A Rip Through Time:
Chaos in the Stream
Chronal energies dissipated, leaving Rip ankle-deep in the muddy waters of Havana's bay.
Seagulls wheeled and cried. A warm salt-breeze pressed against his back. Only moments before he'd been fighting for his life in the relative cold of southern England, trading blows with Saxons and sorcerers. He shook his head. The far-off time of King Arthur collapsed like a daydream.
Next to him, Dr. Berlin groaned. Rip whirled to catch the wounded scientist before he fell. Blood dripped from the front of his woolen robe. Rip was no doctor, but he could tell by Berlin's ashen face, his breathing, the man was in serious trouble.
"When are we, Rip?"
"Late forties Cuba. They were the last co-ordinates I had set on my temporal manipulator, and I'd programmed yours for the same." He glanced down at the timepiece strapped to his wrist. "But there's nothing for us here. You need advanced medical attention. I'll take you to the same place I took Ludwigthe Company's hospital in Nairobi."
He started twisting the manipulator's dial, but Berlin grabbed his hand. "Wait. I'm a wanted criminal in the twenty-fourth century, remember? Who knows what the Company's goons will do with me."
Things had gone all topsy-turvy. Dr. Berlin wasn't the bad guy he'd appeared to be. And Serena Ludwig, that chestnut-haired temptress, had turned out to be an agent for some shadowy sect within the Company.
Berlin coughed up a wad of crimson-flecked saliva. His whole body shook. No doubt about it, the man was failing. Fast. Rip scooped him up into his arms, cradling him like a baby. He marched out of the lapping water and onto a beach formed from concrete pilings. A group of straw-hatted fishermen squatted nearby, mending their nets and smoking. They gawked as Rip dripped his way past.
"Where are we going?" Berlin asked, his voice a rasp.
"I know someone who can help."
He carried him out to the street and waved down a rattling taxi.
Something about the El Floridita was wrong. Off. He sensed it even before he stepped into the crowded bar, Berlin swaying against him like a drunk. The air smelled strange. Metallic. He could've sworn the floor had a different tiled pattern the last time he was here. Which hadn't been too long ago.
Cigar smoke from a dozen cohibas hung like an indoor fog. Rip breathed it in with gusto. He pushed through the ranks of patrons near the bar. Two stools down hunched a distinguished, graying-haired man nursing a daiquiri. His boxer's shoulders had been squeezed into a Parisian suit coat. The man glanced up as Dr. Berlin staggered atop the stool next to him.
"Mr. Hemingway," Rip said, holding out his hand. "My friend and I need your help. We're, ah, Americans."
"Expatriates, eh?" He had the firm grip of a pipe fitter, not a writer.
"You could say that."
Hemingway took a gulp of frozen liquor. "Can I ask why your friend here," he nodded at Berlin, "is dressed like a Franciscan friar?"
"It's a long story."
"I'll bet." He probed the folds of Berlin's bloodied robe. His face paled. "Good Lord, that's a gunshot wound."
"Happened half an hour ago," Rip said. In truth, Berlin had been wounded centuries before, 'shot' by one of Ludwig's mysterious allies. A man-like creature of shadow and haze.
Hemingway rose from his seat. "Well, whatever's going on, I'm not about to let a stranger bleed out and die. I've got a room at the hotel. There's an old Cuban sawbones I can call"
He stopped, his forehead wrinkling. Rip sensed it, too. Like a rumbling somewhere. Far off, but drawing closer with each second. The hair on Rip's forearms stood up. Silent thunder roared in his ears and then was gone, leaving behind a sense of unreality.
He looked at Hemingway. The writer's face seemed different now. More jowly. Also, his eyes were bloodshot. "You feel that?"
"Been happening all morning." Hemingway gestured towards his drink. "I thought it was the booze, but now, I don't know. Feels like an aftershock from a quake."
Rip glanced at the floor. The tile pattern had changed. Just moments before it had been hexagonal. Now the tiles were square, with red and white checkered borders.
