Spill-Free and Sparkling
by Addison Smith
The CleanBean Ship Custodian System chirped happily, but it wasn’t heard among the screams. The sound alerted the crew that CleanBean was in operation, responding to a spill in the cargo bay, and with its notification it went busily to its task. CleanBean scanned the cargo bay and found the spill. “Aha!” it thought. It scanned the surrounding area for obstacles. It was a large spill and still creeping outward. Someone lay beside the spill, and RFID tagged it as Crew Member Sanchez (she/her).
The crew member lay on the floor, partially covering the spill. A large Occupant stood over her with no recognizable Crew Tag. CleanBean scanned for recognition. Eight feet tall, 380-pound mass. The Occupant didn’t match any of the known crew. Further inspection showed bacteria covering the new guest. CleanBean tagged a note to the control system to send a reminder about Visitor hygiene.
With a series of merry chirps, CleanBean sent out Floor Unit 1, designated miniBean, and controlled its path. It zoomed around the various obstructions on its route as it engaged its brushes and prepared a cleaning solution for mist application.
OBJECT COLLISION: miniBEAN
miniBean stopped, reoriented, and continued. It bumped into the obstruction again. CleanBean scanned the room. The crew were all accounted for, three in the cargo bay and one piloting the ship. Another RFID pinged in the location of the obstruction. Crew Member Johnson (he/they) lay on the floor, another spill emerging from where their head lay.
CleanBean harrumphed. “Excuse me, Crew Member Johnson,” miniBean said cheerfully. CleanBean added a line to the message. “Please limit alcohol to avoid excess spills, wink!” The crew did not drink, and programming suggested jokes would be appreciated. miniBean waited four seconds for a response to engage in dialogue. It picked up a gurgling sound, probably from the mess, but no recognizable words. It redirected around Crew Member Johnson and tagged the spill as a secondary task.
The mess around Crew Member Sanchez cleaned easily and soon the offending fluids filled a canister on miniBean’s back, sterilized by disinfecting chemicals. It beeped to signal its job complete and headed back to its second task.
CleanBean kept track of Visitor Occupant to make sure it didn’t touch anything with its bacteria-coated body. It engaged with Crew Member Marshall (he/him), lifting him high in the air. A notification alerted CleanBean to a small spill below Crew Member Marshall, who hung in the air as the spill steadily grew. Another notification brought its attention back to Crew Member Sanchez. The spill it had cleaned had reappeared, growing larger next to the prone Crew Member. CleanBean tagged them both as miniBean continued to address the Crew Member Johnson mess. Whatever party they were having, it simply couldn’t keep up with one unit.
CleanBean engaged Emergency Protocol and sent out four more units. miniBeans 2 through 5 slipped from their wall receptacles and darted around the floor, eager to attend to the crew’s messes. CleanBean assigned each of them a task, assigning miniBean5 to follow Visitor Occupant and disinfect surfaces as needed.
miniBean3 cleaned the mess beneath Crew Member Marshall and the Visitor Occupant, but something heavy struck it from above. Crew Member Marshall dropped onto the unit, and it went inoperative as directed when undergoing crew interaction.
Soon the Johnson and Sanchez spills were no more, leaving only sparkling disinfected floor. miniBean5 pinged an alert as it rose from the floor, lifted by Visitor Occupant. Bacteria spread along its outer shell, and it sprayed disinfectant as it was lifted. The cargo bay erupted in a howling scream that CleanBean analyzed to not be crew, human, or recognizable speech.
CleanBean considered its new data. The Visitor Occupant interfered with its cleaning operations. It was filthy, covered in unknown bacteria that could affect the crew adversely. Visitor Occupant was not a recognized living entity. It mulled over the data and came to a conclusion.
miniBean5 sprayed disinfectant at Visitor Occupant. The unit fell to the floor with a crash. miniBeans 1 through 4 left their posts and joined the new task: Eliminate Visitor Occupant Mess. The miniBean units sprayed disinfectant at the howling and gurgling mass of bacteria. They engaged their brushes and cleaned its feet, its ankles, its chest when it fell to the floor. They sprayed strong base chemicals into the screaming maw of Visitor Occupant as it thrashed and sent miniBean3 flying across the room. It landed in a cargo box and spun its brushes indignantly.
A message from Crew Member Johnson’s suit pinged CleanBean as the miniBeans worked. He crawled on the floor next to his emerging spill. “CleanBean!” Crew Member Johnson shouted. “Engage cargo bay evacuation!”
“Cargo bay occupied,” CleanBean responded cheerily. “Provide override code or abort.”
“Override Code: CALLIE2237,” Crew Member Johnson said. “CleanBean execute!”
The cargo bay door flew open. Detritus flew across the bay to the opening into space. Crew Members Sanchez, Marshall, and Johnson exited the ship, along with Visitor Occupant and miniBeans 1, 2, 4, and 5. Spills streaked across the floor, pulled to the vacuum. Seconds later the door closed again, triggered by emergency protocol.
CleanBean scanned the room. miniBean3 responded as it clambered out of the cargo box, brushes still spinning. Mess Detected pinged across several areas of the cargo bay. CleanBean chirped and sent miniBean3 to complete its tasks.
The cargo bay returned to normal ambient noise levels, silence broken only by CleanBean’s chatter and the spinning brushes of miniBean3. CleanBean tagged the bay as Under Maintenance to avoid further interruptions from the crew. In the peace and stillness, CleanBean trilled a cheerful tune to celebrate a job well done.
Addison Smith has blood made of cold brew and flesh made of chocolate. He spends most of his time writing about fish, birds, and cybernetics, often in combination. His fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Fireside Magazine, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. You can find him on Twitter @AddisonCSmith.