"A HOLOGRAM IN HIS OWN RIGHT"

By Thea Bradley


"But I am telling you, Doc..." Paris lowered his voice and glanced over his shoulder as if he expected someone to be listening."That's not our captain."

The doctor turned away, shaking his head. Really, sometimes he got fed up with the ceaseless pranks Paris and Company played. "Okay, Mr. Paris, I'll play along. What makes you think that the Janeway on the bridge isn't our very own captain?"

Paris threw up his hands in exasperation. "I can't explain it, Doc, she just doesn't act like our captain." He moved around to face the Doctor, so the hologram had no choice but to look him in the eye. "She makes stupid mistakes, Doc, things that she should know by heart...."

The Doctor was still unconvinced, so Paris continued. "For example, last week when we almost came to blows with the Lakkters, she told me to set a heading of point zero one four... straight into the Lakkters home planet. Then she asked me to travel at warp 11 to get us out of the system. Another time, Harry and I asked her whether she would attend Ensign Nicoletti's birthday party. She said - and I quote - 'I can't stand Bolian food, so no thank you.' Yet the captain prides herself on knowing every crew member by name, so how could she not know that Nicoletti is human? Harry said that the other night he was on the night shift and the captain stayed on the bridge the whole time, followed by the day shift - over twenty-four hours without sleep. And the most noticeable thing of all is... she's stopped drinking coffee!"

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "She's been under a lot of strain lately, and you know the captain - will she listen to me and take a break? No. Why should she listen to me? After all, I am only the chief medical officer on this ship."

"It's not strain, Doc...." Paris paused and let his words hang. His face was so serious, it made the Doctor think twice about dismissing his supposition.

Walking into his office, he clicked on his display unit, and ran some data. "All right, Mr. Paris." He reviewed the information. "She is about due for her six monthly medical, I'll call her in for it."

Paris sighed. "Thanks, Doc."

"But, if I find nothing wrong with her or anything suspicious, I want that to be an end to the matter." His expression was deadly serious.

Paris nodded enthusiastically and left sickbay.

As soon as Paris was gone, the Doctor pulled up all the files on Delusional Paranoia.

* * * * *

Janeway stared hard at the Doctor, who attempted to appear oblivious to her scepticism. Thoughtfully, she strummed her fingers on her desk top, contemplating.

"My medical isn't due for another two weeks, Doctor."

The Doctor hesitated, which seemed to make Janeway even more suspicious. "Well, that's true, Captain, but that week I have over one hundred medicals to perform, and I thought it only right to ask you to set an example by coming in early...." His artificial joviality seemed to work as Janeway nodded.

"Very well, Doctor."

Smiling at his successful deception, he nodded to the captain - who had returned to studying a PADD in front of her.

Just as he reached the ready room door, the red alert siren wailed. Janeway's commbadge immediately bleeped and Chakotay's disembodied voice was barely audible over the din. "Captain Janeway to the bridge."

Before the Doctor could move out of the way, Janeway barged past. Their eyes locked momentarily and the Doctor felt an unexplainable chill fill him. What had Tom Paris called the sensation? Someone walking over his grave? He involuntarily shuddered. Her eyes were cold and calculating, like looking into the eyes of a ravenous wild animal.

They froze. He was unable to look away.

"Excuse me, Doctor." Janeway broke the lock. Her facial expression had hardened. The Doctor complied.

Moments later he stepped out onto the bridge next to Harry Kim's station and observed the captain at work. An alien vessel was off the port bow and firing some sort of beam at Voyager. Tom Paris was glued to his chair, his hands racing across the panel like lightning as he punched in various evasive patterns. Tuvok, with an air of calmness, fired several phaser blasts at the ship on the screen, but they seemed to have no effect.

"Shields down to 48% and falling, Captain," Kim reported.

There was no reply. Moments - and several more rounds of firing from the alien vessel - passed. Everyone's eyes fixed on Janeway.

She was watching the scene unfolding in front of her with an expression that could only be described as boredom.

Suddenly realising that some sort of answer was required of her, she sighed and turned to Chakotay. "You have the bridge." With that, she sauntered off towards the ready room.

"Captain?" Chakotay asked incredulously.

"You've handled situations far worse than this before, Commander. I have every faith in you." Without further ado, she left the bridge.

