BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 5. "Nightmares Made Flesh"
Sunday, April 29, 2012

To stay was to doom them all. At least this way the demon dogging her steps would have only one victim in his sights.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1495    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "NIGHTMARES MADE FLESH" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 5. Sequel to "THINGS UNSPOKEN" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Simon/Kaylee RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "While the Captain, Jayne and Book make their way back to the docks, River keeps trying to find someone to listen to her. Meanwhile another soul has to face a terrifying enemy that never sleeps."

"NIGHTMARES MADE FLESH"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The figure was a shadow among shadows. Silent and easily blending with any background so only movement caught the eye. The trouble was that even drawn to that slight change it revealed nothing. No salamander could have done a better job at camouflage. Hidden eyes watched while a very sharp meticulous brain took note of everything.

At first little Lucy Dengate didn't understand what was happening. Why her mother was beside herself with fear, her father red faced and angry. Lashing out at everyone and everything because the one thing he wanted to fight was unknown and beyond his reach. Beyond even his vision. The tension mounted, Lucy started to cry but quietly. Sobs that were virtually soundless and thus twice as heart wrenching to her family. Cora tried to soothe, to shush, her husband worried but fuming in the background. Hating being powerless to protect those he loved against an unknown threat. That was, if there really was a threat. Cora had to take a couple of slow deep breaths not to lash out at him. Knowing it was the worry talking not intellect.

"There have been three Harvey. THREE. And all of them gifted." She did not add 'like Lucy'. The inference was clear, obvious, and did not need spelling out so that even their six year old knew what they were referring to but the girl was not stupid. Far from it and that was the trouble. Understanding was quickly percolating through that shiny little brain. Making connections too fast for thought to follow. "Mama, you can't save me."

Cora felt her heart crack and gathered her little girl up in a fierce embrace, tears brimming in her eyes as she tried to calm her daughter while panic reigned supreme in her own heart and mind. Behind her, Harvey wanted to hit something so bad.

"Where can we go?" He huffed, frustration clear in his voice. Osiris was the center of the Alliance of Planets. Such things weren't supposed to happen here in the heartland of the Almighty Alliance. Yet even here, evil could stretch forth its' hand with seeming impunity. It scared the *goushi* out of him.

"Not to your mother's." She said.

"God no!" He breathed. That would be worse than almost any other option. Not just because his mother was a spiteful old harridan despite her exalted social status but because as much as she was a troublemaker she was family and whatever this curse was they had to protect what family was left. The good and the bad. "We need a gorram safe house, Cora."

A nod. A truce of sorts. It didn't solve anything but it did make him feel marginally better. At least his *qizi* was not fighting him on this and that gave him back a small semblance of control. He took a deep breath and pushed the worry to the back of his mind, time to focus. To do something right which meant doing something unexpected. Cora caught the look on his face, knew what it meant. Silently she prayed he was not going to do what she thought he was going to do. In her arms little Lucy had fallen silent. The girl could see the future and it was already reaching out for them. Her parents would do everything to protect her and die trying. Terrible, traumatic deaths. Even at six years old she could not allow that to happen. Losing two precious lives to save one was not an option. Sniffing back the last of her tears, she knew what she had to do even as her heart and mind quailed at what it would cost her.

* * * * *

Zoe stared. Although this part of the Captain's plan had been quite specific she was still shocked. The man facing her did not seem even a little put out. It was as if he had been expecting her and that was all manner of creepifying.

"It should be enough for you that I can help." He said mildly.

To her relief he did not add a smile, any such false bon homie would have sent her reaching for her mare's leg to wipe it off his gorram smug face. She had never liked Rufus Pol, even when they had fought together in the war there was always something not quite right about the *shenjingbing hundan*. Zoe had never been able to put her finger on it when Mal had challenged her about what bothered her and that had just made her more wary around him not less. That the Captain trusted him was all kinds of unsettling.

"Didn't expect to see you here, Rufus."

