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Shadow Games

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Nine

 

The concessive noise deafened Yoji, even fifty feet down the sewer from the blast. It rang in his ears like a death toll that he couldn't quite shake, standing spaylegged in the middle of the sewer, water up to his calves. Ken was off, even before the dust had settled, pelting through the sewage, fixing the bugnuks to his hands as he ran. Yoji shook off the shock of the blast and followed, the text messages running through his head with as much repetitiveness as the echoes of the explosion. Aya was compromised. Had been compromised for how long . . .? The first of those messages had come hours ago.

The rubble hidden under the surface of dark water made for lousy footing, but a twisted ankle was no deterrent to the urgency to scramble through the ragged opening Ken's explosives had created. Yoji was halfway up the creaky metal stairs before he realized that he'd drawn the gun somewhere along the way without conscious thought. At the top of the stairs the door proved a deterrent to Ken's forward momentum.

"Move." Yoji didn't wait for Ken's compliance, pulling him back by the collar of his coat and firing four rounds into the area around the door handle. The shots echoed crazily in the basement and the door gave way under his boot when he kicked it in. Ken pushed past him, adamant about taking point, which was probably just as well, for two men were rushing down the hall, club security from the looks of them, and Yoji wasn't quite ready to put bullets into flesh yet, even when he saw the dull shapes of guns in their hands. Ken had no problem piercing flesh. He dove towards them before they could lift their arms to aim, slashing into overdeveloped flesh like a dervish gone mad. Yoji didn't have time to be appalled.

If they hadn't taken Aya as far as the basement . . . and if he was still in the club at all, maybe one of the rooms along the hall filled with their own brand of BDSM paraphernalia. It was the only option, since even with the crowd that frequented this club, Yoji seriously doubted the Reaper would have done anything overtly obvious out in the midst of the crowd.

He kicked in the door closest to the basement while Ken was finishing with club security. Two women in dominatrix gear whirled, eyes wide with shock, while a man on all fours with a dog collar and leash stared with red-faced embarrassment at Yoji's rude interruption of their play. They hadn't heard the explosion or the commotion outside the soundproofed room. Yoji didn't spare them a second glance, darting back out into the hall. The fine frescoed walls were spattered with blood. There were two bodies on the floor, one of them still twitching from wounds that were very likely fatal. Ken turned on him, eyes gleaming faintly feral. Yoji took a breath, making himself ignore the bodies and the blood and the look in Ken's eyes. There were most certainly more important things to deal with. He went to the next door and tried the handle. Locked. He put a bullet though the lock this time before slamming the sole of his foot against it. It swung open into a room flooded with bright, almost surgical light. His mind recognized the three men in black first, simply because the room was all done up in white and the blanched gray of stainless steel and they stood out amidst the paleness. Then he saw the chair and the body restrained in it, hardly darker than the surroundings save for the trailing blood and the darkness of damp hair. There was a man between his legs, black leather vest and black leather mask, bare arms sheened with perspiration. Yoji didn't see what he was doing. He didn't really have too, to know it was horrible. Didn't really catch the movement of the other two, one with a hand held video camera, as they turned towards his intrusion, the beginnings of protests on their lips. Aya didn't lift his head. Aya's wrists leaked trails of red down his arms from where the unforgiving steel of cuffs had cut into flesh. When the man between his legs turned, with blood on his hand Yoji lifted the gun and put a bullet in him. No hesitation, no remorse, nothing but shock and horror and rage. He lowered the barrel to follow the man's decent, finger squeezing on the trigger to add a second bullet to the first, but Ken shoved past him, making his finger hesitate on the trigger, wordless and efficient, going for the other two men who Yoji hadn't been paying heed to.

"Get him down." There was a crash as Ken slammed his boot into the camera on the floor. The bugnuks on Ken's hands dripped red. Two more dead men. Three. Don't forget his own kill. Yoji stood there, frozen, unable to taken in Aya as a whole, when the blood and bondage overwhelmed the senses.

"Goddamnit, Yoji . . ." Ken was at the door, checking the hall for more potential victims. Yoji swallowed and looked at Aya. Really looked at him. It took an effort to make his feet start moving, as if when he got there he'd find something he really didn't want to. Like lifeless flesh in a bruised shell. He put out a hand, touching lean ribs, and the skin was cold, but muscles flinched under his fingers and Aya's breath caught in a trembling gasp, as though he expected pain.

