Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV programme "Space: Above & Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, FOX Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions and have been used without permission - no copyright infringement intended.
All non-canonical characters appearing in the story are legal property of the author.
This story is not to be published on any ftp sites, newsgroups,mailing lists, fanzines, or elsewhere without the express permission of the author.
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The child ran through the grassy meadow, the breezes caught and lifted his brown hair sending it tumbling into his eyes. Stopping abruptly, the child turned, grinned wickedly and ran back to the two dawdling adults and his little sister.
"Come on daddy, you can't catch me!" The boy pulled playfully at his father's sleeve.
"No, but I can!" The boy's mother caught him up in her arms and spun him around and around. Laughing, the boy tilted his head back and attempted to watch the world fly by upside-down.
The boy's mother set him down gently and knelt beside her fidgeting son, struggling without success to tidy his unruly mop of hair. The boy gazed up at her face, he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Her hair was long and like his, light brown in colour. The tendrils curled around her face, caressing her beauty. His mother's expressive brown eyes gazed into his and they shared a crooked grin, the bond of love was strong between them. Giving up on her task with an exasperated sigh, the boy's mother stood and let her overactive son run off after the butterflies, his little sister close on his heels.
The boy and his sister had been running for a long time and were tiring. They stopped to catch their breath and the boy turned to scan the landscape in search of his parents. He couldn't see them. He swallowed sharply, he was scared when he was alone. The frightened child then spotted a small hillock. Grabbing his sister by the hand the two children ran up to the top and looked out over the meadow. Their parents were nowhere in sight.
Suddenly it was dark and the boy strained his eyes but all he could see was an inky blackness. Then he heard the sound. It was faint buzzing noise and seemed far away at first but now it was growing louder. Along with the buzzing noise came a light, not a natural light. This light was white and pure, draining the colour from everything that it touched. The little girl grew nervous and pulled her hand away from her brother's.
The boy watched helplessly as his sister began to run. The white light was close behind her. He called to her begging for her to come back but she kept running, her short stubby legs a blur. Then she fell. The light was instantly upon her and she screamed in pain. The boy watched as his screaming sister was lifted like a weightless leaf up into the light. She was gone and it was his fault.
The boy was suddenly deafened by the noise and before he knew it, he too was caught up in the white light's intense beam. The boy looked up into the source of the light, the pain was intense and burnt through his small frame. He couldn't move. He screamed for his mother to save him from the searing light but all he heard was his mother's frightened cry…
There it was again, his mother's frightened voice calling to him. He felt that his mother was close now. Through the pain he could feel her cool hand clasping his. He tried to squeeze her hand to let her know that he was alright and that she shouldn't be scared. Carefully he tried to open his eyes. He knew the light would be intense, he could see it glowing through his eyelids. Trying to blink back the redness, the boy searched for a familiar face.
"West, pull that light back, you're blinding him!" Hissed a female's voice.
"Come on Coop, wake up!" This time the boy felt the stinging sensation of a hard slap across his face, bringing him to full consciousness.
The brown frightened eyes that bore into his were not those of his mother after all. He recognised them as belonging to Lieutenant Shane Vansen. With this disturbing realisation, the vivid dream departed and left him feeling cold and empty. He wasn't a child, he was a six-year-old adult. He had no parents and no family - he wasn't even human, he was a 'Tank'.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me you were injured!?!" Vansen all but screamed at the stunned In-Vitro.
Cooper swallowed hard, his mouth was dry making it difficult to talk. Just when everything was coming back into focus it all started spinning about again. He suddenly felt nauseous as he felt himself being pulled headlong back into the black, whirling vortex.
"Cooper, answer me!" Vansen shook his arm but it was no use, he was out cold. "Shit!"
Shane twisted her head over her left shoulder and confronted three pairs of concerned eyes.
"It's bad," she informed them flatly, her voice betraying no emotion. "'Phousse, try and find something we can use as a tourniquet, we need to stop the bleeding." The whites of Vanessa's eyes glowed brightly in the gloom contrasting sharply with her dark skin and Shane thought she detected the shine of unshed tears. As Vanessa turned away, Shane squeezed her arm and tried to give her a comforting smile. 'Phousse returned it gratefully and then left the group.
