It started with telekinesis.
Janus, aged six, wore a face angels would begrudgingly describe as more cherubic than their once youthful own. Yet the innocence in his eyes belied a quiet desolation, lingering behind them as though a fallen disgraced seraph had attached itself to his soul.
Looking up through the dust of old age, hanging like the lingering odour that permeated the old house, Janus watched seven-year-old Fiodr. He sat on the upstairs landing’s moth-hewn Arabesque carpet, floating block alphabet letters in the air above using nothing more than his mind.
Ivana, eight, came up behind Janus. He had already known of her approach as though she were already there. She put her thin child’s fingers in front of his eyes. He smelled Cook’s spiced biscuits, the base of their diet that lent their aroma to everything they touched. Long ago, her pryaniki became the Eau de House. Through Ivana’s sylphlike hands he saw the windowed sun peer through and illuminate each finger like it was crimson veiled light.
Janus, Fiodr and Ivana. Their triumvirate alliance ran deep, at least before the tragedies began. The Centre existed in stark opposition to the outside world. A cross between an island oasis and a dank, dark basement, its isolation a corollary to its fragile position in a much wider world. Then there were the secrets.
Inaugurated so long ago that nobody but Headmaster could say for sure, The Centre doubled as a research facility and breeding ground for children with powers. Wrested from their mothers’ grasps, often before they could even speak, its wards had shown great prowess in areas welcomed by the military while shunned by the medical establishment.
Like an island state, it operated under its own laws. These held little sympathy for the age of its inhabitants. Abuses were as rife and varied as the abilities of the children. Janus sensed he ought to dislike what they’d done to him, as so many other kids openly felt. But something prevented him from feeling pain at the overseers’ treatments. This could later be explained by his knowledge that he’d outlive the other children and their captors as well.
Ivana was innocence and sweetness personified. The willowy fringe that lightly obscured her left eye ensured young Janus’ pre-adolescent love grew each time he saw it. Fiodr, a terror, was surrounded by a cloud of malevolence that grew more opaque each time he opened his mouth. Janus often wondered what pain had made him this way. Fiodr would never relent the truth, no matter how strong he once thought their friendship had been. This Janus had also seen.
When Fiodr deliberately caused the first accident Headmaster seconded him in the isolation shaft for a period of nine days. Cotton-mouthed Fiodr languished beneath the tiny shaft of light that filtered down through a termite-ridden crack into the world beyond. He brooded, hollow with the certainty that his ire about and judgement of The Centre’s overseers was a well not remotely run dry. The balancing of the scales would be total. Absolut.
Janus grew closer to Ivana during those nine days so that when Fiodr finally got out, he felt embittered by this obvious fact and began to see Janus as the enemy. Fiodr’s once nascent recently galvanised adoration for Ivana was just as strong as Janus’. Fiodr spiralled, committing acts of war against one spoil of newly reneged empathy after another. Only now, he was stronger than ever. He had grown staggeringly capable of projecting his telekinesis and set about using it to frame others for his attacks.
Ivana, intensely adept at controlling the muscle movements of others, felt responsible for Janus. She intervened when Fiodr levelled an attempted attack upon Janus, through the use of a skewering steel pike that was just one of The Centre’s many medieval decorations. Janus felt himself swerve and contort into a gymnastic position just as the adamant sceptre narrowly missed his head.
Long ago, he had predicted and informed Ivana of the specific treatments that would await her. This small kindness, albeit unable to reduce such painful testing, was enough to render Ivana wilfully beholden to him.
Janus fought to stop himself shedding a tear at the eroded path his and Fiodr’s friendship had taken. He could preempt things through prior knowledge of their occurrence. When Fiodr attempted to take his life again, he had been forced to react. That particular incident, involving an assortment of knives, backfired with Ivana’s intervention. Janus struggled with his retrocausal choice to combat Fiodr by placing Ivana in his path under the pretext of an innocent invitation. She nearly killed Fiodr, yet even then, he could not relinquish the preternatural love which had seized him so completely in the depths of his isolation. Janus wondered if she’d known of his lie but agreed to meet him in the kitchen, where Fiodr would be, anyway.
There were many other such occurrences after that. Fiodr’s annoyance with the Pyro boy who failed in his attempts to control fire and could not understand for the life of him why the knife in the little Cognikinetic girl’s hand uncontrollably launched, suddenly spilling forth the claret from his throat. The teacher who never saw the unwieldy ornamental chalice, as it fell from its spot up high above a plinth in the style of Trompe-l’œil. When Headmaster was hospitalised, laid flat by the giant, now-prostrate, otherwise upright grandfather clock, the cavalry was called and promptly arrived, presaged by the rhythmic footfall of their heavy-booted din.
Whatever secret police they were, they dismounted in force, bearing a bewildering array of ominous projectile weaponry. Their artillery of blinding light, electricity blasts and magnetic projectiles confounded the biorhythms of their targets. Those lined within their sights had grown in number; Fiodr had wrangled the other troubled children to join him in directing their powers at the destruction of these interlopers along with the other Centre’s members of staff.
Janus tried to give his life to protect Ivana, predicting Fiodr’s route of escape and blocking it as the enforcers made their advance. But Fiodr, in a psychotic break that not even Janus’ precognition could have foreseen, mercilessly ended her, lest she and Janus made their escape. Life and Ivana were his alone, he cried.
Fiodr, momentarily distracted by the tall display cabinet teeming with turn-of-the-century taxidermy which Janus managed to leverage by teetering at its top while pushing it with his feet and gripping the ascending bannister, looked on the barricade blocking his escape with terror.
From behind, the enforcers attacked with all their might in a dazzling barrage of flickering destabilisation. Fiodr was expunged from this world but not before he turned their weapons on one another. The destruction was incendiary as the blasts wove a percussive medley inside the nightmare score of sputtered final breaths.
Janus found himself trapped in the rubble of what remained. He had seen this coming but could not bring himself to affect it. He knew of the food supplies: enough to survive into old age. He knew he’d never leave, even though he might have found a way to escape. He blocked his own precognition of this. Here he would remember Ivana. Her memory would remain.
He would watch over the residual memories held inside The Centre, wilfully forgetting possible futures beyond his solipsistic mausoleum. In the present, he’d finally have time to think solely about the past. In this time, he could finally break away from all that might be. In the present, he would live for now. In the present, he could be free.
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