Chapter 1 – The Snow White in the Sleeping Forest
There are refracted blobs of light, and gust lifting the powder snow.
I hold onto the handles firmly, tilting the icemobile firmly. In the meantime, I spin the steering wheel to the right to climb the mid-wall, and after a pause, I turn left to the curb, and then to the right curb immediately. The tunnel of ice continues to extend, and though the scenery is simple and repetitive, I can’t relax one bit.
The temperature is -16 Degrees Celsius, fairly warm compared to how it usually is. In this underground world, where the walls and ceiling are completely frozen, the breath released between the lips floats back like a white comet.
“I say, it’s about time to rest now, isn’t it?”
I hear an unenthusiastic voice behind me,
“We’ve been travelling for 6 hours already!”
I ignore the voice of this colleague who wants to slack, and strengthen my grip on the handles of the three-wheeled vehicle. Right, right, left, right, left. There’s a need for continuous cornering skills in the tunnel, and in those moments, I’ll lower my waist and twist my body. I match my breathing with the bounce, absorb the impact of the shocks with my knees, and shift my weight in a rhythmic manner,
“Hey, you listening, Amaryllis? Hey, Amaryllis Alstroemeria?”
I shout out, cutting off that cheesy voice, and continue to turn. The goal’s near, another 30 seconds, 20, 10. There’s a light at the end of the narrow tunnel, a wide world out there–
Bonk! We bounce off the ice floor, towards the very tall place that’s like a dance hall.
I maintain the balance of the vehicle, and at the same time, activate the reverse jets to kill the speed as we land. Donk. The skates crashed onto the floor, bouncing off like a rubber several times. The wheels gain balance, and manage to land while killing the impact.
I fasten the front wheels to steady the vehicle, and finally heave a sigh of relief. I’m able to control the icemobile like my own limbs after driving it for so long, but I still feel tense falling from such a great height.
And with a growl, my colleague sitting beside me landed too. Seeing the skates of a massive vehicle land and smash the ice with style is always a highlight.
“Goodness, well, we made it…”
He clicked his tongue, stroking the swept back hair that he’s so proud of.
Can’t you just land a little quietly? while he reminded me.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
A tranquil voice echoes in the hall.
I turn to look, and find a tall, slender woman there. She’s as pretty as a goddess, her hair glittering like an emerald.
“Cattleya, it’s been a while!”
“Thank you as usual, Miss Amaryllis.”
Cattleya pets her pretty, silky hair as she shows a gentle smile. If we’re talking about the prettiest lady in the lady, she’ll be the first I’ll nominate.
“How about it, Cattleya? Are you free tonight?”
“I-I’ll be troubled, Mr Eisbahn.”
I tug the antenna at the ears hardly, pulling this beast away from the pretty woman.
“What? Just a little touch?”
“How many times must you be reminded to not woo girls during your work?”
“It’s a man’s duty to pursue a pretty lady.”
“Talk about that only when we’re done with our work and duty here.”
And like usual, we continue be bicker.
“erm…I think it’s time to begin the delivery?”
I look back, and find Cattleya giving a troubled, stunned look, “Ahh, sorry sorry. We’ll do it now.” I hurriedly apologize.
“Help out too!”
I chide my colleague who isn’t doing anything, and begin to unload the goods from the icemobile. The backup batteries, spare parts, charging cables–these are all standard issue. We robots are powered by electricity, so any items related to batteries are necessities.
“How’s the ‘torso’ looking now?”
Cattleya receives the issued items as she asks me with a soft voice,
“Same as usual, peace and calm. As for any incident, it’s just about how much Daisy and Gappy argued.”
“They’re on so bad terms it’s worrying.”
“What’s the reason again this time?”
“It looks like they were fighting over Oil Candy. We already said that we’ll ‘half’ them in this situation, but they wouldn’t listen.”
Cattleya beamed happily, and I continue talking as I sort the items out. We only meet once a week, so there’s a lot for us to talk.
And right when we’re about done unloading the goods,
Cattleya look up at the sky.
Sparkling lights begin to fall gently from the ceiling. These are speckles of ice called Ceiling Dust, and though they are called dust, they are able to give off such a beautiful light and flutter from the skies. This is one of the rare natural phenomenon in this world of ice 500m underground, isolated from the world.
“So pretty…” Cattleya muttered as she looked up.
“You’re prettier.” Eisbahn said as he put his arm over Cattleya’s shoulder.
“Leave her already.” I pull Eisbahn aside.
