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Terror on the Sequoyah Star Part 2 - The Lightning Box

Max_Writer

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* * *

 

 

 

Rhymes with Wolf went over to where Lambert Otto sat. West had pointed out the man as a bounty hunter that worked with them earlier. Otto had his saber on his lap. The little old lady across from him continued to knit. Her face scrunched up in disgust when the Indian girl came over.

 

“Hello,†Rhymes with Wolf said.

 

“Hello,†Otto said. “How are you?â€

 

“Good. Have you heard of this Dan McGoohan?â€

 

“Yeah, I heard of him. I … well, I was part of a shootout that got him taken in.â€

 

“John Valentine?â€

 

“I know John Valentine.â€

 

“You know him?â€

 

“No, not really, no. But I’m working with Marshal Pierce to track him down.â€

 

“Oh.â€

 

“That guy with the face is also helping us.â€

 

“That guy with the face has a name.â€

 

“West.â€

 

“He’s a good man!â€

 

“Sorry, he just … has a terrible face.â€

 

“Well, you’re not much to look at either.â€

 

She turned and walked away.

 

“Well, you handled that very badly,†the old woman said to Otto. “Is that her brother? Is it another injun?â€

 

“Brother?†Otto said.

 

“You shouldn’t insult a woman’s brother. Go apologize.â€

 

He got up with a grumble, putting his saber in his seat, and walked over to Rhymes with Wolf’s seat.

 

“I’m … sorry,†he said. “I didn’t know you knew the man.â€

 

“Whether or not I know him doesn’t make what you said right,†she said.

 

“You calling me ugly isn’t right either.â€

 

“Fair point.â€

 

“Look, I’m just sorry. It just seems like most people know him by his face rather than his name.â€

 

“Well, seems we’ll be working together, so let’s put this behind us.â€

 

“And probably don’t mention it … to him.â€

 

“Now you’re asking me to keep your secrets?â€

 

“No. Not necessarily. I would just rather not have … someone like him angry at me. Especially when we’re trying to track down Valentine.â€

 

“That’s the first wise thing you’ve said yet.â€

 

“I’m smarter than I look.â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Marshal Pierce took Jack West onto one of the platforms between the cars to tell him about who was in the express car and the suggestion they keep an eye out for suspicious folks. West started giving everybody on board the stink eye, watching them all suspiciously. He scared and unnerved a lot of people. He was more interested in people he didn’t scare.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Professor Stalloid had won two dollars in the nickel ante faro game that was going on while others were breaking even or losing a few coins when the steam whistle blew a short blast followed by a long one. Wilder sat up straight as it was the same signal that had occurred on the Number 4 just before it had crashed into a boulder a month before. The train immediately started to slow down. Dr. Weisswald checked her pocket watch and saw it was 10:49 a.m. She remembered that was the next scheduled stop.

 

They had arrived in Orange, California. Someone asked a steward how long the stop was and he told them it was a 30-minute stop for water. They would get underway again at 11:19.

 

Professor Stalloid went back to the first-class car to find Professor Terwilliger. Dr. Weisswald, Wilder, and Jacali went as well, stopping long enough to ask Gemma if she wanted to go.

 

“Our science man has a very dangerous electric box that he wants to use in a field and try to discharge,†Jacali said. “We think he will kill a cow.â€

 

“Goodness,†Gemma said.

 

“That was a joke.â€

 

“I, for the likes of me, don’t know what I see in the likes of you, but … I’m rather intrigued.â€

 

She accompanied them.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

When the train stopped, the steward told those in the second-class car they would be in Orange for 30 minutes to get water. Passengers were free to leave the train to stretch their legs.

 

“You want something in town?†Otto said to Rhymes with Wolf. “I could buy you something.â€

 

“No no,†she said. “It is forgiven.â€

 

“Okay,†he said.

 

He stood up.

 

“Lady, watch my … uh … rifle under the chair,†he said to the little old lady who sat across from him.

 

“Lady?†she said.

 

“Miss …â€

 

“Mrs. Harrison.â€

 

She rolled her eyes and went back to her knitting.

