Mission: Implausible

by JohnPerry

Chapter 2: Paradise City

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“Ah, San Franciscolt! The City on the Bay!” Vinyl Scratch cried out, standing on her hindlegs and opening her forehooves wide towards the skyline of the city, as if to embrace the scenic view before her.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Octavia yelled over the fierce, cold wind that swept across the bay, drowning out all noise except for the motor of the large ferry boat that they were riding.

“I SAID, ‘AH, SAN FRANCISCOLT, THE CITY ON THE BAY!’” Vinyl repeated, screaming to make herself heard. Her friend nodded, squinting her eyes as another gust of wind rushed at them.

Despite the wind and the cold, the sight before them was a truly splendid one. Vinyl and Octavia stood near the bow of a ferry carrying them from the train station in Spokeland across the bay to the peninsula that contained San Franciscolt proper. If one positive thing could be said for the chilly wind, it was that the two mares felt far more awake now after their long overnight train ride from Canterlot. All around them was the spectacular scenery of the bay and the biggest city on the west coast between Los Pegasus and Vanhoover. To their right was green, mountainous terrain, with the small island of Alcatrotz and its infamous prison sitting in the foreground. Spanning the opening to the sea was the breathtaking Galloping Gait Bridge, an orange-painted structure which looked massive even from miles away, its two towers standing like giants eternally guarding over the bay.

Directly in front of the boat was the city of San Franciscolt, its tall buildings seemingly hugging the shoreline while sitting in the shadow of the many hills surrounding them. The whole city seemed to be composed of hills, one rolling into another. In the distance past downtown, the two mares could just make out the outline of a three-pronged radio tower poking out above a fog bank that was rolling in from the ocean beyond.

The tall buildings of downtown seemed to rise above them as they sailed closer to the city, approaching the gleaming facade of a short, wide building facing the water. It was lined with arched windows, with the words ‘PORT OF SAN FRANCISCOLT’ spelled out in neon lettering atop the roof. A tall, ornate clock tower protruded out of the center of the building, dominating over the structure. They slowly crept towards land, finally reaching the dock with a halting stop that nearly threw some of the passengers standing on deck off-balance. Vinyl and Octavia retrieved their luggage and joined the long line of passengers waiting to get off the boat.

“So where are we staying at?” Vinyl asked as the line inched forward.

“We were assigned a room in the Maremont Hotel,” Octavia recited from memory. “I believe it is in the Cob Hill district.”

“Ooh, fancy,” the DJ remarked as they stepped off the boat and back onto dry land. “I hear those Cob Hill places are pretty ritzy. Let’s hurry up and get there, I’m starving.”

Sixteen bits for a danish?!” Vinyl cried. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

It was a quick taxi ride from the ferry terminal up Cob Hill to the Maremont Hotel, which lived up to the neighborhood’s reputation. The grand exterior was made of solid stone, with pilasters, an arched entryway and an ornately decorated cornice adorning the top of the building. Inside, the lobby was lavishly decorated, with marbled floors and columns, warm lighting, potted palms, plush couches and gilded decor adorning every corner of the room and much of the ceiling. Once they had separately checked in and left their luggage in their respective well-appointed rooms, Vinyl found Octavia and led her down to a small cafe adjacent to the lobby, only to be horrified by the high prices.

“There is no way a pastry could be that expensive!” the DJ said, looking at the menu board. “What, do you sprinkle gold dust on it?”

“Stop making such a scene,” Octavia growled, nudging Vinyl in the side. “So the pastries are expensive. Get something else then!” She scanned the menu board for a moment before pointing out a different item. “Look, the coffee here isn’t much more than in Canterlot,” she commented before turning to the cashier. “We’ll take a large one with cream and sugar.”

“That’ll be an extra four bits for the sugar and three for the cream,” the cashier told Octavia.

WHAT?!” the grey mare exclaimed. “That is completely ludicrous! How could you possibly justify charging such exorbitant prices?”

“Ah, to heck with this,” Vinyl grumbled. “Come on Octy, let’s find some real food,” she said, pulling Octavia towards the door and exiting onto the busy street in front of the hotel.

