Rex Huerta is a 16-year-old Mexican American living in California. He’s also a programming genius. Fourteen-year-old Tunde Oni lives in a poor Nigerian village. He’s a world-class engineer. Painted Wolf is a highly secretive 16-year-old blogger who speaks against injustice. She lives in Shanghai and wears a disguise.
The three meet online and share a passion for freeing information and spreading digital wealth. They call themselves the LODGE and have established a site on which they share and distribute material they like and create. Although they’ve never met in person, they consider themselves best friends.
A famous young entrepreneur from India named Kiran Biswas announces he’s hosting a challenge he calls the Game. He will invite some of the finest young minds on the planet to participate, and they will compete for enough money to launch their own research facilities. He will fly contestants to Boston, all expenses paid. When the kids learn about the Game, they’re elated.
Tunde is the first to receive an invitation. Unfortunately, it is delivered by the infamous General Iyabo. The general demands Tunde build him a machine called a jammer to scramble radio signals. He plans to use it as a weapon, as it would have the power to bring down airplanes. General Iyabo threatens Tunde, his family and his village if Tunde is unsuccessful with this invention and doesn’t win the Game.
Painted Wolf’s parents know nothing of her online activities. One night they have an odd meeting with an unscrupulous businessman at their home. The evening gets stranger for Painted Wolf when Kiran Biswas arrives. He gives no indication that he knows the girl is Painted Wolf. Later that night, she receives an emailed invitation to participate in the Game.
Rex feels insulted when he doesn’t receive his own invitation. He hacks into Kiran’s system and changes names so that he receives one in someone’s place. While Rex wants to get to Boston so he can help Tunde with his weapon problems, he has another agenda as well.
A few years earlier, his brother, Teo, left late one night and didn’t return. In the months leading up to his disappearance, Teo had become involved with a group of radical, shady hackers called Terminal. He told Rex something big was about to happen and that he needed to be part of it.
Teo said he was going on a walkabout. Soon afterward, Rex created a computer program he named “Walkabout” that would allow him to find his big brother. In order to run the program, however, Rex would need a high-powered quantum computer. Only a few such super-computers exist on the planet. One is located in Boston at the site of the Game.
Painted Wolf has nearly decided she can’t go to Boston. She certainly can’t tell her parents about her underground activities. When she learns how desperate Tunde is for LODGE’s help, she decides she must find a way. She tells her parents she’ll be with a cousin and asks the cousin to cover for her. Then, in full disguise, she flies with Kiran in his private plane to Boston.
Tunde, Painted Wolf and Rex are thrilled to meet up for the first time. While they’re excited about the Game itself, they also know building the general’s jammer and running Rex’s Walkabout program are their primary objectives. Kiran gathers the contestants in an auditorium and begins to explain the rules of the Game.
Initially, the contestants have to find clues based on a computer-generated moth image on a projector screen. The kids work together with several other team members to discover intricate coding in the moth’s wings and more information when certain types of light shine on the image. They are part of the 12 finalists who advance to the next round.
From there, they are broken up into teams of four. Each team must find a way to hack into a high-powered computer without physically being in the room with the machine. That means each must come up with a device to do the work for them while they control it remotely. This time, Rex and Painted Wolf are not on Tunde’s team. Nevertheless, they want to ensure he wins. The general has been calling with more threats to Tunde’s family if he doesn’t.
In between their long hours of coding, analyzing and building for the Game, Tunde and Rex design the general’s weapon. They create it with invisible code that will allow them to disable and destroy it. The general will think it failed because of user error. Painted Wolf helps Rex sneak into the facility with the quantum computer and start up Walkabout. Rex and Painted Wolf begin to have romantic feelings for each other.
Kiran discovers Rex cheated to get into the Game. He takes Rex aside and says he purposely left Rex off the invite list to see what the boy would do. Kiran believes Rex is an amazing coder but that he lacks the courage needed to make real change in the world. He says Rex needs to get beyond his moral hang-ups. Kiran says Rex can stay in the game if he will become part of Kiran’s team and work for him. He also reveals he had invited Teo to join his team at one point.
Kiran lets both Rex and Painted Wolf in on bits of his plan to make Web information free to all, but both are concerned that his methods may not be legal or ethical. The young entrepreneur believes he must create a revolution filled with extreme chaos and even loss of life in order for the world to come around to his way of thinking. Painted Wolf discovers a disk with information about Kiran’s underhanded dealings in China. To Painted Wolf’s chagrin, she realizes her father is somehow mixed up in this.
An intense battle of machines, including a remote-controlled centipede, ends in victory for Tunde’s team in the Game. Rex learns his program has discovered Teo’s location. After one victorious moment where the kids feel they can breathe a sigh of relief, police arrive and arrest Rex. They accuse him of hacking into the computer and causing a major security breach impacting high-level agencies all over the globe.
This is the biggest cyber leak ever and could change the course of history. Rex is confused. He finally confesses to running the Walkabout program on the quantum computer. Agents don’t believe him when he says he had nothing to do with any of the breaches.
Rex waits in a detention center. He learns Kiran is behind the breach. Painted Wolf, Tunde and some of their new, brainy friends create disguises and paperwork that allow them to break Rex out. As the story ends, the kids are determined to find evidence to clear Rex. They’re on the run from the FBI, and the agency traces them to the last known residence of Teo Huerta.