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The first ever non-Melissa convention report,
by Sharon and Rick

Due to friends inconveniently scheduling two weddings on Saturday, Oct 5th, Melissa was unable to attend this year’s ValleyCon in Fargo, ND. Thusly, she dispatched her minions. Being minions, we really had no choice in the matter, but we would not go alone.

The official Cthulhu Coffee merchandise purveyor, Sandy, went along to sell her jewelry in the dealers room. For those who don’t know, Sandy is Sharon’s sister. They look nothing alike (to themselves). Rick’s good friend Tom also came along. Tom was a convention virgin. That’s right, not so much as a single Minicon or CONvergence for this boy. Yet.

Friday, October 4th

The ever-present K'elvis!

Photos by Sharon Snyder, 2002

So, Friday morning, bright and early, Rick and Sharon packed up their suitcases and were ready to take off at 8:45. Unfortunately, Sandy had misunderstood the part about leaving town by 10:00 (after picking up us and then Tom), and had planned to leave her house by 10:00. Eventually, she showed up in her purple minivan (a.k.a. the Barneymobile) and we were on our way. The weather started out very Cthulhu-esque with gray clouds and rain. At Tom’s house we took time to cuddle the world’s cutest little puppy, Luna, and his wife went over the list of what he couldn’t do (i.e.- No naked women, no blacking out, wear pants, etc.).

We were on our way to Fargo! At this point neither Rick nor I realized that we had completely forgotten to grab any of the books we had by Kevin J. Anderson or any DVD’s of Farscape.

The first stop on the road was Culver’s in Albertville for lunch. None of us had ever tried their burgers, although Sandy said the frozen custard was yummy. Wow! We could feel our arteries hardening as we ate! If you aren’t worried about eating healthy and want a fantastic burger, go to Culver’s! They’ve got their own root beer, too. It is really yummy (and caffeine-free for the safety of our master web minion). Fully rejuvenated we dashed back to the Barneymobile through the rain. Fighting the instinct to nap, we soldiered on.

Next stop: Alexandria. In the 8 looooong years that Rick and Sharon lived in Fargo, it became tradition to stop in Alexandria at the Phillips 66 for two main reasons: 1) It was about halfway between Fargo and civilization, and if you didn’t stop to take a break, your sanity (should you still have any after deciding to travel to Fargo) could be in jeopardy. 2) The more important reason… they ALWAYS have clean bathrooms! This is important. Well, it’s not a Phillips 66 anymore, but nothing else changed. To Sharon’s great relief the bathrooms were still clean. A bit of trivia: Sharon’s stuffed moose that travels with her was bought at this gas station 6 years ago, along with a matching one for her friend Becca just before Sharon moved away from Fargo.

On the road again, non-stop to Fargo. Driving into town, everything looked exactly the same. We navigated straight to the Doublewood with no problems and went in to register. There was no hotel registration for us in the ValleyCon block of rooms. Sigh, the more things change… We weren’t too surprised. We also weren’t too worried about the hotel being sold out. They did get us a room in the ValleyCon area but it was smoking. Oh well. Beggars without reservations can’t be choosers.

Before hauling our stuff up to the room, we decided to check in at con registration and get our badges. Luckily, the registrations weren’t lost, since a check had been sent with it. On the registration form they wanted badge names. I figured this was so they could be printed up ahead of time, like CONvergence does. Nope. There were 4 badge designs and you got to pick one, then write your badge name on it with marker and get it laminated. This was not an auspicious start to the convention, having been spoiled by the high quality of CONvergence’s badges. Then we got a very pleasant surprise at the laminator.

Rick became very agitated suddenly and turned his back on the table to face us. "It’s her! It’s her!" he whispered urgently, gesturing through his left shoulder. Tom and Sharon peered around each side of Rick and there she was: Virginia Hey! Yep. She was sitting there helping out and chatting away with everyone while laminating their badges.

