Halo: Live Salvage

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Halo: Live Salvage Empty Halo: Live Salvage

Post by Rasq'uire'laskar on Mon Jan 06, 2014 9:14 pm

0416 Hours, 20th December 2528 (CMA Calendar)
Flight deck of the CMA Union Label
Chara Sol system

Sam Warkentine brought the salvage tug to a halt just out of knife-fight range, as she called it. Of course, the tug was still in motion, it all depended on the frame of reference. From the perspective of an observer on the surface of Chara IV, the tug was in a distant elliptical orbit. But the frame of reference that mattered was the one that the crew of the CMA Union Label could see from the bridge. They had matched velocity with their quarry, and for all intents and purposes, they were motionless.

'See' was another misnomer. By Sam's reckoning, anything within nine thousand kilometers was a knife fight. Any closer and a MAC shell would reach you faster than the warning, but at that distance a ship was less visible than the motes of dust that clung to the windshield.

"The ship is hot..." Jack reported from his sensor station. "Mostly around the craters. Extensive plasma damage to the underside. But the reactor core is intact. We're making payroll this month!"

He lifted his eyes to the windshield as the sensors finally resolved a visual image. "UNSC frigate Frosted Vale. She was an ugly brute even before the Covenant got to her. Built like a brick shithouse though."

"So are Covenant ships," Dieter said from his seat in the machine shop. "It's kind of an operational necessity when you move that much mass that fast."

Jack pointed at a spot on the image. "Take us in, dock us on the starboard airlock."

"Dock with a hot ship rotating on its long axis," Sam mused as she primed the docking thrusters. "Sticky."

"That's why I pay you the big bucks, Sam. You want an easy job, get down to the machine shop and send Dieter up here."

"Just thinking aloud. The cargo bay would be easier to latch onto."

"Sensors say that the cargo bay is gone. Make do with what we're dealt."

Sam did. She lowered the visor on her flight helmet and shifted her frame of reference. It was pointless to match velocity and rotation with a spinning derelict, because there was jack squat she could do about its movement. Instead, the Frosted Vale became stationary, and she guided an erratic, drunken tug in to a docking position.

"UNSC LF-398 Frosted Vale, this is captain Jack Larson of the CMA Union Label, license number BF547. We see that your engines are cold, your orbit nonstandard, and that you have sustained structural damage. We are ready and willing to provide assistance. Do you copy?"

The deck hummed as the Union Label crept forward, twisting to follow the frigate's tumble. Sam unconsciously clicked her teeth to a tune that Jack didn't know.

"UNSC Frosted Vale. By your silence, we assume that you are unable to receive or reply. We are beginning our approach."

Sam earned her wages. No sooner had the docking collar been locked than she fired the maneuvering thrusters to cut the rotation of the two ships.

"Good work," Jack said as he tossed a flask her way. She caught it before it could glide past and sipped. The bourbon was bitter and lukewarm, but it calmed the butterflies in her stomach.

"You know what this wreck means?" Jack asked.

"It means that we're finally installing a gravity plate beneath the commode," Sam said, and smiled as Jack nearly spit out a mouthful of liquor. "Yes, I know what it means. The munitions and Slipspace drive goes back to the CMA, the computer gets wiped, and the rest is ours. Gravity plating goes for two thousand credits per square meter. The hardware in the machine shop fetches five million credits, eight if you find a colonial buyer. The reactor fetches thirty million. All told, with my thirty-percent share of net profits, I'm looking at a twenty five million credit paycheck."

"A little less. We'll need to make three trips at least."

"Shush," Sam said, waving him off. "It sounds so much better when you round up."

"You don't even know that half of that is intact."

"That's what makes it so fun!" the pilot exclaimed as she unbuckled her restraints. "I'm not going to know what we've found until I go in there. It's a surprise! A mystery!"

"Will we find survivors?" Deiter asked, cuing a long, awkward silence.

"Dieter, if there was anybody on that ship, they would have responded. Nobody's so much as flashed running lights at us." Jack pulled the Keyring out of its hiding spot in the dashboard and gestured to the airlock. "Shall we?"

