The day the message had arrived from the Verdees was one Capable would never forget. Under the guidance of their Vuvalini mentors, the wives had been tending the new seedlings, half shaded under tarps on the peaks when a bird fluttered up. Katya’s indrawn breath signalled something significant was happening, and she held up her hand to prevent them from startling the creature. She slowly reached out her palm, waiting with bated breath until the bird hopped on and Katya could remove the little paper rolled against its leg. Toast and Cheedo loped down the stairs and returned with Furiosa in record time—they could not afford to let the little ball of feather and fluff get away, as Katya said that sending a return message with it was the only way they had to respond. Furiosa read the enigmatic request for a trade in seeds that few in the Wasteland knew they possessed and looked long and hard at Katya and Mazza, who could only shrug. There was no way of knowing how the information about the seeds had come into the Verdees hands, let alone to the point of requesting a particular varietal. The Dag, full of child and just about to pop, looked ravenously at the message. Anything to do with the seeds ate her up and spit out strange dreams that she seemed to half-believe were prophesy.
“How did it find us?” Toast asked in a hushed voice, eyes narrowed at the oddity of such a fine looking and well-plumed bird. Katya shrugged.
“Verdees have their ways.”
Capable turned to Toast, bubbling with ideas. “Maybe they were in touch with Joe, maybe they trained the birds with him. You could ask Corpus about it.”
Toast looked at her sourly. She sat with Corpus sometimes, something none of the other wives could do, but that didn’t mean she liked it. None of them could bear the twisted way he assumed they shared in his grief at the death of his father, but Toast endured his delusions because every time she did she was rewarded with valuable information. It came up as tidbits in Corpus’ stories, like where the keys to the liquor vault were and the name of the mechanic that had installed the hydroponsys and when and how he died. Little things were mentioned, without particular import, but they gave Toast a foreboding feeling of being played for a fool.
Nevertheless, that night when Toast went down after dinner she brought up the bird with paper on its leg. Instead of responding, he told Toast the story of what happened to Cheedo’s daughter. Not off the cliff with the other girls after all. The healthy baby Cheedo had called Maia (I named her after you, Cheedo had whispered in Capable’s ear after all her tears were spent) had been sent to Gas Town as part of a major trade for guzzoline. She’d been bundled off with Joe’s third best wet-nurse to grow into a Breeder. Toast said she played it cool as Aqua Cola straight from the source, not reacting, not wanting to give Corpus any indication that his words meant anything to her. Capable knew she would never have been able to resist jumping up as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but somehow Toast finished out their game of cheskers and blandly bid him goodnight.
Toast hadn’t rushed at all, just went off and found Furiosa, who left on their fastest bike before Toast had even had the chance to wake Capapble and the Dag. She asked whether or not they thought she should tell Cheedo or let her go on sleeping until they knew if the story was true.
Capable had wanted to go to Corpus then, to demand to know if it was the truth, but Toast had shut her down. None of them had Toast’s poker face. Corpus was expert at reading those around them. Like Toast, he relied on knowledge of the world to get by. Unlike her, he’d had decades to sharpen his power games and knew how to cast his line and reel it in. Toast said she worried she was already being taken for a ride. So they let Cheedo sleep and stayed up all night hovering over her sleeping form, even Toast giving in and joining the Dag in her prayers.
But Furiosa had gone to Gas Town armed to the teeth, and come out riding shotgun in Max’s Interceptor with a wide-eyed but stoic toddler strapped between. She’d lost her ride and half a tank of guzzoline, but they had many empty vehicles in the Citadel, and at that point zero lump-free baby girls, so the costs were mourned only by the Shop Boss who totalled the stores
They sat together the next day, all the widows and their saviors from the Fury Road surrounding Cheedo as she was reunited with her little daughter. Everyone was crying but Max, who hung off to one side with a strange dead look in his eyes and of course Furiosa who sat with the women but silently watched him from the corner of her eye. The tiny girl looked confused but tentatively pleased by their attention, like Cheedo was the answer to a question she hadn’t dared ask even in her innocence. After a while, when it seemed like being fussed over was starting to upset the child, Cheedo took her down to their rooms for a nap which the Mothers assured her little ones needed every afternoon. The talk turned to the little bird of the day before, the puzzle of Corpus’ evasion, and everything anyone could remember hearing about the Verdees.
