Run & Go With It

(Sequel to Life Is So Wonderful)

Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

NOTE: Please read “Life Is So Wonderful” in which Spine becomes a man and Rabbit becomes a woman before you read this if you want it to make much sense. This part was inspired by Mrs. M who was going through a rough patch with her teenaged daughter at the time.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Thursday, June 19th, 2003, early morning, a few days until the first day of summer--the day the sun shone the longest and the longest twenty-four hours Rabbit Walter felt she had ever lived through. She sat against the cool, cement-block wall of the fifth basement level on a large sofa cushion, wrapped in a comforter and stared blankly at the sealed stairwell fire door leading down to the sixth level. The Jon and Upgrade sat on either side of the door, in standby mode, silent sentinels should anyone attempt to gain access to this lowest subterranean floor of Walter Manor. Around Rabbit were the remains of a half-eaten cucumber sandwich and some empty juice bottles. Annie Walter slept on three sofa cushions across the hall and her teenaged son Peter Walter VI nodded his head as he tried to stay awake at her side.

“I dunno how you do it, Aunt Rabbit,” he mumbled. “I’m so tired.”

Rabbit shrugged slowly. “Sleep, Six. Me and Jon and Up’ll keep watch. ‘N Wanda’ll be down here again soon once she’s got some rest.”

“And Nikki?” Peter asked, hopefully.

Rabbit turned her head away and fell silent. Peter immediately apologized but Rabbit shook her head. The sound of footsteps from the fourth-floor stairs roused the boy and a wide grin spread across his face as a tall, teenaged girl with chin-length straight black hair descended, followed closely by Wanda Walter.

“Nikki!” Six greeted her. The girl waved a long, slender arm passively.

“Nikki.” Rabbit smiled softly. “Did’ja get some sleep, hun?”

She shrugged, put her back to the wall a good five feet away and slumped down to sit with her knees bent. She wore a loose-fitting, worn grey t-shirt with a black stylized face and the words “black tape for a blue girl” on it and a pair of small, black shorts. Wanda huffed as she passed her and sat cross legged in front of Rabbit. “You,” she glowered. “Sleep or eat, now.”

“I’m ok.”

“No, you’re damned well not, Rabbit.”

There were dark circles under Rabbit’s pretty, mismatched eyes and her posture, hunkered down on the floor spoke to her exhaustion. “Don’t worry about me.”

The teen girl made a rather pronounced scoffing sound and rolled her eyes. Wanda Walter slapped the smooth, polished concrete floor with her hand and spun around to face her. “Nikola Walter I have had just about enough!”

Rabbit’s eyes went wide and she fumbled to reach out from under her comforter. “Wanda, don’t. She didn’t mean...”

“She did so, Rabbit. I am sick, sick of how your daughter disrespects you! If I so much as rolled my eyes at my mother...” Wanda’s face went crimson with anger.

Nikola set her jaw and glared at Wanda. She shot up from the floor and bolted back up the stairs, her mother begging her to come back, her aunt demanding it. “Nikki, please! Come back! I... I need you...” But her daughter was gone. Peter stared at the stairwell then shot daggers with his eyes at Wanda. His mother slept on through the disturbance having taken a ‘sleep aid’ several hours ago.

Wanda frowned. “I’m sorry, Rabbit, I shoulda thought. I’m just so... It’s not right the way she treats you.”

Rabbit pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes and took a deep breath. “Nope. Not gonna cry again,” she said quietly. “How the hell’m I not outta t-t-tears?”

Her aunt stood and extended her hand to her. “If you’re not going to sleep, you need to eat, and that,” she pointed to the dried-up cucumber sandwich “is not food anymore. Come on, let’s go make some more sandwiches for breakfast.”

Rabbit took a deep breath and nodded, giving in to her tough love and reached out to get a hand up.

 

.x.

            Wednesday, June 18th... (Yesterday)

            Spine Walter typed furiously, his fingers flying across the keyboard as Peter A. Walter V rattled off figures and observances and Walter Girl Barbara squinted in concentration as she did her best to assist her employers. In nearly the center of the room, a rift they had been cajoling into stability for hours pulsed dangerously, its thin, bright blueness yawned and grinned. Barbara’s eyes flicked from the rift to a measuring instrument she held out at arm’s length. “Nine point two,” she said firmly. “Sir?”

