Monday, September 28, 2015

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 11 - Liberation

This chapter covers most of the 1970s, as the Aggregate splinters into various factions. Enjoy!
FLICKER STREET Treatment # 11 – Liberation

I. The Aggregate Revisited

In a way, the years 1970-1975 constituted a second golden age of sorts for modern heroism, with an international, interracial team who took part in a vast array of fantastic adventures (some to be detailed in future accounts), battling the machinations of SkullCorp, especially those of the “Black Tamerlane” Kith M'Nali (who Thomas Ledge tastelessly called “Black Manchu”) and Phileas Caleb. Urias and Carnifex became partners in the late 70s and especially had problems with Ben Renova. The wicked arch-mage Biazel Karollus and his group the Abstruse, or the Order of the Thaumaturge, encountered the Bradcrofts via the sorcerer Antioch Moldor.

As the curtain fell on 1972, the following individuals' activities fell under the rubric of the Aggregate: Shadow Baron, Nocturno, Snow Archer, Dr. E, Ursulin, Emerson Trent, Euphrates Straw, Thomas Ledge, Cedric Lykos, Hiawatha Hand, Gulliver, The Wrath, and the Blue Dahlia. At the end of the year, revolutionary Arliss Gordon Cope (aka Graven Idyll) came to the group for help in rescuing several of his militant group, including one Cotton Suede (b. Pauline Cutler). The group made it out, except for Emerson Trent, who they were informed had been kidnapped. Shadow Baron offered Graven Idyll a spot on the team, and he acquiesced. Cotton was not invited to join but invited herself along on their adventures several times.

1973 was a year of upheaval and many battles fought; a number of them lost. Trent's captors traded him with Phileas Caleb. Trent finally confronted Caleb mano a mano; In the midst of fisticuffs, which Caleb was losing, Caleb shot up Trent with a massive dose of what Donal Rykards laughingly called “Skull Wine”, a TSD-derived, lethal concoction. It mutated cells as TSD did, but at an uncontrollable rate. Trent did not explode like Dr. E; he merely imploded, and crumbled away. The loss in terms of genius and brotherhood to the Aggregate was inestimable. Euphrates Straw swore his family would personally destroy Caleb. Trent left behind a 14 year old son in Jamaica, Roman Torrance “Oblidiah” Trent, who was determined to learn the truth about why his father left Kingston. Oblidiah was already making music, and would soon record as, and permanently assume the persona of, Ras Free Man.

Carnifex returned after three years to menace the Aggregate, leading a unit against the Aggregate: The Damnation Brigade, which included Pallor (an undead creature, born Lasse Pallor, 1920, d. 1943; resurrected 1943), L'Argent (Claude Mercer, 4x great-grandson of Ewen Cromwell and of Tephiris; an unerring thief and pickpocket; the richest solo criminal in France; and possessed of uncanny resilience and reflexes), Tormenter (Solomon Vossius; covered elsewhere), Vigil and Parrish (“Elijah Pike” and Price Parminter, two religious fanatics with mysterious pasts who received TSD enhancement while in prison; incredibly powerful), and Zhey (master martial artist Zhey Liao; half-brother of Archimedes Ko and descendant of Shun Ti). The brainchild of Antioch Moldor, a powerful sorcerer and disciple of Biazel, the Damnation Brigade plagued the Bradcrofts' “superteam” on and off for four years, and slew Gulliver in their very first attack on the Aggregate.

II. New Blood

In 1974, Dr. E's containment suit began to unravel in the midst of fighting Parrish and he exploded; Parrish was destroyed; Blue Dahlia was believed to be dead as a result. Lykos was badly injured but healed. REACT declared Dr E too dangerous and now under their purview; he was taken away. Paige learned the truth she had long suspected – that E was Evan Eloy Queeq, her ex-lover and Kyle Fabricand's father. Kyle sat on the board at Skull at this point. Paige tried to see Queeq to no avail, angering the Bradcrofts. Cary confronted Kyle, and they soon fought, a quite uneven match, with Cary's parting words stating he'd spare Kyle's life “only because you are Paige's son”. In January 1975, Nocturno went to the man who masterminded the wife and child-swapping Paige endured – Artemus Thorne. Their confrontation escalated, until Nocturno wiped out Thorne utterly.

