The Interceptor purred as it carved a long line through the wasteland. Max hugged the base of the mountains, where his dust-trail could not be seen. He had been trailing a rogue group of war-pups. They had stolen a few vehicles from the citadel and had been causing trouble in the surrounding areas. After Immortan Joe had destroyed almost his entire fleet chasing after Furiosa, the Citadel had precious few vehicles remaining. So they could hardly afford to lose any, and especially not the last tanker, which the pups had taken. Whether this was a tactical choice, or simply luck on the part of the pups, Max did not know. He suspected the latter. Watching their behaviour in the days after their escape, they had hardly made any choices that anyone could call ‘tactical’.
Not that Max knew or cared about any of that, of course. He was simply on the trail of a few more violent creatures of the wasteland. He needed fuel for his body and his car, and if he should happen to help Furiosa in the process, well, that was just good luck. The same as the last dozen times.
Max breathed in slowly through his nose. The air was dry and salty, and the sharp tang of petrol made his nose twitch. The engine whined as Max leaned harder on the accelerator. Max reached for the gearstick, but before he could reach it, thunk! It slid into place. Max stared at the gearstick for a second, before blinking and refocusing his eyes on the expanse in front of him.
The Interceptor pulled free of the sand with a drawn out creak! Waves of sand poured off the body as it emerged slowly from the dune. Max showed his satisfaction with a twitch of his lips and a short huff.
“Full of the good stuff, you reckon?” asked a wastelander, a wild-eyed man Max had employed to help free the Interceptor. The man licked his lips, looking at the newly revealed vehicle hungrily. Max grunted in reply.
“Enough for both of us.” he said warily.
“Sure, sure…” the wastelander never took his eyes of the Interceptor.
Max paced slowly up to his car. He ran his hands over the sandblasted bodywork, frowning slightly. He stalked through a quick 360, eyeing off the car from the outside. The car seemed in fairly good condition after having been left in a sand dune for months. Max’s lips twitched again, proud of his handiwork. Even the modifications made by the citadel mechanics couldn’t completely destroy the Interceptor .
“Well? Let’s have it then.” The wastelander’s eyes were wide, and his hand was kneading the handle of the large bowie knife he wore at his hip. Max moved slowly, his hands up, palms facing forward. He circled around to the back of the vehicle and dropped prone. He glanced up under the car, and saw a mess of slashed wires. Raising his eyes slightly, he rose to his feet.
“No surprises then? Nothing you don’t wanna to tell me about?”
Max paused for a moment, until the wastelander looked up from the car to Max. “No.” He said simply. Max walked slowly around to where the fuel cap was located. The wastelander suddenly drew his knife and brandished it.
“No, mate, I reckon I can do this m’self.”
Max stepped away from the car, his arms loose at his sides. The wastelander skirted around until he could reach the fuel cap and see Max at the same time. He grabbed the fuel cap and tried to turn. His face scrunched, and he obviously struggled. Max sighed. The angle of the wastelander's body to the car made it hard for him to get good leverage on the fuel cap. Max took a few slow steps so the the wastelander had a better angle. But still the wastelander struggled. He glared at Max, and waved the knife again.
“Alright, mate, your turn.”
Max nodded, and stepped up the the car. He grabbed the fuel cap and prepared to twist as hard as he could. But as he touched it, he could feel that the cap was loose. He gently rotated the cap, and it came free easily. Max frowned, pausing with the cap in his hands for a moment.
“Yeah, alright, no need to show off. Here, stick that in.” The wastelander shoved a rubber tube into Max’s hands. Max pocketed the fuel cap, and fed the tube into the tank. When he was finished, the wastelander gestured vaguely away from the Interceptor . “Over there mate. And no funny ideas.”
Max had originally installed external fuel tanks to the Interceptor, but the citadel had replaced them with a ballista and with rolls of caltrops.
