The Book of Five Rings

Episode 3

Feet spread in a wide stance, fists on his hips, the Doctor surveyed the glaring, blazing light of the main hallway of the casino.

An Ogron, stuffed incongruously into a red velvet tuxedo, lumbered up to him, its blue knuckles nearly dragging on the floor.

"Take coat, sir?" It bellowed.

"No, thank you." He held back a shudder. Even when they were honestly employed, the mercenary and crude Ogrons were apparently hired for their sheer brute strength. And dressing them up seemed only to make them more hideous. The Doctor doubted that this casino had much trouble with impolite customers.

"Need guidance sir?" the Ogron bellowed.

"Yes," the Doctor said. "What games have you got tonight?"

The Ogron leered, a learned attempt at bon homie. "First Room, Dip Jhap, no Tarks. Second Room, Dip Jhap, Tarks only and spectators3/4"

"Poker?" the Doctor asked.

"Room seven, sir."

"Black Jack?"

"Room twelve sir."

"Right, I guess I'll have a go down there, then." He passed a coin to the Ogron attendant and hurried down the electronically sequined main hallway.

The two Dip Jhap rooms were crowded and noisy with throngs of people laying bets on the very physical games inside. He hesitated, but then opted for blackjack. The blackjack room was much quieter, only three tables operating.

The Doctor strode up to a table and beamed at the few people there. The dealer was a human of varied ancestry--olive skinned, thin lipped, strong flat nose, curling hair, and a battered felt hat perched way back on his head. He had eyes as dark as oil and wore a broad gold ring in one ear.

The Doctor reached into his pocket and lay down his stake3/4an impressive array of the house currency. The two onlookers withdrew from play and edged closer, interested. A true professional, the dealer remained expressionless. Expertly, he slipped out two cards to the Doctor3/4a ten not showing and a six up top. The Doctor gestured a halt. The Dealer showed his hand3/415 total, and the Doctor showed his and collected the bet.

"Thinks I'm a patsy," he muttered to the observers.

The dealer dealt again and won the next hand, but the Doctor had bet only half his stake. He bet the rest on the next hand and won again. Then he began to win regularly. Other betters, interested in the game, wandered up. The dealer produced another two decks. He dealt from any of the three on his board as it suited him. One of the women watching the game let out a gasp, but the Doctor shrugged. He rapped on the table to signal for the deal. Over the next half hour the dealer opened up more decks and soon had five going, but the Doctor continued to win most of the hands. Some of the Dip Jhap betters wandered in. It was rare to see the house lose.

As the dealer paused to open a sixth deck, the Doctor tossed a glance at the people crowded around him. He produced the small photograph of Jo from his pocket and casually passed it to them. "Anybody seen that young lady around here?" he asked.

"No questioning the customers," the dealer said instantly.

"I'm keeping the game up aren't I?" the Doctor shot back. "As long as I'm good for business, what's the harm?"

The dealer said nothing, but as the Doctor continued to play and the photograph was passed around, it took only a few minutes for a carefully dressed and pompous Salafian to appear at the Doctor's elbow.

"I'm sorry sir, the house must ask you to leave," he said. "Questioning of the customers is not permitted."

"Or is winning too much the real problem?" the Doctor asked.

The perfect, smooth blue of the Salafian face, so similar to a human face except for the gill-like constructions in front of the ears, did not waver in color. "Nonsense. You may come back tomorrow night if you like, but it is time for you to leave tonight. We must ask all our guests to abide by casino rules." The Salafian threw a glance over his shoulder at the two Ogron door attendants. "We always prefer our guests to leave quietly, sir, with no hard feelings on either side."

"I take your meaning," the Doctor sighed. "Can I cash in my winnings?"

"By all means. I shall accompany you."

"Right then." The photograph of Jo was handed back to him. He gathered up his stacks of currency and followed the shift manager out to the hallway. But as they walked down the hall in stiffly polite silence, the Doctor paused at the doorway of one of the Dip Jhap rooms. Inside, a heavily muscled Tark, stripped to the waist to reveal bulging muscles on his outer arms and the corded, heavy sinews of his inner hands, stood on a platform and beckoned to the Tarks in the crowd to come and challenge him.

