Saturday, 11 October 2014

Supers Setting 3: An Inauspicious Beginning

Some history today:

History: An Inauspicious Beginning

Super powered beings did not appear until the 1960s. Soviet experiments at the Tunguska Incident site created the first of their 'New Men', a super powered figure who rose above the old distinctions of class, sex and other 'shackles', ready for the perfect Soviet state. By the end of the 1960s the USSR had a cadre of these figures, and the United States was in a panic. The Cold War had come close to heating up in '63 with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Space Race had seen shots exchanged between Russian and American spacecraft, though neither side acted on these events. The appearance of the 'New Men' opened a new front, one which people were wholly unprepared for. The White House ordered an investigation into the feasibility of creating an American equivalent.  Military scientists scoured available technology without success. Everything was too big, too clunky or just didn't work. In January 1969 all the USA had to answer the threat of the New Men (who had, so far, never left Russian soil, not even to interfere in Vietnam) was Squadron Seven, a cutting edge group of fighter pilots who flew experimental planes.

Nevertheless by 1970 America had its answer, thanks to Dr Gunther Ackerman. A former Nazi scientist, snatched at the end of World War 2 as part of Operation Paperclip, Ackerman took a radical approach to the problem, exhuming the wrecks of UFOs from Roswell and other incidents. He used what he found from the machines to construct three suits of powered armour. Called Eagle White, Eagle Blue and Eagle Red, the suits were manned by some of the Air Force's top pilots rather than genetically altered humans. Washington was keen to show normal Americans fighting the good fight rather than laying a legacy for a super powered hierarchy in the future. The Eagle pilots became household names, just as astronauts did and the powered suits were sent to major theatres of war, whilst at home Ackerman and his acolytes worked on new designs and weapons to battle threats that were largely imaginary. What if the Soviets could create psychic saboteurs? What if their New Men could tunnel through the Earth's crust? What if they could launch them into space and simply drop from orbit so fast that not even the fastest missiles could do any good. The centre at Cloud Ranch blossomed into a full sized complex, no demand for technology or funding was turned down.

Ackerman's research focused on the alien properties of the captured craft, splicing and reverse engineering whatever he could. Within a handful of years he exhausted his resources, but created a number of successful projects in the process. Whilst these were usually pieces of technology, a few experiments created genuine super-humans; largely by accident.

He had already been involved in studies into the effects of radiation on people. Now he returned to them in the hopes that they would be a cause of super powers. Experiments in the 1950s had produced a number of strange effects but Ackerman found nothing in the data collected that gave him hope of creating super soldiers from the source and abandoned his search after a short period.

He had more luck with his studies into eugenics, though he was careful to restrict his investigations to Sweden. Here, he found a strange 'x-factor' in a small part of the population particularly in those who had their roots in the far north of the country. The Swedish analysis gave the first indication that alien life had visited earth in the ancient past, and that some of the genetic inheritance had been passed through families.

Further confirmation of this came from a surprising quarter. In 1966 Thomas Hansson, a visiting lecturer in Archaeology from New York State University found a strange rune stone in a dig, one dedicated to Odin's steed, Sleipnir. Eyewitness accounts reported that a strange force enveloped him and then he was gone. His next recorded location was Istanbul, where he caused panic for both Soviet and Western Istanbul Stations. Throughout Europe there were reports of a bronze coloured streak moving too fast to be seen. When he slowed down enough to be seen it became apparent Hansson was wrapped in a bronze substance that had enabled him to run at devastating speeds. Other heroes appeared, without a discernible pattern and there were always rumours of new heroes, even if they usually proved groundless.

Elsewhere, Ackerman met the UK's Ministry of Defence's Special Projects Office, to discuss the 'New Men' situation. He also met with the Listening Post, and was told of a strange message the Jodrell Bank telescope had picked up. The Listening Post were working on translating it but with little success. The British experience was starkly different to the American one. Whilst alien machinery had been discovered in the United Kingdom most of their experience of aliens was based on psychic abilities and strange energies, which struck at random, leaving places and people transformed. The results were more freakish and unreliable than either the American or Russian data suggested and it was far from clear whether the

Unseen in the 1960s, other things were taking place. The Hippy movement with its credo of free love attracted a great deal of interest, but unseen in the shadows something else was going on. Alien visitors were infiltrating Hippy communes, usually at the invitation of the leaders, who were seeking their 'Space Brothers'. It would not be until the 1980s that the real picture of what happened in the communes would come to light.

In the big cities abduction survivors began to gather, sharing stories and sometimes hiding hideous changes to their bodies. They hid amongst the dispossessed and the hopeless; creating the Underground.

Into the Light

The 1970s changed the tone of what was happening in America. As super-humans began to emerge, usually powered by strange artefacts or from experiments and abductions, things began to change. Costumed heroes began to be a regular sight in cities. It isn't clear what prompted this change in tone, but the genie was out of the bottle and the idea of the superhero as a figure independent of the state was born. This also brought a darkness, one that is perhaps best remembered from the Trauma killings in Chicago. A serial killer, Trauma used his powers to stalk and kill seven young black men, simply by pressing his hand against their chests; inducing a heart attack. Two factors disrupted his pattern. First, the eighth potential victim escaped, and second Trauma's power left a distinctive mark on the victim's bodies in the form of a hand shaped burn. This mobilised Chicago's PD to mount an investigation, and when they worked out that their quarry was super-human, to mount a plea for superheroic assistance. This came in the form of Mr Recall, a man with a super-human memory. He was assigned to the case in a purely advisory capacity, the policemen on the case Michael Daniels and Joshua Richards were to do the actual leg work and find the killer on Recall's suggestions. They tracked him to a small house in a white working class part of the city. The resulting shoot out left the man grievously wounded and in need of serious medical attention. What was more alarming was the collection of Far Right paraphernalia the investigators found in his basement. This was linked to the White Dawn group. In the end Trauma (whose name is still classified), was imprisoned for life, in a special cell.

