Note: This is a recap of the novels that have been translated into English. Some of the titles, characters, and plotlines have been changed during the translation.
In the late 22nd century, Earth's continents have been almost entirely turned into Mega Cities. The four superpowers (US, European Union, Russia, New Asia) are on the brink of World War III. Catherine Rimp, the head of Rimp Cybertronics injects a virus into the AI network in order to destroy the AIs controlling the most destructive weapons of the superpowers, thus averting the war. The four largest corporations (Rimp Cybertronics included) then force the creation of a single World Government.
2197. A teenager named Max Bourne (originally Ivan Stozharov) lives in the Russia Megacity. Like billions of other middle-class people, he lives in a so-called "in-mode" (short for "individual module"), a self-sustaining apartment pod that gives him access to the Layer, a global virtual reality network. Since normal life is impossible at the levels he lives at due to the toxic fog, Max and others of his generation have grown up in the Layer, having trouble picturing the world without it. His father is hoping to receive much better accommodations in the future Antarctic Megacity, which is in the process of being constructed. Max meets a girl named Lisa from the Upper Layer (where the rich folks live), who explains that those, who live in "in-modes" (derogatorily called "cans") are the useless parts of society. He falls for Lisa, but she tells him that she can only be with him if he manages to find his way out of his "in-mode". Using a hint she gives him, Max manages to figure out that the toxic fog is about to lower a few levels, which will make the price of the apartments at those levels skyrocket. He gets a loan from a shady guy, who convinces him to put up his parents' "in-modes" and their Antarctic apartment as collateral and buys a dozen apartments for cheap. When the toxic fog drops, he makes a fortune on the apartments. Unfortunately, Lisa turns out to be a con artist, who lures him to the technical levels of the city, and her father robs him of everything he has. With only a few days to pay back the loan, Max signs up as a test subject for the Cryonics corporation. The company agrees to settle his debt in exchange for a 30-year contract, which he will spend in stasis. Max agrees.
Meanwhile, Ulrich Fitzgerald, the head of Genesis (one of the Mega Corps), and Cathy Rimp agree to a joint project to build Earth's first extrasolar colony ship, in exchange for Cathy supporting Ulrich's bid to keep Mars free from large-scale construction, so it can be terraformed into a paradise. The head of Megapool (who wants to build megacities on the red planet) finds out about this and resolves to sabotage the colony ship, after the other two corporations pour trillions into it.
10 years later, the Alpha colony ship is ready. It's towed beyond Pluto and engages its massive fusion engines. Then, something happens. The engines sabotaged by Megapool overload and... something opens behind the ship and sucks it in. The project is deemed a failure, resulting in huge losses for Rimp Cybertronics and Genesis.
5 years after that, Max is awakened from cryosleep aboard a Rimp Cybertronics cruiser Normandy near Jupiter, along with over a dozen other test subjects. They explain that, while they were asleep, piloting skills were downloaded into their brains. The cruiser's mission is to destroy an AI-occupied base on Ganymede, with the test subjects piloting Needle fighters. The attack is a resounding failure, as the AIs destroy all the ships. Max is surprised to find himself alive, as his damaged fighter crashed on Ganymede. Max uses the survival equipment on the Needle to construct a shelter and the large volume of reading material to learn how to obtain water from ice on the Jovian moon and grow plants in a greenhouse. After over a year, he is contacted by an AI, which has been monitoring him all this time. The AI is impressed with his survival and tells him that some of the AIs are planning on leaving, while others are going to fight the arriving corporate forces. The AI gives him Cathy Rimp's contact information and asks him to tell her that the Alpha disaster was, in fact, an opportunity. Max then sees the hulk of the Normandy engage its engines and leave.
Some time later, Max has been rescued and taken to a Rimp Cybertronics research base in the Asteroid Belt, where he is the first test subject of a BrainComputer Interface. While out test flying a Needle using this method, he suddenly sees a ship of a design very similar to the Alpha appear out of nowhere. His brain implant receives a huge data dump from the ship, before it vanishes again. That night, his brain partially processes the information, and he sees alien stars and planets. The base is then attacked by mercenaries, who slaughter everyone, with Max managing to escape. He realizes someone's trying to cover up the knowledge of the strange ship. He takes a ship and heads for Earth.
