Fiction: Afterlife (Chapter 21)

by Mike Monroe on July 28, 2014

in FICTION

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If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.

Photo by Jay Hood

Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.


Read the previous chapter here:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 20

Where:

Mavery Thomas is expelled from New Atlantis and Big Ed saves her from bandits.
Bobby and his companions leave the oasis and break down in the Dead Lands.
Horseman assassinates Willard Danby.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

View the Map here.

 

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 21

There was frantic knocking on the back door of Pete’s van.  “We have to let them in,” Abby said.  “They’re dying out there.”  She wished Einstein had something to say, but he’d stopped working again, along with all the other electronic devices.  At least Abby knew it was only temporary this time.

Pete frowned.  “I don’t like this any more than you do, but you’re more important, Abby.  We only have so much air in here.  If I open the doors to let them in, lots of air’s going to seep out, and they’ll use up some of what little air we have left once they’re in, too.”

Abby glared at him.  “Let them in now.  That’s an order.  Remember that you’re my employee.”

Pete shrugged, muttering something Abby couldn’t quite make out, and rushed to the back doors.  He quickly opened them as Sherry scampered under one of the benches to get out of his way.  “Get in quickly!” Pete said.  “We can’t let what little air we have escape!”

Bobby, Nat, and Pastor Earl clamored into the van as Pete quickly shut the doors.  They all gasped for air once they were safely inside and everyone found a seat.  Abby walked to the back of the van with the others and sat on one of the benches next to Bobby.  “So what now?” Nat asked once he’d caught his breath.

“Well,” Pete said, “it’ll take four hours for my solar cells to power up the batteries, and we’ll be out of air long before that.”

“It’s time to pray,” Pastor Earl said.  Nat rolled his eyes, but Abby said a quick prayer in her head.

“There has to be something,” Bobby said.  “I’m not gonna just sit in here and wait to die.”

“Who knows where we are?” Pete said.  “We could be fifty miles from the end of the Dead Lands, or we could be two miles from it.  Either way, when our air runs out, there’s not much we can do.  Earl’s right.  It’s time to pray.”

“Can we send up a signal or something?” Abby asked.  “If we’re close enough to the edge, somebody might see it.  Maybe somebody from South Edge.”

“Or bandits,” Nat muttered.

“Well it’s worth the risk,” Abby said.  “It may be the only chance we have.”

“I have some flares,” Pete said.

“Well,” Abby said, smiling at him, “get to it, then.”

Pete nodded and dug through a box in one of the overhead bins.  He produced a flare and soon opened the back door, lit the flare, and fired it high into the sky, closing the door quickly when he was done.  “Hopefully that will work,” he said with a frown.  “Even more air just escaped.”

He sat on one of the benches, joining the others.  Sherry was curled up on the floor beneath him.  Abby smiled, realizing the dog had no idea of the danger they were in.  She was just resting peacefully.  “Don’t talk anymore unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Pastor Earl said.  “We need to conserve air.”  Everyone nodded.

Abby walked up to the front of the van and sat in the passenger seat again so she could keep a lookout to see if anyone was coming after having seen the flare.  There were just the three sand bikes lying on the side of the dune and miles and miles of sand in all directions.  The sun seemed to be mocking her, shining as brightly as ever.  Abby thought about her father.  Perhaps she’d be joining him soon wherever he was.  She really hadn’t wanted to let him down.  She shook her head, trying to ignore the depressing thoughts.  Her head was starting to ache a little, so she opened her bag, took out four pills and a water bottle, and swallowed them down, drinking down lots of water afterwards.  If she was going to die, she at least wanted to die happy.  If it was obvious that no one was coming and she was having trouble breathing, maybe she’d take even more pain killers.  She shook off the thought and continued looking out at the desert, watching with very little hope of seeing anything other than sand.

The time passed and Abby was starting to have trouble breathing.  She opened her bag and looked at the pill container.  She didn’t have many left.  Just ten or so.  It might not have even been enough to make her unconscious.  Still, she considered taking the rest as breathing became harder and harder.  There was still no one in sight in any direction.  Just dunes and lightning.  She looked in the back of the van to see that everyone else was also breathing heavier.  She noticed some specks approaching far in the distance.  They were moving close to the ground, so they weren’t vultures.

