Categories > Games > Kingdom Hearts > But That Was In Another Country

if i look hard enough into the setting sun

by spiderflower 3 reviews

Sometimes the good guys don't win against unstoppable odds. Yuffie Kisaragi and the last stand: before Traverse Town, there was the Planet, and before Sora, there was AVALANCHE. Chapter two; the ...

Category: Kingdom Hearts - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Cloud, Yuffie - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2005-06-28 - Updated: 2005-06-28 - 5156 words

But That Was In Another Country

she says we gotta hold on to what we got
it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
we got each other and that's a lot for love -
(we'll give it a shot)

- bon jovi, "livin' on a prayer"

ii. - if i look hard enough into the setting sun

It was only when we were a couple miles away, moving to the forest and out of the flatlands, that Tifa really realised what she was doing. It was four in the morning: she slammed her foot down on the brake in the truck - jolting me and Barret around in the back something ferocious - Cloud skimming in the grey sleet on his motorbike as she opened the door and leapt out. (This is not good Truck Safety, especially when you consider we had all the extra petrol in the back. And /me/, which is the main thing.) Her eyes were huge and her fingers were shaking. Marlene was asleep in the front seat belted up doubly over like a mental patient, and Tifa stared back at the dark city wringing her ungloved hands all the while.

"Get back in the car," Cloud said. (Me in the back of the truck didn't have to squint through the glare of the headlights to see his face: he was about as comforting as a kick in the head.)

"How the hell could we have been so selfish?" Her voice was muffled by the snow, and the nearby sea, everything cold and cool and forever. "How the hell could we have been so blind? There's children back there. God, there's children! What if more come - "

"More are coming. That's why we're leaving."

The look that Tifa gave him totally emasculated winter until the end of time. It was so cold it came out the other side of the spectrum and thawed things. "And we warned /nobody/. We've left all those people there to die."

"There was no time."

"There's always time!"

"Tiff," Barret said, and it was low and quiet and obscenely guilty rumble, "look, honeychile, we'll jes' get Marlene somewhere safe-like, then we'll come back and kick us some shadowy ass - "

"We're not coming back."

"Shut it wit' the /fuckin' mouth/, Strife."

What came out of Tifa's chapped lips was a snarl. Her hair was all knotted up and there was a horrible carrot-coloured scarf around her neck, and her bulky jacket covered her muscles so that she was turned from Punch Kick Hellacious Death Queen to Willowy Runway Model, and I totally could have pissed myself at that sound. "Don't 'honey' me, Barret Wallace. I can't believe we've been so arrogant/. AVALANCHE my ass. Cloud, give me your motorcycle, and this /isn't a request. You turn me down and you'll wish you were still back there - "

He kicked off the ground to pull up alongside her, long legs off his bike, turning towards the city - a blot away in the distance - without even gesturing. He still moved like he was a glass figurine, stiffly, unwilling, his motorbike louder and gassier and more emotive than he was. "It's too late. It's already begun."

We all looked: for a moment the horizon was just as it ever had been, dark and clear like a picture, the wind whipping up snow every so often straight into our faces like blue whiplash. And then, just like the edge of a piece of paper when it catches alight, there were sparks: just like flashes, foxfire, unmistakable Fire and not just fire with the little f, the house at the end of the street ablaze. Tifa was suddenly scuffling in the bag at the end of Cloud's angsty black goth bike for a pair of binoculars, banging them for a moment until they turned on night-vision, and whatever she saw made her cry out sharply in numb horror. Cloud took them from her, lifting them to his own eyes, just nodding once before passing them unspoken to Barret; I died of impatience, in the wake of the gunner's silence, before they were finally passed to me.

In the flames of the house were silhouetted dark things. In the flames of the house were silhouetted flying dark things, who leapt and danced in their silly jumping gait, before all of them were dwarfed by one freaking massive huge round dark thing that lumbered squat in front of the conflagration before disappearing away so that I couldn't see it. They were innumerable. They were /airborne/. I put the binoculars down, in my lap, and gave a long whistle.

"Three words," I said. "What. The. And 'fuck' for extra emphasis."

"They eat part of the living," Cloud said, still dead and dull. "The heart. Whatever - and whoever - they eat becomes like them. I saw one eat a cat and do it. They'll devour the whole town, and then they'll have an army of five hundred, give or take. And then look for more."

