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Bridging Worlds
by Chris Vogel


"So," he says, glancing up and down the hallway, "this is Climatrol. Doesn't look so bad." He grins reassuringly at me. I am, as always, silent. He sighs and turns away.

My fragile consciousness withers a little. I have wronged him. Why must I resist him always? I cannot submit to the bonding I feel growing between us, I cannot. With blood such as mine, I will not risk bringing a child into this world. Cannot. Must not. This I know.

But what is my blood?

So many memories, of a sudden…None of them clear, all like a waking dream, hazy and unconnected. For so long my mind had been so full of holes…I was always incomplete.

But I remember, now.

What am I?

*     *     *     *     *

"Hey!" Rolf yelled, drawing his sword. "Just what do you think you're doing?" His voice echoed hollowly within the bridge. He advanced, slowly, upon Darum.

Darum was armed as well, with a long, wickedly curved knife. The girl at his feet was naked, the only sound she made was to sob in fear and draw shuddering breaths. Her whole body was wrapped about itself as tightly as she could manage, trying to make herself as small as possible.

The big man kicked the child harshly before turning to face Rolf. "Don't interfere!" he bellowed, raising the knife.

Rolf didn't stop his advance. "I'm Agent Rolf of Paseo. I'm placing you under arrest for banditry, murder, attempted murder, and assault. The punishment is death, but if you come quietly and leave the girl be, I'll see that it ends quickly."

"You have nothing but suspicions, Agent." Darum barked a laugh that boomed within the bridge. "This is a community service! Take a look." Reaching down, Darum grabbed a fistful of the girl's purple hair and yanked her to her feet.

Once, while Rolf had been doing reconnaissance in a Land Rover, he had almost run over a deer. The look in that deer's eyes mirrored that of the girls - something absolutely paralyzed with fear. The girl was slim - no, skinny, to be honest - as if she hadn't eaten in quite some time. She appeared to be about nine.

Rolf continued his advance. Darum backed up, dragging the girl along with him. "Wait, Agent. This isn't all." Adjusting his grip on his knife, Darum caught hold of the girl's chin, twisting her head and pushing back her hair. Rolf gasped. Long, tufted ears protruded from her head.

"Your authority doesn't extend here, Agent. I'm not guilty of murder if she's a Biohazard! Last time I checked, you cowards in Paseo didn't extend your protection to these.." He yanked hard on the girl's hair, drawing her head backwards, and placed his knife against her throat. "Any last words, love?"

"Don't," Rolf said warningly. Gripping his blade one-handed, he quickly dipped one hand into his jacket and pulled out a small, single shot gun he always carried in a hidden pocket. "My authority doesn't extend this far out of Paseo, no. So nobody will call me on it, or even care, if I blow your damned head off right now, Darum."

Darum hesitated, then snarled and shoved the girl towards Rolf. She stumbled, cried out, and fell. "You're soft, Agent. Take this bloody nei and get out of my sight!" He quickly turned and made for the western end of the bridge. In a moment he would be gone.

Rolf raised his gun and set the sights directly on Darum's back. His finger tightened on the trigger.

"Nei?"

Rolf's arm dropped to his side and he approached the girl, ignoring Darum. For all intents and purposes, she appeared human, but those ears! "Yeah," he grinned. "I guess you are, at that. Well, Nei, take this." He undid the clasp of his cloak and slung it around the girl's frame. It practically engulfed her. "You got a name?"

"N…Nei. Nei." Her eyes, wild and unfocused, didn't seem to register Rolf.

"Okay, Nei," Rolf took her gently by the arm and helped her to her feet. "Come on with me, and we'll get you some help, okay? I promise, I won't hurt you."

*     *     *     *     *

True to his word, he had not.

Why, then, am I forever hurting him?

The halls are cold, silent, dark. Our footsteps ring shrilly upon the floors. The air stinks of death and fear, even after all this time. This place is dead. The contrast is startling.

Since what time? I have never been here before.

What contrast?

I shake my head furiously, wishing I was anywhere but here. But why? I do not smell the adrenaline of hunting creatures, and no demons with bloodlust in their eyes hurl themselves at me out of shadow.

Nei, he had called me. Nei. The human who is not a human. So tell me, Darum, wherever you are, what am I? I am the missing link between worlds - I am the accident. What is happening to me? So many memories that I had…lost…are returning as I travel deeper into this place.

