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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
River buys a new suit. Inara studies economics. And who are these new guys?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2939 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
In that fuzzy, indefinable space between the Rim worlds and the Central planets was a lone brown dwarf star, scarcely more than a big jovian that hadn’t quite made it to stellar greatness by igniting a robust fusion reaction. It was called Leda.
It was being studied by astrophysical researchers, however, because there was some speculation that with some effort it could be “heated up” using gravitational mechanics, producing a red star that would be bright enough to justify terraforming a few of the six major planetoids that orbited it. Study had been ongoing for over a decade, now, and no concrete plan had yet been forthcoming. But the Alliance Solar Institute had credits to burn, so they didn’t mind staffing a small research site in the system.
That didn’t mean the system was unusable, however. While a brown dwarf might not be an ideal star under which to form real habitable worlds, there was nothing wrong with the number of asteroids in the system—many of which were impressively rich in rare elements. Combined with its strategic location, Crossroads Station – run by the Humboldt Corporation under contract to the Alliance Shipping Authority – was a moderately busy port. Over seven thousand miners, spacers, foundry workers, researchers and attendant merchants made their home here. And while Alliance patrol boats did come by periodically, Crossroads was still a decent place for a smuggler to put in to resupply, transfer cargo, hire crew, and refuel – if they were subtle about it.
It was here that Serenity docked to rendezvous with their contact.
“I’m still not happy about this,” Kaylee said, pouting, as she helped Mal wheel the huge crate through the serviceway between cargo locks.
“You’ll survive,” Mal grunted, secretly grinning at his engineer’s discomfort. “You want to entertain the alternative?”
“Ain’t like we can hang ‘em on a hook or nothin’ ‘till we get back,” Jayne growled. “If we bother to come back, that is.”
“Jayne Cobb, don’t even think about jokin’ like that,” Kaylee warned.
“Just sayin’, life might come at us a might easier, we don’t bother to make the pick-up,” he said through gritted teeth.
“For you, maybe,” Kaylee said, adamantly. “Okay, maybe for the whole crew, some ways. But you remember that next time your own blood is fillin’ your shoes, an’ you got a belly-full of lead.”
“I’m just sayin’. Just ‘cause you got a bad case o’ slug trails for the pretty boy, don’t mean we all gotta get teary at the thought o’ a Tamless ship.”
“Enough with the names, Jayne,” Mal warned. “We got enough troubles without you invitin’ them aboard.”
“Hell, we’re getting’ rid o’ the biggest ones we got,” he said, purposefully steering the dolly into a corner with a thump. “Oops. Did I do that? I’m so clumsy when I’m giddy.”
As they rounded the corner, the next airlock was standing open, and two familiar figures stood by, waiting for them. They both shouted greetings the moment they saw the Serenity crew.
“Malcolm, m’boy! Mighty fine to lay eyes on you again!” Duncan MacKlintock boomed as he skirted the crate and clasped the Captain’s hand warmly. His son, Tinker, grinned widely as well, but knew better than to get in the way of his elders. “Kaylee, sweetheart, I swear you get purtier by the moment! Sure you don’t wanna be wife number three? And Jayne,” Duncan said, struggling with an appropriate compliament. “Guess you got . . . meaner in our absence.”
“Not far from wrong,” murmured Kaylee as she received a warm bear hug from the trader.
The MacKlintocks were a sprawling extended family that inhabited the trader called the Sky Hawk, an ancient freighter that they used to ply the spaces between the far-flung Rim worlds. They were a kind of flying general store, and more than once they had helped Mal and his crew out of jams. While not technically a criminal (if one didn’t mind a bit of honest smuggling) the MacKlintocks were friends or acquaintances of many who did ply the trade – occasionally buying loot that would raise eyebrows with more civilized folk. Duncan and his brother Devon owned the enterprise, but it was crewed by Duncan’s two wives and the older among his nine – soon to be ten – children.
“I’m just tickled we were in the same part o’ the sky this time out,” Duncan boomed.
“We ain’t puttin’ you out none, are we?” Kaylee asked, before Mal could get in a word.
“Not at all, sugarbeet, not at all. This is on our regular run, or not too far out from it. Day or two at most. Not like we’re real particular ‘bout schedulin’. Not what you would call stifled by over-organization. Glad to have you – and your cargo.”
