Part 1: Spring – 2073 C.E.
Picking up directly where we left off in chapter 13 of Fourth World…
Tamara, still reeling emotionally from her impulsive decision to kiss Isaak on the breezeway, enters the principal’s office where Joseph Condor awaits her. As he did with Isaak, he questions Tamara about the artifact that was smuggled off the dig site, which he believes Tamara, Isaak, Henry, and Scylla know more about than they’re letting on. Tamara’s anxiety almost gets the better of her, but she hastily name-drops her mothers, who are some of the Academy’s biggest donors and are also influential with GSAF. At their names, the principal quickly intervenes and Tamara manages to escape the interview without giving anything away to Condor. As she leaves the administration building, she considers texting Isaak; but, still embarrassed about having kissed him, she decides to wait to hear from him first.
After skipping school and pulling two consecutive all-nighters, Henry dozes off and winds up oversleeping and missing his appointed meeting time with Isaak at David Hassan’s apartment. He is awakened by an incoming video call from Isaak’s mom, who asks Henry if he’s seen or heard from Isaak. Henry, realizing how much he’s overslept, becomes concerned, because he hasn’t heard from Isaak either. He tries to call Isaak, but the call doesn’t connect, and text messages go undelivered. He is also unable to get a hold of Tamara. He gets through to Scylla, who warns him that Condor is on their trail.
After receiving a cryptic message from Isaak’s palmtop telling Henry to meet him at DH’s, Henry heads to the address he’d found for David Hassan and finds the door ajar and the apartment seemingly abandoned. He finds the burned remains of some paperback books inside the fireplace, but before he can investigate further, he’s intercepted by GSAF agents. The message from Isaak’s palmtop had been a trap—after Isaak fled from the apartment, he’d left his palmtop behind, and GSAF, in an attempt to discover where he’d gone after they lost him in the caves, used the palmtop to try to catch Isaak’s friends if they were harboring Isaak as a fugitive.
Henry is taken into custody, and as they leave the apartment building, he finds himself worrying about Tamara in spite of himself.
Tamara, meanwhile, has just gotten off the ferry returning from Herschel Island after her music lessons. She hasn’t heard from Isaak since the kiss and is worried that she may have ruined their friendship with her impetuous action—an action she’s regretting in more ways than one. In her preoccupied state, she bumps into her friend Wyatt Ponsford, the son of GSAF officials who has always been on Isaak and Henry’s bad sides. Wyatt comments that there have been a large number of helicopters and drones flying over the city tonight, and speculates that they seem to be pursuing a fugitive. He notices Tamara’s distraction and asks her if everything is okay. Tamara asks him if he thinks it’s weird for girls to make the first move in a relationship. Wyatt reassures her that of course it’s fine, but Tamara still feels distressed.
After talking to Wyatt, Tamara heads home and finds her house key in one of the potted plants, confirming that Isaak has been here and gone. She goes inside and finds her moms, hoping to talk to Mama D privately about what had happened with the posternkey, but before they get a chance to speak, the doorbell rings. Tierra Nueva P.D. is at the door with a warrant to search the property for the missing artifact. They find nothing, as Isaak had already taken the posternkey hours before. After the police leave, Tamara checks her palmtop and finds the message from Henry asking if she’d heard from Isaak, as well as multiple frantic messages from Scylla. At this point she realizes that no one has heard from Isaak since she last saw him at school, and begins to panic. She asks Henry to call her, as he has always been able to calm her down when she has an anxiety attack, but his own palmtop has now been confiscated by GSAF and he doesn’t answer.
At GSAF headquarters, Henry is interrogated by Joseph Condor. Henry uses his reputation as a juvenile delinquent and past run-ins with the police as a shield, claiming that he was in the apartment to burglarize it. Unbeknownst to Henry, he is already on Condor’s radar due to his involvement in anarchist chatspaces on Speculus, and his contact with a person on Earth who is believed to have ties to an anti-government organization called the Stateless that Earth authorities have been unable to suppress. Condor believes none of Henry’s lies, but lets him go for now with a warning that GSAF will be watching him.
At school the next day, Henry and Tamara meet and look for Isaak at his locker, but there’s no sign of him. Tamara is worried, but Henry reassures her that Isaak is probably fine and just at home grounded. He tells her about being brought in for questioning and speculates that Isaak may have gone through the same. Tamara realizes that Henry’s notorious conspiracy theories and anti-authoritarian rants may have been right all along, based on GSAF’s disproportionate reaction to the dig site and coverup of the mysterious artifacts.
