Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

14. Business as Usual

by Myshu 0 reviews

Business as Usual

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Freya Crescent - Published: 2007-11-01 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 4863 words - Complete

14. Business as Usual

Luth's head was still swimming (and his cheeks smoldering) on the first airship back to Lindblum. The previous night's... incident was just another wacky escapade as far as Boss paid it no mind, and so long as Luth didn't bring it up either, it was ready to recede from their memories. "Don't ask, don't tell," was a just another quibble Luth was raised on.

There was an uninteresting delay at South Gate Junction that killed the rest of their day, which they spent bunked together in a shipyard motel.

Luth was slouched up on a couple of pillows and browsing TV stations from one of the twin beds. Their room was a tidy, straightforward allowance with a slip of a window, barely enough room to walk, a few cigarette burns in the coarse, knotted carpet and yellowed, peeling floral wallpaper. On the nightstand next to him sat a telephone and a courtesy card with instructions for dialing out-of-town. A pang of homesickness struck, and he wanted to call his parents. He didn't know where to begin, though.

"Hello Mother, how have you been? Yes, it's been a few months. No, I haven't done anything about finishing my Dragon Knight training. No, I don't have Lady Freya's diary. I'm afraid I lost it, I'm sorry. Yes ma'am, I'm doing fine. I'm working for a Genome now. He uses his company to traffic illegal drugs for the mob. The other mob bosses were out to kill us, but we killed them first. Last night I got drunk, broke into a rich family's mansion and kissed another man. How's Father?"

No, it wouldn't work.

Luth sighed, changed the channel and tried to forget about the things he'd left behind. Boss abruptly announced that he was bored and jumped into the bathroom. Not wanting to consider the implications there, Luth opted for oblivious until Boss reappeared, approached the other bed haltingly and stumbled into it, looking dazed. Luth let him lie there and stare blankly at the ceiling for a commercial or two before enquiring, "You okay, sir?"

No response. Luth tried louder, "Sir?"

Still nothing. He didn't honestly feel like getting up, but Luth grudged his laziness and moved to sit by his roommate. "This isn't funny, sir," Luth chided as he waved his hand above Boss's nose.

He didn't even blink. A flash of genuine concern was replaced with a glower as Luth clicked his tongue in disgust. "Tch, you took something, didn't you?"

Boss finally came around, his glassy, dilated eyes blinking in slow motion. "Mmm," he simpered, "I think I overdosed again."

"On /what/?" Luth didn't bother waiting for the answer. He stepped into the bathroom and skimmed the garbage, though the only trace he found was a washed-out plastic zip-bag.

"Tomb dusters," Boss supplied at length.

"Sir, no..." Luth's arms fell to his sides, at a loss. He knew about tomb dusters (even if it was mostly propaganda), and they were called that on the street for a reason. "Where did you even get them?"

"Mrmn, you do realize we just left Treno, right? Is my /business/," Boss said pointedly, his voice waterlogged. "Ohhh... I'm slipping. This is great."

Luth groaned and parked on the edge of the bed, his muzzle sinking into his hands. It was too early to deal with this; the six o'clock news wasn't even on yet. "You're not helping my headache, sir."

Behind him, Boss rolled onto his belly with one hissing, taut shudder. Luth steadied a hand on the nape of his neck, searching for a pulse. "Are you going to be okay?"

His tail flicked in a spasm, and Boss sniffed into the covers. "Psh. You know the answer to that."

"I'd like to hear it again."

"I'ma jus' fine. You don't hafta do anything. Go watch your show."

"You're cold, and shaking."

"No kiddin'."

"In case you can't tell, I'm very cross with you right now, sir."

"Oh? As a mattera fact, I couldn't. Are you going to nag me?"

"I should, but I don't know how. You're just impossible."

"Tha's the spirit."

Giving up, Luth went to the closet, took out a spare blanket, draped it over his enfeebled boss and resigned to recline next to him.

Boss talked for a while, though it was just delirious prattling. "When we ge'back, we've got a lottum work ta do."

"Why's that, sir?" Luth humored him, one eye trying to catch the end of /Ragtime's Guessing Gauntlet/.

"You'm... I gotta show you how to... howta... mrn."

"Hmm? Don't worry about it right now, sir."

