Chapter 10: To the Surface (2)
There’s still one path.
The batteries of the Cradles can only last for another twenty two hours. We lost the Snow White, and have no extra electricity to spare. In this case, there should only be one single path left for us.
–To head straight to the surface.
The basic directive hasn’t changed at all. The target is still the generator on the surface. We gather the scattered villagers in groups, assign leaders, and head forth again. If possible, we’ll meet up again from time to time. We’ll continue moving to the surface while being unable to contact each other—I give these instructions, and we hastily move forth.
The initial gateway is the ‘Path Canal’.
To avoid slipping, I watch the steps as I climb the ladder. Going first is Eisbahn, and then Viscaria, followed by a team of a hundred villagers. Adults, children, everyone is carrying a Cradle, wordlessly climbing up. This mass exodus of robots is reminiscent of refugees who lost their hometowns due, wounded, and slow-footed, but despite this, the only way to live is to move forward. There’s no battery malfunction, no certainty that we can make it to the surface, and the aftershocks that strikes like pursuers. Whenever the aftershocks happen, we can only climb the ladder with all our might. A despair more gripping than anguish fills the atmosphere, and I can only give encouraging words through the wireless from time to time.
The path before us looks exceptionally perilous.
I grab the ladder and give the signale. The villagers behind me stop in unison.
I look up, and see a block of ice obstructing us. How many obstacles has it been over the fifty meters since we left the REM forest? I can’t be bothered to count.
“What’s the situation now?”
“By my estimate, about 1.4 tonnes. It’s hollow on the other side. We can take it out easily!”
Viscaria taps at the portable monitor at her hand, and it clearly depicts an upright visual.
After the form analysis is done, I give a signal through the wireless.
“Prepare to shatter the ice! Everyone hang onto the wall inside of the ladder! Make sure the Cradles are close to the wall!”
After giving this warning that’s already a template by itself, I wait for the moment.
“All villagers in position!”
Viscaria checks the monitor, and notify me that all the villagers are in position to evade.
I give the call sign, “Leave it to me!” and Eisbahn extends his arm out to the ice block above us. A dazzling blue light extends from his fingertips, and the ‘Phantom Blade’ signature move is unleased. The dark tunnel is lit like day, and a fleeting blue space is unravelled.
With this sound, the blue saber flashes. A line appears on the ice block above our heads, and the severed surface collapses.
“Next obstacle is 12.6m ahead.”
Viscaria flatly notes as she checks the monitor display.
A little advance, and we have to stop, warning, cut, check clear. Sometimes, we have to do emergency checks on the malfunctioning Cradles. We’re going at the pace of three steps forward and two steps back, but there’s no other way out of this.
I suppress the anxiety I have inside my head, and reach my head for the next ladder.
And with a blue light gliding past the darkness, the ice fragments rain down the tunnel like hail. Ice, destroy, advance, ice, destroy, advance—this boring work continues, and everyone remains silent due to anxiety and uneasiness. “Ahh~ahh~, this is troublesome…!” Eisbahn alone is grumbling in such an atmosphere, and it’s strangely such valuable respite.
“Seriously, stop grumbling and get to work…!”
“Hehe…ahh, it’s because you like commanding robots, Amaryllis,”
He continues to swing the blade as he grumbles, the arcs so bold yet delicate. The destroyed shards of ice fall into the Path Canal, down the path as planned.
At this moment, Viscaria calls out,
“What is it?”
“Hold here. It’s the checkpoint.”
She shines the light at the rocky wall of the tunnel, and there’s a horizontally hole.
“The work tunnel…!?”
I stare intently at the hole. Most of it is buried by the collapsed rubble, but there’s no doubt that it’s the work tunnel I used. I have been climbing the ladder and checking that the villagers are safe, and I never realized that we’ve arrived.
“Hehe. Looks like we’re going to dig there…oh my.”
Suddenly, he stops.
“What is it?”
“I guess it’s not my turn here.”
At the next moment,
With a loud explosion, the rubble inside the tunnel are all blown aside. This power comes from the other side.
And then, a nostalgic voice echoes,
“Is everyone fine, no!?”
“Yes, open your arms wide and move slowly! No need to rush!”
We build a bridge with enhanced wires, and have the villagers, totalling more than a hundred, pas through. Eisbahn waits under the bridge, making sure it won’t collapse.
The children pass through the bridge, and give me a smile, looking as though they just played an interesting game. I’m healed by their innocence.
“You worked hard there. Good good.”
I pat a child on the head, and the other children who crossed the bridge are yapping away, “Ahh, that’s too much. I want one too!” “Me too me too!” approaching me.
“No no, everyone’s crossing the bridge. Okay, next!”
A lot of time is needed to have more than a hundred villagers, but if anyone one is to slip off, it’ll be over; the villagers are resting at the outer wall of the tunnel at the end of the long ladder, giving relieved looks.
—Hm, very good. Looks like there’s some hope.
We’ve made it through less than half the journey, but there has yet to be any martyrs over the past three hours. It’s really wonderful to be able to reunite with Götz again after all that happened.
“We’ve take a little break here! Put all the Cradles next to the wall! Check on your conditions immediately! Anyone who needs parts can ask Viscaria here!”
I give the instructions, and start checking the Cradles that are lined deep into the tunnel. There are some with batteries that are overdrained, but the only thing we can do here is to switch over to power saving mode. Due to the earthquake, we lost almost half of our spare batteries. The electricity issue is almost critical.
“A hundred and three in total…?”
Including the Cradle from Götz, there are a hundred and three. After the checks, I fold my arms, and start to think. A lot of Cradles have batteries that can last for almost twenty hours, but there are quite a few that have only fifteen hours worth of battery. The Cradles can adjust the temperature accordingly based on the external air, and thus, there are variances in the rate the electricity is depleted.
“Götz, may I have a moment?”
“Is there something?”
“About the advanced team you went with…”
I ask tentatively, “Yes…” and Götz gives a grim look.
“Including this me, all hands were buried alive. Only I managed to escape successfully.”
“I would have saved them, had it not be that they fell into the deep crack…”
Götz spoke grimly, “A failure am I.” he lowers his head dejectedly.
“No, this isn’t your fault. Nothing could be done about that earthquake.”
I bite my lower lip without anyone looking, and start checking on the Cradles again.
Our troubles continue.
“What? Can’t we just break through here?”
Eisbahn says with displeasure.
However, “That’s impossible.” Viscaria denies him immediately.
“If we continue moving forward, we’ll have to keep cutting blocks of ice. You’ll end up depleting all the electric power, and have to retire.”
“But…” Eisbahn stamps on the ground lightly. “How much of a detour will this be?”
“We got no choice here. We can’t waste our electricity, and we’ll have to use the path we have now, even though it’s a teour.”
“Surely in our masters’ world, there’s the saying ‘haste won’t do the job’.”
Götz too joins in the lecture, “Hmph.” Eisbahn looks extremely miffed.
“Whatever works for you.”
“Trust me here. Please, just once.”
It’s rare for Viscaria to be begging.
“Well, it’s not like I’m doubting your calculations here…”
Eisbahn looks all the more miffed, and stabs at the ice with his heel. This is a marking for cutting with the saber.
