Wednesday, September 16, 2015

FLICKER STREET - Treatment # 9 - Aggregate

This was a tough one to finish. So much information to impart... but it's done at last. Enjoy! 

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 9 – Aggregate

I. The Bradcroft Legacy

Bear with us as we go back over facts presented in treatment # 1 – Backstory. In 1956 Cary Bradcroft arrived in Hallmark MA (apparently alone). His uncle Malcolm had lived in Hallmark for several years and owned and managed a curio shoppe there. Malcolm willed the shoppe to Cary, whose twin brother Ashton had reportedly been killed during an expedition to Africa.

When Cary took the title of baronet, his presumed dead brother dubbed him the Shadow Baron. As ever-fickle fate would have it, Ashton was indeed dead as we perceive the state. But he was in fact undead, and karmically attached to his brother. One could say he was now his brother's magickal familiar (that is, a mediator between the magician and the spirit world, and an aide in performing magickal workings) although Ashton, now calling himself simply Nocturno, was potentially more powerful than Cary.

The brothers decided to keep a low profile in Hallmark for several years, but the festering evil in the city and in the world around them spurred Cary to gather various extraordinary individuals who had been operating as vigilantes over the years, mainly the “pulp era” heroes loosely allied under the moniker The Silent Seven. With malefic forces such as Carnifex, Kanabal, and criminal organizations such as SkullCorp (ostensibly a reputable conglomerate but the Bradcrofts knew better) numbered among the threats to humanity's safety and freedom, the Shadow Baron resolved to organize a group, called simply the Aggregate, to deal with these menaces.

The final straw, as it were, was the murder of the heroic half-Exodesian polymath Vance Ewen “Doc Vance” Orlison at the hands of Carnifex and Kanabal, abetted by Kanabal's bloodthirsty offspring Solomon Vossius, soon to be known as the Tormenter. After Orlison's funeral, during which Cary was accosted by REACT agent Thomas Ledge, he began formulating a solid plan to put the Aggregate into play and encompass an even broader range of talent as the Silent Seven.

By March 1964, the proverbial die was cast. Under the sign of Pisces, as unveiled to Cary during a vision, or premonition, he received as he was dangling tortured in the inner chamber of the Obscuros sect in Exodesia a decade before, the Shadow Baron made his move. Cary had spent several years befriending the Omegan Ursulin, and Dr. E was born Evan Eloy Queeq and was at one time a lover of the Bradcrofts' beloved cousin Paige. Dr. E wanted Paige to go on thinking him dead from the TSD-related accident that changed him into E. Her torment was doubled by the fact that her son, Kyle Fabricand, was really Evan's. Shadow Baron and Nocturno agreed to keep each party's secret, though they felt it foolish.

The Aggregate was funded by Bradcroft Ltd, in association with the Vossius company now run by Sidonie and Andreas. Later, Renova, Inc. became a partner and the entity became known as The Zed Foundation. The bulk of the Aggregate consisted of members imported from the Silent Seven. Saturnine, Richter, Sword, Kraken, Anton Gamble, and Gadgeteer V were all co-founders of the Aggregate. The final co-founder was 26-year old Brandon ver Dorn, who lived a double life as the Snow Archer; some might say he lived a triple life in actuality, an observation to be clarified shortly.

II. The White Archer?

Brandon was the great-grandson of Ambrosius ver Dorn (b. 1837), who largely bankrolled the Cromwell Party that led to Hallmark's founding. Ambrosius was the bastard son of a Dutch miner, Cesar ver Dorn, who hit it rich, and of the woman known only as Seripha, an Exodesian refugee. More than one of the descendants of the Dutch founders of Hallmark were named for Seripha. Ambrosius benefited from his mother's genes and he lived 105 years (and even then he was killed in a car accident).

