Previously on Prisoner

PrisonerBookFor nearly a year after the events of Traveler, Trav Becker has led a quiet, peaceful existence. Or as peaceful as the life of a cop can be. His relationship with Mary is strong, but he is stressed by his current case, the kidnapping of two young girls. 

So the last thing Trav needs is the sudden appearance of another Trav Becker on his doorstep, who lives just long enough to gasp “They’re coming” before bleeding to death. Fortunately, this happens minutes after Mary leaves. But it’s also just as Trav was getting ready to leave for a swim workout with his boss, who is giving him pointers as Trav prepares to take up triathlon. He cleans things up as best he can, puts the body in the same closet where the first Dead Trav was stowed the previous year, and heads for the pool. But not before setting a reminder on his phone.

After their workout, Trav and his boss, Leon Martin, go to a meeting with the FBI to go over the details of the kidnapping. Sophie Patel, aged twelve, was babysitting her neighbor Ella Day, age eight. They had received permission to bike to a nearby playground but never returned. A neighbor saw the girls bike toward the park, and Sophie’s phone was recovered a few blocks away. Those are the only clues. Trav and his partner, Adam, are introduced to an FBI profiler named Matthew Ward, and made the lead officers on the case. 

Trav’s phone goes off. It’s the reminder he set before leaving his apartment. Nature’s protection against the phenomenon of Traveling is to shut away the discontinuities associated with the fact that we often shift between parallel streams of reality. Even something like a dead body in your closet can slip your mind.

Trav, Adam, and Ward go back through the evidence that’s been gathered so far. They agree to re-interview Alan Taggert, the neighbor who saw the girls bike past his house. Adam has an appointment to do wedding stuff with Kim, the waitress we met in Traveler. She and Adam are new engaged.

On the way to his car, Trav’s reminder about the body in the closet goes off again, but this time it’s not really necessary. In the back seat of his Mustang is a second dead Trav Becker.

Trav calls Sam, the only person he trusts to help him deal with and investigate these bodies. Sam is serving as a consultant to a company called El Juego Grande, the state’s first legal online casino. Sam and a colleague, Sanjana Patel, are helping develop algorithms that can’t be hacked or predicted. Santana is the mother of Sophie, the elder of the kidnapped girls.

On the way to the witness interview, Trav is treated to the community’s newest radio show, Second Sight, a talk show hosted by local psychic Morgan Foster. Trav has not spoken to her since she gave him the first set of clues that helped him understand his Traveler abilities. Trav has avoided her all this time, partly because he has firmly shut the door on his paranormal experiences, but also because on Stream Zero, Trav Becker and Morgan Foster were very much in love. Seeking Morgan out feels like cheating on Mary.

As they conclude the interview with Taggert, Trav is shocked and dismayed to see a sight he had hoped to never see again: Nearby streams of reality, each with a ghostly version of Trav Becker going about the investigation. Unwilling to get sucked back into extra-dimensional hocus pocus, he banishes the visions. 

The trio visits Sophie’s dad and questions him without learning anything new, although Trav is puzzled by the fact that a teenage girl has a music playlist on her computer that contains an obscure Billy Joel deep cut. But that surprise is nothing compared to his astonishment when they move on to interview Ella’s mom. Sitting in her living room is Morgan Foster. Frustrated by the authorities’ lack of progress in the investigation, Michelle Day has decided that maybe a psychic can help.

At the end of the interview, Josh Dawson, Michelle’s boyfriend, shows up in his fully-restored Plymouth Road Runner, a classic muscle car. Dawson understands that, as a male who had regular contact with the girls, he is under suspicion. He is cooperating fully with the investigation. 

Next on the interview list is Sanjana Patel, at El Juego Grande.

El Juego is headquartered in a converted warehouse in The District, an up and coming neighborhood. The redevelopment has been aided by the fact that Anton Kaaro, who Trav put in jail the previous year, has sold off many buildings, including the one El Juego CEO Christoper Clark bought for his new company. This version of the converted warehouse is in much better condition than the one that was blown up in Trav’s his battle with Kaaro and Grymzin on Stream Zero. It not only houses the gaming company but also a business incubator, catering to incipient startups. 