 

“I’ll watch your sword, mister,†she said.

 

“I’m taking my sword, but thank you,†he said.

 

She just gave him a look.

 

He went into town and purchased a box of .45 ammunition for the pistol he’d gotten off one of the dead bandits in Yellow Flats.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Father Bishop noticed a dark-haired lady came into the lounge shortly after the train stopped. She gazed out of the windows for a few minutes. Then the blonde haired woman playing faro turned from the table as the dark-haired woman moved from the window and the two bumped into each other. They exchanged apologies and introductions. He heard the dark-haired lady introduce herself as Mary Foy and the blonde introduce herself as Lucy Miller. They continued some aimless talk, exiting the car onto the rear platform to converse.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

The women found Professor Terwilliger disembarking from the first class carriage with Professor Stalloid, the former noting the battery didn’t seem to be overloading and theorizing that maybe the box wouldn’t explode. The town was on one side of the railroad track and there were empty, fallow fields on the other. He walked out into the field with the others following.

 

“This should … I should probably walk a little further,†he said, looking back at the train. Then he saw the singer. “Gemma Jones! Oh my goodness! Gemma Jones is here! I didn’t know she’d be on the train!â€

 

“Yes, quite,†she said.

 

“How nice to see you! How nice to meet you again! I don’t know if you remember me. I was in Yellow Flats.â€

 

“I remember you.â€

 

“Oh! Oh! Gemma Jones remembers me. Oh my goodness!â€

 

He bounced off into the field, walking some 50 or 60 feet from the train. Professor Stalloid followed him about halfway and then stopped. Jacali went off to one side about 50 feet so she’d get a better view. Professor Terwilliger looked back at them.

 

“Are you ready?†he called. “I don’t think it’s going to do anything.â€

 

“I’m not sure what we’re ready for,†Gemma called.

 

“Maybe a little light show,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Oh! Oh! Oh!â€

 

He walked back and explained to Gemma how the Static Electricity Generator Battery worked and what the purpose of the demonstration was. He guessed there were be a few sparks but nothing else. He walked back out into the field to about the same place he stood before.

 

“You ready?†he called back again. “All right, here we go! I’m afraid everyone’s going to be very disappointed.â€

 

There was a crash of thunder as a lightning bolt ripped out of the device and blasted the ground 50 or so yards away in a quick burst of flame. Professor Terwilliger’s jaw dropped and he looked at the box, then back at them, and then back at the box again.

 

“I didn’t expect that!†he called out. “Oh, I’d better put some kind of cover on this button. I don’t want to push it by accident.â€

 

He walked back over.

 

“This is surprising!†he said with a grin.

 

Wilder was gone. He had turned and ran away, leaping back on the train, as soon as the lightning bolt had come out of the device.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Other passengers looked up at the unexpected thunderclap. It was a beautiful, sunny day. While people were off the train, Rhymes with Wolf crept back towards the first-class car. She saw the conductor in the lounge.

 

“Yes ma’am?†he said. “Can I help you? You’re one of the second-class passengers, right?â€

 

“Yes,†she said.

 

“You need something?â€

 

“No, I was wondering if you’d heard anything about a John Valentine.â€

 

“Well, he’s just the most notorious man in the whole west!â€

 

“Have you heard anything from any of your passengers about … possible whereabouts?â€

 

“No ma’am. No ma’am. I think he’s up in Oregon. That’s what I heard last.â€

 

“When did you hear that?â€

 

“Oh, that was back in Newhall a couple days ago.â€

 

“Okay. Well, thank you.â€

 

“You’re welcome.â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Professor Stalloid took out his research book and wrote in it furiously.

 

“This should make some good notes, Terwilliger,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Hm,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I’ve got tools here somewhere. I don’t want this to get accidentally pressed. That could be bad.â€

 

He fished a tool and a bent piece of metal out of his pocket and got to work.

 

“I say, that was more than a light show,†Gemma said.

 

Professor Terwilliger was speechless and shrugged.