Brandon ver Dorn was Dr. E's closest friend, and worked for the brilliant Emerson Trent and his polymath half-brother Euphrates Aquinas Straw. Ver Dorn was always cryptic about his early life back then, and sowed some distrust among the team at times but eventually revealed his story. We will digress for a time to discuss the secrets of the Snow Archer.

Ambrosius ver Dorns' son Christian fell in love with Seripha de Ruyter (named for Ambrosius' mother, as alluded to above), stunning daughter of the great adventurer Ananias de Ruyter and Inocencia Renova. They had a son with copper skin and grey eyes, who was given the appellation Hendrik van Hoke II. This was due to the fact that Seripha de Ruyter was wed to Christian's best friend, Jost van Hoke, who claimed the child as his own. But Hendrik was truly a ver Dorn. Seripha and Jost had a daughter of their own, Matilda van Hoke, whose son, Dugas van Hoke, aka Locke, was a musician (he played bass in the band the Sacred Mirrors for a time) and a SkullCorp operative in the 1960s (he reported directly to Phileas Caleb). Hendrik van Hoke II changed his surname to ver Dorn as an adult married into the heretofore undiscussed Palmer clan. His wife, Esther Palmer (daughter of first cousins Randolph and Ruth Palmer, whose sale of their grocery store chain in 1947 to the Harness family assured the Palmer's place in Hallmark society), bore him Brandon Palmer ver Dorn. The entire family were scandalized by Hendrik and found his son an impetuous (if goodhearted) youth and were not terribly dismayed when they embarked in 1947 on what appeared to be a fatal flight to the arctic.

Hendrik ver Dorn's renowned flight skills, honed in World War II, did not save him, and he was killed when his plane hit an icecap in the midst of a “freak storm”. Young Brandon was believed killed as well. Amazingly, so the story goes, he was found by a tribe of Inuits and raised by them as their own. Exactly what transpired in the life of Brandon ver Dorn from his 10th to his 17th year is largely unknown, but by his own account, he became the greatest hunter, archer, and scout in the tribe – save for one man that ver Dorn referred to simply as “Aguila”. Aguila called Brandon “The White Archer” and despised him as a blood rival.

The account is a familiar one, one possibly embroidered by Brandon over the years. Simply, the chief of the tribe, Silver Eyes, adopted the ten-year old ver Dorn and the chief's natural son, Aguila, was bitter and resentful. In this archetypal situation, the two “brothers” finally duelled, and, as to be expected, when the time came for Brandon to settle the matter with Aguila's life, he spared Aguila and merely humbled him. It is known with some certainty that in 1955, Ursulin, in his travels about the world he was born, but not raised, on, found Brandon and ver Dorn was spirited back to SkullCorp HQ. This was when Ursulin was still cooperating with Skull's scientists, before he decamped and became a free agent, albeit one hotly sought out by REACT.

Ver Dorn suffered a massive culture shock, having been partially raised by what some saw as a “primitive” culture and then rescued by an alien benefactor and exposed to technology far ahead of the society he left behind. In 1957, Esther Palmer ver Dorn passed away, leaving her only child her portion of the ver Dorn and Palmer fortunes. Ver Dorn was now free to travel and decide his fate. In 1959, ver Dorn was approached by REACT and recruited by them, though he questioned their motives. However, he decided that Skull's path was the wrong one for him, and for humanity, and so went to work for the ostensible “good guys”, who already had accrued quite a file on ver Dorn.

The file was labeled “Snow Archer” as REACT, frankly, even in those days before political correctness was codified, felt “White Archer” was patronizing to the tribe Brandon joined, and the group didn't want a stigma of white supremacy attached to the son of a man who fought the Nazis. They also didn't feel like competing with Skull's progressive ethnic hiring policies. Ver Dorn decided to become a double agent, ostensibly working for REACT but reporting his information to Cary Bradcroft, who Ursulin introduced him to. On top of all this, the perpetually busy, seemingly sleepless Snow Archer operated as a part-time vigilante on the streets of Hallmark inspired by the Silent Seven, though it wasn't long before he was outed as Brandon ver Dorn, wealthy but definitely not a stereotypical playboy. His years as the son of Silver Eyes gave him a rather zen and good-natured outlook, despite the darkness in his life.