As the specks came closer, Abby could see that they were sand bikes.  There were six of them.  She perked up, sitting straighter.  “Somebody’s coming,” she said, still breathing heavily.  She looked behind her to see everyone else nodding.  The bikes came quickly, and Abby frowned.  “Bandits,” she muttered.  They were wearing raggedy clothes with metal plates attached here and there like some sort of makeshift armor, and all six of them had laser pistols at their sides.  They were all wearing oxygen masks which were attached to tanks on the backs of their bikes.  Upon further inspection as the six sand bikes pulled up near the van and stopped, Abby could see that they were all wearing the silver stars of deputies over their left breasts.  They must have been from South Edge.  “What sort of town is this?” she muttered.  She still wasn’t sure what to expect.

The six men got off their bikes, took the portable oxygen tanks off the backs, and carried them to the back doors of Pete’s van.  Nat slowly opened the back doors, one hand on his .44 magnum in its holster.  One of the deputies handed him an oxygen mask and he put it on and started sucking in air.  The men handed masks to everyone else in the back, so Abby made her way towards them.  One of the men handed Abby a mask and she put it on, breathing in deeply.  Pete gave some of his oxygen to Sherry, too.  “We’re from South Edge,” one of the men said as Abby and her companions breathed in the oxygen.  “I’m Johnny Shines.”  He was a muscular black man with shiny gold teeth and dark sunglasses.  The other men introduced themselves also, but Abby wasn’t alert enough to catch all of their names, besides, Johnny seemed to be doing most of the talking for the group.

“Well thanks for helping us,” Abby said.  “We were probably goners if you hadn’t come.”

“We’ve got a battery, too,” Johnny said.  “We can recharge your vehicles.  Then, you can follow us into town.”

Nat nodded.  “Give us a minute.  We’re still recoverin’.”

Johnny grinned, his gold teeth shining, and nodded.  “Take your time, man.”  He and his friends walked back towards their bikes, leaving the extra oxygen tanks so Abby and her companions could continue using them.

“I don’t trust these guys one bit,” Nat said.

Pastor Earl chuckled.  “You don’t trust anyone.”

“And for good reason,” Nat said.

“Well, they just saved our lives,” Abby noted.  “Sometimes you only have one alternative.  We need to go with them.”

“There’s never just one alternative,” Pete said.

“Well,” Bobby said with a smile, “if our two alternatives are either go with them or suffocate, I choose the former.”

“Well put, friend,” Pete said, smiling back.

Johnny and his friends charged up the sand bikes and Pete’s van, and Bobby, Nat, and Pastor Earl got on their bikes while Pete started his van with Abby in the passenger seat.  Their oxygen systems were working again so they had no more need of the spare tanks.  They followed Johnny and the five other deputies as they rode over the dunes, heading southeast.  A dune the size of a small mountain appeared in the distance ahead.  Abby figured it was probably at least five hundred feet high or so.  She’d never seen a dune so high.  They approached and rode along the side of the towering dune, following it until they reached some rocky cliffs at the end of it.  A small city spread out beneath the cliffs.  As they rode into the city, Abby could see that the buildings weren’t kept up very well.  Most were brick, but some were sandstone, and many were missing sections of roof and windows.  Some had collapsed completely.  Others were boarded up and most were covered with graffiti.  As they rode through town, Abby noticed some graffiti that depicted a skull and crossbones symbol with the letters “IAO” painted over it, all in primary colors.  Something seemed familiar about it.

Many of the denizens of South Edge were out in the sandy streets and dirt roads, talking and laughing beneath the hot sun.  Most wore raggedy old clothes, but there were a few with more presentable attire.  Some even wore cheap suits.  Abby noticed there were lots of people leaning against the walls and others dosing off where they stood, wobbling back and forth like they were about to collapse in the street.  Looking closer, she saw some people who were leaning against a wall sticking needles in their arms while they chatted, as if they were sipping coffee or smoking cigarettes.  “What sort of city is this?” she muttered.

“A city that’s given up,” Pete said sadly.

