The Thirteenth / Chapter NINE

Chapter NINE


Chapter NINE

Deep, soak-into-your-bones warmth surrounded her. Heavy exhalations painted the back of her skull and the nape of her neck with moist heat. Damali stirred and snuggled in closer to Carlos's spoon of her body. A perfect fit; a divine design. Heaven on earth, if just for rare glimpses of this peace that surpassed all understanding. She'd learned long ago never to take something so profoundly simple and so wonderfully exquisite for granted.

His hand loosely cupped her breast, causing the sensitive nerve endings at the tip of it to tingle every time his palm gently grazed her tightening nipple. She'd become so relaxed that her body felt like a lump of clay, molded by the shape of his, and now dampened by his touch. She didn't know how long she'd been asleep, nor did she care at the moment. Tranquility permeated her senses, melted her bones. They were adrift on an azure-blue sea, and with her eyes closed she was floating on a sea of comfort, navigating between semi-wakefulness and the depths of heavy REM.

But soon the throb between her legs nagged her to full consciousness. Carlos's all-pervasive warmth pressed to her bottom enticed friction . . . just a slight undulation like the gentle waves that lapped the ship's skin. Then her long, deep breaths hit sudden shallows, causing her to sip air through her mouth. He felt so good and smelled fantastic . . . clean with just his natural scent. His thumb absently slid past her nipple, making her breath hitch. She wondered if her personal captain heard her. Damali smiled with her eyes closed and willed herself to allow the man his rest. A gentle kiss against the back of her head told her he had.

They lay like that for what felt like a long time, him slowly waking up, her enjoying being surrounded by his endless sea of warmth. Talking would have ruined it. Sensation, skin contact, was the only form of communication needed. They stretched as one, her legs slowly lowering from their sleepy bend, his seeking a space between them without breaking the integrity of their spoon.

His hand was a slow, steady stroke of pleasure-filled heat down her arm, then her side, and over the swell of her bare hip and back again. The towel was gone, lost in the sheets he'd covered her with while she was asleep. His breathing didn't change, but his body did, responding to the tautness of her nipple and the slight shudder his calm ministrations had caused.

Somehow during her sleep, she was sure her joints must have dissolved. Her body felt like liquid heat as his touch flowed over her in gentle waves. And yet everything about him, other than his touch, had become solid mass. To ground herself, she slowly reached for his hip, flowing touch down it, taking sweatpants with it, washing away fabric with the insistent surf of her hand. His breathing stopped for a moment as her warm, wet waves pelted pure stone behind her. Just as water wears down rock, it was only a matter of time. She could feel him begin to dissolve into sand ... his erosion started with a quiet moan that he swallowed to preserve her dignity. Then a quick feral kiss that he pressed against her temple, his arms gathering her closer to brace against the inevitable.

A storm of passion had arisen out of nowhere from what was otherwise calm. Deepening, building, torrential. . . slick, wet rhythm, the sound of pelting rain, his breaths gale force in her hair, there was no way to stop rushing water. He wasn't even in her ocean, just lapping against her shore and feeling her smooth, engorged pebble. That alone had devastated him . . . had ruined her. And yet a storm was still building, one that looked innocent enough from the onset, but had category five written all over it.

She felt the unspoken question in his mind--the tension in his body transmitted it, his openmouthed breaths �wind-chanted it. Yes, it was going to be a big one, hold on.

No one could fight the ocean, the element of water, not even her. One swirling eddy, one deep spine snap, and he was engulfed, plunging into drowning heat that put fangs in his mouth and her face into the pillow.

He turned away from her throat, survival instinct making him cling to the last vestige of sanity he owned, but she was caught up--building, climbing, a wall of raw power and water and intensity that fisted the sheets as she bit her lip, neither willing to cry out to betray personal tsunamis.

The moment she went under, he succumbed, let go, and drowned hard . . . convulsing into breath-stopping shudders that bloodied his lip. Panting, holding on to each other tightly, they washed ashore to a place of calm, not opening their eyes for a long while.

Slowly, as their breathing normalized, his hand found that same lazy pattern that had started it all... like an ancient mariner's nautical sight, he knew her sand shoals, her eddies, her deep water. Understood her storms and respected them, just like her cloudless, crystal-blue days. His kiss had charted her long ago, and yet she was still a mystery, so much of her unknown by man. Depths that had yet to be explored. Her heart a siren's call to his, two souls inextricably linked. He'd been seduced by her since forever; had given up the struggle not to drown in Damali... it was what it was. He would gladly die at sea.

