Strike Witches:Volume1 Chapter3
Dark gray clouds covered the surroundings outside.
It was 5 degrees below freezing. It felt far colder than that.
The squadron lined up in that cold, shivering. Each of them had the Striker they had brought from their home country equipped. Next to them, maintenance crews were on stand-by, warming up the engines.
"Brrrrrr, but wow, it's cold! Hey, Tomoko, maybe we can do this later?"
Katharine shivered as she spoke. On her legs, there was a Striker even larger than the F4F Wildcat she had before... 'Beerster Buffalo' was written on the side. With a volume as large as a keg of beer, it was fitting for the buxom Katharine.
Tomoko took one glance at that Striker, and muttered.
"What is that?"
"It's a Buffalo!"
"No, I'm not asking for the name. That looks like a clumsy Striker."
"Really? But, when I came here to Suomus, they told me that this is all they had, so I had to put up with it."
Katharine replied in her happy-go-lucky voice.
This is all they had? In other words, outdated equipment.
"Do you think you'll be able to dogfight in a Striker as awkward-looking as that? What were the engineers in Liberion thinking?"
"I don't know about that, but this feels really tough! I like it!"
Sighing at Katharine's carefree words, Tomoko turned to F/O Elma, the squadron commander. Elma started in surprise when she noticed Tomoko's gaze on her, and stood as straight as if she were in a parade being inspected by a general. She looked upwards into the sky, trembling lightly and biting her lip. She looked extremely nervous, even though she was only being looked at by her subordinate.
"What Striker is that?"
Tomoko asked, pointing at the Striker painted in white camouflage colors.
"Yes, ma'am! Umm, yes, a Romagnan G.50!"
"Oh?" Tomoko murmured as she looked over the Striker. It did not look like a very maneuverable unit. In Romagna, it was most likely a surplus model, or a leftover unit from an equipment overhaul. But for the Suomus Air Force, desperate for any equipment they could get, this might be the best they could do.
Next, Tomoko turned her gaze to the smallest member of the squadron, Ursula. She had a strange Striker, one Tomoko had never seen before. Tomoko had been expecting a Messerscharf, since Ursula was from Karlsland, but... even after taking a closer look, the Striker looked nothing like the Messerscharfs Tomoko had tested when the Imperial Army had imported some models the year before.
"What is that?"
"A Heinzel He 112."
A Striker Tomoko had never even heard of. Unlike the sharp and agile-looking Messerscharfs, it looked rather crude and blocky.
"A new model?"
"No. A model that lost to the Messerscharf Me 109 during the adoption tests."
"An unsuccessful model? What are you doing with such an old Striker? Why not one of the Messerscharfs your country is so proud of?"
"There were not enough."
Ursula replied haltingly. Of course, the Messerscharf was the mainstay of the Karlsländer Air Force, and intense fighting was taking place against the Neuroi all along the borders of Karlsland. All of the invaluable Messerscharfs had likely to be sent to that front.
Next, Tomoko glanced at the Striker on P/O Beurling, the silver-haired Britannian girl. The brown-painted Striker had a bulls-eye roundel marking its designation under a fur-lined insulating leather cover.
No matter how Tomoko looked at it, it was obviously an old-fashioned model.
It wasn't one of the Spitfires she had seen in some air infantry idol magazines. That's...
Beurling nodded in reply to Tomoko's question.
"That's a second-rate Striker, then."
"And what about it?"
Beurling glared at Tomoko with cold eyes. Then, she placed a cigarette into her mouth, and lit it.
"We're in training."
Ignoring Tomoko's warning, Beurling puffed on her cigarette nonchalantly. As the tension between the two quickly ramped up, F/O Elma backed away as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself.
Tomoko's sword flashed in an arc from its sheath.
Everyone shouted out in surprise and closed their eyes tight.
Tomoko's sword went back into its sheath with a soft clink. The entire stroke took place in a split second. The cigarette Beurling had been smoking had been cut almost directly in the center, and the front half slowly flitted down onto the snow.
However, Beurling had not flinched at all.
In utter calm, Beurling flipped the remaining half of the cigarette around, and lit it up again.
"This side's more even. Thanks."
Beurling seemed to have some guts. Tomoko eyes blazed in anger, but she forced herself to look away.
In a small voice, she muttered to herself, spitting out each word.
