It was moloch81. The new one, the one whose gleaming frame was as yet untarnished by years spent working in the Shafts.
Once the aftershocks of the great disaster receded, moloch17 and I were assigned to work together as one of several teams sent out to search for missing molochs. Once found it was not our primary job to free them, unless they were alive and it was in our power to free them quickly and easily. Molochs are very strong; but some were trapped by or crushed beneath many tons of debris. In these cases we would radio the location of the moloch to the emergency dispatch center that had been set up in Shaft Four. Then we would note it on our map, mark the site with a phosphorescent X for the rescue team, and then we would move on.
As you may have gathered from previous entries, moloch17 and I do not get along well.
But here, now, we could not even bring ourselves to hate each other. The terror of the disaster, the days of being surrounded by death and suffering and uncertainty, had drained us and left us numb. We spoke only when we had to, our voices flat. Often we became lost in the middle of some task and stood confused, not sure what it was we'd been doing or why.
We came upon moloch81 in tunnel Ninety-Seven A, between Shafts Eleven and Thirty-Two. From the position of his sprawled body on the floor it appeared as if he had been running when one of the overhead support beams gave way. He lay on his side, his lower half buried in rubble. Both hands were clenched into fists and were drawn up to his chest. In them he clutched a smudged and torn piece of cloth. moloch17's red cape.
We stared down at him for a long time. I looked at moloch17. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, in disbelief or refusal.
Finally he tore his gaze away from the broken moloch on the floor and looked at me. "Why?" he said helplessly.
"I don't know," I said. We both looked back at the body. After a moment I stepped forward and knelt. I carefully removed the ruined cape from moloch81's grasp. I straightened, and silently held it out to moloch17.
I have said before that molochs do not have facial expressions. We are difficult to read. So I cannot say what moloch17 thought or felt as he stared at the object in my hand as if it were an utterly alien thing, or perhaps his own severed limb I was offering. The glow from his eyes intensified in the darkness. Then he reached out and took the cape from me. He stepped forward and knelt as I had, and spread the cape over moloch81's body.
moloch17 stood. He unhooked the radio unit fom his belt and pressed the key on the side. "Search Unit Seven reporting. moloch81 located in tunnel Ninety-Seven A, between Shafts Eleven and Thirty-Two." He paused, then pressed the key again. "Status is inactive."
The radio spat static. "Acknowledged, Seven. A crew will be notified." moloch17 returned the radio to his belt as I marked the rubble that covered moloch81's lower half with a shining X.
"We had better keep going," I said finally. "There are others who are trapped."
moloch17 nodded, and the two of us continued on our way.