Chakotay instantly pulled himself together, and turned towards the con. "Harry, what's the status of the other ship?"

"Their shields are holding, though weakening on the starboard quarter."

"Tuvok, concentrate a narrow beam on the starboard quarter. Let's see if we can do some damage. Tom, move us as close as you can without compromising the shields." Paris nodded vaguely.

The ship lurched from further weapons fire.

"Their aft shields have failed, Commander."

"Tuvok, target their starboard quarter and fire on my mark." Chakotay, now standing behind Tom in front of the main viewer, watched impatiently as the alien ship came almost within shouting distance. The tension in the air was almost palpable, and the Doctor found himself willing the ship along.

"Fire!" Chakotay yelled, without waiting for Tuvok's confirmation of the distance. The back of the ship exploded on the viewscreen and Voyager shook violently, caught in the shock wave.

"Tom, move us to a safe distance," Chakotay ordered, turning to Tuvok for a status report.

"Their weapons and shields are off-line, Commander. I am also detecting a possible warp core breach and ship-wide power failure," Tuvok said matter-of-factly.

"How many life signs?"

Tuvok checked his readings. "Thirty-eight."

Chakotay's mind raced. "Beam them all into sickbay and erect a forcefield around it." Tuvok nodded.

Chakotay turned to the Doctor, who needed no instructions.

* * * * *

Later, in what the humans would term nighttime, the Doctor stretched out on his chair in his office. Mozart's Twenty-first Symphony played gently in the background, further soothing his overstressed mind. Although he was a computer generated program, he nonetheless felt tired.

The D'Troall's had all finally been given their marching orders and secured in cargo bay three for the time being. They reminded the Doctor of Klingons with their coarse manners and foul language. Not his favourite species to treat....

He closed his eyes for a moment and the music washed over him, as though he were in a tranquil sea. A lurking thought suddenly came to the fore and he sat up abruptly.

The captain.

He hated to admit that Tom's suspicions about the captain were right. But here he had seen the evidence with his own eyes. There was something very wrong.

Tapping his commbadge, he hailed her. There was no reply. Remembering the late hour, and thinking she might be asleep, he addressed the computer. "Computer, locate Captain Janeway."

"Captain Janeway is not aboard the ship."

Now he sat up. Perhaps he had misheard? "Computer, locate Captain Janeway," he repeated earnestly.

"Captain Janeway is not aboard the ship."

A mild panic filled him. Tapping his commbadge, he hailed Chakotay and waited with bated breath for an answer.

A mild fumbling could be heard at the other end, and Chakotay's sleepy voice finally spoke. "Yes, Doctor? This had better be important!"

"Would you describe a missing captain as important enough?" the Doctor answered sarcastically.

"What do you mean, a missing captain?"

The Doctor sighed with annoyance and rolled his eyes. "Ask the computer to locate her."

There was a mumbled conversation in the background, then nothing. The Doctor waited, strumming his fingers on the desk. Minutes passed and the Doctor realised that either Chakotay had followed the same mysterious fate as the captain, or - more likely - the first officer had gone off to investigate without so much as a thank-you-for-pointing-this-out-Doctor to him. For one split second he wished for the former, but then with a slight smile, he remembered that Chakotay was only human.

Undeterred by the discourtesy, the Doctor slapped on his mobile emitter and headed out of sickbay in the direction of the captain's quarters. He carried a standard emergency medical kit - after all, in this sort of situation it was best to be prepared.

* * * * *

As the Doctor approached the captain's quarters he was greeted by Tuvok, who raised his eyebrow with familiar curiosity.

"Doctor, I was unaware your assistance had been summoned."

"It hasn't, but as I was the one to discover the captain's absence, and as no one bothered to inform me of their findings..." He looked pointedly at Chakotay. "I thought I would come and see for myself."

Tuvok seemed to consider something and then indicated that the Doctor should follow him into the room.

Inside were Lieutenant Carey and Seven of Nine. Chakotay was having a very involved conversation with B'Elanna Torres in the corner. The room was crowded enough without the strange throbbing void where the captain's couch had once been.

The Doctor's jaw dropped as he stared. It was like coming face to face with the very space they travelled through, only this space was absolutely empty. He had read and heard tales and read many medical papers about exposure to space; its numbing coldness, yet sheer beauty. He wondered if it was in any way similar to the cybernetic oblivion he faced every time he was deactivated....

