Run & Go With It

(Sequel to Life Is So Wonderful)

Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

            Turning her back on the automatons, Nikola made sure she lead the way, her long legs plodding up the steps two at a time and her heart pounding so hard she was sure they could hear its echo. She could hear them following her a good twenty feet behind. This manor had the same layout as hers, so finding her way to the back door was easy. The sun was shining and a light breeze blew her shoulder-length hair around her. Now that she was outside, she stopped and looked over her shoulder at the two of them. The forlorn looks on their faces surprised her. The Spine looked as if he were in a daze, brows raised and his mouth frowning. Rabbit still had traces of oil tears on his copper cheeks and his posture was slumped and tired.

            “In your world, where you’re from,” The Spine began, extending his left arm and emphasizing his words with jerking motions. He seemed to notice this unconscious movement and paused, frowned, clenched his fist and returned the arm to his side. “It was Rabbit and I who were transformed into Humans on that day back in nineteen seventy nine, not the Jon, as it was in our world?”

Nikola stared at them and nodded her head. “This is so weird. I’m having a really hard time dealing with this. I never knew you were robots, but I guess it makes sense. I always thought Mark and Judy were Dad’s parents since Uncle Pete and him were so close but they look nothing alike. They must have just taken ‘Walter’ as a last name. Ugh, duh, ‘Spine’ and ‘Rabbit’, of course those are robot names! Who names their kids something that weird! Not that I can talk with a name like mine,” she laughed deliriously. “So weird. You look just like Dad,” she said to The Spine then looked to Rabbit and said, “but Mom? I mean, she’s got copper-colored skin, I guess, but...”

            The Spine rocked on the balls of his feet as if her words had pushed him backward and released a large plume of steam. “Wait, what?” he shouted. “You mean that...?” He couldn’t form the words that blazed across his already whirling mind.

            Nikola made a face. “Sorry. Yeah, I’m your daughter.”

            It was clear that Rabbit had not yet made this connection, either as he gawked at the teen. “You’re our what now?”

            “My dad is Spine Walter, my mother is Rabbit Walter, and I’m Nikola Tea Tambourine Walter--don’t ask about the name, it’s super embarrassing.”

            The Spine stepped closer to her. His black lips were taught, brows pinched. He stared into her green eyes and slowly a bemused smile spread across his face. “I have a daughter?” Nikola blushed to see the seven-foot automaton look on her with such wonder and joy.

            “W-w-w-wait a hot second!” Rabbit cried. “You said your mom was copper-colored... I’m your momma?”

            Nikola laughed nervously at his reaction. “Yeah, I’m not sure who this is weirder for, me or you. Oh, here,” she said and clumsily pulled her cell phone from the pocket of the sweatshirt she wore. It took a moment to power back on and she pressed the arrows with shaking hands to navigate to a photo gallery of grainy, low-mega-pixel images. “I have a picture of them, I think.” Both robots crowded in expectantly. “Yeah, here’s dad,” she said and turned the small screen toward The Spine.

            “That’s me?” he said at a whisper then laughed lightly. “That’s me! I’m a Walter assistant?” he asked, noting Spine Walter’s blue hair and pale skin. The man was giving the camera a thumbs-up, making a goofy face and he held a Walter Robotics coffee mug in his other hand. Nikola nodded.

            “Do ya got a picture of me?” Rabbit asked quietly and smiled politely.

            Nikola’s eyes widened for a moment, a bit taken aback at how very much like her mother this robot man sounded and acted and she quickly scrolled through the pictures again. “Yeah, she’s here. It’s not a very good one, sorry.” She held the phone out again to show a blurry image of her mother laughing, her mouth open and head turned to look at something out of the frame. She wore a black tank-top shirt and one hand pushed her long, brown hair out of her face. Rabbit’s jaw dropped.

            “Look at me!” he cried. “That’s not me, no way! I can’t be that cute! And look at all that hair!” Rabbit laughed. “I’m r-r-really a lady?” He lowered his voice again and looked up at Nikola in wonder. “I’m a mother?”

            The Spine jabbed him with his elbow. “And my wife, too.”

            “Not funny, Spine,” Rabbit muttered out of the side of his mouth. “How did that even happen?”

            Nikola turned the phone around and looked at the picture of her mother herself. “I don’t know. I just found out, remember? I guess someone shot you with a weird weapon of some kind. Probably had something to do with Kazooland, I bet.”

            “It did,” The Spine said soberly. “At least, it did here. The Jon was mayor of Biscuit Town in New Pieland.” Nikola nodded, affirming this was so in her world, as well. “Becile Industries wanted to muscle in but he was protecting the place, so they turned him into a human so he couldn’t ever return to New Pieland again. It wasn’t all that bad. He was sad for a while, but there were things about being human that Jon loved and found thrilling. I...” The Spine hung his head and his gears whirred. “I was very jealous. I’ve always wanted to be more human in appearance, action and... well, to see him the way he was... I wasn’t always pleasant to him. For that I’ll be eternally sorry.”

            “Spine...” Rabbit whispered, but the silver robot held his hand up.

            “It’s ok, Rabbit. Nothing to be done about it. I’m just glad you appear to have snapped out of your funk, now. You have, haven’t you?”

            Rabbit nodded. “I’m sorry about that, Spine. I just...” He trembled slightly. “I just d-d-didn’t want to let go.”

            Nikola’s stomach turned. “Does this have something to do with why your Jon’s not here?”