“I surely appreciate y’all doin’ this,” Mal said, nodding, as he motioned Jayne to maneuver the crate down the ramp into the vast cargo hold of the Sky Hawk. Other crates, barrels, bags, and bales of random-seeming merchandise littered the hold, with meandering pathways between providing access. Once the crate and crew had made it inside, Tinker cast a cautious eye up and down the corridor, and then closed the outer hatch.
“Just wheel it over yonder, Jayne,” Duncan grunted, pointing to a clear spot not too far from the cargo entrance. The big mercenary did just that, although it wasn’t the smoothest landing, as the crate landed with a thud.
“We gotta open it?” he whined.
“Jayne—!” Kaylee warned.
“All right, I’m doin’ it!”
He pulled back the two steel clasps that held the top of the container on, and swung it open to reveal two Tams, slightly mussed from the ride.
“You drive like you . . . do everything else,” Simon said, smoothing out his hair. River was quiet, but did not look pleased.
“Up to me, we’d just leave you in the airlock,” Jayne growled back, “and good riddance.”
“Did you try to hit every bump in the corridor?”
“Simian,” the doctor breathed.
“No . . . Jayne,” the big man said, pointing to himself. “You . . . Simon,” he said, pointing in elaborate pantomime.
“Come on you two, time to . . . I guess ‘de-crate’ is the appropriate term,” Mal said, offering his hand inside.
Simon took it, and then helped River escape the box. He turned to Duncan and shook his hand. “I can’t thank you enough for this,” he said, pumping it firmly. “How’s the pregnancy coming along?”
“I s’pect you’ll know your ownself afore long,” Duncan said, philosophically. “But if the last few weeks is any indicator, she’s doin’ fine: mean as a rabid bitch in heat. Makin’ everyone’s life pure hell,” he added, proudly. “Young ‘un’s gotta be a boy.”
Simon looked at River, who was peering around the room, her eyes darting from object to object without seeming to traverse the space in between. “Don’t count on it,” he said, dryly. He pulled his medkit and his bag out of the crate, then unloaded the laundry duffle River had “acquired” from the posh Hotel on Epiphany and was now using as luggage. Inside was most of her clothes, an abacus she had become taken with, and a little over ten thousand credits, artfully folded into a flock of cranes. Jayne looked hungrily at the bag, but one pointed look from River and he promptly found other things it was wiser to covet.
Mal looked around – the Sky Hawk was packed with merchandise, two generations’ worth of mercantile residue, the remnants of a thousand trades and three dozen worlds. Only Duncan knew – more or less – the totality of what the ship held. But if you had coin in your pocket and needed something, Duncan McKlintock was most like to have it.
“Duncan, hopin’ I can do some trade while I’m here.”
The pudgy man took off the fisherman’s cap he wore and scratched his shaggy head. “Might could. Whatcha need?”
“Don’t rightly know.”
Duncan looked surprised. “Usually, folks come in knowin’ what they want. But I ain’t about to turn away trade with an optimist. Can I interest you in a stuffed moose?” he said, looking hopeful.
“The whole moose?” asked Jayne, intrigued.
“Top half,” admitted Duncan.
“I would be if there was a burnin’ market on the taxidermical arts on . . . Wuhan, or there ‘bouts.”
“Just hypothetically. Need a good reason t’be there.”
“Hmmm. Bide. Let me think on that a moment.”
“At your leisure,” agreed Mal. “While you give that one a think, I got a list o’ sundries I could stand to have, and would rather spend my coin with a friend than a Company.”
“And not pay Alliance sales tax,” Duncan added shrewdly.
“Ain’t my business if you pay taxes,” Mal replied, a small grin on his face. He handed over the list, and Duncan scanned it quickly, before handing it off to Tinker with a nod. “I can help you out, and at a fair price.” He wasn’t lying. Duncan traveled in orbits where a merchant was only as good as his reputation, and his was sterling. Even when the merchandise was less than legitimate. He wasn’t above a little friendly haggling, but usually the price he gave wasn’t far off the price he’d take. He was honest as a merchant could be – to anyone who wasn’t an Alliance Revenue officer. Then he was the slickest liar in the Black.
