Luther and Jake are agents of Dryco, a corporation controlling most of the West. In Moscow, they meet Skuratov, an agent of Krasnaya, a similar Soviet corporation. Together they try to obtain what appears to be an important secret technology, but Alekhine, the renegade Soviet inventor of the technology, has disappeared. The three agents locate and kidnap his associate, Oktobriana, a brilliant young scientist who falls in love with Jake at first sight.
When, for obscure purposes, Skuratov attempts to betray them, Jake and Luther must use the device Alekhine has invented. It transfers all three agents and their captive to a parallel Earth, much like their own, though time moves more slowly there, making the year 1939. The crucial difference between the two worlds turns out to be that an uncontrolled plague has thinned the world population of the parallel Earth. By traveling between the two worlds, Alekhine has surely brought this plague into his own world.
The novel unfolds in two simultaneous directions. At the center of the action are the attempts of Luther and Jake to return to their world safely before Oktobriana succumbs to the plague. Separated from the fatally injured Skuratov, they encounter and use extreme violence attempting to recover the transfer device he took with him.
The second direction explores the differences between the two worlds. In an intensely racist United States where Theodore Roosevelt ended slavery in 1907, and then only for economic reasons, Luther’s race (he is black) makes him and his companions victims of vicious prejudice. As Luther observes this alternate world, he contemplates the brutality of his own, and wonders which does more harm to the human spirit.
Luther begins his story assuming familiarity with his world and uses a twenty-first century dialect that takes getting used to. Once the reader is past these barriers, however, the novel moves swiftly to its conclusion.