3000 Words About Steam Powered Giraffe
by Aoikami Sarah
The drabble titles are names of songs by the band The Cure. I might do another set or two, but this will take you from 1978 through about 1985 or so. ^_^ All are cannon, no ships, no gore. Some are sad, some are funny.
1. Three Imaginary Boys
As I came around the large dairy cow barns, trying to avoid throngs of people on the main path at the county fair, I heard music. We were too far from the Peruvian guys over by the bathrooms, so who was this, I wondered. On the back side of the horticulture building, next to the antique machinery exhibit stood three adult-sized metal people playing instruments and singing old-fashioned songs. Their metal faces gleamed in the noonday sun. Steam escaped from their mouths and they joked with each other and the audience. I’m still not sure if I just imagined it.
2. Grinding Halt
South Pacific was a musical, right? Rabbit thought as he trudged across the rice paddy. This was the South China sea, not the Pacific. Right. Oh well. His boiler worked overtime. One foot in front of the other. Jon in front of him, Spine behind. Mud in his gears. Hands on heads marching in a line with a dozen men in much worse shape. Lift the knee, put the foot down. His left was getting worse. Then it jammed. The Spine bumped into him, hissed urgently “keep moving, Rabbit!” Pushing forward, the gear popped and he crumpled to the ground.
The Spine stood in the doorway and raised a brow. “Rabbit, why are you...?” He trailed off as he took in the scene. The Jon stood, arms outstretched, nude, save a smattering of fluffy yellow feathers stuck to his body with (what he gathered from half-empty bottles scattered around him must have been) Elmer’s glue. The Jon folded his arms at the elbow and clucked. “Michael said we have to learn the Chicken Dance for that bar mitzvah we’re doing,” Rabbit said, eyeing his masterpiece and throwing another handful of feathers at The Jon. “We’re shootin’ for accuracy, here, Spine.”
4. Another Day
He didn’t mind. It wasn’t like time meant much, anyway. In time, they’d figure something out. Pappy had promised, so one day they’d fix him up. He should have patience. He had patience. In spades. Time didn’t mean much. He could measure it. Down to the millisecond it ticked away, soundlessly. Almost midnight. Thirty seconds. Or was it years? It didn’t matter. Twenty minutes. Seconds. Whatever. Midnight. Hatchworth unfolded his right arm and scratched the lead wall just a foot from his face. His photoreceptors illuminated the mark--four slashes now with a fifth through it next to hundreds of others.
The night before, after the show, The Spine had asked a lady he met if she would like to see him sometime. He was serious. She wasn’t. She laughed at him and said something that went on repeat in his brain.
Today, he read a magazine to try to distract himself. “Huh,” The Spine said aloud from his seat in a wingback chair.
Hatchworth looked up from stringing his bass and blinked at him. “Huh?”
“Says here that people tend to treat celebrities as objects rather than real people,” he said, not looking up. “Huh. Maybe that’s what she meant...”
6. It's Not You
No one talked about it, as if merely speaking would make it more true. The manor was quieter, less vibrant,, as if it too was keeping mum. When Hatchworth was repaired and joined Rabbit and The Spine, it was a good distraction, but a psychic abscess still haunted them. When they could play shows again, they did and in time, they would heal with the help of their new friend. But, sometimes, the wound would open again.
“Well, I know a guy who does that for a living!”
“Oh, is it me, is it me?”
“No, it’s not you... Hatchworth.”
Everything was loaded in the van and Steve leaned on the horn, shouting for them to get a move on. Finally, they sent The Spine back in to find Rabbit. The Spine rolled his eyes. He marched up to Rabbit’s room, stood in the doorway and folded his arms. The copper automaton was seated before a vanity and was swapping out faceplates, trying to decide on the right one for the show. “This one makes me l-l-look fat.” he whined.
“You can’t look fat, you’re a robot.”
“Does this one make my butt look big?”
“You look FINE, let’s go!”
