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From the Mouths of Babes
The Origins of Capt. Conduit: Part II
by Brad Blanton

John Sinclair gazed out the window of his small, one-bedroom apartment in Atlas Park.  It was much smaller than the renovated farmhouse he had owned in Alabama, but it was neat, efficient, and much easier to keep clean.  It had been six months since he had left his rural hometown (as well as everything and everyone he had known) to come to Paragon City, and he still wasn’t quite accustomed to seeing the huge statue of Atlas that proudly towered in front of the City Hall building.  It was a reminder of all that the city, the world for that matter, had been through.  Those things never really mattered to him in Alabama.  He was content with his life; his little piece of the world was perfect. 

Perfect, that is, until a circuitry malfunction with the state’s electric chair (of which he was the operator) had electrocuted him instead of its intended victim.  The amount of current he had taken would kill any normal human, however, John was no normal human.  He didn’t know it at the time, but he was a mutant.  Sure, he’d been tested, everyone had, but he’d always tested negative.  From the tests that were done after his accident, the doctors concluded that his mutation was inactive, dormant, and required some kind of catalyst to activate it.  The electrical current from the accident had activated his mutation.  Now he was able to generate electrical energy, but he didn’t know how to really control it.  He also didn’t want to learn.  He thought of his new “abilities” as a side effect of the accident.  An abnormality that he wanted to just hide away so he could go on leading a normal life.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t do that in Alabama.  His wife had left him (after a small explosion involving their microwave oven) and everyone else in town, people he had known all his life, was afraid of him.  He had to go somewhere to start over.  Somewhere nobody knew him or what he could do.  He figured Paragon City was the safest place for him.  With so many people here he would be able to blend in pretty well. And with so many super powered people around, if he did accidentally zap something no one would think twice about it.

John was awakened from his thoughts by a knock on his door.  Startled, he blinked a couple of times, then took a deep breath and went over to the door and opened it. 

“Hey John!” the attractive redhead outside his door bubbled, flashing a bright smile.  She then put her hands on her hips and feigned a scolding tone,  “How many times have I told you, this isn’t Georgia?  This is a rough neighborhood, you never open your door without finding out who it is first” she said as she shook a finger at him.

Mary lived in the apartment across the hall with her two children, Benji and Michelle.  She was a single mom who had to work a lot to make ends meet, but she’d always been really nice to him and she was really the only person he considered a friend here. 

“Hey Mary.  I know, I keep forgetting.  I’ll try to keep that in mind.  And just for the record, its Alabama, not Georgia.  What can I do for you?”

Mary’s expression turned to that of concern, “I just got a call from the diner.  One of the second shift girls called in sick and they need me to come in to cover for her, and the babysitter said she can’t come over on such short notice.  Would you be able to watch the kids for me tonight?  It would only be until 10 and I’ll pay you for your time.”

John just smiled and held up a hand.  “I’d be glad to watch them, and I won’t take your money, just keep me in mind the next time you make a batch of your lasagna.”

Mary busted out laughing and said, “It’s a deal!  I’ve got to go now, I’ll tell the kids that you are going to watch them.”

“No problem.  I’ll be over in a couple of minutes” John said, then he thought for a moment and said “Oh, hey, I just remembered I have to run down to the market this afternoon to pick up a couple of things, do you mind if I take the kids?  I’ll be sure to be back before it gets dark.”

“That will be fine” chimed Mary.  “I think Benji wanted a couple of things from there anyway, and Michelle just loves to get outside any chance she can get.”

“Ok, good.  Let me grab a couple of things and I’ll be right over” John said before closing his door.  He really didn’t mind watching Benji and Michelle.  He didn’t have anything else pressing to do, and besides, he really liked them.  They were good kids and they made him smile.  Anything that made him smile these days was a good thing. 

