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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 20

Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 20

“So what are we going to do?” Pulsar demanded, as the unlikely pair walked ‘home’. “They want us to sabotage our own faction! And they’ll know if we frag it up on purpose, and they’ll never re-supply us, and we’ll get found out and locked up or kicked out or-”

“Oh, psh. Come on. It shouldn’t be too hard to act inept, should it?” Skywarp gave her a little shove. “You’re a holier-than-thou little overprincipled Autobot, and I’m just stupid. If they call us out on it, we can wriggle out of it with a bit of thought. Right?”

Pulsar swallowed the urge to cut back that it should be easy for him. “But what if-”

“No, no what-ifs yet. They’ve not asked us to do anything that’d put us in a compromising position – the fact that they will in the future is irrelevant, because we’re going to have been cured by then. Right?”

“We’ve got to tell them we’re addicted, to get cured. And there’s no cure yet. What are we supposed to do, find someone to confide in?”

“Well, no, we can’t tell them, not yet,” Skywarp counselled, quietly. “If we even hint at it, they’ll pull us off the investigation, even if they let us keep working and don’t outright lock us up, and we’re in too valuable a position to be taken off this. Right?”

“Right, but-”

“And you said it yourself. We can both still function pretty normally if we take appropriate precautions, and don’t let ourselves run right down to vapours.”


“Look, the Blue guys think we’re happy double agents, for them. Working inside to wreck the investigation, right?”


“Soo… how about we go for the triple?”

“What do you mean?”

“Primus alive, if a dunce like me can grasp it, what’s so hard for you to understand? We do the same to them. Play along with their games, but use our position to do the same to them that they want us to do to our friends.”

“Gather information on them from the inside…” Realisation was slowly dawning in her optics. “That’s it! And it might just save our sparks when the guys find out!”

“But we’ll have to play it reeeally carefully. If we give Blue the tiniest hint we’re playing them false, they will probably kill us.” He twitched. “Or worse.”

She almost asked what was worse than being killed, but changed her mind just in time. He was actually being kinda personable, right now, and she didn’t want to ruin her chance at getting something like a confidant by asking idiot questions she knew the answer to already.

Thundercracker was at the desk when the pair finally ambled through the front entrance. He looked up from his discussion with the desk sergeant, and his expression was instantly one of equal parts relief and extreme irritation. “At last! Where did you get to, you lazy fragger?! Forget you had a duty shift, or something?”

“Yeah, hello to you too, TC,” Skywarp grumbled. “I was following a lead, I’ve not stopped being on duty for the last orn or so.”

“Following a lead, or following a piece of tail?” Thundercracker wondered, semi-scornfully, watching as a grimy Pulsar attempted to scuttle past without being noticed.

“Primus, is that how highly you rate my morals?”

“Now, how many words do you want me to answer that in? Because I think I could manage to think up a variety of one-word answers.”

“Oh, why don’t you just go stick a fork in it, Thundercracker-” Skywarp flounced past him.

“Look, I’ve had to do your duty shift, because you were fragging about in Primus-knows-where with Primus-knows-who,” Thundercracker growled, following him down the corridor. “That’s ignoring the fact you had me worrying you were going to turn up dead in a refuse bin, somewhere, because you vanished off to the horizon without telling anyone where you were going. So you could stand to be a little less unapologetic!”

Skywarp paused to take a moment to wrap his brain around all the apparent double negatives, and backed down, guiltily. “I didn’t think about it that way,” he admitted. “I didn’t think anyone would get worried. I told Screamer I was going out, and I figured it didn’t matter when he didn’t yell too loud at me.”

Thundercracker huffed, but looked satisfied at the semi-apology. “All right. But you owe me, now. You do my next two shifts and I may – may – forgive you…”


Jazz was pacing, quietly, trying to culture the unfamiliar mindset of the impatient addict. The jittery impatience was easier to pull off than he’d imagined, but that was probably helped by the fact that he genuinely was jittery. He’d been here for three breems already, and not only had ‘the Source’ still yet to turn up, he had the strong suspicion that word had got out, and the dealer wasn’t ever going to turn up. Best show willing, though. Abandoning this too early would only prove he wasn’t quite the desperate addict he wanted to present himself as. So he waited, and paced, and paced, and waited, and worried that the game was up and he was about to get mugged or killed or worse.

