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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Chapter One: Story Four

Aldershire Gazette
May 17, 1883
Front Page

ATTACKS IN CARELON! 3 More DEAD and dozens injured or missing as charming Aldershire town is devastated by additional tentaclebeast attacks. Officials urge calm as citizens demand action. Citizens live in fear as Carelon, the scene of so many an idyllic picnic on a Summer’s afternoon, meets with the threat of strange creatures and curious invisible attacks. One man was found, apparently crushed to death, despite the decided lack of any visible creature able to cause such injury. Witnesses to the event state that the man collapsed on Ash Street in Carelon this Saturday evening last, as if pressed to the ground by a great weight. The man in question has not yet been identified, as a number of persons are still reported missing at this date.

* * *

After a grueling night of the Physical Skills Battery, with no sleep and nothing to eat, Eudora was all too grateful when Captain Drury offered to escort her to the dining hall for breakfast before her assessment continued. No mention was made of sleep, but she was certain tea and food might fortify her in her efforts.

They arrived in the hall to find it empty of people. Captain Drury excused himself to find breakfast for the two of them, and Eudora glanced about the room. As all the rooms in this building went, it was both spacious and luxurious, with lush carpets, tall windows, and handsome wood paneling on every wall. A great feast table, perhaps able to serve some three dozen at once, dominated the center of the room, and it had been cleared except for the far end. Eudora walked over to investigate.

Several teapots were strewn about, as if a very thirsty group indeed had come to tea. But there was only a single tea cup, and then a very large bowl, of the sort one might use to serve punch at a party. How curious, Eudora thought, noting that the serving ladle was not present. She peered into the bowl. It was about three-quarters full with tea, and when she touched a hand to the side of the bowl, it was still warm. They left in a hurry, then. I wonder why?

“Hello,” a cheerful female voice said from behind her, as Eudora jumped up from her inspection of the tea. She turned to see an attractive young woman, perhaps of her own age, with loose, shimmering honey-brown curls, porcelain skin, and bright green eyes.

“We’re not supposed to talk,” the young woman continued in a hushed tone, “but I wanted to tell you—” and here she paused, grabbing Eudora’s wrist rather tightly in her hand and looking directly into her eyes, “No pain, no fear. Remember that. Bye!” Releasing her wrist just as quickly, she ran off the way she had come before Eudora could utter a single word.

Eudora rubbed a little at her wrist, contemplating the cryptic statement, when Christopher returned with a tray.
“Will you please join me, Miss Wright?” His polite demeanor had returned after the Physical Skills Battery ended, and Eudora gave a sigh of relief at the familiar responses and forms of address.

“It would be a pleasure, Captain Drury. Perhaps, ah, somewhere such that we will not disturb the…tea party.”

Chuckling under his breath, Christopher shook his head and and brought the tray a little further down the long table, until they sat near its centerpiece, an ornate vase of flowers. He began setting out plates for each of them and they helped themselves to poached eggs, toast, butter and jam, and their own hot tea, ignoring the bowl at the end of the table. They passed breakfast largely in silence, due to the great fatigue both felt, and Eudora was grateful that no more questions were forthcoming for the time being.

When they had finished, a serving lady came forth to clear the dishes, and Eudora blinked again in surprise, not sure where the woman had appeared from. Maybe I’m more tired than I’d thought. She stifled a yawn, all the more sleepy now that warm food did its work on her stomach.

“It is time for the next phase of your assessment. Would you permit me to escort you to the main study?”

“Certainly, thank you,” she replied, taking his arm.

They returned to the room with the bookshelf walls that they had passed on the way to the gymnasium.

“If you’ll please be seated, I am certain they will be with you shortly.”

“Thank you, Captain Drury. I appreciate all you have done to continue my evaluations.”

“My pleasure, Miss Wright. Good day, and best of luck to you.”

Eudora settled into a high-backed leather armchair with a sigh, wondering how long she might be kept waiting this time.

The answer was 58 long minutes by her father’s watch. She shook herself out of a half-doze as Albert Hedley entered the room, carrying a hatbox.

He sat down in a chair opposite hers, placing the hatbox on the coffee table between them without speaking for a few moments. Eudora straightened her spine and waited.

“Miss Wright. You have spent several very long days participating in the Special Services application process. Why are you here?”

