"Brian? What are you doing down there?"
Woot tugged his goggles down and left them to dangle below his throat. What was left of his current project sat in front of him, crudely dissected; various parts had been soldered, hammered, and stapled together into something resembling robot vomit.
"Nothing, mom. Just, um, working on a project."
"You aren't taking apart the refridgerator, are you?" she asked. "I told you to throw that thing away."
"I am absolutely not taking apart the fridge," Woot replied. "That is not a thing that I am doing." He shoved what was left of the refridgerator on the floor behind his workbench.
"Well, good. Just make sure everything's cleaned up before you come upstairs," she said. "Dinner's ready."
"Be right up, mom," Woot said, wiping the grease off his hands and running up the steps. When he got there, they'd already taken the cheeseburgers off the grill and brought them inside; Woot washed his hands and took a seat next to his little sister.
"So," Mr. Daniels said, passing Woot the ketchup. "I noticed those gentlemen in suits already left."
"Mmnh?" Woot said, his mouth crammed full of burger. He swallowed, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and shrugged. "Oh, yeah. Probably changing shifts or something. Or maybe whatever was going on with that mask guy is through."
"I hope so. Really, all this nonsense," Mrs. Daniels said. "And it scarcely has a thing to do with you!" The doorbell wrang; Mrs. Daniels stood up and wiped her hands on a towel. "I'll check and see who that is. And don't wipe your mouth off on your sleeve, Brian. For God's sake, use a napkin."
"Mmnph-mmph," Woot mumbled.
The rest of the family continued to eat--Woot, Mr. Daniels, and Woot's baby sister, Janine. A minute passed in silence; Mr. Daniels looked up toward the hallway where Woot's mother had disappeared.
"Brian? Go check on your mother, see what's taking her so long."
Woot grunted before he finished a burger and sprang to his feet. He darted off down the hallway to the porch; there, he found his mother standing in front of two figures.
Except standing was the wrong word. One of the figures had an arm around her throat; she struggled briefly as they plunged something into her neck. There was a dull crackle of electricity followed by a spasm--and then she slumped to the floor.
"Mom!" Woot cried out, only to halt when the figure lowered the taser and depressed the trigger several feet from Woot's nose.
"Sh. No sudden movements. No shouting, no yelling, no noise," the woman said. She was dressed in a long gray coat with a trilby hat--beneath it, Woot could see a face that looked like it had been carved out of marble. Her hair was a thick, rich tangle of gold; her skin porcelain, her lips as red as blood. But it was her eyes that made something in Woot's belly squirm--they were pure jet black.
Her companion was wearing the same coat and hat, but had a considerably different look--rather than a face, Woot could see what looked like a survelliance camera beneath the hat. The lens glowed a bright, even red, and when he--she--it spoke, it was with a distinct metallic hum: "GREETINGS AND SALUTATIONS HUMAN. WE COME IN PEACE."
The woman produced what sounded like a long-suffering sigh. "No, Tech-Head. We do not come in peace."
Woot took a step toward his mother. "Look, uh, I don't know who the heck you guys are, but--"
The taser crackled again. Woot froze.
"Well?" the woman said, addressing her companion. "Scan him."
"SCANNING, MISS NOBLE," Tech-Head said. He stared at Woot for several seconds; the air around them seemed to hum. After a moment, the robot appeared to be satisfied. "SCAN COMPLETE. THERE ARE NO TECHNOLOGICAL DEVICES OF NOTE ON HIS PERSON."
"Good," the woman said--and then she lunged with a grin.
A spark of lightning snapped out like a whip, exploding across Miss Noble's chest. The coat burst into flames as the lightning produced a thunderous krack-kow and sent her hurtling through the door--she hit it head-on and smashed straight through it, tumbling down the front steps and on the lawn.
Woot's shirt smoldered; the leather harness beneath the fabric bore several dozen miniature tesla coils, each pointed outward and buzzing with a charge. Woot dropped down besides her mother and picked her up, dragging her back to the kitchen; Tech-Head turned from him to the still-smoking body of the woman outside.
Miss Noble sat up, her eyes blazing with hate.
"You said no technological devices of note!" she roared. She sprang to her feet and charged back into the house.
"AFFIRMATIVE. HE HAS NO TECHNOLOGICAL DEVICES OF NOTE ON HIS PERSON," Tech-Head said as Miss Noble sprang past him, her hands extended like the claws of a tiger.
Woot nudged his mother aside and intercepted her, swinging his hands together like a sledge-hammer. A swirling ball of lightning formed just above his knuckles and struck the woman mid-leap, producing another ear-splitting krack-kow. This time, she smashed through the porch's glass window, shattering the frame on her way out.
"What the hell do you call that lightning thing?" she shouted from outside.
"A SERIES OF METAL STUDS SOLDERED TO TWO LEATHER BELTS AND ATTACHED TO SEVERAL ALKALINE BATTERIES VIA COPPER WIRING," Tech-Head said. "LIKELY DECORATIVE."
Woot had managed to drag his mother back into the den; there, he snatched something from behind the couch with his other hand and pointed it at Tech-Head. "Eat electrified justice!"
"THAT IS A TOASTER MOUNTED ON TOP OF A GLUE-GUN WITH A DIODE PASTED ON THE SIDE," Tech-Head said. "THERE IS NOTHING PRESENT TO GENERATE SUFFICIENT POWER FOR ME TO 'EAT ELECTRIFIED JUS--'"
Woot squeezed the trigger; a blue bolt of etherized energy flared out and slammed Tech-Head directly in the chest. The robot flew back, crashing through the window directly next to where Miss Noble had been sent before. When he landed on the front lawn, he sat up and turned to the still-sprawled Miss Noble.
"I DO NOT THINK I LIKE THIS HUMAN," Tech-Head said.
"Shut up and kill him," Miss Noble growled.
Brick hadn't set foot outside in his father's orchard for longer than a few seconds before he heard the voice:
Driven by instinct, he shifted his weight off his crutches and moved to turn--and found himself rooted to the ground. It wasn't just that he couldn't move; it was as if he didn't even want to.
"The hell is--" he began, but he was cut off by the fist.
The bald-headed girl was around his age, dressed in a low cut tank-top and jeans. Every inch of bare skin was covered in black ink tattoos--they swirled over her flesh in barbed spirals and twisted talons, as if to covet it for their own. And when her fist hit his face, he could swear he detected the faint odor of sulfur.
The fist hit hard enough to sunder stone--but he did not budge.
"Thing you might not know about me," he said, dropping the crutches. "I don't bruise easy." He shifted his weight and balled up his fists, keeping his guard up. The person who spoke had been a male--which meant she wasn't alone.
"I figured," the girl said, and then she sprang back. The fact that her fist wasn't a mangled heap of shattered bone meant that she had super-strength and was hard as fuck. Neither spoke well for Brick. But so long as he could take things slow, she wouldn't be able to score a serious hit on him.
That's when he heard the boy's voice again, somewhere behind him.
Shit, Brick thought, a moment before his feet started to obey. He was still recovering from his injuries during the last fight; stabbing lances of pain shot up through his legs. But that wasn't bad part.
The bad part was that Brick's invulnerability relied on him standing still. The slower he moved, the harder he was to hurt. And if he was running at breakneck speed, that meant...
The girl grinned and reeled her fist back for another punch.