Abby nodded.  She noticed that most of the people in the streets were either black or Hispanic, but there were some whites mixed in here and there also.  She’d never seen a city like this before.  It was so different from New Atlantis, where she’d grown up.  She noticed a line of men standing across the street ahead.  Johnny and his men stopped their bikes, and Pete and Abby’s other companions also stopped.  Abby and Pete got out of the van, and Nat, Bobby, and Pastor Earl took off their oxygen masks since the air was now breathable and got off their bikes.  The middle-aged man standing in the center of the line was a tall, thin black man who was wearing a purple trench coat and cowboy hat.  Like Johnny, he was wearing black sunglasses, and a well-trimmed beard covered his lower face.  He leaned on a cane with a gold handle as he smiled at Abby and her companions.  Several shiny gold necklaces hung from his thin neck and a sliver star badge shined from his left breast.  “Welcome to South Edge!” he said in a booming voice.  “I’m Skinny Hayes and this here’s my welcomin’ committee.”  He waved his free hand, signifying the men standing with him.  They all wore deputy badges, and like Johnny and his friends, by their attire they could have easily been mistaken for bandits.  “I’m the sheriff here,” Skinny continued.  “If any of y’all have any problems here, come see me.  We’ll set ya up in a nice hotel while you’re here.”

“We’ll pick our own place, but thank you,” Nat said.

Skinny nodded.  “Suit yourselves.  Still, if you need anything, come see me.”

“All right,” Pastor Earl said.  Johnny and his friends parked their bikes and walked with Skinny and the others to the sheriff’s office, which was a nearby three-story building with sandstone walls.

“I don’t like any of this,” Nat muttered.

“They saved us,” Abby said.  “We would have died in the desert if it wasn’t for them.”

“Have you seen the people here?” Nat asked.  “Junkies and criminals.  That guy’s not a sheriff.  He’s a gangster.”

“I’ll heed your warning,” Abby said, “but we need to get the diamonds that are here.  Once we’ve done that, we can leave.”  She spoke quietly and looked around to make sure no one was listening before she mentioned the diamonds.  Nat was right.  There were definitely criminals around, and Abby didn’t want any unscrupulous ears overhearing her mentioning of the diamonds.

<>

Pastor Earl heard a knock on his door as he unpacked his bags in his hotel room.  It was a cheap room in what was probably the dirtiest hotel in the dirtiest city in Numurka.  Earl drew his laser pistol and walked up to the door.  “Who is it?” he asked.

“Johnny Shines,” said the voice on the other side.  “Sheriff Hayes was wondering if he could have a word with you.”

Pastor Earl frowned and slipped his laser pistol back into its holster.  “What about?”

“He wants to talk theology.”

Pastor Earl had no idea how Skinny knew who he was.  If that was the case, there was a good chance he knew who the others with him were, too, including Abby.  Perhaps it was best if Earl went along with this to see where it took him.  “All right,” he said, opening the door.

Johnny and three other deputies were pointing laser pistols at Pastor Earl’s face.  “Now come with us, Pastor,” Johnny said with his shiny gold grin, “and there won’t be no trouble.”

Pastor Earl nodded and walked out of the room, following them down the dirty hallway, down the rickety stairway, and out through the front door of the hotel.  They walked down the dirt road, past the sheriff’s office.  “Isn’t that the sheriff’s office?” Pastor Earl asked as they walked past the three story building.  He could feel the barrel of Johnny’s gun in his back now as the other deputies walked in front of him.

“We ain’t goin’ to the sheriff’s office, Pastor,” Johnny said.  “We goin’ to Skinny’s mansion.”

Pastor Earl nodded.  “I figured there was at least one rich man living here.”

Johnny pushed the laser pistol harder into Pastor Earl’s back.  “We all do okay,” he muttered.

