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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Inara brings hope to a seemingly impossible situation while Zoe becomes consumed with guilt and despair."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2229 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "HELPING HANDS"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: SEQUEL to "FRIENDS IN NEED"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "Inara brings hope to a seemingly impossible
situation while Zoe becomes consumed with guilt and despair."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Her touch was gentle, fleeting even, but it was the look in her eyes that trapped him soul deep.
The whispered word echoed inside her with tiny tremullous aftershocks. "You should be in a hospital, Mal."
"Inara, I'm fine." He leaned in and dropped his quiet voice still further. "Ain't got time for this, *fei hua*." He pulled back to watch her face, her hand fluttering down. Eyes huge and dark swallowing him in as she waited. "You said they got Serenity an' the crew Inara, who? An' what the good gorram is this about slavers?"
The girl was fourteen, maybe fifteen, but no older. Thin and nervous, rooted to the spot by fear and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Badger smiled and swaggered slowly across the grubby room. His men waiting outside. The girl was quiet, he liked that. Her long brown hair matted and hanging in a ragged waterfall obscuring her too-thin face from view. He reached out and parted her hair, "Relax, want to see you." He said, his eyes undressing her while she tried not to cringe. Inwardly crawling out of her skin in her need to get away from him. But escape was a futile dream. Where would she go? She had no one. No family, no home, no world. This living nightmare was the best she could hope for.
Badger stepped closer, hands rising to frame her trembling face. If he noticed he showed no sign wanting only to reassure himself that she was healthy. He coaxed her mouth open with rough fingers accurately placed along her jaw and looked at her teeth. They were intact and not rotting. Satisfied he let her close her mouth. Truth to tell he knew more about horses than women and it showed but what did that matter when he could buy whatever ruttin' thing he wanted? Filly or mare made no difference so long as he could get his gratification when and how he wanted it. This one was young, still a virgin, and that made him all kinds of smug and pleased. It meant she would have no one to compare his prowess to.
"Now you please me an' do what's needful an' you can have a good life *dong ma*? Treat you well, change of clothes, good food. Show you a life you'd never have otherwise, be good to you, what d'you say?"
She was crying. Trying hard to stifle the sobs, prevent her shoulders from shaking, her eyes from leaking the tears she had carried inside ever since she had been taken. No family. No home. No world. Only this grubby little kingpin preening himself on how smart and gentrified he was only he wasn't. Now his dirty little hands were pulling at her, drawing her closer, his sour breath wafting across her face making her bite her lip so she wouldn't gag. Not that she was much cleaner, being stuck in the belly of a slave ship crammed with countless other lost souls. All waiting for the auctioneer's hammer or the letcher's vile touch. Sad to say she had drawn the shortest of straws and got the latter.
Inara Serra liked the look of Rafe Connor and his people. 'Good honest folk' as Mal would say. She could see the questions building in their eyes but no one asked what in *diyu* a Registered Companion was doing roughing it with the likes of Malcolm Reynolds. One look from the rancher put pay to any such thoughts being spoken out loud. It made Inara smile inwardly to see how these people, rough and basic in so many ways, could out-manner the monied classes. It was a lesson people like Atherton Wing would do well learning. But she was forgetting her manners and that would never do.
"*Xie xie ni*, Mr Connor. You have a very fine house."
Rafe Connor beamed at her, Mal hid a flash of amusement before irritation and impatience stole the smile from his lips. "As I said before Miss Serra you must call me Rafe."
She smiled, a luxury and a pleasure for the eyes. "Then *qing* call me Inara."
He made to protest but she raised a hand, like a Queen in a court silence reigned.
"I insist." She said graciously.
Impatience winning over the pleasantries, Mal could stay silent no longer. They were walking through the big old carved front door. Molly trying not to bounce on the balls of her feet to get a good look at their visitors, little Rose clutching her sister's hand until she caught sight of him and pressed through the adults to get to his side. Inara seemed amused, the little girl quickly claiming her champion and actually bringing the first honest smile to Mal's lips that Inara had seen since arriving. The girl tugged and hung on his hand until he gave an exaggerated sigh and hauled her up into his arms. That made the little girl laugh, a secret shared as they looked into each others' eyes. Inara could see they were already firm friends. "If you aren't the most impatient, annoyafyin' an' impertinent of ladies I ever saw!"