He could tell that they liked him too.  They liked his southern accent.  Michelle giggled every time he said “y’all” so he made it a point to say it as often as he could.  She was just 6 years old and she made his heart melt every time she flashed those pretty blue eyes underneath all that curly blonde hair.  Benji was 10 going on 30.  His father had been killed in a car accident shortly after Michelle was born, and Benji was trying hard to be an adult for his mom.  He was a smart kid too.  He might not have gotten all A’s, but he was a lot smarter than John was at his age.     John looked forward to an evening of playing games with them.  He knew he would have fun.

After grabbing his keys, wallet and a book to read after the kids were in bed, John headed across the hall.  He knocked on the door and waited for Mary to open it.  She opened it almost immediately, and then fastened the last button on her uniform for the diner.  John winked mischievously at Mary and loudly said “Hey y’all!”

Michelle’s infectious giggle instantly rang out and she came running to him.  “Mr. Sinclair!!” she yelled as she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big hug.  Benji came around the corner too and greeted him with a very grown up handshake.   Mary just laughed and said “Well, it looks like you guys are in good hands.  Now you do everything Mr. Sinclair tells you to do and I’ll be back tonight after you’re in bed.  I’d better not find anyone still awake except Mr. Sinclair when I get home, is that clear?”

“Yes ma’am” came the replies, even from John.

Mary gave them one last hug and a kiss each before heading out.  When she was gone John said “Guys, I have to go down to the market, do you want to go with me?”  As expected, both said yes and he told them to get their coats and shoes on.

They walked to the market 2 blocks away and John picked up some groceries for that week.  He also bought the children some hard candy and let Benji pickup the latest issue of the Statesman comic that he had wanted.

On the walk back to the apartment building John asked “Why do you read those comics anyway?  Isn’t all of that stuff in the news?”  

Benji replied “Yeah, but the news makes it boring.  This has cool pictures in it of all the action and really tells the story.  The news never puts anything but some face picture that 5 years old and uses words like “apprehended”.

As John was thinking about that, a very rough looking man wearing an orange vest stepped out of the alley, blocking John’s path and in a gruff voice said “Hand over the wallet pal and the little kiddies here won’t have to see me spill your guts all over this here sidewalk!”  As he spoke he produced a very long, very shiny (and very sharp-looking) knife from behind his back.

John immediately stopped in his tracks and put his hands up.  His first thought was for the safety of the kids.  He had to make sure they got out of this ok.  In the calmest voice he could muster, he said “Children, please stand very still and don’t make any sudden moves.”

The mugger waved his long knife in John’s face and yelled “I ain’t got all day, pal.  The wallet, hand it over, or I’m gonna carve you up good!”

Just then Michelle screamed out “You leave Mr. Sinclair alone!  He didn’t do anything to you!” and she charged at the mugger and began hitting him on the thigh with closed fists.

John started to yell at Michelle to stop, but before he could, the mugger shouted “Get off of me, you little brat!” and swung the hand he was holding the knife in down, catching her in the side of the face with the butt of the handle.

Pure, unadulterated rage exploded inside of John as he watched, in slow motion, her little head whip sideways, her long, blonde curly locks of hair whipping around her face as she fell to the ground.  He charged at the mugger, screaming at the top of his lungs “YOU LEAVE HER ALONE YOU SONOFABITCH!!” and swung an uppercut toward the mugger’s jaw.  So blind was his fury, that John never heard Michelle’s painful scream, nor did he notice that the hand he was swinging at the mugger’s jaw was completely surrounded by arcs of electrical current.

When his fist made contact, the explosion of electrical energy was so great that it sounded like a thunderclap.   John watched in amazement as the mugger was lifted into the air by the blast and thrown backwards, landing on his back with a thud, 20 feet from where he had been standing.  He also wasn’t moving. 

John immediately went to Michelle who was crying.  He checked her face to see if there was any permanent damage, but it looked like she would just have a nasty bruise for a while.   He looked over at Benji, who had his hands over his ears and was just staring at him.  John recognized that stare.  It was the same stare he’d gotten back home.   John’s heart sank.  “Benji, I’m…I’m sorry” he said weakly.

