Author: SETI_fan Please send feedback to scifibard@yahoo.com 
Rating: PG, for language
Category: Drama/Action Adventure
Notes: Special thanks to everyone at Kansas who encouraged me to finish this story! And many thanks, as always, to AmyJ for her help and wonderful illustrations.
Summary: During a supply run on a seemingly abandoned planet, Aeryn's Pilot DNA begins to resurface mysteriously. While she deals with the mutations, John returns to NamTar's lab to get the cure, D'Argo seeks the cause, and Pilot begins acting strangely...
Spoilers Up to Twice Shy, especially for DNA Mad Scientist
Season: AU Season 4, when J/A are hiding their love
Parts: 1 2  |  3  |  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |

Part VII

 

The band of shipmates pushed closer together, watching each other’s backs as the DRDs poured down the walls with mercenary calm. 

“Bright ideas?” John called. 

Sikozu shouted a command at the pack of DRDs in Pilot. The little droids chittered a bit, but pressed on. She swore, ducking behind Scorpius. “Now he improves their programming!” 

“Any other ideas?” John demanded, swinging Winona about, ready. 

“Would Pilot actually kill us?” Chiana asked nervously. 

“I don’t want to find out,” D’Argo growled. He dropped his voice. “How long until Rygel’s ready?” 

“Noranti said 1200 microts,” John whispered. “Plus 1812’s delivery time.” 

“Alright,” D’Argo sighed. “Surrender.” 

“What?!” the girls snapped. 

“Surrender!” he ordered, disarming his Qualta blade. 

“And you say my plans are bad,” John muttered, holstering Winona. 

# 

Below the layer of floating sand and peat, the water was clear. It was also unbelievably deep. 

Her eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness of the depths. Early in the dive, her lungs felt near bursting. Surrendering at last, she breathed out in an explosive burst of bubbles. Beneath her carapace, gills feathered and took over respiration. These minor physiological difficulties past, she could instead focus on the goal that had her skittering across the floor of a subterranean alien lake. 

Through the dimness, a clear sparkle caught her eye. 

THERE… 

# 

Pilot glared over his console as the DRDs led in their captives. “You needed to speak with me?” 

“Well, we tried the comms,” D’Argo said. 

“I have quite a lot to do, Ka D’Argo,” the symbiont replied. 

“Yeah, you’ve been a busy little bee around here.” John cast a look around as if encompassing Moya as a whole. “You wanna explain what you were doing that meant shutting off our electricity and phones?” 

“I cannot do that, Commander.” 

“Oh, come on, Pilot! Don’t go HAL on me now!” John yelled, risking a few steps forward that separated him from the others. “The tiers look like San Francisco, the DRDs are playing Aliens with us, and Aeryn is missing. What the hell is going on?!” 

Pilot looked down at his console. “That is not your concern.” 

“It is when DRDs are trying to blast my eema!” Chiana declared. 

“I thought your duties were to Moya first, then those who ride aboard her,” D’Argo said calmly. “What’s wrong? Is Moya pregnant again?” 

Pilot hesitated a microt, reacting to the reasonable tone. “No, Ka D’Argo. Moya is well and so am I. But this situation transcends those definitions.” 

John shifted his weight, fists clenching and releasing. “Does it transcend Aeryn’s safety?” 

Pilot met his eyes for the first time, an almost pleading look in their depths. “Aeryn is part of the situation.” 

“Then tell me where she is!” 

Pilot reared back, eyes dark again. “I will tell you nothing more!” 

The DRDs whirred closer. 

“Crichton…” Sikozu muttered nervously. 

D’Argo pushed forward, pulling Pilot’s full attention to him. “When Moya was pregnant, didn’t we all do what we could to keep her and Talyn safe? And didn’t Aeryn risk her own life again and again to protect Talyn once he was born?” 

Pilot growled softly, but wouldn’t meet D’Argo’s eyes. 

“She did. Aeryn is one of the most loyal friends you and Moya have. Well, now she needs you. If Aeryn completes the transformation, her baby will die.” 

He let that sink in for everyone. Beside him, he saw the color drain from John’s features, heard a soft gasp from one of the girls behind him. 

“Can you do that to her, Pilot?” D’Argo pressed, twisting the knife. “Whatever’s going on, is it worth her child’s life?” 