The views from atop Cob Hill were spectacular, with incredible sightlines down each street looking down at the bustling downtown with the bay visible beyond, or one of the other residential neighborhoods nearby. The fog they had seen coming in from the sea had started to reach downtown, lending a moist chill to the air and obscuring the very tops of the tallest office buildings. Every few minutes a cable car would make its way up or down the middle of the street, bells chiming and wheels creaking as it was pulled uphill by the underground cable or race downhill in a rapid but controlled descent. There were no less than three other cafes and bakeries within eyesight of the hotel entrance, but each one proved no more reasonable than the one they had just left.

Vinyl’s stomach growled as she started marching east, downhill towards the bay. Despite her growing hunger, she stubbornly refused to back down in her search for a cheap eatery. “This whole neighborhood is overpriced! Well then Cob Hill, if that’s the way you want it, we’ll look elsewhere!”

“You know, bits aren’t exactly an issue for us,” Octavia pointed out.

“Oh no, I’m not picking some place that thinks that it can pull one over me!” the DJ announced, sounding almost insane as she continued to make her way downhill. “If we want real food, we have to go where the locals eat!”

“Why do I see this ending badly?” Octavia muttered with a sigh.

“Because you’re a stick in the mud,” Vinyl said with a smirk. “Now come on, I saw something on our way up here!”

They proceeded downhill, with Octavia pointing out several more restaurants, but strangely the more hungry Vinyl got the pickier she became. She began glancing at each place her friend indicated, dismissing it with increasingly arbitrary reasons like “too formal,” “looks pricey,” “I’m not in the mood for something cold” or “meh.” Octavia rolled her eyes at Vinyl’s stubbornness, knowing from previous experience that Vinyl would not rest until she found someplace suitable, which usually wound up being some greasy, hole-in-the-wall diner that the cellist refused to set hoof inside of.

“Here we are!” Vinyl cried triumphantly after they had trotted several blocks downhill, gesturing at an ornamental gate that spanned a narrow street heading north. Octavia started, realizing she too had seen this from the taxi ride on the way uphill. The gate, like many of the buildings down the street on the other side, was done in the architectural style of the Canternese, with a stone base and columns holding up a green-tiled, multi-tiered roof. A carved pair of snake-like dragons adorned the top of the gate, while two stone lions seemed to stand guard on the street. Upon the gate were words in foreign lettering, consisting of skilled calligraphy instead of standard Equestrian script.

“What do you hope to find in he-hey, wait!” Octavia yelled, running through the gate to catch up with Vinyl, who had set off into the neighborhood. The street was crowded with figures, who would occasionally have to press up against the sides of the street to make way for a carriage passing up the middle of the road. But it wasn’t just ponies in this crowd; though most of the figures were equines, there were also creatures Octavia had only seen in book illustrations. Hovering above the crowd with the pegasi were longma, which looked like pegasi but with a dragon’s head and scales covering its hide. Mingling with the ponies on the ground were qilin, who looked like the longma but instead of wings had horns or antlers atop their heads. Their manes and tails seemed ethereal, but unlike those of the Equestrian princesses, which moved as if caught in a gentle breeze, the hair of the qilin had the flickering quality of flames. Indeed, it took the cellist a moment to realize that they weren’t on fire.

There was much to look at here; so much that Octavia had trouble taking it in all at once. Red, globular lanterns hung from strings suspended over the street, not yet illuminated due to the daylight. The shops they passed held all manner of exotic crafts, from paper lanterns even larger than the ones overhead to sculptures carved from jade and huge sheets of parchment hanging on the walls that were covered in more examples of the calligraphy that seemed to adorn every building. Narrow alleyways branched off from the street, giving Octavia a glimpse at life in this neighborhood: clothes hung out to dry from lines draped over the alleys, elderly ponies sat on chairs in front of their doorsteps conversing in a foreign tongue or playing some sort of board game with tiles that made little clicking sounds each time they were placed on the table. Fire escapes were attached to the facades of almost every building in sight while electrical wires joined the strings of lanterns hanging over the street. The combination of all these individual scenes and sights gave an overall feeling of barely contained chaos.

“Looks like pastries aren’t much cheaper here,” Octavia commented, glancing at the prices in the window of a small bakery. Vinyl, however, wasn’t paying attention.

