Private Affairs 9-04 (Summus Proelium)

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It definitely wasn’t hard to have fun at this party. Amber (or her mother, rather) had seriously gone all out for it. And I knew why. A little over a year earlier was when Amber’s father had been killed by that hit-and-run driver. So, obviously, Amber hadn’t really been in much of a birthday party mood when her sweet sixteen came around. This whole thing was probably her mother’s way of trying to make up for that and help her daughter move on or something. 

The point was, there was definitely effort put into this, and it showed. The whole place had been rented out. There were batting cages, go-karts, bowling, a full arcade area with several VR stations, a room for laser tag, and so on. I knew I wasn’t the best judge as far as money went, but renting this whole place out had to cost a fair bit, right? Especially on a Saturday night.

There were also a lot of people here. It felt like a good portion of our grade had shown up, along with some other members of Amber’s family and maybe some from other schools or something. Lots of other teenagers running around, yelling to one another and visiting with the birthday girl herself. She was super-busy the whole night. I hoped she was having a good time herself. She seemed to be, it was just that every time I looked that way, she had a whole crowd of people around her. 

So yeah, it was impressive. And just a lot of fun in general. I spent a couple hours completely mostly forgetting about everything else while focusing on using the camera that Amber’s mother provided to take pictures of everyone to use as reference for the drawings later. I even saw Izzy enjoying herself. She seemed to get along with Amber, Jae, and the others pretty well, whenever they interacted. Izzy still didn’t talk very often, and she wasn’t doing much, if anything, with the debit card I’d handed her. But she was definitely having a good time, and that was the important part. 

Also, Jae was really good at the go-karts. Like, crazy good. As I stepped out of my own kart after she beat me in a best two-out-of-three contests (I was debating about whether to go for best three-out-of-five or something), I glanced that way to the other girl getting out of hers. “Where the heck did you learn to race karts like that? Are you an Indianapolis 500 driver in disguise and you’ve just been playing us this whole time?” Pointing at her, I fake-demanded, “Are there cameras around here watching me get schooled by a stunt driver?” 

With a faint but visible smile, Jae shook her head. She took the helmet off and reached out to set it back on the rack before looking to me once more. Her voice was soft. “Lots of Mario Kart?” 

“Aha!” I pointed at her. “I knew you were a ringer. I demand a new challenge at the ping pong table, where I may reclaim my lost honor, or something.” Dramatically moving my finger from the girl herself to the arcade room, I added a bit more casually, “But first, we grab more pizza?”  

She agreed, and the two of us moved to the room where the food was. There were several long tables laid out with basically all the junk food in the world on them. Finding some pizza, we loaded a couple plates. As we were finishing with that and stepping away, food in hand, Jae looked past me. Immediately, I saw the expression on her face go from casually happy and enjoying herself to incredibly guarded. It was like she’d flipped a switch and was closed off. 

Confused, I glanced over my shoulder and immediately understood her reaction. Standing there, staring at both of us with a small smirk on her face, was Elesha Carver. She was a black girl from our school, and I was pretty sure she was basically to Jae what Paige was to me. 

Okay, maybe not exactly the same. At the very least, I was really hoping Elesha wouldn’t also turn out to have some unexplained immunity to memory erasing, and be holding onto secret information that she refused to share but could potentially take down an entire underworld criminal empire. Because that kind of coincidence at this point would just be silly

But she was definitely a bitch. Which was a fact she proved an instant after opening her mouth, with a sly, “Heeeey, Jae. I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t we string you up to the ceiling and then bounce strobe lights off your skin. You’d make a great party decoration, you know?” 

My mouth opened as several not-so-polite retorts leapt to mind (as well as the urge to punch her), but before I could say anything, another voice spoke. “Out of curiosity, exactly what level of lack of self-awareness does a black person have to have to talk about stringing someone up?” 

It was Paige, speak of the devil. She wasn’t paying any attention to me. She might not have even noticed me, to be honest. All of her focus was solely on Elesha, as she continued with a flat, “I mean, there’s being a completely incomprehensible moron, and then there’s being stupid enough to be black and mock someone for their fucking skin color, you ludicrous twat.”