“I’m lookin’ to sell a couple o’ things,” Jayne said. “Three guns.” He unslung the bag he carried and took out three packages, wrapped in rags – the two guns he’d taken from the Tong and the pitiful Han Cobra .22 rip-off he’d liberated from the stupidest mugger in the universe. He’d told Mal and Zoe how he got the thing when they asked – and they couldn’t stop laughing. Duncan was likewise unimpressed.
“I gotta sell ‘em,” he lamented. “My other ladies was startin’ to gossip. Ain’t fit to be in my arsenal, for truth. But while I think they’re crap on toast, some shitheel on the back side o’ Bumfuck Moon might just see their homely worth.” Duncan reluctantly agreed, and gave him a decent – probably generous – trade in 9mm and .45 ammunition, which he sent Tinker for when he brought back the dry goods Mal had ordered.
“If that’s all the free enterprise for the evening . . .” Simon said, “we’d—”
“I want to buy something,” River interrupted.
“What?” Simon asked.
“What?” Jayne asked.
“I’d like to engage in some shameless commerce. I want to buy something I saw here last time.” River looked serious.
“Anything I got for sale is on th’table,” Duncan admitted. “’Cept room ‘n’ board, ‘cause y’all are my guests.”
“Exceptin’ guns and knives, too,” Jayne added with fervor. River favored him with an evil look. “An’ explosives. Poisons, too.”
She turned back to Duncan. “I want the Amazon-Explorer EVA-rated pressure suit, women’s size small, that you have in the aft cargo compartment, third section down, third shelf up.
Duncan raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Ain’t you learned up. Matter o’ fact, I do got one – though I can’t properly say what size it is—”
“Small,” River and Tinker said in unison. Duncan looked from one to the other and grunted.
“Well. Little girl, I’d like to part with that suit – that ain’t no lie, it’s been gatherin’ dust back there since Tinker was a tyke – but that suit cost me a pretty, an’ I ain’t seen its like Rimward. I’d have to charge you at least . . . at least seven thousand, and that’s sacrificin’ my heart on the altar o’ friendship, it is. It’s a real fancy thing, darlin’, made for prospectin’. Now I got Rowan’s old suit, a good sturdy Ambassador Utility, not more’n ten year old, that’d fit you like a glove, and I’d let it go for . . . twelve hunnert.”
“I want the Amazon-Explorer,” River stated, her eyes darting dangerously.
“Darlin’ that suit ain’t never been used! It’s still inna box! And seven grand is as low as I could possibly—”
“I pay eight five, just like you’d charge anyone,” she said. “I have it right here, in cash,” she said, brandishing her laundry.
“River, I don’t think—” Simon said, alarmed. He hated EVAs, and spacesuits, and everything associated with them. He regarded his sister’s habit of taking a stroll through the naked Black as an insane perversity.
“That she does,” interrupted Mal, who never lost a chance to see Simon uncomfortable. “Can’t get in the way of a fair bargain. Get the lady a suit.”
Duncan went so far as to ask to see the cash – and remarked on its artistic condition – before sending Tinker to go get the thing.
“This,” Simon declared, red in the face, “is a monumentally stupid—”
“It’s my money,” River said flatly, looking at him with disdain. “I won it. Not touching my cash you’re holding.”
“That’s not the point,” Simon said, exasperated.
“I don’t blame her,” Kaylee interjected. “Some of those old suits we got – they have this . . . smell . . .”
“It has independent jet controls,” River explained happily. “Steering.”
“Young lady, you are not going outside without a line, and that is final!” Simon said sternly.
“Ni male ge bi!” River spat.
“Hey! She’s your mother, too!”
“I know,” River said, looking disgusted.
“Ain’t they cute when they wrassle?” Jayne said with a smile.
“Gosh, I’m gonna miss that,” Mal agreed.
“Seein’ as how you’re stayin’ here,” Duncan said, eyeing the Tams a little less enthusiastically, “I guess Tink can show you how to rig it,” he grunted, after counting out the appropriate amount of cranes.
“You given any more thought to Wuhan?” asked Mal, when Tink ran off.
