JUST ANOTHER MULTI-WRITER CASCADE THAT WILL PROBABLY NEVER HAVE AN ENDING #1.NOW (#4)
(aka ALL-NEW BIRTH OF A VILLAIN NOW NOW NOW)
"Everything Dies, Nothing Ever Ends"

★★★★

Usenet is dead, to begin with. That much, everyone can agree on. But there are a few corners of it that still cling to fitful life. One of these is alt.obituaries, where the dead come to pay respect to the dead.

In the LNHQ of the city of Necropolis in alt.obituaries, five men are gathered. They call themselves the Saviors of the Net.

"Penultimate Savior?"

"Present."

"Occultism Lord?"

"Present."

"Continuity's Champion?"

"Present."

"Kid Remender?"

"Present."

"Then that is all of us," said Irony Monger. "Now for business. Looniearth-A is having a major crisis. Again."

"When isn't it?" said Continuity's Champion.

"Well, yes," said Irony Monger. "But the way things are now, we cannot afford to let it continue. The balance of the Usenetverse is—"

"Ahem," said Occultism Lord.

Irony Monger sighed and snapped his fingers. A nickel shot out from his gauntlet and landed in the Cosmic Cliche Jar.

"Well, the point is... well, Penultimate Savior, you show us."

Penultimate Savior nodded. A cloud of black smoke with stars sparkling within took shape at the center of the conference room, and an image began to appear inside...

★★★★

The beat up VW bug shimmered into existence like heat haze on the Net.ropolis streets, then screeched to a halt and slammed against the wall. Victoria Arden, otherwise known as Forsaken Lass, jumped out. The sunlight was bright but gave no reflection off her obsidian armor.

"You okay?" she said, touching the car gently.

"I've been worse," said the car, its radio speakers crackling. "I kept some healing spells stored up from when I was in magical girl form just in case." She glowed and vibrated for a brief moment, and then was more or less as good as new.

"We made it!" said Manga Girl, leaping out of the car and doing a triple backflip in midair. "I think?" She looked around her, trying to take in their scenery. It seemed to be Net.ropolis as usual, although the streets were oddly empty. Again.

Masterplan Lad was the last to leave the car, clutching his head and using his umbrella to keep himself from teetering over. "Yes, it would appear that, miraculously, we have finally caught up with the present day LNH. I assume this means something else will go horribly wrong soon."

"Well, we didn't all make it," said Net.Access.

"Yeah," said Manga Girl. It was the first time Victoria had seen her frown since she could remember. "Any of you figure out where Merc is? The last I remember we escaped the Crossover Queen [Ultimate Mercenary v1 #7], then you dropped him off in the middle of that Hungry Past mess and you said he wasn't part of our world anymore... [in Just Imagine, whenever we get that sorted out.]"

Masterplan Lad frowned. "I know. I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of him. Continuity is a powerful force. I... I do hope so."

"Yeah," said Victoria. "I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the guy."

Masterplan Lad nodded. "At any rate," he said, "at least now I can tell where in my own timeline my stories are supposed to be taking place."

"Yeah," said Victoria. She looked around. "Uh... what are we actually going to do now that we're back?"

Masterplan Lad shrugged. "Go to the LNHQ, I suppose, and... join in on whatever is going on there, I suppose. As one does."

Manga Girl threw up her hands. "Let's go to a PARTY!"

"Er, what?" said Masterplan Lad.

"I'm not up for that right now," said Victoria. "I... kind of just want to rest for a while."

"I'm game as soon as I figure out how to not be a car again," said Net.Access.

"Well—" said Manga Girl. "Wait, where is everyone? And what happened to the sky?"

The sky, which they'd thought was simply gray and overcast, had turned into static. From all around them they could hear the hissing of a dead signal.

"Not this again!" said Victoria. "I thought we were home!"

"I think we are," said Net.Access. "It's just... some kind of cosmic distortion... thing. I have a lot of technical knowledge."

A horde of dark squarish shapes appeared in the sky and descended to the earth. They were gigantic cans of Spam with googly eyes affixed on them. "Sexe boobs!" they chanted as one in harsh metallic voices as they crashed to the Earth with a mighty clang. "Sexe boobs! Sexe boobs!"

"Spambots!" said Manga Girl. "Let's mobilize!" She flipped in midair and knocked the eye off one of them, sending it groping around confusedly, then finished it off by slamming it against the wall with a mighty kick.