The two head to homeroom, where an announcement is made over the intercom that Isaak is a missing person and that any information about his whereabouts should be reported to GSAF. Pandemonium ensues.
In the fallout of the announcement, Henry realizes that if Isaak is missing and GSAF doesn’t know his whereabouts, it’s possible that he was kidnapped by Emil. He goes to the train station where they first met the old man and waits for him. When Emil finally steps off the train, Henry angrily confronts him, but Emil reveals that he is actually David Hassan and that he is on their side. He tells Henry that he’d been taken into custody as well and had only just been released. He was unable to rendezvous with Isaak as planned, but he had assumed that GSAF had apprehended Isaak, taken the posternkey, and released him as they had Emil. When Henry reveals that Isaak is missing, Emil becomes concerned. Henry determines that the only possible scenario is that GSAF is secretly holding Isaak while publicly denying to know his whereabouts. Emil realizes that Isaak must have used the posternkey, but he does not reveal this to Henry.
With Isaak missing and GSAF revealing nothing about what they know, Scylla decides to stage a public demonstration demanding transparency from GSAF. Henry is skeptical about the plan, but invites a group of his and Isaak’s friends from middle school to pad out the numbers, as well as people from his libertarian chatspaces on Speculus. Scylla has made posters for the protesters to hold, as well as a red braided yarn bracelet for everyone to wear in solidarity with the movement. The group begins a rally in the park, but the demonstration is quickly broken up by the police. As Scylla and the libertarians argue with the officers, they are interrupted by the arrival of Joseph Condor. Henry gets into an altercation with Condor, who Henry believes is behind Isaak’s disappearance. As tensions escalate and the other protesters get involved, the police declare the demonstration a riot and spray mace into the crowd. Henry is hit by the spray and his eyes and arms are burned. Tamara and Scylla pull him to safety and help him flush his eyes. Henry refuses to back down, but Tamara is determined to protect him as she was unable to protect Isaak. She promises that they’ll continue to fight, even if they’ve lost this first battle.
The next day at school Wyatt offers his support to Henry, but his words grate on Henry and Henry rebuffs him. Wyatt says he doesn’t know why Tamara wastes her time on him. Henry admits internally that he doesn’t understand it himself.
When Henry and Tamara get to their homeroom class, they find a GSAF agent at the front of the classroom. The agent says she is there to give a special presentation to the students of the Academy addressing the allegations that have been made against GSAF. The agent frames Isaak as a thief, a criminal delinquent, and a likely runaway. She insinuates that Henry is a fence for stolen goods and that Isaak was smuggling artifacts out of the dig site for Henry to sell. In the process, security footage is shown that paints Isaak in a negative light, including footage of Tamara kissing Isaak on the breezeway.
Mr. Johnson, their homeroom teacher, angrily interrupts the presentation and demands the agent leave his classroom immediately for violating his students’ privacy and slandering them. Wyatt likewise is furious that Isaak and Henry were accused of being criminals without due process. Tamara is mortified that everyone saw the footage of her kissing Isaak, and feels inexplicably distraught that Henry now knows about the kiss. Henry is summoned to the principal’s office. Before he leaves, Mr. Johnson stops him and apologizes for all the times he was hard on him.
Henry, who was on his last strike for behavioral issues, is expelled from the Academy due to “criminal activities.”
After school, Tamara and Scylla search for Henry and find him at Escalante Bay. Tamara manages to convince him to leave the beach and have dinner with her and Scylla at a nearby diner. While they wait for their food, the three consider the fact that GSAF has targeted them so severely, and realize that whatever coverup they accidentally stumbled upon, it must be enormous for them to persecute four teenagers to this extent. Henry vows to not give up until he uncovers whatever they’re trying to hide. Tamara begs him to stop. Henry argues that GSAF has already destroyed his life, so he has to keep going. Tamara says that if he keeps pushing, he might disappear like Isaak, and she refuses to lose him too.
The waiter interrupts their argument and Tamara goes to the bathroom to try to calm herself down. While she’s gone, Scylla begins grilling Henry about what’s going on with Tamara. Scylla has figured out that Henry is in love with Tamara, and she suspects that Tamara may have feelings for him as well. She asks Henry how long this has been going on, and Henry says as long as he’s known her. Scylla realizes that Henry was keeping his feelings to himself to spare Isaak, and he refuses to make his feelings known to Tamara because he believes that she’s in love with Isaak.
