Run & Go With It

(Sequel to Life Is So Wonderful)

Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

CHAPTER FOUR

           

            Noon, Thursday, June 19th, 2003

            For a second, it was dark. Impossibly dark. Then it was impossibly light, just for another second, not even long enough for eyes to adjust--human or automaton. The Jon made a satisfied sort of sound as if to say ‘that went as I had expected’ which was a relief to the girl who shuddered as her body felt as though it had been washed in freezing cold water for the briefest of moments. There was no time to dwell on the strangeness of jumping between dimensions (with a robot who she knew to have a koi fish and a hot dog swirling around somewhere inside his impossible chassis) as they were now very far from home, although it appeared that only the decoration of Walter Manor had changed.

            Where they had been surrounded by their friends and family and photos of same on the walls a moment before, they now stood in a hall, vacant of both. Small tables dotted the expanse of the long, wide main hallway laden with strange objects. Nearby, a marble-top table featured a dead potted plant in an intricately-carved ivory pot, a pair of antique field-glasses, a half-empty porcelain tea cup with pink flower pattern in its saucer and a very small human-looking skull with a very large red gemstone embedded in its mouth. Nikola side-stepped away from this instinctively. “Where are we?” she asked, quietly.

            “Walter Manor,” The Jon answered, counting up. “Three, four. It’ll always be the same place, and time will move normally, but every dimension will be different. Some are pretty strange. Eleven, twelve...”

            A disembodied voice with a British accent called from somewhere near the marble-topped table and made Nikola jump. “Geoffrey? Where have you gotten to? We have guests! Geoffrey! Bloody monkey...” She was sure she saw a face appear in the brown liquid in the half-filled tea cup but blinked a few times and it was gone. She jumped again as the voice called from behind them. “So sorry you weren’t greeted at the door,” a very thin man with a five-o’clock shadow dressed as if going on safari said. He appeared from a hidden door Nikola didn’t remember being there in her manor. “My butler is less than accurate when it comes to his duties. I trust you come in peace?” he asked, eyeing The Jon.

            “Twenty-one, twenty-two... We do. Just looking for someone. Twenty-five, twenty-six...”

            “Perhaps I can help you? I am Professor Elemental and this is my castle.”

            The Jon bowed, still counting. “I’m The Jon and this is Tea.”

            “This is Walter Manor,” Nikola stated with a frown.

            Elemental grinned wide. “Tea? Did you say your name was ‘tea’? Isn’t that marvelous, I think we’ll be good friends, you and I. Shame you seem a bit, young for... well.” He cleared his throat. “No matter, friends are friends are friends after all.”

            “Thirty-one, thirty-two. Pinged. No Spine,” The Jon said flatly. “We can jump again now.”

            “Leaving so soon?” Elemental asked, pouting. “I was just going to have Geoffrey put the kettle on and I’ve just got a shipment of Battenburg from the Old Country.”

            Nikola folded her arms and took another step behind The Jon. “Why are you here? What happened to the Walters?”

            Elemental frowned, clearly not appreciating his hospitality being shirked. “I purchased this manor house from the Cavalcaduim so as to have a residence closer to them. The Walter Estate rather unceremoniously dumped this fine structure on the Cav when the family... how do I put this? Imploded about ten years ago.” Elemental folded his arms and glared at them. “I suggest, if you are not staying for tea, Tea, you might wish to vacate the premises post haste. My ape butler Geoffrey doesn’t take kindly to rude guests.”

            The Jon quickly took Nikola’s hand. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Bye!” And in a flurry of confetti they were gone.

            Professor Elemental blinked a few times and before he could complain about the confetti it had vanished. “Americans,” he said indifferently, shrugged and shouted into the tea cup for Geoffrey to put the kettle on anyway.

 

.x.

            The warm colors and dim glow of incandescent wall sconces disappeared as the robot and the teenager jumped worlds again and were immediately replaced by cold, bright, sterile lighting and a large, white lab room bristling with mid-century-looking equipment. Almost as suddenly as they arrived, an honking alarm sounded somewhere to the right and echoed through the cavernous space. The Jon held Nikola’s hand tightly and she stepped closer to him instinctively as a blue-green automaton on wheels rushed toward them, a red light flashing on its head, it waved rudimentary arms in an assertive manner.

            The Jon raised his left hand in a gesture of friendship. “It’s alright, robot friend, we come in peace,” he said with a smile. “My name is The Jon. I’m sorry we’re intruding in your compound. We’ll only be less than a minute.”

            The robot lowered its arms and made a strange electronic squawking sort of sound.

            “Oh, no. Don’t worry about that, H.E.L.P.eR. We didn’t breach your defenses. We came from another dimension straight to this spot. You caught us really quickly!” he praised the robot. It squawked again and turned off its alert light. “We’re looking for Tea’s father. He’s gone missing.”

            H.E.L.P.eR’s vocalization became louder and it spun around in a tight circle.

            “No, that’s ok. I’m just about done searching. Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two. Ah. No Spine, again. Sorry, Tea.”

            The girl shook her head dismissively, not taking her eyes off the excitable robot.

            “Well, it was nice meeting you,” The Jon chimed and tipped his hat. H.E.L.P.eR must have replied something similar for it put one of its end effectors to his head and nodded as they jumped once more.

