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Ellen did get her lessons--from Audrey and Hans--and by the time they were called in for the next mission briefing, she felt much more prepared for the possibility of armed combat. She didn’t have any intention of seeking out a fight, and Audrey had pounded it into their heads that the best way to resolve a fight was to not get in the fight in the first place.

She looked over the floorplan that was spread out in front of them. Already, it looked to be a better plan than the last pickup had been. At least this time they had a layout. As she saw the Costco logo, Ellen grinned. (It just so happened that she likely grinned just as Audrey announced the pick up was a bit more morally ambiguous.) She hadn’t been to them often--but she was familiar with the massive wholesale store. Everything came in massive quantities, and they had nearly everything you could imagine. If there was an apocalypse, and you could choose one store to make into a fortress, a wholesale store like Costco would be a great choice.

Audrey listed out priorities: namely food, more food, then medical supplies. Ellen knew a lot of other things would be desirable as well. Clothing to replace those that had to be destroyed after the live outbreak. Deodorant, soap, and razors for self-care. Hell, even grabbing a bunch of their basic reading glasses would probably benefit a bunch of people, plus a variety of books. People needed...luxuries. She understood that even from her time on the crabbing boats. You could try to just get by with the basic necessities, but after a few days at sea, you wanted more--a different thing to eat, a book to read, something to idly think about. The same was already happening at Goodnight. People were going stir crazy.

This idea was fantastic. Ellen just didn’t know how to get everything from the Costco to Goodnight.Too bad they couldn’t just magick the whole building. That would be hella convenient.

Audrey explained how they would be scoping it out during the day, and they should avoid confrontation if at all possible. Most importantly, they needed to keep their magic hidden. Regular law enforcement was one thing, but revealing they were mages would bring about a whole new host of problems. Before Audrey told them anything else, she asked them to formulate a plan.

Ellen didn’t bother looking over at Abigail. The girl was probably picking her nose at that very minute. She did glance over at Angeline. During their last serious conversation, Angeline admitted that she didn’t think about these sorts of things--she focused on dance and rehearsals. So Ellen stepped forward again.

“We need to get a lot of things out of there. Can we steal one of their delivery trucks, that way we can really load it up instead of just getting a few bundles in the billy bus?” Ellen asked. “If we could get an idea of what uniform the loaders wear, perhaps we can disguise ourselves in the evening. Confidence can go a long way to getting you ignored. Could even fake some paperwork for a recall on meats, so if we do run into security, we could play it off as having to get the ‘tainted’ meat out of the store.” Ellen began. She barely paused between thoughts to let Audrey interject with feedback.

She looked up at the woman for her next question. “Would you consider setting a fire to another building to redirect some attention from local authorities? A building on the opposite side of the station maybe near some roads with roads so the police need to work on traffic redirecting? It might reduce the chance for a random patrol to be nearby. And if there is a call made, we might buy a bit of extra time for escape.”

After that was answered, Ellen looked back down at the map. “If we do go in through the truck bay, that gives us great access to the fresh meat and bakery items. Perishable, but they will go a long way with morale. The produce is close, too, so assuming these connect, maybe through the chilled produce room, we can have someone go out and grab some of the fruits and vegetables as well.” Ellen paused.

“To get us in at night, I think it makes the most sense to leave someone behind after we scope it out. Abigail is tiny and could hide among some of the giant stacks of food items. Or… I can hide in the freezer. The cold won’t bother me and security won't spend much time looking there for a person.” Ellen didn’t entirely trust Abi to not get caught by security if she got bored and started messing around--though they would probably just toss her out rather than think she was part of a criminal organization. Then again, they could both camp out in different parts, just in case...

“Since the pharmacy is the farthest, I think one of us could split off and head there. It is probably easier for one person to avoid any security rather than all of us. Can we get a list of what kinds of medications are the most important ones to grab? I don’t want to end up with fifteen varieties of laxative instead of what we actually need, and all of those medical names look the same to me.” Ellen didn’t think any of them had enough medical background to handle that task without backup information. “That person should at least have a backpack or duffle. We don’t want to have to make multiple trips through that part of the store. Ellen still thought Angeline might be the best for that part, or maybe Zephyr. He seemed really level-headed.

Obviously, there were some parts of the store they could avoid entirely. They didn’t need automotive care, or furniture. “I know they aren’t priority, but I would suggest if possible, we try to get some books and toiletries as well. Maybe each of us can have our main objective, like the medical supplies, and then our secondary objective, like extra clothing in every size we can.” If they ran short on time, they were more likely to have all of their main objectives if they split them up, and that way one person wasn’t just running around grabbing unimportant junk.

Would they need to get into the main office? There were probably video cameras up in parts of the store. “During the day, we should try to get an idea as to whether there are video cameras. If disabling them needs to be a stop we make at night. Question-- does it matter if they know this was mages in retrospect?” Ellen asked. The types of things they were taking… she figured it would be pretty obvious that this wasn’t a theft for money, and it would draw attention to their weaknesses to the FOE. If this was going to give them too much information, would it be worth it to try to destroy the building after the robbery, to cover up exactly what they were doing? Did they even have the means to destroy the building? Ellen had no idea. Perhaps...she was getting a little ahead of herself.
Advanced Weapon Training- Hans and Ellen

It was a reasonably slow day at Goodnight - as slow as days can be when you’re living in a magical refugee camp, at least - when Hans decided the time was right. When he approached Ellen, still walking a little bit awkwardly with the pain of his injuries from their first meeting, the sun had just crested the natural arc of its passage across the sky, and the air was brisk with the lingering chill of winter - but warmer than it had been at any other point in the day.

“Hallo.” He greeted her with a thin smile, the unique baritone and accent identifying him instantly to Ellen as he approached. “How are you doing?”

Clearly he was going somewhere - he had a rucksack on, a medium sized hiking pack in muted olive drab colours, and was carrying a slightly oddly shaped long black fabric back by the handle in his right hand.

Ellen turned towards the sound of Hans’ voice and greeted him with a smile. “Hey!” She stood up from the makeshift table--aka crate tilted on its side-- and pulled her backpack off her shoulder to tuck her cards inside. “Ugh, I’m so bored!” She dragged her hands down her cheeks, pulling the skin awkwardly to emphasize her opinion.