"Spike." Even Barret sounded all hollow, like his insides had been scooped out by someone using both hands at once. And Barret could sound angry just if he yawned, so this was a new experience to relish. "You knew this an' you never said shit - "

"I did." It was almost thoughtful, nearly dreamy, both of the blonde's hands shoved into his jacket pockets. "I told you both. I told you all the time."

The worst part of that, of course, was that it was true. And all Tifa could do was silently pile back into the pickup, with Cloud restarting his engine, and drive off into the night while Kalm burnt behind us. I watched it become a growing orange speck on the horizon, smaller and smaller as we left it, until the night was all dark again and we could see nothing.

I guess Tifa and Barret had to steel themselves to be used to it ages ago. Back in AVALANCHE days they used to squash people flat professionally when they were eco-terrorists, blowing up The Man. Tifa ground her teeth so loud I could hear it in the back of the truck, but she didn't turn it around and jet back to Kalm purely on the force of suicidal frenzy, so that was okay.

I think I was okay with it because I'm me, and it wasn't my town. Cid always told me I looked out for number one so hard that I could scratch a living on a rock, which I always kind of looked at as a compliment, because hooray! I'm Queen of the Rock! Well, I mean, shit, I didn't bother to stew over it until later, and then I had the laundry list of best excuses anyone could ever have: if I got turned into Shadow Me, heartless and yelloweyed, ready and armed with the Conformer, then things were really fucked and if I was going to turn horribly evil couldn't I at least do it under my own steam.

At first I thought we were pretty much just running to run/, to get the hell out of there (which was more than fine by me). Much to the disgust of everybody else, who were running on pure heartrushing panic, I feigned sleep most of the first leg of that journey: when I 'woke up' - okay, maybe I'd slept a /little - we'd gone offroad, stopping on a jolty mud path, deep in the hills and the forests. Pit stop. Barret had taken Marls off to go answer the call of nature, ostensibly, and Tifa was under a tree talking very softly into the PHS. Cloud just sat on his bike looking into the shadows like he wanted to cut up the night, very still, very sure, very mental patient. I yawned and rolled over. This holiday /sucked/.

"Are we there yet?"

"No," said Cloud.

"How long are we stopping?"

"Too long," said Cloud.

"Thanks, Captain Sunshine. Gaa-aaa-/wwwd/. Where are we going, anyway? Here's my vote. Let's go to the Gold Saucer! I want to cheat at the card tables just once before I die. I am so pissed at you for giving Golderina away to Choco Billy for absolutely nothing/, by the way, if we'd kept her racing we could all have been /gillionaires by now and I could have a house made out of materia - "

"We're going to Junon." He was so still you didn't believe he was talking if you looked at him: in the night his mouth was a dark gash and his eyes were worse, and his shoulders never moved. "We're going to die. We should head for the mountains until we can get airborne. If we can't, we'll stockpile. The higher and colder we go the less heat we'll give off."

"Whoa, thanks, but if you think I'm living in the hills with you for a year you're /dead wrong/."

"Year? I give us six months."

"Okay, correction, if you think I'm living up in the hills with you for six months you're dead wrong."

"Have you ever wondered," he said, quite dreamy, "if all of this is real or not?"

"No, and talking to you hurts me in my brain-place," sez me. "If you think we're going to lose against the invasion of the Black Bees from Mars, you can go put your head in a bucket and have Barret hit it with a stick. I mean, hello, /Meteor/."

"We didn't defeat Meteor." Cloud didn't turn around, but he said it more than sharply: enough for his head to tilt a little, golden spikes everywhere. He always looked like mobile lightning. "And Meteor was just a falling star. Meteor was dead rock. These have... voices."

"Yeah, well, totally dead dead rock now and only you hear the voices. If we'd been readier we could've taken Kalm. Just a little bit readier. I told Tifa ten times we shouldn't have given Knights of the Round to that museum - "

"Nobody likes an 'I told you so'," the lady in question said wearily, shutting down the small antenna on her PHS, looking grim and cold like a mother bear. "Besides, we would have probably just levelled Kalm. Where's Barret and Marlene? We're going. We have to rendezvous with Reeve's people."

