“Come inside… rest,” Furiosa had suggested, her voice barely a sliver of itself. She must have noticed Max making preparations even though he’d tried not to disturb her. This had clearly failed, and the resulting pang of guilt was as clear an indication as any that he had to go.
He didn’t need Goose sitting on the bonnet of the bizarre mutant car while spinning an old coin and shaking his head at his old partner. “In too deep, mate, in too deep.”
Max already knew that. So the women’s fussing over his hand felt like weights being chained to his feet. He refused everything more than a perfunctory cleaning; no sense in wasting the supplies, but at least their focusing their attentions on him meant Furiosa was out of danger for the moment. She did look less grey, and while her breathing was still rough and fragile, her pulse was strong.
Now he watches her rise. He’d helped her find some semblance of stability, and then he let her go. This is how things are supposed to be: she belongs to the green and the water, and he belongs to the dust. She looks magnificent there with the morning sunlights bouncing rainbows off the steady waterfall. Then she finds him – he’s sure of it. Her good eye glimmers, and she gives him a single, beatific nod. It’s the closest thing he’s ever known to religious experience.
“That wasn’t a nod, you fool; she just about fell over. How can you leave her like this?” demands the woman with hair brilliant like the sun and belly just as round. Her name had lots of A’s.
He looks again, sees Furiosa squeeze a friendly shoulder. He knows she will make do. She’s with friends.
“Friends? Imagine that,” quips an older voice, the feisty woman from the top of the Rig. He never got her name.
“He’s got friends; he’s got us,” Goose reminds her. “Right Maxie, ol’ boy?”
“Hush, the lot of you.” He’s not sure if he’s said it aloud or just thought the words. “You’re not real, just in my head.”
The vulva-lady or whatever they’re called shrugs. “Isn’t that all the more reason to listen to us?”
He pushes them all away and tugs his scarf (her scarf) over his face before approaching the water. He leans in to fill his canteen. He considers wetting the scarf for the road but decides against it because he doesn’t want to lose her scent. He breathes deeply, letting the musky, organic smell fill him.
“By all the cylinders, it’s the Driver,” mutters a voice in the crowd when he rises from the puddle.
“Gradi, Driver. My family will eat well tonight,” says another, a filthy woman, who leers at him hungrily.
He recoils instinctively, collapses in on himself and snarls, “Fuck off.”
“The Driver! The Driver’s here! The Driver Speaks.” Whispers are turning to murmurs, then to exclamations. “Bless us, Driver.” At least now they’re leaving him space, but their holding their hands above their heads with their fingers interlaced. “Driver, Driver.”
The Vuvalini shrugs. “Hungry people will take what they can get.”
A. is quick to point out, “This wouldn’t have happened if you had gone inside.”
The crowd is converging on him, a thousand hungry mouths with rotten teeth, two thousand eyes all focused on him. “Where are we going, Driver? Driver, bless us.”
“Whaddya want?” Max grumbles, feeling his shoulders creep up around his neck.
“The Driver speaks!”
“What do you want?” Max repeats.
The crowd becomes still. They stare in rapt silence until someone says, “You brought us the dead Immortan and our Furiosa.”
He doesn’t know why so many people keep trying to claim her. “She killed him.”
“But you brought her back to us.” The others nod in agreement.
Max still doesn’t know quite what’s happening, but he does have a certain growing understanding that these people won’t be simply letting him pass. As a positive, however, he’s becoming more and more certain that they aren’t going to try to eat him, at least not at the moment. He needs to play along, be whatever Driver they think he is so that the Driver person can tell them to scatter. He looks from eager, pleading face to eager, pleading face. She would know what to say. And if he says the wrong thing, well, he’s seen these people tear a corpse to shreds, an old one even, despite all the fat and gristle.
He wants to run. The space the crowd granted him is narrowing as they close in on him. Their fingers brush his skin and hair as they reach for him. He feels the pressure of even more touches through his jacket on his arms and back.
A. shakes her head and shudders at his incompetence. “Just repeat after me.” She glides through the crowd and carves a circle around him as she whispers in his ear.
Max speaks, letting A's words flow out of him, “Be good to Her as she is good to you. Be good to those who stand for her. Be good to each other.”
A. smiles approvingly. “There, that wasn’t so hard.”
“Now,” he grumbles as he tries to cling to the remnants of her eloquence in his mouth, “Let me pass.”
Much to his surprise, they do. The crowd steps back far enough to make a path, and some even lower their arms long enough to offer him various luxuries: scraps of cloth, metal tins, bits of jerky. He tries to wave the gifts away, but they keep coming, the gifters pleading with their eyes.
And yes, he is hungry. He hasn’t eaten since before the battle, which was only yesterday, but it feels like ages ago. Where would he be if he were always too stubborn to accept what was offered to him?
"Isn't it better than stealing?" asks the Vuvalini, but A. is visably offended when he lets a piece of jerky be pressed into his hand.
“V-8 bless the Driver,” mutters an awe-struck man who gives him a needle and spool of thread.
“Driver, Driver,” they’re starting to chant again while Max pockets his gifts. More and more are thrust at him; he can hardly store them quickly enough, let alone mentally tally them. “The Driver touched me; V-8 bless me.” Their voices become thicker, heavier. “Driver, Driver.” Then “Don’t leave us, Driver.”
Hands start to pull at him. They claw at his clothing and his hair in their desperation for his attention. They stir panic in his gut as they jerk him into high gear.
And so he runs. He runs until he is bent over, gasping for breath and stumbling, but at least he has space. His heart is still pounding by the time he's progressed from gulping air to breathing with twitchy pants.
He takes a long swallow from his canteen. His surroundings have become strangely quiet – not just free of people but also of the constant rush and rumble. It's lack is jarring.
He doesn’t realise the reason for the change until the ginger girl declares from above, “The water will return after sundown. All. Who come may drink.”
Then the silence is trampled by many thousands of feet as the crowd dissipates, and Max knows he has to move along as well if he wants to stay ahead of them. He’ll look for a vehicle later. For now, he needs a place to hide from the sun. He finds a south-facing rock overhang that will do nicely. He curls against the shady ground without even bothering to unfurl the swag he'd taken from the mutant car. He'll move before the heat of the day seeps into the shadowed ground, he tells himself; he's just giving himself a jump.
He eats a bit of jerky, but he is unsurprisingly still hungry. He chugs more water to quiet his belly and to hold off the headache he feels stirring now that he’s run out of adrenaline. It starts where the arrow pinned his hand to his forehead and radiates through his sinuses to the scrape where his scalp met the road. He takes the pathetic animal whimpers and moans escaping his mouth as yet another sign that he was right to leave, that the new Citadel leadership has more pressing issues than the fucking pain sandwich he has become. So he closes his eyes and rides the throbbing waves.
I am of the opinion that Max's ghosts are actually his sub-conscious using his guilt to tell him things he already knows but is repressing. He only takes on ghosts of people for whome he feels guilt over their loss. A is Angharad. The Vuvalini here is a bit of a composite; she starts as Smithers' Vuvalini because she ostensibly died right after Max almost blacked out from the arrow (or is it technically a crossbow bolt or even a dart?) in his head, and therefore Max blames himself. As she haunts him, however, he blends her more with his memories of Keeper of the Seeds and her personality.
The door closes behind her, shutting out the crowd and enclosing Furiosa in the dim light of the Citadel interior. The rush of adrenaline and awe that’s been keeping her standing leaves her, and now she stands by sheer force of will. She teeters and grabs for the nearest shoulder without caring who owns it. Other hands catch her, more hands than she cares to think about, enough to make her panic if she weren’t already fighting to stay upright and conscious. Her vision darkens; the floor undulates like sand dunes. She sways forward then stumbles over her own boots.
"Break…” she whispers as she pushes through the ring of bodies around her and paws for the wall. As soon as she feels the coolness of the stone, she leans against it and slides down.
Head down for more blood, head up and back for more air – Furiosa lands with her elbows on her splayed knees and her head slung between them. She knows here isn't the safest place, but in her mental fog she doesn't care. At least she's not passing out anymore.
"We have to keep moving," Toast insists as she tugs at Furiosa’s shoulders.
“Not yet,” Furiosa rasps, still certain that she will vomit if she moves and doubly certain that vomiting will tear her in half like perforated leather.
“Do you want water?” Capable asks as she squats to face her.
“Mm-hmm,” Furiosa admits after a moment. Her throat still burns all the way down into her chest. The little sips she's been allowed have turned to smoke. She allows the girls to help her up to sitting in exchange for a few more meager swallows.
“Where might we find a gurney?” Iris asks. She and Leona, the two surviving Vuvalini are clearly on edge but each in their own way. Leona's fingers hover within an instant's reach of her firearm, and Iris's attention clings uncomfortably to Furiosa. "We also need oxygen and saline and strong lights," she lists, her voice clipped and artificially calm.
“I can… walk,” Furiosa protests. “Just… need help.”
"Which is why you're on the ground.” Toast quips.
“Not… for long,” Furiosa hisses as she clutches Capable’s shoulders and drags herself onto her feet. She pauses there, crouched with her weight on her toes, and squeezes her elbows against her sides. Each exhale is like getting stabbed all over again. “Ready,” she creeks, because holding still doesn't make her hurt any less.
Iris places her hand against Furiosa’s cheek then forehead. “Gurney or no, we’ll still need supplies.”
“Organic shop,” says Toast.
“No,” spits Furiosa as she struggles to stand. “My room.” She did not fight her way back here to have that disgusting man’s hands on her ever again. If there’s one person left in the world she wants to see dead…
“Boss!” shouts a War Boy running towards them. The girls startle and cluster tightly around Furiosa. “You’re back!” He starts making his way through the crowd but is stopped by Iris and Leona, their weapons raised.
“Kai…” Furiosa almost smiles. The boy is still here and from the looks of him, mostly intact, a broken nose and a newly missing tooth his only visible souvenirs from the last few days; at least something went according to plan. “Reliable,” she assures the Vuvalini, and they allow him close enough to touch her.
Except he doesn’t; he stops when she instinctively winces away from his chest bump. He holds his face steady, giving no signs of offense or sympathy, and salutes her instead. She winces again at the gesture, but he couldn’t possibly know why it hurts her, and she doesn’t have the will or the breath to explain. She merely takes it as another blow, one of many.
“You know him?” Leona asks the girls.
“Not well,” says Cheedo, “But Furiosa used to sneak him into the Vault to let him read with Miss Giddy.”
Iris raises her eyebrows. “A better question would be: do you trust him?”
The girls exchange glances, and the Dag shrugs and says, “Doesn’t matter; she does.”
Furiosa hums her agreement. “Who else… still here?” she asks, and then she starts walking, setting her entire entourage in motion. “Org-anic?” The word catches in her already raw throat.
“Joe took him,” says Kai, and then she does want to hug him, not the way War Boys do with their smacking and punching but like a real hug, a Green Place hug.
“Best news we’ve heard all day,” says Toast with a restrained smile that means she’s probably beaming inside.
“To my… room,” Furiosa insists because even knowing that the Organic is dead doesn’t make being in his space any easier, plus it’s too public. She needs four tight walls around her so she can know everyone they contain.
“Boy, you know where her room is?” asks Iris.
“And this organic shop?” The Citadel terminology sounds odd coming out of her mouth. Then Kai nods, and she says, “Good take me there to gather supplies, and then we’ll all meet up in Fury’s room.” She tugs as his wrist to lead him away as she looks to Leona, “Keep her in line.”
Leona chuckles and spins her pistol. “Same goes to you, Boy.”
It’s a small success: the Vuvalini and War Boy in cooperation, but it’s a start. Furiosa tries not to think of the magnitude of the task before them – just getting to her bedroom will be struggle enough; she’s already exhausted again, and they haven't even made it to the cage lift. Her protective circle of bodies, of wives and Wretched and pups won’t all fit at once. As grateful as she is for their protection, she would much rather cling to the walls of cool stone than the body of the most well meaning stranger.
Of course, that reminds her of a certain well-meaning stranger who glided off into the crowd. He would be better than a wall, she decides and then promptly banishes the thought. He's gone, back to the wasteland where he belongs – might as well have crumpled into sand.
As Furiosa and her now smaller entourage step off the lift, Cheedo feels a hand slip into hers, and then an arm finds her waist. Dag peaks over Cheedo’s shoulder and declares, “You were ace out there,” to Furiosa who nods but probably more out of the heaviness of her head than from actual understanding. “Absolutely - like an Amazon queen, you shredded the schlanger.”
The others hum their agreement. “Take all the breaks you need,” Capable insists as she traces little circles with her fingers on Furiosa’s shoulder. “We’re already impressed.”
"Just don’t pass out on us.” Toast stands in front of Furiosa to get a better view of her wild and vacant expression. “We need you to show us the way.”
Toast means the way to Furiosa’s bedroom, but the larger truth of the statement jars Cheedo with its poignancy. They’d all thought that the War Boy Nux was the key to their taking the Citadel; they were wrong. They’d never considered the Pups or the Milkers or the Wretched or any of the others here with their overflowing admiration. How long had it sat like water beneath the ground just waiting to be pumped? And without that, without her, would it all dry up or would it boil over and drown them all?
“Let’s take that break,” Cheedo insists as she tugs herself away from Dag. “I don’t think she knows she needs it.”
“She’s on cruise control,” Toast agrees, “but maybe we shouldn’t interfere.”
“What does that mean?” asks Dag.
"Like she said…” Capable feels for Furiosa’s pulse the way Iris showed her. “When you’ve done something enough times, the body remembers what to do even when your mind shuts off. Her body is remembering the way to her room.”
Cheedo wonders how many times Furiosa has done this before, how many times she's dragged herself home after a battle. Not home, Cheedo corrects herself, but to the safety and privacy of a locking door. Cheedo knows this need for somewhere quiet and dark that isn't home but will have to do.
The cruise control isn't perfect though, Furiosa stumbles and lurches and sways as her knees buckle beneath her. Cheedo winces for her when she clutches her sides while the group ascends the steep slant that leads to the highest sector of this Citadel level reserved for its most valued members who used to be commodities. Then she has to stop; her feet plant, and she dangles off of Toast and Capable while she pants.
Cheedo’s eyes wander over the familiar walls, and she thinks of how Furiosa used to lead them through these corridors in fearful silence when she would sneak them up to the gardens. “We’re back at the Vault.” The round and heavy door is unique from all the others; it could lead no where else. “Miss Giddy…” her voice trails off.
Toast glares. “You can't honestly think…”
Cheedo knows she's right; she knows that Joe would have come for Miss Giddy first. “But that doesn't mean he…” she can't bring herself to say the word. “She's valuable.”
Furiosa grunts as she wrests herself free and presses forward. She only makes a few steps before Toast and Capable have wrangled her again, but her message is clear: keep moving. Luckily the hallway slopes downward as it leads to a collection of rooms Cheedo presumes belong to the Imperators.
Furiosa doesn’t speak; she simply stops in front of one of the doors and leans forward so the less swollen side of her forehead presses against the metal. The only indication that she hasn’t passed out is the shaky but purposeful movements of her fingers on the combination lock.
When Furiosa does pass out, it’s obvious. Her whole body collapses into the door, pushing it just enough that it swings open before them while Leona swoops in to help Capable a Toast with her now limp form.
They cross her threshold. Cheedo and Dag enter last and linger in the doorway while the others hoist Furiosa onto the pair of stacked, bedrolls tucked into an alcove in the back of the small room. Cheedo’s eyes wander over the stone walls and the white chalk writing scrawled over them haphazardly. She recognises the shapes of the Rig and...
Dag pulls the door shut behind them. “So this is where she lives…” she muses aloud, giving voice to Cheedo’s thoughts.
"See if you can find more pillows or blankets,” says Leona. “She should be propped up.”
While Dag makes short work of the only trunk in the room a pair of white eyes meet Cheedo’s gaze. “Who is that?” Cheedo asks as she approaches the wall across from Furiosa.
She reaches, letting her hand hover just short of smudging the chalk. The eyes belong to a woman with wild hair and a stern mouth. She wears a band of patterned fabric tied around her crown and crinkled flesh fanning from her eyes. She has rendered in patient detail from the way her headband binds her hair to the way her scarf drapes around the base of her neck and nestles into the collar of her jacket.
There is another woman’s face just off to the side of the first with rounder eyes and fuller mouth and broader nose. Her hair is bound in a pair of braids that puff out at the bottom. Her expression is lively like the flowers decorating her scarf.
“Here,” says Toast, snapping Cheedos attention back to the situation at hand. She tosses Cheedo an empty canteen. “Fill it.”
There’s a tap in the corner where the walls slope towards each other giving the space the vaguest feeling of isolation. The set up is the similar to the one in the Vault if simpler as it is only meant for one person or maybe two. Cheedo turns the nob that releases the water from the low spout, and smiles as she catches it in the canteen before it lands in the trough below. It’s good to be in a place where she knows how things work.
Furiosa stirs at the sound of running water. First a humming sound rises from the back of her throat. Then her lips part, letting a puff of air escape, and her one eye that can open does.
“We made it,” says Capable as she tugs Furiosa up so Dag can fit a rolled spare blanket under her shoulders.
Furiosa hums again, this one small and quiet, and Cheedo ventures forward, the canteen extended. “Water?” Cheedo offers tentatively.
Furiosa turns her head towards Cheedo’s voice then lets her head lull back as she lifts her right arm. They both hold the canteen as it rises to Furiosa’s mouth, and Cheedo doesn’t know which hand is shaking more. Cheedo slides her free hand under the back of Furiosa’s head; the shorn hair there is softer than she expected. Water sloshes down Furiosa’s chin as she drinks greedily.
“Iris said ‘just a little,’” Capable protests. She reaches for the canteen, but Furiosa shoves her away with her short arm. “Not until we make sure you aren’t leaking.”
“I’m… not,” Furiosa snaps, or at least attempts to snap, but she does stop drinking. Her face is tight while she lets Cheedo lower her head. She winces as she belches.
“You can sleep now,” Capable assures her. “You’re safe here. We’ll take care of things.”
“Never… safe,” Furiosa protests as Capable leans across her to feel her less damaged cheek.
“Safer,” Cheedo agrees, “safer than anywhere else.” She folds her arms across her chest and looks down. The sounds of Furiosa’s breathing fill her ears. She shifts and looks up at the faces on the opposite wall, the faces Furiosa must have drawn, the eyes she must want to see her. “That’s something, right?”
Furiosa's room is roughly rectangular, maybe 3X4 meters. The walls are all natural stone, and so they slope and curve. There are no sharp edges or corners except on her furniture. The door opens inward, and her "bed" is placed in the opposite corner such that the swing of the door obscures the view of her "bed." She has one window with an internal shudder on the back wall. Her "bed" is really a natural alcove in right wall (assuming viewer is standing at the door) that has been padded with bed rolls. She likes to sleep with her head where the right and back wall meet. She has a ledge within the alcove where she keeps important belongings within easy reach; there are hooks for her arm and other hanging objects just outside the alcove. She has a table and chair beneath the window where she works and a chest for her spare clothing and bed linens. Her room is also her office, and she does most of her planning for battles and supply runs by writing on her walls with chalk. The left wall and the wall with the door almost pinch together allowing a bit of visual privacy; this is her "wet corner" where she has running water. There are two faucets, one low and one high. The floor slopes around a drain beneath the high faucet, but the drain is only intended to collect stray water. Primarily, the water for both faucets is collected by a trough that runs along the left wall and out a removable grate beside the door. Sometimes she removes the grate and plugs the hole with a rock to prevent sound from escaping her room.
Bodyily function stuff in this chapter, also medicinal drug use, mention of past self-harm, and (not very graphic) descriptions of injuries.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Furiosa doesn't sleep, at least not for more than a few minutes. She's always found sleeping on her back to be difficult; she feels too exposed, too vulnerable, but it's the only position possible at the moment. Every time she starts to drift, someone says something or someone makes a noise, and then she's jolted back to her ramshackle body in her too crowded room. She doesn't have the breath to complain audibly, but an expletive does bubble up every now and then. She itches for the solitude to lick her wounds in peace.
The girls keep trying to offer her more blankets and pillows than she owns, and then when they've realised that they've run out, they start fluffing the ones she has. Then she grunts or groans from being jostled, and they swarm her with their overwhelming concern, starting the cycle anew.
“Don't,” Furiosa finally growls when Capable reaches to touch her. She withdraws herself ever so slightly and glares.
Capable narrows her eyes stubbornly back. “You have to let us help you,” she chides in a tone one might use for a child.
"Help?" Furiosa scoffs, and she fights the urge to say something sharper. She tells herself she's just frustrated because she's running off fumes and off-roading at that. She knows the girls just want her to feel better, but the only thing that could really do any good would be a plan. “Help me, here… Citadel.” She swallows, tightens her mouth, and then says, “Work to do.”
“We can’t just hide here,” Toast agrees.
"We wait for Iris," Capable insists."That's what she told us to do."
“Then what?” asks Dag, “wait here til we starve?”
Furiosa is glad someone's talking sense. She grunts as she tries to reach the ledge above her, but the fire in her side keeps her from rolling over. She probes with her nub while she waits for someone to notice or give comment, probably some stupid, useless humming of sympathy or worse, a request for an explanation.
“What are you after?” Cheedo asks, and she’s the closest to where Furiosa thinks she left the chalk nub, but that was a lifetime ago so she can’t be sure.
“Chalk,” Furiosa answers, but she realises that if she can’t turn to face the wall, she has no writing surface. Fuck if she asks them to roll her.
Leona looks around the room and then snorts as she and folds her arms as she leans against the wall. “Seems you girls are getting assignments.”
Dag raises an eye brow. “And you aren’t?” she asks dryly as if Leona’s observation were obvious, to which Leona smiles and pats the holster at her hip.
Seeing her opening, Furiosa presses her still booted foot into the padding on her bed. She pushes slowly, tightening her glute and holding her hip steady while her weight shifts to the left. She twists her mouth and hisses at the new pressure on her side, but by now she is safely facing the wall. Cheedo gives her a cautious smile as she presses the chalk into her palm. Furiosa mouths her thanks then props herself up on her short arm to give herself just a little more room to breathe.
She turns the chalk between her fingers then scrawls with shaking hand and clumsy fingers, “Who's still here? Who’s with us?” She can practically hear the girls shrugging as they press together around her, so she adds, “Find out.”
"What's that mean, ‘firl at?’" asks Dag.
Furiosa grits her teeth against the growing throbbing in her side. “Find… out.” She lingers there while she waits for either the girls to say something or for her strength to give out. Her patience caves before anything else, “Corpus? Inventory? See what Iris needs, and then: Kai – Warboys, Toast – garage, Dag – gardens + kitchens, Capable – Wretched, Cheedo – water + Milkers, Leona – warehouse, Iris – organic shop.” She lets the words flow in whatever mangled form they please. Then, before anyone can argue, she presses against her alcove wall and shoves herself onto her back.
“O… K…” Toast leans in, scrunching her face as she tries to decipher Furiosa’s writing which is even sloppier than usual. “Where are these places?”
Furiosa hugs her ribs while she waits for the throbbing to stop. “Kai… knows.” She lies back with what she intends to be an air of finality and closes both eyes while she focuses on breathing. Maybe if she pretends to sleep the girls will figure out that they have to start thinking for themselves.
No such luck – there’s a clamour outside the door, and it tugs Furiosa back to awareness. She’s sparking with adrenaline and fighting to make her mouth work while the girls remove the bar from her door. “Password,” she tries to choke out, but somewhere between her feeble lungs and her burning throat, the word gets stuck, and she’s left shrinking into the bed and cursing herself for taking so many of her weapons in the Rig.
Leona holds up one hand as she draws her pistol with the other. “Who is it?”
“It’s us.” Iris’s voice is breathless but unmistakable. “How is she?” she asks as soon as the door opens.
Dag shrugs, and a teapot is thrust into her hands. “Here, alive, as stubborn and ornery a cunt as ever lived.”
Iris raises her eyebrows... “That’s high praise.”
“A bumper crop, eh?” Leona remarks as she helps Iris and Kai steer a gurney covered with gear into the room.
Iris nods, “A bumper crop,” and starts unloading the gear: an oxygen or air tank, a leather roll of tools, and a pair of rear vision mirrors, and an extra bucket among other items. She studies the morning light entering through the window and then approaches Furiosa while Kai affixes the mirrors to the gurney. “Hey," Iris approaches the bed as if she were approaching a stray. "We're going to need to undress you and move you to the gurney…” she holds up her hands and explains, “Not to go anywhere,” before Furiosa can protest. “We just need to be able to reach you from all sides. We’ve gotta clean your wounds, get a better look, do a damage assessment. We need to finish before the sun moves and we lose the light.”
“Mm-hmm,” Furiosa agrees as she steels herself for pain, for indignities, probably both.
Furiosa fumbles with the belts at her waist but eventually gets them open. Then too many hands grab too tender places and lift her while she pulls open the fly of her pants. Her mothers were never particularly modest people, and she learned quickly in the Warboy dormitories that modesty drew too much attention to her differences to be any good in winning her the privacy she craved.
Only after her boots and pants have been wriggled off her hips does she think of the tally of days she kept in scars on her legs. At the time she had nothing else to mark. She feels eyes roaming over the lines on her skin, some white, some pink, some red and fresh, some short to count for single days and others long stretches of time marked in long strokes. She waits for someone to mention them, but no one does. Maybe they just blend in with her collection of road scars.
How do we get this thing off?” Toast tugs at the bottom of Furiosa’s cincher.
“Back.” Furiosa tries to feel behind her for the cord holding it closed but soon grumbles, “Cut it," in her frustration.
“Are you sure?” asks Cheedo as if she were offering some great sacrifice.
“Got holes… already,” Furiosa rasps, and Dag chuckles, which Furiosa appreciates even though, or maybe because, everyone else looks appalled.
So shears are whipped out, and a clean line is cut up through the centre of the cincher. It falls open like a book. Furiosa’s every breath is wider now, fuller and more painful without the cincher's protective embrace. She shudders at the shadows cast on her tender belly.
“Are you all right?” Capable asks.
“Mm-hmm.” Furiosa wishes she weren't being watched so closely. All this concern is overwhelming, and it makes her feel even more raw and exposed.
Her undershirt is stiff and brown with dried blood. It crunches when the shears move through it and cut away the soiled and ruined fabric. Thankfully, Furiosa is left with enough shirt to tuck into a harness below her breasts; at least that's one item she won't have to replace... The girls help her sit so they can cut the back, and as much as they are trying to be gentle, there’s no such thing as gentle enough. Kai hangs back, watching her quietly, and she makes a note to thank him for that later.
"I have tea for you, from home,” offers Iris, "but I need you to piss first.”
As much as the warmth of tea in her belly to stop her from shivering at every stupid breeze sounds wonderful, Furiosa knows it will make her loopy. She needs her wits about her. She's having a hard enough time staying lucid as it is. “Don’t… need.”
“No tea till you pee,” declares Dag, obviously pleased with the rhyme.
Furiosa honestly hasn't thought about pissing, but she certainly isn’t shy about it. Warboys who are shy about pissing don’t make it too far. Maybe some of the pain in her belly is her bladder aching for release, and the idea that she might be able to immediately correct something in her body is definitely appealing. She scoots her mostly sitting self to the edge of the bed. “Funnel.”
“No need,” chirps Iris. “We found a bedpan.”
“No, she means this,” says Kai from the shadows, good ol’ Kai, and he slips into the wet corner and retrieves one of her piss funnels and her bucket from her wet corner... As much as Furiosa would like to congratulate herself on her foresight, leaving the funnel here was merely oversight.
Furiosa shoves her briefs aside and situates herself. As soon as she touches the funnel to her skin, her body remembers that yes, she probably hasn't pissed in about sixteen hours, and she feels the urgency of that neglect. “Bucket!” she demands and no sooner have her feet to the ground than her bladder releases. She sways forwards, collapsing into herself.
Her piss flows hot and dark, splashing first into the bedpan, and then the bucket. She teeters as her head spins. Her vision narrows, and she lets the funnel drop.
“We’ve got you.” Capable’s voice and grip are firm and steady.
Capable guides Furiosa until she feels the cold, steel gurney against her bare skin. She tries to curl at first, clutching herself for warmth and comfort, but hands guide her onto her back, and she has no strength to fight them. There’s nothing but cold metal propping her up. The muscles in her back constrict, and she breathes in little, gulping breaths as her body resonates with the pain of each shiver. Someone or multiple someones roll the gurney to the window so the mirrors catch sunlight and bounce it onto Furiosa's exposed middle, and every breeze cuts like a razor.
“As promised.” Dag closes her fingers around the handle of a mug and spots Furiosa as she raises it.
"I know you don’t need it. It’s for me; I don’t need you tasking swings at me while I’m working,” Iris says. “It’s from home,” she repeats.
It’s miraculously still steaming. Furiosa inhales, coaxing her body to accept the warm, moist air. She sips and wants to melt into the soothing warmth. She recognizes the taste of poppies from some long buried part of her mind. She appreciates how cleverly her mechanics have manipulated her, how they've run her to emptiness and chill and only then offered her the thing she had been certain she didn’t want: hazy oblivion. She accepts it graciously because it’s warm, and it’s something. Lucidity is overrated. She drinks every last drop.
Then she waits, anticipating and dreading the druggy ease that will fall over her body and cloud her mind. “Plug the drain,” she orders; although her voice is still weak, the words slide easily from her throat. “Kai,” she adds because he’s the only one she could hope to understand what she means. The last thing she needs is any member of yesterday’s regime coming by her room and hearing the detail of her surgery, inventorying her wounds before she’s lucid enough to do the same.
At least it isn't knockout gas or whatever that stuff was Miss Giddy used to offer in case a wife wanted to forget. But the knockout gas was the worst. She remembers when she had two hands, long, slim, and steady, perfect for helping Organic probe injuries. And probe she did; he would pump a Warboy full of knockout gas so she could feel for gaps or nicks in bones, pockets of fluid, ruptures in organs… lumps. Sometimes they died under her hands. Sometimes the knockout gas made them drown in their own fluids. She never judged them for wanting a death on the road instead of that.
She relaxes, first her fingers and then her jaw unclenching, and then she finally lets her gaze wander over her florid torso. She’s painted in bright, angry shades of rust and red like the garden flowers in her tea. Two holes gape up at her, one in each side but not quite twins – one a bit rougher, a bit lower, a bit more centered. She does need work, that much is obvious. Her wounds are like garishly painted mouths, and in their lurid magenta, they remind her of Cheedo running back from the slop that used to be the Green Place.
She breathes. Her air moves steadily if not particularly easily. The pain is still there, but she can ride instead of simply surviving it, and her mind wanders back to the Vault and the time she held Miss Giddy’s head between her thighs for a new tattoo. None of the girls would do it, and so the Imperator was left to steer the gun pricking ancient words into Giddy’s forehead.
“Doesn’t it hurt?” Cheedo had asked as she peered over Furiosa’s shoulder.
“Of course it hurts!” Miss Giddy scoffed with that unmistakeable enthusiasm from her peaking adrenaline rush. “Just because something hurts doesn’t make it not worth doing.
I've never gotten a good answer as to how Furiosa pees in her outfit. I decided on snaps and a funnel like those made by Go Girl. She keeps the corset laced relatively loosely so she can reach underneath to get at her fly which is either snaps or buttons. Given that she only owns two pairs of pants and not a ton of time to do laundry, she wears underwear. She has customised briefs with either small snaps or strings at the hip so she can swap them out without having to take her pants (and shoes if on the road) all the way off just to put them on again. Of course, with the funnel, she can just scoot them over or cut and hem a fly to pee standing up like one of the male-bodied Boys.
Knockout gas = ether. I headcanon that Miss Giddy was the only one left at the Citadel who understood enough chemistry to synthesise ether for anesthesia in the Citadel. She and Organic had an arrangement where he would help her hide the other products of her experiments, such as moonshine and primitive barbiturates, as long as she supplied him with ether. Otherwise, it would be one more flammable thing being shipped from Gastown. While Giddy's predecessor liked to slip sedatives into the wives' food secretly to keep them compliant. Miss Giddy made them available to wives who wanted to dull themselves before visits from Joe. This headcanon is explored more fully in 7000 Days Part II.
Long chapter ahead, full of wasteland surgery complete with wasteland anesthesia.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I only need two,” Iris says as she arranges a blanket over Furiosa’s legs. “What do you want the others doing?”
“You missed that,” Leona teases. “They get to their assignments, right Fury?”
Furiosa lets her chin dip and her gaze lower. It's a languid motion, soft and plump with ease. She’s still tight through the mouth and the brow beneath the swelling in the same way that she’s still tense beneath the fog of relaxation rolling over her. Is it pain? Worry? Both.
“I’ll stay,” says Capable.
“And you,” Iris says to Cheedo who looks surprised to be chosen for something.
“Others… kitch-uns,” Furiosa slurs. “Make sure they’ll still feed you.” Her voice is still small and painfully hoarse, but she doesn’t seem to mind so much.
“Should they bring you anything for when this is over?” Capable asks.
Furiosa tenses around her eyes. “No.”
