They weren't quiet. Either they didn't care if they were heard or it was a trick.
Ferb tilted his head, attempting to make out the words that echoed through the empty streets, but they were too distorted. There were more voices than before.
The battle at Lard World had still been raging when they'd left. If more nut-jobbers were being sent out to search, it must have ended.
He closed his eyes. Ferb didn't know who those men were or why they all looked like clones of each other, but there was no doubt in his mind that they were all dead or transformed by now.
Just like everyone else, except for him and Phineas.
"We need to get out of the city."
Opening his eyes, he looked at his brother. Aside from a few protests over abandoning their allies, Phineas had been silent since they'd seen the results of the M.U.L.C.H.
Phineas stared across the living room of the house they'd hidden in, but Ferb didn't think he was seeing the overturned furniture and broken lamps. Despite that, his tone was strong as he continued, "If Baljeet's right, we can fix this. They can't touch us." His eyes flickered towards Ferb, less sure he added, "Right?"
It would be easy to say yes. Easy and a complete lie. They didn't fully understand what Baljeet had discovered about them. There had to be limits to it, the previous summer had shown that things could go wrong for them. Perhaps the effect's strength varied depending on factors currently unknown. If they'd only had more time, more tests could have been run.
"They won't touch you." Another thing he couldn't promise with complete and total assurance, but he would do whatever it took to keep Phineas out of their arms. Vines. Limbs? Whatever.
Phineas must have known what he was thinking, of course he did, because he shot Ferb a sharp look. "Oh, no. You are not doing that again."
Again? Ferb blinked.
"Isa--" his voice cracked and he started again, "Isabella isn't here to pull me away this time. If you do something dumb so I can run away while they get you, it's not happening. I won't run."
That put a crimp in his last resort plan. Still, he only vaguely knew what Phineas was referring to. Like everyone else involved in that night, he couldn't remember being turned or what lead up to it.
"Besides, I don't think this'll be as simple to cure as building a sprinkler."
"They are plants. A citywide sprinkler might be viewed as a token of peace."
It took a moment, but Phineas started giggling. Covering his mouth, his shoulders shook as he tried not to laugh too loudly.
Ferb relaxed slightly at it. Keeping up their spirits was important at this point. If Phineas grew too stressed, had too many failed ideas, they and everyone in Danville, well, he didn't want to say doomed. That made them sound much too important. He was quite confident the world did not revolve around them, despite how it may seem on occasion. Candace might be-- might have been convinced there was some magical force out there that bowed to their every whim or something, but it seemed improbable.
His heart sunk a bit at the thought of his sister. But now wasn't the time to give into mourning, not when there was still a chance this could be reversed.
Phineas' amusement had faded. Perhaps his thoughts had circled around to their family and friends as well. Or he couldn't keep up the lightheartedness with so much hanging over their heads.
"Do you hear them?"
Ferb shook his head. The dead silence from outside, now pointed out, seemed almost eerie.
Pushing himself up from the floor, Phineas stay low as he moved towards the nearest window. Ferb got to his feet too, itching to keep close but staying back.
After looking both ways, he straightened up, going so far as to stand on his toes. "I don't see anything."
They should move before a more in-depth sweep was made.
"We should go." Phineas turned away from the window, glancing back over his shoulder a few times as he walked back to Ferb. "It's too bad Buford gave away our hideout. We could've used that stuff."
They had other hideouts, but not many, and not ones that could be reached without running the risk of being recaptured.
It was too bad they were on the opposite side of town from home. The beak suit mark five could have been useful, as well as some of the other inventions they kept in the S.H.E.D.
If the people who lived here did any gardening, the tool could possibly be used as weapons, but while he wouldn't hesitate to use them on the nut-jobbers, but if they encountered someone they knew...
Perhaps it was better if their ways of fighting back were limited.
"If we're careful, we should be able to avoid any stray nut-jobbers." Phineas glanced both ways on habit before starting across the street.
Ferb was just a step behind him. He'd have to remember not to stop short or he might get walked into.
