Previous Chapter: 30, here or here
Characters: The Ninth Doctor/Rose Tyler/Jack Harkness
Summary: In which there are, at long last, endings and beginnings.
Author's Note: I couldn't get it done in a decade, but 11 years seemed to be the magic time period. Thank you to everyone who stuck with this ridiculously lengthy WIP; I hope it's been worth the wait, despite 11 years of changing writing style and prowess, and undoubtedly some messed up plot points. (Too many years, and too many chapters, and perhaps not enough careful reviewing by Your Humble Author, to blame for that last.)
Many thanks to those who helped me keep at it, and who helped in many different ways. Thank you to a_phoenixdragon , editrx and ljgeoff , and always, always, always, my Best Beloved, dr_whuh (aka buckaroobob ). You are the absolute best, and I love you more than cookies.
And of course, thanks and love to everyone I wrote about: to Luisa, Filomena, Nico, Hilda, Salvha and Jao, to David, to Pau and Laowhra, even to Inverno and the elder Bohlver. Thanks, especially, to the Doctor, Rose, and Jack, the OT3 of my heart. What shall I do without this story of yours to tell?
Finally, thank you to cathica, whose prompt all those years ago started this journey. She's an immensely talented writer and a lovely person, and this is all because of her. Thank you!
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They belong to the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin. I simply love them, and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
The wind was slight but cold, as it blew the feathery aqua leaves just enough to make them a cloud around the upper trunk and branches of the trees. The base of the grey-green trunks were obscured by tall stands of teal grass, with heads of grain just as feathery as the trees’ foliage.
Rose craned her neck to see the treetops, then looked around the clearing at the waving grass and thought about walking under and on top of clouds. Beyond the copse, which clung determinedly to the nearly perpendicular hill, gurgled one of the many narrow rills that tumbled from the top of the peak, so much higher than any of those around Abela Fort’leza. Below them was the village of Val D’vento, where Nico had brought his father.
“I wish the wind would die down.” Jack turned up the collar of his greatcoat.
“You should have worn a cap. Your ears are gonna freeze.” Rose was bundled up, with a soft wool scarf covering her lower face, and a blue knit cap pulled low over her forehead. She dug into one of the pockets in her coat. “Here.”
Jack looked at her offering. “A toque? What am I, Canadian?”
She grinned at him through her scarf. “You’re a thin-blooded desert planet native, isn’t that what you told me? Put it on, so we can get back to admiring the view without your whinging.”
“Yes ma’am.” Jack carefully adjusted the toque, then pulled Rose to him. She put an arm around his waist, looked up into his face and smiled at what she saw. The skin around his eyes still looked a little bruised with weariness, but he looked happy, fully happy, for perhaps the first time since he’d come aboard the TARDIS, Rose thought.
He smiled down at her. "I admit, it is beautiful. A nice place to visit.”
“Not yet,” she said sombrely. “It’ll be a nice place to visit, once Nico’s installed and he can really start the clean-up.”
His expression turned serious. “Sweetheart, this planet’s so messed up, it’s going to take him years.”
She acknowledged that with a slight shrug. “Good thing he’s young. Good thing he’s got Hilda.”
They stopped talking. It was midday and the sun was as high in the clear, pale sky as it would get on this early summer day. On the far horizon, Rose could just see the hazy outline of Gel Colinas, where it rose above the capital. Between there and where they stood was a range of increasingly tall hills, edging into mountains. Most hid narrow valleys in their skirts, each with streams pouring down into the frigid river that flowed into Abela Fort’leza’s bay.
Rose had seen a lot of breathtaking worlds with the Doctor, but this was the one she knew she would always love, if only because of what they’d gone through and what they’d discovered.
More silence, until an unexpected gust pushed at their backs and blew out past them into the vast and empty air, prompting Jack to say, “Augh. I know it’s gorgeous, but … why the damned wind?” He grimaced a bit, then pulled the toque further down over his ears and looked out across the main valley.
Rose resisted laughing at his be-toqued appearance, and focused on his question. “It’s in the town’s name, yeah? I don’t think the wind ever stops blowing here.” After a moment’s thought, she added softly, “Maybe not anywhere on this world.”