“Do you feel sick?” Iris probes. She can’t know Furiosa too well if she thinks she would admit to something like that unless she had too.
Furiosa shrugs, which probably means, ‘yes,’ and Iris says, “It’s fine if you do; the tea does that sometimes. We’ll have a bucket ready for you. Just give us a warning if you can.”
Furiosa gives another soft nod and hugs her rib cage. “Still hurts?” asks Cheedo. Even with only one eye working, Furiosa’s glares are as powerful as ever. “Sorry,” Cheedo mumbles.
“Just give it time,” Iris assures them. “You two wash-up. Everybody else, out.”
“Make a password,” Furiosa orders without opening her eyes in a clear indication that she won't be teaching any of them the code to her door.
“We’ll knock three times,” Toast starts, “and then you say, ‘What is it?’”
Capable smiles over her shoulder from the wet corner. “And you’ll say back, ‘I’m not a what; I’m a who.’ Then we open the door.”
“And if we send a pup?” asks Kai.
“I’m not an it. I’m a person,” Dag offers.
"Be careful out there,” Furiosa insists after them as they start to leave. She lifts her head. “Stick together.”
"And you, don't get lost in there,” Dag calls back.
Then the door shuts behind them, and Cheedo closes the latch. “Bye,” she calls after them.
Iris shakes her head. “Now you’ll have to wash again, and wash out Fury’s bucket,” which she does. “No, Cheedo, I meant before you wash your hands.”
Furiosa groans, “Leave her alone. Gotta sterilise it anyway.”
Strangely enough, while she seems to be hurting less, she's expressing her pain more. She's not waiting until no one is looking to grimace. She's not waiting for other sounds to cover her groans and whimpers. Capable has seen her injured before, not quite like this, but bruised and battered enough that pulling herself out of the folding chair she’d claimed in the Vault took undisguisable effort. The girls all knew better than to say anything. Dag tried to make a joke once when Furiosa’s hip popped unexpectedly; that didn’t end well.
“There’s a ligh-der,” Furiosa mumbles as she struggles to sit up.
Capable grasp her by the shoulders. “We’ll get it. Where is it?”
She scoffs and then offers a smile that, given the condition of her face, comes out endearingly crooked. “Don’t remember.”
Capable holds her firmly when she tries to rise again. “There’s only so many places it could be.”
“We’ll need her sitting anyway – might as well let her try to do it herself.”
Now it’s Cheedo’s turn to scoff. “She won’t stop at just sitting.”
“Why would I... do a thing like that?” There’s a pleasant twinge to Furiosa’s voice underneath its pits. She drives her palm into the gurney to shift herself upright. Capable helps her the rest of the way and supports her while she waits to find her centre. “Thank you,” Furiosa mumbles, not bothering to shake Capable’s hands away.
Capable smiles. “It's nothing.” She knows it's just the tea talking, but she still feels like she needs to say something to somehow mark this moment. “It's ok,” she promises, and she rubs a circle on Furiosa’s sternum with her thumb. “You don't need to go anywhere or do anything. You can just relax.”
“Found it!” Cheedo holds up the lighter triumphantly. She scrunches her face as she struggles to coax out a flame, but it comes. “Just pass the handle through?”
“Gotta get hot,” Furiosa rasps. “Glow red.”
“Glad you still remember.” Iris passes Cheedo a leather roll of tools. “Do these too while you're at it.” She warms resonator of a stethoscope before holding it to Furiosa’s back. “Breathe for me, nice and deep.”
Cheedo holds a scalpel in the flame. “Did Furiosa learn from you?”
Iris pulls out an earpiece. “Sterilisation?”
“And other organic stuff?” Capable offers. Furiosa did teach them a few Organic skills like how to make water safe to drink and how to dress a wound.
When Iris looks confused, Furiosa translates, “Healing…” she sways like she's drifting in some secret breeze. “I'm no healer. I just… survive.”
"Ah, all our girls know…” Iris pauses, correcting herself, “knew these things. ‘If you can break a nose,’ the saying used to go, ‘gotta know how to set it so you can break it again.’”
“Good thing we don't know how to break noses then,” Cheedo muses.
"Would you like to have a listen?” Iris holds out an earpiece.
Capable takes it and turns it between her fingers. “Do you mind?” she asks Furiosa who hums contentedly and rests her forehead on Capable’s shoulder. “Alright then,” she chuckles as she runs a hand over Furiosa’s still dusty hair and places the earpiece. Breath whispers in her ear. “So quiet.”
“Mm-hmm. She’s staying shallow.” Iris moves the resonator to the other side. “In and out,” she coaxes, “long and deep.”
Furiosa obeys, and her chest swells until her breath catches where she has to negotiate her wounds. She exhales slowly, carefully. Capable can hear where Furiosa hesitates, expecting her chest to hurt, and she can hear when Furiosa is surprised when it doesn’t, at least not as much. Her breath is still a whisper, still soft and delicate.
Iris places a palm on her stomach. “Again, all the way down, into my hand.” The air whispers and her belly swells. “And out.”
Furiosa purses her lips and lets out a steady stream of breath onto Capable’s chest. She relaxes, letting Capable hold more of her weight. Capable closes her eyes and metres her own breath as she rides the gentle whooshing in her ear. It’s soft and private like a secret, and a soft smile forms on her mouth as she marvels at how hard a body has to work even when it seems to be still.
Iris moves the resonator, and the sound clears. “It’s beautiful,” Capable whispers, taken aback by the sudden strength. Just a few short hours ago, not even a day, this breath was shrunken down to nothing, but her it is, having fought its way back from the edge of extinction.
“Cheedo?” Iris offers, and Capable politely removes her own earpiece.
She thinks of Nux and how she could hear his breath tearing its way through his throat. And then she thinks of Angharad and the fire in her voice even as emotion made it stumble over sobs. She never got to listen to either of them as closely as this, and she has to wonder how they would sound in comparison. Could she ever identify a person just by the sounds of their breath?
“And here’s her heart,” Iris explains. “If you listen closely, you can hear the valves working.”
Capable presses two fingers to the side of Furiosa’s neck to feel her pulse. She knows the heart is just a muscle, that the old poets were wrong, and Furiosa is no more her heart than she is her long lost hand. She knows that bodies are just flesh, that Angharad was no more her body than she was the Vault, but that knowing doesn’t stop her from wondering if Furiosa can feel Max rushing through her veins. What is it like, she wonders to have someone in you, not just a passenger like the baby in Angharad but moving through you like fuel on its way to your engine?
“Can you feel him?” Capable whispers in Furiosa’s ear.
“Hm?” She sounds almost asleep.
Iris slips off the the stethoscope. “Now I need to check your belly.”
Furiosa mumbles something indeterminable as she buries her face deeper in Capable’s shoulder and then swallows. Capable cups Furiosa’s head and eases her down, her own arms aching under her weight. Furiosa’s letting herself be heavy and vulnerable, languid with warmth, not fighting when her head is propped up on a towel and only slightly moaning when Iris’s hands move along the edge of her bruises.
“The tea peaked,” Iris explains. “Cheedo, grab the mask and turn on the tank.”
Cheedo obeys, and Iris adjusts the towel so Furiosa’s chin is tilted up, and she presses an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. Then she returns her hands to their work on Furiosa’s belly. She works her ways from the outside in, pressing and probing, setting the stethoscope against Furiosa’s torn and swollen middle, tapping and listening, tapping and listening.
“Easy,” she whispers when Furiosa stirs beneath an extra strong poke. Then she withdraws her fingers, and Furiosa relaxes. “Good.”
“Is she ok?” Cheedo asks.
Iris smiles. “A little late for ok, don’t you think?” She pushes down again, this time higher. “I’m just trying find how far down her wounds go. It looks terrible down here, luckily all this bruising and swelling seems to have just come from gravity. I think her liver's been punctured, but that bleeding has stopped. Everything else feels more or less intact.”
“I mean, are you hurting her?”
Iris nods. “Not as much as without the tea, and she won’t remember any of it. I need her still reactive, still just barely conscious.” Cheedo still looks upset, especially when Furiosa groans beneath another especially deep touch and tries unsuccessfully to draw away. She squirms more forcefully as Iris’s fingers trace her ribs. “Hold her down.” Capable and Cheedo exchange looks before each taking a shoulder. “Look, everything hurts – life hurts. Not hurting is not a viable option right now.”
“Everything hurts,” Capable repeats the familiar words as a balm for the sympathetic ache in her chest. “Did she get that from you?”
“Me?” Iris cups the bottoms of Furiosa’s right ribcage as she glides her hand over the bones. “We were all a bit fond of saying it, but why did she need to get it from anyone. Everything hurts - isn’t it self-evident? Hurt or die, those are the only choices.” She probes the wound directly, and Furiosa gasps, her eye flying open, the muscles of her belly and abdomen that still work fighting to jerk her upright. “Bone chip,” Iris explains. “We’ll need to cut it out before it works its ways any deeper. We’ll check the other side first though.”
She dabs at the now weeping wound with a bit of gauze and then helps the girls roll Furiosa onto her right. That seems to be the most painful part; the rest of the left side is easier. The bruises are smaller and fewer, the cut cleaner.
Iris smiles. “Boy knows his shit – nice work, missed all her organs and barely nicked her ribs.” She calls for a scraper and a scalpel and sets to work while Cheedo holds a magnifying glass over the wound. “I’m just cutting away dead flesh, and dirt.”
Furiosa is mostly still and quiet while she tolerates the cleaning, just gurgling beneath the oxygen mask and twisting the edge of a blanket between her fingers. The muscles around her eye twitch, and she sighs as Capable strokes them smooth. “We’ve still got you,” Capable whispers.
“Now we rinse with saline,” explains Iris as she squirts fluid into the hole in Furiosa’s side, “and pack.” Cheedo hands her a pair of tweezers holding gauze which she rolls more tightly and coaxes into the fresh opening. Then she holds a large pad of gauze overtop while the three of them roll Furiosa onto her back and then onto her left side. “Last bit.” She look from one girl to the other. “Hold her. This will be the worst of it.”
Capable nods and climbs onto the gurney beside Furiosa so she can hold her arms behind her back. “Almost done,” she whispers.
Iris slices just below the gaping hole, and Furiosa whimpers as she digs tweezers into the new cut in her already mangled flesh. It's a heartbreakingly small and desperate sound, and Capable tells herself the tea would making anyone else sound so fragile, that the tea is the only reason her own small strength is all that's required to restrain Furiosa, and most importantly, that Furiosa's mind, voice, and body will be whole and strong again. Maybe, she decides, everyone is like this all the time underneath everything else; she knows she feels it in herself as much as she so desperately wants not to. Maybe the tea just brings to the surface what’s always there.
Clink. Iris drops a bit of bone, gleaming white under its red coating, into a mason jar. The chip is small, maybe a centimetre across. Capable marvels at it while Iris debrides and rinses this wound. Then she looks up to see Furiosa’s face drained of color and her hand fumbling for her mask.
“Furi-“ her voice catches when she sees the muscles of Furiosa's stomach spasm.
“Help her with that,” Iris orders, her voice struggling to stay calm. She holds a gauze pad to Furiosa’a side with one hand and aligns the bucket with the other. “Keep her on her side. I don’t care how much it hurts. Don’t let her roll back.”
Capable still has Furiosa by the shoulders, their bodies pressed together, and Cheedo braces Furiosa in the other direction so she doesn’t roll off the gurney. “It’s ok; you’re alright,” she promises as she pulls away the mask. “I’ve got you. Just let it out.”
Capable doesn’t know if the words work or if Furiosa’s body is finally defeating her will, but tea and water pour from Furiosa’s mouth. There’s not much in her, so she’s quickly reduced to gasping, spitting and sputtering. Then she hiccups and grabs her waist.
“I know, I know,” Capable mutters as she moves her hands, one under Furiosa’s head and over her shoulder to cup her stomach and the other to rest supportively on her stump.
“You finished?” asks Iris, to which Furiosa responds with a feeble whimper. “Here,” she replaces the mask and sends Cheedo to wash the bucket.
Capable keeps holding Furiosa while she settles. It’s strange being this close to her. She’s not even sure how aware Furiosa is of her presence… of her pale hand against the dry and chaffed skin and delicate scars on her stump. No one touches the stump, not even earlier today when Furiosa desperately needed help walking did she hold her stump in any way that could not be described as closely guarded. Capable pulls her in even tighter, and Furiosa hums in a way that reminds Capable of a kitten she knew when she was a girl.
Blood shows brightly through the pad of fresh gauze Iris is holding to Furiosa’s side. “Here,” Iris says again, this time her voice soft and quivering as she places Capable’s hand over the pad. “Hold the blood in.” Then she holds the stethoscope to the center of Furiosa’s chest. “Don’t let go.” She closes her eyes and listens then opens them again. “We should check the other side.”
They ease her onto her back so Capable can hold the right and Cheedo the left. Furiosa’s torn both of her wounds open, and she must know it. Her eye is open wide with understandable panic. They pile on more gauze and keep holding. Every second stretches like hot rubber, but eventually the blood becomes tacky, and the last layer of gauze stays white.
“You still with us?” Cheedo asks, to which Furiosa gives a deliberate blink. “You’re doing great,” Cheedo beams as she helps Iris guide a gauze wrap around Furiosa’s middle. Her voice is warm with what Capable knows is admiration, but Furiosa glares anyway. “She’s good,” Cheedo snorts after catching the expression.
Capable lets her gaze drift over Furiosa’s face, soft and relaxed as she dozes. “I’ll sit with her,” she offers. “While you rest, see to others.”
Iris looks up from drying her hands. “It will get quiet in here,” she warns. “Your mind will fill it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I do- you’re trying to hide from that boy.”
Iris nods. “You think as long as you’re keeping yourself busy here taking care of Fury, you won’t have to think about him.”
“No-" she looks away. She's not used to being seen so clearly; she's normally the one who does the seeing. "He’s not the one I’m hiding from. Anyway, what should I watch for?”
Well,” she touches the back of her hand to Furiosa’s face, first her forehead and then her cheek. “Feel this fever she’s running. For now it’s just her body cooking out anything we might have missed, but make sure it doesn’t get much hotter. If it does, tuck wet cloth under her armpits and send for me.” Capable nods. “Make her drink water if she wakes up. And…” she opens a giant medical book Kai brought from the Vault when he picked up Cheedo. “She’ll start coughing soon.” She flips through the pages until she finds a chart. “Pay attention to what she brings up: clear or white – good, pink – not good but expected, kinda tan, khaki – more water, anything else – bad. Send for me.” She leaves the book open on the table. “Best of luck and Goddess be with us all,” she says, more to Furiosa than to anyone else.
Capable stands carefully to avoid disturbing her charge and then embraces Iris. “Thank you,” she whispers, her voice catching and her eyes misting, “so much. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.”
“No,” Iris pulls back so she can look Capable in the face. “Thank you for bringing us here.
“But, you lost so many of your people.”
“Anyway, I found more at the end of the day. This is all any of the mothers could have hoped for, a place of our own. That’s all home is anyway, I place you make out of where you are. We were lucky to have our place as long as we did; most people don’t even get that. And now, now we get a chance to try again. The place itself doesn’t matter; the people do, and the people we’ve lost aren’t really lost, just hidden.” She presses her forehead to Capable’s and then turns to leave.
Capable watches as she moves before the faces on the wall, the women who stare steadily into Furiosa’s bed nook. “Before you go…Those faces on the wall, do you know who they are?” Capable asks. “They look like your people.”
She smiles “I would know that hair anywhere. That is Mary Jobassa, which would make the other good ol’ K.T.”
“Figures,” Capable smiles back, first at Iris and then at the fabled women watching from above. “I never know she could draw,” she muses, “at least not like this.”
“I suspect you would have known if she meant you to.”
“Our Furiosa is full of secrets… Did you know her, before?”
Iris smiles as she adjusts the edge of the blanket enveloping Furiosa who hums in her sleep. “Know? I coaxed her into the world. We were just setting up when Mary came stumbling across the desert. She’d run out of fuel a few clicks back, and then she started going into labour. She’s been looking for us, been driving around, following a brochure for the vineyard we’d bought just before the Fall. She was damn lucky one of our sentries spotted her. At least with her being all dried out, she hardly bled at all.
“Our Furiosa was the first baby born to us in our new home. She was my first too; I was just a student then and absolutely terrified. I still am, especially with her – she has that affect on me, I guess. But know? I don’t think I knew her. We were different clans, and once our numbers grew, we only saw each other at festivals. I tried to keep tabs on her though, make sure she was healthy whenever the clans got together. Then she disappeared, her and Mary both, the night of our Imbolc feast. By the time anyone noticed they were gone, their tracks were too. We tried to look for them, but we had crops to plant, and we knew we couldn't handle another weak harvest. K.T. never stopped looking.”
Capable studies Furiosa’s face as she tries to imagine her as a baby – before she had cares or scars or her sharp cheekbones or her angry brow. She slips off the oxygen mask. “Save some for later,” she whispers.
“Come to think of it, all our harvests were weak after we lost them. So again, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to finally get to know her as a person and not just a symbol.”
“How do you mean?”
“She was our first. In a way, she’s us. At least it feels that way sometimes, like if I fail her, I fail all of us…”
“I’ll take care of her for you,” Capable promises. “And as she’s fond of telling us, she’s rather ‘shit at dying.’”
Iris chuckles. “Sounds like a useful talent. Don’t know how much of that she can blame on herself though.”
Furiosa moans softly as she turns her face towards her pillow. They’ve set her back on her bed but shifted the whole set-up so she can lie on her left side and still have a bucket at the ready. “I think, the sun’s in her eyes,” Capable says as she goes to close the shutter. Iris cups her hand over Furiosa’s eye, shielding her until Capable has shut out the light.
“Mm,” she hums contentedly and lets her hand drift along some invisible surface. Then her hand hovers, rising and falling with her breathing. She pulls her legs up so she’s softly curled beneath her rough and ratty blanket. “No, stay,” she mumbles into her pillow. Her voice is warm but still ragged, desperate and fragile but still commanding. “Stay.”
Capable raises her eyebrows “I’ll stay with you,” she promises.
Iris smiles and shrugs. “Sorry to disappoint, but I’m pretty sure she’s not talking to us.”
Having no personal experience with poppy tea and only being able to find resources for the experience of modern opioids and smoked opium, I don't suspect my depiction of it is entirely accurate. I am neither modern doctor nor wasteland medic, just someone who spends entirely too much time on Wikipedia. That being said, this is chapter is intended to be as accurate as possible given the constrained knowledge and resources of the characters, and if you have corrections/input please do not hesitate. Everyone in fic seems to jump right to stitches, which would be like issuing a lease to all that wasteland bacteria. I'm still working out the details for how to explain Max fixing Fury's pneumothorax by stabbing the opposite side so input on that is appreciated as well. Given that in humans there's no anatomical connection between the two pleural cavities pneumothorax, even tension pneumothorax, would be resolved on the same side as it initiated. I don't see any specific reason for having Max stab her left side instead of her right, so I assume it wasn't a mistake, and that the Vuvalini's (my Iris) description of her condition was simplified for the sake of the audience. Miller knows how pneumothoraxes work, dammit. I'm just going to have to keep researching.
I'm going with the liver as primary injury sight based on the stab location of the middle belt on her right side, right about the 7th intercostal space, and the amount of bleeding. Depending on where in her breath cycle Furiosa was when she was stabbed, and the precise blade length and stabbing angle, it could have caught her diaphragm and even her right lung as well.
7000 Days tells the story of Furiosa's capture and includes more information about the origins of the Green Place.
Vague references to past physical and sexual abuse in this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Cheedo is still shaken when the War Boy Kai comes for her. She knows Furiosa is safe or else Iris wouldn’t let her leave, but that doesn’t get the image of Furiosa holding herself while she gasps and whimpers out of her head any easier. Cheedo wishes she could be more like Capable and soothe away pain with gentle strokes of her hand. She wishes she didn’t always find herself bolted down with terror.
Kai regards Furiosa’s sleeping form for a moment before dropping a heavy book on her table. It was clearly an accident, but when she doesn't even stir, he punches her fondly in the shoulder and chides her for not waking up to acknowledge him. He could murder her in her sleep he says, but his voice is soft.
Then he leaves, and Cheedo pries her feet free and follows in silence. She and the War Boy have never been close, rarely exchanging more than a few words when Furiosa brought him to the Vault to study, but now there is a vast expanse between them. She dreads his inevitable questions about what happened on the road, but the short walk to the Vault is mostly spent in silence.
“The Vault’s open,” says Kai, which she knew by the heavy book propping the door open. Cheedo nods and swallows down the churning worry in her belly. “Everyone’s there having lunch,” he continues.
“Everyone?” she asks as he reaches for the door.
He shakes his head in that now familiar way of trying not to agitate a headache, and she reminds herself that he didn’t come out of all this unscathed either. She wonders what it’s like to look at her reflection and see the parts of her that hurt. She bites her lip half to keep herself from crying and half to give herself something physical to feel because he’s just confirmed what she already knew: there is no Miss Giddy waiting behind this door.
The pristine air hits Cheedo squarely in the face as she walks in. Or maybe it’s the familiarity of the scene: Dag sitting cross-legged on the floor with a bowl of soup in her lap, Toast looking pensive with her arms crossed as she leans over Leona’s shoulder and the two examine chalkboards strewn in a semi-circle around them. Even though so much has changed, Cheedo still feels an overwhelming since of home. This place is theirs now, hard won at high cost.
Angharad’s words are still there, as bold and defiant as ever in her absence. Cheedo remembers the first time Angharad spoke them. She was sitting on the edge of the pool with her bare feet dangling into the water while Angharad and Toast had been arguing about something unremarkable. The words half burst, from Angharad’s mouth, like they found their way out on their own, but she clung to them and harnessed them. Back then they were just words stumbling into their power; they had yet to become a mantra. The words landed like pebbles on the water, sending out ripples in every direction.
There should be ripples flowing out from Angharad now as she bobs in the pool resting her feet, and Capable should be sitting to the side while she braids Cheedo’s hair into a crown. Miss Giddy should stop in her doorway and then go back to her room for just the right book. Cheedo can almost hear the foot of Furiosa’s chair scrape the floor as she shifts her weight. She would lean back with her arms folded and knees open as she watched her charges through a carefully crafted veil of disdain.
Cheedo remembers sitting with Dag and the wounds Joe had given as punishment for protecting her. Cheedo didn’t know what to say then -Thank you, but why? seemed all wrong. She wanted to believe she could take her own beatings, that she could survive Joe’s touch just as well as the others had, but she knew her protests would fall on deaf ears; sometimes people need something to protect. So Cheedo just ran the washcloth over Dag’s tender skin and watched her blood seep into the water – more ripples.
“How did it go?” asks the Vuvalini, looking up from her work and drawing Cheedo back to the present.
“Is she all gross and slimy inside?” Dag probes.
Cheedo sighs and then regrets it when she notices the tension in the room increase as a result. So she smiles, “And yeah, she’s pretty slimy and gross. She’s resting now. Iris didn't find anything new, well other than the chip of bone she took out and put in a jar.”
“Do you think she keeps her arm in a jar somewhere?” Dag muses. “I mean, if mine got cut off, that’s exactly what I would do with it.”
“We would have seen it in her room,” Toast reminds her.
"Not if she keeps it hidden. I bet it’s a horcrux!” Dag declares proudly.
“A what?” Toast scrunches her nose.
“You know, from Harry Potter.” Dag looks to Leona who shrugs noncommittally. “A horcrux is a piece of your soul put in a object to keep it safe.”
Cheedo folds her arms and scowls. “She could still die you know.”
“Not if she keeps her horcruxes safe.”
“Dag! I’m being serious,” Cheedo protests, her voice swelling. Then it quiets preemptively, and a silence falls over the room in its absence.
“I got us food like she said,” Dag finally announces. “I even made a pup taste it to make sure it wasn't poisoned.”
“That’s good. No one else is allowed to die.” Cheedo even stomps her foot for emphasis, and they all look at her like they aren't sure if she is being serious or not. She isn't entirely sure either. The words sound so ridiculously presumptuous that she feels her cheeks growing hot, and all she can think to do is hide. So she lets her feet take her where they want to go.
Miss Giddy’s room is exactly the way they left it: a finely coded chaos to which Cheedo does not have the key. She stands there, dejectedly letting the books call to her all at once in her confusion. The air is musky and yellow in her mouth.
“Cheedo?” Dag stands in the doorway patiently, not reaching or leaning, simply standing.
Cheedo sighs, letting her arms drop to her sides. She has so many words running through her mind, so many wishes and wants that she has no idea how to make real. “I wish Miss Giddy could tell us which books to read for help.”
Dag shrugs, “No harm in asking.”
So Cheedo does, but she hears no answers. She wanders through the cluttered room, letting her fingers glide over worn covers as she skims titles. She tries to remember the ones she’s read, or better yet, the ones Angharad liked with their big words and bigger ideas. Cheedo always preferred simple stories like the one with the pig and the spider; she at least knew those animals. Of course that one finds its way to her hands, as does another slim, familiar volume.
That particular book first came to her when she had developed a certain taste for love stories, the kind that made her chest swell with warmth until she sighed. Cheedo liked to listen to Capable read them because she could form the words into the perfect shapes so they floated around the room like a dreamy haze. Dag never understood; she thought those stories were boring – not enough magic or imaginary creatures. Angharad always said they were full of just that. Toast only wanted to read about things that were real.
“Here,” Miss Giddy suggested after hearing their conversation. “Try this one. It should fit the bill – real and about love.”
Capable looked over Cheedo’s shoulder as she flipped through it and glanced over the illustrations of toy animals. They agreed to give it a try because Capable had seen a live rabbit once when she was small, and Cheedo had a toy once. They read it together, taking turns reading, sometimes one reading the dialogue while the other read the narration. Capable found the little story enjoyable, but after she was finished reading it, she moved on to other things.
Cheedo, however, found the story enchanting, and when she went to Miss Giddy to talk about it, her enthusiasm was met with a hug of equal measure. “I’m so glad you like it.” Then Giddy was quiet for a moment as her eyes moistened. “You make me real – all of you do.”
“What do you mean?” Cheedo asked. “Of course you’re real.”
“Angharad liked to quote this one,” says Dag, knocking Cheedo out of the memory. She pulls a book from a third of the way down a stack which she then leaves leaning precariously.
Cheedo smiles as she accepts the book and then thumbs through the dog-eared pages. She can almost feel Angharad’s presence in the notes she left written in the margins. Her letters are round and bold. Cheedo tries to channel her as she reads, “And in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” Then she looks up. “Angharad used to say that meant that there’s only so much people can take, that we all fill up at different rates and then we burst like ripe grapes… but she never did tell me what a grape was.”
“Miss Giddy said it was like a berry. You squeeze it and drink its juice.”
Cheedo thinks of Angharad’s swollen belly and how it grew along with her anger and her confidence, how the expression around her eyes hardened along with her arms as she burned her rage for fuel to prepare for their escape. Cheedo wonders if her baby grew the same way, feeding off of that anger. She closes the book and holds it against her chest as she tries to imagine herself as a round, swelling berry; she certainly feels heavy enough and full too, full of things with no names.
She keeps rummaging, scooping up books without any deeper contemplation than a cursory glance. She gathers so many of them into her arms that they work their way free. Her arms open like a leaking wound, and all the books crash around her. She lets them falls to her feet, and she stares at them, how some have fallen open, others shut. She runs a hand through her hair until her fingers get caught in tangles, and she pulls. How on earth are they going to juggle so much?
“I can carry some,” Dag offers.
Cheedo nods, but it’s not about the books. It’s about how she can feel herself losing her grip on everyone. First Miss Giddy then Angharad, and now Furiosa is just one wayward cough from leaving them too. The more people they lose, the more people she loses, the harder it will be to keep holding on.
Cheedo has no words, but she has so much to say: how she's tired of so many things, tired of her life careening out of her hands, tired of being powerless as people are torn from her, tired of feeling small and weak and voiceless, but mostly she's just tired. So she lets herself fall into Dag’s arms and holds on as tightly as she can because she adamantly refuses to lose her too.
Cheedo huffs, “I just wanted everyone to be safe and together,” the words tumbling chaotically from her mouth, and Dag holds onto her just as tightly. She feels like sobbing, but tears don't come, like they’re struck somehow. Instead, she she buries her forehead into Dag’s body and huffs again more violently because it’s almost the same thing. “I want you to be safe and happy, and your baby too.”
This is the first she's spoken of Dag’s baby, but she's thought of it, even though it isn't hers to think about. She can’t even feel it as she presses her own body against Dag’s but she believes in it with an intensity that can only be called faith. I want to be your Green Place she silently declares, and the foolish thought makes her heart pound.
Dag silently strokes her hair. Cheedo looks up, and their eyes meet for an instant before Cheedo leans in and touches Dag’s mouth to her own. Their moment of contact is brief but exhilarating.
Dag pulls back in surprise but says nothing. Their arms are still around each other, and Cheedo leans in again as if to say Yes, I meant to do that because another thing she is tired of is being treated like a child and having decisions made for her. So she kisses Dag like she’s read in stories but also like her reality, all calm and desperate at the same time. She tries to will the kiss to say everything her words can’t, and the kiss Dag gives back is just as awkward but steadier, quieter. It’s as if she heard everything Cheedo was trying to say and is answering back Ok.
Cheedo looks down as she pulls away. Dag moves to her back and let’s her arm dangle over Cheedo’s shoulders. Cheedo knows she isn’t fleeing per se; she needs space to process what just happened, and Cheedo does as well. “Thank you,” Cheedo finally says. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”
“You’re welcome…” says Dag because that’s what one says when thanked. She starts to gather up the books from the floor. “Eat your lunch so we can go see the Milkers. That was your task, right?”
Cheedo nods then squats beside her, gathering books until they both reach for the same one, the toy rabbit book. “Dag…” Dag pulls her hand back so Cheedo takes the book. “I meant what I said.” She pulls the book to her chest. "And I meant what I did."
"I know." Dag rubs her thumbnail against the floor. "I know."
The great thing about having a post-apocalyptic librarian character is I can put whatever I want in the fucking library. Dag reads Harry Potter; fight me on it.
In case you slept through lit class, the other books mentioned here are Charlotte's Web, The Velveteen Rabbit, and The Grapes of Wrath.
“You sure this is the right door?” Dag asks and wrinkles her nose as she crouches against the wall. She leans in, examining a hole that allows a pipe to pass through.
“Through the hanging gardens outside the Vault. That’s what Kai said.” Cheedo squats beside her and listens momentarily for wayward voices. “We've been here before,” she says after the organic scent coming from behind the door triggers her memory. “On the way out.”
Their escape feels like it happened ages ago. She remembers shaking so hard she almost pissed herself when Furiosa knocked softly on the door. No one had answered at first, and then there was the ever-so-soft shuffling of unseen feet. Cheedo remembers that moment clearly even though other parts of the escape passed in a blur, leaving only vague concepts, as if they happened to someone else. She remembers that scent though, rich and pungent like nothing else, and the sound of the door unlocking. She remembers waiting, holding her breath.
Now she's here again and racking her brain for the words Furiosa had whispered that night. She eventually asks Dag, “How did you do this before, at the kitchen?”
“I just announced myself and told them to feed me. They obeyed me; it was brilliant, tre fucking shine.”
Cheedo hugs a blank chalkboard to her chest. "I don't think that will work here.”
Dag shrugs. “Why not? These people are used to being ordered around.”
“These people turned on the water for us,” Cheedo counters.
“How do you know?”
She isn’t quite sure, but she can’t really think of any other explanation. “Furiosa said there’s only one lever that makes the Mouth water flow, and that’s in the Mouth itself. Kai said there’s a direct passage between the Jug and the Mouth, for the Pump Master. That must be the one Furiosa led us down on our way out.”
“Uh-huh, the stinky one with the shit pipe.”
“She also said there’s a Milker we can trust, name’s Promise. I bet she was the one who let us in before, and I bet she came down the ladder to the Mouth and turned on the water for us.”
“When did Furiosa tell you all that?” Dag prods sounding impressed and intrigued. “She goes flat after two words.”
“The tea loosened her up.”
Dag shrugs. “More likely than Corpus doing it, I guess.”
“Did we ever…”
“No signs of ‘em.” Dag raps her fist against the door first tentatively then aggressively. “Hello! We represent the Imperator.” There's shuffling on the other side, but the door doesn't open. “Hello-oo.”
"What do you want?" responds a female voice.
“To talk.” says Dag.
“Thank you…” Cheedo starts, “for turning on the water.” She's given up on remembering the password Furiosa used before and decides they probably don't need it. “We need to ask you to do it again.”
The voice on the other side snaps. “Aren't our loyalties clear enough?”
“They run clear, but how heavy is the flow, and how deep do they go?” asks Dag. She nudges Cheedo, probably wanting acknowledgement for the cleverness of her metaphor.
"We need to know everything there is to know about this place. How much water do we have? How much milk?" Cheedo pauses. "Things you were probably meaning to tell her,” Cheedo probes.
