Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 26, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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Hey, make sure to go check on the reddit post if you came straight to Arkmuse! It's important! (And also important that I don't forget the link, the literal last part gets forgotten more often than it really should be).

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Chapter 26
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They had moved out of the hotel and into a temporary residence in the lower district. It had enough rooms for them to all be able to find some quiet time. The grey and brown walls didn't give much to look at and the whole place was rather run down. But the price was certainly better. Minmint and Stacey had conscripted the men to help in the cleaning though. The place was by no means ‘high scale’. The owner Veprutasian had left it a mess.

Atlatal had kept an eye on the Vep seller to make sure they didn’t pull too many tricks, making sure to get all the right boxes ticked. He also made sure the right palms were sufficiently greased.

Otto and Matchka were currently in the lobby closet. A decent sized room with lots of space for harnesses and outerwear. The air within the city wasn’t quite as well regulated as one might hope. Not to mention not everyone had the same temperature requirements.

“Know location?” Matchka asked him, flicking the closest ear in his direction.

“Yeah, low in the districts, a Helix by the name ‘Stoyaf of Thumping Yellow’,” Otto explained, pulling on one of the Prason hands over his right prosthetic hand. “What I can decipher from the forums he is one of the darker operators I can see. I’m hoping to make a connection.”

“Optimistic?” Matchka pressed.

Otto sighed. “Not really. As long as I’m a Human I don’t think anyone wants to be involved,” he paused for a moment. “And I’m not willing to just say that I’m a cracker…” he paused for a moment and looked Matchka in her big blue eyes. “You know, it doesn’t help that the word has other connotations for me.”

Matchka turned her head fully towards Otto training her upper ears directly on him.

He pulled on the left hand before realizing that Matchka was staring at him. With a wry smile on his face, he explained the problem. “We have terms for different racial variants, rude slang really. Going off how others have been treated, whites like me don’t have it as bad to be honest.” He turned to look at Matchka. “But yeah, Stacey, the brothers, myself, we’re all ‘crackers’ in a different sense… probably because our racial variant liked to crack whips…”

Matchka turned her whole body to face Otto now. He had to admit to himself, she was pretty good at asking questions without even saying anything.

“Whites were the typical slave driving race prior to the slave emancipation,” Otto explained as he pulled the mask over his head. “Usually we'd purchase Africans, a much darker skinned racial… type of Human, or perhaps Asians, the lighter skinned, smaller type we saw on Oolseck 7,” Otto explained. He felt the head latch onto the connection points on the customized harness. “Not saying slavery ended there, but emancipation was a pretty big step in that direction. Full on slavery is mostly gone, although exploitation is still very much a thi-”

“Otto!” Aurula called, sticking her head through the door to the side room he and Matchka were mucking about in. Her taloned hands clutched the edge of the door the rest of her body was hiding behind. Even her crest had dropped nervously.

“Yes blue bird?”

“Can you… find me something?”

Otto blinked. “What is it you need?”

“I would really like some uta fronds if you can find them…”

He could only see a wing, a portion of her black beak and a single dark eye. He took a mental snapshot of the image, filing it away as ammunition. “I’ll take a look for you Aurula.”

She drew her head back. “Thanks Otto,” the door shut, quietly.

He looked at Matchka and she returned the blank look.

The Bellani gave a very human shrug. She was happy to adopt Human physical habits that served as conversational shorthands.

He stepped into the awkward boots and picked the cloak off the bench and pulled it around himself. “Well, let’s go!” Otto said with a smile, looking at Matchka.

“Yes. Lets.”

They left the girls, Aurula, Tsury and Minmint to their fun and headed out.

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Stacey
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Atlatal sat down next to Stacey and across from Tank. The brothers in their Prason disguises stood off to the side. They got the odd look from pedestrians walking by. Still a pair of Prason was still less remarkable than a pair of Humans. And draft Prason like they appeared to be had their uses. But it would look more odd yet if the Prason were sitting with them.

“No leads?” Tank asked. His voice suggested he knew what the answer would be.

Stacey didn’t like this city. It was cold. And it was cruel.

“No leads,” Atlatal sighed. “Just more of the same.”

