The Pants of Many Mothers by Dirk Keaton
A Mad Max x Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Story
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We all knew the Keeper of the Seeds came from a place beyond the green space, beyond the salt expanse. For years she had said so little, but as she grew old, time loosened her tongue. We sometimes heard her call it Beth Esda, but we could scarcely understand the things she said about it. Beth Esda, she saidd, was by Washing Town, a city between two rivers where people used the water to play in. Young girls ran through it as it sprayed from holes in the street, and older ones paddled through it in canooze and kie-yaks. In the river was a green place, greener than the one we called by that name, where the paths wound narrow through plants so thick they could choke out the light. There was a time when no one would have believed her, few believed her still, but for her sincerity, our respect. Later, we believed her for the pants.
Capable had them first. Soon after we returned to The Citadel (which we came to call the City of Del, wanting to wash the taint of Immortan Joe off all things) she began spending time in the garages with the tradies and those war boys who had stayed behind in Immortan Joe's final battle. Her first days among the black thumbs were hard. They were respectful, more so than most of the men and women who followed her with eyes envious, salacious, or hateful, the sweating one in the dirty gray coveralls who rubbed against her while she stood waiting for necessities distributed from the opened pantries of Immortan Joe. She tried to watch at a distance at first, but the tradies made many supplicating gestures and talked of their work with great pride, showing off condensers which gathered the water, the repairs they had made on broken war rigs and trucks which Immortan Joe had left behind and now were the backbone of Del's army. "Teach me" she asked, but it was no use. Bananna Bender, a war boy whose neck was so ringed with lumbs that he could barely move it, said "Teach ye what lady. You're a goddess ye are. We got nothing to teach ye."
She stayed back and watched a war boy named Hoon work on a motor. She pretended to herself she was learning from his ministrations, tried to pick out a pattern, but there was none that she could find.
A week passed like this with Capable staring intently, the ratchet and clang of tools the only sound. She felt foolish, and thoughts of rejoining the other former wives, finding some other use of her time, grew more and more frequent. Then, Hoon broke the silence, "Goddess, Goddess. Would ye spread the flux for me. I can't barely hold it."
He indicated a can and paint brush with a hand that had developed reddening blisters of no certain origin.
Once she realized what he was saying, she skittered over and did as she was told, spreading an amber colored goo on the pipes he indicated. After all of the loose ends of the pipes were coated, he appraised her work with a satisfied click of his tongue and asked her to unwind some solder. He demonstrated how to hold it and lit a guzzoline  torch. It burned blue. That flame was the most beautiful thing Capable had ever seen. They worked like this, fashioning a roll cage for what seemed like hours, the goggles she had worn since her escape from Immortan Joe fogging in the heat, until a smoky smell interrupted them. The crepe of Capable's wrap was on fire. She threw it to the ground, and both stomped at it madly.
They were catching their breath and coughing from the smoke when Banana Bender's great hand smacked Hoon. He doubled over. With a second swipe of his enormous paw, Hoon was down.
She ran screaming. When she sat down in her cell, she let out a second scream, this one in anger at herself. She beat her mattress and cried. She knew she should have stayed there and explained. She knew she should have never gone there to begin with. Hoon was surely dead. She knew what the War Boys could do.
It was all she could do to walk through the door the next day. Banana Bender was the first to see her and Hoon skulked behind her looking only a little worse for yesterday's beating. The expression on Bender's face was severe "Goddess, i can't get rid of ye. If i can't get rid of ye, then i must make a black thumb of ye. Hoon, show her the ropes today. Then, show up tomorrow in some decent togs." His eyes smiled. "I don't want ye starting any more fires."
She and Hoon worked late into the evening, and when she left, her clothes were more black than white.
Toast and Carmana of the Vuvalini had taken charge of cataloging and distributing the stores of Immortan Joe to the Citizens of Del. Toast always had a good head for numbers, and though she had never learned to write, she picked up the script that Carmina taught her quickly.
Toast stifled a laugh when she saw Capable. "i won't even bother to ask what you need." She rifled through orderly stacks of clothes and pulled out a shearer's shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
"They belonged to Keeper of the Seeds," she said as she handed over the jeans. "She was so tiny, but they look like they might fit you."
