Translated by Lawrence Schimel.
“Separated by what unites us, united by what separates us.”
—Slogan of the “Archipiélagos” radio program (Miami, 1990s)
At midnight between February 28 and 29, 2020, above every aerial, terrestrial, and maritime political border on Earth a diffuse luminous curtain became visible, which seemed in slow, continuous movement. To the inhabitants of the more boreal or austral countries, it reminded them of the polar auroras, some high atmosphere meteor that was very familiar at those elevated latitudes … except that this new phenomenon seemed to take place flush to the ground.
This would already have been front page news of the world media … but what came after made much more noise.
The first affected seem to have been a small group of hopeful Sudanese who, fleeing from Tunisia in a fragile and crowded dinghy, tried to reach the island of Sardinia in the wee hours of the night.
The 104 immigrants disembarked splashing and congratulating one another for having reached solid land without problems. Also somewhat surprised: no local contact was waiting for them on the beach.
Some, exhausted by their tense travels, preferred to wait for them there on the sands. The bravest continued inland.
Ahmed Osman Bashkir, an ophthalmologist from Jartum, was the first to contact with the locals: a family of fisherman who took in the tall, thin Muslim in astonishment: the colour of their own skin was rather dark, but without the subtle blue tones of the Sudanese. They were also struck by his almost-spherical matt of thick, curly hair. But with the easy hospitality of the poor, they feasted him from their meagre stores.
Ahmed spoke to them in Italian, which he had studied a little. Nothing. He tried French, Arabic, and Nubian, languages which his friendly hosts also didn’t seem to understand. Nor could he manage to recognize the language they communicated in.
But when the oculist, with a degree from Cairo, tried English, the eyes of one of the fishermen lit up, and he responded with a perfect British accent.
That’s how the astounded Sudanese learned that he had been taken in and fed by the Sharapandatara family. And that he wasn’t in Sardinia, nor in Sicily, nor in any other part of Italy or even the Mediterranean … but in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
At two a.m., Lufthansa flight 845, a modern Airbus 380 with 523 passengers on board, traveling from Frankfurt to Zurich, found itself suddenly surrounded by various Su-37 fighters with camouflage markings, and ordered imperiously (first in Spanish, then in English!) to land immediately, accused of having penetrated forbidden airspace. Otherwise, they would open fire. The stunned pilots obeyed, and landed in a military airport … of Caracas.
A motorized infantry squad of the Indian Army, performing manoeuvres near Balistan, found itself suddenly surrounded by enemy forces. Who were neither Pakistani nor Chinese, countries with which New Delhi had for decades disputed the sovereignty of Kashmir … but with the North American Border Forces, and a broad anti-immigrant operation on the outskirts of Laredo, Texas. One had to lament a few casualties on both sides; the Yankee border forces confused the Hindu militants with “wetbacks” and shot at them… Well, they were dark and short, no? Surely they weren’t expecting them to retaliate with such force.
Various all-terrain vehicles participating in the famous Dakkar Rally, in passing from Mauritania to Senegal during the final leg, appeared unexpectedly … in the middle of the highly-trafficked Simplon tunnel, between Italy and Switzerland, provoking both enormous chaos in the traffic and a lethal chain accident.
Cuban rafters trying to reach Florida, even though the Law of Cuban Adjustment had been revoked years earlier, suddenly found themselves in the territorial waters of the Republic of San Tomé and Principe, in the Guinean gulf, near Ecuador. Even after being advised of where they found themselves by the incredulous Border Guard of the African archipelago, various of the new arrivals still requested political asylum…
Algilaudas Sobanis, lone Lithuanian sailor, circumnavigated Africa. Setting sail mid-afternoon from the small Namibian port of Luderitz, dawn of February 29 found him facing not the South African Cape Town, as planned … but Wellington, capital of New Zealand. The sceptical local customs officials thought he was drunk or drugged and locked him up.
Dozens, hundreds, thousands of fully-confirmed reports. And many regrettable human loses: the international borders are usually a sensitive area for governments.
It was impossible to keep ignoring this strange phenomenon or keeping it a secret: something very strange was happening with the planet’s borders.
Something had to be done, and fast…
As usual, the US set the example: after declaring DEFCON 3 and taking refuge in the NORAD bunker underneath Cheyenne Mountain, president Trump ordered that it must urgently be established whether this strange phenomenon was a threat to national security, who was behind all of this … and, in any event, if there were some way of preventing “all that dark-skinned scum” from coming into the USA.
