Steele picks the unlikely setting of an earthquake-devastated St. Louis, circa 2012, for his hardcover debut. As the city's residents struggle to rebuild their lives, operatives from the Emergency Relief Agency (ERA) conduct nocturnal raids against the homeless and swagger like Nazis. Gerry Rosen, the sophomoric narrator and a journalist for the Big Muddy Inquirer, has his suspicions of these ersatz storm troopers validated when a friend and coworker is murdered. The Tiptree Corporation, a local hi-tech outfit, seems implicated. While Rosen wallows in gratuitous self- pity and guilt over the death of his son and his impending divorce, his investigation reveals an unlikely conspiracy between Tiptree and the ERA to overthrow the federal government using a new laser satellite. Rescue comes in the amoeba-like form of Ruby Fulcrum, a Tiptree-designed computer virus/artificial intelligence that escapes into the national computer network and speaks to Rosen with his son's voice via pocket PC. Once the pair join forces, Fulcrum literally turns the laser against the ERA, democracy is protected, and Rosen has the biggest scoop of his career. But Rosen seems emotionally untouched by the experience: He does not come to terms with the loss of his son or wife. Not much to satisfy the reader here, just a puppy-dog characterization of artificial intelligence, detective novel repartee, and hopscotch leaps of plot.