The Archer's first mission for REACT involved going undercover in the lower echelons of SkullCorp under the name Sigmund Bartholemew. Ver Dorn saw this as a way out of his brushes with the law as a vigilante and so he faked his own death and sunk himself into becoming Bartholemew. Brandon ver Dorn had been too long without any meaningful female companionship, and embarked on a passionate affair with co-worker Medea Strasser. To foster his disguise, “Sigmund” married the young German girl, and she was soon pregnant. The catch to all this was that Skull didn't want Bartholemew working as a mere office flunkie but as a soldier attached to FOPA in Libania. This was because they had researched Bartholemew and learned his true ID and that he was a REACT agent. Their test for him was a mission in Libania. They threatened to murder Medea and their infant Stephen if he refused to comply.

The spy called Sigmund Bartholemew was put in charge of a FOPA unit in Libania. They were raiding their long-time enemies the Serafinians. “Bartholemew” was told if the mission went well he could be promoted to the rank of a top political assassin and eventually reach the inner circle of Skull. He was warned that at this point there was no turning back. But he was in contact with Ursulin, who, with Dr E and the Shadow Baron, rescued the Archer and defeated the Libanian raid on Serafinia. This mission could be said to be the seed from which the Aggregate grew. No longer just a concept in Cary Bradcroft's mystical visions, but a core group of four men who had no legal identities in society – Nocturno; the believed dead ver Dorn and Queeq; and Ursulin (or “Captain Omega”).

It should be noted before returning to the genesis of the Aggregate in 1964 that in 1961, when the Libanian raid was foiled, Sigmund Bartholemew was declared deceased, and SkullCorp cut loose Medea Strasser Bartholemew with a modest severance package, and she and her son had to go on welfare until they met Angelo Blatanski, a man of questionable integrity who married Medea and raised young Stephen Bartholemew, about whom much more will be related in future accounts.

III. The Sixties

As noted elsewhere, in 1964, the mystery men called Sword and the Kraken were slain by the barbarous Carnifex. Existentialist crusader Anton Gamble retired and pursued his passion for Dawn Cheshire Vossius Clancey. Lined up to fill the void were Trent and Straw, both welcomed into the group. Two black men in such a position in 1965 was seemingly unthinkable, but the Bradcrofts could care less. The entire enterprise was like a secret society anyway, with the public not privy to its workings. Though African-Americans (really Jamaican-Americans) were entrenched in the group, the Aggregate was void of distaff membership for a time, and was roundly criticized within the group itself for it. This would change dramatically by the end of the decade.

In 1966, The Absurd Tentacle was invited but declined. He scoffed at the operation for his own abstruse reasons. Thomas Ledge, however, joined up that year, as a liaison to REACT. The Shadow Baron felt it better to follow the maxim of keeping one's enemies closer. Ledge caused no end of controversy in the group. In combat with the team's foes, Ledge lent a great deal to the proceedings. He was well-trained, fearless, agile, superhumanly strong, and healed very quickly. He aged slowly and was rarely ill. Kong's genes were strong in him.

In 1968, the problem of no women in the group was resolved with a vengeance, as the group drafted in three female members (or was it four? More on that shortly). Hyacinthe and Fiora Charme were hippie hangers-on to Orphee de Lander, and both had been administered doses of TSD. Hyacinthe believed her powers lie in her ability to affect others' mood for the better. Her best friend Emily Duncan claimed to ply the same talents under the name Fiora Charme. Marcella Motto was a young Libanian drfated into illicit TSD trials who emerged as Princesa Verde (“The Emerald Princess”), who boasted green skin, gossamer jade wings, and the ability to control vegetation. Orphee de Lander took immediate interest in recruiting her, but Shadow Baron beat him to it.