Hysterical phone calls to Moscow, Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin, to ensure that this wasn’t a game by anyone in the G20, and hours of minute analysis left it clear that:
Yes, it truly was happening: any individual (or object: it was tested, of course, with remote control drones; two German drones, on crossing the border with Poland, appeared in the airspace of … Australia) that traversed a border between two nations (let’s call them A and B), instead of passing from the territory of Nation A to that of Nation B (or vice versa) appeared unfailingly and inexplicably in that of a third nation different from both of them … Nation C, for now. In general, located thousands of kilometres away from A and B.
The inexplicable passage was instantaneous. (“As if beamed up by Scotty,” an anonymous Trekkie in the NSA quipped). Although macroscopic teleportation was theoretically impossible…
The transit was reversible: retracing one’s steps, the explorer, traveller, drone, or befuddled animal who left C was teleported … that is to say, returned inevitably to A or B, according to their initial location.
If one crossed by water the very visible demarcation of the Auroras of the Apocalypse (as some alarmists began to call them) located at the international limit of twelve miles, the next moment one found oneself in the territorial waters of another coastal nation. Without ever reaching the high seas. All ships, civilian or military, were ordered to head immediately to the nearest port; the United States Sixth Fleet, trying to return to base in Naples, wound up at the Peruvian port of El Callao.
International rail or highway traffic was also forced to halt immediately, lest the number of fatal accidents increase exponentially. When an aerial or aquatic vehicle crossed one of the strange luminous phenomena, it barely noticed any turbulence, due to the change in density of the waters or the atmosphere it sailed through. But when a train or an automotive vehicle crossed one of those greenblue curtains … most often, on the other side, in country C, there wasn’t a railway line or highway, with the imaginable drastic consequence.
The good news: radio and television transmissions were not affected. Nor were international telephone networks, landlines or mobiles. The phenomenon seemed limited to material objects, not electromagnetic ways.
By the way, the Auroras of the Apocalypse … or better yet, from now on, the limes (from the Latin, limes, frontiers of the ancient Roman Empire), to avoid any religious or pejorative allusions, do NOT emit electromagnetic energy as the true polar auroras do. Nor do they emit radioactivity, thermal activity, radio waves, etc.
The limes didn’t react to being probed by laser rays, masers, or beams of charged particles. Nor when subjected to bombardments with tactical atomic warheads. The Russians demonstrated this in Sakhalin … and the radiation from the nuclear test was detected in Papua New Guinea. Nor did the combined efforts of dozens of French psychics have any noticeable effect…
It’s impossible to determine if the phenomena are of natural or artificial origin. Some visionary quantum physicists spoke of the Tunnel Macroeffect; long quantic equations. Others cited String Theory … and more equations. A third (rather mystic) group claimed that Dragon Lines might be involved. And the fourth were convinced that all the others were wrong, although they didn’t have a coherent explanation either. But all the scientists agreed on one thing, for the first time: before being able to achieve something like this, human technology would have to develop for quite some time … a few centuries, let’s say.
The USA entered into DEFCON 2. In the rest of the world, governments and news agencies tried now to deny everything, now to implicate aliens or preferably, rival governments. North Korea blamed South Korea … and Yankee imperialism; in Spain, the scapegoat was: the Moroccans!
Exactly forty-eight hours after the limes appeared, a radio communication was captured by the entire planet. It seemed to come from the star Proxima Centauri … and its text, in more than 140 languages and/or dialects, read only:
HAVE YOU UNDERSTOOD?
Multitudinous riots erupted immediately in Delhi, Lhasa and Mecca. Waves of collective suicides decimated the followers of various sects. Followers of the Räelian Movement exulted: the Elohim or alien gods had manifested at last to their faithful followers! Fanatics of creationism and intelligent design paraphrased Arthur C. Clarke’s famous statement: if any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, shouldn’t what scientists consider beyond the reach of human technology be considered divine magic?
The term limes was, until a few hours ago, familiar only to a handful of experts in Imperial Roman History. But Joao Guimaraes, a journalist from Rio de Janeiro who was a fan of the esoteric, remembered Charles Fort and his The Book of the Damned, and he saddled the lines with the name Fortean. The expression went viral.
