Usually, Crista loved the rain, the cleanness of the world after the smog was washed away, the crisp scent of the air. She’d used to lean out of her apartment window until she felt like she might tumble out, and take long, deep breaths of the humid air. Even in the concrete heart of the city, she felt like she could smell new things growing.
But it was a different story now that she was on the run.
Crista ducked into a narrow alley beside an abandoned nightclub, pulling the hood of her rain jacket low over her face. Mud squelched beneath her feet as she flattened herself against the club’s grimy outer wall, away from the merciless glare of the streetlights. Had the city cameras seen her? Crista thought she had navigated around them all, but she couldn’t be sure. With any luck, the rainwater would blur the lenses.
She shivered, wishing not for the first time that she had thought to wear something warmer than just a rain jacket. It did little against the knife-sharp wind, and her jeans were soaked through below where the waterproof fabric ended.
The low hum of an engine penetrated the nighttime gloom, punctuated by the pattering splash of tires disturbing the puddles of water that lined the street. Crista fought the urge to squeeze her eyes shut. It was an old habit, from playing hide and seek with Del as a child. If she couldn’t see Del, Del couldn’t see her. That had been a childish delusion, but a small comfort, all the same.
Crista’s pulse clamoured as the patrol truck passed by. There was no parking lane on this part of the street, and the vehicle was tight to the curb of the narrow sidewalk. The truck’s side, emblazoned with the Governor’s spiky silver sigil, passed scant feet from where Crista hid. She fought against a shudder. If they saw her, they would catch her. If they saw her, they would take her to the station. If they saw her, she would never come back.
They didn’t see her. Crista gave a soft laugh when she realized they were gone, then clamped a clammy hand over her mouth. She couldn’t slip up now, not yet, not when she was the one idiot out in the streets after curfew.
Curfew. She had to stifle another hysterical snicker. Curfew violation was the least of her worries.
Crista stuck her head slowly past the edge of the nightclub, peering out at the street. Empty. She edged out of the alley at a snail’s pace. Clear, it was clear. Crista turned so that her back was flush to the front of the nightclub, her pulse still a hammering beat in her throat. The cameras were focused on the centre of the road, and couldn’t see the edge of the sidewalk where she stood, if Del had been right. Del had to have been right.
Indifferent, the club’s crumbling facade loomed over her, a smile with no teeth. She wondered what it had been like, before curfew crushed the city’s nightlife. Now, it was the hollow husk of a lost world, grim and ghostly in the fluorescence of the streetlights.
Crista edged along the sidewalk as quickly as she dared. Del’s hideout was close now, just around the corner.
The splashing of tires came again. Adrenaline sent Crista’s thoughts tumbling as she backtracked to the nearest hiding spot, the gap between an insurance office and a hair salon. She wedged herself into the sliver of darkness, praying for the thousandth time that they would not spot her. The splashes crescendoed as the patrol truck passed, then faded away into the distance.
If the patrols didn’t get her, the stress probably would. That would be funny, really—there would be another headline on the news. Infamous burglar found dead of heart attack!
Hysteria. This feeling was definitely called hysteria.
Crista slipped back onto the sidewalk and inched around the corner. There—Miss Marilyn’s Convenience. The sign was made of neon tubes, a relic from times when signage needed to be visible after dark. Glancing over her shoulder, Crista scrambled into the doorway and knocked. She was trembling, her body barely reacting to commands. She knocked again, and began pressing the doorbell. The sound of its blaring buzz drifted through the door. Crista kept pressing.
The door swung inward, and Crista nearly lost her balance. A figure stood in shadow just beyond the threshold. Not waiting for an invitation, Crista stumbled inside, grabbing the door from the figure and slamming it shut. It took her eyes a moment to adjust, but Crista didn’t need much light to recognize the person standing beside her.
“Del!” Crista sobbed. “Del, thank—”
“Were you seen?” Her sister’s voice was urgent.
“No—I don’t think so. It was all so—so sudden, and I kept to the edges like you said, and the patrols didn’t catch me. I don’t think the cameras saw me but I don’t know what they saw and I won’t know until whatever happens happens and either they come and find me or they don’t—”
“Sorry.” Crista took long, deep breaths, the sort that made her lungs ache. “I’m calm now. Calmer, at least.”
Del stared down at Crista, which was a remarkable feat, since they were the same height. “Come on, there’s heating in the basement. You look like a drowned rat.”
Crista followed Del past rows of empty shelves, into the bowels of the building. The darkness was thick and clung to the walls like cobwebs, but Crista couldn’t find it in herself to mind. Darkness was secrecy was safety.
They passed down a narrow flight of stairs and into the dim light of a room that was probably meant to be a cellar. Del had set up a futon along one wall, and there was a television leaning crookedly against a metal safe in the corner.