“Is this fine?”
“Mostly. It’s about two meters thick. Try digging it like it’s a manhole.”
Eisbahn slouches his back, and follows Viscaria’s calculations as the Phantom Blade immediately gives off a blue light, stabbing right into the ground. He then moves his body around slowly, creating an arc.
After ten seconds, the cut off part sinks in, and a round hole appears like a hole on a frozen lake.
“So this leads into the underground tunnel?”
I ask as I look into the hole. It’s completely dark inside, and nothing can be seen.
“Right. Head East from here. We’ll finally reach the path leading to the surface. It’ll be a long detour, but this is the move that saves the most electricity.”
“I see…I’ll go first then.”
The electronic meter detects the depth to be at least ten meters. I lower the rope, check that it’s down, and enter the hope.
—How far more do we have to go?
As I head down the rope, I recall the words Eisbahn said,
He’s right too. We’re trying to hurry to the surface, yet we have to go down. This really gives an unappealing feeling. The other villagers are feeling the same, “Why are we heading back?” Daisy’s voice enters the wireless.
—Don’t get anxious. Don’t get anxious.
I continue to descend down the rope, shaping my legs. The hardness of the ice reach the soles of my feet, and I know I reach the bottom. How long will it take for us to lower the Cradles one by one? I feel really uneasy.
—Don’t get anxious. Haste won’t do the job. Haste won’t do the job.
I mutter to myself, as though I’m uttering a mantra, and I feel a little relieved.
I look up, and see a round full moon-like ring in the darkness. The villagers will be descending the rope from there.
Suddenly, I have a feeling that everyone’s sucked into the darkness, and I can’t help but quiver.
We continue on wordlessly in the dark tunnel.
Rsst, rsst. What we step on isn’t snow, but the corpses of the work robots. It’s one thing if they are metal plates shattered due to frostbite, it’s eerie if they still had their limbs or heads intact. However, if we want to advance, we have to step over them.
EIsbahn grumbles behind me. “Yeah…” I too mutter back. The little conversations we have ends here, and all that’s left are some little mumblings.
And this heavy atmosphere lasts for an hour.
“Hey, aren’t we there yet?”
I ask Viscaria.
“Ahh, it’s near. Just a minute more and we’ll reach.”
She answers as she looks at the portable terminal. There are more than a hundred lights lined up in a row on the screen (These are us), and there are ten lights before us.
—Now we’ll finally meet up.
We lost contact with no more than forty due to the earthquake. Given the directive, they’ll continue to move up towards the surface, and this will be the first time we will be meeting other squads. Fifty meters, forty, thirty, we naturally increase our pace as we approach. If we reunite, these isolated villagers, and our team will all be livened uo.
We arrive there, and what we see is the hill of rubble.
Aftershocks keep coming till this point, and a few times, we’re rattled by the collapsing dirt. This particular instance is really dire.
“Move the rubble aside!”
I instruct, and everyone get down to work, digging out this place where our friends may be buried under.
As we keep digging them out one after another, we’re all left speechless.
We find our comrades amidst the rubble, each of them hugging the Cradle firmly. It’s obvious that they immediately protected their masters the moment they got buried.
“They’re all dead…” Viscaria checks them all, and reports to me with regret, “Their Mind Circuits are all cracked due to frostbite.”
They bodies look utterly mangled, due to the damage caused by the weight of the rubble and the cessation of electrical supply. The Mind Circuits in the center of the chest are completely shattered beyond shape.
“They, cut these off themselves…”
Eisbahn takes out a cable, and notes silently,
Looking closely, the cables are draped from the Cradles like an umbilical cord. Looking at how the cable remains undamaged, it’s obvious the villagers took them off voluntarily.
—They offer their hopes of life to the Cradles.
If they had just obtained some electricity from the Cradles, they could have survived, but they never did so, not even for a minute, or a second. They shut off all possibility of living, and chose the path of letting our masters live.
—This is our mission, our raison d’etre. But…
Eisbahn sadly mutters,
All ten villagers look peaceful, giving the expression of those who died after accomplishing their missions. The reason why their communicators are cut off is because they cut off the charging cables.
I let out a little sigh.
There are ten Cradles that manage to survive, and ten robots who sacrificed their bodies. All the other villagers can only stand still as they watch this.
“…Let’s move them away.”
I assign the salvaged Cradles to the villagers. The Cradles have exceeded the villagers in numbers, so some villagers, led by Götz, will carry multiple Cradles.
The villagers bury the corpses. Considering how little battery power is left, there’s no other choice here.
A hundred villagers clasp their hands together as they stand in front of this little grave made of ice.
I feel the anguish over the lost friends, and curse at my own helplessness as I lift my face, saying,
“Okay, let’s go.”
After a short funeral, we head off again.
“From here on, we’re going to climb.”
We arrive at a fork, and Viscaria stops, looking up. There’s a slope forty-five degrees steep, and looking up from the bottom, it looks like a broken cliff.
“Ack, we can climb this thing?”
Like usual, Eisbahn remains unmotivated.
“Stop complaining. Let’s go.”
I grab onto the wall of ice, as though ready to rock climb. It’s not difficult if I have to climb on my own, but it’s really not easy having to carry Cradles of two hundred kilograms while doing so.
“It’s a little steep. Don’t force yourself here, children! Eisbahn and I will pull you up with rope!”
“Ehhh, you serious?”
“What did you say?”
I feel the weight on my back with my fingertips as I climb with all my might. I feel that I expended quite a bit of battery power, but I’ll slip and fall if I don’t control my power output well.
Eisbahn and I watch the footing as we cautiously climb up. Soon after, the other adult robots follow. Viscaria instructs us on a path that’s easy to climb, while the children are looking up at me worriedly.
After the short climb of about ten minutes, I put down my Cradle.
“Everyone, take it easy! There’s not much time! Be careful!”
It’s steep, but luckily, the slope isn’t that high. After about twenty minutes, the adults have all finished climbing. Following that, the children have all climbed, and finally, we pull up the children’s Cradles with rope. Götz, the strongest of us all, really put in a lot of effort during this time.
“Oraaahh, orraahhh…and we stop!!”
Many loops are wrapped around the Cradles, but the villagers cautiously pass them on one after another. Even after a long time, none of the hundred and so Cradles dropped. This is the best situation for us.
“Okay, five minutes rest!”
I want to rest for twenty, thirty minutes, but after considering the battery power, I decide against it. There’s only twelve hours of electricity left. More than half has been depleted if we consider the initial twenty two hours planned.
—Can we last until the end?
We have few spare batteries at hand, and we’re almost at our limit. I try to act as calm as possible as I observe the resting villagers. Over the past ten hours, they have been exerting gruelling manual labor, and thus, all of them are looking really weary.
Once rest time ends, we head off again.
But thirty minutes in, our worries become reality.
“Can’t go on…?”
I receive contact on the wireless, and have the other villagers stop.
I head to the back, and find a girl with a severed leg there. It’s Vicia, who has the ‘hopping pain’ and often visits Viscaria.
“What is it…?”
The girl starts to utter some words, but her voice installation doesn’t seem adept. She’s looking weak.