Was this a bad time for me to speak up and say something about how it was equally stupid to hate (and spend years mocking) someone for being short and not fitting some classical idea of adult beauty? Because I felt like that was a really good opening for it. But I resisted, because this wasn’t about me. It was about making sure Jae’s night didn’t get ruined by this bitch. 

“You know what?” Elesha was retorting, “Fuck you. At least I’m not some kind of freak.” She said that, of course, while giving Jae a disgusted look, her mouth twisting hatefully in a way that made her look even nastier than she already had. “I’m not a mutant albino walking abortion.” 

“You know what else you’re not?” That was Amber, having extricated herself to come up from behind the other girl while she was talking. “Invited. As in you were never invited here.”

I could see by the expression on Elesha’s face that she’d already realized she’d made a mistake by picking this argument right now. But, of course, she didn’t back down. Shooting a glare toward Amber, she retorted a bit heatedly, “You invited everybody, remember? You put those invitations up all over the goddamn school. I’m pretty sure one of the fucking janitors is here.”  

“The janitors are cool,” Amber informed her. “And if you’ll take a quick look at any of those invitations, you’ll see that it says quite plainly, ‘All People Welcome.’ You, you’re not a person. You’re basically mucus, and I don’t want mucus at my party. It’s gross. So why don’t you leave?” 

For just a moment, I had the terrible feeling that a fight was going to break out. I had no idea if Amber would even do if Elesha took a swing at her, to be honest. Actually, I didn’t know what I would do if someone took a swing at me in here. I couldn’t exactly use my powers like I would in costume. I could paint the skin under my clothes and be careful about how obvious I was with the boosts, but even that felt risky. Honestly, the safest thing to do if something did start would probably be to let myself get hit, then just drop to the floor and stay there. 

In the end, I never did get to find out if Elesha would have backed off or not. Because just as this whole situation seemed to be right on the cusp of boiling over, someone called out from the far side of the large room, by the televisions, “Hey! Hey, shut the fuck up, it’s a Collision Point!”

That immediately shut down everything else that was going on. Everyone turned away from what they were doing. And I did mean everyone. The entire room grew completely silent, save for the televisions as we all moved closer. They were already changing the channel to match the one that the middle one was on, a channel that showed a serious-looking anchor talking. 

“Where?” Amber asked quietly, stepping up beside me while staring intently at the screen. “It’s not…?” She didn’t finish that sentence, trailing off instead. But we all knew what she had been about to say right then. Here. She had been about to ask if it was happening here in Detroit. 

Someone else, I wasn’t sure who, answered with, “Not here. Not this time. It’s Salt Lake City.” 

Sure enough, the anchor had a picture of Utah projected beside him, with a marker showing where Salt Lake was as he said something about the Collision Point starting near a library.

“Anyone know if they’re dealing with Stalkers, Wanderers, or Hidden?” Paige asked from somewhere behind me. I still didn’t know if she’d even noticed my presence yet. 

In answer, the guy who had called everyone over replied, “It’s Hollow and Grote Slang.” 

“One Hidden, one Stalker,” someone noted. “At least it’s not two Stalkers. They’re the worst.” 

Yeah, they were probably right. Two Stalkers hitting a Collision Point was bad. All Collision Points were bad, regardless. But those were bad on a whole other level. 

Collision Points. That’s what we called it when two Abyssals ran into each other and started a fight. See, when an Abyssal first… manifested or whatever, they were stuck in a single monstrous form. It was usually pretty big, between ten to twenty feet or so, and looked distinctly not human. That was what a lot of people had thought Cuélebre was at first, a new Abyssal.  They had no real intelligence at that point and just attacked everything around them. Which was also how people figured out that Cuélebre couldn’t be a new Abyssal, because he definitely had control. New Abyssals lashed out at everything and tried to do as much damage as they could. 

But it was worse if they managed to survive long enough to evolve to the second stage. First of all, second-stage Abyssals shifted back into a mostly or even entirely human-looking form. Some people said it was to recharge or something, but no one really knew. They simply went from being giant monsters down to looking like they had before their initial transformation. 

