In the beginning they all had their own names for Furiosa. Nothing they dared say to her face - she’d proven herself enough to get that much out of them - but the whispered insults echoed around the streets of Citadel City. Bosses always had to deal with War Boys and their muttered gossip; when they weren’t on the roads or sitting in a holding cell, the Boys were cooped up in the Pits, training, working and fighting, but mostly running their mouths instead of their engines.
Some bosses beat their crew submission. Some of them bought loyalty through rewards and promises. Everyone got obedience, no matter what method they preferred. Not like the Rock Riders in that way: War Boys were assholes, but they were obedient. And not like the wild Buzzards either, who ate their own if given a chance.
Furiosa said she didn’t give a shit one way or the other if her crew liked her - she wanted results, not a group of young men as best friends. Ace, always patient, always reliable, always calm like a motor on idle but ready to accelerate, mostly agreed. He did have a mild piece of wisdom: don’t have to like them, but don’t have to hate them. She tucked it away along with other lessons she’d gotten over the years anyway. She wasn’t like Prime who listened to jack shit outside the sound of his own voice.
She ignored the names. She ignored most of the War Boys’ shit - except for the shit that needed to be handled. Her reputation started doing the talking for her and after a while - it took time, days that piled into weeks that piled into months that piled into years - she bent them all to her. When they called her names, they were titles out of respect.
She ignored the new names.
Joe didn’t. He hadn’t gotten to the top of the ladder by turning blind-eyes. The old bastard had eyes on everything - and hands, the fucker - and he probably stood aside as she fought her way up because he wanted to see her fall. Probably let her keep the new titles so he could throw them back at her - General, head boss, steel-eyed - or say them with scorn, with a scoff. Furiosa let him; wasn’t worth it to punch the words back into his mouth. Another adage from Ace: winning was more important than fighting.
Rules to learn, and not just Joe’s dogma. Citadel City was a beast with a mind of its own and it took diligence, vigilance, and patience to master it.
A country girl had no place on the streets.
She’d grown up in green - the trees, the crops, the gardens around her house. Rode a horse long before she drove a car, fished long before she’d stepped inside a supermarket, and she fell asleep to the sound of crickets and not sirens. Not that the countryside was all bucolic pastorals, but the main dangers were ignorance or lack of attention. A tractor didn’t hunt you down. Cattle didn’t go cruising. You get stung by something or put your foot where it didn’t belong, that was on you. In Citadel City, there were rules for surviving that nothing at home had prepared her for.
In the quiet night Furiosa let her mind wander back to her past. Sometimes she did it for relief, closing her eyes and noise to the city, and dredging up the earthy memories of her youth. Sometimes she did it masochistically. Tonight was one of those. Sitting in the van in Joe’s territory, the only place to get away from the city was to dig in deep to her memories.Not even fucking Joe could get those.
The buzz of her cellphone put an end to the tortuous reminiscence. A couple of words were a clear enough order; with quick, efficient moves she locked the steering column of her truck and exited, boots landing heavily on the concrete.
The neighborhood around the Vault was mostly empty. But clean - swept and washed and everything so that the big wigs and big names could continue their delusion of perpetual grandeur. Furiosa walked purposefully through one of the alleys to one of the back entrances to the nightclub. Even there it was nearly pristine. Waiting at the door was another boss: Gonner. Furiosa eyed him as he opened the door for her. He'd never tried to be a big player like Prime and the lack of ambition concerned her. Easy to read but harder to figure out, Gonner fell neither on her shit list or with her cohorts. A brisk nod was all he got from her, which he returned. And then the heavy door clanged behind her.
The Vault: glitzy and ritzy, built by money for money. In the back there wasn't much that interested Furiosa; she walked through the hallways with eyes not drifting from her path. She'd been in the public areas too. Also not impressed.
The thick walls kept the noises from the public, and vice versa. Furiosa’s thick boots were the only sound in the hall, a thump as steady as a beat. Until another beat joined hers - fast, high clicks. Not running, but moving quickly… then slowing. Stopping. Starting again.
Suspicions were confirmed when a woman came into view. A lost guest probably, Furiosa thought to herself and rolled her eyes without rolling her eyes. The billowing layers of her dress rose up behind her as the woman continued her rapid steps. Maybe the shadows had hidden her from the guest’s view or maybe she just wasn’t all that observant - or she was drunk, or high, or some combination - because suddenly the woman looked up and froze and the red mouth of hers turned into a full circle of surprise.
