Second Terrace of Purgatory Remix

by Domenika Marzione

John's two steps into the gate room when he realizes something is up. He's on his usual late-morning stroll through the foci of the city, which starts in Little Tripoli and moves to the gate room (with a pit stop by Elizabeth so long as he doesn't think she's going to give him grief about the marines or the paperwork) before swinging through Medical and Science (with a pit stop by Rodney so long as he doesn't think that's going to be more trouble than it's worth) and he can tell even before he can see the control room that it is not business as usual. It's not the kind of problem that means that his timely arrival merely pre-empts his being summoned, but he doesn't expect to see the gate room officer playing Tetris.

Patchok is not playing Tetris. He is standing in front of the plasma screen attached to the life signs indicator and frowning. The screen has grid markers on the edges and John can tell that the unusually high concentration of dots is in the area of the city where Science has its labs.

"What's going on, Lieutenant?"

Patchok turns to him, utterly unsurprised to see him. "Medical-Science pissing match, sir."

John doesn't roll his eyes. "Who said what to whom?" he asks instead, mentally betting himself that Safir's the source of the conflict. Yoni doesn't start all of the fights, or even most of them, but his do tend to be more spectacular (or at least louder) than average and the more likely to have marines sent by to stop the shouting.

"It's BME, sir," Patchok explains and John mentally apologizes to Yoni because Biomedical Engineering, if they're involved, are invariably the instigators.

"Fabulous," he sighs. Patchok shrugs in agreement because he's been in Atlantis long enough to appreciate the same pattern.

John waits until the extra dots leave Bio-Engineering and head toward Medical's neighborhood before heading down himself; he doesn't want to either upstage or undercut marine authority by swooping in and providing a convenient instant court of appeals. He goes first to Medical because that's his usual next stop on his morning route.

He stops by the infirmary suite first, checking in on any marine inmates (Sergeant Gzowski is recovering well from discovering that he is, in fact, still allergic to peanuts) and cracking a few jokes with the marine orderlies and corpsmen on duty. He keeps it brief, though, because even though he stops by almost daily anyway, everyone knows why he's here today.

Medical's research suite is still buzzing when he saunters in, although there's obviously been an attempt at returning to normal operations. Yoni is nowhere to be found and that could mean that he's been sent away or it could mean that he wasn't even involved at all because BME has a very low handicap when they tee off. Keller's not in the common area, either, however, and so John stops the first doctor he finds to ask where she is.

"In her lab," Abelard replies, gesturing in that direction. "Girding up for Round Two, probably."

"What the hell happened?" John asks, frowning, because he'd hoped that this would be a one-and-done kind of pissing match. They usually were.

"Bio-Engineering's unhappy that we're not helping them push Laurentian onto his own sword," Abelard says with a sour expression. Abelard's been around since the initial expedition, as has Laurentian, and there's a little bit of tiredness in his reaction because he's seen this act before, too. "Volnik was worse than usual."

Volnik's a shit and John isn't at all surprised that he's trying to take advantage of Keller's inexperience to get whatever he wants. Carson didn't hate anyone and he'd hated Volnik.

"Wonderful," John sighs, then thanks Abelard and heads to Keller's lab. It was once Carson's lab and Keller had apparently not wanted to relocate, but she'd eventually been convinced that her original space was too out-of-the-way (as befitting a junior researcher) to be practical.

"Was wondering when you'd show," Keller greets him when he knocks on the open doorframe. She looks more angry than upset, but there's an undercurrent of hurt. Out of respect, he ignores it. "You missed the fireworks."

"I'm sure I'll catch a rerun," he says. "Any idea when that'll be?"

"Sooner than later," Keller sighs, not mistaking his casual tone for actual disinterest. "I hope it's sooner, honestly, because I don't need this festering and it's going to affect the work of a lot of people."

John cocks an eyebrow.

"Bio-Engineering is currently forbidden from using any Medical equipment," Keller explains. "It's going to affect them, which I don't care about right now, but there's probably going to be collateral damage, which I'd rather not be the cause of, and then there's going to be payback and that's going to affect us. And I'd like to get that part over and done with as soon as possible because it's about time I started defending Yoni for a change and I don't want our people getting pissed at him for inconveniencing them by defending me."

