Run & Go With It
(Sequel to Life Is So Wonderful)
Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
As the noonday sun was hot and bright, Nikola, Rabbit and The Spine relocated to the bench overlooking the cemetery under a stand of aspens. Nikola told them all she knew about her father’s disappearance and how the Walter family had handled the situation. They chatted about how different and similar their worlds were. Rabbit chastised the girl for not being romantically interested in Peter Walter VI and that if she were his daughter he would certainly think that they’d be a good match. This resulted in him being chastised by The Spine for being pushy and suggestive. Nikola smiled. “There really isn’t a whole lot different between you and my folks, except, you know, being robots,” she said.
The Spine grinned back at her then made a puzzled face. “But, your Jon isn’t very much like our Jon was.”
“No,” Rabbit agreed, crossing his left ankle over his knee and leaning back on the bench. “He’s really g-g-got his stuff together!”
“Everyone says that,” Nikola said, frowning. “But he’s only been like that since Dad went missing.”
Rabbit sat up straight and shot a concerned look at his friend. “Ya don’t suppose...?”
The Spine nodded. “Could be. Stands to reason, but, Rabbit...”
Nikola’s heart flipped, hearing trepidation in their voices. “What?”
“Well,” The Spine said, tilting his head as if he didn’t want to elaborate. He pursed his lips before he spoke. “Did you by chance put your ‘bots under Protocol Three?”
“Protocol Three?” she asked, standing so that she could watch both of their expressions. “They were under Seven when Uncle Pete and them were working. What’s Three do? I’ve never heard of that one.”
Both of them looked at each other again. Rabbit quickly looked away, his eyes trained on Walter Manor in the distance where The Jon was being repaired. The Spine’s gears whirred. “Protocol Three is a wartime program that was designed to keep us focused on the mission. It inhibits our fight-or-flight response...”
“Fight,” Rabbit spat and extended his right arm dramatically. “Fight only.” He raised a finger for each point and recited them in a monotone and deep voice that sent chills through the teen girl. “Protocol one: protect human life. This protocol is locked and permanent. Protocol two: adhere to protocol one and protect the Walter Family. This protocol is also locked and permanent. Protocol three: Adhere to protocols one and two and do not deviate from the mission. Only a Walter representative can disable protocols three and up.” He frowned and seemed to be quite angry just thinking about this directive as steam started to roil from his vents. “Starting with the Great War, we all had this initiated and they meant well, but... it was... when we... by Viet Nam we...” Rabbit started to glitch, his right shoulder ticking upwards repeatedly, the arm folding up as if holding a gun and he squeezed his eyes shut as the flashbacks flared across his brain.
Nikola gasped and took a step forward but The Spine was already leaping into action, having seen this too many times before. He slid next to Rabbit on the bench, grasped him by the shoulders and pulled him forcibly to his chest, hugging him tightly as he shook and twitched. The silver automaton shushed him and rocked him slowly and rhythmically until the seizure had passed. Rabbit lay exhausted in The Spine’s arms and didn’t move.
“Does your mother go through this?” The Spine asked, quietly.
Nikola was dumbstruck and it took her a beat before she found her voice. “No.”
He sighed. “Good.”
She stepped closer to them and gently put her hand on Rabbit’s bandana’d head. “I knew the ‘bots had fought, but, Mom and Dad, too? Jesus...”
Rabbit turned his head and looked up at her. “She’s ok, your mom? No freak outs?” She shook her head and Rabbit shakily got to his feet. “I’m so glad,” he said softly. “And your Jon seems to be ok, too.”
“Well, yeah usually he’s a fruit loop, but,” she said, her voice breaking. “This stupid protocol got him chewed up by those evil robots in that one world! If he’d still had his flight-response he would have listened to me and jumped and he wouldn’t be in pain right now!”
The Spine stood and raised a brow. “He didn’t listen to you?”
“No! He pushed me behind him and told me he’d protect me and that he wanted to make sure he cleared the world and checked for Dad otherwise he couldn’t come back and check again later.”
The robots nodded to each other. The Spine shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “If he thought he could keep you safe and complete his mission, under that protocol he’d take any damage to get that done.”
“But... that’s messed up!”
“It’s also what we’re here to do, protocol or no,” The Spine said.
“Well...” Nikola pouted. “I guess. Jon’s been really good and brave. He even put up with me being a real brat.” She looked up at them and smiled slyly. “I think maybe he deserves a present.”
