Disclaimer: I own not Steam Powered Giraffe, nor any of the characters belonging to its history or lore. I just write silly stories.
Iris had always known that she would find him in or near his lab. It was the bit about him being dead that currently upset her. "Oh, Peter..." she murmured. The thing sitting on the slab looked at her imploringly with glowing blue eyes.
"Pappy won't wake up," it said. It was pink. And woman-shaped. And quite naked. And yet it covered itself with one of the oil-spattered drop-cloths despite the fact that there was nothing to be offended by.
Iris Walter swallowed her grief. Hiding most of it. "Yes, dear," she said. "He won't wake up ever again." He'd left notes. He always left notes. The problem was that his handwriting had become even more execrable over the years she'd been taking dictation for him. She could only decipher one word as she gently covered his cold remains with a spare coat.
"Did he give you a name, dear?" she asked. She gave the robot a hook on a chain to hold on to so it could get onto its shockingly pink feet. For all that it was smaller than the other four, it was still taller than most women in Iris' experience.
"Pappy said I am Upgrade."
Of course he did.
"Come along with me, dear. We'll find you a dress... and then call someone to look after Pappy." After all this time, she was still used to dealing with baby robots. Being married to Peter gave her that advantage.
"No. It's not fair! It's not _fair_!"
He'd made a mess of the File Room. Just after she'd finished collating it all, too! Iris took one look at the paper tornado her husband had made and sighed, "Oh, Peter..."
Peter at least had the sense to stop and look at the mess. "Sorry, dear. I found it. I finally found proof. And Rabbit and the boys are overseas with that dreadful war."
That was a uniquely Peter phrase. _Rabbit and the boys_. Of course he meant all three of his mechanical people (Hatchworth was still waiting a solution to his cracked core, the poor darling) and his twin sons. "And what proof did you find?"
"This," he showed her a drawing on a scrap of paper like a child would show its mother some rainbow creation of crayon scribbles. Even at seventy-five, he'd never lost his childlike charm.
It was a primitive robot schematic, of a decidedly feminine robot. Surrounded, of course, by Peter's own personal version of Sanskrit.
"I still can't read your handwriting, love," she sighed.
"Zero zero one," he said. "Chanteuse for three backup players. Rabbit was right."
"Gonna have a devil of a time teaching our boys to call her 'she'."
"Yes. Well. That can be dealt with. Especially if my apprentices can..." he trailed off, staring in horror at a future only he could see. "No, they can't. I have to get working immediately."
"Peter..." Iris wailed. She sighed and rang for one of the Walter Workers. "Drat that man..." She began picking up the loose sheafs, sorting them on the table that everyone but her beloved husband used for reading through the files.
Two Walter Girls appeared, smart in their white uniforms. One mottled with Blue Matter exposure and the other deadly white.
"Please pick up and sort away all this loose paper? I have me a husband to catch."
And with that, she hiked up her skirts and ran for the lab.
"Peter Alexander Walter, what the blue bloody blazes are you _doing_?"
"There's no _time_, Iris. This war is going to be just as bad as the last one. Worse, with the Japanese involved. I have to make a working upgrade. The others can use her."
Iris folded her arms. "Peter... you're talking in abstractions again."
"Hm?" he looked up from his gear work. He already had the makings of a Babbage Brain halfway done. "Oh. Yes. Right. Sorry, darling. Rabbit's away at the war."
"Yes, I know. We said goodbye. Them military folks wouldn't even let us get a hug."
"I'm... not in the best of health."
Tears stung her eyes. "I know. The doctors said you might not make it to Seventy-Seven."
"Best case scenario," he whispered. "I'm sorry, my love. This war is going to keep poor Rabbit away for longer than I have. And she needs a good upgrade. I won't be there for her." His fingers kept working, as he spoke. Fitting together bits and pieces. "I can have the Walter Girls do all the difficult stuff, but... They can't read my _plans_. Duo isn't here to decipher for them when... I have to have a working model."
Iris Walter, nee Tonia, looked at the growing metal skeleton on the slab, at the brain in her husband's hands, and surrendered. "I'll help where I can, and that includes bullying you away from all that grease to eat a proper meal and take your damned medicine. I'll not have you dying because you were working late."
"Yes, Miss Iris." He smiled his winning smile for her. "I promise I'll look after myself. And I'll always have a Walter Worker nearby. Just in case."
It was a promise he broke, in the end. Too fired up with his latest idea to bother waiting. Too in a rush to bother. Too damned quiet, after forty-three years of marriage, to wake her by sneaking out of their bed.
