Story:New Year's Eve

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New Year's Eve
Written by TriangleDelta

Nickie sighed as she watched Shane pass the ball out to the left.  Before it even left his hands, the vixen knew that it would go wide.  Out on the court, Sammy stumbled and tried to get to the ball, but it was snatched up before the cougar could reach it.

The crowd let out a collective, roaring groan, and Nickie felt her teammates on the bench beside her slumping.  It wasn’t the first bad pass or terrible shot Shane had made that night.  Nickie wasn’t much a fan of the red wolf’s brash manners and overpowering personality at the best of times, but normally he could make up for it by putting up good numbers.  Tonight, though, it was like he could barely dribble.  She thought she’d even seen him stumbling before the game started.

“What the hell is he doing?”  Leo growled from next to her.  The pitbull was leaning forward in his seat, his eyes narrowed as they followed Shane around the court.  “He’s playing like an idiot.”

“I’d get ready if I were you,” Nickie replied.  The pitbull’s eyes flicked over to her, and she shrugged.  “How long do you think Kabat will keep him out there, playing like that?”  She did her best to keep the disdain out of her voice, but it managed to slip in.  Her voice even took on a bit of its carefully contained French accent.  Leo opened his mouth to reply, but he was interrupted.

“She’s right.”  Dimi was standing just behind the two players.  Nickie and Leo both jumped a bit.  Nickie had started getting used to how well Dimi could move without being heard, but it was still a shock whenever he seemed to just appear.  The squirrel ignored their surprise, and leaned forward so he could speak to Leo.  “You’re going in.  Don’t try anything flashy.  Protect your left side against Buck.  Remember that Sammy’s there to back you up.”

Leo gave a sharp nod, and looked back forward, waiting.  Dimi stepped away, still watching the game.  Nickie kept her eyes on the pitbull beside her.  His face was steady, but she saw him swallow.  He was nervous, and Nickie couldn’t blame him.  Leo had had a decent amount of playtime this season, but that was no preparation for going toe to toe with Mitchell Redding.  The only two players on their team who could keep up with Buck in the point guard position were Shane and, well…

Nickie cast a glance over her shoulder at Devon.  He was sitting back from the bench on a more padded seat.  Every time that she’d looked over at the cacomistle throughout the game, he’d been hiding small grimaces, or feeling his side.  He looked strange to Nickie, dressed in a simple suit as opposed to his purple Thrust jersey.

It was impressive that the cacomistle was even there tonight.  The night before, during a game in Edmonton, Devon had wound up on the ground in the middle of a scrum in front of Edmonton’s net.  Amidst the confusion, the Edmonton Totems’ shooting guard Rocky Couture, a lynx, had accidentally gotten his hind claws into the cacomistle’s side.  Fortunately the injury hadn’t been too serious, but it had been more than enough to take Devon out of play for a while.

As Nickie was watching him, Devon turned his head away from the play on the court for a moment, and noticed her.  He immediately gave her a smile, but it was strained.  She sighed, and raised an eyebrow at him.  He kept the fake smile up for a few moments, then finally dropped it, and shrugged at her.

There was finally a break in the game as Jimmy managed to score for the Thrust.  Dimi waved Shane over, and gave Leo a pat on the shoulder.  The pitbull jogged out onto the court, exchanging a nod with Shane.  Sammy walked over and gave Leo a quick slap on the back as he took up his position.  The cougar looked relieved to have Shane off the court.

Shane sat down heavily on the bench, further down from Nickie.  Nickie felt the tension picking up all along the bench with the wolf’s close presence, and she rolled her eyes as he started speaking with Redawn next to him.  He was speaking just a bit too loud, and laughing a bit too hard.  Nickie didn’t look over at the two of them; the vixen instead kept her eyes focused on the game ahead of them.

The Thrust played much more smoothly with Shane off the court.  Once Leo got over his initial nerves, he and Sammy made a strong pair of guards.  Sammy called plays and set things up for Leo, leaving the pitbull to focus more on carrying out plays.  Nickie was genuinely impressed by Sammy’s performance; it was almost like he was playing as point and shooting guard at the same time.  Occasionally he wound up tripping himself up because of this confusing dual role, but he mostly kept the team rolling.

