Janette Dau looked around nervously as she exited the elevator on the 23rd floor of the Carson Building. To her left was a large door, open and inviting. On her right, the glass read, “FF, Incorporated, please enter through other side” in large gold letters. It seemed that her current employer was releasing people every other week, and she was one of the newest hires, right at the tail end of the boom. They’d already given out the gold and silver parachutes; now it was time for pink slips. She forced herself not to be self-conscious about her weight, took a deep breath, and began her job seeking mantra. “I can do this job for you. I have the training, I have a year’s worth of experience with Smithson, Hill in many facets, and my degree in marketing with a specialty in accounting means that I am versatile.” A sharply dressed woman passed from one of the corridors, then paused. Janette immediately got nervous, her mantra forgotten. “May I help you?” she asked.
“My name is umm... Janette Dau, and I’m supposed to have an interview here at 3 pm.” She checked her paper. “I was supposed to come to the 23rd floor, but I don’t see anything that says Human Resources.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Dau,” the woman said, smiling professionally, and shaking her hand with confidence. “My name is Shelly Stanfield, and by some strange coincidence, I am scheduled to interview you at 3.” She noted Janette’s confusion. “We only have one entrance for the company. It’s a united front and all that. My office is actually the next floor up. Let’s get you signed in, and the necessary paperwork out of the way, OK?” Janette breathed a sigh of relief and followed the woman into the office, whose reception area was furnished like a legal partnership. Her last interviewer was almost adversarial, and the one before that had taken one look at her and Janette had instantly known that her weight was an issue. She hadn’t gotten that feeling from Ms. Stanfield.
Janette sat down at a cubicle to fill out the application. As she filled out the application, she noticed that it was generic until she got to the “position and salary desired” section. The first question under “position” was “Associate level or support level?” She checked support. There was a long list of checkboxes under support, neatly separated into categories, and it said, “Check any that apply given your experience, interests, and long term-goals.” She went through the entire list, dutifully checking each position that she thought she would be qualified for. A pretty blonde girl who was probably fresh from college sat next to her in another cubicle, her application in hand. Janette knew that if it came down to the two of them, she didn’t have a chance. The last question was “Tell us what you would bring to FF, Inc., not only in terms of your job abilities and capabilities, but in terms of your personal self and your self-development as an employee here and a person.” Janette thought hard for about fifteen minutes, then began to write. The blonde had finished almost before Janette started to write. In fact, Ms. Stanfield was done interviewing the blonde before Janette had finished her essay.
After an hour, Janette handed her application to the receptionist, who buzzed Ms. Stanfield. “Hello, Janette,” the professional-looking woman said. “By the amount of time you took, I’d say you were very thorough and thoughtful in your application. We like that,” she smiled. “Shall we?” A short elevator ride and they were in Shelly’s office. “Now, I see here that you’ve been working for Smithson, Hill.” She clucked sympathetically. “I understand that they are going through a difficult time, and more job cuts are coming soon. Looking for a place to land, I assume?”
Janette nodded, surprised at the air of informality. She nodded, sensing no need to be euphemistic. “I’ve gotten some really good experience in a number of things, and I think I would be an asset to any company that would hire me.” Shelly nodded while looking at the application. “I can work in accounting or any number of marketing areas.”
“Would you say that you have strong people skills? Could you interact professionally with outside clients, setting them at ease, all the while working towards achieving our goals?”
Janette thought about that for a minute. “I’m not sure,” she finally admitted. “I’d like to say yes, but right now, I don’t think I’m capable of doing it reliably.”
“Do you have issues with your—physical appearance?” Janette winced. Yes, she did. “That’s not a strike against you, Janette, let me be perfectly clear on that. I appreciate your candor, and I am happy to tell you that you have an excellent chance of being asked for a second interview. You have impressed me with your honesty and your thoughtfulness.” Janette smiled and said thank you. “I will cross-reference your skills with our available positions. We’ve recently expanded to a suburban campus and training center, and are experiencing excellent growth, which is projected to continue for a while, so there are openings. I will be in touch with you within--two weeks? Is that all right, or is your need more urgent?”
“Two weeks is fine, Ms. Stanfield,” Janette said, not entirely sure what to make of this interview. Was the HR lady just blowing smoke, or was she as interested as she had hinted? She knew that this interview was ending, however. The two women shook hands, and Shelly escorted Janette to the elevator. Whatever was going to happen wasn’t going to happen today.