The speckles of light continue to flutter and gather in the hall. Each of them form complicated crystals in the shape of ‘six-sided flowers in three layers’, prettier as they overlap each other, coating the silver world with a formation makeup of snow.
“Time to go.”
“Ehh~ let me rest for a little while.”
“No can do. We got another 30 houses to go to.”
I drag the slacker of a colleague by his arm, and ride on the icemobile. “Tchee!” While Eisbahn gives such a childish reaction, I ignore him and start the engines. The icemobile bellows excitedly, rumbling,
“See you, Cattleya!”
Cattleya’s voice can be heard from behind, and I charge into the tunnel, headed to the next point. The goods piled up at the back of the icemobile rattle. Though Eisbahn’s been grumbling, he lean his body firmly onto me.
I accelerate, and the ice crystals sticking on my fringe glitter as they drift to the back.
“Big sister!” “Welcome back!” “Amaryllis!”
I return to the village, and the children gather. Soon, I’m surrounded by at least ten of them. 20 hours passed after a trip through the assigned path, and I return to the ‘torso’ again.
“I’m back, everyone. Have you been good kids?”
I pat each one of them on the hand, and they all reach their heads out to me, going I want, I want.
“Listen, listen! I’ve worked hard to do a lot of ‘parts shining’!”
“Really? That’s great!”
“Sister, I did a lot of ‘cutouts’!”
“That’s really great!”
The children narrow their eyes happily as they get pat on the heads by me. They’re all holding blue glowing translucent metals in their hands; the job of the children in this village is to use and polish these metals.
“Sister, let’s play, let’s play!”
“Sorry. I still have a lot of work to do. Later then.”
I coax the children who continue to cling onto me, and leave the scene. I do want to stay with them for a little longer, but the most important thing is that I have to report what happened today.
I hurry down the road in the village. The sides of the road are lined with rows and rows of ice sculpted houses, and the light shining from the ceiling are sparkling like a starry sky.
I continue to marvel this typical, beautiful street scenery as I hurry on, and at this moment,
“Hey~Amaryllis! Good work!”
I’m called by a lively voice, and opposite the road, a tall woman is raising her hand, waving at me.
“I’m back, Viscaria. The icemobile tyres feel a little weird.”
“Got it. I’ll have a look.”
“It’s parked at the usual place.”
Viscaria Acanthus extends the feeler from her finger as response. Her arms are made of metallic feelers, meant for repairs, tools like screwdrivers, hammers, pincers, spanners, and bars contained within them. The ‘mechanic’ in the village refers to her.
Viscaria points a feeler from her right index finger, and adjusts the beret on her short red hair. This beret is her trademark.
“Haven’t you been working too much? It’s taxing on your body if you don’t rest.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine here.”
“If you feel unwell anywhere, give me a shout.”
She waves the hand with the feeler pointed out, says ‘goodbye’, and leaves. Viscaria has the appearance of a 25-year-old woman, and to me, she’s someone who’s like a reliable older sister to me.
“Yo, Amaryllis!” “Welcome back, vice chief!” “Good work today!”
“Everyone, I’m back!”
I answer their greetings with enthusiasm, and continue to move forward.
After walking about 15 minutes, I’m finally able to see the village hall. It’s a thick ice pillar that stands between the ground and the ceiling, and the town hall is located inside this hollow ice pillar. This is the central area of the village, one that has yet to change over 100 years.
I pass through the main doors that are shaped in an arch, and the first thing I see is the open atrium hall. I attach the cable placed on the reception counter to my arm, and let it charge for 5 minutes. Back, then, I had to keep changing oils to maintain the internal functions, but with the rapid developments of robotics engineering, simply recharging batteries alone is enough to keep me running.
–My battery is recharged. 99.98%.
Once I’m done recharging, I continue to the inside of the village hall. I continue on by skating down the polished, shiny floor, down the corridor, and ascend the stairs. My feet step on the anti-slippery powder scattered on the stairs, qew qew, letting out a cute sound.
I ascend the last flights of stairs, and in front of me is a transparent, tall door.
“Village Chief Chamomile!”
I raise my voice.
“It’s Amaryllis! I’m back1′
Soon after, I hear a voice, “…Come in.” and the doors slide open. “Please excuse me!” I step into the Village Chief’s room excitedly.
The Chief’s room is the core. The silver patterns on the ceiling race around, spreading throughout the entire wall like Tulip antennas stuck onto them. All the communications network in the village are centered around here, whether wired or not.
“Welcome back, Amaryllis.”
The Chief turns his ‘head’ over to me with a rumble. Ever since he gave up on his body 30 years ago, the Chief continues to live on with merely a head. He’s able to save on electricity without a head “This is saving electricity too.” and that is his usual mantra.
