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automation, the perils of

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i. zhao yunlan


In his defense the Taobao sales this year had been really good. Just because he’s… well, definitely not single anymore doesn’t mean he can’t take advantage of Singles’ Day discounts.

Plus the user reviews had looked decent, and if he’d had uncharitable-possibly-slightly-evil thoughts about cats and robot vacuums that’s between him and his browsing history.

How things had gotten from there to here, on the other hand, isn’t quite as clear.

Here being in the middle of an intense if lopsided stare-off between Shen Wei and the freshly delivered box. It’s a minor miracle that the corners haven’t started catching fire yet.

Shen Wei, on the other hand, hasn’t blinked in the last however many minutes it’s been, in a way that would remind him of Da Qing if the damn cat had ever been so focused on anything. Zhao Yunlan is also pretty certain that Shen Wei hasn’t suddenly picked up any powers of telepathy of late, because heavens forbid he actually lets anyone know what he’s thinking so easily, but right now it’s coming across loud and clear anyway.

Especially when Shen Wei turns to regard him with those too-wide eyes and the thoughts practically flashing neon above his head: you replace me? You replace me with a robotic cleaner? Do I not keep the house clean enough for you?

…yes, so maybe Zhao Yunlan has spent too much time watching cat videos lately. Hardly his fault – it’s not like the SID had been busy lately! The most eventful thing that’d happened all last week was Xiao Guo accidentally toppling a stack of file boxes while cross-referencing old records, and frankly that had mostly just been annoying from the eye-watering shower of dust that’d sent everyone evacuating in a hurry.

And actually that’s an idea. “I’m bringing it to the office!” Zhao Yunlan volunteers hastily, which at least makes Shen Wei break off the soulful staring with a huff of apparent agreement (hey, the SID isn’t that bad! …probably) and return to laying out the breakfast dishes.

It’s 50-50 true anyhow, since Zhao Yunlan hadn’t actually planned anything beyond vague nefarious ideas, but hey, he’s flexible. Surely he can make it work somehow.

(Elsewhere in a patch of sun, Da Qing sneezes into a paw.)





ii. guo changcheng


Changcheng isn’t exactly quick on the uptake in any situation, he’s pretty self-aware of that, but even then it takes him way too long to figure out what he’s seeing.

To be fair, they’d been right in the middle of laying out a new case that even Chu-ge had outright said he didn’t like; this wasn’t the first time they’d found someone trying to make a probably-toxic homebrew version of Professor Ouyang’s serum, but none of the others had gotten so far as distributing it. They’re just lucky no one’s been harmed or worse yet.

…as far as they know, at least, and Changcheng’s just gotten to dividing up the list of hospitals to check for any suspicious poisoning cases when Chief Zhao walks in carrying a brand-new appliance box.

Which wouldn’t be weird on its own, since basically all the fancy gadgets around the SID office that weren’t made by Lin Jing-ge had probably been bought by the chief anyway, but then Changcheng registers what the box contains and it goes right back to weird again.

And okay, he’ll admit he’s kinda always wanted to see one of these vacuums in action too. But. Chief Zhao. Buying cleaning equipment?

“Bit early for spring cleaning, isn’t it,” Chu-ge says flatly as he returns from depositing the samples in the lab, so at least Changcheng’s not the only one confused by this.

“Eh,” is Chief Zhao’s only answer as he sets the box down on the table and reaches over to steal the scissors off Hong-jie’s desk. “Pays to be prepared. So, the new case?”





iii. lin jing


Appearing invisible in a space specifically arranged to keep everything within closest reach of his position is both scientifically and otherwise impossible, but Lin Jing persists in trying anyway.

Look, he knows he’s never as strict about lab safety as he should be, especially given the kind of unknown stuff the SID handles on a semi-regular basis. But in his defence even those protocols wouldn’t really have done anything against an improperly-calibrated vacuum running smack into the foot of his testing table right as he’d been about to actually get to work on the powder samples Lao Chu had collected at the scene.

Luckily there’s still enough left over after the spill for him to run the usual set of analyses, but the chief had better not ask for anything else until they get more because this is squarely not Lin Jing’s fault.

Never mind that nobody’s actually told him why there’s a robot vacuum running loose around the office, let alone how it got into his lab without him even knowing. Given that he’s already seen both Lao Chu and Xiao Guo this morning Lin Jing has got a pretty good idea of who’d actually brought the vacuum in, but it’s not like he’s about to say any of it aloud because he knows his priorities and it looks a lot like a paycheck with his undocked salary.