The rubber tube led into a canister with a pump, which the wastelander was furiously operating. Max frowned. He knew how much petrol the Interceptor would hold when it was full. And he had promised the wastelander a third of the full tank. Which Max realised, the wastelander had no intention of keeping to.
Max grunted. “That’s enough.” he said quietly. The wastelander paused his pumping for a moment to regard Max.
“Nah, mate, I don’t reckon it is.”
Max dropped his hand to the shotgun he wore on his thigh. “That’s enough.” he said again.
The wastelander stood and brandished his knife. “You know why I like this knife, mate? Because you don’t have to wonder whether it’s loaded.”
Max scrunched his face thoughtfully, then drew his shotgun, and fired one shot into the wastelander’s shoulder. The wastelander squaked and dropped his knife, clutching his shoulder. Max holstered his shotgun, and walked over to the interceptor. He screwed the fuel cap back on. He turned back to the wastelander and drew a shotgun shell out of a pocket on his vest. He cracked the shotgun, and replaced the spent shell with the fresh one. With that, he calmly walked around to the driver’s door, and got in the car.
Max was closing in on the pups. The wind blew him snatches of engine roars and whooping voices.
Since he had dug the car out of the sand, he had done his best to undo the work that the citadel mechanics had done. Despite his best efforts, the car still felt different. Not worse, but strange in a way that resonated in Max’s gut. Max had always found driving to be an intuitive experience. But he expected it would take him a few days to get the stride of the Interceptor , after having not driven it, and after all the work it had undergone. But as he drove now, it all came so naturally, it almost felt as though the car was driving itself.
Max put his hand on the gearstick, this time to close the intake on the hood, which would quiet the engine slightly. But he found the lever pushed in, the intake already closed. Max frowned and flinched as a vision of a war boy reaching over from the passenger seat and pressing in the lever assaulted his brain. As soon as it appeared, the vision was gone, and the seat was empty. Max pulled his shotgun out of the door, and smacked the seat next to him. A cloud of dust puffed from the point of impact. Max turned back to the road.
As Max sat down, the engine roared to life. Max frowned. He turned to glare at the wastelander, but the wild-eyed man was stumbling back to his own vehicle, clutching at his wounded shoulder. Shrugging, Max eased the car into gear and released the handbrake. He looked at the fuel gauge and frowned. He was not overly worried about running out; there were a few wastelanders around this area, not to mention the citadel. No, what made Max frown was that the fuel gauge was slowly increasing. The dial slid up slowly, about a fifth of a tank, then stopped.
Max reached forward and thumped the dial, expecting it to go back down, but it resolutely stayed still. Max narrowed his eyes, but then relaxed. He was lucky that the engine worked after so long covered in sand. A few glitches here and there were expected. Max lowered his foot onto the accelerator. The Interceptor rolled slowly backward, purring. Max swung the wheel around. The steering column grated, presumably against sand stuck in the mechanisms, but seemed to get looser after a moment. Max gently shifted to first, and then rolled slowly away, in the direction he knew the Boltcutter clan would be heading.
He kept his pace to a slow cruise. He wanted to take it easy on the car, he didn’t want her to break down out here, and when he’d only just got her back. Of her own volition, however, the car growled. The rev dial shot up, and the speedo crept up to match. Max frowned, and relaxed his foot of the accelerator. It’s possible that the fuel had gone bad in the tank, leading to ‘richer’ patches that may make the car over-rev. But a few seconds passed, and the car kept accelerating. The rev dial was creeping into the red, and Max knew he would have to change gear. Before he could though, the clutch depressed, and the gearstick threw itself forward. Max slammed on the brakes, and the wheels locked. The car slid for a few dozen meters, throwing up plumes of sand and dust. Max yanked harshly on the handbrake and rolled out of the car.
The engine cut out, and after a moment, the car settled slightly. Max glanced around, shielding his eyes from the sun. He was in the middle of an empty plain. Nothing around for dozens of kilometers. Which was a blessing and a curse. No immediate threats, but no help should the car be undrivable.