The door opens, revealing a Milker, lush and beautiful with dark hair in braids. “Get in,” she instructs with a sigh, and the two girls obey.
They find themselves in an open space, not a wet corner; the pipe they'd seen from outside hugs the wall. Further back, the milking stations are set up, only a couple of them currently occupied. The whole room seems to vibrate with the gentle humming of pumps at work. It's a calming sound, not unlike the ventilation system in the Vault that always makes Cheedo drowsy.
The Milker folds her arms and shifts her weight back onto her heals. "So, how is our Furiosa?"
“Resting,” Dag responds sharply, her eyes fixed and her jaw tight; no one closes up quite like Dag.
“Are you Promise?” Cheedo ventures, and the Milker nods, her round eyes moistening with understanding. “Furiosa said we should ask for you.”
“Why didn’t she come herself?” The Milker is calm and her voice soft, but the question is pointed enough to make Cheedo’s belly drop and her heart jump.
“Like I said, she's resting.”
Promise nods again, this time soft and slow with her eyes lowered. “That bad, huh?”
Dag and Cheedo exchange glances before Cheedo speaks, her voice dropping to a whisper, “She said we can trust you...” she clears her throat, forcing up the words, “So yes… no immediate danger, but...”
"Best give her a few days," Dag finishes.
“So tomorrow then, knowing our Furiosa,” Promise says with an affectionate chuckle. “Is she taking visitors?”
“She really is sleeping now, got her drugged up and knocked out,” says Dag.
I guess that's one way to handle her,” Promise says with a half smile. “She’ll be fine,” she assures them and herself, “We all will be. Joe’s dead, and the Widows are running the Citadel. I never thought I would see the day.”
Cheedo smiles back. “We didn't either, but if we want it to last more than a day, we have work to do.”
“Trained you well she did,” Promise observes.
“You and Furiosa, you have history?” Cheedo asks.
“She was one of us.”
“A Milker?” Dag scoffs.
“No," she gestures in a circle, "us. We were in the Vault together, the only survivors of our group. See if you can get her to tell you how she fought off three War Boys for her freedom.” She chuckles to herself. “No one knew she had it in her. That's her way I guess, always surprising, seldom believable. Tell her all the Milkers are with her.” Her eyes glint when she says, “And the Pumpmaster will not be a problem.” She turns to walk away. “Come along then, I can't bring him to you.”
Cheedo and Dag follow her through the center row of milking stations. The other Milkers wave as they pass and offer their good wishes and blessings with smiles through their veils. Truthfully, Cheedo has never given much thought to the women who feed the Citadel. If anything, she pitied them and their existence without books or windows or pools or any of the other small luxuries that made being a Wife tolerable. Judging by Dag’s expression, she seems to be having similar thoughts as her eyes drift over the Milkers’ bountiful bodies.
“Are you hungry?” someone asks, and Dag nods enthusiastically because she's always hungry.
Then a mug of fresh milk is thrust into Dag's hands, and one of the Milkers stands to allow Dag to sit at her station while she drinks. She gulps hers down while Cheedo receives one of her own and turns it, studying its contents.
“How much milk do you keep on hand?” Cheedo asks, eager to keep everyone on task and complete her assignment. “How long could we live off of what you have now if, say, the milking system were to break down?”
“Now?” Promise asks. “Do you still have my shipment?”
“No,” Cheedo says tentatively.
Promise’s face falls. “What happened to it?”
“It’s feeding the Rock Rider’s, I suppose,” says Dag between a gulp and a belch. “And anyone else who survived the crash.”
“We’re sorry we lost it,” Cheedo says, and she is. She can’t imagine how much time it must have taken to make all that milk.
Promise lowers her eyes thoughtfully. “As long as it’s feeding someone.” Then she says, “So we are a bit short at the moment, but regardless, seven days fresh, maybe fifteen fermented if we don’t trade any away or use any for soap.”
“At our old population?” Cheedo asks.
"Do you know how many we lost?”
“No,” Dag answers, “But most of the Boys got crushed or fried.”
“So maybe twenty days then?” Cheedo offers.
“Or a little more, if the cooling system stays functional,” Promise clarifies. And, we can make it last longer if we can make it into cheese or yoghurt. If we still have meat and produce, we can stretch that even more, maybe thirty…”
“After a harvest,” says Cheedo, and she scribbles notes on her chalkboard. She holds back her excitement by pinching the corners of her mouth; Furiosa will be pleased with her progress even if not pleased with the numbers.
“And we brought back all those seeds,” Dag reminds her.
“But all this doesn’t do us any good without electricity, without that we can’t pump up the water or run the cooling system,” Promise reminds them. “We’ll keep milking for you though, build up our supply.” She must notice Cheedo eyeing her milk guiltily because she insists, “Drink up – it’s yours.”
“How is that?” Cheedo asks.
Promise shrugs. “Functional, as far as we know. Everything’s working at the moment.”
Cheedo adds that to her notes. “What about the water? How much of that do we have?”
“I’ve never heard anything more specific than, ‘Enough.’ You’ll have to ask the Pumpmaster yourself.” There’s that glint again. “We can move on whenever you’re ready.”
Dag looks to Cheedo, who guzzles her own milk. “Let’s,” Dag insists.
They move deeper into the Jug, into the heart of the Citadel where the milk is stored, and the pumps run. It's even louder here with every sound bouncing off the stone. Dag traces the wall with her palm, feeling the Citadel pulse.
They pass a group of Wretched Cheedo recognises from the lift seated in a circle on the ground, there are chatting about something, but they fall silent when they feel the newcomers’ eyes on them. Both groups watch each other in silence until their moment for potential interaction has passed, and then the Wretched resume their conversation in hushed voices in between sneaking peaks over their shoulders. Cheedo forces herself to ignore their eyes on her back.
Promise saunters over to a hunched figure chained to a pipe as it passes over a divot in the wall. “You’ve got visitors,” she taunts, as she removes the gag from his mouth. “If you play nice, maybe you’ll get a treat.”
“What do you want?” the man grumbles without looking up at them. His recently bald head shows fresh bruises through his stubble. He is un-powdered but ashen as a Milker and almost as plump.
“Ladies,” Promise announces, arms proudly akimbo, “may I present the Pumpmaster." She chuckles, “Or what’s left of him now that my girls have gotten ahold of him.”
“This is complete and utter madness,” he snarls, still curled towards the wall. “It’ll never last.”
“Sounds like somebody’s jealous he's not in charge anymore,” Promise taunts. She flicks his ear and laughs.
“How much water is there?” Cheedo blurts out. She starts to hug her chalkboard but luckily remember her notes in time to avoid smudging them.
The man finally looks up at her. “Plenty,” he hisses. “Aqua-cola forever, endless.”
Dag scoffs, “Nothing’s endless.”
“As close to endless as you'll ever find,” he agrees. “Bringing it up here- that's the hard part.”
“That's where we need you.”
“Which is why you won't have me,” he taunts back. “Just wait until the Immortan returns. All of you will be shredded like the expendable filth you are,” he spits as them.
Dag cackles. “He already came back, a corpse on his own bonnet.”
“Nope, there's nothing left to see.” She leans in and gives him a gap-toothed grin full of spunk and vitriol and tugs the gag back over his mouth. She clicks her tongue as she avoids his snapping teeth. “Now, if you want to get through this…” Dag drums her fingers against his shoulder, “do exactly as these lovely ladies say. Or…” She flicks the top of his ear. “If you don't fell like cooperating, well, that could be fun too.”
Cheedo turns to Promise. “So what happened?”
“I knew Furiosa was up to something when she came by asking for extra milk. She never told me anything, not even when she snuck you through. She told me to just open the door and close it again after she was gone without even looking. She said it was better if I didn’t know, but she’s not the only one who’s changed with time, and I looked anyway. I knew exactly what you were doing, and I wished I could be with you.
“For three days the Citadel was in chaos, but no one ever came to bother us. We only ever had the Pumpmaster here to supervise us. Corpus didn’t even come through, and the waterings didn’t happen those days. And so we whispered down our lines, and I told the others of our Furiosa, of the Wife who became a warrior and came back for the Wives who came after her.”
Promise’s face is practically glowing as the words tumble out. “Then she came back. Illawarra on the end saw Joe dead, and she shouted back to the rest of us, and… I don't know how to explain it… we all stood at once and, we weren’t afraid anymore. We knew we just had this one chance… We took it. We jumped the Pumpmaster and claimed him as our prisoner.
“I ran down the ladder.” She laughs with a certain humble pride, “Huffing and puffing, practically tripping over myself the whole way. I don’t think I’ve moved that much in the last hundred days combined, but I had to show Furiosa that we were with you, that you had come back to friends.”
“Thank you,” says Cheedo, feeling the inadequacy of the words. She doubts their return would have gone as smoothly without the help of the flowing water to ease the transition. No one of them would have thought to ask for it; they just wanted in and weren't thinking any further ahead than that.
Then, as they turn to go back the way they came Dag asks, “What’s it like, being a Milker?”
“It’s a living,” says Promise, “better than some, worse than others. It’s hard work staying this plump.” She runs a hand over the decadent curve of her belly then taps it to let her flesh dance. “And your breasts ache, and your back and your feet hurt, but at least you’re with your sisters.”
Cheedo looks down. She already thanked Promise; that’s what Furiosa would probably do, but that doesn’t feel like enough; she knows it wouldn’t be enough for Angharad. Promise is a person - she doesn’t exist just to be useful to them. Angharad would tell her that; Angharad would say, “You don’t have to keep milking for us if you don’t want to.” So Cheedo does, and then she looks up and meets Promise's eyes, “You can chose. Your milk is yours, and we’re grateful for it, but you’re not a thing. If you want to do something else, or even if you want to leave, we’ll do what we can to help.”
Promise hums as she throws her arms around first Cheedo then Dag. Her flesh is soft and warm like a blanket. “Thank you.” She sniffs. “I’ll stay as long as my milk holds up – I don’t think I’m good for much else these days, but it’s still…” She sniffs again. “It's nice to hear you say that.”
“You don’t need to leave when your milk dries up. You’re welcome here as long as we have anything to say about it.”
Dag nods, “All of you, even Ol’ Pumpy here, as long as he behaves himself."
Promise cries freely, her whole body quivering with her sobs. She buries her face into Dag’s shoulder without noticing how Dag has started to draw herself away. So Cheedo wraps her own arms around the Milker and draws her in closely enough to give Dag some space.
“Thank you,” huffs Promise when she’s calmed herself enough to speak. “It’s an honour to feed all of you.”
Cheedo smiles she looks away, trying not to cry. As small as she feels pressed against Promise’s body, she feels strangely large, like she’s swelling out of her chest. She steps back and squeezes her fist in front of her heart the way she’d seen the Vuvalini do. She squeezes so hard she can feel her nails pressing into her palm and her pulse moving through her flesh. She looks to Dag, hoping her friend will recognise the moment and do the same, but her friend’s attention has already wandered elsewhere.
“Hey…” says Dag as she slowly approaches one of the Wretched. “I remember you from the lift.”
The man straightens himself, drops the clear tube he’s been cleaning, and holds his gnarled fingers over his head in the V8 salute. His eyes are dark, his skin burnt and scarred multiple times over, his hair long and matted. The others follow suit, bowing their heads and gazing up hopefully from beneath their battered and pock-marked brows.
“Please don’t, not for us,” Cheedo protests shaking her head.
“For the Imperator. You come from her, yes?” asks the man Dag first approached, his hands still fixed above his head.
He beams at Cheedo, but she bats his hands down. “No, not for her either. Things are different now.”
Dag shrugs. “Why not? Who’s it hurting?”
“But it's his symbol!" Cheedo protests.
“No,” the Wretched man insists “He took it from us.” He holds up his hands again. “He made it ‘bout nothing but cars, but look.” He presses his palms together while his fingers remain crossed then parts his palms and presses them again in time to the stokes of the loudest pump's engine. “Cars aren't the only things with engines.” He beams as he speaks, almost shouting enthusiastically over all the noise. “V8's getting the world back on track, he is. That’s why he sent the Driver.”
“What do you mean, the Driver?” Cheedo asks, reaching for the man's hand again, this time to pull him up to standing. “My name’s Cheedo. What’s yours?”
“Slug,” he answers.”
“Dag. I’ve got a ‘The’ too, but I never use that part. Yeah,” she mirrors Slug’s enthusiasm, “tell us more about the Driver.”
“When V8's mad, he sends the Driver to correct course. V8 saw Joe claiming Immortan, starving and draining our people. He saw our Furiosa running and sent the Driver to make her come back to us.”
“And now what?” Cheedo probes, too intrigued to drop the conversation now.
Slug shrugs. “Whatever comes next. If the course of the world needs changing, the Driver comes.”
“Wait,” says Dag, nudging Cheedo in the arm. "You think he means…”
“Slug, did you see the Driver?”
"What d'ya mean? Yeah, saw you too. You were there. He gave us the pretender and then gave us our Furiosa.”
“Wait til we tell Fury,” Dag snorts. “She will get such a fucking kick out of this.”
So basically there's an access shaft through each butte of the Citadel with a pipe for waste water removal. Solid waste from the higher social classes gets collected for processing into fertiliser before the waste water from the garages and dormitories for War Boys and other Half-lives is added. Furiosa led the girls down this shaft and into the garage where the Rig was parked.
Citadel milk is often fermented for storage and cooled with evaporating water. I imagine the Rig had evaporative cooling as well. Per Wikipedia, the safe shelf-life for fresh human breast milk is 5 days (of course, safety third at the Citadel.). No data on fermentation. Ruminant yoghurt can last up to 40 days at 4deg C, but I doubt Citadel cooling is that good (I'm assuming it's November now.) Citadel cheese is acid-curdled and sometimes salt-aged as there are no ruminants for rennet. I'm not finding shelf-life info on human cheese. :( Citadel milk is also made into clarified butter and ghee for cooking. Considering ghee and clarified butter are pretty much entirely fat, they would probably have decently long shelf-lives. And yes, breast milk soap is a thing. -Thanks Wikipedia.
The sun is starting to tuck in for the evening and the air finally starting to cool by the time Max wakes. He stirs first, groping for consciousness and turning his face into the crook of his arm and away from the sun's line of fire. Then he tries to swallow and finds his throat sticking to itself with thirst. He fumbles for his canteen with his eyes still closed and finds it in its usual spot two hands over his head and to the left. He then drinks greedily all the water that doesn't dribble down his chin. It sloshes uncomfortably in his stomach as he adjusts himself and curls further into the shade.
Shade? He remembers a slight overhang; yes - that's why he chose this spot, but he remembers nothing like this. He opens his eyes to make sure he's not imagining the darkness before him, but even then he can’t be sure. So he turns once more into the sun and gropes at the line between shade and light until he feels a taunt edge of battered leather.
Max didn't mean to sleep that long. He didn't mean to sleep at all really, let alone through the mysterious appearance of a sunshield. He’s as sure that wasn’t there before as much as he’s ever sure about anything. What else has he slept through?
He’s busy cursing himself as he crawls out from under the awning when Goose exclaims, “Merry Fucking Christmas!”
“Hm?” Max crouched to examine the piles of loot in the dust before him. There is a wide assortment of little trinkets arranged in a the shape of a wheel, bottles, jars, bits of leather, bundles of string. He finds a bit of jerky wrapped in pilled cloth. There’s even a couple of unused shells, not the right size for his weapon but valuable just the same, and a carefully braided sling.
Max is more concerned over how he managed to sleep through the approaches of what had to have been dozens of people if each on left one item. He shudders as he counts the gifts. Gifts? He doesn’t know what else to call them; they clearly can’t be bait with him so clearly vulnerable. Maybe some kind of trade? He looks around nervously and jolts when he feels a presence over his shoulder.
“You can’t take their things!” protests the pregnant girl, and Max almost drops the sling.
The old woman beside her shrugs, “If he doesn’t someone else will." She gives him an encouraging smile. "Go on... They left them for you.”
“How do you know that?” Angie, that’s what he’ll call her, not that it really matters what he calls a figment of his own imagination, Angie folds her lean arms over her chest.
“Valuable stuff," counters the other woman. "No one would drop all this on accident, and just look at that arrangement.”
Angie still isn’t convinced. “They're desperate. They want favor wherever they can find it.”
Max, still convinced that someone, anyone, is watching him, intently scans the area. He finds a pair of dark eyes in a dusty face camouflaged in the long shadows against the stone. He slips the sling into a pocket and reaches for his shotgun but relaxes when he sees that the eyes belong to a child, hair wild and matted, skin the same rusty tan of the land. Max raises his empty hands, and he and the child regard each other in an uneasy silence before he steps forward. His eyes dart from side to side; the child could be a distraction meant to draw him out, make his every weakness visible from the way his left hand flares hot and angry from beneath its wrappings to the way he drags his bad leg ever so slightly when he steps. He straightens himself, lets his chest swell with a long, purposeful breath.
“Driver,” the child whispers.
He chews his lip. “Hey…” he ventures, and tentatively lowers his hands to gesture at the arrangement of trinkets on the ground. “What’s this?”
The child gasps and blushes, hands flying up for cover. “Driver.” Then the child is making that same gesture with trembling fingers crossing overhead. “V8.”
“Look, Maxie, there’s the V8.” The Goose ghost counts each of the child’s exposed fingers. “Clever little fucker.”
Max holds his gaze steady as he mirrors the gesture back. “It’s ok,” he mumbles, “not gonna hurt you.”
The child relaxes enough to extend to Max a simple leather pouch. “Bless us.”
“Wait.” He reaches out his hand instinctively for the child, not the pouch, but the child drops it there anyway and runs away.
“Bless you!” the old woman calls out, and she shakes her head.
Max waits to examine the contents of the pouch until he's satisfied that he's alone except his imagionary companions. They circle, peering over his shoulders at gleaming safety pins he pours into his good palm. He hums to himself as he turns them over and presses a few to test their mechanisms.
"A fine offering." The Vulv-a-whatever lady nods approvingly.
Of course he knows what an offering is. He just can't comprehend the idea of an offering for himself. He hasn't done anything. He's not even anything special here, not like those weird kids where he was the only adult; that at least made its own crazy kind of sense, but this is awhole new level of...
"It doesn't have to make sense," the old woman assures him.
"That doesn't mean he should be encouraging them," says Angie. "He shouldn't take advantage of them."
And he doesn't intend to; he'll be gone from this place as soon as he can find transport. These people will forget about him soon enough, and if not, he'll be long gone anyway. Trying to explain the truth to them just isn't worth the effort.
"What truth, that you're not a god but something even rarer these days: a fucking decent human being? Sorry boy-o, cat's out of the bag on that one." Her eyes gleam at him as she speaks, and he doesn't need to tell her that's why he can't stay.
"Hush," Max says, but it is rather nice to have a ghost who doesn't think he's a stinking sack of shit.
"Stinking sack of shit, eh?" she asks, eyebrows raised, smile sharp and mischievous.
He really does need something to call her. Furiosa’s people were no keener on names than he is, so he doesn't think this ghost minds being nameless. Also, he’s pretty sure she changes every time he sees her; the first time she was clearly the woman from atop the Rig, but each time he saw her after she’d collected some other attribute. By now she has the wild, white hair and cunning nose of the short one, the firecracker everyone else called The Keeper. Regardless, if she’s going to live in his head, he at least needs some world for her. The old woman has too many syllables, and every time he tries to conjur the name of Furiosa’s tribe he ends up blushing.
“Kaboom?” he asks.
She nods enthusiastically and even gestures. “Kaboom.”
Satisfied that he is as alone as he ever will be, Max collects as many of the little treasures as he can fit in his pockets; no sense inn wasting good luck while he has it. His injured hand protests these repetitive movements, and it’s practically useless by the he starts collecting pebbles for the sling.
“Should have let my girls do more with that,” Kaboom chides when he has to stop to cradle his hand against his body.
He tugs back the wrappings far enough so he can see the wound, well, wounds. They’re certainly ranting and raving, but at least none are pussing yet. He knows they will, and nothing the women could slather on him would have prevented that. He just needs to amass enough supplies and find a place to hole up and wait out the coming infection. He’ll move along when it passes just as he always has.
“I know a place,” quips Angie.
“No people,” Max shoots back, knowing exactly what she's suggesting. “I need to be alone.”
“Maybe not completely alone…” Goose teases.
“Completely alone.” He sits back down in the little shelter the Wretched people have built for him and nibbles at the bits of jerky they’ve left. The saltiness of it dances on his tongue.
When the sun has just set, he moves closer to the Citadel to collect more water. He still has a luxurious amount from earlier in the day, but now he has more containers to fill, and passing up the opportunity would be plain stupid. Still, the thought of the crowds is almost enough to keep him away, but after wrapping her scarf and a few of his new scraps around his face he decides to risk it. His every breath fills him with her scent.
With the shadows now almost long enough to swallow the land and the excitement of the day dwindled, he finds anonymity easily. Even so, he stays to the rear of the crowd when the rumble of the water pumps stirs them from their hovels. They move en mass, whispering nervously to each other as they go lest their raised voices jinx their good fortune: two waterings in one day? Their faces twist into guarded smiles, and when their eyes move over Max’s face, he smiles back beneath the wrappings so the crinkled skin around his eyes can blend in with theirs. He thinks he's dirty enough.
Shouts of “Furiosa! Furiosa!” erupt from the crowd, and Max’s chest surges with them though his mouth stays fixed and silent, his jaws clenched so tightly they ache.
"Furiosa! Furiosa!" his ghosts call out for him.
The ginger girl is the first familiar figure to step out between the teeth of the Citadel mouth. She's surrounded by lanterns, and their yellow light blends with the already fiery red of her hair to create an effect not like an old painting on an angel. She smiles at the crowd and speaks warmly of hope and love and other such strange and alien words.
She is not the one the people want. "Furiosa! Give us Furiosa!"
Max watches with stuck breath, shaking hands, and clenching gut when the ginger girl turns over her shoulder and reaches into the shadows behind her. A second figure slowly shuffles into the spotlight. She’s leaning heavily and openly on her friend and looking as worn and haggard as Max has ever seen her, but she is very much alive, and the people love her for it. Furiosa seems to grow several inches from the strength of their cheers, and Max isn’t quite close enough to see the details of her obviously bruised face, but he thinks she’s smiling. His feet itch for flight.
Then she lists forward. At first he fears she will fall, but she reaches out her hand so she catches her weight on the stone wall before her. The water gushes forth, and every person standing out there on the Citadel plateau falls forward to catch the water as it splashes to the ground – everyone except for Max.
He stands for her and momentarily worries that she will notice before remembering the coverings on his face. Hers has gone ashen. Her shoulders close in as she turns and takes a couple of wobbly steps back to the safety of the shadows.
Only then does Max take of her waters. He fills every container he has and then follows the crowd to the slums where they go about their evening chores. But he keeps going, past their tiny lanterns and chatter, until he can hardly see his hand in front of his face as he stands before the open road.
He hears the rumble of the motorbike before he sees it, the low, growling roar of a freshly tuned engine. He congratulates himself on his good luck as he creeps along the ground following first the sound and then the glow of a single headlamp. He picks a spot and crouches, rolling a smooth pebble between his fingers while he watches the bike carelessly kick up dust. He aims and fires. The Boy barely has time to fall before Max is tearing the bike out from between his legs.
“Hey!” The Boy sputters in slurred protest, and Max feels the slightest twinge of sympathy. The Boy’s shaved and powdered like the rest with nobby-edged teeth still too big for his mouth. He's young too young, which is probably what has kept him alive so far. “That’s the Imperator’s bike.”
Max climbs on undeterred. The wasteland would probably eat the Boy alive anyway. "Just tell her… uhh… some fool took it,” he mutters and then rides away." At least the tank is full.
There’s a rough and steady hand cupping Furiosa’s breast and another on the curve of her belly. She relaxes into his touch, letting her precious flesh reserve swell into it, and she hums at the careful strokes of fingertips exploring her skin. She feels warm, comfortable, and strangest of all, safe, for all she is also hollow and vulnerable. Someone else could get used to this.
Someone else could curve her back into him as he swells with breath. Someone else could drift along the rhythm of his heartbeat. Someone else could smile at his fingers finding the dark and curling hairs between her legs. Furiosa adds another ache to her collection.
His breath is warm and frantic, first against the pulse in her neck and then against her ear. She shivers and shudders against him. The hand on her breast presses; her heart beats against his warmth. Then the smooth skin of his forehead brushes against the side of hers as his breath catches in his throat and then finds its way free.
She wishes she could be deserving of the comfort of his touch; although it fills her with ease, it stirs the nerves in her belly to uncertainty and restless want. An empty fuel tank is preferable when the engine is off. She couldn't let herself rust through. And now?
She wishes she knew where to place her own hand; she settles for the raised skin on the nape of his neck. It reminds her that he is broken as well. And her short arm she fits just below his sternum, ready to drive her elbow into his solar plexus; it reminds her he is mortal, breakable, fragile… and that this is her choice – he could be dead in an instant if she willed it, but she doesn’t. She wishes she were someone else who didn’t need that reassurance.
He tucks a hand through her armpit and under her shoulder so he is curved around her like a shell on a tortoise. The side of her breast and the side of his hand meet and brush as she breathes. His abdomen quivers, drawing away from her back, and she turns her head.
“Hey?” It comes out breathier than she intends, and she moves her hand to his cheek. Her short arm stays put as she is not yet ready to give up her advantage.
He says nothing. He grips her desperately, fingers digging into her strongly enough that they will probably leave bruises. He buries his face into the back of her shoulder, and sobs quietly. She cups the back of his head, and though she's trying to stay steady, she sways with the force of his movements, the clenching of his belly, the heaving of his chest. Breath by breath, he fades and then finally disappears, and she is alone, facing out from her bed nook at the wrong angle.
Furiosa becomes aware of the eerie quiet around her – no clanking or clamouring, not carts or footsteps in the hallway. Even with her eyes closed, she can tell there’s too much light for this much quiet. She shifts then groans, both from the pain in her chest she’s awakened and from the knowledge that she’s overslept. Is it a run day or a drill day?
There’s movement in her room; she is not alone here. She snaps her eyes open but finds only one of them responds. She draws her limbs to her protectively.
"Oh, I didn't realise you were awake.” Furiosa lifts her head enough to see Capable stand to retrieve her canteen. “Are you going to get sick?”
“No…” Furiosa's voice comes out as a whisper as she struggles for her bearings. She brushes a damp cloth from the right side of her face and tries to sit up; she quickly changes her mind. “Maybe.”
“It’s all right if you do,” says the girl whose clearly never broken a rib. “There's a bucket next to you on the floor.”
Furiosa says nothing, just tries to keep from gagging at the foul taste in her mouth. She snatches up the water as soon as Capable has it within reach, and then props herself up on her short arm so she can rinse her mouth and spit. Then she sips, easing the water into her body and keeping it there by sheer force of will.
“Do you want me to send for everyone?”
“What?” Memories come back first in small trickles and then in a deluge. The pains help there, remind her that everything is different now; her old life is as dead as she should be. “What day?” Her room is darker than she first thought, lit only by her dim gas lamp at her table and a few slivers of late afternoon light sneaking past the closed shutter.
“Still the first. You were out for maybe eight hours, plus the surgery.”
“And?” It comes out a mere wisp of her Imperator voice. And what's happening now? How is their hold on the Citadel? What the fuck happened to her left side? The uncertainty gnaws at her insides and fills her mind with every other time she's woken with black spots in her memory; at least she isn't in the Vault.
"And… everything,” she spits. The surgery tea has long since worn off, leaving her groggy and miserable. There new pains as well, stiff joints and achy muscles she either didn't notice before, or else they hadn't kicked in. She doesn't mind though; pain is an old and familiar friend.
“I don't know.” Capable pauses then says, “I haven't been out. I'll have to send for the others. Dag brought lunch a little while ago; I can warm yours for you.”
She smells something rich and fatty that previously hovered just beyond her notice. Now the scent hangs heavily in the air like a thick fog, the kind of smell that would be pleasant if her nausea weren't threatening to boil over.
Capable hums as she lights the hot plate anyway. “You will be.”
Furiosa says nothing. She just tries to shrug the soreness from her shoulders and pop the aches from her joints as she shifts on the bed. The movements are small, some dizzyingly painful, all exhausting and somehow addicting. She tries to inventory her injuries: damaged ribs, probably broken, and muscles on both sides with the right being worse, maybe a fracture to her face, lungs that burn, the vaguely sick pain of organ damage, and then there's everything else that battle does to the body.
She'll ask Iris for more detail - How bad is everything? When will she be healed? Then she moves on, no sense in dwelling on what she can't know and can't fix when there is so much work that can and must be done; she feels it pressing down on her like a vice. She could prop herself onto her back again, but then what? If only she could figure out a way to turn herself to face the wall… but then she’s still be lying on her right side… what damn fool thought this would be a good position for her? If someone broke in, they would have the door for cover, and they could get a clear shot at her before she even saw them. Capable better have engaged the lock.
Furiosa grumbles and sips her water. She makes a damn mess of herself in the process, but at least she feels like she’s doing something useful. Then she lets her head tip back a little too abruptly, and pain flares as hotly and vividly as the sun. She groans and gropes about the bed until her fingers find the damps cloth. She winces at the ensuing sting when she eases it onto her skin; it must be laced with something – smells like antiseptic along with old blood.
“What?” She snarls at the feeling of Capable’s gaze on her.
“I sent for the others.”
“Already?” She hadn't noticed Capable slip away or hear her whisper through the grate. The Pups must be milling about outside her door. Everyone must be wondering why she's shut herself away. She strains to hear the shuffling of small, powdered feet.
“Mm-hmm. How about that soup? Just a couple of sips of broth,” Capable probes.
“Dag went to the kitchen like you said.” Furiosa hears her chair scraping the floor as Capable drags it across the room. “We've all had some already. The rest is all yours.” She sits and gives the chair one final scoot before leaning in and extending the bowl.
Furiosa’s stomach clenches, and she gags at the smell. “No,” she sputters. “Work first,” but her hand betrays her and darts for her belly.
At least Capable’s smart enough to put the bowl aside. “I'm sorry… I…”
Furiosa takes another sloppy sip of water to wash the sour taste from her mouth. “No food… yet,” she creaks. Then she closes her eye that can open and sucks little gulps of air as she wraps her arms about her middle. She misses her cincher; the air feels strange and callous with only a blanket to cover her.
“We’re working on another painkiller for you, not as strong as the knockout tea, so it should be easier on your stomach…”
“Fury, any idiot can tell your miserable, and the tea hasn't even worn off all the way yet. There's no need for you to suffer more, but that’s exactly what will happen if you don’t let us give you something.”
“No.” She twists the edge of a blanket between her fingers. She needs her mind working.
“Fine.” Capable’s voice is sharp and fiery. “Then focus. If you won’t take help, you’d best not need it.”
Furiosa would blink if she could. She hovers at the peak of her bristle in stunned silence. Although she's still only one jostle away from losing her water, she didn't realise her state was so apparent. She swallows and gives her stomach one last, encouraging press before saying, “Fair.” She slowly releases a sigh, coaxing her muscles to function. She wills her gaze not to waiver, her mouth not to quiver as she inhales. “No drugs.” Then she shoves herself onto her back with an air of finality.
Capable sighs but doesn't press the issue. Instead she exchanges the bowl for something else from the table. “Dag brought this in.” She gently sets one of the small blackboards from the Vault across Furiosa’s belly and presses a nub of chalk into her hand.
Furiosa gingerly scoots herself up higher on her pillow again and draws up her knees so she can rest the board against them. This is what she needs: something to do, a task, something small, concrete and useful. She steadies the board with her short arm as she sketches a series of lines and squares. Then she finds that she's drawn them all to large, and she smears away the white marks.
She barely acknowledges the door opening. She keeps working while she counts her visitors by their distinctive footfalls: Toast, Cheedo, Dag, Leona. “Where’s Iris?” She told them to move about in pairs, didn’t she?
“With the Milkers.” Cheedo’s voice waivers as she speaks.
“Making sure they’re healthy,” Cheedo tries to explain.
“Just because they get fed the most doesn’t mean they’re healthy,” Dag protests in Cheedo’s defence.
Of course Furiosa knows that. Of course she knows; she just… at least she remembers not to shake her head before she returns her attention to her chalkboard where it belongs. She replaces the lines she's erased, this time shrinking them to tiny scratches, the finest movements she can force herself to make.
“And Kai?” Furiosa demands, suddenly noticing his absence.
“With Iris.” Toast is unsuccessful at hiding her exasperation if she is even trying at all. Furiosa respects her for that; she hates that the others are using gentle voices as if a raised tone might shatter her.
“Do we have… enough boys… pups… for patrols?” Furiosa receives a bunch of blank looks. “ Fine,” she mutters, “patrols... every hour.” If they can't give her details, they can figure them out without her. She can feel her attention waning, and her eyes sting beneath heavy lids. She'll have to power through finishing her organisational chart. She draws a deep, agonising breath and hitches herself to the ensuing adrenaline rush.
“Twenty percent,” says Toast.
“At last count we had twenty percent of our boypower, all sick, injured, or underage. The only usable cars are ours and the tow truck. Plenty of bikes though."