He needn’t have worried. After six and a bit breems had passed, Jazz decided that waiting any longer was just tempting fate and was making to leave… and two pale orange optics finally appeared from the shadows.

“Are you the Source? You’re late,” Jazz challenged, coldly. “What took you so long to get here? I was bang on time, just as you told me!”

“Just wanted to make sure you were genuine,” the Source purred, sweetly, bowing deeply to him. “You never can tell who is and who isn’t playing a double game, in this climate of fearful suspicion…”

“Just… get on with it!” Jazz paced. “Are you the dealer?”

The Source smiled. “Well, that depends. Are you the buyer?”

“Depends,” Jazz echoed. “What have you got?”

“Depends what you want!”

“We could go round in circles like this all day,” Jazz forced an irritable tone, and hugged his arms around himself. “I need a new supplier. What can you do for me?”

“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place!” The delivery truck bowed. “I am of course the Source, for all your needs-”

“How much?” Jazz interrupted.

The truck’s pale face grew serious. “We’ll cut you a deal. A special price just this once, and if you send us some more consumers…” The Source shrugged, lazily. “We’ll think about keeping at this price for a while.”

Knowing he had absolutely no need to return for more supplies, Jazz was quick to agree. “What do I pay, and what exactly do I get in return?”

“One hundred credits, and you get six cubes of Ruin. That works out at maybe one and a bit cubes for free.”

“Nnh. That’s a big outlay,” Jazz fidgeted, paced about. “I was thinking more of having just one or two cubes, in case anyone mugs me again. Can I think about it and get back to you…?” A hundred credits was a lot of money, which he was technically only borrowing off the police, and would Starscream really need six cubes? Superintendent Boxer had taken a fair amount of persuasion just to loan the money in the first place. But then, Jazz consoled himself, he was used to the laying of oil on troubled waters, and if he tried hard enough he’d be able to put a positive spin on it and talk his way out of it.

The truck lifted his chin, arrogantly. “You won’t find any better offers on the streets, and this is a one-time-only deal,” he said, flatly. “You walk away now, and so does the offer.”

“All right,” Jazz hesitated, fidgeted. “All right. Um. I’ll… I’ll see if I’ve got that much…”

Jazz took his time to ‘find’ enough credits to pay the Source, and by the time he’d finished he’d gone all the way down to small change and the delivery truck was trying to disguise how irritated he had grown. “There. That-… that should be a hundred.”

The truck narrowed his optics, and took another breem or two to laboriously count it. “All right,” he said, at last, sounding almost disappointed, and fetching the promised cubes. “This all looks like it’s in order.”

Jazz clutched for the cubes with a very passable desperation, and tucked them safely away in his subspace.

“Remember,” the Source purred, almost seductively. “Bring us more customers, and we’ll honour the price you paid just now…”


Deuce watched as the idiot police Autobot departed with what he thought was six nice fresh cubes of Blue, and permitted himself a sly smirk. The Boss had been endlessly amused at the idea that the police thought they could actually outwit them, and had instructed that Deuce deliver a special additional ‘sample’, hidden among the rest of the Blue.

He opened a channel to his co-conspirators. “Fatigue? Yeah. He’s gone.”

Has he got the supplies?” Fatigue asked, darkly.

“Yep,” Deuce confirmed, nodding to himself. “All of them. Including the surprise package.”

Good. With luck, the Boss’ plan will come to the intended explosive climax…


“Hey, Screamer!”

Starscream glanced up from his work, irritably – the greeting hadn’t come from one of his wingmates, and he only just tolerated them calling him that at the best of times. “What?”

Jazz grinned from the doorway. “I went out shopping, for you,” he explained, idly, and ambled in with a tray full of little blue cubes.

“Aha!” Starscream’s glare fell off, and he accepted the handful of cubes as if they were the single most precious item in the entire universe, looking inappropriately pleased at the windfall. “More than enough for my analysis. I’ll even have some spares.”

“You’re welcome, by the way,” Jazz quipped, pointedly.

“What? Oh, right,” Starscream wrinkled his lip. “Thanks.” The word dripped insincerity, but Jazz grinned anyway.

