By Steve Perrin, with acknowledgements to Michael Blum, as well as the imagination of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gardner Fox, H. G. Wells, and Heroic universe-makers too numerous to mention.
Very few people living in the Perrinverse, especially on Earth, have any clue about the material in this essay. Some have an inkling, but most believe all the current speculation about the effects of radiation on DNA, mutagenic drugs, the metagene, and other general buzzwords. Even in the rest of the galaxy and amongst the most spaceworthy races most of this information is obscure or forgotten.
This information is being supplied for player amusement only.
Approximately 1,000,000 years ago, when humanity was evolving toward its current form, agents of the Galactic Empire arrived on Earth. The energy-based lifeforms, unable to operate at full capacity in the energy-poor (for them) spiral arms of the galaxy, saw humanity and saw a potential for adaptability. This race would make ideal candidates for agents to act for the Galactics where the Galactics were uncomfortable going. The Galactics kidnapped about half the population of humanoids, force bred them, seeded them on various planets, and infected them with specially bred viruses.
The viruses are an incredible achievement in genetic manipulation. The virus attempts to adapt its host to any (usually traumatic) circumstance, creating powers within the host to either fight or adapt to the situation. 80% of the time the attempt fails, but enough work that the virus is a big success. Those who know about the virus, like the Galactics, can force mutation at any time. Generally successful adaptations are then passed down to the progeny of the adapted person, though the virus in the progeny may take a different approach to childhood traumas.
Humanity was scattered throughout the local arm of the Galaxy, and entire planets full of humans were used as special agents and enforcers for the will of the Galactic Overlords. This did not make Humanity many friends among the non-human races. Many of the human planets also chafed under the constant direction and experimentation of the Galactics.
Among the offshoots of humanity were the Kree, the Skrulls, the Kryptonians, the Daxamites, most of the Vegan races, and many other humanoids that are little different in appearance from the homo sapiens that developed on Earth.
Moreover, the adaptability of human DNA was such that the Galactics could find other potentially useful intelligent species and develop hybrid races like the Shi’ar.
For centuries, Earth was sequestered. While super-powered humans toiled and adapted on planets throughout their Quadrant, the home of humanity was untouched. The virus was unknown and humanity developed along common paths of evolution, both physical and social. Then, twenty thousand years ago, some Galactics came back to Earth to experiment on the indigenous population. They infected a couple of isolated tribes of Cro-Magnons, creating the Eternals and the Deviants. The Eternals called these Galactics the Celestials.
Shortly thereafter, the spiral arms of the Galaxy erupted in revolution. Alien races throughout the Galaxy, frequently aided by sympathetic humans from a hundred worlds, arose and joined forces to force the Galactics back toward the Galactic core they came from. In another arm of the Galaxy a robotic civilization evolved a consciousness and revolted against Galactics and non-manufactured life forms in general. The Cybernarchy remains one of the biggest threats to peace in the Galaxy to this day.
The almost immortal Galactics, tired of their experiments in the far reaches of the Galaxy where energy was scant (for their purposes) let themselves be driven back. The Empire now only encompasses the core of the Galaxy, where suns are close, black holes common, and energy is readily available for Galactic consumption and manipulation. The Emperor sits where he always sat, on the Throneworld, which orbits the event horizon of the black hole at the center of the galaxy.
Cut off from Galactic interference, the Eternals and Deviants were the main sources of infection for the rest of Earth. Some set themselves up as gods and mated with humanity, breeding such powerful mortals as Hercules. In one exception to the general lack of interest in Earth, the Pantheon, star humans with immense powers of gene tampering, used the ongoing galactic chaos as a diversion and visited the home planet to play with the human germ plasm.
When the revolution was over, the local star systems made a pact to quarantine Earth. Not for them even more semi-deities wandering the star ways. The human planets agreed and went their way, many losing any real knowledge of their origins. Some like the Shi’ar grew great. Others like the Skrulls and Kree sank to barbarism and built themselves up again. Some like the Kryptonians established great civilizations on their home worlds, but lost all contact with the stars.