The Keyring was a good symbol of where salvage teams stood with the UNSC. The war with the Covenant was already consuming all the resources that the UNSC could throw at it, and civilian salvage teams were an essential tool to retrieve material from the field of battle. Often, this material was functional and designed to resist intruders or capture by Insurrectionist forces. Enter the Keyring, a plastic and metal marvel of modern cryptology. It would grant access to downed UNSC ships and installations, but there were thousands of ways to accidentally misuse it and trigger a viral self-destruct, and dozens of ways for UNSC personnel to trigger it on purpose.

There was an incredibly detailed background check for salvage teams to be issued one, and no process to be issued a second one was in place.

It took five minutes at the end of the docking umbilical for Jack and Sam to run through a checklist, after which they inserted it into the airlock's control panel. The airlock, drawing power from the Union Label, opened into the mess hall. Jack's searchlight was reflected by the ash that swirled in the thin atmosphere.

"Dark," he said as he emerged from the umbilical. His flip-flops, magnetic frames around his boots that alternately locked and released him from the deck, echoed in the empty room. The radio band they all shared clicked and hissed with static. "Even the emergency lights are off. There's atmosphere in here, though. Breathable, but thin."

Sam barely heard him. She was busy fiddling with the datapad she'd found in the airlock. It was legal salvage if they wiped the memory, and hardware junkies were always willing to pay a good price for a bulletproof tablet. She found the power button and was disappointed when the screen showed nothing but dead pixels and gibberish.

"Sam, you listening?" Jack asked. His words were matched for volume by the uncharacteristically loud creaking of the Vale's superstructure. The salvors could feel the popping and shaking in the deck as the broken ship strained.

"Hold on." Jack set an electric flare on a table and powered it up. Immediately, the room was bathed in a soft yellow light. The ash reflected that too, rising and falling and dancing like motes in a snowglobe.

'Why a snowglobe?' Sam wondered. Her train of thought derailed as she looked around the room. That oven was a better model than the one on the Union Label. Better yet was the door beside it that lead to the foodstore, filled with military rations. Hell, with those rations and a week bartering in a refugee camp...

"Something feel wrong to you?" Jack asked.

Sam blinked as the train found the tracks again. She looked around the room again, frowned, and looked a third time.

"Yeah, it's like my eyes aren't focusing right."

"Stay close," Jack said. "I've seen one too many horror flicks that started off like this. Dieter, can you deliver power through the umbilical?"

"Sure can, boss man. What do you need?"

Jack picked a pepper shaker off its magnetic base, broke it open, and scattered the contents. "Fire up the gravity plating."

Gravity returned, rocking Jack and Sam in their boots. The cloud of pepper flakes fell to the ground, splitting and whirling into vortexes as it did. When it hit the deck, the flakes skipped across the textured plates. In seconds, the pepper had clumped together in patterns like ripples on the seafloor or metal shavings around a magnet.

Then the gravity faded away.

"No, no no no..." Sam breathed.

"G-plates are off," Dieter said belatedly. "Power's still flowing, but there's no load."

"Pack up the ship, Deet. We're coming back."

"Wait," Jack said.

"There's no salvage here!" Sam snarled. "The whole ship is bjorked!"

"Um... Sam?" Dieter said. "You're using jargon that the engineer slash mechanic doesn't understand."

"It's bjorked, Dieter. These idiots dropped out of Slipspace the wrong way. Now the ship, and everything on it, is warped and riddled with discontinuities."

"There's still-"

"There's nothing, okay?" Sam shouted as she popped her helmet off and threw it across the room. "Anything with circuitry is just a fancy container for nanoscale spaghetti. Solid materials have their structural integrity shot to hell. And the warping is so bad, there's nuts and bolts on this ship that couldn't be used in any other ship in the Navy."

The silence that followed her tirade was eventually broken by Dieter. "Jack?"

Jack was massaging his visor with two fingers, a sign that he was either thinking hard or fending off a headache.


"Sam's right. The only way we'll see a payday on this ship is if we haul it to a scrapyard for recycling, and even then we'd have to rip the Slipspace drive out. Give us an hour to check the ship over, then we start cutting the hull."

"Roger that," Dieter replied. "The fuel is still good, right?"

"Siphon away."

"Twenty million credits, Jack. I'd be happy to see twenty thousand, but we're not even going to make that much."

