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“This one’s barren. Never even had a pregnancy last long enough to start producing milk. Totally useless.”

“Real shame.”

“Yeah, Immortan Joe liked her. He gave her more chances than they usually get.” The prime imperator nodded at the captain of the platform guards and left.

The guards and the War Boys who’d gathered to see Immortan Joe’s newest divorced wife crowded the girl. She was beautiful. They were always beautiful.

A young War Boy reached out to touch her long hair, and she jerked her head back. When he persisted, she bit his hand.

Ace laughed along with the others. But he knew it wasn’t going to remain funny for very long. He knew what would happen, what always happened, and he didn’t care to watch. He turned and walked away.

Then he heard a shout of pain. A male shout of pain. It was quickly followed by a wordless female shriek of fury.

Ace turned back and pushed through the crowd until he reached the center. He took in the details of the scene, concluding what had happened. The girl had managed to seize a knife from a War Boy and stabbed one of them. They had her restrained now and it looked like they’d broken her arm. Her lip was bloody too.

She had more fight in her than some of his boys. Damn shame it was going to be wasted. At this rate she wouldn’t survive, not in the state she’d be in by the time they finished and threw her out among the wretched.

A real shame.

Ace found himself taking the girl from the guards who’d been holding her. “I’ve never heard of one of the prize breeders fighting like this,” he said. “Have you?”

There was no reply. He was older than most of them and they tended to defer to him out of habit, even the ones who’d since risen above him in rank.

“The Immortan will want to know about it.”

He wasn’t sure about that, but it couldn’t hurt to try. He grasped the girl’s good arm and pulled her along with him.

“He only has two uses for women and I’m no good for either of them,” she said bitterly.

Immortan Joe was ruthless. He’d risen to control the wasteland because he’d quickly discarded all restraints of laws and morals from before. He hadn’t hesitated to be brutal and merciless. Ace didn’t like to think of the things he’d done as part of Joe’s army when the world was freshly ended.

But that was a long time ago and Joe had enough power that he could afford some mercy now and then. Only a couple hundred days past he’d saved a sightless child and told them to take him and raise him and find him some use when he was older. Maybe he was haunted by the memories of all the children he’d had killed when he’d been amassing his power.

“You were his favorite?” Ace asked her.

She nodded.

“Then you already have an advantage most don’t. Beg him. Promise him you’ll be useful in some other way.”

He lead her back up to the top of the Citadel in search of the prime imperator or one of the other imperators. The prime imperator was surprised, but he took the girl from Ace.

It was done. He’d done what he could. Ace knew he ought to descend back to the lower levels of the Citadel. He didn’t belong up here and there wasn’t anything more he could do.

But he found himself waiting restlessly, wondering what Immortan Joe would decide, what the girl’s fate would be.

Finally the prime imperator reappeared with the girl. “He thinks she could be useful as a bodyguard for his wives and for any daughters he might have in the future. Train her.”

“Me?!”

“You’re the one who took it upon yourself to intervene. If you don’t want the responsibility, assign her to someone else.”

Ace knew very well that anyone else given charge of the girl would use her as their personal sex slave and probably prostitute her to others too. Or they’d try. She’d fight back and then they’d all be right back where this started.

He took her to the Blood Shed so the organic mechanics could set her broken arm in a splint.

“Why are those people in cages?” she asked, staring in horror at the slaves kept by the Citadel as unwilling blood donors.

“Blood bags,” Ace explained. “Healthy men captured on raids or sold to us. Most War Boys are sick and doomed to die young - half-lifes. Regular transfusions of healthy blood makes them stronger and helps them live a little longer.”

“Blood bags,” she repeated. “Breeders and milkers and blood bags - what else is there?”

Ace didn’t answer. The question was clearly rhetorical. She’d learn eventually that there were worse places than the Citadel. There were places in the wasteland where human beings were kept as literal livestock, to be used as food.

“Do you know how to drive?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “I was a child when I was taken.”

“I’ll teach you once your arm’s healed. You’ll have to learn how to fix the vehicles too.”

“Why?” she asked. “I want to learn, but why do I have to learn? I thought I was to be trained as a warrior?”

“Every warrior of the Citadel knows to drive and maintain a vehicle. And the better you are at it, the more they’ll respect you.”

“Ace, you lucky old dog you,” said the younger organic mechanic, giving him an overly familiar pat on the back. He leered at the girl. “Womb and tits might be useless, but Furiosa here has a very hot little pussy.”

Ace belatedly realized he hadn’t asked the girl’s name. Furiosa. Good name, it suited her. She was glaring at the organic mechanic with barely restrained fury, as if she wanted to shred him.

“Just finish your job, Mechanic,” he said.

After her broken arm had been set, Ace began showing her around. Got her rations of food and water. Probably nothing like what she’d been used to in the Dome, but a lot better than what the wretched below had. He found her a pair of pants, and once she’d donned them, he tried very hard not to notice how well they fit her. Somehow they were more provocative than the white wisps of cloth and all the bare skin that had been exposed before.

He thought long and hard about where she should sleep. She’d be safest beside him, so he could keep watch over her, but she wouldn’t know that. She probably wouldn’t sleep a wink. In the end, he put her in with some War Pups, ones too young to use their cocks for anything but pissing.

Ace unclipped a knife from his belt and held it out to her. “Take this.”

