I stand on the sidewalk in front of Epione’s house, staring at her red-oak door. I am trying to work up the courage to knock. After last night, I’m sure Flashfire’s still pissed at me and the others are upset. Plus, only a few hours ago, Bedevil humiliated me in bed.
There’s a lot of things gluing my feet to the concrete. The other McMansions stare at me, a stiff breeze pushes against me. I clutch the Snickers in my pocket as if it’s a charm against evil.
A tiny drone zooms past my head, and orbits me faster than I can follow. Am I looking at a snitch here? What the hell is this thing? It makes no sound as it flies, no buzzing or humming at all. Totally silent.
The drone stops right in front of me. It resembles a mini black helicopter.
My watch lights up. “Hey Gabe,” Drone says.
“What is this thing?” I ask.
“A camera. I call it the Hummingbird.”
“Planning on taking creep shots?” I ask.
The camera drone flies back toward the house. Flashfire walks out, closing the door behind him. “Hey, Gabe.”
Neither of us says anything after that. I’m not sure what to say, actually.
I try to get the ball rolling. “Hey, uh, so, last night, I’m sorry.”
Flashfire sighs. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I shouldn’t have punched you. You’re right. I did a lot of thinking last night, and I realized you’re right.”
“Huh, I was about to say the same.”
“I don’t want to kill people, Flash.”
“I know. I shouldn’t have acted like you did.” He shakes his head. “So, I’m sorry for treating you that way.”
I rub the back of my neck. “I still killed people. If I had better control of my power, maybe they wouldn’t have died.”
“But you were right about Epione. After you asked that, I realized I absolutely would kill someone who threatened her life, if I had no choice. I wouldn’t jeopardize her over my line in the sand. Just like I won’t jeopardize you, or Drone, Remise, or even Maisa.”
“I shouldn’t be so careless about our enemies, though. My intention has to be clear before I go into a fight. And I don’t want to go into every fight ready to take someone’s life.”
Flashfire laughs a little. “I’ve never thought of you as Megajoule, you know? I idolized him. I watched every interview. I read every article. I knew him forward and backward. He was a scientist. He always wanted to talk about that. He was real big on solar energy. You’re not like that at all. You’re a warrior.”
I… I’ve got no words. One thing is true, he’s never treated me like Megajoule. Not once. Maybe when he first saw my face, back when I took the mask off in front of him. That was a huge leap for me. From the beginning, he never acted like I was different than him.
And I guess that’s why I love him. He’s the closest thing to a best friend I’ve ever had.
“I need you back,” he says. “Not just because we’re about to go to Parlor. The Underground isn’t the Underground without you.”
I clear my throat. “You had me at ‘You were right.’”
He laughs. We walk into the house together.
“You found Parlor?” I ask.
“No,” Flashfire says. “Saw Off and the 2nd Amendment did.”
“Well, where is it?”
“Currently?” Flashfire asks.
I gasp. Of fucking course! Why would it be in one place? “It moves!”
“That’s not all of it, but yes. It moves. Parlor is currently on the estates of software guru Taylor Jade. Drone’s already scouted the place with her cameras, so we’ve got a good idea of what to expect. But I’ll let Saw Off tell you the rest.” He opens the door and lets me in.
“Oh, boy, Epione can not be happy about Saw-”
Epione slams into me and throws her arms around me. “Gabe! You’re okay!” She pulls back with a giggle. “Sorry about all the drunk texts. And sorry about that.”
She’s wearing a flour covered apron that just imprinted flour all over my shirt. I laugh and dust what I can off. “It’s okay. It’s all okay.”
Epione frowns. “Are you okay? You look… well… awful.”
Ah, guess I’m not doing a very good job hiding what happened this morning with Bedevil. “Yeah… just a long night.”
“As for Saw Off, I can tolerate her. In short bursts.” Epione’s smile is wire thin, and I realize that she is clutching a knife in her left hand.
Advantages: Fairly sure Epione’s never been in a fight before. Disadvantages: Her power to stimulate pure agony, and she’s my friend.
Wow, she just sent me into battle mode.
I recover from that, and ask, “Where’s Maisa?”
“Locked up in her room.” Flashfire grumbles. “She hasn’t come out all day.”
I clutch the Snickers I brought to smooth things over. “I’ll talk to her. What about Remise?”
