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A New Beginning
The Capt. Conduit Saga, Part 6

by Brad Blanton

“Next stop, King’s Row station,” chimed the friendly, computer-generated female voice over the tram’s speaker system.  A moment later the speaker crackled to life again, “All out for King’s Row.”  

As the tram slowed to a halt, John Sinclair swung his duffle bag across his shoulder and made his way toward the exit.  The acrid smell of carbon monoxide permeated the air as John walked down the station’s ramp.  King’s Row had been home to several of Paragon City’s premier residential areas until the city’s managers had decided to rezone many sections of this part of the city as industrial areas, allowing a lot of factories and other industrial complexes to pop up.  The pollution from these factories had created a severe smog problem for King’s Row that the city’s managers still had no idea how to solve.  After reaching street-level, John pulled a worn, familiar-looking black pamphlet from the back pocket of his jeans, double-checked the directions printed on the back and, after noting the nearby street signs to get his bearings, set off toward his destination.

While in prison serving a 2-year reduced sentence for double-murder, John had been given the black pamphlet in his back pocket by the prison’s resident psychiatrist.  Dr. Johanssen had suggested the super group who had published the pamphlet may be a good fit for John’s situation.  The No Remorse Force, Dr. Johanssen had argued, sounded like the perfect group for someone who was trying to put their past behind them.  At the time, John had been thinking of retiring as a hero.  Partially because he always resented having super powers thrust on him, but mainly because he felt that he no longer deserved to be called a “hero” after committing murder, and especially after doing so while in costume.

However, all thoughts of retiring had quickly evaporated a few hours after the session in which Dr. Johanssen had given him the pamphlet.  A ghost from John’s past had materialized outside John’s cell.  Dick “The Ripper” McGee, the brutal serial killer who had been in the electric chair during the “accident” that had triggered John’s powers, had been smuggled into the prison by The Family, McGee’s new employers, to offer John a job with them.  McGee had explained that John’s “accident” had actually been a planned sabotage by The Family to facilitate McGee’s escape.  This revelation had strengthened John’s determination and caused him to resolve to continue on as an active hero, with McGee as his primary focus.

McGee would have to wait, however.  His arrival at the prison had caused John to lose his temper which, in turn, caused him to lose control of his powers.  Specialized sensors in his cell had notified prison security and he was subdued by a stun blast from a police patrol-bot.  The incident resulted in John getting another month tacked onto his 2-year sentence.  Dr. Johanssen’s speaking on his behalf during the resulting disciplinary hearing was the only reason John’s sentence was not lengthened further.

Now, a month after his release, John was taking his first step toward becoming an active hero again.  He was heading for the No Remorse Force headquarters located in King’s Row.  As he approached the address printed on the NRF pamphlet, John stopped dead in his tracks, sure that he had made a mistake.  He pulled out the pamphlet again and re-checked the address.  The matching street number on the faded, grimy door verified that there was no mistake.  THIS was the address printed on the pamphlet.  What “THIS” turned out to be was a dilapidated three story faded-brick building in a run-down neighborhood with trash strewn about the street.  Most of the windows were boarded up and those, which had managed to retain their glass, were caked with what appeared to be a decade’s worth of filth and grime.  There were no interior lights visible and no exterior markings that would identify the building as the headquarters for an active super group.  

John ducked into a nearby alleyway, dropped his duffle bag to the ground and pulled out his Capt. Conduit costume.  Since Capt. Conduit’s arrest, trial and conviction for murder had been a highly publicized event, he was now a highly recognized figure and not necessarily in a good way.  Since he had been convicted as Capt. Conduit, the day he was released from prison he had to leave as Capt. Conduit.  He had to walk from Ziggurat prison to the boarding house where Dr. Johanssen had helped him secure a room.  During that short walk some passers by smiled at him, but the vast majority recoiled in fear.  He recalled one mother, upon seeing him approach, ushering her two children across a four lane road to keep from passing on the same side of the street.  Since then he had vowed to travel in civilian clothes until he could restore the public’s trust in him.  Now, having donned his costume, he hid his duffle bag, now containing his civilian clothes, behind a dumpster in the alley.  He took a deep breath and started walking toward the front door of the building the pamphlet claimed was NRF headquarters.  

