Daughter of Darkness, Chapter Two

Dominica drifted through space, her engines shut down to the minimum necessary for life support and passive scanning. So far, all she'd felt on her skin was the occasional sound of a ship going through one of the jump gates, and the random noise of space. Nothing had given her any indication of life in this system at all, let alone pirates. She'd been drifting for over two days now, listening and waiting. If something didn't happen within the next twelve hours, she was tempted to head back to Avair and tell Kahtas that his information was bad.

Another jump signature, and more background noise. She was starting to feel as if she could tell what kind of ship was going through a gate, just by the noise it made on her hull. She rotated, bringing her primary sensors to bear on another arc of space, when the realization suddenly hit her, "There's no gate in that direction! How could there have been a jump?"

Her engines spooled up in a matter of moments, her sensors and weapons came fully on line within a minute after that, and Pallas was ready to hunt. She accelerated toward the sound of the jump signature, while probing ahead of herself with every sensor she possessed. There it was, a faint beacon in the belt a couple dozen AU ahead of her. She lined up on the signal and brought her warp system online. With a flare of energy, she made the transition to warp space and brought her Acolyte online, ready to launch as soon as she dropped back into normal space.

With a flare of energy, Pallas' warp bubble collapsed. She launched her Acolyte as soon as her sensors registered normal space, and sent it patrolling around herself. With that done, she scanned her surroundings. The beacon of energy she'd detected was faint – so faint she would have never noticed it over the background noise if she hadn't been alerted by the jump signature. Within the thickest part of the belt, there was an asteroid colony, clustered around a jump gate that wasn't on any legal maps. One of the structures in the colony was a power plant, that was leaking just the tiniest amount of energy. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't have mattered. In this case, it had drawn her to it.

While she was deciding how best to go about dealing with this colony, sentry guns began opening fire. She launched herself forward, straight at the nearest gun, ignoring its blasts as they exploded against her shields. She drove in, until she was close enough she could see the cables leading from its power core, then dodged to one side, while opening up with all of her belly blasters. The gun glowed, then buckled, then flew apart in a hail of shrapnel as the other guns, unable to follow the sudden change in direction, had continued firing where Pallas had last been, adding their beams to the bolts of antimatter she had poured into the gun.

The Acolyte, following its pre-launch instructions, flew toward one of the other guns and began circling it, firing bolt after bolt of laser energy into it. Each bolt didn't mean much, but they kept hitting, and the drone moved so quickly that the gun was unable to get a good target lock on it, despite repeated attempts. Pallas took advantage of the drone's distraction to empty her blasters into the same gun, and a second explosion spread debris through space. In short order, the last two guns followed the first two, and Pallas swung around to focus her ire on the colony the guns had been protecting.

"There's no way these people can't be pirates," Pallas thought. "Their ships may be away, but the only reason they could have for opening fire like that is if they were trying to hide something. I'll just check it out after I finish them off. Given that Kahtas was right about them being here, I'll bet he was right about their secret weapon, too. Won't it be something if I can take that back to the Navy?"

Pallas began circling the colony, her blasters cycling continuously, one taking up the beat immediately after the next, in a rain of destruction Dominica had learned could be maintained for hours without overloading her systems or overheating her weapons. When the colony broke apart and began drifting in large, disconnected pieces, she ceased firing and waited, while her weapons cooled with the ticking accompaniment of cooling metal.

After an hour, when no ships showed up to investigate, and the jump gate showed no signs of activating, Pallas let herself relax, ended her alert scanning, and Dominica reluctantly withdrew herself from the ship's embrace. The ship's pumps drained her pod of its precious life-sustaining fluid, and the linkage cables retracted, leaving Dominica twitching at the bottom of her pod as she regained her connection to her organic body.

"That gets harder every time," Dominica thought, as she pulled herself to her feet and padded to her shower. "If I don't find Ti-Ti soon, I might end up never wanting to disconnect."

Once she was clean and dry, she slipped into her EVA suit and out the airlock on a tether. She had parked closest to the largest portion of the colony, expecting that it would have the best chance of holding any usable remains of the secret weapon. With her tether anchored to an exposed piece of framing, she started into the wreckage, her suit's light guiding her through the mess.

The deeper she got into the wreck, the more confused Dominica became. If this was a pirate base, why was there no weaponry, no loot, not even many people, for that matter? The few corpses she had encountered had all been slaves' corpses. Aside from the corpses, there had been crates and barrels of the most basic of supplies – water, medicines, food, blankets, but not a single item that had any value, except as part of a relief shipment.

She finally came upon a doorway that was sealed, with a light that blinked slowly, indicating there was pressure on the other side. The sign on the wall, written in Minmatar script, indicated it was the control center for the colony. If there was any place that the secret weapon could be found, this was it. Dominica aimed her Navy-issue pistol at the lock and held down the trigger until the mechanism melted and ran out, in great drops of glowing metal that crusted over as they drifted from the lock, only to shatter on contact with anything solid, revealing their molten cores. Air whistled out through the destroyed lock, creating a fog as it swirled around her, until it was no more.