"I could take him on, you know," the Doctor said. The shift manager broke into a high pitched laugh. "At Dip Jhap? Sir, there is a reason that we allow Tarks to play Dip Jhap only with other Tarks. No two-hander can beat them, especially not a human."

"Well, I never said I was human, did I?" The Doctor beamed. "I can still beat him."

The manager hesitated. "It's against house rules. You could break your arms. The Tarks are very serious about Dip Jhap."

"It's only against house rules for ordinary players," the Doctor said. "So you won't get complaints from injured customers. Well, I'll sign a waiver. I won't make a complaint against the house." He smiled a conspiratorial smile. "The customers will love it, and the house won't be at risk because the customers bet against each other." With a gentle rustle, he held up some of his vast winnings. "unless the house would like to make a bet, that is."

"You're willing to wager all that on yourself3/4in a game of Dip Jhap, against a Tark?" the manager asked. "Do you know what Dip Jhap is, sir? It's a slapping game, and you've got only two hands. Two old hands, if you don't mind my bluntness."

"Not a bit!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I am quite old! Even older than I look! What about it?"

The manager eyed him carefully. There was every evidence in the Doctor's behaviour to indicate that he was a skilled gamester, the sort of person to shoot through the casinos like an arrow, with clever tricks to beat the house. The lure of a match in which a human might conceivably beat a Tark at Dip Jhap was tempting.

"Tomorrow," the manager said at last. "I'll get papers for you to sign. You come back with them tomorrow, and we'll let you play Dip Jhap. Meanwhile, you'd better watch a few rounds to see if you really want to play that fellow in Dip Jhap." He started to walk away, stopped, and wagged a finger back at the Doctor. "And no questioning the customers in the rooms. You can question them all you like tomorrow in the bar if you're able to."

"Agreed," the Doctor said, and turned as the noise in the crowded room increased.

The slightly flexible platform on which the Tark champion stood was built around a wide support pillar that vaulted to the roof. As the manager went to get the waivers, the Doctor saw that at last a Tark challenger from the crowd was ready to step up. The challenger was one of the old school of Tarks, as heavily muscled as the champion, with the curly, unruly hair hung round his head in a loose cloud-a permanent challenge to anybody to grab him by the hair and fight. His friends quickly stripped him off to the waist, revealing long sinewy inner hands with a bit more wrist length than the champion's inner hands, a definite advantage.

The challenger leaped to the stage. He was taller than the champion, and his outer arms had longer reach. Bets were hurriedly placed among the spectators. Interest ran high. The challenger had more reach, equal or greater strength, and a lifetime of Dip Jhap behind him, to judge from his leathery face. But the champion was younger, with nothing to do but play Dip Jhap. He would know every latest ploy.

They gripped right outer hands and nodded at each other. The match began.

Dip Jhap was called a slapping game, but for a long moment both Tarks only looked at each other as though they were having a staring contest. Their inner, pectoral hands fanned in and out softly, as though breathing. It gradually became apparent that the young champion was trying by sheer force to bend the right hand of his opponent at the wrist, to force him off balance.

Suddenly the old challenger collapsed his right hand at the wrist. For one split second the young Tark leaned too close, and the old Tark slapped him, a stunning slap that would have knocked over a human and perhaps killed a Salafian. The Ogron doormen laughed and stomped their feet.

The young champion withstood the slap instead of recoiling, and bent his hand the other way, across his opponent's body. It brought his face in again, and the old Tark slapped again, but suddenly found his left outer arm knocked up under the elbow with his own right hand as the young Tark jerked the hand over. The old Tark pulled back without thinking, and that was when he lost the fight. The young Tark slid a boot behind the challenger's retreating foot, tripping him up but not knocking him over. As the challenger tried to regain his balance, the champion slapped him several times, and then suddenly lunged in. His powerful inner hands grasped the old Tark's outer right wrist. Watching, the Doctor winced. He remembered how powerful Mags' inner hands had been, and this magnificent specimen was twice her size. The champion slid his outer hands up the challenger's trapped arms, boxed his ears several times, and then twisted at the hips and sent the Tark face first into the column in the center of the platform.

The Ogrons at the doors stamped their feet and bellowed their approval. The challenger called out a single guttural cry as his surrender. Something tugged the Doctor's elbow. The Salafian had returned. "Sure you want to play?"

Several Tarks in the crowd pulled the bloody-faced Tark down from the platform and carried him out between them.

