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Mass Effect/AEC: Chapter 16 (c.3): Apocrypha



Security Office 3, Gozu District, Level 33 Omega Station, Sahrebarik System, Omega Nebula, December 22, 2197

The Talon Security office was cramped with computer screens, a tiny desk, three security agents, plus Galeena and myself. Galeena and I sat opposite the desk as we waited for updates on the Matriarchs summit down the hall.

“Five days and nothing so far,” I said.

Galeena smiled, “Standard procedure for the diplomatic corps. This is just the ‘airing of grievances’ part of the negotiations.  Next week we will see the real wheeling and dealing kick off. After that fails, there will be a day or two of vague and not so vague threats and in the last day or so you will see some sort of agreement on the ground rules for the next round of talks.”

A batarian steward came into the cramp space and served hot tea to the occupants. “Here you go, commander,” he said as he handed me a large cup.

As I lifted the cup to my lips, a mini-OSD slipped from between the coaster and bottom of the cup. I pocketed the OSD, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” said the steward as he left.

“Didn’t expect to spend Christmas in Omega, but that’s part of the job,” I said.

“Christmas was her favorite…” Galeena’s voice trailed off.

“I’m sorry.”

“Not a problem, sir. I do miss the Christmas parties at the old office. And the way you insisted we celebrate all the way to, what was that holiday called?”

“Epiphany.”

“Yes, that one.”

“And then you insisted we throw Chinese New Year party as well.”

“She loved that one to.” She took another sip from her mug.

“Miranda is also fond of the holidays. Maybe we can put something together, a little new year’s eve celebration.”

“Isn’t she scheduled to arrive today?” asked Galeena.

I checked the time on my omni-tool, “In about an hour. I better hustle down to the docks.”

“See you later, commander.”

I walked out of the office and found a quite space down the hall. It made sense to deliver sensitive information through an encrypted OSD. Omega’s communications networks were a fractured mess of cobbled together systems, layers of conflicting software updates, and billions of adware bots.  Plus, everyone just tapped into the nearest network adapter in an attempt to avoid extranet provider’s fees. Omega was the pirate capital of the Terminus systems, in more ways that one. It also made sense to disconnect from the local network to avoid any snoopers.

-Connection to local area extranet network terminated-

-Scanning external media-

-Scanning-

-No intrusive/hostile software detected-

-Alliance cipher key detected-

-Do you wish authenticate cipher key. Y/N-

An Alliance cipher key? Now that is interesting.

“Yes.”

-Key authenticated-

-Decoding in progress. Decoding complete. Would you like to play-

I pressed the yes button. A blurry humanoid figure, cloaked in shadow and with a electronically altered voice came online, “Commander, the Shadow Broker sends their regards. You are to find a salarian by the name of Talrom, on level twenty-eight of this district. Secure him or his data. My employer is sure that you will know what to do once you secured the asset. Good luck, commander.”

-End of recording-

So the Shadow Broker wants me to fetch someone, without any mention of either payment or reward and trusts that I will know what to do with with them? Are they even related to the Shadow Broker? Well, there is only one way to find out,

The nav point on the OSD led to a row of apartments tucked into a dark back alley.

This is it, apartment twenty-eight one. And someone beat me to the punch.

Static scrambled the holographic lock on the front door. A hasty hack job to be sure. Murmurs from within indicated that whoever did it was still inside. I activated my cloak.

-Maglocks disabled. Manual override engaged-

Someone spotted the movement of the door and came to investigate.

Come on, just a little closer.

“Hey, is anyone-”

A quick jab to the stomach with my electrified omni-blade knocked him out. I grabbed the back of his helmet and eased him to the floor. I ducked behind the wall and waited for my cloak to recharge. Whoever else was inside failed to notice the commotion by the door.

“Hurry up, the Talons could be here any minute,” said voice from within.

“This thing has multiple layers of encryption,” said another.

“How long is going to take?”

“Unless you want me to mess this up, it will take as long as it is going to take. Just keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.”

