LNH/LNH20: Ultimate Mercenary #7 (3/3)

Adrian J. McClure mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Sat Apr 21 06:40:49 PDT 2012

Part 3 of Ultimate Mercenary #7 follows:

It was four rather disgruntled LNHers who walked up to the doors of
the LNHQ. "If this is still during the Leadership Crisis, I'll
scream," said Victoria.

"I don't think so," said Masterplan Lad. "Look."

The LNHQ lobby was packed full of sheep. A chorus of bleating rang
throughout the room. "Oh no," said Victoria. "We're in Mutton Mania."

"At least they won't recognize us," said Ultimate Mercenary. He took
off the beaglepuss and threw it in the trash. "We can baaaa."

"UM? Are you all right?" said Manga Girl.

"I guess so. I don't know what--baa! Baa! Baa!" He started sneezing
and then, in a puff of smoke, was transformed into a black sheep. He
thrashed around and baahed in protest.

Masterplan Lad smacked his forehead. "We couldn't possibly have gone
through a single crossover without a hitch, could we?"

"Oh great, what's happened now?" said Victoria.

"Well, Mutton Mania coincided with the beginning of the end of Saviors
of the Net. The Mechanical Author is in the process of taking over the
Looniverse and transforming it into an allegory. Since Ultimate
Mercenary uncritically follows the example of Ultimate Ninja, the
allegorical axioms that the Mechanical Author has imposed transformed
him into a sheep."

"Can we keep him this way?" said Victoria. "He'd probably do less

"Baaah," said Ultimate Mercenary resentfully.

"No!" said Manga Girl. "He's your teammate, and he saved all our
lives. OK, he did blow up the LNHQ once. But so did you!" Victoria
narrowed her eyes.

"And he's needed in order to save the universe from utter
destruction," said Masterplan Lad. "Although at the moment I'm not
entirely sure why. We'll have to change him back before we head to the
next crossover."

"Well, there's one thing that could help," said Victoria. "The
Reversion Ray Projector. It should still be in the LNH trophy room.
With all the distractions going on right now, it shouldn't be too hard
to get to it."

The three net.heroes and one sheep marched off into the trophy room.
The Reversion Ray was held under a glass case, between Dr. Killfile's
Kill-O-Ray and a giant canadian two-dollar coin left over from one of
Mirror Universe Canadian Spelling Guy's plots. Victoria carefully
removed the case and fiddled with the controls of the Reversion Ray,
pointing it at Ultimate Mercenary. "Let's see if I can remember how to
work this," she said. But before she could do anything, a horde of red-
furred sheep with hideous, sharp-toothed green heads thundered into
the room. Ultimate Mercenary, Manga Girl and Masterplan Lad were
knocked over by the horde of kicking, biting Vector-troll-sheep,
fighting back as best they could (which wasn't very well for Ultimate
Mercenary, considering he was a sheep and didn't have the advantage of
numbers). Victoria only had a few seconds to think of something before
they dragged her down to, and she didn't want to summon Arcanis if she
could avoid it. Not after the last time.

Then she saw the semi-transparent outline of a woman floating in the
air. It was the "guardian angel" who'd saved them earlier. It was
Lydia. She was mouthing something, but Victoria couldn't hear it. One
of the sheep screamed and leaped out of the crowd, baring its fangs.
Before it could, Victoria grabbed the reversion ray and pointed it at

The sheep stopped in their tracks as Lydia's shade began to glow with
a yellow light. It grew too bright to see, and when it faded a woman
stood there who was the same yet different. She was fuller-figured and
taller, and her hair was longer. She stood straight and tall, showing
a confidence far different from the awkward Lydia. She wore an elegant
dark blue outfit, a little like something out of a magical girl anime,
which was bordered by silver labyrinthine knotwork, and wore a silver
medallion carved with similar knotwork. In her hand she held a
crystalline staff.

"Lydia?" said Victoria.

"No. I remember being her, but... that's not my name. My name is Alice
Ashdown. Net.Access. I'm the link between every dimension of the

"You mean from the Kid Not Appearing in Any Retcon Hour Story
miniseries?" said Manga Girl. "Neat!  I thought they'd never follow up
any plots from that one!"

"How do you remember this stuff?" said Victoria.


