Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 50
Night Circus

A cold October rainsquall did nothing to deter the crowds that flocked to Louis Armstrong Park on the thirtieth. Bloom's Traveling Show of Wonders would open tomorrow, in the big white tent decorated with orange sunbursts. Tonight it stood dark and ghostly beside the smaller silver and black tent a few hundred yards away. An avenue had been marked out with crescent moon-shaped lanterns from the park gates to the ticket booths and covered annex that led into the main tent. Inside, a round black circle of raised stage stood under two steel archways that intersected at a ninety-degree angle. The one that ran front to back disappeared behind black curtains. In the shadows, speakers and an elaborate lighting system were hidden in the black super structure. Banks of seats faced the stage in a semicircle, facing a black silk scrim at the back of the stage which Quatre had painted with a twisted tangle of silver roses and moon flowers blossoming under an ominous looking moon.

There were programs decorated with similar designs. Inside were photos of the actors in full make up and costume, their faces hidden behind elaborate masks. The cryptic titles of their acts were given, with hint of what it might be, but no names. All of them, even Trowa, were listed simply as "The Night Company."

Heero and Duo had front row seats near the scrim, handy for Duo to slip backstage and help Trowa and Quatre with their makeup. Staff make up artists would take over after tonight, but they'd wanted him for opening night. The body paint had been his idea, and his design.

The "Gundam Fearsome Foursome's" nighttime antics and Trowa's free pass idea had guaranteed them turn away crowds. Tonight's performance, and the actual revelation of what he'd been so obliquely promoting, would make or break the venture. They'd all stayed in last night, and no one had done any drinking in two days.

The moment arrived. Every black and silver seat was filled, and a hush fell over the crowd as the tent went dark. Then a blinding searchlight flashed briefly, sweeping the black stage and making the audience blink and squint. It strobed again, showing the empty circle, and a third time, giving a startling glimpse of a very tall, very thin figure in black that had somehow materialized at center stage.

Duo grabbed Heero's hand, tense and squirming with excitement.

A softer, blue tinted spot came on, centered on the tall man in black. It was Trowa, Heero knew, but he doubted anyone else could have recognized him. A collective murmur rippled through the crowd.

Quatre had designed Trowa's outfit as a parody of a traditional ringmaster's suit. He wore a dented black silk top hat tilted forward over his face, with a raven's feather stuck in the band. His torso was bare under a loose black cutaway tailcoat. The sleeves of the coat were short, baring his wrists and the glint of silver bracelets made to look like barbed wire. His tight black leather pants were laced up the sides, baring a generous expanse of pale skin. His black boots had a high heel to increase his already considerable height, and silver death's heads capped the long sharp toes. Duo had used bone colored make up and shadowy highlights to make Trowa's face, chest, and belly look supernaturally gaunt, and his mouth was painted to look wider than it was, more visible to the crowd. He looked spectral and sinister. Heero thought of vampires again, but Trowa had no fangs, just a coiled bullwhip held loosely in his right hand.

He stood motionless, eyes hidden in the shadow of his hat brim. He seemed unaware of the crowd leaning breathlessly forward. Then that painted mouth widened in a sinister smile.

When he spoke at last, his voice was the husky, insinuating one he'd used at the clubs, with an edge of menace. He spoke slowly, as if caressing every word with his tongue.

"Ladies and gentlemen." The smile tilted a bit. "Ladies-- and ladies!" Someone in the crowd let out an approving whoop and Trowa's head came up a little, so that they could just see the dark glint of his eyes as he licked his lips and smiled a little wider, and twitched the whip against his thigh. "Gentlemen and not so gentle men! Welcome all, to the Circus della Notte's premier performance. You, our honored first audience, will see wonders unlike any other ever presented under the big top. No lions. No clowns. Not a dancing pink poodle in sight." He paused and licked his lips again. "I can assure you, they were delicious!"

He let the flurry of nervous laughter subside. "No, we are purveyors of only the finest dreams and nightmares here. Every performer you will see tonight has witnessed death and destruction first hand. Our souls are tainted, our dreams often dark, but don't be afraid." He twitched the whip again. "Well, not too afraid, anyway. After all, you're safe out there, outside the charmed circle. My lovelies can't get out, I assure you. Not unless I let them out."