“Are any of your...colleagues here?” Crista asked, eyeing the room nervously.
Del chuckled. “That’s a delicate word for them.”
Crista stared at her sister.
“No, it’s just us.” Del sighed and swore softly. “I’m so sorry about this, Crista.”
“Sorry,” Crista echoed, her voice hollow.
“Yes, sorry.” An edge of agitation was creeping into her speech. “I never meant for this to happen, never even thought it could...”
“I was going to graduate.” Crista’s tone hadn’t changed. “Two weeks. Two weeks, and I would have had my undergrad, and I would have had a life. Never mind that I had to spend every moment of spare time waiting tables. I was so close, Del.”
Her sister had turned away, shoulders slumped. “I’m so sorry Crista, but it’ll be all right, I swear.”
“All right?” Crista seized the TV remote off the floor and flicked the television on. A blue and silver news banner flashed across the screen. “How will this be all right?” A noise tore from her throat, but she couldn’t tell if it was a laugh, a sob, or a whimper.
The newscaster’s voice resonated tinnily through the room. “DNA traces found at the crime scene are a match for Crista Pearson, age twenty-two, pictured here. Evidence suggests that Pearson was responsible for a series of other burglaries in the area targeting city officials. All patrol vehicles are on high alert, and we ask that anyone with information on this woman contact authorities immediately.”
“Turn that off—it won’t help.” Del snatched the remote from Crista, and the TV screen went dark.
“Everybody in the city knows my name, Del. They’re hunting me.”
“I know, Cris, I know! And I’m sorry, but I can’t go back and change the past!”
Crista’s breath caught in her throat. Only close friends and family called her Cris. It would be habit for Del, of course, even if they were no longer close. “I’m not cut out for this, not like you. I study computer science, not—not lawbreaking!”
“We’ll figure this out, I promise. You’ll just have to lie low for a while.”
“Am I going to have to fake my death?” Crista asked. “Like you?”
“That was—I don’t know.” The anger had gone out of Del’s voice. “I only did that because I thought it would protect me, I guess. They don’t set up manhunts for dead people, and it helped me make a life off the grid.”
“Is that my future too, then?” Crista crouched in front of the TV. She could just make out her reflection in the dark surface of the screen. “A life in hiding?”
“Just for now.” Del crouched beside Crista, and their faces were reflected side by side. They had the same thick, dark hair, the same wide brown eyes.
“It never even occurred to me,” Del murmured. “That they’d mistake my DNA for yours.”
“We’re identical twins, Del. Our DNA is the same, and I’m the only one of us who’s legally alive!”
“I know, but I didn’t think of that.” Del shook her head.
“Why?” Crista asked suddenly. “Why does this mean so much to you, that you’d live in hiding and steal for a living? You could have had a normal life.”
There was a beat of silence. “There’s no such thing as normal life in a police state, Cris. Every moment is a moment the patrols could be breaking down your door, or the Governor could be declaring something new illegal. Am I so much worse off?”
“I don’t know. But this is still more dangerous than following the rules.”
“I can’t play by their rules, Cris. It would kill me. What I have here—this is a life I can live with, a way I can seek justice. Every time I steal from the Governor, or one of his smarmy ministers, I steal back a piece of what they took away.”
Crista found herself nodding gently. She still wasn’t sure any of it had sunken in yet. That morning, she had been a normal university student with a whole life ahead of her. Now, she had no idea what to do.
“Just one sec.” Del disappeared into an adjoining room and returned holding a laptop. The model looked recent, and there wasn’t so much as a scratch on the surface.
Crista raised an eyebrow. “Who’d you steal this from?”
“The Finance Minister.”
“Oh, that’s nothing. I have one of the Governor’s cell phones in the back.”
Crista stared at the computer.
“Go on,” Del said. “It’s yours now. Just let me show you the password—and there! You’re in!”
“Does this have any...classified information on it?”
“Not anymore. I sent a copy to some friends, then wiped it. It’s good as new. I thought you’d need something to keep you busy...”
“Because I’m going to be here for a while.”
Crista scrolled through the computer’s applications, checking the processing system and internet connection.
Del cleared her throat. “I'm going to try and get some sleep, now.”
“Oh!” Crista looked up from the laptop screen. “This is your bedroom, isn’t it?”
“Don’t worry, there’s another room, just this way...”
Del led Crista into a closet with a mattress on the floor, hesitating at the threshold.
“I didn’t realize how small it was,” Del said. “You can sleep in the other room, if you prefer.”
“No, it’s fine.” Crista plopped down on the mattress, returning to her examination of the computer. Del stood for a moment, then walked away.
Crista didn’t sleep that night. Her nerves were still in shreds, and her muscles refused to relax in the alien confines of Del’s hideout. It was so strange to be living with Del again after four years with almost no contact.
