Jun 051999
 

Greetings, curious readers.

This installment of “The Unseen Eye” is a special release. Since my seminal exposé on Senator Grofwitz’s ties to local Mafioso, the question on the minds of all readers of The Washington Post has been, I imagine with due modesty, “who is the Unseen Eye?” Well this article is going to answer that question once and for all, even if it never reaches publication, out of my fear of reprisals.

In beginning, I feel that it is important to note that this brief autobiography is by no means complete or comprehensive. I intend only to explain how I came to be one of the most insidious investigative reporters in Washington, not to tell my entire life’s story, complete with footnotes. Perhaps my life will become interesting enough to warrant thorough attention—after all, the chances of that happening have increased a hundredfold with my Eruption—but for the time being, it will suffice to simply tell the story of how I came to be a nova and why I have chosen this profession over the other lucrative options open to one of my abilities.

Prior to March 23, 2008—the first day of spring and, yea, my rebirth—my life was almost embarrassingly uneventful. My youth is best forgotten: no more than a succession of typical schooling, academic awards, and beatings by bullies. Sure, I had dreams like any other snotty-nosed kid with no knowledge of the world’s machinations. I went from yearning to be a famous novelist to aspiring to be a respected journalist to settling for being a head librarian at the D.C. Municiple Library. Certainly I had opportunities to become more—life almost always deals a hand that could be won—but my lack of confidence and my bombastic writing style gained me little more than a string of polite rejection letters and a serious case of self-pity. I settled. With the legacy of a name like Leslie Wiemerauer, you would too.

But then that fateful day came, unheralded, as so many such days are. One of my principle duties as head librarian of the D.C. Munie (as we call that old, massive facility) was to insure that the building was locked up for the night and that all environmental controls were properly set. This latter duty is of particular importance in the dusty warrens of the basement archives, and I dispatched it nightly with great care and attention. The night of March 23 was no different in that regard: I was making my rounds, quiet as a church mouse, out of habit. In retrospect, I wonder at how my life would be today had I been whistling a tune or humming to myself or simply not placing my feet with the practiced manner that prevents any sound, regardless of the shoes’ soles. Had I done anything to warn of my presence, surely I would not have overheard the aforementioned Senator and Don Cordina Medecino, surely they would have made their seperate ways out of the archives and I would have blithely gone on with my life of anonymity and quiet dispair.

Instead, I heard their whispered conversation, recognized the Senator’s voice from OpNet—I have ever been a student of politics and thus know most of its principle players—and was shocked into clumsiness by the subject of their argument. Those of you who read my first professional story, “The Senator Wears No Clothes”, surely recall the substance of what I overheard; needless to say, I was stunned to hear such an upstanding member of our national government conspiring with a local mobster to murder a federal witness. My shock was so great, I staggered back against the row on which I lurked, toppling some references that a less-thorough co-worker of mine had left precariously balanced on their shelf.

Books are not, typically, very noisy things. Pages rustle like wind through fallen leaves, spines sometimes creak and crackle like an old man’s, covers thump closed like well-machined car doors. Books dropped from four feet in a deserted, stone-walled archive to rest on worn wooden floors, however, sound like the cymbal crash of Armageddon’s most-fervent musicians or the sickening thud of a guillotined heads on gallows planks.

The two conspirators reacted with chilling efficiency. I suppose, for men accustomed to quick, violent action, the logical leap from recognizing that one has been compromised to desiring the death of the hapless discoverer is trivial. To me, it was terrifyingly unbelievable. One moment, I am eavesdropping on a chilling conversation, the next I am hearing, “Don’t let him get away, Medicino,” and the chambering of an automatic pistol.

I ran. So would you.

Now mind you, I knew the warrens of the Municiple Library’s archives like the back of my hand. I could navigate their confusing stacks blindfolded… were I not fleeing for my very life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I got turned around, became flustered, panicked, and ran myself into a dead-end on the maps and atlases row. Standing between two fifteen-foot shelves, hearing the staccato pounding of my pursuer’s hard-soled shoes grow nearer, holding my nose to forebear sneezing—my flight had stirred up dust left unmolested for decades—I collapsed in resigned exhaustion, covered my head with my thin arms, and waited for the gun’s report.

