From a library computer in an undisclosed location: Hello, my Loyal Minions. This is the Trickster, pulling out another great story from her bag of tricks. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read the new Quirk of Fate 3, starting with the prologue chapter on your screen, and give feedback (by reviewing). Happy reading!

Quirk of Fate, Part 3: The Shadow Spider

In this stirring conclusion to the Quirk of Fate series, Mary Jane Watson, the Amazing Spider-Woman confronts her greatest, most brutal enemy…herself!

The Standard Disclaimer: All characters involved belong to Marvel, unless I note otherwise. Any quotes I may use belong strictly to their authors!

Dramatis Personae: Mary Jane Watson, John Jameson, Edward Brock, Gwen Stacy, Jonathan Storm, Elizabeth Allen, Flash Thompson, Anna Watson

Previously: Mary Jane Watson, the Amazing Spider-Woman, is called back to superhero work by the spirit of her beloved Peter and the mysterious kidnapping of her current boyfriend, Harry Osborn. Harry's disappearance seems linked to a new supervillain called Green Goblin. After retrieving her costume once again and confronting Goblin in a grand battle, Spidey learns the horrible truth—Harry is Goblin, used as his scientist father Norman's guinea pig and driven to avenge his best friend's death. Spidey unmasks herself to him, and reveals her true role in Peter's death. Only in death could Harry find peace, and only in Harry's death could Mary Jane pay the heavy price of her power…And now begin!

Chapter 1: The Courtship of Spider-Woman

"We are what we pretend to be. So we must be careful what we pretend to be." –Kurt Vonnegut

evening, watson residence

"Sorry, Johnny," she was saying over her cell phone. "No revealing my secret identity until at least the fourth date!"

Things seemed to be finally looking up for her, by any conventional viewpoint. She was starring in the new Broadway musical Heroes and Villains, a satirical look at the New York superhero set. She had nailed the role of Spider-Woman on her first audition—big surprise.

Furthermore, she was being romantically pursued by two separate men: John Jameson, the astronaut son of prominent newspaperman J. Jonah, who loved Mary Jane Watson; and Jonathan Storm, astronaut, fellow superhero, and youngest member of the Fantastic Four, hopelessly in love with Spider-Woman.

The problem with that was that she was certain that the dark, reliable, steady Jameson wouldn't approve of her high-flying superheroine lifestyle, where there was no Mission Control or safety equipment, and she was equally certain that the blonde, impulsive, wild Storm would find her humdrum life as a high school senior superlatively boring.

What's more, she still loved someone else, the late Peter Parker, her inspiration, her angel. He drove her on when she thought of giving up. In fact, she secretly feared to make up her mind at all. Her previous boyfriends had each met unpleasant fates.

Wouldn't you like to be in such a bind? Didn't think so.

"So, we'll meet at 8:00 pm on the Statue of Liberty's torch, then."

She flopped down on the couch, carefully threading the needle. She was wearing her costume to pieces, and a few of the seams were coming loose, and the rushed patch job she'd done a couple months ago after her battle with the Goblin was beginning to fall apart. Between homework, drama class, rehearsals, cheerleading, and superhero work, she hadn't the time lately to make herself a spare.

"Ouch!" Mary Jane stuck the offending finger in her mouth. Wish I could ask Aunt Anna to do this without arousing her suspicions…

She hurriedly finished the sewing job and then threw it on, layering her civilian clothes over it. After all, she had a date. Writing a note informing her aunt that she was going to visit her grown sister, she crawled out of the window.

evening, ellis island

The Human Torch greeted his new girlfriend with a peck on the cheek and the opening of a suitcase. "I got you a present."

Spider-Woman stared at the offering, a quantity of black goo sitting wetly in a jar. "Exactly what is this?"

"Picked it up on one of our adventures in the vast cosmos. Noticed some intelligent life forms using it as a sort of—living armor, if you will. Then I thought of my lovely superhero girlfriend, whose costume is falling apart."

Well, it's the thought that counts, right? "It's very nice, Torch. Thank you."

"Well, go ahead and put it on for me. Just, you know, fight crime with it on for a few days and tell me how it goes, Spidey."

At least he gives me better presents than Jameson, she thought, recalling the Swiss Army knife he'd bought her for her birthday. He didn't seem to have much of a sense of humor when she'd asked him why Switzerland was a neutral country but made Swiss Army knives.

She took the jar home, wanting to throw it out somewhere but thinking better of the idea. She knew Storm had a propensity for practical jokes.

In the safety of her bedroom, she opened the jar, stuck her hand in, let it crawl up her arm. She pushed it back off her arm into the jar, put the lid back on, and crawled into bed.

morning, midtown high school

"Man, MJ, you look horrible. What, you pulled an all-nighter and subsisted on double espresso? I know just how you feel, girlfriend."

Mary Jane barely heard Liz Allen's words. I don't think a cement truck full of double espresso is going to wake me up today.

Liz's boyfriend, Howard "Flash" Thompson, ran up to them with the early edition of the Daily Bugle. "Yo, have you gals seen this?"

"If it's about Spider-Woman, I don't want to," Liz rolled her eyes. Mary Jane knew of Liz's jealousy over her boyfriend's attraction to the superheroine, but she couldn't say she was sympathetic without someone knowing she lied.

Flash ignored her. "Look at this!" The top headline stated: "Spider-Woman's Extreme Makeover."

Mary Jane peered at J. Jonah Jameson's latest editorial. "'You Can Take the Spider Out of the Tights, But…' What's this supposed to be about?" She began to read the editorial aloud. "'The so-called superheroine, Spider-Woman, thinks that wearing an all-black costume and changing her name to "ShadowSpider" will win over jaded but image-conscious New Yorkers.'"

I don't remember putting that on last night to fight crime, Mary Jane worried. On the other hand, Then again, I really do look good as ShadowSpider.

"Why don't you wear black more, Liz?" Flash was asking her. "You know how black is so slimming…"

With that, Liz angrily stomped away, leaving Mary Jane to tell him, "Wrong move, buster. You know how girls hate to be told they need slimming…"

Mary Jane then busied herself with reading the article: "With a change in costume and name, the campy, showboating, wisecracking Spider-Woman has become the unbeatable ShadowSpider, stronger, faster, and more powerful than ever..."

She shook her head at the photograph, which depicted Spider-Woman or ShadowSpider as she was evidently calling herself now, at the lithe young woman in a suit as black as midnight but for the huge white spider splashed over the chest.

That has to be someone else. Can't be me.

after school, midtown high parking lot

"Hey, Mary Jane!" Liz called after her. She was holding her cell phone.

"My cell is webcasting the news. I thought you might be interested in this."

Mary Jane prepared to open and enjoy the can of soda she'd just bought, but grabbed the cell out of her friend's hand instead, ignoring Liz's yelp of dismay. "It can't be. It just can't be."

Even on a tiny cell phone screen, the face and form of Peter Parker's murderer was unmistakable. "I thought he was dead or…" Just when she thought she moved on…

She saw him again, she saw herself holding her first love as his head slumped back, heard that awful rattle she'd heard every minute of every day for a full month after the murder, again. Her world blurred for a moment, threatening to fade away entirely, until she heard Liz Allen's voice as if she were a mile away. "They're tracking him, the five-oh is pinning him on Fifth Avenue, they're going to get him—"

In her anger and grief, Mary Jane crushed the as-yet-unopened can of soda, explosively splattering carbonated water all over her skirt. Liz didn't notice. Good, she didn't need the questions right now.

No, Liz. "They" aren't going to get him…

I am!