A Stanford academic, Lawrence Williams, is summoned to the residence of his friend, physician and Nobel Laureate Edgar A. Marten, by the housekeeper after she discovers Marten is injured and unconscious on the kitchen floor. Days later when Marten regains consciousness in the hospital, he tells Williams there was an accident with the Emitter, a high-tech version of an ancient Egyptian religious artifact that he acquired earlier that year. The next day, local news reports that an increasing number of young adults who have recently turned 21 are coming down with the symptoms that mimic severe food poisoning. Authorities are mystified because the disease is spreading quickly by an unknown contagion, and the transmission pattern doesn't match the usual causes due to viruses, bacteria, and parasites because the victims have not eaten the same food nor have they been in proximity to each other and are unrelated in every way except their age. Marten believes his accident is the cause of the disease but the Emitter was destroyed in the accident which prevents him from discovering how to stop the pandemic from spreading. By the eighth day of the illness, victims fall into a coma. Their body produces a substance that engulfs each victim for several weeks. Those who are not killed by the process emerge with perfect health. Their personality and sense of self is unaffected. However, their physical bodies have completely transformed. Marten and Williams construct a team to manage the crisis. As the survivors struggle to rebuild their world, they must decide between transforming their lives or ending their misery with suicide.