Oh, so that was who was on the phone. Made sense. Maybe she was getting financial advice. (We didn't see much of Reeve any more. This wasn't because he didn't dig us or anything, even though it's kind of creepy that Cait Sith was his animatronic alter-ego, and I got birthday presents that were admittedly pretty awesome. But being President takes up your time, apparently.) "Why can't we just get Cid to come and pick us up?"

"Because nobody can get through to Rocket Town."

"They'll have gotten to Rocket Town."

She didn't even look at him like she wanted to uppercut him, which was pretty restrained if you asked me. Actually, Tifa's dark eyes were beginning to hold a little of Cloud's; not in full entirety, a rock couldn't hold that much stone, but something of the dull horrified acceptance. It goes in stages. Denial. Acceptance. (And my special bonus stage, 'terrified adrenaline super-punch hyperactivity', but that has saved my ass for a while now.) "They've gotten to Junon. They've gotten everywhere. The little chiggers work fast. Reeve's working on it."

"There's nothing he can do."

This time, she did give him the uppercut look. Then she did what she always did: clasped the flap of skin at the bridge of her nose, sucked in a breath, and counted to ten. When her dark head tilted back up, she looked less ragged and ready for violence. "Are you hungry?"


"Me! I am! Ask me!"

"Look in the blue zip-up pack, Miss Bottomless-Pit I-Didn't-Ask-You, there's last night's leftovers in the tubs - are you thirsty? Are you sure you're warm enough?"


She came over and fussed fruitlessly with his jacket, buttoning up another button as if to clasp him inside more firmly. Cloud bore this up with the patience born of his mind being ten million miles away out doing ecstatic headgripping dances with the stars, or something. Tifa fiddled with his gloves, and then she patted him on the cheek; he blinked at her very slowly, like a toad. "I just - I worry - "


It's times like that when you can't believe your first kiss was this guy.

"Where are Barret and Marlene?" she said briskly. Tifa had gone through it all before. Tifa damn well deserved a holiday with cabana boys on a sunny beach, with drinks with fake paper Wutaian parasols in them made on the cheap. "They should have been back by now. I told him not to go too far."

"Barret's a good dad, but it's pretty impossible to make a five-year-old piss on command," I said, regretfully setting down my cold greasy fried chicken on a plastic tublid and sucking on my fingers hard before I put my gloves back on. I hopped to my feet and the pickup creaked angrily as cartwheeled to the edge of the trailer, upside-down, walking myself along on my hands. (The forest looked just as creepy and horrible upside down. Everything looked a damn sight more creepy and horrible that night.) "Let me go get 'em, Tiff. I need to stretch my legs anyway."

I strolled amiably into the darkness, just to show the darkness what the hell was what, and broke into the tangly undergrowth where I had seen Barret and Marls disappear earlier. It wasn't exactly hard to track them, because Nature and Barret were never meant to be at odds and he flattened half the forest in an attempt to find Marlene the perfect bush, but it didn't mean that the entire thing wasn't making my skin jump slightly. We were all carrying our weapons, now. Conformer was holstered to my back, bright and gleamy with materia, and you can bet your sorry ass I kept on looking at it every five minutes just to make sure it was /still there/.

"Baaaaa~rret! Tifa's getting pissy! We gotta go!"

Silence. And then a small child's scream.

I ran towards the sound and the forest melted away from me, inconsequential, already pulling the windblades out of the loose straps as I barrelled - all heavy boots and jacket, no damn good - towards where I had heard the noise. There was another sound - go east, you moron, left of the berry tree, go - and one round of Barret's gunarm, a broken-off curse, and I stopped dead and skidded on the snow in the heavy evergreen clearing.

"Aww, man/, you guys nearly gave me a /heart attack!"

The scream had not been of pain or fear: it had been borne totally from annoyance, an indignant /eeek/, and Barret had obviously been as rattled as I was. Half a tree had been felled from gunshot fire. Marlene, red-faced, was rearranging her pants primly and glaring daggers at the intruder, who was resettling his tacky paper crown and looking equally peeved at what had probably almost been his untimely death.

"You think you got a heart attack? Yikes! We just got shot at!"

"Cram it, furball," the heavyset man growled, pulling Marlene's hood over her dark hair. "You damn lucky I got these reflexes! Hell you doin' spyin' on my baby girl, anyhow?!"

