Jason accompanies Benny to Trib City, where she has been sent to investigate damage to its legendary museum. The Trib Museum, established in 1528 C.E., contains exhibits from all corners of the galaxy -- or it did until the recent civil war, which toppled the dictatorial regime and all but levelled the city. Now, innumerable factions are fighting for control, and General Markwood’s peacekeeping troops are trying and failing to keep a lid on things; there is no one organised enemy to fight, and even though Markwood himself was born in the city, the warring factions believe he and his men are here to oppress them, just like their former rulers. No one is safe here; even children and the elderly are deliberately killed for emotional impact. And in all the confusion, the preservation of ancient artefacts is not one of Markwood’s top priorities.
Upon arriving at the museum, Benny, Jason and Markwood are surrounded by a crowd of natives, all chattering at them in over a dozen different languages. Jason now reveals that he has an ulterior motive for accompanying Benny; he has designed an electronic translator which he intends to sell at bargain prices in order to help the natives communicate with one another. The grammar and dictionary protocols still require tweaking, and every translator speaks in Jason’s voice, but they still work well enough for Benny to realise that the street urchins surrounding her are offering to sell her treasures that were stolen from the museum. Appalled, she enters the museum to find it in even worse condition than she’d imagined. This was once the most fortified building in the city, and the insurgents thus used it as a fortress for their last stand; what few artefacts remain are in pieces, and the pieces have all been scattered together randomly.
The museum’s director arrives, a woman named Enil, but Jason’s translator appears to be unfamiliar with her language and Benny thus finds it difficult to communicating with her. Noting that Enil appears terrified of General Markwood, Benny asks to be left alone with her, and despite Jason’s reluctance to abandon her, Markwood points out that the translators will be of better use elsewhere. Jason accompanies Markwood away from the museum, and tries to strike up a friendly conversation; however, the general is reluctant to discuss his past, and claims that the people here no longer trust him. The old regime held power by keeping the different factions at each other’s throats, and now that their overlords have been toppled, they are free to slaughter one another. Everyone fears that they will lose face if they are seen to back down, and all Markwood and his men can do is try to leave up the mess left behind.
As Jason and Markwood near their destination, Markwood gives Jason a gun, warning him only to use it if absolutely necessary. Jason fetches his translators, which he’s made to be big and bulky so the natives will be able to take them apart and make their own. To Jason’s surprise, Markwood takes him to meet a group of children in the hope that Jason, who seems to get along well with children, will be able to get them talking. Though wary of Markwood, the children open up to Jason, and he teaches them how to use the translator. Markwood hopes that the translators will help the natives to tell their stories and perhaps attract attention to this planet, which is currently seen as something of a galactic backwater. However, one particular group of natives doesn’t seem to be joining in the fun -- and the translators reveal that they’re shouting threats at Markwood. The general pushes Jason down just as an explosion rips apart the building...
Back at the museum, Benny is trying to identify the shattered remains of former artefacts, but it’s difficult to work with Enil, as Jason’s translator just seems to be spitting out random words whenever the director speaks. Fortunately, Enil understands Benny’s request for a cappuccino. The evidence suggests that the museum was trading artefacts with museums on other planets, but many of the artefacts that should be here aren’t -- and the mess in the lobby suggests that some looters just dropped the artefacts where they lay in their haste to flee. When Benny takes a closer look at one of the supposedly looted rooms, however, she realises that the display cases are still intact, implying that the artefacts were very carefully removed rather than simply snatched. Enil apparently doesn’t understand when Benny asks her to open the museum vault, and the frustrated Benny breaks in -- to find that the vaults contain surgical torture equipment and data chips on which the old regime recorded the results of “experiments” on random citizens. Jason’s translator works perfectly when Benny plays back a recording of an experiment in which the subject was forced to watch while his children were electrocuted before his eyes. Sickened, Benny ignores Enil’s attempts to stop her and begins to play through the rest of the recordings...