Accepting that this is not going to just peter out on its own, John asks for and gets Keller's full version of what went down, some of which is second-hand to her, too. The short version is that Volnik, following his usual methods of there being no blow too low to strike, opted for a very personal attack on Yoni after Yoni, acting as DCMO, instituted the original ban on equipment. ("The stupid part is that if that jackass -- pardon my language, Colonel -- was thinking clearly instead of just foaming at the mouth for a fight, then he'd realize that his people are wrong and that the average high school biology student could see it, too.") Keller's determined to stand up for her people and John gets enough from her to realize both that he's going to have to go to Rodney and that Keller has no idea that Volnik scored some real hits against Yoni, whose fanaticism about his privacy is a weakness Volnik knows to exploit.

"This isn't going to be the last time that someone thinks Yoni's taking advantage of me in that way," Keller says with a shake of her head. "But just because it's ridiculous doesn't mean he gets to repeat it without repercussions."

Keller's right about that -- that it's ridiculous and that it should be kept from getting out of hand -- but she doesn't know the history well enough to see where the real problem is. Yoni's not going to let bullshit about Keller or Clayton bother him too much; it's not true and both Clayton and Keller can defend their own honors quite well without his help. But anything about Hana Sokolov is a different story and Volnik knows it and, more importantly, is clearly willing to use it here. (Why Yoni insists on acting like nobody knew they were involved is beyond John's understanding except that it complicated matters here.) This has the potential to quickly stop being about BME orchestrating Laurentian's professional assassination and start becoming about two men who despise each other, one of whom really has no boundaries, and John's one of the few people who can stop it before it goes too far.

He finishes up in Medical by extracting a promise from Keller not to let anything escalate in the next couple of days and then returns to his quarters to check the battalion calendar on his laptop before heading down to Science. En route, he runs into Ronon, who is looking for him as a possible workout partner. John instead recommends seeing if Doctor Safir's up for a tilt; Ronon doesn't think it's a random suggestion, but doesn't ask for an explanation.

"We're dropping the mission to ML7-Q35 tomorrow," John tells Rodney as he enters his lair. "We're going to Cudor on Thursday instead."

Rodney is wearing eye protection because he's doing something that's causing sparks, so John can't see the fullness of his annoyed expression, but he knows it's there. "Why? ML7-Q35 is supposed to have Ancient technology on it."

It's highly unlikely that it does, but Rodney's faith in the Ancient database waxes and wanes depending on the context.

"Because otherwise you are going to be cleaning up from a shitstorm," John replies. He has no doubt that Rodney is completely ignorant of what transpired earlier today. Engineering's neighborhood is comparatively large and BME's section is nowhere near Rodney's lab, so there's physical distance as well as whatever metaphorical space created by Zelenka, whose personnel management skills are both subtle and surprisingly thorough.

"Whose mission are we... What did he do?" Rodney sighs in irritation, making the connection because it's not impossible to connect the dots, especially since Daedalus isn't in port. "I'm not enabling Safir's social dysfunctions -- especially if they're directed at my people. Keller or Lorne can take their mad dog for a walk on their own time, they do not get to screw around with mine."

Rodney'd be right in any other context -- he's not wholly wrong here -- but John doesn't feel like explaining it all right now. "You're going because our team is going. And our team is going because your people are not without blame and if that means you have to take a hit on their behalf for the good of the peace, so be it."

Rodney's about to say something, but then Zelenka appears in the doorway looking grim rather than annoyed and Rodney sighs, recognizing something in Zelenka's expression beyond a lack of righteous indignation. "Fine. Cudor on Thursday. Email me the details."

John takes the dismissal for what it is, exchanges a knowing nod with Zelenka, and heads off to Little Tripoli to tell Lorne that his schedule's been re-arranged. Also to maybe ask why the hell he'd wanted to go to Cudor in the first place, since it's almost a textbook example of a mission they'd send a lieutenant on.


John conveniently forgets to send Rodney any information about Cudor beyond the mission launch time and estimated return because there's no way Rodney takes "we're going to go trade for lettuce" well and the fact that it requires getting up at oh-dark-thirty because of time differences is not going to help. Especially because Rodney effectively ended the BME-Medical war yesterday by forcing Volnik to publicly apologize to Laurentian.

