The Karma Downs
“Oh, for pete’s sake... Ma’am, I’m trying to help you!”
Sam threw the woman to the ground as a red blast of light screamed
over their heads. She matched the scream with her own. He clamped
a hand down over her mouth and her eyes grew wide.
“Look, Ah’m sorry about this,” Sam hissed, “but Ah need to get you
out of here, and you’re not exactly helping me.” She flinched and
clutched her cheque book as something to one side crashed and they
were peppered with slivers of ice.
“Now, Ah’m going to take mah hand away from your mouth, and you’re
not going tah do anything tah draw attention to us, now are you?”
She shook her head and trembled as he slowly removed his hand.
He hated being stuck nurseguarding. It made sense, though. His blast
field could effectively protect bystanders, even ones as downright
aggravating as this one was being. He sighed and scooped her into
his arms, holding her close to his body to keep her as close inside
the potential blast field as he could. He’d fire up if there was something
coming at him.
They made it rather easily to the lobby and out past the ATMs. He
suspected Jean or Emma was turning attention away from them. They
were almost down the stairs when a body exploded out through a plate
glass window, spraying shards out over the barrier of police cars
and into the assembled crowd. He blasted away from it automatically
and the woman in his arms resumed her screaming. He landed with a
thud beside one of the police cars and the woman scrambled violently
away from him, pushing at him with all of her strength.
He let her go and raised a hand at the police woman who caught her
and handed her off to the paramedics. Her hand drifted in what Sam
could only hope was an unconscious gesture to her holster, and he
turned and headed back to the bank. This time he just flew in through
the now-empty window, sparing a glance down at the still figure on
the pavement. It was one of the would be robbers.
This should have been a cake walk. A couple of beta and gamma mutants
knocking over a bank. They should have had them pinned in no time
flat. Unfortunately, one of the beta’s happened to possess a mutation
which allowed him to enhance the mutations of his cohorts to alpha
The police woman’s face intruded into his mind. Later he would be
able to tell himself that she hadn’t resembled Grace in the least,
but for now he just pushed it to the side with a shake of his head.
There were more important things going on at the moment.
That shake of his head and his blast field were the only things
that saved it from being taken off by a rock flung towards him. He
spared a glance back for the crowd behind him, but no one seemed willing
to admit to the projectile.
These were the days he longed for finals.
There were no answers in the bottom of a bottle. It was something
he had learned from watching teammates and friends search through
one after another. It didn’t make it any less tempting to check for
He sighed and stared down at the bottom of the glass. The only thing
that greeted him was his own reflection. His eyes mocked him.
“Another?” the barkeep asked Sam and he shook his head. It was a
man who he recognized by sight but not by name. Eddie had gone off-shift
about half an hour before. He’d clapped Sam sympathetically on the
back - word travelled fast even when you weren’t living with a group
of people who could read minds. Sam had been on his first drink then.
Hell, he was only just finished with his third. He didn’t like the
way his face looked beneath a thin puddle of rye.
Digging through the pockets of his jeans he managed to find a couple
of bills, so he threw them onto the bar and untangled his jacket from
the mess on the coat rack. He turned up his collar as he stepped outside.
There were Christmas lights and decorations strung up along the street.
They were bright and garish, dipping and flickering in the December
wind. A Santa Claus sat atop the roof of the grocer’s down the road,
one great chubby arm raised in greeting. Ho-ho-ho. It’s December 2,
come and get your turkey. You’ve got your shopping done (Don’t you?)
because we’ve been reminding you since Halloween, but you should start
stockpiling the food. Make sure that everything will be perfect for
the holidays and you better fucking have a good time because it ‘tis
the season, after all.
Sam wandered aimlessly through the streets, hands stuffed deep within
his pockets. He was lost in his own thoughts and the steady ache that
the crunching of the snow beneath his feet brought when he heard harsh
breathing. He paused in his tracks, straining his ears, realizing
for the first time that he’d gradually veered away from areas where
people were out. The street was silent, the Christmas decorations
faded and lighting the area with a forced, cheerless sort of flickering.
It could have just been a pair of erstwhile lovers. He heard the
broken breathing again and this time it was punctuated with a fleshy
sort of thud he was all too familiar with and a weak groan. His feet
had started to move before he’d even gotten the sounds properly straight
in his head and he was running, rounding a corner to a brick alleyway,
his shadow racing before him.