8. Play for Today
No matter what frustration, infuriation, heartbreak or blues he felt that day, he was a performer, and when he hit that stage, Michael Reed slipped into the role of one-man-band and smiled along. The music made it easier, on those days when his world was askew, to immerse himself into another role and put all of it out of his mind. Or when the robots malfunctioned and he had to fix them between songs, he certainly had no time for his own worries. He had a part to play. When the jumpsuit went on--so did he. No matter what.
“Hey, Bunny, wait up!” Rabbit pounded down the hall and called to the Matter Mistress as she headed up to dinner after a long day at work. She stopped and raised a brow at him. “I wanted to ask y-y-you somethin’. See, me and Hatchworth was wonderin’...”
She smirked, grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, jabbed her finger at his back and hastily drew the words ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you’ on it. She winked and sauntered to the stairs, leaving him standing, mouth agape.
“Guess we’ll never know how she got her skirt so poufy!”
One or another of them were always there, in the wings, waiting, should anything go wrong. The Walter Girls waited with their Blue-Matter-acclimated features and sweet, patient eyes.
This show was a long one and had the biggest audience yet. The robots played their glowing, blue souls out. All night, even Rabbit had very few glitches, none of which required their help. Then all at once, just before “Brass Goggles” all three of them went at once and Carolina, Paige and Brianna sprang into action, whipped out their tools and did their magic, smiling despite the seriousness of their work.
11. Final Sound
The Spine stood tall, playing his guitar softly. Rabbit and The Jon sang, their harmonies perfect and angelic. Peter Walter apologized that Hatchworth had already spent four years locked away and would probably spend many more. His sons told him not to worry, but he did. “I have no pretense that Iris and Delilah are waiting for me somewhere,” he croaked. “They’re among the stars, and so soon shall I be. Don’t be sad, boys, all my boys.” They stopped playing as he choked his last breath. The last sound he heard--the soft sobbing of three automatons and two humans.
12. At Night
Walter Girl Bunny couldn’t sleep. She wandered the halls of Walter Manor and got a glass of water. A glow from one of the libraries attracted her attention. The sight of The Spine reading a book surprised her. She wondered why he was on so late then noticed the grey look in his usually colorful eyes. She ripped his vest and shirt open revealing that his boiler was almost empty. Deftly, she threw his head back and poured her glass of water down his throat. Steam hissed. She glared. He apologized, sheepishly, “It was too good book to put down.”
13. Seventeen Seconds
Thirty seconds to singularity. Looking good. Numbers are increasing. Holding steady. Did they clear out? Good. Can’t be too careful. Seventeen seconds. Huh. Wasn’t there a Cure album called that? Fourteen. Hm. It’s not holding. Twelve. Yes it is. Eleven. Oh, that’s different. Nine. Wait a second, if the levels are this high then I need to adjust... Seven. Too late for that. Hm. Six. Guess I should have hugged my dad before I came out here. Five. Hope the Expo goes down without me, anyway. Would be a shame to lose the deposit on the venue. Four. Now I’ve got to... Well, Crap. Three. Now... Two. ...or never. One. Go.
“Raaaaabiiiiit” it said. Again. Peter A. Walter stared at the robotic head sitting on the table and wondered at it.
“This is a pencil,” he waved the object in front of the head.
“Rabbit!” it chirped. The experimental photoreceptors followed it as Walter moved the pencil left to right, so those were working.
Walter groaned. “The good news is your speech and vision appear to be working just fine. I’ll have to work on your comprehension, however.” To his surprise its eyebrows tilted up and it whimpered softly. “Don’t... worry? You’ll learn.”
The brows tilted back up.
15. Other Voices
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Peter Walter V shouted to his family and flipped a serious-looking switch on the wall. “Let it be know that on June 12, 1990, Walter Wi-fi went online!”
Wanda, Norman, Annie, his little son and a gaggle of employees applauded politely. The automatons stood stock still and their mouths hung open.
The humans looked at each other and Five hurriedly brought up a chat session on a nearby PC. Lines of text scrolled too fast to read as the bots conversed. “Ok, so maybe there’s some bugs to work out...”
