In My Image
NOTE: For everyone who delighted me by saying that they were enjoying the mystery and trying to figure out what was going on... here's a major ego-check for me. ;) Upon reading the first part, my MOTHER not only figured out what was happening, but who, where and why! The only thing she didn't get was when, and that's only because she doesn't know that part of Marvel continuity. Yes, my jaw was somewhere around my knees... I'd thought I was being so clever, and she calmly rattled my entire plot back to me. Okay, she missed one clue that I'd put in (due to not reading enough Cannonball fanfic). And found three others I didn't KNOW were there. Sheesh, and here's me thinking I can kid her about what time I got home last night...
Someone else figured it out too. But I won't mention their name here, in case it spoils some of the surprises for them.
"'What happened exactly' is probably going to have to wait, Nate. It's... complicated." Domino glanced up out of the corner of her eye to find James Proudstar looking right back. He might have been a lot of things, but the boy wasn't that stupid. He'd been there too, and had known Sam for longer than she had. "Let's just say that the temple fell in on us for now."
"Okay..." Cable sounded angry and stressed, but healthier. Not in pain anymore. "I'll be there soon... Need anything aside from the usual?"
"Everyone could use some decent coffee and food we can actually identify, but it'd congeal by the time you got here." She sighed. "I know that you need to come, but you being here won't really make a lot of difference, he's going to be fine. If you're not feeling-"
"I'm FINE. I got some real sleep, haven't felt this good in weeks."
Domino sighed softly with relief. "Good to hear. How are you getting here?"
"How the fuck are you going to do that?" Her tone implied quite firmly that she'd better like the answer.
"I'm not, someone else is. Don't worry, we'll be there in a few minutes."
"We who?! Nate, don't even THINK that the voice is going to work on me- shit!" She slammed the phone down pettily and glared at it. "Asshole."
There was a faint cough from behind her. "Miss Winters?" came a heavily accented bid for attention.
Domino turned to find Sam's friendly-looking doctor standing behind her. "Yes?"
"May I ask you a question?"
She stomped heavily on her annoyance. "Sure."
"The boy... aside from the main problem, there is a bruise. Older, on the other side. It is fine, but I wondered where he got it." He gave her a baldly suspicious look.
Whoops. "He's a martial artist. There was a small training accident a few days ago, that was probably it."
The smaller man looked thoughtful for a moment, probably considering Sam's fitness level and the minor collection of scars he'd acquired in the last few years. "I see." Switching mental channels, the Reassuring Smile came back in a flash of perfect white teeth. "But good news. His lung was not damaged, and only two ribs are broken. He is young, should recover well."
She could have told him that. "Thank you. Can we see him?" X-Force were a clannish group, they tended to get antsy if they couldn't look over an injured teammate just to make sure.
"Not yet. He is sleeping."
Sam was dreaming. The rock poured down, but this time he couldn't stop it... he was still outside and could only watch as Domino and James disappeared into the dust. The sudden loss was like a kick in the stomach and he whimpered. Of all the bad timing. Cable was going to do that quiet, stern thing that hurt just to look at... And probably take off for a year, no matter how sick he was.
Did it really happen that way? He could remember something else...
Then he was in that memory and the stone poured down on him as well, sweeping him under and closing him in. Claustrophobia took hold and he struggled, desperate not to be trapped underground. But he couldn't breathe, and it all faded to blackness. The darkness wrapped around him, warm and soothing, and the feelings of utter panic drifted away into unnatural calm. Dark... except for one point of light.
A fire... a normal fire on a stone hearth. But it didn't seem comforting, it seemed sad.
"You don't approve," a woman's voice said softly from one side.
The fire danced, and a man replied. "No."
"You of all people should know it has to happen." She was exasperated.
"Of course I do. I know what will happen far better than any of you, which is why I CAN'T approve."
"Why? This is our one chance at survival! It MUST be this way! You would sacrifice our world for moral superiority?!"
"MY world, not yours. You're on the outside looking in now. I'll let this happen... not that I have any choice. But I want you to remember something. The costs add up, and you _won't_ be the one paying them, Little Miss Martyr. He'll pay for your victory. But he won't have it as badly as the ones who have to pay for your arrogance."
"Hugely. So am I, but I'm a nobody. On me it's just an endearing product of age. You're a goddess, you should know better."