A-ha!” the DJ cried out, gesturing at a narrow, three-story building sandwiched between its neighbors. The door on the ground floor opened into a bustling kitchen. Above the door was a simple sign that read ‘LAM WO.’ “This place looks perfect!”

“Um, Vinyl? I believe this is a kitchen,” Octavia pointed out.

“Well, yeah...but it’s also a restaurant! ...I think,” Vinyl added in an uncertain tone. “Hey!” she called at the chefs inside, who looked up at her. “Is this a restaurant?”

“Yes!” one of them cried in broken Equestrian, smiling at Vinyl and Octavia. “This place for eating! Come, upstairs!” she said, gesturing towards a staircase at the back of the narrow, cramped kitchen.

“Awesome!” The white mare was about to walk in before being held back by her friend.

“You can not be serious,” Octavia muttered. “This place looks filthy! What kind of restaurant makes you walk in through the kitchen?”

“Obviously some place that’s so confident in their food, they’ll let you watch them make it!” Vinyl exclaimed. “Come on!”

“Oh no,” the grey mare said resolutely. “There is no way that I-hey!” she yelped, feeling herself being dragged inside by the force of her friend’s magic. “Let me go!”

“Nuh-uh,” the DJ replied, grinning. “We’re gonna get you some real food if it kills you!”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Octavia grumbled under her breath. Vinyl led her through the greasy kitchen and up a steep, very narrow wooden staircase to the second floor, where a waiter was waiting in a dining room which, like everything else in the building, was narrow, cramped, covered in a layer of grime and contained only the most inexpensive, bare-bones furnishings possible. On one side of the room was a small elevator shaft used for carrying plates of food up to the dining room from the kitchen. Vinyl chose a table at the front of the room, with her back against a dirty, obscured window that looked down on the street. Octavia reluctantly took a seat opposite her as the waiter handed them their menus.

“Hey, could we get some fortune cookies while we wait?” Vinyl requested.

“No forchun cookie,” the waiter said bluntly in a heavy accent, gesturing at a sign which had a long list of items that weren’t allowed, with ‘fortune cookies’ placed prominently at the bottom. “Onry genuine Canternese food.”

“No fortune cookies?” the DJ repeated, looking dismayed at the news as the waiter placed two mugs and a steaming pot of tea on their table before leaving to serve a large, chatty group of ponies sitting in the room. “Well...if I must, I suppose...”

“We’re sitting on uncomfortable chairs and are being served by somepony who barely speaks Equestrian in an establishment with highly questionable standards of hygiene, and your main concern is whether they have fortune cookies?” Octavia said incredulously.

“I like fortune cookies,” Vinyl shrugged, scanning the menu.

“What’s more, I don’t know what half of this stuff is!” the cellist complained, looking at her menu.

“Well, just ask the waiter what it’s made from,” the white mare suggested, frowning as she tried to choose from one of the many items on the menu.

Octavia glanced up at the waiter, who was currently in the middle of a loud verbal disagreement over the check with a lone longma on the other side of the room. “Um...I’ll just get some noodles,” she said nervously before serving herself a cup of tea. She inhaled the aroma before taking a delicate sip. It was green tea. Not the best she had ever tasted, but not too bad either.

“You ready?” the waiter asked, returning to their table.

“Ah heck, I can’t decide,” Vinyl grumbled. “Can we just get one of each of these?” she asked, running a hoof along an entire section of the menu labeled ‘dim sum.’ The waiter nodded and took their menus while Octavia raised an eyebrow at her friend.

“One of each of them?” she asked skeptically.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got the tab!” Vinyl declared. “The food here is so cheap!”

“That wasn’t really what I...forget it,” Octavia muttered, looking away. She noticed a poster attached to the wall that had step-by-step instructions on how to rescue a choking victim, complete with diagrams. She hoped neither of them would require this information by the time the meal was over.

“Hey Octy,” Vinyl said quietly, her voice suddenly sounding much more serious, causing the grey mare to look over at her attentively. “I don’t want to alarm you, but I think we’re being followed.”

“Huh?” Octavia replied, suddenly tensing up and not daring to turn around, lest she give herself away. “But who would be following us? We just got here! We haven’t even done anything yet!” she whispered urgently.

