In a stately governmental office in London, England, a mature and rather severely dressed woman nodded in passing as she allowed a stern-looking guard to unlock a door for her. She closed it behind her, and after glancing around the office to make certain that she was alone, she grimaced wildly as she caught her reflection in a small mirror that hung over a water fountain.
“Cor! What a workin’ girl has to do to get by these days. I look like a horse in a tweed suit,” she said.
She locked the door, and then her features seemed to melt until the face and figure she had worn moments before were replaced with a delicate and lovely face that was framed by long blonde hair. Her dull suit became an exotic light blue tunic with matching hosiery and slippers.
The woman opened a file cabinet and quickly skimmed through several folders before making copies and then replacing the originals. She smiled ruefully and resumed the matronly appearance in which she had entered the normally secure building and futilely fluffed her now-steel-gray hair.
“The old girl should try a West End makeover,” she muttered as she departed with the files.
A few days later, the same attractive blonde stood hesitantly outside a noisy pub in Brixton and glanced across the street to where a large theater stood. There a sign announced with a somewhat apologetic air that it was known as the Ritzy Theatre.
“Least they could do is give the relic a fresh coat of paint,” she said. “That sign is a menace to anyone loitering below it.” She looked down at her customary light blue tunic, hosiery, and slippers and shook her head. “I suppose I need to tart it up a bit for the likes o’ him,” she said.
She concentrated, and her outfit became an even shorter plaid skirt with torn black hosiery, shiny boots, and a ripped T-shirt. “Felicity, if your ma could see you now…” she quipped before entering the smoke-filled bar.
Felicity blinked as her eyes adjusted to the environment. She had been in pubs before, but this dive in Brixton did nothing to dismiss her scornful manner. She looked around until she spotted a huge black man with a beard. He lounged behind a table watching the others with an obvious look of amusement on his face. Good-humored cuss, ain’t he? she thought. He may have a body the size of Wembley Stadium, but he has a smile like a musclebound Father Christmas.
She noticed him casually swigging one pint after another, yet his basic demeanor never changed. It doesn’t affect him, she realized. ‘Course, why would it, seeing as he’s not what I’d call a local.
The woman approached him but stopped as her body language altered and she mentally noted, Saucy pose, Felicity — saucy pose. She placed one hand on her hip and said, “Well, hello, you!”
He looked up and wiped his mouth with one massive hand before standing up. “Hello, yourself. I can’t say I’ve seen you around these parts before. Brixton may be a suburb of London, but for a guy who grew up on these streets, it’s not to hard to spot a newcomer.” His voice was mellow and surprisingly rich in diction and enunciation.
James Earl Jones must have a son, she thought as she drew closer.
“Buy you a drink?” he said as he pushed a chair away from the table with one leg.
She said, “That’s the best offer I’ve had all day.” She sat down and stared at him closely.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
She said, “Sorry, I’m a bit awestruck by your size. You’re a right Superman, you are!”
He laughed and said, “My ma knew how to cook, and I knew how to eat. No mystery there. By the way, my name is Rupert Dean.”
“And yet around these streets you’re known as the Brixton Brawler,” said Felicity. “My name is Angela Wright. I’m here to make you an offer that could change your life.”
He smiled warmly and said, “Pardon my bluntness, luv, but as fine a woman as you clearly are, I can’t see anything life-altering coming from this eventuality.”
She frowned and said, “I’m not joking. I’m here to give you a chance to use your powers for the Crown. I’m here to make you a regular action-hero if you have the nerve and the wit to accept.”
Rupert frowned and said, “Action-hero? Like that Yank, Captain Atom?”
Felicity smiled and said, “Exactly, only let’s be honest here. You could break that glow-in-the-dark showoff with one arm tied behind your back.”
“You said you wanted me to use my powers,” said Rupert. “You mentioned the government. That tells me you’re far more than a tasty little girl on the prowl. Who are you?”
She said, “As I said before, call me Ms. Wright. I’m here on behalf of MI-13.”
Rupert laughed. “If you’re referring to the secret service, there is no MI-13. The numbers ran from one to nineteen, but most of them are now defunct, and MI-13 and MI-17 were never used.”
Felicity shook her head and explained, “MI-13 is the government’s most secretive department, known to only a few. Our focus is creating super-human agents.”
Rupert Dean said, “And that’s where I fit in, huh?”
She nodded and said, “Precisely. Now will you come with me to London?”
Rupert nodded slowly and said, “Yes, I will. It sure beats sitting around this place all day.”
