(Have a random SPG lorefic that I finally finished yesterday)
Disclaimer: Steam Powered Giraffe is owned by David and Isabella Bennett... and possibly Sam Luke. I claim nothing but my own words below.
AN: Inspired by this post: http://spooky-robot.tumblr.com/post/130837401424/1950
The Spine had expected to find Rabbit chatting to Ma and Pappy's gravestones. After three wars, it was strange to think that Rabbit would not understand what death was. And yet... Rabbit kept coming back to these two graves to talk as if they had never left.
He could understand the need. They never got a proper goodbye when America entered the Second World War. And afterwards... they never got a chance.
He was still cross at Duo and Trike for not telling them. His human 'brothers' knew about it for three years and still...
Pappy died the year after they all went to war. Ma perished the year before they could all make it back. And they were the last humans who ever referred to Rabbit as a 'she'. At least out loud.
There she was. Lying down between the graves. Arms outstretched as if she were trying to hug them through six feet of soil. Head twisted at an uncomfortable angle.
"Rabbit, you really shouldn't be out all night. It's bad for your gears."
Silence. Not a twitch of motion. Not even the very fake snore she effected when she was pretending to sleep.
And not, The Spine realised in sinking dread, the faintest trickle of steam from any of her vents.
He broke into a run. "RABBIT! Rabbit, get up!" You have to get up... Vivid flashbacks from the Weekend War filled his senses. He was instantly back on the field of battle, facing lurching Green Matter zombies and gigantic copper elephants.
Feel. Yes. Something to feel.
He reached out to Rabbit. In his confused vision, a naked copper automaton. Under his fingers, the pliability of black fabric.
Elephant trumpets and cannon fire faded away. He was in the graveyard. The park. The only sound was the birdsong in the trees and the wind in the leaves.
And no comforting click of Rabbit's gears.
He lifted her up. Saw the gaping hole in her chest where her core had been roughly separated from her body. Her copper breastbone still swung on only one bolt. Wires spewed out of the cavity.
He didn't know he was screaming until all the humans were around him, trying to make him stop and talk. The Spine kept an iron grip on her body. He would not surrender it to anyone. He couldn't let her go. He wanted... needed to keep her safe. Protect her.
They didn't understand.
They could never understand.
He could still feel her. Very faintly.
And very far from home.
It was dark. Rabbit tried to open her eyes. Nothing. No light. No sound. Was she in space? She knew she'd be out of order if she was underwater. None of her wiring was water-rated.
What was happening?
She tried to reach her memory files. There were... people. Yes. Bad people. Her memories were oddly foggy and full of emotion.
She... she couldn't feel her brother.
But she could always feel her brother. Ever since the moment that Pappy first activated him. Their cores had always been in sync.
There was no data from the outside. She was... damaged. Yes.
Damaged worse than she'd ever been before.
Rabbit had managed wars with disconnecting jaws, arms and legs. And even one occasion where she was busted in two. She'd lost a brother. Gained a sister. Lost Pappy and Ma and lost her chance to be herself for the foreseeable future.
Except she couldn't see a thing.
Her eyes were out of her contact range.
They had gone as far as undoing her chest. Not that there was much protecting her workings but bare, chassis ribs. She didn't want boy plating like her brothers. Tossed it every chance she got. Eventually, Duo and Trike just gave up on giving Rabbit any kind of plating at all.
Now she was wishing she hadn't been that stubborn.
If she'd allowed plating... maybe the bad men wouldn't have been able to hurt her.
It had hurt. Yes.
And it still hurt.
It hurt a lot.
And it was hurting more.
So hot.. Hot enough to burn...
Pappy, help... I don't want to burn...
"You said this bag would safely contain the core, Norman," Ignatius smacked Norman upside the back of his head. "It's burning."
"I didn't think it'd get that hot this quickly..." Norman scurried over to the large block of ice and placed the captured core, bag and all, on top of it. Steam immediately sizzled up as it burrowed into the ice. "Let me re-check the calculations..."
"You're lucky we don't re-check your stupid head," growled Ignatius. "We can't examine a device we can't even touch, Norman! How are we going to work with this, Norman? You're supposed to be the genius, Norman!"
"If we bleed some power out of it to run something... Maybe we could drain it?"
