• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,592 Views, 100 Comments

Off The Grid - MajorPaleFace

Commander John Maxon unexpectedly arrives in orbit above Equestria after a 90 year interstellar journey to Proxima Centauri in Cryostasis. John must learn to survive and inspire in an strange new world.

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Getting Started

A clatter from outside. Bare feet on cold concrete, he stumbles blindly in the dark – so completely encompassing he cannot grasp the scale of where he is. The wind rustles vegetation nearby, muffled slightly by thick fabric. He grasps at his thigh, there it is – his energy pistol, right where it should be.

A filtered light from the exterior of this dark somewhere spreads the canvas, pinpricks of fire widen in circular patterns, like holes burned into textile. The tent falls away, the frame twists and shrivels in the furnace that now exists, in this hell fully realised.

Power Armoured husks like pillars in a multistorey stand across burned earth. Fire singes everything and permeates the very air. Hulking suits all raise a finger, pointing at him accursedly.

“You!” They accost.

He felt thirsty. So thirsty his throat burned and his eyeballs were quite dry. He attempts to speak but no words escape him, he raises his weapon. Pulling the trigger discharges charcoal beams that slice the golems, carving their limbs from their bodies.

They approach, too many for him to dismember. Whereby one droops away, atomised to dust, another takes its place. The final one is near, bearing down on him ferociously. An animated statue, there is no menace in its attack; only an ending to things.

His feet are lead and cement, evading the attack becomes impossible. He is struck, screaming in his ears, echoing the voices of his former life. Heat and bubbling skin.

* * *

John doesn’t awake violently like he usually does, but his heart nonetheless thrums like an off-tune motor. Perspiration clings to him and the smell of his sweat and grease fills his nostrils.

Sunlight cascades through a slit in the top of his tent, the interior is like a freezer. A single frosty point creeps through, golden light fills the watery shard like a cone of the purest honey.

John dislikes the feeling of a hangover; his movements are sluggish and his muscles weakened. He considers himself a consummate professional, getting hammered wasn’t usually his style. But, he argued, at least the majority of his sleep had been dreamless.

Reluctantly unsheathing himself from the bedsheets, he places his energy pistol back into his thigh holster – heading out into the pre-morning mist to track down his stash of weapons and gear.

The camp is surprisingly active, he supposed military life started early no matter the species. Many Guards were wearing light equipment, practising their sparring or marching in formation to perform other duties.

He finds the landing zone from before, several dozen carts have been arrayed close to one another for storage, tarps covering many. A Unicorn officer with a clipboard notices him, his eyes are pale-blue, much like Johns own.

“Can I help?” The officers' voice is crisp.

“Some equipment of mine – large steel boxes, they were transported through the teleportation array during the evac, know where they are?”

“Not me. Staff Sergeant Nickle River was in charge of squaring away the supplies that were brought back.”

John wanted some coffee, “alright – you know where he is?”

The officer hadn’t blinked a single time since John had seen him, “she, somewhere over there, 10th Logistical,” he gestured at several smaller habitation tents.

“Thanks,” as John backed away – his eyes remained locked with the unnaturally blue and unblinking stare of the pony. He continued not blinking until he finally turned back to his clipboard.

The first abnormal pony he’d met thus far. John made a mental note to keep an eye on him if they ever ran into each other. Maybe he was a changeling spy – he’d mention it to Luna.

He paced over to the mess hall. Finding it as bustling with overly raucous soldiers as the night before, he spotted a self-serve beverage unit, which thankfully went ignored as the starving horde of quadrupeds assaulted the dinner line. Several pastries lay in a tray, he took a handful, swallowing one of them hungrily. He poured himself two cups of coffee, put two sugars in each with a little milk and took off for the direction of the logistical tents.

A dozen tan diamond-shaped structures were arrayed along the edge of a long rectangular storage tent. Armed guards had been posted outside. The tent had a timber frame around it containing a locked security door. John marched across the still-frozen ground, he arrived in front of the sentries, who eyed him warily.

“State your business,” one said, he had a thick band of scar tissue across his muzzle. His twin shifted their weight, his spear lowered enough so that he could thrust it through John's head if he proved a threat. He had two coffees in one hand, the other full of croissants, he wasn’t exactly armed and dangerous.