“I’m just -” she began. She’d stopped fast and her hands gripped at the gown like it was some sort of protection.
Another voice: “Cheedo! Cheedo, where are you?”
The woman turned slightly to call back, “I’m over here!” Instead of returning she stared at Furiosa. “You’re a boss? I mean, you look like one. But… You won’t tell Joe, right?”
Despite the heels, the woman moved smoothly, a glide over the hard floor. Those heels, the dress, the make-up - it wasn’t until she was a few feet in front of Furiosa that the boss realized how wrong she’d been: not a woman, a girl. A young girl. A child.
Everyone knew about Joe and the women - girls - he kept. Each batch was younger than the rest, like they were going backwards in time. But this - It had to be illegal. Had to be. Sickened, Furiosa pressed her lips flat. Joe had left no crime undone.
That second voice again: “Cheedo!”
“Dag, come here!” The child was all interest now. Shyly she looked Furiosa over, completely unaware that their roles had switched - that Furiosa was the one who wanted to spin on her heel and leave, quick as possible. “Are you a boss for real? I didn’t know Joe had a woman boss.”
“Cheedo!” Jewelry swaying around the thin neck was the first thing Furiosa noticed; her eyes drawn to the movement, the color. This woman wasn’t the sprog that the first one was was, but she was still young.
They grabbed on each. Clung. Furiosa eyed them and then gave them a nod, the only answer to Cheedo’s questions. That was all she could give. Her main concern was getting done what she’d come to do; the morass of the girls and their situation wasn’t her problem right now.
But something delayed her instinct to move on - maybe she was getting old, slowing down without getting wiser - and the hesitation cost her.
More voices, more girls: “Dag? Cheedo?”
“We’re over here!” The second girl, the pale one - Dag, what a name - shouted back.
Like a damn curse they kept coming: a woman with a shining crown of red hair and then one with dark skin and angry eyes.
“Cheedo, are you ok? What happened?”
“Nothing! I’m ok, Capable, really. I just… I wanted to get away and then I got lost. But I’m ok. You guys didn’t all need to come. Joe’s going to get mad.”
“Let him. Maybe it’ll give that bastard a heart attack.”
“We’d be so lucky.”
A fifth voice silenced the other girls. They turned as one, turned away from Furiosa and down the hall again and then started to call back to the final girl.
“Angharad, what are you doing?”
“Angharad, there’s a boss who’s a woman!”
“So who are you?“ the girl decked out with jewelry jerked her shining head toward Furiosa.
“No one you need to know,” Furiosa told them all.
They didn’t exactly scoff at that but Furiosa won no points for her dismissal - fine with her. If she didn’t need to make friends with Joe’s Boys, then she certainly wasn’t about to buddy up to his girls. Furiosa moved forward and the sound of her boots made the group of them tighten up, but they didn’t step aside. Nervous of her, sure, but they were more anxious for something else. Someone else - Joe, Furiosa thought at first, until the final girl turned the corner and came into the light.
She was the boss of this crew, clear as day, this Angharad.
She was tall but she still looked so young. Furiosa's throat tightened but that was the only reaction she let herself have. When she came up them, the other girls patted and squeezed her hands and arms - almost like the War Boys did, a search for damage, an excuse to touch - all their attention on Angharad now. Not that they’d forgotten Furiosa. The chrome-haired one’s eyes flicked back like she was trying to shoot something out of them.
Even as pregnant as she was - and this one was pregnant, heavy and round like a full moon - Angharad didn’t have a hint of haggard, like everything’d been buffed off and into a shine. The other girls opened their arms to invite her into their embrace and they looked like some fancy picture, some painting that Furiosa had seen as reproduced prints hung in shitty diners or in the center of some titty mag. All of them together was a strange sight. Boys would probably call them mirages, some sort of chrome dream. Now that they were all together - and Furiosa hoped that, that there weren’t going to be more popping out of the woodwork - their courage pooled together. They looked back with interest varying from curiosity to suspicion. No shy schoolgirl modesty.
A couple seconds of quiet from them all, and then the pregnant one said, “You’re Furiosa, aren’t you?”
