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Child of Jabassa

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Furiosa, all the Vuvalini say, is nothing like her name.

She runs and laughs and plays like any other child, climbing hills and scaling trees unhindered by the hand missing since birth. She returns to the dwellings with sun-reddened cheeks and sap in her hair, dirt embedded under every nail and in each line of her palm.

(Mary Jabassa shakes her head and scrubs the tender skin, and if her smile is ever a little weary, the child doesn’t notice.)

The older women exchange glances sometimes, sharing knowing words in hushed tones, that perhaps Jabassa named her daughter less for the girl’s identity and more for her own past, the new mother still nursing the grief of losing her lover to a Bullet Farm scout two months before the child’s birth. Even in appearance, the girl shares more with her father than with Jabassa: rounded cheeks and gold-touched hair, the antithesis of Jabassa’s sharp-angled face and locks the color of freshly tilled soil.

But the one thing mother and daughter do share is their eyes: green and sharp, and never missing anything.

Time passes, and little Jabassa grows, leaving behind her ill-fitting name.

She reaches fifteen, filled with teenage brashness and fiery confidence. She stands before her initiate mother and several other elder Vuvalini, the dimly lit room thick with stale air and the weight of tense anticipation. Her birth mother stands just behind her and to her right, arms crossed, face unreadable. Jabassa is silent and still as stone, eyes following her daughter’s impatient fidgeting.

“I can do it,” the girl says, not the first time in the past several hours that she’s uttered the words. “I know I can.”

“You certainly think you can.” KT Concannon stares down at her from atop the dais, narrowed eyes almost lost in a face weathered by wind and responsibility. “But thinking and knowing are not quite the same, young one. Better to plan than to rush blindly into a storm.”

The girl bristles, thrusting her chin forward. “I passed my initiate trials three years ago without a scratch.”

“You did. But success in the past does not guarantee success in the future.” Concannon folds her arms, mirroring Jabassa’s pose. “No one doubts your ability, little Jabassa. But you are still very green.”

The words rustle a laugh out of one of the elder Vuvalini onlookers, rusty and dry, but not mocking.

“Green,” she echoes. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Concannon turns to her, eyebrow raised. “You have something to add, Keeper?”

“Green means potential,” Keeper says. “It means life. No matter what else you might say about Jabassa’s child, you can’t deny she has those in spades.” She shoots a brief grin at the girl, her waggling brows almost disappearing in dark hair shot through with its first streaks of gray. “And every green plant needs a good soil foundation if it’s going to have a shot at growing.”

“As usual, Keeper overdoes it with the plant metaphors,” Concannon says, dry yet fond. “But as it happens, I agree.” She hides a smile at the barely concealed eagerness in the girl’s coiled limbs, ready to explode like a spark to guzzoline. “Very well. You may accompany your mother and her party on the trading run tomorrow.”

To her credit, the girl keeps her composure, waiting until she exits the room to burst in celebration. Jabassa follows in her daughter’s wake, steady and controlled as ever, but there’s quiet pride in her eyes and a faint smile on her lips.

They’re halfway to Gastown when the ambush hits, shattering the trading party’s idle chatter. A single well-placed bullet strikes a gas tank near the front of the convoy, and suddenly the whole world is a blooming fireball, and there’s barely time to suck in one last breath of clean air before flames lick at the sides of the car. Smoke begins to scour the roof of her mouth, turning her eyes to water.

Brakes screech, jolting bodies forward, and Jabassa reacts instantly. She throws the door open, gun in one hand, her daughter’s arm in the other. On the horizon—distant but not distant enough—vehicles pour down the hill like ants from a jostled nest, bald white heads and fists jutting from every window.

“Citadel,” Jabassa spits, and thrusts a rifle into her daughter’s hand. “Take out as many as you can.”

They take aim, more shots hitting than missing, but in the desert wasteland with half the convoy aflame, adequate cover is scarce and the Citadel’s war vehicles are plenty. Jabassa shoots until the barrels click, hollow and empty. Over her shoulder she sees her daughter’s eyes through the smoke, wild with adrenaline and fear.

Then the Citadel’s cars are drawing alongside the convoy, their white-painted drivers hollering and shooting. The largest rig careens toward them, its driver leaning from the window, the whites of his eyes stark in his grease-covered face. His rifle cracks with a sound like snapping bone, and Jabassa has just enough time to step in front of her daughter.

The bullet strikes her low in the abdomen, and she drops to her knees, blood clogging the sand beneath her. Blackness gathers in the corners of her eyes, and not even the force of her child’s scream is enough to chase it away.

It takes Jabassa three days to die.

The Citadel makes an attempt to save her, wrapping her gut with black-smeared bandages—even their medics are stained with grease—but they don’t try that hard. Medical resources are scarce like all others, and she’s nearly too old to breed, too injured to promise a recovery quick enough to be useful in the garages or kitchens. The infection takes hold and runs its course without preamble, and she dies with glassy eyes searching, her fever-burned fingers locked in her daughter’s hand.

“Pretty stubborn, to have lasted long as she did,” the head medic says, running a hand through his thinning black hair. He looks down at the girl huddled by the side of the pallet. “Pretty tough, too. Did you inherit that, I wonder?”

She stares up at him, wordless, blinded by a haze of grief and guilt and hate.

“Hey.” The medic frowns down at her. “I’m talking at you, girl. What’s your name?”

The world clears, and she slowly rises to her feet, her mother’s hand still clasped in hers. The last traces of childish bravado are long since burned away, left behind with her mother’s blood on the wasteland sand, and cold rage creeps in to fill the hollow spaces left behind.

She lowers her mother’s hand to the pallet, straightens, and looks the medic dead in the eye.

“My name,” she says, “is Furiosa.”