He kissed her damp shoulder and nuzzled her hair, his mouth now hungering for hers in the worst way. She turned to him to offer what he sought; it was a ritual between them. Her beautiful brown eyes smoky, her expression serene, sated. A soft, graceful hand caressed his cheek. Her turned his face into it and kissed her palm.

"Te amo," he murmured, tracing her collarbone with a finger.

"I love you, too," she whispered before she took his mouth again.

"We need to get another shower." He smiled and closed his eyes.

"Yeah," she murmured with a smile, closing her eyes. "In a little while."

Damali gently caressed the pearl in her choker necklace with deep reverence as she and Carlos took plates of stir-fry veggies and rice to the top deck. From this point forward, she would stop giving her oracle the blues. Pearl had obviously grown, had become more subtle in her prognostications and predictions. Damali swallowed a private smile--time that Pearl had spent with the Neteru Queens had clearly infused wisdom and a lot of grace. The group nap she'd suggested wasn't as much about physical rest as it was about emotional release and comforting damaged spirits through the healing art of touch, love sublime. "Hey, everybody." Damali gave the group a relaxed smile, searching for room on the table to add her bounty. People had made crackers and cheese, tuna sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, hummus and chips, and steamed dumplings from the frozen food bags. She chuckled softly. "I guess Inez is crashing, because this sure doesn't have her stamp of coordinated grub on it."

"Hey . . ." Juanita said, laughing. "Did the best we could under the circumstances."

"Yo," Carlos said quietly, smiling wide. "Brought some grub to add to the party. I found some vegetables down there in the freezer. Don't make me get Mar on you, eating dinner with nothing green on your plates."

"Tell me y'all fixed Monty a plate?" Damali began filling a clean plate with grub for their captain.

"You know we took care of homeboy," Yonnie said with a yawn. "Sinclair is da man"

"Good, but I hope you didn't give him all of this and made him something that makes sense," Damali said with a skeptical grin.

"See, now you hatin'," Juanita said, laughing. "We gave him a little of everything as we brought it up from the kitchen."

"Oh, maaaan, you'll have him sick as a dog with all that rolling around in his gut."

Carlos shook his head. "Y'all trying to put our captain out of commission, or what?"

"Dang, C, we ain't think about all of that."

Damali and Carlos stared at each other for a moment and then burst out laughing as she quickly took Monty a sensibly arranged plate anyway. To her surprise, Carlos went with her, bringing some bottled water and juice.

"You cool?" Carlos asked, offering Monty something cold to drink.

"Good as ever; I'm too excited about this adventure to sleep yet," Monty replied with a big smile, and then motioned with his chin to a small table where they could leave his food. "Your hospitality warms my heart. I feel so useful, so alive . . . like I've gotten a brand-new family."

"You have." Damali hugged Monty and then quickly stood aside so Carlos could welcome him, too. "We are family now," Damali said, truly meaning it in her soul. "There was a reason we all came together. Believe that."

"I do, with all my heart," Monty said. "I haven't been this happy in a long time, isn't that odd?" He looked from Damali to Carlos, eyes beaming with delight. "Now, go, relax, and leave me to my thoughts. This is my time when I just daydream and watch the sea . . . very calming."

"I can appreciate that, man," Carlos said, threading his arm around Damali's waist. "Thanks, again . . . seriously, for putting it all on the line."

Easy salutations and waves met Damali and Carlos with laughs when they returned. Folks were sprawled out across the comfortable seating, looking like it was an effort not to fall asleep where they sat.

As she glanced around the top deck, every couple that had been given so-called R and R was holding hands, touching in some way, their gazes gentle, expressions serene. She watched their auras mingle in the waning, orange-red sunset haze of Caribbean dusk, opalescent hues shimmering against a background of pale purple and darkening blue. Lovers engaged in a private dance. It was written all over their faces; they'd all used the time the same way--to bond, strengthen the cord of man and wife through touch and skin reverence, deep soul-level appreciation. Each had brought a portion of a meal to the top deck, an offering for their fellow teammates and their spouses to break bread and cherish whatever time left them that God would allow.

