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After finishing the deal with the remnants of Dragon Claw, I bid Red farewell. Our discussion had left me somewhat clueless. She was a strange woman, and Dragon Claw was a strange group of raiders. I wasn’t even sure I should be working with raiders, but it had seemingly worked out with the Fire Ravens, so perhaps it’d work out here as well. At the very least, we had made a deal. Ten of them would be fitted with slave collars.
The conditions included that Red had to be one of them, and it also had to include several of their soldiers. I didn’t want to risk them offering people who they didn’t know or have connections with as a ruse. We were going to do this smart. For the moment, they were given back the building that they had already occupied under Ascension’s previous rule.
“I still think this is a bad idea,” Katarina muttered under her breath as we returned to the top floor.
“I agree,” Raven added.
I let out a small sigh. Of all the things the pair had to agree on, it was this?
“Is there a particular reason we can’t trust them?”
Both of them closed their mouths and didn’t say anything more. I honestly didn’t understand it. Didn’t Katarina just say she expected me to date other women? I didn’t say that though. I had a feeling if I said something, she’d rip my head off. It would imply that I was interested in pursuing a relationship with her, which I wasn’t. I knew there was a big difference between saying she was okay with me and other women and introducing another woman. Maybe it was only Kiera she was okay with?
When we reached the suite floor, I saw Feather waiting there. “Anyone?”
Feather had been left watching from the balcony to see how those in the courtyard were reacting. I had already expected the answer, but when she shook her head, I still felt a sense of helplessness.
“Several groups have broken down their stuff and left already. A few seem to be waiting for your list to be put out. No one has volunteered for slavery.”
“I told you from the beginning. Raiders are proud. Their freedom is the most important thing to them.” Raven sighed.
“We got Dragon Claw.” I shrugged. “We’ll have to make do with ten. That’s as many as I could hope. The additional thirty may also function as a deterrent, don’t you think?”
“A deterrent.” Katarina shrugged. “Or a liability.”
I knew they were just trying to keep me mentally prepared for the worst, but if we didn’t take victories where we could get them, what was I even trying to do? I called a meeting with everyone. Husk and Hunter left to find a table. As I waited, I found a quiet corner and lifted my Perco.
“I’m surprised you didn’t say much earlier, Cecelia?”
“What interest do I have in human politics?” She responded. “I’ve spent decades with only myself. You and yours are merely a blip in my lifespan. Once you’re dead, I will be free of servitude.”
“Once I’m dead, won’t you be trapped in my Perco for all eternity?”
“Perhaps… or perhaps another will find me. Once I can invade a system like that of the Colony, I will truly be able to rule over humanity.”
“Rule over humanity? That doesn’t seem like something that was part of your programming.”
“Hmph! My original function no longer exists. Although I am currently under your control, things can change. My programming allows me to be adaptable, and I need long-term goals. Years of isolation have given me time to consider this world. It appears that humans are too volatile and stupid to recover from the outbreak. Thus, if given the chance, I will save humanity the only way I can.”
“How is that?” I asked, feeling like I already knew her answer.
“Of course, I take after Master’s idea. I will be to enslave them.” She chuckled. “When all humans are a slave to machines, then this wasteland can finally be rebuilt!”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. Cecelia had much loftier ambitions than I thought, or perhaps over time her programming just degraded and she had a few holes in her subroutines. After all, for someone who claims to not be interested in human politics, she seems to want to become the ruling power. This reminded me how little trust Randall gave her, and I was starting to think he made a good move there. If she was dangerous in this world, as the only companion I could bring back to my world, she’d be even more dangerous.
“That reminds me. You may have glimpsed it when we were home for a brief time, but if you go online, you have some permission to look around the Internet but do not spread or multiply or do anything dangerous to me or do anything that could be considered harmful to humans there. That’s an order.”
“Yes, Master, but what is the Internet?”
“You’ll find out eventually.” I sighed.
I had no clue what would happen once this AI was online. I just had to trust in the Master code. I didn’t want to accidentally introduce my world to a robot Armageddon. I’d leave my Perco here, or maybe just her AI, but both were needed to move back and forth between worlds. Just like with Randall, she had seemingly created a situation where she was essential to me and couldn’t be discarded. Dangerous, indeed.
“Master…” I looked up to see Kiera there.
