12,046 / 50,000
Although any true 'chapter' nomenclatures have gone out the window, since I've decided the giant chunk of destruction in Omaha would be better suited to a later chapter, as a flashback of sorts, allowing for the story to leap into stuff.
Pressure was placed upon the secret government projects seeking to create such abilities in the average man, instead of waiting for some fluke to create them naturally. Several of the projects currently in the pipeline were pushed forward, due to the increased desire to counteract the confirmed presence of superhuman entities acting against the United States.
Amidst the tragedy, the scientists and businessmen found reasons to rejoice during these trying times. They found their funding suddenly increase, and people with the power to make sure that funding would continue to flow from the previously closed coffers, were now most interested in seeing these researchers continue their work in earnest, and be the next country to bring these abilities to the table, before another enemy of the state discovered them. Either naturally, or through mutation, these powers must soon be in the hands of the United States people, and protecting their shores.
Several candidates were picked for various trails, running the gamut of options for people to use to try and develop abilities, from the downright corny, and straight out of old comics, to the more practical.
Some of the more practical attempts still managed to sound like they were lifted right off the printed page, such as suits of armour, to impart various traits, such as enhanced strength, enhanced senses, to directing powerful blasts from various parts of the body. However, while those options may have been functional, and been some of the first options to roll off the assembly line as successful prototypes, they remained far too bulky and unwieldy for the majority of people to use. If the government hired only the strongest men they could maybe have utilised the armoured squad option, but even then, walking had thus far proven difficult, as well as strain on the neck from helmets for enhanced vision. The other drawbacks of technological means was turning out to be the battery power necessary to run such systems, as well as having to activate controls.
With more time, the researchers developing the armour could have gotten each and every one of those problems to a level where such suits could indeed have been feasible, but several more years was not an option to defend the country now.
Most of the people that were drafted for trials wished to try out the armoured options, due to the relative safety of them, and the more believable nature of the suits. When they got wind of the other secret projects - not so secret when these projects were pushed forward, but still kept out of the public eye - not many of them were able to believe such things, nor did they want to test the methods being put forward there.
One of the most prominent, and most out there approaches, was actually trying to blast people with radiation, for various effects. Many of the desired effects were much the same as the armoured test subjects, but through a more natural means. Or at least one that would be self-powered, and part of the people, albiet unnaturally there.
The radiation tests were not popular choices, as the chance of death was quite high, nearly 100 percent, and not many test subjects were willing to risk death. Not even for the briefest chance to succeed, and likely become a hero to the people in this new era.
Even with the high mortality rate, the process that they had developed was not a complete failure. They did see some results that were actually considered successes, before the test subjects met their unfortunate ends.
No one knew precisely what was being beamed at the subjects, outside of the research team, everything being a closely guarded secret. Whatever was being applied to the radiation, or more accurately the energy being projected into the subjects, was being designed to alter genetic structures.
Earlier versions were just developed to infuse the strange energy they were creating into their testers, to be released in various forms, primarily to increase the force and strength with which a body could act. They hoped this use could have applications as varied as increased durability, making their projects harder to kill via weapons, to increased speed with the energy supercharging the human capacity for movement. Not to mention the expected expelling of energy from their bodies, for a multitude of uses.
The process was a long road of trial and error, inputing the various tweaks to the sequencer to grant what they wanted to the subjects. While they had seen a number of volunteers actually show off such abilities, they had yet to find just what settings, if any, would stop the horrible mutations that were resulting in the death of their subjects.
Their very first test subject was at first deemed to be a failure, as shortly after the young man was infused with the strange energy from the emitter, his body burst into flames. He was quickly put out thanks to the safety systems installed throughout the labs, but the screams had stopped before the extingushers had done their job.
However, once they had removed the dead, blackened body from the lab, and after several more hours had passed as they fixed what had been burned within the emitter room, the scientists were interrupted by a series of alarms, alerting them to another fire. The body they had put out, and removed to another portion of the lab, one that would quickly be termed the Morgue, despite no official morgue being on-site, was on fire.
They suspected it may have been some reignition from some smoldering deep within the body, but when they finally dared proceed to perform an autopsy on the body, they discovered strange alterations to the dead man's anatomy. They found nodules that no one had ever seen before within a human, and when the researchers investigated further, they found these odd new cells to be collecting and processing the energy remarkably similar to that which they had blasted him with, and would blast others with.
