By Charles Matthias
Captain Rhodes's reaction was immediate. He looked at the barely standing figure of Ziegler who clutched the wall as if to let go would be to die, and then at the quite dead figure of the faceless boy who had just moments ago been waving the gun in front of their faces, sending the ship careening in many different directions, wasting their precious fuel reserve. Rhodes picked up the intercom, and called out, "Dr. Philip Xenakis, get to the Bridge immediately." He set the intercom down just as quickly, turning to look at Penny. "Are you all right?"
Penny nodded, still quite shaken. "Why did he do that?" she asked in a whisper, her lips trembling.
Rhodes grimaced, "I don't know." He turned to look at Ziegler who was panting heavily. He lowered his gun arm, and the gun slipped from his hands, and fell to the floor with a slight clatter. Rhodes moved over to one of his sides, and gripped him beneath the shoulder, taking the weight off of his bloodied knees. Penny moved over to the large man's other side, but was barely able to hold her side up. Rhodes and Penny then laid the bleeding man on the ground, being careful to set his legs straight. As Rhodes tried to move one, a gush of blood flowed from it, and Ziegler moaned, though he did not bother to interfere.
"Are you all right?" Penny asked him, her hands moving over his body as if to search for a loose wire or nut on a engine panel.
Ziegler grimaced, "I'll survive, but my days of marathon running are over." He tried to smile weakly at his own humor, but the pain in both of his legs quickly ended that.
Rhodes nodded, "I've sent for Dr. Xenakis. He'll make sure that you'll be up on your feet in no time." Rhodes smiled confidentally, knowing that it was probably true, but sick to his stomach that Xenakis's gifts would have to be used. Rhodes stoodup, and looked over at the smashed navigation console, and beyond at the dead boy. He walked over to the boy and just stared at what was left of him. This was an abomination, no child should have to die like this. Yet what possessed him to take control of the ship and send them away from Earth, possibly forever? Rhodes set his heart firmly, this child was crazy, and he would have killed them all. It was better that one should die for the sake of the rest, yet, why did this have to happen at all?
Rhodes was determined to find out.
Rhodes looked at Penny, who was still kneeling over Ziegler. "Penny, see if you can fix the navigation console. If you can't, find an alternate way to determine our orbit. I want to know how long we have till this deteriorates, or if it ever will."
Penny nodded grimly. "I don't know how much I can do with it, I have never had to repair anything that has been deliberately shot, but I'll see what I can do."
Rhodes walked back to the injured security guard and was about to say something when another guard who looked to be of Itallian descent came running up the stairs and towards the bridge. He had his gun out, but he slowed down to a moderate pace upon seeing Rhodes standing calmly before the entranceway. He approached, nodded to the captain, and looked down at his injured friend. "Alan, are you all right?"
"Hey John." Ziegler smiled weakly. "I'll live."
John Corigliano nodded, and then looked up at Rhodes. "Did you call Dr. Xenakis?"
"That was the first thing I did. He should be here shortly. This is a big spaceship after all."
"How did this happen?" Corigliano asked.
Rhodes pointed over his shoulder at the dead kid. "Apparently psycho kid back there managed to get his hands on a gun, and blew both of Alan's knees out. He then came in here and started using the navigation controls to send us who know's where."
Corigliano moved past Rhodes, taking in the scene in one glance, and thne moving over to the crumpled form of the kid. He pulled a kercheif from his pocket, and then used it to pick up the gun that was lying on the ground. He examined it momentarily, then placed it back on the ground a very worried expression on his face. "That was Mr. Tembo's personal sidearm."
Rhodes stared at him, not quite grasping the enormity of the situation. "Why would he have Tembo's gun?"
Penny, who was picking through the remains of the navigation console, looked up at Rhodes, "Where is Mr. Tembo?"
Rhodes shrugged. "He should be in the security office." He then snapped his fingers as another thought struck him. "No, wait a moment. I remember him mentioning to me about ten minutes ago that he was going down to check something out in engineering that had struck him as odd."
Corigliano nodded, "Well then he should be up here shortly." Corigliano then looked at the gun again, "Unless, something has happened to him too."
"Are you saying that this kid has done something to Tembo?" Rhodes seemed shocked at the suggestion.
"I don't know what I am saying," Corigliano gesticulated nervously. "This whole situation is majorly screwed that's all I know."
