This Creative Life

Welcome to the creative work of Alan White, head writer and producer of "FEEDBACK; A HERO'S CALLING," now at Broken Sea. The "Feedback" in question is Matthew Atherton, My Hero. He and other heroes of mine have links found down the left side of these pages. Enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2007

"A Friend In Need"

This is the original story which will never become one of the audio drama episodes. :D

"A Friend In Need"
A Feedback fan-fiction companion piece
by Alan White

"You want who to play him?" The man who had taken the codename 'OutSource' was pacing furiously across the Burberry rug in his office. The bluetooth flashed in his ear.

His guest watched him go past the window that served as one entire wall of the room, overlooking the southeastern corner of Central Park. The aged peaked roof of the renovated Plaza Hotel seemed within touching distance just below her eyeline. She credited the well-heeled man for keeping his hands behind his back and not flinging them crazily around.

"Tom Cruise has black hair and is five-foot-nothing! There’s more space between Matt’s chin and his beltline than Tom's got height!"

OutSource's guest made a pained expression and wagged her hand, sending a silent sign for 'Too harsh'. He nodded back to her.

"Look, I appreciate your opinion on the matter,” he said, “But Matt is the only person the public is going to accept to portray Feedback. It was Matt who they fell in love with and Matt who they want to see. Trust me on this. I have to go now, I have a visitor. We'll talk later" OutSource reached up and disengaged the headset.

He took a breath as if drinking in the sight of his guest. "Am I crazy or are they? America didn’t vote for an actor in a Feedback costume--what makes Hollywood think they’d accept one now?"

"They did vote for an actor," she said. "Among the other things he is."

OutSource blinked. "No they didn’t. When they voted for Feedback, they voted for an ideal. They voted for a man who knew what it meant to be a superhero and who was living up to the dream. They didn’t vote for an actor in a costume any more than they voted for a software engineer in a costume."

"You’re right. If they had voted for me, they would have voted for an actor in a costume."

A surge of awkwardness rose in OutSource. "I didn’t say that."

"You didn’t have to but it’s fine. I’m going to let you take me to lunch anyway."

"What’s your preference?"

"You know what I like."

"I do. Reservations for two at Queztecoatl. We taking my car service or yours?"

"It’s a beautiful day--why don’t we take mine? Open the windows."

OutSource went to his desk, moused his computer to a special subroutine, and clicked. The glass wall descended into the office floor and the outside air filled the room with a tug on their eardrums.

"Hop aboard," she said.

He stepped in to her magnificent curves and pressed the gold fabric of her costume against himself. He loved the way her body fit against his. He draped his arms around her neck. On a burst of golden sunlight, they launched out into the midday sky.

* * *

"What do you think?" asked Blackthorn. "Can he handle something like this?"

There were two men standing at the nexus of a communications hub. The first favored his right leg, which was on the same side that a webbed pattern of white scars played across his stern expression. The second man looked relaxed in comparison. He wore a pair of boatshoes with no socks, jeans, and a black t-shirt with a big blue "F" stenciled from upper right shoulder to below his left armpit where his right hand was tucked. He unfolded his arms and ran his hand through his thinning hair. "Feedback can handle anything," he said.

Their faces were washed out in the glare of the monitors before them. Actual content was reflected in reverse miniature across the glasses of the second man.

"No, Cluster. He can't." Blackthorn didn't seem in touch with a sense of humor. "But I need to know if he can handle this."

The chamber of electronics extended around them in a blur of activity. Data-gathering technicians sat at multiple stations, bookmarking streams of audio and text for deeper analysis by second-tier crunchers. People in jumpsuits with cables spooled around their left or right shoulders crawled at the edge of the periphery. The steady hum of eighty dozen cooling fans sounded like a steady ocean tide.

Cluster drowned them all out and gave the monitors his full attention. “Well," he said, “That can’t be right.”

“It’s exactly what it looks like. Would Feedback be any good there?”

“Isn’t anyone else able to go? Dragonryder, Imagine This, or even Inevitable! Don't we have like half a dozen paranormals in Tech Support that we could send instead?”

“You know Feedback has more power in his pinky than our paranormals combined. That’s why we've kept them here in Tech Support rather than graduate them to Excelsior."

”Speaking of which, I think Dragonryder's ready. She started out with Excelsior--it's unfair to keep her back here just because we--"

"Cluster. Focus."

