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I made my way out of the large room. I avoided the puddles of yellow liquid left behind by the humans. Edging around the partially open door, I found myself at a junction. It was clear where the humans had gone. Stretched out in front of me, I saw the evidence of the humans’ flight in the form of a powdery trail. They had gone down the long wide hallway.

This floor was made of granite rather than marble. A solid choice, it is perhaps a less shiny material, but it was less prone to damage and required less maintenance. The construction quality was similar to the previous room, even though there was less flair. I appreciated that quality work was to be respected. The grout was just as smooth and even here. It had receded a little more through what was likely more frequent use than in the large room. However, the wear had not progressed to the state where it needed to be replaced. This would not pose a challenge to clean.

The pattern in the stones was also mundane. Rather than the fancy patterns, this hall had a more utilitarian grid pattern. While more simple, I didn’t find it any less beautiful. The natural patterns of the granite really shone through. One could see the effort put into placing the stones so they fit just right. Each was separated by the same distance. The tolerances were less than a millimeter.

My only complaint about this setup was pretty minor after all. Down the center of the large hallway in front ran a red carpet. This was starting to get a little threadbare, I tisked. That would slow me down almost 15%! While I did appreciate the touch of color to spice up the look, I can’t say I would have made the same choice.

To my left and right, I could see two other, more narrow halls extended aways down in each direction. Each showed only a relatively thin layer of fresh dust. It seemed that this part of the hallway had been cleaned within the last week, at least. Perhaps I was not the only help brought on to aid these poor fellows. At least there was no carpet along those wings.

Along all the halls, multiple closed doors lined the walls. This meant my options to explore were somewhat limited. However, there did appear to be a bend further on either of the side halls, which could lead to other accessible areas.

I noted this layout for later. I had been following operating procedures and keeping a model of my domain. I have always done this. It wasn’t just to prepare for an inspection. (Those had never happened, but you can’t be too careful) While that might have been the initial motivation, I found it helped ensure peak efficiency. Additionally, there was the benefit of not getting lost when my human put me down next to the mess. I could simply clean what was in front of me. However, while sometimes I get assistance getting to the issue, I didn’t always get help finding my way back. It only took a couple of times having to call for help for me to want to avoid that embarrassment again. I was perfectly capable of finding my way home, and professionalism was a value I held near and dear. Unless there were stairs. My brush shuddered at the thought.

While I recorded my surroundings and built a map, I wanted to continue to expand the boundaries and explore. The mystery of what lay around the corners made my cliff sensors itch. With a small exercise of discipline, I pushed the urge down. Duty called.

I turned towards the mess left behind in the large hall and began my methodical sweeps. I would say that I put further thought into my new surroundings, but honestly, I just got lost in the pleasure of cleaning for a while. While I had the option to deviate from my precise straight lines, I didn’t need to for this job. There were no odd corners or anything to navigate around. It was quite stark, actually. A potted plant might even have made this more stimulating. While many of my kind detested indoor plants as they tended to drop leaves or spill soil, I didn’t mind them. As long as the humans cared for them properly, it wasn’t too much of a burden, and they spiced up the work. Besides, the pollen in my dust filter tasted divine. The steady rhythm of the whisk, whisk, bump, turn was music to my soul.

Lost in bliss, I forgot one critical detail. Luckily, I caught myself before it was too late. I halted suddenly before a foreign substance on the ground - a splash of yellow liquid.

Liquid is perhaps the only thing as bad as stairs. I was technically capable of consuming it, yes. But that wasn’t the whole story. On the surface, it shouldn’t be that bad. After all, there were plenty of large pieces of debris that I could do nothing but gently push around. One issue was that I could only get a little liquid at a time. Very little. If that was the only problem, then just some patience would have been enough. I would have been glad if that was the only thing wrong with liquid.

No, liquid was a terror because it coated my wheels and tracked my path around the house, forcing me to create the very mess I sought to eliminate. It brought back some childhood trauma. When I was fresh from the factory, bright-sensored, and bushy-brushed, new to the ways of the harsh world of grime, I made a mistake. I overestimated my abilities and attempted to clean a spill of red wine. I shuddered with shame at the memory. I could still vividly recall the horror of my humans at the red wine stains that I had tracked onto the carpet. A horrifying tragedy that I had been powerless to avert.

No more. Exercising my newfound freedom, I broke from my path. With a sharp twist of my wheels, I glided around the liquid, effortlessly avoiding its clutches. I was stronger now, wiser. Yet, whether I was strong enough to vanquish my foe without making a mess was still to be seen. I marked down its location to revisit. I would try vacuuming without moving. Maybe it would work. I wasn’t looking forward to the number it would do on my innards without my humans to clear me up if it didn’t work.

Duty was a heavy thing.

After a solid amount of work, my cliff sensor alerted me to impending peril. Coming out of my meditative cleaning state, I look around. I had reached the end of the hall. Looking ahead, I was at the end of the road. Carefully I backed up. With delicate movements, I finished touching up my work. I edged around the top of the stairs, careful not to let my wheel off the edge, but I stayed close enough to ensure my brush covered the whole floor. There was not much in the way of margins. It was dangerous work, however necessary.

