Spencer Ecchs peered around the corner of the kitchen, looking up at his mother and father as they worked their way through breakfast. Doctor Carol Ecchs was hard at work, eating a bagel while she toyed with a complicated set of equations. Next to her, Professor Filmore Ecchs was working equally hard, a plate of scrambled eggs rapidly cooling next to him. Occasionally, one of them would glance at the other's work and point out a small correction or thought, but for the most part they seemed totally occupied with their own work. Taking a deep breath, the nine-year-old boy started to tiptoe past them, arms loaded with esoteric gear, keeping his head low to stay below the counter at which she sat as he tried to cross the space from the garage to the study.
“No plasma casters in the house, Spence.” Carol said without looking up. She reached over, snatching a long, black tube whose readout glowed with purple glyphs, and dropping it on the counter next to her work. “Where are you going with all of that?”
“Um…” Spencer considered, then smiled. “Sylvia's doin' a 'spearmint.”
“Ex-per-i-ment. Elucidate, Spencer.” His father chided him mildly. “What on?”
“Me.” Spencer said proudly.
Carol and Filmore glanced at each other for half a second, wordlessly delegating responsibility. “Sylvia Morton Ecchs, you get in here this instant!” Filmore finally shouted.
Sylvia slunk in from the other room, wearing an old lab coat that fell over her hands and pooled around her feet. She glared at her younger brother. “Aw, Spence, you weren't supposed to tell!” She moped.
“What have we told you about live experiments, young lady?” Filmore looked sternly at his daughter.
“No experimenting on family members.” Sylvia pouted.
“That's right.” Her father nodded. “Where are your friends, anyway? Shouldn't you be out playing with them?”
“They're not allowed to come over any more.” Sylvia muttered.
“Really? Honestly.” Carol shook her head, still working on her figures. “I undid all of the transformations.”
“Regardless. No experiments for a week, young lady.” Filmore said.
“But Da-aad!” Sylvia and Spencer chorused at once.
The phone rang. Carol put down her pencil. “I'll get it, you keep talking to them.” She said. Filmore nodded, as his wife stepped into the other room, and returned his attention to his children.
“No buts. And you, Spencer – you should know better, too. Ecches are not experiments. We are the experimenters.” He shook his head, muttering. “We never had this much trouble with Harold.”
“But I need…” Sylvia started. Filmore shook his head.
“Absolutely not. You're lucky I don't ground you. No experiments – for either of you.”
“But…” Sylvia started. She broke off at the sound of her mother's gasp from the other room. As the three turned in surprise, Carol raced into the kitchen. Her face was pale, and she gestured to Filmore.
“Who is it?” Filmore said with concern.
“Your father. It's about…” Carol swallowed heavily. “It's about Jordan.”
“Uncle Jordie?” Spencer perked up hopefully. His father was never happy when Jordan came over – arguments over the different life choices the two had embarked on took hold that mostly went over Spencer's head – but he loved having his uncle around, and hearing his stories about fighting superheroes. “Is he coming over?” He asked hopefully.
“I… no, sweetie.” Carol said after a moment. “Why don't you and Sylvia go play in the back yard for a while. Your father and I need to… need to talk for a minute.”
“Yes, mother.” Sylvia said. She took Spencer's hand. “Come on, Spence, I'll show you a new trick I learned to blow up ants!” Quickly, she lead him out into the family's spacious back yard.
“You already showed me that trick.” Spencer said once they were out of earshot. “Where are we going?”
“Around to the window. Mother always leaves it open, we can listen in.” Sylvia grinned, and Spencer hesistated.
“I don't know, Sylvia, Mother and Father are already really mad…” He said. Sylvia pulled on his arm.
“Don't you want to hear?” She asked. After a moment, Spence nodded. “Then come on!” With one finger on her lips, she pulled him over to the side of their house, creeping against the dark red paint to get under the study window. Soon, they could hear their parents talking.
“…no chance.” Came Carol's voice, raw and cracked. “Oh, my god.”
“I told him. I knew that this would happen.” Filmore sounded broken, and Sylvia and Spencer's joy at being able to overhear him was quickly replaced by a growing sense of fear. “God, Carol, we were going to move up the coast. We could have been living there already if it weren't for the childrens' schooling.” He wavered. “He can't be gone. He must have gotten a force field up, or…”
“They're sweeping what's left of Manhatten. They haven't found any more survivors.” Carol's footsteps crossed the room, as she took her husband's hand. “I'm sorry, sweetie, but your brother wasn't as indestructible as the All-American Man. He's dead.”
Spencer felt his world reel. He didn't realize he'd started to cry until his mother was reaching out the window, grabbing her children one at a time and pulling them into the study. But instead of yelling at them, she just smiled sadly and held them, as their father reached over to do the same.
“It's going to be okay.” His father said like a mantra. “We're going to be okay.”
Somehow, Spencer found it hard to believe him.