“I like to see things through.”

“No. Why are you here at all?”

“I want to protect our homes.”

“There are those who believe this is not the best way.”

“What they are trying is not working.”

“Are you always so selfless, or do you just have a taste for punishment?”

Eudora stared at him in stony silence. Albert soon continued.

“Your application has been discussed by SPOT’s board. They want you to join us. I disagree with their decision.”

“In what area of my assessments do you find fault?”

“We haven’t seen you, Eudora. We’ve seen a carefully crafted mask, able to take on any task, shoulder any burden, answer any question with ten more of her own. But we haven’t seen what manner of woman you truly are, and I believe that once we do, it will be at a time that costs lives.”

“Are you saying I am the manner of woman that would allow others to die?”

“I’m not saying anything, any longer. Take the box. You’ll find your letter of acceptance and more formal instructions as to what you’re to do next.”

Eudora picked up the box and took it into her lap. It was far heavier than she expected for a letter and something triggered in her mind a hairsbreadth of an instant before she removed the lid. Adrenaline fired through her veins as her body tightened like a spring.

A tentaclebeast jumped up and hovered in front of her like some morbid jack-in-the-box who’d learnt levitation. Shaped like a lumpen octopus, it sported three pairs of iridescent black eyes and a number of thick red and peach tentacles with tiny discs running up and down their length.

Eudora was on her feet, staring into its middle pair of eyes, every nerve on edge, every hair on her body standing on end. The air felt thick and tense with some force she had no reference for, something warm and cold at once.

The creature advanced on her, and she leapt back, never losing sight of those odd, intense eyes. Slowly, it extended a tentacle towards her, hesitating when she drew back. She watched the creature warily. When it made no move to harm her, she carefully extended her hand. The beast once again raised its tentacle, wrapping it around her wrist. As the discs attached themselves to her skin, Eudora felt a painful suction when she remembered the strange warning at breakfast. No pain, no fear, she thought, masking all emotion from her face as the creature continued.

The tentaclebeast swung itself around her body and wrapped its far tentacle around her other arm. There was one tense moment, and then it landed on her head—

—and suddenly she was plunged into a dizzying collection of sensations, from all directions, from all organs, every breeze in the air, every sight in the room, the sounds of so many voices talking all at once, and yet somehow distinct, very very distinct, as if each were fondly remembered from childhood and speaking in an empty room to her alone—

—and then it was gone. Eudora found herself kneeling on the flowery carpet, its swirling designs much closer to her face than they likely should be, her breath ragged, her head spinning, as Mr. Hedley carefully examined her eyes, face, hands.

“There now. Steady. Breathe slowly. Brenton!” he called to one outside Eudora’s field of vision. “Water, quickly!”

“On my way,” was the reply.

“Easy, Miss Wright. You’ve made your Passage. It will sort itself out in a moment.”

“Passage?”

“A final assessment. The hardest one of all.”

Eudora blinked hard several times, trying to gather some semblance of wits, or conversation. “Passed?”

She heard Arthur laughing as he pressed a glass of water to her lips, and she drank a few grateful gulps.

“Is she going to be alright?” the voice from earlier asked. Eudora saw it was attached to a man she had not yet met, a handsome fellow in a burgundy vest, white shirt, and black pants, whose knee was roughly level with her eyes at this point.

“How should I know?” Arthur said, still chuckling and supporting Eudora on one arm. “Truly, how should any of us know anything at all?”

* * *

Found pasted to the front door of the Mayor’s office, Chambers Street, Thorthrope, Aldershire

Anti-SPOT Propaganda Poster

 

Chapter One: Story Three

Eudora sat in the questioning room, her application long finished, the pen laid neatly at its side, her hands folded in her lap. Her father’s pocket watch told her that it had been over six hours, nearly six and a half, since Mr. Hedley had flung her application unceremoniously to the floor and taken his leave.

She ignored both the pricks of hunger and the increasing need to relieve herself as she sat in stony silence, waiting for them to return. With another test, another round of questions, more poking and prodding and wanting to know if there were any diseases on her mother’s third cousin’s side, or if anyone in her acquaintance may have, at one time or another, committed a misdemeanor. Certainly there might be something they hadn’t yet asked?

