LNH20: Ultimate Mercenary v20 #4
Adrian J. McClure
mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Wed Aug 1 22:10:05 PDT 2012
Ultimate Mercenary v20 #4:
"The Calm Before the Spoon"
by Adrian J. McClure
Ultimate Mercenary was startled awake by a harsh beeping noise. He felt a stab of panic as he realized that, somehow, something had gotten into his room. He pulled out his sword and elegantly sliced the enemy in half. As the lights automatically flipped on and he wearily opened his eyes, he realized it had been an alarm clock.
He had no idea how long he'd slept (especially since he'd just destroyed the clock), though he was pretty sure it was shorter than yesterday, or at least he hoped so. His muscles still ached from all the stress he'd been through, including yesterday's battles. Maybe today would be quite so hard difficult.
He dragged himself out of bed and, after several wrong turns, made his way to the LNH cafeteria. The cafeteria, at least, was pretty much the same as the one he knew, except that all the familiar faces were gone. It was a little eerie, though, to visit the cafeteria and see not a single cheesecake. "C'mon! Bacon and fried calamari for breakfast?" said a Legionnaire he didn't recognize.
"It's a perfectly ordinary @lantean recipe, C'Mon," said You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad. "Su is the heir of a line of cooks that goes all the way back to ancient @Lantis before it rose into the air. They've preserved recipes that the rest of the world has forgotten about. Come on, give it a shot."
"OK,' said C'Mon, reluctantly acknowledging that YNHMHE-Lad had out-c'moned him. Ultimate Mercenary absent-mindedly grabbed a plateful of the same food, not really caring what he was going to eat as long as he ate something. He searched around for a table to eat at. He'd be eating alone; that, at least, would be the same.
He was about to sit down alone at a table when he saw someone waving at him enthusiastically. He blinked and turned around, almost dropping his food. It was an East Asian girl who couldn't be any more than twelve, with incongruously bright red hair. She was younger and didn't look like an actual cartoon character, but there was something about her that reminded him of Manga Girl. He hurriedly turned around and tried to find somewhere to sit, but almost all the table was occupied. At the nearest table, however, there was only one person: Pantra. She was greedily and loudly scarfing down an enormous pile of various kinds of meat.
Ultimate Mercenary nervously sat down beside her. Absorbed in her breakfast, she didn't seem to notice him at first. He looked at her, unsure of how to start the conversation. She noticed him, looked into the eyes, and said nothing. They warily eyed each other for a few moments that seemed to stretch out forever.
Then the silence was broken by a blueberry pie that whacked Ultimate Mercenary right in the face. From across the room came the exultant shout of "Food fight!" The cafeteria had broken into chaos as food whizzed through the air from all sides. Some things never changed. He looked around to try to see who the culprit was, but there were so many people and he knew so few that he didn't even know where to start. Then he narrowly dodged a flying plate of scrambled eggs. He realized that whoever it was hadn't intended to hit him; he was just collateral damage. No one here cared enough yet to antagonize him for his own sake. Well, he'd make them care.
He grabbed the fallen pie from the floor and sneaked off into the sidelines of the battle, seeking someone to attack. He saw Kindle engaged in combat with two others, then threw the pie right at her face. She fell to he ground and the other two hit her. "All right, you whippersnapper, you're going down!" said Kindle. She raced across the room like a furious wildfire and Ultimate Mercenary ran for his life. He wasn't expecting quite this much challenge. He grabbed some fallen sausages on the floor and started whirling them around like a nunchaku, but she dodged his every strike, barely even slowed down. He found himself beside Pantra's table again. "Pantra! Help!" he shouted.
"Hmm? What was that?"
Kindle grabbed a pie from a nearby table and tried to nail him in the face. "You've got to help me! She's a demon!"
"Why should I help you? You don't need anyone's help, you're a ninja." She smiled evilly and licked her lips.
He didn't even know what to say. Kindle was still in front of him, fighting more relentlessly than ever. She launched the pie at his face, and he ducked. The pie smacked Pantra right in the face. She bared her teeth at Kindle and let loose a terrifying roar. Then she picked up the meat and started pelting Kindle with it like a machine gun. Ultimate Mercenary grabbed some of the meat and joined in. Kindle stumbled to the floor and swifly exited the room, panting for breath, as Pantra let out a roar of triumph.
"Good work," said Ultimate Mercenary. "I think we can take the rest of them out together, and then we'll face each other. Deal?"
Pantra grinned. "Deal." They launched into battle together, staining the clothes and wounding the pride of many of their teammates. It was the most fun Ultimate Mercenary had had in a battle since... well, maybe it was the only time he'd ever had fun in a battle.
Then a sudden hush fell over the room. A tall, dignified, tan-skinned Asian man in a crimson and gold robe walked into the room. This could only be Su himself. "Gentlemen," he said. "Do you have any idea what you're doing?"