Most of the clothes worn at Del were old, remnants of the time long ago, patched, darned, and thin most everywhere. The pants, however, the pants seemed...not new...but not worn out...not as old as the other clothes...It was as if they had been made on a Pants Farm not so long ago and treated as Immortan Joe treated his treasured things. They seemed perfect in every way.
They were wide, straight, and stiff with cargo pockets at mid thigh. The shirt was cool and soft. She looked in the mirror, a gilded thing taken from Immortan Joe's chambers. She liked what she saw. For so much of her life, she had been exposed, her limbs things stared at by Immortan Joe and his cronies. She envied the tradies who were proud of their arm and legs, proud of their strength. In those clothes, she thought, she might some day feel the same way.
"Get me a pair of blunnies" she smiled.
They rode through the desert. The sandy ground was packed hard, and the thick tires clung to it almost as tightly as a road. See smiled at Hoon who rode alongside her on a dirt bike, and he mouthed "fang it." She opened the clutch. 50, 60, 70 miles an hour. She whooped, and Hoon yelled, "This is Valhalla."
She and Hoon had spent the past few weeks building their buggy. It sat one, and Hoon had insisted she be the first one to drive it. This was one of the kindest things she could imagine. She had learned so much on this buggy, how to solder and weld, how to change a tube, how to replace a spark plug, what the sound of a healthy engine was. This knowledge seemed more than everything she had learned before. This, a tear running down into the gulf between her goggles and her face, was the first thing she'd ever really made, the first thing she felt like she'd ever really done.
Ahead were a stand of trees, or what were once trees, now husks, all desiccated and some charred . Two figures emerged from them. Covered in dark rags, they vaulted on long poles flying towards them. Capable pulled a hard left, and the buggy rolled, rolled three or four times before landing upside down.
Her head and neck ached, and her very bones seemed sore. When she unclasped her buckle and tried to get out, she landed hard. She was sure this only made matters worse, but her adrenaline was pumping so hard she couldn't be sure. She crawled out of the buggy's open window.
Two ragged figures rushed up next to her. A blade flashed. She put up her hands instinctively to keep the blow away from get face and was rewarded with searing pain in her palm and wrist. The other smacked her on the side of her head, and she saw brief dazzling lights as she crumpled. Then, she heard Hoon yell, "Goddess!" He ran swinging a long spanner. They deflected his clumsy blows easily, but he pressed the attack and circled towards her. Still feeling feeble, Capable reached into her sagging cargo pocket and produced a small, toylike pistol, a treasure she swiped from Joe's war rig. She fired twice without bothering to line the creatures in her sight, not that she knew how. It had the desired effect. The two wraiths turned tail and ran.
"Why dinya tell me ye had a fookin gun," his pounding heart slurring his words
She didn't answer. Hoon grabbed her by her still bleeding hand, and she climbed on the back of his motorcycle and clutched him. After few miles, he stopped, and she slid off feeling weaker from the loss of blood. The white powder that adorned his skin made her blood stand out in steaks and rivulets on his chest. Hoon pulled a stained bandana from his throat and tied it right around her wrist. "Don't die on me goddess," he said. She thought of Nux, the sweet-natured war boy who died to save them. She leaned her head on Hoon's shoulder. He stiffened, but he did not move away.
Dag visited her the next afternoon in her cell. Capable had vomited the few times she'd tried to stand, but the loss of blood had left her ravenous.
"You look like shit."
"You look like a regular Garbo yourself," Capable replied.
Dag beamed. She was covered in the dirt of the garden. Like Capable, she'd thrust herself into work after arriving at Del. In many ways, her job had been the hardest. The War Boys valued strength above all else, so while they may have regarded the wives as goddesses because they were once the consorts of Immortan Joe, their allegiance went to the victor, and there could be doubt that Joe had lost. Joe's gardeners were loyal, well-fed, and sure that they had nothing to gain and everything to lose from an alliance with the Vuvalini, who were as concerned with feeding those Citizens of Del once called The Wretched as they were with feeding themselves.
For a while, Carmana, the Vuvalini who organized the defenses of Del, simply exiled them from the garden, but a gardener, Eustace, snuck in one night and set fire to the fields, destroying most of the crops before a bucket crew organized by Dag snuffed it out. Eustace had shown up the next morning declaring what he'd done with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. Carmina had nearly beat him to death. Dag had been the one to restrain her, and in the week since, he sometimes wished she hadn't. Ortlinde (who we all called Lindie), the older of the surviving Vuvalini and the one closest to The Keeper of the Seeds, had told her that the ashes of the fire would help things grow, but that was cold comfort. The people needed food now.