The Vector-troll-sheep broke out of their perplexity and charged as
one at Net.Access. She clenched her fist and held out her left arm
with her forearm raised up. "Everyone close your eyes! Crossover
Summon: Shield of Perseus!" In a flash of light, a bronze shield with
a hideous withered head pinned to it appeared on her arm. The other
net.heroes closed their eyes before they could get a good view of the
head. The sheep weren't too lucky, and transformed into statues in mid-
charge. The shield flickered away and disappeared. "They'll turn back
in a bit, but it'll keep them long enough for me to send them away.
Crossover Labyrinth Turn!" There was a flash of bright blue light and
the sheep were gone. "I sent them off to alt.alien.sheep.baa.baa.baa.
That was easy enough..."

"Indeed," said a cruel, mocking female voice. Vector Time appeared in
midair. "Now that you've disposed of my corrupted clones, I shall
dispose of you once and for all." Ultimate Mercenary, baahing an ear-
splitting war-cry, charged her but found himself frozen in midair.
Net.Access stretched out her hand, ready to summon another weapon, but
her medallion sparked and it was Lydia who collapsed to the floor.

"You are exhausted after all you've faced. You've put up a good fight
but it's far, far too late. Now what shall I do with you? Shall I send
you to the beginning of time, to perish in the fire where the universe
was born? Or the end, to die alone in the cold and the dark?"

Manga Girl suddenly broke down and started crying. "No--please--no,
not the end! Not the end!"

"Then so be it," she said. "We will go where there is no more hope, no
more stories."

They felt a rush, as of a mighty wind, and they were standing on a
barren rock in the middle of the void. It was darker than the deepest
midnight of a new moon. There were no stars anywhere to be seen
nearby, only a ghastly dim light from the distant red-shifted echoes
of long-dead star clusters.

"Now you shall fall," said Vector. "I considered making your deaths
swift, but it would be far better if I left you here to know the full
depth of your hopelessness before you die. And then I shall have
dominion over all time itself--"

Then, in mid-rant, she realized they weren't alone. A humanoid form
had appeared behind them which glowed with a brilliant light. At first
glance it seemed to be vague and nebulous, but in fact it was made up
of countless forms of all imaginable species superimposed on top of
each other, flickering in and out.

"What are you?" said Vector defiantly, but there was fear in her
voice. "What makes you think you can stop me?"

=(I am Humanity)=, said the being. =(The sum of all that remains of
life in this world. I have not come to fight you. The time for war is
long past, for far too much has been lost. I have come to ask you a
question. What do you want?)=

"Power. Chaos. The destruction of all who oppose me."


Vector was silent. She hadn't been prepared for that question.
"Because--because-- Isn't that what everyone wants?"

=(That is what your maker, wReamicus Maximus, programmed you to
desire. Is it truly what you want?)=

"What do you mean? What else is there? I--don't play games with me,
creature! I can destroy you as if you had never been!" She reached
back into its timestream, but saw it was not one thing. Rather, it was
countless lives intertwined together. She saw all the love and grief
and desire and pain and joy, echoing and reechoing through countless
lives on countless worlds, the same and yet different. What she saw
was life itself, fragile and yet powerful. And she was awed. "You--I--
I had no idea--"

=(Now do you begin to see? I do not seek your destruction. I simply
ask that you consider what you truly want. What you can be.)=

For a moment, the woman who had a moment ago been Vector stood
silently, taking in the full depth of the timestream as she truly saw
it for the first time, her eyes wide with awe. "Then consider I
shall," she finally said. A cloud of the dust that whirled through the
dying universe took shape around her, becoming a tattered robe mottled
with unspeakable stains. The robe of the Time Crapper. She turned to
the five exhausted net.heroes. "Farewell. There is much that I must
learn. Perhaps we shall meet again." She snapped her fingers, and
Ultimate Mercenary was no longer a sheep. And then she was gone.

"That's it?" said Ultimate Mercenary. "We didn't even get a climactic

"I don't think we could have survived another fight," said Victoria.
"I'm glad that's all over."

"Ha!" said Manga Girl. She rubbed her hands together gleefully. "Do
you guys know where we are? Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour
Story! That's the same story you came from, Net.Access. It was
technically a crossover with Limp-Asparagus Lad, so I knew if Vector
tried to send us to the end of the universe we'd wind up here and
Humanity could bail us out. And she fell for it like a ton of bricks!
I was born and raised in the briar patch!" She waved at Humanity.
"Thanks, Humanity!"