Max turned back to the car, and approached the bonnet. He placed his hands on the metal, feeling it warm his palms. He looked up, and for a moment, the crazed face of a war boy looked back at him. Max recoiled, and palmed his thigh where he usually kept his shotgun. Not feeling it, Max glanced down at his thigh before remembering he had left the weapon in the door of the interceptor. When Max looked back up, the war boy was gone. Max hurriedly retrieved his shotgun, checking the inside of the car for a potential stowaway. Not seeing any, Max backed out, and walked a full circle around the car. Finding nothing, he checked under the car, but was again disappointed. Max huffed. ‘Another one’, he thought.
The Interceptor held up to a thorough inspection. Max found no sign of any machinery or damage that would account for the behaviour of the car.
Max was close enough now that he was covered by the dust kicked up by the tankers wheels. He glanced around the cabin of the car, double checking where he had stowed his shotgun. He checked again the state of the car, since, as he had learned, the car now seemed to drive itself. All was as he had left it.
This close, Max could make out exactly the composition of the convoy. The war pups had stolen two bikes, which each carried two pups. There was one ute, with a ballista in the tray. This vehicle had one driver, and two pups operating the ballista. Finally, the precious tanker. Max could not see into the defensive emplacements above the tank, nor into the cabin, but he assumed that both would have at least two war pups.
Max pulled the lever in the gearstick, and the engine whined. Max heard a whooping cheer from beside him, and looked over to see the war boy back in the passenger seat. Max looked pointedly at the war boy, and held his finger to his lips. The war boy vanished.
The war pups were obviously not expecting trouble. The bikes wheeled around, circling the tanker and each other. Max waited until one dropped a little way behind the tanker. He leaned on the accelerator, and the Interceptor came alive. She roared furiously, a wild animal finally unchained. The war boy in the passenger seat was back, and he cackled maniacally.
The Interceptor shot up on the left of the war pups on the bike. The passenger on the bike laughed gleefully and brought a crossbow to bear on Max. Max was faster, however, and the head of the bike’s driver snapped to the side. The bike slowed considerably, dropping behind Max’s Interceptor , before slewing and eventually rolling.
Max swung out to the left, hoping to catch the other bike before the ute and the tanker noticed him. However, a spear sprouted from the back seat, demonstrating that Max had lost his element of surprise. The spear was stuck into the leather of the back seat, and was long enough to emerge out the front of the car. The shaft wobbled almost comically, then snapped straight, and ripped out again, taking a chunk of the back seat with it. The brutal spearhead flicked through the air, and Max was sure it would smash into his head. Before it did, the war boy in the passenger seat reached across and jerked the wheel, jolting the car so that the spear whipped past Max’s head, and banged on the frame of the windscreen on its way through. Max glanced at the war boy, who had not disappeared. The war boy gestured up at the ballista on the tanker. “Come on, bloodbag!” he cried.
Max snarled, and reached up with his shotgun. The war pup on the ballista yelped, and ducked, and rock jolted the Interceptor as Max pulled the trigger. The shot went wide, and Max grunted. He tossed the shotgun onto the passenger seat, and didn’t look to see whether the warboy was still there.
The war pup atop the tanker was still reeling in the spear, but the ute teared around the front of the tanker, and positioned itself in front of the Interceptor. The ballista operator lined up a shot, but as they fired it, the driver slammed on the brakes, and the jolt sent the bolt high over the Interceptor . Max swerved, just missing the ute, and scraping against the back wheels of the tanker. The massive wheels had jagged plates of metal welded to the hubs, and they tore through the paneling of the door. Max swore, and pulled away from the tanker, to the right.
