Read The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny Online
Authors: Simon R. Green
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Contemporary
“Is there any particular reason why you’re ignoring me?” said Lord Screech.
“Because I’ll get lied to less that way,” I said, not looking at the elf. “I know all I need to know.”
“Walker was quite right. Never trust anything an elf tells you. We always lie—except when a truth can hurt you more. Or when the truth can be made to serve our best interests over yours. I don’t care about you, or Walker, or any other human, except where you can help or hinder my mission.”
I didn’t ask how he knew it was Walker on the phone.
“If you’re trying to be disarming, it isn’t working,” I said. “And don’t even try to be charming. I’ve got protections against that.”
“Why are you helping me, John Taylor? When you know you should know better?”
I looked at him for the first time. “Because I’m intrigued. And not by the terrible secret you’ve offered as payment, whatever it may or may not turn out to be. I’ve spent my whole life dealing with terrible secrets. No, what intrigues me is why a high-and-mighty elf lord should endanger himself by coming to the Nightside, then beg help from a human. Even one as special as me. So I’ll go along with you, do my best to get you to where you need to be ... and no doubt your true purpose will become clear along the way.”
“I wouldn’t put money on it,” the elf said cheerfully.
Perhaps fortunately, we were interrupted at that point by the approaching roar of a powerful engine. We both looked round and stepped back a little as the Fatemobile surged out of the traffic and slammed to a halt right in front of us. On every side, hardened sinners on their way to infamous dens of iniquity stopped, to get a better look at the Fatemobile. A good twelve feet long and almost as wide, Ms. Fate’s crime-fighting motor car was a magnificent machine, with low, powerful lines in a retro sixties style, complete with tall rear fins, a prominent afterburner, and acres and acres of gleaming chrome. It was a shocking fluorescent pink from bonnet to bumper, and had big fluffy wheels. In fact, it wasn’t so much pink as
And instead of the usual silver winged victory figure on the front radiator, the Fatemobile boasted a silver wee-winged faerie in a basque and suspenders.
Ms. Fate might have heard of taste, but only as something other people had. Boring people.
“I like it!” said Lord Screech.
“You would,” I said.
The heavy driver’s door swung open with a puff of compressed air, and Ms. Fate emerged from her car via a single elegant movement I couldn’t have copied without throwing my whole back out. Tall and leanly muscular, Ms. Fate wore a black leather super-heroine outfit, cut tightly to show off her long legs and false bosoms. Heavy boots and gauntlets, and a proud horned cowl. Her green eyes shone brightly through polarised eye-slits, and her mouth was a brilliant red. Her utility belt was a bright yellow, presumably so she could find it in the dark. She crashed to a halt before me and struck a pose that was only slightly self-mocking.
“And here I am, to save the day! Ms. Fate, at your service, rogues, villains, and creatures of the night a speciality. Ask me about my special rates for criminal conspiracies. How are you, John?”
“All the better for seeing you,” I said. “Where’s your cape? I always think you look so more authentic with your cape.”
“In the back seat. I have to take it off when I’m driving; I find it restricts my movements too much.”
Ms. Fate is the real deal. A genuine old-school super-heroine who just happens to be played by a man.
“We really do need to get a move on,” I said. “Walker’s people are already on their way here. So fire up the Pink Pan ther mobile, stomp on the pedal, and it’s everything forward and trust in the Lord all the way to the Osterman Gate. Stop for nothing and no-one, and I hope all your car’s armaments are loaded for bear because we’re going to need them.”
“You know how to sweet-talk a girl,” said Ms. Fate. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your elven friend?”
“This is Lord Screech,” I said. “Only he probably isn’t. Think of him less as my client and more as cargo to be transported. I’d lock him in the boot if I could trust him out of my sight that long.”
“Well,” said Ms. Fate, smiling challengingly at Screech. “An elf. How ... exotic.”
The elf lord gave her a formal bow, with all the trimmings. “Delighted to meet you. You’re a man.”
“Not when I’m on duty,” said Ms. Fate. “Is my secret identity going to be a problem?”
“Not at all,” said Screech, smiling easily. “Like all my kind, I delight in all forms of deceit and disguise, and glory in the joys of transformation. We’ve never understood this human preoccupation with normality. Where’s the fun in that?”
