Call Me Bunny
Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
It was a Saturday when it happened. The robot lads had just played a show the night before at the town pavilion. At that show, The Spine injured his back, popping a gear during “Fire, Fire” that was difficult to replace and was still being repaired on Saturday morning.
As he was being prepared for examination, Rabbit made fun of how often The Spine was in for maintenance. The Spine informed Rabbit that this was not because he was malfunctioning (unlike a certain bald-pated robot he could mention) but that he was careful with his physique and made sure he would last another hundred years. He then suggested that Rabbit and Hatchworth join him for his overnight stay in the lab. Hatchworth declined having just had a tune up last week. Rabbit changed the subject by saying he had to count the bats in the belfry and ran from the room laughing like a maniac. Hatchworth shrugged and went off on his own. The Spine shook his head as the Walter Girls circled in to tend to his wounded back.
The Walter Girl called Brianna escorted Hatchworth and Rabbit on that fateful Saturday on a trip to the ice cream shop. The sun shown down occasionally through scattered clouds and the California air was warm and sweet. It was not at all the sort of day one would expect someone to attempt suicide, so one can understand the surprise the three received as they were walking along the street when a woman fell on Rabbit from a height of twenty stories, having leapt from the top of the First National Bank building.
The two left standing jumped, startled, and Brianna gave a small shout of surprise. Hatchworth said “oh dear.” Rabbit said nothing. A moment later a crowd began to form and the Walter Girl sprang into action, checking first to see if the suicide had been successful. It appeared not, despite her injuries seeming to be rather severe, her having landed on a metal man. However, a look of horror crossed Brianna’s face when she noticed the bright blue glowing substance that covered both the suicide-woman and her automaton ward. “Everyone get back!” she cried, but most did not heed her. “Hatchworth, form a perimeter, don’t let anyone come closer!”
“Will do,” he answered calmly and scuttled around them in a circle, deftly blocking and gently pressing the crowd back while muttering apologies and softly-spoken thinly-veiled threats. Both the woman and Rabbit were motionless. Rabbit lay crumpled on the sidewalk, one leg bent the wrong way behind him and his left arm twisted and splayed out awkwardly. His eyes flickered, then they, and the blue glow, dimmed in the sunlight. Brianna quietly issued instructions into a small cell phone to someone back at Walter Manor and in moments a large vintage hearse pulled to a screeching halt curbside.
“Is this their idea of a joke?” Brianna asked as she and Hatchworth picked the woman up and quickly carried her into the gaping back of the hearse.
“It’s not a very good one,” Hatchworth agreed and turned to scoop Rabbit up in his arms. “Is he going to be ok?” he asked, his mustache twitching nervously.
Brianna made a worried face as she got out of his way then hopped up in the hearse alongside the bodies. “I hope so,” she said as Hatchworth climbed in and pulled the doors closed behind him. The hearse sped away back to Walter Manor.
A short while earlier The Spine stood in the hall at the front of the manor and pouted. Norman Becile had just informed him that Rabbit and Hatchworth had popped out for ice cream. Norman offered that The Spine could try to catch up with them, but he grumbled that they’d probably be done before he got there so he’d just wait for them to come home. He wandered off a ways and stood in the hall; his newly repaired spine straight; he did not move. He thought of all the snarky things he could say to scold them—especially Rabbit—for going for ice cream without him—especially since he was the one in the infirmary who best deserved a nice ice cream treat. He brightened for a moment with the thought that maybe they would bring some back for him, then slumped and hissed. No. They would not likely be so thoughtful.
“Oh, The Spine! Y-you wanted ice creeeeeam?” he straightened back up and imitated his automaton friend. “No, no, Rabbit. Why, that’s just silly. I don’t like ice cream at all!” He replied to his own imitation. “You don’t? Why, everyone loves ice creeeeeam!” “Well, Rabbit. Maybe... just maybe, now. Maybe if you had hung around with me in the infirmary all night and gotten the maintenance you’ve been shirking for... years now, come to think of it... All three of us could have gone together? Ever think about that?”
He could have continued this conversation with himself for some time if he weren’t interrupted by a commotion echoing through the manor halls. Distracted from his sulking, The Spine shrugged and headed toward the sounds. His advanced hearing noted shouts and the rattling of metal coming from the lower-level repair wing on the far side of the building.
A few minutes later as he grew closer, he saw Hatchworth and a Walter Girl called Brianna headed toward him. “Well, hey guys,” he chimed, casually. “What’s going on?”
Brianna extended her hands slightly in a herding gesture. “You two go have fun somewhere else. It’s not safe to be here right now. Don’t worry, we’ll do our best to save him.”
“Save him?” The Spine asked, alarmed.
“Oh, The Spine, it’s not so good,” Hatchworth worried. He took his friend by the arm and led him into a nearby parlor. The Spine watched Brianna turn and head back down the hall. Her usually happy, kind face fell as she turned and hurried into the darkness of the repairs wing.
“Rabbit...?” he asked.