Victoria suddenly felt herself panic when the Spambots lurched for her. She was tired of all this. She wanted to be alone, where she could be safe. And then, suddenly, she was. She could see the fight going on in front of her—mostly Manga Girl, as Net.Access swerved around trying to run into them and Masterplan Lad stared—as if from inside a tank of water. But it didn't quite feel real. None of the other seemed to notice her absence. And it was an awfully familiar feeling. Somehow, she realized, she'd teleported back to the Threshhold of Limbo, the place where characters went when no one remembered them, where she'd been sent by the Discomega Effect of Flipseid. She thought she heard something whispering from her side. It was Arcanis, the entity in the form of a sword she'd grabbed in the Crossover Queen's Citadel she was apparently stuck with.

Victoria lumbered forward through the depths of Limbo and reached inside the Spambot, yanking out its central processor (or something), a disgusting slab of spam. The shock of it brought her back to reality, and she watched as the robot fell over and collapsed to the ground. But there were three more where that came from heading right for her. She pulled out Arcanis—though handling it (him?) made her feel vaguely ill now—and prepared to strike.

"Victoria!" shouted Net.Access. Abruptly, she reared up on her hind wheels and transformed into a giant robot. She strode over to where Victoria was and kicked one of the spambots out of the way, then grabbed the other and threw it at the wall. Victoria was so overwhelmed by how cool this was that she almost got twhacked by a Spambot tentacle. She sliced the tentacle off with Arcanis just in time, then threw the sword at its heart, destroying it. Arcanis flew back into her hand, unfortunately.

The Spambots were all taken care of now. "Yay! We did it!" said Manga Girl, doing a little victory dance. But then they saw twice as many Spambots descending from the sky.

Suddenly, the sky flickered back into blue and the spambots ground to a halt. "niIiIiIiIice boOoOoOops," they groaned as they collapsed as one. The world faded back in around the four net.heroes. The drivers and pedestrians swerved around them. Some shouted curses at the deactivated Spambots, while others ignored them. It was business as usual in Net.ropolis.

"What was that about?" said Manga Girl.

"And where the hell were you?" said Victoria to Masterplan Lad. "You could have jammed your signal or something. Acutally, I'm still not sure what that umbrella thing does, but it had to do something."

"Plot Device," said Masterplan Lad. "And I was trying to make some form of intervention. But the threads of storytelling here and now have gotten hopelessly tangled. It's even worse than Birth of a Villain."

"Something really bad must be going on," said Net.Access. "We'd better get to the LNHQ."

"No," said Manga Girl, "Victoria is right. I mean, I'm up for anything, but you guys probably need to recover."

"But the LNHQ would be the safest place," said Masterplan Lad, "which admittedly isn't saying much."

"Are you sure you'll be welcome there? Didn't you guys all kind of all blow it up individually?" [in the Infinite Leadership Crisis issues I will hopefully write someday.]

"Um... it got better? Four times?" said Victoria. She flinched. "Wait, how did you know that?"

"I archive binged all the Infinite Leadership Crisis issues when we were in the end of time. It's okay, we all make mistakes." She walked over to pat Victoria on the shoulder, then realized she probably shouldn't do this as a giant robot, and shifted back to her magical girl form. "I'm better now. Just had to figure out what genre I was in."

"Good." Alice hugged her, and suddenly she was overwhelmed with loneliness, even as she felt happy her best friend was with her. Maybe her only friend—Ultimate Mercenary was gone now, and she wasn't sure how she felt about Masterplan Lad or Manga Girl.

Masterplan Lad looked around nervously. "Er, I'll be heading to the LNHQ. The two of you can catch up with me later if you want to be alone." He activated his plot device with a soft hum, then disappeared into somewhere.

"Well, we'd better get out of here," said Victoria, pointing at the Psuedoscience Police flying cars that were converging on the downed Spambots.

"Hold on," said Alice, smiling intensely. She grabbed Victoria by the waist and floated her up to the rooftops. "Ta-da!"

"Hey!" Victoria playfully swatted at her, and found herself laughing. She planted her feet on the roof. "Next time, you could warn me."

"But I can fly now! That's pretty cool, isn't it." She looked her in the eye.

"OH JUST KISS HER ALREADY!" shouted Manga Girl. The two of them looked to see her standing on the roof beside them. She smiled and waved at them nervously, then leaped off into the air.

"Oh god, I'm sorry," said Victoria. "She's so... well, she's got a lot of enthusiasm."

"Yeah," said Alice. "But I was kind of thinking... Maybe she's right."