“Nice to see some things don’t change, huh?” Jazz chuckled, and passed Calibrator in the doorway. “Have fun, Screamer.”

“Don’t call me that!” Starscream sniped at the departing back, and received a dismissive hoot of laughter in return from the corridor.

Calibrator paused in the doorway, and pouted at the red Seeker’s back. “What are you doing?” she demanded, disgruntledly. “Don’t you trust my research? I’ve worked with this compound for the past seventy orns, I know the most about it that anyone does… starting over is pointless, after all the research I’ve done-!” Six new cubes threw a royal blue shine up his cockpit and lit his dark features.

The red Seeker smiled patiently down at her, which was all the more infuriating. “Perhaps, but I want to see for myself how it works, without all your contaminants in the way.”

“They’re not contaminants, they’re experimental antitoxins-!” She sounded grossly indignant.

“Were they in there to start with?”

“Well, no-”

“Exactly. So, like I said. They’re contaminants.”

Calibrator huffed, but backed down. “So what variant are these?”

Starscream took a moment to cross-reference off a databoard. “Prophet, looks like. Medium potency.”

“Mm, I’d agree with that,” Calibrator nodded, inspecting the little array. “Although-… Hmm.” She picked up one of the cubes, distractedly, and set it down under the fume hood at the side of the room. “Don’t like the look of that one,” she admitted, flicking the switch and filling the air with the low hum of exhaust fans. “Doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before.”

Starscream inspected it through the toughened glass. “A new fractal type?” It looked like all the rest of the Prophet, to him, but then he didn’t have the microscoping optic lenses the analyst had.

“It’s… well, yes, it’s possible,” Calibrator acknowledged, leaning her forearm against a lever and spraying a thick layer of lurid green DisposaGlove up her arms, all the way past her elbows. “Just doesn’t look quite like any Blue I’ve seen before. The fractals are… well… off. Not sure how to describe it.” She waved her hands to get the components to dry.

“Isn’t that a bit excessive?” Starscream challenged; his own neat, trimmed gloves extended only up to his wrists.

She glanced up, and shrugged. “Mm, perhaps. But when you’ve accidentally sprayed yourself with so much analytical reagent that it takes your dermal plates off, you’ll probably overglove as well.”


A bath and a rest had done wonders for Pulsar – clean and polished, the formerly-raggedy little addict looked like she belonged at the station again, rather than an escapee from the cell block. Having someone to confide in helped, as well, even if that someone was about as much good as a paper fireguard half the time; the important part was that she was no longer alone in her problem, and they might be able to hash out some sort of solution together… eventually.

“You’re looking better, Pulse,” Nightsun greeted, with a testing smile, as she arrived in the break room to join the other constables for her shift. “Go see the doctor like I asked?”

“Yeah,” she lied, and nodded. “Here, he gave me a note for you.”

Nightsun read over the forged scrap she’d handed him, and narrowed his optics suspiciously. “You elected not to see the station medic?”

“Well, the pair of you may have been swapping notes, see, and he might have been biased,” she teased. “I got a checkup from someone I knew wouldn’t wrangle things to force me to get a few orns off work.”

Nightsun’s dark expression softened, and Pulsar felt a flash of relief that he’d bought it. “Fair enough,” he backed down. “You’re still going to go easy on yourself for the next few orns, though, right?”

“Absolutely.” If it stops me having to lie to my friends, I’m all for it.

“You see you do,” he threatened, affectionately. “We’re still waiting for Hardline to get down here with the orn’s rota. Go park your aft, and try not to get into a slanging match with Whitesides – he’s got his opinionated head on again.”

As Nightsun said, Whitesides was holding court over a little gaggle of gravity-cycles in the corner – an equal mix of both genders, all simmering in a kind of self-righteous outrage. Pulsar listened in for a minute, but they weren’t arguing about anything new – just the same-old same-old how dare those damn fliers move in and take over, the police were going to solve the Blue problem and then arrest the Seekers for war crimes, etc. She wondered for the first time if it was an inherent design flaw in her class of machine. Until the Decepticons had turned up, she’d not really noticed how self-righteous and overbearing she could be, and now she was seeing it everywhere. Whitesides had been quite a close friend at the academy, and they’d shared a dorm (and secrets, and ideals) for vorns, but now he came across as abrasive and unlikable. Somehow, even Skywarp came across as the nicer mech – she banished that thought as quickly as possible.