Around them, Moya’s familiar rhythm shifted, almost sounding like a ghostly moaning. Pilot sat perfectly still, his eyes pinned anywhere but at the beings before him. 

Softly, D’Argo took one more step forward. “Pilot, where is she? Help us stop this.” 

The words snapped the influence D’Argo had held. Pilot jerked back, all four arms up. The DRDs cocked their tiny, but lethal guns. 

Pilot growled at the assembled crew, eyes a hard amber. “I can tell you nothing more!” 

John did a quick calculation of the timing in his head. Not long now. “We know this fog is messing with your mind, Pilot,” he said quietly. “We don’t want to do this, but it’s for your own good.” 

# 

In Command, Rygel perched alongside an open console. His deft little fingers had worked their way deep into its inner workings to the juncture that Crichton had described. Now it was only a matter of waiting. Unfortunately, the position was uncomfortable for his squat body to maintain and his right earbrow was starting to pinch something awful. He groaned. 

“Come on, you little krellik…” 

# 

Planetside, Aeryn surfaced with a large gemstone clutched tightly in her claws. At least, the body that had once been Aeryn Sun’s surfaced. The mind inhabiting it worked with single-minded determination. What little of Aeryn’s personality had remained was completely buried by such a force. 

The Pilot rose from the waters of the lonely planet, muck sloughing off its shell, and approached the shattered altar of bone. 

# 

“Do what, Commander?” Pilot asked innocently. The DRDs circled them like edgy police officers. 

“You’ll know in a minute. I’m sorry.” 

The five and Pilot stared off in silence for several long moments. Finally, Chiana leaned over John’s shoulder. 

“Uh, something should have happened by now, right?” 

“Give it another minute,” he gritted back. “The timing’s rough on this one.” 

Behind them, the DRD-hole in the main door opened and a blur of blue, white, and red shot through, tootling cheerfully. 

John’s eyes widened. “No! 1812, I said to take it to Rygel, not me! 1812!” 

The painted DRD ignored him and zoomed on to where Pilot waited, claw extended. 

“Ah, is this what he was waiting for?” Pilot said, taking a small satchel from 1812. The DRD squawked to him. 

“A Belixton poultice. You wished to paralyze my connection to Moya and take manual control.” 

“We didn’t want to do it,” D’Argo said. 

“But we’d rather have done than than this.” John took a deep breath. “Chi, you still have the Big Gun?” 

“Yeah,” she said solemnly, leveling it slowly with the console. “I’m sorry, Pilot.” 

# 

Gray light wreathed the bone pedestal, hazy with drifting mists. The dripping Pilot, anointed in the planet’s blood, held the transparent crystal before it and climbed the ancient sternum. With extreme reverence, it placed the gem in the shattered depression. 

The stone glistened a microt, then gleamed, then glowed with a purity reserved traditionally for solar bodies alone. The Pilot beheld this, awestruck, filled with the joy and gratification it radiated. 

The light focused at last and pierced upward, through the gap in the shell, and etched a solid beam into the sky. The force of this crystallization slammed into the Pilot, throwing it backwards and into darkness. 

# 

Chiana slid her finger over the trigger of the gun and hesitated. She knew all she had to do, according to Plan C, was fry the console, but if she aimed too high, if the blast was more powerful than anticipated… 

Steadying herself, she took a deep breath. 

Pilot reeled back, crying out. 

“Pilot!” Chiana cried, horror sweeping through her. 

D’Argo clutched her shoulder. “It’s okay. You didn’t shoot.” 

Every DRD in the room sent up a flurry of squeals like stressed metal. Moya moaned and swung. The lights flashed. Chiana clung to D’Argo, Sikozu to Scorpius, and John to his lunch. 

Then all was still. 

The quintet stood in the silent darkness, afraid to move. 

“Pilot?” John called. 

The lights flickered once, then returned at normal levels. Moya’s steady hums and drones of life returned. At his console, Pilot swayed, then straightened up, blinking. 

“Uhhh… Commander Crichton, Captain D’Argo, are you alright?” 

“We’re fine, Pilot,” John answered, moving closer with extreme caution. “How are you?” 

“Moya and I are fine. However, we must apologize for our actions, and explain them.” 

“I’d love to hear it, Pilot,” John said, patting one of his arms, “but first, I need to cure Aeryn.” 

