“Once there was a place called Themyscira, a lush, green island on the other side of the world.” K.T. paused and scanned her small audience, meeting each set of enthralled eyes. The only sound in the night air was the crackling of the campfire. “And one that island lived a group of women, Amazons, like us all riders, markswomen, fighters, sisters, mothers, daughters,” K.T. continued. “Let us not be surprised then, that the Great Mother chose those women and that island for the birth of her next incarnation.
Furiosa sat on her legs with her shins pressed against the ground. She carved lines in the dust with her fingers and shaped their sloping sides into canyons. She traced irregular lines with her fingernails to be rivers in the bottoms of the canyons.
“These women you see were not like us in one very important way: they lived for many thousands of years and therefore had little need for children. Among them there was only one, a girl child of most unusual origin and incarnation of the Goddess. Her name: Diana, Princess of Themyscira.”
Arms slipped around Furiosa’s shoulders from behind. “Got you,” Valkyrie giggled, her black hair loose and tumbling forward over both of them.
Furiosa smirked as she rose to one knee and stepped forward with the other. “Not for long.” Furiosa gripped Valkyrie’s top arm and contracted her own torso. Valkyrie squirmed and shrieked at the realisation that she is about to be flipped off Furiosa’s back and into the fire.
K.T. narrowed her eyes. “Fury…”
“I wasn’t really going to… and she jumped on me.”
K.T. shook her head enough that her dark braids moved, their puffy bottoms bouncing. “You know the counter to that throw, don’t you Val?”
Val nodded mischievously as she giggled, still atop Furiosa. She was no longer squirming or shrieking as if K.T.’s mention of the counter had made her suddenly alright with being thrown. There was still a tension in her young body as if she was ready, taunting, daring Furiosa to finish the job.
“So you could very well both end up going up in flames – would survive you right for distracting everyone from my story.”
Furiosa plopped back down with a huff, and Valkyrie received her own sharp glare from K.T. before the story continued. The two girls were quiet after that, only occasionally flicking pebbles at each other while K.T. told of how Diana left her home to help humankind fight against War only to find that War lurked within each and every person.
“And now she watches over us, guards us, helps us when we most need it, but she never interferes unnecessarily. She will not make our choices for us, but she hopes for us, and her hope is powerful. She hopes that we will chose to be the good people that she already knows we are...”
“But they’re good people,” Capable protests, drawing Furiosa out of the memory, “and they need our help.”
Furiosa sighs, “But we can’t help everyone.” She rolls her shoulders, stirring up pops and crackles that have been lurking in her joints ever since she returned from the previous day’s Bullet Farm run. “If we try to help everyone, we end up helping no one.”
Capable folds her arms in protest. “They’re starving out there.”
“And if we let them all in, we starve in here… if we even make it that long.”
“I'm putting them through Iris’s screening and questioning them like you said.”
“And I'm only even telling you about the ones who pass.”
“This one,” Furiosa shuffles through the stack of chalkboards, “the dentist, we can house him for a few days then pay him for his work and send him on his way, maybe ask him to return in a couple hundred days. We have other options beside keeping them.”
Of course, Capable doesn't see it that way. She has that indignant look on her face again, the one where she's encountered an obstacle, and now she has to think her way around it. So far she seems to have been unsuccessful.
“If they've survived long enough to get here, they'll probably survive long enough to come back,” Furiosa says in a rough and cold approximation of encouragement. She really does believe it; she has to.
“What if I take my case before the council?”
“That I want to be able to decide these things without coming to you, or at least that our votes should be equal.”
Furiosa almost chuckles. There is nothing she would like more than to be cut out of these negotiations, but the council is as half-cured as the charter and still made mostly of people who have read far more about leading than actually done any – and that's those of them who can read. All of them are too full of ideas and pride, too certain for their own good. But they have to start somewhere. But then what? What happens when they do let in some plague-bearer and everything turns to shit? She flexes her rebuilt yet still untested, metal fingers as she wonders if she really could just drive off and never look back.
“Build your case,” Furiosa says; she doesn't add, It will be good practice.. “For now, pick one person you think we need the most – not the person who needs us the most.”
“I'll need to think about that.”
Furiosa nods approvingly and impatiently. She still needs to get the parts inventory from Toast so she and Ace can talk vehicle repair priorities when she goes to relieve him at the watch. Maybe if she's lucky she can quiet her mind enough for a couple hours of sleep in between.
“Send up Toast if you see her.” When Capable raises an eyebrow as if asking why Furiosa can't go find her herself, Furiosa adds with a scoff, “I’m supposed to be sleeping.”
Capable smiles knowingly as she slips out. “I'll let her know she can find you here.”
Finally alone, Furiosa lies on her bed and sets herself to working out the kink in her hip flexor muscle that's been bothering her ever since yesterday’s Bullet Farm run. She runs her flesh hand over it, noting the slight swelling and then digs in a knuckle. She saws across the offending tendon and with sharp strokes send flickers of ease through the muscle, each one a command to Relax. Easier said than done.
A knock comes suddenly, jolting her back to the present. She draws her limbs under her so she is ready to pounce if needed. “What!” she calls loudly enough for her voice to carry outside.
“Someone here for you at the lift,” says Toast.
Furiosa springs up, the stiffness in her body momentarily forgotten. “Someone as in…”
“Not Max.” She lets Toast in. “Women. One says her name’s Diana. Sound like one of yours?”
“Could be.” Furiosa isn't sure why she should know every woman in the wastes even if the name does sound Vuvalini. If she is one, she should damn well say so.
“Well, she says they’re here to help.”
Furiosa raises her eyebrows. “Don’t they all…” If she had a bullet for everyone who said that… Everyone wants something, food, water… and if these women aren't in current need of those things, Furiosa knows she should be even more suspicious.
Toast shrugs and lets the subject drop. “Looks like we’re in decent shape, relatively.”
Ah, Toasty optimism - Furiosa takes the inventory chalkboard and fills her head with tallies of tyres and wheels and hubcaps, break lines and fuel lines and oil lines. This is what needs to get done; the women at the lift can wait.
“Are you Furiosa of the Vuvalini?” asks one of the figures at the base of the lift. She's tall and cloaked but undisguisedly female.
“I am,” Furiosa calls from atop the platform.
It's in a precarious position, lowered roughly half way. She's standing far enough back from the edge to make any kill shot difficult for the visitor on the ground, but for anyone else off to the side, she makes a tempting target. Furiosa exchanges glances with Ace; he doesn't indicate any other threats beside the tall hooded figure and three shorter Rock Riders clustered at the foot of the lift. But just because he doesn't see anyone, doesn't mean no one else is there.
“You are very rude to make us wait.”
Furiosa narrows her eyes. “Are we now?” She sees no Vuvalini beneath her, just the Rock Riders and the cloaked woman, whose legs are strangely bare but unmarked and whose weapons are strangely archaic but likewise gleaming. Furiosa can't remember the last time she's seen a sword used effectively; any fool can get lucky with a gun. “Til morning then?”
The strange woman smiles, tipping her head so the torchlight catches the planes of her face beneath her hood. Her skin seems to glow golden. Then she jumps: she thrusts up one knee and then the other as she launches herself upward and forward. She lands easy on the lift platform.
Furiosa has no time for her disbelief. She aims her pistol at the woman’s chest and fires. Shing!. Furiosa’s shot was perfect, but the woman must have gotten lucky and deflected it with her metal bracers. Undeterred, Furiosa fires again, this time at the woman’s head where a gold ornament gleams. The woman crosses her fore arms in another block, and Furiosa’s second bullet falls spent and useless from the platform. Ace is smart enough not to add his own ammunition to the waste.
“Don't you recognise me Furiosa?” the woman asks, sounding more amused than displeased about being shot at. “Your mother thought you would.”
Furiosa stands perfectly still and guarded, her shock solid and heavy in her belly. Somehow the woman’s words are more disarming than the fact that she's just jumped a quarter of the Citadel’s height and blocked two bullets. “What did you say?”
“Your mother told me about this place and how you’re changing things for the better. I want to help.”
“You mean you knew my mother?”
“Knows!” a voice corrects from the ground. “Holy shit, Fury! Is that you? Mothers, you've done well for yourself.”
Furiosa doesn't think she's ever moved as quickly as she bolts past the hooded woman to the edge of the lift. One of the Rock Riders beneath her has pulled off her mask and wig to reveal a brown, worn, and clearly recognisable face: K.T. Furiosa curses herself for ever doubting her Initiate Mother.
“At ease!” she calls to Ace, her voice breaking. “Let my mother up.”
K.T. doesn't wait for the lift platform to touch the ground. She grunts as she hoists her 20,000 day-or-so-old-body onto the still sinking platform, and she doesn't slow until she has Furiosa in her arms and and her face pressed against Furiosa’s chest. Even Furiosa’s metal hand shakes as she clears her weapon and returns it to her holster. Then she sighs; K.T. smells of sand and leather, the faintest hint of oil, and not a single trace of green.
Between what she has just seen and now this, "Welcome," is as much a Furiosa can muster from the ragged mess her throat has become.
She bends so K.T. can reach her; Furiosa remembers her Initiate Mother being taller, and now she supposes she was far taller in presence than in body. Furiosa thinks of the days when K.T. wore her hair loose and it gave her a few extra centimetres. Now hair is the same wild cloud, now greyer, and bound behind her head in one braid with the rest cut down to her scalp.
Furiosa is grateful that K.T. didn't fang for the forehead touch. Already this moment is too intense, and she needs this little time to prepare herself. Already she feels a jumble of emotions tearing at her chest; somewhere not far from the top of the heap is a certain shame she can’t quite place, shame that she didn't take better care of herself, shame at what she's had to become to keep the parts of her that remain.
K.T. smiles. Her hands cup Furiosa’s face and then she tugs, practically smashing their foreheads together. “I had to make sure you were real,” she explains through her grimace, and Furiosa, despite her smarting head, understands the impulse.
"I...I think I am," she whispers, still breathless and wobbly with joy. Her head is ringing enough for this to be real. She didn't notice whenever she started crying, but by now her tears are running in clear, uncontrollable streams.
“Goddess, let me get a look at you,” K.T. half demands, half implores, and Furiosa has no choice but to obey. She runs her palm over Furiosa’s shorn hair slowly and affectionately. “I like the look.”
Furiosa doesn’t think she’s ever felt so small. She tries to cling to every possible way this can go wrong because there are so many. But as the lift rises bring this strange Rock Rider party up to the Citadel, she finds her own hand, the flesh one with fingers that still have sensation, moving over K.T.’s smooth, shorn skull. The two wipe their eyes while smiling at each other and laughing the kind of soft, breathy laughter of two people who don’t know what else to do. “Me too,” Furiosa whispers.
“Oh, Fury, I want to see everything, absolutely everything. Imagine, my own Initiate a War Lord."
"I'm not a War Lord."
"War Lady then - no reason to use the old, sexist titles. You're something else now... taking down empires, rebuilding civilisation the way it should be, killing fucking gods… you're doing well for yourself."
Furiosa certainly doesn't feel like she's doing well, and nothing she does could really be aid to be for herself. She nods anyway, not knowing which of her many selves to be. Is she an untested Imperator playing at diplomacy? Is she the voice of the Citadel – Goddess, she should hope not. Simply being a daughter reunited with her mother seems unbearably difficult. Does she even know how to be a daughter anymore.
She straightens herself and finds the practiced commanding presence that's carried her through countless trade runs. "Come inside. Let me give you a tour; first stop, medical." She can’t break all the rules that she's set, not even for K.T. fucking Concannon.
By now the lift has risen to its zenith with the door into the Citadel just steps away. "And what about the others?" asks Ace from his watch perch. He's being cautious for her, maintaining the professional distance that she clearly can't at the moment. She’s glad for it, if a bit embarrassed.
Furiosa looks to the tall one first, the one she presumes is called Diana first, the one who leapt onto the platform from the ground, the one who flicked away bullets as if they were extra washers. Furiosa narrows her eyes, straightens herself and puffs her chest despite her scars resisting the stretch. "You don't really need me to let you up, do you?" She refuses to let her gaze waver.
"I would prefer it." Diana slips off her hood to show a face of sharp bones beneath olive skin and a head of glossy, black curls adorned with a gold headpiece.
Furiosa’s stomach drops and her breath catches as for half a moment she stupidly dares to hope that this woman, this Diana could possibly be Valkyrie in disguise. But her face is too smooth, her hair too curled, her bearing, her eyes, her everything – just wrong. Furiosa tries not too hate her for what she is not, and she tries not to hate herself for being ungrateful for the good luck that has brought her K.T.
But Diana is unperturbed; mind reading, thankfully does not seem to be one of her skills. “I am K.T.’s guest and, by extension, yours.”
"And our Rock Rider companions?" says K.T.
Furiosa tries to maintain her whatever authoritative bearing she has left as she looks again at her mother. "Do you vouch for them?"
K.T.'s eyes are purposefully steady as she looks to each of the Rock Riders, to Diana, and back to Furiosa. "Yes, they rode with me. They’re…” She pauses, maybe trying to remember the old terminology, “reliable."
Furiosa lets her eyes move over the two Rock Riders. "Let me see your faces," she says, not because she cares what they look like but because she wants to test their willingness to follow her orders. They obey, and they shed their helmets and manes of leather and matted wool to show ordinary faces, young, eager, and androgynous. "Names?"
"And?" Furiosa needs to keep her wits about her. "You called yourself Diana?” She nods without breaking her gaze; she’s Furiosa’s night, or even taller, but that may just be her ridiculous boots. “But what do you want?" In her time, Furiosa has developed a keen understanding that everyone wants something; every time she's found a way to keep that something and her something from being mutually exclusive, she's gotten to live another day.
Diana is relaxed and personable. Her voice is warm and clear as she says, "I want to help. It's what I do."
Furiosa studies her. Just to help? No one’s that good, not even fucking Capable. With everything she's seen this woman do, the cost of misplaced trust could be catastrophic. "How do I know you are who you say you are? How do I know I can trust you?"
K.T.’s face lights up. “Fury, the stories - they're all true! I vouch for her and that handy gadget she's got there.”
When Furiosa frowns Diana glides her fingers over a golden rope attached to her belt. "Do you recognise this?"
Furiosa nods cautiously. Princess Diana of Themyscira always carried a magic rope in the stories, one the squeezed the truth out of anyone in its grasp. Now this Diana is unclipping her own rope and making a show of draping it over her shoulders. She even moves her hair out of the way so the rope is clearly touching the bare skin of her chest. It glimmers in the torchlight.
“Ask me anything. Go on.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Diana. I am Princess of Themyscira. I have other names as well, but this is the one I like best.”
“How did you jump up here?”
“By pushing against the ground, the same as you do.”
“And how did you dodge my bullets?”
“I blocked them actually. I predicted where they would land and moved more quickly than they did.”
“And how…” Furiosa pauses ass she searches for the right words. If someone were to ask her how she drove the War Rig, she isn’t sure how she could answer: With a steering wheel and set of pedals? With nitro-busted guzzo? With hundreds of days of practice? Or would all those answers be lies because she doesn’t drive a War Rig anymore? “Why is it that you can do those things? Why is it that you are. Stronger and faster than anyone I’ve ever met?”
“Because my father was Zeus. Because I am a demi-god,” she says as if these were the most basic of facts.
She decides against pressing that issue because it isn't nearly so important as, “And what do you want with us and this place?”
“I want to help you with your mission, to heal the world.”
Somehow this is the least believable of Diana’s answers. “Don’t flatter me," Furiosa scoffs.
“I’m not. It’s what I want. It's what I do.”
Furiosa crosses her arms. “Good luck with that.” She holds her mouth still and firm as steel. “We’re just trying to get by.”
“But K.T. Said…”
“She was misinformed.”
“Fury…” K.T. touches Furiosa’s arm again, this time the short one, just above the bits of leather that keep her wires and tubes in place. “I'm sure it's a work in progress.”
It's a frighteningly intimate touch. “How do I know this thing even works?”
"You have to try it - hurts like hell, like a sucker punch to the gut - even better than in the stories," K.T. assures her. There's that old joy in her voice like when she used to teach joint locks, back when pain was still a novel adventure.
Diana passes the rope to Furiosa who holds it up so it glimmers in the torchlight. "You try."
It's surprisingly heavy but perfectly balanced, finely woven but sturdy. Taking care out of habit to not snag it on her metal fingers with their clumsy and awkward movements, Furiosa loops it around her own neck so it drapes on her shoulders and chest. It's pleasantly warm against her skin.
“Now, try to lie,” Diana commands coolly. “Is this place called the Citadel?”
“N-“ Furiosa’s attempted No comes out as an indiscernible grunt as the warmth of the rope turns to intolerable, dizzying heat. She sways, heart pounding against her tightening chest, as she hovers somewhere between throwing up and passing out. She jolts at the sound of thundering boots, “Stand down," she chokes out as she doubles over and retches. “It’s a – test.” Her Boys obey, but they keep their weapons raised and ready.
She tries, “We are standing on the lift platform,” which is true, and for a brief instant she feels alright, but Diana’s original question still gnaws at her belly until the pain, this challenging, fascinating pain builds back to the inferno it was as the rope constricts with her every breath.
She crumples, dry heaving, and then smacks her knuckles against the tender spot in her ribs to keep her going. She believes, fucking Mothers, she believes this things works, and she knows it will win out eventually, but she refuses to admit defeat so easily. Maybe passing out could qualify as a victory…
“Is this place called the Citadel?” Diana asks again.
And Furiosa’s body tears from itself one final retch, spewing not water but a single syllable, “Yes.”
Her mouth falls slack. Relief immediately washes over her like cool water. She gasps and then eases as the scalding heat of the rope turns to sweet, comforting warmth. It wraps around her, cradling her with perfect, peaceful acceptance both strange and familiar. Simply put, this is bliss.
"You lasted longer than most." Diana sounds pleased.
