She felt wonderful, really felt wonderful. She could feel how firm her skin was; she ran her hands lightly across her shoulders and down her sides, the downy hair moving under her fingers. She smelled the apples and lilac of herself, as her hands stroked up and down the dip and swell from rib cage to hip, and she explored the place where her spine rose from her —
Lynda's eyes flew open, her last impression one of Oh, the dark smell beneath the apples and lilac —
No embarrassment. Just a momentary sense of disorientation, then silent warmth, affection edged with laugher, and the bright, quick glint of lust, genial, friendly, and well controlled.
She blushed. She could feel the prickly flare of it up her neck and into her face. The pig-tailed shade of who she had been fluttered and worried somewhere in her head, but she banished that ghost and smiled as it fled. She liked the heat in her face.
Jack rolled over, head only now leaving her lap, and renegotiated himself to sit beside her, groaning a bit. She'd fallen asleep sitting up, she realized. As she automatically made room for him on the narrow bed, she winced in pain. The ribs she’d mistreated so cruelly yesterday were finally reporting in, now that the adrenaline of battle was completely flushed from her system. She was fairly sure none of them were broken, but suspected she’d be uncomfortable for some time.
Before she could speak, Jack did; softly, but aloud. "Thank you."
She couldn't think of anything to say to that, so she nodded at him.
"I dreamed," Jack continued softly, turning to look at her directly. "I don't do that often. Now you've been there, I imagine you know why." He tried his quirky grin, but it flattened under her gaze.
She hazarded a question. "Was that your home?"
Even softer than before: "No. Yes."
She saw the flames again, the planes in the night sky, remembered the fear of some unnamed war all around her. Oh, Jack, she thought, did the Daleks destroy your planet, too?
He couldn't have heard her thought, but he shook his head.
"Not the city," he said. "That was London, a long — a very long — time ago. Though I suppose you could say I loved it for my own reasons. My home? " He smiled painfully, and turned his head to inspect the wall beside the bed.
(When they'd been in the holding cell, she could barely stand to look at either of them. The Doctor had seemed close to killing something, or close to dying, and both possibilities had terrified her. She'd felt waves of tension radiating from the Captain, too; couldn't the Doctor feel it, she'd wondered, feel the younger man waiting for some order from his commander? She'd been paralyzed, fearing what would happen, fearing they'd leave her there. Then had come the muttered directive from the Doctor and somehow he and Jack were up and moving, Jack with military precision, the Doctor with brutal grace as he reached for a guard and simply threw the man aside. Jack had let him take the lead at that point, his own blue eyes alert for the slightest signal from the winter ice of the other man's, and Lynda had unexpectedly remembered the way her father looked at her mother when he thought no one noticed. The Doctor and the Captain had moved in tandem, and she'd followed in their wake, gasping as the force of their rage and intent took her breath, her fear, her volition from her.)
She spoke before she could think. "Your home was with the Doctor, wasn't it? With Rose and the Doctor."
Silence. Then: "You saw Her?"
She heard the sidestep in that, but she also heard the capitalization. "Who?"
"You saw the TARDIS." He closed his eyes.
The TARDIS? Oh — the blue box, she thought, reconsidering the dream. It must have been the Doctor's strange little closet ship, not a treasure box as she had first thought. No, she amended silently, that was still how he saw it ... her. Saw Her. Like their unseen voice, she realized, something special; someone special. Some One, even without a body, some Woman. The box whirled in her inner vision.
"Yeah, that's Her," Jack said, and his smile was briefly happy. ("She's beautiful, isn't She?")
He abruptly looked uncomfortable. "Uhm. Look, I'm sorry. I don't mean to keep slipping inside your head. Maybe it was last night's little exercise, but it's...well...it seems to be easy this morning."
Now he was embarrassed, she thought with surprised amusement. Not a single stammer about what he'd been thinking when she caught him — what? Groping her in her own dream (but it wasn't groping, it was lovely ) — but chagrin over this?
"It's not a problem, really," she said. It felt right to her. Quite proper, in fact.
"Just being up there without your say-so," he said, tapping her temple lightly with an index finger. "It's not considered very polite among telepaths."
"Is that what we are now?" Lynda tilted her head to get a better look at him, looking, unbeknownst to herself, like a bird; alert and the tiniest bit dangerous.