 

“Could I look at your notes?†Dr. Weisswald said as they headed back for the first-class car.

 

“That’s a great idea,†he said.

 

“How long has it been since its last discharge?†Professor Stalloid asked.

 

“I’ve never discharged it before.â€

 

“Oh! So, who knows!?!â€

 

“Ah, but look at the gauge there, professor!â€

 

The needle was perhaps down about 1/10 from where the green line ended. Professor Terwilliger told him the needle had never ventured into the red, but he thought if it went into the red it would probably explode. Professor Stalloid guessed the black probably indicated 20 percent or less, the yellow 20 percent to 60 percent, and green was 60 percent to 100 percent.

 

“I’m curious about how long it will take to power back up,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I’m very curious about that.â€

 

“Excuse me, Mr. Terwilliger, if this is too much of a logical leap, but … does that mean you have to keep on discharging other huge bolts of lightning like that at each of these stops in order for this thing not to overfill and explode?†Jacali asked.

 

“Well, I built this last night. And it started gathering energy since then so, I’m guessing it’s been about … what time is it … 11 o’clock … 24 … 30 … 12 hours ago?â€

 

“And it was at …?†Dr. Weisswald asked.

 

“Hundred percent,†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yeah, it never went into the red,†Professor Terwilliger said. “If it goes in the red … throw it away. And run as fast as you can. Because that would be a bad thing. That’s my thought. We haven’t seen it go in the red yet.â€

 

“But, you don’t have any way of stopping it charging except discharging it?†Jacali said.

 

“I’d have to get inside it and pull out a bunch of wires.â€

 

“Okay.â€

 

“Where’d that bear-wearing man go?â€

 

“Which would cause a discharge!†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that!†Professor Terwilliger said. “That’s a good idea! Where did that other man go who came out here? He was dressed as a bear.â€

 

“He got back on the train,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Oh,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Yes, I’ll show you my notes. Let’s go.â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Jack West moved around the train, looking around and at people on the train. He noticed the Indian in third-class sitting towards the front of the car stared back, glaring at him. He was also eating jerky. The two of them stared at each other until they both blinked at about the same time.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

The Sequoyah Star left Orange at 11:19 a.m. on the dot.

 

Professor Stalloid, Dr. Weisswald, and Jacali pored over Dr. Weisswald’s notes about the book she and Professor Stalloid had found in the caves under the Pettigrew House. Dr. Weisswald had jotted down notes on all of the supposed spells in the book. Then they went to the back of the car where Professor Terwilliger was making sure the cover on his device was sound. They looked through his notes, mostly drawings of various devices he had come up with in the last month or so.

 

One of the drawings looked like wings. There was a harness attached to the bottom of it in the drawing and he noted it was based on some of de Vinci’s drawings. Another picture was a copy of de Vinci’s flying machine but several notes indicated how the design could never work. He was hoping to possibly attach an engine to it. He thought an engine of some kind of very light metal materials might be attached to a balloon gondola with a giant propeller to allow for powered flight.

 

“All these ideas came to me,†he said. “It’s just amazing. And they’re still coming.â€

 

“Should I show him my notes on the motors?†Professor Stalloid whispered to Dr. Weisswald.

 

“I don’t know,†she said. “He’s kind of a blabbermouth.â€

 

“Yeah,†Professor Stalloid said. “Right. That’s what I was worried about.â€

 

“This doesn’t seem right,†Gemma muttered as she looked over the drawings.

 

She took out a book and read while they talked. Professor Stalloid asked if he could copy Professor Terwilliger’s notes but the other man would rather he didn’t. He noted he was hoping to patent the static electricity generator battery once he perfected it. Professor Stalloid respected that.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Professor Stalloid wandered around the entire train. He saw Lambert Otto in a seat in the second second-class car and recognized him though the two men had never actually been introduced or exchanged words. He continued forward.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Marshal Pierce went out the rear first-class carriage door and found the end door to the baggage car there was locked. He climbed the ladder near the door up to the roof of the car and walked back towards the back of the train. He climbed back down between the baggage car and the first cattle car but found the baggage car door there locked. There was no end door to the cattle car and he could see cattle within through the wide slits in the car. He saw a few horses in there as well.