Maybe they were a group, a gang, a settlement, though if so no one knew where. When they spoke they sounded antique, Mazza said. Like the voices on a barely-remembered music player from her youth when such things still existed. They covered themselves completely, so maybe they were hideous to look upon. Maybe they were dark-skinned like Toast’s people, though most of them had died out or moved on from these parts, Immortan Joe having waged war long and hard against any who looked unlike his people. The Verdees however remained mysterious, sometimes making meetings like this one to trade, but never with the usual guzzoline or ammunition or food. Always information, and occasionally miraculous anachronistics everyone had thought disappeared from the world with the water and good earth.
There were few things more frustrating to Capable than an unsolved mystery. Maybe meeting the Verdees would give them something more than just the information on the Bullet Farm as promised. If they wanted seeds, which she was fairly sure was what Furiosa had twisted into a little parcel in her vest, surely they knew something about growing them. Capable leveled her rifle at the clouds of dust approaching. Two vehicles, it looked like. In the days since the bird arrived, she’d asked and asked the Vuvalini elders what to expect from the Verdees. They’d set up the meeting in the most fantastical fashion Capable could comprehend, so she was primed for miracles. People from the stories with blue hair and high heeled shoes who spoke to the stars. Tiny boxes that would fit in the palm of the hand and tell them all the secrets of the universe. If she got to make a wish like in the stories, Capable swore to herself she would ask about the seeds, about how to spread the green. No more thoughts of Nux and whether or not he’d made it to Valhalla as he’d hoped. She’d witnessed the crash—Rictus thrown from the roof as the Doof Wagon crushed the war rig from behind. The cab flipped completely, and Nux hadn’t been thrown so he must have been crushed inside. She’d watched it all, just like he’d wanted, and she would carry the sight, sounds, and feeling inside her forever.
But now was not the time to dwell. The two clouds of dust had stopped and settled, but just one of them resumed forward motion. Capable reflexively ran a hand over her belly where a tiny foot pressed outward against her inner flesh. The baby had quickened about a month before, and now seemed to become active whenever it was least convenient. At least she didn’t have to piss. Yet.
“They’re holding back reserves,” Furiosa related, sounding perturbed. She unstrapped the flare gun from her vest and held it ready.
“Are you going to call for Max?” Capable asked. Most of the folk at the Citadel were unsure if Max’s presence was a good or bad omen, as he usually only appeared in the most dire circumstances. Capable, however, always felt best with Max there to back them up. Furiosa could handle anything, but Max would help her in a way that no one else quite managed, and Furiosa deserved that help. She should have anything that eased her burden, and Max’s presence seemed to Capable to be the only thing that really did. They all tried, the girls and the Vuvalini, but Max filled a place that none of the rest of them seemed to reach.
“Only if necessary,” Furiosa said.
“Better decide, or he’ll be too far off to get back in anything like enough time,” Toast observed. Katya nodded her support of that statement. Mazza took the spyglass Furiosa held out to her and hummed.
“Hard to say. Doesn’t look like a threat, maybe just some insurance, but you never know,” Mazza said.
Furiosa turned toward Capable. “You and Mazza, in the rig. Toast, you stand at the rear, ready to jump in if necessary. Katya, at my right.”
Capable nodded and climbed into the driver’s seat. She’d been learning to drive the rig from Furiosa, and before she’d started showing she’d spent precious time down in the caves working on it and the other machines with the black thumb revheads. Then one day one of the more observant of them had noticed her bump. Looking into the dark hollow that housed his worried eyes she’d foolishly assured him that it wasn’t the lumps—just a baby. Someone had given a shocked cry, a prayer to the Immortan for his child, and she’d gotten so furious that she’d screamed over their fervor that it wasn’t Joe’s. It was Nux, one of them! Silence had reigned, until someone confusedly questioned, “Nux? What do you mean Nux? Nux the Klutz? That half-dead schlanger what owes me six sparkplugs? That Nux?” She’d cautiously shrugged, someone else had screamed “How is that possible?” At that juncture an incredulous warboy had set something on fire to make his feelings known and she’d prudently grabbed the lift she’d come down on before anybody got their hands on her. The ‘boys proceeded to riot and it had taken all of the Vuvalini and the Organic Mechanic gassing the place from up top to subdue them.
