The last few days had been swelteringly hot and the grown-ups were saying that it was likely to stay that way for at least another week.
Attack the Flag was a great game but, between mouthfuls of sandwich, it was unanimously felt that the continuing heat was making it hard work. Nobody around the table wanted to play it tomorrow.
Inevitably, the boys turned to Finny for inspiration.
None of their usual pastimes that she half-heartedly suggested were greeted with much enthusiasm and, to be honest, Finny didn't really fancy them either. It was just too hot.
It was then that inspiration struck in the half-formed, hazy idea that had originally come to Finny after waking up from a nightmare she couldn't now remember. But the idea itself had taken root.
"What about," She looked at the three dusty, crumb-flecked faces enjoying their cheese sandwiches. "We go on an adventure?"
In the ebbing golden glow of the setting sun, the four of them sat on the uneven kerb outside the orphanage's main door, idly watching Worms peeling back pieces of cooling tarmac with a stick.
As the stick twisted and worked away at removing the centuries-old tar, suggestions for possible adventure destinations arrived with enthusiasm,
were picked apart with logic and then discarded with sleepy resentment.
Then there was only the sound of Worms' stick scratching at the road surface as the heat went out of the day and the tarmac hardened against the stick's sticky tip.
Finny waited for another suggestion to come. When it didn't, she slowly shifted position. Stretching backwards and supporting herself by bracing her arms against the sidewalk.
Three heads turned to her, and even the scratching stick stopped. Finny paused, squinting against the low hanging sun.
"How about we... Go to Hope Springs?"
The boys stared at her. They all knew of Hope Springs, a small town about a ten-minute drive south-west of Flag. They knew this because grown-ups like Joe talked about it sometimes.
They also knew that Overseer Taiyoko, Nurse Maisie and the Mrs Doctor Lady lived there... Oh, and someone Joe only ever called 'that bloody woman', but only under his breath.
However, none of the four of them had ever been there.
In fact, none of them had ever been outside of New Flagstaff in their lives. Partly because they weren't allowed to.
If they tried, then they would be turned back by the Union guards who controlled all the ways in and out of the city.
And if they pushed it then they would be held and 'investigations would be made' and they would soon be in all kinds of trouble with the orphanage. That was one reason.
But the main reason had a lot to do with the gangs, bears, giant wasps, coyotes and all the other things that could kill you very quickly if you left the relative safety of the city.
But the idea of it, of going 'outside' sparkled behind juvenile eyes. That, sadly, only lasted for a very few seconds before reality set in. Casper was the first to voice a concern.
"The guards won't let us go outside."
Finny was ready for this. She had been thinking about this whole thing for most nights since her dream at Kidsmass.
It was only in those special few minutes before the dorm went quiet and she drifted off to sleep under her blankets, but in those minutes,
she had come up with every objection she could think about and had applied eight-year-old logic in defeating them. So, yes, Finny was ready for this.
"They won't see us. We could go through the sewers an' come out by where the Underfolk live."
Almost all the kids knew the sewers of New Flagstaff pretty much as they knew the streets above.
You were usually safe as long as you were in a group and you all had big sticks, preferably with nails in the end, to kill the more persistent rats.
It was, unfortunately, true that Worms knew the sewers better than most, being that lots of dead things ended up there. As for the Underfolk, they would leave you alone if you left them alone.
Sometimes, though, some grown-up or other would go after them with guns and then the sewers would be super unsafe until it all blew over.
"It'll take ages, we'd never get back in time for lock-up."
The doors to the orphanage closed at sunset. Anyone getting back after that wouldn't be allowed out again for a week or two, depending on how late they were.
"If we go dead early, right after breakfast, we will. I figured it would take us about two hours to walk there. We could stay for ages and still make it back.
An' I've got a watch, so we'll know what time it is all the time."
"What about work?"
Finny rolled her eyes.
"Duh, we go on our day off." That would be the day after tomorrow. For Finny, the timing couldn't be more perfect.
"What about food an' stuff?"
"Easy. Keep your four ock-lockers sammich from the day before an' make another one at breakfast. Edna will let us take some water from the kitchen."
Then it came. And it was Casper, of course, who put voice to the biggest question. The one that Finny had laid awake most often thinking about.
"What about all the bears an' wasps' an' stuff?"
Finny checked behind to make sure nobody was hanging around at the top of the orphanage steps.
She leaned in, and the three boys followed suit until their heads were close enough to hear Finny whisper.
"I know where I can get a gun."