Johnny Turnbull and 199 other kids have been orphaned on a long term space flight. With their parents gone, the ship computer, otherwise known as Mother, takes care of them and guides them to their original destination; Orbis. The children dream of what their new home will be like, but when they arrive they discover an unpleasant truth. They are to be indentured servants and must work off the cost of their passage.
As Johnny and the others begin to adjust to their new life, Johnny discovers a unique ability. He is a Softwire. He can communicate with any computer just with his mind, and he is the first human to have this ability. Johnny is just getting used to the idea when he discovers something else. There is a virus in the computer that runs everything on the planet. Will Johnny use his ability to save his new home? Can he?