"Samantha, you're in the wrong career if you want to be rich." Jack caught her helmet on the seventh rebound and handed it back to her. "We're camp followers. We live and die off what survives the Covenant, and that's hardly anything at all. Yeah, I agree, it sucks that the Slipspace drive is wildrun, but we'd only get a rescuer's percentage if something that cataclysmic hadn't happened. The crew would still be around."

"Poor bastards," Sam said, meaning it. In the middle stages of a wildrun destabilization, just after the drop from Slipspace, the only safe place for the survivors is an escape pod streaking away at maximum acceleration. And the escape pod would have a maximum of two days of oxygen on board. They were intended to return to a planet or be picked up by friendly ships. And out here, there was nothing.

"Come on. There's still some stuff that hasn't gone bad. We'll collect it, and then get to cutting."


0507 Hours, Frosted Vale, bridge deck

The bridge deck of a frigate was small, cramped, barely big enough to pace in. Sam did it anyway.

There were seven cardinal sins, and greed was her patron sin. Greed was not as sexy or edgy as the others, but she was honest about it. It was familiar, comfortable to her. Sam had gravitated to the career of a salvor because she loved the search and the acquisition. There was a definite thrill to seeing a derelict or an abandoned cargo container and speculating about the contents. It was often no more than dead bodies and meager personal belongings, little that she had use for, but she could always find a buyer or a fence.

Hell, she was a stereotype turned on its head. Women were supposed to love shopping and hunting for the best handbag? Well, she loved taking that handbag and hunting for the best buyer. The handbag itself was interesting, because she had to find the right kind of person to buy it. Scrap was dull, because there was only one kind of buyer. And recycling yards all paid the same rates.

She sat in the captain's chair, expecting to bounce out in the low gravity. Instead, through some strange trick of upholstery and padding, she stayed put.

"Ok, even if the rest of the ship is a bust, this thing is coming with me," she said, rubbing her hands across the black, textured arms.

Jack, of course, gave her hell about it. He was out here because of duty. Helping the war effort, he called it. Which would be fine if his handouts to the refugees didn't cut so deeply into operating expenses.

"Dieter to Sam. Sam?"

The pilot sighed. "Yes, Dieter?"

The engineer's voice was tinny, washed out by her proximity to the rogue Slipspace engine. "I was scanning the hull to see how we should cut it apart, and I noticed that the scarring was pretty consistent over the portholes. You can even see shadows where the Archer tubes were open when the ship was hit."

Sam grimaced. Dieter was going to walk her through his whole thought process. Damn, but college had left the idiot unprepared for real life.

"The point?"

"Sorry, Miss. I mean, the shutters over the lifepods don't look like they've been opened. The crew should still be onboard."

"That doesn't..." Sam pushed out of the captain's chair and into the medical wing. She drifted past cabinets emptied of medical supplies and landed on a door they hadn't bothered to open. Cryotubes fetched a king's ransom on the gray market, but only with the diagnostic electronics in working order. She plugged a power pack into the security pad and flashed the Keyring at it. Only when the door groaned open did she remember that her helmet was back in the bridge.

Fortunately, the cryo bay wasn't open to vacuum. It had held its atmosphere better than the rest of the ship, and Sam was buffeted by a rush of air.

"Everyone's here," she reported after a brief glance. "They all went into cryosleep."

"Wait, what?" Jack replied. "Why the Hell would they go to cryosleep around a wildrun... Slipspace... drive. Dieter, is anything showing on passives?"

"Um... I was just going to ask you about that. We've got movement at two AU.

"Shit. What's it look like?"

"Static. I don't have the resolution to-"

"Keep watch. Sam, I'm going to cut the cryo bay out of the ship. Get to the shuttle bay and prepare to clamp our cargo down."

"Got it!"

Sam yanked the power pack out of the door and shifted her perspective. She wasn't standing on a door at a right angle to the floor. The wall was the floor, the floor and ceiling were walls, and the door out of the medbay was right above her, too warped to close. All she had to do was leap straight up, sling around the navigator's cubicle, clear the door to the mess hall, and bounce into the airlock. She made all but the last landing, as her aim was thrown off when Deiter uncoupled the two ships.

"The tractor is right outside the airlock," Jack said as she pulled a helmet off the rack and donned it. "Jump on."

