Senator Bowles persuades Doug Sarsen, director of the Northwest Laser Defense Initiative (LDI) lab to exaggerate the results of his funding proposal by lying to him about Russian capabilities. Sarsen reluctantly agrees and is then introduced to the Pine (parity is not enough) conspiracy by a laser company CEO, but declines to join. Sarsen is quickly found out, is disowned by Bowles and decides to flee. His farewell lab experiment, based on work by his young researcher, Roger Dahlstrom, lead to a discovery of military significance far greater than the fake results.
Sarsen flees to Lopez Island and lives in hiding with an old girl friend, Claire Goddard. During this time Dahlstrom is pressured to reveal the secret of Sarsen’s last results but does not know how he got them and so cannot do this. He dies in the course of fleeing his captors during a Cascades hike. Sarsen is now convinced that the government cannot be trusted with his discovery and makes plans to share it with the permanent members of the UN Security Council. On the point of being betrayed to the FBI by a young man also staying with Goddard, he surrenders instead.
Days of questioning follow, after which he agrees to rejoin the LDI program and work with the the laser company, announcing his decision and appointment as VP of Research in a televised newscast. At this time he departs from script and announces his plan to share his results beyond the U.S. He is arrested for treason and detained. Colonel Larry Sordoni, the head of the military procurement group that oversees LDI technical work, is assigned to find out how the whole Sarsen catastrophe has come about. In the course of interrogating Sarsen he learns the truth about Bowles, Pine, etc. On the strength of this he obtains sole authority to bring Sarsen back to the LDI program until a replacement team is ready to take over. Realizing that Sarsen places a higher important on human values than on scientific research and recognition, he develops a negotiating strategy that successfully meets the needs of both Sarsen and himself.