“We’ve been trying to play Bullshit,but everyone I play with hoards the cards they have. I won a 5 of diamonds today, but that only brings me up to like… a dozen cards, so not terribly close to a full deck.” She explained, and stuck her handful of cards in her bag for safekeeping.

Behind her, Ellen heard a groan. “If you’re going to leave, you could at least let us borrow the cards!”

“Nuh uh!” Ellen replied to the whiny guy. “You’ll disappear and next time I see you, you’ll have lost these cards, too. There’s a reason no one lends you anything, Carl! You bet constantly, and you lose constantly.”

“What are you up to?” Ellen asked, eager to follow Hans to...just about anywhere other than here.

“I was coming to ask if you would like to learn more about shooting.” He nodded, taking in the scene she was leaving. “I have come at a good time, I think.” Hans added on afterwards, with a sly grin, as he started towards the rear of Goodnight, expecting Ellen to follow.

“There is a woods, as you know, outside of the shopping centre. A great deal of rubbish has been left in it over the years by people who pass through or camp there, and the trees are dense enough that the foliage masks most of the sound made by shooting as long as a suppressor is used. I remember you expressed an interest in learning more about firearms - and I have an interest in teaching. Shall we go and build a shooting range?”

It was hard to be excited about something like shooting without coming across like an insane person. It wasn’t like she was eager to become a mass murderer or something-- Ellen just wanted to better handle herself in the situations she was likely to encounter. As of late, those situations involved guns. After a few moments, which Ellen figured was suitable for not coming across like a crazy person, she nodded.

“Yea, I’d like that.” Ellen said as she followed him through the building. “The shooting range is where you set up like...targets to practice on, right?”

“Ja.” He nodded, as they headed out of the main atrium and through one of the abandoned storefronts. “It will be a simple thing, finding bits of rubbish and refuse to shoot at, maybe some cans or bottles, maybe something to stand in for a metal plate. The real challenge is going to be finding somewhere safe, with a good backdrop that will catch all our shots, so we don’t put anyone in danger inappropriately.”

They went behind the counter of the derelict store - itself now used as a meeting room, and for storage - and opened the door into one of the employee access hallways.

“How do you feel about guns, at the moment?”

“On the physical front, not good. I know there is a safety, but I’m not sure where it is on each gun and I keep questioning myself like… is red ‘stop’ as in the gun won’t shoot or is it ‘danger!’ as in you will kill someone if you pull the trigger while it’s red.” Ellen felt like there was a lot she needed to learn about the basics of using a gun. “And I guess loading it would be a good thing to know how to do. How many bullets does it hold, anyway?” She knew that varied based on the gun, from her extensive knowledge of random action movies. But those probably weren’t the most reliable sources of information.

“On the… psychological front, I think…” Ellen paused for a few moments to put her thoughts into words. “I think guns are a tool, and using a gun isn’t much different from using our magic. I don’t like to think of situations as strictly ‘good’ or ‘evil’-- though FOE agents thus far have definitely challenged that mindset-- I just think that when you use a tool like a gun or magic, you can use it conservatively, or recklessly, or selfishly, or to try to protect someone else. I’m not… very clever. I don’t think I can come up with fantastic plans that get us medical supplies and food. But this is something I think I can do.” Ellen didn’t think of herself as a shoot-first and ask questions later kind of person, though she certainly turned to using weapons earlier than many others she had come to know at Goodnight. She just didn’t have any major reservations against defending herself and taking extreme actions, as the case warranted. “What is the saying…If you don’t stand for something, you‘ll fall for anything. I don’t want to fall.”

Hans nodded as she spoke, biting his lip and furrowing his brow in mild confusion when Ellen started talking about parts of each firearm being red, and whether that might indicate danger or safety.

“Red means ready. Ready to fire. Or, ‘red, you’re dead’.” They eventually came to a fire door out of the building, left on a latch to keep it closed as the original lock had broken away. Hans opened it, and they started out into the woods. “Also, not every firearm will have a safety indicator. The guns I am going to show you today do not, and they both have similar safety mechanisms - however, a variety of safeties exist. Later, I can show you some other examples.”

Deeper into the woods they went, away from the broken roofs and gutted frames of Goodnight’s exterior, away from the people and the clamour of it.

“It is good that you don’t want to fall for anything, I like that saying. It’s also good that you see weapons as tools, because like any tool, learning to use it is not as stylish as some people think. I’m also going to teach you the general principles,” he enunciated as he hopped over a ditch, “of firearm maintenance and cleaning, as well as their operation. Ideally, over several lessons perhaps, I will show you how to disassemble and reassemble these guns.”

Some mages went outside Goodnight in order to train their magic without putting anyone in danger. Ellen hadn’t really needed such drastic measures--at least thus far, and she hadn’t been outside properly in days. Ellen followed him, climbing over and around the various detris surrounding the Goodnight. Hans quickly brought up that he would teach her how to maintain the guns as well. It sounded...like a bit of work. But she agreed it was a good idea. “That sounds like a good plan. I only learned the basics of car maintenance, like how to change a tire, and I never even got that far with my helicopter lessons.”

Ellen caught Hans’ glance back at her, and before he could question it, she supplied. “Long story short, I did a few lessons with my dad as a bonding experience. It didn’t work--in terms of the bonding, I mean.”

"You can fly helicopters? That is quite an achievement." He gave her a grin.

“Like I said, I only took a few lessons. I can’t just hover, like they do in action movies sometimes. That is way harder than it looks. But I’ve taken off, flown around a bit, and landed successfully. Haven’t crashed once!” Ellen chuckled lightly. “It’s a lot of multi-tasking. You have to be doing different things with your hands, and your feet… It’s a lot. But please don’t ask me to disassemble and reassemble a helicopter. I only got as far as helping to gas up one, and that was only one time.”

Hans chuckled.

"I have even less experience with helicopters. I jumped out of a few, not much more."

“That takes a lot of balls, though!” Ellen replied. “I always wanted to go skydiving. It was definitely a bucket list thing… just didn’t get the chance.” She shrugged. Ellen seriously doubted she was going to get any opportunity to jump out of a plane in her future, given the circumstances. She could see herself being pushed out--but she wouldn’t likely have a parachute in that scenario.

"Ah they were very close to the ground, we only needed some ropes. Performing a jump out of an aeroplane is quite different, of course, but all it takes is training and discipline." He nodded solemnly, recalling the experience. "Recreationally, civilian skydiving is a lot of fun, quite exciting - but I did it a lot in my job so it wasn't as much of a novelty for me, you know?"