Furiosa sighs, still riding the rush of endorphins in her blood. "I've had practice,” she mumbles muzzily, “…lying.” She bows her head as Diana lifts the rope from her. Then she sways on her feet, her whole body languid and boneless.
K.T. laughs as she offers a hand. "What did I say, fabulous, right?"
"How does it work?" Furiosa asks once she can speak again.
"From what I can gather," K.T. explains, "it takes your natural reactions and aversions to lying and magnifies them. And the harder you fight..." She looks up at the tears streaming from Furiosa's eyes. "The better it feels when you finally surrender."
"Like I said, magic." Diana smiles knowingly.
Furiosa's "scars" technically are still healing wounds as scars take up to a year to form.
I have no idea if my description of the effects of the Lasso of Truth has any scientific validity. I based it on the way a polygraph machine functions but with it amplifying the physiological effects of lying instead of simply recording them. Essentially, the sympathetic nervous system runs amok. I'm not sure how this would work in practice and even less sure for the effects of truth on the lasso which active the brain's reward systems primarily through the release of dopamine. The effect is, for lack of a better term, orgasmic. I imagine that over time, anyone consistently exposed to the lasso would become conditioned to being more truthful even without it.
K.T. and Iris catch sight of each other, and any expectation Furiosa had of a surreptitious entrance into the Citadel is instantly shattered. Their ululations echo through the halls, building every time the sounds bounce off another stone wall. Then the two old friends run out of breath and resort to girlish squeals of delight as they hold each other at arm's length.
“Fuck me, it’s been ages,” K.T. sighs and leans her forehead against Iris’s.
“Lots of catching up to do,” Iris agrees. She turns to Capable who has since stopped cleaning scalpels. “Fetch Leona for me. She's probably still working on her bike.”
Capable nods, but her eyes linger on Diana. “Are the others your family too?” she asks Furiosa who doesn't really respond.
“Go on,” Iris lets go of K.T. long enough to pat Capable on the shoulder. “The sooner you go, the sooner you'll be back.”
Capable’s gaze is still on Diana, but she reluctantly obeys, and the gathering crowd of Boys and Pups come to investigate the noise parts for her. She's a flash of red among all the white. They whisper and mutter as the poke each other, but Furiosa’s attention silences them instantly. They're still captivated though; they lean forward or stand on their balls of the feet to get a better look.
"Another Chrome Granny?" a War Boy named Scorch asks as he slips a Pup onto his shoulders.
Furiosa nods. She hasn't found speech yet. The few words she'd needed to secure passage for K.T. and Diana are still rolling about her mind like a dust devil:Let my mother up. Four little words bringing her old life and her new life together along with all the days in between. Even if she could make her mouth form those words again, what would she say? Did these Boys have a concept of Mothers? Did Ace for that matter? He must have, at least at some point... another memory buried in dust.
A certain dread bundles itself in Furiosa’s belly: she will have to explain the white powder and grease paint. It's only a matter of time before K.T. asks about everything, and then when Furiosa mumbles half-formed excuses, K.T. will probably insist that old habits die hard. Furiosa isn't so sure of that anymore. Sometimes the worst habits latch on easily, and the best drift away with the slightest breeze. Sometimes she feels murder twitching in her bones, although it is far younger than many of the virtues she once claimed as her own. Some habits are tumors that stubbornly grow back every time they are cut out.
The Pup on Scorch’s shoulders tugs at the welding goggles shoved onto his forehead. “That's the one from the lift, historic fast, dodged Boss’s bullets.”
“Furphies,” Scorch scoffs. “Nobody’s faster than Boss.” He gives Furiosa a sly smirk.
Furiosa corrects them, “She didn’t dodge them.” Somehow she finds talking about Diana easier than talking about K.T. “They bounced off. Shine right?”
The Pup nods enthusiastically. "I wanna see."
Another shouts, “Oo, can she teach me?”
Furiosa half-smiles. “Only after she teaches me.”
“It’s Cannonball!” shrieks Leona as she bursts into the room.
But Capable is not with her. The crowd of Boys is still growing as word of the new arrivals spreads through the Citadel. Some of the Wretched and the Milkers have joined the gathering. They keep to the back in another old habit.
“I can't well examine them like this,” says Iris as she shakes her head and chuckles.
“K.T. shrugs as she looks to Sonic and Cinder, her two Rock Rider companions, “Guess I'm finally famous.”
“I don't think they're here for you,” Leona teases.
All eyes are on Diana who has dropped her cloak and is now standing before them in her full, strange glory. From her bare thighs to her inexplicably blue, leather skirt, she is a marvel. She looks back at the crowd as if their existence is even more miraculous. She waves at the shyest Pups, bringing brilliant pink to their whitened cheeks.
Furiosa ushers the crowd out and shuts the door behind them. They’ll see Diana soon enough, she tells them, right after she passes her medical inspection. The Boys acquiesce to Furiosa’s authority, but she still doesn’t think they understand concepts like privacy. The only way she ever found to get it was to pretend she was nothing of interest, and Diana has already determined herself to be exceptionally of interest.
At Furiosa’s insistence Iris saves Diana for last. She looks over K.T. first and declares her, “fit as a fiddle,” whatever that means, before moving on to the pair or Rock Riders.
Then the door opens. Capable emerges clutching a floppy book with tattered pages in her trembling hands. Cheedo, Dag, and Toast follow close behind her, each carrying a thin volume of her own. All are of a fragile kind of paper that crinkles too much and too loudly. There's no cover of leather or cloth, no gilded letter, just an outside page of shinier, heavier paper.
“Is this you?” Capable asks, her voice quaky with awe as she holds out the book for Diana to see.
“Wow.” Diana takes the floppy book and turns it in her hands. “I did not know there were any of these left in the whole world.
When Diana turns the book to examine the back cover, she inadvertently holds the front parallel to her face. The likeness is unmistakable, same black hair and blue eyes, same lines in the bones of her face and muscles of her shoulders, same golden crown thingy, rope, sword and shield, same light to her smile.
“This is going to require an explanation,” declares Dag.
“What do you mean?” Diana asks patiently.
“You’re not just dressing up?” Dag's arms are crossed, her head tilted. “I mean, I would definitely dress up as her if I had her gear.”
“I am her.” Diana returns the book to Capable.
Dag scoffs, lifting a strand of pale hair with a puff of breath. “This book’s from the Before, the Waaay Before. That would make you ancient.”
“I am,” says Diana patiently.
“So how old?” presses Toast.
“Hogwash,” Dag chuckles. “Guess you can’t do maths. Even I’m 8500.”
“Years, not days,” says Capable calmly as she clutches the book to her chest.
Iris looks up from her work on Cinder. “What did you just say?”
“I told you to save her for last,” Furiosa mutters.
"If Angharad could have seen this…” Cheedo marvels.
“Miss Giddy too,” Toast adds, her manner uncharacteristically soft and pleasant.
“What would you like us to call you?” asks Capable.
“Diana, I am Diana, Princess of Themyscira.” Her voice is every bit as regal as the title. She even straightens her spine as she says it, as though the name of her home were a cord lifting her from her centre.
Capable nods. "You still use Diana of Themyscira after all this time?"
"It is where I come from. Nothing can change that." Diana says it as if it were the most obvious fact in the world, and Furiosa digs the toes of her boots into the floor as if pushing an imaginary layer of dust.
"Do you ever go back?” asks Cheedo.
Toast adds, “Is it even still there?"
and Furiosa feels her own breath catch.
A chirping sound thankfully interrupts the conversation, and upon further investigation, Iris finds a small mouse nestled in Sonic’s a jacket pocket. The girls squeal over its tiny feet and big eyes. Sonic and Cinder then pass the animal between themselves so it doesn't interfere with Iris's examination. The mouse runs over their hands and arms until it leaps to Diana's shoulder and curls in her dark hair.
“Why, hello there little…” Diana scoops the creature into her palm and holds it up to her face.
“Tidbit,” says Sonic.
Diana smiles. “Tidbit,” she repeats as she strokes the mouse's fur. “It's nice to meet you. She is lovely. She? He? They?” The Rock Riders shrug, and Diana asks the mouse who does not indicate a preference. “So they then,” she declares.
Then it’s Diana's turn for a medical examination; she returns Tidbit who finds a free slot on Sonic's bandolier. They nestle amongst the vials and shells not unlike a storybook dragon guarding a hoard of treasure. Diana gives Tidbit one last pat on the head before she hops onto Iris's examination table and swings her legs so the sides of her greaves brush against the legs of burnished steel.
Iris sets her stethoscope on Diana's chest and listens for a few seconds before rubbing down both earpieces as well as the center piece and trying again. "Here," she passes the instrument to Capable. "Am I losing my hearing?"
Capable chuckles as she fits the stethoscope around her neck. "Diana, what's a normal heart rate for an Amazon?"
Diana hums as she tries to remember. "20 beats per minute, I think."
Capable nods as she listens, counting the beats. "Well, that's right about where you are." Then she grins. “A perfect specimen.”
"It makes perfect sense," Iris marvels. "The longer a creature lives, the slower its heart rate generally speaking."
"Can you really do everything it says in the books?" asks Cheedo.
"I don't know. What do they say?" asks Diana, clearly enjoying the attention.
"Well, like..." Cheedo frantically flips through pages to find an example.
"Can you fly?" Dag finishes for her.
Cheedo finds a drawing, and Dag thrusts it into Diana's face which lights up with laughter. "More of a very large jump."
The girls are beaming at Diana, even Toast, and who could blame them? The whole display reminds Furiosa of the first time she took them shooting and the way their jaws dropped open in time with the thonk of her arrow hitting the target. It seemed like nothing to her at the time; her distance was normal, and the shot itself was nothing spectacular, really mediocre overall. She had made a point of not staring back, of not letting them see how awkward she found their attention. They had been more cautious then as well, as if they understood their joy and newfound faith for the weaknesses they were. Now they are open in their adoration and justifiable so. Their standards for amazement seem to have risen since then and have finally found a deserving target.
Now they even have references. They pour over their flimsy books, scan the illustrations for old favourites, and take turns demanding, "Did this really happen? Can you really do this? Is this real?"
Diana basks in the attention and reflects their joy in her own face. "That one... yes. That one... no. That one..." she scrunches her face as she scrutinises the pictures. "What even is this?" All the while Iris pokes her and prods her and draws blood for tests.
"Are you a real Immortan?” Dag asks then purses her lips as she conducts her own examination of Diana's face.
"Immortan?” Diana repeats.
Furiosa waits for someone, anyone to speak. "Immortal,” she finally says solemnly.
"Oh no, no," Diana demurs, and Furiosa has to wonder if she really understands what she's been asked. "I am long lived, but I can most certainly be killed. I can most certainly be hurt." Her eyes lower, and everyone else's gazes follow hers to the holes left by Iris's needles which have already closed. "Even a god can die at the hands of another god and I am only half that."
"That's good,” says Leona from her usual position in the corner of the room. “I've met people claiming to be gods; I never liked any of them.”
Furiosa shifts her weight. "It's late. I'm overdue to relieve Ace at the watch,” she says,
"I'm sure he won't mind, says Leona. “It's a special occasion..."
Furiosa shakes her head. "We can give you a room for the next few nights. The Vault," because it locks from the outside, and she doesn't want them wandering about on their own. "That is," she looks to the girls, "if that's alright with you."
The girls nod eagerly. The Vault is under their control now even though they sleep elsewhere. "Better be careful," Dag snickers, "we might pump your mum for stories."
"Actually, Furiosa, I was hoping we could catch up, just the two of us," K.T. presses.
As much as Furiosa craves solitude, she can't refuse her own mother, at least not directly anyway. "Sit up with me then. Keep me awake,” she says even as she imagines pointed questions about how exactly she's spent the last twenty years.
Unfortunately, K.T. takes her up on the offer. "I'd like that – would be like old times.”
Furiosa sighs, coughs, and straightens herself. "We'd best be off then." She looks to the two Rock Riders, "Keep an eye on that pet of yours. The Boys will eat it if they catch it," and then to her girls, "And you keep an eye on her." She gestures to Diana. "We don't need her causing any trouble."
Furiosa leads K.T. through the Citadel to her favourite watch post. She tries to claim it for herself when she assigns shifts. It's the most isolated, no other snipers to steal her shots, no one to come to her aid if things go pear-shaped.
There isn't really enough room for two on the perch, but K.T. has always had a certain talent for fitting where she shouldn't. She still has her marked compactness, and Furiosa is pleased to see that time hasn't stolen her agility. She tucks herself into the shadows behind Furiosa, pressing her body against the Citadel exterior wall. Even more remarkable is how someone as outgoing and exuberant as K.T. manages to allow quiet to envelope her. She’s slips easily between silent stillness and joyous exuberance as the occasion dictates. Now, the occasion calls for quiet, and K.T. obliges, disappearing into the night as easily as ever, and Furiosa almost forgets she's there.
Furiosa stares out into the expanse of desert before her. Everything is quiet, even the pesky Scavs seem to have tucked in for the night, but her heart still pounds. Her muscles are still tense and taut and her eyes dart from empty darkness to empty darkness. Her fingers twitch. The silence makes adrenaline sing in her veins. It's almost like living in the open wastes again.
“You don't seem to need any help staying awake,” K.T. teases from behind her.
Furiosa jumps and then curses herself for it. “Not at the moment,” she replies, waiting for K.T. to snicker.
Exhaustion tends to hit Furiosa like a rock slide. So far that's never happened when she's on watch. Something about being out here makes her feel alive. Maybe it's the crispness of the night air or the way the silence around her fills with the slightest sound, or maybe the distinct possibility that if Max ever does return, out here, she would be the first to see him. Inside she'll be tired, in the safety of her room with its stone walls and heavy door.
"Word travels quickly from campfire to campfire. Furiosa, you're an fucking legend.”
K.T. says it with a beaming pride, but the words still make Furiosa’s chest tighten. She doesn't feel like a legend, at least not the kind worth coming to visit. Her reputation proceeds her even with her own mother. Sometimes Furiosa wonders what anonymity feels like; she used to know.
Furiosa stares ahead at some meaningless shape moving atop the neighbouring tower, probably part of the target course at the edge of the gardens. Furiosa the legend could take out one of the hanging cans easily, just a quick peek through her scope and a controlled squeeze with her finger. She squints at the bit of metal moving in the breeze Furiosa the legend wouldn’t care that the course wasn’t designed for the caliber of her weapon. Furiosa the legend wouldn’t care that just because she doesn’t see anyone poking about the range at night doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Fuck, Furiosa the legend probably wouldn’t even need the scope. But this Furiosa, not the one who took to the road but the one who came back propped up with the blood and dreams of others– this Furiosa hesitates to waste the bullet.
This Furiosa voices the only words she can think to say even though they are all wrong. "Were you there when..."
"No, but I heard about the mess you made."
Furiosa turns enough to see K.T’s teeth flash in her peripheral vision. It’s a good natured smile, one without spite or blame or anything else Furiosa is certain she deserves. It’s the kind of smile the puts Furiosa even more on edge because she knows it’s too good to be true.
K.T. shifts into a smirk and absent-mindedly traces circles on the long barrel of her rifle. “Messes are our business you know; Rock Riders live off of ‘em.” Then she’s quiet again, staring at a distant shape in the dark of her own as she she twists a leather pouch at her belt as if by some miracle might tell her what to say next. “Everyone’s broken a deal at one point or another, and when I say you're a legend, what I mean is that I'm happy to have had a hand in you."
Furiosa drops her gaze from the warmth in K.T.’s face and returns her attentions to the night. How much does K.T. know? How much can she guess? Furiosa wants to know about K.T. and her life among the Rock Riders, and yet she is so desperate to keep the topic of conversation away from herself that her words are jumbling in her head, and the mere thought of forming them into a coherent sentence is paralysing.
Furiosa has never had a taste for small talk; even on her diplomatic missions she wants to cut straight to business. "How do you know Diana?" is the closest to small talk she can muster, and even it feels ominous.
"She came to us," says K.T. "She met my daughter first."
K.T. nods, rusting the leather of her jacket. "Her name is Joni, born not long after we lost you. She was the last child born to us. I believe she's met some of your girls when she was managing salvage operations after you came through, and she was making us a pretty penny in the process. She's smart like you, strong like you...”
“At least some things turned out well.” Furiosa remembers how deeply K.T. wanted a birth child of her own and how devastated she was when she year she finally conceived the crops were too weak to support even the living Vuvalini population.
K.T. continues, “Anyway, not long after your group moved on, Diana came by. She's an amazing woman, I mean obviously, but beyond that, she just has so much hope. As old as she is, she's not worn down at all. She's seen everything, and she still believes in people, and I just can't wrap my head around that. You'd think… I don't know... there's this saying from an old, American movie, "It's not the years; it's the mileage." She pauses then translates, "It's not the days; it's the clicks - it means life takes a toll, more on those of us who are out in the world than on those of us lounging on pillows. Well, Diana’s ridden her clicks, counted her cost, and kept moving, but she's still... she looks at me with such faith, and for the life of me, I can't imagine why. I have no idea what she sees."
"I know the feeling.” That feeling is what pulled her to her feet and kept her standing as she and the girls road the lift to claim the Citadel. There are still days when that feeling is all that manages to get her out of bed.
"And even when I was with your mother, I was never monogamous. You knew that even then.”
Furiosa nods. She did know that. Monogamy was never really the Vuvalini way. Many of the Vuvalini kept lovers in different places for different occasions and different types of desire. K.T. had been more free with her lover than most, and the older Furiosa got, the more she understood that this was a gift K.T. had and she did not. Giving herself always even once still seems to be more than Furiosa can manage.
“And now that I am with a man back home, it feels right that I should also... and to be fair, she is the first woman since your mother I've..."
"Diana, you mean.” Furiosa doesn’t bother commenting on the certain sting she feels when she realises where K.T. means when she says, home?
K.T. laughs; it's a loud and hearty sound that washing over Furiosa like a wave bringing thousands of memories with it. "Go big or go home right? I have always like older women.”