"He said it was just a scratch," said Nathan, solemnly shaking his head.
Shane and Paul watched as Nathan zipped open Cooper's blood saturated flight suit and then using his knife, he began to cut into the unconscious In-Vitro's T-shirt, ripping the fabric up towards the wound.
"Oh, God!" Nathan suddenly exclaimed, turning his head away.
"What is it?" asked Shane, trying her best to keep her voice level.
"I can see the bone," whispered Paul who was holding the torch.
Leaning in closer with the torch, Paul could see that the laser fire from the Chig weapon had burnt through the flesh of Cooper's left shoulder, penetrating straight to the bone and beyond. He was panicked by the amount of blood that was flowing unchecked from the wound.
"Shane, pass me my field-kit," said Paul. Shane remained inert, kneeling at Cooper's side. "Sometime this week might be a good," he continued, feeling a bit strange at being the one to take charge.
"He must have been in shock. No-one can withstand that much pain and pass it off as 'just a scratch'," Shane whispered. She knew as well as everyone else that In-Vitros were probably capable of withstanding a little more pain than most natural-borns, but she was shocked at just how much pain Cooper had taken before he had finally collapsed.
Shane suddenly snapped back into action and she produced Paul's field-kit from his pack. Opening the kit box, she was dismayed to see how little in the way of bandages the kit contained. "Nathan, I'm gonna need all the bandages from your kit too," she said, as she wadded together the white sterile dressings and pressed them firmly against Cooper's wound. She was alarmed at just how quickly the bandages became sodden.
Just then 'Phousse returned with a belt in her hand. "This any good?" she asked holding it out to Shane. Shane nodded and took it from her hand. As she caught sight of Cooper's wound 'Phousse turned quickly away and clamped her hand tightly over her mouth. She berated herself; why couldn't she get used to the sight of blood? She was in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by Chigs and dead and dying humans. She was a marine and marine's shouldn't be afraid of blood should they?
Shaking off her numbness, Vansen as Honcho of the 58th began to take charge. "West, you radio McQueen, let him know what's happened. Tell him we need an extraction as close to our position as possible. 'Phousse, you take guard outside. Wang and me will do what we can." Shane then concentrated on the task before her. It's gonna take a miracle to get us out of this one, she thought to herself.
A few minutes later Nathan returned. "The signal keeps breaking up. I don't know if they received the transmission." With a worried glance at Cooper, who looked altogether too pale beneath the artificial light of Paul's torch, he added, "Shane, we have to move him to a safer position. The 23rd's about a mile away, they've got a med-unit with them."
"No way!" Shane replied angrily. "How the hell do you suggest we move him through all the shelling, Einstein?"
"Shane, we've got to get him outta here or he's gonna bleed to death!" Nathan yelled back at her, surprised at just how concerned he was about the 'Tank'.
"Well, do you think you can carry him? Because I sure as hell don't!" she snapped back.
"Look, maybe we can build a stretcher, or somethin'," suggested Paul.
"Out of what exactly?" asked Shane throwing her hands up in the air in exasperation. The cramped cave that they were using for shelter contained nothing except the five members of the 58th.
"Hey, cool it you guys!" hissed 'Phousse from the cave entrance. "Do you want to send the Chigs an invitation to finish us all off? They're advancing and I'm nearly out of ammo."
Shane held her breath, mentally telling herself to calm down. "Paul, go help 'Phousse out." She knelt down beside Cooper and put her hand against his forehead. She winced as she felt the heat radiating from his clammy skin.
"If the Chigs are advancing, we have to move," reminded Nathan.
"Shane?" gasped Cooper, opening his eyes.
Shane held onto his hand, "Coop, can you hear me? We have to move you, or the Chigs are gonna have our asses on toast. Do you think you can stand?"
"I can try," he said feebly.
Shane and Nathan tried to get the injured In-Vitro to his feet but it was no use, Cooper couldn't support himself and together they couldn't take the weight of the tall marine. Defeated, they lowered him back down to the floor. To prevent himself from crying out in pain, Cooper had bitten down hard onto his lower lip and now blood flowed from his lip and down his chin.
"Just leave me," Cooper groaned. "I ain't gonna make it."
"Guys, if we're gonna go, we gotta go now!" called out Wang. Shane and Nathan looked desperately at each other.
