Out of the Medicine Line, and Into the Shadow World

For the tornado season part of my storyline, I’ve gotten the idea that during one of the great outbreaks in May, the triplets-cum-rock-stars will take their storm-chasing concert convoy (yes, that’s a thing in this story’s universe) to the north, tracking a strong tornado into the Prairies of Canada, crossing the 49th parallel, known informally as the Medicine Line, and following a record-breaking twister and a creepy supercell thunderstorm deep into the country.

This strongest tornado in Canadian history will be on the northern front of the greatest tornado outbreak on record, the Decoration Day Oubreak of 2045, spawning what we’d call F5 tornadoes from Texas to Alberta, from Wyoming to Ohio, activating the entire Tornado Alley and Dixie Alley regions in a crescendo of what will have been a nearly continuous series of “super-outbreak” tier events in the month of May that year. This mother of all outbreaks will be spawned courtesy of a strong storm system setting up ideal conditions for tornadogenesis across a wide area and over multiple days, spawning more violent tornadoes in one day than typically occur in a decade.

This crossing of the Medicine Line by tornadoes more typical of top-tier twisters in central Oklahoma gives an almost surreal vibe to the scenes in this part of the story, almost like with the coming of the great rogue comet and the building of the El Diablo weather pattern they’re slipping a bit into the shadow world of the fair folk or some such.

The slightly surreal vibe will be accentuated by alternate-historical vibes: the triplet rockers live in Nashville, and because it’s Decoration Day (which in this timeline never morphed into “Memorial Day”), the holiday where the Confederate graves are decorated, they’ll be flying big Confederate flags from the backs of those rugged off-road convertible buses they’re chasing the tornadoes with. The fact the rockers are ethnic Slovenians with the accent to prove it is immaterial to them, as is the fact this whole bizarre rig is straying as far from the Confederacy as Saskatchewan. Which is to say, pretty far…

From Liminal Spaces…

Which inspires the question of what exactly the Medicine Line looks like in this universe’s 2045. Open borders are the norm, so there will be no checkpoints, so my first thought was it would just be marked by a statue or some such, perhaps one of those bare metal monstrosities that loom over parts of the High Plains even today, but that would just be too vanilla. I got to reading about the Canada-United States border, and last night I happened upon the “line houses”. A line house is a building deliberately located so an international boundary passes through it, with one part of the building in one country and the other part of the building in the other.

The most famous such structure on the Canadian border is the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, built in 1904 to serve both sides of the border at Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec equally, the brainchild of Martha Stewart Haskell and her son Horace “Stewart” Haskell. It’s a good thing the Haskells built the thing, because after 1908 the International Boundary Commission prohibited any construction straddling the border without its consent, which de facto banned any new line houses from being constructed; indeed, the commission encourages existing line houses to be abandoned!

Can’t have the slaves straying between their open-air prisons, can we? That’s the sort of society we live in now, which as late as the 1900s, when line houses were rapidly proliferating at the hands of more liberal-minded elements as a show of international solidarity, was still considered barbaric. So much for all the “progress” that’s allegedly been made; people were far freer to cross the border in 1904 than they are today, a time when even a historic treasure like the Haskell Library is only grudgingly tolerated by the prison wardens…er, excuse me, “border services” of the two countries. The one entrance to the library is located on the American side, and the government of the “land of the free” makes the Canadians go through a marked path where their every move is constantly watched by cameras and surly thugs to visit their own library! What more proof do you need that we’re occupied by a fascist regime? This is not a free country.

What if that were different?

…To a new Birth of Freedom?

In particular, in my universe liberalism prevails instead of being reversed, with fresh momentum being injected starting with the 1960s New Age, the boom in international trade and travel inspiring a relaxation of even customs checks; requirements for documentation to travel were never imposed in the first place. What if, as part of this, President McEwen leads an initiative that deregulates construction along the border, once again permitting line houses to be built, and the boom evident in the 1900s resumes in full force after the 1970s.

Mostly these would be tourist curiosities, but they soon acquire political significance to this universe’s liberal movement, these occupied buildings being living symbols of borderlessness and the open society of the future, where we shall be one human race and one world, working together for a better future or some such.

