Unknown225

~~~

Tony opened his left eye; the right was swollen shut. He saw a young woman with shoulder-length black hair and a permanent frown tattooed across her face. She looked worn down and older than her years. The woman stopped attending his wounds when she realized he was conscious. “He’s awake,” she nearly whispered over her shoulder.

He tried to get up but it hurt to move his head.

“Easy, big guy,” the black man said, coming into view and holding a rifle. “Don’t want to waste Mary’s fine efforts to clean you up because of another… misunderstanding.”

Tony, realizing his hands were no longer bound, raised an arm and said, “Relax, I’m not going to be any trouble.”

The black man nodded and lowered the rifle.

Tony looked back at the woman.

She seemed unsure of what to do next.

“Thank you,” he said.

Mary smiled weakly and backed away.

“There we go,” the black man said, pulling up a chair. “I’m glad to see there’s still some civility left in the world. Name’s Orosco. We met in the woods briefly. And you are Tony… right?”

Tony nodded, reaching up to touch his swollen face. “That cop punches pretty good for a fucking psycho.”

“Oh, Sam didn’t mean anything by it. I don’t agree with her methods at times, but she probably saved your life… bought you another night, at least. Mr. Crazy came by earlier to fetch you, but when he saw the mess you were making all over the table, he decided to wait ‘till you were more talkative.”

Tony managed to sit up. He looked around the dome-shaped room and said, “I see the shitty scenery hasn’t changed much. So can I ask you where the hell I am, who you’re talking about, and why I just took a beating, or are you sworn to secrecy, too?”

“Ask away,” Orosco said. He motioned to Mary. “Sam’s given us the green light to fill you in. I guess you passed the test. She’ll want talk to you when she gets back and I highly recommend you start telling her what she needs to know ‘cause she’s the only friend you have in this place.”

Tony was about to object but was distracted by the sight of food.

Mary came over with a plate of what looked like meatloaf, corn and mashed potatoes. She also brought a bottle of water and a plastic spoon. She placed them near Tony and backed away again.

Tony reached for the plate and then stopped before his savage hunger took over.

“Go on, Tony,” Orosco said. “This isn’t a trick. Go on and eat and we’ll talk for a spell. See if we can’t undo all this misunderstanding. ”

“So where’s your buddy, Jenkins?” Tony asked.

“Oh, he’s outside, discouraging anyone from stopping by unannounced.”

“And to keep me from having any ideas about leaving, right?”

Orosco smiled. “I kept telling them you were smarter than you looked.”

Tony looked at the meal. He could hardly think of anything else. Fuck it. He snatched up the plate and began inhaling the food.

Orosco started walking around the room. “How about you let me tell you a story while you eat? If you still have questions after, I’ll try to answer them.”

Tony simply nodded.

“Myself, chatty Mary over there, Jenkins, Sam, and a whole lot of other fine folks found this place at the beginning—when all those dead things started jumping out of the living, out the ground, out of our fucking nightmares and everywhere else they came from,” Orosco began. He then reached into his pocket and retrieved Sam’s flyer. He handed it to Tony and continued, “Most of us remembered these flyers, which were posted before the shit hit the fan. They were strange at the time, like someone’s idea of a bad joke. But as it turned out, someone knew what was coming and they were prepared for it. From what we’ve gathered, whoever posted them picked the right spots to put them—on the other side of the bigger cities, to the east, out where there were fewer folks spread out over larger distances in the smaller towns. That was the only reason we had a chance at all. Most folks were trying for the freeways or heading for the power plant ‘cause the media said it was safe there. But we headed here instead.”

Tony read the flyer with the strange symbol at the top:

YOU ARE NOT SAFE.
THE GOVERNMENT IS DYING
THE DEAD ARE COMING.

PAWNS OF THE APOCALYPSE
HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED.
DO NOT BECOME PREY,
STAY VIGILANT,
THE LIONS ARE LOOSE.

WHEN YOU WAKE IN HELL
COME FIND US.
WE HAVE ANSWERS.
WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WATCHING.
WE WILL KEEP YOU SAFE.

At the very bottom of the flyer in small print were recommended routes coming from the north and the south to an obscure location titled, WP #27, EVACUATION CENTER.