Hans had a point. The helicopter ‘jumps’ tended to be pretty low, and they had ropes. But it still seemed a bit intense. “You did skydiving?! Were you like... an instructor?” She knew there were people who jumped out tandem with skydivers who were new. It was one of the reasons she had postponed skydiving from her list. The idea of being strapped to a stranger was a bit uncomfortable. Could they feel the vibrations if you farted? What if you got sick? “Did anyone ever vomit on you?!”

“I do have the instructor qualification, yes, but no - I was an airborne soldier in the Bundeswehr, a paratrooper. Part of 31st Airborne Brigade, until it was restructured into 31st Paratrooper Regiment. I did quite a lot of things with them.” He scratched his beard for a moment, pausing to survey a patch of garbage next to a ditch, before decided against it as a shooting range site and moving on.

“Nobody ever vomited on me, as far as I can remember. Not in the sky at least, sometimes we would go drinking and that could get messy, naturally.”

“That’s good. It probably sounds silly, but that was my big fear about skydiving. Like, you go for the first time and are harnessed to the instructor and you vomit right as you both jump out of the plane and then you’ve got these chunks falling through the air and it's in your nose and you can smell it. And what if they are a sympathy puker?” Ellen shook her head. “I don’t get motion sickness on, like… boats or jet skis or while skiing. But for some reason I am terrified of puking while jumping from a plane.” Everyone had those sorts of silly fears, right? Similar to having a dream about realizing they were naked partway through their school day.

“We all have to be afraid of something, right?”

Hans stared at Ellen for a moment.

“Of course.” He nodded again after a moment, looking away, trying to take in the emetophobia. “If we ever go skydiving, I will be sure to keep this in mind.”

Ellen noticed the pause, and wondered for a moment if she said something wrong. “Great.” She answered, albeit a bit muted as she returned to following Hans to a good location for their target practice. Maybe he was one of those macho men who didn’t want anyone to know they could get scared sometimes. Or maybe she was reading too much into it, and the pause was more a result of mental translation. English certainly wasn’t either of their first languages.

After a little more walking, and a fair way into the woods, they eventually came to a small almost-clearing in the canopy of the woods. Sunlight was streaming through the gaps in the leaves, casting a lush green glow over the abnormally large dumping site that was left there - a bath, some cabinets, a few boxes of rainwater filled cans and glass bottles, and most crucially a steep hill just to one side of the entire setup.

Hans dumped his bags down, and nodded. This was the place.

“Why is vomit such a problem, though? You know I’m no stranger to fear - I’ve done a lot of things, seen a lot of things, a lot has gone on in my life you know? I was shot twice just a few weeks ago, as you know. A person being sick - even on me - just seems… not very big?”

Ellen took the opportunity to lean against a tree as they stopped. She wasn’t out of shape by any means, but the terrain was quite uneven and she had already done some running around Goodnight earlier in the day. As Hans brought up the vomit again, Ellen laughed.

“It isn’t the vomit itself. And it isn’t big... I guess it’s more the fear of embarrassing myself in that way. Like being physically stuck with a person and becoming so...vulnerable?” Ellen shrugged. “It just seems gross to me, like what if I ate something gross earlier, or he is a sympathy puker…?” Ellen chuckled again. “It’s not a fear in the sense of...being rational. It’s just something I dread the thought of. You don’t have anything like that?” Ellen wasn’t trying to pry into his deepest darkest fears, she was just curious if he… was slightly afraid of clowns, or being chased by ducks. They were real fears! Even if they were a bit silly.

He paused, scratching his beard, producing a canteen from his backpack and taking a sip after a moment of pensive scratching.

“I think I know what you mean. Yes, I am sometimes worried that I will shit myself. Or at least, you know, the thought of it makes me a bit nervous - I do not worry about my… anus control.”

A moment of silence.

They both burst into laughter. Raucous, echoing, glorious laughter - the kind that makes you ache, and then takes the rest of your pain away with it when it goes.

“Oh.” Hans sighed, once the idea of anus control had faded. “I did shit myself once, that’s where the fear comes from. It was in Kosovo, during the war - the worst time to shit one’s self. It was very embarrassing at first, of course, and I was laughed at a great deal…” he trailed off, caught in the reverie.

“At least you’ve already dealt with the...fallout--” Ellen laughed again before apologizing and shaking her head, trying to get rid of the giggles. “Sorry. If it makes you feel better. There was this guy on the boat once-- I was a crab fisher, I’m not sure if you knew that-- and he was pretty new. Well he lost a bet with one of the guys and ate some fish guts or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t there for the bet. But by the time I got there, it was all coming out of both ends.” She vividly remembered seeing (and smelling) the outcome of that bet.

Hans grinned.

“That doesn’t sound so bad. He could get cleaned up. After I ate my bad food and started… leaking, we were attacked. Ended up pinned down for eight hours in a firefight. All the time, gunfire overhead whenever anyone moved, and at the same time, I was running out of toilet paper.”

He stifled a laugh.

“A sticky situation.”

Ellen’s expression softened as Hans revealed that he had come under attack while he was still suffering the repercussions of having defecated himself. That was...certainly worse than being sick on a boat with a bunch of drunk idiots around. None of them liked the clean-up process, but it certainly didn’t stop them from making more stupid bets later. Hans’ last joke lightened the mood though, and Ellen grinned lightly. “That sounds… incredibly stressful and horrible. On the bright side, even if you do shit yourself again, it probably won’t be as bad as the last time.”

“So our plan is to aim for those things?” She gestured towards the debris at the base of the steep incline.Not that Hans had to make a plan for aiming, but the words had already come out before she realized it was really just her who had to plan to aim for things.

Hans nodded.

“Ja, but first I’m going to teach you how to handle this rifle. As for the firefight, while I truly hope you never need to find out for real, an extended firefight is very stressful - but it is also very boring. Eight hours is a long time, but I have known soldiers who went through longer - imagine, you would go through two meals, a bathroom break, sometimes even sleep. Less sleep, but sometimes - in fact, I have tried to sleep through artillery fire before.” He continued explaining as he started the process of producing the rifle.

The AR15 - the same one he had brought with him to rescue Ellen, the same one that had seen action in the outback of Australia, and done who knows how much else by now - was in a couple of different pieces in the case, and the way Hans went about slapping them together was the kind of thing usually seen only in fiction. His movements were quick, efficient, almost violent, and the rifle was in one functional piece in what seemed like seconds, but definitely no longer than a minute.