The airlock cycled shut, and pumps hissed as they sucked the atmosphere out of the chamber. The hissing continued even after the outer doors opened and her ears popped.

Sam cursed and felt around her neck. A habit of looting hardware ten years strong meant that she didn't think twice about upgrading her suit with the new components she found. Suit designs were modular, rugged, and a seal failure was unheard of unless she was stupid enough to loot a bjorked ship.


She looked up, reached a snap decision, and leaped out of the airlock. Her flip-flops, magnetic collars around her boots, locked in place when she landed. Immediately she started fiddling with the controls on her arm to get the respiration system going, even if the stupid computer thought she didn't have a helmet on.

The tractor swerved, skipped up over the frigate, and the torch went to work on the ceramic plates that covered the hull.

"Contact. Point eight AU out."

Only the Covenant could make jumps that short, that precise.



It all made sense now. In the event of a malfunctioning Slipspace drive, the lifeboats were the safest place to be. But if the Covenant followed you on your jump, the lifeboats may as well be a coffin for ten men. The cryo-pods would have been the best alternative. The crew could have survived the strange emanations from the Slipspace drive until help arrived, and the Covenant may have passed them up as dead. Or have been content to wait and watch for the emergency beacon to attract victims.

The torch deftly swept across the hull. Now that the ceramic plates were peeled aside, Jack was cutting through or around individual structural girders. "Sam, get the clamps ready. Dieter, fire up the Nav computer. Give us a jump solution ASAP."

"Point three AU. Another jump."

"Jack," Sam called. "We have to leave now!"

The tractor ripped another armor plate off and tucked it into the hull. "I've got a hunch. We have time."


"Get those clamps ready!"

Sam glanced up, did a mental calculation, and crouched. "Dieter, if you move the ship so much as a hair, I'm haunting your ass."

She jumped. In a terrifying minute of vertigo, there was no perspective. She was rising. She was falling headfirst. She was diving across home plate. There was only the hiss of her neck seal and the thumping of her heart to measure time. Her respirator was failing to keep up with the leak, and she could feel the low pressure tugging at her eyes and lips. She mentally leafed through the symptoms of hypoxia to convince herself that she had time, she could make it.

The Union Label was a target eighty meters across, a hundred meters above her, below her, or whatever. She could hardly miss, but the wave of relief she felt when she crashed into the ship was palpable.

"Point aught-five AU."

"They're putting on a show," Jack said with eerie serenity. "They want us to rabbit. They want to follow us home."

Sam crawled across the hull to the cargo container that trailed behind the Union Label, flipped through the open barn doors, and crashed into the segmented metal cage on the ceiling. Quick reflexes prevented her from ricochetting and bouncing around the cargo container like a ping pong ball in a washing machine, and she crawled across the cage to the airlock at the back of the container.

"Half a million klicks out." Their very survival depended on Jack's hunch being correct, that the Covenant would hold off as long as possible so the Union Label could jump into Slipspace.

"I'm not leaving these people behind." Jack said. His voice betrayed his terror, but it was a terror so deep that it precluded panic. "Sam, do you have an exit plan?"

Sam drifted through the airlock and waited for it to cycle. The outer doors were agonizingly slow even when one wasn't asphyxiating, but now they'd be outpaced by glaciers. There was nothing she could d... like Hell. She may be lightheaded and seeing dots at the edge of her vision, but she'd never be helpless until she was dead. She still had a job to do.

"Sam? Do you hear me?"

"Yes," she hissed through gritted teeth as she skittered along the chamber wall to a terminal. A few tapped instructions, and the airlock chamber rumbled as hydraulics in the cargo container hummed to life. "The clamp is ready when you are."

The inner door finally opened, and air started rushing in through the neck seal. The helmet made a sucking sound as Sam pulled it off and breathed deeply.
The air smelled like degreasing compounds, pine scent, and Dieter's cologne, but it was the sweetest thing Sam had ever tasted. It was home, and it was slated for destruction in the next five minutes.

The ship rattled as Jack slid the cryo bay into the container. "Sam, what's our exit plan?"

"Gimme a minute," Sam replied, even though she knew what they had to do. She just didn't like it. To lose the Covenant in Slipspace, one needed a huge dollop of luck or a knack for stringing short jumps together like a fox evading hunters. Joss had been a whiz at evasion and feinting, but he'd gotten his ass fired when he tried to sell a Slipspace drive to the URF. Sam knew how to get a destination out of the navigation computer, and scarcely anything else.