Penny was idly tossing pieces of the navigation console out from the wreckage, and gazing at the fried internals. She looked back at Rhodes and smiles weakly, "Well, it can't be fixed, since almost everything here is basically scrap. What I can do is operate the ship out of the engineering room. It will be direct interface, but it can be done. Otherwise, I'll be forced to rebuild this entire console."
"Can you do it?" Rhodes asked her pensively, as he began to pace back and forth.
"If you give me a week or so." Penny replied candidly.
Rhodes sighed. "I don't know if we have a week. I need to speak with every officer and the security people immediately. Corigliano, go check to see if Tembo is in the security room. If you see any of the others, tell them that I need to speak with them. Tell them to head to the conference room. I'll be there shortly myself."
Corigliano walked over to the door, looking down at the shivering form of his comrade, "What about the scientists and shapeshifters?"
"Good point," Rhodes conceded. "Lock them in their rooms for the time being. Nobody is going anywhere until we figure out what is going on."
Corigliano nodded, and then walked bakc down the stairs and out of sight. Almost immediately after him came Dr. Xenakis who was carryign a portable medical kit with him. He looked a little flustered and our of sorts when he cam eup, one side of his coat slipping down. hE quickly pulled it back up, and then sat down beside the wounded guard. "Sorry I'm a little late. I just couldn't stop reading."
"Reading?" Rhodes queried, not too pleased with the doctors lacadaisical style.
"Fulton Swiley's Book. You know 'Cycles of the Universe: Science Rediscovering Myth'. Very good and insightful. Anyway, what seems to be the problem?" He directed his question more at Ziegler than at Rhodes.
"My knees." Ziegler moaned.
Xenakis examined them, taking a pair of scissors from his medical kit and cutting open the pants. He looked at the bloodied wounds, and the shards of broken bone that were collecting in the wound. He took a bit of gauze strip, and placed it over the wounds. "That won't do any good, but I can't do anything with this here, we'll have to get him down to the infirmiry."
"There is another one over here." Rhodes moved over to the kid. "Ziegler shot him in the back of the head."
Xenakis took a brief look at the kid and then shook his head. "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do about him. He's dead."
Rhodes snarled, "I know he's dead. I mean take a look at him, determine if he had any medical conditions that we didn't know about. Anything, this kid just sent us who knows how far off course, and I want to know why. Also, I want him off my bridge," Rhodes slapped his paunch for emphasis.
Xenakis nodded. "I'll need some help though, I'll go and get the stretchers immediately." Xenakis turned and started to run off, but he stopepd halfway to the stairs, turned around, smiled sheepishly as he reached down to pick up his medical kit, "Forgot this," and then he was off again, leaving them alone again.
Rhodes shook his head in dismay, and then looked back down at Ziegler, "Are you sure you're all right?"
Ziegler, grunting with each movement, rose to his elbows, and looked down at his shattered knees. "This kid knew how to shoot. He really did a number on me." It appeared that he had not heard Rhodes question.
"Are you sure that you will be all right?" Rhodes reiterated.
"Oh, yes, I'll be fine. It's a good thing I'm on a space ship. I won't have far to go to do anything." Ziegler laughed to himself, taking his injury in stride.
Rhodes looked over to Penny who, in her fiddling with the navigation console was doing her best to ignore the body of the kid. He could see that her face was wet with tears. She had doen a good job of holding it back so far, but apparently it had done her no good at all. Rhodes felt a lump form in his throat, and he tried his best to swallow it, all to no avail. He took a deep breath, and then moved over to her side. He laid one hand on her shoulder, "It's all right, Lucy."
She turned and looked at him, her eyes weak, her face trembling. She threw herself into his arms, and he held her tightly, sighing himself. "Why?" was all she could say between sobs.
Rhodes could not bring himself to say anything to her. He just held her closely, patting her comfortingly on the back, trying to find it in himself to understand why she would cry. He could think of nothing, but even though he did not want to, he forced himself to say something at least. "I'm sorry." was all he could muster even then. He knew it would not be enough, but were there ever enough words that could be said to aleve the heartbreak of death?