Cary told Ashton that Nocturno's powers, and those of Dr. E, were out of control, and that the Aggregate needed to keep a lower profile in order to persevere. REACT and the government were seemingly aware of everything they did, despite the Bradcroft's mystic safeguards. With this, Nocturno left - left Cary, the group, America... everything, and was gone until 1982. He was working on a project – a magickal working that was to be his crowning achievement, and thus left the Aggregate to Cary to lead (with the aid of his field commanders, Brandon ver Dorn and Euphrates Straw).

Cary immediately began securing new allies. In early 1975, The multi-powered martial-arts motorcyclist Konchuman (Ishiro Nakamura) and his 19 year old cousin, known as Go Demon, joined. Go Demon (Jiro Nashida, b. 1955) was the child of the brilliant professor Kenji Nashida, who began working with SkullCorp in the 1950s. His daughter Kai Nashida caught the eye of Kong and they had a child, known as Lumena, who plagued the Aggregate in the late 70s. Konchuman's father was Shiro Nakamura, half-brother of Kenji Nashida. The brothers were the grandsons of the legendary gunfighter Mercy and his passionate lover, the “Lady Ronin”, Meiko Nakamura. Kenji had been a colleague of Trent's and offered his son and nephew (both of whom had been participants in TSD trials) to work for the Aggregate, much to Skull's, Caleb's, and Rykards' chagrin. Cary swore he would safeguard the cousins.

Shadow Baron approached Deacon Thrush (born Bishop Mercer, a cocaine dealer and martial artist who was yet another descendant of Carnifex), who came up under Graven Idyll's wing, to round out the team. Thrush had just scored big, and then moved to Europe for a time, leaving behind Cotton Suede, not knowing that she was pregnant with their son. Cotton swore if Bradcroft could wait for her to give birth, and for her to find family to help raise the child, she would fight for the Aggregate for as long as they needed her – or unto death. Shadow Baron gladly agreed to these terms.

III. Lords of Liberty

In 1975, President Ford and REACT unveiled Freedom Ops. Ford was famously quoted as saying, “Our long national nightmare is over.... Now we are wide awake – and the American dream has a bright new lease on life”. It was announced that REACT and other agencies would be “employing a highly trained team of exceptional individuals to curtail threats foreign and domestic that regular intelligence agencies can't touch.” REACT “drafts” almost half of the Aggregate: Snow Archer (whom they rechristen the White Archer, to Brandon's chagrin), Dr. E (somewhat recovered), Wurm, The Wrath, and Ursulin (who they wish to keep the closest tabs on). Thomas Ledge, surprisingly, was not selected but was told that his REACT insider status in the Aggregate was invaluable.

The US rounded out their “sensational seven” (President Ford's epithet) with Jim April, the Flare (a token black member), and millionaire Roger Greer, otherwise known as Liberty Lord. They were trained intensively on working together and nicknamed the “Freedom Squad”, though only the wealthy, super-powered but daft conservative Greer took a shine to the name.

Roger Anthony Greer was a very wealthy man whose positions had been handed to him with little sweat. He was what we would call a “legacy hero”, i.e. someone carrying on the name and persona and symbology of a deceased or retired hero before them. The original Liberty Lord was actually a failed, deeply flawed hero who nonetheless tried to do the right thing. He was Clarke Ledge (son of Kong [though he knew it not] and brother of Thomas Ledge, who was aghast that he wasn't chosen for Freedom Ops), a closeted homosexual teacher who was born in 1934 in Lincoln, Nebraska – not the place nor era to be outwardly gay. Clarke Ledge suffered at the hands of his father, brother, and peers, and remained very closeted as a gay man for many years. In the early 1960s, inspired by the Silent Seven's exploits, he moved to Hallmark, complete with teen sidekick “Pronto” (Luis Esteban, the son of Clarke's gardener and a boy thrown out of his house when his homosexuality was discovered), whom he had trained rigorously. Clarke had served in the Korean War with his brother Thomas, though he detested institutionalized slaughter. Clarke boasted superhuman strength and agility, as did Thomas. Kong's genes were strong in Clarke as well.