Quick-witted publishers hurried to reprint Fort’s book. Also, Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels’ The Return of the Magicians; the anonymous hodgepodge of theology and science fiction of the Book of Urantia; the Centurias or Prophecies of Michel de Nostradamus … and even the mysterious and never-deciphered Voynich Manuscript. Just in case; if it was a matter of unintelligible mysteries…
Prefaces or appendices purportedly written by J. J. Benítez, Charles Berlitz or Eric von Daniken were even added to these quick reprints … even though a few hours later, all those specialists in occult mysteries emphatically denied any involvement.
Religious hysteria exploded, like a flame racing across a map of gunpowder. Ianian ayatollah Omar ibn Abidallu issued a burning fatwa against the Fortean Limes, accusing the Western infidel dogs of “making a pact with Shaitan, selling him the souls of good believing humanity.” Rabbi Ismar, head of the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia, advised his faithful “to have patience and common sense, to wait and see how these events developed.” L´Osservatore Romano, the official voice of the Vatican, limited itself to note: “God reveals his existence … and tests us. We have faith in his infinite mercy at this crucial moment.”
Mankind held its breath, waiting…
And, meanwhile, as is logical, it kept on living.
Three days after the appearance of the Fortean Limes, the airlines Swissair and KLM resumed their international flights. Now, traveling from Switzerland toward Italy, planes entered the airspace of Equatorial Guinea. And following the aerial corridor that earlier led from the Netherlands to Norway one wound up in the air space of Jamaica… But what a savings in fuel!
By the fourth day, there were already detailed maps online plotting the connectivity of the Fortean Limes. Exotic and unimagined routes appeared: to reach Nepal from the United States, a traveller had to head toward the border with Canada, which would make them appear in Mongolia, beside China. Heading toward China, they would find themselves in Brazil, on the border with Peru … and choosing to go toward that Andean nation they at last wound up in Nepalese territory. Simple, no? Especially if the customs of each country collaborated…
The fifth day, an armoured Argentine detachment entered British territory. After passing through Iceland, Kiribati, and Botswana, they sought to embody the South American nation’s old military dream: a rematch on British territory for the Falklands War!
The Royal Army reacted and the furious gaucho contingent wound up retreating, after heavy losses on both sides. The Malvinas would continue to be Falklands. And the Safety Council of the UN didn’t have to intervene to keep world peace until a few hours later. When aeronaval forces of the Chinese Popular Army disembarked in Taiwan … after a complex meandering deployment through Cambodia, Tanzania and Paraguay.
The sixth day after the Fortean Limes, in an extraordinary session at its New York headquarters and with record attendance (even though some delegates had to pass through seven or eight borders in order to reach US territory), the UN unanimously condemned any attack by one nation of another, even through third or fourth countries, as malicious incitement of a global conflicts … and even the Chinese signed the New Act of International Nuclear Reprisal. And optimism grew; it seemed man would adapt to this as well.
But the seventh day, March 6th, Aeroflot flight 976 tried to reach Malaysia through the Baroque but well-understood measure of heading toward Finnish airspace, and disappeared in mid-air before reaching its destination. The II-96-400M plane carried on board 378 passengers and crew.
A few minutes later, a group of French Catholics, determined to complete the venerable pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, even if they had to pass through the revolution in Afghanistan to do so, entered the Khyber Pass, the border route between that nation and its neighbour Pakistan … but they didn’t appear again in the Spanish Pyrenees, as all the pilgrims who had preceded them during the agitated previous week had done.
Over the next hours, numerous similar incidents were reported, until the world had to bow before the evidence: the capricious but until then apparently trustworthy map of the connections of the Fortean Limes had changes … and it wasn’t yet clear in what configuration.
At least until, twenty-four hours after their disappearance, thirty-five of the 378 people on Aeroflot flight 976 returned … to Belize. A couple were wounded, most of them showed different levels of malnutrition, and in general they seemed to have suffered from various privations over an interval of time far greater than one day.
When questioned, their story was that they had come to land in a semi-desert place crossed by a wide river, which fertilized the ground with its annual flooding. An archaic country, without television or internet, without even cars or steam engines, with primitive agriculture and determined to construct great stone monuments, and whose language they had wound up learning after great efforts.
According to historians and linguists, all the data coincided suspiciously with Pharaonic Egypt in the time of the Third Dynasty, shortly before the fever of building the pyramids … perhaps that’s why the unfortunate travellers hadn’t recognized it sooner. They had remained in that archaic civilization … for four whole years!