Dutton had just finished putting the recalcitrant youth in the brig when the alarm had gone off. It was a silent alarm, and only the officers and security personnel would know that it had even gone off, as it was relayed by their watches which flashed intermittently in the event of an alarm. He stared once at the hissing youth, somehow he had become quite like the cat again, and then turned away from him. The brig was rather rudimentary, simple reinforced bars spaced a few inches apart, with a door made from the same material. There were four separate chambers, with room enough for two people per chamber. Dutton though that it was just the right size considering who was coming along with them on this trip.
However, there was an emergency present. He checked the computer terminal in the brig and saw that it had been activated from the bridge. He closed up the terminal, and then started out at a dead run towards the bridge. He would have made it in record time to if something in passing hadn't caught his attention. In his path was the security office, the door of which was open. It was never supposed to be open. Dutton stopped to take a look inside. Normaly, Tembo would be sitting in the larger of the two chairs chewing down on his tobacco, spitting into his cup occasionally as he watched the multitude of terminals on the side of one wall. Presently, the room was empty, and every single one of the terminal screens was smashed in.
Dutton pulled out his communicator and called up Tembo. "Tembo, this is Dutton, where are you? Somebody's smashed the entire security system in here." He heard a faint background of static.
Dutton waited a few seconds for a reply, but none came. He called again, "Tembo, this Dutton, are you out there? The entire security office has been destroyed." Again, only the static. Dutton looked about further, noticing that the door to the recording station was slightly ajar. He took a brief glance at the security access panel, it was still operational. It worked on a card basis only, and there were only two people who had such cards, Tembo and Captain Rhodes. Dutton had been in there before, but only when Tembo had let him in to show him something funnny that people had done on camera without realizing it. Dutton fondly remembered one occassion when they had watched a scientist trying to gather up some liquid that he had spilled in a gravity repressed environment, and only managing to spread it about further.
Dutton called into the communicator again, "Tembo are you there?" He wondered whether he hadn't somehow managed to break his communicator, as the static had only gotten more intense. He pushed open the door to recording room, and saw that it was in a similar condition, with broken recording parts strewn about the room. Dutton looked to all of them, noting that not a single one remained in working condition. Whoever had done this had completely crippled their security system, for without the tape recorders or the video surveillance there was simply no way that six people could adequately ensure that order was maintained on board. However, the actual tapes might still be usable. They would probably be able to use that to figure out who had done this, as well as any other emergency on board.
That was when Dutton noticed the rectangular object sitting proudly in the center of the room. It had a switch on one side, and a leather handled at the top. It looked to be pure metal to his eyes. He reached down to pick it up, but found it firmly attached to the ground. It was then that he noticed several little specs of material were firmly attached to it. He then looked at each of the tables. The debris from the smahsed recorders had collected along the upraised rim of the tables, the overhang preventing them from falling off. He picked up a handful, and let it drift out of his fingers. It quickly sailed over towards the rectangular object, settling in place on it's surface.
"A magnet," he surmised. He reached down, and quickly flipped the sole switch on it's surface. Immediately all the particles that had attached themsleves to its surface fell away. Dutton grimaced, and then picked up his communicator again. No static, obviously the magnet had been interfering with his communications. He called into it, "Tembo, this is Dutton, you better get up to the security room, it's been completely trashed."
He waited to see if he would get a reply, but none was forth coming. He stepped out of the recording room, any hope of any evidence for the perpetrator of this crime completely gone now, and looked once more over the debris that was the main security office. This was going to take forever to clean up, and the parts that they would need were just not available. He gritted his teeth in frustration, this should not happen, only security officers had access to this place. He began to sift through the wreckage, pushing aside broken glass, being careful not to cut himself, trying to see if perhaps Tembo had accidentally left his communicator behind.
He found something else though. It was a small note written by Tembo. Dutton quickly glanced over it, and thne headed back out the door, now intent on going to the engineering rooms. The others could take care of whatever was happening at the bridge. Certainly he would be repremanded for his actions, but if Tembo was in trouble, than he would have ot do something about it.
It took him only a few moments to reach the engineering room, and what he saw made him nearly boil with rage. Tembo was there all right; what was left of him at any rate. His face had been slashed to ribbons, and his chest had been ripped open by something very sharp. His gun was missing, as well as his collection of keycards. His blood had drained from the body, making a very slick pool of crimson in the dim light. Dutton leaned over, experimentally touching the body. It was still warm, so Tembo must have been killed just recently. Dutton restrained the bellow of rage that he felt about to come from him. This, his friend, had been mercillously slaughtered like a pig. He stared at the eviscreated form, trying to gauge what sort of weapon could have done it, and who could possibly possess such a weapon. The marks looked to be symetrical, which seemed odd, but it could just easily have been a set of knives. It looked like that at any rate. Whoever did it was very efficient, for there were only the two marks, on the face and the chest.
