WARNING: Major Janus 2 spoilers follow! Be sure you’ve read it before proceeding.
Janus 2 is the longest of the Hayden’s World stories, racking up just over thirty-thousand words spread across seventeen chapters. It’s also the most complex, sporting a moderately large cast, and is the first major story in the series to use multiple point-of-view characters. If you’re counting, you’ll get point-of-view segments from the following characters:
When I wrote Erebus, I needed to choose between maintaining a single POV (Sarah’s) or doing multiple POVs. I kept with single. It was Sarah’s story, and much of the plot revolved around finding James. This sacrificed all of James’s off-screen action, such as crashing Bernard’s, but I think it was the right choice for that story.
I have to admit that it’s hard for me to imagine Janus 2 told from a single POV. Imagine sticking with Hitoshi and just getting a data dump of James and Ava’s visit to the alien ship, or sticking with James and missing out on Hitoshi’s character arc to step up and take command of Bernard’s. It’s something I may get dinged on — some readers don’t like multiple POV characters in shorter fiction — but I think it’s the right choice for this story.
When I set out to write Janus 2, I knew my beginning, end, and major plot events, but I had some flexibility about how to get there. I have an entire folder in Scrivener titled “Scrubbed” which houses my deleted scenes. Sometimes I’ll write a segment and realize it’s best condensed with another existing scene. Other times my first reader will give me a puzzled look after reading a chapter, and I know I’m in trouble. One of my favorite chapters to write was Penitente, which starts at the crystal crater and ends with a blast. In the first draft, the crystal crater was simply the crater next to the cryovolcano where Bernard’s had crashed. There, the crew discovers a mysterious tunnel which they send drones to explore. Here’s a snippet:
James motions to the tunnel. “We good to send the drone in?”
“Alright,” Beckman says. He moves over to his console and taps a few commands. His drone zips over to the tunnel entrance and flicks on a flashlight. The rock gleams with reflections as the drone descends. As the tunnel wreathes about it, they notice a spiral pattern etched in the stone, as if a mechanical bore cut the passage. The signal pixelates, fades back in, pixelates again, and goes black.
“Too much rock to transmit through,” Beckman says. He stares at the three-dimensional map. “Give it ninety-seconds to do a loop and come back.”
Everyone waits, arms folded. The chronometer spins. Sixty seconds. Ninety seconds. One-twenty. No drone.
Beckman stares at the screen. “Hmm. Well, we have two more.”
James nods and Beckman sends in the second drone. Its signal pixelates and it disappears into the depths. Three minutes goes by. Nothing returns. Beckman scratches his head.
“Alright then,” Hitoshi says. “Gave it the old college try. No harm, no foul.”
“What do you think?” James says to Beckman.
He raises his eyebrow. “Could be something screwing up their sensors. Might be stuck down there.”
“Or maybe something ate them,” Hitoshi adds.
“What do you think of us suiting up and taking a look?” James asks.
Beckman and Hitoshi both say simultaneously, “I think that’s a bad idea.” Beckman arches an eyebrow at Hitoshi.
Hitoshi holds out his palm. “Seriously, have you guys never seen a sci-fi flick?”
It was fun, and gave the characters an excuse to explore on foot. Ultimately, however, the panspermia plot worked better with the separate locations, and the way the characters investigated each location gave the whole cast a chance to shine.
One of the more significant choices was whether to allow Ananke to establish communication with the alien probe after it abducts her. Another way of saying this, from a plot perspective is: does Ananke rescue herself, or do James and Ava rescue Ananke?
Here’s a snippet from the scrubbed chapter “Qubits”:
Ananke’s built a very basic vocabulary of one to two hundred concepts. She’s been most successful with stellar objects such as star, planet, moon, or items related to these, such as orbit or crater. Items located on Janus have also netted recognition, such as the life forms at the crystal crater, the biological life at the cyrovolcano, and Gossamer Goose. Verbs have been maddening. The entity doesn’t seem to grasp her examples of something doing an action to something else. Each concept she presents is done pictorially through her input/output matrix. Anything abstract, such as letters or numbers, is nearly impossible to present and nets no results. The one consistent thing about their conversation is that the entity will only answer queries as true or false, and does not initiate any of its own queries.