There isn’t a Vuvalini word for the parter of someone’s Initiate Mother, but for a moment Furiosa thinks there should be one. After all this time, all these thousands of days, at least one of the Vuvalini legends has turned out to be true, and more than that, her own Initiate Mother has taken Diana of Themyscira as a lover. If anyone could, it would be K.T.; that much Furiosa believes without question, but the thought that her own life should someone cross paths… she’s almost glad there isn’t a word for the relationship because she has no claim to lay.
“Joni also mentioned a scruffy man - said your girls lured him with updates about you like luring a stray dog with meat scraps."
Furiosa’s cheeks warm. "Sounds about right."
"I'm glad you have someone. Do I get to meet him?"
"I don't have him, and I can't promise you anything. He comes and goes."
"I didn't mean it that way; I misspoke. What I mean is..."'
"I understand. It’s not like that anyway. It’s not like anything really. It…” Furiosa catches herself flustered and vulnerable. “There is no it.”
“That’s fine and everything…” K.T. leans and sprawls so she’s stretched across Furiosa’s lap and taking aim at the same shape in the darkness Furiosa had spotted before.
“If you’re itching for practice, you’ve picked the right spot,” Furiosa says, glad for a change of topic. “There’s a target range on that tower.”
“In the morning?”
Furiosa shrugs. “Whenever you want. I’ll have someone let you up.”
“It would be more fun with you?”
Furiosa flexes her flesh fingers. Fun belongs to other people. She gets enough practice between training the Pups and going on runs. Her skills are sharp as ever, but with all this building from scrap, all this patching together peace from pieces, she’s more than a little hungry for some quality destruction.
“Fury…” K.T draws back and crouches behind her so their eyes meet. “We did look for you. I want you to know that.”
“I know,” Furiosa mutters, not wanting to engage in this topic either. Iris and Leona had told told her that K.T. had never stopped looking, but Furiosa had never thought of her return as anyone's responsibility but her own. She had been stupid enough to get herself taken and her mother along with her. Even worse, she was selfish enough to let the Citadel swallow her with all its promises of glory. It had sucked all the Vuvalini juice from her as if she were a fruit left out to whither.
“When the crops failed we all went looking for something. The ones you found had gone looking for a new home for us. Others, ironically most of the remaining men, stayed behind to find a new way of life. Valkyrie's father and brother went looking for the sea and took a few others with them. As for me, well, none of these roads seemed worth a lick of my time without you and your mother. I at least needed to know. So I set out, just me and Joni… and I failed miserably. I don't need to tell you the Wasteland is no place for a child. The Rock Riders took us in, and I fell in love. We made a family; we made a life. It's not so nearly as exciting a story as a coup, but... I made a home there, like you've made a home here.”
“I haven't made a home here.”
Furiosa raises her rifle as if aiming at a dark, round shape and metallic flicker of chain holding up a hanging tyre on the neighbouring tower. She thinks it's the first obstacle at the targeting course; just past it should be a tin can, too bent and corroded for food storage. She stares ahead through the scope, grateful for its ability to hold her focus and hide her expression. She is still torn between the security of a spare bullet and the sweet satisfaction of making something else irreparable aside from herself.
“I'm sorry about that. Furiosa, If you wanted… I could… I mean only if you wanted… you could come with me.”
"It's a life, good as any.”
Maybe it’s just how the shadows hang in the low light, but the first time she looks at K.T. and sees an old woman, not proudly and defiantly old but worn and tired. It's the same raggedness Furiosa senses in her own bones. She recognises in K.T. the same long stare she saw in Max, the one that looks at the long road leading back with its every wrong turn and pothole. Furiosa has driven it so many times in her mind, and she can't afford to go back now, and she wants to tell K.T. the same words she is chanting to herself, Don't go down that road. Don't even think it.
Instead Furiosa tells her the truth, that it wouldn't have mattered if K.T. had left a little sooner or had kept moving instead of being delayed. "The Reaping Mother came for Mary soon after we were taken." She swallows as she looks away. "And as for me, if you had come for me any sooner, you wouldn't have recognised me."
Furiosa does fire this time, sending a single round cleanly through the tyre and the tin can before it finally embeds itself in the backstop behind. Then she shakes her head. “I’m glad you’re here. I really am.” She sighs as she basks in the afterglow of the rifle’s kick into her shoulder. “I’m just unprepared.”
“I hope someday you tell me your stories, how you turned from the child you were to all this,” K.T. says as she arranged herself around Furiosa’s tangled limbs. “But for now,” she balances her left elbow atop her bent knee to steady her shot, “budge over.”
“One shot at a time. You still as good of a shot as I remember?”
“No, these old eyes ain’t what they used to be.” K.T. laughs then draws a long, slow breath. She pulls the butt of the rifle sharply into her shoulder and squeezes the trigger. The chain holding up the tyre sing of its defeat as it breaks, and the tyre lands with a soft thud and puff of dust. “I'm better.”
I was bad and referenced unpublished fic. Y’all just got a spoiler of a later section in Blood And Breath. All my fics except for Crux are part of the same chronology. If you find an inconsistency, I may have fucked up, or you may have found a spoiler, maybe even both.
"Last lap!" Furiosa calls out, her voice embarrassingly weak. At least as long as she keeps moving, she can practically feel the desert sucking the sweat from her face.
She’s doing better than she has been, even without taking her recent trade run into account. She's near the front of the half lives now, and no one's lapped her today, which is more than she could have said ten days ago. She’s only been officially cleared for exercise for twenty days, not that she wasn’t sneaking ab work in her room long before then.
In the old days, no one would have dared pass her even though she was far from the swiftest of her company. As a fresh Imperator, Furiosa would assert her authority by adding more laps until she was the only one still running; not even the freshest full life could have matched her for endurance then. She would wear down anyone who challenged her. Now she's sucking her breaths as she struggles to hold down her water.
She is however finding these days that she enjoys having someone to chase. Toast has been more than willing to do her that favour. Toast is gifted with speed and not ashamed to show it; her short legs move twice as fast, and she cuts the sharpest angles. Furiosa tried to remember what it was like to be that young, eager, and energetic.
Furiosa’s company finishes the lap just as the stitch in her side becomes unbearable. She tips her chin back and gulps air as she massages knots from her intercostal muscles knowing that it won’t really help. Stupid adhesions. She can feel everyone's eyes on her as they wait for her command. She doesn't care; they can fucking wait. They should be glad for the few moments of rest too. She heard plenty of panting and not too few groans of exertion that last lap. They are the survivors of the survivors, the lot of them, only the best for the last Imperator’s company, and life has taken a toll.
"Grab a partner," she huffs once she can speak again. They obey. "Lunges.” She slips into her prosthesis and climbs onto Scorch's back. "Ten each leg."
Toast passes the order down the line even though it was plenty loud enough. She took that job a while back when Furiosa first started leading drills again, probably too early. Furiosa probably shouldn’t even be leading now, but if she lived her life by should, she would still be in the Vault.
Furiosa hooks her legs around Scorch, hooks her metal arm around his shoulder, and gives her ribs another rub with her right for each repetition she counts aloud for the group. There’s a part of her that’s dreading time to switch. Scorch isn’t particularly heavy, maybe five kilos heavier than she is, but she hasn’t tried anyone’s limbs but her own against her ribs. Scorch knows she wont tolerate him treating her like she’s soft.
His eyes says as much when he turned to face her after she dismounts. She gives him the slightest nod, and he climbs on. So maybe he outweighs her by more than five kilos… at least he isn’t squeezing his legs around her waist. He’s letting them skim her hips instead while he grips with his arms.
“Take the count,” she chokes out, his powder tickling her throat. Do we really have to paint up for drills? The sun’’s barely even up. So far she’s been selective about her battles, but this one might have to be next.
She grits her teeth as she bends her legs so her right knees brushes the dust.
This isn’t so bad, not so bad at all.
She full-on sweating now but still on her feet. No sharp pains yet, just the familiar ache and burn of her body being pushed its now irritatingly closer limits…
For fuck’s sake.. She knows the voice, but she foolishly cranes her neck for a better look and gets a lungful of powder in the process. She coughs intentionally in an attempt to stave off the fit she knows is coming.
“Your friends said I might find you here.” Diana jumps from the Mouth to the ground with ease. "Might I join you?"
"Aren't you strong enough already?" Furiosa grumbles. Speech sets her hacking and her knees buckling until Scorch slides off her back. She braces herself against her knees until she’s won enough air to spit on the ground and excuse herself with, “Damn paint.”
"This isn’t about strength, is it Furiosa?"
Furiosa’s eyes snap up defensively. "Let’s make a group of three. Climb on.”
Diana does, squeezing a little too tightly for Furiosa’s liking, but at least she isn’t a cloud of talc and zinc oxide powder. She shifts Diana’s weight, which is surprisingly light for all the metal she wears. Diana’s greaves clink together, and her bracers are cool against Furiosa’s chest.
“We were on five,” Furiosa says, and the count continues.
Diana muses as she rides, “So this is about trust, I think. I need to trust you not to drop me.”
“It’s easier if you’re quiet.” Diana says nothing, but she loosens her grip enough to start exploring the brand on the back of Furiosa’s neck. “And easier if you’re still.”
Diana seems to get the message. She returns to gripping Furiosa around the shoulders. Then she starts to probe Furiosa’s pauldron but then thinks better of it. Meanwhile Furiosa is starting to wear down. The leg switch comes none too soon, and it reinvigorates her for a moment, but then the repetitions pile up, and she’s back to grunting and gasping. Only a few more.
Then a different sort of dread starts to form in her belly. Diana will have to go next, Diana who blocked bullets and jumped a third of the way up the Citadel. Furiosa can only imagine what else she can do. Word of Diana’s already demonstrated skills had probably already spread even before she jumped down from the Mouth, but that doesn’t mean more attention would be beneficial.
Furiosa’s eyes dart from crew member to crew member; they seem preoccupied with the exercises. She should take their lead. These last few repetitions will be a struggle for her.
“You’re doing great,” Diana whispers, and Furiosa has to swallow an urge to throw her. “Just two more.”
Furiosa cranks them out with stubborn indignation, silently cursing Diana and K.T. and anyone else she can think of. Then repetition ten comes and goes, and Diana practically floats off of her back.
“I guess me on your back wouldn’t be much of a challenge,” Furiosa pants because she wants nothing more than to sit down and rest.
Diana shrugs. “For you or for me?”
“You want a workout, don’t you?” Furiosa imagines that as soon as she latches on, Diana will launch them into the wispy clouds.
“I want you to trust me.”
“I trust you,” says Furiosa because the truth of trust is much more complicated than she thinks she will ever be able to explain.
“Then climb on. All of you.”
Diana has the biggest Boy wrap around her trunk, and then he takes another on his back and Toast on his shoulders. Furiosa and Scorch each sit straddling one of Diana’s shoulders and hold onto each other and Toast while trying to avoid Diana’s hair. That stuff has a mind of its own. Diana bends her knees, testing the weight of her load. Still unsatisfied, she wraps each arm around a Pup. Ace and the remaining Boys gawk in approving bemusement.
“Care to join this insanity?” Toast calls to them.
“She’s on our side, right?” asks Ace still understandably skeptical.
Furiosa shrugs. “As much as anyone ever is.” Then her tone changes to teasing because nothing else really seems to fit, “Got any kamakrazee left in you?" because that’s exactly what this is.
Ace’s brow furrows. “Witness. Any more room?”
Furiosa smirks. “Make room.”
He ends up at the back of the pack, legs wrapped around Scorch with Furiosa as backup and Toast awkwardly squeezed between them. They all laugh as they teeter and flail for balance. Diana may think the exercise is about trust that she won’t drop them, but that doesn’t mean she has control over whether or not anyone falls. That isn’t to say falling would be especially dangerous; the top few passengers have a ways to drop but nothing worse than they have been trained to survive in fighting shape. Even so, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation makes everyone more than a little jittery.
“Hold on,” Diana declares. “Furiosa, would you do me the honours?”
Furiosa clears her throat. “One.”
Everyone tightens their grips as Diana bends her knees and lowers herself. A Pup squeals at how close the ground has suddenly become, and then Diana rises in a smooth, even motion. No one falls.
And again, tension locks everyone in place. Hands are clutched. Breaths are held. Again, no one falls.
By five everyone is starting to feel more comfortable. Diana shows no signs of fatigue, only joy, simple, contagious joy. Even Furiosa is starting to enjoy herself against her will so long as she keeps locked down the two impulses nagging at her belly.
She’s not jealous; she refuses to be jealous. Even at her healthiest she was no where near the strongest member of her company. She feels like she's spent her whole life struggling with skills that come easily to others. She won her rank by working twice as hard and twice as smart as anyone else And of course by practicing three times as much.
It doesn’t matter how many of her troops Diana can make fawn over her while she flings them around. All the strength and speed in the world don’t mean she can lead or strategise or… Furiosa is their Imperator who trains them, who defends them, who wears herself down to nuts and nubs for them… Furiosa is their Imperator who betrayed them.
The other impulse is the same white powder making her lungs itch. She tucks her chin into her scarf and bites it so the fabric covers her mouth. She sucks her air through cloth, and though it filters, the powder is already inside her. She holds back coughs, and maybe she would be successful if not for the thought that is bubbling up in her mind: what if Diana took over?
“Switch legs,” Furiosa sputters, and Diana obeys easily. “One.”
The answer is plain, obvious, if only Furiosa were willing to give silent words to the thought. Instead it’s stuck in her, burning her insides and making her eyes water like the powder in her lungs. She lets go of Scorch long enough to cough lightly into the crook of her arm. It’s not enough.
“Take over the count,” she whispers to him, to Toast, to Ace, to anyone.
“Two.” It’s Ace who takes it over, his voice booming from atop this bizarre tower of humanity.
Furiosa curls in on herself as she coughs. Her metal fingers clinch on Diana’s shoulder to keep herself aboard. She’ll probably leave little cuts in Diana’s flesh, but that just might be the cost for having this stupid idea.
“You good?” asks Toast, and Furiosa nods.
Ace’s eyes are on her too as he counts, “Five.”
Sometimes she wonders if he feels pleased at all that he’s long sense healed, and she’s the one who still hurts from her betrayal. He would never say has as much. He acts like nothing has changed. There were a few days of tension, but then he all but forgave her when her lungs started to rot. Almost dying tends to do that, she supposes. She wonders if things would have been different if she’d come back strong.
If Diana were leading, she could bring the Citadel peace. She doesn’t have countless enemies hiding in the waste and maybe under her nose as well, and if she did, she could squash them. The Boys would fight for her, and she would protect them. She would be kind and good and powerful and all the things that Furiosa isn’t.
And that’s fine, Furiosa decides as one particularly strong cough upsets her balance and loosens her grip. Her hand was made for gripping metal anyway, not flesh no matter how strong. She slides off, leaving pink trails on Diana's skin. She barely notices, just like how she barely notices gravity claiming her. But someone else does.
“I said that you could trust me,” says Diana nonchalantly as she hoists Furiosa by the strap of her prosthesis and guides her back to her perch.
If Diana took over, Furiosa would be free. The thought falls as she rises out of reach.
Between the morning’s exercise and her recent Gastown run, Furiosa is hacking enough that she’s worried Iris will put her back on bedrest. Come to think of it, her bed does look awfully tempting. She sits on it while she changes into cleaner clothes. Then she’s on her back staring at the curvature of her alcove.
The next thing she knows is someone is banging on her door. She shoots upwards in a panic, adrenaline hot under her skin. She eases momentarily under the realisation that she’s not going to get in trouble anymore for oversleeping, at least not trouble in the ways of direct punishment. She tenses up again when she realises the trouble she’s already in: she feels every gram of the Citadel’s weight as she drags herself to her feet.
“You missed breakfast,” explains Capable without Furiosa’s asking for an explanation. She’s shifting awkwardly on her feet when Furiosa opens the door. “We were…” Then she smiles and changes her approach. “We missed you.” She holds up a plate of potato cakes with meat strips and and berries. “Toast said you’d be here.”
Furiosa’s stomach rumbles a response for her as she takes the plate. It’s gone considerably cool. “Did I miss council too?”
“No, just breakfast and your medic checkin.”
At least that last part was at least half intentional. She fights the urge to clear her scratchy throat.
“We’re having a party tonight, to welcome your mother and Diana.”
Of course they are.
“You should rest up so you can come.” Before Furiosa can protest she adds, “Ace says he’ll cover your watch for you; Toast already asked.”
“What’s his price?” Ace knows better than do just do her a favour.
Capable smiles. “Toast didn’t say. You’ll have to ask him.” She seems to have not yet acquired lying into her skill set.
Then Capable lingers while Furiosa sits down to eat, the door still propped open behind her. Furiosa shifts awkwardly as she cuts a potato cake and hesitates before taking a bite. Capable’s gaze sits uncomfortably on her shoulders.
“I just want to say that however this meeting goes today, I still love, respect, and admire you and…”
“I just want to make this place the best it can be.” Her voice breaks with emotion on the last few words.
Furiosa sighs and sets down her fork. “No one doubts that.”
“And I know you want the same thing. We just have different ideas about how to get there.”
Furiosa pushes her breakfast away and rises. “What are you planning?”
“To convince the council that I’m right. I just don’t want you to take it personal.”
Furiosa’s mouth tightens with suspicion. “Than you should probably be getting ready.”
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m not right…”
Furiosa nods as she moves closer to Capable, close enough that the girl backs away just enough. “It’s not the days; it’s the clicks.” Then Furiosa closes her door and pushes Capable’s words from her mind.
Furiosa slips into her usual seat in what used to be known as the Vault. She has her water mug and her chalkboard and her legs crossed just so. Then she notices K.T sitting all up and forward like an eager pup. Their eyes meet.
“An emissary,” Capable says as she takes her own seat, “from the Canyon.”
Furiosa would not have authorised this. Her mother has no business here, whether she be sent on official business or not. The inner workings of the Citadel are just that, inner. She’s hardly more likely to share the details of trade deals and plumbing arrangements than she would her own digestion. Rust, she would skip these meetings if she could.
