Jolly Cooperation

rating: +72+x

Site-θ MTF Briefing Room-A

Director Light stood at the podium and looked out over the briefing room. A small group sat before her: Carlotta Deneb, SCP-1360, SCP-5601, Lucretia Popescu, and SCP-4051 otherwise known as Rainer Miller.

Light cleared her throat. “Try to save your questions for the end. Has anyone seen SCP-4494?”

They all shook their heads. She sighed and powered on the project that was connected to her laptop. Suddenly, a shadowy figure emerged from a corner in the back of the room, long black coat flowing in the air despite there being no air movement in the room.

“Whenever the Specter is called, there he will be!”

Light tried to focus on the man-shaped shadow. “Then all we have to do is call you and you’ll appear?”

“It would all depend on whether or not I was already fighting crime, Director! But where the laws of man and physics are broken, you will find the Specter close by!”

“Okay, good to know. Can you sit down?”

“Certainly!” He moved towards a seat near Carlotta and tipped his hat. “Officer Deneb, a pleasure.”

“Sure, same, I guess. Now hush,” Carlotta slid her chair away slightly.

Light dimmed the lights and activated the projector and it shined a grainy map of Yellowstone National Park on the wall behind her. A transparent red overlay radiated out from Site-θ’s location.

Light indicated the red section of the map with a laser pointer. “The highlighted areas represent the extent of the shifts we’ve been monitoring here. I’m sure you’ve all noticed the anomalies that have been occurring at the facility since yesterday. We have now found out that these anomalies are spreading across the park.

“We’ve closed it off to the public with a cover story about seismic activity. But that’s just a temporary solution. We have bigger problems on the horizon as we can’t keep the anomaly out of public view forever.”

Light took a sip of water, noticed Carlotta raising her hand, and shook her head. “Agent Deneb, questions at the end, please. We’ve checked the numbers three times. They’re legitimate. And unless something drastic happens, the effects we’ve seen here will spread into populated areas. The shifts in reality aren’t consistent, their frequency has been on and off since the first events yesterday. But we cannot underestimate the seriousness of this emergency: we are facing down the barrel of a full-fledged ZK Class-0 Reality Failure Scenario.”

Light waited for the inevitable wave of questions but the room was silent. Each of the new Alpha-9 members looked at Light and then at their new colleagues. Finally, Carlotta’s hand rose.

“Go ahead, Agent,” Light said.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But… how can we, a brand new MTF, do anything about reality falling apart?”

Light laughed. “This wouldn’t be the first time the Foundation has asked the impossible of a mobile task force. But it only seems impossible because we don't know what's going on yet. With a thorough investigation we'll know will resolve the situation. Dealing with occurrences like these is why I’ve called you all together. Because of your various abilities, you have a better chance at survival in an anomalous event.”

1360 did not raise its arm, instead typing on its text-to-speech tablet. “I do not have the ability to affect these shifts. What do you expect me to do?

Light bristled. “You have a unique perspective. Your mind can slow down your perception, meaning you can react faster to these shifts than your teammates. You can help protect them. I expect you to serve the purpose I’ve given you. The purpose you agreed to when you agreed to join this team.”

1360 merely looked at her. She sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“My dear robotic friend, we shall protect each other from the evil deeds of this calamity!” 4494 said, clapping it on the shoulder. 1360 turned and stared at the shadowy man.

Do not touch me, 1360 typed out. 4494 held up his hands in mock surrender.

Rainer cleared his throat, raised his hand, and spoke when Light pointed to him. “How did this happen?”

“We don’t know. That’s why part of your orders is to explore this facility.”

Rainer’s leg started bouncing up and down. He quietly said, “But what are we expecting? Do we know anything about the source of these shifts? Are there limits to them, or are we just supposed to expect anything?”

Light scanned the room for any other reaction. Carlotta nodded her head, a concerned expression on her face. Lucretia was still staring at the map with narrowed eyes. The others looked to Light for a response.

“So far, the shifts have limited themselves to spatial dimensions. Agent Deneb had a nasty incident where the corridor fell out from beneath her, and she was lucky to make it out unscathed. Meaning keep aware of your surroundings and don’t rely on the form of the environment staying the same. I doubt you’ll be engaging hostiles, but consider the environment as one large hazard. Unfortunately, we don’t know much more than that.”