“I dunno, but she’s definitely following us,” the DJ answered in a grim tone. “Orange pony, big poofy mane. She just walked in and sat down on the other side of the room.” Octavia realized that she had assumed Vinyl had been looking at her, but with her goggles she was probably staring past her shoulder at the mysterious pony. “And I know I saw her in the hotel lobby and walking behind us down the street.”

“And what are the odds that a pony staying at such a fine hotel would come to a run-down restaurant like this?” the cellist said with a knowing smile. “So that’s why you came in here!”

“Wha?” Vinyl replied, sounding confused. “No no, I came in here because I want to try this place out!” she answered cheerfully.

Octavia could only respond with a blank stare.

As it turned out, the food was actually quite good, proving far better than the humble (again, ‘squalid’ seemed all too apt a term for the cellist) atmosphere suggested. But Octavia couldn’t focus on the taste with her mind occupied by the mare sitting behind her. They had ordered far too much food for two ponies, but that gave them an excuse to linger and sample dishes. Vinyl asked the group of ponies sitting nearby if they wanted any of their food, which led to some loud but upbeat conversation, mostly about music and where the good nightclubs in San Franciscolt were. All this time, the strange mare was still sitting there. Octavia had managed to get a good look at her for a second; the mare had a pale, yellowish coat with a brilliant orange mane that was done up in curls. On her flank was a cutie mark depicting a trio of carrots.

Eventually the two mares got up to leave, paying their tab as Vinyl wished the group of ponies well. The orange mare held a newspaper over her face as they walked past on their way downstairs. The DJ cheerfully thanked the cooks as they left, exiting back out into the crowded street.

“Is she still behind us?” Octavia whispered as they paused for a second to look at one of the many shops lining the street.

“Yep,” Vinyl answered, discreetly glancing back.

“We can probably lose her in this crowd,” the cellist suggested.

“Yeah, but then she might just wait for us at the hotel. If she was in the lobby, she might not know which rooms are ours. I say we make it back before she can,” Vinyl said with a grin. “Follow me.”

The two made their way back down the street, pushing through the crowd. Eventually they reached the ornamental gate they had passed through earlier. A cable car on its way uphill stopped in the middle of the intersection, letting a number of ponies off as a few more clambered on.

“Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Vinyl began, slowly making her way down the sidewalk. “When I say so, we’re gonna jump on that cable car and get on the running board. Ready?”

Octavia nodded, giving a sideways glance to see that the orange mare was in fact still following them. She glanced over at the cable car, watching as the operator took a few coins from the new passengers before returning to the middle of the vehicle, grasping a large lever in his mouth and pulling it back with a loud crank.

“Now!” Vinyl breathed, dashing for the car just as it started to move again. Octavia was hot on her heels as she managed to leap onto the running board and grab a hold of one of the poles along the side of the vehicle with her forehooves, clutching it as the cable car suddenly angled steeply uphill, nearly throwing her off-balance. She clung to the pole, watching as they quickly passed carriages merely inches away from where she was now standing.

“This can’t possibly be safe!” Octavia cried, cringing as another cable car went past them, the occupants on its running board seeming precariously close as they rushed past downhill. Vinyl levitated a couple of bits over to the irritated-looking operator, chuckling at her friend’s comment.

“So says the pony who puts herself in danger all the time,” the DJ chortled.

“I’m trained for that! But this is a vehicle meant for the safe transportation of ponies! This is madness!”

Despite the apparent madness, they made it up to Cob Hill without incident, getting off (very enthusiastically in the case of Octavia) just a block away from the Maremont Hotel. There was no sight of the strange orange mare as they made their way back.

“This is why it is good to check in to different rooms,” Octavia commented. “You enter through the lobby, I’ll walk in through the cafe.” Vinyl nodded and they split up, heading for the separate entrances inside.

On her way upstairs, Octavia considered the strange mare. She had certainly been following them, but for what purpose? Perhaps she was working for their employer, checking up on them? But the Equestrian government had seen no reason to tail them in the past. Besides, she didn’t see the rationale; what could she and Vinyl have accomplished after only a few hours in this city? But who else would have known they were coming to San Franciscolt?

