Chapter 6



Prisoner Stockade 6

Rolette County, North Dakota, United States of America

4 January 2016 S.E.C.

24 October 3058 I.S.C.



     Flat prairie land stretched out for miles across the Dakotan soil, chilled and frozen by the brisk arctic air.  Some degree of snowfall was visible but was not plentiful; the skies were a dull gray from an un-ending layer of clouds blocking off the warm rays of the sun.  Amongst the prairie land stood a single group of buildings in solitude.  Formerly the County Jail, it now served as Prisoner Stockade 6; a military facility for the internment of a battalion worth of training "penal troops".  Men and women convicted of crimes and now in military service, where they were placed under military training and used as a reserve of troops for frontline units.  If, of course, they were not committed as a whole.  The claims made to the public were that they were "volunteers" amongst the country's criminals, offered full pardons in exchange for a term of military service "not to exceed the national state of emergency".

     The sad and unavoidable truth was that they were, to an extent, cannon fodder.  People convicted of crimes and conscripted into the penal units, which were then used as defense units to free up conventional army units for counter-offensives or even general offensives.  Since very few officers would accept such an assignment of leading "penal troops" the Army tended to force the issue with transfers.  Most commanders were dishonored in some way or another.  Politics also came into play; an easy way to get a particularly loud-mouthed officer out of the spotlight would be to transfer him to a prisoner stockade, where the media's access was highly restricted.  Officers put into such positions were mostly dissatisfied and even angry, for them it was punishment duty and undeserved.

     A few such officers were brutal to their convicted subordinates, sometimes just verbally, but previously-outlawed punishments had come back into fashion in some of the more isolated battalions and brigades.  Citing the national emergency and the legal suspension of the Constitution, officers felt free to do "whatever was necessary" to get their "crooks" into fighting form.  It wasn't so extreme in the mainstream centers run by respectful officers.  For most units it was isolation and intense physical training.  In some, where the combination of a small or non-existant civilian population and little chance of media presence came together with a vicious-minded lead officer, things were worse.  Beatings were commonplace; it was a simple manner to string a prisoner to a pole and beat him with a baton if he did something wrong.  If there were other instruments of punishment available, such as bullwhips, then they too would be used.  When this decision was reached such cruel officers were deaf, often continuing to beat on the soldier in question even if mercy was pleaded, or confessions of misconduct offered.

     Amongst the prisoners in such a stockade, it was not uncommon for beatings between themselves over food, blankets, or the small allowance of trinkets they were allowed.  The struggle for survival began off the battlefield, amongst your own "comrades", and the slow and meek were the first to find themselves starving, freezing, and alone.  To go with the beatings was the lack of entertainment.  Friendly sports were banned, since most of the day was military training and drills, and what they had to themselves in a group was taken up by a rougher sport than the indoor games they might otherwise play.  Most such stockades had their own private fighting groups, which vied for supremacy amongst each other in a tournament style series of one-on-one fights that left both combatants bruised and bloodied, the loser on a trip to the infirmary and the winner most likely getting punishment from their officers before getting such a trip.  Afterwards, however, the winner would not only be feared but looked up to.  The others would bet on him or her in later fights; the fighter would get a piece of the action and perhaps some trinkets to use, things ranging from bubble gum to pornography magazines.  Ultimately, it was every man for himself, and every woman for herself; the stakes were high, and to the winners went the spoils of staying healthy and alive.

     Some would obviously argue on just how the United States, a nation that prided itself on the defense of human rights and the freedoms of the individual, could allow such barbarism in it's borders.  The Constitution promised many freedoms that had been stripped from these troops.  They were being degraded.  Mistreated.  Abused.  Perhaps, to some points of view, even tortured.  And not by the vicious cruelty of a VdO interrogator but by the cold indifference of their countrymen.  Why?

     The answer was cold and brutal, but true; the country was in it's darkest hour, locked in a desperate and slipping struggle for survival against a merciless and implacable foe.  A foe that would bleed itself white if it meant marching triumphantly to the Pacific Coast of North America and destroying the last bastion of republican society on Earth.  In such desperate times the law became nothing; it was a return to the law of the jungle.  Kill or be killed.  Or perhaps as the Romans would more eloquently put it; Inter arma enim silent leges.  "In times of war the law falls silent."

     A government command car, marked with the seal of the Army and the two stars of a Major General, pulled up to the stockade's entrance.  A pair of armed Corporals stepped out on either side, the Corporal on the right side reaching his hand into the back of the vehicle and helping out it's VIP occupant.  Tall and lean, Major General Charles Sinclair stretched himself to his full six foot one height.  The ebony skin and mustache hair on Sinclair's face stung from the touch of the freezing air but he hid his discomfort in front of the guards at the front.  They saluted briskly at Sinclair as he entered, not turning their heads at all to the sight of a two-star general officer coming to visit a relatively small prisoner stockade.  There were a handful of civilians gathered around the desk of the Sergeant First Class, all clamoring for attention, and most wanting to visit a relative or friend incarcerated in the Stockade.  The Sergeant pounded his fist on the desk and bellowed, "No visitors are allowed, God dammit, so shut the hell up!"

     Even as the visiting people began asking questions more calmly, Sinclair strode up, now clearly interested in this matter.  "Excuse me, Sergeant, who said no visitors are allowed?"

     The Sergeant noticed the stars on Sinclair's uniform and jumped to his feet, saluting.  "Major Wilkins, sir."

     "Ah.  Well, I shall have to discuss this with the Major then.  Please buzz me back."  The sliding blue door that lead into the jail and stockade facilities slid open.  As Sinclair stepped through, he turned back to the assembled people.  "Ladies and gentlemen, please wait here.  I will see what I can do for you."

     Once inside the facility Sinclair noticed that the cells were empty, the prisoners of the facility still being out to themselves.  And as the Private assigned to him led him to Wilkins he heard the sound of cheering and jeering grow stronger.  "Private, what is going on here?"

     "Must be another one of their organized fistfights, sir," the Private, Eddel, replied respectfully.

     Sinclair's eyes widened.  "Fistfights, you say?"

     "Yes.  The prisoners need some form of entertainment, and since he banned them from the TV stations and other sports Major Wilkins let them form their own fighting tournament thingie, kinda like those old Ultimate Fighting Championships."

