- This is the first book in The Iamos Trilogy, a series which comprises three novels and a novella. The next book you should read after this one is Different Worlds, a novella which takes place between this book and New World, the second novel of the trilogy.
- Fourth World takes place across two timelines in two different “worlds.” The first timeline is set on Mars in 2073 C.E., roughly forty years after the planet was colonized by people from Earth. The second timeline is set on Iamos, which is revealed to have been Mars about twelve thousand years ago. Iamos is on the brink of destruction as its atmosphere has degraded beyond the point of viability, and its people are searching for a means of survival.
Who Did We Meet in Fourth World?
- Isaak Contreras, a 17-year-old high school student who lives in Tierra Nueva, Aeolis Province. He is a gifted linguist who speaks eight languages, but he has been struggling in school since his father, Raymond, disappeared when Isaak was a freshman, seemingly abandoning Isaak and his family. Isaak is the grandson of Hector Garcia, an archaeologist on Earth who achieved fame in the mid-21st century for deciphering the Cascajal Block and unlocking the Olmec written language. Isaak secretly dreams of becoming an archaeologist like his grandfather, but he feels pressured to stick with his linguistic studies that earned him his scholarship at the prestigious Academy. Isaak has a younger sister named Celeste. His mother, Jesica, recently began dating again. His mother’s new boyfriend, Erick, is a geologist at Kimbal Tech.
- Henry Sandhu, 18. Isaak’s best friend. Henry is an outspoken anarcho-libertarian who tends to annoy his friends with his political rants. Henry is also a scholarship student at the Academy, with a study focus on computer programming. Henry is a gifted hacker and is known to frequently get in trouble with authority figures, from teachers and school administrators to the police. Henry lives in an apartment in the factory district with his parents.
- Tamara Randall-Torres, 17. Isaak’s closest childhood friend whom he also has a crush on. Tamara is a talented musician who dreams of becoming a recording artist. She takes music lessons on Herschel Island in the hopes of getting an edge to be admitted to the Herschel Institute, a prestigious university of the arts, after graduating from the Academy. Tamara’s mothers are Delia, known to Tamara’s friends as Mama D, the lead hardware designer at AresTec; and Bryn, the finance vice president at AresTec. They live in a mansion in the hills near Escalante Bay.
- Scylla Hwang, 19. A freshman at Kimbal Tech who volunteers on weekends at Erick’s geological dig site. She quickly befriends Isaak, Tamara, and Henry. Scylla is easygoing, extroverted, and opinionated. She is an outspoken vegan. She graduated from the Academy the annum before. Her younger sister attends Central High School, one of the public schools in Tierra Nueva.
- Nadin, 16. The daughter of the geroi, the rulers of her citidome, Nadin is in training to become a gerouin herself. When we meet her, she has just reached her enilikiin, marking her passage to adulthood, but she has failed her evaluation, meaning she must wait another year before she and her partner, Ceilos, can be assigned their own citidome. Nadin is insecure and wants nothing more than to be respected by the geroi as an equal. Her most trusted friend apart from Ceilos is Gitrin, her former teacher, but she feels betrayed by Gitrin after receiving a failing score on her evaluation. Nadin and Gitrin had spent years developing an experimental time postern, which would allow them to modify the Iamoi’s space doors in order to travel through time, as a means of survival for the Iamoi, but the geroi did not approve the project.
- Ceilos, 16. Betrothed to Nadin. The son of the former geroi of Bright Horizon citidome, he was raised alongside Nadin after his parents were sent on a dangerous mission to colonize another planet. Ceilos has developed a secret System protocol that allows him and Nadin to cloak themselves and thus avoid being tracked by the geroi, letting them sneak around the citidome unseen by her parents. He has feelings for Nadin beyond being an arranged partnership, but his jealous nature causes friction between him and Nadin.
- The System. Are we counting this as a character? We are! The Iamoi’s sophisticated computer system, it connects the minds of all people on Iamos through an antenna worn in the ear, known as an earpiece. The System can read and manipulate brainwaves, giving those who control it unlimited power over anyone connected to it.
What Happened in Fourth World?
