Run & Go With It

(Sequel to Life Is So Wonderful)

Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

            Noon, Saturday, June 20th, 2003

            They jumped through another seven-hundred some-odd worlds. One after another the answer was ‘no Spine’. As usual, very few worlds held a Walter Manor of any sort and in twelve hours they’d visited only two: one that was entirely black-and-white which both of them agreed was too creepy to bother asking for help and another that seemed to have been abandoned while still under construction. The bones of beams and empty window frames reached to the blue sky above them and a carpet of grass and moss lined the hall. In one world, they encountered a family sitting in the living room of their small ranch-style house. The inhabitants screamed and ran around for the thirty-two seconds it took to check the world. Nikola was very glad no one seemed to own a gun in the house. Most other worlds were either barren fields or surrounded by highway or other buildings depending on what circumstances had governed its development.

            At last, the familiar walls of a proper Walter Manor, the eighth they’d seen out of hundreds of worlds, greeted them and The Jon gave an audible, steamy sigh of relief as he counted up. Nikola tried not to let her elation overcome her reason. She knew The Jon was running out of time but this world could be dangerous despite its benign appearance. She looked around and listened. Voices murmured inscrutably from somewhere down the hall in a normal, conversational tone. The wall sconces gave a soft, warm glow and everything was neat and clean albeit still threadbare and familiarly spooky. On the wall to her right she spotted familiar faces staring back from a color photograph and silently alerted The Jon. Peter A Walter V, his wife Annie and their son “Six” looked out from the photo, which could have been taken only a few years ago, when Six was still a young boy of perhaps ten or twelve years. “That’s a good sign,” she whispered.

The Jon nodded. “Thirty-one, thirty-two. No Spine. Ok, I think maybe we can ask for help here,” he said and leaned on his right shoulder against the wall. “Could you call out for it?”

“Me?” she asked, getting nervous.

The Jon tipped his head to one side. “The likelihood of someone agreeably coming to the aid of a young female voice is higher than a male voice, I think.”

She had to agree with that and so meekly called out for someone, excusing their intrusion. Soon the murmuring voices grew silent and footsteps could be heard. About three doorways down the hall and a hundred feet away an automaton stuck his head out and looked both ways. As soon as he saw them, he leapt out into the hall and marched quickly toward them. Nikola tensed up and looked to The Jon, but the expression on his face was not one of fear. He stared, his mouth hung open, hinging as if to speak with a bemused curl to his lips.

The automaton was not one Nikola had ever seen before. He was taller than the Jon and wore a bandana tightly tied over his head. His copper faceplates had an intricate design and patina showing their age. He stood only inches from The Jon and looked him up and down then opened his mouth and shouted “Spine! Get over here! It’s The Jon!”

The Jon pushed himself off the wall, raised his right arm and waved, trying to explain.

From the same doorway, a silver automaton stepped out and raised a brow. “Rabbit, I really wish you would stop being so...” he began but once he spied the three people standing there, he stopped and gaped. Nikola Walter froze in place and her mouth opened as if to speak but nothing came out.

Rabbit raised his trembling hands. “Is it r-r-really you?”

“No,” The Jon said, sadly. “I’m not your Jon. I’m from another dimension.”

The automaton’s hopeful expression fell. “Of course not,” he said as if talking to himself. “Of course... But you’re still The Jon?”

“Oh, yes. I am.” The Jon smiled, slumped his right shoulder and slid his backpack down onto the floor in a gesture that seemed to say ‘I’m not going anywhere for a while’. “Hello, Rabbit. Long, time no see.”

The Spine walked slowly toward them, a look of complete astonishment on his smooth face.

Nikola gaped and trembled and looked from one robot to the other. “Rabbit...?” she whispered.

Before The Jon could explain, Rabbit’s lower lip quivered and in a quick motion he spread his arms, wrapped them around The Jon and hugged him tightly. The Jon sucked in a breath and held it, gnashing his teeth. He did not return the hug so Rabbit released him. “Sorry, buddy!” he cried, oil tears coming to his mismatched eyes. “I just got carried away, I...” Rabbit blinked. “Hey, you ok, Jon?”

“Ffffffffffffine.” The Jon hissed through his closed jaw, steam escaping through his teeth and a rapid glitch overtaking his shoulder so badly that his lame left arm flailed at his side. “Couldn’tbebetter.”

Nikola blinked, snapping out of her confused stupor as she saw him begin to deteriorate and she grasped his unaffected right shoulder. “Jon!” she cried, noting the pink stain of hydraulic fluid blooming on the white shirt she’d found for him.

“Jon! You’re hurt!” Rabbit wailed.

“Please,” Nikola said. “We need to get him to Five, is he here?”

The Spine nodded. “Downstairs.” As if he’d done it a million times, The Spine stepped up to him and easily hefted The Jon onto his back and loped quickly toward the elevator. Rabbit followed, fussing over him, biting his fingers with worry.

