It had been three days and, but for a few minor issues, things had actually been going well.
He'd talked to Mary about the Rabbit situation, and she'd taken the kids to her mother's place in Virginia, leaving him alone in the mansion with his problems. Now there he sat in one of the many studies in the Walter Mansion, reflecting on his progress thus far.
Keeping The Jon in the dark had not been an issue. Now that Peter III was here, if The Jon wasn't dragging his favorite human off on some adventure, they were down in the basement for hours at a time visiting HatchWorth, much of the time with Alex Reed in their company. This effectively kept the little golden automaton away from Rabbit; the copper bot had never really enjoyed the particular adventures of The Jon, and when he visited HatchWorth (which was nearly every day) her preferred to do so with Peter II (until now), The Spine, or simply by himself. The only concern Pete had about The Jon was, every now and then, he would drop everything he was doing, bend nearly in half at the waist, and hold completely still, bright blue photoreceptors staring into the floor as though looking for something. Of course, Pete realized that The Jon was in mourning; when The Jon was feeling sad, he let himself feel sad, and then he would move on. Whatever made it easier for him.
The Spine had kept his word and hadn't mentioned a thing to Rabbit or The Jon. He'd told HatchWorth, and the bronze bot had naturally been confused, but promised not to mention it to anyone. Since then, The Spine had been acting strangely toward Peter II. Though the two of them were usually very friendly and prone to chats whenever they crossed each other's paths, The Spine had of late said hardly two words to the son of his creator. He spent nearly all of his time in the Hall of Wires. When he did come out, Peter II would catch The Spine's green photoreceptors locked on him darkly before the silver automaton morphed his face into a smiling mask, similar to the one he wore when he was trying to laugh off a mistake made by The Jon or Rabbit. This was very unnerving to Pete, but as it wasn't causing him any more problems he tried to forget about it.
Thankfully, he hadn't seen Rabbit too much in the past three days. Since he'd replaced the Colonel in Rabbit's mind, the copper bot no longer wanted to "play" with him; mostly he would show him drawings, talk about dinosaurs, or ask him questions such as, "what does your blue look like?" Though Peter II was an adult, he did miss playing with the automaton; he'd never really grown up, living in the mansion with his odd little family. Rabbit's adventures were still as real and wondrous as they were when he was five. Still, less time with Rabbit gave him more time to talk to Mr. Reed about the automaton's current malfunction and search for a way to fix it.
But in truth, Pete didn't want to fix Rabbit.
His mind kept returning to The Spine's words; soon, he would die, and so would his children, and their children would follow. Through all of this aging and death, always the robots would remain. Each and every human they met would die, and so long as they kept being repaired, all of the beloved automatons would stand by and watch it happen. They'll get used to it, thought Peter II, and immediately he tried to shake the thought from his head; he didn't WANT them to get used to it. Death was something you tried to cope with; it wasn't meant to be like an oil change or a rusty gear, something that you just dealt with routinely.
Then Peter II realized; the automatons couldn't get used to it, not really, not even if they wanted to.
He cursed his father for making them capable of love. The Colonel had many times marveled at how close to real human life he'd managed to bring his elaborate, steam powered creations. The intelligence was artificial, the emotion synthetic, but to the bots it was the only reality they had. They'd all been shocked when, one by one, all the automatons had displayed the ability to leak oil from their photoreceptors when deeply saddened. Then there was the mystery of their personalities; they were all powered by the same source, the Blue Matter, but they'd all awoken with and developed personalities of their own, none of them being alike. These automatons were almost people, and more importantly, they were definitely family.
And this is why Peter Walter II had trepidations about Rabbit. All his life, Rabbit had been like a cousin, or a brother. He smiled, thinking of a story his father had liked to tell; Rabbit, becoming curious and attempting to change young Peter II's diaper, subsequently asking his creator if it were possible to turn off his ability to smell. When Peter was growing up, the copper automaton had done all he could to make him happy: when he'd hurt himself, Rabbit was there to mend him; when some girl had broken his teenage heart, Rabbit was there, refusing with his constant talking to let him bottle his feelings away. Whenever Pete had been in pain, any kind of pain, Rabbit had done his best to make the pain go away.
For this reason, Pete was fully prepared to let Rabbit continue believing that Peter II was in fact his Pappy. If Rabbit had the ability to shift his memories around, keeping the people whom he loved alive, why not let him? Why force the copper automaton to carry the burden of loss that infected The Spine, The Jon, and HatchWorth? He wouldn't do it.
So, he'd continue to let Alex Reed attempt to remedy the modifications to Rabbit memory, and when the time came, he simply wouldn't allow it to happen, let the chips fall where they may. Besides, so far, there weren't any problems with Rabbit's memories not matching the rest of the automatons around him.
That is, until –
A heavy knock woke him from his musings. Pete looked up at the previously empty doorway to see The Spine, his thin metallic hand on the frame of the archway; his lithe, sleek body seemed far more stiff and angular than normal, and he was only making a small attempt at a smile to disguise the obvious contempt on his face. His green photoreceptors locked almost threateningly on Peter out from under the wide brim of The Spine hat, sending a chill all through Peter's body.
"Hello Pete," rumbled the tall robot, his smile morphing into something maniacal it was so forced, "I think it's time that you and I had a little talk."