SOFT KILL
Production No. CVT515

written by:
Laurie Borealis

edited by: JAC, Claire and Kaye Stewart


Harborview Apartments, Thursday afternoon

The drizzly rain that had been falling all day had finally tapered off, and a weak sun could even be glimpsed behind murky gray clouds. But the wintry wind was cold, and as Detectives Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison paused at the police barrier, Blair buttoned his coat up around his neck. "Right now, I wish I was just an observer again and you'd make me stay in the truck," he muttered, looking with dread at the scene ahead of them.

Jim looked at him seriously. "Are you going to be okay with this?"

"Yeah, yeah, I was just kidding." Blair gave his partner a wry little smile. "Well, mostly. But I can handle it. It's part of the job. I still don't have to like it, though. Bad things happen to a body when it falls from a high-rise and lands on the pavement. Bad things I don't really want to see. And this is definitely not going to help me get over my fear of heights. The next time I get in a helicopter or up on some damn cliff I'll think of this poor guy and how he looked after he landed, and I'll think how I could look like that too if I fell."

"Try not to think about it. When we look at the body, focus on the routine."

Blair fiddled with the buttons on his coat. "I can do it. I wonder what would be going through your mind on the way down, though. You know, some people think that if you fall from a great height, you'll literally be frightened to death before you ever hit the ground. I really, really hope so. But then, maybe, if you're committing suicide, you're not afraid anyway."

"You're babbling, Chief."

"I know. I can't seem to stop."

"Just take a deep breath. You'll be fine."

Blair closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He let it out and opened his eyes. "Okay, I'm ready."

Together, they ducked under the yellow police tape and walked over to the small knot of people gathered around a battered body. The balding middle-aged man was lying sprawled on his back, and the wet pavement around him was stained with watery blood. Blair made himself look, paled, and quickly made a production of searching his pocket for a notebook.

"Hello, Dan," Jim greeted the medical examiner, who was crouched by the body. "What have we got here? Think he's a jumper?"

Dan Wolf looked up from his examination and nodded a greeting at them. "Hard to say yet whether he jumped, fell or was pushed. Death appears to have been caused by multiple blunt traumatic injuries, the usual consequence of falling fifteen stories and landing on concrete, but we'll need to wait for the autopsy to say for sure. There's always the possibility that he was dead before he hit, due to anything from a bullet to a heart attack, but I don't see any evidence of that at this point."

"Has he been identified yet?"

"Milo Spalding, resident of the Harborview Apartments, fifteenth floor, straight above us. The apartment manager was able to identify him. He's over there waiting to give you his statement." Dan gestured at a man talking to a patrolman nearby. "He said he can give you the phone number of the next of kin, Spalding's estranged wife. We'll need her to identify the body too."

"Witnesses?" Blair asked, rather faintly.

"Yes, there were two people walking by when he landed on the sidewalk in front of them." He gestured in the other direction, at a stunned-looking elderly couple standing with another patrolman.

Dan was examining the victim's hands. Jim crouched down next to him and zoomed his vision to the micro level. "Clean fingernails. Doesn't look like he was trying to cling to anything to keep from falling. Well-manicured. No calluses. Someone who didn't work with his hands much."

"Hardly," Dan said. "Don't you recognize the name? This was Milo Spalding, Junior, son of the late Milo Spalding, Senior, the founder of the Spalding Baking Company here in Cascade.

"Spalding Spuds, they're crispy-licious!" Blair exclaimed.

"Yep. Milo Spalding was the only son and heir of the potato chip king," Dan said.

They left the medical examiner and his assistants to finish collecting evidence, and introduced themselves to the apartment manager. He told them that the victim had moved in about two months ago, after separating from his wife. He didn't know the victim well, he said. The man always seemed unhappy and preoccupied and didn't speak much to anyone. He would be glad to provide them with the wife's phone number, and he didn't want to be pushy, but could they please ask her to remove his effects by the end of the month?

The two detectives took his statement, and that of the witnesses. Blair made copious notes in his little spiral notebook. Finally, the body was loaded into an ambulance, the crowd of gawkers dispersed, and they headed for Milo Spalding's apartment. It had been secured as soon as the identity of the victim had been established, and people from the crime scene unit were up there searching for evidence.

The open door led into a spacious entry hall decorated with a number of large oil paintings in ornate gilt frames. Several of the pictures were of a stern-looking man, painted at different times of his life, each one looking progressively older and sterner.

"The potato chip king?" Blair wondered aloud.

"Must be."

The technicians had finished searching the apartment and gathering evidence, and were almost ready to leave. The head of the unit gave them an update on what had been found so far, which wasn't much. They hadn't found anything, which made them think it was murder. No weapons, no bloodstains, no evidence of a struggle. The front door had been locked, apparently from the inside. No suicide note had been found.

"There wasn't one on the body, either," Jim said.

Blair pulled out his cellphone and called the phone number the apartment manager had given them for Spalding's wife. The sultry voice on the answering machine told him that she would just love to speak to him if he would leave his number. He tried the cellphone number that was also listed, but had to leave a message there as well.

They put on latex gloves before they touched anything, and then went out on the small balcony. On a sunny day the unobstructed view of the harbor would have been dazzling, but today it was just gray and dismal. Jim examined the wooden railing carefully with his Sentinel sight. "I don't see any marks of a struggle, or an attempt to hang on. No blood." He looked over the edge. The point of impact, still marked off with police tape, was directly beneath them on the sidewalk.

Blair inched over to the railing. Grasping it firmly with both hands, he peered at the ground far below. His hair was whipping around in the cold wind, and he shivered. "Oh, man," he moaned. "What a way to go. Free fall, and then...splat."

Jim shook his head. "You have an overactive imagination, Sandburg. You've got to distance yourself from these things. But you did fine down there. You did your job."

"At least I didn't toss my cookies," Blair muttered, feeling like a wuss.

"You'll probably get used to it," Jim added, "and maybe that's worse. You had a normal human reaction to an ugly death. I've just seen too much of it now."

"I'll try to follow your good advice and focus on the routine. So, uh, focusing on this railing here-- it seems too high to fall from accidentally. It's about four feet high, I'd say, and Spalding was five feet eight. He couldn't possibly have tripped and fallen over the edge."

"No, I don't see how he could have fallen either, and he hardly seemed the type to be horsing around on the railing. So I'd say suicide or possibly murder," Jim said.