"Take the pants."
"I don't mean keep 'em, but wear 'em for a while. I'm gonna be laid up, and those things of yours are more hole than pants."
When Dag put them on, the pants seemed transformed. They still had the same pockets, but they fit tightly, hugging the upper thighs and flaring at the ankle. The grease spots that Capable had left there seemed faded, almost artful. Dag had always hated it the most when Immortan Joe wanted to root, but no one was more confident in her looks. While Capable and Cheedo had slunk away from the attentions of the guards that Immorten Joe had placed on them and Toast and Angharad had withered them with an imperious glance, Dag had always laughed them off or flirted back. The pants seemed to know that she was bold, reckless, unfraid of being seen as sexy.
"You look a chickie babe in those."
Toast worried that Immortan Joe mgiht have been right. Hundreds died or began dying in the initial rush to slake their thirst when they opened the aquifer to the Citizens of Del. They vomited violently and passed out, made sick by too much water too quickly. Lindie, after finding Immortan Joe's stores of salt and sugar, had mixed water "that tasted like tears" and brought some back to life. She arrived too late to save many, and others weakly spat up the solution. By Toast's estimates, Del had less than twelve hundred Citizens. Almost a third of them wouldn't take any more water than Joe had given them, and they refused the extra food that they were offered. Toast believed that, after the fire, they had enough fresh food to distribute at current levels for a month. After that, they would have to resort to tins.
Joe had an impressive store of tins, but no one knew how long those would last. A perfectly fine looking can of fruit in heavy syrup might open with a sound like a gunshot, a sign that the savvy foragers among them knew meant certain death to those who tried to eat from it.
Seven days after the fire, a sleek black sedan, spotless, with its trunk and back seat sawed away to accommodate a gun platform, and a phalanx of similarly black ATVs arrived at del. The sedan towed a trailer packed with quandong, warrigal greens, and other produce. A woman stepped out, tall and made taller by impossibly high wedge heels, her black hair greased and pulled back in a severe ponytail, and her ears filled with dozens of rings chained to a single ring in her nose. It was Braineater , the new ruler of Gas Town.
She strode into the former throne room of Immortan Joe where Toast had made her office. "Do you now rule, little one?" She appraised Toast with a glance that was followed by a tremor.
Toast was too stunned to speak, but Carmana had never had trouble finding the right thing to say "We all rule Del."
She looked out the window of the throne room, theatrically stared at the hundreds of citizens basking in the sun, too starved to do anything but linger. She stifled a chuckle "I see."
"We have heard you're in need of food. We have food--quite better than you can manage here." She tossed Toast and Carmen quandongs. Toast tried hers. It was larger and sweeter than the kind you could sometimes find wild. It would almost make a meal in Del. Carmana took one bite and spat it out. Braineater laughed, a deep laughed stopped only by one of her tremors. "This one is too droll"
"You need food. We always need more hands. Hands to work our pumps. Hands to drill our wells."
"Hands to shove up your bum," Carmana shouted.
Braineater wheeled and turned away.
Toast pensively ate her quandong, worrying its thick, brainlike nut with her teeth.
Cheedo hated the watch, but she felt like she did so little, so she could never refuse when her time came.
While the other wives had traded out the revealing clothes of wives for something more practical, she still wore her accustomed whites. This was, perhaps, because she felt like so little had changed for her, for the City of Del. While the others had found jobs, welcome changes from the tedium and fear of their days with Joe, she spent most of her days in her cell, resenting that she could not find a new life to lose herself in. When she got out, she walked among the citizens, most often those who starved themselves. She'd help them when she could, coax sad eyed ones to take a spoon of broth or sometimes sit with those who waited quietly to die.
The night watch was cold. Winds whipped hard and fast across the sky and chilled the sweat that gathered on her skin throughout the day. Dag had loaned her a light flannelette and a pair of pants that she said she had borrowed from Capable. She didn't bother to look at herself in the mirror, but the pants hugged her waist and hips in a way that felt comforting, right.