Sanjana is also unable to shed any new light on the kidnapping.

Ward asks Trav about his time undercover in Kaaro’s organization, which makes Trav extremely uncomfortable. It was the original Trav Becker from this stream, dead for a year, who worked for Kaaro, not him. Trav has always had questions about the relationship this stream’s Trav had with Kaaro. 

With no other avenues to pursue, Ward suggests that Morgan Foster should be interviewed. It did not escape Ward’s notice that Morgan and Trav seemed to know each other. Morgan agrees to meet Trav at The Kremlin that evening.

After work, Trav and Sam meet outside Trav’s apartment. Trav enlists Sam’s help to get dead Trav I out of Trav’s closet to join Dead Trav II in Trav’s trunk. This is the first chance Trav has had to search the bodies, but the only unusual thing he finds is that in addition to a gun Dead Trav II also carried a sword. Just as Trav succeeds in wedging the two Travs into his trunk, he turns around to discover another Trav Becker has just collapsed into Sam’s arms.

Trav and Sam get the wounded Trav inside and do their best to treat his wounds. Sam agrees to stay with the unconscious man while Trav keeps his appointment with Morgan.

The Kremlin is a much more genteel and upscale place under the owner who bought it from Kaaro. Trav apologizes for not reconnecting with Morgan after the events of the previous year, saying it was because he was just trying to forget the whole crazy business. Morgan is shocked to hear that Trav is suppressing his Traveler gift and not using it to find the girls. Their meeting is cut short when Trav gets a text from Sam that the wounded Trav is awake.

Trav arrives at his apartment, only to discover that Sam is being held at gunpoint by not one, but two Trav Beckers! The two depart with the wounded Trav, but not before asking Trav to join the fight they are involved in. Trav declines, but is given a slim silver bracelet, similar to one the other Travs are wearing, in case he changes his mind.

Unable to sleep because of the appearance of his doubles and what Morgan said about him using his powers to help the girls, Trav heads to Alan Taggert’s house, where earlier in the day he had seen the first group of Trav apparitions.

His search turns up a key ring embossed with the logo of the Road Runner, the same make of car driven by Josh Dawson. He takes it to the Day residence, where the car is parked. Trav tries the key. It fits. Dawson discovers Trav and takes off in his car.

A chase ensues, but Trav loses his quarry. He’s puzzled over how angry Dawson was with him. Could Dawson have had dealings with one of the other Travs who had been popping up (and dropping dead)? If so, that would bring an entirely new dimension to the case. When he arrives back at the police station, Dawson is there. But it’s to report his car stolen. He claims to have no memory of fleeing from Trav and has witnesses to prove he was at work all night. 

Rather than voice the crazy idea that there are two Josh Dawsons running around, Trav tells his boss that he may not have gotten a clear look at his assailant. But what he is really thinking, of course, is that he is dealing with yet another Traveler. Ward arrives with the news that Morgan Foster has been reported missing.

Security footage from The Kremlin arrives at the station, showing Trav and Morgan’s conversation. But after Trav left, the video shows him returning and “continuing” his conversation with Morgan. Trav recognizes this man as one of the Travs who showed up in his apartment. 

Trav, Adam, and Ward watch as “Trav” and Morgan leave together. Trav’s claim that he and Morgan went different directions after departing feels weak, even to him. But then he recognizes a man in the the video as someone who was also at the business incubator at the El Juego offices. Ward runs facial recognition on the man and gets a hit. His name is Nikodem Bekas, a former employee of Anton Kaaro.

Trav and Adam go to El Juego, and sure enough, Bekas is there. He hands Trav a note from none other than Kaaro himself. It says Kaaro needs to talk to Trav. So it’s off to Oakdale prison to have a chat with the incarcerated crime boss.