("I really don't mind, Jack,") she continued silently. ("After all, I don't think you can go anywhere in my head that I don't want you to. I mean, you're just hearing me talk, isn't that right?")
He nodded and spoke aloud. "Nothing below the absolute conscious when we're awake. It's baby stuff, really."
"But last night, when we were sleeping, something else happened," she said, shifting a bit on the bed to force him to look straight at her. "I saw — I felt — things from you that I don't think you'd have told me any other way. And it was so close...I thought it was my dream at first. If that happens again, don't you think I should know what's going on?"
Jack looked at the floor, and rubbed one hand across his mouth before taking a deep breath. Lynda felt him withdraw, clamp down and close the conduit between them.
"Lynda, when I thanked you, I meant it. I — I..." he trailed off. After a moment he tried again. "Last night? I was drowning, and you saved me. And, yes, it may happen again, and yes, you deserve to know more.
"But sweetheart, I can't tell you more than that. I can't explain. I won't."
She hunched a bit as he spoke, but pasted a smile on for him. Idiot, she thought to herself, idiot, idiot. What makes you think he wants to tell you anything? "I understand. (Your heart would break.) It's none of my business. I shouldn't be so pushy."
Impulsively, she leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek before standing up, gingerly. "I don't know about you, or if it's anything like real morning, but I'm ravenous. Let's get some breakfast."
Jack stared at her, flummoxed by either the kiss or her conversational u-turn. She couldn't help chuckling. "Really, Jack. I mean it. I'm hungry. I think I could eat a dozen eggs and as much bacon as you'd care to feed me." She realized her dressing gown was loose and tied the sash. "And I suppose I should get dressed."
Taking his cue from her, Jack pushed himself carefully off the bed. "Right. We have miles to go before we get to sleep again."
As she walked out of the bedroom, he added, "Are we OK?"
When she turned around, he was smiling, casual, but his eyes were watchful.
She nodded slowly and decided she meant it. "We're OK."
Without his hat and uniform jacket, Hsieh looked younger, and marginally smaller. With a cup of coffee clutched in his large hands, he also looked like any half-awake salary man trying to get ready for the working week.
"You want any more toast?" Ruthie asked over her shoulder, buttering the last of three slices for herself.
"No thanks," he said, gazing into his cup. "But if there's anymore coffee—"
Lynda walked into the kitchen and grabbed the carafe, depositing it in front of Hsieh."There you go. Save some for me and Jack."
"I'll take tea, thanks," the man in question said, following her in.
"We don't have any," Lynda told him. "Sorry."
"No tea? That's mad," Govinda said from the hall. She and Davitch walked into the kitchen together, arms entwined, the two of them dressed incongruously alike in someone else's shirts and pants. Govinda was limping; the other woman’s injured foot had probably been as reproving as her own ribs, Lynda thought.
"We lost tea privileges in one of the challenges," she explained. "We were supposed to get it back, but all this happened. You got the last of it at dinner last night, some that Strood had hidden under his bed."
"Christ," Govinda said. "Tea and a fag's my normal breakfast. Oh well, nothing for it. Coffee then. God, I hurt."
Lynda poured out the last of the carafe into a mug and handed it to the other woman, then looked in the freezer for more beans. She edged her way around to Ruthie en route to the coffee grinder. "How did you sleep last night?"
"Alright, I guess. I’ve got a world of aches and pains, but I'm no different than anybody else ‘round here, I suppose. We worked hard yesterday," the little security guard said. Her hair was out of its regulation bun, and she had to brush it away from her face as she chewed carefully on a slice of the toast. "And Elliott let me have the big bed so I could sleep easy with my burn."
"Elliott?" Only Jack could have gotten away with the particular incredulity with which he imbued the name, without having risked a decidedly negative reaction from the name's bearer, who had apparently finished a second dose of coffee and was once more peering forlornly into the bottom of his cup.
“My mother’s family’s name,” he said, without looking up.”What, you didn’t think I was born ‘Hsieh, E., SecGen200?”
Ruthie snorted behind him, and Govinda snickered. Jack smiled.
“Fair point. But for the sake of general gravitas, I think your adoring public had best know you only as the Commander.” Jack's grin widened. "Or perhaps the Major. That's how I introduced you to our friend Mayhew. Which suits you better?" Now it was Hsieh’s turn to snort.