Janette sighed nervously as she pulled up to the suburban campus of FF, Inc. What had been a distinct possibility had happened. She’d gotten her two weeks notice from the brokerage. While she’d been prepared for it, she still wouldn’t have more than a month or two of breathing space before she needed to find a job. It would be good for her to land here. FF, Inc. (she had no idea of what FF stood for—she assumed that it was the initials of the company founder—was indeed a growing company, making acquisitions in real estate, companies, financial services… there was even a rumor that Smithson, Hill was in preliminary talks with FF. “My name is Janette Dau, and I have an appointment with personnel,” she said to the security guard. He had her sign in and gave her a map with clearly marked directions to the personnel office. She entered the building and stopped at the receptionist’s desk. “Janette Dau, I’m here to see Ms. Davies.”
The young blonde at the desk smiled at her. “Please spell your last name for me,” and immediately began typing it into her computer. “Ms. Dau, would you please sit in the reception area? Ms. Davies is on an emergency call, and will be delayed about 15 minutes. Please, help yourself to the refreshments.” Janette smiled, thanked the receptionist, and walked over to a nice waiting room. It was comfortably furnished and separated from the rest of the reception area by large framed glass windows set in lightly colored oak. She sat down at one of the nice tables and reviewed her portfolio over a cup of surprisingly good hazelnut latte especially since it was dispensed from a machine.
True to the receptionist’s word, 15 minutes later, a middle-aged woman came through the door and smiled at her. “Ms. Dau? My name is Elizabeth Davies, and I’m head of personnel. Welcome to the headquarters campus of FF.” Janette was slightly shocked by the fact that the head of personnel would be interviewing her. The butterflies in her stomach became boulders. “If you will follow me to an interview room…” As they settled in, Janette couldn’t help but notice how new and modern everything looked. “Our campus is about a year old now, and we’ve been slowly reorganizing and consolidating some of our various functions.” Elizabeth sat and crossed her legs. “Shall we get to business?” Janette nodded, thankful for the chance to work with her well-rehearsed material. “Ms. Dau, the reason that I am interviewing you, is that, after my staff reviewed your application, and Shelly’s notes from your initial interview, we don’t think you are support staff material.” Janette froze, feeling her heart drop. “You are an outstanding candidate with much to offer FF, and we think that an associate level position would better allow you to utilize your skills and experience, as well as promote the personal goals that you outlined in your essay.” She waited for that to sink in.
“I… I… don’t know what to say,” Janette admitted in a small voice. “I mean, I never expected to… to… work on the executive level right away.” She paused. “I’m not trying to sound negative, but, are you sure that you have the correct Janette Dau?”
Elizabeth laughed. “I can understand your confusion, Janette. Even though there is nothing in your experience to indicate that you are qualified, we at FF prefer to look at the whole person, and care about cultivating potential. As for the executive level, there are several steps before you can truly be considered an—executive. I take that you are interested, though.” Janette eagerly said yes. “Allow me to describe the process, and the levels of our associate program. First, you are an associate trainee. This stage lasts a minimum of six months, and a maximum of one year. If you fail to advance, we will find you a support position in FF after consulting with you. Next, you become an apprentice associate, where you will work closely with one of our senior associates. Beyond that, there is junior associate, associate, and senior associate. From senior associate, you may proceed to the executive level, or remain in the associate program as a senior associate, or as an associate trainer.”
“We promote from within; none of our executives or senior associates made it to their positions without going through the ranks. Out of necessity, we’ve had to start some people at the junior associate level recently, but now we’re finding more and more candidates such as yourself, who can rise through the ranks the way we prefer,” Elizabeth smiled. “Would you be interested in accepting this position if it were to pay thirty-five thousand dollars a year at the trainee level?”
Janette said, “Where do I sign up? I mean, that’s even a raise from my position at Smithson. They are eliminating my job, so I'll be available in two weeks. I mean, it sounds like there’s excellent income potential here.”
“Senior associate is performance-based, but the salary is one-twelve-five annually. Performance bonuses can double that.” Janette’s eyes grew. “I would estimate that it’s about five to eight years before you would reach that level, depending on company growth. So, do we have your interest, Janette?”
In short order, Janette had filled out the paperwork, and even had her ID badge picture taken. There was an associate training class starting in a little more than three weeks. She could handle the week between jobs. This sounded very promising.
Janette showed up at the training center, a large square building in the middle of the campus, a half-hour early. The receptionist showed her in, where she met Julia Wu, and Cori Post, the other two associate trainees in her class. Cori was a bright-eyed, enthusiastic MBA whiz kid fresh out of college, and Julia was a self-described “quasi-reformed slacker,” as evidenced by the tattoo running down her arm, which was barely hidden by the sleeves of her sweater. “I’ve decided that I want all the things I used to make fun of,” she said, “and this place thought I could hack it. The tattoo is staying, and if they don’t like it, I can leave.”