“Of course, Commander. She has gone down to the planet’s surface.” 

“Thank you,” he said in a ‘Was that so hard?’ tone. “Can you be more specific?” 

“I believe it will not be hard to find her,” Pilot said almost sadly. 

“We can take Lo’La,” D’Argo volunteered. 

“Can you fly in those clouds without crashing us?” Chiana asked. 

D’Argo bristled a bit at the challenge, but restrained his macho side for once of good sense. “I’m not sure.” 

A desperate idea tickled John’s mind. “But you can, can’t you?” John addressed Scorpius. “Your Superman energy vision wouldn’t be as affected by the fog.” 

The hybrid considered this. “Most likely not, no.” He fixed a skeptical gaze on John. “You would permit me to fly?” 

John looked around the room. Chiana was checking D’Argo’s leg to make sure there was no blood. Sikozu was checking on Pilot. And Aeryn awaited him on the planet below. 

“Yeah, Scorpy. So help me, you’re my last hope.” He straightened, heading for the door. “Alright, mount up if you’re coming.” 

“Do hurry, Commander,” Pilot called after him, voice low. “I fear it may already be too late.” 

# 

The Transport Pod leapt from Moya’s Bay and hurried away into the clouds. Immediately, gale-force winds buffeted the little craft. It rocked and wallowed a bit, but kept moving forward. 

“You, uh, have done atmospheric flying before, right?” John asked, hands clenched immovably on the edges of the copilot seat. 

Scorpius growled softly as he fought the updrafts. 

“Just asking.” 

“Looks like we’re flying into a storm,” D’Argo assessed, leaning over John’s shoulder. “We’re never going to see anything at this level.” 

“Agreed.” 

Scorpius pulled the Pod up and out of the atmosphere. Freed of the wind’s clutches, the ride stabilized. 

Chiana leaned beside D’Argo, getting well into Scorpius’ personal space. “Uh, while this is nice, how are we supposed to find Aeryn from up here?” 

“I’m getting my bearings,” the hybrid hissed, leaning away from her. 

John frowned at the planet beneath them. “Pilot said she’d be easy to find,” he mused. 

As the Pod continued its journey around the globe, his eyes widened. “You guys see that?” 

“How could we miss it?” Chiana murmured. 

Here, the clouds darkened until they were nearly black and swirled in a vortex already the size of Europe and growing steadily. Unlike a regular hurricane, however, this was a spiral of clear air cutting through a cloudy expanse. Bolts of lightning leapt across the arms. 

“Any bets Aeryn’s not under that thing?” D’Argo quipped. 

“Scorpy, set us down here,” John commanded. He stared solemnly at the quiet center of the storm and Kornata’s words echoed back to him: For her, it must be the eye. He prayed she was right. 

As they descended, John was able to get a better look at the landscape around them. Towers of rock and mountains stretched skyward. Across a nearby one, he saw the pale scrape the other Pod had made on its first descent, had it only been arns ago? Smaller spikes stood haphazardly on its peak. He inquired Scorpius of a clearer identification. 

Scorpius squinted at them. “They appear to be tree trunks. Ancient tree trunks.” 

John studied them, noticing the weathered smoothness of the sides, the roughness of the rock above a uniform height on every pillar. Suspicion grew. 

“There’s the other Pod.” D’Argo pointed. 

They set down lightly next to it and hurried out. 

“Aeryn!” John called, running up into the sister ship. Finding it empty but for a confused and nervous One-Eye, he hurried back out again, scanning the horizon. “Aeryn!” 

“John,” D’Argo summoned from a few meters away. He gestured to a black pile before him as John ran up. “It’s her blanket. I can smell her and Pilot all over it.” 

John gently rubbed the fabric with his thumb as he searched the ground around them. “Good…good. Damn, the wind got rid of any footprints. Can you track her smell?” 

D’Argo shifted uncomfortably, sniffing the air. “Um, sort of.” 

“Sort of?” John demanded. He was going to need a major Prozac if he survived this one. 

“Aeryn’s scent ends here,” D’Argo answered. “Pilot’s scent goes that way.” He gestured off into the clear wilderness. 

“Just Pilot’s?” John asked softly. 

“I’m sorry, John.” 