Capable’d felt terrible under Toast and Cheedo’s scornful glares (how could she be so stupid?) but Furiosa had told her not to be so hard on herself. The ‘boys had to learn how bodies worked somehow, and they’d been too tense anyway, needing something to take the pressure off. The riot strangely enough had done so. Capable thought it was sad how they’d never even known they could be part of starting a new life, how confused Nux had been when she’d told him she’d rather have a hundred of his babies than one of Joe’s. But the crazed lust of the warboys was slaked without any knowledge of its potential repercussions until that day she’d let the cat out of the bag. This trip to meet the Verdees was the first time she’d been let down since and they’d still kept her hidden in the backseat as they set off in the rig. Capable had relished the chance to be on the open road. The day had been clear, but hot, and she was regretting the thick canvas coveralls that Furiosa had dumped on her bed last night with a pointed look. Mazza had made everyone but Furiosa cover their heads for the expedition, so Capable felt even more stifled than she might have otherwise.
Now Furiosa stayed tensed all the many minutes, with a spyglass in her prosthetic and the flare gun at the ready in her right hand. The approaching vehicle was a less-than-impressive battered range rover. It looked somehow strange and Capable’s brows knitted. Why, it hadn’t ever been modded! Not so that you could see, anyway. She hadn’t thought there was a vehicle left in the world that someone’s enterprising hands hadn’t improved upon. It was a dull tan color—nothing like the dark wrecks the revheads polished up black and burnt or brightened with paint whenever they got their hands on some.
It had plenty of dents and wear where the paint had flecked away, but someone had taken care to go over it in another lighter beige color, sealing the metal away from rust. Capable’s mind wanted to think about Nux, what he’d have to say about the strange vehicle, but she gave it a nudge off and breathed in steady and present. Thirty paces off the vehicle stopped, and someone got out. Man or woman it was hard to say. They were about Capable’s height and dressed in the same ragged clothing as most in the Wasteland, with goggles and a ratty brown scarf obscuring the face.
There seemed to be no one else in the car, unthinkably dangerous to Capable’s mind. What would the lone driver do if they captured him? Maybe that’s what the other car was for. Maybe there was some huge weapon trained on them right now. She looked nervously to the distance, but the other vehicle was too far off for her to see clearly. It must be one hell of a long-ranger to have trained on them from that distance, though she supposed the rig made a decent target out in the open as it was.
Capable’s eyes were fixed on the stranger. Something seemed off with them, much like the vehicle behind. A few things were slung across the figure’s chest. Two straps, crossed the chest to bags, one a long tube-like thing that rested at the hip and the other a more standard messenger type. A yellowy-white-brown thing, like plastic but not so scraped and dirty, extended down past the other hip and over the shoulder. This was long and narrow, gleaming and smooth, the top and the bottom were arched, with a narrower place in the middle. If it was a weapon it was a weird one, but the shape was familiar somehow. Capable wished she could see the back or how it was attached.
“Vuvalini?” called the figure. A man’s voice, then Capable decided. Somehow she’d expected otherwise.
Furiosa nodded. It seemed unnecessary to confirm his identity, as it would be nearly impossible for anyone else to intercept and decode their bizarre message. Still, Furiosa demanded, “Passcode.”
The bundle of browns and beiges closed the distance until he could easily be heard when he said, “Waste not, want not. You?”
Furiosa’s brow furrowed. “A stitch in time saves nine.”
Capable looked to Mazza at this exchange, but even the other woman merely shrugged at this nonsense. Perhaps it helped with the secrecy, but she was sure Furiosa felt foolish spouting bizarre almost-rhymes.
Her hand went to her vest and she withdrew the seed packet. She carefully unwrapped it to show the seeds. She gently transfered the packet to her prosthetic, pulled one out and deliberately placed it in the stranger’s gloved hand as Katya and Toast keep their weapons trained on him.
“So you have them, and the Citadel’s aquifers as well? Excellent.” The voice sounded strange, vowels round and consonants neatly clipped. “Though I should warn you that yours was not the only message we received back. Someone tried hard to discredit your message the night after we communicated.”
Furiosa nodded slowly. “Some remnants of the old power structure remain.”
“Careful about that,” the stranger said wryly. “That poison needs to be contained.”
“It seemed unnecessary at the time to raze it completely, but I will consider your council,” Furiosa said stiffly. Capable’s mind raced. This must have been Corpus’ doing, but how? Who would have helped him? There were few who attended him these days, and none around who had not pledged their allegiance to Furiosa.
“I said contained,” the stranger said sharply. “Not eradicated. You can see where that sort of thinking has gotten us.” He spread out his hands, indicating the Wasteland around them.
Furiosa nodded. “Then you have news for us about the Bullet Farm?”
The stranger waved the hand without the seed dismissively. “Breathing their last. Somehow the last major stores of black powder ended up mixing with the water tanker delivered from the Citadel. You might have your friend with the Interceptor to thank for that.”
