Fanfic: Derelict - Chapter 13 - Hello?
Fandom: Steam Powered Science (SPG/Portal)
Next Chapter: 14
Characters: Steve, Michael, Sam, Rabbit, The Jon, The Spine
Summary: ”We n-need you to look at somethin’ for us.”
It took approximately ten minutes for Rabbit to decide that Michael was okay.
It took about an hour for Michael to get Rabbit working.
While Michael worked, The Spine explained. “We’ve been taking care of ourselves,” he said, voice heavy with an old bitterness. “We’re built to last. And we can fix superficial problems – limbs detaching, eyes flickering. Rust – that sort of thing. Though Rabbit insists the oxidation isn’t an issue.”
“It looks cool!” Rabbit insisted, apparently unfazed by the fact that Michael was elbow deep in his chest, one hand sticking straight up through a gap at his neck to poke at something under his chin.
“Anyway,” The Spine continued, and Steve thought with a smirk that this must be an old argument, “we were doing all right, but… There’s only so much we can do about internal problems. Wiring is easy enough, but anything else… It would be like one of you trying to remove your own kidney.”
“My systems are more advanced than Rabbit’s,” The Spine went on, a trace of pride in his voice – but only a trace. “So I haven’t had as many problems. But his core was starting to go bad, and I don’t…” He trailed off. “I don’t know how to fix that.”
It sounded like a confession. Steve started to give the word brother more weight.
“To be honest,” Michael said around the screwdriver in his mouth – and seriously, what did he not have in that bag? – “I don’t really understand this myself, but I think I’m getting it. I did a lot of research on blue matter when I was younger.”
Steve snorted. “What, like when you were twelve?”
“What did you do for fun, Michael?”
“Built tiny robots.” He shut the door that covered Rabbit’s boiler and core, patted it twice with apparent satisfaction, and stood up. “You should be good to go,” he said, wiping the oil off of his hands and onto a rag that had been inside the toolbox that he had pulled out of the bag along with a welding torch and and some vinegar and no, seriously, this guy was freaking Mary Poppins. (“We kept it in the lab because some of the equipment was pretty old, so –” “No. You’re Mary Poppins. It’s not up for debate.”)
Rabbit stood. He and The Spine looked at each other and didn’t say anything.
Steve had a feeling it had been a long time since Rabbit had stood on his own two feet.
“How do you feel?” The Spine asked, hovering at Rabbit’s shoulder. “Try walking.”
Rabbit walked in circles, and then a straight line, and then another circle, and then he jumped, and then he ran, and then he did some ridiculously complex and complexly ridiculous dance moves, and then The Spine told him not to overdo it and he sat back down.
“I f-feel great!” he chirped, beaming at Michael. “You’re awesome!”
“Rabbit,” said The Spine, and when no one but Steve turned to look, he realized with a start that The Spine’s mouth hadn’t actually moved. “I think – maybe we should have him take a look at –”
“I can hear you,” Steve interrupted. “Sorry. But. I can hear you. When you do that. And I – it was starting to feel creepy.”
Rabbit and The Spine stared at him. He cleared his throat and glanced at Michael, who shrugged. “I, um. I have this thing. In my head. Well. My ears. Well… kind of. My, um. My ears are… I mean – the insides of my ears… The – the… canal, and… cochlea, or whatever the hell Michael called it… Aperture replaced it with… stuff. I can hear… really well. Things other people can’t hear.”
How about now?
“Okay,” said Rabbit. “Apparently that one works.”
“Radio waves,” The Spine explained. “But not any that are audible to human ears. It’s easier.”
Steve shrugged. “I can still hear something – like a really high buzzing. But I can’t understand it.”
The buzzing went on for several more minutes. Apparently it was an intense discussion. Steve glanced uncomfortably at Michael, who glanced uncomfortably at Sam, who shrugged and said nothing.
Sam hadn’t spoken a single word since Michael had started working on Rabbit.
The Spine turned to face them. “There’s, um. There’s…” He broke off and looked at the ground, and Steve could hear the steady ticking of his internalized workings start to speed up. “We…”
“We n-need you to look at somethin’ for us,” Rabbit interjected, reaching up to lay a hand on The Spine’s shoulder. The Spine nodded.
“Lead the way,” said Michael.
“His name is The Jon.”
The Spine’s voice was quiet and low and he wasn’t looking at anybody.
The Jon was propped up against a bit of collapsed scaffolding, slumped over in much the same way Rabbit had been.
He didn’t seem to be in that bad of repair. His body was mostly brass, though bits of something that might have been gold clung on here and there. He was chiefly made up of overlapping plates, his limbs and fingers looking even more flexible than The Spine’s. His face was plated as well, mouth curved upward in a faint smile. No wires protruded; no rust corroded the metal; no pieces looked out of place or cracked or even very badly scratched.
But his eyes were dark.
And he was silent.
And dangling off his shoulders, somehow the most inexplicable thing of all, was a pair of bright red suspenders – in perfect condition.
Michael knelt beside the unfortunate robot and gently moved his arms, his legs, his head – twisting, pulling, rotating – testing the joints for stiffness, Steve thought.