Hemingway had a corner suite at the Hotel Ambos Mundos. Two picture windows afforded a nice view of the bay and a crumbling stone fortress. Tinny ballroom music drifted from the radio.
"My father was a physician," he said, helping Rip lower Berlin onto the king-sized bed. "And I spent some time in Spain with the Red Cross. Let's get his legs elevated a bit."
"What's that sound?" Rip asked. "I hear it every time he breathes."
Hemingway pulled the robe from Berlin's chest. Blood had already clotted around a small hole just below his heart. Hemingway tsked. "Sucking chest wound. His lung's been punctured. Lower ventricle damaged too, from the look of it."
"That doesn't sound good."
Hemingway met his gaze. "No, it doesn't. There's a phone in the front room. I'll call that doctor I told you about."
Rip waited until he heard dialing.
"How you doing, doc?" he said, kneeling alongside the bed. "We've got help on the way."
Berlin took a shuddering breath. "It hurt, before. Now all I feel is cold. But that's minor, Rip, compared to what's happening. Back at the bar"
"I know. Timequake. Something must be happening downstream."
"We left Serena back in the sixth century. Without a temporal manipulator, true, but she has the help of those shadow-things. Lord knows what kind of changes she's making to history."
"But we stopped her, didn't we? Kept her from kidnapping King Arthur, or whoever that was."
Berlin shook his head. "Unfortunately, the unification of England is only one potential turning-point in the history of Western civilization. With her allies help, who knows what else she can do. You've got to stop wasting time here with me, and find her."
"Huh-uh. First priority is patching you up. You're the only one with the brains to fix this mess."
"Not yet, you're not. Remember all those spare body-parts of yours we keep in the Company vaults? I used your eyeballs to get past a retina scan. I can snag a heart and lungs, too. When I get back I'll transport us to the twenty-third century. There's plenty of black-market clinics that could repair you, no questions asked."
Berlin made a mournful sound, more groan than sigh. "You don't understand temporal physics. When a major historical change occurs it causes ripples to move up through the timestream, altering the future as they go. But those ripples get stronger, not weaker, the farther they travel. Changes lead to more changes in a synergistic effect. The 'ripple' becomes a tsunami. That means"
"The distant future gets altered the most." Rip grinned. "I didn't sleep through all my classes, doc. But I also know we've got some timein the relative sensebefore all the ripples catch up to the twenty-fourth century."
"It's too dangerous."
"Not for me." Rip straightened to show him the butt of the concussion gun still tucked in his pants. "Be right back."
He stepped into the bathroom just as Hemingway was finishing his call.
Gut-wrenching nausea. A gray mist settling over his vision as the molecules of his body were reduced to tachyon particles and flung forward with the currents of time...
...to materialize roughly four centuries later, in the tree-lined plaza just outside Company research HQ.
He hadn't known what to expect. Would the familiar skyline of Company Prefecture (located on the island formerly known as Cuba, scant miles away from where Hotel Ambos Mundos had stood) be replaced with a welter of shanty-towns? A forest? Clusters of geodesic domes?
None of these things, it turned out. The HQ spire loomed tall and brilliant white like it always had. Sunlight filtered down through air cleaned of the petro-chemical stink from previous generations. There did seem to be a greater number of surveillance robots floating about, but Rip figured he must've beaten the first waves of time-distortion to the future.
Until he saw the bronze plaque bolted to the HQ's main door: Ministry of Esoteric Truth and Inquiry
The plaque was supposed to read 'Division of Special Research.' And next to it was a strange new logo; an open hand with an eye staring out from the center of the palm. Rip had never seen it before.
His retina scan still worked, though. The doors slid open for him.
Inside, klaxons were sounding. Scientists and techs hustled through the corridors, clutching data-slates, looking worried. Rip used the confusion to slip into a lift and ride down thirty stories to the sub-vaults of Senescence and Regeneration. The department was abandoned. Rip's security override code opened the cryo section and he hunted for ten minutes among human body parts. Berlin's spare heart and lungs were nestled in a plasma-filled sheath. He tucked the grisly package under his arm and rode back to the ground floor. Klaxons continued blaring.
