The warpups call her the Allmother. When she passes by they reach out into the air and try and grasp at something she can’t see, pulling it back into their chests. Furiosa doesn’t know who taught them to do that— though she knows it was probably the Dag.
Capable and Toast were not ones for faith or wishing or Valhalla, Cheedo broke her glass skin and found solid rock, but the Dag found faith in the green place. Or what was left of it.
In that little green handbag that she clutched to her belly.
“Tell the Dag to stop showing the warpups that,” she tells Capable, one morning. “It’s an old gesture, and it’s not theirs.”
Capable, is, of course, frustratingly level-headed. “We could teach them a new one?”
Furiosa tenses, all that patient hatred has built up in her shoulders and made her muscles feel like the rig’s metal hide. She mutters, neither confirming, or denying, but goes back to hauling the car graveyard apart for scrap metal.
She was all of twelve when they were taken away from the land of Many-Mothers. Four girls and two mothers. Two hadn’t survived the trip back to the Citadel, and one had died a week after arriving. Furiosa had lived for twenty years.
For a brief, very brief moment, out on the war rig in the desert with Max and the brides and the not-warboy, Furiosa had felt an almost physical ache in her gut. For a moment she’d been filled with an almost-sour ache in her chest, like perhaps it hadn’t been twenty years and perhaps she hadn’t had to cut off an arm and perhaps she hadn’t had to watch new wives get taken every few years because eighteen was far too old to be a perfect wife for a perfect son.
That ache had been extinguished almost as quickly as she had felt it.
The green-place was rotten. The vast majority of the Many-Mothers and the Vulvalini: dead, raided, raped, and traded.
‘Allmother’ was a leader, and a decision maker, and a mother. Respected by all clans of the Vulvalini. A protector, both hard and soft, killer and life-giver.
Furiosa was only half of those things.
The warpups are no longer warpups. At first she doesn’t know what to call them. The only ones that remain in the Citadel when the brides and the Vulvalini take it are those that were too sick to ride with Immortan Joe or too young to get their face-markings. They all still have half-life. They still get sick, still need blood, though this time freely given by those that are too weak or young or old or broken to do a normal day’s shift. Like many, the warboys still have growths on their necks and armpits and thighs that will kill them rather sooner than later.
“Dismantle the lifts,” she tells the warboys. “Melt the metal down and start digging into the cliffs.”
A hundred voices yell, “Yes, Allmother!”
The brand on the back of her neck itches.
The Dag and Cheedo help the pups wash the white from their skin and the black from around their eyes, but this only reveals the scarring underneath. Even the youngest pups have great lashes and markings from chains.
Every single person in the Citadel still wears Immortan’s markings. Some scratch and peel them off. Others carve new tattoos and get new brands over the old ones. Furiosa keeps sheering her hair short, and wears it like one would wear a bloody crown.
That helps, a bit. Helps Furiosa remember that the pups, too, were property once. And if she could protect the wives, she can protect the pups.
Now, when the pups rush forward to take a heavy piece of scrap metal from her hands, she lets them help. She even learns a few of their names.
But only a few.
Two of the Vulvalini survived the taking of the Citadel, though they are not ones that Furiosa knew before. The Valkyrie and the Keeper of Seeds both died out in the sands. Toast starts calling the two survivors Tick and Tock. They teach Toast to snipe, how to sit up in the upper parts of the Citadel with a scarf wrapped around her head and neck and goggles on her forehead with an eye down the scope and wait.
“It’s not so bad up here,” Tick tells Furiosa, at the top of the Citadel.
“Plenty of sunshine up here,” says Tock. “And good water, too.”
Furiosa still sees things in the shade, like the drums of the warparties. But she nods, thoughtfully, and wipes her flesh hand across her motor-oil-free forehead.
Capable learns from the Blackthumbs, learning faster than any of them can teach her. The Citadel has the only fresh water and greens for two days in any direction, the Spikeheads still come occasionally so they still need rigs and drivers and lancers. Gas Town and the Bullet Farm haven’t been heard from in weeks.
But Furiosa, if anything, is patient. She can wait.
The Citadel has plenty of food, and fresh water, now that it isn’t being both hoarded and wasted at the same time. They’ve got greens and reserves of mother’s milk, for a while. They have enough Guzzoline, for now, considering that they no longer take forty cars out for warparty raids, and more bullets than the fifteen people that actually know how to shoot could ever use.
But Gas Town and the Bullet Farm? They’ll need water and the greens growing up in the three towers.
The Citadel doesn’t have that many cars and rigs anymore: almost all of them had been used for the warparties, and therefore left out in a burning pile of melted iron out in the canyon. There are perhaps ten running lancer cars, three war rigs, and sixteen bikes left.