Rainer nodded and then, a little louder than before said: “Can we expect the situation to change?”

Light nodded. “Assume the worst and prepare like your life is at stake, because it is. And it’s not just the people at this Site that are in danger. Imagine if these shifts happened in an office building, or an elementary school?”

The room was quiet for a moment as they started to absorb the possibilities. Only the bird and the android looked unaffected. The tension in the room broke when Rainer spoke again: “What did you mean when you said ‘part of’ our orders?”

Light took a breath and waited a moment before answering. “You should all keep an eye out for anything suspicious.”

Rainer sat up straighter in his chair. “You think someone here is an actual traitor?”

“Well, I like to believe we’re working for the common good, in the grand scheme of things, but not everyone would agree. Someone could be working at cross purposes to us.”

“The Specter knows what dastardly depths the human soul can be brought to. Betrayal is in man’s very nature and must be stamped out wherever it’s found. Don’t you think so, Agent Miller?” 4494 said.

Rainer shook his head at 4494 and mimed that he should shut up. He turned back to light and said: “Did someone already take hostile action?”

“There was an assassination attempt not long ago, yes,” Light said.

Rainer and Carlotta both gasped. Lucretia looked at Light appraisingly.

“Were you injured?” Carlotta asked.

“I wasn’t, but it was a very close call. You don’t need to know the details. Let’s stay on subject.”

“Problem's yours, isn't mine. Do believe I must decline. It’s a witch hunt I fear, I just want to be clear,” 5601 interrupted before Light could answer.

Light sighed, but Lucretia cut her off before she could respond: “Bird, all agreed to be here. The best way to get killed is undermining our team before even beginning. Just like me, you do the job, or they put you back in box.”

She caught Carlotta looking at her. “What?” she asked, then shrugged. “Is true! You Jailers might be letting me off chains for now, but not going to pretend not right back where I will go if I act up.”

“If I may?” Light interrupted. The group turned their attention back to her.

“There are discrepancies in patrol locations as recorded versus their actual check-ins, timing of tests on anomalies on site, and the actual storage locations for anomalous items versus the recorded storage assignments.” Light paused to let these facts absorb and then continued: “So far, these discrepancies have been chalked up to user error, but in the big picture, it resembles an attempt to secure access to anomalous items and rearrange the timing of security within the facility. All of which tells me that someone is looking to do a raid.”

Light shifted to scan the rest of the squad; they were quiet again. Rainer was fiddling with a pen, Carlotta was looking at Lucretia who was shaking her head, the android was as unreadable as ever.

Light waited a moment; then, after no more questions came, she spoke again. “In the coming months, you’ll be tasked with anything from internal security matters to exploration of anomalous areas or, potentially, neutralizations of anomalous threats. I’ve specifically chosen each of you because of your skill sets and abilities. The current crisis, as dangerous as it may be, is not the only reason you received the call. There is work to be done, and as the new faces of Alpha-9, you’ll be called on to do it.”

4494 stood up and clapped a hand on both Carlotta's and 1360's shoulders. "We shall rise to the occasion, Director. As long as Laws are being broken, the Specter is at your disposal!"

Light nodded without looking at the shadowy man, shut down the projector and toggled on the lights. “Thank you all. Feel free to forward any other questions to my assistant, Vaux. Keep your eyes open, these shifts could happen any time. We haven’t evacuated the facility yet, but that’s being considered. Be vigilant, your orders will be issued later today. Until then, watch each other’s backs.”

Light was gathering her notes into a folder and shutting down her laptop when she heard someone clear their throat.

“This is a bad idea, Director Light.”

“Good morning, Director Avery.” Light didn’t look up from sliding her notes and laptop into her bag. “What can I do for you?”

James Avery, Director of Site-θ, was just under two meters tall and looked spindly in his charcoal three-piece suit. He was leaning against the doorway of the now-empty briefing room. He walked in and closed the door.

“You can take your experiment and vacate my site.”

“I have authorization from O5-10 under the Project Resurrection mandate.”

“That doesn’t give you free rein over this Site.”

“No, it doesn’t. But whether you like it or not, I’m going to be here for a while. This is an ‘all hands-on deck’ sort of problem, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t interfere.”