=(You are welcome, daughter of creation)= he said. =(I know what
journey you are on and what you seek. There is one here who has been
waiting a very long time to meet you. But first, you deserve a moment
to rest.)= He floated off to speak to another hero who had just
appeared out of nowhere, presumably Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon
Hour Story.

Victoria looked around, confused and awed. Her obsidian armor almost
seemed to fade into the darkness around her. Then she saw Lydia, and
it finally struck her that she was alive. She ran up to Lydia and
hugged her tightly. Her face was wet with tears. "Lydia, uh, Alice!
You're alive! I--I'm so glad I didn't have to see another friend die--
I mean, uh, I'm glad you're alive."

"Thanks. I'm glad to be alive too, Varda. You can call me whatever you
want, I guess. Alice would be fine. I sure feel like I've fallen down
a rabbit hole." Alice smiled weakly.

"It's Victoria. Victoria Arden. But how--I mean, how are you
Net.Access? How did you end up in that other world? What happened?"

"Well, I think what happened is that at the end of my first
appearance, after our world was split into two worlds loosely based on
Marvel and DC and I was the link between them, I was stranded outside
of reality once they merged back together. But I didn't stay in Limbo
because of the nature of my powers, so I washed up in another writer's
subconscious. He wrote me into another series as Lydia Forward, and
then when that series fell apart I went through Limbo again and ended
up here. But I didn't have this before," she said, fingering the
medallion. "I have no idea what it even is. Maybe this'll all make
sense later."

"Maybe," said Masterplan Lad. "But I'm not terribly optimistic."

"Thanks for saving us!" said Manga Girl. "That goes for all you. You
guys are great. We've been through a lot together, and maybe it hasn't
all gone smoothly, maybe we blew up the LNHQ a couple of times. But we
also helped save the world even more times. That's all in the past. I
think we have a great future ahead of us--"

"Indeed." There was a man standing with them on the rock. He was
small, unimposing, and aged, wearing a conservative business suit.

"You!" said Ultimate Mercenary. "You're that weird old man who gave me
the Flute!" [In issue 2.] "Why didn't you help us out earlier?"

"I have to agree," said Masterplan Lad. "You're a pretty miserable
excuse for a cosmic protector. You haven't explained a thing."

"That's because it isn't time," said the Old Man. "I'm not just here
to protect you, Ultimate Mercenary. I'm here to prepare you for what
you must do."

"Which is?"

"You'll know when it's time. You are key to saving the world. Or
rather, you're The Key. There are two paths ahead of you. Whichever
you find yourself on, it will bring you both joy and sorrow. But do
not turn back and do not think on what you've lost. If you do, then
one day it will destroy you. And when you long for home, remember
this: you are already there."

"Wow, that was... um... vague."

"You'll understand one day, though only when it's too late. But I had
to warn you."

"Right. So can you help us get to the crossover?"

"I don't need to. Net.Access can bring you there."

"Wait a minute, who are you?" said Manga Girl. "I feel like I've seen
you before."

He smiled. "I've been called a lot of things, most of them far from
pleasant. Like all things, you'll know when it's time. Goodbye. This
is the last time I'll see any of you. But you'll see me again soon."
And then he was gone.

"Did I ever mention how much I hate time travelers?" growled Ultimate

"I thought you were a time traveler," said Manga Girl.

"Yeah, but not the kind who's always going on about vague timey-wimey
stuff." He sighed. "Let's get going, we've got a crossover to be part

They sat down to rest after the gauntlet of battles they'd run through
and sat down on the cold rock. "So how are we going to get there,
anyway?" said Victoria.

"I think the easiest way would be to shift directly into Hypertext
Time," said Alice. "Masterplan Lad could help guide us to the right

"Indeed," said Masterplan Lad.

"Uh, could anyone explain what that is?" said Ultimate Mercenary.

"It's quite simple, really. It's a very imprecise analogy, but think
of individual events in time as a series of web pages, where history
constitutes the links that bind them together. This means that, since
they aren't part of a single linear progression, the components of
history may not be entirely consistent with each other..."

"So basically it's an excuse for when the writers mess up continuity,"
said Ultimate Mercenary.