With the finished weapon in hand, Hans looked up to see Ellen’s reaction.

“You better not ask me to do that next.” Ellen said, arching one eyebrow. There was no way she could replicate that process. Maybe if they color coded the ends that were supposed to meet and had them numbered 1, 2, 3, etc… But that was still a MAYBE. He was impressive, but no doubt he needed to be impressive with weapons like these. People who were less capable wouldn’t be alive today to teach airheads like Ellen how to use the weapons.

He grinned, pleased to see her impressed with his display.

“Not to worry, this isn’t so hard - it takes practice, not brains, I am certainly not a genius.”

“Well good. I’m glad there is hope for me yet. Seriously though, why not just color code the bits that go together?” Maybe no one wanted their guns with color coded stripes on them? She could probably scrounge up some nail-polish and just put matching colors on the pieces that connected. She could just imagine the look on Hans’ face if he saw her taking nail polish to any of his guns. Hah!

“Well, that is a good question. Sometimes these parts rely on being well oiled or greased, so the colour would be potentially covered up with the grease - sometimes the parts need to be very…” he searched for the word, clicking his thumb and finger in frustration as it eluded him.

“... flush? Tight. If you painted on, the paint might simply be rubbed away, or it might interfere with the function of the weapon. It isn’t so hard though, really - just practice, over and over. I do this automatically now, like I was born with it.” He smiled softly as he produced a long, cylindrical object from the gun bag.

Immediately, Ellen recognised it as a suppressor.

Hans’ answer about the color-coding made sense. She imagined there weren’t too many ways to put a weapon like that together wrong anyway. She was much more likely to just have a heap of parts if she failed. Ellen saw him bring out the suppressor, which he mentioned before was to help contain the noise. “So are we using the silency thing so we don’t disturb the animals as much with the noise?” She imagined no one else from Goodnight was near here. “Or is it on more because it adds weight so it is a more realistic practice?” As long as he didn’t say it’s so no one hears me murder you and leave your body out here she was pretty fine with it.

“It’s so nobody hears me shoot you and leave your body out here.” He stared at her, completely deadpan.

After a moment, he cracked a grin.

Ellen stared right back confident, well….mostly confident that he was joking. “Well that would be a perfectly dandy way to ruin a date!”

“Don’t worry, she isn’t loaded. No, it is actually in case there is anyone else living or traveling through this forest - but also, it is for us. An unsuppressed gunshot, especially firing a supersonic cartridge like most 5.56 rounds this sort of gun would fire, is extremely loud, and the sound will not only carry for miles potentially, but also permanently damage our hearing. I have some earplugs for us to use anyway, but they aren’t heavy duty enough to simply shoot anything with. There is also an important lesson to be learned here.”

Hans thrust the rifle into Ellen’s hands as he set about loading a magazine with bullets.

“How much do you know about this kind of rifle?”

Hans’ explanation that the suppressor was because the gun was loud was… a bit on the nose, but definitely better than the murder-alternative. Though, he hadn’t specified murder, just shooting. So in theory he could leave her bleeding out here instead...Why exactly was she focusing on this? Ellen shook off those thoughts as he thrust the weapon in her hands, and she shifted it in her hands until she felt like she had a good hold of it.

Heh.

Ellen cleared her throat and looked up at Hans. “Well… the rifle is bigger than a pistol. Umm… It is loud…”

Focus!

“Yeah, I’ve got nothing.”

He blinked at her, clearly catching on to her distraction.

“Are you alright? Did I say something?”

Shit. Shoot. Heh, Shoot…

“No… I mean, yes, I’m fine. You didn’t say anything wrong. I just don’t really know much about guns. They fire bullets. This kind is bigger than a pistol. I think… it goes farther? But it isn’t like… one of those machine guns that shoots a lot.” Now was not the time to be distracted thinking about innuendos. She actually wanted to learn this. Not like when she took those surfing lessons. Those were absolutely just for the eye candy, aka instructor.

“You seem to be elsewhere, mentally. What’s on your mind? It really is fine to not know so much about the weapons - I was not born with an encyclopaedic knowledge of firearms either, after all.” He produced another pack of bullets from his bag, as well as a little stove and a few tins. “I was also expecting to be out here for some time, so I did bring us some food.”

“First you threaten to shoot me, and now you are offering me food? I don’t know… It’s probably poison.” Ellen chuckled. She sat down cross-legged next to him. “I guess… if you got it from Goodnight it could be poison even unintentionally.” She wasn’t a huge fan of the food...but it kept her alive so far, so it had that going for it.

“We Germans have precious few other means of conducting diplomacy. I do not have any beer, so there is only food for now. Are you sure you are alright?” He continued, as he produced a bullet from the other box.

“Ugh… Beer. I miss alcohol so much.” Ellen replied. She wasn’t a big drinker, but she missed the occasional drink and the fun socializing that came along with it. “But yea, I’m really fine. I just… have a very dirty mind and thinking about the guns and shooting… There’s just a lot of innuendo going on because I have the maturity of a twelve year old boy.” It really wasn’t that big of a deal, so it was better to just tell him the truth… rather than continue acting like she had some big secret she was trying to keep.

“Oh.” He paused for a moment, before producing his other weapon - a boxy handgun with a slim profile and a modern looking design. An incredibly stereotypically German looking piece of weapon. “I suppose it is a… big gun.” he nodded thoughtfully.

He checked the weapon, ejecting the magazine and racking the slide, before gesturing with it.

“This one is smaller.” He added.

Ellen wasn’t sure what to make of the pause at first. He wasn’t exactly a young man, but surely dick jokes weren’t that much less prevalent, right? Then he began to poke a bit of fun with the phrases he used and Ellen grinned. “Well… they say size isn’t everything. It’s all in how you handle it, right?” That could be taken totally non-sexually, too! She just meant that you had to know how to aim and fire a weapon! Cough.

“Mm. I agree. I’ve never failed a weapons handling test in my life. Top marks from every examiner.” He reached for the gas stove, but lingered on it, waiting to judge her reaction.

“Oh really?” He wasn’t just placating her. He would have just accepted her explanation and moved on. And this… this was more than just an agreement. “Well, I don’t know if I should trust a third party examiner. Sometimes it’s better to just be a little hands-on. Don’t you agree?”