He skidded to a stop. Four hulking figures were moving in near silence
in the dim light, their breathing casting ragged plumes into the air.
There was blood on the snow and someone was lying on the ground, moaning.
When they stopped kicking at the dark bundle he realized that he’d
hollered at them.
One of the men separated out from the circle, moving easily towards
Sam. The leader of the pack, he’d bet. He moved with the strained
grace of a fighter with too much muscle. There was a smooth pink scar
cutting his cheek in two. “I think you’re wanting to keep on moving,”
he said, wiping a hand across his mouth.
Sam stood his ground. “Looks like a fair fight,” he said. “Four
big, strong guys like you... Why don’t you try someone who can fight
The man laughed at that, his face twisting darkly. He took another
step forward. He had half a foot and at least sixty pounds on Sam.
“You?” he asked. His grin was somehow scarier than Sinister’s most
menacing expression, maybe because there was something horribly *impersonal*
about it. “You’ve got guts, kid. So I’m going to give you one last
chance. Leave.” Behind him, one of his cronies kicked at the body
on the ground and the head lolled back into the light.
Sam had a lot of practice identifying people beneath layers of blood
and grime, broken bones and bruises.
“Eddie?” he whispered. Some part of him fell numb at that. It wasn’t
a jumping in, or some drug dealer caught on the wrong turf, and it
wasn’t some kid with an extra limb or purple hair who he didn’t know,
it was Eddie, Eddie who always had an ear or even just a grasshopper
for anyone who was hurting.
The man in front of him must have signalled because the three thugs
were on him in an instant. The part of him that was numb disappeared
as his head crashed into the pavement. He was angry then, angry that
these people would attack his friend for the money in his wallet or
the Italian blood that showed in his face or the fact that he happened
to like men or whatever had drawn their attention.
Angry at the people in the world who saw MUTANT and thought attacker,
robber, rapist, degenerate, freak, while sending people like these
back out onto the street to beat bartenders half to death in the snow,
who threw rocks and worse when you were trying to help them, who resented
you for saving their lives. Angry at Grace, because she was so sure
of his inability to understand that she would run from him, shut him
out and shun him.
Angry and Scott and Jean and the show they put on instead of dealing
until they couldn’t see anything, everything that was wrong
around them, at Bobby and his recent attempts to show how grown up
he was by being an ass and not listening to anyone, and angry at himself
for not being able to fix things, to figure out what he was supposed
to be, what he had to be.
He was on his back so he let one of his assailants charge him, bringing
up his leg and using the man’s momentum to throw him head first into
the wall. There was a sickening thunk and the man sort of oozed down
the wall to fall in a boneless heap. Sam flipped to his feet lightly,
fists ready. The man he’d spoken to faded off to the side and the
other two thugs circled him predatorily.
“Come on,” he growled, spreading his arms out. “Which of you is
next?” There was a red light behind it all. He needed to make it hurt.
He needed someone else to be hurting.
They looked at each other and came at him as one. He let the one
behind him grab his arms and kicked the other, leg snapping out to
take him in the solar plexus. When he doubled over he continued forward
and Sam straightened him out by driving his knee into his chin. His
head snapped back and he staggered back into a trash can.
The grip the other man had on his arms was elementary. Usually used
for nothing more than holding a warm body still while another beat
on it. If he’d used a hold like that in training Magneto would have
sighed; and Cable would have broken it and kicked his ass so he wouldn’t
Sam didn’t waste time twisting from side to side. He threw his weight
forward, noticing as he did that the other man was heading back towards
him with a grim look in his eyes. The man who was holding him was
thrown off balance and Sam reached back with his leg, hooked him around
the ankle and pulled. As he’d hoped, the man released him to use his
arms to break his fall.
He moved just out of arm’s reach of them, careful to keep his body
between them and Eddie. They were bigger than him, and they were stronger,
but they weren’t used to people who could really fight back. Bishop
was bigger and so was Sabretooth. Logan and Hank were stronger, and
pretty well everyone he knew was a better fighter. The simulations
he faced down in the danger room were all three, and tended to have
handy powers to attack you with.
These were people he could beat.
He started to play with them then, play with them in a way that
he’d always detested in fighters. If you could beat them, do it and
get it over with. No need to draw things out.
