In 1982, a shady transaction is occurring between an East German scientist, Dr. Krause, and a group of Americans involving a substance known as MM88. MM88 is a deadly virus, created accidentally by an American geneticist, that amplifies the potency of any other virus or bacterium it comes into contact with. The Americans recover the virus sample, which was stolen from a lab in the US the year before, but the virus is accidentally released after the plane transporting it crashes, creating a pandemic initially known as the “Italian Flu”.
Within seven months, virtually all the world’s population has died off. However, the virus is inactive at temperatures below -10 degrees Celsius, and the polar winter has spared the 855 men and eight women stationed in Antarctica. The British nuclear submarine HMS Nereid joins the scientists after sinking a Soviet submarine whose infected crew attempts to make landfall near Palmer Station.
Several years later, as the group is beginning to repopulate their new home, it is discovered that an earthquake will activate the Automated Reaction System (ARS) and launch the United States nuclear arsenal.
The Soviets have their own version of the ARS that will fire off their weapons in return, including one targeting Palmer Station. After all of the women and children and several hundred of the men are sent to safety aboard an icebreaker, Yoshizumi and Major Carter embark aboard the Nereid on a mission to shut down the ARS, protected from MM88 by an experimental vaccine.
The submarine arrives at Washington, D.C., and Yoshizumi and Carter make a rush for the ARS command bunker. However, they reach the room too late, and all but those aboard the icebreaker perish in the nuclear exchange. Over the course of years Yoshizumi walks back towards Antarctica. Upon reaching Tierra del Fuego in 1988, he finds some of the survivors from the icebreaker, immunized by a since-developed vaccine. They embrace, and Yoshizumi declares “Life is wonderful.”