-Cloak engaged-

I stepped over the stunned guard and went inside. Two more armored figures, one with an assault rifle, and another with an active omni-tool, stood in front of a extranet terminal. A third tossed a mattress aside in search of something or someone. Two quick omini-blades strikes neutralized the pair by the terminal but brought my cloak down. The third merc wheeled around, gun in hand and pointed a very visible me.

Theo, you dumb piece of shit.

I drew my rifle and dove away from his line of fire. What ensued was a cat and mouse game as we took potshots at each other. Five seconds later my hardsuit recharged.  I cloaked again.

Time to end this.

I maneuvered slowly around the upturned furniture for a clear shot.  The console beeped as I walked past.  The merc pointed the gun at the machine. I aimed and pulled the trigger. His head snapped back.  Blood spray bathed the wall behind him. I restrained the others before I made my way back to the console.

I wonder….

I inserted the OSD into the drive slot. It took less than a second for the data to download. Sparks and grey smoke poured out of the machine.

“So much for you then,” I said aloud.

“And your sanity, I see,” said someone to my left. I wheeled around to see Miranda, submachine gun in hand.

“Missed you too Miri. How did you, never mind, we have to get out of here before a Talon patrol shows up.”

“After you.”

Back at the Kursk, Pasha and Utah gave the data a once over. “Commander Thompson-Ramos, decryption is complete. No hostile programs detected.”

“Thank you, Utah, have the command staff join me in my cabin.”

With everyone gathered around the main viewer, Utah loaded the data. A haggard salarian came on screen. The holo was timestamped 03/21/2194. He spoke right to the camera, “This is my, what, seven hundred entry? Right, well, here we are, still stuck. Nobody wants to admit it, but we can’t get past the power problem. We need an alternative. If they, no, no if, when they come back, we won’t be ready. This system is too unwieldy as it is. I tried to make some inquiries, but our job here is highly compartmentalized. Everything is filtered and checked. It makes sense, of course, but still, we should have access to as much data as possible, regardless of the source. I’ll keep trying.”

The camera cuts to another scene, timestamped 05/15/2194, “I got a hold of some data from what happened on Vermire. I wished I had this sooner.”

The image shifts to an office with a tropical background. An asari comes into view. “Is this thing on? I can never really tell. Ok, my name is Rana Thanoptis and I am researching the effects on indoctrination on organic minds. My research shows that it has varying results on difference species and even within members of a given species. Some are immune, most others suffer rapid mental decay. Now, one can slow the decay based on the strength of the signal, but the damage is irreversible. Not a very effective way of controlling minds come to think of it, at least not long term. However, in those subjects that have been exposed to a signal pattern of a given strength and duration, I noticed a mirroring of behavior. Their body language become nearly identical. They even have shared speech patterns, with one subject starting a sentence, and another finishing, while a third continues the conversation which is flows back to the first. It is as if they were nodes in a larger network.”

The camera cut back to the salarian, “Nodes in a larger network? Curious.”

The next track occurs on 09/30/2195, “I had to leave project. I had to leave salarian space entirely. The STG is after me. They have some questions for me. But I was getting nowhere. I made contact with the Shadow Broker, or at least someone claiming to be working for them. They sent me a  recording. Something about Cerberus using indoctrination to control the Reapers.” Miranda took in a deep breath. “Crazy, I know. But the project works along those same lines, not to control, but to disrupt. Still, it doesn’t solve the power problem. But I know I am getting close.”

The last recording was from twenty hours ago, on Omega. “Thanoptis was right. It’s not mind control, not really. Her idea about neural networks was correct. The problem is that it is still a hypothesis, speculation without confirmation. But I know am right. There is another problem or problems. STG is still after me and Cerberus and who knows who else. Could turn myself to STG, but that means I couldn’t verify my data.  And to do that I need to go to the Citadel. But even if I get there, I won’t get access to the central command console. So, if you are my contact, as promised by the Broker, you need to take this OSD straight to EDA, she, she will know what to do. As for me, well, I done everything I can, made as many enemies as one salarian can make, but if I am right, and I know I am, this will be a game changer.  We will never have to fear them again. I will, that is, I am going to disappear, for good this time. Don’t come looking for me. Even a red dwarf should be enough to erase a body. Not the way I expected to go but that is not important Take the information to EDA, after that, well, good luck.”