They sat at a small corner cafe. The offerings were simple enough, various hot and cold drinks and snacks to accompany those drinks. They had the typical offering of rollbugs, a major industry those bugs.

“Things have only gotten worse in the time you’ve been here,” Atlatal admitted. “Not because of you of course, just bad timing. Red Tail went into hiding because of the attack on his Ytheon lieutenant, and Hatherkey has laid low due to the increased officer focus as well as the Human Strider.”

“Time is becoming a thing,” Mike commented, joining the conversation. “The apartment helps a lot, but funds won’t last forever. Do we need to pick up a job?”

The White rubbed his upper eyelid. “That might end up happening, but the problem with that idea is that if anyone tries to hire your group as thugs, it’ll be Hatherkey.”

Stacey’s attention was drawn from the conversation, although she tried to keep an ear on it as they talked.

“Which is the opposite of what we desire,” Tank acknowledged. “So we are stuck delving into deeper and deeper pits.”

One of those little four legged guys with the iridescent blue eyes like Tsury was cowering against a wall in an alley across the street. A couple Veps had trapped the short guy in a corner. The alien wasn’t quite like a centaur or the like. It was placed in the center of its four legs rather than than having its torso towards the front of the lower body. And what was with the vest, they always wore a vest, although this one had a sort of dress draped over its legs.

Stacey hoped Mike was paying attention to this. It didn’t look like anything good.

“It would help if Hatherkey was not so good at coercion and bribing,” Atlatal noted. “It’s harder to find someone who isn’t under the Body Switcher’s thrall. The gaps are much less friendly now than they were half a year ago as well…”

The alien Stacey was watching whimpered as one of the birds pulled a knife from under his feathers, brandishing it before the face of the smaller alien. The odd pedestrian walking by just gave the trio a wide berth, not wanting to get involved.

“Hey what-?” she heard Atlatal’s voice.

Stacey wanted more than anything to stop that bird, but found herself frozen with indecision. She wanted someone to do something.

She had focused so hard on the altercation, she didn’t even notice the Prason step up until a wide brown and green splotched hand landed on the shoulder of one of the Veprutasians.

“Stop,” spoke the voice of Mike. Glowering down at the birds. He was breaking character. Prason normally walked and stood stooped over like a hunchback. They would use one of their long arms to balance kind of like a gorilla. Mike was standing at his full height, enhanced by the stilt-boots and prosthetic mask.

The Veprutasian squawked lightly in surprise, but settled when the saw the figured looming over them.

“Stupid Prason, go back to your owner before your arm falls off,” the male bird warned, brandishing a knife. Stacey had seen the osknives before and her gut twisted with sudden fear.

“I said stop,” Mike declared in a low tone, leaning in closer to the bird. “Stop, or I'll make you stop.”

Stacey almost didn't see it. The crow moved so quickly, so smoothly that she couldn't really follow.

But it wasn't too fast for Mike. The bird… moved, then just as suddenly flew through the air in a tight, contained arc. Mike had grabbed the wing holding the knife and whipped the Veprutasian around to smash into the wall. The larger Prason body meant a wider swing, giving the bird just enough time to cry out in surprise and fear.

This was the moment Stacey realized she'd reflexively opened up the shared link with Mike. The feedback of the bird… crunching into the wall ghosted up her arm and her stomach twisted in response to the gruesome experience. Mike's anger only partially masked the feeling.

The Veprutasian crumpled at the base of the wall and his companion screeched, half in fear, half in rage. The second Vep had a knife of his own. He started to raise it into the air, only to have the weapon knocked out his 'hand' by a dense ball of grey material. The meal ball splattered open as it struck the knife.

She looked over in time to see Daniel finish pulling his right arm back on. He wasn't any good at throwing with the prosthetic on.

She felt Mike's anger spike, flashing with cold heat. He turned and drilled a hand into the core of the stunned bird. She felt it and understood he was taking it easy, but the bird flew backwards nonetheless. It slammed against the far wall and slumped to the ground.

They weren't alone here. There were lots of Vep and Kashto as well as a couple Ytheon. And of course herself, Tank and Atlatal.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked a Ytheon Stacey was about ninety nine percent sure had nothing to do with this.