Like the Haskell Library, these structures make the effective imposition of border controls more difficult even if only in a small way; the cumulative impact of many such structures can be seen in how they’ve made the prospect of reimposing a “hard border” between the United Kingdom and (southern) Ireland much less practical than it might otherwise be. We see much the same headache (from the perspective of fascists) in the complex borders between Belgium and the Netherlands around Barrle-Hertog.

With thousands of Haskell Libraries, the reimposition of border controls, at least in any comprehensive fashion that involves effectively sealing off a border, between the United States and Canada would become considerably less feasible. Not totally infeasible, mind you, but the practicalities of the situation act as a deterrent to fascist elements actually acting on their agenda of mass false imprisonment and molestation of travelers.

Operation Haskell

What if Wolfram Reinhardt, radical billionaire exponent of the liberal movement, gloms onto this factor when he’s elevated to the American presidency in the 1990s, and exploits it? Specifically, in the form of an initiative led by the federal government to build out “line houses” from coast to coast, developing entire clusters of structures centered on line houses, connecting in urban-style thickets sprawling vertically upward, horizontally outward, and even downward, connecting to tunnels dug out by the use of nuclear subterrene technology, with these tunnels forming vast honeycombs of networks underground, entry and exit points numerous and far-flung, spanning vast areas on both sides of the border. What Enver Hoxha was to bunkers in Albania in our timeline, Wolfram Reinhardt is to line houses in the United States in this timeline.

And yes, it’s utterly bonkers, but there’s a method to the madness: “xenomorphic anarchism”, which is pioneered in practice by Wolfram Reinhardt, but with the theory being the brainchild of his first cousin Menteith Reinhardt; effectively, this strategy envisages the direction of state patronage, and taxpayer dollars, toward the development and proliferation of technologies and techniques that will render statecraft and monopolistic non-consensual government infeasible, and freeing said taxpayers who are providing the dollars from further domination by their oppressors.

The original and best case that inspired this was onion routing (in our timeline all but synonymous with Tor, but in this timeline they might call it something else), developed by states’ military intelligence agencies for their own purposes but that quickly became used by citizens to evade censorship, with this use case actually being essential, for otherwise anyone using the network would be guaranteed to be a state actor, but with mass adoption the spies can be lost in the shuffle of citizen traffic. In this universe space colonization is another one; bankrolled in large measure by governments eager to prove their own nations’ superior technological prowess against competitors, the very exploration efforts opening up the ultimate escape hatch, the ultimate opt-out from state jurisdiction: running away permanently into the blackness, beyond the reach of any government, forever.

The thought process: why not expand the same model, to a much larger scale?

The net effect of Reinhardt’s line house initiative is to make the reimposition of border controls effectively impossible should conservatives retake power in the United States…at least bar the glassing of the whole area with nuclear explosives. Though even this eventuality could be mitigated if the tunnels were dug deep enough. Just for this reason, I’m envisioning that their exact locations will be concealed, treated as a military secret.

Duke ’em, Nuke ’em, Showboat ’em

As part of Reinhardt’s initiative the customs houses and posts, which by his time were largely abandoned, were all demolished in their entirety. “Dynamite the customs houses!” becomes a campaign rallying cry, but they’re going to use something much peppier than dynamite. In regular theatrical demonstrations presided over personally by Reinhardt, the customs posts and border control infrastructure, which already by the election had sat largely abandoned for decades, were systematically destroyed via nuclear detonations; tactical-scale, but big enough to ensure the entirety of each structure was within the fireball radius.

In this universe nuclear detonations are a routine part of modern life; nuclear pulse propulsion is employed for space launch on a regular basis, for example. But even in this freewheeling timeline a head of state cackling over nuking his own government’s installations is thought to be pretty weird. That, perhaps more than anything else, is why the Wolfram Reinhardt presidency still looms large in the public political imagination even half a century later, when this story takes place.

As the triplets cross the Medicine Line a character might say there’s a crater there, there should be a crater there where the customs house used to be, but another explains that all traces including the craters of the old border infrastructure were systematically erased as part of Wolf Reinhardt’s operation, perhaps kicking off the whole discussion where this is exposited in the context of the story.

