The story starts at Rhylanor / Rhylanor, where
Kalida demobbed from the Imperial Marines. For reasons she only knows,
she decides to take a trip out towards the outer areas of the Marches.
Kalida signed on as Gunner for the Lonely Teardrop , a type A2 Far Trader. The registered owner is the Associated Surplus Distribution Company, which has its head office on Dekalb / Querion. After a successful trading trip deep into the Spinward Marches, ending at Rhylanor, they're preparing for the voyage back to Querion. They want to take on a gunner before they get close to the Imperial border, and would like their new hire to have plenty of time to get used to the ship before they approach the wilder areas. Particularly with reports of increased piracy in the Vilis sector, a small trader would do well to be prepared for sticky situations.
The Lonely Teardrop has a crew of five when Kalida comes on board. Captain of the ship, also acting as broker, is a man called Jake Andersen. The engineer is an elderly vargr who answers only to his nickname of "Pooch" -- whatever his background, he's clearly a very fine engineer. Pilot is a young kid, Kris Trenton. Astrogator is a tall, gaunt woman called Andrea Kahtra. The fifth member of the crew is a guy who seems to do a bit of everything, although technically he is probably the steward -- Albert Patyr. Albert was handling the gunnery when they arrived on Rhylanor, but it wasn't working out for his other duties, so they were looking for an experienced gunner for the run to Dekalb. None of the crew talk much about themselves, and apparently like it that way.
The ship followed the route: Rhylanor, Porozlo , Fulacin, Tureded, Pirema, KKirka, Rech , Dinomn, Extolay, Tionale, Tremous Dex, Zircon , Caloran. They followed pretty much the routine "week in jump, week in system" flight pattern. The plan from here was to go to Rapp's World, Lebeau, Attica, Rushu, Retinae , and then Dekalb. Pooch was to be dropped off on Rushu (a vargr world) for an extended vacation, and picked up on the way back after they'd checked in with corporate headquarters on Dekalb.
The Lonely Teardrop itself is a fairly typical free trader. Not in best shape, not as clean as it might be, but mechanically sound. Pooch is constantly fiddling with one thing or another, and has plenty of creative -- if inelegant -- solutions to the age problems of the ship.
They spend the voyage carrying speculative cargo, only sometimes taken on board at the starport. More often, Jake has already found a private deal, and they land at a pad in some outlying area to take on the goods. Despite the unusual landing practices, it isn't obvious that there is necessarily anything illegal is going on. As they get further out from the center of the Marches, though, Kalida starts to get the idea that there are additional packages being carried, although she can't nail down anything definite. Also, while they clearly aren't soliciting passengers, they do have passengers travelling from KKirka to Extolay , and from Zircon to (supposedly) Attica. Aside from Albert, none of the crew are permitted in the passenger areas -- not unusual, but what is unusual is that the passengers stay on board when the ship is in intermediate ports. Kalida has no chance to meet them, and only sees them from the bridge when they're in the observation lounge.