In the late 1800s, Chinese immigrants who were no longer welcome for their service building the railroads and cities of the northwest coast were persecuted and deported back to China. Liu Mei Lien was born in Seattle, and after her mother died, her father supported the family with a small grocery store in a largely Chinese district. Mei Lien and hr grandmother created elaborately embroidered purses and cloth as well. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Geary Act of 1992 resulted in hundreds of deportations, including the Liu family. Aboard ship, Mei Lien hears a plan to dump "the cargo", meaning the Chinese passengers, and her father forces her to swim to shore and safety. Years later, a young woman creating a boutique bed-and-breakfast finds an intricately embroidered sleeve similar to slave quilts, obviously telling some sort of story. Inara contacts an expert in Chinese embroidery, and the two find themselves piecing together a history of this fabric and discovering who might have created it and what may have happened to her.