"So far, I'd say suicide. The door was locked on the inside. No sign of a struggle. He was separated from his wife, and probably depressed. Wish we could find a suicide note, though. They usually leave them."

One of the crime scene techs poked his head outside to tell them they were leaving, so they went back inside to get a final report. It gave them no new information. When the door closed behind the crew, they began their own examination of the apartment, trying to get a picture of the man who had lived here.

The living room was expensively but impersonally decorated with a newly bought matching suite of furniture. The one exception was a scarred old oak rolltop desk, which was crammed with papers. Above it was a painting of a dark-haired woman holding a smiling toddler on her lap. The toddler was holding a package of Spalding Spuds. Piles of books and pamphlets covered the coffee table in front of the sofa, the end tables, and most flat surfaces.

Blair picked up a pile of pamphlets and leafed through them. "Well, this is interesting. The guy was into some strange stuff. 'Protect Yourself From Brain Mutations,' 'The Real Truth about MK-ULTRA and the H.A.A.R.P Project', 'The New World Order and E.L.F. Psychotronic Tyranny.'

Jim picked up a couple of pamphlets from another pile and read the titles. "'Death Ray Coverup', 'Illegal Government Experimentation on Innocent Citizens.'"

"'Here's the ever-popular 'CIA and Mind Control Implants.'"

"So he was a conspiracy theory nut?"

"Now Jim," Blair scolded, "you shouldn't be so quick to judge. We don't know what this means. Maybe he was writing a book and this was research."

"Maybe. Well, why don't you look at the desk, and I'll check out the rest of the apartment. Perhaps there's a suicide note in the desk somewhere."

Half an hour later, Blair hadn't turned up a suicide note, but he had found a will leaving everything to his wife, financial records proving that he was indeed very rich, and two lonely Christmas cards. Jim suddenly appeared beside the desk with a rather queasy look on his face.

Blair looked up at his partner with alarm. "Did you find something awful?"

"No," Jim said, "I didn't find much of anything. More nutty literature. A lifetime supply of Spalding Spuds. Dirty laundry. Not many personal things. No picture of the wife. But I'm starting to feel like I'm coming down with something, kind of dizzy and nauseous."

Blair contemplated him. "You do look a little sickly. But, I have to admit, I'm feeling a bit strange and dizzy myself all of a sudden. I hope we're not both coming down with the flu."

"Well, let's finish up here and get out."

"I got a call back from Mrs. Spalding," Blair said. "She took the news well. Remarkably well, in fact. She's in Palm Springs, but she's flying back late tonight. We have an appointment with her tomorrow morning."

"Well, there's her alibi, then, if he was murdered."

"If she's really there."

"That's a point."

They were interrupted by the doorbell. Jim went to the door and opened it, revealing a young woman in a red plaid poncho and wild reddish hair, which was barely controlled with several glittery barrettes. She looked startled. "Where's Milo? Who are you?"

"I'm Detective Ellison. Are you a friend of Mr. Spalding's?" he asked.

"Yeah, where's Milo? Why is there a detective in his place?" she asked, confusedly trying to look past him into the apartment.

"Come in. I'm afraid we have some bad news for you."

The woman gasped. "Did they get him, then?

"Who?"

"The watchers," she whispered, stepping inside and following Jim into the living room.

"This is my partner, Detective Sandburg," Jim said, as Blair rose from the desk. "Have a seat, Miss "

"Sears. Coral Sears," she said, apprehensively sitting on the edge of the sofa. Jim and Blair sat down opposite her.

Jim said gently, "I'm sorry to tell you that Mr. Spalding was killed by a fall from his balcony this afternoon. It hasn't been determined yet whether it was an accident, suicide or murder."

She gasped. "Oh, it was murder, cruel murder." Her doe-like brown eyes filled with tears. "I knew I should have given him the takyon harmonic field deflector earlier, but I only just found the amplifier. I think they're bugging my phone, so I came by to remind him to come to the meeting tonight so I could give him the deflector set, and now it's too late!"

Jim and Blair exchanged glances. Tachyon harmonic field deflector?

"Poor Milo," she said sadly. "The watchers wouldn't leave him alone, and now they've killed him."

"Who exactly are the watchers?" Blair asked.

"They're the government agents who are experimenting with mind control devices on American citizens without their consent," she confided in a low voice, looking around the room furtively. "It's a secret program, but I think it might be the CIA. They choose certain people and they monitor them, and they perform vicious experiments on them, and they control their minds."

Blair tried not to look disbelieving. "And Milo had been chosen?"

"Oh, yes, they just tormented him all the time. They kept telling him what a worthless person he was, and that he should kill himself. That's why I wanted him to wear the tachyon harmonic field deflector, to shield him from the voices."

"Did you say he was expected at a meeting tonight?" Jim asked.

"Yes, there's a group of us that are being experimented on who have found out the truth. We're working on a plan of action. I, myself, was abducted as a child and given an implant in my brain, and they're monitoring me all the time," Coral said solemnly. "In fact, they're telling me right now that it won't do any good to talk to the police about it. They're too powerful. You won't be able to stop it."

"Well, we would like to talk to the people in your group, at least," Blair said. "It might help us find out what happened to Mr. Spalding, if we could talk to some friends about his state of mind. We'd like to come to your meeting."

Coral appraised them gravely. "All right. You can come. It's at my place at 2450 Denny Street, Apartment 2A. Seven o'clock."

After she left, Jim said, "I'm really not feeling well. I may not make it tonight. Let's go home."

"How about picking up a Wonderburger on the way?" Blair teased him. "Add a little grease to that queasy feeling."

Jim groaned. "For once, I have no desire for a Wonderburger."


Coral Sears' apartment, that evening

Jim and Blair, both feeling surprisingly better, perched on rickety folding chairs in Coral Sears' cramped living room as Jim told the group about Milo Spalding's death. "We'd appreciate your cooperation," he finished, "in providing any information you have that might help us establish the cause of death, such as his state of mind, personal problems, or whether he had any enemies."

As they waited for the hubbub to die down, Blair studied the faces opposite him, looking for unusual reactions. There were various expressions of shock, sadness and even anger, but as far as he could tell they all looked as if they were hearing the news for the first time. He tried not to stare at the woman continuously talking to herself under her breath, or the man wearing what appeared to be a tinfoil helmet on his head.

