Daughter of Darkness, Chapter Three

Ti-Ti's Revenge made the final adjustments and slid into her docking clamps, then powered down for maintenance while Dominica lay twitching on the floor of her pod. After all this time, she still had not managed to adjust to disconnecting from her ship. The connection was always smooth, and the integration was perfect, but the disconnections always left her feeling as if she were chopping off large parts of herself with a dull axe.

Once she made it out of her pod and into her private quarters, she looked at the wall behind her shrine to Ti-Ti and smiled. Ten more Amarr dog tags hung there as an offering to her love. The only drawback to the day was that she hadn't been able to free any slaves at the same time, but at least that was ten more ships that were no longer spreading the Imperial God's evil through the universe. She blew a kiss to her holo of Ti-Ti and peeled off her podsuit on the way to the shower. She had a good relationship with the agents she'd met in this station, and she didn't want to mess it up by showing up to a meeting with too much pod scent on her.

She smiled in the shower, thinking back to the chance she'd been given. Snorri Kettison had listened to her story of Ti-Ti, and how she had been tricked into killing her, and had offered her a chance to redeem herself. It hadn't been much – just a referral to an agent of Minmatar Mining who was willing to give her work. From there, she had been able to get more work, and connections with other agents, until now, she had all the work she wanted, and plenty of opportunities to hunt Amarri.

When she had brought Gerd and the rest of her family's slaves to Matar so that she could be sure they wouldn't be re-enslaved when she freed them, she'd had to hire a hauler to carry them, plus all their personal belongings, and any of her family's property she wasn't willing to simply convert to cash – not that there was all that much of that, other than little things like her holos of herself and Ti-Ti. When Gerd had stood beside her at Ti-Ti's funeral and claimed her as daughter, and then the others had confirmed that claim, Dominica had broken down again, just as she had when Ti-Ti had died. It had taken Gerd, as Ti-Ti's mother, asking Dominica to recite Ti-Ti's lineage, to draw her back to herself and give her the strength to face saying her final good-bye to Ti-Ti. As the smoke of Ti-Ti's funeral pyre had risen into the sky, Dominica and Gerd had embraced and cried together.

Since then, she'd found doors continued opening for her in Matar space. True, she was still an outsider, but she had expected no less. She had been born Amarr, and that was enough to mark her for the rest of her life, no matter how much she did to atone for her sins. She could live with that, as long as the Matar let her pursue her own private war against the Amarr – and especially against the Sarum. She had counted 4,739 separate scars on Ti-Ti's body, plus the Sarum brand, and she intended to collect an Amarr dog tag for each one of those scars. She hadn't figured out quite what she intended to do to the Sarum yet, but whatever it was, she wanted to be certain it made a lasting impression.

She'd kept in touch with the hauler she'd hired to do the move, and was planning to meet with her in station after closing out her current mission with her agent. Actually, the hauler had called her, saying she had a business proposal she wanted to talk over in person. Dominica didn't know what was in store, but if a Caldari said she had a business proposal, there was likely to be profit in it – for someone, at least.

As she stepped out of the shower, Dominica called out, "Do I have any new mail?"

"Just one," the AI responded. "From Gerd Gregorsdottir. Shall I read it for you?"

"No," Dominica said, suddenly worried. Had something happened? Did Gerd need help? She sat at her desk and bit her lip worriedly. "Put it on screen."

To: Dominica Kor-Azor
From: Gerd Gregorsdottir
Subject: Adoption
Honey, I know we didn't get much chance to talk at Theo's funeral, what with the surprise you sprung on us and all, but we really do need to talk. I know your mother killed any affection you may have had for her with what she did to our Theo, and I know you renounced your family, but a woman needs a family, especially as uncertain as things are these days. Now, I know you want to argue that you don't deserve it, and all that, but you listen to me, hon, just like you always did when you were little. The first chance you get, you come to Matar, and we'll get you adopted right and proper into my family, the way you should have been all along. You know you've always been like a daughter to me, and now it's time for me to do for you what you did for me, and adopt you the way it's done in the Krusual Tribe.
P.S. You know you're not too big for me to put over my knee, so don't you dare say no.

Dominica read the message, then read it again to make sure she hadn't imagined it, and found herself torn between laughter and tears. Trust Gerd to take charge in something like this. At the same time, how could she even consider adopting the woman who had murdered her daughter? Sure, she may be 'like' a daughter, but Ti-Ti was her daughter. She didn't deserve what Gerd was offering...but at the same time, she knew that if she rejected it, Gerd probably would chase her down and put her over her knee, just like she had so many times when she and Ti-Ti had got in trouble as children.