By the time they returned to the first basement level lab, The Jon was sitting up on the table, chatting affably with Peter Walter V. His chest was intact and gleamed brightly thanks to the new sections and a fresh polish. Rabbit overtook Nikola as they ran to greet him and he gushed over how well he was doing. He stepped excitedly from his left foot to his right as if doing a little dance and told The Jon that Nikola had a surprise for him. The girl smirked and blushed as she thanked him for being so good to her and working so hard to find her father. The Jon waved his hand and tried to change the subject and suggested they had better get back on the road when she shocked him.
“I, Nikola Tea Tambourine Walter, hereby dismiss Protocol Three.”
The Jon’s photoreceptors brightened for a second and his posture loosened as if he’d just been suddenly intoxicated. “Tea...” he said softly. “I’m just going to turn it right back on, young lady!” he said in his more typical, strangely-accented, sing-song way of speaking.
“No way, friend. You get off this table and go play with your buddies. That’s an order.”
His eyes seemed to bulge (if that were even possible) and his lip quivered. “But...!”
“I’ll try to stay close so you can broadcast me,” she said, anticipating the argument. “Fun. Now. Go.”
The little robot lunged at her and hugged her tightly then just as quickly leapt off the exam table and collided with Rabbit and The Spine. In a moment they were gone from the room, the sounds of laughter (and The Spine’s baritone admonitions) fading as they went.
Nikola breathed a sigh and met Peter Walter V’s gaze. She laughed at the perplexed look on his face.
“Your version of me put them under Protocol Three?” He asked.
“Ya know, I don’t think so. I remember when we were all in the parlor talking, Uncle Pete wondered why Jon was so collected. Can the ‘bots do it to themselves?”
“Oh yes, it was pretty important that they could do so.”
Nikola nodded. “I’m sure that’s it, then. Jon’s pretty amazing. You’d never think someone as nuts as he is could do what he’s done.”
Peter laughed and agreed. “You’re pretty amazing, yourself. What you did was highly benevolent. Jon said you’re younger than my son, but I find that hard to believe. You might not be a Walter by blood, by what I’ve seen of the work you did on poor Jon and they way you obviously care for the robots, you’re a Walter in my book, for sure.”
Nikola blushed heavily. “Thanks, Uncle Pete. That means a lot to me.”
He smiled. “I’ll clean up here. You better catch up to them. No telling what they’ll get themselves into.”
She nodded and jogged off to find them.
Hours passed and Peter Walter V and Nikola ate leftover spaghetti and watched the robots perform their songs. The two humans chatted about this and that and about how in her world, Nikola’s father had figured a way to repair and bring Hatchworth back to life. When Peter exclaimed how amazing that was, The Spine and Rabbit stopped playing and begged to know how it was done. Nikola had to remind The Jon that he could come back with the notes if he had a lock of Peter’s hair as she had heard him tell Deelia Moreau-Walter the other day, and there was much rejoicing. Rabbit clasped The Jon’s hands and they did a “ring-around-the-Spine-y” dance of joy, much to The Spine’s embarrassment. He rolled his eyes and gave Nikola a pleading look but she just laughed.
Suddenly, The Jon’s eyes went wide and he stopped skipping. This tripped Rabbit up, causing him to crash into him. Because their arms were linked in a circle around The Spine, all three of them tumbled to the ground like overgrown children.
“Jon!” Nikola cried and ran to him, helping the robots get to their feet again. “Are you ok?”
“Number forty-two!” he cried, scrambling to get out of the pile of metal arms and legs. “Number forty-two!”
Peter made a face. “Help us out, Jon. What’s that mean?”
“Me! Number forty-two! He’s found him!”
Nikola stared at the exuberant automaton “He’s found...? Dad!” She screamed and grasped The Jon’s hands as they both jumped up and down for joy. They noticed that though the other three in the room were happy for them, they were glum with the idea that they were now leaving.
“I guess you better reinstate Protocol Three, Nikola,” The Spine suggested.
She smiled on The Jon. “No. I won’t do that to you. If you want it on, you can do it yourself, but we don’t need it anymore. We’re going home.”
The Jon nodded firmly and his hat swayed loosely on his head as he did so. “Indubitably!”
“Miss ya, buddy,” Rabbit said, hugging his brother and the teen. “An’ I’m so glad I got to meet ya, Nikki.”
The Spine simply nodded but accepted hugs from both of them. “Good luck. Say hi to... us.”
They thanked Peter Walter again, who handed them the now mostly-empty backpack and The Jon stretched out his hand with a twitching, excited grin. Nikola took it with her right, waved with her left and in a flutter of blue-and-white confetti they were gone.