"Just like you." She quipped with an impish smile.
Rafe chuckled, Mal pretended to be shocked but couldn't keep his face straight. In the end he settled for a frown but couldn't scold her for his own worst traits. "Inara, want you to meet a special little lady. Rosie this is Inara Serra, mind your manners an' say hello."
To Inara's amusement Rose held out a hand, "*Ni hao ma*?"
"*Hen hao*, Rose, *ni ne*?"
Rose grinned as they shook hands. Decided she liked the Companion very much, was mesmserised by the rich colour of her robes and manner. Rafe introduced Molly, Todd and the others then Inara introduced Thomas and Michael Tollan. By now they were in a big sprawling kitchen. At a glance she could see that this was the heart of the house. Not the tidy front lounge nor the official but seldom used dining area, it was the kitchen where the dramas of life took place. Where folks spoke of things casual or serious, expressed their worries, their hopes and fears, the place where solace was shared with the good deep cup of love and friendship. Warm and inviting and solidly comforting she found herself relaxing. Molly drew a chair out for her then without ceremony Mal dumped Rose in Molly's arms and stepped away with a flash of a grin which was all the explanation and apology she was going to get.
The rancher nodded at Mal knowing he was impatient to get started but not wanting to undermine his authority. With that permission to continue Mal turned to Inara, oblivious to the sounds of extra chairs being brought in from the dining area and lounge. Chung-li appeared almost unnoticed but Mal caught the big man's eye as he settled in to listen with the rest. "Inara, best you explain what happened first."
Quickly the Companion brought him up to speed, watching Mal's eyes widen as the tale unfolded. A dark brooding look settling in his eyes at the mention of Badger's part in what had happened.
"You say they all got took?"
She nodded, finding it hard to swallow. "*Qu*, Mal. There was nothing I could do. As soon as Wash's wave reached me I looked for ways to find you. Luckily Thomas and Michael offered to help."
Mal spared a nod of thanks to her benefactors not wanting to think on how she had most likely paid them for their help. And yet they didn't look the usual sort of spoilt Companion fare. He found Thomas openly appraising him but had no time to call him on it. "Where they take 'em?"
"From what I could gather it's some kind of mining platform."
"You mentioned slavers."
Inara nodded solemnly. Unable to hide the worry crowding her eyes. "It doesn't sound good, Mal."
He swallowed slowly, not wanting to think on what might be happening to his crew. Especially folk like Kaylee and River, too ruttin' innocent for such hardships. Not that anybody should be ready for such. It hurt him not to be there to protect them but that was something that could be put right. Just needed a little planning and such. "Know how many *tamade hundan* they got?"
She shook her head. Before he could ask any other questions Thomas spoke up. "If I might say something, Captain?"
Mal nodded, tight lipped.
"We have top of the range sensors," He ignored the way Mal's eyes hardened slightly at that. "And given the information Inara was able to glean from that transmission we have a fair idea of where the platform is."
Impatience snapped through Mal like the flick of a whip, the single word cracking out of him, annoyed that the man didn't just come out and say what he needed to know. They were wasting time. His people needed him but so did Rafe. What he wanted was information quick and fast, as accurate as possible. The quicker to form a plan of rescue. "And?"
Inara bit back her annoyance at his impatience, knowing it was concern and worry that fueled him. "They're in an asteroid field. The platform is alongside the largest fragment, Delios."
Mal's eyes narrowed. "Describe this platform."
Thomas looked at Inara, she gave a helpless little shrug. "*Wo bu zhidao*, Mal. We haven't seen it but from the little I could get from Wash it's pretty big. Sounded like they have a very large slave ship too." She paused as if trying to remember it. "I think Wash called it a forty-four or something like that."
Mal paled a little. "Forty-four?"
She nodded, alarmed by the look on his face. "Is that bad?"
"For us, forty-four's are near impregnable. Alliance used 'em durin' the war. Heavy old shielded workhorses. Not much'll stop one an' nothin' in the manner of regular weapons'll knock so much as a dent in it."