“Huh? Oh. Wuhan. Yeah, that’un’s a pit, it is. Looks like a border moon, all arid and steppe-y. Can’t believe it’s been settled more’n two hunnert years. Got one decent mountain range, no oceans t’speak of. Whole ball o’ dirt ain’t more’n fifty-five hunnert miles across. Got some factories, some herding . . .” he trailed off, his mind moving fast as he recalled every scrap of information he’d ever heard of on the Sinic moon. Finally, he snapped his fingers.
“I got just the thing,” he declared solemnly. “Follow me.”
He led them back into one of the aft lockers, a large one, and one that received much less use than the compartments closer to the hatch.
“Got these years ago, afore the war,” he said, shaking his head in wonder. “Never thought I’d get rid o’them. Let you have ‘em cheap.”
Mal just stared. “You’re serious?”
“Yep. You’ll sell every one – or I’ll buy ‘em back. Got ‘em . . . well, ain’t rightly sure where they come from, originally. I got ‘em as part of a tea deal with Sanjay Babu, o’er on Santo. They raise somethin’ similar there, in the jungles.”
Mal just stared, speechless, for a moment. Then he closed his mouth, looked at Duncan, and nodded. “I’ve a notion that’ll do,” he said, warming to the idea. “It’ll give us a reason t’be there, at least.”
“Those are . . . the tackiest lookin’ . . .” Jayne began, then ran out of words.
“I think they’re pretty,” Kaylee insisted. “So colorful!”
“I will say one thing,” Simon offered. “You’re likely to have a corner on the market.”
“It’ll work,” Mal said. “’Bout the strangest cargo I ever took . . .” he looked dead at River. “And that’s sayin’ somethin’.”
Inara was worried.
Not for herself – or even the crew, who seemed well-rested and relaxed after their holiday – except maybe for Jayne, who seemed a little disturbed, but that was nothing new. Likewise, she didn’t feel worried about this latest adventure – or young Johnny Lei, the handsome young man who had hired them.
Inara was worried about the future of the Alliance.
The Alliance was the epitome of human civilization. The Core worlds, Sihnon, Londinium, Osiris, Isis, Yuan, Ariel, and the others, they were the foundation of the Alliance. They were where the roots of the civilization arose. All the technological marvels they boasted, all the high culture and society, all the wealth, was concentrated there. All the Rim world economies put together were less than the annual economic activity of, say, Londinium alone.
So why were the elite preparing to abandon that base? It didn’t make sense.
She had studied economics in the guild house – a good Companion needed to be conversant with the affairs of her clients – and she knew how things worked at the highest levels. Some of the things the Ginger Group had asked about, they were telling questions. And some of the things they didn’t ask, that was also telling.
She had spent the last two days on the cortex looking for clues. And they were there, when you knew where to look.
Sudden divestment in certain stocks or properties. Sudden investment in others. The moribund security industry, the munitions and shipyards the Alliance counted on for supply, they were getting the lion’s share of the reinvestment. Terraformation and Rim development, trans-stellar shipping, even simple manufacturing – all traditional growth industries – they were receiving short shrift. It was as if the Alliance was preparing for war. No, not the Alliance – the movers and shakers who owned the corporate interests that ran the Alliance through Parliament.
An even closer study of some of the individual transactions was equally disturbing. There seemed to be a handful of corporations making the deals. Takata, Ltd.. Horizon Consolidated. General Electric Holding. Blue Sun. HoNoMa Corp. Systel Systems. Lloyd’s. Others.
But where was the threat? What could possibly spur such developments, when these transactions went back years – back to before the last war? There was no sign of insurrection – the factions from the last war were irrevocably broken.
Aliens? The thought made her giggle. No intelligent signal had ever been discovered in centuries of looking. And even the “alien life” that had been discovered on a bare handful of worlds was barely above the microbial level. No, an alien threat was more remote than a real Second Coming.
It didn’t make sense.
She needed an expert in economics. Luckily, their planned trajectory towards Wuhan put her within striking distance of a few civilized worlds where she might find one, one who knew what she wanted to know.
She scanned the guild database, cross-referenced it with the three worlds she could reach by shuttle, and she came up with a handful of names.
Carefully sorting through them, she ignored her usual criteria for selection and looked for the kind of man who might have his finger on the economic pulse of the ‘verse. Eventually, she found it, and recognized the name as a previous client – long, long ago, when she was still a novice, but they had had some good times. She could easily see him as knowing what was happening.
