“Furiosa? You alright up there?” Toast thumped the door of the new war rig with the butt of her pistol. She thought she’d heard an odd sound, but inside was just Furiosa and Max, going over the details of their latest handoff in the cab. Toast wasn’t supposed to know the terms but she did: a precious dozen count of seeds intriguingly labeled “lifeberry” for numbers on the situation at the Bullet Farm.
The old mothers just laughed and gestured at her. “Come away, child, leave them alone. We've thirty minutes at least before the Verdees arrive to trade—if trade is what they're after—and we can spare Furiosa the ten or twelve she needs to keep her schedule.”
Toast stared at them uncomprehendingly. She was Toast the Knowing. This was because she knows things. It was anathema to be laughed at like some fool child—like some ignorant war boy. She'd spent every moment of her existence hoarding knowledge and that knowledge had kept her alive. It was the only thing that once received could not be taken from her. And so she knew that the burn of the embarrassment of ignorance is a far lesser evil than succumbing to the temptation to pridefully refuse to acquire knowledge when you have the chance. Toast ducked her head and swallowed the burning feeling. “Schedule, Mother?” she asked, mostly politely.
The two old women looked at her kindly. Mazza smiled gently, the wind-worn crinkles in her skin realigning into a look of compassion rather than ferocity.
"You have been Taken, as a breeder for the false god. Do you then still know nothing of the Gift?"
Toast looked at her warily, not quite able to make herself shake her head in the negatory.
Mazza took Toast’s beautiful as yet unmarked brown hand in her orange-red wrinkled one, and Toast for once didn't mind the motherliness of the gesture. Toast after all had a mother once, and to refuse to acknowledge the comfort of her touch even in memory was to dishonor her sacrifices.
"Life is a gift, and the starting of it can also be one. Despite the odds, if we can, it’s our duty to give that gift, or support it if that’s all we can do. Furiosa has had a bad time of it these past years. She did her duty by you young Mothers, but her body wouldn’t work. Not enough food, too much fighting, and stress and dehydration prevent the flow. The Great Mother sometimes stops it so you can survive lean times. But now that she’s had months with enough water and food her blood has finally come back. So once that time comes to an end, you count. One, two, three, four, five, six—"
The counting went on and Toast's patience wore wire-thin—she'd known how to count before she'd turned two!—but Toast bit her tongue and bore it silently.
"—eleven, twelve days, then you get ready. You make sure you have the right one. Healthier the better, this one is the best I've seen in years. Strong as a V6 all on his own. Plenty of blood, likely plenty of the other stuff—"
Katya snorted from where she'd been squatting next to them, her gun trained on the horizon even as the rest of them relaxed their guard.
"—but you take what you can get,” Mazza finished. “Most important thing: is he reliable?"
Toast narrowed her eyes. "Is this just about. . . Breeding?"
She spat after she said the word, like it was poison.
"Watch your mouth girl,” Katya mutters from where she crouched with her rifle. “You insult all the mothers who've gone before. What would your own mother say, you treating the start of your own life worse than sand?"
Toast stared down at her feet, but they held no answers. Though the others clearly felt differently, revulsion overcame her whenever the subject came up, which it had been doing more and more lately. The Dag was back at the Citadel, obsessively hunting down rumors of a pack of mutant sheep thought to have survived the death of the world. She believed breeding small animals was the only way to bring back the green enough to spread it across the wastes. Some birds had been attracted to the green peaks of the citadel, some lizards, plenty of bugs, but no milkers. Just humans for that still. And the milk was needed. The only thing they had enough of that could begin to help those sick with the lumps. No radiation therapy as it was called in the books the Dag had commandeered from the Organic Mechanic. No, confusingly they’d just got the kind of radiation that caused the cancer in the first place.
The girls’ forty-odd year old magazine pile yielded a few things that might help, all eschewed as “alternative medicine” in the thick medical books, but when asked the Organic Mechanic shrugged and said anything was worth a try these days. But in the next breath he warned not to expect anything. Blood worked for a while, but there was no way to get enough blood to renew all the sickly warboys they had left. Even the healthier few that had trickled in after the salvage of the fleet were in sad shape, and the Organic Mechanic confided that each generation of Pups sickened sooner than the last. It disturbed Toast to hear his callous report on the declining birthrate for pups, but Furiosa nodded solemnly along with him when he gave the numbers. With the Wretched now treated as members of the community there were more mouths to feed, but they were in even worse shape than their depleted stock of warboys. Those of all castes who’d placed their deepest hope of survival in Immortan Joe were dying off in droves, like that slanger’d been the only thing keeping them here when he’d done nothing but piss on their existence and slam his boot in their faces.
