Tuesday, June 16, 2015

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 2: Tangents

Here is my Flicker Street treatment, part 2. Though I envisioned it to be twice as long and to be dubbed "Arcs & Tangents", the pulp era proved too rich a vein to mine and so must be concluded in a third treatment - one that will pick up many threads from the Backstory treatment. Afterwards, there will follow the Flicker Street saga as set in the modern day (1987-2016), which is where the main story unfolds. Perhaps the backstories will enhance one's appreciation of the more modern material or perhaps the richness of it will boil down to rife self-indulgence on the part of the author. Whatever the case, I obviously enjoy playing in this vast toybox - regardless of era, character, or genre. Hopefully you will find some joy in it as well.

Treatment # 2. Tangents

I. The First Men of Mystery

As Hallmark established itself financially, socially, industrially, crime was bound to surface. The first vigilante in Hallmark's Victorian era was a mystery man known as A Man Called Sword, or Sword. Sword was the kind of mythic figure celebrated like the legendary gunfighters Mercy and Sorrow. Sword was born Ian Rhys McGregor, date unknown (some claim as far back as 1857, though he looked no more than a hale 30 in his first sightings in 1914). Some later speculated that he was an offspring of Carnifex or of an Exodesian. He wielded an enchanted rapier that could appear or disappear at his whim, and was quite the swashbuckler. Some rumoured that he trained under the Tamerlane Overlords themselves, but his martial arts skills were perfunctory; he had an altogether original fighting style, more like a buccaneer, but did incorporate some wu xia techniques.

In Europe, the first real hero to aid the masses and crusade for justice was the mysterious Richter (born 1892). Richter was at first a loner, but resolved to seek out other such individuals over the years and band together to aid a planet being plunged into world war. Richter's story began in 1912, as he used his interesting talents to avenge himself on the man who killed his father. He was torn as to whether to slay the man or not, but the felon, Luc-Pierre Montreux, was slain by another's hand. Richter was not above killing, but preferred to capture and torture his victims psychologically. He also commanded a loyal pack of ravenous wolves that served to terrorize his foes. Richter lived by his own strict moral code and was unfaltering. It was quite an adjustment working with other so-called heroes, but it was soon apparent he had quite the gift for leadership.

An interesting fact about these two earliest of modern vigilantes is their bond by blood. Ian McGregor was indeed older than he appeared; he was, in fact, the great-uncle of the man called Richter, born Jean Aumont Tressilian. And both men carried the blood of Exodesia in their veins. This convoluted circumstance dated to the days of another ambitious party to find unusual and perhaps lucrative relics – the 1868 journey to the Holy Ziggurat in Libania, untaken by a retinue of gunfighters and sordid hangers-on. As in the later expedition to Mt. Mosaic, the journey to plunder the Holy Ziggurat was undertaken by Jerissen of Exodesia.

II. A Fistful of Digressions

Jerissen's younger brother, the priest Urias, had attempted to crack the Ziggurat in Libania in 1818, and was thwarted by Carnifex, with whom he had a bizarre dynamic. Sometimes Cromwell would work for Urias, sometimes they would partner, but, often, they were at odds. In 1818, in Libania, their relationship fell under the latter of these categories. Cromwell, with his then-current lover, the Scottish Betsy McGregor, and their daughter Stavia (allegedly Ewen's mother's name) and their guide, Jacinto Fuentes, made their way to the Ziggurat's upper steppes – only to find Urias awaiting them, mocking Ewen in believing Ewen could trick the mage. Urias told Ewen he could have the riches inside if he were to surrender his daughter to Urias. Ewen unhesitatingly agreed, though knowing there'd be a catch, he proffered, “What of the wench with you?”, meaning Francesca Corvo, young daughter of Urias' guide, Pietro Corvo. Urias forced Pietro to go along with the trade, but alas for Cromwell, Urias had already impregnated Francesca. Urias took Stavia and unleashed his power on Ewen. Their battle laid waste several of the Ziggurat's steppes, and killed Jacinto Fuentes, whose family cursed the two men should they ever return. A draw, the battle ended with the Exodesian and the seemingly immortal barbarian vowing to meet again in this spot in 50 years (the significance of this date unknown to all but them apparently).

And so in 1868, Ewen Cromwell returned, full bore, with Jerissen by his side. He noted that Jerissen's brother, the “spoiler of daughters”, Urias (a hypocritical epithet from Ewen surely) was nowhere to be found. Before anyone could embark on the Ziggurat, Cromwell was corrected – Urias was well represented – by his and Francesca Corvo's 49-year old son Franciscus, of smooth bronzened skin that belied its years of hard work. Franciscus' allies were choice: first, his wife: Lily Runningwater, a sultry carmine-coloured beauty brandishing an intimidating blade (who Carnifex found oddly familiar); then, the dread half-breed gunfighter Sorrow, unchallenged in 5 states thus far and only 28 years old, though he appeared no more than 21 save for the deep creases beneath his eyes, which he hid beneath the brim of a fantastically long-brimmed hat. Sorrow was accompanied by his wife Carmelita, also a deadly sure shot. And then came Mercy, another half-Indian (rumored to be Sorrow's half-brother, though the two were constantly on opposing sides in some adventure or another), who toted a full-blown Gatling gun and spoke little, chomping constantly on his cheroot.