A ring of silver white neon lights glowed softly to life, outlining the perimeter of the round stage and a deep, ominous pulse of electronic music welled up.

Trowa flicked the long whip out to its full length in front of him and silver sparks flew from the tip. He smiled and patted his hat more firmly on his head. "So, mes amies, it begins!"

Lowering his head again as the music shifted to something even more ponderous and dark, he began to sing.

/Sick things with scars
Rotate around my stars./


A star pattern appeared on the floor around him and began to swirl slowly. Trowa cracked his whip and it spit sparks, making even Heero jump. He sang on, voice growing deeper, harsher.

/Sick things,
My things!
My pets,
my things!/

The music swelled. Lights pulsed, adding a surreal glow. Trowa whirled the whip around himself, creating a small storm of sparks and gunshot cracks as the black floor, actually a cleverly stretched scrim, started to ripple and roil around him at his summons. The lighting shifted, casting a dull gray glow over it at an angle that threw shapes into relief as they pressed up through the cloth, hints of clawed hands, rounded breasts and buttocks, and tortured faces. Trowa spun, grinning wildly, and sang in a growing snarl:

/I love you, things, I see
As much as you love me./


He struck the scrim and tore the cloth. Bizarre figures, naked except for elaborately molded leather masks and codpieces and body paint, erupted up from the hole, tearing it wider. Elsewhere, silvery claws tore more holes, releasing more of the writhing figures.

/You things are heavenly
When you come worship me!
You things are chilled with fright
For I am out tonight.
You tell me where to bite.
You whet my appetite!/


The "things" writhed and tore at each other. Groups of two or three or four simulated small orgies. Others rolled in apparent agony. Catherine was out there somewhere, and Quatre, too, along with most of the other cast and extras from the day show.

The music shifted, grew softer, but still with that deep pulsing beat that Heero could feel in his own chest like a second heartbeat. He'd had no idea what to expect, but nothing like this. It as dark, as promised, and disturbing, but there was something primal about it, too. Duo pulled his hand into his lap, letting Heero feel the erection in his black jeans. Heero felt his own body stirring, reacting to the sights and music.

The tattered scrim disappeared, pulled aside by silent motorized wires, to reveal the true stage. It was black, but painted with stylized stars and clouds like a stormy sky. Trowa stood above it all, on a small raised platform. He laid about with the whip and the creatures began to untangle themselves and form a crouching, cowering circle around him. As he sang on it was more like talking, almost a whine.

/I eat my things.
What looooove it brings!
Come here, my things
Don't fear, my little things!/


He beckoned and the creatures advanced on him, still wary of the whip hanging loose against his leg, but looking more dangerous and predatory by the moment.

/Sick things!/ Trowa cooed.
/Pretty things!
Playthings./
MY THINGS!/
Trowa roared as his body arched and the creatures surged forward in a writing mass at his feet, the closest fawning and pawing at his legs. The whip fell from Trowa's fingers and disappeared. One slender 'thing' with blue-streaked skin and a mop of familiar golden hair rose sinuously from the press and shamelessly stroked its master's thighs and crotch. Abandoning himself wantonly to the creatures, Trowa caressed his own chest, his voice a raw, throaty wail over the rising music:

/I love these things you see
As much as they love me.
My things are heavenly
When they come worship me!
You sit there chilled with fright
When we come out at night.
We'll fill you with delight.
We'll whet your AAAA-PPE-TITE!!/


Trowa let out a long, ragged scream as the 'things' engulfed him, pulling him down and crawling over him with claws flashing. The light went red as the music rose to a shattering dissonance.

It ended in a crash and the lights went out, leaving the shaken audience in complete darkness and silence. A lone, tightly focused spotlight flashed down, showing them a crushed black top hat where Trowa had been standing. Something dark and misshapen clattered past on too many legs and then even the hat was gone. The circle of light slowly closed to nothing.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then the crowd went wild, screaming, clapping, cheering, and stamping for more. Heero and Duo were on their feet with everyone else as dim lights slowly rose over the empty stage.

"Holy shit!" Duo yelled, jumping up and down and pounding on Heero's shoulder. "I mean, I saw bits and pieces, drawings, but-- Holy mother fucking shit!"

