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Once...

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Prologue

"Alright, we have enough time for one last question."

The audience protested to no avail. The Spine nodded in sympathy and The Jon wagged his hat at them in gratitude. Tonight's show had been a big success—everything had worked wonderfully, the people had enjoyed themselves, and no one had broken down on stage. It seemed like more and more people were coming to their shows. A spark of excitement filled their hearts and boilers. Perhaps they were finally about to make it big.

"Yes, ma'am?" The Spine pointed to a young woman in the crowd.

Nearby people looked at the chosen fan with envy as she put down her hand. "Um…" she took a deep breath before asking her question, "Some of your songs are about incredible and unique people like Captain Albert Alexander or Rex Marksley. I was wondering…who did you base those characters on?"

Gold, silver and bronze faceplates lifted into smiles. The three performing robots shared a brief look in silence. Rabbit shrugged. After a pause, The Spine nodded and The Jon gave Rabbit a jerky thumbs-up.

"That's a good question," Rabbit replied. His neck joints squeaked as he turned back to face the audience with a grin. "Y-y-y-you see, what most people don't realize is that they're not-not just stories. We actually knew those pe-people, in a way. Once…"

Chapter 1: Captain Albert Alexander

"We need a new idea for songs, guys." The Spine announced to his companions in the practice room. Rabbit heard the seriousness in his friends' voice and dropped the bundle of cables he had been messing with. The Jon was lying on the ground, smiling absently and staring up at the cracked gray ceiling. His head rested comfortably against a chair leg. No one had bothered explaining to him how the object was intended to be used.

"Perhaps something that the little ones could follow along with," suggested The Spine. Young children loved to watch them perform. "It could be like a sing-along…"

"And there should be dancing!" exclaimed The Jon. He sat up with a burst of steam. "Pappy says that lots of people like to wa-atch us move."

Rabbit reached up over his head and pulled a cord. A lightbulb blazed to life above his tricorne hat. "I've got an i-i-idea!" He proclaimed with glee.

"What if we could do a story," Rabbit pointed to The Spine. "…and a song," he pointed at The Jon with his other hand. "…at the same time? It would be like…a song-story!" he finished proudly and grinned.

The room was quiet for a moment. "A story-" said The Spine.

"And a song?" asked The Jon. They looked doubtful. Or at least The Spine did. The Jon just seemed confused. His internal wiring was probably struggling to process Rabbit's unusual brainspark.

"So, what you're suggesting is that we tell a story…while singing a song?" The Spine asked. His silver brow furrowed in thought. "Like…a story-song?"

"Great idea, Spine!" chirped The Jon. "Let's do it!"

"B-b-but you guys, I was the-the one who thought of…"

"Yes, it does seem interesting, doesn't it?" said The Spine. "I'm glad I thought of it. Let's give it a try! Rabbit, why are you frowning?"

"Nothing," the copper automation shook his head. Luckily, no parts came loose. "So we're gonna make a story-song?"

The Spine nodded as The Jon rolled across the floor to fetch his instrument.

"Yay-y!" cheered Rabbit. He smiled broadly, "I've got the most amazing one in mind!"


Just before he went down,

He called out to his crew,

It's obvious that my time has come,

I'll let this ending ensue,

I've led an exciting nautical life it would seem,

And there's no better end than a death by the sea!

The crew huddled at the front of the cramped lifeboat as they bobbed up and down in the sea. Most stared off numbly at the horizon, either unable or unwilling to forget what they had seen. The sound of men sniffling and grief-filled moans floated over the icy breeze. Every member of the crew brushed away tears, small drops of salt water joining with the vast ocean. Captain Albert Alexander's final words echoed in their minds. Their cherished captain had just sunk beneath the waves.

That Captain Albert Alexander,

He went down in the sea…

Where was he? What had happened? Why…why did he feel so confused? There was a very bright light and it hurt. Everything had seemed the darkest black for the longest time. Slowly, very slowly, Captain Albert Alexander's mind began to boot up, as if surfacing from the deepest dive…

Wait. Hadn't he drowned? Saint Mary, he had! That nefarious octopus had finally done him in, and the prophecy from his youth had been fulfilled. His last, soggy memory was of a black tri-cornered hat, drifting away on the waves above him…although his red bandana miraculously remained on top of his bald head.

So, if he was supposed to be dead, why was he here? The Captain tried to move. From what he could remember about "feeling", he seemed to be bound. But was he tied up or tied down? Hahah, words were silly.

"Ah, good," Said a voice. "It worked."

A dark shape began to solidify against the blinding light. It appeared to be a man, young and handsome with weary eyes. He sighed deeply in relief. Something green and glowing was held in his right hand. The man quickly opened up something too hazy to recognize (A very thick sack, perhaps?) and placed the object carefully inside, as if the luminous rock were more dangerous than a barrel of gunpowder.

Captain Albert Alexander did not understand. Who was this strange man? His vision was still blurry, and not improving. "A-Are you G-G-God?" he asked. Immediately he felt a faint prick of embarrassment. Confounded stutter! Of all the times for his inconvenient impediment to, well, impede him! In front of him was the Creator!

The man smiled kindly behind his curly beard. "No, sir," he replied gently. "I am not God. Merely…an inventor. But I can understand why you would think that."

"You must have had a very large amount of spirit, sir," he changed topics. "Only very special souls will have enough energy for me and my 'work' to succeed."

"I have read about your remarkable adventures, Captain," The man nodded sagely. "The tales of your exploits are quite inspiring. Oh, excuse me. You probably haven't heard, being dead and all."

He smiled again, this time with humor. "Your crew had such high opinions of you that they took it upon themselves to ensure that the world would remember your name. It was a difficult task. But they loved you enough to see it through. And it was well worth it, I must say. I found an account of your thrilling saga years ago, from an old book locked away in a sea chest. Captain, you have my fervent respect."

His hands reached out of sight to fiddle with something. At once Captain Albert Alexander felt a tingling jolt spark through him, as if he was being zapped by a swarm of electric eels.

"You were an astounding man with a zest for life, friends and fun," the man continued. "This world doesn't seem as bright without you." He grinned with excitement. "I have a plan, Captain. If all goes well, your story won't be over quite yet."


The last chords of the guitar and final notes of the song faded away. All three robots held an ending pose for one second, and then relaxed. Rabbit's right arm twitched and air hissed from his joints. The copper robot was silent for a rare moment while his pistons worked and gears whirred, but at least he wasn't in danger of overheating. Although his body was working to recover from his lengthy dance, his photoreceptors seemed alive with a strange light.

The Spine grinned and shook his head, the motion jerky despite his beast efforts.

The Jon giggled. "Rabbit, that's cheating!" he teased.

"No it's not! Everyone will love the great tale of Captain Albert Alexander!"

"Well, I'll admit that I wasn't expecting that." Said The Spine. "Although I suppose it does make a lovely song-story, er, story-song. If you're really okay with us using it, that is…"

Rabbit gave two firm nods.

"But I think that we should end the song with him going down in the sea," The Spine suggested. "Better not give too much away." He repositioned his guitar for the editing round. "We may need to adjust the dance routine as well. You shouldn't put too much strain on yourself."

"Could we dance too?" The Jon asked. "It would help R-Rabbit."

"No, I'll do it!" Rabbit huffed. "And it's not hard at all; it's fun!"

"Haha. Well alright." The Spine relented. "You are the most energetic of us three anyway. And you also enjoy being the center of attention. I suppose you'll tell it best." He strummed his guitar.

"Besides, it is your story after all."