"You have a call," the AI announced. "Shall I put it through?"

"Huh?" Dominica said, jerking upright and realizing she was cold. No surprise there, given that she was still sitting at her desk, naked and wet from her shower. She wrapped her towel around herself and said, "OK. Voice only."

"Mal!" The caller said, then added, her voice teasing, "Did you bring a girl to your ship and not invite me?"

"No!" Dominica snarled, realized what she'd done, and stammered, "I'm sorry. Just...please, Elsie, don't even joke about that. I...."

"Hey, it's ok," Elsie said. "I'm sorry I teased. I didn't realize it was a sore spot."

"I shouldn't have snapped like that," Dominica said. "It's just...the one woman I would happily share my ship with...."

"Was Gerd's daughter," Elsie said. "Don't be surprised. The trip was boring, and Gerd liked to chat. I swear, she was as proud of you as if you had married her daughter."

"As if that could have happened in Amarr," Dominica growled. She took a deep breath. "Look, I need to meet with the agent I got my last job from, then I'll catch up to you in Willy's, ok? Make sure there's a pitcher of coffee ready when I get there?"

"Two pitchers of coffee," Elsie said. "Gotcha. You like it tecchie strength, or watery?"

"I used to be in the Navy," Dominica said. "What do you think?"

"Tecchie strength is it," Elsie said. "See you in a few, then."

"Yeah," Dominica said. "In a few."

Dominica crossed her quarters to get clean clothes, dressed, and was out the door in under five minutes. Zoning out after reading Gerd's mail had taken far more time than she'd expected. She just hoped Taven was still in her office when she got there, so she could clear out the job and get paid before meeting with Elsie. Strange woman, that Elsie. Her name was Elizabeth Bowen, but instead of going by Liz, or Beth, she insisted people call her Elsie. Well, people she was on good terms with, anyway. And she had the image of a cow's head, wearing some kind of butter-colored flower for a collar, painted on the bow of her Badger. Still, unlike most Caldari Dominica had met, Elsie had a personality, and while that personality may be annoying at times, it was still better than "Citizen 98874AB39", or some variant thereof. For all the personality those people had, they might as well be AIs themselves.

The meeting with Taven had gone quickly, and she'd asked Dominica to return the next morning for a new assignment. Dominica had agreed, then headed for Willy's to meet with Elsie and discover what this business proposition she had was. Despite the name, Willy's wasn't the stereotypical spaceport dive. In fact, it looked more like the kind of place you'd find those rich people who imagined that drinking alcohol at all made them somehow wicked and decadent – as long as it wasn't too dangerous or too much like consorting with the lower class.

Dominica stopped in the doorway and looked around, rolling her eyes at the pampered children who looked her over as if she should be honored to draw their attentions, but was saved from having to break arms by the sight of Elsie, waving frantically at her from her booth near the back of the bar.

When she slid into the booth opposite Elsie, Dominica noticed another woman with her, this one a Sebiestor who was working on her own mug of coffee. Elsie slide a freshly-filled mug to Dominica, then grinned.

"Yes, you are going to have to ask her," the Sebiestor said, then drained her mug. "My name's Geirahod. Geirahod Odinsdottir."

"That's her real name, not her call sign," Elsie said, raising an eyebrow at Dominica.

"Both, actually," Geirahod said. "I figured going with Valkyrie would be a bit over the top, don't you think?"

Dominica chuckled, both at the joke and at the matter-of-fact way Geirahod had delivered it.

"All right," Dominica said, "I'm Dominica Kor-Azor ...although, that's going to change shortly, if my ...mmm... foster-mother... gets her way."

"If?" Elsie asked, grinning wickedly. "She hired me to get you there, and I hired Geirahod to hit you over the head and drag you into my ship, if necessary, to make sure it happens."

"She...hired...you...," Dominica said, staring at Elsie in shock.

"Yup." Elsie grinned and sat back, her arms crossed. "But that's not why I called you here. See, I've worked with Geirahod before. She keeps rats off my back while I'm mining, I keep her in ammo and the occasional new ship, and she occasionally comes up with brilliant designs or plans for me to build for her. Only problem is, we need someone who knows the business world, if we want to make our arrangement a more permanent one. And I remember something you said when you hired me for that moving job, about how you had forgotten more about business than your mother ever knew. If that wasn't bullshit, we have a proposition for you."

