Monday, October 5, 2015

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 13 - Iconoclasts

In which many questions are answered, and many more raised.

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 13 - Iconoclasts

I. Reconstruction

When we last left Freedom Ops, their team had been ravaged by the seemingly indefatigable Exodesian Deomond. Their latest member Solus, along with Dr. E's help, managed to destroy Deomond – and himself – utterly. Dr. E, however, went comatose, and most of the team was catatonic, missing limbs, or both. It was decided to use Roger Greer's “Freedom Squad” as the most necessary human guinea pigs yet. REACT used tech purloined from Skull, in turn lifted from Omega Ceti I. This was the powerful regenerative tech – part medical science, part pure alchemy – that REACT perfected for military use, starting with Greer's outfit, decades before it began helping the US citizenry in any appreciable way. Euphrates Straw wished what his brother Emerson had wished – to pilfer the tech, and perfect it for Aggregate use. If Freedom Ops was going to be on the front line, being blasted and shot and blown apart and being mended to be sent out for more, Straw felt the Aggregate had the same duty – albeit for diametrically polar opposite political rationales.

Still, the team, asked, just who was Solus? Solus was nothing short of a new form of life, extrapolating and splicing genes from Omega, Pisces, Exodesia, and humanity, and grown in a tube. He had no parents save Rykards and Caleb, and was a combination of genetic material harvested from the aforementioned species, bolstered cybernetically, and bombarded with TSD treatments. His mind was programmed to be that of the ultimate agent for Freedom Ops, and now, REACT was furious that he was destroyed on his first real mission. So they scrapped the envisioned Solus line for now, and concentrated on rebuilding and enhancing their current lineup, and subtly implanting them with a deep-seated loyalty to REACT and to the USA. Thus the men who had been friends and partners of Aggregate members might surprise their erstwhile acquaintances, as there would be something just a bit amiss.

The only Freedom Squad (henceforth, FS) members not to be mildly reprogrammed were Ursulin (his mind resisted any probing) and The Wrath, who astonishingly had sustained little injuries in the Libanian fracas. Wrath was offered a genetic “tune-up” and acquiesced to a point; he resisted being a part of the mind trials. REACT took note and considered him a low level risk.

After the dust settled, much of 1977 had been spent sorting through just what to do with FS Ops. Roger Greer, Jim April, Ben Renova, Oregon Powell, and Brandon ver Dorn all had limbs replaced and awoke from their lengthy comas ready to resume their status. Dr. E's mind (and suit) were now more malleable. Ursulin announced, after 25 + years, he and his brother Anaximander would be leaving Earth, to return to the races that conceived them and proffer themselves as a great success. Their parents were gone; it was time to fulfill their mission. And so REACT was stymied once again. SkullCorp saw this as a great thing, however. They were never pleased that Ursulin “defected” to REACT.

The “new” FS Ops welcomed two new members, who REACT had secured as further “tokens” to compete with the Aggregate's multi-ethnic makeup. These were the black vigilante Dane Torrance, aka The Troubleshooter (his story shall unfold shortly); and the  second draftee, not only FS Ops' first female member, but also Asian as well. She called herself Lumena, but she was really Kono Nashida (b. 1956), daughter of Kai Nashida (b. 1933), herself the daughter of the brilliant Professor Kenji Nashida, whose experiments with Omegan tech and cybernetics created Konchuman and Go Demon. Kono's father, she claimed, was Kong the Claimer! She swore she wished to atone in some small part for her father's evil by joining FS Ops. For his part, not only did Ben Renova believe her most sincerely, he was utterly smitten by Lumena.

It is worth noting that no sooner had FS Ops returned to active status than the serial killings in Augensburg began again with a vengeance. The killings were even more ferocious and appalling than before. The reconstructed team turned their attention to this mystery in late 1977. Fortunately, so did a hero with no affiliation with the Squadron.