She sat with a dozen others and gazed out from the roof the central tower of Del. The smell of last week's fire seemed to hang in the air. The automatic rifle weighed heavily in her hands, its strap digging into her shoulder.
A shout pierced the night, and she rushed to the edge of the roof with the other guards. Through the night, she could make out spindly-legged things skittering across the waste. Fires guttured and spread. Tents collapsed.
"Get on the fucking lift," Carmana shouted. "Cheedo, stay here and help me hold the fort." Cheedo was ashamed and thankful for her. She knew Carmana would rather be running headlong into battle with the rest, but she didn't trust Cheedo to guard the roof alone.
Muzzles flared and blades flashed in the distance. The battle was noisy, so noisy that Cheedo almost missed the distant rumble of a guzzoline engine. Cheedo, superstitiously quiet, motioned to Carmana. They crept to the the other end of the tower. A black insect crept across the desert. Carmana's binoculars revealed it was a long truck, plated with chitinous armor and topped by a ladder. The rig slowed and the ladder telescoped out, inching towards the roof of the central tower of Del.
It stopped short, but a ragged figure assembled at the top. It tied lines to the ladder and threw out grappling hooks, rough, spiny, wicked looking things. These were not tools left over from the time before but creations of a twisted smith--extra rows of hooks and spiky, harpoonlike teeth glinted. A few caught onto the roof.
Carmana kicked away a hook, but still more followed. The truck backed up slightly, pulling the hooks taut. Carmana bent down, working them free. Another hook, one with few barbs but several wicked harpoon points, caught her in the shoulder. She went down.
Cheedo froze, watching her death approach. More ragged figures streamed up the ladder and crawled across the web their lines had made.
Cheedo sobbed. She wanted to give up, but the rifle strained against her shoulder in protest. She couldn't just let Carmana die. She spayed the ropes and ladder with bullets, her eyes half blind with tears. The bruising recoil ended with a click. Though more slowly, the ragged figures advanced. She fumbled with the clip, sure she couldn't replace it in time when a blinding flash exploded in front of her. She shielded her eyes to turn away and saw Carmana, hook still portruding from her shoulder, ready a second grenade.
The truck pulled away after the second blast trailing still-burning streamers.
"Fuckers," Carmana yelled after them. "You saved me out there, Cheedo."
"I doubt i hit a thing"
"We call that suppressing fire, and I'm always thankful for that."
"They had quandong nuts in all of their pockets." Toast dropped a nut on the table for all to see. The former wives of Joe and the Vuvalini met the morning after the battle, in Joe's opulent dinning room.
"That slagger is sending us a message" Carmana said, wincing from hatred and the pain of her recently cauterized wound.
"I think...I think we should listen," Toast said.
"Get stuffed," Dag spat. "You want to give up, and I'm not ready to be a part of that slagger's barbie."
"Give me a fair suck of the sav. More people are eating more, drinking more water than they ever did before. This is the life we want, the life the people of Del deserve. We can't keep feeding them if we don't have food. You know that better than anyone, Dag. We lost another 100 last night. We've got to save who we can."
"Is it what you want or what the Citizens of Del want?" Carmana hissed. "Do you think you're Immortan Joe? You wave a hand and everyone races into battle or into the refineries of braineater."
Toast hung her head. "What would you have us do?"
"The Vuvalini talked." Lindie was usually so quiet, so her words held an uncanny weight. "And then we decided together. We are...were...a family. That's what families do."
Capable felt for the first time like a creature of the wastes, a citizen of Del. Her arm was in a sling and her leg in a brace that could bend a little that the tradies had made that for her. She slunk across floors that she once strode. Now, she knew why Joe called them The Wretched.
She and Hoon could at best do the work of one person since they each only had one usable hand, but they had little help. Most of the ones who could hold a rifle were out patrolling, looking for the Ragged Ones. They were building a truck that could fight them. A flamethrower sat on a platform atop its flatbed, and a shell of pipes surrounded the body of the truck. Capable modeled it after the dome where Immortan Joe kept his his wives, but this dome fitted with spikes and blades was as fearsome as Joe's was serene, idyllic.
"You expect to defend Del with that?" Bananna Bender asked one night. He had stopped by, ostensibly to get guzzoline for his bike but probably to check on the pair who often worked late into the night.
"We plan on taking the fight to them," Hoon replied.
