Peter Walter II stood in the Hall of Wires, staring at The Spine. He'd tried to prepare himself for this moment, but now he couldn't believe his ears.
"What do you mean, 'already?'" he asked, peering up through the wires at The Spine's dismembered head.
"Well, I'm sorry Pete," drawled The Spine incredulously, descending from the ceiling and attaching his head and spine to his transport with many a loud hisss and clank, "I guess I just thought that, ah, human beings might last a little longer."
All Peter II could do for a long time was to stare at the tall silver automaton. He hadn't really known what to expect with The Spine, but this definitely was not it. Of all of his father's automatons, The Spine had always been the most level headed. Peter II had played games with the robots all his life, and the Mansion had been their playground, but he had always been able to talk to The Spine, as if he and Peter III had an older brother. He didn't have to be careful with words around The Spine; he could talk to him like anyone else, never have to explain a thing. Of all of the other automatons, The Spine made the most effort to seem human; Rabbit had his own idea of what a human was, and HatchWorth and The Jon didn't seem to bother. So, when The Spine's only response upon hearing of the death of his creator was to ask, "Already?" a response so drastically inhuman, young Peter Walter II had some cause for alarm. Understanding, patience, generosity; these were traits Peter II usually associated with The Spine. Somehow, all of that seemed to be missing. At first The Spine had just seemed startled when he'd told him, but all expression had quickly melted from his face and he now seemed completely passive, almost bemused. Peter shook his head and set about alleviating himself from this awful confusion.
"The Spine, it was the Colonel... Pappy, he -"
"Died, yes. Thank you, Peter."
"Are you… okay?" he asked, taking a few steps closer to The Spine. The robot had his back to him as he straightened his hat and wig.
"Was he sick? Did he have some sort of ailment? Were there any external causes for his death?" asked The Spine, barely glancing over his shoulder; it was as though Peter II hadn't said anything at all.
"Was he…? No, he was just… old, I don't know."
"So, he died as a result of his body's natural decay," said The Spine, almost to himself as straightened his tie. His bright green photoreceptors squinted off into the tangle of wires that surrounded them, as though in search of something. Peter II was only a few paces away from him now.
"The Spine," said Peter, reaching for the automaton's shoulder, "Hold on for a second, I'm not –"
"Okay, I'll do my best to explain it to ya," said The Spine, a slight edge creeping into his deep voice. Peter II drew his hand quickly away as The Spine turned to face him, his big steps connecting loudly with the metallic floor; there was something menacing in The Spine's flashing eyes that Peter II had never seen there before, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but my Pappy, your father, was 78 when he died this morning in his sleep, am I right?"
"Well, yes, but –"
"And you, you're 45, correct?"
"So, given that Pappy passed away due to natural causes, simply the course of his own mortality, you being his biological son are likely to pass away at the same age."
The Spine's voice was growing louder and faster, and Peter II began to inch away from the robot. It seemed he was just realizing how tall The Spine truly was. The further away he got from the automaton, however, the closer The Spine seemed to be, and all Peter II could think about was getting out. The automaton's spine had extended out abnormally, most unlike the human neck The Spine usually endeavored to emulate. His green receptors, instead of looking at Peter II, were staring straight ahead, and they were flashing unusually bright with harsh bursts punctuating his words and blinding the son of his creator. Steam was blasting out of every crevice in The Spine's makings, accompanied with a high whine that set Peter's teeth on edge.
"So, you're tellin' me that in, say, approximately 33 years, you too will die, won't you, Mr. Peter II? You will die, just like Pappy. And then your son, Mark Walter, will die twenty seven years after that. And golly, no doubt Mark Walter's son will be close behind, and soon the ground around this ENTIRE Mansion will be FULL of WALTERS! Soon, there won't be a gosh darn PIECE OF LAND THAT –"
The Spine's photoreceptors flickered and focused. Without looking at Peter II, The Spine slowly drew in his neck, the action accompanied by a rhythmic, metallic clicking as his joints settled into place. The automaton stood still, blinking with a slightly confused frown contorting his black lips, equally black eyebrows knitted together. His long, thin, metal hands were clenched at his sides. Suddenly, The Spine's midriff lurch and he bent his head down, razing a still clenched fist to his mouth. He slowly closed his photoreceptors, but that didn't stop the dark oil from oozing through the crevices and leaking slowly down his silver face.
Peter II watched all of this closely, eyes wide as he cowered against the wall. When he saw the oil streaking The Spine's sharp features he took a deep, shuddering breath and rose to his feet. He gingerly made his way across the room toward The Spine. He stopped in front of him, hesitating nervously, but finally he reached out and let his hand settle on The Spine's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, The Spine," said Peter II quietly, looking at The Spine's bright red tie.
"No, I'm sorry, Peter," rattled The Spine's voice. He put his hands on Peter's shoulders, smiling as the oil continued to trickle down his face, "I – I don't know what came over me. You go on now, I'll be out in a few hours."
Peter smiled up at The Spine and nodded, turning to leave. The moment his back was to The Spine, he frowned; he'd never considered that The Spine would out live him, and his son, and his son's children, and beyond that. He fumed at Colonel Peter Walter, but his thoughts were interrupted.
"Yeah?" he turned around. The Spine's face had gone rigid, his eyes casting out a now very unnerving green light.
"Have you told Rabbit?" he asked darkly.
"I, uh, I'm going to now."
"Take care, will ya?" and with that The Spine disconnected from his transport and disappeared into the wires.