Benji just stared at him for a moment, then said, “That….that was so COOL!!  Did you see how far that guy went flying?? “

John was stunned.  Not only was Benji not afraid of him, he was inspired.  He’d have to think about that later, though.  Right now, he needed to get these kids back home.  He quickly picked up Michelle and the three of them rushed back to their apartment.  So quickly, that John didn’t notice all the parked cars around with blown out windows.

“OW!! That hurts!!” cried Michelle as John applied some ice to her bruised cheek.  This was definitely going to be a shiner.  “I know sweetheart, but the ice will help keep it from swelling.”

“Mr. Sinclair, how did you do that back there with the mugger?” asked Benji, who was sitting next to his sister.

“I honestly don’t know, Benji.  I haven’t really been able to control it” John replied. 

“Why not?  Weren’t you born like that?” asked Benji.  “I’d think you would have learned to control it by now.”

“No, I wasn’t born this way.  There was an accident where I used to work and when I woke up in the hospital, I had these ‘abilities’.  I just haven’t learned to control them”, John said.

“What kind of an accident?”  Michelle asked excitedly.

“I got electrocuted” John answered.

Michelle cocked her head to one side and said “Electro-whated??”

Benji helped his sister understand “Electrocuted.  It means he was shocked by electricity.”  Benji then turned his attention back to John, “And now you can shock other things.  You are like some kind of electrical conduit.  My teacher was talking about them in class the other day.  It allows electricity to flow through.  I’ll bet that’s what you do.”

“That’s possible.  I’ve never really thought about it, “ said John.
“Where did you used to work, Mr. Sinclair?” Benji inquired.

“I used to work for the police department in Alabama, in the state prison.  I was a Captain.”

“Captain John Sinclair.  That sounds nice.” Michelle stated.

John started to chuckle and said, “Yeah, I guess it does.”

Benji thought for a moment, then asked “Mr. Sinclair, why aren’t you out fighting crime like all those other guys in the news?  You have super powers, why not use them?”

John shook his head and said “No thank you.  My life is simple and easy right now, I don’t need to make it more complicated.  That’s why I came here in the first place.”

“That’s just being selfish!” Michelle stated matter-of-factly.

“Michelle! Don’t say that” Benji scolded his little sister.

“No, its ok, Benji, let her finish.  How is it selfish, Michelle?”  She had piqued John’s curiosity.

Michelle stuck her tongue out at her brother and went on to explain what she meant, “Mommy says we are supposed to share with the fortunate”.

“That’s ‘less fortunate’” Benji corrected.

Michelle didn’t miss a beat, “Yeah.  Anyway, she says we should share what we have because other people might need it too.  If you have super powers, you should share them with everybody.”

John started to protest, but just looked back and forth at the children looking up at him. 

Then Benji said, “There are a lot of people in the city that need help.  They could really use you.”

Later that night, John lay awake in his bed.  He had explained the mugging attempt to Mary and ensured her that Michelle would be fine.  He had carefully omitted the parts about his ‘abilities’, though he was sure the kids would tell her.  But that wasn’t what kept going through his mind.  What was stuck in his head, what was keeping him from getting any sleep, were the words of a very smart little 6-year old girl.

The next morning John found himself standing, rather sheepishly, in front of the neighborhood Hero Registration desk.  He didn’t know why he was there, he just knew he should be there.  He stepped up to the clerk, an elderly lady wearing thick glasses, who looked up at him briefly before letting out a monotone “Can I help you?”

“Umm, yes’m.  I need to get registered.” John stammered.  He hadn’t been this nervous since he asked Cindy Burkhart to the senior prom.

“Name?” the clerk droned.

“John Sinclair, ma’am”.

“No, your Hero name.  We don’t put your real name on the form, for privacy issues,” she answered.

John hadn’t thought about that.  In thinking about everything else that being a Hero meant, he hadn’t given much thought to a name.  But then, he remembered something from the night before, and a wry smile crept across his lips.

“Conduit, ma’am.  Capt. Conduit.”

To Part 3:
Fall From Grace >

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