In this thrilling adventure ride, American students abroad become embroiled in a deadly international race to find a force for freedom before the world succumbs to an imminent dystopia.
Stanford grad Zak Miller is attending Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University when one morning, as he studies for an exam at the University's beautiful imperial garden, an unknown man nearby is suddenly and inexplicably attacked. Zak comes to his aid. Mysteriously, as the dying man loses consciousness he calls Zak by the name Christopher Gray and slips him a thumb drive while speaking the letters U, N, K.
Filled with a sense of dread, and knowing that in a country of ubiquitous CCTV, authorities will soon be seeking him out, Zak takes off across campus, depositing the thumb in a random book at the vast university library before heading to his housing complex. At his apartment Zak encounters a man who says he is Hui Lee, an officer of State Security, and his men. They attempt to detain Zak, but as they leave the building's elevator, Zak is able to elude them.
Later Zak retrieves the thumb drive and finds Kim at the Library. They contact Lee and agree to meet at Muxidi bridge to hand it over. Just as they are about do so, Kim discovers that the man standing on the bridge to greet them is not actually Hui Lee, but rather an imposter. She shouts to Zak and they barely get away while being shot at.
Stuck with a thumb drive that appears to motivate unknown assailants to shoot at them, Zak and Kim are left wondering who their assailant is. Figuring anyone who would shoot at them must be a criminal element, they suspect he could be a member of one of the organized criminal gangs of China, a Triad. They seek out a professor, well recognized for his expertise in the criminal underworld of China, and go to see him.
Zak and Kim find Professor Wu-pen at the Public Security University nearby in Biejing. They share the thumb drive with him and he warns them that they and anyone they are in contact with are indeed in danger and probably not just from the Triads, that they must surreptitiously get out of China before being detained with the incriminating thumb, where they can fulfill the dying man's last wish by getting it to UNK.
Soon, Zak and Kim are being pursued in a deadly game not only by an unfriendly Chinese Triad, but also by arms of the Chinese and American governments. Both are equally intent on supressing the information, although for different reasons. The Professor knows a friendly Triad contact in Hong Kong who can help them get out of China.
In the meantime, their friends Rashida, Arjun, Ethan, Bogdan, Guillermo, Sofia, Kina, and Asobi scatter to the four winds for their own safety. Kim and Zak head to Dubai to find the mercurial billionaire Kadin Sa'd but are waylaid in Paris just as a series of lethal attacks begins one at a time on their now distant friends.
Invasive surveillance and governmental control carried out in the name of national security, an over concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, rising national militarism, government sanctioned extra-judicial assassination carried out in far distant countries, interdependence of transnational corporations and leading governments, government censorship, diminishing freedom of the press and of individual expression, collide. Zak, Kim and their friends try to turn the worldwide tide toward a vast and foolish bigotry back to one of optimism and hope in a triumphant tale very much of our time.