Friday, January 2, 2015

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.12: The Battle of Jericho, Part 1

This is part one of the actual play from our season one finale for the Tears of a Machine campaign, Tales of the Arx Jericho. The bulk of the text by +Misha Polonsky, with character bios added by me.

In order of appearance: Name, Age (Character Type)

Rick Hunter, 15 (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Sarah Werner, 15 (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Jason Reyes, 14 (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

RC (Relationship Character), SC (Supporting Character), E (Extra)

Dr. Donald 'Scary Face' Johnson, 54 (SC)
Rafe Hunter / The General, ?? (SC)
Serena Hunter, 15 (RC)
Opsie Wessel, 15 (RC)
Captain Anastasia 'AK-47' Kasherov, 47 (RC)
Alex 'Strudel' Struder, 12 (RC)
Billy Henderson, 17 (RC)
Allen Werner, 18 (E)
Joanne Kleinn, 14 (RC)
Commander Toshi Yamasuka, 52 (E)
Commander McGarry, 65 (E)
Miguel Rodriguez, 11 (E)
Leo 'Raspberry' Hayes, 12 (RC)
Laurie Bach, 14 (SC)
Kazuhiro Masaki, 16 (E)
Ryoko, 12 (E)
Bala & Lieke (aka the Twins), 13 (E)
Stephanie Yuzuki, 13 (SC)
Dr. Elizabeth Harris, 37 (SC)

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho...
The new school term began, but Rick, Serena, and Opsie missed the first day of classes due to their Prophet training.
Sarah went to meet her brother, Allen, who was arriving, but got ambushed by CRC scientists who took her to the underground, Cloistered Research Council facility to receive an injection of AmBrO51A serum from Rick's father, Rafe Hunter.
Jason found a strange, unmarked envelope in his dorms that said, "Find the real source. Trace it back. Not all is what it seems." After hacking the surveillance cameras, he discovered it was Dr. Johnson who delivered the envelope.
Jason and Strudel embarked to find Sarah and found Allen as well as the Linc Sarah dropped. The three of them snuck into the CRC facility.

After Sarah refused the serum, Dr. Hunter let her go only to sound the alarms, as the military initiated a lockdown of the Arx Jericho.

Rick went through a guided, meditation trial with Serena and Opsie, while being berated by Dr. Johnson, until the alarms sounded. Opsie ran away. Billy appeared and drew a gun on Dr. Johnson, suspecting him of foul play. Dr. Johnson disarmed Billy and told Rick and Serena to stay put, as he left. Rick, Serena, and Billy looked for a way out. Sarah saw Jason, Strudel, and Allen up in the vents and turned in surprise to meet AK-47, who had disguised herself as a scientist. Opsie soon found them too.

She led everyone back to Rick, Serena, and Billy, but the power went out. The pilots worked together to free Rick, and AK-47 led them back through the facility, where they ran into Dr. Johnson. All seven of the pilots followed AK and Dr. J to Rafe's laboratory and a secret door that led down to an even deeper, underground hangar.

