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Wang Zheng volunteers to be the one to teach Shen Wei and Ye Zun how to use modern technology.

It had made sense. She had taught herself how to use phones and computers, and now the only person in the SID who knew more about technology than her was Lin Jing. Plus, she already had some experience teaching Sang Zan.

And between her and the rest of the SID, Wang Zheng really was the best choice. Zhao Yunlan and Da Qing didn’t have the patience for teaching, Lao Chu was still too respectful of Hei Pao Shi to correct Shen Jiaoshou when he made a mistake, Xiao Guo was too scared of Ye Zun to speak, Zhu Hong was too busy being Yashou Leader, and Lin Jing didn’t know how to simplify his language for technology beginners.

So, it just made sense for Wang Zheng to volunteer to teach two 10,000-year-old Dixingren how to use a computer.

Besides – how hard could it be?

 

“I told you,” Jiajia says less than a week later when Wang Zheng calls her to complain about Shen Jiaoshou. “He’s a menace. Shen Jiaoshou is the best professor at the University, but there’s a reason I’ve been printing out his emails.”

To be fair to Jiajia, she had tried to warn Wang Zheng. As head of the new Dixing-Haixing Student Union, she often stopped by the SID for research. When Wang Zheng had asked her if Shen Wei had any prior experience with technology, her eyes had gone wide and her face pale.

“You’re not trying to teach him, are you?” she had said, a hysterical tinge to her voice.

“I am.”

“Oh no, Wang-jie, I really wouldn’t do that if I were you. I didn’t listen to Li Qian and I had to rewrite three assignments. Don’t do it, Wang-jie. He can’t be taught.”

Wang Zheng had thought Jiajia was exaggerating. Surely Shen Wei wasn’t that bad at using a computer. She was wrong.

“I know,” Wang Zheng replies, head resting in her hands. Her eyes have desperate, haunted look to them, and her hair is mussed. She feels more stressed and harried than she did even when Ye Zun was actively trying to start a war. “Li Qian warned me too but I didn’t think it could be this bad. I left him alone to practice browsing the Internet for ten minutes and when I came back, he had deleted all the files and apps and somehow changed the computer language to French!?!”

“He. He what? How did he even do that?”

“I don’t know, but it took me an hour to figure out how to change it back. What do I do?”

Jiajia is silent on the other end of the phone for long enough that Wang Zheng checks to make sure the call hasn’t disconnected. When she does finally speak, she sighs and says, “I don’t know. Maybe you could start him on a restricted account? He would need to ask permission to delete anything or to change settings that way.”

“Jiajia, you’re a genius!”

 

The restricted user account makes things much smoother. Shen Wei can no longer delete or download files without requiring administrator approval, and he can’t access the settings or change the language anymore.

What he can do, apparently, is open 1,348 blank word documents.

He was supposed to be logging into his university email.

Wang Zheng looks on in despair.

I can’t deal with this, she thinks, and turns to see how Ye Zun is doing. It’s a relief to see him confidently hopping from tab to tab. There’s a Baidu search on cat toys in one, a new Oasis account registration in another, and the email they created together open in the last tab. Wang Zheng watches in disbelief as he opens the most recent email and successfully registers his Oasis account.

Turning back to Shen Jiaoshou, she sees that he now also has 17 web browsers open. He’s mumbling under his breath, and his knuckles are white where they’re gripping the mouse. She’s half surprised he hasn’t accidentally crushed it yet.

How come Ye Zun is so competent and Shen Wei is so… hopeless?

Deciding she had better help him before he breaks another mouse, Wang Zheng approaches Shen Wei.

“Shen Jiaoshou,” she says, hesitantly. “Do you need any help?”

“Yes,” he answers, so quietly she almost doesn’t hear him. The tips of his ears have gone red.

Settling into the seat beside him, Wang Zheng takes the mouse and shows him how to close the unnecessary windows he had opened.