Keeping anything that wasn’t Ruin down was getting harder. She elected not to join Whitesides little group, just in case, staying at her own little table and nursing a small container of clean energon, trying to convince her pumps not to purge it. It took having everyone’s optics on her for her to realise that someone had spoken to her. “Uh-… What?”

“I said, I think we should bring in mandatory testing,” Whitesides repeated, watching intently for her response. “So we can catch the spy.”

“That would only work if it’s a spy who’s addicted,” Pulsar countered, trying to avoid answering the ‘mandatory testing’ aspect. “And there’s nothing to say that’s the case. Could be an undercover Decepticon. Could be a ‘Neutral with an Agenda’.”

“And you really think that’s likely?” he scoffed. “Come on, who here would be likely to sell their principles without having their hand forced by Blue?”

“Look, I’m really tired, Whites,” she countered, quietly. “My central processor is burned out. My stacks are filled with rubbish that I haven’t had time to defragment out. I want to just do my shift, settle into my berth, and get my cortex working straight again.”

Whitesides’ pale face twisted into a smirk of triumph. “And just whose berth would you be doing that in, sweet little Pulse?”

Her primary pump went still in her chest. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing. Just that you’re the topic of quite a few conversations around the station. And quite a few sweepstakes.” He leaned closer and murmured into her audio; “how far did you get, hm?”

The Chief Inspector inadvertently saved Whitesides from a broken optic. Hardline’s deep voice sounded across the noisy break room and attracted everyone’s attention before Pulsar could slug her roommate round the faceplates. “All right, you lot,” he boomed, and held up a fan of data wafers. “New rotas are out, and it’s all change. Most of you are on a new route that better takes into account your skills. Ergo, I’m sorry to say, some of you will be doing two shifts in a row, now – but we’ll double your rations to make up for it. Now lets see some clean pairs of thrusters, and get to work!”

There was grumbling, but most of the junior officers headed obediently off out. Pulsar grabbed Whitesides’ wrist before he could slink off. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” she hissed, up at him. “If you’re spreading malicious rumours about me-”

“I’m not the only one to have heard,” he interrupted, softly, “that you and that filthy Seeker were out – alone – last night. I hope you’re not forgetting where your allegiances lie, in favour of a pretty face.”

“Just what are you insinuating?” she asked, grimly.

“What do you think I’m implying?” Whitesides lowered his voice a fraction, dangerously, and his pale gaze glittered. “I think you might just have pink optics for him. Good looking mech, and strong, powerful, but not so brainy that he makes you feel threatened… a little spice of danger in him, too. I can see a little scatterbrain like you finding him worth chasing.”

Pulsar leaned closer across the table and lowered her own voice to match. “I would rather chew the residue off my own afterburners,” she argued, quietly, “than chase after anyone like him-”

A shadow loomed across them. “Excuse me, constables,” Nightsun drawled, amusedly, “but don’t you both have places to be?”

“Yes sir!” Whitesides leaped up as if stung, and was gone in a blink.

Pulsar was more sluggish. “I’ve got another exciting rotation, no doubt.” She glared disgustedly into her energon, and turned the mug between her fingers, irritably.

“Everything all right between you and your room-mates, Pulse?”

She glanced up to meet the sergeant’s gaze. “He’s accusing me of having some sort of inappropriate tryst with that Seeker,” she groused.

“Well, you did get people talking. You vanished same time as he did, then arrived back with him next morning. You probably should have sneaked in the back way if you didn’t want Whisper to tell everyone, you know what a gossip-hound he is.”

“Look, there’s nothing happening.” She shook her head, propping her chin on one hand. “I had a tiny lead, about where some loyalists might have been using as a base. I couldn’t get there fast enough, so I roped him into getting me there quicker.”

“That’s all it is?” Nightsun probed, gently. “You just got him to fly you there?”

“What else would it be?”

“Pulsar, you’re going to have to learn to lie better,” Nightsun gave her a warning look.

“What?” For the second time in as many breems, her pump went still.

“Just be careful what you’re getting into,” he counselled, gently, thankfully not pursuing the untruth aspect. “I know there’s more to it than you claim, because I know you’re the last person to have ‘just got him to fly you somewhere’. You’re terrified of heights.”