That was where the three classifications came in. Stalker, Wanderer, or Hidden. Stalkers were those who actively remembered what they were, liked it, and hunted for others of their kind. Wanderers were those kind of in the middle, the ones who had vague ideas or recollections, maybe dreams about doing bad things. They tended to… well, wander. They were drifters who went from town to town, simply staying on the move. According to a couple rare interviews that had been taken from a coherent Wanderer or two, they always felt the urge to keep going. It was like they were being pushed to look for something, but they had no idea what.  

Yeah, while Stalkers were actively malevolent and often did their best to hurt and kill people even in their human form, Wanderers could sometimes actually be spoken to, if you happened to know what they were. There were recorded interviews with Wanderers, who always just seemed… pretty out of it, like they barely understood what was going on. A lot of people dismissed them as mentally handicapped. Which hadn’t exactly done wonders for how actual mentally handicapped people were seen, that was for sure. They always spoke in a slow, somewhat dream-like voice, like they were partially in a trance. 

Then there were the Hidden. Those were the people who had absolutely no idea what they were. They went about their lives completely oblivious to the fact that they could transform into a huge monster at any given moment. 

The Hidden went about their lives as normal as possible. The Wanderers… wandered, drifting from place to place in their endless and unexplained search for whatever they were looking for. And Stalkers tried to locate any of their kind so they could trigger a fight. 

Because yeah, that’s what they did. Abyssals, when they encountered one another, fought. When two second-stage humanoid Abyssals touched one another, they would transform into their monster selves. Then they would set about doing their level best to completely fucking massacre each other. There was no love between any of them, no cooperation. There was nothing but violence and death, as they would hurl themselves at one another, doing everything they could to kill not just the other Abyssal, but anything that happened to get in their way. 

That was what we called a Collision Point. Two or more Abyssals who found one another, touched, and turned into huge (sometimes gigantic) monsters intent on beating the living shit out of each other, even if they had to rip apart buildings and massacre dozens or even hundreds to do it. At that point, they would fight either until one of them killed and absorbed the other (which basically seemed to make the winner take on some of the loser’s traits and powers while getting even bigger), or until something  (like a local Touched team) forced them to withdraw from each other. 

So yeah, to put it simply, Collision Points weren’t fun. They usually ended up with a lot of damage being done to the city they happened in, as the dueling Abyssals threw around absurd levels of destruction in their attempts to kill one another. Even Wanderers and Hidden, once shifted into their Abyssal forms, turned basically completely rabid and tried to destroy or kill everything between them and their opponent. 

Once enough damage was done by other Touched, or one of them managed to kill and absorb the other, the fight would be over. Once that happened, any of the surviving Abyssals would simply disappear. The… understanding was that they were transported somewhere else and returned to their human forms. Wanderers resumed their old mental state, while Hidden completely forgot what they had just been doing. Or maybe they had false memories. It wasn’t clear, and it was pretty hard to get that kind of information. There had been one short interview with a Hidden Abyssal who managed to be captured and locked up, but it wasn’t very enlightening. And he had vanished pretty soon after that brief discussion. 

Pencil, of course, was the leader of the Scions of Typhon. Typhon was a Stalker Abyssal, one of the largest, most violent, and most… successful in North America. He had killed and absorbed multiple other strong Abyssals. In one such fight, he’d basically leveled the majority of Waunakee, a small town in Wisconsin. A third of their roughly fifteen thousand residents were killed in that, while almost all of their buildings ended up uninhabitable. It was… bad. A lot of these Collision Points were bad. 

That was why no one was playing any more games or arguing. We all stood there, watching the news in silence as they showed footage of the local Utah Touched teams trying to deal with Hollow and Grote Slang before too much damage was done. 

Of the two, Hollow was the small one. She was pretty tiny, as far as Abyssals went, standing ‘only’ about eight feet tall. She was fairly humanoid too, though her skin was pitch black and oily. Really, her entire body seemed to be made of oil shaped like a person. She had only vague facial features, impressions where her eyes should have been. And she didn’t have permanent arms. Instead, any number of arms would extend from any point of her body whenever she happened to need them. 