Dutton turned at the sound of the running footsteps. John Corigliano came bounding down the stairs, and stopped when he saw Dutton standing in the doorway. Corigliano took only a brief look at the anger in Dutton's face and thne looked past him to see the freely flowing form of Tembo. Corigliano moved closer, his whole body overcome with passion and fierce hatred. His eyes and hands began to simmer as he stared at the completely massacred body. "Who did this?" he raged between clenched teeth.
"I don't know. I bet that whoever did it trashed the securty office to hide his or her tracks." Dutton grimaced angrily.
"The security office has been trashed?" Corigliano asked.
"Yes, I was just up there, every screen destroyed, the recorders smashed, and all the tapes wiped clean by a super magnet. They must have taken Tembo's card to do it."
Corigliano suddenly went rigid. "I think I know who did it."
"Who?" Dutton asked intently.
"One of those Shapeshifter freaks. One of them was up in the bridge, he had Tembo's gun. He blew the hell out of the navigation console after sending us off course. Ziegler took him out, but the kid managed to blow both of Alan's kneecaps off first." Corigliano reported, his hands emphasizing everything.
Dutton looked at him, his eyes like steel. "Is the kid dead?"
"Quite dead." John began hitting his palm with his fist.
"Good." Dutton said sullenly. He looked once more at the form of his dead comrade, "I'll go tell Captain Rhodes, you stay here by the body, make sure nobody comes to screw with it.
Corigliano nodded, still steaming from what he could see. Dutton firgured that he would not be able to sit still for even a moment. Dutton didn't blame him either. Whoever had done this, if they were still alive, was going to pay dearly.
Dr. Richard Bowman was busy calibrating a few instruments, testing the Tesla valus of the various magnets that he intended to use in his experiment, and in general making himself very productive. He grumbled to himself, still ruminating on the possibility that those freaks would try to interfere with his work. It was an unpleasant reality that he had to face, kids were kids, and they were going to stick their noses into places that they didn't belong. That did not mean that he had to like it. He wished that he could have gotten assigned to another flight, but they had to give him one that would coincide with the full moon for two whole months. He was already sick of the moon, even though he had yet to see it.
As if it was prearranged, somebody knocked on his door. He heard the scuffling of feet, and then nothing. It must have been those kids, somebody was playing a prank on him. Still, it might be somebody important, so he walked over to the door, and opened it up. He stared into the empty air, his lips curling into a snarl. It hadn't been one day yet and they were already playing practical jokes. He was about to slam his door shut, when he saw something that caught his eye. It was a small yellow card lying gingerly on the floor. He reached down to pcik up. It looked like an ID card, though there was no means of identification on it. He turned it over in his hands a few times, no thoroughly engrossed in this odd sort of gift. Perhaps the person had dropped it by accident while running? Bowman smiled at the thought of such irony. He had the incriminating evidence right here in his hand, it was just a matter of figurin t who owned the thing. A few days in the brig out to calm their mischevious spirit.
Dutton ran into the bridge to find that Penny was slumped over in a chair, her head in her arms, while Rhodes, who looked a bit exasperated was talking into the communicator. "Malcolm, I need yo uon the bridge right now. Go wake Kilpatrick up too, he's sleeping through my call again." The other two forms on the bridge were of Ziegler who was staring at his knees as he sat by the entranceway, and of a kid who was quite obviously very dead.
"I need to tell you something, Captain Rhodes." Dutton interjected.
Rhodes turned to look at him, already slightly agitated. "What is it now?"
Dutton cleared his throat to delay the inevitable, but it did him no good. "Somebody has killed Mr. Tembo."
"What? Where?" Rhodes asked. "And who did it?" Ziegler just stared in shock at them both, his hands clenching and unclenching in anger. Penny looked even more distraught, but continued to try and keep herself calm.