It may already be too late…John tried to push Pilot’s words out of his head. “Alright, just lead the way. We have to find her, one way or another.” 

They walked to the cliffside Chiana had slipped into and descended carefully, knocking free small rocks that bounced down ahead of them. Though deep, it wasn’t nearly as sheer as the fog had made it seem. 

In the canyon, John realized every step took more effort and his breath came shorter. He felt like he was carrying a Marine cadet’s training pack. Very little vegetation grew in the gritty soil that crunched under his feet. Only a few straggly, woody breeds eked out their lives here, and they looked half-dead already. John broke off a dry twig and sniffed it, then touched it to his tongue experimentally. He spat quickly, throwing it away. “Pure salt!” he choked. 

“Nothing could live here,” Chiana muttered pessimistically. 

“Not now, no,” John agreed, wiping his tongue with the back of his hand. “This is a dried up ocean. We hit an island.” 

The others, save Scorpius, gaped at him. 

“I’m a scientist,” he explained, gesturing widely. “Patterns.” 

“What the frell could dry up an ocean?” Chiana asked. 

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out, but it does explain the constant fog.” He glanced ahead. “Are we close, D?” 

D’Argo shook his head, panting. “I’m not sure. Maybe if we climb that hill there we can see her.” 

Scorpius narrowed his eyes. “That’s not a hill.” 

They cleared a rise in the salted sand and found themselves face-to-face with a true leviathan. The fossilized exoskeleton reared half out of the soggy sand that embalmed it, maw gaping wide. Fog clung lightly about it in wispy tendrils. 

“Damn,” John muttered. “Jules Verne would’ve had a field day with this. Lemme guess; we’ve gotta go inside it.” 

“There is an extremely high concentration of energy within it,” Scorpius reported. 

“Aeryn’s in there too,” D’Argo added. 

“Boy, can I call ‘em or what?” John muttered, trudging down the rise. 

They approached slowly in silence, wary of every crackle of sand, every whistle of the wind. A faint voice on John’s right kept rambling just below the comprehensible range. 

“Pip, quit playing around and speak up, would ya?” 

“I’m over here,” she said from his left side, her dark eyes standing out against the gray backdrop. “You hear something?” 

John glanced at her, then turned right, training his ears for the voice again. Distant thunder rumbled over the land, deterring his efforts. “Nothing, nah.” 

Inside, the fog existed only as thin wisps, but they seemed to drift on a breeze no one felt. Great sheets of ancient baleen hung all around the jaw, water dripping off them in steady, if irregular patterns. A flash of lightning outside displayed everything in shock relief for a microt, the after-image drifting across their visions for a while. 

As the crew proceeded down the throat, John muttered to himself, “Jonah or Orpheus?” for the mild comfort it gave him. 

The throat opened into a thoracic cavity and they saw the collapsed form of a full Pilot crumpled before a jewel seated on a bone shaft. John rushed forward immediately. 

“Aeryn,” D’Argo breathed. 

“Oh no,” Chiana whispered. 

“Aeryn!” John prodded, searching the huge body for some sign of life in her. His mind tried to shut down in panic. He was too late. She had fully transformed. Would the serum work now? Would it still be Aeryn if it did? Oh God, was she already dead? 

Under his hand, her chest plate rose slowly, then fell in a ragged breath. Tears of relief prickled his eyes. His mind now locked on a single determination. His shaking hand dug within his coat till it closed around the syringe. Gently, he slid her fist-sized eye open and some part of him rejoiced to see a gray ring around the pupil of the orange iris. He met D’Argo and Chiana’s gazes over her body. 

“Here goes nothing.” 

They winced as he injected the serum into her iris, then waited. The stillness filled the room. 

Suddenly, the Pilot jerked in a gasping seizure, body convulsing. 

“What’d you do?!” Chiana cried. 

“It’s alright!” John said, grabbing one muscular, thrashing arm and reaching for another. “This is normal. Help me hold her down!” 

Between the four, they kept her from injuring herself in the first harsh moments, though her protectors didn’t fare as well. After that, she settled into a steady choking noise and the transformation began. Rough purple skin turned pink and smooth. Features morphed back to recognizable configurations. The shell clattered as it fell loose around a Sebacean body. John had never thought of Aeryn as petite before, but she was positively tiny in the cavernous Pilot’s shell. 