I am becoming whole.

*     *     *     *     *

Her smile widened as her fingers tightened inexorably about her victim's throat. The man, dressed in the white coat of a scientist, gave a hissing gurgle and helplessly kicked his feet, dangling above the ground in her grip. His lips were turning blue from loss of air - she found it comical how easily these creatures died. Finally, the man gave a last, gurgling sigh and went limp.

She tossed the body aside without much interest - once they were dead, they no longer interested her. Save as food. Light gleamed off her naked flesh, smeared with the blood of those she had slain. She reveled in it, the warmth of the life's fluid spread across her form.

She felt the Other struggle for a moment, and she laughed, flaunting her Predominance over her, building even higher walls about her prisoner.

Another man appeared at the end of the hall, hoisting a strange metal construct. She recognized him - some developing thoughts in her primal mind matched his name to his young, arrogant face.

Devorda.

She was momentarily pleased with her accomplishment, but it passed, paling in compare to the joys of the hunt. These men were easy prey - they died to quickly and she was hungry for more. But they would suffice, for now. Devorda smelt of fear, the stink was all about him.

But something else…

Anticipation.

A bolt of energy was spat from the nozzle of the machine he carried, slamming into her shoulder, searing her flesh. She gave a half scream, half snarl as she was hurled backwards.

*     *     *     *     *

I had not enjoyed it - I shudder when I think of it. It was what I had become. But yes, I remember now. For that moment, for that split second of purest agony, she was unable to maintain the Predominance that so pleased her.

*     *     *     *     *

Her blood-smeared flesh gleamed as she rose to a crouch, ignoring the wound in her shoulder. Devorda desperately tried to fire his makeshift cannon once more, but the haphazard arrangement of parts and supplies failed to hold together. He fell back, a man ready to face death.

But the blast had angered her as much as hurt her. And though she had a high tolerance for pain, she was in considerable discomfort. She would enjoy slaying this one, slowly. Then she would gorge upon his flesh. She sprung.

Mid-leap, she convulsed, helplessly, her war-cry turning into a shriek of pain. She fell onto her side, shaking madly, and then there was a flash of light so bright, not even she was able to witness what happened next.

The scientist forgotten, she rose and cast about herself desperately for the source of her pain, that she might kill it as well. She had not expected so much effort inherent in slaying all these weak ones.

She saw a young girl, no more then four and as naked as she was, running down the hallway, away from her, on silent feet. There was something familiar about her…

Recognition stirred and she gave a snarl of rage. Without turning, she caught Devorda a powerful blow across his throat, crushing his windpipe and snapping his neck. He was dead before he hit the ground.

She dropped to all fours and began loping down the hallway after the child, her keen, almost-human nose detecting the scent of fear about the child so strong that Devorda's paled in comparison.

Yes, this one would take very long to die, indeed.

*     *     *     *     *

But which was I?

Hunter or hunted?

Yes, it comes to me now - I was the child.

What had she intended? I will never submit to her again.

Tears leap to my eyes.

No, I will never be a part of that!
Never again.

A part of what?

I am so afraid…what is happening to me?

I smell - no, sense, on some strange, long forgotten level - amusement in the air, and I know. She is here! She lives on still, nurturing her hatred and her bloodlust, yet…she has changed. Her hunter's instincts have grown sharper, her cunning and intelligence are human, not animal, not anymore. And she is waiting for me. I fall to my knees, my heart pounding fit to break through my chest.

How I want to be free of this awful place!

*     *     *     *     *

"It's a girl!" Jonathan Devorda laughed. "Just like we planned it, eh, fellas?"

Nothing registered fully - she slipped in and out of reality, dimly hearing, not seeing or smelling. She hovered on the edge of consciousness, her only anchor Devorda's words.

"We're not out of the woods yet, Josh," another voice, one she also recognizes, now. Timothy Hyatt, one of the lead scientists.

But she was, if only partially, aware.

*     *     *     *     *

I cannot describe my state, physically, save to say that I was aware. That I had come to be after…how long? I knew, once. When we were One, I knew.

One with who? Who is she?

But what I was eludes me, no matter how hard I probe this new memory. All that matters was that I was, for the first time, aware.

"Nei?"

