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Scene Title Debut
Synopsis And now, the curtain rises.
Date October 27, 2020

Staten Island

The stage has already been set by the time they arrive at the warehouse, walking down the wide lane between cargo containers stacked three deep beneath the yellowing light and the high ceilings. The building isn’t exactly new, but it’s been rebuilt and renovated recently, so it’s devoid of the staleness or moldering that might be expected from the environment.

This is to be Odessa’s chance to prove her worth to the Group as more than just a pretty face and a prettier voice behind a piano in a jazz club. As they approach the door to what is usually a conspicuously vacant storage room, she feels the threads of anxiety starting to become tangible. Thicker, more pervasive. She stops him with her cane brought up to serve as a gate to their further passage, only steps to go before the closed door.

At first, it appears she’s just listening for something. Gauging. Two signatures inside. She can sense the distinct tang between emotional states. One fills her with dread and the other smacks of an arrogance that’s cooler in temperature than the confidence Ace exudes. One she means to siphon with a brief brush of her fingers across the back of his hand.

Odessa tips her face up to offer the barest of smiles to her partner. “Like we’ve rehearsed,” she says in a hush, meant to reassure him that she remembers, rather than provide him any direction. Her cane drops back to the floor and she gestures for him to go ahead.

The door to the storeroom is pulled open, which is currently home only to a singular dangling light fixture, a toolbox, a burly chested dock worker leaning against the side of it, a wooden chair, and the man fastened to it with zip ties — a detail that elicits a momentary wince of sympathy from the blonde when she notes it.

He’s a wiry thing, pale, with a sheen of sweat clinging to his brow and swelling on the right side of his face, almost certainly caused by the larger man up against the wall. Odessa thinks she’s seen him with Mines’ crew, which, to her, implies a certain degree of longevity and loyalty.

It also means he’s probably fucking scary when he wants to be. But that’s obviously a desirable trait in this sort of profession. That she keeps herself looking small and skittish is by design, even if it’s also made easier to accomplish by the fear put off by the accused man in the chair. In her short, coral-colored pencil skirt, delicate blush blouse and the black and white striped blazer, she’s dressed smartly enough to match Ace, but it also makes her seem out of place. She’s not an enforcer, which is easy enough to see by looking at her.

If the cane weren’t enough, the way her shoulders are hunched and she sticks to the edges of the room, like she might find some shadow in the corner to hide in, secure the image. A nervous glance is darted between Ace’s much sharper form and the man with which they intend to have a discussion about missing product. The floor is his.

"Henri," Ace greets the seated man with pleasant delight. He slips right into his role. Odessa's reassurance regarding her part being remembered leaves him free to his own, free to leave his eyes and hands elsewhere, his attention on procuring an answer to the big question, and hers spent verifying it.

He knows which of the two roles he'd pick any day, and the joy in knowing what Odessa's presence will ensure while he gets to engage in a sport he doesn't often get to play in. The pride he takes in waiting for her to shine here is effervescent— a delicate layer upon which all else of his being rests.

Now it begins.

"Henri," he repeats as if it's wonderful to see him here, the emphasis— or lack of emphasis— in the accent on it perfect. When the man looks up through the light at Ace in a squint not caused entirely by the swelling on the side of his face, he can barely make out the color to them, and he meets them unsmiling. "Imagine my surprise to find you here. Imagine our disappointment that this is what you'd done with Mr. d'Sarthe's generosity extended toward you."

Henri shifts in the chair, the dragon tattooed along his forearm twisting along with the bend of his arm.

There’s a spike of fear from the seated man just at the mere sound of Ace’s voice. Odessa shifts her shoulders uncomfortably in time with Henri’s shifting in his seat. She looks like an unwilling participant in this little performance. A girlfriend dragged along to a boxing match and expected to sit ringside when she'd rather not bear witness to such brutality between men.

Closing her eyes for a moment, she takes a deep breath that seems meant to steady her — and it is, and it does — but the purpose of it is to allow her the clarity to send the pulse down the line, across the tether between her and the one she knows will be concerned for her.

The convenient lie had been an evening of scary movies, so she was bound to feel uncomfortable and scared, but it would be okay in the end. All of it manufactured emotion, rather than actual concern. Conveniently, her phone has been set to silent, so she won’t even feel it if Aman tries to reach out for further reassurance. Not in her pocket, anyway.