Lynda perched on the kitchen counter, wondering if she could make enough pancakes for everyone. Then Davitch, who’d become very still as he watched Jack, spoke.
“It’s been over 12 hours, Jack, and I still don’t know how Meg died. No one’s seen fit to tell me.”
Ruthie’s toast stopped, motionless, half-way to her mouth. Hsieh raised his eyes from his coffee to stare at the programmer. Govinda flinched as if she’d been slapped, and when the motion shrugged Davitch's arm off her shoulder, he didn’t replace it.
“I mean, I’m assuming she’s dead, but you wouldn’t know it from you lot.”
Jack was as blank as a wall, but Lynda saw his body tense and make those adjustments that transformed him into the Captain.
“Why— ” Jack began, but he didn’t get any further.
“Why...why...didn’t you ask me?” Govinda’s attempt at truculence faded into stammering misery almost immediately under the gaze of her new lover.
“I thought you might have told me voluntarily,” he said, hard and grim. “I thought one of you might have told me.”
Davitch had seemed soft around the edges when she first met him, Lynda thought, Not anymore. She thought he might be as hard as vacuum for the rest of his life. Death had burned the dross off him, just as it had her, she thought with dismay. She guessed at the anger in him, knew it because she knew her own.
Ruthie put her toast down on the counter and turned around to face Davitch. She matched him grim for grim, and anger for anger.
“Pavel, you weren’t with us, and you don’t know what we went through. If I could forget it, I would.”
"Is it any worse than anything any of us have seen up here?" Davitch retorted. "We were all dead, woman. And we all remember being killed, dying. If we've handled that - and I suppose just staying sane means we have - then there's no reason not to tell me about one more death."
Ruthie seemed about to say something, then stopped. She absent-mindedly tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Then she looked at Jack, with an expression that said as plainly as it could, tell him or lose my support.
Jack understood. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Meg fell from a workman’s lift into an abandoned station shaft that we were trying to get through. She was afraid of heights, so Lynda offered to go down the lift with her. They were in a harness together, and Meg missed a step. The two of them fell. The harness saved Lynda, but Meg slipped out of it. We almost lost Lynda, too." He stopped, and Lynda knew he wanted to say something more.
There was a war on seemed so inadequate a summation. We couldn’t stand to think about it was much more honest.
“We had a job to do, and when the job was over none of us could bear to think about it,” Jack said, with a glance toward her and the briefest of nods. “And we should have told you, first thing, but we were all cowards. That what you wanted to hear?”
Davitch was the one who flinched this time. Then, after an initial hesitation, he moved to Govinda and put his arm around her, rubbing her shoulders. "You're damned right you should have told me. And yes, that’s exactly what you needed to tell me" he said softly. "Don't keep me out of the loop like that again." A bit, a tiny bit, of his gentle manner returned.
"Sorry," Govinda started, only to be met with Davitch's finger on her lips.
"I won't do it again," Jack said. Lynda couldn't decide whether that was an apology.
"Thanks." Davitch apparently chose to believe it was.
For another awkward moment, everyone stood, looking at each other. Then Hsieh, sounding as plaintive as a toddler deprived of sweeties, said, "Isn't anyone going to make another pot?"
"I will," Lynda said, jumping at the chance to do something other than contemplate unpleasant subjects. "And does anyone want me to make some pancakes?"
"Ooo. Ta, muchly," Govinda said. "I'm ravenous."
(It's a function of becoming alive again. Your metabolisms will need much fuel before they regulate and slow again.)
The voice slid into Lynda's awareness as smoothly as silk; so comfortable was her presence that Lynda didn't at first realize she wasn't hearing something said by one of her kitchen companions.
"A good morning to you! Supercharged metabolisms, huh? Well that's yet another reason to get out of here," Jack said. "I'm sure the station is well provisioned, but several hundred revived humans will burn through the stores pretty quickly."
The others looked confused for a second, obviously trying to figure out the object of Jack's attention.
"It's the voice. She's back," Lynda explained, then looked to Jack.("Uh...that was what you meant, right? You heard her?")
("Yeah. Hope neither of you ladies--")
(Ladies?) The voice sounded intrigued, perhaps pleased.