Boss uneasily complied, fading into a silent spell. The grey clouds outside had turned black by the time he recovered enough to speak coherently. The Genome was then propped up on the room's shortage of pillows and leaning on Luth's side, foggily watching a late-nite movie.

"Y'know... I treat you like crap and you keep hanging around. You don't have some kind of masochistic inferiority complex... thingy, do you?"

Luth bit his lip, failing to digest that possibility. "Um, no..."

"Then why do you put up with me?"

"Sometimes I wonder, sir," he said wryly.

"This isn't some kind of retarded hero worship, is it?"

"No, sir. I'm pretty sure not. It just feels like the right thing to do."

"It's pity, then?"

"No, I just... I don't know, sir. You don't need a reason to do the right thing, do you?"

Boss's head lolled against the wall with a hollow thump. "I see the irony, and it hurts."

"I think that's just from hitting your head there. And we might be friends, is all, sir."

Boss wiggled closer, threading his hand through the crook of Luth's arm. "Noooo, I know what you are. You're a bro."

Luth scratched his nose, befuddled. "A... bro?"

"Yeah, a real bro." He almost sat up straight, wobbling with the effort. "Hey, uh... do I make you nervous?" he asked, his voice throat-deep and roiling quiet, like a wolf.

"Uh..." Luth didn't know how to answer--maybe that was a yes.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe..." He shifted a little, his composure crumbling. "Maybe you make me nervous, too?"

Luth was dumbfounded. The Burmecian was quite possibly the most unassuming person in the world--how could he put anyone, much less the impetuous Genome, out of ease? "What? Me? Why?"

"I don't know," Boss admitted, wetting his lips and squirming like a stuck grub. "But for some reason I really care about what you think of me."

Luth swallowed dryly. "Don't worry, you're... not in your right mind now, sir. You should rest."

"Heh..." He mumbled some garbled refute into Luth's shoulder and drifted off to sleep, just like that.

Luth gave up his ill temper with a muddled sigh, gingerly reached over to turn out the light and attempted to watch the rest of the film--though he couldn't. He couldn't stop thinking about the way he couldn't stay mad at Boss.


He wasn't kidding about working. As soon as day broke, they ate a snappy breakfast, returned to central and hit the office, where Boss sat Luth down at the desk and began to instruct him on the more delicate company procedures, things usually delegated to Sheryl or, in rare cases, handled by Boss himself. There was a lot of writing, stamping and tabulating, and more often than not Luth's left hand was hovering over a calculator.

"I want you to be ready to handle anything," Boss explained. "There's a lot to running this place, but it's not that hard if you know what you're doing. Just like any job, right?"

"If you say so, sir..." Luth dubiously agreed, and he poured over documents and ledgers until Boss grew bored for him and called it a day.

Luth spent the evening by himself, undergoing a different brand of training. It had been a while since he'd practiced his exercise routine, the one perfected in Burmecia Palace under his instructors. He took his old halberd to the roof and went through the motions, watching the late summer sun simmer into twilight and then drown in the city's dusky nightglow.

He liked the roof. He discovered it while exploring the stairwell one odd day (he figured he could get some extra exercise running up and down the nine floors). The rubble-paved, cement-boxed open space was isolated and serene in the way only a high, breezy peak could be, and he was a little too self-conscious to work out in a gym around a bunch of other people. Besides, he liked to be alone with his thoughts sometimes.

He stayed up later than he expected, but he was satisfied with his loose, sore limbs as he hobbled down the stairs and back to his home floor. Luth was rounding the corner just past the elevator when he spotted a tangle of legs, arms and blonde hair, like a giant flaxen fly on the wall. It took a moment to recall the girl's name: Susan, the "therapist."

"I'm gonna eat you up like a jelly donut," Boss purred into her neck as one nimble hand unbuttoned her blouse and the other slipped down her waist, curling around the belt of her denim shorts. Susan dwarfed him by a foot--Luth remembered that he liked his women taller, and then he felt gross for even knowing that.

She threw her head back, cackling at the silly line. "Hahaha. That is the least erotic thing I have ever heard."

"Shuddup, I'm not trying that hard."

"Well, aren't we touchy tonight? What's the matter, little boss?"