She took the knife. “I’m not going to be able to do much with this, with my left hand.”

“You’re willing to use it. That’s the most important part.” Some pups lost their enthusiasm for war the first time they actually cut someone - those were the ones that got left as Repair Boys and never became War Boys.

“I’ll start teaching you technique tomorrow. Learning with your off hand first is going to make you better.”

The next morning, he started off by popping the hood of the Donk’s latest creation and showing her the engine.

She listened intently as he explained how it worked and she leaned over to look closely at the parts he pointed out. Her hair fell forward, its ends brushing the engine. She gathered it up and struggled to twist it into a bun one-handed.

“You should cut it,” he advised. “Cut it all off.”

“Why?!” she demanded. She knew it was part of what made her beautiful and she knew that beauty was valuable.

But she had nothing to gain from being beautiful anymore. Now, beauty was simply a bright target painted on her back.

“Because the sight of it makes us want to pull it,” he stated bluntly.

He could see the disappointment and fear at his use of ‘us’ rather than ‘they’ but he wouldn’t be doing her any favors by coddling her.

She drew the knife he’d given her and began slicing at her hair awkwardly.

“Do you want help?”

She nodded and extended the knife to him.

Ace took it and regretfully chopped off all that beautiful hair.

He took her with him later to answer a summons from the platform guards.

“Ace,” the captain called. “Got a new pup for you. Seems completely healthy, might make imperator one day.”

“I remember those eyes,” said a guard just arriving to start his shift.

Ace gave him a sharp look. Some thoughts were never to be voiced. He took the baby from the captain. He had remarkably green eyes, of the same color and intensity as the eyes of the wife Joe had divorced about four hundred days ago.

He wondered how many of the babies given to the platform guards over the years were from women who’d been discarded by Joe for supposed barrenness, how many babies were conceived in the gangrapes that usually preceded the women’s dismissal from the Citadel.

If Ace was Immortan Joe, he would have tried to get a child from a woman who’d already bore healthy children. But he’d figured out a long time ago why Immortan Joe preferred to try with young women who’d never been touched by another man, and why the women he discarded were made into milkers or thrown out of the Citadel altogether instead of being given to someone else. So many years and they were all still pretending Joe simply hadn’t found a worthy vessel capable of turning his seed into a healthy child.

He turned to Furiosa. “This one’s younger than they usually take. Usually they take them when they’re off the teat and they can walk and talk. Can’t train a baby, but it would have been wasteful to leave a healthy boy to starve.”

“Wasteful,” Furiosa repeated, as if she could think of other, stronger words. “What about healthy baby girls? I suppose it’s wasteful to feed them - they might not grow up to be pretty enough for Joe.”

“Careful,” Ace warned her. “That wasn’t spoken like Immortan Joe’s loyal warrior.”

“What are we going to do with it?” she asked. She reached out as if she wanted to touch the baby, but she drew back her hand without doing so.

“We’ll take him to the milkers. They’ll nurse him and care for him until he’d old enough to be a War Pup.”

Furiosa adapted well, better than he’d dared to hope for. He wasn’t sure how good she’d be. The boys he trained had been training from earliest childhood and she was starting as an adult. But she was smart and determined and she knew the alternative if she couldn’t prove herself as a warrior.

She was fitting in okay with the War Boys too. There hadn’t been any major incidents since the first few days. Ace had made it very clear to them that Immortan Joe had sent her to serve as a warrior, not anything else. She still received sexual advances, but so did War Boys themselves, and it was her responsibility to let them know the advances were unwanted.

But he hadn’t considered the problem that all the advances might not be unwanted. Ace had seen her smiling at Grange before, but today she accompanied the smile with a playful shove at his shoulder. He smiled back and said something that made her laugh. The expressions on their faces were obvious. It was trouble waiting to happen.

He took Furiosa aside later and told her bluntly, “I’ve seen you with Grange. Keep your legs closed.”

She reacted angrily, glaring at him and curling her right hand into a fist. “How dare you?!”

“I thought you’d know better than to trust a man, Furiosa.” Part of him was glad to know that she still could, the same part that hated having to be the one to tell her she was wrong to trust. “Grange likes you and he wouldn’t mean you any harm, but he’d tell his friends if you fuck him, and then they’d all expect you to fuck them too.”

“You’re jealous.”

Maybe he was, just a little, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t right. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

She couldn’t.

“Don’t start anything with him or anyone else unless you’re prepared to be harassed by every man and boy here. Don’t let them think they have any chance with you, or they’ll never stop trying. Be untouchable.”

“So I’m supposed to be alone for the rest of my life?” she asked bitterly.

“You can be alone or you can be the Citadel slut.”

She punched him.

He saw it coming and he could have avoided it, but Ace took the punch. He hoped it relieved some of the anger and frustration he knew she had to be feeling.

“Strong hit,” he said. “But you’re still letting yourself go off balance when you throw a punch. You have to keep your balance.”

“Fuck you, Ace.” She glared at him. Then she sighed. “Why are you doing any of this? Why’d you help me?”

Maybe he wanted to do some good. It wasn’t much measured against all the bad he’d done, but it was something. It wasn’t the sort of thing you spoke of, though, so he said, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

She laughed along with him. “Fuck you, Ace,” she said again, but fondly this time.