Janey and Viktoria

“Janey and Viktoria” by Brie Barbee

“Janey,” her mother said softly from the folds of her hospital bed. “I’m sorry I never told you before.”

“Told me what, mama?”

“About your sister – Viktoria.”

“My what?”

“Y-your twin, actually. I gave her up for adoption years ago. She’s…”

But her mother was asleep again. A combination of drugs, a lack of sleep, and the disease ravaging her body meant she dozed off in the middle of conversations a lot. At the same time, she’d never mentioned Viktoria before, even when she was healthy. Janey had spent her entire life believing she was an only child. What if she wasn’t?

The next day, Janey tried to ask her mother more about Viktoria, but she didn’t seem to understand what her daughter was asking her about.

She died a week later.

It had always just been her mother and her — and now it was just Janey. All she was left with were the bills, memories, and a knot in her stomach that reminded her cancer was often genetic. And…Viktoria. Or at the least the possibility of her.

With no access to the internet at home, Janey lugged her tablet to a nearby coffee shop to start searching for her sister. The tablet couldn’t have been more than half an inch thick, but she still felt self-conscious about it. She noticed several customers — college students mostly — with their screens projected onto the tables, scribbling notes like they were writing on invisible pads of paper. Looking down at her own device made her aware of how tight money have been her entire life.

Janey did her best to set aside her pride and focus on the task at hand, but it was hard to know where to begin. A quick internet search brought up a few results, but nothing that made her think any of these women were her twin.

Reverse image searches didn’t bring up much either. Janey wasn’t even sure if they were identical twins or how much they looked alike. Thinking of her mother, she didn’t even know if her sister was alive…

But suddenly, a social media profile for a “Viktoria Castillo” popped up on her screen. Janey clicked the link and a photo of her…no, Viktoria, appeared before her. She had blue eyes, platinum, shoulder-length hair curled in professional ringlets (dyed, Janey decided, comparing it to her own dirty blonde locks) and a perfect, white smile.

Janey couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This was her sister. She skimmed the rest of the profile: 32 years old, born June 3, 2067, Vice President of Sales at some fancy tech company — and she lived in Portland.

Even though the trains into the city didn’t run more than twice a week due to cutbacks, Portland wasn’t far. It would be several days before Janey could get out there — if Viktoria even agreed to meet her, but she still had to try.

She penned a quick message to her new-found sister and after only a few minutes, received a reply. It wasn’t from Viktoria, but her assistant, offering to send a self-driving car for her the day after tomorrow.

A car? Who did Viktoria think she was? Who was Viktoria for that matter? Janey briefly considered deleting the message and getting on with her life, but something stopped her. With her mother gone — dead, she reminded herself — Viktoria was her only living family. She had to meet her.

Janey replied to the message, politely declined the car, and said she could meet in Portland in three days (the next day the train was running). Viktoria’s assistant sent over the address and assured her they would meet then.

The train into the city was very dirty, discarded cups and bags littered the ground. Janey thought she saw a needle under the seat in front of her but did her best to ignore it. A one-way trip cost $95. She couldn’t imagine what a car would have been.

When Janey got off her stop, she was shocked. She’d seen pictures of downtown Portland before, but the scale was incredible. It made her realize how much better off Viktoria was than her: living in the city, probably in one of those high rises hundreds of stories above the ground, trees and plants covering her balcony — something Janey would never have.

Life in the Gorge may have been good fifty years ago, but after a giant wildfire destroyed most of the area, nothing had ever been the same. However, Janey couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. Rapid overpopulation and failed attempts to house displaced residents had taken its toll on the already charred landscape. Yet the city seemed to have escaped that.

There were trees everywhere, fountains, and…birds, a rare sight back home. Buildings stretched into the sky. Many of them were modern designs, made entirely from wooden paneling. Janey wondered where all the wood came from — it must have been expensive.

She worried she looked cheap. She knew her clothes didn’t cost much, but would Viktoria notice? Living here, there seemed no way she couldn’t. Janey considered going back, but before she could change her mind, her smartwatch dinged, alerting her she had arrived at her sister’s building.

Viktoria’s assistant met her in the lobby. The young woman led Janey into an elevator and swiped her wrist on a scanner inside. They rode up in silence, Janey nervously picking at her cuticles. She should never have come here. The buildings, the elevator, the mere offer of a car, everything was so much nicer than she had. There was no way her and Viktoria would ever get along, even if they were twins.

But when the doors finally opened, Janey didn’t see Viktoria’s expensive penthouse, she just saw her sister, wide-eyed and smiling. She rushed forward to embrace her. Viktoria hugged her back tightly. Even if they were nothing alike, they were still family — the only family Janey had.

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