“The training room is ready, ladies, please follow me,” said a very young woman. Janette looked at her and she smiled back. “The baby’s due in about two months,” the girl said, without hint of apology or shame. She led them to a door with a long corridor. “The room is at the end of this hall on your right, and the trainer will be there in about twenty minutes. I’m going to start a video about the company after you go in. You can watch while you wait.” As Janette and the other two women passed, none of them noticed that the girl did not follow, but stayed behind to close the corridor door.
The room looked like a very comfortable classroom, with plush ergonomic chairs, and whiteboards all around. There was a large screen pulled down at the front of the room. The lights were already dimmed, and a fresh, pleasant, floral scent filled the air. The video started talking about FF, Incorporated, being a family-friendly, person-centric organization from the top on down. Its corporate founders were convinced that traditional American business thought left much to be desired in terms of providing more than money for its employees. Started with money from shrewd investments ahead of the technology curve, and expansion initially funded by front edge of the dot.com bubble, but since maintaining itself internally, it had grown into a privately-held multi-billion dollar success story, providing a myriad of services, from capital funding and medical research, to travel agencies and restaurants. "People, not human resources," was the company motto. You can’t make real money by putting people out of work, said Samantha Grayson, president and co-founder of the company. Winnie Arnold, the CFO, said that the company by-laws capped executive compensation at 20% above the highest-paid non-executive in the company. She promised there would be no accounting scandals, since the fiscals were handled like a family ran its household, only on a larger scale. They showed the major cities where FF had a corporate presence and listed some of the possible expansion locations for the future. An aerial tour of the world headquarters campus was narrated by James Earl Jones. It was all very stirring, and somewhat… boring.
Janette stifled a yawn, but quickly noticed that the other women were fighting varying degrees of sleep, too. She wasn’t positive, but she thought that the floral scent, once so pleasant, was a little strong. She forced herself back to consciousness. The lights came up and the video ended. “Hello, Janette, Cori, and Julia,” a woman said from behind the rising video screen. “My name is Randi, and I’m going to be your trainer for the first phase of your training.” Janette looked at her in disbelief as she walked out to them. “Yes, I know that you think I’m rather young, but I’ve been with FF for over three years, and I reached senior associate in a little over twenty-three months. People call me the “Amazing Randi” around here,” she grinned.
“On a more serious note, I have been a trainer for four months, and I started from exactly where you are now. I’m heavily involved with the curriculum, and at the end of your training with me, I will be very interested in what you have to say.” Janette was very interested, but her mind kept drifting. She needed more coffee. Her compatriots were in a similar state, she judged. Before Janette could say anything, Randi was lighting a pink cigarette in a holder. “Smoking is allowed indoors only in the training center, and only in the classroom areas. Cori seemed the most perturbed by it, but as she opened her mouth to say something, Randi blew a cloud of smoke at the girl. Surprisingly, she did not cough, and closed her mouth, sniffing the air.
Julia immediately said, “Is that a clove? It doesn’t smell like a regular cigarette,” and got her own face full of Randi’s aromatic smoke in reply. Janette figured that it was her turn next, and noted that Randi’s exhaled smoke had the same pleasant floral scent as the room. It wasn’t like smoke; it was more like incense. Janette leaned forward to inhale more of the pleasant smoke, forgetting about any questions she had.
Randi was too busy smoking to talk; however, the holder wasn’t just an affectation. Each time she brought the holder to her lips, she discreetly tapped on a small, seemingly ornamental lever with her thumb. The lever operated a mechanism that added some chemicals to the smoke in the holder cylinder. Randi’s thick, creamy exhales were enhanced. She took another deep drag and exhaled into Cori’s face. The girl smiled. Julia took a long heavy sniff of the smoke from Randi’s lips. Then it was Janette’s turn. It smelled so… sweet… so nice… “Yes, ladies,” Randi whispered. “Smell the sweet smoke. Breathe it deeply… breathe it all the way in…” The three women had somehow all maneuvered their chairs in a line to face Randi, eagerly leaning forward to smell the wonderful smoke. “Breathe deeply of the sweet smoke… Just breathe as deeply as you can.” The women were swaying now, eyes closed, blissful expressions on their faces. Randi placed another pink cigarette in the holder and lit it. “Now Randi will ask each of you a question, and you will answer truthfully with yes or no. If you answer truthfully, you will be rewarded with more of Randi’s smoke.”
