Chapter VI: Janus
Janus awoke as the sweet, decaying perfume of his mossy bed kissed at his orbitofrontal cortex and his eyes danced behind his eyelids as the dappled light around him flooded his thalamus.
The delicious decay of wood and leaf filled him with contentment and he lingered, on the delicate, lace edged border of sleep, between dream and oblivion, for a second longer, before his hands grasped at the soft dryness where he lay and he rose to his feet, stretching hard to the sky.
“How can it be so blue?” he asked himself, stunned by the colour that enveloped him.
“It can’t be…..it’s…”.
The trees all around him were at the peak of their displays. Golds and reds. Pinks and purples. Yellows, browns and some outnumbered greens. His feet crunched as he trod gently, moving towards each trunk to feel the roughness of its bark. High above, a swift wind blew and startled a murder of crows, which took to the wing in a cascade of violet leaves, which showered Janus as he smiled.
“I don’t understand”.
He walked forward, languishing in his happiness, sensing each broken twig as they cracked under foot releasing the exquisite smell of the grasses on which they lay. He realised that this forest stood on a small hill and squinting through the trunks, began to make out the twinkling surface of vast lake, around which the tall trees bowed and towards which he now ran.
As he collapsed to his knees on the lake’s shore, gasping with the exertion, he cupped his hands and lowered them into the clear water drinking greedily from its coolness. She was here too. Walking the shoreline as a young and vibrant woman, her dark hair swirling softly in the breezes as though floating in an under water state. She was silent but she fixed him with her grey eyes and spoke to him, without speaking. They had known each other in youth but she stood before him now, not as a skinny, frightened girl, but as he knew her from the Solar Panels scattered through the city, tall and strong and fierce.
“Brother”, she said, her voice alien to him.
Far off, at the horizon, a song began, harsh and shrill and legato. A wailing between two intervals that grew closer as he stood amongst the trees.
“Wait. Is that? It can’t be”.
The sound now appeared above him, alien and yet a part of this place and looking up he briefly saw the crows returned, beaks gaping and wailing along with the song as it grew in loudness before the sun spiked and it’s intensity blinded him and he shielded his eyes with his arms as he saw her shape disappear.
The light was still there when he awoke but now there was not only the sharp white, but blue and red too.
“BROTHER” shrieked the automaton.
“Remove your harness and step from the spire”.
Janus worked hard to refocus. The waking process was usually gentle and long enough that disorientation was minimised and the soporific effects of the Water did not cause too much nausea and discomfort as it was slowly ejected. With this rude awakening however, he gasped for breath as he choked, retching onto the ground.
“Remove yourself from this machinery, brother. You are under arrest and will be sent for reconditioning in His light.”
He fumbled at the harness that buckled him into the dream machine and as it released him, he collapsed to his knees, at the feet of the police, who cuffed his hands and shrouded his head, beating him as he lay choking.
“The sins of the night will be cleansed by His Sun”.
Janus had not had the misfortune to be arrested before though he knew what it entailed. The old notion that simple incarceration was sufficient punishment to dissuade criminal activity was long dead. Rehabilitation was fully accepted as the correct path to civil behaviour and a drop in reoffending rates. The old masters had provided much in the way of programmes for criminals and society had, for a time, been largely rid of the worst perversions of the human species. Positivity towards the population and an understanding of the impact that upbringing, poverty, environment and community could have on the attitudes and behaviours of a person had worked marvels….until the sun began to die.
Fear for the dying sun and for the fury of His war. This most primitive of emotions is unstoppable in its power. Millennia of conditioning and both genetic and memetic reinforcement all result in an unstoppable collapse of reason, empathy, pride and morality and the ultimate breakdown of a human to his very base purpose.
And so it was that a population regressed, such that the new Rulers were required to simplify the reconditioning process, for the now abundant offenders, to a single process.
Janus awoke with a start. Eyes scanning the darkness, pupils stretched wide with fear. Coughing, he bent over and spewed out the remnants of The Water, retching into the void. When he had first awoken, he had not felt scared, but he had been blind in the darkness and had still been suffering from the effects of The Water. As his vision sharpened he began to see the outline of a small room, black and flanked by two mirrors of equal size. Grostesqueries lined the end walls. A frieze of the revolution in all its violence. Here, the great dogs of the enemy eating their fill at the gates of the capital, mouths filled with the froth of their anger and the appetite of their spirit. There, the Sun God calling the faithful to worship at His altar and to sacrifice.
