How long did it take? How long did it take her to completely destroy them. Jon was gone, only pieces left behind and trails of oil. Steve still in critical condition and taken away in an ambulance. Michael not far behind him. Even with Rabbit as damaged as he was, she still fought Spine all the way down to the lab. Up until she was strapped down on that same operating table and Peter forced him to shut down.
They were back at the bottom again. Rabbit forced to stay offline while Peter tried desperately to delete her. The restraints were on at max and repairs were only minimal. Just enough to keep him from shutting down permanently. Spine thought Rabbit would have put up more of an opposition to go offline, like she did. Instead he seemed relieved at the idea. Between the discomfort and the pain of overloaded circuits and the internal war he was waging against her, going offline meant one less thing to worry about.
The lights flickered above their heads from an unusually powerful surge. Peter let out a frustrated growl, jumping back from the computer he was working on. With a flicker and a small puff of smoke it blew. Just like the ones from four months ago when they first tried to delete her. Spine immediately moved in with a fire extinguisher, putting out the small circuit fire and set the burnt out tower next to the rest of the pile.
“It can’t handle it.” Peter sighed, running a hand through his auburn hair. “... I can’t access her. Whatever her program is made of I can’t get into it… its… different. It’s not like an actual program.” He groaned and spun on his heels, falling to sit in the wheeled office chair and spin.
“Did you reach your father yet?” Spine’s tone was cold and flat, sounding more like a vintage version of himself. He barely blinked, optics glued to Rabbits smoking form on the table. Even though his battery said he was at 50%, he still felt drained.
Another exasperated sigh from the inventor as he spun in the opposite direction. “Nothing. I’ve tried his cell, their hotel… I even called the B.R.O.W.N. and they just said he was in a meeting. It’s been a week.” He exhaled heavily, pausing his spinning before he got too dizzy. “I’m worried… usually he would have let me know what was happening. Even mom would have called me by now, at least let me know how the conference went. It’s not like you get called into the B.R.O.W.N. and have to explain why your robot left a giant crater in Seattle after terrorizing a music hall everyday!” He threw out both arms, tilting his head to Spine.
A puff of steam expelling from his cheek vents was the only reaction Peter would get from the automaton. It’s still too soon to make even the most oddly placed jokes about the previous incident. Especially since they were still dealing with her.
“Yeah soooo… “ Peter turned away from both bots. He began to nervously press his fingertips together. His mocking tone faded to a softer one. “There’s still… one more problem.” He took a deep breath and slowly released it. How to break this news.
“He’s offline. Which means she can’t use his body to terrorize us. But she is super pissed off. From what I could see, before she blew up my computers, she’s uh… she’s… she’s deleting him.” A chill ran through the air. Peter hung his head even lower, rubbing what would be his forehead of the mask. “She’s livid and desperate… from what I could interpret through the code. She’s determined to take Rabbit down with her.”
Spine had expected this. After all, it was what she did to him. She wanted to delete every part of him so that she could take over. She had no body left, only Rabbit’s. They were fighting for control of it. “How long does he have?” His tone grew even colder. They were on the countdown now.
“Well… I mean, Rabbit’s doing a good job of blocking her. She doesn’t have that Program 2671, so its slower. But its also her, so she’s more precise. She knows we know she’s there. She doesn’t have to hide. She’s going right for his operating system. He’s built up extra security, and the firewalls we installed, but she’s tearing through them.”
“How long?” He asked again. His voice much softer than the first time. He blinked rapidly, trying to shake free the build of oil in the corners of his optics. He held his jaw tight and swallowed that painful lump in his throat.
Slowly Peter forced himself to stand. Being much shorter than Spine, he had to reach to place a soft hand on the automaton’s shoulder. His voice forgiving and tired. “... I think you should find Hatchworth and bring him in to see him… I don’t think Rabbit can survive the night. Even if I wipe him completely and reinstall the back up of his memory, she’s still there. Attached to his core, his S.O.U.L….. I can’t fix that. I’m-... I’m sorry. We might…. we might have to say… good bye.”
Spine stood still for what felt like an eternity to Peter. He could hear the clicking of gears and the sputtering of mechanics. If the automaton couldn't quite verbalize his protest to it, his body was. "Spine I'm-... I'm sorry. I-"
The titanium bot expelled a harsh hiss of steam as he grabbed Peter's hand roughly by the wrist. He threw his gentle touch off, his brow schooling into a deep frown. "It's not time for that yet. There's still so much we could do!"
Peter took a deep breath. He knew out of all of them, Spine would object the loudest. “Name one thing.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m more than willing to put forth the work but I’m out of options here.”
Spine’s eyelids drooped momentarily. An exasperated sigh of steam expelled from his vents. “I… I don’t-” He had nothing. He was too tired, too worn down to think. “Back ups. We could… make back ups.”
“I did that. WE did that! The first time! Do you think I would have missed something so obvious?” Peter huffed as he marched around the small lab. “She was in every version, because she’s not like other programs.”