I ignore the voice.

*     *     *     *     *

But she was not alone in her sense of being - something stirred, close to her yet infinitely far away. And she knew, in that moment, there was something with her.

She was not alone.

Not alone.

She reached out to this new entity, childlike, eager and naïve. The creature grabbed hold of that offering, that unnamable facet of her existence, extended in innocence.

*     *     *     *     *

She was always more cunning then I.

Who is she?

*     *     *     *     *

It grasped hold of her, tightly, and caused her pain. Horrible, unspeakable pain. And she, in innocence, did not know how to respond. That was her first physical sensation, that awful pain. And with that facet of her being in it's palm, it gained Predominance.

*     *     *     *     *

Yes, it comes clearer now, easier. Why?

We shared a body once, her and I, two entities trapped in a single form. She was stronger, more vicious, more cunning and primal then I - I was innocent. Why was my innocence shattered so brutally?

Shared is misleading, I know. She would never share the Predominance. But she would do the most awful things…and I did nothing to stop them.

It was my fault.

Someone is shaking me. I snap back into reality, and gaze into his eyes.

"Nei? Are you all right? Should I get Amy?" His eyes are full of worry and concern for me. My emotions run rampant - how I wish I could let them rush wild through my body, succumb to that one, incredibly need. But no. Not before I know more.

Our eyes are locked. I break that contact, shaking myself free of the depths of his soul, and rise, not responding. I see the worried looks of my companions and try to ignore them. Hardest of all to ignore is him - I can feel his eyes burning into my back, shocked and saddened.

Why can I not know? Why must I always resist this urging?

Perhaps I truly am as primitive as she is.

And again, I sense that amusement in the air.

*     *     *     *     *

There were many exercises and tests in the beginning, even as a very small child. That phase of our body did not last long, and while my mind improved, hers stagnated. So much is clearer to me now…

There was only meant to be one.

I was the mistake. I was not meant to be.

Within a month our body appeared to be that of a young woman - our unique genetic structure matured at a much faster rate then those of normal humans. This seemed to surprise the scientists. I do not know why.

There is one test I remember in particular…

*     *     *     *     *

Watching from the observation booth, Devorda grinned. They had done exactly what they had planned to do. Hyatt, next to him, didn't seem to share his pride with Number 23.

Below them was a specially constructed room within the Climatrol, one in which much of the testing was done. The room was perfectly square, with eight columns rising from the walls left and right of the doorway, which was sealed during testing. Laser batteries were mounted in the ceiling, swiveling pulse cannons capable of delivering a lethal charge.

They had let 23 loose in there.

The creature slipped easily through the sheet of lasers that the batteries unleashed at her, the laser's machine enhanced speed no match for 23's half human, half animal genetic construction.

"Release the drone," Devorda spoke into a small microphone connected to the control chamber just outside the testing room. A moment later a panel on the wall slid open and a small attack drone was released into the room with 23. Sensing new prey, 23 turned and began to engage the robot.

Hyatt rose from his chair and approached the observation window where Devorda stood. "This is wrong, Devorda."

"Scientific exploration is never wrong, Dr. Hyatt. Never." Devorda beamed as 23 slipped once more through a hail of lasers and approached the drone.

"We've created the ultimate killing machine, Jonathan. The question is - why? What is there we fear so much we must create a living weapon to destroy it?" Hyatt gestured at the creature, still stalking the drone. "Now she's primitive, but she gets more intelligent and powerful with every day that goes by. You can't contain something that grows exponentially the way 23 does, Dr. Devorda, you know that as well as I. Even with the Mother Brain, we can only do so much."

"Just what we need 23 for is confidential, Timothy. Don't stretch my patience. I am the lead scientist here, and you are my assistant. Never defy me. Or would you rather we rescinded your deal with the courts? Do you prefer death penalty over this?"

Hyatt threw up his hands and turned back to the testing room. 23 had fully engaged the drone now, and they were struggling with each other. 23 seemed to be winning.

Devorda regarded Hyatt for a moment longer before turning back to 23. It was for the best that Hyatt didn't know what they needed a killer for - he was a revolutionary, a radical, and would doubtless want to try to make contact with the massive space shuttle in orbit about Dezo. But the government had decided that the ship was somehow dangerous - though what information they had they did not share with Devorda. So, to combat this menace, they had tracked down a fugitive, but brilliant biologist who had bombed a few weapon plants, and who spoke out against Mother Brain now and again, and waved the death penalty in his face. He and Devorda had been teamed with a group of lesser scientists to make 23. The ultimate killing machine.

