The Impossible Dream - part 6
By Chakat Bluestripe (a.k.a Joe Prescott)
The night air seems to thicken as we walk out into the woods near the camp. The smells of night are like candy to my senses and the sounds of wildlife in the distance awaken deep feelings of belonging. I lead us through the woods, knowing the way to a nice area near a small stream. Noko senses my familiarity with the area and follows close behind.
The pine needles on the path and ferns that grow thickly under the trees seem to track our movements. I canít help but feel that we are making a very noisy advance onto the enemy. My training tells me to be silent as I walk but I have to remind myself that this is not an Ďoperationí, just a nice nature walk. I hop down an embankment and feel the soft grass under my paws. Noko is right behind me. A little stream flows quietly out from the ferns and pools between some smooth rocks. The water is clear and cool and the wild mint growing nearby adds a magical scent to the glade. I can sense that Noko is very happy with the location and shi slowly walks around soaking in the beauty. I walk over to the stream and kneel down for a drink. The water tastes of a healthy forest and seems to refresh my soul. I take a handful of mint and rub it onto my arm fur. The mint smells of heaven as I move back a few feet and kneel down. I close my eyes and forget my troubles. This feeling is timeless as it stirs the emotions of a lifetime spent fighting nature. I surrender to the night and indulge my yearning instincts. I roll over onto my back. The soft, cool grass seems to connect me to the forest and I look up through the canopy of the trees. Stars show brightly down and illuminate the trees as they filter through. I look at Noko as shi is still spellbound by the beauty of the forest. I playfully take my hind paws into my handpaws and smile to Noko,
"The stars are beautiful this time of the night."
My words seem to slice through the darkness like lightning and Noko is startled. Shi comes close to me and kneels down. I can sense that shi is a little distracted even though shi smiles to me. I lie there silently and let the night speak to us. Noko seems focused on the forest and I can sense that shi is beginning to connect to the tranquility of nature.
Time is meaningless as we lie there side-by-side, sharing our feelings. I look over and whisper, "What does Nokomis mean, or is it just a name?"
Shi rolls over and smiles; I can sense that shi is changing hir thoughts and focusing more on me. "Well, translated from early American Indian, it means ĎDaughter of the Mooní. I think my mother was being playful since hir name is Moonlightgray."
I nod silently and reach over and hug hir close. My fingers gently trace around hir neck following the collar. The buckle unsnaps easily as I lean in and kiss hir muzzle. Noko purrs softly as hir eyes focus on mine. Slowly I slide the collar off of hir neck and roll back onto the grass. Noko follows me with hir eyes as I put the collar back around my neck. Shi smiles knowingly and begins to lean in close, hir purr becoming the pulse of the forest. I look up to hir in the moonlight, hir passion flooding into my own as I reach to hir and gently hug hir tight. I feel radiant as I close my eyes and surrender to the night.
I slowly wake up to the yipping song of a coyote off in the distance. Noko is here and our blouses are hanging on a mint bush. I snuggle hir tightly as the coyotes continue their timeless song. My mind wanders to the time of the war. The coyotes must have had a hard time surviving. This forest and these mountains must have been severely impacted. All these years later it is as if it never happened. The coyotes are proof of the planetís ability to heal. I hope that in time, I will heal completely. Noko stirs a little in my arms and my mind moves forward to this night. I nuzzle hir cheek and gently pull hir closer to me. Time will work its magic on me, and my pains will fade.
Noko awakens abruptly and sits up, hir ears pointing off into the woods. I sit up also and listen. There are soft footsteps near by. We strain our eyes looking into the darkness. We can see fairly well but we canít see what is making the noise. Noko stands up tense and sniffs deeply. I can sense no danger but I stand up too. The footsteps get closer before we make out a mule deer grazing on the soft grass near the stream. A fleeting urge to give chase is quickly over-ridden and I hug Noko playfully. "I guess we should head back and see if we can avoid the rumors."
"Ha! I think everyone knows where we are. If they couldnít sense us out here earlier then they must be in a coma."
"Heh, I guess you donít know humans very well. You can stand right in front of them and think the worst things possible and they will not notice. They are too self-absorbed to let other thoughts enter their mind."
"Yeah, I have noticed that too, but then again; if you just have a passing thought about sex, they are all over you."