“Definitely time to be going,” I said. “When an elf starts making sense...”
Ms. Fate laughed and snapped her fingers at the Fatemobile. All the doors swung open. Ms. Fate headed for the driving seat. I looked at Screech.
“You want to do rock, scissors, paper to see who rides shotgun?”
“Only people I trust get to sit beside me in the Fatemobile,” said Ms. Fate.
“I’ll get in the back seat,” said Screech.
“Mind my cloak,” said Ms. Fate.
I settled into the passenger seat while Screech folded his long body almost in two to fit through the backdoor. Sitting down, he had to lean forward to keep from banging his head on the roof, and his knees came up to his chin. He still looked insufferably dignified and aristocratic, but that’s elves for you. The Fatemobile’s interior was pretty much as I remembered. Lipstick red leather on all the seats, a high-tech dashboard complete with computer displays and weapons systems, and a steering wheel covered in ermine. A bonsai pine tree perched on the dashboard served as an air freshener. Ms. Fate touched the ignition pad with a leather-clad fingertip, and the whole car trembled eagerly.
“Are there many super-heroes in the Nightside?” said Screech, from between his raised knees.
“We prefer the term
said Ms. Fate, running quickly through her car’s warm-up checks. “Pretty much everyone and everything turns up here eventually, and there have always been a few of us, making a stand for justice and revenge and the right to kick six different colours of crap out of the bad guys. I think we do it for the challenge. No-one does villains like the Nightside. Right, John?”
“Archetypes and icons have always felt at home in the Nightside,” I said. “But super-heroes and super-villains are a bit too innocent to do well here. I think we disappoint them, with our endless shades of grey rather than their preferred black-and-white morality. There have always been a few costumed heroes; the Mystery Avenger, the Lady Phantasm, the Cutting Edge ...”
“And the villains?” said the elf, hopefully.
“Again, we tend more towards colourful characters,” I said. “The Painted Ghoul, Jackie Schadenfreude, Penny Dreadful...”
“And remember that awful little poseur, Dr. Delirium?” said Ms. Fate. “Today the Nightside, tomorrow the world?”
“Of course I remember,” I said. “Walker had Suzie and me toss his nasty little arse out of the Nightside. Last I heard, he was sulking somewhere in the Amazon rain forest, swearing vengeance on the world and trying to build his own private army through ads in the back of
Soldier of Fortune
magazine. This is what comes of uncles leaving you far too much money.”
“You work for Walker?” said Screech.
“Sometimes,” I said. “When he’s not trying to have me killed. It’s complicated. It’s the Nightside.”
“Heads up, people,” said Ms. Fate. “Company’s coming.”
They came marching down the street towards us, and everyone else hurried to get out of their way. Striding arrogantly in perfect formation and perfect lock-step, carrying heavy truncheons and pistols holstered on both their hips, in black-and-gold uniforms with reinforced helmets; Walker’s very own shock-and-awe troopers. I felt obscurely flattered that Walker had sent his own personal heavies to stop me. It showed a certain respect for my capabilities.
Walker’s job was to keep the lid on things, and to do that he could call on support from the Army, the Church, and pretty much anyone else he felt like, along with any number of specialists. But he wasn’t usually one for displays of brute force; he tended more towards dividing and conquering and
Let’s you and him fight,
He only sent in the shock-and-awe troopers when he absolutely positively felt the need to stamp on everyone in sight, as an object lesson to others. He must see Lord Screech’s Peace Treaty as a threat to the Nightside’s status quo... but still, he shouldn’t have done it. He must have known I’d take it personally.
I did a quick headcount, and came up with thirty heavily armed specimens, heading right for us. Under normal circumstances, sending thirty armed men to take down one elf, one super-heroine, and me might have seemed somewhat excessive ; but as I’ve said before, we don’t do normal in the Nightside. These might well be hard-faced, hard-hearted, hardened soldier types; but in the end they were only military men, and we ... were so much more. They broke into a trot as they spotted the Fatemobile, hefting their truncheons eagerly.
I just knew we weren’t going to get along.
