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9:45 pm, March 12, 2010


The pops of pistol fire echoed over police band. "Requesting immediate support on Erin Drive! We are under attack by multiple unknown assailants!" More shots rang out, followed by a high-pitched squeal of pain. "Plants! The damn pl..." The channel went dead.


"Rodriguez! Officer down!" Heavy breathing and running footsteps. "Officer down! Need EMS at..." A strange, wet splat echoed in the microphone. Silence.


"Units 14 and 15, situation report. Officer Rodriguez, Officer Johns, please respond."


All units be advised. Officers down. Shots fired in the vicinity of 315 Erin Drive, Lantern Hill. Units A14 and A15 on scene. Suspected meta-human activity. EMS, Fire and STAR en route.




Minutes earlier...


A green meteor streaked across the misty skies of Freedom City. Long and needle-like, the falling star cut through the rain and twinkled as it neared the horizon. With a burst of green light, one thin, green line broke into five, showering Wharton Forest and northwestern Freedom City. The winds whipped up in protest.


Deep in the heart of Wharton Forest, a small, twisted tree stirred. Leaves sprouted and the trunk bent to look at the sky. Glowing yellow eyes shined from deep within the foliage. A low rumble emanated from the branches themselves. Those of telepathic persuasion felt a dark signal creeping from the forest.


My children, the Prophesy is at hand. Bring me the shards of the Green Star. Tonight we shall reclaim the city in the name of the Green!

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It was a dark and stormy night. Scratch that. It was a cold and misty night. Pockets of drizzle hung in the air, clinging to everything it touched. The shine of the city lights off the low clouds faded into a gray background. A sense of uneasy quiet settled over Freedom City, and most citizens caught outside headed for warmer environs to stave off the chill.

At preciously 9:38 pm that evening, the clouds rumbled with winter thunder. A small, green fireball shot through the clouds. Perceptive locals noted the neon meteor streak west over the city. Within a second or two, a strobe of green light sparkled through the mist and the mysterious object fell to earth in five pieces. Four landed in the vicinity of Wharton Forest, but one errant fragment landed with a dull thud at 315 Erin Drive, Lantern Hill. Debris sprayed up from a small crater in the fenced backyard. Tremors rumbled throughout the neighborhood, setting off car alarms.

Erin Drive was unaccustomed to this level of excitement. One of the last exclusive areas of Lantern Hill, the neighborhood was a maze of narrow, winding streets and angular colonial homes that spoke of money. Leafless trees dotted the area, averaging two or three a yard, and wove together into a skeletal canopy protecting the white buildings and picket fences. Modern structures blended tastefully into the background, often garages and greenhouses behind whitewashed fences. Shrubs and dormant flower gardens waited for spring.

Seven minutes later, the chaos of gunfire across Lantern Hill faded into the light rain. Nothing seemed strange from a distance. Approaching the street, house and street lights cast distorted shadows. Immediately amiss was two FCPD cruisers, one pulled into a circular drive and the other along the curb. More ominous were the two dozen figures standing aimlessly in the yards and streets around the cruisers. They all faced the white house at 315, as if waiting for something to happen. They were people, dressed in pajamas and casual wear, all of them wielding a weapon of some sort. One held the butt of a police shotgun, the barrel in the grass. Two police officers, their weapons hanging limply at their sides, stood by the driveway cruiser, watching rigidly along with the others.

Approaching them or speaking elicited no reply.

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Standing atop the corner of a building's roof, Jack of all Blades tugged the collar of his greatcoat up against the the omnipresent mist of the wet night. As he surveyed the streets below him, a sudden light caught his attention in the skies above. A green spec arched across the sky, bursting as it fell into a handful of smaller pieces which continued downward to collide with the city. Even given the falling objects' odd colouration and light, the swashbuckler might have been inclined to let it pass, if not for a distant wave of discomfort tugging at the edges of his metahuman senses. Like oil on water, he mused with an involuntary grimace. Definitely nothing I want in my backyard. Assisted by his grapple, the acrobat leapt from rooftop to rooftop, moving towards Lantern Hill and his best estimate for the impact site of the closest green fragment.

Arriving in Erin Drive, Jack kept to the shadows offered by the old fashioned architecture. So, this is how the other half lives, he mused as he swung himself into a crouch next to a brick chimney. It was a nice enough neighbourhood, but the precise landscaping and uniform fences brought to mind a couch with a plastic cover; immaculate, perhaps, but lacking the signs of being lived in which the West Ender was more familiar with. Gunfire snapped the fencer out of his contemplation, and he hurriedly made his way towards the source.