He flashed a grin. Should have eased her concern but it didn't. What in the nine hells was he doing here and how had the Captain known he would be on Ithaca Moon? The man was tall and whip thin, with a face scarred on one side but smooth as a babe's on the other. His eyes were bright and quizzical. Zoe couldn't help but replay scenes from the War-that-was and some of the crazy, suicidal stunts this man had pulled. Crazier even than anything Malcolm Reynolds had ever done - and then some. She thought him deranged, a madman with a loose control on the craziness within. Maybehaps the Captain had admired that recklessness and mistaken it for courage and grit but she had no such failing. Crazy was crazy but this was another level of madness they did not need to entertain except they were in a fix and one thing about Rufus that she could not question was his loyalty to Mal.

"You need off this moon." Rufus nodded, more to himself than her. That was how his monologues tended to be, like thinking out loud but without the focus of common sense in control of the outcome. Still. Perhaps he would surprise her. "I got a J class earth-moving...."

She cut him off, shock turning to disbelief. "You've got a terraforming ship?"

A shit eating grin broke out over his face, one half turning into a passable happy smile, the other a twisted grimace. "May be long in the tooth but it still bites."

Zoe rolled her eyes and Rufus laughed, he always enjoyed getting under Zoe's skin even when it was unintentional. Never could understand why the others in their unit took cover whenever he did so. Wasn't like she was a land mine even if she did have a tendancy to go off like one. Was just funny was all. "Rufus, don't take this the wrong way, but we'll likely need to leave *mashang* an' the one thing a ship that size can't do is speed."

Rufus leaned forward on the little table they were seated at in the tea house come dining room come cassino. "You on'y need speed if you're goin' some place." Then he winked and sat back.

She couldn't reply. Honestly. Words failed her. Was Rufus Pol saying what she thought he was saying or was this another of his wind-ups? At last she managed to speak, the words coming out slow and measured as if she was paying for them by the letter. "Please tell me this is a gorram *yige ezuoju*?"

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was laughing. Even the stupid gorram mask couldn't dent his humour. The look on the Captain's face was something to savour. The Shepherd was a mite more subtle about it but Jayne could tell he was mighty amused too.

"You expect me to get in that death trap?" Mal squeaked, half in alarm and half in indignation.

Their host did not seem in the least put out. "May not look too pretty but old an' beat up as it is it's got the one gorram thing you ain't got."

That made the Captain pause, his eyes narrowing then flicking towards the great big ugly sand crawler. "What might that be?"

Perkins was enjoying himself. "It's bullet proof, Mal."

"You said you could get us safely back to the docks, us an' our mule."

"That I did an' we will."

Jayne just had to ask. "You gonna shrink it? 'Cause ain't no way it's gonna fit in that itty bitty hold."

The men were smirking and sniggering openly now. The Captain's look was getting darker and meaner by the second. Shepherd Book decided to step in quickly before things could turn ugly. "How do you propose to do that, Mr Perkins?"

"We're gonna tow your mule behind us."

It really looked for a minute as if the Captain was going to refuse but somehow his better angels must have whispered something in his ear, because after a pause to take a few deep breaths he nodded, his voice tight but audible through the dust mask. "Then best we get goin', *dong ma*?"

Jerrod Perkins' foreman Shen Willets stepped forward and helped one of the men connect the mule to the back of the sand crawler. Jayne risked a sideways glance at the Captain. Man looked like he'd swallowed a gorram bug and it was still wriggling around inside his gut. With big gorram pincers. "*Diyu', ain't that bad, Cap."

Mal scowled at his mercenary. "*Weishenme bu*?"

"Think of the fuel we'll save."

Book managed to put himself accidentally on purpose between the Captain and Jayne before fists could start flying. "I think they're waiting for us to climb aboard, Captain." He said mildly.

With a huff, the Captain shook the lapels of his browncoat as if to straighten it then pulled himself up the high steps to the door Perkins held open for him with a grin. Shen had already climbed up in the front cab to drive the cumbersome vehicle. A small round opening in the toughened glass between cab and the hold where they were stitting on side benches was the only means of communicating with the driver. Mal noticed it had a sliding toughened glass door to close that off if they wanted to talk privately. He looked down. The benches were bolted to the metal decking opposite each other and could be easily removed for small hauls of cargo. Judging by the wear on it they had not been removed in a long time. This was obviously a practical vehicle for getting about on the fine but gritty sand even if it would win no beauty contests. As the vehicle lurched forward the Captain gritted his teeth and hung on to the bench, all manner of glad that the journey to the docks was a relatively short one. He just hoped the snipers didn't have the modern equivalent of crawlers to come after them.