The clack-clatter of Italian loafers reached my row, paused as if to pity my cowering, prostrate form… and then pattered on to the next row! Suspecting some trick, guessing that I was being toyed with like a surrendering mouse under the paws of a lion, I didn’t move. I lay in plain sight (I thought… but to that in a moment), holding what I believed was to be my last breath, wondering perversely what a bullet really felt like as it shattered one’s spine and blended one’s lungs into a chunky froth.

And, as must be obvious, the hammer never fell. Even after the Senator had long made his escape, even after the Mafia Don passed my “hiding place” three times, even after that same Don had taunted me and threatened to “make it harder on me” for trying to thwart his efforts to end my boring life: still I remained undiscovered, though I lay sprawled on the floor like a pile of dirty laundry. I guess that Medicino figured that I had escaped to the higher floors using some little-known stairs or lift; I could just barely hear his grunt of frustration and muttered Sicilian epitaphs as he hurried to the main stairs to look elsewhere for me. Still very shaken, I did not seek to leave the archives, since there wasn’t actually any sort of conveniently-secret stairs to bail me out of my predicament. The hour was late, the library was deserted, and I did not seen any reason for the murder-bent man to give up his search any time soon. So I instead carefully snuck to the back corner of the basement, crouched behind moth-balled card catalog drawers, and waited for the morning to come, with witnesses.

That was a hellish night, as any of you whose M-R nodes have erupted can attest. The headaches began around midnight, first a dull ache I attributed to weariness and a missed dinner, then a pounding assault that threatened to drive me mad. I warred with my own mouth, stifling cries of anguish with clenched teeth and fists. When the pain became so bad that I lost awareness of my surroundings, I only prayed that I was not screaming out loud and revealing my hiding place to my pursuer—if indeed he was still even in the building. Thankfully, weariness reigned supreme over my headache before dawn, and I was able to relax a bit and get some much-needed rest.

When I awoke that morning, around eleven, I was still alone: even on the busiest days there is little call for the ancient texts interred in the archives; more often, a scanned duplicate on the OpNet suffices. And so I awoke alone and ravenous and still shaky from the previous night. At first, I was unwilling to leave my refuge. After all, Don Medicino may have seen my face, may have left a lieutenant to watch the library for my departure, may have, in fact, been waiting right at the top of the main stairs, reading the morning paper and struggling to stay awake after an all-night vigil. And so I waited, hoping perhaps that one of my assistants would come down on some errand, providing me with an escort, or at least a witness. I did not, it turned out, have to wait long, as Ms. Crumley showed up around noon seeking some books for one of our regulars. She was, needless to say, surprised by and suspicious of my unkempt appearance and wild eyes. When she asked me what I was doing at work early, and how I’d gotten down here so surreptitiously, and why I was creeping around like a wraith, I dismissed her interrogation with a wave of my hand and took her arm to lead her (or myself?) to the daylight.

No one was waiting for my arrival, as far as I could tell. The library was bright with sun and fairly crowded for a Monday—researchers are notorious for taking long weekends. I fabricated a fairly convincing lie for the worried Ms. Crumley and made an excuse for taking the day off. I needed to think about what I should do, how I could react to the terrible knowledge I had gained in my long night, who could help me with the seemingly-insurmountable threat of reprisal. Rather than return to my second-story apartment—which I was sure was watched through a telescopic rifle sight—I went for coffee at the Starbuck’s on The Mall. I was confident that the mob of tourists would shield me for a while from discovery and death.

While shakily forcing down my seventh cup of black coffee and browsing the Metro section of a stained newspaper left at the next table, I stumbled across a notice that “entertainment entrepreneur Cordina Medecino” was giving a speech that day at the opening of the new Coastal Boardwalk, built out of the deserted wastes of the Naval shipyard. Perhaps I was sleep-addled; maybe I was despairing of ever being free of threat; it could be that I was becoming angry at being a fugitive in my hometown of nearly fifty years. To this day, in spite of my now-phenomenal powers of recollection, I do not remember what made me resolve to attend this (for me) dangerous event. I know that I at least hoped to discover if I was recognized by the guilty conspirator, while somewhat protected by a crowd of potential witnesses. Maybe I just wanted to precipitate the turmoil to its conclusion, for better or worse, if only to be free of paranoia. But I tell you now, with no reservations, that paranoia is preferable to death, even if at that time I could not believe it to be so.

