An up and coming neuroscientist leaves her family to embark on a one way trip to Mars with a former colleague and lover. Externally, they seek the glory of being the first pioneers on a new planet, but internally they believe each other are despised, and wish to escape their broken relationships on Earth. Together they discover the futility of leaving everything they know behind to embark on the unknown. The romantic ideal of traveling to Mars quickly becomes a cold and bitter reality, as their brief, terrible happiness of this trip subsides.
Natalie lives in the ordinary world and receives a call to go on an adventure. She is reluctant to follow the call, but is helped by a mentor figure.
The “normal world” of the story is presented—before everything goes haywire.
The end of Act I is a “point of no return.” Something is taken away from Natalie, and she can never go back to the way things were.
She has no choice but to continue into Act II.
The Call to Adventure
Natalie begins in a situation of normality from which some information is received from James that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.
A computer science professor and entrepreneur. Has been working abroad since the last time he saw Natalie, 8 years ago. Most recently James was selected to head the first human relocation mission to Mars. James needs a neuroscientist to assist him. He invites Natalie.
A grad student in neuroscience and a former colleague of James. Married, with a 9 month old baby at home. Receives a once in a lifetime invitation from James.
Refusal to the Call
When the call is given, Natalie at first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold her in her current circumstances.
Natalie is shocked, stunned by the offer. Her gut says “YES!”, but her heart reminds her of her husband, baby, and entire life on earth.
James, a charmer, paints the picture of “Natalie: The Hero”, convincing her of her assured legacy if she were to join the trip. He talks of lost love, but focuses on the significance of the journey, and of a life with a legacy.
Once Natalie has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, her guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid her later in his quest.
Natalie, the neuroscientist, has been selected because of her work in immersive biotherapy. This tool, which will allow the two to enter alternate realities during their journey is introduced by her. She ends the simulation with an example of death, demonstrating the result of ‘dying’ within the simulation.
James will serve as the architect for this system, creating environments for the two to explore throughout their journey. James, internally, reveals himself to be a virtual environment addict, entering these types of worlds for long periods at the expense of his health and commitments to the real world, something that is kept secret from those who know him. It is revealed that this has caused him great distress and has broken several of his closest relationships that once existed.
Crossing the Threshold
This is the point where Natalie actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
Natalie says goodbye to a long and fruitful life on earth. She reflects on her first fling with James and laments of the hardships of motherhood.
James reflects on his inability to keep any meaningful relationships. He recalls the death of his father, an accident.
Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the Natalie’s known world and self. By entering this stage, she shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.
During the blast off, Natalie reflects on her decision, with more than a tinge of guilt. She recalls saying goodbye to her baby, the hardest thing she’s ever done. She counters this with the excitement she has for the trip, and tells herself to stay in the present.
James, not realizing that he is loved, reveals that he is leaving earth because he’s despised by all he knows (except Natalie). Unconsciously, James sees this escape from earth as a form of death. This escape from death brings James into a brief and terrible manic happiness.
The Initiation section begins with Natalie traversing the threshold to the unknown or “special world”, where she faces tasks or trials, either alone or with the assistance of helpers.
She eventually reaches “the innermost cave” or the central crisis of her adventure, where he must undergo “the ordeal” where she overcomes the main obstacle or enemy, undergoing “apotheosis” and gaining her reward (a treasure or “elixir”).
She must then return to the ordinary world with her reward. She may be pursued by the guardians of the special world, or he may be reluctant to return, and may be rescued or forced to return by intervention from the outside.
In the beginning of Act II, we get to explore the “new world” of the story. We meet its characters, as Natalie is put through greater and greater challenges, until…
Raise the Stakes
Something drastic happens, to change the course of the Natalie’s journey. Where before things felt like “rising action”, now it feels like “spiraling out of control”. The challenges seem insurmountable, and the hero is beat down, again and again.
The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a series of tests that Natalie must undergo to begin her transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
Natalie introduces the mission’s biotherapy system, entering the system and encounters a series of surprising obstacles with this latest implementation.
James, outside of the system, plays architect, and reveals his plot to win over Natalie’s heart. He demonstrates his technical prowess in playing puppet-master for these types of systems.
The Meeting with the Goddess
This is the point when Natalie experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.
James taps into the system to present himself as the object as Natalie’s unconditional love. She falls hard.
Natalie falls in love with James in this alternate reality. She, however, is faced with the other loves in her life, her husband and her baby. She is manipulated by James and her own system to re-order those loves and merge them into one.
Woman as Temptress
In this step, Natalie faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead her to abandon or stray from her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
Natalie, swooning for James, now takes the role of architect and offers to supervise James’ expedition into the biotherapy unknown.
James begins to lose himself to the heightened experience of the biotherapy. Realizing it is much more detailed and alluring than anything he’s experienced on earth. He begins to unravel, startling Natalie.
Atonement with the Father
In this step Natalie must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power her life.
James, still in the biotherapy world comes face to face with his father, who died many years ago in an accident. We learn that James deliberately killed his father. This shocks Natalie
Natalie sees into the darkest depths of James soul, and learns of his murderous ways. Her love for him is split up and she suddenly yearns for her baby.
When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
Natalie now realizes what she’s done, she’s killed herself, she’s left all that she knows and loves behind, and trapped herself with a murderous fool.
The spirit that James kept up for appearances has died. He refuses to admit any of Natalie’s accusations.
The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what Natalie went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
Natalie reaches Mars, the horizon of it off in the distance, she reconciles her grievances for this image of immortality.
James misses the view of Mars, having resigned himself to the biotherapy universe.
In the Return section, the hero again traverses the threshold between the worlds, returning to the ordinary world with the treasure or elixir he gained, which he may now use for the benefit of his fellow man. The hero himself is transformed by the adventure and gains wisdom or spiritual power over both worlds.
The resolution of the story and its subplots. The climax is the scene or sequence in which the main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are.
Refusal of the Return
Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.
Natalie expresses her wish to return to Earth, finally admitting her grief to James.
James is fueled by this rejection, and uses it to rebuild his former persona. He has sinister intentions however.
The Magic Flight
Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
Natalie negotiates a return to Earth with James, who reluctantly agrees to support her return mission.
James begins his plans to once again deceive Natalie
Rescue from Without
Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience.
Reluctantly, Natalie once again enters the biotherapy universe. However, there is a glitch and she fails to be immersed.
James has deliberately constructed a duplicate of their ship in the biotherapy, and the glitch is false. She believes she is back with him, but she is still in biotherapy
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world.
Natalie becomes distraught having spent too long in the biotherapy. It’s an overdose, but she still doesn’t realize she’s inside. She becomes ill, delerious, and manic.
James devises a plan to keep Natalie alive, realizing that this circumstance will likely kill her if he doesn’t step in.
Master of Two Worlds
This step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Gautama Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
Natalie’s delirium becomes so bad that she starts hallucinating. However, the hallucinations are her starting to manipulate the biotherapy universe. She is confused and distraught. She see James matching her ability and they duel. She materializes her husband, her baby, her home, and presents them to James as her ultimate sacrifice.
James reveals his plan to decommission the ship and enter his final days inside of the biotherapy. He’s devised a way to maintain his architect control and real world control seamlessly. Once he enters, he is all powerful.
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.
James, in anger, ejects them both from the system, and Natalie awakes in a dark ship, with no Mars in sight. She is confused and very weak. The Ship is cold.
James strikes the main circuit breaker with his hand, and smashes the controls with his knee. He looks upon Natalie, and in one final move opens the hatch. His destruction of the ship leaves them without resources to live, James kills Natalie and then dies of lack of oxygen.