Kaaro seems pleased to see Trav. In fact, he treats Trav more as a friend and protege than the person who threw him in prison. Kaaro reveals that he has an interest in seeing that El Juego has a smooth launch. There are several competitors who wouldn’t mind the opposite result. Bekas has reported to Kaaro that Sanjana Patel carries two phones and has left the office several times to take a call, appearing more and more distraught upon her return. But Kaaro insists that despite seeking the information from both legal and extra-legal channels, he’s discovered nothing about who kidnapped the girls.

Trav is surprised by the passion of Kaaro’s anger with someone who would endanger children. Remembering that he had long suspected the original Trav of this stream of being a crooked cop, he wonders if this version of Anton Kaaro could be different as well.

Back at the station, Trav and Adam tell Sanjana Patel they know about her second phone. The woman breaks down, admitting that the kidnappers have been contacting her and threatening to kill the girls if she told anyone. She says the kidnappers told her they had a source in the police department and would know if she told the police what was going on. Trav can tell this is just one more item in Ward’s growing suspicions that Trav is somehow involved.

Sanjana was instructed to build a back door in the gaming algorithms she and Sam were building for El Juego, allowing the user to predict or change the outcome of games without anyone knowing. Sanjana had delivered the new code the previous day and was to receive a text with the girls’ location if it checked out. But the deadline passes by with no communication.

Sam is called in to analyze the changes Sanjana made to his code. Privately, he tells Trav that he has booted up the Cat Box, the stream-viewing device that has been mothballed since their adventures the previous year. The device is showing chaos among the nearby streams. He also has the bracelet they took from the wounded Trav. Sam has learned that it is similar to a prototype device being developed by the military that could activate micro-particles like medicines given to a soldier prior to going out into the field and designed to stay inert until needed.

With nothing else to do at the moment, Trav wants to go back downtown to where he lost Dawson’s car the night before. A ghostly Red Trav shows up to guide Trav and Adam to an old building downtown. The partners hear the sobs of a crying child inside.

While Adam waits for backup, Trav forces the lock on the door and slips inside. He finds the girls, but instead of relief at being rescued, they scream for help as soon as they see Trav’s face. Josh Dawson responds to noise. As he and Trav struggle, Dawson is shot by Trav Becker, who pistol-whips Trav, tosses the gun at his feet, and disappears with the girls. Seconds later, Adam and several other officers show up to discover Trav with a dead body and the murder weapon covered in his own prints.

To make matters worse, Ward arrives with a warrant to search Trav’s car and residence, confirming Trav’s suspicions that he’d been gathering evidence against him for some time. Turns out, he’d been assigned to the case partially to see if Trav was working for Anton Kaaro. He thinks he has his answer.

A search of Trav’s car, to Trav’s shock, does not reveal two corpses in his trunk. But there is a lot of blood. Ward laughs off Trav’s assertion that the blood is his own and tells Trav that he is convinced that Trav, Sam, and perhaps Adam are all in it together. Trav is arrested. At the station, he is taken to an interview room, but instead of an interrogating officer, Mary enters the room.

Ward comes in soon after and attempts to rattle both Trav and Mary by bringing up Morgan and also displaying blood-soaked rags from Trav’s car and apartment. But Mary shows her grit and belief in Trav, even when he paints a bleak picture of a possible future with him disgraced and her in the middle of a media circus. 

Trav’s boss Leon is also upset to learn that the FBI seems to have been running an investigation of Trav disguised as assistance on the kidnapping. But when Ward lays out the evidence as he has gathered it, it looks pretty damning for Trav. Ward thinks Trav killed Morgan when she got cold feet, and killed Dawson for the same reason. The girls are being held by an unknown third member of the group. Ward’s theory sprouts some leaks when the results of the blood tests come back and, as Trav predicted, it’s his blood.

Trav comes up with a somewhat plausible story for Leon that fits the facts, but it’s not enough. He’s taken to a cell, and put on suicide watch.

Which was what he had hoped for. His only chance to find the girls is to get somewhere where he can be alone and use his Traveler powers to follow the Trav who took the girls and shot Dawson. In his cell, he mentally plays back the Billy Joel song he found on Sophie’s computer in an attempt to locate the girl. 