Just as she was wondering for the hundredth time when or if anyone might return to collect her application, she heard several voices down the hall. Male and female, by the sound, chattering on about something cheerfully enough. She turned her head, but did not allow herself to stand, uncertain whether or not she was still being observed.

The conversation continued long enough for Eudora to determine that they were readying themselves for tea time. Upon thinking of tea her stomach growled in a most unladylike fashion, and she gave a frustrated sigh. Damn that Hedley and his tests, she thought, wondering what her mother might think had she voiced the thought out loud.

The chatter faded into the distance, and Eudora was once again completely alone. She debated again the idea of searching out someone. Perhaps this is not a test of patience, but one of resourcefulness? Still, the idea of relenting to Hedley and his taunts in any fashion galled her. He might take any movement as a sign that she had given up, that she wanted to go home after all. I couldn’t stand the look on that man’s face, were I to go.

Some time passed, and she did her best to suppress any thoughts of Family or Home with rage: at Hedley, at the tentaclebeasts, at her own circumstances, at the lack of tea or supper, at the whole state of the world and anything she might think of within it.

At half-past forever, or about three hours later by her pocket watch, there was a knock on the open door. “Miss Wright?” a voice called.

“Yes?”

A tall man in perhaps his mid-twenties entered the room. She noticed that he wore some kind of uniform, devoid of insignia, but of a piece, and a deep navy blue. She looked more closely and noticed that it was dotted with very tiny and odd white specks, almost as if salt had been spilt upon it.

“Miss Wright, I am Captain Christopher Drury.” She stood and he extended his hand, then shook her hand as if she were another man, rather than kissing it as would be done for a lady. She noticed he had thick hands and muscular arms, as well as a firm grip. His brown hair and eyes were a fair match for her own, but his skin had seen more sun.

“Eudora Wright, though I can see you’ve been told.”

“Quite right, Miss. I’m here to conduct you to your physical skills battery. You’ll be wearing a uniform like this one, and required to accomplish a number of tasks before advancing in consideration for Special Services. Please come with me.”

“Right now?” Eudora asked with just a hint of plaintiveness.

“Is there a problem, Miss Wright?” She could tell from his tone and his arched brow that the question was not a sincere inquiry, but a challenge.

“None, Captain. Please lead the way.”

He nodded and proceeded out of the room, with Eudora close behind, feeling an ache in her legs from sitting for so long.

“The physical skills battery is a test of your strength, endurance, and determination.” He led her past a series of lushly furnished studies, then across a large common room that looked somewhat like a library, its walls lined with shelves of books, and a rolling ladder to access the top levels. “Appropriate attire will be provided for you. You will complete a number of individual tests according to my instructions, and then you will navigate an obstacle course. From now on, you are to call me “sir”, and speak only when spoken to. Is that clear, Wright?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. This way.” They turned left and she noticed a number of wooden doors with bronze plates on them. Upon the plates were inscribed a number of surnames: Livingston, Valentine, Prescott, Drury, Brenton. Bedrooms? Eudora wondered, but did not ask.

After a few more turns, they came to what seemed to be several rather Spartan bedrooms, but with large, single-panel windows replacing a wall on each side. Past these, Christopher opened a swinging door, and they entered an enormous gymnasium. Eudora observed a wide array of equipment, including weights, benches, balls from different games she recognized, overhead bars, ropes for climbing, a variety of weapons, and items that she could not categorize at all.

Christopher took a uniform from its folded place on a bench and thrust it into her arms. “Changing room’s over there, Wright,” he said, pointing. “I expect you back here in appropriate attire in 90 seconds.” He pulled out his stopwatch. “Go!”

She blinked a moment before rushing headlong in the direction he pointed. It led to a large room with wooden benches built into the walls. She tore off her dress and began frantically unlacing the stays of her corset, a skill she had only recently acquired, seeing as how leaving home meant leaving the servants as well.

Somehow she managed to wrestle the clothing from her body in record time, but the new uniform itself was confusing. It covered the entire body and had a device in the back Eudora had never seen before: a sort of metal strip with a tab in the center. She turned it over a few times, confused, and heard Christopher call from the gymnasium, “I’m waiting, Wright.” Tugging on it a few times, she finally determined that it slid down the back of the garment, splitting the back into two pieces. She pushed her feet into it, hoping it was going on in the right direction, and pulled the garment into place. Reaching for the metal tab, she yanked a few times before it slid cooperatively upward and she dashed back to the gymnasium.

