Note: The good guys and bad guys are my creations; I tried hard not to be a copycat. The "stupid headphones" are my creation. The mall isn't mine - it really exists, and darling, it is fabulous! (It's so fabulous that I knew I had to destroy it. Mwhahaha.)

Many thanks to Barb for the beta. :)


"One Hand Clapping"


Mary Jackson was in hell, and it looked a lot like the Millenia Mall in Orlando, Florida.

Most people (certainly most hardcore shoppers) would equate the Millenia Mall with heaven. It had stores to fill every conceivable niche and need, all the way from BabyGap to Burberry, Cartier, and Jimmy Choo. There was gracious concierge service in several langauges. The interior was opulent - all white gleaming floors and curving balconies and graceful arching glass skylights. There were palm trees and armchairs, LED screens and plush carpets. The Grand Court, in the center, was particularly breathtaking, but the Orchid Court - where Mary was - wasn't exactly a huge step down. All told, thousands of people were thoroughly enchanted by the Mall each day.

Given Mary's exquisite sensitivity to sound, however, any mall - with its nonstop muzak and echo-chamber architecture - was an exercise in pain management. For some reason this one was more torture than usual.

Maybe it was because she'd been there, all told, for nearly six hours (three for setup, three for performance). Maybe it was because the eight-year-old girls standing in line for her autograph wouldn't stop squealing. Maybe it was the loud pseudo-rock music blaring incessantly from the speakers on the stage.

Maybe it was just that she really, really didn't want to be there.

She was there only because of her parents/managers/agents, the lovely Tiffany and jovial Robert Jackson. Without consulting Mary (as if they ever had or would), they'd signed a deal with Sony a few months earlier, promising to send their only darling daughter on a grueling fifty-six-malls-in-sixty-days promotional tour for a new line of headphones, with the possibility of a TV commercial if things went well.

The deal had been a major coup for her parents, who'd been trying to win fame and fortune for Mary since she was four months old and being entered into baby beauty pageants, but Mary hated it. Selling merchandise like a has-been B-list rocker - what a waste!

Mary could store, amplify, and redirect sonic energy into shockwaves; for some reason, the shockwaves always came out kind of lavender, which she liked. She had to clap her hands together to make the shockwaves, which were powerful enough to knock over a full-grown man, or break down a door, or even tip over a car (well, almost; she'd gotten it up on two wheels before her mom made her stop, saying it was "unladylike").

She'd scored well enough to be accepted as a provisional member of Teen Heroes America. But instead of training to be a real hero, she was hawking electronics on mall stages across the Southeast.

A hero to gullible kids, their sucker parents, and Sony's bottom line, she thought darkly. She winced as another happy shriek rang out from close range, and tried not to show it. It wasn't the kids' fault. It was her parents' fault, and she didn't dare complain.

"Resonance!" the girl squealed. "You're so cool!"

Mary felt each tiny, razor-edged sound from the words slam into her body. They prickled over her skin and were absorbed whether she wanted it or not. Definitely not. She was overfull of energy to the point of nausea, and had been for a while.

She smiled as brightly as she could. "Thanks. What's your name?"


Your voice is like broken glass, Bailey, Mary thought, then felt bad. Bailey was cute; it was her bad mood that was spoiling things. She took the publicity shot of herself from Bailey and wrote an extra-long message out of guilt: TO BAILEY LOTS OF LOVE! YOUR FRIEND RESONANCE.

"Awesome meeting you, Bailey," she said, handing the photo back.

She hated that cheesy picture. The Sony PowerPulse headphones looked totally out of place, hanging around her neck at a jaunty angle. Of course, really, it was hard for anything to look out of place with her mishmash of a costume, which she hated even more: Pink-and-silver wig, silver hoop earrings, hot pink top, pink-and-black plaid schoolgirl skirt, fishnets (artfully torn), combat boots, fingerless black gloves. The pink top had RESONANCE written on it in silver glitter, and the black domino mask had pink rhinestones around the edges.