Bananna bender smiled. The next night he and a teenaged war pup named Bogan joined in. They didn't announce themselves. They just grabbed guzzoline torches and asked where to solder.
The truck was finished a week and a half after the attack on The City of Del. The hardest part had been getting the big swamp tires on the truck. Hoon and Capable knew nothing about pneumatic suspensions, so Bender had to teach them. Since neither knew how to leave well enough alone, they spent the day experimenting, making changes that Bender would have to undo in the evening.
Capable wore the pants on the night of their raid. They had been passed among the the other three wives almost daily, though Cheedo wore them the most, sometimes handing them off to Dag or Toast at night and asking for them again in the morning.
This was the first time that Capable had worn them since the attack on the buggy. They seem to have absorbed the smell of the oil lamps that Toast worked by, the dirt that dag worked in, and the heady smell of those Citizens of Del once known as The Wretched that Cheedo spent most of her time among. She would, she knew, add the sickly sweet stink of guzzoline.
They traveled by night. No one knew if the ragged ones were nocturnal, but their truck would move slowly across the swamps. Any assault made during the day would be obvious.
Hoon sat alongside her, and Bogan was strapped into a rumble seat by the gun platform. The always considerate Hoon had offered to move the pedals to the left so that She could more easily drive with her good leg, but she didn't want to. Flipping the buggy and losing Hoon's steering wheel had made her cautious. Hoon drove now with a simple wheel that Capable had made out of pipes that she had soldered together, brass and iron alternating. In the bottom, she had etched Hoon's name. Hoon had been never taught to read and treated the wheel and the discovery of his own name as precious. He'd asked Capable what her name looked like once, and that morning, she'd awoken to find that both of their names were etched into the car in a rough hand.
The close air of the swamp broke her reverie. Hoon had flipped the lights off miles before the Swamp, so they traveled only by his night vision. Fireflies flocked through the air dazzling sight. Any hope she had of spotting one of ragged one's cap fires was at best naive.
A thud resounded against the shell. Two more followed. Capable aimed a 44 caliber pistol across her body. She braced it with her right arm which was still bound in a sling. The ragged figured crawled around the dome, poking experimentally with their swords. One skittered towards her, blade flashing. She fired a shot that shook her arm and chest. She doubted that she hit the figure, but it, at least, slank away.
Bogan shouted "arms in," and he swept the cage with the flamethrower. The figures screamed and rolled off, streaming flames. In the light of the flamethrower, Capable could see more lurk towards the truck, navigating the swamp on stilts. A volley of spears flew at the truck, but they clattered helplessly off or became caught In the cage.
Hoon turned on the headlights and turned in the direction of the advancing figures. He knocked over some stiltwalkers. One or two lept away, but still others were less successful. They were speared on the spikes of the cage or slashed by its blades.
The ragged ones fought valiantly, leaping and slashing, hoping to get in a cut at Bogan who responded by setting them on fire.
The fray was interrupted by a rumbling. Water coursed through the swamp, and the ragged figures climbed up the husks of petrified trees or vaulted away from the its course.
The water seemed to taste and smell like the whole outback: the bitter flavor and reek of human waste, chemicals, salt, and dirt flooded their mouths and noses. The water kept rushing for long moments until they worried they would drown strapped into their seats. As soon as its flow had ceased, the figures were upon them poking long spears into the truck's cage. One caught Hoon in the arm, and she could hear a muffled groan from Bogan. Capable fished out the 44 and shot across Hoon, scattering his assailants and aimed it at her own attackers with her still-shaking arm. She managed to hit one dead in the chest more from luck than skill, but two more seemed to take his place.
"Fang it, damnit, fang it," she yelled, and the tires spun but only slowly found purchase. They inched away, sometimes stopping dead still for terrifying moments. Meanwhile, the ragged figures massed, brandishing their spears. One thrust narrowly missed Capable's head. She knew that she would not be so lucky a second time.
A light cut through the darkness and Bogan's flamethrower reignited. At least a dozen ragged figures caught fire. Those who weren't burnt ran away. A few bolder ones continued pelting them with spears from a distance, but as the truck backed out of the swamp, it was clear who had won the day.
The next morning, Capable washed the pants. Washing clothes seemed an almost sinful waste of water, but the pants were suffused with the foul muck of the swamp. It seemed an even greater sin to toss in them in a trash heap when the four former wives had loved them so much.