"That's not fair..."
"And you of all people should know that."
The fire died down, then roared up into a sheet of blinding yellow light that swept up to fill the sky before fading as the last of the drugs kicked in and Sam slipped into complete unconsciousness.
Domino was stretching her legs and mentally composing a superbly bitchy snipe at Pete for the time it was taking him to find a hotel when Cable arrived. In a muted flash of light, with a redhead firmly attached to one arm. The redhead didn't matter though, it was what he was carrying in the other hand that mattered. "Real coffee!" She picked up one of the paper cups hastily and took a large mouthful, then sighed and looked down at it reverently for a few moments. After being bruised and prodded and worried and AWAKE for so many hours, she was really starting to understand Nathan's obsession.
Once the coffee had been suitably greeted, she could turn to the people. "Hi Nate."
"Dom. This is-"
"I'm not stupid, Nate, just tired." She looked thoughtfully at the other woman. "Ms Pryor, I presume. Nice to meet you."
"Domino." Madelyne nodded politely, but she was examining Domino with obvious curiousity. "Too bad we had to meet under these circumstances, huh?"
"Yeah." Domino looked down at the hand Madelyne had clamped possessively around her son's arm and tried not to smile before dragging her eyes back up to Cable's. "The doctor said Sam was fine, but asleep right now."
"Where are the others?"
"Pete and Dani went off to find us a hotel, the rest are just around the corner." She turned back that way, intending to lead them back to the group, but a metal hand touched her lightly on the shoulder.
"Dom, wait a minute..."
"What?" She was tense and tired and recovering from excessive adrenaline, she needed to keep moving and talking and... And Cable hugged her firmly, wrapping both arms tightly around her body and resting his cheek on her head. That was when she noticed he was shaking.
"Never do that again."
"Go do something dangerous without telling you? You do it all the time."
"No. Nearly get killed without me." He squeezed tighter, and Domino squeaked.
"Need to breathe, Nate..." He loosened his hold a fraction, but didn't let go. Domino felt faintly guilty. After the fight with Apocalypse Nathan had been... trying to hide how sensitive he was about losing anyone else. Not that he talked about what had happened to Scott, but she knew him well enough to 'read' his mind without using the deadened psi-link. "Still alive, need to breathe." She couldn't move much, but one hand was close enough to his shoulder to stroke it comfortingly. "Everybody's fine."
"Don't patronize me," he mumbled into her hair. "I was just a bit worried about Sam."
Yeah, right.... "So am I."
He caught the hint in that, of course... they really knew each other better than was entirely comfortable. Stepping back, he frowned. "Why?"
"He did something else strange." She recounted her version of that hellish few seconds, that the fact she'd actually survived verged on impossible. That was something she'd been trying not to think about, even now she had to keep herself carefully detached. The idea that you were supposed to be dead...
Cable frowned for a moment, then shook his head. "He's unconscious. I can't read anything much unless he's awake."
Madelyne blinked and opened her mouth to say something, then closed it uneasily.
Domino ignored it and rubbed her eyes. It was all getting too much, she'd turn into an evil bitch-troll any minute now. "Noticed anything in the times he has been awake?"
"Just after The Incident." The half-joking phrasing that had been going around for the last few days didn't raise a smile from anyone. "He was... worried about something, and he didn't want to share."
"Yeah... I noticed that too."
"The usual suspects... although it's a little too helpful for mind-control or possession, and I'd think you would have noticed that..."
"I should hope so."
She continued without looking up. "The idea of Sam having a hidden agenda is fairly ridiculous, he's not old enough to have a secret dark past... and none of it explains the control."
"Does anybody else have a power like his?"
Cable turned back to his mother with faint surprise, he'd almost forgotten she was there. "Not that I know of."
Madelyne bit her lip. "Then it isn't very likely that someone else is teaching him, is it? Nobody else would know enough. Unless it's a very skilled telepath..."
"A sleeper program of some kind?"
"Any situations where he might have picked one up?"
Domino sighed. "Can we assume from the look on your face that one of those really isn't something you can deal with right now?"
The grimace on Cable's face took on a self-mocking taint. "I've never been that good at them ever, to be honest. Those were always... Stryfe's specialty."
* * *
It would have been nice to say that the bright light or the smell of cigarette smoke was what woke him, but Sam had to admit that it was the full-body pain and general discomfort.