"Okay then, speaking of Excelsior--there’s six other members in that supergroup they could have called on--why does it always have to be Feedback?”

Blackthorn let go of a lengthy exhale. “Same reason, essentially. He’s the best.” Cluster was caught by a look of severity in Blackthorn that he hadn't seen before. There was not only a deep loyalty in that look, but a faith. “Eleven superheroes stood stripped of their powers, shoulder to shoulder before all of America, and presented themselves for us, John and Jane Normal, to be their judges. In doing that, Stan Lee empowered America in a way we never dreamed of. When the smoke cleared, only Feedback was worthy of us. I wouldn’t be the CPU of anyone else but him.”

Cluster was left a little speechless. He’d known John Blackthorn for a while now and had the impression the man was all business and efficiency. Seeing sentiment from the tactical genius was like seeing maliciousness in Feedback--surely it existed but Cluster didn’t believe anything common could bring it out. He looked back at the events unfolding on the monitor screens. Right…nothing common. “Okay, well…you said it. He’s the best and we work for him, so … let him make the decision.”

Blackthorn grinned. “I knew there was a reason I keep you around.”

“Feedback keeps me around.” he returned, grinning as largely. "You get Pre-Fetch and the boys to line-up the games he'll need for the mission, and I'll get the man."

"Roger that," said the CPU.

* * *

OutSource and his lunch date didn't make it to the restaurant. The bluetooth making the journey across the Manhattan sky with them had begun to flash in his ear.

"If you answer that," said the woman who propelled him through the air, "I will drop you."

OutSource held up a finger to her, already in conversation. "When was this?" he asked to the unseen. He was quiet as he listened to the answer.

"If I'm the flying one in the costume, why do I feel like the bystander?"

Still he was not listening; he was not in the present. "I have a little surprise for you, Cluster ... I'm going to be there. Yes, I know you only told me because it’s a media opportunity, but from the way it sounds, they’re already covering it from their end. Yes. Well I have transport resources of my own and this is my city. OutSource out."

At last he turned to her. "I'll make it up to you."

"You don't have enough connections for that."

"Yes I do."

"Okay, where are we going."


"How far."

"The end. And you're going to need to do more than chauffeur me once we get there."

"Seriously? You think I should go too?"

“I do.”

“Are you trying to start some trouble?”

“Yes … No.” He sighed, and hoped he only said to himself, “Yes.”

* * *

The site was still under construction and would be for quite some time. That said, it was the most pristine construction site in all New York City. It lay easily overlooked at the base of the most well-known and most haunting emptiness in the world. Unless travelers took a well-educated turn down a narrow street, an accidental turn onto a medium channel, or swept through on a tour-laden chariot from the drive on the western end, the surrounding neighborhood revealed nothing of the nature of Ground Zero.

The west quarter of the site was hedged by a shiny black wall of marble. Etched in the surface of the wall were the names of all those who did not survive the terrorist attack on the buildings which once stood here. The names were legion. Atop the wall was a platform where viewers would stand and observe murals of the buildings which before blinding tragedy, were named The Twin Towers. Lined along this platform today was constructed a table row with five chairs. The five individuals who sat in them appeared gathered to hold court. An immense dais was erected before them and anyone who would stand thereupon would not only have the scrutiny of the five, but also of the thousands of silent names stretching between the table and the dais like a river. An outer audience of camera lights, crews, and accidental onlookers lay along the south and west periphery, surrounding them.

The first to arrive on the dais came in like a fallen missile. Before anyone even registered the red and black comet, he landed with the deafening impact of an immense gavel on stone. When he looked up, it was from a warrior’s stance; one knee down, one fist covering the "V" in the inverted white triangle on his chest. “Am I late?” he asked.

“No,” said one of the five, “You’re the first.”

Next to the answering judge, another leaned over and said, “I always did like him the best.” Then she straightened up. “Welcome Major Victory.”

The hero on the dais nodded and the growing crowd quietly clapped in reverence to the site. He stood up. Beneath his red unitard and black wrestler’s briefs, his muscles were still flexed by the superleap that had brought him there. He then flashed a chisled ivory smile that was set within a lantern jaw and framed by a pristine set of dimples. “Thank you for the invitation.”