“Callahan,” the man rasps out, like he’s probably been in a shouting match he hasn’t recovered from yet, “I don’t even know why I’m here.” He doesn’t take his gaze away from Ace to notice the way the little blonde who came in with his boss tilts her head and narrows her gaze on him. Or how one corner of her mouth tips up just slightly.

Strike one.

If she’s honest, it gives her a sort of enjoyment to see Ace at work, doing what really keeps them in the lifestyle she’s grown accustomed to, even if she can’t (currently) divorce herself from the reactions it inspires in others. Notably, the man on the other side of the room, waiting to be called upon, seems to be enjoying this as well, and she catches him staring at her.

In that game of chicken, she’s the first to dive, moving her stare to the floor, lest she prematurely give away her importance to this process in some fashion. She surmises that the two men weren’t friends, and works in isolating the twist and curl of emotions from one another. It’d be easier if she could dismiss the muscle, but that might seem suspicious, given that his presence is meant to be reassuring.

No. She can do this. Odessa lifts her gaze back to Ace and waits for his next move.

Ace tilts his head at the man tied to the chair, taking a step closer. The way he blocks the light makes it harder to see Henri, so he lifts a hand to gently guide his chin up. Fear of more rough movement from him sees that he doesn't need to exhibit more effort than that, which pleases him even though it doesn't show in this moment. He examines the bruising beginning to discolor Henri's tawny skin, meeting his dark eyes.

Whatever it is the bound man sees in them brings him to jerk away abruptly, leaning out of Ace's hand, and leaving his fingers to slowly curl to his palm.

"When you worked for the Ghost Triads, you weren't one of their front-line men working the Refrain train, were you. If not, you'd have been swept up in the larger raids that pummelled that organization apart, wouldn't you?" The observation sounds almost kindly. How lucky of him that that hadn't been the case, surely.

"So this— this proximity you have now to the shipments…" And oh, how Ace's brow climbs expectantly as he's sure the bound man may begin to suspect where this is going. "How alluring it must have been for you. No longer was it an abstract, it was an object. Something you could touch."

Henri pulls away and Odessa shrinks back herself. Her emotions are at war with the ones that threaten to supplant them. She’s thrilled and terrified all at once. This is such a production, and she does so appreciate a good drama. Ace is quite the showman.

The other men in the room aren’t nearly as appreciative. There’s a current of impatience from the enforcer that sees Odessa’s nostrils flare with a breath. The strength of everything happening at once is a bit of a surprise to her, but she usually shuts down when things start to get intense. Now, she curses herself for not having had more practice with balancing multiple inputs. Social situations are far more low key, it happens.

“Hey, man,” Henri’s voice wavers. “I haven’t touched the stuff! I’m not that stupid!” He’s not quite in a panic, but he’s edging precariously close and Odessa has to remind herself to breathe. What she isn’t getting off the bound man is a sense of guilt.

"No," Ace challenges with a passion that was contained before, but no longer. "You don't look like the type to use, just the type to profit. You saw an opportunity, you took it— and now you will be made to answer for it."

He steps to the side so the shine of the light falls more brightly upon Henri's face, and in turn, puts the enforcer slightly more than just in Ace's periphery. It's with just a lift of his chin that he both invites an answer from one, and a response from the other should it not be to his liking. "What did you do with it?"

“Nothing!” Henri is quick to shout in his own defense. “I didn’t take it! I don’t wanna fuckin’ die, man!” This is exactly the sort of situation he was hoping to avoid by allegedly remaining on the straight and narrow (relatively speaking), in other words.

Odessa’s brow furrows at everything she’s feeling, but more importantly all the notes that aren’t being hit. Not in the way she expects. The larger man has pushed away from his lean against the wall and takes the few steps over. A curl of satisfaction and anticipation unfurls in her chest and has her flinching away before the man ever raises his fist. The sound of it colliding with Henri’s face masks the noise of the whimper that claws its way from her throat in spite of herself.

Henri spits a wad of blood out onto the floor, pointedly away from either of the other two, lest he provoke further injury. “I swear!” he gasps out, meeting Ace’s eyes with a pleading expression.

