The savage Bonnie Baxter from an alternate timeline laughed and said, “You don’t need your language disks. I taught Kong and our tribe English. He even knows a few slang expressions!”
Even in the midst of this case, I can’t help but think about how Bonnie assumed my counterpart was the good man the other Bonnie loves, thought Rip Hunter. I can also see that she is relishing being back in action again. Maybe I’m not too late after all. Perhaps that wedding can be stopped!
Jeff Smith noticed his friend’s distracted expression and said, “This is a bit unsettling for all of us. It can’t be easy to meet your double. I guess we should wrap this up quickly.”
“That foliage over there conceals our target!” said Corky Baxter. “The Time Sphere’s chrono-computer indicates the chronal energies we detected are within the overgrowth.”
“You saved Ana from the beast-men,” said the savage Bonnie. “The least we can do is help you in return.”
The blond warrior known as Kong the Untamed spoke quickly to his tribe, yet he took the time to show tender concern for the girl Ana as she was led away by the others in the tribe. “Ana, return with Isnor and the others,” said Kong. “I will stay behind to help our friends with Bonnie.”
“Kong seems to be a natural leader,” said Bonnie Baxter. “Strong, caring, and decisive; he’s like Rip.”
The warrior Bonnie whispered to her, “I don’t know your situation. Clearly, my timeline deviated from yours in several ways. Rip and the rest of us came here on a case and helped Kong solve a mystery. He actually joined us from a brief trip into the recent past. It was an odd paradox. Kong was named for a blond warrior his tribe met years before his own birth. It turned out that Kong himself was that warrior, thanks to his taking a time trip with us. Anyway, I fell for him and stayed behind when the others left. You don’t seem to want to leave your team. I think Rip is the man you love.”
Meanwhile, Rip and Jeff had cleared the foliage enough to reveal an oval object of unknown composition.
Corky whistled softly as he led Kong and the two women over to the object. “Rip, what is it?” the young man asked. “We know it is full of chronal energy, but what does it do? Why is our enemy leaving these things all throughout time?”
“I don’t know,” said Rip, “and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I need a closer look.” He reached out to touch the strange object, but before he could do more than extend one hand, loud shouts stopped him in mid-motion.
Kong scowled and said, “The beast-men are coming back! Will they never learn to live in peace with us? Why must they lash out mindlessly instead of trying to understand and coexist with us?”
His lover Bonnie touched his arm and said, “Kong, you are unlike most men of this era. You are smarter and more knowing. I’ve told you that before. That’s part of why I love you.”
“We can’t risk injuring them,” said Jeff. “One of them might eventually father someone whose family tree might lead us to some great historical figure like George Washington or FDR!”
“Unlikely,” said Rip. “We were here before. We’ve become part of the past. I don’t see any ripples in time causing the historical distortions you fear. We’re more likely to help history along than hinder it.”
Bonnie smiled as she realized once more how much she agreed with Rip. Rodney is all wrong for me, she mused. I care for him, but I don’t share his belief system, and I know now I can’t marry him. When this is all over, I have to break up with him. I may hurt, but it is my only choice.
“We will drive them off while you examine the strange rock!” said Kong.
He and his Bonnie stood with their backs to the object as Jeff and Corky joined them and faced the approaching beast-men, while Rip and Bonnie crouched down to study the chronal-energy-filled device. As their hands touched the smooth surface, the world grew briefly dim, and they found themselves alone in a vacant world without shape or form.
“Rip! What happened?” gasped Bonnie as she clutched his arm.
He held her and said, “I don’t know! I suspect contact with the object triggered a weird, time-fueled security device. We’re out of sync with all time! We’ve been shunted to some timeless limbo!”
“Oh, Rip, it’s terrible!” she cried. “What if we never return to the others? What will we do?”
Rip patted her back and said, “I’ll get us out of this. Don’t worry. We’re think of something!”
Bonnie gazed up at him as the white limbo around them grew less oppressive. She then kissed him passionately and said, “Rip, I feel safe — even here — when I’m with you! I don’t know how I ever thought I could live without you. I’m so alive when you are with me!”
Rip kissed her in return and said, “Bonnie, I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to do this. I love you! I think I always have, but I let time get in the way. Maybe there’s a kind of irony in finding time to finally express my feelings for you in a place where time itself doesn’t exist!”
They embraced again and began to talk. For once, nothing else mattered than merely being together and sharing their true emotions.
Much, much later, the white glow faded to reveal a worried and battered Corky and Jeff. Kong and warrior Bonnie were in the background as well. Rip still held Bonnie, and he ignored his impulse to release her as Jeff and Corky came into view.
“What happened?” Rip asked. “You’ve destroyed the time-limbo field that held us!”
“It took us a couple minutes to figure out the exact frequency of chronal vibrations that had separated you two from our timeline,” explained Jeff. “You were sort of caught between two different timelines without being integrated in either one!”
Corky smiled broadly as he realized things had changed again between his sister and his hero. “Time passed at a different rate for you two, huh?” he said.
Bonnie smiled back and said, “It was both timeless and all-too brief. Still, we have been alone together for what must have been days! Isn’t that right, darling?”
Rip adjusted his collar and said, “Uh, time distortion effects are notoriously difficult to measure. Suffice it to say, we had enough time to make up for lost time!”
The savage Bonnie grinned and winked at her more demure counterpart. “Way to go, sister!” she said.
