Sparrow took her time leaving the tower. She'd never been in a building like it before. Everything about it seemed larger than normal, from the size of the stones making up the walls and steps, to the thickness of the wooden planks of the platforms inside. She felt very small and insignificant. As she descended the outer wooden steps from the door high up in the wall, she could see over the whole settlement. The big gates were being opened to let in a truck that looked oddly out of place next to the grassy houses. It's wheels bounced on the uneven track before it pulled up in a space beside the tower. Something didn't feel right to Sparrow. She ran down the rest of the steps and hid in the space underneath. She watched as the door of the truck opened and a man she recognised got out. It was the captain from the other night who had captured them.
Sparrow wondered if she should run back and warn Grace but it was too late - one of the tower people was already showing him up the steps. She watched their feet tramp above her head and sat there, worrying. Did Grace know the captain? Why was he able to just drive up without anyone challenging him? Maybe they were working together, in which case, Sparrow realised, they weren't safe here. Grace wasn't going to look after them, she was just going to hand them over to the enemy.
Warily, she clambered out of her hiding place and ran around to the backs of the houses where the children were still playing. Zed was the closest so she grabbed him and pulled him to the side.
"We need to get out of here."
"What? But why?"
"The captain - the guy who captured us - he's here. They're going to just give us to him."
Zed looked around in alarm.
"It's ok, he's in the tower just now, but we've not got a lot of time. I don't know when they'll come and get us."
"But how will we get out? There's always someone at the gate."
"I don't know..." Sparrow looked at the group of kids and had an idea. Maybe they'd know how to get out of the settlement without being seen. "Leave that to me. Can you go back to where we slept and grab our packs?"
Zed nodded and slipped away. She waited til there was a lull in the game and then walked into the middle of the group, "This is boring now, let's get out of here and explore outside the walls."
One of the smaller kids piped up, "We're not allowed outside without an adult."
Someone laughed, "There's a way we can get out. Not through the gate. Come on, we'll show you."
Sparrow looked around for Zed but he hadn't come back yet. Reluctantly she followed the rest of the kids along the outer wall until they came to a fenced area where some animals were grazing. The kids from the encampment hopped over the fence, but Sparrow and the others hung back, nervous of the animals.
"They won't bite!" "I thought you faced down a wild dog, anyway?" "It's just some sheep..."
Zed caught up with them, weighed down by rucksacks and bags. He handed them out, making sure Tekla and Rat got the lightest ones. "I couldn't carry everything," he explained, "I had to leave some of the tins behind."
"What do you need those for?" The other kids clustered around, hanging over the low fence.
Sparrow paused before answering. She wasn't sure if she could trust these kids, if their parents were in league with the soldiers. She shrugged her arms into her rucksack and started to climb over the fence.
"I'll tell you later. Now show me where we can get out..."
"No." One of the older kids blocked her way. "We'll only show you if you tell us what you're up to."
Sparrow scowled. This was not how it was supposed to go. She jumped off the fence and squared up to the tall boy. "Fine. I'll tell you, but only you. And you can't go blabbering about it to the grown ups."
He pulled a face,"As if..."
They moved aside, out of earshot of the others. Their hurried exchange was cut short by a cry from the other side of the animal enclosure. "Hey, what are you kids up to?"
An angry young man started crossing the grass towards them. "I've told you kids before about hanging around here - it upsets the animals..."
The kids from the settlement ran away, and Sparrow had little choice but to follow them back into the main section of the houses. The kids melted away, mentioning chores that needed doing, or food that was waiting for them. Soon they were left standing by themselves outside the house where they had stayed the night.
"What do we do now?" Zed asked.
"Later..." Sparrow hissed, as a lady came out from the house and saw them standing there.
"I expect you're hungry again. Come inside and I'll see if I can fix you up something."
They reluctantly followed her in and anxiously waited at the table while she poured soup into bowls and stacked bread on plates.
"We'll have to sneak out tonight," Sparrow whispered across to the others. "Derrin told me how to get out."
"But where will we go?" Bee asked.
"Somewhere far away from all grown ups..." Sparrow replied into her bowl of soup.
Later that night, Sparrow waited until all noise downstairs had stopped. She shook Tekla and Dee awake. Bee was sitting on the edge of her bed. Zed was checking the straps on their bags and Rat's bright eyes glittered from underneath the bed frame.
"We all ready? Good. I'll check the downstairs is clear."
The first step creaked under her feet and she winced. But no one called up from downstairs so she continued, the others following her to the top of the stairs. The room where they had eaten was in darkness; the only light came from the moonlight shining in through the window. She could hear the others fumbling down the wooden steps as she made her way to the door. The door wasn't locked, and she inched it open to glance up and down the road outside. A small brazier of fire was burning down to embers at the top of the road close to the tower.
She opened the door and then found Tekla and Rat's hands. "Stick close to me." She ushered the two small girls outside and around the corner of the house into the thin gap between the buildings. Bee, Zed and Dee followed, all trying to make as little noise as possible. It was darker here, in the shadow of the houses, and Sparrow struggled to see where she was going at first, until her eyes adjusted. She felt the others crowding behind her and ran to the next shadow. The outer wall wasn't far, and she followed the line of it until they arrived at the animal enclosure.
This part of the outer wall was made up of all kinds of scavenged materials: sheets of corrugated iron, metal panels, planks of wood, doors, and even the bodies of old cars, squashed and stacked on top of one another. Sparrow opened a door on the bottom car, and saw a small gap in the broken seat panels where she could fit through. She removed her bag and pushed it through the hole first, then wriggled through the gap, twisting her arms and legs to fit. Once through, she stretched her arm back through the hole and beckoned the others to follow. "It might be a bit tight for you, Bee, but I had room to spare so you should be ok..."
Once on the other side, the moonlight revealed a landscape of bushes and small trees. A series of small paths ran through the scrubland, perfectly sized for children. Sparrow tried to work out which way they should go while she waited for the others to emerge. In the distance she could just make out the tree line of the woods where they had come from before. She wondered if the best thing was to backtrack to where they had left the main road and then head out from there. If her dad was heading to Exchange then their best bet was to find and follow the train tracks. Which meant heading back to the city.