Chapter One: Stowaways

A/N: So, I've actually been working on this story for a while. I've got a few chapters under my belt, but really I'm just posting here to get a feel for what people think. I could end up taking it down, but I figured I'd take my chances. Feedback is of course very much appreciated.

The metallic scent of blood filled Casper Arnett's nose the moment he boarded Solarus. Not particularly unusual for Dodge, but they rarely had people bleeding out on the ship, and certainly no one had been injured when they'd docked on this godforsaken planet.

Heaving a sigh, Casper dropped the cargo that had been burning at the muscles in his arms. He'd been lugging boxes back and forth all evening. Irritable at what he suspected was an intruder, he drew his gun and headed into the depths of Solarus's cargo hold. There was no shortage of homeless people on Dodge, and his mum had shooed several of them from the bowels of the ship in the past. Unfortunately, Beatrix was still in the city, so it looked like it was up to Casper to deal with the problem.

Casper kept his footsteps light, frowning at the sound of whispers. More than one intruder –thieves most likely. Seasoned criminals would know better than to raid the spaceships at the docks, but the young ones still tried. Rounding some of the crates the crew had brought in earlier, Casper pointed his gun aimlessly toward the source of the disturbance. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he frowned.

There were a pair of them as he'd suspected. A boy leaning heavily against the crates with a hand over a crimson stain on his side had a gun of his own levelled with Casper's head. Well, that explained the smell of blood. The boy's hooded companion had been prodding at the wound, but turned in Casper's direction.

"Ah," Casper said, realising that they were at a stalemate. He inspected the injured boy critically. A few years younger than him, dark-haired and brown-skinned, in his late teens most likely. There was a scar down one side of his face and a scowl across his lips, the gun pointed determinedly at Casper like the fact that he was bleeding out was the last of his concern.

"Put the gun down," the boy's companion murmured. A girl, judging by the voice. She appeared small and slight, although it was difficult to tell considering she was covered by her oversized cloak and hood.

"He'll turn us in," the boy argued.

"Look, who are you and what are you doing on my ship?" Casper demanded, not entirely thrilled at them speaking like he couldn't hear them.

"We need safe passage." The girl stepped forward. The boy reached out to catch her wrist, but she swatted his hand away. Her hands were visibly trembling as she reached up and tugged her hood back. Casper guessed that she was the same age as the boy, fair-haired and pale with freckles. Her eyes were wide and apprehensive, but her mouth was set in a firm line.

"Dia," the boy muttered, but he lapsed into silence when she turned to glare at him.

"I can offer payment." The girl – Dia, apparently – fumbled around into her cloak until she pulled out a purse.

Casper lowered his gun, uncertain what to make of the duo. They were obviously running from someone – whoever had injured the boy, if he had to guess. It wasn't uncommon for people to try and hitch a ride on a spaceship to get to their destination, but there was an urgency about this pair that made Casper uneasy. Transporting potential fugitives wasn't something they did. Beatrix made it a rule to keep out of interplanetary conflict.

"Who are you running from?"

Dia's fingers tightened around the purse. "I can offer a lot of money."

"Sorry." Casper shrugged, stowing his gun. "You look like you're on the run, and we don't do trouble. I can direct you to a local medic, but that's about the best I can offer."

"Please," Dia persisted, stretching out her hand to offer him the entire purse. "I can fix Smokes up. We don't care where you stop, whatever port is closest and on your way. We just can't stay here in Dodge."

"That's a first," Casper said.

It was never surprising to find trouble in Dodge. The planet was rife with it. Illegal and unofficial activities always found their way here, under the watchful eye of Dresden Hemlock. The crime lord was said to be one of the most powerful men in the galaxy. Most people headed to Dodge looking for danger, decadence or an off-the-books way to pay the bills. Not all of them left it. Beatrix knew Dodge well enough, but even the Solarus crew kept their heads down.

Casper looked over the pair. Smokes looked rough, like he'd been in a fair few of Dodge's arena fights. The scar on his cheek was the most noticeable, but there were other smaller ones too. The girl, by contrast, both looked and spoke like she was quite well-off. An interesting duo, to be sure.

"Look, it's not up to me. It's the captain's decision."

"When will he be back?" Smokes asked, attempting to ease himself up from the crate only to fall back against it with a grimace.