“Janette, are you a smoker?”
“Yes.” Randi engulfed Janette with a thick stream of laced smoke, and the woman sighed happily.
Julia, do you smoke?”
“Yes, Randi,” Julia moaned, and smiled as her face disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
“Cori, do you smoke?”
“N-n-no,” was the response, tinged with a touch of shame.
“That’s all right,” Randi cooed, sending smoke into Cori’s face. “Just enjoy Randi’s special smoke. Relax, and enjoy Randi’s wonderful smoke.” She took two more drags, exhaling forcefully at the young graduate. Cori sat, bathed in several consecutive streams of smoke from Randi’s lips, smiling, without a trace of worry or shame. “Now, Cori, would you like to learn to smoke? Randi will give you more of her smoke if you want to learn…” the trainer purred.
“Ohhhh... yes… teach… meeee…” Cori’s faraway voice replied, eagerly leaning forward to receive more of Randi’s special smoke, a sigh of pure bliss as she noisily inhaled from the thick cloud around her head.
Randi finished her second cigarette, carefully exhaling thick streams at each of the three now-enthralled women. Checking her watch, she saw that she had about twenty minutes of safe time left before the antidote would wear off, and she would begin to feel the effects of the hypnotic herself. “Now listen to Randi. You will always listen to Randi during training. Always listen to Randi. You are now ready to begin your training, and it will begin with the name of the company. You may never speak the true name of the company, nor its purpose, except when you are in the training center. Do you understand?” Three slightly out-of sync “yes” answers came from the entranced women. “The name of the company is ‘Femme Fatales’. We exist because men are weak. We succeed by preying on men’s weaknesses. Do you understand?”
“Yes… men… are weak. Prey,” Janette slurred from her trance.
“You can not reveal anything that you learn to anyone unless you are in the training center, do you understand?”
“Yes… Randi. I… understand,” Cori sighed.
“And now you will always obey Randi in the training center, is that clear?”
“Yes… obey… Randi… always. Will always… obey,” Julia blankly said.
“Excellent,” Randi said. She hit the ventilation button on her remote control for the room. Femmes Fatales, Inc. had three new recruits. “You will all wake up at the tone. You will remember the rules and your command to obey. You will not remember having been hypnotized, and you are ready for your morning break.” She pressed another button on the remote control, and a two-tone bell-like chime sounded. All three women raised their heads, looking around slightly confused. “As I was saying, it’s time for some coffee. We’ll start again in about twenty minutes,” Randi said. She went into the room behind the screen, while the recruits, still slightly disoriented, went to the rest room and in search of coffee.
As Randi walked through the door that was behind the video screen, she was greeted by a young man wearing glasses and a lab coat looking through the one-way mirror at the classroom. “How did the new formula work?”
Randi gave him a kiss on the cheek, standing on tiptoe. “Not bad. It’s definitely an improvement over the old formula, both on my end and on their end. Being able to do three in one sitting is a lot easier. It may need some work, though. I’m not sure that they are entirely deep enough.” She sat and a medical technician swabbed her arm down, drawing a tube of blood, then giving her another injection of the hypnotic antidote.
“Well, we’ll be able to get some measurements and check concentrations. Any hope for target blood?”
“Not in this state,” Randi replied. She stood up, making sure that she could stop the bleeding. “Are you going to be working late tonight?” she asked, with a tinge of come-hither.
“Don’t distract me like that, dear,” he laughed. “I’m seeing brain chemistry equations in my head right now.”
“Well, if I have a good afternoon, somebody may get a little… perk?” She smiled impishly and glanced down at the slight bulge that had formed in the jeans underneath the lab coat.
He looked down. “I know. Baaaaa.” They both laughed.
“I’m going out to join them for coffee. Put down the computer long enough to join me for a 12 to 1 lunch?” Randi asked. He nodded absently, his attention already being captured by the gas chromatograph inspecting Randi’s blood. She really did love the geek.
The three women were still slightly dazed when they returned to the training room, once again filled by that pleasant floral scent, with Randi. They spoke slowly, trying to remember exactly what it was that Randi had talked to them about. Janette silently fretted: sleeping on the first day of training was not a good sign. When they all sat down, an expression of startled realization hit them. “FF stands for Femmes Fatales?” Cori exclaimed.
Randi nodded, preparing another pink cigarette and the special holder.
“Is that why no men work here? I haven’t seen a guy—except for the security guards,” Julia said.