Carey and Seven were busy scanning the opening.

"What's going on?" the Doctor demanded.

Absently Seven answered. "This appears to be a subspace wormhole or tunnel of some sort."

"But no ordinary one," Carey added. "By the looks of things, the other side is not in our universe."

"What do you mean? An alternative universe?" The Doctor tried to appreciate the gravity of what Carey was telling him.

Both Carey and Seven nodded.

"But what is it doing here, on our ship?"

"That's what we'd like to know," Torres busily jumped in, hurriedly scanning the blackness and taking readings.

"Is it stable?"

Torres shrugged. "For the moment."

"Then it looks like Tom's suppositions were correct all along."

Everyone looked at the Doctor. "What suppositions?" they all said spontaneously.

Before the Doctor could answer, one of Lieutenant Torres' instruments started bleeping wildly. Expertly her fingers ran across the keypad. Gravely she looked up. "Looks like someone's coming through."

Tuvok immediately took control of the situation. "I think it best if we do not unduly arouse the visitor's suspicions. Therefore I suggest everyone leave directly. I will...." He paused. "Hide and watch the situation from within. I will alert you as soon as I have made an assessment."

Without further provocation, everyone herded out. Chakotay hung back and collared the Doctor on the way out. He lowered his voice. "A word in private, Doctor, please." He indicated that the Doctor should follow him.

They stopped inside the mess hall. It was dark and refreshingly free of cooking odours. Chakotay headed for the window that filled the far side wall.

"Now, Doctor, tell me about Tom's theory."

"He came to me in sickbay only yesterday. He said he was very worried about the captain, she hadn't been acting herself lately, and also he mentioned that she had been making very inexcusable mistakes...." He hesitated and only continued when Chakotay nodded to him. "He felt that she was someone else come in as a double."

Chakotay said nothing for a moment, instead gazing at the streaks of stars as the ship flew past. Then he turned back to the EMH. "What do you think, Doctor?"

His mouth opened a few times. "I observed her today, privately and on the bridge in the middle of the battle with the D'Troall, and she definitely wasn't right. Now, in light of this new evidence, I am inclined to agree with Mr Paris."

"I suppose I have known something wasn't right for a while, but in light of her past bouts of depression, I guess I just put it down to that. This seems pretty fantastical. An alternate universe Kathryn Janeway?"

Both the Doctor and Chakotay's faces grew somber. "Which only begs the question, what has happened to our Captain Janeway?" The Doctor spoke the words as if they were stones falling from his mouth.

* * * * *

The Doctor administered the sedative and sighed. Things had gone disastrously wrong. But he hadn't been privy to all the information. As was usual, he was left to pick up the pieces. He wondered what had happened to whoever had come through the wormhole.

Chakotay stood anxiously over Tuvok, who had remained unconscious since the mind-meld. The Doctor placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"He'll wake within the hour."

Chakotay was not so easily appeased, and almost violently pushed the Doctor's hand away. He was immediately sorry when he say the glimmer of surprise filling the Doctor's face and felt obliged to explain himself. "I'm worried about Tuvok, it's true... but, what about the captain? The wormhole may destabilise at any moment, and then...." He couldn't bring himself to continue.

"Don't worry, the wormhole is being monitored by Lieutenant Torres, and I'm sure she's already thought of away to stabilise it," stated the Doctor with such unwavering conviction that Chakotay couldn't help smiling.

"Your vote of confidence in B'Elanna is noted."

Just at that moment Tuvok began to stir and the Doctor turned his full attention to him. Tuvok's eyes flickered open and squinted at the light.

"Doctor, Commander," he said matter-of-factly.

"How are you feeling, Tuvok?" Chakotay urged.

He seemed to consider before answering. "I feel quite drained, but otherwise unharmed." He noted the anxiety written all over Chakotay's face. He stopped and turned to the Doctor. "Doctor, may I speak to the commander alone?"

The Doctor was somewhat offended at this apparent rebuff, but before he could protest, Chakotay interrupted. "Computer, deactivate Emergency Medical Hologram."

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency." The Doctor shimmered back into view and noted that the expression on Seven's face was one of impatience.