He pushed open the door and found himself standing in the dimly lit lobby of a rundown office building.  The room was bare except for a circular reception desk sitting along the far wall next to a dark hallway entrance.  A figure was seated at the desk obscured by the newspaper he was reading, his feet propped up on the desk.  

The telephone on the desk rang and the figure behind the desk did nothing.  Again it rang and still he did nothing.  On the third ring he called out, “Will somebody get the damn phone?!  It’s annoying!”

On the fifth ring a medium-sized man wearing a black t-shirt and blue jeans emerged from the hallway.  He casually walked to the telephone, picked up the receiver and just as casually, set it back down on the cradle.

“Thanks” the figure behind the newspaper said.

The medium-sized man turned to re-enter the hallway so John said “Uh, excuse me.”

The man stopped, turned toward John.  “Yes?”

“Is this the headquarters for the ‘No Remorse Force’?”  John asked.

The man sighed and picked up a notepad and pencil from the desktop.  He poised the pencil over the pad and without looking up and with all the enthusiasm of a DMV clerk said, “Give me the property owner’s name, telephone number, which of our members destroyed the property and the estimated cost of repairs and I’ll have our lawyers take care of it.”
“Wh-what?” stuttered John, completely confused.  “No, I’m not…no.  I think you misunderstand.”

Now the man looked up and said “You’re not here to sue us?”

“No, not at all”, John stated quickly.

The man sighed again, tossed the pad and pencil over his shoulder and impatiently said “Then who are you and what the hell do you want?”

John was finally able to get a good look at the man.  His long black hair, pulled back tightly in a pony tail, and reddish skin complexion gave evidence of his Native American heritage, while his stern features and harsh visage bespoke his vast battle experience.  John got the impression that this man was not likely to have a great deal of patience.

“I’m Capt. Conduit and I wanted to talk to someone about the possibility of joining NRF” John stated carefully.

The man, now plainly annoyed, walked toward John and began ushering him toward the door as he said “Look, I’m sure you’re a fine ‘hero’ and all but that’s not really what we’re all about.  We’re pretty much considered to be the black sheep of the heroic community so unless you’ve served prison time for murder or something like that, I suggest you go find yourself another group to join.”

With that, John stopped suddenly, causing this man to look him directly in the eye.  “Well, now that you mention it, I DID serve time for murder,” John said.  “I was hoping to wait until the end of the interview to mention it, but since you brought it up…”

Now a look of disbelief glimmered in the man’s eyes as he asked, “What did you say your name was?”

“Capt. Conduit,” John answered.

“I remember you.”  This came from behind the desk along the back wall.

John glanced in that direction and noticed that the figure that had been hidden behind the newspaper had laid the paper down and was now looking directly at him.  Even from this distance and in the poor light of the room John could see that the figure was bald with a black goatee and appeared to be very muscular.  Also, for some strange reason, probably the lack of light, his skin appeared to have a blue tint to it.

The bluish figure said, “About two years ago right?  Double homicide?”

Reluctantly, John nodded and said, “That’s right.”

“He fried a couple pieces of scum Rain, “he said to the other man, apparently named Rain.  Turning back to John he asked, “They shot a kid, didn’t they?  Did he make it?”

Feeling a little braver John said, “Yeah, his name’s Benji.  He was my neighbor and yeah he lived.  It was a clean wound through the shoulder.”

With that the bluish figured disappeared once again behind his paper and mumbled something unintelligible from where John stood.  

“Well well,” said Rain, causing John to look back at him.  “Maybe we can talk after all.  I’m Rain Maker, and this guy over here…” they walked toward the circular desk, “…is Mijae Djinn.”

At the mention of his name, Mijae Djinn lowered the newspaper again and John finally got a good look at him and realized that the reason his skin had looked bluish in the dim light was because he really was blue.  He also now noticed that Mijae was not entirely bald.  A long black ponytail protruded from the crown of his head and hung down to his massive shoulders.