"Uh... fighting?" said C'Mon.
"Let me tell you a story," said Su. "Once upon a time, in the height of @Lantis's power, there lived a prince of a mighty province. His mother had heard in a dream that, should he ever gain enlightenment, he would shake the thrones of the gods themselves. So he was raised in the lap of luxury, and his parents did their utmost to keep him from seeing the realities of war, loss, and death. And so he lived, happily but dully, for many years until one day a cook prepared a dish for him. The dish was so delicious that he lost all sense of his consciousness and surroundings and transcended the world around him, and achieved enlightenment. And so he left the life of a prince behind and fled to a neighboring land, seeking training as a chef. He traveled all the world, finding knowledge of all the most delicious recepes. When he returned he founded an order dedicated to finding enlightenment through cooking, which would make good food that even the poor could afford. Before long the people found more truth, beauty and wisdom here than in the greatest of the temples.
"The priests of the old gods then began to take notice. They attempted to make their own food and to drive our founders out with onerous regulations and inspections, yet we perservered. Before long we began to grow into other cities throughout the world, and the name of our founder became greater in @Lantis than that of all the gods. Some of them tried to strike down the @Lanteans for abandoning them, but our power and knowledge held them back. A few of the lesser godlings even joined us.
"But then, as we grew in power, our members became as rich and as complacent as the priests we had once stood against. Soon other kingdoms, hoping to take power from @Lantis, converted to our faith, and the winds of war began to rise. They used their knowledge of the culinary arts to make terrible weapons, and we responded in kind. To our everlasting shame, we forged the most terrible of them all, which escaped from our control and slew friend and foe alike: the International Solstice Pudding. This was the beginning of the end of @Lantis. Only the capital city survived, taking to the skies to escape the accursed earth. A few survivors of our order fled to the highest mountains, where we hid even from the people around us for centuries, keeping to ourselves.
"In recent years, our long exile ended when our sages determined that a new age was beginning, a time when the fate of the world lay in the balance. One of us would have to go out into the world to teach them our ways, and I was chosen. And now I find that people do not appreciate the food for its own sake, but once more use it as a weapon in conflict and strife." He shook his head. Then he smiled, taking two apple pies from the counter. "Oh well. As they say here, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." He threw the pie across the room into Pantra's and Ultimate Mercenary's faces, sending them collapsing to the floor. Then he raced across the room, splattering everyone around him with lightning speed, until he had felled everyone. "I trust you will be more appreciative of my food in the future," he said, but his smile was not unkind.
Ultimate Mercenary was shaking with anger. "Just you wait!" he said, shaking his fist. "We'll show him one day, right, Pantra?" But Pantra seemed to have forgotten about the whole fight and was licking the food off her fur. He sighed and headed back to his room, still as hungry as ever.
"Hey, UM!" said someone behind him, tapping him on the shoulder. He whirled around and saw it was Professor Penumbra.
"What is it?" he growled.
"Well, I'm going out on a mission and I thought you might want to come along and observe. It should be pretty simple. It might help you settle in a bit and see how things are done here."
He found himself smiling. At last, something was going right! He'd finally get a chance to show them his courage and heroism.
"No trying to prove you're a hero," said Professor Penumbra. "You're still getting to know this world. You're just here for observation and backup. Got it?"
"Oh," said Ultimate Mercenary. Still, it was better than hanging around the headquarters all day and getting into food fights. "So what kind of thing is it?"
"Well, a student at Net.ropolis City College just turned up dead. He was literally ripped to shreds in the middle of the night by something or other. It smells like magic to me. It should be pretty simple. I figure you might be good to have along because of how you handled the Headhunter, and you've probably had some experience with dimensional travel, if it comes to that."
He had to admit that he never liked magic. It refused to make sense, even by the standards of this world. Still, at least it would be easier to deal with something that wasn't supposed to make sense in the first place. "All right."
"But first you should probably take a shower," said Professor Penumbra. "I mean, you can't sneak up on people if you smell like a garbage dump."
"I guess so," said Ultimate Mercenary. He hurried back to his own room and stepped into the shower. He checked carefully to see if there was anyone around and slowly and hesitantly checked around to see if there were any attackers. He gradually peeled off his costume and let the water wash into his skin, sloughing off the tension, nervousness, and excitement he'd built up over the last few days and leaving him, momentarily, at peace.
The city was desolate and empty. Rust and dirt covered everything. In the streets, walking corpses shambled by, crying out for flesh. There was only one living being in sight--Pantra. She struck them down and ripped them to shreds, one by one, though she seemed to make no dent in the zombie hordes.
January Frost walked into the Peril Room, and the zombies stopped in their tracks. "Hey, what happened? I was just getting started!" She looked at Frost and growled.
"Ah, you're running the zombie apocalypse simulation this time, I see." She looked down at the corpses and realized that they all bore a marked resemblance to Doc Nostalgia.