Excerpt from the end of Episode 11:
They come to a high security door, which Jason sets to work on unlocking, fashioning a device to open it despite the lack of power. On the other side of the door is a huge hangar - like a deep pit with walkways spiralling downwards - containing some deconstructed aquatic Mayzor locusts, chemistry sets of AmBro51A and other serums, giant tanks containing test subjects from the captured Wormwood, previously unseen prototype locusts and a crashed satellite. On the walls are paintings and tapestries depicting a human woman wearing armour of glowing white porcelain, pale skin and silver hair. At the bottom of the hangar they see a figure. At first it looks like a CRC scientist, but its form shifts to that of Rafe Hunter - dark hair, similar features to Rick, tall, syringe in hand. He's just standing in the middle of the hangar, unmoving, and as they reach the bottom his form changes again. He still looks like Rafe, but he's wearing white porcelain armor, his skin is much paler and his hair is silver. He gives them a wicked smile and laughs lightly. 
"Who the hell are you?" Rick breathes, shocked at his 'father's' appearance.'Rafe' cracks his neck, "Don't you recognise me, son? Daughter? It's me. I'm your father."He has the Wormwood flash drive in his hand, and his laugh continues to echo in the chamber as Rick whispers, "But you''re a..."He uses the old word for the Mayzor, before they fled attacks by radical religious groups on Earth, "...Legulus." 
Holographic screens project the words 'Operation Blue Moon', designs of the Prophet-class SAInts, references to something called 'the General', and AK 47 and Dr Johnson are looking very worried as the figure gloats, "You're too late." 
Sarah says, "A gun sure would be handy right about now." 
And Dr Johnson remembers the gun at his back, drawing it on 'Rafe', who just laughs at him, "Bullets can't stop the General."Dr Johnson looks at AK 47, who nods, and he sighs, firing the gun. The bullet goes straight through 'Rafe' and he shimmers, revealing him to be a hologram. 
Suddenly the power comes back on, and they hear the words 'SELF DESTRUCT SEQUENCE INITIATED' over the intercom just seconds before a Mayzor raid alarm sounds...

And now...

Tuesday, September 2nd 2031

8 Minutes and Counting
"EIGHT MINUTES UNTIL SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE IS EXECUTED," the droning, female voice of the computer blares.  It's alluring taunt makes the prospect of becoming engulfed in a sea of flames and going down with the ship seem endearing. 
Never before have Rick, Sarah, and Jason felt so scared, despite everything they've went through the past year. Nothing has ever come close to the sudden, tangible danger they currently face: not the Chicago Catastrophe or facing Belial; not the shared nightmares and prophetic dreams of the interface tests; not New Alamo or battling Thammuz and Beelzebub; not the disturbing news surrounding Dr. Johnson and the Mayzor; not even the naval assault on the Bahamas last month or Enki storming in across the ocean like a bastardized amalgam of Triton and his father. All those times, the pilots were away from home, secured inside their sensory deprivation buckets1, or both. Now, the pilots feel like naked rats trapped in a cage. They don't have their SAInts to hide inside, and time is against them. If they don't do something in the next eight minutes, everything they've worked so hard to protect will be eradicated. All their efforts will have been for nought. 

Is this what it has all come down to? Have the Mayzor really won? Are they using Dr. Johnson, or has Rafe Hunter, the General, or whoever he is, been calling the shots the whole time? How long has the CRC been under infiltration? Has their agenda always been to serve the Mayzor? Why destroy the facility now? Are the Mayzor not interested in Operation Blue Moon anymore? Do they have everything they need? Are they willing to sacrifice the Prophets? Why does the military have the Arx Jericho on lockdown, and what is happening outside? Are alarms going off because of an attack happening elsewhere, or is the base being targeted much like the Arx Galilee was prior to New Alamo? All these questions and more fill everyone's mind like locusts, but there's no time to dwell. Mayzor alarms are going off. The military still has the place on lockdown. Something bad is happening outside, and the pilots and officers of the Preservation Forces must act faster than ever before. 

"Rick, Serena, Opsie!" Dr. Johnson yells, "Follow me! We must get you into the Prophets." Rick agrees. He may not fully be ready to pilot the Super SAInt, but that doesn't matter. They have less than eight minutes left, and everything's at stake. Rick, Serena, and Opsie follow Dr. Johnson without hesitation, while AK-47 and the rest of the pilots turn to Jason.

"Right then," Jason says. It's no coincidence that he's singled out by Dr. Scary Face after being called out for infliltrating his files. With Rick the main, Prophet pilot and Sarah the new team leader of Alpha Company, Jason remains invaluable as the reigning, technological genius of both Alpha Company and, perhaps, the entire US Preservation Forces.  If anyone can stop the perilous, self-destruct sequence, it's fourteen-year-old Jason Reyes or the, "Hack King," according to Strudel. With Sarah and Strudel by his side, Jason successfully hacks the CRC's network and terminates the countdown. Unfortunately, a failsafe program triggers a security countermeasure and reawakens a group of dormant, Mayzor Swarm hidden deep within the General's hangar. 