Almost invisible in the delicate lilac of the high atmosphere were Lizhbau’s two moons, dancing with each other as they orbited the planet in slightly different paths. She wondered what they’d look like when night finally came. I can go outside and watch, maybe. Before we leave.
Rose didn’t know how long they stood there, content just to hold each other, but it must have been some time. When something at the back of her mind started to itch, she looked up and saw Jack looking down at her, against a sky that had grown considerably more lilac.
“You too?” he asked.
“Time to go home, then?”
“Agreed. And I’m finally getting cold.” She giggled a little, at his snort. They turned back to the path, preparing to make their way down from the crags to the Bohlver villa.
Neither of them were sure the TARDIS was calling them the way a human might, but the pull they felt from Her had become an intermittent reality for both of them since the dual dreamtime incidents that brought them back together. The Doctor was no help. He wasn’t sure what his ship was doing, and he didn’t seem all that eager to investigate.
She’d asked Jack what he thought of it on their way back to Lizhbau. Jack had said the link he had with the TARDIS now went far beyond the minimal touches he’d had from Her before the whole adventure started. Those were probably due to his Agency psi training, he said. What he and Rose were feeling now? He had shaken his head, and then had asked if she really wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth. She had understood. They’d said nothing more about it. Perhaps they’d figure it out; perhaps not.
When it came right down to it, Rose wasn’t interested in over-thinking. She knew what she felt was Her — and what’s consciousness to a transcendental blue box, eh?
Today they both felt Her pull, and they acquiesced.
Conscious or not, She wants us back home. She’s calling us. She’s not gonna let us get too far from Her, not for a while. Nor from him. That’s fine by me.
David’s rulings had been final.
Fahrar was permanently banished from Lizhbau, enjoined from ever returning to the planet of her birth. She was to remain in David’s court, he said, as a liaison with Nico Bohlver, who he named Lizhbau’s new governor. Nico had looked alarmed, and Hilda bemused, at the idea of having to work with Fahrar. The now-banished soldier had just bowed her head, apparently not caring who saw the tears fall.
The Emperor had continued. Nico was to hold his father’s parole for as long as the older man survived. He was to shut down the Memory Market and its attendant evils, from drug sales to slavery. He was also to purge planetary forces of anyone loyal to Inverno. With as much mercy as possible, the emperor had said; if that was not possible, then with efficient sanction.
We will not waste this opportunity, David had continued remorselessly. We grant you the use of Black Throne, if necessary, but prefer that you bring your own forces under control. They will be needed to rescue those who have been damaged or destroyed by lamia. Let those who participated in the evil be made to help cure it, he said. Jack had thought about the Maldads, and wondered which among them would be worthy of that trust.
David had not been through. We will make use of Black Throne ourselves, he had said. There are those we will need to encourage onto a new path, one that no longer makes use of lamia in any form, not even for purposes of empire. He had said this whilst looking straight at the few, shocked, high court officials ultimately led into the room and given the news. Several had visibly blanched.
Jack had seen the Doctor’s dark look at David’s disturbingly bland phraseology, but noted his silence as well, as well as the very slightest shadow of approval. He had decided to keep his own thoughts to himself. David, Lord of Armies and Judge of Civilization ….
Once back on the TARDIS he waited for a free moment. “Doctor, will you come with me to the library? There’s something I want to check.”
“In the library.” The Doctor looked curious.
“After you and Rose left, way back at the beginning of this whole shebang, I went to the library, looking for anything I could learn about Lizhbau.”
The Doctor smiled at him and said, with a certain wry acknowledgement of his own consistent failing. “Getting to know the territory? That’s a good habit. Should practice it, me.”
“Yeah, well, that’s not going to happen, is it?”
Before Lizhbau, Jack wouldn’t have said something like that to the Time Lord. Before Lizhbau, the Doctor wouldn’t have laughed and touched Jack’s shoulder in acknowledgement.
The two of them headed for the library, and Jack found “David’s Justice: When Lizhbau’s Memory Market Fell,” lying on the end table where he’d left it in his hurry to get to the market square. He quickly thumbed through it.
Jack collapsed into the chair next to the end table, astonished. He checked the book’s front and back covers carefully, found the pale stain from the water glass he’d inadvertently set down on the front cover. It was the same edition, sure enough, but … he began to read aloud, looking up repeatedly to catch the Doctor’s reaction.
