LNH20: Ultimate Mercenary v20 #5

Adrian McClure mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Tue Mar 31 07:57:52 PDT 2015

Ultimate Mercenary v20 #5

"Car Wars"

by Adrian McClure

PREVIOUSLY; Ultimate Mercenary was stranded in Earth-20 with little to no
idea of how he got there. Having joined this world's LNH, he sets out to
explore Netropolis alongside the team's resident mystic, professor Penumbra…


Ultimate Mercenary was lost.

He thought back to how he'd ended up like this. He'd set out that morning
with Professor Penumbra to explore the city. It was just supposed to be a
training mission—he'd follow along, observe the more experienced hero, get
a sense of how things worked in this world.

He couldn't really remember what the mission was about. After the food
fight that morning, he'd been feeling good—maybe better than he could ever
remember in a long time—but by the time Professor Penumbra had dragged him
outside, he'd felt lost, disoriented and confused. Somehow he'd completely
missed the explanation. All the new sights and sensations of this world
were just too much to take in. The thing that really surprised him was that
*smell* of this world was different—just different enough to throw him off.
As a ninja, he'd been trained to use his senses to their fullest extent,
which was a great advantage in tracking enemies, but right now they were
giving him more information than he could handle.

And this was probably the longest time he'd spent outside of the LNHQ ever
since he'd become an LNHer. Any LNHQ. In his own world, he'd spent more
time enforcing Ultimate Ninja's will within the LNHQ than traveling outside
of it. Even in postapocalyptic alternate futures or alternate timelines,
somehow, he always wound up being drawn to it.

But now he was out alone in the city, with the LNHQ nowhere in sight. He
still didn't know the map of downtown Netropolis (it was still hard for him
to think of it without the period) or how to get around it. Every block had
a Queequeg's or a Roy Thomas's. After a while, they all started to blur
into each other. (Queequeg's was a national coffeeshop chain native to this
universe which bore absolutely no resemblance to any national coffeeshop
chains named after Moby Dick characters in the Real World. Roy Thomas's was
a chain that served mainly coffee and donuts that was everywhere in the
Netropolis area and nowhere else. Whenever Netropolis changed location, a
thousand Roy Thomas's popped into existence in the surrounding area, and
immediately disappeared when it left. Whenever you ate at one, Professor
Penumbra had said, you knew what you were getting—they were awful in a
refreshingly reliable way.)

He'd been following behind Professor Penumbra, listening to him tell
everything he knew about Netropolis and its history… and then he got
distracted by the sex shops. They were everywhere. NWhen the Killfile had
happened and the net.heroes weren't around anymore, Professor Penumbra had
told him, the city had fallen into disrepute and decay. Now that they were
back, development was happening all over the place, but the remnants of the
old seedy blue-collar part of the downtown had never quite been swept away.
Here there were clock towers and other architectural flourishes from
buildings that had been done away with several rennovations ago. The
inexorable march of development hadn't found this city quite as easy to
grind under its heels as some others, Penumbra had said: "She's a stubborn
one, this city. And she doesn't have a lot in the way of shame."

So, the sex shops. After nervously walking past several run-down ones, he'd
found himself gawking outside a quite fancy upscale one called "Desire:
Netropolis's Finest Romance Botique," which was quite a fancy sounding for
an establishment that had torture equipment in its front window. Racks and
manacles. Ultimate Mercenary was worried at first—were there supervillains
here? Would they really advertise themselves that openly?—before he
remembered that people used that sort of equipment recreationally too. By
then, though, he'd lost sight of Professor Penumbra.

For a while, he'd walked down the street, taking in everything he saw and
trying to figure out where his companion could have possibly gone.
Eventually he came across an occult store—a "Spiritual supply shop," the
sign said—right across from a Catholic bookshop. In the window he could see
a plant that seemed to be growing tentacles that waved slowly in the air.
That was likely to be where Penumbra had ended up—but, even with his most
advanced ninja lockpicking techniques, he couldn't open the door.

