Daughter of Darkness, Chapter One

"Dominica," her mother's voice chided, "you'll never become a proper Sister if you don't pay attention to your studies. Stop wasting your time playing with those foolish toys and get back to your studies!"

"Yes, Mother," Dominica sighed, setting aside the model Crucifier she had been studying, and trudging back to her desk to pick up her copy of the Scriptures and return to studying its words. As much as she wanted to make her mother happy, and as much as the words of the Scriptures drew her, there was something about space ships that drew her, too. She frequently found herself wishing that she could satisfy both her mother and herself, and serve the Lord aboard one of the great ships that patrolled the Empire and expanded its reach to those poor souls that were outside the protection of God's Anointed. If only she could find a way....

"What are you doing, Nica?" Ti-Ti giggled, then fell back with a whimper of pleasure.

Dominica looked up along the length of Ti-Ti's body, grinned, then teased, "Only the exact same thing you're going to be doing in a minute, Ti-Ti."

Ti-Ti shivered as Dominica returned to what she had been doing. Her shivers turned to shudders, and her whimpers turned to cries of joy. Dominica gave her no mercy, continuing her attentions until Ti-Ti collapsed in a combination of post-orgasmic lassitude and a sense of hypersensitivity to Dominica's every touch.

"Now," Dominica purred as she slowly worked her way up Ti-Ti's body, nipping and kissing as she went, to keep that beautiful Minmatar flesh quivering with pleasure, "it's your turn."

Ti-Ti wrapped her arms around Dominica and kissed her hungrily, reveling in her flavor on the lips of her mistress, and willing her body to move, to give to Nica what she had just received.

"I absolutely forbid it!" her mother shrieked. Dominica finished tucking a pair of socks into her bag, then looked up, staring levelly at her mother until her ranting ended. "What would your father say? How can you turn your back on the Lord like this?"

"My father would have said that he was proud," Dominica said, her voice flat as she held in her anger at the cheap shot from her mother. "He would have told me that the Lord needs servants in all areas of life, and that turning away from the area to which you are Called, merely because it is not traditional, is saying that you know better than the Lord what His Will is." She paused, then said, "In fact, that is exactly what he did say, many times, as you know full well."

"What about your whore?" her mother demanded. "What will you do with her?"

"She is not a whore," Dominica said, through gritted teeth. "She is my servant. While I am not allowed to have a slave with me during training I will be expected, as an officer, to provide my own slave. I will be back to collect her when the time is right."

"So you say," her mother said, before turning abruptly and walking out of the room.

"I'm afraid," Ti-Ti said, as soon as she could no longer see Dominica's mother. "I'm afraid she'll do something while you're gone."

"She wouldn't dare," Dominica said softly. "She knows you are mine, and now I have told her that I'll be back to collect you." She looked up, reached out, and said gently, "Come here, Ti-Ti."

Ti-Ti took Dominica's hand, and relaxed as she was drawn close, into a loving, comforting embrace.

"Dominica!" her mother's voice called, a heavy note of disappointment filling it. "I hope you're happy now. You could have been a Sister, in service to the Lord, but look at you!"

"I am serving the Lord," Dominica said quietly, standing in the doorway to her mother's house and returning the angry glare with a level gaze of her own. "You know I was Called, by the orders of Perimum Amyn directly, to service in the Special Forces. If I am Called to be one of God's Warriors, who am I to say that I would rather retreat to the safety of a convent?"

"It's not done!" her mother insisted.

"Obviously, Mother," Dominica replied, using the training in self-control she had received from the Navy to keep her temper in check, "it is done. You might at least be thankful that our position allowed me to become an officer, rather than one of the rabble, and thus able to keep a slave of my own, to ensure that I am cared for as you would wish."

"I suppose you'll be taking that tedious Minmatar girl with you, then," her mother said.

"That was the intention, yes," Dominica said. "I know how you dislike her, and since the investment would be wasted if you were to merely sell her like some common field slave, it makes sense for me to take her with me."

"Go, then," her mother said, a note of defeat in her voice.

