cw: alcohol, implied sex, depression
[the following is an experiment in the first person and is a work of fiction; any names shared with friends of the author are entirely coincidental]
contrary to popular belief among many Canadians, Tim Hortons does exist outside of Canada
my town in upstate New York has had one right by the lake for as long as I can remember
it's a little late in the fall and windy for me to be walking by the lake, but here I am anyway
the wind is chilly, so I stop by Tim's for a hot chocolate and a boston cream donut
I open the door and step out onto an unfamiliar street
I turn around and discover that the door that I just came through is the locked door of a shuttered Pizza Pizza
I pull on the handle to no avail
the cars on the street have Ontario license plates, and that's a Pizza Pizza I just came out of, so I'm clearly in Canada
a red and white streetcar rumbles down the street and I finally realize that I'm in Toronto
I wander down the street to a park, take a seat on a bench, and try to take stock of my situation
I check my phone, only to find no cell signal and, strangely, no wifi networks at all
I put my phone in airplane mode and go through my pockets, starting with my wallet
it holds a student ID, drivers license, and debit card, all of which deadname me, and $47 US and a library card, neither of which deadname me
I drink my hot chocolate and think of what to do next
unable to come up with any ideas, I wander some more and come across a computer store advertising new Intel Pentiums
the doors are open, so I walk in and find two computers set up in the corner of the shop as a demo - one running Windows NT 3.5 and the other running Windows 3.11
I look to the lower right corner of the 3.11 screen for today's date and realize that that wasn't added yet
I fumble with Program Manager and open up the Calendar application and see a date of October 5th, 1994
my heart races as I check the other computer and see the same date
if it's 1994, that would explain why my phone has no wifi or signal
I find a stationery store and see calendars for 1994 and 1995 for sale
taking a seat on another park bench, I take stock of my situation again
I have a cell phone that hasn't been invented yet, a drivers license that shows a date of birth 6 years in the future, a debit card that isn't even embossed, and $47 in cash
reading the dates on the bills, I find that the oldest bill is from 2006
this is a Problem.
I try not to panic and attempt to enjoy my unplanned trip to 1994
I wander towards Queen St and see a sign I recognize: Silver Snail Comics
maybe someone there is chuuni enough to believe me and can get me back home somehow?
wait, is the word chuunibyou even used in english yet?
I talk to the cashier and manage to get him to believe my story by showing him a $1 bill issued in 2017 and pointing out that nobody in their right mind would forge a $1 bill, let alone point out the incorrect year and show it off to a comic book store cashier
"a Tim Hortons that sends you through time is called a Time Hortons" he says
we both start laughing uproariously
he trades me 5 Canadian quarters for the $1 bill, which he plans to frame and gives me the phone number of a girl he knows named Maya who thinks she's a witch or something, but might be able to help me, or at least be someone to share in delusions with
at the phone booth outside, I hesitate for a moment
do I know anyone in 1994 who'd believe me, or is Maya my only hope?
.. my parents - no, they're in the Peace Corps now and that'd be an expensive call
.. my uncle? - no, there's no way he'd believe me
.. Alice? she's an elder queer and would love to help another trans girl out, but wait.. she's only like 5 years old at this point
Maya is my only hope.
I pick up the receiver, insert a quarter, and, heart pounding, dial her number
"hi.. I'm looking for Maya"
a surprisingly deep voice answers me
"are you another cis guy who says he's bi for wanting to fuck me? if you are, fuck off; I'm not interested"
"don't worry, I'm a trans gal like you and I have a problem that Mark from Silver Snail says you can help me out with"
"looking for hormones, eh? I can hook you up with some Premarin"
"well, uh.. actually, I was calling about something much weirder: temporal displacement. I was in 2021 in upstate New York, but now I'm here in Toronto in 1994"
Maya's interest is piqued, and we arrange to meet
we meet in a bar and I tell my tale between shots of absinthe
she's great to talk to and it's nice to know that even if I can't get home, I have a friend here
when I'm thoroughly drunk, I think I see her shot glass hovering in mid-air
"is that floating, or is the absinthe hitting me?" I ask
she tells me something that I wouldn't have believed this morning, but I easily accept now: she's actually a witch and magic is real
I ask if she can get me home by magic, and she says she'll have to consult the coven
having nowhere else to sleep, I spend the night with her and feel ways I've never felt before
we fall asleep with our arms around each other
in the dead of night, I wake up and start crying as I realize that this isn't a dream and that I'm stuck here
the sound of me sobbing wakes her up and she asks what's wrong
"I've been fucking isekai'd into a foreign country in the past. my friends haven't even been born yet, and it's not like anything I know even applies to the 90s"
she hugs me and we sit in silence for a minute
"it can't *all* be useless. you said you're a computer programmer, right?"