“Thank you.” It's an expected and fitting truth: a hobbled Citadel for a hobbled Imperator. Furiosa marks the boypower percentage on her chart.
So many details to work out- the shop pups, the wheel rats, the cleaners all to be managed… sanitation, electric, supply... she sketches the overlooked layers of the Citadel hierarchy onto her chart and fits in names where she can: Jolt the shopmaster, Java the pupmaster, Switch in electric, the Butcher, the... and then she gets to the Vault and the Wives and Miss Giddy, Giddy who couldn't possibly still be alive. But Furiosa has to know, and so she writes the name, her hand quivering the whole time.
That's the last of them, at least of the people likely to determine their success or failure. She holds the board away from her so she can get a better view. There's even space in the corner for a key. She scrawls one there: X for dead, check for allies, single slash for enemies, underline for known alive with unknown whereabouts or allegiances. That should be easy enough.
She trades her full board for another. "They can't all be dead," Furiosa writes on the second board. "Someone will be back - eyes open." She turns it so the girls can read, and they nod, but they don't know that she intended certain individuals to return, individuals she preferred alive and saw opportunities to keep them that way. So far at least, fate doesn't seem to care for her preferences. She starts writing again, "Inventory," but the assignment list she wrote before is now behind her bad side. She remembers that she wrote it, but the details are hazy. Turning her head so she can read it makes her face throb so she ends up passing the board around with only the loosest notes and hoping the girls are smart enough to figure out the rest. She exchanges it for her first board and sets herself to fixing some of her lines and adding a few more blocks.
Her reserves were already low when she woke up, and now she's running on fumes. She lets her exhaustion drag her deeper into her bedding. If she keeps her breaths slow and shallow, they don't hurt as much. Her eye closes, and she feels the warm haze of sleep washing over her like a fog. She's not ready yet. She draws a yet another intentionally painful breath and milks it for all the adrenaline it's worth.
"Corpus?" she asks, "any sign?"
"Kai thinks he's in his room with his handlers," says Cheedo. "No one has seen any of them come out."
"They will," says Toast. "Or else get outside help. They need to eat."
"Speaking of which, Furiosa, please, just try and eat some soup. It's just broth, nothing else," Capable pleads.
“You are; you just don't know it yet,” says Leona, finally speaking up. “You’re dried out like an old raisin, but you can’t rehydrate on water alone, and you can’t heal without calories.”
Furiosa is still skeptical. “Might throw up.”
“Fine,” Capable plucks a metal picket from the wet corner and lets it clang against the stone as she sets it down. “You’re nauseous because you’re dehydrated and hypo-vo-lemic." She pretends not to stumble over the new word. "Your body chemistry is off, and not eating is just going to make it worse. A little vomit is a risk we’re gonna have to take.” That’s easy for her to say; she’s not being held together by frayed sinew and fresh scabs.
But maybe Leona's right, and the ache in Furiosa's belly is just emptiness from hunger. She counts up the time since she's eaten, a day and a half, but that wasn't a real meal, just the few meagre mouthfuls she can stomach when she's all twitchy and anxious for an upcoming battle. She tries to remember her last real meal, and she can't not really, maybe seven days ago, before she set the final pieces of her plan into motion and her impending left turn started gnawing at her guts. After that she ate in scattered bites, never letting herself get full enough to be languid and vulnerable. She'd thought she should get used to hunger in case they never found anything. A few meagre mouthfuls... she thinks she can manage that.
"Yeah..." Furiosa struggles to sit up. "I'll try."
Capable swoops over, sets the bowl on the ledge and grabs Furiosa under the armpit. Her touch is soft, too soft to be of any use. When Capable realises this, she overcompensates; she tugs sharply, pinching Furiosa's skin. Then she eases momentarily and then jerks again.
Pain shoots through Furiosa's body sharply enough to darken her vision. "Don't touch me!" she hisses, her voice small but venomous as she curls in on herself.
"I'm sorry, I..." Capable starts to draw back.
"I know." She grips Capable's forearm to stabilise herself as she settles. She breathes, "I'm good," saying it as much to herself as to anyone else.
Capable is quiet and flushed. The others try to arrange her bedding so she can stay sitting up this high, but there aren't enough pillows. Capable passes off the bowl to Cheedo so she can sit behind Furiosa and let her lean back onto her chest. Furiosa groans as her muscles give out, and she eases herself onto Capable. No sooner does Capable hold out the bowl then Furiosa snaps it up, determined not to accept any more indignities. There's no backing out now; she'll have to eat, and she will be feeding her fucking self, Thank you very much. She sets the bowl on her lap and spoons herself a few sips. It goes down more easily than she expects, warm and soft against her throat. When she's certain her stomach won't rebel, she sets down the spoon and drinks straight from the bowl. Then she swells with a pleasant fullness, and her eye drifts shut.
The door in her room opens inward to the left.
When Furiosa was first brought to the Citadel, she was drugged so she could be given a pelvic exam. She now has an understandable aversion.
Furiosa slips into sleep without warning. Maybe it's because she's always rather quiet or it's because of that one eye that just won't open, but for whatever reason, no one notices until she starts snoring. The girls look at each other, unsure at first how to react. The gasping coming from her throat is disturbingly similar to the sounds she was making earlier. Her eyelid flutters. Her head lulls forward.
“Fuck me, Dag mutters, “I didn’t know she could do that.” She looks to the others and holds her clasped hands in a pantomime of sleep. “Youse ever seen that before?”
They all giggle, not because the joke is exceptionally funny but because it’s been too long since they’ve laughed. It's a nervous laughter at first, punctuated by sideways glances to make sure they aren't disturbing her. Then it explodes from them in a single, violent instant.
“Oh Fury,” Capable chides in a whisper as she adjusts herself so Furiosa's head can tilt back onto her chest. The last thing she needs is a stiff neck. Then she shushes the others, “Unless you're trying to wake her...”
Furiosa’s body is warm and soft against her, heavy with ease. Capable tries unsuccessfully to extract herself by easing Furiosa down onto the blankets and pillows as she shifts herself out from underneath her. Furiosa may look light without all her belts and leathers, but she's dense and still taunt with pain or worry or any number of things. Of course, none of that is even close to giving her the strength to hold herself up, so she ends up lolling like cargo that hasn't been properly tied down. If Capable gets up entirely, Furiosa will crash onto the bed that really is only a bed in name. Capable's own hips are already protesting from its firmness. No wonder Furiosa almost never sleeps.
Capable thinks of the Fool and how he cradled Furiosa through every bump as the clicks went by, how he never complained or slept or let anyone take a shift. Sometimes he would whisper things to her, sometimes mumbled, half-remembered songs, sometimes stories so garbled Capable couldn't make anything out, which was fine because they weren't for her. Now she thinks of Angharad and how no one was there to hold her like that; maybe if she had someone, she would have lived. Maybe there’s power in soft touches and ragged voices.
“Not the worst idea… I think we should wake her,” says Toast.
"She needs the rest," says Leona, arms crossed as she leans against a wall.
“But she just woke up,” Toast counters, sounding more confused than contrary but with a measure of each.
Leona shrugs. “Drug sleep isn’t the same as real sleep. She needs real sleep.”
Toast sits atop Furiosa’s trunk and crosses her legs. "And we need direction."
"That's right here," says Cheedo as she reaches for the chalkboard still resting on Furiosa’s lap.
Furiosa’s grip tightens on the board instinctively. Her mouth tightens, and Capable smooths her hair to calm her. “It’s alright,” she mutters, and Furiosa does relax a little.
Then Cheedo slowly eases the chalkboard free, careful to avoid smudging the already nearly illegibly writing. "She said fill this out." Cheedo reminds them as she passes the board to Dag who copies it in an open spot on the opposite wall. "'X' for dead, check for with us, single slash for against us, underline for alive, nothing else known."
"And if we know nothing? Cuz that’s almost everyone?" Toast asks, "I mean, how many people did we actually see die?"
Cheedo shrugs then stands on the balls of her feet so she can reach the top of the chart. She draws a large, satisfying 'X' across the top box. "There's a big one."
Capable stares up at it and draws a long slow breath. Just to see that as something physical, something solid, sends waves of relief washing over her. "We did this." Her eyes are already wet.
“She did, you mean,” says Dag as she thickens the lines with violent strokes.
“No,” Capable’s voice is firm even though it’s only a whisper, “We all helped, and no matter what else happens..." She sighs and smiles. "This was supposed to be impossible, but we did it."
"And now what? What happens next? How do we keep moving if we don't know where to go?" Toast’s voice starts out demanding, but in her frustration it shifts to pleading, and she's right; resting on this one victory will get them nowhere.
Cheedo shrugs again. "Fill out the chart. That will tell us what we need to know."
Capable watches in silence as they work. The chart grows, filling with segments of the Citadel population she never knew existed. Of course she knew about the Gardeners, and she tried not to think about the Shredders or the Composters, but she's never before considered that the Citadel might tan its own leather. Those groups don't have individual names on the chart spare a few vague points of contact, she presumes because Furiosa doesn't know them, but when Dag and Cheedo reach the War Boy sections, the blocks populate with names and details.
“Can you make this out?” Dag scrunches her face as she passes the board around.
The others shrug or shake their heads, and when it comes to Capable she studies it. The handwriting is the same as ever, like her hand and her mind were racing, except this time her mind was clearly winning. The lines are shakier now but still confident, as if she simply didn’t notice her hand quivering. Her spelling has always been atrocious, but Capable figures her versions of these names must be close enough to serve their purposes, at least so long as the girls can pars out her letters.
Capable marvels at how much detail Furiosa managed to fit in this black rectangle. “Which one?” They are on the War Rig section, which Furiosa sketched as if nothing had changed. “It says ‘New Boy,’ I think.” -Probably wasn't around long enough for her to learn… but how long did it take Furiosa to recognise that Capable and the others even had names? But the others… Ace, Morsov, Torq, Scorch… they could still be alive. They could be in the Skin Shop.
“Are you going to fill it out completely?” Capable hisses as she finally hands back the chalkboard.
“What do you mean?” asks Cheedo.
“Why did you lie?” Capable whispers. “Why didn't you tell her where Iris is?”
“I don’t know…She would worry,” Cheedo tries to explain. “Kai said…”
"We should have told her Iris and Kai are with the Boys,” Toast says.
Furiosa stirs, and they fall quiet’ looking at her, then each other while they wait in panicked silence and stillness to see if she rouses. “Shh,” Capable coos. “You're safe.” Capable still doesn’t know if her own little whisper are helping, or if Max’s did for that matter, but at least they don’t seem to be doing any harm; Furiosa’s breathing falls back into the soft and steady rhythms of sleep.
"He said not to,” Cheedo hisses. “He said wait until they get back with information for her. Otherwise, she would worry.”
Toast is unconvinced; Toast is never convinced. "Do we trust him or her?"
Leona lifts her eyebrows. "Is that an either-or problem?” she asks from the corner she’s claimed for herself.
“Of course not,” Capable agrees. “She trusts him, and so should we. She trusted him enough to leave him behind.”
“To protect Giddy?” mutters Toast. “He obviously failed there.”
Kai was the only Boy Furiosa would ever let into the Vault. He would stand silently behind Furiosa while the girls took their lessons. Sometimes Miss Giddy would give him books; he'd take the ones about mechanical things back to the War Boy levels with him, but he would stay in the Vault and read the books of poetry to himself, unselfconsciously whispering the words.
“No…” Capable speaks slowly, trying to piece together the right words for her realisation. “She wanted him to live, for Miss Giddy, but not to protect her… he's her future. He's here for the books. He's the only the part of this whole mess that went according to plan.”
Toast looks at her as if this were obvious. “That doesn’t mean he knows what the fuck he’s doing.”
“None of us do,” Capable agrees.
“Ain’t that 8’s honest truth.” Dag spins a bit of chalk between her fingers.
Capable continues, “And we’re not going to wake her up to tell her now, but I just wish we hadn’t lied.”
Cheedo nods and says, “We'll tell her when we know more about who's come back.”
"And if they come looking for her?” Toast presses. “If they can, you know they will."
"Telling her wouldn't stop that,” Capable says, because they really do know nothing, just that an unspecified number of Boys have somehow made it back and are now in the Skin Shop.
"But at least she would be ready.” Toast’s voice almost quivers as she speaks, almost.
"She's always ready, as ready as she can be. Did you see how she panicked the first time the door opened? We keep the door locked and someone here with her. We keep the vent blocked liked she does.” Capable ticks off the things she's seen Furiosa do since they’ve been back. “We tell her when we know more, when we can make her less worried; we let her wake up to good news.” Capable says with an air of finality.
“And then what?” Toast looks to each of them in turn. “What if there is no good news?”
“There will be.” Capable tries to sound confident, tries to muster up the vague sense of hope and possibility that bloomed in her when that ‘X’ appeared over Joe’s name. “We’ll make our own good news. We can do this, whatever the fuck this is." The ancient swear word feels appropriately satisfying in her mouth. "We just need to stick by our principles and to stick together, to not fight each other.”
Cheedo presses her lips together in a contemplative smile. “The Milkers said they will turn on the water for us. If nothing else, that would let everyone know we are still here.”
“If we can't give the people water, we’re worse than he was… And if we show them Furiosa…” Capable muses.
Dag nods. “They’ll know she didn't just curl up and die.”
“They’ll know she is still here, still with us and them,” Cheedo translates.
“She's the one they want, the one they let up,” Dag reminds them. “The rest of us are just along for the ride.”
"But with the Boys trickling back..." Leona counters. She seems to be mostly leaving them to steer their own course, but when she speaks, they all listen. “She's safe here, vulnerable outside.”
“We all are,” says Capable. “But we can't just lock ourselves up forever.”
“But to send her out in front of everyone, weak as she is. She can barely stand up,” Toast protests.
Capable frowns. “None of us are weak.”
“Miss Giddy said…” Cheedo speaks slowly as she dusts off the old quote, “Appear strong when you are weak and weak when you are strong.”
"What if one of the Boys or Corpus attacks, tries to take over? Where are we if anything, anything else happens to her?” The hitch in Toast’s voice is unmistakable; she's afraid. They all are, but Toast doesn't normally show such things. Now that Capable has noticed, she can’t unsee it; Toast’s anxiety is written in the way she hold her mouth, the way she clenches her fists when she speaks, and the way she’s silently counting the scratches on Furiosa’s trunk while she listens.
And then here’s little Cheedo talking strategy, trying to stir the old fire in all of them. “That's exactly why we need to show strength – so they think twice about trying."
So much has changed. Capable supposes no one’s fire can always burn strong; perhaps it’s Cheedo’s turn to carry the fire for all of them.
"So we stick her out on a ledge and hope she doesn't fall over?" Toast snaps with a jut of her chin.
"Or get shot," says Dag.
"We should let her decide," Cheedo insists.
"She has to be awake to do it anyway, so stop knocking her out already," says Toast.
"I didn't. She's just that exhausted,” Capable assures them. “Besides, I'm only doing what Iris tells me. She says she'll burn herself out if we let her. We need her for the long haul."
"We need her now." The hitch in Toast’s voice is gone or at least contained; she's back to her usual self, cold and logical.
"We need to prioritise.” Capable insists. “If she’s going out to the Mouth, she needs to rest up for it."
"We'll have to get her dressed,” Dag points out, “I don't think, ‘hail fearless leader Pantsi-no-sa' is gonna work.”
Cheedo gives the soiled and crumpled heap that is Furiosa’s leather pants a sideways glance before saying, “There have to be more pants somewhere around here.”
“And a shirt that doesn't reek,” Dag snickers.
Toast rolls her eyes. “We all stink. The bigger question is how do we walk her down to the Mouth?”
"The long way?" offers Cheedo.
"As opposed to what?” asks Leona, “The way we came?”
“No, that is the way we came,” says Capable. “She needs the lift."
"I'm sure she would try the stairs for us,” says Cheedo.
"She most definitely would,” Capable almost laughs before catching herself. “Which is why we have to be firm that we're taking the lift." She looks down at Furiosa, at her pale face that still can't seem to decide whether to be swollen or sunken. "It's still a long way. We need her conscious when she gets there."
"What about Miss Giddy’s walker?" asks Cheedo. “It's still in the Vault.”
"As long as you'll admit it was your idea,” Dag snorts.
"And then what?” asks Toast. “She can't possibly... I mean, she could, but."
"I'll speak for her.” Capable’s voice is soft and calm as if she's offering to open a door.
"And say what?" Toast finally sounds intrigued. She even uncrosses her legs so now her feet are dangling off the top of the trunk.
Capable hasn't really thought about that. She fingers she can just stand up and tell them the truth. "I dunno; I'll work on it - what Angharad would have said. I'll thank them for supporting us, tell them that they aren’t things."
"I have ideas; let me help," Cheedo insists. "Dag and I, we talked to the Milkers and one of the Wretched. They were on our side all along.”
“Or their own sides,” Dag corrects her.
“Close enough,” Cheedo protests. “They were always against Joe. They just need to know that we care about them.”
“Do we?” asks Toast, her voice calm and contemplative. “I mean, as much as they would want us to. We have to be our own priorities. Don’t make promises we can’t deliver.”
“They let us in,” Capable says, the image of the crowd in that moment seared into her memory. “They need to know they did the right thing.”
“And if we use some of their ideas…” Cheedo paces as she speaks, “Like Slug, he rode up with us…”
“Gnarly hair, ace nose,” Dag explains.
“He said Joe stole V-8 from them and corrupted it. We can give it back to them,” Cheedo says, flush with excitement and possibilities.
“Can I talk to him?” Capable asks, feeling her own gears turning. Cheedo beams and nods enthusiastically. Capable smiles back cautiously. “After the watering. I’ll bring them dinner. For now, I want to let Fury sleep.” She lets her gaze drift downward, and she notes a couple of pale scars sneaking through the bush of Furiosa’s hair – stray bits of softness under all those harsh prickles.
"You should get some sleep too, if you're gonna let yourself stay trapped like that," Leona says after nodding approvingly.
“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” Capable snorts. She’s already sufficiently weighed down, safe and warm without feeling smothered, and if she does dream... “Give us an hour or so?”
As Toast turns to leave, she stops for one last look at the chart on the wall. "When we're talking to these people, what happens if they aren't with her?"
Capable half looks up. "We let them go."
"What does that mean?" asks Dag. "We kick them out?"
Cheedo shakes her head. "Who are we to kick anyone out?"
"They have as much right to be here as we do,” Leona reminds them.
"But we don't keep anyone against their will," Capable says as she attempts to shift her weight beneath Furiosa.
"And we don't punish unless they try anything,” says Dag, “but then…” she makes a cutting sign with her finger at her throat.
Capable is still unsure; she's still unsure about so many things, but that one stands out in particular. Everyone’s eyes are on her as if they are waiting for her to say something, probably No unnecessary killing, because that's what Angharad said, and they all agreed. It had seemed so simple then; they had imagined that they would ride off in the hidden compartment of the Rig and never look back with no one ever close enough on their tails to even see the dust kicked up behind them. Of course killing Joe turned out to be necessary, but everyone else with him? Everyone who stood in their way? How much better could they make this place at those costs?
“Cross that bridge when we get to it,” she finally says, using an old phrase that use to mean something completely different; bridges used to be reliable. She sighs as she considers how much Furiosa is rubbing off on her like fingers leaving streaks of grease.
Cheedo pats Capable’s shoulder. “I’ll be over here writing up something for you.”
“Thank you. Make sure you get some rest too,” Capable mumbles as the others file out.
“We’ll all get a turn," says Leona. "Now's yours."
Does anyone want to see the Citadel org chart? I can post it on Tumblr if anyone cares.
Canonically, per the Sydney Opera House panel interview, Furiosa learned to read from her mothers. I headcanon that Miss Giddy also had her read literature when she was a wife because the idea of her almost forgetting literacy during the period of time between then and when she is assigned to guard the Vault, seems to provide a maximum level of angst, and that is, of course, always a goal.
The others return in an hour as promised. Capable almost wishes they’d been a little late; Furiosa’s weight and warmth is surprisingly pleasant. Dag is first back, pulling Miss Giddy’s walker along behind her. She tests different ways to balance on it, flinging what little weight she has around. Capable watches for a moment through half-parted eyelids, not quite pretending she’s still asleep but not quite committed to being awake either.
“I’ll take this thing if Fury doesn’t want it,” Dag muses before unsuccessfully attempting an arm balance.
Toast is next. She comes in quietly, stopping to whisper something out that door before closeting it behind her. “Well, we have escorts waiting,” she says, her voice lifting in measured balance between disbelief and annoyance. “Leona is with them.”
Sure enough, if Capable concentrates, she can hear Leona regaling a group of Pups with tales of her misadventures. The Pups whoop in excitement at what must be the best parts, and Capable decides she’ll have to ask Leona to tell her stories later.
“Do they understand that she’s injured?” asks Cheedo from the table. “No poking or prodding, or pestering…”
Toast shrugs. “I think so. They're fucking kids, but they aren't sheltered.”
“Some of them worked for Organic,” Dag reminds them, now dangling from the walker’s top handlebar.
Toast shakes her head and scoffs. “Because that’s reassuring.”
Capable was always grateful when the Pups did small tasks for Organic instead of him doing them himself. The Pups would touch her gently, with their small hands. They would banter with her and make her smile.
Just then Kai returns with more supplies, and Toast practically shoves a nub of chalk into his palm. “Fill out what you know.” She jerks her head towards the chart on the wall.
“You mean…” He eyes the War Rig section warily.
Toast nods emphatically then leans over Furiosa. "Anyone know how to wake her up?"
Everyone shakes their head or shrugs except for Dag who shoves the walker over so it clatters against the stone floor. They wait. Nothing. Then Dag shrugs as well. "Stabbing her seemed to work, but I guess we can't do that too often."
Their eyes move to Kai. "You're her errand Boy," Toast comments. "You got any relevant experience?"
"Only ever had to do it once," Kai admits, his voice low and quiet.
"Can you do it again?" Toast presses. "Or we might as well start moving her, see if that does the trick."
"She'll be livid," Dag snorts.
"She'll be livid regardless." Capable says as she tries to extract herself. Her hands have gone numb, and her clumsy movements now take three times the effort. She flops one on each of Furiosa's shoulders and once she's managed a grip, she tries to shake her awake. "Furiosa." Nothing. And then more urgently, "Furiosa, we need your help," but Furiosa only groans a little in her sleep then returns to her raspy snoring.
Kai steps forward tentatively, his shoulders slumped and his arms folded. He takes a long, slow breath in and out as he looks around the room and then he screams in the lowest register of his voice, "On your feet, Imperator! You're needed at the Mouth!"
Furiosa’s breath catches, and her eyes fly open, even the right showing a sliver of pink between her swollen lids. She jolts upward only to then collapse back onto Capable who tries to lend her a measure of steadiness while coughs rack her body. Furiosa clutches her ribs, elbows pressed against her sides as her coughs weaken and her breaths go quick and shallow.
"Might as well have stabbed her," Dag mutters.
"Breathe," Capable commands, and then to Cheedo whose shrunk into the corner beside the Oxygen tank. "Give me that!"
"Where is Iris?" demands Toast.
"Inventorying the Skin Shop," Kai spurts. "She’ll meet us at the Mouth. Do you think we need her now?"
"No," gasps Furiosa, before the oxygen mask meets her mouth. Then she seal is closed, and she sinks into whimpers – it’s the kind of soft and feeble sound Capable is certain none of them are meant to hear. Then she lets the mask down and weakly rights herself. "I'm-" She hacks again, and Capable finds her canteen. A few sips later, her voice is a little stronger if still garbled and ragged, "I'm awake."
Furiosa would sigh if she could. Instead she squeezes her elbows against her ribcage and rubs her knuckles in circles on her sternum to ease the burning. “What?
"Yeah, like we said,” Toast says firmly, “you're needed at the Mouth."
Furiosa barely has the energy to conceal the look of dread that washes over her face, She shoves her hand into her bed to push herself up and then the wall to pull herself the rest of the way. She requires an assist to get upright, but once there, she stays, a little hunched but steady. "What's… happening?" she pants.
"The people need water," replies Toast as she rummages through the crate of gear Kai has brought. She pulls out another blanket, a couple of towels...
"And they need you to give it to them,” Cheedo pleads. They need to see you."
"They... saw me." Furiosa’s memories of getting from the Gigahorse to her room are hazy at best, but she does know that much. They saw her, and she saw the Fool. Then he was gone, and…
"It's alright if it would be too much too soon,” Capable tries to assure her. “We can think of..."
"I'll…," Furiosa rasps because they are right; sooner or later she'll have to make an appearance, and if she can keep her scrap together, force herself to stand steadily before the Citadel, she can buy herself some time away from suspicion. "I'll do it."
Her water canteen finds its way into her hand, and fuck if even her wet corner doesn't feel forever away. She looks to the two who woke her, first Kai and then to Capable who has finally freed herself. "Help me piss."
She insists on walking. She sways, relying on different hands and different bodies to hold her, and between the few steps to the wet corner and the few steps back, she she almost passes out at least once. She makes it though. Once she's back on her bed panting and cursing breathlessly to herself, her gaze falls on the walker now shoved against the wall.
It's Miss Giddy's; she knows it instantly. The girls could have brought her any manner of contraption to cart her down to the Mouth, one of Corpus's wheelschairs, a litter, even just used the gurney already here. The walker feels right, like Miss Giddy is here with them.
"Furiosa?" asked Cheedo.
Furiosa hums. They aren't going to mention the walker, are they? They're waiting for her to admit she needs it. "Just... thinking," she creaks to allay their concern. It's true; she is thinking, trying to decide her reaction. She's touched; she's angry, but mostly she just hurts. "I have... an idea."
"We sent your pants for cleaning. We found you these." Toast sets out a pair of soft and wrinkled pants from home.
They are probably Iris's, Furiosa guesses from the length. Linen- she knows the fabric as soon as it touches her skin with its worn slubs. The fabric is dyed the colour of faded clay bricks, the colour of the houses back home; they even are embroidered with bits of vines in green thread around the ankles. The lump forming in her throat is completely different from everything else tearing her to pieces. She's too busy battling it to fight off the eager hands dressing her.
Furiosa looks down to the ragged, stained edge of her shirt and the vivid bruising about her wounds – they look like mouths lined in lurid paint and gagged like women stolen for wives. She instinctively tries unsuccessfully to curl in on herself to cover them. “I need… a shirt.”
“You right, girlie?” asks Leona, looking back from the front of the entourage surrounding Furiosa like scrap fabric wrapped around a fragile treasure.
“Mm-hm,” Furiosa mumbles, noticing how her head has drooped between her shoulders but making no attempt to lift it.
She reminds herself that the Mouth isn't so far. She wants to claw at her throat and clutch her raging chest, but her hand is busy white-knuckling Miss Giddy’s old walker. She presses her short arm to the handlebar as well. There's no comfortable position for it, none that doesn’t throw off her alignment. Every step is a struggle that ends in a stumble. She lifts her head but finds that the swarming of her entourage disrupts her sight lines and makes her woozy. Or maybe that’s just the horror of the whole situation. She forces down the bile in her throat and keeps moving.
“We can stop if you want,” Capable offers.
Furiosa decides against shaking her head. “No.” She’s certain she won’t be able to get moving again once she stops. So she lowers her chin as if she were about to charge into battle and bites her lip hard enough to draw blood.
“So Iris will be there when we get there?” Capable sounds wary. “And does she know what we’re doing?”
“We were pretty vague - don't know if she put it all together,” says Toast.
Furiosa hopes not. This is stupid, beyond stupid, maybe, no probably, definitely fucking dangerous – all of them out in the open like this when they don't know how many of their enemies are still about. She's glad she ordered Cheedo and Dag to stay behind so at least some of them would survive an attack, not that either is especially survival-prone… She refused the idea of all of them out and about together; they might as well have a giant target painted on their backs. She didn't tell them her other worry: and that she wouldn't be able to open her door and fuck if she would ever leave her room unlocked and unattended. Cheedo had pleaded, showing a newly developing stubbornness, but the view from Furiosa’s window would be clear if they leaned out just a little, and so Cheedo relented.
Now Furiosa grimaces as she steps onto the lift with her charges, and its cage closes around them. Most of their protective circle of Pups stay sbehind with Leona to wait for the next lift cycle, leaving no one between her girls and the open air. A couple of quick snips, and they would all come crashing down. A couple of quick snips… maybe that wouldn't be so bad if she were alone in the lift.
She almost falls over when the lift stops. Her arms give out, and she collapses until she smacks her chest on the walker. That takes care of her worries; there's no room in her for anything else beside the pain glowing white like the centre of the hottest flame. She coughs – not even room for air.
The hands supporting her belong to Kai. Furiosa brushes them off; he should know better. His hands should be at his weapons, his eyes sharp and attuned to the outside. Furiosa will take care of herself. She only has one job for the time being: stay on her feet.
Furiosa has never been so happy to hear a door close behind her. Her knees buckle with relief. She clings to the shadows, and slumps half on the walker and half on the stone walls. She gulps the air; there just doesn’t seem to be enough of it in this narrow world with its dark and fuzzy edges.
“You with us?” Toast asks calmly and doesn't wait for an answer. Thank Goddess for Toast who doesn't waste time with pity. She rolls another oxygen tank into the rounded corner Furiosa has claimed. “Just us here,” she promises as she extends the attached air mask.
Furiosa paws for the mask and practically slams it onto her face. She counts her breaths, stretching each one like hot rubber until it is long and thin enough to sneak past the stabbing pain in her ribs. When she's calm enough that the semi-circle of concern around her has become the most stifling feature of this experience, she transfers the mask to her short arm and her right hand now free, straightens her upturned thumb.
Iris's mouth drops open when she sees them. Then her face tightens. “Goddess' cunt!” she snarls. “What's all this?” She charges through the water trough, splashing carelessly.
Furiosa runs her palm over her hair, and somewhere in her nest of prickles, finds the steel in her spine to right herself. She slowly lowers her mask as she meets Iris’s frantic and furious gaze. “Ready,” she whispers.
Iris watches her with narrowed eyes while Capable explains how the people below depend on them for water, how this is the only spout that opens up to them, how even Joe did this and therefore how they must continue it. Furiosa tries not to listen to all the things she already knows. She simply shuffles herself and the walker along the long, dry path around the perimeter of the Mouth where teeth should be if it were real. She's lost track of all the hands guiding her: Iris’s first two fingers on her neck, Capable’s palm soft and steady beneath her armpits, and then there are the other touches she doesn't know well enough to recognise. She hears the oxygen tank rolling behind her like a trailer.
They stop just out of view of the crowd below, but whole Citadel seems to vibrate with a low murmur of anticipation. Capable steps into the torchlight first while Furiosa keeps to the shadows, relearning how to stand unassisted. The crowd gives a cautious cheer when they see her and how her hair glows like flame in the light. She waits while Kai turns on the microphone until the soft whine of live electricity joins the energy of the moment.
“I'm fine,” Furiosa mouths silently to Iris and then again, “I'm fine,” to Kai and to Toast and then to no one in particular. She releases her grip on the walker. “I'm fine.” She lets the mask slide free from her shoulder. “I'm fine.” She takes a series of test steps as she continues her litany, “I'm fine; I'm fine,” until there is only the edge of a shadow between herself and the eager view of the awaiting crowd.
“Good evening,” says Capable, her voice wavering. “Oh what a lovely day!” she exclaims breathlessly. The crowd cheers again with more confidence. “This day’s water is yours. Enjoy it; there will be others. This water is yours. Drink deeply; there is plenty for all. Thank you, each and every one of you for welcoming us home. We will do our best to deserve the trust you, our people have placed in us. You are not things; you are people, stories and souls bound in flesh, beings of light and love and hope.” She raises her own hands overhead so her fingers interlace. She cups her palms and presses them together twice before saying, “Be blessed.”
Furiosa draws one last breath and then steps into the light. The cheers that greet her jolt her back to life like a spark in a long-dead battery. Three clean steps – they flow out of her from some unknown reservoir, and then she falters when she meets Capable, whose hands guide her as she recovers. She straightens herself, rising with the energy of the crowd.
The Wretched amassed below are a haze of indistinct shapes except for the few who are close enough to the spout to catch the Citadel torchlight. Even those few people are abstract human shapes standing in for the idea of people. She's never thought to count the Wretched living in the shadow of the Citadel or to even pay them any mind other than to order her Boys to throw food scraps so they would clear a path for her Rig. While the Wretched knew her name and would chant it in wild abandon, Furiosa would block them from her ears knowing it was really for him that they cheered her because that's what he wanted. Now their arms are rising in the same old gesture because that's the language they know, but the movements are different: exuberant, purposeful, honest.
