Paragons - Next Gen
It all started with the Wave. On August 6th, 1998, scientists working at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago were running an experiment utilizing the Tevatron particle accelerator.
It’s unclear what happened, even now. The highly technical experiment involved particle collision in order to discover exotic new possibilities, and somehow it resulted in a cascading event that has simply become known as “The Wave”.
The scientists didn’t even know what was happening at first. Their instruments weren’t designed or calibrated to detect or comprehend the sort of energies they had unleashed. To this day, researchers still aren’t even sure what exactly they had released, but it was incredibly powerful.
This stream of invisible, barely detectable strange particles spread outwards from the Tevatron as a cascading shockwave, being caught in the Earth’s magnetic field and spread across the globe. The only way it was even known that such energy had been released is because of the sudden spike in a broad spectrum of radiation and exotic particles detected at a variety of highly precise instruments at both Fermilab and around the globe.
The Wave is widely considered to be the cause of the existence of paranormal phenomena, but nobody really knows why. Scientists have been reluctant to ever attempt to repeat the sort of experiment that led to the Wave, so it’s incredibly difficult to study after the fact.
The most commonly accepted explanation is that the Wave was a cascade of radiation that altered a variety of individuals around the world, granting their bodies the ability to manipulate quantum forces and alter the very laws of reality as we know them. The first of these people did not start appearing until after the Wave incident, so it’s held as common belief that the Tevatron experiment was what caused it.
While scientists around the globe talked internally about what happened on August 6th, the rest of the world was unaware. The Wave was invisible, soundless, undetectable to everything but the most sensitive cosmological instruments.
What was visible was what happened afterward. Reports came into news stations of people who had done incredible, outright unreal things. A firefighter in Iowa who absorbed the flames from a burning building into his body, extinguishing them. A woman from California who turned into living diamond during a car accident, escaping unscathed. A young girl in Australia who turned back the rising tide with a hand gesture to preserve her sand castle.
Paranormals began manifesting on an almost daily basis around the world. As the existence of paranormals became undeniable, governments scrambled to deal with the phenomenon, with the US briefly going to Defcon 3. Emergency sessions of the UN were called, and it was during this period that the term “paranormal” and associated derivations of that term (“parahuman”, “parascience”, and so on) became popular in the media.
It took some time for the world to acclimate to the existence of paranormals and the powers they possess. At first, most paranormals tried to conceal their abilities, often because their individual breakouts were violent or dangerous events that had hurt people or done property damage. It was difficult if not impossible to figure out how many paranormals there were, or who they were, except in the rare instances where they allowed themselves to be known.
Almost a month after the Wave, Swiss Air flight 111 was experiencing a serious fire. The flight, which was off the coast of Nova Scotia at the time, was attempting to make an emergency landing while simultaneously dealing with the rampant fire now raging through the plane. Control of the aircraft was lost, and it would have plunged into the ocean on fire had it not been for the appearance of a mysterious flying figure in a silvery costume.
The individual, a paranormal who could fly and had incredible telekinetic powers, took hold of the flight and helped it land safely, before opening it forcibly with his powers to let the crew and passengers escape. A few people died and many were injured, but ultimately the majority of the people aboard Swiss Air 111 survived.
The caped, silver-costumed man in a mask was asked to identify himself by those gathered there. He declined to answer until news media arrived, at which point his response to questions about his identity were answered with the last two lines of William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus: “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul” before he flew off into the night. The press gleefully ran with the story, identifying the man as “Invictus”.
Invictus was the first of many such costumed heroes. He inspired paranormals to actually do what some had been suspecting they might inevitably: don costumes and flashy identities, and attempt to act as real-life super-heroes.
Many of these attempts ended tragically at first, as most paranormals had absolutely no training in law enforcement procedures, citizen’s arrest law, first aid, or disaster relief, and some situations were worsened by “super-hero” involvement.
Nonetheless, these super-heroic paranormals captivated the public, and the successful efforts of the few outweighed the blunders of the many in the public consciousness. Despite protestations about vigilantism from law enforcement officials and politicians, the public embraced super-heroes, especially when the first paracriminals or “super-villains” began using their paranormal powers for criminal gain.