Defeat, but never surrender, that was the way of her family. Never surrender, never compromise, even when it might advance their cause. That was how they had gone from being close cousins of the Kor-Azor to being the ones who were pensioned off so as to not embarrass the Heir by their inflexible stubbornness. At least flexibility was one of the things that Dominica had learned at the Academy. Now that she was on her way for special, additional training, beyond what every member of the special forces received, Dominica had no doubt even that would be just the beginning.

"Ti-Ti!" Dominica called as she brushed past her mother, into the house. The household staff stood aside as she headed for the slaves' quarters, each one silently bowing to her as she passed. She finally stood in the doorway to Ti-Ti's room and looked in, anger and hatred striking her dumb. The room was empty, right down to the bare stone floor – not even the rag doll, which Ti-Ti had kept since Dominica had given it to her when they were both four, could be seen.

"As a matter of fact," her mother said, as Dominica turned away from the room with rage burning inside her, "I didn't sell her as a common field slave. I sold her as a concubine."

"Good-bye, Mother," Dominica hissed through clenched teeth. She started down the hallway, toward the front door. When her mother stepped into her path, she hissed, in a voice filled with 21 years of pent-up hatred, "Unless you want me to inherit this estate, you ...will ...move."

"How dare you?" her mother snapped. "I am your mother!"

"Not any more," Dominica said, her voice cold and flat. "My mother is dead." She started forward, only to find her hand snapping out in a killing blow when her mother slapped her face.

"Oh, honey," Gerd, the senior maid – and Ti-Ti's mother – said. "I wish you hadn't done that. Now your career's going to be all messed up."

"I suppose so," Dominica said, her heart sinking as she looked down at her mother's body. Gerd was right. Her future was gone, and all because she couldn't restrain her temper at the end. "You might as well call the Inquisitors."

"No!" Gunnar, her mother's butler – and Ti-Ti's father – yelled. Before Dominica knew what was happening, he was crouched over her mother's body, his hands wrapped around her throat, shaking it violently – so violently that she heard the neck snap. Then he rose, and started toward her, his hands outstretched.

"Don't do this, Gunnar!" Dominica cried, when she saw the clear, calculating look in his eyes.

"You know you have to, Nica," Gunnar hissed. "If you don't, your life will be ruined. Mine is already over. Let my death mean something. Please!"

Dominica knew what he meant. Her training told her what to do, but she'd always expected to use it in enemy territory, not in her own mother's home. She locked eyes with him, pleading, first with her gaze, then with her voice, "Don't do this, Gunnar! Please!" right up until the moment he placed his hands around her neck.

Even at the end, when she drew her Navy-issue pistol and shot him, she realized he had only squeezed hard enough to leave believable bruises at her throat.

After the Inquisitors had come and gone, taking her mother's body, and Gunnar's, with them, Dominica and Gerd had shared a bottle and wept – over Gunnar's death, not her mother's. Dominica sat up that night, going through her mother's records with Gerd's help, searching for anything that could tell her where Ti-Ti had been sold. When the sun rose, she was no closer to finding her than she had been when the night began, and Dominica was due to catch a shuttle that would take her to her special training station, where she would be issued an Impairor and given individual training before being sent out as an independent agent of God's Will. Right now, she wasn't sure what God's Will was, but she knew that if she didn't report for duty, she would make a mockery of Gunnar's sacrifice.

As she left the estate in Gerd's care, not particularly caring whether she ever saw it again, Gerd gave her a datachip with the last of her mother's files on it – files she had not been able to decipher during the night, but which might contain some clue to where Ti-Ti had been taken. Dominica embraced Gerd, and swore that she would find Ti-Ti and bring her home.

Weeks passed, then months, and still, Dominica did not find any leads. Her exchanges of messages with Gerd had begun to give her a keen appreciation of the intricacies of maintaining an estate; an appreciation that those she did business with as a "freelance" capsuleer grew first to admire, then curse, as her business sense grew at the same speed as her mastery of the ships she flew. As part of her mission, she studied the ships of the Caldari and the Gallente, and soon was flying a Catalyst she had bought at a price not much more than that of a legally-acquired Punisher.