For those who don’t know who she is, you should be ashamed of yourselves! Start watching Farscape! It is the best Sci-Fi show on currently and possibly one of the best ever. Virginia played Pa'u Zothoh Zhaan (just Zhaan to her friends) for the first three seasons. If you’ve just seen pictures of the cast, that is the bald, blue chick. She was also in The Road Warrior playing a character just called "Warrior Woman." She was the tall blonde with the bow and shoulder pads. NOW you remember, don’t you? Well, we chatted with her a bit while waiting, then Sharon and Sandy dragged Rick and Tom away so we could get our stuff up to the room.

Some excellent Texas Chainsaw Massacre costumes found at the convention.

Photos by Sharon Snyder, 2002

Rick and Tom managed to get the goofy grins off their faces long enough to get the bags and headed up to the second floor to look for our room. We opened our door and were hit with a wall of cigarette smell that could rival Sharon’s mother’s house! Ok, so we prop the hall door open and go to open the window to get a cross breeze to air out the room as much as possible. This was our second pleasant surprise. The window didn’t open to the outdoors, it opened to the hallway that the registration was in. Virginia looked up, saw us, and waved. "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair" she called. Rick indicated to her that he’d been doing that constantly for the last few years and it wasn’t returning. Virginia gave a friendly frown and returned to her adventures in laminating. Rick and Tom looked at each other and said, "Cool!" Since it was an indoor window we just left it wide open because there was no danger of freezing.

We settled in and hauled Sandy’s stuff into the dealers room and left her to setup. Then as she was setting up there, Tom, Rick and Sharon took the Barneymobile off in search of a Road Warrior DVD. By this time we were painfully aware of the fact that we had forgotten everything we were going to get signed.

Tom and Rick spent the whole time in Best Buy reminiscing about their fantasies of Virginia’s Warrior Woman character.

Tom: "She had that really cool crossbow."

Rick: "Yeah, and she had that headband and long hair."

Tom: "And the shoulder pads."

Rick: "Mmmm, shoulder pads."

We were successful in our hunt, and, DVD’s in hand, we headed back to the Barneymobile.

Next stop, Cashwise foods. Rick had thought to bring a cooler for beverages and sandwich foods so we wouldn’t suffer from No-Real-Food-At-Convention Syndrome. With a full load of provisions, we were ready to head back to the hotel.

Back in what will henceforth be referred to as the Rapunzel Room, we started checking out our program guide to plan our itinerary. This also included Rick and Tom hanging out at the window to gaze at Virginia. At one point she was asking if anyone had a candy bar because she needed a little snack. After a brief disappointment over the fact that he hadn’t gotten any candy bars, Rick had a flash of inspiration. He grabbed the fruit Sharon had bought and held it out the window, saying "Virginia, you want a banana?" Virginia was thrilled and Rick threw it down to her. Then Rick turned to us and said, "I just gave Virginia Hey my banana."

The programming for ValleyCon was pretty unimpressive. There were only three rooms with programming and very little that wasn’t just the Guests of Honor. Well, at least we figured we would definitely get to see Virginia at one or two of her panels.

From left to right: Dave DeVries, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and Virginia Hey.

Photo by Sharon Snyder, 2002

Now to the opening ceremonies! They have obviously never had Michael Sheard at their convention, to teach them that it was not plural! The ceremony was actually very uneventful. The four guests were introduced and that was about it. The guests were: Virginia Hey, star of Farscape; Dave DeVries, illustrator and comic artist; Kevin J. Anderson, author of several Star Wars books and the Dune prequels; and Rebecca Moesta, who, in addition to writing some Star Wars Young Jedi books, is married to Kevin J. Anderson.

There really wasn’t much of interest going on Friday night, so we checked out the dealers’ room and wandered the hotel. The ValleyCon crew had done a great job decorating the hotel for the convention. The main hallways between the meeting rooms had big cardboard castle decorations. There were also several life-size statues on loan from a local store: a knight, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Terminator, and an astronaut. They were pretty much left alone. The "Do not touch, if you break it you buy it and it sells for over $1000" sign seemed to do the trick. Also, they were put in the dealer’s room when it was closed. No sense in tempting drunk geeks.