Six months later, at the Georgetown estate of Senator Wayne Eden, a lavish party was being held, and the city’s finest citizens were celebrating as only the rich and careless could do. Senator Eden watched it all with a mixture of acceptance and approval. He knew it was essential for a man in his position to mingle with and entertain the society types who waged so much hidden power in D.C., but he was a frugal man and frowned on any type of excess.
Thank goodness Eve has tamed down in the last few years. If this party had been held a decade ago, my errant party girl of a daughter would have flashed my guests on her way to the pool, he thought.
He referred to a stunningly beautiful blonde woman who politely made small talk with several visiting dignitaries and fought to conceal a yawn of boredom as she did so. I would rather be battling the Madmen, the Ghost, and 13 all at the same time, she thought ruefully. I’d rather skydive off the Sentinels’ new satellite headquarters, Project X. Any of these paths to a swift end would beat a lingering death by sheer mind-numbing boredom.
Eve deftly dodged the groping hands of a drunken congressman and headed for the balcony. She sighed as she felt a cool breeze on her face as she looked skyward. Such a lovely night, she thought. I wish I was out in it as Nightshade, the darling of darkness. Crime-fighting would beat being daddy’s little trophy daughter any time.
She frowned as she detected a light in an upper window of the mansion. “Daddy’s office! He’s inside with the guests, and no one else has any business being in there. If he wasn’t the tightest man alive, I’d suspect he had merely forgotten to turn off the light when he locked up, but I know my penny-pinching papa all too well.”
Eve glanced around the empty balcony and then kicked off her pink high heels. She looked down at her designer pink bubble dress and sighed. Forgive me, Gionni, she thought.
She reached up with her hands and caught the edge of the upper-story trellis before swinging herself nimbly upside down and onto the next landing. Smudged my evening gloves, but otherwise I’m fine. I didn’t even get a run in my hosiery.
Eve Eden peered inside the window as she balanced with an impressive level of skill on the narrow window ledge above the trellis. Someone is breaking into dad’s safe, she thought as she detected a slender form bending over it.
She covered her eyes and then crashed through the window to land perfectly in the darkened room. She hurled one rolled-up glove and knocked the lamp over in order to plunge the room into darkness. No need to let this thief know Eve Eden is a gifted martial artist and acrobat, she thought.
Eve tackled the intruder and realized she was fighting a woman of her own size. She felt the woman’s knees move into an impact with her own stomach as she was flipped over her prone body. She rolled to a halt and dived at her again, only a thin ribbon of moonlight brought her efforts to a crashing halt as she glimpsed the thief’s face in the pale light.
She saw an angry blonde beauty in a pink bubble dress and heels. “You look just like me!” she gasped as the other Eve Eden brought a vase down on her head.
The evil Eve made sure her foe was stunned, and then her features melted to reveal a different type of beauty that marked the woman named Felicity Baldwin, who was known as Duplicity because of her rare ability.
The shapeshifter smiled and said, “There’s clearly more to Miss Eden than meets the eye. If I hadn’t momentarily caught her off-guard by looking just like her via my power to change my features, she would have roughed me up something fierce.” She stuffed some documents from the senator’s safe in her purse. “I believe I’ll need to search her room as well.”
She bound Eve with a cord from the shattered lamp and stuffed one glove in her mouth. She hurried out of the office and down the hall until she reached the woman’s bedroom. She entered and searched the room swiftly but with a skill born of experience and training in the arts of deception.
Duplicity opened a hidden panel and held up the mask, dark wig, and miniskirt Eve wore when she assumed the role of Nightshade. “My, my, my, Miss Eden, but you do possess hidden depths,” said Duplicity, whistling. “And here I thought you were just an in-shape spinster living off her widowed daddy’s fortune.”
She hid the costume again and smiled broadly as her features melted and she became a double for the costumed image of Nightshade. She posed for a moment before a mirror and twirled around to cause the pleated miniskirt to swirl in her wake. “Guess which little crimebuster is going to be implicated in this theft?” she said.
Duplicity hurled a chair across the room and raced back to toss the bound Eve Eden over one shoulder as she plunged off the trellis to land on top of her captive on the lawn below. She dragged her foe to her feet and carried her across the lawn to a waiting vehicle.
As voices cried out and the guests rushed to see the source of the sounds that had interrupted their party, Senator Eden’s pained expressed mirrored what was plain to all to see. “Nightshade broke into my house and abducted my daughter!” he cried.