Chapter 9: To the Surface (1)
A night passes, and it’s the day of the operation.
“Everyone, line up in single files. Face forward.”
All three hundred villagers are gathered inside the REM forest. Twenty a row, fifteen rows altogether. Every one of them comprise of male and female, young and old. The children today are exceptionally obedient for once.
“Row A, report in!”
Götz orders, and the villagers call out in order “One!” “Two!” Three!”. It’s a military-like check, but the voices of the children gives it the vibe of an elementary school sports meet, and gives a few chuckles.
Starting from row A to row O, the attendance taking continues. There are three hundred people lined up and six who aren’t, a total of three hundred and six villagers. Everyone, except for the Chief, is present.
At this point, Chief’s death has yet to be revealed. The Senate decided to wait till everyone arrived at the surface and calm down to avoid agitating the villagers, before announcing the death and the funeral.
“Lady Amaryllis, thus ends the attendance.”
I thank Götz, and turn to his side.
“How’s things on your end, Viscaria?”
Viscaria leans out from the chair, and is checking all the parameters on the control panel of the Snow White. The screens show all angles of the Snow White, and the spindle continues to spin at its original pace.
“Cradle values normal. All vital values as normal. Eh, and…yes, yes, got it.”
Viscaira mutters to herself as she proceeds with the final checks. “Okay!” She rolls her sleeves,
“Amaryllis, I’m done here!”
—Everything’s going well.
I nudge my chest with my hands, affirming my determination. This operation affects the future of humanity and robots. We’re transporting more than three hundred masters to the surface. I can’t let my guard down until they wake up peacefully.
—Rest well, Chief. We’ll definitely finish this.
I recall the face of the deceased Chief, and bit my lips lightly.
—Rest well too, Gappy. I’ll definitely bring the Cradle you protected to the surface.
Ga, ppy, the nostalgic volce echoes in my mind again.
“Now then, everyone!”
I shout at the villagers who are all lined up.
“Starting from now, we’re beginning the operation to move the Cradles out!”
In the meantime, the atmosphere seems tense.
“The operation will occur like before. Each team as a unit is to move the Cradles to the surface based on the designated routes. Follow the instructions of your leaders, and move extra cautiously—now then.”
I loudly declare,
“Begin the operation!”
The outer walls of the Snow White slides open, resembling a massive, blooming flower, pretty and regal.
Cradles are being escorted out like newly hatched eggs inside the white storage units of the flower. The eggs are being transported out for about ten meters, and arrive at the other end—Götz’s back. There is a latch installed on his back to move the Cradles that synchronizes perfectly with the magnets of the Cradle. The cables extending from the Cradle are attached to Götz’s chest. Thus, the preparation work is complete.
“First array, launching!”
Götz carries the Cradle easily as he climbs up the ladder of the wall. Looking down from the top, it appears that long and narrow eggs are climbing up the wall.
With Götz leading, the second villager follows suit. Thus, the villagers carrying the Cradles climb up one after another. About two hundred meters or so up the ‘path canal’, the ladder is directed sideways towards the ‘work tunnel’.
I watch the villagers advance as I gently put my hand before my chest.
There’s another twenty hours. Anything beyond that, and both us and the Cradles will die.
The thing most worrying here will be an earthquake. Of course, once a tremor is detected, everyone will receive an emergency notification. Each team has a spare battery, but even so, due to the uncertainty of the earthquake scale, nobody knows what will happen. We’re completely lost if there are massive earthquakes that cause the work tunnels to collapse completely.
—Oh Earth, please. Just remain peaceful for now.
I pray to the earth god as I wait for time to subside. There’s nothing we can do, and I can’t help but feel uneasy.
“This is Götz. Arrived at the first checkpoint have I!”
The first checkpoint is the entrance into the work tunnel.
“Right, going well! Listen, there’s still lots of time, so please be careful!”
It has been fifteen minutes since the operation started, and more than thirty villagers have departed. Götz will take the lead, and Eisbahn follows at the end. Viscaria and I will not be participating, and will be giving instructions in the Snow White until the operation is over.
“How’s it going?”
I watch the screen next to Viscaria. There’s the underground world map with numerous lights moving up in a single line.
“Energy reactions are all normal. Going very well.”
“I see…thank goodness.”
The red lights continue to move forward in the underground well. The planned path has been imprinted into the Mind Circuits of the villagers, but there may be changes in cases of obstacles.
