Alienstealthsatellites have been discovered orbiting various habitable planets (eventually including Earth) across space. The Contact Society, a group of rich alien enthusiasts, set out in a brand new superluminal, with Hutch as captain, in search of the source of the strange satellites. As they travel they find a species of sapient snakes who destroyed themselves in a nuclear war, a species of avian beings who look beautiful but are really savages, and an alien retreat on an artificial moon. Then Chindi is discovered. A giant asteroid ship, almost 16km long, it seems to have no reasonable use; but when they enter it, they begin to discover its true purpose.