That said, the Thrust were already behind and playing catch up.  They had slightly less than a full quarter to make up an 18 point difference.  They played hard, and Dimi made sure to switch out his forwards often so that they would always be full on energy.  That said, they were playing with a grim, almost fatalistic determination.  Nickie didn’t notice any of the smiles or camaraderie that were normal between her teammates.  They were far behind against a very talented team.  None of them were expecting a miracle.

When the buzzer finally sounded, Nickie looked up towards the scoreboard.  She sighed, forcing herself to hold back the growl building in her throat.  105-95 for Dakota.  She let her eyes wander up to the stands, and wasn’t surprised to see that a good chunk of the fans had already left.  Those remaining were already getting out of their seats and leaving.  There were more than a few shaking heads.

She couldn’t really blame them.  A loss at home on New Year’s Eve wasn’t her idea of a good time, either.  Especially when the cause of that loss…

“Alright.”  Dimi’s voice was cold as he spoke, and it did nothing to raise the team’s already fallen spirits.  “Locker room.  No talking to reporters.”

They all stood up as one, and made their way off the court.  They lowered their heads and dodged the reporters’ shouted questions.  Soon they were in the relative silence and safety of the hallway that led to their locker rooms.  Before they’d gone far, though, there was a sharp ringing.  At their head, Dimi sighed, and pulled a phone from his pocket.  He stared at the screen for a moment, and then muttered, “It is Anjij Qimmiq.”  He hesitated for another breath.  “Everybody, we will have our team meeting in the ladies’ locker room.  Nobody is to leave until we’ve had our meeting.  Is that understood?”  Several members of the team gave him nods, and the grey squirrel ducked down a small side hallway to answer his phone.

The team moved forward, and took the right turn that led to the women’s locker room.  It was slightly smaller than the men’s locker room, but it still had plenty of space for all of them to find places to sit.  It was one of Dimi’s enforced rituals; they always met and had a debrief in the locker room after a game.  The squirrel made a point of alternating between both the men’s and the women’s locker room for these meetings, and he took them very seriously.

Most of the time, the meetings just consisted of Dimi listing off what everybody had done well, and where people could have done better.  Once or twice, the squirrel had used the meetings as opportunities to announce lineup changes.  Nickie didn’t think she would ever forget the rush of energy she’d gotten the week before when Dimi had announced she would be getting playtime for a change.

That said, not all of the meetings went so smoothly.  Tensions were still running high on the team after Devon’s blow up during a meeting about a month prior.  It had come after a few straight games of Devon putting up weak numbers.  Somebody had made an offhand comment, and things had escalated quickly into a shouting match between Devon and Shane.  Once Dimi managed to silence the two players, he’d coldly announced that Devon would be stepping down to the bench, with Shane taking over as starting point guard.

Nickie glanced over to Devon again.  He was sitting on his own, his eyes narrowed on Shane.  The red wolf had just stepped into the locker room with Rob; it looked like Rob was actually helping to keep him steady.  The silence in the room grew more tense as the two wolves entered.

If Shane noticed, though, he didn’t show it.  He seemed just as happy as ever, and he thumped Rob once hard on the back.  There was a laughing growl in his voice as he spoke.

“Ah well, guess I can’t win all of ‘em for you guys.”  The red wolf sent a leering grin around the locker room.  Nobody met his eyes.  After a few more long seconds of uncomfortable silence, he snorted.  “Alright, alright.  We lost one game.  But it’s New Year’s Eve!  Pull your heads out of your asses.  Let’s have some fun tonight.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Shane.” Rob’s voice was oddly hesitant as he spoke.  Nickie had never seen the jungle wolf looking so uncomfortable and out of his element before.

“Of course it’s a good idea, it’s New Year’s!  Jimmy, you must know a good place to go for a party tonight.”

Jimmy blinked as Shane turned the attention onto him.  The mule glanced around quickly, and then said hurriedly, “No.  I think everybody’s pretty tired after the game.  Maybe it would be best if we all just headed home.”

“We’re a team.  We should spend New Year’s together!  Let’s go out!”  The red wolf looked around at all of them, searching for agreement.  He gave a slight, exaggerated nod as his eyes fell on Devon.  The cacomistle was the only one actually meeting his eyes at this point.  “Of course, we’ll understand if you can’t make it after the lynx attack, captain.  I’m sure nobody will notice the difference, just like on the court.”