"Why would you want to dent it if your people are aboard?" Asked Tollan.
Mal blinked. He had forgotten the others were there for a moment, memories painful and smoking in technicolour inside his head. Tollan's words miraculously penetrating the screams of the dead and the dying that haunted him when his mind took him back. "Not wantin' to dent it, Michael. Want my people off an' that piece of Alliance *goushi* smashed to tiny little pieces no bigger than my thumbnail. *Dong ma*?"
"Won't there be people aboard?" Asked Molly slowly.
"Slavers ain't people."
No one knew quite what to say to that. Inara did not like the cold bleak look in Mal's eye. Feared the dark places he was walking in his mind. It was Thomas who drew him back into the land of the living. "I believe we can help you Captain."
Mal looked at him and nodded for him to continue.
"Our ship can hold fifty or sixty people though conditions would be somewhat cramped we have plenty of supplies and our ship is armed."
A spark relieved the unremitting darkness in Malcolm Reynold's eyes. "Armed? What kind'a weaponry you got?"
A slow smile spread across Thomas's face but it had not one ounce of humour in it. "In times gone by they used to be called mass drivers."
"*Wode ma*! Thought they were outlawed or somesuch?"
Tollan nodded. "They were which is why these were modified, seperated into single burst canon and laser fire. But there's this switch, links all the drivers together to pack one almighty punch. It'll knock anything out of the sky you want moving, Captain."
"Will it knock the teeth outta a forty-four?"
"I don't know what one of those is but if it's like the old Alliance Dreadnoughts then yes, it'll reduce the whole hulk to shrapnel."
Mal smiled grimly, a very real spark of hope lighting him up inside. Then he thought of Rafe. "We got us another problem to work on."
The rancher was shaking his head, wanting to pre-empt Mal. "Don't worry about us, Mal. You got your own to see to."
"Ain't about to let you lose your ranch, Rafe."
"Technically I won't."
"*Goushi*, we both know what Cyrus wants an' how he'll get it."
Inara looked perplexed. "Get what, Mal?"
He sighed and looked at Rafe, an apology unspoken in his eyes. "Best you tell it like it is, Rafe."
He was so weary he could have fallen asleep where he sat but he couldn't afford to rest. Not now. Not when so many were depending on him. It was a surprise when Chung-li eased himself into the seat next to him. Mal frowned trying to remember who had been sitting there before. But it was too much effort and he had to use all of his finite fading energy to follow the conversation. Chung-li watched him carefully. Noticing how worn out the man was, his body slowly shutting down. Mal was grateful he did not speak. Didn't want to get chewed out by Chung-li in front of the others no matter how much he might deserve it.
Wash could not hide his stunned look though by now nothing River did or said should have surprised him. "How did you know where the store was?"
She smiled brightly at him. "Mice always know."
Jayne huffed just behind them. "Yeah, well I'd be more impressed if we could have somethin' better than protein bars."
"You'd rather starve Jayne?" Said Wash.
It was the Preacher who prevented the conversation deteriorating into a tit-for-tat row. "I thought I saw some sides of beef hangin' in the cold store, River. Might also have seen some hams an' such."
Zoe nodded. "I saw 'em too."
"Remind me again why we're eating these bars and not the meat and fresh vegetables, River?" Asked Simon.
A bright smile illuminated the pale glamour of her face as they huddled together in the crawlspace above the looted store room. The roof panel now fixed back in place. "Mice have to act like mice."
"We're not mice, River." Said Kaylee.
"No, but for now we have to be."
"*Weishenme*?" Growled Jayne.
River nibbled on her bar for a moment, the crumbly taste of almost-chocolate glistening on her tongue and lips as she thought about the question, her head tilting before she answered. "Mice, rats, rodents. Every ship has them. It's expected. We take only what we need to survive and we take what is expected, *dong ma*?"
Jayne frowned at her. "That why ya had me hack away at the bottom of those boxes?"
She nodded, pleased that he was catching on. "Mice like to nibble, chew, scratch. Leave crumbs but not like Hansel and Gretal."
"Who?" Jayne asked, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
"Hansel and Gretal," Simon explained smiling at River. "From the fairy tales of Earth-that-was."
