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Perihelion

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They’re down to less than a liter of fuel when she spots a derelict on the horizon. It could be a trap, but the wind is relentless and stinging, and any tracks disappear as soon as they’re made.

Besides, they have no other options.

They stash the car nearby, hefting the camo nets over it and mounding sand around the tires. The derelict is an old military vehicle, so long in the brutal sun that the olive-green paint is only visible on the lowest parts of the shady southern side. They check it over without speaking, she eyeing the horizon with her scope, he slowly circling the wreck with his radiation detector. Luck is with them, for once: it’s clean, and no one seems to be coming.

The main cabin has been thoroughly looted, but Max somehow knows about a compartment in the back. It’s jammed shut, so he treks back to the car and returns with the crowbar. The frame of the vehicle is twisted, the compartment door caught in the violence. They work at it for half the afternoon, and just as Furiosa is ready to give up, there’s an unbearable metal squeal, and Max painfully wrenches it open.

Inside is a wealth of treasure: suddenly, it’s very obvious this was a fully loaded supply truck that never arrived at its destination. They stare at it, disbelieving, and then he’s tearing at one of the boxes, pulling out two white cans and shoving one at her. “Drink,” he croaks.

She’s so out of it that she doesn’t remember how to pop the lid, and in the end, she just stabs the top with the claw of her prosthesis. The water is warm and stale and faintly metallic, but maybe, just maybe it’s not contaminated.

He retrieves the car and they load up. There’s no guzzoline in the truck’s tank - it’s old enough that anything would have evaporated long ago - but there are, mercifully, miraculously, several hermetically sealed cans in the back of the cargo hold that Max recognizes immediately, letting out a huff of relief.

The fuel isn’t perfect, but it exists and it’s better than the nothing they’re otherwise about to have. They clean the truck out, packing everything they can into the car and then bundling the rest to tie on the roof. There’s everything they need: fuel and food and water, plus a handful of medical supplies. There’s even goods they can trade: uniforms, extra blankets, long-dead batteries that could be salvaged if they can’t be rehabilitated.

The water is the most immediate prize. Their barrels are still half full from the sour spring five days past, and she's set to save them for the radiator until he brings a handful of white tablets from one of the medical kits. “Should work,” he mutters, and counts them out into the barrels. “Now we wait.”

It's almost a celebration, but they're both so exhausted that they can't do anything more than drink some of the canned water. He takes a pair of large gray ration kits, and peers at the tiny writing on its side. Whatever it means, he shrugs to himself without comment, lost in his own inscrutable decision-making. He hands one of the packets to her. “Smells bad, don't eat.”

She opens one of the smaller packets in her kit. It's not obviously rotten but none of it smells good, and it feels like her stomach is caught in her throat.

He sees her hesitation, and frowns. “Maybe...wait?” He’s already tucking in, squeezing some unidentifiable goo into his mouth. Just watching him makes her gut roil, and she hands him her kit without comment. If he gets sick in a few hours, they’ll both know, and he’s obviously fine with that. She contents herself with her can of water.

He’s been driving all day, and he’s the one who almost threw his back out prying open the truck, so by wordless agreement, she takes first watch.

It’s been a long string of days. She doesn’t know what they would have done if they hadn’t found the derelict truck and its supplies, and her missing hand clenches in anxiety. There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing, and the scope and scale of the emptiness is beginning to overwhelm her.

Max has been better since he cast the Glow’s poison from his body, and her phantom pain has subsided to an almost tolerable level. On the other hand, even though he’s got a clamp he can use on the gas, the uneven terrain requires more shifting, and the clutch is hell on his bad knee. She’s still moving under her own power, not grimacing and limping into bed at night like he is, so she shuts her mouth and tells herself she could always feel worse.

Everything is okay right at this moment, but it’s so close to not being okay that finding the derelict doesn’t feel like a victory at all. She hates riding like this, teetering on the edge. They haven’t found any hint of the people who have the satellites; they haven’t found any hint of people anywhere.

She's starting to forget why they're looking for the satellite people at all. Her back hurts from sitting in the car all day, her head hurts from the heat, and more than anything, she feels like shit and she is just so fucking tired.

The stars slide around the sky, the satellites mocking her in their silent transit. There are three of them, and she’s been watching for so long she knows exactly when to look. She and Max have both been running on fumes, so she concentrates on trying to burn her headache away with sheer frustration, and lets him sleep. She climbs on the roof of the car, sitting cross-legged so she’ll fall and wake herself up if she starts to doze.