"HAH! Thatís true. They do seem to be so unbalanced some times. Sex and aggression, wasnít that the Freudian way? Heh. Well, lets head back anyway."
Noko giggles and nods as I walk over to the stream and take one last drink before putting on my blouse. It smells wonderfully minty. I pick some of the plant to bring back and I hug Noko as shi puts on hir top.
The walk back to the base is enjoyable as the darkness makes it into an adventure. At the junction of the buildings we share a tight hug and a long kiss. This is not a goodbye but a goodnight as we go our separate ways into the night.
My bed is a welcome sight and I flop down happily. Sleep comes quickly but so does the dawn. I wake up with the sun shining just over the mountains and into my window. I lie there blissfully for a while thinking about the night and Noko; hir yellow eyes and hir soft fur. Slowly I begin to think about my day and what I need to do. I should workout some and maybe do a little running. I think Iíll research the flight training idea a little more and talk to some of the local pilots. My bed is soft and warm but finally I collect enough motivation to make it into the shower. I check my comm for messages as I make breakfast. The commander has set an appointment to meet me at 0900; a quick glance at the clock shows plenty of time to get ready.
0900 hours finds me dressed in uniform and standing at Charlieís desk. He stands and salutes, then smiles and winks. "The Commander is expecting you, sir."
I look at him again. "Are you trying to tell me something?"
Charlie nods and then points towards the door.
I just shake my head, "Okay?" I knock and then walk into the office. The Commander nods as I salute then waves off the formalities. I can sense a humorous attitude in him as he picks up a paper and chuckles.
"Chakats... What do you do with them? They hardly step off the shuttle and they are out taking nature hikes into the bushes at all hours of the night, waking up all the Skunktaurs within a twenty kilometer radius. Making them all horny so they canít sleep at night, forcing them to write a memo to me." I can tell I am blushing but I hope my fur hides it. I stand there silent, trying to think of a response but then he continues.
"Do you want to know what they suggested I do with you? Iíll quote them. ĎWe suggest that you approve hir continued service in the force and send hir on to hir next assignment.í Now that is funny, HA! Who says that Skunktaurs have no sense of humor?"
I am smiling widely as the commander drops the paper comically on his desk and chuckles.
"Sergeant Bluestripe, have you thought about what assignment you would like next? We have a few openings in intelligence and Recon. Your training is also useful in many fields of our operation. If you have no preference then Iíll post you where I think you will be most utilized."
"Sir, I have a request. I know that the field is somewhat in demand but I would like to train to be a pilot. I think that the schooling and testing will give my body a little more time to regain strength and I also feel that I will be a very good pilot. I have always scored high on my basic pilot training and I would like to take the full course focusing on shuttle pilots or transport pilots."
"I see, yes you did score very well. I was looking over your training records just this morning. It seems a waste though, to walk away from all your other special training, but I will forward my recommendation that you take the pilot course."
"Thank you, sir"
"There is also the issue that you brought to my attention, the ship that you were rescued from. I can see your point. I hit a wall myself trying to follow through but I was able to confirm some of the information that you did have. It has piqued my curiosity and I forwarded it to some acquaintances that may have better luck. Iíll let you know as soon as I get any information. Anyway, Iíll write up the request for your reassignment and send it out shortly. I think it should go through since most people want the fighter pilot training. That leaves the other classes a little short."
"Thank you very much, sir"
"You are free to go now, just stay out of the bushes for a while and you will not have to do KP."
I salute and walk out feeling fairly embarrassed but good.
The sun is warming up the morning nicely and I stop to look around. The base is bustling with motion and everyone seems to have a job to do, except me. I walk slowly around the base, taking my time and thinking about my future. Can it be true? Will I really get the full training to be a pilot? Maybe, maybe at last, I will find my future. It is well after noon when I again approach the central complex. The smells of the mess hall now bring thoughts of Nokomis. I walk in confidently and glance around. Nope, shi is not here. Shi must be out training. I sit and eat lunch alone, lost in my thoughts.
The days have gone by while I have worked out and tried to keep busy but yesterday my orders came through and tonight I can leave to my new life in the force. The location of my pilot training couldnít have been better. I am going to "Nuevo Diego". Personally I would rather just call it "San Diego" like the old days but the new regime apparently had to rename the area. All my gear is packed and they even let me take my body armor since it was customized to precisely fit me. I have booked a spot on a small transport heading to Nuevo tonight. The flight is rather short so I shouldnít feel too cramped in the back.