"Huh, well I've eaten six of these ruttin' bars an' I'm still hungry."
"Here," Said Kaylee thrusting her half-eaten bar into his hands. "You can have this, I've finished."
He mumbled something dark and incoherent which might have been a 'thanks but no thanks'. After that he stopped complaining, a fact for which the others were truly grateful. Zoe was silent, hardly contributing at all to the conversation. Wash squeezed her hand, anxious and worried. Wishing she would tell him what in the nine hells was wrong. He hated not knowing, being powerless to cheer her up or talk through whatever worry was plaguing her. "It's alright, *bao bei*. We're gonna get out of here, you'll see."
She did not respond. Kaylee spoke up, trying to inspire a little hope into the gloom descending on them all. Trying to brush away the weight of depression that was settling over them like a cloud of doom. As if none of them expected they would ever get out alive. "Cap'n'll get us out, you'll see. Wouldn't wanna be Badger or Clements or any of those *wangba dans* when Cap'n gets here."
"Cap'n's not comin'."
Zoe's words were so low that they thought they had misheard. Wash being closest knew they hadn't. Now he was more worried than ever. It sounded like his beautiful and deadly wife was giving up. "Sure he is, *bao bei*. You know how angry an' mean he can be, just imagine what he'll be like when he finds out what happened."
Zoe looked up and stared at him. His breath caught at the bleakness in her eyes. "He isn't comin', Wash." She said slowly, making each word clear enough for them all to hear.
Wash paled slightly. "What do you mean? Of course he's comin'. I sent the wave to Inara, she'll find him an'..."
She shook her head and he was alarmed to see unshed tears in her eyes. "He isn't comin' back, *zhangfu*, an' it's all my fault."
Puzzled and alarmed he shook his head. Shepherd Book frowned, concerned but also aware that the others were hanging on Zoe's every word. It would not do for them to go to pieces. "I'm sure the Captain will come, we just have to be patient and have faith."
"No, you don't understand." She looked at them one by one then locked eyes with her husband. "None of you do."
Wash clasped her hands in his, getting more and more worried and unable to hide it. "Then explain it to us, sweetie."
"I never told you," Zoe looked down at their clasped hands as if afraid to look at anyone. "When we got back from the beach I went into his cabin."
"The Captain's bunk?"
She nodded then forced herself to look up and meet their eyes. "He'd left the books out, both sets. The accounts for the running of Serenity, the money from each job, crew wages, what was spent on spare parts an' food an' such. The official an' unofficial accounts. Mal also left a note."
Simon felt his heart lurch, a horrible sinking feeling settling in his gut. "A note?" He asked faintly.
"It was a list of contacts we could use to get work. On the back of the note was a warning of those not to use."
"What else did the note say?" Asked the Shepherd.
She shook her head. "Nothin'. That was it."
Simon let out a great puff of air. "Well, that doesn't mean he's not coming back." He said slowly. "I mean, he left a list of contacts. He would have said, he would have told us..." He trailed off, unable to complete the sentence.
Zoe looked at him. "You recall this is the Cap'n we're talkin' about?"
"Yeah, but he wouldn't just go an' not leave word. Mal wouldn't do anythin' that *shenjingbing* even if he were mad at us. *Diyu*, he even said he was gonna take a few days holiday." Said Jayne.
Kaylee could not stop thinking no matter how hard she tried not to. Zoe was closer to the Captain than anybody. If she thought he wasn't coming back and had been hiding it from them maybe she was right. Her heart quailed at the thought not wanting to believe it. Couldn't bear to imagine a life on Serenity without him. T'wouldn't be right. Then another thought struck her. "We came back Jayne," She said slowly, as if feeling her way. "Cap'n didn't."
Jayne was getting angry now. Using his temper to hide the little knot of fear growing inside that they might be right. "He never said how long he'd be gone an' besides - he's the Cap an' everybody knows how much he loves his gorram boat. Soon as he gets 'Nara's message he'll come for us, you'll see."
No one said anything and that hurt Jayne more than the dismal speculation. Even River was silent and that was more than a little disturbing. Wash kissed Zoe's brow and tried to think of words to comfort her. "He'll be back, *bao bei*." He whispered gently, hoping with all his heart that it was true.
