LNH20: Ultimate Mercenary v20 #1
Adrian J. McClure
mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Tue Feb 28 15:58:25 PST 2012
Ultimate Mercenary v20 #1:
"Spot the Difference"
by Adrian J. McClure
Note: This story takes place a relatively short time before Menace #1,
and after the end of Just Imagine, whenever that gets written.
It was a bright and sunny day when Ultimate Mercenary found himself
back in Net.ropolis. It had been a long and strange journey to get
here, he thought. The last thing he remembered was setting out with
the rest of the Legion to battle a powerful and world-shaking, though
extremely silly even by LNH standards, foe, his good friend (but
regrettably nothing more) Manga Girl's sidekick/boyfriend Fuzzboy's
evil alternate universe counterpart Pope. And then... well, he
couldn't really remember just what happened next, other than that it
was very confusing. [Cf the Classic LNH Ultimate Mercenary series and
the tail end of Just Imagine--ed.] But now it was all over.
Still, something seemed wrong. He couldn't quite put his finger on
just what it was. This probably wasn't a post-apocalyptic future or a
mirror universe, as those never had weather this nice. There didn't
seem to be any invading alien ships looming in the sky or zombies
roaming the streets. Nevertheless, the city seemed different somehow.
Probably he was just being paranoid. After all, he'd just saved the
universe, or something like that. He couldn't wait to tell the LNH
about everything he'd done, as soon as he could remember what it was.
He walked up to the LNHQ and stopped dead in its tracks. It was
definitely different now. He'd never seen the LNHQ look quite like
this Art Deco edifice before. Of course, it was always changing forms--
back in the beginning it had looked like an upside down computer
terminal. But he hadn't seen this statue before either. It was a man
in armor that concealed his skin and face, holding a sword. He stood
inside of a broken circle. The plaque said: "LNH Setup Kid, ???-2007."
Ultimate Mercenary wasn't surprised to find another hero had died when
he was gone--he would have been surprised if there weren't more. He'd
never even heard of this one. Probably another Tom Russell creation,
then. But why wasn't this statue in the Hall of Lost Heroes with all
the other dead LNHers, and what did his name mean?
Well, Ultimate Mercenary decided, he'd figure it out later. He
confidently strode into the LNH lobby. He wondered if anyone would
even remember him now, other than Manga Girl. He also wondered why he
felt a faint twinge of loss and confusion when he thought about Manga
Girl. But there wasn't a single person here he recognized, not even
Cheesecake-Eater Lad or Sister State-The-Obvious. The room itself was
a little different too, and the crowd of assembled net.heroes was a
little smaller. Then again, the Writers had been talking for a good
long time about trimming down the roster. Or maybe everyone was away
on some crossover. As soon as he entered the building, everyone
started muttering and conversing excitedly.
He walked up to the desk. The receptionist, a tall and attractive dark-
skinned woman in a highly professional suit, wasn't any of the ones he
knew. "What's your name?" he asked her.
"I don't see why that matters," she said, her carefully neutral
expression unchanging. "Have you come here to join the Legion of
Net.Heroes or fight them?"
"I'm already a member."
"Hmm. I don't remember seeing you before. Name?"
"Let me see." She took a moment to type something into the PC on her
desk. "No, you're not listed in the roster. Let me call in Fearless
Ultimate Mercenary relaxed a little. He knew Fearless Leader, though
not that well. At least there was something familiar here. He took
another look at the crowd, trying to spot any familiar faces. Then he
Back when he'd been young, far in the future of some now-averted post-
apocalyptic timeline, one of LNHers whose memories had survived until
his time was a cat-girl named Panta. She was sweet and kind, apart
from the occasional lapse into berserker rage that any animal-hybrid
net.hero suffered from, and loved by all who knew her. [Ultimate
Mercenary was yanked out of time before Panta got retconned in Tales
of the LNH #370, and he also has an innate resistance to retcons for
fairly complicated reasons we can't get into now.--ed.] Even the
Ultimate Ninja himself, whose words and teachings had been kept by his
lineage after the LNH's fall, had spoken of her with some fondness.
Out of all the LNHers she had been one of the ones he'd most looked
forward to meeting when he'd traveled to the LNH's golden age. But
he'd never had a chance. Every time he was near her, he was too afraid
to talk to her. Now, though, he was a new man, a man who'd saved the
universe in some extremely convoluted way he couldn't remember. He
walked up to her and said, "Hi!" hoping he wouldn't regret it.
"Ohai!" said Panta. Her face lit up and her tail lashed around.
"Another newbie, huh?" She grinned and licked her lips in a rather
"No," said Ultimate Mercenary. "I joined a long time ago. You probably
haven't heard of me."
