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Furiosa Incognita

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1: First Impressions (Day 3)

The Organic Mechanic takes the bewildered girl by the shoulder and steers her through the Vault door. Handed over to the Organic’s assistant, she's led from finely furnished rooms down, and down again to dank dripping corridors. Like passing from one phase of a nightmare into another, she's passed again to a skeleton man…a War Boy, she must call them now. Furiosa can’t help but think to herself over and over again, this isn’t real – it’s just a game. One of the elaborate plays she dreamed up with her friends back in the Green Place. The scene suddenly opens to a poorly lit atrium. The War Boy approaches a muscular man with a black smeared brow. Bowing low with a V8 gesture, he points Furiosa out to the man, who approaches. “What’s your name, boy?” he demands.

She hasn’t thought of a name. Something short, something neutral, something mechanical. But she’s panicking, her mind stuck on a loop, Furiosa…Furiosa…Incognito…Incognita. It seems like an eternity, but she blurts out…

“Nnn, Cog…sir!” she salutes a V8.

The War Boy nudges her and hisses “Imperator!”

My name is Cog...Imperator!” she corrects herself.

“What can you do, Cog?” the Imperator demands.

“Shoot, fight and ride a bike, Imperator!”

The Imperator cuffs her round the head. “You’ve only got one arm, Cog! What use is a War Boy with one arm?”

“Never had it, Imperator! Don’t need it, Imperator!”

“Right, show me” the man sighs. “Take this boy to the Pits!”

The War Boy seizes her by the arm and half leads, half drags her to the centre of the atrium where a crowd of glaring men, whitened, with black eye sockets await.

This is real…this is not a game, she realises.

*

One of the War Boys is selected from the group. He looks young, and barely half a head taller than Furiosa but with more weight and, more importantly, the confidence of one for whom this is just another day. He takes a look at Furiosa, doesn't look impressed. For the second time that day, she's faced with someone who looks positively insulted by her presence. But this time it's not an act. "I'll make this quick" he growls. "Taking the piss..." He mutters under his breath as he steps forward.

She's not ready for this. The first punch knocks her sprawling. Laughs ring out around the room. Tasting blood in her mouth, she decides...stay down, give up. Or give this everything she's got, and get a chance for another day. She gets to her feet, head ringing. Jeers and catcalls. She raced at him suddenly, getting a swift blow in around his stomach, knocking the air out of him. As he doubled up, she aimed a knee at his face. Impact, but not the crunch of bone she had naively hoped for. He's winded and bleeding from the nose, but just looks more up for the fight now there's the possibility of some kind of a challenge. He aims a punch, which she dodges, only to be grasped in an armlock as he gets behind her. He's holding her tightly but, as he's unused to an antagonist with a shorter than usual forelimb, she wrestled herself free. In her vehemence, she feels a sharp pain in her shoulder, but it barely registers. She jabbed her elbow into his lower back and, as he buckled awkwardly, she kicked his feet out from under him. To a neutral observer, the battle would seem like a test rather than a death-match, but Furiosa was not a neutral observer. She was fighting for her future, her life. Which is why she stepped back and aimed a vicious kick at the War Boy's head. She connected with his jaw, there was a crack and he lay still.

"Fuk-a-shima" snorted a white-painted spectator, "Take it easy, willya?". Angry mutterings, amused chucklings, shouts of "My turn!". The Imperator intervened at this point. "Alright, everyone simmer down" he called out to the crowd as he grasped Furiosa's trembling arm. "Okay, you'll do." he said impatiently, and turned to address the room generally, in the knowledge that the order would be obeyed by someone, he didn't care who. "Get the new kid branded!" he yelled, before adding, with a sigh, "And someone get Ace to the Organic!"

2: Hope Springs (Day 10)

She could still smell her own burning flesh from the brand she would carry 'til death. It was starting to itch already, her young skin healing quickly, but the memory would persist in her dreams. It wasn't the worst pain she'd ever experienced, not by a long shot. But the indignity of being branded like a cow... a part of her would always belong to this place.