I kneel down before the girl “Don’t move.” I have her lie on a flat surface. Then, I check on the girl’s Cradle.
…Just this much…!?
There’s no more than thirty minutes of battery power left that’s indicated. Normally, in order to protect the data, the machine will become inactive if a robot has less than thirty minutes of power. It seems Vicia has encountered this situation.
“Wait. I’ll change your battery immediately!”
I open the battery unit of the Cradle, pick out a spare battery in my pocket, and inserts it.
—Please, work properly…!
After a slap, a little light runs in the girl’s eyes. With a deep thud, her petite body quivers.
Again, I check the remaining battery power on the Cradle ’08:31:47’, once I see the time, I can’t help but just feel relieved. It seems it isn’t a system malfunction, just a depletion of power.
“How do you feel?”
The girl smiles weakly, and reaches her hand out. I grab her hand, and help her to her feet.
“I’m going back to the front now. If you don’t feel fine, voice out. Understood?”
The girl nods weakly.
Upon receiving this report, Viscaria nodes silently.
“The original plan didn’t require us to plan this far ahead…”
Basically, the remaining amount of battery power is deduced, and there are often errors in the actual count. Robots that are particularly aged, like the villagers will have depreciated greatly. They will have worn out further with these extremely harsh conditions and having to carry heavy objects of two hundred kilograms.
“The batteries these Cradles use are large, so I thought they would have lasted a little longer.”
“I thought the same, but it’s running out faster than we thought.”
I know very well that exerting large amounts of force or moving heavy objects will expend more battery power. However, we never expected to run out of battery midway through the journey.”
“Well, at this point, I don’t want to say too much. It’s due to the ‘extraction’. The over-degradation of the machine causes the efficiency to be drained greatly. And after this, we’re going to have more people who can’t move due to burned parts.”
I can only let out a sigh. At this point, we’re helpless against the years of depreciation.
“Nothing we can do?”
“Nothing…just got to hurry.”
We exchange this conversation, and continue to move on.
After that, like a dam bursting, one robot malfunctions after another.
Damaged parts, short-circuits, Mind Circuit freezer—various parts are malfunctioning, but the basic reason is due to the robots aging. Clearly, this is due to the many ‘extractions’ we had.
The spare batteries we have on hand are all quickly depleted, so we keep helping each other, supporting each other as we head forth. Those with electrical power left share their electricity, and those that can still move will carry those that can’t.
First, there are sirens.
“Beep.” A shrill siren can be heard from the back.
“Cradle is malfunctioning! Hurry!”
“The internal temperature is dropping rapidly…!”
“Wait, I’ll be right there!”
I contact through the wireless as I run. Götz and Eisbahn follow me.
And when I reach, I’m left shocked.
—How did it…!?
That Cradle is completely white, as though frozen, and the indicated temperature is zero degrees. The human inside will be frozen to death.
“Wait a moment!”
Viscaria hastily checks on the Cradle. She frisks the control panel, and start tapping at the keys.
“Uuu…the temperature regulation function is malfunctioning…”
She let out the air, injected some oxygen, and boots the emergency system…then, Viscaria taps a few key commands, trying to get the temperature inside the Cradle back to normal.
But after ten minutes, her hands stop.
“What is it…?”
I ask tentatively.
“It’s useless. Nothing I can do.”
She moves her hands away from the keys, and retracts her feelers, indicating that the work’s over.
The human inside the Cradle—a male of about fifty years old—simply passes away silently. His body is completely white, the cause of death undoubtedly hypothermia.
“The air conditioning system is wrecked. I want to switch it out, but there’s no spare part…I’m really sorry.”
I put my hand on her shoulder.
“You did good there. There’s nothing we could have done either.”
“Yeah. There was no choice…”
It’s rare to see Eisbahn give some encouraging words.
I stand up, and instruct the gathering villagers.
“Let’s bury this master.”
We dig a shallow ditch into the ground, and lower the frozen Cradle in. It’s placed upright, so it stands upright like a grave.
We want to carry it back to the surface, but we don’t have much left in the tank. We don’t have enough strength to dig a hole a bury him.
After offering just a minute of words to soothe the soul, we leave the Cradle behind, and head on,
“The direct reason is due to the malfunctioning air conditioning regulatory system. However, this is merely a coincidence. The real reason here is due to ‘constant degradation’s—in other words, they’re suffering from the same symptoms as us.”
Viscaria states it as a matter of fact, but looking at her sidelong face, it’s obvious that she’s really miffed about this. I too am the same, and I’m shivering in frustration over my own helplessness.
—Again, I’m unable to save them.
It’s an operation to save our masters, but none of us made it there. This huge amount of helplessness leaves me slightly furious.
And the tragedy continues,
“Cradle’s dropping in temperature!”
“Emergency! Cradle’s heating up abnormally!!”
“Please hurry! Master’s!”
And within the next hour, another twelve masters die.
There are those who died due to the internal temperature dropping, abnormal heating, or asphyxiation—the reasons for malfunctioning isn’t just due to constant degradation over the years, but also the physical damage from the prior collapse. In any case, we can’t do anything without a change of parts, and can only watch our masters die one after another. The Cradles all end up as coffins, and then graves.
And within the next hour, another twenty one masters died.
Everyone else is at a loss on what to do. There’s still electricity, but the Cradles themselves are still malfunctioning. Unlike the metallic robots, this underground world is an environment overly harsh to our masters with bodies of flesh. Without the life support devices of the Cradles, our masters can live for no more than five minutes.
Malfunctions happen, and at an increasingly rate.
We’re unable to even bury them, and merely build up silver graves. Everyone remains silent.
Thus, the total dead extends to seventy nine.
“Miss Amaryllis, may we have a moment with you?”
I receive a sudden request.
I turn around, and find Miss Ceolaria speaking to me. She once sand the ‘Spearmint Genesis’ at the Prayer Festival, and has the appearance of an old lady in her eighties.
“What is it?”
I turn around to face Miss Celorira. It’s rest time, and Viscaria’s doing diagnosis for malfunctions.
“I want to hand this over to you.”
She hands over a large bag.
I open the bag, and see lots of portable batteries inside it. There’s more than fifty of them.
“These are, issued to everyone? Why…?”
“There’s no need for them.” She silently notes, “I’ll wait here until my body is wasted.”
At first, I don’t know what she’s talking about.
With a steady voice, Miss Ceolaria explains,
“There aren’t many batteries left, but we’re far from the surface. At this rate, everyone will surely be wiped out. In that case, we should at least end ourselves before the remaining batteries are depleted.”
“We, as in, there are others?”
“Four senators, and the children, thirty in all. Besides them, there are another seventy two. These seventy two robots shall remain here and let their bodies be wasted.”
“B-but, if you abandon your bodies here…you’ll just be left with the Mind Circuits, right? Then there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your bodies again, that you’ll recover, right?”
I continue to ask Miss Ceolaria.
“We have prepared ourselves mentally. I have lived long enough, so please use the batteries on our masters and the children.”
I look at the large number of batteries in my hands, and hoplessly mutter,
“I can’t accept these…”
At that moment,
“It’s fine, Miss Amaryllis.”
Cattleya’s voice enters the wireless.