Teyla and Ronon are at peace with the mundanity of the mission; John thinks they both are enjoying the change of pace. Ronon's been showing all the signs of cabin fever -- beating up Yoni is all well and good, but there haven't been any marine missions where he could trail along and he still refuses to go out on his own despite John's insisting that it's fine and they really will let him back in. Teyla, meanwhile, has been dealing with some kind of stress out on the mainland; she's been making frequent trips out there and not returning with the kind of peace and happiness that visiting her people usually brings. John has tried asking, but Teyla can be less communicative than Ronon when she feels like it and this is one of those times.

Cudor is a city on a hill, an ancient capital that must've been something pretty awesome before the Wraith took over the galaxy. It's at the top of a long series of stairs surrounded by trees, old but not unsafe no matter what Rodney bitches. The walls of the town look a little worn by age, which is better than 'destroyed by Wraith' but the place still has that 'fallen on hard times' feel about it. There are obvious signs of care being taken -- repairs, new construction, lots of effort taken on little touches -- but it still has the sort of tattered glory John imagines goes along with old European nobility who've lost their money but not their titles.

They've known of Cudor for a while, apparently, but they've also pretty much forgotten about the place because Cudor's main exports are all crops Atlantis gets elsewhere from places they have good relationships with. But Saredoc got wiped out by the Wraith the other month, the survivors moving to the mainland with the other RDRs, and there was a catastrophic drought on Lenar and Atlantis is suddenly in need of a new local greengrocer. (There are fresh fruits and vegetables that can make the trip from Earth with no loss of quality, but even more that do not benefit from three weeks in the Daedalus's hold.) Which was why they'd put out feelers and why word got back that Cudor is both interested and has what to trade. Atlantis deals in greater quantities than most worlds and Cudor's offer has indicated that they'd possibly be able to serve as sole supplier, which would be great as far as the city budget reckoning goes and Elizabeth was oddly upbeat when she'd seen them off earlier.

It's a little quiet for mid-day, he thinks, as they make their way into the city. There are people around, but not a lot and none of them look terribly friendly.

"Happy place," John says after a woman with small children scurries past them with only a quick nod of acknowledgment. "We come at a bad time?"

"Not used to visitors?" Ronon offers.

"There are inns and shops," Teyla counters, gesturing across the cobblestone street. "They must do some kind of business."

"This place is deader than Elvis," Rodney says, but he's talking to his PDA about energy readings and John doesn't bother telling him that they already knew that.

Apart from a large surplus of lettuce, the only intel they have on Cudor is a report filed by Appleman, of all people, who'd somehow managed to make a favorable impression on the locals -- obviously, they'd never asked him to do more than the minimum required effort -- and it includes the information that the main government building is a green stone structure, so John and the others look for that. They find it with not too much effort and with the help of a local who is willing to stay still long enough to be spoken to.

Once they get to the green building, however, things look up. The people inside are at least willing to make eye contact and seem curious about them, if not necessarily falling over themselves in glee.

"Come with me, please," a tall man says, gesturing toward the rear of the building from whence he came. "My name is Gotar. I will show you to our leader."

John looks back at Teyla and shrugs. Maybe this will all turn out fine after all. Gotar leads them down a short hallway and to a door right around the corner. He knocks, is told to enter, and pushes open the door to reveal a large, well-lit office. He gestures for them to enter past him.

A sturdy-looking man is sitting behind a desk that looks almost too small for him, but he rises to greet them with a cautious graciousness. "Welcome to Cudor," he says, gesturing to the two chairs opposite the desk. There is a pair of benches along the far wall and Ronon half-drags Rodney toward those, settling the question of who was sitting where without John getting a vote. "I am Themal."

Which isn't the name of the guy in Appleman's report, but that means absolutely nothing in Pegasus. They do the introduction business, which turns out to be necessary on both sides, since Themal seems to think that John should be either Appleman or Lorne. Which is both funny and a little freaky -- there is no reason for anyone on Cudor to know that Lorne was the one originally scheduled for the mission -- until John puts two and two together and realizes that Appleman's original visit came during the time when John and his team were being held prisoner by Ford. So when Appleman had apparently mentioned his commander, that commander had been Lorne. Once they get that straightened out -- John tells them that Lorne's taking care of other business, which is sort of true because Lorne's currently at a barbecue on Baratha -- then things become a little less weird.