Over a month later, when Hurricane Mitch was devastating Central America, the Mexican government made the unprecedented call for global aid not just from organizations like the Red Cross, but from the world’s population of super-heroes and other paranormals. The aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and the media frenzy surrounding the involvement of super-heroes led people to understand one truth: super-heroes were a part of the world, and they were here to stay.
The United States, a country with the highest percentage of paranormals and the strongest cultural association with the concept of super-heroes, was the first to make a real attempt to regulate and control the paranormal population in its borders.
The Paranormal Regulatory Agency was created and put under the auspices of the Census Bureau in order to track down and register all known paranormals on US soil. Realizing that many of the costumed super-heroes wanted their secret identities and safety, the PRA’s initial approach was one of strict confidentiality. All they wanted to know was who the paranormals were, and what they could do.
Aiding this effort was the efforts of the hero known as Patriot to work directly with the US government in the creation of an official government-sponsored super-hero team, dubbed Overwatch.
As paracrime increased and the governments of the world tried to more aggressively fight it, the PRA’s list of registered paranormals became a draft list, as paranormals found themselves being told directly that their vigilantism would no longer be permitted, that their options were to either join Overwatch or be considered criminals.
Surprisingly, the amount of friction that actually resulted from this move was less than was initially expected. The reality was that most independant super-heroes found operating on thier own to be a terrible burden, and the ability to “go pro” and legitimately hold some sort of government backing was appealing for more super-heroes than it wasn’t.
Building on the US example, other governments followed suit. The United Kingdom formed the Knights-Errant, a super-hero law enforcement “flying squad” to operate under MI5, and Russia creates the Dyesyet Voinov (“Ten Soldiers”) that uniquely operate as a military unit rather than being seen as “super-cops”.
The period of government-commanded paranormals was not to last, however. Concerns had existed from the beginning of efforts like Overwatch not just for the issues of a super-human police force, but what would happen if countries that had paranormals in their employ used them against other countries, especially those that had no paranormal agents to respond with.
These concerns boiled over in 1999, during Opreation Allied Force, the NATO bombing of what was then Yugoslavia as a part of the Kosovo conflict. Some members of Overwatch had been deployed to the region in order to assist military personnel and supposedly to counter the capabilities of any paranormal aggressors in the area. There were no such aggressors, and the usage of Overwatch members as “super-soldiers” alarmed and frightened many.
Russia criticized the move harshly, despite their own Dyesyet Voinov being expressly a military unit. After a propsed resolution by Russia was voted against in the UN assembly, Russia deployed the Ten Soldiers to Serbia to counter Overwatch. This led to the first instance of government-backed paranormals engaging in combat with each other, and the conflict led to incredible damage, some civilian casualties, and two members of the Ten Soldiers and one member of Overwatch dying in the conflict.
Global tensions rose to a level not seen since the Cold War, as fears rise of further deployment of so-called “Humans of Mass Destruction” from nations that possess them, or nuclear responses from nations that do not.
A special emergency meeting of the UN in Brussels tried to resolve the issue. After tense negotiations, the so-called “Brussels Pact” put a ban on HMDs, which it identified as paranormals in the employ of government interests interfering with or attacking another sovereign country. The US, the UK, and Russia refused to formally sign the treaty but at the same time stated they would observe the “spirit” of it, and agreed to dismantle their “super-soldier” type programs.
Overwatch shifted to a purely law enforcement role, as did similar groups in other countries. However, Supreme Court appeals and other concerns ultimately spelled the end of Overwatch as a government agency. It was formally disbanded later that year.
THE TRANSNATIONAL GUARD
Trying to fill the void being left by official government-sponsored super-heroes, former members of Overwatch, Knights-Errant, and the European Union’s Euroguard came together to form a Non-Government Organization called the Transnational Guard. A non-profit relief group based off of the model of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, the Transnational Guard attempted to replicate the most useful parts of super-heroics (disaster relief and fighting paranormal criminals) without replicating a disasterous government agenda or military action.
They organized themselves into “field-teams”, putting together groups of regional heroes to protect specific zones of the world. An important part of the Guard’s mandate was that they would operate in a country only by the invitation and good graces of that country’s government.
