– Sarah Ardent – ‘Starstorm’ –
– Wednesday – 11:06 Eastern Time –
Sarah sat patiently on the comfortable leather couch in the waiting area in the very pink and black themed reception of the Femme Fatale Headquarters. The receptionist busied herself behind her computer screen, occasionally taking phone calls from behind the large modern looking wooden desk. The reception area itself was a nice place to be. Modern, but not sterile or cold. Spacious but not too wide open, and while the theme was the signature colors of the SuperGroup, the scheme was subtle and not overbearing.
Sarah had researched dozens of the city’s SuperGroups before deciding upon this one, and her first impressions seemed to validate her decision as a sound one.
She became aware of the clacking of heels approaching down one of the wood floored corridors. After a few moments, a tall woman with black hair wearing a tight fitting black and pink outfit that appeared to be made up entirely of leather straps and mesh entered the room. She spoke briefly to the receptionist before heading over to where Sarah sat.
“Sarah Ardent?” the woman in black inquired with a smile that said she already knew the answer.
Sarah nodded and smiled in return, standing from her seat and smoothing her skirt down as she rose. She offered her hand out for the woman to shake.
“Famke Tillman,” the woman in black said. “It’s nice to meet you face to face at last. It’s great to finally have you here with us.”
“The pleasure is all mine, believe me,” Sarah responded graciously. “Thank you for accepting my application.”
“There was no way we were going to turn away someone with your resume,” Famke chuckled lightly. “Did you have a pleasant trip?”
“Not bad,” Sarah smiled. “Long and tiring, but I’m excited to be here at last.”
She glanced at Famke’s attire. She felt positively overdressed in her business suit alongside the skintight and rather revealing outfit that the Femme’s leader was wearing. As if she had read the young Englishwoman’s mind, Famke apologized for her current state of dress.
“Apologies for my state of dress. I wouldn’t normally greet new members dressed in my ‘hero’ gear,” Famke gestured towards her outfit and made finger quotes in the air as she said ‘hero’, “but myself and some of the others have just come back from a mission and I was running too late to change.”
“No apologies are necessary,” Sarah laughed gently. “I guess I’m going to have to get myself some work clothes, too. That’s…not uniform is it?”
Famke laughed and gestured for Sarah to follow her past reception and back down the corridor.
“Don’t worry, there’s no uniform code here. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. I’m sure Pyra will get you well acquainted with the city’s Icon stores. We do mandate that you wear the colors and the emblem when on SG business, though. You’ll have plenty of time to sort all that out.”
“I’m sure I will. Might be nice to get something a tad flashier than I’m used to.”
“Don’t let Pyra change you!! Give her an inch and she’ll take a light year when it comes to fashion. And her tastes are…acquired,” Famke grinned, apparently unaware as to the irony of her statement. “Anyway, let’s get you settled in, shall we? We’ll take the grand tour, answer some questions if you have them, and then I’ll show you to your quarters and allow you to get yourself comfortable. We’ve furnished the room with the basics, but you can change the décor to your own taste. We’ll cover the costs. Your luggage arrived yesterday and is just awaiting you to unpack it.”
As she led Sarah away from reception and into the building, she noticed Famke had a slight limp as she walked. Nothing major, just a slight hitch in her step. It didn’t seem to bother the young woman much, though.
“Okay, so…the welcome speech. I’ve done this so many times I could quote it in my sleep. If you ask Elektra, I probably do. I’ve read your resume and I’m sure you’ve looked into us in detail. Most of this you probably know from your research or from the membership package that we sent over to you, but it’s worth going over again in case you have any questions.”
They entered a hallway that had a series of framed images running along the walls. Famke noticeably slowed her gait and gestured to the pictures.
“Our history,” she started. “The Femme Fatales were established eleven years ago when the city was still pretty devastated from the Rikti War. There had been a lot of death to the folks in the superhero community. It was estimated that at one point, something like 80% of the active meta-humans involved in the conflict had been killed-in-action. The number may even have been higher…”
As Sarah looked at the images on the wall she could see that many of them were blown up copies of what looked like newspaper stories and photographs. They paused as she inspected them and Famke continued her explanation.
“This, in itself, left problems…”
She gestured to one of the framed pictures which showed a specific news story.
“Superheroes are people, men and women…just like anyone else. They live, love, get married and have children. The war left a lot of orphaned children whose parents had been Superheroes fighting to save the world. The City was left with hundreds of potentially superpowered children and no idea what to do with them. The care system is just not built to deal with kids with superhuman abilities. To compound the issue, many were in their teens, they were angry and grieving. An absolute recipe for disaster if not handled right.”
The levity was gone from Famke’s voice now as she continued.
“Some were too young to realize what had really happened but still needed guidance. Others were old enough to understand but not old enough to be alone in the world. A lot of kids went rogue and took a dark path.