Gotar, apparently Themal's aide, returns with a tray carrying a tea service, which allows for a little bit of mindless small talk because good tea suppliers are always worth asking about. Atlantis has access to however many tons of teabags they want to import from Earth, but there are a surprising amount of tea snobs (Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon included) and then there's the mainland, where the Athosians in particular find Earth tea unappealing in its blandness.

John may be a coffee snob, but he's perfectly content with Twinings and thinks Athosian tea could be used for paint thinner; he and Teyla can still get into bickering matches about that. Nonetheless, he lets her quiz Themal about Cudor's sourcing without comment. Negotiating for lettuce is not exactly complicated, but these Cudorians are a little high-strung and, hey, if it puts Atlantis on a better footing, then he'll take the thinly-veiled jabs at his tea palate.

Finally they get to the point where it's time to inspect the produce -- yay, lettuce -- and Themal stands again to lead them to the nearest of the fields. "It is a bit of a walk," Themal apologizes as he gestures for them to precede him. "We have some in our storehouses, of course, but this will assure you that we have sufficient yield."

Gotar is waiting in the front lobby-like area where he'd first met them. There are two men with him by the doors and that's when John's internal trouble meter pings because while he's willing to pass off the identical outfits as uniforms of state, the fact that they have military bearing even without visible weapons is something worth watching. John and his team are well-armed and that's made more than one community nervous to the point of reacting like this, but the Cudorians don't exactly look like a carefree and liberty-loving people and he's less sanguine about it being peaceably resolved if something does happen. The Genii had looked nervous like this, too.

It will be completely unsurprising if Appleman manages to screw up once more even though he's been gone from the galaxy for a year.

They wait a minute while Themal runs back to his office to get his coat; it's not that cold out, but whatever. He returns wearing a nice dark blue coat and apologizes for his forgetfulness. "I'll probably want to carry it by the end of our walk, anyway," he says with a rueful smile. "Let us get going."

Gotar nods and the two not-soldiers open the doors and they go back outside. John digs in to his tac vest to pull out his sunglasses and turns around to see which way Themal means for them to go; he expects left because they didn't see any lettuce fields on the way into the city. But he never finds out because he hears a noise that's all too familiar: the click of a cocked firearm, times many.

Off to the right are at least thirty men carrying large-caliber rifles, all aimed at them.

"That's a little overkill, don't you think?" John asks as he holds his empty hands up slowly.

"We have seen what your people are capable of," Themal explains, stepping down the stairs and past John. "It is a mark of respect that we treat you thusly."

John looks over at Teyla, who shrugs.

"What are you talking about?" Rodney asks, annoyed. "We've never had anything to do with Cudor."

"We are not of Cudor," Gotar retorts, almost spitting out the name. "We are Gaorgi."

Which doesn't clear anything up, but Rodney doesn't communicate that past not changing his annoyed expression.

Ronon, however, is amused. "Ambush," he says, like it's a pretty good joke. "Haven't gotten caught in one of those in the last few weeks."

John frowns at him, racking his brain to figure out when the Gaorgi might've met anyone from Atlantis, let alone who. All joking aside, the marines don't invade sovereign states for fun and games. "Is there any reason in particular that you've decided to hold us up in broad daylight?"

"We had hoped to acquire some of your weapons through trade," Themal says. He's been joined by another man of similar age and size, dressed in the same outfit as the soldiers. Probably the commanding officer. "But Major Lorne would not trade with us when we offered him our bounty, so he will trade with us when we offer him his people."

Rodney is about to point out that John outranks Lorne -- three years of semi-frequent captivity and he still hasn't figured out not to explain in great detail how valuable they are as hostages -- but thankfully stops short when he sees John's expression. Which in turn may show more than John wants because Rodney doesn't just shut his mouth, he looks horrified and scared and then schools himself back to impassive.

"It doesn't work that way," John says with a sigh. He pushes the memories of his past captivities aside, swallowing them down like bitter bile so he can focus on this time. "Our people don't trade arms for hostages. North and Poindexter aside."

Rodney is distracted from his own memories by the weak joke and frowns.

"There is always a first time," Themal says right at the moment John realizes who these people are -- the ones they had to rescue Lorne's team from while Rodney was turning into an Ancient.