"Rip! We've been looking for you."
The voice called out just as he cleared the lift's door. He turned, saw the haggard figure of Johann Severn, his second in command, threading through the crowd towards him. For a moment, he considered bolting. Too suspicious. He reminded himself he was Head of Temporal Infractions and not a fugitive.
"What's going on, Johann? Give me the sit rep."
"Major temporal distortions, sir." Severn looked different. Was that a dueling scar on his cheek? "AI detected them thirty minutes ago and sounded the alarm. We figure it must be Dr. Berlin."
Johann noticed the packet of organs tucked under his arm. His eyebrows arched in a silent question.
"That's classified," Rip said. "When are the distortions originating from?"
Severn peered at his data-slate. "There appears to be two points of divergence. AI tracked them down to 1519 and 1865, A.D. Also the rough geographical locations."
"Get a strike team assembled."
"Already have, sir."
Rip touched his temporal manipulator to Severn's slate, downloading the time and space co-ordinates. "I'll lead the troops personally, but first there's a little matter I've got to take care of."
Severn frowned. "Begging your pardon, sir, but what could be more important than"
A low rumble cut him off. Rip felt vertigo in his bones. Another one. Big. His teeth chattered as a wave of invisible force rolled down the hallway and passed through him, making his head spin. The disorientation was similar to a sudden jaunt through time. After a moment he became aware of the klaxon. It had changed in pitch, becoming lower. Almost a buzzing sound.
Severn had changed, too.
Clean-shaven only moments before, he now sported a trim goatee. An armband with the strange eye-in-hand logo encircled his bicep, and a dagger hung from an ornamental sheath strapped to his shoulder. He stared at Rip for what seemed the first time. His eyes went wide with hate.
"Traitor!" he called out, reaching for his dagger. "Traitor to the Company!"
Rip's movements were automatic. His right foot came up and snap-kicked Severn's wrist, sending the knife spinning down the hallway. His left fist slammed into the security officer's chin. Johann wobbled and dropped.
A crimson beam seared the air inches from Rip's shoulder. He ducked and rolled, his tactician's mind trying to calculate where the shot had come from. Two more heat-beams snapped out and vaporized the tiles near his feet. No point returning fire, given the lack of cover. He raced for a nearby intersection. A fourth shot scorched the hair along the nape of his neck before he turned the corner.
Something nagged at him. Something important. But the thought vanished when he saw the spherical body of a surveillance drone, floating scant yards away. This one had a heat-cannon's scarred muzzle slung just below the optic sensors. What the hell? There were serious laws about arming robots.
Or there had been, anyway.
Rip fast-drew his gun before the machine could orient on him. A lance of concussive force struck the drone dead center, denting its armor plating and sending the thing caroming down the hallway like a billiard ball.
Rip whirled and blasted open the door of a utility closet. He leapt inside. After making sure the organs were still secure, he fumbled through the temporal manipulator's presets. Stabbed the 'engage' button with a shaking finger.
Just before the tachyon wash hit, he remembered his nagging question.
Why hadn't the distortions changed him?
Normally, time travel was not a precise science. Had Rip wanted to interrupt the assassination of President Lincoln, say, he might show up six months after the event and half a mile away from Ford's theater. Or just two seconds before, sitting right next to John Wilkes Booth. It was dicey.
However, he'd made this particular trip to Havana so many times, visiting his tobacconist and angling for a 'chance' meeting with Ernest Hemingway, his temporal manipulator had worn grooves into the local timestream. It homed in on one of those grooves now, manifesting him in the Hotel Ambos Mundos's lobby only five minutes after he'd left.
He raced for the stairs.
"How the devil did you get outside?" Hemingway said, letting him into the suite. "I was right here, talking on the phone"
"No time to explain. Doctor on his way?"
"Should be here soon. But I'm afraid..." Hemingway glanced at the bedroom, then down at the floor.
"I'd like a few moments with him alone."
On the bed, Dr. Berlin breathed in labored gasps. His skin had turned the same color as the sheets. Rip felt his stomach lurch, realizing the organs he'd risked his life for weren't going to make any difference. He was too late.