"Memi me mi mi mi," mocked Ignatius, in a falsetto echo. "God, you're stupid. I told you we should have taken the torso. No, you said. It's too heavy, you said. They can track it, you said. Well how do you plan to hook up a device when it's already heating up an entire tank full of ice, Norman?"
Norman wasn't really listening. He'd dealt with this sort of talk since he was a baby. It was just Ignatius venting his anger. He'd start hitting Norman again if he was really angry.
Inside the tank, sunk down to the metal grille that stopped it melting through the glass, the core was already making steam. Despite the presence of ice all around it. How had their creator managed to do it? All of the connectors had come off so easily... Aha! Magnets! Colonel Peter had probably encountered the same trouble and found an efficient method for connecting things to the core.
He could jerry-rig something in ten minutes. Maybe less. Twenty, if Ignatius decided to beat him up a bit for tinkering instead of thinking.
It had taken twenty Walter Workers to pacify The Spine to the point where they could extract Rabbit's empty chassis from his arms. Another twenty to contain his weapons and bolt him to the slab opposite his copper sibling.
Wanda was in as much of a fret as Unit Three. She's already seen one of her beloved automaton 'uncles' go into storage and never come back. Rabbit and The Spine were unshakeable pillars of her life. Until today.
Rabbit... Rabbit was empty. His chassis was as dead as any other automaton on the assembly lines in the factory. There was no Blue Matter magic to run his boiler. To move his gears. To make the metal plates of his face move and twist like they were made out of rubber.
The Spine was still howling. Burning out his vocal processors in his efforts to try and scream Rabbit into motion. Not that he could do very much else. They had him bolted down to a slab so much that he could barely move.
Three couldn't calm him down. The Walter Workers couldn't make him shut down. Guy couldn't get through to him. Not even Pappy or Uncle Trike could reach him.
He'd known her all her life. And he'd never been like this. Not even on the bad nights when the wars replayed in his head. Wanda took a breath. Two.
Shouted, "Stop it! You're scaring me!"
The Spine's inchoate shrieking stopped in a rush of panting breaths. He was still giving off great clouds of steam. If he didn't calm down, soon, he would shut down from his safety protocols. But it would be too cruel to let him go down that way.
She knew from experience that they felt pain when it happened that way.
"Rabbit..." he croaked. Oil streamed from his eyes. "Gotta find Rabbit... 's hurting..."
"Please stop struggling?" she begged. "You'll hurt yourself. You can't help Rabbit if you hurt yourself..."
"...it's going to be all right..." risked Three. "We'll find 'er."
The Spine began sobbing like a small child.
Wanda helped him fill his tank. Cold water, of course. It always put the automatons in a torpor until their boilers heated up again.
"Huh," said Uncle Trike. "All that fuss and we just needed a woman's touch."
"Write us a note," said Pappy. "When we get back? We're hiring more Walter Girls. Pappy always said that the ladies were better at the fine work, anyway."
The Spine began warming up again. "...rabbit..."
Wanda soothed him. "Ssh... ssh..." mad, inspired desperation prompted her to ask, "Can you feel which direction Rabbit is in?"
Nod. His head turned as if he was trying to look for his robot sibling.
"I'm going to unfasten one of your arms. You just point. Okay?"
Grand-pappy had showed her how to assemble and disassemble things since before she could talk. He had believed that every child should have construction toys, regardless of gender. Guy only passed the tools she needed to unbolt The Spine's restraints.
Slowly, careful not to startle or harm anyone, The Spine's hand moved to point. "...there... That way."
Guy was already looking at the map. Drawing a careful line in pencil from Walter Manor along the vector that The Spine indicated.
"...hurts," said The Spine.
"I know," she cooed. "We're working on it."
"There's two Becile factories and an abandoned mechanical workshop in that direction."
"We can help," offered Three. "We still got the weapons and stuff."
Uncle Trike patted Three on the shoulder. "Now, now. You all know you're forbidden to use those in densely populated areas. We can't afford that kind of help."
"And if we call the police about it, they'll put Rabbit's core into evidence. It'll melt down. We need to be quick. We need to be decisive. And we need to be quiet."
Wanda would forever regret not arguing with her Pappy about that decision. She had not known, then, that her father had just pronounced his own death sentence.