This cooperation changed the way superheroes were seen. They became figures to court, objects of media obsession. Mr Recall appeared live on national television, wowing the audience with his abilities. Before long other heroes were coming out into the night, every major city had a hero and there was even a, grudging, acceptance of the more bizarre figures; the true members of the Underground who had been left physically scarred by their experiences. Cooperation between heroes grew, often catching the media’s attention and the word ‘team’ began to be bandied about in the press, even though most heroes worked alone.

In the meantime, New York saw a panic as rumours of 'Mr Feel Good' ran through the underground. A mood manipulator, Feel Good operated out of the clubs and parties throughout the city, using his powers to make people feel intoxicated. Ordinarily there would be no crime involved but the Police Commissioner was determined to catch the man to secure his re-election to the post. As a result the club scene was hit hard, as officers tore clubs apart searching for the man. Feel Good proved elusive however. He used his powers to soothe officers or to incite fights between them, escaping whilst they were incapacitated. This proved to be what turned the city against him, it allowed the newspapers to run a successful smear campaign after an officer was beaten into a coma. The FBI was called in and the city picked apart in sweep after sweep. The search finally closed in on an apartment in the Bronx. What happened next was short, but bloody and resulted in Feel Good's death. An investigation was held, but no conclusions were reached. The case was revisited in the early 1990s when the cops involved in Feel Good’s death committed suicide, out of the blue.

New York also saw the largest Underground community. Sky Diamond began singing in clubs, her frail figure a direct contrast to the strange sounds she was capable of creating with her voice. In the Bronx and other inner city areas it was not uncommon to see groups of ‘freaks’ on the streets, especially at night and at one point, in 1975, Times Square became a central point for the ‘Freak Revolution’.

Elsewhere there were reports of the strange sightings around the Nazca Lines in South America. Further investigation revealed that a small commune had gathered there, though most people had no reason for their being there, simply saying that they had heard or seen a message that moved them to travel to the Lines. They were walking the lines, seemingly without rhyme or reason. It was only after a year of walking the lines that the purpose of commune became apparent. A portal opened and a small ziggurat's came through. At the same time the other South American pyramids lit up with a strange glow and beams of light shot up into the sky above them.

President Nixon went on television in 1973, appealing for patriotic heroes to join a new initiative, a large scale hero team under the codename 'Defiance.' This was pure PR on his part, the team was designed purely for show. What surprised the public was that a team actually came to exist as a result of the Presidents plea. Even more surprisingly was that Bronze Racer, as Hansson had become known as, was one of the first to step forward. Other heroes came forward: Tornado, Psyche and Eros and the Mighty. Touted as the 'First Line' against the USSR and supplanting the Eagle project, the Defiants were introduced the public in the spring of 1974. They saw action soon after, being pushed into a number of theatres of war, including Vietnam. This was curtailed however by complaints from the Pentagon about the team's effect on discipline and complained that Russia, in response to the Defiants' action had deployed a group of New Men to Vietnam in a lightning strike. They alone, preferred the Eagle project.

Ackerman, in contrast spent the decade looking for more sources of potential super powers. His organisation grew, diversifying as types of aliens were identified. Much of his efforts were directed to cataloguing cases, developing theories and a huge database with every known abduction, sighting and encounter. He identified Ancient Astronauts, Abductors, Fractals and Horrors, noting their tendencies and patterns and the likely effects of their presence on humans. In the meantime he spoke to scientists about their work and discoveries. One meeting, in Switzerland, proved significant, though not in a way Ackerman expected. The two scientists he went to meet, John Campbell and Bridget Murphy, listened to everything he said, nodded and smiled and promised a great deal. They never delivered and Ackerman wrote the meeting off as a failure. A score of years later some of his agents began to find that they were being beaten to alien artefacts by a group of expert thieves. Around the same time heroes found that a mercenaries wielding powerful energy weapons began to appear. Soon after, the name 'the Symposium' began to be heard throughout the criminal underworld. Weapons fairs sprang up in odd places, selling advanced weaponry to anyone who had the money. America’s response to this was slow, nothing was done for years until the assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Towards the end of the decade things became bleak: scandal followed scandal. Politics rocked from waves after wave of revelations. For a time it seemed as if the superheroes would be left untouched, but in 1978 the New York Times broke a story that ended the Defiants as a team. A journalist, working undercover, tailed Psyche as she made her way across Washington DC and into Maryland. She was photographed entering a house in a Fairview suburb. What followed would end Psyche’s ability to operate as a hero and lead to her arrest on charges of treason as well as the revelation that she was an addict. The house was a Soviet safe house, operated by known KGB agents. Psyche was photographed accepting phials of what would be identified as X66, a well-known psychic amplifier in return for information about the team. Arrests were made and more, troubling, information came to light. It transpired that both Psyche and Eros were in Moscow’s pay, one because of her addiction to X66, whilst Eros had clandestinely been a member of the Communist Party from the very beginning. As the two went to trial the other members of the team resigned. By the end of the year, the Defiance Project was over.

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