18 Apr 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

(Language warning in effect.)
Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Tuesday, April 14, 2071

0932 hours

    Numbers sprawled out on her couch, a soykaf steaming on the coffee table, her hair displaying a cascading waterfall.  She smoothed out her pink and green oversized t-shirt before focusing on her off-white ceiling.  The commlink on her wrist played a steady techno beat as it displayed the result of Numbers' Matrix searches on her contacts.  Numbers adjusted the display to have the results appear projected on the ceiling.  One window had the public schedule for upcoming meetings for the UCC, the United Corporate Council.  Another, hovering over the door, had a list of upcoming events being held by local corporations.  A third displayed continuous video of current fashion trends thoughout the Seattle area, focusing on the local megacorps.

    Reading through the results, Numbers dismissed the UCC window.  The organization's next public meeting was scheduled for next month.  Numbers made a note to dig further into the UCC's datastore.  Not all of its meetings were meant for public consumption.  The hacker turned to the events listing.  Two items caught her eye for the coming weekend; Horizon was sponsoring an art exhibit in Bellevue featuring young artists from the barrens of Redmond and Puyallup, and Ares had a recruiting drive at the University of Washington.  The remaining events were smaller, more esoteric, and not likely in Numbers' opinion to attract violence.

    Numbers turned her attention to the fashion video.  The contrast between conservative-minded companies like Evo and Ares stood in stark contrast to the more open corporations like Horizon and Regency.  However, the suit the Johnson had worn last night could have represented almost any corporation.  It did tell her that Johnson's position was a little higher than the typical corporate shadow interface.  Numbers paused the video to start a new search in the window, one to find representative styles used at Federated-Boeing.  As she waited for her agent to finish the task, she slipped over to her headware commlink.

    The world blurred around Numbers as she entered Matrix.  Her home network was sparse, minimalist; it served as a base, nothing more.  Numbers checked her icon, a silicon woman wearing a long Roman-style dress made of a flowing Fibonacci series.  Satisfied, she left her apartment's node, floating through the vast wireless network making up the Matrix.  She kept her analyze running as she approached the UCC's node.  Several agents floated in and out of the node.  Numbers ran her analyze, a large zero in her hand with a virtual screen in its middle.  The agents acted as couriers, carrying messages.  Numbers ignored them and approached the node.

    Two icons emerged from the UCC's node, both appearing as high-tech fantasy knights and robotic horses, their armour shining pure white from within.  Numbers stopped and chuckled at the attempt at humour.  Her analyze program pegged the icons as IC, intrusion countermeasures, fortunately, not black IC.  After examing her program's report, Numbers figured that the icons represented trace programs.  She loaded her stealth application.  The numbers making up her icon's dress flowed outside the lines, covering her completely before matching the colours of the Matrix around.

    Numbers resumed her approach, moving slower to avoid triggering the trace programs.  Getting into a fight here was the last thing she wanted.  Repairing damage to her icon would take time and fighting when she wasn't getting paid felt wrong to her.  Neither of the knight icons stirred as Numbers walked between them.  She stepped up to the entrance.  Numbers brought up a spoof application.  As she ran it, she directed the Taylor series at the lock as the program tried to convince the entrance that Numbers' icon belonged.  The lock clicked open.  Numbers glanced at the cyber-knights; neither reacted to her breaching the security.

    The node inside appeared as an executive reception.  Numbers felt her breath catch.  She fought to throw off the feeling of oppression and kept walking.  A sculpted icon of a voluptuous woman in a cleavage-revealing red blouse sat behind a massive desk looked up as Numbers stepped forward.  "How may I direct you?" the application asked.

    Numbers let her stealth program end.  "I'm looking for the list of upcoming meetings."

    "Please enter your authorization code."  Numbers launched her exploit program.  A swarm of numbers coalesced around the receptionist.  Several landed on her dress and began burrowing into the application.  The reception froze for a moment.  "Authorization code not--  Authorization code not--  Authorization recognized.  Retrieving meeting list."  Numbers copied the list over to her own commlink.  Once it arrived, she shunted it to the 'link on her wrist.  She broke her connection to the Matrix.