("Indeed. Both of you are ladies,") Jack said silently. ("Ones I'm glad I met. And, if you will both excuse me, if you don't mind, I'm going to speak out loud when I speak to you. Everyone on the team is going to be involved in this discussion.")
The satisfaction Lynda felt flare inside her was proof that the voice approved. ("I'll tell people what you're saying to us, if that's OK?")
(Yes. I do not think there is any more reason to keep secrets.)
Might as well get started, Lynda thought. "The voice says there aren't any more secrets. She's going to help us out in the open."
"Fine. First thing. Is there something we can call you, other than the voice?" Jack asked. He moved as he spoke, past Davitch and Govinda to where Lynda had left the bag of coffee beans.
Hesitation, then: (No. Not yet.)
Jack shrugged, then shook some of the beans into the grinder. "I'm going to make it strong," he warned the other humans. "If you don't like it, just add water. I'm told it's what the Italians do. Alright, then; it's Voice, until you say otherwise. First question. You said we could find some answers in Archive Six. What type of answers?"
"She said there were codes we'd find there," Lynda said. "Jack, if you grind it any finer, we'll get sand in our coffee. Here, let me."
"Be my guest," the Captain said, a silent laugh on his face as she puttered in front of him, grabbing the coffee and dumping it into the coffee filter. "Codes? Like what?"
"Does she mean communication codes?" Hsieh asked, finally getting up from the table. "Something that can get us into contact with one of the colonies?" His face suddenly looked defenseless. "Maybe with...can she say if someone's — anyone's — alive down on Earth?"
(There are a few million left, perhaps three. Most will die soon of radiation illness. Perhaps a million will survive. They'll need help, a great deal, help from the stars.)
Lynda shivered. ("There were 10 billion people down there, once.")
"There are only a...only a few people left, but at least there's some," she said, trusting that both Jack and the voice would allow her some leeway in forwarding messages. "They're, uhm...they're not in good shape, though."
"Does she know where? What continent?" Hsieh's eagerness made Lynda want to look away from him, or put her arms around him, she didn't know which.
Jack's lips thinned, but his eyes were soft as he watched the big man. "Let's focus, OK, buddy? If there's anyone down there you're looking for, I promise I'll help you look for them. But it sounds as if the Daleks burned everything, so the folks left alive are...well, alive just about covers it. The Voice is right. We have to contact some of the outer worlds and get some help in here...shit, I don't even know which systems are out there."
"Right. You're not from around here," Govinda said, eyeing him. Lynda remembered the sharp look the programmer had given Jack after last night's supper, the questions she'd asked about his past. But Govinda didn't push it. "OK, then. Perhaps we don't have to contact anyone out-system. What about the Beltway communes?"
"There's a possibility. Beltway communes...what about it, Voice?" Jack had developed the habit of looking at the ceiling when he spoke to their invisible advisor, Lynda noticed.
(Os Maus burned the communes.)
"No," she said, "The Daleks destroyed them, too."
(They burned everything in this system, on their way from the dark to fight the Doctor.)
"They killed everyone, everyone in Sol system.”
“Mars Volta? The Deimos penal colony?” Ruthie’s face was tight.
“Everything,” Lynda repeated.
Davitch closed his eyes, and hugged Govinda even tighter.
Jack started tapping his lip with an index finger. "What's further out, folks? What about the Virginis worlds?"
"We'd be better off if we could reach one of the colonies in the Rho Cancri system," Hsieh said.
"Ye-es," Davitch answered, looking glad to focus on a specific task. His face twisted in concentration. "But they could be a little difficult because...hmm. Trying to remember which of the Rho-Cee's it was, but there was definitely one planet that was a spot T and R..."
Jack frowned. "Beg your pardon?"
"Transmit and Receive," the programmer said. "We measure how well any world can transmit and receive signals from Earth. Most are good to excellent, but a few are generally, or permanently, blocked by distance, or by situations in their own systems — dust, emissions from their suns, that sort of thing. Rho Cancri was like that, so a couple of the Rho-Cee's were apt to be as good as hidden from scanning."
"Could that have kept them safe from the Daleks?" Lynda asked.
"No, not if there were Daleks out there. From what I know — not a lot, I admit — if they want to get at something, there's precious little that can stop them, certainly not glitchy communications," Jack said. "On the other hand, if Iris and her buddies the Familiarizes — "
"Facilitators" Ruthie muttered.