Pop punk, her mom called it. Tiffany Jackson had designed it herself, and the look had rated very well with the focus groups.

Mary thought she looked like a hooker, but whatever. She couldn't change her costume any more than she could leave the mall tour.

She signed a few more autographs. Then her dad came over, smiled his big fake smile, and announced that Resonance would be taking a short break before starting her show.

"Fix your makeup and get up on stage," he said more quietly into Mary's ear, still smiling.

"I did the promo less than an hour ago," Mary whispered back, also trying to smile. She hated the promo pitch. Hated, hated, hated it, more than anything else about her life. Getting up in front of everyone and talking about headphones like they were the Second Coming was humiliating. She always felt like a clown at a kid's birthday party.

Rob Jackson laughed and patted her shoulder. Too low for anyone else to hear, he told her, "Get your ass on that stage and smile, dammit."

Mary waved to the disappointed little kids and walked to the "private" backstage area.

"Oh, God, your makeup," was the first thing her mom said when she saw Mary. "What did you do? Sit down, sit down. Jesus. Look at you!"

Mary grabbed a bottle of water and sat, but because she did it gracelessly - slumping into the director-style chair and taking a slurp of water at the same time - her mom smacked her shoulder with a hairbrush.

"Ow," Mary said without thinking, and winced because she knew what would come next.

Tiffany struck her with the hairbrush again. "Stop whining. Remember to smile when you get out there, for Christ's sake. Ungrateful little brat."

Mary said nothing; she would only get in more trouble if she argued. She sipped her water while Tiffany reapplied her pop-punk hooker makeup, and wished for an Advil the size of a whale.

If she could only clap, release some of that built-up energy, she would feel so unbelievably good. But there was no clapping in the malls; they didn't really appreciate sonic shockwaves.

Instead, she got up on the stage, waving and smiling, dammit, while her body involuntarily absorbed the buzz of conversations, crying babies, PA announcements, audio from the video panels, hideous muzak drifting from a dozen stores, and her own microphoned voice.

"Hi!" she called out. "My name is Resonance. I'm a member of Teen Heroes America, and I have a great new product that I know you're gonna want to see. It's awesome, and I'm gonna tell you all about it!"

As usual, kids looked interested right away (teen heroes were always a big draw), although adults would perk up when she went into the technical specs. Mary could rattle it off without blinking, but she failed to see what was so "must-have" about the headphones. Okay, the tiny LED lights on the outside of the earpieces, the ones that lit up in patterns according to your music - that was neat. But not worth fifty bucks, in her opinion.

Jerry, the stuntman who played the bad guy in her demo skit, was out with the flu and wouldn't rejoin them until Augusta, Georgia, so her presentations in Millenia had been both shorter and more boring than normal.

In the middle of this spiel, however, Mary heard the faintest sound at the far periphery of her range, way down where noises started to go infrasonic.


She kept talking, but stumbled to a stop when she heard the sound again. Then again, twice in quick succession: Boom, boom-boom.

It was coming from overhead, and she thought it was getting louder.

"Um, I'm sorry, folks," she said uncertainly into the microphone, "but I think - I mean... Something's happening outside?"

Her audience broke into confused mutters. Some parents drew their kids away, and Rob's amicable face hardened into a furious mask. Before anyone could do anything else, though, there was a tremendous thundering impact on the roof two stories above them. The entire mall shook, and the beautiful, arching glass skylight spiderwebbed under the stress. Dust and larger bits of debris rained down, as well as pebbles of glass as the skylight fractured. Something on the roof let out an angry, murderous roar.

There was a moment of perfect, hushed silence, like an indrawn breath.

Then suddenly everyone was screaming, alarms were blaring, and Mary's knees buckled under the sonic assault. She watched Tiffany and Rob Jackson run for the exits with the evacuating crowd, which got extra panicked with the next cracking boom.