* * * * *

Simon startled awake, glad that Kaylee had already risen to go and check on the engine. He tugged the sheet up to hide his nakedness. "River, what are you doing here?"

Her pale face was solemn, the look in her eyes intent on his face as if she could make him understand by sheer dint of willing it to be so. "They're all crawling out of the woodwork, Simon."

Serenity's doctor bit back a sigh, saddened that it was going to be one of 'those' conversations. "Who, River?"

Her eyes grew distant. "They were kept in the dark. Hidden. Fed on lies." Focus returned like someone flipping a switch. Simon found it somewhat disconcerting but this was River, his sister, and he had vowed to always be there for her. Being sane or crazy didn't change that. "Awakening now. Impatient. Ready to feed."

Simon didn't like the way this conversation was going. It had been early that morning when the Captain and Jayne had left with the mule and now, with afternoon approaching, Serenity was safely on the backside of Anaeron's only moon, Ithaca. At first he thought it was simply a place to hide but then realised it was actually a refueling station. Wash had wasted no time in using the last of their coin to refuel, then Zoe had gone off on some errand. He didn't know what the errand was, Kaylee keeping him too busy to be aware of much except his diminishing store of energy. So he had fallen into an exhausted sleep and woken to find his girlfriend gone and his less than sane sister rambling about something crawling out of the woodwork. Simon rubbed a hand over his eyes. "River, let me get dressed and we'll talk about this, *keyi*?"

"I tried to explain to Inara but she didn't understand."

It was on the tip of Simon's tongue to say he didn't understand either but he did not want to distress River further. "River, I need to get dressed but we WILL discuss this."

She blinked. "Seen it all before."

"River!"

Her grin was fleeting but a welcome sight. "Had to wait until the sex ended. You took so long I almost fell asleep."

It was fun for her to watch her brother squirm but then his look hardened as he realised what she was doing. Her smile vanished and she backed to the door, sliding her body half out into the corridor. "I was looking for the Captain."

"He's not here, *mei mei, jide*?"

River nodded then darted away before he could say anything else.

"River?"

Silence echoed back at him. Simon lay back and sighed then flung back the sheet and swung his legs out of the bed, but before he could stand up River's head popped round the door with a demented grin. "Told you, Simon. Seen it all before!" Then she was off, her boots clattering as she ran, peels of laughter echoing in her wake. Simon had automatically grabbed for the sheet to cover himself again but she was gone before he could do so. His sister was a brat. A slow smile curved his lips. Yes, but she was his brat and he loved her anyway.

* * * * *

Osiris was a jewel in the Alliance crown. As rich and prosperous as the Rim Worlds were semi-destitute and dirt poor. Its' citizens had the best of everything money could buy and wielded the power to acquire more. Provided they remembered always where their loyalties lay. The Tams had learnt that lesson to their cost and in the process lost both of their children. One to a madness they would not acknowledge existed and the other to disobedience on a scale not to be tolerated by the head of the household. Gabriel Tam had felt not only incensed by his son's behaviour but could not bring himself to even countenance that the special Academy to which his daughter had been enroled was anything other than what it purported to be. To imagine anything else was madness. This was Osiris after all and the Alliance did not engage in the torture of little girls.

But in the quiet of the night when their social rounds had ended and business was put aside for the day, Regan Tam lay beside her husband feigning sleep while silent tears rolled down her aristocratic face and the aching pain of loss held sleep at bay.