The cellist reached her room and opened the door, glancing around her room. Octavia casually shut the door behind her and pulled the curtains closed before giving the room a thorough search, looking under the lamp shade, behind the curtains, under the bed, in the closet and anywhere else where any recording equipment could have been hidden. Finding nothing, she relented and sat upon the bed, reaching into her saddlebag and retrieving her dossier, flipping it open and pulling out an envelope labeled ‘FOR REVIEW UPON ARRIVAL.’

Inside were two sheets of paper: one a detailed map to a location on the harborfront complete with pictures of a warehouse and the other a briefing explaining the significance of said warehouse. Her eyes quickly scanned the document, key phrases leaping out at her as she read. There was suspected cartel activity here. A constant movement of goods under the watchful eyes of ponies. Very watchful eyes. Their mission would be a simple scouting mission, to get a sense of just what was going on here. There was also contact info for a local informant who claimed to have details on the cartel.

Octavia was suddenly aware of a quiet buzzing coming from one of her bags. She glanced at her luggage, realizing what it was and opening her saddlebag to retrieve a small device that was the source of the buzzing. It was small and rectangular with a speaker on the front and a strap on the back that allowed it to wrap around her foreleg like a wristwatch.

She pressed down on a small button on the top. “Did you look at the information?”

“Just finished reading it,” Vinyl’s voice came out of the speaker. “Should we go scout out the target?”

“Let’s wait until evening,” Octavia suggested, glancing at the clock in the room. “It’ll be quieter then. That, plus I would like some time to digest that meal, in case it makes me sick,” she muttered in a dark tone.

“Fair enough,” the DJ responded with a chuckle. “And what about our contact?”

“Let’s find her tomorrow, after we get a better sense of what’s going on here.” Finished, Octavia pressed the button again to shut off the device before glancing at the cello case she had brought here from Canterlot. She set the three-digit code on the lock of the case and opened it. There before her was her cello, still in pristine condition.

But more importantly for the moment was her bow, sitting in its holder above the cello. Octavia slid a hoof under one side of the case, popping open a secret compartment which held a long, thin blade. With skilled precision, she set the blade within the length of her bow, smiling as it snapped into place. She held the sword in her grasp, savoring the feeling of the carved wooden handle and the weight of the blade. Oh, she could handle any sword she wanted to, but given her long-time skill with a musical bow, this sword just felt right. A harmonic combination of both her worlds, resting within her hooves.

It was nighttime now and Octavia and Vinyl were crouched atop an apartment building situated on the slope of a hill overlooking their target. Above them perched on top of the hill was Colt Tower, a white cylindrical structure that shone like a beacon in the darkness. Lying before them, just a couple of blocks away, was the long series of piers and adjacent warehouses that made up the waterfront.

Vinyl tapped the side of her goggles, which promptly turned dark green to allow her to see in the dark. Octavia heard the silent ‘wrr!’ that indicated when the goggles’ zoom function was activated. The cellist was once again wearing dark clothing that obscured her features. Her cloth mask and bodysuit were not pure black but more ebony in color, to blend in with the ambient city light after dark. Vinyl, interestingly enough, took the opposite approach to disguise, taking advantage of her natural complexion to make herself as light colored as possible, which came in handy when she was stationed on roofs that were often painted white. A simple, temporary disguise spell was all it took to make her cutie mark seemingly vanish, leaving her flank as white as the rest of her coat. Her mane took on a more silvery tone, still leaving a hint of blue. She also carried a saddlebag, where she stored her most useful inventions.

“Looks pretty easy,” the DJ commented as she scanned the warehouse. “A few guards posted at the gate, a couple walking around the back...How do you want to tackle this? By water or by land?”

“Let’s take this one by land,” Octavia answered. “There is no need to get wet if it is not even difficult to get in.” Vinyl nodded and reached into her saddlebag, pulling out a metal device which opened up into a hook attached to a length of rope. The cellist took it as she retrieved her musical bow, which had the string replaced and could now serve as a different kind of bow. She took the hook in her mouth and pulled it tight against the string, narrowing her eyes as she examined her target, making note of where the rope would be obscured by shadow and where they had the best chance of approaching without being noticed.