“Don’t bother asking me who wrote it, Tony, or what it means. None of us have come close to figuring that out or what that damn symbol is all about,” Orosco said. “At first, everything was great. Mr. Crazy… that is, Micom, he met us at the front gate, rolled out the carpet and let us all in. He had this place already up and running, like it had been here for a while. He made us feel safe here ‘cause he had food, water, shelter, and his own small private army. Then he closed the gates when things got worse out there and he said we needed to stay put and wait for further instructions. He fed us a bunch of bullshit about how this camp was a state-of-the-art experimental emergency facility being tested by the government. We didn’t care at the time. At that point, we just wanted to feel safe and that’s why we never saw the cage door close all around us until it was too damn late.

By the end of the second day, folks started feeling helpless and cut off from everything. They wanted to leave and go find their missing loved ones. That’s when everything changed. That was the first night we were attacked by the fucking Shadow Dead.”

“Shadow Dead?” Tony asked. “You mean those yellow-eyed monsters, right?”

Orosco frowned. “No… no… we saw them yellow-eyed beasts for sure, before we got here, but the Shadow Dead is something else. They’re smart and they know how to stay hidden. They started attacking our camp when folks were itching to leave.”

Orosco looked to Mary.

She refused to meet his gaze.

“And the ones who tried to leave anyway… well… let’s just say they never made it,” he finished.

“So what are you saying?” Tony said. “Are we all trapped in this place?”

“Some would say that. Others might say that we’re protected here.” Orosco shook his head. “Those things killed a lot of people in the beginning… scared the hell out of everybody. That’s when Micom activated the machine. He said a bunch of scientists came up with a way to communicate with the dead… I still can’t believe I’m saying that out loud. Anyway, Micom activated the machine on our fourth night here and suddenly the Shadow Dead stopped killing people. We call the machine, Micolad.”

Tony shook his head. “Somebody please wake me up. You’re telling me that we’re stuck here and that some machine which can… negotiate with the dead has kept you all alive? Do you realize how crazy you sound?”

Orosco laughed. “Tony, my man, after the dead started rising and feasting on the living, there’s a lot more things I’m willing to believe now. I’ve seen crazier shit out there in the streets… so have you. Whether you believe it or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that our little protector-bot is calling the shots around here… and anyone who doesn’t comply is dealt with severely.”

“That’s all the more reason to get out of Crazy Town, don’t you think?”

“Agreed,” Orosco said. “A few of us our working on that very thing. When there were still a few folks left with some backbone who didn’t want to take orders from Micom and his toy, that’s when things got worse around here… that’s when the children were taken. Afterwards, people simply gave up.”

Just then, the night exploded with animal-like groans and howls causing the hair to stand on Tony’s neck. “What the hell is that?”

Orosco and Mary both looked grave. “That’s them, Tony. That’s the Shadow Dead. They come calling for blood every night. That’s what the Gathering is all about… mostly. Micolad translates what they want and then makes arrangements to satisfy their requests. But it always ends in blood.”

Tony could not think straight while the monsters outside made him want to wet himself. “My God, it sounds like they’re everywhere!”

“They’re just outside the fences. They’re waiting for us to decide who dies tonight… or more accurately, who Micolad chooses and how.”

The noises finally ceased.

Tony waited for the sky to come crashing down. “That’s it? They won’t attack?”

Orosco shook his head. “No, they won’t attack… but they won’t go away either, not until we’ve given them what they want. That’s the survival game we play here in Crazy Town. There’s a lot more I could tell you, which would make you never want to sleep again, but there’s just no time. If you want to help yourself, then you need to help us.”

“What do you need from me?” Tony asked. “I just wandered into this fucking place to keep from being torn to pieces, and now it seems I’m worse off for it.”

“That’s just it, Tony. You see, no one’s managed to find a way out of here. But somehow, you managed to find your way in. That means you’re either the luckiest son-of-a-bitch, or, the Shadow Dead wasn’t looking your way because you found a blind spot. And if you can tell us exactly how you did that, we might be able to get out the same way, undetected.”

