From Near to Eternity

photo by SG

On the centennial of the passage of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964, an act of Congress made the word ‘race’ obsolete and the concept that the obsolete word represented illegal. “The very concept of ‘race’ itself,” stated the document, known as the Personhood Bill, “is racist.” The replacement word was Somatype and it was determined that humankind breaks down into 22 major Somatypes, each Somatype divisible further into a dozen-plus-one S-Inflections, each of these S-Inflections either an “A” or a “B” of its kind, and each “A” or “B” a possible positive or a negative, according to specific markers in the genome. It was hoped that the unwieldy terminology would inhibit casual distinction-drawing in a kind of inverse of the way in which the intuitive simplicity of the original system had been a runaway success in framing and disseminating the uneducated hatred of diversity. Not a year later, in time for the semi-centennial of the inauguration of the First Earth Parliament of 202 countries (minus China), the Somatype standard was adopted as global law.

Another century plus forty years after that, Siegfried Olubodun was told by his nearest rival at the University of Hamburg’s department of Tempanthropy that the only reason he’d got the research grant was because he was black.

About Siegfried’s blackness there was no debating; you rarely saw a face that black in Europe. Siegfried’s blackness was only marginally less rare than the famed whiteness of a family (blue-eyed, blond) who lived in a northern suburb of the city and whose estate had become a zoo, practically; people came from all over Europe to see the throw-backs in their natural habitat (they were auto mechanics, dynastically; half of the 80 hectares of the family compound was given over to garages and test-tracks). Siegfried tried to remember their name. The Ziegeldorfs. Siegfried was ancestrally Nigerian to an unusually single-minded degree. Whereas the Ziegeldorfs were viewed in Europe with great curiosity and a bemusement bordering on distaste, the Oluboduns were sometimes suspected of reproductive fascism. The Ziegeldorfs had been, perhaps, as driven by self-preservation as by greed in the opening of their compound to the public. But the Oluboduns were not so many in number and were spread among a handful of baronial flats overlooking the Alster.

By the time of Siegfried’s thirteenth birthday, human Somatypes had dropped from 22 to 15 and, as a result of cheap travel and zero borders (but one) and the lure of exogamy, the number was still falling. Practically everyone on earth these days looked like a somewhat lighter or darker Brazilian. With the notable exception of the Chinese, who had long-ago absorbed Japan, the two Koreas, and much of Malaysia and who were exactly half of the global population. Africa (with its population density of one human per three hundred square kilometers) was still pretty dark but only in the range of bland toffees. There was something his father always said but he could not remember.

“Selbstverstaendlich,” said Siegfried. Naturally. Speaking German was considered an elitist affectation. But sometimes Siegfried couldn’t help himself.

“Ich wollte damit keinen Ärger machen,” I meant no harm in saying it, countered Marta, shrugging, but Siegfried suspected that Marta’s aggression (not the first time) was her clumsy way of flirting. No wonder the population figures in Europe were falling again. Perhaps it was on that topic, the thing his father had said that Siegfried could not seem to remember. Though it ticked on the rim of his memory.

“They can’t very well expect someone with beige skin and European facial features to infiltrate the living quarters of Igbo-identified field slaves of early 18th century North America, can they?”

“But there was mixing even then.”

“Not so much in evidence among the field slaves. House servants were another class entirely and my research is on the topic of field slaves, Fraulein Sauerwald.”

“It’s a major grant. You’re lucky.”

Siegfried lifted his chin. “I don’t, as you know, believe in luck.”

“But perhaps,” said Marta, with an unreadable pout, “you will need it.”

“Excuse me?” He touched his codpiece.

“Something could happen.”

“I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘something could happen’ in the faculty dining hall, as well.” Siegfried curled his lip with bravado and placed the call confirming his receipt of the notice of his having won the grant. He pressed the patch on his throat and spoke clearly. In a flash he remembered and the enormity of it filled his mind to bursting not only with the implanted knowledge of his era but the weight and roar of future history.

Like Prometheus…

Even as Marta, with her lustrous blue-black hair, arms folded (the aureole of the left nipple lurid against the bisque mound of its breast; an allergy; it was itching like mad) looked on with an impossible mixture of longing and resentment, Siegfried, along with all of his belongings there at Uni… family photos, clothing, equipment, nametags and gene-keyed snacks in the faculty locker… vanished. With no sense of motion, Marta, too, vanished and her haircut changed. She re-materialized on the other side of the campus and formed in the midst of a conversation with a PsySoc Prof who, by appearance, might’ve been her cousin. She was not surprised by Siegfried’s disappearance; she’d never heard of him. Nor had anyone.

That’s how time travel works, since no object can occupy two timestreams in one universe. The only options are A) sending a duplicate, or B) removing the original from one timestream completely before inserting it in another. A virtual googlebit calculator in quantum n-space is responsible for keeping track of (and eventually reversing) the transaction. The process is funded by shaving a billionth of a second from the very end of all Time. As a military option it made the oxygen fission bomb seem like a toy in comparison.

The first thing that met him was the smell. The smells. He hit 19th-century North America vomiting… he staggered and fell to his knees in a sunlit bush, vomiting his guts out and scratching his arms and chest on the brambles. The sweat, bad breaths and long reek of the open latrine hit him like a seething kiss. Or perhaps it was a side-effect of the massive dose of thought-modifiers he had taken in order to mask his true intent.