I pace the rooms looking for forgotten items but all I find are memories. Good, bad, indifferent, I want to leave them all in this dreary little place. I grab my gear and carry it over to the shuttle. Two hours to go and Iíll be gone from here. I drop my gear inside and wait. I get comfortable and soon I am lost in my thoughts.
Noko has been gone for a few days doing field training. I left hir a message since Iíll be gone when shi returns. Summer has said that shi would try to visit soon and bring Leona along too. I look back at the time I have lost lately and I wonder what will become of Crystal and Thunder. They are alone most of the time, Summer is living with Leona a short distance away but they are both working very hard trying to buy a better house. My family on Amaethon, in some ways I miss them, but in other ways I never want to go back. They seem to be trapped in an endless cycle of planting, caring, harvesting, and marketing. There seems to be no rest and no time to enjoy all that they have earned. Maybe my worst feelings are that the planet had no chakats and no future for me.
Amaethon does have beautiful mountains and valleys but almost all of them are in remote and unpopulated areas. The first settlers had imported wildlife to satisfy their meat needs and bees to help with the crops. Mule deer, havalina, rabbits, turkeys and chickens roam wild, free from natural predators except for the few hunters who have an easy task to supply meat to the farmers. Their numbers have been growing steadily and I can imagine a foxtaur clan living very comfortably in the foothills. I remember the first time I had gone deer hunting. I was about twelve years old and had made a bet with one of the boys that I could catch a deer with my bare hands quicker than he could with a long bow. I took off running into the woods and soon spotted a doe. I stalked close and pounced. I caught her tightly in my claws and hands and held her for an instant. Her fear and pain came pouring through me so powerfully that I released her. I remember sitting there for a while wondering what had happened. I lost the bet and never hunted by hand again.
The pilots walk into the ship along with a few other men and begin to prepare for the trip. I get myself situated and buckled down and soon we are in the air. The feeling of acceleration is always a pleasure and I can feel that these pilots enjoyed it too. Deceleration is likewise usually a disappointment but this destination is eagerly anticipated. A nervous excitement softly shakes through my body as the thoughts of flying race through my mind. I have flown the team shuttle enough to know the basics but I have never flown into ĎZero-Gí. It is a skill that was much more advanced than our basic piloting instruction. Calculating desired orbits on the Nav-Com and inter-planet trajectories, as well as FTL basics and engine emergency procedures take some intensive training. One of the most rigorous tests is just being able to pass the background investigation and get security clearance. They are very careful who they let fly the FTL capable craft. Imploding a FTL engine over populated areas has always been a common terrorist threat and has yet to be accomplished.
As we land and taxi over to a warehouse on the Nuevo Diego base, I can sense a whole new atmosphere and what can only be described as Ďattitudeí. The ship stops and the cargo doors open. I get my gear and make my way out onto the ground. The night air is warm. I can detect the scent of the ocean as it blows in from the west. The Pilot points me towards the office and I am on my way.
Checking in to my new post goes smoothly and soon I am opening the door to my room. I have three days to settle in and get prepared for the training. I drop down my gear and untie my small side packs before testing the bed. "Yup, I knew it!" It is way too small for a taur. Iíll just grab some blankets and sleep on the floor tonight, tomorrow will be the day to really get settled. I should be able to locate a taur bed in the morning... if the men havenít claimed them all as a luxury item. Historically speaking, there hasnít been a very high percentage of taur pilots even if they do have a longer service life. They donít fit into many of the small fighters and most private companies donít see the profit to retrofitting existing aircraft to accommodate them. I unpack a few snacks from my bag for dinner and nervously try to sleep. I can sense many of the people close to me, and their feelings and emotions are keeping me awake.