Finally, her breath came even and slow. Aeryn’s familiar face lay under a heavy dome of chitin. Without hesitation, John set about removing the remaining shell as a squire would his knight’s armor. He gently pulled the residual gauntlets from her slender arms and pushed the dome off her slicked raven hair. 

“D’Argo,” he asked, “can I borrow your knife?” 

D’Argo passed it over. Getting a firm grip on the hilt, John raised it over his head and drove it down with all his strength on her chest plate until it cracked. 

“John!” 

“Crichton!”

“It’s not attached to her,” he argued, shaking free of their horrified holds on his arms. “I’ve gotta get her out of there.” 

Three more blows and he was able to pull and pry the Pilot torso apart. 

“Blanket.” 

Chiana passed it to him. He pushed it inside the shell and wrapped it around Aeryn’s naked body, unbothered by the sticky discharge covering her. Delicately, as a parent carries a sleeping child, he lifted her clear of the exoskeleton, which clattered hollowly upon the sternum, an empty pile. 

“Is she gonna be okay?” Chiana asked softly. 

“I think so, now,” John answered, cradling Aeryn close to his chest. “But let’s get her back to Moya, pronto.” 

Scorpius, assured the drama was over, had wandered near the crystal and stood examining it. “This is the source of the energy,” he commented. 

“Fascinating,” D’Argo grumbled. “Let’s get out of here.” 

“No,” Scorpius continued, “not the crystal.” He crouched and peered at the shattered bone base. “Here. 

“Come on, Scorp,” John called, eyes never leaving Aeryn’s sedate form. 

But Scorpius was already dislodging pieces of fossil bone from the pedestal. Beneath, he revealed smooth, polished metal that gleamed opalescent white, forming the true device on which the gemstone perched. Pin lights flickered up and down its sides. 

“You shouldn’t play with stuff you find on the beach,” John called again, lingering impatiently further up the sternum. “Could get AIDS.” 

“Why would someone hide technology like this in a skeleton?” 

“I don’t know, grasshopper. Could be a phaser, or a flashlight, or an Easy-Bake Oven for all I care. Now come on or we’re leaving you behind!” 

“I’ll be right there, John.” His gloved finger traced a pattern of lights along one curve. 

The intangible wind sprang to life, cascading mists from all corners of the chamber. They swirled and coalesced over the remains of Aeryn’s shell, where they settled.  

D’Argo drew his Qualta blade with a snarl. “What did you do?!” 

The mists pulled closer together and everyone froze. They had formed the rough shape of a tall figure, very much like a Pilot, but subtly different, sleeker. 

FEAR NOT. 

The voice echoed forth without the mist-being moving its mouth. 

“Who are you?” John asked, clutching Aeryn tightly. 

THE TRUE HEIRS OF THIS WORLD. ITS CARETAKERS. OUR GRATITUDE TO YOU. 

“To me?” he asked. 

YOU BROUGHT HER. It gestured to Aeryn. SHE RETURNED THE HEART. WE ARE RESTORED. BESTOW ON HER OUR GRATITUDE. 

“I’ll be sure to do that. Just answer me this.” 

YES? 

“Did you do this to her?” 

The mistling cocked its head enigmatically. 

THE TRUE HEIRS CAUSED IT, YET NO HEIR INVOKED IT. 

John glared at the alien. “Great. Well, when I figure that one out, I’ll be back to kick y’all’s ass.” He turned to leave. 

JOHN CRICHTON. 

The mistling drifted before him. The intangible wind blew back a fold of Aeryn’s blanket, exposing the bare flesh below. An arm of fog reached out and rested on the skin between her pelvic ridges. The being fixed an almost friendly face on John’s. 

KNOW ALL IS WELL. 

With that, the mistling dissipated, leaving only a patch of condensation on Aeryn’s belly. 

Now can we get out of here?” D’Argo pleaded into the silence that followed. 

“Please,” John agreed. 

#

 

The storms had picked up full strength when the crew of Moya returned to their Pods. The black clouds had opened and a steady rain drummed on the small ships. 

“D, you and Chiana take one,” John instructed. “Scorpy, Aeryn, and I will take the other.” 

The wind picked up, whipping rain diagonally at them. John hunched his shoulders against the weather and cradled Aeryn closer to his chest. The cool rain spattered lightly on her face despite his guard. 