Promise calls the meeting to order. There’s something about putting a Milker in the chair position that puts everyone at ease; they think of her as nurturing and her chiding for quiet and order as gentle, motherly admonishment. Perhaps most importantly, she’d never once thought to leave in her nearly nine thousand days at the Citadel. She’s tied to the place; she’s invested.
She asks Furiosa for new business first, as is the custom. It’s a way of acknowledging the precariousness of their safety. As hard won as their peace was, it is still tenuous, but Furiosa has nothing to say. The road has been quiet.
Each person on the council gets a turn. Next Corpus for facilities; he tells the council how his Pups fixed a short circuit in garage 1. Cheedo requests more chalk for the school she and one of the War Boys have started up in the Vault; judging by the scrawls on the walls and floor, the Pups haven’t exactly been efficient with their past supply. Dag speaks for the gardens and kitchens when she announces a surplus and for the Vuvalini when she announces a party. (Of course there would be a party.)
Capable waits eagerly for her turn. There’s a glint in her eye, not unlike a Boy with visions of Walhalla, a Boy with no need for Chrome. She drums her fingers against her chalkboard.
Furiosa’s gaze shifts to K.T., and she knows. It’s a not a genius move on Capable’s part, but it shows a certain ruthlessness that catches Furiosa off guard. No wonder the girl wanted to apologize; she’s at her depth. Capable will probably be up all night fretting over whether she’s doing the right thing or not. She’s so used to being sure about everything.
“I’d like to make a motion,” says Capable when her turn comes.
Furiosa narrows her eyes in a confident smirk. She sees no reason to make this easier.
“As you all know, I’ve been handling intake. I meet with potential Citizens at the lift everyday. I put them though a rigorous… extensive… thorough…” She tries different old words to see if any register, but none gone purchase. “I put them through a health screening, and then I plead their cases to Furiosa. I must turn all but one of them away, every single day. They come back the next, and I go though the whole process again. Most days, the same people come back, but then they don’t.” Capable’s voice breaks, and she has to pause. “Maybe they die out there. Maybe they just give up. Maybe they decide we don’t live up to our legend.”
“What do you propose?” asked Promise, her voice steady and emotionless.
Capable continues. “But then Furiosa’s mother comes, and she and her three companions are let in no questions asked. They are examined, yes, by Iris herself, inside the Citadel.”
“My mother isn’t staying.” Furiosa unfolds her arms and leans forward onto her thighs. “She and her companions are here on temporary, political business. I’ve offered the same arrangement for others; you’ve always declined.”
“How long?” asks Capable, “a few days? After we throw a party in her honour?”
“But she’s Vuvalini,” Dag protests. “Have any other Vuvalini showed up.”
“None,” says Furiosa before Capable can answer, “at least none who have passed the health examination.”
K.T.’s eyes are steady, her mouth firm and her brow rigid. Furiosa can’t read her face.
“Again,” says Promise, “What would you like to propose.”
“That we all follow the same rules, that none of us are treated specially,” Capable leans forward, “family or not.” She pauses before continuing. “I propose that I be permitted to admit new, healthy, Citizens without going through Furiosa. I should be able to accept as many as I want.”
Promise raises her eyebrows. “After Iris’s screening?”
“Of course. We shouldn’t have to turn away an able-bodied, skilled worker just because our quota for the day has already been met.”
Promise turns to the Imperator, “Furiosa, thoughts?”
Furiosa says, “As I said before, my mother and her companions are here under political business. They form a unique link between Vuvalini and Rock Rider, one I believe is to our advantage. They are here temporarily; they take no one’s spot.”
She considers her next words carefully. Capable will appeal to the council’s heart, but Furiosa must appeal to its gut. “We don’t have the food to sustain a large population. We must be careful. One new Citizen a day is manageable. Others may trade work for temporary room and board. Perhaps when our crops are stronger, their yields more predictable, we can re-examine.”
Furiosa studies the faces around her, trying to read them for clues as to their thoughts. It’s been a while since she needed her negotiation skills. So far the people here have practically begged her to lead them, no questions asked. Sometimes she just wants to throttle them and see if they still feel the same way. Of course there were a few who remembered the old Bag of Nails but not nearly enough.
“If Capable thinks she is well, capable, of determining the best candidate for Citadel Citizenship without my input, I would embrace having one fewer task in my day.” Furiosa shifts her weight as if loosening her bones to summon her own callousness. “But she brought an outsider into our meeting. She is exposing our weaknesses just to have leverage against me in an argument. I don’t think she meant harm to us; I just don’t think she though that far down the road. I don’t believe she is up for that task.”
“I can’t stand by and watch people starve!” Capable protests as she stands. “I watch them waste away all the while we stand at the Mouth and preach about hope. We are such hypocrites.” The forgotten word falls on deaf ears.
Furiosa waits a breath or two before saying, “Perhaps you should preach about something else then.”
“We give water to everyone,” Corpus reminds them, “free pours, no quota.”
“It’s not enough.” Capable’s voice is small but fiery.
Furiosa shakes her head. “There’s no such thing as enough. That’s the truth; I wish it weren’t.” This is the burden of leadership: every choice is wrong, and everything hurts. “If you want to make the decisions yourself, make them... and live with them.”
Then K.T. stands slowly, her hand raised. “If I may?” Promise nods. “Capable, I have been where you are, so scared and excited and just plain overwhelmed. I know you have big hopes for this place; I know I did for our Green Place. Your victories are small, but they are yours. Do not squash them because you wish they were bigger.”
Capable stands apoplectic. She has Angharad’s passion but not her tongue.
“Anyone else have anything to add?” asks Promise before saying, “Let’s put it to a vote. Should we accept more than one new Citizen per day? All in favour say aye.”
The words sound strangely anachronistic, too formal. They sound exactly like they are, something someone read in a book once. The ‘Ayes’ are sparse. The ‘nays’ are less so. Capable holds steady through the next question, whether she should be able to chose new Citizens herself.
“Maybe the council should vote on them,” Slug, who used to be Wretched, offers.
“But we only meet every five days,” Dag counters. It sounds like whining, but it’s a fair point; they are all busy. Discussing tasks takes time away from doing them.
“It would be cruel to let someone in only to kick them out again when the council rejected them,” says Capable.
“One person shouldn’t make the choice alone,” says Slug. There’s sympathy in his voice, sympathy all around.
“Maybe two people vote then,” Furiosa offers, “or three. Two votes to get in.” She gulps water to clear her throat and looks Capable the eye to see if the girl will recognise her peace offering. “One new Citizen per day, on average. Some days more, others less.”
“Sounds fair to me,” says Dag, probably plotting how she can avoid being on the committee.
Slug nods and looks to Capable. She’s dubbed herself “Voice of the Wretched,” although she’s never thirsted, not really. “Would you like to be the third vote?” she asks.
The plan passes muster easily. Furiosa even throws in her own ‘aye’ for good measure. It comes out with a cough she tries to pass off as emotion. No one’s directly told her she’s the second vote, but she assumes so; someone has to be the voice of reason. She tells herself she can delegate it to Toast even though she knows she won’t ever pass the authority along. There’s a part of her that wishes she could be like Iris and Leona and pass responsibilities for governance onto the younger generation.
“It’s your place,” they’d said, “make us proud.”
But Furiosa knows she’s had more of a hand in this place becoming what it is than almost anyone, for better or for worse. There was no bowing out. If she hadn’t been ill for so long after coming back, she probably would have clung to even more responsibilities, hoarding and hating them in the same breath. She coughs at the realisation that life itself isn’t much different.
The meeting moves along with minimal participation from Furiosa. At one point she sketches designs for the new rig on her chalkboard. At another point she nods off and is jolted back to consciousness by the sound of her mother’s voice as she gives the council a brief overview of Rock Rider life.
“And what are their thoughts on us?” asks Capable, “We killed how many of their people?”
“Rock Riders are opportunists,” says K.T. “They are not interested in revenge, only their own continued existence. Make a deal they can trust, and they will take it.”
“We broke a deal with them once,” Capable reminds the council. She keeps saying, we as if responsibility extended beyond Furiosa.
“And what about you?” asks Corpus echoing a suspicion that’s been long raised of him. “Where do your loyalties lie.”
“While I do have a certain appreciation for my own continued existence…” K.T.’s dark eyes find Furiosa and hold her firmly. “My primary loyalty is to my family.”
The Vuvalini practically mob the door. They all look so eager, so enthusiastic, even the two visiting Rock Riders who really have no business caring one way or the other. They all might as well be Pups, except for Diana who towers above them. No, she’s an oversized Pup too, eyes overflowing with excitement and misplaced hope.
Diana looks first to Furiosa and then to Capable. “How did it go?”
“As well as can be expected, I guess.” Capable holds her gaze steady.
Furiosa bristles. How could Capable not see her victory? “We both got something.” And why is a stranger picking sides anyway? “That’s how negotiation works.”
“She thought she was gonna trounce you!” Dag declares, “But nobody trounces Furiosa.”
Furiosa tries to ignore that.
“And you get your party,” says Cheedo warmly, which is a very good point.
If Capable really wanted to help the Groundlings, she could have suggested the party resources go to them. That wouldn’t necessarily have gone over well as there’s little the Citadel’s council loves more than a celebration, but at least it would have showed that she was serious and more importantly, that she was willing to give something up. Instead the party announcement went unchallenged. Maybe Capable understands that people needed such moments of relaxation. The harder the days, the more joyful the party, that’s how the old Vuvalini saying goes.
Furiosa herself may not necessarily enjoy them, but at least she knows better than to take them away. Not to mention that last time, Max showed up.
Furiosa kills that line of thinking and scans the hallway for an exit. She’s due in Garage 1, not immediately but soon enough that she shouldn’t let herself be siphoned into anything. As soon as she spots an opening between Toast and Leona she takes advantage, angling her shoulders to fit.
Toast subtly steps aside for her, but Iris intercepts. “Hey, Fury, you got a minute?”
“Mm-hm.” Furiosa shows her impatience shamelessly.
“Literally a minute.” Iris slips her arm into the crook of Furiosa’s and walks purposefully into the Vault.
Furiosa complies begrudgingly, and the whole group follows as if they don’t have a thousand better things to be doing. Furiosa tosses a look to that effect at Toast who just gives a sympathetic shrug and then darts away. Furiosa misses the days when she was likewise inconspicuous.
“What do you wa-“
Iris shoves a thermometer under her tongue. “Ha, gotcha.” Then she lightly presses on Furiosa’s sternum to reverse her line of motion. “Best have a seat, don’t want to skew my results.” Furiosa sighs as she shifts back onto a table behind her. “If you would just show up to your appointments I wouldn’t have to resort to these lengths.”
K.T. scoffs from behind, “Seems some things never change, right Fury.”
Iris shoots her a glare that dares her to respond. Nope, Furiosa wants this all over as quickly as possible. She sits with her legs dangling, her arms crossed with a certain childish defiance that makes K.T. smile.
“We heard you coughing,” K.T. defends Iris with a shrug against Furiosa’s glares. Then she whispers something to Diana who doubles over with laughter, probably the story of how Furiosa snapped a thermometer in two with her first few adult teeth.
“Shyuga herv ik befa,” Furiosa grumbles.
“What was that?” Dag goads.
“Don’t tempt her,” Iris mutters between numbers as she counts the time under her breath. “Might as well take her pulse to while we’ve got her,” she says to Capable.
Furiosa turns over her wrist without complaint. Capable’s fingers press their soft pads against her skin. Furiosa waits while Capable echoes her rhythm by lightly tapping the table. She’s good at this job, Furiosa decides; she’s acting as if nothing happened.
“Should have heard it before,” Furiosa repeats once Iris has freed her tongue.
“Before?” K.T. presses.
Furiosa looks to Iris for backup, but she and Capable are busy comparing notes. Iris has that exasperated look that has become all too familiar. Capable just shrugs.
Furiosa juts her chin up. “What, did you hear that we won easily?”
She is better, not perfect, but better. Yes it still hurts when she coughs, but she doesn't make herself dizzy anymore, and she did drill the Boys this morning. She's not just walking; she's running, working, shooting, doing all the things she's always done. So what if she's still a bit slower or weaker than she was? So what if she coughs a bit now and then? Anyone would have to clear sand and sulphur after a trip to Gastown. She’s gotten herself well enough for Max to leave again.
“Still slightly elevated.” Iris looks to K.T. “Has she always run a bit hot?”
K.T. laughs and then answers Furiosa, “No, no one said it was easy.” She folds her arms as well, mirroring Furiosa’s posture. “And that’s why I’m glad Iris is here to keep an eye on you. “Run hot? Sure. You take after your mother… stubborn, ornery, only slow down when you’ve already smacked into something…”
“So what did Mama Furiosa do?” asks Dag. “Wanna swap tells?”
“Nothing more than stumble onto our land half dead with a baby sticking out. I mean literally, she’d already shat herself and everything.”
Dag smacks her thigh and cackles. “Fucking chrome.”
Diana’s nose is wrinkled. “That’s crude.”
“No, it’s real. Everybody’s born into shit; it’s part of the birthing process. Then they shit when they die. It’s just the circle of life.” She sings the last bit and throws a glance at Iris for agreement. When she gets none, she looks back to Diana. “What, you don’t still think you come from clay, do you? I guess it’s not terribly different...” She looks to Dag who has apparently just found her new best mate.
“Sometimes one chooses to believe a story over mere fact,” says Diana almost smugly. “So yes, I was made from clay.”
“And sometimes,” Furiosa swings her legs as she launches herself off of the table, “the mess in the beginning matters less than managing every mess that comes after.”
”As they used to say, shit happens,” K.T. agrees.
“You can’t just go from one mess to the next. You need, you deserve to let yourself finish healing,” Iris lectures as if she hasn't already tried the same argument a thousand times. “Every time you go out on a run, you set yourself back.”
Does Iris honestly think she isn't painfully aware of the toll her work takes on her body? Furiosa went on these last runs because she needed to keep Gastown and the Bullet Farm from suspecting how weak she and the Citadel really are. Now she's living the repercussions of that choice. She's still trying to work the knot from her shoulder, let alone the sand from her lungs, and she'll be damned if she can ever keep herself properly hydrated. This is just the way things always have been her entire adult life: two clicks forward, one click back.
That isn't to say Furiosa didn't enjoy this run. Sure, the bumps in the road rattled all the places her bones were barely knit together, but it made her feel alive and present in a way she hadn't since…
“I do what I need to,” Furiosa says, holding back a cough.
“And we need you to stay in one piece,” says Cheedo, looking up from the books she’s sorting. “We can’t all be Wonder Woman. You’ll at least come to the party, won’t you? Take that little break?”
They even have Cheedo on her case, little Cheedo who used to be too nervous to look her in the eye. Now she’s learned to wield her innocence like a scalpel.
Furiosa nods. She should be used to this by now; a leader is everyone’s concern even if she would rather be neither. “I’ll be there.”
Furiosa hangs on a platform beside the Gigahorse as she runs her flesh hand along its side. There are few dents to be found; most have been lovingly buffed away. The vehicle had been mostly ceremonial so it had collected few anyway. Even without cargo it burned almost as much fuel as a fully loaded War Rig. Two cabs stacked… it was a ridiculous display of wealth, exactly as it was meant to be. Now… it needs to adapt like the rest of them.
“Thoughts?” Ace looks up from his work polishing the front grill.
It’s easy work, beneath his skill, but he still touches the car with pride and reverence. He’ll do the pipes next, rub them until they gleam. Then he’ll finish with all the details, the insignia, the bits with no purpose other than to bear chrome. That has always been the order of polishing: from the most mundane to the most sacred.
Furiosa shrugs. “Just looking for a hiding place.” The Gigahorse has never needed to hide anything; unlike its master, it was what it was.
“Maybe here?” Ace slides his hand into the space above and before the front tyre, tucked away.
It would be the perfect spot for either Ace or herself, but Furiosa shakes her head as she imagines reaching the spot from ground. “Toast isn’t that tall.”
“She drove the first run after, when neither of us could. She’s good.”
“Don’t doubt it.” His joints creak as he rises to standing on the garage floor beside her. “But it’s an Imperator’s job.” Then he starts polishing one of the side pipes.
“I’m not promoting her ahead of you,” Furiosa assures him.
Her voice shuts off as she spots a subtle dent in the body just behind the pipes on the driver’s side. She lowers her platform for a better view. It’s a good spot in case of ambush while the vehicle is stopped, low enough for Toast to reach from the ground, hidden enough to escape notice. She wonders how it got there… maybe a rock thrown up from the road… something hard falling from above?
“That’s not what I mean.” He sees the same spot as she does and nods approvingly. “You said you would drive again… once your hand was sorted.”
“I will.” She sighs and shifts her shoulder beneath the pauldron that still doesn’t sit comfortably. “Just not this vehicle.”
He looks at her like she’s crazy, which he does fairly often these days. And why shouldn’t he? What kind of Imperator would refuse the Immortan’s ride? Ace has never been one for fanaticism; he wouldn’t still be around if he were. He understands things on the surface: Joe lied about being Immortan while was cruel to everyone beneath him. On some level Ace has always known these things. Even so, there are some things Furiosa couldn’t possibly explain.
Furiosa closes her metal fist. She drives her heel into the platform and the steel appendage into the car’s side. Metal on metal, both give a little. She winces at the impact on her stump which will probably bear the bruises later. She opens and closes her prosthetic hand, feeling where the motion hitches, and shakes is lightly, feeling where the joints rattle.
“Yeah, still not ready,” she says. “We gotta keep moving though. Toast will make a good second for you.” She checks her impact on the Gigahorse with her flesh hand then starts to scratch a mark with the other to show how the handgun should fit. She wonders if she could make the Gigahorse suitable as an Imperator’s vehicle, maybe by switching out the tyres for slightly smaller ones... but to pry apart the body… no, some things have to be scrapped. “We’ll find another car for me.” Then once they do they can try to make something practical from this hunk of parts.