"Morning." Pete tossed the paper he'd been reading to one side and looked at Sam seriously. "How d'you feel?"
"Like one huge bruise. And it hurts to talk." He groaned a little, out of aggravation and confusion as much as pain. "Questions. Firstly, why'm Ah hurting this much?"
"Rock hit you in the side. Bashed you up a bit, broke two ribs. You lost a bit of blood, but the rest is just bruises."
"Second, did Ah really do what Ah seem to remember doin'?"
"If it involves saving Domino and James, yeah. No dancing Pepsi, though."
Sam started to laugh at the reference to one of Tabitha's stranger morning utterances, but stopped immediately as one side of his chest protested loudly and viciously. After that he just concentrated on breathing very softly. "Ow..."
Pete sighed. "Tell you what... I'll call a nice nurse, get her to dope you up again. We'll have a nice big team bonding session and talk it all to death when you're nice and high, okay?"
"Uh-huh." In fact, it sounded utterly perfect. Which was probably a sign that he really shouldn't have any more drugs. But he was going to anyway, and would... really glare at anyone who tried to take them away.
But once he was more comfortable, all there was to think about was how much he wanted to go home. He was edgy, the brilliant desert sun streaming in through the window looked all wrong, the bed wasn't as good as the one he was used to, and there were far too many people around. Well, the wrong type. He was used to sleeping in a building full of loud people... just not strangers.
He stewed on this for ten minutes or so, having nothing else to do. And the more he thought about it, the more irritated he got. Why wasn't anybody coming to see what he wanted? He'd managed a brilliant rescue all alone, selflessly nearly getting himself killed on their behalf. Least they could do was be attentive. And he felt so... strange. Uncomfortable, and horribly lost. He wanted to be back where everything was familiar...
Cable was unfortunate enough to poke his head into the room when Sam was at the height of dissatisfaction and angry distress. How the man had ended up on the other side of the world didn't even occur to him. "Ah want to go home."
"You only just regained consciousness."
"Ah don't care. Ah want to go home." Rubbing one hand against his temple he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to calm down.
Frowning, Cable came all the way into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. "What's wrong?"
"There's something about this place... it's not right. Ah don't belong here..."
"Tell you what... you answer me a question, I'll take you home." Cable gave one of his most inscrutable looks as Sam nodded. "Okay... Sam, how did you know that the temple was boobytrapped?"
Sam blinked and tried to think back. "Ah didn't know... well, Ah did know that something was wrong, but Ah didn't know what. And Ah don't know how Ah knew. If just felt... wrong."
"Like being here does now?"
Sam shook his head angrily. "No. That felt bad, like something horrible was going to happen. This just feels... like this isn't where Ah'm supposed to be. Like when you wake up and don't know where you are but worse. Ah just-"
"-want to go home. I heard you." Cable smiled at him, and Sam felt a little of the tension ease. "Not right this second, but I've convinced the doctor to 'transfer' you this afternoon. Do you want to go back to sleep, or should I send the rest of the team in to talk to you?"
He didn't want to sleep, he'd just done that for at least twelve hours already. But lots of company sounded worse, he was confused enough as it was. "Maybe sleep, but can Ah talk to Jimmy and Domino for a minute first? Just to make sure they're okay." Doubt suddenly crept in. Pete hadn't actually said... "They are okay, right?"
"Thanks to you. They're both a bit bruised, but Dom's just taking that as an excuse to be even more bad-tempered."
Sam relaxed. As long as Domino was bitching, everything was fine. It was when she got serious that you had to worry.
"He wants to go home. But failing that, talk to you and Jimmy." Cable slid back into his seat in the hospital cafeteria and picked up his coffee again.
"Can't say I blame him." Domino stood up, smoothly stealing Cable's coffee and drinking it all in one movement.
Pete frowned. Given the circumstances, a little weirdness of behaviour was to be expected. But... "Cable? Yer staring at that cup like it just told you it was really your father..."
"She just drank my last bit of coffee and I have no urge to avenge this." He gave Domino an astonished look. "I'm either more stressed than I thought or I REALLY like you."
"Actually you're deeply in love with me, you just won't admit it."