“She’s getting our van back, with a brand new paint job.” Flashfire pumps his fist. “Right. Let’s go. The others are in the kitchen, planning.”
Drone is in the kitchen, jiggering with her little Hummingbird, joined by Saw Off, Vaquero, and a few others I don’t know. One is a tall guy, taller than me, with a giant metal arm, silver-blond hair, and a mean-ass grimace. The girl next to him is just as tall, and judging by her silver-blond hair and scowl, I’d say she’s his sister. The final person stands next to Drone, a slight man, shorter than Flashfire, way out of shape, but hiding it behind a trench coat and newscaster’s fedora. His face is haggard, jowls drooping like he stole them from a basset hound. He fiddles with a camera.
Flashfire points them out and names them: Lugs is the man with the metal arm. Mil-dot is the mean mugging girl next to Lugs. Iso is the man in the trench coat with a camera. “Lugs and Mil-dot are 2nd Amendment. Iso is freelance, he’s worked with a lot of the vigilantes in Houston. He’s known about you for a while.”
I glare at Flash. “Really, now.”
Flashfire holds his hands up. “Can’t exactly help it, he reads minds. But your secret is safe with him.”
“Hello,” I say. I wave to the motley crew assembled before me. “I’m Gabe.”
“Gabe Babe!” Saw Off says, trotting up like a school girl with a big fat crush. “A real life super villain!” Oh, boy, outing me as Home Run in front of everyone. Thanks. She leans into me and leers. “You know the next step, right? They turn you into a rock star. Nothing’s hotter than a rock star.” All I can think about is Bedevil pressed against me, kissing my neck and whispering Megajoule’s name into my ear.
Iso lifts his hat and takes a picture of me. He looks at the picture, and says, “Saw Off, maybe you should actually go after people you have a chance with.”
Saw Off flips Iso a middle finger. “What do you know?”
“More than you.” Iso gives a faint smile that spreads his wrinkles apart. He taps his camera with his pointer finger. “I can read the surface thoughts of anyone I take a picture of. But only at the moment I take the picture.”
I swallow. “So… uh…”
He shakes his head. “It’s cool, I see stuff like that all the time.”
“What did you see?” Saw Off asks, though it’s more of a demand. She tries to take the camera from Iso.
Lugs comes up to me. “So you’re Home Run, huh? Don’t look so tough.” Man, he’s intimidating.
“Oh my God,” Mil-dot says. “The guy hasn’t even been in the room for a minute and you’re already trying to out-macho him. You know that says way more about you than it does him.”
“Can it!” Lugs says, pointing at her.
“Pleased to meet you, too,” I say. “I’m guessing you’re the half of 2nd Amendment not at the Port?” Flashfire mentioned their names.
Lugs nods. “We were digging into another lead with Iso.”
“What was it?” I ask.
Saw Off butts into the conversation. “You know that with every business there’s costs, right? The cost of running it. Overhang.”
“Overhead,” Mil-Dot corrects her.
“Dumb ass,” Lugs adds in.
Saw Off shoots them a glare that could very well be followed by a bullet sneeze. “Overhead. Right. Anyway, lots of places have overhead. Gotta pay managers, Gotta pay the UWC citizen employees, gotta buy supplies, gotta pay rent and electric, you know the drill. In your abundant wisdom, what do you think they do to cut corners, Gabe Babe?”
I can put two and two together. “You guys take on labor trafficking.”
“Right you are,” Saw Off says. “And in the last few months, guess who’s the only trafficker in town for labor? The only one from Baytown to Katy to Conroe to Galveston.” She holds a finger up. “If you thought anyone other than Pandahead, you’re wrong. I’ve seen a dozen trafficking groups come and go in Houston since we started the 2nd Amendment. I’ve seen them all get muscled out over the last year or two. We had the worst, too. Houston’s a major port, and we had groups from Latin American secessionists, we had interest groups from the Emirates, we had Russian and Pacific groups, all of them rolling through Houston to get access to our highways into the rest of the old States. Pandahead took away the foothold. It’s his city, now.”