Seconds later, a black and pink missile streaked in from the west, circled the dais, and spiraled in for a dainty landing near Major Victory. Like a graceful cherub, Fat Momma clutched the points of her cape demurely and curtsied to the five chairs. “Hello, judges.”

They perked noticeably in their seats, including the one who had identified the Major as her favorite. One of the five waved. Another smattering of subdued applause came from the audience.

Fat Momma looked to Major Victory. Their capes swished as they closed in for a hug. She spoke quietly but the shotgun microphones amplified her question and it echoed around the site. “Do you think it will be just us?”

“You know him … he wouldn’t miss this no matter how short the notice.”

“Well, he’s got that crew of his, what are they called again…?”

“Tech Support…”

“Yeah. Maybe they’ve got him doing something else…”

The Major flashed another of his heart-stuttering smiles. “You know what? I want a Tech Support!”

Fat Momma laughed. “As if you need one. You’re the most organic man I’ve ever met.”

Laughter pealed around the site. The Major took in the increased crowd like the proud father of good children. “Thankyew! Thankyewverramuch!” He raised a hand. “How’s my hair?”

The laughter turned into applause and thunderous cheer. Somehow, Ground Zero transformed just then from a memorial to a celebration. It was as if some vast invisible being had just given one big cosmic sigh of relief.

Fat Momma marveled. “How do you do that?”

“He’s Major Victory, that's how!” The voice was heard seconds before a tall broad-shouldered figure appeared in a black mushroom cloud of brimstone smoke. Feedback reached for the Major’s hand in greeting but the other two heroes turned away coughing, fanning the acrid fumes with their capes.

“I’m sorry! That wasn’t what I …” he helped them fan the air. “I mean I never realized how badly this ‘bamfcloud’ really would stink!”

“Dude!” said the Major, “There must have been a thousand other games you could’ve absorbed to get you here!”

“I didn’t have too much time to choose. I only heard about this an hour ago…”

“That’s alright baby, I’m glad you could make it.” Fat Momma wrapped Feedback in a hug that spoke volumes of the bond they shared. Inherent in their familiarity was the night they stood as lone survivors of the onslaught that had torn their teammates away from them, one by one. But before they were alone, Major Victory had stood with them and together the three had faced a series of trials before the watchful eye of America. One of those trials was before a classroom full of children.

Now the three heroes stood again before five of those same children. The chairs of the judges dwarfed their small frames.

"Now that the three of you are here," said Johann Nelson, the centermost child, "We should get started. The five of us asked you back because we weren't actually satisfied with the way the last challenge turned out." His young voice wrestled with syllables of advanced speech.

"Yeah," said Karen Morris, the girl who had named the Major as her favorite. "The question about Major Victory's hair was just mean and stupid."

"Most of the questions our classroom asked were stupid," said James Porcelli, a boy on the right end. "In fact, we thought that asking questions at all was stupid."

The heroes looked at one another as Feedback held out a glove, "Now kids, the show was about testing the content of our character, not our powers..."

"We know that!" said Serena Albee, the child sitting next to James with her hair parted through the middle and bunched in two fat pigtails on either side. "But that was weak!"

"Alright now little girl," said Fat Momma, "I know your Momma didn't teach you to use that tone of voice with adults?"

Serena shrank slightly in her chair, looking so much like Fat Momma it seemed like the heroine was scolding her own child. The boy on the leftmost end looked nothing like either of them. He was a thin blonde with a sullen expression, and he chose the moment to speak up. "You're superheroes. We wanted to see some powers. We still do."

Major Victory tried to speak out of the corner of his mouth. "Hey Feeds? Momma? How did these kids get hold of all this equipment?" His voice boomed, amplified back.

"And what I want to know is how they got the work shut down on Freedom Tower?" said Fat Momma.

"And why would they pick this place of all places anyway?"

"What Peter said stands," said Johann. "We want to see powers. So if you are going to prove to us who the best superhero is among you, we need to see you do it with powers."

Feedback looked around. "How would you like us to do that? I don't see any obstacle courses or physical challenges ..."

"Last hero standing!" said James.

The hero trio looked at each other.

"Last hero standing!" James repeated. Peter and Serena picked up the chant.

"Okay kids," said the Major, "This was cute. But ... we're members of the same team. We're not going to fight each other..."

After Karen, Johann's voice added to the mix. "Last hero standing! LAST HERO STANDING!!"