- On the day of her annual (her birthday), Nadin uses Ceilos’ cloaking protocol to sneak outside the citidome and see the sunset. She realizes, looking around the desertified landscape, just how bad things have gotten on Iamos, and that they most likely will not survive another year. In the wake of her failed evaluation, she feels helpless, but she resolves that this will not be her last annual. As she turns to go back inside, she sees a boy lying unconscious on the ground a short distance away from her. He does not appear to be Iamoi, and she wonders who he is and how he got there.
- In the future, Isaak and his friends are on a field trip for the Academy’s Career Week, which brings their classmates to different areas of the province to teach them about different career opportunities and help them plan for college. That day they’re brought to a system of craters in the hills east of town to learn about scientific research, and Isaak learns that the head of the dig is Erick, his mom’s new boyfriend. While he shows them around the site, Isaak sees an arch in one of the trenches. The arch reminds him of a design he saw on an old coin among his dad’s possessions after Raymond disappeared.
- He tries to sneak into the trench to get a closer look at the arch, but he is caught by a surveillance drone. Isaak, Henry, and Tamara are threatened with a suspension, but Erick intercedes and suggests that instead, the trio spend the rest of the semester volunteering at the site. He attempts to get to know Isaak better, but Isaak gets annoyed and rebuffs him.
- At home, Isaak searches for the box with his dad’s possessions. He finds it just as his mom gets home from work. She doesn’t approve of him looking at anything related to Raymond, because she is angry that Raymond abandoned the family. Isaak and his mom argue and Jesica takes the box away, but Isaak has already managed to sneak the coin into his pocket. Later, Isaak sneaks off to Escalante Bay and runs into Tamara. He shows her the coin, which depicts an arch like the one at the dig site on one side, and a model of the solar system on the other—a model that depicts Mars as the central planet rather than Earth. Isaak and Tamara wonder what the meaning of the coin is, and resolve to look for answers at the dig site.
- Tamara tells Isaak that she has been selected to perform one of her original songs at the opening of the new Tierra Nueva museum in a few weeks. The two make a date to go together.
- The next day, Isaak shows Henry the coin while they’re waiting at the train station. An old man sees them looking at it and demands to see it. The man is wearing a factory uniform with the name Emil embroidered on it. Emil alleges that the coin is his property and that it had been stolen by Raymond. He also says that Raymond stole another object from him, something that he calls the Key. He recognizes Isaak as Raymond’s son and demands to know what happened to him and where the Key is. Henry and Emil get into a fight, leading to Emil being detained by the transportation authority. Henry and Isaak escape onto the train and vow to avoid this station from now on.
- At the dig site, the trio meet a college student named Scylla who shows them the ropes and eagerly befriends them. Scylla tells them about strange things the team has excavated over the past few months. Isaak unearths an odd metal object that reminds him of an earpod, but before he can look at it more closely, a man with pale blue eyes interrupts him. The man, Joseph Condor, works for GSAF, the governing authority on Mars. He informs him that Erick’s dig frequently unearths remnants of old probes, and since those probes are government property, whenever anything is found, the site must be shut down so the government can excavate. Isaak finds the man unsettling and Henry finds his actions suspicious.
- When Isaak gets home and opens his nightstand drawer, he discovers the coin is gone. In its place is a note: Thanks for the coin. I still want the key. You know where to find me. -E.H.” Isaak realizes that Emil has been continuing to follow him, and becomes concerned for his family’s safety.
- The next day, Isaak and Scylla are working together in one trench and Isaak feels his spade hit something metallic. At the same time, one of the diggers in the trench where Tamara is working uncovers a human skull. In the pandemonium that ensues, Isaak digs out the metallic object and Scylla smuggles it offsite. When Isaak learns about the discovery of the skeleton, he becomes afraid that the body may be Raymond, and that Emil could be a killer. Later Erick comes to the house and explains that it couldn’t be Raymond because the skeleton appeared to be partly fossilized, indicating that it’s ancient. Isaak wonders what a fossilized human skeleton could be doing on Mars.
- The four friends meet at Tamara’s house to discuss the events at the dig and investigate the artifact Isaak found more carefully. It’s covered in symbols like the coin, corroded and rusty, and by all appearances ancient. But Tamara recognizes one of the markings engraved on the object as the maker mark from Mama D’s 3-D printer. When Mama D gets home, she doesn’t recognize the object but is concerned about the fact that it seems to have her name on it. She agrees to hold onto the object to study more carefully.
