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Tragic Hero:
The Origins of Capt. Conduit
by Brad Blanton

Cold rain pelted his face, but John didn't care. His faded blue jeans and thin blue T-shirt were completely soaked and stuck to his skin, but he didn’t notice.  His face, along with most of the rest of his body, went numb an hour ago while he was lost in his own brooding thoughts. He got like this sometimes. Not often, but enough that it was beginning to frighten him. Normally, he was content with how his life turned out. But at times, he longed for all of it to be a nightmare he would wake up from one day and return to the life he once knew.

He had known true happiness once. John Sinclair grew up a small-town boy from the South. He didn't need much to be happy, just a roof over his head, a decent job and the love of a good woman. He'd had all of those. He was married to the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world, and loved her with every ounce of his being, and she loved him just as much. He also had a good, stable job with the Alabama prison system. He'd started working there when he was 21 as an entry-level guard, but after 15 years had worked his way up the ladder until he carried the rank of Captain and held the most respected position in the prison system. However, his position also held the most weight and responsibility. It was his job to throw the final switch on the state of Alabama's electric chair and take a human life. It was a job he treated with the utmost respect and gravity, but not for the benefit of the condemned.  He felt that they had earned their seat in the chair through their crimes.  They deserved no sympathy or mercy.  The reverence he observed when doing his job was for the benefit of the witnesses (the friends and family of the condemned) who were always in attendance to watch their loved-one be put to death.  It always seemed that no matter how evil or wicked the person was that got strapped into the chair, there was always someone in the witness box who loved them.  Even though the condemned had given up all rights as a person, even the right to life, their loved-ones deserved respect and sympathy, for they always wound up being the true victims. 

It was that job that led him here, sitting on a rain-swept rooftop in Pargon City.  The state of Alabama had sentenced Dick "the Ripper" McGee to death, and John and his crew were on duty to carry out his sentence. Once the preparations were made and McGee was secured into the chair, John was given the signal to throw the switch. As he had always done, John whispered one last message to the condemned man under his breath.

 "Time to ride the lightnin', McGee."

As John moved the switch into the "On" position, white-hot pain seared throughout his body. Sparks washed out his vision as the full fury of the electric chair poured into him.  Instinctively, he tried to pull his hand away, but he couldn't. The current convulsed his muscles, locking him in place.  The electricity locked him into a living statue as it coursed through his body. Time slowed to a crawl, each agonizing moment became an eternity.  He heard someone screaming, probably one of the witnesses. Members of his crew rushed to the door of his booth, terror in their eyes. He saw them mouthing words, shouting, but whatever they were saying was lost in the crackle and the screams.

As the world faded towards darkness, he realized the screams had been his own.

He woke in  a  hospital bed with no idea how he got there, or how long he'd been there. More importantly, though, he wondered why he wasn't dead. He had been able to figure out what had happened to him. The mechanism on the chair had obviously malfunctioned and he had taken the shock instead of McGee, but it should have killed him. He had seen more than his share of death at the hands of the chair, and he knew he should be dead. The doctors proved to have a theory about that. They suggested he was a latent mutant, a parahuman as the press called them. They believed that his mutation must have been dormant until he took the charge from the chair.  His mutation allowed him to survive by absorbing the charge, altering him in the process.

Once he returned home from the hospital he discovered he could generate electrical energy on his own. These new “abilities” scared him, but not because of their dangerous potential.  The rest of the world may have accepted parahumans, but attitudes in rural southern towns did not change so quickly.  Sure, parahumans may have done a lot of good for the world, but in the areas around where he had grown up they weren’t considered to be “normal”.  And things that weren’t normal were generally met with fear, loathing and large doses of prejudice.  If people there were parahumans, they kept it to themselves.  He wasn’t sure exactly how his friends and family would react to him, but he was pretty certain they weren’t going to throw him a parade.  When he broke the news to his wife, she was visibly shaken by the news.  She said that she would try to make it work, but he could tell she was very uneasy. Then, one evening while he was helping her with dinner, he accidentally blew up the microwave. His wife, the love of his life, his reason for living, recoiled from him in disgust and fear. She said she couldn't live like this, that she couldn't take it anymore.  Sitting here, now, in the rain, he could still remember the smell of her perfume as she walked out the door with her suitcase. Today would have been their anniversary.  He had heard that she remarried some time ago.  The fact that her new husband was once a friend of his just intensified the pain.

"Whoever said ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ is a damn fool", John whispered. The rain answered by falling harder.

His doctor had told him about Paragon City. The city where super-powered people were welcomed with open arms. With nothing more to live for in Alabama, John bought a bus ticket. He'd come to Paragon City and eventually became a hero.  He had a flashy costume and called himself Capt. Conduit now.  He had even earned the right to wear a cape, just like the famous Hero 1. But all the great things he had done, all of the awards that he had earned, did little to heal the pain of losing everything he had ever known and loved. 

He hadn’t asked for super powers.  In fact, there were times he thought of them as some kind of cancerous tumor that had ruined his life.  Sitting here, now, in the rain those dark thoughts boiled up unchecked.  He longed to be “normal” again so he could return to his home.  Paragon City had been good to him, but he yearned for the simple, small town life he once knew.

John's thoughts suddenly stopped. Pain wracked his body and his world lit up once more as his body absorbed the bolt of lightning that had struck the lightning rod he had been leaning against.   His world once more began to slowly slip into darkness, and he was finally freed from his own self-torturing thoughts. Some use alcohol to escape, others turn to drugs.  For John Sinclair, it is the searing touch of lightning.


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