Once more, the response of the scientific community was to deny everything as “the irrational fantasies of people eager to capture the interest of a handful of gullible people.”
But when a few of the “disappeared” of the past twenty-four hours slowly were returned, and declared to have been in times and places as different in time and space as a British military base during the battle of Gallipoli in World War I, a Viking village in the Greenland of Eric the Red, and the Steppes of the Uyghur Khaganate in Central Asia at the beginning of the ninth century, it was no longer possible to continue ignoring these new circumstances.
The mysterious Elohim (or however they wanted to call themselves) could not only play with space at their whim, but also, it seemed, with time…
And to confirm this to the still numerous sceptics were the various people who accompanied the “repatriates,” after having lived with them during periods of time that oscillated between weeks and years. They weren’t many … but one of them was positively identified as the missing union leader of the North American truckers, Jimmy Hoffa … about whom nobody had any news since 1975.
Some optimistic historians spoke of access privileges to the past … but it turned out that most people had no interest in tourism to wild periods, without running water, electricity, or the internet. And, it turned out, one couldn’t even control where and when one went: a handful of Egyptologists who tried to repeat the journey of Aeroflot 976 didn’t wind up in the Egypt of the Third Dynasty, but instead in the South African Transvaal, in the middle of the Anglo-Boer war … and right in the middle of a heavy exchange of gunfire.
A few hours later, what was quickly baptized as the Second Proxima Centauri Communique (almost as laconic as the first one) was captured:
HERE AND THERE, NOW AND THEN. ALL MUST LEARN TO GET ALONG. BECAUSE ALL ARE ONE.
“God wants to teach us a message of tolerance,” the always prudent L’Osservatore Romano opined. And there were other opinions: “If God exists, he wants to screw us,” mega-rockstar guitarist Slash cynically declared. “We won’t be welcomed into the heart of the Galactic Community until we are able to rise above our quarrels,” proclaimed Claude Vorilhon, better known around the world as Raël. “We’re certainly not going to let anyone screw us over,” Donald Trump announced, expressing the deepest feelings of his country … and, it seems, a good part of the world.
Because when the following week, thanks to careful joint orbital explorations by the European Space Agency and Nasa, it became clear that the Fortean Limes only extended up to around 1500 km in height … the reaction was inevitable:
The honour of the planet had been affronted … and it must be washed clean with blood. Or whatever those damned aliens had instead…
So here we are. Proud members of the First United Human Interstellar Combat Fleet, with ships put together with international effort in Earth’s orbit. About to embark on the glorious journey … to Proxima Centauri.
The bad news is that our Orion drive can barely attain a tenth of the speed of light, by consecutively exploding nuclear minibombs,. Thus crossing the 1,295 parsecs that separates our sun from the closest star to will require long decades of travel.
Perhaps those of us who set out today will never face the enemy. But our children, surely…
It wasn’t easy to organize this expedition. Many opposed it. The cowardly, the pacifists, those with cold minds and petrified hearts who insisted that, with our minimal technological level, we’d barely be able to even tickle beings able to manipulate time and space at their will. If we even managed to reach them.
Perhaps they’re right. But that won’t stop us. The word impossible might exist in the dictionary of men … but not in that of all mankind.
We’re confident in the abilities of our race, united for the first time in a common effort. It might be that the aliens surpass us in scientific development … but it would be better for them if they don’t trust in that. We humans learn fast.
Others think that, within forty or fifty years, when this avenging contingent reaches Proxima Centauri (if it ever arrives!) the Elohim will no longer be there. Because they were never there; their two communications were just the lure to remove from Earth its best offspring and then, once the planet was defenceless, conquer it easily…
Or, even worse … they would be there, but only to laugh at our weapons, to give our space-born descendants a condescending slap on the back and tell them, “Just what we expected: humanity united, at last, in pursuit a common goal.”
To be followed, the pessimists fear, by sending us to fight in their name in some terrible war against unimaginably powerful enemies of some distant galaxy.
Other optimists think that if they wait for us it will be to welcome us into the Great Galactic Coalition (or its equivalent) with open arms. Or tentacles, or pincers. Bow that we’re mature enough to act as an entire planet…
It might be. I can’t say no. But … after all our preparations, for things to end with so little to show for them … that would almost be a shame, wouldn’t it?