“Wright! That’s three minutes, ten seconds. Unacceptable!” Christopher barked.

“I’m sorry, sir, I was—”

“Did I ask you for an explanation, Wright?”

“No, sir.”

“Then don’t give me one. I’m about to introduce you to your new best friend.” He stood with his arms straight out to either side, then jumped into the air, raising his arms to meet each other with a clap of the hands, before leaping back to a standing pose. “This is called a jumping jack.” He strung several of the movements together. “At any time that you are not otherwise following my orders, you are to be performing jumping jacks. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Begin now.”

As Eudora began the exercise, a bit awkwardly at first, but soon with more fluidity, Christopher continued.

“Your first challenge will be this rope,” he said, gesturing to a rope hanging from the ceiling. “You will climb to the top, retrieve the flag that is hanging there, and return with it, as quickly as you possibly can. Your task is not complete until that flag is in my hand. Do you understand your instructions?”

“Yes, sir,” Eudora affirmed over her jumps.

“Your time begins…now!”

Eudora dashed to the rope, a pang in her stomach from missing both tea and supper. It was going to be a long night.

 

Chapter One: Story Two

Diary of Georgiana Valentine
May 12, 1883

Dear Mr. Diary,

Stomach cramps from going through the portal again! Ugh! I’ll never live it down if they send Brian over without me. Inky seems to have taken a bit ill as well, though I haven’t had the chance to ask him. Decontamination and all that fuss. This always is the most boring time. I mean really, what is there from that side that waiting it out is going to solve?

It’s hard to believe that something as simple as gunpowder can affect these creatures, and that they have no such device of their own. I thought about that, yesterday, while we placed the explosives. The tentaclebeasts…some as large as elephants, some larger…laid low by simple gunpowder, by collapsing rocks. It makes one wonder why things have to be this way. Isn’t there some Tentaclebeast Consulate that we can speak with and negotiate a treaty? All these hotbloods ever talk about is how many marks we’ve taken down, & I believe they would be bored to tears without the killing. I want to see more of this other world. It’s all one giant unknown…no guidebooks, no maps. Am I the only person who’s fascinated by that?

I don’t want to talk to the others about it though. Hard enough being the only girl here. I don’t need them thinking I’ve gone soft on top of it all.

No sense in rambling on here when I’ve got reports to file. Always with the reports. More later.

Love,
Gigi

May 14, 1883

Good day, Mr. Diary,

There’s another girl making her application! Richard said so at breakfast and I didn’t believe him, but then Brian came back from post-battle psych and told me she was there for evaluations. I can scarcely believe it. I mean, it’s nothing to get excited about until she makes her Passage, but still, I can’t believe it!

Nobody can tell me anything useful about her. Tall? Short? Pretty? Smart? It seems that they’ve all noted her sex only to speed off in the opposite direction & sound the alarm. And most importantly, how old is she? Will I finally have someone else to talk to, or will she be taking garden walks with Uncle Albert? Don’t get me wrong, Brian is great, but there are certain things a brother just cannot understand, even if he is your twin. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t need you, Dear Diary, would I?

I shall simply have to investigate & see what I can discover about this mysterious female applicant. I would just ask Uncle, but he can be so tight-lipped about the really juicy things, even when I am sweetness itself.

I’m off, then!
Gigi

May 16, 1883

Salutations, dear Mr. Diary!

The quest for information has been a little more difficult than anticipated. I’m beginning to think the woman in question is crafted from mists & fancy. Helped Cpt. Drury polish gear for 2 whole hours & got scarcely enough information to fill a thimble, though we certainly discussed her long enough. Will she make Special Services? What will she be like? How will she react to her Passage? Speculation abounds. What was interesting is that while Cpt. Drury and I were polishing & discussing, Mr. Brenton came round and collected the good Captain “on Uncle’s orders”. To be certain, it could be follow-up from the last mission, but it could be something to do with the new applicant.