Jason and Markwood survive the suicide bombing, but 11 children are killed. Sickened, Jason asks Markwood to give him something useful to do, and Markwood tells him to start handing out translators and talking to the children to keep them distracted. Jason spends the rest of the afternoon listening to the children talk of the terrible things they’ve seen: mothers being killed for protecting their children, sisters disappearing while looking for work old men being beaten and mutilated for walking too slowly, soldiers burning their victims alive and taking their eyes. All the people of this city can do now is fight to make a mark so they won’t be forgotten. And while Jason is hearing these stories, Benny is watching the records of the regime’s experiments: an eight-year-old child being allowed to plead for her life before she is killed, a man who seems incapable of understanding that his fingers have been broken. The idea was to choose victims randomly so that everyone in the city would be personally acquainted with at least one victim; thus, the entire population would be kept in a state of fear, and thus under control.
Much later, over dinner, Benny concedes that she’s misjudged Markwood in some ways; she was appalled when she saw the footage of his men attacking a museum, and was unaware of the atrocities that had been committed inside. The regime didn’t even bother to destroy the evidence; they wanted the public to know what they’d done. Emotionally drained, Benny lashes out at Markwood for letting her stumble into this without warning, but he claims that he didn’t want to prejudice her findings. The people of Trib City have been abused for so long that they understand nothing else, and Markwood’s peacekeepers are seen just as more soldiers. Benny is in desperate need of a bath, and Markwood directs her to his quarters; however, while it seems that he genuinely cares about what’s happening in his city, Benny still finds him secretive and suspects that he’s hiding something.
Jason heads upstairs to join Benny in the bath, but spots a young boy peeking in the window -- and before Benny realises what’s happening, the boy steals her museum guidebook and hoofs it. Without the guide, Benny has no way of knowing what artefacts the museum used to contain, and she quickly wraps herself in a towel and gives chase, with Jason tagging along. The child begins to shoot at them, but Benny and Jason take cover, and Jason tackles the boy when he runs out of bullets. The roof gives way beneath them, dropping them into a store where a customer is using one of Jason’s translators to purchase a chicken for personal use, and in the confusion, the boy gets away. Benny and Jason pursue him to a dark meeting hall, only to find themselves surrounded by older children, presumably the thief’s relatives. Benny tries to explain that she just wants the boy to return her guidebook, but the boys interpret her arrival as an attack and begin shooting. Jason knocks Benny out of the way, and moments later, Markwood and his men storm in and open fire, having heard about the disturbance. Benny is horrified to see Markwood and his men gun down children before her eyes, but for some reason she’s too light-headed to do anything about it, and she realises that her arm has been shot off. She faints and is taken back to the museum, where her arm is roughly patched up with the surgical equipment in the torture rooms; however, they don’t have the facilities to regrow it here, and the emotionally exhausted Benny will be stuck with only one arm until she returns to the Collection.
Benny insists upon returning to work despite her terrible injury, and while doing so, she learns from one of Enil’s assistants that Markwood has a family in the city but that he’s changed his name and refuses to see them. She and Jason then learn that the deaths of the children have sparked further violence in the city, and that the insurgents are closing in on the museum. As the remaining staff members evacuate to Enil’s office, Jason tries to fine-tune his translators’ central dictionary server, but is unable to understand why it still won’t work for Enil. Meanwhile, Benny studies the condition of the remaining artefacts and concludes that some were removed while the old regime was still in power. Planets such as Világ and Earth are represented here, Earth with a selection of 15th-century longbows, but Benny doesn’t understand why this is so when the regime made such an effort to repress other cultures. It does occur to her, however, that the position of museum director must have been a political appointment, which means that Enil must have worked alongside the old regime -- and Jason finally realises that Enil can communicate perfectly clearly and has deliberately been speaking gibberish to them.
