The Return of Thunderfoot Jenkins

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You guys want another glimpse at the characters in DOUBLE DARE?

I’m gonna pretend like you said yeah, okay?

Earlier you got a glimpse of THE SECRET from the story that wasn’t: THE ARMAGEDDON AGENDA and while they may not show up any place any time soon, they’re my kids and I hope you don’t mind my showing them off just a little.

First up, if I follow the list, the spaceman: THUNDERFOOT JENKINS…

Yeah, I know. The name is intentional.

Theodore “Thunderfoot” Jenkins is my nod to the most influential space hero ever…

…Larry “Buster” Crabbe. Anyone who grew up in my generation got to see Crabbe in the role he’s chiefly remembered by: Flash Gordon, but he was also Buck Rogers so dude was really the first major sci-fi movie star. Of course Thunderfoot is based on Crabbe’s Flash Gordon character, but he’s also an Olympic level athlete who had aspirations of acting despite the times and attitudes dealing with race as a part of his backstory. He also draws nods to Lando Calrissian (thanks, Billy Dee Williams) and he was lounging around, content being a half formed idea when Tommy Hancock showed up…

Yeah, you know Tommy as the EIC, boy publisher, and urbane man-about-town now, but back in day he would grind out these stories over in fan-fic land with these great concepts and occasionally he’d do independent characters trying to find an audience which is where I met up with his take on Flash Gordon: Johnny Crimson.

I tell you now, it was only one chapter. Never saw a follow up. Had a couple of tries to get back on the horse, but Johnny hasn’t hit the comeback trail. But Johnny C?

Oh yeah, dude was the spark that took nameless space serial guy and made him a thing: a title!

Hey, baby steps – which isn’t the title, this is:

“Whatever Happened to Lightningfoot Jenkins?”

I know, the name got changed recently. I’ve got my reasons.

Changed everything. Instead of being a clean cut, well known athlete who was probably well off in the mid 1930s, he wasn’t. He was an athlete, he was well known, but he was black too. That just made him interesting enough to keep going. And of all these kids, Thunderfoot Jenkins probably has my attention the most.

But for the purposes of the non story plot, I worked out some of the hows and whys of what he was going through, how he got to be a space opera hero…

…and why he looks like he hasn’t aged a day over nearly 90 years.

It’s such a strange trip, I thought, for kicks, it might be kind of fun to see how he sees it…

Though I guess it should be noted things may get graphic if the telling of the journey is going to be accurate to the time and place from whence our hero came…

***

“So you ran?” Dillon asked. His voice seemed to half echo through the corridors of this… ship, though the word seemed an understatement of vessel’s purpose. It wasn’t some craft built of cold metals and dead plastics; the ship seemed to breathe and thrum with a pulse. There was a gentle, rhythmic hum coursing throughout the thing that vaguely reminded Dillon of his mother humming some unnamed melody that brought a wistful smile to her face. An unconscious action yielding unnoticed happiness and warmth. The hum was like that: a touchstone to someone who symbolizes warmth, love and protection from everything that would dare to presume to harm you.

“Son,” his host replied, “I was the prettiest negro God ever put into Creation caught buck naked and ass deep in a single white woman’s bedroom in the heart of Louisiana, in the spring of 1932 by a bunch of good ol’ boys dragging a Johnny Reb on the back of their truck: Y’goddamn right I ran.” Theodore “Thunderfoot” Jenkins smiled. “At the time I counted myself lucky because I was able to grab my clothes as I lit out the window.”

“So you found someplace to get dressed then.” Somehow this wasn’t what he was expecting from this contradictory youthful ancient who had apparently traveled the stars and seen things that even Dillon, with all his experiences, could only imagine.

“They called me ‘Thunderfoot’, young man, not ‘Thunderpants’” Jenkins replied.

Despite himself, the situation and their current surroundings, Dillon erupted into roaring belly laugh. Jenkins chuckled as well. “I felt the same way, friend.

That is until they caught up to me and lynched me and murdered me.” Jenkins stopped before what looked like a blank wall and made a gesture. A floating command panel made of light formed and Jenkins consulted it.

As he did that Dillon’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click of teeth coming together that cut the air out from the laughter’s slow subsiding to an immediate silence brought on by surprise of Jenkins’ last statement. “Wait, say what now?”

Jenkins tried suppress a shudder that caused his shoulders to bunch just so. It was a small motion but Dillon noted that whatever memory flickered to the surface of Jenkins’ mind, it was one that was still intensely fresh. Jenkins fixed a practiced calm to his features and nodded. “Oh yeah, son, a negro driving around in the altogether gets noticed and those white boys put the word out and had me caught in under an hour with the sheriff himself leading the mob, rope in hand.

“Quick as Kodak, they snatched me out my car, beat my ass serious and well, blew off both my kneecaps, with a sawed-off shotgun and broke an eye socket.

“Then they got mean about things, stripped naked and cut off my johnson.”

“Say what?” It was rare that Dillon allowed himself to be stricken, but Jenkins casual, breezy description of what had to be torture beyond endurance threw him. What threw him more was the man before him seemed whole.

Jenkins seemed to nod at the unasked question. “Trust me, son, you don’t forget something like that. They were cooking it when those good ol’ boys chopped open my guts because I wasn’t screaming enough. Mid hell they tossed the noose over my neck and I’m kicking my own intestines. That’s when I saw the light I heard would come and died.”

Dillon was familiar with history as it pertained to the African American experience, including lynching. Somehow though, Jenkins’ casual delivery was still disorienting. “So you died” Dillon said. “And…?”

“At least that’s what I thought until I opened my eyes and found myself in La’sua C’nu whole and everything thankfully in place.” Jenkins checked a monitor that appeared from a wall. “Looks like we found the masked man you ran into earlier.”

“The Peregrine.” Dillon stared at the screen but couldn’t decipher the glyphs. “LahsueaCenu?”

Jenkins’ expression loosened some and he smiled again. “La’sua C’nu. Think of it more like breathing instead phonetically. Trust me even then you and I are both butchering the way it’s pronounced. If you hear it there from the originals it’s almost singing. Before you ask it’s located in something that’s called the Fold. It’s space and time and energy and a bunch of other things I couldn’t describe no matter how many tools you give me: it just is.

And around the time I was being murdered, they were pulling me to them.”

“Okay,” Dillon said. “But for what exactly?”

“To lead a fight.” Jenkins replied. “Though they didn’t know it at the time, they needed me to help win a revolution.”

“I’m assuming this is part of it.” Dillon had dozens of questions but he was used to the arcane not aliens. Monsters, curses, talismans, madmen were all in Dillon’s purview but a man who really has gone where no else has was legitimately outside his experience.

“No”, Jenkins said. “That fight came and went and came again a few times over. This is unfinished business from an invasion from the Fold to Earth.”

“And that’s why you and the others came together?” Dillon asked. “You guys formed a group to fight these others from your Fold?”

Jenkins reached forward and a panel of light appeared before him. His fingers passed over the panels and lights rotated and changed colors before the panel folded in on itself and vanished. “There, we’re on our way to the Peregrine and one of my people.” Jenkins turned and paced towards the end of the corridor. “And no son, we didn’t get together to stop the Fold…

…they got together to stop me. I was the guy leading the invasion.”

Dillon tensed and unconsciously assumed a fighting stance.

“I told you things were complicated, son.”

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