“We’ve, um. Tried to take care of him since he shut down,” The Spine said quietly. “Aperture modified him in 1992. It was part of a business deal. They altered his systems to run on a new drink called Crystal Pepsi, instead of water. The deal fell through, but nobody ever bothered to switch him back. They already had cases of the stuff in the facility, and nobody wanted to drink it – so they didn’t see the point. And then, when… everything… happened – they left us here. And we ran out. Years ago. We don’t…”
“We c-can’t fix him,” Rabbit finished, more fury than sadness in his voice.
The Spine took Michael by the shoulder and turned him so they were facing each other. “His system is very… different,” he said, and the increased whirs and clicks told Steve he was choosing his words with care. “Our father wasn’t quite in his right mind when he created him. He… went too fast, did things he shouldn’t have as far as safety goes, and The Jon… Blue Matter is what holds the universe together. Colonel Walter… experimented with it, when he was building The Jon. He opened a rift.”
“A rift?” Steve said sharply. This sounded slightly more serious than did things he shouldn’t have.
“A portal,” The Spine explained, “to another dimension. It left a void in The Jon’s body where a boiler would have gone. The void – the portal – the things inside it… That’s what ultimately powers him, but his reactor itself still needs a power source.” He was speaking directly to Michael again now, Steve and Sam entirely forgotten. “We’ll understand if you can’t… It honestly doesn’t make any sense, and we won’t hold it against you if nothing can be done, but please… Try.”
Michael nodded solemnly, pulled his goggles – also courtesy of the no-seriously-this-isn’t-even-funny-anymore Body Bag of Holding (another reference Steve had made without quite understanding why) – down over his face, and got to work.
“This is weird.”
“You’ve said that eight times now,” Steve said, trying to keep the boredom out of his voice for the robots’ sakes. This was obviously very important.
It was also taking forever. Michael had been at it for something like five and a half hours now, cutting and welding and who knows what else as Sam, for some so-far-unexplained reason, handed him the tools he asked for. Rabbit was pacing. The Spine was sitting against the wall, head in his hands, not moving.
Steve lay on his back with his arms behind his head, letting the utter strangeness of the scene soak into him.
On top of the robots and the abandoned laboratory and the science shit in his head and everything else that he was slowly getting used to, Sam and Michael were getting along.
About ten seconds after the twelfth “This is weird,” eight hours after he had begun working on the little brass robot, Michael yelped and pitched forward straight into his chest, vanishing almost completely. Sam grabbed one ankle, Steve the other, and together they managed to pull him out.
Michael stumbled backwards and sat down hard, pulling the goggles up to his forehead. “Woah!”
The Spine got to his feet, he and Rabbit both rushing over to see.
“The void!” Rabbit cried. “It’s back!”
“I can hear something,” Steve said. “I mean I can’t… I can… hear… Silence? Emptiness. With… The hell is… Is there a fish in there?”
“The koi!” Rabbit crowed, clapping his hands gleefully and bending down to peer inside his brother’s chest. “The hotdog’s there too!”
Steve blinked. “The hotd– I give up.”
The Spine knelt down to examine The Jon’s face. “He needs water,” he said brusquely. “We’ve got a supply of it. This way.” And he scooped The Jon up into his arms and started walking.
The water was close to where Rabbit had been. It dripped out through a pipe in the wall, which The Spine explained was actually a part of a highly advanced well system designed to expand further and further outward once the local supply had dried up. “We’ve mostly stayed around here,” he said, depositing The Jon carefully beneath the spout. “We have to drink every few hours, and this was the only water output pipe we knew was working.” He turned a handle on the side of the pipe and the drip turned into a steady stream. “It leaks sometimes,” he added. He pried The Jon’s mouth open. “We just need to…”
“I got it.”
Michael cupped his hands under the waterfall to fill them, hurriedly tipping the contents into The Jon’s mouth before it could trickle through his fingers.
Eleven mouthfuls later, The Jon’s eyes opened. Steve squinted against the sudden blue light.
“Hello?” Michael tried, sounding nervous.
“Hi!” The Jon said brightly, faceplates shifting into a wider smile as he beamed at Michael. “You fixed me!”
“Uh, yeah. I… did.”
Steve glanced at Rabbit and The Spine, having somewhat expected the two of them to instantly rush forward.
They had frozen. Something dark was running down Rabbit’s face from his eyes.
“Oil?” Steve questioned, raising an eyebrow.
“To make us seem more human,” The Spine muttered, snapping out of his stupor. He took a step forward, pulling Rabbit with him, and then Michael was backing away and the three robots were clinging to each other and all talking at once.
Rabbit was mostly laughing, actually. And The Spine just kept repeating “you’re alive, you’re alive, he’s alive,” over and over again, pulling both his brothers as close as possible with his long arms.
The Jon was asking questions.
“How long was I out? Who are these guys? How did he fix me? What’s going on?”
The Spine finally pulled away, shook his head, and laughed – a deep, rumbling chuckle that bordered on hysteria. “It’s been… a long time, The Jon. A very long time.”