Tony looked at the flyer again and let out a deep breath. “For all I know, everything you just told me is bullshit; you feed me, treat me humanely, crack a few jokes and tell me just enough to get me to lower my guard so I lay my cards down on the table.”

Orosco smiled. “Damn, you are a lot smarter than you look. Everything you’re saying could be true, my man, but if I’m telling the truth, then you have everything to lose by not helping us.”

“And if I tell you how I got in here, I risk becoming expendable very quickly.”

Orosco raised his hands and laughed. “Shit, if I were in your shoes right now, I’d be holding out, too. All I can ask, Tony, is that you think hard about what I’m saying… think very hard. Sam will be back shortly and she can be very… unreasonable.”

“No shit.”

“Please help us, Tony,” Mary chimed in, surprising them both. “Everything he told you is the truth. There was a time when I thought this place was everything it appeared to be, and I paid dearly for believing in the lies which surround this place. I know you don’t trust us, and after what Samantha did to you, I don’t blame you for being reluctant. But please help us get out of here. People… good people who have lost their way… are dying in this place every day. There’s only a few of us left who are willing to fight for a chance just to make it out there beyond the camp, even though we know that we’ll be all alone and that the monsters will be pursuing us no matter where we go. We’re all dead here, it’s just a matter of time. We may be just as dead out there, but at least we’ll die on our own terms and not chosen to die by a heartless machine.” She looked away, feeling self-conscious for speaking so much.

Tony looked at the frail girl and was reminded of Lydia, before she’d given up in that basement. He looked at Orosco and said, “I’ve seen them… your Shadow Dead. I saw a group of them along the river that I hiked in from.”

Orosco raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Just then, Samantha and Jenkins barged into the room, quickly closing the door behind them.

Tony immediately tensed up and got to his feet.

“Why are his cuffs off?” Jenkins shouted, drawing his gun and moving toward the prisoner.

Tony raised his fists. Here we go.

Mary backed into a corner, unsure of what to say. She looked to Orosco.

Orosco moved in between them and raised a finger to Jenkins. “Stop that shit right now! Everything was going fine ‘till you two stormed the place. So just chill!”

Jenkins looked back at Sam.

Sam stood with her back against the door, oblivious to everyone in the room. She ran her hand through her hair and looked up at the ceiling. “Fuck,” she finally said.

“What’s up, Sam? You look awfully white… even for a cracker.” Orosco’s smile quickly faded when he saw the look of fear on the cop’s face.

“They know,” she said. “They know about everything. Micolad has a list. All our names are on it.”

Jenkins started pacing the room. “What? How? We were careful!”

Sam raised her arms and said, “Fuck if I know how… damn it!” She punched the door three times.

Tony looked to Orosco. “Look, I don’t know and I don’t care what the fuck’s going on with you crazy people. Just stand aside and I’ll take my chances outside. Sounds like you have other things to worry about.”

“Tony, my man, I’ve enjoyed our discussion. But right now you need to shut your honky-ass up.” Orosco said to Sam, “Alright, so we’re on the shit list. What’s the plan, Sam?”

Sam was staring at Tony.

To Tony, she looked a wild bull on the verge of charging.

“Has he said anything yet?” she asked.

“He’s told me a little bit,” Orosco said. “We were just getting into it when you barged in.”

Sam nodded. She looked to Jenkins. “Give me your gun.”

Jenkins gave her a puzzled look.

“Just fucking give it to me!”

Jenkins reluctantly handed over his sidearm.

Sam took the pistol and walked over to Tony.

“Now, Sam, there’s no need to-”

“Can it, Orosco!” she said, pushing him aside to face Tony.

Tony took a deep breath and said, “Are we really going to do this again, officer? My hands are free this time and I haven’t a qualm in the world about busting your teeth out right now.”

She ignored him and handed Tony the gun. “Take it.”

Tony shook his head. “Hell no! What… do you think I’m stupid? I take that and you and your boys shoot me down and say I was armed.”

Sam laughed. “You’ve watched too many dirty cop B-movies. Just take the fucking thing before I beat you senseless with it!”

Tony took the gun and immediately pointed it at her. “There. Is that what you wanted?”

Sam smiled. “Almost. Now pull the fucking trigger.”

“Sam!” Jenkins protested. “What the hell are you doing?”

