“It is not the strongest, nor the smartest who survive, rather it is those who most readily adapt to change who will live to see what the next day brings.”
There is no doubt that this is a story that has been found between the pages of a comic. The elements are all there; the sudden emergence of the unordinary which displaced the world that was in favor of something new. The overreaction of society, followed closely by the new normal settling gracelessly into place. And finally, the lingering feeling of unease, as all are forced to wait for the other shoe to drop.
Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Brimstone, and the mass emergence of parahumans into the public stage.
This is a history lesson, sure, but to understand where things are heading, you must first know how they began. On a mild June day in 1995, a battle between two parahumans took place in the skies above Portland, Oregon. Though the conflict lasted only sixteen minutes, by the time it drew to a close, only twelve percent of the city remained standing. This was Brimstone.
On the web the debate yet spins on as to whether or not parahumans existed before this moment, and how many stories of great deeds might have been at the hands of someone blessed. And, as fun as those might be for those so inclined, I find more interest in looking to the now, and into tomorrow. Following Brimstone the number of superhumans born was calculated to be roughly one in one thousand live births, today, certain models place that calculation somewhere within one and nine-hundred fifty. A different, more interesting debate is carried on within the sciences. Some simply point to inaccurate data sets drawn up after Brimstone, others claim that there has been a gradual, but steady increase of the number of parahumans within the last quarter century.
Some fringe cases are raising alarms that their models show that the uptick in births has happened within the last seven years. These scientists have yet to gather much by way of popular support, no small part due to the implications of what their data shows.
In the years following Brimstone, the governments of old attempted to maintain the world that had been. Laws were passed that limited the legal use of powers, research into the Occula funded to better understand the powers of parahumans. To find countermeasures.
All done in some strained hope that the life that was could be maintained.
Still, greed maintained its own allure for those with a gift, and a means to contain carried its own weight of desperation.
Vigilantes existed long before the government's Specialist Contractors and the Foundry. Little more than teens, pressed on by a desire to keep their communities safe with the perceived failures of law enforcement at maintaining the peace they took to the streets to provide their own brand of justice.
The Foundry itself was the bright idea of some bureaucrat, a place to forge and train those with Occula to join the Specialist Contractors. The incentives are nice, especially for the desperate.
Questions of morality aside, the Foundry allowed for a new normal to slide into place. A promise of order on the backs of those who have chosen to pledge their loyalty to the government. However, like every normal, this peace simply rocks on the edge of a knife, waiting for the slightest push to send it tumbling down to the earth.
— — — — — — — — — “You can spend your life thinking you’re the biggest fish around, but eventually you’ll come to realize just how small your pond really is.
Though much mystery remains surrounding the powers possessed by parahumans, certain things are known. First, and perhaps the simplest, if a person is a parahuman it can be learned simply by looking into that person’s eyes. All parahumans have an Occula, an eye with an iris that has a color not found within regular humans. Second, that which eye contained an Occula dictated the types of powers that person could potentially have.
The powers themselves will be outlined below, but first, an Occula in the right eye is known as a Dextral, while one found in the left eye is a Sinistral. Very rarely can an Occula be found in both eyes, little information has been gathered about these superhumans, and they must be taken on a case by case basis.
Dextral powers are ones which allow the bearer to in some way affect or modify the world around them. These powers are typically direct and damaging.
Sinistral powers are ones that are based around self modification and empowerment.
Each of these two classes contain five subclasses.
This subset of powers encompasses the modification of the powerholder’s body, from the sculpting of flesh to the taking of new forms.
- Sensory Enhancement
Those with these powers have one or more of their senses sharpened to well and above that of a normal human. This category also contains those with senses outside of those recognized within average humans.
- Physical Enhancement
Parahumans with these powers are able to accomplish physical feats well and above that of even the most honed athlete. This can be anything between strength, flight, or extreme speed.
- Intrinsic Cognition
Those with these powers have an innate and complete understanding of something and this can range from a topic such as physics or chemistry to the creation or modification of technological equipment.
Those with Sinistral powers that cannot be classified under one of the four recognized categories are known as Off-Suits.
The powers of Off-Suits range wildly from invisibility to nulls or the ability to phase through objects.
The superhumans which fall under this category have powers related to the control of elemental and environmental factors. They are also often able to create the element they have an affinity for, unless their Obscura contains a Kinetic influence.
Those with the power of molding are able to modify or contort the shape of an object that they come into contact with. Molders come in two flavors, those who shape inorganic matter, and those who can shape the bodies of organic life.
These powers are based around the movement of force, from directly harming with a punch thrown from a distance, to the increasing of the impact of a blow thrown. Kinetics with elemental bends are often able to manipulate the movement of their element with more finesse than one lacking the kinetic addition, however, they are also often poor at the creation of a given element.