"This is absurd," Feedback said. Then he realized more than just the kids were chanting. The crew on the cameras, the bystanders and tourists; the adults all were chanting along.


"Why don't we just leave?" asked Fat Momma. "This noise is about to get on my last nerve."

"You want something on your last nerve," said the Major, "Try THIS...!"

Before Fat Momma could react, Major Victory had punched her clean off the dais.

* * *

"What in the hell was THAT all about?!" OutSource strained against the grip that his date had on his shoulder. They struggled briefly across the construction site, detached and hiding from the crowd near the dais.

"What are you going to do, publicize him into submission? That's Major Victory out there going wild."

"Well then YOU do something," OutSource snapped. "He's going after Feedback next!"

"Oh sure. Now you recognize."


* * *

"Major Victory," cried Feedback, "What are you doing?! You didn't giver her a chance to alter her density--you might've killed her!!"

"Just like I'm not giving you a chance--!" The Major's two red-sheathed fists were raised behind his head as the arc of his leap jetted him at Feedback.

"Game ON!!"

Victory's fists crashed down on Feedback's raised forearms and were met with like force. Now shimmering around Feedback's arms were the images of organic steel striated with metallic muscle. The Major growled in pain but bore down. His opponent's height took away Victory's advantage so he stomped forward into Feedback's long gut. He felt the hard steel of Feedback's manifested power under his boot sole, but the black shiny suit and metallic blue "F" folded at the waist just the same.

"Chris..." gasped Victory's target, "This isn't have to check on Nell..!"

"No he don't," echoed a voice soaked in anger and amplified by equipment. "Nobody gets the drop on Fat Momma."

The full-figured heroine reached down to her belt as she sailed up over the dais. Her cape flapped furiously. She plucked a freshly materialized donut from her belt and chomped into it. "It's on now."

She raised the donut over her head and while Victory and Feedback watched it, Fat Momma struck her own midsection in three rapidfire beats. The sound she made when her free fist hit her flesh was nothing compared to the reverb when she was done. Major Victory went to his knees in agony and Feedback curled up in a foetal position. Both men cupped their ears with their hands trying to keep their brains from spraying out.

Suddenly the dais was awash in golden sunlight. "Alright kids, playtime is over."

Fat Momma turned in the air and watched the shapely curves of Lemuria hover into view. "Them kids ain't the problem," she said, "Major Victory done lost his damn mind."

"I wasn't speaking to the kids," said Lemuria. "One, this is the wrong place to have a sparring match. It's disrespectful. And two, Feedback didn't do anything to you and you hurt him too."

"You know what Lemuria, don't worry so much about Feedback, okay? He already has a wife."

Lemuria looked stunned for a second. Her dark lustrious hair flowed around her slack expression. Then she grinned wickedly. "Yeah, but it isn't you."


"When he's back at Excelsior's lair, honey, Feedback can do his own laundry."


"Fat Momma, please. It's obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes."

"What are you--?"

"Just forget it, Moms. You might as well be chasing after Levity for all the good it'll do you. Feedback loves his wife."

"Are you trying to get your skinny ass kicked up in here?"

"Bring it on, Nell. Nothing here but space and opportunity."

With a roar of fury, Fat Momma launched across the sky at Lemuria.

* * *

"Blackthorn, get Back-Up and Firewall out here!" OutSource shouted. "This is a disaster! Victory, Momma, and Lemuria are literally trying to kill each other and they've got Matt in the crossfire!"

The dais was a good six or seven stories high, a sheer pillar of poured concrete towering over OutSource as he crossed Ground Zero.

"You're all we got right now, OutSource. We sent Feedback across the country by amping up the teleporting powers he took from a game that Blackmage and Kommie loaded up. None of us could follow him."

"Well what else can he do right now? What game did he play?"

"We figured 'Mutants: Apocalypse' would fill him with dozens of powers."

"But are they going to help him fight three other heroes at the same time?"

"OutSource, those are his Excelsior teammates. Surely they won't really hurt each other..."

"You don't see what I see! Find a way to patch into all these TV cameras down here and take a look for yourselves!"

"Sounds like a plan."

A blast of solar energy corruscated off the dais with such intensely that OutSource felt the hair on his sideburns crisp.

* * *

Feedback's head was swimming in the heat of Lemuria's power. Waves of solar energy poured down from the goldenclad woman as if the sun itself had dislodged from the sky. He wondered if she knew she was killing him, or if she even cared anymore.