Far from the landscaped splendour of the Tam Estate, the Dengates put little Lucy to bed with cuddles and smiles and promises of a bright tomorrow. She played her part. Yawned prettily and hugged her stuffed doll. Cora smiled indulgently and kissed her daughter's cheek while her husband quietly put the book he had been reading to her on the bedside table. They exchanged relieved smiles and switching to the softer night light crept out of their daughter's bedroom. Lucy lay quietly for what seemed like hours. Her mind scanning and following the movements of her parents, listening as they spoke softly over their nightcaps before they too retired to their beds. Only when all sounds had died away and she was assured they were sleeping, did she slide carefully out of bed. She paused, listened and then dressed in her warmest clothes. Quickly she filled a little backpack with a few of her treasures then stuffed her doll in the top. Lucy bit back the urge to cry, knowing she had no other choice. To stay was to doom them all. At least this way the demon dogging her steps would have only one victim in his sights. But maybe, just maybe, she could find a way to turn the tables on him. Her heart quailed at the very idea but it was the only hope she had and faint and ridiculous as it seemed, she would cling to it until there was nothing left to cling to.

* * * * *

By the time they got to the docks no one was laughing. Leastways, no one sitting in the back of the gorram sand crawler. As soon as Shen Willets had cut the engine he climbed down from his cab then went back to the high steps leading up to the door into the small cargo hold turned passenger area. The Captain pushed passed Jayne and half stumbled, half fell down the steps, his knees practically buckling as he got to the ground. Willets quickly followed him down and hauled him away from the vehicle in time for the contents of the Captain's stomach to miss Jayne and Shepherd Book as they disembarked. Jayne thought it was hi-larious but Book was not so amused, his eyes flickered with some sympathy for the journey in the back of the sand crawler had been anything but pleasant and he had always hated travelling sideways-on in land based vehicles. Something about the motion from that angle was all manner of unnatural to him.

Willets climbed back into his cab but instead of driving off came back out with a rubberised box. He jumped down the last few steps and clicked open the metal catches. Jayne moved to block his access to the Captain who was kneeling on the ground and still doubled over, his mask pushed down under his chin, face red, eyes watering and looking miserable as *diyu*. Book touched Jayne's elbow gently and murmured that he did not think Perkins' foreman intended any harm to the Captain. While they drew cautiously closer, Willets withdrew a clean cloth from a sealed bag and popped the lid on a bottle of water. Wetting the cloth he leaned down and washed the Captain's face clean. Malcolm Reynolds's seemed to revive a little at the feel of the cold water on his face and opened his eyes, surprised to see Shen Willets leaning over him.

"*Xie xie ni*, I'm much obliged Shen."

Willets pointed to Mal's mask but though it had been pushed down from his face it was useless now. The Captain made to stand up but Willets shook his head, went back to his black box and took out a small pair of scissors and cut the mask free so that neither he nor the Captain would have to touch the soiled material. To Jayne's surprise the man did not throw the ruined mask to the ground but carefully put it inside a clear bag which he then sealed and put in his box, taking a clean mask out of another sealed bag and helping the Captain put it on.

"You might wanna wait a second or two before you stand up."

"Ain't gonna fall back down if that's what you're thinkin'."

The foreman's voice was gruff but sounded oddly concerned. It puzzled the Captain somewhat, after all he wasn't the only person to throw up after being jostled around in an infernal machine. Didn't help his case that none of the others seemed likewise affected. "You mistake my meanin', Cap'n."

Shepherd Book's interest sharpened. "What meanin' would that be, Mr Willets?"

"Name's Shen an' I'd rather not speak in the open, *dong ma*?"

They didn't understand but Jayne had a feeling the man was right. "Then let's get off the street."

Willets didn't want to move from the sand crawler and after some persuasion got them all back inside, this time helping the Captain sit up front next to him in the cab while Jayne and Book travelled again in the back. The mercenary narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice, leaning forward on his knees to speak to Book on the bench opposite him. "What the *guai* do you suppose that was about?"

"We'll find out soon, Jayne."

"Yeah, well *wo bu xihuan*."

* * * * *

Chou was silent, a ghost among the living. Although he had found no sign of the Firefly transport ship he noted Serenity's Captain stumble out of the sand crawler. He could not see clearly what was going on but it appeared that the man was being sick. Narrowing his eyes he took note of the participants, besides the driver there were two other passengers - no doubt crew members. That they had come back to the docks was a good sign. Hopefully it heralded the return of their ship but things were not progressing as expected. Once the Captain had been cleaned up they got back into the sand crawler and drove off again. Chou twisted his face causing his tattoo to flex, the gold triangle catching the light briefly before being drowned again in shadow. He could not follow without being spotted but one thing was certain. They would have to return to reunite with their ship.