An addiction was not a good thing to have, Skywarp had long ago concluded.

It wasn’t so much that he didn’t have enough supplies, because that fat tractor had given both enough to easily last a half dozen orns. It was more having to fight the urge to blurt it out to his wingmates, because he wanted so bad just to confess to someone (preferably TC). They might understand, but he figured there was no way Screamer would let him stay on the investigation while he was the weak link. The red Seeker might be highly emotional, but he was just as ruthlessly logical as Shockwave, sometimes. Bad enough that he’d already been called to account about exactly what he’d been up to, once the rumours filtered through to Starscream, and it had taken some skilled negotiations to get him to finally back down and accept the “tryst” was actually nothing.

Now Starscream’s little explosion of temper had faded, the laboratory was quiet and chilly again. Skywarp wasn’t sure which he preferred. It felt like all six machines working here were watching him, probing for the slightest slip that might reveal his dirty secret. He folded his arms and affected an air of nonchalance, and luckily no-one called him out on anything.

Starscream had got four out of the six cubes safely into the cold store, under a passworded lock and forcefield. Calibrator had huffed for a while, demanding to know why he didn’t trust her and had to lock his own samples away when hers were all readily accessible, but he waved her off with an irritable little grumble and she’d backed down, simmering. He had one cube that he was working on, and was throwing a whole spectrum of tests at it, as if it were just a puzzle, not a destructive, addictive substance.

The little cube was a tantalising presence. Skywarp recognised it as Prophet – he reached out a hand, and gave it a little nudge with the back of a knuckle – watched familiar cyan facets dance through it at the little tremor.

“Stop fiddling, Warp,” Starscream scolded, absent-mindedly, and swatted the purple hands away. “I don’t want you contaminating the exemplars.”

Skywarp took his hands back, and tucked them down his sides by his wings, poutily. “I was only looking.”

“You tend to graduate from looking to breaking altogether too quickly,” Starscream corrected. “Keep your hands to yourself.”

Skywarp huffed, then sensed someone’s gaze upon him, and glanced up across the table. Calibrator was watching him, a curious look in her optics, and he shifted, awkwardly, stared her out. It felt like any minute now, everyone would know his terrible secret. Stop drawing attention to yourself, he admonished himself.

“Bored?” Calibrator guessed – incorrectly, but Skywarp nodded, anyway, taking what he hoped was the convenient way out she’d offered.

“Labs aren’t my natural territory,” he agreed, folded his arms.

Starscream glanced up, penetratingly. “You not feeling well, Skywarp?”

“No, I just said. I’m bored.”

Starscream’s features compressed into a little moue of suspicion. “Right,” he agreed, but didn’t sound remotely convinced. “So why aren’t you tampering your way into me evicting you from the lab?”


“You’re not patient when you’re bored. You fiddle and break things, and as yet you haven’t. Want to revise your problem?”

“Oh, pfft,” Skywarp threw his hands up and stomped off. Words followed him out of the doorway until he faded from audio range down the corridor; “everyone has a problem these days. It’s all this close proximity to Autobots, it’s messing with my brainpan…”

“TC?” Starscream opened a private channel to his wingmate. “Calling in a favour, here.”

What’s up?

“Would you keep half an optic on Warp, if you get time? I’m worried he’s got deeper into this than he ought to be.”

There was an awkward silence as Thundercracker processed the implications. “…you think he might have been got at?

“I’m not saying anything for definite, apart from that he’s certainly not acting himself."


Skywarp was in the galley, when Thundercracker finally tracked him down. He had a small untouched cup of energon, and was pouting at it, moodily. The blue Seeker helped himself to a mug from the dispenser at the counter, moved gracefully between the aisles of empty tables or sleepy officers, and slid into the seat opposite his wingmate.

“Hey, Warp,” he greeted, with a smile.

Skywarp just grunted, at first. “Whatever.”

“Eh, what’s up? You all right?” Thundercracker asked, gently.

“You too, TC? Rrgh,” Skywarp pushed his untouched energon away. “Why is everyone ganging up on me these days? Auto-dorks not a good enough target, for once, you have to pick on Little Stupid in the Corner?”