"Shit." Yoji breathed, quite suddenly snapping out of the haze of disconnection that had come over him since he'd entered this room. The world came back into sharp focus, bringing with it, the smell of blood and fear and sweat and the faint ozony odor of spent electricity. There was blood between Aya's legs, and blood trailing around his ribs from his back. There were welting patches of reddened skin on various parts of his body, some of them appearing as if they'd been burned. His genitals seemed to have also received a good deal of this particular treatment. There was no doubt in the world that he'd been raped and brutally.

As gently as he could, Yoji removed the metal clamps from Aya's nipples, then the rubber cord clenched at the swollen base. Aya roused at that, gasping and whipping his head back hard enough to make a solid thump against the back of the chair. That had to hurt, but it was probably a more honest pain than that which wracked the rest of his body.

"Its okay. Its okay. We got you." Yoji put a hand on his face, wiping back sweat clumped hair. Aya's eyes were almost black, the pupils had dilated so hugely. Yoji wasn't entirely sure he was all there, the look was that wild. Pain could push a man over the edge where rational thought did not dwell, if there was enough of it. From the looks of it, Aya had suffered through more of his fair share.

"Ken, how do we get these cuffs off him?" Yoji was stymied at the metal circling Aya's lacerated wrists. Ken swore, reaching for his gun, about to attempt the dubious act of shooting through chain link and not hitting flesh.

"The big one . . . check the big one." Aya rasped, apparently not so far gone as Yoji had suspected.

"How bad?" Yoji asked, unclamping the bands around his legs. He needed to know whether they had to make a bee line to the emergency room or if someplace a bit less conspicuous, like Sister Hisa's would suffice.

"I'm . . . okay." Aya's voice was hoarse and shaky. Ken came over with the key. It was wet with blood. Yoji wiped it on his pants leg before unlocking the cuffs around Aya's wrists.

Aya sagged and Ken caught him and helped him off the chair. The remnants of his pants drooped around his legs and with a hiss and a silent curse, Aya shook them off, naked and bloody and bruised, until Yoji shed his jacket and got it around his shoulders. It was long enough to cover mid-thigh and Aya's legs were pale and smeared with trickles of red under it.

"Take him." Ken said, shoving Aya at Yoji, the gun back in his hand. "We're going out the front and I need my hands free. You handle him by yourself?"

"I said I was okay." Aya growled, fumbling with the zipper with trembling fingers. "Give me a gun."

"You just concentrate on walking out of here, okay, Abyssinian?" Ken was at the door and beckoning them to follow. Aya took a step and swayed. Yoji got an arm around him, despite the look of protest and started to follow. He could feel the intermittent quiver of Aya's body now that he was pressed against him, as well as his attempts to quell it and shore himself up without Yoji's help. But no matter the will, the body had its own limits and Yoji doubted Aya was going anywhere far under his own steam in the near future.

Aya's hand shifted around Yoji's waist, sure and quick, grasping the gun he'd shoved in the waistband of his pants, turning in Yoji's arms and aiming behind them at a movement that Yoji only caught from the corner of his eye. A shot rang out and the man Yoji had shot went down for a second time, this time with a jagged, bloody hole in the black leather between the eye holes of his mask. There'd be no getting up this time, Aya obviously being a far better marksman than Yoji. Another shot, even though the man was clearly dead this time, and another, the bullets tearing with dull thuds into lifeless flesh, until the gun was empty.

Yoji swallowed, sickened just a little, but it was justified. More than justified that a little vengeance be allowed. Even if it was a waste of bullets.

"Clip?' Aya asked when Yoji had pulled him through the door and away from the sight of that room.

"Coat pocket." Yoji said and Aya searched it out and slammed it into place, stuffing the empty one back in the coat and keeping hold of the gun. Yoji didn't contest the possession, though he did wrap his arm tighter around Aya's waist, which proved a good thing, since his legs seemed prone to giving out on him every few steps or so.

They trailed Ken down the hall towards the door leading into the club, skirting the blood and the bodies that were Ken's handiwork. Aya didn't say a thing, just let Yoji take a good portion of his weight and kept hold of the gun in white knuckled fingers.