"I wouldn't miss it!" the Doctor exclaimed enthusiastically. "A true gentlemen's game." He took the papers.

"Hmmm. Let me see that likeness you've been passing around."

Willingly, the Doctor pulled out the photograph of Jo. The Salafian looked at it thoughtfully for a moment, and then shook his head. "Young thing. Pretty for a human." He handed it back to the Doctor. "Sure she's here? If she wanted the good life, she could have picked a better place than this."

"I think she was brought here," the Doctor said.

"Against her will? Stolen like property?"

The Doctor said nothing.

"We have body piracy here, sir. I hope she didn't come to harm. I'll see you tomorrow." The manager gave him a grim nod and walked away.

* * * *

When the Doctor next entered the impromptu infirmary in his TARDIS, he saw that his guest was up, examining her clothing and belongings to see what was damaged. She had the cracked visor in her hands. He set down the sack of food he had brought. And frowned at her. The shirt of his that she wore hung nearly to her knees. With her pectoral hands hidden under it, she still did not like the sleek, savvy Mags Hardbottle of crime fiction, nor like the spirited young Tark that he knew her to be, but rather like a vulnerable child. Her wide green eyes widened a little more as she recognized him and smelled the food he'd brought. She was hungry, and still weak, and perhaps a little frightened.

"So, you're up," he said quietly. "You shouldn't be."

"I 'ave to go back to the casino. I'm workin' on a case." She was back in character as the galaxy's premier sleuth.

"I just came from there," he said. "It's nearly dawn and nothing's going on right now. I had quite a night of it. Here's food for you."

Still holding the broken visor, she came over to the Georgian wash stand where he had set the hot food, purchased from a street vendor. She looked tremendously hungry.

"I-I can't give you anything for that food3/4" she began.

"I just want you to eat it," he assured her. "The galaxy's premier scientist ought to be able to host the galaxy's premier detective. Eat up and then it's back to bed with you. You aren't fit to resume your work."

He took up the visor and looked at it as she opened the sack. "I can repair this for you," he said. But she was too busy eating the hibachi'd meat to answer. It was some species of desert rat, larger than a terrestrial rat, not appetizing to the Doctor, but she apparently thought it a very fine meal.

"Tarks, as I recall, eat mostly meat," he began.

"I ain't a Tark," she said between bites. "Mags Hardbottle is a human. Didn't you know that?"

"Oh I forgot."

Apparently she was able to completely forget that she had trapped him with her four-handed martial art, and that he had already seen her anatomy when he had attended to her bruised and mangled back and shoulders.

She ate in silence while he waited, and then as she investigated the sack and pulled out another parcel of food, he said, "Will you tell me how you met the Master, and what happened to him?"

"He come chargin' outta the waste zone-3/4the garbage tip. Five Tarks was on him, so I pitched my hand in to help him. We got away down to the riverbed, but they got us at the sluice gate--about fifteen or so of them by that time. They took him away and gave me a beating because I helped him."

"Where did they take him?"

"I dunno. I come back here because he told me to, and because I was sick. I missed my shift at the casino--well, now I've missed at least two, so I'll get a beating there, too. The longer I wait, the worse it will be."

He had been leaning against the wash stand, not really looking at her but listening. He suddenly straightened up.

"Could I take the beer with me?" she asked. "I ain't had a beer in a long time."

"We'll share the beer," he said, and then he told her, "Nobody's going to beat you while I'm around. Why should they give you a beating?"

"Because I missed my shift. I'm head of security on shift."

"Well you're not getting a beating. I'll go with you and explain. Do you work for that big casino with the blue sequined hallway?"

She nodded and added, "Don't matter what you tell them. Rules say I get a beating. You'll only make it worse if you cross 'em."

"Look here." He pulled a small sack from his pocket and threw it onto the wash stand. It jingled. Her large eyes, pale green, grew wide again. He threw another sack alongside the first, then he tossed a third sack from his other pocket. "And that doesn't count what I spent on drinks for the house," he added. "You won all that in the casinos?" she asked.

"I did."

"Blimey, you're a real pro, aren't you? What's your gimmick?"

"Total recall," he admitted. "I know which cards have been dealt from which decks, and I can calculate odds of getting the cards I want. Now look here." She glanced up at him. "Whose debts are you paying off?" he asked.