    Numbers blinked several times as she adjusted to lying on her couch.  Her wrist commlink chimed as her search agent returned.  The hacker sat up and brushed a stand of her fibre-optic hair out of her face before reaching for the mug of soykaf.  The data she had would take some time to pore over.


1317 hours

    Charles entered the Big Rhino as the trog rock group 3 Meter belted out a power ballad over the restaurant's stereo system.  The troll resisted the urge to bang his head on one of the cafeteria style tables.  Instead, he walked towards a door in the back guarded by an ork and a troll, both massive.  The troll guard almost matched Charles' own size, his muscles obviously augmented.  Charles stopped in front of the door.  "Mr. Macro in?"

    "He expecting you?" the ork growled.

    "Tell him Charles wants to see him.  He'll be expecting me then."

    The ork sized up Charles, then disappeared into the back room.  The troll guard lifted his head slightly to meet Charles in the eyes.  Charles returned the gaze with a steel eye of his own.  Neither backed down; neither escalated.  The ork returned.  "Yeah, Mr. Macro will see you.  Make it quick."

    Charles entered the back room.  A dark skinned troll sat behind a metal and wood desk.  Beside him, a young ork woman stood, her eyes unfocused.  "Charles, good to see you.  Sit, sit.  It's been too long."

    Charles sat down in the reinforced chair.  "Glad you could see me, Mr. Macro."

    "How long has it been?  Would you like something?  Vectrix, order a round of Hurlg, on me.  Get one for yourself, too."  The young ork beside Macro mouthed a few words then returned to a task Charles couldn't fathom.  "So, Charles, what brings you here today?  Looking for work?  Or would you like to place a wager?"

    "Got work, but I need some info.  Though the wager, yeah.  What'll you give me on tonight's Timberwolves game?"

    "For you, eight to five odds on the Wolves.  It's going to be a hell of a game tonight.  I can get you prime seats for it."

    Charles shook his head.  "Another time, Macro.  But put me down for fifty nuyen on the Wolves."  He reached for his commlink to transfer the money.

    Macro held out his hand.  "Don't worry about it.  I know you're good for it.  Now, this job you're on."

    "Yeah, just looking for info on a Johnson.  Got an odd vibe from him.  Shit, he all but said he's never hired runners before."

    "Charles, omae, do you know how many people in Seattle who've never hired a shadowrunner?  You might as well ask me to find a needle in a haystack."

    "Yeah, good point.  Maybe you might know if other teams have been hired for bodyguard jobs this weekend.  Corporate work, vague details."

    Macro shook his head.  "You know I just can't tell you these things."

    "What if I bought some of your prime seats so you could give them to someone worthy?"  Charles grinned.  "Shame for them to go to waste.  How many tickets is the information worth?"

    Macro returned the smile.  "At one hundred twenty-five nuyen each, let's call it four tickets.  My nephews thank you."

    Charles transferred the funds from his commlink to Macro's.  "There."

    Macro confirmed receiving the money.  He tapped his 'link's virtual keyboard.  "Ah, bodyguard work, right?  Not much happening.  No teams through me, but I have people who owe me favours.  I can put feelers out, see what comes up."

    "No rush, Macro."

    "For you, Charles, I will not rest until I can get an answer for you."  Macro reached across the desk and pounded Charles on the shoulder.  "We have a good relationship going."  The fixer sat back in his chair.  "Though I do recall getting a request from our good friend Mr. Johnson for some magical muscle.  Not my strength, but I did get a referral fee to give Mr. J. the name of a good friend who does.  Bodyguard work this weekend.  Could be related.  It's not like guarding bodies is rare in the biz."

    Charles ran a massive hand through his short light brown hair.  "You're right.  Still, call me if you discover anything.  I hate going into a job like this blind."


1547 hours

    Madame Elsa's Lore Store teemed with the after school crowd when Oswald arrived.  The high school students looking over the range of books and knick-knacks the store offered.  Oswald ignored the students, dismissing them as wanna-bes.  Instead, he walked to the clerk, a young woman barely out of teens herself.  "Is Elsa in?" he asked.

    The woman looked up.  "In back.  Delivery day."

    Oswald glanced at the browsing teenagers.  "More junk for the rubes?  Can you let Elsa know Oswald wants to talk to her?  Thanks."

