LNH20/Repost: Ultimate Mercenary v20 #3

Adrian McClure mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Wed Jul 25 04:30:30 PDT 2012

Ultimate Mercenary v20 #3:
"Don't Lose Your Head"
by Adrian J. McClure


"So the evidence is clear!" said Doc Nostalgia in the conference room.
"Ultimate Mercenary is not worthy to join the LNH!"

"Bullcrap," said Pantra. She was fidgeting in her chair, more
energetic than ever now that Kindle had healed the cut on her arm.

Doc Nostalgia gasped and looked her in the eye, his face clenched in
fury. "Net.heroes shouldn't use that sort of language!"

"Maybe net.heroes shouldn't try to kick other net.heroes off the team
'cause they lose one fight!"

"But you beat him fair and square!"

"Maybe I did, but he put up a pretty good fight for a bit. I say he's
got potential. Let's keep him around. He could be fun." She smiled and
licked her lips, momentarily showing her fangs.

"Pantra has a point," said January Frost, her normally calm demeanor
visibly strained. "She has very few sparring partners who can keep up
with her in training, given how... intense... she can be. I see a
similar intensity in Ultimate Mercenary. I'll admit he's rather
unstable and difficult to deal with--though not without reason, given
what we've seen of his background--and he probably shouldn't be used
on any field missions for some time, but..."

"See? If even Hot Stuff Lass admits I've got a point, you know I'm
right!" interrupted Pantra.

"What about Agent-M?" said Doc Nostalgia. The look on Pantra's face
made it clear what she thought of her teammate.

"Agent-M isn't around much of the time," said January Frost. "As of
now she's on a mission to investigate WHATEVER's recent cloning
experiments, but she's encountered rumors of an alien invasion, so
she's investigating that instead. I don't know how soon she'll be able
to report back."

"Why the crap do you think so many aliens want this planet, anyway,
after the mess you people made of it?" said Pantra. "I say we get out
of here as soon as we can. Let them have it."

"We're not changing the subject!" said Doc Nostalgia. "We shouldn't
let him join this team under any circumstances! It would be an utter

"And I'm not changing my mind!" said Pantra.

"I think you're just taking a contrary position to get on my nerves!"

"Well, yeah, of course I am, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong!"

"Everyone, please!" said Fearless Leader. "Let's table this question
until Professor Penumbra's figured out whether we can send him back or
not." He looked at Doc Nostalgia. "We could have a whole new Legion to
deal with, and they wouldn't be too happy if we mistreated one of
their members."

"I guess you have a point!" said Doc Nostalgia, though he didn't seem
too pleased with it.

Ultimate Mercenary was also in the conference room, but he wasn't
speaking to anyone else. He hadn't seemed to notice Kindle enter or
leave. He stared at the walls, facing away from the others.

"Where's Adam, anyway?" said Pantra, her tail twitching impatiently.
"It's not like him to be this late."

"He's preparing a fairly complicated rite," said January Frost. "He
should be done any minute now--"

"Hi everyone!" said Professor Penumbra. He was sitting next to
Ultimate Mercenary. No one had heard him come in.

Pantra nearly leaped out of her seat. "Gah! Don't do that! You'll give
me a heart attack!"

"You look healthy enough to me," said Professor Penumbra. He nudged
Ultimate Mercenary. "Are you ready to begin the rite?"

"I guess so." He glowered beneath his mask. "You'd better get me

"I hope I can, but I can't guarantee anything. Still, if we can't get
you back, at least we can figure out why. Let's go."

"One of  us will have to remain in the conference room in case Agent-M
reports back," said January Frost. "Otherwise we'd have to interrupt
the ritual, which would probably not be advisable."

Fearless Leader nodded. "I think I'll go watch over this. Let's hope
it goes smoothly." He knocked on the conference table.

"That won't work. It isn't wood." January Frost smiled.

"Oh well. Pantra, you should probably stay behind too."

"Is that an order, Felix?" She smiled and licked her lips.

"Yes, that's an order." Fearless Leader walked out of the room, and
Pantra bounded after him. He slapped his forehead but said nothing.
Ultimate Mercenary was already getting tired of marching through the
endless twisting corridors, both similar to and completely different
from those of the LNHQ he knew.

Professor Penumbra led them to a nondescript brown door far into the
depths of the LNHQ. He pulled a blue crystal key out of his pocket and
placed it in the lock. There was an eerie humming noise and a bright
light shone from behind the door, which swung open. "Welcome to the
Atelier Penumbra," he said.

