Barcus is a working stiff looking for a good paycheck. When the Ventura and its crew enter orbit for a scheduled planet survey, the ship activates an automated defense system protecting the planet. Although the Ventura is destroyed in the attack, Barcus alone survives the harrowing fall to the remote planet surface. He struggles to remain alive and sane and to discover why everyone he knew and loved on the Ventura was deliberately murdered.
Swinging between despair and fury, Barcus discovers that for every answer he obtains, there are more questions raised. Barcus is assisted by the Emergency Module, Em, his most useful tool. It is an artificial intelligence system contained in an all-terrain vehicle specifically designed to help him survive. Barcus soon finds himself in the middle of a planetary genocide of the local native population. He is unable to stand passively by as more people die, even if they are long lost colonists who fear "the Man from Earth" like children fear the monster under their bed.
Will Barcus ever find his way home? Will he find out who is responsible? Will his rage just burn this world down? Or will he find his soul in the eyes of a starving, frightened woman?