“Miss Ceolaria’s right, everyone will fall if this keeps up. Also, given the reduction in cradles till this point, the remainder has become a burden. Please use these batteries.”
I look over, and find Cattleya leaning on the ice wall, looking completely lethargic. Also, the villagers next to her are all leaning there, like some form of ritual going on.
“It’s fine! Don’t mind!” “We beg of you!” “We’ll leave them to you!” “Don’t worry, just use them!”
The villagers’ voices enter the wireless.
“Miss Amaryllis, everyone else has the same opinion.”
Miss Ceoloria extends her deep, aged wrinkles, smiling earnestly,
“Without us around, you can save enough battery power to save our masters. It is a selfish request, but we shall leave the rest to you.”
She lowers her head deeply,
“B-but, if that happens, everyone…”
I can’t hide the faltering look on my face.
Miss Ceolaria in turn looks rather peaceful,
“Please think of it this way. Us ‘adult robots’ have gone through lots of extractions due to our massive bodies. In other words, we’re more likely to malfunctioning, and waste more electricity. The child robots in comparison have done fewer ‘extractions’, and not much electricity depleted. Looking at the conservation of electricity, the chances of the child robots surviving are obviously higher.”
“Th-then I’m doing the same. I’m taking out my batteries.”
Miss Ceolaria shakes her head.
“Without you around, who is going to lead these children? All the senators are indispensable for the following journey, so please take these batteries. P-please…”
And at this moment.
Her knees crumble, and she kneels.
I hastily carry her, but her body’s lying prone without any strength. It seems her remaining electricity’s depleted. Once the electricity from the Cradle is cut off, the emergency battery of a robot won’t last for long.
And by the time I realize this, there’s no other voices on the wireless. It isn’t just Miss Ceolaria; Cattleya and the others are all lying on the floor, remaining still.
Right when I’m feeling completely befuddled, Viscaria’s voice echoes through the wireless.
“Everyone entrusted their lives to you.”
“Did…” I lower my eyes, asking, “Did you know about this, Viscaria?”
She nods slightly.
“Sorry for keeping this quiet. You would have definitely refused this, I felt. When Ceoloria came to discuss this with me, I went about convincing everyone. I was communicating privately to each other to avoid you detecting. If I didn’t do so, no matter what, we wouldn’t be able to return to the surface with the batteries on hand.”
I clench my fist, and weakly let out.
“Sorry. I-I’m the Chief…but I got in your way.”
“It’s true that such a cruel way to solve this wouldn’t be acceptable to you. However, it’s because of your personality that everyone willingly gave up their lives for you.”
Seventy two villagers cease to operate with peaceful expressions on their faces. “What’s wrong?” “Are they sleeping…?” The children poke their heads out in curiosity.
—I have lived long enough.
Miss Ceolaria’s voice again echoes. I look down at the batteries in my hands.
—Everyone, I’m sorry.
I bite my lips hard, feeling utterly painful within.
—I’m really sorry to everyone, for being such a useless Chief.
I continue to apologize profusely, and I grit my teeth, gripping the batteries in my hands hard.
We continue to move on.
The number of villagers is reduced to thirty four. Other than Viscaria, Götz, Eisbahn and me, the other thirty are all children. The hope of reuniting with the other villagers has become increasingly bleak, and as the lights on the screen vanish one after another, my feelings start to turn gloomy.
The number of Cradles left is also thirty four, exactly the same as the number of villagers. All thirty four villagers carry a Cradle each. The operation to move three hundred Cradles has now dwindled down to so little.
But despite this, we have to keep moving.
I have a little attach case in my right hand containing more than seventy ‘Mind Circuits’. These Mind Circuits belong to the villagers who took out their batteries willingly, including Cattleya and Miss Ceolaria. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but once we return to the surface, I’ll definitely make sure to repair our friends and get them fixed. With my shoulders, I feel the weight of the case, and continue forward silently.
As time passes, I can hear the sound of the children sobbing. They hold in their tears, moving forward while carrying the heavy item, the string of tension in their hearts snapping away little by little.
And then, the sobbing become interrupted wailing, “Mama…” voices of those longing for relatives are mixed in. Over the past hundred years, the villagers who lived as relative robots have mostly lost contact due to the earthquakes, and the hope of reuniting is bleak. No matter who it is, anyone will have the urge to cry after losing their kin, and have bleak prospects before them.
The crying leads to a chain reaction, with some children even bawling out loud. “I can’t go on.” “I wanna go home.” Worse, the earthquakes strike like bandits, and even though they’re weak, the sobbing of the children become increasingly louder.
After some time, we pause our advance, and take a break.
“Viscaria, how long more until the next detour…?”
I ask Viscaria, who’s seated next to me, “Hmm…” she gives a grim look.
“The next detour will come in an hour.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Not sure…what do you mean?”
“In other words, we can only determine base on the collapse. We need to avoid those places completely blocked, and choose our route by process of elimination.”
“So can we make it back to the surface in time?”
“…Up to luck.”
Viscaria answers flatly. I make no further questions.
The children’s crying continue on,
—Surely, they want to cry. It’s such a dark place, such a heavy moment, such a tragedy.
I walk towards the source of the crying, and the thirty children surround me immediately,
“Okay, don’t cry now.”
I pat a girl on the head.
“Now sit down.”
I sit down, and the children sit around me. They widen their moist eyes, staring at me intently. Surely they must be feeling very fearful, very uneasy.
Night comes, so sleep now.
A long night, a scary night.
But the night, will pass.
I sing, and the crying softens. The children stare at me incredulously.
Scary dreams, just forget them.
A long night, a cold night.
But the night, will pass.
The singing ekes from within the dark cave, and slightly, tender voices are mixed into the singing. Daisy sings, and the other children follow suit.
Sleep well, until dawn.
The long night, the painful night.
But the dawn, shall come.
I sing as I hug the children, and pat them on their heads.
Before I know it, everyone’s singing away. Like the duet at the Prayer Festival, the beautiful resonating melody and voices surround us.
And in this deep underground, where the light can’t reach us at all, we continue to sing happily as though it’s a picnic with the sunlight shining on us.
We’re getting closer to the surface.
“The remaining depth is twenty meters…no, fifteen.”
Viscaria mutters as she looks at the terminal.
“Ah! This road! I was here before!”
I arrive at this familiar place, and start to feel emotional. Right, the one place I went to alone; I once stepped here while trying to make my way up.
—It’s close. It’s very close…!
My footsteps hasten increasingly, and finally ends up as a jog. The others too start to hurry up. After a while, I’m final confident. There’s a little light shining in through the dark tunnel, and the wind blowing through the ice cave is undoubtedly from the outside.
—Just a little more…!
We advance towards the place with the light, and finally arrive at a spacious place. A wide ladder can be seen before this hill comprised of ice residue and rubble, and this ladder leads further up. There’s an exit leading to a manhole.
I hastily climb the ladder, and push the exit with my hand.
I take out the ‘Black Pointer’ in my pocket, and flip the switch. The Black Pointer gives off a little light, and I draw a line along the silhouette of the manhole. Bsst, with a melting sound, the manhole drops with a thunk. “Ouch!” I cup my head.
I leap out, and cheer in joy.