 

As he climbed up onto the roof of the first cattle car, he saw a man approaching him on the second one. The man wore a uniform that matched the conductor and stewards on board. He waved at the marshal, who saw he was carrying a billy club.

 

“I’m sorry, sir!†he called. “You can’t be up here!â€

 

He hopped onto the cattle car and made his way forward. Marshal Pierce showed him his badge.

 

“Oh,†the man said. “Federal marshal. We’d rather passengers aren’t up here, sir, if it’s all right.â€

 

“I rather you not be up here too,†Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Well, it’s my job.â€

 

“I understand. I’m looking for some suspicious people and I’m not going to ask you if you’ve seen ‘em or … you’d be dead.â€

 

“No, we’ve just got a couple men back in the back in the caboose: another breakman and the baggage steward.â€

 

“How often do you check these cattle cars?â€

 

“Every stop. Just take a peek in. I mean, you can see right in ‘em.â€

 

“You said you got men in the caboose?â€

 

“Yes sir. We got a man up in the top. He’s keeping an eye on the train. And we’ve got another man who’s sleeping right now. Between his duties.â€

 

“All right. Well, you just make sure you check those cattle cars and baggage cars each stop.â€

 

“We are. Yes sir. Baggage master’s checking the car each stop, making sure it’s secure. And we’re keeping an eye on the cattle.â€

 

“Fantastic.â€

 

“We gotta feed ‘em two or three times a day, so …â€

 

“Yeah.â€

 

“You take care, now, sir.â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Rhymes with Wolf approached the dark haired Mary Foy in second-class and asked the woman if she knew anything about John Valentine. The woman said she didn’t know anything about a John Valentine.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Around 11:30 a.m. the first-class steward announced the dining car would be serving lunch from noon until 2 p.m.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

“Do you know the secret knock?†Dr. Weisswald asked Professor Terwilliger.

 

“For what?†he said.

 

“The express car.â€

 

“There’s a secret knock for the express car? Do you know it?â€

 

“No.â€

 

“Oh! That’s why you’re asking me!â€

 

“Yes.â€

 

“No, I don’t know it. I don’t know it. I was just on the train. I understand that that the … I’m not supposed to talk about it. The Secret Service had a talk with me. They weren’t happy.â€

 

“About?†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“About what?â€

 

“About … huh?â€

 

“What did you say?â€

 

“Wha?â€

 

“They were upset with me because they said I need to not to talk about certain … secret things.â€

 

“Well, I just realized why you don’t know the secret knock,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Why?†he said.

 

“I think lunch is starting soon.â€

 

“Oh, I’m dying for lunch!â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Around noon, people from first-class made their way to the dining car. The food served was mostly canned or easy to transport without spoiling. There was canned salmon, peaches and other fruit, eggs, mashed potatoes, cauliflower, asparagus, and apple pie among other food.

 

Professor Terwilliger sat with Dr. Weisswald and Jacali, across from to Gemma Jones.

 

“Sit next to me, Mr. Terwilliger,†Jacali said. “I’m your new best friend.â€

 

“Oh, I never had a best friend,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Most of the boys at school used to avoid me constantly. Of course, that was 50 years ago.â€

 

They had a nice lunch. Wilder was seated by himself and Professor Stalloid joined him.

 

They saw a man with a mustache who they didn’t recognize at all.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Father Bishop was in the lounge a little after noon. He had managed to get a bottle of whisky at the last stop and was enjoying glass after glass of it. He saw the man with the mustache, who had passed through earlier, stop the conductor and tell him the stewards needed access to the express car shortly after 1 p.m. so they could deliver lunch. The conductor politely offered to escort the stewards whenever they delivered food to the express car.

 

He then went and talked to the dark-haired woman who was also in the lounge though Father Bishop could not overhear what they were saying.

 

Shortly after that, a man with a large and somewhat fancy hat sat down next to the priest. The man had a goatee and mustache, dark hair, and was quite good-looking.