“I’m trying to find these big metal boxes of mine,” he gestured with his hands, spilling some coffee, “I hear there’s a Staff Sergeant with the 10th who might know where they are, you're part of her unit?”

Guard with spear shifted again, “she’s asleep. Sarge gets pretty mean when she’s woken after a night of, well…” he trailed off, his cheeks tinting a little.

“Drinking,” scar-face finished.

John nodded knowingly, “nothing a little caffeine and a pastry won’t solve. Where is she?”

“Over there, third from the right,” he gestured over John's shoulder.

John turned, his coffee was getting cold and he hadn’t taken a sip of it yet, His stomach gurgled, the once-warm pastries had turned cold under the air temperature. He frowned.

A squarish tent with haphazardly strung support pegs was set out of place between two larger accommodation tents. A spattering of orange vomit was outside, her dinner had been some kind of spaghetti. A dozen flies ran circles around it, their backs shiny-blue like the brilliance of plasma-fire.

He thrust a hand inside to open the flap, the smell that greeted him made him think twice about those supplies.

It was gloomy. A pair of bunkbeds rested against one side, a desk was set against the far back and a small hammock-style chair was opposite. Next to it a large tin bathtub filled with grungy water. Chunks of vomit floated against the tawny liquid. A trail of still-drying water led from the tub to the lower bunk and the only occupied bed in the tent.

A lump-like shape under tartan covers didn’t stir as he set his drinks and pastries down on the desk. Loudly announcing his presence by clearing his throat and flapping the tent strip as he hung it aside to allow fresh air inside.

“Wakey, wakey!” He called in a sickly-sweet voice, imitating his mother’s sunshine-tinged tone.

No reaction.

“Sergeant River – your wake-up call is here,” he said loudly. A groan from the lump, followed by a sniff.

He ground his teeth together, impatience and huger overriding his formality.

“Sergeant River,” he said slowly, “get,” he kicked the bed frame, “your ass,” another kick, “up out of,” a harder kick, “this bed!” He raised his voice to a shout, aiming higher and kicking the pony hard enough that she tumbled from out from the covers, sliding down between the tent and the bunk bed.

She groaned, anger soon took a hold of her, quickly she scurried out from under the bed, causing it to tilt towards John. He grabbed its edges and threw it across the living space, it crashed loudly, unfurling the pair of thin bedrolls and sheets, narrowly avoiding the breakfast.

She was on her hooves, glowering up at him, “what the fuck do you think you’re doing you streaky piece of shit?!”

He held his hands out wide, palms showing, “just making sure you wake up on time, Staff Sergeant.”

John backed away from her, taking a coffee in one hand and a pastry, leaving two for her, “breakfast and a coffee, two sugars and milk – didn’t know how you liked it. Be sure to educate me on the way,” with that, he walked past her and outside.

He heard some clattering and cursing, his back to it all. Sipping his coffee, he watched a flight of some kind of bird soar over the camp, he scoffed his last croissant, wishing he’d stolen another dozen.

Hoof steps from behind, he turned without smiling. “You ready?”

She was a short, slightly over-plump mare. Bloodshot dark chocolate eyes were narrowed furiously at him. Her mouth was balled at the cheeks as she chewed, downing both the pastries with half a cup of coffee.

“You better have a damned-excellent reason for waking me like that.”

“Staff Sergeant, I’m Commander Maxon, I’ve been working directly with the Princess so behave. I brought you breakfast as a peace offering.”

He started walking and he heard her keep pace, always lingering just behind him.

“I need you to help me find some boxes that were brought back through the teleportation array, they’re large and made of metal. Should have stuck out to you.”

Her raspy, exasperated voice followed over his shoulder, “I know ‘em, thought they were fishy. Makes sense they belong to you, and you’re going the wrong way.”

He halted and she bumped into him, “take point, then.”

It wasn’t too far. The weather refused to warm up – although, he reasoned, it was still fairly early. The suns light had only just started to set alight to the horizon, napalm skies the forerunner to another sweltering day.

He finished his coffee, which had ceased to be hot some time ago, a tent they passed had a trolley with trays and dirty plates, he placed his mug there – Nickle River doing the same.

Another large tan warehouse-like tent, “Sergeant,” the Pegasus guard on duty offered.