Soon after this femme contingent signed up, a man called Hieronymous followed suit. Hieronymous though unknown to many at first was also a woman – Dahlia Mueller, who disguised as a man, with a costume festooned with mystic symbols and topped by assymetrical goggles and a cowl covering her entire face. Hieronymous was a mystical artist, able to transcribe mystic symbols with ease and vivify them.

In 1969, Richter and Saturnine were on the cusp of retirement, and missed many meetings. Thus Shadow Baron and Nocturno sought out two new members to replace the literally irreplaceable. The superhumanly strong and tough Wurm, adorned with Spanish conquistador and dragon imagery, became the next official recruit. He was really Benjamin “Ben” Renova, heir to the vast Renova fortune first struck when his great-grandfather Guillermo Renova staked his claim with the Cromwell Party at Mt Mosaic in 1887. Ben was also descended from the Van Hokes and the Exodesian Elodie. He owned Van Hoke General Hospital, Renova Bank & Loan, and Renova Plaza. He was a major benefactor to the fledgling Zed Foundation (built on the original Bradcroft Foundation). Renova was nearly as much a right wing idealogue as Thomas Ledge (they became lifelong best friends) though Ben was by far the easier to take.

Gulliver joined in late 1969, and was still in training when the group went up against Kanabal for the final round. Gulliver was Enos McClegg, a Scottish alcoholic who stood a menacing 10 feet tall – another TSD experiment. From 1967-1969, the ever-changing team found themselves battling the likes of Exodesian Xeronixia; gangsters Tony Duarte, Marco Allegretti, and Milo Majestyk; the deadly Kith M'Nali, or the 'Black Tamerlane' (discussed at length previously); the Exodesian Arch-Priest Urias; and, at long last, Kong the Claimer in person (or so they believed). Fiora Charme left the team in 1970 to marry and tour with Sacred Mirrors keyboardist (and brother of the Absurd Tentacle) Bertrand Rojiczek. Over the next few years they had two children: Collette and RD.

In May 1970 the final battle with longtime foe Kanabal was joined. Gadgeteer V was killed, and Anton Gamble presumed dead. Hieronymous was on leave during this battle (She was giving birth to her daughter by the Absurd Tentacle and put the child up for adoption. It was adopted, and christened Espasia Felts). Saturnine and Richter went into retirement. An era had ended. The gauntlet had truly passed forevermore from Vance Orlison's Silent Seven to Cary Bradcroft's Aggregate.

IV. The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius/ Horus?

1971 was an eventful time for the world's only full-fledged “superhero” team, albeit one still operating beneath the public's radar. Comings and goings were hard to track; there were odd visitations; and the threats investigated became more varied – and deadly.

Hieronymous returned, after her time away struggling with the decision to give up her daughter. She dropped the he-drag and became known as the Blue Dahlia, with the same esoteric abilities as Hieronymous. Hyacinthe followed her best friend's lead and departed the team to spend her time as part of Orphee de Lander's emergent “Terminal Culture” movement. He was invited once more to join the group, by emissaries Dr E and Snow Archer, and was so enraged that he attacked them and seriously injured the Archer, thus sidelining him from battle for weeks.

Shortly thereafter, Princesa Verde became involved with a dusky-skinned, green-eyed man called Cedric Lykos, and Cary Bradcroft harbored his suspicions about this stranger to Hallmark. Another man to provoke the interest of the Aggregate was the bohemian who called himself only Brother Zodiac. He was grey-brown of skin, had grey eyes with incandescent swirls like pools of gold which he perpetually hid behind round purple shades. His long thick cascading hair was usually tied back and he was ever barechested save for an open vest adorned with scales, sequins, and locks of hair. He wore a round medallion emblazoned with the zodiac wheel. Brother Zodiac was truly inscrutable; he befriended both Cary Bradcroft and Orphee de Lander but neither seemed able to pierce his veil of mystery. One thing was sure; he exuded power; yet he declined a commitment to either Cary or Orphee to lend them that power.