I did have the forsight to stop at a tourist novelty shop and purchase a t-shirt that proclaimed “I Love D.C.!” I changed into it out of my usual Oxford and tweed in the subway, earning stares and thirty cents in change from passersby—I suppose people thought I was a bum or out-of-luck traveler, to have to do my grooming by the light of flickering florescents in the concrete arteries of the city. Once changed, I made my way to the edge of the District, joined the throngs ogling the bright new plastic and neon of the Boardwalk, and looked for my hunter.

I eventually spotted the Don with some business associates, standing near the stage erected for the opening ceremonies and loudly praising the Mayor for his “vision of a reborn District”. I worked my way closer, racking my brain to come up with some excuse to approach the man with his guests, rather than wait for a time when he would be unattended and free to pronounce my death sentence to his thugs standing around like parodies of Secret Service guards.

I am not a brave man, good readers. I do my work from the shadows and publish under a nom de plume for a fraction of the recompense I could command as a recognized nova. I like to be unnoticed, unobtrusive, silent—the better to hear the truth when it is revealed. And of course, there are those out there who would handcraft a bullet for my forehead out of bottle caps if they could but know who I am and where I lay my head to sleep. But that day, after hours of fear and trepidation, I was cool and clear. The world seemed bright and crystaline, as if held in a perfect stasis so as not to spoil my moment of revelation… or relief. I noticed that one of the people with the Don was a kind and amicable City Alderman that was once a horror author; my gambit, my plan to test my anonymity, blossomed fully-formed in my mind as I wound through the waiting crowd.

“Mr. Cargraves! Mr. Cargraves! I love your work! Would you sign my t-shirt?” I shouted out as I reached the front of the stage.

The Alderman turned to regard me, as did Don Medicino and the rest of the assembled notables and media. I felt like a butterfly pinned to a felt board, waiting for the formaldehyde to do its lethal work. I stepped shakily forward, hoping my terror appeared to be only self-consciousness, and presented my shoulder to the Alderman. I steeled my nerves and risked a glance at the man who had sought my death just sixteen hours earlier.

He was regarding me with a bored, almost disdainful look, then made busy with straightening his jacket and adjusting his shirt cuffs. As the author cum Alderman patted himself down in search of a pen, I allowed my glance to linger on the mobster, almost daring him to recognize me and react with wrath in front of the assembled people.

Instead, my enemy merely reached into his jacket—stopping my heart in its tracks as I imagined his drawing and firing on me regardless of the number of witnesses—and pulled out an Aurora Benvenuto Cellini pen, handing it to Mr. Cargraves. Again, the Don regarded me, watching the author draw his looping, abbreviated signature on the awkward cotton surface, and again he seemed to merely dismiss me.

He did not recognize me! The dimness of the archives had hidden my face in the brief moment of my discovery, and my fleeing back was no longer clad in a recognizable tweed with leather elbow patches. I was just another sycophantic sheep distracting the wolves of the world from their more-important pursuits.

“There ya go, sir,” said Cargraves, as he stood back from his handiwork. “Always glad to meet a fan. What was your favorite book of mine?” He smiled amiably at me while the rest of the group resumed their discussions or preparations.

“Up From The Basement,” I replied, my head swimming with a combination of relief and cockiness. Again, I looked at the mob boss, trying to ascertain if my off-hand-seeming comment stuck a nerve.

Again, the man regarded me, curiously this time, then shrugged ever so slightly, and dismissed me again.

“Yep… one of my favorites, too,” Cargraves replied, then turned away. “Enjoy the ceremony,” he added over his shoulder, as an afterthought. The sheep was dismissed to rejoin the flock.

I was free!

Certain of my anonymity, I returned to work at the library the next day. Though I had spent the remainder of the previous day pondering what course of action I could take to prevent the murder plans I had overheard, I had not though much of my unlikely escape or headaches or ravenous appetite. At the time, it was all-too easy to disregard the symptoms of Eruption as attributable to a stressful night and uncomfortable sleep. I could not long disregard, however, my newly-fired mind.

Within days of resuming my life, I found that my memory, reasoning capacity, and attention to detail was increasing. Where once I would excitedly leap to look up some obscure fact or reference for a patron of the library, now I found that I could recall the information within a moment of thinking about it. When once I though combing the stacks for a mis-shelved book was a sort of adventure into antiquity, now I could walk right up to where I subconsciously had noticed the book placed and reach for it without looking. Put simply, my mind had grossly outstripped my profession, and was growing restless within a week.