She wrote something on a clipboard, John following the squat Sergeant. It was as cold inside as outside; pallets kept the crates and boxes from making contact with the cold earth. Row after row sailed by in silence, they reached a platform with a tarp covering its contents. John peeked underneath, running a hand across cold metal.

He straightened, “I need a shower.”

She cocked her head, “don’t look at me – I’m not scrubbing your back for you.”

After retrieving a fresh bodysuit, he’d taken the long walk to the shower block on his own, the disgruntled Sergeant had made it clear that she wanted to return to her bed. He’d been threatened with some fairly descriptive forms of neutering should he decide to wake her in such a manner again.

The cubicles were buy-and-large the same as saddle pad. Small interconnected tents, each with room for multiple bodies. He stepped inside and stripped, showered quickly – the water was freezing, he breathed through it as his muscles hardened and his skin thickened.

Quickly drying himself, John forced on the form-fitting undersuit. They’re rubberised, semi-self-cleaning and capable of absorbing large amounts of damage. They also have multiple ports and connectors to link with a set of power armour.

This one was orange with cream highlights, delineative of a rank lower than commander, but he wasn’t concerned. The only human in forty trillion kilometres, who exactly was going to reprimand him?

He took the liberty of soaking his dirty clothes under the shower, working some soap into them. Wringing them out, John carried the wet bundle back to his tent to hang them. He dared not investigate the second tent housing the lunar potentate, for fear of reliving yesternights minimal flirting.

From there, he traced his way back across the base, searching for the medical area. He prowled underneath crisscrossing overhead covers, they would keep the inevitable scorching sun from burning you to death. The same medical tent from yesterday. He crept inside, asking after Lieutenant Midnight.

Pointed towards a little cornered off section, a large black pony had its back to him. Most of the other patients were asleep, John was careful not to wake them as he sneaked up behind the mare.

Large back muscles were bunched-up taut against their shiny carbon-black coat. A pair of powerful bat-wings were draped from the shoulders almost reaching the floor. She wasn’t wearing any identifying uniform, yet Lieutenant Colonel Kodiaks tall and compact physique was a dead giveaway.

“Colonel,” he spoke softly, “any news on her?”

She didn’t turn around or make any indication that she’d heard him. She merely kept herself facing toward the younger officer.

She took a big breath like she’d been holding it, “the drugs you provided seem to be helping, but it’s still uncertain.” Her voice was a tremulous waver, like a child who had been embarrassed in front of their peers.

He took a step closer, “maybe you’d like to get some breakfast with me?” He offered in hope.

‘Or second breakfast,’ he thought.

Her head swayed. She was still, as if in deep thought. Then quietly, “Okay.”

He turned and walked for the exit, her following hoof falls were fairly quiet, he made a sharp left once outside. Disappearing for a moment, he reappeared with his power armour to find a surprised and naked Thestral. Her pristine yellow cat eyes almost identical to Midnights, he could see the resemblance.

She had to crane her neck to meet his downward gaze, so enormous by comparison that he was once armoured.

“Cafeteria’s to the east, lets’ go.” His voice was amplified and sort of nasally.

They stopped off outside his quarters, as quietly as was conceivable, he stowed his power armour inside, hastily leading the Colonel away after.

He and Kodiak moved side-by-side, like the leaders in a two-elephant parade. They arrived at the cavernous eating hall, not a single word exchanged as they each took a tray and piled them high with food. Pancakes made from apples and buckwheat – topped with thick syrup, half a chickpea and onion omelette, and a vegan blueberry French-toast breakfast muffin. Sided with an extra-large glass of orange juice and several slices of multi-grain toast. He’d picked guacamole to spread over his while Kodiak selected a thick fruity conserve.

They ate gluttonously, neither caring for table manners – the thought tickled him as he’d never met a soldier who couldn’t pack away six meals in one go, the result made him snigger halfway though a muffin.

What?” She asked, incredulously returning from round two of stacking her tray with food.

“Nothing,” he answered quickly, standing to see how much he could consume.

They both sat straddling the benches, his gut felt distended, his iron-hard abdominal muscles were bulging far beyond where they should have been. Kodiak too appeared to have grown several sizes in the middle-region.

