Heidi Cruise, age 17, has a single chance at freedom, but it involves breaking the law and completing Savage Run: a gruelling, male-only obstacle course program.
Nicholas Volkov has one goal: to make sure when he becomes president over the hierarchical society of Newland that he doesn't follow in his tyrannical father's footsteps.
After Heidi registers for the program, Nicholas discovers that she's a girl. Being a rebel in his own right, Nicholas doesn't turn her in, but decides to help in any way possible.
Heidi struggles through the obstacle courses in Savage Run. Physically and emotionally drained, it is only during downtime between events that she's able to make sense of her world and get a little closer to the secretive Nicholas.
But with the threat of death constantly barreling down on her, and with menacing contestants looming around every obstacle, she realizes the chances of her getting killed are far greater than her chances of surviving and attaining her freedom.
Biking up the same mile-and-a-half-long asphalt hill is so much harder when I know that at the end of the journey I’ll either be an outlaw, or I’ll be dead.
Rippling wind tugs at my black uniform as I push the pedals on my bike, one after the other. The rhythm of the squeaky, swooshing sound is as familiar as the fragrance of the seemingly never-ending lavender field to my right, the purple meadow that divides the Masters’ estates from the Laborers’ slum—the slum where I was born, the slum where I live, the slum I hope to escape from soon.
I glance down at the prescription bag lying in the rusty basket attached to the handlebars. The bag is supposed to hide my father’s kitchen knife, but it has shifted, and the blade catches the sunlight, winking at me from the bottom of the basket. After a quick scan of my surroundings to confirm that no one is watching, I reach down and readjust the bag over the blade. And just in case, I glance over my shoulder to make sure the bag with two sets of clothes is still attached to the back rack of my bike. It is.
Zooming up the wide, cracked road, I pass countless Laborers—nameless, faceless shadows—scurrying to their Masters in the mountains or toward the factories and fields. The muted, gray line of men, women, and children winds toward Mount Zalo and will eventually disintegrate as each person disappears into the white, gated estates they are assigned to. This long walk is the extent of a Laborer’s freedom. Most are forbidden to go anywhere without their Masters, unless they are traveling to or from work, before dawn—after sunset.
I pass a few young men, guys I thought for sure would have signed up for the Savage Run, a grueling, new obstacle course program that for the first time in history allows inferior-class teenage boys to demonstrate their worthiness to become Masters.
As I continue to bike ahead, I see my best friend’s mother, Ruth. Since Gemma left last year, Ruth has reduced to a walking skeleton. Not that she ever had any extra weight on her anyway. All Laborers pretty much have the same build with sunken cheeks and concave bellies grumbling on and on because the measly amount of food we’re rationed could never be enough. But unlike all the other Laborer women, Ruth’s hair is still short, even after a year—an indication that she’s been in trouble with the law. Normally I welcome any meeting with her, but because of where I’m headed, and because of what I’m about to do, not so much today. Yet gliding right past her and pretending not to see her is just not right, no matter what. Not after what she’s done for me.
I slow my bike as I approach her and say, “Nice day for a walk.”
“Ah, good morning, Heidi. You already running deliveries?”
I eye the bag in the basket to make sure the blade isn’t showing again. “Yes, I’m on my fifth one.”
“Where are you headed?” Ruth smiles, and the sides of her brown eyes crease like the wrinkles on a scrunched-up paper bag.
Should I lie to save her feelings? I decide on the truth. “To Master Douglas.”
“Ah…” The edges of her lips rise upward a little, but the rest of her face is like a dry ocean.
I should have lied.