Grote Slang, on the other hand, was far different. He was one of the bigger Abyssals, and definitely not humanoid. In his monster-form, he was basically a giant snake. And by giant, that was a snake a hundred feet long and as wide around as a city bus. Wicked-looking tusks came out of the snake’s mouth, curving up with venom dripping from them. Worse, he had two actual trunks, like an elephant’s, one leading off of each side of his head. The trunks were about a third as long as his body but could stretch to about half, and were used to grab prey and drag them up to his mouth. 

Yeah, like his mythological counterpart, Grote Slang was basically a cross between an elephant and a giant snake. It was bad. Really bad. 

We all watched on those screens as the news reported on the ongoing fight. None of the other guests tried to play any games or anything. We just watched as the Touched tried to stop too much damage from being done. They were… about as successful as they could be. Several full buildings and houses were still either heavily damaged or outright demolished, and a couple city blocks weren’t going to be safe to live in anytime soon. But the authorities reacted quickly enough and managed to get somewhat lucky in separating the two and doing enough damage to make them pull back. Didn’t kill either of them, but they at least managed to stop things from getting a lot worse than they could have.

At some point in all that, Izzy had found me. We stood there together and I had ended up taking her hand without really thinking about it. Once it was over, I glanced down, then looked over to where she was still staring at the television. “Sorry, we didn’t have to… watch all that. Are you okay?” 

Her head nodded slowly. “I wanted to,” she assured me quietly. “And yeah, I’m okay.” Strangely, she did sound okay. She didn’t seem too freaked out by all that. 

Glancing nearby, I could see Amber’s mom talking to her. It looked like this whole thing was about to be closed down for the night. Which was just as well. After watching all that on the news, it was clear that people weren’t just going to jump right back into playing games. Yeah, it had been almost two thousand miles away on the other side of the continent. And yes, they’d managed to contain things before too much damage was done. But even in that near-best case scenario, at least a few dozen people had still died. They wouldn’t have a real count until tomorrow, at the very least. Still, it wasn’t great. 

Abyssals were bad. When they found each other, bad things happened. Buildings and sometimes entire swaths of land were destroyed. Lots of people died. It was horrific.

And after watching something like that, even on the news from so far away, well… a lot of people didn’t feel like partying anymore. This sort of thing happened every once in awhile. Sometimes it was better and sometimes it was worse. But it was never good. 

Some of us stayed, mostly talking about either the attack or other attacks. A few drifted off to try to distract themselves with other games. From the corner of my eye, I saw Paige glance down at her phone. An annoyed look crossed her face before she turned and walked away, heading for the restroom corridor. With a quick look around to make sure no one was paying attention, I slipped away too, trying to follow her without being noticed. 

Reaching the area where the bathrooms were, I saw Paige step inside the women’s restroom. I carefully moved closer, stopping right next to the door. Through the crack, I could hear her talking. 

“Yeah, behind the library on Woodward, got it. I said I got it. When? And you better be exact, Pat, because my father’s contact windows are narrow. Specific coordinates, specific times.” 

Wait, what? What was she talking about? Paige’s mother and father were right here in the city. She talked to them every day. So… huh? 

The other girl continued. “I’ll be there. Yes, I know. Three hours and six minutes. Yeah, something tells me complaining about how late it is wouldn’t do much good. 

“After all, Breakwater’s an inescapable super-prison. It’s supposed to be hard to call out of.” 

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15 comments

  1. Wheeee, explanations about how Abyssals work! Well, some explanation anyway. Clearly, there’s more to this story than the public has been able to work out over the past twenty years. Just what is the actual deal there? What are the Wanderers searching for? Why do they all get teleported away after a Collision Point to hide their identities? Weeeeeeeeeelllll stay tuned to find out in a future chapter! 😀

    Anyway, thank you all so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, it would be amazing if you could vote for this story on Top Web Fiction by clicking here. And your tags are: Amber O’Connell, Cassidy Evans, Elesha Carver, I’m Sure The Fact That There Can Be Abyssals Who Don’t Know They’re Abyssal Until Touched By Another One Will Neeeeever Come Up Again., Izzy Amor, Jae Baek, Paige Banners, We Continue Our Streak Of Paige’s Appearances Providing More Questions Than Answers.