“Actually, we have many men working here, several in executive capacity,” Randi evenly answered. “Just because they’re male—“ She lit the cigarette, and exhaled smoke into Cori’s face. “—Doesn’t mean that they can not contribute. Men are not evil, Cori, just weak.” Another gray cloud surrounded Cori’s head, and her agitation subsided. “Breathe deeply, Cori, and you will understand.” Julia was leaning forward, trying to sniff the smoke around Cori. Randi gave the oriental woman her own gray cloud, eliciting a soft, happy sigh.
Only Janette seemed disturbed by everything going on. She got up, heading for the door. “Janette, stop,” Randi said, and Janette’s legs stopped working so quickly. The door was only ten feet away… she could make it… “Janette, come here, dear. Come back to Randi.” Eight feet… “Come to Randi, Janette.” Janette Dau turned away from the door and slowly walked back to her trainer. “Sit down, dear, and relax.” She sat in one of the oh-so-comfortable chairs and was engulfed in sweet, floral, smoke. “Just breathe, and listen to Randi. There’s no need to be afraid, Janette.” Randi exhaled again, almost obscuring Janette completely. “Breathe deeply, Janette. Listen to Randi, relax and obey.” More smoke, and Janette sighed contentedly. “You do not want to leave, you want to stay and make Randi happy. Breathing Randi’s smoke will make her happy, Janette.” The woman eagerly leaned forward to within a few inches and received Randi’s final thick exhale. “Do you want to obey and make Randi happy, Janette?”
“Yess... Randi... happy. Must obey... smoke... obey.” Janette’s bright eyes were now vacant, a blank smile on her face. She would obey... obey for Randi’s smoke.
Randi smiled, “Very good, Janette, Julia, and Cori.” The room was filled with the drugged smoke. “Now you will listen to me, and obey me. Do you understand?”
“Yes… Randi.” The girls were once again entranced.
“It is our mission to take over the world and re-shape it in a better form. We use means legal and illegal to accomplish this. It is a slow, careful process, and moving too quickly in any single area will jeopardize the entire mission. You will help us accomplish our mission.”
“Over the next six months, you will learn to identify a man’s weaknesses, and learn to exploit them for FF, Incorporated. We will teach you our methods, our tools and weapons, and you will practice on male FF employees who are expressly designated for your training. Do you understand?”
Janette responded first, “Yes… I understand, Randi,” followed by the other two women.
“Excellent, ladies. Welcome to Femmes Fatales, Incorporated.”
Randi sat at her desk in her office, reviewing the three candidates folders. They’d been dismissed for the day, and given a standard set of memories about the first day of training. It had been easier to subvert their will with the newest version of the hypnotic drug in the cigarettes, although the Dau woman showed quite a bit of resistance. Randi looked at the photo, thinking about her. Short, round, and blonde, with a surprisingly strong will, if not the greatest self-image. However, there were men who liked short, round women, and with a little bit of training, she would be very effective with them. Already a smoker, she’d be able to move into the second part of the program quickly, with repeated treatments. She marked the box indicating strong will. Perhaps strong enough that there would be some trouble in—making her see the FF view of things.
Miss College MBA raised a different set of concerns. Nothing in her file indicated that she was ready for the program, other than the fact that she was smart and beautiful. A deadly combination. She would be good for special ops once they’d finished brainwashing her. She wouldn’t provide much resistance, because she was eager to please, and ready to start her climb up the corporate ladder. They could use that—Randi already had, to convince the girl she wanted to smoke. Cori needed to learn how to use all of the tools at her disposal—the ones currently in the company’s arsenal, the ones under development, and the ones Cori had been fortunate enough to have been born with. Speaking of tools in development, her beloved boyfriend was working late—again. She’d call the lab when she finished the review.
Today’s last candidate could be a real man-eater. Oriental, lean, with a wild streak, and a penchant for being unconventional. Julia Wu would fit in any department, special ops, account executive, conversions—this girl was going to go very far in the company. Also a smoker. Probably Camels of some sort, Randi mused. Other than breaking the brand loyalty, she wouldn’t pose much resistance. It shouldn’t be too hard to seduce her into the company line. She checked her watch, five-thirty. It was time for dinner, a foot rub, and maybe some playful smoky seduction. Randi reached for the phone and punched the two digits for the lab. “Tell Dr. Fantastic that it’s time to put the chemistry set down. Meet me out front by the car in five minutes,” she sighed. He was brilliant, he was very sweet, but he was easily distracted, and she had needs.