"Nobody's!" she exclaimed. "My own!"

"Nonsense! Somebody's got you in an indentured service here, paying off a debt. Your father? Your mother? An older brother or sister?"

"Mags Hardbottle is an orphan. Everybody knows that. I got no family to get me in trouble." she told him with a certain air of superiority. "I just got meself in a bit of trouble. But I'm out in three years."

"Look, who are you really?" he demanded. "How did you end up in this3/4--this wasteland of vice and filth?"

"I told you, mate. I'm Mags Hardbottle. You want ID?"

"No!" he snapped. He sighed and calmed down. Then he thoughtfully rubbed the back of his head while she longingly looked at the beer. "Get on the bed, Mags," he said. "Let me get my medical kit."

She stiffened and looked uneasy, but as he went out to find his kit, she obediently returned to the cot and lay face down. He had no idea if her discomfort came from modesty or knowing that he would see her secondary shoulders, but she did not object as he drew the sheet up over her legs and then unbuttoned the shirt in the back.

That was quite a beating," he told her. "But you're healing well."

"Is this going to hurt?" she asked. For answer, a spreading sensation of warmth went through her. A strong, pungent medicine smell rolled over her. For a moment he worked in silence. She relaxed.

"The thing is," he began at last. "I'm having such a spot of difficulty. I mean, I need a good detective."

"I can help you when I'm not on shift. The cracked visor lay alongside her head on the cot. She picked it up. "Will you fix this for me? You said you could."

He took it from her and set it down. "I need you to work for me," he said. Finished, he buttoned up the shirt again. "I'm trying to find a missing person3/4not the Master but a young lady. If I get you out of the casino, will you work for me?" he asked.

The cessation of pain in her back had made her sleepy. She closed her eyes and said, "You can't get me outta the casino. They make a lot off me. Don't have to pay me nothing and I'm their best house detective."

"I've got a wager on for tonight. I'll bet it all and win you the price of your debt."

Her curiosity was peaked. Her wide green eyes opened. "What are you wagering on?"

He came around the bed so that she could see him, picked up the visor, and examined it with a critical eye. "Myself. I'm playing Dip Jhap against their Tark champion."

Her mouth dropped open. She lifted herself on her elbows. He frowned at her. "Now don't you start off by telling me I'm an old man."

"Blimey, Major, you're a human!" she exclaimed. "I know that bloke. He'll knock you senseless."

"First of all, Miss Hardbottle, I'm not a human, and second, I know what I'm doing. Lie down."

"Look here3/4" she began, but he suddenly met her eye with his. "Trust me in this Mags," he said. "You may as well. You've nothing to lose, have you? Except a beating?"

She closed her mouth. He gentled his eyes and rested his hand on top of her head. "Will you do as I say3/4at least until tonight?" he asked her. "If I lose at Dip Jhap, you go back to the casino. If I win, you help me find my friend."

"All right, Major." She lay down again and rested her head on the pillow. He found the pulse at the back of her head, felt it become quiet as she relaxed. "You don't beat your people?" she asked.

With a short laugh, he returned to his survey of the cracked visor. "Well, not usually. While you're resting, I'll patch up this visor. I think I can make a good job of it."

She sighed, content, closed her eyes, but added, "I hate to think of what that Tark's going to do to you." He nodded absent mindedly and took the visor out with him.

* * * *

Resplendent in her clean jumpsuit and repaired visor, Mags appeared in the control room of the TARDIS just as the Doctor was preparing for the game.

"Well!" He looked up from binding his wrist. "You look much better. Feeling fit?"

"Yes. That's not the way, Major. Let me." She slipped an unlit cigarette into her mouth and unhesitantly come forward and seized his wrist. "If you want a good tape job for Dip Jhap, you can't do it yourself. Flex your fist a minute."

He complied. She taped it up quickly, making a good stiff job of it, and he handed her his other wrist.

"I don't see why you're doin' this3/4" she began.

"To attract a crowd, mostly," he told her. "I want to get my friend's picture passed around to as many people as possible, and I need to do it as quickly as possible. People pass through this place very quickly."

"You won't be much good if you can't even see straight," she said. "Done."