"— Facilitators. Right. If she and the Facilitators were trying to isolate Earth from its colonies, would they pay attention to a spot T and R, or figure it was already isolated enough?"
"Wait, wait," Hsieh said. "What do you mean, isolating Earth?"
Govinda snapped her fingers. "Oh, I get it! That's what the bitch was talking about at supper, wasn't it!"
(She is correct. Iris Anders and the other lost ones cut off every planet from Earthhome.)
("Even the..the spot T and R planets?")
Lynda held her breath after asking the Voice that question.
"Fuck." Jack sounded glum.
(But there are codes to reverse this.)
("We aren't talking physical damage, then?") Jack's mental voice brightened considerably.
(No. They...were not efficient.)
"Oh good. That's so lucky for us!," Lynda said to Jack.
"You said it, sweetheart."
"Will you, for the love of all that's holy, please talk to us?" Govinda actually growled as she ran her hands through her hair. "That was the plan, wasn't it?"
"Sorry, sorry," Lynda ducked her head in apology. "The Facilitators were the ones who tried to cut off Game Station — all of Earth, really — from the rest of the worlds." She lumped back onto the counter, ignoring the protests from her ribs and muscles. "I think they knew that the Daleks were coming, and maybe they even got their orders from the fleet. They definitely wanted us isolated, so that no one would know that Earth had been conquered."
"Mulched, more like it," Ruthie said. Lynda could see the little guard's bandage under the thin tee-shirt she was wearing, and noticed blood had started seeping through again. Ruthie either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t care. "So they destroyed the comm-grid arrays?"
"No. Well, yeah, the programming. Not the equipment," Lynda said. "And she says there are codes in Archive Six that can undo the damage."
"Apparently these yahoos couldn't run a two-car funeral, for which we can only be grateful," Jack added. "They just programmed shut downs, instead of taking out hardware."
"I'm beginning to wonder how the hell the Daleks could get anything done with that lot behind them," Hsieh said, exasperation warring with a smirk.
(Do not think these were the only troops.) the Voice told her, calm and disapproving inside her head. (It was only luck that put these poor followers on Station. Had there been others, others that I know of...we would not be talking.)
Something of what the Voice said must have shown in Lynda's face, because Hsieh sobered up.
"It seems there were others, Commander; and it seems we can be glad we didn't have them around," Jack said.
"I can't imagine those tin monsters needed much help," Davitch said, more to himself than anyone else.
"T and R," Lynda said, mulling the phrase again. "T and R...listen Davitch, I think your T and R planet in the Rho Cancri system is still the best one to try for."
"The spot T and R? Why? Once we get the communications grids back up, we can reach any place," he responded, puzzled.
"But I don't think we want just any place. I think that if we were to reach a planet that hadn't been getting regular Station signal — not even before they started shutting things down — we'd find people a lot more willing to believe us."
(Good, Captain's man.) That now-familiar flush of approval from the Voice told Lynda that she’d said something important.
Something white flared into her mind, a sudden rushing of sound, a jumble and puzzle of speech, song, words and their component syllables, everything babbling so fast it was like a river. She didn't understand a single thing being said, but she knew what the messages were. The voice knew, and was showing her. Messages Station had sent out for years, recorded and kept for posterity, but of absolutely no use to anyone. Entertainment of superficiality and flash, marked only with a dearth of ideas; news that wasn't, that told nothing, and yet was subtle by comparison with the entertainment. Carefully manufactured of sound bites, fear-mongering, xenophobia, isolationism; opinions that jeered at thought, that championed ignorance, worshipped the status quo —
She stumbled under the onslaught. "Stop it!"
Jack, too, had gone white about the lips. "Mother of pearl..."
"Are you alright? Elliott, get her arm--"
She waved Hsieh and Ruthie aside, irritated more at herself for being caught off guard. The voice seemed to think she was the right vessel into which to pour information; she didn't know how much more her mind could take of the uninvited deliveries.
(You will have to take them. You and the Captain. Learn from him.)
"I'm sorry, it's the bloody Voice. She just did it again. I've just got to get used to it, I suppose."