    The clerk retreated into the back.  Oswald kept an eye on the kids in the store.  Shoplifting at a talismonger's shop was a dumb idea, but some people needed to learn the hard way.  This time, though, the teens seemed to be smart.  None tried to pocket merchandise, though one group of girls giggled after reading the properties of reagents.  The door to the back room opened again.  "Oswald.  What do you need this time?"  Elsa stepped up to the checkout stand.  She brushed dust off her jeans.

    "Elsa, you wound me."

    Elsa walked around the desk.  "You still owe me for the ritual materials last month."

    "You owed that to me for dealing with the gangers shaking you down."

    "You owed that to me for enchanting the earring."

    "You owed that to me for showing your cousin around town."

    "The sights weren't supposed to include your rathole apartment."

    "You have to admit that she did have a good time."  Oswald smirked.

    Elsa scowled.  "That's not the sort of time I wanted her to have."  Her expression broke.  She laughed.  "Fine, we're even.  What do you need this time?  I've got customers and stock to inventory."

    Oswald looked over at a gaggle of schoolgirls.  "And your customers look oh so fierce."  He turned his attention back to the talismonger.  "I've got a job coming up that's feeling off.  Johnson's new at the game, needs protecting.  Something major is my hunch, but I'm not sure what.  The guy was mundane, but even mundane's can be legitimately spooked by magic.  Just wondering what you've heard coming down this week."

    Elsa led the mage to an dusty aisle along the side wall.  "That's a very open question, Oz.  I mean, you've got an Urban Brawl game coming up, there's always shit being shipped in and out of the ports, Brackhaven has a news conference Thursday, my niece has a ballet recital Sunday afternoon, the--"

    "Okay, I get it.  Lots happening."  Oswald leaned against a shelf.  "The guy's probably not working for Brackhaven.  Even if Charles could be explained away, Treehugger would've set him off."

    "The chica who thinks she's an elf?  Yeah, Brackhaven's backers would have a shit fit over her."  Elsa shook her head.  "Sorry, omae, can't think of anything."

    Oswald rubbed the stubble on his chin.  "This guy has to be spooked about something.  Anything you hear about lately?"

    Elsa swept an arm at her noon clientele.  "Yeah, lots.  Mainly how one girl wants a potion to get a guy to notice her and how some guy wants a magical steroid so he can get on the basketball team.  Does it look like I have a line into Metroplex Hall here?"

    "What about your special customers?  They must talk from time to time."

    Elsa ran her fingers through her greying hair.  She sighed.  "You didn't hear this from me, okay?"

    Oswald held up his hands.  "They'll get my source when they can pry it from my cold, dead hands."

    "Fine.  No names, but a couple of the megas got hit in the past week."

    "Nothing new there.  Fuck, runs happen so often here that it's news when there isn't one."

    "Yeah, but from what I've heard, these were inside jobs."  Elsa stepped closer to Oswald and lowered her voice.  "One was at a Mitsuhama site, a zero-zone.  Nothing in or out alive, you know?  On top of everything, buzz says that the site did magical research.  No one knows who did it.  A team of runners getting in and out of a zero-zone could go several months without having to pick up a bar tab just on their tales of the run alone."

    "And the other corp?"

    "Evo.  Same thing happened.  No one's claimed responsibility, the other megas haven't brought out anything new, no reprisals.  Nothing even has appeared on the streets.  All very hush-hush."

    Oswald raised an eyebrow.  "Could just be rumours."

    "I trust my sources on this."

    "Thanks."  Oswald turned and started down the aisle.

    Elsa kept pace.  "Just where do you think you're going?"

    "Got some more errands to run.  Why?"

    "Oh, no.  Information costs, remember?  You told me that last time I asked you about shit happening."

    Oswald stopped at the end of the aisle.  "How much?"

    Elsa grinned.  "Labour.  I've got inventory that needs to be unpacked and recorded.  Shouldn't take more than a couple of hours if you behave yourself."


1612 hours

    Treehugger guided her Westwind through the alley.  The car's engine rumbled, constrained by the slow speed the rigger used.  The young woman let the car coast to a stop behind an unmarked warehouse.  She beeped the horn twice before shutting the car down.  Before she stepped out, she turned the collar of her jacket up, rolled her sleeves down, and adjusted her Mariners ball cap,  leaving very little of her skin exposed.  She figured that she had to be the only person in Seattle who looked forward to rainy days.  Treehugger looked up at the sky; clouds taunted her but did nothing to block the sun.