 

“Hello sir,†Father Bishop said.

 

“Howdy,†the man said. “I’m Buck.â€

 

He had a southern accent.

 

“Nice to meet you, Buck,†the priest said. “I’m Father Peter.â€

 

“I’m Buck!†the man said. “You know what? I think there’s something fishy happening on this train. I saw a couple people who─â€

 

“Why would you think that? Who are these people?â€

 

“Some people getting into the express car. It’s really strange. There’s a private car in the front? I don’t know what it’s about, but they’re getting in there. It’s very odd. I think that’s very strange. I’m in third-class. I’m right behind there so it’s kind of scary, you know?â€

 

“I bet it would be.â€

 

“I’m just worried about my own skin, you know, because … that secret car might have bombs in it or something.â€

 

“What did these people look like?â€

 

“Well … let’s see. Um …â€

 

He looked around.

 

“There’s that fellow with the mustache,†he said. “That’s him. He was one of the ones going in there. And I think that lady he’s talking to was going in there as well. I think.â€

 

“Hm. Well, that is a bit odd.â€

 

“Yeah, I don’t trust ‘em! I hope it ain’t bombs. I don’t like bombs.â€

 

Buck took a bite of his sandwich.

 

“There’s … there’s a marshal on this train,†Father Bishop said. “I’m friends with him. I’ll talk to him when he comes back.â€

 

“Oh, okay,†Buck said. “That’s a great idea.â€

 

He took another bite of his sandwich.

 

“You’re a good man, preacher man,†Buck said.

 

He patted Father Bishop’s shoulder.

 

“You want half my sandwich?†Buck asked. “Did you have lunch?â€

 

“I had a small bread roll, but …†Father Bishop said. “Thank you. I’ll take half.â€

 

“Oh, here you go,†Buck said.

 

He ripped the sandwich in half and gave part of it to Father Bishop.

 

“Thank you, Buck,†Father Bishop said.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Tom White entered the dining car around 12:30 for a meal. Other returned to the first-class car. There, they read, napped, chatted with neighbors or otherwise simply relaxed. The conductor, who had entered the lounge car to chat with the passengers and even play a few hands of faro, left a little after 1 p.m. and headed to the dining car.

 

Those still in the dining car saw some stewards get food and take it from the dining car, heading forward with the conductor.

 

“I wonder where they’re taking that food,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

Professor Terwilliger had been talking to Jacali, his “new best friend†about other inventions since they had sat down while glancing shyly at Gemma.

 

“Perhaps the express car,†Jacali said.

 

“Oh, that would make sense,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Probably got to feed those, especially as they can’t leave,†Jacali said.

 

“Who are they feeding?†Professor Terwilliger asked. “What?â€

 

“The people in the secret car,†Dr. Weisswald whispered to him.

 

“Oh, the one you were telling me about.â€

 

“Yes.â€

 

“You gotta feed people in a secret car. That makes sense. Very good.â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Jack West, sitting in third-class, saw the stewards walk through with trays of food. The conductor was with them. They went out onto the platform and the conductor knocked. A moment later, the door opened and West noticed a man with a gun within, aiming the weapon at the door. When he saw the conductor, he holstered the weapon. Then the stewards and the conductor went in.

 

The three left the express car a few minutes later.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

At 1:30 p.m., the train stopped at Tehachapi Junction for water and coal. It was a tiny, desert town though did offer a general store and a saloon.

 

Dr. Weisswald asked Professor Terwilliger if he wanted to discharge the box again and the man noted the gauge was up to 100 percent once more. Professor Stalloid asked the man if he wanted to discharge it multiple times.

 

“Why, whatever for?†Professor Terwilliger asked.

 

“Because then you wouldn’t have to discharge it again next stop,†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Well, it hasn’t gone into the red. It’s been almost two hours.â€

 

“Well, you know.â€

 

“I don’t think it’s going into the red. We could try.â€

 

“But also, we want to see if it’s 10 percent every time,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Ah, an experiment!†Professor Terwilliger said. “I love the idea! Let’s go!â€

 

Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, Jacali, and Gemma Jones went with him. Professor Stalloid led them down the tracks the way the train had come.

