Rip Hunter walked into the pyramid and found himself in a highly technological environment that belied the ancient style of the exterior. He recognized the nature of the machines that lined the walls, and he was familiar with their design. As he walked, he recalled his last trip to this frightening era.
“I decided to try to reach the beginning of time by myself immediately after an adventure with Captain Comet and a female Green Lantern named Arisia,” Rip said aloud. “During that unfortunate mess, I’d been manipulated and magically controlled by a witch called Tala. (*) I felt out of my element even after I regained my senses, and I felt as if I needed to do something in my field of study to prove that I was myself again. I couldn’t involve Bonnie, Jeff, or Corky because I knew the risks were too high. Oh, I’d been to what seemed like the beginning of time before during the time of red skies and chronal disruptions called the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but my memories of what occurred there were clouded. Jeff, Bonnie, and Corky still don’t recall some of the things that have come back to me from that time.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Return of Supergirl, Chapter 1: Crisis Revisited.]
“In any event, I made the trip and succeeded — too well! My senses were overwhelmed by the cosmic scope of it all, and I blacked out. I recovered and found myself adrift in time itself. I could not remember anything about the experience except for a feeling of evil. Something had tried to touch my very mind and soul during that trip, and I was weakened by the experience. I never told anyone about it.”
“Krona!” said a nearby voice. “Your mind and soul were touched by a disembodied spirit called Krona. He was guilty of your curiosity about the beginnings of time as well. He tried to claim you via sheer mental power, but you escaped from his hold and regained your values and your wits. However, in another timeline Krona tainted you completely, and his whispering words of power and seduction drove you to vow to truly master all of time. You disposed of your friends and used technology and technology plundered from thousands of years in the future to dominate one timeline after another. You became a literal Time Master, and now you stand ready to control all of time. You stand ready, and you willingly share your success story with the one man who might grasp it in all its scope. Namely, you talk to yourself or one alternate version of Rip Hunter!”
The words came from a handsome blond man in green and red who emerged from the shadows to confront Rip. He was in every way Rip’s exact double, since he was the Rip Hunter of the alternate timeline just described.
“I knew it!” said Rip. “In some way, at the back of my mind, I knew it was you. You led me here deliberately. All the little clues, the purposeful leaving of a trail, and the seemingly stupid robberies that truly called attention to your schemes were all meant to draw me here. You allowed Corky to come to me in the first place.”
The evil Rip nodded and said, “Yes. I allowed myself one amusement in an otherwise grim campaign of conquest. I could have planted my time bombs without anyone’s knowledge, but I staged thefts and abductions in order to draw the attention of the various pawns who, in turn, might lead you to the mystery. I wanted a Rip Hunter to witness my triumph. You have earned it. You are the better man in the sense that Krona couldn’t taint you like he did me. I’m all-too aware of what he has done to me. Still, I’ll accept my lot and play the villain. When I activate the time bombs placed in countless alternate timelines, they will sever the main timeline from any and all divergent currents. It will be like a master surgeon cauterizing a wound. I’ll slice away the vestigial chronal timelines and leave only one stream under my domination!”
“You are insane!” said Rip. “I know that better than most, since I could have fallen prey to your own sickness. I guess since I didn’t do so, that means I have to stop you. If I may paraphrase Shakespeare, the Time Master is out of joint, and cursed spite that ere I was born to set you right!”
The evil Rip laughed and said, “Clever. Still, I’ve brought you here to witness my victory. Now watch.” He shoved a lever and smiled as a glow filled the room. “I’ve started the chain reaction,” he explained. “One by one, all of my time bombs will activate and eliminate their divergent timelines from history!”
Rip shook his head and said, “Actually, you’re wrong. I couldn’t physically move those bombs, but I was able to record their specific vibrations based on the readings we took from the one in Kong’s era. You had to link all of them throughout time so they all shared the same vibratory chronal frequency. That made it easy for me to activate a time beacon and focus all their power on one single moment in time — this one!“
The Master of Time scowled and said, “Are you crazy? If all of them go off and direct their joint powers to this precise moment in time, we’ll both be severed from all of time! We’ll be trapped outside of time itself forever! Unlike the effects of the one you touched, the infinite number of them acting as one will be unstoppable!“
“I anticipated as much, and I am willing to be trapped here for eternity to make up for the madness one flawed counterpart has created!” vowed Rip.
The Master of Time shouted, “My army will rescue me! I command legions of loyal troops!”
Rip smiled and said, “No. Your pawns won’t help you, and you know that. See, those who could reach you aren’t here. You refused to allow them to come here to your domain. You wanted this precise era to be yours alone. Your lust for total power cut you off from others and has left you a general without an army. For that matter, when the final effect is complete, and we’re severed from all of time, you may not even have an army. You and I may no longer exist. Who really knows at this point?”
The evil Rip charged Rip Hunter, only to fall backward as a brawny figure tackled him and shoved him aside. Jeff Smith hammered the evil Rip with stinging punches as Corky grabbed the good Rip and urged him out of the pyramid.
“Come on!” yelled Corky. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
Rip followed his friends as they escaped from the pyramid under a strange white sky. Seconds behind Jeff and Corky, Rip swung himself aboard the hovering Time Sphere where Bonnie activated the controls and sent the craft hurtling through time.
Jeff cheered as he helped his buddy regain his feet. “That was close! If we hadn’t returned here after pretending to leave, we might have been unable to retrieve you! As it is, we’ve burned out the chrono-computer. We stripped the gears, you might say!”
“We disobeyed your orders, but it was for your own good,” said Corky. “We coulnd’t leave you to face that jerk alone!“
“I can’t thank you enough,” said Rip. “I wasn’t trying to mislead you or grandstand. I just wanted to keep you three safely out of the way.”
Moments later, a white flash of light illuminated the time stream as the Time Sphere was shoved out of the current of time and into the present.
“We made it!” said a jubilant Corky. “Our Time Sphere is badly damaged and may take months to repair, but we’re home again!“
As Bonnie and Rip kissed, Jeff sighed with relief and adjusted a control panel. “This is it — our main timeline, which is just one of many! This proves we beat the Master of Time! He failed! Oh, we overheard his whole scheme while we hid outside.”
“I’m ashamed of what he was trying to do,” said Rip. “It was as if I was the one doing it! Still, if my theory is correct, he didn’t suffer. He’s not truly stranded like I claimed. He simply never existed! For all I know, we may lose memory of the whole case in time.”
Bonnie grabbed Rip’s hand and said, “No way, Mr. Hunter! You and I have some vows to exchange, and nothing is going to make me forget what happened between us! Now, in front of witnesses, say it! Do you love me?”
Rip hugged the woman he had always loved and smiled broadly. “I do,” he said, “for all time.”