As she debated answering, there was another noise -
“Hey? Hey girls?’
Another voice, of fucking course. Male, low, empty: Rictus. She didn’t take orders from Joe’s son - assuming he even knew how to give them - but she tilted her head to listen anyway. The young women did too. For a second they were all united in their pissed off silence.
“What’s taking you so long?” Rictus whined from down the hall. “Dad’s gonna get mad!”
For once his bumbling worked to her advantage. The party was over and she could go back to business.
The red-headed one caught Angharad’s eye. Something must have passed between them because she said quickly, “I’ll go.” Whipping back around, she pulled her gown up past her knees so she could hurry. “We’re coming, Rictus!”
That released them all and the other women disappeared too - one of them going through another set of doors and the other two holding hands as they marched away. It left Furiosa with the pregnant one, the most vulnerable and valuable one. Strange carelessness, abandoning the leader. She didn’t want to feel pity; it was practicality that made her offer her arm. Escorting the girl gave Furiosa an excuse for the delay in reporting to Joe. “You need a hand?”
“Yeah, please. Sometimes we all need a little help.”
Angharad’s long fingers were tipped in manicures and on one there was an intricate gold band curling around a winking diamond. Even in the dismal neon lighting, her flawless skin seemed to glow, a warm pink, a sheen of gold. Wasn’t a speedwalk of course, but even being that heavy and swollen Angharad kept a good speed. Thankfully. And she didn’t try to talk. Thankfully.
They were almost at the door when Prime slid out into the light, watching like he was enjoying a show. His teeth were all showing when he grinned. “There’s a girl. Taking your time, aren’t you. You like making him wait?”
“This isn’t your turf,” Furiosa said as her steady gaze flicked over the other boss. Judged. Dismissed. “Get out of my way.”
Angharad’s face registered nothing as she answered, “My ankles are too swollen to hurry. And with this stomach, my bladder’s getting squeezed. I need to go to the bathroom -”
Prime swore and grimaced before he turned away - Quick, jerking movements, ducking for cover. Under his breath she heard him mutter, “For fuck’s sake. I don’t want to know about that gross shit.”
As soon as he was gone, Angharad exhaled a low laugh. “It’s so easy to deal with him.” A second of enjoying her victory was all she allowed before she continued in a harder voice, “Soon as we act human, we’re disgusting. The pedestal’s more like a cage.”
“You saying you don’t like all the money and attention?”
Angharad stopped. “I hate it. We all do. You really think we’d like being trapped here? Raped? You think we want this?”
Citadel City was all about wanting. Furiosa said nothing to the series of questions and just stood there, impassive, waiting for the girl to start walking. A second went by, then a few more, all in silence. Angharad was waiting for Furiosa to respond. Unprovoked, Furiosa said nothing. She could wait.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Angharad pressed at last. Not a whine like Rictus, not a complaint like Prime - This was a real question. “You, of all the people here -”
“You’re looking for something from me? What?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m just trying to figure you out.”
The longest conversation she’d had with a woman since… When? How many days? “You’re not starving. Ring like that - how much that cost? Probably put down a payment on a house. Buy a car. You wear it and you don’t even look at it.”
“Where would we go to sell it? How’d we even get there?” She pulled back her hand to try to twist the ring off. “Fingers are swollen, too. My whole body’s in revolt. I can’t even control me anymore.”
Tottering around in heels and a restrictive dress couldn’t help. First thing first was dressing proper, exercising proper. All the advice and instruction Furiosa had from home about pregnancy and women could fill a damn book. Not that it did any good in the Vault, so she kept it to herself and said instead, “So sit around and enjoy it.”
“Enjoy?! How can you say that? You’re a woman, I thought you’d understand -”
Furiosa cut in, flat compared to the girl’s accusing tones, “Because the bits between our legs are the same?”
“Because you know!” she countered. Her tone was wild but the volume was low; even this girl had learned about keeping quiet.
Furiosa knew a lot, but nothing that the frilly ladybirds would be interested in. She steeled herself and focused on walking with the weight of the girl leaning on her flesh arm. Living with diamonds was better than living with scars. The rich were like that, all them blinded by the shine of their wealth so they couldn’t imagine a world without it. No preparation, no practicality. This girl sneered now but would miss it when it was gone.