“How are you feeling?”
“My shoulders been a little stiff recently…”
“So I suppose there is nothing.”
I ignore that light-hearted joke as usual, and sit on the chair..
“Now then, the report for today.”
“What is Eisbahn doing?”
“Chasing after the butts of many young girls.”
“Good to be young. When I was younger, I was called the Iron Playboy–”
“I shall skip on that since it is the 370th time you’re mentioning that.”
If I leave him to continue, I’ll have to hear a long autobiography that will last for at dozens of hours, so I pinch the Chief by his nose. He snorts, letting out a weird sound.
“Report. A round of delivery through 56 Issue points was done.”
“Um, good work.”
“There are 3 with metallic frostbite. Light injuries though, so just a change of parts.”
“3…that’s a little too many.”
“Maybe it’s because the recent difference in temperatures causing it. I intend to focus on
Treating frostbites during the next ‘body checkups’.”
I then propose another 2-3 ideas, and the Chief understand them all. If it gets a lot serious, there is a need to summon the members of the of the ‘committee’. Other than that, the little problems are to be settled by the Chief. That is the rule of this village.
“Are you going to check on the ‘Snow White’?”
“Yes. It’s a daily thing…how about you go have a look too, Chief?”
“No, I’ll sleep…fuuahh.”
The Chief yawn, his head rolls onto the table, and he leaps onto the cushion he loves so much.
“Got to save electricity…”
He mutters his usual mantra, and immediately went to sleep mode.
I return to the entrance of the village, and see Viscaria busy with repairs.
There are a few more metallic feelers, and 10 of these chords are reaching out, surrounding the icemobile and nimbly doing all kinds of independent maintenance on it. Everywhere, there are sounds of metal, tools hitting, blue flashes of laser and steam being released.
“How’s it going?”
I poke my head to see. “Yeah.” Viscaria answers me as she lies on the floor. The way she leans under the icemobile resembles a frog who got got knocked down in an accident. The iconic beret has landed by her side.
“There’s a little problem with the vehicle itself…the wheels can’t be used anymore, so I’m changing them.”
“Where did you flip the vehicle?”
“No I didn’t. Why?”
“There’s a strange crack on the handles…”
Viscaria points “Here, have a look.”, and flickers one of her feelers to show me.
“Ah, it’s true.”
As she says, there’s a web-shaped crack on the icemobile steering wheel.
“But such cracks can appear when there is a drastic difference in temperature…”
“So it can’t be used anymore?”
“No no, it’s easy to repair it. Just melt the cracked part, and add soft cream back to it.”
“Please do so.”
Viscaria utilizes her right feelers nimbly, repairing many areas. All these feelers are moving in a lively manner.
“You’re really dazzling a lot when you’re repairing things, Viscaria.”
“Really? I’m glad.”
The repairman with the matching red short hair curls her lips up slightly, looking very delighted. She, whom I view as a reliable older sister, looks like a mischievous boy in such moments.”
“I’ve been doing this for more than 300 years. I’m at the point where I can’t calm down if I don’t repair anything.”
“Heh, I guess that’s our calling.”
“Calling…maybe it is, I don’t know.”
After that, Viscaria continues to repair for another 5 minutes. “Alright, I’m done.” She shouts, and the feelers reaching out from her fingertips shrink back with a swoosh.
“Are you going over to ‘Snow White’ today?”
“Yep. It’s a daily thing.”
I get onto the icemobile, activating the engines with a boom.
“If you find that there’s something wrong, come back to look for me.”
“Understood. Thanks as always, Viscaria.”
“Well. It’s my calling.”
With a swoosh, she reaches a feeler from her fingertip, adjusting her beret proudly.
“Why are you following me too!?”
“Don’t be so cold to me.”
“Seriously, stop touching around! You big pervert!”
I lash out furiously at the man who’s hitching a ride on the back seat. The man continues to sneer, saying, “Well well, let’s get along.” He has no intention of reflecting on his actions at all.
Here’s how it happened. I bid farewell, got up onto the icemobile, preparing to look at the ‘Snow White’. “I’m going too!” A guy with blond swept back hair leaps into the back seat–the name is Eisbahn Tricrytis.
I slap the filthy hand that’s aiming for my butt, and accelerate the speed of the icemobile. If I don’t hurry there, I don’t know what this sex offender sitting behind me will do.
“You’re being cold to me.”
“Of course. I need to be as cold as possible to a guy like you who starts wooing girls at any given moment,:
“It’s fine. We all have sex options installed on us.”