Every last one of them has a second-rate Striker!
I might be using the old Ki-27 as well, but... I've got a reason. I'm familiar with it, and I have a lot of faith in it. But them, they just had abandoned Strikers forced on them!
I knew from the beginning that nearly every country thinks Suomus is a low priority battlefield not worth focusing on... it just gets worse when each country sees other countries treating it the same way, and this is how it ends up.
Tomoko sighed deeply, and turned to Haruka next.
Haruka's Striker was put on a bit differently.
The other Witches had their Strikers equipped on their legs, but in addition to that, Haruka's Striker had an extra extension like a saddle on a horse. It was not the Type-96 Carrier Fighter Tomoko had seen before during joint training sessions with the Imperial Navy. It was a sharp Striker, painted a light gray.
"Now that's a Striker I've never seen before."
Haruka's cheeks reddened under Tomoko's gaze.
"Y-Yes, ma'am! It is an Experimental Type-12 Carrier Fighter! Almost all Navy air infantry have been re-issued with this model. Recently, some land-based fighter squadrons have also adopted this, and..."
"Hmm?" Tomoko murmured inquisitively as she looked over the Navy's new model. The engine seemed to be the same as the one in the Ki-43 from the mock battle before. However, taking into account the difficulty in meeting the requirements for carrier-based launches, the Ki-43 might perform a bit better.
"Recently? Then you're not familiar with the unit yet?"
"Yes, ma'am... I'm not familiar with it yet. I'm sorry. Excuse me."
Haruka bit her lip apologetically. Then, Tomoko noticed the heavy-looking autocannon Haruka was holding.
"You've got a big gun there."
"It is a 20 mm autocannon, ma'am."
Twenty millimeter? Everyone's eyes widened in surprise upon hearing those words. Not without reason either, since almost all of the machine guns they were equipped with were 7.7 mm or 12.7 mm caliber. 20 mm was an extremely large caliber.
"That looks powerful, but... can you use it?"
With Haruka's slight build, could she even aim that enormous cannon? From the looks of it, it looked to be too much for her.
"Not, not very well, ma'am."
Haruka answered softly.
"If you can't hit anything with it, than any size caliber is a waste."
"You're right, ma'am. Uuu..."
Haruka gaze dropped in shame.
Tomoko doubted that Haruka could bring out the performance of that new model Striker she had. It did not matter if she had a new model or an old model. In other words, Haruka would also be of no help in a battle.
In any case, the inspection was over.
It was finally time to begin the training.
Tomoko thrust her sword into the ground point downwards, and straightened.
"The main element of an air battle is the dogfight. Come up behind the enemy in a tight turn, and take them down with a single close-range attack."
There were no replies.
Everyone was staring at Tomoko blankly. Doesn't this bunch have any motivation at all?
Annoyed, Tomoko continued.
"Then, we'll start the training session. Follow after me."
Her Ma-1b magic engine roared, and Tomoko began moving along the runway, knees slightly bent. Just as she reached take-off speed, she jumped and straightened out into a flying position, arching upwards into the sky. The Striker released magic energy at maximum power, sending Tomoko into a rapid ascent.
The Ki-27's magic engine was not exactly powerful, but the Ki-27 was light. Although it was an old model, it climbed quickly.
Looking below her, Tomoko saw the other witches begin to take off one after the other.
Following right behind herself was Haruka's Experimental Type-12 Carrier Fighter.
As might be expected from such a new unit, it's climb rate was top class.
F/S Ursula's He 112 was next. Its appearance made it look sluggish, but it seemed it was actually quite a fast unit.
Following behind the He 112 was F/O Elma's G.50. Beurling's Hurricane came right after that. Coming up dead last was Katharine's heavy-looking Buffalo.
Tomoko continued her ascent, piercing through Suomus's frigid sky.
Thanks to the magic field projected all around her body, it was not as cold as might be expected.
Several minutes later, Tomoko leveled off once they had reached an altitude of 3000 meters.
Tomoko toggled the switch on her radio next to her throat, flipping it to ON.
"Ah, this is... Commander, what shall we use for our callsigns?"
Elma's voice, garbled slightly by static, came in through the receiver on her ears.
"Um, that's right... What should we do. Well then, um... erm, use our country names."