"You three go, I'll stay with him," said Shane firmly. "Go get some reinforcements to stall the Chigs long enough to bring back a doctor or someone from the med-unit."
Nathan opened his mouth to protest and Shane silenced him with her 'I'm Honcho, so don't give me any crap' look. "It'll be better to loose two rather than five," she said to him quietly.
"Now all of you grab your gear and move it!"
Before grabbing his pack, Nathan knelt down next to Cooper and pulled out the phototag containing the picture of Kylan and himself. It was no secret that he and Cooper loathed each other. He hated the In-Vitro's bad-ass attitude but all the same, deep down, he couldn't blame him for it.
When Nathan had heard that a 'Tank' had been sentenced to his squadron he had decided to hate whoever the 'Tank' might be. After all, the In-Vitros were responsible for having him thrown off the Tellus Colony Programme, preventing him from being with Kylan.
Although he had once campaigned for In-Vitro rights, he had never met an In-Vitro before he had enlisted. He wondered if they were all as aggressive as Hawkes but McQueen seemed to be the complete opposite, ready to sacrifice his life freely and without question for the greater good of humankind. It ocurred to Nathan that McQueen was the exception rather than the rule.
Cooper Hawkes had turned out to be everything that Nathan despised: undisciplined, unmotivated, disinterested and worst of all, he was a maverick - you never knew what Hawkes was going to do next. Hawkes returned his hatred with added venom, never missing an opportunity for a fight.
Nathan knew he had to get his dislike of Cooper under control for the sake of the squadron and he was sure that the first move would not come from the emotionally immature In-Vitro. He often found himself trying to reason with his hatred of the 'Tank' but just as he thought he was getting it under control, Hawkes would suddenly demonstrate yet more of his stupid-ass bravado or hurl an insensitive comment in his direction, making him see red with anger which, consequently, led to more fights.
After one such fight, McQueen had pulled Nathan aside and informed him that he had had just about as much as he was going to take from the feuding pair and that it was up to Nathan to lead by example as he was the more emotionally mature. It dawned on Nathan that right now might be a good time to set Hawkes an example, and he would be damned if he was going to let the In-Vitro die just when he had made up his mind to deal with his prejudices against him.
"Hawkes?" Nathan began through gritted teeth, unsure if Cooper could hear him. The In-Vitro's eyes were closed and his breathing was fast and irregular. "I'm not sure if you can hear me but if you can, I'm trusting you to return this to me."
Nathan then looped the chain of the phototag around Cooper's right index finger, wrapping the rest of the chain around the limp hand before finally pressing the tag into Cooper's palm. Nathan stood, paused, and put his arms around Shane. Would this be the last time he ever saw her? He hadn't expected her to respond to his embrace but she did.
"Well, this is it," he said. "Don't worry - I'll be back." They both grinned at the ancient catch-phrase. Without looking back, Nathan dashed out of the cave to join 'Phousse and Wang and was instantly lost in the smoke from the battlefield.
Grabbing an M-590, Shane turned back to glance at her 'patient' and was surprised to see that he was awake. "Why didn't you leave me?" Cooper asked breathlessly, clutching onto Nathan's phototag.
"Because I'm responsible," she replied simply.
Cooper appeared to consider this statement for a moment. "When the Chigs get here and you die, does that make me responsible?"
Shane smiled. Sitting down next to Cooper she placed her hands around her knees and drew them up so that she could rest her chin on them. He said some strange things sometimes, using her words and turning them on their head. Despite this she found Cooper easy to talk to. He would often sit and listen to her bitch but he never really joined in. She could tell that he was trying to absorb and make sense of her point of view, eventually making her opinions his opinions. He was just like a kid in that respect: a blank sheet of paper.
"Well, if the Chigs do get here, neither of us is gonna care about who was responsible," she finally replied. "How do you feel?"
"Shoulder's throbbing and I'm hot," he said trying to push off the foil blanket.
Shane replaced the blanket around his shoulders, ignoring his protests. "I know you're hot but you've got a fever, you have to keep warm. Try and get some sleep." She turned away from him to check if her rifle was fully loaded.
"I had a really weird dream about my parents," Cooper said. Then he stopped as if suddenly embarrassed.