"Casper? Who are you talking to?" That was Beatrix, and by the crashing and thumping going on outside the spaceship, she'd brought the rest of the crew back with her. Casper pinched the bridge of nose to stave off an oncoming headache, giving the teenagers a warning look before heading back around the larger crates.

Beatrix Arnett was a woman in her mid-forties with smile lines around her mouth and eyes. There wasn't much that could deter her, but Casper thought his mum might have a thing or two to say about the stowaways. Her mousy brown curls were thrown up into a messy bun as she waved the crew around as if they didn't know how to store the cargo by now.

"Hi, Mum."

"Is there someone in there with you, Casper?" Beatrix rolled her eyes at the sight of the crates that Casper had abandoned by the entrance to the cargo hold. "Really? Could you not have brought them in?"

"We've got some stowaways." Casper started hefting in one of the crates he'd put down, looking up at his mum for her reaction. "A boy and a girl. Seventeen or eighteen maybe. They're offering payment for us to drop them at the nearest port."

"Well, I don't see why we can't…"

"Mum." Casper cut her off. Despite the fact that she could be tough as nails when she wanted to be, Beatrix's fatal flaw was her compassion. "The boy's injured. It looks pretty bad."

A shadow crossed Beatrix's face. She headed deeper into the cargo hold, letting Casper lead the way to the stowaways. The pair were exactly where he'd left them – almost. Smokes had collapsed to the ground, wincing as Dia fussed over his wound. She'd tugged his shirt up and Casper's stomach clenched as he realised that it was worse than he'd initially assumed. Beatrix pressed a hand over her mouth.

"Oh dear."

"You're the captain?" Dia's head shot up, pale eyes wide. "Please, he needs help. I told this man that we can offer payment. We don't want any trouble, I swear. Smokes was in one of the arena fights and lost. They don't take care of the losers as well as they do winners."

Casper glanced at his mum. He knew that Beatrix wouldn't be able to turn them away. She was far less hard-hearted than him. One thing was for sure, Smokes wasn't going to last very long if he didn't get medical help soon. Beatrix ran a hand down her face, but Casper knew she'd already made her choice.

"Our next port is Crion. We've got a delivery to make there. I can have one of our crew look over his wounds. That's all I can offer, I'm afraid. We've a tight schedule."

"Crion is fine." Dia pushed herself to her feet. Obviously she wasn't too bothered by heading into Autonomy territory, then. "My name's Dia. This is Smokes."

"Captain Beatrix Arnett. This is my son, Casper." Beatrix reached out a hand to Smokes. The boy considered for a moment, before taking it and allowing Beatrix to help haul him up. "I believe Casper said you had payment."

"Yes." Dia pressed her purse into Beatrix's hands. "That should be more than enough. We'd have gotten on a commercial shuttle, but no one would take us because of Smokes's injury. It doesn't look good."

"Sure doesn't," Casper mumbled, earning a sharp look from his mum.

"Casper, help the others bring in the last of the crates. I'll see these two in."

Knowing better than to try and object, Casper cast one last glance at the pair before heading out to assist the rest of the crew. He usually didn't mind docking on Dodge, but today he couldn't help but feel that the sooner they left this planet, the better. He didn't believe Dia's story, even if Beatrix did. Something was amiss with them, and he planned to find out exactly what that something was.

Beatrix stood on the bridge and watched Dodge fade into the distance with a feeling of distinct unease. She sank into one of the chairs with a heavy sigh, running her fingers through her tangled dark hair. Although she didn't regret her decision to allow the injured boy and terrified girl aboard the Solarus, that wasn't to say she wouldn't in future. She'd always been compassionate. Her ex-husband used to say she was too soft.

"Captain?" Luc looked up from where he'd been tapping in their coordinates and adjusting their flight path. He was a softly-spoken man, but his creased brow told Beatrix that she wasn't the only one with reservations.

"It's just like every other run," Beatrix said calmly, unsure whether she was consoling herself or Luc. "We'll be on Crion in no time. The kids will disembark there and we'll hear no more about it."

Beatrix wondered what the teenagers were running from. The more she thought about it, the more she realised that she had no idea what they were up against when she'd agreed to take the duo on board. Casper was curious about the pair, but he'd always been inquisitive to the point of being nosy. They were clearly on the run. Had they been attacked by someone, or had something even more sinister occurred? Dodge was a planet with a reputation, after all.