She already looked the part. White-painted, shaven-headed, dressed in baggy black pants covered in pockets. Her boots were only thing she wore that was a relic of her old life. They'd been newly soled that summer and the quartermaster had declared she didn't need a new pair. Visually, she could pass for a boy. But, for all that, she felt uncomfortable going without a shirt, though there was nothing to cover up yet. She would deal with that later - for now, she just needed to fit in. She kept her head down, watched and tried to copy what the others did. For now, it seemed to be working.

She was musing on these matters as she walked to the garages to deliver a package she'd been entrusted with. She heard voices in earnest conversation around the corner. Two voices that sounded very familiar. She gritted her teeth as she recognised them. But she should contain her urge to confront them, just walk away, not draw attention to herself. She caught some fragments of their discussion...

"...nothing to stop me sticking around now. Can't believe Dux got shredded. Talk about timing! If I keep my mouth shut, make myself useful in the garage, and don't piss anybody off...it can all go back to normal. It was no odds to anyone else whether I was here or not." This was the voice of the older of her captors, positively jubilant. Nice for some.

"We'll miss you, Sham."

"So you're not for staying, yourself?"

"Nah, got to stick by Sharkey. Probably head off in a couple of days once we've got the paperwork sorted. Though you know how long that can take..." the voice of the 'tall man' replied.

Through the clamour of her vengeful thoughts, a small voice in her head was whispering, trying to make itself heard. This is how you get out of here... She took a deep breath and stepped round the corner.

"You – you owe me." she spoke low and determined, adding bitterly, "You've got what you wanted...without even bringing a 'gift' after all."

Shambo and Champ gaped at this apparition. Who was this kid? The voice sounded familiar...and the angry expression under the white paint was a clue. "Oh...it's you. Heard you'd ended up down here. Shame it didn't work out in the Vault" Shambo replied, awkwardly.

"There's no reason for me to be here" Furiosa managed, suppressing a shudder at this reminder of how things could have been. "Doesn't help you, and...I just want to go home. You know what that's like." she pleaded, trying to attack him at his weak point.

"Okay, I see what you're saying..." Shambo conceded "...but what can I do?"

"You're here now, might as well make the best of it" interjected Champ, with his usual aggravating optimism. "It's a good life, and you look like you're fitting in grand already."

Furiosa turned to him "You said you were leaving soon. Can't you take me with you? I can hide in your...Rover." Then I could make my way home again, she thought, picturing her return to the Green Place.

Champ shrugged. "Doubt it. It's a tight inventory. Can't just put you in an empty crate, they'd check."

"Can't guarantee anything. But we'll see what we can do." Shambo concluded, reluctantly. "So much for keeping my head down", he groaned. "What's your name?"

"Ask for Cog" replied Furiosa.

3: Hope is a Mistake (Day 28)

She'd been so excited the first few days after meeting them. She was going home. She could see that the older one, Shambo, understood a little. For all that he'd wanted to get to the Citadel, he seemed to get it that it would never be home for her. All her hope was with him, that he'd try and make amends. But weeks had passed since then. She'd watched out for either of them, ears ever straining for any mention of their names, or a 'Rover' or 'Sharkey'. Although sick with tension, she'd never given up hope. Until someone came to her with a small package wrapped in a ragged shirt.

"From Shambo" the messenger said as he thrust the package into her hand. She unwrapped it, and found what looked like a leather belt. "Did he say anything? Any message? He was going to help me with something" The messenger shook his head. "Well, hope it wasn't anything too important, 'cos he's dead. Had the fever last week or two. Found him in his bunk yesterday morning. Night sweats got him. Left this for you. You're Cog, yeah?" She nodded. Hope wasn't gone yet though. She looked closer at the belt. It looked more like a bandolier, complete with a set of knives. "Good bit of kit, that. You'll want to keep that close, 'else someone'll have it" the messenger added, helpfully. She turned it over, hoping to find a message, a clue as to what the plan had been, if there was any plan. Something was scratched onto the underside of the leather. She held it up to the light and her heart sank as she read the words, NEXT BEST THING.