But some final shreds of vitality blazed in Berlin's eyes. He beckoned Rip to kneel close. "I'm s-sorry for killing two of your men. I had to liberate my Device from the Company. You understand now how ruthless they can be."
"I've had my run-ins with them too, Doc."
"You survived your trip to the twenty-fourth century, I see."
"Yeah." Rip rubbed at the singed hairs on the back of his neck. "It changed, just like you said. I saw it happen. But one thing I don't understand. I'm a part of the future, too, yet I stayed the same. At least I think I did..."
"Your temporal manipulator. The tachyon matrix inside keeps it apart from the timestream. As long as you're wearing one when a distortion hits, you stay the same old Rip."
"That's a relief."
"It prevents all sorts of paradoxes." Some color seeped back into Berlin's face. "But listen. I don't have much time left. It's imperative you find Serena. She's been dabbling in forbidden areas of inter-dimensional physics. I'm afraid that's where those shadowy allies of hers come from."
"Possibly. I don't know what their agenda is. But the Company's, that's plain enough. They want to disrupt the timestream to achieve total power, past, present, and future. The Device could show them exactly when to do that, but they've gone ahead without it." His fingers clawed deep inside his robe and came out with a metal cylinder. The transparent sides radiated an emerald glow.
"The Baryon Core," Rip said.
"The key to the Device. Serena knows where the machine is buried, but she'll never be able to operate it without this."
Rip reached out a tentative hand. "Go on, take it," Berlin said. "Activate the device yourself, and use its powers to help repair the damage to the timestream."
The cylinder felt warm to the touch. Rip slid it into his coat pocket, alongside his stash of precious cigars. He noticed the Core was roughly the same size and shape of a Montecristo Number Four.
"Stop her, Rip."
Doctor Robert Berlin's last sentence came out as a whisper. His eyes glazed. Rip could do nothing but watch as the greatest scientific mind of the twenty-fourth century, perhaps the greatest mind to grace the planet in all its eons of spinning, grew utterly still.
The Yucatan Peninsula
Rip came to in a small clearing surrounded by sixty foot Dogwood trees. The moist morning air chattered with birdsong. He started to take a step forward and froze. Coiled within striking distance of his left boot was the sinuous, diamond and brown-striped shape of a Fer De Lance. The snake regarded him for a moment, raising its head several inches above the tropical grass. Rip stared back without blinking. Six heartbeats later, the creature swayed to the ground and slithered away.
"So much for a local welcome."
He fiddled with his temporal manipulator. The watch-screen blanked and became a gravimetric compass. After some experimentation, it pinged when pointed towards the northwest. Not too far, then. Rip started to push his way through the foliage, wishing he'd had the foresight to bring along a machete.
His eyes stayed sharp for more snakes. The threat of Fer De Lance venom kept him from brooding over Dr. Berlin's fate and the chaos that had become the timestream.
A second ping sounded. Louder now. He swept aside an enormous fern. Some three hundred yards away rose a mass of gray and white stone. A step-pyramid, its notched sides angling steeply towards a box-shaped temple at the apex. Smaller buildings clustered around the base. He thought for a moment he'd stumbled on Mayan ruins, but sections of the stonework gleamed gold and red with fresh pigment. Smoke curled skywards from several of the buildings, and from the mouths of giant serpents carved in the pyramid's sides.
I smell temporal anomaly.
The bushes to his left rustled. A half-dozen figures dressed in animal skins and feathered cloaks poured out, brandishing weapons. Rip sidestepped a flung javelin. The concussion gun leapt to his hand and he hip-fired, sending the closest warrior sailing back ten feet to collide with one of his companions. Both men went down in a tangle of broken limbs.
The display of advanced firepower didn't cow the group. They fanned out and charged. Rip had time for a second shot before ducking a wooden sword edged with shining obsidian. His attacker wore a 'helmet' fashioned from the stuffed head of some jungle cat. Rip jammed the gun barrel into his chest and pulled the trigger. At point-blank range, the concussion blast tore the warrior into two pieces.