When Ken burst through the door the only one to really notice was one of the bartenders, who might have made a remark or simply looked at them suspiciously and gotten an elbow in the face because of it. Not a killing blow, just a damned efficient way of shutting him down fast and then Ken was past, reaching back and getting hold of Aya's other arm and hurrying the progress through a crowd that was more interested in its own undulation than three people trying to use it as cover for escape.

The muscle at the door was aware though, maybe headsets and a direct line to club security. Somebody had put out the alert, because three of the overgrown, black t-shirted goons were pushing their way into the club from the direction of the door.

Ken broke away from them, plowing into the obstacle with no more hesitation than he might use in tearing open a package of twinkies. He was damned efficient at hand to hand even when the bugnuks weren't tearing into flesh. Yoji let go of Aya long enough to bruise his knuckles on the face of one of the ones that had flowed around Ken. Somebody clipped him on the side of the head, numbing his ear, and instinct made him duck and kick backwards, then slam rigid fingers into an unprotected throat without ever really taking note of the face of the man he'd taken down. He caught Aya again in the rebound of that little dance, snatching him back from the support of the ring of shocked onlookers who'd pressed back against each other when the fighting had started, and shoved through the ring of bystanders and through the narrow passage leading to the outside door.

It was pitch dark outside and still raining, the faint neons above the canopy barely making a dint in the night. There were a few people waiting outside regardless, hoping for an invite inside, but not the crowd he'd seen the last time he'd been here. There were a few cabs waiting for fares though, parked on the other side of the street and they headed for those.

They tumbled into the back seat, Ken and Yoji on the outside, sandwiching Aya between them.

"We need to get him to a doctor." Yoji leaned around Aya to connect with Ken. "Do you have somebody . . ."

"No." Aya said soft and decisive. "I'm okay,"

"The fuck." Yoji said.

"Just drive." Ken hissed, slamming a palm on the Plexiglas shield between driver and passengers. "We'll figure out where on the road."

"We could always go the clinic . . . Sister Hisa patched you up once . . ."

"I said I was fine."

"You're not fine. Don't be an idiot. You're bleeding. You're shaking . . ."

"Back to the hotel . . . just . . . back to the hotel."

"Fucking hard headed . . ."

"Aya," Ken cut of Yoji's execration. "He's got a point. What if something's - - you know, damaged on the inside?"

"Its not internal." Aya said shortly, soft and embarrassed.

"How do you know?" Yoji hissed back at him, shifting his eyes from Aya's ghost pale face to the red stains on his legs.

Aya took a breath, staring at the torn vinyl on the back of the seat before them, hands clenching spasmodically on the material of Yoji's coat.

"Because he said it wasn't." He said finally.

Yoji gaped, feeling that pit of undefinable rage open up at his feet again. "And you believed him?"

Aya lifted his eyes, large, bruised pools of dusky violet in a too pale face and whispered. "Because he knew what he was doing, Yoji. Take me back to the hotel."

With that tone of voice, with that much abuse still lingering on his face, it would have been a cruelty to deny him, so Yoji swallowed and sat back, his own hands shaking just a little. It was a silent ride to the hotel and in that silence, a mind wondered to dreadful things. To the image of Aya locked in that chair, naked and vulnerable and violated, with three sadists crowded around him like vultures picking at the meat of some helpless prey. Just like in the on-line movies and images only they hadn't the chance to get to the truly gruesome parts with Aya. He remembered the video camera that Ken had smashed, and the computer it had been hooked up to. Broadcast in progress. God. How much of whatever had gone on in that room been plastered all over the internet? The knowledge of that mass voyeurism was going to fuck Aya more than the physical abuse, Yoji knew that in his heart of hearts. Knew like he knew his own weaknesses, that Aya would deal with the torture, would keep it to himself and lock it away in some deep dark corner of his soul, but that there was no way he could hide from the public screening of it, even if it was only a small, sick portion of that public that ever got to see it.

At this earliest hour of morning there was little traffic in the hotel hallways, but they still entered through the back, and took the housekeeping elevator up, creeping down the hall at a pace that Aya could manage without support from either Ken or Yoji. It was Aya's method of self healing, Yoji realized, refusing help, proving to himself that he was perfectly capable of standing on his own two feet. Self help mixed liberally with denial, but it was Aya's way and no one was going to change him, so it was easier to let him stagger down the hall by himself, hovering just close enough to catch him if he fell.