"Mnh..." he mumbled into her bra, looking about to undo the front clasp with his /teeth/. "Just a little lonely."

She stroked his hair, brushing a few strands behind an ear. "Mn-hmn? What's a cute little gillionaire like yourself got any business being lonely?"

"Money and looks don't buy happiness, babe."

"Heh. I wish I knew what you meant."

"I've got a pretty penny for you if you'll keep me company tonight." He threw her a reaching glance, eyes full of pouty need, like a puppy. If he was acting (and Luth had no doubt), it was a first-rate performance. Luth would never have the gall to speak to a woman like that--it was one way he and Boss would never see eye-to-eye.

"Heheh, you scamp." Susan didn't seem to mind.

Boss spared a second out of her bosom to pass Luth a wink and a wave. "You wanna play with us, Lu?" Susan, following his lead, giggled lewdly and blew him a kiss. Luth, startled by the scene and then by being caught watching, blushed and rushed by the pair, retreating into his room.

He faintly heard Boss chortling after him. "He's so cute, I love 'im."

"Mmm, even more than me?" Susan tested him, her voice dripping with suggestion.

"Nooot at the moment," he judiciously replied, and Luth made a point not to hear any more as he went to bed.


The next workday was more of the same. Luth was perusing the fine print on some tax forms while Boss sat on the sofa, smoking a cigarette under a cracked window.

Luth flipped a page and remarked casually, "You should quit smoking, sir. It's bad for your health."

Boss gave him a hard, disbelieving look, and Luth remembered whom he was talking to. "Oh... right. Carry on, sir."

"Ah, Lu." Boss flicked the nub of his cigarette out the window. "Haven't you heard? Everything's bad for your health. A friend once told me he's in a race to see which kills him first: the cops or lung cancer. You can't live your life afraid of dying."

"No offense, sir, but that's easy for you to say."

Boss feigned injury. "Oh, hey now. Not to sound like a nagging old geezer, but I was your age once. I knew what it was like to fear the reaper."

"Was it ever scary during the war, sir?"

"There you go, asking about that stuff again. Sure it was, like hell. There were lots of close calls. I worried about my friends a lot. I could've relaxed, though. They were all really strong--way stronger than me."

"I wouldn't say that, sir. At least, Lady Freya didn't."

Boss stared out the window, no comment on the late Crescent forthcoming. "...You know, I never really smoked until she died."

"Who, sir?"

"My wife."

Luth tipped his ears curiously. "Which one?"

The reminder crossed his features with a twinge. "My second."

A deli deliveryman knocked, bringing some cheer back to the room with a pair of sandwiches and some soda. Boss set the lunch bag on the desk and was about to unwrap their selection when the office phone buzzed.

He picked it up, and Luth watched and listened with interest. "Yo. ... Candy? Candy the pizza girl?" Alarm crept into his tone, setting Luth on edge. "Why did you let her up? ... We have sandwiches. You just let the sandwich guy up. Why would I order a pizza--Oh very funny, Sheryl, I am NOT--" He pulled away from the handset, surprised. "Bitch hung up on me." He flung it down with an exasperated growl. "Argh, my love for that woman burns like hot, hot hate."

"Uh, pizza girl?" Luth wondered cautiously.

Boss rubbed his temples. "It's my jailbait curse, and she's on her way."

"Jailbait curse?"

"Well, I shouldn't call it that, because 'jailbait' implies some kind of attractiveness, and she's, uh... You'll see."

"I don't get it, sir..."

He sat on the rim of his desk and steepled his fingers, brewing a plan. "I know how to handle this. ...Sorta." There was a wounded curl to his brow as he turned to Luth and asked, "I'm not getting 'pudgy,' am I?"

Luth put up his hands, tactfully backing off the subject. To his relief, a visitor barged in, the door noisily rattling shut after her. Judging by the hat and tacky uniform, she must've been the "pizza girl," though there wasn't a pizza box in sight. Candy was a reedy, freckled imp in carrot-orange pigtails, pink sneakers and matching braces, and the only thing faster than her bouncing heels was her mouth.

