Fourth World Recap


On an alien planet, a teenage girl named Nadin stands outside a domed city and looks out over the wasteland that her homeworld has become. Today is her “annual,” the anniversary of her birth. And it’s not just any annual—it’s her eighth (approximately 16 in Earth years), also known as her enilikin, the date at which she becomes a legal adult. But just when her life should be only beginning, it seems it’s at an end. Her planet’s atmosphere is almost depleted, she has failed a crucial test that would have allowed her to become a member of the planet’s ruling caste, someone she cared about betrayed her, and everything seems to be falling apart.

As she watches the sun set, Nadin vows that this will not be her last annual. Then she turns to re-enter the dome and sees a boy lying unconscious on the ground near her. As Nadin approaches him, she notices that his physical features are different than any she’s ever seen before, on a planet where everyone’s appearances are genetically modified to share the same traits. She realizes she needs to call for help, but doing so will alert her city’s leaders to the fact that she illegally left the citidome. She takes the risk and makes the call, and as she does so, she looks at the boy, wondering who he is and how he could have gotten outside the dome.

Well, let’s just take a moment to find out, shall we?

Part 1: Isaak – Mars, 2073 C.E.

In the near future, Mars has been colonized by settlers from Earth. Because Mars has a thin atmosphere in need of greenhouse gases to make it habitable, throughout the second half of the 21st century, Earth’s government provided subsidies to the manufacturing industry to move their factories off-world, and various economic crises, war, and civil unrest prompted people from all over Earth to move to Mars. The city of Tierra Nueva was founded as a manufacturing hub, and up until recently, most people who lived there worked in one of the various factories on the south side of town. But the founding of a tech company called AresTec has changed the face of the city, with wealthier residents flocking to the north end and a prestigious private secondary school called the Academy being established.

17-year-old Isaak Contreras is a junior at the Academy, a scholarship student with an uncanny knack for learning languages. He and his classmates are on a week-long spate of field trips called “Career Week,” intended to help students pick their career emphasis for their last year at the Academy and give them an edge at university. Isaak is unenthused by the trip, however, since as a low-income scholarship student his emphasis has already been chosen for him by the scholarship committee. Though he is more interested in studying archaeology like his grandfather Hector Garcia, a famous Olmec archaeologist on Earth, Isaak has been conscripted to work as an interpreter for GSAF, the governing authority of the Mars colony.

Isaak’s disdain for the Career Week field trips is exacerbated when he finds that the geology dig they’ve been brought to is headed up by Erick Gomez, a professor at Kimbal University and his mother’s new boyfriend. Though Erick is eager to get to know Isaak better, Isaak wants nothing to do with him, or with the geology dig—that is, until he notices as strange arch that’s been excavated at the bottom of one of the nearby trenches. The corbeled shape of the arch reminds him of something he’s seen before: When his father walked out on the family more than two annums ago, he left behind a box full of some of his belongings, including a mysterious old coin with a corbeled arch engraved on its face.

The coin had always been something of a mystery to Isaak, since his dad had never shown any interest in archaeology or ancient things, and he was unsure how or where he would have gotten it. Eager to get a closer look at this arch that looked so much like the coin engraving, Isaak sneaks into the excavation trench along with his best friend Henry Sandhu, while their mutual friend Tamara Randall-Torres—on whom Isaak has had a crush for several years—keeps an uneasy watch. But a security drone sounds an alarm when Isaak gets too close to the arch, and the three friends are caught.

On the school bus, their homeroom teacher, Mr. Johnson, scolds the three. He believes Henry, who has a reputation for being an anti-authoritarian rabble-rouser and general troublemaker, was behind the prank, but Isaak confesses to being the culprit. Mr. Johnson bemoans Isaak’s slip from being a model student to a disinterested drifter, which coincided with his dad’s disappearance. In the midst of the scolding, Erick enters the bus and suggests to Johnson that instead of giving the three a suspension, he instead assign them to work at the geology dig on weekends. Isaak is torn between being appreciative of Erick’s support and resentful at his mother’s boyfriend’s overt attempts to get on his good side.