A skinny man with a pencil-thin mustache and slicked back hair was the first to speak. "It was murder, of course," he declared, his prominent Adam's apple bobbing. "When Milo first joined our little group a couple of months ago, he was complaining of voices that were berating him every waking moment and telling him to kill himself. Nobody believed him, of course, until he found us. We knew he was telling the truth. We could recognize another victim of the government's secret reign of terror. We've tried and tried to report the outrageous atrocities against the American people that are happening all the time, under the very noses of the police. It's too bad Milo had to die before you'd listen to us!"

There were nods and murmurs of assent from the other people in the room.

"So, you allege that agents of the government drove him to suicide?" Jim asked stiffly, his metal chair making little squeaking noises as he tried to get comfortable.

"Well, of course," the man in the mustache said dismissively. "But it was the same as murder."

"Have you ever personally seen any of these alleged agents, or are they just voices in your head?"

"Well, they're not really in my head. They're transmitted to me remotely by the agents, so it's like they're talking to me."

"But I have an implant, so the voices do feel like they're inside my head," Coral said.

Another man spoke up. "I hear them in my bedsprings."

An old woman with perfectly matched blue dress and blue hair raised her hand. "I mostly hear songs, usually in my teeth, you know. But only this morning I was in the grocery store and they started singing "The Old Rugged Cross" to me through my navel, quite loudly. I'm sure everyone in the store heard it. It was very embarrassing."

Jim tried to regain control. "All right, folks. That's all very interesting, but let's get back to the topic."

"But this is all important," the mustached man said.

"Perhaps, Mr...."

"Owsley, Eldon Owsley."

"Mr. Owsley. We need to concentrate on facts that can be proven and that might be relevant to Mr. Spalding's death."

"But we are!" Owsley sputtered. "We're trying to tell you! Milo was being bombarded by high-energy remote control devices, as part of the government experiments that all of us here are being subjected to. They have all sorts of experiments, of course, so our experiences are different. What they were using on Milo might have been psychotronic E.L.F. weapons, or electromagnetic waves, or radiation, or microwaves, or something else."

Jim frowned. "This is pretty hard to prove."

The man in the tinfoil helmet stood up, waving to get attention. "My name is Woodrow Fleener. I can prove that Donald A. Pelkington of 14563 Greenwood Avenue is one of the people who are performing these crimes against humanity. I have seen him going by my house many times, or pretending to wait for a bus, with a small black box that looks like a lunchbox, but which I immediately recognized as a self contained power source of the type used by these government agents. He also has a military haircut." He sat down.

"Uh, make a note of that, Detective Sandburg," Jim said, unconsciously touching his own short hair.

Another man, small and nervous, cleared his throat, and said rapidly, "My name is Robert Bee, and I would like to report Dr. Lewis Milton as an agent. He drugged me with LSD at the hospital when I was being treated for a supposed psychosis, which I don't have anyway. They restrained me on the bed and injected me with LSD and told me in my mind, with mind control machines, that I was being put to death for my cousin's murder, which I didn't have anything to do with."

When he took a breath, Jim said brusquely, "Okay folks, if you have any more reports like this, please contact the police department later. Right now, we need to focus on determining the facts about Mr. Spalding's death."

Blair could tell that Jim was getting a little impatient. Keep that note of condescension out of your voice. If I can hear it, they probably can, too.

Eldon Owsley said flatly, "You don't believe us."

"It's not important whether or not I believe you," Jim began, but Blair cut him off.

Forgive me, Jim, but I'm going to have to play good cop, bad cop here, he thought. Aloud, he said, "You'll have to excuse my partner. This is all too new and different for him to absorb right away. He's a good guy, but he's an old-style Joe Friday kind of cop, who just wants the facts, ma'am. Now me, I'm a little more open to the unusual. My mom was a hippie who used to take me on marches against the CIA. She had plenty of theories about their nefarious activities. So I'm willing to listen." He smiled at his audience, and most of them smiled back. "But our first priority, right now, is to establish how Mr. Spalding died, and we need your help. If you could just answer some questions, to begin with, we'd appreciate it."

"I'll do anything I can to help," Coral said. Several others nodded.

"Thanks. Now, you've said that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. Did he seem suicidal, then?"

Coral said, "He was pretty depressed the last time I saw him two days ago. Yes, maybe suicidal."

"Anyone see him more recently than that?"

Everyone shook their heads, no.

"Do you know specifically what the voices were telling him?"

Coral thought hard. "That he had never done anything useful in his life. That his father had tried to make a man of him, and failed, and he would have been ashamed of him. That he was weak. That his wife had never loved him and he didn't deserve her. That he was a pathetic loser and the world would be better off without him. The voice kept saying things like that over and over for hours at a time, and just wore him down. He didn't seem to have much confidence anyway, poor Milo."

"How was his health?"

Coral said, "He hadn't been feeling well. He had constant headaches and dizzy spells, and he had stomach problems, too."

"Could have been radiation sickness," Eldon Owsley said darkly. "Could have been lasers. Could have been microwaves, or one of those other waves. They have no regard for human life."

"Do you know if he had any enemies? Or other friends?"

"Milo was kind of shy," Coral said. "I don't know of any friends other than us. His parents are both dead. There's just the wife, who sounded like a bitch, if you ask me. But he was very sweet, and I can't imagine that he had any enemies. Except for the watchers, of course. They're everyone's enemies." She shuddered.

"That's all very helpful information. Does anyone have anything else they'd like to add?"

Woodrow Fleener, his tinfoil hat a little askew, raised his hand. "I think they might have been using microwaves on Milo. I'm pretty sure that's what they're using on me. They usually keep the power low, but sometimes they turn up the intensity to torment me. When they do that, I feel hot spots where they've aimed it. I wish the police would get right on this. It worries me a lot because I've heard it's possible that when they use microwaves on people the increased body temperature could cause spontaneous combustion. Also, can I tell you about the helicopters that are following me?"

Jim and Blair sighed in unison. It was going to be a long evening.


Major Crime Bullpen, the next morning

"You used me, Sandburg," Jim said, as they entered the bullpen, "and you used your mother, too. You're shameless. I'm an old-style Joe Friday kind of cop, am I?"

Blair could tell that Jim wasn't really angry. In fact, he sounded kind of proud. He grinned. "Well, it worked, didn't it? They just needed to think they had a sympathetic ear, and it's true that Naomi used to take me to marches against the CIA." He stopped at his desk and riffled through the pile of phone messages. "Oh, shit."