Nathan blinked. "I-"
Disregarding whatever he was trying to stutter, Domino continued. "A woman knows these things. And takes RUTHLESS advantage of them." She turned to Pete. "You want to know how I can tell?"
Pete grinned. "Yes."
Domino leaned in close. "I have more than two credit cards which say my name is Nathan Summers."
The owner of the credit cards snorted. "It doesn't count if I don't know you've got them. Give them back."
"Because if you don't love me I can't drink your coffee or steal your clothes." Domino stood up and stretched. "Now we've settled that, I need to go talk to Sam."
"Or he'll think you don't love him."
The one thing Sam remained firm on was his desire to go home. He did nap, then woke up three hours later swearing a dream involving angels was responsible for a miracle cure and could he please be excused now or at least have the damn catheter removed?
They took him home. Even the nurses who didn't speak English thought that was a good idea.
* * *
Two weeks later, Sam knew that at least Cable and Domino were watching him carefully and he still felt horribly unsettled. Nothing seemed like it was supposed to and he'd had the dream with the fog and the screaming another four times. But even the fear of that paled next to being called and not realising Pete had meant him for a few moments. He hadn't recognised his own name!
He was scared, distressed by his surroundings and increasingly terrified of himself. But he couldn't say a word. That never changed, the overwhelming imperative that nobody else could know about any of it. The dream especially... it was intensely private, every feeling was so personal it stayed even after he woke up. So he cried quietly, not understanding the pain and equally unable to guard against it.
Luckily, he had an excuse to get out of training sessions and several other team activities, so at least he didn't appear to be keeping to himself excessively. Which was what he was doing, of course, he just didn't want anybody to notice. Today, for instance, he was in a secluded corner of the empty TV room, pretending to read. He hadn't turned a page in more than half an hour.
"Sam?" Female, but not the increasingly suspicious Domino. Tabitha.
He stood up and turned around so he could see behind him. Twisting with broken ribs wasn't fun. "Yeah?"
She waved a hand at the smaller female person next to her. "You remember one of Cable's old merc buddies was visiting? Well, this is his daughter, Tamara."
"Hi," Tamara said shyly.
She was a small girl with streaked blonde hair that probably would have been light brown if she didn't spend so much time in the sun, twelve or thirteen years old. Nothing about her that could be a reason for the reaction Sam felt rip through him, nothing familiar that could possibly explain the wave of possessiveness and pure anguish her face sparked off. He breathed in quickly, vision blurring from the mental overload. No, no... not now! The feelings retreated, again. But didn't disappear. Somewhere in the back of his mind someone was screaming. But quietly, so as to avoid interrupting.
"Sam? You okay?" Tabitha reached out to steady him, frowning.
Sam managed a slightly weak smile. "Ah'm okay. Just stood up too fast..." He put a hand to the wound on his side theatrically, internally squirming at the deception. "Sorry," He said to Tamara, managing to look her in the eyes in a friendly way despite his confusion.
"That's okay. Dad said you'd been hurt." She looked concerned. And young. "You sure you're alright?"
"Fine, really. Just needs a little time is all."
"Glad to hear it."
"How long you staying then, Tamara?"
"Don't know." She shrugged. "Until dad finishes talking with Mr Dayspring, I guess." She looked faintly worried, then almost physically shrugged it off.
"At least until tomorrow," Tabitha said with a smile. "Want to come meet the others? Save nasty surprises later on." She took Tamara's hand, leading her onwards.
"Sure." Tamara smiled at Sam and followed Meltdown. Not that she really had much of a choice.
"Ah'm gonna take a little walk, see if I can clear out my head a bit with some fresh air."
Turning at the door, Tabitha nodded. "Do you good. Don't take too long, though, or Domino'll yell at me."
"Ah won't." He turned and stepped out the door, pausing for a second to look around, then headed out towards a side street. Please don't let anybody come along...
His luck held, and he made it out of Cable's easy telepathic range without seeing anyone. A broken-down shed behind one of the warehouses was private enough, and he stumbled into it with relief. Dirty and cold, it offered comfort and peace... Until Cable comes to look for me... or worse, sends Domino.