"Mr. U!" (Luth mouthed "Mr. U...?" in bemusement.) "Oh my God, I just had to come by and see if you were alright because you haven't ordered any pizza since January 3rd and I know you like the hand-tossed Triple-M pizza for lunch every Wednesday except you stopped was it because of that note I left in the box it wasn't that bad I mean I didn't mean it like that, I know I crossed a line but it was the way I felt and my gramma always tells me to be honest, well I mean just that one time at Uncle Tommy's wake--"

"Slow down, tiger," Boss checked her.

Candy drew a deep, nasally breath and resumed. "Right. But I had to come speak to you myself because it's been so long and I haven't heard from you--I mean, I didn't scare you off, did I? I don't want to do that I mean I'm not like that girl and I just wanted to know if you read the note and what you think about it and maybe if you want to maybe, maybe think the same way I do? Or try?"

Boss pinched his nose. "Geez..."

"Oh, please--"

"Please what/?" he flared at her. "You're what, fifteen? Sixteen? You realize that I am way, way, /way too old for you, right? It's pretty much illegal. And wrong. Wrong first, then illegal. Don't want to confuse you, there."

"I'll be sixteen next month and my mom's throwing a party all my cousins will be there--"

Boss held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, hold it. Just, hold your breath. I'll go to your party."

She looked about to faint as her wide, fawning eyes filled with glitter. "Really??"

Boss gave her pause with one raised finger. "On one condition. You see, there are two sandwiches here." He dug them out of the bag and balanced one in each hand. "One is barbeque with mayo, and the other is meatball marinara--one of them, obviously, for me, and the other is for my partner here, Lu. If you can guess which one is for me, I will accept your invitation."

Candy squawked with glee. "You, I--really?? Ohmigawd, which one?"

He shrugged indifferently. "All of them."

"Oh, oh, oh--I--oh God are you serious? I have to think, wait a second--um, um..." She teetered on her toes, the weight of the decision about to tip her over. With a giddy spark, she pointed to his left hand. "The meatball! I mean, the meatball sandwich is yours, yes."

"Wrongo, sorry." He took the barbeque one and bit into it. Luth cheeped in protest in the background--that was his sandwich.

"Now," Boss lectured her carefully while she stood shocked in defeat, "After your mom drives you home tonight, I want you to think about how ready I was to commit to a relationship with a fifteen-year-old--"

"Almost sixteen!" she squeaked with clingy hope, like a withering vine.

Boss's deadpan showed how much he cared. "Right. About how I made a decision on a serious emotional, physical and eventually financial commitment with an underaged high school pizza-jockey /via sandwich/. I want you to think long and hard."

Candy worked her mouth like a beached fish. "But--but--"

The Genome impatiently waved her off. "Go now."

She sped away, her eyes like broken glass and her small feet like nails along the creaky floorboards. "Geez," Boss sardonically quipped in the aftermath, "I haven't had that much trouble getting rid of chicks I've actually slept with."

Luth shook his head. "That was kinda... cruel, sir."

"Oh, you have no idea how long that was coming. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind." He caught the pained look Luth was aiming at the bitten sandwich and said drolly, "I can get you another sandwich, rookie."

"How do you sleep at night?"

Both glanced to the doorway, and there Sheryl was. She was leaning against the frame, her arms were crossed aloofly with a self-righteous smirk.

Boss answered easily as he lit another cigarette, "Next to a beautiful, indiscriminating woman--sometimes two."

"...Good answer," Luth conceded in Sheryl's stead.

Before she could scold anything, Boss nipped her. "Oh, don't even start--and what, you came up here to watch?"

"Maybe," she relented only slightly, and with a duplicitous grin she slipped out the way she came.


Luth's hearing had cat-like precision. Whispering feet in the hall were as clear and evident as fingerprints.

It was almost nine o'clock that evening when he heard a disturbance outside his door. Since he and Boss were the only ones occupying the ninth floor, an unusual pattering was worth investigating. Luth had been especially suspicious since the doppelganger incident, and he opted to pry and peek at every visitor. Boss never rebuked his nosiness, even when he saw things better unseen--one of Susan's "sessions," for example.

Tonight it wasn't any of Boss's regular girls, though. When Luth peered out of his apartment, he saw the distancing strides of Sheryl's graceful, long legs, heading towards the office. She walked with supple, prowling confidence, just like the tiger Boss claimed she resembled.