Lugs plays with a coin, tosses it up into the air, and twists his arm. The coin stops mid-air. The buttons on my jacket push against my chest. Woah. “So, there we were, me, Iso, Mil-dot. Mil-dot hung back to keep an eye on the situation, while Iso and I investigated a warehouse meet up. We heard some Sanctified Remnant dudes were trying to move some product through the Mexican border, but they weren’t going to get past Panda. Iso heard they set up a meet. We went in, hoping to capture someone, or get some info.”
Iso walks over to me and shows me his camera screen. He scrolls through pictures of a desolate warehouse, filled with men writhing against the concrete. Blood paints the floor and walls, and flecks of gore cover the ground.
I exhale, looking at the damage. “This is what Pandahead did to them?”
Iso chews his lip and gives the tiniest nod. He sighs, and says, “The ones I could get surface thoughts from couldn’t even tell me what happened. They were just terrified, I kept seeing flashes of black ink and bug parts. I’m guessing Pandahead used that power of his and then had his henchmen clean up the ones that tried to fight. There were bullet shells and holes, so guns were used.”
So, Pandahead really does have some great power over fear. “How’d you find out where Parlor was?”
“One of the men left behind was his own. He’d been shot.” Iso scrolled through the photos until he came across one guy, hands held over his chest. Blood pools behind him in the photo, stains his chin and neck. “But, he was still alive when I took the photo. I asked him where Parlor was. He didn’t have to say anything, human minds tend to leap to the answer even if they plan on lying to you.”
“You found out that it moves,” I say.
“Not just that,” Lugs says. “But we learned it’s current location, too.”
“Stop taking credit for everything Iso did,” Mil-dot says. Lugs scowls at her, and she scowls right back.
Drone opens her laptop and places it on the kitchen island. Everyone gathers around. “I’ve got pictures and footage. I sent my Hummingbirds over there to take a look. Lots of acreage up in Conroe. An estate owned by Taylor Jade. He’s a software guru.”
“Is he Pandahead?” I ask.
Drone shakes her head. Her laptop scrolls through pictures until it arrives at a photo of a man in a white-black helmet, leather jacket, and combat boots easing into a chair, while an elderly man in a bathrobe holds a yellow mug with a smiley face on it. Drone points at the bathrobe man. “That’s Taylor Jade.”
I look at Pandahead. He’s got his feet kicked up on a billiard table in the picture. He looks… like a teenager. He’s wearing the same kind of jacket I wear but he doesn’t come close to filling it out. His combat boots are way too big for his feet.
He’s a kid. Or a very tiny man.
“I’ve got a good layout of the estate.” Drone pulls out a piece of paper with a printout of the mansion and surrounding yard. A winding road pulls up to the front porch and circles back to itself. There’s a lawn behind the house where the forest is cleared and the grass is cut, maybe about half an acre. The rest is unkempt wood.
“Do you know how long they’ll stay?” I ask.
Flashfire shakes his head. “They could leave tonight for all we know.”
“So we have to hit them now,” I say.
Saw Off grins. “Hell yeah we do. But we can’t walk in without a plan.”
“You’re right.” I think I’ve got a little bit of an idea. “You say that he’s been muscling other traffickers out of Houston, right?”
“He’s taken out at least five other groups I’m aware of,” Iso says. “We’ve been trying to find Parlor for nearly a year, now. The other vigs won’t touch this. No hero team will touch this. FIS-”
Light bulb, exploding in brain. I thought about this last night. “FIS! Right! FIS has a do not pursue on him. Mr. Gold, Krater, none of them knew about him. Krater even said to leave it alone. I doubt Bedevil knew about it, she didn’t seem to think much of it. What if… what if FIS is using him? What if he’s the guy they use to keep other traffickers out of Houston?”
“That’s what I thought, too,” Iso says. “There’s no way to prove it, though.”
Drone pipes up. “Not unless we get footage of it happening. Or if we can get him to take that helmet off, or admit while I record, or something.”
“Normally, we call FIS,” I say. “That’s always worked on the small time pimps, since FIS takes care of the people they rescue. Especially trafficked workers. But, if Pandahead is their man, which might be the case, we can’t trust them.”
“Couldn’t trust ‘em before,” Lugs says.
“We could trust them to do their jobs. For whatever reason, we can’t trust them here. They came running when we tripped the motion sensor in the boat. They have a do not pursue. Mr. Gold, a field agent, had no idea we were at the port to look into a trafficking ring, and finally, right after I took on Krater, they had a story ready to go about me being a super villain. They’re protecting their assets. Or, I mean, I did kick Krater’s ass, so I probably earned it.” Can’t discount every possibility, even if one makes a lot of sense.