Dominica opened the door, and stepped into a scene from one of her mother's fondest dreams. All around her were slaves, every one spasming as they died from lack of air. Dominica slammed the door shut and pushed herself off toward the control console, hoping she remembered the commands necessary to dump the emergency air supply into a colony's system. As she bounced off drifting, dying slaves, she cursed Kahtas and his bad intelligence. A hideout for escaped slaves was entirely different than a pirate base!

At the control console, Dominica found one of the slaves, collapsed over the controls, still spasming weakly as her body tried to draw in enough air to live. Dominica pushed her aside and frantically scanned the console, letting out a scream of frustration when she saw that the emergency air supply was what she had just vented into space. She turned toward the slave she had just pushed aside, and froze, staring, until the impact of another body pushed her against the slave. She grabbed the slave and launched herself across the room, ruthlessly batting aside any bodies that crossed her path. For the first time, she was thankful the colony's gravity was completely absent, as she planted her feet on the wall beside the door and pushed, sending herself and her burden rocketing down the hallway.

At the end of the hallway, Dominica's free hand snapped out and wrapped loosely around her tether, using it to guide her flight back to her air lock. She hit the wall inside the lock and slapped the emergency charge button. The airlock door slammed shut, and air flooded in, restoring pressure in less than a minute. Dominica tore off her helmet and knelt beside the slave, then hugged her tightly and sobbed.

"I'm...not...dead...yet...," the slave gasped. "Not...dead...yet...Nica..."

"Ti-Ti!" Dominica sobbed. "Don't leave me! Don't go! Don't die!"

Dominica scooped Ti-Ti up in her arms and carried her to her infirmary. Even if it was little more than a glorified first aid station, it was still better than the floor of the airlock. Ti-Ti curled up in her arms, almost in a fetal position, as Dominica rushed down the hallway. None of this made any sense. There was no secret weapon, as far as Dominica had been able to see. All there had been, had been dozens of slaves, of every age and race, and not one of them had been equipped for combat of any kind, let alone what Kahtas had led her to expect.

In the infirmary, Dominica gently placed Ti-Ti on the table, then rummaged through the supplies until she found the stims. She peeled the backing off the first patch she found with a warning label, then pushed aside Ti-Ti's shirt, only to stop and gasp in horror at the expanse of scars she saw under it. The rasping sound Ti-Ti made when she drew in a breath brought her out of her shock, and Dominica applied the patch to a stretch of skin that looked mostly unscarred, then sank to her knees beside the table and draped an arm over Ti-Ti's hip.

"What did they do to you, Ti-Ti?" Dominica whispered, "Oh God, what did they do to you?"

"What they do...," Ti-Ti gasped, touching Dominica's hair with her hand, "to every slave."

Dominica looked up, into Ti-Ti's eyes, and saw ...she wasn't sure just what, at first, until it slowly sank in, and she realized what she was seeing was ...forgiveness. She reached out to Ti-Ti, and in a moment, the two were embracing as they hadn't since she had left for the Academy. Dominica showered Ti-Ti with kisses, while Ti-Ti weakly caressed her, until a racking cough forced them apart. Ti-Ti gazed at Dominica apologetically as she coughed, while Dominica handed her a cloth to wipe the pink froth from her lips.

"I'm afraid...," Ti-Ti whispered, "we don't have... much time."

"No!" Dominica protested. "Just hold on, Ti-Ti. I'll get you to help."

"It's ok, Nica," Ti-Ti said gently, then coughed up more foam. "I've expected... to die... since your mother... sold me... to..." She curled around herself as she coughed, her whole body spasming with the effort.

"Don't try to talk, Ti-Ti," Dominica said gently. "Just let me hook you up to the monitors, and I'll get you to the best medical care in the region."

"Too... late," Ti-Ti whispered. She clutched at Dominica's hair and raised her head from the table, as her whole body went into spasms. "Hold me."

Dominica wrapped her arms around Ti-Ti and held her close. "I'm here, my love," she said, softly, her love for Ti-Ti giving her the strength to control her voice. "I'll never leave you again."

"I... know," Ti-Ti whispered. "I'm... afraid... I... must...."

Ti-Ti's voice faded, and her spasms ended, her body growing limp in Dominica's arms. Dominica crawled up onto the table and pulled Ti-Ti's body into her lap, wrapped her arms around her, and rocked slowly as she held her, until the body was cold.

"Dominica, there is an incoming message from Aliman Kahtas." The AI's voice broke through Dominica's fog.

Dominica slowly raised her head and snarled, "Go away!" She hurled the nearest object, her copy of the Scriptures, at the speaker grill. The book hit the off switch and bounced off.