“This is loco, jefe,” said Vega.

“If I may commander,” said Utah.

“Go ahead.”

“This OSD contains a wealth of references, including detailed analyses of post-invasion Geth neural networks. It appears that this Talrom was working on the weapon system known as the Crucible. The power problem might be a reference to the fact that the Crucible can not operate without the Citadel. If he found a way to bypass this requirement, then it would be, as he stated in the recording, a game changer.”

“Well, the Matriarchs will have to look after themselves.” I switched to the ship’s intercom, “Navigator Johnson, prepare to depart immediately and set a course for the Citadel.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” came the reply.

 

 

 

 

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Mass Effect/AEC: Chapter 15 (c.3): Love


Captain Quarters, Deck 1, SSV Kursk SR-3,  En route to Omega, December 16, 2197

Miranda face filled the the screen, “Everything went well. I am fine”.  As she spoke I  noticed the stray hairs that floated just above her black eyes. She breathed in soft but labored breaths. “Did you make the pick up?”

“Yeah. The Matriarch is on board. I invited her to dinner-”

“Theodore Thompson-Ramos, I am gone a week and you are already inviting women up to your cabin?” she said with a stern voice. But I heard the chuckle at the edge of it,

“Mrs. Ramos, I wouldn’t dream of mixing business with pleasure. Except with you, of course.”

“You arse!”

“So when can you get back?” I asked

“I should be out in a day or so, then I’ll take a shuttle to Omega.”

“Will be waiting.”

“Love you.”

“Same to you babe.”

The moment the screen switched off I let out weeks of tension in a long breath.

She is alright. Everything is alright. 

I knew she would be fine. She had the best doctors and done everything to minimize the risk and maximize the chances of success. But there was always a risk, something that lurked unforeseen.  And that scared me more than anything. More than pirates, mercenaries, even Reapers.  The fear of loosing her.

That’s going to be a fun conversation when she gets back. But does she need to know? 

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Mass Effect/AEC: Soundtrack #2 – Dark Side of Luna


Mass Effect: After Earth Chronicles (C 3- C 4)

  1. The Ones We Lost/The Ones We Love (Enjoy the Silence Ki – Theory Cover)
  2. The Nights Are Long and Full of Terrors (Demise of a Nation – Conspiracy Theory Music)
  3. Divided We Fall (Past in Flames – Secession Studios)
  4. We Left Them Behind/I Am With You (Nowhere to Run – Hidden Citizens)
  5. Battle of The Kelphic Valley/Hunting Party (What’s up Danger – Blackway and Caviar)
  6. And the Sky Will Fall (Paint it Black – Sebastian Böhm Official Cover)
  7. We Are Krogan! (The One to Survive – Hidden Citizens)
  8. Commodore (The Last of the Brave – Martin O’Donnell)
  9. We March/The Fleets Assemble (Th3 Awak3n1ng – Ivan Torrent)
  10. Beyond Life (Wicked Game – Cover by Ursine Vulpine feat Annaca)
  11. A Promise to Keep (Mass Effect OST – Vigil Extended Version)
  12. The Strength of a Trillion Souls (Strength of a Thousand Men – Two Steps from Hell)
  13. To Absent Friends/To All Those That Came Before (Mass Effect Emotional Suite Version 3)
  14. And the Story Lives On (The Magic of Love – Two Steps from Hell)
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It’s official. I am a published author!


 

That’s right, my first speculative fiction anthology is available over at Amazon for Kindle devices (working on releasing it in other places as well), for just $.99.

Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089636XJ7

And thank you so very much to all of you who have supported me over the years with your kind words, encouragement, and meanigful critiques. This one is for you!