She frowned. "I know everyone here. Never seen you before. Must have
been before my time."
"I, uh, I've been away for a while. I think. So, uh... you're Panta,
She growled. It was louder and deeper than he expected. "Panta? Never
heard of her. My name's Pantra, with an R, and don't you forget it!"
"...OK." Come to think of it, she did look a bit different--her fur
was a little grayer, her features less human, and she didn't even have
human hair on top of her cat hair. Ultimate Mercenary didn't know why
he had mistaken her for Panta, other than that his memories were kind
of jumbled. He was getting a sinking feeling he'd fallen into a mirror
universe, of which the LNH had quite a few. "Um, nice to meet you." He
offered her his hand. "Are you a mutant?"
She took his hand and gripped it rather tightly, shaking it. "Nope.
You really want to know where my powers came from?"
She put her arm around his shoulder and whispered in his ear. He
became very conscious of her deep, musky scent. "I'm the last survivor
of a secret island of ninja that was wiped out by WHATEVER. I was
given powers by the Cat God to take revenge. Don't tell anyone." She
winked at him.
"I, uh, you're secret's safe with me!" Ultimate Mercenary wasn't sure
whether he wanted to draw closer to her or run for his life. Luckily,
the man who walked up to them made that decision unnecessary.
"Ohai, Felix! Here to break in the newbie?" This man was Fearless
Leader, all right, and he didn't look particularly evil. But he was
different. He wore a sleek, retro-futuristic uniform rather than the
90s-ish outfit of the Fearless Leader who Ultimate Mercenary knew. He
also looked a little younger, but his hair was pure white.
"Pantra, be nice," he said. She grumbled and slinked away from
Ultimate Mercenary. "See you round!" she said, waving goodbye. "Try
not to die, OK?" She smiled and licked her lips again. Ultimate
"Don't worry, you'll get used to her," said Fearless Leader. "Just be
careful. What's your name?"
"Ultimate Mercenary, sir," he said, putting on his best ninja manner.
"You're here to join, right?"
"No. I'm already a part of the LNH. Or at least, I thought I was. I'm
starting to think this isn't my world."
"Oh boy. Are you from another universe or the future?"
"I'm from the future, but I think it's not yours."
"Well, we'll get it sorted out somehow. Better call in the rest of the
'Council of Elders.'"
He led him to a sleek, spacious conference room where two other people
were sitting around the desk. One was a well-muscled man in jeans and
a faded, distressed T-shirt with "DN" in a circle on it, with a curly
strand of blue-black hair sticking out on his forehead. The second was
a distractingly beautiful, dark-haired woman in a white business suit.
They were animatedly discussing something, but stopped when Fearless
Leader entered the room. "Huh, they're all here already."
"Plot convenience," said Ultimate Mercenary. Fearless Leader gave him
a slightly confused look. "These are Doc Nostalgia and January Frost,"
"Sit down," said January Frost. Her voice was low and melodious. "Are
you here to join the Legion?"
"I'm already a part of the Legion, but I don't think this is my
Legion. I'm Ultimate Mercenary," said Ultimate Mercenary, wondering
how many more times he'd have to explain that.
Doc Nostalgia frowned authoritatively. "You're a ninja?"
Ultimate Mercenary stood as erect and proud as he could manage. "Yes.
I am a ninja."
"The LNH doesn't let in killers," said Doc Nostalgia.
"You mean like Pantra?" Doc Nostalgia gave him a particularly nasty
look. "I don't kill when I don't have to," Ultimate Mercenary added.
He hadn't actually killed anyone that he could remember since he'd
left his native timeline, but he didn't want to admit that.
"We don't know him well enough to judge yet," said January Frost. She
turned to Ultimate Mercenary and smiled warmly. "So tell me, who are
you? How did you become a ninja?"
"Uh. Ummm. I... I..."
Doc Nostalgia snapped his fingers. "She asked a question. What's your
"Oh, yes, origin. I... I've always been a ninja. I grew up on a world
that was ruled by ApocaLISP." Everyone looked a little startled at the
mention of that name. "I guess you all know who he is. He made a world
of never-ending war. In his world there weren't any more net.heroes or
net.villains, just warriors whose fighting devastated the whole world.
He and his Horsemen killed the entire LNH, even Ultimate Ninja." He
felt more proud and confident when he remembered the stories he'd once
been told, slipping back into the rhythms of the language as his
father had told him, and his father's father before him. "Of all the
LNH, he was the last who fell. The rest were slain by the Horsemen:
Flamewar, Virus, Lag and Censorship. He stood against them all and
fought for days and days. It ended when he struck Censorship down with
his sword at the moment the Horseman wounded him with his scythe. The
Ultimate Ninja was the only reason the human race did not die on that
"When he died, the Legion was lost. But he left behind a fan, who
trained himself in the ways of the ninja, took up his sword, and
followed in his footsteps. And that fan had a son. And that son was
cloned. And that clone had a son, who had a son. That son was cloned,
and he had a son. I am that son. I am the Ultimate Mercenary, last of
the Ninja, who held the line against ApocaLISP when all was lost."