The cramped, dusty, poorly-lit room was packed with all kinds of
artifacts--crystal skulls, ancient tomes, statues of Elder Gods, a
stuffed crocodile or two. They were stored on surprisingly neat
shelves. It was far more well-organized than Ultimate Mercenary
expected a wizard's workshop to be. There was a large table with
carving implements, blank books and pens, as well as a bulky and
antiquated laptop computer covered in stickers with various arcane
symbols. Beside the table was a large corkboard pinned with articles
from newspapers ranging from the New York Times to the Mid.Net Star,
joined together by threads of different colors. He didn't know if the
colors meant anything.

Pantra coughed violently. "Sorry about the dust," said Professor
Penumbra as they walked into the room. "I don't have as much time to
keep this place clean as I'd like. Don't touch anything!" Pantra had
already wandered off from the group, her eyes caught by the light
glinting off one of the crystal skulls. She slowly reached her hand
out and picked it up. Then the yellow skull began to glow and a
horrible noise rang out through the room. A vague phantasmal figure
appeared in midair and pointed with its long fingers, screaming
something in an alien language. Pantra let the skull go and leaped
back, crouching down to pounce. Professor Penumbra dropped his cane,
ran to the skull and spoke some words in what sounded like the same
language while making an arcane hand gesture. The skull faded and fell
down, and Professor Penumbra grabbed it before it could hit the ground
and carefully placed it on the shelf. "Well, let's hope that's used up
our quota of incidents," he said.

Kid Enthusiastic walked into the room. "Hi Adam! Did I miss anything?"

"Nope," said Professor Penumbra. He hurried back to his desk and
opened the laptop, evidently a Unix machine, and typed some commands
into the window. A glowing blue window appeared in midair. He looked
at the readout and smiled. "Looks like it's ready." Closing the
laptop, he took them to an empty part of the room, which seemed to
stretch off for a good while. The graphic novel had been placed in the
center of a circle marked in red chalk on the grey stone floor, with
five candles placed around the circle's edge. An antique wooden chair
stood beside it. "Just sit in the chair and I'll finish the rite. This
won't hurt but it might be a little disorienting." Ultimate Mercenary
stepped gingerly around the glyphs and sat down on the chair, which
creaked under him.

"Everyone be quiet," said Professor Penumbra. "I'm going to perform
the rite." He drew a sword from his cane; it glowed with a pale blue
light. He traced a symbol in the air with his sword while making an
arcane gesture with his left hand. "By the All-Seeing Eye of Eagle, by
the Gargantuan Guardians of Google Groups, show unto me the world from
which this man comes!"

The lights above flickered out and everything went dark, except for
the faint glow of the candles and the crystal skulls. Ultimate
Mercenary felt as if he was dreaming again, pressed down by the
crushing weight of sleep, and couldn't move or speak. A cold wind blew
from the darkness, snuffing the candles. The only light remaining was
the crystal skulls, which flickered and glowed brighter. Within the
darkness of the room grew a greater darkness, and something was moving
within that darkness. In the distance Ultimate Mercenary heard a deep,
low, ragged breathing. It was a noise he knew all too well.

A creature was slowly approaching through the darkness. Ultimate
Mercenary knew that he'd seen something like it before not very long
ago. He'd fought it and barely escaped for his life. But why did this
one seem smaller than the last one he'd fought? Outside the circle,
Pantra had fallen into a crouch and raised her hackles. She was
screeching and gibbering in the way cats do when they're scared for
their lives. Doc Nostalgia stood paralyzed with terror. Fearless
Leader looked cautiously into the darkness and put his hand on the
sleek silver ray-gun holstered at his side. Kid Enthusiastic gasped
when he had a clearer view of the creature. Its face was a distorted
version of his own.

Professor Penumbra walked into the circle, holding the sword in front
of him, and turned to face the creature that was heading towards them.
"By the Hand of End-Nodens, Lord of the Abyss, I abjure you: what is
your name and what do you seek?"

The creature turned its head to Professor Penumbra and spoke only one
word: "JUDGMENT."

The wind grew in strength, smashing the book against the wall and
knocking Professor Penumbra off his feet. The red chalk marks were
blown away. The creature stepped out of the darkness into the room.
Ultimate Mercenary knew instantly that he'd faced its kind before. It
was a Headhunter. He wanted to warn them about it, but he couldn't
bring himself to open his mouth.