    The warehouse's back door opened.  A thin dwarf in grease-stained coveralls walked out.  "Hoi, Treehugger.  Heard you were coming.  What's up?"

    "Hoi, Two-Tone."  Treehugger walked over to greet the dwarf.  "Yeah, ran into problem with some road ragers yesterday.  They shot up my car."

    "Did they hit anything vital?"

    "Nothing important.  They got the fenders and scraped the roof."

    Two-Tone walked around the Westwind.  "What did you do, run over their mother and her dog?"

    "Ha, ha."  Treehugger stuck her tongue out at the dwarf.

    "Looks like I just need some polycarbonate filling and paint."  Two-Tone looked back over to the rigger.  "How soon do you need her?"

    Treehugger thought for a moment.  "Probably not until next week.  I could use something for the next few days, though."  She felt her hands starting to itch and burn.  The rigger shoved them into her jacket pockets.

    "I don't have a spare Westwind or similar right now."

    "I just need something for errands.  Performance is always welcome, though."  Treehugger tried to get her face out of the sun's rays.  "Can we talk inside?"

    "Sure, sure.  I'll get the door, you bring your baby inside."  Two-Tone unlocked the rear cargo doors.

    Treehugger returned to her sports car.  She felt relief from the sun the moment she sat down.  A few moments later, she had the Eurocar parked inside the dim warehouse.  As she got out, the dwarf sidled up.  "Thanks," the rigger said.  "So, temp ride."

    "This way."  The mechanic led the way over to a car covered by a dusty tarp.  "I've got this.  Not really mine to loan out, but the owner got caught in the middle of some street violence.  He's not coming back for her."  Two-Tone removed the tarp revealing a candy apple red GMC Commodore.  "Shame to let her gather dust."

    Treehugger walked around the car, examining it with a critical eye.  "Looks pretty."

    "I was finishing some upgrades to her when I heard the news.  No one's come to claim her and she takes up space.  I'll tack on a fee for the loaner.  Discount, of course, for one of my best customers."

    "Pretty doesn't mean much if I've got the Knights on my ass."

    Two-Tone smiled.  "No, but she has substance to go with her style.  My chummer was into street racing and wanted guts put in his ride.  I've customized the engine, added a nitrous boost, fully rigged her.  Spoof chip perfect for when the Knights tag your ass.  Even added something special for them."  The dwarf opened the door.  He powered up the Commodore's onboard computer then tapped a button on the dashboard.  The car changed colour, going from the original red to black with an animated cartoon dancing across the front fender.  "Chameleon coating.  I've preprogrammed half a dozen colours."  The animation mooned Treehugger.  Two-Tone laughed.  "That one was definitely his style."  He shut down the animation, returning the car to the candy apple red.  "There's a layer of armour underneath, too.  Ideal for when you run into a road rager."

    "I'm sold."  Treehugger ran a finger along the rear fender and up to the spoiler.

    "I'll charge you for repairs to her if you damage her."  Two-Tone closed the Commodore's door.  "Be careful, though.  She'll leave your baby in the dust from a standing start.  Doesn't have the speed to keep ahead, but she's quick."

    "Thanks, Two-Tone.  I'll take care of her."

    The dwarf walked back to the Westwind.  "I know you will.  And I'll take care of your car.  Anything for my favourite elf-to-be."


1933 hours

    For a Tuesday, the Pink Door was busy.  Despite the drizzle that had picked up late in the afternoon, people popped in and out of the bar.  Charles ducked his head as he entered.  He took off his long coat and strode over to the bar.  As he folded his coat over the back of a barstool, he signalled the bartender.  "Got Blue on tap?"  The bartender nodded and began to pull the troll's order.  Charles sat down slowly, testing the stool to make sure it'd hold.

    The bartender set the litre of beer in front of Charles.  "That'll be five nuyen."

    Charles authorized the transaction, adding a tip to the total.  He took a long swallow of his drink, savouring the taste.  Before the bartender could leave, the troll asked, "Can you get the Timberwolves game on the trid?"  The bartender switched the trid unit mounted in the ceiling to Sports UCAS.  The images of the hosts of the pre-game show appeared over the heads of the bar's patrons.  Charles leaned back on his stool and watched the proceedings.