The pure synchronicity of it all was wonderfully eerie. Oddly, and yet perfectly, without discussion or previous coordination, each woman had selected a sundress that complemented a chakra point. Every man was in white shorts or sweatpants with a T-shirt of a complementary hue, laidback and chilling. The color thing was deep. She couldn't have planned it consciously if she had tried--and her team daggcme sure wouldn't have gone for it if she had. They never dressed that way as a group.

The norm was combat fatigues, jeans, or leather, with Tims, not flip-flops and shower shoes. Not potentially about to go to war. But the group was so fluid, so relaxed that it blew her mind. Given all that they'd been through and what they possibly faced as the sun dropped, they were cooler than she'd ever seen them going into a battle.

Every woman looked radiant and every color gave off a vibration; Marlene and Nefertiti had taught her that. She could see it dancing in each woman's aura and then commingling into her husband's auric field. The sound of each color gave off a definitive pitch, a barely audible harmonic that was soothing.

Later, when she and her Guardian sisters would finally stand at the yacht's rails to begin the pyramid meditation, all of their color vibrational choices would matter.

She had on a strapless, white, flowing gauze shift--which made sense for her to be the crown chakra as the team's female Neteru. Heather had chosen a pretty violet wrap, and as the stoneworker third eye for the group, and therefore the one most closely aligned with the submerged stone structure, it was logical for her to have been drawn to the hue of the third eye. Lovely Tara, the group's voice of reason, had gravitated to her Native American turquoise, which was also the hue of the throat chakra.

Damali picked at one of the platters she'd set" down earlier on the large glass and white wrought-iron deck table, straining not to shake her head at the simplistic perfection of the Divine hand at work.

Quiet Jasmine had chosen a jade-green slip of a dress that framed her long, jet-black hair and gorgeous Asian eyes. It made sense for this delicate soul to have chosen the color of the heart chakra--the bridge between worlds. Her blond sister-in-law, Krissy, had picked a lively, canary-yellow dress, and her constant upset at the injustices of the world and her cry for equity made that solar plexus chakra color naturally hers. Audacious Juanita, a streetwise Latina sister from the 'hood like her, had picked a fiery orange, off-the-shoulder tie-wrap, whose hue was all about the gut hunch. But she would have never guessed in a million years that innocent Val would have chosen the deep reddish fuchsia, spaghetti-strap mini she'd picked. That color was so powerful. . . primal, and Val was. . . Damali allowed the thought to dissipate. Yonnie was a definite influence, so, yeah, it made perfect sense.

Damali glanced at Carlos, not even needing to say it. He shrugged and answered her message as they picked up plates and utensils.

Did you know'? Did you pick the colors and sizes with specific Guardian sisters in mind?

No . . . just pulled in things based on estimated size. At the time, I was rushing, wasn't picking out styles and colors, D. C'mon, now, baby. Did I mess up? Tell me you aren't trying to be the fashion police during the Armageddon--they all look nice to me, and you're stunning, baby . . . what?

Damali kissed his cheek as he set a huge mound of brown rice on each of their plates.

No, you didn't mess up, she mentally shot to him, laughing. Everything is-so perfect that it's freaking me out.

Oh. His mental murmur contained a caress. Glad I did something right.

He smiled; she smiled, not looking at the others for a private moment as they continued dishing up their plates of food.

You did more than something right. She allowed her sidelong glance to catch his and trap it for a moment like a caress.

He brushed her mouth as they found a space on an empty sofa and sat down. "Eat," he said quietly, his knee skimming her thigh.

There was nothing else to say, the companionable silence said it all.

"Where are you, where are you, my troublesome Neterus?" Lilith muttered, staring at the slowly rotating globe that hovered in her empty chambers. "Plagues haven't driven you out-- demons haven't flushed you out to help your beloved humans," she added with a sneer, and then flung her goblet of blood at the transparent image.

She released a shriek of fury and balled her talons into a fist. "Your deaths haven't registered, the deaths of your beloved Covenant haven't even brought you out--not even the destruction of your Guardian team hideouts or hostage attempts! Damn you, where are you? We've covered the lands far and wide, every place on the globe, even the Arctic, sending the undead to feast on the living."