     Sinclair was beginning to despise Wilkins by the time they reached the spacious mess hall, where tables had been cleared to make a circle in the middle that had a diameter of a good fifteen yards.  A good fifty or sixty of the inmates, each identifiable by a dark brown jacket with a large white "P" on the rear, were gathered on the other side of the ring of tables.  In the middle was a medium-sized male of decent build, with a muscular physique visible on his bare chest and back.  His discarded shirt and prisoner jacket were strewn on one end of the circle.

     As for his opponent...



     "Fucking bitch!"

     Those were the exasperated words that the tired Private Randall spat at his sweating but unphased opponent, Private Misty Verdes.

     Misty's reply was of a more direct nature.

     As she had done many times before, Misty brought up her right leg and planted a kick to the mid-section that made Randall drop to one knee.  Without any hesitation Misty grabbed the back of his hair and smashed his forehead on her left knee.  The collision made her kneecap complain with a twinge of pain, one that Misty found it easy to ignore.  Randall, on the other hand, was rolling on the ground, holding his forehead.  She went up to him and pulled him up by the back of his hair.  Along his left side, Misty used her right elbow to strike him again in the mid-section, near the impact point of her previous kick.  She followed up by pivoting her arm backwards and crashing her fist into his descending head.  The blow snapped Randall's nose, giving Misty first blood in the fight.

     With an angry growl Randall pushed Misty toward the opposite end of the circle, and at such full force Misty had to roll with it to prevent from being flipped out of the ring and being disqualified.  She rolled straight into the table and crashed her right shoulder against the hard metal surface.  Her shoulder stung as she got back on her feet and assumed a boxing stance for defense.  Randall advanced immediately, sending a flurry of punches at her that Misty deflected with her arms.  To her surprise Randall introduced a new talent by ramming his foot into her shin.  Pain shot up her right leg and broke Misty's defensive timing, allowing him to deliver a punch that sent her flying back into the middle of the circle.  Quickly overcoming her surprise, and actually more than a little gratified that he was not proving to be a walkover, Misty went on the attack again.  She used her feet to undercut his legs as he advanced on her.  Randall fell onto his back and cried out.  Still laying on the ground, Misty used her feet in a hammer kick, bringing her heels down on his chest and striking him again in the mid-section and, this time, directly in the diaphragm.  With careful precision Misty brought her feet back up quickly and used her upper body to flip herself over in mid-air.  She landed on her feet with little trouble even as Randall struggled to move.

     "Watch it!"

     The warning shot reached Misty's ears just as a long pole in the hands of one of Randall's supporters slammed down on the back of her head.  Such interference had happened before, but not as boldly, and at the time had been completely unexpected.  Misty would later theorize that Major Wilkins, who frequently acted as ultimate arbiter in what few rules existed, had decided to end her winning streak against the goons in the battalion.  But at the moment her mind was too occupied reeling from the blow to think in those terms.  She landed on her back hard, knocking the wind out of her a little.  Booing sounded from the assembled while Misty floundered about trying to recover her senses.

     Randall beat her to it.  He backhanded her across the right cheek, leaving a red imprint of his hand on her skin.  He grabbed Misty by the arms and pulled himself over her.  "Give in, bitch," he rasped, a droplet of sweat from his chin dropping down on her face.  When Misty did not respond he put a hand around her throat.  This freed her right arm, which she promptly wrapped around his.  But here, Randall's thick throat and larger hand gave him an advantage.

     However, Misty did not give in as quickly as he desired, so he switched tactics and went for a more vulnerable spot.  He put a hand on her bra, running his fingers over the surface until he felt her nipple, which he began to pinch with all of his finger strength.  Misty cried out from the pain it caused and loosened her grip on his throat.  "I'm going to squeeze it off if you don't give in," Randall muttered.

     Randall had made a miscalculation.  The position he had asserted implied a darker motive, at least to Misty's viewpoint, and her awareness had risen accordingly.  To be frank, Misty did not trust her overseers.  Wilkins had given her one too many dirty looks, as had some of the others, and right now the mass of screaming male voices panicked her.  Because of her distrust and general paranoia it was not a large leap for Misty to imagine the event turning from a street fight into the mass gang raping of her without contest from the guards, and the prospect of being violated by a few dozen men horrified her beyond comprehension.  Moreso, Randall had just "upped the ante" in their unofficial rules of engagement.  Normally genitalia and other "sensitive areas" were considered off-limits.  But he had raised the bar and now she was free and clear to match him.

     And thus, Randall's miscalculation proved his downfall, as Misty's knee snapped up and collided directly with his testicles.  It was his turn to howl as he let go of her swelling right nipple.  Misty's right palm struck his chin and knocked his head back.  As pain caused Randall's strength to flee, Misty collected her own and wedged out from underneath him.  She kicked him in the stomach angrily before setting her foot directly on his crotch just has his hands took her by the ankle.  Her foot won the race and applied crushing pressure to his traumatized genitals.  Misty shifted her weight so that his hands would not be able to move her foot off, while her other leg remained out of range for him to easily kick at.  "Give," she said coldly.  "Give or you'll be tenor for the rest of your fucking life."

     Randall screamed, "I give, I give!", and promptly began vomitting from the nausea brought on by Misty's last assault.

     The "MC", a burly prisoner by the name of Hamilton, stepped into the ring and raised her right arm in a quick sign of victory.  Randall's supporters, all white-skinned, screamed threats at her.  The larger and more diverse population voiced support in response, and did so with even louder cheers.  Hamilton said to her, "Feel up to the Major's shocks?"

     "Nothing new," Misty grumbled.  She was the "champion" of the stockade so far, dominating thanks to her fighting techniques and with a fair dose of underestimation in the beginning when it was assumed that because she was a woman she was weak.  She was not weak but it did not mean Misty was immune to pain.  Her body ached from multiple impacts of fists and the occasional fit.  Her nipple still stung terribly from Randall's "low blow", as did the back of her skull and her right shoulder.  Misty could only be thankful there would be no other fights; she didn't feel up to it.

     It was then that she remembered the voice that tried to warn her, a voice that she could not directly remember but yet kindled a memory from the back of her mind.  Misty looked over toward the door and was surprised to see a fully-uniformed general looking at her.  Do... I know that guy from somewhere, I just can't figure out what...

     A pair of guards walked up to either side of her.  "Major Wilkins would like to see you in the discipline room."

     "As I expected."  Without resisting, Misty let them lead her to the west door for the mess hall, steeling herself with every step.