Earth absorbed the viruses brought by Celestial and Pantheon and little of lasting impact happened. Besides the Eternals and Deviants themselves, only a few humans gained lasting powers and immortality to go with it. Ancient wizards like Shazam and Nabu wandered the Earth, interacting with such aberrations as Vandal Savage. Some human races, such as the Fae and Sidhe, were somewhat more prolific, perhaps because of their connection with magic, and created their own pocket worlds to live in. From these worlds they occasionally influence the activities of their human cousins.
The quarantine on Earth was spottily enforced by the dawning of the 20th Century. Local struggles between the Skrulls and Kree upset the local balance of power. Pacts were broken or ignored. The Skrulls came into the system and established a base on Mars, using a subordinate race of non-humans and that race’s humanoid slaves, without a peep being heard. Then the non-humans invaded Earth in 1898. It was a small force, mostly a probe to see what kind of powered response would be invoked. It used simple technology so as to keep the inhabitants of earth from getting too much of a leg up if it was a debacle.
It was a debacle. Earth’s viruses and bacteria slaughtered the octopoid invaders. But an unforeseen byproduct was that the super virus carried by a few shapeshifted Skrull observers amongst the mollusks reinfected the Earth population. It was weak and adapted better to Skrull physiology than human, but it stayed on. A few infected individuals gained power to adapt to sudden traumatic situations.
In 1920, a further infusion of the virus came in the person of a baby from Krypton, who infected the air with every cry, and the soil with every dirty diaper. Superhumans began to appear again, especially in the United States. Ancient sorcerers, like Nabu and Shazam who were left over from previous infections, used their magics to infuse others with the viruses in them. Virus-infected normal humans like Carter Hall and Ibis suddenly remembered past lives and past adventures.
The Skrull/Martian invasions of 1938 and 1953 added to the virus pool, as have the various contacts that have happened since Galactus (a Galactic with his own agenda) destroyed all the local Galactic monitoring stations in the 1960s.
Of course, the virus is very present on most of the worlds of Earth’s Quadrant of the Galaxy. For the most part, the populations of these worlds have adapted to it, but still toss up the occasional super when the circumstances are appropriate.
The virus is the root cause of mutation. Mutants generally discover their powers in a traumatic moment, or over a long period of realizing that something is different about them. At this time, the virus becomes very active and works to redesign DNA and RNA at an incredible speed (though generations of viruses can be said to die in the process) to meet whatever threat is perceived. Mutants who develop their powers over time are generally found to come from bad home (or sometimes work) environments that put a constant pressure on the body that the virus tries to accommodate. Such mutants are frequently wish-fulfillment types, though the wishes fulfilled are often buried deep in the psyches of the recipients.
The change to the mutant’s body is generally detectable on a molecular level, if only in a subtle change in the gases exhaled or composition of the sweat of the body or other secretions. This is what mutant detectors pick up. Essentially the detector looks for something that is not quite the human norm. Needless to say, the detectors have a notable “false signal” rate when they pick up just slightly different humans and hidden aliens. And, of course, most metahumans of any kind, including magicians, are picked up on the detectors.
The existence of the virus does not mean that magic isn’t “real.” Magic is a force. It can be manipulated by sentient beings. Humans do not naturally have the ability to manipulate it, though many other races do, but the virus can adapt its host to any energy type, even magic. Magic is very similar to psionic force, and most magicians have some psionic ability. Many magicians can only access their psionic ability through the use of incantation mantras, but the ability is there.
Magic is essentially life radiation. It taps the life force. It is no more difficult for the virus to adapt to than electromagnetic force, or gravity, or telekinesis.
As far as can be told, the Green Flame that powers the Power Battery of the succession of Green Lanterns that have guarded earth since the 1940s is not virus-based. Yet it does infect its users until they take on some variation of the Green Flame powers and pass the ring and battery along to a new bearer. Some speculate that this is a different plan to colonize the world, one ringbearer at a time.
In fact, the Green Flame and the virus are incompatible. Children born with the Green Flame, like Jade, Obsidian and Fire, cannot be infected with the virus. If someone with the virus puts on the power ring, the virus in his or her body is burned out. If the virus is too deeply ingrained, the ring rejects the wearer and refuses to work for him.
This does not mean that a powered individual cannot use the power ring. In some cases the virus, as part of the adaptation, kills itself. Thus, Starman III (Will Payton) whose body was no longer human could have used the Power Ring.