Nikola Walter stood next to the discarded backpack in the hall and for a moment just watched them go. She shook her head. “Freak out later, girl. It’s not over yet,” she said to herself and jogged after them.

 

.x.

            Following the sound of urgent voices, Nikola made her way down to the first-level basement lab. There, The Jon had been lifted up onto an examination table. The white shirt she’d found for him was discarded on the floor and Peter Walter V with his back to her was carefully peeling back the grey gaff tape to reveal the ghastly wound. He cursed softly and examined the cavity with a penlight. Rabbit wailed again and begged to know what had happened to him. The Spine took his friend by the shoulder and gently pulled him away to give Peter room to work then stared with pinched brows at the teenager across the room. Taking a seat on a stool, Nikola folded her arms and stared back at the automatons.

            “Tea...” The Jon said softly.

            “Oh,” Peter Walter said, straightening as he followed The Spine’s line-of-sight to the other human in the room. “Are you with him?”

            She held very still, only her eyes moved quickly to glance at Peter then back to the robots. “Yeah.”

            “Tea fixed me up, Five,” The Jon said brightly, hiding his pain as best he could. “She did a real good job but I think I need your expertise.”

            Peter looked from the mess inside The Jon’s chest to the girl and back again. “You did this?”

            Nikola made a face and lowered her chin. “Yeah. Sorry.”

            “No, no. I’m rather impressed. Good triage work. And thanks for not using duct tape. Nasty, sticky stuff, that. It looks like...” Peter said, turning back to The Jon’s injuries. “...gonna need a new bellows, and... subclavian oil conduit is shot. Humerus actuator's been dug into pretty good. Can you even move your left arm at all, Jon?”

            “Not really, no.”

            “Hm. Jesus, it looks like someone took a chainsaw to you.”

            “Buzz saw, actually.”

            “Hm,” Peter hummed again, assessing the damage. “Nasty.” Rabbit had resumed his wailing when he heard the word ‘buzz saw’ and Peter looked to The Spine. “You better get Rabbit out of here. It’s only going to get worse.”

            “NO!” Rabbit shouted. “I w-w-won’t go! I know he’s not our Jon, but I...”

            The Spine tried patiently to argue with him--to convince him to leave Peter Walter to work on The Jon in peace, but he wasn’t having it. Nikola Walter’s mouth screwed up into a heavy pout as she watched black oil tears run down this robot called Rabbit’s cheeks. His movements were halting in the same way that her family’s automatons moved and he wept and clutched The Spine’s vest for support. He shifted quickly between horror and sadness and anger in a sickeningly familiar way. His speech was accented and stuttered. Nikola successfully fought back her own tears by giving in to her anger. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she barked loudly and forcefully to the automaton on the table. “Why did everyone lie to me?”

            The Jon bit his lip. “I’m sorry, Tea. It’s not so much like we lied to you, we just never told you the truth,” he laughed nervously.

            Peter, The Spine and Rabbit stopped what they were doing and listened.

            “And just what is the truth, Jon?” the teen asked from her perch on the stool.

            The Jon sighed. “Rabbit is going to kill me, but, oh well, the rat’s in the kitchen,” he said quietly and took a deep breath. “In 1979 something terrible happened...”

            Peter Walter gasped. “To you, too?”

            “To me?” The Jon asked, surprised. “No, to Rabbit and The Spine. It’s a long story, but basically it was my fault. They were after me but Rabbit and Spine got hit with a weapon that turned them into humans.”

            The Spine’s gears shifted loudly and he took a staggering step back. Rabbit stopped sniffling and looked on his brother with shock and concern.

            “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me!” Nikola shouted.

            The Jon smiled compassionately. “Your mom said that they never thought about it until you were older, and by then...” his brows curved upward into a sad expression. “You didn’t like us robots at all anymore and you were so unhappy she was afraid to make you even more unhappy so she decided to wait until you were ready to know.”

            Nikola blinked and trembled a little as she took in how rushed The Jon’s words were, almost seeming to be bordering on tears. “Oh crap,” she hissed. “I am such a jerk. I am such a jerk! I don’t hate you! I just don’t know what to feel about anything! I...” she slid off the stool and jogged to the exam table. She took his right hand in hers. “I’m sorry, Jon. You guys have been nothing but awesome to me and I’ve been such a...”

            “Not another word like that, Nikola Walter,” The Jon scolded. “We love you and we know you love us, your mom and dad, and Five and Annie, and Wanda and Norman, and even Six. We know.” He tugged her hand, coaxing her to come closer and she carefully gave him a hug where he lay, half-immobilized on the table. “Why don’t you go take a nice walk with The Spine and Rabbit and let Five work on me. I’m going to have to go offline for it, anyway.”

            Nikola nodded into his shoulder then stood up, wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and looked up at the pair of automatons standing just behind her with astounded looks on their metal faces. “Well?” she asked shrugging. “Shall we?”