     Sinclair looked over at Private Eddel who had escorted him and asked irritably, "What the hell is going on here?"

     "Well, sir, the Major enforces the rules," Private Eddel replied nervously.  "She won, which means she gets punished first."

     "Yes, but how is she getting punished?  And what is this discipline room?"

     "Oh, that."  Eddel swallowed.  "Sir, I... I really don't think I should be..."

     "Young man," Sinclair pointed to his rank insignia, "do you see these stars?  I want to see this discipline room and I wanted to see it yesterday.  Is that understood?!"

     "Yes sir."  Eddel glanced nervously at one of his superiors before leading Sinclair through a maze of tables and inmates, who exchanged glares with Sinclair's escorts as they passed behind the general.  One group of inmates, the Randall supporters, were very slow to move from where they were situated around the west door.  In the end a glare from Eddel and the subtle reminder by Sinclair's guards that they were heavily armed serve to make them part far enough for Eddel to lead Sinclair to the door and then through it.  From there they were back in the white hallways of the facility, a weight-lifting room visible through windows on their left.  After several moments of slow walking, Sinclair stopped.  Eddel stopped with him and asked, "Sir?"

     "Now, again, just how does Major Wilkins discipline these people?"

     "Well, sir," Eddel gulped again, showing signs of nervous agitation that Sinclair was finding annoying but understandable.  "He felt that the prisoners were too violent to respond to the usual things like more physical training and all, so he has..."

     "Has what?"

     "The shock chair.  Kinda like a watered down electric chair, sends some shocks into..."  Sinclair's hand made contact with Eddel's back and made him pick up his pace.  "Sir?!"

     "I want to find this room now!"

     Eddel picked up his pace in accordance to Sinclair's increased pace.  "This way sir!"  Still uneasy about being rushed, and about Wilkins' usual attitude toward allowing "visitors" into the discipline room, Eddel nevertheless knew he had to follow the orders of a superior, not to mention one who had the stars of a general, something Wilkins could not hold against him.  It was a turn right and past a line of empty cells that led to the doors of said room.

     When they got within ten feet of it a scream eminated from the room inside.  Sinclair threw open the doors and found the room to be a simple setup, with a handful of chairs surrounding a larger metal chair with restraints on the armrests and on the legs.  Misty was strapped into it and was twitching from the activation of a weak electric current that was running through her body.  "Turn that damned thing off!"  Sinclair barged up to what were apparently the controls and turned a dial to the off position.  This cut the electrical current and prompted Misty to gasp for some breath while Sinclair leveled an angry glare at the highest-ranking man in the room, a Captain with the name tag Banner.  "Captain Banner!"  Sinclair stormed over to Banner, who was standing to Misty's left.  "This isn't discipline, this is torture!"

     "I'll be the judge of that."

     The new voice prompted Sinclair to turn, and when he noticed the golden leaf rank insignia of a Major on the newcomer's uniform he knew he was talking to Major Wilkins.  Wilkins was saluting, and Sinclair returned it as he asked, "Major, what the hell kind of operation is this?!"

     "One that works," Wilkins answered candidly.  "The men stay happy, and they are kept in line."  Wilkins looked over at Misty and grinned.  "I see our resident cock fighter is back in the chair.  Defeated Randall, didn't you?  Good girl, you're going to make a great soldier."

     "I'm not finished with you yet!"  Sinclair pointed to Misty.  "I want that girl out of that chair and I want her out right now."

     "General, perhaps we should wait until we get in my office.  And if you'd let me show you, I could prove this method is most effective."

     Sinclair's frown grew.  "We're Americans.  When we turn our people into soldiers we don't electrocute them and we don't let them brawl.  And, even in these penal units, we allow them to speak to friends and family, just like any other soldier.  Now, I want a stop put to this."

     "I'm not going to do that."

     Wilkins' expression oozed disrespect and that immediately got Sinclair's temper broiling.  "Excuse me?", he choked.

     "Well, Major General Sinclair, last time I checked you were not in charge of the Joint Services Criminal Rehab Office," Wilkins replied.  "Lieutenant General Paul Tolen is.  And he personally sent me an order saying I could do whatever I needed to do to get these people into fighting shape.  Now, I'm sure Private Verdes would prefer to get her punishment over with and get back to her adoring crowd, so why don't we carry on this conversation somewhere else?"

     Wilkins' emphasis on the exact rank of Tolen was not lost on Sinclair.  Tolen was, technically, his superior officer in rank and in this jurisdiction, and Sinclair could not countermand an order made by him without dire reason.  "You allow them to fight, and then punish the winners?"

     "It helps keep them humble," Wilkins explained.

     "Well, for this winner, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to stop."

     The grin that Wilkins replied to Sinclair with was chilling and infuriating.  "Well, General, as I said, I've got free reign to do what I deem necessary with my prisoners.  So unless you have something that can overturn General Tolen's authority..."

     Even as Wilkins brought up Tolen's name again, Sinclair reached into his jacket and pulled a folded pieces of paper.  "This is an order by the Secretary of the Army Karl Zarbona, stating that Private Verdes is hereby transferred to the 2nd BattleMech Training Battalion, effective immediately.  And as the senior ranking BattleMech-qualified officer, it also means that she is now under my command, not your's, and not Tolen's.  So get her out of that damned thing, have her collect her things, and then we will leave."

     "You know, I haven't been personally ordered..."

     Sinclair drew out another piece of paper and handed it to Wilkins.  "And this is an order by General Palmieri, Chairman of the JCS.  It allows me to countermand any order not issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the President concerning the disposition of personnel cleared for 'Mech training.  That includes any authority you might or might not have over Private Verdes.  This also acts as an order to anyone whom might still resist to follow my orders explicitly."

     Wilkins read over it.  He sighed as he finished it and handed it back.  "Fine.  She's your's.  Let the girl out, boys."  As his subordinates moved to release Misty Wilkins added, "Well, I hope you can get this little coward in shape."


     "She's a draft dodger.  And held up a triage doctor, threatened to kill him if he didn't try and save her dead boyfriend."  Wilkins shook his head.  "What can be so important that you have to help that spoiled brat?"