But then there were their babies, held up by everyone in the Citadel as the Shiniest symbol of hope. Toast realized that of course that's what Furiosa was after. Another baby to take the fizz of pressure off the Dag and Capable. It was a bit of a relief. Though far from wanting another one, even one that might this time be hers to keep, Toast could at least admit the having of them made some sense. Toast'd wondered if Furiosa was going soft, the older woman had seemed so glad to see Max turn up a week or so ago. Not that they all weren’t always pleased to see him, being as he brought with him news and sometimes precious supplies. But this time it had been different. Furiosa'd let her relief show a little. Toast nodded to herself. It must have been about this then. Furiosa was aiming to become a mother again herself.
Dag's baby was born already, a little bundle tied to the outside rather than hidden inside, and Capable had two and a half months still left. Toast had offered condolences when Capable had started showing, and it had been another hard shock to swallow when instead of biting back tears or fury Capable had smiled her biggest smile and told her the word was ‘Congratulations’.
Toast had stuttered, “But, but Little Joe…” Fearful, fretful, she hated how thinking of him made her sound. But Capable shook her head and beamed.
“Not Joe. Nux. The little warboy. He made it through long enough to give me this and to blow the rig. He was all I’d ever hoped for. More than. He, he let me. . .drive. Now he can rest.” Capable smiled wistfully.
Toast's eyes flicked to the thick figure of Capable, who had been seeing to the engine with the cooling water and very carefully trying not to be seen peeking back through the windshield with curious eyes. The black sleeping curtain was pulled though, and even Capable knew better than to risk alerting those two to her somewhat innocent voyeurism.
Toast had wanted to leave Capable at home for this run, but they hadn't wanted to bring along a warboy whose top might grow too hot to handle the negotiations necessary with the secretive Verdees. The Vuvalini’d been summoned, not anybody from the Citadel anyway. The Dag wasn’t available as she was still coming down off the high of birthing a daughter (take that ya dead smeg she’d crowed) and finding herself the Keeper of the Seeds That Would Actually Sprout. She practically glowed as she bossed about the ‘boys and the no-longer-quite-so-Wretched, so it was safe to leave her in charge of a (somewhat reformed) religious cult as not even Chrome was so Shiny as she. And Cheedo, while slowly gaining some traction, still couldn’t be called Capable. Not with a weapon anyway. The day was hot though, and Toast watched as Capable used the hose she'd dragged over to the engine to wet a cloth to tuck into the neck of her capacious coveralls.
Toast stared back out at the heat-soaked haze radiating off of the sand flats. The hard baked ground was solid under their tires, even though they’d taken a smaller rig than the one that had taken them on a round trip to the rest of their lives and Nux on a one way trip into the next one. Or out of this one in any event.
She cleared her throat. “What happens then, if you aim to have a baby?” She’d heard some garbled pieces of this from Miss Giddy, but Mazza’s version seemed to have a more believable sort of coherence than those snippets of confused hearsay. It also lined up with a bit they’d found in one of the Big Books, but the words that used were so antique they could barely read half of them.
Mazza picked back up her thread, nudging Toast gently with her shoulder. “Once it’s a day or two before, you should start. Fucking. Got to give that baby all the chances you can to get it started. Then, there’s Ovulation, when everything’s lined up and only the Great Mother can decide then whether or not it’ll all come together. Even after, you’ve got a day or so to get in as much jiz as you can. Gives you the best chances. Then, if it catches well, you won’t bleed again til the birthing.”
“If it’s all up to the Great Mother, why should you have to do any of it?” asked Toast. “Why do we need a man for it at all?”
Mazza raised her brows. “Can’t expect the Great Mother to help those who won’t do the work.”
Katya chimed in. “Not that it’s that hard on most, everything being as it should.”
“That’s right,” Mazza nodded. “Your body should be telling you what it wants if the time is right. Might be hard for you to believe, your life being as it’s been, but that’s not how it should be.”
Toast toyed with this thought. She’d heard it a few times in the past months, from Capable and the Dag and even Before from Splendid who had dared to look on the warboys below as objects of potential desire. They claimed they could feel lust—that which drove the implacable loins of Immortan Joe to take as many wives as he could scrounge up. She’d thought Furiosa above it though. She stared bleakly at the shimmering horizon.
Splendid had said it felt warm and wavy, like the heat radiating off the wastes. Capable said it felt like driving with your engine running too hot—something could blow at any time. The Dag said she thought it was more like a flutter. Toast thought of the tender green frills of the precious lettuce in the hydroponsys that she secretly rubbed her hand against whenever she had the chance. The soft curve of Cheedo’s cheek when she laughed quietly at something the Dag had said. Those were the softest warmest body memories that Toast held inside. Could those ever translate to the painful pounding pulsing pushing—? Toast shook her head. Now was not the time for pointless panic attacks. They were out, exposed.