She finished her juice, motioning John to do the same as she rose. A chorus of laughter erupted from the other side of the tent. A puppet-like imitation of a small changeling had been fashioned and fastened from the support beams, dangling in a chair-less section of the hall. A few guards took turns swatting it whilst blindfolded.

He turned to her as they left, “I need a carriage to my ship, Colonel. Princess Luna said it’d be arranged come morning.”

She nodded, stifling a belch, “It’s on the west side of camp.”

John raised his head in the direction she faced, wispy clouds slowly sizzled on an auburn coloured horizon. Feather-tips of vapour spread like tendrils of sand across a vast blue sea.

Her tone shifted from down-time to her usual sternness, “see you in two days,” she offered a hoof.

He looked down at it a little perplexedly, grasping it, he shook it thrice, the move confused the Colonel – what else was he supposed to do?

Some light turbulence buffeted the extra-roomy carriage that had been pressed into service. It was about ten meters long and three wide, John sat amongst close to forty wounded ponies, once at the transport depot, they’d get shipped back to their hometowns. For them the fighting was over, many sported missing limbs and bandage covered eyes.

An eight-Thestral pulling team heaved against the airstream. Flight-Sergeant Dark Comet had identified himself and his team as members of 3rd Battalion – called upon to serve as Kodiaks 1st had been largely depleted of soldiers.

Once high among the clouds, the rattling abated. The remainder of the flight was calm, the mood amongst the wounded was a sombre one. A small mare next to John had been badly burned, the sight sent shivers across his spine, hollowed his stomach and filled his throat with sand.

Her eye sockets were sunken and yet swollen, she peered at him through bumpy slits. She had one ear completely burned off, the other still retained some light teal fur. Her miraculously white and perfect teeth moved, she was speaking but that faint ringing had returned, making all other sound unintelligible.

She was fairly cheery, telling him all about her small family. Her name was Jubilant Flower, and jubilant she dearly was. She hailed from the coastal town of Seaward Shoals, her mother and father worked the fishing trade, as their fathers and mothers before them. She had been the first in her bloodline to volunteer for Guard Service, enlisting only last year.

She reminisced on how her parents worried greatly for their only child, the three of them had bitter, angry arguments for some time leading up to her training.

“I would always tell them, it’s just a reserve unit. I’m never going to see any fighting.

Her one ear fell back and she looked at the carriage floor. John didn’t know what to say, counselling grievously wounded equines was not a part of his skill set.

He nudged her, “look at the bright side – you get to see your folks. Spend the rest of your life at sea, find a…” the right word eluded him, “strong male. Have kids. Settle down.”

She didn’t seem any the cheerier for his words, “what about your unicorn magic – can’t that do anything?”

She took a big breath, “there are spells and potions that could help, Major Dahlia already sent a letter to a caster in Baltimare. That’s where I’m headed before I go home – and all of them.” She looked across the group of downcast heads.

Finally, she looked at him, her fate uncertain, “I just don’t know.”

The drop-off had been abrupt, the cart had suddenly dropped several hundred meters, hitting the treetops and skimming them in a maneuverer that would cut any human craft in half. As the Gs began to build, that pressure was lifted as the clearing just before the Anlace filled his view.

The cart dipped towards the ground, coming to a striking stop along a large defilade. That was Johns cue to disembark – rubberised boots sank half an inch into the soft grass. The cart rocketed away, him the only passenger to get off at this stop.

He slings his rifle – blue sky overhead and that incessant Equestrian heat. John takes in a breath of pollen-infused air, walking towards the mountaintop, which peeks above the defilade.

A dozen tents, it looked like operations here had been expanded significantly. Wooden posts had been battered into the ground at intervals, multiple guards patrolled across it, never daring to stray too closely toward the bubble which he knew was there.

The scar in the terrain traced by his doomed starship had been polished up, grass now lay where disturbed dirt and upset trees had once been. As John draws near to the tents, he keeps his eyes skywards. Thick rainclouds threaten from low-orbit, hanging maliciously over the mountain range.

A Guard inside a tent spots him, coming out from his paperwork – John recognised the stubby face of Captain Stark Wing.

“Captain, I could use some assistance with my ship.”

“Of course. Tell me what you need.”

The feeling of fizziness in his mouth and the popping from pressure in his ears solidified what he needed to achieve. Captain Stark Wing had granted him the use of forty soldiers, many of them unicorns – their magic would be put to good use.