“Not ganging up, Skywarp. Just… worried about you.”

“Well, you needn’t be,” Skywarp folded his arms and let his chin rest down on them, and a hovercar had to negotiate a lot more carefully than he’d anticipated to get round the large expanse of wing. “I’m not some precious sparkling who needs protection and guidance every step of the way.”

“I didn’t say that. I meant, anyone can get in trouble,” Thundercracker counselled, quietly. “Not just precious sparklings. Even the fiercest warriors to ever patrol the skies can find themselves in places it’s hard to get out of without help.”

Skywarp glanced up and met his gaze, silently.

“You would tell your wing-brothers if you were in trouble, right?” Thundercracker chased. “You know we’d help you.”

Skywarp made a face, and laughed. “Of course I’d tell you,” he reassured, patting his friend’s arm and swigging back the energon. “If I was in trouble. You and Screamer have let this thing spook you.”

Thundercracker managed a lopsided smile, and let his gaze drop, sheepishly. “Yeah, I figured we were just overreacting. Still. The offer stands.”


Pulsar had been heading back from her shift when she felt a ping of GPS data against her firewalls. She cross-referenced the point – somewhere close, very open-plan. Couldn’t be Fatigue. She relaxed her firewall a little, and felt another ping, this one a simple chit of sensory data – blue light. That explained all she needed to know.

When Pulsar finally tracked Skywarp down, he was sitting on an old oil drum, looking shaky, in a patch of derelict ground a block or two from the station.

“Still can’t tolerate normal energon,” he explained, quietly, hugging his shaky arms to his chassis. “Is that normal?”

“I think Blue makes your diagnostics misinterpret it as toxic,” she confirmed, wrapping his fingers around the Basic she’d managed to smuggle out of his dorm, and ensuring he had a good grip on it. “I think so long as you don’t overdilute the fractal, you can keep small volumes down.”

“I thought TC was on to us for a minute. I made myself have a whole flask, just to stop him worrying, and barely made it here before I purged everything,” he confessed, with a hopeless grin. “Such an idiot.”

“I purged three times before I worked it out,” she argued, sitting on the floor by his feet and tucking her knees up. “You’re doing well to have only been caught out the once.”

“You heard the rumours?” he wondered, grimacing and letting the Basic integrate slowly.

“Yeah,” she nodded against her knees, glumly. No need to go into detail. “Probably not a good idea to meet up like this any more.”

“That, or we should wind them up on purpose.”

She allowed herself a half-smile. “I think that’d just be tempting fate.”

“Perhaps – but it’d distract them from the real problem, wouldn’t it?”


“Okay, so how about this-”

“No, no, tried it, won’t work. The anti-codons don’t match up. Same if you follow the strand that interferes in fuel-handling. They’re too complex to safely delete.”

Starscream folded his arms, and glared at the glass workscreen he and Calibrator were poring over, as if attempting to intimidate it into giving up all its secrets. They’d been hashing out ideas for a solution for cycles, and hadn’t even got a step closer to solving it.

“I think we’re going to have to be cleverer about deleting this,” Calibrator suggested, gesturing at the screen. “Maybe… we could… I don’t know, copy it out, somehow?”

Her fingers brushed accidentally against his, and he moved around to the opposite side of the workbench, his back to the fume cupboards behind him. “Don’t crowd me,” he threatened, quietly.

“I’m sorry, I-… I just…” she flustered, optics brightening in humiliation. “I didn’t realise I was acting inappropriately. I was just… when I saw you on the news, I never once imagined I would end up working with you.” She hesitated, and quirked her head. “You’re smarter than the Autobots would admit to. You could make a new name for yourself, here.”

“Hmph,” he groused, and jabbed at the screen. “Not anything I have any plans to do, at the moment. I have… unfinished business to attend.”

Calibrator nodded, understandingly. “Takes more than a few well-placed words to change the mindset of a thousand vorns, correct? I won’t mention it again.”

A breem or two passed in silence, until Starscream was disturbed by a blue-white flicker in the corner of his vision. He carefully set down the stylus he’d been using to scribble over the workscreen, and turned in the direction of the spark.

He got as far as “what was that flash-?” before the hideous, shattering explosion tore apart the cube under the fume hood, and flattened everyone in the lab.

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