Michael suddenly fell two feet onto the floor and landed on a pile of clothes that wasn't anywhere near soft enough to allow him to remain asleep. He flailed spastically for a few seconds, then peered blearily at the ceiling, wondering how his twin sized bed had spontaneously dematerialized. Eventually, he realized that this was not his dorm room, and that he was lying on someone else's bedroom floor. Naked.
This confused Michael, as this was certainly not where he had originally gone to sleep. In addition, the brightness of the sunlight on the far wall indicated that it was midafternoon, which also didn't make sense, as he had gone to sleep in the late evening, and it certainly did not feel as though he had gotten a full night's rest.
Warily, he got to his feet. A nearby digital clock confirmed that it was three seventeen, and also paradoxically asserted that it was Monday, March the fifteenth. This, too, did not make much sense, as it had been October a few minutes ago.
Michael took stock of his surroundings. This was clearly a dorm room in his building. The carpet and walls were the same as his own bedroom. The bed was against the opposite wall, though, and there was different supplemental furniture. A framed picture on a desk showed two women and a man, all blonde, none familiar. Michael was still tired and slightly sore from his short fall, but certainly neither drunk nor stoned.
Michael considered briefly which infraction would be most damning on top of trespassing; theft or nudity. He decided theft was the lesser of the two evils, and pulled on a pair of Adidas sweatpants and a plain black t-shirt from the pile he'd landed on.
He glanced out the window, then stared in bewilderment.
The quad was there, with the statue, but the trees were all wrong. The McAllister library was gone entirely, replaced with a modern-looking twelve-story building that had bizarre steel crenellations along its roof. An unfamiliar block of booth structures ran along the main pathway, and some large flatscreen televisions on poles displayed current events.
Despite the strange new fixtures, this view of the college quad was the correct one. This was Michael's window.
Michael shook his head. Not possible.
He dropped to his hands and knees. Sure enough, there was the scorch mark on the carpet under the foreign couch. It'd been there when he'd moved in. This was number 504, his dorm room. Someone else lived here now.
Michael stayed on the floor for a while, willing himself to wake up, understand, disbelieve the illusion. This was not a parallel dimension. This was not time travel. That was not possible. There had to be some other explanation.
He got up and walked to the door. He stared at the doorknob.
The lock had been changed to something electronic. If he left this room, he would not be able to get back in. Michael didn't like the sounds of that.
He scanned the room for a phone of some sort. As far as he could tell, there wasn't one. In fact, the only appliance in the place was the computer. The tower and monitor looked normal, and there was the traditional QWERTY keyboard and mouse. In addition to these, a plastic pen with an antenna jutting out of its rear end sat in a holder, next to a pair of opaque glasses that connected to the machine with a thick grey cord. Sitting beside the computer desk was a huge photocopier-sized peripheral labelled HGB Speedmake.
Michael sat in the ergonomic chair, took a deep breath, and turned on another man's computer. The cardboard-thin glare-free monitor showed the logo for something called Windows Apex, and a pixellated Jolly Roger laughed in the corner, presumably in response to intellectual property laws as they applied to Microsoft. Apex took five seconds to boot up, and displayed a group shot of the unfamiliar blondes as its desktop wallpaper.
Michael brought the mouse pointer to the lower right corner of the screen and right clicked. The system clock indicated that it was 3:20 PM, Monday, March 15, 2027 AD. Michael stared at it. He had dropped nearly two decades into the future.
Twenty years. He should be forty. He should be graduated and married. He shouldn't be here.
Perhaps he wasn't.
The most prominent icon on the desktop was an application called SilverStream, and as he moused over it, a floating white text indicated that it was a web browser. Michael clicked.
The homepage had a large search bar at the top, and some news articles along the bottom. Michael experienced a brief moment of culture shock to see that the smiling brunette on the red carpet (the headline simply said "Johnson takes Best Actress") was wearing a gown that obscured neither her breasts nor her labia.
He resisted the momentary urge to click here for slideshow.