Trav successfully shifts, escapes the cell, and returns to the building where he found the girls and Dawson. But there he encounters a rescue mission, consisting entirely of Trav Beckers. The Trav squad realizes Trav is not a part of their group, and in the confusion, yet another Trav Becker leaps in and escapes with the girls. 

Blaming Trav for the failure of the mission, The Trav squad take Trav to their headquarters. It’s a version of familiar police station, but populated entirely by Travs. They tell each other apart by wearing ball caps embossed with the logos of different sci-fi movies, and going by names taken from characters from the cult film Buckaroo Banzai. 

The leader of the group, which is called the Rangers, is a version of Trav well over a decade older than the others. He goes by Buck, and is accompanied by older versions of Sam and Morgan, who he refers to as Gear and Fay.

While Traveling from stream to stream is not time travel, streams do not move at the same pace, which is why Buck, Fay, and Gear are all older. Buck explains that years ago (subjective time), his friend Sam uncovered the existence of parallel universes, but soon became convinced that all the branching streams were weakening the fabric of reality itself. 

When Sam discovered Trav’s natural talent for moving from stream to stream, he decided his friend was the catalyst behind the damage and took it upon himself to eliminate Trav and any other Trav who exhibited the talent. Sam disappeared before Trav could convince him otherwise. Buck, Fay, and Gear built the Rangers to combat the original Sam and his crew, who they call the Opposition.

Trav Parker, Buck’s second in command, is still unhappy with Trav, saying that he gave Trav a chance to help and was turned down, but then Trav blundered in anyway, ruining their chance to rescue the girls. Fay reminds Parker that each Trav finds the Rangers in their own way.

The Rangers call their headquarters The Treehouse. It’s located on a stream where time runs so slowly that the Rangers aren’t visible to the inhabitants. Buck and Gear explain that if they can’t stop The Opposition, every stream will be like this. They have spent more than a decade trying to “patch” streams, to keep the “tree” that is the multiverse healthy. The Opposition, on the other hand, believes the only way to fix things is a full reset, allowing all the streams to collapse back into one, starting from scratch.

And somehow, the girls are a part of The Opposition’s plan.

Morgan shows up with Noah the cat in tow. For reasons no one understands, the various versions of Noah are somehow connected in a way humans aren’t, which is why Noah “recognized” Trav the first time Trav saw him. Because of the time differential, Morgan has been with the Rangers for a couple of weeks (subject time), and seems quite comfortable with the group.

Gear reads a bunch of data from smart glasses he wears, then projects the information on screens everyone can see. He tells the rest of the Rangers that the gun found with Josh Dawson originated from the Opposition’s headquarters, which they’ve dubbed Arkham. He’s sure the gun can be used as a guide to go there and take the Opposition by surprise.

Gear explains that on both sides, nearly every Trav at one time or another has been dosed with nanomachines that the Sams use to release suppressed memories. This can give a Trav full access to his powers. 

Gear has developed an app that will reverse the process. Run the app in the vicinity of a Trav and his brain will once again suppress the memories of Traveling and he’ll be a normal human again. Buck hopes that depriving Sam of his soldiers will win the day for the Rangers. Gear pushes an update to everyone’s bracelets to keep the app from affecting them.

Trav is not willing to join the battle until he’s told that the Rangers are pretty sure The Boss, as Opposition Sam is known, is holding the girls in Arkham. But Trav insists that once the girls are safe, he’s out.

In a quiet moment, Morgan tells Trav in no uncertain terms that she is unhappy with the way he’s treated her. He apologizes for getting her mixed up in the whole thing, but that’s not what she meant. She has figured out that the reason Trav is so uncomfortable around her is because he knows that on other streams, Travs and Morgans are romantic partners. In fact, one of the Morgans at The Treehouse is pregnant. 