After a moment, she let the hook fly with a sharp ‘twang!’ of the string and the two mares watched the hook sail into the air with the rope trailing along behind it, falling downhill before striking the roof of the warehouse and catching hold. Vinyl took the other end of the rope and used her magic to secure it to the building they were currently standing upon. Each of them then attached a small handle to the rope, grasping onto it as they leapt off the rooftop, racing down the makeshift zipline. None of the guards noticed as they sailed by overhead, landing easily on the warehouse roof. Vinyl wrenched the hook out of the roof and touched her horn against the rope, causing it to come to life and untie itself on the other end before quickly levitating it back to her. The DJ smiled as she wrapped the rope back up and tucked it away in her saddlebag; the pony who showed her this spell may have been a blowhard, but that traveling showmare did have a few good tricks up her sleeve.

“Right then,” the DJ said, approaching a utility box on the rooftop, which was shut closed with a padlock. Vinyl scoffed, levitating a pair of bolt cutters out of her saddlebag. Within seconds, the padlock was in pieces on the ground and the utility box was open.

“Forced entry, it’s an easy feat...” Vinyl sung to herself as she scanned the inside of the box with her magic, reaching out into the electrical systems to detect which wires went where and what their purposes were, searching for the wires that powered the burglar alarms. Finally, she unplugged two wires and turned to her friend with a satisfied grin. “...and magic makes it all complete!”

Octavia rolled her eyes and crawled to the edge of the roof, peering over the side to make sure the coast was clear. Satisfied, she slipped over the edge onto the top of one of the wide windows of the warehouse. She glanced inside, looking for any guards before drawing her bow and taking off the string, reattaching the blade before sliding the bow against the windowsill and cracking it open. Vinyl had done her job well, as no alarm went off from her action. She gracefully leapt inside, silently closing the window behind her.

Inside, it looked like a normal warehouse. She was standing on top of a tall stack of crates, giving her a view of the large room she was in while shielding her from sight of the guards. A few of them paced between rows of high stacks of large, burlap sacks which took up most of the space in the warehouse. To the side, a few carts were sitting alone, near a set of large double doors. A small office near the doors caught her attention, as she hoped it would provide a trove of documents, but from here it looked like merely a guard station, occupied by a single stallion leaning back in his chair, listening to the radio and flipping through a magazine with a bored look on his face.

Octavia tapped the communicator device on her wrist before whispering into it. “Wubs, are you there?”

“Read you loud and clear, Symphony,” Vinyl’s voice replied, using the codename they adopted for these situations. “What’s in there?”

“It looks like an ordinary warehouse,” Octavia said, looking around. “Just stacks of crates and large bags.”

“What’s in the bags?”

Octavia glanced down to make sure no guards were coming before gracefully leaping down into a narrow aisle between two stacks of burlap sacks. She drew her sword and cut into one bag, watching as a considerable amount of white grains fell out. She caught a few of them in her hoof, giving them a careful lick.

“Sugar,” she muttered before glancing at another stack of bags, these ones labeled with a different color. This time a small cloud of white puffed out into the air as Octavia stabbed her sword through the bag. “And flour,” she added, whispering into her communicator. “For a city where baked goods are so expensive, there seems to be plenty of flour and sugar to go around.” She looked around again to make sure nopony was approaching. “Still, what are we going to do now? There’s no documents or leads here, just legal goods.”

“I suppose we could place some tracking devices on the bags, just to see where they wind up. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Vinyl suggested.

Octavia sighed. “I don’t see what other choice we-”

“Why, hello there,” a clear, nonchalant voice said from behind the cellist.

Octavia froze, realizing with a start that she had been caught. “How is that possible?” she thought. “How can anypony sneak up on me? Me, an agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service!” She swung around, brandishing her sword and putting on a fierce glare, which promptly turned to a look of shock once she realized who it was.

There was no mistaking the tan unicorn stallion in front of her. He had a slicked back brown mane and a tuxedo with a red bowtie. Upon his flank was a cutie mark of a donut while his suave face wore a look of complete smugness.

Mane,” Octavia growled through her mask.

The stallion smiled. “Con Mane.”

Author's note: Once again, my thanks to RTStephens for proofreading this chapter for me. Additionally, I want to thank Fireseeker and his story We're Going To Need A Bigger Boat, where I got the puns 'San Franciscolt' and 'Galloping Gait Bridge.'

Also, before I forget - clearly after reading this chapter you'll want to hear this.

Next Chapter: Secret Agent Mare Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 24 Minutes
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