'Miss Sheryl is always so poised,' he mused in the back of his mind, and the front dressed him down. 'Sir is right, you do sound like a girl.' He rubbed his nose and stalked down the hall, careful not to stray into her field of vision. Sheryl always clocked out and went home right at five o'clock, so this late hour was strange for her. Luth couldn't help his curiosity. He didn't want to think of it as eavesdropping, because that was unethical, but... well, he was going to eavesdrop.

She gave the already-open door a perfunctory knock and sauntered in. Boss was still there? Luth had been dismissed hours ago, but he figured Boss would take off soon after. It was surprising to find him in the office when he was usually spending this time roaming the streets.

Luth perched just outside the threshold, one ear tuned through the crease along the door's hinges. He could see into a dim corner, and a hint of the window--the room was bathed in warm, solitary lamplight, and outside was a clear, shining night.

"Hey, Shirley."

"You're a bastard."

"I love it when you're direct. What're you still doing up here? It's late."

"Same thing you are, apparently."

"Yeah, lame-ass end-of-the-month reports."

"I figured you could use a distraction."

"I like propositions."

"I meant a drink, you jackass." The liquor cabinet gave a soft pop as it was opened, followed by clicking glass. There was a quiet while as drinks were poured and Sheryl made herself comfortable on the sofa.

"So," she started again, "Business has been interesting lately."

"Sure has."

"A lot of your 'personal contracts' dropped out this past week. Most on the same day."

"Go figure."

"The less I know, the better?"

"You know it."

"So where does your protégé tie into this?"

"Mmm? What's he got to do with it?"

"I'm not blind. I see you with him all the time. Where are you two?"

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Don't be coy. You're bad at it."

"Fair enough. We're close."

"No kidding. How close?"

Luth knew that saying, "Eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves." All he heard now was silence.

"Intimate?" Sheryl prodded him.

"...Maybe." His voice was oddly reserved.

"Really?" The sofa cushions groaned as she leaned closer, interested. "Sexual?" she tried him, as if to see how far he'd go without objecting.

"Gettin' there," he called her bluff.

"No," she said flatly, incredulous.

"Sorta! We had a... thing. We were drunk. It wasn't serious!"

"How far?"

"Not all the way. Takin' it easy. He's not the type... y'know."

Picking at the underlying tone, Sheryl pursued the subject like a slinking panther. "Romantic?"

Boss gagged on his drink, and Luth had to suppress his own coughing. "God I hope not. I can't afford that shit."

"You're terrible. He's such a sweet, gullible boy."

"He is," Boss soberly agreed.

"What are you going to do with him?"

"What aren't I going to do with him?" he bawdily countered, and Sheryl snickered.

"You're completely incorrigible."

There was another lull, this one deeper and more comfortable, yet somehow... unsettling.

And then Boss said it, like a kick to the gut, nothing mistaken in the dead finality of it.

"I'm leaving."

Sheryl was speechless. Luth was reeling. Leaving? Where? How? Beneath his stupor he knew the answers--most of them, but he didn't want to think.


"No," Sheryl smoothly responded. "I thought that you might."

"That obvious?"

"I told you, you're bad at it."

"Well." He idly cracked his knuckles. "You're right."

"How soon?"

"Soon enough. Soon as he's ready."

"You'll break his heart."

"I've broken many a'heart before."

"This will be different and you know it. I see the way he is around you--he looks up to you."

A harried sigh. "Yeah, I know. I don't want to do it. It can't be helped. He'll understand, eventually."

"You've corrupted a perfectly fine young man."

"Far from the worst I've ever done."

"They say corruption of the innocent is the greatest sin one can commit."

"Phbt, 'innocent.' That's a relative term. Nobody's really innocent, if you think about it."

"Devil's advocate."

"I didn't take you for the religious type."

"Everyone has their surprises. I go to church every week with Richard and his family."

"Ew, I'm sorry. So how's ol' Dick?"

"The wedding's this autumn."

"Is it, now? I'm not invited?"

"I'll let you know if we need it crashed."

"Haha, aww. He's still not sour over that little thing from last time, is he?"

"You broke his nose. I'd say that's a definite possibility."

"Well, I can't take that back. His nose deserved it. It was too big."

"I am not going to say anything to that."