“Shane, that’s enough.”  Redawn was standing, casting looks between Shane and Devon.  The cacomistle hadn’t budged; he was still just staring at Shane.

“What?”  Shane let out a bit of a giggle, glancing to Red.  “Oh come on.  I’ll admit, I was having a pretty off night, but I still put up better numbers than Double Down has in weeks.”

“Shane!”  Somehow Redawn managed to make herself seem bigger than the red wolf.  She looked like she was about to hit Shane, but she stopped as Devon stood up.

Everybody turned to stare at the cacomistle.  He stood in place for a few long seconds, his eyes still locked on Shane and his chest heaving.  For those moments, Nickie could barely recognize her friend.  There was an intense, dark look on his face that made her uncomfortable.

Then, as abruptly as he’d stood up, the cacomistle turned and started walking for the door.  Jimmy moved to follow him, reaching to grab Devon’s arm.  “Devon, don’t—”

“Fuck off.”  Devon’s voice was monotone, but sharp as he shrugged off the mule’s hand.  Jimmy stopped, and everybody just stared as the cacomistle walked out of the locker room.  He held the door open for a moment, and then spoke, not turning back to face the team.  “Enjoy your night out with your captain, guys.”  The door slammed shut behind him, and everything was quiet for a few long breaths.

The silence was broken as Shane snorted again.  His voice echoed a bit in the otherwise quiet room.  “Somebody can’t take a joke.”

Redawn rounded on him, all of her muscles tensing as she drew herself up to yell at him.  She didn’t get the chance.  While watching Devon walking away, Nickie had felt anger boiling up deep in her chest.  Shane’s callous joke had finally pushed her over the edge.  Before she knew what she was doing, the vixen was up on her feet, and striding across the locker room towards Shane.  It wasn’t until she heard her own voice bouncing back at her that she realized she was yelling.

“Fils de salope!  Tu me fais chier tout ce saison!  Je m’en fou de ta réputation et de ta maudite arrogance!  Oui, peut-être Devon n’est pass aussi fort que toi, ou rapide que toi, mais il est un bien meilleur homme que tu serais jamais!”

The entire changeroom was silent as Nickie finally ran out of breath.  Somehow, the vixen was now standing just in front of Shane, glaring into his face with her teeth bared.  Her chest was heaving, her muscles all flexing as she tried to calm herself down.  For his part, Shane was just staring at her, his mouth hanging partially open.  She could smell his breath from there, and she resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose at the stench.

Finally, Shane spoke.  His voice was oddly quiet after Nickie’s tirade.  “Nickie… I have no idea what the hell you just said.  It sounded really hot though.”

The muscles along Nickie’s arm twitched, and a smack rang out through the locker room. Nickie’s palm and wrist were stinging, and Shane was stumbling away clutching at his face in shock.  The vixen growled out, “Connard,” and then rounded on her feet.

She stopped in her tracks when she saw that Coach Dimi was standing just in the doorway of the locker room.  The grey squirrel had his arms crossed, and his eyes were narrowed on her.  Nickie took half a second to gather herself, and then walked over to her locker.  She grabbed her clothes and shoved them into her bag, slinging it over her shoulder.

“Nickie.”  Dimi’s voice was low and measured.  “Tu sais que c’est contre les règles de la ligue d’attaquer un—”

The vixen overcame her surprise at Dimi’s command of French in time to interrupt him.  “What do the league rules say about being drunk on the court?”  She made sure she said it loudly and clearly enough for everybody on the team to hear her, and then she pushed past Dimi, walking out the door.

She was still in her uniform as she stalked down the hallway.  She hadn’t even had a chance to take a shower after the game.  She shook her head as she thought about the scene she’d just made.  It wasn’t going to be easy to face the rest of the team again after that tirade.  And… had she actually dipped into French there while she was swearing at Shane?  That had never happened before.

Nickie ducked into the first washroom she passed, and locked the door behind her.  Once she was there, she stopped and took a few long, steadying breaths.  Her pulse was racing.  It was different from the rush she normally got during a game.  Whenever she played, the rush she got made her feel electric.  Powerful.  Right now she just felt light, as though the slightest breeze could blow her over.

