Monday, November 23, 2015

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 17: Presence

A short but pivotal dispatch. Enjoy!

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 17: Presence

I. 1979 Revisited

1979 was a busy year for the various personalities that had fallen under the rubric of the Aggregate. Ben Renova came out of retirement as Wurm to stop Carnifex from looting the Renova Savings & Loan main branch. He was not able to ward off Carnifex alone, especially after Urias came and teleported the money and holdings away. Urias did not need the money; he needed to humiliate a hero and hurl the gauntlet for the next big move against the Aggregate. The Damnation Brigade were the ones to make that bid, with Damnation members new and old aligned against the Aggregate. Wurm rejoined the Aggregate. He thought it was well overdue for Carnifex and Urias to be taken down. For good.

Milo Majestyk's mob (now calling themselves 'The Machine' after Skull's nascent foray into organized crime) were buying more city officials and spreading corruption throughout Hallmark. Under the aegis of Arch-Priest Urias, the new Damnation Brigade met up with Majestyk and worked out a plan for the Brigade to take down the mutual adversaries of the two groups. The new Brigade was led by Urias, tired of being behind the scenes and eager to crush the spiritis of his foes and glory in the heady draught of victory. Beside him was his on and off partner Carnifex; Urias' familiar, the undead Pallor; Solomon Vossius the Tormenter; TSD subject Alphonse Marins, also known as the incredibly strong Mexican wrestler El Perro de Guerra (the Dog of War); Cal Thorne aka Exterminans the Death Walker, in one of his premiere missions; and Scottish telepath/ telekinetic Roland Mallory, a TSD Recombinant experimented on by Donal Rykards.

Cary believed the time had to rebuild the Aggregate HQ beneath Bradcroft Manor. This space was to be the first HQ Compound. The Compounds were originally suggested by Thomas Ledge as a way to capture the team's foes and keep them imprisoned as needed. The Compounds would also be places for Aggregate members to live so that they and their families could feel safe. All of this meant that a self-governing system had to be put into effect.

The Compounds would function as co-ops/ communes. Ledge didn't like the socialist overtones yet most of his suggestions were fed into the layout though he was rather ungrateful. Euphrates Straw laid out the entire map and schema for the Compounds. Construction was hired clandestinely; it was carried out by Serafinians, who were paid well by Bradcroft and Renova. This also chafed Ledge, but by 1980, Ledge had well worn out his welcome with Bradcroft & co, so they chafed each other daily.

Cary sought many new members for the group, the last time he would do so. Caulder Gaunt agreed to join the Aggregate, as did Brother Zodiac at long last. Cary found a pocket of ex-cons who'd been injected with TSD and were in REACT custody: Empress Moth, Necrotica, Karibou, and Arc-Welder (More specific biographical details on these four to follow in upcoming segments). These were located for the group by the White Archer, who felt it a wise idea to allow Bradcroft and company to train the “talent” and the FSO's job was to exploit that talent for its own group afterward.

II. The Way They Were: The Last Days of The Original Freedom Squad

And so we return at long last to the so-called Freedom Squad, busy on foreign missions for months and retraining after the near-fatal Deomond/ Solus affair. In reconstructing their bodies, REACT subtly manipulated their minds to pledge obedience to REACT. Only the mind of John Gauvin, aka Wrath, rejected the mental invasiveness. This was because Gauvin had been a TSD trial volunteer; his only gift received by the treatment was complete immunity from telepathic invasiveness (including surgical and genetic engineering techniques). His brain was like a steel forge and could not be penetrated. Phileas Caleb realized this and kept very close tabs on Wrath.

Freedom Squad Ops (or FSO), as it was most commonly referred to in those days, was the victim of another set-up deal between Mob enterprise and Skull tech. The result was known affectionately as the “OBIT Gang” and was unfortunately led by the long-missing Princesa Verde of the Aggregate, Cedric Lykos' former lover. Under her auspices were: Garnet and Cynosure, both rejected by Bradcroft and co.; the “Solar Princess” and hippie lightbender Sunchild; the Vietnamese shape-shifting Tran; Anaximander Zayan's daughter Atheru, aka Soulfish; and the armored Terrapin, who had gotten to be good pals with Convy Lee Sutch (Cynosure).

