One day Eleanor Moiré offered to take Noelle Avril to meet someone she called an uncommon mind. “He has such a forceful personality. He could lead our nation into a truly modern revolution.”
Noelle agreed readily. She was very interested in meeting a man who could inspire such extremes in people. Eleanor saw him as a heroic agent of change, while André Chavard condemned him as a scheming madman. She accompanied Eleanor to a huge building in the wine country. The structure was apparently a village hall that had been damaged during the war. It remained as a silent reminder of a former era.
“Very quaint,” said Noelle. “Surely your professor meant for you to come to the new hall that replaced this one years ago.”
Eleanor smiled and shook her head. “No. You must not limit yourself by seeing only with conventional perceptions. Beneath this façade of the relics of our oppressors, you will find the home — no — the incubator of change!” She led Noelle down a narrow path that lay between a fallen wall and an open space. No one had bothered to repair or remove the rubble since a new hall had been built closer to the heart of the small community, and the postwar recession prevented any large-scale renovations.
The women entered a passage that took them down to a hidden flight of stairs. The stairs, in turn, ended in a passage that led to a large complex beneath the ground. Noelle gasped as she gazed left and right at the strange edifice. She was certainly committed now. Eleanor would not have brought her here had she believed her friend would oppose her mentor.
They emerged to see a group of busy women at work at various pursuits. The entire complex looked like something out of the novels of Fleming or Charteris. “What is this place?” asked Noelle.
Eleanor explained as she brought her friend to an elegant chamber that set apart from the rest of the buildings. “I want you to meet the most remarkable man I’ve ever known. He created this base, and from it he will change the world!”
Noelle entered as Eleanor whispered hurriedly to women who guarded the doors. She saw a room decorated with antiques and fine art. She saw a cultured and refined-looking man sitting at a desk. He was balding and had a large head. His eyes were small, but piercing in their intensity. He wore an elegant suit, which was old-fashioned in nature but clearly custom-made in design. “Spirit of beauty that doth consecrate! You are truly welcome here!” he said as he stood up to greet the women.
“It is odd to hear Shelley in a strange place like this,” said Noelle.
He smiled and nodded slightly. “Indeed? You know the poem? I relax my mind with such sublime words. I rest my faculties with poetry and art and things of beauty. I am Professor Cadavéreux. Eleanor, who is this young lady? While such a lovely woman needs no invitation, and glamor and grace ever make a home in each enlightened heart, you know I frown on visitors.”
Eleanor shook her head and rushed forward to appease the old man. “No, you must not misunderstand! Noelle is one of us. She shares our vision. She aches to achieve change of the type you alone can make manifest!”
Professor Cadavéreux rubbed his hands together and said, “Your enthusiasm delights me. Still, I must learn more about this enchanting child.”
“I am Noelle Avril. Eleanor and I have often talked about the problems we see in the society around us. My own family is blind to the need for change. I have grown up longing to find others who feel as I do!”
Professor Cadavéreux smiled again, and Noelle felt a sense of loathing. The old man was clearly brilliant, charismatic, and persuasive, but he also repelled her. He made her think of a predatory animal. His eyes darted left and right, and his smile hid malice so great that the perceptive girl could almost imagine it as a palpable entity. “We will talk,” he said. “Come with me, ma petite!”
As he touched Noelle’s arm, she fought her desire to pull away as he drew closer; she smelled the scent of mint. “Forgive my desire for privacy and security,” he said. “You are welcome here, but you must understand that this place is a cradle of sorts. It holds all my hopes for the future. Those hopes are fragile and newly formed, and like a baby must be protected and nurtured. I do not wish this nursery of possibilities to change into the crib of Hercules, if you understand my allusion!”
“The infant Hercules faced two serpents within his baby cradle,” noted Noelle. “I get your drift.”
Professor Cadavéreux had chuckled mirthlessly and replied by saying, “Very good. You are a woman of culture and refinement. You crave learning? I will teach you many things if I deem you fit to join my little school. You will remain here as my guest until I decide what is best for us both!”
The next few days passed swiftly as Noelle Avril played her part to perfection. She had to act to conceal her disgust at something unseen in his nature, but she soon gained a grudging admiration for the evil man’s intellect. He was a viper, but a charming and seductive one at that. Still, Noelle knew that evil had an appeal for the unwary or the naïve.