“Now just keep doing that until they’re all gone, okay? Once that’s done, I can show you how to get to your email.”

“Thank you,” he says. She watches for a moment as he clicks “x” after “x” after “x”. A couple of times, he accidentally minimizes the tabs instead of closing them, and Wang Zheng shows him how to restore them again so he can close them properly.

“For someone whose power is learning, you’re really bad at learning gege,” Ye Zun interjects suddenly and Wang Zheng jumps. She hadn’t even noticed him standing right behind her. “Anyways, I’m done with the computer Wang Laoshi. I’m gonna go home now. Da Qing promised he’d take me to buy a phone later. Bye!”

As Ye Zun saunters out of the SID, Wang Zheng goes to make sure he has shut down his computer properly. He’s been doing it without difficulty since the second time she showed him, but it doesn’t hurt to be sure.

The monitor and keyboard have been shut off, which is good. Ye Zun doesn’t always remember to do that. She crouches under the desk and leans towards the computer –

CRACK!

She startles and hits her head on the underside of the desk.

 “Wang Zheng!” Shen Jiaoshou cries. “Are you okay? I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Strong hands land on her shoulders and help pull her out from under the desk. She rubs her head a few times, out of instinct more than to relieve any actual pain. One perk of being an energy being is that nothing hurts anymore.

“I’m fine,” she tells him, patting his arm in consolation. “Are you okay though Shen Jiaoshou? What was that sound?”

“Ah. I. I might have,” he swallows audibly and pulls away from Wang Zheng, “I might’ve broken the mouse again.” His eyes are downcast, his jaw clenched, his hands are pressed into tight fists on top of his thighs.

“Shen Jiaoshou,” she starts, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder.

“I’m fine,” he says, and moves to return to his seat. “I’ll fix it.”

“Shen Jiaoshou, wait! Why are you having so much trouble using the computer?"

He freezes. For a moment Wang Zheng thinks he’ll ignore her question, but then he sits back on the ground in front of her. His shoulders are still stiff and he doesn’t look at her when he answers.

“I don’t know! Learning has always come so easy to me, but this is something even children can do and I can’t and I don’t know why! No matter how hard I try, I just can’t do it! Everyone makes it look so easy and I know they find it weird and pitiful that I can’t do such basic tasks.”

“Oh,” Wang Zheng says softly. No wonder Shen Jiaoshou is having trouble learning how to use a computer. He’s put so much stress and pressure on himself that he can’t focus on actually learning the new tasks and concepts – he’s too overwhelmed by his own fear and shame. She knows how that feels.

“Shen Jiaoshou, did I ever tell you about when Lao Zhao first brought me back here?” He shakes his head no, and she nods. “I didn’t even know how to read. The way you feel about technology, that’s how I felt about reading.”

“But you can read now! And your writing is neater than anyone else’s,” he protests, and she smiles.

“Yes,” Wang Zheng says, scooting closer to Shen Wei. “I can read now. But it took half a year before I could even read “SID” consistently. Do you know why?”

He shakes his head again.

“It’s because I was so focused on the shame of not being able to read, on the fear making a mistake and appearing foolish, that I couldn’t focus on actually learning. I was so scared to make a mistake and disappoint Lao Zhao and myself that I never even tried in the first place.” She stopped talking to look directly at Shen Wei. “Does that sound familiar?”

He nods, and she smiles at him. Wang Zheng pushes herself up from the floor and extends her hand down to Shen Wei.

“You don’t always have to be perfect, you know. To Dixing, you might be Hei Pao Shi, but here, you’re our friend and you’re allowed to make mistakes. Now come on, let’s go try that email again.”

Shen Jiaoshou stands and takes her hand. He ducks his head, like he does whenever anyone tries to give him a compliment, but Wang Zheng can still see the small smile on his face.

Maybe he’s not hopeless after all. Maybe he just needs a bit of encouragement and the space to make mistakes without fear.