Two more mouths to feed, two more people using the ship's valuable oxygen. Had she considered these things when she agreed to have them aboard? The answer was no. Beatrix had to make a choice quickly, and she'd ushered them aboard and taken the money without even thinking about the finer details. Although she knew they had the garden and oxygen reserves to last them months, she was always thinking of the worst-case scenario, just in case.

If worst came to worst, Beatrix would have no hesitation in putting her crew before these strangers. Her sympathetic nature would only stretch so far. She wasn't endangering Casper or any of the others for those kids. If they had to divert to another port just to get rid of them, that was a risk she was willing to take. Beatrix had made difficult decisions in the past. She just needed to approach them with a level head.

At a guess, the girl came from wealth and the boy didn't. They were a strange and unlikely pair. Perhaps fate had thrown together, just as fate had seen it that Solarus was the ship they'd tried to sneak aboard. Fate often worked in strange and unexplainable ways, yet in the end it was always for some sort of reason. Beatrix knew that the duo had a purpose here, a purpose with them. She just wished she knew what that purpose was.

"Casper should have just told them to leave," Luc muttered, putting the ship into automatic. "We aren't a commercial vessel. Questions or not, I'm sure there's some other kind of shuttle they could've taken."

"Casper objected," Beatrix reminded him. "I was the one who made the final call. We don't know if that boy would have even survived if we'd turned them away."

Blood on her hands was an idea that Beatrix was not comfortable with, and it had been the biggest factor in her letting them aboard. The boy had been bleeding out all over the cargo hold. Who knew how long he would have lasted without someone like Elias to tend to his wounds? If she'd made them leave and heard about his dead body being found later, she knew she'd blame herself for turning them away. She could almost hear her ex-husband Zack's mocking voice, reminding her how soft her heart was.

Beatrix knew for certain that she'd rather be soft-hearted than cruel – or worse still, casually indifferent. There was too much of that in the galaxy, too many people looking away from things that made them feel uncomfortable. The pair they'd picked up could be a genuine case, and they were so young, younger than Casper. The mother in Beatrix hadn't been able to brush them off.

"We'll keep an eye on them," Beatrix assured Luc, sensing that his silence stemmed from discontent. "They surrendered their weapons for safekeeping, so there'll be no funny business. They just want safe passage."

At least, that's what they'd said that they wanted. Beatrix could only hope that they had been telling the truth. If they tried to commandeer the ship, they could be sure they were in for a rude surprise. They'd never had to deal with space pirates before, yet Beatrix had gone through a plan of action for the crew in case they ever did.

Space pirates, criminals, innocent kids…there was a whole list of options as to what Smokes and Dia might be. For now, the two remained an enigma. Once Elias ran the medical checks, it would be another matter. There was no hiding from the galactic medical database.

Casper's attention was torn away from his dinner the moment Elias entered the dining quarters. The ship medic had spent the past hour with Smokes and Dia in the infirmary, mainly to clean up Smokes's wound and stitch him up. Casper was disappointed to see that the teenagers weren't with Elias – he'd been hoping to ask them some more questions, but the medic would have to do.


Elias slumped into a chair across from him. "Casper, you are insufferable."

"I just know that she's lying." Casper stirred his meal, unfazed. "She might have paid us off, but there's more going on here."

"You really can't just leave it, can you?" Elias poured some hot water into his meal, watching as it immediately expanded. The medic was a mild-mannered man, but he'd been part of the crew long enough that he never minded putting his foot down with Casper.

"You aren't the least bit curious?" Casper asked, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table. "Two kids board the ship intending to stow away. He's badly injured. They're on the run from someone."

"Kids is rich coming from you." Elias looked up from his food, arching an eyebrow.

Casper was used to this sort of teasing. At twenty-one, he was the youngest member of the Solarus crew. He'd actually been born on the ship. It was all he'd known his entire life, but he didn't mind that. He found comfort in the monotony. Smokes and Dia disrupted that monotony.

"Very funny. They're at least a few years younger than me."

Elias scooped up some of the meal, blowing on it to cool it down. "The way I see it, everyone is running from something."

"That's deep." Casper drummed his fingers on the table, concluding that Elias hadn't really learned much more from his examination of Smokes. They were two weeks out from Crion, meaning that Casper had plenty of time to find out exactly what the teenagers were hiding. If they really were innocent, they could get dropped off on Crion no problem. If they weren't…

"Umm, the captain said we could find some food in here."

