by Grace Bridges -
Ave hurried along ring E towards the junction of the 38th degree. The sack of food balanced between her shoulder blades as she awkwardly gripped both top and bottom.
Location E-38 was close to Smith’s stomping grounds. Too close for comfort, in fact, but his group wasn’t just any old rival gang—if she could call it that at all. He had been her friend, had wanted more too soon; so she’d removed herself. Now he had Kate to be mama to the littlies under his care. Still, she was confident he would offer leniency.
She came upon the place suddenly and almost tripped over Felicia, huddled at the outer edge of the group. Ave heaved the sack from her small frame. Many hands relieved her of the weight. Hushed cries of delight followed as they found what was inside.
Ave looked over her shoulder, then down the adjoining corridors. All was still. Finally, she allowed herself to inspect the contents of the gift.
Dried bug meat found eager mouths and hidden pockets. Below that were heavy slices of lavabush bread, which not all of the youngsters had seen before, though they well knew the seeds in their shells as a rare treat. After the bread, Ave reached into the sack again and discovered cool, round shapes, smooth to the touch. Her eyes went wide. “Fruit!”
“What is it, Ave?”
“It grew on a tree. In a garden.”
There were gasps all around at the legendary words. Fruit would not grow on the planet’s arid surface. It came only from the hydroponics departments of Avenir itself, or the same setup in one of the undersea cities. This wizard Spiner must be very rich.
She withdrew a shiny globe and held it up carefully between thumb and forefinger. Possibly the greatest treasure she had ever touched. The children oohed and aahed, but none reached for it.
Just then, shadowy figures loomed up in the hallway facing Ave. She checked to her left and right, and found they were hemmed in there too. She turned to the corridor she’d arrived by. Clear so far. Ave took a step.
Smith stepped out in front of her. “Nice of you to pay us a visit, my dear. I hope your intention is for our…mutual benefit.”
The tone of his voice was all swagger and bully. Had he really hardened so much? She stared into his eyes, trying to read him. Perhaps it was a show of strength for the benefit of his groupies.
Ave held up the sack and smiled. “We bring you fruit.”