* * * * *

Night time on Osiris was a magical thing. The lights a bobbing sea of luminous colour lending a special glamour to the heavily populated world. By night it became a wondrous place where dreams not only came true but could live and breath and walk beside you. Or so Lucy had always been taught. But her father was fanciful and her mother had often chastised him for filling her head with foolishness but it was a folly she loved to hear and immerse herself in. A world where anything was possible and evil never ever triumphed over the good. How painful then to know it was not true. That the enemy always had more resources and was more than willing to use any and all means necessary to get what they wanted.

It had been easy to slip out of the house. The servants were asleep in their quarters at the rear of the building and she knew the alarm sequence by heart having set it off enough times by accident to give her poor mother a heart attack. Briefly the memory teased her lips with a fond smile which vanished a moment later for this time there would be no returning. No more magical tales to thrill and enchant her, no more mother's love to hold her safe and secure when the nightmares came only these nightmares were real. Each step she took increased the panic she tried so hard to block from her mind. Body trembling she forced herself to rise above her fear and fled down darkened streets, avoiding the discreet cameras that watched every intersection and gathering place. Osiris was the neatest and most orderly place she had ever seen and though Lucy had not travelled beyond holiday outings with her family the travel vids showed nowhere as shining and pristine as her homeworld. Once she had been so proud of it, now it was a place of fear for in these streets her enemy stalked but she intended to make her capture something he would have to work for. Her plan was simple but dangerous and the stakes could not be higher.

* * * * *

Zoe stared at Rufus Pol. "Are you *yanzhong*?"

The man threw back his head and laughed. Not the big throaty laugh she expected but a quieter rumble of humour that tapered off into a chuckle. He spread his arms wide. "It's the perfect gorram solution!"

He was right about one thing, the terraforming ship had a HUGE interior. Somehow she had expected it to be filled up with mining equipment and somesuch but it looked more like the original behemoth had been stripped of most of its' interior, perhaps to sell, leaving this enormous hulk like some abandoned space whale unable ever again to sail the midnight oceans of its' birth. Zoe turned slowly on the spot, her eyes scanning every piece of that huge, yawning space as if expecting to find that it was all some elaborate joke. If it was, the joke was seemingly on her. Seeing the downcast look on her face, Rufus frowned, his humour evaporating on a sigh.

"Ain't that bad, Zoe. Mal thought it was a good idea."

She huffed at that. In fact were Mal present she would be tempted to knock their two heads together in the hopes of putting some sense into one of them. Preferrably her *shenjingbing* Captain and friend. "Rufus, this thing doesn't look spaceworthy."

"Oh, it ain't but that ain't what you need right now."

Zoe blinked. Had she somehow been sucked into an alternate 'verse where *baichi* like Rufus Pol suddenly made sense?

"Told you, didn't need speed if'n you weren't goin' nowhere.

She felt a headache coming on. "But we are goin' somewhere, Rufus. We have to go to Anaeron, meet up with the Cap'n an' pick him an' the mule up *dong ma*?"

He shook his head and sat on an empty crate. Zoe noticed it was thick with dust. Pretty much like the rest of the inside of this hulk. Kind'a reminded her a little bit of the first time the Captain had shown her around Serenity. Hadn't been impessed with that at first sight either only this ship was twenty times bigger and many times uglier. "All you need is a place to hide. Throw them as are lookin' for you off the scent."

"How long do you think we'll need to do that?"

"Well now," he rubbed a large hand over his partly stubbled chin. "Could be a few days or more."

Days? "Can't wait that long, Rufus. Cap'n's deliverin' cargo, when he returns we need to get into the Black *mashang*."

"Not if he's already been paid."

Zoe felt an odd sensation in the pit of her stomach. "What do you mean?"

"If Mal's been paid then he can afford to sit an' take his time. Let them as want to catch up with you search the empty air. He'll be sittin' pretty, can laugh his gorram socks off while they waste their time."