The white shapes of War Boys and Pups are clearer as they perch on rope and chain bridges and peer out from the various doors and windows of the Citadel. Their hands are raised too, some simply out of habit to be sure, but there are beaming white faces too, mostly belonging to Pups. They cheer, as do the Milkers from their window overhead. Their distinctively feminine voices lift in familiar ululations,
Furiosa clasps the water lever. Her breath catches in her throat – this is real. A wave of pride washes over her; the girls did this. Her girls kept the Citadel running long enough for a second watering. It's not much, but it's something, and they did it while she could barely even breathe. Tomorrow there will be a third and a fourth. Though the Citadel is cheering for her now, soon enough it will cheer for the girls instead. They are the future; she is the present, scrambling in a frantic attempt to avoid stumbling back to the past.
She shoves the lever, and the spout opens. The Mouth vomits water, and her own stomach clenches. She remembers the walker and the oxygen tank waiting for her just inside the shadows. No one would ever know if she stumbled back to them, fell onto them like an old friend. The crowd would keep cheering. It's her name that rises from the crowds. Her name that joins with titles like “Come Back,” and “Immortan.”
Furiosa can't breathe. She leaves the water running and shoves past her aides, human and mechanical alike. She bolts for the back of the Mouth stumbling and retching. She crashes to her knees and heaves violently, fluid spilling onto the floor. Her whole torso is on fire. She gasps and sputters and gets maybe a mouthful of air before she vomits again. It's all the same now: hacking, retching, choking as her body tears itself apart. Shred me, is her last thought before the black spots in her vision merge and everything goes dark, about fucking time.
A big thank you to Tyellas for beta-big.
I've been told these characters curse too much. I am convinced the entirety of the Fury Road script could be replaced with variations on "Fuck," because that's what everyone's really thinking for the entire movie:
"What the fuck?"
"Fuck my life."
"Here goes fucking nothing."
"What the fuck?"
"For fuck's sake."
"Fuckity fuck, fuck."
"Everything fucking hurts."
"Fuck you, evil warlord."
"Fuck this eardrum in particular."
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Da fuq are those?"
"Fuck you again, evil warlord."
"No, no, no, fuck no."
"Well, fuck me."
You may have my fucks when you pry them from my cold, dead jaws.
In all seriousness though, I recognise that cursing is fairly limited in Fury Road. To me, this is because it takes place in a mythic space as indicated by some of the naming conventions, Max's opening monologue, and the quote at the end. For me, this fic does not exist in the same mythic space; it is told as it is happening to the POV characters, and thus their thoughts are presented unaltered.
All of my fics take Miller's timeframe of "45 years from next Wednesday," literally. That would mean many of the Vuvalini are already alive today; I don't see anyone I know cursing any less as a result of surviving the apocalypse, and fuck is just too perfect of a word.
Cheedo naps after making Dag promise to wake her in time for the Watering. She sleeps and wakes as if an entire night has passed. She’s groggy but conscious when Dag frantically tugs her out of bed to see Capable as brilliant as morning at the front of the Mouth.
“She’s so pretty,” Cheedo sighs, leaning even further our the window as if to feel the warmth of Capable’s fire on her face.
Dag squeezes next to her, close enough that Cheedo feels her chest swell with breath against her own back. “Lemme see.”
Furiosa’s window is barely large enough for both of their heads and shoulders to fit at once. Cheedo and Dag wrangle their bodies into a strangely intimate configuration, Cheedo on bottom, Dag on top with her hips pressed against Cheedo’s bum as they bend over Furiosa’s work table. Cheedo should be far from comfortable considering how the edge of the table cuts into her legs and how the sides of the window squeeze her shoulders, but between Dag behind her and Capable in front pouring her love and Cheedo’s words out to the crowd, she couldn't be happier.
Dag nuzzles her chin into Cheedo’s hair. “I’m never letting you leave again – don’t think I’m going anywhere neither,” Dag murmurs playfully. “Just gonna stay stuck in this window forever. Fury will have to get used to her new décor.”
Cheedo giggles. It starts out small and grows from a titter to real, solid laughter that drives her flesh into the window edge. She doesn't mind. Being here to watch as Furiosa steps into the light, being here to hear the crowd receive her, that far outweighs any discomfort from an ill fitting window. Then the water comes down, and everyone cheers, from Wretched to War Pup, Wheel Rat to Milker.
“We’re home,” Cheedo whispers, her breath barely sneaking past the sob clogging her throat. For the first time in as long as she can remember, Cheedo knows that everything will be just fine, that no one killed the world because it isn’t really dead after all.
“They would have not a dark lord but a queen,” Dag declares with a bold theatricality, “Beautiful and terrible as the dawn!”
Furiosa does look like that in a way, not least of all how she swells before the crowd after dragging herself out to them. She feeds off them as if they are what keeps going, and she will waste away back in this little room. They lift her head and straighten her spine. She needs them as much as they need her.
“Furi-ooo-sa!” Dag belts as she drums her hands against the sides of the window. Cheedo whoops as well and tries to trill her tongue like a Vuvalini. The result leaves them both giggling.
Then Furiosa returns to the shadows, and Dag extracts herself from the window. “Everything's gonna be different now. We make the rules.”
“We?” Cheedo lingers a while longer staring out at the waterfall and listening to its roar. The idea of having a say in anything is still so foreign. "We know nothing about making rules."
Dag shrugs, “We know we need them, unlike some people.”
Cheedo sighs as she shimmies back into the room. Joe had rules, some that were even good ones. He just had no rules for himself.
The books on the table practically call to her, each one a different version of how people should live, none of them real. There’s Angharad’s book about grapes and the book about a prince and the one with the people in the cave. There’s a book about war, a book about peace, and one about both at the same time. There’s the one called Utopia whatever that means, and Cheedo’s two favourites: the one about the pig and the spider and the one about the rabbit. Cheedo lets her hands guide cracks open a book, the one about the man named Adams.
She flips through it, and then closes it with a sigh, "I wish I knew where to start."
Dag stands over the books as well, absentmindedly stroking their worn covers with the tip of her index finger. "You wrote that speech. It seemed to work. Start there."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, why did you say what you said?"
Writing the speech feels like such a long time ago even though it is only a few hours past. She remembers looking over her shoulder to see Furiosa and Capable tangled up and lost in sleep. She remembers a sob taking over her throat and how she fought to keep it inside because she couldn't stand the thought of waking them. A distinct thought bloomed in her mind: Furiosa only really sleeps when someone else is there to hold her; only then she can relax. Even she needs other people. Maybe she's scared like me and just does a better job of hiding it. Now the bed is empty.
Cheedo lets her fingers move over the book’s spine as if they have a mind of their own. “No one belongs to everyone else. Everyone has a voice, no matter how big or small, old or young, or strong or weak. Everyone matters."
"Democracy - rule of the people," Dag announces as she seats herself on Furiosa’s trunk and leans back until her head is tilted against the wall as if she's crowing. "Direct or in-direct? Presidential or parliamentary?"
"Who are we to tackle this?” By some accident of fate, perhaps just dumb luck, Cheedo is here with a pile of books and a say in how she wants to live. She’s never even chosen her own dinner before. "We don't know what we're doing." Cheedo figures the books must be full of clearer, cleverer thoughts than her own, so she chooses a passage and reads, “We are in the very midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world. How few of the human race have ever had an opportunity of choosing a form of government for themselves and their children?”
“So there have been a few then…” Dag says looking from the book in Cheedo’s hands to the rest of the stack.
“But this was an accident,” Cheedo protests.
“If anyone can handle it…” Dag gestures towards the window with a tilt of her head. “She’ll fight off the dregs and scavs."
"Not like this.” Cheedo reaches for another book, “And what if the people don't want her?"
"You saw the crowd plain as I did. You heard them. They want her."
"But what about the Boys? And the Blood Bags and everyone else she..." Cheedo can't bring herself to say the word, but the fact is inescapable: she wasn’t called Bag of Nails for no reason.
"She'll have to win then, at least enough that we out-number them.”
“The election, silly.”
Cheedo hugs the book to her chest. “I don’t know if we’re ready for something like that…”
“So more time to win everyone over…” Dag says with a shrug.
“More time for them to fall behind someone else,” Cheedo sighs. “Even if she’s not the best for everyone, I know she’s the best for us.”
“Sounds like we need a wee bit of divine mandate. Worked before? Remember what Slug said about Max?”
Cheedo frowns, “What –“ But before she can finish, there is a flurry of commotion outside and a pounding at the door. “What is it?”
Cheedo asks, suspicious at the sound of wheels rolling over the stone floor.
“It’s us,” Toast snaps back.
“Uh…” Cheedo feels herself starting to panic. She draws herself closer to the air vent and tries to piece together a view.
Dag comes to her rescue. “That’s not the password.”
“Fuck the password. Open the damn door.”
Dag and Cheedo exchange glances, but before either of then speak, Capable declares, “I’m not a what, I’m a who,” with her voice forcibly calm and restrained.
“Well why didn’t you say so?” Dag disengages the lock and opens the door for Toast, Capable, Leona, and a large, rolling laundry bin. Her face scrunches. “What’s all this then?”
“Some hasty problem solving,” Toast grumbles as she closes and locks the door behind them.
Cheedo returns the block to the grate to keep their discussions private and peers over the walls of worn canvas. A cough emerges from beneath several layers of laundry and then a groan.
“What happened?” Dag demands.
“Got sick,” creaks the pile. It shifts and shudders as Toast and Capable dig in, tossing soiled garments aside until they reveal Furiosa's defensive glare.
“You passed out while getting sick,” Iris corrects her as she digs her own self out. “We couldn’t risk that happening again.
Furiosa’s one functioning eye is a dagger.
“Are you alright now?” asks Cheedo still waiting for someone to give an explanation as to how and why their leader ended buried under sour laundry.
“Get me out,” is Furiosa’s only answer. Her voice breaks as she speaks.
Capable pulls out a few bedsheets from the hamper. Then others step in to help. The linens at least seem to be clean, or at least they were before they became Furiosa’s disguise. Now the deeper the group digs into the pile, the stronger the rancid scent.
“Are you going to throw up again?” asks Capable.
“Did you already?” Toast peers into the hamper cautiously and looks to Furiosa first, then Iris. “Would be good to know what we're getting into.”
“No,” Furiosa grumbles feebly but combatively. She hugs herself as she huddles there, her face pale and tight. She swallows once and then again.
Dag sniffs a pillowcase and then chucks it aside. “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Then she switches to helping Iris who mostly has herself cleared already. “So what actually happened?”
Cheedo offers Iris a hand to help her stand first. “Everything seemed to be going so well.”
“It was,” says Leona, “precisely until it wasn’t.”
Capable sighs as she guides Furiosa to her feet. “I guess it was just too much too fast.”
“Needed to be done,” Furiosa insists.
"Thank you for doing it anyway." Capable says as she gestures for someone to grab the canteen from Furiosa's shelf. "I know..." She pauses, sighing as she presses the canteen into Furiosa’s hand. "I think it helped.”
This is not the same woman Cheedo has just seen at the Mouth. Furiosa is a mere shard of herself; she's sharp about the edges but plainly feeble, bitter, and broken. She just stares vacantly, her face frozen in a scowl and coughs between sips of water while the others regroup. She adds nothing, corrects nothing, her entire focused on simply staying upright.
When she finally speaks, she repeats, “Get me out.” She’s already clearly woozy, and the smell can’t be helping.
"You think you can climb out?" Toast doesn't bother to hide her skepticism.
Furiosa gives as slight nod as she steels herself and passes off her canteen. Iris supports her from behind while Toast stands steadily, stoically accepting Furiosa’s grip.
“You’ve got this,” Capable assures her, “one leg at a time.”
The others lock the hamper wheels. Furiosa winces sharply at Toast’s hand at her waist but grits her teeth and grimaces through raising one leg at the hip. She pushes it higher, almost there – an extra nudge with her left arm and a scoop from Capable gets it over the edge.
"Don't fall on me," Toast cautions, eyes glinting as she mimics the authoritative tone and cadence they have all heard so often before.
Furiosa sways as she struggles to keep her balance and stumbles when she places her foot on the ground and shifts her weight, but a few more hands on her assure that she doesn't fall. The other leg follows more easily. She leans heavily for the few steps across the room and then collapses onto her bed. Leona sets the oxygen tank within convenient reach just in case. Furiosa’s expression falls sullen with each panting breath as she sits, slumped over, fingers tight, gaze glaring. She chews her lip as she draws slow, tense breaths and clutches herself; she is a groan made flesh.
Iris eyes her suspiciously. “We need to get you cleaned up. Just rest a little first, let us make you some more tea.”
Furiosa scoffs, but her mouth lifts in a crooked smirk. “Do it now.” She grabs her chalkboard and rubs away the old words with her stump before replacing them with, “Need momentum to keep moving. Then crash.” She sniffles, chuckles, and then writes, “And I am fucking filthy.”
“Glad I didn’t have to say it,” Dag remarks as she reloads the laundry bin. “On the other hand, any interest in biological warfare?”
“I want to help,” Cheedo insists. “And I can take a shift with her so you can rest too,” she looks to Iris and then to Capable, “and so you can work on your assignment.”
“Why don’t you take lead?” Iris offers, but Cheedo draws back, her head shaking. “I’ll be here helping,” Iris promises, her eyes bright with ulterior motives.
“Just a sponge bath,” says Dag, “like you did for me.”
Iris nods, “Just tell me what you think we should do.”
That was different. That was Dag, and while she was cut and bruised, she hadn’t almost died. But who knows what chill could do to Furiosa, not that being covered in grime and vomit is any better, but there are so many things that could go wrong, and then… and then what? And now what? Furiosa’s gaze is grouchy and impatient and just pleading enough to be heartbreaking.
“Uh…” Cheedo looks around the room from face to face. “I suppose Kai is bringing the walker,” not that they need it; she’s just thinking aloud. She then looks to Furiosa who seems at least mildly bemused. “Would you rather go to the wet corner or to the gurney?”
Furiosa must recognise the technique; she’s certainly used in on them enough. “Wet corner,” she answers. Her lips purse in contemplation, “less mess.”
“Less mess,” Cheedo echos as she wonders what exactly Furiosa is thinking about all this.
“Shall we then?” Toast asks, reaching for Furiosa to help her stand.
“We don’t need everyone, just…” Cheedo’s eyes drift to the wet corner as she calculates how many bodies can fit there at once, “two holders, maybe two washers.”
Capable gives an encouraging smile, “Who do you want?”
“Well, Iris.” That much is obvious. “I can sponge, and Toast and Leona are the strongest.” Cheedo looks to Dag and whispers, “You two go wrestle us up some divine mandate.”
“Gotcha,” Dag mouths as she flashes an upturned thumb and a gap-toothed grin.
Furiosa is sullen and sour while the others strip her so Iris can examine her. They find her wounds aggravated and weeping but not actively bleeding. Even feeble as she is, the power in her firm muscles is obvious; Furiosa at her softest and weakest is still finely tuned and tightly coiled. Cheedo wonders what it must be like. Furiosa tolerates Cheedo’s washcloth in bitter silence except for the occasional, stray hiss. Her belly and shoulder tense reflexively when Cheedo gets close to her tender spots as if she’s trying to guard herself. She grimaces, but even when she sways she stays upright.
They move her to the table and hold her down by all her limbs while Iris stuffs her with fresh gauze. She gnaws the leather strap between her teeth in a feral grimace, and Cheedo wishes she would have kept Capable here to say nice, encouraging things.
Instead there’s Toast with a practical, reminder of, “Hey, you wanted to get this over and done," and Furiosa grumbles in agreement through gritted teeth.
Furiosa spits some incomprehensible vitriol in response, but a glint of her eye and a twitch of her lip shows her appreciation: sometimes cruelty is kindness.
Then Toast and Leona help her stand, which is more of a struggle then ever, and they support her while Iris rewraps her with fresh bandages. Cheedo’s fingers follow behind, straightening and pulling the sterile cloth until there is just enough slack. Furiosa looks healthier already now that she’s clean and cared for. She feels it too; Cheedo can see it in the ways she lets herself sink into her exhaustion.
“Into my hand, into my hand,” Cheedo whispers as she cups Furiosa’s stomach in her palm just like she saw Iris do before. Furiosa’s dried and calloused hand presses against hers, but Furiosa’s belly hardly moves. “Deeper,” Cheedo coaches, to which Furiosa responds by doubling over with a coughing fit.
Iris sets a hand on Cheedo’s shoulder. “We’ll get there.” Then, “now what, boss?”
“How about that crash?” Cheedo asks as she makes one last adjustment to the bandages.
So I kinda cheated and used a quote from the John Adams miniseries. It’s not exactly like this in the book. And I’m sure you caught Dag’s The Fellowship of the Ring reference.
Capable finds herself drowning in Milker hugs and praise. They hardly seem to notice the two pots of piping hot stew on the cart she and Dag are rolling. They glide around it to touch her hands and her hair. She feels strangely comfortable among so many bodies and almost forgets the knife she wears strapped to her thigh at Kai’s insistence until someone brushes against it. It is a butcher’s knife from the kitchens, a slim blade made for cutting away bones that are just barely too thick to be ground between molars. Dag’s blade is of a similar size except it turns up at the point in an appropriately quirky fashion.
“For luck,” he had said, “because preparation is the best prevention of bad luck.”
Capable wonders now if those words came to him from Furiosa. The sentiment and the ornate flowers etched into her borrowed holster seem to share an origin. At first she thought the phrase superstition, like a twisted version of the law that belonged to someone named Murphy, but as more and more bodies move against hers, she finds its practicality; everyone here must notice that she and Dag are armed.
"It’s an honour to meet another of the saviours of the Citadel,” says the fabled Promise as she extends her hand to Capable. “You were amazing, so confident, so regal…”
Capable blushes and looks away as she squeezes Promise’s soft palm. “I was shaking so hard."
"Well, you didn't show it.” Promise places a hand on her shoulder to steer her and another on Dag as she leads them deeper into the Jug. “Everything went so well.”
"Thanks to you.” Capable is glad to turn the conversation away from herself, but she isn’t about to correct Promise’s misconception. “It was a team effort."
“Right,” Dag chimes in, “none of it would have done any good without you turning on the water.”
But this Promise is sharp. "And Furiosa... poor girl looks like she can barely stand up."
“It’s been a long few days,” Capable agrees, “and it will be a long few more.”
Dag announces, "She doesn't want your sympathy; she wants your support."
Capable wishes she hadn’t said that so loudly. Just because Promise is reliable doesn’t mean the other Milkers are. Being ‘not things,’ means they have their individual experiences and perspectives. They can’t be treated as a collective; she has to earn their trust and they hers, one Milker at a time.
And sure enough, another Milker declares from her station, “I'll support anyone who isn't..."
And another interrupts, “I'll support anyone who keeps me safe and fed."
Then the smallest Milker says what has until then gone unspoken, “Even her? Even the Bag of Nails? What makes you think she'll be any different?"
Promise is the first to answer, “Because she has…” she pauses looking to Dag.
“Capable here to keep her in line," Promise assures the other Milkers.
“She doesn’t need me for that,” Capable protests. “She’s not the Bag of Nails anymore.”
“Not unless we need her to be.” Dag is crafty; Dag sees every potentiality, Dag who prays to whomever might be listening. “She’s our Bag of Nails, and she’s been melted down, sure, but now she’s something stronger, better, more reliable… She’s our Boltcutter.”
“Boltcutter?” Promise echos, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, cuts our bolts, breaks our chains…” Dag’s on a roll, taking joy in her metaphor. Her voice rises to the roof of the Jug, bouncing off the pipes and vats.
“People don’t work like that,” the smallest Milker counters as she follows behind. “You can’t just melt a person down and form them how you want them to be.”
“That’s right!” shouts another Milker, this one older and leaner. “A leopard doesn’t change it’s spots. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Dag throws her hands in the air. “ You know her,” she says to Promise. “You tell them.”
Capable stops walking and positions herself behind the cart. “We aren’t here to change your minds about her or us or anyone else. This food has no strings attached. You support the Citadel, the Citadel supports you. The Citadel doesn’t belong to her; it belongs to all of us, and you can leave it behind whenever you want.”
“But…” Dag is contrary; Dag is spunky. “I don’t know who you think is gonna fight the gas and bullet dregs if not her; I’ll tell you what, it’s not gonna be me. Then there are the Buzzards, and the scavs, maybe a whole army of ferals…” Dag is right.
The older Milker shakes her head as she accepts a bowl from Capable. “I can’t tell you what she will or won’t do. I can only tell you what she’s done, but I’m not sure you want to hear it.”
Capable lets her hands brush the Milker’s as she scoops stew into her bowl. “What’s your name?”
“Corinella, Cori.” Her eyes lower.
“I’m Capable, and this is Dag.”
Cori smirks and scoffs, “So young.”
“Cori, let me tell you what Furiosa did for us." Capable lifts her chin but keeps filling bowls. "She had power here, yes, an Imperator, feared, adored… she gave that up, left it all behind for my sisters and me, so we could go to a place where we could be free. When that place could not be found, she brought us back and killed the Immortan so we could be free here.”
“She traitored him,” spits the smallest, a flash of teeth showing against her dark skin. “What makes you think she won’t traitor you too?”
“Because we aren’t schlangers who rape and pillage,” Dag says with a smile as she serves the smallest Milker. “Some people deserve to be traitored.”
“And you are?” Capable asks as she tries to hide her discomfort with the conversation.
“Kameragul,” the Milker says between gulps of broth, “Nothing but Kameragul. Tell me, Capable, Dag, how did you come here?”
“I was traded from Gastown, told I would be a princess, whatever that meant. I just thought it had something to do with my hair because the War Boys kept touching it.” Capable touches her own braids subconsciously.
“And you?” Kameragul gestures at Dag with her spoon.
“Traded too.” Dag sloshes stew dramatically into Promise’s bowl, “for potatoes, and carrots.”
“My turn.” Corinella’s eyes are narrow, and her voice is sharp. “I was fetching water when the War Party came. My people knew all the ancient wells and how to track them from the way the earth sat atop them. The War Party caught me there and filled it with salt. The Immortan controlled all the water, and his Imperator was his iron hand. I begged for my life. I pleaded that they let me go home to my family. She asked how many I had. Two, I lied, and she knew. The Imperator, our Furiosa, agreed to let me go, but she and her Boys followed me. When I fell on my knees weeping before my children, the Imperator appeared behind me. She pointed with her cold fingers, this one yes, that one no. She pointed to me and nodded. Then lastly she pointed to my oldest, sickly, but a big boy, big enough to feed her troops. I heard them string him up as she led me away. Of my four children, one became a bloodbag and died of illness. One became a wife and died in childbirth. One was left to fend for herself too young and fragile. I think my eldest was the luckiest of us, and I am the most wretched.” She sets down her bowl, now filled with chunks of meat like stones left behind by some long-dead river. “What was that about raping and pillaging?”
Dag lets out a jarring laugh, enough to make Capable shudder at its cruelty. “Who Do you think bought me with carrots and potatoes? What do you think you’re eating now?”
But Capable is quiet. She’s always know who Furiosa was from the first day the Imperator had taken her assignment as guard of the Vault. Dag had been plenty upfront about the way she’d come to the Citadel, and Toast whispered in her half bragging way of how the children of her clan were made to behave with threats of the Bag of Nails coming for them. The Wives had expected every cruelty Furiosa threw at them and were only surprised when she didn’t exactly live up to her reputation. When a person, a real person, started to show beneath all that metal and anger, that was the surprise.
“She’s changed,” Capable finally says, and she believes it so strongly that she’s starting to wonder how Furiosa managed to survive everything she had done before. Capable couldn’t imagine how much their Furiosa must have hurt when she had to deliver a new Wife to Joe or a new Bloodbag to the Organic. “And even then, she did what she needed to do. If she hadn’t been the Bag of Nails, Joe never would have trusted her with the War Rig or with us, and if he hadn’t, he would still be alive and still own all of us.”
“Stop making excuses for her,” Kameragul snarls.
“I’m not,” And Capable isn’t, at least not that she means to, even if she is maybe crediting Furiosa with a little too much foresight. “She’s just complicated. She’s everything that every happened to her, and everyone who ever happened to her,” because she wasn’t born the Bag of Nails; Joe happened to her, but then Angharad and Miss Giddy and Max…. “She’s our Furiosa: we all helped change her.”
“You’re loyalty is commendable,” says Corinella, speaking like Miss Giddy might have, “let's hope she appreciates it.”
Dag stamps her foot. “You bet she does.”
Capable looks to Promise who looks away and down to her own dinner. “You trust her, right?” asks Capable. “She trusts you.”
“I trust her with many things. I trust her to be shrewd and strong, ruthless and patient. I trust that whatever wounds she has taken will not hold her down for long, but I have never met this changed person, this Bag of Nails melted down and remade. I trust that underneath everything she hasn’t changed, that she is still the sad, quiet girl I knew when we were in the Vault together. She has surprised me many times, and I trust that she will surprise us again.”
Capable nods. “She’s just a person…”
“Even if she was chosen by V-8,” Dag slips in, a certain haughtiness to her smile and her stance.
Promise raises her eyebrows. “Is that what you’re going to tell everyone?”
Dag gestures with a ladle, sending flecks of stew splattering onto the milking equipment. “No, it’s what Slug told us. You were there. Where did he wander off to? We need him to introduce us to the other Wretched.”
“He’s in the back tending to the Pumpmaster, showing him kindnesses none of us would,” Promise answers.
“Oh yes, Pumpy.” Dag drops her ladle back into the soup. “I suppose he’s hungry too.”
“We’ll be moving on then,” Capable says, and she begins to collect the empty bowls. “If you aren’t finished yet, we’ll get them on the way out.” She grabs Dag by the arm and hisses beneath the cover of clinking dishes, “Tell me…”
“I still need to get all the details.”
So when Dag finds Slug again and after they have exchanged their greetings, she scoots herself behind Capable and declares, “Now tell my mate here everything you told me about Joe and V8.”
Capable leans in as she passes him a bowl of stew. He has joy in his eyes and the sort of face that reminds her of the rugged terrain where Buzzard and Rock Rider territory meet. He asks to touch her hair, and she obliges because no man except Nux has ever asked before. His fingers glide over its soft edges as if trying not to leave behind prints as he tells of the engine of the world, how its cycles keep things moving, everything from the rising of the sun to the rusting of steel.
“And seeds growing into a harvest,” Dag chirps. “Show her how it’s like a heart.”
He sets down his bowl and crosses his fingers overhead as Capable has seen done so many times before, but then he cups his palms together. He squeezes his hands together a few times before Capable recognises the shape from the medical book she had been pouring over before, but once she sees it, everything comes together. Capable knows next to nothing about engines, but the memory of Furiosa’s pulse in her ear is still fresh. She holds that memory, turning it over in her mind as she echos Slug’s gesture.
“Ba-dum, ba-dum,” she whispers as she presses her cupped palms together.
“We can use that, and it’s not even the best part.” Dag can barely contain her excitement.
“Tell her about the Driver.”
Slug looks a bit confused at first. “You were there. You shouldn’t need me to…”
“He didn’t exactly introduce himself as that.” Dag smirks. “No, he was a crazy feral when he found us, all his Bloodbag tubes still strapped to him and everything.”
Slug’s mouth stretches into a smile. “The lowest of the low,” he beams.
“Wait, you’re talking about Max…” Capable twists the hem to the short cloak draped over her shoulders as his name in her mouth stirs memories of how he wrapped himself around Furiosa as he filled her with his blood.
“Max…” Slug echoes back to her.
Capable wishes she hadn’t said anything. Max had kept his name so closely guarded, and here she was giving it away to strangers. “It’s probably not his real name,” she offers feebly, “It’s just the one he told us…” She sees the plan forming in Dag’s mind as clearly as if it is her own, and while it may be exactly what they need, it still frightens her. There are details of the story that are private, details that are not hers to give away to be spun into some myth to be spread from mouth to mouth.
“Yeah, the name he gave before he disappeared, returning to the Wasteland to be someone else’s Driver. He couldn’t well tell us he was the Driver sent from V8 to correct the course of the Citadel now could he?” Dag has always had a talent for spinning stories, and here she is putting it to good use. “What Slug here told me before was the V8 was mad at Joe for how he treating people in his name so he decided to correct course. He saw us leaving and sent the Driver to return us so we would kill Joe and take over.”
“V8 must have first sent the Driver to test the Citadel, and when the War Boys took him as a Bloodbag, the Citadel failed.” Slug’s voice bounces with excitement. “But something happened. Somehow we got saved from V8’s smiting.”
“It did feel like Drivo was testing us for a bit,” Dag agrees, “Maybe we could have gotten smote.” She dramatically exaggerates the roundness of the word. “Ah, got it – must have been when Furiosa helped him get the muzzle off. You can’t have V8’s Driver subjected to the indignity of a muzzle.”
Capable shouldn’t have worried. Dag is after divine mandate for Joe’s fall and Furiosa’s ascent. She isn’t going to risk marring that outcome with reality. Max and Furiosa’s first battle, their gradual trust and acceptance of each other, his absolute terror at the prospect of her loss, none of those fit within the narrative. Max isn’t a thing, but at least in this instance, Capable is certain he would rather be treated as one than to have all the messy details known. Of course, she knows he wouldn’t appreciate being used at all this way; people who hesitate to share their names would probably rather not be mentioned at all.
When she asks Dag as much while they are following Slug down to the Wretched quarters, Dag shrugs and says, “If he wanted a say in the tell he should have stuck around.”
“He could still come back,” Capable counters, not that she thinks he will.
"I don't know what you usually get," Capable says as she steps to the front of the room with a pot of soup, "but we've brought dinner for you, the same dinner being served to the Widows and to the War Boys and to the Imperator herself. Eat your fill; we have plenty." She sets the pot on the single table as her entourage files behind here with their bowls. Then she lifts her hands over her head as Slug showed her and makes the motion of the beating heart.
She wasn't expecting cheering exactly, but the low murmur that rises from the crowd makes her worry if she did something wrong. Then the murmur solidifies to a steady drone, building in volume and intensity. Other hands raise, their fingers intertwining as their palms cup the air and press together. Chills move over her skin with the distinctive and purposeful rhythm of the hum Hhhmmmm, hhhmmmm, hhhmmmm, with sharp, quick inhales snuck in between.
Her hands shake as she lowers them. They rattle bowls as she fills them, sending the soup inside sloshing dangerously close to the edges. One by one, she walks bowls of soup to the wretched people of the underbelly. Their thanks and praise tear at her throat and her guts until she finally bursts, "This isn't charity; this is fair payment. This produce was transported by your feet powering our lifts, cooked by your sweat on our bellows. You have as much right to food as anyone.” She exchanges a glance with Dag who is buzzy helping feed a one-eyed toddler and then back out into the crowd. “I can not promise you there will always be food, but I can promise you that as long as you work with us, there will never be a day when we eat but you do not.”
“The lowest of the low shall be uplifted!” Dag declares as she hoists the toddler over her head. Then she sets the child down and climbs on the table. “Blessed be the Wheel Rats and the Slopsters, but most of all blessed be the Bloodbags and the Ferals for V8 sent his Driver to us as both. He saw the good in our Furiosa, our Boltcutter when she freed him from his bounds, and though we ran for ourselves he begged us to return for you, people of V8.” The hum rises again, quick at the beginning until it settles into a rhythm. Dag raises her voice so her story rides its rhythms. “It was a hard battle with many lost on both sides. Our Furiosa used her very last drop of strength to rip the face off the man who pretended Immortan, and she would have died too, but for…”
“The grace of V8!” Capable interrupts, and the crowd falls silence. “It saved her so that she might lead us all.” Her eyes narrow as she looks put over the crowd. “She did not die, but V8 pulled her back from the very brink to show her that she is mortal, that no one leads the Citadel but through V8’s favour, and if she is cruel to the lowest of the low, he will do the same to her as he did to the Pretender.” She grabs Dag by the arm and tugs her down when the crowd returns to its humming. “Don’t do that again.”
“Do what?” Dag finally pours herself a bowl of stew now that everyone else has been fed.
“We have to match our stories, not just tell people what we think they want to hear. If they think they’ve caught us in a lie, we’ll lose them.”
Dag shrugs “We can’t lose what we don’t have.”
Capable sighs as she tries to imagine how much they will have to struggle to get Toast, let alone Furiosa onboard with the story they’ve just told. She slowly spoons stew into her own mouth but finds herself suddenly less than hungry. It’s not just concern for the details of the story or guilt that they are turning Max and Furiosa into stock characters they clearly aren’t; the worry that’s turning her stomach to knots is something else entirely.
Kameragul is a character in the film Journey Among Women.
“Talk to me,” orders Furiosa flatly.
Cheedo looks up from her book. “Oh, I, um, I thought you were asleep.”
“I’m not… that lucky.” She looks out from her blankets, her gaze unfocused as she stares past folds of fabric that cast dark shadows on her face.
Cheedo nods, her mind suddenly blank. “Dinner will be up soon, and a different tea.”
Cheedo sighs. “It’s not even here yet. There’s nothing to refuse.”
Furiosa grunts as she shifts her weight. She looks a bit like a grub underneath her blankets. "Talk about…something else... Citadel progress… plans.”