He grinned wolfishly back at her.

“I do. We can teach you to fire a real gun later.”
collab with @jessikka

“Hey, Angeline. Can we talk for a minute?” Ellen asked, approaching Angeline after the group conversation died down. They couldn’t outright leave the room, but Ellen gestured towards the unoccupied corner of the room. There was a tiny voice in the back of her mind (which some people often thought of as a conscience) telling her not to poke this bear, and to just move on...but Ellen was fixating on Angeline’s scolding, and she didn’t have her sister there to redirect her attention towards some sort of sport or other distraction.

Angeline perked up at the address. She obviously noticed she was ignored during most of that conversation, not only by Ellen. Already feeling a little uneasy, she sucked in a deep breath, sighed, and nodded her head “Yeah, sure.” she replied breathily before following Ellen over to the little quiet corner. “What’s up?” She asked, though she had a feeling she already knew.

"You may be the oldest of the group, but that doesn't give you the right to scold me for trying to help the kid-- and she IS a kid. If you keep ignoring her bigoted remarks, it's the same as accepting them. Zephyr might not care, but that doesn't make it suddenly endearing or cute." Ellen scoffed. She had a lot more to say, too, but her thoughts were getting a bit jumbled between how Angeline wanted Abi treated and how Angeline treated Ellen.

Angeline drew in a sharp breath and shook her head, “I never thought - or said- it was endearing or cute in the slightest, but you know what also isn’t endearing or cute? Talking down to a - what - fifteen or sixteen year old like they’re some kid that doesn’t know right and wrong? They need guidance not to be talked down on like that. She deserves our respect as well as our help.” She glanced over to where Abigail was standing, a strange expression on her face, almost like pity, but more like she’s battling with her own morals in her head “I mean it’s rude of us to not even include her in this conversation, what about what she wants, or - I mean like how she wants to be talked to?” She let out a long, strained sigh. “I mean, think back to when you were her age, plenty of people I knew that age weren’t even virgins anymore, I don’t think they want to be treated like children at that age, in fact it’s like they want anything but. Besides I’ve tried lecturing her like that and she just gets- “ She cast another glance Abigail's way and dropped her volume significantly “-gets quite defensive… Either she has a lot of pride about herself, or a lot of insecurity about all of us, and I’m leaning towards it being the latter. A bunch of strangers she’s never met, massively different from any people she’s ever been around and she’s stuck with us, further still in life or death situations, and further still, again, while she claims she’s some… Freak of ‘Gods’ design?” Angeline shook her head, she was not even scratching the surface of the kind of demons this girl was wrangling with, and with no support. “I just think it’s more important to make her feel welcomed to a point where she’s comfortable enough to open up to us and learn willingly on her own. It just doesn’t seem that way at the moment.”

Ellen was frustrated. Angeline wanted to act like the all-knowing one. She was apparently all-knowing about Abigail's sexual history, and how she wanted to be treated, and how she was wrestling with being insecure about being around a bunch of strangers. Like they ALL weren't dealing with cultural and linguistic differences when they were stuck in this place. What made Abigail's struggles so fucking special?

"Just because she doesn't want to hear it doesn't mean that she doesn't need to hear it." She started.

"You say she knows right from wrong... which means you think she knows how rude it is to suggest a pagan is fucking goats and is offended by me telling her that?! And at the same time you want to roll out the fucking red carpet every time she acts like a bigot just so maybe down the line she magically realizes that she is being an awful human being. You go ahead and do that. But I am not going to compromise my values because you want to coddle her."

Really, this wasn't even about Abigail. This was about Angeline. Abigail was like someone standing on a dock with a box prepared to paddle out on a dinghy to try to catch crabs. It just wasn’t going to work, and she could get hurt if she kept going. But Angeline’s solution was to sit in a lighthouse and insist that everyone should just let Abigail play by all of the boats and choose for herself what kind of vessel she wanted to take. It wasn’t a solution at all. And it was cowardly to not do more.

Angeline smoothed down her straying hairs, blatantly stressed. “I’m not saying that she doesn’t need to hear it, nor am I saying that she should go about doing what she wants.” She was losing her patience with Ellen jumping to conclusions, drawing in a deep breath. “So please, stop putting words in my mouth. I’m just trying to say that she doesn’t really trust any of us, treating her condescendingly is only going to push her away and shut us out, where she can affirm her own beliefs in her own little echo chamber.” she rubbed her face, frustrations building between the two. “Fine. Do what you want, stick by your ‘values’ and see where that gets you. I wouldn’t be surprised if she pushes you away though, I mean she’s just ‘sticking to her values.” she conceded exasperatedly.

“Putting words in your mouth?! You shut me down before Abigail even had a chance to breathe, let alone tell me for herself what she thought. But that’s beside the point. I don’t appreciate you coming in all high and mighty and talking over me when it feels like… you just...choose not to get involved when things are actually difficult. What about on the mission? You just chose to sit in the van. You didn’t have a single opinion then of how to handle things… but now you get to judge me?! It’s bullshit.”

Angeline was taken aback at first, she thought this was a conversation about Abigail but it seemed that it wasn’t really about Abigail to begin with, Ellen seemed to be upset.. With HER and veiled it as a confrontation about Abigail. She bristled at the accusation “You don’t know a thing about me and yet you feel qualified to judge me for opting to, I don’t know, not murder people?!” She snapped back, emphasising the murder part, even though she knew it would probably sting Ellen. “What do you want me to do, trickle WATER on them? Or heal their wounds? Or I dunno, do a little dance for them at the edge of camp as a nice distraction!” Angeline lost all composure now, what little control she had over her words was snatched away. “You say we’re all dealing with shit but then bitch at me when I show that I’m dealing with shit! At least I know when I don’t bring any value to a situation. Maybe you should learn how to do that too.”

Ellen opened her mouth, but then closed it again. It wasn’t often that she was at a loss for words, but for a few moments, she was. She...and her sister, had spent years trying to bring enough value to their parents that they stayed together. But it wasn’t enough. Ellen knew that she didn’t have value. Not on her own for sure. Tears began to form in her eyes, her mouth quivering as she brought a hand up to cover the shaking.

She didn’t regret the actions she took to get the medical supplies. But she wished that the decision hadn’t been entirely on her--that someone else in the group had...stepped up and helped shoulder some of that burden. But Angeline wouldn’t be that person. She couldn’t carry it. That much was clear. So it would have to be Ellen. All Ellen.