But ducking and weaving in the cold December air, breath exploding
from him in white plumes while his friend lay behind him bleeding
into the snow, he didn’t particularly care.
He would have been hard pressed to say how long they fought, only
that it wasn't long enough. He ducked at just the right moment and
a fist passed over his head to take out the man coming at him from
behind. Then there were only the two of them and he saw fear in the
other man’s eyes. He smiled easily, enjoying it, because right now
nothing could hurt him, and he drove his fist at the other man’s head
with all of the anger he had bottled up inside. He staggered backwards,
hand to his head, and slowly toppled like a felled tree.
There was still adrenaline running cold through his veins. The first
two down were starting to regain their feet, weakly grasping at the
brick walls of the alley or trash bins and he turned back to Eddie,
who was scrambling back to his, his eyes wide with fear.
Time slowed down as Sam turned his head back to see the man with
the scarred face striding from the shadows, reaching into his coat
Had to be a gun.
He threw himself at Eddie, trying to wrap his blast field around
the both of them. He winced at the retort. The second strike as the
bullet rebounded off was reassuring but all that the noise and the
glowing field did to the scarred man was harden the hatred in his
eyes. There was another shot and this time Sam heard three distinct
ricochets, picking off the edges of the field. The man strode further
forward, bringing the gun back to bear on his motionless prey. There
was cool, impersonal hatred in his eyes /He’s just doing his duty.
Ridding the world of fruits and freaks/ and something inside of Sam
A moment of complete clarity. What was the good in being able to
generate combustion reactions if you didn’t use it? Air explodes,
right. Letting him fly. He flew because he concentrated it below his
It went through his mind in a fraction of a second and as the man
started to pull the trigger, Sam lit up. Threw the explosion that
would have lifted him into the air to his hand and let it detonate
It lit up the alley, throwing everything into sharp relief. The
man’s arm snapped up with the force of it, the gun flying through
the air to land in a mangled heap in the snow where it began to steam
and hiss. He slowly stood, and Sam could see the burns on his hands.
The adrenaline left him in one rush. The sweat on his brow was rapidly
cooling and he was chilled.
The man turned to look at the wreck of his gun, then back at Sam.
His eyes were still full of that impersonal hate. I’ll get you, they
said as Sam screamed “Get out of here!” They told Sam that this wasn’t
a retreat even as the scarred man faded back into the shadows. I’ll
get you. Not today, but I will, they warned The two others who were
fully roused were scrambling towards the exit of the alley. This was
more than they’d bargained for. They left their still unconscious
comrade lying in the snow.
Eddie was on his feet, weaving unsteadily towards the still body.
“Shit, man,” he said to Sam, and gave the man on the ground kick in
the ribs before collapsing onto the snow.
Sam was at his side in an instant, his teeth chattering. With cool,
professional hands he checked Eddie’s injuries. All things considered,
they could be worse. He’d both had and had to treat worse, actually.
All of the X-Men knew some field medicine. It tended to improve life
expectancy. Most of Eddie’s seemed to look worse than they were. Bruises,
a black eye, and a split lip, a minor scalp wound that was bleeding
as much as any head wound ever did.
Some bruised ribs, Sam though. Maybe one or two cracked. No internal
injuries that he could identify. He had broken and bloodied nails
and a boxer’s fracture in his right hand. He’d put up a fight for
himself, at the least. Sam gently lifted one of his eyelids to check
his pupils and that seemed to rouse him some.
“How many fingers?” Sam asked, holding up three.
“Aww, man, you know I have a hard time counting above ten,” he lisped.
His pupils were close to the same size, so he might be lucky on that
count. He tried to rise to his feet and Sam supported him as he started
to topple again. “Kyle’s,” he said, “S’close,” before he passed out
Sam stood there in the snow, shivering. He should take Eddie to
the hospital, but Eddie wanted to go to his brother’s, and none of
his injuries seemed life threatening. “Ah, shit,” he said, then picked
Eddie up and flew above roof level.
It was only a few minutes before they touched down on the balcony
of Kyle’s apartment but it felt like longer because flying silently
always took a lot out of him, even when he wasn’t carrying a man larger
than he was. The doors that led into the apartment would be locked,
he told himself, and then he’d figure something else out, something
involving a doctor. But they were open so he stepped in out of the
cold, just for a bit, to warm Eddie up.