Meanwhile, Dannish Bacon, lead singer for the Sacred Mirrors, died in France of a drug overdose. Fiora Charm reluctantly took the slot as their lead vocalist. She had her hands full with RD, her son by Mirrors keyboardist Bertrand Rojiczek, who she recently wed. Bertrand was intrigued by Brother Zodiac's charisma and high standing in the Flicker Street scene with his aura of hallucinogenic mystery and dimestore Zen homilies. The Brother anticipated this and turned down Bertrand's off to “jam”, claiming he (Zodiac) was no musician; he merely “dug” Flicker Street and all it symbolized. By mid 1972 much of the Sacred Mirrors crisis was a mute point (about which more further along); Fiora became pregnant again and in early 1973 had a daughter Collette Rojiczek. She retired from music and from the Aggregate permanently.

As for Cedric Lykos, his secrets came to the fore when he and Princesa were visiting Cary at the Bradcroft Ltd curio shoppe in late 1971. Cary was training a new clerk at the shoppe, an American Indian named Hiawatha Hand who had petitioned Bradcroft for membership in the Aggregate and only recently been accepted. Hand had been in prison when he was forced to be subjected to the TSD trials. They left him with tremendous strength and endurance and a “second sight” of sorts – a form of clairvoyance and danger signal, a feel for the “vibes” of those around him. And those vibes were running rampant the first day Hiawatha Hand met Cedric Lykos in the curio shoppe.

No sooner had the small group had a chance for introductions than a mystic portal opened, spilling out a many-eyed, mutlt-tentacled eldritch monstrosity which bound Cary's face and hands left he perform any magick. One mighty tentacle swatted Princesa Verde away; another Hiawatha Hand. But Cedric Lykos had lept on the creature almost immediately. Cedric began savagely biting and clawing at the creature until Lykos' own flesh began to fall way, revealing a bipedal wolfen creature. The tenacious man-wolf used all his strength to roll over the undulating thing – just enough for Cary to free a hand and murmur a spell. With that the mass of eyes and lampreys was sucked into the air itself, like a film played backwards.

Cary quickly explained what he'd done, but more urgently, he questioned Cedric Lykos, whose surname had been a clue to Cary when they met that Cedric was other than he appeared. Cedric Lykos was a true lycanthrope. Cary said that he had heard rumors of Cedric's race, the umbra lupa (“shadow wolves”) when he was in Exodesia in 1954, but never saw a real werewolf. Cedric explained, “My people were once humans in Egypt – kidnapped, enslaved, raped, and experimented on magically... merged with wolves and interbred with Exodesians. Word of our our lives spread in whispers through the world over centuries – til we were legend.

Some of escaped and roamed Earth through the millenia, but not my family. The house of Lykos were the chosen dogs of the sect ruled by the vile High Priest Praven the First. His contemporary namesake ruled my immediate family. My brother, Vulpis, became a hunter for ancient Praven; I was sent by Priest Urias for his own purposes to infiltrate the Zed Foundation. I am sorry, Baron Bradcroft.”

I am not a full baron, Cedric. Your people were not just slaves per se, if I am correct but...”
Hand finished, “Familiars to the sorcerous clergy of Exodesia, correct?”
Yes”, said Lykos. “But I wish to be your familiar, O Shadow Baron. I oppose the Exodesians and loathe the place of my birth. Make me one of you.”

Cary agreed, as Lykos had saved his life from the Thzhugua beast. He prepared a spell with Nocturno to crack the spell placed over Cedric and shield him from detection by the Exodesians. After the spell was successfully cast, Cedric found Princesa Verde had left the mansion, but did leave a note for him. She claimed the deception Cedric perpetrated was too much; that he had simply used her; and other harsh accusations. For Cedric's part, he was deeply in love with her, and he was crestfallen to say the least. But the Aggregate did accept him. He and Hand became fast friends, and he was the perfect familiar for Cary, who did not want Cedric to feel enslaved in his new station as in his old.