            “I know!” Peter barked. “Spine?”

            “Almost...” He gnashed his teeth and at last the right formula came to him. He shouted the numbers out and as Peter fumbled to adjust settings on the positron collider strapped to his back an arc of blue matter energy whipped free of the rift much like a prominence from the sun and struck Barbara. She shrieked as it coursed through her body, dropped the meter and fell to the ground, unconscious.

            “Barb!” Spine cried and leapt up from his seat at the computer.

            “Barb!” Peter cursed as he urgently flipped the switch to enable the three-prong neutrino wand in his hands, its hum almost imperceptible in the din of crackling and snapping coming from the angry rift. “Wait, Spine!” he warned. Spine Walter dashed forward in front of Peter toward the fallen form of his friend. Another prominence whipped out and lashed around Spine, retracting and pulling the 6’4” tall man off his feet and toward the gaping maw of the rift and he screamed as the energy pulsed through him. As planned, Peter directed the adjusted wand designed to cross three proton streams and force-close tears in dimensional fabric and in a blind panic, let loose. The room was bathed in orange light as the beams twisted and arched, slamming into the rift. In a second, the rift closed and Peter struggled to power down the weapon. Fire suppression systems went into effect and doused small fires set by the errant beam on the far wall with foam. Barbara moaned and pushed herself off the floor in a daze and Peter crashed to his knees and cursed vehemently.

            Hastily, he pushed his left sleeve up and barked into what looked like a fancy watch on his wrist. “Robots to level five. Restrict access to level six. Hatchworth, get down here, now.”

            “Understood,” three voices called back in unison.

            “Radio silence. Protocol Seven in effect until further notice.”

            “Understood.”

            Peter Walter dropped the neutrino wand and looked around his lab and into the confused eyes of his assistant.

            “Wha-” she stammered. “What happened? Where’s Spine?”

 

.x.

            Earlier, Wednesday Afternoon...

 

            In the music room on the first floor, just off the main hallway and only a few doors down from the grand front door and huge stairwell that lead to the upper floors, three robots and one human played songs together. It was just after three in the afternoon. They finished playing ‘Hatch Fever’ and Rabbit spun around on the piano stool, first one way, making it taller, then the other, making it shorter. “That was great!” she said, laughing. “I never get tired of the part where Up gets disgusted with you and tells you to change the song!”

            The newest Walter automaton at only twenty years of age seemed to blush. “Well, it is disgusting to want to expose your chest ‘cavity’,” Upgrade pointed out, shuddering at the thought.

            “Ooh! Can we play ‘Out in the Rain’ next?” The Jon asked, quickly rapping the tom drum with one stick in a staccato beat. Upgrade strummed a fast, flamenco flourish with her acoustic guitar as if to agree.

            Hatchworth ran his left hand along the neck of his bass. “I think that would be good. I do so like that song.” His mustache curved into a smile.

            Rabbit was about to agree as well when she heard the front door close loudly. Heavy footsteps could be heard approaching the music room as someone tromped down the hall. She jumped off the piano stool and skipped to the large, open archway. “Welcome home, Nikki! No more school! Happy summer!” she cheered. Her sixteen-year-old-daughter marched past her, clutching a messenger bag with tell-tale white earbuds stuffed in her ears. “Wanna come listen? Jon’s just about to play one of your favorite...” Rabbit trailed off as her daughter disappeared down the hall and could be heard pounding up the stairs to her room. “...songs.” Rabbit pouted, but before she turned around to face her automaton brethren she erased the devastated look from her face and smiled. “Oh well, guess not! Sucks to be her!”

            “I can’t stand it!” Upgrade shouted across the wifi. “That Nikola Tambourine is so mean!”

            “She’s just a teenage girl, Upgrade. She will grow out of it,” Hatchworth replied. “Or so I have read in the Redbook Magazine.”

            “Tea doesn’t like us anymore,” The Jon added. “She thinks we’re weird and “lame”, and not just us robots. She doesn’t like Spine and Rabbit, or Six or anyone. It makes me sad.”

            “It makes me mad!” Upgrade shouted across the network.