Lilith raked her talons across her scalp, parting her jet-black hair and leaving trails of blood. Ignoring the injury that sealed immediately, she began to pace. The puzzle was an enigma. They'd opened the bowels of Hell to have them mirror reflect the psyche of the human population. Plagues tortured people like the phantoms of Level One, succubae and incubi possessed the unwitting and made them commit heinous acts of violence against humanity and the earth like that of Level Two.

Her Level Two poltergeists were running rampant, terrorizing any soul they could find. Serpentlike Amanthra demons, and all of the wetland demonic forces from huge spiders and pests to rodents and maggot infestations, were running amok-- Levels Three and Four had gone topside. Her most cherished were-creatures from Level Five, everything from werewolves to massive were-cats and anything in between, had been belched to the surface to infect and take over humans . . . and her vampires from Level Six . . .

Lilith just closed her eyes. Fallen Nuit had demonstrated such mastery with his subliminal attack on mankind through the airwaves of Council Group Entertainment, and then had created so many gorgeous, powerful entities of the night. His master vampires were going to be the stuff of legends, rivaled only by Vlad's armies and Sebastian's necromancy. Her council-women had been treacherously flawless--poisons and feeding frenzies, jealousies and greed. All of Hell was topside, and now manifesting in the entire human population based on the sins of the individual and the world. Only those destined for the Rapture would escape ... so why hadn't the Neterus surfaced?

She opened her talons to accept a new goblet of blood and retracted her huge bat wings, folding them into her shoulders as she retracted her spaded tail. Fury without direction was getting her nowhere. Her husband, the Dark Lord, would not accept excuses at this time in the empire. Lilith placed a forefinger to her crimson-stained lips, studying landmasses.

"Where in the world are you, my sweets?" Then suddenly she smiled as a hunch clawed at her mind. She chuckled and walked around the globe several times. "Nooo . . . oh, tell me that it isn't that easy! If you're not on land, then you have to be on the high seas!" Lilith threw her head back and cackled loudly. "I cannot believe the Light allowed you to take such a perfectly insane risk! They must really be getting desperate."

Frank Weinstein turned away from his stricken wife. Stella just stared out into the nothingness of the mountains, refusing to accept food or water from the Guardians, and he knew that if she could have, she would have refused to breathe.

War robbed humankind of its humanity and lifted the veil of innocence from the eyes of children . . . and adults. It was a monster in and of itself that was no respecter of age or gender. His wife was alive but her spirit had been shattered. Their son, Daniel, was most likely dead, and the potential of hope, a reason to keep going, would lie with him in some unmarked grave . . . or on the streets, his body savaged by rats and starving dogs.

It was this reality that, more than anything, kept his Stella frozen in a dark abyss of terror. They held guns--people who had lived a life of nonviolence, oblivious to the horrors of global atrocities. Yet, this was what their parents and grandparents had warned of, this was what Rabbi had given his life for ... a devil was a devil, evil was evil. Did it matter if it was embodied in a human shell or in its hideous supernatural form? The truth was an avenging angel, which declared that no one, no people, could allow it to happen again, anywhere, to anyone.

But what was real, what was a mind fractured into hallucinations? So-called rebels had saved their lives and secreted them away into the mountains; their trusted government had hunted them down and tried to round them up. Everything black was white and white was black. He was now an outlaw; his honorable son had given his life without even a decent burial. Synagogues, temples, churches, mosques, had all been burned to the ground. People were eating one another! He'd seen demons eat a man alive in the tunnel . . . a holy man. And now he had a gun? To do what with--turn it on himself and his wife, if their Spartan sanctuary was overrun?

Frank Weinstein covered his face with his palms, completely unable to process the events of the last twenty-four hours. He wept silently, thickly, beginning to rock. "Come back to me, Stella," he whispered into his damp hands. "There's no one left to understand who we were but you."

A concrete beam had knocked her out but had saved her life. It had blocked her body from the other falling debris that would have surely killed her, and then, according to the baby, it had kept a monster from eating her alive.

"Jesus, take me now," Delores Filgueiras whispered, her eyes shut tightly in prayer.

A gentle hand at her back made her open her eyes. "Ma'am, He ain't gonna do that because it would break your daughter's and granddaughter's hearts."

Delores looked at the Guardian whom they called Dragon Rider. "You're safe for now up in the mountains."

