Mama Hen didn't have many friends. None really.
Such was the unfortunate consequence of being the lady in charge. To a small village of women and children, she was nanny, teacher, president and general, but she wasn't a friend to any of them. Its not that the seventy one year old wasn't loved. She was quite loved by everyone in The Nest -- and well respected by her peers, especially the original gals, like Doc and Shirl, who'd worked tirelessly by her side to transform that rundown Nabisco Biscuit factory into a shelter for the women and children of the Chelsea Biohazard Zone. Mama Hen was the boss of The Nest. And a boss makes the difficult decisions for the better of the whole, even if that alienates those who'd call you a friend.
"The younguns are hungry," a curvy woman ambled atop gorilla's feet as she compared a wall of canned goods with her clipboard overflowing with spreadsheets.
"We're all hungry, Shirl, but you know better than anyone we can't start dipping into the cans. Our harvest has to last us through December."
"There was no harvest, Lorraine." With respect came the right to address Mama Hen by her real name. Shirl continued, "The soil is dead. And the greenhouse barely grew anything."
"Has the Hoofr surplus come in?"
"Yeah -- just corn though. It helps. But it's half of what they usually donate. They'd never say it, but the Hoofrs are reluctant to keep giving us their extras if we keep putting Klaw and Tuskt boys out in the Zone."
"We put Hoofr boys out there too."
"Yeah, but Hoofr boys don't eat the Klaw and Tuskt boys. This is going to ruffle your feathers," Shirl paused and both women smirked. When one has actual feathers to ruffle, certain sayings carry a newfound irony. She continued, "But we need those stolen supplies back."
"Yes. I know that. And I'm working on it," Mama Hen looked at the meager foodstock then back at Shirl, "For the time being, lets stick with the meal plan as is. It's not much, but we've been hungrier. Keep half the Hoofrs surplus to grind into cornmeal. The other half add to our perishable stock."
"You're the boss," Shirl returned to her clipboard.
Mama Hen tucked her broad chicken's wings behind her as she walked the length of the old cookie factory storeroom. She remembered how the empty shelves and cobwebbed crates once overflowed with government rations, canned food, cleaning supplies and paper goods. Now only a tiny section remained with picked over provisions and bug bitten vegetables. These were hard times in the Chelsea Biohazard Zone. Mama Hen pushed past the heavy door leading to the children's floors of The Nest. She was immediately caught in a flood of younguns as they dashed between classes.
"Hello, Mama Hen!"
Zook children with spiny lizard crests and furry badger tails and animal eyes of every color darted under foot. One boy stopped to give the cherished leader a tender hug. It was the snake boy, Amenei.
Mama Hen carressed his bumpy green scalp with her wing, "You are very affectionate, Amenei."
He remained quiet before looking up at Mama Hen. His slitted yellow snake's eyes met her, quite human, blue eyes. He softly whispered, "I didn't mean to make you angry, Mama Hen."
"I know, dear heart." She smiled down at the reptilian youngun.
"Is the strange man alright?"
"I'm going now to check on him. I'll tell him you said hello." A bell sounded and Mama Hen brushed the sensitive boy's head with the soft feathers of her wing. "Remember, though. The strange man you found is our secret. Don't tell anyone. Not even your teachers. Right?"
"Yes'm, our secret."
Amenei unlatched himself from Mama Hen and dashed to class. She smiled as the last of the Zook younguns closed the classroom doors behind them. She continued her march towards the hospital floor, pausing along the way to deftly dispose of crumpled litter into a recycle bin using only her bare foot. Mama Hen allowed the nostalgia to carry her from the pantry and through the recently completed school hall.
The generation of younguns presently answering roll call would be the first to matriculate with a full twelve years of schooling -- before the matured Eves would be assigned roles in The Nest and the Adams forced to find their own path in the Zone among the warring clans.
She imagined gentle Amenei among the beasts...
Mama Hen shook the unfortunate notion out of her head. There were few Zook women who survived those first hellish years in the Biohazard Zone -- the starvation, the BURP, the rape gangs. Mama Hen had policies in place to ensure the survival of not just The Nest, but of the Zook population aross the entire Chelsea Biohazard Zone. And despite starvation and disease and internal strife, the Zooks had thrived -- for the most part.
Mama Hen climbed a flight of stairs and pushed through a wide swinging door marked with a red cross. Young Zook women rested in crowded rows of hospital beds. Some were bandaged from lacerations. Some wore casts, the result of blunt trauma. They were the wounded infantry in a war Mama Hen had hoped to avoid. The soldiers called out good morning to their matron. She nodded in return but didn't linger at their bedside.
Instead she stepped past a folding screen and towards a door marked private. She knee'd the door three times and it cautiously opened. A young nurse, her face covered in sapphire fish scales, peeked from the within.
"Oh? Mama Hen? We weren't expecting you. Doc isn't--"
Mama Hen pushed her way into the barren room, "That's quite alright. I'm not here to see Doc. I'm here to visit with our ... guest." Mother Hen regarded the sole hospital bed in the empty room. "You can leave us, Alicia."
"But Mama... Doc said I wasn't--"
Mama Hen's wing span flared open and she curtly addressed the nurse, "Tend to the wounds of your sisters outside."
"But the patient hasn't been--"
"I will not ask twice."
"Yes ma'am," Alicia's scaled cheeks flushed from blue to orange. She added, "I'm sorry." and quickly excused herself.
Mama Hen turned towards the patient. He was propped upright in bed and wore an opaque quarantine cone over his head. The curious attire in which he'd arrived, a fanciful tuxedo coat, striped leggings and bowler hat had been laundered and repaired. They rested over the back of a chair at his bedside. The patient began to clap his hands with a staggered sleepy rhythm.
"Wow..." Dandy Darkly slurred through his plastic hood, "You shound like a real bishhh lady..."