Parabellum Waltz
rating: +13+x

Previously: Everywhere, NY


The motel is almost a hundred miles behind them when Egret finally bursts free of the delivery boy’s body. Her twenty-third rebirth is no less messy than the twenty-two before it, and the explosion of gore stencils the shape of the seats in blood on the Oldsmobile’s windshield.

It’s a credit to Amitha’s nerves that the car just kisses the dividing line of the highway instead of swerving off the road altogether. “A little warning, next time?”

“Harggggngh,” Egret gurgles, and spits up the small lump of meat that would’ve grown into her voicebox. She shuts her mouth, waits for muscles to knit into place, tries again. “I was waiting for hours inside him, Ami, just… sulking. How do babies put up with it?”

Amitha gives her an absolutely filthy look in the rear-view mirror. Her face is part-way through resetting into its former configuration: one eye’s refused to change its color back, its iris still stubbornly sky-blue. Not a bad look on her, even if that’s the ego talking.

On instinct, Egret grins back at her, but promptly stops smiling once she realises her backup canines haven’t grown in yet. She has a reputation to uphold.

“Just- just shut up til your voice breaks,” Amitha says. “There’s pizza in the back, knock yourself out. You’re going to need the calories.”

Egret has to concede the point. A homunculus like her has about three times more muscle mass than the average delivery boy, and the energy to grow it all isn’t going to come from nowhere. Said pizzas are piled four-high on the back seats Egret (and her host’s human detritus) aren’t occupying. She sniffs at them, first eager, then disappointed.

“Ami!”

“I said when your voice breaks, not while it’s breaking. What now?”

“They’re all vegetarian.”

“Great. I’ll turn around and get you some pepperoni.”

“Could you please?”

“Eat what’s left of him if you’re going to complain.”

Grudgingly, Egret chews on a scrap of intestine from the seatwell. It’s a little bit rubbery, but at least it’s still lukewarm. “So what’d I miss?”

“Not much. Wasn’t particularly difficult to escape when half of them had their guts hanging out their stomachs.”

“Yeah? Yeah.” Egret grins, tentatively at first, then wide and trembling. “I’m so good, aren’t I?”

Amitha grits her teeth hard enough the muscles in her neck cord up.

Still unsatisfied, Egret reclines the chair back and puts her feet up on either side of Amitha’s head. “Where to now, boss lady?”

“Hiding out. No sense making it easier on Two to take whatever petty revenge he wants to.”

“Boring. We going somewhere nice, at least?”

“Pennsylvania.”

“Should’ve let me rot.”




They’re only halfway down the I-80 when the fuel gauge starts kissing empty. Amitha swipes a finger through the gore dripping off the inside of the windshield, sticks her arm out the driver-side window like she’s feeling the breeze; half an hour later and like magic, the lights of a gas station appear just over the horizon.

Egret’s been spending the last two hours catnapping through the pain of reconstruction. When the car starts pulling out onto the offramp, though, she snaps awake—old habits. Sudden deceleration never bodes well.

“You don’t think we need to, uh—” Egret rolls her shoulders back, feeling the newly-formed joints crack. “—wash this thing out?”

“I’ll take care of it. All you need to worry about is looking human long enough that the cashier doesn’t call the cops.”

Egret slumps back into her chair, before the implication sinks in and she’s back upright again. “Wait, you’re letting me go inside? With- with people?”

In the rear-view mirror, Amitha arches an eyebrow at her. “Am I going to regret doing that?”

“Can I eat them?”

“If I buy you an icecream, will you put some God-damn clothes on and promise not to eat anyone?”

“No.” A beat passes. “Actually, yes.”

The attendant is a bored, middle-aged man too busy paging through the newspaper to look up when Amitha and Egret enter the station. While Egret pores over the freezer chest with ravenous fascination, Amitha loads one of the late pizza boy’s bags with as much hard liquor as it can hold.

It takes her thirty solid seconds to place every bottle on the counter, and another minute ringing the bell on the counter to catch the man’s attention.