Ace finds it fascinating— the shift in his voice before and after. The defiant shout doesn't give way to a loss of his nerve, or a loss of commitment to his story. But it changes his voice nonetheless. Pushes him closer to a breaking point of some kind.

"You didn't take it?" he challenges, placing a hand on the back of the chair Henri's tied to. He'll allow this deviation in what he believes to be true to go unchallenged for a moment longer. "You were responsible for it. You want me to believe someone else skimmed off of shipments you were watching over? You'd rather let me believe that than tell me the truth?"

“There’s a lot of us working that! It could be anybody!” Henri offers in his own defense. He knows negligence is just as bad as complicity in this case, but it leaves some small sliver of hope that he might get out of this alive, and Odessa latches onto that for a moment in her silent observation. “We- We can figure this out together! I can fix this!”

Odessa watches Ace, noting the shift in him without comment. But there’s another shift in the room. It slips in beneath the blanket of Henri’s growing mortal terror, and causes her to lift her head as if she might be a wolf scenting blood. There is a breaking point here, but Odessa’s beginning to wonder whose it is.

Ace doesn't believe for a second that Henri will fix anything from where he's sitting, and for once, he's under no inclination to mask that particular feeling. His hand slides from the back of the chair, and as he rises, he can see the panic in Henri practically warp the air around him for how he shakes. How he swallows and tries to find the right set of words, in the right order this time.

He takes a step back, and Henri seizes forward in his seat like he's iron shavings attracted to a powerful magnet that's slipping further away from him. His fingers splay behind him, fanning out on either side of his body. "Wh-Who else have you asked? I'll give you the names, I'll give you the names of every last one of—"

The punch to the side of his head from the enforcer knocks him senseless enough he loses track of that sentence's completion, eyes rolling in his head.

Ace tuts, "But I know everyone who had been near it. Every. Last. Person." And all of them had passed a sniff test. All of them had more trust than the outsider they'd brought under their wing.

And yet— with the snap of that punch had come a snap of relief that didn't belong to Henri. Didn't belong to Ace.

Didn't belong to Aman.

“What about the guards?” Odessa’s voice cuts through over the tension in the room. She almost looks alarmed at the sound of her own voice, having not used it since her arrival, like she’s worried she’s spoken out of turn.

But it got the exact reaction she was hoping for.

“They’re good,” the enforcer responds, his deep voice snaps like a thick branch. “Checked them all myself.” Where Odessa infers check means pounded anyone who looked remotely good for it.

Her head dips down a bit and she flattens herself back against the wall a little more, as though sufficiently intimidated by the firmness of the response. “Well,” she says with less volume than before, but not without confidence, “I believe him.” Henri feels no relief.

The large man rolls his eyes and lets out a snort. “Stick to polishing knobs, sweetheart.”

Ace regards Odessa out of the corner of his eye, tension held in his shoulders. Almost like a silent reprimand for speaking out of turn, his eyes don't leave her even as she shrinks back. They don't move on until the enforcer passes his comment.

Then his focus swivels to Samuel.

Tongue running along his teeth, he doesn't let his attention linger, completing the rotation back down to Henri again while he considers his thoughts. "You know…" Ace remarks seemingly to himself. "I don't think you were here the last time we caught someone taking what wasn't theirs. I'm not even sure you would've heard the story."

Perhaps Samuel hadn't either.

"You see, Mr. d'Sarthe takes this sort of thing personally should matters like this come to his attention. He runs, after all, an operation based on trust." Thoughtfully, he pauses, letting the gap between each word be accented by a purposeful caesura. "Decency. Opportunity."

"Opportunity to fuck up as much as to shine and find your place within this organization." Irritation bleeds into his voice, and he looks to Odessa, as if his words are meant for her. His emotions read different than that. His eyes ask for confirmation from her. Is she sure?

Her body language speaks of contrition. Her shoulders come up and her head dips down and she does her best to look so very much smaller than she is. But Odessa meets Ace’s eyes and does not waver.

Henri remains on edge.

Samuel floods with relief.

Yes, she’s sure.

Ace moves on without so much as a tell.

"You should take care here we don't need to involve him. Mr. d'Sarthe's oversight of investigations like these aren't as kind, but neither are they as crude." He turns back to Henri with a pitying lift of his brows, Samuel remaining in his periphery. "You wouldn't be tied down. You'd simply be made to not run. We are, after all…" Ace runs his tongue against the inside of his cheek. "An equal opportunity employer when it comes to the SLC-E community. And there are a number of unpleasant ways those abilities can be used against someone who displeased the Group."

