This is the fourth part in a serialized story. If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.
Six nights later, Avdonina quietly lifted a branch of spruce out of her way. In the darkness ahead stretched a long, silver shimmer of plexiglass fence that surrounded the compound. She slowly slid off her pack and eased into a squatting position.
Staring at the fence, she pulled out the first camouflage screen she’d made. Smoothing out the rolls and fronds, she then placed the frame and steps in the specially reinforced loops she’d sewn in. Then she pulled out the second shield, decorated to look like dirt and stone. Wrapping it tightly around herself, she made sure the steps and frame were also in place. This had better work.
She moved into the open, keeping low behind the screen. Every step was slow. The sensors in the plexiglass fence would see any sharp movements, showing her on the monitors in the security room of the compound.
As she crept forward, she tugged the edges of the screen to curl around her. By the time she reached the fence, the shield completely encased her. Leaning it right up against the plexiglass, she climbed the steps. Avdonina had made the shields as tall as the fence. As she moved toward the top, she kept the second shield wrapped tightly around her. Then she stepped out of the first shield, onto the top of the wide fence. A low intensity tingle rippled up through her feet into her body.
She stepped off the fence.
Landing, her right foot turned sharply on a rock, sending her sprawling in the lose gravel. A spire of pain lanced through her ankle up to her hip. Avdonina bit her lip to keep from crying out, tasting blood. Thankfully, her second shield stayed tightly around her. She pulled her feet up and ducked her head. The sensors had probably caught the movement, but the monitors hopefully wouldn’t show anything but dry, barren dirt the color of her shield.
Breathing softly, she lay on her side and waited. She hadn’t come this far to fail. Her ankle throbbed and her stomach rolled. She prayed she wouldn’t throw up.
When no one appeared to investigate, she slowly inched herself to a sitting position and then stood. Testing her weight on her bad ankle, Avdonina cringed. This wasn’t going to be easy or pleasant. Taking a step forward, she almost cried out again. A sweet flood of saliva filled her mouth, precursor to vomiting, and she sucked in her breath deeply, forcing the bile back down her throat. She had no time for this.
Gritting her teeth, she hobbled across the clearing until she finally slipped into the shadow of the nearest building. There, she left the shield behind. As far as she knew, the only sensors were in the fence. The camp administrators didn’t care what the children did, as long as the basic guidelines were followed and no one escaped.
Quenden was supposed to be in the third building back, second from the compound headquarters. The steps to his building proved to be difficult and in the end, she sat on her butt and lifted herself step-by-step. Creeping inside, it took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the blackness.
When she could see, she crept forward again, going from cot to cot, checking little boys faces. At last she found him, mumbling in his sleep as did many of the children. Sudden tears filled her eyes, and she shook her head savagely to chase them away. Even in sleep he couldn’t hold still, turning over twice while she watched. His own tears had left streaks in the dirt on his cheeks.
Clenching her teeth, Avdonina pulled the inhaler from her pocket. She hated to do this, but she couldn’t risk Quenden waking and accidently alerting security of their location. Dropping the mask over his nose, she squeezed the trigger. A puff of anesthetic filled the mask in a white vapor that streamed into his nose as he inhaled. She let him breath a couple more times from the mask. Then she tossed it aside and lifted her baby brother from the cot.
All at once, another boy stumbled out of an adjoining room that looked to be a bathroom. He stopped and stared at her wide-eyed. Then his mouth sprang open in a sudden yawn. Rubbing his eyes with his fists, he shuffled off to bed.
Releasing her breath in a sudden gust, Avdonina started the return trip. The shield just barely fit around her and Quenden. Each step she took with Quenden’s added weight deepened the spike of pain in her ankle. By the time she reached the fence, her whole right leg was trembling. She just might have broken something.
Shifting Quenden to her left shoulder, Avdonina placed her right foot on the first step of the shield. This was going to hurt like Billy Hell.
Bracing herself, she took a deep breath and lifted herself onto the step. Immediately, she pulled her left foot up to join the first. She almost cried out from the lance of pain, and nausea swam over her. Five times she had to put all the weight on her bad ankle. By the last time, stepping onto the top of the fence, her leg almost gave out from under her. Gritting her teeth, she forced it steady by sheer will power. She wouldn’t let any injury stop her from getting her brother to safety.
Looking down for her other shield on the outside of the fence, she found that it had blown over.
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If you don’t want to wait to read the whole story, it’s available in “Sunlit Night, Coffee and Sweet Dreams“.