The two fought crime, rather sloppily, in the early 1960s in Hallmark as Lord Liberty (as opposed to Lady Liberty, obviously) and Pronto. Pronto was often injured in battle, and Clarke tended to him as best he could. Their family doctor was suspicious of the two young men living together, even with Luis ostensibly Ledge's live-in stable boy and gardener. Clarke decided to move to nearby, quieter Gossingham and buy a generous spread. Alas, he counted not on the plethora of rednecks in Gossingham. Clarke decided he should be married and have a child. Pronto was extremely jealous.

In 1964, LL and Pronto were approached by Cary Bradcroft about being charter members of the Aggregate. Bradcroft divined their situation and told them they would be under protection for their homosexual relationship. Clarke blew up and he and Pronto denied being gay, and informed Bradcroft that they would handle crime as a duo, as they'd always done. Bradcroft admonished them that their days could be numbered...

And indeed, in 1965, Pronto was killed in a vicious scrap with four raging homophobes while Clarke was at work one day. Luis Esteban was barely 19. Clarke hunted down the scum that had slain his lover and with his immense strength killed all four. He left Gossingham when suspicion began to turn in his direction. He moved back to Hallmark and wed Sadie Palmer, a well-off wallflower of a girl (and the first cousin of Brandon ver Dorn). He again turned down Cary's offer to team up. Instead, he debuted as Liberty Lord with a brand new costume, and brutally dispatched criminals at night, usually beating them just short of killing them. He and Sadie raised a foster child for a few years, Damon Carroll (from 1965-1969), and Clarke encouraged him to be a chiropractor, which Damon ultimately did. Damon never learned that Clarke was gay, though Sadie found out in the early 70s and began seeing a psychotherapist.

But what fascinated Clarke Ledge the most was the company he'd gotten a job with – SkullCorp, where he worked in entertainment advertising. As the years went by, and his marriage began to dissolve, he became obsessed with tracing every aspect of Skull's operations. In 1974, he accidentally unlocked a computer code to a computer far more advanced than what he was accustomed to. This machine, extrapolated from Omegan technology years earlier, laid out the inner circle of Skull. The program was filled with disinformation in case someone cracked it, as had happened once before (to be covered in future chapters), but the basic structure was accurate, enough for Liberty Lord to take the info to Shadow Baron.

And then he was shot point blank in the back of the head and left for dead. Fortunately, he had been followed by Roger Greer, also highly distrustful of Skull, though still trafficking with them. Greer found the dying Ledge, who murmured some indecipherable verbiage, as well as, “Now you can be Liberty Lord. They know about me...Don't let them...”

Much transpired over the next year. Roger Greer was of genetic prime stock; he was a 3x great-grandson of Carnifex through the Paiges. He wasn't as strong as Clarke, but he trained himself mercilessly for months. Still ostensibly on good terms with Skull, he asked if he could volunteer for TSD. TSD experimentation was at an all-time low, Skull having gathered as much info for now that they felt germane. So Roger bought his way in. His procedure was very safe and streamlined; not like the days of Queeq and deLander.

He emerged, physically a man of Olympian proportions. He was also smarter, though his septic political leanings mitigated much of his intellect. He decided the only way to stop Skull was through REACT. He never thought twice about approaching the Aggregate. Greer left his wife Angela and young daughter Kelsey (b. 1972), setting them up for life financially, and offered his services to REACT. He scored the highest on the team training tests (Ursulin held back; he had no desire to lead) and was nominated the first chairman of Freedom Ops. A few more months of training together and 1976 – the nation's bicentennial – would herald the first mission of what Roger Greer called “Liberty Lord and the Freedom Squad”. And, to clarify, at this point, Greer's companies still worked with SkullCorp. Conflicting interests indeed...