Kahtas...he had started this. No, it wasn't just him. When she had undressed Ti-Ti so she could clean her up, she had discovered, among all the other scars on her body, a brand, in the shape of the Sarum family emblem. At that moment, an entry in her mother's files, dated just a week after she had left for the Academy, had made sense. She had wondered why anyone – let alone a Sarum – would pay over a thousand ISK for a shipment of botanicals from their gardens, when the gardens were nothing more than hobby projects, with no real financial value. It wasn't just Kahtas, it was the whole rotten system, from the Empress on down. How could she have not seen it? The Scriptures talked of love and duty, but at the same time, they also spoke of slavery with the same approval. To make matters worse, no matter how she had searched them, she had not found a single reference, anywhere in the Scriptures, that advised, let alone mandated, that slaves be treated decently. Everywhere she searched, she saw nothing but platitudes for the underlings, and permission for the rulers. If this was God's Word, then God was Evil, and deserved only contempt.

Dominica curled up on the passenger lounge bench wrapped a blanket around herself, and stared into the distance as she dredged up every happy memory of her times with Ti-Ti, from their meeting when they were so young she couldn't pronounce "Theodora Thora," and so had dubbed her Ti-Ti, to their last night together, the night before she had left for the Academy. Inevitably, as she wandered through her memories, her thoughts drifted to memories of her search, of the repeated dead ends, the false trails, of her total blindness to the clue that had been under her nose all this time, and to the end that had come to the search, with such utter finality. Dominica hugged herself and sobbed, submerged in guilt she could never purge, knowing that, regardless of the reason, she had been the one who had killed Ti-Ti. She knew Ti-Ti had forgiven her at the end, but she could not forgive herself. She was just as guilty as those she hated, and nothing could change that. All she could do was try to honor Ti-Ti in death, even though she had failed to honor her as she should have in life.

Dominica pulled into orbit around Hek IV and called the Krusual Tribe Bureau station, asking for their repatriation officer. The communications officer put her on hold, then left her hanging for over an hour before a different image appeared.

"I am Snorri Kettison," the face said. Dominica found herself drawn into the tattoos covering his face, remembering Gunnar's stories of the tattoos and their meanings. "You need help with repatriating someone?"

"I...," Dominica began, then broke into tears, her last shred of self-control gone as she realized that, now that she was here, Ti-Ti was truly gone. "I... I promised her... that I would bring her home...."

"You promised someone," the face said, "that you would bring her home? Who is she?"

"Her name," Dominica said, "was Theodora Thora, daughter of Gunnar and Gerd. Gunnar was the son of Ingvar and Berta. Gerd was the daughter of Gregory and Ingmar. Damn, it's been so long since I played the game, I can't remember the other names, but I have to if I'm going to give her the honor she deserves." She hugged herself, unknowingly triggering a minor bit of panic in the station's security office as all her blasters armed, then disarmed. "Ingvar was the son of...Sigurd and Astrid...." As she focused on the recitation, she found herself calming, and the names came more and more easily, until, three hours later, she finished with, "...and Folkvardr was the son of Hakon, called Fenrisulfr, and Gunnvarr, whose clan was the last to fall to the Amarri invaders." She slumped in her pod, drained, both physically and emotionally, then raised her head and looked into Kettison's eyes, as she asked, "I know I don't deserve it, but please, I beg of you, allow me to help you put her to rest, in whatever way an outsider may be permitted."

"You truly loved her," Kettison said, watching her with awe in his eyes. "I'll do what I can." He paused, then asked, "Your call sign...our records show that your ship is registered to an Amarri Naval officer who uses the call sign 'Pallas'. What happened to her?"

"Pallas is dead," Dominica said, her voice cold and flat. "She, and everything she believed in, no longer exists. The Amarr Empire destroyed her when they sent her to murder the woman she loved."

"Fair enough," Kettison said, clearly taken aback by the response. "But ...Malumut Estmei?"

"Isn't it appropriate?" Dominica asked. "I destroyed my light, my reason for living. After months of searching for her, desperately trying to find her so I could bring her home, I killed her. Doesn't that qualify me as evil? Doesn't that make me the evil one?"

"I'm afraid I couldn't say," Kettison said, as calmly and levelly as he could manage. "You say the Amarr sent you to kill her. Why don't you send me your log, so I can see what happened for myself?"

Dominica twitched, then nodded. "All right. It's the least I can do for her. Prepare to receive."

"Ready whenever you are," Kettison responded.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when Dominica ordered her AI to send everything from the moment she had been called to Aliman Kahtas' office to the present. The upload took several minutes, during which she thought about Ti-Ti's scarred body, and silently promised herself that, if the Matar didn't execute her for what she had done, she would make the Amarr pay. One ship per scar, that would be a good beginning. And if she ever found a way to destroy the Sarum, that would go farther – much farther – toward soothing the pain in her heart.

Kettison scanned the log, skimming over the large areas of waiting, watching Dominica's recording of her meeting with Kahtas, then watching the attack on the slaves hideout, from the first signal to Dominica's response to Ti-Ti's death. Four hours went by while he studied the log, and Dominica simply floated in space, silently waiting for his verdict.

"Come to my office when you've docked," Kettison said. "We'll talk more in person. I need to find any of her clan who might still be living, and free, so the funeral can be properly done."

"I'll be in as soon as I make it through the docking queue," Dominica said. "Thank you."