Sarah, Jason, Strudel, Billy, Allen, and AK-47 hear the echoing, metal tang of robotic arthropods scurrying in the shadows. They move up the grated catwalk quietly, but hastily, before the Swarm can ensnare them with their razor sharp appendages and piercing maxillae.

A Dangerous Escape
Rick, Serena, Opsie, and Dr. Johnson are almost to the Prophet hangar, when they notice oncoming CRC scientists fleeing to escape the facility. Dr. Johnson may have clout with them, but who knows what side they're really on? Having Rick and the girls present would certainly raise suspicions, and they don't want to take any chances. It's better to play it safe, so they sidestep into a perpendicular hallway to hide.

Meanwhile, Sarah, Jason, and the others feel the same way. They carefully meander back to the main corridors and debate on where to go next. AK-47 thinks they should simply take the main exit, but Sarah and Jason are highly suspicious of the masked scientists and convince her to circumvent them by taking one of the ventilation shafts. Jason asks Billy how he got into the facility, but he gives him a useless, lackluster response. Jason is forced to lead the others back to the hall, where he first ran into Sarah and AK after sneaking into the facility.

They peer around the corner and see three CRC scientists standing below the open shaft with their backs turned. A crazy idea sparks in Jason's mind to bum-rush the scientists and use them to jump up into the vent, but a more sensible plan emerges to subvert them by having AK-47 don her mask and order them away using Jason as a prop. The plan works, and the scientists flee now that the escaped prisoner is in custody. Sarah, Jason, AK, and the rest of the pilots climb into the vents and escape.

Having reached the Prophet hangar undetected, Rick and Dr. Johnson help Serena and Opsie suit up into their Super SAInts and exit out of the side of the Arx, leaving Rick to be suited last. 

Merged Companies and Sequestered Teammates
Sarah and Jason's group discreetly avoid the military, as they double time to the Operations Headquarters. Deafening sounds of explosions resonate, and machine gunfire and energy beams blanket the sky in blinding bursts. Robbies and tanks target hostile Mayzor, while foot soldiers escort civilians to safety and maintain the lockdown. A colony of ant-like Swarm almost grab hold of Billy with jagged mandibles, but the adrenaline kicks in, and the pilots flee to their escape.

They're met by Joanne, who's already suited up and climbing into the bucket to be hoisted into her SAInt. As the suspension gel fills the sensory deprivation tank, Sarah, Jason, Strudel, and Billy change into their Launch Suits to undergo the same process. AK-47 tasks Allen with piloting one of the Robbies, while she joins the Preservation Forces commander in the Operations Control Room. 

By the time the SAInts are ready for deployment, Rick, Serena, and Opsie are already outside the CRC facility and skating up the side of the Arx by way of their Prophets' anti-gravity thrusters.

With Commander Yamasuka arguing with USM Commander McGarry2 over the military's lockdown and blatant disregard for protocol, Captain Kasherov briefs the pilots on their primary objectives over the MetaTron. Intel reveals thirty-five Locusts, possibly more, aiding hordes of Swarm all across the Arx. The others pilots are secluded and trapped in various locations, and ensuring their freedom is pivotal so that they can return to their SAInts and help fight off the invasion. 

Half of Alpha and Bravo Company group up. Sarah, Jason, and Strudel reunite with Billy and embark with Joanne for the first time in their piloting careers. The set out to the male dormitory, east of the Wormwood that crashed in the central garden, while Rick leads Serena and Opsie toward the cafeteria on the opposite side.

Miguel and Raspberry have hidden themselves inside the dorm, and the front entrance is sealed shut. Military personnel are combatting the Swarm, while two, metallic beetles, the size of tanks, are prying the double doors open with their steel claws and keen pincers. Team Sarah and Jason take the high ground and position themselves atop the female dorm, across the way, at High Ballistics (HB) range. Jason aims his EZK-L Particle Beam at one of the Brawlers and fires. Sarah launches a barrage of Tiamat missiles at the other Brawler and the surrounding Swarm. All three targets are eliminated in succeeding explosions, and AK-47 gives the order to extract Miguel and Raspberry which Billy takes care of.