     "You'll find out."  Sinclair eyed Misty over as she did the same to him.  He did not follow her visually as she was escorted out the door.  "And might I add that, well, I'm not a lawyer, but I do seem to recall that the President's order creating the whole Criminal Rehab Office and the penal battalions included allowing visitation rights for the families of the penal unit members not in combat.  You are also supposed to provide mail services for them, even though I had to hand deliver this letter for Private Verdes after finding out that you have had the Stockade listed as unable to receive mail for, what was it again?"

     "Administrative difficulties," Wilkins replied.  "I don't have the staff to go through the mail."

     "Ah.  Well, there is a crowd of people out in the front right now waiting to see their loved ones."  Sinclair frowned.  "Now, I suggest you let them do so, and find a way to free up some staff to go through that mail.  Otherwise I might feel it necessary to let the SecArmy and maybe even the President know about your little toy there."  Sinclair pointed contemptuously at the "shock chair".

     "Yes General, will do."

     "Good."  Sinclair turned away and hid his frown as he left the room.

     Had he stayed a moment longer, he might have been just within earshot to hear Wilkins mutter, "Fucking nigger," under his breath, something that if Sinclair had known would be done, would likely have been used to get Wilkins cashiered, and most deservedly so.



     The cold Dakota plains racing by the government car matched the temperature in Misty's eyes.  Behind them the hated Stockade 6 was growing smaller in the distance; it's horrors now reduced to a barrage of painful memories.  She could see it past Sinclair's head, which partially obstructed her view of the rear window.  The leather cushion of the converted limousine, now containing a data uplink to the military computers and other command equipment, felt pleasing to her after the legacy of metal chairs the stockade had left her.

     Sinclair flipped a switch that raised the sound-proof partition between the back seat and the front seat.  "Are you okay?"

     "I'll be fine."  Misty pulled her jacket closer around her.  Her shoulder had developed a bruise and her skull still ached, likely a mild concussion from the blow she had received there.  When she looked back at Sinclair she narrowed her eyes at him, still thinking of where she could have seen him before.  "Do I know you?"

     "Yes.  Although you probably don't remember it as well."  Sinclair crossed his arms.  "I didn't know I knew you until I saw your personal records.  Your grandfather, Don Malley, served under me when I was still a lieutenant about forty years ago.  I was with him in the Phillippines when your mother met your father.  Even gave him a cigar when you were born."  A thought crossed Sinclair's mind.  "Have any brothers or sisters?"

     "No, I'm an only child," she replied coldly.  "My mother had a histerectomy when I was four."

     "How much do you remember that far back?"

     "It's mostly a blur."

     "So you don't remember seeing me."  Sinclair nodded.  "I figured as much.  Your grandfather got out of the service after you were born.  The only time I saw you was when you were about three, I was on leave and decided to stop in and say hello."  Sinclair folded his hands.  "You know, I owe a lot to your grandfather.  He showed me the ropes of it all when I was still young and stupid."

     Misty nodded.  With a tone of cold anger she said, "Yeah, well, I'm sure right now he's busy disowning me and cursing at my parents for not letting him raise me."

     "The whole draft-dodging thing?"

     "I never got a notice," Misty insisted.  "I told them that.  If they sent it my parents must have picked it up and thrown it away."

     "Wouldn't be the first time," Sinclair agreed.  "The courts didn't agree?"

     "That judge cared about one thing.  The fact my skin isn't completely white.  He didn't care for anything I said in defense, the testimony of the field hospital's doctors, the date they sent out that draft notice in the mail, nothing mattered to him except for the fact that I wasn't a pure-blooded white girl.  So he called me a traitor and told me that Major Wilkins and Stockade 6 would straighten me out and make me appreciate my country."  Misty clenched her fist.  "That son of a bitch didn't even care that by the time I would have gotten the notice, my town would have been overrun by the UN Army anyway.  How am I supposed to report for duty when I've got enemy troops on my streets and instructions to stay home?"

     "What I'm interested in knowing is, what was this whole thing about holding the triage doctor at gunpoint?"

     The question cracked through her heart and soul; it made Misty relive everything she had tried to make herself forget.  Her memory recalled the impact he made against her as bullets tore through his body and ripped into his lungs.  She recalled her terrified response to the doctor leaving Halbern to die.  He was "too far gone", but that answer was not possible for Misty at the time.  She and Halbern were two of a kind.  Passionately in love, their souls bound to each other for eternity.  He could not die so soon!

     But he had died.  Despite Misty's desperate attempt to save him Halbern had lost his life.  And in that he had taken a large chunk of her soul with him, creating a gaping wound that had robbed Misty of everything that had made her such a vibrant and freeliving girl before..  All of her love of life and internal joy was gone.  All that was left for her was survival.

     "I loved him," Misty murmured.  She swallowed to try and release the weight that threatened to suffocate her.  "James Halbern was more than my boyfriend.  He... I loved him so much.  We loved each other so much it's impossible to describe with words.  We would just sit there sometimes, holding hands and giggling, talking about how we were going to live and have a family and everything.  He... he is..."  A thousand intimate memories ran through her mind but Misty could not bring herself to speak of them.  It hurt too much to be reminded that it was over for her.  Halbern would never again hold her, kiss her, make love to her, or do anything with her that they used to enjoy so much.  "We made love the day he died, and it just felt so good, y'know?  I think, if we had known what was going to happen, we wouldn't have played around like we did.  The whole thing happened so fast, going from playing to rushing to his house..."

     "I've read the statements you and Chloe Halbern gave to G2," Sinclair interrupted.  "No, what I want to know is, why did you do it?"

     Misty went to speak but had to stifle back a sob.  "I was watching James just dying there, and I... I couldn't let him die."  She began to cry.  "I had to save him no matter what," she weeped.  "I loved him too much to just let him go."

     "So you had a gun and tried to make the triage doctor save him?"

     "Yeah," Misty sniffled.  "It was stupid, I know.  Nothing could have saved him.  But all I could think about was keeping James alive.  But when he died I just... it hurt so much.  I... thought my soul... died with him..."

     While Misty continued to sob softly Sinclair folded his hands and felt pity for her.  He felt anger at the injustices brought upon her; not just by the hated enemy but by her own countrymen.  The paternal influence within him felt the urge to comfort her; he held it back with cold military-bred reservation.  It also brought him pain to have his fatherly instincts return.  Inside his office, Sinclair still possessed his late son's dogtags.  The son who had given his life for the same country that had railroaded and dehumanized the teenage girl sitting in front of him.  The hypocracy made him sick.  Sinclair went to speak but decided to give Misty time to compose herself.