“They all are,” she agrees with unchecked fondness in her voice, “like how they got you to cover my shift for me so I would have no excuse to miss their party. What’s your price for that anyway?”
“I’m just being backfill. What’s that word your people like, reliable?”
She could swear he’s turning pink under his paint. She’s sure he isn’t the first. “Yeah, sure, I’ll put in a good word, let Diana know.”
“Yeah, naw. Diana’s chrome and all, but your mum…”
She rolls to her belly so she can give him a good swat. “You rascally Pup.”
He chuckles, “What good are new days?”
Furiosa cranks her platform higher as she quips, “Well it’s certainly not a new idea. If Iris and Leona haven’t started telling stories yet, they will.”
By now she’s looking down on the back of the Gigahorse, on the boot of the top Cadillac. “All are true…”
She covers a hitch in her voice as her eyes move over the all too familiar space. By now it’s been cleaned several times over, all the blood, piss, shit, and vomit of war washed away. It could be the back of any car from this angle, a shine car, a chrome car…
She climbs down from her platform and stands in the middle of the open space. She thinks she sees a stain or maybe just a shadow, and so she kneels for a closer examination. Nothing. There’s a slight twinge in her belly and tightness in her chest like nerves before a supply run. She breaths slowly.
“Just checking something.”
Furiosa scratches at a bit of grime beside her. It’s probably just from this past trip to Gastown. It’s probably nothing. She stretches out on her back, feeling her rib cage expand against the rigid vehicle as she stares up at the ceiling of dark stone.
The Vault is transformed again: harem, library, town hall, classroom, and now party room. The surviving Doof Corps drums have been brought in as well as a few other instruments salvaged from the wreck. Their voices blend, sometimes awkwardly sometimes expertly, with the simpler Vuvalini hand-drums and finger cymbals as well as the Wretched flutes of whittled bone.
The last time Furiosa had walked in on one of these events, Max had keen there, strangely comfortable and even sociable in the chaotic din. He hid his voice beneath the drums. She tries not to notice the lack of his blocky shape.
“You hoo, Fury,” calls Iris from the side of the room, the other Vuvalini gathered around her.
The usual crew is gathered together, now with K.T. and the two Rock Riders, and even Diana. If Furiosa closes her eyes, it almost sounds like home: the drums, the laughter, K.T.’s rich voice as she tries to lead the group in some long-forgotten song with words that have long lost their meanings. Diana and Capable are deep in conversation while Dag and Cheedo are deep in a sweet potato cake.
“Get your ass over here!” Dag looks pleased with herself and the giggles that elicits.
Furiosa sighs, wondering how sour she has to be before they all decide against her company. Cheedo passes her a cup of clear liquid, vodka by the scent. She sips it while the girl looks on eagerly.
“Now this one.” Cheedo trades Furiosa’s cup for another. “Guess which one is ours.”
The second burns a little more. “The first?” She figures no one would brag about having made the second.
Cheedo nods, “K.T. says it’s the perfect base for flavours.”
“You’ve become quite the expert,” Furiosa praises before taking a larger gulp. Vodka isn’t supposed to be a pleasant experience. “What flavours are you thinking?”
Cheedo’s eyes are bright and wide with enthusiasm and drink. “The berries to start, then we can see what takes of Dag’s experiments.”
Furiosa gives the cup back and then takes a sweet potato cake from the arrangement on the steel table. She scratches at the cake’s brittle edges before dipping it into a cup of berry sauce. “Don’t you think the food is better suited for eating?”
“Nah, for selling,” Dag declares from a prime spot atop a patchwork cushion. “K.T. says berry vodka will sell like…” she straightens her self up so her voice can swell and boom like K.T.’s, “Like hotcakes!”
K.T. interrupts whatever story she is telling Toast to yell, “That’s right!” in approval.
“See, like hotcakes,” Dag echos herself, “Whatever those are.”
Cheedo shrugs. “Cakes that are hot?”
Dag shrugs too and pulls Cheedo into her lap. Her pregnancy is only just starting to show, but Cheedo carefully curls herself around the slightly swollen flesh that would just be party relaxation on anyone else. Dag drapes an arm over Cheedo’s side.
“No wait, don’t get comfy.” Dag sits up abruptly enough to startle Cheedo. “I need more food first. And remember, you can’t drink for two if you don’t pace yourself.”
Furiosa let’s a slight smile of amusement show as she collects a few more snacks for herself. “What do you want?”
In addition to the usual potato cakes and the sweet variety, there are a number of all too familiar delicacies. Crisp, green leaves envelope mixes of cheese, potatoes, and tender meat. The same mixture with added spinach is also cradled on one or pressed between two potato cakes moulded into cup shapes and fried. Other vegetables are carved into fine blossoms and vines, their bright oranges and yellows entangling.
“I’ll get them,” Dag answers back, which is lucky because Furiosa is starting to feel a little sick with guilt just from looking at all this wealth.
Shredded meats, butters and sauces for dipping, leaves of green and even purple… crisps of beets, radishes, and squashes... cheeses, even chilled milk. People stand and marvel at the spread before picking a piece to savour. Only one item is actually new, bright red fruit cut in half to show their translucent flesh and sand-coloured seeds. The rest have been grown here for thousands of days and shared only with the Immortan’s favourites. Dag is scooping them up by the handful, rightfully as she is at least responsible for the designs of the carved vegetables and for the red fruit that runs with juice. If nothing else, it at least looks like progress, Furiosa supposes.
“Ooh, what’s this one?” Capable asks, her fingers flying to the fresh fruit as soon as she approaches the food table.
“Toe-maa-toe,” Dag announces. “And watch this.” She snatches one up, scoops out its pulpy insides with her finger, then replaces them with a dollop of fluffy cheese and puts the removed fruit flesh on top. “Nope, this one’s mine,” she laughs and sucks her finger when Capable reaches for the treat. “Make your own.”
Capable sticks out her tongue in mock indignation and then sets to making her own. “So if the fruit is a toe-maa-toe, then what do you call it with cheese?”
Dag shrugs. “I’ll make something up.”
Furiosa takes one of the red fruits and rubs her thumb against its rubbery skin. It must have come from home even if she’s can’t quite find a clear memory of it. She pops the fruit in her mouth unadulterated. Once she gets past the tongue-shrivelling acidity, it’s pleasant if a bit harsh, like the summers of her childhood.
“Now try it with cheese.” Dag is already prepping one.
Green Place fruit and Citadel cheese put together in a way only Dag could imagine, Furiosa studies the concoction. Dag waits eagerly, but then, just as Furiosa is about to take a bite, Dag wants to add one more ingredient. She selects a leaf from another dish and tears bits from its edge. They fall on the cheese while Dag beams.
Furiosa is about to take a small bites, but Dag insists she pop the whole thing in at once. The flavours are intense and complex. Furiosa’s eyes go wide. The richness of the cheese, the brightness of the fruit, the slight crunch of the leaf bits – she groans as she closes her eyes.
Dag laughs, “Crikey, I think she likes it.”
“May I try one?” Diana asks, having just joined the group with the two Rock Riders in tow. She leans over the table, her eyes wide.
“Sure.” Dag steps aside as she opens her arms in a welcoming gesture.
“But it needs your special touch,” Diana insists.
“Well, if you insist,” Dag laughs and she sets about stuffing tomatoes. “One for you; one for you.” She serves the Rock Riders first and asks Diana, “So do you actually need to eat?”
“I’m not sure, but I do enjoy it.” Diana shrugs and smiles. “I’m always a little hungry. I suppose I would have to go without to really know, but I love food too much.”
Iris leans back in her seat, “It is a fascinating question: how does your metabolism work?”
Diana laughs again. “Very well, thank you.”
Furiosa doesn’t want to think about the energy requirements of blocking bullets or jumping up mountains. She doesn’t want to think about how Diana managed to never go hungry.
Toast, however shares Furiosa’s suspicion and is less keen on keeping her doubts to herself. “You mean you’ve eaten every day, every day of your whole life? Even during…”
Diana doesn’t hesitate before popping the stuffed tomato in her mouth. She beams as she sings its praises.
Toast is about to press harder, but Capable gives her a sharp look of disappointment. She won’t have their party ruined by shaming their guests. Diana’s attention has been stolen anyway. The two Rock Riders have joined the group along with their pet, Tidbit. Diana is bend over, leaning on her thighs so her face is level with the mouse, and she coos as Sonic passes him a a few crumbs.
Toast rolls her eyes. “Seriously, you brought that thing to the table?”
Cinder’s indignation is quick. “He’s not touching anything.”
“He’s actually well behaved.” Dag holds out her hand so the mouse can sniff it. “Better than most Pups.” She giggles as he walks onto her hand. “Better watch him though – else someone might make a snack out of him.”
After that Dag, Diana, and both Rock Riders are banned from touching anyone else’s food until they wash. None seem to mind; they just flop onto the cushions on the floor and pass Tidbit between them.
Cheedo curls up in Dag’s lap and pets Tidbit as she asks the Citadel’s guests, “So how do you like it here?”
“It’s It’s marvellous,” says Diana, “walls carved not just of stone but out of it.”
The Rock Riders nod enthusiastically. “Our home is similar,” says Sonic, “But we build in the recesses of cliff faces. We don’t carve the stone; we adapt to the formations it gives us.”
“And we don’t have nearly so much water,” Cinder adds. “We’d never seen so much.”
“We were given a grand tour,” Diana explains. “This place is amazing, how you bring water from the ground and plants from the stone… And we head the stories, your side of them…”
Furiosa excuses herself to piss, leaving the others to bask in Diana’s praise. For Furiosa it rings hollow.
She lingers a bit longer than necessary over the trough in the room where she used to sleep. The furniture is still the same as it was, just an old, metal bed surrounded by books. She’d insisted on a pit of privacy, and this room had only housed books since Miss Giddy’s predecessor’s death early in Furiosa’s first stay in the Vault.
A chill moves through her body, and she moves to the bed. It creeks, and the mattress sags. She slumps forward, elbows on her thighs and listens absentmindedly to the sounds of some couple making intimate use of Giddy’s room. She thinks about chasing them off but eventually decides it isn’t worth the trouble.
“Furiosa?” Capable asks before moving the curtain aside.
Furiosa jerks up and makes some half thought-out comment about nothing in particular. Then she says, “Such a waste, this bed going unused.”
“The infirmary can always use another.”
“Or maybe we should just have more guests.”
Capable opens her eyes a bit wider but drops the subject, probably thinking Furiosa is just drunk and will renege later. She leaves without another word, and Furiosa follows, refusing to open herself up to teasing for missing the party.
The scene has changed little from when Furiosa left. The group has grown and then split with with Diana and the younger Vuvalini minus Toast on the cushions by the food table, now joined by Promise and another Milker whose name Furiosa doesn’t recall. Dag stands in the middle of the group, Diana’s shining rope in her hands.
“Furiosa,” she says with playful haughtiness, “Truth or Dare.”
“You don’t have to play if you don’t want to,” says Cheedo.
“I don’t know how to play.”
“Simple,” says Dag. “Right now it’s my turn. I get to pick a victim, and I ask them what I asked you. They gotta chose; if they say ‘Truth,’ I ask a question, and if they say ‘Dare,’I give them a task.”
Furiosa wonders how this is any different from her everyday existence. “Fine, dare.”
“I told you she would pick that,” Dag quips.
“Just make it good then,” Promise says with a shrug.
“Furiosa…” Dag flicks the rope as if it were a whip. “I dare you… to finish the rotgut Buzzard vodka.” She plucks a small bottle from Cheedo’s hands, “You’re drinking for two, not three.”
“Not all at once,” Capable clarifies.
“Fine.” Furiosa accepts the bottle. “Budge over.”
They do, clearing a spot for her between Capable and Promise. Furiosa sits cross legged and holds the bottle between her calf and thigh so she can unscrew the cap. She eyes the other women suspiciously, and they watch her too. She takes a long gulp in good faith, long enough that her throat burns, her eyes water, and her stomach clenches. Rotgut indeed.
“It’s your turn,” Promise finally says as she passes Furiosa a cup of water for a chaser.
“What do I do again?” Furiosa asks, her voice echoing off the metal cup.
“Pick one of us,” Promise coaxes.
Dag is about to pass the rope to Promise, but then she waivers and protests, “You has to ask, ‘Truth or Dare?’”
“Truth,” says Promise again as she grabs the rope firmly.
Furiosa looks down. There are many things she wants to know from Promise, but nothing that’s any business of the rest of the Citadel. “What’s our current milk supply?” she asks, but even that doesn’t need to be publicised.
“That’s too boring,” grumbled Dag.
“Ask her something real, something important,” Diana encourages her.
Furiosa tightens her mouth. “Any suggestions?”
“How about, have you ever been in love?” Diana asks.
Furiosa shrugs. That’s hardly important or even interesting, but if it makes the game move on… “Have you ever been in love?”
Promise blinks as her face reddens. “Yes,” she squeaks.
The others lean forward expectantly, looking from Promise to Furiosa and back again. Furiosa just sips her vodka.
“Go on…” Cheedo finally coaxes.
“She answered the question,” says one of the other Milkers with a shrug.
“When does this game start being fun?” asks another.
The rope moves to a few other players, none of whom perform any great feats or reveal any scandalous secrets. Furiosa is bored but lacks the will to relocate herself, so she drinks, waiting for the world to blur at the edges. All she’s getting is a dry mouth and a stomach full of acid. She’s considering falling asleep right there when Capable calls on her.
“I just went,” Furiosa snaps.
“Doesn’t matter,” says Toast who must have joined them while Furiosa was trying to nap.
Capable smiles at the others. “I dare you to pick truth.”
“For fucks sake, so much for a choice.” Furiosa chugs the water in the cups she’s forgotten about until now. “Truth.”
Capable holds out the rope and waits until Furiosa’s flesh hand in firmly clasped around it before she asks, “Are you in love with Max?”
“I…” Furiosa stops, certain she is going to throw up right then and there. The world is starting to tilt. She heaves. “I don’t know.” The relief of truth washes over her, sweeping the strength from her knees. “But Max…” she sways and hiccups, “I miss him.” She drops the rope and practically crawls back to her spot, caving under the weight of so much warmth and acceptance. It’s artificial, fake; she might as well be huffing chrome.
“You gotta pick someone,” Dag protests.
“Diana.” She pauses for a sip of vodka. “Truth or Dare.”
Diana narrows her eyes and purses her lips. Is there anything Wonder Woman can’t do? Furiosa watches with anticipation against her better judgement. Jump from the roof garden? Carry all of them? What would she like to see Diana do?
“Truth.” Diana’s demenour is calm, poised even, like the mannequins in the Sunken City.
Furiosa looks around the group, at all these women born in the wrong place at the wrong time. What do they need to know?
“Who killed the world?”
“I do not understand.” Diana grabs her rope. “What do you mean by that question?”
Capable stands and moves behind Furiosa. “You were there when the world died. Who’s to blame?”
Diana blinks, her face pale with effort as she twists the rope between her fingers. “But the world is not dead.”
“You know what I mean,” Furiosa growls practically grows, her chest tight, unexpected anger rising hot in her belly. “How did things get as bad as they are? Who is responsible?”
“Everyone’s responsible,” Diana spits, “everyone who takes too much, everyone who acts in hate, everyone who stands by and does nothing. No one is without blame.” She rolls her head right then left then peers through the hair fallen over her face. “But the earth is not dead, dying, yes, but always being newly created. This place is proof of that.”
Cheedo blinks then wipes her eyes. “That’s What Miss Giddy used to say.”
Furiosa sips her vodka and tightens her mouth. “Does that include you?” she asks with her gaze still on the vodka then sets it down.
“I try my best, but yes, everyone is to blame.”
The game stalls, having hit a definite pothole. Capable steps forward to take the rope from Diana, but Furiosa blazes forward. “Why about the Fall? Did you try to stop it?”
“Furi…” Capable stops, the rope within easy reach, but it is with its owner, and she must want to know the answer. The question has to have been waiting in the back of her mind.
It certainly has been in Furiosa’s. Every time she sees Diana do something beyond normal full-life capabilities, the question has turned in Furiosa’s mind. Every time Diana is affectionate towards K.T. in ways that remind Furiosa of the Green Place, the question pokes at her belly. She hasn’t dared to even think it until now, but it has been there, saddled up to her own guilt.
“What were you doing when People first starting killing each other for oil? For water? What were you doing when the bombs fell?”
“I am only one person.” Diana wraps her arms around herself as she bends forward. “I can only do so much, I can only be so many places. I stop one death, but another takes its place. I stop one bomb, while two more go off.”
“Were you sick from the fallout?” Someone else shouts.
“No, I was sick from the suffering.” Tears roll down Diana’s cheeks.
“You don’t get diseases do you?” asks Capable, no doubt thinking of all the half-life War Boys with their lumps and their nightsweats.
“No.” Diana doesn’t bother making excuses or wordplay. Her shoulders are slumped; even she can be exhausted.
“What about injured?” Furiosa demands. “Do you grow back like a lizard?”
“I don’t know. I hurt when I am struck, but beyond that I don’t know.”
“Shall we test…”
“Furi, stop.” Capable’s hand is on Furiosa’s chest, undoubtedly feeling how her heart is racing. “It’s gone too far.”
The alcohol in Furiosa’s blood seems to hit all at once. Her head hurts; her belly is too full. She grips Capable’s shoulder to steady herself as she turns to leave the circle. She picks up the Buzzard vodka bottle as she passes. She briefly considers leaving the last few sips behind the downs them anyway. No one will ever call her unreliable.
Furiosa stumbles and shoves away all the hands that reach to hold her up. “Gotta piss,” she grumbles as she plods past them.
Her feet feel heavy, her legs a bit too long. She holds her belly in case too sharp a movement tries to split her skin. The trough in her old bed room might as well be Bartertown for how far the journey feels. She knows she’s not alone. She feels Capable’s hands reaching to steady her, and eventually she gives up fending them off. Getting to the trough on time is challenge enough without the added distractions.