At the wet insistence, Aeryn stirred gently. Her eyes blinked, then snapped open. She struggled in momentary panic, pressing hard against his chest, muscles tense. 

“Sh, sh, sh,” John soothed, laying her on the ground and crouching over her. “Aeryn? Are you okay? You with us?” 

Her wild eyes finally focused on his and she stopped fighting. “John?” she whispered. 

A tear dripped off his cheek. “Yeah, honey, it’s me.” He stroked her sticky hair back from her face, ignoring the sand that now clung to it. “You’re alright.” 

Aeryn’s eyes blurred slightly as she tracked her memories. She squeezed them shut and reopened them, blinking rapidly. “I can’t see…Can’t sense—”  

Abruptly, she sat up, casting a look down at her own Sebacean body. Lucid eyes turned back to John. “You made it to Kornata’s.” 

The relief glowed on his face. Her voice still sounded modulated but it was clearly Aeryn speaking. “Yeah, we did. How do you feel?” he asked, helping her up. “Can you walk?” 

“I’m fine, John,” she answered. “A little unsteady, but fine. Thank you.” Her hand gripped his lovingly. 

He smiled. “Good. Now let’s get back to Moya and away from this God-forsaken rock.” 

Aeryn frowned, rooted to her spot. “It’s not a—” She stopped, looking around sharply. “The crystal! Where is it?” 

John caught her shoulders, steadying her as the quick movements made her sway slightly. “Easy. It’s in the sea monster on that gizmo.” 

“Er…” Chiana mumbled. 

Aeryn’s eyes widened, “Well, we have to go back for it!” 

“Um, no we don’t.” 

All eyes turned to Chiana and saw the crystal, now smoky gray as topaz, in her arms. 

“What are you—?! You can’t just go stealing stuff like that!” John yelled. “Haven’t the past three cycles taught you anything?!”

Aeryn, though, snatched the gem with a hungry grab, her fingers still positioned like a Pilot’s claw. “Chiana, you did it!” She grinned, eyes alight as she examined the glittering facets. Small flecks of gold twinkled amongst the lattice. 

Chiana arched a dark brow. “Uh, glad you’re happy with me for once, but I snurched it; it’s mine.” 

“It’s nobody’s,” John stated. “We’re taking it back to where we found it. Last thing we need’s more P.O.ed aliens on our tail.” 

Aeryn watched the exchange, head cocked slightly to the side in amusement. “Pilot didn’t explain this to you, did he?” 

John eyed her seriously. “We didn’t have time to powwow, no.” 

“What’s going on?” D’Argo asked her, wishing he’d brought his fur coat. He glanced longingly at the dry Pod. 

Aeryn gestured expansively with one arm, the other wrapped around the gemstone. “This planet is the original Pilot homeworld.” 

The others stared at her incredulously. 

“What, this ball of fog?” Chiana snorted. 

“Yes,” Aeryn nodded. 

“Pilots live here?” D’Argo asked skeptically. 

“Lived, once,” Aeryn affirmed. 

“Back when this was an ocean?” John said. 

“Yes!” Aeryn nodded, eyes bright. “Most of the planet was.” 

“Wait, how do you know this?” D’Argo demanded. 

Aeryn blinked and stood a little straighter. “Well, I was a Pilot.” 

“Right,” John said dismissively. “But what does this have to do with the Hope Diamond there?” 

Aeryn held the gem reverently. “This crystal will help restore the planet to what it once was.” 

“All the more reason to put it back,” John said, reaching for it. 

Aeryn shook her head. “No, John, it’s done here.” She smiled up into the pouring rain, enjoying the water trickling down her face. “The oceans are already refilling.” 

They all followed her gaze up to the hurricane-shaped hole in the cloud cover, where hot and cold air mingled and birthed the momentous global storm. For the first time since their arrival arns ago, twinkling stars were visible in the night sky above. 

Chiana squinted through the wet at Aeryn. “So if the crystal’s already done its thing, why is it so important to you?” 

“Remember the maps NamTar claimed to give you?” she asked the boys. “Well this is the real thing. A map of the entire galaxy.” 

She held the crystal up so it sparkled in the starlight. “It’s a gift for our help, and a message to carry.” 

To Be Continued...

Part 8

 

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