Her mom and dad did not look back.

Something huge punched a hole through the glass skylight over the Grand Court and slammed into the floor in a fresh cloud of debris - something huge and human-shaped. The decibel level was astronomical.

That was it for Mary. Her stomach heaved, her vision swam, and she barely ripped off her mic before she puked over the side of the stage. She felt both worse and better immediately.

A glowing white-gold figure streaked through the ragged hole in the glass and pulled up short of the debris cloud. "Everybody get out!" he shouted. "It's Huracán!"

More screaming. The people who hadn't rushed the emergency exits now did so.

Mary staggered to her feet, scared and excited at the same time. The smart thing to do would be to get the heck out, like her parents, but, heart hammering, she decided she had to stay.

Huracán was the real deal - a Class Alpha supervillain who had all kinds of supposedly mystical weather powers in addition to the usual hulking brute strength. He'd once held the entire Atlantic Ocean hostage (and almost won). He was over fifteen feet tall and wore conquistador-style armor, even though he said he was a Mayan god. Nobody had ever dared to correct him.

A serious, scary dude. And he was right in front of her!

This was her big chance. She might never have another as perfect. Whoever that hero was - Sunfast? He looked a little like Sunfast's photo in the THA directory - Mary knew this was her one shining opportunity to show what she could really do. She could help him. She could prove that she wasn't just a wannabe, just some corporate shill playing dressup; she was a real hero!

Or, at the least, a good sidekick. She was okay with starting small.

Huracán had recovered from the impact and got up with a roar. He swung his arms and the cloud of dust dissipated in a sudden, supernatural gust of wind. "You cannot stop me so easily!" he bellowed, heavy and guttural, with a pronounced accent that wasn't quite Spanish.

"Okay," Sunfast said, clearly unfazed by all the shouting and posturing. His glow intensified to blinding white and he fired a crackling, sizzling bolt of energy at Huracán -

- and totally missed.

Huracán closed the gap and caught Sunfast with a hyperfast backhand that knocked him out of the air. He went skidding and shedding bright sparks along the immaculate floor, and came to a stop not too far from where Mary was standing, gawking, on the stage.

She had been watching, stunned at the speed and intensity of the fight. Yeah, she wanted to intervene, but she had no idea how - she was afraid to wade in, mid-battle, hesitant of doing the wrong thing.

However, this she could handle.

Huracán roared (in triumph, this time) and turned his attention to terrorizing the mall security who had foolishly come rushing in.

Mary jumped down from the stage and ran over to the downed hero. At first, kneeling next to him, Mary thought he was unconscious. He sure didn't look good: his white costume was torn and dirty - in some places with splotches of bright red blood - and the golden glow was faded to a dull flicker.

"I can help!" she blurted out. "Are you okay?"

Sunfast groaned and sat up unsteadily. The glow brightened, but not by a whole lot. " 'S fight started in Bermuda," he said, blinking hard several times and shaking his head to clear it. "I've been better."

"Still alive, sunchild? Not for much longer!" Huracán shouted behind them. Mary whirled to see the villain charging straight at them - all fifteen huge feet of him. The thudthudthud of his running rattled her teeth even without her powers.

She felt a little like puking again, but instead - somehow! - her panicked brain got her hands up and clapping.

The shockwave rippled through the air before it slammed into Huracán. She hadn't really aimed, so that was something of a miracle right there. Her shockwave didn't knock him backward, like she hoped; it hit slantwise around his knees.

And tripped him.

Huracán, god of destruction, terror of the seas, The Fury That Rages Eternal, fell flat on his face.

Mary had a split second to gape in openmouthed confusion, and then a hot strong arm grabbed her around the waist and lifted her off of the mall floor. She gave a little squeaky gasp and instinctively clutched at the only thing holding her up in the air, which turned out to be Sunfast.

"Nice shot," he said as he flew them over Huracán's head to the other end of the mall. "You're...?"