The Freedom Squad lineup itself had morphed with the fallout of the Deomond/ Solus incident and rejuvenation of the team. With Ursulin AWOL in space and Solus and the second Duellist dead, the group amounted to Liberty Lord, Troubleshooter, White Archer, Dr E, Flare, a recent acquisition Dart (the first female member), and brand-new recruit, a powerful Bible-thumper calling himself Vigil.

So the rejuvenated Freedom Squad took on the OBIT Gang once in early 1980. The very outre group took FSO by surprise and scrambled their usual group dynamic. Still Freedom Squad's raw power looked to be winning out when Sunchild turned Dr E's power upon himself; fortunately there were no casualties. Soulfish had the dubious honor of snapping Dart's neck but succumbed to Dart's weaponry; she lived but in a comatose state. Garnet and Cynosure almost took out the White Archer. But it was Vigil, who stepped in with his array of Recombinant abilities (to be discussed in future accounts) and brutally dispersed OBIT. The group fled, much to Skull's chagrin.

III. The Trinity

Alec continued to feel tense around Kicia now that Brother Zodiac was at last a member of the Aggregate. Alec, his mind at peace regarding the Marchessa, felt that Kicia was his true love, hence he was somewhat awkward with her, despite what they had shared in the past. Finally Kicia made a move, and Cowan, having no respect for Brother Zodiac or for Kicia's love for BZ, succumbed once more to Ms. Blessing's considerable charms. Trevor was hardly faithful to Kicia anyway, having bedded Sunchild before her enlistment in the OBIT Gang when she was merely a fixture of the Flicker Street scene, as well as Empress Moth, one of the newbies to the Aggregate. Even Ghost Cat, who Caulder Gaunt had been professing love to for years, seemed drawn into Novembre's spell. Gaunt confronted Mei-Chan about the situation, and she graciously put aside her infatuation with Zodiac to allow Gaunt to “woo her properly” (his words).

Alec took a trip to New Orleans with Lykos to find info on the “Grey Messiah”, but the paper trail only reached back to 1955. Meanwhile, Cotton confronted Zodiac about his lifestyle and warned the bohemian lothario that his days in the Aggregate may be numbered, especially if he was quite literally sleeping with the enemy. On a drunken night in February 1980, Alec and Lykos confronted BZ about all of this, and suggested Zodiac go join the OBIT Gang where he might be more comfortable, and where no one in the Aggregate would have any compunctions against wiping the floor with him, even though the Brother's power levels lied somewhere Dr E's and that of the Absurd Tentacle.

Zodiac rebuffed Alec and Cedric, who had become close friends of late, and taunted Alec with braggadocio regarding Kicia. Trevor obviously had not realized that Kicia and Cowan had recently been intimate. Novembre apparently did not yet know that Kicia had just discovered that she was pregnant and wasn't sure of the paternity. Alec did know that Kicia was expecting and implored her to get a blood test. Lykos, in the meantime, had developed a rather involved theory regarding Brother Zodiac. He went to Straw and Cary with his fears. He had come to believe that Vaikuntha had avatars in Hallmark and that “Trevor Novembre” was one of them. Unfortunately, only the sword and amulet of the Black Cabal could detect a Presence in one of its avatar forms, and, even then, a Presence could make itself undetectable by most forms of magick.

It would explain much, Cary and Euphrates agreed. The three men (Bradcroft, Straw, Lykos) opted to go about their business with Zodiac, hoping he didn't suspect that they suspected him. They didn't tell Alec right away for fear of a major set-to with Zodiac. Lykos pointed out that with Caulder Gaunt's past, Gaunt's true identity also came into question.