To mask their destination, they needed a large mass nearby when the Union Label jumped. The only significant mass for light-minutes was the Frosted Vale, and it was no good because...

She clasped a hand over her mouth. There was a way out of this.

"Jack," she yelled as she ran down the hallway. "I'm going to need more junk in the trunk!"


Dieter was climbing out of her chair by the time she clomped into the flight deck. Sam plucked him out of the restraints and gave him a shove toward the door. "I need a counterweight, and the Label masses two hundred fifty tons. The container only masses fifty. Make up the difference!"

Restraints closed and pulled tight. Seat pushed back to where she liked it. Helmet on, visor down. The flight deck dissolved, replaced by a starry night. Chara Sol shone faintly, as it was only a red dwarf. She craned her neck down to check on Jack's progress. The tractor was burrowing under the Vale's bridge like a crab slowly decapitating a person, snipping and scuttling its way through the neck.

A flash of purple light. Sam turned around, squinted, and her visor showed what she needed to know. A Covenant corvette just under twenty-five hundred kilometers away. They were in knife-fight range.

Evidently, they thought so too. Instead of jumping again, the engines roared to life and points of light gathered at the ship's flanks.

"Jack, you've got sixty seconds!"

The pilot's hands flew over the console. All across the Union Label, maneuvering jets warmed up.

The tractor burst out from beneath the bridge, clamped onto the top, and tore it free. Cables and conduits Jack hadn't cut snapped one by one, knotted, and held fast. The bridge bounced back and dragged the little tractor with it. Jack deftly stopped the bridge's rebound, let the tractor loose and powered up the torch.

A blob of light flew free of the Covenant corvette.

"Jack, incoming! Port side!"

The tractor clamped back onto the bridge and shifted it, underside toward the approaching plasma torpedo.

Sam didn't see what happened next. The radiation fuzzed everything with a heavy layer of static. Hell, she could feel her skin prickle from the high-energy particles bombarding her. But when the static cleared, the tractor was shoving the bridge up to meet the Union Label, with burned cables trailing to one side. She turned the Label around to give Jack a straight shot into the cargo bay.

Another plasma bolt hit the frigate, this time boring through the MAC tower.

"I'm a broken bird," Sam whispered in a singsong voice. She flared one engine, cut it, flared it again as if she was having trouble starting it. "A bird with a broken wing. I need you closer..."

The Covenant were still bearing down on the Frosted Vale, still not close enough.

"Bridge secured," Jack said as he activated the video feed in his cab. Sweat left dirty streaks down his face. "You got your counterweight. Now would you kindly tell me that you have a plan?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "Remember happened to the Second Time Around when they tried to salvage a wildrun Slipspace drive?"

"... You think that'll work?"

"How should I know? Do I look like a Slipspace physicist?"

'Oh, yeah,' Sam thought. She was going to treasure the look on Jack's face until her dying day. "Deet, we've got routines to obfuscate our destination when we jump. Can you disable them?"

"Yes, but-"

"Do it."

The corvette swept by at dozens of kilometers per second, decelerating at a rate that would tear the Union Label into pieces. Heartbeats later, it banked back toward the frigate like a shark circling the waters. Red lines shone on its flanks, each one capable of gutting the Label in one shot. But the predator paid no heed to the salvage ship, and instead laid into the Frosted Vale. The entire MAC tower disappeared in the first salvo.

The salvage tug lurched away at maximum acceleration. Maneuvering thrusters all along its underside fired, partly to warm them up, mostly to use the frigate as a meat shield.

Another salvo from the corvette vaporized one of the frigate's engines, splattering the tug with gobs of superheated metal. Better than Sam could have hoped for. She immediately killed one engine and fired the maneuvering thrusters at full burn, throwing the tug into a spin. Then she engaged the Slipspace drive.

That caught the Covenant's attention.

The human-built Slipspace drive probed the local space-time continuum with pulses of gravity waves, like a construction worker hammering a wall to find a stud.

The corvette recklessly shoved past the frigate, its shields glimmering as the wreckage scattered.