“You throwing a party or something?” he grunts.

“Try a wake,” Amitha says.

The attendant gives her bloodstained attire a brief once-over. “For the poor guy you ran over on the way here?”

“It was a moose, actually.”

“That a joke?”

Amitha gives him a withering look, and he puts his hands up in the air. “Hey, hey, it’s all jokes, lady. You gonna wait for your…” He leans around her to look at Egret, who’s sniffing a Drumstick with obvious disappointment. “…uh. Daughter?”

“No.”

“Niece?”

“Also no.”

“…Wife?”

Sighing, Amitha fishes two hundreds from her pocket and slams them on the counter. “I’ll let you keep the change if you stop talking.”




It only takes a couple more hours of driving before they reach their destination: a Motel 6 owned by a retired Zeta-Niner and Three-approved loyalist. Or rather—

“A Motel 5?” Egret says, squinting up at the sign. Its plastic is the color of overly chewed bubblegum, and the fluorescent tubes must’ve sprung a leak: most of the stars in the night sky look brighter.

Amitha follows her gaze as she pulls into the parking lot. “It’s a… spiritually unwholesome version of a Motel 6. Usually you don’t see them degenerate like this for another decade of operation, at least.”

“What did you expect, Ami? It’s fuckin’ Pennsylvania. State sucks.”

When they disembark, they find the former Sgt. Leo Henning waiting for them outside the reception, keys in hand. “Ladies. Ran into some trouble on the way here?”

“Could say that.” Amitha stuffs the keys into her pocket. “Tell me our room’s a double.”

“It’s a Motel 6—”

“5—”

“—you’re not getting luxury accommodation. Hell, Three wasn’t even sure if there’d be two of you making it out.”

Amitha sighs. “Christ.”

“There’s a spare blanket in the closet if it makes you feel any better. Now git. I’ve got taxes to file.”

The room is the size of an overgrown wardrobe, and the bathroom has a pool table wedged between the toilet and the shower for some reason—Amitha chalks that up to the whole ‘spiritually impure’ thing. But it’s been a week since she’s been able to get the scent of blood out of her nostrils, and a chemical shower is still a shower. There are even robes hanging on the back of the door, although when she puts one on, it becomes clear that its thread count is approximately two.

She steps out of the bathroom to find Egret sitting on the bedside table, thumbing the TV remote with a bored look on her face.

“Don’t bother trying to find the adult channel,” Amitha says, digging through the pizza bag for the Scotch.

“Killjoy!”

“It’s a Motel 5. I doubt it’s even able to pick up emergency broadcasts.”

With a grunt Amitha collapses onto the bed and begins to crack open the bottle with her teeth, stopping only once she sees Egret moving to climb on too. “You’re not getting blood on the sheets.”

“Oh, come on. Don’t you want cuddles?”

“Christ, wasn’t sleeping on the floor good enough for you before?”

Egret folds her arms. “Last time we were in a fortified compound in the middle of nowhere. Like, literally the middle of the abstract concept of nowhere. But we’re in a shitty motel run by some guy whose eyes don’t fit right, and you’re telling me you don’t need your faithful bodyguard by your side?”

“His—”

Amitha’s blood runs cold.

“What color were his eyes, Egret?”




Elsewhere:

Local authorities find a gas station attendant with a hole in his head and two blood-stained hundred dollar bills in his pocket. When they run the prints, they get a match: a woman named Amitha Sanmugasunderam, former missing person, now the most recent addition to the United States’ most wanted list.

In the parking lot of the Motel 5, a black truck bearing the seal of the Pentagram shivers into existence, its cloaking devices spinning down with a throaty hum. Its passengers are four members of the former Overseer Two’s personal guard, each one strapped to the gills with enough paratechnology to buy an island.

And at the front desk, the man wearing Leo Henning tears his back open and steps out of the stolen skin, smooth as taking off a pair of sandals.


Next: Pitch Black

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