by CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
Two of the prisoners were in separate cells in the subbasement of the Sentinel Building in New York City. The Peacemaker and the Question were in one cell with the speedster known as Red Light, and Nightshade and Thunderbolt were with the energy-shaper called Green Light. Captain Atom and Blue Beetle were elsewhere in the city with the super-strong, blue-clad Ultra-Humanoid at the Vault, the special prison maintained for superhuman criminals by New York City. Each team of two had been interrogating the three attackers since their capture, but the Sentinels had learned nothing.
In the cell with the Peacemaker and the Question, Red Light suddenly stood up. The Question clamped a hand on the speedster’s shoulder. Before he could urge the man back into his chair, the prisoner began to shake until a small wind was generated. Then Red Light fell to the floor in a heap.
The Peacemaker bent over the man, feeling for a pulse. He frowned thoughtfully when he found only a very weak pulse almost too slow to support life. “Comatose, but not quite dead. Did you do anything?” he asked.
“Of course not,” said the Question calmly. If he was offended by the question, there was no sign of it on his blank face.
“Green Light!” the Peacemaker said suddenly.
The two rushed out into the hall. An emerald flash emitted from the other room. The door opened, and Nightshade and Thunderbolt stepped out into the hall. One glance from them said it all.
“The other one’s unconscious, too?” Nightshade asked to confirm her suspicions. The action-heroine had been taking a leave of absence from the Sentinels while she was preparing for a deep cover assignment with CHESS in the Soviet Union. But when she was alerted about the current case, she decided to take a hand. After all, she mused, she only had a few days before she was scheduled to leave, and she wouldn’t see her fellow teammates for another few months.
“Coma,” said the Peacemaker. “Neither of them will be able to tell us a thing until they’re revived.”
“I wonder if the same thing happened to the others,” said Thunderbolt.
“We’ll soon find out,” said the Peacemaker. “Let’s get these two to the Vault for a full medical examination. Let the Blue Beetle know we’ll need his chemistry skills. They might have been given time-delayed drugs to keep them from talking upon capture.”
The other three villains known as the Ultra-Humanoid, Egghead, and Dark Angel also fell into comas, the Ultra-Humanoid being the last to fall unconscious. Unfortunately, their brief interrogations had been ineffectual, and before they passed out none of them had revealed any information about those responsible for giving them powers and setting them against the world’s greatest super-teams.
Sarge Steel and Tiffany Sinn arranged for the Sentinels of Justice to be brought into the loop as Checkmate and its LAW unit tried to determine what happened to the prisoners they had detained. Steel intentionally kept Project Dragon and its operatives out of the loop for the simple reason that he didn’t trust them. Once a family of criminals, always a family of criminals, he mused. As for the Paragons, they were still largely unknown rookies, and he didn’t want to deal with any wildcards.
Then the satellites began to feed two similar situations to the monitor boards. Two giant beanstalks had appeared. One was planted in Cuba, the other in Japan. The State Department had tried to get in touch with the communist leader of the latter, but Fidel Castro had denied intervention by U.S. forces except at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. Navy had moved in to begin an evacuation if it became necessary.
Steel couldn’t do anything for Cuba. Instead, he ordered his team to get ready to fly to Tokyo, notifying the Dome about it almost as an afterthought, since that United Nations organization was technically responsible for coordinating action-hero help in these types of emergencies. Still, the Dome was still new and untried, and Steel’s first and only loyalty was to the United States government. The Peacemaker would have to handle the diplomatic side of things with the Dome to let the Sentinels of Justice enter Cuba, if he could.
Sure enough, thanks to Christopher Smith’s impressive diplomatic channels, the Sentinels of Justice arrived in Cuba little more than a mere hour after the threat had been revealed. The Son of Vulcan also joined the team of heroes, since he had been monitoring the situation from Mount Olympus and thought his power would be needed on the ground rather than from his monitoring post. They circled the expanding tendrils before landing at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay.
“We’ll see what it can do against energy first,” said the Peacemaker.
“That substance looks very familiar,” said Captain Atom. “I’m not sure where I’ve seen it before.”
“Right,” said the Peacemaker. “Let’s see what it can take while you try to remember.”
The Peacemaker took flight using a belt-mounted jet-pack alongside Captain Atom, with the Son of Vulcan quickly following on land. The Blue Beetle — flying Nightshade, the Question, and Thunderbolt in his scarab-shaped aircraft — fired the Bug’s lasers at the huge plant, joined by the Peacemaker’s explosives and helmet laser, balls of flame summoned by Son of Vulcan, and Captain Atom’s energy bolts. The blasts had no effect except to remind Captain Atom where he had seen the substance before.