“Yeah you fucking did,” Saw Off says, grinning at me.
“Even with all that, it costs us nothing to operate on the assumption that FIS is protecting Pandahead.”
Flashfire raps the island with his fingers. “It means we have to change our approach.”
“We’d have to change that, anyway,” Iso says. “You aren’t gonna roll in the Underground or 2nd Amendment way. You’ll get killed.”
Drone nods. “Yeah. Which brings me to this.” Her laptop flashes images of men patrolling on the balconies around the mansion, dressed in heavy SWAT gear and carrying assault rifles. “He’s got about eight of these guys. Plus, two heavyweight powered peeps.” An image of two men leaning on the railing pops up. One’s a young buck with a buzz cut, the other a grizzled bear with a prosthetic leg. “Guy on the right is Aspect, ex-hero. Operated before Megajoule died. He lost a leg in a super powered battle, and retired. He served over in China, too. He’s bounced from job to job since, even working as a froyo joint manager. He can adapt his molecular structure to any kind of solid he touches. If he touches steel, he becomes steel. If he touches rubber, so on and so forth.”
“I love froyo,” Epione says.
“I know you do, love,” Flashfire says, patting her on the shoulder. Saw Off makes a gagging face at this public display of affection.
Drone points at buzz cut. “And the other guy is Joshua Beckett. Centurion class hero, served in the Syrian Supers conflict. He can shoot globs of napalm from his hand. Like Flashfire, but better.”
Flashfire snaps her a glare. Huh, I can see why he dated Saw Off, they both snap a lot of glares.
“Okay, so two heavyweight supers that he’s hired to help. Eight guys armed with assault rifles.” I tap my chin. “We need a distraction, maybe we can draw them out of the house while someone gets the kids, and someone else gets close to Pandahead.”
“We need to get footage of him taking the helmet off,” Drone says. “You’ll be able to nail him then. I’ve got enough video and pictures here to ruin Taylor Jade. Plenty of stuff you don’t want to see. Speaking of which, there are twenty something kids on the estate. Mostly girls, a few boys. The clients come and go all day, but on average there’s about thirty of them. I’ve got enough evidence to ruin every single one of them, too.”
“We just need Panda, then,” I say. “What if I got close, and captured him before he could use his power? Flash and Remise could get the kids.”
Lugs smiles. “I’m tailor made to fight this Aspect guy. He turns himself metal, and I’ll send him flying. We could fight your heavy guys, Mil-dot can snipe the soldiers.”
“What is your power?” I ask. “Actually, you, too, Mil-dot. We need to know where everyone will be most useful.” I like planning battles. Tactics takes my mind off Bedevil and the black hole.
Lugs taps his metal arm.“My arm can repulse or attract metal. Mostly I collect bullets with it. I like to flick ‘em back, since they take a few seconds to cool down. If I get a good anchor I can shove cars around.”
“I already know where I’m useful,” Mil-dot says. “Sniper support.”
I look at Flashfire and arch an eyebrow to ask him if that’s cool. He nods at me. “Like I said, you were right. These guys are carrying rifles, and hurting kids. We need to win this fight.”
“My eyes are military binoculars,” Mil-dot continues. “I have scope-vision, x-ray vision, and infrared. I’ll be able to give you good intel.”
“I’ll keep my Hummingbirds above the battle so we have info coming from that, too,” Drone says.
“Plus we have Remise, who will be able to hear inside that whole house. We have the advantage there,” Flashfire says. “But we still need a good distraction.”
Lugs said he could throw a car. We can’t call FIS, but what if we call regular police? “Drone, could you fake a call to an ambulance or something? Get emergency services on scene?”
“What if we called an ambulance, and when they show up, Lugs, you do something flashy like throw a car into their lawn. We’ll make Pandahead think we’re going to blow the mansion apart, feint a strong powered attack, and see how he scrambles his guys. Then we take him apart based on what he does then, wrap him up nice and neat for the inevitable cop squadron that shows up.”
Saw Off cheers. “We could even blow the car up!”
“No blowing it up,” I say. “That could hurt someone with shrapnel.”
“Shit sticks, babe,” Saw Off says. “We brought C4 and everything.”