The furious Benny confronts Enil, who draws a gun on her and Jason, prepared to kill to protect her museum’s interests. Markwood arrives just in time and shoots Enil, injuring her and enabling Jason to snatch her gun. Benny then notices that Markwood is himself wounded, and he reveals that the insurgents have entered the city and are moving in on the museum; Markwood’s men have no choice now but to use it as a fortress. Benny and Enil both protest, and, since they both wish to preserve the artefacts in the museum, they offer to join in its defence. Markwood has little choice but to accept their help, and Benny prepares to oversee the defence of the museum while Jason takes Markwood to the cellar and tries to heal his injuries using the surgical equipment in the torture vaults.
The insurgents are using Jason’s translators, but their only effect is to allow everyone to understand the threats and curses being shouted out. As Benny and Enil fight to hold off their attackers, Benny accuses Enil of stealing from the museum. Enil concedes this but insists that, while others stole for profit or as an act of rebellion, she was acting to preserve the artefacts. She also claims that it was her influence that convinced the old regime to display artefacts from other cultures, even the ones that the regime had tried to wipe out. Benny points out that they tried to use those artefacts, not to teach people about other cultures, but to present the idea that the regime was in control of them all; just because they were on display didn’t mean that everyone could come in and see them freely. Enil in turn accuses Benny of hypocrisy, as the Braxiatel Collection can hardly be considered free and open; nobody knows for sure how Braxiatel acquired so many priceless and rare artefacts, and the few outsiders who have been permitted to study them have often died under mysterious circumstances.
Markwood begins to succumb to his injuries, and Jason tries to keep him talking; however, Markwood refuses to discuss his family, as he fears that they will become targets if identified. Jason thus tells Markwood about his own strange family ties, including his duplicates, whom he still meets up with from time to time. He manages to keep Markwood alive until they reach the cellars, and once there he heals the general’s injuries with the surgical equipment. However, the insurgents then break into the cellars, and Markwood is forced to shoot and kill them when he and Jason are spotted trying to slip out. Before they return upstairs, Jason has a brainwave and picks up a canister of the anaesthetic gas used during Markwood’s operation. Back on the front lines with Benny and Enil, Jason tosses the canister in amongst the insurgents, and Markwood shoots at it, releasing a cloud of anaesthetic -- but rather than knocking the attackers out, it numbs their ability to feel pain, making matters much worse.
The defenders are forced to retreat, and Benny leads them to the Earth exhibit -- and the longbows, which the natives hadn’t realised could be used as weapons. Markwood is astonished by the bows’ power and accuracy, but it soon becomes clear that they’re going to run out of arrows before they run out of insurgents. However, Benny asks Jason to pass her a quiver, which he misinterprets as something rude -- and this gives him an idea. As the defenders run out of arrows and are forced to accept their fate, Jason modifies the translators’ central server... and the others slowly come to realise that they’re no longer under attack. The insurgents have stopped fighting and are dancing in celebration, shouting apologies and complimenting one another’s shoes. Jason reveals that he’s modified the settings on the dictionary, so that the insurgents’ curses and violent threats are being translated as apologies. Everyone believes that their enemies are backing down, and the fighting has stopped.
The museum is now in even more of a mess than it was when Benny and Jason arrived, but with the fighting at a standstill, progress can finally be made. Enil declares an amnesty for anyone who returns looted artefacts to the museum, and gives Benny a gift for Peter: a stuffed plush toy from the museum’s former gift shop. Markwood discusses terms with the insurgents, and once it becomes clear that the peacekeeping forces can only be disbanded by an act of parliament, the insurgents begin negotiating to create one. Markwood is reunited with his family, and looks forward to resigning from the army; Enil, realising that he’ll need something to do during peacetime, offers to hire him on, as he’s one of the few who can help the people of the city to understand the cultural importance of the artefacts and to reclaim a sense of identity. As Benny and Jason prepare to leave, Jason notices that Benny’s crying, but it’s not because everything has ended well -- it’s because the painkillers are wearing off and she’s starting to feel the loss of her arm again.