"Country names, roger. This is Fuso-1, Pilot Officer Anabuki. Over."
"This is Fuso-2, Flight Sergeant Sakomizu Haruka."
"Karlsland-1, Flight Sergeant Ursula Hartmann."
"Um, this is Suomus-1, Flying Officer Elma Leivonen."
"...Britannia-1, Pilot Officer Elizabeth Beurling."
"Liberion-1, Katharine O'Hare, mh-hmm."
Tomoko continued with her orders.
"Form on me."
The squadron replied immediately.
In order of climb rate, the witches lined up in formation.
They cruised for a short time, then Tomoko tapped her throat microphone twice. The internationally recognized signal for "transmission".
"We'll split up now. For now, I'd like to find out your level of ability, so all of you, come after me all at once."
F/O Elma's asked quizzically
"All of us at once, hmm? Tomoko, you want to fight us 1-on-5?"
"That's exactly right. Now come at me already."
Tomoko replied, and unsheathed her sword smoothly. The Bizen Osafune glittered in the setting rays of Suomus's sun, glowing with an eerie light. However, that was not what she would be using this time. Tomoko switched the sword to her left hand, and instead held up the sheath.
"If I hit you anywhere on your body with this sheath, that's a kill. On the other hand, you can hit me with a machine gun, knife, fists, or anything. If you can put me out of commission, or touch me on the back, that'll count as shooting me down."
"Oh no, Pilot Officer Tomoko, what would we do if you get injured?" Elma protested worriedly.
"I'll be fine. There's no way I'll get injured. You should worry about yourselves instead. Don't crash into each other over there."
Tomoko replied as if she were telling a child going a field trip to be careful. The five squadron members grew sullen and offended, though to different levels.
"Then, let's get this started."
The witches rushed straight towards Tomoko simultaneously.
"I'm going in!" Haruka shouted out, the first to charge in her Type-12 Carrier Fighter.
She was coming in a perfectly straight line. Her back would be wide open.
Tomoko sighed as she faced Haruka's charge.
Haruka had her eyes closed. There was no chance she would ever hit Tomoko like that.
Tomoko evaded the charge easily, and rapped Haruka's head hard with the sheath she was holding.
"Okay, you're down."
Ursula was the next one to come.
Tomoko was surprised by the speed of the He 112. Ursula was rushing at a respectable speed.
Tomoko flew off at a speed Ursula could catch up to. Tomoko was in no hurry. It was still a 1-on-4 battle, but there was only a single person in a position to attack.
Tomoko began a wide turn.
Slowly... her path drew a gentle arc through the sky, as if she were inviting Ursula in.
Ursula came up on Tomoko's tail perfectly, and a staccato roar echoed out as Ursula fired the 12.7 mm machine gun in her hands. Mechanized air infantry witches had a unique magic field surrounding their bodies while they were flying. Because of that, they could normally shake off several hits as if it were nothing, but... it was still nerve-wracking to really be shot at.
"Well, I did say you could shoot at me, but you know... don't really shoot me."
Perhaps she had been too serious. Because Tomoko had said they could shoot her, Ursula was doing just that.
However, Ursula still did not understand the principles of deflection shooting.
Tomoko was flying in an arc at high speed. Ursula would have to predict Tomoko's position in advance and shoot there if she hoped to hit her. The 12.7 mm rounds from Ursula's machine gun chased after Tomoko, but because of Tomoko's precise evasive maneuvers, all of the rounds missed by a hair's breadth.
But even so, Ursula simply adjusted her aim and continued firing. Little by little, like a shower of ice candy, the palely-glowing stream of bullets neared Tomoko......
However, a perfectly textbook maneuver like that would never work in a real battle. Tomoko tightened her turn gradually. The He 112 was quick, but its turning abilities were not as polished. As Ursula tightened her own turn radius, she slowly began to lose speed... and suddenly Tomoko was on her tail.
Ursula had all but given up. Tomoko hit her on the back firmly.
"At least try some evasive maneuvers."
"I've never learned any."
With that, both Haruka and Ursula were down.
Next was F/O Elma, who had been paired in a rotte with Ursula.
She was flying straight... away from Tomoko. After just one glance from Tomoko, F/O Elma had let out a startled yelp and began to escape, shivering all the while.
"Squadron Commander, where are you going?"
"Er, erm, just think of me as down!"
