Sparrow let her eyes adjust to the low light in the store room. She could just make out the rows of shelves and boxes. Everything was stacked in orderly piles, apart from in the far corner where Rat crouched in a muddle of dirty blankets, crumbs, torn cardboard boxes and empty packets of food.
When Sparrow had jolted awake in the morning sunlight coming in through the window, she noticed that Rat had disappeared from beside Tekla. Then Zed had appeared at the glass door. He went straight over to the window and looked outside, his eyes wide. "What is...all that?"
Sparrow joined him at the window. She looked. "That? That's just ornamental planting. It helps relax the doctors and patients and removes pollution from the air."
"It looks nice."
Sparrow shrugged. "I suppose. Teacher says it's not as useful as a vegetable garden though. That can look pretty, and help the air, and feed people. Speaking of feeding - where's your food?"
Zed tore his eyes away from the wonderful flurry of colours and shapes outside and turned reluctantly back to the hard glass of the doors and the grey metal of the ventilation shaft.
Tekla had enjoyed the crawl through the ventilation but was happy to be left with Dee while Zed showed Sparrow the supplies. Bee was by herself in the room by the locked door to the facility.
Rat glared at them both and settled further into her nest. She crunched down on a biscuit, showing her small, sharp teeth.
"I can start at the other end of the room." Sparrow decided. She reached up for the first box and set it on the floor. Zed opened it and began to set out the contents. "This is rice," Sparrow explained. "You need to cook it before you can eat it."
"You can have some of this then - we can't cook it."
"Yes you can," Sparrow said, "I'll show you. It's easy once you know how. Dad showed me."
The next box had dried broth mix in it, and the box after that had tins of chopped tomatoes. Sparrow gathered two piles of ingredients - one slightly bigger than the other. Rat watched them make their way through the boxes, creeping ever closer to see what they were up to. They both carefully pretended not to notice. While Sparrow started packing the bigger pile into an empty box, Rat peered round the end of the shelf, one of the grubby blankets draped over her shoulders.
"Where's the kitchen?" Sparrow asked.
"Where can I cook this lot?"
"I can show you all the rooms..." Zed offered.
Zed showed Sparrow through the different corridors. She carefully read the labels on all the doors until they came to one that said 'Kitchen'. "In here." She said, and pushed the door open with her foot, her arms full of the box of food supplies.
Rat scuttled in behind them. Sparrow set the ingredients out on the counter. "We're going to have soup and crackers to start, then vegetables with rice, and then biscuit cake and hot custard for pudding."
Zed watched as she pulled pots and pans out of cupboards, emptied tins and mixed things from packets and jars into a pot that looked big enough to fit Rat or Tekla in. Rat sat on the tiles by the door, making sure to keep a clear escape route.
"Can I help?" Zed asked. It looked like good fun, adding a bit of this and a bit of that, although the flames looked scary. Sparrow didn't seem to mind them though. She looked him up and down critically, then offered him a wooden spoon. "You can stir the soup. Make sure it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan." He reached over and took the spoon with his right hand. Used his left arm to steady the handle of the pan. The soup was thick, and already beginning to catch a little on the base. He scraped and stirred until it felt smooth again, while Sparrow darted from the pot next to him on the stove, to the counter and back again. Rat sniffed the air and stood up. She moved a little closer, just a little.
"You want to help too, Em?" Sparrow asked, holding out another spoon as protection. But this was too much for Rat and she darted out of the room, letting the door bang shut behind her. Sparrow shrugged and turned back to the stove. Next she bashed up some biscuits in a bowl and added powders and various syrupy things before stirring it all up and letting it gloopily drop into a big flat tin.
Zed kept stirring. Dee, Tekla, and even Bee drifted in to see how the cooking was going, but Sparrow chased them out of the kitchen when they started to want food straight away. "It's not ready yet - you'll just have to wait."
He was pleased that Sparrow didn't chase him out too. He watched as she put the finishing touches of the meal together and then got him to march up and down outside the door banging an empty pot with a clean wooden spoon. "That's what we do to let everyone know the food is ready."
The others came running at the sudden noise. In the time that he'd been outside, Sparrow had spread a clean blanket on the floor and filled cups with water from the tap. She'd stacked bowls and spoons on the counter by the soup pot and got everyone to line up in order of height.
"Smallest first." Because at school camp it had always been 'tallest first' and Sparrow was the smallest in her class so she had always been last and hated it. She eyed up Tekla and Rat before handing the first bowl of soup and a spoon to Rat. "Here you go Em, careful, it's HOT."
Rat flung the spoon on the floor where it clattered under the counter base. She raised the bowl to her mouth and took a big gulp. Her eyes widened. She dropped the bowl on Sparrow's foot and yelled something unintelligible. Sparrow hopped around the kitchen while Zed rushed to get one of the cups of water and tried to get Rat to drink some of it. She pushed him away and ran out the door. Bee demanded to know what was going on.