"What happened?" Shane asked, genuinely interested. He had told her before that he dreamt about his parents even though he never had any. She had been surprised at the time because she had always been told that In-Vitros didn't dream.
"I'm only tellin' you this 'cos I know you'll understand," he started. She nodded, she had had her own fair share of disturbing dreams since the A.I.s murdered her own parents.
"Um…" mumbled Cooper, unsure of where to start. "We were in some kind of field and me and my sister were kids and we was playin'. Suddenly there was all these white lights and they hurt… sort of like burning, I guess." He stopped, closed his eyes and shivered violently from a sudden burst of pain.
"What happened after that?" prompted Shane, unconsciously squeezing his hand.
"The light caught my sister and sucked her away from me but somehow it was my fault." He reopened his eyes. "Does that sound really weird?"
Shane didn't answer him immediately. Her memory flipped back to something that had happened six weeks ago when the 58th had hitched a ride on the space carrier Mac Arthur. She and Wang had been detailed to go to the ship's weapons deck after the ship had suddenly been hit by an enemy craft. The ship's nuclear reactor had become unstable and since the ship had lost most of it's power, they had become easy pickings for the Chigs.
The ship was carrying hundreds of humans suspended in cryogenic sleep and along with other things, a cargo of unborn In-Vitros who were destined for a distant mining colony. The captain had ordered his mainly In-Vitro crew to cut power to the In-Vitro section in order to re-route the power supply to the nuclear reactor and the laser cannons.
Instead of murdering their own kind, the In-Vitro crew had mutinied leaving Cooper and McQueen in an extremely difficult position. Previous to this, Cooper had managed to get hold of the ship's In-Vitro manifest and discovered that he had a 'sister' contained in the doomed section. She had been made from the same gene-pool as him and would have been the closest thing to a natural sister he would ever have.
Surprisingly McQueen had not gone and cut the power off himself, instead he had left that to Cooper. Somehow McQueen trusted Cooper enough to believe that he would do 'the right thing' rather than join the In-Vitro mutineers. His faith in Cooper had paid off and after a short burst of rebelliousness Cooper had cut the power, killing his sister and all the other 'Tanks' but leaving the ship in a position to fight the enemy craft that was closing in for the kill.
Not surprisingly, ever since then Cooper had been quiet and withdrawn. After West had informed her about what happened, she had meant to talk to Cooper about it but the opportunity had never presented itself. God, how he must have been torn up inside. If one of her sisters was on a life-support machine, could she be the one to flip the switch? If she did, how would that make her feel? She could hardly bare the thought of losing her sisters and they weren't even that close.
"West told me about your sister," she said. "I meant to talk to you about it but there just hasn't been the time." She winced at her feeble excuse, she should have been there for him.
Cooper looked into her eyes and said without malice, "It doesn't matter anyway 'cos she's dead and no amount of talking is gonna bring her back."
"It does matter, Cooper. You can't keep on bottling up this pain. Sometimes its a good thing to share your feelings." Shane stopped as the words caught in her throat. Then she confided, "I know what it feels like to have a part of your family ripped away. I was in therapy for years afterwards."
"I can't imagine you in therapy," he said. "You'd probably end up telling the therapist what to think."
She smiled and said, "I just want you to know that if you want to talk, you can come to me. Okay?"
"I think I better go check on the action outside," she said, getting to her feet.
Shane wanted to buy some time to think, her mind was already busy playing out all the eventualities of their plight. They were desperately low on ammo and, as every minute ticked by, it was becoming more and more apparent that she and Cooper were going to end their lives in this God-forsaken cave. It was weird but when she imagined herself dying in battle, she was always flying, like in the dream, drifting silently in awe towards the sun. The limited shelter provided by the cold dark cave was the harsh reality and she shuddered, it already felt like a tomb.
"Well?" asked Cooper when she returned, not noticing how pale she had become.
"They're not as close as I thought they might be," she lied. "Looks like they're being engaged just across the rise."
"I miss Monk as well," said Cooper sadly. "He was teaching me to play poker before he got himself killed."
"I miss him too, he was a good man," Shane replied remembering her fallen comrade. Soloman Monk had been an excellent marksman, almost as good as Cooper and he had had a wicked sense of humour. All that he had lacked was agility.