“This is the very same substance that made up the giant monster Redstar and I encountered in the Atlantic two months ago,” Captain Atom finally concluded over the radio communicator he had built in his costume.
“Are you sure?” the Peacemaker asked.
“Yes,” said Captain Atom. “It absorbs my nuclear power in the same way.”
“What can you do, Son of Vulcan?” asked the weaponsmith, his leadership skills quickly taking over despite the fact that he wasn’t the Sentinels’ leader.
“I’ll give it my best,” said the gladiator-themed action-hero as he braced himself at the base of the root. Holding a shield in one arm, the Son of Vulcan brought back his sword-arm and swung it blindingly fast. His blow transmitted through the plant, coring a small column through the thing. But almost as soon as it had opened, the hole closed on itself.
The Peacemaker had hoped the powerhouses in the team could disrupt the giant plant easily. Should have known better, he told himself. Now it was time for the detectives to do what they could to determine the origin and possible weaknesses of this thing.
Before the team left for Cuba, Blue Beetle had discovered from the medical examination that their powerful captives had been neutralized at the cellular level. As the scientist-turned-action-hero explained, it was almost as if someone had pushed a pause button on their lives. Smith concluded that they were just temporary lackeys, but that they could be revived again at any moment. Captain Atom instructed the security at the Vault to remain on alert until the current crisis was over.
The Son of Vulcan cut off a sample of the giant plant with his sword, and the writhing plant was taped down to be examined and tested. The detectives and scientists of the team began to run tests on it, first with chemicals, then moving on to more exotic methods.
They soon found that energy caused the sample to grow, and methods involving energy were quickly abandoned. The Peacemaker and Blue Beetle moved on with the testing. The Question was frozen in place, his blank mask of pseudoderm hiding his expression.
Akira Moto marveled at the giant plant dominating the skyline. His school, as well as thousands of other facilities and stores, had closed as the small Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. Military tried conventional tactics against the thing. Even a pair of energy-based American heroes had now arrived to try to cut it down with energy blasts, but the rip began sealing before they finished their cutting blasts.
The boy hurried home. If he could get there before his father, he could leave a note behind as he joined the heroes with his mind in the android body of Volton. He hoped to be able to lend a hand, and he had some measuring equipment and tools he could take with him and modify after he examined the giant plant. He reached home and searched for his father. A note on the answering machine said he had been called in to consult. Akira already knew it concerned the plant without being told.
Akira went to his secret workshop and curled up on some comfortable blankets as he concentrated and transferred his mind into the android body of Volton, exhilarated that it was working without any glitches so far. As Volton, he took to the air on a wave of electricity, heading for his rendezvous with destiny.
Volton arrived at the cordoned off area where the giant stalk touched the sky near Tokyo. He saw several colorful figures below, including the two energy-based American heroes that he now recognized to be the orange-garbed E-Man and Nova — who were flying around by somehow using the lower half of their bodies like jet propulsion — halfway down the stalk blasting at it to no effect. Focusing his attention back on the giant plant, Akira caused his android body to hover as he drew his hand-held equipment closer to the giant plant.
The first thing was to find out what the thing was made of. For that he needed a sample to examine and test. He used a scalpel to cut off a small piece. The cut sealed immediately after he pulled his sample free. The small piece writhed in his grip as if trying to rejoin the larger whole.
A whizzing sound came closer. “Whatcha doin’ there?” a friendly voice to one side asked him in American English.
Volton looked over. A child-sized toy model of what seemed to be a starship floated in the air next to him; it was orange-colored, had a strange logo in white, and a humanlike face looking at him. A second later, the starship transformed itself into E-Man with larger helicopter wings sprung from his strawberry blond head. The alien action-hero — wearing an orange costume with yellow shorts, boots, and gloves, and the white logo that read E=MC2 — floated in midair with his hands resting on his hips in a restful rather than a challenging way. Volton could see E-Man’s partner Nova in the distance firing energy blasts at the giant plant.
“I’ve been practicing changing into the U.S.S. Enterprise,” explained E-Man, thinking Voltron looked puzzled at his former starship appearance. “You know — from Star Trek? But I can never quite get the nacelles to look right. My name’s E-Man, by the way, and the little woman’s Nova.” He gestured to his redhaired partner in the background. “Not sure how well known we are here in Japan. So, whatcha up to? Anything I can do to help?”