As they moved towards the edges of the city, Phineas kept finding himself looking back in the direction of the amusement park. Or where he was pretty sure it was. He'd never been there before today so its exact location was iffy.
Not that he'd want to go to a lard themed park. He didn't even know why someone would create a park with a theme of pig fat. It was kinda disgusting. And that was coming from a guy who'd built a tooth themed roller coaster ride that included a break down on plaque and gingivitis.
But that had educational value. What was the educational value of lard? As far as he knew, nothing. But maybe there was. He should ask Baljeet. When this was over and Baljeet was, you know, Baljeet again and not a mutant human-plant hybrid that wanted to rip him to shreds instead of giving him valuable, if somewhat boring, facts on stuff and get As in school.
He'd almost rather have Baljeet trying to destroy the world again over this. At least they could outsmart even the smartest nerd that lacked common sense.
A hand touching his arm knocked him out of his thoughts.
Phineas frowned at the darkening shadows. The day had gone by fast. Or maybe it just felt that way because of all the rushing around. They normally didn't travel back and forth across town this much.
Ferb stared at something behind them before suddenly pushing Phineas towards a driveway.
Taking the hint, he hurried around the corner out of sight.
"There's one of them!"
He exchanged a look with Ferb. The voice wasn't right there, but even a few blocks away wasn't far enough.
A fence ran alongside the driveway, turning with it to seal off the backyard. There wasn't a gate.
But there was a door in the side of the house facing them.
Ferb moved to it first, testing the handle. It wasn't locked.
Poking his head through it, Phineas hesitated. "They'll know we came through here."
Before he could reply, or even pull his head out, Phineas was shoved from behind. His hands hit the floor a second before his unprotected knees, and he yelped.
The door shut behind him without a bang, leaving the room in darkness.
Ignoring the stinging in his palms and knees, he scrambled back to his feet.
"Hey, meatbag! Get back here!"
Phineas tiptoed to the door, using his hands to make sure he didn't walk into it. It'd be embarrassing to give himself away like that.
A loud thud made him freeze.
If they got Ferb...
He could practically see it. Their arms stretching and wrapping around him. Pulling him back while they laughed and mocked him. Bringing him back to Lard World where they'd tie him up with rope and shove him in the M.UL.C.H. once it was fixed. If it wasn't already. And then Ferb would be chasing him too.
Some more words were shouted from outside. His face felt hot. He didn't think he'd ever heard some of those words before and he'd rather not hear them again.
But other than making him want to cover his ears, the cursing gave him some hope. They wouldn't be yelling like that if they'd caught Ferb.
But what if Ferb needed help? He couldn't just stay here.
Feeling the door, he found the handle. Turning it slowly, he eased the door open a crack.
One of the nut-jobbers was hanging half-way over the fence. The curses and grunts continuing until he managed to push himself over it. Another thud and a swear came with his head-first landing.
Phineas waited a minute before stepping out. The wooden fence towered over him. The small slits between the boards let him peek through them but both Ferb and the nut-jobbers were gone.
Even if he could see them, he couldn't get over the fence, he didn't even know how Ferb got over, except that he was Ferb and Ferb could do anything.
He glared at the fence. But just cause Ferb could do anything didn't mean he should. He wasn't done with this. They would have a talk about this and add more rules to the "things Ferb's not allowed to do" list.
Though, technically, using allowed to describe it was stretching it. He could bug his brother about these things, but Ferb didn't always listen. If he did, they wouldn't need the list in the first place.
And Ferb would still be with him and not wherever he was now.
Turning away from the fence, he didn't know what to do. If Ferb was gonna circle around and come back, he didn't want to leave. But Ferb might be expecting him to go on without him. As if.
Phineas glanced at the sky. The sun was inching its way down, and he didn't really want to be wandering around an unfamiliar part of the city in the dark.
Without a flashlight.
With mutant plants chasing him.
Yeah, that just sounded like a bad idea all around.
He was still puzzling it over when someone stepped into the driveway.