When I saw Mr. Brenton, what with his scarring & all, I could not help but be moved to pity, and I felt I must go at once to see about Inky. He was attended upon by their own medic, a tentaclebeast not much of my acquaintance, and so I’ve no name for him. His center was shaped more like that of an octopus than a squid, and he had two short sets of tentacles near his three eyes, then four longer sets along his body. However, like Inky, his tentacles were smooth, and two ended in those sort of oval-shaped claspers that Inky has. I saw him cradling Inky between two tentacles, and then gently turning him this way and that as if to see what might be the matter. But Inky must have been well enough, for he backed away as if satisfied with his work, and Inky came forth to greet me.

I held out my arms to him, and he wrapped his two front tentacles about them in a reverse of normal Riding. The luster had returned to his big purple eyes & I was much satisfied at his improvement. He seemed concerned about me as well, and I assured him in confident tones that I was quite recovered. I’m not certain how much he can gather of my words when not Riding, but I hoped that the sound of my voice would be reassuring to him.

He patted my hand with his clasper and then released my arms and gave a little bob, which is his way of making a bow. It is of course not the tentaclebeast custom to make a bow, but being in association with ourselves, and having no hat to tip, it is what some of them have devised to join in polite society. I find it admirable that Inky has made such a go of it.

Well I suppose I had better go to tea. Rumbly tummy and all. I wonder if Inky and his kind take tea?

Yours most sincerely,
Gigi

 

Chapter One: Story One

Dearest Mother,

By the time you read this, I will be gone. I want to try to explain to you why I am leaving, even though you will not understand. When Father died

Dearest Mother,

By the time you read this, I will be gone. Don’t send anyone after me. I have to make things right somehow, since I know that you will not.

Dearest Mother,

By the time you read this, I will be gone. But do not fear for me. I have a good head upon my shoulders, thanks to Father

Dearest Mother,

By the time you read this, I will be gone. I know that it is hard for you to accept, but I must go. Do not worry, and do not send anyone after me. I will return once I have done what needs to be done.

Your dutiful daughter,
Eudora Wright

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Application for Special Services with the Society for the Promotion of Tentaclebeasts

Page 1

Applicant (Last name first): Wright, Eudora Melanie
Today’s Date: May 16, 1883
Residence: 13 Winter Street, Thorthrope, Aldershire
Occupation: Seamstress
Date of Birth: March 12, 1866
Age: 17
Sex: F
Birthplace: Thorthrope, Aldershire

Father’s Full Name: Edward Daniel Wright
Father’s Date of Birth: February 7, 1837
Father’s Birthplace: Listle, Nomark
Father’s Date of Death (if applicable): June 3, 1882
Mother’s Full Name: Caroline Marie Dreesman Wright
Mother’s Date of Birth: November 10, 1845
Mother’s Birthplace: Carelon, Aldershire
Mother’s Date of Death (if applicable): N/A
Siblings:
Name | Sex | Date of Birth | Date of Death (if applicable)
John Michael Wright | Male | January 2, 1863 | Novermber 24, 1873
Sarah Caroline Wright | Female | February 23, 1868 | N/A
Margaret Susan Wright | Female | July 19, 1872 | N/A
Victoria Marie Wright | Female | November 29, 1873 | N/A
Edward Daniel Wright II | Male | April 21, 1876 | N/A

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Page 4

List the 10 foods you most frequently consume.

Have you ever gone for more than 48 hours without sleep? If so, please describe the circumstances.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Page 22

You own a general store and find that a young boy has stolen a bag of candy and is attempting to leave your store with it. Describe your reaction and handling of the situation.

Have you ever owned a pet or farm animals? If so, please describe the animals and your relationship with them.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Albert Hedley watched through the one-way window as the somber young woman filled out the extensive application for Special Services. Her neatly curled brown ringlets were so carefully arranged that she did not have to brush them out of her face while her pale hand flickered over the page.

“I don’t like it, Brenton.” he said to his partner without taking his eyes off of her.

“Don’t like what?”

“It. Her. This.” He gestured broadly with his cane. “She’s too quiet. Not a flicker across her face. Not a single hair escaping its coif.”

“Perhaps she’s simply taking this seriously.”

“Not at all. She’s not taking it seriously enough. We’re not getting to her.”

“Relax, Albert. It’s only the paperwork. There’s still the Passage.”

