Andy McGee met his future wife Vicky Tomlinson in college while they were earning money by participating in an experiment in which they were given a dose of a low-grade hallucinogen called LOT-6. The experiment grants Vicky the ability to read minds; Andy can make people do and believe what he wants, but the effort gives him nosebleeds. Andy and Vicky went on to get married, and they now have a 9-year-old daughter named Charlene "Charlie" McGee, who can start fires at will, and also tell the near future.
Andy comes home from work one day to find that Vicky has been tortured and murdered; the family had already suspected that the government agency that sponsored the experiment, the Department of Scientific Intelligence (aka "The Shop"), was checking on them. The government wants to capture Charlie and harness her powerful firestarting ability as a weapon. Andy rescues Charlie from abduction by agents of The Shop, and for the next year they are on the run.
To protect themselves, Andy writes letters to major newspapers, but mailing them reveals their location. The Shop sends the one-eyed agent John Rainbird to capture them and stop the mail. At the Shop's facility, father and daughter are kept separated. Andy is medicated, and subjected to tests, which show his powers have decreased. Meanwhile, Rainbird takes the role of "John the friendly orderly" to befriend Charlie and encourage her to submit to tests.
Charlie's demonstrated powers increase exponentially, and she continually demands to see her father. Andy stops swallowing his drugs and slowly recovers his power, which he uses to influence Captain Hollister to arrange an escape from the facility. Charlie tells "John" about the escape, and he makes sure to be there. On his way to rendezvous with Charlie at the facility's stables, Andy learns about Rainbird's ruse, and reveals it to her. Andy forces Hollister to shoot at Rainbird; Rainbird kills Hollister and fatally wounds Andy, then is burned to death by Charlie. With his dying breath, Andy tells Charlie to destroy the facility and run, and she does, leaving the facility up in flames, killing many people.