The River of Sorrow
Science has many answers, and with the advent of hypertechnology and arcanotechnology it seemed that there were no questions left to be conquered. But the manifestation of parapsychic abilities, wastelands, and the 'Storm' left many questions and no answers.
The first recorded parapsychic, George Matthew Hill, was a resident of the Republic of California. He lived less than 30 miles from the then unrecognized Nevada Blight Zone. His abilities were modest, telekinesis and emotional projection, the family had an oral record that George's father was also possessing such abilities, as was his grandfather. They kept this as a family secret, and referred to it as the gift. This is not the only localized manifestation of parapsychic ability. A secret society known only as the Covenant formed in the Commonwealth of New England, near Salem Massachusetts and was composed of 17 extended family members who had what they considered 'witch powers' but were in truth telekinesis, hydrokinesis, and several somatic abilities most prominently charisma and enhanced agility. The Craven Clan of South Dakota, unincorporated territories, also demonstrated exceptional parapsychic abilities, but also manifested horrific physical deformities and abnormalities. All of the encounters share the same fundamental abilities without any common thread. The Hills were proximal to a blight, but the Covenant family was not, the Craven clan was proximal to a nuclear waste facility, but no other such situation has created parapsychic abilities in a host family.
The Advent of Parapsychic Ability
Prior to the Second Renaissance, there were no recorded parapsychics. All claims were debunked in that era, and were shown to be nothing more than crystal gazers and table knockers. The first know practitioners were discovered shortly after the restoration of the various continental republics, namely the Atlantic Federation and the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. These individuals, and many of their close family members were placed into government custody, willingly or not. They were made into guinea pigs and lab rats, while scientists struggled to comprehend the source of their supernatural ability. Accidents were made, human rights were trampled, and there were deaths involved. The most prominent and publicly known event was the DSI Disaster.
DSI, better known as the D Shop, was in the business of discovering the biological triggers of parapsychic ability. Situated north of the burgeoning city of San Angeles, later the Los Angeles Arcoplex, the Rainbird facility was mostly working towards weaponizing parapsychic soldiers. Things went very wrong and the facility was destroyed by a single rogue parapsychic, a young girl who had evinced impressive pyrokinetic ability and the power to control minds. The security force that was sent to contain her suffered horrific losses as soldiers turned on each other, and vehicles randomly exploding. The girl was stopped only after a sniper shot her in the head. The psychic death scream of the individual caused over 130 cases of psychological trauma to responding personnel, many of whom would commit suicide afterwards despite extensive psychotherapy and medication.
Science and ParaPsychics
Once the furor calmed, and parapsychic individuals were assured of their legal and human rights by several bills and judicial acts, business got back to normal. The parapsychics were still placed under intense scrutiny, but now were compensated for their time, and were free to leave if they were so inclined. A small number of individuals were placed under protective custody, but these were a minority and represented a faction of parapsychics who were a danger to themselves and others. This was all kept very quiet and large sums of money went into keeping the PKs (referencing both parapsychics and parakinetics) calm and happy. The visual image of a nine year old getting shot in the face on live tri-d video feed was still fresh in the public eye, and remains a haunting ghost of old hatreds and human abuses.
Arcanotechnology revealed that PKs who are actively using their parapsychic abilities manifest a stronger aura than resting humans, and when not activating their powers, and indistinguishable from normal humans. Pan-Dimensional photography (PDP, or PDSP) noted there were noticable changes in the souls of PK users that were not present in normal humans. The difficulty, expense, and nebulous accuracy of PDP and PDSP prevent the technology from being used to located nascent and dormant potential PKs.Â
Like the presence of the soul, parapsychic ability could be quantified and measured by scientific means, but discovering the source and the cause of the powers remained beyond the scope of science.
The Secret Soldiers
Parapsychics were vigorously recruited by corporations, governments, and anyone else who wanted to use their unique abilities. The demand would forever outstrip the supply, so several organizations attempted to create artificial PKs. The Scandanavian Fimbulvinter Project came close, with Operations Yesod and Gevurah. Yesod created clones of PKs, bombarding the growing embryos with certain radiations and injections of a classified substance. The Yesod Clones and the Himmel Project combined creating viable clones who did regularly manifest parapsychic abilities. These individuals also were walking time bombs, psychoses and neurological problems abounded in the project. Many of the soldiers created only had a viable lifespan of three to five years before their psychological problems made them unstable, dangerous and a liability to the organizations that utilized them.
