Book doctors will tell you never start a book with a preface. If it’s not important enough to be in the first chapter, it doesn’t belong in the book. So of course, Traitor begins with not one, not two, but THREE scene-setters!
What can I say? I’m a rebel.
If it’s been a while since you’ve last visited the Traveler-verse, you might want to check out the Traveler and Prisoner recaps. Even with three prefaces, we dive right into the action without much review.
Some Time Ago
Sam Marcus looked up from his computer as the door opened.
“What the hell?”
Intending to bite the head off whatever grad student would come barging in without knocking, he swallowed his growl when he saw who it was.
“Oh. Hey, Trav.”
Sam saved the code he was writing and took a sip of Coke. It was warm, because he had brought it up with him…Christ. Hours ago. Suddenly, he was glad Trav had shown up. Time for a break. Sam grabbed his chin with one hand and the back of his head with the other and twisted. He was rewarded with a satisfying crack.
“What’s up?” he asked, now cracking his neck from the other direction. “I don’t suppose you brought lunch.”
Trav looked amused, glancing at his watch. “It’s seven-thirty. How long have you been here?”
“Since ten, maybe,” Sam replied
“You really lost track of time. What are you working on?”
“Math. The part I hate. I’ll write code all day, but getting the algorithms that drive the program right is hard. If I quit in the middle, it’s hard to get my train of thought back.”
He moved his hands to the small of his back and arched, achieving another crack. “If you hadn’t shown up I might have worked all night. But as long as you’re here, want to grab some dinner?”
Trav shook his head. “Later. Tell me what you’re working on first.”
“When did you get interested in my research?” Sam frowned. “You quit asking me about work sophomore year.”
“Well, you remember from the one physics class you took? The one where I spent about a hundred hours tutoring you?”
Trav rolled his eyes and made a get on with it gesture.
“At the quantum level,” Sam continued, “you can measure either a particle’s location or its momentum but not both.”
“The Uncertainty Principle.”
Sam gave his friend a pleased nod. “I’m impressed. I guess I wasn’t wasting my time with you after all. Well, there’s a theory related to the Uncertainty Principle called the observer effect, which…”
Trav held up a hand. “That’s okay, I don’t need to hear any more.”
“What do you mean?” Sam suddenly became aware of a shadow behind Trav, just on the other side of the half-open door. “And, who is that with you?”
Trav moved aside.
Sam’s eyes widened as another Trav Becker stepped into the room.
“What the fuck?” he sputtered. “What the hell is going on here?” Sam hadn’t noticed before, but he now realized Trav had traded his usual jeans and St. Louis Cardinals jacket for what looked like black fatigue pants and an equally dark vest. The mirror Trav was dressed identically, except he was carrying a black nylon duffle bag.
“You hear that?” the first Trav said to the other.
“Yeah. Too bad.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Sam looked from one Trav to the other, still trying to process the impossible sight.
“Well,” Trav Two said with a sigh, “if you were working on something besides the Cat Box, maybe we could have grabbed dinner. Hell, six months ago, The Boss might have shown up here himself to recruit you.”
“Unfortunately, we aren’t hiring anymore,” said Trav One.
“What? You aren’t making any sense!” Sam sputtered. “And how do you know I call it the Cat Box? And who the hell are you?” The last was directed at Trav Two.
“Always with the questions. You’re just too curious, Sam.”
And with that Trav One raised the gun he had been hiding behind his back. Sam watched, unbelieving, as the muzzle flashed one, two, three, four times, the sound of the reports reduced to that of a loud cough by the suppressor screwed into the Glock’s barrel.
The impact drove him backward until he bumped into the wall. There was no pain at first. For just a moment Sam thought this was some crazy joke and that the gun contained blanks.
“Wha…?” He started to say. But then he looked down at his chest to see blood and abdominal fluids flowing from four neat holes.
And then the pain began.
What the hell are you doing? he screamed. Or at least that was what he intended to say. What came out was merely a wet gurgle as his legs gave way beneath him.
The Travs watched dispassionately as Sam gasped and tried desperately to suck air into his perforated lungs. They pulled surgical gloves from pockets in their vests. Trav Two unzipped the duffle bag and pulled out a propane torch, then two cans of drain cleaner, a half gallon of paint thinner, several packets of a popular cold remedy, and some coffee filters. He arranged the objects on a small table next to a plastic box, about eight inches high with a T-shaped handle on the top.