Not quite twenty-four hours later the sun rose on a new day, but deep in the underground of Walter Manor time seemed to stand still. No natural light penetrated. Lab room AA was currently occupied by the three members of the automaton band Steam Powered Giraffe, two of whom were operational. The third was strapped to a vertical examination nook against the western wall to the left of a set of huge, metal double doors. Wires ran from a bank of diagnostic devices of various types on the northern wall (some that pulsed, blinked and wheezed and others that were still) across the floor and to Rabbit. His eyes were half open and grey. His mouth gaped slightly. His clothes had been removed and he stood stiffly like a mannequin against the wall of the nook. To the right of his, four other such nooks stood empty.
The Spine had spent the previous night turned around facing the wall in the exam nook next to Rabbit’s while his back was repaired and other necessary maintenance was performed. He stared blankly at this wall now, standing about ten feet away in the middle of the room. Hatchworth fidgeted sitting against the wall by the door, facing Rabbit and The Spine. Neither had spoken since Hatchworth told him what had happened. An oversized clock on the wall chimed eight and the ringing sound echoed through the lab. Hatchworth stood and twisted his mustache. “No change,” he noted, approaching Rabbit’s inert frame. His sneakers squeaked softly across the polished cement floor. “No change at all.”
The Spine folded his arms. “Say, Hatchworth,” he began. “Did you know that humans have this ridiculous idea that when they die, they get to go somewhere pleasant where there’s no pain and they get to see their loved ones again and eat all the ice cream they want?”
Hatchworth turned his head toward his friend and gave him a quizzical look. “Oh? You don’t say? Isn’t that what they call ‘heaven’?”
The Spine nodded. “It is indeed. When we fought in the wars, we saw a lot of humans die. They’re so fragile. It really doesn’t take much and they break, just like that.” His voice became soft. “But they think that no matter how much pain they’re going through, when it’s done, they get to go to paradise.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” said Hatchworth, matching The Spine’s soft tone. “Spine? Do you think there’s a place like that for robots?”
“Well,” he answered, tilting his head and taking his eyes off Rabbit for the first time in many hours. “Humans have souls—that’s sort of like their version of Blue Matter. When we use up our Blue Matter, I’m not sure that it goes to a land where it gets to eat ice cream all day.”
“But right now, it’s a nice thing to think about.”
“We don’t know that he’s...” Hatchworth began, but didn’t finish the thought. No one had yet said that there was no hope; that their friend was gone, but his grey, hollow eyes did not encourage them.
“No,” The Spine agreed. “We don’t.” Both bots turned their heads toward the lab doors and the sound of raised voices coming from the other side. “Something’s going on again,” he said, frowning and with a glance toward Rabbit as if to say ‘we’ll be right back’ both quickly left the room to investigate.
Two hundred feet and five doors down in one of the human ‘repair shops’ several female voices could be heard shouting, urgently. The bots peeked in through the open door of what looked like a gothic hospital room complete with metal frame bed and mid-century TV set hanging from the ceiling. It was grey and dimly lit and the TV displayed snow static; the volume was turned up just enough to be audible. An EKG whined, displaying a flat-line, having been disconnected, adding to the crazy din of two Walter Girls trying to calm a flailing young brunette woman in a hospital gown. She was on the floor, tangled in sheets and the plastic tubing of a saline drip which lay leaking on the floor beside her. Hatchworth recognized her as the suicide-woman from the day before and quietly said as much to The Spine. They looked on as the Walter Girls lifted the woman. Her face was contorted with terror and she thrashed her limbs and hissed and seethed as if she could not form words she desperately wanted to convey. They managed to lift her back up onto the hospital bed, but not until she spied the robots in the doorway did she stop struggling. The woman had Paige’s right hand in a white-knuckled grip and the Walter Girl tried to soothe her. “We’re here to help you,” she insisted, “it’s ok!” She noticed the woman’s eyes were fixed over her shoulder and sighed. “Don’t worry, they’re our friends. They won’t hurt you, see?”
The woman stared hard at the robots with her jaw set in a deep pout. To Paige’s surprise, she wriggled her free hand out and reached toward them. Paige motioned for them to come in and turned to Brianna, nodding as the other girl prepared a syringe of morphine. “See?” Paige repeated.
Hatchworth and The Spine tipped their hats and said “ma’am” in greeting. To Paige’s surprise, Hatchworth extended his hand and shook the woman’s. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. “My name is Hatchworth and this is The Spine.” He indicated to his friend who stood behind him. The suicide-woman clutched his hand tightly. She trembled all over and looked from the bot’s face down to his hand and tears rolled down her cheeks. She winced as Brianna administered the morphine to the hand that still held Paige’s. Relaxing as the drug took effect she released both hands and eased down onto the hospital bed; her rasping breaths becoming slower and calmer by the moment.
“Rest now,” Paid said, shaking feeling back into her fingers. “We have to observe you... er... that is...” She pursed her lips and rephrased the thought. “Yesterday, you fell on one of our robots and there was an... incident. We have to make sure you’ll be alright. We’ll take good care of you.”
The woman’s brown eyes fluttered as the drug did its work. She whimpered softly, but still no words came. The Spine clenched his fists, turned on his heels and marched back to lab AA and Hatchworth hurried after him, excusing the both of them.