Ultimately, this rule served to keep the Guard out of some of the most troublesome and complex global issues and focus their efforts on heroism, but it also came back to haunt them much later as the world changed.
THE NEW MILLENNIUM
On September 11th, 2001, a group of terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them into several parts of the United States. At first suspected to be the act of a deranged paracriminal, investigation in the days following revealed a harsh and unsettling fact: the terrorists were mundane, normal human beings with no paranormal abilities, who acted out of a deranged religious and political agenda.
The public had a hard time accepting this fact. Many wanted to believe (and still do) that the idea of a group of normal men armed with box-cutters could commit an act like this was ridiculous, and that a super-villainous force had to be involved.
It has been argued, in hindsight, that it was the very mundane nature of the attackers that allowed them to be beyond the reach or notice of the Guard or any other paranormal hero. The Guard had tried to stay completely clear of involvement in foreign intelligence or terrorism issues except where it was invited because suspected paracriminal involvement was a part of the issue.
Nonetheless, for a brief period the public turned against super-heroes. The New York Post, long a critic of super-heroes as an idea and of the Guard in particular, famously ran a headline shouting “Where are the heroes now?!” super-imposed over a picture of the burning World Trade Center towers.
Invictus took both the attack itself and the harsh backlash against the heroes particularly hard, and when it became clear the terrorists had ties to the Taliban of Afghanistan, Invictus flew to the country and began waging a one man war.
The results were devastating. Afghanistan had no paranormals, no nuclear weapons, nothing that could possibly stand up to Invictus, who himself was one of the most powerful known paranormals on Earth. However, contrary to what Invictus expected to happen, his efforts were not lauded.
Instead, he was condemned and derided, and his own team-mates tried to apprehend him. He was in violation of everything the Guard stood for, as well as international law. His team-mates were unable to stop him or apprehend him, and after soundly defeating them, Invictus vanished for years, no-one knowing what happened to him and when he might respond.
The actions of the Guard to distance themselves from Invictus and apprehend him, as well as using the furious paranormal as an example of exactly why they shouldn’t have expanded powers, allowed the Transnational Guard to restore a small measure of public faith in their mission.
Over the last decade, the Guard has existed in parallel to law enforcement and military action. Much of the adoration and esteem they had before September 11th has returned, and their disaster relief efforts in particular have helped maintain their popularity and respect.
In spring of 2011, Invictus returned. Now calling himself Imperator, he released a manifesto online claming all of “neurodominant humanity” as intrinsically superior and beyond “flatscan” humans, using terms that had previously been the domain of paranormal supremacist groups like the Ascendants.
He stated that he considered all parahumans to be nations unto themselves, exempt from normal human law, and holding as much power as they can will themselves to possess.
Imperator claimed that he was forming a new homeland for these “individuals of statehood”, a place he called Ultima.
To create Ultima, Imperator flew out to the Pacific Ocean and began using his telekinesis to create seismic disturbances and volcanic eruptions. He caused a small island to form up from the ocean floor, creating earthquakes and tsunami that devastated a variety of different countries, most notably Japan.
On this barren island of volcanic rock, Imperator still sits, leaving an open invitation to paranormals around the world to come join his utopian vision of personal anarchy. Governments around the world have thus far wrung their hands as to what to do about Imperator, as the nearly godlike paranormal appears uninterested in conflict beyond the collateral damage of his island’s creation, and any provocation might be beyond the ability to be responded to.
A NEW AGE
It has been 14 years since the Wave first spread across the Earth, giving rise to the superhuman. As the year turns to 2012, many of the original members of the Transnational Guard and other veteran heroes are beginning to feel the weight and wear of the years they’ve spent as heroes.
To this end, the Vitruvian Institute (a paranormal study group based in the former Fermilab facility) has created the world’s first formal “Hero Academy”, attempting to directly train a new generation of super-heroes for the Transnational Guard.
With the veteran and semi-retired super-hero team Action Pact at the facility full-time to serve as instructors, the Institute hopes to produce a new team of heroes and serve as a model for opening similar facilities elsewhere.
Whether they are successful or not depends a great deal on their first class…