    The bar's namesake pink door opened, letting Numbers enter.  She removed the scarf covering her head, revealing jet black hair shining blue under the bar's lights.  Noticing Charles, she edged through the crowd to join him.  "Hey there," she said.  She looked up at the trid display.  "Who's playing?"

    "Game hasn't started yet.  Tacoma's going be playing against Atlanta."  Charles brought his attention down to the tiny hacker.  "Hear from anyone else?"

    "TH emailed to say she was on her way."  Numbers slipped out of her vest.  She smoothed out her grey t-shirt.  "Haven't heard from Oswald, but that's not exactly new.  He'll call if his car breaks down."

    "Want something to drink?"

    "Yeah, sure.  No soykaf, though.  I had pot of it this afternoon.  I'm not going to sleep before two this morning as it is."

    Charles signalled the bartender.  "Another Blue."  He transferred the funds before hearing the total.

    "Thanks, Charles."  Numbers sat on a stool, her legs dangling.  "How was your day?"

    "Not bad.  Managed to get in a ride along the waterfront.  Talked to Macro.  He even offered tickets for the game tonight."

    Numbers looked up a the trid display.  "The one there?"

    "Yeah."  Charles shrugged.  "Seats are a little cramped for me, though."

    Treehugger arrived.  She left her long coat on as she crossed over to the bar.  "Hey guys!"


    "Want a beer?" Charles offered.

    "No, thanks."  She sniffed the air.  "Oh, man, do I smell bialys?  Can you order me one of those and a soykaf while I hit the washroom?"

    Numbers looked at the splotches on Treehugger's face.  "You okay?"

    "Just too much sun the past couple of days.  It'll clear as long I avoid going outside.  With luck, it'll rain the next couple of days."

    "I've got some makeup in my purse if you want any."

    Treehugger shook her head.  "I'm fine.  It's not like we're going to be trolling for guys tonight, right?  Anyway, be right back.  My bladder's about to burst."  She dashed to the washrooms.

    Numbers flagged the bartender down and placed her teammate's order.  Charles once again paid.  "You're in a generous mood," the hacker said.  "What's up?"

    Charles shrugged.  "I had a decent day.  I figured I should get the first round."

    "No arguments from me."  Numbers stretched.  "At least you got outside today.  I was laid out on the couch looking over data when I wasn't immersed in VR avoiding IC.  I think I got into a bad position."

    "I got a friend who can help.  Street doc, she can get you something to help with the pain."

    "I'm good.  Besides, a massage might be better."

    Treehugger returned to the group as Oswald stepped through the bar's entrance.  "Hoi!" the rigger called as she waved to the mage.

    Oswald returned the wave.  "I do not want to see one more crystal today or ever."

    "Okay, there's a story behind this."  Treehugger took a seat.  "Spill."

    "Not much of a story."  Oswald removed his battered Mets cap.  "Elsa is a slave driver."

    "I thought you liked that sort of thing."

    Oswald glared at Treehugger.  "Hush, you.  Anyway, got some info, but I doubt it's useful."

    "Maybe, maybe not."  Numbers tried scooching her stool over to give Oswald some space to join the group.  "Aggregate data can help.  Beats having nothing.  Who wants to start."

    "I will."  Oswald pulled a chair over.  "I just need a drink first."  He signalled the bartender when he delivered the rigger's bialy and soykaf and ordered a rye and ginger.  After his drink arrived, he started, "Two corps had some sort of internal problem in secure facilities."  Oswald stirred his beverage.  "Yeah, not news, except one was at an MCT zero-zone.  Of course, this is all rumour and conjecture.  No hard facts."

    "What was the other corp?" Treehugger asked.

    "Evo.  The only reason why any of this is getting out is because they were hit so close together and nothing has appeared anywhere else yet.  The rumour mill hates not knowing shit."

    Numbers nodded.  "Checking the details would mean breaking into the zero-zone, too.  Too risky."