The land remains covered in ice, the winds remain freezing, and the weather isn’t fine. Despite this, there’s a weak light shining through the clouds, and surely it’s the sunlight that gives life to this world.
—We did it, we did it…!
I raise my fist in elation. There’s no doubt the Ice Age’s about to come to an end.
I look around, three hundred and sixty degrees, over and over again, as though wanting to etch the scenery outside. The land covered in ice everywhere is an eyesore, but I can see a building with a sharp top at the horizon to the west—a large generator. It’s right above the Snow White, and this shows that the distance inside the tunnel is rather long.
A trail of hot tears roll down my cheek. This world we’ve returned to after a hundred years is so vast, tall and far, bright, dazzling—an elation rising in my chest is causing me to quiver all over. Everyone else is looking around, patting the shoulders, sharing joy. Everyone’s moved.
“Alright, everyone, let’s go!”
On my command, we start running. Our feet step on the frozen landscape as we head towards our destination. We shove aside the frozen snow, climb up the hill, running, running, falling over, getting up, and running again. The landscape remains as uneven as it was a hundred years ago, and we tumble and hustle as we head forward.
So we keep heading on, just a few hundred meters from the generator.
Suddenly, Viscaria yells,
“Warning detected on the monitor…massive heat source approaching…!!”
Everyone stop in unison to look at her—
And at that moment,
A blue light sweeps right above our head.
The light’s amazingly powerful.
It strikes past us, hitting the ground behind, and the ice on top splatters all over. Despite this, the light is not weakened in the least, as it pierces through the land, cuts into the ground, and forms a trail of white steam into the end of the horizon.
We’re all dumbfounded by this sudden turn of events, momentarily speechless. Our visual installations are dulled by a beat, our eyes still blurry. This light is too strong, like the sun shining into our eyes, and we seem to have hallucinating.
“Wh-what was that…!?”
I look towards Viscaria.
“Anyway, let’s get away from here! —Incoming second wave!”
The next moment.
A flash shines at us from the direction of the generator like dazzling stars, and another light fires through. A blue light, probably a laser, strikes before us, and shaves a lump off the frozen land before vanishing beyond the horizon. The silver-white land’s carved apart with a black line, dividing our group in two.
“Everyone scatter!… Find some place to hide!”
Even without the reminder, everyone too scene the danger they’re in, and start to move. Everyone’s scattering without my command, hiding in the mounds or in the ground.
“What was that…!?”
I hide behind a mound, looking towards Viscaria. The children are timidly clinging onto me.
“An anti-machinery compressed Crystal laser.”
Viscaria quickly explains, and raises her arm.
“That’s the culprit.”
She points in the direction of the generator.
There’s a robot standing there. It has thick, trunk-like limbs, and the pitch black, ominous body seem to absorb all the darkness. This black shadow stands before the generator with the sun shining upon it, like a gatekeeper, a pitch black demon in the world of white.
The repulsive memory awakens in my mind again. The people who panicked during end times, the lasers raining upon them, the numerous blood columns splattering—s
“The most diabolical military robot in the world.”
“Why is it attacking us!?”
“I don’t know either! Probably a defensive mechanism!”
“A defensive mechanism!?”
“We’re deemed as enemies! Like the masters who were charred black!”
I recall the ‘footage’ I saw. The military robots mercilessly killing those that are escaping, the burning horizon covered with corpses. Back then, the robots massacred those escaping to the Snow White and killed them all. Even after a hundred years, ‘this one’ is still obeying that order?
Götz’s voice rings through the wireless. I can see him at a mound slightly further away.
“Surely we will be wiped out if this continues..!”
“Wait, I’ll give the instructions now…!”
I look around to affirm the situation. At this point, there’s Viscaria and fifteen other children hiding with me under the mound, while Götz and another six are there, followed by Eisbahn and another nine children further away.
—What do I do…!?
The military robot stands still before the generator, and if we approach, surely we’ll be hit by that laser from before. Once we get out from this mound, there’s nothing to shield us, so there’s no place to hide.
—But the time…
There’s only a minute left for the Cradle, and if we continue to hide, we’ll end up with a freezing death.
I continue to seek a strategy, while Viscaria next to me is tapping at the panel intensively with her feelers. An upright model of that military robot is spinning on the screen, and the words describing its characteristics are crammed on it.
“Does it have any weaknesses…!?”
“I’m looking for them now!”
I fold my arms tightly, and Daisy looks at me worriedly. The children behind her are all looking teary, huddling together. The ice on the Cradles’ surfaces have melted, and the water droplets are dripping like sweat.
—Got to think of something…
While I’m racking my brain.
Viscaria yells. We hurriedly get down.
The light again illuminates the world. The light seem to be prompting something as it hits a nearby pile of dust, and a large amount of dirt rain down. The terrified children are shrieking in fear.
The situation has become direr by the moment.
“Sixty, fifty nine, fifty either, fifty seven…!”
I see the robot drag its massive body towards us in a languid manner. Even after a hundred years of Ice Age, its eyes remain sharp as ever.
—We’ll get killed!
There’s no reason needed. The bare killing intent is such a terrifying thing.
—Wh-what do I do!?
On one side, we have a military robot decked with heavy armor, and on the other side, we have common civilian robots; excluding the children, we have only four combatants. The enemy has a long distance laser, and we have nothing, not even a device to fly with.
—But we can’t get away.
First, it’s impossible to run away while carrying the heavy Cradles. If we do so, our batteries will be depleted, and we’ll be unable to move.
“Thirty meters more!”
The robots have approached us, and the children are hugging me firmly.
—Got to figure out something to divert his focus!
“Listen up, everyone! I’ll be bait! Take this chance to escape, children!”
I convey my thoughts to everyone through the wireless, only to be refuted by Eisbahn immediately.
“What nonsense are you saying now!? You’re going to be burned to crisp once you get out there!”
“But there’s nothing else we can do!”
“Calm down! We can figure out something from his attacks!”
With a calm tone, he says,
“That guy’s unable to grasp our exact locations! If it could, we would have been burned to crisp on its first shot! Its hearing installation and heat sensors may have been destroyed, just capturing enemies with its visual installation!!”
“So, what do you mean!?”
“Too troublesome to explain in detail! I’ll show you proof!”
From his hiding spot, Eisbahn throws out a piece of shattered ice. The ice rolls on the ground, and suddenly, it’s covered by light; the laser shaves off the place the ice lands on.
“You see that?”
Clear as day.
“That guy attacks anything that moves immediately.”
The operation’s simple.
I’ll be bait and run with all my might, luring the robot behind the mound. Götz and Eisbahn will the flank and attack. Viscaria will watch the screen and give instructions on the timing.
The chances of winning is minimal. However, with the looming threat impending, there’s no time to create a more intricate strategy, and no matter how reckless this strategy, we can only roll the dice on it. We have to protect the children and Cradles no matter what.
“Target’s just ten meters away…!”
Viscaria calls out through the wireless. The robot’s right before us; I duck in the shadows, waiting for the moment to charge out. I leave behind the Cradle for the time being, and continue to maintain operation through the emergency battery. We need to settle this within ten minutes.
Pew, Eisbahn tosses a pebble. It gets detected by the robot, and it stops immediately.