She blurted, “What if you don’t want to? What if your body tells you not to let a man anywhere near it?”
Mazza smiled sadly. “Then you listen. But don’t forget—we’re here for a reason.”
Babies. Breeding. Thinking on these subjects made Toast felt like her life now was no different than Before. She was whole, healthy and strong. If it wasn’t Immortan Joe wanting to wick those traits away from her and funnel them into a perfect beautiful son, it was the Vuvalini hinting to her that the best she could do in life was to give the world a daughter to keep the line alive until the world could be reborn.
“To be Mothers?” she couldn’t help but let some cynicism leak through.
“To guard life however we can.”
“Is that why you all sent your boy babies away?” As soon as she said it, Toast worried that she was overstepping, but she was endlessly curious about the Vuvalini’s settlement. This point had alternately pleased and concerned her, even during the earliest whispered conversations about the Green Place.
Katya looked at her sharply. “Who said that?”
Mazza held out her hand to shush her comrade. “Some, not all. Most wanted to leave when they were becoming men. But maybe we could have made things better for them. Maybe that’s where we went wrong.”
“Wrong?” Toast asked. “I thought the water went bad. What’s that got to do with boys?”
Mazza shrugged her shoulders in her battered aviator jacket. “Maybe nothing. But I can’t help but wonder if one of those children might have had an answer. What if it was one that we sent away? Or one of our daughters who went off seeking fresh blood? Besides,” here she smiled slightly. “In the stories, leaving men to figure things out on their own rarely turns out well.”
“Why should men have anything to do with the New Green Place?” Toast and her sisters had very carefully held onto the tenuous hope for the future that the spindly plants soaking in the sun atop the Citadel spelled. She did not want them jeopardized by naive inclusiveness.
“Well, what about him?” Mazza gestured toward the truck where Max was with Furiosa.
Toast bit her lip. “He’s alright, but as much a killer as any man I’ve ever met.”
“What did he do with Furiosa, when she was bleeding out in the Gigahorse?”
Toast shrugged, grateful of course to Max but hating to even recall that most terrifying moment in their escape. “Saved her.”
“Gave her life. His own life transformed into new life for her.”
Toast stared at Mazza. “You mean like. . .a mother? But he’s a man.”
Mazza nodded slowly. “The opposite of Mother isn’t Father. It isn’t killer either.”
Toast’s brow furrowed. “What is it then?”
Mazza quirked her wrinkled lips and touched Toast’s warm cheek and went off to walk the perimeter without answering. Toast kicked her heavy boots at the sand and raised her eyes back to take in their surroundings. She scanned the mountains but couldn’t see a thing. Glancing at Katya whose eye was glued to the scope of her rifle, Toast wondered if there was anything to see.
Katya cleared her throat, still looking out through the magnifying glass of her scope.
“I never had a baby of my own.” She blurted this with her usual terseness.
Toast turned her head to stare at her.
“Tried a few times. Never happened. But seven girls and two boys called me ‘Ma’. More’n one way to be a Mother.”
Katya abruptly stood and gestured toward the south. Toast squinted and could just barely see the glint of sun on glass. She scrambled to load the last of the weapons at her feet and holstered her pistol at her hip.
When Toast looked back, Capable was still standing far too close to the cab with wide eyes and a little smile on her face that jumped right off when the door started to open. She hurriedly looped the hose around her forearm and scurried to stow it. Furiosa stepped down, looking the same as always. Not even winded Max followed behind her, for a moment reminding Toast of the nervous twitchy creature they first encountered on the Fury Road. Then he caught Mazza’s leer as she rounded the truck and Capable’s interested eager version of the same. He straightened, rolled his eyes and went right to the motorcycle Katya had followed them in on. Max hopped on and rode off without a word.
Toast and Capable looked to Furiosa, alarmed.
“What’s going on?” Toast asked, arm pointing incredulously at Max’s rapidly retreating figure. “Where’s he going?”
Furiosa looked at her oddly. “To Gas Town, as planned.” She strode forward, spyglass extended in her hand to look in the direction Katya was turned.
“But—but,” Toast struggled with what she wanted to say. “He’s just leaving us?”
You, she’d wanted to say, but couldn’t quite bring herself to say something so personal to Furiosa.
Capable looked at Toast and shrugged. “Max comes, Max goes, Max comes again.”
Mazza and Katya glanced at one another out of the corner of their eyes and a small explosion of mirth materialized in a cackle and a snort respectively.
“What? What was funny? Tell meee,” Capable pleaded, pulling playfully at Mazza’s sleeve.
Now Furiosa rolled her eyes. She returned her attention to the spyglass she held, glancing south then southeast. Then she held up her prosthetic hand for silence.
“Get ready,” she said.