"What?"

"Now that I'm their friend, they want to tell me all their problems. I think there's a message from just about everyone who was there last night."

"No sympathy from me, partner."

Rafe called over. "Sandburg, there was a guy in a shiny hat here to see you earlier. Said he'd be back. He wants to tell you about his neighbor, who was replaced by a clone. Say, where do you find these people, anyway?"

Blair groaned. "Oh no, Woodrow Fleener."

"You'd better start checking into that helicopter thing right away," Jim said. "You know, the unmarked helicopter that swooped down on Fleener's car and followed it for miles while making his car vibrate."

"Before or after I check into the microwaves?" Blair grimaced. "But, you know, this government conspiracy stuff is really fascinating. I wish I could do a research project on it, because it's just ripe for anthropological study. I mean, talk about your closed societies. They have their own language and belief system that are pretty obscure to anybody outside the group. Some of them are paranoid schizophrenics, or even psychotic. Hearing voices is pretty common with those types of mental disorders. But some of the conspiracy theory people are sane enough, and it's more like they got caught up in a strange religion. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell the difference.

"They all seemed kind of goofy to me."

"Maybe I really could do a research project on the conspiracy subculture," Blair said thoughtfully. "I wouldn't have to be associated with a university. I could just do it on my own, and I might still be able to get something published." His eyes brightened. "I even have a nice little group to study that's just dying to tell me all about themselves and their beliefs. An urban tribe, so to speak."

"Sure, I think you should do it. You don't have to be a cop twenty-four hours a day."

"Right, and I'm used to multitasking. Man, I feel energized just thinking about it!" Blair bounced a little on his toes.

Jim picked up one of several thick folders lying on his desk, and handed it to his partner. "Good, use that energy to absorb this report from the crime scene unit."

They were almost done reading the reports when Simon appeared at the door of his office and ordered them inside.

"Morning, Simon," they chorused.

"I've been reading the report on Milo Spalding, and I hope this is going to be a nice straightforward suicide. We don't want any messy murder with the heir to the potato chip king. The papers would have a field day."

"We think it does look like suicide," Jim said, "although it's not perfectly straightforward, I'm afraid. Mr. Spalding was involved with a group of people who think that the CIA did him in with mind control machines. According to them, he was harassed by voices telling him to kill himself, until he did."

Simon rolled his eyes. "The papers will really run with that one. Please close this case as soon as possible. I want you to make it your first priority."

"They should do the autopsy later today," Jim said. "They had to wait for the wife to formally identify the body, and she was out of town when he died."

"We're going to talk to her this morning," Blair added.

"Well, get going then." Simon waved them out of his office.

"Hey, Sandburg," Henri called over. "I'm on the phone with the front desk. There's a guy down there wearing some sort of metal headgear who says he wants to talk to you."

Blair said, "Tell him I'm not here." He headed rapidly for the door, Jim right behind him.

"Hey, what happened to Mr. Sympathetic?" Jim snickered.

"Shut up," Blair said, walking faster.


Spalding estate, later that morning

"I feel like we're serfs arriving at the castle," Blair grumbled, as the gate slowly opened and they were permitted to drive onto the grounds of the Spalding estate. "Don't forget to say 'yes, mum' and tug your forelock. Oops, sorry, you don't have a forelock, do you?"

"Very funny. You're just gloating because all your hair's grown back." As they drove up the long winding drive, a sprawling pseudo-English mansion came into view, sitting grandly at the top of a cliff overlooking the bay.

"I could live here," Blair said, impressed. "Man, just think of the potatoes."

"What?"

"Think of how many potatoes gave their lives to Spalding Spuds in order for this to exist."

"I never would have thought of it that way," Jim mused, parking in front of the door. "Only you, Sandburg." They got out and rang the doorbell.

As the elderly housekeeper who answered the door escorted them through a long hall, the Sentinel could hear the low sounds of a conversation ahead of them. He extended his hearing.

A confident male voice was saying, "...Algerian contact has been authorized to buy at the price I'm asking. They want to see more, too."

"Do be careful, darling," a female voice entreated.

"Don't worry. I'm careful. You won't have to see them at all in Paris. The business won't take long and then.."

The voices stopped abruptly as the detectives entered the large plant-filled sunroom overlooking the water. The man and woman who had been engaged in conversation moved slightly apart.

"I apologize for our being a little early," Jim said. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is Detective Sandburg. We're very sorry about the unfortunate death of your husband, Mrs. Spalding."

"Yes, yes," the woman said a little distractedly, "of course. I'm Belinda Spalding, and this is my dear friend Kurt Luker, who was so kind to come and console me about poor Milo." Mrs. Spalding didn't really look like she needed much consoling. She was a sulky-looking brunette with a voluptuous figure filling out a tight burgundy jumpsuit and long painted fingernails to match.

Her darkly handsome companion turned to them and shook their hands. "Yes, dear Belinda is all alone now. She needs support from her friends in her hour of need, and I was happy to be here for her."

"Did you know Mr. Spalding?" Jim asked him.

"Not well. We really didn't have much in common," Luker said in a slightly contemptuous tone. "I haven't seen him in some time, and there is nothing I can tell you about his death. I'll be going, unless you need me."

Jim watched him begin to stuff papers and letters from a nearby table into a leather briefcase. "Is someone planning a trip to Paris?" he asked casually.

Luker looked up sharply, his green eyes glittering. "Paris? How..."

Jim nodded towards a travel brochure lying open on the table.

Luker snatched it up and put it in his briefcase. "I have some business to attend to there."

"I'm sure it will be nice to get away from Cascade at this time of the year, and of course Paris is Paris, any time of the year," Jim said.

"Oh, I love Paris," Mrs. Spalding said brightly. "I'm really looking forward to getting out of this dreary place." She stopped short.

"You're going to Paris, too, Mrs. Spalding?" Blair asked.

"Oh, well, we'd had this trip planned for some time."

"You're still going, then?"

"Milo and I were separated, after all," she said a little defensively.

Kurt Luker closed the briefcase and put on an expensive-looking camel's hair coat. "I must be going," he said. "I'll be in touch, Belinda."

"Ciao," Mrs. Spalding said throatily, blowing him a kiss as he left the room.

"It's always good to have friends around at such a stressful time," Jim said neutrally, wondering just how good a friend he was to the new widow.