II. Proof

Before leaving Earth, Ursulin and Anaximander visited the Aggregate. But a few months before this, the group was faced with an offer of membership from Alec Duarte aka Cowan. Duarte had managed to break into Bradcroft Manor. Alarms were ringing as he identified himself as Cowan, and claimed he was the best thing that ever happened to the team. Shadow Baron bid them hear him out, though Thomas Ledge's hair-trigger sense of outrage and Cotton Suede's cynicism did little to create an atmosphere conducive to understanding. Though actually, between her immense pulchritude and streetwise attitude, Alec took to Cotton right away. She was very familiar to him.

Bradcroft invited Duarte to speak out and explain himself and how he could benefit the team. Cowan related a brief autobiography, including his true identity. He felt he was taking an awful risk, but if Marchessa felt these were his “true peers”, then so be it. Ledge had no confidence in Cowan's abilities despite the fact that he'd taken the team unawares. Ledge challenged him to “mix it up” with him for awhile to gauge his skills. Despite their 20 year age difference, Cowan held his own. But when Ledge connected, it was thunderous. He should've been pulling his punches but he wasn't. Cowan felt everyone there was messing with his mind.

He matched martial arts with Konchuman (also much stronger than Alec), Cotton, and Straw. He savored the time with Cotton. The solitary Lykos was impressed with and liked Duarte. As did Cary Bradcroft, who offered him a spot training with the team. It was at this point that Go Demon announced his return to Japan for a time. It seems his brother was in trouble and he wanted to help out. Bradcroft wished him well.

Cowan was constantly butting heads with Ledge, Straw, or Suede. At least Straw respected him, if not his many off-the-wall views and ways of tackling an issue. Cowan and Lykos bonded nicely however, and Konchuman could see the good in his new teammate. But Cowan vowed he'd wear down Ledge eventually; he felt a right-leaning radical like Ledge was weighing the group down, and if it was him or Ledge leaving, baby, it'd be Ledge.

Ursulin's and Anaximander's visit went well. They had a special dinner at Bradcroft Manor; Ben Renova and Kono Nashida attended. Ben and Kono were getting very close very fast, but she was most intrigued by Ursulin, who'd been suffering a severe cold front in the romance department for years. On a flimsy pretext, she got Ursulin to take her to Mt. Mosaic. Renova was insanely jealous, but propriety won out. At Mt. Mosaic, Lumena and her “Captain Omega” made love for days, basking in each other's company. He asked her to come away with him and his brother and she agreed. Breaking it to Ben was difficult. He challenged Ursulin to a duel, and then realized how foolish he was. He realized how his time with FS Ops had eroded his social skills and his fortune, and so he retired from active duty and devoted himself to his financial empire and began dating again. He was especially interested in his first wife Samantha's sister, Vanessa Mac Art (Samantha gave Ben one child, a son, John Philip "JP" Renova II, b. 1976). Lumena left with the sons of Shun Ti, and in a short time, gave birth to Ursulin's son, whom she named Benjamin Nashida. He went by “Benny”.

Thus the so-called Freedom Squad lost three members in one fell swoop. And their losses in 1977 didn't end there. As the year waned, the killings in Augensburg became a major side case for Cowan. And what – and who – he uncovered – was quite shocking. One night in late October, Cowan, acting on an outlandish hunch, amazingly finally spied the killer dismembering a young girl's body. Cowan didn't realize he was also being followed – by one of FS Ops' newest, eager to make a name for himself: Dane Torrance, aka the Troubleshooter. He and Cowan struggled. Cowan whispered, “Don't ruin this for all of us, man. Do you see who that is?” And indeed, Torrance gasped when he realized the man who committed acts against nature in a seedy flophouse was none other than his own trainer in Freedom Squad Ops - Oregon Powell! Troubleshooter rattled off his feelings. Sullying the heroic name of the Duellist was enough; what the man was doing was too much; and betraying the Squad was beyond the pale. “Your priorities are seriously fucked, man, but you get the gist of it. Good. Let's take him.”