Meanwhile, Rick, Serena, and Opsie engage one of the two Archers firing at the cafeteria's front entrance. These Locusts resemble oversized, armor-plated earwigs with large cerci that fire dual, high-powered energy beams at HB. Armed with a pair of 'Arc Swords at Close Quarters (CQ) range, Rick cuts off the Archer's rear forceps, Serena impales its body with her LaNSe Detonating Spear, and Opsie decapitates it. The explosive lodged inside its abdomen explodes and incinerates the rest of it. 

Over the MetaTron, Rick calmly says, "Enemy unit down."

The trio proceeds to engage the forty-foot long, twenty-foot high scorpions, known as Soldiers, armed with energy weapons in their tails. Two of them stay in Threat Range of the cafeteria doors and fire energy lasers at FA range. Laurie, Kazuhiro, and Ryoko are stuck inside with a majority of their classmates, and the Locusts have almost blasted a hole big enough for the Swarm to slip through. Rick sheaths one of his swords and uses the other to jab through the scorpion's abdomen while grabbing its tail with his now-free hand. He swings the Soldier around and collides it with the other before releasing his grasp. Serena and Opsie don't even have a chance to make their attack, as both Locusts explode on impact. 

"Two more enemies down," Rick says in a cold tone.

Back at the dorms, Sarah and Jason hear the buzzing of wings and look up to see a strange, new, aerial Locust they'd never seen before. Recognizing it as a Chopper unit from the blueprints in the General's hangar, it's shaped like a giant, chrome dragonfly with extendable, razor sharp jaws and a long, curved tail that repeatedly fires lasers down at the breached entrance to the male dorm. 

"I got this," Sarah tells Jason over the MetaTron, "You reload."

Jason takes cover and reloads his EZK-L, while Sarah opens fire at FA with her RDav Combat Rifle, or "Giant Killer." Her armor piercing shells shred through the Chopper's compound eyes and wings. It's upper half explodes in mid-air, and it's tail crashes into the ground, taking out whatever Swarm are still left after the Tiamat attack. 

Miguel and Raspberry finally get their chance to escape, but US military troops start surrounding them. Sarah tries to reason with them over a loudspeaker. She plays to their sensible nature, telling them there's more pressing danger than two, measly, teenage pilots. Jason reloads his rifle and gives the military a look. Seeing the SAInts looming over them, they quickly back off, and Miguel and Raspberry rush over to HQ to suit up and board their SAInts.

The Swarm surrounding the cafeteria start slithering through the main entrance, while the remaining Archer blasts a larger hole for the rest to scuttle in. Rick takes cover and reaches inside to squash the chrome centipedes while holding his other hand out to block the Archer's lasers with his concentrated, electromagnetic, defense screen. A rippling corona absorbs the blasts, and Opsie's Sam-L Shield adds extra protection. Meanwhile, Serena hits several more, metallic vermin out of the park like golf balls.

Team Sarah and Jason rush to the simulation building, under AK-47's advice, to help free the Twins, Bala and Lieke. A pair of Locusts attack the building from opposite sides. A Soldier on the left side fires a series of plasma rays at FA, while the Brawler on the right rips chunks of building away with its massive pincers. The pilots waste no time. Sarah engages the Brawler at FA range, while Jason hangs back and shoots another, explosive, particle beam at the Soldier from HB. It's biomechanical brain bursts apart on impact, and its body gets engulfed in the explosion.  Several Swarm are also taken out. Strudel cheers. Sarah lays into the Brawler with her Giant Killer and destroys it, while Jason, Strudel, and Billy move up to crush the rest of the Swarm. 

Joanne hangs back the whole time and looks across the way at Rick, Serena, and Opsie, feeling useless. "I'm going to go help Rick and the others out," she says over the MetaTron.

"Are you kidding me?" Jason responds, as Joanne starts taking off. 

"Yeah, don't split up," Sarah says bluntly, trying to convince Joanne to listen.