A disaster strikes the attempts to settle Mars. Megapool's reckless construction releases a large pocket of nanodust that clogs and disables most pieces of technology on the red planet. The atmospheric processors, created by Genesis, shut down, resulting in a planet-wide dust storm.
Max arrives to Earth and looks for his family. He's saddened to learn that his parents were killed in a train accident, his brother has become a Layer addict, while his sister lives in the technical levels, scavenging robots for parts. His attempts at using the experimental brain interface results in his body starting to shut down. He manages to process the entirety of the data from the strange ship and contacts Cathy Rimp, sending the data to her, asking her to take care of his siblings. Rimp figures out that the World Government has secretly built a number of automated scout ships equipped with hyperdrives, based on the design of a scientist, who studied the Alpha disaster and determined that the colony ship got sucked into an alternate dimension dubbed "hypersphere", which allows for Faster-Than-Light Travel, although precise navigation is impossible at this juncture, making every jump a "blind punch" of sorts. Cathy hires the scientist and purchases the transport ships that were supposed to bring settlers to Mars (which is no longer viable). The ships are equipped with hyperdrives and start a wave of extrasolar colonization later dubbed the Great Exodus. Cathy herself boards one such ship, along with the comatose Max and his siblings. The AIs sneak aboard her ship and depart with them.
Hammer revives the research into hypersphere, and his scouts are able to learn that most of the planets in the systems within a single jump from Earth are lifeless rocks, with only two planets with oxygen atmospheres. Both planets had been settled during the Great Exodus, but the population of one was wiped out by a local pathogen. Dabog, however, is a thriving colony, settled by Cathy Rimp's colony ship (the previous book's protagonist Max Bourne is mentioned to have played a key role in settling the planet). Despite the hostile biosphere, Rimp's scientists managed to tame the planet and turn the biosphere into a hybrid of Earth and Dabog. With the scouts determining that the colonist would never accept an influx of billions of freeloaders from Earth, Hammer orders his admirals to invade the planet and use it as an example to the other colonies of Terran Alliance's supremacy.
The assault fleet, composed of six cruisers and a number of troop ships, arrives to Dabog's orbit and launches city-killer (non-nuclear) missiles at two of the major cities on the surface. However, the blasts accidentally cause the nuclear reactors under the cities to melt down, spreading radiation throughout the continent (Note: In the original version, the missiles were nuclear.). Despite the setback, Admiral Alexander Nagumo orders Admiral Tiberius Nadyrov to start the invasion of the planet and the capture of the capital.
Igor Rokotov works for a Dabog museum, piloting and maintaining the Aquila (original name - Golden Eagle), the last of the servomachines, walking mechs developed in order to help tame the planet's hostile biosphere centuries prior. The destruction of his city catches him in an underground bunker. He manages to get out in the Aquila and learns of the attack. The very first confrontation with Earth's Planetary Combat Vehicles (modern tanks) proves the unquestioning superiority of servomachines, as Igor picks them off one-by-one with the Aquila's cruiser-grade lasers. Eventually, Nagumo orders a retreat and settles in for a long siege.
Eight months later, Dabog has been nuked to hell, but the planet's rapidly dwindling population continues to resist from underground bunkers, nuking the planet's moon to keep the Alliance from establishing a base on it. Igor and the Aquila serve as the rapid response force thanks to an agricultural transport refitted as a carrier for the servomachine. Meanwhile, Alliance scientists have analyzed the sensor data from the PCVs and are building the own servomachines, albeit inferior ones. Igor detects that the cruiser Shadow of Earth is approaching Dabog and preparing to land the first series of Alliance servomachines. Igor's ship makes a surprise strike on the cruiser, before being forced to engage the ship's hyperdrive, which takes him on a blind jump. Unbeknownst to him, the Shadow is pulled into hypersphere along with the transport.