As he did, something smacked him in the back of the head. He turned to look, and saw the second bike pulling up behind him, the passenger reloading a crossbow. Max reached up and felt a crossbow bolt sprouting from the back of his headrest. The bike slowly made ground on him. Max also saw the Ute gaining ground on him, pulling a little further out to the right. The ballista on the ute was designed to fire behind the ute, so Max knew he was safe from that weapon, as long as he stayed in front of the ute. However, the ballista on the tanker would by now be reloaded. Max looked up to see the war pup scream as he fired the spear. The Interceptor groaned as it suddenly slowed. Max assumed that the spear had smashed through the engine, but it passed by him on the left. As Max was about to recover the lost ground, he thought better and added his foot to the natural instinct of the car, and threw open the door. The appeared on his right side, but just as soon disappeared as it smashed into the door, ripping it free. Max felt the wind pulling at him, trying to tear him from his seat through the now empty doorframe.
Max reset the Interceptor’s gear, and gave chase after the tanker. Before he could gain ground, however, another bike appeared on his right side. Max frowned, but saw a blood splatter on the driver’s face, and realised that the passenger of the first bike must have ditched his companion’s body, and was now driving himself. Max groped the passenger seat of a moment, before he felt his shotgun pressed into his hand. He swung right, toward the bike, and took aim. The bike driver, remembering his companion’s fate, squawked and dropped back. Max also dropped back, and swung in close to the bike. He tossed the shotgun up with his left hand, catching it deftly with his right, and with his right hand, shoved it in between the spokes of the bike’s front wheel. The shotgun was torn from his grasp, and Max had to grip the wheel as he was almost thrown from the car.
The bike flipped up into the air, and crashed back to the ground, right into the path of the ute. The ute smashed into the bike, and in the crash a spark must have reached the bike’s fuel tank because it exploded , and the ute swerved to a stop.
Max looked across at the war boy in his passenger seat. “Witness!” The war boy cried. Max forced his eyes back in front of him. The tanker was a few hundred meters in front, but it was a fat, slow beast, and he caught it easily. He approached the rear of the tanker cautiously, staying just out of reach of the ballista. Something nudged his shoulder, and he looked over at the war boy. “Hey bloodbag,” the war boy said, looking cheeky, “check the glovebox.” Max frowned for a moment, before leaning forward and opening the small compartment. Inside was a revolver. Max grabbed it, and transferred it to his right hand. He fired three shots up at the ballista. Each punched through the plastic bodywork set up as armour around the weapon. After the third shot, a body pitched over the side of the tank and whumped to the ground. Max hung back for a few seconds, checking to make sure that there were no other war pups hiding at the ballista. When none emerged, Max crept slowly forward, along the side of the tanker. The passenger of the tanker leaned out of the window, aiming a gun. Max’s arm snapped up, and he fired a fourth shot from the revolver. The passenger of the tanker slumped, the weapon dropped from his hand. Max flinched as the gun slammed into the passenger seat, carried there by momentum.
Max pulled up until he was level with the passenger door. He glanced across at the war boy in the passenger seat. He looked at the war boy for a moment, and then decided. “Hold her steady.” he grunted. The war boy reached over and took the wheel. Max stood through the frame of the windscreen, and climbed onto the bonnet. He leapt across the gap, and slammed onto the side of the tanker. For a moment, he couldn’t grip anything, then his feet found the step, and his left arm grabbed onto the door. He reached in with his right arm, holding the revolver, but the driver slammed his arm with a hammer, and Max dropped the gun. The driver threw the hammer, and it slammed into the fingers of Max’s left hand. Agony exploded through the whole arm, and Max recoiled away, losing his grip on the door. He caught onto the window frame, just barely, with his right hand. Max’s left arm swung out behind him, toward the Interceptor , and Max was surprised to feel an object pressed into his hand. He pulled it toward him, and found that it was the gun dropped by the passenger of the tanker. Max looked down, and saw the Interceptor keeping pace with the tanker, and a grinning war boy sat in the driver’s seat. Max shrugged, then swung himself up and brought his newly acquired weapon to bear on the driver of the tanker. He pulled the trigger.