"Did what again?" Ruthie simply sounded curious; that steadied Lynda somehow, as if the other woman's calm implied confidence that she could bear up under the strain.
"She told me why we should contact the isolated world, whatever its name is. It hasn't been getting Station broadcasts regularly, and that means it hasn't been influenced by what the Facilitators put out there."
“Now just hold on a minute! Sure there were Facilitators on Station, but they didn’t run things!” Davitch said.
Lynda was amazed to see the indignation on his and Govinda's faces, as they digested what she’d said. It seemed they retained some pride of profession, even after the end of the world.
" 'Vinda, I'm not blaming you or Davitch for anything, you know that, right?"
"You can't possibly think there were enough of that brace of loonies in charge to..." the programmer's dark eyes searched the kitchen, looking for the right words. "...to, oh, I dunno — lie to all of human civilization?"
"Yes, 'Vinda, that's exactly what she's saying, and she's right," Jack said, although he looked as if he'd just sucked on a lemon before saying it. "You folks may just have been doing your job —” and there, the Captain looked very old. "broadcasting games that killed people — "
"That's not fair!" Govinda said, her eyes haggard and her protest weak.
"Fair, true, and it doesn't change the fact that I love you, darlin'...as I was saying, you folks were doing your job, but there were a damned sight more of those Dalek-worshipping whack jobs than the ones we're dealing with. And I think they'd been busy eroding the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire from within for years before you were a gleam in your parents' eyes."
Well, that’s one way to get everyone’s attention, Lynda thought fleetingly.
Govinda dropped her eyes and looked at the floor for a long moment. Hsieh and Ruthie looked at each other, then at Lynda, who shook her head slightly. She didn't know what to say.
She didn't have to say anything; Govinda raised her head, eyes bright with tears, and smiled at Jack. "You know I should slap you. But you're right." Davitch watched her very closely. "Your man? The Doctor? I thought he was a prat when he told me to shut up about following orders. Thought he was holier than thou, a complete swot."
She shook her head slightly, and her smile was bitter now. "But I knew he was right the minute he said it, and...Christ, I hated him because he was right.
“But he...he let me stay. Let me fight the Daleks with him. I felt like, maybe, if I died, I'd make up for it, make up for all the dead people. Or maybe a few of them, y'know?" She drew in a breath that was more a sob, tears and snot running down her face. "And then I died. But I came back. And right now, all I can think of is...if I came back, did I really pay?"
The Captain didn't notice his own tears as he crossed the little kitchen to draw Govinda into his arms. "You did, honey, you did."
After a moment, he stood back. "Davitch needs you, 'Vinda, and you need him. Get a hug, and wipe your nose."
"Silly bugger," she said faintly. "Silly, silly bugger."
"That's me," Jack said. "Silly."
(Are you ready to go to Archive Six?)
“We haven’t finished breakfast,” Davitch said. “Couldn’t we do pancakes?” he asked, hopefully.
(We do not have the time. You did not catch all of our enemies and Station is probably losing air, no matter how slowly. You must send a distress signal. Eat as you travel.)
The Voice, it seemed, had no time for human frailty. Jack sighed.
"Can you folks grab some food and pack it? We need to head up to the archive, find those codes and get an SOS out to...to — "
"To Rho-Cee Five, I think," Davitch said, as he stroked Govinda's hair. "I finally remembered. They call it Hidden, if you can believe it."
"Well, not for long," Jack said. "Hsieh, can you contact your people in the dorms, and see how things are with our charges? We'll need to get them some breakfast, too, when they start to wake up. I hate to say it, but that includes the prisoners."
"Will do," the big man said. "Then I'll follow you up to Archive Six."
Everyone began to move at once, Ruthie and Hsieh negotiating around each other and out of the kitchen, Davitch grabbing fruit and sliced meat from the refrigerator and wrapping them with serviettes before stuffing them into paper bags. It was a difficult job to do one-handed, but he didn't let go of Govinda.
Lynda picked up an apple, a huge hunk of cheese, and some slices of bread. She was trying to decide how best to bring them along when the Voice started speaking again.
(I say we must hurry because there is another task you must undertake, after you mend the programs, after you contact Hidden.)
"Hold up a moment, will you?" she asked Jack. She didn’t think he could hear this message.
("What do we have to do?")
(You must rescue me.)
To be continued.
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