He didn't want to see them... didn't want to have to explain his 'strange behaviour'. He didn't know what was going on himself. "Please God," he whispered quietly. "Please... Ah don't know what's going on here, and Ah'm getting kinda scared. Ah look in the mirror and... " He shuddered at the memory of the mirror. "And Ah don't know who Ah'm gonna see! And just now, with Tamara... what was that? Ah've never felt anything that intense before, and it wasn't even me." He knew that. The grief hadn't been his, didn't even feel the same as his. "Ah could really use a little guidance heah..."
Sam's head snapped up so fast his neck cracked. "What? How...?" The voice was coming from inside his head, he should have realized that immediately after having been around telepaths for so long. This one just... felt a little different. And familiar, except something about it sounded wrong. Like a well-known voice through a bad telephone line. Who are you and what are you doing inside mah mind?!
*Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you. I've been here for quite some time. As for who I am... you don't want to know.*
"Yes Ah DO! You've been driving me mad, now get out!" Saying it out loud felt good.
*I can't do that. Let me put it this way... you shouldn't know.*
Then tell me what you're doing in there. Where you're from, what it is you want!
*I'm not doing anything right now. I know I've been disturbing you, and I apologize. I didn't mean to.*
Right now? What are you planning to do later?
*Sometime soon something's going to happen, and you'll need my help to make work out right. It's very important for both of us, you just don't know it yet. If I can change it, you may never have to know how important.* The sadness surged, along with that crippling feeling of loss...
You said 'if Ah can change it'. Ah've heard people say things like that before.
*So?* The voice sounded... unsettled.
Cable. Bishop. He paused. You're a time-traveler, aren't you?
*Would it make you feel better if I said yes? 'Change' is a very flexible word, but I can be a time-traveler if that makes you more comfortable.*
No. He didn't sense any hostility, just genuine remorse and that deep grief. He was almost amazed at the calm of the words, given how just what was leaking through was taking him almost to the verge of tears. You have to be honest with me if you want to share mah head. Otherwise Ah take this to Cable, and let him sort you out.
*I can't let you do that.*
Then tell me what's going on! It's mah mind, remember!
*Our mind. I'm you.* The voice allowed a few shocked seconds to tick away before continuing. *A future you, anyway. You were right about the time-travelling, I am from the future. A long way in the future. And unlike Cable or Bishop or any of the rest of them, I lived all the intervening time. I know EXACTLY how we get from your point A to my point B, because I lived it. One minute at a time.*
*He had nothing to do with it.* The voice was scathing, angry. *I really dislike God, Sam, please stop talking about him as if he'd actually help you.*
What makes you so sure he won't? Sam.
*He didn't help me when I was you.* There it was again... those feelings his 'older self' was only barely keeping under control.
What happened to make you lose faith?
There was a long pause before the reply. *I lost everybody I loved. Because I loved them. And I screamed out to God - begging Him to spare them, take me instead... or at the very least take me as well. And He left me there, on my knees. To live a life more hopeless than death.*
Sam huddled down on the grass, terrified by the bleak horror of the voice... his voice. The different accent and the distance had confused him, but it was his. And you're me... that happens to ME...
*Now you see!* If he could have, the intruder (was it intruding if it was his mind first?) would have been shaking him by the shoulders. *I have to change things! I'm the only one who knows where it starts, don't you understand? When the- this THING will hurt almost everyone, and I'm the only one who can change it! And I have to do that through you.*
*I'm not like the others, I'd rip up the timestream too badly if I did it by myself. I'm not even physically here. But you are, and you're me...* He stopped, possibly to prevent what sounded like babbling coming at the end of the sentence.
And why are you so upset? Right now, that is. It was important.
*I... none of your goddamn business.*
Ah'm you, remember?
*I'm warning you.*
Or what? It came up when Ah- we saw Tamara. Is it something about her? Something that happens to her?
It was almost like a physical blow, and he was hurtling back into blackness... Sam tried to yell and discovered he didn't have vocal cords. Tried to see but didn't have eyes. Sam? There was no answer. Nothing but blackness. Is this what Cable felt like when Stryfe took him over? Maybe it was worse, at least Ah know Ah won't want to hurt me...
The thought was hardly comforting. Time stretched on, but he didn't really know if that was real. It could have been seconds... it could have been years. LET ME OUT!
*Scared? Sorry.* He didn't sound particularly sorry, but he give Sam a chance to see and hear a little. A distant, dull vision but something. He was flying... flying over something dark and blurry, and doing it faster than he'd ever done before. The wind was screaming outside a much-minimized blast field. Thin, clinging tightly to his body and efficiently streamlined. Not... how it looked when he used it.