Mercy”, mused Cromwell... “I can smell my own. You're a Mercer. I had a Mercer wench once – Edith – back in France. You wouldn't be a spawn of her son Louis would you?”.
Mercy retorted, “Louis was my grandfather. But I feel your days of whoring are done Cromwell. Your bastards aren't too fond of you these days”.
Oh, and what of Stavia's child by Jerissen's brother? Jerissen, do you think we'll meet your nephew today?”
I'm young”, called a voice in a rich Scots brogue, “... in body. But I'm Franciscus' age. I'm your precious grandson, you bastard.”
Is this it? Am I to die today?? Where the omens and premonitions Jerissen? Are we taking this mountain and its Piscean wreck or not???”

A battle ensued, needless to say. Jerissen made his way up the ziggurat as Ewen deflected bullets and blades. Until Jerissen reached the top steppe. There a shadowed figure, long katana in hand, leapt in his way. “Ah, my wife”, cried out Mercy, “meet the Lady Ronin”. Who promptly sliced off both of Jerissen's arms. Suffice to say, the Exodesian and his barbaric accomplice didn't make it into the ziggurat that day. Which only fuelled Cromwell's frenzy to penetrate Mt. Mosaic.

The coterie of gunfighters, adventurers, and Libanians (and Libanian adventurers) owing their blood and preternatural abilities to Exodesia will be explored further along in this narrative. But to answer a dangling question from our previous segment, the man to be called Sword is indeed the great-uncle of the French mystery man Richter. As can be inferred from the above exchanges, Franciscus and Ian were half-brothers, spawn of Urias. Franciscus' son by Lily was Sorrow, who, by that time, in the course of his adventures, bedded a French noblewoman, Jeanne Aumont, and gave birth to one Armand Tressillian – the father of Jean Aumont Tressilian, AKA Richter, and of his sister Edith and his brother James Vallard Tressilian (about whom, much more to follow).

III. The Pulp Ethos

Ewen Cromwell was a mercenary, but no less so were the bankers and industrialists that bled dry Hallmark's booming immigrant population. Wage slavery was en vogue and what could not be done legally was given over to vice. But one man began a movement to challenge Hallmark's corruption and liberate its cowering masses from its crime wave.
The first man native to Hallmark to be hailed as an adventurer was Dr. Vance Ewen Orlison (born 1893). Vance's middle name derived from his father Basil's awe at the achievements of Ewen Cromwell, the man who shepherded the party that essentially founded hallmark (Vance was never thrilled about this). As a doctor, and as a man, Vance was a true polymath; his friends and closest associates affectionately dubbed him “Doc Vance”. Orlison's extraordinary talents stem from the fact that he was the product of a fevered affair between the renegade Exodesian Jerissen and Basil Orlison's daughter Ilona. Almost a decade later, Ilona's very married twin sister Enola would find herself expecting a child by the wily Jerissen as well, a child no less amazing, but of a different bent than Vance.

Vance first began using his talents to do good in 1921. A decorated veteran of the Great War, and recipient of numerous degrees before then, Vance saw a need to protect his city, his country, and his world from the worst mankind (and other-kind) had to offer. He accepted that he was only half-human, but despised the Exodesians for the moral vacuum that they inhabited in feeling humans were fodder for their manipulations and schemes. He hated his father and uncle most of all, and clashed with them both on occasion. He was spoiling for a chance to ruin Ewen Cromwell, and reveal the co-founder of his city as the ruthless killer Carnifex.

But Vance realized that despite his many gifts, Hallmark's “bronze demi-god of super-strength and super-science” (as one lovely reporter who wished to bed him dubbed him) could not hope to win alone against the Exodesians and the other criminal elements proliferating in hallmark (mainly in the form of corrupt politicians and businessmen). So it came as a surprise to begin hearing about brutal beatings administered to petty crooks in the streets as well as portentous warnings publicly targeted at compromised public figures. This trend began in 1926, and continued unabated over the next year or so. The perpetrator began making sure the newspapers (especially the mob-controlled Occidental) began crediting his work to the Apparition.

Then, another rash of crimefighting began – more brutal, more freewheeling than that of that of the Apparition – gang members began suffering gangland style executions at the hands of a bloodthirsty vigilante who called himself the Saturnine. The authorities feared a rash of copycat vigilantes – and, in a few short years, their fears came true. Vance listened intently for activity involving his own old hero, the man called Sword, but to no avail. Vance's research and travels had convinced him that Ian Rhys McGregor was indeed his first cousin and that they were like-minded in their desire to stop their Exodesian fathers. Vance even dreamt of an expedition to the Ziggurat – an adventure he was born for. Vance also felt Mt. Mosaic itself, ruled unsafe and containing naught but the wealth Hallmark's founders gleamed from it, was nonetheless housing secrets beyond even his far-flung imaginings.