We ran into a few people that Sharon and Rick knew from their internment in Fargo. One of these people was their old roommate Brad. Brad is a unique creature. No one is really sure if he is human or not. Even though he is 6’ tall, he can fold up into a tiny ball and sleep anywhere. His bedroom of choice when they lived with him was the scary, dank, unfinished basement. He also talks very laboriously. Think of the slowest talker you know. Now slow that down by a factor of 10 and fill in the gaps with about a bazillion "Ahs.", "Umms.", and "Errrs". When Rick asked if he was still living with his friend Brian, instead of a simple yes or no, we got a ten minute ramble that ended with yes. He’s a very smart guy to be sure, but not a stunning conversationalist.

One advantage of our Rapunzel room was that people rarely look up. Therefore we could check out the crowds and not be spotted by those who we would rather avoid. Sharon had a brief moment of panic upon seeing her very own DFB. Just thinking of him causes her to shudder and put on 3 layers of socks. More about him later.

Virginia Hey with Rick's newly-modified copy of The Road Warrior.

Photo by Sharon Snyder, 2002

Virginia, after the opening ceremony, had a table set up with several pictures of her in different roles, a meditation CD and some T-shirts for sale. Rick, Tom and Sharon trundled off to her table with Road Warrior(s) in hand. When we got up to her she looked up and said "It’s the Rapunzels!" and thus, we were the Rapunzels for the rest of the weekend. She asked Sharon if she could be cheeky when she signed Rick’s (everything sounds so much cooler in Australian!) and after getting a yes, proceeded to sign his DVD with "To Dearest Rick, Thank you for giving me your banana. Tons of love, Virginia Hey" Then she let Sharon take her picture with her holding the DVD so she can’t even deny it. She was charging $15 for an autograph, but she would sign pretty much as many things as you wanted. Most times at cons, the guests charge $15 to $20 per signature. She later told us that it was the minimum her agent would let her charge. Unfortunately, she moved to the US before her green card became permanent, so until it comes through, she can’t work on movies or anything "official" and she needs to work the con circuit in order to pay for silly things like rent and food. We chatted for a while about cats and such and then reluctantly relinquished her to the other geeks.

After gathering up Sandy from the dealers’ room, we ran to our room quick before leaving to find dinner at 10:00PM. When we got to our room, the woman across the hall was just getting into hers. It was Virginia! She exclaimed, "Hey, we’re roomies!" Rick and Tom smiled and nodded enthusiastically. She was going to settle in for the night. Rick invited her to come with us, but she had just eaten and was ready to crash. After grabbing a quick dinner, Sandy and Sharon hit the hot tub while Rick and Tom went to the liquor store. None of us much felt like doing the party thing however, so we watched a little TV and went to bed.

Apparently, at about 2AM, some really loud techno music started. It woke up Rick and Tom, who shut the window (the room with the dance was right behind the registration desk that we looked down upon). Sharon never even heard it. Bitch.

Saturday, October 5th

Images from Dave DeVries' painting demo.

Photos by Sharon Snyder, 2002

Upon waking, Sandy left to man her table and the other three woke soon after. They promptly order Breakfast Pizza from Pizza Patrol. Pizza Patrol is one of the very few things that Rick and Sharon miss from Fargo. It’s open 24/7 and has the aforementioned Breakfast Pizza. BP is a pizza crust with ham, sausage, scrambled eggs and 3 cheeses on top. Totally yummy! Unfortunately, we found out that they aren’t open 24/7 anymore, but the BP is still great. Rick and Tom dashed off to Dave DeVries’ painting demo. Rick found out that he has been a fan of Dave’s for years, but didn’t recognize the name. His style is very much like Glen Fabry and Bill Sienkiewicz had a child, for those of you familiar with comic artists. Dave’s presentation was to do a headshot of Ghost Rider that was, as Rick put it, "very flame-buoyant". Ugh.

