This story picks up around 15 years after Ship of State. The Gamanians and Sapaar have merged into the single colony of Vurna. Werner and Menken are just finishing digging an aqueduct. While on the way back to the huts, they learn from Menken's children that Werner's daughter Sophie smoked out the schoolhouse.
After apologizing to Reavan the schoolteacher, Werner confronts Sophie and learns that she was experimenting with smoking a dried plant called sallowroot. Werner speaks to his wife Seska about this at dinner that night, but their conversation is interrupted when Seska falls into a coma.
Hans and Werner try to find clues regarding the source of the mysterious coma, and Hans discovers Seska has been tainted by anti-matter when he tests her blood with prinophalyne. Both realize she was infected when she attempted to jump through the Einstein-Rosen Bridge at the beginning of Ship of State, and that they will both likely fall into comas themselves.
Werner decides to promote Menken and Trano to co-lead the colony if he falls unconscious, with Sophie casting the tiebreaking vote if they ever disagree. Sophie, however, doesn't want the responsibility and flees into the desert during a tropical storm. Werner assembles search parties, but cannot find her.
Sophie, meanwhile, notices the sunlight glint off something in the distance, and discovers the Einstein-Rosen Bridge had been unearthed by the storm. She alerts her best friend, a Sapaar kid named Aron, and together they hatch a plan to steal the shuttlecraft power cell and use it to power the bridge so Sophie can jump through and find a cure to her parents' illness.
Things go well, but Aron confesses their plan to Werner and he confronts Sophie at the bridge. She jumps through anyway, and Werner falls unconscious when he attempts to follow.
Sophie emerges into the charred remains of Pelvanida deep in the Nevada desert. She's trapped in the sublevels, but she escapes with the help of an old undead experiment who talks to her about the life her father lived before he jumped. Sophie attempts to reach Carson City by walking through the desert, but only reaches Route 50 before she's dangerously weakened from heat exhaustion. Luckily she's saved by Ernest, a passing driver who takes her to a gas station on the outskirts of Dayton. While there, Sophie experiences Earth food for the first time, making such a mess of the station its attendant calls the police.
The police drive Sophie to Carson City Camp, where she is quickly taken away by government agents. One of them, Whittaker, tries to learn more about her origins, but their conversation is interrupted when Steven Johnson angrily demand access to Sophie's room. He is denied, and Whittaker takes Sophie to a room-sized scanner to take her vitals. After briefly meeting General Jake Moby, Sophie is locked in her room against despite her protests that her father's life is in danger.
Sophie is then visited by Steven, Carol Smithson, and Oscar Shelton, who introduce themselves as former teammates of Hans and Werner. They promise to speak to the general to encourage him to save Werner, but the general angrily affirms that he will not Sophie to return to Vurna and rob the scientific community of the chance to study the first human to grow up on another planet.
Carol returns to Sophie's room and, after Sophie explains she desperately needs sallowroot, witnesses Sophie fall unconscious. She, Oscar and Steven take Sophie to the infirmary, where Whittaker arrests them for continuing to interfere in Moby's plans.
While incarcerated, the three come up with a theory that sallowroot, due to being white and lacking chlorophyll, derives its nutrients from eating dead plants. Using what characteristics they know about the plant, they call Aisha Tennes and use her internet connection to find the chemical that gives sallowroot its hallucinogenic properties; fentacyamine.
With Aisha's help, the three bust Sophie out of Carson City Camp and pick up Micah Landon from his clinic. He fashions a cure for Sophie's illness while the others deal with a high-speed car chase down Route 50. After they smash through a roadblock, Sophie wakes up and Landon gives her a bag containing three doses of the cure for Werner, Hans and Seska. Aisha crashes their car into Pelvanida's hangar and the team defends the entrance to the sublevels while Sophie jumps through the bridge.
Meanwhile, things are not looking good in Vurna, where Menken and Trano have failed to resolve their differences and both cultures are about to come to blows. Both leaders order their side to attack, wherupon everyone realizes they don't have the heart for it. Both leaders bond over their shared difficulty leading, and promise to try harder to work together. This sign of unity is enough for Aron to confess Sophie's plan to them, and they prepare thhe bridge for her arrival.
Sophie returns through the bridge and successfully revives Hans, Werner and Seska. The story ends with an epilogue set a month later, when Werner and Seska witness Pomson emerge from the Einstein-Rosen bridge to open diplomatic negotiations between America and Vurna.
- Sophie Donitz
- Werner Donitz (anti-matter)
- Hans Donitz (anti-matter)
- Shakespeare clone
- Jake Moby
- Steven Johnson
- Oscar Shelton
- Carol Smithson
- Thomas Stern
- Micah Landon
- Jesyca (mentioned only)
- Kixoo (mentioned only)
- Cale (mentioned only)
- Donald Tennes (mentioned only)
- Richard Anderson (mentioned only)
- Halsey (mentioned only)
- Less than a hundred words shorter than its predecessor, Ship of State, this story is the third-longest in the Darwin's Soldiers canon. Despite this, it holds the record for fastest story posted, taking only 4 days due to very large chapters.
- This is the first (and so far, only) story with two people credited for authorship.
- With a death count of zero, this story is tied with Schrödinger's Prisoners and Gamer for the lowest kill count of any story. This is also the only story of the three where no Artificial intelligences are killed.
- (In fact, by resurrecting the Shakespeare clone, it can be argued this story has a killcount of -1)
- This story's origin traces back to Seska Donitz, an abandoned video game project LettuceBacon&Tomato attempted to make in RPG Maker. Later, f-22 answered a question in Ask the Characters detailing a rough plot, and the two then worked together to flesh the plot out into a full story.
- This story is Oscar Shelton's only appearance in a piece of media that does not feature Rudyard Shelton.
- Steven Johnson first mentioned wanting to write a book chronicling the away team's odyssey in Pavlov's Checkmate. This story reveals that he does just that.