It occurred to Yoji that he'd done it before. Worried over Aya when Aya refused to worry over himself. Watched over Aya when he was too stubborn to admit weakness. Almost, Yoji could remember places, but not so much times or circumstances. Just flashes of curious, certain memory that wove themselves into the pattern that was Aya.

Into the cool, dark of the room, and Aya retreated into the bath without a word. Yoji and Ken stood for a moment, helplessly, exchanging worried stares, then Ken shrugged it off, a frown lingering between his dark eyes and reached for his phone.

"I gotta try and do some damage control - - try to explain some of this mess . . ."

"Can you?"

"Probably not." Ken snorted. "There's gonna be hell to pay, no doubt." He left Yoji in the room with nothing to do but listen out for Aya in the bathroom. He switched on the bedside lamps and nudged the heat up a little to chase away the early morning chill.

Nerves made him cut on the TV to save himself sitting there in silence and letting the worry and the helpless rage and the sick horror turn his thoughts into a incohesive, snarled mess. What could he say to Aya that Aya would accept? Nothing. Not a damned thing that wouldn't be rebuffed, not an attempt at comfort that wouldn't be looked upon as an insult. It made him almost nauseous with frustration, the need to get his hands on Aya and see for himself that he wasn't permanently broken, to offer his own strength to lean on when he damned well knew that Aya's had been tested to its limits. It hurt not being able to help and Yoji wondered idly, staring at the early morning weather forecast if that meant that there was love involved. He'd felt a similar pain when Asuka had pulled away from him after the miscarriage. The kind of pain that made your heart feel hollow and thin when something you loved was hurting and you couldn't do a thing to help alleviate the pain. At least this time he wasn't the cause.

Eventually, after the news was off and some mindless early morning kids show had come on, the bathroom door opened and Aya appeared. He was damp and pale and bundled in one of the hotels white terry cloth bathrobes. No matter the effort he was moving stiffly, each motion he made a cautious, strained thing, very much like you'd expect of a man recently tortured and raped.

Yoji winced at that mental observation and quelled the driving urge to scurry over and hover, knowing very well it would eat up energy Aya didn't have to spare in chasing him away. He settled for rising and looking worried, getting out of Aya's way when he made for the edge of the bed and sat down. For a moment there was impasse, with Yoji staring in silent empathy and Aya trying to pretend he didn't notice. Aya gave way first, too exhausted to keep up the whole of the pretense.

"I'm okay, Yoji. Don't stare at me like that."

"Sorry. You look like shit."

Aya sighed, hand trembling a little when he smoothed out the pillow. He let himself lay back with a sigh, shutting his eyes. He was every bit as pale as he'd been the night he'd been shot.

"I'm just tired." Aya breathed into the silence, lashes still hovering on his cheeks. " . . . and I hurt. It will fade."

"You need to see a doctor." Yoji said quietly. It felt like he was arguing with the tide.

"He will." Ken said, hearing the hind end of that as he reentered the room. "Mihirogi's arranged for somebody to come here and assess whether you're okay enough to fly back to England or whether you need more attention here."

Aya's mouth tightened, not a happy line at all, but he didn't argue the point. Ken lifted a questioning brow at Yoji, who shrugged, not having gotten more information out of Aya other than the obvious admittance of pain.

"That's not the only news." Ken said. "Free's also on his way. He's in route from the airport . . . so maybe, maybe Yoji ought to make himself scarce until we can figure out what to do - - God I hate this." He hit the wall next to the door with bloodstained knuckles.

"Wash up, Ken." Aya said softly, the barest slits of violet visible through night dark lashes. "Yoji . . . do what he says."

"But . . ." Yoji opened his mouth to protest, suddenly feeling like the part of the outsider to this little group. He was of course, but for a little while there, being with Aya and Ken had felt so . . . natural. Leaving and not knowing whether they'd be here when he came back - - whether he'd ever see them again, was like walking away and severing the strings that led to his past.

It took more courage than it had to go into those sewers in hopes of finding the bad guys, to give in without an argument and suggest himself going back to the clinic for a change of clothing and maybe an hour or two of sleep. Courage or no, the nausea was growing, fed by the fear of Aya just being gone without a word and all for Yoji's own good.