Several world powers invested billions of dollars into investigating parapsychic powers and how they could be artificially induced to create perfect super soldiers. The projects, at best, had mixed results. The connection between power and the individual was apparently not something that was machine replicable in the lab. The tests were all leading to a certain unsavory answer.
Suffering and denial build character, as the expression goes. The test subjects in the programs with the most egregious violations of rights and humanity were the ones with the best results. It was also noted in psychological profiles that those who naturally manifested came from violent, disturbed, or other negative backgrounds. While there was indeed a biological and paranormal aspect to manifesting these powers, it seemed that the real trigger was physical, psychological and emotional trauma. The governments and corporations could indeed create parapsychics, but doing so would require the precise and exquisite torture of the individuals who demonstrated potential. While there were certainly individuals callous enough to order the blind torture of hundreds of human beings (not so far of a leap for the same people who ordered soldier clones because they were more cost effective than robot soldiers). Those individuals were also pragmatic enough to understand that the new soldiers would inevitably turn on them, hating them for their abuse, and not thankful for their gifts.
Large scale research fell off, but various projects remain running, creating small groups of enhanced soldiers and specialists. The Atlantic Federation adopted using clones and cyborgs rather than running the risk of creating an army of uncontrolled super humans. The Pacific Rim waved away cost and invested heavily in robot technology and droid war machines. The other world powers largely followed in one of these two paths.
Truth is Stranger than Fiction
Dimensional Science is still in it's relative infancy, but the viability of the Dimensional Engine, Dimensional Cascade Engine, Dimensional Battery, Pan-Dimensional Spectra-Photography and other arcanotech devices have been proven. It is only a matter of time, and money before the technology is developed for transdimensional travel (teleportation) and from there FTL travel.
For lack of a better term, there is a river that flows between the membranes of our realities. The Romans called it Styx, the Japanese, Sanzu. It is somehow involved in the migration of souls between life and death. Life and happiness causes the river to ebb, it's turbid waters ease and lower in it's dark earthen banks. When death is rampant, the river surges, tearing away at the soil and bleeding over into our world. In the past, there have been times when the river has run out of it's courses and flooded greatly. The Black Death saw the River of Sorrow, the stream of Death literally boil into our waking world. The noxious fumes killed many, and left others horrified and scarred. The devices of history have conspired, and it is likely that many of the witch sightings and outbreaks of hysteria were caused not by black magic and sorcery, but by manifesting parapsychics in a time that could not describe them as anything but divine or damned.
The river broke it's dams several decades ago. It rose high during the Resource Wars, as tens of thousands died on the battlefields. But it rose higher and washed over it's banks as the Second Dark age descended on man. While many areas were largely spared the greater part of the horror and suffering, entire other regions were decimated. Large parts of Africa and Central Asia depended heavily on foreign aid to protect them from despots and provide them with food. When the food shipments stopped coming, they died. They died in the millions. Warlords decimated entire countries with foot armies, raising banners to their gods, to themselves, or whatever mad notion they had. Africa withered, central Asia burned, and the Middle East was almost snuffed out in thermonuclear war. The world population had grown to a peak near 10 billion people. By the middle of the Second Dark Age, that number was closer to 3 billion. While many indeed perished, the time of tumult that was the Second Dark Age saw fewer families coming together, and fewer children being born. The flow of life diminished and for several decades the mortality rate exceeded the birth rate.
Historians mark the Second Dark Age as the second major population correction. The first being the Black Death. The population by the end of the Petroleum Age was close to using 100% of available resources, both in terms of energy, but also in terms of agriculture and overall biomass. The warfare that ended the Petroleum age is only a small fraction of the total loss of human life. Systemic famine and disease took a massive toll as industrialized agriculture collapsed and the global shipping infrastructure failed. This was also a relatively modest percentage of the overall population contraction. The largest cause of loss of life was that for three generations, more people died of old age, accident, and other 'normal causes' than were being born. This was also tied into generations of endemic poverty, regular famine and near constant low level banditry and warfare. If there was a measure of suffering, an index of agony, it would have run high through most of that time.
