Orbital Quarantine Command
When Earth’s early explorers traveled to new continents, they discovered that local life forms were often quite different from those they were familiar with-different in ways that changes in climate could not account for. Soon, these explorers were transplanting animals and plants from the new continents to their home continents, and vice versa. In this way, potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco came from the new world, and coffee and the horse were transplanted from the old. But disease organisms were transplanted as well. Multitudes of American Indians died off from diseases brought to them by unsuspecting explorers.
As the planets of the solar system were explored, care was taken that no contaminants be brought back to Earth. It was feared that if the danger of intercontinental contamination had been great, the danger of interplanetary contamination could be even greater. However, no life forms were found on any of Sol’s other planets, and humanity soon felt fairly secure in traveling through the solar system.
When interstellar travel became a possibility, the concern for potential contamination became greater than ever before. Although the colonization of other worlds would give humanity an increased chance of survival in the galaxy, that same colonization had the potential to destroy the human race with plague if care were not taken to prevent cross-contamination.
An international treaty was signed to allow for the creation of a jointly maintained inspection system that would ensure that all cargoes delivered to Terra would be stringently inspected to preclude the possibility of Terra’s ecosystem being infected with any harmful alien life form. The consensus was that such stringent measures need not be instituted on all colony worlds; each world could decide for itself the amount of risk it was willing to take Nor was it necessary (or economically feasible) to protect the entirety of humanity’s home system. All that was required to ensure the survival of the race was that one world be carefully protected, and the logical choice was Earth.
The protective system became known as Orbital Quarantine Command (OQC)
On the first few worlds that Earth colonized, the biochemistries were so incompatible with Terra’s that humans had absolutely no problems with alien-spawned diseases. This proved fortunate for Earth, as it allowed Orbital Quarantine Command to test and refine its procedures for dealing with incoming traffic before any serious threat was encountered.
The Organization of OQC
OQC is jointly operated by all of Terra’s starfaring nations. Its central office is located at Gateway, at the top of the beanstalk. A delegation from each starfaring nation is included in this office, and extra space is provided for the offices of less powerful nations that wish to be included on OQC’s supplemental advisory board. Most of the nations on this board have solar system travel capabilities but no starships.
The directors of OQC are elected yearly by the starfaring nations’, delegations. The advisory board can participate in the nomination process, but its members have no vote in the final election. OQC’s facilities outside of Gateway consist of a multitude of stutterwarp warships drawn from navies of the various starfaring nations. These ships are positioned in orbit around Terra in such a way as to detect every incoming vessel, stutterwarp-capable or not. Every six months, a new set of warships is assigned to the positions.
In effect, OQC consists of a blockade of military ships intended to stop every vessel entering Terran orbit If the ship is dropping a cargo, that cargo is quarantined on the ship for a period of many hours while trained inspectors check it carefully for potentially dangerous substances or organisms.
Nonorganic cargoes are typically treated to destroy any latent organisms, then cleared within a matter of a few hours. Organic cargoes typically require gentler treatment and are quarantined and observed for as much as a few days. Living cargoes (including passengers bound for Earth’s surface) are subjected to intense scrutiny over a period of a week or more before being allowed to continue on their way.
OQC and Tourism
Passengers destined for Earth’s surface are subject to intensive scrutiny by OQC. Luggage is carefully examined, and any item that is questionable is confiscated until the character leaves Earth once again. For this reason, it is often simpler to leave all belongings behind when visiting Earth and simply purchase what is necessary once you have reached the planet’s surface. Passengers leaving Earth are not subject to OQC inspection (although they are inspected less thoroughly by the travel facilities they use). Therefore, it is possible to take souvenirs from Earth back home.