N.B. - Apologies for the low quality and scarcity of in-game images as I'm dealing with some befuddling and unresolved CTD issues. I'm using Data Node to try and uncover conflicts but coming up empty. Also trying the old "remove all plugins and slowly put them back in", without success. It's hideously frustrating but I'll make due for now...
“Irrashaimase!” the staff called out as Felicia entered the restaurant. She smiled and nodded in response before turning to the hostess.
“Hello, I’m here to meet someone…” she began.
The hostess, a pretty, young woman named Mariko, bowed to her and smiled, “Yes, please follow me,” and led Felicia upstairs, away from the main dining area.
Shogun Sushi was beautifully appointed with Japanese décor and access to the upper VIP area was gained through a Torii-style gate. Though the gate was typically found only at the entrance to a shrine or other sacred place, its presence here was clearly symbolic. A shallow Koi pond fed by an artificial waterfall on the far end made up much of the busy upper level. A single, large bonsai tree and Japanese lantern adorned an island in the middle of the pond and two bronze herons stood like sentries off to one side. A small arched bridge provided access to the island, though the bridge itself was roped off.
The VIP area was filled to capacity and several private rooms ringed the area. The private rooms had a modern version of the Shoji, a wooden lattice door with translucent paper panels. Instead of paper, these were lined with frosted white glass for privacy.
Mariko led her to one of the rooms and slid the door silently open. Bowing gracefully, she ushered Felicia in and closed the door behind her. Two women were in the room who stood as she entered. One wore dark sunglasses and wisps of blonde hair peeked out from beneath her hood. A bulky silk scarf seemingly concealed her features but Felicia couldn’t escape the feeling that she was somehow familiar. The other was dressed somewhat more formally in a burgundy silk dress, her straight blond hair spilling elegantly around her shoulders.
“Hello Miss Hardy, I understand you’ve been looking for me. I’m Ms. Marvel,” she welcomed Felicia with a firm handshake. “I’m sorry for all the mystery but discretion is extremely important where my identity is concerned. I hope you’ll understand.” She turned to the woman at her side, “May I introduce you to Dr. Bobbi Morse?” She rubbed at her scarf briefly, the voice synthesizer concealed beneath that Bobbi had lent her was a bit uncomfortable. Not nearly as uncomfortable, she reflected, as the layers of makeup and contouring she had applied in an effort to somewhat disguise herself.
Felicia shook Bobbi's hand with a confused smile.
Ms. Marvel continued, “Mariko knew to expect you, please have a seat,” she motioned to the cushion in front of the low table opposite her own seat.
Felicia’s eyes began to well with tears in overwhelming relief as she seated herself. She had no idea where to begin and was grateful when Ms. Marvel spoke again, “May I tell you about myself and how I came about my abilities?”
Felicia nodded assent as she held nothing back, save her true identity. Felicia was quiet throughout and remained so after Ms. Marvel had finished speaking. Finally, with a furrowed brow she shook her head and said, “I’m sorry but, aliens? That makes about as much sense as…”
“Yeah. Good point,” Felicia allowed.
“Felicia, like it or not, you have powers too. You seem to be able to influence peoples’ fortune. Problem is, you don’t have control.” To demonstrate her point, Ms. Marvel held up a single finger that began to glow with contained energy. She touched the wick of the unlit candle on the table and it flickered to life. “I couldn’t do that without a hell of a lot of practice.”
Silent up until this point, Bobbi asked “Felicia, do you ever feel a strange sensation when something is about to happen?”
She pondered a moment and nodded, “Yeah, kind of a creepy feeling sometimes. Like goosebumps, now that you mention. Almost like I know something’s about to go down but I can’t shake it.”
As if on cue, the door slid open and Felicia began to rub her arm in discomfort. It was Mariko with a pot of tea. Ms. Marvel held out her cup and saucer for Mariko when they suddenly slipped from her grasp as the tea began to pour. Felicia’s hand shot out and with a deft twirl, flipped them right-side up catching the cup perfectly in the stream of hot tea. Not a drop was spilled.
The others were speechless as Felicia placed the saucer in front of Ms. Marvel, then looked up. “What?” she asked in confused reply to their amazed expressions.
Mariko quickly looked down and bowed low, offering apologies and carefully filled Felicia’s and Bobbi’s tea cups before quietly departing.
“How did you do that?” Bobbi whispered incredulously.
Felicia shrugged, “I just caught the cup. What’s the big deal?”
“You didn’t even look and you’d caught it. You moved like lightning! Could you always do that?”
Felicia shook her head, no, as Ms. Marvel leaned back and appraised her again. “This may be even better than I expected. Dr. Morse is the reason I asked you to meet me here tonight.”
Bobbi explained to Felicia about S.W.O.R.D.’s mandate and her own role within the organization, training those with "special abilities." She also touched upon the failed effort at recruiting Ms. Marvel.
Felicia was leery, “So if that's what your boss is like, what makes you think I’d be willing to put myself in that position?” She shook her head, a little miffed at the suggestion.
Ms. Marvel sat quietly with a smug grin as Bobbi sighed. “Over the past several days, Ms. Marvel has been negotiating a service contract with me. The long and the short of it is that it deals with some particulars regarding the development of your powers. Your demonstration tonight with the tea cup shows that there are some aspects of your abilities that are only just beginning to manifest and I can help you with that as well. Most importantly,” she grimaced and sighed again, “S.W.O.R.D. is bound by the terms of the contract to allow no interaction between you and Mr. Stark that you, yourself, do not initiate. The contract has been approved and signed by Director Brand and is absolutely, irrevocably binding.”
Ms. Marvel snickered softly, knowing that a woman as naturally beautiful as Felicia would have been a prime target for Tony #$%@ing Stark.
No chance of that happening now.
She leaned forward, “So what do you say Felicia?”
Felicia looked up, her gaze full of hope, “Yes! God, yes. If she can help me, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Ms. Marvel took Felicia’s hands in her own and squeezed reassuringly, “Good, now let’s eat,” she turned her attention to the tablet device mounted on the table and began to enter their order. “Have you ever tried Unagi? It’s my favorite.”
To be continued...