     It took a minute or so for her to do so, but Misty finally let out a final sniffle and began trying to clear her eyes of tears.  "I'm... I'm sorry," she stammered.  "I didn't mean to..."

     "It's all right," Sinclair replied.

     She nodded and put her hands back onto her knees.  "I haven't allowed myself to cry about it since going to Stockade 6.  I found out there that if you cry you become a mark."

     "Stockade 6 isn't exactly standard in it's running," Sinclair grumbled.  "Major Wilkins is the most disgraceful officer I've ever laid eyes on."

     "What do you expect from a racist?"  Misty's eyes went cold again.  "I've seen his office, he's a Quad-K."

     Sinclair began to see Wilkins in a new light.  "Quad-K", the quick abbreviation of the "Knights of the Ku Klux Klan", itself a petname for the larger "Knights of the Society of American Patriots" that were little more than the original Klan.  In past eras the rallying point for white supremacists had been racial superiority, racial "purity", and finally defense against socio-economic encroachment by the other ethnic groups that were no longer shackled by Jim Crow.  Now the rallying point was American patriotism itself.

     Men such as they usually gained their power in times of social unrest or upheaval.  The Reconstruction, the 1920s, the 1950s and 60s, and finally the first decade of the twenty-first century.  And it had been in that decade that the rejection of violent reactionism, begun in part by leaders like David Duke, reached it's final conclusion.  Under the leadership of David Forrest the Klan had officially rejected all racial violence and apologized, apologized, for the sins of the past.

     This was, of course, a smokescreen.  The Klan had adjusted to the modern world and realized that the best way to regain power was not violent revolution, as the Aryan Nations and other such white supremacist movements had long preached, but public relations.  To further improve their image they changed their name, to the more subtle "Society of American Patriots", and emphasized patriotism and love of country as their central belief.  On the surface they seemed to have become just another right-wing organization.  But their rhetoric had a hidden meaning that most new supporters had failed to notice.  To the SAPs, only whites could be "true" Americans.  Technically they stated anyone born in the nation, but once one sifted through their denounciations against other political groups, universities, organizations, and such, one found that to them only "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants" could truly be Americans.  So in the end they were still just as racist and intolerant as before.  It was just hidden below the flag.

     And in a time of national emergency, the flag was a very powerful mask indeed.

     "I see.  That explains my revulsion to him."  There was a short pause before Sinclair asked, "So, how often does he put that chair to use?"

     "Every day," Misty replied.  "His fellow bigots got very few visits, but for the rest of us barely a day passed when we didn't slip up in some way to get us a few minutes in the chair.  He tried to say that it made us stronger.  That being exposed to pain would help us on the battlefield.  Personally, I think he just wanted to hurt us."  Misty felt her muscles tremor at the memory of the chair.  "I finally decided to get involved in that damned fight circuit because at least that way I could get back at him.  Wilkins always had his hand-picked types that he rooted for.  Because they were like him, and he felt they would humiliate the others.  I put a stop to that by beating the shit out of each and every one of them.  So he treated me even worse, but it was worth it."

     "I take it you're into kung fu?"

     "Karate and kickboxing, actually."  Misty folded her arms.  "So, why did the Army spring me from Wilkins' Hell?"

     "We've found something better for you," Sinclair replied.  "And I can promise you that if you perform to expectations, your whole record will be expunged."

     "Oh, I see..."  She laughed sarcastically, with more than a hint of bitterness in it.  "So we're off for training, I take it?"


     "Uh huh."  A smirk appeared on her face.  "So this is where you tell me that I've been picked for some God-forsaken secret mission behind enemy lines, probably paired with a bunch of other criminals and dishonored soldiers, and I'll get freed if the mission is completed and I am lucky enough to return alive.  Which isn't damned likely because it's a suicide mission, which means I'll either get killed in the mission or I'll get captured and tortured and God knows what else the bad guys would do to me, ending in my dramatic but excruciatingly painful death.  I'll probably be disembowled, drawn and quartered, one of those really nasty and bloody kinds of death that make your stomach twist into knots just thinking about it."

     Sinclair shook his head and wanted to laugh at her sarcasm, but chose not to.  "You watch too many movies, this isn't 'The Dirty Dozen'."

     "Pity, I always liked the Riseman character."

     "I'm afraid this offer isn't quite as glamorous as a suicide mission," Sinclair began.  "You remember when they put you in one of those helmets and tested your responses?"

     "Yeah, that neuro-thingy test."

     "You passed."  Sinclair withdrew the Zarbona letter from his jacket and handed it to her.  "You're being sent up to the Winnipeg 'Mech Training Center to join the 2nd BattleMech Training Battalion."

     "Training for what?"

     "To pilot those walking monstrosities our new 'allies' and enemies are bringing in.  I'll be in the battalion too."  A grim smile came to Sinclair's face.  "I'm the highest ranking officer to take the test, pass, and have the balls to do some front-line work."

     "No wonder Grandpa liked you," Misty muttered as she read over the letter.  Well, this is certainly a change.  The same government that sent me to that hellhole Wilkins ran is now practically begging me to take this training and fight as one of these 'MechWarriors'.  A cold rage filled her at the thought that they had only approached her to ask something of her even when they had let her get railroaded.  She finally said, "All I want to know is, why the hell should I care what the Secretary of the Army or the President want?"  Misty's eyes glared at Sinclair.  "These men did nothing to help me when I got fucked in the ass by the military court.  Nor did they make sure Wilkins was treating us like human beings instead of little farm animals he could abuse whenever he wanted."  Her rage spilled forth in her voice as she continued to release her repressed anger.  "I've spent the last eight fucking weeks in that God damned hellhole and when they finally come to check on me, it isn't to apologize for my anguish but to ask me to do something for them!  They let that bastard Wilkins torment me, and torment others, just for the sake of their war.  Why the hell should I continue to let them use me to fight their war?  Not my war, their war."

     Silence filled the car for a few moments.  Ten seconds or so passed before Sinclair sighed and said, "Well, I'm not going to give you the patriotic duty speech.  And hell, I can understand why you're bitter."