As noted earlier, Flicker Street's premiere psychedelic band, the Sacred Mirrors, was falling apart by mid 1972. It was in that year that not only did Fiora Charme abdicate her spot as the Mirrors' chanteuse, but also crimefighting P.I. The Wrath, a new and unknown quantity on the Hallmark scene, came into play. The Wrath soon discovered that the Mirrors' guitarist Zane Whiteside D'Azai and bassist Locke were actually SkullCorp spies attempting to subvert Orphee deLander's Flicker Street scene. Zane and Locke were spies for Phileas Caleb and Donal Rykard and had been for some time.

It's worth noting that Locke was born Dugas van Hoke, half-1st cousin of the Snow Archer. They shared a grandmother, Seripha de Ruyter, named for the Exodesian Seripha (b. 1700; the mother of Ambrosius ver Dorn and ancestor of Locke and the Archer), whose ancestor Arch-Priestess Serafinia the First the country of Serafinia was named for. The Serafinians were originally pagans who worshiped the Exodesians.

Neither Zane nor Locke were heard from again. Zane, repentant, was given a new ID: Daniel “DJ Dan” Carson by the Wrath and moved to a trailer park in nearby Gossingham. He continued to see his on and off married girlfriend Chloris Pendred (Kong's granddaughter, about which more in future installments). Locke was slain in a gunfight by Wrath. Wrath's heroism inspired Cary to dispatch the unlikely duo of Thomas Ledge and Euphrates Straw to seek his services in the Aggregate. The Wrath agreed, as long as he could keep his PI office.

Wrath's roots in the fabric of our larger tale run deep. He was really John Gauvin (b. 1943), and had been a P.I. Since 1967. He took the costumed identity of The Wrath in 1970. He was a master of weaponry and collected it avidly. He was a fierce fighter and first rate detective. He had exceptional genes that nurtured these talents. His father Danel Gauvin, an insurance salesman with a fiery temper was the son of one Peter Gauvin and Rachel ver Dorn, the great-granddaughter of Ambrosius ver Dorn, making John a cousin of Locke and the Snow Archer. Ambrosius, of course, daughter of the Exodesian Seripha, was descended maternally through the line of the notorious priestess Phallasma and, ultimately, the Arch-Priestess Serafinia (all of which has been covered at some length).

The black-haired John Gauvin has much Hispanic blood. His mother was Pilar Llosa, making him the nephew of Emilio Florenza (born Vargas Llosa, 1930), one of the 'Four Outsiders' who pilfered SkullCorp cash, tech, and documents and fled from Skull in the 1950s. Thus John is first cousin of Florenza's children, one of whom, Juliana Florenza (b. 1967), will be discussed at much length in the modern portion of our account. Pilar Llosa was the daughter of Carolina Fuentes (granddaughter of the ill-fated Libanian guide Jacinto Fuentes) and Tomas Llosa, who boasts quite a pedigree.

Through Tomas Llosa, John Gauvin is the great-great-grandson of the long-lived gunfighter Sorrow; the fourth great-grandson of Urias (not to mention Urias' long-lived ancestors); and the fifth great-grandchild of Ewen Cromwell the Carnifex. Much proud heroic and villainous blood alike coursed through the veins of the man called Wrath, and the Shadow Baron saw grand potential for good in John Gauvin. When next we convene, we'll examine in depth the radical changes ahead for the Aggregate as the 1970s wane.

Welcome to Flicker Street!

Henry Covert
September 16, 2015

Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.

In Memory of Thomas Shackleford Davis, 1966-2004. RIP. You taught me how to build a world.
Special thanx to my blood brother Sean Lee Levin, for belief, cameraderie, and collaboration. 

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

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