I wake up early after a restless night not even noticing that I had fallen asleep, my hunger acting as my alarm clock. A long shower in the small stall and I am getting sure that I need a different room. The impossible toilet placement settles it; I need a new room soon. I get dressed in my uniform and head out to find relief and some breakfast. I follow my nose and quickly locate both. The mess hall is much nicer than the one at the Colorado base. It has a better assortment of food and everything seems to be made a slightly higher quality. My nose can easily tell a difference. The attitude here seems to be a little snobbish but not to the extent of outright arrogance. I guess being in pilot training has a certain status appeal that humans enjoy. By mid-afternoon I had been assigned a taur room and have settled in much better. I have made a call to Thunder and talked a while with hir. I have planned to go to the beach in the morning and swim for a while and I have already met a few others who are attending the next pilot training session. A quick check of the class roster shows that I will be the only chakat in this session. It is a slight disappointment but not a problem. There are plenty of opportunities here.
I head outside into the warm sun and walk around the base. I look at the training craft and talk to a few people along the way. The reality is still sinking in. In 6 months I should be finished here with a pilotís certificate and a new outlook on life.
Time has been passing slowly. I have been in training four months and it seems like I have been here much longer. The schoolwork and the long hours in flight simulators have taken some of the shine from my visions of being a pilot. I have yet to get in the flight simulator and complete a trouble free mission. They are programmed to create problems in flight and evaluate my responses. Usually I can deal with them correctly but there have been missions where I got a failing grade for giving up and letting the ship crash. Once I was so furious that the ship was programmed to have an antimatter containment failure just as I was approaching a planet. I had to eject the fuel containment pod and power up the conventional engines but I had to wait for fuel pressure to rise and by that time I was skimming the atmosphere at a steep angle. When the engines finally powered up, the ship had begun to tumble. Then the navigation computer failed and took the pitch and yaw display with it. The shields were at minimal power since having to eject the pod and the hull temperature was going critical. The shields failed and the ship was burning up. I went for full power on the engines and flew in the blind. I had no idea what would happen but the simulator apparently has a sense of irony and aimed me right into a crowded shopping mall. Just once I would like to have a normal flight on the simulator.
Tonight I feel a little tired, the classes are getting progressively tougher and I need to be sure to get my rest. I stop for a quick dinner and head towards bed. I check for messages when I get to my room. I have a notice to pick up a registered package at the Admin Office. It is not too late so I decide to run over and get it.
It is a small official looking envelope but it has nothing written on it except my name and assignment. I am little confused and open it up immediately. The envelope is empty except for a small data chip. Curiosity sends me straight back to my room and I insert the chip into my reader. I access the chip on the computer and a ĎClassified Informationí trailer scrolls past the screen. I have no idea what to expect when I log in my official ID and password. I sit and look at the screen. My mind tries to organize my thoughts as my excitement sends them spinning.
"ComLog: EOP- Utgard, 04:30:00 GWT. 06-23-2310 / 04:30:00 GWT. 06-24-2310"
I begin reading slowly, if it hadnít been for Thunder finding that name before, I would have no clue what "Utgard" is or what I am looking at. This is just a log and has no supporting documentation or information about who was stationed there. The Utgard computer information is full of application process references that are meaningless to me. I switch to the voice transcripts, which have nametags on them and quickly scan through the menís idle chat. There it is! My hearts race as I read it again,
"Automated Emergency Transponder Actuated
Ship ID # AU6733-B. ESV Ė R.Kipling..."
I start reading quickly, trying to see through my tears. I have to stop to compare the computer logs to the voice logs in many places but I canít stop reading. The ship attack, the probe, the fighters and the shuttle party boarding the ship, and then there I see it.
723:aecT-Ortega: " I found a live one! A baby chakat! Go check the last few rooms! There might be more!"
723:akwM-Baker: " I couldnít find any more. Lets get out of here"
I stare blankly for a few minutes having learned a little about my rescue. It really was just as simple as I had been told. There must be something to hide though, why the cover up? I have no answers so I read on. I read about the shuttle going to Amaethon and dropping the chakat there quickly. I read the transcripts of the shuttle arriving too late to help Marcus and just in time to witness Jakeís death. I can assume that the shuttle was destroyed immediately after that when "723:amfJ-Hawks: Ď Shit, Here it comes!í" is the last voice log. I check the computer logs and see that the telemetry from the shuttle ended then also. I notice that the ship was registered to "AusTech Research" and a quick search on the computer shows that the company was closed when all the executive scientists were killed in a deep space mishap. Further searches on that company revealed nothing more. I dig through the rest of the log but it is just the Computer logging application processes.
It is late and I need sleep but I canít see any grounds for a cover up. I am somewhat disappointed but still relieved to know what really happened to my parents and me. I just wish I knew their names and my real name. Thunder is still looking for information on the ship, I hope shi finds something.