"Devorda, look out!"

Devorda snapped out of his reverie and back to the testing room in time to see 23 lifting the drone above her head and hurling it straight at the observation lounge. It smashed into the window and shattered it, hurling glass about the room. The drone exploded, setting fire to the room.

23 sprang, her fingers latching onto the edge of the observation window. She began to heave herself up, snarling incoherently.

Devorda, huddled in a corner, saw that 23 was on the verge of escape. He could not allow that to happen. "All cannons, target Number 23! Activate perimeter defense systems!" His voice was absorbed into the microphone. A moment later, the scientists in the control chamber locked onto 23's thermal reading and opened fire.

*     *     *     *     *

The body did pass out from pain, and in that moment I might have broken free. But she felt nothing - the moment the batteries began to fire, she gave over Predominance. I felt the lasers searing our flesh, I was the one who screamed in pain, I was the one who passed out.

Why had I not held on?

Better she died, and with her, the mistake that I am, then live life half a person. We are both half a person, now, two sides of one soul, split in two. And it is my fault she lives, as it was my fault she gained Predominance.

I walk on, hollowly, not caring where I go, only following where my companions lead. I am almost whole, now…all I need do is submit to her, become one with her and I will be complete. It will be welcome to be whole again, to be assimilated into her, to lose all the guilt and love and hatred I have gained, blessed oblivion…

I smell something odd. No, not smell. Sense, once more - how could they be so similar? But it is something much like a scent…it is fear so enormous it is ingrained into the very walls. Fear - and life, incarnate.

This is where I was born.

The mistake.

But this is also where Devorda died. I slow to a crawl as I remember that night.

*     *     *     *     *

The room was dark, and she was asleep.

Various sensors were attached to her bare flesh - she had never worn clothing, had no need for it - that monitored her pulse, heart rate, brain wave patterns. They had been placed on her after she had fallen asleep, and when she woke up to find them on her she would tear them away in hatred. She always did.

In her dreams, she tormented the Other.

How she reveled in the Other's weakness, it's frailty. This pathetic creature at the edge of her consciousness was all that she was not. She was strong, the Other was weak.

The laboratory in which she slept was lit only by the flickering, pale green light of the containment field about our sleeping area.

*     *     *     *     *

I remember, they would always keep us within that containment field, so we could not escape. Though she was still quite primitive, she understood what caused her pain, and the electric field caused her pain.

I heard the scientists talk about us - no, her. I did not exist. - once, and they called her Number 23.

She had no other name - I was graced with none.

Perhaps, after letting this go on for so long, I do not deserve one.

Find me, now, that I might submit and be lost in oblivion.

*     *     *     *     *

Only Devorda and his most trusted lackeys entered the laboratory where she slept, and they all knew the strength of her senses, how, like an animal, she could smell emotion. It was a natural off-shoot of the animal genetics integrated into her human form.

Timothy Hyatt had never been in this laboratory. Devorda didn't trust him enough for that.

His was a relatively new scent to 23 - Devorda rarely let Hyatt get close to her, other then through the observation window when the testing was going on. His contributions to the Project had always been to construct the life forms within a simulated, computer generated environment. His knowledge formed the foundation of the genetics upon which 23 was based. But she smelt him, and his fear. And she recognized him.

Like a true huntress, she feigned sleep, and a moment later heard the hiss of the electrical field deactivating. Her muscles tensed, but in the darkness, Hyatt didn't see. She could smell him coming nearer…

Hyatt slid the small syringe out of his sleeve where he had it concealed. It was filled to bursting with Metophose, one of the more potent toxins available on the black market.

Hyatt felt no guilt for moving in those circles - anything to stop the slow oppression that was the Mother Brain. He certainly hoped this poison would be enough to weaken 23's immune system and kill her. Such an abomination of life didn't deserve to live. He stepped onto the platform which the containment field would normally have sealed.