She looked down at her still stinging hand, clenching her fingers.  That had been stupid.  That had been really, really stupid.  Damn had it been satisfying, though.

She finally shrugged her bag down, and fetched her clothes out of it.  As she pulled out her shirt, there was a soft clink.  She opened the bag wider, and sighed as her eyes fell on a clear, long-necked bottle of champagne.  She let her gaze wander over it briefly, reading the stylized ‘Robespierre’ written across the label.

Nickie closed the bag up, and started getting changed.

---

After Nickie had managed to sneak out of the stadium without running into any of the press or her teammates, she got herself a taxi.  She told the driver where to go, then pulled out her phone and scrolled through it until she found Devon’s number.

The vixen tapped on it, and then held the phone to her ear as it rang.  She glanced out the cab’s window, and watched the city roll by.  The tall, tightly packed buildings were starting to feel a bit familiar to her.  It always took a while whenever she changed teams for her to get used to her new ‘home’ city.  All of the time spent on the road for away games didn’t help matters.

Nickie sighed in annoyance as the call went to Devon’s voicemail.  She hung up, and quickly redialled.  When she didn’t answer again, she growled to herself and put the phone away.

Eventually they reached Devon’s building.  It was a tall condo building in one of the wealthier sections of San Jose.  She paid the cab driver and then walked in through the first set of doors.  She made her way over to the panel on the wall, and hit Devon’s call button.  As she waited, she checked her watch.  11:35.

Eventually, Devon’s voice crackled through the speaker.  “Hello?”

“Devon.  Open the bloody door.  You’re not spending New Year’s Eve alone.”

There were a few seconds of silence before Devon’s voice came back.  “I really don’t feel like it right now, Nickie.”

“I just slapped Fang in the face for you.  Open the door, Devon.”

There was silence again.  Then, a few mechanical beeps rang out, and the building’s second set of doors opened.  Nickie grinned, and headed through.

Devon’s door was unlocked when Nickie reached his condo.  She walked in without knocking, and kicked off her shoes.  She called out, “Please tell me you’ve got some champagne flutes?”

Devon’s voice replied from deeper into the condo.  “Yeah, yeah, of course.  You picked up champagne on the way over?”

“Something like that.”

Nickie headed down the short hallway, and stepped into Devon’s combined kitchen and living room.  The cacomistle’s condo was nice, if simple.  The kitchen was large and open, and the living room it was attached to had a beautiful view out onto the city.  Nickie had already been over to see his condo more than once, normally with other teammates after practices.

The cacomistle was in the kitchen half of the room.  He had a cupboard open, and was stretching to reach to the back of it. He had removed his blazer, but was still wearing his dress shirt and suit pants.  He was wincing as he reached, but he wiped the look off of his face as soon as Nickie stepped in.  He forced that same strained smile he’d used earlier, and said, “So you slapped Fang, eh?”

She rolled her eyes and walked over.  “Stop stretching before you tear your stitches out.  I’ll grab the glasses.”  Devon looked like he was about to protest, but then just shook his head and stepped back from the cupboard.  Nickie kept speaking to him as she rooted around through his cupboard, pushing glasses out of the way.  “I figured I would try to one up your dramatic exit.”

Devon snorted.  “So what happened?”

“I swore at him in French, and then slapped him in front of Kabat.”

The cacomistle tensed.  “Dimi saw you?”

“Give it a rest, Devon.  We both know Kabat’s got bigger problems to deal with than me slapping a drunk wolf.”  They were quiet for a moment, and then Nickie demanded, “Where are the champagne flutes?”

“Right there at the back.”

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding.”

“What?”

“Those aren’t champagne flutes.  Those are just tall wine glasses.”

Devon laughed.  “Oh come on, it’s the same thing.”

Nickie rolled her eyes at the cacomistle again, but there was a grin on her face as she muttered, “Maudit américains.”

“Do you know how often I actually drink champagne?”

Nickie held in a laugh as she grabbed the glasses.  “Fine, uncultured American brute.  The champagne’s in my bag.  Throw it in the freezer.  We’ll see if we can cool it down before midnight.”

