E. Paige Burks
Let's celebrate the New Year with more TTC!
Hope all you guys had a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year! As a gift, I want to share more of The Time-Traveler's Cat with you! Read the prologue and first chapter here!
Piper let his head flop onto his desk. The clock had finally struck noon, meaning lunch time, but Piper knew he wouldn’t get away that easily. He’d come sliding in just behind the big bosses, just in time for them to not know he was late. He’d seen the way Bobby glared at him, but there was nothing Bobby could say as they gave the men in suits a tour of the lab and showed them the formulas they were working on.
Piper could tell it was all way over their heads, but they acted impressed, and made sure to shake his hand as they left. Bobby had flitted behind them all the way out, allowing Piper the time to sneak to his desk and crumble into a heap.
“Bro, what the hell happened this morning?” D suddenly appeared over the top of Piper’s cubicle.
Piper sat up quickly, his eyes blazing. “You didn’t remind me they were coming!” he hissed.
Daniel laughed, throwing his hands up. “Should I remind you to wipe your ass too?” he asked. He shook his head. “Come on, man, put a reminder in your comm next time.”
Piper scowled down at his desk, feeling his heart jump into his throat as the lab door slid open. He tried to look busy as Bobby walked into the room.
“Miller!” he barked, causing Piper to jump.
He turned slowly in his chair, forcing a smile. “Yeah, boss?” he asked, trying to play it cool.
“You were late,” Bobby growled, crossing his arms over his rather rotund middle. “That’s the second time this month.”
Piper shrugged. “It happens sometimes, boss,” he said. He knew he’d said the wrong thing when Bobby’s face turned red like the tomatoes he used to look at in books as a kid.
“You’re goddamn lucky you’re so smart, Miller,” Bobby hissed angrily. “Otherwise, I’d have kicked your ass out of here months ago.” He lumbered closer, intimidating as he towered over Piper. He lowered his voice. “You think you’re immune because you’re some sort of prodigy, but three strikes and you’re out, Miller.”
Piper was leaning back in his chair, his eyes focused on Bobby’s face. Truth be told, he didn’t have a lot of respect for the man, but he was scared of him. “Sorry, boss,” he said quietly.
Bobby was scowling darkly as he leaned away. “Youngest scientist in his class,” he muttered to himself. “Still a dumbass.”
Piper’s eyes felt huge as he watched Bobby exit the lab.
“At least he let you off easy,” D said, appearing over the top of Piper’s cubicle timidly.
Piper started to agree with him when the doors suddenly slid open again and Bobby charged back in.
“And one more thing, Miller,” Bobby all but yelled. “You’re staying late tonight!”
Piper caught sight of the maniacal grin on his face as he turned. “Tonight?” he demanded, jumping to his feet. “But, I can’t!”
Bobby waved his hand, silencing him. “You’re working on the machine tonight or you won’t have a job tomorrow, understood?” he barked.
Piper slunk back, knowing Charlie would be furious. “Yes, boss,” he said, letting his hand rest on the top of his desk. Once Bobby vanished for good, he groaned, sinking into his chair and pressing his hands against his face. “She’s gonna kill me.”
Daniel was still barely peeking over the cubicle wall. “Why?” he asked.
Piper rolled his eyes. “It’s our ‘six-month anniversary’,” he said, air-quoting the words.
Daniel suddenly grinned. “Bet she even had something sexy to wear, too,” he said teasingly.
Piper groaned again, leaning back in his chair. “I can’t believe this.”
Daniel leaned his arms against the top of the wall. “Is six months even a thing?” he asked.
Piper shrugged. “Hell if I know,” he snapped. He turned in his chair, looking at a plate-glass wall. Beyond it, a door opened into a room the size of a closet, blinking panels of lights winking back at him. “I just don’t want to be in there with that thing.”
D followed his gaze. “It’s not operational,” he said slowly. “Nothing to worry about.”
Piper gritted his teeth, a bad feeling in his gut. He knew that he should always trust his gut, but this time the need for a job out-weighed the weight in his stomach. “I dunno, D,” he said slowly. “Something’s not right with the numbers.”
Daniel sighed then, swiveling around in his chair. “You and your damn numbers,” he grumbled. He looked up at the clock. “Guess you have five hours to figure it out.”
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.
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