They walked around a bend and continued towards the end of the dirt road, where marble walls surrounded a huge marble mansion with gardens and statues surrounding it.  When the deputies opened the iron front gate and walked through, Pastor Earl saw a swimming pool surrounded by statues, and on the other side were the golden front doors of the mansion.  Women in skimpy bikinis were swimming in the pool and sitting around it.  Several of them winked at Pastor Earl as he walked by with the deputies.  The deputies walked Pastor Earl through the front doors of the mansion and he found himself in an opulent lobby with marble walls, twisting staircases, tapestries and paintings hanging everywhere, and a crystal chandelier the size of a car hanging from the marble ceiling.  They walked up one of the staircases and Johnny knocked on a mahogany door.  “Come in,” Skinny’s voice said from the other side.  Johnny opened the door and walked inside with the other deputies.  Pastor Earl followed them into a large office with an oak desk in the center and shelves of leather-bound books covering the walls.  Skinny was seated behind the desk with a muscular deputy standing at either side of him.  Sheriff Hayes motioned to a chair across the desk from him.  “Have a seat.”

Pastor Earl nodded and sat down as Johnny put his gun away.  “Why the guns?” Earl asked.

“We just wanted to make sure you came here,” Skinny said with a grin.  “We didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”  Pastor Earl didn’t trust Skinny as far as he could throw him.

Earl looked around at the bookcases and the expensive decorations on the bookshelves. There were hundreds of golden statues accented with gemstones.  “You seem to be doing pretty well,” Earl said with a smile.

Skinny nodded.  “I do very well.  I’m a businessman, Mr. Steadman.”

“So you know who I am.”

“I do.”  Skinny leaned forward.  “And I know Abigail Song is with you.  That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“What about it?” Pastor Earl asked.

“Well,” Skinny said, leaning back in his chair, “let’s not be too hasty.  Maybe you want to have some fun first.”  The deputies backed up, standing against the wall as four women in string bikinis entered the room.  There was a black woman, a white woman with blonde hair, a Latina woman, and an Asian woman, all with curvy figures and seductive smiles on their faces.  They were all gorgeous.  “Maybe you’d like some time alone with our ladies,” Skinny said with a grin.  “I have every kind of girl you could imagine.  Just tell me what you like.”

“No thanks,” Pastor Earl said, his expression serious.

“A man who don’t like bitches?” Skinny muttered.  “How about some coke then?  Some heroin?  We’ve got the best.”  Earl shook his head.  “Fine wine?” Skinny asked.  “We’ve got the best food in the world here.  Money?  What do you want?  It’s all yours.”

“I don’t want any of those things,” Earl said.

“Don’t try to act like you ain’t got no vices,” Skinny said.  “I know better.  I know you religious types still need some good tail every once in a while.”

“I do have a vice,” Earl said, glaring into Skinny’s black sunglasses with a serious expression.  “I’m a soldier, Mr. Hayes.  I’ve been trained to kill, and killing is my vice.”

Skinny chuckled.  “Well, Mr. Steadman, you’ll be doin’ none of that here.”

“So what is it you want from me?” Earl asked.  “Why did you bring me here?”

Skinny nodded.  “Down to business.  All right.  Ladies.”  He snapped his fingers and the four women left the room, closing the door behind them.  Johnny and the five other deputies continued standing against the bookshelves.  “Well,” Skinny began, “as you know, Herman Rennock wants Abigail Song dead.  It just so happens I work for Mr. Rennock, but I’m not averse to makin’ a little money on the side, if you know what I mean.”

Pastor Earl frowned.  “I’ve seen your town.  I know how you make your money.”

“I don’t appreciate your accusatory tone, Pastor.”  Skinny smiled and leaned forward.  “I’m no different than a political leader, Mr. Steadman.  They do all the same things I do.  They steal if it suits ’em, and they kill if it suits ’em.  They kill with armies, Mr. Steadman, one of which I’ve heard you used to be a part of.”

Earl nodded.  “So why did you bring me here?”

“Well, I’m expected to inform Mr. Rennock that Abigail Song is here.  Then, he’ll order me to have my men kill her, you, and all of your friends.  I have a lot of people who are loyal to me here, Mr. Steadman, so that won’t be very hard no matter how tough you all, including Nat Bigum, think you are.  Now, I give Rennock lots of money out of the generosity of my heart, so we got a very trusting relationship.”

“It doesn’t sound particularly trusting to me,” Pastor Earl pointed out.

“It’s built on money, Mr. Steadman, and money is the most important thing there is.”  Skinny grinned.  “So that being said, tell Miss Song that she has until tomorrow afternoon to bring me one hundred million dollars.  If she does, I’ll let you all go and pretend I never saw any of you when Mr. Rennock asks me about it.”