After school, Henry demands an explanation from Isaak as to why he was so interested in the arch at the dig. Tamara is uncharacteristically quiet, which makes Isaak feel guilty about his behavior. As he attempts to explain about the coin, Isaak is interrupted by the arrival of Erick to give him a ride home from school. Erick explains that he doesn’t want to tell Isaak’s mother about the incident as he doesn’t want Isaak to get in trouble, and that instead he only told her that Isaak had enjoyed the dig and chosen to volunteer there. Once again, Isaak finds himself appreciative of Erick’s support but annoyed by Erick trying to befriend him, which is only exacerbated when Erick tells Isaak that he reminds Erick of himself when he was younger.

Once Isaak is home, he searches for his father’s box, which his mom had hidden after Isaak discovered it buried in the back garden not long after his dad left. He finds the box just as his mom gets home from work along with his younger sister, Celeste. He tries to hide the box behind his back, but his mom notices, leading to an argument. She takes the box away again, but not before Isaak manages to sneak the coin into his pocket. Later that evening, he tries to research the coin and the arch, but only finds a number of conspiracy theory websites about ancient aliens, Atlantis, and a disgraced scientist named David Hassan. He overhears his mom on video chat with her best friend back on Earth, and her lamenting that she’s afraid Isaak will turn out like his father. Angry, he sneaks out the back door and heads for the beach at Escalante Bay, which always calms him.

At the wharf Isaak runs into Tamara, who takes music lessons in the evening on Herschel Island and rides the ferry to and from class. She apologizes for not speaking to him after the field trip incident. Tamara struggles with anxiety, and her panic over having gotten in trouble at school had caused her to shut down. She accompanies Isaak to the beach, where he shows her the coin. She agrees that the arch on the front does look the same as the one they saw at the dig site, but neither of them understand how that could be possible when Mars had been an uninhabited wasteland when humans reached it. The mystery is further compounded when Tamara notices that a diagram on the coin’s reverse shows the solar system with Mars as the central planet rather than Earth. They decide to search for clues when they’re working at the dig site on weekends. Tamara also tells Isaak that she has been chosen to perform at the opening of a museum in a few months’ time, and asks Isaak if he will be her date to the event.

The next morning as they await the train to school, Isaak shows Henry the coin and tells him about everything that he and Tamara discovered the night before. Henry asks Isaak if he kissed Tamara, which flusters Isaak. Henry tells Isaak that if he doesn’t hurry up and make a move on Tamara, someone else will. While they’re bickering, an old man who had been standing nearby notices them looking at the coin and demands to see it. When Henry says it belonged to Isaak’s dad, the old man, who wears a factory uniform with the name Emil stitched on the lapel, recognizes Isaak as Raymond Contreras’ son. He tells Isaak that the coin was stolen from him by Raymond two annums ago and demands it back. He also says that Raymond stole something else from him, something called “the key.” Henry tells Emil to back off and they fight. In the confusion that ensues, Isaak and Henry escape on the commuter train.

That weekend, the three friends meet at Kimbal University in Curiosity Bay, a town to the east of Tierra Nueva. As they’re waiting for the shuttle which will bring them to the dig site, they’re approached by Scylla Hwang, a freshman at Kimbal University who graduated from the Academy the year before. She’s a student in one of Erick’s beginner geology classes and is volunteering at the excavation. She strikes an easy friendship with the trio and introduces them to the ins and outs of working at the dig site. Isaak finds he’s enjoying working at the dig more than he expected, as the methodology is similar to the archaeology he helped his grandpa with when he’d visit him on Earth as a kid.

While excavating, Isaak repeatedly unearths fragments of glass, which the professors say is tektite (a type of glass that’s formed when asteroids impact a planet’s surface), but Isaak and the others notice that this glass appears more like shattered plate glass than the type of natural glass that’s formed by an impact. Then one weekend Isaak digs up something small and metal that resembles a wireless earphone, with a crumbling piece of silicon attached to it. Before he can look at it too closely, he is interrupted by a man named Joseph Condor. Condor is an official at GSAF, and informs Isaak that the dig site is on government property—Erick and the other professors at Kimbal were given permission to excavate, but if anything of note is uncovered, GSAF closes the site and takes possession of the artifacts. He tells Isaak that the item he found is a remnant from one of the early unmanned probes sent to Mars by various Earth governments throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. He also tells Isaak that GSAF has been watching him since the first incident with the arch, when he was caught on camera by a GSAF drone.