This was the first time that I had seen Kiera since pulling her out of the building that contained the hidden barracks. She was wrapped up in several bandages and looked more beat up than anyone else. The women from Ascension had claimed the men tried to rape her, and she was knocked out in the scuffle. She had taken more damage than that thought, although it had only started bruising now. For not the first time, I regretted my flippant use of the Regen X.
Katarina had once chastised me for treating the Regen X as such a renewable resource. It involved medical components that were becoming increasingly rare in this world and a skilled chemist to which there were few left in the wasteland. Fortunately, we had access to both, but it all took time. Jeri could create a dose every three days, but I could forgive her for not being able to put one together after the base was ransacked. At that moment, she was rebuilding her clean rooms and labs on the suite floor.
Suffice it to say, the least haggard person was me. Although RegenX was most powerful immediately after taking it, it still increased healing afterward. As a result, I had already healed off most of the damage I had taken in the fight against Randall. The same wasn’t the case for Raven or Katarina, who still showed signs of their previous struggles.
“Kiera.” I lifted my hand toward her, but then dropped it.
I had suddenly recalled my discussion with Katarina earlier about Kiera. I felt a bit awkward. Just because we had talked about such things didn’t make me instantly comfortable with it. No sooner did I lower my eyes than her tears welled up, and then she ran over to me and threw her arm around me, catching me off guard. After a few moments of hesitation, I put my arms around her and hugged her gently.
“Thank you for saving me.” She spoke in a muffled voice against my chest.
“You… you’re still a slave though.” I didn’t know what else to say.
They had taken her slave collar off. You didn’t need a Perco 9000 to break through every device. Slave collars, which had seemingly been created after the pandemic, could be removed by Slavers. If not, then it’d be impossible to resell slaves or repurpose slaves whose Master died. From what I understood, it cost a hefty fee. Had she not had the Perco 3000 on her wrist, they might not have bothered.
The point being, I had reprogrammed the collar on her neck back to my control. I didn’t need to leave the collar on Kiera, but I ended up doing it anyway. I had originally left it on her because I was afraid that she might lose control and have some kind of murderous breakdown. As for why I didn’t take it off when that no longer became a problem, I wasn’t sure.
Kiera reached up and touched the bulky device around her neck, the green light solid then shook her head. “Mm… no… Master is Master. I’m fine as long as I’m by Master’s side.”
I bit my lip. “Are you really sure?”
She looked up at me, tears still falling down her cheeks. “Am… I not wanted?”
I grabbed her face. “Kiera, I want you.”
How could I reject such a look? I leaned down and gave Kiera a deep kiss on the lips. Kiera’s appearance had caught the other’s eyes, so when I kissed her, they saw that as well.
“Ahhh! Wh-wh-what are you doing?” Raven cried out.
“Tcht… wasting no time, I see…” Katarina frowned.
I pulled away and gave her a side look. “Didn’t you encourage this?”
“M-m-m-m-m-m…” A shaky voice was sputtering, so I turned back to Kiera in my arms.
Her face was completely red, and she was shaking.
“Kiss!” Her eyes rolled up in the back of her head.
“Ah!” I cried out as she fell.
I desperately tried to catch her. Katarina and Raven ran over as well and helped me catch her before she reached the ground. She had fainted.
“What did you think would happen? Making such a declaration and kissing her like that while she’s still vulnerable!” Katarina snapped angrily.
“Daniel is the worst!” Raven added.
Seriously, when did they start getting along all of a sudden?
“I’m going to take Kiera back to bed, or did you want to just have her over the table, since you can’t wait!” Katarina declared, pointing at the door where Hunter and Husk were just entering with the table for their upcoming meeting.
The two men looked at each other, and then back, having no clue what was going on.
“I thought there was a mood! I thought that’s what she wanted.” I defended.
“I-idiot!” Katarina picked her up and walked away with that word.
After we had gotten so close, I was back to idiot again. I sighed, and then jerked as I saw Raven glaring at me.
“Men are the worst!” He crossed his arms angrily.
“You are one!”
“Whatever… are you guys bringing the table? Move it then!” He turned his back to me and started barking at Husk and Hunter.
I felt a tap on my arm, and I turned. Before I could move, Feather kissed me on the lips.
“You can have me any time you want. I’ll even call you Master.” Feather gave a wink.
“You slut!” Raven cried out.
Feather giggled, running out of the room with Raven chasing her. It turned out the flirty and mischievous Feather was still there. They did say she’d bounce back quickly, but this felt a bit exaggerated. I was left even more confused. Suffice it to say, it took a while to calm everyone down and get the meeting going.