4: The Long Game (Day 104)

Furiosa remembers some of the Mothers talking about Before. How there were women who used to run so much that they didn't have a monthly bleed. It had put Furiosa off rapid movement for a few days until it was explained to her that they would run more than forty clicks at a time. Just for fun. And they were usually incredibly skinny, like, no fat on them at all. Okay. Maybe it wasn't the running that was key. Running wouldn't be an option, anyway. Water was too tightly rationed. It'd just be a slow and boring form of suicide. So it's all about being incredibly skinny. What if she restricted her food intake, just ate enough to keep her functional, sufficiently strong to do what she needed to do. It's not like food was abundant in the Barracks, but the Citadel seemed to be aware it didn't make a whole lot of sense to starve their fighting force.

The first month, she passed out about, what? Once a week. At least. Okay, clearly overdoing it. She steadily increased the amount until the spells of lightheadedness got less frequent. Of course, it depended on the amount of physical activity she would have to do that day. She planned her days like clockwork, so she would know how much to eat. Because she couldn't risk becoming a woman.

5: (False) Sense of Security (Day 623)

Furiosa is almost fourteen years old. She's made the most of her talents, made a name for herself among her peers, whom she'd reluctantly accepted some time past that they weren't actually intending to kill her. She might even be said to have friends. Despite having broken his jaw (probably because she'd broken it), she's made it onto Ace's crew of trainees, which had a good reputation for being selected by the best Imperators. Specifically, the ones who realised War Boys weren't merely making a brief stop on their way to Valhalla. Even the fact that she now had to bind up her chest didn't bother her much. Despite her food restriction (and she was as lean as a Spartan by now), she still had these little budding things that the boys didn't have. The first time she did it, she was so self-conscious. She expected everyone to turn and point, even though the bandolier she'd always wore masked the effect of the off-white wrappings. But no-one seemed to care much. It was noticed, sure, and some nudged each other and nodded over to her. But they had clearly seen such sights before. She'd worn her wrappings for almost sixty days now and it was...fine.

The self-enforced feeling of isolation was getting wearisome. She wanted to confide in someone. Some of the Boys were a good laugh, but they were young and she didn't think they'd understand her story. Ace might be okay. He was good at what he did, was a loyal War Boy, but didn't seem to be as religiously vocal about the Immortan's glory as some of the others were. He looked out for his crew. She felt she could maybe trust him...

She was turning this idea over in her mind as she crossed the courtyard one evening. I'll do it tonight, she thought.

She felt the impact through her boots. A warm splash on the side of her face. Then her ears registered the thud. Furiosa turned slowly...and her stomach dropped. A figure, dressed all in white. Long fair hair streamed out from her head...gory with the blood and brains that had spread out on the stone like a halo. Furiosa sees a scrap of paper clutched in the dead hand stretching out towards her. Reaching out hesitatingly, she takes the bloodied slip of paper in shaking fingers. The sun was down but there was enough moonlight to read the words FURIOSA IT ENDS HERE written in a shaky but determined hand.

Running feet, shouts of horror and speculation. She stood with the paper in her hand, barely hearing the clamour around her. "The Immortan's wife!" "Did she jump?" "Prob'ly...couldn't have an heir for the Immortan, I heard" "Need to send out for some more wives now...!"

So Furiosa never did confide in Ace, or anyone else.

*

That's when the nightmares really began. Always, she'd be falling, the floor opening up below her. Which shows how little dreams make sense. In reality, she would be going up. She would wake in a cold, trembling sweat. Which was easily confused with the symptoms of War Boy night sweats. There's always a silver lining.

6: Frustration (Day 1051)

The bunk room was proving a new kind of challenge that she certainly hadn't been warned about. How could anyone prepare for this, though? They all lived in close quarters. Very close. Two Boys to a bunk. Inevitably, bunkmates would get...close. And not just to keep warm.

Almost every night it was, "Hey, sort me out, Crank" and "Thanks mate, that was shine." And that was fine. It was the intermediate sounds that were the problem. Once one pair started, it would set them all off. She was fifteen years old, packed up close to a War Boy...who was definitely male, and whose particular musky smell she was becoming acutely aware of...surrounded by the sounds of sex. It was torture. She was acknowledged to be probably female, but she'd spread a rumour that she was a freemartin.

One particularly trying night she lay, breathing heavily, listening. He must have been awake too – his voice made her jump. "Looks like you need sorted out, Cog" he chuckled sleepily. Yes, she thought, I do. She wanted him to touch her, but she knew she couldn't even touch herself. "I can't" she muttered. "Oh yeah. What's with that, anyway?" he mumbled, curiously. "Don't have the right bits" she sighed. "They didn't know if I was a boy or a girl when I was born."