At first they barely have enough to fill the driver seats. But a few of the Wretched trickle up from the crowds over weeks of fighting off Spikeheads. The Vulvalini and Toast claim bikes. On rare, very rare occasions that Furiosa actually sends out a party from the Citadel, she stands in the middle of the three towers, cars and bikes and rigs lined up so that they are circling around her in endless, spiraling circles.
Immortan stood above. Furiosa stands with.
She hopes that difference is enough.
Max shows up on one such occasion, six months after he vanished. Drags two Cliffriders behind with him on a car that obviously belonged to the Spikeheads.
“Just stopping through?” Furiosa asks him, handing over a new shotgun with a handful of bullets.
“Mm,” is all he says.
Furiosa holds a hand out, her flesh one, not the mechanical one, and waits, patiently. She’s always been patient. Somehow that patience comes easier now.
Reluctantly, Max hands over the bag that was slung over his shoulder and follows her up the staircase of the citadel. There, Furiosa hands him a handful of salted meats and assorted fruits and a jug of water and points him to the shallow baths of the Not-Vault.
“Capable and her boys will handle that rig of yours,” she tells him. The Not-Vault no longer even has a vault door on it and doubles as a green house, as does most of the Citadel, nowadays. “I’ll get you some Guzzoline and a couple more guns.”
Max doesn’t say anything in return, but he gives her that familiar nod of his head. She remembers seeing it, sometimes.
She leaves him to his business, already dirty with the days’ work, but when she returns, Max has re-sheered his head and bandaged cuts on his forearms. He appears to have at least washed his face.
“You got Spikeheads gatherin’ about three miles north of here,” Max says, throat full of sand. “The two I grabbed were other-landers.”
“We noticed,” Furiosa says, carefully. “Tick and Tock can’t shoot from that range, so there’s not much we can do until they get closer.”
She walks him through the green rooms after he’s actually eaten something. He’s quiet, as usual, and skittish around crowds of people. But with the ex-wives he seems the most at home, and even the Vulvalini coax a small, one-sided smile out of him.
“It’s good,” Max says. “Here.”
Furiosa doesn’t need to look at him to know that he isn’t referring to the food or even the room themselves, but the Citadel. Immortan Joe dangling fresh water until those below started scratching and biting and bleeding for just the barest sip.
They certainly don’t have unlimited water, now, but nobody starves or goes days without something down their throats.
“We killed the worst ones,” she tells him, turning a wrench over in her hands. “Old Joe and Rictus and the Organic Mechanic and the People Eater.”
Max hums in agreement.
The warpups seem as frightened of Max as he is of crowds. When Furiosa looks over Max’s shoulder she can see them hiding in the crevices of the water-pumps. But after a moment she can see the red bands around their wrists that they’ve adapted as Capable’s coat-of-arms.
“Your rig’s ready,” she tells him, gesturing with the wrench.
Max turns and looks, hands on his belt. The pups giggle and scatter almost before Furiosa can blink. Max hums. “Fast work.”
Furiosa shrugs. “Easy now that there’s no more warparties. And Capable has a knack for it. I spend most of my time trying to keep these things running.”
There was some truth to it, but the real truth was that Furiosa was being pulled in five different directions every moment of every day. Allmother, Allmother, even the wives call her that now.
Furiosa heaves and sighs. “I’ll send you with ten extra gallons of Guzz and three gallons of water if you leave in the morning. We don’t have much by way of greens that’ll last more than a couple days.”
Max hums, satisfied.
In the morning, Furiosa hands him more than she promised: five gallons of water and nearly three times that of Guzz, plus a few day’s rations of food. A shotgun with fifteen shells and a flare gun, from her own store. She doesn’t know another way to say ‘don’t stay away too long’.
Instead she hits the top of his car twice and leans in and tells him, “Don’t break that engine.”
“I didn’t, before,” Max grunts. “I wouldn’t start now.”
Furiosa and the ex-wives wave him off, blocking the sun from their eyes.
“He does that, sometimes,” the Dag says. Cheedo, Capable, and Furiosa all turn their heads her way. “Takes a step as if half his mind is convinced to go forward, and half his mind is convinced to go back.”
Toast is already climbing back up to the Watchtower with a gun strung over her shoulders like you’d carry buckets of water hung on a stick.
“Wait, where’s he going?” Capable asks. “He just turned north.”
Furiosa looks back at what was then only the faintest of dust clouds, but confirms that Max did, all of a sudden, decide to go north.
“What’s he looking for, Allmother?” Cheedo asks.
She smiles, just a little bit, just the barest lift to her lips. She tilts her head in the direction Max is now heading, remembering the clang and thrum of warparty drums. “Redemption.”