Private William Johnson pounded his palm against the side of the deintegration rife. It made a high-pitched electrical noise.
Sliding up his eyeglasses to the top of his head, the other man raised an eyebrow. "We good?"
"Don't want that thing going out on us."
Willy snorted. "You should be more worried about it switching into reintegration mood, Sir."
"That can happen?"
"I am banging on it."
"Don't bang on it."
"I'll try not to, Sir." Looking away, Willy rolled his eyes. But he could have done worse than been stuck with Lieutenant Garrison during what was being deemed a terrorist attack.
It was really bad enough that they only had one rife at their disposal and it was a malfunctioning one. If the situation wasn't dire, he'd wouldn't bother with it. If it happened to switch settings on him, firing at a plant creature could instead reform all the ones he'd shot with it previously, and anything and anyone else it'd been used on before he got a hold of it, leaving them outnumbered.
Unless it was one of Colonel Niblet's rifles, then they might end up with a group of confused astronauts on their hands, on top of the plants, possibly literally, that could act as a distraction.
Picking back up his jog, he passed up his superior.
The empty streets could have fit into a ghost town. Starkly different from the usual hustle and bustle that filled them. Each time they passed a hastily parked or crashed, he slowed glancing through the windows or open doors to make sure no one was still inside.
Lieutenant Garrison never slowed, moving at a quick pace, made quicker by not carrying a heavily yet sleek-looking weapon himself. Since the plan had been placed into action, Willy knew all that was on the older man's mind was reaching the bird and getting the hell out of dodge.
And right into the hands of their superiors who'll want to know why they didn't catch onto what was happening right under their noses until it was broadcast on live TV.
Out of the frying pan and right into the fire itself.
If they blamed Garrison, he knew Garrison would turn it around and put the blame on him, despite his only been on assignment a month. One lousy month where he was routinely tasked with watching an empty field.
All because some alien had lost a key there a year old.
Aliens had not been in the job description. Not the one they showed him, anyway. The real job details were so heavily classified no one knew what the hell they were doing.
Things like that was what lead to FUBAR situations like this.
A guttural growl cut off his thoughts.
Willy slowed, shouldering the butt of the rifle as he scanned the area.
Garrison stood several feet ahead, looking for all the world a bodyguard of the end times in his pitch-black suit, earpiece hanging uselessly from its cord.
From the corner of his eye, he kept thinking he saw something, but the countless shadows were playing with his vision.
He had a flashlight on his belt but turning it on would make them a beacon. They might as well break into a lively rendition of Chop Away at My Heart to announce their presence.
Something came trotting out of the dark.
Private Willy barely stopped himself from pulling the trigger before he realized it was a dog.
Just a dog.
He let out a relieved breath as the shaking chihuahua sniffed his boot. Crouching down, he held his hand out to the dog a second before reaching for the collar and glancing at the tag hanging on it. "Hey there, Pinky."
Willy didn't move. They were crossing the city on foot. Realistically, they should have seen some survivors, but this chihuahua was the first non-plant they'd found.
Leaving it here by itself... it didn't sit right with him.
He couldn't carry both the rifle and the dog. Scratching the pup's pointed ear, he said, "Who's a good dog?"
Pinky's tongue lolled out, back paw beating against the road.
"Just a moment, Sir." He pulled his hand away and stood up. "Come on, Pinky. Come on." He took a few steps and stopped when the dog started barking.
Willy had always believed animals were more intelligent then most people gave them credit for. And since being assigned to Danville, he'd seen some weird-ass shit involving what looked like household pets.
Danville platypuses alone seemed to go against everything he knew about the animal.
The chihuahua was staring at him with eyes that glinted with more intelligence than anyone would expect from a dog.
"Sir, you ever watch that old show Lassie?"
Garrison glowered. "Stop wasting time."
"I'm not, Sir, I think he wants us to follow him." When he finished speaking, Pinky's tail began wagging with what he assumed was agreement.
"We're not detouring to follow a dog."