+

The acts that followed all had a dark edge. The 'things' remained on stage in small groups, doubling as set movers and rope wranglers, as well as providing odd little tableaus and visual interest. They sat in rapt attention as a Chinese man climbed an ever growing tower of black chairs, and cringed as a naked woman painted gold whirled baskets of fire on long chains, painting designs on the air. Huge robotic figures transformed into a series of monolithic shapes reminiscent of mobile suits, then fell apart in scattered pieces across the stage, with no sign of the actors who'd given them life.

The steel arch overhead was fitted with moving rails that transported set pieces for the high wire and trapeze acts. Mechanical arms appeared and stretched the wires, held platforms, dropped and retracted the climbing ropes. The music varied from harsh and jarring to a sweet caress when a trio of nearly naked women on a raised platform formed living sculpture with their bodies.

The audience ate it up. They cheered and sighed and groaned with sexual tension. Heero felt it, too. His left hand and shoulder were sore from Duo's excited pummeling. After nearly an hour, during a second trapeze act, Duo leaned over and kissed him, whispering, "Be back. Gotta get 'em ready for their big act."

"Red Silk?"

"Yep. Can't wait to see what all the secrecy was about. Later!"

Catherine came on with a version of her knife-throwing act. She wore one of Duo's more ornate half masks and was dressed as a dominatrix, her hair teased and streaked with gold.

With her usual target of choice otherwise occupied, her victim tonight was one of the things, a muscular man painted blue and silver. Catherine chained him spread eagled to the wooden backdrop, then smiled at the audience over her shoulder and yanked his codpiece off, leaving him naked except for more paint. The crowd cheered, then gasped as she proceeded to come very close to making a eunuch of him with throwing blades and hatchets.

A fire walking act followed, then the stage cleared completely and the lights dimmed. Duo returned and slipped back into his seat, leaning almost into Heero's lap and gripping his hand. "Here goes!"

The lights dimmed more and a soft golden spotlight spread across center stage to the drawn-out, mournful wail of a flute. There was no tune, just a series of sad, breathy notes. It was prerecorded, like the rest, but the audible whisper of Trowa's fingers over the holes and the hitching intake of breath gave it a strange intimacy.

Gears shifted in the steel arch overhead as a large, bunched mass of blood red silk appeared from the back. Hanging from a metal bar. It reached the apex of the arches at center stage and came to a halt. Two black banners spangled with silver stars tumbled down from the shadows to flank it and a black curtain fell behind it all. Something moved inside the red material, a jerking spasm, then the whole mass seemed to let go and fell in a long banner that reached to the stage fifty feet below. It hung there, and then shivered. The bar swiveled, turning the entire length to reveal the pale, thin, masked man holding himself in place as if crucified, by nothing but his hands fisted in the edges of the red silk.

Heero caught his breath, unprepared for anything like this. One slip, one tear of that cloth and Trowa would fall. But his face was calm below the mask, his silvery body motionless as he hung there a moment more, as if caught in the lingering notes of the flute.

The music changed, growing harsher, faster, as he suddenly tangled both legs in the silk and let go, sliding perilously close to the ground before he stopped himself somehow and wove himself into the cloth, seeming to struggle with it as he wound himself higher and higher. Lights were moving against the scrim behind him, and shapes began to form. They were indistinct at first, just flashes of white and red and green. Trowa reached the top of the banner again, swathed in red, then let himself fall again, this time spinning and twisting as the silk unwound around him. He climbed again, using only his hands and strong thin arms, then stopped half way and caught a few turns of cloth around his legs and upper arms, twisting himself backward, touching his feet to his head as he spun with arms outstretched.

The shapes on the scrim took form, still abstract to many in the audience. But Heero recognized them, and so did Duo, clutching his arm.

Mobile dolls. Leos and Cancers. Epyon. Tallgeese. And Shenlong, Wing, Deathscythe and Sandrock. They were just partial shapes, blotches of color, but to any pilot who'd fought those battles, it was clear. They were all there, all but one.

"He's Heavyarms!" Duo whispered. "That's space and he's Heavyarms!"

Heero nodded, and put an arm around Duo as tears stung his eyes. Trowa used the silk to fly as the music grew more frantic. He threw himself through the air, tethered by a single hand at times, whirling and twisting, tangling and fighting. In the end it became a painful struggle. He climbed one last time accompanied by aching wailing notes, then fell in a spinning death spiral, only to end caught in the silk like a broken puppet, hanging by one leg, the other splayed out awkwardly, head down, arms limp.

