Hello, Good-bye

A Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

Chapter Three

1919...

            When he first arrived, Rabbit had feared that the four months until the next portal opening would pass so slowly as to be agonizing for him. Now, as he stood in the basement room and watched the clock count down, he wondered where the time had gone. The singing automaton ladies and Dr. Petra Walter stood by at the ready. Poor Bea sniffled uncontrollably and Curve hugged her. Muffin fidgeted and tried to pretend that she wasn’t sad for the benefit for everyone in the room. Petra was busy making notes on the blackboard as she took readings from various pieces of equipment that measured conditions surrounding the impending rift.

            With just five minutes remaining she rested her chalk and turned to face them. She was tired but smiled placidly as she met Rabbit’s eyes. “Almost time,” she said. “Are you ready?”

            He nodded quickly. “I’m torn,” he said. “I want to go, and I don’t want to go.”

            The Bea took a deep breath and bawled loudly now, steam and oil spurting out. The Curve leaned back but could not break her grip as she was drenched in it.

            Muffin nodded. “Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly it. I d-d-don’t want you to go, but I want you to be back with The Spine and The Jon--your brothers. If we feel this way, they must be missing you so terribly!”

            Rabbit stepped toward them and opened his arms. The four automatons shared a tight group-hug. “Whenever I hear the songs you’ve sung for me,” he said. “I’ll hear only your sweet voices.”

            All three lady robots sniffled and released him. He turned to the scientist.

            “Momma,” Rabbit whispered.

            “Be brave,” she said, straightening his hat and rubbing a bit of grime from his copper face with her thumb. “And give everyone our love.”

            “I’ll miss you, Momma,” he said, holding back his tears. “I’ll never forget you.”

            “Rabbit...” Petra Walter blushed. “Would you mind terribly if I...” She shook her head and composed herself. “I want to make a boy robot to remember you by. Would that be alright with you?”

            Rabbit’s eyes went wide and he smiled. “I would be most honored,” He said and bowed to her slightly. She gave him a quick, but firm hug.

“I never thought I wanted a boy until I met you,” she whispered, releasing him. “It’s time,” she said, and pushed him gently toward the emergence point. The clock chimed, the rift crackled and with a glance over his shoulder to give his other-world family a thumbs-up, Rabbit jumped into the blue glow.

 

.x. Present Day...

“As the time grew near,” The Spine continued, “we were joined by Robert and Melissa. Because we’d kept our distance from Robert for the last four months, we really had no idea what was going on between them. As it turned out, the two Walter-assistants had fallen in love. Robert insisted that he had to return to his own dimension--that he didn’t belong here and his presence was upsetting the order of things in the manor. I had to cover The Jon’s mouth as he tried to vociferously agree. Melissa was in tears. She made a brave attempt to hide them from Peter Walter the First and the Second as they entered the room, but I’m sure they noticed. The alarms went off, the rift opened, Robert saluted us, thanked us, and jumped in.

The Spine smiled. “I don’t remember ever feeling more relieved than when I saw Rabbit hop back out of the rift. He came bounding through, taking huge strides and nearly ran into us with a look of steely determination on his face. As soon as he saw that we were all assembled to greet him, Rabbit smiled wide and called our names and we all cheered and made a fuss over him. As I recall, The Jon latched on to Rabbit’s neck and would not let go of him for several hours. Rabbit was back--what a relief that was to all of us! All of us, except Melissa, however, who sat in a chair toward the back of the room and held her face in her hands.” The Spine frowned for a moment, then shook his head. “When we started playing for audiences again it was like we had the old Rabbit back. He was engaged, energized and best of all, happy.”

Michael cleared his throat. “This is where the other shoe drops,” he said.

“Indeed.” The Spine nodded. “But not for Rabbit. Not yet. When the rift closed, The First reset the timer for fourteen years, the next factor of 42 between open and close, and sealed the room in the basement where it had always appeared. Melissa was beside herself and after that rarely spoke. We saw her only in her official capacity; otherwise, we understood, she was holed up in her room and cried every night, missing her Walter Boy.

“So sad!” Hatchworth cried.

“Until one day, she left the manor and didn’t return.”

Michael folded his arms. “Was the contract the same then as it is now?”

“Contract?” Steve asked.

“Yes, Michael,” The Spine nodded. “Steve, the saying goes, ‘Once a Walter Girl, always a Walter Girl’, so you can imagine that a thorough search was conducted. This was before even Walter Robotics had developed any sort of remote tracking devices so we canvassed the city for days before we found her in a downtown San Diego boarding house and brought her back to the manor. The First was greatly agitated by this and had been contemplating what sort of disciplinary measures should be taken, when she confessed that she was expecting a child.”

“Whoa!” All three exclaimed. Hatchworth muttered something to the effect that he already knew that.

“I’m sorry this is such a long story, but if you’re going to know it, you need to know all of it.” The spine turned the scrap book around so that it better faced Steve, Michael and Hatchworth. “That baby was Little Melissa,” he said, pointing to the void next to Wanda and Mark. “She was born in 1920 and would have been about eight or nine when this photo was taken.”

Hatchworth touched the spot. “What did she look like?”

The Spine smiled. “She was very pale but had rosy cheeks and fingers. Her hair was bright blue. The First said that was because she was the child of two fully-acclimated Walter assistants. Like Peter Walter’s own children, she too was born with an affinity for Blue Matter.”

“Ya know,” Steve said, pointing to the children. “They’re pretty close together, but it looks like there’s big gap between them and this Melissa.”

“Hm,” The Spine frowned. “You may be right. The Walter children and their mother did not care for the poor girl. You see, when she was born, her own mother’s life was lost.”

“Oh, I knew that, too!” Hatchworth cried, excited to remember things told to him so many years ago. “So sad. She was all alone.”