“Cradle A block, transport complete! Opening B block!”
“Understood! Keep going like this!”
I give the instruction, and with a rumbling sound, the second petal of the Snow White—the B block is exposed. The Cradles leaving the units are transported out, carried on the back of the villagers.
—Right, things are going well.
The Cradles are moved out in an orderly manner, and once we reach the surface, it will be a succeed—I can’t help but make an optimistic guess.
Right when the seventy-third Cradle is being carried.
A siren rings.
“High energy hitting us!”
The hopeless of her voice strikes me along with an electric pulse running through me.
—An earthquake at such a moment!
“Everyone, stop!” I contact everyone through the wireless. “Initiate Manual C-1! Lie prone on the ground and stay defensive—”
Before I can finish, the siren becomes reality.
A massive tremor strikes us.
I lose control of my body, my knees land on the ground before I lose balance, and I fall forward.
I want to give evacuation instructions to everyone, but the strong quake wouldn’t allow me to. Like a massive wave rocking a boat, I tumble all around, and the ceiling collapses upon me like rain.
And then, I see this. In a corner of my shaking vision, I see Viscaria and the technicians facing her. Beyond that, the massive white building, the Snow White tilts greatly, the landscape of the RM forest cracks open, and forms a massive black mouth—
—Ah, ahh, you got to be kidding. Ahh, ah, ahhhhhh…!
With a ripping sound, the ground cracks up like heinous fangs. The Snow White loses its balance and begins to topple over, and the cracks continue to spread as quickly. The massive Snow White trembles along with a few villagers, and topples over abruptly with a deafening metallic sound.
Even so, the earthquake shows no signs of abating. The earth is roaring, the air quivering, and the world sways with malice. I grab the ground that has collapsed, trying to remain where I am as I sway like a clock bell. The Cradles being moved out pinball each other, rolling into the crack, and buried by the collapsing rubble. Everyone’s tumbled over by the immense quakes, unable to reach out to the Cradles fallen by their sides.
The earthquake is quelled after a few minutes, and once it does, blue light gushes out from the cracks like a waterfall, followed by massive explosions booming in the underground world. The pillars of flames rise up the path canal, and the swirling crimson flames filled the entire room with black smoke like the devil.
Those were the final moments of the Snow White.
After three minutes of downtime, my Mind Circuit is rebooted.
I exert strength into my fingers, trying my best to climb up. The REM forest remains filled with black smoke, but white steam spray upon it, apparently trying to flush it away. It appears the emergency fire system has been activated, and the extinguishers are sprayed.
I push aside the rubble pressing on me, and stand up. Due to the cracks on the floor, the ground is tilted greatly and the walls and roofs are twisted. The massive cracks that devoured the Snow bare their wounds before me, about to cleave the house in half.
I realize something, get up on my knees, and shove the rubble aside. I can see the familiar ‘feeler’ there.
I shove aside a large metal slice, and shake my friend on the shoulder. “uuu…” she finally reacts.
“Viscaria, you alright…!?”
“…I’m fine, I guess…”
Her eyes are giving off light, and she weakly get up.
Once she regains her functions, Viscaria stands up by putting her feeler on my shoulder. Her white face has signs of scratches on her face. It seems that she only has some minor wounds.
“How’s the situation…?”
Viscaria presses her neck and turns her neck around as she asks calmly. Seeing how poised she remains even after all this, I too calm down a bit.
“The Snow White—”
I look back at the crack, and smoke continue to rise from this crevice-like hole, depicting the intensity of the fire beneath.
Viscaria’s eyes look exceptionally grim as she taps at the portable terminal at her waist. Numerous red lights are flickering on it like a starry sky.
I look over at the screen with apprehension.
“It’s useless.” Viscaria stats bluntly, “There’s no energy reaction from the Snow White.”
“That’s…a complete wipeout?”
I ask, and Viscaria nods without a word.
—The Snow White, got wiped out…
There’s less than a hundred Cradles that were moved out. In other words, there are two hundred or so Cradles buried alive in the Snow White under the cracks.
The shock and faltering pricks at my heart. A colossal damage leaves me dejected.
At this moment, I recall Chief’s words.
—Amaryllis, you are the one with the highest standing in the village, and thus forth, you shall inherit my title as Chief.
These words nudge me forth like an invisible hand.
—I shall leave the village to you
I take a deep breath, and switch on the wireless.