He waits, hawkishly, for sign of a break. For a shift.

In either of them.

"The last man who presumed Group property to be his for the taking— at first, his legs were unmade so he simply couldn't leave in the middle of his interrogation. I honestly don't remember his name, but I remember his screams." Ace tilts his head thoughtfully. "I think about him every time I get a caramel macchiato, because that's the flavor of coffee I had that morning. He begged, he pleaded, he swore, he pointed fingers, and in the end— confessed. It all lasted the time it took to drain my cup."

"When Mr. d'Sarthe makes up his mind about something," he explains almost soothingly. "He doesn't waste his time."

Taking a step closer to the man tied to the chair, Ace emphasises, "So I need you to think hard for me. Are you sure the answer you've given me is really the one you want to stand by?"

When Odessa closes her eyes and partially covers her face with her free hand, catching the nail of her thumb between her teeth anxiously, it isn’t just the influence of the others in the space fuelling it. If that story is true — and given what Odessa knows about certain elements of d’Sarthe’s organization, she finds it entirely plausible — then their occasional morning coffee runs are going to be taken in a new light.

“Ace, please,” Odessa’s voice quivers this time and her eyes squeeze shut a little bit tighter as she draws a breath to steel herself again, trying to latch on to him in this moment. After all, he’s the only person in this room who’s unafraid. “Maybe we could give him the opportunity to fix his mistake?” she suggests.

For his part, Henri has gone pale with terror. He believes every word of that cautionary tale and doesn’t want to become the next chapter in it. “God damn it!” his voice cracks when he pleads for them to listen. “I didn’t take anything! I swear! I can’t tell you what I don’t know…” He’s defeated, a man that knows nothing he can say now will satisfy the question posed to him.

A sneer has worked its way onto Samuel’s face, but even he’s unnerved. He rolls one shoulder then the other, his neck pops as he tips his head to either side. He’s loosening up for another round in the ring, where his opponent’s hands are tied behind his back. Full of nervous energy now, he’s itching to pummel someone else.

He's unnerved. But he doesn't have enough respect. Not enough to fear he might be found out. Ace can almost appreciate that.


He turns, finding the toolbox Samuel had been leaning up against initially. His eyes idly wander the opportunities it provides him like it's a pastry display rather than a box full of instruments intended to cause pain. In the end, he reaches for a dented, solid wood baseball bat that's leaning up against the standing toolbox's side.

Never let it be said simplicity doesn't carry with it a certain brand of drama.

The bat in hand, Ace turns. On Samuel's next tilt of his head, it meets wood being swung at it as though the wielder was intent on achieving a grand slam. Like the punch had knocked Henri senseless, Ace's swing sends Samuel sprawling to the ground. It leaves Ace himself looking satisfied, lifting his eyes to Henri.

"You did so very well," he praises the bound man. Like this had been the test all along.

Only Odessa knows it hadn't been.

He comes to the side of the chair, bending and pinching the cinch of the zip tie between his fingers. They clip directly through the nub of plastic, careful not to graze past that, before becoming substantial again. The aggressive reformation displaces the shape of the binding just enough the thin clasp snaps, and Ace holds the bat for Henri to take.

"If you'd finish us up," he tells him, the implication sounding, and yet being anything but polite, "I'm afraid I have to turn this one over for Mines to handle when we're done here."

Ace isn't pleased. Not with the situation. All this over small, but consistent skimming of the new product they'd acquired in their expansion. He's more angry there'd been this deception around it. The remaining zip tie around Henri's other wrist snaps free as well, bloodflow returning to his hands.

The moment Ace starts toward the toolbox, Odessa starts to feel the dread attempting to drown her. Try as she might, she can’t bring herself to look away. This will be where she finds out if he has faith in her, or not.

The bat connects with Samuel’s skull and Odessa shrieks, cringing against the wall and covering her head. She gasps sharply. There’s suddenly a signature missing from her senses after that flash of shock that hit her like a bucket of ice water. It’s only once Henri has possession of the bat himself that she starts to come down from the metaphorical ceiling.

He expresses his gratitude, however grudgingly, by winding up for a swing on the man who set him up.