Tamara comes out of the bathroom but only hears the tail end of the conversation and is unaware of what they’re discussing. She asks them what’s going on, but Henry prevents Scylla from telling her. When it appears Scylla isn’t going to drop it, Henry announces that he’s going home. Tamara tries to stop him, or else let her walk him home, because she’s afraid to let him out of her sight lest he disappear. Henry assures her that he will be fine and needs some alone time.
After he leaves, Scylla questions Tamara about her feelings for Isaak. She pointedly asks Tamara if she’s in love with Isaak. Tamara hedges and defends herself by saying that she’s known about Isaak’s crush on her for some time and that all her friends and family were encouraging their relationship. She points out that he’s been her best friend for years, and that she has every reason to like him—he’s tall, he’s cute, they have so much in common, and so on. Scylla comes out to Tamara as aromantic and says that despite not dating herself, even she knows that’s not how it works. Other people’s opinions don’t matter, the laundry list of reasons why he’s perfect doesn’t matter, all that matters is whether Tamara loves him.
Tamara finally acknowledges the feelings she’s been trying to suppress ever since she kissed Isaak: That it was all wrong, because truly, she does not love Isaak and she never did.
As Henry walks home, he thinks about his conversation with Scylla. Seeing the footage of Tamara kissing Isaak hurt, but he’s also happy for them. He promises that he will find Isaak so that his friends can finally have the happiness they’ve been waiting for for so long.
He reaches his apartment building and finds Joseph Condor waiting outside. Condor has come under the pretense of returning Henry’s palmtop, but he also wants Henry to get the message: Stop interfering with GSAF’s business, or your problems are only just beginning. Henry tells him that he understands, but in truth he has no intention of backing down. After Condor leaves, Henry unlocks his palmtop and finds it open to a news story that Wyatt’s mother has been appointed governor and Condor has been promoted to lieutenant governor, giving him more power on Mars than ever before.
Weeks later, Tamara meets Isaak’s mother at church and tries to invite her to the museum opening that Isaak had been supposed to attend with her. Isaak’s mom gives her a cold reception, turning down the invitation and asking Tamara to please give her and the family space. Tamara realizes that GSAF told Isaak’s family the same lies that the agent had told the class at the Academy, and Isaak’s mom now believes that Henry had led Isaak astray and involved him in something criminal. Tamara sadly says goodbye and leaves.
Part 2: Summer – 2073 C.E.
The three friends try to pick up the shattered remains of their lives. After his expulsion from the Academy, Henry’s parents kicked him out of their home. Tamara urges Henry to enroll in the local public high school to finish his education, but Henry refuses. Now a legal adult, he begins working at one of the local factories during the day and secretly attempting to hack into GSAF’s network at night to find any information he can about Isaak.
Scylla continues to organize protests and demonstrations, with Henry’s libertarian friends continuing to be involved. The movement slowly begins to evolve beyond just an effort to find out the truth about Isaak, into an anti-GSAF and pro-Martian-independence uprising called Free Mars.
Tamara performs at the museum opening as planned, with Henry and Scylla attending to offer her support. At the event, she’s approached by a music producer from Earth and is eventually given a contract. She’s determined to finish her education and work around school, which ties up most of her free time.
The friends begin to drift apart without Isaak as the anchor to hold them all together. Tamara is desperate to keep her friends together, but Henry grows more and more distant.
On Halloween, what would have been Isaak’s 18th birthday, Henry and Tamara meet at the bay for a vigil. Tamara brings a chocolate cupcake—Isaak’s favorite kind, from the local bakery—and she and Henry light a candle and float the cupcake out to sea in its small cardboard box. They try to avoid voicing their unspoken fear: That Isaak may be dead.
A month later, it’s now Tamara’s 18th birthday and the three friends come together for a day of relaxation at a local festival. The group runs into Wyatt, who invites them to a New Year’s Eve party at the governor’s mansion, where Tamara is going to be performing in public for the first time since signing her recording contract. Henry and Wyatt exchange barbs, but Scylla is eager to go, and Tamara asks Henry to put aside his resentment and accept Wyatt’s olive branch. Henry agrees, but with ulterior motives—he’s hoping that being at the governor’s mansion might give him a backdoor to classified information he hasn’t been able to access so far.