Late in 1927, Vance was called on by one Andreas Vossius, the son of Isaak Vossius, one of Ambrosius ver Dorn's Dutch retinue in 1886. Isaak was actually an infant during the expedition, cared for by his mother Lotte, who had had been rumored to be a lover of Ewen Cromwell's in Amsterdam. Lotte's husband Andre even challenged Ewen to duel – but did not survive. Vance knew right away he's met a kindred spirit – i.e. one who was perhaps a grandson of Cromwell. Sadly, Isaak's own wife was hardly faithful – Enola Orlison Vossius had a son, Gerhardt, in 1904, but Vance's research into Gerhardt marked him as another spawn of Orlison female and the priest Jerissen – hence Vance's own brother! But young Andreas was different. Cromwell blood or no, the young man (21) was earnest, shy, self-effacing, and intensely intellectual. Andreas, it seems, was an inventor – and a problem solver par excellence, a strategist. Vance needed someone like Andreas to complement his own skills and to put a team into place to make headway in the struggle against evil in its manifold forms.

Doc Vance” dubbed Andreas Vossius “Gadgeteer V” and it stuck. Andreas felt a purpose in life at last, away from a less-than-ideal childhood and much youthful angst. The two resolved to find and recruit Ian McGregor next. Vance and V took off to try to find McGregor for a time, but came back empty handed. To their surprise, a costumed buccaneer greeted them and introduced herself as the Duellist. Yes, herself. She was a German girl of 23 who had trained under McGregor and revealed that when he wanted to be found, he would be. But she, in the meantime, proffered her services. Andreas had no problem with it (though still closeted, Gadgeteer V was homosexual), but Doc was overprotective. Sidonie Van Kant was the woman's name and she assured them she could hold her own. Not only that, but while they were gone, the Saturnine's reign of terror on the criminal element had intensified. Vance feared he may have to be stopped himself. The Apparition, it seems, was much more mysterious, and worked through a network of street spies and informants. He was rarely glimpsed in the flesh.

Andreas had quit his job at Vossius Metalwerks but his brother Gerhardt was now a young junior executive. Gerhardt and Vance got along famously, though Gerhardt's parentage was an open secret really. Vance finally encountered the Apparition in 1929, and, after a lengthy battle, the two made peace and agreed to pool their resources. One thing on Vance's agenda was to stop or at least curb the behavior of the mysterious Saturnine. The Apparition was opposed to this, claiming the city needed someone to go where they dare not. It was shortly after this point in Doc's declaration of war on evil men that his two most respected allies at last surfaced.

The men called Sword and Richter paid a secretive visit to the ORDER skyscraper in 1930 (Orlison was still a joint shareholder with Ananias de Ruyter's son Victor and Doc's HQ was in the ORDER Tower Plaza - a marvel of architecture well ahead of its time; it afforded a magnificent view of Mt. Mosaic). They had been working together in Europe for a time and realized their extended family needed help in the US with the occasional encroachement of Carnifex and his Exodesian acquaintances. Richter suggest they form a loose group and base it for the time being in the ORDER Tower. Vance even elected Richter the first chairperson. He demurred to Ian Rhys McGregor, but lent all the means at his disposal to the team.

Vance had reservations: some about Sidonie, but that was his own male ego talking; but, especially, about the at-large Saturnine. Apparition, who had worked with him before, assured the group that Saturnine was in, and that he would attend a meeting soon. Before long, he did in fact, but managed to put Sidonie and the sensitive Andreas well on edge with his mania. Richter and Vance were both too shrewd as sleuths not to detect something amiss. What it was they would not grasp for a while longer. The team, in the interim, became known as the Silent Seven.

Over the next four years, the group had three arch-foes (not counting their vendetta against Urias, Jerissen, and Carnifex): Boston Haverty, the current lord of vice in Hallmark; the man known only as Anon., a shadowy figure who perpetrated crimes and dared the group to solve them; and, worst of – Kanabal. Kanabal was, as his name suggests, not merely a crime lord and a murderer but a cannibal as well – and one that sent gruesome remains of his repasts to the police – and to Doc's lab.

The group's financial benefactor (besides Doc) was Lambert Christensen, a self-made millionaire who won his fortune in the far East, and who in time was revealed (only to the group) to actually be the Apparition. Christensen himself was a cover ID used by a man called Bram Vallard, who Richter revealed to be his younger brother James Vallard Tressilian. This laid many of their fears to rest, but raised more questions than ever about the Saturnine, whom they eventually learned was Royal Hoxworth, a wealthy citizen of Hallmark. The twist to all this was that Tressilian was a classic case of “split personality”: he was not only Bram Vallard, Lambert Christensen, and the Apparition, but, unconsciously, also Royal Hoxworth – the Saturnine.

The Silent Seven loosely persevered through wartime; a moderately changing lineup (including the coming of key members the Stenbrau brothers, AKA Anton Gamble and the Kraken); and harsh revelations regarding the vile Kanabal, as well as the death or disappearance of more than one member. All the while, factors were set into motion that lay the groundwork for the rise of the Machine – and the destiny of the man called Kong.

This particular chronicle is to be concluded in Treatment #3: Arcs.

Welcome to Flicker Street!

Henry Covert

June 16, 2015

Flicker Street, all images, characters, and story elements are Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.

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