Only because his forehead was touching hers did Wash realise she was quietly crying. Her distress broke his heart. Tenderly he wrapped his arms around her and rocked her. The *lese* protein bars forgotten at their feet. If Zoe was right and the Captain had decided to leave his troublesome crew to fend for themselves it meant that no one would be coming to rescue them after all. Inara would be doomed to search for a man who didn't want to be found while his crew languished in a version of hell from which there would be no escape.
Malcolm Reynolds looked stunned. Shocked. They were on board the Crazy Goose and Michael Tollan was trying hard not to smirk at the Captain's expression. "Yes, I can do that."
He looked at Inara but she did not seem surprised. Thomas looked on, a calm proud look on his face. The man was sitting propped up with his legs stretched out in front of him. Had he been alone he would have removed the prosthetic limbs to ease the soreness, weary of them as only a double amputee could be. Why did the able bodied always assume a false limb would make the absence of what was missing right? Gone was gone, simple as that. Though he appreciated their need to try to make things normal he knew it was a forlorn hope.
"Then you can really help Rafe and the others like him?" He said quietly, hardly daring to voice his hope.
Counsellor Tollan smiled gently. "Yes, Mal. Once you told me what had happened it was relatively easy with my security clearance and position to go back into those files. Knowing what to look for helped to piece the whole scam together."
"But I don't understand how no one realised what he was doin'."
Thomas rubbed the tops of his legs, watching the Captain's reaction. Inara had gone outside to tell Rafe the good news. Tollan flicked through some more files and showed the Captain how the cases linked together. "People will ignore anything given the right incentive."
Mal blinked, eyes going hard. "You mean Cyrus White bought 'em off?"
Tollan shook his head. "Not nearly so grand as that, Mal. Deep down many folk are just lazy, self serving. If it doesn't affect them they turn a blind eye, look the other way, tell themselves it's none of their business. They didn't look because it wasn't in their interests to look. They kept their mouths shut because no one paid them to open them."
He shook his head, sorrowing and a little shaken at the imperfection that was human nature. "You'd think at least one of 'em wouldn't have looked the other way?"
The Counsellor stepped next to him, his eyes alive and bright with intelligence. Sharp and discerning seeing all there was to see and more. "What Cyrus White did was wrong, morally reprehensible but not exactly illegal."
Mal blinked. "Then how're we gonna get Rafe back his land?"
Tollan smiled. "We aren't."
Shock rendered him speechless for a moment. "We aren't?" Tollan watched his surprise turn into the fast burning fuse of anger. It smouldered in the good Captain's eyes and was quite captivating to his host. Mal was unaware, conscious only of a good friend having to walk away from a lifetime building a home for his family. "Ain't right, Michael. Gorrammit, it just ain't right!"
"No, Mal, we're going to be smarter than that."
Mal blinked. "How we gonna do that?"
"I'm a politician Mal and a very good one even if I say so myself. Lies are a politician's stock in trade, his verbal sleight of hand. The more subtle the lie the more convincing the confabulation."
"*Fang xin*. Tell your friends to relax. Give me a few days and tell them to hold tight in the meantime. I anticipate before the week is out a new land deal will be made in his favour. A 'gift' if you want to think of it that way from a too enthusiastic landowner."
"Robber you mean."
"I know what I mean."
"Man should be slapped in irons." Grumbled Mal just as Rafe, Mark and Ben came aboard the ship with Inara to see how they were getting on.
"Believe me," Said Thomas with a twinkle in his eye. "This will hurt him a whole lot more."
Tollan then explained the plan to the Connors and Mal had the unmitigated joy of seeing their disheartened faces come alight with joy and wonder. Rafe thanked everyone profusely and turned suspiciously bright eyes on Inara.
"Ain't got words enough to thank ya, Miss Serra."
"Inara, and I really did nothing."
"Well that's the best nothin' I seen in a long time." Murmured Mal.
"Amen to that." Chuckled Rafe. The rancher paused, mulling over all that had happened in such a short amount of time. Ever since the gorram ship had landed in fact. "What're you gonna do, Mal? I can always use a good hand."
