The Gone World is a book written by Tom Sweterlitsch that has many twists and turns and many readers want confirmation on the ending. I want to establish the summary on parts of the book for people to confirm what their theories are, or explain the book to those who got lost. It should be obvious without stating it: this is riddled with spoilers.
This is a synopsis of the book: Shannon Moss is part of a clandestine division within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In western Pennsylvania, 1997, she is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL’s family—and to locate his vanished teenage daughter. Though she can’t share the information with conventional law enforcement, Moss discovers that the missing SEAL was an astronaut aboard the spaceship U.S.S. Libra—a ship assumed lost to the currents of Deep Time. Moss knows first-hand the mental trauma of time-travel and believes the SEAL’s experience with the future has triggered this violence.
Shannon Moss finds herself nearly dying of hypothermia in a forest by a river. She’s in excruciating pain as QTN’s (Quantum Nano Particles) fill her body, which is supposedly similar to mercury in that they’re both a liquid and a solid. This can obviously cause suffocation. What’s more concerning is she finds thousands of people crucified, including herself, before waking up with a prosthetic leg in a hospital. The Epilogue further explains what happens here.
We find Shannon Moss invited to a crime scene investigation by an FBI agent named Nestor. The reason she’s involved is that she’s with the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service), and the suspected murderer, Patrick Mursult, happened to be in the Navy. The two victims are his wife and son. More specifically, Brock, the lead investigator, mentions that the reason Shannon was invited was because Patrick was part of a “Deep Waters” mission, the same program Shannon was in. Though Brock hardly grasps the concept, Deep Waters is a project that allows people to travel through time on a dozen ships named after the 12 signs of Zodiac (Ares, Taurus, etc.) where they use a white hole to move to the future and back. The problem is that Patrick Mursult was supposed to be on a ship that disappeared called the Libra. No one had been looking for him until now.
What concerns Shannon the most about the crime scene is that it takes place in the same house as her childhood best friend, Courtney Gimm. and is flooded with memories: the two together, and the place she lost her virginity to Courtney’s brother. Believe it or not, this is important to know. The FBI has turned the focus on finding Patrick and his daughter, Marian, who has seemingly disappeared. She goes with Nestor, who is acting as a crime scene liaison, to try to track down Patrick hoping he could lead them to Marian. While driving around they come across a truck with skeletons. The skeletons turn out to be stags, but the house that hosted the truck surprises them because there is a man by the name Eric Fleece found hung in the house. Though, there was no lead to either Patrick or Marian.
Nestor and Shannon discover a man who has been having an affair with another woman, where the man matches the description of Patrick and the affairs are believed to happen at Blackwater Lodge. Upon arrival at the lodge, Shannon is led by a girl named Petal and together discover that Patrick has been murdered. With no further leads for Marian, Shannon is sent to 19 years in the future to an IFT.
Inadmissible Future Trajectories. When traveling through time, you don’t travel to a perfect future. It’s a possible future. If you travel to the same year, like 2015 as Shannon does in the book, different events could lead to different futures. In one future cancer is solved, while in another the world has starved, and in another holographic technology is commonplace. Upon returning, each pilot comes back to the world they left called “Terra Firma”.
Traveling time is difficult and must remain secret. If people who are aware of the Deep Waters project come to know that you traveled in time, they could potentially trap you in the IFT forever. As soon as you return Terra Firma, that entire IFT disappears as does anyone else living in it.
Terra Firma is now. Specifically in this story it’s 1997. Each time Shannon goes to the future, it appears as if she had only left the planet for a few minutes. The reality is that she may have spent a year or more in the future. Although she’s only 27 years old, she appears closer to 40. Her mom notices the age difference is creeping closer to almost a colleague-level, but never mentions it until later in the book. Each time Shannon does return, she has to go through an interview process with NCIS leadership where she discusses what they have in the future. They’re more curious about technologies. Each time she does travel to the future, one particular company, Phasal Systems, that is backed by NCIS, seems to always have the most advanced technology, which is discovered through all the IFT travelers.
When Shannon arrives in the future she works with Dr. Njoku who explains what happened in the past like the CJIS building being bombed amongst other events. All of which have an unknown assailant. She also discovers that Eric Fleece was also on the Libra with Patrick. As per usual, Shannon takes on a new fake identity of “Courtney Gimm”, the same as her best friend from childhood.
The affair Patrick was having was with a woman named Nicole Onyongo, a nurse. Courtney Gimm (Shannon) finds Nicole at a bar every night and befriends her. She discovers Nicole was married to a man named Jared, and he had recently died. Nicole was invited to a memorial service for him held by his friends and is getting completely wasted because of the memories. She spills the beans that Jared’s friends, Cobb and Kyle, killed Patrick Mursult.