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    1. Do abyssals do anything productive or beneficial?

      If not, I feel like it would be pragmatic to just kill the abyssals when they shift back to human form. They look like they could cause a ton of damage, reduce people’s desires to live in cities (where collision points would be more common), motivate hardcore capitalists to take profit-loss preventative measures that could end up radically changing how cities would be organized. Depending on how common and how long ago collision points happened, cities would probably prioritize wide, not tall growth of cities and development.

      I went on a bit of a tangent, but, unless addressed, collision points and abyssals could end up creating plot holes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries on tangents! Let me address the main point.

        First, note the bit in the chapter where Cassidy said: “Once that happened, any of the surviving Abyssals would simply disappear. The… understanding was that they were transported somewhere else and returned to their human forms.” When the fights are over, the Abyssals are teleported elsewhere and transformed back to their human state. Between that and the fact that the act of transforming from human to monster creates a field around them that screws up electronic devices and blurs people’s memories so they can only remember a vague description of the human forms to begin with (adding in general panic and the fact that humans rarely notice random people around them to the point of being able to give a description anyway), it’s incredibly hard to actually identify any of the Abyssal in human form.

        Second, even when they do happen to have any in custody through various means, some of the Abyssal have the ‘Hulk response’ to being put in a near-death situation. Essentially, there’s a fair chance that pointing a gun at the Human-Abyssal and pulling the trigger will result in them transforming into their monster shape before the bullet reaches them. It’s a subconscious reaction that comes even if the figure is unconscious at the time.

        Third, as far as people not wanting to live in big cities goes, remember the bit Cassidy noted about how Waunakee was almost entirely destroyed, with a third of their 15,000 residents killed. That’s a small town that got nearly wiped out specifically because it was small and didn’t have nearby Touched to help when the Collision Point happened. The fact that there are more Touched in a large city can actually help stop things before they get to be too bad. One happening out near a small town can end up doing more damage before enough power can get there to stop them. Between Wanderers seemingly randomly moving around and Stalkers actively hunting, being in a small town is no real benefit.

        So yeah, there’s little to be gained by avoiding cities. Collision Points happen now and then, like natural disasters. A decent chunk of Touched-Tech goes toward rebuilding or preventative/protection measures in most important structures, and there are specific taxes for Touched-Tech sales that provides emergency funding for those things as well. The total randomness of the events makes trying to predict where a safe place to live would be, so your best chances are either near-total seclusion or being in a city with good, powerful Touched who can deal with the situation quickly.

        I hope that helps. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Because wordpress is stupid, I can’t reply to your reply.

      I wasn’t saying that people would necessarily go to the countryside to live in towns, I was moreso saying that people would make cities less dense to mitigate superpower damage or not live in towns or cities. People would be safer if they were farther away from places where a ton of people come in contact with each other. Simple things like making streets wider, making congested areas have multiple detour routes, making shopping complex areas less dense, multiple airports running under capacity, etc. Could make it so less is present to take damage at fights. The small town is much less likely to get collision points than NYC as an example, just due to the density of people.

      Spy satellites that keep track of who was in the area and people with mechanical cameras are other things that could help track abyssals.

      And the Hulk response could be problematic to the abyssal. If I take a abyssal suspect unto a cell and shoot them with a rubber bullet I now have a abyssal detection method. Fighting one abyssal is much easier than fighting two. And if this is a thing, then there should also be single abyssal collision points as a disguised abyssal will occasionally get in life or death scenarios. If abyssals are capable of detecting fate to recognize the rubber bullet to the back of the head and similar tricks, then they would definitely be OP and would imply a lot of things that don’t really make sense for this story.

      It might make more sense if abyssals teleport elsewhere when they shift back to human.

      I forgot how abyssals come about, but I think that there should be those less bloodthristy and retain some humanity. I can’t imagine superpowered intelligence agencies wouldn’t do everything in their power to eradicate things that are a lose-lose for basically everyone on the planet. Maybe a star touched abyssal? If that could even work . . . *shrug*

      Your reply resolved most of my questions, but I still think cities would be less dense if they didn’t want to have a collision point in NYC every Monday.