- Feeling bad about her behavior in light of Isaak’s worry, Jesica gives him back the box of his dad’s possessions. Isaak searches the box for clues and finds writing in an old magazine that talks about the Atlantean Arch, various archaeological sites on Earth, and the research of David Hassan, a disgraced scientist who had worked on the original Martian colonization project at NASA in the 2030s. There is also a note that says “Ask Hector.” Isaak calls his grandpa, but all he knows is that David Hassan claimed to have found evidence of ancient life on Mars, but his work was discredited and he disappeared soon after. Henry begins to research David Hassan and discovers that he now lives on Mars, in Tierra Nueva. They make plans to meet at Hassan’s apartment after school.
- While at school, Isaak is called into the principal’s office, where he is interrogated by Joseph Condor. One of the other student workers saw Isaak and Scylla unearth the mysterious object, and Condor believes they have it. Isaak denies it, and after leaving the principal’s office, he intercepts Tamara to warn her. She gives him the key to her house so he can get the object out of Mama D’s workshop before GSAF finds it, and the two kiss.
- Isaak brings the artifact to David Hassan’s apartment, hoping that the scientist will have answers about what’s going on. But when the door opens, Emil is on the other side. Emil explains that he is in fact David Hassan, and that he has continued his research despite GSAF’s attempts to shut him down. He has found further evidence of the existence of ancient Martian life, and he believes that the arches are tesseracts, doorways through space that allowed ancient Martians to visit Earth, leading to the myth of Atlantis. He believes the object that Isaak unearthed is a key that the ancient Martians used to open the doors.
- In the midst of this discussion, GSAF appears at the door, having tracked Isaak through his electronic devices. Emil sneaks Isaak out through the fire escape, giving him the Key and the coin before burning his research. He tells Isaak to meet him in the hills east of town. Isaak runs, but GSAF pursues him. In the hills, he finds the opening to a cave system and squeezes inside. Deep in the cave, he finds another arch, and laying on the ground in front of the arch is his dad’s work jacket.
- With GSAF on his heels, he uses the coin to activate the Key and passes through the arch. He finds himself on Iamos, but due to the thinning atmosphere, he quickly begins to succumb to oxygen deprivation. In the distance he sees a domed city, but he passes out before he can reach the safety of its walls. Before he loses consciousness, he notices an enormous gold moon in the sky overhead and a girl with white hair standing outside the city—Nadin.
- After calling for assistance, Nadin also passes out and wakes up in the hospital. Once she is awake, her parents, the geroi, Antos and Melusin, arrive to ask her about what happened. They have connected Isaak to the System and it is unable to read his brainwaves, nor does it have a record of him. They believe that Isaak is a member of a rebel faction led by a mysterious figure called the Liberator, and they are angry that Nadin endangered the city by letting a potential terrorist in. Nadin once more feels like a failure who will never prove herself worthy of becoming a gerouin.
- As Nadin is leaving the hospital, she sneaks into Isaak’s room, curious about his strange appearance and wanting to know more about him. He wakes up and, recognizing her as the girl he saw outside the city, attempts to talk to her. She doesn’t understand his language and, flustered, runs away.
- Back at the geroi‘s villa, Nadin learns that the rebel movement carried out an attack on the colony on Hamos, Iamos’ closest planetary neighbor, which shares a binary orbit with Iamos. The System’s early disaster warning protocol was disabled, meaning the people in the colony’s citidome were unprepared for an earthquake which killed dozens. Ceilos’ mother was injured in the attack.
- Melusin presents Nadin with a new deal from the geroi: If she spies on Isaak in order to learn about the rebels, they will give her a new evaluation. Melusin shows Nadin the key that Isaak was carrying. When Nadin touches it, a special System protocol initiates that only she can see, showing her that this posternkey had been used to travel through time. Nadin realizes this means that her plan with Gitrin was a success—if Isaak came from Iamos’ future, then that means Iamos is saved.