His stomach tightened and he retched once more.
“Dear brother Janus, are you able to stand?’
“Then please go to the light”.
Janus stood up and walked to the Solisphere set into the black marble of the far wall. He knew the actions well and had a strange sensation of nostalgia as he grasped the machinery with both hands, looking deeply into its profound darkness.
A piercing shaft of light speared Janus between the breast and engulfed his vision with its brilliance. An encompassing calm spread through his temporal lobes and radiated outwards from his chest to his arms and legs, before finally exiting through his extremities in a most pleasing manner. His fingers tingled, his toes danced and his nipples hardened. A million shades of red and yellow span in front of his dilating eyes as he began to move towards the source of His brilliance. A soft, gasping moan emanated from his lips.
“Good. Follow the Sun.” The Automaton chirped.
“Know your lord.
Feel his warmth.
Breathe his light.”
Within this bliss a small portion of his mind remained. He had dedicated countless hours and days and years to the control of his thoughts and to the subversion of this power. His mind was his and with it, his body. Every muscle, every fibre, every cell was required in the suppression of an overwhelming impulse to submit and his mind centred into a vicious ball of rage behind eyes shut tight against the depth of the terrifying light.
“We love you brother Janus. But you have been found guilty of disbelief and blasphemy. You are to be cleansed in His light and only by His warmth will you cease to remember that things were ever otherwise than through Him”
“There is no light now that can see me hence.” He thought within himself.
“We will return every hour until your sentence is completed. We love you brother Janus. We wish only for you to see the light and return to His side. Only then can you truly contribute to His great society and be nurtured by His glorious emanations”.
Rehabilitation now took place through the Solisphere. Such was their confidence in its power that no other system was in place to cope with subversion. Janus had committed only a low level infraction, albeit at the Dream Spires, which The Sun Lord particularly mistrusted due to their use of Water, but his treatment was to be the same as the worst murderers and rapists that the city encountered. The standard immersion took place once a day at 11:47, the hour of His coming. One blissful minute was all most people needed for their submission and obedience to be guaranteed. Here though, an hourly regimen of longer, more powerful immersions was in place and prisoners were kept confined to the near complete black of His cells. This confinement to the dark was believed to magnify the brain’s reaction to His emanations and thus expedite rehabilitation whilst also breaking a prisoner down such that they began to crave sunlight itself more than even food or water. The use of automatons also starved a prisoner of personal interactions such that deprivation of the three most important human interactions was complete.
An object of power and as always, an object of control.
Janus curled up in the darkness and thought of her. She often visited him at the Spire but always as a girl. This time had been different. She had been beautiful and strong and her voice had been closer, more present. He had been able to smell her for the first time and the scent from her hair and her skin had been wonderful. He smelt it still and it comforted him as he lay in the darkness of his cell.
They had loved each other, in their naïve, adolescent way. Breathlessly fondling at each other in clumsy, brief encounters shrouded in the canopy of whichever dry shrub or shed they had found that could conceal them. Her free time had always been limited by her family as her busy schedule had demanded so much of her time. She was full of potential. It leaked out of her. Her talent. Her strength. Janus had always been able to see it where others only sensed coldness. It overwhelmed him and he had always been nervous around her. Even as they kissed, he would tell himself to enjoy it, to remember it because whatever stupor she was in, such that she would be with him, would soon lift and a realisation would be upon her that he was not her equal and she would be gone.
It was not her choice, however that separated them. She had been called to the Temple on her 18th birthday to be tutored in the ways of light. It seems that he had not been the only one to recognise her potential. His Infrastructure of Love had taken her from him, and so it was that ten years had passed since last he had seen her though she visited him in his dreams. Her parents had since died and Janus wondered if she even knew that they were gone, such was the isolation to which Temple workers were subjected. The housing in the Western Reach, where Alecto lived, consisted of one immense gated community, within the shadow of the Temple. Any attempt at fraternisation with these, most important of workers, was almost impossible and highly criminalised. Although the entire city was engaged in His work, the workers within His Infrastructure of Love were most protected from other sectors, their nocturnal vices and the possible path to rebellion that they may provide. Janus had tried, for a time, to see her again. Just to glimpse her, to know she was alright would have sustained him and kept hope alive that perhaps one day in the future they might meet and all would be as it had been. But it was not to be. All he could do now was see her image on the Solar Panels, that told him of her role in the Department of External Affairs and thus watch for the minute silver fish that slipped from the city, glimmering as they disappeared into the void.