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      1. I’m not sure why you think a basic danger sense would be OP. Just off the top of my head, Spider-Man’s spidey sense alerts him when he’s in real danger, and (depending on the property) Jedi have a similar thing, and neither of those examples is meant to be a super-dangerous monster.

        I don’t get the impression that Collision Points are frequent enough to merit total societal change the way you’re describing. Natural disasters kill just as many people and are much easier to predict, and it’s really hard to get people to redesign their cities to take those into account.

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      2. Replying to Prince Cherry.

        Abyssals aren’t the only superpower damage. Fell touched and Star touched alike are capable of lots of damage as well.

        And I don’t think we have seen anyone with danger sense yet as a power. I think a danger sense that is specific and picky enough to determine inauthentic danger when the person truly believes there to be authentic danger has more in common with space/plot magic than the powers we’ve been shown. And that isn’t a basic danger sense for sure. All the powers so far are just an individual power set with no extras. ‘Divination against danger’ alongside the Hulk doesn’t follow the pattern of all the other power sets.

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      3. In Heretical Edge, Dare has a danger sense that triggers for things that will directly harm her but not for things that would indirectly harm her. She gets dropped out of a moving taxi because of that limitation. Granted, she gets her powers from a different source than the Summus Proelium orb, but it’s still evidence that such a power exists in this shared multiverse.

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  2. Tough for Amber first haven her sixteenth birthday derailed by her fathers death and then having her seventeenth being overshadowed by a natural disaster, will her mother die on her eighteenth?

    Now, Elesha Carver seems to be to stupid and socially inept to actually go to the kind of high end school that Amber and Cassie goes to or has American schools adopted the same “coddle the bully’s and punish the victims” strategy the Swedish schools employ?

    Like

    1. The latter, to some extent. But also going to a “high-end” school like Cassidy’s relies more on money than on any quality the student has.

      Like

  3. “After all, Breakwater’s an inescapable super-prison. It’s supposed to be hard to call out of.”

    Well, that’s…something. Not sure just what but it’s something.

    And Elesha just makes me shake my head. Some people just have no self awareness. And bullies even less so than most people.

    I was going to ask about the “why not just shoot them when human” bit on Abyssals but that’s been answered already. I was pretty sure there was an in-story reasonable explanation but wanted to know what it was.
    “They turn into their monstrous form when the attempt is made” is a very good excuse not to make the attempt.

    I’m Sure The Fact That There Can Be Abyssals Who Don’t Know They’re Abyssal Until Touched By Another One Will Neeeeever Come Up Again

    So, my guess is Simon, because of the whole “Powers have never touched me.” (paraphrased) line he dropped a while back. The question now though is when the change to a Stalker, Wanderer, or Hidden kicks in; is it an always thing or only after the first transformation? From the way it was described I’m guessing after the first transformation. It makes the most sense. He’d probably be a Hidden but if not that I’d give eighty-twenty on Wanderer-Stalker.
    Of course it could very well be someone we haven’t even seen so far and they’ll show up later for a few chapters before having a Collision Point. Only time will tell.

    Thanks for the chapter Cerulean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe, maybe not. it seems to me that it would be more likely that something else is going on, though i guess he could be a splice or some other experimental thing from someone trying to make use of the whole danger sense angle?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “And Elesha just makes me shake my head. Some people just have no self awareness. And bullies even less so than most people.”

      Unfortunately true. I wish I was exaggerating to make up a person like that.

      ““They turn into their monstrous form when the attempt is made” is a very good excuse not to make the attempt.”

      Yeaaaaaah, so they try to lock them up when they can. But it has to be in secret locations because their crazy cultists tend to try to break in and release them.

      “The question now though is when the change to a Stalker, Wanderer, or Hidden kicks in; is it an always thing or only after the first transformation? From the way it was described I’m guessing after the first transformation. It makes the most sense. He’d probably be a Hidden but if not that I’d give eighty-twenty on Wanderer-Stalker.”

      When they first transform they’re basically mindlessly lashing out and not in their full, stable forms. Only after they shift back to normal does the whole ‘wanderer/stalker/hidden’ thing kick in.

      Like

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