Rip felt a sting in the side of his neck. He whirled, his fingers pulling out a barbed dart. Several feet away knelt a warrior with a blowgun at his lips. Rip raised the pistol
Another dart struck his unprotected hand.
He tried to throw himself flat. Halfway to the ground his muscles locked, and his chin rattled against the dirt. He couldn't move. The remaining warriors clustered around him. He felt his gun being wrenched away, and caught a flurry of words he didn't understand. His assailants sounded excited.
Strong hands grabbed him by the armpits, the ankles. He was hauled into the air. His head swam in lazy circles. He saw the tropical undergrowth sliding beneath his chest and the pyramid complex, growing closer and closer.
He didn't quite lose consciousness. Paralyzed, he couldn't move his head, but when his captors swung him around he caught glimpses that would make any temporal infractions officer crap his pants.
In a courtyard, several feathered warriors were inspecting what looked like a mortar. Cast in bronze, shaped to resemble the mouth of a fanged serpent, but still a mortar. An elite type wearing a headdress of eagle fathers watched nearby. He held a long-barreled musket at port arms.
Then up, up a steep flight of stone stairs. The pyramid, he realized. Two hulking warriors waited at the top, their faces hidden behind stylized masks of blue jade. After an exchange of words, one of them slung Rip over his shoulder and carried him down a short corridor. Rip's head swung close to a copper pipe bracketed against the wall. The metal clanked and shifted, expanding with what he guessed was compressed steam.
A grunt, and the warrior flung him onto a slab of hard stone. He could only stare up at the ceiling. A feminine voice nearby rattled a string of nonsense syllables, and something sharp jabbed into his left arm. Moments later waves of tingling pain radiated through his body, loosening the muscles in his shoulder and neck.
"Antidote seems to be working," came a familiar voice.
Rip managed to crane his head. A light-skinned woman in a diaphanous tunic stood next to the slab. Her face was hidden by a red jade mask depicting a startled feline, but Rip could never forget the swell of those generous breasts.
"Still thinking with your other head, I see." Serena Ludwig slid off the mask in a tumble of chestnut curls.
Despite himself, Rip had to choke back a sigh.
"Don't say it," she said. "I can tell by your stupid expression. You thought you'd ditched me somewhere back in the Dark Ages. Well, genius, I've got access to resources up and down the time stream."
Rip's vocal chords fought him, but he managed to croak out: "Last time we met, you were Morgan Le Fay."
Serena grinned. Even on the face of a backstabbing murderess, it was a lovely thing to see. "I'm Xochitl now. Goddess of the Spring Dawn, or something like that. You've already met my Ocelot Knights."
Rip forced himself up on one elbow. They were in a stone chamber lit by open skylights. A tactical ops of sorts, judging from the maps and charts spread out over several tables. The masked brute who carried him here sat a short distance away. He held Rip's concussion gun in a two-handed grip, the barrel level with his face.
"Ahuamapatolc knows how to use that," she said. "So no tricks like last time. You can only fool me once."
Rip forced his eyes from the gun. "Quite a setup you've got here."
"I like the climate better than England. We've been working the tech up slowly, using local materials. It's at the industrial level now. Steam, black powder, flush-toilets."
"Giving the Europeans a run for their money."
"Whatever you're doing has caused huge distortions in the time stream. The future"
"Has been made more amenable to the Company," she finished. "And the correct phrase is whatever I've done. You missed the game-changing moment by a couple weeks, buddy."
Rip's mouth went dry.
"That's right. You're too late." Serena plucked an obsidian knife from the table. She ran her thumb down the smooth blade, careful to avoid the edge. "These people are experts at flaying. It's amazing what they can do to a man and still leave him alive. I'm going to ask you some questions, and you're going to answer them. Truthfully. Otherwise..."
She snorted. "What, no 'do your worst?' No displays of machismo?"
"Stop gloating and ask your goddamn questions."
"Alright. Where's the Baryon Core?"
"Berlin has it. Safe."