Max doesn’t reappear, bloody or otherwise, but they also don’t hear from the Spikeheads again. Furiosa has her suspicions, but she keeps them to herself. Max is possibly the only person Furiosa trusts completely, but he’s still of the Fury Road, like the warboys were. Like Immortan Joe was. Like she had been.
It was the men that killed the world.
It’s the women that rebuild.
Others, too, show up in intervals after Furiosa retakes the Citadel. Other wives or other scavengers of every different clan and every different age. Wretched girls from the foot of the citadel with missing limbs and teeth and eyes. The Milk Mothers and the Dag dig their hands into the salt ground at the foot of the Citadel and somehow manage to convince things to grow.
The warpups, now just pups, run around in packs and don’t spray chrome paint in their mouths and scream for death.
Tick and Tock teach the newcomers to ride bikes and soon there’s a Vulvalini of the Citadel, all belonging to first-mother Furiosa and all with black stripes of motor oil painted across their foreheads and brows. There’s Harbinger with her metal-fingertips and Spark who lost her tongue and Bitter who was all of twelve and already a practiced killer and Ophelia who was completely bald but covered from head to toe in tattoos.
The Madness still rises out of the desert like flesh that’s been dead too long, but there’s something else now too. For every Blackthumb and Screecher and Rocketboy that seems too lost in the Fury Road to accept into the Citadel, there are four others that see all the green and offer their guns to the Vulvalini and their Allmother.
Everyone has a skill in the Citadel, and all skills are needed. Cheedo tends the warpups and the Wretched, not bothered by puss and boils as she was with violence, but it’s not long until a mender shows up from Gas Town that does the opposite of the Organic Mechanic. This one doesn’t cut flesh for the pleasure of cutting flesh.
He’s half-mad, but then again, everybody on the Fury Road is at least half-mad. She’d be worried if he wasn’t half-mad: it’s the ones that look sane that are the worst ones. But the mender, Mr. Brick, he seems okay.
The Vulvalini keep a close watch on him, though.
The greens take time to grow. Every passing day they have more mouths to feed and more hands to turn the salty sand. Toast can shoot a bug off a corpse at three hundred yards, Furiosa watches her do it. Capable is capable in just about everything she tries, and the Dag talks to the green in the earth and it actually seems to help. Time passes.
Furiosa keeps sixteen hidden guns in the space that is the Allmother’s office alone.
“Allmother,” Harbinger says.
Furiosa looks up from her desk, laden with half-assembled guns and burnt out spears and lances. Harbinger gestures to someone and tilts her head. She doesn’t have enough movement in her fingertips to do the warboys’ salute, so instead she gives a little half-bow and meanders off.
“Max,” Furiosa says, seeing him. “Weren’t expecting you back for another three months.”
“Mm,” Max says.
He pulls guns out of a bag slung across his back. All kinds of guns with all kinds of markings from the different gangs— Rocketheads, Sandriders, Screechers, Furiosa has become familiar with them all. Just when she thinks that he’s reached the last of his haul, he puts a finger up into the air.
Furiosa stares at him.
Max reaches down the back of his pants and pulls out a modified shotgun and lays it on the table.
“Max,” Furiosa says. “You know you get as much Guzz and greens as you want whenever you stop through, you don’t gotta trade here.” But still, her mechanical fingers pick up a revolver from the pile. “And Capable and her boys will fix up your rig, too.”
“Don’t need all of ‘em,” Max says. “Got more where these came from.”
Furiosa accepts that. Still, she’s willing to bet he won’t say ‘no’ to more bullets when she asks Bitter to bring them up from the bullet rooms.
She slides her chair over and kicks a chest out from where she had stashed it, an impromptu seat from within her clutter. “What’re you lacking? Water, meat? We got some fruit growing again. Some milk, too, if you want it.”
Furiosa wipes her dirty hands on an even dirtier cloth. She doesn’t mind it, much, the dirt. It used to grind between her flesh hand and grate and keep her grounded, but now it mixes with sweat and bone-deep fatigue that helps her sleep as best as she’s able.
“Allmother?” Max asks.
“Hmm?” Furiosa asks, automatically.
“They call you ‘Allmother’,” Max says. “Met some Rocketboys last month that spat whenever they said it. Didn’t know they meant you.”
The look on his face suggested he was severely disappointed, as if he intensely regretted whatever he had done to the Rocketboys. If Furiosa knew him, which she suspected she did, Max regretted killing them so quickly.
“It’s an old Vulvalini title,” she tells him after minutes of absolute silence. “I’d smack Tick or Tock on the back of the head for it, but each tells me the other was the one that told the ex-wives.”
Max hums, noncommittal.
How Furiosa has learned what Max’s hums mean, she doesn’t know and she doesn’t want to know.