Not long after acquiring her Catalyst – maybe a week or two – she received a message from the Theology Council Tribunal in Avair. After docking and a quick shower – not too long, as she'd learned quickly that leaving a hint of capsule scent in her hair helped tilt negotiations in her favor – Dominica reported to the office of Aliman Kahtas and sat, reading from a copy of the Pax that was conveniently placed for visitors to use, while she waited.

"I wonder if the Emperor intended his book as propaganda," Dominica thought as she read, "or if he really believed what he was writing when he wrote it."

The secretary looked up from her work, focused on Dominica, and said, "Pallas? Go right in."

Dominica set the Pax aside and stood, nodded to the secretary, and walked through the door into Aliman Kahtas' office.

"So, you're Pallas," Aliman Kahtas said. The lights in the room were arranged so that, while Dominica was in light, the person behind the desk was in shadow. If she had had any unconfessed sins on her soul, Dominica would have been shaken by the arrangement. As it was, she was merely annoyed that she couldn't see who she was speaking to.

"I am," Dominica said. "You called?"

"I did, didn't I?" Kahtas said. "Your reputation does seem to fit the name you've chosen to use as your call sign. So, you should be just the pilot we need for this job."

"I certainly hope so," Dominica said. "What do you need?"

"We've intercepted reports of a pirate base not far away," Kahtas said. "Unfortunately, we sent a less experienced pilot to investigate before you, and they used some kind of hypnotic weapon on him. After he lowered his shields, they blew his ship apart."

"Hypnotic weapon?" Dominica asked. If such a weapon existed, the Navy could use it to win battles decisively, without having to fire a shot. We could carry God's Word into the rest of the galaxy without wasting lives and resources.

"Yes," Kahtas said. "Apparently, it works by transmitting some kind of hypnotic signal over the audio portion of any communications they transmit."

"So, if they send an offer to surrender, they could actually be transmitting their hypnotic attack?" Dominica asked.

"Exactly," Kahtas said. "So it's vitally important that you reject any attempts by them to communicate with you. If you accept one of their messages, you could be accepting your death."

"I understand," Dominica said.

"Don't leave any survivors, Pallas," Kahtas said. "We'll send people to go through their facility later."

"No survivors," Dominica said. "I understand."

"I've heard good things about you. I expect confirmation of those good things." Kahtas turned away from her, and Dominica knew she had been dismissed.

On her way back to her ship, Dominica called ahead, ordering a fresh supply of antimatter shells for her blasters and a full diagnostic scan of the ship, just to make sure it was ready for any combat she might encounter. As she walked into her docking bay, she saw the hangar crew transferring one of her Acolytes from storage into its launch bay in her ship. It wasn't much, but she'd had enough times that her life had been saved by the distraction of a drone, picking away at the enemy's shields, that she never went out without a drone loaded and ready to launch.

"Mr. Krumm," Dominica asked as she stopped beside the hangar's crew chief, "how's my EVA suit?"

"Hmm," Mr. Krumm said, flipping through the screens on his data pad. "Ah. Here we go. Pressure tested and certified ready to go. Tanks filled and sealed in accordance with Navy standards, Sir."

"Let's try to keep the 'Sirs' to a minimum, Mr. Krumm," Dominica said, smiling as she did. "I am supposed to be a freelancer, after all."

"As am I, Sir," Mr. Krumm said, his voice reduced from its usual boom to a level that was covered – for the most part – by the noises of a busy station's main docks. "It doesn't change the fact that you're an Officer and I'm a crew chief, Sir."

"I suppose you're right, Mr. Krumm," Dominica said, then winked and added, "Still, we'll have to forgo the salutes this time. Do you think you can settle for a handshake?"

"Aye, Sir," Mr. Krumm said, extending his beefy hand as the crew finished docking the Acolyte and cycled the launch systems several times before closing the doors and disconnecting the docking bay's diagnostics systems. "Your ship is ready to go, Sir. Good hunting."

"Thank you, Mr. Krumm," Dominica said, taking the hand, using her smile as a means of covering her desire to laugh at his inability to unbend enough to truly sink into the waters they were swimming in. She idly wondered how many people on this station did not know he was working for the Navy.