"He reminded me of Pags," continued Cooper. "He didn't care that I was a 'Tank', he treated me just like anyone else." Cooper stopped and paused. "Shane, do you think I need a Rabbi?" he asked weakly.
"When Sol was dying, the medic said he needed a Rabbi. What's a Rabbi?"
Shane rolled her eyes, "I'll tell you some other time, Coop. Jeez, I can't believe I'm having this conversation!" Irritated, she stood up and went to look for her pack.
"Well?" he asked, when she returned with her field-kit.
"Well what?" she asked, as she concentrated on pouring a liberal amount of antiseptic lotion onto a sponge.
"Do I need one - a Rabbi?" His face contorted with pain as his injured lip came into contact with the stinging antiseptic. "Ow! You don't have be so rough!"
Shane sighed in annoyance but was relieved that some the colour was beginning to creep back into his face. She continued to dab at his lip with the sponge, carefully cleaning away the smears of blood from his chin. "Cooper, the last thing you need is a Rabbi. Why don't you just shut-up and get some sleep."
Cooper ignored her and held up Nathan's phototag, jiggling it about on the chain. "How come I woke up holding this?" he asked and with an attempt at humour he added, " I didn't tear his head off did I?"
"I guess he wants to make peace with you," Shane answered, tossing her empty field-kit back into her pack. "He wants you to give it back to him in person. He seems to have faith that you're… that we're gonna make it."
Cooper was silent and looked at the two happy faces smiling out of the picture. Deep down he wanted to get along with Nathan but it was difficult when West held him personally responsible for Kylen's death.
The phototag was Nathan's most treasured possession and Cooper knew that he often played Kylen's voice recording when he thought no-one was listening. Cooper frowned, trying to comprehend why West would give this most precious thing to him, the one member of the 58th he absolutely despised.
"I wish I knew what faith was all about," he said quietly and fell asleep holding the tag close to his chest.
The boy was in the meadow again. This time he could see his family, they had not abandoned him like before.
"I can see you, Cooper," called his father.
The boy laughed and ducked back behind the tree trunk. He called out to his father, "Come on dad, I'll race you!"
His father rose to the challenge and started to run through the long grass of the meadow towards his son. The boy watched his father approach. He was tall and broad shouldered, as tall as the boy would later become. Cooper decided that this would be a good time to start the race. He set off shrieking with laughter as he heard his father catching him up.
Suddenly he felt strong arms scoop him up and found himself tucked securely under his father's arm. "Come on dad, let me down!" he wailed. Laughing, his father dangled his son upside-down by the ankle.
Then the landscape disappeared, turning into an endless blackness. All the boy could see was himself and his father. The boy's father set him down and turned his back on him. "You killed her Cooper," said his father's voice.
"No, it wasn't like that!" Cooper exclaimed, his heart quickening.
"Katie was your only sister, she needed you."
Cooper balled his hands into fists. "I had to do it or everyone was gonna die! I had no choice!"
"Everyone has a choice, Cooper," said his father flatly.
"I tried to stall them long enough to find another way. They did their best, but there wasn't any alternative." Cooper stared at his father's back. Why wouldn't he face him?
His father made no attempt to respond. Cooper grabbed his father's shoulder and spun him around. His father turned and instead of seeing the familiar face, the only thing Cooper saw was a blank mask, devoid of any features. He gasped in shock. Would this nightmare never end?
Terrified and confused, Cooper cried out, "DAD!?!"
Commodore Glen Ross had decided to visit the sickbay to check on the young In-Vitro's progress. As he had expected, McQueen was seated at Cooper's side looking anxious. How Hawkes had managed to stay alive bleeding from an injury like that, God only knew. Ross realised that if Hawkes had been a natural-born he would have been dead by now, it always amazed him at just how resilient In-Vitros were. Vansen had done a good job patching him up and the other members of the Wild Cards had made it to the 23rd's position. Together the two ragged squadrons had fought off the Chigs long enough for an extraction to be made.
"Is he going to be Okay?" asked Ross.
"The docs' seem to think he'll pull through," replied the Colonel without taking his eyes off Cooper.
Suddenly Cooper's eyes flew open and he grabbed hold of McQueen's arms. "DAD!" Cooper yelled at the astonished Colonel.