She mumbled something in Italian, but the words came out jumbled and muffled as she turned and stormed off. Ellen couldn’t get far with Brooks blocking the door, but she went as far as she literally could manage in the room, which was feeling more and more like a prison cell, and tried to pull her shit together.
Ellen thought she had been very--well, perhaps not very, but at least decently-- tactful in speaking with Abigail. She told the kid that she was handling the situation poorly and enlightened her (or at least tried to) in regards to the fact that not everyone believed the same thing as her, and they weren’t inherently any more or less right than her. Abigail didn’t seem to have much of a reaction at all to the words, and Angeline jumped in with her own ‘help’ a few moments later.

Ellen shot a glare at the other woman for saying that she didn’t need to treat the kid... like a kid. The fact that Angeline didn’t seem to think that would ever work for Abigail was a bit ridiculous. How close were they for her to know such a thing? And what was the alternative? Treat Abigail like an adult? She was going to get herself punched.

It was Ellen’s turn to clench her jaw as Angeline stepped forward with what she believed was the better way to handle the situation. Meanwhile, Zephyr just laughed the whole thing off. Really?

Fine, that’s what she got for trying to actually help Abigail broaden her understanding of how to respectfully interact with other people. Apparently it was better to just ignore Abigail when she was deeply offensive and just hope that somehow she stopped doing it?

Ellen didn’t answer Angeline’s question about her beliefs before the woman moved on to her own, which was fine. Ellen didn’t feel much like talking for the moment. As a matter of a fact, she nearly left the conversation entirely--not that she could go far in this bunk space-- when Abigail seemed to address her again. Ellen raised one eyebrow as Abigail suggested that everyone was just making it up as they went. Of course they were.

But then the teenager posed a question that shifted her expression into one of confusion. She replayed the accented words in her head to make sure she understood them before replying. Finally, she pieced together something like “Are you suggesting that you don’t feel physical pain if you refrain from using your magic?”

“Ummm… No, Abigail. I don’t feel any compulsion to use my magic, or any discomfort if I refrain from using it. Maybe that’s a violet-exclusive thing?” She didn’t seem to have any affinity for purple magic, so she couldn’t say for sure. “Other than this...sort of feeling I have that I can call upon my magic if I need it, I don’t feel any different than before. What about you guys?”
Ellen cracked a smile at Zephyr’s joke regarding his fortune for being bunked with all of the women, and she was preparing quite a tasteful and appropriate joke in response when Abigail heard something that caught her interest. She asked him about his reference to Gods, one that honestly, Ellen had completely missed the first time through.

What should have been a simple clarification and move on wasn’t, though, because Abigail went on a tirade about him being a heretic and saying he was going to hell. It got worse as the girl began to rant about him screwing goats.

“Che cazzo!” Ellen’s eyes widened and she had to fight the urge to throw a hand over Abi’s mouth and literally drag her away from the situation before she made it any worse. “Abi. NO. Just no!” She threw her hands up between the two, as if she was pulling them away from a physical altercation.

Zephyr probably wanted to speak for himself, but Ellen was not going to let Abi’s remark slide, and Zephyr didn’t seem confrontational enough to get to the root of the issue. “Look, Abi. I know you are just a kid, and you don’t know better. But those things aren’t true, and you aren’t asking in a respectful way. There…” She glanced at Zephyr and at Brooks-- of course the only time he spoke up it would be to back up the goat-fucking accusation. Useless.

“There is a lot to unpack in what you said. But when you are confronted with someone different from you, you don’t throw every stereotype and assumption at them like it is 100% factual. You ask. Respectfully. Like this.” Ellen turned to Zephyr and spoke slowly for the teenager’s benefit. “Wow, Zephyr. It is so interesting to hear that you believe in different deities. I’ve heard a bit about being pagan, but I would love to know more from someone with real experience. Can you tell me a little about how that worship works?”

Ellen then turned back to Abigail. “You need to understand that each individual has an inner truth that guides them. That truth might be different from yours. And you might not even like someone else’s truth. But you can’t steamroll over someone else’s truth with your own. So now it’s your turn. Don’t assume you know his truth. Ask politely.” Ellen gestured for the girl to try again, hoping she wouldn’t have to babysit every time Abigail opened her mouth.
Ellen went with Abi to the washroom, but finished up her business and departed before Abigail and Angeline chatted about Three Tit Terry. Like Abigail, she didn’t mind changing in the bunk area, but held off for a bit as she went for a brief walk before curfew.

She was drawn towards the sounds of shouting in a language that wasn’t English. Ellen went over to see and hear the situation better. As she got closer, she found that one was shouting in the French, and the other was speaking German. The German woman wasn’t shouting per-say, but she certainly sounded angry, which seemed to rile up the French woman further.

Ellen looked around briefly, hoping someone would take control of the situation. But the few onlookers seemed confused or unwilling to interject. Ellen sighed, then jumped in between them herself.

“Hey, what is going on?” She asked in English first, then in French when that seemed ineffective. The French woman quickly replied, and while she was telling Ellen what had happened, the German woman was trying to interject with her own tale.

Ellen held up a finger and replied back in rough German. “Please wait one minute!” The woman ceased speaking immediately, clearly surprised that Ellen was able and planning to listen to her side of things next.

What Ellen gathered over the next minute, from each woman, was that they both claimed to have brought the same lotion to the washroom. The German woman said she stepped out and left it in the stall, and turned back shortly thereafter to try to retrieve it. The French woman said it was hers all along, and the German woman was lying.

Obviously, one of them was telling the truth, but Ellen wasn't sure shehad any way to gather which person it was. “You need to calm down. I know having little things from home is nice. But no lotion is worth the stress and anger you are feeling right now.” She said, first to the French woman, and then to the German, though a bit choppier the second time. It came out probably more like, "Be calm. All people want things from home. But lotion is not as important as mad and to be angry."

Ellen asked to see the lotion. She looked over the label of the mostly used-up cream, and her brows furrowed in confusion, and then annoyance. There was some of the typical complicated long names of ingredients that she had expected to see, but then a few others she hadn't. Turning it to the front, she saw the name Kadefungin. Then she pieced together exactly what it was for. She looked up at the French woman. “This isn’t lotion.” Ellen said. She handed it to the German woman and told her to feel better, then turned back to the thief. "And the label was in German."