“Toast and Leona are resting up for watch shifts; Kai is there now. Capable and Dag are bringing dinner to the Milkers and the Wretched,” Cheedo ticks off on her fingers. “Iris is making your dinner, and…” a glare tells her to move on from that, “and when you don’t need me, I’ll be reading, researching about government transitions. Oh, and I looked into the milk and the water like you asked.” She grabs her notes from the table. “Promise and the other Milkers took the Pumpmaster captive. He’s not with us, but they have him,” she pauses, feeling the warmth in her face shift from blushing to beaming, “controlled. We have enough milk to last up to thirty days if we stretch it and use other food sources… and the water, there’s more than even the Pumpmaster can count.”
Firiosa wants more; Cheedo can tell, but she's run out. “You have me for the night, or at least the first part of it…”
“Dag will take over before dawn.”
Cheedo nods. Whatever Iris’s plan was in putting her in charge, it seems to be working. Furiosa is definitely more pleasant under her watch. She’s shifted from bitterly obstinate to dreary and sour. Maybe Furiosa thinks Cheedo will let her get away with things, maybe let her try to walk to her wet corner on her own or let her skip out on dinner. Cheedo folds her arms smugly over her chest; she can be strong and authoritative or at least pretend to be.
“Don’t stay up… on my account.” Furiosa curls into herself, settling deeper into her nest of blankets and whatever soft, clean cloth that could be found.
Cheedo waits to be asked about the boys who’ve come back; she can’t imagine that Furiosa hasn’t noticed her avoidance of the matter, but the silence between them grows. Then Furiosa dozes, her ragged breathing not quite turning to snoring. Cheedo sneaks back to her books, at least she thinks she’s sneaking until she sees Furiosa’s eye peering over a crumpled blanket like the sun setting over mountains. Cheedo stares back as she tucks her finger between the pages to hold her place.
“Do you need something?” Cheedo isn’t used to feeling eyes on her.
“Just watching.” She turns her mouth towards the bed to cough. “Can’t sleep...” she chuckles to herself which turns into another cough, “turned this way... It’s all… wrong.”
“Iris should be back soon,” Cheedo says even though she’s not exactly sure what Furiosa means. “She can help me turn you if you want.”
“Could do it… myself, but…” her mouth twists almost playfully, “you’re in charge.”
“You think that’s funny, don’t you?” Cheedo imagines what Dag would say: a baby for a babysitter.
“It’s good…practice.” Furiosa winces as she gropes for her water. She almost has it if only she can reach another few millimetres. She scrunches her face suddenly and snaps back like rubber stretched too far.
“Practice for what?” Cheedo asks as she scoots the canteen just a little closer to Furiosa.
“Like how if your hurt yourself it’s my fault?” She means to be glib like Dag, but the words still come out all serious and anxious.
“Nah.” Furiosa exhales slowly as she eases herself out again after canteen. Then a grunt powers her through the last bit. “‘M not a thing.” Her fingers close on the worn strap. “Make my own… mistakes.” She downs the bottle and the winces as she forces a belch while clutching her middle. “Suffer consequences.”
Cheedo watches in rapt silence, recognising the look of water sickness in how Furiosa’s face goes pale and tight. Then she starts to sweat, and Cheedo can only imagine her belly shuddering against the cold liquid inside as it refuses to stretch any more. Furiosa groans as she presses her palm against her abdomen and tries to turn herself so the bed will hold it for her.
Furiosa was the one who taught Cheedo about water sickness; she taught the girls the hard way of course, by making them run circles in the Vault and do all manner of calisthenic chaos until they were bent over gasping. She let them rest for a moment, let them guzzle all the clear, cold water they wanted. Of course they gorged themselves. Then, when their bellies were stretched full and sloshing, she made them run again. Cheedo remembers how every sound the water around her made sent a current of sickness through her aching stomach. It didn't take long until they were heaving into strategically placed buckets. Furiosa clicked her tongue sympathetically, “Better in here than out there.”
Cheedo darts for the bucket when Furiosa thrusts her elbow into the mattress. Her hands shake as she lifts it, the metal rim cold against her already clammy skin. Furiosa’s face twists as she burps, and Cheedo is sure the water is on its way back up, but Furiosa swallows, and it stays down.
“I’m fine,” she mutters at Cheedo as she sinks back into the bed.
“Ok,” Cheedo whispers, the bottom of the bucket still clicking against the floor as her hands quiver.
It was a close call though, Cheedo is certain, close enough that when Iris comes with two bowls of soup, Cheedo specifically does not mention changing Furiosa’s position. Furiosa doesn’t either. She’s quiet and almost compliant.
“One for you and one for you.” Iris presents the two bowls with a very strict instruction: “Don’t mix them up.”
Cheedo’s bowl is white china with a chipped rim; Furiosa’s is black stoneware thats been cracked and mended more than a few times. Cheedo’s soup is clearly the more appetising of the two with its chunks of meat and chopped vegetables. Furiosa’s is a slurry drawn out thin with a light film on the top. The indignant look on Furiosa’s face says she’s noticed as much, but she stays silent.
“And then before, after, whenever you’re feeling feisty or just plain bored,” Iris holds a bladder contraption with a rigid mouth, “blow into this.” She sets it on the table beside the oxygen mask and the two bowls, a full range of prescriptions. “You’ve got this,” she says to Cheedo, who is starting to see the toll the last few days have taken on her. “Send for me if anything goes wrong.”
“Wrong?” Cheedo can think of a thousand ways things could go wrong. She’s still not quite convinced Furiosa won’t just drop dead in front of her out of spite or just plain, bad luck.
“Like she passes out again or gets really feverish. Mostly I think she’ll just be bitter and crotchety, right Fury?” Furiosa mumbles something about inventory when Iris leans close and squints at her swollen eye. “In the morning, if the swelling has gone down," Iris promises, and she pats her hand as if she were a child.
Furiosa says nothing, just lies there staring in the position she’d insisted was wrong. Her jaw clenches as she grits her teeth against whatever pain is moving through her. Then a little breath and the words, “We’ll be fine.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Now eat your dinners, both of you.” She gives Cheedo a squeeze as she turns to leave. “Do me proud. Don’t let her push you around.”
Furiosa seems hardly capable of pushing anyone around at the moment. Angry as she may be about it, she’s barely awake and barely alive. Every gauge is running low. Still there’s a sharpness to her, a defiance as she lolls her empty canteen towards Cheedo.
"You heard Iris, dinner time. You have to eat before you fill yourself up with water."
Furiosa gives a halfhearted sniff towards the bowls on the table and then wrinkles her nose. "Can't."
"If you can hold water, you can hold this." Cheedo isn't entirely sure that's true once she has the bowl in her hands, but Iris wouldn't give her something that wasn't easily digestible. It smells herby like the tea but also spicy and meaty all at once. She takes the spoon from her own bowl and scoops herself a mouthful. It's not the worst thing she's tasted. "It's not bad." It even leaves a pleasant tingling sensation on her tongue. "Your turn."
Furiosa begrudgingly accepts a single spoonful. No sooner has the spoon passed her teeth than she is blanching and gagging. Her face scrunches as she fights it down, probably just to get the taste out of her mouth.
"Water," she says again, her voice small and bitter.
"You need to finish it. Iris said you would fight me on it and that I wasn't to let you."
"No," she says, recruiting every bit of her former authority. She grabs her chalkboard and scrawls three bold, desperate words: "No. Sick. Hurt."
Cheedo squares her shoulders pulls the bowl to her chest, and declares, "You will. I will hold your mouth open and pour it down your throat if I have to." She's trying to pull back the words as soon as she realises she spoke them. She's shocked at her own cruelty even as she harbours doubts that she could ever make good on her threat. Even like this, Furiosa would fight back with brutal abandon, probably hurt herself even worse in the process. Then they'd both get in trouble.
"Fuck, Cheedo… don't make me laugh," she sputters, curling in on herself.
"I mean it," Cheedo snaps, because right now all she wants is for Furiosa to get better, even if it means a fight.
"I believe you." She glances at the bowl of soup, an undisguisable look of disgust on her face. "That's why... it's funny." She coughs. "Not so fragile..."
"You'll hurt less when it's done, I promise."
Maybe if Furiosa felt better she would have less fight in her. Now she’s pushing back in whatever way she can, latching on to whatever leverage she can find. Cheedo knows what it is to feel powerless. She knows what it's like to just want a say in what happens to her.
"Maybe one more bite?" Cheedo presses, "No bigger than the first one. That turned out alright, didn't it?"
"Ok." Furiosa swallows. "For you."
"Let me get you some more water."
"Thank you." She begrudgingly accepts a spoonful of soup and swallows it by force of will so she's ready for water by the time Cheedo is back.
"Just a sip to wash it down." Furiosa agrees but doesn't exactly obey. Cheedo will take what she can get. "And another bite."
This one is significantly less agreeable. Furiosa gags so hard even her swollen eyes opens a little as her head lurches forward. She grimaces as she paws at her middle.
Panic blooms in Cheedo’s chest. Did she push to hard? Go to far? “I’m just trying to help.”
“I know.” Furiosa’s voice is small and fragile for all its defensiveness.
"And I don’t want either of us to get in trouble."
"Trouble," Furiosa scoffs, but her demeanour softens, and she hovers on the edge of speech. Then she grabs for her chalkboard and nub of chalk, blots away all her words from before, and then writes, "You’ve already been in worse trouble than most people can imagine. You are still here. You survived." She sets the board down so its word stare straight up, and she turns her swollen face towards her blankets while Cheedo reads. "Proud of you," she murmurs into the cloth.
Cheedo feels her cheeks warm even though she isn't entirely sure what Furiosa means. Whatever Iris put in the soup must be working even though she's only managed a few spoonfuls. Cheedo for the life of her can’t imagine what she might have done to warrant pride, and from Furiosa of all people, Furiosa who’d never said a kind word about anyone before she’d called Max reliable, Furiosa who fought her way from the Vault to the Immortan himself and proved his name a lie.
She must also have mind reading powers because she says, “Tricked Rictus.”
“That’s not hard,” Cheedo protests. “Anyone else could have done it.”
“No one…else did.”
Cheedo is silent for a long moment, her eyes wide with shock before she’s asks, “What can I do now?"
Emotion bubbles up as she waits for Furiosa to respond. She's quiet for a long time; her open eye starts to glaze, which nearly sends Cheedo into another panic. Then Furiosa’s mouth twitches as if she's on the precipice of speech, and Cheedo gives her back the chalk and board.
Furiosa writes in bold, deliberate strokes, "Smart. Brave. Strong." She somehow manages to cram the words between the others without erasing. The chalkboard is starting to remind Cheedo of Miss Giddy’s skin.
"Help me piss" Furiosa grunts as she struggles to sit all the way up.
"Will you let me bring your funnel? The bucket is already there."
"Mm-hm. And mouthwash." When Cheedo looks back in confusion she says, "Ammo tin."
Cheedo isn't sure what that means, but she guesses it's the latched, metal box tucked against the wall. By the time she's back with it and the funnel, Furiosa has managed to get her feet flat on the floor. "You made it." Cheedo locks down any hint of surprise in her voice; it's just a statement of fact.
"For now," she pants, but she seems pleased with herself.
Furiosa even lets Cheedo support her while she pisses, not enough that Cheedo has to work to keep her upright, but enough to gain a sense of her weight and weariness. At least now there are no pants to wrangle, just the bottom edge of the long cardigan Cheedo had found in her trunk. Furiosa sits on the bed to rest while Cheedo opens the ammo tin. She indicates the bottle she wants, which Cheedo opens for her.
"Sorry," Cheedo mumbles when she realises Furiosa must do this every day and is every bit now as a capable of opening a bottle as ever.
Furiosa doesn't seem to mind. She swishes, spits, and gags. She recovers more quickly this time though, doesn’t clutch her chest and groan. Cheedo chalks this up to Iris’s magical soup, but she knows better than to say anything. Cheedo just places the bowl within easy reach.
"If you promise not to throw up anymore, we can move the pillows to the other side of the bed."
Furiosa hiccups, winces, and mutters, "No promises," but she picks up a pillow anyway and moves it as far to the foot of the bed as she can without twisting her torso.
Cheedo moves the pillow the rests of the way while Furiosa starts on the next. They rebuild her little nest that way so it’s waiting and welcoming when Furiosa collapses onto it. She sighs carefully as she sinks, letting the nest support her torso just enough to keep her breathing the smoothest it's been. Her eye closes then opens again as her head turns to face the women drawn in white chalk on her walls.
"Keep talking," she whispers. "It's too loud... in my head."
Cheedo shrugs. She's flat run out of things to say, or at least out of things that are productive. If she tries to talk she'll just ramble about every unknown future, about everything she fears, about how little she knows about forming a government, and about the pile of books full of knowledge she can't even begin to decipher. She's certain Furiosa has already thought of all these things, certain they are the noise inside her head. Her own eyes drift up the women drawn on the wall and how they seem to watch intently, their eyes without anger or judgement, only focus and strength and all the things Cheedo wishes she could have.
"I could read to you," Cheedo offers.
So Cheedo rearranges anything Furiosa might need to: her water, her dinner, the oxygen mask, and that odd thing Iris brought to be within her easy reach and selects a favourite book from the table. Then she hunches over it in the dull lamplight and begins to read: "There once was a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy…”
She has forgotten how strange the world of the story is with its gifts tucked into stockings. She looks up at Furiosa to see if she’s confused by all this talk of tissue paper and holly, and she even wonders if Furiosa knows what a rabbit is. Furiosa is silent but attentive, her fingers twisting the hem of her blanket.
So Cheedo goes back to reading, and sometime during the description of the strange menagerie of toys she interrupts herself to wonder aloud, “He must be a Warlord’s son to have so many things.”
Furiosa hums drowsily, “Spoiled creature...” and then, “go on.”
”Do you want to see the pictures?”
Cheedo isn’t quite she what that hum was supposed to mean, so she holds up the book anyway so Furiosa can see the toy rabbit shoved into a terribly fancy sock. Furiosa hums again, her eyes closed, and Cheedo thinks she must be asleep, but every time Cheedo starts to close the book, Furiosa insistently mumbles something not quite coherent. So Cheedo keeps reading, and the Skinhorse’s words fill the little room:
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
Cheedo is about to try and sneak the book shut and back to its spot on the table when she hears the strangest squeaking. She’s always imagined a rabbit might sound similarly.
“Fury?” Cheedo whispers as she rises slowly. The squeaking turns first to sputtering and then hacking. “Furiosa?” Cheedo practically shoots across the room. The squeaking returns, and Cheedo places her hands squarely on Furiosa’s shoulders. She’s about to pull her onto her side when Furiosa shoves her away. “Furi…” Cheedo’s voice trails off as she loses her grip. “Are you…”
Furiosa says nothing. She simply turns her face into her blankets and sobs.
I’m a terrible person. If you’re like me (and Furiosa), you might say that Cheedo is the terrible person for choosing now to read Margery Williams‘s The Velveteen Rabbit. Full text is available here .
Max rides through the night. He pays little attention to direction and barely notices when the same landmarks start reappearing. He just wants to be moving, to lose himself in the rush of momentum and adrenaline, wind in his face and sand in his teeth; everything else is immaterial.
The sun rises, and the day warms. If he were in his right mind he’d stop and make camp now to be finished before the sun reaches its peak height, but he keeps riding even though he needs to use both hands to work the clutch. He eventually gives up on riding in anything other than second gear; his necessarily increased aggression on the throttle suits him.
People used to say that time healed all wounds. Max knows this isn't true; he prefers, time reveals all lies . He tries distance instead even though he's tried that before as well. He surrounds himself with rugged, empty land, expansive flats, jagged, aching rock faces. He tries to boil himself in sun.
The desert is as vast and wide as ever, a perfectly unforgiving expanse where a man can simply slip away forever. The sun will suck out his water. Animals and people will emerge from shadowy places to consume his meat and give new life and purpose to the skin of his torso and the bones of his limbs; maybe his skull will become a bowl or a vase or a ball to be kicked until it shatters. And soon enough, all of him will become dust.
This is the only possible future Max has seen for himself in ages. It may come today or tomorrow or in ten thousand days, but come it will. He hasn't thought much about it, or anything really; instead he's accepted it as inevitable and run from it while he can. All tanks run dry, and all tyres go flat.
So he runs from the Citadel as he first ran from Melbourne and for countless cycles since, letting the days slide over his skin like sand blowing through a canyon, wearing him down in increments too small to notice. But days add up. He's been wearing himself down since the day he was born.
He’s started thinking too; things always turn to shit whenever he lets himself fall into thinking. And to make matters worse, he's thinking about her. He catches himself imagining her profile, skin gone grey, face starting to swell. She rales through parted lips. He rolls open his throttle and fangs for the horizon.
His fever however refuses to be outrun. It creeps up on him gradually at first, but it gains strength until it hits him like a sack of bricks. He's still in Citadel territory when it makes him . Glory leaps in front of him once he's too wobbly to ride straight. He brakes and swerves to miss her, but having lost all possibility of righting himself, he drops the bike and stays where he lands. At least his jacket fends off the worst of the rocks.
He closes his eyes to block out the spinning world. The warm ground is almost pleasant. He only now realises how much he’s shaking. He sighs and clutches his wounded hand against his chest. He rides the rush of his pulse behind his eyes and chills in his bones.
"Might as well make camp here," Kaboom suggests. She's squatting beside him, resting on her haunches. "Can't do it for you though- gonna have to get up." When he doesn't move, she rises and kicks him in the stomach so he has to roll to his side and retch. "Get up boy. No dying on my watch- she'll never forgive me."
Max’s stomach is empty. He can't remember when he last ate. It was whenever the ground people fed him, but he can’t be sure how long ago that was. He’s practically drifting through time again, but just one of Kaboom’s words has jolted him like a kickstart to the heart. It makes his chest pound and his hands shake. He chews his lip as he promises himself that she’s fine, that she’s already got the whole Citadel bending its knees to her.
He's about to lie back again when Kaboom gives him a glare. "She’s not the one I’m worrying about. Don't make me kick you again. Get your ass up.” She softens as she watches him rise. “You did well, boy. If only you would just admit it.” She jerks her chin towards his topples bike. “Now turn off your ignition before you drain your battery.”
“And drink some water,” Angie adds. She would have fit well with the vulva-people.
He sips from his canteen and wonders if Furiosa really might care enough to come looking. He thinks he is still in her territory, but he has no way of knowing for sure. If he is, there should be patrols eventually. But would she have told her scouts to watch for him? Does it matter?
Max doesn’t think he wants to be found. If someone comes upon him while he's in the full throes of fever, he will be helpless. The weapons he sets at close reach will do him no good if he isn't conscious to use them.
Max drags himself to his feet and selects a secluded spot behind a rock for his swag and bike. How long should he plan to hole up? Even that little bit of effort has left him woozy; he sits with his head in his good hand and stares at the ground. At least there are a few stubborn blades of grass poking out of the lose soil. They stand in green defiance.
He considers making a solar still to keep his water supply from dwindling too low if he lingers here, but his wounded hand is useless for digging. Maybe tomorrow, he tells himself through his fever haze, but he knows the clammy sweat of infection well enough to know that tomorrow will be worse. And after that?
“You could just ride back,” Angie offers. Or did he call her Aggie before?
“If he makes it that far.” Kaboom shakes he head. “Do you even know where you are?”
Angie points to a cloud of smoke rising in the distance, “That’s Gastown. You just rode us in circles; we’re not far from where we started.”
Kaboom shrugs, “Could work if you ride careful and take rests. Then ride out the worst of the fever in good hands.”
“Good hands with better things to do,” Max mutters.
The boot he took from Nux has a steel toe cap; he digs it into the dirt to test its strength. It’s better than nothing. At least the soil is loose, but it tends to fall back into the space he’d just cleared. The irony isn’t lost on him; some patterns are hard to break.
Exhausted, Max barely has energy to set up the sunshade from the ground people, but he knows he’ll be burnt to a crisp if he doesn’t. So he pops it up and flops beneath it even though he’s shaking with fever. He hisses when he lances the abscess on his hand and washes away the puss. Then he guzzles water until his stomach clenches in protest.
“Oh Max,” Kaboom sighs. “There are worse things in the world than having someone give a shit about you.”
He knows. He kicks a retaliatory stone in her direction as he tries not to think about all the ways she’s right. He dabs the Vuvalini salve on his hand anyway and waits to pass out.
Furiosa wakes to a darkened room and a pounding skull. Silence surrounds her except for the rush of blood to her brain. It carries memories on its currents.
K.T. used to sing while she worked, old songs from old times, songs about, wayfaring strangers, sweet chariots, and a river named Jordan. Sometimes she sang of the blood of someone named Jesus. They were K.T.’s songs alone; no one else sang them except for one about the goddess Grace who restored sight to the blind. When Furiosa asked her birth mother, Mary said that K.T. brought them from a faraway place called America. The Vuvalini came together from many different places, K.T. from America, Grandmother Fang from somewhere called Taiwan, and Mary from right there in Adelaide where they all met. They each brought songs and stories, recipes and skills, some following lineages reaching back more generations than anyone could count. Some merged to become the lore of the Vuvalini; others like K.T.’s songs kept their rigid forms like the fossils K.T. would sometimes collect from the riverbed.
Furiosa was turning one such shell of stone between her hands when she finally asked about the blood songs. She ran the pad of her thumb over the ridges and her thumbnail between them. A thousand days later she would touch her peach stone in the same way in th Vault while she counted the days before and behind her. Seven thousand days after that she would imagine the walls of stone around her were the deep crevice where the two sides of the stone cleaved to each other and that the ground beneath the Rig would give way as the stone split.
Furiosa always found the song confusing. It made her think of the ceremony on the first full day of Imbolc when all who had killed in the past year painted themselves with the blood of the sacrificed camel. They stood in a line before their clans who would then wash them with the new, spring water and soap made from the new, spring milk. Blood was what needed to be washed away, not the thing doing the cleansing. Blood soaked into cloth and skin leaving rust-coloured stains after it dried.
K.T. insisted that this blood was good blood, like monthly blood but special because it was from the best of God and the best of man, and most importantly, it was given freely, no questions asked, no strings attached. The story served the same purpose as the Imbolc ritual anyway, she said. Then she explained that as long as there had been people, people had been doing things, sometimes good things for bad reasons or bad things for good reasons, or things that weren't really so bad anyway but still ate away at the soul just the same. Every religion worth anything understood that people needed to let those things go, that souls couldn't really be lost or eaten, and that anyone who suffered enough to need a washing ritual was really a good person underneath all the grime.
Furiosa thought of that old washing ritual again as the first rays of dawn hit the sloping sands before her. The land was dry again after the War Rig had escaped the bog, and now things were quiet and calm enough for her mind to fang for all the dark places she carried with her.
The Fool dove into their Mothers’ Milk to wash himself, and at the time she'd just been glad he hadn't gotten himself killed or otherwise abandoned the group to the night. The girls had been justifiably protective of their food supply, and Furiosa drove over the image again and again in her mind early the next morning in a vain effort to determine why she didn't share their reaction.
Hours passed. Everyone else was still asleep, and Furiosa was alone with the hums of her engine in her rig and her tyres on the ground. The bogland had been slick and wet like the old riverbed being rejuvenated by the first spring waters. She remembered the old riverbed where she let the cold trickles glide over her toes. 7000 days later the muck clung to her tyres. She wondered then as she does now if she’ll ever shake it now that the mud has dried in the sun. Still, old tracks led her back to Imbolc.
Sometimes people would stand stoically as their tribe wiped away the stain of the year’s sins. Others silently added their tears to the mixture. Still others swayed and wailed, and the tribe would ululated with them, their wild voices lifting and cradling the clans’ care-worn warriors as they were redeemed and renewed. The Vuvalini knew there was no right way to atonement, and they stood ready to give whatever support was needed.
Her mother Mary had been one whose grief and guilt erupted from her. That year the crops had failed, and the Vuvalini sent their young and comely to the fishing tower. K.T., for all her spunk and spirit, fell silent beneath the milk-soaked rags. Her lips quivered as she drew ragged breaths.
“To kill another is to kill a bit of your own soul,” the Mothers often said, “and when you kill for the good of your clan, it is the clan’s responsibility to hold you together until you can hold yourself.”
But Furiosa hadn’t killed for her clan, not the clan of her birth or the women she was charged with protecting. No, she had killed for herself, and for that she will never be sorry. It isn’t her killing that gnaws at her; it is so much more.
She stares at the darkness around her and imagines that is the blood of the sacrificed camel, innocent, useful blood shed for the good of the clan. She imagined her skin turning to rust.
Stained - Furiosa felt stained as she fanged for her land and her people that she was hardly certain she could still claim. She longed for her clanswomen to touch her with their soft wash cloths and hold her as they lifted their voices to cover her in milk and breath. And for one brief moment she thought that peace could still be hers. She was wrong.
Her head throbs. She drifts along her pulse in the dark, feeling blood move through her head. If she had the breath she would try to pry K.T.’s old song from the muck of her memory so she could whisper them to the night. She conjures K.T.’s voice as thick and smooth as milkspoap, and imagines it gliding over her calloused skin with its words of hope and redemption that asks for nothing in return. Her stains are too thick, her rust impenetrable.
Max awakes to the distinctive smell of smoke. He jerks his head towards the warm spot to his left and then curses as he scrambles for his canteen. He was certain his cooking fire had been out when he went to sleep, but no, the still warm coals must have caught some scrap. The yellow flames dancing before him are short and weak, but they’ll grow quickly if he lets them be. He scans the fire pit or the offending object to make sure it isn’t cooking grease before he pisses out the fire and makes everything worse.
“Relax, you’re in friendly territory.” He looks up to see Hope tossing her flame-coloured hair over her shoulder as she stretches her feet towards the low flames. They lick at her boots, curling around their soles. “It’s not like anyone’s coming after you anyway.”
Max blinks his eyes a handful of times to try and clear the ghost from his vision. She’s usually cold and bitter when she comes to him, and he can’t blame her. She knows just the right words to cut just deep enough. Now she’s bent on singeing him.
"They're probably all dead, you know." She flexes her foot so her joints crackle and pop along with the fire. “I mean, that’s what happens, right? You told me your name, and here I am.” She stands so she’s looking down at him, and the flames rise with her, now reaching her waist. “You must be cursed or something.”
Max stands to piss out the flames he knows aren’t nearly as wild as those in his mind. He keeps his eyes downcast, his focus on the task at hand, but there is no more warmth before him, no more popping and crackling or wafting smoke. Hope is gone, leaving not even the slightest warmth behind where she and her flames descended into the earth. There is just Max standing over the mess of piss wetted sand and cold ash. He luckily catches himself before he wastes his drinking water as well.
He lies back on his bedroll and turns away from the warmth he had imagined, but he can still feel Hope’s words in his mind like a splinter under his skin. Damn ironic name, Hope, he’d called it cute when she first told him. Now it draws a cynical chuckle. He turns over onto his belly and shivers, regretting the loss of the warm fire, even if it was just imaginary. He’s not going to find his way back to sleep any time soon.
Max stumbles out of his ramshackle shelter and into the cool night. He’s alone, no voices, no movement, just dead silence. He normally would find the quiet peaceful, but tonight it makes him jumpy, twitchy. This silence can’t be trusted; every sound is just beyond his hearing range with the silence holding it back, keeping him alone in the void.
How long was he out? His best measure of time is the cycles of his fever: how many times did he shift from violent shivers to tidal sweats and back again? He vaguely remembers stumbling about like this, pissing in the still and digging himself a shitting hole. He thinks he wrangled enough energy to cover it to makes himself just a little harder for some scav to find. He rather relishes the thought of feeding desert life the way it’s fed him though - humans need not apply, at least not most of them.
It was light then, maybe twilight. That was probably when he built his cooking fire and then put it out like some kind of sleepwalking automaton. He thinks he marvelled at Furiosa’s one-handed dexterity when he sloshed the broth he’d been heating.
Or maybe he doesn’t really remember these things; maybe he’s just building memories out of dust. Has he ever built anything from anything else? He shoves away a memory of cupping Sprog’s hand around a mound of damp beach sand while Jessie built a sandcastle of her own.
My K.T. Concannon is an African-American woman who was an exchange student in Adelaide at the time of the Fall. She grew up singing gospel songs and developed a love for musical theatre. This characterisation of her is stable through all of my fic in which she appears, primarily the 7000 Days series and Daughters of the New World. I wanted one of Furiosa’s mothers to be American as an in-universe explanation for her accent being different from the other surviving Vuvalini. I also wanted more of them to be POC, and I needed a character who could really embody the Vuvalini spirit of finding a bit of enjoyment in the apocalypse. K.T. pretty much grew out of that all of that, and I’m a bit in love with her. The songs referenced here are: “Amazing Grace,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and, “Nothing but the Blood,” and, “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole.”
Hope is Glory’s mum in the video game. I tend to blend the comic and video game versions of Glory’s attempted rescue.
Furiosa chokes down the rest of her dinner. She isn’t trying to make herself throw up exactly. She isn’t trying to fill herself up with the drug she knows are hidden in her food either. She just wants her belly to ache and her head to pound and her lungs to burn until the physical pain pushes out everything else in her head. At least her sobs make her feel like she’s drowning.
She turns so her pillow cradles her face, and everything hurts so completely, so wonderfully… A sob becomes a stabbing retch. She holds her palm to her mouth and then her stomach and finally her bandaged ribs. The pain makes her scream silently into the pillow. Everything is as it should be; everything hurts.
Her skin is dry, her face stiff. Her body as taken on a fuzziness as if her pains are a mountain range behind a fog. Her eyes sting from tears that never fell. She must have slept.
She moves her head toward the voice.
The face is brilliant in the darkness, at once moonlight pale and sunrise bright. Light hair falls forward as the chin tilts. Clear, blue eyes cut into Furiosa, stealing what little breath she has.
“You were supposed to protect us.”
“I tried,” Furiosa chokes out as she reaches for Angharad.
The floor comes quickly. Her muscles at least remember to protect her face; she catches herself on her forearms, but the impact jars her bones, and she collapses. The floor is cold against her belly, her flesh bare and vulnerable beneath the thin bandages. Then the sobs come, each one rippling through her muscles whether bruised, battered, ripped, or intact. She doesn’t mind that she feels like getting stabbed all over again each time she gasps for air. She clenched her fist as the sobs turn to growls of anguish. Each one is a sharp reminder of the painful truth; she is still alive even though she shouldn’t be.
“Furiosa?” Angharad’s lips part to reveal gapped teeth as she leans forward in concern.
“Go away!” Furiosa snarls between hacks. She sputters as she waits to drown in her own tears and sputum. She’s lost Angharad, lost her home, lost her tribe. She belongs nowhere. She’s nothing. Just a pathetic relic, she should be dust.
There’s a hand on her back, warm, living nervous. She turns her face just enough so her good eye can peak over her forearm.
“I’m sorry…” The face sharpens before her in the yellow light. Dag, not Angharad asks, “Are you OK?” Her hand shakes as she holds up a lantern.
Furiosa is anything but OK, but she can’t bring herself to lie. She’s always been a terrible liar. “Nothing new,” she whispers. She rests her head on the floor, cheek against stone. “I thought…”
“I know.” Dag sets the lantern on the floor and sits cross legged. “I won’t tell if you don’t tell anyone I fell asleep. Just let me know when you’re ready to get up.”
Furiosa coughs and groans, “Leave me.”
“Nope. So Toast can come in and find you still on the floor, I don’t think so.”
Furiosa has to laugh, Dag’s selfishness is so shocking and refreshing. “And here… I thought you…cared,” she scoffs, her lungs burning. The cycle of contracting muscles, pain, and coughing starts anew. She props herself up as she gasps for breath.
The next thing she knows, Dag is holding out the air mask for her. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Furiosa almost smiles as she wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “Don’t want you… in trouble.”
She takes a few breaths through the mask while she plans her movements. Just having a concrete, immediate project is pleasantly grounding; get back to bed. Place right hand under sternum. Push. Bend legs up under torso. Stand up until hips are parallel to bed. It sounds so easy when she breaks it out into steps.
She gives back the mask and tries a few unaided breaths. “Ready.”
Dag shifts into a squat. “What should I do?”
“What does that mean?”
Furiosa slides her arms under her chest, pressing her palm and her stump to the floor. “Hold…catch me… if I start… to fall.”
“Easy does it. Upsy daisy.”
Rising is harder than falling. Pain fills her as she tenses, but it’s a purposeful pain. Dag’s hands add a calming pressure to her upper chest and just enough lift. By the time she’s worked herself up to squatting, she’s already wheezing. “Just…a…rest,” she promises the panic in Dag’s eyes.
Dag supports her from behind while she tips her head back and gulps the air. “Must hurt a lot.”
Furiosa resists the urge to attempt to say something snarky and just nods as she hugs her chest. “It’s how… I know… I’m still…here.”
They rise together. Furiosa sways and stumbles plenty, but she makes it. She struggles all the way, through gritted teeth and deep, ragged moans, but she gets there. The bed accepts her hips, and then Dag guides her back until she’s propped up on her best of pillows that makes breathing as easy as it can be.
She waits, too exhausted to care, while Dag shines the lantern on her face and chest. “Thank you,” Dag says before bending to retrieve a blank from the floor.”
