Terra Nullius

The object flashed by the Earth so fast that we didn’t even have time to photograph it. We didn’t even know what it was, but its path was perpendicular to the ecliptic, or nearly so. A piece of it broke off—or was ejected with purpose, depending on your own inclination—and made landfall. It was called the shard, and the impact crater it made was our only clue to its origin.

It was an especially hot night in September, over 100°F. It hit the dirt in a hilly desert just south of the 22nd parallel in a region called Bir Tawil.

You’ve probably never heard of Bir Tawil; most people hadn’t before that night. It’s a quirk of political geography dating back almost 200 years, to 1899 and 1902. Two maps were drawn to delineate the border between Egypt and Sudan. On the first map, Sudan had possession of Bir Tawil, while Egypt had another region called the Halaib Triangle. On the second map, possession of the two territories was reversed.

Because the Halaib Triangle was populated and desirable for its location along the Red Sea, and Bir Tawil was, well, not, it led to a situation where both countries recognized the map that gave them claim to the Halaib Triangle, and therefor neither country claimed Bir Tawil. Two thousand square kilometers of terra nullius.

Until the shard came down.

The crater was full of water by the end of the first day, obscuring the shard itself, but it was quickly determined that the water wasn’t from a punctured water table or some unknown aquifer. It was a transmutation of the air and rock and sand. In three more days there was flowering greenery from one horizon to the other. The shard was terraforming.

Egyptian and Sudanese troops were deployed en masse to claim Bir Tawil. The Royal Saudi Navy sent half the Jeddah fleet across the narrow stretch of the Red Sea, but despite their proximity they still arrived well after the drones from the US and China. The Earth was greening, and all anyone could think to do was go to war. Steal the tech. Horde the knowledge.

When the radioactive dust settled, the object returned. We couldn’t tell where it came from because we’d lost all our telescopes by that point. It broke up into 4,095 more shards that came down around the world, to remake it once again.

But not for us.

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