A massive explosion lights up the skies from Dallas to Washington, DC, shattering the space shuttle Patriot into pieces that rain down across the U.S. The authorities are quick to seize control of the situation, but stories emerge about a strange substance found clinging to the wreckage—something that withstood the extreme cold of space and searing heat of reentry to get here. And the first to come in contact with it are the first to change… But no one wants to start a panic.
DC psychiatrist Carol Bennell does not connect what happened to the shuttle with the bizarre occurrences that seem to accelerate around her: one of her patients is terrified that her husband has been replaced by a stranger; violent outbursts onthe streets are quickly subdued; and a very strange substance comes home in her son Oliver’s Halloween candy—something that might, in fact, be alive.
She tells her friend and fellow doctor, Ben Driscoll, that something is very wrong despite the fact that Washington does not seem concerned. The official word is that it’s simply a new form of flu, but before realizing the weight of what’s happening Carol lets Oliver spend the weekend with his estranged dad, a high-level official with the Center for Disease Control, who is in Washington investigating the crash and was one of the first people on the scene. As the epidemic spreads, Carol discovers that the very people in charge of inoculation against it are spreading something far worse—a spore of unknown origin that attacks human DNA while the host sleeps, remaking it in the image of a lifeform that looks like us and talks like us, but with all human emotion drained away.
Seemingly overnight, the people around her are transformed into hive-like beings with one imperative: to infect others and take control. Doing everything in her power to stay awake, Carol embarks on a desperate journey into a changed world to stay alive long enough to find her son. To hide among them, she will have to remain calm…betray no emotion…and, most of all, not fall asleep.