"So sad about Milo," she murmured, sinking into a cushy flowered chair and picking up a glass of wine on the side table. She motioned them to sit opposite her. "I had to go down to the Morgue earlier this morning and identify him. What a horrible place," she shuddered. "I was truly traumatized."

"How long had you been married to Mr. Spalding?" Jim asked.

"Two years, but we hadn't been living together for the last couple of months. I'm afraid the poor man had become as nutty as a fruitcake, and quite impossible to live with. He was kind enough to let me stay in his family home while he worked out his problems, and he took an apartment downtown."

Jim wanted to hear her assessment of the victim's mental condition. "In what way was he 'nutty', Mrs. Spalding?"

"He was always a bit, well, antisocial, but about two months ago he started having these paranoid hallucinations about hearing voices. Can you imagine?" She shook her head in amazement. "I really couldn't be expected to live with him in that state. I told him to see a shrink, but I don't think he ever did. Instead he took up with a bizarre little group of crackpots that just encouraged him in his delusions."

"Did he tell you what the voices said?" Blair asked.

"Oh yes, he said they criticized him and told him he was worthless. Personally, I think it was a projection of his own mind or something, because somewhere in there he probably knew that it was true. Unfortunately, Milo was kind of a loser. He never had a job, never tried to do anything with his life, never lived up to the family name. His father was very disappointed in him."

"So, do you think that he killed himself?" Jim pursued.

She took another sip of wine and gazed intently at Jim. "I'm sure of it. It's too bad, but I guess some people just don't have what it takes. I like strong men, Detective Ellison, and poor Milo was weak. Maybe the one strong thing he did in his life was to end it. Sad, isn't it?"

They thanked her for her time and left. As soon as they were outside the door, Jim fumed, "Did you see the way she looked at me when she said she liked strong men? She was practically coming on to me!"

"I noticed. And she was totally unsympathetic to Milo's problems, and not exactly grief- stricken at his death. Coral was right. She's a bitch."

They got into the truck. "Unfortunately, being a bitch isn't against the law, and I don't think she killed him," Jim said more calmly. "Well, have we decided that it's suicide, unless the autopsy gives us some new information? How about some lunch?"

"Lunch sounds good, although it would have sounded better if you hadn't brought up autopsies. But then I'd like to go back to Spalding's apartment one more time and look around a little more. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I just have the feeling that there's more to this somehow. It's awfully convenient for bitchy Belinda that her husband committed suicide, since she inherits everything."

"Let's go, then. Just keep an eye out for low-flying CIA helicopters."


Milo Spalding's apartment, that afternoon

The apartment was still secured by yellow police tape when Jim and Blair let themselves in with the key. Everything was as they had left it, and yet it felt somehow emptier than it had before. If Milo Spalding had left some presence of himself where he had last lived, it was already gone.

They made one circuit of the entire apartment together, trying to decide what, if anything, needed more examination. Blair finally settled at the desk again, saying he hadn't looked at everything before. Jim examined the living room and balcony once more with senses dialed up, in case some piece of evidence, no matter how small, had been missed.

After about half an hour, Jim began to feel dizzy and nauseous, exactly as he had felt the last time they had been in the apartment. He finally sat down on the sofa. "Sandburg," he said miserably, "I'm not feeling so well. How are you feeling?"

Blair looked up from his work. "Actually," he said, "I'm getting a headache, but you look terrible. In fact, you look as green as you did the last time we were here. What's going on?" He stood up in confusion.

"I think," Jim said, "that there's something in this apartment that's making us sick. Remember, when we were here before, we thought we were getting the flu, but we felt fine not long after we got out of the room?"

Blair added, "And remember how Coral said Spalding hadn't been feeling well lately, that he had headaches, dizziness, and stomach problems? Maybe it's that sick building syndrome, where there's something in the air ducts or in the environment that makes people ill."

"Maybe so. We should ask the manager if other people are chronically sick."

"Or what if the conspiracy theorists are right?" Blair's eyes grew wide with the possibilities.

"You mean the CIA really is bombarding the building with mind control devices, or death rays, or something?"

"Well, Naomi taught me never to trust the CIA, but it doesn't have to be them. Maybe there are a lot of power lines nearby with strong electromagnetic fields. People have been complaining about getting sick from those for years. Or maybe it's radiation leaking from a scientific laboratory nearby. I don't know! You're no doubt more sensitive to it than most people, but I'm feeling something too."

Blair walked over to his partner and looked at him closely. "If you feel up to it, perhaps we could try an experiment. I'm not sure whether this would work, but if we're being affected by waves or fields that normally aren't detectable, maybe, just maybe, you would be able to feel something with your heightened senses. If I guided you to focus on your sensations in this room, maybe you could tell where it's coming from. Sort of a controlled zone out. If it got too uncomfortable, we could stop. What do you think?"

Jim took a deep breath. "Okay, Chief, let's try it. I'd like to get to the bottom of this."

Blair moved a footstool in front of Jim and sat down on it. "All right, lean back and close your eyes. You don't need your eyes for this. I'm not sure what sense you need, exactly, but it's probably not even on that internal dial. You'll have to go beyond the dial, further into new areas of sensation, just beyond your reach. But you can get there. Now relax." Blair continued to talk to him gently, encouraging him to let everything flow through him and around him. "Let everything in, Jim. Don't fight it. Now go deeper. Deeper."

Jim listened to the soothing voice of his guide and relaxed into the sound. He extended his wide-open senses, accepting everything until he was floating in a sea of pure sensation. Blair's voice reached him there, telling him to go still deeper, to use the feelings of dizziness and nausea to direct him to their source. Gradually, he became aware of a low thrumming sound, and he focused on it, embraced it, amplified it. Yes. He opened his eyes. Without speaking, he rose and walked out on the balcony. Across the street, between them and the bay, was a low-rise building, and he knew the thrumming came from that place. He let the sound pull him in, and then he knew it was coming from a window at one end of the fourth floor.

"Jim. Come back now." The voice was bringing him back. Slowly, he returned, and realized he was cold.

"Jim, are you okay? You've been standing there staring across the street for ten minutes now. I was starting to get nervous."

He nodded, and they went back into the living room. Jim sat on the couch again, and Blair sat on the footstool at his knee.