            The Spine nodded. “Rabbit, I think maybe it’s time to go pay him a visit, don’t you?”

            The older automaton took a deep breath and heaved a huge sigh. “I don’t really want to, but I think I have to. Nikki, will you come with me?”

            “Nikki...?” she repeated. “That’s what my mom calls me.”

            Rabbit smiled softly. “Whaddaya know? Guess I am your mom.”

            Nikola smiled back and took Rabbit’s extended hand. She reached out and took The Spine’s hand as well and the three of them walked down to the duck pond behind Walter Manor.

 

.x.

            A large weeping willow dipped its branches into the rippling surface of the pond as if it were playing in the water. On the hill on the opposite side of the pond stood a small, family cemetery surrounded by a wrought-iron fence put up in the nineteen forties after Peter A. Walter I died. The fence was only about two feet high and served not to keep people out, but to define the area. The four sides of the fence were decorated with large, curling Ws and blue crystal spheres meant to emulate Blue Matter cores crowned each corner. In her own world, Nikola often came here to get away from the craziness of Walter Manor and contemplate her life among what she thought were her ancestors. Her heart raced as they approached it now and she realized that not one of the people buried there was actually related to her.

            Rabbit squeezed her hand a bit tighter and looked on her with concern. “Are you alright?” he asked. “Your heart just started beating a lot faster.” Nikola nodded and tried to calm herself. Was it really so strange to think that her spunky, emotional mother had once been the copper automaton holding her hand on the way to the cemetery? she thought. Even this version, who had only just met her, cared for her as if she were family. The kids at school had told her that living with robots was weird, that they were other, different, and not human. Not family. Those kids couldn’t possibly understand, even the musicians and artists she called friends. They might have been more accepting of misfit people, but they didn’t know how fun and interesting it was to use math and science to create wonders like the robots and how amazing they were as people, as family. And how could they, really? Suddenly, Nikola remember the words her Aunt Wanda said as she eavesdropped on her and her mother the other day.

            “...it’s more than just living in a house full of weirdoes and creepy stuff that other people can’t possibly understand. It’s our birthright and almost our duty and it can weigh heavy on us. ... I’ve been through it all and I’m still here. I still love everyone and I know how much they love me and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.”

Nikola smiled up at Rabbit and squeezed his metal hand back.

 

            As they grew closer she noticed that among the familiar individual markers that memorialized the lives of Peter Walter I, II, III, IV, Iris, Mary and Judy Walter and Guy Hottie there was one more. The smaller markers ringed the main Walter Monument made in the shape of a strange of obelisk. Incredibly large and impressive, it would have dwarfed most monuments in any given public or sacred ground. It was carved of black granite and stood thirty feet in height. Between the base containing names, dates and epitaphs and the spire of the obelisk itself was a large blue crystal sphere, held in place by four, shining, bright silver titanium rods that connected the two parts. The setting sun shone through the orb and made it appear to glow.

            The Spine opened the old gate and allowed Rabbit and Nikola to enter, then solemnly closed it behind him. Just as she had thought, Rabbit lead her to the unfamiliar headstone. Her stomach turned as she read the inscription.

            “In Memory of Jon Walter, eighteen ninety-six to two thousand. Beloved son and brother,” she said, her voice catching in her throat.

            “One of his favorite things,” The Spine said softly, “was driving his motorcycle. One night, he was coming home and a truck strayed into his lane.” He could say no more.

            Rabbit released Nikola’s hand and squatted down in front of the stone. “Hiya, buddy,” he said, his voice barely coming out at a whisper. “I’m so s-s-s-sorry I haven’t been to see ya. I’ve been kinda stuck. I made The Spine crazy with it. Every day, around three or so when you were s’pose to be back that day I’d complain that you were late, just like I did that day. Every day for the last three years, I did that. If anyone said anything about the accident I’d tune ‘em out and ask again. I wasn’t being silly, I just really couldn’t get past it ‘cause I’d created a loop where I didn’t advance past that date. I didn’t wanna accept it because I don’t wanna let you go.” He dropped from the squat to his knees and put one hand on the black granite headstone. “I knew when you turned human I’d have to let you go one day, but I didn’t think it’d be so damn soon!” He covered his face with his other hand. “Forgive me, Jon.”

            The Spine took a few reluctant steps toward the headstone and put his hand on Rabbit’s shoulder. “Forgive me, Jon,” he echoed. “Today I got to meet my own human daughter. Somewhere out there, I got to live and love and even become a father!” He smiled wistfully as he cast his eyes briefly on Nikola. “Forgive me. I was blinded by jealousy sometimes and I treated you coldly. Then when Rabbit started acting the way he did, I got angry at myself because I couldn’t help him. I never once thought that I’d never be able to apologize.” Nikola covered her mouth with her hand as she watched the automaton versions of her father and mother cry over the grave of the human version of her friend. The steam that occasionally swirled around them quickly dissipated on the breeze.

The three remained there, grieving for several minutes. At last, The Spine pulled his pocket-square from his vest and dabbed the oil from his cheeks. He helped Rabbit to his feet and handed him the red cloth which he unfolded and wiped his entire face with, doing more to smear the oil than to clean it up. Nikola reached up, took it from him and helped finish the job. Rabbit smiled sadly at her and when she had handed the dingy pocket-square back to The Spine, Rabbit gave her a sudden and tight hug with his right arm and The Spine with his left. Neither of them protested.