“Kong helped us fight off the beast-men, but he says they could return any moment,” said Jeff. “I know we can’t touch the object, either. What is the best plan?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Rip. “But after experiencing some slight fraction of the thing’s power and having gained time to mull it over, I think I do know the purpose of the devices. They are designed to disrupt timelines. I think they may be intended to permanently sever a given timeline from all other divergent ones. If these things activate throughout time as they are designed to do, then our mystery-man may gain the power to contain the many divergent timelines that could exist into one tightly structured and clearly dictatorially ruled one. He will effectively streamline time into one regular river whose passage may be controlled by his forces.”
“He’d really be a master of time then!” said Corky.
“Then the only way to stop him is to find his base and shut off the objects at their central control unit!” added Bonnie.
Jeff nodded and said, “I agree, but where in all of time can he be? The scanner is dead. It hasn’t picked up so much as a blip since we got here.”
“There is no reason to think the lair we seek is in this particular timeline,” said Rip, “but if there was such a base, where would it be hidden?”
“There is a place our people do not go,” said Kong. “It is said to be cursed. No one knows where it came from or who built it. It appeared one dark night when even Lural, She Who is the Moon, hid her face!”
The savage Bonnie snapped her fingers and said, “The Forbidden Swamp! You think something is going on there? Of course, it would be a perfect lair. No one goes there.”
“I have been there, and it is barren,” explained Kong, “but legends speak of a time before my people walked the Earth when a strange home was in the swamp. The place was magical, according to the stories my friend Gurat used to tell me. Gurat was a Neanderthal, but he was my friend. He had heard of such a place, and he shared the story with me.”
“Excellent!” said Rip. “It would make sense for the enemy we seek to be based at the very beginning of time itself! That vantage point would be ideal for use of his equipment and for orchestrating his plans.”
“Kong, Bonnie, I wish you happiness,” said Rip. “We have to go on from here without you. This is not your problem.”
“And yet we would stand by you if you need friends,” said Kong.
Bonnie hugged her dynamic double and said, “Thanks for the girl talk. I think Rip and I will be fine from now on!”
The warrior Bonnie kissed her other self and said, “You just needed a bit of a nudge.”
Jeff tossed the savage Bonnie an hourglass and said, “This device will enable you to get back to your original timeline if you choose to use it. I know you are happy here, but just in case you ever need to return, use it!”
She grinned and said, “Thanks… oh, and Jeff, if you get lonely sometime, there’s a sexy Viking maid waiting for you around 975 A.D.! Trust me, I know!” Jeff smiled as he followed Rip, Bonnie, and Corky inside.
“I’m taking us to the Swamp and then setting the controls for the beginning of time as we know it,” said Rip.
“Last time we tried to go there, we were aged unnaturally and were unable to get back to our goal,” said Corky. “The beginning of time is one destination that always eluded us.”
“That was due to the machinations of the golden pyramids and their immortal squatter,” said Rip. “We took care of that plot once and for all.”
As the Time Sphere blinked out of view and then returned eons earlier, Bonnie pointed at a strange sight. “The pyramid!” she cried.
Corky nodded grimly as a gleaming golden shape loomed into view. “That’s it,” he said. “It is one of those weird golden pyramids that we found scattered around the globe when we were with the Forgotten Heroes! I thought they were all destroyed thanks to Superman, but maybe one missed our notice.”
“Yes, I think we will find our so-called Master of Time inside,” said Rip. “He is using it as his base.”
“And we all know who we’ll find inside it, too — Vandal Savage!” said Jeff. “The immortal caveman made nefarious use of such pyramids when we faced him down before! Who else could have been in a position to do so again?” Rip shook his head but said nothing.
“Vandal Savage was a primitive man mutated by a meteor until he gained immortality,” said Bonnie. “Still, he was originally from Earth-Two and didn’t come to our Earth until the 1980s. Besides, he would not have been alive at this era. We’ve gone far into the past, and his original time is far into the future.”
“I want you three to drop me off and await my signal,” said Rip. “I’m going in alone.”
“Rip, no!” cried Bonnie. “We’re coming, too!”
Corky and Jeff chimed in their own arguments, but Rip would not listen. “I’m in charge here,” Rip insisted. “I said I’m going in alone. I’ll signal you if I need help. I want you to move forward in the time stream and await a signal. Trust me — I need to do this alone!”
Bonnie kissed him and said, “I can’t lose you now!”
“You won’t,” said Rip. “Just do as I say. I have reasons for making such a seemingly arbitrary decision.”
Corky hugged Rip and then said, “I know you’ll win. You always have before!”
“Thanks, pal,” said Rip. “I’m proud of you. I want you to know that. You’ve always been like a brother to me, and when this over, we’re going to make that official!”
“That’s right!” said Bonnie. “When we finish this case, Rip and I are getting married! We’ve wasted too much time as it is!”
“I’m thrilled!” said Corky. “I don’t know what to say!”
Jeff clasped Rip’s shoulder and said, “If you need me, just give a yell via the time beacon.”
“I know I can rely upon all of you,” said Rip. “However, I have to go in alone, because the fact is I’ve been here before. I’ll explain later.” As Rip exited the Time Sphere, the others glanced at one another in concern.
“Why didn’t Rip tell us he succeeded in going so far into the past?” asked Jeff. “It isn’t like him to keep secrets.”
“I don’t know,” said Bonnie, “but I pray he knows what he’s doing.”