Ultimate Mercenary racked his brains trying to remember what he was
supposed to be doing. He'd picked up a lot of what Professor Penumbra had
said, but not that. In the end, trembling with guilt and shame, he decided
he would go home… if only he had the slightest idea how to get there.

He grabbed a passerby, a young man who looked like he might be a college
student. "Hey!" he shouted. "Do you know how to get to the LNHQ?"

"You look like you'd know better than I would." He yanked himself away and
hurried off into the street. Everyone else stared at him and kept a wide

Ultimate Mercenary sighed. The best thing to do, he decided, would be to
call a cab and head back there. He watched as several of them sped up on
seeing him. Waiting, he sank into hopelessness, until a red car drew up and
screeched to a halt. "Hey, kid," said the driver, pulling down the window.
"You going to get in?"

"Who are you?" Ultimate Mercenary snapped to attention.

"I'm Jessica Hernandez, the greatest cab driver in Netropolis, and don't
you forget it."

"All right." Ultimate Mercenary. got into the seat beside the driver. The
interior looked worn and beat up—but then again, that was a sign of its
sturdiness. This looked like the kind of car that could withstand a flood,
a nuclear war, and an alien invasion all happening at once.

"Where to?" said Jessica. Her dark hair was cut short and she wore blue
jeans and an old-fashioned newsboy cap.

"The LNHQ."

"OK! Are you a net.hero or a net.villain?"

"What? Why would you help a net.villain?"

"I gotta pay the bills somehow, kid." She drove off into the downtown as
Ultimate Mercenary looked out the window, gawking. "You're new here, huh?"
she said.

"…yes," grunted Ultimate Mercenary.

"This city takes some getting used to. Hell, I grew up here, and I'm still
not used to it."

"I'm a ninja," said Ultimate Mercenary, "I can handle anything."

"Sure you are."

"Hh." Ultimate Mercenary glumly stared off into the distance while, unknown
to both of them, a dark-winged cormorant trailed the air above them.


Sitting in his chair in the Twisted Library, Acton Lord watched the cab on
a viewscreen. He sipped on a glass of absinthe—a trifle pretentious,
perhaps, but it was a family tradition.

"Dr. Contraption," he said, speaking into the phone. "I have tracked the
anomaly and will soon capture it. Remember, our deal was that I would be
allowed to study it first, as my grasp of interdimensional phenomena is
vastly ahead of anyone in your organization. In return, I will aid you in
overthrowing that antiquated revenant Ultravac and taking control of

"Yes indeed!" Dr. Contraption cackled and hung up. Acton Lord well knew he
couldn't trust Dr. Contraption in the long run, but that did not concern
him much. Dr. Contraption was a talented young upstart with a great deal of
potential, but Acton Lord had been practicing the art of evil plotting for
a very long time. It was in his blood.

He hung up the phone and put in a call to MEGA. This was one of the more
interesting currents of corruption that flowed through his city. It was a
startup which crowd sourced transportation, employing drivers directed by
their app as "independent contractors" who lacked union membership or
benefits. It also had a sideline in assassinations.

"Hello? This is Acton Lord. Yes, that Acton Lord. I would like seven units
sent after Ultimate Mercenary—a net.hero. He is currently taking a cab past
the intersection of St. Lawrence Street and Bartels Rd. Bring him to the
abandoned warehouse at 5762 Hardy Boulevard. I want him alive." He hung up.

"Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!" squawked the cybernetic cormorant that
perched on the viewscreen.

"Quiet! You're a cormorant, not a parrot."


Acton Lord sighed. "I'm going to have to upgrade these things, aren't I?"


Daniel Ellis sat and waited for his instructions. He'd taken up work as a
driver for MEGA, along with three other jobs, to pay his rent while he
tried to start up his career in freelance art. It wasn't a difficult job,
but it was a little on the boring side. Sometimes he found himself blacking
out, not really having any memory of what he'd done for most of the day.