"I don't know, but it might be that kid over there. John told me that he had Tembo's gun. We found Tembo slahsed open down in Engineering. His body is still warm so he must have died only recently." Dutton told him, much to his distaste. "Another thing, the entire security office has been smashed."
"Tembo is dead?" Rhodes asked again. Then his face got even more livid. "Somebody smashed the security office?"
Dutton nodded in resignation. He then said in a calm voice, "We found that Tembo's body was missing his gun and his passcard. This kid should have it on him somewhere, unless he dumped it, but I can't imagine why he'd do that if he was crazy enough to try this," Dutton gestured weakly at the wreckage about the bridge.
Rhodes began to swear profusely. "How did they manage to kill Tembo? I've never seen the man take a scratch, and now you tell me that he is dead?"
"Damn!" Rhodes stomped up and down, his paunch jiggling slightly at his excitement. He began to mutter some choice obsenities to himself.
Dutton looked down at Ziegler who was nearly frothing at the mouth from both rage and the pain. Dutton kneeled down beside him, glancing at the wound. It was not bleeding so badly anymore, but it had stained his pants and was making the floor quite slick. Dutton put one hand on Ziegler's shoulders, "Think of it this way, Alan. You might have just killed Tembo's murderer."
Ziegler stopped his near growling and sighed. "Yeah, I guess your right, Max." He then looked back out the entranceway. "I wonder when Dr. Xenakis is going to get back. He's bringing a stretcher to carry me back to the infirmiry." Ziegler got a sudden speculative look on his face. "Hey, do you think you could fetch my Playboy, all of his reading material is really boring."
"You actually read Playboy?" Dutton asked him with a mischevious grin on his face. It was so fake, and so was Ziegler's calm. Both were hiding the passionate anger that they felt coursing through their blood, filling them with the desire to find whoever had done this, and to do very mean things to him or her, once they found him or her.
Zeigler grinned, "I only like it for the articles, you know that."
Dutton nodded, and then went back into the hallway to retrieve his friend's magazine. It had fallen onto the back of his upturned chair. Dutton reached down, and gracefully swept it off the floor. Fortunately, it had not fallen in the small blood stains that had collected on the floor. He casually glanced at the centerfold, admiring her lusty shape for a moment, thne he folded it back up, and came back into the bridge. Rhodes was still fuming, Penny still on the edge of tears, though it appeared she had already succumed once, and Ziegler wincing every few seconds. The dead kid lay there, unmoving, his blank face staring at Dutton accusingly. Dutton shrugged it off, he wasn't responsible for the kid's death, only the kid was.
Dutton handed Ziegler his Playboy, "There you go. You're lucky it didn't fall in your blood."
Ziegler nodded, taking a short flip through it before setting it in his lap. "I'll say." Alan thne turned to look into Dutton's face, his own one of concern and mild interest. "How did Tembo die?"
Dutton grimaced, "Somebody had sliced open his chest, as well as scarred his face, though tht was only superficial. His was ripped open like an animal. It was sick and disturbed. If the person who did that is still alive, then they won't be for very much longer. I'll see to that."
"Finally!" Rhodes exasperated. Coming up the stairs, and clumsily carrying two stretchers, one under each arm, was Dr. Xenakis. He looked like he was exhausted from the physical exertion of having to run from the infirmiry to the bridge and back so many times. He laid the one next to Ziegler, and unfolded it. He looked over at the wounds on Alan's knees, "It's looking good. I think I can take care of that in no time."
Ziegler grimaced, "Good. I don't want to spend any longer than I have to in that place."
Xenakis nodded once, and then moved over to Ziegler's legs, "Mr. Dutton, if you be so kind as to help Mr. Ziegler lie down on the stretcher, and then I'll need your help in carrying him down. I guess I'll have to come back for the kid."
"Not necessary. I woke up McGee and Gorecki as well. They should be here shortly to carry the kid." Rhodes remarked, still pacing in frustration. "Where the Hell is Danielpour, he should have been here by now with Kilpatrick?"
"I think I saw Kilpatrick walking towards the greenhouse as I was running back to the infirmiry." Xenakis points out, his hands gripping Ziegler's legs firmly.
"What would he be up to there?" Rhodes wondered. "Especially without his communicator." Rhodes added to himself.