Devon headed over to Nickie’s bag while the vixen wiped dust off of the glasses.  He found the bottle, then looked it over.  “Is this from your dad’s vineyard?”

“Yes.”  Nickie hesitated, then added, “He’s shipped me a bottle every New Year since I joined the league.  I normally share it with my team.”

The two of them fell quiet.  Nickie watched Devon’s posture grow tense, and his smile grow strained.  He headed over to the fridge, still looking down at the bottle.  He didn’t immediately put the bottle into the freezer, though.  He just stared at it for a few seconds longer, and then spoke.

“Nickie, why did you choose to join the FBA?”

The vixen snorted at that.  “Because I love playing basketball.”

“No.  I mean, why did you join the FBA instead of the EFBL?”

Nickie actually paused at that, a bit taken aback.  The EFBL was the FBA’s European counterpart.  While quite the franchise in its own right, it was a widely accepted fact that the level of competition in the EFBL was far lower. At length, she replied.  “I guess…  I try not to think about it much.  There are times I wonder why I turned down a lucrative contract back home, where I could’ve been a star, to come over here and struggle to even get playing time.”

“Do you regret it?”

She mulled that over for a few seconds before she answered.  “If I had taken a contract with the EFBL, it would’ve been easy.  I could’ve stayed in Europe, and visited my family whenever I had a few days off.  I could’ve been an above average player without even trying, and a star with a bit of effort.  That said, you don’t get as good at something as you and I are at basketball because you like having an easy life.  Being in the FBA has been hard.  I know that I’m a far stronger player because of it, though, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Devon nodded slowly as he listened.  He finally opened the freezer, and put the champagne inside.  He didn’t look back at Nickie as he spoke.  “During my rookie year, I blew out my elbow in the middle of a game.  The trainers weren’t sure if I’d be able to play pro again.  After my arm had healed up, it hurt to even dribble for a few weeks.  Even now, it bothers me sometimes; I’ll be in the middle of a shot, and suddenly I can feel it.”   The cacomistle clenched his fist, and then worked the fingers on it as his entire arm tensed.   “I thought coming back from that was going to be the big challenge of my pro career.”  He snorted, and shook his head.  “Guess I was wrong on that one.”

Nickie watched the cacomistle for a very long few seconds, and at last asked, “How are you doing, Dev?”

The cacomistle finally turned away from the fridge to face her.  He raised an eyebrow.  “How do you think?”

Nickie nodded very slowly, thinking.  At length, she said, “The team’s a mess right now.”

“Yeah, I’d noticed.  It’s pretty clear that they don’t want my help, though.”

“Devon—”

“No.  Nobody complained when Dimi bumped me down to the bench.  And you know what?  Shane was right.  He played better tonight than I have in weeks, and he was drunk.  I’m not the right person to lead this team.”

“Devon.”  Nickie reached up to rub at her temple, groaning in annoyance.  “Would you please shut up?”

The cacomistle stared at her blankly for a long second before he sputtered out, “Wait, what?”

“Just shut up and listen to yourself.”  She leaned back against the counter, glaring at him in annoyance.  “This whole season, all you’ve been talking about is numbers.  Who got more points, who did this during the game, who did that.  It’s stupid.  That’s Kabat’s job.  Your job is to be a captain, and you did a pretty awful job tonight.”

“There’s only so much I can do from the bench.  And besides, I can’t even play right now.  What am I supposed to do?”

“Do you know why Jimmy tried to stop you from leaving tonight?”

That made Devon hesitate.  When he spoke, his voice was anything but certain.  “Probably because he was feeling bad about how Shane’s been treating me.”

“Nothing nearly so charitable.  He tried to stop you because we needed you tonight.  I mean, I think tonight was the first time that both Jimmy and Rob realized why you might just be the best choice for captain, and you walked out on us.  Yeah, Shane made a complete ass of himself tonight, but you didn’t do much better.”