 

.x.

            Nikola squinted as the sun shone in her eyes and she held a hand up to block it. The air was hot and dry. Brown grass and cracked earth stretched for miles around them all the way to the familiar mountain range to the west of where Walter Manor usually stood. “What the...?” she marveled.

            “Nothing in this world at all,” The Jon remarked and turned in place. “Not even the road. Weird, huh?”

            Nikola raised a brow at him, pulled her hand from his and folded her arms. “Oh, right, because the dude with the talking cup of tea and the sixties-robot in the hangar weren’t out of place at all.”

            Her companion laughed. “You have a point. Every world is different, after all. Think how weird we’d seem to other worlds!”
            “I do,” she said quietly. “Every damn day.”

            The Jon frowned. “I’m sorry. Twenty-one, twenty-two. Just trying to make light.”

            “Well don’t, ok? This sucks enough as it is.”

            The Jon tensed for a moment but let a plume of steam escape and smiled. “Ok, Tea. “Thirty-one, thirty-two. No Spine. Let’s go,” he said soberly and offered his hand again.

            The girl folded her arms tighter. “Do I have to hold your hand every time?”

            The Jon made a face. “Well, no, not really. You could just hang on to something like, my sleeve or my backpack if it made you more comfortable,” he suggested.

            “Yeah,” she said, looking off to the horizon. “It would.”

            He smiled and hefted the pack, inviting her to grab on, which she did reluctantly, and he initiated yet another jump away from the dead world.

 

.x.

            Five PM, Thursday

            About four hours and about two-hundred and fifty more worlds later they saw their second version of Walter Manor. There was no time to take in the neatness of the pictures, the newness of the rug and the brightness of the lighting. No time to admire the fresh-cut flowers in the vase at the base of the large main staircase further down the hall. No time to avoid the rambunctious automaton who barreled into The Jon, knocking him over, the backpack and his top hat flying off as the two rolled, crashing into a heap several feet away. Nikola shouted and pressed herself against the wall.

            “Tea! You ok?” The Jon shouted with his face pressed to the floor.

            “Woops!” the automaton cried and untangled itself from The Jon. “Didn’t see you there! I...”

            The Jon looked up as someone took his hand and pulled him to his feet. He stared back at the gold, female-looking robot before him. She wore a pair of puffy, lace-trimmed brown shorts with red suspenders and a cute, cap-sleeved black blouse.

            “Bea! You ok?!” another voice called from further down the hall.

            “Yeah, Muffin, I’m... I’m fine, I think maybe I hit my head too hard, though. I crashed into a boy-me.”

            “A what?” the robot called Muffin asked as she loped toward them. She wore a knee-length black skirt with a red crinoline similar to what Upgrade liked to wear and a tight bodice that looked like something from the Victorian era. Her copper faceplates were intricate and oxidized to a green patina. “A boy... you!” she cried. “Holy smoke, Bea, you’re right!”

            The Jon laughed lightly and stared at the gold robot girl. He rattled off the spiel he'd repeated hundreds of times. “Hello! I’m The Jon. This is Tea, we’re looking for her dad. We won’t be long. Sorry for the...”

            “The Jon!” Muffin cried. “Do you know Rabbit? Do you know who we are? Muffin, The Bea and The Curve?”

            “Uh, no.” The Jon fidgeted. “Well, you see, I’m from another dimension so The Jon you know is probably another version of me. Thirty-one, thirty-two. No Spine.” He looked quickly to Nikola, still pressed up against the wall, watching the girl robots carefully. Her eyes seemed to burn holes in the one called Muffin. “Ah!” The Jon cried, an idea coming to him. “Tell you what, let me see if I can find him for you!” His head drooped a little and he seemed to be frozen for a moment.

            “Jon?” Nikola asked, panicked. He snapped back and startled her enough that she let out a short shout.

            “I found your Jon! We’re going now, and just as we leave he’ll come here and you can chat. Sound good?”

            The two girls looked at each other.

            “Oh, won’t it be wonderful!” Muffin cried. “We m-m-miss Rabbit so much!”

            “I’m sure you do well can’t stay and chat got a lot of work to do enjoy your visit!” he said quickly, reached out and grabbed Nikola’s hand and jumped away.

 

.x.

            The next world was another empty one--this time, a desert of sand and cacti, stiflingly hot and arid. “Are there really more versions of mom?” Nikola asked quietly, pulling her hand away from his again.

            “Oh, I’m sure there are. Seven, eight, nine...”

            “That one robot, Muffin. She reminded me of mom for some reason.”

            The Jon laughed. “That’s weird! Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen...”

            “Yeah,” she agreed and watched a tumbleweed flip along in the distance. She gripped a strap on his pack and prepared to jump again. For a moment she was surprised to realize she expected him to count up to thirty-two and announce that her father wasn’t there. The glimmer of hope, that flip-flop of the heart she felt initially, was now gone. How long had it been? She’d turned her phone off almost as soon as they jumped because she didn’t want to kill the battery and she never wore a watch. She had no appetite and although her feet hurt, Nikola wanted to press on. The more ground they covered, the sooner it would be over. Or so she thought.

            “Thirty-one, thirty-two...”

            “I know,” she spat, cutting him off. “No Spine.”

            The Jon pouted. “Yeah.”