Akira thought quickly how to phrase this in English. “I’m running tests on this substance in hopes of being able to stop its growth,” Volton said, trying to sound calm but aware that one false move could send him into battle with the American action-hero. If his collection of Marvel Comics was any indication, American action-heroes were always getting into fights with each other, usually over misunderstandings such as this one. Akira was under no illusions that he would win the duel if it came to that. “And I am Volton, the human generator.”
“Okey-dokey,” said E-Man, glancing back at the huge plant. “So… this giant plant thing isn’t a normal occurrence on this part of the planet, right?”
“No,” said Volton, somewhat perplexed. “It’s not.”
“And it just had to happen the moment Nova and I got back from our honeymoon,” the sentient energy being said. “We were gone six months in space, but it never seemed long enough for me. Oh well, I guess it’s back to work saving the world as usual, hey, buddy?”
“Uh, right.” Volton turned back to his work and went about his tests methodically. He applied some of his android body’s power to create an electromagnetic bubble that allowed him to work in the air as he systematically broke his sample down. He was not encouraged by what he found. The plant absorbed everything and grew larger. It grew over any wound, resisted any chemical, took any type of energy and used it for food.
Akira pondered his next step. Something had to kill the thing. It couldn’t keep growing until it crushed Japan under its monstrous weight. He wouldn’t let it.
“Hey, wait a minute,” said E-Man, standing in the air beside him and rubbing his chin while frowning in thought, as he had seen humans do from time to time. He had patiently watched as all of Akira’s procedures failed. “Nova and I have been blasting away at this thing for a while now, but it just seems to absorb energy. But what do ya think would happen if the plant had no energy to draw on?”
Volton turned his head to look at the action-hero. “I don’t understand,” he said, almost having forgotten about his watcher until the man had spoken. Listening to him was like listening to another child, albeit one who didn’t seem to have a high IQ.
“Well, just hear me out. This is a plant, right?” said E-Man. “A monstrous plant, but still just a plant. A plant needs light and water above all. So… what would happen if we… I don’t know… just cut off its light?” E-Man finished with a shrug.
“I don’t know,” admitted Volton, surprised that he hadn’t thought of it first. “Let’s find out.”
He placed a cover over his sample and gave it about a minute without light. When he pulled the cover off, the sample was noticeably paler and weaker. “You were right,” Volton said, laughing. “It does need sunlight.”
“Well, I come up with a good suggestion once in a while,” E-Man said, full of himself. “The next question is — how do we turn the sun off for the rest of it?”
Volton blinked. “I… have no idea.”
E-Man morphed his face so that his eyes had become pink-skinned binoculars. He spotted the team called LAW trying to stop the giant plant from below. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” said E-Man, turning and pointing to them with an elongated arm. “Let’s talk with those guys down there. Maybe they’ve got a solution for us.”
“Um… OK,” said Volton, somewhat in awe of E-Man’s unusual abilities and the way he effortlessly used them. Clearly, he had some faulty preconceptions about American action-heroes.
Dr. Tetsuo Moto cursed as he watched the satellite feed at his headquarters. Halfway around the globe, the Sentinels of Justice made a similar discovery as the Question watched Blue Beetle undertake some of the same tests done by their counterparts. He had taken half of the sample and placed it under a styrofoam box. He checked it when Blue Beetle had given up everything else. The sample had turned to dust.
Watching, Dr. Moto realized that he had underestimated the resolve of his opponents. He had thought that, with their homes destroyed, he would have a free hand to carry out his plan. He was wrong. The Sentinels of Justice and this new LAW team were preparing to destroy his babies. He could not allow that.
He sent an activation signal to another two of his creations he had planted in Japan and Cuba. Maybe that would buy his beanstalks time to germinate and spread all over the world when the wind carried their seeds to other land masses. He wanted to see how those so-called heroes coped with what he would soon send their way.
Giant creatures suddenly exploded out of the oceans near Japan and Cuba. They headed for the temporary headquarters the two groups had settled in with building-destroying speed.
Moto smiled as he contemplated the two teams trying to deal with Spike and Tyke. He made a note that his two lizards had spawned three times as fast as he had planned.
Spike blew his fiery breath on Tokyo, setting buildings on fire as he closed with LAW. His tail sliced through obstacles horribly swiftly as it waddled forward.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, Tyke was snapping trees and burning anything in its path as it headed for the Sentinels of Justice.