The thief tried to sputter something about how she had ordered it overseas ages ago, but Ellen stopped listening and the German woman shoved the yeast infection treatment into her bag as she stomped off.

Deciding she had seen enough of other parts of Goodnight, Ellen returned to their bunk area. It was quieter than she expected, and most of the sleeping bags were missing. It seemed it was just going to be the crew from the last mission, tonight. She nodded to Brooks, recalling he was coming specifically to watch over Abigail, then went over to her possessions to get changed.

Unlike some of the others, Ellen actually had a few changes of clothes in the bag she had brought with her. She made a habit out of airing out clothes she wore in the day since they couldn't be washed that often, and re-wore pajamas since all she was doing in them was sleeping. She stripped off the shirt, but left her bra on as she threw the larger t-shirt on top. Then she unhooked and slid down the sleeves of the bra, removing it completely for the night. She put on some yoga pants and looked over the rest of the folks. Abigail was pestering Zephyr about being the only man in the bunk.

Though Zephyr looked surprised by the revelation, Ellen was, and had always been, aware of the lack of men in their little troupe. She pulled her hair out of the ponytail and approached the group, listening to the chit chat.
Outside the Chapel

(Abigail and Ellen: A Collab between Stitches and Pascal)


Abigail was the first and fastest to leave. She was quick on the mark standing up, and quicker still with her unsteady canter towards the door - using her body weight, meagre as it was, to swing it open as she lurched haphazardly into the corridor outside.

Ellen wasn't surprised by the girl's eagerness to run. She remembered a similar event when she was younger-- confronted with having to talk about her feelings and the events that had transpired made her feel like she had to justify her feelings… and even more, that she was expected to apologize for them. She had felt so betrayed, so bitter, and so utterly alone.

Ellen probably would have stayed behind and chatted for a bit with the people there, had Abi not run off and reminded her of her younger self. "Excuse me, nice meeting you all!" Ellen called out as she hopped up. "Abi, hey, wait up!" Ellen called out, picking up her pace to catch up with Abi. The girl froze and went through a variety of expressions before swinging around to Ellen, picking a wary frown to wear on her face as she approached.

"Hey Abi, I just wanted to apologize for earlier, calling you out like that was rude." Ellen still wanted to say that Abi didn't look good, but she felt like that would be undoing her attempt at an apology, so she waited. "You okay?"

There was a pause. It looked like she was parsing the information and churning through a handful of thoughts all fighting to come out of her mouth at once. She eventually decided upon "it's okay. You didn't know," and after a moment longer, she nodded. "I'm fine."

Ellen sincerely doubted she was fine, but would pressing right now help? "Cool. So what are you up to now?" Ellen asked, continuing to walk alongside the other girl. Besides, it wasn't like she had anything better to do.

"I'm uh," Abigail wiped her face with her healthy hand, "I'm waitin' on those two to get outta the...chapel." There was a slight emphasis on the final word and no small amount of scepticism. "Brooks don't like the fact I ain't sleepin', so he's taking 'decisive action' - whatever that means."

“You aren’t sleeping?” Ellen didn’t know before--how could she have, really? Though, that did explain some of Abi’s current appearance. Lack of sleep could really mess with the body and mind. “I’m sorry to hear that. Is it nightmares or insomnia?” Ellen had a little experience with nightmares, and hell, when she started trying to sleep on boats she got a little experience with insomnia. She used to get horribly seasick every time she tried to sleep on a boat. In the back of her mind, the idea began to form that it was perhaps something more than just a… mundane sleep issue. It couldn’t be so simple as her just feeling unsafe and restless, right?

"It's neither. I can't-...it ain't so simple, I'm endangering everybody if I go to sleep, for reasons I ain't sure I'm allowed to tell you," Abigail rubbed the back of her neck, scuffing her foot on the tiles. Then she seemed to clock on to how she sounded and was hasty to recover. "It ain't cause I'm gonna blow up or nothin', either!" She held her hands up in self defense. "The sleeping bag, that was, it's an isolated incident! I'd even go ahead n' say it was intentional, in a way!"

Ellen wasn't sure if these things were secret because Goodnight wanted them so, or secret because Abigail wanted them so, but she simply shrugged and moved on, chuckling as Abigail brought up some sleeping bag destruction. "Ahh, I see. Well it sucks that you aren't sleeping." She looked back at the chapel. "But I'm glad someone is going to help you out. Is Brooks someone you knew, before?" She asked. They seemed… cut from the same cloth, in a way.

"Nah I never met him," Abigail dismissed the claim with indifference. "He just...he gets it, y'know?" She glanced back at the chapel door. "He gets it in a way I don't think nobody 'cept for folk who lived the way I do would get it."

Ellen blinked. She clearly didn't get it. But she didn't grow up similar to how Abigail did. If they learned nothing else from the "therapy," they learned that. The good thing was that Abigail had a person who she seemed to get along with. Maybe Abigail didn't need someone like her around. "Well, I'll just wait with you for a few if that's alright." She offered.

Abigail glanced up at Ellen with a brief look of bewilderment. She mulled it over for a few moments before the first, genuine smile flashed on her exhausted face. "Sure."

They weren't kept waiting for long. Audrey and Brooks walked briskly from the chapel next, in hushed conversation. Ellen and Abigail caught the tail end of what Audrey was saying ("-pletely reasonable to have them do that. All I'm saying is approach it carefully. After all, it can't go any more wrong than it already did, right?") as she patted Brooks on the shoulder twice and paced right past them without so much as a nod of acknowledgement.

A more alert Abigail might have been suspicious but the kid drawled "what's all this about 'decisive action', huh?" As Brooks approached.

"It means exactly that. You're worried about sleep; I'm acting on it."

"But how?" Abi whinged with impatience.

"I'm going to keep an eye on you while you sleep."

"Hot."

"That way you ain't as likely to get stressed out and paranoid. I'm afraid that means I'm going to be in your personal space, Ellen. Along with the rest of your group." The bootlegger turned his attention to the other woman, clasping one hand by the wrist in front of him as he stared down at her.

Ellen looked at Brooks as he explained he would be in their sleeping quarters. It was the most she had heard him talk, but she wasn't surprised that he chose to talk about Abigail over anything else. "Doesn't matter to me." Ellen replied. "I'm used to sleeping on demand." She didn't much mind the larger communal sleeping area. The sleeping bags were just as comfortable as her beds on the boats had been, and it was honestly just as loud here as there.