"I was NOT spying - "

"You're rude," Marlene said furiously. "You're a rude cat and a rude Mog! I hope you get rocks thrown atta you an' you die - "

not the things not the things not the things

Cait Sith's mog did a stamping dance, apparently in distress, while the king cat himself jumped to his little feet and did a flailing dance of robotic feline impatience. "I got at least nineteen lives, kid! Where's the celebration? Where's the fireworks? No 'oh, my! It's our saviour, Cait Sith!'? No 'how did he brave untold dangers just to see us, Cait Sith!'? No - "

just the stupid cat not the things

"Can we get a move on? Cloud's got Omnislash trigger fingers and if I squint, Cait, you totally look like you wanna be one with the planet - "

"That ain't a way I'd like to go," the fuzzball said fervently. "No sir. I'm a good cat. Brought up right. Never hacked up furballs. Never gave a really bad fortune. Never told someone their wife was ugly to their face - "

"Hell's he doin' here, anyway - "

and even so

"Can we just get back to the truck? I don't LIKE it here!"

Unfortunately, it was my outburst, and not, say, Marlene's. That stopped them all, and the area was so wide open for Cait to make snide remarks that I practically saw stars in his eyes so I added hastily: "My parents were killed by a forest when I was a baby. Wild forests. Yeah. Wild, roaming forests with killing on their minds, just like this one."

"You gettin' crazier every day," Barret said. "Yo' daddy sent us a letter last month."

"Naw, that old goon ain't my dad, I'm really a fairy princess!"

"Ha, ha! You aren't neither, kiddo, you got more puppy fat than a kennel - "

"Marls, if you wanna throw a rock at him, I totally give you full permission - "

We got back to the camp. Eventually. While Tifa fussed over the smaller two of the returning three miscreants and fired questions at the robotic one of the pair like an interrogator on mako crack, I coolly strolled over to a tree and had a faint puke before coolly strolling back. The adrenaline was starting to get to me. I wanted it to be daylight. I wanted to wake up and have it all be a weird nightmare. See, I can find things novel, quickly, but then I don't find them novel any more even /quicker/.

I'm not saying I had some type of creepy radar to know what we were up against. I didn't. Oh, I didn't/. I knew bull/shit/. But there's something in the survival mechanism of human beings that keeps 'em alive - the ones who aren't totally retarded. Don't touch that brightly-coloured snake. Don't shove your hand into that humming hive of death bees. Don't trust the man with the eyes that don't smile. And get the fuck /away from the little black shadow thing that only the crazy man saw, who ate a heart, and destroyed a town while you ran like a rabbit.

Of course, well, I'm /me/, top-heavy like a fox with the body of a /fairy ninja princess shut up/, and guys like Barret have all the danger sense numbers of room temperature. Maybe that's why -

" - yeah, in that beat-up truck, it's an hour's drive away," Cait was saying. "Hope you didn't pay too much for it, 'cause we're ditching this popsicle stand from that point, hot stuff! No looking back! No looking to either side!"

"So where're we goddamn lookin', then?" asked Barret, who was looking disgruntled, because it sure as hell wasn't Cloud who Cait Sith thought was hot stuff. Or Marlene. Or himself. "We gotta head somewhere where we can start makin' a plan of attack, right, we ain't AVALANCHE for nothin'. I ain't never gonna run my ass away from no more towns."

(Tifa, of course, lit up like a fistful of neon lights. The look he gave her was pretty sick.)

"Run?" The toy cat was hopping on one foot for aggrieved emphasis. "Run? Running is over! Like heck we can run! We have to hide/. We can't do ANYthing right now. We got these fleas in every major city and village on the whole Planet! We got police with /flame throwers out on the streets of Junon! You wanna see the pictures of Midgar? Black is the new black! There's five of us! There's a million, jillion, billion of them!"

"There's eight of us," the long-haired brunette said, very quietly.

"/Five/," Cait insisted. "You heard us before. Rocket Town's down, we still have the reports coming in, so no go on Highwind. Ol' Red's still alive - well, he was half an hour ago - and his message pretty much was 'SOS!!' so he could be wet red /animal chow/. And if they got him, they got the Huge Materia, so we're gonna catch it hot. Tall, Dark and Depressed isn't answering his PHS, either, so phooey on him - it's just us, ladies and gentlemen! Kiss the ones you love! Kick the ones you don't!"