“The tipping point came when a non-human visitor helped rebels, outraged by the uptick in Memory Market abductions and led by Dehde Bohlver’s previously incarcerated son, to kidnap Renhald Inverno. The xeno brought Inverno and the drug-damaged governor to Earth, apparently bypassing imperial defenses effortlessly.”
Jack continued. “Neither Inverno nor Dehde Bohlver ever faced trial. Bohlver was declared cognitively incapable of aiding in his own defense. Even before that, one of Nico Bohlver’s men, affected by the brain death of a female companion, slit Inverno’s throat in David’s own throne room before himself being killed by the imperial guard.”
The Doctor sat down across from Jack and shrugged. “You didn’t bring me here to tell me what I already know, Captain. So what am I hearin’ here?”
Jack said, “That wasn’t what the book originally said. This page originally read that the unnamed alien, the ‘xeno,’ fought his way into Bohlver’s quarters, with, and I quote from memory because it’s what sent me careering out of here trying to find you guys, “a brain-dead female companion.”
“Yeah, ‘Oh.’ When I first read the book, it said you — excuse me, the ‘unnamed alien’ — sparked something called the Silk Rebellion. And here’s the thing; when I read that, I distinctly remember knowing I’d heard something about the Silk Rebellion back at the Agency. Not much, but it was there in my memory. I think.
“Now, I can barely keep that memory in my head. Because I know what actually happened; I saw it with my own eyes, and it went down just like the book now reads. The other memory … feels like a fairy tale.”
The Doctor heaved a breath and blew it out, reaching up to scratch his close-shorn head in what Jack interpreted as a stalling tactic. His subsequent irritated head-shake was obviously at himself. “What you originally read in the book was what happened, before we changed the timeline.”
Jack couldn’t help himself. “You can’t change —”
“Says the former employee of an agency whose stated mission implies knowing full well that timelines can change.” The Doctor didn’t bother to hide his amusement.
“Yeah, alright, they can be changed,” Jack allowed. “But it’s dangerous.”
The Doctor held up one finger. “First off; if you really think that, why did you take off like a bat out of hell to find us? You were trying to change the future right there.”
Jack looked down at his feet, then back up at the Doctor. “I was. You know why.” He looked back down, still a little afraid to watch the Gallifreyan after saying something so emotionally open.
“I’m learnin’,” the Doctor replied, unexpectedly gently. “You don’t need to inspect the floor so hard, Captain. Someone I respect a great deal recently drummed some not-so-common sense into my head about hearts, and … and I want to talk about that, too. Not now. Later, I promise. And know this; I’m not only glad you did what you did because of Rose, I’m also honored that you thought me worth the trouble.”
Now it was the Doctor who looked away, before turning back to Jack and saying with perfectly artificial heartiness, “You don’t mind if we go back to the whole timeline thing, though, just for now?”
Jack felt absurdly grateful that he wasn’t the only awkward one in the room. He nodded, and the Doctor went on, visibly relieved at being able to back away from the almost-conversation..
“Here’s the thing about timelines. They’re surprisingly flexible,” he said, slipping back into his usual lecture mode. “Time Lords didn’t like to admit that, and it’s safer to consider them hard and fast, because that way you avoid accidents — but the reality is, some points in time are made of metaphysical steel, some are made of elastic, and some are practically water, cosmically speakin’.”
He stood up, and walked over to pick up the book. “What we had here was … let’s call it elastic. Something was going to bring down silk on Lizhbau, and do it about now. But the potential means were multiple. You couldn’t stop it, but you could amend things; people who were directly involved in one line, might only be indirectly involved in another. The location of key action could move from Lizhbau to Earth, so long as the action took place.”
“And a dead alien woman whose companion sparks a rebellion?” Jack caught the incipient wobble in the Doctor’s voice, where most listeners mightn’t have. “In the final timeline, becomes two dead Lizhbauan women, one of them loved by a man who kills their killer. No need for a rebellion, because it’s taken place in front of an emperor who is ripe for change.”
As he mentioned the emperor, the Doctor’s eyes suddenly sharpened. He’d been in the process of putting the book back down, but reversed himself. “Hmmm.”