IV. Shifting Paradigms

Around the time Cotton Suede took her place with the Aggregate, another female member signed up. This was Silent Indigo, Nocturno's “alchemical child”. Cary knew Ashton did not want his daughter in the team, but she was in a torrid, intermittent affair with Orphee deLander, the Absurd Tentacle, who persuaded her to be his “inside woman” in the Aggregate. Cary hoped that eventually he could make a firm alliance with the Tentacle.

Cary trained the mute Indigo in the mystic arts, honing and refining her talents over the following months. Then, the team was confronted by Brother Zodiac, who now seemed more a nemesis than an ally. It was learned that Zodiac was raised in New Orleans as Trevor November. It was unknown what his place and date of birth were.

Graven Idyll and Cotton Suede were making headway in their war on the mob, often clashing with the urbane Milo Majestyk, the head of the mob in Hallmark. Majestyk succeeded as "godfather" the sadistic Tony Duarte, who had twin sons: Julius and Alec. Julius Duarte was content to live a decadent life, merely waiting for Milo to be executed by the law or by his rivals. Alec ran away as a teenager, having had enough of his gangster father and prostitute mother, Roxanne Cooper Duarte. Alec Duarte's story will be expanded upon in future chapters.

In 1976, while a few of the Aggregate were dealing with a kidnapping case of appalling proportions, an attempt was made on the life of Thomas Ledge. The would-be assassin was not found out. The “kidnappings” turned out to be a voluntary exodus of Flicker Street youths to a bizarre commune which engaged in “happenings” designed to purge oneself of accrued psychic trauma and to begin to heal psionic scar tissue. These performance art like rituals were filmed by the ringleader, Kranz Mueller, who turned out to be the seemingly late Dahlia Mueller's father. Kranz was raising his granddaughter Kappy McCleary in this highly charged environment. Konchuman was instrumental in rescuing Kappy, and Ledge helped reunite her with Dahlia's ex-husband Keefer McCleary. Kranz was held on charges, along with his daughter Eva Mueller (Dahlia's sister) and Eva's lovers Nels Vorchett and Elrod “Fenris” Sebastian. During the trial, another attempt on Thomas' life was carried out; again he survived, albeit badly wounded this time.

The mistake made was in thinking that the assailant was tied in with Kranz Mueller's Psycho-Situationist Theatre “cult”. In reality, the threat to Ledge was of a much more personal nature. Ledge was stalked and baited with notes upon his release from the hospital. One note was empty save for a photograph of a woman, Adora White, who Thomas had a teenage affair with. Adora was dead, the last he'd heard. But she left a widower, Desmond Daltrey, and a son, Jericho.Thomas flew to the Mid-West to confront Desmond. Desmond explained that his son had been killed in Vietnam and he couldn't help Ledge any further.

Jericho Daltrey was, in fact, a black ops agents for REACT since 'Nam and was indeed alive – after a fashion. A landmine had nearly killed him, but REACT rebuilt him with highly advanced cybernetic technology cribbed from SkullCorp, as well as Omegan regenerative tech that they now possessed. Jericho Daltrey learned while at REACT that he was the biological son of Thomas Ledge. Jericho himself was divorced and his son by Jamice Albrecht was named Desmond “Dez” Daltrey II (b. 1965).

The members of the Aggregate broke up Kranz Mueller's group and returned the minors involved to their homes. Cary found it ironic given how young the members of the Aggregate were when they began their respective careers. An explosion rigged to kill Ledge caught the Aggregate unaware. Hiawatha Hand was killed. Euphrates Straw and Cotton Suede were badly injured. Konchuman was partially dismembered, but his TSD Recombinant mutation has utilized some cybernetics and he was able, much like Jericho, to be reconstructed and healed. Go Demon pursued a man Lykos spied on an adjacent rooftop. Lykos climbed on the back of Jiro Nashida's motorcycle and the two were hot on the saboteur's heels when Silent Indigo appeared. She had homed in on his body energy and trailed it unfalteringly. She knocked the startled man off a rooftop and he suffered a nasty fall that would've killed a normal human.

