Meanwhile, as Duplicity was preparing to sell the stolen documents to a rather menacing group of foreign businessmen, she was being watched by two curious figures who hovered high overhead. The first observer was a battle-ready Eve Eden, who now wore her customary Nightshade wig and costume. The man who carried her had used his remarkable supernatural power to whisk her from her castle prison to where she could dress and prepare to gain revenge on her captor.
I can’t believe it, mused Nightshade. One minute I’m drugged and bound in my underwear, no less, then a friendly ghost steps out of a painting, and his touch revives me. He flies me across the ocean to my place and brings me back to where Duplicity is making her play. The whole thing only took minutes.
The ghost who held her was silent, but his expression was grim, and his manner was oddly sorrowful and yet expectant. “This new world is passing strange for one who last walked the mortal coil centuries past,” he said.
Nightshade smiled and said, “I can imagine. I’ll do anything I can to help you. I owe you a lot.”
“Perhaps we were destined to save one another,” he replied.
Nightshade frowned and thought, He’s courtly as a gentleman of that era — approximately the eighteenth century — would be, but I fear he also has decidedly romantic ideas about me. She sighed. I guess I’ll have to let this ghost down easy after he lets me down.
The action-heroine whispered to him, and he obeyed. She dropped down to flip through the air three times and landed on her feet. “The game’s up, you face-stealing witch!” she shouted.
Nightshade hurled an ebony bomb, and the inky blackness filled the room even as gunshots rang out. She rolled across the floor and tripped up several gunmen as she rose up to knock two heads together. She spun around and high-kicked a third man even as her elbow caught a fourth gunman in the throat.
Before they could locate her darting body in the shadows, she shifted into her semi-solid shadow form and allowed the bullets to pass through her. She grinned and tackled Duplicity, who now wore her normal light blue costume.
“Well, now, luv — this is a right unsettling meet and greet,” said Duplicity. She clawed at Nightshade’s face, and they rolled across the room together.
“You’ll need to change that face when I’m done with you,” vowed Nightshade as she punched her blonde antagonist. Duplicity rammed her knee into Nightshade’s chin and twisted her goggles around so that they obscured her vision. She slammed Nightshade’s head into the floor and raced away with a mocking giggle.
Nightshade shook her head and ran after her fleeing target, but before she could catch her, they ran into the assembled Sentinels of Justice and the British group called the Union.
“Get her!” cried Duplicity.
The Brixton Brawler said, “Ain’t gonna play, dear heart. Captain Atom set us wise. You don’t work for the government. You assembled us and trained us, but then you tricked us into occupying the Sentinels while you sold those stolen documents to the Reds.”
Duplicity said, “Where’s Sea Witch? She’s on my side.”
Will o’ Wisp said, “Thetis has been dealt with. You’re on your own.”
Piskie said, “And you’ll pay for making us think we were heroes when all we were was a lot of dupes.”
Duplicity smiled and said, “Well, you served your purpose. Still, I can’t imagine how Nightshade found me or got free.”
The hovering spirit appeared and said, “I freed her as her loving nature has freed me.”
The woman called Steel Maiden said, “It’s a ghost!”
He bowed low and said, “I am at your service, fair maid.”
Nightshade grinned and said, “He’s fickle.”
Duplicity said, “Well, I’ll be going now.” She flung her body at Nightshade and assumed her exact form.
“I’m the real Nightshade,” cried Eve.
“Don’t believe her!” replied her twin, using a perfectly imitated voice.
Captain Atom said, “Son of Vulcan could identify her if he had joined us. Why’d he have to rush off like he did?”
Blue Beetle said, “Y’know, he’s been acting weird lately.”
The battling pair of Nightshades wrestled with fury until the real Eve yelled, “Memakata!”
At that moment, the agile being known as Spring-Heeled Jack, whom Blue Beetle had fought, raced forward and spun the other Nightshade like a living top. He released her, and Nightshade smiled as she brought her fist up to knock her cold.
As she fell, Duplicity resumed her true appearance, and Nightshade quickly tied her up. “That felt good,” she said.
“Quick-witted as always,” said Blue Beetle. “Naming your cat like that was something the fake you could never have done.”
“A mere parlor trick,” muttered Lady Quark.
Booster Gold said, “I’m glad you’re OK, Nighty,”
“Me, too,” said Liberty Belle. She embraced Nightshade warmly, and they turned as a newcomer entered the building with uniformed police.
“Cor! It’s Miss Wright!” said Steel Maiden. “But I thought Duplicity there was Miss Wright, and we know Duplicity is hogtied before our eyes!”
The pretty blonde who entered said, “I am Miss Angela Wright. I fear from what my sources learned from your Son of Vulcan, I’ve been impersonated for months now.”
“Right,” said the Brixton Brawler. “That little snake Duplicity gathered us from data she took from your offices. You must really work for MI-13.”
She nodded and said, “We’d been planning to launch a section for our own nation’s action-heroes. It appears Felicity Baldwin, AKA Duplicity, beat me to it and pretended to be me while doing it.”