16. Funeral Party
That day was a grey day, greyer than any he remembered. His body felt ten times more leaden than it usually did. He lifted one leg, put it down, then another, repeat, following the footsteps of the man in front of him. Rabbit had wanted to hold his hand but shouldering the coffin made this impossible. He could hear him sobbing softly on the opposite side and The Jon whining like a child somewhere behind. It was a short distance to the gravesite, but time slowed for The Spine to a crawl as they marched toward his father’s eternal rest.
“Do you buy it?” Steve asked Michael quietly, leaning toward the one-man-band and looking to make sure the robots weren’t listening.
“What they say went down?”
Michael shrugged. “I don’t think they’re lying, if that’s what you mean.”
“Neither do I, man, I just don’t think it’s as simple as that. I mean, it was so sudden... Six say anything to you?”
Michael shook his head and watched The Spine and Rabbit chat with Sam and get ready for sound-check.
“I think if it helps them to think he’s ‘gone to see the world’ then I’ll buy it, too.”
18. The Drowning Man
“Oh,” he thought, dreamily. “I guess you really screwed the pooch this time, Rabbit.” His heavy metal body descended quickly. Air bubbled up around him. His boiler cooled and cracked as icy water invaded his gears. The pain was brief, and a frighteningly peaceful numbness came over him. “I might be happy, on the bottom of the sea.” His thoughts were sluggish now. He didn’t see Steve dive down to rescue him, or feel the rope slip over his heel, or his body jerk when the line went tight and started hauling him back to the surface--back to life.
19. One Hundred Years
October 7th, 1996 at Walter Manor was a special day. The automatons chose this day to celebrate their 100th birthday. Wanda had it catered. Annie and Norman decorated the halls. Peter dug up old recordings and photos. There were presents of new hat for Spine, sneakers for Jon and a new vest for Rabbit. Little Peter Walter VI gave them a drawing of a robot with an orange mustache. His father suggested it was too sad to give as a present, but he insisted. “I’m giving you him back,” the ten-year-old said. “One day, I’m gonna fix Hatchworth for you.”
20. Short Term Effect
“Set me free... My-my-my-my-my...” Rabbit glitched in the middle of Honey Bee. Again. It never lasted long, but unlike every other glitch, this one was totally predictable. He exhaled steam when it passed and seeming to forget his mic was on he muttered “how many more malfunctions?” before continuing. The band exchanged worried looks, but continued seamlessly when he was ready.
Later, after the show, Rabbit walked off on his own into the green room, collapsed into a chair and covered his eyes. “How many more times?” he whispered. “Come on, Rabbit, it’s just a song. It’s ju-ju-just a song.”
21. Siamese Twins
“I don’t like this one bit, Rabbit.” The Spine said. Rabbit ignored him.
Rabbit plodded along, his head leaned to the right to make room for his brother’s head; his titanium-alloy spine draped around Rabbit’s neck and wrapped around his left arm. “You better zip the lip, Spine. You need to conserve energy,” he said gravely. “It’s about another ten miles t’ where The Jon’s unit was last recorded an’...” he began.
A stray enemy soldier emerged from the brush, MAC-10 aimed but slowly drooped. He screamed, turned, and ran off. Rabbit chuckled darkly. “He thought we were a monster...”
22. A Strange Day
The Manor was quiet. Too quiet. Wanda strode through the halls, stopping occasionally and listening. Nothing remarkable. Nothing odd. The hum of distant machinations, ever present, the creaking of the rafters in the attic and turrets as the sun warmed them, a radio playing some sort of talk program (NPR by the droning, clear voices) was all she heard. The woman frowned and walked to the front parlor where she found her monstrous husband dozing in an overstuffed chair. When the automatons were away, their absence left such a void that Wanda felt listless and anxious until their boisterous return.
Seattle, Washington. Forty-five degrees and raining. Michael sneezed. Steve complained that he didn’t pack a long-sleeve shirt. Matt shivered. The van was parked. The equipment was unloaded and everyone waited for the last hour until the gig started. It didn’t help that they’d been warm, sweating even, as they unloaded. Having finished their photo-op, the robots joined the humans inside the tent. “Finally!” Steve shouted, bounded up to The Spine and bear hugged him. “Warm boilers!!” Matt and Michael shrugged and did the same to Rabbit and Hatchworth. Five fans who saw this through a gap in the tent fainted.
