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The Capt. Conduit Saga, Part 5
by Brad Blanton

A loud, electronic buzzing, followed by a metallic click, awakened John Sinclair. Even half asleep as he was, he instantly recognized the sound of his cell door being unlocked, a product of his many years having served as a prison guard.

“Wake up, Cap. Time for your session with Doc” a voice called, seemingly from miles away.

After a moment, John’s mind actually processed what he had just heard. He awoke with a start and forced his eyes open. Big mistake. The light of the afternoon sun coming in through his cell window blinded him instantly and John had to slam his eyes shut once more to fight back the tears as he sat upright in his bunk. He rubbed at his eyes, trying to appease them, and then remembered the voice he had heard.

“What?” he asked weakly. He forced his eyes open once more as he turned his head toward where he thought the voice came from.

“Come on Cap, get up. You are going to be late” the voice called out again, from the opposite direction John was looking.

He whirled his head in the right direction and blinked a couple times trying to force the blurry image in front of him come into focus. Then he recognized the voice of his prison guard.

“Oh, hey Greg” he said, his voice cracking as it tried to remember how to work.

Then John really heard what had been said and said “Oh! Jeez, is it 3 o’clock already? I must have dozed off when I was reading. Ok, I’m up. Give me a minute to get ready.”

“’Dozed off’? Cap, you were sawing more wood than a lumberjack!” the guard quipped.

He stood up, ignoring the comment as well as the protests of the cot springs as he did so, and went over to his sink. He removed the small mask that the prison had issued him as part of his clothing and splashed some water on his face. He had been tried and convicted of murder as his superhero alias, Capt. Conduit, something that the city government officials admitted had never happened before. Still, the government was extremely serious about protecting the privacy rights of superheroes, and so he’d been processed into the criminal system as Capt. Conduit. To protect his identity, the prison warden had allowed him to wear a mask and for his own safety had given him a cell that was in a wing of the prison complex that was undergoing renovation away from the other prisoners.

The sentence he had received also illustrated just how unusual his case was. In addition to his criminal trial, the Federal Bureau of Superhero Affairs, the federal agency that issues and regulates official superhero licenses, had held their own inquiry and revoked his license for two years. The criminal trial that had followed seemed to take their cues from the FBSA’s actions. The jury agreed that due to his prior contributions to the community as Capt. Conduit and the mitigating circumstances leading up to the double-murder, that lenience could be granted in his case. John was sentenced to 2 years in prison, which would be accompanied by mandatory counseling and anger-management sessions. In response to this, the FBSA had further ruled that only upon successful completion of the counseling and anger-management programs would they allow John’s hero license to be reinstated.

So here he was, a former prison guard turned hero, and a former hero turned prisoner. He was now 18 months into his sentence and had gotten to know his guards fairly well. He treated them with respect and, in turn, they treated him with the same. Lieutenant Greg Faser was a little different, though. He was a young man in his mid-twenties who was eager and full of promise. He reminded John of himself at that age and he had formed a bit of a friendship with the young man. John only called him “Greg” when he was sure no one else was around, otherwise he knew the young man would get reprimanded.

John replaced his mask and turned to the prison guard waiting patiently outside his cell, “Ok Greg, let’s go.”

As he stepped into the doorway of his cell he dutifully held his wrists out and let the young guard shackle his wrists and ankles. When they were secured, Greg took him by the arm and began escorting him toward the medical wing for his weekly counseling session.

“Dr. Johannssen, I have your 3 o’clock here, “ Greg spoke into the doctor’s office when they had arrived.

“Ah, yes, Capt. Conduit! Good, good. Bring him right in lieutenant, I am ready for him just now” the familiar German-accented voice replied.

John was escorted into the psychologist’s sparsely decorated office that he had been in hundreds of times before and was instantly greeted by the small, white-haired doctor as though it had been years since their last meeting, and not last week.

“It is good to see you again, my friend. You are being treated well, I trust?” Dr. Johannssen asked, his standard greeting.

John smiled and said, “Yeah, they take care of me.”