The crisis came on her sixth day in his school when she failed a test. The professor had arranged for some of the pupils to demonstrate their marksmanship. The women he trained were experts in combat and weaponry. Noelle was their equal in every way, but her compassion betrayed her. When a woman missed the target with her gun, the professor scowled and showed his true nature. “Monica, you displease me. You failed again. I do not suffer fools lightly, nor will I sanction such blatant ineptitude. Noelle, you may prove yourself to me and achieve my favor by a display of your own skills with a gun.”
Handing her a gun, he gestured broadly. “Demonstrate your prowess,” he said. “Your teachers say you are wonderful!” Noelle nodded and aimed the gun at the distant target.
Professor Cadavéreux clucked slightly with his tongue. “No, no. You shall aim your gun at Monica, not an inanimate object. Kill her. That is the test that shall make or break you. If you belong here, then your every action shall be as I determine. You will obey, and you will prosper.”
Noelle gasped as Monica pleaded for mercy. “I will not shoot her. I will prove that I am a superior shot, but surely killing or harming her would be a waste of your resources!”
Professor Cadavéreux approached her silently, and his small smile never left his face. “Ladies! Mademoiselle Avril needs to be disciplined. Take her to the study!” At that moment, three of the women grabbed Noelle and carried her into the bookcase-lined study. “Strap her to the table. I will chastise her.”
Noelle struggled, but she had been taken by surprise, and she soon found herself bound to the elevated table. She choked as a powerful sedative was injected into her arm, and the room began to spin around before her dazed eyes.
Professor Cadavéreux leaned closer, and the scent of mint became sickeningly oppressive. “Noelle, I am disappointed in you. Still, you will serve the cause by giving your body to science. My experiment will either end your life or change it forever. Thus will you contribute to the crusade, and thus do I owe you my thanks.”
She gasped and knew no more.
Hours later, Noelle Avril awoke to find herself floating within a clear tube and a green liquid. Her mouth and nose were covered with a breathing device, and various devices strapped to her body recorded her vital signs. Professor Cadavéreux watched and smiled as he saw her eyes widen with horror. “Ah! You return to the waking world as a dream forgotten by the erring sons of Hypnos! Know that I forgive you for your rebellion. Know that I have dealt with Monica, and with Eleanor as well. They failed me, and they died. The experiment that killed them hours ago has not robbed you of your life. That means I was right when I first felt that destiny marked you as one apart from the common herd!”
Noelle felt her body tremble as waves of nausea assailed her. She knew that she had been drugged and could only speculate about what other procedures had been performed on her slumbering body. As the liquid drained from the tube, she was gently lifted out by three of the other pupils.
As the devices were removed from her body, Noelle recovered her composure. She wore a black bikini and noticed her arms had several red marks from injections. When the sickness passed, she felt calmer and began to plan her escape. “What have you done to me?” she asked.
The professor laughed again and said, “What have I done? Why, ask not what I have done to you! Rather, marvel at all I have given you! Am I not like a father who has bestowed a new life upon his child? Like Zeus and Athena, you and I stand here like a proud creator and the offspring of his mind, fully realized!”
“Forgive me if I feel more like Aphrodite than Athena!” said Noelle. “May I have some additional clothing?”
“Wit in the face of change,” he said. “I admire that. You will have plenty of time to adorn yourself for your new role. Still, that will only be possible after we educate you more fully. You must undergo a mental change to go along with the physical changes I have wrought!”
“What, exactly, did you do?” said Noelle. “I feel strange.”
“‘Strange’?” he said. “How utterly mundane a term for your new powers and gifts!” He gestured again, and four women charged her from each side. Noelle spun around and caught one woman with a swift kick to the face. She followed that up by dropping low and flipping a second one into the third attacker. Before the last woman could reach her, Noelle brought her palm up to knock her cold.
“How did I do that?” she asked. “I mean, I always could fight, but my reactions were like something superhuman!”
The evil Professor Cadavéreux plucked at his silk smoking jacket and said, “Your speed, endurance, strength, and recovery time have all been increased. The process that has killed every other subject has given you physical abilities beyond any Olympic athlete!”