Query, Ananke projects. Origin - Janus?
The entity shifts its qubits. FALSE.
Ananke conjures an image of the one-hundred-and-fifty stars within twenty light-years of the Sun. Query: Origin - local?
She expands the star selection to include the three-hundred light year span of the Local Bubble in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. Query: Origin - Local Bubble?
The entity illuminates. TRUE.
Unfortunately, as interesting as her conversation would have been, the trade-off is the sacrifice of the dramatic rescue scene with James and Ava aboard the alien ship. My first reader also felt the alien probe, as introduced in the Penitente chapter, was very scary (which was a good thing) and maintaining the lack of communication kept it scary. The true/false dialogue served to dilute its impact, not enhance it.
One other choice was a bit less dramatic. Originally, after Penitente, I followed Hitoshi’s investigation before eventually returning to James. The benefit was that the reader didn’t know if James was alive, and needed to discover it along with Hitoshi. But, I figured the reader wouldn’t seriously wonder if I’d just killed off the series title character, so I cut right to the chase by hitting the rewind button and watching the cockpit events from James’s POV.
On the science front, I found this story unusually difficult. Most of my stories have some planetary science, which I feel is in my comfort zone. Janus 2, with a main character who is an astro biologist, put me in a pickle writing about biology, which is not at all in my comfort zone.
A few bits of science which took some research for the story:
The Cayman Rise is already being studied, full of unusual deep sea hydrothermal vent life forms. When people talk about possible life on Enceladus, they reference the deep sea vents of the Cayman Rise.
The bit about vibrio fischeri is true. It’s a bioluminescent bacteria which lives in the Hawaiian bobtail squid, and forms a type of invisibility cloak for the squid by reproducing lighting conditions which are above the squid.
The International Academy of Astronautics does currently have first contact protocols, but they’re more along the lines of what you see in the move Contact (swinging telescopes off axis, verifying signals, then figuring out what to do). In general, however, we don’t really have much of a plan for what to do if aliens say hi. When you read about some of the things we’ve haphazardly done — like beaming a bunch of Twitter messages to nearly star systems — you will probably be dismayed.
Ava discussed looking for molecular hydrogen and methanogenesis when investigating the cryovolcano for life. The real-life Cassini probe found evidence of both in Enceladus’s cryovolcano plumes, intensifying speculation that life may be present in its icy saltwater oceans. She also mentions looking for vinyl cyanide and azotosomes. Both are hypothetical non-carbon based life structures which could survive in Titan’s methane lakes.
Julian’s quote, “We are all made of stardust,” is popular and accurate. All heavier elements and metals in our bodies were produced from supernovas, which is kind of a cool thought.
Kate’s ATP synthase deficiency is a real-life mitochondrial disease. When I considered what type of disease Kate had, I realized it couldn’t be something which was presumably curable in the future. Instead, I thought her disease would be a consequence of future technology — in this case, an unforeseen consequence of genetic manipulation.
As Julian says, polyoxometalate is an inorganic metal-ion which has some medical properties as an anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It’s also nearly impossible to spell, based on my numerous proof readings.
If you’ve read my previous stories, you’ll notice a few shout outs:
The “keep dreaming big'“ business card which James gave to Julian is the same one he gives Kyan Anders at the end of Last Stand.
Titan’s Ligeia Mare station, where Julian worked previously, is the same station which sends an autonomous rescue vehicle to pick up Jia and Ping in Titan’s Shadow
Ananke reveals that she is an Intentional Consciousness, but that she’s always thought it would be romantic to be Emergent. In the story, Last Stand, Rios is classified as an Emergent Consciousness after developing sentience while aboard the Aristarchus
The U.N. Hermes played a part in Last Stand, Aero One, and Titan’s Shadow. Despite it hassling Bernard’s upon arrival at Janus’s conclusion, it’s one of the good guys, keeping Cassini Station safe.
Thanks for reading! Hope you found the tidbits interesting.