This sex options refers to one of the functions installed in us robots that allows us robots to have sex. There are a lot of sex options installed in female robots, and I’m one of them.
“Sex options are prepared to service our masters. Not a good thing to be used on robots ourselves.”
I smash an elbow into the unruly guy behind me, “Enough with that small talk…!” and growl.
Male robots with sex options installed in them will often tease women of the same kind or do some sweet talk to create some atmosphere. Most of the time, I guess they can’t help it because they have such a setting, but Eisbahn in particular goes overboard. This guy will get his hand on a woman whenever he sees one.
–Ahh, let’s hurry up and reach there already…!
While I continue on this unhappy two people ride, I cut right and left quickly. Finally, the surrounding ice walls become clearer, and the layers of ice start to show a vibrant green. The villagers call this place the ‘Ice Plant’ zone , and all kinds of plants grow and bloom in the ice like art pieces. The end of this zone of Ice Plants is our destination today–the ‘REM Forest’.
Grrr! The brakes cause the vehicle to shave to road, and I park the icemobile. Eisbahn quickly gets off the boot.
“Chief, do you hear me? I’m Amaryllis.”
I cover the antenna at my ear with my hand, calling the Chief through the wireless, “Fuuuaaa…saving power, saving power…” only to hear a sleepy voice.
“Stop sleeping and open up.”
I chide, “Alright.” and the Chief’s voice echoes in the Mind Circuit. The doors leading to ‘Snow White’ is probably about a 1m thick, and nobody is allowed to enter without the Chief’s permission. Even I, or a ‘committee member’ like Eisbahn can’t do so.
The moment the door opens, rich cold air resembling a white phantom rushes out. While this underground world is encased in ice, the temperature here is colder.
–External air intercept.
I increase the body temperature conditioning function by about 30%. Robots won’t catch colds because of the cold temperature, but the oils or batteries inside the bodies may be damaged. In worse situations, there might be a sudden metallic exhaustion caused ‘Metal Frostbite.
I looked up at the ceiling, and the first thing I see is a large ‘Spindle’. This is the main computer controlling the entire ‘Snow White’. The surroundings of this Spindle is covered with thin blood vessel-like fibers, appearing like a freeze dried fruit with a thin silver dress wrapped over it.
The Spindle continues to spin its massively long, slender body, shining its gentle light upon every corner of the room. This light is a unique ‘pulse’ that maintains the running of the system, and maintains the numerous capsules called ‘Cradles’ that have become one with the wall. These Cradles are the life supports protecting the lives of more than 300 of the ‘Masters’.
This is the cryo facility that allows for life to continue under low temperatures–dubbed ‘Snow White’.
A hundred years ago, there was a massive weather change on the surface, and the world went into an ice age. Due to unknown reasons, the ‘cold wave’ caused the entire land to freeze, and all animals and plants were practically extinct.
But even in such radically harsh environment, humans–our masters never gave up. They built an underground shelter ‘Snow White’ to evacuate, and hibernate in there until the ice age ends. From babies till old people, 300 hundred humans continue to sleep, their aging process stopped in the process.
And during the days the masters sleep, us ‘villagers’ are tasked to maintain the running of the ‘Snow White’. In this world of ice 500m underground, we create a little village, living for a hundred years. All the villagers are robots, and our only important mission is to protect the Snow White. The Mind Circuit with high autonomy installed in us is to make sure we protect the Snow White while the manual mode can’t be used.
I wonder as I look up at the Snow White.
One day, when the masters awake, I’ll do my best to serve them and prove my value, whether it is to cook, wash clothes or cleaning, anything that I can think of, I’ll do it. Also, if I’m allowed to, I want them to hear the songs I’m proud of.
I put my hands at my chest, humming the lullaby as usual.
Sleep well, sleep well, sleep well for today.
I shall continue to hold you in my arms, so sleep well.
One day, even if this country, is wiped out, the morning light,
Everything, and anything, is for, you.
That is why, sleep well, for today.
Until, the day, you wake up again.
The tune ends, and I hear a light clapping.
“It’s a nice tune no matter how many times I hear it.”
I turn back to look, and find Eisbahn leaning at the wall.
“Feel like sleeping when I hear that.”
“Are you praising me?’
After a pause, “Of course.” Eisbahn answers.
I cross my fingers in front of my chest, and offer my usual prayers.
–Please, hurry and wake up.
We are waiting.
Tentatively waiting for the day our masters wake up in this underground world sealed by ice.
We have been doing so for more than a hundred years.