- Fine Manipulators
Fine manipulators are able to, in some way, disrupt or manipulate the movement and flow of electrical currents. For most, this means they are able to mess with the nervous systems of biological creatures. From causing audio or visual distortions in a target, or forcing some level of control over the movements of their target.
Any with powers that cannot be placed within the four subsets are given the moniker Joker.
“How many do you see?” Her voice was soft as it filtered through her earpiece, Kingfisher placed the pad of his index finger over his ear to cut down on the wind as he looked back through the scope.
“Three. Two big guys up front, and a woman smoking on the fire escape.” Kingfisher’s scope lingered on the woman’s face. Dull red reflected in her sunglasses.
The embers from her smoke, or...
“Eyes?” His partner’s voice crackled in his ear.
“Nothing for the thugs, woman has on shades. I think I see a reflection but it might be her smoke.” Kingfisher said.
A momentary pause.
“I’m heading in.” She said. Kingfisher released a breath.
“Understood, I’ll cover.”
His earpiece clicked once, silent acknowledgement. Kingfisher tipped his scope downward and ran it along the street. He caught sight of X-Static stepping out of an alleyway two buildings up. She didn’t look the part of whatever it was the public considered a “hero,” she wore a black hoodie over gray cargo pants, with one of the free subway face masks obscuring her features.
She had drawn some little symbol on it, a stylized “X,” a reference to some comic book, or at least that’s what she had told him.
Up the street one of the thugs perked, his hand falling to his side. Not an Occula if his first thought is to reach for a piece. X-Static raised a hand as she drew near, one of the thugs stepped forward, a gun in his hand. An arch of light passes between his partner's hand and the open metal of the weapon. The man’s body tightened as he fell backwards into a heap on the ground.
Certain X-Static had the other covered, he returned his gaze to the fire escape. The woman was leaning against the railing now, her cigarette between two fingers as she watched the fight below. Tan skin, black hair pulled back into a lazy tail, sunglasses glittering with the light from the fight below. The woman lifted the cigarette to her lips, her gaze flicked up and over the top of her sunglasses. Kingfisher’s breath hitched in his throat.
Her eyes burned like a firebrand, orange and red flickering, but more than that, she was looking at him.
Her lips curled into a jackal’s grin as she breathed out a haze of smoke.
“X-Static, get back. Now.” Kingfisher snapped, yanking his left hand away from his ear. Light condensed at the tip of his index finger.
“Going.” The coms crackled. The woman flicked her cigarette away.
Kingfisher had always wondered what Brimstone had been like. He had been to Portland once, and ever since then he had always wondered.
Perhaps this was his answer.
The doors to the warehouse burst open with a scream of metal, flames spilling outward and rolling out into the street. The roof shuddered as portions of it popped, gouts of fire racing up into the sky. With a curse, Kingfisher pointed his index finger in the direction of the woman, and a lance of light raced outwards. The woman didn’t flinch as the light punched through her shoulder, nor did she move from her spot. Flames licked upwards from the open wound, the flesh beneath smouldering.
She raised a hand and lazily waggled a finger.
“X-Static!” Kingfisher called. The line crackled. “Rei, can you hear me?”
The woman closed her hand into a fist, and the flames drew backwards, like an ebbing tide, back into the warehouse. The woman pushed away from the guardrail, and calmly started to descend. Kingfisher remained still for a moment, eyes searching for anything in the street below.
Kingfisher scrambled up to his feet, turned, and ran.
— — — — — — — — — “And, in the end, the only question that remains is this; we all stand beyond the veil of a brave new world, so what will you choose to do with it?”
Detroit has always been a city with a checkered past, but the emergence of the parahumans was a boon to the wayward city. Serana Copewell, the lead engineer and founder of Waylind Fabrications, today is a household name, and it was through her Occula that Detroit was revived. Serana created her first functioning prosthetic limb in her parent’s basement at the age of eleven, to replace the artificial leg her father wore.
By the age of seventeen Waylind had grown to be the largest manufacturing job in Detroit, and currently the company employs ten percent of the city’s population.
But, I am veering off course again.
The important part is this, Waylind revived Detroit, but it didn’t make the city’s troubles vanish overnight. Crime remains an issue within Detroit, and the emergence of superhumans has only emboldened the unsavory elements of the city’s most desperate quarters.
A turf war between two rival gangs has recently ended with a large section of an abandoned area of shipyards coming under an up and coming gang’s control, and it seems the local law enforcement and Foundry chapter are more than content to let them play king among the scrap and rust.
But, are you?