“Notifying all villagers!!” I cheer myself up, and yell, “Everyone, report your situations…! I repeat! Everyone, report your situations…!”
Midway through, I can hear anguished voices through the wireless.
”Za…this is…Ban. Can’t move…at…all!”
”Massive damage…zazaa…we got wounded…!! Zaaa…need immediate…assistance…!!”
“Tunnel has collapsed…! Path is…obstructed…aahhh!!!”
There are collapses everywhere due to the earthquake, and many villagers are buried alive. I clench my fists, and instruct loud and clear.
“This is Amaryllis! Initiating Emergency Manual D-3! Anyone able to move is to assist the wounded! Everyone else is to secure the Cradles!”
“Tunnel is obstructed! What do we do…!”
“Prioritize rendezvous with our friends immediately! There’s a shortcut at the cutback there!”
“C-Cradle is damaged! I-I don’t have a battery!!”
“Don’t panic! Contact with the other Cradles, share batteries…! Follow Viscaria’s instructions after that!”
“I’m stuck in the ridge! Can’t move…!”
“Stay where you are! Wait for help right now!”
The signals pleading for help swarm the wireless like a burst dam, and I instruct them one after another. The priority mission at this point is to regroup.
Gather intel, affirm the situation, give immediate commands. Through the intel reflected by the villagers and the energy responses I got from Viscaria, I have a rough understanding of the situation. Given some estimates, there are more than a hundred and fifty dead or missing, and at least two hundred Cradles are destroyed. The scale of damage is mind-numbing, but this isn’t the time to be sighing.
“Remember to conserve battery power! Switch to power saving mode and cut off all functions that has nothing to do with maintaining the vitals! Nothing too complicated, just recall the contents of the manual!”
I continue to give instructions one after another, trying my best to avoid causing panic. Soon, the survivors gather by my side in trios, fives.
I try my best to sound as optimistic as possible so as to encourage those present.
“It’s fine! We still have lots of battery power. Everyone, let’s calm down before taking action!”
My heart was rattled moments ago, and now it’s starting to calm down as I keep giving instructions. In any case, I’ll do what I can do, and once we get to the surface, we’ll sort everything out.
“I’m reassigning work to everyone! All survivors of the technical team are to go over to Viscaria! Put down the Cradles for the time being and begin emergency checks. At the same time, treat the injured! All the children are to come over too! Everyone else, go help our buried friends! Follow me!”
—That’s right, Amaryllis. Do your duty as the new Chief. This is your mission.
Again, I make up my mind, and a few minutes after I call out, more than thirty villagers gather around me. These people become the paramedics, and head out to save the buried injured and Cradles nearby. Sounds of breaking walls can be heard as I look around, and I can see some limbs.
—Everyone, please stay safe…!
So I pray as I pull out the buried villagers from the rubble. The sturdy structure of the REM forest building fulfils its functions, as survivors are found one after another. Once they’re dug up, spare batteries get attached to them. Once they are rebooted, they’re dragged to the repair team led by VIscaria.
After twenty are saved,
“You hear me, Amaryllis…!?”
There’s a signal from the wireless. No doubt that this voice is his.
“Yeah it’s m…e!”
“Great, you’re alright….! Are you hurt!”
“Enough with that and hurry to my side! Get everyone else here! Bring as many batteries as you can!”
“What’s going on!?”
He sounds as serious as ever, and I start to feel increasingly tense.
I can only hear him shout,
“The Cradles are doomed…!! Lots of them!!”
I receive the report, and hurry to the scene,
“Amaryllis, over here!”
A tall blond is waving at me in a place my wireless can detect. His face is completely covered in soot, but there’s no visible wounds.
I hurry after him as he sprint. Within the belly of the REM forest, the rubble piled on cause the ground to be heavily uneven and greatly tilted.
“This is…!” Once I arrive, I can’t help but open my eyes. “A Storage Unit…?”
The silver white object poking out like a large nail is the Storage Unit of the Snow White. At this point, it’s snapped in an L shape down the middle, akin to someone wincing in pain and cupping the belly.
“It’s okay right now! But if don’t hurry up and save it, it’s gonna sink!”
I have a closer look, and see the Storage Unit is able to be swallowed by the crack, sinking down. The soft ground seem incapable of withstanding the massive weight.
I immediately give an instruction.
“Storage Unit in C block is about to sink immediately! Anyone able to move, please gather immediately! Everyone, help ouit!”
