by Philip-Todd Franklin
Rip Hunter’s California headquarters, March 3, 1987:
Animal Man slowly sipped at the cup of coffee he held in his hands. “And then, once I came to, I found myself back outside. So I looked for my companions, only to discover that both of them were dead. I ran back till I came into range of a bird, then absorbed its power of flight and headed here as fast as I could, taking another two days of travel to do so.” Looking up, he asked, “Can you help me, Rip?”
The whole time Buddy Baker had told his tale, Rip Hunter merely sat upon his workbench stool and listened, keeping the many questions burning through his mind the whole time to himself, rather than interrupt the narrative, which was very colorful. He resisted the urge to tell Buddy he should try writing strange tales for periodicals. Instead, he stood up from his stool and walked over to a large blackboard that covered one whole wall. Taking an eraser, he cleared part of the board and picked up a piece of chalk to write.
“Are you sure you recognized the man?” he asked, beginning to write notes and equations on the board.
Nodding, Animal Man dropped his head into his hands, reliving the horrible moment when he’d discovered the young men’s bodies. “Yeah, I’m sure,” he said, recalling the memory once again, along with an even older memory, and shivering uncontrollably. “But I know I saw him die,” he nearly whispered.
Continuing to write on the board in front of him, Rip asked, “So what do you want to do about it? Why did you come to me, of all the people you could’ve asked? Why not appeal to one of your fellow super-heroes?”
For a moment Animal Man couldn’t respond, being so caught up in his memories. Finally he said, “Rip, I’ve got to stop this evil, but I’ve also got to know the truth about this man, too.”
“I see,” said Rip. “We could always call in the rest of the Forgotten Heroes, not just our old team, but Captain Comet’s team as well.”
Looking up, Animal Man shook his head as he replied, “No time, Rip. There just isn’t enough time.”
Rip raised one eyebrow at that phrase as he continued writing for a moment, then dropped the chalk from his fingers, checking over the equation he’d just written. Nodding, he turned to face Buddy and said, “Then it’s just the two of us, since Bonnie is at a history conference, and Jeff went to visit family. This is your show, Buddy. Where do we go first?” Wearing a kindly, knowing smile, Rip Hunter looked ready for the adventure to come.
“To my old hometown of Deep Hollow, near the Epistle Baptist Church,” said Buddy, but his face went blank for a moment as he tried to remember the exact date. “I think I also remember the date, Rip,” he said, nodding his head as the ghost of a smile crossed his face for the first time since he’d arrived. “Yes, it was April of 1962. I think it was the 17th, but I don’t remember the precise time, except that it was after suppertime.”
Rip nodded and, walking over to a locker, quickly ran through the combination in the lock and opened it up. “If time truly is of the essence, as you’ve already said,” he began, grabbing several items from the locker, “then we need to hurry.” He tossed both a pair of goggles and a small device over to Buddy, which he recognized as a translator chip, then motioned for him to follow.
Slipping the translator device over his left ear as he’d done once before when traveling in the Time Sphere with the Forgotten Heroes, Buddy looked at the goggles for a moment before pocketing them in his jacket pocket. Wonder what I need the goggles for, he thought to himself as he followed Rip Hunter toward his hangar.
Reaching the Time Sphere in the large hangar, Rip Hunter sat down inside it on a chair behind a large console panel and donned his own goggles. Quickly feeding information into the onboard computer through the keyboard, Rip looked up as the results began to show on the screens built into the sphere. “Just find a seat anywhere, Buddy. We’ve got plenty of room,” Rip said, pressing the control to close the hatch. “Oh, and I hope you didn’t forget those goggles,” he added a moment later as a humming noise could be heard. “The ride can be a bit… dirty without them.”
Buddy Baker took a seat in the middle of the sphere and watched the monitor before him, wondering what in the world Rip meant by dirty. But thoughts of goggles were left far behind as he tried to make heads or tails out of the information being played upon the computer screens.
Outside the sphere, time slowed to a stop and then began to swirl in a counterclockwise direction. With a little bump, the Time Sphere lifted from its resting spot and began to fade from sight. If anyone had been in the hangar to witness it, they would’ve just seen the Time Sphere disappear in an instant, accompanied by a popping sound.
Sitting at the controls, Rip Hunter continued to manipulate the keyboard as the information before him changed. Neither of the two men spoke during the trip. Only once did Buddy look away from the screen in front of him, noticing the swirls and streaks of color surrounding them. In an instant he felt violently sick and quickly closed his eyes, moaning loudly as he lowered his head.
“I did warn you to not forget the goggles, Buddy,” Rip said from the Time Sphere’s pilot seat.
