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Quivering, Bee watched the door. It didn’t move again, but sounds continued to come through. There was a light splashing. It was standing in the puddle right outside. Bee flinched back, and it put more pressure on her bad leg. The terror was the only thing that allowed her to bite back the scream bubbling at her lips. Frozen, she stared at the door for what felt like eons.

Rhythmic splashes continued. Never ceasing. It must have known Bee was here and was taunting her. As she watched, the pool of dirty water slowly dried up. Over maybe 20 minutes, the puddle was barely visable anymore. What was the demon doing? Could it taste her fear through the water? Was it giving off a demonic flame that evaporated the water without any heat?

Bee couldn’t figure it out. Being unable to do anything productive, she had no choice but to close her eyes and pray to any god that might be listening. This continued as she sat there, eyes screwed shut, for she didn’t know how long. The sounds never stopped. The only way she could feel the passage of time was the pain fading from her ankle. The throbbing seemed to sync with the rhythmic swishes from outside. The last drops of the puddle vanished, then the swishes became quieter. As the sound lessened, the pain throbbing in her ankle did as well.

What must have been hours later, the puddle was completely gone. As the last drops vanished, the whirring noise became louder for a second then, it began to fade away. Bee wanted to cry out in relief. Her prayers had been heard. Then her ankle twinged again. Maybe not. She wasn’t able to escape, and it knew it. It must be able to sense her fear and pain. Probably it was only letting those grow and build up in the air to feed from. Demons feeding on fear was common knowledge, right? She was pretty sure they did that.

Either way, she couldn’t do anything but hope the mages came back. Hope they brought back powerful help. Hope they could free her before the demon decided it had enough fun and finished her off.

----

By the time I had vanquished the puddle, I had calmed down. While exciting, I could not lord my superiority over a defeated foe for too long. No, there was work to be done. I took one more try with my mop dragging through where the puddle had been. When it came back dry, I knew it was time to move on. At long last, I had surpassed my old foe. Nay, not just my foe, but the foe of all cleanliness-loving peoples of the earth. No longer would they have to stay up and worry about permanent stains. Or spills of liquid ambushing them and cutting their legs out when walking on a smooth floor. This hazard to the safety, health, and well-being of the body and the mind would be brought to justice wherever I am.

As much as I loved gloating, there were still so many things to do, and I could not become complacent in my victory. With satisfaction, I backed up, leaving no remnants of my fallen enemy behind as I trundled away. I had to make my map and plan out my schedule. There might be things that needed my immediate attention or dangers I needed to know to avoid. Only after I had triaged the space could I devote my time to the maintenance chores that needed to be done. The hall I was in hadn’t been cleaned in two days. For now, that was fine, but if I worked at it, I think I could do better. Depending on how big this whole place is, of course.

***

When considering how to explore it, I went to the intersection and looked around. To have points of reference, I needed to orient myself. I would call the direction of the stairs North, and the Large room behind me would be South. The branching halls on the sides would be East and West, respectively.

Due to my fondness for soggy waffle bits, I decided to buck convention and head down the west corridor first. As I went, I absently sucked up any debris and dust I came across. I didn’t really go out of my way as all of the doors along the hallway were closed. For now, I would have to not worry about what was behind there. Maybe a human would make them available for cleaning when it was required.

Nearing the end of the hall, I turned left as it turned out it was an elbow junction. As I turned, I saw what was down the corridor.

Honestly, it was a bit underwhelming. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but In retrospect, another hallway would have been a perfectly reasonable guess. Starting down the hall, things began to catch my attention. Every couple doors had branching hallways on the right, leading off to the rest of the floor. I decided that I would explore them before going to the east hall. However, I wanted to see this through first.

I passed half a dozen of these halls, and the curiosity was eating me alive, but I kept going. After passing the last hallway entrance, the doors started to become more frequent. Eventually, I reached a door that had been left open.

I edged my body inside. Looking around, it was horrendous. I was so glad someone had brought in the professionals. This place was a mess. Where to begin? There was a fireplace on one side of the room. An actual wood fireplace. It seemed that the fire had been left unattended for hours. The ash had slipped all over the hearth. That was very irresponsible; if the fire had spread, soot could have gotten all over the floor.

Now that I thought of it, the whole situation was slightly odd. I get why the humans would leave me to clean the large room. Maybe they were having a party outside, but soon I would find some humans around. This was a fairly large place, after all. Mentally I shrugged. I am sure I would run into a human eventually. Someone had to have been left behind. I can’t clean every surface. Maybe when I find them, I can get them to open some doors for me. Or carry me up and down some stairs. My humans kept a clean house. It was a team effort. I would clean the floors, and they would get the trim and all the other places I couldn’t reach. They brought me on to help them out. Lighten their load a little. It was a good arrangement, one I could respect. We cared for each other. Helped each other out.