The three of us stepped out of the car and stood together, studying the advancing bully-boys. They all had that look... of men who’d been thrown out of the SAS for excessive brutality ; of men who didn’t know the meaning of the word
; of men who would get the job done whatever it took. Idiots with muscle, basically. Training’s all very fab and groovy, but it only works in the sane, everyday world. In the Nightside, we depend more on violent improvisation and downright nasty weirdness.
Someone in the front rank spotted me, and I saw a ripple pass through the ranks as my name worked its way back. They all swapped their truncheons to their left hands, and drew their guns with their right. Heavy, long-barrelled pistols, loaded with dum-dums if they had any sense. I smiled, a little. Walker must have told them about me, but they clearly hadn’t listened. So, time for my party trick. I raised my hands, called on an old well-rehearsed magic, and took all the bullets out of their guns. The bullets fell in streams from my upraised hands, to jump and clatter on the ground at my feet. As tricks go, I couldn’t help feeling it was getting just a bit predictable, but I think people have come to expect it and would be disappointed if I didn’t use it at some point. Sometimes I’m a victim of my own reputation.
The shock-and-awe troopers could tell the guns in their hands were empty by the sudden change in weight, and they holstered them quickly. Without slowing their advance, they transferred their truncheons back to their right hands. A good move. You can’t take bullets out of a stick. I looked behind me, casually, in case there was an obvious exit route, but the street was blocked off by a crowd of fascinated onlookers, taking photos and placing bets. One guy had even taken advantage of the crowd to set up a fast-food stall, selling wriggling things on sticks.
Ms. Fate finished fastening her midnight blue cloak about her shoulders. It suited her. The cape made her look more like an experienced crime-fighter and less like a pervert in a fetish suit. The heavy leather cape swirled about her as she drew a handful of razor-sharp silver shuriken out of her belt. In that moment, she looked every inch the real thing; because she was.
“We could drive off,” I said. “Thus avoiding unnecessary blood and suffering. Just putting it forward as a possibility...”
“Don’t be silly,” said Ms. Fate, making fists inside her gauntlets so that the leather creaked loudly. The knuckles were reinforced with steel caps. “I have my reputation to consider.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Don’t know what came over me. Don’t suppose you’ve got any battle armour built into that costume?”
“Of course not. It slows me down when I’m fighting. You really mustn’t worry about me, John. It’s sweet, but just a touch patronising. Worry about those poor bastards.”
Her right hand whipped forward, with a practised snap of the wrist, and a silver shuriken flashed through the air to bury itself in the nearest trooper’s left tit. It punched right through his body armour and buried itself deep in the pectoral muscle. Blood spurted on the air as the force of the blow slammed him back onto his arse. Well trained, though, he didn’t make a sound as his fellow troopers trampled right over him in their eagerness to get to us.
“Some people would take a hint,” said Ms. Fate. “But I can see we’re going to have to do this the hard way. Up close and personal.”
“Best way,” said Lord Screech.
I looked at him, and couldn’t keep from raising an eye brow. “Are you seriously proposing to involve yourself in a common brawl? I didn’t think your kind lowered themselves to simple fisticuffs and putting the boot in.”
“We don‘t, usually,” said the elf. “But we never miss an opportunity to put mere humans in their place.”
And he and Ms. Fate marched purposefully forward to strike terror into the hearts of the ungodly. I stayed right where I was, considering my options. I’ve never been much of a one for brute force, mainly because I’ve never been very good at it. I had no doubt I’d have to get personally involved at some point, but I thought I’d wait and see what Ms. Fate and Lord Screech had to offer first.
The shock-and-awe troopers clearly didn’t take a costumed super-heroine seriously, right up to the moment she hit their advancing front line like a grenade. She punched out one man, back-elbowed another in the throat, swung around and took out two more with a sweeping karate kick. Shocked cries of pain and horror filled the night as she waded right into the troopers, breaking heads and noses, beating them up and knocking them down, and making it all look easy. The troopers quickly rallied, striking out viciously with their truncheons, but somehow Ms. Fate was never where they thought she should be, and they did more damage to each other than they did to her.
Ms. Fate had trained long and hard to be a costumed crime-fighter, and it showed.