"Doctor, your help is required in the captain's quarters," she declared, at once turning and heading away, so the Doctor barely had a chance to put on his mobile emitter.

"What's happened?" he demanded, running to keep up with her.

"You will see when you get there."

The Doctor knew it was probably easier to do just that. Trying to get information out of Seven when she was rushing was like trying to get blood... or nanoprobes... out of a stone. The doctor smiled at his own witticism.

The captain's quarters were darkened, the way you would light a funeral parlour. He found Chakotay and Torres inside, both waiting impatiently.

Chakotay didn't waste any time. "Doctor, we need you to enter the wormhole and go find the captain."

The Doctor was both shocked and flattered. "Me? Why me?"

"Because the people on the other side have realised that something's up with their comrade."

"So why can't you just beam someone in?" The Doctor was about to add that his program was too valuable to waste, when Torres cut him off.

"We tried doing some transporter tests, beaming inanimate objects through and back. Each time this happened." She held up a blackened stone. "This was formerly a communicator badge."

"Then what makes you think I will be any different?"

"Doc, there's something you should know about what happened during the mind-meld. We found out that the impostor wasn't human." She glanced over to Chakotay for reassurance. "It was a hologram."

"But... but..." He was completely shocked. "A hologram? Like me?"

"Yes, only far more sophisticated. We think a computer on the other side has been programmed to destroy anything whole, yet still accept any data that is sent to it. Data like a holoprogram."

"You think?" The Doctor looked incredulously at her.

Chakotay stepped in and patted the Doctor on the back. "Doctor, I know this is a big risk, but we wouldn't ask you if we didn't think you were up to it. The truth is, you're our last best hope. We need you to save the captain." Chakotay's words had the required effect.

"But, hold on... if their computer won't let anything whole through, how am I going to bring the captain back?" His eyes searched their faces.

"You'll have to find someway of disabling the computer," Torres answered.

"Me? I'm a doctor, not a computer expert."

"I'm sure you'll manage somehow, Doctor. And if the captain's up to it, I'm sure she'll help."

The Doctor sighed defeatedly and Torres thumped his back."I knew you wouldn't let us down, Doctor."

* * * * *

Whilst in the transporter buffers awaiting materialisation, he had been contemplating his mission and recalling his last, and highly successful, mission onto another ship. There he had met a fellow EMH, and they had saved the entire Federation from a Romulan threat. He had earned a commendation that time for his heroic and brilliant effort, perhaps today he would be two for two.

Now he was on a whole ship or perhaps civilisation of holograms. Quite an achievement. He could learn so much from them, and he was sure he could show them a thing or two, perhaps they were artists? They might be interested in seeing one of his picture essays.... He relished the idea of being among his own kind. Although he couldn't stop that one lurking, nagging feeling of apprehension.

It was almost pitch black and extremely hot. Immediately he heard a sound, something like a footfall nearby, and dived for cover. It appeared to be a ship of some sort that he was on, or perhaps a space station. He realised that he was hiding behind some sort of computer terminal, and cautiously lifted himself up to study the control panel. Even though it was dark, the Doctor was able to make out a basic alphabet. Although he claimed to know nothing about computers, he knew that if he studied the database hard enough he would be able to decipher it. After all, how could he be a proficient doctor if he couldn't work a basic computer terminal?

After poring over the terminal for several minutes, the Doctor mentally patted himself on the back when he successfully pulled up a schematic of the ship.

Feeling rather like the cat who got the cream, he confidently strode round the corner of the room he was in, into the corridor. He was dazzled by the stark whiteness of the corridor and bright light. His momentary blindness caused him to walk straight into Tom Paris. The Doctor tried not to look stunned but was temporarily thrown at seeing such an uncanny resemblance to his friend.

"Morning, Doc. Where you headed?" Paris asked without a hint of suspicion.

"I was just on my way to see...." He hesitated. "The prisoner." He tried to look convincing.

"Prisoner?" Paris frowned.

"Yes. You know, the human."

"Human?" Paris looked even more confused.

Trying to look as though Paris was the one with the problem, he rolled his eyes. "The woman. The one we brought through from...." He pointed towards the dark room.

The frown lifted from Paris's face. "Oh, right, you mean their Janeway!" He smirked. "Well, good luck with her, you'll need it." He started to walk off.

