A hundred years before Ender's Game, humans thought they were alone in the galaxy. Humanity was slowly making their way out from Earth to the planets and asteroids of the Solar System, exploring and mining and founding colonies.
The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador's telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it's hard to know what to make of it. It's massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light.
But the ship has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big. There are claim-jumping corporates bringing Asteroid Belt tactics to the Kuiper Belt. Worrying about a distant object that might or might not be an alien ship seems…not important.
They're wrong. It's the most important thing that has happened to the human race in a million years. This is humanity's first contact with an alien race. The First Formic War is about to begin.
A family of "free miners" living on the spaceship El Cavador is working an asteroid far out in the Kuiper Belt when they detect what appears to be an alien ship decelerating from near light speed as it approaches the solar system. Meanwhile, Lem Jukes, son and heir of the hard-driving founder of the largest mining corporation, is also in the remote region, far from the prying eyes of competitors, secretly testing a "glaser" (gravity laser) that promises to revolutionize mining. Back on Earth, Captain Wit O'Toole goes recruiting among the elite New Zealand Special Air Service for the even more select, multinational Mobile Operations Police (MOPs).
Lem orders his crew to "bump" El Cavador from the asteroid the family is mining with their own ship, as it is the only suitable one nearby for his test. During the violent collision, an El Cavador crewman is killed. The miners hack into the corporate ship's network, planting a message for Lem Jukes and downloading confidential files pertaining to the glaser. Jukes, fearful of a scandal involving the death of a free miner and the danger of the miners selling the confidential files to his competitors, sets out for Weigh Station Four, where he intends to plant a hacker to strip El Cavador ' s files.
El Cavador ' s transmission equipment having been destroyed in the bump, the crew are unable to warn another mining clan about the alien invaders, and can only watch helplessly as the alien pod destroys them. El Cavador rescues a few survivors when they arrive at the wreckage. To make the rescues quicker, Victor Delgado and a few other members of his family modify a quickship, a an automated vessel normally used to send processed metals to Luna, in order for it to accommodate a human pilot. When the pod attacks El Cavador, the men on the quickship ram and disable the pod using mining equipment. During the attack, the aliens emerge to battle the humans. Their physiology is revealed to be Formic (ant-like).
El Cavador heads to Weigh Station Four to use their laserline transmitter, in order to warn Earth of the impending alien threat. As a backup, Victor volunteers to take a datacube with the evidence of the aliens' hostile intentions to Luna aboard the quickship. Reluctantly, his family allows him to travel to Luna.
Meanwhile, the Juke ship makes its way to Weigh Station Four, only to come under attack from roughnecks who recognize the crew as despised corporates. Several of the attackers are killed by Chubs Zimmons, a man seemingly junior to Lem Jukes, but revealed as having been assigned by Ukko Jukes to protect him. The corporates are still able to leave behind a hacker to strip El Cavador ' s files, but the scheme becomes moot when the Formic ship destroys the station as it passes by.
El Cavador sends a short-range, broad radio call and is able to contact the Juke ship and a Chinese mining vessel. El Cavador sends its women and children aboard the Chinese vessel, which is too small to help in the attack. The plan is to plant mining explosives along the hull of the alien ship. Unfortunately, one of them detonated early, drawing the attention of the Formics, who at first engage the humans wearing space suits, but subsequently attack without any protection. Seeing the battle go against them, Chubs withdraws Lem Jukes and his men and moves the corporate ship away, as the Formic ship destroys El Cavador.
Victor arrives at Luna, only to be largely ignored and confined for his illegal arrival. Meanwhile, Wit O'Toole prepares his MOPs for any situation, including what he thinks is a hypothetical alien attack. Victor is eventually assigned a caseworker who believes his story and helps him transmit the evidence onto the Nets.