Avery sat on one of the chairs and opened a file. “One deadly android, one demonically possessed parrot capable of horrendous property damage, one psychologically unstable wormhole generator on loan from Site 17, and the best part, a Sarkic killing machine who grew up ripping people apart for the Lodge’s enjoyment.”

“Don’t forget the actual embodiment of ‘fighting crime.’ I’m quite proud of that one.”

Avery had an unpleasant laugh. “What makes you think you can control these things?”

“They don’t need to be ‘controlled,’ Director. They’re cooperating. Some of them bear watching, it’s true, but I’m not blind. What would you suggest I do? Hand control of them over to you?”

Avery sighed. “I want nothing of the sort. What I want, Director Light, is to not have my Site get turned into a circus show. What I want is for trained professionals to handle this situation.”

“This is what Alpha-9 is all about, using anomalies to better respond to a crisis. If you don’t like it, get in line behind the hundred other people gunning for me.”

“I’m not ‘gunning’ for you, Light. I have vehement concerns about sending a group of anomalous individuals into the subsections of this Site to look for some phenomenon we know nothing about! A demonic parrot! Even you must have doubts about that thing.”

“Its abilities make it a useful asset.”

“What about the Sarkic? She’s a goddamn killer.”

“We’re all killers, Avery. And she wants a better life, one with meaning. I… no, we can give her that. What’s all this about anyway?”

“This is going to go very wrong. I won’t have you endangering my people,” Avery said as he walked to the door.

“If we don’t figure out what’s happening in this facility, we’re all in danger. Why are you more concerned with this team than the chaos erupting from your own Site?”

Avery froze. He quickly turned back towards Light. When he spoke, it was in a hushed tone. “I am absolutely petrified by the events unfolding, Director. I don’t need to express my concern about reality unraveling to you. We don’t know each other that well but I know you’re not my therapist. We are discussing your choice to use my Site as a petri dish for your social experiment at the worst possible moment. I have our entire physical research department brainstorming about how to address the shifts, so don’t presume to know what does or does not concern me.”

Light said nothing in return. He considered a moment, straightened his suit coat, turned towards the door. He paused when she called out. “Avery, I need your personnel files. Forward them all to Vaux.”

“What the hell for?”

“I think you’ve got foxes in the hen house.”

“You think you’re in charge of internal security now? Should I just take a leave of absence while the legendary Sophia Light takes care of my facility? You’ve been here for a couple days and you’re suddenly more qualified than the man who’s been here for ten years?”

“You’re being irrational. You see a threat to your authority that, even in the worst-case scenario, will only be here for a week. This is still your facility, but until such time as my investigation is finished, I suggest you cooperate.”

Avery glared for a moment, turned on his heels and left the room without closing the door.

Director Light’s office, Site-θ

“What’re we looking for?” Vaux asked.

“Anything that could show a split loyalty. Or even any connection to an outside organization, especially if it’s a GoI,” Light responded.

It was late afternoon and they’d been combing through the hundreds of personnel files for Site-θ for hours.

Vaux sighed and set down his tablet. “Aren’t these files checked for security all the time?”

“Yes, but someone’s working against us here. There’s too many discrepancies in the logs. Someone’s sneaking around, and they’re not doing it for the thrills.”

Vaux got up and stretched his arms above his head. “I’m going to get a coffee; do you want one?”

“Mm,” she murmured.

Vaux stood and opened the door to the office, to find two Site security officers blocking his path.

“What are you doing?” He frowned at the two officers.

“Sir, we’re going to have to ask you to stay within the confines of this office.”

Light stood behind her desk. “Stop accosting my assistant and let him pass.”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Light. We can’t do that.”

“What are you talking about? Also, when you refer to me, do so as ‘Director.’”

“That’s just the thing, ma’am. Your clearance has been pulled and your title negated.”

Light stared at them for a moment, trying to gauge if this was a joke. Her fists tightened as she leaned on the desk. She looked straight into the guard’s eyes. “Get me Avery on the line, now.”

“I can pass the request along ma’am, but you’re both to stay in this room until such time as I hear otherwise.” He shook his head slightly. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“It’s not your fault, it’s your bastard of a Site Director.”

“No, ma’am, this order isn’t from Director Avery. It’s direct from Site-01, from the Council.”