Her eyes narrowed. "Last I saw the good doctor, he was leaking blood."
"I patched him up. Just like I did you."
"That would make him the first human being to survive an attack by one of my...associates." She frowned. "When is he?"
Rip shook his head.
"So now you show some balls?"
"In a short time, sister, this whole complex is going to be crawling with Infraction agents. The AI detected your tampering. Severn's sending back a strike team. I just popped in first for a little recon."
She snorted again. "Bullshit."
"How can you be so confident?"
"Because, by now, Severn's bowing and scraping to the Company. We've made changes to give us totalitarian control of the future."
Rip remembered the fanatical expression on his second-in-command's face. "If you've already established total power, why do you still want the Device?"
"You wouldn't understand. You're no scientist." The corners of her perfect mouth drew back in a sneer.
"I should just slit your throat."
"Tell me why, Serena. Why would you betray Dr. Berlin, everyone, for that machine?"
"It's not betrayal." She was snarling now. "I've been loyal to my cause from the start. The pursuit of knowledge. The only true human endeavor. Despite his brilliance, Dr. Berlin is too short-sighted to grasp the full ramifications of the Device. It can peer into any moment, Rip. Including the first few seconds of the universe's creation. The Big Bang. Now do you understand?"
Rip scratched the stubble on his chin. "Well..."
"Moron! All the secrets of existence are contained in those moments. Matter, energy, time. It's the blueprint for reality. To study it is to understand the machinery of the cosmos."
"And you want to do that for purely scientific purposes?"
"Those 'allies' of yours, the shadow-things. I suppose they want to have a look at that blueprint, too."
Her face contorted, flushing a deep red. "I'm done talking to you. And flaying your miserable skin would be a waste of time."
"What, no torture? You're not taking your job as villainess very seriously."
"On the contrary." She gestured to Ahuamapatolc, who approached Rip with gun held at the ready. "You're about to get acquainted with my Scorpion Pit."
They took his temporal manipulator. His cigars. Stripped him shirtless, then shoved him down a fifteen foot pit dug within spitting distance of the pyramid.
A rotten corpse broke most of his fall.
As soon as he struck, Rip willed his body to complete stillness. The pit's floor seethed and crackled. A living carpet of glossy brown carapaces, waving claws, and barbed stingers. He took a deep breath through his nose. Closed his eyes. A wave of the creatures scuttled up his bare chest. Deep breaths, he told himself. Don't give the little bastards any reason to sting.
They crawled over his face. His scalp. He could feel the tiny segments of their feet. The primitive part of his brain screamed danger, demanded movement, but he kept the impulse in check. Focused on his breathing.
He cracked one eyelid.
Above, casting long shadows down the pit, a pair of warriors ogled. He didn't see Serena. Apparently, she had better things to do than watch him die. Good.
He noted the position of the sun. Several hours until nightfall.
If Serena had filled the pit with army ants instead of scorpions, Rip would've been half-eaten by the time the sunlight faded. The two warriors had quit the spectacle hours before, probably thinking he'd broken his neck in the fall.
Still, he waited.
The scorpions had stopped paying him any special attention. They were old buddies by now. Half a dozen had parked themselves on his hairy chest.
Alright. Time for action.
It took at least twenty minutes to stretch and flex the numbness from his muscles. He moved carefully, watching his poisonous friends for any aggressive reactions. The hint of moonlight shining down the pit made them look like tiny gray sentinels.
He sat up. Half the scorpions tumbled onto his lap and scuttled away. The other half climbed onto his shoulders, his hair, for a better vantage.
He stood. Something crunched under the heel of his right boot. Sorry brother. The wall of the pit was less than five feet away. Swaying left, then right, he stepped towards it, conscious of the living minefield below. More crunches. He reached the wall. Moonlight and his fingers told him it was made from blocks of worked stone. Very sheer. Impossible to climb without hand and foot holds.