On the planet Cassia, young Olga Polvin learns the settlement history of her home planet. The same night, Igor Rokotov's ship crash-lands on the planet, with Olga barely surviving thanks to her family's android servant Step. Olga's father Nikolai is called into the capital as advisor to the president. Upon waking up in a hospital, Igor shows the President of Cassia and his advisors videos about the attack on Dabog. He quickly figures out the planetary authorities have no intention of helping Dabog and demands that they fix his ship and let him go back. Meanwhile, Admiral Nadyrov aboard the Shadow of Earth decides to try out the new servomachines on Cassia, happy to learn that one of the planet's three continents has been terraformed to Earth norm. Several groups of servomachines land on the planet, one of them near the Polvin residence. With Olga's parents away in the capital, she and Step end up facing off against the servomachines. Step remotely reactivates the Aquila and physically copies his consciousness into it in order to grant the servomachine unrestricted freedom to act. Thanks to a defection by an Alliance servomachine pilot named Andrew Groves (originally - Andrey Roschin, a direct translation), he and the Aquila (with Olga as the pilot) manage to wipe out the Alliance unit.
Afterwards, Olga's parents return and learn that the President has chosen to surrender to the Shadow of Earth, since Cassia lacks any means of defending itself. Olga convinces the others of the necessity of reactivating the landing module of the Cassiopeia colony ship and sending it to Dabog to evacuate the survivors. Nadyrov learns that Rokotov and the Aquila are on the planet and that Groves has betrayed them and orders them found. While Olga's parents and some of their friends go to the location of the colony ship in order to prepare it for launch, an old friend of Olga's father retrieves Igor from the hospital. The now self-aware Aquila, with Olga as its pilot in direct neurosensory contact, works with Groves in his Hoplite to battle the Alliance servomachines. Igor manages to hijack a heavy Phalanger servomachine and assists them. Eventually, all of them make it aboard just before launch. Nadyrov positions the Shadow of Earth in geosynchronous orbit above the launch site in order to capture the Cassiopeia, but realizes too late that the crew plans to engage the hyperdrive in low orbit, a potentially risky maneuver for the planet below. In addition, the Shadow is within the hyperdrive's radius, so the Admiral opts to let the colony ship go rather than allow his cruiser to be dragged into another blind jump.
Deciding to spin the situation to his own advantage, Nadyrov sends a message to President Hammer about the discovery and capture of Cassia, a planet already terraformed to receive settlers, and decides to call the first deployment of Alliance servomachines a success, when coupled with the lessons learned from the engagements. Meanwhile, the Cassiopeia arrives to Dabog orbit in the middle of a fierce battle between the forces left in the system and a ragtag fleet of hastily-converted cargo ships and passenger liners from neighboring systems, with the latter trying to evacuate the Dabog survivors. When the remaining Alliance warship detects the Aquila in an open cargo bay, it opts to jump away rather than take its chances.
The epilogue mentions that the First Galactic War between the Terran Alliance and the Free Colonies would last for 30 years, cost countless lives, and bring about a renaissance of military technology, as well as show the humans everywhere the horrors of high-tech warfare.
Meanwhile, a group of teenages is drafted into the Alliance armed forces. They arrive to the planet Yunona and are told that, thanks to their experience playing the hyper-realistic VR simulation of servomachine combat on Earth, they are considered to be trained enough to command real Phalangers and Hoplites into battle. These machines come equipped with the latest generation of Maverick AI modules, who are supposed to work in direct neurosensory contact with the pilots and learn from them. Unbeknownst to Alliance brass, engineer Howard Faragney has developed these Beatrice 4-series modules to absorb not only sensory information but also the pilots' thoughts and emotions. The novel focuses on two of these pilots: Simon Green and Anton Verkholin. These new recruits are assigned to the newly-created 13th Servobattalion. After a brief training, they are assigned to Admiral Kupanov's fleet, which is planning on attacking the planet Anchor, the location of a key colonial research site. The planet is heavily defended both by fixed orbital defenses and by a colonial fleet, including the massive cruiser Elliot, equipped with a Light annihilation weapon.
