He just wanted to enjoy the magic of it all, but there was work to be done and so he couldn't. Sighing almost bitterly, Dorn pulled himself to his feet and walked over to the panel of monitors in his cabin. A quick scan showed that the flight pattern was as it should be, their speed was as it should be, the stars were in the right place, and the time was right. Clearly the jump had been successful and he only vaguely wondered why the computer was not announcing their arrival. Distracted as he was by thoughts of Rowena and their bittersweet parting, Dorn's concern slid from his mind. He thought back to that last passionate kiss and his promise that he would return to her as soon as he could do so. Normally when he would leave on one of these journeys, she would wish him well and send him on his way without concern. This time, however, Rowena had had to fight back her tears while she asked if this trip was really necessary. His skin, naturally dark, had looked exceptionally so against the paleness of hers when he had stroked her cheek and told her this was a routine trip to deliver supplies to one of the smaller planets. "It’s in a protected region of space, dear heart," Dorn had told her. "I should be out there and back in a matter of days." Rowena had closed her blue eyes, fighting down her rising fear. "I had a dream this morning, Dorn. A terrible dream ..." He nuzzled her neck, his red beard tickling her as he knew it would. She snuggled close to him then rolled them both over so that she could lay the long length of her slender, athletic build along his strong and masculine body. Dorn had listened patiently while she had told him of her dream and asked if, just this once, he could let someone else take the risks. "That would mean that Jack would have to make the voyage." Dorn had told her. "And with Marsha so close to term ..." Rowena had sighed and he had not finished; there had been no need. The ship suddenly lurched, jerking Dorn back to the present moment and his pleasant ruminations were replaced by the sound of the First Mate's voice over the intercom. "What is it?" Dorn impatiently demanded. "Sir, we need you at the helm immediately. Captain Springer of the StarRunner has demanded our surrender." "I'll be right there." Dorn took off at a run, bolting out of his cabin and turning immediately for the main deck. As he ran, Dorn evaluated his options. Captain Springer was a known pirate, but they should be in a sector of space where the pirates would not dare go. Could the computer have made a miscalculation? Unlike his peers, Dorn had never convinced himself that they should place so much trust in those infernal machines and he had taken a great deal of good-natured ribbing because of it. While he would be vindicated if the computer had indeed made a mistake, they had been left in a very vulnerable position because of it. When he arrived on the deck, frightened eyes looked in his direction, especially those of his First Mate. "How the hell did a pirate sneak up on us in this sector of space?" Dorn demanded of his First Mate even while he took stock of the situation. "I don't know, Sir, we're looking into that now." The First Mate's hands were shaking, not badly, but still noticeably and Dorn wondered about that for a brief moment before turning his attention to the problem at hand. "Shall I put him on?" the communication officer asked. Dorn's grey eyes pensively looked at the men around him and the first flutterings of suspicion entered his mind. "Yes." Seated in his Captain's chair, Dorn looked for all of the world like a bored prince when the console lit up to show him an image of Captain Springer. The pirate hadn't changed since their last encounter. His luxurious black hair hung well below his shoulders, matching perfectly the pirate's thick black beard. Bright blue eyes peered out of the Springer's handsome face, measuring Dorn with as much calculation as Dorn was measuring him. "Ah, Captain MacMillian, what a pleasant surprise it is to find you bringing such fine supplies to us." The pirate grinned tauntingly at Dorn. "You know damned well that I'm not bringing anything to you." Dorn answered smoothly, his smile every bit as mocking as the pirate’s. "Nor will I surrender to you." "You haven't changed a bit my friend." Springer laughed softly. "And, I do believe that you mean exactly what you say, however, what you don't understand is that your ship has already surrendered." Before Dorn could answer, the door behind him swept open with an ominous swishing sound and, in that moment, he met the eyes of his First Mate and knew precisely what had taken place. Casually, in fact almost carelessly, he looked over his shoulder. Half a dozen of Captain Springer's crew strode onto the deck and circled around him. Dorn felt a grim sense of purely masculine satisfaction that Springer and those who had betrayed him had assumed that he would not surrender nor be easily killed. Silently, Dorn sent a prayer of gratitude to Rowena for her gentle and supportive love followed by a prayer to any god or goddess that might be listening to watch over her. With a wicked, devil-may-care grin, he smoothly came to his feet and hit the nearest man as hard as he could, sending the careless fellow sprawling across the deck. The next several moments were a flurry of striking fists and kicking boots before a crashing blow caused bright, flashing lights to dance in Dorn's eyes, followed by darkness. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Not giving a tinker's damn who heard him, Dorn moaned mightily when he woke, and his moan was answered by a rich chuckle that he immediately recognized. "You're a cowardly bastard, Frederick." "And you are a fool, Dorn," Springer answered easily. "You knew I would not have shown if I didn't hold a winning hand, and you fought me anyway." "When I do finally get to fight with you, I'm going to pound you into fish bait." Dorn glared at him with the one eye that was not swollen shut and was pleased to see that even now his nemesis would not face him alone. "Ah, Dorn. Dorn, my friend, why do you insist on such a non-profitable course?" Springer felt safe in not responding to Dorn's taunts. "You, of all the men that I know, could be one of the richest men in the galaxy if you would release those artificial morals that you cling to." "Bite me." Dorn rolled to his knees and forced himself to his feet. "All that wealth does you no good at all. You'll be just as dead when the authorities, or I, catch up with you." "I told you that he should have been killed." The speaker's voice was so full of malice that Dorn almost didn't recognize that it was his own First Mate who had spoken. "He won't surrender and you can't keep him here forever." A cold fury settled into the pit of Dorn's stomach, the kind that knows how to wait for its time, and Dorn, by nature, was a patient man. Springer turned a malignant look on the treacherous fellow and the First Mate visibly cringed before turning and hurrying away. "He doesn't seem to like you much," the pirate told Dorn after they heard the outer door close. "So it would seem," Dorn answered absently as he remembered the stories of other ships that had recently disappeared without a trace and began to see the pattern that was forming. The thought that Jack could be next flitted through Dorn's mind, almost shaking his calm. "So what do we do now?" Springer stared into space for a long moment before speaking. "How's Rowena?" Dorn went still. The Frederick that Dorn had known would not have stooped to using women as a means of getting his way. That he would do so now spoke volumes about how fearful the pirate had become. Afraid of what? Dorn wondered. "She's doing quite well," Dorn forced his voice to sound indifferent when what he really wanted to do was scream at Frederick to keep this battle between themselves as they would have done in the past. "I believe that you would like for her to continue to do well, would you not?" "What are you so afraid of that you have been reduced to hiding behind women?" Dorn challenged, his grey eyes meeting Frederick's without flinching. For a brief moment, Frederick looked ashamed. Just as quickly, however, his handsome features hardened and he glared at Dorn. "There are things much worse than death, Dorn. You will learn that through Rowena if you do not surrender to me, and I mean surrender absolutely." Without another word, Frederick stood and followed in the wake of the First Mate. Dorn heavily dropped onto the bench in his cell and started shaking. His first thought was that his choices were few but his second thought, a voice of despair, told him he had only one choice. Dorn groaned aloud and almost panicked when he remembered that Rowena's dream had also said that there were things that were worse than death; that was what she had feared most from the dream ... but now he understood that her fear had not been for herself. Dorn swore; long, loudly, and in several languages. And, by the time Frederick returned, Dorn knew what he would have to do in order to keep his love safe. "What do you want from me?"Frederick nodded as if he had known what choice Dorn would make. "I want you to take your ship into Sector 9." Dorn frowned. "And do what with it?" "Allow the goods in the cargo to be sold. Then go where you are told and capture the merchant vessels you can find." "What kind of crew am I going to have?" Frederick had expected many responses, but not one so coldly pragmatic, and his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You surrendered too easily, Dorn." "If you had used any other form of coercion, I would have fought you to the death," Dorn answered calmly. "Even using Rowena, I expected a lot more fight out of you." Frederick glared at Dorn, trying to understand what the merchant had in mind. "Have you grown soft?""It took treachery by my own crew and six of your fellows to bring me down," Dorn openly laughed at Frederick. "And you are the one that has been reduced to holding hostages; you tell me which of us has grown soft."Frederick lurched to his feet, his blue eyes blazing with a calculating fury. "Do not think to toy with me Dorn!" "I'm not toying with you, Springer, merely pointing out the obvious." Dorn leaned back, clearly enjoying himself. "And I will remind you of one thing. Should anything happen to Rowena, there will be nothing ... and no one ... in this galaxy that will be able to hide or protect you. Now tell me what you're really after." Frederick whirled around and, for a heart-sinking moment, Dorn thought that the pirate was going to leave without completing the deal. Dorn's fear for Rowena almost choked him and he had to fight down his sudden desire to call the pirate back. However, Frederick stopped just two paces from the door and then laughed as he turned back around to face his prisoner. "You have always been the most irritating man in the galaxy." "One of my more charming talents," Dorn grinned. Frederick looked Dorn up and down. Battered as he was by the fight, Dorn still presented a powerful image. Frederick knew well enough that Dorn was not bluffing about the consequences should anything happen to Rowena. It had been a risk using her, but little else would have induced Dorn to acquiesce, and Frederick was running out of time. "Okay, Dorn, you win." Frederick smiled, flashing bright white teeth at the prisoner. "I need your help.""You could have asked." "You would not have agreed." Frederick peered off into the distance with a worried look in his eye that surprised and concerned Dorn. "What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into, Frederick?"The pirate looked back at Dorn as if he didn't recognize him for a moment. Then his eyes focused and his resolve quickened. "Your only concern is to take your ship to Sector 9 and wait there while the First Mate sells the goods in your cargo hold." "That