She placed the wave, and waited for three different servants and a secretary to pass her up the chain to him. Finally, his narrow, high-browed face appeared on the monitor.
“Inara? Inara Serra?” he asked, astounded.
“Hello, Heflin. It’s good to see you again.” She gave him her warmest smile.
“I can’t believe – it’s been, what, almost a decade?” he as astonished, but pleased.
“Eight years,” she agreed. “I was in the neighborhood . . .”
“So I see! Are you . . . available?”
“My calendar is free at the moment. If you would like to spend some time, I think that could be arranged.”
“Inara Serra,” he said, speaking her name like a magical spell. “I heard you had left the guild.”
“No, just the guild house. Long story. I’m traveling, now, seeing the ‘verse a little. How have you been?”
“Oh, absolutely smashing! I got married a year ago, and couldn’t be happier!”
Inara’s heart sank a little. Usually men dropped off the rolls when they wed. Perhaps one of her alternates . . .
He apparently read her face, which he shouldn’t have been able to do. “Oh, that doesn’t preclude a rendezvous – quite the contrary. I think she’d be quite . . . intrigued. After a year the newlywed aura is starting to wear. And she’s quite the . . . adventurous type. I’ll ask, of course, but go ahead and pencil me in!”
“Are you sure, Heflin?”
“Absolutely! My dear, you are legendary! I wouldn’t pass this up if I were wed to the Princess of Merovingia! Which I’m not, in case you were wondering. Look, we’re on a station orbiting Verbena right now, one of my playgrounds. If you’d like to stop by, I’d love to retain you for a few days!”
“I’d really enjoy that, Heflin. I look forward to meeting your new bride,” she added, slyly. She had an idea where this was headed. Heflin had a thing for “adventurous” women. She signed off after agreeing to the contract, then steeled herself for the difficult task of informing Mal.
She was starting to hate that part. The look in his eyes . . .
He looked like she felt. And that couldn’t be good. Not for her, not for her career, not for him.
“Take a look at this,” Sinclair called out to his partner. Julian wandered over, a cup of coffee in his hand, a bored expression on his face. “Just came in from our codesource – Games and Amusements, of all places. It’s that girl.”
“I thought you said that was a long shot,” Julian said, eyebrows raised. His balding head and pallid cheeks obscured the view a little when he bent over the screen, spilling a little bit of coffee on Sinclair’s lap. The older man jumped just a bit – he was used to his partner’s sloppy ways.
“Long shots sometimes pay off,” Sinclair said, a smile starting to cross his face. “What’s this one worth again?”
“Quarter mil,” grunted Julian, staring at the report. Satisfied, he straightened. “And should be easy. No war-criminals or mob bosses this time. Teenaged girl.”
“Yeah . . . River . . . Tam. The super-genius. Bounty’s from Parliament, direct. No crime listed, but it was some research deal gone bad, I think I heard.”
“She’s probably a rogue scientist, or stole some data or something. A quarter mil, though,” Julian said, philosophically. “That’s . . . that’s quite a bit for a teenager. Even a genius”
“If we get her brother, too, then we double it. A cool half-mil for an easy pickup,” Sinclair said, lacing his fingers under his chin.
“If it was so gorram easy, how come no one has collected on it in 8 months?” Julian asked. He could smell trouble a lightyear away. That was one of the things that had made him a good bounty hunter. That and a keen business sense.
“Early was on this one,” Sinclair murmured. “Rotten son-of-a-bitch. Hasn’t been seen in three months.”
“God, I hate Early,” Julian said, his voice a growl. “Remember how he . . . raped those two little girls to get their daddy to surrender?”
“He’s a foul piece of work,” Sinclair agreed sincerely. “You know what he’ll do to her. Bounty says ‘Dead or Alive’. Might as well say ‘Dead or Brutally Raped’.”
“He’ll get his someday, mark me. Karma. I wonder . . .” Julian said, scratching his head. “How long does it take Early to usually get his man?”
“There was that midget,” Sinclair pointed out. “That took four months.”
“Yeah, and he’s been on this one twice as long. Interesting.”
“He never shuts up about that gorram midget,” Sinclair muttered. He looked up. “You think there’s more to this than meets the eye?”