On New Year’s Eve, Henry is intercepted at his apartment by Joseph Condor, who informs Henry that GSAF is aware of his attempts to hack into their systems. Up until now nothing that GSAF has done to him has persuaded Henry to stop his crusade, but this time Condor makes a threat that Henry can’t ignore.
At the governor’s mansion, Tamara anxiously waits for Henry’s arrival, but he never appears. She performs, and though she was nervous ahead of time, the experience of performing live and the thrill of the crowd exhilarates her, and she realizes that singing truly is what she wants to do with her life.
When it gets to be midnight and Henry still hasn’t appeared, Tamara leaves the party and goes to check on him. She finds his apartment in disarray, with furniture upturned and broken and a shattered mirror with blood on it. She is terrified something has happened to Henry, but she finds him sitting numbly on the floor in the dark, his face bruised and his hand bleeding, as if he’s the one who broke the mirror. In a panic she asks him what happened, and for the first time, Henry breaks down and admits defeat.
The next morning, Henry reports to GSAF headquarters. On New Year’s Eve, Condor gave him a threat and a warning, but also an opportunity. GSAF has recognized his skills as a hacker, and in exchange for Tamara’s safety, Henry agrees to drop his investigation into Isaak’s disappearance and to instead work with GSAF on a secret project. As the human resources employee gets his new hire paperwork together, a text from Tamara comes in, asking if he’s feeling better today. Henry smiles at his palmtop and then deletes the text without replying.
Part 3: Autumn – 2074 C.E.
After New Year’s, Henry goes radio silent and stops responding to any of Tamara’s messages. Despite this, Tamara continue to text him every day, hoping one day she’ll get an answer.
Months pass. Tamara graduates from the Academy and is accepted to a prestigious university for the arts on Herschel Island. After graduation, she travels to Earth where she records an album and goes on her first tour. Before a concert in Arizona, she writes to Henry and tells him that she misses him. As she heads on stage, she’s stopped by an attendant who tries to get her to remove the red yarn bracelet that Scylla had made for her all those months before. The bracelets have become a symbol of the Free Mars movement and Tamara wearing one is considered a controversial political statement. Tamara refuses to take it off.
Back on Mars, Henry is making progress on hacking the system GSAF has tasked him with, but it’s slow going because the programming language is unlike anything he’s ever worked with before. During this process, he has worked periodically with GalaX contractors, and is beginning to suspect that this is part of a larger conspiracy tied to the strange artifact that Isaak unearthed that led to his disappearance. He believes the coverup is truly about ancient Martian technology, but he is unable to do anything about it now.
Joseph Condor stops in to get a progress report from Henry, which Henry dutifully gives him. While they talk, Henry’s palmtop buzzes with the incoming message from Tamara on Earth. Condor wryly asks Henry about it, and Henry deletes the message without reading it, telling Condor that some girls can’t take a hint.
A month later, Tamara has returned to Mars and is packing her things to move in to her dorm on Herschel. Bryn is helping her pack and comes across a holo-frame with a picture of Tamara with Isaak and Henry in it. She asks Tamara if she’s heard from Henry lately. Tamara tries to avoid the topic, and when Bryn presses it, Tamara quickly excuses herself, claiming she heard the doorbell.
As she goes downstairs, she realizes that there really was someone at the door—Mama D is having a hushed conversation with someone in the shadows. Mama D manages to successfully block Tamara from overhearing, but in fact she has been in contact with Emil for months. Emil told her about his theory that the posternkey was a tesseract, and his belief that Isaak may have traveled through it. Together they managed to use the 3-D scans she took of the posternkey before Isaak disappeared to print a new one. Mama D has arranged for someone to sneak Emil into the caves so he can use the posternkey to follow Isaak and try to bring him home. She has kept this from Bryn and Tamara to protect them, as well as spare their feelings if Emil is unable to find Isaak.
A few months later, Henry is leaving work at GSAF when one of Tamara’s songs begins playing on the elevator radio. He tries not to react to this, but when two other employees begin making disparaging comments about her—including calling her an extremist for her red bracelet and tangential involvement in the Free Mars movement—he pushes his way off the elevator.