"More or less, yes. Organizations such as the Knights Temporal and the
Knights of Continuity must work to make sure that these different
'pages' are more or less consistent within a given world, so that time
doesn't disintegrate. If they failed, then they would become entirely
disintegrated. The universe could survive with no or minimal
continuity--as with the worlds of most fanfic groups--but it would
lose the sotrytelling potential that comes from dealing with decades
of history. And of course, the Internet is of its nature a highly
chaotic force, so the existence of a few comparatively ordered worlds
like ours is necessary to balance it. However, we also have to make
sure that continuity doesn't become so oppressive that it stifles

"Well, I'll pretend I understood that," said Ultimate Mercenary.

Alice held the amulet in her right hand and raised it in the air.
"Crossover Labyrinth Turn!" A burst of painfully bright blue energy
struck them. When it faded, they were standing in the same place, but
saw images of themselves nearby in a collage pasted together from
drawings in wildly different art styles, from bold, clean-lined and
expressionistic Silver Age-style art to dramatic and shadowy Bronze
Age art to murky photoshopped pseudo-cinematic Modern Age art. The
longer they looked at it, the more the different parts of the collage
seemed to shift and change. Masterplan Lad closed his eyes and pointed
his umbrella forward, and a glowing golden path appeared in the air.
They slowly and nervously walked forward along it. Alice, who had now
once more transformed into Net.Access, led the way.

As they walked further along the path the different parts of the
collage changed more and more rapidly and had less and less to do with
each other. They saw other figures, from Writer's Block Woman to
Shokk--The Electric, standing in their place. Different backgrounds
began to appear around the group of figures--the cities of Net.ropolis
and Sig.ago, the moon, an alien desert landscape. Before long the
parts of the collage stopped having anythign to do with each other at
all, a disjointed jumble of images that was painful to look at, though
there still seemed to be a sort of pattern to it.

The path took a sharp turn and they found themselves on what seemed to
be the edge of Hypertext Time. On their right was the enormous,
complex, jumbled, intricate pattern they had seen. On the left was a
blank expanse consisting of panels in a large, clearly decipherable
grid inhabited by stick figures. They saw superhero battles, romances,
exploding planets, birth, death, life. They could see the events in
the simpler grid reflected in the more complicated pattern. In the
center of the grid stood a stick figure with wings and a flaming
sword; opposite it was something they didn't even know how to

"What are those things?" said Manga Girl.

"Cosmic beings," said Masterplan Lad. "The embodiments of Simplicity
and Complexity."

Suddenly they drew back as the stick figure appeared in their path.
"Halt!" said Simplicity, in a thundering but nondescript voice. "I
cannot allow you to enter this crossover! It is complicated enough

Masterplan Lad stepped forward, looking it in where its eyes ought to
be. "You're probably right," he said. "Nonetheless, one way or another
this story must end. It's far too late to stop us here."

"No!" said Simplicity. "The Looniverse has grown far too complicated
for its own good ever since Beige Midnight stated! It is in danger of
collapsing under its own weight! I cannot allow this to progress any
further!" With that it raised its flaming sword and struck at them all
with a blast of fire.

Ultimate Mercenary's sense of fear and helplessness faded away and he
was filled with anger.  He gripped his sword and launched himself at
hte being.

"No, stop!" said Masterplan Lad. "What do you think you're doing!"
Ultimate Mercenary ignored him and tried to attack, but was held back
by the wall of fire.

 Victoria was about to scream, but made no noise. She was steadily
fading away from existence, until all that was left was a sort of
chalk outline, and what was within was constantly shifting. Manga Girl
had transformed into a literally two-dimensional drawing, which seemed
to be somewhat indistinct. Net.Access had transformed into a blue car
with knotwork painted on it and various Doctor Who-themed bumper
stickers on the back. The car revved up its engines and drove forward,
slamming against the wall, but to no avail.

Ultimate Mercenary stopped what he was doing and stared at the drawing
that had been Manga Girl. "Uh, hi!" he said, oblivious to anything

"Kawaii desu ne!" said Manga Girl. She winked.

Masterplan Lad tried to leave forward, but couldn't move a muscle.
"Wait, I understand what's happening now," said Masterplan Lad. "It's
reducing us all to our simplest components. Victoria was someone who
the Author originally had no idea who she was, so she's reverted to
that kind of indistinct state, and Net.Access was originally a walking
plot device designed to convey people between universes. And I seem to
be only able to exposit."

Ultimate Mercenary was shocked out of his reverie by Masterplan Lad's
words. "I--what? Oh. What are you going on about? I'm sick and tired
of exposition."

