ESP, short for Extra-Sensory Perception, is easily the most common “power” in myth, folklore and popular culture – countless people are supposed or have claimed to be able to be able to see the future, see things that weren’t there, talk to people who’re not present and receive messages from gods, spirits or the dead, among many other.
Perhaps it’s thus not surprising that the Perception classification – whose holders are usually referred to as ‘Espers’ – is one of the, if not the broadest one there is, covering a staggering multitude abilities, from the obvious to the strange. While classifications like Gadgeteer and Contriver cover a very specific powerset which stands apart from most, Perception is more of a catch-all classification for all powers that share a general theme.
To be precise, Esper powers cover all abilities that deal primarily with information in some manner.
Unsurprisingly, such powers are extremely wide-spread, though primarily as secondary or tertiary abilities, either in addition to or as support/enablers of other, greater powers.
Note: “Perception X” refers to the end result of the power, while “Esper”, usually, describes the source – for example, an Esper power might also warrant further ratings beyond mere Perception. However, they are just as often used interchangably in colloquial speech. Only scientists and cape geeks tend to insist on proper usage.
Hands down one of the two most common kinds of Perception powers are those which directly enhance or alter the Esper’s senses. Sharper, even telescopic eye-sight, enhanced hearing that goes to the point of echolocation, a nose that can make dogs turn green of envy, a touch so fine it can locate people through the tremors they cause by walking, all those and more make up a large part of Esper powers; they are also the ones most commonly to appear as tertiary abilities, without a direct connection to the main power, but supporting it in some fashion – such as Polymnia’s extremely enhanced, fine hearing, which aids her in her work with sonic technology.
The other most common class of Esper powers has a great deal of overlap with Sensory Enhancement, often going hand-in-hand with it – powers which expand senses, allowing one to perceive things they normally could not. X-Ray vision, Ultrasound-Hearing, thermal vision, remote vision and many more make up this class of powers. Again, Polymnia’s hearing would fall under this classification, as she is capable of hearing the full range of sound, not just the frequencies which normal humans are limited to. Mindstar’s ability to have a second “viewpoint” which moves independently from her body also technically falls under this header.
A rarer, weirder form of Esper powers are those which alter senses entirely. This can be such things as permanent Synesthesia (such as perceiving sound visually, or hearing smells) or any other sensory power which completely alters/replaces one’s sense.
Often considered to have one of the most desirable powers for teamplayers, these Espers are capable of sharing information in exceptional ways, allowing them to enhance or outright replace traditional means of coordinating groups of people. Their power may allow them to transmit their voice across an entire area, create a network of telepathically connected minds or otherwise allow for information to be shared across distance or through obstacles which would normally prevent it.
Perhaps one of the weirdest of Esper powers is the ability to communicate with beings or objects one would normally not be able to, or in ways that are normally not possible. This can mean “talking” to animals, or being able to interface with computers with just your mind (this would usually be rated as a Control/Perception hybrid), speak to inanimate objects (such as paintings, statues, trees) or even the dead (whether or not one actually talks to the dead is another matter entirely). Chayot’s ability to read and project emotions are a form of expanded communication, though in her case it comes at the cost of the usual means of communicating with other people.
These sub-types are the most simple, straightforward ones and require little explanation beyond simply being defined. What follow are more abstract abilities which make up the most interesting kinds of Espers.
The three forms of Pretercognition are considered to be related due to sharing several attributes; in fact, as they stand apart from the ‘lesser’ Esper abilities, there have been repeat proposals to split them off into their own, separate power category.
All forms of Pretercognition collect, process and/or apply information, either from the past, present or future; how they do that is a question which has yet to be answered. Even pericognitive powers (those dealing with the present) seem to have leaps in the information they process which cannot be explained by sensory information available to the metahuman. If the vectors by which information is gathered are obvious, then the power in question is probably not any form of Pretercognition.
Furthermore, all forms of Pretercognition interfere with one another, especially with those of the same type; even when working together, unless Heterodyning is achieved, Pretercognitives are going to give each other a headache as their powers attempt to account for one another. This is most prominent with precognitive powers (the first predicts the second, the second predicts the first predicting the second, the the first predicts the second predicting the first predicting the second, etc) and least prominent with postcognitive ones. Pericognivite powers sit in-between, appropriately enough.
To be clear, one most not necessarily be precognitive to mess with another precognitive – peri- and postcognitive ones can do it, too, and vice versa.
Only very, very few pretercognitive abilities are resistant or outright immune to such interference, either because they deal with such specialised knowledge as to not butt heads with others, or because they are just so powerful they can out-perform all other pretercognitive powers; this last type is the rarest one, obviously.