- Nadin hurries to the hospital to try to learn more so she can report to the geroi. The medics are trying to decode Isaak’s language by having him read off flashcards, but he refuses to cooperate. Ceilos meets her there and informs her that his father wants to dissolve their betrothal. Nadin starts to tell him that their partnership can be saved by her assignment from Melusin, when she notices that Isaak appears to be listening in on them. She demands to know if Isaak can understand them. Isaak admits that he can, as their language appears to be a combination of a number of ancient Earth languages that he’s familiar with.
- During the course of the conversation, Isaak learns that the gold moon he saw in the sky is Hamos. He realizes Hamos is Venus and is confused by how that could be, when in his time, Venus is millions of kilometers away from Mars. He doesn’t say anything to Nadin or Ceilos about this.
- Nadin explains to Ceilos and Isaak that she believes that Isaak traveled through time. She tries to get in touch with Gitrin in order to ask her about the time postern plans and find out why the secret protocol initiated when she touched Isaak’s posternkey. But Gitrin is nowhere to be found on the System. Nadin then tries to access the plans herself, but they appear to be deleted from the System. She and Isaak go to look for Gitrin, while Ceilos sets up a decoy to keep the geroi from noticing what they’re up to,
- Nadin shows Isaak around the citidome. Isaak is impressed that Iamos seems to share a lot of similarities with ancient civilizations from Earth, but he’s unnerved by the omnipresent System and the totalitarian government of the geroi. Nadin defends the geroi by pointing out that dire measures are necessary due to the fact that the planet’s ecosystem has collapsed and resources are scarce. Isaak and Nadin see two members of the lowest caste, the plivoi, sharing a romantic moment. Nadin expresses distaste, and Isaak says it’s the first time he’s seen anyone act human since he arrived on Iamos. Nadin is bothered by the fact that Isaak equates sexual behavior with being human, but she can’t articulate why it bothers her.
- Ceilos meets back up with them and they go to Gitrin’s apartment. They find it has been ransacked. There is writing on the wall in the old language, which Nadin and Ceilos recognize from their studies. It says “elytherios,” meaning “freedom.” When Nadin touches the writing, another secret System protocol initiates, playing a message from Gitrin. The message asks Nadin to come find her, and then presents her with a riddle that she says will let Nadin know where Gitrin can be found.
- As they leave Gitrin’s apartment, the trio find a stand-off occurring in the plaza between Enforcers and the plivoi couple Isaak and Nadin saw earlier. They had been caught trying to purchase Ferre, an illegal substance that counteracts the birth control in the citidome’s water sources. The Ferre smuggler, one of the Liberator’s rebels, begins arguing with the Enforcers and inciting the crowd. A riot breaks out, and the Enforcers shut it down by activating the adherence protocol on all the plivoi—which forces compliance through excruciating pain. Isaak is horrified by these measures. Nadin, unnerved by the crowd’s anti-geroi sentiments, tells him that this isn’t his world and his opinion isn’t wanted.
- That evening, Nadin has a nightmare about Gitrin’s cryptic message that culminates in a volcanic eruption. She awakens confused, as the System usually suppresses nightmares, and wonders if this dream was some kind of clue related to Gitrin’s riddle. Ceilos finds her and asks her how she’s doing in the aftermath of the tumultuous day. While they talk, she asks him if he thinks sexual behavior is normal. He says that he loves her, not just because their partnership was arranged, but because he has genuine feelings for her, and therefore he thinks it’s perfectly normal. He kisses her, and she recoils. Ceilos is devastated, believing she doesn’t love him back. She protests that she does love him. When he asks why, then, doesn’t she want him, she says she doesn’t know. Ceilos leaves and Nadin feels broken.
- The next day, Nadin is angry with Isaak because she feels that he caused the argument between her and Ceilos. She has spent the morning looking for Ceilos, but she can’t find him. His System coordinates are unavailable, and she believes that he is using his cloaking protocol to hide from her. While she and Isaak bicker, Nadin receives a comm. She answers it, hoping it will be Ceilos, but instead it’s a man identifying himself as the Liberator. He says he’s the one who’s been leaving the strange messages for her around the citidome. He questions her blind faith in the geroi, and then patches her into an ongoing session of the gerotus which he says will prove to her that the geroi are not the saviors of Iamos.