Meanwhile, Shannon and Nestor meet up where she tries to gain more information about the case they worked on some 20 years ago. He leads her to the location of where they found Marian’s body. Success! He’s impressed she looks the same as she did back then, and they bang each other. Interestingly, his house is located on Old Elkins Road. Remember this location.
Back to Nicole, they go to the memorial service together at a large orchard with a house. Shannon meets a lady named Shauna, and they go to the orchard together while all the “river rats” (friends of Nicole and Jared) rebury Jared. Jared Bietak, Charles Cobb, and Kyle Hyldekrugger were “river rats” because they were in the Navy together. They were the crew of the Libra with Patrick Mursult. That evening, Shannon discovers that Nicole met Jared and Patrick on the Libra. She wasn’t on the crew list, but was an addition because of her medical expertise.
Esperance and the Terminus:
We discover that the Libra landed on a planet named Esperance, a name matching its beauty. Unfortunately, the beauty was short-lived as it was filled with QTN’s that began slaughtering everyone. Most people escaped, saved by Hyldekrugger and Cobb, two Navy Seals. The QTN’s followed the ship as it tried to escape the planet along with a white whole.
The leading commander of the Libra, Remarque, stated that they couldn’t bring the QTN’s back to earth and had to self-destruct the ship. Bringing them back would cause a Terminus, or the end of the world (see prologue). The crew mutinied and slaughtered her. They returned to the Earth, but found a way to trap the QTN’s and Terminus in basically a time sink, which the book refers to as a “butterfly in a bell jar.”
The Terminus is considered the end of the world, and the date keeps changing each time someone returns from an IFT. By part 3, it’s expected to be 2024. What causes the Terminus is a white hole and an invasion of the QTN’s that come with it.
Shannon is suddenly warned by Shauna, an undercover FBI agent, to run and finds Cobb and Kyle chasing her. It turns out that Shauna had an escape plan and someone is waiting for Shauna at the road. Though, Shannon and the man leave without her.
Shannon Moss returns to Terra Firma and explains everything that happened. Brock sets up cameras where they found Marian in the future. But, they never saw anything suspicious except someone stacking rocks. Shannon asks to trace the van of the person placing rocks and discovers they live at Old Elkins Road (where Nestor lived in the IFT). She and Nestor go to the house together (memories).
Gun fight ensues and Jared Bietak is killed. Cobb and Hyldekrugger are also discovered, but flee. Bodies are found in the garage made into gas chamber, basically, amongst the bodies is Marian Mursult.
They find blueprints in the house as well, which are for CJIS (a criminal investigation building). In the IFT, Shannon learned that a man named Ryan Torgerson was the terrorist behind the CJIS bombing. Brock and Shannon meet up with Ryan, and he ends up blowing himself up, killing Brock with him. It turns out he was working under the direction of Hyldekrugger to destroy CJIS.
Marian is found alive and well to everyone’s surprise. Some people found her in a forest. Shannon interviews her and learns that there is a place called the Vardogger near a Blackwater Lodge. The same place Patrick Mursult was murdered and where they found Marian.
This gets a little confusing, but I’ll explain it all here even though much of this is explained throughout the book and most of it in the end. The Vardogger is a white tree amongst a blackforest. When viewed from the a very specific angle, a path opens up that looks like white trees to infinite, like a mirror. If you follow the path directly, it can take you to the Libra. This tree specifically is an entrance to the butterfly in the bell jar. As in, time is completely locked in this area and you can get lost if you take the wrong path. Later in the book, Shannon finds dozens or even hundreds of bodies of the same people, including herself. These are called “Echoes”.
Marian is an Echo. She was killed, but she also wasn’t killed. She has been killed several times before. The Marian that exists now was saved by echo (clone) of Marian. This is also when Shannon Moss discovers that she is potentially an echo, which is true. Shannon Moss was killed. She is with Dr. Njoku, who is studying the area, when she fully realizes this.
Shannon travels to another IFT where Dr. Njoku amongst many others have been killed trying to research the Vardogger. She meets Nestor, who again is surprised by her age. Unlike the previous IFT where he left the FBI, he’s still an agent here. He informs her about various terrorist events and murders with ballistics reports showing false positives. She believes they’re all related and the bullets themselves must be echoes, just like humans can be.
One of these particular murders was of a lawyer named Carla Durr. I’ll skip chapters here, but Patrick Mursult hired Carla Durr to reveal the truth about Deep Waters, and the assassination of Remarque on the Libra. She was also meeting with Dr. Driscoll, who was leading research as Phasal Systems, the company that used IFT information to develop advanced technologies. Obviously, this was bad and Durr was murdered while trying to meet Dr. Driscoll. Dr. Driscoll is eventually killed as well. All of them by the hands of Kyle Hyldekrugger.