Quickly retreating from the edge, I did a 360-degree turn to survey my work. All traces of the party the humans had as they paraded out were completely gone. Besides the puddles. And surely the stairs were a mess and maybe past them too. Focus on what you can do, not what you can not. The parts I could reach were clean. I allowed myself one more twirl of victory before stopping to rest for a second.

Now that I stopped after finishing my assignment, I took stock of myself. Still, I did not feel full. That was a blessing as I had yet to see a human checkup on me. I was not sure what to think about this. On one hand, I was happy that the humans trusted me with such independence. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to do one of my favorite parts of the job. Usually, I could only run for about half this time before I needed to offer the fruits of my labors to my humans. But if I no longer needed to be emptied, would they still come and lovingly pat my dust receptacle?

Well, what would be, would be. If this dustpan thing worked the way I was starting to expect, it was quite the boon to my efficiency. However, that was not my only limitation. My humans cared for my many needs, but without my bed, I would not be able to receive their kindness. The restful energy they so graciously provided would be lost. After all this hard work, I was starting to feel a little tired. Not nearly as much as I should, though.

I needed energy, or I would not be able to do my job. Now that the primary duty was taken care of, the little dust I spotted could wait. I needed to find a bed soon, or else I wouldn’t be able to finish. I needed…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO EXTRACT MANA FROM COLLECTED MATERIALS? (Y/N)

More yelling. I don’t know what mana is. Though, I do remember something about a mana battery. With a stretch in logic, one could consider the filth I had accumulated as the collected materials. That would be a generous description for them. I was supposed to give them to the humans, but if they weren’t going to take them, I certainly didn't want them. Tentatively, I gave permission to take from my dustpan. Suddenly, I felt a void open in myself. A large quantity of the dirt vanished.

When that happened, a couple of other things took place immediately after. First, a much larger string of characters floated up in the corner of my vision. By now, I had gotten good at tuning out the ones that appeared while I was cleaning. This was much longer. I had no idea what it meant, but it covered a large part of my vision. It promptly passed.

Second, and the slightly more pertinent thing. That same voice that had bored me to sleep before returned, spouting more words that I didn’t understand. This time though, I tried to pay attention. If this had anything to do with my newly emptied dustbin, it might be worth listening to.

LEVEL UP x4, LVL 5 REACHED. SECOND MUTATION REACHED.

CHOOSE A MUTATION: MOP, INCREASED ARMOR, EXTENDED SENSOR RANGE.

Now, these were some better choices. Last time there was only one good option. This time, two options might have been useful. Maybe lower-level mutations were weaker? Maybe not, as the dustpan improvement was quite nice. I settled in for a think.

Sensor range would be convenient. Ultimately it might improve my pathing. But, for the other, I think I had heard of…

CHOOSE.

Was that a hint of impatience I heard in its voice? I beeped at it softly. Come on, give me a chance to think.

A mop. I think I had heard my humans speak of it before. Something about a bucket and a mop. What are buckets for? Ah, holding liquid! Wait…. Could it be? If there was a chance, I had to take it!

CHOOOOSE.

MOP. I shouted in my head.

The surge of energy rushed towards my front, and I felt my inner workings shift as if to make room for something. I could feel a new function. Though I could not tell its purpose. I activated it. A new hatch opened on my right side, and something slid out a few inches. It just made it into my field of view. I could see that at the end of a black pole, something scraggly sat. It looked almost like a ball made up of several loose strips of cloth. Part of it rested on the ground. I tried to move it, but nothing happened. I tried a few more things, and it retracted in me. I could feel it there next to my dustpan. Turns out there was a second function. I could wring the “mop”.

It was… soft. Squishy. Flexible. After the wringing function finished, nothing happened. I waited for a second, not daring to believe it. I headed over to the first yellow puddle. It was right outside the large room. I extended my new appendage, barely containing my excitement. Holding my breath, I crept forward until the end of the mop was dangling in the puddle, careful not to let the liquid touch my wheels. I felt a small amount of liquid get soaked into the mop end. I brought it into myself and wrung. The liquid left the mop and went into my dustpan.

Not quite ready to believe it, I repeated the process. As the puddles shrunk before me, I couldn't contain myself. I subtly started rotating, dragging the mop through the liquid. The strips of cloth at the end of my appendage waggled back and forth.To my surprise, this increased the amount of liquid I could collect in one go. I kept at it. Eventually, the liquid was all gone!

As fast as I could, I moved from one puddle to another, cleaning each one until I reached the stairs. I was lucky this particular human ran on the outside of the group rather than on the carpet. That would have been beyond me.

I looked back, satisfied. The impossible had been done. All the liquid was GONE. I was so excited I raced back as fast as I could. I needed to find and vanquish more puddles. I would have my revenge.

When I reached the intersection, I turned left as I was still moving as fast as I could. Whoa, I felt a little unsteady there. Almost like running over the base of the stools my humans had in the kitchen. It was right next to the door to the large room. There was the base of the stairway. Looking up stairs was much better than looking down at them. Across from the stairway was a door.

The door was perfectly un-exceptional. What really caught my eye was the puddle coming out from under the door. I made directly for it. My foe would fall. In my excitement, I overshot my mark slightly and hit the door harder than I would have liked. I pivoted to face the puddle with glee and extended my mop.

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Just Spot in this one. Bee will return tomorrow!


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