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Mass Effect/AEC- ANN News: 1 Trillion Illegal Downloads of CoT


 

From: Alliance News Entertainment Desk

December  16, 2197

1 Trillion Illegal Downloads of CoT

By Joan Calder

MILGROM, BEKENSTIEN– Champions of the Terminus, the hit action-drama from Star Wolf Productions, became the first Extranet show to reach one trillion illegal downloads across the galaxy. This record was matched by over a billion downloads (as tracked by Rocket Media Enterprises) of the series soundtrack written and performed by none other than Sheryl Stone. While piracy has been seen by media conglomerates as a problem CoT’s showrunner Kiko Diaz said the following to ANN News:

This news merely highlights the popularity of Champions of the Terminus and that we have to find new ways to serve our audience. After all, media pirates are merely consumers we haven’t reach yet.

Diaz added that part of the reason why the show is so popular in the Terminus systems (where most of the illegal downloads originate) was that the episodes were not only made on location, but that the writing staff went to great lengths to research and respect local laws and traditions. He pointed to a recent episode titled “Shaandara” were the cast took refuge in a batarian community in the midst of a local festival that celebrated the sugar-rich tuber of the same name. While the episode was largely humorous, it did not make the locals the butt of the joke or turned into what Diaz called “a school day afternoon special about a vulnerable population”. Instead he highlighted his joy at exploring new ideas that come from the connection between cultures.

 

The mid-season finale of Champions of the Terminus is set to air in December 20, 2197.

 

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Shadowrun: Fetishes and Foci


 

 

Seattle, the Sprawl, the Metroplex, was a city.

And cities, cities have character.

Cities have history.

Cities, real ones, not the hallow constructs of corporate suburbia or that drek they fed you in the trids, live and breath.

The denizens make them, well, unique. The built the cities, they kept the cities, the infused the cities with life.  Folks like the barista that managed a tired smile as she handed me a double latte soykaf. Or the guy behind the counter at the convenience store that knew, that I knew, that he knew, that his 1-7 a.m. shift sucked and that I didn’t want to be there anymore than he did. It was the elderly couple in the corner of the capsule hotel that played Koi-Koi quietly until the wee hours of the morning, and gave me all the ins out of the metro system, what train led to where, which bus was best to take if you wanted to hit downtown in middle of the day.

Then you had the hidden places. They holes in the walls, the door most people ignored in that back alley that nobody knew about. The club so exclusive you wondered how it stayed opened and who really went there. Stefenaia was such a place. The worn red door creaked open to the touch. Inside a collection of old Christmas lights, thin veils that hanged from the ceiling, and the faded paint on the walls tinged everything in deep reds and blacks.

The proprietor, a tiny rotund matron with a pixie haircut for whom the shop was named spoke from behind a large ebony desk, “So you’re Adamaris kid, eh?”

“I was her apprentice, yes.”

“She still picks the handsome ones, doesn’t she,” cackled Stefenaia. “Well, any friend of Adamaris is at least an acquaintance of mine. So, wha da ya need?”

“I left L.A. in a hurry so, well I need the basics. Spell books, some fetishes, that sort of thing,” I said.  Twin yellow eyes stared at me from under a bed.

“Don’t mind Felix, he will warm up to ya soon enough. So ya needs the books and such. It’ll cost ya, you know.”

“I got the Nuyen.”

“Do ya? Well that is good, because, well, everything expensive as real coffee these days. So, are we thinking esoteric, scholarly, or street smart?”

I handed her a folded piece of paper.”Street smart,” I said without hesitation.

She read the list. “Need something to light up the bastards in the shadows, eh? Well, I have a few things that could help.  I got Foci-”

I interrupted her, “No.”

She raised an thick black eyebrow, “Don’t trust them?”

“Not my style.”

“Okay then, well maybe something like say this,” she opened a long box. Inside laid a long metal rod, covered in green runes.

“That will do.”

“So, you are into fetishes then. Now I know what to have them on stock. Any who, it will take me awhile to get these things together. You got a number a I can call.”

“I got a cell.”

“Good. One more thing, this city ain’t as crazy as L.A. certainly not as hot, buuut,” she held up a long bony finger, “The shadows here are colder, deeper, and nastier.”

I nodded and walked out into the rain.

 

 

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Shadowrun: And Now We Are Here….


 

I jammed a finger in my ear to block out the sounds of the PCH. The long distance charges on the pay phone ate at my patience. What I heard made it worse.