"Ah well. Can't ask you to sort me out, then. Wouldn't be fair. Give and take, eh?" And he rolled over again.

7: Failure (Day 1227)

It had been a long, long time since Furiosa had cried at the sight of her own blood. It wasn't much, and she was too numb to feel any pain, but she knew it would weaken her badly. All her defences had been for nothing, and she wept silently at her own failure.

She was fifteen years old, and she was having her first bleed. In a different life, if the Mothers and the War Boys had never collided, this would have happened years ago. And there would have been a party. Instead, she was huddled in a damp barracks, desperately trying to hide what she was.

8: Plan B (Day 1401)

She knew something had changed. She knew how quickly rumours spread in the dank, badly-ventilated atmosphere of the Barracks. And the Organic's assistant was the source, she knew it. She'd seen Leech and Scalpel whisper together and nod in her direction. They'd been on Blood Shed duty for as long as she knew them, so it made sense. She'd have to watch her back.

Sure enough, later that day..."Hey Cog. I heard you were a breeder. Bet you wish you were back up there, 'stead of slumming it here with us lot, eh?"

"I was never a breeder."

"That's not what I heard. Organic says you were all in white, all shiny."

"I was crooked – I was never a breeder" she gritted her teeth. She'd turned to ice inside. "Don't...just don't."

"You don't look crooked to me. Why don't you show us the goods?" He made a grab at her. She dodged and snatched a knife from her bandolier, swiping at him. He evaded her shaking hand and slammed her against the stone wall. "Likes to play, does she? I bet the Immortan would like to play with you."

"Told you...I'm crooked. He sent me away." she gasped. By now Leech's arm was pressing against her throat.

"I'll be the judge of that. Hold her, Scalp." Leech ripped off her bandolier and started untying her binding, "Not so much fight in you without your little knives..." He kicked her feet from under her and she fell awkwardly, one knee bent under her.

As he was busy unbuckling her belt, she wrenched her arm free from Scalpel's grip, grabbed the tiny knife she kept in her boot and stabbed upwards, slicing into his groin. Leech shrieked, blood gushing from his severed anatomy. He dropped to his knees, grasping at himself. Furiosa was able to get to her feet without resistance now – Scalpel had fled. Though shaking with shock and rage, she calmly wiped the blood from her face, rebuckled her trousers and scooped up her wrappings, looping them around her. She reached for her bandolier, selected her longest knife...

"Fair go, Cog" a small crowd had gathered, drawn by the shrill cries of Leech. "He won't do it again!"

Ignoring this, she stepped behind her attacker and stabbed him deep in the ribs, just where his heart would be. "Fucking right he won't."

*

Ace finds her, shortly after, trying to rebind her chest properly with one shaking hand. "Let me help with that..."

"No...look...if I accept your help, I'll start depending on it. I can't afford that." she retorted. "This is my problem. I'll take care of it."

"You know, the Organic could...make it so you don't have to do that" he said, reluctantly.

She glared at him. "I'm going to pretend you didn't suggest that."

Ace knew it was only the truly desperate War Boys who would turn to the Organic for help, especially with that kind of problem. And they didn't tend to have much fight left in them afterwards. No, Ace knew Cog wasn't like that. He had very little idea what Cog was. He...she? No, there was no 'she' in the barracks...always seemed like he was waiting for a trapdoor to open under his feet. He fought with a vicious energy, but not getting any enjoyment from it like some did. Ace had once found a dingo cowering a lower basement and had barely got out alive. Cog was like that...he fought more like a cornered animal than a hunter. Ace knew which was the most dangerous of the two, which had the most to lose. He had no idea what Cog was afraid of, wondered if he'd ever find out.

"No, I've got a better idea than that." Furiosa concluded.

*

One War Boy stalks another along a dark corridor. The prey is jumpy, looking over their shoulder every so often, sensing danger. But they'd be ready. Choosing the moment carefully, the hunted War Boy spins round and slashes out with a knife at the predator.