The Time Sphere began to shudder fiercely as it traveled through the time stream, only adding to Animal Man’s increasingly queasy stomach. As Rip Hunter rapidly typed away at the keyboard, the only sounds within the sphere were his constant hitting of the keys, the humming of the power source, and the light moaning coming from Animal Man.
“Ohhh… Rip, can you let me off this roller-coaster?” Animal Man asked from his seat, just before he emptied the contents of his stomach into a bag that had been hanging on the back of the seat before him.
For a second there was no reply to his question, and then, all of a sudden, the Time Sphere stopped, and reality quickly popped back into view upon the monitors.
With a few more clicks on the keyboard before him, Rip checked the area outside the Time Sphere before flipping the switch to open the outside door.
“Here we are,” said Rip Hunter, “Tuesday, April 17, 1962, just outside Deep Hollow, California. Let me help you out into the fresh air.” Offering a hand, he helped Animal Man out of the Time Sphere.
After a few moments of walking around, Animal Man’s normal complexion began to return. “I’m starting to feel better. That is one heck of a rough ride! I don’t remember it being like that when we were with the Forgotten Heroes!”
“I’ve had a few… setbacks with the Time Sphere over the last year or so,” admitted Rip Hunter. “Around the time that you joined the Conglomerate, I’d come up with a scheme to use my Time Sphere to save all of the heroes who’d been lost during the Crisis. I went to Rick Flag for help, and with the assistance of Arisia, one of the Green Lanterns, we went back in time to the Crisis and were able to pluck Supergirl out of harm’s way before the Anti-Monitor could kill her.”
“Really?” said Buddy. “You mean… that new Supergirl who looks so much like the old one is actually the original?”
“No, not at all,” explained Rip. “It turned out that I’d been duped. We’d all been duped. We hadn’t actually returned to the Crisis, and it wasn’t Supergirl that we’d brought back with us. As I only later found out through Flag, the Supergirl impostor was actually an evil witch named Tala, who’d been trapped in the antimatter universe until we rescued her. She’d somehow managed to influence my mind, making me so unhinged and obsessed that Jeff, Bonnie, and Corky wanted nothing to do with my crazy scheme to save the Crisis dead.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Return of Supergirl.]
“The Time Sphere had been damaged on the voyage home,” continued Rip. “That forced me to make some repairs using parts from the same Time Sphere on display in a museum in the twenty-fifth century. Just catching a glimpse of that future version of my time machine, even in my crazed state, gave me some ideas. Maybe I really could return to a time where I already existed. After all, two versions of the same Time Sphere could exist in the same time, or I’d never be able to travel to the future at all. So why not people?”
Rip stared around at the clearing where they’d landed, becoming too lost in thought to finish explaining his thoughts, even if Animal Man had been listening. “The Time Sphere should be well-covered from prying eyes,” he finally said. Turning around, he looked at Animal Man and added, “Sorry about the bumpy ride, Buddy. I can’t for the life of me understand what caused it.” With those words, he glanced down at his wristwatch and added, “OK, you have any idea when this death took place?”
Animal Man just nodded his head sadly as he continued looking around, having heard little of what Rip had told him. The shadows of the past were creeping back into his mind too quickly. Slowly they left the clearing of trees in the small park just behind the Epistle Baptist Church.
Buddy looked up at the sky and could see by the placing of the sun that it was nearly seven in the evening. “We’ve got about an hour to get ourselves to the right location,” he said, distracted by something on the back door of the church that had caught his eye. Upon the old oak door was a small carving of a cross with three sets of initials on each of the arms, one reading B.B. and another R.D., and below that was carved Friends Forever.
Rip walked up to see what Buddy was looking at. “What has you so interested, Buddy?” he asked.
After a second Buddy turned and looked at Rip, then pointed at the mark on the door. “I remember when me, Roger, and Dodger — Roger Denning and Roger ‘Dodger’ Marshall, my best friends growing up — carved those into the door. Remember it like it was yesterday.” As he spoke, a mournful sigh escaped his lips.
“The two Rogers always had a bit of a rivalry going on, and they were always chasing the same girl,” Buddy explained. “They were both older than me, and always acted like they were my big brothers, protecting me from school bullies and such. But I always felt like each was jealous of the other over my friendship, too. I ended up usually having to hang out with one or the other, rather than both at the same time. It got kind of confusing. And because Roger Denning was alphabetically first in their class — they were in the same grade — Roger Marshall began to be called by his nickname of ‘Dodger,’ though he really hated it.”
With another sigh, Buddy turned away and began to walk back into the woods, this time toward the west.