“What are you even talking about?  I wasn’t even on the court toni—”

“You were the only one that was looking Shane in the eye tonight, Dev.”  The cacomistle paused at that, and his mouth dropped slightly open.  Nickie pressed on.  “Rob and Jimmy could barely even bring themselves to talk to him.  Redawn tried, but she just dodged around the issue.  I finally said it after I lost my temper, but I couldn’t say it to his face.  Fine, you aren’t as strong of a player as Shane.  Frankly, though, Sammy and Jimmy have both been outplaying you, too.  We don’t need a strong player as our captain, because we have a lot of strong players.  We don’t need somebody that’s going to obsess over the numbers, either, because that’s Kabat’s job.  What we need is somebody that’s going to keep this team together and hold us to task.  That’s you.”

The room was very quiet as Nickie finished speaking.  Devon was still staring at her, but his expression was less stunned than before.  That long tail of his was slowly coiling itself around behind him.  For her part, Nickie just took the opportunity to take a few deep breaths.  Well.  Two outbursts in one night.  She was on a roll.

After what felt like a very long time, Devon looked away from her.  He cleared his throat, and muttered, “Uh… ten minutes until midnight.”

“What were your plans?”

“Was just going to watch the fireworks over the city from the balcony.”

“Head out.  I’ll get the champagne.”

He bobbed his head once, awkwardly, and then walked over to the window.  After he’d stepped outside, Nickie set about searching for a corkscrew for the champagne.  She took her time; she knew that Devon needed some time on his own to think over what she’d told him.

Once she’d found the corkscrew, she sat down at the table and pulled out her phone, looking for a way to give Devon some more time.  She was surprised to find dozens of notifications on it, coming from Twitter.  She switched over to the application, and her eyes widened as they scanned all the tweets.  They were coming from all over the place, the majority from her own teammates, but also from a few of the other FBA players in the bay area for the night.  Mostly, though, there were angry and panicked messages from Redawn, asking if anybody had seen Shane and demanding that he go home.  There were a few half coherent tweets from Shane, as well, but Nickie ignored those.

Her eyes lingered on the screen for a few long seconds.  When she looked up, her eyes immediately fell on Devon’s phone.  He’d left it on the kitchen counter.  There was a small light flashing on it, indicating that he was probably getting the same notifications.

She grabbed his phone, and quickly, before she could second-guess herself, turned it off.  Just to make sure, she opened one of the kitchen drawers and shoved it in.  Devon was already stressed out.  Sure, she’d given him a hard time for walking away earlier, but he needed a night to not worry about the team.  Dealing with more of Shane’s drunken antics was the last thing he needed.

Finally, she joined him outside on his balcony.  Even in San Jose, the night air had a certain chill to it.  Devon was leaning against the banister, looking out over the city.  As Nickie stepped outside, he asked, “How long have we got?”

“The clock in the kitchen said three minutes.”

Devon nodded.  He held the glasses while Nickie popped the cork from the slightly chilled bottle, then poured.

“Do you think I have what it takes to lead this team?”

Nickie blinked, nearly dropping the bottle.  She glanced up at her friend, and thought about her answer.  At length, she replied.  “I guess we’ll find out in the next few days.  That said…”  She finished pouring, and put the bottle down on the banister’s flat railing.  She took her glass from Devon, and looked him in the eye.  “I didn’t know how well you would do as a captain after they announced it in October.  I doubted you until you called out Shane, Jimmy, and Rob during that first preseason game.  All of us felt uncomfortable about how they were playing.  You were the only person on the team that confronted them on it, though.  So… yes.  I think you might just be the perfect captain for the Thrust.”

Devon nodded.  Everything was quiet but for the occasional sounds of cars passing far below.  “Thanks Nickie.”

Nickie intended to reply, but was interrupted as a roar rang out through the silence of the night.  She and Devon turned, and watched as coloured light exploded out across the city sky.  It was followed moments later by more bangs and jets of light as fireworks started firing off all around San Jose.  The light bounced down at the two of them, reflecting off of the windows of dozens of tall buildings around them.  Cheers rang out from other patios and balconies as the show continued, breaking the silence of the night.

“Happy New Year, Devon,” Nickie said, raising her voice so he would hear her above the fireworks.

“Happy New Year, Nickie.”

Their glasses met in a toast, and they drank.  Nickie ignored the soft vibrations coming from her pocket, and she couldn’t even hear the beeps of notifications over the fireworks.  That was a problem for the morning.

Featured Characters

Devon Kellendyne
Nickie Robespierre
Shane Rufus The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition.


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