She arrives just barely in time. She closes her eyes as she fumbles with her pants and ends up shoving them off her hips just barely ahead of her bladder releasing. She might as well be the Citadel Mouth for all the water pouring from her.
“I’m confused, Furiosa,” says Diana behind her. “People usually drink to feel happy, but you don’t seem...”
“I’m not.” Furiosa refuses to look at her. “I hate this place,” she grumbles, and then more words flow from her like a damn broken. “I hate these stone walls and stupid metal doors. Too many people, too loud, too…” Her head tilts forward as she starts to cry. “I’m no ruler, not even…” She swings her boot into the wall and almost slips. She catches her self against the stone with her fist.
“Furiosa, this place is wonderful. The work you do here is so important …”
She straightens herself and makes a half an effort to fix her pants before giving up and leaving them undone. What does it matter? She can feel herself crashing, everything from her eyelids to her toes becoming heavy. She feels an arm around her back, a hand beneath her shoulder. She pulls away bitterly.
“Then you do it. You’re really immortan… And you’re strong and fast, and you can block bullets. And everything’s easy for you.”
“Furiosa, no everything isn’t…”
“It is. You just don’t think so because you don’t know. You don’t know what it is to risk yourself or to lose yourself while you do terrible things just to stay alive. You don’t know what it is to wake up missing parts and get called lucky. You don’t know what it is to have everyone you know counting on you, but you can’t get out of bed. You… you… don’t know…” her eyes are closed now to keep herself from openly crying.
“I do know.” Furiosa feels Diana’s fingers move across her forehead. “I know what it is to lose someone, and I know what it is to not feel good enough, like everything is just too much. I know what it is to want to give up, to feel powerless...”
“It’s not the same.” Furiosa hiccups then coughs and settles deeper into the floor. “There’s feeling powerless, and then there’s being powerless.” She’s curled herself in a ball, knees pulled up to her chest. Her arms are folded, right on top and left snaking it’s way purposefully out from underneath. If Diana is worth half her water she’ll notice. That doesn’t mean she’ll understand, but…
Diana is still talking, “And I know what it is to stand in awe of love…”
Furiosa jerks her head up and props herself on her elbow. “What?” Someone nextdoor is throwing up, and a Furiosa considers doing the same. Instead she loosens the ties on her cincher.
“Love will save us, Furiosa.” She might as well be speaking Buzzard. “Because without love, there is nothing to save.”
“Maybe there isn’t. Maybe we’re all as big of frauds as you are.” Diana’s eyes narrow, but Furiosa continues. “All I know is this, if I had half of your power, I wouldn’t be in this mess. I would be home. I would be whole. I would be better.”
“You’re a good person, Furiosa,” Diana says cautiously, her voice pitted with wounded pride. At least something on her is vulnerable.”
“I’m not.” She lowers her head so only her eyes are visible above her forearm. She means them to be full of fire, but her eyelids are too heavy. “I’m not so sure about you either. I know your stories, your mission about saving the world through love. I just have one question: are you a failure or a fraud?”
“Come on, Boss.” Furiosa wakes curled against the glass of the Dome. It’s cold against her skin. “Don’t wanna sleep here.” Ace drags her to her feet, pulls her arm over his shoulder and holds her about the back.
“I’ve done it…. before,” Furiosa slurs defiantly. He ignores her words in favour of generating enough stability for the both of them. Furiosa feels both heavy and unsteady, like a sack of ammo. “Whuddabout… the watch?” She protests. “Why are you here?”
“My watch, and yours, have both been over for hours.” He adjusts his grip on her as she sways and almost falls back on her bum. “Girls said you can sleep here in the…” he pauses before the still unfamiliar word, “library, but you have to be in a bed. What’ll it be?”
“My room.” This must be what sand feels… or water… not lead. The world shifts without pattern and everything is blurry like she’s liquid inside her skin. She falls forward onto her legs with every step. “Stop.”
“You gonna get sick?”
She closes her eyes and wags her head. “Water.”
“Brilliant idea - Once you’re settled.”
It all reminds her of when she was sick, not even one specific time as there are too many to count. Her whole life her body has seemed to lurch from one moment of disobedience to the next. “Ace, it’s not fair.”
“What’s not? Nothing’s fair.”
“Everything’s hard, and everything hurts.”
“Teach ya not to drink so much.”
“No.” She she jerks herself out of his grip hard enough that she falls backwards onto her bum. “It’s everything. It’s everyday. It’s my whole life and yours, and it’s not fair that my mum died. It’s not fair that you’re half-life. It’s not fair that the world fell. It’s not fair that my hand still itches even though it’s been gone for fifteen hundred days.”
“Furiosa,” he starts, and she knows from the tone of his voice that he’s about to say something serious. “When you dream, do you still have your hand?”
She shuffles awkwardly and draws her knees to her chest. “Sometimes.” She must be really bad off, bad enough that he thinks she won’t remember. She wonders how long he’s been waiting to ask that. “If it’s a bad dream, I know to wake myself up.”
“And the good ones?”
She looks up at his blurry face as the earth moves around her. “I don’t have good dreams.”
“That’s good.” He pulls her to her feet again and huffs under her weight.
“What? Why?” Furiosa remembers when Ace could fling her around with ease.
He shrugs beneath her. “So you keep waking up.”
In this chapter: plot and shit. That’s actual plot and literal shit. Warning for gross body things.
Morning comes and with it brings a pounding in Furiosa’s skull and an ache in her belly. She’s fuzzy enough to survive morning calisthenics, but by the arrival of mid day heat, she’s trying to strategise an escape to a quiet place where she can be horizontal. Luckily, she’s not not the only one; the whole Citadel is moving more slowly. Few people seem to give her slower pace more than a wide berth and a passing nod of understanding.
There is, however, one notable exceptions. “Hey party girl, have fun last night?” K.T. calls out with a suspicious cheerfulness.
“Sure.” Furiosa is on her way back from the garage with all its noise and smells. Her patience is thin, and her fuse is short.
Whatever K.T. is planning offering, a cup of water which Furiosa accepts and downs with singular focus. It’s ordinary Citadel water made extra cool and sweet against her parched throat. It’s cold and clear and perfect, beautiful in the metal cup and even more precious out of it. She fights the urge to suck it all down at once. She shivers where she was overheated not a fewmoments before, now she can’t seem to get warm.
“So how are you feeling today?” K.T. asks knowingly.
Furiosa tightens her mouth as says nothing. This is the cost of water: teasing, probably as intro to a lecture. Nothing is free.
“Uh-huh.” K.T. smirks. “Hungover.”
“I don’t know – it’s just what they’re called. You can’t tell me you’ve never been hungover before. You’re what now, thirty-seven?”
“I have. I just…” Furiosa hugs herself and plots a return to her room for a blanket. She wants to say she’d never been that stupid before, that this one is the worst in her recent memory, but what comes out is, “Just never knew what the word meant.”
K.T. shrugs. “Like you’ve been wrung out like a towel and put on a line to dry I suppose.”
Furiosa nods as her stomach churns; it’s an apt comparison.
K.T. pulls a pouch of herbs from her pocket. “Make yourself some tea from this. It actually works, at least for me.”
Furiosa accepts the pouch in silence dreading the idea of one more task before she can sleep. She doubts her stomach will hold anything other than water anyway, and even water is becoming difficult. She wonders just how often K.T. was hungover while Furiosa subjected her to various childish antics growing up. K.T. always had a bit of a reputation that barely exaggerated her wild streak. Quite a few of Furiosa’s morning training sessions were punctuated by K.T. sneaking off to the bushes.
K.T. is speaking from experience when she says, “if you haven’t thrown up yet, just do it. There’s no shame in it, and you’ll feel better afterwards.”
At least one of those statements is a lie, but Furiosa isn’t sure which. “I’m fine,” she says as she tucks the herbs into one of the pouches on her belt.
“No surprise there. Let me get you more water.”
Before Furiosa can protests, K.T. is walking her and her cup into the guest room she is sharing with Diana. Furiosa bristles and waits in the doorway. She scans the room while her cup is refilled with water and ulterior motives.
“It’s safe; she’s not here,” K.T. says with a sigh that is somehow both exasperated and sympathetic. “You can’t hide forever though.” K.T.’s eyes narrow as she rubs the side of the metal cup. “Remember what you said?”
“Well, you’ve never been one to run your mouth, so either that’s your secret, drunken self or…”
“Meant every word.” Furiosa braces herself. At least her admonition of guilt is enough to earn her water. She accepts the cup and stares at the clear liquid inside as if she were a child awaiting punishment.
“And what exactly were those words?”
Furiosa takes a long swallow of water. “That she’s either a fraud or a failure.” She takes another mouthful to avoid K.T.’s eyes and forces it down with an audible gulp.
Furiosa stands by her words, even if they make her feel small. Or maybe it’s just her mother’s presence making her revert to her youth. Why should she be ashamed of telling the truth? Someone has too. Otherwise everyone will gather around Diana convinced she can save them.
“Oh Fury... how could you?”
Furiosa shrugs. “It’s true. You’ve thought the same thing: ‘Where was she when we needed her? You have to have wondered that.” Furiosa scoffs at that last word.
“She has feelings, and you’ve hurt them.”
“Everything hurts, now she can be like the rest of us.”
“She doesn’t owe us anything.”
Furiosa remembers her next words carefully. She’d never thought to store them away for future use, but they are in her just the same. “No, power is an obligation.” She narrows her eyes as her heart pounds. The familiar words hurt coming out almost as much as they did coming in. “To stand by while something terrible happens when you have the power to stop it... you might as well be doing it herself.”
“You know that’s not fair,” K.T. protests, but Furiosa is already on her way out.
The door swings shut, leaving K.T. alone in the guest room and Furiosa alone in the hallway. Memories are rushing back already, rising up like acid from her belly. She tucks her chin and plows forward, K.T.’s tea satchel forgotten in her pouch at her hip. It bounces as she fangs for the safety of her own room.
Furiosa drags herself through the next day and the days after that. She’s tired at first, then exhausted, then feverish, but she goes through her days the same as ever. They blend into each other in a long, grey haze.
One half-life Boy passes out during calisthenics, which is normal, but then a second Boy succumbs, which isn’t. Furiosa is in the middle of lecturing them about staying hydrated when a pain stabs through her guts. It’s just a cramp, but she hasn’t eaten yet today. She grits her teeth and finishes the workout then skips breakfast, sipping water instead.
The next meeting starts late because her War Boy contingent has shrunk again. Toast is presenting a new plan for camouflaging the Citadel snipers using ochre when Furiosa finally surrenders to her body and bolts to find a place to shit her brains out in peace. She settles for the trough in the back of the neighbouring barracks.
She’s covered in a cold sweat when she’s finished, but her head is clear enough for her to feel a twinge of self consciousness about using a public shitter. She’s always avoided them when she could help it, first for self-preservation and then to maintain her Imperatorian dignity. It was better if the Boys saw her as almost less human than machine with guts of solid metal. That illusion is lost, she thinks as she washes up.
The barracks air is rancid, nauseatingly so. As Furiosa wanders out she counts the bodies passed out on their cots or slumped against the walls. Twelve Boys live here, at least at full capacity. Between the cots and the trough, there are four huddled in on themselves, shaking and groaning. A fifth is sipping water as he leans against a wall.
His eyes meet her’s. He is a new recruit, plucked from the throngs of Wretched in the first few days of the new order. Furiosa has spent little time with him and hasn’t yet committed his name to memory. He’s studying her with shy, glazed eyes, probably wondering if she is actually there. He raises his hands in an awkward solute while still holing a water cup between his palms. Then he sways forward as his eyes roll back, and with a characteristic sound, has between a rumble and a whine, he passes out onto Furiosa’s chest.
Her knees buckle beneath his weight. He’s not particularly heavy, but he is enough, especially today. Furiosa’s guts twist from anxiety as well as illness. If twenty percent of this barracks is down, how many are sick in the others? How long until it
spreads to the entire Citadel?
“Furiosa!” Toast calls from the doorway, knocking Furiosa out of her worry.
“Right wall,” she calls back. “I could use some help.”
The Boy is starting to come to. He groans into Furiosa’s chest without lifting his head.
“He fell on me,” Furiosa gives s a meagre explanation. “Let’s get him to a bed.” She holds the Boy steady while Toast positions herself under his shoulder. “you know this one?”
Toast shakes her head. “You don’t look so good yourself.”
“So any bed then.” She looks over at Toast. “Make sure you wash up well. You don’t want what he has.”
“Hey mate,” Toast says to the Boy. “What’s your name?”
The Boy’s head lulls as he mumbles, “It’s Rift.”
“You live here, Rift?”
His head lulls slightly differently, more like a shake.
“How long have you been sick?” Furiosa ask.
“But not like this,” Furiosa pushes. “This is different…”
He nods, then moans as he doubles over. The air fouls.
Furiosa breathes slowly through her mouth as she and Toast ease him onto a cot. “Start a quarantine. All the sick War Boys move to this barracks. We’ll start another one if we need to.”
Toast folds her how free arms and visibly fights an instinct to cover her mouth and nose with her hand. “And what about you?”
“I’m going to Iris.”
“Do you have this, whatever it is? You’re not going alone. You’ll pass out, fall off a bridge…”
“I’m fine; I’m full-life. We need to contain this, and we need Iris to tell us what it is. You get your ass cleaned up, hottest water you can stand. Send anyone else sick here.” Furiosa pushes passed her. “If you don’t trust me on the bridges, send someone after me.”
Toast follows in earnest. “What about the strategy meeting.”
“Adjourn i-“ a cramp steals Furiosa’s words, but she grits her teeth and keeps walking. “You ever seen a wildfire?
Furiosa lets her eyes drift shut. Her head is pounding, her every joint aching and muscles cramping. Numbers swim in her head: 33% of the Milkers, 45% of the War Boys, 75% of the council… she pulls her blanket tighter and cups her hand around her belly… 100% of the Imperators. Maybe if she waits a little she won’t have to get up.
A knock at her door startled her upright. “What?” she snaps, her voice small but sharp like a sewing needle.
“Furi?” The door latch shakes. “You promised you wouldn’t lock the door.”
“What?” Furiosa asks again as she tightens her blanket to contain her shivering and drags herself to her feet. “And have you barging in here while my pants are down?”
Capable waits before protesting, “But you could pass out.”
She opens the door slowly. “I’ve been foodsick before.” She feels liquid beneath her skin, like an overfilled bucket about to splash with every jostle. “I can deal with it.”
Diana stands behind Capable, her hand over her mouth as she whines in sympathy. “Oh Furi…”
Furiosa straightens herself. “What do you want? I’m quarantined, remember?”
“Two things. Iris doesn’t think it’s foodsick. She says it’s lasted too long and spread too far.” Capable fidgets with her braids as she speaks. She’s looking dark and hollow about the eyes, probably sick herself. “She thinks it’s watersick.”
Furiosa nods, her thoughts fuzzy. “What kind? Has it spread to the Wretched?” The Wretched are always sick, always have gut worms or lung rot even when they don’t have lumps. But if the sickness is in the water, it will rain down on them, then move of to Gas Town and the Bullet Farm. The foul water will taint the treaties, poison their food… destroy everything.
“We don’t know, but the Wretched don’t have it.” Capable pauses to look to Diana. Then she adds, “No one in the other two towers either, just here.”
“But they will,” Furiosa grabs the doorframe to steady herself, “Unless we can stop it.”
“That’s where I come in,” says Diana.
“We need to divert the waste water,” Capable explains, repeating words that don’t sound like her own.
Furiosa notices a metal drum sitting beside them. “All that fertiliser… and then what?”
“I’ll take it far away from here.” Diana squares her shoulders. “I will seal the drums and bury them, and no one else will be sick.” There’s a certain desperation in her voice.
“No,” Furiosa crosses her arms over her belly. “People will still get sick.”
“We have to try,” Capable protests.
Furiosa sighs as she nods. “You’re right, we do, but something else will come along: lumps, lung rot, sepsis…” she subconsciously runs her nub over the divot in her right arm where Max saved her life and infection almost took it again. Then she looks up at Diana. “What’s it like, never to get sick?”
“Furi, she’s helping us. She has no other reason to be here. Don’t shoo her away.”
“She’s here with my mother. Is my mother sick?”
“No,” says Diana. “She stays locked in the room you gave us as if she were sick, but she is not.”
“Then you should leave, both of you. Take the shit water, fine, see if it does any good, but don’t stay until this place becomes a tomb.”
They stand in uncomfortable silence, and Furiosa is about to lock herself back in her room when Diana promises, “I will not let this place become a tomb, even if I am the only one left. What you do here is too important.”
Furiosa says nothing. It’s a fine promise from a woman who let the world burn. She shakes her head and closes the door halfway before stopping. “You said two things.”
Damn fool he is to come today of all days.
“Don’t you know what quarantine means?” Furiosa grumbles. She folds her arms and props her head up with her palm.
Max stares at her unblinking as if he’s not sure if she’s real. He blinks once, twice, three times then settles into himself, his twitchiness seeing spent for the moment.
Furiosa narrows her eyes, squinting against the dim light that’s suddenly too bright. “Well, what is it?”
She refuses to count the days since she has seen him. He looks well enough. His hair has grown, both on his scalp and his face. He’s still got that jacket and the vest he stole from the Bullet Farmer’s war party. He has them folded over his arm, which is lucky because otherwise Furiosa’s eyes would be drawn to that bit of tubing. She catches a glimpse of it peaking out from the leather, but then he shifts, and it slips between folds. He’s still got her scarf too, just a bit more pilled and faded than before.
The night was bone cold when she gave it to him. Furiosa remembers shaking as she climbed out of the rig and scurried across the open sand to the ridge he’d claimed for his own. He’d been sitting there alone in the starlight, nothing heavier than the leather of his jacket to block the chill.
“You look- “
“I know,” she snaps. “Whole tower has the shits. It’s probably something in the water – wouldn’t touch it if I were you.” He looks worried; she wishes he wouldn’t. “Why are you here?”