The two men rushed in on Powell, who calmly explained that he'd been waiting for them. Torrance attacked Powell, who outfought him. Cowan called the police and the Aggregate for back-up. By the time the latter had arrived, Dane Torrance had been beaten down by Powell and Alec was facing off with him. When the police entered, Dane was charged with the murder of the young girl, among other preposterous charges. The police attempted to subdue Cowan but he crashed through an upstairs window and hid out until he saw the cops taking Torrance and Powell in. Then, with his rifle, he assassinated Powell – a clean head shot, then fled. The cops fired, once hitting Alec in the leg.

The Aggregate arrived and told the police they'd made a terrible mistake, that Dane Torrance was a government agent on the trail of the Augensburg Slayer. The Augensburg police were hardly sympathetic; all they knew is they saw a black man home invading a middle class white and killing the home owner's neighbor's daughter. The Negro – as they referred to him – had one white male accomplice now wanted for first degree murder. And, their argument went, wasn't Powell a higher ranking cover agent than “the Negro”? Professional jealousy perhaps? Cotton nearly decked the officer in charge but Konchuman held her back.

Alec had collected a file of evidence linking Powell to the murders circumstantially but hadn't wanted to go there, so to speak. He realized he had been a fool to go it alone. Powell had been connected in town and all the police in Augensburg were in his family's pocket – his adopted family, the Powells, that is. Oregon was really the grandson of Biazel Karollus himself, and beneath the charm and chivalry beat a heart pumping with the stench of purest evil.

So Alec was on the run, wounded, and trying to collect himself. Cary Bradcroft paid a personal visit to “Freedom Central”, the fancy new headquarters of FSO,as they colloquially called themselves now (it changed weekly it seemed; 'the Squadron' was another recent favorite). Bradcroft attempted reason with Greer and a REACT liaison called Howard Unsworth. REACT and Freedom Central had issued a formal statement, which was reiterated to Cary: “It saddens us to report that agent Torrance will soon stand trial as the Augensburg Slayer. He apparently had an accomplice, a man identified as petty criminal turned vigilante Alec Duarte, who attacked agent Powell as Powell was attempting to save their captive. Duarte will be tried for first degree murder when apprehended. REACT will assist local police in any way they can to stop this highly dangerous felon.”

Cary then did something he swore not to do unless absolutely necessary: he mystically mindwiped all of the FSO, the REACT agents involved, and the Augensburg police. He reached out astrally until he found Alec, and sent some of the team to retrieve him and procure medical attention. He had had enough of feeling helpless when such power was at his disposal; Nocturno always told him he was over-cautious about utilizing his gifts.

And so the case dropped. Alec's file made its way to Hallmark PD, who declared Powell to be the Slayer but his murder remained unsolved. Torrance shook off his few days in jail, not quite sure what really happened. He returned to the FSO. And Alec overcame a grave fear: prison. In his teens, while an abused errand boy for his father, Alec was pinched once and served a year in prison. He was 14 and was assaulted twice, until he came under the platonic protection of a fellow inmate, Junius G. Hand, known on the outside as Black Torpedo Ray (b. 1935). Ironically, there is a connection between Ray and the Troubleshooter to be explored in the near future, which ties in with the late Hiawatha Hand. As Cary's spell did not affect the Aggregate, Alec retained his memories of the fateful night he felt sure he might land back in stir.

III. Readings in Astrology

Brother Zodiac (Trevor November) became an outspoken nemesis of Freedom Central and all it stood for. No one could discern quite where his loyalties lie or his origins. But one man was intent on tracking them: Cowan. Zodiac called Orphee deLander's Red Oasis commune home, and wandered Flicker Street as he'd always had, though not quite with his youthful fervor. While Graven Idyll was still preaching from a fiery bull pulpit at times, BZ's approach was smooth. The police and REACT still kept a current file on him. All they could find was that he looked to be in his late 20s, had no real criminal record, and was raised in New Orleans as Trevor November. He first arrived in Flicker Street in 1968, and looked and acted almost exactly the same in 1978. He felt the hope of '68 was draining from the world, that violence saturated society and that society was becoming a police state whose repression in turn fed the brutality: a twisted Ourobouros or Midgard Serpent greedily devouring its own tail.