Starting with a brief of the interior, John described the dangers one could find within the reconnaissance craft.

“Power levels should be at below three per cent, what this means is only some of the doors will even function – so be careful, and don’t go wandering off. The Anlace is also on its side, it had panels and support columns all over it – once inside you could get confused. Only go where you’ve been explicitly told is safe.

“Furthermore, we have three objectives set out for us; exhume the dead and respectfully bury them, secure some equipment we can use to eliminate the Changeling threat and a secondary goal of rotating the ship right-side up. But only if we can – I don’t want anyone blowing a magic node or whatever it is. Understand?”

He got a handful of ‘yes sirs,’ and nods.

“Good, Lieutenant Hayseed will come with me, I’ll show him and two others the way to go, we’ll mark it with white chalk, then you’re free to travel to and from the cryo chamber. Bring the bodies out, drop them off out here.

“Staff Sergeant Hard Coal has already begun digging graves with her squad, you’ll all be helping with that until instructed otherwise.”

Their movement was slow, his rifle-mounted flashlight illuminated the stressed and heavily damaged internals of his ship, they traced lines across the cold steel of the walls. The ships onboard computer intelligence had entered hibernation mode to conserve energy for life support, which had been turned off.

They passed many sealed doors, eventually stumbling across the path he’d taken during his flight from the crash-landing space-craft. A guard at the rear scratched chalk in short intervals.

“In here,” he passed through the decontamination section, then into corridor 1-A of the cryogenic suite.

He sighed, the air was somehow oily, “there are four corridors just like this – one above and below. The second pair are located starboard, I’ll arrange the bodies – each of you take a crewmember, and get back to the others. I’ll need to thaw out these bodies manually, for that I need more power, so I’ll be two decks below this one, and aft. Understand?”

Stark Wing’s light crystal painted him in red and black, he nodded grimly, they all looked around fearfully.

The pair of crew members John pulled out first were formerly Knight Fenton and Lancer-Captain Marshall. They appeared to be sleeping and were cold to touch.

On the way, he’d passed the infirmary and snagged a dozen body bags, something he had hoped he’d not need. A unicorn guard used his magic to tentatively lift Fenton, he studied his face as it was covered – his form sliding inside the sleeve-like bag. Marshall followed into her own shortly after.

Lieutenant Hayseed stood stock-still while one of the bags was hefted onto him, the Unicorn guard placed the other on his own back and the pair set off.

John and the remaining guard looked at each other.

“Stay here and for the love-of-god don’t touch anything.”

Leaving her behind, he exited through a maintenance hatch, passing right and then left – he arrived at a ladder. Climbing through it, he was moving towards the formerly-lower level, he needed to go sideways to do that. The sound of hoof-steps faded eerily in the pitch-blackness, yet he wasn’t alarmed. He knew the Anlace well.

John passed through an intersection in remarkably good condition, as his weapon-mounted flashlight passed over the undamaged bulkhead he had a sense of Deja Vu. Had the last week not been fresh on his mind he could have mistaken it for just another battery of safety tests leading up to their maiden flight.

A once downward slope was above him, he climbed up into it and into an observation blister, he was now looking through scratched safety glass into the reactor bay.

The controls were dark, he activated his portion of the rooms back-up fusion cell, the entire ship was filled with them. The terminals booted up, he turned off his illumination. Rotating chairs remained bolted to the wall, with nothing out of the ordinary otherwise. Aside from being sideways.

The ship had artificial gravity. Although the technology was beyond him, he knew how to activate and concentrate the field around himself so that he might work more comfortably.

It would have been tricky to use the terminals whilst the wrong way up. So far, he’d managed to interface his pip-boy and was making startling progress. The forward anti-grav system came online without a hitch.

An odd pulling sensation began to drag him sideways, he rotated, landing quite softly on his back as he manipulated the power levels. He set his gravity cordon at .3 of Earths so as not to waste power.

He began the pre-start-up sequence needed to initialise the reactors. One would be non-functional as he had destroyed the housing while disabling the auto self-destruct.

Usually, the Anlace’s team of scribes and engineers would perform a well-choreographed set of manipulations to ensure the safe start-up of the spires. John didn’t have the knowhow or team to begin such a procedure, instead opting for robotic and computational assistance.