She bites the inside of her cheek as she waits out a gnawing pain in the back of her calf. Max has news, and he doesn’t want to say it. He’s refused to speak to anyone but her, and as much as the thought of seeing him knots her belly, which she absolutely does not need right now, she can’t refuse. He’s here on business. He picked today to show up out of all goddess-damned days for a reason, and Furiosa will pry that reason out of him even if all she wants is for him to wrap himself around her back like a shell on a tortoise.
“Saw something. Thought you’d want to know.”
“Go on?” Furiosa straightens herself. It feels too much like she’s holding an audience. She appreciates Max’s silences, but sometimes she wishes she could turn on his words like a tap.
“Rock Riders, on the move.”
Her stomach drops. “How so?”
“Coming this way, a whole army of ‘em… with siege towers.”
The truth hits her like a boulder. She sits in stunned silence, too dizzy to move, too sick to speak. Then something breaks through, and her hand drops to the table. It lands with a satisfying sting. She chuckles to herself as she pounds her fist on the table again and again until her hand swells.
“Could be going elsewhere, Gas Town, Bullet Farm.”
“No,” Furiosa growls without lifting her head. “They are coming here.” She pounds the table one last time. “They are following my mother.”
Max studies her patiently. He’ll be waiting a while longer; an explanation is beyond her capabilities at the moment. She was stupid to believe that K.T. could be not only alive and well but reliable and loyal and least of all, here. Does her mother know? Was she merely bait or was this K.T.’s plan all along? The wasteland breaks everyone, fucking Mothers, Furiosa knows that. Why should her mother be any different? Furiosa was even more stupid to let her bring Rock Riders into the Citadel while Diana dazzled everyone. Is she in on this too?
Furiosa erupts to her feet. “C’mon.” She grabs a confused Max by the sleeve. “I need you with me.”
Furiosa bangs on the guest room door with more ferocity than she thought she could manage. She’s chromed on her anger; it she seethes with it between outbursts. “Open up, K.T. Concannon!”
Diana opens it instead. She’s in her full regalia: stupid, garish colours, hair loose on her bare shoulders, leather skirt covering only the tops of her lean thighs. Max studies her with the vague curiosity of a man who has just about stopped trusting his eyes altogether.
“Where is my mother?” Furiosa marches past Diana. “And her Rock Riders?”
K.T. stands up from a cot, a blanket draped around her shoulders. “Yes, Furi?” She folds her arms beneath the cloth.
“Where are your friends?” Furiosa asks coolly.
“They went home. No sense in them getting sick too.”
“Then why are you still here?” It comes out sounding too harsh, even to Furiosa’s ears, but K.T. seems unaffected.
Instead she shrugs. “I’ve got it too. I can feel the fever creeping up on me. Isn’t that how it starts?”
Furiosa says nothing. Instead she looks around the room from K.T. to Diana to Max and back to K.T. She felt so certain when she came to K.T.’s door, but now doubt is swelling in her like fluid around a sprain. A thousand questions fill her mind. Was she being too quick and too cruel? How much do these women know? Are they just as naively stupid as she is?
“Sit down, Furi.” Diana gestures to an empty cot, but Furiosa needs all the leverage her height can give her.
“This is Max,” Furiosa says coldly, “the one you were asking about. Max, tell my mother what brings you here. Tell her what you saw.”
“The Max?” asks Diana in the familiar tone most people must use when meeting her for the first time.
Max flushes and shrinks where he stands. K.T.’s reaction is similar, far from her characteristic warmth and enthusiasm. Diana doesn’t seem to notice; she’s too busy looking at Max as if he were some kind of a baby animal.
“The very one. Go on.”
“Rock Riders.” He fidgets with a belt loop on his pants. “In the Buzzardlands.”
Furiosa locks gazes with K.T. “Rock Riders don’t leave leave the mountains often, do they?” In her peripheral vision she sees Max shaking his head. “I don’t remember ever seeing more than a handful of them out at any of the trading posts.” And why would they? Rock Riders keep to their mountains because they have food and water and shelter, everything but fuel... “Max, you mentioned they were transporting something…”
“Siege towers.” It comes out as barely more than a whisper.
Diana turns to K.T. “What do Rock Riders need with siege towers?”
“A siege no doubt.” Furiosa straightens her spine and fights the urge to rub her cramping muscles. “A better question is, ‘where are they going?’”
Furiosa holds her gaze steady, her mouth firm as she waits for an answer, any answer. None comes. Instead a wave of nausea rolls over her. She swallows firmly, willing herself steady, willing herself not to throw up right there on the floor. She draws a deep, deliberate breath as she grips the edge of her blanket until her knuckles turn white. Then she gives up and sits heavily on the cot.
“Do you know anything about this?” There is a certain desperation to Diana’s voice, the sound of a woman who knows something but not nearly enough. “Could they be going anywhere other than here?”
Furiosa looks up at her mother and tries to conjure her Imperator strength and baring as she asks. “Do they know that we are sick? Is that why your Rock Rider friends went home?”
Max steps closer to her, half beside, half in front in the exact opposite of how he initially positioned himself. Now he is her guard instead of she his. She has to admit she doesn’t mind it, at least not too much…
“They seemed…” Max pauses as she searches for the right word… “prepared.”
It’s a good point. Siege towers don’t just spring up out of the ground. So Furiosa strings together a story, how the Rock Riders waited until a war party with the right equipment passed through the canyon. Then the Rock Riders dropped the rocks and collected the bounty. Normally something so foreign would be traded. How much fuel could a siege tower buy? But no, they held them, repaired them…. It’s an expensive venture for them; they must think it will be worth their while.
“What about vehicles?” Furiosa asks. She supposes a team of bikes in sync could pull a tower, but that seems unlikely.
Now Max looks over his shoulder at her. “You should, uh, see for yourself.” She doesn’t know whether his words or his tone is more ominous.
“I will.” Furiosa squares her shoulders and then, in case there remains any doubt as to her meaning, she says, “I’ll go have a look.”
“No, Furi,” K.T. protests. It isn’t safe.”
Furiosa forces a laugh and finds it comes out with surprising ease. “Out there or in here?”
“You’re sick,” K.T spits in frustration. “You should rest.”
“Tell me, mother, was my being sick part of the plan or just good luck?”
“I don’t understand.” Diana frowns and balls her fists.
“ I don’t either. My mother I haven’t seen in twenty years shows up. She’s a Rock Rider now. Not ten days later practically the whole Citadel is shitting its brains out, and the Rock Riders have got themselves a war party. Now, is all this just some damn, historic coincidence?”
“K.T., answer her. Answer your daughter.”
K.T. Has gone pale and sweaty, sick not only with disease but with guilt and shame. Furiosa doesn’t think she’s ever seen her mother so paralysed. Tears flow freely down K.T’s ashen cheeks as her breath catches. She looks around the room at everyone except for her initiate daughter.
Furiosa shakes her head and scoffs, “Daughter?” When she walked into this room, she’d been certain of this. She’d known, but hearing it is another matter entirely. There was a part of her that hoped she was wrong. That part of her now retreats to the pit of her belly where it will curl up and rot. Acid rises in her throat as it decays.
“I didn’t know what else to do…” Then K.T. whispers, “I’m sorry.”
But Furiosa will hear none of it. She jolts up, quickly enough to darken the edges of her vision. “Don’t let her go anywhere,” she orders Diana.
“Furi, I swear I didn’t know.” The look of abject disgust on Diana’s face mirrors the turmoil in Furiosa's belly.
“I know.” Furiosa lets Max steady her as she staggers past. She is absolutely going to throw up, and she is absolutely not going to do it here. “Watch her.”
She is almost out the door when K.T. shouts, “You were supposed to drink that tea. Furi, why couldn’t you just make the tea I gave you?”
Furiosa slams the door hard enough to feel it vibrating in her bones.
Furiosa watches the slow trickle of clear fluid into her arm. There’s something almost magical about the slow drip. Every time she watches a needle slide under her skin, she expects it to hurt just a little more than it does. She wonders how much of herself has turned to brittle scar tissue.
“Sweet, life-giving saline,” Iris calls the fluid. “You know, all life began in saltwater.”
Furiosa hums noncommittally. She wishes the saline would drip a little faster. Her War Council members are on their way, many of them far sicker than she is and not getting the benefits of saline. The Vault is about to transform again: harem, library, prison, school room, council room, party room, and now war room.
“Is it clean?” Toast asks as she scrutinises the liquid.
“Clean as anything else,” Iris replies.
“How much do we have?” Furiosa runs her fingers over the flexible tube. “Someone else has to need this more then I do.”
“Not enough.” Iris looks up from the bag she is prepping. “We’re making it as quickly as we can, but when all the water has to be carted over from the other towers and boiled it’s slow going.”
Toast sighs. “No one else is stupid enough to insist on leaving while they’re sick.” She makes a notation in her chalkboard. “What are you going to do that Max can’t do by himself?”
Furiosa looks down, her eyes ending up resting on Max’s shoulder as he sits between her feet. He seems to feel her gaze on him and looks up from the tear he is mending in the shirt he’s still wearing. He shrugs and throws a look that seems to say You know how she is.
“I got us into this mess; I’m going to get us out.”
Toast’s voice brightens. “You know, I could go. I’m still not sick.”
“No…” Furiosa won’t even consider that possibility. She needs to go. Maybe she has to see her mother’s betrayal with her own eyes. Maybe she just needs to feel the road in her bones. “It has to be me.”
“What exactly is going on?” Iris asks. She’s dragging too, dull skin, hollow eyes, but there’s something else. She’s got that way about her she always gets when she stops lecturing and starts worrying.
“That’s what we’re trying to find out.” Furiosa shifts her weight in an attempt to reach the pouch on her left hip, “Here…” but the tube in her arm is too short. She finally stands and turns “Left pocket.”
Iris flicks open the latch and pulls out the pouch from K.T. Furiosa didn’t pay much attention to the pouch before, but now as Iris holds it up by its fastener or leather cord and, Furiosa can’t look away. It’s made from a knit cloth with both striped and floral patterns. It may have once been a sock that lost its mate.
“The tea?” Max asks as Iris teases open the pouch and sniffs the dried leaves inside.
“Mm-hmm.” Furiosa leans in to get a look, a sniff, anything to prove there really is something inside. “My mother thinks it might help. Can you find out what’s in it and maybe make some more?”
Iris takes a few leaves between her fingers and rubs them as she draws a long, deep inhale. “There’s garlic…”
Toast raises her eyebrows. “Hey, I know that one.”
“And I think eucalyptus, and those might be barberries…” The light is back in Iris’s face. Her gears are turning. “I haven’t seen barberries in… Do you think your mother might have more?”
“Ask her,” Furiosa says as she returns to her seat. “Get all the information you can.”
Her shins brush against Max’s shoulder through the thin fabric of her soft pants, and for the briefest moment she relaxes. She lays her short arm across her belly and lets her eyes drift shut.
She feels Max stirring just before the Vault door opens. Her eyes fly open, as she snaps upright. Max stands beside her, his body blocking view of the saline drip. She doesn’t think he’s doing it on purpose, but she’s glad for it just the same. She hates feeling soft when there’s hard work to be done.
“Knock, knock.” Leona doesn’t wait for an answer. She just finds herself a seat and practically drops into it.
Others follow behind her: Ace, Kai, Scorch, each of them dragging, some barely standing. Of course they are doing their best to hide their illnesses; this is Furiosa’s War Council, chosen for their grit and experience. They are not keen to show weakness. They are the mind behind the Citadel war machine, not the cogs that run it. All things should be fine, or so Furiosa tells herself, even if it has never been tested, even if it’s youngest and least experienced member seems to be the only one in good health…
“Close the door. That’s all of us,” Furiosa says as she stands. The fresh dose of adrenaline that surges through as she addresses them seems to be just the thing she needs. “I’ve called this meeting of the War Council because Max has news of interest to us. What we are about to tell you doesn't not leave this room."
The group mumbles and murmurs as they eye Max. All of them should have at least seen him around at one point or another even if they aren’t all aware of his importance.
“Max is my eyes in the wastes,” she explains. “Tell them what you saw.”
“Rock Riders are on the move,” Max says, and with each telling the story seems to come out more easily. “It’s a full war party, large vehicles, siege towers. Don’t know where they are headed.”
Furiosa locks eyes with Ace. “ So we assume they are headed here.”
“Worst fucking timing,” Scorch grumbles.
“A lovely day indeed,” Kai mutters.
Ace is quiet and steely. It’s a familiar look of sheer determination, one that is intimately acquainted with bad luck and no longer phased by it.
Furiosa continues. “Max is going to show them to me.”
Toast frowns. “Why didn’t he take better notes?”
“Didn’t know...” Max starts, but Furiosa cuts him off.
”He was missing information, information you have.” She doesn’t want to remind them how she let her mother and other Rock Rider guests into the Citadel. She doesn’t want to draw any more attention to the meeting K.T. Attended or thhhe party held in her honour.
”Do you think they know?” Toast presses, her voice pitted with betrayal. She’s too smart not to have already thought of K.T. What all did she tell K.T. during the party? What all has anyone told K.T. since her arrival?
“I don’t think it matters. Max and I will pay them a visit and slow them down. Ace is in charge of our defences while I am gone; Scorch will lead the watch and patrols. Kai will work with Corpus to secure a clean water supply in the event this tower gets cut-off from the others. Toast, inventory our supplies; calculate how long we can withstand a seige.”
Furiosa’s last word is met by a heavy, weary silence. They all must be thinking the same thing; only once was the Citadel taken in a seige. The story changed from history to legend to myth to finally become the brutal truth it is now; it’s about time someone else tried.
Kai is the first to speak. “Do we think the water is the problem?”
“Yes, but only in this tower. So far the others aren’t affected.”
“So Tower 2 Boys are still good?” Leona frowns in concentration.
“For the most part,” says Toast.
Iris clarifies, “We have few in quarantine, but we think they picked it up here, probably during the party or one of the meetings the first few days after.”
Furiosa turns the conversation back onto course. “Iris will be developing medicine for us.”
“Don’t expect too much, Iris cautions the council. “Most diseases like this just need to run their course.”
The others exchange glances before Scorch asks, “And what is that course?”
“Most gastrointestinal infections are self-limiting. They are over when they are over. The best we can hope to do is lesson the symptoms, maybe shorten the duration.”
“Lessening the symptoms is priority,” says Furiosa as she looks around the group. She’s developed a talent for seeing well hidden pain during her time with the War Boys and this room is full of it. It hides in clenched jaws with tight lips and dull eyes with drooping corners. It hides in soft, low groans and quick, subtle winces. “We need to be in fighting shape.”
”If we’re already sick,” Kai presses, “does it matter if we drink the contaminated water?”
”I don’t know.” Iris twists the hem of her shirt. “We still don’t know what we’re dealing with. Contaminated water is better than no water.”
”But we won’t take that risk unless we need to,” Furiosa says firmly.
Scorch eyes the tube and saline connected to Furiosa’s arm. “Would Bloodbags help?”
Max shifts his weight back on his heels and lets out a low, probably sub-conscious rumble. His time in the Bloodshed is not public knowledge, but it still hangs over him like a fog whenever he works with the War Boys. A flicker of anxiety moves through his eyes at the possibility that someone might recognise him.
Iris folds her arms. “Overall fluid levels are more important than blood levels. However,” she narrows her eyes and emphasises the next word, “donations should continue for those who already receive them, provided that both donor and receiver are adequately hydrated.”
Scorch clearly isn’t satisfied with this answer, but a quick look from Ace silences him. Scorch’s name suites him, and while Furiosa has plenty of doubts about giving him so high a position in their defence hierarchy, he is reliable, capable, and experienced. Furthermore his primary loyalty is to Ace, and as long as Furiosa has Ace on her side, she has Scorch as well.
“And what about me?” asks Leona.
“Stay after the others head out. “ Then to the others Furiosa says, “Go get some rest. We’ll meet again when Max and I are back. By then we should know more.”
The War Boys exchange looks before Toast stands alongside them and ushers them out. Furiosa waits until they are gone before letting out the cough she’s been holding in the back of her throat and then sinking into the chair behind her. Max returns to his spot on the floor and rests a hand on Furiosa’s foot. When she coughs again he gently moves his fingers back and forth, stroking the thin skin over Furiosa’s tendons. She flexes her foot muscles in sequences so they pop.
“Here.” Iris hands her a cup of water. “Straight from Tower 2, and freshly boiled.”
It’s warm enough to soothe her throat as it goes down. Furiosa swallows tentatively and then swirls the liquid in the cup while she waits for her stomach to protest. She thought she knew how to tell good water from bad; now she just has to trust. Iris passes a cup to Leona and gives her the same assurances. Then a cup goes to Max, and finally Iris sits down with one for herself. They all share the same look of weary hesitation, but thirst eventually wins out.
“Ok now,” Furiosa sets her cup between her thighs. “Leona…” Furiosa hesitates at the sound of someone outside the door. No one should be able to hear though the Vault’s door. “I need you to guard my mother. Protect her from anyone who tries to hurt; she is less Vuvalini than Rock Rider to everyone here.”
Leona nods. “That just became a liability.”
“But that doesn’t mean you should trust her either.” Furiosa looks away in deference to her own first mistake. “Find out everything she knows about this.”
“The Rock Riders or the sickness?”
Silence fills the room. No one dares fill it. Leona stands, sets down her cup, and pulls her hand to her chest in Vuvalini salute before leaving. Her footsteps echo off the stone walls as she crosses the Vault. Then the open the door and is gone, but the door doesn’t shut behind her.
“Furiosa,” Diana calls from the doorway. She lingers shortly before stepping inside. She stands as tall as ever, but, slightly taller even in her hooded cloak that does little to disguise her, but there’s a certain deference to her. “I want to come with you, Furiosa, Max. I want to help.”