"What makes you think he's been paid, Rufus?"

"Always the suspicious one, Zoe."

"*Zongshi*. Can't see the Cap'n givin' out information like that an' I didn't tell you."

His smile was slow but gradually swallowed up most of his face. "I ain't gonna betray him or you, just sayin' is all. This may be a great ugly hulk, Corporal, but not nothin' short of mass drivers will punch so much as a dent in it. Like it or not, you got yourselves the best gorram hideout in the 'verse."

The hairs on the back of her neck pricked at the reminder of the War. She hadn't been Corporal in a long time. "That isn't what worries me, Rufus. If they can't get in it also means we won't be able to get out."

Rufus didn't seem concerned about that part and that worried Zoe most of all.

* * * * *

She curled as tightly as she could into the tiny crawl space. Her thin dress clinging to her bony body like a shroud. River Tam's eyes were wide as saucers, the little colour she had in her face already drained from her. Voices one by one switched on inside her brain pan by unfettered panic. At first it was one or two, slowly waking, creeping out of their hidey holes like spiders in search of a fly. Only they were not so much the hunters as the hunted, their fear joining the one with another and another and another until the spin of it made her dizzy with fear. Her mind curled with the edges of grief, snapshots of other people's lives cut short by monsters that should never have been allowed to draw breath. River Tam felt her heartbeat quicken, a painful sucking feeling in her chest, her throat gagging as if the very air had been turned against her. She coughed, found it painful to do so in the tight space, felt herself growing hotter and more panicky. Trapped. Unable to escape! With a sob she threw back the grating and climbed out as fast as she could, sweating heavily, eyes hardly daring to blink in case a shadow moved and she missed it. She had to tell someone! Find Simon before it was too late.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*goushi* = crap/dog shit *qizi* = wife *shenjingbing* = crazy *hundan* = bastard *dong ma* = understand? *yige ezuoju* = a trick/joke *diyu* = hell *weishenme bu* = why not? *keyi* = okay/fine/not bad *mei mei* = little sister *jide* = remember *xie xie ni* = thank you *guai* = ghost/devil *wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it *yanzhong* = serious *baichi* = idiot *zongshi* = always *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately

COMMENTS

Sunday, April 29, 2012 12:08 PM

MALSDOXY


Ok I've have to keep a tally of everyone I need to keep track of, it's quite a list, AliD, and this is only the 5th chapter! Excellent chapter it was, too, xiexie

Sunday, April 29, 2012 12:17 PM

AMDOBELL


So happy you are enjoying the story MalsDoxy, and yes there are quite a few people cropping up in this series. All sorts coming up so hang on tight! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 30, 2012 7:54 AM

NUTLUCK


Very interesting, curious when all these different threads will eventually collide.

Monday, April 30, 2012 9:23 AM

AMDOBELL


As things become clearer they will also become a mite more complicated, Nutluck! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 30, 2012 10:49 AM

BYTEMITE


"He just hoped the snipers didn't have the modern equivalent of crawlers to come after them."

"Her pale face was solemn, the look in her eyes intent on his face as if she could make him understand by sheer dint of willing it to be so. "They're all crawling out of the woodwork, Simon."

Well. That's doesn't fill me with much hope. Crew's split up, I think Mal may have been drugged somehow (maybe through the mask they used), River's too scared to make sense, and some bad mojo is going on.

Monday, April 30, 2012 1:24 PM

AMDOBELL


Yep, that about covers it, Bytemite. Even scared River does have her moments though. Thanks for the shiny comments, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, May 6, 2012 1:41 PM

EBFIDDLER


Lots of interesting happenings on various threads here, Ali D. You pulled at my heartstrings with Lucy and her parents. Mal's reaction to the sand crawler was priceless. I share Zoe's uneasiness. And what's River seeing? Altogether an intriguing chapter, and I'm eager for more. (Maybe I'll be able to read more regularly now that I have my fic under control.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012 2:13 PM

AMDOBELL


Glad you are enjoying the various threads, Ebfiddler. As for what River's seeing you will find out more soon and glad to hear you have your fic under control. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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