“What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a Genie before?” Mijae asked.  

“Come on,” Rain Maker urged.  “I’ll introduce you to a couple of the others.”

John followed as Rain led him down the darkened hallway to what appeared to be a common room with some dingy chairs and couches encircling a very large plasma screen television.  Two figures were sitting here watching a baseball game with their backs to John and Rain.

“This is Texas Jack and that is Verfall,” said Rain.

The figure on the left, Texas Jack, wore a cowboy hat and had a red bandana tied loosely around his neck and was of medium build.  The figure on the right, Verfall, was just huge.  He wore a black and red suit of armor and took up an entire couch by himself.  Neither one turned at the mention of their name.

“Hi,” John said.

“Hmm” and “Whatever” came the responses.

As Rain led John back down the hallway toward the lobby he said “Keep in mind we don’t let just anyone join the group.  You have to prove yourself in battle.  We’re not boy scouts, we don’t do the whole public image thing.  What we do is fight, and we need people who are willing to do that and do it well.  If you can prove to us that you can handle yourself, then we’ll consider making you a member.”

At this, Rain noticed that John was no longer following him.  As they had entered the lobby, something had caught John’s attention so fiercely that he had stopped dead in his tracks.

There in the lobby stood Dick McGee.

He was just as large and fierce as John remembered from their last encounter.  He looked almost exactly the same, except instead of wearing a two-piece suit as before, he wore a black leather jacket over a white t-shirt and black leather motorcycle pants and heavy black boots.  His hands were covered with metallic-looking gauntlets.

“What’s the matter, Cap’n?  You don’t look happy to see me,” McGee’s deep baritone rumbled.

Through clenched teeth John spat out “What the hell are you doing here McGee?”

McGee took the vitriol in stride and grinned menacingly.  “Don’t you remember Cap’n?  You and I have business to discuss.  But I see you’re busy at the moment, so when you’re ready, I’ll meet you outside.  With that he turned and walked out the door, letting it close behind him.

“Who’s that?” Rain’s question held a hint of apprehension and suspicion.

John quickly recapped his brief history with McGee and outlined their last meeting.

“And do you plan on taking him up on his offer?”  Rain asked as if he already knew the answer.

“Hell no!” John answered quickly.  “And it looks like he came loaded for bear in case he didn’t like my answer.”

“I would tend to agree,” Rain said thoughtfully.  After a moment he said, “This is just the kind of test I was talking about.  Prove yourself against McGee and we’ll talk about letting you into NRF.”

John stepped outside to find McGee standing in the middle of the street.  

“It’s about damn time Sinclair!  I was just wondering if I was gonna have to come in there and drag you out,” McGee growled out.  “Now, I offered you a job with The Family and gave you plenty of time to think it over.  I’m here to find out your answer.  So, what’s it gonna be?”

Now John walked to the center of the street as well, approximately 30 feet from McGee.  Facing McGee, John straightened his back and steeled his resolve.  Finally, he said, “No deal, McGee!  No matter what you might think, I’m nothing like you.  Not anymore.”

McGee’s visage turned grim and he said in a low voice, “Wrong answer, Cap’n”

“WAIT!”  The voice cut through the air like a knife and caused both John and McGee to look toward the point of origin.  Coming out of the front door of NRF headquarters, Rain Maker shouted, “Hang on, don’t start yet.”  He was dragging a folding chair in each arm.  Mijae Djinn followed carrying two more folding chairs.  As Rain and Mijae were setting up the chairs along the sidewalk Texas Jack and Verfall emerged as well, Texas Jack carrying a beer and Verfall carrying a bottle of Jagermeister.  

As they were getting situated, John glanced toward McGee, who had a puzzled look on his face as he stared at the four new arrivals.  He looked angrily back at John and shouted “What’s going on here?”

Mijae Djinn, settled in his chair, shouted “Don’t mind us, we’re just spectators.”

John shouted, “Ignore them McGee!  This is between you and me.”

