"Are you a City kid?"
Sparrow nodded slowly. This appeared to please the captain, who sat down on a chair and leaned in. "Have they abandoned the city?"
"They all left in the evacuation," said Sparrow. "We're the only ones left behind."
"How many of you are there?"
Sparrow told him. The captain seemed surprised at so many children alone, but was relieved to find out that the others were younger.
"Where are they? We should bring them here, don't you think?"
"We could look after them properly, make sure you all get some food..."
Sparrow thought about this. Their meagre store of food was already running low, and the kids were always hungry. It would be nice to be sure of a good meal. But she didn't like the way they'd all been grabbed and hauled about, and she didn't like the thought of that happening to Tekla and the others. She shook her head firmly.
The captain's expression didn't change, but he stood up and walked away a short distance to confer with another of the adults. The three children looked round at one another, and held each other's hands tightly. After some time, the captain came back over.
"Put them in one of the houses for now. We can always find the others later."
They were dragged to their feet again and taken away to one of the semi ruined buildings. A hole in the wall served as a doorway, and the floor inside was strewn with rubble and bits of rubbish that they had to pick their way through. A flickering lamp cast jumping shadows across the room. There was no furniture, apart from a table with one leg propped up by a brick. Sparrow took all this in with one glance, before they were marched through a corridor open to the sky to a small dark room. They were shoved inside and the door shut and locked behind them. Sparrow banged her fists on the door in frustration.
"What do we do now?" Zed asked.
"There's a draught coming from over here." Bee said. Sparrow fumbled around in the darkness until she bumped into Bee. The older girl flinched away. "Over there, behind me."
Sparrow shut her eyes and counted to forty under her breath. When she opened her eyes again, she could see a faint light coming from the corner of the room. She went over to investigate. Near the top of the wall there was a small hole leading to outside. Some bricks and rubble lay on the floor underneath where they had fallen in. Sparrow tried to reach the hole but she was too short, and she just scraped her fingers on the rough wall.
"Bee! Come over here, will you?" Sparrow pulled a reluctant Bee over to the corner. "Reach up with your hands and I can see if you are tall enough."
Bee felt her way up the wall but her hands still fell short of the hole.
"What about standing on the bricks?" Zed suggested.
Sparrow grabbed a couple of bricks from around the room and stacked them one on top of another. She tried to guide Bee's foot onto the top brick, but Bee shook her off, "Get out of the way - I can do it myself."
Bee wobbled on top of the bricks, but used the wall to steady herself. She stretched up as far as she could reach, and her fingers felt the rough edges of the hole. "These stones feel like I could take some away and make the hole a bit bigger..."
"Pass them down to us then, or they'll make too much noise." Sparrow and Zed stood by, ready to take the stones that Bee worked out of the wall. They placed them carefully on the floor.
"That's enough," Sparrow said, "It looks big enough now."
"How are we going to get out of here through there? It's too high up for the two of you to get to, and I can't climb up there myself..." Bee protested.
"If I help Zed climb onto your shoulders, he can get up there, and I'll go after. Then you pile the bricks up and stand on top of them, and we help pull you up."
"No! The two of you alone won't be able to pull me up. You two should help me get up there, and then Zed can get on your shoulders and I'll help him up, and then Zed and me can help you up."
Sparrow folded her arms and frowned. She realised that Bee's was the better idea, but didn't want to admit it. Bee took her silence for acceptance, and started to clamber up the wall, jamming her hands into the gap and hauling herself up. Zed instinctively moved forward to help. "What do you want me to do?"
"Give me a punt up."
Zed looked over at Sparrow, "I'll need your help too."
She stepped up to the pile of rubble and stood next to Zed. The two of them made a cradle for Bee's foot with their hands. Bee stepped into it and they lifted her up as far as they could. There was a muffled cry from Bee as she banged her head on the top of the hole. "Ugh, it's hard to get through."
"At least if you can get through, then we know Zed and me will too." Sparrow said, looking up at the hole critically. "You need to bend your head down a little more, and tilt your right shoulder down."
Bee made the adjustments and disappeared from sight. Her arms soon reappeared, followed by her head, "Quick, Zed - I can't tell if there's anyone around up here."
"I told you one of us should have gone first," Sparrow said.
Zed stepped up on top of the bricks and rubble and reached up for Bee's hands. Sparrow pushed him from below. Bee grabbed hold of Zed's arms and hauled him up through the hole. Sparrow was next, and soon all three of them were outside again.