Spotting the police cruisers, he peered at the group of residents with oddly vacant expressions. "Woo-ee-ooh," Jack muttered to himself quietly, mimicking a classic science fiction score. Anywhere else, the first assumption might be a gas leak or simple shock, but in Freedom the most likely explanation for their behaviour was a little more exotic. "Mind control," he sighed. "Fantastic." The group below seemed to be waiting for something; staying concealed, Jack decided to follow suit.

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9:45 pm, March 12, 2010

The pops of pistol fire echoed over police band. "Requesting immediate support on Erin Drive! We are under attack by multiple unknown assailants!" More shots rang out, followed by a high-pitched squeal of pain. "Plants! The damn pl..." The channel went dead.

"Rodriguez! Officer down!" Heavy breathing and running footsteps. "Officer down! Need EMS at..." A strange, wet splat echoed in the microphone. Silence.

"Units 14 and 15, situation report. Officer Rodriguez, Officer Johns, please respond."

All units be advised. Officers down. Shots fired in the vicinity of 315 Erin Drive, Lantern Hill. Units A14 and A15 on scene. Suspected meta-human activity. EMS, Fire and STAR en route.

"Oh that is most definately NOT a good sign."

Breakdown slapped the button on his arm and switched tracks. Breaking Benjamin blasted through his headset.

"I'm losing sight

don't count on me

I chase the sun

it chases me"

The teenage hero tore off towards the west side of freedom running at speeds that his girlfriend would be impressed with.

Moments later, he skidded to a stop in front of a small white house in Lantern Hill. Arriving just behind another local hero he'd been hearing a lot about. "Never a dull moment, eh Jack?" Breakdown asked suddenly standing next to the swordsman in the greatcoat. He offered his hand in a quick greeting before turning his attention to the befuddled citizens of Freedom standing in the front yard of the house. "Looks like Officer Rodriguez and Officer Johns have seen better nights, huh?" Breakdown quickly replayed the short radio message he had heard for Jack's benefit. "Not good, huh?"

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Halfway across the city, Stesha Madison was dozing in bed. It was early in the evening still, and she rarely needed to sleep at all, but winter just wasn't quite sunny enough for her liking, and she'd been getting a lot of exercise. She jerked upright in bed as the gates of her ESP suddenly opened wide, allowing in a torrent of confusing impressions from the plants around the Greater Freedom City area. Something was going on with the plants, something bad.

She pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to clear her mind, then looked over at Derrick, in his human form for once and asleep next to her. He looked so peaceful, and he very rarely took time to relax outside of his cosmic heroic form. Well, the plants were her oeuvre, she was sure she could handle whatever was going wrong and get back quickly. Rising, she hastily donned her costume and teleported out to Lantern Hill.

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As the two heroes compared notes, the residents of Lantern Hill remained motionless. Skilled observation by the young heroes illuminated the scene further. Glints from spent 9 mm cases surrounded the two cruisers. Splashes of translucent, green fluid trailed away from the front of the drive way cruiser. The stuff slowly washed down the gentle slope and into the grass. The pattern could have been from bleeding wounds if it was the right color. Two thin trails meander toward an ajar side gate. Subtle, but still visible, were grainy splotches all over the people, as if they were hit with yellow paintballs.

Jack's even keener natural and meta-human senses picked up something ominous in the backyard. The top of a sizable greenhouse past the gate was just visible. Several roof panels were shattered, and strange shadows writhed within. They certainly didn't belong to humans, being far too large and whip-like to be humanoid. The strange energy pulsed from the property, particularly from the greenhouse, and felt as if it was reacting or transforming something.

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Jack grunted around a grimace as he pushed his energy awareness to its limits. "Ugh. Kid, we gotta move now. Whatever took down those cops and went all Romero on these folks is in the backyard and it's just warming up." Standing, the fencer drew his lighter from his coat and flicked it open. It took only the work of a moment to form a fiery rapier in his outstretched hand. He turned to Breakdown, his face lit by the sword's flickering light. "Your cafeteria money says that the neighbourhood watch down there gets lively the minute we try something. Think you can cover me and buy me some time?"

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James stepped out of the alley with a frown. There was some kind of odd magical or dimensional ripple coming from around here somewhere. It wasn't a dimensional breach, he didn't think, but it was something odd. He could afford to NOT look, despite how busy he'd been lately taking over for Phantom. He looked around with frown at the immobilized and dazed folk.

"Glad I decided to pop over and take a look. What's that goop?" he wondered to himself as he walked over to the others. "Evening gents. Seems we've got a minor incident afoot. And the greenhouse is the center. Shall we?" he gestured towards the source with a grin.

