As Rip Hunter piloted the Time Sphere through the skies of 2085 A.D. according to the directions of private eye Star Hawkins, Bonnie Baxter sat silently in the rear. She felt especially vulnerable, although she knew she had always believed that Rip could handle any crisis. Seeing what could only be thought of as the dead body of her brother, being torn away from final preparations for her own wedding, and just being in the middle of another adventure made her start to question exactly what her role should be.
Rodney would disapprove of all this, she thought. He understood my simple statement that Corky needed me, but he always frowned on my involvement with time travel. He claims Rip’s interference with historical events is contrary to the proper role of the historian and scholar. By becoming part of the era being studied, Rip and the rest of our team tainted that era. That’s what Rod claims, and maybe he’s right. I just know there’s a part of me that relishes the thrill of exploration. Or am I just running away? I’m certainly not the first bride to get cold feet.
Corky Baxter leaned over and said, “Cheer up, sis. This is just like old times. We’ll set things straight. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s the kind of thing Rip was born to do!” Bonnie smiled in agreement even as she wrestled with her own misgivings.
“The thefts don’t exactly form much of a pattern,” said Star Hawkins. “Some electronic equipment, computer gear, even some old relics from the past — no offense! I don’t know what these zips are really after!“
“If it makes you feel better, I can assure you that this era is but one of their targets,” said Rip. “I’m wagering that when their actions are taken as a whole, a pattern will emerge.”
“Hawkins, I know you’re a P.I.,” said Jeff Smith, “but what clues are you working with here? Like Rip said, these thefts don’t fit a pattern I can see.”
“You don’t have my experience, pal,” said Star. “I have contacts in the underworld. I can read crooks. It doesn’t matter if they come from Mars or Maine. I know how they think.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” said Ilda the robot. “Star never drops a case until it’s solved.”
Star smiled at her loyalty and said, “Thanks. Still, maybe I was tooting my own horn a bit too much. You see, Ilda’s telepathic spool picked up a thought or two from the zips in the pawn shop. They’re planning to hit a branch office of the old Terrestrial Broadcasting Company.”
“How do you know?” asked Rip. “Are you saying Ilda can read minds?“
Star nodded and said, “She’s got limitations, of course, but she did pick up an image of an antique radio broadcasting tower. That kind of relic dates back to the days before satellite radio, and the only one still standing is the one near the city limits.”
“There it is!” cried Bonnie. “And I see men and women inside!” She pointed to an old-fashioned radio tower that loomed over a rather square-looking building. Figures could be seen moving through the deserted structure.
“OK, let’s go in and get them!” said Jeff.
Star grinned and said, “I like the way you think, pal!”
Rip stood up and said, “Corky, Bonnie, stay put. We’ll try to flush them out!”
“Look, Rip, I’m not a kid anymore!” protested Corky. “I can take care of myself! You might need me in there!”
Rip nodded and said, “Bonnie, will you stay aboard the Time Sphere? Be ready to pick us up… oh, and try to monitor any chronal energy emissions!”
Bonnie slid into the pilot’s chair and said, “I’m on it.”
As the men and Ilda dropped down via a rope ladder, Bonnie adjusted various controls on a scanning device near the chrono-computer. Goodness! she thought. I do detect chronal energy. Our time-jumping enemies are inside! There’s no doubt about it. She felt her pulse race as she excitedly guided the Time Sphere closer to the tower, all the while fighting the notion that she was secretly relishing being back in action again.
Below, Rip Hunter raced inside the station and confronted five men and two women as they bent over a couple of boxes. “Hold it! You’re not going anywhere!” he yelled.
The nearest woman raised a handgun, but Rip was already hurling himself headlong into action, and her blast failed to hit the fleet hero. He shoved her aside as he tackled two men who stood behind her.
Ilda tapped the woman with one metallic hand and left her dazed on the ground. “Sorry, honey, but I had no choice!” she said.
Jeff and Corky leaped into battle as well by knocking a crate into the group of intruders as Star Hawkins aimed his own gun and wounded a bearded brute with a neuro-bolt.
Rip punched a thug in the chin and then turned to look into one of the fallen crates. Antique radio components. Why would they want these old relics? he thought before returning to the fight.
Even as the battle raged on, none of the heroes noticed that where there had been five men, there was suddenly only four within the station. A similar vanishing act had occurred within the pawnshop, but it had gone unnoticed.
However, this time Bonnie was actively scanning chronal energy, and she frowned in concentration as she read the scanning report. One of the time-travelers has departed this era! she thought. I have a lock on him, though, and I could follow him. Perhaps I’d better do just that!
As she started to do so, a secondary blip appeared on the screen. Seconds later, Rip, Jeff, and Corky emerged from the building and waved her over. Bonnie opened the main portal and lowered the rope ladder as Rip swung himself up and climbed inside.
“Bonnie, we’ve beaten them, but they’ve pulled another time jump,” he said. “I was hopeful you might have registered their departure!“
Nodding, she said, “Actually, Rip, there were two separate time jumps. One person left moments before the others made their escape!”
“So one of them deserted his pals?” asked Corky.
“No,” said Rip. “I think the majority of the gang deliberately stayed longer in order to occupy us. The one that left first must have had a more important mission of his own!”
Jeff glanced at the console and said, “Bonnie has locked onto both readings!”
“Good work, Bonnie!” said Rip. “Since Star Hawkins helped us prevent the gang from getting away with those parts at the station, I hope he will have earned some reward. He seemed like a good man.”
Corky nodded and said, “Yeah, but I’m glad you talked him into staying behind. Time travel can be tricky for a novice. It’s better if we Time Masters handle the case now that we’ve had to leave this era!”
