24. Quicksand

The sudden situation on Tianyu Star caught everyone off guard. The mutation occurred in an instant, and no one had anticipated that the anomaly would deteriorate to such an extent.

The Management Bureau was in the middle of an emergency meeting. The completely collapsed detection systems were unable to provide any information about the interior of Tianyu Star. The mecha pilots lost contact, communication systems malfunctioned, and all staff were working urgently to repair the situation.

Upon seeing this, the head immediately said, "Try responding with the competition-level mecha."

"The positioning system is still operational for now! The competition-level mecha systems are functioning normally during the competition. We can detect the latest entry of competition-level mecha using the competition-level mecha positioning system."

"There are three teams from mecha bases entering Tianyu Star. We've detected the positions of 10 competition-level mechas, all in motion. The mecha pilots seem fine, and there have been no reports of damaged mechas."

Competition-level mechas have special positioning systems due to the requirements of the mecha league. These systems use the mechas' own energy and are closely linked to the response in the competition zone's contaminated area. It's fortunate that Tianyu Star is itself a competition-level contaminated zone, allowing them to locate the systems used during competition among all the collapsed systems.

During the league, these systems are usually used for rescuing and evacuating eliminated mechas. Having the positioning information enables accurate location of mechas, facilitating quick support or rescue.

"Since the competition systems are functioning, let's find a way to restore emergency communication and contact the others," the head said with relief, as the situation wasn't entirely out of control. "If that's not possible, we can also notify other mecha bases for assistance."

The staff urgently worked on correcting the system. However, during their attempts, another staff member rushed in. "Director, we have a problem. The jump system is affected and unable to perform jumps..."

The expression on the head's face changed slightly.

The jump system is the most fundamental system for the Management Bureau and the contaminated zones. To prevent the contamination from affecting other areas, the outer perimeters of each contaminated zone are equipped with the Star Alliance's highest protection shield, and entry and exit must be done through specially established jump teleportation systems.

"Can't we deactivate the protection shield of the contaminated zone?"

"It's not possible to cancel it. In the event of a complete system collapse in the contaminated zone, shields of Level 4 and above can only be forcibly removed by military mechas. Besides the jump system, there's no other way for us to enter."

The staff looked at the head, "What should we do now?"

What to do? Unable to jump, and there's no way for other mecha bases to help.

Moreover, the pollution level in the contaminated zone hasn't reached the threshold for the highest mutation, so they can't initiate the highest alert to request military mechas to intervene. At this point, they can only work on repairing the systems externally, and the rest relies on the mecha pilots inside the contaminated zone.

"Prepare the contingency plan. Once we receive reports of mecha damage, immediately inform the Star Alliance and request military mechas to intervene," the head said, looking at the screen with urgency. "Which mecha pilots are inside now?"

"We have 10 mecha pilots who were temporarily recruited earlier, plus 14 mecha pilots from the Windstorm, YDS, and KID bases who arrived later. There are currently 24 mecha pilots inside the Tianyu Star contaminated zone," a staff member said. "Ten competition-level mechas have responded, while four competition-level mechas have not. The other mecha pilots inside are operating A-level mechas, totaling 10 A-level mechas."

Both Windstorm and YDS mecha pilots are present. If even they can't solve the problem, they'll have to request assistance from the military.

28 mecha pilots... Can they resolve the contamination source mutation on Tianyu Star this time?

At the same time, outside KID Base.

"Are you sure that KID Base is in the basement of this building?"

Mr. Zhou from Jianheng Corporation was observing the doorbell of KID Building for the seventh time. The deserted entrance of the building was quite desolate, with news about KID Building being available for rent continually cycling. Mr. Zhou even jotted down the contact information of Shen Xingtang, behind the news.

Manager Liu said, "It should be correct. KID is facing a financial crisis and recently sold the mecha arena. Now they're renting out the building... well, the whole base has moved into the basement of the building."

Mr. Zhou came here for parts-related matters. Unable to contact KID's owner, Shen Xingtang, he came here and faced a closed door. He pointed to the contact number displayed next to the rental news, "Has this contact number not gone through?"

Manager Liu awkwardly replied, "No."

Mr. Zhou fell into silence. "Try sending a message, saying that we're interested in renting the building. See if we can get in touch."

At this moment, someone rushed over, holding a tablet.