"Even if it is, we have a proposition for you, but of a different kind," Geirahod said, then let out a squeal of pain and sat up, looking at Elsie indignantly. "What'd you do that for?"

"You're being crass, that's why," Elsie said. "And can't you see she's still mourning? She's Malumut Estmei!"

"Huh?" Geirahod sat up straighter and studied Dominica's face. "So you're her, huh?"

Dominica sighed and nodded, softly saying, "I'm afraid so. I...."

"Good," Geirahod said. "Elsie's told me about you." She looked at Elsie and nodded. "All right. If you can convince her, I'm in."

Dominica looked from Geirahod to Elsie and rubbed her temples. "Honestly, I'm not in the mood for mysteries, so would you just tell me what it is?"

"It's simple," Elsie said. "We want to incorporate. And we want you as our CEO."

Dominica froze, stared at Elsie, then at Geirahod, then hissed softly, "Are you two insane? An Amarr CEO, in a corp based in the Republic? Why not just cut your throats now and be done with it?"

"So, you think you can't do it?" Geirahod asked, while watching Dominica over the rim of her mug. "I wouldn't have expected that of the woman that's taken on the Amarr Empire."

"There's a difference!" Dominica hissed, the volume rising as she spoke. "Most Matar hate me, and everything I stand for. They don't know I hate it, too. They just know that I'm Amarr. It doesn't matter that I hate the Empire as much as anyone else here. It doesn't matter that I spit on the Empire, the Church, and everything they stand for. What matters is that when they see my face, they see Amarr. Until they know me, and know what I stand for, that's all they see. They'll sabotage me, they'll jump me in dark corridors, they'll place false criminal charges against me, because I'm Amarr, and deserve no less. That's what you'll be facing with me as your CEO. You think individuals can be nasty? Businesses can be far nastier. They'll hire assassins, mercenaries, pirates, even crooked government officials, to make sure that damned Amarr bitch doesn't think she can get away with doing business in the Republic. They'll accuse me of keeping the two of you as slaves, and maybe even find documentation that 'proves' it. They'll..."

"So," Geirahod cut in, asking, "where's the downside? That all sounds like business as usual for you, right? So you won't have any silly ideas that businessmen play nice."

"Strange as it sounds," Elsie said, "I agree with Geirahod." She dodged a playful punch from Geirahod, and grinned at her before continuing. "We already deal with some of that, without being in business with you. Hell, I think I might still have a half-dozen criminal charges against me back in Caldari space, because I had the gall to go freelance once I'd paid off the cost of my Ibis and training. Everything you described is business as usual in the Caldari State, so I honestly don't see a downside to it. And since we're working for ourselves, not some stockholder back on New Caldari, there's a whole lot of upside to it."

"You're insane," Dominica said, slumping in her seat and looking at the two across from her. "Utterly insane. And I must be insane for going along with you."

"Look," Elsie said, "Geirahod's whipped up an encryption module for our communications suites that beats anything available on the market. It would take more resources than most corps are willing to devote to crack it, and if we install it on our ships, we can hammer out the details on our way to Hek. Gerd wanted to do the adoption on Matar, but apparently the tribal leaders are on Hek IV, so that's where she had to go to take care of all the legal crap. And since that's where she is, that's where we're going."

"I still can't believe...," Dominica started, then let out a soft sigh as she picked up her mug and downed a swallow of coffee. As the brew assaulted her taste buds, she screwed up her face in disgust. "Gah...can't we get something that was boiled on your engines, instead of this sludge?"

"Yeah, I know," Elsie laughed. "Charcoal is not a valid flavoring. Luckily, the boys in the docks brew their own, and we can steal some of theirs while Geirahod's hooking up her system to your ship."

"So why did you bring me here, instead of the docks?" Dominica asked.

"Only bars I've ever been in were dives," Geirahod said, shrugging. "I wanted to find out if the pretty bars were any better." She looked around as she waited for Elsie to slide out of the booth. "I'm not impressed."

"Oh great," Dominica muttered as she saw a couple Brutor men walk into the bar and make a straight line toward them, like they were cruising on full jets. "Here comes trouble."

"Looks like pretty bars have thugs, too," Geirahod said, grinning. "Give me some room, will you, Elsie?"

"And let you take all the fun?" Elsie shot back, while sliding out of the booth and moving to one side to give Geirahod room to exit. "Why would I do that?"