And anything was better than being on the streets.
When Furiosa opened the doors back to the public vestibule, standing in the hallway were Corpus and his flanks of two bosses. Bosses as bodyguards - probably saw it as a step up, being close to Joe and away from their Boys. Lifted up. Not close enough to be in the party, but at least they could see it now, maybe even eat off the guests’ plates before they were swept away.
Angharad spoke first, loud and clear through the other noises, “I’m not feeling well. I’m going back.”
Corpus wheezed a laugh at that. “Oh yeah? And you want Furiosa? Dad called her in for a reason - not you.”
“Not if she doesn’t want to.” Angharad’s graceful shrug made her hair cascade across her shoulders. “You know Prime hates driving us and Big Sal isn’t here tonight. Rictus can do it, but he’s got to hurry. I’m sweating everywhere and I don’t want to stain this new dress.”
If she didn’t want to, Furiosa echoed in her thoughts. Angharad knew that a boss couldn’t deny Joe, not if they wanted to keep their position and their fucking life.
“And I’m having a hard time getting in and out of the car. You know what that’s like, right, Corpus? No Aimin Andy; he always tries to grope me.”
Furiosa added nothing to the exchange, just watched until Corpus agreed. It didn’t matter to her which way it went. Course she’d prefer to spare herself from another meeting with Joe. As Corpus was wheeled away, Furiosa wondered how he’d spin it to his father, but the curiosity passed fast enough; she didn’t ever let him stay long in her head.
She wasn’t about to show how impressed she was that Angharad had wiled them out of the club without Joe ever have being a part of it, but she gave the girl a nod. That was all - Wasn’t like anything between the two of them had changed. Furiosa had an order now - haul his precious cargo away; might not have been the reason she’d been summoned, but it was still a order. She left the wrangling to Angharad and went back out to her truck to wait. Playing chauffer went easily: they came out in a line and piled in without complaint, though it was hardly the limousine they were probably used to riding in. Furiosa kept her eyes on the road and her thoughts to herself, but the girls were apparently done with her, now that they had gotten what they wanted and were out of the club. They talked, but in murmurs and only to each other.
It was late enough that the streets were clear, even in the nicer parts of the city where people had enough street lights and cops on their sides to traipse around at night. She knew the building where Joe housed the girls: a tall, glass rectangle rose above the buildings around it and dominated the skyline. Phallic as hell. Ugly too. And from the rumors, half empty - the floors lit up in spite of it. She pulled up to the curb and climbed out to open the door, and the other girls helped Angharad to the sidewalk. But somehow she ended up with Angharad on her arm again, which meant she had to take the elevator up with them all.
But she drew the line at entering the apartment.
"Will you come back, Furiosa?” the youngest asked through the crack in the door. "You're better than the other guys."
"What, because she didn’t slap you on the ass? Super high standards." The dag yanked her hair out of the combs and clips, and it closed out her face like a curtain.
"Guys." The red-head interrupted the barrage of weak insults. "Come on. It’s been a long night."
They were like some sort of weird chorus, grabbing on and then building on the other's threads. The youngest one’s big eyes were more childlike now that they were free of make-up, and they were wide as she followed the other girls’ back and forth. When she opened the door more, she saw Furiosa's gaze and followed it, turning around to look over her shoulder. At the back of room Angharad was standing with her arms at her sides.
“She’s one of Joe’s,” the shortest one moved into the doorway, sliding in next to the youngest to stare back at Furiosa. Despite the clear condemnation in that statement, there was no anger in her smooth face. “That’s enough, right?”
“None of us are Joe’s.” Angharad’s words came out like a pronouncement and once again Furiosa had the sense of some message getting passed through them all, something beyond that statement. She didn’t like that, didn’t like having to decode them, have to listen for the shit that wasn’t being said. Them talking was nothing like the War Boys and all their vacant chatter. A big difference. Different was dangerous.
“So will you?” the young one prompted again.
“Maybe,” Furiosa replied. She wouldn’t - couldn’t - lie to them. She heard the door close behind her but didn’t look back as she walked across the plush carpet back to the elevator. Back in her truck, finally, she checked her phone for new messages. Orders again, calling her to Joe’s territory. She started up the van and steered toward the dark parts of the city. Work was a relief - for once she didn’t want to think about home.