Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas holiday and that you’re all looking toward a bright, new 2018! To kick it off right, I wanted to share another chapter of The Time-Traveler’s Cat!
Piper rubbed his face, looking at the clock. If it hadn’t been important, the time would have dragged by, but now that it was, it seemed like time was standing still.
He shook his head, blowing a breath between his lips as he looked down at the paper he’d been scribbling on all day. Formulas and graphs filled up the page, with lines crossing out some parts, and pencil-eraser marks nearly wearing holes through the paper.
“Well?” Daniel called, turning in his chair.
Piper shook his head, handing the mess of mathematics to his friend. “I just don’t know what I’m missing,” he said, his throat hoarse with exhaustion.
Daniel took the paper and looked over it, his glasses sliding down his nose as he did so. “Some of this looks like math,” he said slowly. “And some of it looks like you’re crazy.”
Piper scowled as Daniel tossed the paper toward him. “Not helpful,” he snapped, turning the paper over to reveal a blank backside.
“Look, it’s nothing to worry about, okay?” Daniel said, leaning across the cubicle. “Just finish running the wires tonight and we’ll bring the team in tomorrow to review the formulas.” He offered a helpful smile. “You always think best when you’re surrounded by those morons.”
Piper’s lips quirked slightly. “This is true.” He leaned back in his chair. “I still need to tell Charlotte the news.”
Daniel waved his hand as he turned away. “Good luck with that.”
Piper moved to his feet and dug his comm out of his desk drawer. He left their lab and stepped into the hallway, lifting the device to try to get a good signal. Beyond the window at the end of the hallway, Piper could see clouds gathering, lightning illuminating the sky. Tonight would have been a great night to stay in.
He leaned against the wall, scrolling to Charlie’s number. He pressed the call button, holding the phone out in front of him. It rang a few times before she answered, her smile filling the screen.
“Hey there, cutie,” she said teasingly. “Thinking about later?”
Piper felt the tension ease a bit as he returned her grin. “Well, yes and no,” he said slowly. He watched the smile slide from her face.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Bobby’s making me stay late since I was late this morning,” he said, slumping back against the wall.
Charlie’s face fell and Piper felt his heart twist. “Oh,” she said.
“I’m so sorry, babe,” he said quickly. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Charlie glanced over her shoulder and Piper got a glimpse of the dining room table set with candles and plates, prepared to host a meal. “I guess I’ll put the food in the warmer,” she said, her voice heavy with disappointment.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Piper promised. “I’ll be on the seven o’clock train and home before seven-thirty.”
Charlie nodded as she looked at him. “Okay,” she said. “Just be safe.”
Piper nodded. “I will.” He tried to smile at her. “Can I get a hint at what your surprise is?”
The mischievousness returned to her eyes then. “Nope,” she said, the comm jiggling a bit as she walked into the kitchen. “You’re just going to have to wait.”
Piper sighed in annoyance, even though a grin was on his face. “Fine,” he said. He made a kissy-face at the camera. “I gotta get back to it. I love you.”
Charlie smiled. “Love you too,” she said.
Piper disconnected the call, tucking the comm into his pocket. He turned to go back into the lab, feeling a strange mixture of excitement and irritation. He wanted to go home and eat dinner with his girlfriend. His eyes landed on the machine inside the containment room. He did not want to be here messing with that thing.
He managed to sit still at his desk until the clock struck five. He also managed to keep his mouth shut as Daniel ragged on him on his way out the door. Once he was alone, he looked at his computer, pulling up the design schematics for the machine. He sent the wiring codes to his comm, standing and walking to the refrigerator in the corner.
It was small, but the perfect size for them to throw their lunches and extra sodas in. He popped the top on one, taking a sip and setting the can on his desk as he put his hand on his hip. He glared hard at the machine through the glass.
“This better not take all night,” he said to it.
The machine, of course, didn’t answer, but it looked like it was taunting him as it sat there, shining in the bright laboratory lights.
Finally, Piper knew he had to do the inevitable. He walked toward the door to the containment room, shrugging off his coat and opening the door. He pulled on a different white coat, one that was supposed to be ‘clean’, and headed toward a toolbox nearby. He pulled out the comm, flicking it to make the diagram jump into a hologram.
He set the schematics next to the machine on a work bench and pulled out a tool. His heart was pounding as he stepped inside the door to the machine. It was cool and crisp inside the door as Piper knelt under the dashboard of flickering lights. He found wires that still needed to be connected and run, and he set to work.
For the most part it was pretty mindless, but his fingers were raw from splicing and twisting the copper pieces. He glanced at the clock beyond the room after a while, thankful to see that it was almost time for him to go. He reached for the last green wire, feeling a smirk coming to his face.
It seemed like he’d be home earlier than he thought.
He lifted a pair of pliers and stripped the rubber away, leaving the copper innards bear. He did the same to a black wire, his mind in other places. He was thinking about what Charlie had made for dinner, and what they would get up to afterwards. His brain was on auto-pilot as he pulled the strands together, giving a good twist.
A siren suddenly began to blare in Piper’s ears, making him drop the pliers and cover his head. He jumped to his feet, fear filling him as he thought back to his uncertainties about the math. He was almost to the door when it suddenly slammed, the dashboard flickering brightly as all the lights turned on.
“Oh, hell no!” Piper yelled, pulling desperately at the door. He knew it had a lock that was trigged from the outside, but none of it should have been functional yet.
“Hello!” he yelled, his voice cracking. “Help!”
The machine suddenly began to vibrate, the sound of motors whirling to speed filling his ears. Piper was yelling curses over the siren as he ran to the dashboard, trying to make heads or tails of the code that was racing across the screen. He pushed buttons, trying to get it to slow down, but it just sped up.
“Come on!” he yelled angrily, slamming his fist on the console. He blinked stupidly when the scrolling stopped, four bright green numbers stuck on the screen.
The machine suddenly rattled, throwing him backwards, away from the console. A deafening sound filled the machine, like the sound of a gun-shot. Then, just like that, everything was still.
Piper was breathing hard as he stared at the console, wondering what had just happened. He scrambled to his feet when he heard the lock on the door slide open, a hissing sound filling the room. He dashed out, desperate to get away from the damn thing, but unprepared for what awaited him just beyond the door.
As he staggered out into darkness, a cold feeling of dread came over him.
The sky was black. Shadows danced between the trees that surrounded Piper as he dashed through the brush. He could feel brambles and twigs grabbing at him, as if they were gnarly fingers, trying to trap him. Panic was filling him as he struggled through the dense forest. He could smell smoke and he finally caught himself around a tree, turning to look at where he’d come from.
The machine was leaning precariously, sitting in a small crater in the earth. The trees around it had been smashed and broken, and Piper stared at the door. Inside, the lights flashed, the siren still sounding loudly, echoing throughout the forest.
He drew a ragged breath, trying to decide where the hell he was. Had the machine worked? Had his worries about the numbers been accurate?
Piper wiped sweat from his brow. He definitely wasn’t in Crystalline City anymore, and this definitely was not the year 3088. The sky was too clear, and the night air tasted too clean.
A sudden screech made him jump, and he held tighter to the tree he hid against, swinging around. Unfamiliar sounds began to echo through the woods, making Piper tremble. He glanced back at the machine, knowing that he had two options: stay and die, or run and maybe survive. He chose to run.
Dashing like a madman, Piper ran through the tangled mass of trees until his lungs burned and his legs felt like lead weights. It felt like he was running in circles, all of the trees looking the same. Finally, unsure of how long he’d been crashing his way through, Piper staggered toward a fallen tree, collapsing on it.
He was definitely going to be late for dinner.