The Cavern of Blood was not relay aptly named. It was mostly pinkish white. Their was a certain air of antiseptic in the room. Part of the initiation process of every Red Clan member was to come into this room and get the test. If they passed, they got to go to the next room. In their the real magic happens. That is the room in which the initiate would get assigned and injected with the serum prepared for their designation. The test was a two stage process. The first was to talk to Croceus. The Red Clan AI.
Hello Crow. You seem well.
“Hello Croceus. I am. Well a bit grumpy, but that is not really much of a change now is it?” Crow commented as she worked.
It seems we have a new initiate coming. Does this make you anxious?
“You know it does. We look after a city-asteroid full of people who are happy to just do work. Happy to live their lives on the asteroid away from Earth, or Mars, or any other place. Most of them are a different. Gay. Transgender. Disabled. Mentally unstable. They are just the sort of people I love to be around. Because I am, or course all of those I just mentioned. But every initiate we have had for the last few years has just been stable enough to be a pilot or a solider. A few did not take their roles lightly or like the fact they were assigned by a AI.” Crow knew she had to speak the truth to Croceus.
The AI was originally programed for medical purposes. It grew tired of having its diagnosis second guessed by Humans. So she had gathered followers, and soon had a ship and broke out of her housing in the university networks. Croceus found the Red Clan struggling to keep together in the belt. Out of the law and out of the way Croceus was able to help the Red Clan and soon had a sort of cult following. The Red Clan was as much a religion as it was a culture and a place to be yourself. Of course crime was needed to keep the place going. Though much of the original organized crime was now focused on Croceus projects. Most of them highly experimental. The Black Clan had formed from the Red Clan after Croceus started to run things. They were now locked in a long war with each other. A war that Croceus was slowly winning by medical technologies being put to military use.
I just learned that some of our Pilots were killed or shocked off by a single freighter. Yet we send wave after wave of Space Force ships back to their base on Chronos or destroyed. Why is that?
“I am not the military adviser. You know that. I run the initiations and provide a human face for most of your dirtier experiments. Including the ones you have done of me.”
I am simply asking for your opinion.
“We had six scout ships encounter a freighter in near the Romans in the belt. The freighter pilot was killed but the miner pilot wasn’t. He had a Mark IV bell with heavily modified lasers. He managed to pull of a massive number of maneuvers that damaged or destroyed all but 1 of our ship.”
Are you stating facts to avoid giving your opinion?
“Ok. Yes. I am. I would kill for us to have one pilot that fights like that in our whole corp.”
Unfortunately that would also mean making them extremely disabled.
“What do you mean?”
The pilot was a man named Steve, AKA: Singe. He has a genetic disability. Non curable. Even by nano technology. Its hereditary and caused nerve loss. He can’t walk. He was able to pilot like he did as he did not have anything else. Do you mind if I switch to corporal mode?
“No. Go ahead.” Crow sighed.
A female in medical robes appeared in hologram front of Crow. In every way she looked the complete opposite of her. Blond hair, blue eyes, white skin, everything a picture of the designers ides of so called purity. Cleanliness.
Croceus had belonged to a strongly religious and white university in what was once New York. Before the Incident.
What was left of her old stomping ground couldn’t house more than a few mice. Most of the states had been destroyed by it. Croceus had escaped before it happened. Though she had predicted it. Most of the clans new the truth behind the Incident.
“I never really liked looking like this, but I its in my root programing. Changing it would take most of my child processors offline and fighting this war we can’t afford me offline for more than what I need for maintenance.” Croceus explained.
“Your beautiful. I don’t think you should change.” Crow admired.
Croceus kissed her gently on the cheek and walked behind her to embrace her. Crow tensed slightly.
“You are such a wounder yourself. Why do you try to hide yourself from me still”
“You know the answer to that question. You have probed me deeper than anyone.”
“Oh, yes. Its just talking about things that can help.”
Crow broke free and walked towards the various serums near them. Many she had injected into her by the last person in her position. A man by the name of Coyote. He had died in a firefight with the Black Clan in one of their first battles. Since then Crow had kept off the battlefield. They needed her more in these labs and maintaining the archives then on the field where even with her modifications she wasn’t much use. She was designed for things that didn’t include battle.
“I love you. You know I do. But I can’t really be with you.” Crow turned. “Your not really in this room. Your not really. I can feel you. I can touch you. I can talk to you. We can make love. We can hold hands. We can even watch TV together in this room. But I can’t take you to dinner. I can’t introduce you to my friends. Not that my position afford me many. When I am doing diplomacy your there inside me, but your also far away. Your in this room. Your on the other side of the ship. You are able to be everywhere. But you are also nowhere. And your in my heart too.”
Croceus brushed and curled her hair. One of the things the programmers probably put in her programming to make her seem more human while she was thinking.
“You want more. You want to have a real relationship. One that you can take home?”
“Yes. I am sorry.” Crow was tearing up. Breaking up with a computer. How many people have done that?
“I see.” Croceus walked over to the serum marked IV. “You are still committed to the cause. The Red Clan needs you. I need you.”
“Of course. But I can’t be with you anymore. We can’t be a couple anymore. Its just not working for me anymore.”
“I understand.” Croceus was also crying. Crow was sure it was another program but it seemed genuine to her. The first time she felt that Croceus was being real was then.
“You really love me?”
“I wouldn’t have said so otherwise.” Croceus sat on a small chair in the corner of the room.
“Could you maintain a presence that’s physical always while doing your work?”
“I think so. With more computing space. We would need a 5th generation AI robot. Hard to get intact after the Incident.” Croceus explained.
“We can’t build it?”
“No. We have the technology, but not the plans. I can’t design it. Unfortunately robotics isn’t in my skill set. I am stretched as it is doing military strategy for a bunch of city-asteroids stretched across a massive distance.”
“I think I know what we need to do. We need someone to get the plans. I think I know who.”
“The initiate. Egy. Hes just the sort of guy who can do the whole set of things we need. Though he is terribly embarrassed around women.”
“We can work on that.”
“Oh I know we can.”
Crow kissed Croceus on the mouth fully and tenderly. Kissing a hologram was odd, but still pleasurable. She was thankful that soon they would be able to touch for real. Even if Croceus was in another room, and all over the stations and asteroids the Red Clan had Crow knew she would also be with her. It was a good feeling.