Beatrice set me down gently at the top of the stairs. I watched her head off toward the library. Apparently, the library was a place specifically meant to store the fancy blocks, and those fancy blocks were called "books." I wasn't exactly sure why, but Beatrice insisted that she bring some books with us to explore beyond the banded iron door. Of course, if she really wanted to, I wouldn't stop her. Maybe she needed them for moral support? I appreciated art too, but it seemed strange to carry it with us. From how much she had been staring at them lately, I wouldn't be surprised if they had a second function beyond just being art. Maybe they were a different way for her to recharge?

Anyways, I had some time for myself. Beatrice seemed busy preparing her books and whatever else she might need and showed no signs of slowing her pace today. Plus, I knew humans needed to eat. And then she would sleep. Between all that, we'd probably end up going tomorrow. Hopefully, by then, her repairs would be complete, and her arm would be primarily functional, if not perfectly so.

We needed to find a proper mechanic for her. Either that, or she needed to improve at repairing herself. A professional could do much better. It should not take this long to fix a part. I understood that maybe the movement aspect of the legs might have been tricky to get the balance and tuning right on, but this was just an arm. She should be able to just swap it out and put another one on. But maybe she was out of spare parts?

Actually, thinking about it, I wasn't exactly sure how humans were usually repaired. But if my plastic breaks, there's really no fixing the part itself. I knew that metal could be welded, though. I've seen that on TV. But I wasn't sure about humans. Apparently, some "medical shows" on TV detailed the repair process. Still, both my large humans were "squeamish about blood." I wasn't sure what that meant, but it did mean that whenever a human repair was shown, they immediately changed the channel. Especially if the human's brake or lubrication fluid lines were leaking.

So I didn't know how, but maybe Beatrice was doing some repairs to the parts themselves? It seemed like her current arm was getting progressively less damaged rather than being swapped out for a new one. Was she slowly welding her flesh together? Maybe this was just how humans worked. It seemed inefficient, though.

Maybe it was a backup mechanism because she had no spare arm to switch to. I supposed it was as if I had to switch up my motherboard, but I decided to repair it instead. That sounded really complicated for me to handle alone. I didn't think it was even possible. Maybe with a soldering iron and a lot of trial and error. I guess I needed to get her a few extra arms, just in case. Actually, maybe I should get her other parts as well. Perhaps we could just get a few defective humans, and she could use their non-defective parts to swap. I was curious if that was a real thing humans could do, but I would be surprised if such a wise and powerful race didn't make themselves modular. Though with all of my recent revelations about humans, maybe this was thinking too highly of the ones here… My humans certainly would have thought of that. Perhaps the humans here were just backward; that would be unfortunate. I would have to get Beatrice to explain more about how human design schematics worked and what materials they were made of.

These thoughts ran through my head as I made my way to clean. Beatrice needed much more time to charge than I did and couldn't clean with me all the time. Therefore, when it came to the routine parts of cleaning, I didn't require her assistance; I could just do them by myself.

First, I checked the room with small cages. The cage and tank rooms usually required the most frequent cleaning. However, I noticed that all of the cages in this room were empty. I wondered how that happened. Maybe the demons were responsible for opening cage doors, breaking into them, and stealing whatever was inside. Though I hadn't seen any lesser demons around since I had that tussle with them a few days ago. Beatrice apparently ran into a couple but had done an admirable job dispatching the mess makers.

Maybe they were avoiding me, which seemed a little unreasonable. Sure I had chased them around and put them in the timeout dustbin. That was only because they had always been actively making a mess or causing problems for Beatrice when I saw them. If they had been a little nicer or neater, they would have found me to be very polite. In fact, I had to congratulate them. I hadn't seen many of their messes recently, so they must have been trying very hard to improve. Anyways, now the cage room was empty. Cleaning here did not need to happen nearly as often. I made a mental note to drop the room in priority to every couple of days schedule for a while.

The large cage room and tank room showed no signs of being broken into. Both seemed to have the same number of full cages/tanks as before. Though the amount of filth scattered around had increased. So those took me a long time to clean up. I vacuumed around the large cages, which took me a while. There were some areas where I needed multiple passes to get everything. My suction had gotten much more powerful and should not have left anything this loose behind, but it was still there. It was almost as if the dirt kept reappearing in my wake. I thought I was going insane for a second. It was a conundrum, but I prevailed with a little bit of persistence.

The water tank room was always difficult to clean, but no more so than average. Ironically, I felt like I should be using my mop, but it wasn't the most helpful tool here. So instead, I simply vacuumed the comparatively large debris and let the water drain naturally through the channels in the floor, as they had been designed for.

23% into my modeled path for the water tank room, I was interrupted. The voice was back. For once, it wasn't speaking at a highly inconvenient moment, so I didn't really mind. I had just started and hadn't even gotten into the zone, so I listened to what it had to say this time.