“Hmm, what indeed?” asked Tank, standing up and speaking with a loud and clear tone of voice.

Surprised to hear someone other than the Prason speaking, the bigger Sapient turned to them. He flinched in obvious surprise to see a black Kraltnin approaching.

“While this is a side street, there is still plenty of traffic,” Tank noticed, his voice carrying quite well as he approached. “And yet everyone couldn't bother to react in any way beyond giving these… thugs more room to work.”

Blank surprise echoed through the link with Mike. ‘Echoed’ because Stacey realized she was feeling the same way. Surprised she had triggered Mike to act. Surprised that Tank was taking over so easily.

Tank joined Mike, the big ox Minotaur and the still crouched and shivering little Ushen. His legs folded underneath him and Tank held his tail out behind him for balance as he crouched low. “I apologize for the surprise, I won't hold you here if you wish to go ma’am.”

The female Ushen with the solid coloured eyes looked at Tank with surprise, but seemed to calm as he spoke gently to her. Those wide blue eyes were set into a round, furred face with a flat pink nose. Frankly Stacey found them cute, although odd.

The Ushen whispered a thank you that Stacey could only hear by proxy through her link. The tiny female started to move but Mike put a hand in front of her.

“Go the other way, those birds have friends that way,” he warned quietly.

The Ushen flinched as she looked up at him, clearly surprised all over again. But she did as he suggested and headed straight back to the main road.

Stacey meanwhile had glanced further down the sidestepped to see a trio of ruffled birds watching intensely.

While Stacey looked away, Tank had continued talking. “Rude?” He responded to something Stacey missed while Mike was advising the Ushen. “What is rude is allowing an innocent to come to harm through inaction,” Tank continued, his voice steady with purpose. “Are you Ytheon not proud to uphold public order?” the Kraltnin asked.

“You are right,” the Ytheon admitted with a clear voice, deflating slightly. “I will not press further.”

“My thanks,” Tank replied, dipping his head in a polite Kraltnin nod.

The Ytheon headed on his way.

“Haha,” Atlatal laughed quietly. “I almost forgot he was a Green,” he said, drawing Stacey's attention. His large brown eye met her smaller green eyes. “Not literally forgot,” he defended himself. “More that I didn't remember how Green clan members would act.”

The Kraltnin looked downright proud to have met Tank.

Tank rejoined them at the table, Mike and Daniel taking up position near them where the two had originally been standing. The young Kraltnin swept his gaze across Stacey and Atlatal. “We should probably move to another place.”

“Good plan, but I expect to have company as we go,” Atlatal warned. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they had friends nearby.”

“Uhh… there’s three of them down that way,” Stacey noted, subtly pointing down the street.

Atlatal was in the midst of standing up from his seat and twitched in surprise when Stacey casually noted she’d already spotted the problem he predicted.

“Don’t look,” Stacey hissed as he began to turn his head. “If you look they’ll know you’ve spotted them. Birds are good at watching where people are looking.”

His mouth hung open for a moment and his head bobbed sideways. “You think it is the same with the Veprutasian?”

“Well yeah, they’re like ambushers and scavengers, right?” Stacey asked. “They gotta know who’s looking where to know where they can safely go.”

“... Sensible. I will pay for our purchases, then we will move on.”

Stacey and Tank nodded. She found herself looking at Mike and Daniel standing against the wall next to the cafe. The pair of them had instantly gone back to looking nothing but bored.

Tank and Stacey stood up as Atlatal rejoined them a few moments later.

“Maybe we should lure the birds out?” Stacey mused as they stepped away from the little cafe. Mike and Daniel rejoined them, making five. “If we head past them, we can lure the birds out.”

“To what purpose?” Tank asked, head bobbing sideways quizzically .

Stacey turned to look. “Well, I don’t want them chasing the poor Ushen down and taking out their frustration on someone who can’t defend themself,” Stacey’s voice lost strength as she continued. “So I figured I’d lure them to us instead…”

Tank’s tail uncurled and his head rose. “Yes… I see. Veprutasians can be vindictive. If we don’t lure them, the birds may simply resume where we interrupted.”