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Stesha popped out of a tree just outside the greenhouse where all the very strange plant activity was going on. It felt even odder in person, sort of compelling and awful all at once. She wasn't sure she wanted to get any closer, but just standing outside and looking stupidly at the bizarre shadows wasn't going to do much good. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on projecting her senses into the plants inside the greenhouse, looking and listening through them at what was going on inside.

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"Lunch money? Puh-leeze!" Breakdown waved away the comment with his hand. "I'd bet you a weeks DJ pay that I can take care of those guys single handed."

When James popped into existence nearby in a puff sulfur smelling smoke, Breakdown smiled. "My man James! You're just in time for the party. Why don't you and jack head out back, while I take care of the Jones'." Breakdown excitedly ran off to stand in front of the two police officers and the neighborhood watch. This was a kid who loved his job.

"Hey all you zombies!"

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Jack's nose wrinkled as Breakdown's black haired friend arrived. It took a moment to realize that the familiar smell assaulting his nose was courtesy of his energy awareness. The youth positively reeked of hellfire. Having finally purged himself of that particular taint, the swashbuckler wasn't wild about working with a demonically powered teen. Although, he thought with a sigh as Breakdown ran towards the motionless group, that distaste might have more to do with the 'teen' part than anything else.

He turned to Hellion with a long-suffering expression. "Alright, Brimstone Boy, let's go. Keep an eye of 'your man' while we're at it; I'm marginally less confident in his ability not to get his head bashed in by a brain puppet." Sprinting forward, the swordsman fired his grapple at the roof of the house, retracting the cable immediately and letting it carry him up and over the roof, swinging into the backyard.

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Extending her senses into greenhouse, the first impression was fear from the plants, or as much fear as plants could feel. Her senses coalesced in time to witness the creation of plant horrors straight out of the movies. The vast majority of the biomass in the greenhouse had formed into a green, tentacled ball in the center. Roots spread out beneath the horror, driving into the earth and reducing the concrete floor to rubble.

As the vines snapped about wildly, the ball pulsed and dispersed slimy pods onto the floor. From the look of things, at least fifteen or twenty pods had already been dispersed with more on the way. Every once in a while a vine would consume another normal plant, but the real problem was several of the pods had already burst. Near five empty pods stood two mobile plant beasts, a good seven feet tall and armed with cutting leaves and teeth-like thorns in dripping maws.

Outside on the lawn, the zombified residents turned at once and stared vacantly at Breakdown. Their eyes almost glowed with a sickly yellow tint. The dread locked woman raised her cleaver, the policemen their pistols, the bald man his shotgun. As befitting zombie-like control, their actions were awkward and jerky. Still they looked bound and determined to fight this one out. As if these poor, possessed people weren't enough, the grass near the mucus-like fluid runoff and trails began to green up. The grass grew in real time, green spreading across the yard. Within a few seconds not only was the grass lush but the rose bushes and flower beds were blooming. Even the two big oaks in the front began leafing.

Landing in the spacious backyard, Jack was greeted firstly by the lovely Fleur de Joie. She was much preferable to the other guests. Even near she stood, three shapes began rising from the soil behind her without so much as disturbing a blade of grass. Arranged in a tight triangular pattern, they loomed forward, looking hungry.

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"In my experience," Breakdown monotoned as he stood in front of the seemingly hostile neighborhood watch, "Most neighbors living in a quiet city suburb are not really fans of loud music. Or rock and roll." Breakdown adjusted one of the dials on his sleeve as he finished speaking.

"So let's see if you really are neighbors, and not some sort of zombie thing."

"CUM ON FEEL THE NOISE!" Breakdown threw up a pair of devil horns as the soundwaves began washing over the assembled group in front of him.

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Breakdown's hair metal blasted through the neighborhood and the residents' shocked ears. The zombified citizens reeled and convulsed from the poor spelling. A full dozen succumbed, hitting the green grass with dull thuds. Others stood there in various states of seizure. Their dull eyes looked even more glazed. The middle-aged man wielding the shotgun took the assault particularly hard. Even in his zombie state, he dropped the weapon and tried to cover his ears. Unfortunately that just added to the song's drama as the front window of the house shattered from the buckshot.

Only two liberal-leaning neighbors had the taste to remain coherent. Officer Rodriguez clumsily aimed his pistol. A woman in a pink bathrobe raised her husband's favorite nine iron as if anticipating a hook shot to Breakdown's skull.