“So there really is an MI-13,” Spring-Heeled Jack said. “Does that mean we could truly be a team? We could be Britain’s own action-heroes.”
“Yes, I’d be pleased to head such a squad,” said Miss Wright. “The Sentinels vouch for your talents. It’s not your fault Duplicity duped you all into fighting the other heroes.”
“She told us they’d gone bad,” explained Piskie.
Booster Gold drew closer to the tiny figure and said in a come-hither voice, “The ladies love me when I’m bad.”
“Tell me more,” purred Piskie.
Miss Wright said, “We have a lot to talk about, but if you’re all willing, then I’d say the Union could be a real group of heroes Britain could be proud of.”
The Brixton Brawler said, “Sounds good to me. We might just give you Sentinels a run for your money.”
Blue Beetle grinned and said, “So? We all know British money isn’t worth as much these days.”
They laughed as friendships and a new heroic team were born.
Miss Angela Wright, a petite and lovely blonde woman, crossed her legs as she examined a series of images on a computer screen. “The Union. Not a perfect name for U.K. champions, but better than the Avengers,” she said.
She looked at the image of the tall, bearded black man known as the Brixton Brawler. “The Brixton Brawler, AKA Rupert Deane, refuses to change his old nickname to something more heroic, but he has a good heart and impressive power. He grew up in Brixton, and as he matured, he found out he had super-strength, endurance, and invulnerability. Apparently, he is immune to the effects of drugs or alcohol. His drinking habit is a mere cloak to make him feel more human. He neither has an addiction nor does he feel any effect from drinking. He will drop that habit now that he is to be a hero of Britain.” She frowned and said, “A dome-shaped UFO was sighted over Shropshire RAF training ground in 1962. Ronald Deane was stationed there, and he recovered the wrecked craft. Rupert says Ronald and his wife Marge raised the small child within the craft as their own, and he grew into the Brawler.”
Miss Wright looked at the pretty blonde teen in the green and gold costume. “In spite of her different skin tone, the same origin could apply to Lady Justice, AKA Lady Serena Fitzmaurice. However, her rocket appeared moving three thousand miles per hour over Heathrow in ’68, and she was only a baby when Lord Fitzmaurice adopted her. She has grown up as a true British blue blood, and she lacks any awareness of her true origin. Her parents have confided in me, but they do not wish for their pampered daughter to know she is an alien. That’s just as well, since she cherished all things English and relished her imagined ancestry as an heiress with a heart of gold. She seems to possess powers like flight and enhanced hearing that Brawler lacks.”
Angela smiled as she saw the picture of the bald but handsome Harold Wilson. “Hank was named for the former P.M., and he has a charm all his own. As Will o’ Wisp, he wears a suit he invented that gives him power to generate light in various forms and consistencies. His power is only limited by his intellect, and that mind knows few limits. He might rival the aliens in terms of power if he imagines new uses for his light-generation suit.”
She nodded in approval and amusement at the striking image of Steel Maiden, AKA Saffron Stevens. “Saffron Stevens is a direct descendant and heir of Boudicca, the ancient warrior queen. By concentrating, she can transform from a decidedly meek and proper young lady to a cocky warrior woman who loves to fight. Neither Steel Maiden nor Saffy are comfortable with their other selves. I suspect possible mental dichotomy. Still, raw power and a fighting spirit make her a vital member of the team.
“Spring-Heeled Jack takes his name from the legendary figure who allegedly preyed upon women in Victorian times. He has super-speed and apparently uses cosmetic enhancement to create the effect that he is inhuman. His true name is Nigel Barry. His speed is apparently a mutant power.
“Piskie, AKA Victoria Bonham, is more famous in her civilian role than she is as the fairy princess Piskie. As the most-watched woman in all the U.K., she lives a wild party girl life of designer gowns and shallow values, but inside she cares for others and sees her powers as more than a chance for indulging in fun. Apparently, she doesn’t understand how she gained the ability to shrink, fly, and mesmerize others. Those powers surprise her still. She may prove to be a problem if the males on the team all fall for her flirty ways.”
She gasped as a chill filled the room and the gray-clad form of a young and haunted nobleman loomed over her. “Nightstalker? That is what you asked to be called, right?” she said as the ghost materialized.
He bowed low and said, “Forgive this intrusion. I died centuries ago, but my time had not truly come. Thus I was allowed to return and awaken when Nightshade’s other-worldly nature stirred me from slumber when Duplicity imprisoned her in my ancestral home. I would use my powers for good, if your mortal team will accept me.”
Angela said, “Sure. Who wouldn’t want an ally with your power?”
He nodded and said, “I will not fail you whilst will and heart allow.”
Miss Wright said, “I believe you. I think the Union will make all the U.K. proud.”
She frowned briefly and looked at one last image. “Sea Witch is still missing, but Cynthia O’Maura — or Thetis as she calls herself — might yet be a worthy ally. She acted against America willingly, unlike the others who were pawns, but perhaps on a probationary status her power to control wind and water could be useful if she ever turns up again.”