“You would pick a fight?” Atlatal asked, his voice full of uncertainty. “I am not certain I approve.”

“Hey Tank,” Mike spoke softly, “I know we were just sorta throwing ideas, but maybe this is the time, we gotta change gears.”

Tank nodded and turned to Atlatal. “If you are uncomfortable, it may be best to split up. Perhaps we can meet back at the apartment?”

Atlatal’s tail twitched back and forth, unhappy with the situation. “Are you coming after you… resolve things?”

“Yes,” Tank said with confidence. “We take a long way around, but we are not pulling any errands from thin air.”

Atlatal nodded. “I will see you in awhile then.”

The ‘White’ headed back out to the main street. The rest of them turned and walked towards the other end of the side street. That would take them past the three birds watching carefully from a knick-knack shop full of sparkling and bright decorations.

Stacey had picked up one little accessory of her own. No girl should be without a means to look after themselves after all. She pulled a small folding mirror out of a pocket and took a moment to glance at her face and hair. Green eyes on a pale face framed by blond hair. She tilted the mirror and two of the birds had opted to follow them.

“How are we going to do this?” Mike asked quietly.

“Indeed, how?” Tank mused.

“Well, I’m gonna distract them,” Stacey declared.

Daniel and Mike both stumbled slightly and Mike’s head snapped around. She could feel the alarm spike through the shared connection. She hadn’t closed it since accidentally opening it upon seeing the birds threatening the little Ushen.

Outwardly, she didn’t miss a step. “I’m gonna split off and if those birds are even half as bad as we think they are, they’ll follow,” She looked at Mike as she spoke. “You still have your slingshot?”

The big meaty fist covering Mikes normal hand twitched and rose slightly to his hip. “Yeah,” he admitted. “It doesn’t scan, so I carry it everywhere in my pouch.”

“Well, you probably won’t need it,” Stacey declared. “I’ll share my vision and hearing with… with everyone.” her voice hitched as Stacey processed what she was volunteering to do.

“You sure?” Mike asked. You can just share with me, it’s okay…” he said. The emotions spilling through the line carried a different message. Support and concern for Stacey being nervous, triumph and pride at her offering despite her problems with connections that weren’t him.

With a bemused smile on her face she answered him. “This is important, and I want to get out of this unharmed.”

Several minutes later and Stacey had ducked into another side street away from the group. For awhile she’d worried the birds would lose interest and leave, but that didn’t happen. The side street was much like the street in which they had visited the cafe and it wasn’t long until she found another alley to walk down.

Some distance in she stopped and turned around. The two black birds has followed her in and now approached with confident steps. The sound of traffic was muted this far into the dark alley. They were unlikely to be spotted, and anyone who did see would probably turn a blind eye.

Perfect.

“Can I help you with something?” She stated more than asked. Stacey was proud of how steady her voice sounded.

The two hesitated, not expecting to be confronted by a confident Human.

“You… your friend hurt our companions,” The female bird hissed, pulling another osknife from a sheath hidden under her feathers. “Fairness is a universal concept, is it not?”

“Sure,” Stacey agreed. “What’s also constant is that the only thing fair about life is that it really isn’t.”

The second black bird, a male, laughed. “A sensible opinion. Indeed it is not fair, your friend hurt two of ours, and we’re only going to be able to kill one of you.”

“Can I just ask one thing first?”

“What is it you want to know Human?” the female asked. The two of them approached slowly through the narrow alley, holding their knives before them.

“Are you guys part of a gang or are you just bad people?” Stacey asked.

“Oh, we’re not so important as to be members of a clan,” the male answered, his voice amused. “We just… harvest the small bugs.”

“Oh,” Stacey’s voice was disappointed. “That means that we aren’t doing this for information, but just because it’s satisfying. I'm surprised you didn't think this through any further though.”

That made the pair of them pause. A crunching step caused the both of them to whip around. Mike and Daniel stood in the alleyway. The two of them were far enough into the alley they’d felt comfortable shedding the Prason disguise. Stacey was still impressed with how quickly the men had dumped the pieces of the disguise.

The birds were clearly startled by the appearance of two more Humans.

