'Commander John Grimes, Federation Survey Service, should have been happy but he was not.' Although recently promoted, much to his surprise, Grimes finds himself consigned once again to being captain of a non-war ship. It doesn't help that his new vessel, Discovery (another Census ship) is a badly neglected rust-bucket. Worse still is the crew - a bunch of malcontents comprising the worse the Survey Service has to offer.
Before long a mutinous atmosphere begins to pervade the ship, with the situation spiraling downhill after Grimes is forced to cite the leader of the ship's marines, Major 'Mad' Swinton with the court-martial offence of murdering citizens from another planet. Grime's own misgivings about the voyage also manifest themselves through snatches of memory relating to the 'Wild Colonial Boy' and the ill-fated Bounty.
When the Commander and a few of his faithful crew are eventually dispatched into space aboard a tiny escape craft, he begins to understand how Captain William Bligh must have felt. Not only about the big black mark against his service record, but also about surviving against impossible odds.
Having resigned from the Federation Survey Service rather than face a court-martial for losing his ship in a mutiny (see The Big Black Mark), John Grimes finds himself stuck on the Planet Botany Bay and in urgent need of employment. His saviour comes in the form of the lofty Baroness Michelle d'Estang and her ship the Far Traveller. Built of gold and designed to be a rich woman's plaything the ship is piloted and run by an advanced computer known as Big Sister. And thus while Grimes might be the human Master (in so far as the ship's insurer is concerned), its Big Sister who rules the roost.
'Take one thoroughly spoiled, fabulously wealthy El Doradan baroness, one solid gold spaceyacht complete with almost human pilot-computer, one piratical space tramp captain, add the accident-prone John Grimes, late of the Federation Survey Service, stir and mix thoroughly-and the things that happen shouldn't happen to a Morrovian dog!' (1977 Hale edition).
Having resigned his commission in the Survey Service rather than face a court martial, John Grimes is now owner and master of Little Sister, a pinnace spacecraft made of modified gold. Formerly the property of the Baroness d'Estang of El Dorado, the ship has come to Grimes in lieu of back pay, and provides him with the opportunity to run his own courier service. Unable to transport anything other than small loads at a time Grimes's first job is to ferry the attractive post-mistress Tamara Haverstock and her mail from the planet Tiralbin to Boggarty. What should be a easy run turns upside down when they encounter the insectoid Shaara. After being taken by force to an uncharted planet Grimes and Haverstock are tortured and publicly humiliated in front of the indigenous population as a show of superior Shaara might. However, things go awry for the Shaara when the pair escape and are mistaken for gods by the planet's resistance army. Grimes must not only defeat the Shaara to save their lives and that of the planet but also complete his contract and get the mail delivered.