Nestor introduces Shannon to Vivian, who we later discovered was Petal from the lodge in Patrick Mursult’s murder. Shannon encouraged Vivian to join the forces and she did. We also discovered that Vivian is Shauna, the undercover agent that saved Shannon’s life in the previous IFT. In this IFT too, Vivian is an undercover agent working with Hyldekrugger. Vivian has a tattoo that is a map for the Vardogger. At Shannon’s request, the three of them head to the lodge where Mursult was murdered and go to the Vardogger.
Nestor murders Vivian and ties Shannon up to a tree, then leaves. Cobb and Hyldekrugger are there to meet her. Cobb beats the crap out of her, and she warns them that she’s in an IFT. Hyldekrugger moans and guides her through the Vardogger to the Libra. In the meantime, he explains the reason he is murdering everyone and causing all these terrorism attacks is to prevent the Terminus.
Terminus and the Butterfly in the Bell Jar:
Hyldekrugger believes that the Phasal Systems and NCIS cause the Terminus. In his mind, because the Libra is trapped in a time loop (butterfly in the bell jar). The Terminus only happens because the NCIS goes to Esperance and returns to earth with QTN’s. So, he does everything in his power to prevent anyone telling them about Esperance and Libra. He keeps coming back to the Vardogger to use its time trap to go between timelines and removes any obstacles. Because of all the IFT’s, events keep changing and thus so do murders. When Shannon returned from the second IFT, Carla Durr was not murdered and placed in witness protection. Since she never met Dr. Driscroll, she never learned about Phasal Systems. She was only murdered in the first IFT because they did meet.
Shannon is constantly getting in Hyldekrugger’s way in all his IFTs, so he locks her up in the prison cell of the Libra. There, she meets a teenage version Nicole Onyongo. Nicole leaves her, but returns 11 years later, at least in Nicole’s time, but only a few hours in Shannon’s time. But, the events Nicole mentions that led to her freeing Shannon never happened in any of Shannon’s IFT history. This means that Nicole has echoes as well and has her own IFTs. Nicole is from Earth’s future in Kenya, maybe 100 years from 1997.
This adds to the confusion of the last parts of the book. Nicole and Shannon are wearing the same bracelet, one which Shannon received from one of the Nicole’s. In addition, we discover that Courtney Gimm was murdered because she was thought to be the time traveler digging into everyone’s background. Courtney Gimm, if you forgot, was actually Shannon Moss’ IFT persona. Because the real Courtney was murdered and the fake one (Shannon) was not, everything got stuck in a bizarre time loop.
Shannon Moss returns to Terra Firma thanks to Nicole’s rescue, but finds out the Terminus is sooner than her IFT’s said it would be the world is going to end, like, now. She informs everyone that the Terminus can be prevented if they go into the future and stop the mutiny where Remarque is killed. If the Libra is destroyed, the Terminus isn’t brought with it back to earth by NCIS because they don’t become aware of Esperance’s existence. Therefore, QTN’s are never discovered either.
Unfortunately, the cause of the Terminus was now the Onyx, another previously believed to be lost Zodiac. It arrived with a white hole in its wake along with QTN’s. It was a crime scene, though, because everyone on it was murdered. Maps of the Vardogger, how to get to Libra, and other information was found out like Patrick Mursult was okay with his family’s murder knowing that he could see them in another IFT.
She took the Onyx to Libra to finish the job of what command Remarque couldn’t do: destroy the Libra. Before she made it, though, she crashes the Onyx into a truck near the Vardogger and finds another echo of herself being killed by Hyldekrugger. She also discovers her original body, confirming she is an echo too. She steals her original body’s suit because she’s naked and dealing with hyperthermia, then heads towards the Libra. She meets Nicole again and shows her the bracelet another her gave her. Nicole leads her to Remarque, and Krauss (a Remarque loyalist), and through various events kill off Mursult, Cobb, and Hyldekrugger. Shannon is on the verge of dying after a brutal gun fight and Remarque self-destructs the Libra.
It’s 1986. This is the real Terra Firma. The real Courtney Gimm is alive and Shannon is pregnant with Courtney’s brother’s baby. It turns out, that the entire story was an IFT where Courtney Gimm was murdered. Thus, the prologue with Shannon’s murder, and all her IFTs, were all child IFTs of the parent IFT where Courtney died. To put it in another way: Terra Firma (1986) -> Fake Terra Firma (1997) -> IFT travels (numerous 2015 timelines).