He’d barely settled the other man down on the couch when he heard
a key in the door. He sprung into a defensive stance out of instinct,
every ache and blow on his body making itself apparent, but it wasn’t
an enemy exploding through the door, it was Angela, her normally calm
countenance bright with worry. Sascha and Kyle trailed through behind
her, looking confused. They stopped when they saw Eddie laid out on
“Oh my God,” Sascha whispered. Angela was all ready hovering over
Eddie, checking his injuries with clinical professionalism, and Sam
remembered that she was a student at the medical facility, a few months
away from her residency. The door clicked shut behind him and suddenly
Sam found himself hurled up against the wall.
He was sick and tired of being manhandled and before he’d even realized
what he was doing he’d thrown his attacker across the room. Kyle crashed
into a lamp, knocking it to the ground. The sound of breaking glass
Sascha had her hand on Kyle’s arm and was talking to him in hushed
whispers as he scrambled back to his feet. “Ah didn’t do it,” Sam
said simply, thinking of what they must have seen when they’d come
back. Him, ready to fight, by Eddie’s beaten figure.
“Yeah? Then who?”
The scuffle must have brought Eddie around again because he groaned
and tried to sit up. Angela pushed him gently but firmly back to the
couch as all attention in the room latched onto him. Kyle was by his
brother’s side in an instant. “Is he going to be okay?”
Angela nodded, and repeated most of Sam’s diagnosis - with the exception
that he had, in fact, escaped cracked ribs - as Eddie protested weakly
that he was right there.
“What happened?” Kyle demanded.
“I told a gang of teenyboppers that Brittany Spears is seventy-five
percent plastic,” Eddie said weakly. “Okay, maybe this isn’t the time
It seemed to Sam that it was the perfect time for jokes.
“I was jumped by some thugs on the way over here from work,” Eddie
said. “Four of them. I fought, but there were more of them than there
were of me. Sam found us and he stepped in. He probably saved my life.
One of them had a gun.”
Kyle hissed. Sascha went to hug Eddie, looked at his bruises, and
kissed his forehead instead. She wrapped Sam in a gentle hug. “Thank
you,” she whispered. “That was very brave.” He shied away from her
a bit. It hadn't been. Not really.
“Sorry, man,” Kyle said and clapped him on the back. “It just...”
“It’s all right. Ah know what it must have looked like.”
Angela appeared again, carrying tensors and iodine and aloe vera.
She started to clean out Eddie’s wounds.
Kyle reached for the phone. “We have to call the police,” he said.
Panic suddenly flooded through Sam. “Yah can’t,” he said, pressing
his hand over the cradle. What if they caught the people who’d done
it? A very good chance with the burns on the scarred man’s hands.
He’d need a doctor and they’d spin a story of being attacked by a
mutant with explosive powers, and only defending themselves. Who would
the police believe?
Kyle looked at him dumbly. “My brother was attacked by men who beat
him and pulled a gun. I’d say we have to call the police.”
“No,” Eddie said, struggling to rise from the couch again. “You
can’t call the police.” Sam looked at him with grateful and apprehensive
Sascha was sitting on the edge of couch and she grasped his hands,
only to release them when he hissed in pain. They all looked over
at him, Sam noticing for the first time that Eddie’s hands and part
of his face were bright red, (His exposed skin, something whispered)
as if he’d been sunburned. Sam’s stomach plummeted. “We have to call
the police,” Sascha was saying. “Look at yourself. They even burned
your hands.” She stopped. “Eddie, how did they burn your hands?”
“They didn’t,” Sam said simply. Backlash from the explosion when
he’d disabled the man with the gun. He hadn’t been stretching his
blast field out, not then.
Kyle and Sascha were looking back and forth between the two men,
something building in their eyes. Angela was just methodically treating
“Sam,” Kyle finally said. “How did you you beat off four huge men
He wanted to shrug. Just lucky, I guess. I have a black belt. I
took them by surprise. I don’t know; I just did. Anything but ‘I’m
a trained fighter who goes against worse than that almost every day.’
“If one of them had a gun, why didn’t he shoot it?”
“He shot it,” Sam said.
“And he missed?”
“No. He didn’t miss.”