McGee clenched his metallic fists and grinned maniacally.  His fists began to emit a reddish glow as he stared directly at John.  Noticing the startled look on John’s face McGee said “Like my new toys?  The Family gave them to me.  ‘Tools of the trade’, so to speak.  Took me a while to get used to them, but I had plenty of time to figure them out while you were in the pen.  Here, let me show ya!”

McGee charged toward John, fists glowing as he wound up to take a swing.

John quickly raised his arm and cut loose with an arc of electricity that, as he had been trained, would incapacitate any normal human.  The arc hit McGee square in the chest…and McGee kept coming.  He didn’t even slow down!  Shocked, John started taking a few steps backward and released another, more powerful arc into almost the same spot…with almost the same result.  McGee didn’t stop.   In fact, he was approaching faster!

McGee swung a glowing fist the size of John’s head with deceptive speed and connected with the side of John’s head.  The massive blow felt like being hit with a bag of bricks, causing his vision to washout white from the impact.  

As his vision slowly returned and the ringing in his ears subsided, John heard Mijae Djinn’s voice call out “Damn, that looked like it hurt!”  

The taste of iron filled John’s mind as blood poured from his mouth.  John groggily looked around and realized he was lying on the asphalt.  He looked up just in time to see McGee descending on him with both fists glowing, trying to drive him through the pavement.  John rolled to the side just in time as McGee’ blow shattered the pavement where he had been laying.  
John scrambled to his feet, the near miss sobering him quickly.  Taking advantage of his smaller size, John attacked before McGee fully could recover from his miss and caught McGee in the chin with an electrically charged upper-cut, rocking the brutal behemoth back a step.  John quickly jumped backward as a glowing red fist passed inches away from his nose in retaliation.  

“You’re not as tough as I thought you were McGee!” John taunted.  “That wasn’t even my strongest punch!”

“I’m more than tough enough to take what you can dish out little man!”  McGee snarled as he charged again.

John sidestepped just in time as McGee swung and brought both electrically charged fists over his head and down onto the back of McGee’s skull, staggering the monster forward several steps.

Feeling overconfident, John rushed in for another blow but McGee whirled and caught him in the gut with a massive swinging uppercut throwing him 15 feet into the air.  Searing pain exploded as several ribs snapped and sliced into his abdomen.  He slammed back down onto the asphalt gasping for breath, his lungs burning from a lack of oxygen, as the blow had knocked the wind out of him.

“This is like watching a train wreck,” quipped Mijae again.  “It’s horrific and gruesome, yet, I can’t look away”

Lying on his back on the asphalt, John finally caught his breath, the influx of cool air soothing his oxygen-starved lungs.  He opened his eyes once again to see McGee calmly stride over next to him and raise one glowing fist over his head, ready to deliver the killing blow.  Before McGee could lower the hammer, John quickly sat up and clapped his hands together right in front of McGee’s midsection.  The electrically-charged explosion of air blasted McGee off of his feet, hurtling him 10 feet away.  

John once again scrambled to his feet and rushed to McGee who was slowing getting up.  Concentrating all his energy into his hands, John leapt into the air, raising both hands over his head and swung with all his might as he came back down, driving both fists into the crown of McGee’s head.  The resulting explosion blew John backward a few feet, but he managed to keep his feet under him as he landed.  McGee was driven back down into the ground and wasn’t moving.  

Just as John began to relax, McGee let out a groan and started to stir.  John decided it was time to end this, so he took flight and flew 40 feet into the air.  Hovering over McGee, he began letting the power build once again.  All his pain, all his agony, he used to help fuel the power that was now coalescing in the fist he was pointing toward McGee, who was now on his feet and looking up at him.  

Then McGee did something that John had not known he could do.  He leapt straight up into the air toward John and in the blink of an eye, brought both fists down onto John’s head.  John never had time to release the blast he had been building.  McGee’s blow stunned John and propelled him into the ground below like a cannon shot.  Asphalt and bones cracked at the same time as John’s already broken body slammed into the street.

“Oooooooh,” all four spectators grimaced and groaned out in unison.