The soft female voice made Casper look up. Dia had entered the dining quarters, closely followed by Smokes. He wondered if those were even their real names. Both of them had showered, been relieved of any weapons and changed into casual clothes – whatever Beatrix had in the cabinets, most likely. Dia was rubbing her arms like she was cold. Smokes had a guarded expression on his face.

"Plenty of meals in the cupboards." Elias pointed. "Take your pick."

Casper finished off his meal while watching them intently. Smokes seemed to shadow Dia, but she didn't appear all too comfortable with his presence, making Casper wonder exactly how well they knew each other. They each grabbed a packet meal and headed over to the table, busying themselves preparing them. Smokes silently helped Dia with hers and it became apparent she had no idea how to make them. Yet another hint that she was probably some rich runaway.

"So, arena fights, huh?"

"Casper," Elias warned.

"What?" He feigned innocence. "I can't say I've ever really watched one before. I just want to know what they're like."

"We paid you well, Casper." Dia's tone was even, but her light blue eyes were angry. "We paid you for our privacy. I told you that Smokes and I don't mean trouble, so please, just stop trying to pry into our business."

Smokes just glowered. He didn't seem to say a lot. Casper didn't think he'd heard the guy speak more than a handful of words since he'd found them in the cargo hold. Dia was protecting him, but from what, or who? Smokes looked like he could hold his own, despite the fact he'd been wounded when they found him. The pair seemed to be polar opposites, yet something had driven them together.

"These must be our guests!"

Maeve's singsong voice broke through the tension like a knife. She bounded into the dining quarters with Hayden hot on her heels. She threw Dia and Smokes a grin, before she started hunting around for a meal she liked. Hayden grabbed his usual and headed over to the table without fanfare, sitting down beside Elias.

"I'm Hayden. Ship's mechanic and engineer." That was typical Hayden, right to the point. He jerked a thumb behind him to the humming Maeve. "That's Maeve, navigator and technology expert. You must be Smokes and Dia, correct?"

"Yeah." Dia perked up a bit, maybe because Hayden wasn't trying to interrogate her. Maeve placed herself in the seat beside her, tossing her glossy black hair over her shoulder and examining the two of them curiously.

"Heard you were wounded. Elias fix you up okay?"

Smokes looked a bit astonished that Maeve's words were directed at him.

"He did. I'm feeling a lot better now."

Beatrix entered the dining quarters and Elias's expression changed completely. Pushing himself out of his chair, he headed over and caught the captain's arm, drawing her aside. Casper watched the two of them speaking quietly. When they looked over it wasn't at Smokes, but at Dia. Was she somehow injured too? Elias looked concerned, Beatrix resolute. Knowing that he'd only be told to bugger off if he asked, Casper went and dumped his plastic container in the recycle unit.

Smokes was watching Elias and Beatrix with an unreadable expression. Dia was picking at her food and studiously avoiding looking at anyone. Casper had made the initial assumption that they were a couple, but now he didn't think that was the case. If they were, they were very good at hiding it. He marched past his mum and Elias, only managing to catch a few words.

"…refused to submit to a medical check…"

Casper tried to convince himself that there could be plenty of reasons that Dia wouldn't wanted to be checked out, but it sounded like Elias was worried about her. If Smokes wasn't in the best shape, there was every chance there could be something more going on with Dia too. Shaking his head, he headed down the corridor toward his room.

It had been a far more eventful day than Casper had been expecting. They had two new passengers and more mysteries than he could count. Opening the door to his room, Casper felt a sense of peace that he only got in his own space. The door slid shut behind him and he flopped on his bed, stretching himself out.

Two weeks, and this would all be over. They'd drop Smokes and Dia on Crion and keep making deliveries as usual. He hadn't even checked what Beatrix had picked up from Dodge, but he guessed it was probably more processed food and other goods as usual. They didn't transport anything important, yet Crion was constantly in need of the supplies they provided. While business was booming, none of them were complaining.

From Crion, they could move on to the next port. Drop off and pick up deliveries as usual. Smokes and Dia would be out of sight and out of mind. They'd be someone else's problem. So why did Casper feel like they were going to regret the day Beatrix allowed the pair onto the ship?

The sound of screaming shattered Casper's sleep. Jerking upright, he was out of bed in an instant, rubbing his eyes as he clicked the light on. The noise wasn't a once-off either – the high, thin wails continued as he shoved open his door and peered into the corridor. It was pitch-black, aside from a sliver of light from under a door down the far end. The room that Beatrix had assigned to Dia.