"You know I'm right." On a vaguely patronizing note, he asked, "So, does it do anything for you? That church thing."

"As a matter of fact, it does."

"That's good, that's good. I'm very happy for you. Everyone needs something that makes them feel like they have a purpose in this world."

"Hmm, I believe it. And what about you? What's your great inspiration in life?"

"Sex, drugs and hard tunes," he quoted a popular lyric.

"Nothing, then. Haven't you ever considered going to church? Who knows, you might find it a rewarding experience."

"Nah, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"No god'll take me."

She scoffed. "You're full of rot."

"Oh, I dunno." Boss seemed flustered as he pecked at honesty. "I can't feel comfortable in those places. It's kinda like, eh, there's this... mindset, y'know? People go there and... I don't know. It's so easy to judge people."

"What makes you say that?"

"Well, it's easy to take one look at a man and think you've got him figured out. 'He's a lawyer, all lawyers are blood-sucking con-artists,' or, 'He's a politician, they're all liars trying to get power,' or, 'She's just a hooker, she'll do anything for money, you can never trust her around your kids.' Or how about, 'Oh, he's homeless. He must be a bum, too lazy to do any real work. Or he must be crazy. It's not like he has a family, or a wife and kids to support, or maybe he got laid off because his company started outsourcing to another continent, and he ran out of money to buy diapers and baby formula because the nine-to-close shift at McMoogles doesn't pay the rent and no one wants a welder from Lindblum anymore.' Because there's never another side to it. It has to be his fault. All dwarves are trashy alcoholics, all Genomes are crazy, all Cleyrans are tree-huggers, all Black Mages are the devil. I won't even start on the Burmecians."

'Gee thanks, sir.'

"'And what about that guy, he's rich. He has all the money in the world. He doesn't have to worry about bills, or debts, or anything. He can buy whatever he wants. ...He must be happy.'"

Sheryl didn't say anything while he sat up in his chair. "And you let them do that. You let them think that. Because you think the same things, every day."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked with an edge of something Luth had never heard in Sheryl before--perhaps sympathy?

"I dunno, you said it: I'm full of crap," he glibly discredited himself.

"Where will you go?" she reverted the topic.

"Somewhere permanent."

Luth swallowed a thick lump. "Permanent" had too many meanings, and it depended on who was talking: Boss or the King of Thieves. He wasn't sure which was worse.

"I hope you're not planning on doing anything stupid."

"Hehe. 'Where there's life, there's hope.'"

"Honestly. You're giving me terrible thoughts."

"Well, I wouldn't be doing my job right if I didn't."

"I still don't have to take that from you, mister," she said stuffily.

"Haha, you never change. That's why I keep you around. I'm going to make up a 'File B' for you to hold on to."

"Normal human beings call them wills."

"'File B' sounds so much cooler, though. Like secret agent talk."

"For all the public knows about you, you might as well be a secret agent."

Boss hummed a lame ditty from a spy movie, and then there was the sharp, leafy clatter of a flying magazine.

"Don't quit your day job."

"Hehe, but I will!"

"...You know, this will change everything. It won't be the same without you."

"Nah, I don't think so. Lu can handle it."

"That's not quite what I meant. And what if he can't? Or won't?"

"Sounds like File B's problem, not mine."

"Tch. Selfish bastard."

"I know."

"He's a sweet boy, but he's hardly management material and you know it."

"Hey, give the rookie some credit. I taught him everything I know!"

"Like what, how to tip a hooker?"

"That's the advanced stuff. His first lesson was that if anything goes wrong, he makes you handle it."

"You lazy bum."

"That's me."

There was some muffled clacking as Sheryl's heels met the floor. "...So. This is how it'll end."

"For me, anyway."

When Luth heard the fabric of her suit brush closer, Luth knew it was time to bolt. He started back the way he came, barely overhearing the last bits.

"I have to ask, just once."


"What is your real name?"


She gave a short, cynical chuckle. "I should've known. Don't stay up too late, devil-boy."

"You too. G'night."

Luth was luckily behind his own doorway and out of dodge when Sheryl stepped back into the hall.

"Hey, Sheryl?"

She lingered one more second, glancing back into the office. "Hmm?"


And that was all. Luth closed the door and withdrew to bed, his heart heavy with a portentous tomorrow.
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