"Pretty sure the Super SAInts can take care of themselves," Jason adds, "They can fly."

Joanne stops momentarily but doesn't seem entirely convinced, until Strudel says, "Joanne, don't go all Billy on us!" That seems to do the trick. Joanne clearly isn't happy with the three of them, but she sticks around.

Sarah spots her brother inside one of the Robbies closest to them and orders him to fetch Bala and Lieke now that the simulation building is clear. Under Jason's advice, Sarah also sends a telepathic message to AK-47, asking her to direct Allen back to HQ so that the Twins can board the Mendicant.

Back at the cafeteria, Rick changes distance to get into FA range of the Archer, dodging its lasers. He aims several, precise shots at its power core and hits. The Locust self-detonates, and the students begin pouring out of the building, including Kazuhiro, Laurie, and Ryoko. Rick, Serena, and Opsie move across to Dr. Harris's office, leaving the military to escort the teenagers. 

Sarah, Strudel, Billy, and Joanne move across to the classrooms, where Stephanie is held up at and surrounded by two Soldiers, a horde of Swarm, and the military. "Target, fire," Jason says, as he stays by the simulation building and snipes one of the Soldiers. His particle beam shoots through the giant scorpion's tail and out the back of its head. As it explodes, Sarah engages the other Soldier at FA and immediately starts firing off her Giant Killer. The bullets hit, and she destroys the Locust before it can tear a big enough hole through the building for the Swarm to get in. They disperse. Some head to Dr. Harris's office, while others grab hold of military personnel and retreat to the Wormwood.

Suddenly, a Chopper shows up out of nowhere and begins firing lasers at the roof. Jason moves forward to take cover and reload his rifle, while Sarah says, "Shoo fly, don't bother me," and aims up while pulling the trigger. The Chopper explodes in mid-air, and chunks of metal debris crash onto the roof like hail. Strudel rushes forward to pry it off and free Stephanie, but Sarah appeals to his better judgement and warns him that he'll scare her more. Strudel agrees and opens the classroom building's front doors with his giant fingers and calls out to her. She runs out, and Strudel scoops her up into a hidden compartment within his SAInt, not trusting the military.

Prophets Take Flight Amidst Static Infiltration
Dr. Harris is stuck inside her office building which is under attack by two Brawlers at CQ, an Archer at HB, and two Bombers circling above at HB. The Bombers, like the Choppers, are aerial Locusts that are completely new and alien to the pilots. Shaped like giant, metal moths the size of stealth planes, they spiral in circles while firing deadly, concentrated beams of plasma energy down on their targets.  The ones over Dr. Harris's office aren't firing theirs just yet; they're suspiciously looming above.

Rick, Serena, and Opsie engage the Archer and fly up behind it. Rick menacingly draws his 'Arc Sword, stabs it through the back, and slices upward to split it in half. He then switches to his Levic Pistol and fires at both Brawlers with his team's assistance. The Locusts puncture a small hole through the building before they're destroyed.

Near the classrooms, Sarah and Jason's team turns back to target the Wormwood at the behest of AK-47, however a multitude of telepathic voices begins to overwhelm them, and the pilots grow fearful for a moment. It's a clear sign of MetaTron static4, the likes of which they experienced in New Alamo.

Rick is especially worried and tests his communication channels with Serena and Opsie. They're aware of the static, but the Prophets' telepathic link operates on a whole different level, and their conversations are crystal clear. 

"It's happening again, Rick," Serena says, "What do we do?"

"Don't worry about it," Rick responds, "We got through it last time, and we'll get through it this time too."

"Alright, I trust you," Serena replies nervously. Opsie is less worried and does her best to help calm Serena down.

Strudel and Joanne exhibit strange behavior, as they reply to private commands over the network, "Wait, what was that, Commander? The Robbies are turning? They're what? Frenzying? Wait, but-"

"Strudel, who are you talking to?" Jason asks.

"Commander Yamasuka is ordering us to come back to HQ and eliminate the frenzying Robbies," Strudel responds.