They had been close, once. Crista hated thinking about that, hated the pervading sense of sadness that came with those memories. She was the rule-follower, the perfectionist, the one who tried to smooth things over. Before, they had balanced each other out, but after Del left, their lives fell out of synch. Crista didn’t know what to make of this new version of her sister. This wasn’t the girl she had lived and played with as a child. Hide and seek had been their favourite game, with Crista hiding and Del seeking. But now Del was hidden away, and Crista couldn’t seem to find the sister she had known.
Crista’s twin had left home the day after graduating high school, and had joined the city’s haphazard resistance movement shortly afterward. That wasn’t surprising, knowing Del. She had always struggled with authority, and once she sank her teeth into the idea of resisting the Governor’s regime, there had been no going back. Crista had known all along that Del hadn’t really died—her sister had called ahead about the fake death, at least—but she might as well have. They inhabited different worlds, with different worries and very different rules.
Or they had, before Crista took the blame for Del’s crimes.
On a whim, Crista checked her email account, careful to make sure it couldn’t be traced back to the hideout. She was surprised to see several new emails in her inbox. Most were ads from clothing stores or newsletters from university groups, but there was one...
Crista blinked several times to make sure it was real. That couldn’t be right. Could it?
An email from the justice minister stared up at her, unopened. Was it some sort of trap, a way to figure out her location a la phishing scam? She shouldn’t even read it, really.
Crista opened the email. It wasn’t long, just a handful of lines.
The recent progression of events has put you in a very difficult position. Our patrols will find you sooner or later, and that will not be a kind fate for you. However, we may be able to reach an agreement. We know you don’t work alone. Give us information on your associates, and we may be able to negotiate an acquittal for your own crimes.
Think quickly. The Governance is neither patient nor merciful.
Janice Lyons, Minister of Justice
The next morning, Crista appropriated one of Del’s toothbrushes and cleaned up as best she could. She hadn’t brought anything but the clothes on her back, but she was the same size as Del, so at least she had the option of changing.
Del, meanwhile, donned a pair of massive sunglasses and a surprisingly convincing wig. “I’m going to buy groceries,” she told Crista. “You want anything?”
Crista reopened the laptop, and the minister’s email glowered up at her. “No, I’m good as long as there’s something to eat.”
“Okay.” Del hovered, watching Crista from a distance. She probably didn’t know what to say. Crista didn’t either. What was there to say, when you unexpectedly moved in with the cat burglar sister you’d barely seen in years? They moved to different rhythms now.
Del left. Crista didn’t look up from the email. It stained itself into her retinas, the words bouncing around in her head like a game of pinball. Negotiate an acquittal. It would be so easy—she hadn’t even committed a real crime! A cause she didn’t believe in, a punishment she didn’t deserve. The Governance is neither patient nor merciful. There was a countdown in Crista’s head, ticking down toward zero. How long did she have until they found her, until she paid for her sister’s crimes? Del wasn’t even a part of her life anymore, hadn’t been for years. This entire mess was her fault, anyways. It would be so easy...
Del returned with a patrol truck on her heels. It hadn’t followed her, exactly, but its arrival coincided closely with Del’s. Crista waited in the front room of the store, shifting from foot to foot as Del slid through the door. Around them, the skeleton of the old convenience store loomed in flickering shadow.
“Don’t worry,” Del reassured. “It‘s just coincidence.”
“Are you sure? You could have been recognized, even with the sunglasses.”
“Relax, Cris. This place looks like every other abandoned business on the block. They won’t find us unless they have a specific reason to look here.”
Crista continued to fidget. “We should go back downstairs.”
“Do you not trust me?”
Del flinched. “They won’t find us unless they know where to look, Cris. We’re safe.”
There was the sound of another patrol car approaching, and Crista stiffened.
Del’s face crinkled, drawing harsh lines of anger. “I’m serious—you have to trust me. They have no reason to know we’re here.”
“I’m your sister, Cris. We’re in this together.”
Crista let out a long breath. “I know.”
“Now tell me, is there any reason they would find the hideout I’ve been living in undetected for months?”
Crista looked Del dead in the eye. “No.”
The two of them returned to the cellar. Del’s annoyance had waned, and she offered Crista a cookie from the bag of groceries.
“I know it’s hard,” Del told her. “I almost quit when I first started living like this. But I will find a way to fix this, Cris, and we’re going to be all right. You’re going to be fine.”
“I’m terrified, Del.” It was surprisingly difficult to admit, considering how obvious it must have been.
“I know, but we’ll deal with this together. We’re twins, right? We have each others’ backs.”
“Yeah.” Crista’s smile was weak, but it was still a smile.
While Del unloaded groceries arbitrarily into a set of cabinets mounted against the wall, Crista accessed her emails. She focused on the Justice Minister’s email one last time, then deleted it. The Governance would never have a reply, not at Del’s expense.