“No. You draw them out, and 2nd Amendment takes care of the guards and the heavyweight duo,” I say. “I’ll go for Pandahead. Flashfire and Remise can go for the kids.”
“He’s still got that power over fear,” Flashfire says. “He could use it on you.”
Epione clears her throat. “What if I went with Gabe?”
Flashfire furrows his brow and frowns. He gives tiny shake of his head. “That’d be really dangerous.”
“I can keep him calm with my power, and fear doesn’t really affect me,” Epione says. “Even better, I could sedate him.”
That’s a really good idea, actually. Better than me trying to kick his ass before he uses the power. “I think it works.”
Flashfire shakes his head more. His fist balls on the counter. “Epione’s never gone on a mission like this before. They’re heavily armed.”
“I’ll be okay,” Epione says.
It’s true she’s never been on a mission like this before, only the really small fry stuff, but that’s only because she’s more focused on school. She’s calm, level-headed, and I trust her with my life. I grab Flash’s shoulder. “I promise you, I will die before she does.”
Flashfire frowns at me, but after a moment, he relinquishes and nods.
Drone closes her laptop. “Where are we getting this car you’re gonna throw into the lawn?”
“Saw Off has an old rust bucket I’m gonna throw,” Lugs says.
Saw Off grins. “I’ve been wanting to blow it up for a while.”
“But you’re not blowing it up,” I say.
“Right,” Saw Off grumbles.
“The plan, from top to bottom, then,” Drone says. “I call an EMS. I’ll tell them… one of the patrons had a heart attack. When they arrive, Lugs tosses a car into the lawn. If this draws the guards out, Mil-dot, Vaquero, and Saw Off will engage them, and Lugs will at least engage Aspect. What if they don’t come out?”
“Even better,” I say. “Mil-dot, I’m guessing you can snipe into a building? Or, hell, you don’t even have to. Any kind of gunfire with EMS present will get them calling the police. The police show up, they investigate. If Pandahead tries to run, we intercept.”
“If they do come out,” Drone says. “Flashfire and Remise will rescue the kids. You and Epione will get close to Pandahead, and I’ll get footage of the helmet coming off. Once police arrive and he’s secured, we retreat.”
“It’s a good plan,” Flashfire says. “I vote for it.” He nods to me.
Epione smiles. “Me too.”
“As long as I get to blow shit up,” Saw Off says.
“No,” I correct.
Lugs, Mil-dot, Drone, Iso, they all agree. We’re all in on this. We’re going to take on Pandahead tonight.
The group breaks apart from the kitchen island to prepare. Drone turns to Epione, and says, “You need a real mask.” She opens up one of the cabinets and lugs a 3D printer up onto the counter, huffing like she’s at a weight lifting contest. She plugs her laptop into the printer, opens a design program, and performs sorcery I can’t comprehend. I can’t look away, either. Her tech witchery transfixes me. A minute or so later, the printer whirs and starts to construct a mask. Epione bobs happily while the timer counts down from three minutes.
The printer beeps at 0:00, and Drone pops a sleek, plastic mask out of the 3D printer, throws some gadgetry from one of the cabinets behind the eye holes, and hands it to Epione. The eyes light up with neon-pink rings.
Epione squeals. “That’s so cool!” She tries it on, bobbing her head back and forth. In a sing-song voice, she says, “I’m a hero, now, I’m a hero, now!”
“Why did you never make me a mask like that?” I ask.
Drone looks at me like that’s the first time she’s ever seen me. “I just assumed you liked running around in a gimp mask.”
Well, that just cracks Saw Off’s ass up. “Oh my god, a gimp mask.”
“Laugh it up,” I snarl at her.
Saw Off stops laughing and purrs at me. “You gonna growl like that tonight?”
“No.” I shake my head. I turn to Epione and Drone. “I’m going to talk to Maisa.”
“Good luck with that,” Drone says. “She punched Flashfire in the stomach.”
Out of my pocket, I pull the Snickers bar I bought for the occasion. “I think I’ll be okay.” I head upstairs to the room Maisa’s been staying in, the one she’s used since we rescued her the other night. I try to open it, but the door is locked.
“Go away,” Maisa says.
“If you insist.” I pretend to walk away.