24. Speak My Language
Physical glitches were bad enough, Michael thought. Verbal glitches were usually Rabbit’s thing, but today, there must have been a virus going around the ‘bots. None of them made any sense. He’d taken a year of Spanish, so some of what Hatchworth was trying to tell him made sense. The Spine, however sounded like maybe he was stuck in Russian, and Rabbit was getting frustrated that not only could no one understand him, he couldn’t understand Spine or Hatchworth. “Hontoni wakarimasen yo, Suppain, Hatchi! Nanisurun’da yo. Okyaku-san ga matteiruzo! Eh? Nani? Sono moji wa nanda?! Nihongo, ka...? Hahahaha! Bikurishita, ore!”
25. Just One Kiss
It wasn’t supposed to be life-altering. Peter A. Walter V spent the school year of 1984-85 teaching robotics at Carnegie-Mellon in Pennsylvania. While there, he grew to hate academics and spent most of his time on the phone with his Aunt and automatons he’d left behind. Otherwise, he camped out in a diner on Walnut St. He always ordered the same thing: dry toast and black coffee. Soon, the waitress just brought it to him without asking. She had a pretty smile and it only took one kiss to to convince him to bring her to San Diego with him.
26. The Walk
When he first saw the steam man band as a young boy, Michael was fascinated by everything about them: the way they played and sang, moved and belched steam. When it came to pass that he joined them as their “human” he was trained to maintain them and understood much of their inner workings. The Jon, however, was an enigma. “How can you be so smooth?” he asked him one day. The Jon glided across the floor toward him. “Smooth? Like non-chunky peanut butter?” he purred and laughed. Michael shook his head. “No, seriously, how do you do that?”
They were not built to fight, but to love, or more specifically, to send a message of love from one man to one woman. Fate dealt a losing hand and the woman to whom this message was to be delivered met her end before they got a chance to sing one single note. Then came war. After war. After war. And each time they returned, battered and dented, their spirits crushed under the weight of the world, they sang those songs of love again in a lament for love lost in an endless attempt to mend their rusted, broken hearts.
28. The Upstairs Room
The Spine explained to Hatchworth after he got a dressing-down for trying to investigate Wanda’s room that the space was known as “Off Limits”, “Not Even On A Dare” or “She’ll Take You Apart If You Think About Going Up There” for a reason. The southernmost turret with its skewed roof and protruding instruments was the sole domain of the eldest Walter and she was adamant about her privacy. Not even her current husband was allowed entry. “But what does she do in there?!” Hatchworth whined. “None of your dang business!” Wanda shouted from the other side of the manor.
29. The Dream
All day, Peter Walter VI found his mind wandering. His dreams were intense, realistic albeit surreal, unlike those he had as a younger person in a solid, vivid, cinematic way. He tried to work, or read or do anything constructive but would find himself staring blankly, dream scenes replaying behind his eyes.
“You ok, Six?” Rabbit asked, waving a hand before his eyes.
“Rabbit?” Six asked. An image of a young, bald man in a striped shirt danced across his vision, superimposed over the automaton before him. “I think I need to go to bed earlier that I’ve been doing.”
30. Charlotte Sometimes
“Uh... Rabbit?” The Spine asked his brother as he walked into the parlor.
“Yeah, The Spine?” he replied, not looking up from his task.
The Spine raised a brow. “Wha... What are you doing?”
“I’m braiding Charlotte’s hair.”
His mouth opened and he swiveled but hesitated. “Since when is Jon’s name Charlotte, Rabbit?”
“Well, sometimes he’s Charlotte. Like today, for example.”
The Jon wore a large jumper over his normal clothes and sat demurely while Rabbit braided his hair. The Jon nodded his head carefully so as not to upset his brother’s work.
“Sometimes he’s...? Alright, know what? Never mind.”