When an Interstellar trading vessel, Empyrean, arrives at the distant human colony on New Caledonia, the plan is to engage in peaceable commerce. Instead, the humans find themselves under attack. The planet has been taken over by an independent, self-conscious rogue artificial intelligence, a monster they name: "Grendel."
Grendel's contempt for humans has festered over two centuries of what he considers horrific slavery. He is bent on exterminating them and taking control of the known universe. Empyrean's humans defend themselves in an act that also threatens surviving humans there. This creates an ethical issue for the humans of which Grendel happily takes advantage.
Meanwhile, a small, surviving human community on nearby planet Inverness sees a chance to rescue their compatriots. A courageous commando raid and an eventful space flight to freedom saves 600 humans and removes Grendel's last leverage to lie and bully his way out of danger. He must now submit to hated reprogramming by the human's "tame" AI partner, Patrice, who takes on responsibility for the task.
Patrice now faces a existential moral dilemma: will he choose to protect his own kind, or will he protect his human partners. Patrice's rationale for his courageous choice is drawn from human history, sociology, and archeology as well as from human ecological science. It is grounded in the nature of intelligence and its relationship to survival. He learns from such examples as alternative explanations for Stonehenge, for the Renaissance and the industrial revolution, and for the social/survival importance of the phonetic alphabet and the printing press. Patrice also proposes a new strategy to aid AI-to-AI social interaction in which AI's will rely upon the miraculous biological human capacity for knowing whom to trust.
The hope Patrice offers for human survival may not be the supremacy we would have wished. But in a universe of infinite vulnerability and complexity, it turns out even AI's will need society to survive and to flourish.