But Jericho Daltrey was no longer a “normal human”. He feigned unconsciousness, and was taken away by a hospital, followed by REACT vehicles. The REACT agents on the street obfuscated everything that happened. When Thomas Ledge arrived, with credentials, the REACT men identified Jericho Daltrey as Ledge's stalker – and told Thomas that he was Daltrey's father. They also claimed Jericho was dead, and informed Ledge that the crimes against him and the others were solved, and that the case was closed. Ledge was forced to believe the story, as he still trusted REACT, but Shadow Baron and Silent Indigo knew that Jericho was alive, though they could only trace him so far. Daltrey was alive, but the hero Hiawatha Hand was deceased, and Cotton, Straw, and Ishiro were nearly so.

V. Kong's Last Claim?

No sooner had the Aggregate recovered from the Daltrey incident than Kong the Claimer issued to them a bold decree: he invited them to Castle Kong, his fortress in Germany, to hold a twisted New Years ceremony. There, he swore, the final battle between them would transpire. The year 1976 was waning, Jimmy Carter had won the presidency of the United States, and the so-called “Freedom Squad” was entrenched in foreign affairs. They spent much time ostensibly sabotaging the efforts of FOPA in Libania, while Skull was filling Libanian coffers with enough money to commit terrorist acts all across South America. Serafinia was finally conquered by FOPA, with the help of drug and arms money supplied by Skull's business end. Though to the average American, Skull was largely an entertainment conglomerate.

Freedom Ops planned to deal with two major threats in 1977 and were “too busy” to loan any help to the Aggregate against Kong. As for the Aggregate, they were now boasting their most eclectic lineup (even after Hand's death): Shadow Baron, Thomas Ledge, Euphrates Straw, Graven Idyll, Cotton Suede, Konchuman, Go Demon, Cedric Lykos, and Silent Indigo. Cary Bradcroft felt it was time to recruit for the scenario with Kong, but there was no time to adequately train new members.

Freedom Ops had acquired two new members: one was The Duellist, a “legacy” hero. The original Duellist had been, of course, a woman, Sidonie van Kant Vossius. This new Duellist was a man named Oregon Powell, who had toyed with names such as Cavalier and Rapier but decided to honor the celebrated pulp era heroine. Oregon Powell had a deep, dark secret in his past; he was raised by Duke Powell as his own son, but Oregon was actually the child of the inscrutable Clarissa Rushmore, who was another offspring of Biazel Karollus. Powell's true father was Lawrence Rubinstein, a Jewish scientist and authority on Omegan technology, who Clarissa seduced while he was in college. So the new Duellist had a sliver of the demonic in him, which we will explicate upon shortly.

The second new member was known as Solus. Solus had spent his life as a virtual human guinea pig. He was bred carefully; his parents selected with much deliberation. He was born in 1947, name unknown, parents classified. As a child, he began the TSD treatments (at the same time as the experiments conducted on Evan Eloy Queeq). Urias oversaw Caleb's and Rykards' experiments on him (Rykards was even inspired by the project to perform TSD on his own children). By 1977, he was the most powerful TSD “graduate”, with power beyond that of Dr. E or the Absurd Tentacle. Could he be controlled? was the burning question for REACT, now that they had acquired him from Skull. In return, REACT was to be hands off in Skull's global interests. REACT, of course, broke the deal.

Returning to the Aggregate.... Shadow Baron led his team on New Years 1977 to Castle Kong, totally unsure what to expect. As it turns out the surviving inner circle of Skull was waiting: Urias, Kyle Fabricand, Kith M'Nali, Phileas Caleb, and Donal Rykards. This was the first time the Aggregate had actually met Donal Rykards face to face. Bradcroft's team defeated all of them, except Urias, who they managed to keep at bay until Thomas Ledge could make his way to Kong.