I immediately dash out. After several seconds of sprinting, I leap into the ditch in the ground. At the same time, a blue lightning fizzles past my head, and the echoes strike my hearing installation, making me feel repulsed.
—How about this…!?
The robot sense my existence, and hastens towards me. It seems the plan to lure his attention worked.
—Alright, come here!
I hide in the shadow, waiting for the opportune moment.
The sound of the robot’s footsteps Loom. The land of ice is steaming all over, like a carpet covering it. This power able to topple the landscape cause me to shiver.
“—Another three steps.”
Viscaria’s voice echoes. This is followed by heavy footsteps.
I raise the ‘thing’ in my hand.
The moment the robot steps forward, I raise the rod-shaped item—the heating headlight called the ‘Black Point’—and toss it at the nose of the robot. The heating headlight spins and glows, luring the robot’s attention, but it’ll take some time to aim and fire at an object up close. The headlight lands on the ground, and the robot swings down its heavy arm. This weight of the arm cause the robot to tilt forward, and lose its balance slightly—at this moment.
Two shadows creep in from behind the robot.
A red light flashes through, exploding on the back of the robot. The moment the explosions and sparks fly, Götz appears. The robot stumbles, and the blue light flashes as Eisbahn’s Phantom Blade, hitting it right in the face. Götz follows up after Eisbahn, striking with the ‘iron arm’, second, third, fourth, fifth, both of them launch continuous attacks. It’s a scene of a black sandbag being pummelled again and again. The red and blue lights continue to appear like explosions in an old movie. Finally, the robot falls forward.
—We beat it…!
Everyone has this thought. In fact, Viscaria’s cheering in the wireless. I too hop out from the ditch.
At this moment, the robot’s eyes light up.
And its massive body starts to move. Even after such continuous attacks, it remains unscathed.
—This thing’s way too durable, isn’t it…!?
The world lights up again. Götz and Eisbahn attacks from the side, and explosions echo. However, the robot—ahh, how is that possible—it remains unscathed, unmoved.
And then, it’s the robot’s turn to work. With its massive arm, it shoves Götz in the opposite direction, sending him flying with a sweeping punch. Eisbahn uses this opportunity to swing the Phantom Blade, but the blue blade which he boasted could cut anything merely gives off sparks, and it gets repelled without being able to damage the armor. With the momentum of a large heavy machinery charging forward, the robot lunges at Eisbahn, who’s sent flying in this attack, landing and bouncing hard on the ground due to recoil.
And so the robot continues to move forward, as though nothing has happened.
It’s unbelievable. We carried out our strategy perfectly, and both attacks landed. However, they’re beaten without any result to show for it. Götz lands headfirst into the ground, and Eisbahn’s lying prone by the side.
Viscaria’s voice is almost a shirek. We lost our reliable duo, and we’re rooted to the spot. The robots approach us; I can’t move, and neither can Viscaria. One step, two steps, three steps. Ahh, we’re going to die. It’s over, we’re going to be killed. We finally made it all the way here—
I close my eyes. At this moment,
Thunk, a sound echoes, and a small pebble rolls over.
The demon notices the pebble, and after a pause, it slowly changes its direction. It notices the back of the mound—the place where the children are hiding.
—This is bad!!
The children glared at by the black demon starts to shiver. They shield the Cradles behind them with their bodies, frozen in fear as though witnessing a mass murderer invading a childcare center.
And then, the robot raises its arm. The massive arm has a barrel, and it’s charging up. Also, it’s aiming at the children.
“Sister!” “Amaryllis!” “Welcome back!” “Hug me!” “I want petting.” “Sing something.” “Aching pain.” “I can’t sleep.” “I love you.” “Welcome home!” “Today, today.” “I did a lot today!”
—Everyone…! This big sister is, going right now…!
The voices of the children echo in my Mind Circuit, and I leap up to chage out.
I head straight towards the robot, and slam into it hard with my shoulder. However, my body’s bounced back by the thick armor, and I tumble back.
I shout. This is to divert the robot’s attention from the children.
“Your opponent is me…!! Come here…!!”
And the robot again turns towards me. It loads up energy in its arm, and the barrel’s targeting my face—the distance is so close, I can feel the white smoke oozing from the barrel spraying on my face.
The moment I yell, a blue light flashes by. Right when I think I’m dead, an explosion echoes behind. The lasesr misses.
A yell comes, and the robot’s leg is hugged by a red haired lady.
“The next shot is coming!! Only the right arm has a weapon! Watch for enemy movements! Anyway, stall for time!!”
Viscaria quickly gives instructions as she hugs the robot’s leg. The sound of her shoulder and hair being burned is ever so clear.
—Right, got to buy some time…!!
I stand up, and adjust myself. I look over, and see the children running to the generator while carrying the Cradles. Even if it’s just a minute, we need to delay the enemy here.
“Watch its movements! It’s slow and easy to predict!!”
Viscaria stumbles about as she gives instructions. Following her instruction, I capture the robot’s movements with my eyes. The robot’s trying to aim at Viscaria at its leg.
—I won’t let you!
I immediately grab the right arm of the robot, and then, the robot strikes at me without mercy..
The powerful energy tries through my body, and my left leg—
Is instantly reduced to dust.
At that moment,
This time, Viscaria climbs onto the face of the robot. The robot’s line of sight is blocked, and obviously somewhat erratic; it raises its left arm, smacking at her body.
In an instant, Viscaria’s body—or rather, the area around the waist is jammed in by the five fingers of the robot, her body’s stabbed through, and her Circuits are pulled out—
But even though her body’s ripped into half, she continues to exhibit the will to fight. She extends her feelers, latches onto the robot’s head tightly, and keeps tapping at something. Finally, the robot becomes irregular in motion, merely flailing its arm about as though its eyes are covered. Viscaria has disabled the external sensors; this really is a combat style befitting a master technician.
I too continue to fight my way. I latch at the robot’s arm firmly, trying my best not to be thrown off. I continue to keep my balance, just as I always do on the icemobile, and keep stalling for time.
But the resistance doesn’t last for long.
The robot swings its arm violently at us, shooting the laser everywhere, and my vision flickers like disco lights. Viscaria’s again ripped apart, the flying Circuits spilling like intestines. Finally, Viscaria’s sent flying away, knocking into a mound, and rolls onto the ground like a rag cloth.
Then, it’s my turn. The robot smashes me onto the ground as I keep latching at the right arm. With the arm and the floor clashing, my chest is being pressed upon, and it collapses along with an unnerving cracking sound. I spit out lots of grease, my vision’s completely gone, and quite a few parts have flown out. Then, I drop.
“Ah, uu…ahh, uu…”
My voice installation have malfunctioned, and the groans ooze out along with grease. My body’s heating, the sirens in my mind wailing, my chest is giving off sparks, and my body’s bouncing about, writhing.
The black demon’s closing in on me. I stab my dislocated left arm into the ground, and reach out my right arm, with half the fingers fallen off, trying to help myself off the ground. However, the circuits beneath the chest are all damaged, and my body can’t act accordingly.
The robot looms in on us. My final thoughts are whether the children managed to get away successfully, whether the Cradles are fine. If so, that’s fine; it’s great to be able to help everyone—
Mentally, I brace for my impending demise.
A scarlet red.
At first, it’s Götz. The robot senses him, and the moment it turns around, Götz’s ‘iron arm’ is giving off a red light. The full impact explodes on the robot’s right arm, and the massive right arm of the robot splatters. “Cavalry—” he lands the final blow, “Is the embodiment of thy soul.”
His iron arm’s giving off a red light, clashing with the right arm of the robot.
The impact rips through the air, and the explosion engulfs the world in a wave. After a pause, the light dissipates, and Götz’s right arm—no, the right half of the body—is turned to dust, and vanishes. Götz’s left only with the head and upper body, lying next to Viscaria, unable to move.
But even so, the robot stands there. Its right arm is smoking, and the gun is open and melted. Following that—
A blue light
“The one thing I hate most in this world—”
The blond guy stands at where Götz was. Right when the robot’s raising its right arm, Eisbahn stabs his right arm into the barrel of the robot—like a certificated kept back in a cylinder.
“Is a bastard who attacks women, you know?”
Then, he exhibits maximum power. The right arm storing the Phantom Blade gives off a blue light, and the robot’s right arm expands as though engulfed in flames; the joints in the brain, arm, and limbs are all giving off blue light.
At the final moments, the robot shrieks. The shrill cry echoes through the world of ice, and the iron man faces the sky. To me, it sounds like a cry.
And then, the robot explodes.
It’s like rain.
The shrapnel falls upon us, and the dust that flew buries the surrounds. I lie face up, my consciousness blurry as I watch the falling shrapnel. Several bits of what used to be a military robot smack my body, giving off a sad clunching sound.
After the rain of shrapnel, Eisbahn stands before me and looks down, “You alright…?” he asks.
My lips move, but I can’t eke out a voice. “I see.” I nods slightly. Then, he knees down, and falls towards my upper body.
I lift my left arm that’s dislocated and like rotting wood, touching him.
Hearing my call, he, lying on my body, moves slightly. His body is stabbed with shrapnel, and I realize it’s caused by him shielding me from the explosions.
Thus, both of us continue to lie around.
Then, he says,
I can’t move my body, and say to him as I look down. He too looks at me.
Then, he smiles,
I answer this exact same question as before in a groogy manner.
My voice is barely audible, and he says,
Then, the conversation ends.
Our bodies intertwine as we feel each other’s warmth.
This continues for who knows how long.
And I, feeling his weight, can only space out and look up at the sky.
In my blurry vision, I sense the end looming.
My lower body’s completely blown off, and my safety cables in my ripped abdomen are giving off sparks. Strangely though, I feel very calm. It’s probably because all my functions are damaged that my Mind Circuit is in a state of false death.
Before I know it, Götz is beside me. His right half is gone, and the remaining left half is completely disfigured.
I call out for him, with a teeny-weeny voice.
“What…is it, you ask…?”
He responds, but it sounds like a processed, robotic voice,
It’s a stupid question. But this is the one thing I really want to know.
We continue to converse without moving. This is the only thing we can do.
“What…do you ask…?”
“What about, the rest…?”
“Not sure…am I…here…”
I want to turn my eyes, but my vision’s fixed, and I can’t move. I can’t move my head, and my wireless is damaged.
Thus, I can only continue to converse with Götz.
I ask again. At this point, I just want to hear his voice.
“What, do you ask…?”
“Yes…still alive…am I…”
Within the few seconds, I continue to repeat the same question. Without doing so, I have a feeling that I’ll be pulled into the dark abyss of fear. Having lived for more than a hundred years, I finally realize, so robots do fear death.
“Still…alive…?” “Still…alive…am I…” “Still alive…?” “Still alive…am I…” Such a rhetorical conversation continues like a process. Götz’s left hand is hold my right hand, the warmth of his palm so inexplicably adorable, and leaves me elated.
There’s no answer.
I keep call for his name, and timidly open my eyes. His silver body, stained in black grease, is completely dented as he remains still.
I close my eyes, and with a quivering voice, I finally ask,
“Have you already passed on…?”
Aid comes soon after. I open my eyes, and see Daisy looking down at me with teary eyes. I smile at her, and the girl with the chestnut hair starts bawling away, the tears dripping onto my face. It’s all over.
After that, we’re saved by the children.
I open my eyes, and the sky looks more dazzling than ever I, basked under the scorching sun, is dyed a complete white in my vision. The world’s so bright after all; my heart heats up, and tears continue to fall.
Once we reach the generator, the power output is restored. The children have been working hard, attaching all the cables of the Cradles to the generator as according to the manual.
I got repaired to a state where I’m able to talk normally. The hole in my chest is filled with an alloy, but the severed left leg is unable to be recovered.
Eisbahn’s body is stabbed with shrapnel due to the impact of the explosion; his functions have ceased, but luckily, the Mind Circuits isn’t damaged. Once he regains consciousness, he looks at me listlessly. For the third time, he asks the same question, “You alright…?” “I’m fine.” With tears in my eyes, I embrace him.
Viscaria’s overly damaged, and thus, her Mind Circuit repairs shall be left alone for the time being. It’ll be dangerous if we can’t find a place with better facilities to repair her, and thus, her Mind Circuit’s kept in a box, kept for moments of it.
Götz is dead. His Mind Circuit is completely shattered, and everyone knows it can’t be repaired. The only thing we can find of him are the fragments of the silver mask, and we store them inside Viscaria’s box.
After approximately twenty hours, this long operation finally comes to an end.
Standing before the Cradles that are lined up neatly, I make my report again.
—Our masters have finally made it to the surface.
There’s a baby inside a Cradle; it’s the one Daisy and Gappy did their best to protect.
—Gappy, we did it…
The number of Cradles we managed to save is thirty four in total. There were three hundred and more at the start of this operation, so we lost approximately ninety percent. We succeeded, but the cost to attain this result is way too much.
“Sleeping soundly now…”
The baby in the Cradle is sleeping well. There’s an air conditioning installed in the central control room of the generator, and thus no worry that the Cradles will freeze.
“Gathered them…well, more or less.”
Saying that, Eisbahn pours out the batteries from his pockets. There are dozens of Cradles lined up in the room, and I can’t help but think of this as a bird’s nest due to the egg-shaped objets.
“Hey, why aren’t you sleeping, Amaryllis?”
Daisy asks curiously, “Well,” I pat the girl on the head, saying,
“We’ll be coming over to sleep soon. We need to make sure the Cradles are working fine first though.”
Daisy seems to understand as she looks inside the Cradle. The baby she saved is sleeping there.
“Gabriella White.” There’s the name etched on the nameplate. “It’s a girl.” Daisy narrows her eyes, muttering with emotion.
“What is it?”
“Why are the robots going into the Cradle to?”
At this point, Daisy’s lying inside another Cradle next to the baby. There are spare Cradles inside the generator, and this is one of them. All the other children are asleep.
“The Cradle’s very good at temperature control and isolating from the outside air. It’s very effective in preventing frostbite.”
“We’ll leave everyone to you.”
I look over at the case Daisy’s holding. It contains the Mind Circuit of the villagers.
