The quarantine of Dellah has destabilised the balance of power in its sector of the galaxy, and the multiplexal corporation Pseudopod Enterprises needs an agent in the area to represent their interests. A special agent with Stratum Seven clearance has just arrived on Earth's Moonbase looking for work, but moments after accepting Pseudopod's offer an attempt is made on the agent's life. The agent survives and attends a meeting with Volan, a company director -- or rather, a method actor with subliminal implants who plays the part of Volan in Earthspace, just as other actors represent him in other regions of the galaxy. After being briefed on the situation, the agent sets off for the Dellahan sector, and conducts initial research which indicates that a certain Bernice Summerfield may have crucial information
about the quarantine. Since she is a noted heroine of the "True Adventures of the New Frontier", a pulp fiction series based on real-life incidents from the fringes of Earthspace, the agent passes the time reading some of the novels to get an idea of her personality. "Berni" in the books comes across as a fast-talking, quick-witted, gun-slinging heroine who can always rely on her dumb but loyal ex-husband Jason as a sidekick.
Having determined that many Dellahan fugitives were evacuated to Thanaxos, the agent deliberately crashes on Thanaxos in a stolen spaceship and makes enough of a fuss about the incident to get arrested and sent to a refugee centre. The refugees have simply been dropped in a platform camp over a hundred kilometres out to sea and left to fend for themselves, and the camp has become a hellhole run by the criminal gangs. The agent begins looking for Benny while establishing credentials amongst the gangs, and eventually takes on an assignment to rescue a former professor from St Oscar's who is being held by a rival gang. Instead of taking Professor Jones to the other gang, however, the agent questions him about Benny, and is disappointed when the traumatised Jones claims that she was taken away by an angel, which the agent interprets to mean that she's dead.
When Jones is accidentally killed in the escape attempt, the agent sinks into a state of depression, but fortunately rescue comes in the form of a news team led by interplanetary reporter Sela Dane. The agent once rescued Sela and her team from a group of White Fire terrorists, and they developed a relationship; Sela thus convinces the guards that the agent is in fact an undercover member of her team. The agent returns with her to the Thanaxan capital, where it becomes apparent that the people are preparing for war in the hope of establishing Thanaxos as the new centre of power in this sector. The agent is invited to the House Royal, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs turns out to be the Thanaxan version of Volan. A diplomatic party from Thanaxos has been invited to Dellah, and Volan offers to hire the agent as a bodyguard for Prince G'jimo, an inbred congenital idiot commonly known as Jimbo. The agent checks in with the Earth-Volan first, and then accepts the mission, hoping to track down Benny from Dellah. Sela also insists upon being allowed to accompany the mission.
For some reason the people of Dellah ignore the agent's presence in their midst, and thus, certain that the "talks" are just window-dressing before the war starts, the agent takes the first opportunity to slip away with Jimbo to the ruins of St Oscar's. Evidence suggests that a ship recently landed in the ruins and then took off again, and a trail leads the agent to the Xeno/archaeology department, and Benny's abandoned diary. The diary contains anecdotes about Benny's life and her lover Rebecca, philosophical asides and comments on the pain of existence -- and ends with the revelation
that Benny has done a "Mary-Sue", an old term for inserting oneself into a work of fiction. Rather than face the pain of having lost everything she loved once again, she has rewritten over her personality with a new one, to start her life over elsewhere. Blinded by this understanding, the agent fails to notice that Jimbo has begun to behave oddly -- and when, after a night of bad dreams, Sela breaks off her "immoral" relationship with the agent, the agent is too hurt to question her decision. Instead, the agent returns Jimbo to the diplomatic party and sets off for the Proximan Chain Rifts, the only place in the galaxy where Benny could get a Mary-Sue done.
Eventually the agent's nosing around attracts the attention of Jason Kane, whose sources confirm that the agent is a genetically constructed bioweapon from the Catan Nebula. Jason lures the agent to a meeting where his quasi-telepathic associate Mira confirms that the agent doesn't mean Benny any arm. The agent in turn claims to have a genuine personality, lifted from the memory banks of a 21st-century think tank after the original body was shot by company goons for inciting rebellion against their policies, and eventually relocated and implanted in an artificial body. The agent hands over Benny's diary, and Jason realizes from the references to Rebecca what Benny has done. The agent accompanies Jason and Mira to Beta Caprisis, Benny's birth planet, where Jason is horrified to find the emaciated Benny grinning childishly, telling them her name is Rebecca, and showing them her childhood doll, "Benny".
The hired guns who tried to kill the agent on the moonbase arrive on Beta Caprisis, but Mira and the agent overpower them and leave them stranded on the planet. On their way back to Thanaxos, the agent researches the goons' identities and finds that they are simply petty thugs, who must have been working for someone else -- someone who wants the agent dead and doesn't care who gets caught in the crossfire. Jason reawakens Benny's original personality, and she reveals that she didn't undergo the Mary-Sue in order to escape the horror of her life, although she admits that thought might have had some subconscious bearing on her decision. In fact, she did it because she felt the gods of Dellah tugging on her mind to bring her back, and tried to escape their attention by temporarily turning herself into someone else. The agent learns what really happened to Dellah -- and then sees a recent press release from Thanaxos written by Sela Dane, pledging eternal loyalty to the High Gods and their prophet G'jimo...
Before returning to Thanaxos, Benny takes the others to a deserted planet where Emile Mars-Smith has shut himself off from the rest of the galaxy in the hope of containing the power which has possessed him. With the help of Mira's quasi-telepathic powers and Emile's ironclad self-control, they are able to take Emile off the planet without falling victim to the powers of the entity within him. The people of Thanaxos are beginning to fall victim to the religious fervour which gripped Dellah and their preparations for war are becoming preparations for a jihad. But Benny and her friends are able to get Emile to the House Royal, where his entity confronts and consumes the entity within G'jimo. As it grows in strength, Mira finds she is no longer able to control it -- but the agent, who as an artificial life form is not affected by the gods' influence, simply punches Emile in the face, knocking him out and allowing Mira to regain control.
Those controlled by G'jimo's entity return to normal, but before returning Emile to his self-imposed solitude, the agent confronts the Thanaxan Volan, having realized that he has been using his political connections on Thanaxos to embezzle money from Pseudopod Enterprises. It is this Volan who hired the assassins to kill the agent so his scams wouldn't be discovered. Volan flees, creating a distraction with a bomb keyed to kill the most stupid person in the room. Fortunately, the public reaction to Prince G'jimo's death disperses the tension amongst the populace and war is thus averted. The agent realizes that the original Volan always inteded to expose the schemes of his counterpart, and that all the rest of what happened was just window-dressing. The agent contacts associates who will ensure that Sela Dane's career survives her recent embarrassing press releases, and then writes up a report in the form of a fictional narrative -- excising or rewriting all personal information, to ensure that anyone who doesn't already know who he, or she, is, will never be able to tell.