Many women were attracted to him; many men for that matter. But the first to fall under his wing openly was a haunting young lady of mixed race called Kicia Blessing. While Trevor November frequented Bradcroft Ltd's curio shoppe with Kicia in 1978, Alec was much further south – Libania, where he finally gave his full report to the Marchessa. She was pleased. She was just beginning a physical descent into middle age, but was as voluptuous and charismatic as ever before. Alec felt it was a now or never situation, and so he took the biggest risk of his life. He may as well have inserted his phallus under the chopping block.

He nervously propositioned his mentor, mother, sensei – was it really so twisted after all? Alec was not prepared for the response he received. The Marchessa took him in her soft arms and kissed him passionately. They ended up sharing a mind-blowing sexual experience, one might say transcendental. The Marchessa knew tantric techniques as well, and so Alec learned quite a lot that fateful day. After a deep sleep, Alec awoke and asked the Marchessa, “What now?”

She answered, “the night belonged to us – it always will. But I cannot belong to you, not in the way you want.” Alec understood, and also inquired when Reva would be returning. She'd be 18 now and he wouldn't even recognize her. “No”, declared Marchessa, “ you wouldn't recognize her. And not just in the physical sense. She left here, not a week ago, with some money, and a wagon full of idiots armed to the teeth. And they had quite a pharmacopia. It saddens me.”

Reva's gotten into drugs and just rides off with arms merchants?? Couldn't you stop them?" “Could you have stopped them? We may be slightly more than merely human, but how many bullets before we fall?”
Point taken”, said Duarte. “I'm – I'm sorry mistress. I forget myself after what happened between us. I won't again”.
The Marchessa stated, “She is a woman now. I cannot fathom the workings of her young mind. My training has made her feel liberated, more empowered than the other girls in the villages. She has a brilliant mind. I'd hate to see it turned to sordid ends, but it is beyond me now. My only consolation is that she will not be the pawn of men with guns and drugs – she will be the one in control. And with what I've taught her – the last thing I said when I called out to her as they drove away was, 'be blessed, Reva'. She replied, 'Reva? Who's that?' She giggled and screamed, 'Now they call me the Magdalene!'”

With so much to absorb, and feeling helplessly frustrated, Alec took his leave of the most important woman of his life. “I'll try to sneak by every year or so. And – thanks again – for the night”. And he departed, leaving the proud Marchessa wracked with sobbing. Tears held back a hundred years can't help but be a flood when finally they come.

In Hallmark, Kicia and Trevor were deliriously happy. But there was a naysayer among the audience they drew on Flicker Street. It was Cotton Suede, and as the saying in Flicker Street goes, “Miss Cotton Suede is not to be messed with”. Cotton confronted Brother Zodiac and his young mistress one afternoon in Flicker Street outside the infamous Lucifer Club, most recently done up as a disco by longtime owner Black Torpedo Ray. “What's your bag, man?' she asked Zodiac. “you come off all righteous about the evils of 'The Man' and the joys of 'Cosmic Awakening' - but where are you when folks like me and mine or the Tentacle and his are fighting, with our minds and our bodies, to be free. Truly free.”

I'm in no cult lady. I am free – a truly free agent out on these streets. Orphee is simply letting me crash at the Red Oasis. You don't dig my setup, that's alright – but I harm none, as the epithet goes, and if I declare a 'side' – be it yours, or the Tentacle's, or even the Pig Squadron – you will be among the first to know. Seems like we should've had this talk ten years ago. But back then, you weren't a part of a group with a gobstopper of a name and a bonafide integrated cast of characters.”