Another Guardian came to her and squatted down. She owned an intense gaze, but there was gentleness in her voice. "You did good back there--was the stuff of Guardians. The baby said you ran against panicked humans, threw your body in the way to cover her when the blast hit." Quick shook her head. "If you hadn't fallen on Ayana, the demons would have found her right off and taken her hostage--that's some love. She was so tiny; she crawled out and then boo saved you. So, ma'am, stay with us, and we'll get you back to your daughter or die trying. We promise."

Dragon Rider nodded. "And for the love of God, lady, don't wish for an untimely death . . . because the one thing I know, if you haven't figured it out yet, He answers all prayers."

Relaxed and completely open, each couple took a position at the top deck rail, choosing one of the four cardinal points. Two couples stood at starboard, two portside, two at the bow, with Damali and Carlos at the stern.

"Tell me when you feel that rock, lady," Damali called out to Heather.

"Aye, aye, Captain," Heather said with a wide smile, and then sent her gaze out into the starlit night.

Guardians waited like silent sentinels, listening to the night and the ripples of water caressing the vessel. Then Dan's voice broke their private communion with the vastness of the sea.

"I think she's got something, people," he said nervously, his line of vision going between Heather and Damali.

Heather's eyelids fluttered violently and her once-calm breathing became a labored pant as her head dropped back.

"What should I do, D?" Dan paced behind his wife, not sure if he should touch her or allow her to descend further into the trance.

Carlos looked at Heather as he spoke to Damali. "D, she's going in really deep ... is it cool?" When he turned around, Damali was in a heavy trance state that mirrored Heather's. "D!" "Don't touch them," Marlene said, walking up and onto the top deck. "Now it begins. Just watch."

Shabazz was on Marlene's heels. "What's going on, baby? Look at 'em! It's like they're all--" "Drowning," Marlene said calmly.

Every male on deck yelled the same word at the same time: "What?"

"They have to let go and stop struggling," Marlene said, moving to the center of the vessel, opening her arms and using her ebony walking stick like a lightning rod. "Once they die to what they knew, they will be emptied of the old and filled with the new."

Carlos pointed at Marlene, challenging her, but with respect. "Marlene . . . don't you let one of them die or hemorrhage. I don't want them emptied, none of the brothers do--we clear?"

"This is feminine energy, baby," Marlene said gently, her wise eyes beginning to glow white. "The energy of peace after the fire. Trust it."

"I trust you, Mar," Carlos said, beginning to pace. "Trust something much bigger than me," Marlene said, starting to whirl in a circle as an iridescent shimmer began to overtake each female Guardian standing at the rail.

Damali clutched her throat with one hand while holding on to the rail with the other, suddenly gasping and convulsing until her wings tore through her shoulder blades with such force that rivulets of blood coursed down her back.

"That's it!" Carlos shouted, heading toward his wife. "Touch her now and you'll injure her!" the pearl in Damali's necklace shrieked. "Don't, Carlos!"

Every man backed up from his wife, panic and adrenaline making the muscles in their biceps twitch.

"They must die," the pearl said more calmly as the winds began to rise with roiling waves that summated out of nowhere. "Go home to the source . . ."

"She's not dying--fuck all that," Yonnie yelled over the roaring winds. "C, do something, man . . . you know all this spiritual shit!"

"We wait," Carlos said, glancing between Damali and Marlene, who nodded.

"Wait for what? A fucking tsunami to take our wives overboard!" Rider shouted as a huge wave in the distance headed toward the craft.

"Have faith," Marlene said quietly. "Wait." "Atlantis is rising," Pearl said in an eerie echo. Her voice had taken on a hollow tone like that of an amplified seashell. "Every old, highly advanced civilization came from there . .. this was where the tree of knowledge was replanted. Every reincarnation of advanced empires comes from that tree, and it flourishes as long as the leaders adhere to the principles. But those empires will go into instant decline and obscurity when the laws of the Divine are violated . . . and their civilizations will turn to dust. It has happened cycle after cycle, until there can be no more cycles after this."

"I don't care about that ancient history shit," Carlos said, going toward Damali. "There is a wall of water about to hit this ship, Pearl, and I need to know where the closest landmass is on this side of the Triangle--stat!"

"She'll capsize!" Monty yelled frantically from the pilothouse. "She wasn't meant to withstand anything like this!"