It can probably go without saying that the life of a librarian is not very exciting. If the work suits one, that person can find delight in organization, excitement in discovery of information, and satisfaction in a day of education. If, on the other hand, the work is banal, trivial, and neigh-automatic for an individual, they will not last long in the profession.

I tendered my resignation to the library director on the following Monday, just one week after my frightening night and liberating day. He was surprised, but not particularly sad, it seemed. I was a good employee, but not the sort of man who would be missed, if only because I was so little worth knowing, at the time.

This is not to say, however, that I did not accomplish much in the week while I still had my employee badge. Though I did not have the idea yet to turn to journalism again, I did know that whatever I was to become could not be built upon my insipid past. Feigning other duties, I planned to gained entry to the District Hall of Records, the DMV, and the hospital where I was born. Not even fully realizing why, I sought to eradicate any record of my life and existence. I could have been subconsciously covering my tracks, least those I had overheard thought to pull the library’s employment records and start checking up on its forty-five employees. Since it was my job to make work schedules, I easily got rid of any record of my working on that fateful night before resigning. I had thought that pulling and disposing of my official government records would be much harder, but that was before I discovered the greatest gift that my Eruption had given me and the reason that I could escape discovery while hiding in plain sight.

I was at the Hall of Records, having pulled my file and taken it to one of the public room’s long tables. I was alone in the room excepting the curator, and when she got up from her desk, collecting her purse for a trip to the bathroom, I hurriedly stopped her and returned my file to her. You see, I did not want her to wonder about the man she left alone with his records or feel that she should mark my face and name, should something untoward happen as a result of her lack of diligence. Knowing the bureaucratic mindset—nay, almost seeing that very thought process work its way around her face and neck as she reached for her purse—I knew it would be best to let her “secure” my file and free her mind of worry. Of course I watched where she placed it to be filed later. Of course I held the door for her as we left. Of course I made a big show of waiting for the elevator, checking my watch and muttering about the “damned slow machine”. She headed off, obviously glad that she could do her duty and not attend her station.

I walked back into the public room and vaulted the low counter that divided the room between the commoners’ area and that of the self-important administrators. I headed for the lady’s desk, my eyes locked on the prize, my left hand fumbling in my jacket for the faked Death Certificate that I intended to add to it. As I made the modification to the relevant sheets and placed the certificate in the file, I heard the rattle fo the old doorknob that secured the room.

I froze: caught, startled, beginning to shake in fear of imagined incarceration and investigation. Hunched over the lady’s desk, my back to the door, I awaited her cry of alarm.

The door opened, her heels click-clacked across the room to the counter gate behind me, the gate creaked and swished as she passed through it, dropped her purse right at my feet, and walked away from where I stood to the row of shelves at the back of the administrator’s area. I confess that I watched her receding figure with some appreciation—librarians are not typically considered stud material and I had no little amount of pent up sexual frustration for which to thank my esoteric conversational subjects and out-dated jokes. But the the import of what had happened hit me full force, stunning me into vacantly staring at the woman going about her business before me.

She had not seen me! There could be no doubt about it, she just plain did not see me standing over the file that was her responsibility to guard! I did not know how or why she had ignored me; but she had, my deed was done, and a quick escape was the best way to profit from the odd situation, not staring blankly at the young woman’s ass. I turned and crept from the area, going over the counter like a soldier crawling over a trench wall, opening the door with a silent patience that belied my pounding heart, and slipping from the room back into the hall… and, again, into anonymity.

As I rode the Metro home, it all began to make sense: the forgotten headaches on that crazy night, my increasing appetite, my impossible escape from the murderous mobster and attractive administrator.

I could become invisible. I was a nova! Suddenly, my increased memory and reasoning all made sense: it had to be an accidental result of my Eruption, an Eruption that primarily had made me able to disappear from sight. After years of being a nobody, I was suddenly and dizzyingly thrust into an elite circle of a few thousand of the most powerful people ever to exist.