"R-resonance," she said, tripping over her own codename like an idiot. But it was hard to talk straight when she was being whisked through the Fern Court about twenty feet above ground level. "And you're Sunfast?"

He couldn't be more than her own age, she thought. It was hard to tell, though, with the glow and everything. He was supposed to have been a hero for years and years already.

Sunfast set her down safely on the second floor (in front of the Abercrombie store, where, she noticed, they were having a sale) just as Huracán got up, apparently unharmed. She was annoyed to see that his stupid conquistador helmet wasn't even dented.

"Yup, that's me." Sunfast flashed a smile that didn't really reach his golden eyes. "Stay out of the way, okay? Don't get hurt."

"I'm not -" she tried to protest, but he was already rocketing right back towards Huracán.

Mary wanted to follow, almost did, and hesitated.

Huracán and Sunfast traded blows and energy blasts for a few fierce moments. Sunfast was beyond exhausted - anyone could see that - but he was hanging in there and landed a few solid hits.

This fight started in Bermuda, he'd said. Obviously, Huracán, being a demigod, could take a lot of punishment. But she was amazed Sunfast could still move at all, and a cold twist of dread snaked through her gut.

There was no way she could ever last that long. Maybe her parents had been right - maybe she should stick to merchandise and smiling.

All of a sudden Huracán waved his hands and shouted something unintelligible, and a furious tidal wave of air exploded outward from his massive body. It caught Sunfast by surprise and flung him across the open space of the Fern Court.

He crashed into the BabyGap like a comet with a death wish, completely destroying the storefront and disappearing from sight.

On the other side of the mall, Mary held her breath and waited, scared for him. Then she remembered the supervillain and how she was now the only good guy around, and yelled in panic, "Get up!"

It came out, embarrassingly, more like a shriek than a heroic yell. It didn't make Sunfast get up. Worse, it made Huracán turn and look up at her.

She scrambled backward from the railing and he laughed. The sound rolled around the empty space, dark and nasty. "Now for you!" he boomed.

Mary looked around, terrified. Her only way down was the escalator by Macy's or the stairs behind Huracán; she didn't think she could make it to either before the supervillain did.

Huracán solved her problem by making a sharp gesture and another incomprehensible shout. A vortex of air and dust swirled around him, lifting him up until he was looming omniously overhead. He landed hard on both feet between her and Macy's, cracking the tiles of the balcony and shaking the whole thing.

Mary was thrown off-balance and half-fell, half-sat with a surprised uhnf! Her hands slapped the floor by her sides accidentally.

Lavender rippled through the tiles and before she could figure out what in the world was going on, the damaged floor collapsed beneath Huracán's weight. He dropped with a startled bellow and a ton of wreckage went down on top of him, including a big part of the Abercrombie store.

She staggered up and ran away from the bad guy, heading for the stairs as fast as she could. Maybe she could get out through the main entrance, or hide in the mall offices - or hide anywhere, she wasn't going to get picky!

There were people in the stores she was tearing past, Mary noticed. Employees and shoppers who'd had the same idea she did about hiding. They looked even more scared than she felt, which was saying something.

So maybe hiding isn't a good plan, she thought wildly. She slid, half-falling, around the corner to the stairs just as Huracán shook off the latest debris and stalked deliberately toward her.

But more slowly. Maybe. Was he getting slower? She couldn't tell. Wishful thinking, probably.

She didn't want to run down the stairs anymore, not with him coming, but she didn't know what else she could do. Mary scrambled and tripped her way down, grabbed at the railing and kept herself from falling, jumped the last step and -

"HA!" Huracán roared. An enormous hand closed around her leg and jerked her back and up in one violent tug.

Mary screamed; she couldn't help it. Huracán laughed and lifted her higher. She dangled upside-down from his rock-hard fist, kicking and flailing as all the blood rushed to her head. Her pink wig fell off - no loss there - and she felt cool air touch the hair plastered to her sweaty head.