Capable scrubbed hard, working off the mud and even the base coat of old grit that seemed to cover all things in Del. The pants were a lighter shade than she had expected and strange words had been written on them "Effie," "Carmen," "Lena," and "Bridget" were all written on the left thigh. The second word seemed close to Carmana, and Capable wondered if Carmen was a name, the name, perhaps, of a relative of the Vuvalini? Each was written in a different hand, and she wondered if these were the names of the wearers of the pants. If the former wearers of the pants had inscribed their names on them like Hoon had written their names on the truck. Still more words written in those same hands covered the ankles, "Bailey," "Kostos," "Eric," "Baja, California," and "Walman's" to name a few, but Capable couldn't guess at their meaning.
When she woke the next day, Hoon wasn't at the garage. No doubt Linde had made him stay in the clinic that she had set up in one of Joe's old milking chambers. While the Organic Mechanic had been careless, cocky on his treatment of wounds and rarely bothered to clean his instruments, Linde believed in little creatures which wormed their way through woundsinto the bodies of people spread disease, so she watched her patients carefully, washing them often. While few knew what to make of her strange beliefs, her patients' health spoke for itself.
A cluster of war pups and those once called The Wretched approached her as she began her work that morning.
"Please don't call me that," Capable replied with more venom than she intended.
"We heard about your attacking the things in the swamp. We want to help"
She looked at the crowd in front of her: while a few of the citizens wore sturdy looking jackets and pants gleaned from Joe's closets, many still dressed in the rags they had worn for ages. The clothes hung off them and their bodies were mottled with bruises (a sign, Linde once told her, of eating poorly).
They weren't ready to fight, but, she thought, had she been when she first stood up to the garage?
"Call me Capable"
"They call me Stubby on account of my shorts" their spokesman said and indicated a pair of garish yellow things. This was met with a laugh, stubby was the shortest of the bunch and as round as a stubby of beer.
"You six," she gestured to the fittest looking, "come with me. The rest of you, you want to be tradies? Visit Toast in the main tower. Ask her for some proper togs and blunnies for your plates of meat. Eat whatever they tell you to for three days, and then come back to me."
Bushranger, Stubbie, Sheila, and Ranga gathered in Immortan Joe's dining room with the former wives and the vuvalini a week after the raid on the ragged ones. Even Furiosa was their. The injuries that she sustained in the battle against Immortan Joe had left her an invalid. She took this change hard, becoming quiet as a wraith, keeping only the company of Linde except in times when all of the Vuvalini were called to meet.
"The six of us are of the opinion that the ragged ones will strike again." Toast paused to gather herself. "We think It might be wise to strike again as Capable and her friends did. We believe we would have the best chance if every able-bodied Citizen of Del took part."
Linde joined in. The words were Carmana's, but they both knew that Carmana had trouble putting things gently in the heat of the moment. "Each of you are respected by your fellow citizens and none of you were in positions of power during Immortan Joe's reign. Whatever you say will be heard and won't be heard as an order. Explain to your friends and family that we believe that an outright assault on the ragged figures is the Best option for our survival. Find out how many feel the same way."
"Perhaps you worry too much," said Sheila, a practical, good-natured woman who used to be one of Joe's Milkers, "We haven't seen them in a week."
"We're sure they have the backing of the brain eater. If they're remaining peaceful, it's only because they're regrouping, growing stronger," Toast replied.
"What about other scouting missions, like the one you led, Capable?" Asked Bushranger, a portly war boy who had managed to survive, albeit wreathed with growths, into middle age.
"We won't survive open war," Toast said. "Our crops are already mostly burnt. Another attack means another chance for Braineater to try to burn down what little we have left. Months spent fighting a long war are months that we need for planting."
"If Braineater's trying to hide that rhe ragged ones work for her, she's doing a piss por job of it," Dag interrupted, "She wouldn't use them if Gas Town could defend itself. I say we go to Gas Town and kick em in the fanny."
They all nodded in quiet agreement.
“Tell your friends, then,” Furiosa broke the silence. “If they agree, we attack.”