"Oh god."

"...Is that a good oh god or a bad oh god?"

"It—i—I, no, I like that. I just find it hard to believe that someone—that someone who I actually like is into me like that, not just another creepy guy or something. I feel like I'm going to wake up any minute now."

"Well," said Alice, "you know what they do about that in the stories." Alice was looking down at her, floating a few inches in the air since she was slightly shorter than Victoria. She bent over and kissed her. Victoria felt a rush of warmth and life and excitement, like nothing she could remember. Of course, that didn't mean it hadn't happened anyway. She abruptly pulled away.

"You OK?" said Alice.

Victoria shook her head. "I don't know. About anything. I mean... that was a good kiss, don't get me wrong. But I had a whole other life here that was wiped away by the Discomega Effect. Somewhere, I have a family, maybe I even have someone else already. And they don't even know who I am."

Alice shook her head. "That life's gone. We're here together now, and that's what matters."

"But we barely know each other. Just... wait, how long were we in the Crossover Citadel together, anyway?"

"Dunno. Crossovers always mess with time. It sure felt like a long time."

"It did. But... I don't know. About anything. I want to have more of a sense of who I am and how I fit into this world before we decide on what we are."

Alice nodded sadly. "That... that makes sense. But we're still friends, right?"

"Always," said Victoria. "Wherever we end up going, it feels good to have someone who cares whether I'm alive or dead."

"Yeah!" said Alice. She laughed. "I can't believe this. My dream is coming true. Ever since I was a college freshman taking fourteen credit hours at Dave's Thomas Deluxe University, staying up late at night listening to news reports about the LNH, I dreamed about being a hero. Then I got mixed up in all this cosmic stuff and became the embodiment of crossover-ness or something and I was just struggling to stay alive. Now, I can be a real hero. We can save the world together."

"Speak for yourself," said Victoria. "I've kind of had enough of that for a while. But I'm glad for you. Just be careful, OK?"

"I'll be a hero. That's better."

Alice picked her up in her arms and they flew off together, just the two of them. Only they weren't alone, she remembered. Arcanis had been by her side and heard this entire conversation. But he was still trapped in the form of a sword and could say nothing, so it was awkward all around. Hopefully.

★★★★

"What was the point of all that?" said Kid Remender. "I didn't come here to see people talking about their relationships."

"The Spambots," said Occultism Lord, "are the most hardy and pervasive element of the web ecosystem. They will survive when everything else is gone. They're the cockroaches of the internet. If the Spambots themselves are dying off, than what does that say about Usenet?"

"That much we know," said Continuity's Champion. "What is the nature of this catastrophe?"

"Come and see," said Penultimate Savior. Something else began to take shape within the mist...

★★★★

In the LNHQ rec.room, a man sat alone. His face was covered in demonic-looking face paint and a helmet with enormous and unwieldy horns.

"Woe is me!" he said, clenching his fists and making an anguished dramatic pose on the lunch table. "As the founder of the Legion of Net.Hippies, I had dared to hope that we could truly bring a new age of enlightenment and peace unto the world! That I could at last transcend my father's evil! That I could be... A FREE MAN! But now—"

"Yo, Anti-Christ Lad, I get that a man's gotta monologue sometimes, but chill down! Some of us are trying to dig some funky music over here." said a rather zaftig young woman with messy natural hair. She wore bell-bottom jeans and a white bra that happened to be on fire. She was Burning Bra Lass, the Spirit of Feminist Vengeance, who like Anti-Christ Lad was part of the Legion of Net.Hippies, brought forward from The Sixties™ to the present.

"Music! It hath charms, as the poet says, to soothe the savage breast! But not mine! For I have seen my future—the inevitable fate that awaits me! Not death, for that would be a mercy! Rather, I shall follow in my father's footsteps—I will surpass him in evil! And our dream shall turn to ashes!"

"Yeah, that's a drag, man," sad Dr. Tune-On-Turn-In-Drop-Out, a shaggy bearded man colorful robes that hadn't been washed in quite a while, heavy with the scent of incense and other substances. "But the proverbial fat lady hasn't sung just yet, brother! We've still got the future ahead of us here and now! And things get retconned all the time!" He clapped his hand on Anti-Christ Lad's shoulder.

"Perhaps you are right, my friend," said Anti-Christ Lad, "but this world seems scarcely different from the one we left behind. The future we hoped for is nowhere in sight. Still the world is consumed by WAR! Still white and black and yellow are at each other's throats—"

"Did you just call me yellow? That's not cool, man." said Dr. Turn-On-Tune-In-Drop-Out.