The dazed In-Vitro suddenly realised that it was not his father he was holding onto and promptly released the Colonel from his strong grip, looking just as embarrassed as his superior.
Feeling awkward at Cooper's outburst, McQueen suppressed the urge to back away, not quite knowing how to handle the situation but he managed to stop himself and leaned over Cooper reassuring him that everything was going to be alright.
For a reason he couldn't quite fathom, McQueen wanted to reach out and help this messed up kid, even though most of the time Hawkes was not exactly receptive to his or anyone's help. The two In-Vitros were oblivious to the father/son relationship that was developing between them, although it was quite apparent to everyone else.
Ross, who wanted to save the two men from any further embarrassment called McQueen out into the corridor. "Now that Hawkes is on the mend… 'dad', do you think you can take time-out from your 'kids' to give me the benefit of your experience on the bridge?"
McQueen paused, surprised at the Commodore's jibe. Had he really grown that attached to his squadron? "I'll do my best, sir," he replied.
The next day Cooper Hawkes sat propped up in his sickbay bed. Bored, he fiddled about with Nathan's phototag wondering when West was going to turn up and claim it. 'Phousse had been the only one to pay him a fleeting visit between mission briefings and she had promised to fetch his CD player and some of his comic-books. She hadn't returned, nor had any of the others shown up. He had learnt later that they had all been called out for duty.
For nearly eight hours he had fretted and worried about them. He didn't know why but he was experiencing some strange feelings, like he was going to miss them or something if they didn't return. He wondered if that was how McQueen felt when the 58th were called out and he was left behind, grounded. Cooper knew now where he'd rather be and it wasn't lying around the Saratoga.
Cooper's finger hovered over the 'play' button on the phototag. So far he had managed not to give into his curiosity. He knew that Kylan's voice was stored on the tag but he had no idea what she had recorded. He put the tag down. Then he picked it up again. It was no good, he had to listen to it. He held the tag up to his ear, pressed the button and an emotional voice said…
"I believe in you…"
Was that it? What did it mean?
"She's got a nice voice, don't you think?"
Startled, Cooper nearly dropped the tag. Nathan West stood in the doorway, his hair was damp, he looked as if he had come straight from the shower-room.
"I… uh… I couldn't help myself," said Cooper guiltily holding the tag out as Nathan walked over and took a seat beside him.
"It doesn't matter," replied Nathan taking the tag and replacing it around his neck. "I'm just glad you managed to keep it in one piece for me."
Puzzled, Cooper asked, "Why did you give it to me?"
"Because I care. I care about all the Cards, even you… sometimes," Nathan attempted a smile. All the Wild Cards had been surprised at just how much they had missed the troublesome In-Vitro over the past couple of days. Their wardroom was sort of quiet without him and going into battle without him was even worse, like they had their right arm missing or something.
"I'm sorry about Kylen," said Cooper.
Nathan looked deep into the In-Vitro's eyes. He knew when someone was lying or just saying something because they felt they had to say it, but he could tell that Cooper was genuinely sincere. He suddenly remembered Cooper's 'sister' and realised that the In-Vitro knew. He knew what it was like to lose someone.
"Maybe now we have something in common," said Nathan.
"Yeah, I guess."
Nathan glanced at the sling containing Cooper's injured arm and shoulder. "We came by to see you a couple of days ago but you were pretty much out of it… At least you don't look as pale as you did then." He paused, realising that this was probably the longest conversation that they had had without exchanging a barrage of insults and he smiled apologetically. "We've had forty-eight hours of back to back sorties since then… How are you feeling?"
"Okay, it's a bit sore but the doc reckons I'm outta here in a couple of days."
"Great, we really missed you today, man," grinned Nathan. "Shane didn't stop bitchin' 'cos you weren't there and she kept nagging me that my shooting needs more work." Nathan paused, suddenly shy. "I was wondering… do you think you could help me out?"
Cooper's eyes widened, surprised that West was actually asking for his help. "Sure," he replied. If Nathan was willing to make an effort to call a truce, maybe he should at least be given a chance.
Their conversation was interrupted when the door swung open and the other three members of the Wild Cards entered the room.
"I guess the Rabbi hasn't turned up yet," grinned Wang.
Mel Maxwell November 1998
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