"Oho, little earthshaker," Huracán said. He raised her up until they were more or less face-to-face and she got a strong whiff of fetid breath. "Too easy to catch."

Mary was past screaming and had moved into the territory of incoherent panicky gasps. She twisted and tried to pull her foot free, but she couldn't get her hands up high enough to reach. Clearly she needed to spend more time on abdominal crunches.

"I think you wanted to be caught, little girl!" Huracán laughed again, leering.

A sudden, unexpected spike of anger cut through the slimy cold fear wrapped around her brain. Wanted to be caught?! Like she wanted to hawk headphones!

She clapped her hands as best she could right in his big ugly face. Lavender force smushed his face sideways into his conquistador helmet.

It was a little bit like a fly attacking a lion - more annoying than anything else - but the shockwave did what Mary had been desperately hoping it would do.

He let go.

Huracán let go of her leg to swat at his face with a growl. She fell on to the floor in a graceless, bone-rattling thump. Somehow she slapped the ground again and somehow her powers worked again, even though she'd never, ever been able to do anything like that before, and a shockwave radiated out and actually knocked Huracán down.

Not tripped him. Knocked him down for real.

Mary didn't wait. She got up and she ran.

She wasn't running for the exits this time. She was running because she had a wild and crazy and probably suicidal idea, and it went along the lines of:

I've never been able to do that before, but I've never had this much stored energy before. If I knock him down again, I'll give Sunfast time to recover and save the day. But I need more energy. And since I don't have six hours, I need a lot of noise.

Of course, her actual thought process was closer to:

Big sounds, another clap, okay, omigod, big sounds!

Mary knew just where to find some big sounds. She darted into the Apple store and more or less threw herself behind one of the display counters, out of Huracán's sight for the time being.

There were six people huddled farther back in the store, most of them clutching electronics and frantically whispering into cell phones.

"I need an iPod!" Mary hissed at them, breathing hard. Her hands were all sweaty beneath her silly fingerless gloves, so she yanked them off. "My powers - my powers work on sound!"

One of the people, a young woman with thick black nerd-frame glasses and a t-shirt that said GENIUS, whipped off the iPod around her own neck and tossed it to Mary. No hesitation, and pretty good aim; Mary caught the case and its cord without fumbling too badly, sweaty hands and all.

She hung the little mp3 player around her neck and plugged the stupid Sony headphones into the jack with shaking fingers. Then she ran into a problem.

"How does it work?" she asked in a loud whisper, pleading almost with the Genius girl. "To turn up the volume?"

The girl looked at her, taken aback. Clearly she was wondering why a sixteen-year-old didn't know how to work an iPod, and Mary felt her face get red. She didn't know how to use an iPod because she'd never used one before. Never even wanted to. Her mom had an iPod, and her dad had an iPhone, but Mary had neither, and that was fine with her. Pumping music directly to her eardrums wasn't relaxing for her; it was just another unwanted source of pain.

"Use your finger," the Genius girl finally said, also whispering. She gestured to illustrate. "Spin it around the clickwheel. Um - clockwise."

Mary put on the headphones and spun the volume up as far as she could. She was hoping for gangsta rap or heavy metal or even classic rock - something loud and obnoxious that would give her maximum oomph.

Instead, at top volume, with Huracán stomping and roaring closer, she heard the cheery harmony of:

"- Round round get around, I get around/ Yeah get around round round I get around -"

There was a strong possibility that she was going to die listening to the Beach Boys.

But, darn it, she was going to die a hero.

Mary got up and went to the front of the store, took a few gulping breaths, then ran out into the Fern Court. The puking feeling was back, and not because of the loud music. No. She felt sick because she was doing something fundamentally insane.

"Yeah the bad guys know us and they leave us alone," the Beach Boys sang encouragingly.

Huracán spotted her and bellowed, "This ends, little earthshaker!" loud enough for her to hear over the music. He put his head down like a bull and charged straight for her.