One night in March 1980 a restless Zodiac left his room and Kicia sleeping. He had just learned that he may be a father and that Alec Duarte was his true rival for Kicia and the baby. Zodiac encountered Caulder Gaunt in the Bradcroft Manor courtyard. Zodiac drew upon a fearsome wellspring of mystical energy and absorbed the protesting Gaunt into himself down to the molecular level. He then mused to himself, “Only one more and we shall be complete..” Brother Zodiac then reached out with his far-ranging mind and located the “one more”. He was scarcely surprised at the identity of the other piece of the unholy trinity. As Caulder Gaunt had emerged 25 years earlier a total amnesiac, and Zodiac had always been guarded about his past save for his claims to be Trevor Novembre of 1960s New Orleans, the third of this trinity emerged in 1954 with a whole set of false memories, memories about to be dispelled once and for all, along with the entire being that housed those memories – all subsumed by Brother Zodiac.

And so we return to Grey Parminter's desperate summoning of Vaikuntha in 1954, which at long last bore cosmic fruit. Vaikuntha had returned to this plane after a millenium but could only do this by incarnating himself into avatars – an ability he used for millenia in the past to walk among men. Vaikuntha would erase his memories or program himself with elaborate false memories in an elaborate spell that even altered the memories of those around him, to “recall” the avatar's past human interactions. Such was the power and intricacy of an avatar working that Cary and Ashton Bradcroft studied it to master it just in case.... for the avatar, as we have seen, is untraceable by any magick perception on Earth. It is the ultimate way for a mage or Presence to walk among the populace of Earth, human or Exodesian alike, and work for good or ill undetected. Its aim could gleaned from its conscious mind if made aware, but a subconscious drive could be guiding it so that when the cosmics were right, the seed of the being who broke apart into avatars would “awaken”.. and seek out its other selves, encased in flesh ignorant of its making.

Brother Zodiac kidnapped Kicia's mother Acacia and taunted Cary, Straw, Duarte, and Lykos. Ghost Cat was despondent that Gaunt had apparently abandoned her after such a lengthy and ardent pursuit. Kicia went to Alec and stated that she chose him over BZ. They made love, with Alec knowing any moment Acacia could be a dead woman. They were interrupted by Cotton Suede, Thomas Ledge, and Konchuman, who rendezvoused with Zodiac and tried to divine just what it was that they could do so that Zodiac would free Kicia's mother. Zodiac insisted on seeing only Duarte, Straw, Bradcroft, and Lykos.

But the working had yet to conclude. Even as Zodiac was physically changing, he announced that they shall all be one family, and gestured, drawing Kicia into the maelstrom emanating from the being was once was a trinity and now is one. Alec held onto her hand until her body wilted and dissolved. Alec cried out as the woman he loved and her unborn child (which was Zodiac's, not Alec's) were consumed by the reborn Presence. And so Vaikuntha awoke, a dead ringer for the being that Gaunt and Zodiac had been dreaming of. Euphrates Straw was at a loss; he had never before encountered a Presence( few had). Vaikuntha let loose a burst of energy from his third eye, frying Straw where he stood, even as Vaikuntha himself was blasted from behind from the now cognizant Shadow Baron, flanked by Lykos. Cary was too late, however, and Euphrates Straw's remains crumpled to the ground. Vaikuntha announced his retreat and that this time around, Earth would be his to pleasure himself with however he saw fit. He disappeared, and a heartbroken Alec and his allies searched for find something to house Straw's remains.

IV. Vaikuntha Rising

The Aggregate regrouped. A ceremony was held in which the entire current team was there – Bradcroft, Cowan, Lykos, Ledge, Cotton, Konchuman, Wurm, Ghost Cat, Corona, Myrmidon, Empress Moth, Necrotica, Karibou, and Arc-Welder - to pay respects to Straw and acknowledge the other two fallen members, though this latter idea of Bradcroft's, in the interest of ceremony and magnanimity, enraged several members. They grumbled that Gaunt and Zodiac did little during their time with the team save plot and ploy against them. As Thomas Ledge put it: “Ya don't honor a man like Straw beside two pieces of shit who were planning our destruction the whole freakin' time – whether they knew it or not.” Cotton very vocally agreed, as did Alec (a rare instance where he and Thomas were in sync) and so a separate acknowledgment for the two avatars was held a week after Straw's elaborate funeral.