“SHUT… THE… FUCK… UP!” she shouted over her shoulder. She drew her own gun and dropped it on the floor. “Do it, Tony. Jenkins isn’t armed now and Orosco’s a fucking pussy behind all that talk, so he’s not going to stop you—no offense Orosco.”

“If you say so.” Orosco was scratching his head.

“There,” Sam said. “Now just shoot me and walk the fuck out of here.”

Tony lifted the gun to her head. “Lady, I just killed two men yesterday with a crowbar… and they didn’t tie me up and beat my face in. If you think this sick game you’re playing is going to end well… just get the fuck away from me… all of you.”

“No… can’t do that,” she said. “We’re all fucked anyway, unless you start cooperating. So either help me, help you… or just shoot me. Either way, we’re fucking out of time!”

Tony’s hands were shaking. “Did you kill them… all those people in the river? Some of them were just kids, you sick bitch!”

“Wait,” Jenkins started, “are you saying that you came in from the river? No fucking way!” He started pacing again. “Sam… what the hell is he talking about? Bodies?”

“Shut up!” Sam said. “So that’s it… you followed the river in?”

“That’s what my man just got done telling me, Sam,” Orosco said. “Hell, he’s seen them!”

“Bullshit!” Jenkins said. “He’d be dead if he had.”

“Is this true?” she asked.

“Fuck you. Talk to me about those murdered people in the river!”

Sam looked confused. Finally she said, “Tony, this is the first I’ve heard about any bodies. No… I didn’t kill them.”

Tony wasn’t convinced. Part of him wanted to pull the trigger.

“So, let me get this straight,” Sam said, “you followed the river here?”

Tony was done taking orders. He just wanted out. “I’m finished talking, lady. Now get the hell out of my way!”

“It’s fucking empty, dip-shit,” she said. “All the guns are empty. We were never in charge of anything. It’s all just a show to make the general population think they had a real sheriff in town keeping the peace. Micom’s idea. He gave us the guns but kept the bullets. Get it? He made everyone feel like they still had some choice in being here rather than being held against their will by his private militia. They see me while his goons stand back and everyone believes they still have control. And now, Tony, the powers-to-be have decided that I’m no longer necessary, as well as my associates, so they’ve scheduled our executions.”

Tony didn’t know what to say.

Sam took a deep breath. “I know you don’t have a clue what’s going on, but trust me, if you don’t listen to me now… we’re all dead.”

Tony shook his head and pulled out the handgun magazine. It was empty. “And what about those dead people in the river? Who did that?”

“Indirectly, the man in charge of this fucked-up camp… and his fucking machine. I can only speculate, but I believe those bodies you stumbled upon is where the Shadow Dead… store their kills”

Tony felt the color leave his face. He lowered the empty gun. “This is all too fucking much.”

“How did you get in here… specifically… which way did you come from?” Sam asked.

“It was dark when I wandered into these woods,” Tony said. “It was hard to keep my bearings, but I thought I was travelling east from the freeway. I climbed a cliff and found… dead things tied to trees like some kind of warning wall which ran the whole cliff side.”

“That has to be the western perimeter,” Jenkins said. “It makes sense if he came down the river after that.”

“Agreed,” Sam said. She noticed Tony’s puzzled look and said, “Those dead people tied to the trees came from this camp. We only know about them because of the first group of refugees who tried to sneak out of here. They tried to head for the main gate to the south, thinking they could just leave the way they came in. Well, they failed. Fucking Shadow Dead caught them, infected them and then tied them to the trees to warn off others. They left one girl alive to come back and tell us all about it.”

Tony noticed all of them go uncomfortably quiet for a moment. “What?”

“That girl,” Jenkins started, “was barely alive when she came back—died shortly after, too. Those… things… ripped out her eyes. We found her screaming just outside the fences.”

“Tell him the rest,” Orosco said. “He needs to know what we’re dealing with.”

Jenkins looked pale. “When the girl died a few hours later, we stuck a fucking screwdriver through her ear to kill the brain, just in case… she came back. We wrapped her body up for burial in the morning and tried like hell to sleep that night. Next morning, her body was missing. But they left her torn out eyes behind like a fucking calling card.”