If I were correct. If I were not just the lucky beneficiary of dim lighting and distracted preoccupation. I decided to test it right there on the Metro. There was not much of a crowd, since it was still the middle of the afternoon, but there were enough people to serve as a representative sample. There were high school kids, some possible gangbangers, a mother and her four harrying children, and an old man sleeping on one of the benches. I slowly rose to my feet, walked forward in the subway car to its front, and turned to face my experimental group.

“Pardon me, everyone,” I began, clearing my throat to forebear my voice squeaking, “I am sorry to bother you all today, but I have to try something.”

The mother of four flinched a bit, probably anticipating another loony bothering the assembly with requests for money or worse. Everyone in the car looked up at me, their gazes varying from expectant to disdainful to bored. I let the feeling of exposure wash over me, trying to summon the sensations that I had felt on the floor of the archives and just an hour earlier in the Hall of Records. I felt a thrill of tension in my stomach, then my forehead, then on the surface of my skin.

“Ta da!” I announced, spreading my arms wide like a stage magician and waiting for their gasps of incredulity. I looked around the group, expecting astonishment. I was instead greeted with more disdain and not a few derisively-raised eyebrows.

“Okay, schlow what?” the old man slurred, awakened by my presentation before the crowd.

“Yeah, so do something if you wanna beg some change, old man,” one of the high school kids mocked. “You gotta have some kind of angle if ya wanna beg-off these days, dude, ” he added by way of explanation. His companions laughed and snorted; one tossed a nickle, three pennies, and a subway token towards me. Perversely, I noticed that one of the pennies was one of the new Nova-issues on which the Fireman’s bust replaces Lincoln’s. I noticed that before it reached the floor.

“Ah, Christ,” I muttered to myself, covering my face with my hands, both to hide and to wipe away the beads of sweat that were telegraphing my embarrassment.

The mother choked in surprise; the old man coughed, startled; the school kids exclaimed, “Killer!” and “Jooce!” and dropped their books.

I peeked out from between my fingers, taking in the scene of surprise with some small degree of satisfaction, and another collective gasp issued from the small crowd.

“Woah! A nova! Jooce!” the once-mocking, now impressed, school boy exclaimed. “Disappear again, dude!”

I dropped my hands and asked, “Did I disappear? Could you not see me? Wait… ‘again’?” I was confused and elated. Obviously, I was right about Erupting, but a bit off in my assessment of my capabilities. It did not take my now-supercharged mind long to make the connection. I closed my eyes.

“Sweeeet! Who you work for? The Project?” the self-appointed speaker for the group sputtered.

I held my eyes closed and began walking toward the sound of his voice, waving my hands in front of me to avoid colliding with a railing or pole. As I fumbled around for a handhold, a vision of the subway car suddenly blossomed in my mind’s eye. I could recall every detail of the car, every person’s posture and position, the play of shadows across the floor—we were pulling into station as I was closing my eyes.

I reached out to steady myself on a pole that I recalled being in front of me… and staggered as I failed to grasp it. I was going to fall on one of the woman’s little girls, and I reeled to grab a seat back. My hand found no purchase, though I could “see” that it was right on top of the seat. I slumped to the floor, sure I was about to hear a cry of surprise or a crunch of broken bones.

Instead, the crowd merely became agitated, calling out to me and jabbering excitedly to each other, themselves, or no one in particular. Throughout my whole slapstick tumbling, I had held my eyes tightly shut. Now, on the floor, some instinct or subconscious warning made me keep them shut as I tried to pull myself up. In my mind’s eye, I could still see the car’s layout and was imagining my current position on the floor. With a chill running up my spine, I realized several things at once—a cascade of logic and recognition of fact to which I have now grown accustomed but then found almost frightening.

First, I realized that I could not grab anything because I had not only become invisible, but also intangible. That was why the pole passed through my outstretched hand, the seat back failed to stop me, and the child was uninjured by my stocky frame crashing full onto her shoulder.

Second, I visualized my position on the floor of the car and “saw” that both my legs were (should have been? would have been? sometimes it is hard to find the right verb tense when I am describing my mind’s eye) passing through the seat supports, a pole, and the legs of the little girl upon which I should have landed.

Third, I deduced in a flash that my new power only worked on things which I could not see, be they objects or observers. Thus, my power had activated upon my saying “ta da”, but my audience was still in my view, and thus unaffected by it. Covering my eyes had made it work for them, and had made me insubstantial to the world around me. Thus, I had, quite literally, fallen through the pole and seat and little girl. I could not pull myself up for the same reason: no purchase for my immaterial form.