“What about you, Amaryllis?”
“I’m fine. My remaining battery can provide warmth.”
“So now, it’s time to sleep well.”
Daisy closes her eyes quietly. She switches to sleep mode, and lets out a steady breathing.
“Good night, Daisy.”
I slowly close the lid of the Cradle.
There are two rows of Cradles lined side by side. One of them is for the human children, and the other is for robot children. Looking at this symbolic scene, I show a smile on my lips. All of them are sleeping with a peaceful face, and this reminds me of the nap room in the kindergarten I worked in.
“Daisy might be angry when she wakes up again.”
Eibshan looks down at the Cradle, “I never thought this will be goodbye.” He said,
It’s true that the Ice Age is coming to an end, and the temperature on the surface will rise. But other than here, we don’t know how many humans have survived, unable to tell when they will be saved. As for whether they can make it here before the electricity in the generator runs out, it’ll be down to luck.
Thus, we decide to cut off the remaining electricity provided. This includes the lighting inside the generator, the air conditioning, and we too—will give up on maintaining our functions. Maintaining a damaged body will expend more electricity than a normal one, and there’s a risk of power leakage. More than anything, I want the children and masters to have an increased chance of living, even if it’s just a little. This is my responsibility as Chief.
“Sleeping nicely there…”
Eisbahn marvels as he looks down at the Cradles. The children are sleeping peacefully within, but the babies are holding their little fingers, as though grabbing something precious.
“Shall we sleep?”
Eibshan pulls my hand. Back then, I would have shaken it off in annoyance, but not now.
I hold his hand, and answer,
“The winds…sure are strong, huh?”
I tersely answer, and tenderly stroke the girl’s hair.
The blizzard can be heard howling outside, but it isn’t entering the generator.
The Cradle beside my head is giving off a weak light, slowly waiting until the time to wake up.
At my elbow, the girl’s body is shaking. Her body temperature is dropping to its limits.
I embrace the girl with more strength than before.
“No, I’m fine…”
I won’t feel cold if I switch off the sense installation completely. However, I haven’t, as I still wish to feel the warmth of the girl.
“Who are you exactly?”
This sudden question is posed at me.
“…Huh? What do you mean?’
I ask suspiciously, and the girl stares right at me.
“You never mentioned about your past at all…”
“…You want to know?”
I never mentioned this to anyone before. However, if it’s just today—just to this girl alone, I might consider.
It’s a long time back since I talked about this.
“I was a butler robot.”
“Butler…as in, the person who serves in a mansion?”
I give a serious look, “…Pffft.” But the girl chuckles,
“It-it doesn’t suit you…not at all.”
“So I say…”
I press down on her head hard with my elbow, “Ow ow.” And the girl sounds out,
“That’s why I hate mentioning the past.”
“Sorry, sorry…so how was your time as a butler?”
The girl’s still smiling, “I don’t want to talk about it.” So I refuse. But with her going at it again and again, I finally relent. In the end, I’m never able to reject any of this girl’s requests.
“…I worked in that mansion for a long time. There’s a ‘lady’ there, and I was living with her, in charge of taking care of her.”
As a butler robot, I took care of that ‘lady’. She’s weak, and her father forbade her from stepping out from the mansion.
But one day, I took the lady out as I wanted to show her to outside world no matter what. It’s merely half a day, but this secret outing left her really delighted.
In the end, this matter was made known to the master of the mansion. As I had defied orders, I was fired.
“I was fated to be scrapped. Milady however wanted to elope with me, to a land far away, and live together…but I couldn’t. I said goodbye to her, and escaped the mansion. Soon after, she passed away.”
The girl remains silent. Before I know it, my usual cocky tone has vanished, and replacing it was the formal language I had during my butler days.”
“Actually, milady knew she would meet her end soon, and wanted me to bring her out. However, I never did so. I thought it was for her own good. Thus, I never fulfilled her final request in life…”
My hands start to tremble. The girl holds my hands, trying to calm me down.
And then, she suddenly says this,
“That lady…resembles me?”
I’m stunned. I wanted to keep this a secret until the very end.
—So this is it?
“Blue hair, pretty, elegant, noble, and firm-willed.”
“I’m embarrassed to be praised by you like this.”
“Idiot, I’m not talking about you.”
My tone reverts to the usual.
The blizzard becomes stronger, and the winds sound like a whistle. The temperature drops, and our bodies are freezing, frozen like ice. Despite this, we continue to embrace each other, wanting to freeze as one.
“Keep singing.” That song.”
“The song you like.”
The girl looks up at me for a moment, “Ahh, that.” And smiles.
And then, she sings,
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.
Once she finishes singing, I give a little whistle.
“Sure is a nice song no matter when I hear it.”
“Feel like sleeping the more I hear it.”
“Are you praising me?”
“Of course.” I answer. Whenever I heard this song, my chest will heat up.
And so, this conversation ends.
We continue to embrace each other, leaving our bodies to the passing of time.
While my battery is almost drained.
He gets up.
I call his name. I can’t use any strength. My battery’s past its limit, I guess?
He’s fiddling with something in his hand, saying slowly,
“I mentioned this question before, didn’t I—If there’s a situation where you can’t ‘halve’ it, what will you do?”
In the face of his sudden question, “Ahh, yeah.” I can only answer ambiguously.
— If there’s a situation where you can’t ‘halve’ it, what will you do?
This was the conversation I had with him before we left.
—Assume that you are in a river, nobody will save us in a while, and we’re running out of battery. If we just leave this be, both of us will die of frostbite. There’s only one battery left. What will you do?
“You did say that. So?”
Eisbahn continues with the work,
“This was how you answered—there’s only one battery, so I’ll give it all to you. Then we’ll have saved each other’s life once—and that’s halving.”
At that moment, a gripping feeling strikes my chest. I don’t know why, but it’s probably due to how kind his expression is.
“What is it?”
“What have you been doing?”
“I’ve been thinking.”
He doesn’t answer my question,
“You talked about the future of ‘halving’. However, I do feel that you can be a little greedier. You control your life, and nobody can half it. Everything belongs to you. It can’t be given to anyone else.”
I can see the battery he’s holding in his left hand. His chest is already open, and I see the motherboard and cables.
“This is my battery. It still has some power, so use it.”
Then, he gently inserts it into my chest.
“What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to save you. So I’m giving my battery to you.”
I want to refuse, but my body can’t do.”
“It’s useless. Even if you do so, I won’t be saved.”
He gives a self-depreciating smile.
“It’s useless. I’m just happy. If this can increase the chances of you being saved, I’ll be happy with that.”
He takes out the flower medal from his neck, and gently hangs it over mine.
“After escaping the mansion, I was wandering around, restless. I was wandering the city like a city, spending every single day like this…but when I arrived at the village, I met you, and I was reborn. You’re already so serious, so honest, so straightforward, so innocent, more hardworking than anyone else…I like these parts about you, and I feel blessed for that…thus.”
Finally, he gives a tender smile.
“If there’s only one life, I’ll give it all to you. I shall take away all your love. This shall be a one for one—halving.”
After that, he never moves.
His body becomes increasingly cold, and I keep embracing him.
Warm tears trickle down my cheeks, and finally frozen.