“Yeah … let’s see … something about what ol’ Davey said,” he said, moistening a finger and flipping some pages.
“Davey?” Jack nearly choked.
“Shhh … thinkin’ … not here … nope, not that —” He subsided into almost subvocal muttering until — “Aha! Knew it!”
The Doctor read from the book as an answer. “Isobel Fahrar, an officer in what ordinary Lizhbauans had come to fear as the Maldads, became known as ‘David’s Hostage,’ after she came to regret her part in Bohlver’s and Inverno’s oppression, and helped the xeno bring them both to David’s court.
“The emperor kept her by his side for — now that’s interestin’ ….”
“This is. Listen. ‘For 19 years, she was required to work as his personal liaison with Lizhbau, as David and the new governors of Lizhbau, Nico and Hilda Ghildau-Bohlver — dual governorship, that’s unexpected — began the decades long struggle to rid the empire of lamia …’ a little more policy wonk stuff and … ah, here we are. ‘Some scholars speculate that the time Fahrar’s family spent as part of the gubernatorial household, where she and Nicholas Bohlver were briefly age-mates, played a part in their successful long-range partnership, although others argue their hostile interactions during Bohlver’s college days suggest otherwise.”
Jack’s jaw dropped. “Whoah.”
“Keep listenin’, it gets better. ‘By 2934 First Empire Date, when she had been with him almost 20 years, David announced that Isobel was the Imperial Leman.”
“Leman?” Jack raised an eyebrow.
“Leman. Seems she was smart; she told him she didn’t have the right to be a consort, and she seems to have believed that to the end of her life. Besides, bein’ an official leman meant she had more power over raising her daughter and son, and more control over her daily life.”
He stopped and looked at Jack. “It seems that they loved each other, her refusal to wed notwithstanding. If I were to venture a guess, I’d think her love stemmed from the grace he showed her. And I think some of David’s love came from her ability to provide him with an heir. When she died, he ordered a full imperial funeral, and even the hidebound types at court didn’t fight that.
“She died at the age of 80. He died soon after that, at … let’s see … at the age of 189.”
“So who succeeded him; the son, or the daughter?” Jack couldn’t help his curiosity.
“The son initially, but he died at the age of 60, without a child. Doesn’t say why, but that’s early; possibly an accident. His sister became Empress at the age of 62, and ruled until her death at the age of 193. David’s line was not a fertile one but science rendered it long-lived. One of the reasons he was so old at the time he took up with the Tenante was because two wives in a row were unable to bear him children. He understood it was him, not them, and freed them from their gilded cages, while his geneticists tried to figure a way to make his half of the necessary formula work properly.
“Apparently, they managed to do it with Fahrar. Not only that, their daughter had a daughter, who became the empire’s second Empress. The book doesn’t go beyond that point. But I imagine that what follows is pretty typical First Empire succession foolishness.”
Jack shook his head, still gobsmacked at the transformation of history. “Monarchies. Go figure.”
If the Doctor had had glasses, he’d have been eyeing Jack over their rims. “Nothin’ to say about Fahrar’s fate?”
Jack thought about it for a moment, then shrugged and shook his head. “Worse people have had better fates. She never got to go back home. And in the end, she did what was right.”
Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, Rose had said when he complained to her about Fahrar. She was right, he thought.
Everyone deserves a chance, eh, boy? Even you.
“This is goodbye, then.”
Hilda smiled as she said it. Rose hoped it wasn’t because she was glad to get rid of them.
“Yeah,” Rose replied. “It's time.”
She probably didn't need to tell Hilda or Nico about the Doctor’s increasing anxiety at being stuck in one place over the past few days, nor of the TARDIS’ restive twitches. The two of them could easily see that the Doctor was pacing as sure as if he’d been in a cage, she figured. As for the TARDIS, they didn't need to know.
“I'm sorry we can’t convince you to stay longer,” Nico said. “Not just because we could still use your help — though I admit that’s a large part of it — but because I would like to show you Lizhbau without the risk of Maldads blasting at you.”
The two Lizhbauns stood outside the TARDIS, where it stood in an interior courtyard of the Bohlver villa, among the pale pink and yellow flowers that edged the yard. The stone walls still held some of the morning’s warmth, and it was the most comfortable Rose had felt outside since their arrival on the planet.