Furiosa tries to relax now that she has the hum of the road in her ears. She tells her fingers to stop clutching her thigh and her toes to stop gripping the inside of her boots. The desert is as calm as ever, just blue sky, beige dust, red rock, golden mountains, grey salt, just clear, dry air.
A rough patch comes and goes. Max mercifully shifts the Interceptor to take the smoothest path even if it isn’t the most direct. A few bumps are still inevitable. She has a rifle at her side and a bucket between her feet in case they hide scavs or shake up her insides. She would rather use neither, but luck probably won’t go her way. For now, the summer sun feels marvellous on her febrile skin.
The driver and his passengers are silent, silent as the desert before them. Their breathe is like the low wind that tosses dust as the shift their weight and rustle their clothing. All these small sounds are swallowed by the hum of the Interceptor’s V8 and the rumble of her tires on the ground.
Max is the first to speak. “Just a couple more clicks.” His hands are tense on the steering wheel. He flexes them one at a time, coaxing sharp pops from their tendons.
Furiosa nods. “We should slow up, look out for sentries.”
“What can I do?” Diana peers from the back seat with childlike excitement.
Of course, the Interceptor can hardly be said to have a proper back seat. Rather, Diana is crouching in the space where one used to be, her bum Max's water supply, her hands perched on her knees, her dark eyes wide.
“We need to be subtle about this,” Furiosa cautions her. “We don’t want to be noticed.”
Max lifts his brows. “You go, um, aerial?”
Max looks to Furiosa. “Count the cars for us.”
Furiosa frowns. Diana may be dressed in the brown and rust tones of a Wastelander over her usual getup, but that still doesn’t make her flying any less unusual. “If that’s the plan, better do it now.” The car stops without any more discussion. “Go on.” Furiosa unlatches the door and kicks it open. “Straight up, straight down, no dawdling.”
Diana laughs as she climbs over Furiosa’s lap, “Yes ma’am.”
Then she stands, tosses her hair, bends her legs, and before Furiosa is even on her feet, she is gone. Furiosa cranes her neck to get a better look. Furiosa squints in the sunlight as she studies Diana’s movements. Her red boots might as well be rocket launchers she’s moving so fast.
“Yeah,” Furiosa says to Max without needing to see the exhausted disbelief on his face, “she does that.”
Diana kicks her feet at the apex of her jump. Then her little skirt lifts from her legs as she starts to sink. It’s all like she said; her “flying” is just a tall jump, which doesn’t make it any less impressive. She’s probably as high as the Citadel is tall.
Eventually gravity wins, and Diana returns to Earth. She lands on her feet, letting her knees bend and her body drop to absorb the force. The ground gives beneath her, and a cloud of dust rises around her as the only evidence of her feat.
“How many?” Furiosa asks with the slightest smile.
“Two trucks each hauling a siege tower, six cars,” Diana reports. She’s not even out of breath.
Furiosa nods. “And bikes?”
“Lots,” is Diana’s chipper answer.
“Lots?” Furiosa looks to Max; he could have told her that much.
“I can go look again,” Diana offers.
“No, lots is fine.”
“Now what?” Diana asks. She’s like Pup in her eagerness.
“Did anyone see you?” At least no one shot at her. Can she block sniper bullets as easily as regular rounds? If anyone did see, they were probably still trying to rub the mirage from their eyes.
“I don’t think so.”
And to Max, Furiosa asks, “This is where you saw them before?” He nods. “They haven’t moved?” He shakes his head. “And the numbers, do those sound…”
“Two trucks, six cars, lots of bikes…” Diana recites again. “They are all still.”
“Just waiting…” A thousand questions run through Furiosa’s head. Waiting for what? How long? With the whole of Citadel leadership sick, terrified, or both, what time could be better? Are they ready to move out? The two Rock Riders left the Citadel far ahead of the Interceptor; they should have been able to reach the canyon already. “Max, did you see any others on your way here, maybe two going towards the canyon?”
He shakes his head. “Just the ones here.”
“You mean Sonic and Cinder?” Diana asks.
Furiosa nods. “This is Buzzard territory. They could have been attacked. The war party could still be waiting on them.”
“Lucky us,” says Max not quite sarcastically.
“Right,” Furiosa scoffs. “We can’t count on that.”
“You did say…” There’s his smirk.
She did, and she still plans to. Furiosa looks from Max to Diana. “What’s the formation?”
“They’ve settled then,” says Max.
“I need to see for myself.” Furiosa’s gaze drifts down to Diana’s powerful legs. If they can carry one to the sky, they can carry two.
“I can take you.”
“I know you can.” Furiosa’s never been more than a few meters above the ground without a bridge or perch to hold her. Any feee of heights she may have had as a girl was quickly exposed out of her by Citadel life, but flight is something alien to her. She’s seen enough to know it isn’t really flight, but it might as well be. She swallows firmly as she stands before Diana. “How do I…”
“On my back.”
Furiosa scans Diana’s shoulders for a place for her prosthesis. “And if I lose my grip?”
“I will catch you. I promise.”
Furiosa is still skeptical. She has no reason to think that Diana can’t and no reason to think that she won’t. Max gives no indication of his thoughts. He just waits with a faithful curiosity. He fidgets as usual, twisting the hem of his sleeve between his fingers. He would stop her, at least try and talk her out of it if he really thought it was a bad idea. Then he finally nods as Furiosa is adjusting her prosthesis’ grip to its strongest setting.
Furiosa places her flesh hand on Diana’s shoulder first. The slubby cloth of her borrowed cloak is comfortingly familiar against Furiosa’s palm. Then wrapping her legs around Diana’s waist, she hoists herself up. She ends up slipping her metal hand beneath the clock and clutching the leather strap of Diana’s scabbard. Diana draws away from it at first, maybe from the warmth of it, which has been known to burn. Furiosa doesn’t know if this should make her more of less comfortable.
Then Diana eases and assures her, “I have you,” as she encloses Furiosa’s metal hand in hers.
Furiosa hooks her boots together. “Fang it.”
Diana drops her weight on her bent legs and then pushes off. The sky practically parts for her as she drives upwards. Furiosa dips her chin behind Diana’s shoulder to guard herself from the wind. It’s sharp and violent as a storm. She starts to try to calculate the speed but soon gives up to focus on the expanse before her.
The view is clear, no clouds, minimal dust. The Rock Riders have placed themselves on the highest stretch of the plateau reaching from Powder Lakes to canyon. They have made no efforts to hide their camp. The bikes are parked around the perimeter, and lots is an adequate description of their numbers. The six cars form an inner circle with their bonnets pointing widdershins. Two trucks wait within that smaller circle, and In addition to siege towers, the two trucks hold large tanks. Fuel? Water? The camp is still; most people probably hiding from the late afternoon heat. Sun shades stretch off the backs of bikes, and a single tent has been pitched between the trucks, its banners and sigil pointing out of view.
Then as Diana reaches the peak of her jump, Furiosa gets a good lock of the bonnets of the two trucks. Her heart rises as her stomach drops. She knows that shape, the curves of that roof, the points of that grill better than she knows her own face. The Rock Riders had sworn to hold it for the Citadel, that only a Citadel foot would ever press those pedals.
Furiosa holds onto Diana as they fall, her terror and her anger all blending together with the stomach acid hot against her teeth. They descend through air quickly and time slowly. The ground looms before them, vast and unforgiving, and even though Furiosa;s eyes are squeezed shut, its presence and power shoe through. Raw, primitive panic turns Furiosa liquid before it.
Diana’s legs bend, absorbing the impact of landing as they did before, sending dust lifting from the ground and her passenger leaping from her back. Furiosa empties her stomach first, before the dust has even begun to settle, and then runs behind the Interceptor to empty her guts as well. She decides this is why people aren’t meant to fly and grumbles curses to that effect.
Dizzy and sweating, she leans with her palm on the hot, black vehicle that once was silver. In the emptiness her illness has left behind, she is filled with a primal, possessive rage. The car is steady as she falters; solid where she is liquid boiling beneath the heat of the sun. Was the Interceptor just as steady when it carried a War Boy in its cab and another name? It holds her up as she washes up with a few sprinkles of water. The first sip she takes mixes with her rage until she gags and spits it onto the ground. The second mixes just the same, but she keeps it, bitterly sour taste and all.
Then she stands shakily to face Diana and Max. The look of sympathy on his face tells her that he already knows what she saw. If not for Diana, she wouldn’t have to say a word. But we didn’t he say anything before? Because it doesn’t really matter; because drawing attention to it turns it to an unnecessary complication. Her body, her mother, and now her War Rig – just one more betrayal and probably the least of all; a machine doesn’t care who turns its wheel and presses its pedals. The Rock Riders have two trucks hauling two siege towers and reserve tanks. Then Furiosa makes one last edit because while a machine may serve any master, not all masters have the skills or desire to control all machines: the Rock Riders have allies with two trucks hauling siege towers and reserve tanks.
“Are you alright?” Diana asks with concern in her eyes.
“I’m fine.” Furiosa removes her hand from the car to prove her steadiness.
“They don’t look to need slowing,” Max says as he folds his arms over his chest.
“A bit o’ sabotage couldn’t hurt.” If there’s one thing sure to make Furiosa feel better it’s wrecking some havoc.
Max smirks back. “Always fun.”
Diana watches them both with a bemused curiosity. “Did you see enough?”
Furiosa nods and lowers herself into the Interceptor’s shotgun seat. “Everything I need.”
They drive a curve halfway around the Rock Rider camp then park the Interceptor in a ditch. Max and Diana stretch a tarp of worn and stained canvas over it to keep sun and attention at bay. They will uncover it at dusk and let the black-on-black blend with the night. Furiosa sits in the Interceptor's shadow sketching the beginnings of a plan in the dust.
She decides on a few non-negotiable points: neither her team nor their vehicle may be recognised. She has future uses for Max and the Interceptor, and while Diana’s full strength could make her a deterrent, just a glimpse of her face would call K.T.’s loyalties into question. Furiosa wonders why her mother’s safety would outweigh the fact that Diana could probably squash this entire camp like a bug beneath a boot. The answer comes easily: because Diana wouldn’t do that, not for Furiosa or K.T, not for the whole fucking world. Furiosa isn’t sure how she knows it, but Diana is a woman who spent the apocalypse chasing after nuclear weapons as they fell instead of destroying their source.
So Diana will be a distraction. Furiosa sketches out a rocky outcropping like the one to the south of the camp. It’s small but large enough to hide a person and provide some rocks… Does Diana even need rocks to throw? Of course not. She can throw the bikes, the cars, the War Rig itself.
Furiosa stands above her drawing and steps one foot into the center of it. Sand shifts beneath her weight, spreading outward and filling the treads of her boot. She presses the ball of her foot harder as if she is grinding out an ember.
Wonder Woman looks her up and down as she waits for Furiosa to speak. She must notice Furiosa’s foot in the drawing. She must know what is coming next.
Furiosa shrugs and says, “Just destroy the camp,” without lifting her foot.
Diana looks back towards the edge of the canvas she is holding while Max ties it down. “You say that as if it were easy.”
“Isn’t it,” Furiosa grinds imaginary embers, “for you?”
Diana shakes her head. “I will not do that.”
“They are coming to kill us,” Furiosa protests. She is frustrated but hardly surprised.
“But now they are still.”
“Destroy their vehicles?” Max offers.
“And they will die just the same, only slower.”
Now Furiosa steps towards them. “They must have supplies if they are planning for a siege.”
Max nods. “So we trap them here.”
“Their people will come looking for them,” Furiosa tries to assure Diana even though she hardly believes and cares even less.
“Or take their supplies,” Max tries.
“That only kicks the stone further down the road,” says Furiosa as her mind returns to the tankers hauled by the two trucks. “If we take their extra fuel and water, they just go back for more.”
Max shrugs, “Slows them down,” but Furiosa knows he’s on her side. A pile of dead Rock Riders don’t bother him any more than they do her.
“I’d rather them not stage a siege at all,” Furiosa grumbles.
“But if we kill them now,” Diana protests, you will still be sick.
That takes Furiosa by surprise, and she takes a while to compose a response. “It’ll pass. Iris says it will pass.”
“And what if it doesn’t? I can not help you with this like I can help with the siege.”
“Diana, I’ve been sick many times before this.” She looks to Max. “We all have. We will be sick many more times.”
“You think that. Everyone thinks that, and then it stops being true.” Diana folds her arms over her chest.
“That’s how the world works, enemies in front, behind,” Furiosa as she walks closer, “outside, inside.” By now she and Diana are almost nose to nose. “Get rid of the ones you can because there will always be more.”
“And if you can not beat them,” she looks smuggly at Max, “join them.”
Furiosa scoffs. The girls must have told her. Diana’s a lot like them, like Capable, like Angharad, only older, stronger, and somehow still just as naïve.
“Lucky us,” says Max, echoing Furiosa’s scoff.
“But luck runs out.” However, Furiosa finds that her demeanour has softened. “When it does, we end up broken at best. The risks just aren’t the same for you.”
“I still will not destroy their camp or leave them stranded,” Diana says firmly, “but I will help you take their supplies.”
“And after that, when they come to take the Citadel?”
Diana tightens her face. “I will protect you, however necessary.”
Furiosa looks to Max, but she already knows this is as close to a deal as they are likely to make. “Can you, eh, carry those tankers?” He asks.
“I can, one at a time.”
Furiosa looks down as she runs her hand through her bristled hair. “If we link them together…”
“Interceptor can’t haul that.”
“Luckily,” Furiosa feels a smile stretching over her face, “there’s one vehicle that can.”
Max shakes his head. “Can’t just drive away.”
But Furiosa wants her rig, complete with its loud engine and terrible acceleration. She knows even the killswitch code is still the same, there is no sneaking anywhere with the War Rig, but she doesn't care.
In the stories Diana stops missiles with a single palm. She chucks tanks across battlefields. She is so almost disgustingly strong, so much so that relying on her feels a bit like cheating. Furiosa has little qualms about that, and some things are worth cheating for.
“We’ll have a head start,” says Furiosa.
Max meets her eyes. “It’s difficult; should be low priority.”
“Agreed.” Furiosa kneels beside her drawing and reforms the camp in the dust. “First, Diana creates a diversion.”
Max squats beside her, humming as he studies her drawing. Then he sketches two lines that form two sides of a circle meeting in the centre of the camp. “We recon. Identify and prioritise the tankers. Detach them.”
“I beat the Rock Riders back and take the tankers one by one,” Diana says with light in her eyes.
“And the War Rig last, with us inside,” adds Furiosa, “if there’s time.”
“Or else?” Max asks, but he is already drawing flames in the dust.
The sky darkens, and Furiosa paints Diana’s face with black grease. She might as well be stone as Furiosa’s fingers glide over her skin; it’s that firm, ageless. She lifts her chin and sweeps her hair off her face so Furiosa can colour her brow as dark as the night all the way up to her hairline. Then Diana smiles, and her cheeks lift and eyes crease as if she were actually human.
What if Furiosa would have found Diana among the Wretched? What if those clear eyes had peered from beneath a rotten sunshade? Furiosa supposed that Diana never had to worry about such an encounter. She wears her beauty like someone whose never given it a second thought. And with her powers, why should she? Her beauty and her power are both her own; no man can touch her. Furiosa wants to hate Diana for them, and perhaps a part of her does. She looks too much like Valkyrie.
“Finished?” Diana asks, and when Furiosa hums she hurries to check her face in the rear vision mirror. “Woah…” she cooes, her eyes wide and bright white against the grey-black grease. “I look…” She pauses to look for the right description, and when she finds it, her exotic accent shifts into something more familiar, “fucking rad.”
Furiosa can’t help but smile. It’s like something K.T. would say when she’s trying to be funny, but Diana is being painfully earnest. Furiosa supposes that when a person knows as many words from as many times as Diana does, sometimes only one word from one time will do. Then why does she seem like someone who has seen millions of days? Furiosa tries to imagine them stretching to the horizon.
“Here, let me touch you up,” Diana offers.
Furiosa shrugs. “I’ll take care of it.” When Diana looks disappointed she adds, “I enjoy it. When I’m nervous before a battle, it calms me.”
“Are you nervous?”
Furiosa shakes her head, which sets it aching. “This hardly counts as a battle.” In truth if she wasted any energy on anxiety, she would have none left.
“Then no harm if I do it for you. I insist.” Diana dips her fingers in the pot of shining grease. She seems to bring out the purples and greens hiding within the oil. “And then we paint Max.”
“He has his own ways of disappearing into the shadows.” The thought of touching his face with her fingers is unsettling, and the thought of Diana doing it is even worse.
Her hands move quickly, and her touch is light on Furiosa’s skin. She focuses intently, studying the planes on Furiosa’s face. It should be a short job, just a few swipes of grease where sweat and movement have worn it away, but Diana works slowly, placing the new grease exactly where it is needed and carefully blending the edges.
Furiosa lets her gaze wander over towards Max who is sorting through his tools. She mentally counts her own supplies, less then she would like but her mind was on other things when she was packing. He must feels her eyes on him; he looks towards her, and gives a mildly bemused expression though his accumulation of hair and scarf. He will blend nicely into the night once the last of the daylight fades.
Diana smiles softly. “He is one of the good ones, eh, Furi?”
Furiosa’s eyes snap to facing forward. Then they drop as she stands. “Good men?” She knows he’s better than most.
“I guess.” Furiosa sips some water carefully to avoid smudging her face. He’s definitely better than she is, better than she deserves, better than the world deserves. Or maybe she’s just wrong. Her stomach clenches around the water, cramping hard enough that she sits back down on the rolled swag she’d been using as a chair. “Maybe not. I’m not the best judge of character.”
“You don’t need to guess.” Diana squats beside her and shifts there edge of her cloak to reveal her shimmering, golden rope.
“It’s more complicated than that.” Furiosa hugs her knees to her chest.
Now it’s Diana’s turn to lower her eyes. The action changes her face from that of a haunting apparition to that of a shadow. “I mean for your mother. Anything you think she might be keeping from us…”
“It’s your rope; why didn’t you use it?”
“She’s your mother.”