As Carnival time on Mars approaches, Tabitha Jute, owner of the space barge Alice Liddell, is penniless and in trouble with the law. In need of a large amount of money in order to pay a fine, she faces the possibility of Alice Liddell, her beloved if rather rickety ship, being impounded.
Jute meets the mysterious Marco Metz, a performer. Metz needs to get to Plenty, an asteroid with a bad reputation, in order to join his cabaret troupe—or so he claims. He offers Jute a sum of money sufficient to get her out of trouble, so, reluctantly, she agrees to take him there.
Plenty is a hollow asteroid, built by the Frasque, an aggressive race that did not last long in this solar system, having been turned out by the Capellans, who had arrived before the Frasque. The Frasque left behind Plenty, riddled with tunnels and huge space docks, and now occupied by all kinds of slightly dubious businesses. Once on Plenty, Jute finds Metz reluctant to pay her, claiming that the troupe’s manager, Hannah Soo, has the money. He does not mention that Hannah Soo is dead. Jute instead meets the Zodiac Twins, Mogul and Saskia, and Xtasca, a Cherub. She discovers that the police seem to be after all of them.
They all flee Plenty in Alice Liddell, by now in a parlous condition. Metz now claims that the troupe members are in fact bank robbers. Later, it appears that they are smuggling a Frasque, but even this seems not to be their true purpose. Jute spends much of the novel apparently wandering aimlessly around the solar system, becoming involved in adventures that nearly cost her her life and ship and that do cost the lives of Marco Metz and Mogul Zodiac.
At the heart of the story is a hunt for a Frasque star drive that, mysteriously, turns out to have been fitted in Alice Liddell all along, only requiring activation. The Capellans, although they gave the star drive to Earth, chose to limit human activity to the solar system, for their own peculiar reasons. Alice Liddell herself is revealed as an artificial intelligence of considerable power, able to take on the running of the asteroid Plenty from the recently deceased Hannah Soo. The ship is in fact telling the story of Jute’s adventures as well as about how she came to be in Jute’s possession. Jute incidentally has also foiled an attempt by the Capellans to gain possession of the star drive.