While Rick and Tom were at Dave’s painting demo, Sharon was all over the place. Sandy had checked with the front desk and they did have a non-smoking room available, but it would not be in the same part of the hotel. Rick & Tom were having such a good time watching Dave paint that Sharon didn’t want to disturb them. Sandy couldn’t help move stuff either since she had to stay at her table in the dealers room so Sharon got to move everything from one hotel room to the other by herself. It actually wasn’t too tough because the really nice people at the front desk got her a luggage cart. Alas, no more Rapunzel. But, on the bright side, the room didn’t bring back memories of living with Kathy. And we got a lovely view of the roof.

After moving all our stuff Sharon bopped back down to the painting panel to check out the progress. Ghost Rider was looking good. After blinding the artist with the camera flash Sharon was off to look for Klingons. Since we had all missed the Bat’leth tournament at CONvergence, she was determined to get pictures of this one. Rick’s original assessment of ValleyCon having bad Klingon costumes still stands. While there were a couple good Klingons, the majority went to no effort other than to slap on a bumpy forehead. Sharon was expecting to see Klingons in full battle regalia for the Klingon Combat Demo. Instead she got two humans in camo pants, one Klingon of the wear your bumpy head like a hat variety, and one Klingon who actually made an effort. Oh well, at least she got Bat’leth photos.

Mission accomplished, Sharon was headed back to find the boys in the painting room. On her way she passed Virginia’s table and stopped to chat a while. Virginia asked Sharon if we were going to the banquet that night. When she found out that we hadn’t planned to she said, "You have to come. It’s going to be a blast. You guys can sit with me." Well, since you put it like that, okay! After rounding up the guys we all headed into the dealers room to discuss supper with Sandy. It was quickly decided that $20 for an all you can eat buffet, the possibility of sitting with Virginia & prime seats for masquerade would be totally worth it.

Virginia Hey answering questions at a panel.

Photo by Sharon Snyder, 2002

After that, it was off to another Virginia Hey panel, where she talked about many things that were related in a roundabout way. She was a very interesting presenter and her tales of Australia and Farscape adventures were quite illuminating. She does tend to ramble from subject to subject. It can take her more than half an hour to answer one question!

We hit the new room for a quick lunch break, while the boys bemoaned the loss of our Rapunzel window.

There was a short lull in the afternoon that was used to run into downtown Fargo to visit Paradox Comics-N-Cards, which Sharon used to own 1/3 of. There was a Magic: the Gathering tournament going on, so the store was very crowded and they didn’t have much time to chat with their friend Rich. Then it was off to north Fargo. Sharon and Rick’s old roommate Becca had switched to an unlisted number and so Sharon hadn’t been able to get a hold of her to tell her that they were in Fargo. No one was home at Becca’s, but the dogs were there, so Sharon left a note with the hotel room, and her cell phone number. Then back to the hotel!

When we got back, it was time for another Dave DeVries panel. This one was a slide show of his work. It even included a photo of the 1980’s long haired Dave with one of his pieces. It takes a brave man to show a picture like that. In fact, judging from the picture, he may have been the bass player for Warrant. They also brought in the finished Ghost Rider for us to take a look at. We never did find out how much it went for in the charity auction.

We had missed a Virginia panel to go to Dave’s art one, but when we got out in the hallway, we saw that Virginia was still talking, so we headed on in & caught the last 25 minutes or so. She got kicked out of there at 5:30 so they could start the banquet setup that was supposed to start at 5:00. There wasn’t much going on until the banquet so we wandered through the dealers room some more, then just hung out outside the banquet hall so we would get good seats. Knowing that setup had been delayed we weren’t too annoyed when they didn’t let us in at 6:00.

During this time, Sharon wandered over to talk to Kevin J. Anderson for a while. She told him how much she loved the Dune prequels. Since her books had been left at home, she had to settle for an autograph on a postcard of the cover of his newest book. Talking to Kevin, Sharon discovered that the giveaway booklets that we had all gotten were actually a short story, not a book excerpt. Sharon had pretty much ignored them at Waldenbooks because the publisher had done a very poor design job and it looked for all the world like just a chapter excerpt of the new book. While talking about this Kevin promised to sign that for her later, since hers was up in her room.