Ken must have seen it, him staring at Aya, who'd apparently slipped into a doze, trying to capture all the little nuances like it was the last time he'd get to see him.

"Yoji." Ken touched his arm, breaking him out of that dismal musing. He handed him a cell phone and a slip of paper with a set of numbers. "It's Aya's cell. Don't answer it unless it's from this number, okay? And this second one is my number. I swear to God, Yoji, we're not gonna leave you hanging. Now get the hell out of here."

He hesitated, clutching the small smooth shape of the cell, aware of the slightest clattering of his teeth and clamping his jaw shut to stop it.

"Take care of him."

"I will. Go."

So he did. Reluctantly, grabbing his jacket from the sink in the bathroom, and slipping it on, blood and all. He put the cell in the pocket halfway down the hall to the elevator and felt the metallic weight of the gun already there. He frowned, thinking about going back and returning it, then shook his head, muttering a faint curse to himself. It had been hard enough leaving the first time.

It was 4:30 when he got back to the clinic. The streets were still quiet and still, the door locked against the night. He relocked it behind him, navigating through gray darkness to the small kitchen and the coffee maker. He set the coffee to brewing and chased two aspirin down with water while he was waiting. He poured himself a cup of the stuff black, and sat down at the small table to inhale it. The smell of the caffeine was enough to buffer his flagging senses. The first sip was bitter heaven. It revitalized him enough to recognize he was hungry, so he emptied the last of a box of cereal into a bowl and covered it in milk.

The creak of the stairs alerted him to Sister Hisa's arrival. He should have known she'd hear him rummaging about in the kitchen. He wasn't quite certain he was ready to face her, but choices were limited. She stopped in the doorway, in her threadbare robe, her thin hair mussed from bed. Her eyes had larger circles than usual, as if sleep had been elusive.

She saw something was wrong immediately and stared with somber, expectant eyes waiting for him to admit it. What did he say? There were so many things wrong and so few of them were easy to talk about.

"Jason Mikino is dead." He reported the one that she needed to know. The one that the boy's parents would have to be told. She was better at the telling of bad news than he was. She had a sort of gentleness that he doubted he'd ever been capable of.

She looked stricken, though not terrible shocked. She'd lived long enough in the world to know how treacherous it was.

"The men who killed him won't be hurting any other kids." Yoji didn't know if he said that more for her benefit or for his own.

She frowned, gauging him. "Did you . . .?"

"No." He said quickly, laughing bitterly, before she could finish her question. "My aim wasn't that good. I wish it had been." And he did, upon retrospect.

Her frown spoke volumes she never had the chance to vocalize. The shattering of glass at the front of the clinic cut short Yoji's odd little confessional. The sister spun, shocked and reflexively drawn towards the crash even as Yoji caught his breath, stomach lurching and heart thudding in a rapid patter of dread.

"No . . ." he called out to her, wanting her away from the front of the clinic and whatever had come through the plate glass windows. But she was too quick in her concern and he a tad too slow in his exhaustion.

There was a rapid patter of gunshots, bullets tearing through sheetrock and paneling, and Yoji launching himself around the table and towards the doorway, snatching the sister backwards and into the minimal shelter of the kitchen. Her thin body was heavy in his arms, and his hands were sticky with warmth. He kicked the table over, skidding with the sister to the little hall leading from kitchen to back room, snagging the jacket over the back of his chair on the way. There were heavy footsteps crunching on glass outside, the only sound the intruders made. He reached for the gun in pocket and hoped to hell he remembered correctly Aya putting in a fresh clip.

His hands were slick with blood. He shuddered, breathing a prayer on the heels of a curse and tried to feel for a pulse. He didn't have time to find one, as the figures of men entered the disarray of the kitchen, dark clothed, expressionless, automatic weapons in hand.

Yoji ducked around the corner of the hall and squeezed off a low shot. He knew he'd scored when a man howled and went down, clutching at his thigh, but the other one sprayed the wall with bullets and Yoji hissed pulling back, covering Sister Hisa's body with his own as lead ripped through the thin wall and potmarked the paneling opposite.

Fear fed whatever survival instincts were lurking under the surface, and for a few heartbeats as plaster and wood showered down upon his head he lost track of everything but the here and the now. He hardly remembered making the conscious choice to go on the offensive. he just did, waiting until there was the merest pause in the fire before diving out from his cover, hitting the floor on shoulder and hip and firing as his momentum took him to the far side of the kitchen.

