There were always rumors of programs.
During the last world war, they said the Nazis and Allies tried to develop supersoldiers.
During the Cold War, both sides tried remote viewing, like Project Stargate, and superspies.
After the Cold War, into the War on Terror, the focus remained on creating enhanced soldiers and operatives. In the U.S., three secret facilities worked on the most promising avenues: exoskeletons, nanotech, and bioengineering. The old occult research facility was forgotten, but never shutdown.
Rather, it was almost forgotten.
Some bioengineer got the idea to take promising but ultimately dead-end research and shop it to the magic researchers. Somehow, they got it to work in rodent test subjects, and preliminary human trials. All of this was done quietly, unofficially, and off the record, referred to in communications as “Greygem”. The results later became known as the Lansing-Myer Treatment/Virus.
Effects of the LMT varied by subject. Some exhibited external, physical changes, and others did not. Some showed the ability to manipulate energies, others enhanced mental and physical capabilities.
Supposedly, Lansing and Myer decided they did not want this to be entirely in government control or to be weaponized by a government. They brought in a like-minded engineer, Harding, who had made promising advances in nanotech. As we now know, Harding became the mother of the nanobot field.
Together, the trio let their “Project Greygem” loose in the world.
Within a couple months, Harding nanobots carrying LMT/V had saturated North America and spread to every continent except Antarctica. A week later, the first symptoms showed: fever, nausea, mild flu-like symptoms. After a further week, people woke up with pointed ears. Or a foot shorter. Or as wolves. Or said the wrong word and blew up a toaster. Or cut themselves by accident and felt a rush of power.
That was fifty years ago, when magic was unleashed on the world.
Since then, of course, it has become safer and more controlled. Government regulation has been enacted around the globe. And both nanotech and bioengineering have exploded.
Socially, the backlash was violent at first, at least until people realized that only about 20% of the populace didn’t get some ability. These few were naturally immune to the LMT/V. But the rest saw at least minor magic ability, or altered DNA. Not everyone learns to use the ability, of course, but the companies leaped on the profit potential, the government tried drafting every magic person but it was too widespread, and the populace eventually settled and began to benefit from the new normal.
Of course, not everything is perfect. There are those who resent or still fear the new normal. And there are new crimes. New rights movements formed very quickly and rumors of “shadow” governments of magicians and cults have sprung up everywhere.