- As Nadin listens in, the geroi reveal that they have analyzed Isaak’s DNA and determined that he isn’t one of the Iamoi rebels—he’s from Simos, the Iamoi name for Earth. The geroi had previously sent colonization parties to Earth, but they had lost contact with all of them, which they believed is because Earth’s magnetic field (something neither Mars nor Venus possess) interfered with the System. But with access to Simoi DNA, they can now create a neurotoxin that will allow them to wipe out the existing population of Earth and take the planet over for themselves. Isaak is furious that the geroi are planning to commit genocide on Earth. Nadin, meanwhile, demands an explanation from Isaak, who she had believed to be a far-future descendant of the Iamoi. When Isaak reveals that Mars had been extinct for thousands of years when Earth colonists arrived—with no Iamoi remaining, not even any sign that they’d ever existed—Nadin is crushed, realizing that their plans are doomed and her people are destined to die.
- The Liberator taunts Nadin, saying he has Gitrin and that now he has Ceilos as well. Nadin realizes that the reason she hasn’t been able to find Ceilos today is because he’s been kidnapped. Panic-stricken, Nadin realizes that if she ever wants to see Ceilos again, she will have to solve the riddle. Isaak helps her puzzle it out, and she realizes that the volcanoes she saw in her dream the night before were a clue—pointing to the Haoi Ifaisteoi, a chain of volcanoes west of Bright Horizon citidome, which in Isaak’s time are known as the Elysium mountains.
- She and Isaak return to her old classroom and find a globe that belonged to Gitrin. When Nadin presses the Haoi Ifaisteoi, the globe snaps open, revealing a posternkey. Isaak and Nadin use the key to travel to an unknown location in a network of sandstone caves, where they are met by a rebel woman named Eliin. Nadin and Isaak pretend to be members of the Liberator’s movement, and Eliin gives them a pair of gurzas (Iamoi creatures that appear as a cross between horses and dinosaurs) who will lead them to the rebel’s hidden city of Elytherios.
- As part of their disguise as rebels, Nadin is forced to remove her earpiece, which gives her System withdrawal sickness. Isaak takes care of her while she’s ill, and the two come to an uneasy truce in order to try to rescue Ceilos, find Gitrin, and get answers—and hopefully find a way for Isaak to return home.
- After a long journey, Nadin and Isaak reach the base of the central mountain of the Haoi Ifaisteoi, known in Isaak’s time as Elysium Mons. There they are intercepted by a band of rebels. When Nadin identifies herself as geroi‘s blood and demands to speak to the Liberator, they take her into custody and bring Isaak and Nadin into Elytherios. The massive hollow caldera of the volcano has been terraformed to have its own microclimate, including a breathable atmosphere and sunlight brought in through a system of mirrors. Nadin is stunned to see dozens of species she believed to be extinct thriving within the cave, as well as more greenery than she’s ever seen in her life.
- Their captors bring Nadin and Isaak to meet with the village elders, Eos and Marin. Nadin is stunned to find Gitrin with them, not as their prisoner, but as their comrade. Gitrin reveals that she had been a member of the rebel group for many years, but she had to leave when the geroi became suspicious of her. After years of serving as her teacher and mother-figure, Gitrin believed Nadin had the potential to be more than just a puppet of the geroi, which is why she gave Nadin a failing mark on her evaluation and left the cryptic messages for her. Nadin is confused, telling Gitrin and the others about the man who called himself the Liberator, who claimed to have kidnapped Gitrin and Ceilos. Eos explains that “Liberator” is a codename the rebels use when they are smuggling within the citidomes, but that the movement is decentalized and there is no one leader, and no one who would specifically identify himself as the Liberator. None of the rebels have any idea where Ceilos is, adding to the confusion.
- When Nadin introduces Isaak to the rebels and explains to them where he came from, Eos and Marin take Isaak aside, telling him they want to show him something. They lead him to a guesthouse in the village, where he finds Raymond. Eos explains that smugglers from Elytherios had found him collapsed outside Hope Renewed in the same spot where Isaak had been. Raymond doesn’t recognize his son at first, and when Isaak identifies himself, Raymond protests that he can’t be Isaak, because Isaak had been much younger when Raymond passed through the door—just one month before. Isaak realizes that the timelines are not in sync, and that while several annums had passed in Isaak’s world since Raymond’s disappearance, only weeks had passed on Iamos. When Isaak explains to Raymond that they’ve traveled back in time, Raymond begins calculating how he can use this as a get-rich-quick scheme. His reunion with his father soured, Isaak storms out.