Blam. Blam. Blam. Three bullets ripped into flesh with no lack of proper aim this time. A man went down, very, very dead and the other one, the wounded one lifted his weapon in a snarl of desperation and Yoji put a bullet between his eyes. There was movement from the front room, the pounding of feet coming down the stairs, as if they'd been up there looking for witnesses to silence. Yoji cursed and darted for the sister, picking her up and slinging her minimal weight over one shoulder as he headed for the back door the alley. He ignored the path towards the street and went instead for the door to the cleaners next door. Kicked it open rushed inside. Even this early the elderly woman who ran it was up and about, preparing laundered wares for her customers. She appeared at his rude entry, a dented aluminum bat in her hands.

"Call the police." He hissed at her. "Call an ambulance. Sister Hisa's been shot."

Her eyes wide the woman backed off, then turned and ran for the front of her own store. Yoji laid the sister down, and felt again for signs of life. The pulse at her neck beat weakly. She'd been hit once, maybe twice in the torso.

Bastards. They had to have been after him. Had to have tracked him from the club maybe. He didn't have any other enemies who'd come in force with automatic weapons. Well - - maybe he did, but he doubted any of them would come looking for him here. Sister Hisa had just been in the line of fire.

He snatched someone's dry cleaning from a rack and stuffed it under Sister Hisa's robe, pressing it against one of the wounds,

The old dry cleaner came back as he was tying it off, wary and scared.

"They're coming. I heard shots."

"You heard shots." Yoji agreed.

The old woman stared at the gun he'd laid on the table next to Sister Hisa, wide eyed and scared.

"They might still be there." He said softly, picking up the gun and popping out the clip. Five bullets left. There might be another clip in the jacket pocket, but the jacket was still in the hallway behind the kitchen . . . along with the cell phone.

If they were from the club - - and this was retribution - - then they'd probably followed Aya and Ken back to the hotel as well.

"Keep pressure on her wounds." Yoji asked softly. "I've gotta go back out there."

He needed that phone and he needed to know who those bastards were and why they'd come.

The old woman didn't say a thing, probably just as happy to see him going, but moving to Sister Hisa regardless. They'd been neighbors a long time, the dry cleaner and the clinic. He cracked the ruined alley door open and peered out. No movement. The clinic's alleyway door was open. He looked a little further, a quick peek down the alley towards the street. Nothing. With an in-drawn breath he darted out, across the alley without pause to put his back to the wall next to the clinic door. Into the back hall with gun at ready, but there was no one there. His jacket was still on the floor. He picked it up, shrugging into it hastily, feeling for the last extra clip and the phone and finding both there. He started to creep around the hall to the kitchen, but something made him hesitate. Some seventh sense that had the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Indefinable, unexplainable, but he couldn't ignore it. With a shuddered breath he backed out, got to the door and out into the alley before the inside wall exploded outwards, tearing the door off its hinges and slamming it and assorted debris into the wall of the dry cleaners. Glass showered down from above, and Yoji cowered, huddled and dazed where he'd been thrown, covering his head from the falling shards. The world narrowed to a throbbing schreech of echoes in his head. He got himself up and onto his feet by an effort of will, and only kept them thanks to the grace of the solid wall of the cleaners against his shoulder. He couldn't hear the sound of his feet in the debris of the alley, or the crackle of flames issuing from the gaping holes where the windows of the clinic had been.

He didn't hear the sirens but he saw them, as the first of the police cars pulled up on the street beyond the alley. Answering their questions would be difficult. There were too many things he didn't know . . . too many things he did know that Aya and Ken would probably prefer he didn't spill.

Aya . . . if they'd gone to this effort to take Yoji out, what had they sent after Aya? He cast a guilty, miserably glance at the door to the cleaners - - dreading leaving Sister Hisa when she had been wounded because of him, but knowing if he stayed, there'd be little chance of him getting away today, or maybe for days to come if the authorities wanted to hold him responsible for the destruction. Hell, he was responsible for at least two bodies that were probably char grilled inside the burning clinic. No, him being here would make no difference to the sister's survival. Let the emergency works do their work and go and see about preventing more damage.

 

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