“They always return a body part,” Sam added. “That way, no one starts believing escape is possible. But they always keep the bodies.”

More uncomfortable silence.

Tony shuddered involuntarily. “Why the fuck would any of you stay here? I’m sure if you all banded together you could beat these fucking shadow things and get out of here. Hell, I got in without them knowing, so maybe there’s a whole lot less of them than you think.”

“Agreed,” Sam said. “That’s not the problem, Tony.”

“What… that fucking Micom asshole and his goon squad? Is that what you’re worried about?”

“We don’t have the numbers Mister Know-It-All!” Jenkins said impatiently. “No matter what we do, we can’t get enough people to revolt. They’ve seen Micom’s magic bullshit and how that damn machine keeps the monsters back. They’re scared shitless and are convinced that Micolad is the only thing keeping us from being slaughtered in our sleep.”

Tony shook his head.

“Tony, my man,” Orosco started, “the Shadow Dead are like fucking ghosts. They come and go as they please and take whatever and whoever they want. When they started stealing the kids, whatever was left of this camp’s backbone got ripped away. Now, Micom has complete control.”

“I don’t understand,” Tony said. “Are you trying to tell me that these dead things are intelligent enough to sneak into your camp without anyone knowing about it?”

“Tony, with the exception of yourself and the girl who had her eyes ripped out, no one else has made it back alive to give us anything to go on,” Jenkins said.

“It was Sam who figured out how they were sneaking into the camp, and Mary confirmed it by telling us where the first hole was,” Orosco said.

Sam gave him a weary look and then addressed Tony. “They’re using the domes to get in. There’s a network of tunnels beneath this death-trap camp. We’ve found five access holes so far. They’re located beneath the beds in vacant shelters. We suspect this was pre-staged a long time ago and that it’s no accident that these Shadow Dead are here.”

“Sam thinks we’re damn guinea pigs in some fucked-up experiment,” Orosco said.

“Who the hell would have the time to play these fucking games? And to what end?” Tony was tired, tired of all the crazy bullshit.

Sam saw the flyer in Tony’s hand and pointed at the symbol. “It’s those mother-fuckers! I don’t know who they are but I’m convinced that this ‘camp’ has a single objective and Micom, Micolad and the Shadow Dead are all part of it.”

“And what’s that?” Tony asked.

“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Sam said with a heavy sigh. “But I’m convinced that nothing is what it seems here… nothing. Everything in my gut tells me that we have it all wrong.”

Tony growled in frustration, grabbed the sides of his head, and said, “This is all fucking nuts! Okay… fuck the rest right now. If you know about these tunnels, why don’t you just leave?”

“That’s where you come in, my man,” Orosco said. “Up until now, we had no clear direction to try for. We know the tunnels run in all directions but what good would it do if we chose the wrong one and ended up coming out right in the middle of their den while they fed. We’ve been waiting for a clue—something to tell us which direction to take.”

“We know it’s a gamble using the tunnels,” Jenkins said. “We’ve just been waiting for enough credible information on what’s ‘out there’ to increase our odds.”

“The blind spot,” Tony said and looked to Orosco.

“We’ve been trying to expose a weakness in their defenses, using our patrols outside the fences to locate one,” Sam said. “Up until you came along, we were starting to believe that there weren’t any vulnerabilities. But you being here proves that they aren’t watching everything out there—at least, not all of the time. If we’re going to sneak twenty people out of this mad house, and not get them slaughtered, we need to find that blind spot.”

Tony was in deep thought. Rather than trying to process the increasing strangeness around him, he focused on his terrifying journey into these woods. “As I told Orosco, I saw a group of them traveling up the river when I wandered into their area. Fortunately, I was up on a cliff and they hadn’t seen me. I watched them head for a waterfall and then disappear behind it. They never came out again. I think they have a cave. Maybe your tunnels lead there?”

Sam considered this. “Everything points to the river. That’s our out.”

“Are you fucking insane?” Jenkins asked. “You want to ‘walk the river’? Hell… just wait another day for Micolad to sentence you and you’ll have it!”

Sam’s eyes lit up. “That’s it! That’s the weak spot! Think about it. What’s the one direction we’re all too damn terrified to consider? The one place they don’t need to watch?”