Dr. Johannssen smiled, his eyes gleaming behind his wire-rimmed glasses as he said “Good, good.” He then turned his attention to Greg and said, “That will be all lieutenant, thank you.”

“Ok, Doc. If you need me, I’ll be right outside the door here.” Greg replied.

“Thank you Lieutenant Faser, “ John called as Greg opened the door to leave. As he stepped through and closed the door behind him, he could have sworn he heard Greg let out a snort of laughter, making him fight to contain a snort of his own.

“A smile! This is good!” Dr. Johannssen said when he noticed John’s grin. “When you first came to see me there were not so many of those. Now I see them more and more. You make excellent progress, John. Please, have a seat.”

Dr. Johannssen was the only man in the prison who knew his true identity. It had taken quite a while for John to open up to the elderly doctor, but he had come to trust Dr. Johannssen. Sometime later, he had realized that Dr. Johannssen was the first person he had truly trusted since his wife left him. Whereas he had resented being forced into these sessions at first, he had come to enjoy them now and he even looked forward to them. All of this raced through John’s mind as he settled into the couch facing Dr. Johannssen’s desk.

When he had settled in, the doctor continued, “Every time you come to me I see a new man, John. You seem happier and full of life. I will tell you, I was truly worried about you after you received the letter from your former super group, but I see you have bounced back nicely since then.”

Mentioning the letter made John think back to his first days here at the prison. After only a month of being here, he received a letter from the super group he had been a member of, The Paragon City Patrol. It basically said that since he was now a convicted murderer, they no longer wanted to have anything to do with him. John figured it was more for public relations than anything else.

“Yeah, doc, that was a pretty rough time. But I eventually realized that I had to get things straight inside my own head before I could be any good in a group.” John replied.

“Yes, this is so,” stated the doctor. “Let me see…” he said as he checked a paper on his desk. “Yes, I see that you have only 6 months left on your sentence. I think that, if things continue the way they have been, that you could easily be reinstated as an active hero when you are released. Your progress is that good. Do you think you will seek membership in another group if you are reinstated?”

Now John sat back in his seat and stroked his goatee thoughtfully. He hadn’t really thought about that. “I don’t know doc,” he said at last. “I doubt any group would want to have anything to do with me, though, so why bother?”

The elderly doctor just smiled mischievously, as if he had anticipated that answer. “I am not so sure about that, my friend. I have something here you may be interested in. I have done some checking and have come across a group that I think could be a good fit for you. Here, I have some of their literature.”

John took the pamphlet Dr. Johannssen was holding toward him and he studied the plain black cover and team logo.

“NRF?” John asked quizzically.

“The No Remorse Force,” the doctor said with a smile. “As you can see by their name, they are not the sort to judge a person by who they were, but by who they are now. Perhaps you could contact them. It could do no harm.”

John thought for a moment. “Maybe. I don’t know, doc. I’ve kind of been thinking of retiring anyway. I mean, like you said, I’ve been happy the last few months. Maybe it was all this superhero stuff that was making me unhappy to begin with. I mean, I’ve told you before, I never wanted any of this stuff.”

Now the old doctor’s smile faded. “Now, John, you know that your unhappiness was not caused by your actions as a superhero. We have discussed this before. Now, if you want to retire as a hero, then that is certainly your choice. Perhaps, since you have learned to control your powers now, you could even blend in with society seamlessly as you were unable to in Alabama. But I do beg you to think about this decision a bit more before you make up your mind. Read that pamphlet I gave you and think about your decision, alright?”

John sighed. “Ok, doc. I will, I promise.”

The old doctor smiled once more and said “Good. Now if you will excuse me, I believe our time is up. I will see you again next week?”

John stood and said “You know it, doc. I’ll be here with bells on” as he spoke he held out his shackled hands and jingled the chains.

The old doctor laughed out loud and said “A joke! Yes, you ARE making progress my boy.”

Dr. Johannssen called for Greg, who promptly escorted John back to his cell. Once there, John lay on his bunk thinking about the points Dr. Johannssen had raised. Could he be happy as an active hero, and if so, could this NRF group truly accept him after all he’d done? John flipped read through the pamphlet several times thinking about all of the information it contained, trying to see if it held the answers to his questions.