Vaux gasped. Light shook her head and sat down. This didn’t make any sense.

“I want a line out to O5-10, ASAP.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, your access to the communication network and SCiPNET has also been revoked. I can pass that along as well, but otherwise no outside communication.”

“Son of a bitch!” Vaux said.

Light waved off this last statement. “No need for that.” She turned her gaze back to the guard. “Fine, pass along my request to see the Director and to have a communication line to O5-10 as soon as is possible. Thank you. You can leave us now.”

The guard closed the door for Vaux, albeit gently. Vaux turned back to Light. “What the hell is going on?” he said.

Light shook her head. “If it wasn’t Avery, maybe it really was an O5? But that doesn’t make sense. The vote passed…”

“So what do we do in the meantime?”

“Keep looking at these files, there’s got to be something here. Honestly, this seems too convenient to be a coincidence.”

Lucretia spit out her coffee and gasped. “What you mean, ‘imprisoned?’”

Carlotta looked around Site-θ’s cafeteria to observe any reactions to Lucretia’s loud question. A few researchers were looking their way from another table, but quickly turned away when they made eye contact with her.

“Director Light’s clearance was revoked. She’s being held in her office until the situation is resolved,” Carlotta said.

“What bullshit is this?”

“I don’t know, I was just informed when I tried to reach Vaux to get some clarification on what Light was saying in the briefing.”

“What clarif… uh, clarification?”

“The stuff about looking out for ‘anything suspicious.’ She was pretty vague, don’t you think?”

“All Jailers vague. Don’t tell Sarkic anything.” Lucretia waved as if dismissing the concept of vagueness. “So many secrets. Pah!”

“You know how it is, there’s clearance levels and all that. It’s sorta in the mandate to keep secrets.”

“Da, da. Fine. So, what happens to us? I get locked up again?”

Carlotta shook her head. “I don’t know. There’s been no reversal of the orders that granted you MTF status. This is solely about Light, far as I can tell.”

“Maybe other people in Foundation don’t want team of anomaly.”

“Well, I think that’s a given but from what I understand, the project has the blessing of the O5s.”

Lucretia took another sip of coffee and pondered for a moment. “Then who messing with Light?”

You humans are always betraying one another. Amazes me that civilization hasn’t crumbled long before now.

Carlotta was looking past Lucretia, her gaze narrow. Lucretia turned around and eyed 1360 suspiciously. “What you doing here, robot? Get hungry?” She laughed harshly.

1360 began typing on its tablet. Merely wished to gather information from my teammates. Should I come back another time, then?

Carlotta shook her head and indicated the seat next to her. “No, it’s fine. Please sit.”

1360 did so and began typing again. Do you think this has something to do with Light’s assertion of an assassination attempt?

Lucretia set her coffee cup down and looked at Carlotta. “If I were to hit a protected officer, I would first want to strip them of authority. Would fit.”

Carlotta slapped the table lightly. “Sounds like we need to find out what’s going on for ourselves. Come on.” She stood and moved towards the exit.

Lucretia turned to follow but noticed that 1360 remained seated. “Well, you coming, robot?”

I have no interest in taking unilateral action. I will be in my quarters. Please inform me if anything changes.

Lucretia snorted and turned to follow Carlotta out of the cafeteria.

“What do you mean, you ‘can’t let us in?’ I want to speak with the Director right now.” Rainer stood about a foot away from the security guards outside Light’s office. SCP-4494 stood next to him.

“The Specter will not tolerate this injustice!”

“I’m sorry, Agent Miller, that’s not going to happen. Now if you don’t get out of my face, I’ll have to restrain you.”

“I’d like to see you restrain him,” Rainer said, pointing at 4494.

The security guard put a hand on his pistol in the holster and stepped even closer to Rainer. “Get the fuck outta here, kid.”

Rainer took a step back, putting several feet between him and the guard. “There’s no need for this. Aren’t we all serving the Foundation?”

“We are comrades in arms, fighting for justice. Surely, you officers see that some horrible mistake has taken place!” 4494 said.

“There’s no mistake happening except the two of you getting in my face. Last warning.”

The door opened behind the security guards and Rainer could see Director Light through the doorway. “Gentlemen, can I not have a word with my subordinates in private?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I have my orders. No visitors.” The guard kept his eyes on Rainer and the shadowy man. The other turned, faced Light and put up his hand to block her way.