McGee deftly landed next to John, grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him to his feet.  He then punched John directly in the chest, sending his limp body hurtling across the street, directly at the group of onlookers.  John slammed into Texas Jack and Verfall causing the bottle of Jagermeister to fall to the ground and shatter.

“Oh shit,” gasped Rain Maker.

Mijae Djinn looked from the broken bottle to McGee and said “Oh, you fucked up now, buddy.”

Verfall stood, letting John’s limp body fall to the ground with a thud as he looked at the broken bottle.  “Oh, this cocksucker’s gonna pay,” he said, stepping over John’s broken body.   

John groaned softly and as he lifted his head, he saw Verfall charging toward McGee in the middle of the street.  He then heard Rain’s voice say “I’d stay down if I were you.”  

With one bleary eye open, John watched as the two behemoths clashed.  McGee swung a glowing fist and connected with the side of Verfall’s head with a loud explosion.  Unfazed, Verfall brought an armored fist down on top of McGee’s head, dropping him to one knee.  McGee quickly stood again and connected with Verfall’s midsection with an uppercut.

As John’s vision slowly faded to black, he heard Verfall laughing. The last image he saw was Verfall winding up with a massive uppercut that threw McGee over a nearby building.

When John woke up, he was lying in a hospital bed in a small, sterile room with stainless steel cabinets along one wall.  Within a few minutes the door opened and a busty blonde nurse came into the room.

“Mornin’ sweetie,” she beamed.  “Glad to see you’re awake.  How are you feeling?”

John thought for a moment.  He felt ok, better than ok actually, he felt fine.  “I’m good, I think.  Who are you, and where am I?”

The nurse blushed, “Oh, where are my manners?  I’m Candi.  I’m NRF’s resident nurse.  After your little fight yesterday afternoon the boys brought you down here for me to patch up.”

“Patch up??” John asked incredulously.  I’m sure I had massive injuries. I know for a fact I broke at least a couple ribs.”

Candi just winked and said, “I’m very good at what I do.  Now, if you feel up to it, I think Rain wants to see you in the common room.”

John was stunned, “Wait, common room?  You mean I’m still at NRF headquarters?  This looks so clean and new.  The headquarters was so dilapidated.”

Candi just smiled again and said, “Sweetie, there is a lot more to this place than meets the eye.”

John got out of bed and followed as Candi led him to an elevator that took him up to the ground floor.  (Apparently, the hospital wing was underground.)  Rain Maker was waiting as the elevator doors opened and he led John to the common room.  Texas Jack, Verfall and Mijae Djinn were all there watching television.  

John turned to Rain Maker and said, “Thanks for patching me up.  I guess I’m not cut out for NRF after all.  I think I can show myself out.”

Rain Maker just looked at John, a look of amusement in his eyes.  “What makes you think you aren’t cut out for NRF?  Don’t you think that’s our decision?”

“But I failed,” John said.  “McGee kicked my ass.  If Verfall hadn’t jumped in, I would have probably been killed.”

“Oh, make no mistake, Verfall didn’t do you any favors.  He only got involved because that fucker broke his bottle of Jagermeister.  Verfall has a thing for Jager…and Goth chicks.  But you didn’t fail.  You definitely got your ass kicked, but you kept getting back up.  If I hadn’t told you to stay down, you’d have run right back in to get pounded some more.  And what would be so wrong if Verfall had jumped in to save your bacon?  That’s what a team is all about right?  So what if we make fun of a guy getting the shit kicked out of him?  We still help each other out…eventually.”

Just then the sound of a toilet flushing grabbed John’s attention.  He looked toward the sound just in time to see a 4-foot tall ape-man, complete with a tail, wearing a tank top and shorts come out of a restroom carrying a folded up newspaper under his arm.  Just as John was trying to figure out what he’d just seen, Mijae Djinn appeared next to him holding a bucket containing rubber gloves, a mop and various other cleaning supplies.

“Here, you’ll need this,” Mijae said.

Confused, John took the bucket and asked “Why?  What for?”

From across the room and without looking away from the television, Texas Jack said “New guy cleans the toilet after Simian Justice uses it.”

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