"C, we can't fight the ocean!" Big Mike shouted, bracing Inez in an iron grip.

Berkfield began flinging life vests into the center of the deck. "Marjorie--don't just stand there! Help me!"

"It isn't a wall of water, Carlos. It's a wall of energy from Atlantis," Pearl said in a soothing but firm tone. "Do not touch your mates, they are almost dead, and they will be washed away. It is prophecy."

"What!" Carlos was pure motion.

Every male on the ship broke his position and made a dash toward his wife, but a bullwhip of white light that came up from the depths like the tentacles of a giant octopus separated them from their objective.

"Do not interfere!" Pearl warned. "The children they carry must be infused with all the insights they need to rebuild the next world after the Fall. It is their role to protect the future. They must have all of the technical advancements of Atlantis, plus the wisdom that was lacking in subsequent empires . . . there will be no more cycles left after theirs for humanity to finally evolve."

Before the male Guardians could make another desperate lunge for their wives, the wall of jewel-blue energy hit the craft, washing over the deck, and radiated a sparkling, opalescent charge over every surface. Each female Guardian stopped struggling, stopped breathing, her eyes wide and glassy as the hue of her chakra color slowly overtook her irises.

Beams of colored lights danced beneath the pristine water's surface, connecting to the fingertips of each woman as she opened her arms and then gasped in a soul-shuddering breath. The light swelled from the ocean's depths, covering them each in blue, violet, orange, red, every color that was worn spilled onto the deck, overtook their hair, lifting it from their shoulders, and creating a halo around their entire bodies.

White light spiraled up from the great sea beyond and entered Damali through the crown of her head, lighting her eyes in glowing, white-hot energy that lifted her from the surface of the deck, arched her back, and then suddenly sucked in every color her sisters emanated. Her gasp cut through the night, and her exhalation sent the light toward them, lifting every other woman off her feet in a color orb of the chakra hue she wore. Then Damali's Guardian sisters turned to face one another, still in a trance, each opening her mouth and releasing the sound of her hue. Damali's voice blended with theirs to ring at a glass-shattering pitch.

The harmonics fused, creating a spiral of multicolored light that became denser and denser until it was an opalescent staff that rose from the deck and then exploded into glittering, iridescent pinpoints of light energy.

In the shimmering wake, a hologramlike image of a magnificent crystal pyramid filled the center of the all-female circle. Each woman's eyes glowed a different hue, and the writings through the ages moved in a blur in her irises. Languages never recorded, symbols lost in antiquity . . . then Kemetian hieroglyphics, Sumerian, Aramaic, Greek, Chinese, runes, wall art, so many so fast that it was impossible to catalogue, and it all passed through their eyes as male Guardians stood in awe, paralyzed with reverence.

Then, one by one, each woman dropped to the deck, washed away by a current of energy that left her sputtering and trembling. Damali collapsed, her wings still glowing with energy, her eyes flickering as the last of the current abated. She looked up first as footfalls neared the circle.

"Don't!" Damali said, her voice foreign, older, and sensually husky as it echoed through the night. She stood with effort, her gaze unfocused. "Atlantis had to sink. Its knowledge was too powerful and vast for the undeveloped human spirit. The avatars of old, however, reincarnated, time and time again, each remembering some of their time in the chrysalis of pure knowledge . . . and time and time again, their human condition, eventually, was overtaken by the temptations of the dark-side in the world."

She opened her arms, golden tears filling her eyes. "Just as Kemet rose to great heights and knew a long reign of advanced science, beauty, art, and grace for centuries . . . after thousands of years without incident, the later pharaohs forgot the Divine principles and fell into decadence, they lost all that they had once owned ... as has every empire in the world after them. These children we carry must not forget. This time when they rebuild, they will hold the collective consciousness of the old avatars of Atlantis . . . but will also contain the spiritual lighthouse--once the darkness in the world is vanquished. Just like you must not forget. . . everything that you are, the dark and the light within must be used for the Ultimate Good and for the protection of the final empire."

Damali let out a hard breath, blinked twice, and just that quickly her eyes were normal brown again. Slightly disoriented, she looked at her Guardian sisters who were stirring on the deck and then looked at the stricken expressions on the rest of the team.

"You guys okay?" she said, giving Carlos a curious glance. "What?"

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