“Listen kid, this is just the way it is,” said the guttural voice on the other end.

“But I can help,” I said exasperated with the Old Man’s attitude.

“I don’t got time for this, ok? The Gunners should be there in a minute, so just go with them. You got me?”

“C’mon, you need me, Rocky.”

“Yeah kid, I need ya, alive. Don’t worry, once things get sorted out here, I’ll give ya a call.”

“Yeah, ok,” I said with a sigh. The sound of motorcycle engines drowned out Rocky’s response. “Looks like my ride is here.”

“Good. Those guys are solid. They owe me a few. But don’t take shit from them, ok?”

“Got it. Hey, how do I–” The staccatto sound of gunfire on the other end made my heart skip a beat, “Rocky? Rocky!”

Rocky shouted at the receiver, “Go, just go. And good luck!”

The line went dead.

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Mass Effect/AEC- ANN News: Batarian Conclave on Khar’shan


 

ANN News Now

December 15, 2197

Batarian Conclave on Khar’shan

by David Rukil

ANN News Center, Vancouver – After a series of victories over Reaper remnant forces, the Batarian Assembly declared the majority of their home world, Khar’shan, to be under their control. They have called an summit of existing batarian factions to establish a new government for the batarian people. An spokesperson reiterated the assembly’s commitment to end caste system, with special emphasis on the total abolition of slavery. Other items on the agenda were: representative government, reparations (to former slaves and foreign governments), foreign policy, membership in the Citadel Council, and other related topics.

The conclave started on December 14 and will continue until the end of the year.

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Mass Effect/AEC: Chapter 14 (c.3): Confirmation


 

Office of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance, Citadel Embassies, The Presidium, The Citadel, Widow System, Serpent Neubla, December 14, 2197

An image of a balding human, with a black eye and tattered business suit appeared on screen, “It was Cerberus. They were behind the assassination attempt,” said the man.

“What about Death’s Legion?” ask a voice from off camera.

“Them too,” said the former head of the Liberta’s Bureau of Finance, Johan Damacy, brother to late Lord Darcy Damacy, ruler of the Theocracy of Libertas.

I paused the recording. “Ladies, gentlemen and assorted others, this confirms what many of you have suspected for some time,” multiple stern faces of the assembled Spectres looked back at me through holo projectors and wall mounted screens, “Cerberus is back.  From this moment forward you at to give top priority to hunting down anything related to Cerberus, regardless of how vague or insignificant it may seem. This is an Omega Gamma class threat. You all know what is at stake. Last time we barely survived. It is time to take the fight to them.” The others nodded in agreement. I switched off the monitors and left the office.

Just outside the door waited one Jacqueline Vega, “Hey!”

“Hi Jack.”

“So, ready to hit Cerberus in the nuts?”

“How did you…oh yeah, Vega.”

“The big teddy bear can’t keep any secrets from me. Besides you are going to need more than just Miranda to wipe them out. Talking of which, where’s the Princess at?”

“She is back on Horizon,” I said

“Oh,” Jack glanced at the ground, “So she is finally doing it,” she flashed a wicked grin, “I hope your ready for what comes next.”

“I…well, what?”

“Oh god, she married a prude.”

“I’ll…you know what, it will be fine.”

“Of course, it’s the Princess we are talking about here. I just wish….”

“I’ll happen when you want it to happen, Jack. If not, well, you two will be fine,” I said.

She squinted at me, “How did you…goddamn Vega and his big mouth.”

“True, but he does care. That boy would take the express way to Hell and Back just for you, Jack.”

“Yeah, yeah, and he would do it with a grin plastered on stupid face. Anyway, I already talked to some of my old students. They are ready to go. You just say the word. Got it?”

“Will do,” I said.

As Jack left a call came in on my omni-tool, “Commander Thompson-Ramos?”

“Yes?”

“This is Ashar Bakrik, Councilor Tevos assistant. She would like to see you in her office as soon as your available,” said the voice on the other end.

“I am on my way.”

