Paragons - Next Gen
The most simplistic way to put it is this: the world loves paranormals when they are doing what people expect them to be doing. People love superheroes. Even countries and cultures that didn’t previously have strong associations with the (very Western) idea of costumed super-heroes put their own spin on the idea and revere these icons.
When the paranormals step out of line, however, when they become criminals or terrorists or even just ingratiate themselves too much with “normal” folk, that adulation and wonder turns to fear and animosity. Even paracriminals have noticed they can “cash-in” on the sort of adulation and respect super-heroes get by adhering to similar conventions and expectations. Costumed “super-villains” are as much a publicity stunt on the part of the criminals as they are any legitimate claim of beliefs or views.
When super-heroes and their costumed nemeses exist in a world parallel to the one normal people operate in, everyone’s fine with it. They are enthralled watching Century Five take on the feline-themed paracriminals known as the Pride. Even when there’s some minor property damage, people not directly affected will treat it as a television and internet event rather than a national tragedy.
So long as the capes and masks stay on, so long as the ideologies don’t hit too close to home and the good-guys stay good-guys and the bad-guys stay bad-guys, the general public of the world are happy.
They buy merchandise. They watch TV coverage. They write blogs and magazines and run forum communities. It has inspired the origin chasing subculture, as well as conventional cults of celebrity that were commonplace even before the Wave.
What people don’t have a tolerance for is when paranormals stop being super-heroes and super-villains. When they try to take normal jobs, live normal lives, act like they’re one of us. That’s when people become intolerant and hostile. This is even doubly so for paranormal terrorists and criminals who don’t adhere to the flashy world of costumed super-villainy.
Psychologists generally agree that this is a sort of global coping mechanism with the unreal suddenly being thrust into the world. People still see paranormals as the “Other”, a strange world of flying demigods who throw fire or lift trains or shape metal with their minds.
As a result, the idea of “paranormal rights” is laughable to most people. It’s a phrase associated with paranormal supremacist groups like the Ascendants or psychopathic megalomaniacs like Imperator. In most countries, paranormals have no special rights or protections. The Paranormal Regulatory Agency in the United States claims to protect and keep confidential a paranormal registrant’s personal information, but the question some paranormals ask is “Isn’t being pressured to register at all an infringement on my rights?”
It’s a tough sell. Ultimately trying to convince normal people to give paranormals expanded (or in some opinions, equal) rights compared to normal people is immediately countered with just how dangerous paranormals can be. Comparisons to the plights of ethnic groups or sexual orientation minorities are considered inaccurate (or even insulting) because an ethnic minority doesn’t possess the intrinsic power to shatter stone or see the future.
Change comes slowly. Progress is being made in many places by many different groups, who struggle to try to alter public perception. They are in turn opposed by groups based on hate, fear, or a desire to control incredible power.
THE HMD TREATY
Also known as the Brussels Pact, the HMD Treaty was never officially signed by many of the members of the United Nations. Notably, most of the countries that are part of the UN Security Council refused to actually ratify the law, while simultaneously pledging to adhere to the “spirit” of it as an agreement.
As a result, no country currently has a standing army of paranormal soldiers. Most countries which do have paranormals in direct employ of their government put them into law enforcement or disaster relief roles, avoiding conflating their mandate with those of the military.
Some countries who are neither signatories of the Brussels Pact nor allow the Transnational Guard to operate within their borders have long been rumored to possess paranormal “black op” groups or secret police. China and Israel, in particular, claim to have no paranormals and do not allow paranormals to enter their country, despite rumors that both nations operate secret groups composed of conscripted and concealed paranormal citizens.
Because many countries never signed the HMD Treaty, there’s nothing legally stopping them from creating super-soldiers or paranormal military units. However, this is avoided because of the potential incredibly dangerous arms race it could create. The Kosovo incident in which the US’ Overwatch fought Russia’s Ten Soldiers serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers of military paranormals.
THE MANDATE OF THE GUARD
The Transnational Guard is a Non-Governmental Organization, akin to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and similar disaster relief and aid agencies. They’re not technically a “non-profit” and they avoid that terminology, because the reality is the Guard is funded by a number of business interests and engages in merchandising and marketing efforts. Japan’s Guard field-team, the Mighty Miracle Guardians, even have their own reality show that follows their adventures.
However, because they are an independent agency beholden to no government (or the UN, for that matter), the Guard is only able to operate in countries which allow them to do so. They have to adhere to local laws and customs, respect and co-operate with local authorities, and in many cases this aspect of their operations can stymie their efforts and frustrate their members.