“What- where?” The female asked, clearly trying to maintain her composure.

The male pulled a second knife.

Daniel just laughed, tossing an object lightly into the air. It went a little higher than he expected and he hitched slightly when he snatched it back out of the air.

Mike just shook his head as he continued to unfold his slingshot. “You think we’re gonna just let you knife us?” he asked.

“What choice do you have?” The male asked. “That modified combat Prason isn’t here.”

“Modified?” Mike asked, clearly tickled pink by the idea. “Combat Prason? Haha!”

“You will not laugh!” The Vep commanded, rushing forward.

The female however rushed Stacey.

It only took moments. Daniel whipped the stone at the face of the male. The Vep went down in a tangle as the heavy rock smacked into his forehead. The female didn’t even turn all the way around before a slingshot driven stone sunk into the back of her head.

Stacey watched the bird fall into a limp pile. Her motions stiff, Stacey approached the unmoving body. The eyes stared up blankly but no longer saw anything. Distantly she heard the male squawking in fear and pain, but it suddenly sounded so far away.

The implant in her head activated. Not that she could distinctly recognize the effects. But the warning ping Otto had setup weeks ago flared to life, letting her know the thing was going to work. This told Stacey what she needed to know, and recognizing the existence of the feelings allowed it to flood the conscious side of her mind. Stacey stumbled sideways to lean against a concrete wall.

Mike was there in moments, concern flooding the link.

She looked up at Mike. “I killed her.” The link flooded with both understanding and angry denial.

“No. I killed her. Because she was going to kill you,” Mike declared, pulling Stacey into his arms.

“But, I lured her-”

“For all we know, they would have killed that Ushen,” Mike replied fiercely into her ears. Love and powerful concern flooded the link, tightly sent to her alone. “They didn’t have to try and kill you either! This isn’t your fault.”

“But-”

Daniel may not have been so fully connected as Stacey and his brother, but the surprised realization from him that the other Veprutasian had died as well shocked her deeper. Stacey’s head whipped around to look at the second bird.

“Shit,” Daniel breathed. “They’re so fragile!”

“And fuckin’ quick!” Mike angrily retorted. “It’s ‘first strike wins’ with these birds. Look at that knife!”

“But…” Daniel replied. “Even the Whites weren’t this flimsy…”

“That first bird joked about my arm falling off, but he fuckin’ meant it!” Mike hissed. “These people were dangerous, and not just to us!”

Stacey’s eyes shifted to a knife that had fallen in front of the female. The osknife had partially sunk right into the concrete ground, cutting through the ground with ease, only stopping due to the widening of the blade.

Stacey closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Once she had acknowledged her feelings the implant had let go and allowed it to happen. She’d learned well enough it worked best when she wasn’t aware of what was ‘going on under the hood’.

“I’ll-,” Stacey started, but halted as her voice shook. She took a deep breath and started over. “I’ll be okay, just give me some time.”

After her emotions had settled Tank rejoined them. The third of the birds had collected the first two of the group, renting some sort of platform from a kiosk. Stacey wondered if the first bird Mike had smacked into the wall was also dead.

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Aurula
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She waited, sitting across from the Kraltnin Atlatal, the depressed Eeksh and the bored Tsury.

Tsury was playing a card game named ‘solitaire’. Aurula had tried, but the cards were a little hard for her to handle with her talons, and she didn’t mind just observing Tsury play.

Atlatal’s tail swished back and forth, showing his impatience with the wait.

Her head popped up as she heard the front door of the apartment slide open and had to control the urge to flee to her room. She’d gotten past the worst of the angry/happy flips, but now she’d settled into the nerves. It had a goal, those feelings. It was up to Otto to chase now… but it made it hard to hold a conversation when she was being distracted.

Her urge to run settled when she heard the voices of Mike and Daniel joking back and forth. A confident Tank led the way into the common room with a quiet Stacey right behind.

“I’m in here Tank,” Minmint called from their shared room.

The tip of his tail rose and he continued through the room to his partner. “I will be back momentarily,” Tank reassured the more energetic looking Atlatal. The white nodded in understanding.

Stacey slumped at the table next to Aurula.