"Mr. Zhou, there's news on the StarNet. There seems to be a problem in the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone. Everyone from KID seems to have gone on a mission."

StarNet, the Star Alliance's platform, had almost daily announcements from the Contaminated Zone Management Bureau. Netizens on StarNet had become accustomed to these updates. However, when they saw news about abnormalities in the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone and a joint emergency containment message from the Dawn Galaxy mecha League, some netizens immediately flocked to the official account of the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone.

This wasn't news about a regular Contaminated Zone mutation. It was a competition-level Contaminated Zone, and also a high-risk Contaminated Zone, filled with AS-level pollution sources.

Furthermore, there was now an urgent containment message jointly released by the temporary administration of Tianyu Star and the mecha League.

Big news! The last time an emergency containment report was issued for a high-risk Contaminated Zone was five years ago.

And it's the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone this time. Which bases are sending teams on this mission!?

I checked the official messages, it seems to be Windstorm and YDS... and wait, KID is also involved!

Windstorm is the first mecha base of the Dawn Galaxy, with a large number of active mecha pilots. It represents the strongest force in the Dawn Galaxy. YDS, on the other hand, is the base of the third-place team from the previous Dawn Galaxy group mecha league. These two mecha bases are located near Tianyu Star. It's normal for the Management Bureau to assign the task to them promptly. However, they didn't expect KID to be involved as well. KID, the underdog rumored to be on the brink of falling out of the top 16.

How did KID manage to get involved!?

KID has indeed been in the limelight recently. Just a few days ago, many StarNet users were discussing their online shop selling limited parts. Some were even waiting for new items to be listed. And now, KID Base turned around and went to the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone.

I knew KID Base was struggling financially, but I didn't expect them to be so broke that they're running missions while also running an online shop.

Persistence in the face of adversity.

Damn, they're making me feel sorry for them.

This was originally the off-season, and the popularity of the mecha League on StarNet was mostly focused on the individual mecha battles during the competition period. However, the containment notice for the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone had sparked widespread attention. As time passed, astute citizens of the Star Alliance began to realize that something was amiss and started to focus on other details.

Soon, they discovered that the containment of the Tianyu Star Contaminated Zone wasn't so straightforward.

Only three bases are sending teams on the mission, even though they're elite teams from within the Dawn Galaxy. Despite being from the top-ranked first and third bases, the combined team has only 10 mecha pilots. Adding KID's 4 mecha pilots, that makes a total of 14. 

The numbers just don't add up.

The first containment in five years, the situation doesn't seem so simple.

Huh? Can't the bosses of the first and third mecha bases solve it by going in?

Fun fact: The last time there was an emergency containment in a contamination zone was in another star domain, and more than fifty active mecha pilots from that alliance were sent. Don't be fooled by the short notice. Situations like this high-risk contamination zone containment where communication with the mecha pilots is lost have never occurred before.

Under the real-time official account of the Tianyu Star contamination zone, a large group of virtual avatars of netizens has gathered. Some even entered the competition area's live broadcast room. As expected, the camera systems that usually livestream the conditions inside the contamination zone are all blacked out. The number of people is increasing, and the news is spreading wider.

Inside the Tianyu Star contamination zone, the vision of everyone has been covered by yellow sand.

When Ying Chenlin regained his ability to see again, most of the mechas were already covered by yellow sand. The communication system was making a buzzing sound, and communication with teammates was not cut off.

Amidst the raging winds just now, he exerted effort to grab the exposed remains of the machine in the yellow sand to prevent the mecha from being blown further away.

At this moment, the debris he grabbed suddenly snapped, and the force supporting the mecha instantly disappeared.

Ying Chenlin was about to grab onto something else, but the next second, from the side of the debris, You Su suddenly grabbed his hand. "Don't move."

With one hand holding the exposed debris and the other pulling Ying Chenlin, You Su's situation was the best among everyone, but he was also trapped in the quicksand, unable to move for the time being. He looked down at the seemingly calm sand next to him, and the pollution value had already surged to 6200.

Amidst the crackling communication sound, the voices of the others were struggling to respond.

Lin Yao: "I'm fine. I just grabbed Da Feng."

"In... Oh my, what is this thing!" Ji Qingfeng's entire mecha was in the yellow sand, and the powerful suction was pulling him rapidly downward.