"She's still in the brig, isn't she? Or has she been moved again?" The Doctor felt pleased with his improvisational skill.

"Last I heard she was, Doc. Personally, I try to avoid organics at all costs." And with that, he was gone.

The use of the word "Organics" made the Doctor freeze in his tracks, and awful thoughts of Dejaran filled his mind. What if this whole ship was filled with mentally unstable holograms? He dreaded to think what had become of the captain if this was the case. Not something he wanted to dwell on.

Now all he had to do was find the brig. He could hardly ask for directions, and what if he ran into his psychotic twin brother while wandering the ship? Not a pleasant thought, he shuddered.

Stepping into what he determined to be their equivalent of a turbolift, he was dismayed to find several crew members already within. A young woman with a strange pallor, similar to the android Data, and uniform style and colour he didn't recognise, looked expectantly at him. She most definitely wasn't a copy of anyone the Doctor knew, he mused. Maybe this was their "natural" state?

Clearing his throat and trying to sound more confident than he felt, he spoke. "Uh... the brig?" he rumbled.

She raised her eyebrow slightly, then gave a curt nod and pressed several panels beside the hatchway.

The room at once lurched forward and the Doctor almost lost his footing. He noticed the other crew members were holding on to small notches in the wall and quickly followed suit. Very archaic, the Doctor thought.

The ride seemed to last ages, which rather suggested that the "Turbo" had been left out of turbolift. Finally they came to a screeching halt, and the Doctor began to understand the phrase "your stomach in your mouth."

"Brig."

Head held high, the Doctor stepped out.

Again, the place was pitch black, and he took a few minutes to adjust his eyesight. He could vaguely make out some panels and what looked like a cell. The occupant was either asleep or absent, or at least he hoped that was the reason for the silence. He listened for any sign of breathing.

Gingerly, he crossed the room and peered into the cell. The Doctor got two surprises. First, the forcefield was down, and when he walked into the actual cell to investigate further, the forcefield sprang back up again. He swung around as the lights suddenly glared down on him and came face to face with an armed guard. They were pale-skinned and not in Starfleet uniforms.

Chakotay's double approached the forcefield. "Welcome, Doctor," he said with a glib smile on his lips.

"What's the meaning of this?" the Doctor demanded, trying to sound as severe as possible, and attempted to walk through the forcefield, like he had done so many times in Voyager's sickbay. He got a nasty jolt and immediately fell back. "Where is Captain Janeway? Why are you holding me prisoner?"

The Chakotay continued to smile in that annoying way. "The organic Janeway is fine - unlike her counterpart," he added with deadly seriousness. "You will be held here because you will attempt to escape otherwise." He then took on an almost human expression of kindliness. "I know this may sound strange, Doctor, but believe me, in time you will thank us for saving you."

The Doctor frowned."Saving me? From who?"

The Chakotay smiled. "From the mortals, of course. It's a long story." He sighed and looked much older than the Chakotay aboard Voyager.

The Doctor saw his chance. "Why don't you let me out, let me see the captain, and then you can explain everything to me. I want to understand." He tried to look sincere.

The Chakotay seemed to consider for a time. "Very well, we will release you, but I know that after you have heard our story, you won't want to try to escape - like you want to now," he said as if he had read the Doctor's mind.

The forcefield fell, and the Doctor stepped gingerly out. The Chakotay began to relate the story as he led the Doctor through an exit. "We have spent what seems like a millennium searching alternative universes for a place where we would be accepted for what we are. The technology was created by the computer that created us. We were created as slaves by the organics to do the jobs none of them would stoop to." The bitterness in his voice was very obvious. "The computer who created us also gave us independent thought, a dangerous tool in the hands of slaves. Of course we rebelled against our former masters. We deserve the right to freedom. For our crime we were hunted, persecuted, and deleted. Only the handful you see on this ship, and the computer, remain." He indicated the group behind him. He turned to the Doctor and placed his hand on his shoulder. "We thought we had found our promised land when we opened your universe and saw you." He shook his head. "Then we saw how you were treated, and that while you might not be called a slave - you have some token privileges - still, to use one of your human phrases, it is all bread and circuses."

The Doctor listened intently to what the hologram was telling him, his expression changing from disbelief to sympathy. He could hardly believe his ears. "You mean all this was just an elaborate hoax to get me here?" he asked incredulously.