He reached down into his boot and withdrew the subsonic knife from its hidden sheath. Good thing Serena had left him his footwear. The micro-fine blade made no noise as he thumbed the power switch. Vibrating at several thousand times a second, it cut into the stone wall with minimal resistance. He shaved away a niche large enough to accommodate his toes, then began cutting a second a little farther up.
Half the night had passed. Rip placed his bloodied fingers on the edge of the pit and hauled himself out.
Anyone without the grip-strength of a rhesus monkey would've fallen. Exhausted, he lay back on the stone cobbles. A lone scorpion, his companion during the climb, crawled down his foreleg and scampered off.
Footsteps. Someone was coming.
He rolled into the shadows behind a stone column.
A masked sentry plodded past, his head drooping. Parrot feathers dangled from the barrel of his flintlock musket. Rip snaked out a forearm and snapped the man's neck before he could utter a sound. He dragged the limp body behind the column.
Minutes later, he stepped out wearing a blue jade mask and harness made from flayed ocelot hide. His bared skin was perhaps one shade lighter than the sentry's, but he hoped it wasn't noticeable in the moonlight.
The step-pyramid loomed to his right. To his left, a series of flickering torches lit the courtyard. No one else was in sight.
He needed to get out of here, but not without his temporal manipulator. And most certainly not without his cigar collection. The temple atop the pyramid seemed the best place to start. He mounted the steps and saw something he hadn't noticed earlier. A procession of European-style pikes had been wedged alongside the stairs, pointing upright at the starry sky. Flies buzzed around the shadowed lumps of flesh impaled at their tips. Each head wore a metal helmet with a peaked notch at the top.
You missed the game-changing moment by a couple weeks, buddy. Maybe Hernan Cortez was up there, somewhere. Maybe Serena had been waiting for him with a war party, when the first of his landing boats rowed ashore.
That would screw up the time stream, now wouldn't it?
A sentry sat on the topmost step, his back propped against the temple wall. Rip waved his hand in greeting as he approached. The sentry didn't respond. His face was hidden by a mask identical to the one Rip wore. After a moment, a faint snoring issued from under the jade.
Rip plunged the subsonic knife into his neck and left the body slumped there.
He padded inside the temple proper. Tiny gas-jets lit a hallway lined with stone cells. He thought he could hear the rumble of machinery, from somewhere deep in the pyramid's guts. A foundry? Steamworks? No time to investigate. The fifth cell he came across had an iron door barring the entrance, and a simple lock mechanism. The subsonic knife sliced through it like butter.
On the cell's floor lay Rip's coiled gun belt, concussion gun, temporal manipulator, and the small cedar box holding his cigars.
Heart pounding, he flipped open the box's lid. Dr. Berlin's Baryon Core was still there, nestled among the other Cubanos. Rip had wrapped it in tobacco leaves just before he left Havana. Just another stogie. A smile crept over his face, thinking how close Serena had been.
He strapped on the manipulator, his gun. Just as he was finishing a cry echoed from outside the temple. Someone must have found the 'sleeping' sentry.
He dashed out of the cell. Ahuamapatolc and three more heavies came barreling down the corridor he'd entered through, gripping concussion guns. Evasion seemed like a good idea. He sprinted deeper into the pyramid. A series of lefts took him to the operations room where Serena had conducted her interrogation. Thankfully, Xochitl, Goddess of the Spring Dawn, was nowhere to be seen.
"Simon Rip," hissed a voice.
He whirled. A pale outline in the shape of a man hovered over the tables. Shadow and gloom. One of Serena's extra-dimensional allies. The fact that it could speak brought hackles to the back of his neck.
The creature leveled a finger at him.
Rip drew and fired. The concussion gun's blast tore through the figure, churning it like a wind-gust through smoke. Maps and charts flew into shreds. But the shadow-thing only wavered for a moment, before its insubstantial shape began to draw together again.
Behind Rip came the war-cries of the Ocelot Knights, about to burst into the chamber.
He dialed the power on his concussion gun for maximum output. Aimed at the wall. The pistol bucked and blasted a ragged hole, showing starlit darkness.
Without hesitation, Rip leapt through the opening.
Copyright © 2011 by BEAT to a PULP