Close to Midnight, Saturday June 20th, 2003
They arrived in an open field to the sound of crickets and the distant ever-changing song of a mockingbird somewhere in the trees. It was very dark, but because this world was uninhabited, the stars were bright and gave vague definition to the hills and features of the landscape. In the near distance they saw the blue photoreceptors of The Jon Number Forty-two turn toward them and bob up and down. Nikola looked to her own Jon’s glowing blue eyes, squeezed his hand tightly and they two of them ran as fast as they could toward the spot.
Standing under the willow tree near the pond were two figures: the robot with his obvious eyes and a tall figure wearing all white which became more visible as they grew near. Nikola slowed her pace and The Jon followed suit. She walked the last few feet until she was standing before the shadowy figure. When both of The Jons’ eyes fell on her, he at last knew who it was who had come for him. “Nikola!” Spine Walter cried.
As they embraced, The Jons saluted each other and Number Forty-two vanished. Jon Prime waited his turn patiently then he too hugged Spine. “I’ve called off the others,” he said. “Mission accomplished. Let’s go home!”
Spine shuddered as the ice-through-the-veins feeling washed over him. “Ugh, that happen every time?”
Nikola nodded. “Three thousand some-odd times.”
All three paused and looked down the hill at Walter Manor and its many lighted windows before jogging to the back door.
Once inside, Nikola saw that her father’s ghostly pallor was sun burnt, his blue hair mussed and his white lab clothes were dirty and wrinkled. He put his hand on his daughter’s head and hugged her to his chest again.
“We’re home, dad,” she said and squeezed him.
“We’re home!” The Jon shouted at the top of his lungs and broadcast the same message over the wifi and in moments the house was alive with the pounding of footsteps.
Spine was engulfed in a sea of hugs and applause and cheers from his family and he quickly realized someone was missing. “Where’s Rabbit?”
Upgrade made a pensive face. “I think she went to go read a few hours ago.”
“Read...?” Spine asked and a knowing smile spread across his face. He gently pushed his way through the hall.
She was just where he expected to find her, lying on her back on her favorite couch in the violet parlor at the opposite end of the manor. The pages of an old, worn, copy of X-Men issue 30 with Jean Grey and Cyclopse’ wedding on the cover lay on her chest. She wore jeans and an old worn, grey t-shirt of his. Her left arm rested over her eyes and her mouth hung open slightly as she dozed. A tall art-deco reading lamp cast interesting shadows across the large room.
Hatchworth, Upgrade, The Jon and Nikola poked their heads in the wide archway and watched. Upgrade let out a small squeal of delight and Hatchworth shushed her. Spine Walter walked carefully and quietly into the room and bent to kiss her.
Rabbit woke drowsily and hummed happily. “Spine...” she muttered, not yet grasping that she wasn’t dreaming. “Spine!” she shouted, sat up and almost knocked him over as she tackled him. She screamed and wailed his name, clutching him tightly to her. He said nothing, but practically smothered her with kisses.
Hatchworth made to cover Upgrade’s photoreceptors and she swatted him. The Jon sighed happily and Nikola cried tears of unbridled happiness to see her mother so relieved. As if in response to this, Rabbit caught sight of them and shouted their names and they all piled into the room. Those who’d been left at home fussed over the travelers who all showed signs of wear and tear but wore wide, tired grins, glad to be home safe, at last.
Nikola sat down heavily on the couch next to her mother and looked over at her sheepishly. “Mom, I’m sorry I was such a...”
Rabbit sighed and shook her head. “You’re here. You’re alive. You’re my daughter. And you just went to the edge of the world to find your father and I couldn’t be more pleased or proud of you if you were elected president of the universe.” Nikola laughed and they hugged. The robots and Walterman watched them, relieved to see that they had reconciled. “And you found something even more important than just your dad,” Rabbit whispered so that only Nikola could hear.
“What’s that, mom?”
“Your smile,” she said, happy tears coming again. “Welcome home, Nikki.”
NOTE: I was inspired to write a story about Rabbit and Spine having a daughter being a frustrated teen with a good life who just didn’t know how to feel about it by Mrs. M whose daughter had gone to live with her aunt because they fought so much. She had a good, supportive family, siblings, parents who were married, a nice house and was being sent to college and everything, but she just seemed to want more than her family could give her in many ways and didn’t know how to deal with those feelings without being horrible to her mother. As I am writing this, having finished the story, Mrs. M’s daughter has moved back home and things seem to be getting better. I wish her all the best luck for the future!