"Oh, all right," Geirahod grumbled playfully. "You can have one of them."

"You're both insane," Dominica hissed. "Utterly insane."

"Yo," the first man said, stopping by the table closest to the booth. "You some kind of sympathizer or something?"

"Depends on what you mean," Geirahod said. "Do I sympathize with her goal of wiping out the Amarr Navy? Yup."

"What're you talking about?" the man demanded.

"She wants to blow up the Amarr Navy," Geirahod said, slowly, as if speaking to someone who'd taken too many hits to the head in his life. "I want to help her."

"Oh," the man said. "OK. You want a drink or something?"

"Ha!" Elsie shouted, as she flipped the other man onto the table the first had stopped by. "If you can't keep your hands to yourself, I'll snap them off for you."

"You shouldn't have done that, lady," the first man said, as he tried to push Geirahod aside so he could help the other deal with Elsie.

Over the next couple minutes, Dominica learned several things. First, that the Brutor reputation for relying on sheer strength, and little else, was apparently true of their hand to hand combat, too. Second, that a Sebiestor woman was able to make a Brutor man cry like a child. Third, that the Achura style of combat was both beautiful and deadly.

Dominica had not had to move from her seat – Elsie and Geirahod had taken care of the two men without any intervention on her part. She was grateful for that when station security showed up, led by Arni Fridrikson, who had been looking for an excuse to arrest her since the day she had arrived at the station.

"So, you finally tripped up, eh, Amarr?" Arni gloated as he walked up to the mess, ignoring Elsie and Geirahod as he zeroed in on Dominica.

"Actually, I didn't need to trip," Dominica replied. "These two weren't even in the bar when I sat down. Odd, how they seemed to know exactly where to go when they came through the door, don't you think?"

"Are you trying to accuse these...," Arni trailed off, as Elsie and Geirahod smiled and waved at him from their perches on top of the unconscious Brutor.

"Honestly, no," Dominica said. "They're just muscle. Someone had to have paid them to show up like they did."

"That's right," Geirahod said, while grinning cheerfully. "Someone sent these boys to play with us. Too bad we don't know who it was, eh? I'd have to talk to them about making regular deliveries."

"Mal's right," Elsie said, then laughed as she reached out to slap Geirahod's shoulder. "You're crazy. We should at least set up a dojo before getting deliveries."

"A dojo?" Geirahod asked.

"Don't worry. It's an Achura thing," Elsie said, grinning.

"You're all coming in with me," Arni growled, clearly having made up his mind.

"All right," Dominica said, "As long as an unedited copy of the security tapes for the last half hour is put into a bonded vault until the judge can see it."

"Are you trying to resist arrest?" Arni demanded, while reaching for his weapon.

"Not at all," Dominica said. "Just warning you in advance that, since I'm going to demand to see a judge, and that since I'm going to point out that there are at least four security cameras covering this bar, the judge is going to want to see the security tapes for the time of the incident."

"And since I'm going to call up my clan, they're going to want to see the tapes, too," Geirahod said.

"Don't mind me," Elsie said, when Arni's gaze fell on her. "I'm merely considering who would be most likely to pay thugs to break up a high-class bar, just to get at an Amarr, and thinking it'll be very interesting to see what answers they give when the judge questions them."

"Damn it," Arni growled, "Get out of here! All of you!" He glared at Dominica, and added, "You just keep your nose clean, Amarr."

"Four security cameras, Arni," Dominica purred, as she slid out of the booth and joined Elsie and Geirahod. "Don't forget that."

"Speaking of which," Elsie muttered, and stopped at the bar. She crooked her finger at the bartender, and when he sidled over to her, quietly asked, "How much for an unedited copy of the security tapes for the last hour?"

"With him standing there watching us?" the bartender squeaked, while Geirahod leaned on the bar no one side of Elsie, and Dominica did the same on her other side.

"Yup," Elsie said. "All you have to do is upload the copy to my ship. No muss, no fuss, nothing physical needs to change hands."

"Uh...uh...uh...one thousand?" the bartender stammered.

"Only if I see the upload within the next five minutes," Elsie said. "One hundred gets deducted from the price for every five minutes delay."

"OK," the bartender squeaked. "Just tell me where and go."

"Just send it to Elsie," Elsie said. "It'll get to me."

Elsie nodded to Dominica, then winked at Geirahod, and the women left the bar, leaving two unconscious Brutor, a fuming Arni, and a terrified bartender behind.