The Doctor’s lips twitched slightly. “We did originally plan to be tourists. Think it’s for the best now that we head out, though.” He leaned against the TARDIS’ open door as he spoke, trying to look casual. It didn't work; he still looked as if he were readying himself for a mad dash to the exits.
“Will you be back?”
The Doctor shrugged uncomfortably. “Don’t think so, but I never say never.”
Nico’s gaze turned just a tad judgemental. “Do you do this often?”
“Run?” The Doctor’s crazy grin surfaced momentarily. “Yeah. It’s generally because I trust humans to keep on the right path once I help ‘em set it right.”
“Generally.” Hilda couldn’t help smiling in return. “You’ve got other reasons, too.”
The Doctor shrugged, sheepish. “Might could be. That’s for me to find out, I guess.”
At those words, Rose felt a tiny electric spark somewhere in her mind. Wait, dear one she thought to the air. We’re going, I promise you, but there’s one thing we need to do before then.
Jack, who had come up from the TARDIS interior to stand behind the Doctor, caught her eye, raised an eyebrow. She nodded. The Time Lord hadn’t seen Jack’s expression but, without taking his eyes off their hosts, he put one hand up to his shoulder. Jack grasped it. The Doctor beckoned to Rose with his other hand. One step was all she needed. The three of them together, Rose thought; that was how it needed to be.
She turned to Hilda. “Say goodbye to Jao for me.”
“I will.” The older woman leaned forward and kissed Rose on the cheek, then eyed Rose’s companions. “Take care.”
“Where’s the fun in that,” Rose asked, suddenly giddy.
“Ah. Well, there’s that,” Hilda allowed. “Still … take as much care as you care to.”
Jack stepped forward, extended his hand to Hilda, then to Nico. Then, almost ceremoniously, he turned and went back into Her depths. Rose took his hint, shook hands with Nico and slipped past the Doctor to follow the Captain.
“That’s my cue,” the Doctor said. “Take care yourself, Hilda Ghildau, and you, too, Nico Machado Bohlver.” Before they could say anything more, he turned on his heel and loped back inside his ship. The door closed by itself.
In the gold and green interior, She thrummed like a heart. The three of them stood motionless.
The Doctor finally spoke. “What now?”
Rose hadn’t heard him sound so unsure of himself since he’d first invited her to come with him. She looked closer at his face.
His eyes … how can they be so dark and so blue at the same time? Her breath caught with the enormity of how much she loved him.
Jack cleared his throat, and sounded almost as diffident as the other man. “Rose and I have a request.”
The mountain was even colder at night. But Jack and Rose had taken care to bundle up, and when they stepped out of the TARDIS, they were rewarded with a windless, moonlit sky. The tall grass, now purple in the dark, parted before them as if they were ships at sea.
“What are their names?” Jack had one arm around Rose. The Doctor stood next to him, his hand moving as if he wanted to put his own arm around Jack, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.
“Esperança is the high one with the blue cast.” Rose kept her voice low, feeling as if anything above a whisper was somehow disrespectful of the sky’s beauty. “The bigger white one is Res’lução. Hope an’ Resolve.”
“They’ll need ‘em both,” the Doctor said.
No, you’re not going to talk about that. You can’t sidestep it any longer.
“Here, you two,” Rose said, pointedly ignoring the Time Lord’s last comment. “Sit down with me.” She didn’t wait to see if they would obey, just plopped herself down, then patted the ground on either side of her. The two men looked at each other before obeying her.
“What’s up, Rosie?” Jack knew, but sometimes knowing doesn’t reduce the nerves, and he tended to babble when he was nervous. Rose understood, because her heart was trying its best to crawl into her throat to keep her from speaking. Not gonna work, not this time. She took a deep breath.
“You’re human, aren’t you Jack?”
“Human as I can be.”
“From my future, and not from Earth.”
She looked from him to the Doctor. “And you, you’re an alien, a … a Time Lord, yeah?”
“Yep.” His profile was sharp in the moons’ dual light. Rose had figured he wouldn’t be able to face them, at least not immediately.
Okay, then. Next step.
“How old are you, Jack?”
“Give or take a couple years of lost memory, I’m around 34 or 35 years old. I think.”