Fearless Leader drew his gun, turned a knob on its side and blasted at
the creature with bolts of painfully bright green light. Even at its
highest setting, the gun didn't even make the creature flinch. It
lashed at him with its claws and he dodged out of the way, but it tore
his uniform. Pantra screamed and leaped at the creature before it
could attack Fearless Leader. She dug her claws into its back and it
roared, trying to shake her off. Ultimate Mercenary finally jumped off
of his chair and drew his sword. "Be careful!" he shouted. "That
thing's a Headhunter!"

The creature shrugged off Fearless Leader's blasts, tore Pantra off
its back, and turned its head to Ultimate Mercenary, fixing it with
its gaze. He felt the world grow dim around him. There was no point in
fighting any more. His world was gone, and soon he would join the

A rough animal scream tore him out of his daze. The creature turned,
shocked, to see Pantra biting its leg. It stared long enough for
Fearless Leader to tackle it from behind. Ultimate Mercenary knew he
had to be the one to stop it. He drew his sword, but felt a hand
touching him from behind. He turned around to strike at it and saw it
was Professor Penumbra. "You've faced these things before?" he said.

"Yeah. I don't remember much about them. They're called Headhunters.
They're servants of the Anti-Moderator, created from the tortured
souls of a dead Earth. They're not connected to the Hungry Past
anymore, and I think the Anti-Moderator is dead now, so they shouldn't
be as powerful as they were the last time I fought one. But they're
still dangerous." He blinked. "I don't remember what any of that

"The Anti-Moderator... interesting. I thought that was only a legend."

"Interesting? Interesting? If we don't stop that thing, it'll kill us

"Listen. I have a plan. Kid Enthusiastic and I already built a trap
for Elder Spawn and suchlike entities, but we'll need some time to
tune it up. Kid E's already gone to fetch it. I can only cloak us from
its perception for so long. Do you think you can help hold off that
thing long enough for us to get it?"

"I hope so," said Ultimate Mercenary. He drew his sword and joined in
the fray, hacking at the creature, taking care not to hit Pantra and
Fearless Leader. His sword strokes seemed only to enrage it, but at
least they were keeping it off balance, preventing it from striking a
killing blow against the other two. He wondered how a creature no
larger than a child could stand up to all three of them at once. Then
Fearless Leader collapsed to the ground and the creature thrust the
other two away with his tiny arms, flinging them against the walls.
They quickly recovered, but it was too late. The creature reached the
door of the Atelier Penumbra and ripped it off its hinges.

"This isn't good!" said Ultimate Mercenary. Pantra only growled. The
creature strained against a glowing blue webwork that covered the
door. Before Pantra and Ultimate Mercenary could catch up with it, it
burst through into the hallway. The lights flickered out and the
creature roared in triumph.

Ultimate Mercenary and Pantra leaped after it and struck at it
simultaneously. He rummaged around in his ninja utility belt and
yanked out a smoke grenade, but it burst in his hand before he could
hit the creature. Pantra coughed and lost her footing. The Headhunter
lashed out at him with its claws and gripped his throat, pushing him
to the floor. He closed his eyes, denying it the victory of its awful
gaze. Hopefully it would be quick, and the others would come in time
for Pantra to be safe.

Just then he saw twin lights in the darkness and heard a humming
noise. The creature turned around. Kid Enthusiastic, mounted on his
skateboard, and Professor Penumbra were facing the creature. Kid E was
holding something that looked like one of the Ghostbusters' proton
packs, while Professor Penumbra was holding a sword pointed at the
creature, with an open crystal box in his left hand. "By the Mighty
Manacles of the Moderator, I bind thee!" he intoned, as red light
burst from both weapons and trapped the creature in a web. As the web
drew tighter, it shrunk and was drawn into the box, which shut with a

"Good work, people." said Professor Penumbra. "'Kid Eldritch' here
shouldn't be a problem. We can study it now." It pushed against the
box, screeching in a high-pitched voice. "We'll have to figure out how
to soundproof this thing, though"

Pantra coughed and tried to wipe the demon-gunk out of her skin.
"Sorry, Pantra, it'll probably take several showers to wash off that
ichor," said Professor Penumbra. At the mention of the word "shower,"
she gave him an absolutely hateful glare. Then she saw Ultimate
Mercenary and put her arm around his shoulder, squeezing him tightly
and digging in her claws a little. He flinched. "That was great!
Thanks for helping me fight that thing."

Ultimate Mercenary found himself smiling beneath the mask. "Really?
Uh, thanks. And thanks for helping me, too."

Pantra licked her lips and purred quietly. "I think we could be a
pretty great team, kid."