Ying Chenlin suddenly said, "You'd better not move."

Seeing the sandstorm subside, Ji Qingfeng was about to use the thrusters, but he stopped upon hearing Ying Chenlin's words. "What do you mean?"

The raging wind subsided, and the field of vision ahead gradually cleared.

Ying Chenlin saw Ji Qingfeng's and Lin Yao's mechas not far away. Both mechas were completely trapped in the sand, with no place to leverage, and were sinking downward at a visibly fast rate. "Quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink."

Upon hearing this, Ji Qingfeng quickly hugged the waist of Lin Yao's mecha in front of him. "Oh my."

Lin Yao was somewhat out of breath from being squeezed, and after this action, he sank even further. "Don't move!"

Ying Chenlin, with the help of You Su's hand, managed to resist the sinking to some extent. He coldly said, "Turn off the external energy of the mechas."

After stopping their movements, the sinking speed of the four mechas trapped in the sand temporarily slowed down.

Ying Chenlin tried to relax his body, sharing a connection with the mecha as the mecha pilot. As he relaxed, the control over the mecha gradually eased. The pressure from the lower part of the mecha was reduced, but the pressure from all around the mecha was still immense. He could manage to climb up using the debris, but Ji Qingfeng and Lin Yao couldn't do the same.

You Su said, "The pollution value is approaching 7,000."

An approaching pollution value of nearly 7,000, this eerie phenomenon is undoubtedly the mutation of the pollution source.

Ying Chenlin looked at the various data reports inside the mecha. When he saw the coordinate information, he suddenly paused. The map landmark of Base Station C was right in front of them. "It seems like we've been blown to Base Station C."

Lin Yao: "Huh?"

Ji Qingfeng: "We got here with the wind?"

Ying Chenlin looked into the distance, where most of the area was covered in yellow sand, with only a few sandstone formations and abandoned buildings protruding from the sand, as if this place had been buried by sand long before.

The location where the vanguard team's mecha pilots lost contact, Base Station C of Dawn Galaxy.

An eerie silence spread among the group. The Bureau had never provided them with such information before. The task data they received only included the original conditions of Dawn Galaxy. Of course, this information didn't account for Base Station C being covered by yellow sand or the perilous shifting sands all around.

Ji Qingfeng remained silent for a while, then suddenly said, "We're really lucky. It's like an early burial."

Lin Yao: "Does this 'early burial' include you dragging me down? You just pulled me downward!"

The two of them didn't share a sense of unity.

Ji Qingfeng asked, "Can't we just use our thrusters to get out?"

Ying Chenlin: "The range covered by the sand is large, and its density is high. The force you apply to it with your thrusters will gradually increase as you use them, adding to the pressure exponentially."

Ji Qingfeng didn't quite understand. "And then?"

"Your thruster's energy will be depleted. Congratulations, you'll be exhausted here and buried alive." You Su explained with a hint of sarcasm. He simplified it, saying, "But with your mechas, you should be able to struggle a bit before being buried."

Lin Yao: "..."

Ji Qingfeng: "..."

This explanation didn't sound very comforting.

Ji Qingfeng looked at the nearest mecha. Most of You Su's mecha had already left the quicksand, with only its feet still buried.

Ji Qingfeng tentatively asked, "You Su, you're not the kind to stand by and watch others die, are you?"

You Su said, "If you want to find solace in being buried, I can certainly grant your wish."

Ji Qingfeng gave up struggling. "So, should we wait for rescue then?"

Ying Chenlin looked up at the heights, where a hazy expanse of strong wind mixed with sand, making even flight stability difficult to maintain. "Such a significant pollution source anomaly would definitely have been detected by the Bureau. However, it's been half an hour since the incident occurred, and the Bureau has taken no action, and communication systems have failed."

He continued, "It's highly probable that the entire defense and control system of Tianyu Star has collapsed. No one will come to rescue us."

Tianyu Star is a Level 4 high-risk contamination zone. As a former competition zone, its internal environment should have been within the Alliance's controllable range. Now, that 'control' has completely disappeared, leaving behind the unrecorded yellow sand and what seems like the obliteration of Base Station C.

They could abandon their bulky mechas and leave, but the high contamination within the area would likely kill them faster outside the mechas.