    Charles nodded.  "Gotta agree."  He drained his beer.  "I talked to Macro this afternoon.  Took him some doing and paying for four tickets to tonight's combat bike match."  He pointed at the trid.  "But, he came through.  He heard about a few runners -- no names, I didn't pay for that sort of info -- who also got hired for unspecified bodyguard work.  So our Mr. J. is on the up and up, at least about the job."

    Numbers sipped her Blue.  "That's something.  I couldn't find anything at the UCC's node.  And it wasn't for a lack of trying.  I managed to find when and where every subcommittee will be meeting over the next month.  I even found when its Central Planning Committee will be meeting to talk about whether Knight Errant joins the Council.  But there's just nothing this weekend, not even two junior assistants getting together to make out at a StarKaf."

    "Just means that the meet doesn't involve the UCC," Oswald said.  "Lots of corps aren't on the Council, like Saeder-Krupp  and DocWagon."

    "Saeder-Krupp doesn't have holdings here," Numbers said.  "But, yeah, point.  Do you have any idea of how long it'd take me to hack into every corp node in town to look up every meeting?  You'd have to hook me up to an IV drip."

    "So, no dice on your part?" Charles asked.

    "Other than eliminating several possibilities, yeah, nothing."  Numbers turned to Treehugger.  "You got anything, TH?"

    Treehugger set down her bialy.  "I got us a car."

    Oswald fixed her with a stare.  "A car?  The rest of us busted our humps looking for information and you got us a car?"

    "Yes, I got us a car."  Treehugger returned the glare.  "The Westwind got shot up yesterday.  Do we really want to be pulled over because some Knight saw bullet holes in my car?  Between yesterday and today, I've been wanting to rip my skin off.  I just wanted to curl up at home and stay under the covers until after sunset."

    Oswald rolled his eyes.  "You could've made calls from your apartment."

    Numbers slid off her chair to stand between the rigger and the mage.  "Guys, not needed tonight, okay?"

    Oswald broke away first.  He slammed back his rye and ginger.  "Just saying that the rest of us put in some effort to figure out what our new job was."

    "And I'm saying that I put in effort to get a car that fits us all, even Charles."  Treehugger sipped her soykaf.  "If I asked my corporate contact about anything, that would've tipped him off about the job, and we don't know if he's for it or against it.  Two-Tone knows cars, not corporate meetings.  And my fixer?  I drove him to the airport last Friday.  Right now, he's in some warm tropical spot enjoying scantily clad guys and girls bringing him drinks with fruit and umbrellas."

    Numbers climbed back on her barstool.  "That's fine, TH.  Really."  She glared at Oswald.  "We'd basically have to stumble on to someone else doing the same legwork for the same job for a different Johnson.  Charles came closest to real paydata."  The hacker sighed.  "Maybe we should just watch the game.  Someone will explain it to me, right?"

    "Sure," Charles said.  "It's not a difficult game to follow.  Just keep your eye on the ball."

    "Good thing it's neon."  The hacker finished her beer.  "Will--"  Her commlink trilled.  She thumbed the talk key.  "Hello?"

    "Hello, is this Numbers?"  Johnson's voice hesitated.  "She gave me this number for emergencies."

    "Mr. Johnson, hello, yes, it's me, Numbers."

    "Can you get the rest of the team?  I think I need help."

    "They're here."  Numbers looked up to her teammates.  "Is there a problem?"

    Treehugger leaned closer to the hacker's wrist commlink.  "Our agreement isn't in effect yet.  We start working for you on Friday."

    "If you don't help me now, I may not be around Friday!"

    "You make a very good point, sir.  There's still a principle involved.  We're independent contractors.  We're in it for the nuyen.  However, given that we stand to lose out a sizable payday if we lose you, special offer.  One thousand nuyen, total, to go pick you up, another thousand on top if things can't be handled peacefully."

    "Fine, fine!  Just hurry.  I'm at the Rubber Suit in Everett."

    "Give us twenty-five minutes."

    "I'll ping you when we arrive," Numbers said.  She disconnected the call.

    "Twenty-five minutes to get to Everett?"  Oswald shook his head.  "No way.  Not even if you took I-5."

    "And deal with the Knights cracking down after my stunt yesterday?"  Treehugger laughed.  "Route 99, straight up, no hassles."

    Charles got off his stool.  "I'll follow on my bike.  Try not to lose me."

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