Trav One stepped over Sam’s outstretched legs so he could reach the standup desk where the computer rested. He typed in a few commands then stood back as the hard disk erased itself.
By this time, Trav Two had finished arranging the contents of the duffle on the table. Both men looked around the room.
“We done?” Trav Two asked.
Trav One nodded, giving Sam a final glance.
“Sorry buddy,” he whispered.
The two Travs closed their eyes and vanished.
A corner of Sam’s mind told him he should find that shocking, but he was too busy dying to give it proper consideration. It was far easier to just stare in the direction his eyes were already pointed and listen to the soft beeping as the computer’s BIOS attempted to locate the operating system that was no longer there.
The world began to slip away, but Sam’s waning attention was attracted by a knock on the door.
“Sam?” Trav Becker called softly as he opened the door.
“Did you forget something?” Sam demanded. “Like maybe to stab me?”
Again, that was what he intended to say. But all that came out was a whistling moan.
“Well?” said a voice behind the door.
“We’re too late,” Trav said, pushing the door open. He dashed across the room, dropping to his knees. He put his arm under Sam’s shoulder and gently eased him away from the wall and laid him on the floor. “Just lie still,” he said. “Don’t try to move.”
Yet another Trav followed this one into the room. Identical expressions of dismay stretched their angular faces. The lead Trav pulled off his baseball cap, which bore the logo of the movie Jurassic Park.
“Sorry buddy,” the other one whispered.
You already said that, Sam wanted to say. But instead he just watched the two Travs seemed to fade and grow farther away until they vanished behind a curtain of gray.
Morgan turned to Fay. “You can’t let them do this!”
The older woman shook her head. “It’s you who doesn’t understand,” she said sadly. “We’ve been fighting this war for years. What gives you the right to wade in here and tell us everything we’re working for is wrong?”
“He won’t be hurt,” Buck said to her. “But I can’t risk him undoing everything we’ve worked for.”
He turned to me.
I shook my head.
He sighed, his shoulders sagging a little. He waved a hand at Gear.
“Let’s get this over with so we can go back to work.”
“What about Morgan?” I asked.
He frowned. “What about her?
“I have your word she’ll be okay?”
“As okay as any of us will be,” he replied. The oldest Trav turned to Gear again. “We’re running out of time.”
“This would go a lot quicker if you would shut up and let me work.”
“Fine. Just hurry up.”
“Please.” Morgan pleaded. “Don’t do this. Listen to him!”
“It’ll be all right,” I told her.
And I stomped down as hard as I could on Emdall’s instep.
He let go of my arm, howling. I snapped my hand around and grabbed the back of his head. Before Gomez, on my other side, could react, I banged their noggins together. Their lookalike faces slammed into one another with a dull crack, and they both went down.
Gear looked up at the commotion and saw me coming for him.
“Eep!” He frantically pushed and swiped at his tablet.
Stepping over the two unconscious bodies, I leaped at the little man.
And suddenly everything went black.
I floated, equally unconcerned that I could neither see, hear, nor feel anything or that my last action had been hurling myself at the middle-aged analogue of my best friend.
A few seconds, or maybe a million years later, I registered another presence near me.
You really walked into that one, didn’t you? the presence said.
As I mulled over these words, the memory of the last few seconds of my life swam back into my memory as well. I had tried to stop Gear from doing something. Something really bad for me. I felt like I should be more upset about what had happened to my body. However, since I didn’t seem to have a body anymore, maybe it wasn’t that important.
Am I dead?
A mental chuckle. No. Although in the grand scheme of things, that would probably be easier. You’re… in between.
Why am I here?
I slowed things down a little so we could have a chat.
I pondered that for a couple of millennia, finally deciding I was, in fact, a little curious.
About what’s going to happen to you.
And that is?
Gear has erased a bunch of your memories. He’s sending you to a place where you won’t remember being a Traveler, or much of anything he doesn’t want you to.
I can’t say I like that very much.
I’m not surprised.
What can I do about it?
Then why are we here?
I thought you deserved to know what was about to happen.
And I can’t keep it from happening?
Will I remember any of this?
Then what’s the point?
Later. We don’t have a lot of time. Like I said, we can’t keep this from happening, but I think I can help you steer toward a place that might be just a little bit more useful.
What good is that if I’m not going to remember anything?
We’ll leave you some bread crumbs.
Let me explain.
And he did.