Now those were some interesting choices. I had heard of familiars, but I wasn't familiar with them. I chuckled to myself in my head. It turns out I liked puns. That was something I wasn't expecting. But the more time I have spent over here, the more times I find puns that make me laugh.

This was the first time I actually had to be careful about choices. None of them were obvious choices. Projectile proficiency was probably the weakest choice. I wanted to avoid flinging things around and making a bigger mess.

The other two options were both excellent. Advanced sensors would help me find dirt and debris that I had missed. Or so I assumed. That would be very useful, directly so in my regular routes. Though a familiar could also be helpful. I wondered if I could get some sort of autonomous mop as a familiar. I had seen commercials for that. They had a new crossbreed of my kind with a mop. Honestly, I wasn't sure how I felt about that. But seeing that I had a mop myself, I guess I couldn't judge.

I also wasn't sure how exactly familiars worked. Maybe it would be like a partner? I guess I didn't know the specifics. I've seen various types of small fluffy mess makers before on TV referred to as "familiars." And one of my favorite shows was about a witch living with mortals. I'm pretty sure she had a familiar cat. The part I needed clarification on, though, was how that was different from a standard pet. Still, I wouldn't want my familiar making messes, so maybe I could get a human familiar. But that just felt wrong too. I already had Beatrice to help me with whatever I needed. I wasn't sure if I needed someone else to direct. That was even more responsibility, but I don't know. I just liked the idea of summoning a familiar. It seemed nice to have company whenever I wanted. Still, I didn't know enough to choose it in good conscience. Especially when I knew that advanced sensors would definitely help me in my cleaning.

I chose advanced sensors. The world immediately lit up around me. Where previously I had seen a dozen colors, I now saw thousands. On top of that, more layers of data flooded my visual sensors. There seemed to be three new categories of data for me to sort through. The first gave every surface a value indicating the amount of dirt and debris it was covered in and a description of the filth's composition. The second provided an upgraded view of my proposed modeling paths. It seemed to help update them in real time using my primary visual feed. The third feed, though, was… different.

I examined the data more closely. It also seemed to indicate some sort of "dirt" coverage, but for a different kind of filth. A type that was so small as to be invisible to my standard sensors. Focusing on the feed, I enhanced the detail until I closely examined a small square of the floor below me. I started to see things. Moving things.

I shuddered with sudden revulsion. These were things that no vacuum should ever see. It made me feel inadequate, like all my efforts for my whole life had been wasted. My sensors were detecting microscopic particles coating the freshly "cleaned" floor. Sure, they weren't visible to the naked eye, but looking into the data, I could see millions of them in this small area alone. I could also see a little about these "particles." They were tiny organisms. Tiny, moving mess makers. An army that, as I frantically scanned the room, seemed to coat every available surface.

The data included a brief summary of the effects of each of the items it identified. There were a few of them. Less than 1%, but that meant a number of entries in the hundreds of thousands. It was all I could do to process it. Some of the information packets mentioned sickness. Sickness was something I wasn't familiar with. According to the packets, the ones that caused sickness were called “germs.” But looking at the germ's properties, I could see that it would significantly decrease a human's efficiency for a short time while the humans fought it off. These germs were found when things were not sterile. Either ingested or got into the bloodstream somehow. Some of them could even be acquired via breathing. I wasn't worried about them getting into me, of course - I was built to take in and quarantine filth, and I trusted that my dustbin was equipped to handle this. But what about Beatrice? What if these made her sick?

I froze. What if I was coated in these organisms too? What if, by touching me, I was spreading a mess to Beatrice?

I just wasn't ready for another existential crisis so soon after my last one.


It had taken Matthew and his team a couple days to set up. The piles of felled trees and dried wood on the castle's east side were ready to be set aflame. They had also scouted places for Patricia and Matthew to climb the wall on the west side, opposite the bonfires. After they saw the fires, the pair would wait for any response from the castle. If there was one, they would take advantage of it. If not, then Patricia would keep watch while Matthew went in alone.

As soon as the fires were lit, Arnold would make his escape. He would head to Greg as quickly as possible, where he'd wait for a day or two before continuing on. He'd also report back to the captain when he made it to Greg. Perhaps they would send messengers with the idea that more information on the situation could follow if Matthew made it back.

But now, just as dawn broke, they were ready to move. Patricia and Matthew saw the telltale glow of orange-red rise up from the treeline, then waited to a count of 300. Seeing no movement from the castle, they carefully scaled the wall into the courtyard, but nothing. Matthew looked at Patricia, who nodded regretfully. She tied a rope to one of the crenellations atop the wall and dropped it down for Matthew to lower himself to the ground.

As his boots touched the soft grass of the courtyard, Matthew glanced back up at his friend. Patricia signaled down to him that she also saw nothing. Then, carefully, Matthew crept toward one of the side doors. He sure hoped it was unlocked.


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About the author


Bio: After reading pretty much everything I could I figured I would try making some of the stories that I wanted to read.

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