Hence the melting-into-the-background while their upstanding leader chatters away on the phone.

“Yes, I’m aware of your feelings towards tech stuff, you know I wouldn’t be calling you in the office if it wasn’t important… no, okay, maybe I have. But! It’s actually relevant – you remember the janked-up-serum-dealing case I told you about this morning? Yeah, so there was a bit of an accident and the vacuum sucked up a whole bunch of it. I mean, I don’t actually think it’s gonna start manifesting Dixing powers outta nowhere, but if you could come take a look later today, just in case? Okay. Yup, in the lab,” he says, in way that makes Lin Jing really really not want to be in the lab later. “See you!”

Chief Zhao ends the call and points the phone at him. “You, keep an eye out just in case it does start developing Dixing powers.”

“And just what am I supposed to do if it really does,” Lin Jing mutters, but it’s mostly rhetorical and anyway the boss is back to tapping away at his phone.

He claps Lin Jing on the shoulder. “What’s the worst it could do? Anyway I’m gonna see if I can’t get Shen Wei to warm up to our good friend here in the meanti– ah, hey, Zhu Hong! Listen, remember when you Yashou were having those merchandising talks a while back? Do you still have the prototypes?”





iv. shen wei


Shen Wei is expecting anything from a wide range of outcomes when he portals over to the SID’s front office after his last afternoon lecture, up to and including possibly-uncontrolled amounts of mayhem and destruction. Not even necessarily related to the call earlier; it’s been hours since, and disaster has happened in less.

Still. He looks again at the cylindrical shape of the vacuum one more time before turning his gaze onto Zhao Yunlan. “I don’t suppose the miniature glaive and cloak spontaneously manifested following the incident?”

“Nope,” comes the predictably cheerful answer. “Turns out you’ve got some real loyal fans in the Snake Tribe, Hei-laoge! And ones with really good handicraft skills, too, though I’m pretty sure Zhu Hong ended up shooting their ideas down for being too impractical.”

That is… one way of putting it. “Still doesn’t quite explain how they ended up being taped on here.”

“Well,” says Zhao Yunlan.

“He was planning to sic it on the newbies and call it situational awareness training,” says Da Qing, sprawled between where Zhao Yunlan is sitting on the table and Lin Jing’s currently-empty chair in a position that doesn’t seem physically (or physiologically) possible.

Zhao Yunlan raises his empty hands when Shen Wei looks at him. “I was not! Definitely not before you declared it safe, at least. And anyway it’d be an interesting introduction to our SID’s mascot – "

“Excuse me?”

" – new masco– ow! What, I’m sure Stabby here will like the job better than you do anyway.”

“Why’d you have to name it that, of all things…"

Shen Wei leaves them to the familiar back-and-forth as he kneels down and carefully rotates the device around until the reservoir comes into view.

Or at least what he assumes is the reservoir, though it seems correct in this case; there’s the powdered would-be-serum Zhao Yunlan had mentioned over the call. The fine gleam of sickly off-white exudes an unpleasant aura even through the plastic casing, and for all that the vacuum (or more directly Zhao Yunlan) had been the cause of this minor mishap Shen Wei is also very glad that it’d just as been swiftly cleaned up without any of the SID’s more-vulnerable members coming to risk.

“How’s the prognosis, doc?” Zhao Yunlan calls over from where he and Da Qing have apparently reached agreement for now.

“I can’t speak for the technological aspect, obviously, but the powder itself still seems to be inert.” Shen Wei stands with a nod. “There shouldn’t be any danger in emptying it back out to dispose with the usual precautions.”

Which will definitely be Zhao Yunlan’s job, given that Shen Wei has less than no idea of how this even works, but he makes sure to stare very pointedly at the gloves and goggles until Zhao Yunlan reaches for them with a slightly theatrical sigh.

And again when Zhao Yunlan goes to switch it on once it’s thoroughly emptied and restored, because they’re not out of the lab yet and the last thing anyone needs is a repeat incident.

Despite that Shen Wei still can’t help smiling at Zhao Yunlan’s grin as he sets the now-whirring unit back on the floor of the main office, Da Qing (now in cat form) curled across his shoulders with tail flicking intent.

Zhao Yunlan already keeps the office more cheerily-lit than in Zhao Xinci’s time, but now the space seems even brighter than before. There are worse things he could entrust the well-being of the SID with during his absences, Shen Wei decides.

Tiny glaive included. (Which he’s going to unattach and rebalance at some point, never mind that the edge isn’t actually sharp enough to cut, but he knows his own blade well enough and anyway some things should be done well or not at all.)