is all you want me to do?" Dorn asked casually, a wry smile on his face. The lines in Frederick’s face deepened. "You'll be watched the entire time, Dorn. One wrong move from you and Rowena will suffer for it." Dorn's eyes sparkled with a malicious light as he nodded curtly, saying nothing. They understood each other well enough and nothing said here was going to change any of their decisions. At a nod from Frederick, the door to Dorn's cell swept open. He stood for a moment examining the opening before purposefully stepping through it and following Frederick down the corridor. Dorn's subversive crew warily watched him as Frederick explained that Dorn would be given the helm, that they would journey to Sector 9 as had previously been agreed to, and that six additional pirates would be traveling with them to ensure that Dorn did as he was instructed. The merchant watched impassively when one of his mutinous crew objected to Dorn taking the helm. The brawny fellow argued with Frederick until a swift flash of the pirate’s hand resulted in a lethal laser blast, permanently silencing the dissenter. Frederick stolidly waved a new soldier forward and any arguments that the others wanted to offer were held silent. Dorn found himself maliciously pleased with the sober understanding that swept over them with their fellow's death. With a taunting smile, Dorn took his seat in the Captain's chair and asked Springer and the others to leave so that they could be on their way. "Coordinates, Captain?" The First Mate asked, sullenly eyeing Dorn. "You've been told where we are to go," Dorn answered curtly, thinking that as long as Rowena remained safe, he didn't care where they went, even if it made him an outlaw. "Take us there." The men looked at him as if they couldn't believe that he had rolled over so easily. Dorn was suddenly pleased that it looked that way, it would make them nervous and nervous men made mistakes. Dorn knew well how to use the mistakes of others and settled in to wait. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Dorn, relying on the instincts he had grown up with, was already awake when they came out of the jump. He was not surprised when the First Mate took his time announcing that they had arrived. By the time he exited his cabin, Dorn's personal guard had arrived. He paid no more attention to them than he would have to his furniture as he marched towards the deck. Upon their entry on the deck, his crew eyed him nervously and he mockingly looked at each of them in turn. It was clear that none of them had slept well during the jump, and while he had slept very little himself, he was better rested than they were. "Status?" Dorn asked of the First Mate. "Approaching the controlled space of Sector 9, Captain." "Ship's condition?" Dorn asked, pointedly ignoring the insulting emphasis on his title. "No damage taken while in jump." Dorn nodded in acknowledgment. "Well, gentlemen, shall we get to work?" They all looked at each other, still wondering at the easy way in which Springer had won over their irascible Captain, and not trusting to it. The only smart move they had made on this journey to Dorn's way of thinking, but it would do them no good at all now. In their betrayal of him, they had endangered the woman he worshipped and that was something that he would not forgive. "Have you any need of me?" Dorn asked the First Mate. "Only to sign for the transaction." The Mate looked at him belligerently. "Call me when you're ready." Dorn came to his feet, reminding the crew so much of a large predatory cat in that simple move that a couple of them reflexively crossed themselves. Upon arriving at his cabin, only two of his guards entered with him. As before, he paid no particular attention to them. Instead he ordered a large meal and then seated himself at the console of his computer. A quick check showed that, as he expected, his connection to the standard communication channels had been disabled along with his access to the ship's controls. A grim smile crossed his face as he thanked the powers that be that he had listened to Rowena. With a smart press of a single set of keystrokes, a predetermined message started on its way towards a small planet in a remote section of the galaxy. It had one word in it, but that one word, “Moraga”, would speak volumes to Rowena. Grimly, he started on his next task while tracking their progress towards the planet's surface. It was a race against time, but if he won it Rowena would be safe again. And all the while, two pairs of suspicious eyes watched every move he made. Dorn, an old hand at guerrilla warfare, ensured that every motion appeared as if he was only tracking their progress towards the planet. A couple of times he thought that one of the pirates was going to come look over his shoulder, but each time they started his way, he would take a casual bite of his meal, chewing it while he stared off into space, and they would change their minds. Nor did he let their rapid descent hurry him. The Mate was taking them down faster than was prudent, but Dorn had planned for that. With a flourish of his hands, Dorn triumphantly pressed the last key of the needed sequence and leaned back to enjoy his meal. He had just finished eating when the intercom came to life and he heard the First Mate shouting through it, wanting to know what Dorn had done to the controls. "Just set them to blow us all to hell and back again." Dorn informed everyone on board. "In about three minutes every one of us will be dead and there is nothing you can do to stop it." Dorn enjoyed the panicked shouts and running footsteps of those on board the ship. He continued eating, grateful that he had had the good sense to tell Rowena how much he loved her before he had left. At least this way you will be safe, sweet one, he whispered aloud. Please remember me kindly. And, with that thought, he heard the first of the explosions that would destroy their ship.