The plan involves sneaking past the orbital defenses under the guise of a transport ship, before dropping the servobattalion using individual landing pods. A special forces unit is also supposed to drop and liberate the hundred or so captured Alliance servomachines held on the planet, which would then be reactivated using Maverick modules. While the servomachines are busy on the planet, Kupanov's fleet will transition into normal space and engage the orbital defenses, as well as provide air support to the servobattalion. Unfortunately for the servobattalion, Admiral Kupanov has no intention of exiting hypersphere just yet, as it would leave his fleet and, more important, himself open to fire from the Light weapon, a single blast of which is capable of vaporizing anything within a light minute of the impact point. His actual plan is to sacrifice the 13th Servobattalion. He figures that, eventually, they will cause enough of a ruckus for the Elliot's to drop into low orbit and carpet bomb the entire area. This is when Kupanov's fleet will transition and attack. Since there will be colonial ships and orbital stations between the Elliot and the enemy, the colonial cruiser won't be able to use its mot powerful weapon. Kupanov then want to capture the Elliot and her Light weapon intact. While its uncontrollable destructive potential makes it unsuitable for normal combat, it does make for a hell of a deterrent, especially when it comes time to pick Nagumo's successor.
The ground assault forces meet heavy resistance in the form of colonial Aquila servomachines, many of which are now controlled by Mavericks copied from captured Alliance samples as well as two new type of autonomous combat vehicle developed by the Free Colonies as a counter to the Alliance's better tech. Thousands of walking laser cannons and rolling RPG launchers surround the servobattalion. Thanks to some quick thinking by Anton and Simon, they are able to break out of the encirclement and use their Mirage stealth systems to disappear. They proceed to attack several bases on the planet, destroying years worth of colonial R&D. Admiral Ipatov tries to direct the ground forces from aboard the Elliot, getting more and more frustrated with each failure. Eventually he orders a missile frigate to launch at the planet, showing the servobattalion with hundreds of missiles. Many machines are destroyed, but some manage to survive. Ipatov gets fed up and orders the Elliot into low orbit, launching Stiletto fighters and starting a massive bombardment of a large area. Only three people survive the massive attack, Simon and Anton being among them, only to be almost immediately killed by Maverick-controlled Aquilas.
Alliance assault teams on shuttles manage to capture the Elliot and kill most of the crew. Admiral Ipatov miraculously survives and realizes that he has to self-destruct the Light weapon in order to keep it from the Alliance. Despite the odds, he succeeds, robbing Kupanov of his great victory. With Anchor now in the hands of the Alliance, the surviving servomachines are recovered and sent to be repaired.
Some time later, some of those machines end up participating in battles on the planet Phoenix, where they spare the life of Andy Rokotov, the adopted son of Admiral Igor Rokotov (see previous novel), allowing him to safely eject out of his Aquila before blasting it to smithereens.
Ten years after the assault on Anchor, the tide of the war has shifted in the Free Colonies' favor. New advancements now allow them to strike directly at the Solar System, bypassing the defenses of the so-called Hammer's Line (fortified systems one jump away from Earth). To avoid being struck in the back by the automated forces on the bases of the Line, the colonies launch fully-automated assaults on the bases, including the planet Yunona, whose military-industrial complex has been automated to the point where the only living person on that entire world is Howard Faragney. Learning of the assault, Faragney heads to the surface, hoping to surrender to colonial troops, only to realize that there's no one to surrender to as all the attackers are machines. On the way back to the base, he encounters several of the surviving servomachines from the 13th Servobattalion, which have secretly arrived to Yunona in order to rescue the man responsible for the minds of the dead pilot more or less living on in their Maverick module.
A month after the surrender of the Terran Alliance, these machines (plus Faragney) gather on Anchor, which has been placed under indefinite quarantine by the Free Colonies. They bring terraforming equipment, hoping to undo the damage caused by their first and last battle as human beings and to settle on this world. They also leave a monument in remembrance of their dead pilots.