Through his blurred vision he saw the five schoolchildren watching the spectacle. He remembered back to the original challenge with them. He had been himself and trusted, as with the 450-pound prisoner from whom he had earned three hugs, that his sincerity would be enough. At the conclusion of the entire contest, it had been. He was now America's Next Great Superhero. But that day in that classroom, before all those kids, he had felt only like America's Next Great Big Dork. Surrounded by the children, it was easy to see himself again the way it was in grade school. He had worn glasses. He had lost a front tooth. He clothes were usually some knit or plaid piece and his hobbies never, ever took him out to the sports field were the popular kids hung out.

That day he had discovered how crushing defeat not only felt, but tasted. It was a bitterness that went down the back of his tongue and festered in his belly, down where the roots of his past still were clutched. Yet, that crushing defeat didn't last ... for him.

Lemuria, Major Victory, and dear Fat Momma--they had hugged him, congratulated him, celebrated with him, fought by his side. But they had not won the contest. The bitterness he felt from failing one challenge could not have been anything compared to what his teammates ... his friends ... had to be dealing with every day.

Why was it only now that this was coming to the surface? What had taken away their self-control?

As his costume began to smoke and searing heat snaked into his throat, Feedback realized he had to stop thinking and start acting.

"Game..." he choked, "...on..."

Two white eyes with blue catlike irises materialized in front of his own like free-floating goggles. A superimposed image of wildly flowing white hair encircled his head as he called up the game's next mutant power. He could feel a grasp of elemental energies in his palms. He flexed his hands and the very fabric of the air surrounding the dais squeezed. He drew the weather in on them with his fingers. Immediately clouds coalesced in a sphere as he brought the temperature plummeting. The heat from Lemuria crashed violently with the cold condensing air. Lightning erupted across the dais. Thunder followed, throwing everyone back onto the ground. Rain then fell in sudden torrents across them and Feedback thought he'd cry from the feeling of sheer, cool water on his face.

The respite was brief. Major Victory chugged toward him through the curtains of rain with an evil grin splitting his face. “Thanks for putting out the hot chick!” he crowed as he punted Feedback in the ribs.

White hot pain dissected him.

He could not get air enough to cough, let alone switch powers. The Major hauled him into the air. Cold rain poured into Feedback’s gaping mouth.

“Chris … don’t …”

“Who’s the Next Great Superhero now?!”

Silently apologizing, Feedback called the elements to him. A bolt of lightning speared down and pinioned the Major to the dais. Feedback felt the electricity pouring into him through the Major’s grip and it felt like flowing life. The Major, however, was clenched in a rictus of shock and went down convulsing as thunder hammered around them.

Feedback climbed to his feet, head hanging low. Then he looked to the children. "Who ... are you ... ?"

They began speaking from left to right, each taking their turn rhythmically.

"I am just two and two." said Peter.

Karen followed by saying, "I am hot. I am cold."

"I am the parent of numbers that cannot be told," said Johann.

"I am a gift beyond measure, a matter of course," said Serena.

"I am given with pleasure when taken by force," said James.

In unison, the children finished, saying, "Who am I?"

Feedback blinked. Inside him, a wellspring of peace emerged. Admist the chaos and broken fealty, this was finally a territory he knew. By answering his question with a riddle, he knew what he was facing now. A broad boyish grin broke out. "I have three answers for you. Which one do you want?"

Johann spoke. "Give me the answer that makes you think the hardest."

"You're getting soft in your old age, Deathmatch. None of them made me think hard. That was answer number one, by the way."


He wheeled around, arrested by the tone of Fat Momma's call. She towered over him, breaking through the clouds of his miniature storm. She was now five times her normal size which only meant one thing; now she was mad. In one hand she held a sodden, limp golden figure. Lemuria looked like a drowned doll that Fat Momma had found on a beach.


"Momma ... you can't hold Lemuria or Major Victory responsible for what's happening here ... this was a trap set by Deathmatch ..."

"WHO? ONE OF YOUR ENEMIES? WHY THIS ALWAYS GOTTA BE ABOUT YOU?" Fat Momma was shaking Lemuria so violently, Feedback feared she might snap the heroine's neck. "I GOT ENEMIES TOO! WHEN'S IT GONNA BE FAT MOMMA'S TURN IN THE SPOTLIGHT?!"