Of course it was the girl. Casper heaved a sigh and padded down the corridor, wondering what the awful racket was about. Thumping his fist against the button, the door slid open to reveal that Dia was not alone.

The girl was curled up on the floor, hunched over a plastic bucket. Smokes held back her fair hair as she retched, the sound followed by another piercing wail. She was all trembling limbs, Smokes the only thing preventing her from collapsing on the floor. Was this why she'd refused a medical check, because she already knew that she was sick?

Smokes looked up at Casper, dark eyes widening at the intrusion. He turned his attention back on Dia, murmuring something to her and helping her up off the floor. Casper waited patiently as Smokes pulled the blanket around her shivering form, nudging the bucket beside her bed. Dia curled up on her side but remained silent. Smokes stepped out into the corridor with Casper, pressing the button to shut the door behind them.

"Is she sick?"

Smokes nodded. "She's…unwell."

Casper was filled with a sense of alarm. If Dia had some sort of disease then they needed to know about it. The pair should have disclosed it the moment they agreed to pay their way to Crion. It made sense as to why Dia had refused the medical, but it put everyone on Solarus at risk.

"She needs to be quarantined. We can't…"

"It's not contagious." Smokes held up a hand, silencing Casper. "It's not that sort of sickness. It's not my place to explain it, but I need you to know that she will get better, and no one else can catch what she has."

"Elias should still look over her."

"She won't allow it." Smokes folded his arms over his chest. Casper realised for the first time that this boy was taller than him by several inches, and far more broad-shouldered. "I also won't stand for something that makes Dia uncomfortable. If she was a safety risk, I would tell you."

"What is it she has?" Casper suspected that Smokes was telling the truth about the disease not being contagious, but he was still curious about what it was that afflicted Dia. "Is she in pain? Is that why she was screaming like that?"

Smokes's lips curved into a humourless smile. "You ask a lot of questions, Casper."

"Seems like I need to."

"Is everything alright?" It was Luc, the ship's pilot and loadmaster. He was hanging out his doorway, examining the pair of them with a furrowed brow. Although he wasn't on the night shift, he often did the ship's finances when everyone else was sleeping. Casper didn't want to bother Luc, not when he felt it was something he could sort on his own.

"Nightmares." Casper waved a dismissive hand. "It's fine, Luc."

Luc didn't look convinced, but he stepped back and closed the door in any case. Only when he was certain they were alone did he raise his eyebrows expectantly at Smokes. If the boy thought he was getting out of this situation without answering any questions, he had another thing coming.

"Look, I might not have a problem, but Elias will. He won't just take your word for it that she won't infect other people, and he'll make damn sure she's quarantined until he knows what's wrong."

Smokes looked uneasy at the thought of Dia being quarantined. His affection toward her, the way he cared for her when she was barely able to support herself…it made Casper certain that he'd known her for some time. Dia was a bit wary around him, but she trusted Smokes a lot more than anyone on board Solarus.

"I'll convince her to do the medical check. But keep this in mind – she won't want Elias telling anyone else the results."

Casper tilted his head to the side. "I thought she had nothing to hide."

"I didn't say that. I said she wasn't contagious."

The pair lapsed into silence. Smokes glanced at Dia's door, as if expecting to hear her screaming again. That noise – Casper hadn't heard anything like it before, and he never wanted to again. He'd asked if she was in pain, but he already knew the answer. Whether it was physically or psychologically, something was putting Dia in agony.

Casper liked hanging out on the bridge and watching the others absorbed in their various jobs. He was more of a ship allrounder – they hadn't found a particular job that he was brilliant at, so he pitched in wherever he could. Luc had taught him finances and the basics of being a pilot. Maeve had taught him the navigation and technological systems. Hayden had taught him basic mechanics. Elias had taught him minor wounds and how to fix them. Beatrix had taught him – well, everything else really.

It felt nice, to be able to help the others out. They worked long hours and they worked hard. Even though Casper was frustrated at not having his own specialty, he was more than happy to relieve the others when they needed a break. He knew a little of this and a little of that, and it was enough. It wasn't the monotony of their schedule that bothered Casper at all, but the knowledge that while he was mediocre at everything, he wasn't good at anything.

"Hey, Casper." Maeve had her feet rested up on the control panel, something that Luc always chastised her for. "You seen Elias?"