Regardless of interference and barring a few lucky exceptions, overuse of any form of Pretercognition carries a great deal of risk with it:
- Overusing Pretercognition tends to lead to powerful migraines – from mere headaches to crippling, day-long pain; in some extreme cases, it might cause the brain to hemorrhage or worse.
- Pretercognitives who rely too much on their powers instead of using their own smarts may find that they go down strange, even non-sensical paths, as their powers run unchecked, building upon spotty foundations of mental leaps, lacking or plainly wrong information and a complete lack of (human) common sense.
- All forms of Pretercognition – especially Precognition – carry the risk of making a mistake along the way, not noticing it, and going down a completely wrong path, as they draw conclusions based on faulty facts; this can and does often prove fatal, if not for the Pretercognitive themselves then at least for those who rely on the information they can provide the most.
- There are certain powers/individuals who appear to be blind spots to Pretercognitives, and whose interference can thus seriously screw them up.
- DiL, unfortunately, is the most well-known example, but there are others, as well.
- Gloom Glimmer appears to turn into a blind spot intermittently.
- Tartsche is a blind spot whenever he activates his power.
- Pristine, much like DiL, is one all the time. However, some particularly powerful ones can work around her as she is a rather predictable person, even by mundane means.
- Ember appears capable of becoming a blind spot at will, or even selectively, blinding some to himself and not others.
- Emyr Blackhill appeared to have no protection from Pretercognitives whatsoever, yet he consistently defeated such powers – they would appear to work just fine on him, until they’d suddenly turn out to have been partially or completely wrong, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
- Lady Light and the Dark have both shown themselves able to outwit Pretercognitives of all kinds; whether this is due to innate powers or due to a deeper understanding of powers is a secret they have so far kept.
The ability to intuit or just plain know facts in the present, as opposed to past or future information.
Pericognition refers to a great variety of powers, dealing with acquiring and processing information in the present, and so may often appear to be some form of sensory or communicative ability; while there indeed is a lot of overlap, the classification of Pericognition refers specifically to powers which gather and process information through unknown vectors, often seeming to work solely within the metahuman’s mind.
Such abilities can express themselves in a variety of ways, such as supernatural skill at planning, super-intuition, an extreme skill at reading people, combat intuition, the ability to use math or some other construct to analyse your surroundings, etc.
Of the three forms of Pretercognition, Pericognition is the one that’s most often overlooked, even though it is, in many ways, the most useful one – as it relies on facts in the present, it is not as easily fooled or led astray as Post- and Precognition.
Gathering information from/on the past, Postcognition manifests in powers such as being able to feel emotions an item’s owner has felt in the past, or see what has happened a few hours ago in some location, or otherwise access that which has already happened.
In many ways, this may well be the most ‘normal’ form of Pretercognition, as it’s not inherently too different from watching or reading a recording, even if it may go beyond just that.
Different kinds of Postcognition are reliable to different degrees – some seem to be all but absolute, always giving out correct facts unless interferred with by other powers, some appear to be able to go wrong somewhere along the way; however, the precise mechanisms by which Postcognitives work are as unknown as those of any power, ultimately.
The master discipline of Pretercognition, this is the legendary power to perceive the future in some manner. It is, quite possibly, the most desirable power out there, provided it can be given proper support (which is why almost all Precognitives – even more so than other Espers – are part of some team); cape and cowl organisations worldwide recruit Precognitives as aggressively if not more so than even Gadgeteers.
Of all forms of Pretercognition, and ESP in general, Precognition is by far the rarest one – and even then, it rarely manifests in anything as straight as being able to outright see the future. Examples would include the ability to look someone in the eyes, mentally think of a course of action and see a colour which indicates how likely that person is to follow said course; or a danger sense that goes off like an alarm whenever one (subconsciously) perceives a threat coming, perhaps with the added advantage of intuiting an optimal response.
More powerful ones may be able to view a single possible future, and be unable to see ahead again until they have caught up to it; or they can only see their own future, from their viewpoint, or only the future of other people, from their viewpoint – never their own. Or any of countless other possibilities.
Straight-up seers who can look ahead at will or with only minor limitations, perceiving the whole of the future they focus on, are one of the, if not the rarest power there is, and the few known to exist are all top tier capes and cowls.
Precognition is the most fragile form of Pretercognition, likely because the future is ever-shifting, affected by countless constantly changing factors; as such, Precognitives are the ones most likely to go down completely wrong paths due to a single piece of misplaced or misinterpreted information; and they are the ones who are most strongly affected by other pretercognitive powers, as well as by blind spots interfering with their visions.
On the upside, even though other pretercognitive powers can seriously derail a precognitive’s predictions, they are also the ones who’re the most difficult to account for, and the ones most likely to be able to trump “lesser” forms of Pretercognition – though it may cause them one hell of a migraine to do so.