In Kong's inner chamber, he was clad in elaborate armor and awaiting Ledge. Ledge smashed his armor and in a blood rage hurled him from the highest parapet of Castle Kong. His body washed ashore as the Aggregate made their way to the coastline. The Skull inner circle buried Kong and held an elaborate ritual as a kind of wake; the aggregate was not invited. They were assured, however, that Kong the Claimer was, indeed, in fact, at long last deceased. He was buried next to his half-brother Coyle. Thomas Ledge was still unaware that Kong was his father.

VI. The Plunder of Libania

Forced into a temporary “ceasefire” with SkullCorp, the frustrated, wounded, and frankly depressed team returned to America. Kong's death was bittersweet – a pyrrhic victory it felt like to the team. Then, once home, Silent Indigo announced her departure to go and live with Orphee at his Red Oasis (his chateau based on his that of his grandfather Richter). Graven Idyll also bowed out of the team, after giving it his all for five years. He was also swayed by deLander, as well as by his on and off affair with Fiora Charme. Cary Bradcroft began actively seeking out new blood for the team; he also decided that the team was too structured. He felt if members had more freedom they would be more likely to stay around longer. He decided that Bradcroft Manor was too limiting an HQ, and, sizewise, began thinking more along the lines of Freedom Central, where Freedom Ops hung their cowls – save that Cary never intended such a militaristic milieu.

And where was Freedom Ops while all this was going down? They were battling for their lives against the being called Deomond, the Exodesian uncle of Urias and physically the most powerful of all Exodesians. Dark alchemy had fortified him through his long life, and he was a veritable force of nature. Freedom Ops found him at the Ziggurat in Libania, where he declared himself king and defied the Libanian and Serafinian armies. What caused him to make such a move is simple: Urias requested it.

The Squad” had been investigating a rash of murders in Augensburg (just outside Hallmark County). They were apparently politically motivated in some twisted way, almost like the infamous Maddox Family slayings of 1969 in California. In the midst of this case, they were called to South America to stop Deomond.

The battle was swiftly joined. Deomond attacked Dr E, who detonated, killing a number of Libanians and Serafinians. 21 years old Corporal Diaz Montaldo of FOPA witnessed this, and, as we shall see, the carnage visited on his people by the battles between “heroes” and “villains” left a deep and abiding impression on Montaldo. For one of the Serafinians was his lover Concepcion. Deomond grievously injured Wrath, the Duellist, the White Archer, and Liberty Lord, who refused to back down despite missing an arm. Only Dr E and Solus could stand against Deomond, and, as noted, Dr E's bid backfired – quite literally.

Solus brought to bear all he had against Deomond, blasting him again and again with his solar radiation bursts and engaging him in hand to hand combat. Solus created a containment bubble around the two of them and he and Deomond fought a long, bloody fight. In the end, Solus released all of his energy on Deomond, incinerating him. The bubble barely lasted but just long enough for a quite literally burnt-out Solus to collapse.

REACT back-up was everywhere all at once, spiriting away the wounded and dying “Freedom Squad”. Dr. E was contained and recovered swiftly. The man called Solus expired, his inert body next to the ashes of Exodesia's greatest warrior.

Coming soon on these pages: The Aggregate: the Next Generation? Who lives and who dies in Freedom Ops? Who is the serial killer of Augensburg? Who was Solus really? All this and more will be answered in the upcoming treatment “Extrapolations”.

Welcome to Flicker Street!

Henry Covert
September 28, 2015

Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.

To my blood brothers Sean Lee Levin, Michael T Jones, Scott Moseley, Mark Baranowski, Tim McLain, Bill White, and Gary Sondergaard.
To all my buddies in the Wold Newton community: it couldn't happen without you guys.

In loving memory:
Thomas S. Davis 1966-2004
Christopher A. Pack 1968-2013

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

No comments: