When the alarm rang through Stark Tower, it caught Steve in the middle of his usual workout, Tony in the middle of sleeping off a hangover, Bruce in the middle of attempting to solder a delicate piece of circuit board which he then dropped, Thor in the middle of making whatever he made between breakfast and lunch (besides a disaster in the kitchen), and Clint and Natasha in the middle of doing secretive Clint and Natasha things from which they emerged with their usual furtive glances.
“Damnit, JARVIS, you can turn the alarm off!” Tony complained.
Bruce looked around the living room. “What’s the alarm for?”
“Director Fury has called the team to action because unknown parties, apparently using one of the local universities as a production facility, have released a team of robots into the metropolitan area, where they appear to be… behaving strangely.”
“Clarify,” Tony snapped.
“According to reports they do have weapons but are firing them in a rather uncoordinated manner and are doing minor damage to buildings, but will eventually injure people if allowed to continue. And their motor skills appear to be impaired in some fashion, in that they seem to be engaging in random, repetitive motions…”
“That sounds like some really shitty programming,” Bruce said.
“Well, college students,” Clint said. “Good plans, lousy follow-through. They make terrible supervillains.”
“Yeah, but even college students studying basic robotics should be able to manage robots that can walk in a straight line and shoot a weapon in one general direction,” Natasha said.
“These robots are very erratic, ma’am,” JARVIS said. “And they appear to have been stolen from the robotics lab… their release has been traced to a bio-electronics research facility.”
“What kind of bio-electronics?” Tony asked.
“A variety of research projects, sir. I cannot…”
“Whatever. Suit up, guys. Let’s go see what we’ve got.”
When the team arrived, most people had fled inside buildings, leaving the robots to wander down the street, firing some sort of energy weapon into cars, the street, and up into the air. As they watched, several of them suddenly jerked, lost their balance, and fell over. One had abandoned its weapon completely and was flapping its arms as if attempting to take off. Another one was punching itself repeatedly in the head and didn’t seem to have any interest in doing anything else.
One of them noticed the team and pointed its weapon at them. Tony sighed and sent a blast of energy through it, sending it collapsing to the ground. As it did, the metal shell of its head cracked along a welded seam, dumping a wire-covered human brain onto the pavement.
Bruce blinked. “That’s a real brain.”
“Who puts real brains in robots?” Natasha asked.
“Dumbass bio-electronics student supervillain wanna-be assholes,” Clint muttered.
“They didn’t do a very good job,” Tony said. “These things aren’t functioning very well.”
“But they are functioning,” Bruce said, frowning. “I mean, they’re walking, they’re shooting… they’re just doing all these random behaviors that don’t make any sense… that one keeps trying to jump up and down, and that one’s head is spinning around.”
“Wait a minute,” Tony said, holding up his hand. “Where’d they get the brains? JARVIS? Any reports of any research facilities that have had about thirty brains go missing recently?”
“Now that you mention it, sir… the National Tourette Syndrome Association, which has offices in Bayside, New York, conducts research on brains donated by individuals with the disorder in order to determine…”
“Did someone steal their brains?”
JARVIS replied in his best I-was-talking-but-I-shall-pretend-you-are-not-insufferably-rude tone. “Yes, sir. Thirty-eight days ago they reported the theft of fifty preserved brains from their laboratory.”
Tony turned to the team. “You guys are going to love this.”
“I doubt it,” Clint muttered.
“Seriously. These people stole these brains. Want to guess where they stole them from?”
“If this is setting up the punchline for a bad joke…” Natasha sighed.
“They stole them from a laboratory that specifically collects and studies the brains of people with Tourette Syndrome.”
“Okay, you’re joking,” Bruce said.
“I’m not. Look at them. Do you know anything about people with Tourette Syndrome? Their brains are neurologically unusual in some really interesting ways…”
“I know that,” Bruce complained.
“Yeah, but the tics are somewhere between voluntary and involuntary,” Tony said. “And it’s the frontal cortex that enforces some control over whether the body performs the tics, although it can’t completely control them. Except that it’s highly doubtful that they managed to restore actual consciousness in these things, which means they have no ability to regulate these signals they’re getting from other parts of the brain…”
“You’re just repeating what JARVIS is telling you through your headset,” Natasha accused.
“That’s not relevant,” Tony said.
“So… what do we do with them?” Thor asked.
“An electrical pulse should put them down long enough for us to take the brains out,” Tony said. “The research facility would probably like them back… they can still use them for tissue samples.”
“People donated them,” Steve said. “They shouldn’t be wasted.”
“We seriously have to go around picking up brains off the street?” Natasha asked, rolling her eyes.
“You’ve done worse,” Clint said, reaching over his shoulder for a shock arrow.
“Don’t waste your arrows,” Tony said. “Most of them look like they’ve pretty much lost control at this point… see this one over here that’s just rubbing its hands together? Some of its fingers have fallen off.”
“They don’t have verbal tics,” Bruce said.
“They don’t have mouths,” Natasha pointed out. “Thor… deal with this, please?”
“Of course,” Thor said cheerfully, raising his hammer. There was a rumble, and the sky darkened slightly, and a bolt of lightning flashed down. Thor lowered the hammer, pointed it toward the street full of highly distracted and confused robots, and unleashed the bolt.
“I can’t believe we’re collecting brains in a basket,” Clint grumbled.
“The lady at the store was nice enough to give us baskets,” Bruce said.
“They’re sticky,” Tony complained, since Bruce had made him retract the suit gloves because they were squishing the brains.
“You’ll get over it,” Natasha said. “Just pick them up and let’s get out of here. People are staring. Did they figure out who sent these things out?”
“JARVIS says they have suspects in custody,” Tony said. “Apparently they had some professional thieves procure their brains for them, and they told them the brains had to be intact and couldn’t be from anyone with brain damage. These brains aren’t damaged. They’re pristine… just neurologically wired in a different way.”
“So these idiots had no idea the brains they put in their robots were neurologically prone to random, repetitive motor behaviors and would have no functioning frontal cortex to control them,” Bruce said, rolling his eyes. “This is the kind of stupid we get for bad guys nowadays.”
“As opposed to the smart bad guys we used to get?” Natasha asked.
“I like the ones who brag about their plans to us so we can screw them up,” Clint said.
“My favorites are the ones who collect a bunch of minions that immediately chicken out and run for the hills when they see the Hulk coming,” Tony said.
“Did anyone call Fury yet?” Steve asked.
“Not yet,” Tony said. “I’m still trying to decide exactly how to phrase this for maximum hilarity on the report documents.”
“Invasion of the Tourette Robot Brains?” Bruce suggested.
“Team Assembled to Repossess Tourette Research Brains from Zombie Robots?” Clint suggested.
“Love it,” Tony said. “Calling it in now.”
“Do we really have to use the word ‘zombie’ in the report?” Steve asked wearily.
“Why would you even ask that? Of course we do. It’s absolutely required. For accuracy, you know.”
“They weren’t zombies.”
“They were sort of zombies.”
“They weren’t even sort of zombies.”
Natasha raised a hand. “Steve… you’re wasting your breath. He’s going to report whatever the hell he wants no matter what you say.”
Steve sighed and picked up another brain. “It’s just not very accurate.”
“No, but it makes a better headline,” Tony said. “JARVIS? You get Fury on the line yet? Okay… after you get him, get me the producers at all the major news stations… what was that headline again, Clint?”