“That’s what I’m thinking. Can you bring up the file?”
“Already done. Here.”
“Oh, now I remember her. Studied physics, some kind of prodigy. Older brother, Simon Tam, unmarried, trauma surgeon. Parents on Osiris, no contact. No close friends or other known associates. She likes to dance.” He patted Sinclair on the shoulder. “That was good thinking, plugging into the games network. How many have completed the game?”
“One in three million players. The report says that it would take a master-class dancer to beat it. She fits the profile. ‘Excels at everything’ it says it says in the file.”
“Not many of those out there. Where is it? Londinium? Boros?”
“Uh . . .” he checked. “Someplace called Epiphany. Three days ago.”
“Where the hell is Epiphany?”
“Here . . . let me bring it up . . . there. Rim world, but it’s a guarded-orbit community. A Restricted resort moon for rich assholes.”
“Maybe she got a rich boyfriend?”
“Maybe. But don’t forget her brother is a doctor. They make a bit. Machine was installed five months ago. Leased by a subsidiary of the local Company.”
“Good. Can you give me a map?”
“There you go.”
“Ai ya! That’s pretty rutting remote. Nothing out there but rocks, Reavers, and disgruntled Browncoats.”
“Still, it’s a lead.”
“It is at that. And a hot one. Any possibility she’s still there?”
“Last firm report of a possible positive ID was on . . . Ariel. In a hospital, with her brother. Months ago. That one was taken by . . . Blue Sun Security. They apparently killed a bunch of purplebellies getting away. Had some merc with them.” He brought up a flat video of a young man pushing a teenaged girl down a corridor.
“Pretty girl. Handsome kids,” Julian admitted. “From Ariel to Epiphany in four months. That’s pretty fast, for a fugitive. Couldn’t be on public transport. Hard to stay under the radar. Any other possibles?”
“Well . . . there is one. Surveillance of a private security area on a space station . . . Vajra sector. Interpol-Vajra was watching the rent-a-cops on this station as part of a corruption investigation – there had been some complaints. They put in an independent video system to keep an eye on them. There was some trouble. We got a . . . 42% possible.”
“Get me the footage.”
“And . . . done. Let’s see this possible.”
For four and a half minutes they watched. Sinclair’s throat got tight. Julin’s face got pale as they watched a little geisha girl enter the station, say a few words – and then kill or incapacitate everyone in the room within two minutes. She spent the next two minutes drawing on the wall with her victims’ blood. Sinclair felt sick as the geisha straightened her wig and left.
“That’s . . . is it her?”
“Biometrics says a definite ‘maybe’ – the costume is obscuring her too much for a positive.”
“With that crappy camera? Not a chance.”
“What about the dance machine. Any match there?”
Sinclair checked, and smiled. “We lucked out. The machine takes a biometric reading as part of the routine. Matches 99%. It’s her – or her twin.”
“Isn’t that interesting.”
“Indeed it is.”
“Half a mil, you said?”
“For both. Don’t forget the brother. He was on Ariel. For her, just a quarter. Maybe we could squeeze out some bonus money?”
Julian stared at the monitor which was frozen on the back of the geisha’s head, just as she was about to throw the chopsticks in her hair into the throat of a cop across the room. “It isn’t enough. Not by half. Not if she’s responsible for that.”
“There is a bright side,” Sinclair pointed out.
“She may have ended that gan ni niang Early. She’d be doing the ‘verse a favor.”
“You said it. He gives bounty hunters a bad name.” Julian sighed. “Where do we start?”
“I’m guessing Epiphany. If this is three days old, we should jump on it.”
“Epiphany. Right. I’ll break orbit, lay in a course. You tell the boys to get ready. And Sinclair?”
“Good work on this. Good thinking. She was bound to trip up eventually – and it was her dancing that did it. There’s got to be some kind of irony there.”
Thursday, September 22, 2005 5:17 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2005 8:10 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2005 8:39 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2005 9:55 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2005 10:08 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2005 10:38 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2005 3:06 PM
Friday, September 23, 2005 9:07 AM
Friday, September 23, 2005 11:17 AM
Saturday, September 24, 2005 6:15 AM
Wednesday, November 09, 2011 10:53 AM
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