Odessa is out the door before the blow ever connects.

After what Henri had been through, Ace lets him get in his share of licks in return. Whatever's said isn't heard through the door, but enough time passes it can be assumed it wasn't all spent on either activity— beating, or talking.

Ace wasn't the best at reassuring talks. And Samuel needed to live to corroborate what Odessa had divined.

When the door pulls open again with a screech, Henri glances hard at Odessa before walking straight for the exit, without stopping, without looking back. The forced catharsis didn't help rid him of his base of fear, of being unnerved. But at least he doesn't walk like a man concerned he'll be shot on the way out the door.

And when Ace appears in the doorway, neither does he shoot him.

Dark intention is mulled, released without acting upon it. Instead, he turns to Odessa, and emanates what he does not yet express verbally: pride in her.

Odessa watches Henri with only the faintest nod of her head. Maybe he’ll remember this in a way that won’t reflect so unfavorably on her. Somehow she doubts it, but it matters very little.

She’s still catching her breath when Ace steps out. She doesn’t push away from her lean against the shipping crate she’s propped herself up against. She responds to the unspoken pride with a smile she wishes she could summon more strength for. Odessa stretches one arm out toward him, the fingers dancing briefly like she might be playing a scale on her piano, calling him wordlessly to her side.

He comes, eventually, but at his own pace. Though his trust in her— his faith— he seems to find rewarded, it does nothing to erase the complications in what happened. Ultimately, it will not be his burden to bear, and he knows this…

It will just… take a moment before he can fully appreciate that.

Ace lifts his hands, cupping them around the curve of her cheek. Hands which had committed violence minutes before find her skin with the same tenderness as always. "Tell me what you felt," he asks of her in a murmur, now that they have this quiet moment backstage together.

Now that the performance is over.

With his hands on her now, she finally feels safe. Simultaneously, she has found the respect that Samuel seemed to be lacking earlier. She’d always known he could unravel her, but until now, it was a concept that remained abstract. Now, more than ever, she understands the importance of continuing to win Ace’s approval.

Odessa closes her eyes and she sighs deeply, posture finally relaxing as she disengages from her ability. “Henri had no guilt,” she explains, opening her eyes. “Just fear. No sense of having had his hand caught in the cookie jar. And the other one…” She shakes her head. “The more you pushed, the happier he was. Like he was getting away with something.”

Because he very nearly did. Odessa has to wonder if they ever would have figured it out. If Samuel had any brains — and she believes that evidence is lacking, given he stole from d’Sarthe in the first place — he’d have stopped after the blame was pinned on Henri. They could think they found their thief and that would be the end of it. But if he remained greedy…

“Did I do okay?” She knows the end result is appreciated, but the rest of it is still open for critique.

"You played your part so very well," he assures her, sealing his viewpoint on that matter with a kiss. "Both your primary and secondary roles. Your fear— your worry? It seemed so real."

Ace lets out a chuckle, thumb brushing over her cheek before he lets his hands fall.

"If the pig doesn't squeal on his own, there may be some questioning. You owe no one except d'Sarthe an explanation unless he says to give it, O. Remember that you have his confidence." Now he's able to bring himself to smile again, even if it's small. "And that we can use that to our advantage, in the future." Oh, how he'd look forward to that, if only to drive an uncomfortable wedge in the inner circle, and nudge Ourania closer to its center in so placing it.

"Thank you, my muse. You did wonderfully."

Her heart is still hammering in her chest when he kisses her and praises the realism she displayed in her role. “It’s better for both of us if they underestimate me,” she reasons, continuing to sell them both on the necessity of the displays of fear on her part. Because it’s going to take far more practice, Odessa has realized, before she’s able to separate it from her and maintain the cool exterior Ace employs.

“I could live without people thinking I’m your whore,” Odessa sighs dramatically, finally starting to come back to herself now that she’s severed from the emotions that don’t belong. She’s able to reach through the complex layers and remember what’s hers. “But, I suppose some element of that helps sell the illusion.”

Odessa absently runs one hand over Ace’s lapel, fingers dipping beneath the fold of fabric and thumb rubbing over the front of the material, appreciating the quality. “So long as they don’t think poorly of you for their opinion of me, I’m satisfied.” She leans up for another brief kiss. “You’re welcome. It was a pleasure to watch you work, my artist.”