The three stood silently for a moment and took in his story. When he
stopped speaking, he started to sweat and his heart beat faster.
January Frost was the first to speak: "What's your name? Your real
name, I mean."
"My name is Ultimate Mercenary. I don't need another name."
Fearless Leader spoke next: "Who's Ultimate Ninja?"
"Who... who... who's Ultimate Ninja? What do you mean who's Ultimate
Ninja? I thought every LNH had a version of him!"
"Apparently ours is different," said January Frost. She looked at him
with her gorgeous dark blue eyes, and he instinctively looked away.
"Tell me all about him."
"Yes. Ultimate Ninja was the greatest of all the Ninja," said Ultimate
Mercenary, slipping back into the language of the stories he'd heard
so many times in his childhood. "No one knows where he come from or
from what mother's womb he sprang or what name he was given on his
birth. Some say he was once a man like other men, while others say he
came down from the other side of the Fourth Wall, the incarnation of
wReam himself. He was the leader of the LNH in its greatest age,
"The leader?" interrupted Doc Nostalgia. "Your LNH was *led* by a
Ultimate Mercenary felt his hand start to shake. He gripped his
katana, drew it and started to polish it menacingly, as he'd seen
Ultimate Ninja do many times. "You... you... you dare to insult the
Ultimate Ninja? You have no conception of his greatness!"
January Frost cut off whatever Doc Nostalgia was about to say. "What
sort of leader was he?"
"He was... he was the best leader any net.hero team ever had. He could
take on anyone and win, and he could push people to their ultimate
potential. He could be hard on people sometimes. Well, all the time.
"He sounds like a dictator to me," said Doc Nostalgia. "A ninja
dictator. You're not from a mirror universe, aren't you?"
"I'll show you what it is to be a ninja!" said Ultimate Mercenary,
brandishing his sword.
"Ultimate Mercenary," said January Frost, "is this really what you
want to do? If you're trying to prove that ninja aren't barbarous
killers, this isn't the most productive way of doing it."
"Uh... yeah, right." He uneasily put away his katana, but kept his
eyes locked on Doc Nostalgia.
"Why don't you leave the room for a second while we discuss things?"
said January Frost. The doors opened, and Ultimate Mercenary
reluctantly walked out. The conference room was soundproofed but
luckily, with his ninja training, he could empty his mind and make out
what they were saying.
"I say we should send him to prison and take down the LNH from his
universe before they destroy us!" said Doc Nostalgia. His voice was
clear and booming.
"We don't know that for sure," said Fearless Leader. "Not all ninja
are killers. I think we should give him a chance."
"Our first priority should be getting him back home," said January
Frost. "I'd be very interested in seeing what his Legion is like.
Perhaps Kid Enthusiastic can help."
"Agreed," said Fearless Leader. "But what if we can't?"
"You know what I think," grumbled Doc Nostalgia.
"Well, I don't think he's so bad. He's got problems, sure, but who
doesn't at that age? He's got a chip on his shoulder, he thinks he's
got something to prove, and he's hopeless with women. You know who
that reminds me of? Me, back when I was starting out as a net.hero."
"Well, you didn't react quite like that when you first saw me," said
"That's because when you first got ahold of me, I was a burnt-out
wreck. If I'd met you when I was a teenager, I would have melted like
She laughed. "You needn't flatter me, Felix."
"I'm just telling the truth. Just ask anyone who knew me back then."
"Very well then. Let him back in."
The door chimed and swished open, and Ultimate Mercenary walked into
the room. "We've thought about it," said Fearless Leader, "and we've
decided we're going to try to get you home if we can and establish
relations with your Legion. But if you can't, we'll let you join on a
probationary basis." Doc Nostalgia said nothing, but the look on his
face made it clear what he thought. "Let's call in Kid Enthusiastic."
He pressed a button on his chair. In a few moments, a black-haired ten-
year-old boy dressed in some kind of padded power armor zipped into
the room on a flying Kirbytech skateboard. "Yatta!" he shouted, then
turned off the skateboard and did a backflip, landing on his chair.
"Hey guys," he said, " is this thing actually cool or is it too 90s?"
"Skateboards are always in style," said Fearless Leader. "So, we've
got a new net.hero who says he's from the LNH of a parallel universe.