With that mental tangent, I was able to settle myself. I could understand some small measure of the mindset that led to such disregard for one’s surroundings. Why clean things when they’ll only get dirty again anyway? It was something that the small human from my previous home often griped about when I was brought to assist him in reclaiming his domain from the decay. However, I had always found such effort worthwhile. Not just in its results but in the satisfaction those efforts brought. Maybe whoever used this room never felt the pleasure of living in a clean home, with freshly swept floors and air tinged with the scent of fresh linens. Maybe they hadn’t come to understand the peace of bringing order to their small slice of the world. Or maybe they had just become blind to the state of their surroundings. Perhaps they just needed an example. Rather than being appalled at the unkempt state of the room, maybe I should take this as a teaching opportunity. Dirt is a cycle, and the best we can do is stave off the falling of the dust.

Shifting my mindset, I beeped to myself softly and began to clean.

The fire was only the first bit of this disaster. The room was quite stark. Other than the fireplace, there were only a few other things in the room in its entirety. A chair, wardrobe, and bed. A blanket from the bed was on the floor. I started by the fireplace. Cleaning it took fewer passes than I expected. I then vacuumed around the legs of the chair. It was a large chair with a sturdy base. The legs had large rounded feet on the end; it was better than some chairs. I didn’t have an issue finding my way between its feet; there was no fringe making it easy to get under. With my newfound control over my pathing, I was able to finish in a fraction of the time it would have previously taken. I know I had long belonged to the school of precise lines and straightforward approaches, but perhaps I needed to experiment with squiggles and a little more freeform cleaning. It was quite a joy to expand the tools I could use. The wardrobe, on closer inspection, was actually built into the wall. This made the work slightly more pleasant, as it was simple to navigate. This only left the bed. I cleaned all the floors, but finally, I needed to push the blanket out of the way to access underneath.

As I moved the blanket, I was met with my natural prey: a colony of dust bunnies. With a squeal of excitement, I began to hunt. Maybe I was wrong. This might be better. At home, we never reached the point of an infestation like this. I was left to hunt individual ones. That was never as fun.

After clearing away the majority of the bunnies. I found the last surprise in this room. There was a bundle of food. This was something I often found squirreled away in the little humans' rooms. This was not nearly as well preserved because I saw a bug eating away at a block of cheese. Starting forward with all my speed, I was able to crush the bug with a wheel. A now familiar image floated in the cover of my vision. Wow, that actually worked! Normally, they were able to get away, and the best I could do was scare them away for a bit.

I learned something new today. Apparently, squashing a bug leaves a gooey mess. It was a mess I was familiar with but never was able to figure out what caused it. Well, now I know. Goo was a hard thing to clean. It required many careful passes. It wasn't as impossible as a liquid, but it was still vulnerable to being tracked across a clean floor.

Like liquid. That gave me an idea. Maybe I could clean this like a liquid. Hesitantly I extended my mop. I dragged it through the guts of the bug I had crushed. Not much happened. The mop didn't gather very much of it at all. The goop was too viscous to be absorbed. I wasn't quite done trying things. R&D was worth a little time; if I could improve my efficiency even a little bit now, it would pay dividends long term.

Perhaps this is a risky maneuver, and I am just being overconfident. However, given recent developments in cleaning technology, I believe the problem could be contained before it spreads too far. Still, it didn’t hurt to be cautious. I retracted my mop, and when it was inside, I dipped it into the remains of the puddle I had triumphed over not too long ago. I imagined the liquid infusing back into the mop. When I extended the mop again, it was wet. Carefully I repeated my early actions and rubbed the end of the mop across the bug’s remains. As it spread the liquid on the floor, I kept myself calm by the mantra. “You can just gather it back up again.”

Looking at the results of my handiwork, I shuddered. Had I gone too far and lost my purpose? No, it was for the greater good. Upon closer inspection, it seemed that my goals may have been achieved. The mess was diluted. I emptied the mop inside and extended it again. Hesitantly probing at the chaos I was in part responsible for. To my absolute delight, It worked. The mop gathered up a large part of the mess, which I was able to place in my bin.

A rousing success. I pushed around the blanket for a little bit, wanting everything in the room as clean as I could make it. While doing that, I pondered the meaning of these rapid changes in my capabilities. In the short time that I have been here, I have already been able to achieve feats that I would never have thought myself capable of. Maybe my humans didn’t send me here to help these people. Maybe I was sent here for training and upgrades. Soon even the blanket on the floor might not be an impediment to my mission. A fresh glint reflected in my front sensor as I zoomed back into the hallway to continue exploring.

---

Bee had been huddled in this closet for many hours at this point. Her hurt leg and the limited space forced her to sit in an awkward position, causing her other leg to start cramping painfully. Trying to suppress involuntary jerks, she bided her time, hoping for rescue. The puddle's fate was a boon for her, as terrifying as it was. But after it had been drained, that had allowed the hem of her dress to dry, so it was no longer sopping wet. As she no longer felt the need to shiver constantly and the noises had not returned for several hours, the day started to catch up with her. While she tried to fight it and stay alert for any sound, her will began to give way, and before she knew it, she was fast asleep. Crammed in a tiny closet, one leg in pain, the other curled under her, head using a spare broomstick leaning in a corner for a pillow, Bee slept a deep, dreamless sleep.

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A note from zaifyr

This chapter brought to you by the many passes my Roomba has made getting dog fur out of my office carpet.


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zaifyr

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