“What?” Furiosa murmurs.
Dag shrugs as a warmth spreads on her face. “For getting up for me.” She covers Furiosa with the blanket. Then their gazes meet, and she tucks the the blanket firmly under Furiosa’s armpits so it’s embracing her like her cincher. “There you go, snug as a bug in a rug.”
Capable is supposed to be sleeping. She spends a good amount of time staring up at the ceiling above her bed, the same old bed she was never supposed to touch again. The sheets smell like something she can’t place, something sour and left too long to fester.
She sits up abruptly. The room is too quiet. There should be sounds of life, of Miss Giddy snoring softly in the next room, of Toast sighing as she stretches out, of Angharad groaning and her bed creaking as she tries to get comfortable.
She could sneak down to the Skin Shop. She’s sure Iris would appreciate a night nurse. If she holds enough hands and tells enough sick, confused Bloodbags and Boys that everything will be okay, then maybe she’ll start to believe it too.
She recognises the smell on her sheets: fear. It’s the clammy sweat of the unknown, and it fills her nose and her mouth, makes her want to vomit. She holds back a gag as she stands and flings the sheets to the floor.
Capable imagines Angharad rolling to face her, just the whites of her eyes and glint of her teeth showing in the darkness as she grumbles, “Why don’t you do something about it?”
Capable flops onto Angharad’s bed, which doesn’t smell at all like fear. She twists the corner of the sheets between her fingers and draws of deep breath through the fabric. It doesn’t smell like anything in particular, just… familiar. Capable wraps the dingy fabric with its faded, floral decorations around her shoulders and sighs.
She needs to get out. The Vault is stifling in its luxuriousness, and Angharad’s imagined words are repeating in her mind. “Why don’t you do something about it?”
About it? About what? About how every shadow reminds her of Joe? About how how his presence had somehow seeped into the walls and contaminated the stone?
“You’re not a thing. Don’t just sit there like one.” That’s what Angharad would say.
Capable ties two ends of the sheet around her neck so it stays up on its own. She even pulls the back of the loops she’s made over her head like a cloak. She doesn’t know much about cleaning, but she’s seen enough blood and sick mopped from the floor to know that there’s not a stain that can’t be scrubbed out eventually, and that she’ll need her hands free.
The hallway seems wider and longer now that she’s walking it alone. Her every breath bounces off the walls. She draws Angharad’s sheet tighter around her shoulders and quickens her gait. The sound of her newly acquired boots striking the floor with their study heals reminds her of Furiosa, and how the Imperator’s confident walk heralded her coming. Clack, clack. If Capable walks with enough purpose, no one will think twice about her walking the halls. At best they might avoid her. She’s not a victim, she’s a threat.
She tries to remember the way to the Skin Shop. Organic always came to the Vault when the Wives needed servicing; her first time in the skin shop had been with Iris. The resident Pups had given then a wide birth, only matched by their eyes wide as hubcaps at theses strange creatures wrapped in cloth and hair.
Just such a Pup huddles in the shadows, dark eyes fixed on Capable, breath held. The Pup hugs a pipe and tries to disappear into the wall. Their shorn head and pale upper body remind Capable of a ghost from a picture book, especially how the dark pants blend into the night.
“Hey…” she says as she holds up her lantern. The Pup says nothing. “Are you lost?” The white head shakes. “Well I am. Do you think you could help me to the Skin Shop?”
The Pup wrinkles their nose. “You sick?”
“No. I want to help.” The Pup still looks confused. “I’m going to work there.”
“Organic is gone.”
“I know. I work for the new Organic. Have you met her? She’s old, with…” Capable holds up one of her plaits. “Long hair like mine, only chrome.”
Capable smiles, “Sure, Chrome Granny. Do you think you can help me find my way? My name is Capable.”
The Pup nods, and they start walking together. “I’m Bolt. I’m a clipper.”
“Yeah.” Bolt makes a buzzing sound and a horizontal brushing motion. “But Boss says I would make a good stitcher. Ooh, this one time a Bloodbag tried to escape, and I tripped him. Organic thought that was real shine…”
Max was a Bloodbag, Capable recalls. That’s why he was chained to Nux. Her stomach twists at the thought of how they both were treated. But it didn’t break them, came close but…she smiles a little as her eyes start to water… goodness is stubborn, but it needs to be nurtured. People become what they are told they are, but give them a chance and a reason to be better, and just watch them grow.
“What was his name?” she asks.
“Bloodbags don’t have names.”
Capable pulls Angharad’s sheet tighter around her shoulder as they cross a bridge to a different tower. “Just because you’ve never thought to ask doesn’t mean they don’t have them.”
“Flick tried to ask once, got bit,” Bolt giggles as they chomp their teeth, “on the nose.”
They stop before a garage door and both have to pulls the chain to hoist it open. This isn’t the Skin Shop Capable visited before. There are three, she thinks she remembers hearing once, one for each tower. To think she's lived here three thousand days and is only now exploring.
This Skin Shop is a dark and almost empty space, like the caves she used to know outside of Gastown. It is a cave, she decides as she holds up her lantern and scans the visible rooms with their organic walls and abandoned projects. Scattered tools glimmer. A chain creaks as a draft flows through from the open grate above.
“Hello…” she calls into the darkness.
Bolt strolls in confidently, casting an adult sized shadow. “Skin Shop’s behind the Blood Shed,” explains Bolt.
“The Blood Shed?” Capable cautiously looks ahead, following the metallic, creaking sound to an open cage dangling from the ceiling.
It’s the first of many. She can just make out a human shape slumped in another. She quickens her steps.
“Hello,” Capable says again, her heart pounding not with fear but purpose.
The next time Furiosa is awake, the room is light and her throat dry; her head is overly full, but her thoughts are clear. Half-pondered ideas sit like food swallowed too impatiently.
She is alive, inexplicably, undeservedly alive. She could spend every night for the rest of her life trying to come to terms with that fact, but that is exactly what it is: a fact. Whether she should be or not, she’s likely not the only unexpected survivor. There will be others: hobbled with injuries, they will crawl back to the Citadel, to Gastown, to the Bullet Farm. She is alive and needs to start acting like it. She needs to be plotting her next move.
Furiosa fumbles with her water while she looks around. Her mothers’ faces on her wall are watching her wordlessly, as is another: she hears the slightly sharp intake of breath preceding speech. Not Dag anymore – Toast is sitting at her table, propping up her chin while she watches.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Toast says without rising. Her voice is calm without wryness or snark. It’s almost warm.
“Indeed,” croaks Furiosa. She tries to sit, and even though she’s familiar with the pain awaiting her ascent, she’s still not ready for it. She falls back, knocking the wind from her chest and spilling a bit of water.
Toast starts to stand wordlessly, but Furiosa meets her gaze and holds her still. Furiosa wants to say, “Think for me,” but moving and talking at the same time is beyond her current capabilities. She wants to scrawl a perfectly conceived plan on her chalkboard because if she can’t be strong enough to do her own dirty work, she at least should be a good enough Imperator to give good direction, but she’s struggling enough with water. So she sighs and nods, which are both mistakes in their own ways. She sips at her water; her throat clicks with each swallow. When she’s finished she mutters, “Living means piss.”
Toast touches her only as much as necessary. Thank goddess for Toast – no babying, no nonsense. She spots just enough to almost trick Furiosa into feeling like she’s standing under her own power. It makes her not feel so soft when she uses the bucket. She thinks she could have made it all the way to her wet corner if her bladder weren’t being so damn inpatient. At least her soft pants come down easily; pissing herself is the last thing she needs.
Even this little bit of effort is exhausting. Furiosa jars herself again collapsing back onto her bed. She closes her eye, grits her teeth, and grips the hem of her blanket while she waits to feel…normal? No. Functional? No. Viable. She knows she is – she’s just waiting to feel it.
“Day two?” she asks between coughs.
“Yeah. Second day is the worst, right? That’s what you told us.”
“Mm-hm.” Furiosa retraces her train of thought from before her body so rudely interrupted her.
“So it should be all downhill from here.”
Furiosa almost smiles. “News?” She gestures at the chaotic chart on the wall. Then she find the smaller chalkboard from the night before, clears it and writes, “There will be other survivors. We need to beat them to Gastown, Bulletfarm.” She turns the chalk between her fingers before adding, “but first I need to know who is here.”
Toast straightens herself. “I don’t know their names.”
“Kai would. Where is he?” The words flow quickly now, as if this were a real conversation.
“Pleading your case.”
“How-“ Furiosa stops mid letter. The truth is like a stone in her belly. These aren’t just any Boys; they are hers. She’d torn them from her like a scab, ripped them from her life in a single, traitorous motion that was supposed to be permanent. She’d moved on. They’d never really been hers just as she had never been their’s.
She blocks the assault of those thoughts. “How is it going?”
It won’t work. She’s gone too far. She should have them killed before they can take their revenge, while they’re still weak, while they still hate her. She should do it herself; she at least owes them that. She’s gotten rid of them once without a second thought; she can do it again. Then why does she want to throw up?
“They want to talk to you. Well, one in particular.”
Furiosa knows she shouldn’t ask, knows it will just make everything worse, but the chalk practically moves on its own: “The Ace?”
Toast purses her lips. “Is that a name or a title?”
“Both,” Furiosa mouths. Then she asks in as steady a voice as she can manage, “How is he?”
At least that went according to plan.
“Concussed, beat up, and dehydrated enough to be tethered to an IV.”
“For now.” Furiosa wonders whose clever idea that was. It can’t last forever though.
“You don’t seem surprised.”
Furiosa sighs on instinct and winces with regret. She writes, “I meant him to make it back.”
“No…” Furiosa musters the real breath these words deserve, “unnecessary killing.”
“So what would you have done otherwise?”
Furiosa fights off an urge to rub her swollen eye and writes, “It would have been necessary.” Then she wipes away the words and replaces them with, "Did you drive, or did I imagine that?”
"Could you drive again?"
Toast nods eagerly.
"Good." Furiosa says before writing, "Gastown forces are rebuilding. I need you to beat them home."
Toast’s eagerness fades as much as she tries to remain stoic. "And do what exactly?"
"Trade, as per the treaty.” Furiosa writes carefully, piecing her thoughts together as she goes. “Show them it still stands. Go now so that while there is chaos and confusion we can bring stability. Then do the same at Bulletfarm.”
“I can’t… I…”
“Then I’ll do it myself.” She tries to make the words look as steady as they sound in her head.
“Furiosa, you know that’s not going to happen.”
“It must be done.” She makes those words bold, retracing their lines until they stand out from the haze around them. She looks to Toast for a reaction but gets none. “The treaty must be honoured. Our alliance must be reestablished. If we don’t make the shipment, that would tell them that we are vulnerable, and then they will come for us.”
“If they haven’t already.”
“They are just as hobbled as we are. Those left at the canyon will make their repairs and then run home. They will secure their own territory first and reach outward second. We are just ahead of them. So we show strength and meet them before they come to us.”
“They lost a lot as well, they may not be able to keep up their end.”
“I’m counting on it.”
Toast sits down with a sigh. “It’s risky. We don’t really have the produce to spare… or the vehicles to get it there. If anything happens, if we don’t make it there, or we don’t make it back…”
“We can’t just wait for them. They will come. I’ll take the Gigahorse and one of the spare pods.”
“With the War Boys?”
“No!” Furiosa says aloud. “We… can’t trust them.”
“Not even Kai?”
“We need him here, to bridge the gap.” She’s back to writing now and drawing white swirls while she thinks. She knows she shouldn’t go, as much as she hates to admit it, but she can’t order Toast to go. So she starts a list of people who can drive, regardless of their health. “Furiosa, Toast, Leona, Kai…” She can’t send a War Boy even if she could trust them. She needs to show a definitive change. “We need to show a clean break. We need a story.”
Toast understands precisely. “No War Boys in powder, no Wives in wifecloth… Vuvalini.” She picks up another piece of chalk to turn between her fingers. “You can’t go – even if you were well – if we lost you and the Gigahorse and the supplies…” She shakes her head. “Too many eggs. We’d be doomed.”
Hope is a mistake. There are no good options, no easy choices. They are probably doomed regardless. Drive out and expose themselves? Hole up and wait to be cornered? Or would civil war tear the Citadel apart before then? Furiosa imagines the Vuvalini barricading themselves inside tower one and shooting War Boys from the Mouth.
“Will you go?” Just those three words set Furiosa coughing and her pain spiking. But she knows she needs to speak now, that showing strength can also mean showing grit. That’s why the War Boys chrome their mouths: There is nothing so terrifying as the unstoppable.
Toast hesitates as she chews her lip then acquiesces. “I will.”
“I’ll take… your watch.” Furiosa presses her palm to her ribs to approximate a binding as she tries to sit up. Mothers it hurts, but she does it. “Can still… shoot.”
“And how do you plan to get up to the perch?”
“Figure… something out.” If she can maker herself walk unassisted today, she might be able to manage the ladder by tomorrow. She’ll be damned if she lets anyone carry her.
It’s not just that there are tasks to be done either. Furiosa has always been a restless creature, and the limitations her body is imposing on her are only making every moment of inactivity more maddening. She's spent her fair share of time injured or sick or both, but this time is worse there is so much urgency. Every moment she’s stuck in bed everything races closer to disaster.
Furiosa rubs her stump against her temple to calm the ache in her skull as she writes, “I need to do something."
"You are. You're the Imperator. You're telling us what to do."
It isn't the same. Furiosa still feels the hum of the road when she closes her eyes, but she knows she won't last out there. She'd be lucky to stay upright through just one stand-up shot. It's not that the idea of death isn't comforting - she's cheated death enough times that she's starting to feel she's the one missing out. There's a part of her that wants nothing more than to drive out to the wastes and stretch out on a rock until the sun cooks her through. So why hasn’t she yet? She’s had ample opportunity. There were so many days when no one would have even noticed the lack of her.
“Besides,” Toast presses onward, gnawing at the task at hand as if it were a marrow-filled bone. “Leona and I both go, even if Kai stays, that’s still too many shifts for you.” There’s a firmness to her voice. She’s found her bearings, gained her traction. “I assume you don’t want to use any of the other Boys, don’t want to arm them.”
But that would be one way to be rid of them… order them to come with her. She shoots, no takes them out, one at a time so they fall to the Wretched. She’d says that they jumped, that they couldn’t survive these new times. A War Boy committing suicide in silence, dying unwitnessed? So tragic they would say the first time it happened. The second time no one would believe her, if they even believed the first. And who is to say she wouldn’t be the one pushed over first? She imagines Fool’s blood splattered against the Citadel stone and rejects the plan entirely.
“Can shoot,” Furiosa writes, “Furiosa, Toast, Leona, Kai, Iris.”
Toast shakes her head. “Iris is busy enough with the Skin Shop. Even with Capable and Cheedo’s help… there’s a lot of sick people here, people who will likely repay their care with loyalty.”
“Teach…” Furiosa creaks.
“To shoot? You’ve taught some of the Pups, right? We can put some of them on watch.”
“The other girls,” Furiosa scrawls impatiently. They don’t need to be good, just present; give them shotguns. “Have Leona give them the same crash course she gave you.”
“Really? Capable will object; Cheedo will scare herself when she pulls the trigger; Dag will…”
“Cheedo’s going with you.”
“Dag will be fi- What?”
Furiosa hadn’t thought to include Cheedo until she wrote that, almost as if her hand had a mind of its own, but she knows it’s the correct answer. “Cheedo goes,” she says as if breath makes it so.
“You said we needed to project strength.”
“It’s a trade-negotiation mission,” Furiosa writes. “You need a gunner, a driver, and a negotiator minimum. You are not a negotiator.”
“Will be your gunner, and she will protect Cheedo.”
“What if she says no.”
“She won’t.” Of that Furiosa is certain. She’s seen a fire in Cheedo, a resilience that comes from being scares too many times. It just needs fuel and a machine to move. Furiosa knows it well. “If I ask her, she will do it.”
Toast nods skeptically.
Furiosa sets down the chalkboard and closes her eyes. She’s tired now even though she hasn’t even had breakfast, let alone figured out how to handle Ace and the other Boys. At least this much is settled: “She will,” Furiosa promises as she hugs her chest and begrudgingly waits for sleep. She needs to save her strength for the tasks ahead.
Sleep never does come for Furiosa, at least not sleep of any value. She dozes for maybe a few minutes, the kind of almost sleep where she writes something on her board and wakes to realise that she hasn’t moved at all. Then she opens her eye and sees that the light hasn’t changed.
Then she posts her arm so she can roll to face the wall. Her mind races. Every corner of it fills with come-back War Boys. Ace, who knows who else? She writes on her wall, “Keep them isolated. No contact with anyone outside our core? Who stayed behind? None of mine. – Kai. Any sign of Corpus? Ask the Pups.”
“Toast, update... the chart,” she orders, falling back into her old habits.
She doesn’t turn to watch; she only listens to the faint scrape of chalk on stone: A-C-E..
Furiosa knows she needs him alone and quickly, before Corpus can get to him. If she can’t win him over, she will get none of the others; she will have to deal with them one way or another. But if she can win him, even if she gets none of the others… another driver, another gunner, another fixer… any attachments aside, he would certainly be an asset. If she can win him, the others might join him. Otherwise the Citadel has four proven warriors, one injured, one sick, two pushing twenty thousand days apiece.
“See Ace,” Furiosa writes tucked between the other words. “Alone.”
She hears her door opening, followed by the whispered chatting of new comers. “She’s awake,” Toast interrupts them before they waste too much energy trying to be quiet.
“Good morning,” says Iris even though it clearly isn’t morning. “I won’t ask you how you’re feeling.”
“Thanks.” Furiosa mutters without turning.
“We have food for you,” Capable offers, only her voice betraying her presence.
“Any new developments?” Iris asks from the wet corner.
Furiosa waits to answer while Iris and Capable wash their hands. “Coughing.”
“That’s as expected." Iris lingers in the corner. "Anything else?”
Toast rocks back in Furiosa’s chair so it creeks under the change in weight. “Go on Fury, tell them what you want to do.”
Furiosa shifts herself onto her back so she can see her guests and grumbles with ragged voice, “I want….to…be alone,” which is true if not the response Toast intended. She knows no medic will approve her for duty, not even when that duty is nothing more than sitting outside. She’ll get nowhere unless she can free herself of her minders.
Iris hums noncommittally. “First I need to look you over.”
“Fine… inventory.” Furiosa needs all the information she can get.
“Then,” Capable chimes in, “we need to make sure we can trust you.” Furiosa raises her non-swollen eyebrow to which Capable responds, “You know, trust you to eat your meals, trust you to take your meds, trust you to not do anything stupid.”
Iris touches the back of her hand to Furiosa’s forehead. “Trust you to let us know when you start getting sick.”
“As I said… coughing.”
“Pulmonary contusion, it takes a couple of days to develop. The coughing will get worse then better.” Iris pauses before explaining, “It’s like a bruise, from when the air came back where it was supposed to be. That’s why you need to take the pain meds. The more you hurt, the less you cough, and the longer that crud will stay in you.” Her voice softens as she speaks. “The girls are learning pulmonary hygiene exercises for you, and they set you up with a bladder; you need to inflate it, stretch your lungs, clear out the sputum so it doesn't become infected.”
Furiosa isn’t sure what Iris means about air coming back, but she knows she’s injured her chest and lungs; that much is obvious, stabs to both sides. She only remembers the first one, which doesn’t surprise her. She’s seen boys shot and too chromed up to notice. Lung injuries make crud, and crud needs to come out. She remembers the contraption Cheedo brought. No, someone brought to Cheedo. The previous night is still hazy, but she does remember that bladder thing and how it made her hurt just the way she wanted, sweet pain with a clear cause and clear effect.
Now Iris is probing at the bones of Furiosa’s face. “I don’t think you’ve fractured anything. Can’t be sure though until the swelling goes down a bit more.” She pries apart the lids on Furiosa’s swollen eye. “Can you see out of it?”
Furiosa starts to nod, but the little shift starts up a throbbing in her skull. “Blurry.”
Iris asks Capable for a damp cloth and saline. “Gonna give her another wash. You just relax.” Then to Capable, “Hold her steady.”
Capable gives Iris the requested supplies and then climbs onto the bed in the cramped space where the wall curves around Furiosa’s head. She folds her leg beneath herself so her thighs form a pillow. She takes Furiosa’s head between her hands and gazes down, the whites of her eyes bright against the shadows. Her hair looks blood-dark.
Furiosa looks away, just enough to break eye contact. Then the dropper comes, and both of Furiosa’s eyes close. Capable tilts her face gently back and forth so the saline washes all around. Then Iris and Capable turn her head fully to her side so the saline runs out like tears.
“That was easy enough,” Capable says as she moves the damp over Furiosa’s face. “Should we cover the eye?”
“For sleep.” Furiosa starts to rise, but Iris stops her. “Let’s just stay like this for the next part. You’re at a good angle.” Iris then motions to Toast who is still at the table, “Come over, girl, make yourself useful. Wash up first.”
Capable gently guides Furiosa’s right arm out of the way and loosens her bandages. She hums as her fingers move as if she’s trying to cover her uncertainty. It’s supposed to be calming, but Furiosa finds it to be more grating. Then the packing comes out, and Furiosa winces but holds her tongue as she waits. She turns her head to try and get a look at a face other than Capable’s. Is Iris clicking her tongue? Sighing with disapproval? Withdrawing wordlessly? All Furiosa can hear is that infernal humming echoing off the stone.
“So… what’s the… damage?” Furiosa is answered only by the sting of saline and the dabbing of cloth. Will they keep this from her like they tried to do the War Boys? She squirms as she twists her head to see if Toast is still there. “Hello…”
“Oh Fury, hold still.” Iris starts stuffing gauze into the hole in her side. “This is all conjecture really. In the old days we could see inside. We could cut our way in with knives made out of light, seal everything back together, and make sure we didn’t leave behind any critters of our own. That’s’ all gone now.”
Furiosa looks at the marks on darkening bruises on her side, some deep red turning purple, some almost black, as she braces herself for bad news. One stab to the chest would be enough to take out most half-lifes. Two – she knows she shouldn’t be alive, but she doesn’t know if she should call herself lucky. Infection is a well known spectre that could still be on its way. Even so, she would like to know the chances of her keeping her life. “Take your… best shot.”
“Well, the dagger entered here, between ribs six and seven. It chipped a bit off seven on its way in, lacerating, at least I think your diaphragm and your liver. That's what made you haemorrhage. When it poked through your diaphragm, it entered your chest cavity, nicking your outer lung membrane on your right and then your mediastinum. When you took the knife out, air came in, pealing apart your lung membranes, first one lung, then the other.”
“Usually pneumothorax is just one side. You remember the three-sided bandages right? Well, no one put one on you. This is what happens when a torso puncture is left open. You’re Goddess-damn lucky; not too many people come back from bilateral tension pneumothorax these days.”
Iris dabs some kind of salve around the borders of the wound. “How much detail do you want?”
“That’s why you are so lucky; it wouldn’t have worked if the first one hadn’t gone in just so.”
Furiosa’s visitors exchange silent looks. Capable is the first to speak. “Didn't he tell you?”
“He popped you like a tyre,” says Toast matter-of-factly.
“He made you breathe, and then he gave you his blood." Capable twists a strand of her own red hair and looks away, trying to hide her misty eyes.
“He?” Furiosa doesn’t need to ask. She knows but she just needs to hear it. She knew it as soon as she noticed the ache in the crook of her right arm, an ache so tiny in comparison to everything else but so important. She knew from the bundle of tubing bundled he wore until he didn’t. Bloodbag indeed.
“The feral," Toast explains. "We all thought he was putting you out of your misery, but he made you live.”
“Fool’s blood,” Furiosa mutters because damn fool he was to waste it on her. But the stab, no… she tries to feel it, tries to separate its pain from all the others. She shifts her weight and torques and contracts her left side. She winces as she presses it to her firm bed.
“Max, his name is Max.” Capable’s voice is soft, but her hands find their firmness as she guides Furiosa back into position.
“Max…” Furiosa turns the word over in her mouth as if examining a roadside treasure. It’s somehow both soft and crisp, earthy and airy and just right, a rumble and a whisper. "He told... you?"
“He told you.” Capable sighs as she lightly rubs Furiosa’s shoulder. “He told you lots of things, only you. I guess we thought he told you this too.”
“Boy knows his stuff,” Iris beams, “clean cut, missed your organs, veins and arteries, just hit your intercostals, maybe scratched your ribs. Must have…”
Furiosa swallows a lump in her throat. “How long… to heal?”
“That depends on you, girlie.” Iris takes a pot of salve from her pocket and smears the contents onto the tender skin around Furiosa’s wound before covering it again. She keeps talking while she, Capable, and Toast roll Furiosa to her other side. “I would give your ribs a good month for the bones to knit together, but they'll probably be sore for a while longer.”
Furiosa grits her teeth against the sickening pain of her right side against her bed. The wound isn’t centred so the pressure isn’t as bad as it could be, but her damaged bones groan under her weight.
Iris continues, “We only suspect the diaphragm cut, but it may be so small as to never give you problems; you may just live with an annoying stitch in your side, or we may have to open you up and stitch it shut further down the road. Everything else should be healed before your ribs provided you take care of yourself. Then, after that, you can work on getting your strength and stamina back. That will take some time though; don't rush it. The human liver is a miraculous organ – your cut there should heal on its own will the rest of your liver just keeps on trucking.” She peels back the bottom layer of bandaging from the second wound. “This one, however,” shouldn’t give you any future problems.”
The hole stares up at Furiosa, her skin ending abruptly like the ledges over a chasm. The edges are clean, probably because she had been too out of herself to struggle against the blade. There is less bruising too, and what little there is sweeps back from the opening like a shadow. Furiosa wants so badly to touch the wound, to feel it respond to her fingers. Instead she closes her eyes as Iris works and lets the stinging sensation swallow her so her breath catches and her voice whines, and she feeling wholly present.
Tweezers and dropper move expertly in Iris’s hand, packing out saline in. “I’d like to do another debridement on both tomorrow and then give them some more time to heal before we close them,” she says as she peers closer with a magnifying glass. “Girls,” she motions to Capable and Toast, “take a look.”
Capable’s lips part as she leans closer. She’s quiet, studying intently. She holds two fingers to the side of Furiosa’s neck and forces her lips to close in a tight line. “Furiosa,” she says with a forced steadiness, “Max was a Bloodbag, but he’s not a thing." She locks Furiosa in her gaze. "The other Bloodbags aren’t either. That’s why I let them go.”
“What?” Furiosa’s jerks her head up.
“I let them go,” Capable repeats. “I thought you should know.”
“Did you offer trade?” asks Toast.
“Why would I do that?” Capable has found her bearing now; she’s gathering speed. “They aren’t things. They’re bodies aren’t for sale.”
“So you just kicked them out?” Toast crosses her arms. “Or did you ask them first?”
“I opened the doors for them. The Pups helped. We led them out.”
Iris holds Furiosa firmly in her gaze as she applies the salve, as if holding Furiosa still by force of will. “They weren’t in good condition, none of them.”
“And you didn't think to talk this over with any of us? What do you think will happen to them outside?” Toast demands. “They’ll starve or get captured again. They’ll die.”
“We’ll die,” says Furiosa. “The Citadel… lives off of War Boys. War Boys… War Pups… live off of Blood Bags.” She feels rage rising in her chest. “You’ve just made every half-life a quarter-life.” Or maybe the fire in her lungs is just them fighting for breath. She coughs long and hard, her ribs screaming.
“Max gave his blood freely,” Capable protests. “That’s how it should be.”
How dare she? How dare she! The blatant manipulation hits Furiosa hard in the gut. She feels pink and raw like the wound left behind a scab torn away too soon. She doesn’t understand why the Fool called Max did what he did, and she probably never will, but that doesn’t give Capable license to use it against her.
“What about trading blood for food?” counters Toast.
“He’s gone,” Furiosa spits back once she has enough air to form the words.
Capable is aghast. “They aren’t things,” she repeats as she removes herself from Furiosa’s bed. “What would you have us pay? What is a fair price? For something so intimate as a human body, so precious as human life?” Her voice is as fierce and wild as her hair. “Would you have us offer our wombs for trade?”
Toast narrows her eyes, “That’s not the same.”
“Oh but it is!" Capable stands over Furiosa, arms akimbo, chin jutting. "Would you have us trade ourselves?”
“Yes.” Furiosa has been out of patience for days. “If I thought… for an instant…” she’s a coughing, wheezing mess now and angry and bitter about it to boot, “it would help keep us alive.”
“Even after we fought so hard?”
Furiosa balls her fist. He lungs are burning, face throbbing, every breath another stab. “Haven’t you done it already?”
Realisation washes over Capable’s face. She stands apoplectic, tears spilling from her eyes. “Freely,” she whispers, her voice hot as steam, “it has to be given freely.”
“Stupid, sheltered girl.” Furiosa shoves away Toast and Iris as she fights her way up to sitting. “We are... defenceless.” The words struggle to come out, all the better to prove her point. “The Citadel runs on half-lifes. Half-lifes run on blood. We are sitting… on the only… known aquifer… Someone will come to… take… it…” Furiosa doubles over, coughing so hard she feels like she’ll split in two. The room is spinning, her vision going dark about the edges. “I… did not... bring you back…here…” she’s empty, deflated; she mouths in silence, “to die.”
“You are a cruel, hateful person!” Capable spits.
“Work this out later.” Iris holds an air mask to Furiosa’s face. "Either help or get out of the way."
A hazy Toast shakes her head. "Had to get her all riled up, didn't you?"
“You still are and always have been.” Capable slams the heavy door behind her.
Everything goes black.
Yeah, that medical stuff is a stretch. I'm still not happy with it, and I will probably keep adapting it. I just really want a good, in-universe and medically sound explanation for Max's stabbing on the left when the first wound was on the right. Is that too much to ask? Probably. :Shrug: I tried.
Capable storms down the hallway that seems entirely too long and still growing. Her feet can’t move quickly enough. Every stride comes up too short. She doesn’t think she’s ever been so happy to walk into the Vault. There’s Cheedo and Dag, at first glance looking as usual, entwined in each other’s arms with books on their laps, a tray of food on a pile of books at their feet. They look up at her with a mix of interest and panic, but there’s a droop to both sets of shoulders, a droop to their spirits. If Capable weren’t so full of steam and rage, she would recognise the same weariness in herself.
Capable doesn’t even sit down before she blurts out, “She’s back.”
“What?” Dag asks in what sounds like honest confusion. Of course Furiosa is back. They are back.
“Isn’t it your shift?” Cheedo looks concerned, worry building exponentially with every second of silence. “Is she any worse?”
Capable flops onto a lumpy pillow on a metal chair beside them. Her braids bounce as she lands. “Things are great. Our Furiosa is back, Bag of Nails, mean as ever,” she spits and then huffs. “Iris sent me out, said I was making it worse.”
“Ah.” Dag visibly relaxes. “So she’s feeling better then. What’s Furiosa without yelling?”
“Even meaner.” Capable folds her arms. “She tried to yell at least, made herself pass out again.”
“So what did you do?” Dag asks as she rolls onto her stomach. When Capable glares back, she protests, “What? You had to have done something to get...” she pauses, feeling the word in her mouth... “ejected.”
“I upset her...” The others wait impatiently for more detail, “by doing the right thing.”
“Uh-huh,” says Dag as she pulls a book from the stack. “Taking over Angharad’s mantle, eh?”
“Angharad was always so good with her.” Capable feels almost sick with loss.
“If by good you mean could yell back.” Dag shoves her breakfast away and folds her arms over her chest.
There’s a baby in there, Capable thinks, pressing back against the bones of her forearms. Her own belly is empty, shallow... “Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.” She could hold her ground, not cave... “I… I never realized how hard it must have been to push back.”
“I upset Furiosa too,” Cheedo admits. “I didn’t mean to. I was reading to her, that rabbit book I always liked, and I kept thinking she was asleep, she was so quiet," Cheedo whispers as she fidgets. “But then whenever I stopped, she told me to keep going. When the skin horse was talking she started squeaking..."
"Squeaking?" Dag asks a little too loudly.
It makes Capable twitch with sympathy, but she holds her tongue. She knew full well her own actions would cause problems; she knew it and freed the Bloodbags anyway because it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing, the right thing… She gnaws on that fact as if it were a bone.
"Yeah, squeaking, and then sputtering, and coughing, and I thought she was choking. I rushed over there to help her, but as soon as I touched her, she shoved me away." Cheedo’s voice breaks. "Then she just sobbed."
Dag folds her arms. "You made her cry.”
Capable knows she doesn’t mean to be accusatory, but it still comes off that way.
“I didn’t mean to-“
Dag shrugs. “It’s an achievement. I didn’t even know she could do that.”
They all know that isn’t exactly true. Maybe ten days ago… Even then Capable suspected. She could practically see rage rising in Furiosa’s belly, mixing with pain and hurt to a sickening slurry. Furiosa’s eyes were dark, her mouth a tight line, her face grey and pale.
Cheedo hugs her knees to her chest. "I feel terrible. It just sounded like it must have hurt so much." Capable wonders what it’s like to cry when with a body that hurts as much as the heart inside it.