Because most countries are apprehensive about allowing super-powered foreigners into their borders (especially to apprehend local paracriminals), the Guard tries to establish field-teams of citizens native to the countries they operate in. Australia’s Primal Force is made up exclusively of people from Australia and New Zealand, for example, while Euroguard is composed of nationals from an intentionally wide variety of European Union member-states.
The United States, which has the largest concentration of paranormals by far, actually operates three separate Guard teams: Century Five, Overwatch, and Action Pact, which monitor and protect the West Coast, East Coast, and Mid-West respectively. These Guard teams are often sent on international missions to back up teams in other countries, or to conduct operations in countries that are friendly to the Guard but lack field-teams of their own (like Mexico and Brazil).
The voluntary nature of allowing the Guard to operate within a country means if a country’s government refuses the Guard, or the legitimacy of a government is in question or under duress, the Guard is powerless to intervene. Many African countries, Balkan European states, and Middle Eastern dictatorships do not permit the Guard to even enter the country let alone conduct operations.
It also means that the Transnational Guard is not in the business of regime change. If a country is ruled by a brutal dictator or an oppressive government, the Guard is unable to do anything about it. They are a peacekeeping and relief organization, not an instrument of global political change, a point they are often criticized for and even their own members find irritating.
Not all paranormal threats are materialistic criminals, nor are they always costumed super-villains. Some are ideologically motivated, and as a result don’t feel the need to play the costumed villainy game nor seek pursuits which have clear financial gain.
Groups like Zero Latitude (eco-terrorists) and the Children of Grigori (religious parahuman supremacists) generally eschew costumes, flashy identities, or grandiose schemes. They are terrorists in the traditional sense, making sudden unpredictable attacks against civilians as part of some warped message to send to the rest of the world.
While the public might have a sort of twisted admiration for super-villains (often imprisoned super-villains find themselves with a fan-base of letter-writers and admirers), paranormal terrorists are where that admiration immediately stops. Considered the true scum of the Earth by all who disagree with them (which is most people), these groups find it incredibly hard to court public opinion. This often causes them only to increase their efforts and make them more aggressive towards those who don’t understand them.
In their own way, these terrorist groups are far more dangerous than traditional super-villains. They act quietly, suddenly, and don’t adhere to any sort of notion of fair play. They don’t fall into the same kind of traps or archetypal rules that super-villains do, and as a result are a top priority for groups like the Guard when they’re actually able to find and confront these people.
The most terrifying future for the average person is the idea of a parahuman oligarchy. Being ruled over by unquestionable, incomprehensible godlike beings who could smite them in an instant is a coldly sobering possibility in the world of Paragons.
Years ago, an Eritrean man named Nkosi Ayize had a break-out. Manifesting the ability to shape and distort metals by touch, Nkosi used his power to overthrow his country’s government and take over by force. Bulletproof, stab-proof, and effectively near invincible, Nkosi then cemented his regime with the aid of the paranormal PMC known as Foregone Conclusions.
The situation in Eritrea created a nightmare scenario for governments around the world as well as the Transnational Guard. Eritrea was taken over by a paranormal, who was using other paranormals to enforce his laws, and there was not a clear answer as to what to do about it.
To deploy the Guard would send the message that the Guard is perfectly willing to overthrow a government if the leader just so happens to be paranormal, but not otherwise. To send conventional military troops in from any other country would be to effectively declare war on a country ruled by a paranormal with his own personal army of super-powered mercenaries.
In the end, nothing was done and Nkosi Ayize still rules Eritrea with a steel-plated fist. What’s worse, his country is known to harbor paracriminals and other terrorists, and there’s nearly transparent records of Nkosi both funding and accepting money from a variety of hostile groups. The “Eritrea Situation” is a subject of much debate and occupies a prominent spot in international news.
Eritrea is not the only rogue paranormal-ruled nation, as of a year ago. Invictus, the very first known super-hero, reappeared after a decade of self-imposed exile. Now calling himself Imperator, he churned the bottom of the Pacific Ocean until it formed a volcanic island for him. The resulting earthquakes and tsunami killed thousands, which the mad paranormal simply shrugged off as “unfortunate collateral damage”.
The resulting island, which he named Ultima, is largely unoccupied. Imperator lives there alone, isolated, and quietly formulating whatever next move he might make. Much like Eritrea, fears about what might happen with deploying either the Guard or conventional military force against Imperator and Ultima raises far too many doubts. Even the idea of simply nuking the island presents risks; Imperator is the most powerful telekinetic in the world, and what if he survived or even took command of such weapons? He’d inevitably see such an attack as a provocation to war, and his vengeance might be terrible indeed.
So, for now, Ultima sits alone, a quiet desolate island of volcanic rock and a madman’s dream. If that changes in the future remains to be seen.