Almost immediately, 23 was up and upon him, snarling her rage at this intrusion. She grabbed Hyatt's throat and lifted him, kicking helplessly, into the air. She detected sudden movement as Hyatt's arm, holding a small object that glistened in the pale darkness, drove towards her. Reaching out for that flailing limb, she snapped Hyatt's arm like a twig. He screamed and dropped the syringe. Grabbing him with two hands, she began to throttle the scientist. He made the most amusing gurgling as he gasped for air. Within a few moments, his body went limp.

23 shook him for a few moments more before realizing, somewhere in her primitive mind, that Hyatt was dead. She hurled him away and his body smashed into a console, overturning it. He sprawled on the ground, neck and arm twisted at odd angles. Breaking into a jog, she was out of the room and away. She was freed. Now was the time for these men to pay for imprisoning her.

*     *     *     *     *

Devorda was not the first, or the last scientist to die that day, as she ran amok through the hallways, killing all who crossed her path. That was all that saved me when she gave pursuit - the distractions.

I freed myself from Climatrol - how, I do not recall, and ran blindly. Then - a man, and I was terribly cold, and he struck me, and…Rolf. He saved me.

I have a second chance.

The world is spinning all around me, the amusement I sensed before turning to malice. I fall, gasping in horror at the link I have allowed her to make with me. What a fool I was! I struggle against it, a cataclysmic battle, and at last, I feel my sister withdraw.

My sister?

Yes. We are not the same being any longer. I am Nei.

My eyes are clamped tightly shut, I feel the eyes of my companions on my body, sprawled on the hallway, dying in the same place I was born. Slowly, I open my eyes.

And all I can see is his face.

My heart swells, as it always does when I see his face. But the urgings do not come, not now. I am not an animal. I will deny instincts that belong purely to Her. I can love - all she knows is hatred and malice. I am Nei, now, no longer the Other. I will never submit to the darkness she made my life. I will defy my heritage. I am not the ultimate killing machine, and nor is she, for she cannot ever be whole. But when he is near me, then I become truly one being. And that is something that she will never understand.

"Rolf…"

He smiles, relieved. "Nei, are you all right?" He asks once more. "You fell…"

"No," I reply, sitting. "I'm fine - I slipped. Thank you, Rolf." I embrace him quickly, impulsively, before standing and walking down the hallway to where Devorda fell. His body is gone, of course. But there is a familiar scent in the air, one recent, and not ours.

I can feel his eyes on me as I walk down the hallway, shocked and pleased. I can smell emotion building all around him - both love and passion, and that makes a small portion of the sorrow return in full. Perhaps he and I are simply not meant to be. But I am pleased at this, and that outweighs the sorrow. No, my sister and I are not the same being any more.

My sister hunts. From the moment we entered this place, she has hunted us, but I was to busy preparing to die to notice. Perhaps I will die - but I will not die without fighting against her!

I am not the mistake - she was. Anything so awful, no matter if she was intended to be, is a mistake against nature, something which should not exist.

I am Nei.

I am not the missing link - not anymore. I am the best of the two worlds, and I join will join them, bridge the gap between. I am not the missing link, but the bridge.

I am Nei.

I drop to all fours the way my sister does so often when she hunts - how I know this, I do not know, and run along behind her scent, ignoring the stunned looks from my companions. I know they will follow - if not for me, then for Rolf. He would not dare lose me to the maze of passages and corridors in this place. True enough, they follow me, not understanding, but hoping.

Hoping that I am not insane.

The Hunter becomes the Hunted, sister mine, and now I am hunting you.

*     *     *     *     *

She is toying with us, but though we are separate, we are alike. We shared each other's mind, and we know the other too well to be easily diverted. She favors large rooms, where she will spread her scent across it, hoping to lose us. She cannot lose us, anymore then I can lose her.

There are no more memories, now - all have come and I truly am whole once more. I wonder, so many times as I pursue and she pursues us, whether she knows that we hunt her? I wonder, am I strong enough to face her?

Yes. I am Nei.

Nei has two meanings, I learned early in my life. For me, that word was a damnation, a sentence, a double edged sword.

'The human who is not a human.' I repeat it to myself silently as I race through the hallways, slowing down every so often to let the others catch up.

The second meaning had struck me as ironic - even then, I was bitter, lost in my own imagined weakness.