"I am sorry, my friend. I—"

"Hey guys!" said Burning Bra Lass, cutting the awkward conversation short. "There's a big meeting going down! Let's hit it!"

The three Net.Hippies rushed down the hallway to reach the LNH Auditorium. The halls were packed with net.heroes who were stampeding there. The LNH had called a rare Double Red Alert, which meant that every single LNHer was summoned to audience.

Ultimate Ninja and Fearless Leader were standing at the front of the stage, and beside them a scrawny man in a blue jumpsuit. "Listen up, everyone," growled Ultimate Ninja. "This is Foreshadowing Lad. He's woken up after twenty years in a coma and he has something important to tell us."

"Hi everyone!" said Foreshadowing Lad, giving a little wave. He wiped the sweat off his brow. "I, uh. Um. I kinda forgot, sorry. I'm sure it'll come back to me later! Would you like to hear a joke? Two peanuts walked into a bar..." Ultimate Ninja facepalmed.

"OK, that's enough of that," said a voice from the distance. A pale, dark-haired woman appeared on stage. She wasn't dressed like a net.hero, but in this room full of gaudily dressed superbeings she held herself up like she owned the place.

"Who are you?" snarled Ultimate Ninja, drawing his sword.

"Simmer down, Pajama Man, I'm here to help. My name's Lydia Devin."

"So what are you?" said Fearless Leader. "Are you a god or cosmic being, or..."

Lydia Devin shrugged. "God's close enough. [If you read Goddess Correspondence, you know who she is. And if you haven't you should—ed.] Anyway, since the person who's supposed to be doing the job is being pretty useless, I thought I'd step in to help. I've been watching your universe for a long time and it is kind of entertaining. It'd suck if it were gone."

"Well, I guess it's been a while since we had a good crisis," said Fearless Leader. "What is it this time?"

"Well," said Lydia, "there's—"

"Legionnaires beware!" shrieked another voice. Last-Chance-Whiner-Destiny-Woman appeared in a cloud of mist. "A great evil has arisen that threatens the cosmos entire! It—"

Lydia glared at her. "Excuse me, I was telling them already. So there's this cosmic dictator wannabe called LAN.os, who's gathering an army of space mooks to ravage the universe. You know the kind."

Fearless Leader nodded. "Sounds like a typical one-note parody villain to me. We can take him easy."

"Yeah, but that's not the problem. The problem is he's going after the Kubrik's Kube."

"The what now?" said Fearless Leader.

"Okay, the Kubrik's Kube is... anyone got a blackboard or something?"

"Sure!" said Doctor Stomper. "This is a Psychic Blackboard. I always keep it miniaturized in my pockets just in case." He pulled a tiny blackboard out of his pocket, which expanded when it landed on the stage, and then handed Lydia some chalk he had lying around. It was a stick of chalk in the shape of Slobbering Grue! with "I'm Chalk!" written on the packaging. She glared furiously at it before opening the chalk and starting to draw on the blackboard. A picture in full color appeared on the blackboard—a tiny black cube falling from the sky, landing on the plains, while vaguely troglodytic aliens gathered around it.

"...Okay, sure, let's go with this. The Kubrik's Kube—that's spelled with a K. Don't ask me, I didn't make it—is an artifact that's as old as your universe, maybe older. It's a sort of puzzle box thing. If you can solve the puzzle, it gives you enlightenment, whatever the hell that is. But if you fail, it gives you—"

"Madness! MADNESS!" said Last-Chance-Whiner-Destiny-Woman, clutching her fists in the air.

"Yeah, that." On the blackboard, one of the troglodytes fiddled with the cube and then a light bulb appeared over his head. He gathered all the other troglodytes, who sat down at desks, and doodled a picture of a troglodyte whacking another one on the head with a club on a blackboard. They pulled out their clubs and started whacking each other enthusiastically.

"Basically, wherever it shows up, things go wrong. Even when they go right. I guess "enlightenment"'s just not for everyone. So—"

"Hi everyone!" said a bearded man who rushed onto the stage. "Lo, I am the Ununnilium Stranger, and I have come to warn you of—I'm not even in the right universe, am I? Oops." He vanished in a puff of smoke.

"Wow. No wonder this universe is such a mess. Well, I'm out of here. Good luck, I guess." And then she was gone.