The night before the attack on Gas Town, the former wives of Immortan Joe met in his banquet hall, again. They sat on the floor, and a few oil lamps guttered. Toast, at Capable's request, had brought one of the ink pens she used to do accounts. Capable wrote her name on the left thigh next to "Effie," carefully going over it several times so that it would be sufficiently dark and passed it on to Toast who did the same. After all four had written on the pants, Capable held the pants and said "I have reason to believe that four women such as us once wore these pants. They loved them and wrote their name on them as we did. At least one of them became one of the Vuvalini of Many Mothers
"If they are the Mothers of the Pants, we are their daughters. We are, tonight, Sisters of the Pants. We give the Pants the love of our Sisterhood so we can take that love into battle.”
She then passed the pants to Toast. They seemed to tell her that Toast despite being strong, uncomplaining needed them the most.
"Now, let's kill those fucksticks."
As they neared Gas Town, Hoon muttered, "Shiny, crome." Capable couldn't disagree. The flame burnt off tall stacks making her think of a massive soldering torch.
She rode alongside Hoon in the truck that they had designed. They had since built a second one for Toast and Dag, but instead of her flamethrower, the bed held a mounted machine gun.
The Doof Warrior was long since dead, a tragedy since war boys loved to ride out to his music; but, Sandgroper, an elderly Citizen of Del, had discovered a stereo among Immortan Joe's effects. He painstakingly wired its speakers to a long flatbed rig. In the center, they mounted three kettle drums which Ranga, a wiry-limbed young lady who had campaigned tirelessly for the assault on Gas Town with the youths of Del, played with two of her friends. They were defended by two ranks of war boys who operated guns and flame throwers and by a canopy of pipes and barbs that the tradies had welded overhead. They drummed along to the beat of songs played by a spinning silver disk printed with the fitting words "Screaming for Vengeance."
At the front of their caravan was Bushranger who drove a re-purposed bulldozer. The black thumbs had strung a wire net between the arms which once held a plow. He was flanked by Carmana and Banana Bender who rode cycles. Hoon and Capable had mounted unmanned sidecars which held flame throwers on each and had rigged their exhausts so that they shot out flames.
A dozen other cars and cycles bristling with weapons and spiky protrusions meant to keep the Ragged Figures at a distance made up the caravan. A nondescript box van took up the rear. Sheila drove it and Linde and Cheedo sat in the back. They had fitted it with several cots that the injured could be strapped to and casks of water which could be used to clean their wounds.
As they neared the tank farm, the storage area next to Gas Town, a dozen ragged figures launched themselves onto the top of the caravan. Bogan swept the dome of their truck with the flamethrower. The light was blinding. Hoon swerved, and their truck shook as its cage grated against Toast and Dag's own. The figures had never burned so quick or brightly before. They must have coated themselves in guzzoline, Capable realized, and offered themselves up as sacrifices to the flames of Del.
There was chaos on the back of the rig. A precise shot from a flamethrower must have caught a ragged figure who landed atop the rig already on fire. His partners embraced him, and the bed of the rig erupted into blue flame.
Bushranger fared better. A few ragged figures had jumped into his net of wire, and he engaged the switch that sent electricity coursing through it. The figures caught in his net burst into blinding flame, but he cut the current and lowered the plow arms to toss sand over the burning bodies which soon feel off.
The caravan rolled out of the tank farm, trying to avoid a second attack by the ragged figures.
The rig blasted its horn in warning and rolled to a stop. It released its hitch and started to roll away. A small sphere fell from the sky and landed on the on the space between the cab and the trailer. The cab pitched over and the still-burning trailer tumbled striking Carmana's bike. She became part of the conflagration.
In frenzy of the battle, no one had noticed that a gyrocopter had entered the fray. Now, it circled back preparing for a second pass.
"Slagger," toast yelled spraying the sky with her machine gun.
The gyrocopter banked away. Bullets bounced off its underside.
Capable shouted "back into the tanks" into the staticy radio that Sandgroper had wired. The caravan scattered. Bushranger, whose heavy machine was the slowest, now took up the rear. A second bomb landed in front of him, tearing rents in his wire net
The ragged figures tossed volleys of spears. They rattled off Toast's cage. She couldn't return fire without risking hitting the guzzoline tanks, so she scanned the sky looking for signs of the copter.
ATV's in the black of Braineater's sedan rolled into the tank farm. Though some were driven by ragged figures, most were piloted by people from Gas Town. Their faces were studded and pierced, and they were draped in the torn and wrinkled finery of the time before.