The other staff called her The First Walter Girl, when they thought she couldn't hear them. And now he'd left her with another royal mess, and another baby to care for.
"Pappy's having a very long nap," said Upgrade. She didn't know what death was, the poor darling.
"Yes, dear," managed Iris. Ah, there was a dress about her size. Black, of course, to conceal the inevitable oil leaks. And matching underpants. She helped the robot put them on. "There. That will do for now. We have some... important things to take care of."
"People to look after Pappy," chirped Upgrade.
Slow tears. She'd been dreading something like this. "Yes." She fought to compose herself. "Did he say anything? Before he... took his nap?"
She replayed it in his voice. "You're done. You're done. Good. Very good," he sounded out of breath. "Remember... you are Rabbit's upgrade. Tell them... tell them... I just need to put my head down, for a few minutes..."
If he wasn't dead already, she could have killed him. That illogical thought had her blubbering all over again. But she was ever a practical woman and took Upgrade down with her to the telephone.
There were people to call. His doctor. The mortician. The lawyers.
And while they were on their way over, she had a baby to teach about death.
"You might as well call me Ma," she said. "All the others do."
Ma was looking very pekid. Very wan. She'd been so much slower since the last winter. "Ma?" Upgrade risked. "Am I allowed to learn some more yet?"
The Walter Workers had, after all, mostly left the room. They fussed over her so much, lately. It hardly left any room for learning things from her.
"Hm? Oh yes, dear. Come on in."
Upgrade quickly took up her best spot at Ma's feet. "What's today about, Ma?"
"You remember... when Pappy died. What I taught you?"
"Of course," that was her first lesson. "Living things die, and everything of them stops. But I'm not really alive, so I'll go on and on and on and on."
"Yes, dear." Wheeze. Sigh. "I'd hoped... I'd live to see... the end of this war. See... Rabbit and the boys home."
"Ma?" She could feel where this was going. Didn't want it to.
"I'm dying, dear." Wheeze. "I'm very sorry, but you're going to have to learn from others... very soon."
"No. I don't want you to. I want you to stay."
"It can't be helped, dear. I'm all worn out. And they don't make replacements for living things."
"Please don't?" Upgrade begged. "I'll have nobody."
"Rabbit and the boys will come back. Don't worry. And you have Emily." Wheeze. "She's agreed to look after you until the others get back." Ma's hand was cold and shaking as it brushed Upgrade's. "I'm thirsty. How about you and Miss Emily go and brew a nice cup of tea for me, hm?"
By the time she came back, Ma was gone. She'd left her body behind and it made Upgrade's eyes leak. Just like they had with Pappy.
She put the tea down. Carefully. On a table. Just like Ma had taught her.
Upgrade rang for more Walter Workers. There were people to call. Telegrams to send.
Other people would be looking after Ma, now.
But who would look after her?
Upgrade had taken one look at all the new people coming inside and ran. She was so afraid and she wanted to hide.
She didn't know anyone's names. Miss Emily had gone away to have a baby and hadn't come back. Upgrade spent a majority of her time reading about princesses in the library and sneaking past strangers to glean water or oil from their hiding places.
Now the house was full of strangers and she didn't know how to hide.
She ran so far in her haste that she reached a wing she'd never been to, before.
She could still hear voices calling, "Pappy! Ma-a! We're home!"
Upgrade sought the darkest corner she could find and huddled into a ball. She was lost and she knew it. She was alone and it hurt.
And she was so _scared_.
The monsters of her imaginings threatened her on all sides.
Then two glowing green lights pierced the darkness.
"Hello," said a deep, bass voice. "I'm The Spine, and I was made with these here chimneys coming out of my spine." Ah. That explained the scary additions to his silhouette.
Upgrade uncurled a little. Especially when he turned on the lights and revealed his silver majesty.
Upgrade trusted his smile, and came out of hiding.
In retrospect, it was somewhat unwise to have hidden herself up a tall shelf.
He caught her before she could hit the floor. Smiling his enrapturing smile. And set her down - so far down - properly on the floor.
"Do you have a name, miss?"
"UPGRADE!" She was so flustered and nervous that she belched steam into his lovely silver face. "My name is Upgrade. Pappy made me."
"Oh. Then you'll want to meet the others."
"Like Rabbit?" she blurted. "I'm Rabbit's Upgrade."
"I'm sure Pappy's going to clear that up real soon," said The Spine. "Where _is_ Pappy?"
Upgrade clung to his arm and fell silent. The first time she'd had people to talk to in months, and she didn't want to say a word.