"That's when we lost him!" Duo whispered, pressing his face to Heero's shoulder. Heero held him tighter as the music died away, leaving only the sound of people softly sniffling in the dark around them. There were other pilots in this audience, other soldiers. Even civilians who couldn't know what Trowa was revealing now, even those people saw the pain in that final fall. Only when it was over and the light was dying did Heero recall that the sketches for this act had been labeled "Passage." He wondered what that meant to Trowa.

Trowa hung there, twisting slowly as a new note sounded, the sweet sound of a violin. The black star banners shivered, then some outer layer fell away, leaving long swaths of white and golden silk in their wake. The red banner was lowered, bringing the limp pale body to the stage and smothering it there.

A crowd of thing creatures stole in, circling the pile of fabric, and pulling the fallen black cloth into a circle around it. The violin played on, Quatre's work, as soothing and melodic as the flute had been sad and dissonant. The red banner rose slowly again and withdrew as it had come, and where it had been there was now a raised, white-draped platform and two figures; Trowa sprawled as if dead, in the same mask but dressed now only in the revealing leather straps from the drawings.

The other figure, looking smaller than he really was in the straps and half face mask, knelt over him and touched his chest. Trowa arched under Quatre's touch, came up into his arms, and somehow traded his mask for the other half face mask without revealing his face or how he managed it.

Quatre pulled him to his feet and the flute joined the violin, still sad, but gentle and melodic now, a duet. Trowa gathered Quatre into his arms and Quatre climbed onto his shoulders, balanced perfectly, then bending back to clasp his ankles. What followed was the full version of what Heero and Duo had glimpsed that morning in Madrid. Slow acrobatic contortion was how it was listed in the program. The title said it all; "Meld." They twisted around each other, balanced each other in impossible poses, wound around each other's bodies like snakes, as the duet spoke of two souls becoming one. It was erotic. It was sensual. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when they came to rest at last entwined in each other's arms, masks close together to form a single face as the golden light faded to black.

The crowd exploded, the lights and music came up in a reprise of the opening song, and the company rushed back onto the stage, still masked. Trowa came in from the back, having somehow managed to change back into his sinister ringmaster's outfit. He sprang in a running leap to body surf his way to the front of the group. They deposited him on his feet and Catherine and Quatre, still in costume, stepped in on either side, wrapping their arms around his waist.

The crowd gave them a thunderous standing ovation that went on and on. No one in the company bowed. They just stood there motionless as the lights dimmed to swirling stars, staring back at the audience.

At last Trowa stepped forward and raised his right hand, gripping the coiled whip and motioning for silence.

When everyone finally quieted and sat down again, he bowed. "Ladies and gentlemen, gentlemen and ladies, we thank you for sharing this piece of the night with us, here in this city of death and sex. We hope we made you feel with us: love and lust, life and death, nirvana and nadir, but most of all the fact that, for at least a little while longer, you are all still--alive! Wrap yourself around someone for what remains of this night, drink and fuck and laugh and share that life with them. After all, it's all we really have to give each other. And now-- I release you!"

He unfurled the whip and struck at the front of the stage, shattering some of the white neon of the charmed circle. Sparks shot up and a section of the circle went dark. The company let out a collective demon shriek and flooded out, streaming down the aisles past the startled audience to disappear through hidden exits in the back. When it was over the stage was empty except for Trowa's battered top hat, caught in a sharp white beam of light.

Heero and Duo stayed in their seats as the house emptied, euphoric and drained. When the last of the audience was gone, Duo grabbed Heero by the hand and pulled him backstage, where the company had gathered again. Trowa was standing with his arms around Quatre and Catherine, talking with a group of reporters. He spotted them and waved them over. Duo elbowed his way though the crowd and launched himself into Trowa's arms. Trowa caught him up, laughing, and kissed him. Duo wiggled free and wrapped himself around Quatre and Trowa at once, jumping up and down as he hugged them.

"You did it! You really fucking did it and they loved you! Did you hear that crowd?"

Trowa caught Heero's eye and motioned him over to join the group hug.