     His expression grew tired and worn.  "But I love this country.  No matter what bastards might live in it, it is the country itself, it's heart, it's foundation, that I love.  My son loved this country so strongly he gave his life for it, as have many other men and women.  He did not die so that Wilkins could torment you, so you can't hold that against him.  There are millions of people out there, right now, fighting and dying.  Do you think they're doing it so Wilkins and his ilk can rule America?  No.  They're doing it because they love their families and they love their freedoms, and they want to protect that."  Sinclair's eyes lowered.  "I know you've been hurt and I know you're bitter.  There's not a man alive who would not feel that way if they went through what you did.  But I'm asking you, don't let their misdeeds prevent you from doing what you know is right."  Sinclair swallowed deeply and felt a hot tear roll down his left cheek.  "And I'm asking you, as a father, to make sure my little boy's death was not in vain.  He's gone now, I have to accept that.  But I want his memory, the memories of all of our people who have fallen, to be honored.  I don't want Armand Giuseppe writing the history books."

     Misty nodded slowly; she could not answer him.  She had to admit that she didn't want the UN to win either.  She had seen enough of them to know they had to be defeated.  And, Sinclair's plea had gotten to her.

     Finally, she realized she had no choice.

     "If I refuse," she asked in a subdued tone, "I'd get sent back there, huh?"

     Sinclair nodded briskly and began to scratch the back of his neck.  "Probably, yes."

     "I see."  She lowered her head and settled her chin into her hands, each hand holding a side of her chin and jaws up.  "Well, I certainly don't want to go back to Wilkins' Hell.  So it looks like I've got no choice but to go along with this BattleMech thing."  She looked over at Sinclair's weary expression.  "When do we start?"




BattleMech Training Facility, 2nd BattleMech Training Battalion

West of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Dominion of Canada

10 January 2016 S.E.C.

30 October 3058 I.S.C.


     Only the flag fluttering above the base command building told Misty that she was standing in Canada and not the US.  The terrain around Base Winnipeg West was just the same as she known in Minnesota, having resulted from the same ancient geological processes that created the Red River Valley.  And it was bitterly cold, even under the thick Army jacket and trousers she had been issued.  Cold was nothing something she was a stranger to but the arctic chill was still uncomforting, to say the least.

     Sinclair emerged from the command car behind her and came up beside her.  "There," he said, pointing to a large building.  He started to walk toward the squarish building and prompted Misty to follow.

     The building was a gym and multi-purpose room.  Basketball hoops were visible on the ceiling with controls on the wall behind them to lower them into position and there were markings to allow for roller hockey.  But these were mostly covered up by six rows of six seats arranged in the center, with a raised platform and podium on the north wall.  Most of the seats were already taken up, save for one in the front row on the left end.  "Go take a seat," Sinclair instructed Misty before stepping toward the platform and the handful of seats already there.

     When she sat down Misty found that the plastic seat was uncomfortable but managable.  She leaned against the back of the chair and sighed, appreciating the warmth of an overhead heating vent.  "Hello?"  A male voice prompted Misty to turn her head to the right.  A young male of her age smiled back at her.  His brown eyes twinkled at the sight of her face.  He pushed a few strands of his light brown hair behind his right ear and said, "Name is Kevin Jameson.  Who are you?"

     "Misty Verdes," she replied.

     "Ah.  You a Canuck or a Yank?"


     "Canuck.  Born and bred in Toronto.  Where are you from?"

     "I'm a Gopher girl myself."

     Jameson blinked quizzingly.  "What?"

     Misty looked back at him with a bewildered glare.  "I'm from Minnesota dumbshit."

     "Oh.  So you're used to this area?"  Jameson shook his head.  "Personally I can't wait to get back east.  I mean, I just can't stand not having a nice big city.  Winnipeg ain't bad but..."

     "I'm not going to let you chat me up," Misty whispered to him.

     "Not the talkative type?"

     "And you are?"

     "Well," Jameson shrugged, "yeah.  I like talking to people.  Especially cute girls like you."

     "I'm not as cute as I look," Misty warned him.

     "Maybe not."  Jameson winked.  "But you're cute enough in my book."

     Misty rolled her eyes and groaned lowly.  Horny idiot, she thought to herself.  When are they going to get this over with?

     Her question was answered right away when Sinclair stepped up to the podium.  "Good day, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to Base Winnipeg West, home of the 2nd BattleMech Training Battalion."  Sinclair coughed for a moment.  "Excuse me, got a bit of a cold."  He coughed again and then began to clear his throat before resuming.  "Today is the first official day of our BattleMech training, and as such I will shortly turn this discussion over to our senior instructor, Star Colonel Marcus Radick."  Sinclair looked over at an officer in a gray uniform who was sitting behind him.  This directed everyone's attention to the off-worlder, a man with gray hair and equally gray eyes.  "Now, this battalion is special," Sinclair added.  "There are not thirty-six but thirty-seven trainees.  The extra trainee is me."  Sinclair folded his hands on the podium.  "I'm not saying I'm going to be riding into battle with you in these walking tanks, but I am going to train with you as an equal.  I am getting no special privileges over you, I'll have to sleep with you, eat with you, the whole nine yards."  He coughed again before continuing.  "I can't emphasize the importance of our passing this training and getting out there on the field of battle.  Already Colonel Radick's people and the Kell Hounds have had several running fights with these other 'Clans'.  They're arriving more and more by the day and they're bringing their own war machines to our enemies, who will undoubtedly use them.  In ten weeks, I expect us, all of us, to be ready for frontline combat in our own BattleMechs that were so graciously loaned to us by our new allies."  A glint of mischievous light appeared in his eye.  "Because, what we are going to do is simple.  We are going to go out there and we are going to beat the living shit out of the Clans.  We are going to kick their asses so hard that they will run whimpering back to their homeworlds.  And the Clans will know not to come back because they will not want to fuck with us again.  Pardon my language."

     Sinclair's words had their desired effects; even as he asked for his language to be pardoned a loud male voice shouted "OOOOHRAH!", joined in by a few shouts of "Hell yeah!" and other positive replies, upon which some of the men began hooting cheerfully.  Misty did nothing but nod.  The testosterone in this room is suffocating, she mused wryly.  "Okay," Sinclair finally said after about ten seconds of cheering and hooting, "knock off the owl crap.  Star Colonel?"

     Marcus Radick nodded respectfully and stood up to come to the podium.  His words registered in Misty's mind, but she was not thinking about him.  She could still not come to grips with the change of fortune in her life following her release from Stockade 6.  And whatever happened, she was determined not to return to the damned place.  Misty looked over at Kevin Jameson, who still appeared as happy as a lark.  It sickened her because his grin and attempts at being charming, while dismal, reminded her so much of Halbern.  She felt a tear roll down her left cheek at the thought of her dead lover.  Her heart twisted painfully from the cold remainder that he was gone.  Even with two months to adjust Misty still could not fully accept Halbern's death, and it ate away at her like a cancer on her soul.