"yeah, but I only know esoterica about Linux, Python3, and Java, none of which exist yet"
"your worth isn't defined by technical knowledge or by being good at things, and you always need to remember that"
I pause for a moment, trying to think of a rebuttal in the depressed way that I always do
before I can say anything, Maya comes up with an idea
"if you're from the future, don't you know about stocks to invest in and elections and sporting events to bet on?"
"that's a good idea, but my knowledge of anything before 2015 is kinda shaky, and I need something useful *now*, not just knowing that Enron'll crash in 2001"
"we can go to U of T tomorrow to look at computers and convene the coven" she says, yawning and laying back down
the University is a short ride down the the Toronto Subway to Queen's Park
we walk into a building and through a maze of corridors to a computer lab
a student wearing a dark hoodie and thick glasses greets Maya from behind a CRT monitor emblazoned with the Sun Microsystems logo
"Philo, this is Alex; he's a labbie here and can probably help you figure out what of your technical knowledge is salvageable. Alex, this is Philo; she's a victim of temporal displacement from 2021 and a weird nerd like you. I have some errands to run, so I'll be back later"
I take a seat at the workstation next to Alex and strike up a conversation about Solaris
he's surprised to learn that Linux, which is now just a small hobbyist project, becomes the dominant Unix-like, and that the only processors that matter in the future are x86 and ARM
as he logs me into the computer, I warn him that I've only used Solaris 10 a tiny bit before, but I manage to find my way in Solaris 2.3 easily enough
basic Unix file navigation has been the same since the 70s, after all
getting used to the vi editor is more difficult, however
the arrow keys do nothing and every other key feels like a clunkier version of what I know from vim
he laughs a bit as I frantically hit escape and type half-remembered vim commands
it's both comforting and disappointing to know that Unix nerd culture has always been like this
Maya returns to find us looking at a pile of Sun reference manuals trying to find the answer to some esoteric problem I've run into
after only a minute of looking through an index to see which volume to look in, I already miss being able to search StackOverflow for answers
"I asked Emily to look through her mountain of books and see if she can cobble together a spell and the coven's getting dinner at the dumpling place tonight to try and think of any other ideas" Maya continues
"you're in for a treat, Philo. their bao are amazing" Alex says
as Maya leaves us to try and get my code to compile, a song comes unbidden into my head and I start to hum the chorus
Alex gives me a confused look and I realize that the song hasn't been written yet and the band that wrote it isn't even together yet
I remember that I have that song and the whole album it's on downloaded to my phone
I take my phone out, play the song, and notice that the battery's running low
"Alex, do you have a micro-.. wait, microUSB doesn't exist yet"
"no, but I know someone who might make you one"
we head out onto a quad and traverse another maze of hallways to an electrical engineering lab in a basement, where Alex introduces me to Julie, another one of his and Maya's friends
she looks at the port on my phone through a magnifying glass and sketches it on a whiteboard
"I know these 2 are a pair and these 2 are a pair and that one of the pairs is +5 volts and ground and the other is data+/-" I say, pointing at her drawing
she takes 2 pieces of wire, wraps them around the probes of the bench multimeter, and does a strange gesture over the ends
I hold the phone steady as she levitates the wires, the ends of which have been drawn to fine points by her spell, into the port on the bottom of my phone
she consults the meter and writes on the board
she moves the wires, writes down another number, and turns off the multimeter
"does 5V 0.1A on this pair seem reasonable?"
"I think so? it's been a while since I've done any hacking on USB stuff.. or uhh it'll've been a while before I left 2021" I reply, confused as to how to make English work with time travel
"let's go for it" she says as she turns on a bench power supply and dials in the voltage
we connect up the wires, and my phone starts slowly charging
I turn the power supply up to 2 amps and the slow charging notification switches to a fast charging notification
"I can't hold this spell for the whole time it takes to charge, so can you grab me some electrical tape?"
