In a post-drought apocalypse United States, people kill for water. Ernest Holm lives with his son Jerome and daughter Mary in their small townhouse and field. His wife has been involved in an accident earlier and is now permanently hospitalized in a facility where she can walk while wired to a special frame. While everyone else has left the area, Ernest and his family remain, as Ernest believes that the land will grow once more if only there is irrigation. Ernest gets water for his family by delivering supplies to the "water men" who extract water from deep wells through a government deal. When his mule breaks its legs and he has to kill it, Ernest goes to Sam Lever's auction house and buys a robotic carrier machine called Simulit Shadow ("Sim") to replace it, beating the offers of Flem Lever, Sam's son, a young, troubled man who has been seeing Mary without Ernest's consent.