Outside, he tries to calm himself down, but is shocked to find his mother waiting for him. She has come to apologize to him for what happened after he was expelled from the Academy. At first he doesn’t want to hear it, but she explains that Henry’s father in particular is sensitive about the kinds of political movements that Henry has always embroiled himself in because his own family was killed in an act of political violence back on Earth. He had hoped to protect his wife and son from that kind of violence by coming to Mars, only for Henry to make himself a target in the same way his parents had in India. Despite initially being upset with Henry and kicking him out after his expulsion, Henry’s father is secretly proud of him for sticking to his principles even when it cost him.
Henry is shocked by this revelation and accepts his mother’s apology and agrees to extend an olive branch to his dad. As they hug, Henry’s mom tells him that this reconciliation had been Tamara’s doing. She explains Tamara had been worried about Henry being alone on this day, and Henry realizes with a start that it’s Halloween—Isaak’s birthday—and that he had forgotten. He also realizes that even though his dad had been proud of him for sticking to his principles, he had abandoned them by allying with GSAF for safety’s sake.
Later that night, Tamara wakes up in her dorm room after falling asleep at her desk. She’d held the vigil for Isaak by herself and cried herself to exhaustion before coming home and having a strange dream about herself and Henry. When she awakens, she finds her roommate Mariyah has come home, and Mariyah teases her about talking in her sleep and saying Henry’s name. Her palmtop buzzes as a text message comes in from Henry, for the first time in ten months: Thank you.
Part 4: Winter – 2074 C.E.
At GSAF headquarters, Henry has hacked into the System. At this point he is supposed to alert his superiors at GSAF and they’ll transfer it from there to someone with higher clearance. Instead, he digs deeper.
He discovers that the System works on verbal and possibly mental commands from the user. He asks it for answers, and the System presents him with a video recording of Isaak in the hospital level on Iamos. He hears someone speaking a foreign language to Isaak, but he doesn’t understand what it means. All he knows is that this video shows that Isaak is alive, and, unaware of the existence of the time postern, Henry believes this is proof that GSAF has had him all along.
Condor enters the room and demands to know what Henry is doing. Henry says that the real question is what has Condor been doing.
Henry and Condor get into an altercation, and Henry is arrested. He calls Scylla to bail him out, but as she can’t afford bail, Scylla calls Tamara and finally tells her the whole story.
Tamara goes to the police station to pick Henry up. At first the reunion is awkward, but when they get outside Henry apologizes for the way he’s treated her this annum. When she asks what happened tonight that led to him being arrested, he tells her that GSAF has Isaak and that he has proof. He promises Tamara that they’ll find him and bring him back to her. Tamara interrupts him and asks him if what Scylla said is true: That the reason Henry abandoned the Free Mars movement, started working with GSAF, and stopped speaking to his friends is because Condor threatened Tamara. Henry tells her that it’s true. Tamara protests that they could have fought them together, but Henry says he wasn’t willing to take the risk. Tamara asks why, and Henry tells her that she shouldn’t have to ask that question.
Tamara realizes then that what Scylla told her is true: That Henry is in love with her. Henry tells her not to worry about it because it’s not important, and Tamara tells him that it is important because he matters to her more than anything else. She kisses him, and this kiss is completely unlike the awkward kiss with Isaak, because she knows now that she’s in love with Henry.
Henry makes a decision that he can’t keep going on with his head buried in the sand. If they’re going to rescue Isaak, he has to be more proactive.
Tamara returns to her dorm and tells Mariyah what happened, and the two celebrate giddily. But Tamara is still worried that Henry may wind up ghosting on her again. The next day, however, the two meet at the bay and he reveals his plan moving forward. He is rejoining the Free Mars movement and blowing the whistle on GSAF and the System.
Part 5: Spring – 2075 C.E.
Two annums to the day after Isaak’s disappearance—one Martian year—the Free Mars movement is holding a rally at the dig site. Condor has made Henry a target since he blew the whistle. But Condor has been barred from taking direct action against him by Wyatt’s mom, the governor of Aeolis province, because Wyatt is a supporter of Henry’s movement. Henry, Tamara, and Scylla have renewed their friendship, with Mariyah rounding out the girls’ friendship trio. Henry has finally accepted Wyatt as a friend and much-needed ally against GSAF. The Free Mars movement is gaining momentum and the public is more receptive to Martian independence than ever.
As Henry takes the podium to give a speech, a commotion at the back of the crowd catches his attention. He sees a group of people entering the clearing, led by Joseph Condor: A man in a rumpled factory uniform, a Black girl with curly white hair…