“Hmmf.” The older man’s black eyebrows drew closer to his deep-set brown eyes as he continued to watch her progress.

“No pain, no fear, right? Isn’t that what the kids say on the missions these days?”

Albert cracked a smile. “Two years out of the field entitles you to call them kids?”

“Five years in the field entitles me to call them kids. This is just a desk job. Makes us soft.” Michael Brenton patted his lean belly as if he’d gained a paunch and winked. The right hand now against his stomach had wicked black and purple scars, deeply inset and wrapping around his arm to disappear into the sleeve of his jacket. They emerged again at his neck and crawled across his face, causing the handsome and cheerful left side to contrast dramatically with the wounded right. Still, his dark blue eyes were merry under a cap of coppery brown curls, showing a glimpse of the man who had once turned many a head at the capitol’s numerous society balls.

Better to have her crack now than later, Albert thought, feeling that familiar knot in his stomach. He refused to let his face betray any discomfort to Brenton. I owe him that much.

“I can hear you worrying. She passed her base medical and psychological evaluations.”

For all I know, he actually does hear me. “I want Mr. Drury to run her physical skills battery personally. Pray remind him that he ought not to make any exceptions on account of her sex.”

“I’m certain he wouldn’t dream of such a thing. Any special orders for her Passage?”

“Yes. I’ll conduct it myself, when the time comes. Wait here a moment.”

Albert strode purposefully for the door to the questioning room, where Eudora Wright sat dutifully writing her application. He collected himself a moment in front of the thick wooden door before turning its shiny brass handle. The room was sparse by Society standards, but it still featured a plush, ornate carpet, a wide oak table, and two upholstered chairs.

She did not look up from her work as he entered the room.

“Miss Wright.”

The almost ethereal white hand stopped its floating motion across the page. The pen was laid precisely alongside it and her hands folded neatly in her lap as she straightened to look at him.

“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure, Mister…?”

“You won’t be needing my name, Miss Wright. You’re going home now.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Look at you. I’d wager you’re of good standing. Not a ravishing beauty, but pretty enough. You should be seeking out your husband and starting a family.”

“There is a time for everything, sir. Now is not my time to marry.”

“Your family cannot have sent you here willingly. Do they even know?”

“They know enough.”

“So you stole away then, like a naughty little girl. We have no use for little girls in the Special Services.”

Eudora regarded him coolly, as if he hadn’t been discussing her at all. Albert snatched her application from the table.

“You’re a seamstress, not a society girl,” he continued. “Perhaps you’re not seeking a husband because your family is too poor to provide you with a suitable dowry? Supporting mother and father, are we?”

“Is there any shame in honest work?”

“Do you believe honest work will matter one whit to the terrors you are applying to meet face to face?”

“Strength of character can only assist in all of one’s endeavors.”

“Spoken like a true schoolgirl, Miss Wright. Do you think that any of your life’s lessons will help you here?”

“I expect that I shall need to call upon all of them.”

“And many more that you’ve yet to imagine. Grown men have cowered and despaired upon encountering the tentaclebeasts.”

“I suppose it is fortunate, then, that I am a grown woman, and not a man.”

“Really? Being of the fairer sex prepares you to work with unearthly creatures, just the same as those responsible for ravaging half the countryside? For taking countless lives? This is not a game, nor a lesson. It is not a fancy dress ball, or writing home to your friends on holiday. Is there anything, anything at all, in your schoolgirl, seamstress, genteel existence that has readied you to tame a creature of the void, cheek to slimy cheek?”

“I imagine that—”

“You cannot imagine. You cannot prepare. You cannot compare anything in your previous life to what you will encounter within the very walls of this building, let alone upon a field of battle that is not of this world. Go home, Miss Wright. Before your mother frets and supper grows cold. You’re finished here. We’ve no use for you.” Albert threw the application onto the floor and stormed from the room, leaving the door open behind him.

He passed Brenton, still standing in front of the window. “With me,” he said as he continued to the study.

“The physical battery?” Brenton asked as he caught up.

“Let her stew. No one speaks to her, no one so much as looks at her. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll be gone in half an hour.”

“I’ll spread the word.”

“I’ll be in my study. And Brenton—”

“Sir?”

“No one. Not even you.”

“Yes sir.”

 
 
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