Light sighed. She looked past the security guard towards Rainer and SCP-4494. “Nothing you can do, guys. Go on back to your quarters and keep your heads down.”

Rainer shook his head. “We’re not going anywhere, right Specter?”

“That is correct! The Specter does not abandon his allies in their time of need.”

Light laughed. She met the gaze of the security guard facing her. “You won’t have a problem if my agents stay in the hallway, right?”

“Not if they’re maintaining a reasonable distance, ma’am.”

Light nodded and glanced at Rainer. “You heard him, Agent Miller. You and SCP-4494 can wait down the hall, you’ll hear if anything happens. But the last thing I need is for this to develop into a… situation.”

“Security, we have a situation at the Director’s office! Please come immediately!” The mousey little assistant was screeching into his desk phone. Lucretia was ignoring his wailing. She pounded on Director Avery’s door again, harder this time.

Carlotta stood with her back to the wall adjacent to the door of Avery’s outer office, where the assistant’s desk was. The door opened inward. She’d have plenty of warning if security came in with guns drawn.

The assistant was reaching under his desk frantically.

“Hey! Put your hands on the desk where I can see them. This is already a disaster, let’s not make it worse.” Carlotta very obviously put her hand on her pistol at her hip as she said this.

The assistant slowly placed his hands on the table, but craned his neck to look at Lucretia pounding on his boss’ door.

“You can’t just barge in like this! Make an appointment like anyone else.”

Lucretia laughed. “Appointments. What is this? Dentist office?” She pounded on the door again. It was reinforced, but she got a satisfying rattle with each blow of her fist.

“Lucy, this is not what I had in mind,” Carlotta said.

“Da, you wanting make appointment? Look, assistant right there!”

Carlotta tsked and kept her eyes on the assistant. He was looking at her now.

“Weren’t you with the UIU?" he asked. "Is this the sort of behavior they condone at the FBI?”

“Reading my personnel file, assistant?”

“The name is Myers, you could at least try to be polite during this kidnapping.”

“Oh calm down, no one is kidnapping anyone. We just want answers. Do you know why Director Light’s clearance was revoked?”

“No! I’m just an executive assistant, why would I know anything about that?”

“Well then, shut up.”

Lucretia laughed again. “Da, shut up mouse man.” She turned back to the door and pounded on it a fourth time. “Avery! We want to talk to you, get butt out here!”

The door opened suddenly as she was about to pound again, and she had to catch herself on the door jamb to stop from falling. When she looked up, she saw an old-looking pistol pointed at her face.

She held up her hands and backed away slowly. “Relax, please. No need for the violence.”

Avery lowered his pistol (Carlotta noted it was an old Colt six shooter from the 1800s) and spoke. “What the hell is going on here? Deneb, you think this is professional behavior?”

Carlotta flushed. “Not my best moment, Director, but this is an emergency.”

“The whole facility is in emergency mode, or hadn’t you noticed the laws of physics losing their mind lately?” He looked down at Lucretia face. “And you. You’re lucky you’re not in a cage, Sarkic. What is the meaning of this?”

“Da da, you can cage scary Sarkic later. We want Light out of ‘house arrest.’”

“Despite what you may think, I had nothing to do with her revoked status. I’m just following orders like any good soldier.”

“Then orders are bad,” Lucretia said.

“Director, who sent the orders?” Carlotta said.

“Think for a minute. Who sends orders to Site Directors, Agent? The Council.”

“Didn’t you vet them?”

Myers’ desk phone started ringing.

“I’m in the process of doing so, but I don’t see how this is any concern of yours. Now I want you and your Russian lapdog- ”

Lucretia growled. “Romanian, suit man.”

Avery sighed. “Look I need you both to leave. Now.” The door opened for two security guards with guns drawn. “Ah good, about time. Gentlemen, escort these two to…”

Myers interrupted Avery with a frantic gesture, holding up his desk phone. “What is it, Samuel?”

“The Council. O5-10 is asking for you personally.”

Light looked up at the door to her office as a commotion started in the hall. She could hear Avery yelling at someone but couldn’t quite make out the words. Vaux was stirring from his nap on her office couch when the door snapped open. Avery strode in with Lucretia, Carlotta, SCP-4494 and Rainer hot on his heels. He stopped and turned around.