He ducked out of her grasp and glared at her. "I don't need a team.
I'm a ninja, a champion of the night. We work on our own."

"Yeah? You mean like the one Fearless Leader told me about, who used
to lead your Legion?"

"He helped the Legion, but he never needed them. He never needed

Pantra growled and stuck her tongue out on him. "We'll see how much
you don't need me the next time I kick your ass in the Peril Room,
kid." She turned around and bounded off down the hallway, apparently
oblivious to everything she'd just been through.

Fearless Leader walked out of the Atelier Penumbra, clutching his
head. Doc Nostalgia followed ruefully behind him. "Great Curt Swan's
Ghost!" he said, glaring at no one in particular. "I was completely
*useless* against that weird creature! How could it sap my willpower
like that?"

"Dealing with Elder Spawn is difficult at the best of times," said
Professor Penumbra. "I've had a considerable amount of training and
experience with them. Actually, we were pretty lucky in terms of who
we had on call. Fearless Leader's faced them before too, and he's had
some meditation training that made it easier, though it was difficult
even for him. Pantra can suppress her higher cognitive functions and
run on almost pure instinct, which means that they present less of a
cognition hazard to her. And Kid Enthusiastic... Part of the reason
these entities are so difficult to deal with is that they present a
threat to our understanding of the world. But Kid Enthusiastic's is
much more fluid, because he's literally an eternal child. That's part
of why he's such a great scientist. The rest of us have to work hard
to keep seeing the world with new eyes, but it comes naturally to
him." Kid Enthusiastic grinned. "And Ultimate Mercenary has apparently
faced this specific kind of being before and knew firsthand it could
be defeated. That makes a lot of difference. Don't worry about what
happened; it doesn't make you cowardly or weak. I knew a lot of good,
brave people who wound up in mental hospitals clawing their own eyes
out. Failing a sanity check is nothing to be ashamed of."

"Penumbra's right, Doc. I'm going to be seeing that thing in my
nightmares for weeks. So what was it, anyway?" said Fearless Leader.

"It's something called a Headhunter," said Kid Enthusiastic. "We're
still trying to determine what it is."

"Seaking of which," said Professor Penumbra, "given his performance
against the Headhunter, I'd like to recommend Ultimate Mercenary for
full membership in the LNH."

Fearless Leader smiled. "Duly noted." Doc Nostalgia grumbled.

"So I guess the ritual didn't work?" said Kid Enthusiastic. Ultimate
Mercenary felt his stomach lurch. He'd completely forgotten about what
he'd actually come here to do.

"I'll have to check the readings on the laptop," said Professor
Penumbra, "but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say that, in very
broad terms, the universe wants him to be here. And if it would summon
up an entity like that to keep him from leaving, it must have a pretty
good reason."

"We'll figure it out later, don't worry," said Kid Enthusiastic. "And
then maybe we can get you back home, UM." He jumped on his skateboard
and flew off.

Fearless Leader walked off. Ultimate Mercenary was about to follow him
when Professor Penumbra gently touched his shoulder. "I need to talk
to you in private," he said.

Ultimate Mercenary glared at him. "You failed. We don't need to go
through this again."

"I was thinking, there's one more thing I could do. I could try to
contact your Writer. You see, I know this is kind of hard to explain,

"I know what the Writers are."

"What?" Professor Penumbra's jaw dropped, then he smiled. "Wait, does
everyone in your world know about the Writers?"

"Not really. But most net.heroes do, and a lot of scientists and
mages. And other people who are being written about regularly."

"Makes sense. Practically no one does in this universe. Well, there's
Minority Miss, my 'sister'--she has the same Writer, Lalo Martins.
Ever heard of him?"

"No. I was in Limbo for two long stretches. He must have been around
in one or both of those."

"Well, he's Pantra's co-creator too. You can thank him for her." He
smiled gently.


"She's probably not Writer-aware herself, though. Kid Enthusiastic may
be a little bit, though, I don't know. But I wouldn't mention the
Writers too much. People are confused enough already right now."

 Ultimate Mercenary nodded. "I don't think I can handle any more magic
stuff today."

Professor Penumbra rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out a bar
of Divine chocolate. "Here, take this."

Ultimate Mercenary picked up the bar suspiciously. "What is it?"

"It's a perfectly ordinary fair-trade chocolate bar. You haven't eaten
in a while, have you?"

Ultimate Mercenary ripped the wrapping off the chocolate bar and
greedily gobbled it down. It felt like the most delicious thing he'd
ever eaten in his entire life. "I... I... I'm sorry I couldn't kill
that thing. I know I did before. I think." [It didn't quite happen
that way--see Ultimate Mercenary v1 #6.]