Sascha looked at him. “Then how are you... How did they burn Eddie,
Sam exhaled. Shook his head and ran his hands through his hair.
“They didn’t. Ah did. It was an accident, when Ah disabled the gun.
Sascha and Kyle were just looking at him then, looking while Angela
wrapped a tensor around Eddie’s ribs and he hissed in pain.
“We can’t call the police,” Sam whispered. He couldn’t get into
the registry. He couldn’t.
“We can’t,” Eddie repeated, his eyes empty. “They were out to give
a fruit a beating and they were attacked by a mutant. How do you think
that that will go down? You think that *they* will be the ones in
There was silence then, only punctuated by the dial tone from the
phone and the muffled sounds of a party happening in an adjoining
apartment. “Damnit!” Kyle threw the receiver as hard as he could.
It caught on the cord and swung back. “This is it?” he asked, spinning
to face Sam.
Sam was ready for it. For the hatred or the disgust of the fear,
but what Kyle said was “This all it was?”
Sascha shook her head. “We knew that there was something you were
keeping close to your chest, but this was all it was?”
Sam opened his mouth. “What do you yah mean ‘That’s it? This is
all it was?’”
“I mean,” said Kyle with flashing eyes, “is that what you couldn’t
trust us with is that you’re a mutant? That’s all?”
It wasn’t all, not really. But the rest of it was tied into that
so that the only thing that he really should have been expected to
say was ‘By the way, I can set a fire underneath my own ass.’ And
he wondered if this was why Grace hadn’t been able to trust him, when
she’d known that he was a mutant but couldn’t bring himself to tell
her. He’d been mad at her for not saying anything about herself, but
the things he was hiding would have made it so, so hard for her. He
didn’t have a foot left to stand on.
“Sam,” Kyle said, and his voice was full of cold anger that in its
lack of impersonality was just as scary as the scarred man’s had been.
“My tenth grade girlfriend was orange and had compound eyes. I’m an
Italian Jew dating a Korean girl from a strict family, and my brother
is gay. One of my best friends is a black girl from a ghetto studying
to be a doctor. You think that I don’t know about prejudice? You think
that any of us don’t know all about it?”
“No,” he said. “Ah’ve just... When yah get such a bad reaction so
many times, you get wary.”
“So you assumed that because other people were intolerant, we were
“Kyle, stop this!” Sascha cried. “Both of you, just stop it.”
“It’s not like that! Yah don’t know what it’s like, always having
tah guard who you are.”
“But it is like that, Sam. You just assumed that we wouldn’t
understand. You just assumed that because we were ordinary humans,
we were bigots.”
“Ah didn’t!” But he had, hadn’t he?
“Sam, that’s just the same as saying all mutants hate humans. Instead
of making a decision based on who we were... If you don’t know me,
or Sascha, or Angela, or Eddie better than that, then you don’t know
us at all. And I don’t know if I want to know you.”
Sascha was between them then, and it was only with her hand on his
chest and one on Kyle’s that he realized they’d been steadily edging
towards each other. “Just stop this, okay? We’re all on edge. Just...
You’ve both said things. Just... Just stop this.”
Kyle spun on his heel, kneeling at his brother’s side. “How’s he
doing?” he asked Angela.
“Ah don’t need this,” Sam snarled. “If yah can’t understand why
Ah was leery of telling yah, take a good look at this conversation.”
Kyle didn’t even glance over at him as Sam stalked off towards the
balcony. He needed to get some space between him and the earth and
everyone who crawled its surface. It was only when he went to slide
open the door that he realized his hands were shaking uncontrollably.
The catch refused to move for him and he snarled.
A hand stole in front of him, and he tried his best to smile at
Sascha. She followed him silently out onto the balcony, wrapping her
arms around herself against the cold.
“He’s just mad, you know,” she said quietly. “He’s afraid for his
brother and he’s mad that he let that happen to him. Eddie may be
older, but Kyle’s always been the one looking out for him.”
“Fine,” he replied curtly. “Doesn’t mean he has tah take it out
“You know why he’s mad at you, don’t you? You understand?”
Sam shook his head. “Ah’m a mutant. Ah didn’t tell him.”
“There’s more to it than that, but you’re going to have to figure
it out on your own. We never want to see our own blind spots, Sam,
but you may have to.”
He nodded curtly. “Look, Ah’m sorry, but Ah’m sore and tired and
Ah just need a bit of time.”