A Mr Handy Maintenance Technician bobbed out from within a protective housing, its single jet of propulsion sending it towards the one remaining salvageable core. It was a ball-shaped machine, three arms held semi-circular cameras like eyes above its fuselage, while three smaller arms dangled underneath, each sporting a different tool.

Its arms on its midsection cradled the internal pieces of the spire, calibrating them, preparing for the start-up sequence. Meanwhile, John warmed up the electrical conduits to bring power into this section, essentially rigging the multitude of back-up power sources into a constant flow with which he could feed into the reactor to get the ball rolling.

Fusion reactors needed an enormous build-up of juice to get them going, but once initiated the reaction could be maintained, outputting several times more than the spire had been fed with.

Fusion reactors are innovative imitations of the reaction at the centre of a sun and the stars. Hydrogen nuclei collide, fuse into heavier helium atoms and release tremendous amounts of energy in the process.

Although different isotopes of light elements can be paired to achieve fusion, the deuterium-tritium, or DT reaction has been identified as the most efficient for fusion drives. The S-10 reactor spire and similar Brotherhood devices use the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium to fuel the fusion reaction.

Deuterium can be distilled from all forms of water. It is a widely available, harmless and virtually inexhaustible resource. In every cubic metre of seawater, there are 33 grams of deuterium. It is routinely produced for scientific and industrial applications.

Tritium is a fast-decaying radioelement of hydrogen which occurs only in trace quantities in nature. It can be produced during the fusion reaction through the contact with lithium, however: tritium is produced, or “bred,” when neutrons escaping the plasma interact with lithium contained in the blanket wall of the tokamak.

A fusion reaction is about four times more economic than a chemical reaction such as the burning of coal, oil or gas. In the second half of the 21st century, humankind had all but depleted the easily available resources for power production on earth. Fusion power is a far safer, more economical and environmentally sound means of generating electricity.

While the computer ran simulations, John was busy scrawling through the ship's systems. The Anlace had sustained massive damage, the frontal third of the ship was simply gone, along with the anterior hanger and primary Artificial Intelligence.

The ship still had the stern-side fusion engines and a semi-functional array of chemical emergency-lift boosters, meaning he could probably get the craft off of the ground. Gravity was working here, but he could see read-outs where systems simply weren’t responding.

He had a look through the ships inventory. A pair of Jupiter-Class Cruise Missiles. The weapons were a new breed of guided missiles that could strike at terrestrial targets, they could deliver a large twenty kiloton nuclear-tipped warhead over long ranges with high precision. They travelled at high subsonic speed, are self-navigating, and can fly on a non-ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.

They were currently laid-up and disassembled in armoury B/2/1. Along with a combination of the Anlace’s heavier ordinance. A fifteen-meter-long rail-gun, the ships complement of four MK-IV b Sentry Bots, twelve Assaultrons and a single T-2 five kiloton man-portable fusion bomb.

One other armoury remained within the remnant of the ship; armoury B/1/0 that he’d raided earlier still held dozens of small arms, Gatling Lasers, missile launchers and Fat-Man tactical nuclear catapults. The only remaining armour bay contained suits of Power Armour, a repair station and storage for exoskeletal spares.

A technical bay contained additional systems for the ships automated complement, including several more Mr Handy Maintenance bots. John took a few minutes, running diagnostic checks and then instructing the hovering bots to flow through the ship, repairing what damage they were able. They could start with a basic clean-up, spot-welding panels and checking the ship's circuitry. He set their navigation to keep them off the trail the ponies would be traversing.

The maintenance bots would only be able to operate on their basic functionality setting until he could spare enough juice to feed the power-hungry secondary computer intelligence.

Alone in the dark, he heard a shuffling from his left. John aimed his laser rifle at the ground-side doorway and waited. A head poked through, marvelling at a bank of military-grade processors against the far wall. When it saw John, it made a ‘meep’ sound, ducking down slightly – and then clambering up once it realised John wasn’t a threat.

“I could have shot you,” John admonished. It was the chalk-bearer.

“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. Her ears splayed.

“I’m scared of the dark.”

John nodded, tapping at a few controls.

“Me too. Settle in, Guardsmare – this could take a while.”

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