"I can't do that! Why are we doing this training? Isn't this all so we don't get shot down!?"
However, timid F/O Elma flew away to a distant spot away from Tomoko, where she began turning round and round in a circle. It seemed she just could not work up the courage.
What is this squadron commander doing!? Tomoko felt the irritation welling up, when suddenly byun!, and a single round whizzed by her from above. Tomoko turned, and saw Beurling's Hurricane diving away from her. She was using the momentum from her diving attack to gain altitude again. It was a magnificent display of Striker operation.
It looked like she at least was different from the amateurs so far.
Tomoko nibbled on her lower lip lightly. It was a bad habit of hers whenever she got excited.
"Now isn't this interesting."
Tomoko flipped around, and chased after Beurling.
Tomoko expected Beurling to continue climbing to increase the pressure on herself with more hit-and-run attacks, but she was wrong.
Instead, Beurling changed directions suddenly, and began roaring straight towards Tomoko's position.
"Coming from the front? Planning on shooting at me head-on, I see."
However, Beurling slung her machine gun across her back. Then... she drew a knife from a sheath at her waist. The knife had a bend starting from the center of the blade.
A Gurkha knife.
Tomoko's grin widened.
"Now this is getting really interesting. She's challenging me to a melee fight?"
Tomoko attached the sheath back to her waist, and gripped her sword firmly.
Her actions were an obvious sign that she wouldn't be going easy on her opponent.
The distance between the two decreased quickly. One hundred meters, 70 meters, 50 meters, 20 meters... Tomoko dived and shifted to the side. Ducking, she slipped below Beurling before straightening again.
Beurling had been thinking of the same thing. Just across from where Tomoko spun around 180 degrees, Beurling was there. She was doing the same maneuver as Tomoko.
By reflex, Tomoko lashed out with her sword.
It crashed against Beurling's Gurkha knife, and sparks scattered where metal clashed on metal.
Tomoko immediately broke off and circled around.
The Hurricane could not hope to follow the second tight turn.
With a quick roll, Tomoko spun into an Immelmann turn.
She ended up right on Beurling's tail. Refusing to give up, Beurling dove downwards sharply.
"You think you can run?"
Tomoko followed Beurling in a dive, hot on her tail.
At that moment.
Tomoko suddenly noticed something approaching from behind at high speed, and spun around.
"Whoooaaaaaaaaa! Please get out of the waaaay!"
It was Katharine.
What is she doing?
"What's going on!?"
"I can't stop!"
From the looks of it, after starting a steep dive, she couldn't stop the heavy-looking Buffalo.
"What the hell are you doing!"
Tomoko grabbed Katharine's arm, and tried to lift Katharine upwards. However... they continued to plunge downwards to the ground from the extreme weight of the Buffalo and Katharine, as if they really were the animal the Striker was nicknamed for. Tomoko's efforts did not do the slightest to stop their fall.
"Pull yourself back up!"
Who knew how heavy Katharine and the Buffalo were together... it seemed she could not lift herself back up.
This is bad..., Tomoko thought, and at that moment someone's hands clapped over Katharine's left arm. It was Beurling.
Her usual surly voice came in through the headphones.
Tomoko gunned her magic engine and began rising. At last, Katharine was able to level herself off.
Somehow, the three of them together were able to regain level flight.
Finally, Tomoko sighed in relief.
She turned to face Beurling.
"I owe you one."
"You owe me? This is training."
Beurling answered in a bored tone, which somewhat annoyed Tomoko.
"You're not very easy to get along with, aren't you... This is why Britannians are all so disagreeable, I'm telling you"
"Shut up. Barbarian."
Tomoko's eyes flared at being called a barbarian.
"Just who are you calling a barbarian now! You island savage!"
"Your own Fuso is an island as well, you know."
Tomoko and Beurling cursed at one another, Katharine hanging in between the two of them.
"Please, pleeeease don't tug on me and fight!"
Tomoko mumbled to herself, certain that she would never be able to get along with Beurling.
Tomoko stood in front of the girls after landing, and began her review.
Tomoko expressed her disappointment with just that single word, everyone's shoulders drooped, except for Beurling and Ursula.
"If that's all you can do, then it'll be all over in seconds if the Neuroi were to attack. All over for you."
"Uuu... so what can we do now?" F/O Elma glanced up at Tomoko sadly.