And the second, older meaning… Rolf had wanted me to take that as my name, but though I might resent the first definition, I did not choose the second. I felt unworthy. And perhaps, because of that, I was. I am not unworthy now.

I have always been strong, though I did not know it. I was, perhaps, the only one who failed to see it. I created myself, I willed myself to live, but over time I forgot why.

To fight my heritage. And I will fight you, sister. I will fight you to the death.

I am Nei, and Nei means Power. I am coming for you now.

*     *     *     *     *

Once, this place was full of life - scientists and researchers going about their business. She was only one project of a hundred, a thousand. How many men had made their homes here? Lived for the sake of science, for the betterment of mankind.

Only one experiment was truly, intrinsically wrong - and it was enough to kill every person in the facility save me. She killed them all. How strong is she?

No! I will not doubt my abilities. I am strong. We are all strong.

They did not deserve to die, sister. What have you destroyed that might have been wonderful? What experiment might have changed the world, and for the better? Who are you to decide who lives and who dies? Who am I? But this has been decided, sister. You forced me to those end with your tortures and your hatred. I am not to blame for your death, and you will die. You have killed yourself, sister, as surely as you killed Devorda or Hyatt.

I am coming.

*     *     *     *     *

At last, she seems to have given up the chase, her trail leading us away from places we had been, ground we had covered, and deeper into the bowels of Climatrol. So many things make sense now that did not before…She is responsible for the outbreak of Biohazards across Mota. Her revenge against the humanity that would have used her. She must be much more intelligent now, to learn to use the machines that generate Biohazards. Almost as intelligent as I, now.

Perhaps, sister, I should not hate you. The way you were created cannot be blamed on you…You were made that way, and darkness is your nature. But I am only human - how strange, to think of myself that way - and not infallible.

*     *     *     *     *

She was waiting for us in a cul-de-sac at the very top of the Climatrol, leaning casually against a conduit that protrudes from the wall. I sense immediately that she has changed. As I have grown, she has grown and she is more intelligent and cunning now then ever before. But beneath that facade, she is the killer I know so well…

It is her nature, this I admit to myself, as I have done before, but she still must die, or others will be killed. Not for her faults, but for the faults of others.

She has found clothing that matches - mocks - my own, though how she knew what I wore or where she found cloth to make them eludes me. Her hair is held in the exact same style as my own, her posture identical.

We are mirror images of each other.

"What?" he cries. "You look just like Nei!"

"I am called," her gaze flickers to me for a brief second, and a cynical smile splits her face in two. "Neifirst."

My fists clench at my sides. How dare, after all this time, she take the one thing in my life that belongs only to me and then make it her own. Anger wells within me. And the rest is a blur.

She has framed a challenge, and though she looks at Rolf, the speaks to me. I must fight her - though it will kill me. Nei will be no more. And I know, now, I cannot defeat her.

My eyes flicker to Rolf and my heart breaks with love. I understand, suddenly. There is a long road before him, and he needs strength which he lacks. Perhaps my strength will aid him along his way.

After all, does my name not mean 'Power'?

And he and I will meet again - I know this surely, and for once, though I do not know the source of this thought, I do not doubt it.

I nod, once, slowly, facing my sister, Number 23. She has no other name, is deserving of no other name.

I am Nei, sister, and I have come for you.

Farewell, beloved.

*     *     *     *     *

Rolf reached out slowly and closed the staring eyes. Neifirst stood to one side, ignoring them, licking her claws, smeared with Nei's blood. She herself seemed to be able to disregard the wounds Nei inflicted upon her in the moment before her death.

Reaching out, he smoothed Nei's hair, wiped the blood gently from her face. She seemed so serene in death - a serenity she had never gained in life.

Or had she?

He had known so little of her, but the love he had felt for this woman was so profound the rest of his life paled beside it. In the months they had been together, they had come to fulfill each other simply by their own presence. They had made each other whole.

His finger's rested for a moment on Nei's ears, and he gave them a loving caress. How beautiful they were! How soft and delicate…The most beautiful woman ever born. His soul emptied, and a new resolve, born of her death, swelled within him. He lay her head gently upon the ground and picked up his sword from where it lay beside him. He rose, and sensed more then saw Rudo and Amy take up positions next to him. Neifirst fell back a step, hesitant for a moment, then snarled and sprung towards them.

They leapt to meet her.

And that is how it began.

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