The view from Councilor Tevos’ office was as expansive as it was breezy. An overhang cut a sharp shadow over the permanent artificial daylight that illuminated the Presidium. Tevos stood, alone in the middle of the space, “Commander Thompson-Ramos, thank you for coming.”

“Of course. What can I do for your Councilor?” I said.

She paced in front of her desk, “Considering the current situation what I am about to discuss may seem like a distraction from Cerberus, but it imperative to deal with this matter as soon as possible.”

“And what exactly is the matter, Councilor?”

“There has been a dark development in the Asari civil war, but one that may lead to its conclusion.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“A new player on the field, one that threatens both sides of the conflict, a former Justicar by the name of Phora. Her forces have killed five matriarchs in the last six months. In at least two cases the targeted matriarchs forces betrayed their mistresses and joined Phora’s army. And it is an army in every sense of the word, Commander. She already claims multiple colony worlds and at least a third of Thessia itself. I am hoping that we can build a permanent peace out of a temporary alliance. ” she said.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend, until my enemy is dead,” I said.

“That is a distinct possibility, but after a decade of fighting with little to show for it, even the most ardent among the matriarchs are exhausted, both politically and militarily.”

“That is all well and good, Councilor, but where exactly do I fit in all of this?”

“I need someone who has connections with some more important players and is not an asari. Your former associate, Galeena T’iala, is the granddaughter of Matriarch Celeene, the leader of a small faction of neutral matriarchs, and I believe you are also acquainted with Aria T’Loak.”

“What does Aria have to do with this?” I asked.

“The peace summit will be held in Omega.”

“What?”

“We needed a well guarded place, outside of Citadel space controlled by an outside faction. Hence, Omega,” she said without a trace of irony in her voice.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“Indeed they do, Commander. The asari had been at war for ten long years. Millions perished during the invasion and many millions more have suffered since. If bringing these factions to Omega leads to a lasting peace, it is a risk we have to take. And need I remind you that if Cerberus is active today, that means the Reapers can not be far behind. We, all of us, will need every resource at our disposal to deal with the real threat. You’re job is to convince Matriarch Celeene to join the summit.”

“But I would need Galeena’s help and she is still Khar’shan,” I said.

“The situation in the batarian home world has stabilized and I have convinced Captain T’iala to join you in Agessia. Once you secured Celeene’s cooperation you will take her to Omega for the summit.”

“I see. Then I am off to Agessia.”

“Thank you Commander. With any luck this war will be over soon. May the Goddess watch over you.”

 

 

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Mass Effect/AEC- ANN News: Rebels Capture Capital


ANN News Desk

From Alliance News HQ in Vancouver

December 11, 2197

Rebels Capture Capital 

By Iris Dunnigan

PROGRESS, THEOCRACY OF LIBERTAS – Twenty-four hours ago, a wave of attacks on several police stations and militia garrisons kicked off the final battle in the months long civil war in the human colony of Libertas. Multiple police commands defected to the rebels in the early hours of December 10, followed by intense street fighting across the the city of Progress. However, these events caught the rebel forces outside by surprise, as they were slow to respond to the events within the city’s limits. The first wave of rebel reinforcements came by air, but heavy anti-aircraft fire from neighborhoods controlled by loyalist prevent a second wave of reinforcements. Rebel forces attempted to move forces by land, but loyalist forces stationed in the perimeter sprung an ambush on the armored column as it passed through the outer line of berms. The loyalist destroyed several M29 Grizzlies before the attackers extricated themselves from the ambush.

It was not until the early afternoon of the 10th that rebel forces inside the city attacked a section of the barrier along the highway 19 that runs  from the city southwest in the direction of the Cain Fields industrial area. The defense collapsed after after forty-five minutes of intense attack from within and without. With the defenses breached along the southwest axis, a second column of armor, supported by attack gunships sped into the city and drove straight to the Capitol Sector, the center of the loyalist control of the colony. By nightfall the rebel claimed to have captured the Capitol Sector and declared the city secured although sporadic gunfire continued through out the night.

The new provisional government has pledged to sign the Systems Alliance charter as soon as possible and called on the Citadel Council to send peacekeeping forces as soon as available.

 

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