He swallowed resolutely, seeing that there would be no getting through to her. She was as deeply affected by this mind-bomb as the others were. "Game on," he said, calling up another mutant power.

A cluster of translucent muscles bulged around Feedback's forearms. The image grew down his wrists and over his hands until he wore a powerful pair of translucent fists like gloves. He felt a feral rage take him and he flexed. Razor-sharp talons sprang from between the superimposed knuckles of the phantom hands. He cried out in pain, feeling the talons emerge as if from his own flesh. "Nell," he growled, "Don't make me do this..."

"Give me your second answer, Feedback. I could stop all this right now."

Feedback spun on the children. His snarling face was hooded by his shoulders as he brandished his claws. "So can I." He crouched, ready to leap across the gap between the dais and the platform.

"Wait! Wait, wait wait!"

Feedback cocked his head, watching the man scramble along the platform toward the children. The kick of the cologne he wore made Feedback want to shake his newly-enhanced senses clear.

"Feedback, it's me. It's OutSource. That's not the power you want to use right now--"

On a primitive level, he knew the sharply dressed man was not a threat, but he couldn't ignore what else was around him ... with effort, Feedback sheathed the power-claws.

"YOU'RE OUTSOURCE?!" boomed Fat Momma. Her voice, already amplified by her size, caused the crowd to clutch their heads in pain.

OutSource visibly tried to ignore the 30-foot woman pounding across the dais at him. "Feedback--you need to keep your wits and get rid of Deathmatch."

"Oh, I'll get rid of him," Feedback snarled. "Once and for all."

Both Feedback and Fat Momma struck the judges' platform at the same time. Fat Momma reached across the gap and snatched up OutSource, while Feedback completed the leap and landed on the judges table. He grabbed Johann by the scruff of his collar and snarled in the child's face. He put a fist to the child's temple. One pop of his claws and he knew he'd stop this itineration of the villain, maybe for good this time...

Behind Feedback, Fat Momma shrieked, "YOU'RE THE ONE DATING LEMURIA?!" She seemed like a mad giantess playing insanely with her dolls.

OutSource struggled in the giantess' grip. "It's nothing ... not a relationship at all ..." Her fingers were crushing his chest. Feedback could smell OutSource's fear but the children were motionless. Their faces were all blank slates. Clearly they were under some kind of mental control ... but right now Feedback didn't care. Fire in his blood made only one action the clear and obvious choice.

"Feedback ... if you kill that kid ... Deathmatch wins!"

Feedback continued snarling in the child's face. "A kiss," he said. "My second answer is A Kiss. Two and two are the lover's lips. There are hot kisses and cold ones. A stolen kiss can be a pleasurable one, even if taken by force."


"Nell ... please ..." OutSource croaked, " ... for God's sake ... the sake of our kids ... I never meant to hurt you ..."

Feedback dropped Johann. He turned around on the table in stunned realization. The power of the berserker drained away from him, A more chilling emotion crept in. "Fat Momma," he said, afraid to finish the question but unable to stay quiet. "You know OutSource?"

"KNOW HIM?!" Fat Momma answered. Feedback's heart began triphammering as she continued. "I LOVED--!!"

Regret exploded in Feedback. "NOTHING!!" Now he was in a rush to stop all these unchecked emotions. All this betrayal. "My third answer is nothing!! The two and two could be both a negative and positive integer, adding up to nothing! Nothing can be both hot and cold! Nothing can be a parent of something you don't speak into existence! Every gift has its price, and there is nothing in all the world can be given in pleasure if it is taken by force! The ANSWER, Deathmatch, is NOTHING!!"

Karen turned to Feedback with a wry smile on her small round face. "Only your first and second answers were correct."

She and the other children then collapsed back into their chairs like marionettes with their strings cut. Cameras fell over into the construction pit as crews and onlookers fell unconscious too.

Fat Momma halted her tirade and looked at the people she had in each hand. "Oh no." Her size evaporated with her fury.

Feedback watched Fat Momma help lay Lemuria's unconscious body to the ground near Major Victory while OutSource stumbled back to his feet. From across the gap he said, "You never did tell me your whole name."

OutSource's voice was small and hushed but the microphones made a powerful understatement out of it. "I did tell you that I had made mistakes before you met me."