Something... there was something there. She could feel a boiler. Other things that didn't make sense. A condenser? Refrigeration?
Still couldn't move anything.
At least she wasn't running hot. But she was so terrified.
Alone in the dark, her mind was conjuring visions.
Not memories, not exactly.
More like... nightmares.
And they were getting bad.
A hungry giant as big as a galaxy.
More graves in the graveyard.
A smiling, golden face, looking a little embarrassed. And the words, "I ran out."
A goddess born of a nebula. Making love to a corpse. Destroying millions.
A crack in reality.
Thousands of screaming people. Just the screams. No context.
Savage, ocean fish with... wings...
A nephew turned god. Also dead. Also... crushed endlessly in a giant ball made of hate...
And she couldn't make them stop.
She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted to run all the way to Pappy and Ma and know the world was okay again. She wanted to hide in the best pillow fort ever with all of her brothers at once and never come out again until there was sunshine.
But there was no sunshine.
And it felt like not ever.
The boiler ran a generator. The generator ran the condenser and the ice machine. The condenser condensed the steam back into water and fed it into the ice machine, which fed ice back into the boiler.
Of course, Ignatius was not impressed. "Well, if I ever want a perpetual motion machine, I know who to call. This is not reverse-engineering, Norman!" Smack. "We wanted to find out how it works!" Smack. "Figure out the engineering you intense moron!" Smack.
"You wanted me to figure out how to stop it melting all the way down to China, and I did it. I also did it whilst leaving a majority of the surface open to investigation. You're welcome, I think. Now get some light onto that bloody thing so I can take a closer look."
Smack. "Get it yourself. I need to figure out the math behind a Green Matter core and you know it."
"So pick up a piece of chalk instead of abusing my head," Norman countered. Ah. There was the illuminated magnifier. He plugged that into the generator, too. Moved it around so he could peer myopically at the construction. Spoke into his dictaphone. "Hemisphere... a quarter. An eighth... Looks like Col. Walter was progressively testing the limits of his ability to insert blue matter into the material of the core..."
"Mimi mimimi mimimi mi mi," mocked Ignatius. He did not stop doing his math work.
Norman didn't stop recording. "I've located the final sixteenth segment. Looks like a normal, philip's screw... Beginning disassembly..."
Blue-matter powered cars moved faster than normal ones. San Diego let the Walters keep their prototype on the promises that (a) they would not mass-manufacture such vehicles for the common public and (b) when they did use it, they would not break any laws. Including the laws of physics.
Such promises were forgotten, now.
Duo had the wheel. He was one of the few masters of the inertialess right-angle turn. They could have gone straight through buildings in their way, but that caused too great a panic amongst the regular populace of San Diego. And the last thing they needed tonight was notice.
The need to scream was so overpowering. She had nothing she could scream with. It hurt. It hurt! O Pappy help, it really HURT!
Something was pulling her very self apart! Cruel instruments. Probes invading her very essence. There was only one avenue to vent her pain and her nightmares out of and she took it.
Ignatius thrust him out of his chair, almost hurled him halfway across the room. "You're too slow! We don't have time for caution!" He picked up the instruments and thrust them roughly into the glowing centre of the automaton's core.
Norman knew better than to argue with Ignatius when he was pitching a fit.
The Walters who burst into the room... didn't.
Norman hid under a bench and nursed his bruised right eye, watching as both Walter twins and... O God... Wanda's handsome husband tussled with Ignatius over possession of the core.
And then... things went... insane.
A flash of blue so bright it hurt him on a cellular level. The world gone mad in an instant. The very universe torn to pieces and reassembled according to the whims of a madman.
When he could next bear to open his eyes... everything was... wrong.
Hard to think.
Hard to move.
He couldn't even focus right. It was as if half of his face was turned sideways. One of his hands had... lobster claws? They nipped and pinched at anything of their own accord.
The only light came from the special ball. It was important. Couldn't remember why.
There were fewer people in the room than when the light had started.
Iggy... Iggy was hurt.
Some part of him remembered a lot of hurts coming from Iggy. Part of him thought that Iggy being hurt was good. It was fair.
There were shadows in the shape of men on the floor. Two of them. And one man. A blond man. Near him. Safe in his shadow. Almost safe in his shadow. His head was bleeding.
He was important, too.