Deciding not to press the issue, Rip didn’t ask the question that was running through his mind. If Buddy and his two friends named Roger carved their initials next to his, he thought, then why are there only two initials there? Furthermore, why didn’t Buddy notice that himself?
As they continued to walk, the shadows from the sun began to grow longer, until the sun dipped below the mountains. When they finally stopped, Buddy put his finger to his lips and whispered, “This is the place. And, if I can recall correctly, it should happen in less than an hour, so let’s make ourselves scarce.”
Rip just nodded his head and pointed to a large grove of tangled trees and brush. Buddy nodded in agreement, and the two men were soon buried deeply in the brush, where they had a perfect view of the whole area without being seen themselves.
After an hour and a half passed uneventfully, Buddy began to think that he’d been completely wrong about the day and time. Yet the carving on the door was evidence that told him otherwise. Just as he was about to leave their hiding place, sounds could be heard from the east, coming from the church they’d left earlier. Hearing the noise, Buddy reproached himself. How could he have forgotten about the church outing after supper?
After a few seconds, two teenage boys walked into view, both dressed in blue jeans and plaid shirts. One of the boys had blond hair, and the other had much darker hair. Hearing a few words spoken from the two boys, Buddy knew which one was which. The dark-haired teenager looked to be nearly eighteen, and the other was barely sixteen. As they continued to whisper, Buddy kept listening for another dreaded sound, and he wasn’t left waiting for long.
A third person had moved into the clearing, brandishing a gun and demanding money from the two teenagers. He was dressed in dark, close-fitting clothing, and his face was hidden in shadows.
The older, dark-haired youth looked at the other man and quickly lunged at him. The younger blond-haired youth, meanwhile, looked like he was in shock for a moment and couldn’t move.
The assailant was so surprised he was being attacked that he nearly forgot he was carrying a gun, and jumped a step backward toward the very brush in which Buddy and Rip were concealed.
With the assailant jumping out of the way, the dark-haired boy just missed him and landed prone at his feet, cussing as he tried to get to his feet. The younger youth, coming to his senses, took off running into the dark woods, calling for his friend to follow him. Without paying any attention to the younger boy, the assailant looked down at the older boy as he tried to jump back up.
But by the time the teenager made it to his hands and knees, the assailant had already placed the barrel of his gun to the youth’s head. The gunman grinned as he saw a look of fear pass over the boy’s face, and he mumbled something to him as he pulled the trigger. As the sound of the gunshot echoed through the woods, a blinding white light erupted before them all, and they were momentarily blinded.
Unable to see, the killer ran in the only direction he knew, heading quickly toward the church and accidentally dropping the gun as he went.
Buddy tried to move his arms so that he could rub his eyes, but not only did he find himself unable to move, he could also suddenly see clearly, as if it was midday and not early evening. A figure that he at first took to be the killer was standing before the body lying on the forest floor. Buddy’s mind was screaming at him as he tried to move, That’s not how it happened!
After a moment he noticed that the person now standing over the body was dressed in what looked like a black suit with a white shirt beneath it, and what was either a long dark blue cloak or a trenchcoat, while on his head was a fedora of the same shade of blue as the suit, while white gloves covered his hands. As the figure raised his arms to his side, a golden medallion could be seen hanging in front of him, and what really stood out in Buddy’s mind at that moment was how much it seemed to look like the carving that he’d seen at the mouth of the cave in South Africa.
The figure standing over the body began to wave his arms in little gestures, and a blue-green glow started to circle the body on the ground. After a few seconds it looked like the body was fading away, then suddenly grew a little more solid before the glow finally faded.
A few seconds passed, then the figure bowed his head at the body, saying a few hushed words, and in a flash of light he disappeared. Buddy was left thinking, What the heck?!
Next to him, Rip Hunter had also watched as the scene unfolded, and as the figure in black vanished, both Rip and Animal Man found that they could once again move. Tossing caution to the wind, Buddy quickly crawled out from the brush and headed toward the body on the forest floor. Rip had tried to grab him as he moved, but missed and had to move quickly to keep up with him.
“What do you think you’re doing, Buddy?” Rip said urgently as they reached the body.
“I have to see it once more, Rip,” he replied, his voice shallow. He looked down at the body lying before him, and at that moment it seemed as if the world around him had begun to spin madly and go dim. Gasping for air, Buddy tried to walk away and instead crashed to the ground, feeling utter shock. There, lying on the forest floor, was not the dead body of an eighteen-year-old boy he’d known as a boyhood friend, but instead the body of a man with coal-dark hair graying at the temples, dressed in red, who’d been shot in the forehead.