No Cid. No Red. No Vincent.

"/Wait/," I said, desperate, before I knew what I was even saying, what my mouth knew and my brain really didn't but was running to catch up - "wait, wait, where's my dad? Where's Godo? What's happened to Wutai? Are they okay? They haven't got this stuff, right? No way could these things sneak up on a city full of /ninjas/."

"Hold your horses," the fortune-teller commanded. "Lord G said he was evacuating last we heard. I told you, nobody's left out of this, even Ninjaopolis. He buzzed us, then the lights went out, just like everywhere else. No good trying to get there now. Heck, no way to get there now - unless you got a pair of wings or something you ain't told us about?"

"But Godo - "

"Let's go to the rendezvous point," Cloud interrupted shortly. "We haven't got the time for this. We've been sitting here too long."

And there was nothing to say to that. Even Tifa just sort of reached over to touch my shoulder, and Barret avoided my eyes, and Cait Sith did a half-caper on that big dumb robotic Mog. There was no response to Cloud being an asshole, because he was never so much a jackass as when he was probably right. (Nothing except swearing, or stomping your foot. I kind of indulged in the last one in the hopes it would make me feel better as we all depressedly shoved ourselves in the truck, muttering to each other, cold and cranky. As expected, it didn't. It did make my socks wet, though.)

"Can I put on the radio?"

Reeve's rendezvous was an improvement on the truck. (Cloud had refused to part with his motorbike. However, there was boot space. There was a lot of boot space/. There were also fire decals, which were totally mystifying, because it hadn't had fire decals the last time we had, and why did Tifa give /everything of ours that was cool to either museums or Reeve? If I'd known that the car was going to be given to the Turks, I would've melted it down to be made into a hot statue of me.)

"If you put your greedy, filthy, greasy little ninja hands anywhere near me I'll break 'em at the wrist," Reno said tenderly. "Back /off/, sneakthief. I'm packin' battery, okay? Okay? Right, Rude, buddy?"


"Rude thinks I am cute/." My now-bare feet were placed squarely on the back seat where Cloud was, which meant my butt was there too, but it was Cloud so it didn't matter; Barret was there with Marlene asleep in his lap and Tifa's tired dark head buried halfway in his fireball tattoo and probably drooling all over him, and I couldn't see what Cait was doing which was never good. I was leaning into the front part of the buggy compartment: everybody's two favourite Turks apart from Tseng and Elena and Vincent (well, you know, in theory) and lighting up their lives in passive aggression that Rude got to ride shotgun and I didn't. Just to help Rude along, I pulled off his sunglasses and put them on my head, and began giving the shiny back of his skull erotic kisses which had him suddenly swearing so hard that the glasses fell off my head from vibration and into his lap. I was trying desperately not to think of my father. "Like /this and this and this - "

Reno actually guffawed loudly and mirthfully until Rude fixed his sunglasses on and gave him a Look, where he tried to turn it into a cough and take one hand off the wheel to smack in my general direction. I dodged nimbly, like a beautiful butterfly. "We sure as shit aren't paid enough to deal with annoying jailbait, Kisaragi, so get your butt in the back seat."


"'Course, if it was Tifa hanging over here, rrowr/, I'd be payin' /Reeve - "

"You both are swayed by massive monstrous stripper boobs," I argued hotly, fully aware that if my own got any smaller there would be concave holes in my chest that would retain water when I hopped in the bath. "Besides, everyone knows that bigger than a handful is a /waste/."

"And what a waste," said Rude, and Reno took one hand off the wheel to give him a high-five. Men. (Admittedly Tifa was not so much a waste by now as an environmental concern, but /jeez/. I was at this point egotistical enough to think that people should love me for my personality, in which case nobody should have loved me at all.)

"I hope you guys clean that crazy cattle prod after you play sexy man-games with each other. I hope I get an invite to the wedding. Do I? Can I be bridesmaid? Can I catch the bouquet? Can I put on the radio yet?"

They used their special agent training to ignore me, which was total abuse of the system. I drummed my fingers on the backs of the hard seats and squinted out the windshield to try to see what was ahead: they had the lights going at full blast, which probably wasn't a good idea now that I look back on it, but considering we were going faster than the buggy ever had (except that one time involving Tifa and me in what had obviously been a hot rush of so much testosterone I'm surprised she didn't reach over and fondle my thigh or something as she slammed down the accelerator) I figure we didn't really have to worry. Well.