He held up his stiffly taped hands. "Good job, Mags. Thank you. Oh, and I wondered if you would be interested in those." And he nodded to a small clutter of papers, manuscripts, books, and book disks on the edge of the console.She wandered over and rifled through them. "Got this one, and this one. Mother of Pearl!" She held up one of the tattered paper versions. "Mags Hardbottle Number 218. Where'd you get this? It's awfully hard to find. I never seen it before, but I heard of it."

"You're welcome to keep it," he said, and then added slyly, "Still, I suppose they must bore you. I mean, you already know what happens in each of them, since they're about your life."

She let out a laugh and turned to him. "No, Major. These writers always get it wrong." And she laughed again.

"Well, I suppose we're ready3/4"

She set down the book and stepped closer. "Did you mean that, about buyin' my debt?"

"Certainly." It was hard to read her expression with the visor on her face, but he knew she was looking up at him."Playin' Dip Jhap with a Tark is dangerous. You have to make sure he don't get you with those inner hands, Major. There's not much reach on them hands, but once he gets you in those, he won't let go, and he can use his hips and legs to turn and make you go where ever he wants you to. He'll run you right into that column in the middle of the platform."

He nodded and after a moment he said, "Well, let's go."

The sun was setting, and the static already building in the sky of the hot, dry street. Word must have gotten out about the game, because all the people from the night before were back at the casino, with about the same number again. The Ogron doormen made a way for the Doctor, and the Salafian manager came to greet him and then stopped short at sight of his companion.

"Mags!" he exclaimed, and his normally soft voice shrilled. A blue flush suffused his face, right up to the gills in front of his ears. "I thought you'd sloped off. Here, doorman! Take her down to3/4"

"No you don't!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I warn you. Don't touch her."

The Salafian stopped short as the Ogrons came forward. "What do you mean? What is she to you? She's under this casino's jurisdiction."

The Doctor threw a glance at the people who milled into the vast antechamber of the casino. To accommodate the crowd, the platform had been moved to one of the wide concrete pillars out here. Bet accountants were already hawking odds, and several humans, Tarks, Salafians, Ogrons, and others tried to press closer for a better look at the Doctor.

"If you want this game of Dip Jhap, you'll leave her alone," the Doctor told him. "That's my only condition."

"Sir, I cannot see how the governing of house employees is any of your concern." The manager lifted a hand to signal to the Ogrons at the door.

"I want to wager for her!"The Salafian flicked his hand to stop the doormen. "Wager?" His thin eyebrow cocked, and his lips parted slightly, revealing perfectly blue teeth.

"All my winnings from last night. At two to one odds, that should pay off her debt to the casino."

The Salafian hesitated. His hand wavered in the air. "Add a guarantee that you'll never wager here again," he said. "We can't afford gamblers of your calibre."

The Doctor nodded. "Done!" And the manager waved the Ogrons back to the doors. Next to him, Mags let out a sigh.

The Doctor looked down at her. "Help me out of this, will you Mags?"

"Sure Major. I guess you're as ready as you'll ever be." She pulled off the jacket and took his shirt as he stripped it off. "Say, you're a muscular old gent!" she exclaimed in admiration. Then she became grim. "Come on, let's get you up on the platform."

As they pushed their way through the crowd, he turned back to her. "In the pocket of the jacket is a picture of my friend. Pass it around if you can before the match starts and afterward. Don't let the manager catch you."

"Right guv. Whatever you say." She fished it out and glanced at it. "Say Major!" she exclaimed in surprise. "I seen this bird!"

He stopped dead still and turned to her. The Tark champion was hoisted up on the platform and beckoned the Doctor to come up. The lights in the antechamber dimmed, and the shouting to the bet accountants became more frantic. "Where did you see her?"

"Right by the Master's ship. She come and tried to talk to me when I was lyin' in the ditch and bleedin'. Couple hours before you came."

He seized her shoulder. "Mags, why didn't you tell me?"

"You never asked me. You only asked me about him, about the Master. This is the first time I seen her picture."

He gave a quick nod, his face grim. "Do as I say then. Pass it around and take note of who else has seen her, but not during the match. We don't want to annoy them." The people were shouting for him to get to the platform. He turned and lifted his hands towards the planking above. Willing hands gave him a leg up, and he lightly scrambled up to the planks and stood. He smiled and nodded at the Tark champion, who smiled, nodded back, and flexed his impressive array of chest and shoulder muscles. The Doctor bowed slightly, and several people in the crowd laughed.