"Training. Training! Starting from tomorrow, I'll put you through training like you never thought possible! In order for you to at least survive and make it back, I'll retrain all of you from top to bottom!"
As she finished, other than Ursula and Beurling, the remaining three began complaining.
"What!? Where's your motivation? This is your life on the line here! Can't you be more serious about this!?"
As Tomoko rebuked the squadron... a laugh suddenly sprung up behind her.
Tomoko turned around. There were about 10 girls in a line, watching Tomoko and the squadron. They were all wearing matching fur-lined leather jackets. On one sleeve was a patch with a blue cross, the insignia of the Suomus Air Force.
What was more, all of them were equipped with sharp-looking Striker units on their legs.
Apparently they were mechanized air infantry from the Suomus Air Force.
As soon as F/O Elma said the name, Tomoko and Haruka burst into laughter.
"What, just what do you find so funny!?"
The girl in front shouted. She was about five centimeters taller than Tomoko, and her curly blond hair was tied back neatly with a ribbon. Below her wide forehead, her long, blue eyes flashed in anger.
The girl's bossy expression only made Tomoko continue laughing.
"Did she just say 'aho'?"
"My name is Mika Ahonen, I'll have you know! What of it? My surname is not Aho."
"Oh no, don't get me wrong, I don't have any problems with foreign names, but..."
Just as Tomoko finished, Haruka muttered in a small voice.
"Ah... Ah'ma fool."
Bwahahaha!! Tomoko erupted into laughter, clutching her stomach. She slapped Haruka heartily on the shoulder.
"You might not have much talent as a mechanized air infantryman, but you sure have good sense in some things!"
Mika Ahonen, her face burning, walked up to Tomoko, and without a word slapped her across the cheek.
Slaap! The sobering sound thawed the cold Suomus air.
"What do you think you're doing!?"
"Is that the way to speak to a superior officer? You insolent foreigner."
"Did you just call me an insolent foreigner?"
Tomoko raised an eyebrow.
"We're here to save your country, you know! Is that all you've got to say, after we came all the way here to the middle of nowhere?"
Kapt. Mika Ahonen waved a hand through her hair. Her golden curls sparkled.
"It's true we asked for help. For help from people that we could rely on, that is!"
"And that's why we're here."
"Excuse me? Excuse me? In what way could we rely on you? No matter how you look at it, the Strikers you are using are all second-rate models!"
It was a sore spot for Tomoko. She pressed her mouth shut quickly.
"We were watching your training session from the ground just now! I suppose I could say it was quite an eye-opener?"
The girl's words hit an even more sore spot for Tomoko, who dropped into dead silence, clenching her fists tightly. Kapteeni Mika Ahonen walked up to her, and played a hand along Tomoko's flushed cheek.
"Oh my, such a disagreeable little child we have here. Such an impertinent and unpleasant Oriental! I must ask that you not get in the way of the real fighting forces like us. Could you promise me that? Luutnantti Elma?"
Kapt. Mika Ahonen turned towards F/O Elma. She shrunk away from the other girl.
"It's a fitting task for the number one misfit of 1st Squadron, wouldn't you say? Commander' of the 'Misfits Squadron'. Isn't that right?"
The mechanized air infantrymen assembled behind Kapteeni Mika Ahonen laughed loudly.
Shamefacedly, F/O Elma's gaze dropped to the floor.
"'Misfits Squadron'?" Tomoko asked incredulously.
"That's right. I've read the reports on all of you. It would seem that all of your were dumped by your countries, unwanted junk passed on to someone else just to be rid of it."
"That ain't true!"
Katharine cut in to disagree with the girl.
Kapt. Mika Ahonen laughed.
"Oh, it is very true, Miss 'Crusher' of the Liberian Navy! Let me ask you, starting from when you were in your flight academy up to now, just how many Strikers have you wrecked?"
"I don't know?"
"Sixty-two. That must make you an ace."
"They were very unfortunate accidents, I know."
"Oh, no, as far as I can tell from the records, they were all 'accidents' caused by human error... your errors."
And, Kapt. Mika Ahonen waved Katharine away, ending the conversation.
"Now, how about the silver-haired puppy over there?"
She turned towards Beurling next. Because she had merged with her dachshund familiar, a pair of cute dog ears had appeared on Beurling's head.
