by Grace Bridges -
Ave rested against the wall with the little ones piled on and around her. Their slumbering breaths formed a restful haze in the dimly-lit service corridor.
A vibration in the floor brought Ave to full wakefulness. She tensed, and the children around her shifted in their sleep. They knew the drill.
Ave listened a moment more, then burst into action with a shake that roused all the babes. Within seconds they sat upright, watching her for instructions.
“E-38. Go!” The tousled heads hustled away towards the prearranged meeting spot. Ave made sure they were all out of sight before she tucked herself into the tiny niche behind a support pylon.
The footsteps grew louder. She still had to concentrate extra hard to make them out; the visitor intended stealth. Ave’s heart hammered. She squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. Then, like the turn of a page in an old book, peace washed over her with the silent song of a whale from the red planet far below.
She drew herself up to full height, breathed slow and deep, and opened her eyes just in time to spot a smallish shadow pass her hiding place. An orphan from one of the gangs? She was bigger. She could take him.
Ave darted out and grabbed the impostor from behind. Pinned at both elbows, he squealed and struggled. She dragged him back to the nearest light source, a small panel of blinking diodes. “What are you doing here?”
As she roughly turned him to face her, she realised he was hugging a bulging sack. Her eyes found his face. “Gavin!”
He relaxed in her grip. “Ave. Don’t hurt me. I brought food.”
“For us?” Ave boggled at the sack.
“I know you need it. The whales told me. I can get it.”
Ave gulped. “You’re not stealing from the wizard, are you?”
“No, silly. Spiner knows.” He laughed, then peered up and down the empty hall. “So where are your kids? Isn’t this your night zone?”
Ave looked away. “Not any more.”