The cursor was already in the search bar. Michael typed in "time travel", then shook his head and deleted it.
Slowly, deliberatly, he typed "if you're reading this", followed by his full name. He stared at that for ten seconds, then added "papaya sunglasses".
The search returned one result.
The page background came up, a tiled black and white photo of his face, wearing glasses, a goatee, and some wrinkles that Michael did not yet possess. A window popped up, asking for username and password. Michael typed in the username and password for his email, and the page loaded completely.
"Michael Alan DeSanto, if you're reading this, you've just fallen two feet down and twenty years forward. We can get home. We will not hurt the space time continuum. Please print the following files."
Below this minimalist paragraph, there were four links.
Michael clicked the first link, and Silverstream asked him if he wanted to open or save this file. Michael elected to open it.
A second application called MakeIt Plus! asserted itself, and displayed a wireframe model of a pair of boots against a gray background. The print button was helpfully visible along the top toolbar. Michael clicked it.
The computer made a negative-sounding chime noise.
Michael clicked again. Same chime.
He switched back to Silverstream and scrolled down on the page. There was one more sentence.
"Turn the printer on, genius."
Michael leaned to the left, and hit the big green power button on the HGB Speedmake. A few LEDs lit up, and the monstrous device began whirring audibly. Michael clicked print a third time.
This time, the Speedmake sprang to life, shuddering and whining as unseen print heads shuttled back and forth. After less than a minute, a tray at the bottom extended, producing a pair of black boots in precisely Michael's size. The material was stiff but elastic, like a very thin pleather, and still warm enough that Michael left fingerprints in its hardening surface. The shoelaces along the top were actually a molded façade.
Michael printed the other files, which were, in order, a pair of pre-faded denim-esque jeans, a sweatshirt advertising something called Stopers, and a business card. Michael read it.
"Take those clothes off, put these clothes on, turn off the computer and get to the parking lot. Ben Windahl gets back from his philosophy class in two minutes."
Michael's eyes bulged.
He hurriedly cleared Silverstream's cache, and told Apex to shut down. He stripped out of the borrowed clothes, tossing them back on the floor from whence they had come, and jumped into the printed clothes. He sprinted to the door, sprinted back, slapped the power button on the Speedmake, and ran back to the door. The elevator dinged just as he slammed it behind him.
Michael sauntered nonchalantly down the hallway, and nodded at the blond guy from the photos as they passed each other. Michael looked over his shoulder as Ben scanned his thumb and arrived home.
Michael got into the elevator and hit the ground floor button. The diminutive Asian girl beside him made hand gestures to indicate that the elevator would be dropping her off on the sixth floor before it could make any trips downwards.
"S'alright", Michael said, "I'll come along for the ride."
The girl smiled. Michael did not smile back. No sense in getting too friendly with the locals.
He felt something in his jeans pocket and wondered what it was. It must have been printed with the pants themselves.
With tortuous slowness, the elevator inched upwards one floor. The Asian got off, and two more got on. Michael didn't say anything.
The elevator crawled down six floors, and let them off in the lobby. Michael jogged casually out the door and into a solid wall of cold. The fabricated hoodie and jeans, though appearing sturdy, provided as much insulation as a layer of single-ply toilet paper.
Michael kept jogging, trusting there would be something warm waiting for him in the campus parking lot. He glanced at the news screens as he passed - something about the California relief effort. Nothing about the lottery numbers.
He reached the vast stretch of asphalt that was the campus parking lot. It had been restructured and expanded, and currently hosted over a thousand vehicles. No one was waiting for him.
Michael looked at the business card in his hand again. He flipped it over, and, in block capitals, it said "DAAQ 3442". There was a rusted out old Prius with that license plate number three spaces over from him. There was something there on the passenger-side seat.
Michael reached into his back pocket and pulled out a plastic key. He brushed it gently with his thumb to remove a few thin strands of pseudo-denim. He got in the car, started it, and cranked up the heat. He sat for a while, blowing on his hands. He picked up the sheet of paper sitting next to him.
It said, simply, "DUCK".