Jules Truffaut has been having a rough time. Because of a cheating scandal involving his younger brother, he's been thrown out of the Union Astronautica and can't, legally, work as a spacer again. He's determined not to accept that, though, and has created not one but two false identities to get back into space, get work loading cargo--and stow away on a starship headed to Coyote, the human race's first colony on a world outside the solar system.
Unfortunately, he has barely escaped from that starship and landed on Coyote in a lifeboat before he's arrested and tossed in the stockade in Liberty. Now, at best, he's looking at a long prison term on Coyote, and at worst, deportation back to the Western Hemisphere Union on Earth.
Then Morgan Goldstein shows up and makes him a different offer.
Goldstein, a wealthy, well-connected, and not overly scrupulous business man, needs one more crew member, a shuttle pilot, to crew his expedition to the Talus to open trade with the hjadd, the alien species most interested in relations with humans. If Jules signs on, Goldstein will make sure he gets released and his case is continued--indefinitely.
As the first human trade mission to the Talus, nothing is simple or straightforward, and no one else on the expedition is volunteering information. Things are shaky enough on board before a mistake at a formal welcome ceremony angers the Talus and leaves them with one--very dangerous--chance to salvage relations.
This is, compared to other Coyote Universe stories, relatively light, a fast-paced, old-fashioned hard sf adventure. There's not a lot of depth here, but it does feature Steele's trademark excellent story-telling skills and solid character development.
I borrowed this book from a friend.