He shook his head. "No. Why?"

Maeve leaned forward to tap on a few icons, her feet hitting the floor with a thud.

"He's really on edge this morning. I think he saw the dynamic duo."

Casper was intrigued by that, as he was with anything that might provide more insight on Dia and Smokes. So it seemed like Smokes had been true to his word and persuaded Dia to get checked up by Elias after all. He swung around and headed for the door, determined to see what he could get out of Elias, but Maeve whistled at him.

"Hey. You're on bridge for the next few hours. Luc had a late one last night with the finances."

"Right." Casper walked back and slid into the chair beside Maeve's. She was right – it wasn't fair for Casper to roam about playing detective while Luc piloted. The guy needed some rest, especially as he'd been distracted by Dia screaming bloody murder as well. "Got a deck of cards?"

"You know me all too well." Maeve slapped a deck of playing cards on the control panel. They were faded and dog-eared, but one of her most prized possessions. She'd found them amongst some unwanted cargo a few years ago and ever since, she and Casper had played all manner of card games on the bridge. Usually Maeve won, but when she was feeling generous she'd let Casper have his day.

It was little moments like this that gave Casper a sense of uncontrollable happiness. All of the members of the crew had been on board Solarus for at least three years. They were a family now. Just small things they did to pass the time, routines they'd fallen into over time, made him feel at ease – that was, until something on the monitor started beeping.

Maeve had just been beginning to deal cards when the sound went off and the small red light started flashing. This was typical of when they had their communications system closed off and another ship came into their lane. Proximity alert. There was another ship headed right for them, at a much faster speed than they were currently travelling.

"Dammit," Maeve muttered, sweeping the cards aside to check the display as the other ship's specs came up. Her dark eyes widened and she was on her feet in an instant. Maeve, rarely rattled by anything, looked horrified. It was extremely unsettling.

"Maeve? What is it?"

"I'm going to get Luc right now." Maeve pointed a finger at Casper as she hurried from the bridge. "You stay there."

As Maeve ran down the corridor, Casper leaned over the display to figure out what she'd been so shaken by. The specs were alarming – the ship was sleek, probably only a few years old. A lot faster and more powerful than Solarus. They were fortunate enough to never have been hit by space pirates, which was Casper's initial concern until he paid closer attention to the vessel's name.

Hammerhead. He knew that name, but he couldn't remember where from.

A bright red flare rocketed past the ship's side, so close that Solarus rattled and Maeve's playing cards scattered all over the floor. Not a flare – that had been gunfire. A warning shot. His hands shaking, Casper tapped into the system and turned on the communications system as the other ship attempted to hail them.

The face that appeared on the screen was as familiar as the ship's name. A man in his late thirties with an impassive expression on his face examined Casper with a tight smile across his lips.

"Hi there. You're young, so I'm assuming you aren't in charge. Would you be so kind as to summon your captain?"

His voice was polite, but even through the screen, those empty eyes sent chills down Casper's spine.

"Who should I tell her wants to speak to her?"

The man laughed. "Let her know that Dresden Hemlock wants a word."

Casper's stomach twisted unpleasantly. Of course. Hammerhead was Dresden's personal ship, heavily armoured and with enough firepower to blow Solarus to pieces if it came to out. That ship could outmanoeuvre them any day. The knowledge that Dresden Hemlock himself had pursued them meant that they were in serious trouble, and Casper just knew that it was because of the teenagers. Picking up his communications device, he tapped in his mum's code.

"Mum? We've been hailed by another ship…"

"Hammerhead. Maeve's just told me." She sounded a lot calmer than Casper felt. "I'm on my way to the bridge now."

Switching off his comm, Casper turned his attention back to Dresden, very nervous at the knowledge that he was addressing a fearsome crime lord.

"She's, uh, she's on her way."

"Excellent." Dresden's smile felt sharp enough to stab someone. "I'd advise no one tries anything funny in the meantime. I've a large supply of guns I'm just itching to play with, but I'd rather not damage any precious cargo."

Precious cargo. Casper knew that Dresden wasn't talking about the crates full of processed food and other goods that were in the cargo hold. Whatever sort of trouble he'd thought Dia and Smokes were involved in, he'd never imagined it would involve a big name like Dresden. Now that he knew it did, Casper realised the water was far deeper than he'd anticipated – and they were on the verge of drowning.