Another historical tidbit: Reinhardt did the tunneling and construction without the knowledge or consent of the Canadian government, though via proxies Canadian parties were employed and property rights were respected. A major scandal ensued, but nevertheless the construction was allowed to stand on the Canadian side, in large measure because as of that time there was nothing illegal about someone building or using the infrastructure that was being built out (not to mention the practicality of tracking down all the tunnels that were bored through the Medicine Line, turning the local lithosphere into Swiss cheese…or at least, that’s what the rumors said). Even evasion of customs and immigration inspections weren’t a concern, since those had been abolished by then anyway.

The scandal arguably served to make Reinhardt even more popular, but the metaphorical bomb-throwing may have inspired enough public weariness with neoradicalism to enable the republican resurgence, which began around that time, culminating in a twenty-year period of dominance by conservative forces in elections…before none other than Wolf’s granddaughter Rapunzel Reinhardt comes in and finishes the job.

We’re not in the Wild West anymore…or are we?

Indeed, I’m brainstorming that “Just End It Already” serves as a major campaign slogan for her during the 2040 election (the second Reinhardt ripping a page from Giant Meteor’s playbook…given a century of Internet meme culture, which in that timeline they’ve had by 2040, that might come off as downright normal), where she in particular polls at record high numbers among “virgin voters”, those casting a ballot for the first time. And yes, “the virgin vote” was a political term current in the 19th century in real life; I didn’t just make that up.

The demographic base for this horde might be more literally virginal than they are today, considering a great many of them are boys as young as 13, all lining up en masse to pledge fealty and cast their ballots in person, a campaign the triplets vividly remember. Their own home of Middle Tennessee is a Democratic stronghold in this timeline, where the Solid South never broke, the late 20th century great awakening leading to an abandonment of Christianity en masse in the South rather than an evangelical revival (picture: southern-fried New Age hippies), so it may have been particularly visible in Nashville; the marches, the torchlight parades, and all those very 19th century forms of politicking, all taking place against a backdrop more reminiscent of Coruscant than the Old West.

Indeed, the entire setting is something like the Wild West on steroids…with spaceships. The very fact that boys in their early teens are casting ballots would suggest the age bar to vote in elections has long been lowered drastically or even abolished altogether. Indeed, given that in “Orphans of Opry Tower” literal children are guzzling alcohol and carting machine guns around across multiple international borders without documents right out in the open and nobody cares suggests that people generally act as if laws and governments don’t even exist anymore, an impression only reinforced by the prevalence of prostitutes going bottoms-up on hard drugs as they strut around with pet tigers…oh, and don’t forget all those pirates and assassins roaming around. It’s so normalized that Rapunzel Reinhardt herself actually founded an assassins’ guild; for the elimination of pirates offworld, not political opponents onworld (well, so she says…).

A Republic that Reigns but not Rules

Against the power of crypto-anarchy from below and movement liberalism above, the state as an institution has been fraying…dare I say, withering away. To that point, the triplets as they gaze at the tornado moving across the border will say it’s not as meaningful as it used to be, not even in a legal or jurisdictional sense, since one may elect out of United States jurisdiction altogether; secession is legalized down to the individual level, even competing governments among the seceded, effectively abolishing the state. Though the United States government remains as an option, and if anything the pomp, circumstance, and ceremony were ramped up, for in the xenomorphist mind, ever mindful of the power of theatrocracy, a locus for those of conservative or authoritarian dispositions was deemed essential, so their allegiance and sentiment won’t stray elsewhere.

It might seem a strange concept, but the democratic case for constitutional monarchy in real life rests on this very same line of thought! How many extreme conservative, authoritarian, right-wing, and fascist elements in Japan are trapped in the doom loop of worshiping the Emperor and believing the only path to victory is restoring the Imperial Family to power…only to be met by complete disinterest from Amaterasu’s descendants in the whole idea?

As the living symbol of (what’s left of) monopoly government, no others will be able to gain ground against the United States federal government, which by this point is transformed into anarchists’ controlled opposition, an ironic role reversal that, as with so many other things in this brainstorm, befits the slipping-into-the-shadow-world vibe of this setting.


The spring is cooking with story…there are quite a few missing pieces left to brainstorm and bring together, but so far I’m liking it very much. I honestly thought I might be writing it out by the time December came, but now that we’re midway through the month I’m still brainstorming. Methinks it’s going to be a very large and sprawling tale, but hopefully a fun and adventuresome one, for writer and reader alike. 😀 🏴‍☠️

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