"I'm fine," he finally said. "I've found the source of the problem. It's coming from a building across the street. That was a very strange experience. When I totally opened my senses, and let them wash over me, I was able to hear a deeper sound. When I focused, I could pick it up and make it louder. Now it's like I've tuned in to the right frequency, so I'm still aware of it, underneath, and I don't even feel dizzy and nauseous any more."

"Oh, man!" Blair said excitedly. "You've just discovered something new! A whole new area to explore!"

"We need to close this case first," Jim reminded him.

"I know, I know, but this is so great. We know your hearing is supersensitive to loudness, but we never thought to experiment with frequencies. It makes sense that you could hear sounds outside the normal range, subsonic sound waves too low for most of us to hear, and no doubt you can hear ultrasonic waves too high for the rest of us as well. We need to test you with a dog whistle!"

"Arf."

"Well, it would be one way to call you to dinner. Oh, and I bet you could hear all the whale songs. You know, a lot of their calls are outside human hearing, really high and really low. We're in whale country, too. We've got to check it out, not for any dissertation, but to see what you can do."

"I just needed a little help from my guide." He smiled at his partner.

"I helped you, didn't I? Sometimes, I think you've got it all under control and don't need me much any more for your senses, but I helped you find out something new."

"Yes, Chief, I couldn't have done it without you."

Blair was beaming. Jim thought he suddenly looked again like the enthusiastic kid who had moved in with him four years ago. Blair was a cop now, but underneath he was still the same eager student and teacher. Jim was enormously glad of that.

"Come on, let's go check out that place across the street," Jim said.

They locked up and headed for the old low-rise apartment building Jim had been drawn to. When they showed their police IDs to the manager, he told them that the apartment they had identified from the outside, on the top floor, west end, had been rented for the last two months to someone who had paid ahead in cash, but who never seemed to have moved in. It was a man, but he couldn't remember what he looked like. He was quite happy to give them the key.

When they unlocked the door, they saw it immediately. There was no furniture in the room, only a large black metal machine on a tripod, aimed out the window and pointing up to Milo Spalding's apartment. It looked like a strange cross between a camera and a machine gun. Jim felt the sound waves emanating from it, and he dialed them down. They approached the device cautiously.

"What the hell is that?" Blair wondered aloud.

"I haven't any idea," Jim said, zooming in his focus to examine the metal surface. He saw scratches, fingerprints, and a faint discoloration that appeared to be the outline of a lightning bolt in the rough shape of a capital Z. Focusing in even more closely, he detected small traces of adhesive, as if something had been removed, the maker's logo perhaps. It looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it. Putting on latex gloves, he carefully turned a small switch to the off position, and the sound in his head died. The switch was marked SOUND ON/OFF. Another switch with a microphone next to it was marked VOICE ON/OFF. A third switch next to a tape recorder was marked TAPE ON/OFF.

Jim turned the tape switch on. A male voice began speaking.

"You're a pathetic excuse for a human being, Milo. Just pathetic. Your miserable little life isn't even worth living. Why don't you do the world a favor and end it? You think your wife loves you? Think again. How could she love such a worthless little twerp? And you're not exactly a hunk. Homely, flabby, balding Milo. No wonder she kicked you out. Your father tried to make a man of you, but you always ran to mama, didn't you, mama's boy? End it. You're a loser and you always will be. End it now."

Jim turned the tape switch off

Blair sighed. "It looks like the conspiracy nuts were sort of right after all. Who would have such a thing, and use it on another human being? Oh man, maybe it is the CIA. It isn't the sort of gadget most people keep around the house."

"You've got me," Jim said. "Well, I'm pretty sure what we're going to find, but let's test it. Go back over to Spalding's apartment, and I'll try the different settings out on you."

The results of the experiment were as they expected. When Blair returned, he said, "If I didn't know you were over here, I would have thought I was going crazy. The voices were outside my head, but I couldn't tell where they were coming from. When you spoke your voice sounded different. I could barely recognize it. It was pretty creepy."

Jim nodded. "It looks like Milo wasn't crazy, after all. Now all we have to do is figure out who set it up. I've called in a request to have someone come collect evidence from this apartment, and he should be showing up soon. But let's take this machine back with us and see what the technical crew can make of it. Take some fingerprints first. You'll get some if you try right there and there." He pointed to spots that were invisible to Blair.

"You know," Blair complained amiably, "you could just do these fingerprints yourself instead of pointing them out to me. You're the one that can actually see them, after all."

Jim was pitiless. "And you're the one who needs the practice, junior."


Major Crime Bullpen, later that afternoon

When Jim and Blair walked into the bullpen carrying the confiscated sound device between them, they were subjected to friendly hoots and comments from their coworkers.

"What have you got there, an alien zap gun?"

"Get that from your friend in the tinfoil hat, Sandburg? He's been back looking for you."

"Very funny," Blair said. "Now help us find a place to put this gadget." Somebody moved a chair, and they set it down carefully near Jim's desk. It had been wrapped in an industrial-size plastic bag by the evidence tech who came out to the apartment, but it was still clearly visible. People gathered around curiously and the chatter grew louder.

Simon appeared at his office door. "I'm trying to get some work done around here," he groused. "What's going on?"

"We found this aimed at Milo Spalding's apartment," Blair informed him. "It's some sort of sound projection machine, like nothing we've ever seen before."

Simon took a look. "Interesting. Well, come into my office and give me a report," he said.

When they were inside, Blair began to explain. "Someone was using it to harass Milo Spalding, both to make him sick and to make him think he was hearing voices. The device can send subsonic sounds, which apparently can make people sick. It made us sick. But, Simon, Jim could hear it! He could hear sounds below the range of normal human hearing!"

"With Blair's help," Jim clarified.

"And the machine can also project voices from a distance," Blair continued. "The voices probably bombarded the poor guy constantly, telling him to kill himself. He was depressed and ill anyway, so it must have eventually pushed him over the edge."

"It was easier to use on him since he lived alone, I'm sure. It's not quite the same if two people hear the same voice," Jim said.

"Yeah, but his wife said he was hearing voices when he lived with her," Blair remembered. "Either she's lying or she's in on it. Or both."

"I guess you're not going to give me that nice straightforward suicide verdict I asked for, are you? This is getting messy," Simon said. "But I'm still hoping we can get it solved before the papers get hold of it. Do you have any other information?"

"Yes," Jim said. "I could see the faint traces of something, probably an identifying mark, that had been removed from the machine. It was a letter Z, shaped like a lightning bolt. Does that ring any bells?"

