This one was a goner. The Organic Mechanic was positive he wouldn’t live to see the sun rise. His breathing made a rattling noise, his chest barely moving with each breath in. Offal had unhooked the tube from his arm some time earlier, giving him blood was pointless. All she could do now was to wait for him to pass on, as peacefully as she could make it.
She knew the Pup since she had been hauled up to the Citadel. He used to be so small, but he had grown up to be taller than her. So tall, but a Pup, nameless still, all wide eyes and lanky limbs, following after the Boys to learn from them. Skills, of course, necessary for them, but also toughness, hardening their hearts to survive in the Wasteland. Of all the Pups she had tended to, he was by far the clingiest, always coming to her if older Pups hurt him, always curling next to her the nights she slept with the Pups. The smartest as well, learning signs fast and bringing her interesting rocks or pieces of wood for her piercings. He loved to watch her carve them, had even tried to learn, but he was pretty bad at it. Her silence didn’t bother him, he would talk for hours about the things he saw with the War Boys, the stuff he learned. He wanted to be a Lancer, he said proudly, and he would have become one, if the tumours had not started to appear so early.
At first, they were small and scattered across his back, pretty harmless. But the worst of them was unseen, devouring his organs, sucking the marrow out of his bones, thinning his blood. Others tumours had started appearing on his body, but they were afterthoughts, finishing touches, as he was already dying, his tall frame withered, his eyes dull, his voice weak. Too weak to even walk without help. He had been discarded to the Shed to die, what use was a dying Pup to the Immortan ? Offal came to check on him as often as she could, sharing her water with him, even blood sometimes, it helped a little, or just resting beside him, listening to his failing voice as he narrated the adventures he would have when he had grown up. Cold fingers softly touching his face, wiping off his tears when the pain was too great.
But tonight was his last. Of course he was condemned, he had been since the day he had been unable to stand up. Noone had came to say good bye to the dying Pup, his miserable agony was all but chrome, and the Gates would never open for him. There was only Offal, first and last care-giver, in the deserted Shed. The Organic Mechanic had left with a dismissive shake of the head. It was not like her first time tending to a dying Boy, but the Pups…the Pups were still pure, unsoiled by the life in the Wasteland, and having one dying had always her heart ache. And this one, this one was hers, both her child and her brother. She had soothed his nightmares, listened to his hopes, congratulated him when he had been taken apprentice by a Lancer. She was supposed to see him grow into an awesome War Boy, take a name and ride into battles alongside his brothers. Not die alone, forsaken by his brothers and god.
A louder rattling noise woke her from her daydream. He was awake, his eyes focused for the first time in days. She turned to face him, sitting on the side of his bunk. “Aqua cola” he whispered, his voice raspy. Water was always the first thing he asked for when he opened his eyes. She opened her canteen and held his head up. He managed to take a few sips before choking. Coughing was painful, tears streaming down his cheeks, the rattling noise even louder than before. All she could do was to run a cold hand over his sternum, his heart beating like crazy against her palm. The fit passed, he asked “I’m dying, right ?”, voice flat. Of course he knew. Offal nodded, eyes screwed shut, face twisted with sadness. A trembling hand came to rest on her cheek, clammy with fever, and motioned her to touch her forehead on his. Then he kissed her brow. “That’s okay. Don’t cry.” The meagre strength he had left ran out and his hand left her face. She caught it with hers and replaced it on her cheek. “Not fair” she signed, biting her lips. She mustn’t cry, if not for her, for him. She had to be strong, for now.
His chuckle transformed into a coughing fit, his fragile frame shaking against her. “That’s true.” he wheezed “I was supposed to become a great Lancer, and strong enough to hold you in the air.” His smile wavered, then broke. He took a shaky breath “I don’t want to die” tears running down his face again. Her own vision clouded, she caressed his cheek and gently placed her lips on his forehead. “I’m scared, you know. The Gates won’t open for me” he sobbed. She moved down, and kissed his eyes shut, humming softly to sooth him. His hand on her cheek grabbed her desperately “Don’t leave me, okay ? I need you”. He sounded so young and small and terrified, reminding her of his nightmares, often a dark lonely place. She nodded gently, her forehead pressed to his. Immortan Joe himself could come, she wouldn’t leave the Pup’s side. Offal signed “friends” on his torso, a circle over his sternum. The first sign he had learnt, so long ago. He chuckled weakly “Yeah” and took a deep breath “I’ll rest now, just for a while. Please hold my hand”
She moved back up, his hand clutched in hers, fighting back tears as he closed his eyes. His other hand moved and signed “good night”. She saw the small Pup he used to be sign this before joining a pile of his brothers, so long ago. She stifled a sob, holding his hand tightly, and started to hum instead. An old melody half forgotten. He relaxed a bit and started to hum in unison, a faint smile on his lips. As time passed, his voice grew weaker and weaker, until it stopped completely. His chest kept on moving for a while, then it stopped as well. Offal ceased humming and the Shed was silent.
As the sun rose, Offal had not moved from his side, still clutching his hand. It had grown cold hours ago, but she couldn’t bring herself to let him go. Tears had ran down her face, dried and ran again, but her face was dry when people walked into the Shed. Another busy day ahead of her, it seemed. She eventually replaced his hand by his side and stood up, looking at his face for the last time. He seemed younger in the light, the sickness had painted dark rings under his eyes, his unpainted skin was wan, almost blue at the finger tips. Don’t cry, you have work to do, she chided herself. Later. Offal straightened her back and walked towards the Organic Mechanic.
The day was busy indeed, and she had little time to think, but as the night settled down again, she found herself with nothing to occupy her mind. She walked aimlessly in the tunnels, head foggy, until she reached one of her favourite hiding place, the mouth of an old rusty pipe near the ceiling. She climbed there and rolled into a tight ball, finally feeling safe. All her emotions came rushing, the pain, the despair, the anger as well. Her face twisted and she wrenched a painful sob out of her chest. Others poured out of her, her thin frame shaking violently. She had no more tears to shed, but the aching of her heart was agony. Her head thrown back, she opened her mouth wide and screamed, howled like a lonely beast. In her mind, at least. No sound escaped her throat, even now.