"I'm not stopping you from going on without me." If he thought for one second the lieutenant would go on without him, he would have kept his mouth shut, but Garrison wasn't a field officer, even if he took the deintegration rife, he'd be a dead man walking on his own.
Willy's gut told him that that fact was the only reason Garrison hadn't left him to fend for himself after the news aired. That, and to point the finger of blame at him if they actually got out of here.
He followed the dog, letting Garrison's mutters about insubordination and the punishments for it slid in one ear and out the other.
Since he was a child, Willy had loved dogs. Lassie had been his favorite, and he'd read every book and watched every show and movie he could find about the hero dog.
In the oldest short story featuring Lassie, she led a search party to two half-brothers lost in a snow storm. When they find the brothers, the older is already dead, but the younger is saved.
He didn't know why he suddenly thought about that story. There wasn't a snowstorm, and he didn't expect the dog to lead him to someone freezing to death or someone on the brink of death for any other reason, the plant creatures didn't seem all that interested in killing anyone.
Maybe if he had expected it, he wouldn't have frozen when he saw the two plant creatures standing over the still body of a child.
The thing about the Lassie story is true, also, random fact, the woman who wrote it apparently had a son named Willy. The more you know.
OWCA agents were trained to be fearless. This was enforced to the point that every agent was given business cards stating the fact.
It was a lie. The cards were also a waste of money.
Any agent that grew close to their host family had the same basic fear: losing said host family.
For Agent Pinky, that meant his girl, his Isabella.
He'd been on assignment when the call come over his communicator from Major Monogram that all the humans were being rounded up.
If he hadn't been tied up with hairbands, he would have gone in search of his Isabella immediately. By the time he did reach her, it was too late.
He'd been shaking even more than normal when he saw the neighbor boy. He knew Perry's boys. His Isabella wanted to mate with the loud one.
It was the other one, the quiet one, he found running from the Pistachions. If there had been only one, he would have jumped into the fray. Perry would have done the same for Pinky's Isabella if the situation was reserved.
But against two, improperly armed for the fight, he was only a chihuahua. His training had been to fight against humans, robots and, occasionally, a rogue flea or turncoat agent, not sentient plants from the future.
At best, he would lose the fight, at worst, he would both lose and blow his cover.
A bit of quick thinking had led to him using his locator to find any other humans in the area. It'd been his, or rather Perry's boy's lucky day.
Before drawing the two suited men's attention, he took a moment to try contacting any of his fellow agents. Nothing.
Up until the Major and Carl's capture, the organization had still been running, but without orders from the top, ninety-nine percent of the agents were next to useless.
Other than himself and Perry, Karen the Cat had been the only other Danville agent sinking her claws into the enemy once the chain of command had fallen.
Thinking of the cat, he growled low in his throat. He had nothing against her, personally, but some things couldn't be overwritten with training.
The growl caught the dark-skinned male's attention, making him bring up the gun he held.
Pinky dropped to all fours and assumed the expression of a less intelligent pet. After approaching the humans, he put on the act, letting his tongue hang out as the man pet him. It wasn't hard to get into character when his fingers hit that sweet spot.
Perry's boy's luck continued when the male took the hint to follow. Pinky kept himself at a trot as he led the armed men back the way he'd come.
They weren't where he left them, but the plants emitted a strong nutty smell that was easy to follow and soon he had them back in sight.
When the male froze, he thought he'd made a mistake in his choice of humans.
Then the man fired.
The Pistachions dissipated before his eyes.
Pinky narrowed his eyes at the humans with a new sense of suspicion. Whatever that weapon was, it was ahead of OWCA's technology. That shouldn't be possible when theirs was the newest and best that had been stolen from the evil/mad scientists they defeated. His ears folded back against his head.
It was too late to undo his decision.
He hurried to catch up with the men.
Reaching Perry's boy, the smell of blood attacked his nose. The same smell that would have him begging for scraps in the kitchen had him letting out a whimper here.
The male with the gun took his eyes off Perry's boy to stoke Pinky's head. "It's a small cut. Your owner'll be fine once we get him out of here."
Small or not, Perry was going to kill him.