"As a matter of fact," Simon said, "it does." He closed the office door. "Have you ever heard of Zigler Technologies?"

They shook their heads.

"It's a high tech weapons company, based here in Cascade. They're engaged in top-secret research on non-lethal, or 'soft kill' weapons, made to incapacitate, not kill. A lot of it is military research, but the police department is extremely interested in what they might come up with, and we've already bought things from them that are in production."

"Like those stun grenades, flash-bangs?" Blair asked. "Or rubber bullets?"

"Exactly," Simon said. "They're working on a lot of other non-lethal weapons that are still in development, covering a wide range of technologies. I know they're working with chemical, biological, electronic, and acoustic weapons, and who knows what else. The problem with them, of course, is that it's hard to get the right balance between using too much force and too little. Non-lethal can often easily become lethal by accident, or they may be designed to operate at a range from non-lethal to lethal."

"Lasers on stun?" Blair suggested.

"Yes," Simon replied, "and I've also heard that some of these weapons are designed to cause permanent injury, or to kill you indirectly. If you're a pilot and a soft-kill weapon blinds you, you're probably going to crash the plane. I don't know much about it because it's mostly top secret. There's a lot of testing before anything is approved."

"Acoustic weapons, like our machine out there," Blair realized.

"Right. I suspect it wasn't obtained legally, since I'm not aware that such a weapon has been approved for production," Simon said. He frowned. "Yet another reason to get this case figured out real soon. I'm not sure what the charge or charges would be in this case, though. Theft, probably. Harassment, probably. But it still looks like suicide, not murder."

"I feel like I've seen that Z logo somewhere before," Jim pondered. "My god, now I remember where I saw it. It was the letterhead on some papers that I saw at the widow's house today, in the possession of a friend of hers named Kurt Luker."

"The friend that's more than a friend, you can bet," Blair said. "Sure, he'll help her deal with her grief on a little post-funeral holiday in Paris." He snorted. "Come on, Jim, I'm going to call Zigler Technologies and see if they've heard of him. Let's get moving." He pushed his partner towards the door.

Jim allowed himself to be pushed. "The truth," he said to Simon as they exited, "is that he's in a hurry to solve this case so he has time do some new tests on my poor ears."

"Tests that will enhance our understanding of the capabilities of the department's most unusual detective," Blair retorted. "It's all for the good of the department."

"Glad to hear you're so altruistic, Sandburg. Just close the case soon. That's all I ask." He closed the door behind them.

When Blair called Zigler Technologies and asked if they recognized the name of Kurt Luker, he was immediately transferred to Peter Zigler, the president of the company.

"Oh yes, Detective Sandburg," he said, "I certainly do recognize the name. He was one of our top salesmen until three months ago. That was when we discovered that he had allowed one of our clients to see a product that was still in development. We have extremely strict rules about not revealing information on our technologies before they're ready for prime time. We will never reveal any information about most of our government contracts because it's classified. Luckily, the project he showed to the client wasn't a government contract, or he would have been in even deeper trouble. But I couldn't trust him after that. He said what he did was just part of being a good salesman, but in addition to breaking the rules I think he may have accepted money from the client. At any rate, I fired him immediately."

"Mr. Zigler," Blair pursued, "do you have an acoustic weapon in development that can project voices and subsonic sounds?"

There was a gasp at the other end of the line.

"We've just recovered such a weapon as part of a crime investigation."

"That sounds like a weapon we're currently developing but haven't released yet. It's still very secret. We have some prototypes that are being tested, but not all the bugs have been worked out. Are you telling me that Luker had one?"

"I don't know, Mr. Zigler, but we're going to find out."


Kurt Luker's house, early evening

It wasn't hard to find Kurt Luker's address, and they were soon at the front door of his rather imposing residence in one of the finer areas of Cascade.

"Nice house," Blair observed, ringing the doorbell, "but the Spud Palace would be nicer. All he has to do is marry the merry widow."

After a short delay, the man came to the door. He looked very surprised to see them.

"Good evening, Detectives," he said. "Why have you come to see me? As I told you before, I barely knew Mr. Spalding."

"Can we come in, Mr. Luker?" Jim asked politely. "We have some questions we'd like to ask you. Just routine."

"Actually, I was on my way out," he protested.

"This won't take long. I'm sure you'd be happy to help your good friend Mrs. Spalding by assisting the police in their investigations." Jim said. "Can we talk in the living room?" He and Blair practically herded Luker into the room. They all sat down.

"Mr. Luker," Jim began. "I understand that you were formerly employed by Zigler Technologies?"

Luker's face hardened into a mask. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Just answer the question, please. Were you formerly employed by Zigler Technologies?"

"Yes."

"You were fired by them three months ago?"

"Yes," he admitted, tight-lipped. "We had a difference of opinion."

"Did you take any property belonging to the company with you when you left?"

There was a silence.

"Did you rent an apartment across the street from Milo Spalding?"

"May I show you something?" Luker asked, rising from his chair quickly and crossing in a few steps to a cabinet. He opened a drawer as Jim and Blair rose from their seats. Before they could react, he threw something towards them and ran from the room. There was a loud bang and the room filled with smoke.

"Oh, great," Blair groaned, trying to see his way through the smoke. The face of his partner emerged from the mist. "Are your ears okay, Jim?" he asked worriedly.

"I'm fine. I had just enough warning to dial everything down. Come on, let's go after him." Jim grabbed Blair's arm and led him through the slowly dissipating smoke. When they reached the central hall, Jim stopped and listened. "I hear him underneath us in the basement."

They tried the several closed doors in the hallway, quickly determining that it was the locked one. Jim tugged at it and finally drew his gun and shot off the handle. They cautiously looked down into the dim recesses beneath them, but their quarry was not in sight. The Sentinel could hear sounds of movement, but they were not nearby and a little muffled. He went carefully down the stairs, motioning Blair to follow.

Luker was at the far end of the large basement room, trying unsuccessfully to open a door that looked like it led to the outside. What looked like a porch light shone through the tiny pane. He turned around and saw them advancing on him.

"Halt!" Jim called. "You're under arrest!"

Luker pointed a large gun at them, and they dove for cover. Something hit the wall next to them and fell to the ground. When Blair picked it up, he found that it looked like a small beanbag.

"Beanbag bullet?" he guessed.

