Somewhere in the dusty badlands of Westerley, one of the planets on the Quad System, a thief named Johnny Jaqobis is being interrogated about the ship he stole from Coren Jeers. Coren's men drag in a shrouded woman who'd been lurking outside, and before long, the woman, AKA Dutch, and Johnny get the jump on Coren. They're not thieves, they're Killjoys — bounty hunters, to put it plainly — and they haul Coren back to the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition (RAC) detention center.
Johnny and Dutch have been partners for six years, just not in a romantic way. When Johnny sees a level 5 warrant (that means a kill order) for fugitive Kobee Andras, he takes off without much explanation. He tracks Andras down to a slaver ship upon which Andras is an indentured cage-fighter. So obviously the quickest way to apprehend him is for Johnny to volunteer for a fight. Once he's inside the cage and he and Andras get a look at each other, the truth becomes clear: these two are brothers. Johnny's not there to kill Andras (which is an alias; his real name is D'avin, and he's been estranged from Johnny for eight years); he's here to save him. By this time, Dutch has figured out what Johnny's up to, and she's followed him to the slaver ship, where she runs into fellow Killjoy Fancy Lee, who's out to collect on D'avin's warrant. But Dutch is quicker with a tranq dart than Fancy is with a projectile knife, and she and Johnny are able to slip D'avin onto their ship.
So the level 5 warrant on D'avin is going to be a problem. A warrant like that is unbreakable, meaning now that Dutch has failed to make good on it, she's going to be hunted down too, until D'avin is killed. Unless the three of them can find a way to get The Company (the governing body of the Quad Planetary System) to rescind the warrant. Which means giving The Company something it wants. So they take a trip to Old Town Westerley and meet with their friend Alvis, who is a member of a religious masochist order called Scarbacks (as well as a resistance fighter). Alvis tells them where to find one particular fugitive named Rolly Desh, who stole something from The Company.
So it's off to Qresh (the largest planet in the Quad System, and the most affluent) to find Rolly. Johnny, Dutch, and D'avin go undercover at a very fancy garden party, and just as they're about to apprehend Rolly, Fancy Lee gets the jump on them. He grazes Dutch with a flying knife that happens to be poisoned, so she's fading fast. As Johnny and D'avin chase after Rolly, Dutch is approached by a gray-haired man who seems to know her. They have a shared past, but she's afraid of him. When she passes out from the poison, she flashes to a memory of her girlhood, when the gray-haired man gifted her with a knife inside a red box and told her he'd teach her to kill with it.
Johnny and D'avin corner Rolly, who points a gun at Johnny. He tries talking Rolly down, but D'avin shoots first and asks questions later. They take back the computer chip Rolly stole (it was in his nose ring), but escaping the palace is going to be a challenge. That is, until Dutch shows up, awake (thanks to an antidote the gray-haired man apparently provided) and ready to kick ass. She flings forward her necklace, whose beads become little spider-like creatures that then explode in the guards' faces. Spider-beads work every time.
Back on Westerley, Dutch's friend Bellus Haardy informs the trio that The Company is amenable to their offer of Rolly's nose-ring computer chip in exchange for dropping D'avin's warrant. The RAC, on the other hand, is pretty pissed. Dutch gets called in for a disciplinary hearing, and while Turin, the RAC official, definitely wants to throw the book at her (which would mean anything from expulsion to prison to death), the higher-ups have decided to clear her of charges. So that's nice! Even if it's kind of a troubling mystery as to why.
After some celebratory drinks with the boys, Dutch returns to her quarters … to find a red box sitting on her bed.