“Fine!” Spine barked back, feeling the tension and desperation build. “What about the… the readme file? The one Rabbit had. For the first time.” His voice grew quick and sharp as he listed off options as fast as possible.
“It only worked with Program 2671.” Peter gave an exasperated sigh. “We’ve run anti-virus scans. We’ve moved her to the virus vault. She just breaks out of it.” He waved both arms as he spoke. “We’ve restored his system nearly a dozen times- which… unfortunately also wiped some memory files as you know.”
Spine’s shoulders slumped forward as he slowly nodded his head. Of course he knew, he was the one to give the final okay on that. It seemed like it had worked, at least for a little while.
“We’ve even tried making a more powerful program to overwrite her and uploaded it.” Peter sighed and shook his head. His feet dragged as he moved back to a work bench, sitting on the edge and letting his long legs hang freely. “She eliminated it in less than a second.”
Spine slowly nodded his head. At first the words went over his head, but then something caught his attention. “... another program?... a more powerful program.”
His eyes slowly widened as the thought dawned on him. Rabbit can’t fight her alone, but together. Together they might have a chance. He could download himself into Rabbit’s mainframe. Like Peter said, she didn’t have Program 2671, she was alone. They could make it two versus one.
“You’re thinking of something terrible, aren’t you?” Peter’s voice like a spotlight in the darkness, zeroing in on Spine’s body language. “Spine?”
Spine stayed quiet as he contemplated what could happen if he shared his plan. Peter could be hesitant to take such a risky chance. Spine was already calculating the odds of eliminating her. They weren’t good, but whatever they were- they were better than Rabbit doing this alone.
“Peter…” He spoke after a long silence. He took a deep breath, checking Rabbit’s offline form with the corner of his eye before he directed his attention back to the inventor. “I want to-... I want-.... I’m going to go into his mainframe.”
“Spine-” Peter lept from the table and scrambled up to the taller automaton.
“-And help him.” He continued, closing his eyes and refusing to let himself be interrupted.
“-That’s not a good idea-
“Two are better than one.” He stated firmly. He clenched his fist and his jaw, his spine straightened and he took a deep breath. “I promised him Peter.”
“I know that. We all know that.” Peter growled woefully, throwing both arms out in exasperation. “Are you willing to risk your own life? To save him? What about Hatchworth?! What about-... What about me? And… and the family.” Though the mask on his face couldn’t express it, his voice trembled with the emotion. You could hear the struggle to hold back imaginary tears behind the mask.
He slumped his shoulders and dropped his head. Both hands scratching down his neck. With a soft whine he fell forward, pressing his forehead against the center of Spine’s chest. The weight of the Walter name felt so heavy on his shoulders. This was his first chance to prove himself, and he was losing all of them, one by one, to her.
“Spine… I don’t want to say it either, to… to say goodbye to Rabbit but-” He shuddered, slowly rolling his head side to side. “I already lost Jon…. I know I can’t fix Rabbit… I can’t… I can’t lose you too. You’re my family… please. Reconsider this.”
One would think Spine would be upset to have his logic questioned, but the soft smile on his face only showed how touched he was. Slowly he set a hand on each of Peter’s shoulders. His thumbs rubbed small circles into his sweater. “Peter.” A name that had such a deep meaning in his life, the Spine had to pause as fond memories flashed before his optics. He chuckled lightly and shook his head.
“Peter. I’m over 100 years old. Rabbit and I both.” He side glanced to the automaton on the table. That sadness crept back into his voice again. “Our duty is to protect you. Protect this home… and protect each other. You have done everything that you can. It’s not your fault… and it’s not a failure. Understand that.”
He tried to stay stern with the youngest of all Peter Walters. The lecture he spoke felt so hauntingly familiar. Not only was he speaking with 6, but he was also speaking with 5. And 4, and 3… and 2. And everyone in between.
“You did not fail.” He spoke firmly, sounding off each syllable as he gave Peter’s shoulders a shake. “This is too far out of control. The only thing left now. Is to fight her on her own playing field. To take Rabbit back from her… I am fully aware of the consequences should we not succeed. But-” He paused and took in a painfully sharp bit of breath. His arms wrapped around Peter’s shoulders and pulled him tight into his metal chest. He clutched him tightly, soothingly, like a parent, like his father would- were he present. “-but… It’s a risk I must take.”
Peter breathed heavily, wrapping his own arms around Spine’s middle. If the automaton was willing to give the embrace, he was more than willing to accept it. “I’ll miss you….” He muttered between hidden sobs.
“I’m not saying goodbye just yet.” Spine tried to stay positive, as desperate and cliche as it sounded.
“You… you have to at least… tell Hatchworth.” Peter sniffled.
Spine’s eyes went wide and he fell back on his heels. Hatchworth. With everything that had happened. He was so eager to dive into the enemies fires, he forgot about Hatchworth. His speech for Peter wouldn’t work on the bronze automaton. He bit back a heavy breath and his processors began to whirl quickly. “Don’t worry…” Spine muttered, slowly stroking a soothing hand down Peter’s back. “I’ll… talk… with him.”