Pastor Earl frowned.  He figured they didn’t have much of a choice.  “Well, I suppose I could talk to her.  Why did you bring me and not her or someone else?”

“Well,” Skinny began, “you bein’ a man of God and all, I figured I could trust you.”

Pastor Earl nodded.  More like take advantage of him, probably.  “At least now I know why you brought us here and didn’t leave us to die in the desert.”

“We aren’t murderers,” Skinny said.  “I’ve never killed anyone unless it involved business, Mr. Steadman.  That being said, don’t try to double-cross me.  You mess with the bull, you get the horns.  Do you know who the most dangerous man in the world is?”

Pastor Earl looked at him with a confused expression and shrugged.  “As far as I know, there’s nothing more dangerous than a man who doesn’t care if he lives or dies.”

Skinny chuckled.  “And are you such a man?”

Pastor Earl nodded, looking into Sheriff Hayes’ sunglasses.  “I am.”

“You see,” Skinny said, “I disagree with you there, Pastor.  The most dangerous man in the world is the one with all the money.  With money comes power.  Herman Rennock’s got more money than I do, but I still got a lot.  I could wave my finger and a hundred men would come in here and lay your ass on the floor.  Wanna know why?  ‘Cause I pay ‘em to.  And I pay ‘em big bucks.  Money talks, Pastor.”

“Here’s the thing,” Pastor Earl said.  “If you or Rennock were to lose all of your money, you’d be nothing.  I have no money, and yet I’m still here, just as powerful as ever.  Strength comes from God, not money.”

Skinny snapped his fingers and pointed towards one of his deputies.  The man stepped forward, rolling up his sleeves to reveal a pair of robotic arms.  He took one of the golden statues off the nearest bookshelf, ripped it in half, and flung the two halves across the room.  “Strength comes from big muscles,” Skinny said, “and money buys big muscles.  Now, go tell Abby what I said.  Bring me one hundred million dollars by tomorrow afternoon.”  He gritted his teeth and glared at Pastor Earl.  “Or I’ll have my men kill all of you.  And if you try to leave, they’ll kill you on your way out.”

“How do I know you won’t take the money and kill us anyway?” Pastor Earl asked.

“You don’t,” Skinny answered, “but there’s a chance I’m tellin’ the truth.  And if you all don’t bring the money, you’ve got no chance.”

“I guess we don’t have much of a choice then,” Pastor Earl said.

“No, you don’t,” Skinny agreed.  “Johnny, see ‘im out.”  Johnny Shines stepped forward as Earl stood up from his chair.  Pastor Earl smiled and nodded to Skinny and followed Johnny out of the office.

<>

Horseman cut out all of the external stimuli.  Like he’d done so many times before, on so many missions, he ignored what was happening in the club, the beats of the techno and the shouts of the dancers, and listened to the cell he was holding.  “After this, come to Primrose,” the voice said.  “Now that we know Abigail Song is probably on her way here, we can start.  This is going to be the first battle in a much larger war.  The phoenix is rising.  Prometheus is here.”  Horseman nodded and hung up, placing the cell back in his pocket.  He walked back to the bar and sat on the stool next to Michelle.

“Business?” she asked.

Horseman nodded.  He wanted to tell her they were going to Primrose to possibly meet up with Abby and her companions, but he knew he couldn’t.  He always kept information about his missions from her, just in case.  “So now I just need to wait for my contact to meet me here,” he said.

“Do you know what she looks like?” Michelle asked.

Horseman shook his head.  “I just know she’s with the resistance here in Silver City.  Don’t ask me anything else.  You know I try to keep you out of this as much as I can.”

“I do,” Michelle said with a frown on her beautiful face.

Horseman’s right arm still hurt a little.  It was bandaged up where the laser had grazed him earlier.  Michelle had helped him clean it and dress it.  She’d always been helpful like that.  “I can’t wait until I get this meeting over with so we can enjoy the night life a little,” Horseman said, looking around at all of the beautiful girls in the club.  He eyed one in particular on the dance floor.  She was a short redhead with a perfect body and she moved with an easy flare while she danced.