"Never hurts to try something different sometimes. So what do you want, Hot Stuff Lass?"
"I want to talk about Ultimate Mercenary."
Pantra blinked. "Who was he again? Oh yeah. The ninja kid." She smiled. "I can't wait for the rematch."
"I've noticed that you seem to have taken an interest in him."
"What? Oh, yeah. He's fun to play with."
"I just wanted to warn you that he's still somewhat unstable and hasn't fully adjusted to this world, and he doesn't seem to be very emotionally mature. You ought to be careful not to excessively antagonize him, and it would be highly inadvisable at this point to make any advances towards him."
"Advances? You mean--" She smirked, licking her lips. "Yeah, that might be fun too. Maybe it'd help him loosen up a little bit. Thanks for suggesting it!"
"No. I--listen, Pantra, he's still quite confused and vulnerable and had a highly repressive upbringing. It might help him 'loosen up,' yes, but it could also have a catastrophic impact. Your dynamic seems to be highly volatile."
"Why do you care?" She looked January Frost in the eye and licked her lips. "You're not _jealous_, are you?"
"What?" She rolled her eyes, and Pantra laughed. "Oh for heaven's sake. Not only are you too young, I have no desire to be involved with anyone who is so utterly lacking in common sense."
"You're an immortal witch. Everyone's too young for you, even Felix."
"I don't see what Fearless Leader has to do with any of this."
Pantra grinned maliciously and nodded. "I thought I was supposed to be the one who's lying all the time."
January Frost groaned. "Never mind. I--it's a moot point, anyway, because we have a mission for you."
"There are reports of a team of teenage net.ahumans active in Oregon. The authorities consider them criminals. We don't know at this point whether they're heroes, villains or somewhere in between. We're sending you to track them and report back. If it becomes necessary for one of us to contact them, they would relate better to someone who is--or appears to be--their age and also has recurring problems with authority."
"Yeah, so you're getting me out of the ninja kid's way, huh? That works. I hope he's ready for me when I come back."
"No, that isn't it at all. I think you and he have a lot to offer each other. Just be careful, please." January Frost groaned again, instantly realizing the futility of giving Pantra such a suggestion. It was a shame she couldn't think of another member around their age who could effectively mediate between them and balance them out. She turned her back and walked out of the Peril Room.
An armored car sped through in the city streets of Net.ropolis. A few Network drones disguised as birds were flying in the air above, watching out for superhuman threats. This wasn't just any delivery, the car was ferrying a highly sensitive artifact recovered by the Network to the US ambassador. They didn't notice a man standing in the window of a condemned apartment building, watching the car intently.
He was tall and dark-haired, dressed in a long labcoat. He wore black goggles which hid his eyes. He stood stiffly and silently, barely moving at all except for tapping his fingers. In his right hand he held a clear blue marble. For a long time he'd been waiting, setting up every part of the plan to make sure everything worked, checking and rechecking. Now it was time.
He opened the window and dropped the marble onto the fire escape ledge, where it rolled down. It flew off where the raling had been twisted into the apartment, shattering the window and knocking down a pile of carefully arranged debris which collapsed in a domino effect, finally knocking over a tin can. The can clattered out the open door and fell down the stairs, knocking over other pieces of wood and rubble which in turn started other chain reactions. Three cans rolled out the window, cans which had been fitted with dimensional destabilizers. The cans collided in the middle of the street just as the armored car went by, creating a flash of energy. The car and all its contents were gone as the Pseudocsicence Police who were escorting it looked around in confusion. Dr. Contraption smiled. The plan had been effective, though a little simpler than he would have liked.
He was about to teleport out when a black bird soared in through the window above his head, startling him from his thoughts. It was some sort of cormorant, but he could see metal circuitry shining beneath its feathers. The cyborg cormorant dropped a letter it had been holding in its claws and flew out the window, its missin accomplished.
He carefully picked up the letter and, opened it. It didn't explode. It was written on stationary bordered by vines, which after some examination he recognized as belonging to nigella damascena, love-in-the-mist. The letter inside, written in an elegant and old-fashioned hand, read:
"Dear Dr. Contraption,
"In my experiments with dimensional travel, I have discovered the presence of a powerful extradimensional anomaly with the potential to reshape the world. This anomaly has arrived at the LNHQ and will likely become another member of the Legion. I submit that we set aside our differences for the moment and investigate it further, taking any action necessary to neutralize it."
"Interesting." An ectactic smile began to break his impassive expression. "This definitely sounds like it bears study."
Somewhere along the line my idea of Dr. Contration's character changed. Originally he was a more stereotypical mad scientist, but when I wanted to introduce him properly I decided he should be more of a Light Yagami-like master manipulator, and his previous personality was more like the other mad scientist I'd had in mind for WHATEVER, Dr. Googolplex. Blame the Retcon Balls.
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