But there isn’t much time to discuss feelings, because it’s time to gear up for the assault. Trav is able to break though the The Boss’s shielding, but just barely. He and Morgan arrive to discover that Arkham is Building 231, the university building where Sam’s office is located. As is the case with The Treehouse, they are out of phase with the inhabitants, so it appears deserted.

But what there are lots of Travs. And each is armed and expecting them. Several Trav/Morgan pairs are picked off on arrival. Fay is wounded. Trav and Buck prepare to take everyone back to the Treehouse, but Morgan’s gun misfires, and Trav watches in shock as his Opposition counterparts draw swords. Desperate to give Buck time to get everyone out safely, Trav charges and is knocked unconscious.

Trav wakes up in a classroom inside Room 231 and meets The Boss, who tells him that the Rangers are trying to patch together a hopelessly broken Multiverse, and that the act of Traveling is what is causing the problem. As proof, he tells Trav that the reason why it is getting easier and easier for Trav to exercise his powers is not because he is getting better at it, but because in using his power, he is contributing to the degradation of the barriers between universes.

Like Buck, The Boss realized that he needed help to reach his goal. Unable to recruit successful, well-adjusted Travs like The Rangers, he has always been forced to seek out Travs from streams similar to Trav’s original one, where he is kicked off the force, alcoholic, and suicidal. 

Trav is one of the few from the “shitpile” who made it out. The Boss goes on to say that the stream where there is peace between Trav and Sam represents a new branch, but says it can’t hold. The girls were taken to distract Trav and give The Boss time to figure out a plan. If Trav doesn’t join the team, The Boss will kill everyone Trav cares about. 

He gives Trav time to think about it, leaving one of the sword-wielding Travs on guard. Trav learns that the reason the Opposition carries swords is because when you get a bunch of Travelers fighting in close quarters, the chances of a gun misfiring goes up dramatically. A sword is a perfect backup. A point that is illustrated when Morgan Foster sneaks into the room and pokes a blade into the guard’s back. Tav and Morgan truss the guard up and go in search of the girls.

Locating the room where the girls are being held, Trav is shocked when the person watching over them is Amy Harper, the crooked cop who betrayed Trav Zero to Kaaro during Trav’s first adventure. On Trav’s stream, she’s in jail. But here, she seems to be Trav’s lover. 

Trav and Morgan escape with the girls, using some Traveler mojo. But even though Ella and Sophie are safe, getting them back home is going to be complicated. Trav is supposed to be in jail, and Ward thinks Morgan was also involved in the kidnapping. 

Trav calls Sam, who fortunately has been able to get out from under Ward’s watchful eye. He agrees to take Trav and the girls to a local park. Sophie recognizes Sam as looking like her kidnapper, but her dad is a sci-fi fan, and she easily grasps the idea of parallel universes. She seems sad when Trav tells her that there is a pretty good chance she’ll forget most of this. 

Morgan and Trav realize that as far as anyone on this stream knows, they barely know each other, which is especially strange after having seen the deep love between the Travs and Morgans of the Rangers. But Trav’s heart belongs to Mary, and Morgan assures him he is not her type. This does not keep the two from sharing a tender goodbye just before Trav calls the authorities on a burner phone, telling them where to pick up the girls.

Which they do, and by the time the girls are brought to the station, Trav is in his cell right where he is supposed to be – the perfect alibi. Mary is waiting for him upon his release, telling him that she did not expect a little thing like a murder rap to get in the way of the date night Trav promised her. Trav says he’ll deliver just as soon as he collects his things.

Trav goes up to his office, but instead of reaching his desk, he finds himself back in the Treehouse. Morgan has been captured, too. Buck sadly explains that even through Trav was able to get free of The Boss, the Rangers can’t let him run around loose where The Boss can just pick him up and use him again.

Trav realizes that Buck intends to have Gear deactivate the nanomachines and erase Trav’s memory. Trav jumps Gear but is an instant too late.

His memory erased, Trav settles into the role expected of him in this stream, where he is a bouncer at The Kremlin having a drink with his girlfriend, Amy Harper. And his boss, Anton Kaaro.

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