An arm slams into his throat, and a fist into his chest, knocking the air out of him, and the knife from his fingers. "You didn't really think I'd let you get away with that, Scalp?" hissed a voice.

"It was Leech" Scalpel gasped hoarsely. "I didn't know what he was going to do."

"I believe you" she relaxed her grip slightly. "That's why I'm going to do this first." Furiosa buried her long knife into his chest, right up to the bone handle. Only when Scalpel gave his last breath, only then did she stick it into his crotch.

*

She'd killed before, but this was the first time she'd really intended to. This was how it would have to be. She'd have to assume that everyone knew - she was no boy, and no freemartin. She'd have to make it clear she wasn't an easy target. Well, she'd made a pretty good start - two killed in cold blood on one day. 

Sixteen. Today's the day you become a woman. Happy birthday.

9: Compliance (Day 1628)

The raids were the worst part. She had to join in, be one of them. It wasn't particularly violent, no-one was killed unnecessarily. The War Boys were under orders to take prisoners, to keep them as intact as possible. When they captured people...what happened to them? She didn't know. But she could guess. She had avoided the Blood Shed, barely had gone near the place. But she'd heard of the Blood Bags. You didn't need any particular skill to be able to bleed. And the Wives...she'd been there when they'd traded a young girl for six kilos of fresh produce. She'd been so excited about being the chosen wife of a god. What could Furiosa do? What could she say? Nothing.

10: Rebellion (Day 1802)

It got a little easier as she got older. Wiser. She knew what she could get away with, what would be noticed. And Ace understood, to an extent. That day, they had ridden out. Ace was driving the motorcycle, Furiosa rode pillion. She was the shot. Their bike was the first to reach the action. Buzzards had just about finished torturing a man. He seemed to be alone, but Furiosa had glimpsed movement from behind a rocky bluff. People were hidden. Furiosa took out six of the Buzzards within seconds before the rest of the crew had time to draw up. While Ace dealt with the remainder, Furiosa crept off to see whom the man had died to save. Five children, the eldest no older than thirteen. She gave them food and water and told them to keep out of sight, to make no noise. If Ace knew what she'd been doing, he said nothing. The official report was, Seven Buzzards killed, one scavenger. No survivors. Three vehicles obtained. She'd probably only given the kids a slower death, but she could always hope they'd found a better fate...

11: Sod's Law (Day 2226)

Furiosa was Ace's second for years. It looked like he was on track for Imperator. But then he found a lump on his neck. And that was it. No half-life could be Imperator. He said he didn't mind. He was one of life's born sergeants. It would be less stressful that way. "Maybe it'll be you, after all, Cog."

But he didn't get sick. Even long after younger War Boys died soft or died historic, Ace was always there. She was glad.

12: As if Things weren't Tricky Enough (Day 3194)

Furiosa paces the floor, trying to shake off the cloying atmosphere of the Blood Shed. She's just had a battle of wills with the Organic. The new Organic. It was official now. The old sawbones was dead, finally. His assistant had been running the show for years though. He'd been very keen, and had insinuated himself into Joe's good graces. Consequently, things had been getting very steadily more unpleasant for the sick and injured lately. She'd always feared the assistant more than the old man. Little shit had a sadistic streak. Not so easily distracted as the old fella. It had been easy to dodge him. He barely knew what day it was, most of the time. While the little slug seemed to see what you didn't want him to see, didn't want anyone to see. And now he was in charge.

As lieutenant, her policy is to extract the sickest War Boys from the Blood Shed for her crew. To put them in the greatest position of danger, to allow them to die historic. She didn't believe in Valhalla, but even that was a million times better than dying slowly under the tender care of the Organic.

"I'll have you in here yet, Cog" he taunted, spit glistening on his lower lip. "I'll see if you're fit for the Immortan. I bet you are..."

"Tainted, remember" she spat, holding her stump in his face. She turned and walked off with her prize, trying not to look like she wanted to run.

13: Imperator Furiosa (Day 5062)

It's time to say goodbye to Cog. After more than five thousand days, Furiosa wants her name back. Now she's going to be Imperator, she can. They can't touch her now. She can risk it.