“I understand,” she said, and hugged him quickly. “Sam?” She asked
“Can I ask you something?”
“Shoot.” Bad choice of words. He winced at the sudden silence.
“What is it that you... That you can do?”
He grinned, because there was only honest curiosity in her eyes.
“Watch,” he said, moving to the edge of the balcony, hopping up onto
the railing and balancing easily. He knew he was showing off, but
he just needed something bright in his day.
“Sam, be careful!”
“Don’t worry, Ah know what I’m doing,” he assured her, spread his
arms and fell backwards.
“Sam!” she cried, running to the railing, her hair falling forwards
as she searched the ground for a glimpse of him.
He let himself fall for a short space before lighting up. Every
time he did it it was like beating gravity, and it made him feel more
alive than he did at any other time. Sascha laughed as he soared up.
“Show-off!” she called. He blew her a kiss and tried to forget his
problems in the city, spread out below him like silicon chips, lit
up with Christmas decorations, even if for a while.
She could feel his eyes burning into her skin. There was always that
something broken between them, tracking them, binding them to each
other. He needed her in a way that was more than need. He heard her
in the wind and saw her in the snow.
And only he, with his eyes devouring her, saw as she become more
and less real, as what she was flickered and changed.
“Hey,” he whispered from behind her, wrapping his arms around her
bare waist. The hall lights were dim. Wonderful thing about Emma.
So much skin even when you didn’t have her clothes off.
Her surprise bounced in his head and he soaked it up. She hadn’t
felt him coming because the thing broken between them tied them too
close. He could feel her surprise bouncing around in his head because
she hadn’t been able to consciously note him.
It was a thing he barely understood. He trailed kisses along her
neck and she arched her head back for him. //thisisn’ttheplan//someonesaid,butitwasshutout.
She slid out of his arms then, pulling away without a look back,
as if that was as much of his touch as she could take. He reached
after her, grabbed for her arm. Her skin was cold and when she turned
to him she was the ghost in the hall. The something broken spoke to
him then, whispered in his mind that he had better take his hand off
of her because this was more real than anything between them, the
look in her eyes as they fractured.
He stood there, numb, listening to the whispers in his head, something
dark building in him from the need and his ache to be be treated as
everyone else and and the something broken in him.
“How much of this is real?” He whispered, voice hoarse and low.
How much? How much of this is real? Howhowhowhowhow much?
Skin cool beneath his fingers, eyes burning into him. [How much
of this is real? How much of us?] he asks again.
Eyes cold now. Her eyes are all he can see and he thinks he preferred
it when they were burning.
[Reality is such a fickle thing.] [Reality is what you make of it.]
[Reality is just a word for the world conceptions we create.] [Nothing
is ever real.]
He’s as hot as she is cold. Strange, because he is the one who can
truly be ice. He kisses her then, kisses her hard because he needs
something real and he needs her touch and he needs something to anchor
him here. He pushes her back against the wall with the strength of
it, and there’s blood in his mouth. His lip or hers is split and he
kisses her harder, deeper as it courses between them, needing, searching,
and when it’s not found it all circles back to him and he kisses her
He hears footsteps in the hall and he finds that they’re leaning
against a door so he lets his hand find the nob and they spill inside.
It swings shut behind them. It’s an empty room. Furniture is draped
in white dust cloths, curtains white, white as the carpet they fall
to. The something dark and building breaks open because he needs this,
he needs it, even though some part of him realizes that it
will likely destroy the something that is all ready broken.
She’s still, so curiously still beneath him but he barely notices
because her mind is racing and her eyes are splintering and fracturing.
It’s then that he notices that the white that holds her together isn’t
so true, against the white carpet and dustcoths, the curtains that
billow even without a breeze around them. //nonononottheplannottheplan/this
is wrong can’t do this/You’re letting him why are you letting him//
Because white is every colour that’s how you get white. Every colour
in equal amounts and her white is starting to break down even as her
eyes are, fracturing and splintering into each component colour and
she is all of them, is all even as she is white.
A thought brushes past him, a plea, a forbiddance, but it’s brushed
aside by another and she doesn’t fight him, even as somewhere someone
sings a lullaby he cannot hear but knows the words to all the same.
And the world fades and twists and looses its cohesion even as white
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