These foreign cells were still functioning, using the energy they had harnassed to continue to burst into flames, long past the time their host body had passed on, and it was several days before they finally appeared to be drained of all the energy they had been granted through the newborn mutation process.
This long process of trial and error continued for several weeks, following much the same course. It went much the same way with every person who was daring enough, or foolhardy enough to be the next person to be strapped into the comfy chair, and face possible death as they stared down the barrel of, while not exactly a gun, a very gun like object pointed at them. The straps had been deemed necessary from the start, but had been rebuilt and reinforced once one of the subjects had exhibited enhanced strength, and tore her way free of the chair before the inevitable happened, and her body ceased functioning.
Various settings were continuously tried, for as often as they had bodies to test them on. They had tried testing on animals, but there was some incompatability that caused the process to have even more disastrous results, no matter what they tried.
They didn't know what difference it was that showed promise in humans. However, they had managed to get the right people to sign off on these experiments which some may find barbaric. The government these particular trials under the tightest security they could, for fear of alienating the public should what the government was sanctioning in the need to save their citizens may well turn those self-same citizens against them.
While the death toll continued to rise, the experiments were not entire failures. They had created beings with abilities to create flames - without any protection mechanisms - and strength in subjects, as well as other abilities. Someone had started shooting crimson beams of force from his eyes, causing much damage to the room he was trapped in, before the back of his skull blew out from the resulting forces.
Another briefly flew under only his own power, or at least hovered. That one would have been their greatest success, if not for the cancerous lesions that formed on his body shortly thereafter, devouring his body until it resembled nothing more than a pile of amorphous goo.
They had even caused several bizarre bodily mutations that did not result immediately in death. Several test subjects had exhibited growing what could only be described as fur. In addition to that, they grew fangs, and claws, as well as taking on a generally more animalistic form. Death still came for these mutations, but the versatility of what the scientists had discovered was clear, if only it could be stabilised, and not destructive. Although the possibility of weaponising the device was certainly a consideration, if not the most desirable one. Oogabooga! This is the setup that never ends! Yes it goes on and on my friends! No people are reading this, so I'll continue writing it forever just because...
However, with each failure, they learned more about the process. They refined it with each new pile of data they received from their instruments, slowly nudging their various controls and computer commands to try again. They were discovering which pulses and kinds of energy sent through the device would create what abilities, but they remained unable to maintain those changed bodies, unable to find the impurity in their system.
Things were looking bleak for the project, as the high cost of energy was already beyond the limits. On top of that, came the constant repairs needed to fix the lab after a test subject went on a rampage, or combusted. All that was even before considering the costs of equipment, personel, and the research itself. The most promising avenue of research was also proving to be the most expensive, simply due to the volatile nature of the guinea pigs.
As the body count rose, they did encounter more and more people who would survive for longer than a few seconds. The other shoe was waiting to drop, dangling from a thread, to shut down the project, but the researchers could almost see their goal. The finish line was so close, and so desperate to try and succeed. Discussions had gone around the lab to push their research ahead, rushing headlong and ignoring some safety procedures, trying higher energy loads, and wavelengths, and leapfrogging ahead of where they were now before they had deemed it safe. At least sa safe as this project could be.
The discussions were brief, as this project was not run by any sort of typical mad scientists, throwing caution to the wind. And any such action would be noticed immediately anyways. Such a high output project couldn't do unsanctioned experiments without the expenditures being noticed, no matter how good the bills were covered up. Also, with the high chance of damage to the equipment and quarantine room after the emitter was done with its work, that would be hard to cover up.
So they proceeded onward, ever nearing their goal, trying to convince the beancounters that had opened up their wallets to keep them open a little longer with each failed test. They presented their findings, but the people in charge of the money never understood. All they saw was their treasuries emptying out at a vastly increasing rate with each passing day.
After another week had passed, they had had enough. Unless concrete results were produced, and not just slight leaps with each failure, and waste of money, Project: Lightbringer would be shut down, and funds would be redistributed to other, more promising and less costly efforts.
One last test had been cleared for the following day, and a couple of the researchers were working late into the night to try everything they possibly could to try and ensure that the ensuing test would be a success.
Doctor Alphonse McKenzie worked alone in the main room where the emitter sat. He had shed the typical long, white lab coat ages ago, preferring to do most of his work in a short-sleeved button-up shirt, his hairy arms sticking out, and ending in small, stubby hands that were unusually adept at using instruments to manipulate small devices and objects. A quarter rolled lazily along his knuckles as he surveyed the emitter.