after she tapes the wires into place and puts a small box over it to guard against anyone else in the lab prying, I ask how she did those spells and if I can learn
"perhaps I can teach you, but that'll take time that we won't have if you're going home soon"
Alex, who has been waiting in the corner idly fiddling with an oscilloscope, looks at his watch and points out that it's time to go get dinner with the rest of the coven
as I make a fool of myself with chopsticks eating delicious dumplings, Emily tells us about the spells she's found
"there's 2 ways we can get you home to 2021"
"two of them." I immediately reply
Emily looks a bit confused
I sigh as I realize that just quoted a meme out loud
"never mind, it's a reference to a joke from tumblr or maybe twitter" I say, only leaving everyone more confused
"the first way involves holding you at a fixed point as time moves around you and the second involves shoving you forward in time as the world moves"
"are either of these actually doable?" Alex asks
"the first entails finding a place where we can hide you where you won't be disturbed in the intervening 27 years and the second requires sending you to the same date, time, and place in 2021" Emily continues
"we'll need to go to the US for both of them because getting back into the US in 2021 with no record of having left will be annoying" I say
"crossing the border is probably the least of our problems. both of the spells are insanely risky"
"how risky are we talking? 50/50 chance?"
"with the first one, the spell itself is maybe 50/50, but any hiding spot that you can get home from easily is probably going to get found. the second one will end up smearing you across the next 27 years if we don't do it perfectly"
I pick up another dumpling and think for a bit
"to be honest, I'm not *that* desperate to get home. I spent a lot of 2020 and 2021 weathering a plague and worrying about the future. I do miss my friends and the life I had in 2021 a lot, but I think I'd rather stay here rather than take those risks"
I dip the dumpling in soy sauce as I hold back tears
"here in '94, I have hope for the future because I know vaguely what'll happen, unlike in 2021, where there was just this sense of impending doom with everything getting worse around me with no end in sight"
we spend the rest of the evening figuring out how I'll settle into the 1990s and which government and university offices we'll need to slip forged papers into to make me legally exist and have enough academic credits to be employable as a sysadmin or programmer
Alex offers me a hammock in the lab for the night, which I decline in favor of another night with Maya
I've spent my fair share of nights in university computer labs back in the future, and they've never been something I'd do without a damned good reason
the next morning, I'm wearing one of Maya's dresses, holding a forged passport (finally, a document that doesn't deadname me!), and waiting in line to open an account at a RBC branch
the lies I tell the teller don't feel like much compared to the lie that was my life as a boy
I sign a pile of papers, take a newly-issued Interac card, and head back to Alex's lab at the U of T
we've decided that it's too difficult to put me into classes mid-semester, so I need to study enough to not seem out of place in upper-level CS classes in the spring
as I'm not a witch (the coven decided that I shouldn't learn any witchcraft until I'm settled in here to avoid me causing trouble), they put the necessary documents into official filing cabinets without me
the next crime to commit is to remedy the fact that I only have US$46 to my name by doing just enough tampering with the woefully unsecured IBM-built ATMs to support a modest lifestyle and pay my way through uni
[author's note: I would never commit fraud of any sort in real life]
apart from some confused looks from other students who have never seen me before, even though my transcript says I've been in classes with them since fall '91, my one semester at U of T before graduation is relatively uneventful
I join a startup that I know will go far and begin to make investments that will prove extremely successful over the next few years
with my knowledge of the future, I could take the spotlight and found a successful company, but I'm content with keeping the timeline stable
two and a half decades pass from my arrival in Canada, and I finally decide to wreak havoc upon the timeline
Emily (now a professor at U of Waterloo) tells me that there's no way of knowing what'll happen, so I decide to fuck around and find out, but in a low-risk way
I write my deadname on the envelope and write a short letter to the university freshman that I once was, telling him that the gaping chasm in his psyche is because he's a girl and doesn't know it yet
I could go visit him at college, but I decide to take few risks and send a letter
a week later, my phone rings and the caller ID shows the number I used to have on my cellphone
"who are you and how are you inside my fucking head?" he says before I even have a chance to say hello
"you're probably not going to believe this, but I'm you, but uhh kinda from the future" I reply
"it's a complicated story that involves a Time Hortons, but I can prove I'm you. does the following mean anything to you?" I say, proceeding to recite his email password
"that password should be enough proof, but if you're me, why did you wait until I was 18 to suggest that I'm trans?"
"well, your/our parents won't be too happy about you experimenting with gender or coming out, so I waited until you had the privacy you never had at home"
"this feels like such a big thing; you're sure it's not going to cause a time paradox or some shit, right?"
"that's the lamest excuse I've ever heard for not transitioning, but I'm honestly not sure what'll happen to the timeline"
"I gotta go to class now. good luck not getting erased from time or something!"
"good luck to you too!"
I hang up and wait for a moment to see whether I start fading from existence, but I feel perfectly fine