"Well," he says, turning his elevated wrist slowly so that he can see his watch; holding the other hand out as a peaceful gesture because the movement is taken as hostile. "You've got three hours to pray to whoever your gods are to make that happen."

"What is in three hours?" Themal asks.

"It's when our people come to get us," John replies with a calm smile. The mission was scheduled to end in three hours, which really means six hours before a check-in, but he's willing to risk Themal calling his bluff. "Like last time."

There weren't going to be any godlike activities this time, by Rodney or anyone else, but there's no reason for the Gaorgi to realize that. And it's clear they're thinking about it; the CO is whispering furiously in Themal's ear. They come to no resolution and they break apart, the CO ordering John and his team to be stripped of their weapons and anything that looks like it might be used for communications.

The pile is pretty impressive, John admits to himself, although it's hardly inclusive since the Gaorgi have missed at least one of Teyla's knives and whatever's tucked into Ronon's hair. Rodney urges care with the PDA, but they're sturdy and it's not as if the Gaorgi can make them work.

They are bound at the wrists and pushed roughly through the streets. The scared, nervous people are gone and the only other footfalls on the street belong to Gaorgi soldiers, of which there seem to be quite a lot. Teyla trips and falls and is hauled up without gentleness and Ronon bridles, which causes another half-dozen Gaorgi soldiers to huff and puff. Finally, they end up in a medium-sized building at the bottom of a cul-de-sac, a one-room structure with no windows save at the top and no other doors.

"Everyone okay?" John asks once they're alone. "Teyla?"

She's bleeding a little on her face, but she shakes her head. "I am fine," she assures him. "It is minor."

Ronon paces around, banging on the walls with his bound fists, looking around for something to use, something to do. John lets him be for the time being; maybe he'll get whatever out of his system.

Rodney, however, is back to looking haunted, sitting against the wall across from John and staring at his bindings.

"Hey," John calls quietly to him. "Why so glum?"

Rodney snaps out of his revelry to stare at John as if he's just asked for cotton candy. "How can you--? Do you know who those people are?"

"They're the ones we scared the fuck out of last time," John answers simply. "They're the ones currently still scared."

"Not scared enough to let us go," Ronon points out from the far corner where he's picking at the stucco.

"Who are they?" Teyla asks, confused. "I do not know enough about Major Lorne's exploits to recall their prior encounter."

"They're the ones who chased Lorne's team down," Rodney answers. "The ones I..." he trails off, making jazz hands. "When I was involuntarily ascending."

They sit in silence for a while; Ronon finishes his survey of their prison and drops down heavily a few feet away from Rodney.

"What do we do?" Ronon asks. "Wait for the marines?"

"Long-term, yeah," John agrees. Because that's how this is ultimately going to shake out. "Short-term, we wait until they realize that they need our help to make the ransom call."

The Gaorgi don't have a gate address and, even if they did, they don't know that they need a radio. He's already working out in his head what he can say when they ask and how far he's willing to let things progress before he says them. Atlantis herself is not at risk this time, which is a crucial difference, but he can't help but think of the last time and it makes him nauseated.

"They're probably going to ask me," he says, because he knows how this has to go and that nobody's going to like it. "But if they ask for volunteers, we tell them that I'm the only one who can help them."

"What?" Rodney squeaks. "Why? Haven't we been through this show before, Colonel? More than once?"

John holds up his palms to quell the protest; neither Teyla nor Ronon look pleased, either.

"I'm not intending for it to get that far, McKay," John sighs. Which is different from allowing it to happen, but this is supposed to be a pep talk of sorts. "But if it means I get a chance to talk to Atlantis directly, then I have the best ability to pass on more pertinent information."

Rodney looks like he wants to argue, but he doesn't have an angle and they all know it.

When Gotar shows up, they don't get a choice. "Come," he tells John.

John grimaces and makes a show of being unfazed at the summons, but this part isn't something you get used to. He knows, somewhere down the line, that there'll be a time when he won't even be able to fake to himself that he can grin and bear it, that the memories and the scars that may or may not still be visible will be too much. And that's when he'll call it a career and go home. But right now, he's still got three teammates to keep safe and an army that doesn't realize how very outclassed it is to deceive and, for that, he's ready.

Themal is no Genii psychopath and he's no Wraith queen, but John's not up to being a cocky wiseass, so he stows the attitude. Themal's also got an M9 in his belt , but John can see that the safety is still on; the odds are that they won't figure that part out -- at least not in time.