"So this is just a coincidence?"

"I don't know. All you heroes lived on the West Coast. I was visiting my son that night, waiting for the ATM, and I wound up behind your doppleganger trying to empty your bank account. Could be he knew who I was ... maybe he was going to try to lure Nell into a trap all along since he hates the ones you care about. But you showed up instead and saved me. I owed you my life. Even though you worked with Nell, I couldn't ignore you. And I haven't."

"Why would you keep this a secret from me?" Try as he might, Feedback somehow felt a weight in his chest that, painful as they had been, none of the loosed passions from the heroes could equal. "Have I ever given you reason to believe that if I knew who you were, I'd have treated you differently?"

"Feedback ... Matt I ... I just was too ... but when I heard the three of you were going to be at Ground Zero for a new challenge ... I figured I needed to face it. Too many relationships ended unresolved on that day."

Fat Momma gently spoke OutSource's real name as only a woman with a deep history could have. "Those things I said ..."

OutSource tried to wave it away.

"No!!" Feedback felt the weight burst inside, rising in his throat, pouring out of his eyes. "You don't do that! You don't do that to her!! This is Fat Momma and she's a hero!"

"I know..."

"Do you really?!"

"Matt ... I know ..."

With a roar of frustration, Feedback cried "Game ON!!" and disappeared in a burst of fire and brimstone.

* * *

"My life has gotten too complicated." Matt Atherton sat overlooking the San Bernadino Valley from the grassy swells of the San Gabriel Mountains. Blue sky yawned forever above him. A crispy chill blew on the wind, carrying the fragrance of Autumn. Mount Waterman, Twin Peaks, and Mount Baden-Powell formed a snow crusted rim to the world on the far side of the valley.

"Do you regret it?"

Matt dipped his head low and concentrated on a stalk of wild grass. He plucked it. The bluetooth waited for his answer. He could imagine the voice in his ear was embodied by the spectral floating head of his mentor. "No. Meeting you was the third best day of my life."

"Let me guess the second best day. When you awoke from that accident with powers far beyond that of mortal men."

The bombastic delivery made Matt smile. "Yes sir. And the best day was when I married Sarah."

"Then, my hero, what is the problem?"

Matt took another pause before answering. "I've surrounded myself with all these people to help me do what I do ... and I don't know any of them."

"This OutSource thing has got you rattled."

"He's Fat Momma's ex-husband! I brought him into our heroic identities and made Nell have to confront him now in both aspects of her life! I would do anything to change that and save her that grief."

"Fat Momma is a big girl. She can handle it."

"But ..."

"What you heard in New York were the effects of Deathmatch's mindtrap. Most of the time, we're able to control our harsher thoughts ... our more base instincts. That's how we humans survive."

"Should I keep OutSource in Tech Support?"

"That's up to you. Is he any good?"

"Should that matter? Every time Nell sees me now in Excelsior's headquarters, she'll be wondering if we have secrets. How can I lead her in the team or keep her trust if behind her back I have an association with the man that broke her heart and abandoned her with their children?"

"Has he offered you a resignation?"

Matt chewed on the end of the straw. "No."

"Hmm. Why not? He must be making a lot of money from being your publicist! That's pretty selfish..."

"He isn't making a cent. Tech Support are all volunteer. You know that."

"Yes I do."

"I have to go talk to him don't I?"

"At least."

He spat out the bitter stalk of grass. "Stan, this is so hard."

"I have faith in you, son. My Feedback."

He drew his knees up and rested his head on them. No matter how much he accomplished in the identity of Feedback, he prayed that he'd end his days making a mark on the world as profound as Stan Lee's. He marveled at the power of wisdom and at its quiet teaching grace. He clearly heard words that his mentor had not spoken, yet Matt knew he could not have thought of on his own.

On his own, he knew he was nothing.

He knew, as well, that the same went for all his friends.

"Thank you, sir. I'll speak to you next week. Feedback out." Matt voiced the bluetooth to dial another number. He heard the phone ringing, then the connection opened.

"Feedback's Tech Support, OutSource speaking."

Matt addressed OutSource, using his real name. "Can you meet me for lunch?"


Thanks again to "Tech Support", to Matt Atherton, and to one of the founding fathers of modern American dreams, Stan Lee. A special thanks to Chris Watters, Tonatzin Mondragon, and Nell Wilson


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