"It was amazing," Heero told him, kissing him and Quatre and handing them both the bouquets of roses he'd had hidden under his seat. Cameras flashed, capturing Trowa and Quatre's looks of pleased surprise, and Heero blushing.

"I'd like to introduce our master mask artist and make-up designer, Duo Maxwell," Trowa told the reporters. "And our new apprentice mask maker and emotional mainstay, Heero Yuy. And now, absinthe and oysters for everyone!"

The public after-party lasted for several hours, with more interviews and endless photographs with each other and various celebrities who'd been in the audience.

Heero and the others escaped at last in a rented limousine, along with Catherine and a few others from Trowa's inner circle. It was nearly four when they arrived at the house, to find Marie waiting with champagne and a hot breakfast.

As they sat around over plates of sausage and eggs, Quatre climbed onto a chair and raised his champagne glass, motioning for silence. They'd all changed into jeans and sweaters and everyone was a little drunk. Quatre was wavering dangerously on his chair, and Catherine stepped in to steady him.

"We have several announcements to make!" Quatre told them, a bit more loudly than necessary. "Cathy, you go first." He surrendered the chair to her.

Catherine smiled down at Trowa. "Trowa, my darling, my best friend, and my brother, I have three-no, four things to say to you right now. I love you. You are an absolute genius. Your show was a brilliant smash, and so--- you're fired!"

"Huh?" Duo grunted, leaning on Heero and Trowa at the same time.

"That's right," Catherine told him, beaming at Trowa, who was blushing and wiping his eyes. "Tro and I have had a secret deal for a while now. I wasn't sure about this new venture of his. It's not the circus I know. But I know how brilliant he is, and you, too, Quatre, and Duo, too. Those masks and costumes were--well, they were obscene--but beautifully so. You're all wonderful and once I saw the direction things were going, I knew it was going to be something amazing. I just needed to know if the audience was going to agree. Well, you all heard them. Heero, what did you think?

Everyone clapped. Heero raised his champagne glass. "It was a tremendous success."

"Damn straight it was!" Duo yelled, and let out a howl. Trowa, Quatre and Heero joined in, then everyone else.

"Damn straight!" Catherine laughed. "So Tro and I agreed that if it was, I would fire him with a two week notice from Bloom's Traveling Show so he and the others can put all that genius into Circus della Notte, full time."

"Della Naughty!" said Duo. "I'm making him change it for sure, now that I've seen it. I think he got Quatre pregnant out there."

Quatre gave him a tipsy grin. "You wish, Auntie Maxwell!"

"Anyway, I'll miss you." Catherine's voice broke over that, but she was still smiling. "But your understudies will be thrilled. Trowa's been hogging the headliner spot for years now! Trowa, boys, I wish you all every success in the world. Break a leg!"

Wiping her eyes, she relinquished the chair to Quatre again. He climbed back up and looked lovingly down at Trowa. "I have some further announcements. As most of you know, Trowa has chosen October thirty first, Halloween, as his official birthday. By my watch, he's been twenty years old for about four hours now."

Everyone clapped and cheered and pounded Trowa on the back. He looked like a shy kid again, free of costumes and make up. But he was smiling, too.

"So this is your first official Halloween birthday party," Quatre went on. "I wanted to make it special. It already is special, with the show, and being here. Folks, Trowa loves New Orleans. It's the only place, ever that he said he loved. And he's spent the last couple of weeks showing the rest of us why he loves it. I wanted to get him a present to celebrate all of that, and help him remember forever what this has all meant to us." He jumped down off the chair and went to Trowa. "Trowa Barton-Winner, for my sixteenth birthday you gave me the best present I could ever have: yourself. You asked me to marry you that day. But you already have me, so I had to find something different to match that. Happy Birthday, Trowa!" He grinned up at his husband, eyes bright with some secret.

"So what is it?" Duo demanded. "What's this amazing birthday present?"

Quatre was still gazing up at Trowa. "You're all standing in it." He pulled a long blue envelop from under his shirt and handed to Trowa. "This is the deed, mi amor. You spent months finding this place, and talked my ear off about. I've seen how you fit here, in the house and the city. So I'm giving it to you, the house and New Orleans. We don't have to live here all the time; that's up to you, but now you have a place you can always come back to and call home."