He looked at his phone, mounted on the dashboard of his car, to see what
his directions were. The app screen flashed red. A spark of energy shot out
of it, making the car vibrate. Daniel quivered and abruptly sat rigid.

"DESTROY," he said.

His car glided off through the streets. His movements driving it were stiff
and robotic, almost as if the car was driving him. Six others followed
behind, following Ultimate Mercenary.


They'd gone off the downtown, taking a twisting path of side roads that,
according to Jessica, was the quickest way to avoid the traffic. "Okay,"
she said. "We should be there in a couple minutes…" Ultimate Mercenary
realized abruptly he didn't have any cash and couldn't pay the fare. He
didn't even know what money on this world looked like. There was some
change left over from his world in his utility belt, but he had no idea if
President Lincoln had the same number of heads here. Hopefully Fearless
Leader or someone could pay the fare for him when he got back.

Then Jessica looked into the mirror and tensed. "Oh shit. We're being
trailed. OK, hold on tight. Good thing I got this cab modded. There's all
kind of hypertech lying around this city. When the Killfile happened, it
was useless and people just abandoned it for the taking. I installed an
engine from one of hte Net.tastic Nine's databuses…" She flicked a few
switched on her dashboard. "Solar batteries to power, turbines to speed…"

The cab roared and dashed down the sidewalk, then drove right up the side
of a building. Ultimate Mercenary's stomach lurched. The seven cars that
had been following them glowed red and then floated up into the air. "Well
shit," said Jessica. The cab rushed to the top of the building, then
abruptly dove down the wall, landing back on the sidewalk with a nasty
thud. One of the cars that had been following them crashed into the roof
and exploded (leaving David Ellis injured but alive and very confused on
the roof), but the others were near on hand.

"Don't worry," said Jessica. "Pretty sure we can take these things."

The cars whirred and transformed into giant robots. "Well, double shit."

"I'll take this." Giant robots he could handle. They weren't so different
from the ones he'd faced in PE class in the post-apocalyptic future
timeline he came from. He unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the window, and
flipped on top of the car, drawing his katana. He'd received ninja training
from the greatest martial artists of his age; he could definitely fight on
top of a moving vehicle… he was *pretty* sure he could fight on top of a
moving vehicle…

He only just dodged the incoming fist of the robot. In spite of being
vastly outnumbered, he was oddly relieved—this was the kind of threat he
knew how to take. Hitting the robot at its exact vulnerable spot, he sliced
its hand off, shooting sparks into the air. The robot struck at him; he
ducked out of the way and cut one of the cables on its leg, but then he
slipped on a dent in the car roof and lost his footing…

They were passing a construction project, where workers were struggling to
fix a hole in the street left by a supervillain battle the week before.
Ultimate Mercenary found himself falling right into it. He fell into the
fetid sewer water with a splash and the current bore him away…

The robots stopped in their tracks, shifted back into car form, and glided

Jessica looked down and frowned. She had to save the kid… but even she
wasn't crazy enough to go into the sewers. He was on his own. She clenched
her teeth and drove off. "Can't win 'em all, I guess…"


NEXT: The strange secrets of the sewers!

Note: I'm almost done with Just Another Cascade #12 and wrote this issue as
a break from that. I think the rhythm of writing shorter, more focused
issues in between the longer ones works well for me and I'll keep doing
that in the future. Also, I'm trying to get LNH20 started up again, and
I'll aim to write an issue of this per month.

Netropolis has aspects of every city, but the part of it we see here is
more or less based on the part of Toronto where my sister lives. Roy
Thomas's is based on the ubiquitous Canadian chain Tim Horton's. (The
estimation of his quality does not represent my opinion of Roy Thomas as a
writer, although he can always be relied on to bring in unnecessary
retcons.) The Spiritual Supply Shop, however, is from my hometown.
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