“Are you well?” Aurula asked, uncertain of Stacey’s mood. The Human seemed… subdued.

“Yeah, I’m just-” Stacey cut off. “I’ll be okay in a bit, don’t mind me.”

Mike and Daniel wandered in, having shed their costume pieces. Mike took up a spot, standing just behind Stacey. He put his hands on her shoulders and started rubbing, his fingers digging into the muscles of her back. Stacey sighed and leaned forward to allow him better access.

“That’s so much better with the shared space,” she spoke, her voice muffled by the table she’d rested her head on. “Not that it was bad before, but that’s good.”

Aurula blinked. “You’re using the combat space?”

When Stacey had rested on the table, she’d faced away from Aurula. Her head sort of rolled in place, turning to look at Aurula. “It’s not really, mmm, combat space. You can use it all the time if you want.”

“Isn’t that… confusing?” Aurula asked. “There are warnings that some people can… blend together if they spend too much time mentally linked.”

Mike started to chuckle. “Well, it’s a good thing she’s so opinionated. Stacey is her own girl, but we aren’t connected all the time.”

“Shush,” Stacey complained weakly from the table. “I’m not that bad,” she defended herself, causing him to chuckle in a friendly manner.

“When did you start using it so regularly?” Aurula asked with curiosity.

Stacey’s mouth opened. Then closed. After that her face flushed a bright red.

‘Oh,’ Aurula thought to herself.

“We’ve been practicing,” Mike answered the question with what Aurula had come to learn as the ‘shit eating grin’. “The feedback is quite something!” Mike explained with a laugh. Stacey’s face turned a darker shade of red.

“It’s been… really good,” Stacey forced out, obviously trying to work past her embarrassment. “Ever since we started using it more regularly it’s become a lot easier to talk and just be next to each other even if we aren’t saying anything.”

“Easier?” Aurula asked. “It was hard before?”

Her face flushed again, some errant thought crossing her mind, but Stacey swallowed and continued, wanting to answer Aurula’s honest question. “Well, not really,” Stacey laughed, “But so closely connected, everything is so much… brighter.”

“Oh,” Aurula replied. She wondered if Otto would share space with her like Mike and Stacey were sharing. What would it be like? It might solve that little problem of instinctively fleeing when he was around. Not to mention Stacey was obviously enjoying the experience...

Tank came out from the backroom with Minmint trailing behind. He looked at the table, pretty much fully surrounded by people, leaving not much room to fit on. Tsury didn’t miss the look and sighed as she began gathering up the cards. Aurula stood up to give him space.

“You do not have to move,” Tank offered.

“It looks like you need to talk, I would rather stand,” Aurula reassured. Tsury finished gathering the cards and shifted over, giving Daniel room to squeeze in next to her. Tank settled in where Aurula had vacated. Mike remained where he was, continuing to work on the back of the appreciatively sighing woman.

“Well then, what is it you are planning?” Atlatal asked.

Tank turned his eye to the smaller Kraltnin. “Your guides, you highlight areas of trouble and high criminal presence, do you not?”

“Yes, of course,” Atlatal responded. “Do you want one after all?”

“Yes, and a bit more than that,” Tank replied. Atlatal’s slowly moving tail ceased its wandering. Tank continued. “Staying quiet and hoping to stumble on Red Tail’s subordinates isn’t working. We are thinking of starting a fight with Hatherkey. To that end, I would ask that you return to your normal activities, allowing your guide to serve the purpose you have been fulfilling.”

“You are asking me to step back?” Atlatal asked, his head rising and his extra eyelid dropping slightly.

“Yes,” Tank confirmed. “You will be in danger next to us. More so as we will also potentially have Mike and Daniel shed their disguises. Your guidance is still extremely invaluable, but you do not to be next to us to provide it. I would not paint a target on you.”

Atlatal nodded. “Sensible, the important part will be keeping my guide as specific and accurate as possible then, so you can pick the correct fights.”

“Exactly.”

Atlatal’s tail resumed moving as he relaxed. “I can do this. It is true that the efforts thus far have not yielded results. I will do as you ask.”

“This is gonna be fun,” Daniel said with relish.

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End Chapter
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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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