January, 2032. Twenty feet of snow has fallen on the Midwest in two months, and the populace of Chicago is dealing with serious stress. Plexus Ranger Chief Reuben Flagg has released a public service announcement assuring citizens that the Plex is doing what is can to provide food and temporary shelter, and he asks for cooperation from the people.
As Reuben and Raul respond to a call about a gunfight at a cattle farm, they discuss the dwindling likelihood that the crashed airliner "Norman Bel Geddes" will be found, or that there are any survivors. Soon, they plow their vehicle into the side of a stable where armed migrants are trying to steal raw beef, and Flagg subdues the thieves.
Afterwards, Flagg and Raul continue to a meeting with the Witnesses, an association of seniors who broker information. Admitting he is unable keep up with Q-USA, the pirate video station he had inherited from his late chief, Hilton Krieger, Flagg proposes a merger between the Witnesses and Q-USA, to which their leader, Harris, agrees. Raul, however, becomes angry with Flagg, feeling he's betrayed Krieger.
Meanwhile, returning from a tryst in the snow-covered woods, Ernesto Klein-Hernandez and Gretchen Holstrom are driving back toward the mall when they come upon a young girl hitchhiking and they pick her up. Before long, they are under fire and being chased by another vehicle. The girl tells them it's her father after them. Gretchen activates a distress beacon, but then plows into a snowbank.
Flagg returns to the PlexMall Ranger station in time to take a call from a fellow Ranger who reports the "Bel Geddes" has been found and that at least one crewman and thirteen passengers, including the mayor's daughter and Ranger-in-training Medea Blitz, were able to walk away. As Flagg orders a helicopter scan over the area, Dr. Titania Weis helps Medea stumble in. Medea then collapses into Flagg's arms, as the racist Weis expresses her disdain toward Medea, and then leaves.
Later, Flagg goes to see Medea in the Mediplex, where she is being visited by her father, Mayor C. K. Blitz, Mandy Krieger, Four World pilot C. G. Marakova and Fourth World head Ester de la Cristo. Medea asks to talk to Flagg alone, and she relates had happened. When the liner crashed, her training kicked in, and she led the survivors out of the area to reach help. They had finally come upon a road and began to follow it. After some hours, a vehicle approached, but the driver apparently intended to ignore the group. Medea had forced the driver, Dr. Weis, to stop at gunpoint and to give the survivors a ride to the Mall.
Medea then tells Flagg about what had happened since he'd last seen her: a fellow agent in Brasilia had arranged therapy for her, which had straightened her out, enabling her to succeed in her Ranger training. She then mentions the attack on the "Bel Geddes", which surprises Flagg, as it was believed the liner went down in a storm. Medea insists they were shot down.
The visit is cut short when Flagg's android deputy, Luther, calls to inform him they've received a distress signal from a point on one of the free roads.
In the woods, a group of thugs in survivalist gear are roughing up Gretchen, while they have Ernesto tied naked to a tree, a noose around his neck. Flagg and Luther arrive in time to prevent Ernesto's murder, and they subdue all but one of the thugs, who gets away in their vehicle. Then, they find the girl sedated in the back seat of Gretchen's car, noting that she has the letters "ASLC" tattooed on her forehead.
Back at the Ranger station, they place the girl in a cell in protective custody. Flagg orders Luther to alter his holographic head to resemble Flagg in order to provide an alibi if needed, while he does some undercover work. He sneaks into de la Cristo's quarters to view the flight recorder data, but finds no useful details. However, while rewinding, he happens to see a prospectus for the sale of Illinois to de la Cristo's company.
The next morning, at the Ranger station, Flagg tries to put the pieces together. He attempts to reach the Plex central office on Mars, but gets only a recording. While Luther puts Raul in the girl's cell to keep her company, de la Cristo calls Flagg to invite him to dinner to discuss her request to visit Chicago. Knowing what he knows, Flagg accepts.
"Dinner" turns out to be de la Cristo, soaking in a tub full of compote. Flagg, against his better judgment, partakes of the concoction, but passes out, as the compote is laced with Somnambutol. De la Cristo then jumps from the tub to set the wheels of her plan in motion.
The next morning, Flagg enters the station where Luther informs him that de la Cristo, Klein-Hernandez and two bodyguards came in at 4 a.m. to requisition a van to drive into the city. Luther shows Flagg the authorization form on which Flagg's signature was forged. When Flagg remarks about an odd smell, Luther runs a chemical analysis which identifies the odor as that of a biological agent used in assassinations. With horror, Flagg rushes to the girl's cell, only to find her dead, and Raul, feeling ill. Feeling righteous anger, Flagg orders Luther to get Raul to a vet, and scan the office for prints. He then throws down his badge and sets off into town.