“It’s not your fault. She’s just feeling a lot, responsible for Angharad, for Keeper, for Valkyrie.” Dag lists the other fallen Vuvalini either by name or by attribute. “It’s like on the dunes. She just needs to scream it out, get rid of it so she can get moving again.”
Cheedo sighs. “I’d rather she be screaming. We’re at least all used to that.
“Well…” Capable feels herself softening, her shoulders slumping. “I got the screaming, kind of... more like rasping, like the voice Miss Giddy always gave the evil witches in stories.”
“Were they really evil?” Dag muses as she thumbs through the book she’s been holding. Then she reads from a page with a folded corner. “I’m just pain covered in skin.”
Cheedo leans to get a look at the cover. “Angharad always liked this book,” she sighs.
“She didn’t like when we did this to her.” Capable reminds them as her own eyes tear up.
“Do what?” Dag feigns innocence.
“Don’t be daft. Wave it in her face when she was hopping, spitting mad at Furiosa for not helping us- exactly what you’re doing to me. ‘I have so little,’ Angharad say: ‘let me have my anger.’”
“C’mon, let me finish, for old times’ sake: ‘Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold’…”
“And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves,” Capable finishes. “But she’s not caught anymore…”
“Maybe it’s not that easy.” Cheedo closes her elbows around her knees.
Capable twists her hair as she searches for words.
“You never did say what you did to set her off.”
“I let the Bloodbags go.” Their eyes are on Capable; she struggles to read them. “She reacted the same way as I knew she would, and…” then Capable looks away, feeling a bit sick herself, “And I knew… I know... we do need them, but it’s not their fault they are stuck in a bad system.”
“Or our fault either,” says Cheedo, making Capable’s breath catch. If even Cheedo thinks…
“I know.” Capable meets their eyes. “She thinks… you don’t think… I used Nux do you?” She knows it’s an odd question, one that needs more explanation than she can give. “I mean, do you think that I…” she needs to spit out the next word because it is so sour, “pretended so he would help us?”
Dag and Cheedo are silent, waiting to see who speaks first, and Capable keeps telling herself that they don’t really understand, that they’ve only loved each other, never someone who grew up anywhere else, not even one floor below and… The two girls shake their heads silently and slowly.
“You do think that don’t you? I swear, I didn’t… I…”
Cheedo leans forward, her eyes bright, “I didn’t think that, but,” she grabs Capable’s hands as she hands, “I wouldn’t think less of you either way. I don’t think Furiosa does either.”
“Because she’s a terrible person,” Capable spits, but she doesn’t mean it.
“Then why are you helping her so much?” Dag puts Angharad’s book back on the stack.
Capable doesn’t have an answer.
“Do you think she used Max?” Cheedo’s voice is clear and as neutral as she can make it. “Do you think she could?”
“I know she could.” Capable lifts her chin, “and that’s why it’s important that she didn’t. He wouldn’t have helped us if it wasn’t real.” If what wasn’t real? Capable doesn’t have a word for the thing she saw between them. And was what was between her and Nux real? She’d imagined herself in a gown of finest cloth as she leaned out of an open window above a courtyard of greenery and clear water. She’d imagined her hair spilling over her shoulders as her breast swelled with the thought of his hand on her waist, his other on her neck. If only they had been different people in a different time…
“Because they’re road warriors,” says Toast whose presence Capable hasn’t even noticed until now. “He would have known.” She shuffles, the fabric of her Warboy pant legs brushing against each other. “She wants to see you, Cheedo.”
“Yeah, you.” Now is Toast’s turn to flop down. She swats at the air until the other girls clear a spot for her. “Maybe wait a few minutes…”
“Right,” but Cheedo is obviously anxious, looking for an explanation.
“But it’s important.”
Cheedo blinks, probably disbelieving that she could ever be involved in anything important. Then she straightens herself and nods, saying everything.
Dag rises to her knees. Her right foot is anxious, eager to to plant on the floor as well. “What ever happens…”
“I know.” Cheedo leans and kisses her forehead as if she were someone strong, someone benevolent, someone not so different. “I know.”
“It’s okay,” Furiosa says, and it’s not exactly a lie; at least she doesn’t mean it to be. She is promising to make it so.
Max is a flurry of frantic, jerking panic, and she steadily reaches her voice out to him like a lifeline. She makes it sound easy, as if he were simply stuck at the bottom of an old, dried up well, and all he needs is a good tug. His heart rate slows. He believes her.
She has such steely confidence that she hasn’t even shifted out of his reach. Either she doesn’t think he will hit her, or she doesn’t care. Max thinks the truth lies more with the latter. He’s hit her enough already, and she must wonder what one more strike should matter. It matters to him. She’s trying to help, pointless though it may be. Funny, she’s the one who called him “fool.”
She’s watching him. Her eyes are grey, no blue, no green. Her eyes are kind behind her mask of steel and resolve. Her eyes are cloudy with distant hurt of her own. She entwined her arms both flesh and metal.
He’s not in her War Rig anymore. He’s on his back, and she is looking at him with a hint of concern, no, fondness. Her face is almost soft. She leans over him enough that he can see her breasts rise as her chest swells with breath. Max swells too as if he were back in grade school, but now he doesn’t have a desk to hide himself under. He hopes she won’t notice; hope is a mistake.
He knows he’s dreaming when she doesn’t draw back or scoff or any of the number of things he imagines the real Furiosa would do in a similar situation. Instead she calls him Fool and sits beside him, her flesh hand draped almost casually over his thigh. He feels her tough even through his pants… at least he thought he was wearing pants. He thought he was wearing at least something.
Max wakes just as she’s reaching for him. He keeps his eyes shut as he tries to conjure the rough skin and calluses of her flesh hand. Her touch makes him ache.
“I see you’re feeling better,” Kaboom snorts.
Max swats away the apparition. “Fuck off.”
“Oh yeah,” Goose echoes, “definitely feeling better,” while Angie shakes her head with disgust. “Might want to hold off til later though. Seems we’ve got company.”
Max starts to roll over but is interrupted from the shame rising in his belly by the rumble of an engine. He crouches, staying low as he drags his stiff body from his shelter he almost remembers making. Now the landscape is blatantly familiar now; he hadn’t meant to come here as he wandered in his delirium, but now he can’t mistake the towering spires of Gastown rising in the distance. Beneath them is a cloud of dust rising and rushing towards him.
Max crouches behind a rock as a watches the road. There’s a war party coming; no raider band is large or organised enough to make sure a defined dust cloud. He presses his ear to the ground to get a better sense of the largest engine and then peeks around to get another look; it’s too large of a party for him to risk facing, even if it his far smaller than the one he helped dispatch mere days before. Now he’s alone.
“Cmon!” Glory orders as she tugs his injured hand, which doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did and has cooled from a volcano to a calm simmer.
There’s no time to further camouflage his shelter, but it already blends well enough into the surroundings that it should only grab the attention of someone intent on scavenging. He kicks some more dust onto the tarp covering his bike and ducks behind a boulder. His good hand is on his weapon, bad hand presses against the stone to steady himself. He waits.
The war party passes without slowing. Max doesn't recognise any of the vehicles other than that they belong to Gastown. He knows news travels quickly out here; have they heard what happened? Are the coming to take advantage? Should he try to ride back to warn her? He staggers as he stands.
"Seriously?" asks Kaboom. "Didn't I tell you to keep yourself alive?" She shakes her head and clicks her tongue. "She'll take care of it , too easy. You, however... you'll be lucky if you make it a click without toppling. Then she’d never forgive me.”
“You aren’t even real.”
“Which would make me part of you? And you like that possibility better?”
Max doesn’t move though. Real or not, the apparition is right. His fever may be broken, but he’s hardly running on a quarter tank.
There is another roar coming from the north, this one a single vehicle but no less intimidating. He dives behind his rock again, cursing himself for not making camp further from the road and for not noticing so much noise earlier. How many raiders have passed him while he slept? How much luck has he wasted just surviving these past few days he barely remembers?
The Gastown party stops and positions its vehicles so they block the road. Engines rev. All artillery points at the oncoming vehicle. It slows, its dust cloud shrinking around it. Max finally gets a good look, and he recognises its double-cabbed shape immediately. Now he wishes he were closer to the road. He needs to see who is driving.
“You can’t possibly think…” Kaboom starts.
“No,” says Angie, “she would. She absolutely would.”
“What a woman…” Goose sighs.
Max is too busy trying to sneak closure to car about their bickering. He just wants a glimpse and the driver. He just needs to know that the whole lot of them wasn’t captured or murdered or ejected or… Max feels his heart thundering in his chest, speeding up as the vehicle slows.
Max creeps along the road, crouched as close to the desert floor as he can manage. His body protests its last few days of inaction, and he’s glad for the noise of so many engines to cover his grunts and grumbles.
He sees the passenger side first, and the person there, shotgun in hand is one of the V-ladies. Max hurries closer still, now longer so focused on his own camouflage as he is on being in range to help. He mentally inventories his pockets and decides that without the right ammunition for his shotgun, the slingshot he was gifted but the Wretched is his best weapon. He gathers stones along the way.
“Identify yourself,” orders an amplified voice.
Two War Boys stand on the long boot of the Citadel vehicle. Behind them a lone figure in brown cloth and leather emerges from the rear window. She removes her hood as her escorts solute her. She is not Furiosa.
She is the youngest of the wives, the one barely more than a child. She seems taller than Max remembers, which means the Boys with her are probably little more than children as well, paint hiding their smooth faces. The girl is painted as well, smudges of black around her eyes, hair braided tightly against her skull. Max can’t make out her words, but she has strength in her bearing between her broad stance and lifted chin.
Then she finishes speaking, and a moment of tense silence follows before the amplified voice responds, “You may proceed,” and the Gastown cars part.
The girl and her escorts shut themselves in the last vehicle of the Citadel carmada. It hesitates at first, perhaps while the girl makes her way back to the driver’s seat, perhaps while her crew congratulates her on her political debut. Either way, Furiosa must not be there; if she could make the trip, she’s too important a player to keep hidden.
“If you care so much, you should have stayed,” says Angie bitterly. “She probably could use the company in the Bloodshed.”
Max swallow the acid rising in his throat as he blocks memories of the Bloodshed. He reminds himself that Imperators don’t go there, that it’s only for the lowly with all its sour smells and loud clamours. She has somewhere quiet and dignified, somewhere she can rest in queenly grace and luxury.
“Like you should be…” Kaboom glares at him for half a moment before whooping in joy at the triumphant Citadel vehicle.
It is moving again, straight for the Gastown gates. Max watches its imposing bulk with a certain pride. At least, they have this much. And someone had to prep the girl, someone had to tell her what to say and what to expect.
He stands tall as he walks back to his shelter and makes no pretence of stealth as he gathers his things. He rolls his swag and tarp, fills his canteen with water from his solar still, and rights his bike.
When the ghosts demand to know what he’s doing he shrugs. “Hungry. Should find food in Gastown.”
“She wants you to do what?” Dag juts out her chin as she moves her hands to her hips.
“Go to Gastown, Bullet Farm too.” Cheedo’s chest tightens as she speaks. Somehow saying the words make them more real. Dag frowns. “And do what exactly?”
That question is harder to answer; Cheedo is supposed to ride in the Gigahorse cab, to speak for the Citadel, for all of them, at the gates, to proclaim their peace and state their prices, to hold their ground in negotiations, to ask hard questions with a soft face and sweet eyes. “Be a Vuvalini.”
“You can’t go,” Dag says indignantly.
“I can,” Cheedo insists. She struggles to hold a steady gaze. “Furiosa thinks I can so I can. She’s the Imperator. She tells us to do things, and we do them.”
“She’s been wrong before. She was wrong about the Green Place.”
“She only said it used to be there, never that it still was. She kept saying that it probably wasn’t...” but Cheedo is starting to doubt. If Dag doesn’t think she can do this, if Dag of all people thinks she’ll fail… “Please Dag, she wants me to go.”
“And I want you here,“ Dag starts to pace, “with me.”
“I don’t want to argue.” Cheedo hugs her own chest as she leans against a wall. “I don’t want to go either, but Furiosa wants it done. Furiosa says three of us have to go, because two by themselves won’t make it. She would rather do it herself, but she knows she can’t. She thinks me going is our best shot. I can’t say no to our best shot.”
“Because everyone needs to do something. I want to do something. I won’t be alone. I’ll have Leona, and Toast, and some of the Pups.”
“I could go,” Dag practically spits at her.
“There’s no more room in the car.”
“I could go in your place.”
“No. We need you here, keeping us fed, and you’re…
“I’m what?” Dag demands.
“You’re the new Keeper, that’s what Furiosa said.” Cheedo isn’t quite sure what is involved in that other than the bag of seeds. “The Old Keeper chose you. You’re too important to go.”
“Oh.” Dag stops pacing and stares at her feet. “I thought you were going to say, because I’m pregnant.
“No.” Cheedo uncrosses her arms just a little. “That’s not it.” She plays with a frayed edge on her shirt. “But if you don’t want to be pregnant anymore… I was reading that giant book Capable found, and maybe some of those seeds can help.”
Now it’s Dag’s turn to lean against the wall. “I’ll think about it,” she says, sounding annoyed, and for a moment Cheedo regrets bringing it up.
“We can ask Iris for help, after I get back.” Cheedo hopes Dag notices the subtle promise.
“It’s only a day, right?” Dag sets her arms on Cheedo’s shoulders.
Cheedo nods and nuzzles her cheek against Dag’s arm. “We should be back in the morning.”
Furiosa’s door swings shut. She watches it from her bed with something akin to disbelief. She is alone, finally alone. She takes a moment and as deep a breath as she can manage. There are no other sounds, no exasperated sighs or turning pages or scraping tools, jus some muffled activity down the hall but in her room itself, only silence. Furiosa eases the air out of her lungs as she forces herself to be calm. If she hurts herself, even tears open a scab, the whole plan will fall apart.
It’s hardly a plan to be fair: get to the lookout platform by tomorrow evening but before anyone can stop her. If she waits until her legs are a bit sturdier and her lungs a bit stronger, she will manage. If she is stable at the platform base with just the right amount of colour in her cheeks, she can talk her way up, get a rifle from the locker and a boost from Kai when his shift is finished; he won’t refuse her.
She should have her voice back by tomorrow night. It’s getting stronger. She takes a swallow of water. “Hello.” She forms the word slowly, trying to make it whole and round without being loud enough to draw attention. Then she waits, just to make sure no one comes.
And if she has to fire a shot? She’ll manage. Her shot will wake someone. There’s something satisfying about the thought of sending a bullet through an intruder at the same time as she tears herself open. No Fool around to fill her back up, and with all the Bloodbags gone… She shuts off the thought before it goes too far. She has practicalities to manage, and there’s no way only one intruder would come anyway. A real threat will come quietly; she remembers the story of Joe and the lizard.
Furiosa stands slowly. Just because she did it yesterday doesn’t make it any easier, and now the stakes have risen. At least now she knows where the pain points lie and how to negotiate them. Yesterday she pissed and exhausted herself. Tonight she will make it further. She stumbles to her wet corner, pisses a dribble, and then makes her way back. She’s dizzy and breathless by the time she lowers her bum onto her bed. Even lowering her chest onto her nest of flat pillows and ragged blankets seems like too much effort, especially since she’s planning to do this all again. So she sits, panting wheezing.
She winces as she reaches for her water and whines as she returns to her previous position. Each sip is like a stone in her belly. She eases them in, one-by-one, to replace the clammy sweat that clings to her skin.
“Again,” she orders to herself.
Furiosa stands again. This time takes more effort. She keeps her hand on her bed and her short arm pressed against her ribs. She stumbles to the trough and then closes her eyes while she waits to either collect herself or to spill her lunch and water. She touches the wall behind the trough to steady herself. Then she shuffles back, practically tripping over her soft slippers.
She takes less care in returning to her bed, just holds her ribs to keep herself from splitting open from the landing. It’s a mistake; the impact sets her head throbbing. She forces a few more sips of water into her belly. Her fingers shake as she replaces the cap on the canteen. Her elbow aches deep in the joint. Then she’s working her way to her feet again.
As long as she’s here alone, she can progress. That way no one will know how quickly her pulse is racing, just how hard she has to work to cross her small room… how many times is this? It’s just a few steps really; the rising sinking are the worst of it and the pivot at the trough not much better. The steps are the easy part.
Furiosa follows the curve of the wall, stopping to lean as she pants. She tries to slow her breaths by sucking them between her teeth. She counts as she draws the air in, then holds it and counts as she lets it out. Then she waits with her lungs empty for an equal measure before easing the air in again.
Yesterday she made it all the way to the Mouth. That she had a walker and then passed out there hardly matters; she needs to do at least that much again and be standing tall afterwards. This is just a warm up; it shouldn’t be this difficult. She would kick the wall in frustration if her shoes weren’t so soft. Instead she sighs and then draws a quick breath; the ensuing pain shoots adrenaline into her bloodstream, and she starts back to bed before it fades.
Furiosa collapses onto her bed again and stares up at the ceiling. She grits her teeth. Does she have another go in her?
In the end it doesn’t matter, footsteps in the hall send her diving back to her bed before the door opens. She barely has time to grab the bladder thing from the shelf and hold it to her mouth. The coughs that follow are real.
“Promise is here,” says Capable curtly. “She won’t give us any extra milk until she sees you.”
Then Capable leaves, and Promise is working herself into the chair. “So you want more milk?” Promise leans forward, elbows on her thighs.
“Not want.” Furiosa coughs as she sets down the exercise contraption. “Need.”
Promise shrugs. “Fine, need.” Then she regards Furiosa in silence as she waits for a further explanation.
“Girls tell… you?” Furiosa fights to keep her voice steady.
“I want to hear it from you.”
“Because you lost the last shipment. It’s feeding the Rock Riders, whomever they are.”
“Plans came apart.”
“Don’t they always?”
Furiosa says nothing except groan as she reaches for the little chalkboard and the ever shrinking nub of chalk. The chalkboard comes easily, and most of her notes about the trade run are still there if slightly less legible. The chalk however has rolled just out of reach. Her eyes water as she struggles to twist her shoulders far enough.
“You’ve really wrecked yourself this time,” Promise says quietly, no judgment, only sadness in her voice, “but I know you don’t want help with that.”
Furiosa grits her teeth and holds her ribs as she stretches the last couple of centimetres until the chalk is safely between her fingers. “Can’t talk much,” she scrawls in one of the few empty spaces left. “Shredded my throat among other parts, but don’t worry.” She turns the board slowly, only then wondering if Promise remembers how to read.
“I know, and I’m not, at least about your injuries. I’ve seen you worse.”
Furiosa smirks like the scar on her lower belly. Yes, she has been much worse.
“But I am worried in other ways.” Promise blends and flexes her fingers and watches how the flesh on them bunches. “Our milk isn’t free. I just want to make sure you understand that.”
“Let me finish. When you worked for Joe, we had to give what you asked because it was as if the request came from Joe himself. Now, well, goodwill is a lot like milk; it will dry up eventually if all the inputs don’t keep flowing.” Now she’s drumming her fingers. “I do what I can, try to sway people to your side, and those girls can too… Those girls worship you.”
“I wish… they wouldn’t.”
“Well, if you push them away, they won’t, and without them singing your praises…”
Promise has been talking to Capable. Of course she has. Furiosa frowns as she wipes away words from the chalkboard, making a great smear of white on her sleeve before replacing them with, “Do you want kindness or do you want survival?”
Promise folds her arms. “I don’t think we can have one without the other.” Then she stands. “I will give you whatever milk I can, and I will ask the others to do the same, but they don’t know you like I do. They only know the Imperator who has been nothing but cruel to them. They’re glad Joe is dead, but they will not be held again.”
Furiosa has no intention of holding anyone. “What do they want?”
“I don’t know. Evidence I guess, something solid. Hope built on words is nothing but breath.”
Furiosa says nothing. She just sinks under the weight of the Citadel; it pushes her flat, presses the air from her chest. She bites her lip and writes, “Then we all want the same thing,” but Promise is already on her way out, and Furiosa just can’t find the words to make her stay.
Toast walks across the loading bridge. Her eyes are down as she holds her steering up for the crowd to see. It doesn’t gleam; instead it’s been given grips of tooled leather and streamers cut from Wifecloth. Cheedo and Leona walk behind her with the newly promoted War Boys. All have grease around their eyes and in the hollows of their cheeks except for Leona who has no youthful innocence to hide; between the smudges lining her eyes and the lines on her face, she looks not unlike a tiger-cat from a picture book.
Cheedo and Toast both have to lift their too large War Boy pants to climb into the Gigahorse. Toast hitches them up by tightening the belts and straps. There’s a certain dignity to the action, almost as if it is the finishing touch of dressing herself and not nervous fidgeting. Cheedo tugs handfuls of the stiff cloth as she walks. Then one chain catches another, and she almost trips before regaining her balance. She flashes her teeth in a shy smile at the only Boy close enough to help her and then scrambles up the rest of the way to the cab on her own.
The Gigahorse is bursting with produce, dragging pods of milk and water, not even a full shipment’s worth because it’s not a hauling vehicle. No matter, the wealth is staggering because it’s all the Citadel has; it’s all the hope they can manage. The green leaves contrast vividly against the fiery stone.
Furiosa raises her own hand and short arm and mouths the lines she has been given along with the others: “Bless our Peace Ladies. Bless our War Boys. Guard them on the road.”
She feels bare without the prosthesis, no metal fingers to intertwine with the flesh ones. The crowd recognises the gesture just the same. They even return it to her in their lumpy, ill-shapen way, their palms cupping where they should be straight, their fingers making not stiff, even cylinders but asymmetrical branches. She doesn’t think she’s seen anyone lower than the Pups even attempt it.
She knows this is how things must be. Her anxiety about making their plans so public doesn’t matter. The Citadel is used to knowing where it’s warriors are sent. It’s used to believing that no secrets are kept. At least the words are different; she is blessing, not saluting, even if that is the gesture. She doesn’t think the people will think so deeply about the words, but at least the girls have. If she must say something, she prefers to be fed words.
The strangest hum rises from the crowd. It’s low and primal, rhythmic and steady, not unlike the drumbeats of Vuvalini rituals long lost. It might just be in Furiosa’s head, maybe damage her ears have taken from the road, maybe Iris’s drugs.
Capable’s hands are above her head, fingers interlaced. She beams as she presses her palms together. “We ask V8 to send the Driver. May he ride beside our War Boys and Peace Ladies and keep them safe in their travels. May he right the course of the world as he changed our Imperator’s heart.”
Then Capable sends the water rushing forth like in one of Miss Giddy’s stories, the one about water from the rock and the bush that burns but somehow doesn’t. Her eyes flash hurt in Furiosa’s direction, betraying how little she believes her own words. At least in that she and Furiosa are in agreement. A cruel, hateful person: those were her words, and they are nothing if not true.
The platform lowers, and Furiosa counts the seconds until she can retreat to the shadows. Her long arm is burning, the ache in the crease turned to a constant, gnawing heat. She lowers it as soon as the V8 gesture is finished and presses it against her body to ward off the morning chill. She watches the Wretched below, gazes towards the Milkers above, and lets her eyes drift over the white faces peering from the nooks and crannies. She looks everywhere except ahead; she can’t stand to watch the Gigahorse drive away with half her surviving people.
One white face sends her retreating to the shadows. She can’t even be sure she’s really seeing him; her eyes are normally good, but not that good, not even under the best of circumstances. She cranes her neck for a better look as she counts the windows on the officers’s level. It’s his room alright; if he’s there, he’s watching. Furiosa steps out of view before Ace can see her falter.
Everyone is fidgety now that all the guns and magazines in the Gigahorse have been loaded. The road to Gastown isn’t long, but the group’s arms are few: a pair of pistols for Toast, a long rifle for Leona, and a pile of various small arms in the center for whomever might need them. It’s an almost comical scene: the most feared vehicle in the Wasteland being driven by three women and a cadre of Pups too short to reach the pedals.
The road stretches before them: long, flat, golden against the stark blue of morning. It won’t be a long drive, at least not this leg of it. The spires of Gastown are already visible as they rise in the distant haze. The road is eerily quiet and empty, nowhere to hide.
Cheedo leans back in her seat so the lush greenery emerging from the bags at her sides cover her shoulders. She runs her fingers over the edges of one especially large, crisp leaf as she tries to ignore the flickers of panic in her belly. She counts her way through a long, slow breath the way Furiosa taught her: four in, hold two, four out, wait two . The car smells like green.
“I have to pee,” Cheedo finally mumbles.
“What?” Toast glares at the road in her best Furiosa impression. “We just left.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“We can’t stop.” Leona’s eyes wander to the Pups taking turns cranking out push-ups on the boot. “It’s probably just nerves.”
Cheedo knows that too; it doesn’t make her feel any better. She crosses her legs and withdraws further into the produce. Then she draws a deep breath of green-smelling air that makes her sneeze. The chalkboard containing her script shakes in her hands. She's always gotten stage fright, even for the little plays Joe would demand. Angharad used to relish the opportunity to sneak subversive material under his nose, but Cheedo was always too busy just trying to remember her lines. She was always happy to take a small part while Angharad took the lead. Cheedo remembers being entranced by her sister’s impassioned monologues and only later realising that there was no acting involved.
“Either of you girls ever been to Gastown before?” Leona asks.
“No,” says Cheedo.
“I have.” Toast accelerates just a little.
“Do you think anyone will recognise you?”
Toast stares at the spires ahead. “I was no one worth recognising.”
“If anything, they’ll know us from when they came to the Citadel, from the parties.” Cheedo remembers the spreads of food set before them and the other nobles of the alliance: cakes made of seeds and honey, cured meats cut thin and coated in spices, pastries of bright berries and mothers’ cheese… She can’t imagine her face as any competition against such finery.
Leona doesn’t ask for details. She just watches the girls’ faces with a steady expression. Cheedo thinks she might see a hint of veiled sympathy. Cheedo can’t imagine why: the parties were glorious, everything she’d been promised when she was told she would become a Wife. She and her sisters really did live the high life then. Whether they were putting on a play or simply eating dinner at their raised table behind the Immortan they were untouchable.
Toast nods. “The People Eater and Bullet Farmer got too drunk to remember us.”
Cheedo is still day dreaming about those parties. “They’re dead anyway. Max killed them.”
Toast loosens her grip on the wheel long enough to flex her fingers. “But their guards weren’t always drunk, and might not be dead. They won’t take us seriously if they recognise us, probably worse than that. We should use different names.” Then she softens. “Were you born Cheedo?”
Cheedo looks up from under her brown leather hood and nods, “Or at least I don’t remember ever being anything else.”
“I know I had a real name once.” Toast fixes her eyes ahead. “Funny, I don’t remember what it was. My family called me Sprout and Sprog and Bub and Bug, everything but my real name.”
Leona laughed. “My people pick our names. If you’re gonna be one of us, you might do the same.”
“Like what?” Cheedo asks. There are so many names in the world.
“Pick something from a story,” offers Leona, “or someone real, or the natural world. It can be anything these days.”
“Right,” Toast snorts.
“What if I pick the wrong one?” Cheedo can’t imagine being anything other than Cheedo, just like she can’t imagine Toast being anything other than Toast.
“This is just for today,” Toast assures her.
“And even if you do decide to keep it, you can still change it. It’s not like you have government records to worry about.” Leona laughs to herself at the girls’ confusion. “You’re free. Be who you want to be.”
Toast shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, just not Joe’s Wife Cheedo. For now, keep studying your lines.”
Cheedo nods obediently, as if she needs any more reminders that everything depends on her. The chalkboard in her lap has gotten smudged. She wipes away a bit of chalk with her thumb in a vain effort to clarify a word. “I am one of the Vuvalini of the Citadel,” she whispers.
“And you,” Toast says to Leona, “eyes on the road.”
“Yes, ma’m,” Leona replies with a smirk.
Cheedo’s thoughts return to Angharad who refused to be Splendid but would gladly be anyone else if it meant sneaking subversion into one of the plays Joe ordered for himself and his guests. She’d been a girl named Dorothy with red shoes and the rainbow song. She once played a girl named Antigone who was buried alive in defiance. The last play had been careless. There had been no part for Cheedo, but she didn’t mind. She was too scared anyway, too scared that Joe would see Angharad’s fits with all their fire and conviction for exactly what they were. All the while Angharad’s Joan was waving her hands and declaring, “If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there'd be no need for tinkers!” with her rage aimed not at Joe at all, but at Furiosa behind him.
Cheedo wishes she could be like that, all her fear transforming so the words she spits from it are bold rather than quaking. Joan was small and young and always doubted, and least that’s what the script said: “a slip of a girl.” Miss Giddy said a slip was a thin, delicate bit of clothing, soft and fragile, never meant to be seen on its own, always hidden behind stronger cloth. Angharad was no slip of anything. Joan was small and young and was always doubted, the lowest of the low as gods seem to prefer.
“I am one of the Vuvalini of the Citadel. You may call me Joan. We come to engage in peaceful trade and to deliver to you the supplies you are due. We request an audience with…”
Leona chuckles to herself. “Take me to your leader. We come in peace.”
"What?" snaps Toast.
“That’s what aliens say. Don’t tell me you don’t know about aliens.” Leona shrugs. “Anyway, best case, it sounds too soft, and they’ll try to take advantage of us; worst, they won’t believe, us and they’ll attack first. We aliens say it they're always lying.”
Cheedo tries again to clean the smudged chalk from her script. “But we are trustworthy.”
“Are we? We killed their leader, People Eater you said? That bloke had a good name. He knew what I’m talking about.”
“We don’t really care what they believe.” Toast protests. “We care what they do.”
“Exactly, their beliefs affect what they do. We got this rumour started once that we were all lesbian witches who captured men for milking.”
“What?” Cheedo giggles. “You can’t milk men.”
“Uh…” Toast groans.
“Fuck right you can.” Leona smirks again.
Cheedo feels her cheeks warm. “And then what?”
“C’mon Cheedo, make babies.”
“Or eat it,” Leona says dryly.
“What? Why waste the calories? It’s sweet and salty, and they aren’t going to miss it.” Leona sounds an awful lot like Dag, and Cheedo makes a point to make sure they spend more time together because they would surely get on.
Toast tips her head back. “You didn’t…”
“No, no, we never kept or captured a man for milking, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t avoid more than a few battles with men who thought we might.”
Toast sighs, “So how did you introduce yourselves.”
“We didn’t. We just let the stories grow on their own.”
Cheedo rubs away the first few lines of her script and replaces them with, “We come from the Citadel with the next shipment. We trust the guzzoline is ready for the trade.” Then she erases the words and stares at the blank slate and only sees the ghosts of wrong words stare back.
The Gastown gates loom black and jagged before them. They part for a war party pass through and then close again. The land is still except for the dust the party kicks into the sky. It mixes with the smog there and hangs in a a dingy, yellow-grey cloud that smells like rot and burning. Cheedo buries her face in the green produce leaves to keep herself from gagging.
“We must have triggered a sentry.” Toast straightens her back, gives the horn three good honks, and revs the engine in some combination of greeting and challenge. Then she switches to reverse gear just in case they need to make a speedy exit.
The war party swarms around them, but just as Furiosa said they would, they leave an opening behind the Gigahorse. Gastown isn’t looking for a fight. They probably don’t have the vehicles or warriors to spare. Toast notices it too; she flashes a smile at Cheedo with her eyes while keeping her mouth steady as steel.
A figures emerges atop the lead vehicle. “Identify yourself,” he barks through a megaphone. He looks like an ordinary Guz Boy, unpainted skin, bare chest, pants and mask of leather black as oil.
“Buckle up kids, here we go,” Leona says as she opens the latch on the rear window.
“Go on,” Toast says with a nudge and a nod to Cheedo and to the Pups. “Fang it.”
“You got this.” Leona pats Cheedo’s knee with one hand as she holds her rifle on the Guz Boy with the other.
The air is even fouled now. Cheedo clears her throat and suppresses a cough as she crawls through the opening. The machetes on her back require a bit of maneuvering to keep from catching on the roof, but between Cheedo and the Pups they manage. Then she straightens herself as she rises and prays to whomever might be listening that no one sees her shaking. The Pups brace themselves against her legs to keep her balanced. Then Cheedo is standing tall over the Gigahorse roof. She pries her white-knuckled fingers free from the metal, lifts away her hood, and raises her hands slowly. They meet overhead, fingers interlaced, palms cupped.
Cheedo finds her best Imperator voice. “We have brought supplies in terms with the standing treaty: aqua-cola, produce, Mothers’s milk.”
“Hold,” says the Guz Boy, and before Cheedo can start to sink below he adds, “Where we can see you.”
Cheedo nods, adding her best Toast glower. Everything sits in suspended animation, from the Pups as still as statues to Toast’s hands glamped in the wheel to the engine impatiently idling beneath all of them. Cheedo lets her breath out slowly through her mouth.
“Proceed,” says the Guz Boy.
Toast gives Cheedo’s pant leg a tug as the black gate opens in the distance.