"As long as you don't climb into my sleeping bag, we'll be fine." She chuckled. Ellen wasn't the pickiest woman in the world, but she did have a type-- and Brooks wasn't it. She looked over to Abigail, raising her brows. "You good with this plan?" She asked.

"I mean, yeah, but it's not gonna do much to-"

"Good," Brooks interjected as he brought his hands down to his sides and started to move. "I'll see you both this evening." He nodded once and left. Abigail watched him go.

"I sure hope that don't bite me in the ass down the line somehow," the kid mused to herself. She was just as quick to forget about it and grinned up at Ellen. "Let's get in the queue for the washrooms, otherwise we're gonna be stuck waitin' fer hours."
"Why?" Ellen repeated, though she shouldn't have been surprised that the therapist wanted her to dig a little deeper into her actions rather than just stating the things that had happened.

She couldn't help but be slightly concerned that she had said the wrong thing. She didn't expect a medal for her actions or anything like that, but she had expected...at least some acknowedgement that she had contributed to the group's success. Okay, yea, she wanted credit. But what was so bad about that?

"I think because..." She didn't plan her words before she spoke, and just sort of started rambling a bit. "I didn't want to forget him. And... if it were me there instead, I wouldn't want to be discarded and forgotten. We are people, just like them, not faceless, nameless monsters. Yea we have to make tough choices, and maybe sometimes they are the wrong ones, but that doesn't make us any less...human." Ellen didn't make it clear which specific groups she was talking about--and perhaps she, herself, wasn't entirely sure.

Ellen shrugged and looked down. She definitely wasn't getting a 'Good job' today. Not even a damn sticker.
Ellen supposed it was nice that the doctor thought their reactions were all normal, and they had all done well, but it felt like a consolation trophy. Ellen missed the days when just the person who was the best got acknowledged and the rest took the loss as a sign they had something to work on. Losing made her work harder, and practice better than winning ever did, and felt quite...annoyed about being told they were all winners.

Dr. Cassar went on to ask about the most recent mission. He already knew about the technical details, but wanted to know more about it. Should she just repeat what she said in the debrief? Or was he looking for more...interpersonal sort of things. Ellen waited for a few moments, in case someone else wanted to jump in first. Looking around, it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to begin.

Ellen didn't mind taking the lead on that. She probably could have summarized everything that happened, but what came to her mind most was… well, the obvious. Besides, he already knew the technical details, so she didn't need to just repeat all of that.

"The house was all shot up when we got there." Ellen began. She didn't talk about the guy who was bleeding out inside, since it was really Angeline who had taken care of him. She had just helped. "And the supplies were gone. We followed the tracks and caught up to them a few hours later."

"We split up to try to get an idea of if there were more of them, their weapons, whatever. I used my magic to make another version of myself, to get closer and see where the supplies were, and if they had more weapons. Abigail came with me, and stayed close, watching over my actual body. I relayed what I saw to her and then she left to tell the others. I took a position behind the group with a spare gun. After the fog was cast, one of the guys who was already hurt ran out towards me. I shot him a few times. I didn’t mean to fire that many, but… I’m not used to firing a gun.” She felt the sudden urge to apologize for wasting ammunition, but she got the feeling that would come across heartless. She could be sad about the dead guy and also sad about being wasteful, right?

"He took a while to bleed out. I stayed… I don’t know if it was more out of concern that he might get up and try to get revenge, or if it was a guilt thing… but it took so much longer than I expected.” This part was hard to talk about. She knew this was getting into the feels of it all, and she had trouble navigating the desire to be matter-of-fact about it all with the fact that they’d likely label her a psychopath if she didn’t admit to at least some of the feelings she had.

“I went through his pockets and looked at his wallet. I probably didn't need to, but I wanted to know his name, and make sure he didn’t have the keys to their truck. It was different with him than it had been with the FOE agent. That had been… self-defense. I can't write this one off as the same. I know that and I’m not…” Ellen trailed off. “I don’t regret the choices I made, I just acknowledge that it was different.” That was enough of the touchy feely stuff, right?

"After that was done, I checked in with Hans, then returned to the van where Abigail and Angeline were waiting. That's about it on my end. We drove back and debriefed.”
Ellen wasn’t sure if she should believe Abi’s tale. She said things were easy and she mostly hid in the back of a car the whole time. Then again, Ellen’s actual Awakening wasn’t bad, either--though that was mostly because she knew what was coming.

“I… was expecting it, so I made sure to be shore-side. I went out with…” She paused, looking around the group for a moment before continuing. “A gentleman friend of mine and he was asleep when I Awoke. I was in his shower, and when I dried off, I had a message saying the FOE would be coming. I gathered my things, grabbed a few bottles of water and poptarts, and a medical kit from one of the nearby ships, and met up with my ride.”

“We ran into trouble later, with one of the other pick-ups.” Ellen added. The whole night had really been...something. “The FOE appeared at the end of the street. Hans jumped out of the car to start drawing their fire. The kid was still on the street so I jumped out of the car and tried to lead her down the alleys a few blocks away. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I wasn’t going to sit in the car and do nothing. Not when everyone was risking their lives for us.” Ellen wasn’t trying to land a jab on Abi this time, she was just trying to explain why she was so...impulsive, in this particular instance.

“We ended up in an alley blocked by a dumpster and a fence, and the girl couldn’t climb. Three guys in riot gear came at us. The girl I was with froze one, and another… I am not sure what she did to him, but he fell down in pain. I rushed at the woman and we grappled a bit. She dislocated my shoulder in the process, and then the agent took out her gun. I didn’t have a plan--beyond trying not to die, but Hans showed up a short while later.” Ellen closed her eyes, trying to remember exactly how the gun had ended up in her hands.Some of the moments were a bit blurry. She remembered the pain of Ciara putting her arm back in place, she remembered thinking ‘Fuck ‘em.’

Opening her eyes, she took a deep breath and finished her story. “I grabbed the gun the FOE agent had dropped and shot her. Hans was hurt, so I carried Ciara to the car and took over driving for the group for a while. They were doing medical attention in the back for the ones who were worse off. But all of us made it to Goodnight.” Ellen was still holding her biscuit, but she took a few small bite snow that she had finished her tale. It was… a bit long-winded, but Cassar hadn’t put a cap on how long their stories were supposed to be.
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