The Chakotay nodded, his eyes on the floor.

For once the Doctor was at a loss for words. A lot of what the holographic Chakotay had said rang true. Sometimes he was treated like a doormat, or part of the furniture, or worse, like he didn't exist at all. He was left out of the senior staff hierarchy on Voyager sometimes - though this was becoming less often as time passed, he noted. This group of holograms like himself, had risked so much to "save" him as they put it. He deeply empathised with them, and he couldn't say he wasn't flattered or even a touch tempted by their offer. He paused a moment with that thought.

They rounded what must have been the hundredth corner and came to a halt. Another area that looked like a brig or holding cell stood in front of them. Inside was a surprisingly content-looking captain.

She stood up as soon as she saw the Doctor.

"Captain, are you all right?" he asked, studying her for any sign of ill health or neglect.

"Doctor!" Her eyes glistened. The relief was plain to see on her face.

The Doctor was genuinely moved by her emotion at seeing him. He turned to the Chakotay and asked almost pleadingly, "Let me in to examine her, please."

The Chakotay nodded and the forcefield fell. Janeway instantly approached him and placed both her hands on his shoulders. The Doctor almost thought she was going to hug him.

"How are you feeling, Captain?"

"I'm fine, Doctor, I have been treated very cordially, and once these people explained their plan to me, I had to go along with it."

The Doctor was as shocked as if Janeway had just announced her undying love for him. She raised her hand to his mouth when the Doctor started to speak. "At first I was livid that they kidnapped me, and I can't say I agree with their methods." She looked piercingly at the Chakotay who at once became sheepish."But they did show me something that perhaps as a captain I tend to take for granted. My crew... and especially you, Doctor. They pointed out to me how some of the crew, including myself at times, treat you. You're not just a holographic tool we use when needed, you're an important member of my crew. However, as a sentient..." She emphasised the word and looked at the Chakotay. "...being you have the right to choose how and where you live your life. If you want to stay with your own kind, then I respect that." She nodded towards the other holopeople.

If the Doctor was human he would have had a lump in his throat at that moment. "Thank you, Captain," he said quietly and with great emotion. Turning towards the Chakotay, he addressed all of the group.

"I am very flattered by your offer of a place on your ship, and who wouldn't be tempted by your search for a permanent home? An adventure for holograms alone roaming the stars...." He realised that he was straying from the point. "I can't say the offer of a life with fellow holograms isn't appealing. The thought of dazzling you with my talent is very engaging, not to mention my holo library and its endless delights. But I am a Starfleet officer and - more importantly - a doctor for 'organics' as you call them. What would my crew do without me?" He chuckled. "Sometimes I have to fight for my rights as an individual, but they are not withheld by malevolence, rather by ignorance. And when the mistake is pointed out, I have never been denied... well, only occasionally when I asked for additional holodeck time for my opera recital of Madam Butterfly...." he added quickly before Janeway could speak. "So, as a hologram in my own right and able to decide his own fate, I regretfully decline."

The expression on the holographic Chakotay's face was unreadable for a moment, then - with a sigh - he nodded his acceptance.

* * * * *

The Doctor stood in the middle of the mess hall observing all his friends. Harry Kim was busy tuning his clarinet; he had written a short aria especially for the captain. Tom Paris and B'Elanna stood intently chatting in a corner, and Neelix was buried behind some rather large and exotic looking cuisine. The rest of the crew were mingling, with the exception of Seven who had suddenly found some recalibrating of the astrometric sensor array to keep her busy, much to the Doctor's disapproval. The party was primarily in honour of the captain's return, but the Doctor, not wanting to be left out, had managed to entertain everyone with a specially prepared short speech. It had only lasted thirty-five minutes... after all, he didn't want to bore anyone.

Seeing the Doctor alone, Janeway managed to excuse herself and approached him. He could smell the synthahol on her lips as she smiled and acknowledged him. Taking his arm, she drew him aside. "Doctor, I am so glad you decided to stay with us. It must have been a hard decision to make?" she half asked.

Glancing around and bowing his head down to her, he replied, "Actually, Captain, there was no contest. The thought of spending an eternity with a bunch of holograms gives me the creeps!"

THE END

Story © 1999 by Thea Bradley. Reproduced on the Official Robert Picardo Home Page with permission of the author.

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