"Is your foot hurt?" Zed asked.
Sparrow examined her foot critically. "No. Not really. There's just soup all over my boots."
"Can we eat now, then?" Bee asked.
Sparrow filled Tekla and Dee's bowls and gave them their spoons. When it was Zed's turn she handed him the bowl then stopped, confused, with his spoon in her hand. After some thought she put the spoon in the bowl for him. He sat down on the ground and used his good hand to balance the bowl between his left arm and his chest. Bee sat down on the ground where she was and started to eat. Sparrow filled a bowl for herself and sat down on the blanket. Everyone was silent apart from the sounds of slurping soup and clinking spoons.
Zed crept into the store room after they'd all finished eating the soup. In her nest right at the back, Rat lay curled up, thumb in mouth. Tears had left tracks down her grubby face. He placed the cup on the floor near her and backed away. She sat up. He mimed putting the cup to his lips and she shook her head and pointed to her mouth, scowling at him.
"It's not hot now," he said, putting his finger in the cup to show her. Slowly, she reached out and took the cup from the floor. She stuck her tongue into the cup warily. Once she realised it wasn't going to burn her again, she tipped the cup up and drained the contents.
"Come and have some more." As Zed moved towards the door, she got up and followed him back through to where the others were. Bee looked over at the sound of the door opening, "Did you bring back trouble?"
This time Sparrow knew to give Rat her soup in a cup. She drained another cupful and held out the mug for more. Sparrow sat a bowl of rice and vegetables in front of her instead. Not waiting for a spoon, Rat scooped the sticky mess up with her hand and stuffed it in her mouth. Tekla and Dee watched in delight. Sparrow waved a spoon at Tekla, "Don't you copy her now, Tekla..."
Tekla reluctantly picked up her spoon. Sparrow filled everyone's bowls with the hot spicy rice and vegetables and once again there was silence as everyone ate.
"That was so good." Dee sighed as he sat his bowl back on the floor. Sparrow brought out clean bowls and dug into the tray she had prepared earlier. Everyone got a chunk of the biscuit cake and a ladle full of hot custard. Rat grabbed the cake with her hand and licked the custard out of the bowl, ending up with custard on her nose and cheeks. Sparrow sighed. "Does she not have any table manners?"
"We're not at a table..." Dee said through a mouthful of cake and custard.
"She's wild." Bee said.
After they'd all finished, Sparrow made everyone help tidy up. They piled the dishes in the sink and covered them with hot soapy water. "We let them soak for a bit," she said. Rat tried to slink away as Sparrow descended upon her with a damp towel. Rat scratched and snapped her teeth but Sparrow persisted, and her hands and face were eventually wiped clean. She broke free and ran out of the kitchen.
Sparrow sorted and packed the few items of food that she could carry into her camp rucksack and school satchel, while Rat sulked at the back of the room. As she adjusted the straps, an alarm went off, and she rushed out into the hall to see what was the matter. Thick black smoke came pouring out of the kitchen door. Covering her face with her sleeve, she pushed open the door and went inside, to find the smoke coming from a pan on top of the stove. Grabbing the damp towel from earlier, Sparrow advanced on the smoking pan and dropped the towel over it. This allowed her to turn the hob off. The alarm was increasing in noise and tempo, and to top it all off, the sprinkler system activated, and immediately the kitchen was covered in a fine spray of water. Sparrow cried out in frustration and dashed from the room but the sprinklers were also on out there.
The others came running up, covering their ears. "How do we make that thing stop!" Bee yelled over the noise.
"I don't know!" Sparrow shouted back.
"Everyone is getting a good clean..." Dee cupped his hands to collect the water and splashed it over his head. Tekla thought this was great fun and copied him, screwing up her eyes as the water ran down her face.
"The alarm will stop if the power to it is cut but I don't know how we do that." Zed said.
"We have to get out of here." Sparrow ran into the store room and discovered it was dry. She grabbed her bags and flung them over her shoulders, then joined the others again. They headed out through the ventilation tunnels and back into the small corridor section where they had first met. No sprinklers were on here, but the alarm was still blaring.
"This way." Sparrow said, and led them out through a maze of corridors and empty rooms until they reached a locked door. Sparrow pulled out a ring of keys from around her neck. The door was heavy, and she needed both hands to pull it open. As she did so, a shaft of sunlight fell onto the group, and they all shut their eyes in the sudden bright glow, all apart from Bee, who nevertheless felt the warmth of the sun on her face and wondered at the change.
"Where's that bright light coming from?" Dee asked, shading his eyes and squinting.
"Light? That's the sun." Sparrow laughed, then she stopped. "Haven't you ever seen the sun before?"
"It's so big..." Zed marvelled, looking around.