When Odessa clarifies what she could live without, Ace's smile slips away again. "I won't lie— if only I could hit every man who disrespects you." It is a wrinkle in the press he tries to smooth over the situation. "I'll have to settle for cutting anyone else down in other ways."

His arm snakes its way about her waist on that second kiss, one broken to consider the doorway he's left ajar. Ace sighs at it.

"I've got no signal down here," he laments. He slips his phone from his pocket, offers it to her. "Call Jason for me? We might as well get this over with."

There’s a flare of satisfaction signified in a sharp intake of breath when they kiss again, when he’s told her how he would like to defend her honor, or what passes for it where they’re concerned. It’s followed with a quiet note of disappointment, however, since their little moment can’t last.

Odessa eyes the phone almost warily, hesitating before she takes it. “Anything specific I should tell him? Or just that he has a mess to clean up in aisle three?” She bites the inside of her lip, eyes lifting from the screen to his face.

Ace lets out a bark of laughter, finding that would be funny, if not exactly direct. He takes a moment to consider if he has the energy to spare in recapturing some of that wit in the messaging. "Tell him…"

He looks back to the door again, no emotion in particular reflecting off of him while he considers his words. "I finished my investigation and found out the mess needing cleaned up is his responsibility to oversee. He might want to bring a mop. I wasn't happy when I realized I'd been lied to." His head swivels back to her, hand still on her back. "Does that not about cover it?" he wonders.

That he finds her quip amusing brings her to smile, feeling slightly more at ease about this additional duty she’s been assigned. Mines is not high in her esteem, but he needs to be respected and his favor curried in order to climb. She’ll have to start somewhere, so this phone call is as good a place as any from which to begin.

Odessa’s attention follows Ace’s to the door, smile fading at the comment about needing a mop. When he turns back to her, she makes sure she does the same, nodding quickly. “Yes, I think that’s more than sufficient.” Her gaze drifts to admire the curve of his mouth for a moment before lifting back to his eyes. “I’ll meet you back here after I’ve made contact? Or should I wait outside to escort Mr. Mines on his arrival?” He’s certainly more than capable of making his way through a warehouse, but she figures there’s certain courtesies due.

"Come back once he's said he'll come," Ace directs her, letting his arm slip from her side in favor of pulling cigarettes from his other pocket. "I'll be here." His eyes drop back to her again in a moment of appraisal, one that draws another small, lopsided smile to his lips before he leaves her side.

Tapping the lighter out of the carton, he begins to pace idly while working one of the cigarettes free to follow. The wheel of the lighter sparks a moment after, and the inhale of smoke brings with it faint, addictive satisfaction.

Much like the kind that had underlaid this whole experience for him, turns and twists aside.

“Save one of those for me,” Odessa murmurs as they break off in their opposing directions. She needs one hand for her cane, and one for the phone, so the cigarette will have to wait until she gets back. The staccato of her footsteps heralds the return of her confidence as she makes her way toward the exit. As soon as she has a signal, she taps the green button on the screen and puts the phone to her ear to wait for it to ring.

“Mr. Mines,” she greets warmly as she pushes open the door and lets herself outside. “It’s Miss Pride. I am to inform you Mr. Callahan has finished conducting his investigation and has concluded that this matter lies in your jurisdiction.” Her enunciation is clear and crisp, somehow containing notes of both cheerfulness and disdain. There’s a beat where she pauses to listen to the voice on the other line. Odessa smiles tightly. “The usual way,” she assures to whatever question was asked. “You know how he despises lying.” She sighs audibly, since the roll of her eyes won’t otherwise carry over the phone. “He recommends you bring a mop.

Without saying goodbyes, she terminates the call and grins to herself. After all the unpleasantness of the earlier emotional spikes has ebbed away, she has to admit, there is a lot of satisfaction to be had here. Giddy laughter echoes through the stacks of containers as the door shuts behind her.

Ace turns his head toward the sound of that laughter while he tokes from his cigarette. He holds the breath in for a moment before exhaling it away in a pinpoint of breath. The sound of her enjoyment is all the confirmation he needs that the discomfort he saw in her earlier was indeed just an act.

It rids him of the last of his uncertainties.

Odessa will do just fine with him after all.

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