 

“Jacali!†Lambert Otto called.

 

He had stepped off the train to stretch his legs. Jacali stopped and waited for the man to catch up.

 

“Hello Otto,†she said.

 

“Nice to see you here,†he said.

 

“Nice to see you as well.â€

 

“What are you doing?â€

 

“Ah, Mr. Terwilliger has a lightning box.â€

 

“A lightning box, huh?â€

 

“Yes, you want to see it? He shows everyone.â€

 

“Got nothing else to do.â€

 

“Yep, might as well.â€

 

They walked a couple hundred yards into the desert where they found a few trees trying to survive the harsh conditions. Professor Terwilliger walked away from the group towards the trees.

 

“Don’t go close to it,†Jacali said to Otto.

 

“So you said this is a lightning box?†Otto said.

 

“Yes.â€

 

“It looks like a camera.â€

 

“Oh, it’s a lightning box.â€

 

“I’ll follow your advice.â€

 

Professor Stalloid had followed Professor Terwilliger, standing behind him.

 

“So, just one discharge, do you think?†Professor Terwilliger called back.

 

“How about two?†Dr. Weisswald called. “Well, let’s do one and then look at the gauge and then do two.â€

 

Professor Terwilliger saluted formally and then turned his back on them. He aimed the box this time, apparently at one of the trees. There was a blast of thunder as lightning flew by the tree some 50 yards from the man and struck the ground, creating a burst of flame there for a moment.

 

“Boom!†Jacali said.

 

Professor Terwilliger looked at the gauge and held it out for Professor Stalloid.

 

“Ten percent,†Professor Terwilliger said.

 

“It’s a lightning box!†Jacali said to Otto.

 

“Let’s try it again,†Professor Terwilliger said.

 

He held up the box and there was another blast of thunder and crackling lightning that struck the tree. The narrow trunk of the tree exploded and the upper portion fell. The lower part had blackened and burned where the bolt struck it. Gemma Jones yelped. Terwilliger looked back at them, surprised, and Professor Stalloid motioned for him to cover the button once again. They examined the gauge and found it had used about another 10 percent.

 

“That was a very good experiment,†Dr. Weisswald said as the two men walked back over.

 

“I hit it!†Professor Terwilliger said, delighted. “I was aiming for that tree. That’s quite exciting. I wonder what the applications for it could be.â€

 

He gasped.

 

“Tree cutting could be that much easier!†he said. “Genius!â€

 

“It does seem very efficient at cutting trees,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“What does it do to stone?†Otto asked. “Have you tried shooting stone?â€

 

“Who is this?†Professor Terwilliger said. “Are you a scientist?â€

 

“I’m a friend.â€

 

“Fair enough. Fair enough. I haven’t tried stone. We should note the time. Note the time. We’ll see how long it takes to recharge it.â€

 

“I wonder if there’s a way to build up static near it,†Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Have we done any tests on this with the Crescent?†Professor Stalloid asked.

 

Professor Terwilliger shushed him. He looked around nervously.

 

“That person over there is a stranger,†he whispered, pointing at Otto. “I don’t know him.â€

 

“I’m a friend!†Otto said.

 

“I was not talking to you, sir,†Professor Terwilliger said.

 

He confided to Professor Stalloid he’d made no tests with the Crescent as he had only built the device in the last few days. They walked back to the train, Professor Stalloid taking Professor Terwilliger to the side on the way and suggesting the next time they worked with the Crescent, Professor Terwilliger should discharge the lightning box completely, and then set it in the center of the Crescent to see if it would charge is quickly. Professor Terwilliger liked that idea but noted he’d seen no sign of the Crescent since Yellow Flats.

 

“It’s on the train,†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“What!?!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Really!?!â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Wilder, sitting in the first-class coach, flinched every time he heard thunder. He looked up. The sky was blue and clear without a cloud in it.

 

 

* * *

 

 


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