Norman managed to crawl painfully towards the special ball. Put it back together. Like Humpty Dumpty. Only easier because all the parts were still lying around.
It was cold, now. It should be hot.
That was bad.
He needed to get the important man and the special ball to help.
Iggy was no help. Get them away from Iggy.
He soaked a wreck of a coat in cold water and wrapped up the special ball in it. Just in case it got hot again. And carefully picked up the important man. Shambled outside. All of the city was crawling with nightmares.
That was bad, too.
There was a car outside the workshop. A special car. It was smart and it did tricks. He could remember that much. He put the special ball in the car and laid the important mad carefully down in the back seat. He had to wriggle his lobster fingers loose from the man's clothes.
His name was Peter.
Peter could not make the car go. He was sleeping. Norman couldn't see properly or think properly, but he could poke at things and hope.
He clutched the special ball in his middle. It was his fault everything was going wrong. He knew that much. If the special ball got hot again and hurt him, he deserved it.
The car whirred and said, "Please state destination and desired speed."
That was good. Yes. So very good. Good car.
His mouth was bad. Couldn't make it work like he used to. After five frustrating failures, he managed, "Go... home. Care... ful."
The car accepted it and slowly crawled along the twisted and twisting roads as if it was used to driving through nightmares.
Norman was worried about the special ball. And the important man. The scary stuff outside the car was... just noise. Bad noise. Frightening noise. But not as frightening as the special ball staying cold forever. Or the important man sleeping forever. Or stopping his breathing.
Despite his desperation to see Peter open his eyes, Norman did not pinch him with his lobster fingers. That would be mean.
Never wanted to be mean.
Wanda managed to keep The Spine and Three distracted. Tea and sewing and colour on the walls. And herself, pacing nervously between windows that had a vantage over the main drive.
San Diego was nightmares.
And she was living her own. None of the terrors shambling through the streets and the estate had any fears for her. Her family was broken. Maybe forever.
Please, no. Please no... Not forever. Please. Not forever.
She fancied she saw the car's headlights a million times. Phantasms, all.
Yet she never stopped running down to the foyer and peeking outside the doorway every single time.
The Spine put down his needlework and smiled. Embraced her. "She's coming home."
In times of stress, he confused Rabbit's pronouns. A little glitch that always told Wanda how bad things were.
It was still hot soup. Hotter than the soup raining down over the mansion.
Finally, finally, the car arrived at a slow crawl. There was a monster in the front seat. Looking pained and frightened. It took a human shape out of the back seat and lurched towards the mansion with the human over his shoulder.
It produced a string of unintelligible sounds as it lurched out of the cock-a-leekie rain. Sounds that resolved into a repeated, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." His sideways eye wept twice as copiously as the relatively normal one.
The human figure was Uncle Trike. Lain carefully on the floor like an offering. The monster fell over in the effort to scramble away. Scraped himself over to a corner and huddled there. A wrapped sphere held between himself and the rest of the world.
And only one other word.
"Rrrraaa... bit. Rrraaabit."
"Rabbit?" said The Spine. "You brought Rabbit's core back?
The monster went back to slurring, "I'm sorry."
The Spine was on him in an instant. Snatched the ball away from the monster and unwrapped it. Then he raced upstairs, taking them three at a time.
Only Rabbit's core would make him forget Uncle Trike.
Wanda hoped for the best, but when the nightmares faded back into reality, the monster remained. And Uncle Trike was still hurt. She nursed Uncle Trike as best she could, given the circumstances. Dared to hope.
"Are you Pappy?"
"I'm sorry," said the monster.
"Who are you, then?"
It took him a lot of effort. "Nnnnnn... Nnnnnn... Nnnnnooorrr..." pant pant pant. "Mmmm... Mmmmmmaaannnnn. Nnnnoorrr... Mmmmaaannn. B-b-b-b...beeeehhhh..."
"Norman Becile?" she said the name like a curse.
He curled up. Sobbed like a frightened child. "I'm sorry."
It was all he would say for months.
And her world would never be the same.
 The Weekend War with Becile, WW1 and WW2.
AN: [Spooky-Robot(http://spooky-robot.tumblr.com) and I regularly try to top each other's sadfics, and subsequently send each other fanmails on the theme of "You broke my heart, I love it".