In 2017, people live in near-total isolation, rarely leaving the safety and comfort of their homes, thanks to remotely-controlled robotic bodies that serve as "surrogates," designed as better-looking versions of their human operators. Because people are safe all the time, and damage done to a surrogate is not felt by its owner, it is a peaceful world free from fear, pain, and crime.
Tom Greer is an FBI agent who, through the use of his own surrogate, investigates the murder of Jarod Canter, who had inexplicably been killed in his dorm room while his surrogate was simultaneously destroyed elsewhere. Jarod is the son of Dr. Lionel Canter , the inventor of surrogates and ousted head of VSI, the corporation which manufactures them.
Greer's investigation leads him to The Dreads, a group of people led by a mysterious man known only as The Prophet who is against the use of surrogates. Greer and his partner Jennifer Peters determine that the identity of the murderer is a Dread named Miles Strickland, who uses a unique weapon which kills the operator of the surrogate it destroys. Greer's surrogate is destroyed when it pursues Strickland into a Dread reservation. Strickland is then killed by his fellow Dreads, leaving the weapon in possession of The Prophet and Greer to physically interact with others without the use of a surrogate. He continues to investigate the case despite being put on suspension, and learns from Dr. Canter and a military officer that the weapon works by infecting a surrogate with a computer virus and disabling the fail-safe mechanisms which shield the operator from harm, thus killing them.