“And you, Doctor, you told me you’re 900, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Now he leveled that measuring stare of his at her, but there was something else in his eyes, too. Hope, maybe. Rose plunged on.
“I was 19 when I first came into the TARDIS, and I’m 20 now. So, we’re none of us close in age. You especially, Doctor.”
“You tryin’ to insult me?" It wasn’t a question, not really, just another deflection.
“No, she isn’t.” Jack said, slowly. “She’ll stand up to you when it’s necessary, but she’d never insult you. She loves you.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Don’t scare him off, Jack. Let me finish.” The Time Lord had begun to stiffen at Jack’s words. He relaxed as she spoke.
“A 900-year-old alien. A human from another world an’ another time. And then there’s me, straight off the estate an’ into retail, no hope of uni. We shouldn’t even want to be in the same room with each other, at least by some people’s lights. My mum’s, for instance.”
“Oh, now, don’t bring your mother into it,” the Doctor began.
“We know you don’t like her,” Rose said, allowing a little sharpness into her voice. “But she’s smarter than you think; and she notices a lot more than you’d think. But that’s not the point. The point is that in this case, Mum’s wrong. We do belong together. Doesn’t matter our ages, or what planet we come from.”
The Doctor stared at her. “I —”
“The TARDIS thinks so,” Rose said, firmly. “Jack thinks so. I know so. An’ … and so do you. Because you were with us, weren’t you.
The TARDIS linked us all.”
Jack sucked in a breath.
The Doctor’s eyes widened. “Wha —” He stopped himself.
Rose couldn’t speak for a minute, not with that heart in her throat transforming into a lump of tears. Thank you, dear one. She swallowed and started again. “That’s the one thing I can be grateful to the silk for. I have … telepathy, inner voice, psionics, whatever the hell you want to call it now, thanks to the stuff … and it’s gonna be with me the rest of my life, I’m pretty sure. And that’s why I can say this, because She told me. She wants us to be together. She knows we love you, me and Jack. I’ve been in love with you since … I don’t know when.”
The Doctor gasped, but said nothing. His eyes shone now with something more than hope.
Rose could barely hear Jack when he spoke. “I … me, too. With both of you.” He’d been looking off into the distance, just as the Doctor had, but now he turned to Rose. “This is harder than I thought it would be.”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him in for a hug. “You’re doin’ fine, Jack.”
“I’m … not.”
“Not what? Not doing well? Not worthy?” She reminded herself to be calm. “You know we don’t care about any of that. You felt it. Look, if us sayin’ we’re in love with you makes you want to run, then join the … well, join the rest of us. It’s probably the scariest thing in the world … in the universe, yeah?
“I know we shouldn’t fit together, not at all. But love doesn’t care. So how about this? If bein’ in love is too much to talk about, then remember that we’re not just in love with you. We love you, period. Right, Jack?”
“If that’s easier for y—”
The Doctor’s hand, cool and callused, touched her cheek. “Might be easier. I’m a coward, me. But it’s time for me to take the harder path. It’s hard for me to say the words —”
“Do you mean them, even if you can’t say them?”
“Yes … yes. You’re my Rose.”
That was all she needed. She leaned into his hand.
He reached across her. “Jack.” The longing in his voice said everything, and Jack wasted no time scrambling to be closer to him.
Somehow Jack managed to get his arms around both of them, and Rose got her arms around the other two, and then — thank you, thank you for pushing him — his hands were at the back of their necks, drawing their faces to his.
Rose felt it, then, a mental burst of something like pressure, or joy, or both, something transcending those things, as if an ocean could turn its waves into fireworks. They all felt it, she knew, because their tripartite embrace became even closer. The joy bubbled up, and she laughed because she could, now that she had them both in her arms. Jack and the Doctor laughed, too, and she wondered if the TARDIS was laughing with them.
(Child, yes. Goodbye.)
Not a real goodbye, Rose knew. She would be there for them, and with them, but Rose didn’t think She would speak so directly to them in the future. She no longer needed to.
Unbidden, the three of them lay back on the dark grass and looked up at the dark sky. Two moons gazed back at them.
After a long time of silent rapture, and again unbidden, Rose, the Captain, and the Doctor stood up.
Behind them, the TARDIS opened Her door.
They went in. They were home.
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