How did she get here? Strategy. Knowing when to strike and when to stay her hand. And, most importantly, out of her peer-group, she's the only one who's still alive. Every one of them dead, either gone to Valhalla or stolen in the night by their mysterious sickness. Everyone but Ace. He was nearly eleven thousand days old and, despite his gnarled body and twisted face (she still felt a bit bad about that), he didn't look much closer to dying than when she first encountered him in the pit. He would be her second.

*

The promotion ceremony had begun. Furiosa was directly before Joe for the first time. She'd been an anonymous footsoldier until this moment, and had felt like a bug under a microscope every day of her life as a War Boy, but it was nothing, nothing compared to standing in the focus of that cold blue gaze. And the smell of him turned her stomach. No wonder Lyra had jumped.

"Stand forth, Imperator! What is your name?"

Her voice never faltered as she replied "Furiosa!" She'd made her decision, for better or worse, and it'd only do herself harm to seem uncertain now.

As Joe leaned forward to drape the black scarf around her neck, he spoke in a low voice meant for only her to hear. "I believe you are the one that got away." Her insides turned to ice and her stomach clenched, but she managed to reply calmly and respectfully, "I was not worthy, Immortan." He slid his eyes over her, as if appraising her worthiness in a whole new way. He nodded thoughtfully. "Hmm...we shall see." He snapped his fingers, summoning the Organic. He conferred with him quietly, keeping his eyes on Furiosa all the while. Finally he addressed her. "Gareth here has informed me of your case. There seem to be several...irregularities which may or may not be worth investigating more fully. Perhaps an examination..."

The Organic leered at Furiosa as Joe went on, but her expression of pure undiluted menace made reconsider his strategy. He'd never been that much good at reading faces. His protected role as Organic meant he never really had to care much about the fine feelings of others, but...even he could see a promise of certain death in Furiosa's eyes if he laid a hand on her. Especially risky now she was Imperator...He'd have to tread very carefully.

So, he made what he thought was an ingratiating smile as he said, "Immortan, even you have only so much seed to go around, and there are shinier objects for your attention already in the Vault, if I may say so." He sucked his teeth thoughtfully and added, "Besides, the arm..." He shook his head uncertainly and grimaced at Furiosa's stump.

"Hmph" Joe grunted, seeming satisfied with that line of logic. He stabbed a finger at Furiosa, "We'll keep you in reserve for now. But this arm...that won't do. Get it fixed." Furiosa gaped at him, despite herself. "Make yourself something, I don't know. I won't have a one-armed Imperator." He spoke like he was explaining something obvious to a slow child. Speaking louder to the assembled crowd, "For now, Imperator Furiosa, you will select a crew and take charge of the armoured bike division. You will eradicate the Rock Rider vermin that are infesting my territory. Bring glory to the Citadel and your Immortan!"

"V8!" Saluted Furiosa, before kneeling to kiss the loathed hand.

"V8"" chorused the Imperators. The crowd below cheered, and Furiosa fought down the urge to throw up.

14: Armed and Extremely Dangerous (Day 5137)

Furiosa had never needed a left hand. Now she was forced to wear a metal one, it took some getting used to. She and her chosen crew had gone through several prototypes. One trigger-happy War Boy had showed his initiative by welding an assault rifle to one of the basic prostheses they'd built. As much as Furiosa applauded the scope of his vision, she felt she had to point out that, having never used her left hand for anything other than steadying her rifle, her aim with that limb would be less than accurate. In fact, the only safe place to stand, if she were to use that particular design, would be directly behind her, and even then there'd be no guarantee of not incurring some damage. No, she finally decided on a simple double hook design. Once she'd got used to that, then they could start getting creative.

15: The Art of Diplomacy (Day 5207)

Joe is expecting a massacre. The Rock Riders have had the temerity to invade his territory beyond the agreed boundary of the canyon, and they have to be wiped out. Furiosa, however, is reluctant to slaughter what is really just nine or ten families trying to survive in the Wasteland. She'd observed them over the years and, unlike the Buzzards, who were frankly repellent, killing and mutilating for the hell of it, the Rock Riders appeared to be driven by necessity.

So Furiosa rides, alone, into their camp in an attempt to negotiate for their withdrawal. Her crew remain in hiding, within shooting distance but under strict orders to hold fire until the signal.