How are you doing that?
*Experience. Shut UP.*
Still angry. Sam shivered as the vision blurred down for a few minutes. The other him was hiding something from him.
*You don't want to see what's coming.*
Yes Ah do! He didn't care, as long as he saw something.
*Okay then.* The tone was vindictive. Didn't sound as similar anymore...
The view opened up again, wider this time. A door. His hand reaching out, then a bright gold flicker. The door opened for no apparent reason, and his body walked through. The room beyond was large, old and dark. A few chairs, a small table, a bookcase. And another door, which opened to let a tall, white-haired man through.
Cable! Sam thought with delight. Then common sense kicked in as the other figure flipped on the light, and he wanted to break out in a cold sweat. Unfortunately he didn't have a body at that moment. No scars. No metal. Longer hair. Stryfe.
Stryfe blinked at him, then smiled nastily. "Clever boy. How quickly you grasp the phenomenally obvious." And it was addressed to him. He felt... looked at.
The Stryfe's attention turned to the other Sam, somehow visibly. "Viashan," he said with far more respect and a touch of annoyance.
"Let me guess. You need me to do something for you."
"Of course. This one's a little more personal, but I'd appreciate speed."
"You always want something done yesterday. I've learned to ignore it." Stryfe looked thoughtful. "Are you aware that you are... crying?"
"Of course I am," Sam's mouth snapped. The person it really belonged to was more than a little surprised. That was why his vision was still so blurry. Tears.
Stryfe smirked. "I just didn't think that you could."
"Don't tempt me, I'm not in the mood."
Miraculously, that seemed to have an effect. Stryfe stopped smirking and looked more businesslike, despite the fact he'd obviously just been woken up. "What do I have to do today? And why couldn't it wait until morning?"
It was later here, by quite a while it seemed. He'd gone east some distance...
"I need you to rearrange a few memories."
'Viashan' sounded annoyed. "The other one of course. I was... distressed. I told him a little more than was wise, and he's picked up on something inconvenient. Far better than he forgets he even knew about me until later."
"Distressed?" Stryfe frowned. "Viash, you don't get distressed. You get angry, or vindictive, or murderous... but not upset. That's why they call you 'viashan'."
"This is my past, Stryfe. I have to be awake all the time now, and there are too many ghosts walking and talking."
"Then you had better get used to it quickly." Stryfe frowned, stepping lightly across the room before turning back to face them. Nervous. "There are far too many variables here for you to lose control because you let nostalgia get the better of you!"
Viashan took three quick steps, picked Stryfe up bodily and slammed him against the wall hard enough to shake specks of plaster from the ceiling. Sam froze, waiting for a retaliation that would kill both of him... and was left waiting as Viashan spoke. "My feelings are none of your concern! I can hold up my end, boy, you worry about yours."
"Get off me," Stryfe growled, pushing away the arms that were glowing faintly orange-gold.
A new voice intruded from the bedroom doorway, attracting the attention of three men and two sets of eyes. Large and well muscled, the dog's growl was an obvious warning. As were the white canines that were prominently visible.
"Shh, he's just an old... acquaintance." Stryfe stepped towards the vaguely German Shepherd-ish dog, and away from the two Sams. "Go back to sleep."
Viashan seemed to smile, watching the display without any apparent discomfort. "Hello Germanicus."
He knows Stryfe's DOG?
Stryfe's head snapped back around to level a truly deadly glare at Viashan. His voice was soft though, despite being a little strained. "Oh, he knows nearly everyone... at one time or another."
For some reason, Viashan backed off. "Just rearrange the memories for me, Stryfe. Then I'll go."
Stryfe nodded, and Sam felt him breech all the defenses his older self had so kindly opened...
"No!" Sam sat up, blinking at his dingy surroundings. Just a dream... a strange nightmare about Stryfe that was already fading. Why was he here? And how long had he been asleep? He'd felt dizzy, gone for walk... He poked his side with his right hand and looked at his watch on the other wrist. Felt okay now, and it was time to go back for dinner. With that girl, what was her name again? Tamara, that was it... He ignored the feeling that there was something he was supposed to remember about Tamara, and it slowly faded.
End part two
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