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As Jack landed in the yard lightly, it took him a moment to remember where he recognized Fleur from. "Hey! Dead green-haired girl! You're looking, y'know, not dead." Leaping over her head, he flipped through the air, coming down atop the nearest plant-creature flaming blade first. "So," he asked casually, "friends of yours?" The swordsman was surprised to see Phantom's friend up and about, but next to the night's other oddities, it seemed prudent to leave that particular question unanswered for the time being.

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Jack's fiery blade seared through the beast's leaves and into the stalk. Sap sizzled and popped as the wound cauterized. The beast reared back to strike, but the shock was too great. It flailed about in agonized confusion.

The two bedfellows responded with roars of their own. The one to Jack's left snapped blindly, its thorny teeth missing his head by several inches. Even for a plant, the fetid breath from the foul thing was horrific. Spittle sprayed across the yard.

The second one was more cunning. What looked like hesitation turned out to be aiming! With a snake-like strike, the second monster struck low and grabbed hold of his right leg in a bear-trap grip. Metallic leaves wove around the swordsman's legs and pulled him off his feet. Picking him up bodily, the silver-tongued hero was slammed to the ground and held down for the fiend's comrades!

Inside the greenhouse, the situation was only getting worse. Two pods germinated and miniature versions of the adult Piranha Plants spewed forth. Within moments the little beasts doubled in size. They grew so fast that Fleur could hear them! As the injured plant's reaction and the other one's precise attack proved, these creatures were far from mindless killing machines.

As for the zombies, most did exactly as Breakdown intended them to do. Whether standing or writhing in agony, all but two were in some way incapacitated. The dexterity-challenged cop managed to level his pistol and fired wildly, bullets pinging off of the picturesque house. Meanwhile the angry housewife raised the golf club over head and charged heedlessly toward Breakdown. One could think that a battle cry would be appropriate, but the woman was silent. A mighty whoosh of air suggested she attempted to hit him. Really.

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James just shrugged at Jack. "He can handle himself just fine. Possibly better than you, so no worries." Eddie could be a spaz but he was a spaz who could hold his own. And James was far more confident, reliant and trusting of Breakdown than the energy blade wielding guy any day of the week. He didn't bother to watch Jack swing over. He took a step and simply appeared in the yard.

He had no idea who the cute green haired chick was, though he picked up the magical aura. It wasn't like the problem though so he assumed she wasn't a hostile. At the moment anyway. The rest of the area was pretty much a loss though. "Huh, that's a new one...well, time to burn some plants I guess." He gestured, filling the entire area with a wave of hellfire, leaving only the heroes untouched.

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The surreal hellfire washed over the backyard, leaving the valiant heroes and innocent plant folk alike in peace. To the brutal man eaters no such respite came. Leaves withered, browned and crackled from the unnatural heat. The already injured monstrosity had a seizure from the onslaught, high-pitched squeals echoing into the night. It was joined by its comrades. The berserker plant covered its 'head' with a leaf, sparing it the worst of the damage, but the sneaky one holding Jack-of-All-Blades was blanched and roasted. Disoriented, the great beast fell on top of the scintillating swordsman, only occasionally twitching.

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"What?" Stesha asked in response to the swordsman's greeting. She realized her had left her hood down in all the excitement and quickly pulled it up to hide her distinctive hair. There was no time to ask him any questions though, before the fight was upon them! Stesha didn't recognize the swordsman or the fire controller who came along and set the maurauding plant monsters alight. She figured they were on the same side, though, and that was good enough for now. "Stop it!" she yelled at the plant monster who was still standing, flinging out a hand and tossing her power at him. If there was one thing she was actually good at in the whole heroing business, it was controlling plants. She wasn't about to let one start getting uppity and evil now!

The force of Stesha's will hit the plant creature like a tangible blow. It stopped short, frozen for a moment like a topiary statue, and then seemed to dissolve, falling apart into its component vines and stems. There was a moment of trembling stillness, then every bit of the thing fell to the ground all at once, leaving nothing standing. "There's more in the greenhouse," she reported, "and worse. I don't know what's causing it!"

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"Hello!" Breakdown was slightly taken by surprise as he ducked the golf swing. "You're form's off. I know a good golf teacher I could recommend you, but it doesn't look like you want any pointers." He danced around the woman as he talked.

"So I guess some of you are metal heads after all." Breakdown observed as he tapped another button on his arm. "So let's try something a little more traditional."

"Oh, yeah, it was like lightning, everybody was frightening

And the music was soothing, and they all started grooving"

Breakdown's body began vibrating very rapidly. His entire form seemed to just blur he was moving so fast.

"Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

And the man at the back said

Everyone attack and it turned into a ballroom blitz

And the girl in the corner said

Boy, I wanna warn ya, it'll turn into a ballroom blitz

Ballroom blitz, ballroom blitz, ballroom blitz

Ballroom blitz"

Breakdown thrust his hand forward, slamming his open palm into the woman's shoulder. The movement was so rapid that Breakdown seemed to completely disappear.

The attack knocked the woman silly. But Breakdown didn't hesitate, he was off like a rocket, assaulting the other attacking neighbors. He rammed another hand up under the policeman's outstretched arm right at the shoulder joint. He wouldn't be shooting again for a while. The other members of the neighborhood watch fell just as quickly to his vibrating strikes. Finished with his job distracting the neighbors, Breakdown looked towards the back yard, standing amidst his blurry waves of vibration, he readied himself to help his friends.

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"Gah, tentacles," Jack grimaced as a flick of his fiery sword disposed of what was left of the charred plant monster. Tossing Hellion a vague, casual salute, the swashbuckler sprung on the remaining flora, burning a hole clean through it's stem with his blade. The wight of the creature's own head snapped it off to fall in a pile of the grass, flames licking about the remains.

He turned his attention to the greenhouse at Fleur's warning. "I'll take 'creepy glowing rocks from the sky' for five hundred, Alex," he deadpanned as he strode forward and delivered a spinning kick to the structure's door, shattering glass and flinging the portal open. Stepping inside, Jack cast about with his sword, its flames illuminating the interior.

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The door swung open to reveal The Little Greenhouse of Horrors. In the dim, yellow glow, a massive blob of green, plant-like material sat across from him. Perhaps eight feet around, the mass pulsed and dropped another basketball-sized pod onto the floor. Three of the horrific seeds looked to be melding into one, growing and creaking as if something big was preparing to burst forth.

A more direct problem were the guards. Yes, guards. The fiery sword illuminated another four sets of razor-sharp teeth. Two big Piranha plants loomed between Jack and the mother beast. A smaller plant on each side looked like the scrappy little brothers from hell. Strangely, while the big ones had red 'heads', the little ones bloomed into a bright yellow. The big things roared at the broken-glass intrusion and went for blood. Neither were better biters than their more aggressive kin, but the one on the right actually brushed a fang across Jack's mask.

The yellow Piranhas quickly demonstrated why they were different. As the larger ones lunged, the little nasties, well, spit balls of yellow snot at the West End hero. Both balls missed, detonating in clouds of yellow, viscous pollen against the door frame. The big mass, tentacles whipping, began to slowly moan and move under its own power, but otherwise stayed in place.

Back out in the newly quiet front yard, Breakdown heard the sound of wood creaking. The two big oak trees in the front yard were greening up at amazing speeds. Not only were they leafing, but they appeared to be slowly changing shape as well.

As drips of green sap seeped into the soil of the back yard, as in the front, the grass instantly began to turn green and lush, spreading across the lot.

Oh, and as for Fleur de Joie's aptitude for identifying seeds? Yeah, well, these seeds were obviously unnatural, but more like "omni"-seeds than mere monster breeders. Looked like something, perhaps the mother mass, could direct what sort of monster or object would emerge. Ick.

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"Oh, well, yuck," Jack grimaced as he dodged the plant creatures' attacks. As the pollen crashed against the door frame, he reflected that it was thoughtful of the monsters to colour-code themselves for his convenience. "We got Mama Nasty in here," he called out to the others in the backyard, "and she is pumping these Mushroom Kingdom rejects out. Keep an eye on the yellow ones, they're trying to give me hay fever or something."

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"What is wrong with you people?," a figure called out from down the street, "y'all are being loud enough t'wake th' dead!"

The figure lurched forward, not unlike the zombified people Breakdown had been blasting, but the fact it spoke -- and the glowing green eyes -- marked it as something else entirely.

Then it broke into a run, like one of the zombies from that recent movie, the remake of the Romero one.

But Breakdown was not phased, because he recognized the voice: it was Dead Head, Freedom' own friendly neighborhood zombie.

"So, what's goin' on? I was up doin' some stargazin' and saw a big streak come down, then split into lotsa pieces. Closest one seemed t'fall here."

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"Dead Head!" Breakdown panted through the adrenaline from the fighting. "Glad to see you've still got a head on your shoulders. No time to talk, though." Breakdown turned away from Dead Head and faced the front yard again. He crouched lower into a fighting stance. "We've got problems. Large deciduous problems." Breakdown pointed towards the large trees that had begun moving in their direction.

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