"Yep," Jim said. "Small but painful. He may have an arsenal of non-lethal weapons down here. Be careful."

More tiny beanbags came flying towards them, hitting the wall harmlessly.

"Put down your weapon, Luker," Jim called.

The man began to work at the door again, more desperately. "How did you figure it out?" he wailed. "I don't understand how you figured it out."

The detectives got up, keeping behind cover but trying to move towards their prey.

Luker saw them coming and let go of the door. Grabbing something off a worktable that looked like a flamethrower, he began to shoot foam towards them. The floor was soon covered with it, and they backed off. Jim put a finger in it and discovered it was extremely sticky, and wouldn't come off his finger.

"Hell, Jim, why don't we just go around? I don't think he can get back this way, now that he's covered the floor with foam," Blair said. They raced back up the stairs, out the door and around the side of the house to a small stairwell and boarded up door leading to the basement. "He's right behind here, I'm sure," Blair panted. They began to pry the boards off the door.

They could hear Luker moving around inside, but when they got the boards off and Jim kicked the door in, they didn't see him immediately. Blair poked his head around the corner, there was a blinding flash, and Blair drew back with a scream. "My eyes! I can't see!" he cried, stepping backward in confusion and almost falling.

Jim caught him and took a quick look at his eyes. They were closed tight and tears were beginning to spill down his cheeks. "I'll take it from here, Chief," he said, unceremoniously pushing him into the corner of the stairwell. "Stay here." Blair pressed himself back against the wall.

Jim aimed his gun towards the door. "Make it easy on yourself," he called. "Give it up." Staying outside in the stairwell, but focusing sight and hearing inside the basement, he heard something being sprayed, and saw something shiny cover the floor. Then he heard the man's slow movements in the other direction. Jim stepped cautiously inside.

Suddenly, Luker slipped on whatever he had put on the floor. He skated helplessly towards the piles of foam he had created as a barrier, fell into a large pile of it, and was immediately enveloped. His shout for help was muffled as he inhaled and the sticky foam caught in his throat. He began to choke.

Jim listened to the man suffocate and knew he was powerless to save him. The floor was too slick for him to cross and there was too much foam around him. Luker was frantically thrashing and trying to pull himself out of the immobilizing substance, but very quickly he stopped moving and breathing. When Jim heard the man's heart stop he shook his head and turned back to his partner.

Blair was still flattened against the wall with his eyes closed. When he heard footsteps coming towards him he tried to cringe away.

"It's me," Jim said. "We got the bad guy, but I'm afraid he's dead. How are you doing?" he asked him, tilting his head up and taking a better look at the squeezed-together eyes and the reddened skin around them.

"Okay, I guess."

"Can you open your eyes?"

Blair slowly opened his watering eyes. The pupils were highly dilated. "I can't see anything," he said in a panicky voice. "I can't see anything." He squinted and turned his head blindly from side to side.

Jim could hear his partner's heart beating fast with fear. He took out his cellphone to call for police and medical support.

"Do you think this is permanent?" Blair asked in a shaky voice, touching his eyes with a trembling hand.

Jim wanted to reassure him, but he really wasn't certain. He didn't want to set up false hopes if Luker's weapon had been set to blind permanently. "Give your eyes some time to recover. That was a pretty bright flash," he finally said.

"I stuck my head inside and he zapped me. Was that stupid, or what?"

"Not nearly as stupid as the late Mr. Luker, Chief."


Coral Sears' apartment, one week later

"Have a Spalding Spud. They're crispy-licious, Jim." Blair took the bowl of potato chips from Woodrow Fleener and held it out to his partner, looking at him with clear blue eyes. After a scary night at the emergency room, it had been determined that Luker's weapon had been a temporarily blinding laser, and Blair's sight had begun to return.

"Don't mind if I do."

The two detectives had accepted Coral's invitation to a wake in honor of Milo Spalding, under the condition that for tonight they were not there as cops. There were to be no pleas for immediate police action against the CIA.

"So Belinda Spalding and Kurt Luker had plotted together to drive Milo to kill himself?" Eldon Owsley asked.

"Yes," Blair said. "Luker set up the acoustic device to harass him. He'd stolen the machine, and a number of other soft-kill weapons. There was a large arsenal in his basement. He was dealing in prototype and illegal non-lethal weapons, making a fair amount of money, but he wanted more. He wanted Belinda Spalding, and Belinda wanted him, or at least what he could do for her. He was also angry at Zigler Technologies because he'd been fired, and wanted to get back at them."

"But he was killed by his own weapons," Owsley said. "Serves him right."

"Unfortunately for him," Jim added, "he slipped on the superlubricant he sprayed on the floor to stop us, and was suffocated by a wall of sticky foam. It's meant to be shot at people's legs to immobilize them, but there are a few weaknesses that haven't been worked out yet. Not only can it take off your skin when you try to remove it, but it can suffocate you if you inhale it, as he found out."

He didn't tell them that the police department had been extremely interested in the weapons that were found in Luker's house, and had begun talking to Zigler Technologies about how soon they might be able to legally buy the superlubricant, the sticky foam, and even the acoustic machine. Zigler's possible development plans for weapons using electromagnetic waves, ultrasonic waves, and microwaves were being eagerly discussed by the department. The threat of legal and public relations problems using soft-kill weapons which might in fact kill was ignored, at least for now. No, he thought they would be better off not knowing that some of their fears might actually become reality.

Coral Sears appeared in front of Blair. "I've been thinking about the project you were talking to us about, interviewing us and recording what we've discovered. Are you sure you want to? It might be dangerous if the CIA finds out what you're doing."

"I'm willing to take that chance, Coral," Blair said.

"All right," she said. "I'll do it, and there are some others here that have agreed, too." There were murmurs of assent.

A familiar voice spoke up. "Can I tell you now about how my neighbor was cloned?"

There was a chorus of shouts. "No, Mr. Fleener, not now!"

Eldon Owsley raised his glass of wine. "To Milo," he said solemnly.

"To Milo," they all replied, raising their glasses to his memory.

"I have an announcement," Coral said rather shyly. "I had a phone call today from Milo's lawyer. He made a new will just before he committed suicide. He left nothing to his wife. He left everything to me."

Jim and Blair looked at each other as the rest of the room erupted in congratulations. Blair held out the bowl of potato chips. "Spalding Spud, Jim?

THE END


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