The four friends are dubious that the government would be so protective of old scrap metal from obsolete technology. Scylla tells them about other times the site has been shut down and the few things she’s caught a glimpse of before GSAF has taken them away. When Isaak gets home, he opens his nightstand drawer where he’d been keeping the coin and finds that the coin is missing and 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 the excavation has been reopened. Isaak and Scylla are working together in one trench and Isaak feels his spade hit something else 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 his missing father, and that Emil could be a killer. Later Erick comes to the house and relieves that fear, explaining that from what he saw of it before the police and GSAF arrived, the skeleton appeared to be partly fossilized, indicating that it was ancient. Isaak wonders what a fossilized human skeleton could be doing on Mars under several meters of sediment. Erick speculates that antiquities smugglers may be using the dig site to stash some of their goods, taking advantage of the growing wealth in Tierra Nueva to bring the black market to Mars.

Later, Isaak’s mom comes to talk to him, and apologizes for having kept his father’s possessions from him. Even though she’s angry at Raymond for abandoning the family, she acknowledges that it’s not her place to dictate how Isaak processes his emotions. She gives him back the box of his dad’s things. Before he gets a chance to go through the box, though, Tamara texts him and asks him to come over to her house ASAP.

When Isaak gets to Tamara’s house, he finds Scylla and Henry already there waiting for him. They’ve cleaned up the artifact that Isaak unearthed, revealing a corroded, trapezoid-shaped object that appears as ancient as the coin. It has some of the same symbolism on it, including a depiction of a corbeled arch, and there is a divot in the center where something should snap in. Tamara shows Isaak that although the item seems to be ancient, it also seems to have been created with a 3-D printer, and that her mother Delia’s maker mark is in the corner. The four go down to Delia’s workshop in the basement to see if they can find plans for anything like this.

While they’re investigating, Tamara’s moms Delia and Bryn get home. The four try to keep what they’re doing a secret,  but Delia catches them and demands an explanation. When they show her the artifact, Delia becomes concerned as she does not recognize this object but confirms that it is her maker mark on it. She promises to look into what’s going on here, but swears the four to secrecy.

Bryn invites the four to stay for dinner, but Henry and Scylla decide to matchmake and leave Isaak alone with Tamara. Tamara plays the song she wrote for the museum opening for Isaak, and Isaak attempts to confess his feelings to her, but repeated bad luck and general awkwardness intervene.

When he returns home, Isaak starts looking through the box of his dad’s possessions, hoping to find the mysterious key that Emil has repeatedly asked him about. The box doesn’t seem to contain anything of value: apart from the now-missing coin, all it held was his father’s abandoned wedding band, a watch that had belonged to Raymond’s uncle, some vaping supplies, and an old magazine. Isaak begins flipping through the magazine to see if a key or keycard may have slipped between the pages, but instead he finds that the magazine had been used as a crude notebook, with messages written over the top of the pages in Sharpie marker. The notes seem to be about the conspiracy theories that Isaak had first uncovered when researching the arch, about Atlantis, ancient aliens, and David Hassan. The final note said “Ask Hector” in Raymond’s handwriting.

Isaak goes on video chat with his grandpa, archaeologist Hector Garcia, to find out if Raymond ever talked to him about any of this, or if he knows anything about David Hassan. Hector tells Isaak that Hassan was a researcher at UC Berkeley when Hector was a grad student there, and that all he really knows about him is that he’d been a respected scientist who worked with NASA and with GSAF early in the colonization process of Mars, but that soon after his research had been discredited and he’d fallen off the map. Now his name was fairly well-known among conspiracy theorist groups, but Hector doesn’t know where the man ended up.