The dams burst, the black river flowed out, and it filled the world with it's poison. The dark tides pooled in places, became the Blights. The seeping fumes of the river turned green land into the wastelands. The parapsychics are those who are able to tap into the latent power of the River of Sorrow, the conduit formed by their own spiritual and physical suffering. Those who are unable to feel pain,or know suffering cannot reach the river. Clones have memories of pain, but none of it was real, so few of them are able to make the connection.
There are beings, entities that dwell along the banks of the River. Men would call them demons and devils, tormented souls and monsters. They are dimensional creatures, no more aware of our world than we are of theirs. Those rare individuals in the past who have been cursed with sight beyond sight have seen this tortured realm, and have written of it. Dante wrote of it in his Divine Comedy. The origins of the Brimstone and Hellfire sermonizing of the 1800s has also been attributed to visions of the barren plains that surround the river of sorrow.
The first thing that comes to mind is why isn't this a location,and instead why is it a system. The River of Sorrows is a conceptual place that the PCs will NEVER have the ability to visit. It is the proverbial high water mark for suffering and misery in the world. Secondly, the river is both a metaphor and an explanation for the existence of parapsychic powers. The metaphor is the power doesn't come for free, and that all of the flashy abilities and powers that a parapsychic can bring to bear come first from their own inner demons (not literal) and then from the collective agony of mankind. When there is pain and death, strength is needed, and the parapsychics and their supernatural abilities are the answer to the need. Secondly I wanted an explanation for the power of parapsychic that wasn't as vague as 'teh magic' nor as specific as midichlorions. There is an answer to the origin of the power and it is nothing neat and clean like science would like, nor is it shining as Faith would hope. It is alien but entirely ours, and it is easy to become intoxicated and corrupted by using the parapsychic powers because their innate source is tainted.
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? Responses (13)
BTW, that wasn't Jean Grey, was it? :)
Charlene 'Charlie' McGee, played by Drew Barrymore, from the movie Firestarter. I'm not big on comic books, so I don't draw much inspiration from them.
Thanks for the clarification.
Do I get a gold star for recognizing this right away?
Flawless. Have a 5/5.
What about World War 1&2? I'd have expected the River of Sorrow to run pretty high then.
WWI was mostly a European conflict and while casualties were high, didn't change the social paradigm. WWII was wider spread, but any flooding that might have occurred was quickly offset by the Baby Boom that followed the war. In some places the tide remained relatively higher, such as Japan but everything mostly balanced out and the world grew after the war. The Black Death staggered the world population, as did the European colonization of the Americas (death of the Meso-American indian empires) and these were tumultuous times, and the source of many monster stories.
Quite cool - this gives a lot to think about.
Wow. Just awesome. Fascinating concept and very well written!
'there is a river that flows between the membranes of our realities' could be the first sentence of a great book!
have my first 5 since the winter of 2012 :)
Nice one, well executed, I like the shifting tone and use the line you have walked between specific and mystic.
Great idea. I love this idea.
Is the human suffering needed for a flooding of the River proportional to the total human population, or is it a numerical number that needs to die? If its all percentages, then I'm sure there would be a few floodings earlier on. Also, is it just human deaths, or any species?
I am going to say that it is going to be proportional to the total human population, otherwise it could be argued that every massacre and atrocity would create a flood. It has to be a large enough event of death and suffering that the entire human Homo Sapiens species takes a collective notice. Once there is a functional flood situation, these smaller events and atrocities along with misuse or malfunction of arcanotechnology can cause super local flooding aka a Storm Breach, a Storm Rift, or any of a group of names.
It is restricted to humanity as a species, as well as other sentient (true sentient, aka 7 dimension beings) creatures. Plants, animals, and machines are not affected thusly as they are not 7 dimensional beings.
This is one of those subs that really, really speaks to me in a way that's difficult to describe.
I like that there is such a high cost to PK ability. You want power? Just how much are you willing to go through to get it?
One of the consistent things I like about the cosmic era subs is that they all build and maintain a certain tone. I want to play in this world. I want to read the fiction. I want to sit in the theater and watch it play out in 3D. It has all the right combination of horror, sci-fi, and dystopia.