Toast switched to a 9mm. Its small rounds, she hoped, couldn't pierce a tank. A few found their mark in a mohawked man with a ragged tail coat. Two more residents of Gas Town drove at her, firing wildly. She pressed close to the column that her machine gun rotated on deftly avoiding their shots; but, she did not see the ragged figure coming in the other direction. He stabbed a toothed lance through the cage. It found her thigh. The impact of the collision sent the figure flying from his ATV and twisted the lance widening the gash it made.
Toast crashed to the bed of the truck. She was amazed the lance wound still hurt. She should, she thought, have gone into shock by now. The blood ran from her leg in rivulets. After a moment, it slowed to a trickle. The pants, which anyways seemed to expand and shrink to fit the four former wives, now tightened to cut off the flow of blood in her leg.
"Blow em..." toast mumbled into her radio headset before passing out. "Blow the fucking tanks."
As if to punctuate her point, another bomb landed on a squadron of war boys who had left the tank farm to chase an ATV.
"Come gimme a ride, Linde,” Bushranger shouted through the radio, “Stubby, cover me. I'm going to do it." Stubby turned his wide work truck, and pulled alongside Bushranger as he backed out. Two war boys emerged from a shield mounted in the back of Stubby's truck and took position at mounted machine guns. One opened fire at the atvs that turned towards them while the other swept the sky keeping the gyrocopter back. Bombs dropped haphazardly.
Bushranger's pushed the damaged arms and nose of his bulldozer against the the burning wreckage of the flatbed. The fire and searing heat made it impossible to see and licked at his skin like an afternoon spent uncovered in the sun. He shifted into the highest gear and engaged the cruise control. Then, he hopped out of the and dove into the open doors of Sheila's van.
Sheila yelled "everybody out" through the radio, and the van sped away while the plinks of bullets resounded against its walls.
The ATV's broke away from their fights and concentrated their fire on the bulldozer. The gyrocopter dropped bombs indiscriminately on the runaway truck. The charges on these seemed stronger. They tore rents in the earth and overturned ATV's.
Great hunks of metal flew from the truck, and it sank into the holes created by the bombs.
A lump rose in Capable's throat. Their best hope of igniting the tanks was lost. She yelled, "Just take that chopper down."
The Citizens of Del turned away from the tank farm exposing their rear to attacks from the ragged figures. The copter listed left and right avoiding some bullets, others bouncing off its armor-plated bottom.
Capable leaned out her window and pointed a flare pistol. The copter was engulfed in a maroon burst. It tumbled dramatically, losing height before righting itself.
A harpoon flew through, the air. This was not a harpoon of Del make. The ragged figures, she thought, were angered by the reckless bombing of the copter pilot. More joined and trucks of war boys fired their harpoon cannons. They fanged their accelerators, dragging the chopper to the ground.
After the chopper crashed, the few remaining ATV's roared disappearing into Gas Town. Toast got out of the bed of her truck and crawled out from underneath the protective dome. She was the first to reach the wreckage. When she saw the figure crumpled among it, she spat on the corpse. It was Braineater.
The former wives of Immortan Joe and the last of the Vuvalini arrived two days later to negotiate the surrender of Gas Town. Toast's wound was still healing, but the Tradies had cobbled together a wheelchair for this purpose. She rolled alongside Furiosa who cast her a knowing look from her own chair.
As they surveyed Gas Town, it was clear why they needed hands. Though the unspeakable appetites of the People Eater were well-known, Braineater had been, by most accounts, even worse. There were no more than 400 people left in the town. Most were clerks, chemists, plantworkers, and the cockies who worked Gas Town's fields of bush food. If one asked where the young, the old, and the unskilled lived, one needed only to look into the large room near the cooling tower. It served as cold storage for dozens of bodies in various states of mutilation. Though Conchy, Braineater's lieutenant, evidenced an air of disgust, the twitches that ran like a shock through his hands suggested that he shared his former employer's pleasures.
He would have to be dealt with, Toast thought. Stock would have to be taken of their stores of food, fuel, and fertilizer. For the moment, Toast, who still wore the pants tried to enjoy the victory. She snatched a pen off a table as she was rolled past by Dag. She wrote the words “Gas Town” on her thigh, tracing them over and over.