His name's Ultimate Mercenary. Do you think you can use your dimension
scanner on him?"
"Well, I haven't quite got all the bugs in that thing worked out, but
I'm willing to try. Nice to meet you, by the way, I'm Kid
Enthusiastic." He shook Ultimate Mercenary's hand with predictable
enthusiasm. "Can I call you UM? 'Cause your name's kind of long. No
offense. My name's kind of long too, lots of people just call me Kid
"All right." Ultimate Mercenary found himself a little relieved to see
Kid Enthusiastic. He remembered him as part of his own LNH, though he
couldn't quite remember where. He was different, though. As much as
this Kid Enthusiastic babbled, he seemed more assured and mature
somehow. "Follow me!" He raced off down the labyrinthine hallways that
were almost but not quite the same as Ultimate Mercenary's home. UM
followed, gasping for breath, while Fearless Leader walked behind him.
Kid Enthusiastic led them into an enormous room which was crowded.
Some of them were large and convoluted and elegantly clunky Kirbytech,
some of them had the sleek and retro aesthetic that seemed to
predominate in so much of this world, some were a bizarre mix of
styles. A few seemed to be made of clockwork, and were glowing with an
In the middle of the room was what looked like an enormous, bright red
clock covered with particularly complex patterns of Kirbytech. Its
numbers were glyphs in a language UM had never seen. Surrounding the
clock were automata of brightly-colored alien figures mounted on
platforms, who battled in a swift and strangely beautiful dance. When
the clock struck, a red dragon emerged from the door on top and sang a
"What... what's THAT?"
"That? We call it the God Clock. We unearthed it about two years ago
and I've been studying it ever since. It inspired a lot of the weird
new technology I've been building. We think it's counting down to
something, but we don't know what." He led Ultimate Mercenary to a
large Kirbytech box twice as tall as he was, with a chair in front.
"Sit down. Don't worry, it won't hurt. Well, it probably won't. Not a
lot. It might be a little hard to take, though..."
He sat down in the chair, and Kid Enthusiastic snapped clamps on his
arm and pulled several enormous levers, straining visibly. "OK, here
For a moment, Ultimate Mercenary felt as if he was floating in
nothingness. It was a dreadfully familiar feeling. The only thing
there was a swarm of little black dots surrounding him. He tried to
scream, but couldn't hear the sound of his own voice. Soon he found
himself back in the room and heard his screams. "Sorry," said Kid
Enthusiastic. "It kind of does that sometimes... Anyway, according to
these readings... Huh. That doesn't make sense."
"What doesn't make sense?"
"It says that this is your native universe. You're from here."
"What? No, that doesn't make any sense. This isn't my world. This
isn't--unless--" He had a horrible thought. What if, during the time
when he was outside of time for some reason, the LNH had been
revamped? What if they'd jettisoned all the characters that belonged
to inactive writers? No. The Ultimate Ninja and Cheesecake-Eater Lad
and the rest couldn't have been wiped from existence. They weren't.
They had to be somewhere...
"We don't know if this is accurate," said Kid Enthusiastic. "I mean,
you're giving off lots of Kurtzberg radiation. That's probably messing
with the sensors. I don't know if they know about it in your timeline.
It's some kind of dark matter or dark energy, and it's been steadily
increasing here ever since the Killfile fell..."
"You mean the Power Kirby? That's what we call it," interrupted
Ultimate Mercenary. He didn't have the energy to ask about the
Killfile. After everything he'd been through, which he mostly couldn't
remember, he wanted to rest more than anything else in the world.
"Let's not load him down with any more explanations," said Fearless
Leader. "You look like you need some rest. Let's find you some guest
Leaving Kid Enthusiastic in the lab, Fearless Leader guided Ultimate
Mercenary to an empty and spartan bedroom. "See you tomorrow," he
said, the door closing behind him. Ultimate Mercenary collapsed on the
soft bed, felt his fear and anxiety start to wash out of him, and
cried himself to sleep.
Next: Will magic succeed where science failed? Can Professor Penumbra
help UM get back home? Well, of course he can't, that's not due for
quite a while yet. But what kind of new problems will his failure
cause? Will there be an actual fight scene? Will Ultimate Mercenary
actually do something? Tune in next time to find out! And watch out
for the Classic LNH's Ultimate Mercenary #7, which answers some
questions about how UM ended up in this world, as well as raising a
few new ones.
Ultimate Mercenary created by Tom Russell, reserved by me, usable with
permission. All other characters are general use.
Fearless Leader created by Dave Van Domelen and me
January Frost created by Tom Russell and me
Doc Nostalgia created by me
Pantra created by Lalo Martins.
Kid Enthusiastic created by Andrew Perron.
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