Friday, 17 October 2014

Supers setting 4: The 1980s

Brink of Disaster

The 1980s began with a bang, literally. As Ronald Reagan took the stand to make his inaugural address, a shot rang out and he fell; his body vaporising. Panic spread through Washington. With the Vice President, George H Bush hastily sworn in; the White House and Pentagon began sabre rattling directed at the Kremlin. Ships were moved to strategic points in the Atlantic and Baltic; the Eagle suits and their pilot were sent to Berlin.

In response, Red Army units were moved into Eastern European countries. Pro-democracy campaigns came under intense scrutiny and even threats. Poland's Solidarity engaged in clashes with the authorities, something that came to an abrupt end when the New Man, Gusar (Hussar), was deployed to crush a demonstration in 1982. The march turned into a riot, and over a hundred people died as Gusar let loose with his powers. At the height of the riot, however, something strange happened. The New Man's powers suddenly failed and he plummeted to the ground.

The mob tore him to pieces.

The world reeled at the news, the Kremlin launched into a damage limitation campaign. For a while, the New Men were everywhere, doing good works in Soviet countries and feats of power. They drilled oil wells in Iraq, constructed buildings in Turkey and throughout the Eastern Bloc; always making sure the TV cameras were nearby. In Poland, the secret police rounded up Solidarity's leaders and deported them to Russia for trial. The wheels of 'justice' turned quickly and the men were sentenced to a lifetime breaking rocks in Siberia.

As the Kremlin blustered and threatened dire consequences, investigators were hard at work; picking the mystery to pieces. President Bush was made aware of a special intelligence agency, one that had been hidden within the Pentagon's machinery; waking in the early hours of the morning to find a group of masked individuals in his bedroom. Introduced as Agents Alpha, Beta and Delta; the spies alerted him to the fact the weapon that had killed President Reagan did not, in fact, originate from the USSR. The energy at the site matched no known Russian power source and was wildly different to the Tunguska energy signature. It was clear that the cat was out of the bag, the

Armed with this knowledge Bush authorised the creation of a new agency; which in reality was simply a  rubber stamping of the Pentagon group, rushing them into an overt, official organisation. Called Damocles, the group was to 'hang like a sword over the heads of criminals, spies and saboteurs' and to specialise in investigating the use of alien and super technology. On the advice of his staff he kept the pressure up on the Soviets, allowing Damocles to work in the shadows, tracking their way through a growing black market in strange tech.

Berlin became the flashpoint for the growing tension between the superpowers. Things came to a head in 1983 when a fracas broke out in the sky above the city. It remains unclear how it started, but it was soon apparent that a squad of New Men had a engaged the Eagle fighters. Angry words were exchanged between Moscow and Washington. A nuclear missile was launched, aimed at America. Again, even today it is not clear who authorised the launch or how it came to pass.

The missile arced over Europe and came to a sudden halt over the Alps. Some of Ackerman's operatives, working together, had managed to catch the missile in a stasis net. John Marsh, Ackerman's shadow energy wielder, bombarded the missile with the dark energy, creating a rift to suck it into a different dimension. Unfortunately Marsh's equipment overloaded and the feedback dragged him away in the missile's wake. Attempts to close the rift were unsuccessful.

The very fact that disaster had come so close shocked both sides and Bush, supported by his allies, called for peace talks. Cherneko, the interim leader of the USSR, was reluctant, but an event late in 1983 changed his mind. Damocles revealed that they had helped a Russian scientist to defect to the west. More particularly, they had aided one of the Tunguska Project scientists to defect. The secrets of the New Men were in American hands. Within weeks it was revealed that much of the programme was a sham, the New Men no more than a publicity device. This brought Cherneko the table and forced Gorbachev's hand when he took power the following year.

In the meantime Damocles located a factory island, fifty miles off the Chinese coast. Infiltrating it revealed the existence of the Symposium, a cadre of scientists dedicated to creating weapons from alien technology. The energy signature of the weapons matched the gun that killed Reagan and the presence of Chinese officials on the island served to send warning signals that removing the group would be no easy task. The team of investigators set charges in the most important factories and made their escape, leaving the place to explode. This was the beginning of the cat and mouse war between Damocles and the Symposium; a war of shadows that would grow to engulf the planet.