“I said no. Stay out there!”

Light made eye contact with Carlotta and nodded. “It’s okay,” Light said. “Everyone, go and wait out in the hall.”

Lucretia snorted and turned around, dragging SCP-4494 with her. Carlotta turned through the door and indicated Rainer should follow her. The security guards stationed outside closed the door.

“Oh good, well at least they listen to you,” Avery said.

“Why would they listen to you? The minute I was locked up, I assume you threatened at least some of them with re-containment.”

“I only ordered you restrained to this office. I took no other action while trying to vet the orders.”

“That was reasonable of you,” Light said.

“Don’t start.” He turned to Vaux. “You can go now.”

“Don’t order my assistant around, Avery,” Light said.

“This is for your ears only, on O5-10’s say-so.”

Light nodded at Vaux. He gathered his coat from where he had thrown it and exited the room.

“There, all alone. Let’s have it.”

Avery turned on the video screen in the wall and keyed in his passcode. O5-10’s visage appeared on the screen.

“Good afternoon, Sophia,” O5-10 said.

“It has not been a good afternoon, Ten. What the hell is going on?”

“No one here knows. No order revoking your clearance came from the Council. In fact, you might find it interesting that it didn’t come from Site-01 at all.”

“Where then?” Light said.

O5-10 smiled and shrugged. She looked at Director Avery. “I want to speak with Sophia alone, Director Avery. From here on out, I want you to extend her every possible courtesy. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Overseer.” Avery lowered his gaze and then turned to look at Light for a moment. He opened his mouth to say something, looked back towards the screen and then turned around without speaking.

After he left, O5-10 was laughing at her. Light narrowed her eyes at the screen. “What’s funny about this situation?”

“As coups go, this was fairly painless. You got locked in an office for a few hours. Come on, Sophia. It’s funny,” O5-10 said.

“Do you have any idea what happened today?”

“Well, not specifically…”

“Cut the shit.”

“All I can say is, sure is convenient you start looking into possible security leaks when something like this happens,” O5-10 said.

“The thought had occurred to me as well.”

After O5-10 disconnected, Light was looking at the files for her new recruits again. She keyed on the voice recorder.

“Popescu could have been a plant by the Lodge, they’d fucking love to get someone in with the command structure. Deneb is probably clean, unless the UIU has gotten more devious in recent years. They’ve always been reluctantly cooperative at best. The parrot probably isn’t reporting to anyone. The rest have no connection to an outside organization, except the android… but Anderson hasn’t sent any communications to it in almost a decade.”

She clicked off the recorder. It probably wasn’t one of her recruits anyway. The planning involved would have been ludicrous to presume such a project would get greenlit by the Council. More importantly, none of them had the ability to work a fake order from the O5s. Unless one of them is a hacker and I don’t know, she thought.

She keyed open the technical research staff roster. Their credentials came from a variety of well-respected research centers: MIT, Harvard, UCLA, Berkeley, Oxford.. There were even a few with experience at DARPA and the DOD.

“It’s gotta be someone,” she groaned.

It was a little over four hours before she was going to send the new team to investigate the subsections of the facility. There were still no answers about the mole. The only clear connection to a GoI were 1360 and Popescu, and neither were likely candidates.

Vaux came back in with a styrofoam cup filled with hot, black coffee and set it down in front of her on the desk. “Never did get you that coffee. Find anything?”

“Nothing conclusive.” She yawned and picked up the cup. “What are you looking at over there?”

He picked up his tablet. “Looks like the administrative staff, mostly boring stuff.”

She sipped the coffee, a harsh light blend, and opened up another personnel file for the research staff. Her thoughts were interrupted by Vaux saying, “Huh.”

“What is it?”

“Someone messing with an order’s authentication like that would need authority, right?”

“Presumably, but it could’ve been a hack.” Even as she said this, she thought it unlikely. So many redundant security systems in the authentication protocols make hacking nearly impossible.

“Well, I think I have something.” He turned the tablet towards her.

She scanned the document for a few moments.

“Son of a bitch! Get Popescu and Deneb up here, now. We just found our mole.”

rating: +72+x
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