With the departure of Zimir and the reactivation of the Celerity Conduit, the Phoenix departs the Cassidan system. The remaining crew spend a few weeks recovering from the ordeal and traveling the galaxy, gathering knowledge and resources. They eventually end up at the SEU outpost on Gallora Seven. Commandant Ibram, the haldrin who recruited Captain Qiui into the SEU, tasks them with investigating an unknown signal coming from the Thesparan Divide.
The Thesparan Divide is a dangerous portion of space, full of electrical storms and cosmic phenomena. For thousands of years, the Atraxxan waystations that crossed the divide provided the only safe connection between the Galloran systems and the Nanxian Territories, but forty years ago, the SEU discovered a new Celerity Conduit route that bypassed the dangerous portion of space. The Atraxxan stations had fallen into disrepair.
The Phoenix proceeds to the Atraxxel-mi station, weathering the intense storms of the divide. The station is dead, but a signal comes from within. The crew boards the station, discovering the brutalized remains of an Imperial Special Service (ISS) squad. Littered among their corpses are pieces of strange armor. Qintin, a former ISS soldier, recognizes the squad as the Sabercats, an elite unit in the already impressive imperial special forces. They went missing seven years ago. He also recognizes the armor as belonging to the Regule.
As they proceed deeper into the station, they are attacked by wraith-like Regule. Their weapons are barely effective, but they stand firm against the assault. More wraiths, this time human and duva, appear, but they assist the Phoenix crew. Once the Regule are defeated, the lead human introduces himself as Commander Gavin Blake of the ISS. He and his men have been trapped in a seven year war with the Regule spirits aboard the Atraxxel-mi waystation.
The Regule intend to use the gathering storm and the station’s power reserves to perform a ritual that will return their spirits to their bodies. The crew decides to interrupt the ritual from the power station, and Captain Qiui chooses to redirect the current in an attempt to resurrect the ISS soldiers instead. Only three of the squad return to their wounded bodies, preserved by the cold vacuum of space. The Regule, enraged at their defeat, launch an assault. The remaining ISS wraiths engage them, giving the crew time to escape with the three survivors before the waystation explodes. Commander Blake and the two others receive medical attention and rest. The crew has the difficult task of informing the ISS of the emperor’s assassination and the subsequent dissolution of the Empire. The ISS soldiers are shocked and dismayed.
While returning to Gallora Seven, the Phoenix is pulled out of the Celerity Conduit in an uncharted system. They find a derelict ship piloted by Pelinorious Scint, who tells them about an unregistered colony that is currently under attack by a Tergian warship. He asks for their aid.
The Phoenix races off toward the colony and uses its stealth and speed to race in and drop a squad on the ground before the Tergians can react. They engage in a ground fight with the Tergian warriors, large reptilians with black-green scales, fighting their way into the colony and the temple at its heart. During the fight, Qintin climbs to the top of the temple and uses his sniper skills to save a woman and her child from being found by a roving Tergian warrior.
They confront the Tergian captain, Sssssingrisss, and defeat him, forcing him to make terms. The crew accepts nothing less than his word that the Tergian warship will retreat and never bother the colony again. He agrees, and the Tergians depart. Canis discovers a scepter, the scepter of Agrivar, which once belonged to a Terran despot and has some connection to the Mother Goddess. While it was already offered as payment by Scint, Canis steals it and flees the scene. Qiui and the colony elder, Krab, come to an arrangement that includes access to the obromite mines. She promises to find a more profitable buyer for their obromite, and takes 400 units to sell.
The Phoenix returns to Gallora Seven where armed guards await. They place the ship and crew in lockdown, much to the crew’s chagrin. Canis, who chose to remain on the ship when they landed, is tasked by Qiui to send an encoded file hidden on her computer. He does so, though he ends up destroying the computer in the process.
The crew are taken into custody and individually interrogated by Merik Ven’toor, an Intinvor (investigator with the SEU Bureau of Internal Investigation). He grills them about their past missions, specifically seeking any connection between them and the Plithen Hierarchy. When he interrogates Qiui, he reveals that they discovered an encrypted file in the Phoenix computers, and it contains dangerous secrets. Qiui doesn’t recognize the file (it’s not her file, as she feared) admits as much. Ven’toor believes that she is not involved, but is concerned that someone is using the Phoenix to smuggle secrets for the Plithen Hierarcy.
Meanwhile, Canis meets with an old lover, Bietar, who helps him break into the SEU Information Vault. They recover evidence that an SEU agent was operating on the same Plithen planet they landed on for a routine information exchange. That agent disappeared shortly thereafter. The SEU has sent several operatives into the Plithen Hierarchy and they’ve all gone missing. There is also an oblique reference to Vector, a rumored special tasks group within the SEU itself.
Ven’toor clears the Phoenix crew and proposes an alliance against Vector and whatever nefarious plots the Plithen Hierarchy is planning. Qiui agrees, but the crew decides to leave Gallora Seven, as their experiences have soured the place for them. Before they depart, Asena sneaks into Ven’toor’s personal ship and steals it.
They next head to Nestorius, a planet on the outer edge of civilization, where they can look for work. On the way, they discover a mass of derelict ships, the center of which is a several hundred year old research vessel. Onboard, they awaken an artificial intelligence who begins to call itself Phoenix. They form an alliance, and Phoenix joins the crew.
Upon arriving on Nestorius, the crew is contacted by Elya Vethomen, a duva ally and exile from the Vethomen house. She has information on the smuggling activities of her aunt, Brin’sepha Vethomen, Chief Eyes of the Duva Plenipotentiate and Asena’s former employer. With her help, Qiui, Canis, and Petra raid a warehouse full of artifacts from Luparnas, killing the duva smugglers within. Incensed by the insult to his world and people, Canis insists they visit Luparnas and put a stop to the smuggling operation.
Meanwhile, Asena takes a job as a bodyguard for Denarius Princeps, a local merchant, and defends him against the duplicity of three members of the Kolivar mercenary group. They were hired by a rival merchant to kill Princeps, but Asena killed two of them, and severely wounded the human technomancer, Fink who survived the encounter, though traumatized. Princeps rewarded Asena for her steady hand and steely nerves.
Qintin meets a human woman named Tyra Brekovic at a shooting range. They have a shooting competition, which she narrowly wins, and he repairs her weapon as part of the deal. She reveals that she’s a Reaver, another mercenary group operating in the galaxy, and she offers him a job. He meets her and her compatriots and they raid a druglord’s estate, rescuing several children of influential Nestorian officials. During the withdrawal, Qintin assassinates the druglord with a well-placed sniper shot.
With business on Nestorius concluded for the moment, the Phoenix heads toward Luparnas.