More maneuvering thrusters fired as if to correct the Union Label's spin, to no avail. Finally, a corona of purple light shone around the salvage tug as a Slipspace jump was initiated.

The Corvette slid into the Slipstream to pursue, as swift and silent as a shark plowing into murky waters.

Sam released the cargo container and stopped all power going to the Slipspace drive. The container went one way, the Union Label went the other. Both were thrown free of the rift, which distended and collapsed.

Covenant Slipspace drives were better than their human counterparts in every way. They moved the ship faster, navigated the Slipstream more precisely, and transitioned as quickly and smoothly as the stab of a knife.

They were also much better built. If the Covenant ever had to deal with wildrun Slipspace drives, it was long in their past. Somewhere in the eleven dimensions of that shadow universe, the corvette crossed the event horizon around the Frosted Vale's Slipspace drive. The rift, no bigger than a flickering candle flame, expanded to let the corvette through. Slightly.

The Frosted Vale exploded as wreckage flew in every direction. Chunks of spaghettified corvette were twisted, imploded and fused together as they passed through the rift. Secondary explosions passed through the debris, until both ships were reduced to scraps and vapor.

A hundred kilometers away, the crew of the Union Label cheered.


1720 Hours, 26th December 2528 (CMA Calendar)
Cargo container of the CMA Union Label
Farsimmons shipyard, Groombridge 1830 system

"Thank God. I hadn't thought anyone would find us in time."

Cryosleep was known for extending life, but it didn't hold here. Commander Marian Drost had gone into cryosleep at the ripe age of 45, but a pair of weeks asleep in the presence of a wildrun Slipspace drive had apparently doubled that. Minutes after waking up, her skin had gone blotchy from broken blood vessels and she was quaking as if suffering from Parkinson's.

She wasn't alone in her condition. Throughout the cargo bay, medical technicians were waking up crewmembers, wrapping them in thermal blankets, and gently lowering them into stretchers. A booth was being set up near the airlock, where anti-clotting medication could be administered to stave off heart attacks and strokes.

"You're safe, ma'am. A crew of salvors picked you up," a doctor said as he inserted an IV into her hand. "Brought you back almost in time for Christmas."

"Picked you up?" Jack asked as he and the doctor guided the stretcher to the airlock. "Hell, we rescued you guys right out from underneath a Covenant corvette. They showed up..."

Sam didn't hear the rest. It was lost in the babble of doctors and crew, people crying out in joy as they realized that they'd been saved. They were looking at a long road to recovery, but that was infinitely better than dying alone, far away from home.

"Merry Christmas, guys," she said.

When all the survivors were bundled away, she exited through the airlock and left Dieter to reclaim all the air from the container. She was surprised at how good she felt, considering that they had come back with nothing to salvage and nothing to trade, except for one hell of a story in exchange for free drinks. The rescue reward covered their expenses and a little more, but the real reward had been seeing the joy of those sailors.


She entered the flight deck, and was surprised to see another seat in place of her own, a plush one made from black synthetic leather and brass. A printed note was taped to the back, signed in a loopy, uneven hand.

Dear Samantha Warkentine

Your captain showed me the video of your escape, and he was right. Your ability to keep a cool head under fire is exemplary.

This chair has served me well in the past few years, and I can think of nobody better for it to pass to. I wish you the best in your future endeavors.


-Captain Marian Drost

"When I grabbed the bridge deck," Jack said as he walked up behind her. "I figured that if you got us out of there, you would have earned this seat,"

Sam turned, looked him in the eye, and smiled. Then she kicked off the seat and tackled him in a bear hug.

"Merry Christmas," he said as he rocked backwards. "No receipts. And don't you dare barter this off on your next trip to the refugee camps."

"Wouldn't dream of it."
Crimson Scribe

Male Number of posts : 2927
Age : 29
Location : Follow the cold shivers running down your spine.
Registration date : 2008-06-29

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Halo: Live Salvage Empty Re: Halo: Live Salvage

Post by Rotaretilbo on Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:58 am

You've a knack for short stories, Rasq. Makes me miss the good old days. Well done.

Halo: Live Salvage Rot_cube_Signature-1
Magnificent Bastard

Male Number of posts : 4540
Age : 30
Location : Arizona
Registration date : 2008-07-21


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