Mary changed her mind: She didn't want to be a hero. She wanted to sell overpriced headphones and take crap from her parents, sign autographs and pose for cheesy photos. She wanted to do anything that involved staying way far away from angry fifteen-foot evil demigods with goofy armor.

She gave another little unheroic yelp, and, cringing, clapped in his direction. This time he was expecting it and dodged the shockwave nimbly. Before she could turn and run, Huracán was right there in front of her, looming up huge and furious. Unmissible... if she could just get her hands up to clap -

Impossibly fast, he grabbed her around the waist with one King Kong hand and lifted her off the ground again. Mary screamed and struggled. One arm was pinned against her side by Huracán's grip; she tried frantically to pry herself loose with the other, but it was a wasted effort.

Oh no oh no oh no! she thought.

Huracán laughed at her.

She flinched despite herself.

"Two little heroes in one day," he said, blowing out his horrible breath. "Two! Now I'll bring this place to the ground and take you and the sunchild home. For a proper sacrifice. Your blood will keep me powerful! What do you think of that, pretty little earthshaker?"

Mary was gagging, trying not to cry. She pushed hopelessly at his arm. "P-please - I d-don't -"

" - and we've never missed yet with the girls we meet -"

Huracán laughed, showing off his jagged green-brown teeth. She thought he was laughing at the song; it was so deafeningly loud, he had to be able to hear it. The music was refilling her with energy even faster than she'd hoped, but what good was that when she couldn't clap?

"Don't be afraid," he said, grinning a sly predator's grin. He was playing with her - of course he was, he had to have been playing with her this whole time! He drew her closer to his face, until she could see and not just smell the full rotting foulness of his mouth. "It will be... quick."

Mary's stomach heaved, more definitively now.

She was going to die.

She was going to die, and Sunfast was going to die - if he hadn't already - and probably her parents, and Bailey, and the Genius girl in the Apple store, and maybe everyone else in and around the mall, and Huracán was going to get away with all of it because she couldn't clap her stupid hands and get her haywire powers to work. Because this hulking idiot with his bad teeth and his ridiculous helmet -

His helmet.

His dumb, goofy, culturally inappropriate helmet.

His bell-shaped metal helmet.

And suddenly all of it snapped together in her mind, her acting-up powers and Huracán's helmet, becoming an idea so beautiful and brilliant that she acted on it without a second thought.

Mary swung her free arm around and brought her open palm across the side of the helmet. Clapped it, exactly the same way she'd clapped the floor earlier.

As hard as she could.

It set the helmet to ringing like a cathedral bell - and Huracán's thick skull inside it.

He howled in unfettered agony and let go of her to grab his helmet and stop the ringing. Mary hit the ground in another awkward sprawl and almost lost the headphones, but she got to her knees as fast as she could, clutching the headphones to her head with a white-knuckle grip.

Huracán staggered around, disoriented, dazed, and reeling.

Mary didn't think she could get close enough to do the same thing twice, not unless he was on his back. It'd been working so well accidentally, she decided to try it on purpose, and slapped the floor.

To her (continued) amazement, the tile pitched and buckled and Huracán toppled for the third time. She sprang up and scrambled to clear the smashed-up remains of a video panel, trying to get around to his head before he got up again.

She slipped on the floor, foot sliding sideways on a piece of debris, and barely managed to get in a glancing slap on his helmet as he was rising.

With another pained roar, he bowed up, flailed around, and went back down.

Terrified and desperate for the fight to be over, Mary hit blindly at the metal helmet until she had no more energy left and her hands felt raw. He had stopped roaring and moving and there was thick green blood oozing from his nose and eyes, and if she hadn't seen his massive chest move she would've thought he was dead.

Even with all of that, she still wasn't sure that Huracán wouldn't get back up: How many major supervillains got whipped by mall-tour teenagers?