It could be described as a hellish start. You Su held Ying Chenlin, while Lin Yao and Ji Qingfeng embraced each other in the midst of the quicksand.

Lin Yao: "So, did Old Huo and Xi Mei also meet their end here?"

Ji Qingfeng: "Well, now we truly are getting buried ahead of time."

Ying Chenlin eased the force on his body, trying to maintain balance by leveraging the pressure of the fluid. He glimpsed three mechas farther away and calculated the distance. "Ji Qingfeng, does your right-hand weapon have a binding lock?"

"Wait, lifting my hand is a bit difficult." Ji Qingfeng replied. "Yao Bao, hold on for a moment."

With the mecha from behind pressing down on Lin Yao, he sank a little further.

Ji Qingfeng finally managed to pull his mecha's right hand out of the sand with great effort. "But the range of the binding lock isn't enough. This weapon can only be used to restrain others..."

Ying Chenlin interjected, "Restrain my mecha's hand."

Ji Qingfeng paused for a moment, then extended the binding lock from his hand. Its range was just enough to reach Ying Chenlin's mecha, and Ying Chenlin grabbed onto the binding lock directly.

Without energy propulsion, the binding lock was pulled taut instantly.

A crackling sound resonated, echoing through Ji Qingfeng's mind.

"!?!" Ji Qingfeng's forehead twitched as he suddenly realized something. "Wait a second, my wife can't be straight!!"

Lin Yao: "What do you mean by 'straight' for your wife?!"

The binding lock is a paired weapon for Ji Qingfeng's competition-grade mecha, with an A-Grade pollutant [Water Serpent] as its core energy source. It possesses a potent binding effect that can immobilize enemies on the battlefield while also paralyzing them. However, weapons of this type require agility and often lack the durability of other weapons.

This type of weapon is most effective when binding enemies that are overlapping each other.

Using it solely as a straight rope... it might be fine under normal circumstances, but in this highly pressurized quicksand, it might not withstand the weight of two mechas.

Ji Qingfeng stared at the taut binding lock with a heart pounding. "It's not holding up under the force; if it breaks, we're in big trouble."

He said with a hint of regret, "And I just bought repair materials for it two weeks ago, cost me 500,000."

Lin Yao empathized, "500,000, yeah, it definitely can't break."

"You adjust your balance using the force points from the extended weapon, and move slowly." Ying Chenlin relaxed his body, and with the help of debris, his mecha had emerged halfway. He let go of You Su's hand and grabbed onto usable leverage nearby. "If it breaks, I'll get it fixed for you, won't cost 500,000."

Ji Qingfeng felt touched, but thinking of something else, he expressed a bit of concern, "Lin Di, this mission is pretty dangerous. If we encounter problems later, remember to hide behind me and Yao Bao."

Lin Yao nodded, "If you have any issues, the boss will definitely hold us accountable once we're out."

Ji Qingfeng glanced at You Su, "If things get really bad, stand behind You Ge—"

Ying Chenlin interrupted, looking at the two of them still in the sand, "First, get out of the sand before talking."

In this environment, applying greater force would only complicate matters.

Ying Chenlin and You Su could help rescue people, but most of Ji Qingfeng and Lin Yao's mechas were already trapped within. Pulling them out with propulsion alone was ineffective; the pressure from the expansive quicksand would only make the situation worse. The best approach was for them to find a sense of balance first, reducing the area covered by the sand on the mechas before rescuing them.

However... Ying Chenlin looked down slightly. If this was due to pollution, theoretically, releasing his mental power should alleviate some of the pressure. Yet, the pressure he currently felt was still significant.

You Su shifted outward, one foot emerging from the quicksand, but he noticed Ying Chenlin was still in the same position.

He gazed at the right arm of Ying Chenlin's mecha. "Move a bit closer, give me the lock."

Suddenly, Ying Chenlin said, "I can't move."

You Su paused, looking at the others.

Lin Yao, who had managed to shift a short distance, was held back by Ji Qingfeng. "Da Feng, don't pull me down."

"I'm not pulling." Ji Qingfeng looked down with some uncertainty, his voice trembling a bit. "There's something pulling at my foot in the quicksand."


Sorry for the missed date, sh*t got more complicated than expected. Better late than never right? Enjoy this chapter and it's cliff-hanger. You're really going to like this arc. I promise!