“The First and Second didn’t have time for a baby and their wives did what they could to help, but only at arm’s length. Whether they were afraid of the child or not, I’m not sure, though it would be a better explanation than simply being callous towards her. If it weren’t for Rabbit, I think the poor girl wouldn’t have had a very good life.”

The Spine rested his chin in his palm and sighed lightly. “From the very first moment he laid eyes on that baby girl, he was taken in. She had these shining black eyes that locked on him. Melissa was named for her mother and was the happiest baby I’ve ever seen in this house. The Second and Third had been fussy and spoiled even when they weren’t up to no good and we robots kept our distance from them until they were old enough to take ‘no’ for an answer. Mark and Wanda weren’t much better. Melissa, on the other hand was quiet and thoughtful and soon she realized that we automatons gave her more consideration than the other humans in the house did. The Jon and Rabbit were always playing with her or taking her to the park, but Jon was capricious and not as devoted to the little girl as Rabbit was. He even helped educate her about robotics and Blue Matter. We were all convinced that she would be a great scientist one day; even at ten years old, she was able to solve very complex problems and to build her own rudimentary robots.

Steve folded his arms. “But since we’ve never heard of her before...” he muttered.

Michael nodded. “I don’t like where this is headed.”

“As I said,” The Spine raised his brows and sat up straight. “She was a happy child, but shortly after her twelfth birthday, that changed.”

 

.x. 1932...

            Rabbit hummed an upbeat tune to himself as he loped down the hall toward his room. The other two members of the steam man band were waiting for him in the practice space on the third floor. Now that they had started to write their own songs for the first time, they had just learned that they would be featured performers in the 1933 Chicago Exposition. “So exciting!” Rabbit piped to himself as he opened his door. “Now, what did I do with that accordina?” The room was large and the decor was dark, dusty and cluttered. He started pulling clothes and instruments from the floor searching for the small, accordion-like instrument.

            A movement from his bed drew his attention and he froze in place. A tuft of straight blue hair stuck out from tightly-tucked covers. Rabbit smiled and went about his search quietly so as not to disturb her. Moments later he put his hand on the accordina and was turning to leave but was interrupted again when he heard her sniffle. He spun and called her name softly, asking if she was alright.

            “No...” a small, muffled voice whined from the covers. Rabbit hopped over a couple of piles and seated himself on the edge of the bed. He peeled the covers back to reveal her tear-stained face.

            “Aw, Honey, what’s wrong?” he cooed.

            “Mark was teasing me,” the twelve-year-old said and slowly sat up, hugging the comforter around her and staring at the messy floor. She was dressed in a Walter-Girl white pinafore and her hair was cut short just under her chin but was unkempt and mussed. Her large, black eyes were red-rimmed.

            “Don’t let him get at you, now. You know he’s just a little boy...” Rabbit fussed with her hair, brushing it back in place with his fingers.

            “He called me a filthy orphan!”

            Rabbit winced. “Oh, Honey...”

            She looked up into his mis-matched photoreceptors and blurted, “Why don’t I have a mom and dad like Mark and Wanda do?”

            Rabbit recoiled as if she had struck him. “Well... Er... Th-th-that’s...” he stammered.

            Realizing she had hurt him with her words, Melissa cried and threw her arms around the robot. “Oh, Pappy-Rabbit, I didn’t mean that you’re not my Pappy!”

            Steam hissed from his vents and he hugged her back. “It’s ok, I know why you said it. I might love you to pieces, but I’ll never replace your human father.”

            She calmed down and released him, sitting quietly beside him. Rabbit squeezed her shoulder gently. “Did you know them?” she asked.

            More steam curled out. “Well, I don’t know if you’re old enough to...”

            Melissa looked up, pleadingly at him. “If I’m old enough to be sad about not knowing, don’t you think I’m old enough to know about them?”

            He had to agree with that. “Well, I’m not sure knowing is gonna make you any happier...” he said, grimacing. “It’s not a happy story.” Her stare melted his resolve. “Alright, alright. I’ll tell you.” Something in the way she straightened up and looked so seriously at him made Rabbit intensely sad and he knew that once she learned the truth, nothing would ever be the same. They had warned him, when she was just a baby, that if he got attached to her she’d break his heart. She’d mature, and change, and one day she would grow old and die. At the time, he’d ignored them. She was a treasure to him: the only connection to the world on the other side of the rift that had brought him so much joy and comfort. Calmly, slowly, and with the utmost respect, Rabbit told her the truth about her mother and father and about the tear in space-time that had brought them together. He explained what the robots on the other side were like and about Petra Walter. He made certain to include as many happy details as he could to overshadow the fact that her mother was dead and her father was gone forever.

            When he finished, they sat very still for a while in the silence. Finally, Melissa looked up and smiled faintly at him. “Thank you,” she said.

            “If you ever need to talk about it, I’m here,” Rabbit said, echoing Petra Walter’s words to him.

            “I will.” Looking rather mature for her twelve years, Melissa got up, went to the door and looked back over her shoulder. “I love you, Pappy-Rabbit,” she said, smiled and let herself out.

            The automaton picked the accordina back up and played a few notes of the perky tune he’d been humming in the hall then sang a verse.

            “When I met you on your first day, you made me happy in every way. Oh, you did, yes you did.

With your first word, you said my name. Inside my circuits, you kindled a flame. Oh, you did...

Oh, Honey you’ve just got to know (that you) won’t have to live your life alone. (Well I) was waiting for you all my life... Oh... My...

It’s you and me, my Honey-Bee. Honey Bee!”

Grinning wide, Rabbit sprang to his feet. “Perfect!” he crowed and headed back to the practice room. “Now, back to work! She’s gonna love it!”