The villagers frantically pull up the Storage Unit that’s sinking little by little. But even with the arm strength of the robots, it’s not easy to lift something with the weight of a hundred tonnes. The base is also collapsing, making it difficult to establish footing.
—Not good. We can’t pull it up!
I immediately make a decision.
“Stop pulling! There’s no way to avoid it sinking! Anyway, put out the Cradles inside! Recall Manual E-6, everyone! Steady!”
Righto! There’s this response, and the thirty people or so move towards their designated spots. Everyone gather in pairs, and spread out in equal distance between them.
Eisbahn and I stand at the front, and we start moving out the Cradles. I manually unlock the Unit, and two of us carry a single Cradle out, handing it off carefully to the duo behind us, who then hand off to the duo behind them. In other words, we’re following the concept of a bucket relay.
The silver lining here is that the Cradles in the storage unit isn’t really damage. However, the storage unit continues to sink, as though prompting us to hurry.
—Got to move faster!
I unlock them with brute force, and hastily drag out the Cradles from the unit. The number moved out increase to ten, twenty, but there’s no sign of it not sinking anymore. One-third of the Storage Unit is already buried into the crack, and it’s sinking faster than ever.
—If this keeps up, we won’t make it!
After moving more than twenty five of them, we’ve reached our limit. The crack spreads like a wound, and the Storage Unit tilts greatly. Eisbahn and I hope off before it gets crushed underground.
The storage unit sinks in, seemingly devoured by the crack. This harkens memories of the last moments of the Snow White, and I can’t help but hold my breath. The other villagers shriek in agony as the sounds echo in the room.
At that moment,
“Everyone get down!”
Suddenly, a blue light flashes from the side, and cleaves the sinking Storage Unit in two. The part above the bend pops out and gets stuck before us, while the remaining lower half sinks into the crack, vanishing completely.
Eisbahn sheathes his Phantom Blade, saying with a grim look.
“I’m not kind enough to let it take it all.”
“C-36, C-39, C-41…C-49 is the last one.”
Thirty eight Cradles have been salvaged from the Storage Unit. These Cradles are moved to the ‘REM forest’ and inspected. Even though they might seem okay on the outside, there are quite a few masters who died due to system malfunction on the inside.
As the Cradles are being checked, I’m reunited with the children led by Daisy. They all run towards me, sobbing, and I hug them tightly.
—What do we do now…?
We have a cave-in, and are stuck deep underground. Typically, this is a dire situation, but as robots, we can easily push aside the rocks blocking us, and we can crush them. Götz and Eisbahn have much destructive power, and it’s not difficult to eliminate all obstacles as we escape to the surface.
But this isn’t the problem.
The Cradles require a lot of electricity to be maintained, and the internal batteries can only last for less than twenty hours. In other words, if we can’t reach the surface within twenty hours, the Cradle will lose electric power, and the humans inside will freeze to death. Of course, the villagers sharing electricity with the Cradles will collapse.
Also, we can no longer return to the village. The cave-in caused by the earthquake blocks off the return path to the villager, and has it mostly buried. If we had voted the preposition to ‘let humans live’ or ‘wipe out humanity’ during that meeting, it would have undoubtedly resulted in a tragedy of a higher scale.
And the issue most tricky to deal with is the villagers who are buried alive. Given the remaining batteries, there’s a high likelihood of us barely managing to return to the surface, or even running out of power. It’s almost impossible to do this and save the villagers who have fallen to the bottom along with the Snow White. If we do, there’s no doubt there’ll be a second disaster—the rescuers will run out of batteries and lose mobility. When that happens, the villagers and Cradles will both be wiped out.
I’m forced to make a painful decision—truth be told, the worst decision. We’ll have to abandon all our friends and most of the villagers who are buried alive, all for the sake of returning to the surface.
I lower my head bitterly. At this moment, a pair of hands land on my shoulders.
I look up, and see Eisbahn standing there.
”Chief.”, he gives a signal that’s not easily detected. “Please give the instructions.”
—Right, I am.
Looking closely, the warning lights of the Cradles spread throughout the room like red fireflies. The time left is ’21:47:56’.
There’s still battery power. But we can’t return to the village. We can’t save those who are buried.
—Then there’s only one way left.
“Everyone look here!”
I call out for attention. The villagers all look at me.
I exert strength into my words, as though trying to wipe away the anxiety.
“I’m giving the next instruction…!”