“Well, if it ain’t Cap’n Sinclair,” rumbled a deep, gruff voice while he was intently studying the pamphlet for the 5th or 6th time.

Alarm immediately shot through John’s mind. No one was supposed to know his true identity. Then he realized he had recognized that voice. It was a voice from long ago. A voice that now only visited him in his nightmares. His heart pounding in his chest, John looked up from the pamphlet, and there before him staring through the bars of his cell door was the face that had haunted his dreams, that had tormented his thoughts ever since that fateful day in Alabama.

“McGee!!” John screamed out.

The face staring at him just broke into a sickeningly evil smile.

It couldn’t be. It was impossible. This had to be some kind of a trick. Yet here he was, Dick McGee, nicknamed “The Ripper” because of the gruesome manner in which he had eviscerated his victims bodies, who had been sentenced to death in Alabama…the man who had been in the chair when John had been electrocuted all those years ago. John’s mind struggled to remember the events of the past. He realized just then that he’d never been told what happened to McGee after that. He’d never really thought to ask. He’d just assumed the state had executed him at a later time.

“I knew ya couldn’t forget your old pal, Ripper.” McGee rumbled out. He was a monster of a man. Easily 7 feet tall, as wide as a Mack truck and large, muscular forearms that looked more like tree trunks than anything else. He had always been a very imposing figure, even back when he was on death row, but what had unnerved John then, and what was terrifying him now, was the sheer bitter coldness in his eyes. When John looked into those eyes even now, they made his skin crawl in a way that nothing he had ever experienced as a hero had ever done.

Still in shock, John finally managed to make his vocal cords work. “Wha…how…when…”, now that his voice worked, he realized his mind wasn’t ready to. Finally he gathered his senses long enough to blurt out “What are you doing here??”

“Whatsa matter, Sinclair? Ya look like ya seen a ghost” chuckled McGee. ‘I’m here to make ya an offer. The folks I work for have been keepin’ tabs on ya.”

John’s mind screamed. “What are you talking about? Who do you work for? Why are you in Paragon City??”

McGee just grinned again. “I’m working with an outfit calls themselves ‘The Family*’. They wanna offer ya a job. They liked what ya did to those 2 punks. They want ya to do more of it, only this time for them.”

Now John bolted from his cot onto his feet. “The Family?! How did you get mixed up with them?” It was then that John saw the prison guard standing next to McGee. It wasn’t one of his usual guards and he suspected he was a crooked cop on The Family’s payroll.

McGee’s grin turned almost feral as he lowered his voice and said “Who do you think arranged for your little ‘accident’? Yeah, that’s right Sinclair, you were just a diversion to get me outta the pen. They liked my work, see, and they knew I’d work for them if they busted me out. So they rigged your little control booth to fry you instead of me, and in the confusion some of their boys hauled me outta there. I’ve been working for them ever since. Now they want you to work for them too. Like I said, they liked what they saw. You and me, we’re the same. We like hurtin’ people. We like killin’ people. Might as well make a buck or two for doing what we like, right? I can see I’ve given you a lot to think about, so I’ll leave you to just mull it over. I’ll be in touch.” And with that, he and the crooked guard walked away.

John’s mind raced, screaming for him to stop McGee, but his body refused to react as he was paralyzed with pure shock. It hadn’t been an accident. It had NEVER been an accident. The Family had been responsible for it all along. In and of itself, electricity began to dance around his body as the rage he had worked so hard to bury deep within suddenly flared to the surface once again. John was only faintly aware of a red light in his cell flashing and a klaxon in the hallway blaring out a warning.

He was too consumed with his thoughts to pay any of it any attention. He was becoming more and more consumed with his thoughts by the moment. He didn’t even notice the police patrol sentry robot arrive at the door of his cell. The next moment all of his rage and confusion was replaced with agonizing, mind-numbing pain as he was stricken by the patrol-bot’s stun gun. John collapsed to the floor of his cell in a heap, and as his world slipped into darkness yet again, one single thought ran through his mind:


A New Beginning

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