The next day Henry skips school to research David Hassan and try to find a way to contact him. Near the end of the school day, he texts Isaak to let him know that he’s tracked him down, and that Hassan now lives on Mars. He sends Isaak a Tierra Nueva address, but before Isaak can make plans with Henry to go see him, Isaak is summoned to the principal’s office. There he is met by Joseph Condor, who insinuates that he knows they took something from the dig site and wants Isaak to tell him what it is and where they’ve taken it. Isaak lies and says he doesn’t know what Condor is talking about. He intercepts Tamara on her way to the principal’s office to be questioned next and tells her that Condor knows about the artifact, which is still hidden in Delia’s workshop. Tamara gives him the key to her house and tells him where Delia stashed it, and Isaak plans to hurry to her house and take it before GSAF gets a chance to search for it. Before he leaves, Tamara kisses him, which leaves both of them with conflicted feelings.

Isaak sneaks the artifact out of Tamara’s house and races to the address that Henry sent him earlier in the day, hoping David Hassan may have some answers to help them get out of this mess. But when the door opens, Emil is standing on the other side of it.

Emil reveals that he is actually David Hassan, but he started going by an assumed name in an attempt to operate under the radar. He tells Isaak that during the exploratory phases of Mars colonization, while trying to prove the viability of the colonization efforts, his team had uncovered evidence that Mars had previously been occupied by sentient—by all indications, human—life. Emil had found evidence of a technology greater than that possessed by current humanity, at which point GSAF had covered up his findings in an attempt to gain that technology for themselves. Emil had come to Mars to try and learn more about the ancient inhabitants of the planet and vindicate himself.

Under his assumed name, he began working at the factory to support himself while he excavated in secret. He soon befriended Isaak’s dad, Raymond, and the two had been working together, but had clashed when Raymond tried to use the findings as a get-rich-quick scheme. He had stolen some of the artifacts that Emil had uncovered shortly before his disappearance, including the coin and an artifact Emil called the key, a trapezoid-shaped object covered in engravings like the coin. Emil explains that the key and the coin work together to form a tesseract, which can then be used to travel across vast distances in an instant.

At this point Isaak realizes that the object he and Scylla had discovered the day before was the key. He shows Emil, but Emil tells him that this isn’t the same key Raymond had taken—Raymond’s key didn’t have Delia’s maker mark on it. Emil posits that if the ancient inhabitants of Mars used the tesseract for travel, surely there would be more than one key and more than one coin, meaning that the one Raymond took is still with Raymond. But before Isaak can process this information, GSAF arrives at Emil’s apartment. They’ve been tracking Isaak’s movements via his palmtop.

Emil quickly helps Isaak escape via the fire escape, tossing the books of his research into the fire so that GSAF won’t get them. He gives Isaak the coin and the key and directs him to a cave in the hills where Emil and Raymond had made some of their discoveries, telling Isaak he’ll meet him there later. Though Isaak leaves his palmtop behind so GSAF can no longer track him, they are hot on his heels and manage to pursue him into the hills with drones and a helicopter. Hearing agents behind him, Isaak squeezes into a crevice that opens into a larger cavern. The cave is dimly illuminated with glowing luminescence on the walls, and though water has reshaped the cave over eons, in the center of one of the chambers is a large corbeled arch like the one Isaak saw in the trench. Next to the arch Isaak finds his dad’s work jacket. Isaak pulls the ancient artifacts out of his backpack and snaps the coin into the divot on the key. This causes the key to activate, and the arch opens a doorway of light. With the sound of voices in the cavern behind him warning him that GSAF is close, Isaak has no choice but to step through the door.

On the other side of the tesseract, Isaak finds himself on a desert planet with a red sky and a thin atmosphere that he can’t breathe. In the distance he sees a city inside a glass dome, and he tries to make his way toward it but quickly passes out from oxygen deprivation. Before he collapses, he sees a girl with white hair standing outside the dome, and in the sky overhead, a huge, bright moon, unlike anything he’s ever seen on Mars.

Part 2: Nadin – Iamos, S.C.D 8378

Remember the girl from the prologue? She’s back!

(Rest of the recap coming soon, thank you to Dax Murray for your help!)