Straw's teammates and his retinue from outside the team, solemnly honored this most amazing of men. Straw's heirs attended: his lover Octavia Flay and her child by Euphrates, Darius Flay (b. 1975); his estranged widow Artemis Clancey (b. 1948) and her child by Euphrates, Zachariah “Zack” Straw (b. 1970); as well as the surviving members of the interconnected Clancey, Reale, Torrance, and Flay families.

This left the Aggregate with only one original member in its 16 year existence - the Shadow Baron, and he shouldered the blame for all that had occurred. He knew that the group, especially with so many young and lesser experienced members, needed as much help as they could get. Knowing they will refuse to help him, Cary dismissed approaching the Freedom Squad offhand, and concentrated on two extremely powerful potential allies: Orphee deLander, the Absurd Tentacle, and his lover Silent Indigo, Cary's niece. Bradcroft also tried to contact his own brother to no avail. Finally, he approached Javier's sect, who agreed to help.

Orphee immediately attempted to take control of the situation though Cary and Javier were far more well-versed in sorcery. After months planning by this uneasy alliance without any incident, Vaikuntha struck the Aggregate's nascent first Compound. Without warning, the mad god decided to merely destroy his primary foes all at once, making a statement to the Freedom Squad or any other gifted individuals looking to take him down. His main target, however, was Cary Bradcroft's knowledge of the Black Cabal talisman.

Gathered was the same line-up present at Straw's memorial – perhaps the most formidable Aggregate yet assembled. Also present were the Absurd Tentacle, Silent Indigo, and Javier. Vaikuntha announced, “Millenia I have slept, and dreamt beyond the pale... for the day I wake and unleash the destroyer force on all mankind.” In one mighty wave Vaikuntha annhilated Silent Indigo, Karibou, and the Empress Moth, critically injuring Corona and Wurm in the process. Ghost Cat, Cary's replacement as field commander for Euphrates, attempted to use advanced martial arts on Vaikuntha while Javier and Bradcroft hurled arcane forces at him, and Thomas and Lykos attempted to knock him down with brute force. Alec and Stephen Bartholemew simply shot at him. All proved ineffectual until Orphee managed to physically wrestle the six-armed god to the ground, using all of his psychokinetic power to augment his strength. Brimming with rage over Indigo's death, he brought to bear all he had against the daemonic Presence.

But then Vaikuntha unleashed his eldritch energies and the Absurd Tentacle slowly dissipated into a small puttlylike blob before evaporating altogether. “Enough!!” screamed a muffled voice. From out of the dust strode a tall man, dressed head to toe in black and grey and wearing a mask concealing his entire face, even his eyes. A bejeweled amulet gleamed about his neck, and he wielded an ornate blade. Was this the one-man embodiment of the force that laid Vaikuntha low 1000 years ago?

The oblique gentlemen swiftly moved in on Vaikuntha, fearless. He proclaimed: “Tis time once more the Balance is struck, and the Black Cabal shall make it so. I am he you have dreaded in the dreams of a millenium sleeping in the outer planes. And now you shall sleep again. I banish the Presence who would rule all Creation; I drive it back, back – into the fetid pit from which it crawled - a slug who dared believe it was God”.

Vaikuntha raised several of his arms as if to cast a spell, whispering only “Dharma..”, but the Black Cabal struck him in the heart with his blade as his amulet glistened. An all-consuming light envelopes the destined foes, and then was abruptly snuffed out. It would be safe to say that the survivors of this skirmish with Vaikuntha all stood in a state of complete shock.

They quickly reconnoitered to garner medical attention for those who needed it and to mourn their lost comrades. The year 1980 closed on a somber note for the Aggregate, and with many more questions raised than answered by the year's events.

Welcome to Flicker Street!
Henry Covert
November 23, 2015

Thanx to all of my Facebook friends, especially those who are reading.
No thanx to Baal, no thanx to Rowan, no thanx to Wolfie.

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

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