"Well, standing up to it for as long as you did was pretty
impressive," said Professor Penumbra. Ultimate Mercenary suddenly
realized how tired he was. He thought about whether he needed food or
sleep more, and reluctantly decided on sleep. "I'm going to bed."

"Makes sense. See you whenever."

"Wait a minute. There's something that doesn't make sense. I think
most of the Headhunters came from a timeline that branched off from
mine in 1997. [Jesse Willey's Hell's Titans series, as seen in Flame
Wars VI.] But in my world, Kid Enthusiastic wasn't around until 2002.
So... what if someone or something is making _new_ Headhunters?"

"Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. You should probably
get some sleep." Professor Penumbra walked back into the Atelier.
Ultimate Mercenary hurriedly turned his back on it and wandered off to
his quarters. He wasn't sure he'd be able to find them, but within a
few moments he realized that somehow he'd come to the same room. There
was nothing of his own he could put there yet to make it his except
for his utility belt, which he reluctantly took off and put on the
dresser. He hadn't had many possessions in his old room either, but at
least there he had some posters of Ultimate Ninja. He wouldn't be able
to find them in this world, except for those awful movies.

So his second day in this world was over, he thought as he lay down on
the bed. At least he knew he was here for a reason... but what was it?
He could remember standing in a void somewhere with four other
net.heroes beside him, facing an old man. The old man was giving him a
warning. He knew what the old man had said was terribly important, but
couldn't remember what it was. Then again, would it even make sense if
he did? Probably not.

But he knew one thing. He knew the people of this world didn't know
what a ninja truly was, and he knew he was the only one who could show
them. Once again, he was the last one left to bear the legacy of
Ultimate Ninja. He would make them understand what that truly meant.
And maybe someday he would be ready to whip this team into shape


Notes: "Atelier" is a French word for an artist's workshop. It's also
the title of a Japanese RPG series which I vaguely know through

In the Real World, crystal skulls are pseudo-Central American hoaxes,
but on Earth-20 they're real and probably connected with @Lantis

End-Nodens is named after Nodens, Hunter of the Abyss from Lovecraft's
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, who guards humanity from
Nyarlathotep and the spawn of the Old Ones, and the End Node Problem,
which according to Wikipedia " arises when individual computers are
used for sensitive work and/or temporarily become part of a trusted,
well-managed network/cloud and then are used for more risky activities
and/or join untrusted networks. (Individual computers on the periphery
of networks/clouds are called end nodes.)" (I'm not really computer-
literate, I just knew that "node" was a computing term so I looked
around for something that could serve as an appropriate pun.) It can
be inferred that he guards the interface between the known multiverse
and that which lies "beyond the fields we know." Nodens was loosely
based on a Romano-British deity who is the counterpart of the Welsh
Nudd or Ludd and the Irish Nuada, both of whom were said to have a
"Silver Hand," thus the Hand of End-Nodens.

Next: Well, now I now the futility of writing next-issue blurbs, given
how much difficulty I have gauging what would fit within a
(relatively) short issue. So next issue is probably something about
WHATEVER, as well as UM trying to adjust to his new world. Also be on
the lookout for UM Classic #7, which should help some of the things in
these last few issues make a little more sense (or maybe not), and
LNH20CP #15, which represents a major turning point in the life of
Ultimate Mercenary!

All characters in this issue are General Use unless noted. (Gee, I
wonder how many blatant mistakes I'll make this time?)
Ultimate Mercenary created by Tom Russell, reserved by me, usable with
Fearless Leader created by Dave Van Domelen and me
January Frost created by Tom Russell and me
Doc Nostalgia and the various mystical entities Professor Penumbra
invokes, except for the Moderator, created by me
Kid Enthusiastic and Kindle created by Andrew Perron
Agent Mephitidae created by Anrew Perron and Ted Brock
Pantra created by Lalo Martins and May Fonseca
Professor Penumbra and Minority Miss created by Lalo Martins.
The Moderator and the Anti-Moderator created by Martin Phipps
Headhunters created by Jesse Willey, used with permission. Kid
Eldritch created by me, reserved.
And on the classic LNH end of things the original Manga Girl and
Fuzzboy were created by Tom Russell (forgot to mention them last
time), Anything-You-Can-Do-I-Can-Do-Better Lad by Slash Maraud
(ditto), and Ultimate Ninja by the inimitable wReam.

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