I have been reading the logs in my spare time, trying to keep my studies as a priority. The log has so much information that I am having difficulty keeping it all straight. I have focused on the probe data and the shuttle data as it scanned the disabled ship. I have entered the coordinates into the school simulator. I have the drift speed and the location. I have looked up the standard mass of the ship and the computer has the sector information and entered the gravitational variables. I have plotted a probable course for the ship and have calculated its location. From all the information in the logs, I can speculate that the ship is still out there somewhere.
The scan from the shuttle shows the damaged areas and the maintenance computer calculated that the ship could be easily repaired if taken to a facility. I am having fantasies about locating the ship and finding all the answers to my life of questions. I have gathered information about the outpost Utgard and it is still in operation although there have not been any incidents in the area for quite a long time. The personnel at Utgard are still rotated through at eighteen month intervals and their duties include patrolling the area and responding to emergencies. I think that this might be a good place to start my piloting career, lots of time flying in Zero-G and also time with the FTL engine operational. Iíll also be close enough to visit my family on Amaethon too.
The last several weeks of training go by quickly and I have been looking into getting myself assigned to Utgard on the next shift rotation. I have had to answer several times, to different people why I would want to get assigned there. It is so isolated and dark that most people get sent there as some kind of punishment. I keep my plans to myself and only make mention of the possibility for flight experience and the proximity to my home on Amaethon. This seems to satisfy everyoneís curiosity and I have been successfully placed on the next list. This gives me about four months to fly shuttles and transports locally before heading out to Utgard.
Graduation comes and goes. Summer, Leona, Thunder, and Crystal are all there for the occasion and we have a great time at the beach afterwards. I copied the Utgard transcript and also the flight projections from the old data and given them to Thunder with the strict warning not to show the "Classified" data to anyone else. Shi is excited to hear about the information and will undoubtedly stay up nights looking through it as I did.
I requested and received a post at the main supply depot, trucking shipments around the local solar system. I will be co-pilot until I get enough hours to be pilot. This is kind of on-the-job training and I will not be fully rated until then. It will only take a few trips to the other planets before I will be 100% certified. I have decided to live out of my duffle bag for the time being. I donít have any one port to land in at a given time so having a room somewhere would be pointless. I can always stay in Pathsí room at Thunder and Crystalís house if needed. The short trips around the area also donít require me to live on the ship since loading and unloading the ship takes longer than most flights. I have been paired up with an older human pilot named Theodore "Splash" OíMalley. He is a very good pilot and knows his ship perfectly. He can do minor repairs and adjustments if needed but usually is just as happy to have the mechanics do it. I call him "Splash" as he likes, but he has not told me where he got the nickname. I can sense a little hesitance when I ask him about it though. We get along together fine and he is always quick to point out different flight techniques while entering orbit before dropping down to land or looking for an adequate landing spot in less developed areas. I have been doing most of the actual at-the-controls piloting while Splash just sits back and relaxes. He can be fairly talkative and we have shared stories of the past. I have been careful to leave out the more vivid experiences and only talk about the humdrum events of being an ex-Team member with the Federation Special Forces. I just tell him that I had an on the job injury and needed to be reassigned to a less stressful environment. He doesnít ask too many questions about my personal life but he seems interested in learning about chakats as a species. He said that he has never really been around chakats and that I am the first that he has had time to talk to. I can feel that he is open with me but is also judging my race by my example.
I donít know what he was thinking the time we were returning from the Mars post with a mostly empty cargo hold and I went down there and was literally bouncing off the walls. The zero gravity and the empty hold got the better of me and I had to go and play. I knew he was watching on the monitor but I was having fun, spinning and turning and pouncing and floating. How could anyone resist? When I finished playing and returned to the pilotís seat, he gave me an odd look and just said. "Chakats are very flexible arenít they?" I smiled and nodded.
After one of our trips we need to take the ship to get a door seal replaced. The mechanic is a fairly good-sized Quange. He is a bay in coloration and goes by the nickname "Buster".