Maisa scrambles for the door. “Gabe!” She throws it open. “You came back! I thought you would leave forever!”
“Nah,” I say. “Heard you punched Flashfire in the stomach.” I grin. “Nice.”
Maisa doesn’t return my smile. She furrows her brow. “He deserved it.”
“Maybe a little. He’s still a good guy, though.” I look at her room. Even despite that she’s locked herself in here all day, the room is well kept and clean. Her bed is made, the clothes Epione and Drone loaned her are neatly folded on the small couch. “Can I come in?”
Maisa nods and lets me in. I move her folded clothes to her bed and sit down on the couch. She stands.
“Heard you locked yourself in here.”
Maisa doesn’t say anything. Her eyes glisten.
“Do you want this Snickers?” I offer her the candy. “You’re probably hungry.”
Maisa sniffs, but doesn’t take my offering.
I hold it in my palm for her to take. I murmur, unsure of audience of this joke, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
Not laughing, she takes the candy, unwraps it, and bites into the chocolate. Her eyes widen. “So sweet!”
I chuckle. “There we go.”
She sits down next to me. “I worried you wouldn’t come back.”
“Nah, we just had a fight. I have them with my uncle all the time, and I still stay with him.”
She scratches her cheek, and I see that Drone’s given her one of the Underground watches. “Why?”
“Well, he does pay for me, and he did rescue me from that lab-”
“Not that.” Maisa hard stares at me. “Why did you come back, after your friend hurt you?”
“He’s my friend. He apologized, anyway.” I thrum my fingers on my thighs. “I’ve been wondering something. Why didn’t you go with the other girls? I know you said you didn’t want to go back to Khanpur, but FIS would’ve probably placed you somewhere in the UWC since you’re so old already.”
Maisa shakes her head, holding the candy bar. “I like your house.”
I smile. “Epione does have a nice place.”
“Even with that fight, I feel peace here. I don’t want to leave that. I have not had peace in a long time.”
I understand that completely. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need. We’ll take care of you. I have to go now, but I’ll be back tonight. We can celebrate bringing down Parlor with some movies, or something.”
Maisa grabs my jacket as I stand. “Gabe.”
“What is it?”
“Why do you do this? Why don’t you take off the mask and be Megajoule? You could.”
I get a mental flashback to Bedevil, wanting me to be someone I’m not. I kneel down to look Maisa in the eyes. I don’t know how to explain that I can’t surrender, other than just to joke about how it’s in my DNA. Why can’t I surrender? Why don’t I take off my mask? Why don’t I just live a normal life? Is it the kids? Maisa? Being like Megajoule?
Am I just a sum of questions waiting to be answered? When I answer them, will I disappear?
A while back, Doc told me this story about starfish that I really liked. So, I tell it to Maisa:
“So… there’s this story. There’s this guy, and he’s walking down a beach shore, and there are hundreds and hundreds of starfish washed up by the waves. And a young boy goes around throwing them back into the sea, one by one. The man asks him what he’s doing. The boy tells him, ‘I’m saving these starfish.’ The man says, ‘You won’t make a difference. There are too many.’ And the boy says, picking one up and throwing it into the water, ‘I made a difference to that one.’”
Maisa stares at the candy bar.
“I don’t know who I am in the story.” I struggle to find the right words. “I- I want to save them. At the same time… I know there are too many.”
“Am I the starfish?” Maisa asks.
“Yeah,” I say, through a laugh.
“You made a difference to me. Go make a difference to as many as you can.” Maisa’s gaze has a blade’s edge. “And make him pay.”
“I will. He’s going to pay for what he’s done.”
“Gabe!” Flashfire calls. “Remise is here with the van! It’s time to go!”
Maisa nods to me. I leave her with the half-eaten Snickers.
Downstairs, the crew is assembled, dressed in their gear. The afternoon is dying outside: evening is stepping into place, casting everything in red-orange tint. Epione’s wearing black armor with pink accents to go with her swanky mask. Lugs wears mostly the same outfit I’ve already seen him in, but he’s got a mask covering his mouth that resembles a demon’s maw. Mil-dot wears a little more military flair, and she’s carrying a sniper rifle that has no scope. Everyone else is dressed in their usual gear.
“Ready?” Flashfire asks. He carries his mask under the crook of his arm.
I pull my mask out from my pocket. Make a difference.