There was a note neatly propped up at his factory work bench and Tepic opened it, read it slowly, read it again then folded it, placing it inside his shirt and began to pack the tins. Several hours later as the clocks struck eleven in the morning he stopped lifting the tins, took out the note, read it again, then approached Mr Popplefot’s desk. He handed him the note and after reading it, the man handed it back and nodded to him. The boy slipped the paper back to it’s hiding place and slowly trudged out of the factory gates, turning towards the hospital.
As he entered the hospital he heard Miss Bookwork and Canergak exchanging greetings. He stopped behind the man and when Miss Bookworm spied him she let out his name as an exclamation, to which he replied rather quietly with a dull “ello”.
The man turned and studied the dispirited boy before him with his cold, metallic eyes then began to question him, asking if he was trying to get out of their deal and playing on the pity of others. Tepic looked blankly at him, the words not seeming to make much sense to him in his dazed condition. He heard Miss Bookworm say something about someone being sick, but he was not sure who she was talking about, maybe it was Miss Rouse, and she was worse? Unable to think clearly, he resorted to repeating the words that had been drummed into him at the factory.
“work is good, it has it’s own reward….. Mr Popplefot looks after his workers and treats them well….”
The adults argued over something, but half asleep on his feet as he was, he was not clear what they were on about until there was a mention of Miss Rouse and being able to see her. That roused him and he followed the man slowly to the lift and up to the upper stories. In the room with the large, barrel like devices that he had seen before, Canergak stopped and said he would let Tepic see Miss Rouse for a few moments. The boy perked up, standing straighter, peering in at the lid lifted to reveal the mouse lady, still unconscious and heavily bandaged. It was clear her wounds were serious, she was missing an arm and leg, and her head was swathed in bandages. He stared at his injured friend intently, continuing to look as though through the metal as the lid was lowered back into place, resting his hands on the cool surface.
“is…….. is…….?” he stammered.
“She has not awoken.” spoke Canergak, his voice as precise and neutral as usual, “Her breathing is steady but shallow, her wounds have closed.”
“is……….. is she gonna die?” Tepic gasped out in a whisper.
“She has hope now,” the man stated, then began “however…” before he was interrupted. The boy had flung himself at the man, hugging him tight and crying “Thank you! Thank you!”
The man stepped backwards in surprise, looking down at the by who had fallen to his knees and was now supplicating to him and exclaimed !I….. what is this!?”.
“thank you! Don’t let em turn it off, i’ll work harder, i will! I promise!” the boy begged.
Behind them was a stifled sound from Miss Bookworm, as if she was trying not to laugh in this serious situation. Mr Canergak looked between the boy and the Militia Lieutenant, obviously wondering if he was being set up for something, but unable to find any clue he harrumphed once and said “Very well, they will not turn it off before she recovers.”
The boy slumped, exhausted by the events, and slowly toppled over, curling up on the floor next to the iron lung, one hand stretched out to rest on it’s stand even as the man was speaking again, something about the factory owner and checking up. Tepic mumbled in his sleep “….. Mr Popplefot is a good boss…”