Uvanov is preparing to move into his new office in Company Central, and to celebrate, Stenton Rull and the lads from security chip together to give him a confiscated ancient painting of an unnerving snake-like creature. Rull then reports that he’s discovered that 0.5% of his paycheque -- indeed, the paycheques of everyone in security -- is being diverted to something called “the Larson Project”, apparently by Firstmaster Landerchild. Also, Iago has been spending a lot of time in the divisional archives, apparently on Uvanov’s orders. Since Uvanov gave no such orders, he confronts Iago, and is infuriated to find that Iago’s been listening to the recordings made by Taren Capel shortly before the storm mine murders. As far as Uvanov is concerned, Taren Capel is a long-dead maniac best forgotten, and he thus threatens to have Iago arrested if he continues to waste time. As soon as Uvanov has gone, however, Iago resumes listening to Taren Capel’s logs, in which Capel plots out the murders with all the ruthless logic of a chess game.
Uvanov tries to consult Carnell on their ongoing strategies, only to find him playing chess with a Voc robot, V.31, into which he’s downloaded all known information on Taren Capel. Irritated, Uvanov proceeds with the “Larson Project” scam; now that Rull has learned that Landerchild is bilking money from the security division, all that remains is for him to learn that the money is going to fund Tarenist organisations. Uvanov can then have Landerchild executed for treason, after which the Tarenists will have served their purpose and he can dispose of Blayes as well. He thus assigns Justina to work alongside Rull on the Larson Project -- but when he learns that Iago is still in the archives, he loses his temper and orders Rull to place Iago under arrest, fearing that Iago’s interest in Capel means that Iago knows what Uvanov and Carnell are up to with the Tarenists. However, Uvanov does not realise that the Tarenist leader, Paulus -- who was once known as Poul -- is about to send Blayes to attack company central in order to recover Taren Capel’s skull and “last testament.”
Iago has already left the archives, and he also visits Carnell -- and as he enters the room, V.31 makes its first move in the chess game. Iago requests a personality profile of Taren Capel from Carnell, and Carnell suggests that Capel was driven by robophobia, so much so that he came to identify with the source of his neurosis. Iago leaves and contacts Blayes, informing her that her patron, Landerchild, will soon be compromised, and offering her a new deal. He will tell her where to find Capel’s skull and files in the archives; in exchange, she must let Uvanov live. Iago intends to dispose of Carnell, and once he’s gone, Uvanov will have no choice but to turn to Iago for advice.
Rull assigns Cotton to search Landerchild’s premises and place him under arrest pending charges. In the meantime, Justina visits Carnell, asking him for a strategy to protect herself from Landerchild, but he sees through her cover story and realises that she’s fallen in love with Iago -- and wants to know if he loves her back. Justina, suffering from stress and lack of sleep due to recent nightmares, returns to company central just as Cotton reports that their sole lead on the Larson Project has apparently died of a sex game gone wrong, leaving them with no justification to hold Landerchild. Rull reluctantly orders Cotton to release Landerchild -- but as he does so, the Tarenists attack, seizing the skull and the Capel files. Rull is wounded in the fighting, but Cotton, Justina and Landerchild help him out of the building; the Tarenists retreat, blowing up the compound behind them to cover the true reason for the attack.
Landerchild is quick to make political capital of the Tarenist attack, but he and Cotton -- who is now acting head of security as long as Rull is in hospital, and who has been working for Landerchild all along -- decide not to take any further action until they know whether Uvanov intends to move against Carnell. If he does, that will mean that Carnell’s strategies have failed and that Blayes is no longer under his control, which means Landerchild will be free to move against Uvanov.
The panic-stricken Uvanov rushes to Carnell’s side, only to find him more concerned about his chess game with V.31 than with the fact that the Tarenists are apparently out of Uvanov’s control. The enraged Uvanov kicks the chessboard over, but V.31 replaces it and puts the pieces back in place -- but not quite exactly in the same places. V.31 has been moving the wrong pieces and “correcting” Carnell’s moves, and though Carnell tries to explain to Uvanov that the game symbolises what’s happening in the real world, Uvanov isn’t listening. Uvanov storms back to his home, and V.31 then makes its “final” move, placing the piece that represents Carnell in danger from the piece that represents Iago. Carnell finally understands that he too is being played. Meanwhile, Blayes reports failure to Paulus, claiming that all of the tapes she acquired from company central were blank. But Paulus claims to hear the voice of Taren Capel in the hissing static...
Iago finally returns to speak to Uvanov, claiming to have found evidence of a terrible threat -- and when Uvanov refuses to listen, Iago pulls a gun on him and forces him to pay attention. Before the storm mine murders, Taren Capel was one of the most influential roboticists working for the Company, which means that any alterations he designed would automatically be incorporated into all future robot upgrades. He stowed away aboard Uvanov’s storm miner in order to get away from the authorities before putting his plans into action, and while on board the storm miner, modified its obsolete robots by hand. He was killed before his true plans were complete -- but Iago believes that Taren Capel’s log recordings contain a trigger phrase that could turn all robots in Kaldor City into killers, and that the Tarenists attacked the compound in order to acquire this potentially devastating weapon. Since Landerchild was nearly killed during the Tarenist attack, he’s unlikely to have orchestrated it; however, Carnell knows the truth about Capel, and he’s claimed to be in control of Blayes all along.
Uvanov and Iago thus storm Carnell’s quarters to kill him, only to find that he’s gone, leaving only V.31 and a recorded message. Carnell has stolen Iago’s personal transport and fled Kaldor City, believing that its entire population, himself included, is being manipulated by a malevolent force older than humanity itself. But as a parting gift to the very annoying people he’s abandoned, he’s left Taren Capel’s trigger phrase on the recording -- and when it plays, V.31 tries to throttle Uvanov to death. Iago destroys V.31, saving Uvanov’s life, but it’s already transmitted the trigger phrase to all other robots in the vicinity along with instructions to pass it on. Within hours, every robot in Kaldor City will be a killer...