“Many of the SuperGroups in Paragon City started taking the children on board as Wards-of-the-State, in an effort to try and help them and guide them towards the right path. Most SuperGroups are co-ed, a mixture of male and female heroes bound together to do a common good, and that was fine for many of these kids, but a group of us felt that there needed to be a sanctuary for young and vulnerable female heroes. For one reason or another, they may not feel comfortable around men… So, four of us founded the ‘Femme Fatales’. Our mandate is to take in any young women who need help and guidance. To be a secure home for those that may be uncomfortable around men, maybe they’re too young or had been mistreated or abused and maybe just need somewhere safe to call home.
“This is what we provide.”
“There are no male members at all?” Sarah had read the literature and knew the answer already, but played along with Famke’s introduction, interested to hear what the answer would be.
“Not in the Femme Fatales, no. However, we do strongly feel that our members should be…acclimated to men and not just locked away from them. We’re not a nunnery. The Femme Fatales is a sanctuary for young women, but we also understand the need to be able to interact with society. We do actively undertake missions with men and women from other SuperGroups. We have close ties to The Echelon, The Blaze of the Immortals, The Plastic Army, The Debt Squad… We often perform missions teamed up with their members and from time to time their members will visit the base.
“We’re careful to vet all our visitors and they are only allowed into certain communal areas of the base. It’s not that we have a distrust of men; it’s simply that we know some of the younger members of the Femmes feel more comfortable in a predominantly female environment.
“Men aren’t allowed into the lower residential levels of the base, for instance, but elsewhere we’re pretty mixed. For example, right now we have Kyle Jordan from InfiniTech onsite liaising with Knightingale over the plans for our new HQ in Founders Falls. We also have a contingent from the Plastic Army working in the briefing room on cross SG mission, and I will almost guarantee you’ll find Rogue in the lounge with Pyra and Lady Darkforce.”
She gestured for Sarah to follow her as she carried on down the corridor.
“Rogue… I think I saw him earlier today…at least that was who the taxi driver said it was.”
“Big fella? Red and black suit? Six foot plus of athletic media darling?” Famke quizzed as Sarah nodded. “Yeah, he’s a member of the Echelon, but he and Pyra are joined at the hip. He seems to practically live here most weeks. He’s a favorite of many of the younger Femmes – much to my dismay – mostly because he’s a famous face. Joking aside, he’s a nice fella. Doesn’t play well with Ecstatica, though.”
Sarah looked blankly at Famke with the mention of all the names. Famke laughed and apologized again.
“Sorry, most of our members generally go by their hero-names rather than their real-names because they’re generally easier to remember. We call them call-signs officially, but to the world at large they’re ‘hero-names’. You’ll get used to it. There’s a computer in your quarters where you’ll find the public dossiers on all the members including, where relevant, their real names and call-signs. That reminds me, have you decided on yours yet?”
“I think so…” Sarah hesitated.
“Well, when you first log into the FF network later it will ask you for your call-sign. It’ll become what we refer to as your ‘Global-Address-Name’. Our internal messaging system works by using your chosen call-sign as a global address, so just make sure that you’ve decided before you put it in. It can be changed later if you do change your mind, but best to try and get it right first time…ahh, here we are. First stop on the tour.”
Famke led them into a large room. The ambient sound of huge electronic equipment filled the room, and everywhere Sarah looked, she could see huge devices with swirling energy fields. She knew straight away what they were.
“We have destination beacons in all the zones in Paragon City and the Rogue Islands. We have the ability to get anywhere in a hurry if need be. You’ll meet Gale tomorrow and she can give you your sub-dermal TP chip. The chip contains your ID and automatic authorization to use these units for outgoing teleports and the base TP for incoming. It’ll also get you synced up with the Paragon City hospital network. Believe me, it’ll save your life more than a few times…”
Sarah had heard of the hospital network here in Paragon City. It was something that had been developed during the Rikti War to try and save the lives of frontline meta-humans. In the event of a hero being knocked unconscious, the hospital network would immediately teleport the individual to the nearest hospital for medical attention. It had saved countless lives and been one of the tools most responsible for winning the war. Without it, many more heroes would have died and whether they could have turned away the Rikti without them was open to debate.
“You said that Knightingale was meeting with InfiniTech about a new base?” Sarah asked as Famke led them back out of the room. She thought she had heard a name that piqued her curiosity earlier.
“Yup, she’s in the conference room with Kyle Jordan,” Famke acknowledged.
“The Kyle Jordan? Billionaire industrialist Kyle Jordan?” Sarah almost stopped in her tracks.
Famke laughed gently.
“The one and only. He’s been a benefactor to the Femme Fatales for a while now, ever since his daughter Jessica joined us. She left a year or so ago to join the Blaze of the Immortals under the mentorship program. Our recommendation. We don’t have much in the way of ice or storm powered elementals on our roster, so we looked into a good mentor for her and Snow volunteered. She still visits and works closely with us, though, which is nice.”
“How many active members do you have on the books?” Sarah asked as they walked.
“One hundred and eight at last count. Including you,” Famke responded immediately.
“That many? All living onsite here?”
“No, not all. Probably around thirty percent or so live on the base. Some hold their own apartments in the city or have other living arrangements. Mainly it’s the core members and the most vulnerable students that reside here these days. Or those who don’t have other living arrangements, like yourself. In fact, with your arrival we have pretty much reached our capacity now. Exceeded it really.”
