Welcome to Collateral Damage!
Thirty years ago the world changed. Everyone remembers the video footage that shocked the world: the first (known) exposure of human beings to what became known as the Wild Card virus, a genetically-tailored disease intended as the world’s first widespread use of a biological weapon. Exploded over New York City, it was intended to kill or multilate tens or hundreds of thousands—and it did. Nearly 100,000 residents of New York died that day or in the days that followed, and a tenth that number were forever changed.
It also changed a tiny handful, making them something other (some would say “more”) than merely human. The first battle between two super-powered combatants occurred only days after the initial incident. Though originally dismissed by many as a hoax, the sheer destruction wrought on downtown Seattle and the number of casualties—documented more thoroughly than was ever possible in the pre-smartphone world—soon convinced the world of the reality of what they’d seen.
Two teenagers locked in battle over and through downtown Seattle. They flew. They exhibited telekinetic abilities of horrifying power, throwing multiple vehicles around and destroying several buildings. When it was over, one of them was dead and the other had vanished. He has been spotted occasionally around the world, but for the most part has remained in hiding for nearly three decades.
They were the only the first to appear. Over the last thirty years, cultures the world over have been rocked by the emergence of super-powered individuals. Some cultures and nations collapsed; others changed, usually for the worse. Only a handful endured the past decade relatively well, the USA among them.
The federal government’s initial domestic response—the formation of numerous, heavily-armed quick response teams to intervene in superpowered brawls—was popular with the public, though civil rights groups decried it. That popularity, based on fear of the death and destruction many superhuman incidents caused, faded as the brutality of the federal government’s response became better known. The teams often interfered with no regard for the lives of the combatants, and little more for bystanders caught in the crossfire. The argument that such actions were necessary, and that they ultimately saved more lives than letting the superhuman conflicts play out, lost credibility when the death toll from such interventions rivaled the worst of the brawls they were intended to prevent.
The Guardians project, which supplemented but never quite supplanted the SWAT initiative, has proven a better approach. Individuals suspected of possessing (or acquiring) superhuman powers but who have not proven a threat, are identified and closely monitored, but left unmolested*. Those who exhibit their powers in public, in particular, those who take on the role of self-appointed “superhero”, are approached and recruited (some would say “drafted”) into the Guardians.
Guardians are trained, licensed, and monitored. They act as first responders to superhuman threats, primarily individuals who first come to attention due to violent or criminal activity involving superpowers, or whose initial classification as unthreatening turn out to be mistaken. Guardians act to subdue and arrest them if possible, but to stop them even if it requires lethal force. Guardians, so long as they are acting in accordance with their training and rules of engagement, are legally immune to lawsuits based on their actions, and damages (to individuals or property) are paid for out of insurance provided by the federal government.
Individuals apprehended by the Guardians are sometimes recruited, depending on the circumstances. Those who refuse, or those deemed unfit, are imprisoned in the repurposed holding facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Or used as experimental subjects or summarily executed out of sight of the public, depending which rumors you believe. Given the latitude the courts have provided for dealing with superhuman threats too dangerous or difficult to contain safely, the latter is not entirely out of the question, though the government denies it.