"While with the Britannian Air Force, you have broken 82 military regulations, written 232 official letters of apology, been jailed 54 times, court-martialed 8 times... and nearly executed by firing squad three times... Quite a remarkable trouble-maker."
Beurling began slowly counting something off on her fingers.
"I've been jailed 55 times."
"That's not something to be proud of! I can't believe this! Suomus is not Britannia's prison colony! Honestly... when will they ever put an end to their foolishness. In any case, as for our little Karlslander here...?"
Ursula adjusted her glasses.
"I hear you wiped out an entire squadron in Karlsland during one of your 'experiments'."
"I was merely testing a newly developed airborne munition."
"And because of that, an entire squadron was heavily injured... So, I must wonder, what kind of experiments did you come to Suomus to perform? Do be a good girl while you're here."
Ursula did not answer.
Kapt. Mika Ahonen pointed at Haruka next. Before she had even said a word, Haruka started shouting.
"Y-Yes, ma'am! I'm sorry! I've been called junk ever since the Yokohama Flotilla of the Fuso Imperial Navy was created! They call me 'Friendly Fire Sakomizu', so they even told me not to fire my machine gun! I'm sorry, ma'am. Sorry. I'm really sorry. I'm sorry I was ever born."
A wide cat-like sneer appeared on Kapt. Mika Ahonen's face as she watched Haruka.
"Very good. I like honest girls like you."
Kapt. Mika Ahonen briskly walked up to Haruka, and raised her chin with one hand.
"Eh? Eh? Eeeeh? Heeh!? Ngmmph!!"
Haruka had no idea what to expect at first, when suddenly the officer placed her own lips firmly on Haruka's.
Their lips parted, and Haruka let out the breath she had been holding with a huff as she toppled to the floor in a daze. Tomoko rushed up and grabbed the officer's uniform jacket collar, and shouted in her face.
"Whoa, wha-, wait a second! What do you think you're doing!?"
"She interests me, so I gave her a friendly greeting."
"A greeting? Don't you think it's a bit strange to go kissing another girl on the lips?"
"My my, everyone is free to love."
Tomoko felt despair well up inside her. Do I really have to fight on the same side as this lesbian pervert...?
Kapt. Mika Ahonen stepped close to Haruka, who was sitting on the floor in a shocked heap, hugging her knees. She crooned.
"Hey there. Why don't you dump that Misfits Squadron, and come to my squadron? I'll even make you my 'wing-sister'. Oho! Ohohohoho!"
The girls from 1st Squadron all began crowding around at those words, each of them trying to speak to Kapt. Ahonen at the same time.
"How could you, Sister! You're so mean!"
"What are you thinking by taking on more and more sisters!"
Tomoko watched the commotion, shocked. Apparently Kapt. Ahonen treated her squadron as her personal harem.
"In any case, you're free to arrange training, and use the airfield as well... but do make sure you don't get in our way. Is that clear, Luutnantti Elma?"
F/O Elma gave a small, hesitant dip of her head in agreement.
"And right now, we're rather busy with these brand new Messer Es we bought from Karlsland, so if you could please stop wasting our time...?"
At last, Tomoko recognized the smart and sharp Strikers glinting on the legs of all of the girls in 1st Squadron.
"Kuh..." Tomoko bit her lip in frustration.
Kapt. Ahonen, her eyes filled with disdain, took a long, hard look at Tomoko's sour expression.
"You must be Pilot Officer Anabuki Tomoko."
"Don't get full of yourself just because you managed to shoot down a few Neuroi."
"What did you say?"
"What do you think you can do by yourself? Air battles are about teamwork! After all, your 'squadron' is just a mob. Even if the Neuroi come, please be good little children and play quietly in the base. Otherwise, you would only be a distraction."
Tomoko clenched her fists tightly.
Her feelings of shame steadily ramped up.
Suddenly, as if she had just come to, she thrust a finger at Kapt. Ahonen.
"I-I'm not someone who's going to lose to you lot!"
"Is that so? Do take your time and practice then... so long as you don't get in our way!"
Laughing loudly once more, Kapt. Ahonen left along with the rest of her lackeys.
Left behind was Tomoko, shaking in rage. She shouted after Ahonen's departing figure.
"I'll have you eat those words soon enough!"
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