"I thought Robbies were just robots," Jason asks quizzically, "How can they be frenzying?"

"We don't know," Joanne and Strudel reply simultaneously, "The Commander says they're attacking civilians and military!"

Sarah and Jason look over across the Arx but don't see anything happening. They do see Raspberry and Miguel in their SAInts, leaving the hangar. They're both online.

"I think we should be watchful for them, but we shouldn't start shooting at every one," Sarah warns, "Especially since my brother's in one of them."

"But, but, these orders are coming straight from the Commander," Strudel protests.

"We can't trust the MetaTron right now," Sarah replies, "I believe the chain of command is the bayonet at the end of my gun. Seriously, though, I'm not hearing the orders and neither is Jason." Jason agrees.

While Strudel hesitates, wondering what to do, Joanne remains suspiciously silent. All of a sudden, she raises her L-XIV Ultima Rocket Launcher at Strudel and aims for the hidden compartment where Stephanie is located. 

Jason quickly raises his gun at her, but Sarah takes a more decisive action and rushes forward to restrain Joanne's SAInt.

"All pilots, be on high alert. We have frenzying SAInts," Commander Yamasuka's voice cuts through the static interference. She sounds far too calm given the situation, as though it isn't really her over the MetaTron.

Fragments of Joanne's voice breaks through the static, yelling, "It's not me! Can't control it!" Sarah curses under her breath.

"Joanne! What happened?" Rick yells through the MetaTron.

Sarah struggles to restrain Joanne, and Billy begrudgingly runs forward to help. Jason lowers his gun and follows suit. At the same time, Strudel points his Levic Flechette shotgun3, or "Stone Thrower," at Joanne, his arms shaking to resist. There's too much static on the MetaTron for the pilots to hear what's going on, but Sarah, Jason, and Billy successfully wrestle Joanne's arms up, and an explosive rocket shoots into the sky. Strudel lowers his gun and starts running to HQ. Joanne's SAInt, losing control, tries to break away.

"One of these days," Sarah says over the MetaTron, as the static dies down momentarily.

"Right to the moon," Jason replies.

"Yeah, right to the moon, so we can take them out," Sarah says.

To the west, the Bombers rain down their destructive, energy beams, blasting holes through the roof of Dr. Harris's office building. Rick and the others take cover to destroy the rest of the Swarm first. He tells Opsie to rescue Dr. Harris, while he and Serena and take on the two Bombers.

"I have your back, Rick," Serena says, and the siblings soar up to the sky, each one maneuvering to opposite sides of the Bombers to flank them. With both of Rick's 'Arc Swords drawn and Serena's LaNSe, the pilots zoom past one another and slice through both Bombers simultaneously. Their wings are rendered useless, and their energy weapons are cut off in the ensuing explosion which blazes like fireworks for all the other pilots to see.

Rick immediately turns and flies fast toward Joanne and the others.

Mayzor Hack In
AK-47's voice attempts to cut through the static as she says, "Struder, Hayes, Rodriguez, what are you all doing? Stop it! That's an order!" 

Rick hears what's happening and tries to communicate with the rogue SAInts himself, "Strudel, Raspberry, Miguel, what the hell are you doing?"

The MetaTron static grows louder and then dies down again. The Commander's calm voice comes through, paired with strange, maniacal giggling, "Hehehe, nah-uh, they're not going to listen to you! Not anymore, not anymore! Hehehe." She continues to give the rogue SAInts orders to attack the Robbies and military. She also commands them to target the Arx Jericho's weapon turrets which she claims have been hacked into and are targeting the rest of the ship.

The pilots of the frenzying SAInts attempt to send telepathic messages through the static, which is growing again, "We can't control this! Help!" Joanne is trying to communicate as well. 

"Joanne!" Rick calls out to her.

Meanwhile, AK-47's voice seems worried, and a voice that belongs to the real Commander calls out, "No! I didn't say that! Don't listen-" but the static is overwhelming. 

As Rick nears Sarah and Jason, he hears Dr. Johnson hailing him on a private channel.


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