Xenakis shrugged, "He didn't say, he looked very preoccupied." Xenakis then looked directly into Dutton's eyes. Dutton had meanwhile gotten a firm grip about alan's shoulders, with his forearms crossed over in front of his chest. Xenakis mad esure that he had Dutton's attention and then said, "Okay, now lift him gently."
The two of them carefully deposited the now groaning Alan Ziegler upon the stretcher. Alan still clutched his Playboy firmly in hand, despite the sudden gushing of blood at the pressure applied to his knees. He lay back on the stretcher looking quite resigned to his fate. Xenakis kneeled and grabbed one end of the stretcher, and Dutton the other. "Now lift!" Xenakis told him, and the two liften in unison. They hoisted Ziegler aloft, and started towards the infirmiry. "I think we'll want to take the elevator, he might fall off if we try going down the stairs."
Dutton just shook his head, having already come to that conclusion himself. Sometimes Philip had no common sense . He saw both McGee and Gorecki coming up the stairs then, both walking at a brisk pace. Dutton called back over his shoulder, "Take the other body down to the infirmiry."
"Body?" Gorecki asked, her mezzo-soprano voice dubious.
"You'll see it." Dutton remarked grimly, and then continued his walk towards the elevator. On the first day up, barely three hours after launch, and now Tembo was dead, Ziegler injured, and one kid seeming to be at the center of it all. Dutton knew things could only get worse.
Danielpour finally reached the bridge, his own mind racing, numbers completely forgotten. The first thing he noticed when he arrived was that Rhodes was stomping about like some mad dinosaur who was searching for a meal. Penny was looking over the navigation console, correct that, what was left of the navigation console. There were blood stains on the front screen, as well as at the foot of the door, and along the hallway to the door. He looked at Rhodes in shock, "What happened?"
"A bloody war happened!" Rhodes blurted out. "One of those stupid Shapeshifter kooks got up here, was waving a gun around, Tembo's gun no less; oh, Mr. Tembo has just recently left us, Dutton found his body down in engineering. Well, this kid starts screwing around with the navigation computer, and sends us well off our preplanned orbit. Penny's trying to figure out what our orbit is now." He then turned to look at Penny, "How much longer do you think it will take?"
Penny looked startled, "I... I guess I should go down to engineering and see what the computers down there have to say."
"Not yet Lucy." Rhodes cautioned her. "I'm going to wait till I get word that they've had JUDE clean the place up."
Malcolm glanced at Rhodes in a little surprise, "Why are you having them use JUDE down there first? Isn't the bridge more important, Captain?"
"JUDE is fast, I'm not worried about it." Rhodes shrugged. "Where is Kilpatrick by the way?"
"He wasn't in his room." Danielpour replied. "I knocked several times, and when he didn't answer, I just walked in. His sheets were upturned, and his bed a mess. I looked about, but he wasn't there. He did leave his communicator there though."
"That's what I thought. Philip says he saw him heading for the greenhouse." Rhodes nodded.
"Do you want me to go get him, Captain?" Danielpour offered.
"No, I want you to contact homebase, tell them what has happened, and that we'd like every little scrap of information we can get on those Shapeshifters. I want to know how that kid knew how to operate a navigation console." Rhodes began to look distant, as if considering something important. Danielpour noticed that he tended to do that for time to time, and it was usually followed by rubbing his tummy. However, this time, Rhodes kept his hands at his sides.
"Captain, Perhaps he just punched in random numbers?" Danielpour suggested.
"Hardly, he looked like he knew what he was doing." Rhodes surmised. Rhodes then turned to Penny and motioned for her to come to him. "I don't think this atmosphere is suiting you well at all, Lucy. Come down to the conference room with me for the moment, perhaps it will brighten your spirits." Lucille Penny walked over to Rhodes in a slump, but she did not say a word.
Danielpour looked over at his untouched communications terminal, "Do you want me to join you in the conference room when I am finsihed, Captain?"
"Yes. The other officers and security persoonnel will be there. Right now I have them taking care fo a few minor errands, but we will meet shortly. Don't take to long, I don't know how long this orbit we are in is stable. See if they know, and if they have any recommendations for us."
Rhodes looked like he really wanted to leave, so Danielpour did not raise any further objections. "I'm on it, Captain."
"Good. Perhaps we can solve this little mystery, and lock up the perpetrators without difficulty."
"Yes, Captain." Danielpour agreed.
Part III continued!
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