     When he finished a group of Canadian lance corporals came to the right side of each row.  "Quarters will be assigned by seating," Sinclair stated from the platform.  "A pair per room."

     Misty noticed Jameson's smile and shivered, hoping that the arrangements would be random.  Those hopes were dashed when a lance corporal handed her and Jameson the same quarter assignment number.  Jameson's smile grew while Misty groaned loudly.  "Looks like we'll be getting to know each other," he said cheerfully.

     "Lucky me," Misty grumbled.



     Because of the less strict nature of the Canadian military's outlook on the private lives of it's soldiers, they had arranged the quartering differently than the American training facilities.  Each company was given it's own half of a floor on the five story barracks.  That half included a common restroom, shower facility, kitchen and bar, and it was centralized around a "living room" that had three couches of varying sizes and a handful of chairs, including a chair in front of a writing desk.  The rooms themselves were therefore smaller, with just a closet for each occupant, a twin-sized bed, and a common nightstand and alarm clock.

     Misty threw her duffel bag into her closet and pulled off her uniform jacket, under which she was wearing a standard olive-green army uniform.  The door opened and Jameson entered with his very goofy grin still plastered on his face, something Misty wanted to wipe off and preferably with a roundhouse kick.  "Hey cutie," he said to her while putting his duffel bag in his closet.

     "Can you at least call me by my name?"  Misty got on the bed and tested the mattress's comfort.  She had slept in better but she considered it an improvement over the foam mattresses in Stockade 6.  She put her arms under her head and closed her eyes for a moment.

     "Going to nap away the hour until we report for the first training class?"

     Misty opened her eyes and looked over at Jameson, who had shed his own jacket and the uniform shirt below it, leaving only a white muscle shirt that revealed his solid build.  As he began to pull of the muscle shirt Misty snorted and asked, "What, do you think you're too sexy for your shirt?"

     "I'd like to think so," Jameson joked in reply.  "You know, you need to lighten up a bit.  Being tense like that can't feel good."

     Misty sat up on the bed and swung her legs down to the floor.  "You know, yeah, I wish I was still innocent and naive, but I'm not.  And I'm not going to lighten up, so forget it."  She walked up to Jameson and crossed her arms over her chest.  "Now, I assume I won't have to tell you not to mess with my things?"

     "Of course you won't," Jameson answered.  He noticed the cold glare in her eyes and some of his bouncyness deflated.  "Listen, I, um, I don't want to make you upset.  I... I was just trying to be friendly."

     "Fine.  Be friendly."  Misty stepped toward the door.  "But don't be sappy."

     Jameson nodded in reply but Misty did not see it.  She stepped out into the central room for the company quarters and found the nearby desk taken up by another uniformed man, with the same rank insignia as her's on his shirt.  On the desk by his hand was a black cover edition of the King James Bible, while his left hand gripped a pen that he was using to write on a piece of paper.  Misty walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.  "Writing home?"

     "Yes," the man replied.  He looked up at Misty and offered his right hand.  "You are?"

     "Misty Verdes."

     "Christian Jenkins."  Jenkins turned back to the piece of paper.

     "So, writing home to your parents?"

     "My parents have passed on."  Jenkins continued scribbling while devoting some of his attentions to his conversation with Misty.  "I'm writing home to my wife Toni."

     "Oh."  Misty tried to grin a little.  "Must be hard having to be dragged away from her."

     "Yeah."  Jenkins put the pen down for a moment and reached into his pocket, turning back to Misty in the small office chair.  He pulled out a picture that he handed to her.  "That's me and Toni on our honeymoon," he told her.

     Misty brought it closer to her face.  It showed a Florida beach in the background and the two of them in the foreground.  The sun behind them was beginning to set and it cast a red glow on their appearance in the photo.  Toni looked petite in the picture beside him, although they were at roughly the same height.  Her light skin was slightly tanned and a flower-pattern bikini covered her small bulbous-appearing breasts.  Like Jenkins her eyes were light brown, with long brown hair flowing down the back of her neck.  They were both smiling widely and holding hands.  A pang of agony stung Misty in the soul as she could see Halbern and her in the photo, standing in a romantic sunset on the beach while kissing or frolicking in the surf.  It was the honeymoon they had laughed and teased each other about since they had first gotten together.  Another promise between them broken by death.

     Jenkins noticed her pained expression and put a hand on the photo to take it back.  As he did so he asked, "Are you okay?"


     "I hope so."  Jenkins put the photo back in his pocket and turned to his letter.  "We can talk more when I get done, because I really want to get this out today."

     "I understand."  Misty stepped away and walked over to the wall, choking back a sniffle.  Don't lose it here girl, she urged herself.  Can't lose it here.

     The door on the opposite end opened.  A young woman of Misty's height emerged, pulling her long blond hair out before adjusting her cleavage under her uniform.  She looked over at Misty with a pair of grayish-blue eyes and grinned widely.  While her uniform hid the state of her body's flesh it was obvious she was possessing of a large bosom, which Misty was certain caused more than it's fair share of discomfort.  With a very slinky and suggestive posture the woman walked over to her.  "Hi," she said with a wide grin and a hint of a San Francisco-area accent.  "I'm Shannon Quincy."

     "Misty Verdes," Misty replied.

     "So, you're bunked with Motormouth?"

     Quincy's remark made Misty laugh.  "Yeah, I guess he is a motormouth.  You?"

     "Bunked with Marc Bergmann.  Former grunt, he's still in a funk because his combat buddies got sent to Florida."  Quincy crossed her arms.  "So, seen combat?"

     "You could say that."

     "Well, I haven't.  I just hope I don't chicken out, it'll look bad."  When all Misty did in answer was nod, Quincy asked, "You're not much of a talker, are you?"

     "No, I am not."  Misty brushed a small strand of hair back along the side of her hair.  Her hair had once been as long as Quincy's; having it cut down to "respectable" length was one of the first things Wilkins had ordered and in eight weeks she had only managed to get some back down to the back of her neck.  "You're not from around here, are you?"

     "San Francisco," Quincy answered with a grin.  "What about you?"