Mal smiled through cracked lips. "I got a crew to go rescue."
"Want some help?"
Malcolm Reyolds looked at Rafe for a long minute, a host of thoughts running through his mind. The way Tollan had explained things no one would be able to do anything until the Counsellor had pulled a few strings and thrown the light on some of Cyrus White's dealings, enough to encourage him to be more than generous in cutting any ties to the Connors and their land. Technically it was in White's name but that was nothing that a little goodwill couldnt' fix. Which meant Rafe and his men would be at a loose end for the best part of a week. "Won't say no Rafe providin' you leave men enough to run the ranch while we're gone."
"That I surely will. Truth be told I can't wait to meet this crew of yours."
Mal frowned. "Ain't gonna be no picnic, Rafe. There'll be a lotta danger an' if we go in guns blazin' ain't gonna be firin' blanks, *dong ma*?"
The rancher nodded. "Wouldn't have it any other way. Now. What ya want?"
"As many men as you can spare that are handy with a gun, but on'y volunteers. Don't want nobody not knowin' what they're goin' into."
Rafe nodded, thanked Thomas and Tollan again then kissed Inara's hand and left the ship with his sons close behind. Ben paused to look back and wink at Mal then they were gone.
"Where are they goin'?"
Mal smiled, as worn out as *diyu* but already feeling his second wind coming on. Not nothing like an adrenaline rush to get a man ready for violence. "Ranch don't run itself, Inara. Rafe'll instruct them as are gonna stay behind then bring back those as'll come with us on the Crazy Goose." He paused, frowned slightly and turned to Tollan. "I ain't got words enough to thank you for what you're doin' for Rafe and the ranch not to mention the use of your shiny boat to help me an' Inara get back our people."
Tollan seemed amused by the Captain's little thank you speech. "My pleasure, Mal. To tell the truth I haven't had this much fun since I was twelve."
"That a fact?" Tollan nodded and Mal looked at Thomas. The man looked near as tired as he felt if such a thing were possible. "How about you, Thomas? How you feel about that?"
"Like the whole journey was worth it, Malcolm."
Mal gave the man a closer look, now that he was paying attention he did not look too good at all. In fact he was working up a sweat and kept rubbing the tops of his legs as if they pained him. "Looks like you''re in pain, Thomas." He observed softly.
"Nothin' like that can drive a man out of his mind."
"I'll be fine, just these gorram prosthetic legs make me so rutting sore."
"Why didn't you say? Want some help?"
Thomas looked at Mal in surprise. Most people kept a wide berth around anything to do with artificial limbs. Made able bodied folk feel more than a mite uncomfortable as if they felt guilty being whole while others were less fortunate. Thomas nodded and watched as Mal deftly unfastened the oddly old-fashioned prosthetic limbs, his dexterity making it obvious he had done this before, probably too many times to count. Inara did not like to think about why that might be so. Not every survivor of war walked out of the battlefield. A minute later the troublesome limbs were off and Thomas gave a great sigh of relief. Inara got a cool cloth and gently washed his brow. Thomas smiled at her. A noise at the hatch told Mal that Rafe had returned with his men, getting a nod from Tollan to go ahead he left Inara and Tollan to get Thomas settled then stomped off to let the others come aboard. They needed to get this metal bird in the sky. Had folks needed saving and bad guys to smash into itty bitty pieces of space dust. And all before breakfast.
* * * * *
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*fei hua* = garbage talk/nonsense *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell
*xie xie ni* = thank you *ni hao ma* = how are you? *hen hao* = very good
*ni ne* = and you? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know
*tamade hundan*/wangba dan* = fucking bastard *goushi* = crap/dog shit
*wode ma* = mother of God *weishenme* = why *bao bei* = precious/treasure
*shenjingbing* = crazy *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)
*zhangfu* = husband *qing* = please *lese* = crappy
Sunday, September 26, 2004 1:56 PM
Sunday, September 26, 2004 2:11 PM
Monday, September 27, 2004 8:53 AM
Tuesday, September 28, 2004 1:51 AM
Tuesday, September 28, 2004 10:33 AM
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