Tears were streaming down his face and Trowa's and just about everyone else's by the time he was done.

Trowa took the deed and stared at it, then pulled Quatre into a hug. "Thank you, corazon, thank you! I love it and I love you. But you've gotta know, anywhere you are is home to me!"

That pretty much finished everyone off. Even Heero was wiping his eyes. They had more champagne, then guests went home, and the four friends and headed upstairs.

"So you really like it?" Quatre asked. "I mean, you were just looking at it as a temporary rental, I know, so if you want to sell it or--

Trowa grabbed him and flung him over his shoulder, carrying him up the stairs. "I love it, mio dolce. I chose it because it was perfect. Once I saw it, I'd been thinking I'd see how the show went, and how you liked it, then buy it for you!"

Duo rolled his eyes. "I think they like it."

"Would you like Duo and I to sleep next door?" Heero asked as they reached the bedroom door.

"Yeah, first night in your new home and all?" Duo said, grinning.

Trowa set Quatre on his feet. They exchanged a look, and then held out their hands to the others. "Come to bed. Some of us have to work tomorrow!"

+

The news was full of their success the next day, from the local papers to GNN. It would have been in any case, given their continuing notoriety, but the show itself was a sensation and by that night every remaining performance in New Orleans was sold out. Shows had to be added, to meet demand. Within days cities around the planet and colonies were calling Trowa's agent on L-3 with offers to book the show.

Heero went again the next night, and helped Duo backstage. It was astonishing what went on there. Planning coordinated attacks on OZ had been simple, by comparison. Trowa and Quatre seemed to be everywhere at once when they weren't on stage, handling every minor crisis as it came up. Duo helped out with make-up, and soon put Heero to work dabbing and airbrushing paint onto naked bodies. It was fun work and they both could have gotten laid several dozen times over if they'd been open to invitations. Duo laughed about it, but the other cast members soon learned how unwise it was to proposition Duo, even jokingly, within earshot of Heero.

They staggered home around three, exhausted and flushed with another successful night. This time Heero did pull Duo into their separate bedroom, and not out of any consideration for the others.

+

The sound of his cell phone woke him a few hours later. Sliding out from under Duo's arm, Heero grabbed it and carried it onto the balcony before it could wake his sleeping lover.

"Hello," he growled, still half asleep and not happy to be out in the cold rain naked. Marie waved up at him from the garden and he turned back to face the door.

"01, is that you?"

"Affirmative." Instantly alert, Heero registered that it was Sally Po on the other end. The fact that she'd used his number and the tension in her voice told him no names were to be used and the line assumed unsecured.

"Can't talk now, 01. I'm sending you a present. Check your mailbox. Copy?"

"I copy."

The line went dead. Heero went back into the bedroom and pulled out his laptop. Duo mumbled sleepily into his pillow as Heero sat down on the bed and called up his public email account. There was no message. Frowning, he dialed into his secure server; somehow, Sally had gotten his private, unhackable address. Wufei must have given it to her, at least he hoped so, but why? They'd all agreed not to share that information.

There was one message there, from a blocked address. His frown deepened as he read it.

"Sorry to dump this one you, 01. I've seen the news and know you're all busy. But you have a friend in need up here. Situation serious. Please meet me at dragon's lair ASAP. See attached files."

The files were encrypted, but Heero soon had them open. They appeared to be Wufei's medical records, with a cover letter from Sally.

"You know I wouldn't do this if it wasn't an emergency. 05 has had a serious nervous collapse. I've been expecting it for years now, but didn't anticipate what would finally set him off."

He scanned the rest quickly, frown deepening to a concerned scowl and outright shock. He read it through again, sifting out the facts, then shook Duo by the shoulder. "Wake up, Duo. We're going to L-4 and you're piloting."

++

CdN's opening song adapted by T. Barton-Winner and Q. Winner-Barton from "Sick Things" by Alice Cooper, Billion Dollar Babies album, 1973, Pre-Colony.

I hinted earlier that Trowa had been studying old vid disks of Cirque de Soleil, and was using it for inspiration to create CdN. Red Silk was inspired by an act in Quidam. Meld was inspired by an act in Saltimbanco. The rest is all my own-er, Trowa's doing.

For those of you having trouble picturing "Red Silk" see: http://aerialexperience.com/page12.html

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