Buster is friendly and easy to talk to as he works. I start asking him about the power requirements of a transport ship and how it could be energized if the main engines were disabled. He is interested in the problem so I go ahead and tell him that I planned to try to recover my parentsí old ship. Buster is now very interested so I get him a copy of the damage scans from the probe and the shuttle. He promises to research the data and see if he can come up with a solution for me. I give him a quick kiss and a few credits to show my appreciation.
I am now fully certified, and in time to join the group at Utgard. I just finished reading the mission information and I am on my way to report for the mission briefing. I finished my last supplies delivery last week and finally found out how Splash got his nickname. The way he tells it, he was told to land on a frozen pond in the high mountains to drop off supplies for a remote training operation. The ship landed safely and as he was opening the cargo door, a vehicle drove out to get the supplies. The ice broke and the vehicle fell through. Splash had about 10 seconds to watch a crack form under the shuttle before it also fell in. After getting soaking wet, he was able to climb up and get on top of the shuttle. He said that he got in trouble over it because he should have known better, but there was a log that said he was told to land there so it wasnít too bad. I think that all his talk about finding a good landing spot was probably a lesson he learned the hard way.
I walk into the office and follow the sign to the meeting. I am the last to show up but I am right on time. Everyone has already been through the detailed mission information but this meeting is the first time that I will see who is going with me. I have read about them but not actually met them until now.
One of the men stands up and addresses the small group.
"My name is Ross Manser, I will be the commanding officer. This will be my third rotation through Utgard. I have read all of your profiles, as you should have done also. Do any of you have any questions before I ask you to introduce yourselves? ... Okay, starting here."
I am the only non-human in this group and everyone must know who I am from the profiles. Ross starts with the other side on the room as one of the men stands up.
"I am Eric Faden, I am a pilot and have an advanced medical certificate. I am expected to give you pills if you get sick and zip you in the bag if youíre dead. I am really looking forward to this assignment and the next eighteen months. If you havenít noticed, I have a dry sense of humor."
"I am Antonio Gano, I am a pilot and I am also a certified in space rescue techniques."
"Hello, I am Jenna Ellet, I am a fighter pilot and I am also trained in space rescue techniques. I am here with my husband David Ellet."
"I am David Ellet. I am a fighter pilot. I have been trained in space rescue and I also have an advanced medical certificate. If you need to be zipped up in a bag, come to me, I have a better sense of humor."
"I am Chakat Artemis Bluestripe. I have been trained in tactical offensives and hand-to-hand combat techniques. I have also been trained in covert reconnaissance and I am a high level empath. I recently completed my transport and shuttle pilot training and spent the last few months ferrying cargo around the solar system."
Ross stands up again, " Okay, we will be meeting at the Base operations HQ in the morning, 06:30. We will then assist in loading supplies onto the transport. We are scheduled to depart at 12:00. Be sure to bring all your gear. There is no easy way to get something that you forget. Are there any questions?"
Nobody says anything and Ross dismisses us. I can sense that I am the only one who is truly excited about this trip and Eric seems very unhappy about it. Everyone sort of looks at each other for a moment and then we disband.
I have nothing to do for the rest of the day so I decide to make a call to Buster. I take my communicator out of my pack and look at it for a moment. It will not work on Utgard but it should work on Amaethon. Buster is away from his Comm so I leave him a quick message. I decide to spend the rest of the day buying special supplies and treats that wonít be included on the standard Utgard menu.
By evening I have eaten and walked back to my hotel room. I am going to need lots of rest so I pack up everything and get it ready to go, I shower and then go to bed.
Red kisses me as I stand close to hir. We are looking out over the ocean from a high cliff. The sun is setting down into the water and we watch it sink below the surface. The sea glistens as the swells come into the beach, rolling into waves and splashing onto the sand. Red looks out into the distance. Shi is silent. I have so many things I want to say, but I canít speak. My heart sinks as I feel hir sadness. Shi will miss me when I go but shi canít ask me to stay. I feel that I would love to stay here with hir but I know that it canít happen. Red turns and looks me in the eyes; I can see love and sadness reflecting back to me and I hug hir tightly. I look out across the ocean to the point where it fades into the distance. The sun is rising up from the ocean, a new dawn spreads out across the water and the beach is calm. I look to Red in amazement as shi smiles happily. I feel lost and shi hugs me. I am found.
The alarm clock goes off and I wake up abruptly. I reach to turn it off as tears roll off my cheek. It is time to leave this place.
To be continued in Part 7.
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