Noelle realized he was right. She was a changed woman. She hoped her new abilities could enable her to escape from the madman. She knew that André Chavard was aware of her contact with Eleanor, and she knew that she had failed to report to him or one of his agents in days. She hoped he would arrive with help, but she also knew that her life might just not be as important as learning enough to defeat the evil man and spoil his many plans.
Noelle decided to bide her time. She could handle herself in this crisis. It would take some thinking and some luck, but she had courage and was determined to make her grandfather proud.
Professor Cadavéreux’s next remark changed her plans on the spot. “Take her and tame her mind. Make her mine in mind and soul!”
Noelle realized that she could not trust her own resolve against his science. If he could transform her physical attributes, then what could he do to her mind?
She saw one of the guards standing nearby, and before she could react, Noelle tackled her and grabbed her gun. She aimed it carefully, but not at Professor Cadavéreux. She fired it at the clear tube of chemicals that stood across from the one in which she had been encased.
The glass shattered, and the green liquid within poured out to engulf the professor where he stood. He screamed as the strange chemicals covered him. Noelle still had no idea what it was within her own metabolism that had left her unharmed by the chemicals, but clearly the evil genius lacked such protection.
His women rushed forward, but his tormented screams and convulsions left them at a loss.
Noelle watched in horror for a moment, then flipped through the air to land just beyond them. She fired the gun again into the wall of machines and saw a fire erupt from the damaged devices.
Got to get out and hope that Department Gamma can close the place down now! she thought as she fought her way through the women who came near her. I know I failed to uncover the nature of any plans the professor has already hatched, but maybe by catching him, his school of spies, and his scientific findings, they can do some real good!
Most of the pupils were so devoted to their master that his plight occupied them more than stopping the agile Noelle.
She gasped as she crawled out of the rubble to emerge into the air above and the ruined village hall. When she came out, a squad of around three dozen men rushed forward and charged past her into the fire below. André himself appeared and embraced her.
“We traced you this far, but when you failed to report in, all we could do was wait,” her mentor explained. “I had confidence that you would escape or signal us if at all possible. I was reluctant to raid the place, since I knew you might have been killed in such an effort. I also feared that any such action could result in Cadavéreux’s unleashing some destructive weapon that would take us all down with his base!”
“He is hurt,” said Noelle. “I think I may have killed him. I just wanted to distract them all.” She waited as the agents emerged with the captured women.
“I think we got them all,” said one worried-looking agent. “The lab and the rooms below are completely destroyed. We didn’t find Cadavéreux, but in that inferno it would be easy to miss anything!”
“Well done,” said André. “We crippled his resources. We stopped him from using his female agents on the world. I’d say that was a victory. He may return. He may be dead. Still, I take what victory I can! We owe this to you, young lady!”
“I am sorry for the lives he ruined,” said Noelle. “Poor Eleanor was so deluded. Her pain made her easy prey for him. If these skills he gave me last, then I want to use them for you and for the ideas grand-pere values. “
The tests conducted by the Department Gamma labs revealed that Noelle Avril had been unharmed by her ordeal, and her newly enhanced physical abilities were permanent. After a few days of rest and deliberation, the platinum-haired woman stood before Henri Avril and André Chavard in her family home.
“I have come to a decision. I want to work for Department Gamma. I want to make society better and serve the public good, like we’ve always talked about. I want to be what the flower came to mean to Clovis and Louis VII. I want to embody justice, mercy, and life for all of France. That’s why I’ve made this costume. I’m going to become a living symbol of the things I value. I am Fleur-de-Lis!”
She removed a coat to reveal a one-piece tight white body suit with a fleur-de-lis on the chest. Beneath a white cowl that covered her upper face, Noelle wore a long blonde wig. “I’ll use wigs and this costume to keep my true identity a secret,” she explained. “I’ve always worn my own hair rather short, so the long wigs of various colors will add to my security.”
Henri beamed proudly and raised a wine glass. “To Noelle, or, should I say, France’s newest heroine, Fleur-de-Lis!” he said.
André raised his own and smiled. “To Fleur-de-Lis!”
In the years following her transformation, Noelle Avril had made a name for herself as the national heroine of France, and she had joined with the Global Guardians as well. Still, eventually she left that team to concentrate on her solo work and cases for Department Gamma. She had also discarded her original cowled costume for a vibrant red costume and her natural hair. She no longer cared about a secret identity, since Henri had passed away in his sleep one sad night.