And in the back, Foreshadowing Lad was scratching his head. He knew there was something else important he'd wanted to say. Something about... was it the Crossover Queen? And rifts? And there was something he wanted to warn Lydia about too...

★★★★

"So who is this LAN.os?" said Irony Monger. "Should we be concerned about him?"

"I suppose we'll know," said Occultism Lord. The mists shifted again...

★★★★

A massive, tremendous, gargantuan starship through space. (It was big. Some might suggest the owner was compensating for something.) On the bridge stood a hulking purple figure that was hideous enough to make gargoyle sculptors cringe with jealousy. He wore a fedora on his head.

"We are nearing our destination," he said to the silent female figure at his side. "The moment is soon come when I shall hold the Kubrik's Kube in my hand. In that moment, I shall be as a god! And in that moment... I SHALL BE EUPHORIC!"

He furiously pressed the buttons on the control panel, and a picture flashed on the screen. A picture of the being he had dedicated his life to, an obsession that consumed the core of his being. "And then you, Time Crapper, shall attain whatever inscrutable goals you seek. And I shall at long last be free of the wretched prison in which I have for so long been trapped... THE FRIEND ZONE!

He looked up at the picture with a look of swoony devotion. He often spent several hours of every day staring at it. "AND LYDIA DEVIN WILL FINALLY NOTICE ME!"

★★★★

The Saviors of the Net blinked. "Uh," said Irony Monger, "let's forget about him. The LNH can take care of that. I'm more concerned about the Crossover Queen."

"You know what she did to our world," said Penultimate Savior. "If we had been able to vanquish her, we could have met the end with our full strength. Our timeline might have survived."

"We'll see, won't we?" said Continuity's Champion.

★★★★

The Crossover Queen had gathered the deadliest of her forces together in her throne room. Cyborcs, Imperial Spambots, Dire Moa, Gogmagogs, Mer-Yeti, and other creatures too numerous and horrible to mention clustered around the throne. And at their head stood the figure who would lead the first wave of her assault on Looniearth-A. It was a teenage girl dressed in aggressively gothic clothing. How she could move with all the belts and chains she wore was a mystery to everyone.

"The moment has come," intoned the Crossover Queen. "While the most powerful members of the LNH are in space, we will collect the crossover energy that is flooding Looniearth-A and vanquish the LNH at last. You, General Merissa, will gather as much of it as you can, and then when we are ready you will lead these forces into battle."

"You got it!" said Merissa.

"Remember, child, I gave you a home and a place in the world and a purpose when you had none. I have faith in your potential. Do not disappoint me."

Merissa rolled her eyes. "I know, Mom, I know. Trust me. I'll crush this Legion of Net.Losers like the preppy jocks they are!"

In a flash of swirling dark energy, Merissa was gone from the Crossover Queen's throne room. She had appeared in a busy shopping mall, jam-packed with a line of teenage girls whispering and giggling among themselves. "Excuse me!" shouted Merissa. "What are you mega-dorks here for?"

"Oh my god!" said one of them. "You don't know there's a Sidekickz concert? They're almost as cool as One Direction!"

"Whatever," said Merissa. "I'm as cool as two directions. You ever heard of me?"

"Uh... no?"

"You haven't heard of me? How is that possible? I am Lady Merissa Cthonian Khaos Madness Nihil'ism Von Quarknova, the youngest ever general of the Beige Order! And you're just a bunch of preps! I'll show you a better way.. the way of the Goth!" A surge of dark energy coursed out from her and engulfed the crowd. They were now dressed in black leather and wore jagged face paint.

"All right." Merissa grinned. "Now to find one of those rifty things."

★★★★

"Then the Queen has made her move already," said Penultimate Savior. "We must act quickly to save this world."

"No," said Kid Remender. "There's no way to close the rifts. We tried on our own world, but the sheer depth of unrealized storytelling potential swallowed our world whole. All of it. Even your sister." Penultimate Savior flinched—the first expression of emotion he had shown since his world died.

"I'm afraid he's right," said Irony Monger. "The only thing left to do is to destroy Looniearth-A."

★★★★

Next: Friendzoned in space! The young heroes of past, present and future against the Beige Order! Psychovant the Duck makes his move! Or maybe yet another completely unrelated thing.

★★★★

Notes:

Well, I'm back.

I know, the first part of this issue is more Ultimate Mercenary #8 than part of the crossover. UM himself is tied up with Just Imagine and LNH20, so I threw the rest of his supporting cast in here while I figure out what to do with them in the long term.

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