She stood there, panting and shaking like a leaf, music thudding into her ears, waiting for something awful to happen.

Instead, she saw a gold light flickering weakly on the second floor, reflecting off of the ruined surfaces inside the BabyGap. Then Sunfast flew down in a decidedly woozy arc to land beside her. He took a few unsteady steps before he caught his balance again, then bent down to examine Huracán.

His costume looked worse than ever. White was obviously a very bad color choice for superhero duds.

Of course, she didn't look any better. Gloves and wig gone, makeup ruined, rhinestoned domino mask staying on through faith alone... and her pink top had a huge rip in it, probably from Huracán's ragged fingernails. Belatedly, Mary remembered the headphones blasting music and yanked them off so she could talk; she didn't think Sunfast would be yelling as loudly as Huracán.

"Holy cow," Sunfast said, plainly shocked by what he was seeing. "What did you do?"

Mary blushed for no good reason. "Uh... I just... clapped."

Sunfast looked at her, at the unconscious Huracán, at her again, and started to laugh.

It wasn't mocking; it was genuine and good-natured and infectious. It was the relieved laugh of someone who had been sure their number was up, and was now delighted to learn they were wrong. It was a friendly sound, and a balm to her ears after all the crashing and noise.

Mary gave a little hiccup of giggles, then surrendered to her own nerves and laughed with him.

She was alive! She was alive and it was all okay. She, Mary Jackson, had saved the day! She had been a real hero, just like she'd always wanted. When push came to shove, she'd been brave and done the right thing.

It had been the scariest five minutes of her life.

It was exhilarating.

She couldn't wait to do it again.

"Oh man," Sunfast said after a minute, grinning ear-to-ear. "I wish I could've seen it! Just what Buckethead needs - death by applause. Good job - Resonance, right?"

"Right," she said, blushing again.

"Well, cool. Nice to work with you. Sorry I couldn't be more help. I knew once I got him over land, he'd be easier to beat... Kinda thought I'd be the one beating him, though," he said, still grinning. He stuck out his gloved hand with no evidence of ill feeling.

Oh my God, Mary thought, shaking hands in a deliriously happy daze. It didn't seem real. I'm working with a hero! I'm a hero!

Around them, the wrecked mall was slowly coming to life again. The unlucky employees and shoppers who'd been stranded and hiding poked their heads out cautiously, then emerged murmuring. All four people from the Apple store were standing on the edge of the Fern Court, taking video of the scene.

The Genius girl waved excitedly at Mary and gave her a big thumbs-up.

Mary waved back, smiling so hard it hurt. She didn't care.

"- I'm picking up good vibrations/ She's giving me excitations -" the Beach Boys were singing, tinny and distorted around her neck.

Sunfast looked at the headphones with amusement. Mary fumbled with the iPod but couldn't turn it off.

"Here," he said, and reached over to do it for her, gold gloves flashing as he let the mp3 player fall back against her chest.

She blushed again and hoped he couldn't tell. "Um, thanks. So... what happens now?" she asked, then wanted to kick herself because it was such a newbie question.

Sunfast shrugged. "The LEO All-Star Squad will come and get Buckethead - they've been tracking us through 911 calls since Bermuda, I'm sure. So they'll haul him off to jail. We'll probably want to talk to the media so the mall can collect their insurance. Then I'll go home, and you'll go... do whatever."

It seemed a little anticlimactic, but what did she know?

"Yeah, I should find my - my managers," she said. "They ran outside when everything... started. I was here, um, promoting, um, these." She fingered the headphones around her neck and wished she hadn't opened her mouth.

Sunfast looked at them again. "The new Sony ones? Those are pretty nice, right?"

His golden glow was getting stronger, she noticed, and his voice hit her in pleasant, smoothly rolling waves. The mall people were applauding and cheering, and that sounded good too. Her headache was gone, and she was feeling just fine.

Mary smiled at him.

"Yeah," she said happily. "Let me tell you all about them."