“Those dates don’t mean much to me,” said Jeff, studying the console. “Where are our foes headed?”
“Where is less important than when and why,” said Rip, “but we’ll find the answers!”
While Rip worked with several devices on the Time Sphere’s console, Corky watched with interest and concern. “Rip, those time-jumpers fled from Star’s time to two separate eras — 1875 and prehistory,” said Corky. “However, you didn’t bother to exit the time stream at their closest point of departure, 1875. You just used the chrono-computer and that scanner and went right on by. Don’t you want to stop them from getting whatever it is they wanted in the first era?”
Jeff coughed and then said, “Corky, I think Rip’s figured out something that makes it less important to track them era by era than it is to follow their solitary leader, who exited Star’s era moments before the gang did.”
“Jeff’s right,” said Rip. “I don’t think we need to stop them from taking things from these different times. Hawkins saw no pattern in what they took from his era or the ones the elder Corky described on his disk. That is because the lack of a pattern was the pattern! These thefts or abductions from points in time serve no purpose except to distract attention from their real goal!“
Bonnie nodded as she looked up from her own work. “The scanner confirms it! I don’t know what they took from 1875, but they definitely left something behind there! I bet a check of their previous time trips would prove that pattern holds true. They aren’t really taking people or objects from these times for any reason beyond distracting from their real purpose in each era. They are leaving chronal-charged devices behind in each era they visit!”
“Exactly,” said Rip. “And yet that raises larger questions. Why leave mysterious machines behind in these random eras, and what do the machines do? Also, why bother with the distractions? It would be easier to merely enter one point in a timeline, leave a device behind, and then go on to the next era. By pulling off thefts or abductions, they are calling attention to themselves that would not be created by a quick entrance and departure!”
“Rip, we’re at the other point of departure,” said Bonnie. “The leader of the gang exited Star Hawkins’ era and came to this point in time — the era of Cro-Magnon man!“
Corky smiled and said, “Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt to prove it.”
“We’ve been almost everywhen,” said Jeff, “but when dealing with alternate timelines, no two trips can be exactly the same.”
“Does the scanner detect the deposit of a chronal-charged device?” asked Rip.
Bonnie nodded excitedly and said, “I’ve got it! It’s below us!” They hovered over a thick jungle where massive trees towered over crude campsites. “We’re really in the era in which Cro-Magnon man supplanted Neanderthal man, but it certainly looks like a group of the so-called beast-men have the advantage below!”
She pointed toward the window of the Time Sphere. Several hairy, muscular brutes were closing in on a frightened woman who crouched in terror as the larger beings snarled and bellowed in an aggressive manner.
“We’d better get down there and help her!” said Jeff.
They brought the Time Sphere down abruptly, and the sight of the metallic object startled the Cro-Magnons and their victim. They started to retreat when their path was blocked by a dynamic female who leaped into view and gave a screeching battle cry as she brought a crudely fashioned staff down on one of the men’s skull. She spun around and kicked a second one in the ribs before whirling around to confront the others.
She planted the staff firmly against the ground and used it to propel herself into the brutes with stunning impact. Her long dark hair swept back from her face to reveal keenly piercing eyes and a mocking smile. She wore a tattered green tunic with faded and crudely cut shorts. Her bare feet were hardened and clearly accustomed to rough terrain.
“You boys are out of luck,” she said as she punched a caveman in the nose. “Not only was I already in a bad mood, but it looks like my ride just pulled in!”
As Rip and the others poured out of the machine, Bonnie gasped in surprise. “She’s me! Rip, that woman is my exact double!“
“She’s probably just a look-alike,” said Corky. “Remember when we met Queen Zenobia of Palmyra? She was your twin, too.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Execution of Rip Hunter,” Rip Hunter, Time Master #10 (September-October, 1962).]
As the combative woman in the primitive outfit drew closer and her foes fled, she spoke to the Time Masters in a voice that was just like the other Bonnie’s. “I’m Bonnie Baxter, Stone Age warrior princess, you might say! When I saw the Time Sphere, I thought you were from my timeline. Clearly, since I’m looking right at an alternate Bonnie, you’re from a different divergent one. My Rip theorized about such parallel timelines before I left the team.”
Rip stared at the wild woman with a look of interest and amazement. “You’re correct; we’re not from this particular timeline. We’re here because of a threat to all timelines. We’ve tracked an enemy here. He’s planting chronal energy devices throughout time.”
“I have to ask you,” began Corky, “why did you leave the team? I mean, what made you decide to live in this era?”
Bonnie added, “And why am I — are you — so… so…”
The rougher Bonnie laughed and said, “Aggressive? Liberated? I suppose I do seem that way to you. You’re the old, submissive Bonnie. Well, honey, I grew out of being a damsel in distress and found that I could take care of myself just fine. Of course, having the love of a good man makes living here even more rewarding.”
“Good man?” asked Bonnie. “Is your Rip here, too?” She covered her mouth with one hand and stammered, “I-I mean… that is…”
“I think she’s referring to him!” said Rip, pointing to where a handsome blond man in a blue loincloth stood looking down at them from a slope. His long blond hair and lithe but athletic form made him an impressive sight even as he led other men and women to face the Time Masters.
He looked to the primitive Bonnie and spoke in an oddly intelligent manner. “Bonnie, your friends have returned?” he asked. “Or is this something unseen even by Lural, She Who is the Moon?”
Bonnie embraced him and said, “They are not the people you once met when I first came here, and yet they are friends.”
The blond man stepped forward and extended one hand. “Welcome,” he said. “I am Kong.”