"What do you want?"

"The gate address of your world," Themal answers.

John's perfectly willing to let them think that they can waltz right through an open wormhole -- and straight into the shield on the other side -- but getting intel back to Atlantis would be better. "You need more than that," he says, holding up his bound wrists to be untied. "What did you do with our gear?"

Their equipment has been sorted between the obvious weapons -- Ronon's blaster and the P-90s are still there, although the pistols are gone -- and the obvious not-weapons. But the Gaorgi's concepts of obvious and not are about what you'd expect for a society that has rifles but no electronics and so while the radio sets are in the 'safe' pile, the GDO is with the weapons and John has to put up with rifles in his face as he retrieves it.

"It doesn't do anything to people," he says sourly. "It communicates with our machines."

Gotar takes another of the radio sets -- Teyla's, John thinks -- and has John set up his as well. John's not sure if Gotar knows what it's for, but he complies. He's tempted to put it on the wrong channel or otherwise disable it, but he doesn't because that would most likely be counterproductive.

"You will not tell them that you are being held," Themal instructs him. "You will tell them that you are staying of your own volition."

John doesn't smile, doesn't ask why, doesn't react. But inside, he's feeling better than he has since this began. Because this is an act of fear. "How much time am I buying you?"

Themal glares at him. "You are buying yourself time," he says. "Our plans do not require adjustment because it is you instead of Major Lorne."

That may be so, but the Gaorgi weren't counting on them having automatic responses and that is what they are scrambling to adjust for. Whatever they have in mind, it is going to require more than three hours to set up.

"Fine," John agrees. He gestures to Gotar with his chin. "But tell your Gal Friday over here that I have to do the talking."

A dozen men escort them down to the stargate, which is still ridiculous, but a little less so considering how many Lorne's marines took down last time. John dials Atlantis, but he doesn't use the GDO; if he can't get a verbal warning out, he'll enter the Jenny Code, but otherwise an IDC is not necessary for the purpose of just dialing in to talk.

"Atlantis, this is Sheppard," he says once the wormhole's been established. The Gaorgi soldiers are standing between him and the wormhole, as if they think he's going to dive through. "How's life back home? Everyone behaving?"

"Not really, sir," Osgeny replies, sounding amused. "G-2 forged your signature on some mission paperwork. They said you'd authorized a trip to E-4."

For a moment, John can appreciate that, back home, Elizabeth and Lorne are having one hell of a morning. And that it's about to get a whole lot worse. Smiling and shrugging at an impatient Gotar, he runs his thumb over the keypad of the GDO, happy that he won't need it to send any distress calls. G-2, in their clumsy machinations, has just given him the opening he needs. "I told them that they could go to Delas, not E-4. Make sure you tell Major Lorne."

"Aye aye, sir," Osgeny replies, confused. John's sure he'll comply just as he's sure Lorne will understand immediately what's going on; John's seen the scar on Lorne's shoulder and how he got that is not something he's likely to ever forget.

"Also," John continues, like it's an afterthought. "We're going to be running late here on Cudor, so don't send anyone here to rescue us just yet."

Gotar relaxes marginally.

"Understood, sir," Osgeny says, back to sounding bemused. "I'll pass the word."

"Sheppard out."

The wormhole closes and he is marched back up to the town, stripped of his radio and the GDO, and his hands are re-bound. Gotar confirms that the message was sent and received and that no immediate action is expected on Atlantis's part.

"If your people are wise, you shall see them again soon," Themal tells him. John doesn't say that he's pretty sure he'll be seeing them soon anyway, but the thought buoys him.

He's escorted back to the building he was kept in before and is a little relieved to see the other three looking bored and anxious.

"You're okay?" Rodney asks once he's been shoved back inside (landing hard on his elbows and knees) and returned to his spot along the wall.

"I'm fine," John assures. "Everything's good. We'll be home before dinner."

He tells them of his adventures down to the wormhole and back, leaving out the specifics of the message he passed on -- he doesn't think any of the Gaorgi are listening, but Delas is not a mission that Lorne would like told as either punch-line or campfire tale, and so John doesn't.

"What do we do now?" Teyla asks when he is done.

John smiles and shrugs. "We wait."

feed me on LJ?


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11 October, 2008