She should be better at this. She and Max set out on a specific quest with the specific goal of finding the people who operate the satellites. Cheedo hopes they’ll have medicine. Toast and Capable hope for radios, for tech from Before that can be adapted to Citadel use. It’s no different than a long run to Bartertown: she’s running lighter, faster, with only Max beside her instead of a full crew, driving his sleek black car instead of a powerful War Rig.  Otherwise, the intent is exactly the same.

She’s a vehicle, and she’s been sent out with an explicit directive. She should be concentrating on the horizon, scouring the Waste for tracks, investigating any wandering trader and makeshift village. She might not have black grease on her forehead or the chains at her waist, but she can’t scrub the Imperator from her bones. As an Imperator, she knew how to find whatever she needed, and she should know how to find things now.

Instead, she's sloppy and propped up by her gun on the roof of the car while Max sleeps, her entire body in revolt. She doesn’t remember the last time she’s had more than a mouthful of food, a swallow of water that didn’t turn her stomach. She can’t keep up with Max; she doesn’t have the stamina or the drive for survival. She’s failing the girls and she’s failing herself, and it burns in her throat.

He usually sleeps in fits and snatches in whatever quiet moments he can, but he’s apparently as exhausted as she is, because he doesn’t woozily stagger out of the bedroll until the sky has started to lighten. He makes an annoyed noise at her, presumably for letting him skip his watch, and she almost punches him. Can’t he be even the least bit grateful?

He gestures to a rations kit, but all she’s interested in is not being awake, and she’s out before she even hits the blanket.

It’s close to noon by the time she crawls back to consciousness, and if she wasn’t buried under the weight of her own fatigue, she’d be furious with him for letting her sleep so long. He’s on the hood of the car, lounging back against the windshield with his bad leg propped up on the scoop, and working his way through another bag of rations. He raises an eyebrow and offers her some of the contents; she shakes her head. Regardless of their age, the rations are clearly not having any ill effect on him, but whatever was in the sour spring is still running through her system like bad brake fluid, and the thought of eating is wholly unbearable. She settles for a little more of the canned water.

He holds out a packet of what might be crackers. Her human hand curls protectively against her stomach, not bothering to answer.

He gives her an inscrutable look. “Could stay here, rest up a bit.”

It sounds excellent, but they’re not so flush on supplies that they can afford to stay in one place. “We should go.”

He shrugs. “South, then?”

She honestly doesn’t care, but it’s the direction they’ve been heading, so that’s where they’ll go.

She doesn’t mean to sleep in the car, but she does. The bouncing feels like hell, but if she sleeps, she doesn’t feel that bad, and even more than that, she’s still exhausted; she passes out and dammit, he lets her. She only wakes up when they slow, Max easing the car under a low outcropping for the night. “Hey,” he says quietly. “You okay?”

She wants to say yes, to tell him to fuck off, but it’s not his fault, and if she’s honest: yeah, she really does feel like shit, but she’s not so incapacitated that she can’t be blisteringly annoyed with herself. Someone should keep watch, but they’re decently hidden, and anyway, they haven’t seen anyone for days. He fusses, bundling her into the bedroll and touching her forehead and cheeks as he checks for fever.

The desert’s been scorching them all day, and she rolls her eyes. He can’t tell a damn thing.  

“Think something was hot?” she asks as he settles in, wrapping himself around her. The memory of him shuddering and burning looms in her mind, and her phantom arm gives a sharp twinge in response.

“Checked,” he reminds her, humming against her hair. “Been a long drive. Too much sun. It’ll pass.”

The next morning, he’s up long before she is, and as soon as she’s awake, he hands her a cup of thin broth. “This’ll help,” he says firmly, and adds, “Staying put today.”

Despite herself, she keeps the soup down, and even manages a few crackers from the ration kits. He looks so expectant and pleased that she nibbles her way through a few more bits; it’s all so sweet, much sweeter than the bleak Wasteland fare she’s used to.

They spend the day sleeping. She hears Max get up a couple times. She thinks he’s organizing their supplies, checking the car, or just puttering. He pokes her periodically, feeding her bits of rations and sips of water before letting her drop back off. By nightfall, she’s feeling something approaching better.

They’re packing up the car when he finally says, “Think we should go east.”

She tilts her head.

“Haven’t found anything.” He frowns. “Getting scarce.”

Getting scarce? Everything’s been scarce for days, more days than she wants to count. It feels like they could drive south forever and still keep going, and it’ll only ever be endless, endless scrub.

“East,” she agrees. The sun will be in their eyes, but they’ll sleep during the hottest part of the day anyway. Otherwise, the engine will overheat, and they don’t have so much water they can spare it. There’s been nothing south so far, and none of the places in the west had any information about the satellites.

East seems like the next logical direction.