Precognition and Free Will
The age-old question – if someone can predict the future, is there even such a thing as free will? Can the future be changed, even if one knows what’s coming?
Barring a few specific exceptions of Precognitives whose powers forbid them from changing the future, the answer is “Yes, free will exists and the future can be changed.”
If there is a Precognitive out there whose visions are absolute, never wrong and impossible to change even by the metahuman himself, then they have yet to become known. As far as anyone knows, Precognition only gives one information of possible futures, not the one, inviolable future.
Usually, Espers come from Origins that are defined by a lack of information. The particular circumstances and nature of said lack are what then informs the individual Espers’ power.
Some example Origins:
- Being lost in a dark cave, but not trapped; there is only one way to go, really – what is problematic are all the hazards along the way that one is incapable of perceiving and accounting for.
- Struggling to make friends in a new town, but unable to penetrate the pre-existing social circles due to lacking knowledge of local customs and history, leading to a painful, perhaps humiliating rejection.
- Having just stolen a huge package of drugs, the thief is struck by fear and indecision – they have the drugs hidden at home, but what to do now? Can they keep them hidden? Did someone notice they took them? Should they try to sell them as quickly as possible, or wait until the heat dies down? What’s the safe course of action?
Gadgeteers – Just another form of Espers?
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of proponents of the theory that Gadgeteers are actually a specific form of pretercognitive Espers. While such claims have yet to be proven, they are not without merit. The two most common theories are:
- Gadgeteers are subconsciously precognitive, reaching into the future to find technology which will or may exist in the future, and reconstruct it in the present.
- Gadgeteers are subconsciously post-/pericognitive, absorbing, analysing and correlating information through unknown means to develop their advanced technology.
Opponents of this theory often bring up the fact that Gadgeteers neither cause, nor suffer from pretercognitive Interference; however, proponents argue back that Gadgeteers may well just be such extremely powerful Pretercognitives, or so over-specialised, that they do not clash with other Pretercognitives or simply steamroll them with their own power.
Either way, the debate as to the true nature of Gadgeteering, ESP – and all other powers – goes on, still unresolved.
Espers and Intelligence
As one may have noticed, none of what has been said so far touches, in any way, on Intelligence.
Superhuman Intellects are a staple of fiction, and yet the closest thing to super-intelligent people, Espers, don’t tend to be more intelligent than normal people – in fact, since most Espers originate from situations in which they lacked or were unable to obtain information in some way, many of them tend to be less intelligent than average.
Espers have more information available than normal. Some have something in their heads – or maybe attached to their heads – which processes information better than any human could, before passing it onto them. However, they still must make decisions with their own intellect, based on the information which their power gives them – ultimately, they are no smarter than anyone else.
True Super-Intelligence was long thought to be a myth (with two exceptions), and to this day, there is no publically confirmed case of true Super-Intelligence.
Hemming may actually have such an ability, at least according to Macian – however, it has not yet been proven, nor is the specific mechanism by which it works known; does he simply think faster than normal? Does he have multiple brains to mull a problem over with? Does he just have really powerful pericognition that makes him act as if he was super-intelligent?
No one knows yet.
Lady Light, the Dark and Super-Intelligence
There is no question that Gwen Whitaker and Peter Goldschmidt are scientific geniuses. After all, their research somehow led to the advent of apparently supernatural, reality-warping superpowers. And even before that, they were far ahead of their time, making numerous scientific inventions over a wide variety of scientific fields, while also being very accomplished fighters, detectives, tactitians and writers.
After gaining powers, they each created huge, international organisations which essentially equal, if not outstrip, most nations in terms of political and economic power. Even though they are not invincible (in spite of Lady Light’s reputation of such), nor have the strongest powers there are, they have consistently remained at the top of the world of metahumans, over almost a hundred years of activity. They have even shown, consistently, that they can outwit, if not outright defeat, most pretercognition they have found themselves at odds with (when they can’t just plain overpower them on account of being physical powerhouses).
To which extent that is caused by them being just naturally that smart, and how much their powers play into it is unknown – some argue that they have to be just naturally super-geniuses, as they already performed so extremely well before Point Zero. Others argue that they were smart before, and only became smarter, not just more experienced, after, by gaining powers that enhanced their already considerable intellect.
Even more extreme is the theory that they were the first metahumans to begin with – long before Point Zero. Whatever they did on that day then allowed for others to become metahumans, or perhaps it would have happened anyway, and Point Zero merely hastened the process. Perhaps the two – the Advent of Metahumans and Point Zero – are not related at all, their connection a false correlation!
Much like with anything else about Point Zero, Lady Light and the Dark refuse to speak on the subject, if they even know the answer.