Michelle grinned.  “You want to shack up with someone tonight, don’t you?”

“If it happens, it happens,” Horseman said.  “You can take care of yourself, right?  You’re always telling me you can.”

“What about Abby?” Michelle asked.

“What about her?” Horseman snapped.

“She seems like a nice girl.”

Horseman smiled and sipped his drink.  “You know me, Shelly.  I’ve never been a one woman man.  Besides, we’ll probably never see them again.  Even if we did, she was sort of weird around me at the end.”

“That would suck if we never saw them again,” Michelle said, sipping her drink as she eyed the dance floor.  “Bobby’s kind of cute.”

Horseman laughed.  “Bobby?  Really?”

Michelle nodded.  “Yeah.  What’s wrong with Bobby?”

Horseman was still snickering.  Michelle elbowed him in the side.  “Well,” Horseman said, “he obviously likes you, but he’s so nervous and awkward.  I thought you liked confident guys and girls.  And you always preferred girls, didn’t you?”

“I make exceptions,” Michelle said.  “I think he’s kind of cute when he gets nervous.  Besides, confident guys usually only want one thing, which is part of the reason why I prefer girls.”

“And you think he’s any different?” Horseman asked.  “I’ve got news for you, Shelly.  Pretty much all guys only want one thing.”

Michelle shrugged.  “Well I’m gonna go dance.”

“Rock the Casbah” by the Clash was playing as Michelle made her way out to the dance floor, moving gracefully to the music.  Horseman sipped his drink and watched as some guy tried to hit on her.  She said something that made the guy laugh and moved away, dancing with the redhead Horseman had been eyeing.  He looked around the bar, wondering if his contact was there yet.  The song was over and Michelle came back to her barstool as spotlights hit the stage above the dance floor.  A man in a suit stepped up to a microphone as the crowd cheered.  “We have a real treat for all of you tonight,” the man said.  “Della Luscious!”

He clapped and left the stage as a black drag queen stepped out and grabbed the microphone.  She was wearing a flowing silver gown, a purple feathered boa, and a thick afro wig, and her face was covered with gaudy makeup.  She started singing “I Will Survive” as dozens of people packed the dance floor.  “She has an amazing voice,” Michelle noted.

“She does,” Horseman agreed.  Suddenly, there was a man in a black suit sitting next to him.  Horseman looked down to see that the man had a laser pistol, partially hidden by his jacket, pointed at Horseman’s face.  Horseman was pissed at himself. He’d gotten distracted by the drag queen and he hadn’t noticed the two men. They were stealthy, too. The other one, also dressed in a black suit, was seated next to Michelle with a laser pistol jammed into her side. If it hadn’t been for that, Horseman would have tried to get away. He probably could have taken both men out easily. They were smart, though, getting Michelle involved. “Let her go,” Horesman muttered. “She’s got nothing to do with this.”

“See that’s where you’re wrong,” the man pointing the gun at Horseman said. “She’s got everything to do with this. Now come with us or you both die right here.”

Horseman gritted his teeth.  He’d always known on some level that this would happen.  “You touch her and I’ll kill you.  Somehow, some way, I’ll kill you.”

The man laughed and shook his head.  “We’ll be doing the killing if it comes to that.”  As Horseman and Michelle made their way to the exit with the two men, Horseman noticed the drag queen on the stage wink at him as she continued singing.


Continue on to the next chapter:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 22

Where:

Big Ed looks to rob some unsuspecting travelers.
Pastor Earl and Nat Bigum check out a local saloon.
Horseman and Michelle are interrogated by their captors.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

View the Map here.

Check out Michael Monroe’s page on Amazon to find other stuff he’s written.
Like Afterlife on Facebook to find out when the next chapter is posted.
Follow Afterlife on Twitter to get updates on new postings and other news.
Follow Afterlife on Tumblr for access to supplemental material.

Mike Monroe

Michael Monroe was born in Baltimore, MD and has lived there most of his life. He’s a poet and fiction writer whose preferred genres are Science Fiction and Fantasy, and he’s always had a thing for Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. His poetry has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, nthposition, the Lyric, Scribble, the Loch Raven Review, Foliate Oak, Primalzine, and various other publications.

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