Her blushing years are fifteen years back. Instead she just crosses her arms and waits, and looks at Max like he once looked at her. With a mixture of respect and disbelief.
“Mm,” Max hums. “It suits you.”
Strangely enough, Furiosa is starting to feel that way, too. ‘Imperator’ had been a branding, in its own way. Imperator was how Immortan Joe showed his favor.
“I wonder, sometimes,” Furiosa says. “If ‘Immortan’ started out the same way ‘Allmother’ did.”
“D’you brand boys?” Max asks.
Furiosa looks up at him and glares.
“Stick blood-bags upside-down in crates and drain ‘em dry? Leech the water from the ground but keep it for yourself and your brood? Keep warboys for canon fodder and wives and Milk Mothers for your mornin’ breakfeast?”
“I’ve done none of these things,” Furiosa tells him, as if it was strange he was even asking.
“Then, no,” he hums. “‘Allmother’ will suffice just fine.”
He picks up the modified shotgun and flops down on the chest she’d kicked out for him and starts matching shells to guns. There are at least fifteen individual pieces, so Furiosa suspects that he might be staying for a while, this time.
She actually finds that she’s not opposed to the company.
The next morning, she leaves Max surrounded by pups tending to the rows of green on the Citadel’s floor, like a dog surrounded by a bunch of baby ducks that she’d rarely seen in the green place with the Many-Mothers.
Capable’s workshop is wide-open and cool, with a ramp that leads into the open space of the Citadel floor that isn’t covered in rows of green. Pups run up and down the ramp and smile at Furiosa as she climbs. Furiosa almost finds herself smiling back.
“Capable,” she calls. “You got Max’s rig ready, yet?”
For all of the directions that Furiosa is pulled on a daily basis, sometimes she still yearns for the Fury Road. She doesn’t miss the bloodshed and the sand, because she encounters it still in the Citadel. But she misses the brief forty-seven minutes of freedom from here to Gas Town.
Even if that freedom had originally meant that she had been handcuffed to the steering wheel and her legs had been cuffed to a metal ring on the floor of the war rig.
Whatever it may seem, however much peace they may actually have, the Citadel will never be completely out of danger. Perhaps she envies Max, just a little. Once she’d looked out onto the Salt Wastes and been almost happy at the thought that she’d never see the skull brand of Immortan Joe ever again. “Capable?”
There’s no answer. Furiosa steps further into the workshop and sees Max’s rig on the right, but also the faint scraping of metal on metal, along with another sound that is familiar, but foreign, also.
“Capable?” Furiosa repeats. The words seem to hit against the metal skeletons of old rigs and bounce back, making them louder.
“Allmother,” Capable says, standing up quickly. It takes a moment for Furiosa to realize that the quiet, sniffling noises she’d just heard had been weeping.
Furiosa turns back towards the workshop’s opening, scanning for any immediate sign of danger, but she finds none. Just slightly red eyes attached to a redhead with motor oil smeared on her forehead in a way that almost made Furiosa smile.
Long years have passed since Furiosa had been kind and gentle. That’s still the part of the Allmother that she struggles with. Her hand stutters and stops several times before it reaches Capable’s shoulder.
It seems odd, now, that a mother did not mean both death and life, and that a mother deigned to choose which.
“Your Warboy?” Furiosa asks. “The one that we lost?”
Capable shakes and buries herself into Furiosa’s collarbone, arms gripping tight around the belts that secure her shoulder and mechanical arm in place. Furiosa remembers doing this with her own mother, once.
“Angharad said tears were wasted upon men,” Capable said, muffled in Furiosa’s shoulder.
“One man,” Furiosa corrects. “Too many men, yes, they are wasted. And then there are some for which tears are deserved.”
Furiosa doesn’t really remember how to return affection. Even before, even in the Vulvalini with the Many-Mothers, the world was hard. You had be both steel and soft. But she tries, because Capable and Toast and the Dag and Harbinger and Bitter and all the rest, they’ve earned it, they’ve earned a place in the Citadel.
“I think he got what he wanted,” Furiosa tells her. “In the end.”
Capable, level-headed Capable, has to wipe her eyes with oily hands. “Valhalla?”
“Somebody to witness him,” Furiosa corrects. “And not some slagga with three hundred warboys that won’t recall him if he ate the nose off his face. Somebody that’ll actually remember.”
Capable nods into her shoulder, and Furiosa lets her go. She keeps a hand on her shoulder for good measure.
“That’s the difference,” Furiosa says. She glances back out to the center of the Citadel and spots Max, standing by a couple of pups on the hood of a car, teaching them something she can’t see. “Between wasted and not-wasted. There’s the ones that destroyed the world, and the ones that wiped it clean.”