"Whoa, whoa, fuck is that - "

"Nine o'clock," Rude said.

We only got one flash of it before it hit. A little hopping blackfrog, eyes catching white from the strength of our lights, antenna twitching just a little and knitting its hands together as it stared blankly at the buggy. At first I thought that Reno was swerving wildly to avoid it, but then I realized he was swerving so he could hit it, and you better believe it flew like a pierced airball into the underbrush. The noise that he gave after that was part triumph and part disgust and the buggy engine purred with him; I would have admired it more on the spot if my heart hadn't been in my mouth just from seeing another one of the damn things again, confirmation of the nightmare. The only noise in that car for a little while was all of our breathing, and the buggy cantering off merrily into the sunset.

"Shit, I'm gettin' to hate those things. That's going to take a while to get out of the treads."

"Gross," I said eventually. "Cool, but /yeech/. You did it wrong, though."


"You should have gone back and reversed over it."

"This car ain't stopping for the fucking Cetra Messiah, Kisaragi, but point taken."

"I thought we weren't taking a route with fleas." Rude again. (With his voice carrying a slight inflexion, so you knew he meant something if he was trying to /emote/.)

"We /aren't/."

The other Turk thought about it for a while. "Fuck."

"Fleas? Who thought up that one?" I stuck my head forward a bit so that I could see their faces better, twisting a little in a way that meant a car accident would leave me seriously deformed, but hey. "Do we get a dinner coupon if we think up a better name? I bet they have a creepy alien name with like no vowels - "

"Heartless," said a graveyard voice from the shadows of the back seat. (Guess who.)

"That has /vowels/, that's not exciting. That's cheesy."

"It's not a suggestion," Cloud said. "That's who they are. The Heartless. They don't have hearts. They want more."

"Where'd you hear that one, Strife?" Reno.

"The darkness told me," Cloud said.

Silence in the car again. The other two were so totally nonplussed that there were no plusses in the car forever after. They gave each other a heterosexual lifemate series of communicative eyebrow wriggles and shoulder movements, which I couldn't quite translate, and probably didn't want to anyway. "We could push him out now that Tifa's asleep," I suggested, sotto voce/. "He does this stuff /all the time."

"Heard dat," said another voice from the backseat. "Shut yo' mouth, girl, nobody deserve bein' pushed out to them Heartless things. Nobody."

"Aww, Barret - "

"'Sides, anyone pushes Strife out, it'll gonna be me."

"Thanks," said the man in question, and I couldn't actually tell whether it was sarcasm or not. You never can. And after that, Barret was quiet or asleep, I couldn't tell and I really didn't want to poke. So I turned back to the two stooges.

"Can I be a Turk now that I've shown my loyalty to the Company?"

"No/," they chorused, flat and slightly horrified, which I took total offense to and never forgot and they'll be totally sorry, because wouldn't I look /awesome in that outfit? I could wear a natty little business suit and have a gun. Maybe my business suit would be an arresting kind of grey or something. I would be ten million times hotter than even Elena. I would have sunglasses with rectangular frames, really /cool/, really forbidding, and I'd change my name to something short and terrifying. Like Blade Kisaragi. How cool is that? /Blade Kisaragi/. However, I swear that I had never thought elaborately about this at length ever or even daydreamed momentarily about leaving the noble career of ninja for totally notfun Turkhood, so don't get the wrong idea. Yeah.

"Gawd, fine, who wants to be a dumb old Turk anyway? It'd ruin my image. Besides, Reno looks like a businessman who wandered into a /bondage lounge/."

"Hey, funny you said that, actually - "

Another screaming swerve. This time there was another bump, and another, until the others had woken up in the backseat and Marlene made a sort of angry kitten mew of fear and discontent, and the dirt road was one long track of black tar splatters. Reno gripped the wheel so tightly that his knuckles were pale, and I saw that he had freckles on the backs of his hands, which I saved for future reference. There was absolute dead dull silence except for the bump, bump, bump/, and then stone cold nothing when we stopped. And that time, it was /him who went:


"Let's fucking jet," said Rude, and I wholeheartedly agreed.
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