Cotton grabbed the slim Trevor by his left arm and yanked him up to her. “I'm not making a dent in that pretty head, but so help me I will... Flicker Street belongs to the people, and you've been out there – doin' your moves, turning on some cats and chicks, pulling some Pied Piper shit just like deLander. Except he has the guts to admit it. They call you the 'Grey Messiah', these kids. Like her - “ Cotton points at Kicia, who hasn't said a word. “What happened to the bosomy biker broad you were doin' before her? She get tired of you ridin' her hog?” Cotton laughs loudly. “Well, I've known this beautiful moonchild her whole life, and you're not just gonna step in and crash Kicia's good thing.”

Kicia replied indignantly, "I'm happy with where I am now, and with who I am, Miss Cotton. You've been like a big sister to me an' I loves you, but frankly, you in my business, an' I don't like it. Just back off an' let us be, okay? You might find I'm not as ignorant about all this as you think I am. If Trevor hurts me, he's gone. An' he knows that. Right?”

Yes indeed. And that's not going to change”, answered Zodiac.
Uh huh”, responded Cotton. “Fascinating. Well I'd best be going... and, 'Trevor'?”
I've got my eye on you.”

Cotton was short, but her hips were wide, and they swayed madly, as she jogged away, soon lost in the bustle of Flicker Street. The woman formerly known as Pauline Cutler had more pressing business with the Aggregate. They were to await Alec's return to Hallmark and then hold a 'membership drive'. The idea was ostensibly Ledge's, though Cary had been pondering it for months, since Cowan first crashed their meeting in January 1977. Straw thought it could be massively entertaining. “Make them come to us for once. Groovy”, he laughed. Konchuman hoped more Asians or Indians would join. He missed Go Demon, now back in Japan, and his fallen friend, Hiawatha Hand.

IV. Alec's Return Home

As everyone got situated for the membership drive meeting on October 5, 1978, Cotton and Alec got to talking. She broached the subject of Brother Zodiac and Kicia Blessing. He was visibly rattled by hearing her name. As he nervously smoked, he asked her how Kicia was, and informed Cotton that he hadn't seen her in some time but thought about her. “Well I'd rather her be with you any day than that arrogant - “

Thomas Ledge interrupted, as he was wont to do. “With Cowan? He's a two-bit loner. Hell, he might not even like chicks for all we know.”
Well”, interrupted Straw, “ for all we know, the same could be said for you. I never see this Susan you're so mad about. An invention of your closeted psychosis Ledge?”
Konchuman and Lykos remained silent, and, as usual, uncomfortable when Ledge trotted out his homophobic assertions. And Straw was insistent on playing right into it.
Ya know what, Miss Suede? Let's talk about Kicia for real sometime. This conversation hardly dignifies her.”
Straw, impatient, bellowed, “Now you know why we need new blood so badly. A good transfusion could keep us going for years to come, right Ledge?”
Might need to ditch the bad blood all in one fell swoop I say. Some of which – Straw – has been curdling since before my time here”.
Straw raised a fist and said, “Regarding old, tired, bad blood, I say, 'Let it bleed...'”
Indeed Straw?” said Cary, taking everyone off guard with his entrance and his upbeat countenance. “Well, since my sanguine friends are crying out for the new blood, let me pacify them, as a good host. Bloodthirsty ghouls, meet... the Serpent's Tooth!”

Who or what is the Serpent's Tooth? Who is the proverbial 'new blood' and will they make the cut? What's the mystery of Kicia Blessing? What is the Lucifer Club? And why the hell does the Aggregate put up with Thomas Ledge anyway? All this and more will hopefully be answered in the next episode of Flicker Street....

Welcome to Flicker Street!

Henry Covert
October 6, 2015

Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.

Dedicated to my friends on Google + and on Facebook who have read and shared this work, especially my friend and collaborator Ivan R. Schablotski.

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

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