"Mother of Pearl but he's in for it," Mags said to nobody in particular.The Tark and the Doctor joined right hands in a tight grip, nodded to each other, and the match began."Remember, no elbows!" Mags shouted up to him, but the Doctor knew the rules for Dip Jhap. The Champion gave a jerk of his right hand to pull the Doctor in, and the Doctor came in slightly, slapped and missed with the left, and took a heavy slap from his opponent. He dropped at the knees and the next slap went over his head, but the champion pulled him in again to take advantage of his unsteady stance. To his--and everybody else's--surprise, the Doctor came in and turned completely around. He kept tight hold of the champion's hand, slammed into him with his back, pinning the pectoral hands and knocking the champion back into the pillar, and folded his right elbow over the champion's outer right arm, trapping the right arm between his own right arm and body. In the same turn, the Doctor threw his left hand back behind his ear and into the Tark's face.

Everybody in the crowd took in a gasp of surprise. This was highly unorthodox Dip Jhap. The Tark, pinned against the pillar behind the Doctor, quickly used his free left hand to slap the Doctor. The Doctor moved his head to avoid the worst of it, knocked the wrist down with his left hand, but did not catch it. Pushed with his back into the Tark and the Tark into the pole, the Doctor was ideally placed to see the crowd. Most of them were staring at him in open mouthed amazement.

The Tark slapped again, blindly, and used the distraction to try to throw the Doctor forward by lunging away from the pillar. It worked. The Doctor flew forward but kept the right arm pinned to his side, his back to the Tark's inner hands. The Tark caught the Doctor around the waist with his left arm, turned, and slammed him face first into the pillar.

But it allowed a brief moment for the Doctor to grasp the Tark's right arm in both hands. He twisted savagely, and the Tark went down under the arm lock and bellowed. The Doctor released the lock but kept hold of the right hand and swung backward into the Tark as the Tark rose, stunning him with another backhand slap. Again, the Doctor launched backward into him and pinned him to the pole. The Tark laughed in his ear. So far, the Doctor had gotten the worst of this strategy.

But the time lord used his feet. He slipped his left foot behind his opponent's left foot and kicked it forward. The champion yelled in surprise and dropped into an impossibly low crouch before catching himself. This time when he slapped with his left, the Doctor caught it and pinned it to his chest with his own left arm. Keeping the right arm pinned to his side with his right elbow, he grasped the Tark's left wrist with his right hand and sighed with relief.

"Get off!" the Tark shouted. "This isn't how you play Dip Jhap!"

"I think you should surrender!" the Doctor exclaimed, and gave him a backwards buffet with his left hand to drive home the point.

The Tark struggled to launch out from the pole again, but his stance was too low. The Doctor was pushed backward into him too hard.

"You can't outlast me!" the Tark shouted. The Doctor buffeted him again. These were not hard blows, but each one earned him a point.

"You don't hit hard enough! You'll never knock me out!"

"Mags!" the Doctor shouted. "What's the score?"

"You're up by two, Major!" she shouted back.

"Right old boy. This is the most humane thing to do." The Doctor suddenly released him and turned around into him. He drove the flat of his hand straight up into the underside of the Tark's jaw, to the same notch he had found in Mags to render her unconscious. The blow would pass for a slap, though it was the heel of the hand that struck. The Tark champion's head snapped back, and he sank to the platform. Thunderous applause and yells of praise greeted this conclusion to the fight. The Doctor stepped back, took a misstep, and fell off the platform and into the crowd.

Shouts and confusion followed, but several unwilling spectators broke his fall. Mags got to him, but he exclaimed, "Send that photograph round, Mags!" And she scurried away again. He tried to get to his feet, and several willing hands helped him up while money was passed back and forth over his head. Just as he was standing, a grip like iron clamped on his hair, stopping him. His arms were being held by people helping him up, and so he was helpless for an instant. A voice spoke in his ear.

"If you survive into the fifth ring, you shall come to my supper. I shall dine on you, Doctor."

"What was that?" He tried to turn around, but the milling crowd was pushing him towards the bar for celebratory drinks, and the people hauling him up still had him. He finally pulled free and looked around, but whoever had spoken was either part of the crowd again, or gone.

Episode Four is now online!
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