The city is a place where people go when they have died, but are still remembered by the living. When the last person who remembers them dies, they go on to another, unspecified place.
The first character is the blind man, whose keen sense of hearing and sense of direction enable him to navigate without cane or dog. He remembers crossing a desert on his way from earth to the city. And, like all those who come to the city, he remembers hearing a steady booming, like the beating of a heart, as he crosses over.
The life of the city is catalogued by Luka Sims, a journalism professor in his first life. He produces a daily newsletter on an old mimeograph machine. One of his biggest stories is the gradual depletion of the city after many years of growth.
The depletion is the result of an influenza virus on earth that is 100 percent effective in killing its victims. When whole nations die at once, most leave no one to remember them, and they pass through the city without a stop. And the many people they remembered disappear as well. Luka interviews all who arrive to get the latest on the grim conditions on earth. At one point Luka, the blind man and Minny Rings find themselves alone in a deserted section of the city. A man firing a gun brings the survivors of the disappearance together.
In the antarctic, Laura Byrd, Michael Puckett and Robert Joyce are ostensibly exploring for the Coca-Cola Company. Their real mission is setting up a new advertising campaign based on the slogan, "made from the freshest water on the planet." As their part of the story opens, their radio antenna has broken, and they have lost all contact with the outside world. Puckett and Joyce decide to go in search of a team studying penguins in the hope that they have a working radio. They hope to contact Coca-Cola and let the company know that their radio is broken and their supplies are running low.
When Puckett and Joyce don't return within a few weeks, Laura decides she must follow. She goes off into what rapidly becomes a blizzard, and struggles to reach the base camp of the biologists.
In the city, people begin to concentrate in the central area as the smaller population stays closer together. Laura's parents, always seeking people who know her, discover that an unusually large number of people remember their daughter. Indeed, it gradually becomes clear that nearly everyone in the city, whether they recall ever having met Laura, is only alive because she is alive and remembers them.
Laura often thinks about some of the people in her past - her first lover, a journalism teacher whose course she took named Luka. Her best friend in third grade, Minny. As she fights her way through the snow, other memories come flooding back, the beggar who accosted her every day in front of the Coca-Cola building, a blind man she saw from time to time and many others.
After reaching the base camp and finding news clippings and a diary that let her know what has happened to the earth, Laura spends several weeks in the base camp, a heated and well-stocked building. But eventually she is driven to find a powerful radio kept out on the penguin rookery. The trip is even more difficult than her earlier endeavor - and the survival of the city depends on her making it back alive.
This report prepared by David Gordon