Fourth, it occurred to me that I was being a right fool, exposing my powers before a bunch of strangers, all with good reason to gossip about the graying man that could become invisible that they met on the subway. The efforts I was making to eradicate records of my existence would be largely wasted if my photo ended up splashed on the front page of the Post with the caption “New Nova Surprises Subway”. And more people were going to be on the subway at any second—I could hear the subway brakes squeal, echoing off the tile walls of the station at which we were stopping.

Fifth, I recognized that I had made all of these leaps of logic inside the space of two seconds, even as my visualized shoulder headed for the girl’s face. I had never thought so quickly or clearly, never had the cause and effect of the world laid out before me like some flowchart on a meeting room whiteboard. No wonder I had become so quickly bored with the drudgery of a librarian’s duties: I could out-think Einstein! Or so it seemed to me in those flashing seconds of thought.

But then time seemed to speed back up, as I lay huddled on the floor, eyes squeezed shut. I knew that I could not open them immediately: I no longer desired the recognition of my abilities by the astonished and milling group, I knew that my rematerialization would probably cost me and the little girl our legs, and now the car doors were hissing open to admit still more witnesses… or victims. I shuddered as I realized that I still visualized the scene before my dematerialization as it appeared at that time, though I knew from the sounds around me that the tableau had changed, that people had moved, that new people were arriving and being alerted to the strange events of the past several seconds. My mind’s eye, while crystal clear, did not see past my aching eyelids, but rather just held a record of what I had seen. Thus, I risked more than my legs, perhaps, by materializing—what if someone now stood where my head was?!

That was the moment that the last recognition of the extent of my powers (for the time being) came to me. As if by instinct or by the now-familiar subconscious working of my accelerated mind, I tried to swim away. It sounds funny now, in retrospect, but at the time it was a desperate act—I was panicking and yearning to open my eyes in much the same way a drowning man must yearn to breathe though submerged in killing water. I began to breast stroke in what I visualized was the direction towards the open car doors and platform. I “swam” onto what—from the expanding sounds—had to be the platform, but still I did not dare to open my eyes: the sound of footsteps around me brought flashbacks of my flight in the archives, as the risk of revelation now carried with it just as lethal a potential as then, though from shoes and legs, rather than guns and lead. I knew I was in DuPont Circle station, on the lower platform, though; that remembrance showed me the way out of my predicament.

I angled myself upwards and “swam” toward the tunnel roof. I wanted to get about seven or eight feet off the platform, above one end of it where people rarely congregated, then open my eyes and brave what might come.

I did so, and I fell seven feet, flailing, to the platform beneath me, winding myself and startling a couple waiting nearby. I was almost unsurprised that I had so well visualized the station at which I rarely stopped; the couple was surely more surprised to see me appear in the air and crash at their feet.

I hurriedly picked myself up, bowed dramatically to the astonished pair, and “tensed” myself to start my power up again. I closed my eyes, relished the couple’s outcries, and “swam” for the station exit and the anonymity of the wide city streets. A remembered alley provided the opportunity for me to “drop” again into being and make my way to a hotel.

And that is the substance of it, my gentle readers. You now know who the Unseen Eye is and how he came to be. True, you do not know all—this is on purpose. You do not, for example, know the means by which I gained the evidence that linked Senator Grofwitz to Mafia money—there are innocents who would surely suffer if my means were revealed—though I imagine that many of you can guess at how I managed it. You do not, of course, know where I now reside, who my contact with the Post is, nor what the subject my next exposé will be. That is all still my secret, and shall remain so as long as I feel my calling is to apply my powers to ferret out corruption and deceit. Sure, I could contract with a multinational, collapse into their embrace and security, and resume a public life. Sure, I could start my own multinational and make a mint using my powers of getting the right data and knowing its best use. Sure, I could join up with The Project or The Directive (or the Teragen?) and let other powerful beings dictate my powers’ application.

But then there would no longer be an Unseen Eye, watching those sworn to serve and protect the trusting populace, guaranteeing that should those representatives fail, their dirtiest laundry will be strained to make ink for my pen.

Visions of the Unseen Eye © 2008, Unseen Eye Syndicated

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