     "Detroit Lakes, in Minnesota."

     "Oh."  Quincy's grin disappeared.  "So, did your folks get west before they got to them?"

     "I don't know.  I haven't seen my parents in over two months."


     "It's... a long story."

     "Ah."  Quincy nodded in reply.  "I, um, saw a weird-looking symbol on his unit patch.  None of the normal stuff, it showed a gopher holding an assault rifle.  What is up with that?  I mean, a gopher, not a bear or something fearsome but a harmless little gopher."

     That made Misty begin to laugh in a heartier fashion than she had before.  "It's a Minnesota thing."

     "Oh."  Quincy blinked.  "Well, has Motormouth tried to get in your pants yet?"

     "Not yet."  Misty rubbed her right knuckle.  "And God help him if he tries."


     "I was Minnesota's state champion in teenage martial arts three years ago," Misty replied with a wicked grin.  "Got second the next year and last year, well, I couldn't attend.  Cramming for my final year of school."

     "Oh, so you're only like nineteen, right?"


     "Wish I'd known that kung fu shit when I was in school," Quincy said.  "The boys would have kept their grimy hands off my ass and titties.  Well," a sly smile crossed her face, "unless I wanted their hands on them."

     Misty nodded slowly.  "Well, I know how that feels like.  Being the only girl at school who isn't white made me a very hot item."

     "Well, you've got the figure," Quincy agreed.

     "'Ello peeps!"

     The door to the outside opened up and a male of medium-height and large build entered the central room from the external entrance.  The name "MacDonald" was etched into the right breast of the Canadian uniform jacket he was wearing.  He eyed Quincy and Misty closer and grinned widely.  "Both of you Yanks?"

     "Yes," Misty replied irritably.  "You're Canadian?"

     "Hell yeah, I'm Canuck.  Laird MacDonald, that's Corporal MacDonald for you Privates.  So, what are you ladies up to, eh?"  Laird stepped closer and set his eyes on their respective cleavages for a moment before averting his attention to his room.  He rubbed his hands together before taking his jacket off and walking into the room.

     As he went in, Bergmann emerged from the door beside it.  "Shannon, I'm finished.  You can go in and unpack if you want."

     "And get a change of clothes."  Quincy winked at him as she walked past.  "I don't think the made man wants to get tempted by these."  She motioned to her breasts before stepping by and into the room.  Bergmann shook his head and took a seat on the couch.  Realizing she was the only one in the room standing Misty took a seat on the opposite couch.  She rubbed the back of her neck before looking over at the blond-haired Bergmann.  His ice-blue eyes looked back at her and she could see the leftovers of tears that had streaked down his cheeks.  He scratched the tip of his thin nose and down to his nostrils, which were red from breathing in the frigid air.  Misty felt a lump in her throat as she debated whether to talk to him.

     Before either could speak Sinclair entered and stepped up behind the bar in an authoritative stance.  Misty and Bergmann jumped to their feet and saluted, but as Jenkins moved to get out of his chair Sinclair waved them down.  "No, no, this is a casual environment," he said.  "No need to stand at attention.  Just coming in to see if you are all ready to head for the 'Mech simulator controls to begin our first lesson of the day.  We have about, oh, fifteen minutes."

     The doors to Bergmann's and Misty's rooms opened and a barechested Jameson stepped out just before Quincy came through the door, still in her trousers but only wearing a red bra for her top.  Laird came out of the door next closest to Sinclair, down to a muscle shirt and boxer shorts, but instead of looking at Sinclair he took a moment to admire Quincy's breasts, something Jameson was doing as well from across the room.  Sinclair cleared his throat to get their attention and when their heads turned to him, he asked, "Excuse me, but why is everybody getting undressed?  We've got fifteen minutes to get to the simulator room and half of the company is already there."

     "Those jackets were getting hot in the building," Quincy remarked.  "I figured I'd take it off and let my skin have some air."

     "And flash your boobs to everyone," Bergmann added sarcastically.

     Instead of refuting Bergmann, Quincy smirked and stepped back into their room.

     "Hot damn," Laird muttered before getting back in his.

     Misty rubbed the back of her neck again.  From behind her, Jenkins put a hand over the back of the couch and onto her neck.  "Feeling tense?", he asked.

     "Yeah, a little."

     In response Jenkins began to use his fingers to gently rub her spine and neck muscles.  "I'm not much of a masseuse," he admitted.  "But Toni is terrific."

     "Toni?"  Bergmann lifted his head.

     "My wife."


     Jenkins' answer seemed to have an effect on Bergmann, who stood to his feet and went toward the main door.  Without another word he stepped through the door and into the hallway leading toward the stairs down.  When the door closed behind him Jenkins asked, "What's bugging him?"

     "I don't know," Misty replied.  "I thought I saw a marriage ring on his finger."

     "I hope that it's not him having lost his wife," Jenkins sighed.  He turned back to put the finishing touches on his letter.

     Misty turned her right arm over the back of the couch to face Jenkins.  "Thank you for the neck rub," she said.  "But are you sure you were comfortable doing it?  Being married and all?"

     "There was nothing unfaithful about helping you loosen up.  Besides, it's the Golden Rule."  He tapped the fingers of his right hand on the Bible.  "'Do unto others as you would have done onto yourself.'"

     "Oh."  Misty bowed her head and flexed the muscle.  "I think I'm going to head on down myself."  She sat up and walked toward the door.  As she got there Sinclair put a hand in front of her.  "Yes?"

     "Good luck," Sinclair told her.

     "Good luck?"

     "Yeah.  Good luck to you.  If you do good it'll get Wilkins' balls in a twist."  Sinclair winked at Misty, who grinned widely.  "And it'll feel good to pin a Lieutenant's bars on your uniform."

     "I thought enlisted couldn't become officers outside of battlefield promotion?"

     "MechWarriors are going to get automatic officer commissions," Sinclair explained.  "Even those who don't get commands.  But if you can make lance command and let me hook a Captain's bars on you, I'll be even happier."

     "I want to make Lieutenant Colonel, actually," Misty chuckled.  "Then Wilkins will have to salute to me, and that'll really piss him off."

     Sinclair broke out laughing.  "Yeah, it would, it would.  Now go on, we'll be following you shortly."  While Misty stepped out he walked into the living room era and knocked on the first door to his right.  "Mister Donalds, hurry it up in there.  We don't have all day!"



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