Furiosa raised a brow at the stranger’s familiar tone. Capable could just barely see it in her line of sight, but the stranger laughed.
“Once we’d confirmed the Vuvalini undisputedly controlled the Citadel and the Seeds and intended to turn their thoughts to abundance over scarcity, it was decided the time was right to entrust you with these.” He reached behind him into his satchel and Katcha readjusted her grip on her weapon. His hand came back out with two over-sized thick paper backed books clutched in his hand. They had to be serious antiques, but the covers were still shiny and smooth in the light of the desert. Capable could hardly contain her curiosity, and even Furiosa could not immediately tamp down her confused expression. The stranger paused.
“Er, forgive me, but you can still read out here, yes?” he offered the books to Furiosa, seemingly unconcerned as to whether she was going to hand over the rest of the seeds he’d ostensibly come to bargain for.
“Yes we can read,” she snapped. “Who are you, and what do you mean, ‘out here’?”
He waved the books at her again and Katya indicated with the muzzle of her rifle that he was to place them on the sand between Furiosa and himself. As he knelt with a huff she slowly mirrored him, putting out the packet of seeds. As soon as she set them down, the stranger snagged the seed packet and both straightened, Furiosa tense and the man before her relaxed. He tossed the twisted paper up in the air and caught it.
“Good old Lycium Barbarum,” he said conversationally. “They’ll be a welcome addition to your diet I’d wager. We’ve got a different strain, but ‘lifeberry’ is considered a decent cultivar. Make sure the young plants get a sunshade during the hottest part of the day for the first two or three summers. Plenty of water, but don’t drown them. They like a half sand half peat growing medium, so don’t over-fertilize. If we find these like anything different we’ll let you know in the usual way.”
Toast had left her post by the back of the rig, drawn by this assertion of arcane knowledge. Furiosa stared at him, thoughts rapidly flying through her head.
Capable’s hand was on the catch of the door, as captivated as Toast by the man’s ready generosity with exactly the kind of facts they needed. Mazza grabbed her shoulder, warning her to stay inside.
“Well, that’s enough for now. Until next time, ladies.” He nodded his covered head at Furiosa and Katya, then again at Toast and Mazza and herself in the rig. The figure turned and strode back toward his vehicle. A string ran from one end to the other of the yellowy thing that stuck out diagonally across his body. What was it?
Toast grabbed Furiosa’s arm. “You can’t let him go—we’ve got to capture him and take him back to the Dag. We need him!”
Furiosa shushed her quickly, but Toast leveled her pistol at the figure with a shout. He turned back toward them with a huff.
“Honestly now, let’s not resort to threats and violence. What did you think the books were for?”
Toast’s eyes grew wide, and she scrambled across the sand to snatch them up.
Rather than departing, the stranger paused. “On a different subject: this may sound odd, but have you heard of a woman called Capable? I know it’s perishingly odd, but perhaps it’s a nickname or pet name of some sort—”
Mazza had tightened her hold on Capable but this time she popped the handle and slipped down the step. This was too much! Was this the miracle she’d been dreaming of? How could they possibly know of her? Was it true then about the magical screens that told everything they wanted to know?
“Me! It’s me. I’m Capable!” she rushed forward as quickly she could. The stranger’s goggled face didn’t let her know what he was thinking, but then several things happened at once.
Furiosa shouted, “Back in the rig!” as she hefted the flare gun once more and discharged it into the sky. Capable fought against the startle that wanted to shake her body at the sudden sound. She put her hand against her belly to quiet the baby whose reaction couldn’t be controlled.
The stranger whipped the yellowy thing from his body and popped the top of the cylinder at his hip in one fluid motion and something soared through the air into the sky back toward the waiting vehicle. Capable’s breath caught. It was a bow, so then the thing in the sky was an arrow! She recalled the illustrations in the battered copy of Robin Hood that she and the others had read to each other during the interminable days as Joe’s wives in the Citadel. The books were still there she supposed, but the past months since Joe’s demise had them sifting through the piles for every scrap of non-fiction they could lay their hands on.
Still weirdly fearless, the stranger reached up and pulled the scarf and goggles from his head. He was tanned with neatly cropped brown hair and turned a blazing smile on them that revealed shockingly white and even teeth. He didn’t approach, but his manner was bizarrely genial.
“So that crazy wanker wasn’t completely delusional! Pardon my language Miss Capable, I’m just rather shocked to discover you actually exist. But pleased, very pleased indeed!”