held up a printed photograph. Behind him, aides sniffed the air and cleared their throats. Even with the new HEPA air filters in place, the room smelled faintly smoky.
"So it's already interfering with local wildlife." The PM pulled a notebook from his suit and wrote it down. "Inform me immediately if the seagulls visibly sicken."
"Why?" asked the deputy PM, surprised. "They're just seagulls. Nobody will care. We let a billion animals die during the last fire season, and we still got reelected."
The PM scowled at his deputy. "And why do you think that happened? People have short memories, Barnsie. That's why you've got to hit them with the right story at the right time, so they'd only remember what matters when it counts. I swear, you've only got imagination when it comes to political backstabbing. The media might have moved on to the latest celebrity diet meme, but we've got to stay vigilant."
"Too right, sir," said a brown-noser somewhere in the pool of sweating, coughing aides. The deputy PM glared the speaker into silence.
"The treehuggers have been occupying the lawn for days. Have they all died of smoke inhalation? Burned to death? Developed skin cancer? No. It's all smoke and no fire, those Greenies... complaining about coal making the summer too hot. Australia's always been bloody hot," the PM grumbled. "Hypocrites. I've seen hipsters down in Melbourne drinking it. 'Activated charcoal smoothies,' they call it. If coal's as bad as they say it is, why chug the stuff?"
"It won't be a good look for marketing if they do die of smoke inhalation," said the deputy PM. "Not to mention it'd be depressing to clean up. We've got to scare them off quick."
"I know that," said the PM, glancing at his Ministers. "That's why we're going to go hard on this UFO story. Barnsie, you're on press duty. Push out theories until you find one that sticks--ET gangs in the street, irradiated avocados, whatever. People have to start staying home. General, get me more images of these poor doomed seagulls. I'm going to announce a state of emergency. Take that for immediate action! No one's going to say I'm just a marketing guy."
"Well done, sir," said the Major General, even as their phones pinged them with a series of texts. "Looks like the fire tornadoes may be approaching Parliament House in the next two hours, sir. Should we advise the protesters on the lawn to leave?"
"Let them stay and save the wombats. Barnsie! Prepare the plane. I heard the Bahamas is nice at this time of year," said the PM as he put his face mask back on.
"Is that a good idea?" asked the deputy PM.
"If anything goes wrong, blame it on the UFOs. God, it's smoky AF in here, innit? Makes you think it's the apocalypse," said the PM.
Everyone stared at the PM in silence.
The PM rubbed his temple. "That was a joke. Please laugh."
"Haha," said the deputy PM.
"Haha, sir," said the Major General. The brown-nosers chuckled dutifully as they packed up. Outside, the fires burned closer, staining the sky like nicotine on a chain-smoker's teeth. It looked like the end of the world.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 10th, 2020

Author Comments

I thought about writing a story like this during the beginning of this year when the main apocalypse in mind for Australia was the bushfire crisis. We watched people die, fire tornadoes flip trucks and the skies turn red over beaches, checked the air quality index every day, bought purifiers and masks where we could find or afford them. Now that we're in the middle of a global tragedy it's easy to forget that the hotter, more catastrophic fire season is the new normal for Australia. Or the federal govt's originally lukewarm response. Or the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is dying. Don't forget. And for everyone who volunteered, who raised money or awareness or helped during the bushfire crisis, thank you.

- Anya Ow
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