“And the only tunnels we haven’t found yet,” Orosco added.

“That’s right!” Sam said. “We’ve been scoping out these fucking domes for days now and we still haven’t found one northern tunnel. Why is that? If they’re using the tunnels then how come we haven’t found one which leads from the river?”

“But we’ve checked the northern domes,” Jenkins said. “We found nothing.”

“Not all of them,” Sam corrected. “Copperfield’s dome is on the north side, remember?”

“Oh, that’s just fucking crazy!” Jenkins was pacing again. “Even if we could get close without him knowing it, you don’t even know if it’s there!”

Sam was nodding. “True. But tell me why that little prick is the only one of Micom’s people who has a dome when the rest of them are snug as fucking bugs in the barracks?”

Jenkins had no answer.

“That’s all well and good, Sam, and your logic is sound, but Jenkins is right. How would we get in there without that creepy son-of-a-bitch finding out?” Orosco asked.

Sam was thinking of Ralph Emerson. “We’d need one hell of a diversion which would send Copperfield running to the center of camp.”

“You’re not thinking… Sam… that’s fucking crazy!” Jenkins was waving his arms around. “There’s no way anyone could get close to that fucking machine… not after what Ralph tried.”

“I can. I’m the fucking sheriff of this camp, remember?” Sam said. “In fact, we’ll do it tonight. Micom would never expect it. I don’t have to attack Micolad. I just need to get behind the platform and set it on fire. That will keep Micom and his men busy while I slip out of there in a hurry. We leave during the commotion, take the north tunnel under Copperfield’s dome, and follow the damn river out of here.”

Orosco was laughing. “Aren’t you forgetting the Shadow Dead? We’d be walking right up on them.”

“I don’t think so,” Sam said. “No, every time someone’s tried to escape, it’s been during the day and away from the river and toward the south. That’s what they’d expect us to do and that’s what they’re watching for. Tony got in undetected because no one in their right mind would walk the damn river. That’s suicide. But no one was watching the river.”

“Well, we’re in agreement on the suicide part,” Jenkins said.

Sam was getting frustrated. “No, I’m right about this. I can’t explain it, but I know this is our only way out! As crazy as it sounds, it’s the crazy way that’s going to save us.”

“That’s a hell of a big risk,” Orosco said. “But I think you’re right, Sam. The crazy plan is the only plan that might work. It’s like playing chess with someone who can anticipate every move you make because even the lesser opponent’s moves are still based on what a rational person would do with knowledge of the game. If Micom and the Shadow Dead are all in this together, they’ll be anticipating flight in any direction but toward the north. They won’t see this coming because it’s like trying to escape a burning building by heading straight into the fire.”

Sam laughed. “That’s an interesting way to put it.”

“This is fucking insane,” Jenkins said shaking his head.

“Count me in, for what it’s worth,” Tony said.

They all looked at him.

“I’m the only one who has seen what we’re dealing with out there. It turns out that you still need me… and it looks like I need you.”

“What about your miraculous diversion, Sam?” Jenkins said. “What happens if you get caught?”

“I can do it,” Mary said.

They all turned to the quiet girl.

“Micom trusts me and I’m easy to overlook. The guards are used to seeing me about. No one will give me a second thought.”

“Mary, I can’t ask you to do that,” Sam said.

“You didn’t ask, I volunteered,” she said. “Was I on Ralph’s list?”

“No, you weren’t,” Sam said.

Mary nodded. “Well… you are, so that means they’ll be watching for you. I’m the only one who can do this. Besides, they’ll need you out in those woods. Not me.”

Sam could find nothing to counter Mary’s argument.

“You aren’t seriously going to let this girl sacrifice herself, are you?” Tony asked.

Sam ignored him.

Orosco said, “Are you sure, Mary? It’s very dangerous. If you’re caught…”

Mary frowned, stared at her feet, and then looked up at them with a surprising fire burning in her eyes. “I’ll be your distraction. I can do this. I need to do this. I’m going to kill Micolad.”

~~~

Next Episode 18-4

Previous Episode 18-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 18-3: Micom and Micolad” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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