            “She will grow out of it,” Hatchworth insisted. “She will grow up. We just have to sit back and love her until she does. Look at Rabbit. She tries so hard even though it hurts so much. We need to support her. In no time Nikola will come around.”

            Their discussion took less than a moment of time to complete across the wireless and Rabbit didn’t notice that it had even happened by the time she turned around and smiled at them. “There is no place I'd rather be!” she sang. “Don't give me nothing in between!”

 

            April 15th, 1987 used to be the longest day Rabbit Walter felt she had ever lived through. She was in labor since the afternoon two days before and remained in hospital for thirty-two hours before she delivered her first and only child.

A few years before, after Spine had proposed to her, the subject of children came up. Spine had been quiet for a long while and she thought perhaps he didn’t want any and was afraid to say so. It was far worse than that. Because his exposure to Blue Matter was so high (his hair was completely blue), he was sterile. Spine had broken down in tears when he admitted this to her and Rabbit had to console him, while at the same time her own heart was breaking--her dream of becoming a mother going up in smoke. But how could she tell him that? The man she had never seen shed a single tear was weeping in her arms! She told him that she didn’t want kids if she couldn’t have his and shushed him until he fell asleep. When he went to work the following day she went up to the northern turret and bawled like a lunatic for hours.

            A few years later, Rabbit was sick off-and-on for a week and after going to talk to Walter Girl Barbara about it, discovered she was pregnant. The house was already ecstatic with the recent birth of Peter Walter VI and this news just made the party all that more festive.

            Spine and Rabbit did not name their daughter. They left that weighty responsibility to their robot brothers and sister. Each was supposed to pick one name. In order of age, they gave their choices. Hatchworth chose Nikola Tesla because he didn’t realize that they meant one singular name instead of one person’s name. The Jon changed his mind from whatever it was he had previously thought of (Biscuit? Karandash? Mxyztplk, perhaps?) once he heard Hatchworth’s choice and chose Tea, because it stood for Tesla, he said. Upgrade denounced the idea of a beverage for a name and argued that the “T” should stand for her favorite instrument, the Tambourine. And so it was that Nikola Tea Tambourine Walter came home to live in Walter Manor with her aunts, uncles, parents and baby cousin.

            Until Nikola was about thirteen she was a happy, inquisitive child. She was quiet but not shy. Tall and olive-skinned, she more closely resembled her father, but had her mother’s eyes, though both of them were green. Her hair was black and she wore it long until she started to change.

After going to a special children’s event held in San Diego at age thirteen, Nikola Walter was exposed to ‘real people’, as she called them. These people thought her family was ‘weird’ and ‘freaky’ and for some reason, when Nikola listened to the girls talk about boys and fashion and they excluded her from their lives for being different, she desperately wanted to be accepted by them. Over the next three years, she systematically shut herself down and pushed her family away, demanded to be sent to public school and kept to herself whenever possible. Her father tried to reason with her but his gentle nature wasn’t enough to force her to change her ways. Her mother kept repeating the mantra ‘it’s just a phase’ over and over, but every month it seemed her daughter got farther and farther away from her.

In only two years, Nikola would be eighteen and could conceivably leave home forever. More and more, Rabbit was convinced that this was inevitable, but she continued to smile and have patience. What would it do to scream at her and make things worse for everyone?

 

            Rabbit turned this argument over in her mind for the millionth time as she took a seat once more at the piano. “Ok, guys,” she said brightly. “Let’s do this!”

The three automatons nodded to her but suddenly stopped moving and stood at attention.

            “Understood,” they said together.

            Rabbit’s stomach flipped. “Guys...?” She too stood up.

            “Understood,” they said again and quickly filed from the room. Hatchworth sprinted ahead of them and was soon out of sight.

            “Guys? Hatchy, Jon, Up--w-w-what’s going on?” she shouted and stumbled after them.

            “Sorry, Rabbit,” Upgrade said, her head turning around to face her as she hurried after her brothers. “Protocol Seven.”

            Rabbit slowed her pace and stopped following them. “Protocol...” She felt suddenly nauseous. “Seven? What happened, damn it?” she shouted angrily and resumed chasing after them, down the stairs to basement level five.