"Even I'm tired of exposition at this point, but we have to get out of
this somehow or you'll never get to your story and become a proper

He glared at Masterplan Lad. "Why should I trust you, anyway? That's
not what Ultimate Ninja would do. He wouldn't need any annoying cosmic
beings to help him stop other annoying cosmic beings."

"Yes, but you're not him. You're meant to be something different,
something just as important in your own way."

"No! I was meant to follow in the path of the Ultimate Ninja."

Masterplan Lad looked him in the eye. "Why?"

"I--I--I was raised to do it. I was raised in an altered timeline
ruled by the tyrant Apocalisp. The LNH was destroyed and broken but
its leader, Ultimate Ninja, fought on.  Eventually even he was killed
but one fan survived to carry on his legacy.  And that fan had a son.
And that son had a clone.  And that clone had another clone, and that
clone had another clone.  Finally, that clone had a son, and that son
was me. I was raised to keep alive the way of the Ninja when everyone
else had forgotten it." Ultimate Mercenary blinked, remembering the
horrors of his childhood. He felt a sudden stab of pain, and suddenly
things seemed much clearer, as if leaving a drunken haze.

Manga Girl stared at him, somehow affected by what he was going
through. She was no longer a paper cutout, though not quite a fully
realized perosn aiether. "That's it!" said Manga Girl. "If we focus on
everything that makes us complicated, all our pain and joy and
everything we've been through together, we can stop this thing!" She
turned to the outline Victoria. "Come on, please remember!"

She saw the outline of Victoria, appear. "No," she said. "No. I don't
want to remember. I'm so tired."

Ultimate Mercenary walked up to her. It hurt, like he was trying to
walk through a brick wall, but somehow he managed. "Victoria--I--I
can't say I understand but I've lived through the same things. I've
seen war too. I've lost my friends, the few ones I ever had. You don't
need to be afraid. You have to come to terms with all that without
letting it trap you. All the pain we've lived through can make us
strong once we've learned to face it. It's never easy. I--" It didn't
seem to be helping. He didn't know what to say. He tried to remember
the meditation techniques his master had taught him after his father
died. "Close your eyes. Breathe. Concentrate on the world around you
in the moment." This would help a lot better if they weren't floating
in some kind of bizarre other dimension. "Just try to forget about
everything, forget about the memories and forget about trying to
forget... just be." It sounded so pathetic, and he knew there was no
way he could do it justice. But it seemed to help a little bit. In a
few moments she had solidified and returned to herself, though still
visibly shaken.

"All right," said Simplicity. "Fine. Be that way. Just don't blame me
when the LNH gets so convoluted that even Saxon Brenton can't follow
it anymore." And then it was gone, and Victoria and Manga Girl were
back to themselves.

"Well, now we can finally get going, I suppose," said Masterplan Lad.
"Now that we're all back to normal--"

"Speak for yourself," said Net.Access, still in the form of a car.

"Oh. Well, I suppose we can get that taken care of once we arrive at
our destination. Everyone get onboard." Masterplan Lad got into the
driver's seat, and the others followed him. "Wait a minute," said
Net.Access. "Let me put on some music." Her radio flipped through
stations playing music from countless worlds, until it arrived on
Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild." "That's more like it." Blasting the
music at full volume, she raced off down the path through time.



And thus ends the original Ultimate Mercenary miniseries, at long
last. Of course, the storyline is far from over--I'll be wrapping up
the remaining loose ends of this series and explaining how Ultimate
Mercenary got to Earth-20 in Just Imagine, and I'll also eventually
write the Infinite Leadership Crisis issues that are hinted at here.
Right now, though, I'll be concentrating on the LNH20 stuff while I
desperately struggle to get caught up to where I should be.

Ultimate Mercenary created by Tom Russell, reserved by me, usable with
permission in LNH20
Ultimate Ninja created by wReam
Masterplan Lad, Victoria, Manga Girl, Arcanis and the Anonymous
Trenchcoater created by me, reserved. The original Manga Girl was
created by Tom Russell
Simplicity and Complexity created by me, free for use
Vector created by Rob Rogers. Her Time Crapper IV incarnation was
created by Saxon Brenton and is not reserved.
OMAR, Humanity and Net.Access created by Saxon Brenton. Humanity is
not reserved, OMAR is free for use, and Net.Access is temporarily
reserved by me.
The Universal Office created by Stewart Fyfe
Kiwis created by Ian Porrell.

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