- That evening, Isaak finds Nadin sitting by a creek near the village. Both of them talk about how the foundation of their worlds have been shattered. Nadin has located Gitrin, but she is no closer to finding Ceilos, and the mystery of the Liberator has only deepened. The rebels hold the key to restoring Iamos, but the geroi were so determined to preserve their own power that they drove them into hiding. And neither she nor Isaak have any idea how to save the Iamoi. Isaak promises that she won’t have to try to find the answers on her own, because he will be there with her. The two embrace. Nadin worries that Isaak will try to kiss her after what happened with Ceilos, but he doesn’t, and she relaxes. They are interrupted by Marin, who has someone with her. She holds up her lantern and Ceilos enters the clearing.
- Ceilos, covered in bruises, tells Nadin that he had been held for a week by a mysterious captor he didn’t recognize. He was blindfolded and didn’t know where he was being kept. His captor abandoned him on the mountain slope, where he was found by the Elytherioi. Nadin tells him about what she overheard of the gerotus session and what she’s learned since arriving in Elytherios, but that they are no closer to understanding who the Liberator is. Ceilos confronts her about seeing her and Isaak embracing. Nadin tells him that she and Isaak are just friends, and that he was only comforting her because she was upset about what had happened to Ceilos. Ceilos accepts her apology and they embrace, but Nadin feels hurt by his distrust of her.
- Isaak returns to the guesthouse where Raymond teases him about Nadin. Raymond and Isaak had previously clashed over the fact that Isaak is demisexual and had only ever been attracted to Tamara before in his life. Isaak has conflicted feelings now, as he realizes he is becoming attracted to Nadin as well. Raymond and Isaak argue, and Raymond confirms that he and Isaak’s mother had been heading for divorce before his disappearance.
- Their argument is interrupted by the appearance of yet another visitor from Isaak’s world: Emil. Emil reveals that after Isaak’s disappearance, he deduced that Isaak had used the key to follow Raymond through the arch. Emil had worked with Mama D to 3-D print another key to follow Isaak and hopefully bring him back home. Emil informs Isaak that he’s been missing for over an annum.
- Isaak refuses to go home until he’s able to help Nadin and her people. Emil says that he can’t change events that have already happened, because it could create a paradox that would destroy the universe. Since the Iamoi were already gone by the time Earth began colonization, history dictates that they must have died, and that can’t be changed. Isaak then suggests that maybe they didn’t die—maybe they left. He proposes that they evacuate Iamos by bringing the people forward in time to modern Mars.
- The next morning, the Elytherioi have a village meeting to discuss what to do about the newcomers and hear Isaak’s proposal. Gitrin makes an impassioned plea to allow Nadin and Ceilos to join the rebellion, but the rebels don’t trust them due to their closeness to the geroi, and they vote to not allow them to join. Nadin, fearing execution, suggests that they prove themselves to the rebels by accompanying Isaak to the future to try to parlay a treaty with GSAF that would allow the Iamoi to travel forward in time. The rebels agree to this, and work begins on programming a new key.
- Isaak, Raymond, Emil, Nadin, Ceilos, and Gitrin plan to travel forward to Isaak’s time. Eos and Marin accompany the group to the postern to see them off, but as Nadin activates the key, the ground is rocked by an explosion and Ceilos lets go of Nadin’s hand. Because the connection was severed, the group is separated, and only Nadin, Isaak, and Raymond make it to the future. They rematerialize in one of the trenches at Erick’s dig site, while Gitrin, Ceilos, and Emil remain trapped in the past. Not knowing what caused the explosion, Nadin has no idea whether Ceilos and the others are safe. Frantic, she wants to return to Iamos immediately and find out what went wrong. But before they can act, they are interrupted by the appearance of Joseph Condor.
- Condor takes the three into custody and leads them away from the dig site, to a place where a large crowd has gathered for a rally. Isaak is shocked when he sees the speaker is someone he recognizes, but someone who has grown unmistakably older: Henry.
End of book 1! Need more recaps? Different Worlds: An Iamos Novella comes next!