In America the waves of scandal and crisis that had punctuated the late 1970s rose again, when one of the original Eagle pilots, Mark Jeffries revealed that he was suffering from cancer, and blamed Ackerman for his illness. Similar revelations followed, the original users of the powered technology he had developed revealed similar illnesses, one on live television. Ackerman found himself summoned to Capital Hill to answer to a hastily assembled Committee on Super-human Affairs. All development at Cloud Ranch was suspended during this time, leading to a startling development. Ackerman sank into a deep depression, and died in 1988.

President Bush in the meantime, was re-elected in 1984 and set out to create his own superhero to serve as a symbol to the nation. This figure, American Shield, was introduced shortly after Bush took office for the second time. From the start, it was clear that the Shield was as much a PR exercise as the New Men had been, something to restore beleaguered confidence across the nation.

In the winter of 1985 Jeffries was approached by the weapons manufacturer Proton Enterprises. They offered him an extensive medical care package in return for endorsement of Proton's weapons. Jeffries agreed and became the face of Proton's home defence advertising campaign. Unwittingly the future of superheroes was being formed; the age of the corporate hero was beginning. More deals were signed throughout the decade, mostly within the arms industry. The breakout contract was signed between Beat-Boxx, a sound powered hero, and Pantha Records, wherein Boxx agreed to not only promote Pantha's artists but to appear in videos and commercials. This opened the gates and created a clamour for superpowered spokes-people in industry. In addition to this a woman, claiming to be from the future, crash landed in Chicago. Calling herself Silver Lining, she claimed to have come back to prepare the world for a threat that was coming. However, she seemed keen to seek out corporate sponsorship, and the details of the supposed apocalypse were always vague.

At the same time, growing pressure on the White House forced the government to cede the exclusive hold it had over super technology. Blueprints for Eagle suits and other devices were sold to weapons manufacturers and spread into the commercial sector. With new input came innovation and soon the arms trade were selling high-tech arms as a matter of course. Suits like the Eagle were in mass production and being sold around the world, but most especially to the American military and, in some places, to Police Departments.

Elsewhere the world became stranger. In California a number of rich business and media players were bankrupted by the Enlightened One, a confidence trickster whose mental power convinced them to enter his programme of 'Prana Manipulation'. When the FBI was called in, they found nothing untoward, all the paperwork showed that funds had been handed over to the Enlightened One entirely voluntarily, no matter what the wounded parties claimed.

New York and San Francisco were rocked by hate campaigns against the Underground. The White Dawn led a series of attacks on the sewers, using bombs to maim as many of the people there as they could. White Dawn graffiti came commonplace throughout the USA, and violence against minorities worsened throughout the decade. They came under increased pressure when they killed American Shield, after he investigated their activities. His replacement, a female American Shield brought in Damocles to bring his murderers to justice. The investigation led to a siege at Dog Lick, Indiana, which ended in the White Dawn's leadership being captured.

Japan was assailed by immense creatures, later revealed to be the work of a cunning illusionist; Yume. The first super-humans began to emerge in the land of the rising sun, forming sentais and drawing on their own culture of super-powered heroes.

In Britain cyborgs under the control of a Victorian machine invaded the streets of Birmingham, whilst in France the ghost of Charles de Gaulle terrorised Paris for weeks after a piece of meteorite disturbed his resting place. All over the world, the world was growing stranger, little by little every day. Europe began to see new heroes emerging and the EEC began to push for the creation of a European based team to protect the countries of Europe. It was not until 1990 that this began to take place, mostly owing to British and French filibustering and vetoes. Most of the superheroic activity in Europe was directed towards monitoring the Swiss rift.

The growth of individual heroes continued, Bronze Racer handed on the runestone that had given him his powers to a promising student at his university. Mr Recall began to operate a national detective agency, referred to as the Network, which worked to connect heroes to crimes as soon as possible. Alone of the public heroes, Recall pushed for greater inclusion of the Underground and went so far as to employ several members in the New York area as detectives as runners. Most memorably he was connected to Ebb, a woman who had been largely transformed into water. She had taken to living in the Hudson and frequently brought in the floating bodies of suicides and murder victims.