She spells out the options to a wall of figures in elaborately-decked helmets and goggles. She normally doesn't have this kind of discussion unless she can see the faces of her disputants, but she feels it would be too much to ask for them to remove their headgear. Although they're fronting it out, they know as well as she does that they're in the sights of at least ten snipers.

You're outnumbered by Citadel War boys, thirty to one, she says. If you withdraw beyond the Canyon, and give me a token of your compliance, you will be left alone. If not, you will be annihilated.

One Rock Rider pulls a gun at this unwelcome news and is promptly shot in the shoulder by Furiosa. "Can't you arseholes try to recognise when someone's trying not kill you?" she shouts at the growing crowd. "Don't fuck with me and you might live to see your kids grow up. What's your pride compared to that?"

This argument carries considerable weight, and an agreement is tentatively reached, but what token of compliance would be sufficient to appease Joe's ego? They scratch heads and look blank. She lost her patience. "Joe wants your blood! Can someone help me out, here? I'm expected to go back to the Citadel with someone's head on a platter."

A heavily-built man at the back hesitatingly raises a hand. "I might be able to help you out with that..." Going to his tent, he returns with a latex head, complete with hair.

"Fucking hell" Furiosa mutters. "That's the most horrible thing I've ever..." Another man interrupts her with a nudge. "That's Big Dave's dad..."

"A circus passed through here about twenty years ago and one guy was practicing sculpture...so dad let him use him as a model. See here, it's signed on the back and everything..." They peered closer and saw a scribble that looked like 'Pepe'. "Pretty good likeness, too" the man added, proudly.

"I see where you get your good looks." Furiosa nodded.

"But look, what kind of compensation will we be getting?" interrupted the same hotheaded Rock Rider, one gunshot wound not sufficient to keep him quiet.

"No compensation" the young man bristled at this, "but a very favourable trade deal...namely, a small but regular supply of greens and water in exchange for..." She cast her eye round the camp "all the car parts you can salvage." They had plenty of that commodity but, being bikers, they couldn't use them themselves and would have to trade them on anyway. They looked unconvinced. She went on, "And you, Big Dave...you'll have the knowledge that your father will be honoured as a vanquished foe and leader by Immortan Joe."

The Rock Riders looked at each other. Some shrugged, some grinned. "Deal" said their leader.

Furiosa and her crew returned to the Citadel and presented Joe with the leader of the Rock Riders pickled in a jar. He kept it on a shelf.

16: All Girls Together (Day 6188)

It had all been going so well. She was in charge of the War Rig. Two thousand horsepower of nitro-boosted war machine. This would be her escape. She could outrun and outfight them, and drive, drive, drive. With water, fuel and food. Even if it took her weeks, months to find the Green Place again, she could do it.

But Joe had been taunting her, saying he might call for her any day...And now she's back in the Vault, in charge of guarding his Wives.

When she meets Giddy for the first time in seventeen years, she's greeted with the words "You've grown." She certainly looked different to the frightened twelve-year old she'd been, though she'd only added a couple of inches to her height. Lean, scarred, shaven-headed, eyes that give nothing away. That was who she'd become. The Wives look afraid of her. "What have you told them?" Furiosa asks. "About you? Nothing. Unless you want me to." She didn't.

Giddy knew that expression. Lyra would have killed to have ever had looked so determined, so certain. "You have a plan, don't you? A real plan. You're leaving." Furiosa says nothing.

"You have to take the girls with you." Furiosa says nothing.

"Lyra got you out. You can't help her. Ever heard of paying it forward?"

Furiosa wants to say "I don't owe anyone anything", but she bites it back. She knows it's not true. She knows it would have been her blood and brains splattered onto the courtyard by now if she hadn't been given an out. But she still resists. "It'd take too long to plan" she growls, teeth gritted, "You don't understand...I need to go now. Joe could call for me any day. It'd all be for nothing."

Giddy looks at her, looks properly. Furiosa's eyes are desperate, her nostrils flared like a trapped animal. She's not just angry...she's fighting down panic. She smiled a little and shook her head. "No offence, girl...I think you're out of the woods now. You're getting on a bit, and the years haven't been kind. I think these pretty young things are more to Joe's taste."

Furiosa blinked in surprise, and she laughed a little. "I think that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."