“Oh, God, I’m sorry.” Sarah almost stopped in her tracks. “You should have said; I don’t want to take the place of someone who really needs it.”
Famke smiled gently and reassured her.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ve known this for a while now. Which is why we’ve been meeting with InfiniTech for the past twelve months or so. The plan is to have a new state of the art building built in Founders Falls where we will base our operations from. This building will stay as is, but will be re-christened the Femme Academy and hold recruits up to security level 45 or so.”
“Ah,” Sarah said. “Which brings me to the subject of Security Levels. I was going to ask about that..”
“Way ahead of you…” Famke laughed. “With your background, you won’t be bunking with the Academy – you’ll be in the main SuperGroup with the rest of us. However, Paragon City law needs you to go through the Security Level process. For you, it’ll be mostly the study aspect, law, restrictions, history, etc. From a power level and control point of view, we know that you’re already in the 50 zone. The powers-that-be won’t just establish you at level 50 upfront, I’m afraid, so you’ll have to trawl through the qualification process like a new hero. It’s a chore, but they won’t bend on the red tape. We’ve got you your level 1 and there is some study material in your quarters. Your level 2 test is on Monday. I’m afraid it’ll take you a while to get that level 50 certificate.”
Famke finished almost apologetically.
“Sounds good, thanks. Don’t worry about it – I’m fine taking the long road.”
“Talking of your history…how much did you want to share? I mean, I know the details but those will be sealed into the private records. Your history won’t be public unless you want it to be,” Famke hesitated. “One thing, though…it’s a good bunch of people here and we all trust each other. Everyone has secrets but the more open you can be the faster people will trust you.”
Sarah thought about it for a moment.
“I have no objections to people knowing I was in MI6. The British Government might not like details of my work getting out, though…”
Famke laughed again.
“Well, I’ll leave that up to you. Just bear in mind what I said.”
The tour continued with Famke showing her new recruit the Medical facilities – thankfully empty at the moment – her office, the frankly huge auditorium, the database room, the library, the pool and gym, the command centre, or ‘hub’ as she called it, and eventually they ended up in the lounge area.
“…and this is where the Femmes play. This is Pyra.” The young woman in the pink crop top and black yoga pants nodded at the new arrivals and smiled, “…and, as expected, here is the creature known as Rogue.”
Even though he was now wearing a ‘civilian’ outfit consisting of faded blue jeans and a tight T-shirt, she recognized him immediately as the man from the city gates. He jumped out of his seat and bounded over to greet her energetically. Taking her hand in his, he bent down and kissed it gallantly, a huge grin plastered across his face.
“Hi. Michael Reynolds, yours if you want me.”
Sarah stood for a moment not quite knowing what to say. He was so big…and wide…and muscular…and in front of her. And he could actually fly. She had seen it with her own two eyes.
The young woman called Pyra hopped up off the sofa with an easy grace and skipped across the room to stand alongside Rogue. She barely came up to his shoulders and looked slight by comparison to the big man whose hand she was still holding. She playfully punched him in the arm and he faked falling sideways.
“Down boy!” she chided him. “I’ve told you before about scaring the new recruits! Hi, I’m Pyra, named that way ‘cause I’m a fire-blaster. I believe that your quarters are just over from mine, so if you need anything, just ask. And don’t worry about this big lummox – he’s mostly harmless!”
“Harmless like a fox!!!” Rogue laughed.
“It’s cunning like a fox,” Pyra retorted.
“That, too,” Rogue smiled broadly.
A buzzing sound gently filled the air and Famke immediately looked down at the bracelet on her wrist. She sighed wearily and looked back up at Sarah with a wry smile.
“Duty calls, I’m afraid, I’m needed in the briefing room. Pyra, if you could show Sarah to her quarters, please. I’ll let you settle in and see you in the morning and we’ll go through your itinerary, etc. Come by my office around ten and we’ll talk. Once again, it’s a pleasure having you with us.”
She smiled and headed out of the room. Sarah watched Famke leave and when she turned her head back, she found Rogue standing next to her. Very closely next to her. She felt so small next to him.
“…woah…” she muttered under her breath.
“I know, right…?” Rogue grinned down at her.
“Out of the way, big fella…” Pyra pushed past him and linked her arm through Sarah’s. “Let’s get you away from Rogue and his rampant hormones, shall we?”
“Hey!” Rogue inquired. “Here’s a thought… you want me to take her down to her quarters? Help her get settled in?”
Pyra paused and looked at him with a world-weary expression.
“You know you aren’t allowed down onto the habitation level…”
“Ah, you can’t blame a guy for trying!” he held his hands wide in a gesture of innocence. “Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, Sarah. See you in the club later, P?”
Pyra smiled and nodded at him as she pulled Sarah away and led her from the lounge.
“…and bring your sexy new friend!” he shouted to their backs as they left the room.
Sarah felt a glow of embarrassment, but as she smiled to herself, she also felt a tiny flutter of pride.