Finally, the banquet door opened. All the Guests of Honor were already in there, except Virginia who was running late. The tables had place cards for the GOH’s, however, so we could see which table Virginia was supposed to sit at. We just headed right to that one and Rick got the seat right next to her. You can just imagine how happy he was!

The food had a Midwest theme and Virginia was a little confused by the fruity marshmallowy salad.

"Why do they have the dessert at the beginning of the buffet line?"

Virginia Hey claims Rick for her own.

Photos by Sharon Snyder, 2002

After loading our plates, we settled in for a very nice dinner. It was at this point however, that Virginia displayed one minor personality quirk. According to Rick and Tom it was endearing, but we’ll let you be the judge. Rick and Virginia were having a lively chat about different things when suddenly, Virginia says "I’m terribly sorry darling, but your questions must wait until after I finish eating. I’ll get horrible indigestion if I try to talk and eat at the same time. I’ll answer any questions after dinner, okay?" She was very pleasant about it and everyone apologized profusely as we didn’t mean to bother her and she did seem to be participating.

Everyone ate quite contendedly in silence for about 5 minutes when suddenly, Virginia starts up another conversation. Rick and Tom exchanged timid glances with each other and Virginia’s half-empty plate of food, shrug and respond to her. Another 5 minutes of conversation go by when Virginia repeats her plea to eat uninterrupted. At this point, Tom and Rick exchange "Man! Chicks!" eye rolls coupled with "just-like-my-wife" shrugs and everyone finishes their dinner in quiet.

Speaking of, dinner was really, really delicious. Hotel banquets are usually a hit or miss thing. You don’t expect them to be good and sometimes you are pleasantly surprised. This was one of those times. The food quality alone made it worth the $20.

We saw Dave DeVries a couple tables away and felt really bad because there were only a couple people at his table. We would have eaten with him if we hadn’t been able to get Virginia’s table. When we mentioned that to him later, he said he would have picked Virginia over himself too.

Rick competing in the Valleycon Remote Jeopardy Control.

Photo by Sharon Snyder, 2002

ValleyCon does a trivia contest called Remote Jeopardy Control. The contestants are randomly selected, and only people at the banquet can sign up. When they announced that it was time to sign up, Tom, Sandy & Sharon all turned to Rick and said "Do it. You have more useless knowledge than anyone we know" After we said this, Virginia joined in trying to convince him. She said she wanted someone she knew up there. So Rick threw his name in the hat. They drew three names and Rick was the third one drawn. The theme of the show was the Spanish Inquisition (No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!).

Tony, one of the ValleyCon chairs, was reading the questions, and he had two Inquisitors standing behind the contestants to bash them on the head when they got questions wrong. Don’t worry. They only used bundles of cloth. No Ricks were harmed in the playing of the trivia.

The questions were all Sci-Fi/Fantasy related and the categories in the first round were: Kirk’s Women, Oh Bugger!, Movie Hell, Potpourri, and TV Hell. Rick was holding his own and was in second place after round one.

Second round categories were: Worst Star Wars Characters, the Devil You Say?, Worst Comic Adaptations, More Movie Hell, and Potpourri II: the Wrath of Potpourri. In the end, Rick placed second which earned him a copy of Pitch Black on VHS, and a Dr. Evil notebook.

Following the trivia was the Masquerade contest. Now, Rick and Sharon have never been to a CONvergence Masquerade, so they have no basis for comparison. There were quite a few really good costumes however. The biggest cute factor was "Jedi in training", a little kid and his dad in Jedi costumes. At the end the dad said that his kid’s costume could double as a Jawa and the dad pulled the pointed hood up. The kid pushed the hood off and in a voice that only the people in front could hear said, "Daaaad. I don’t wanna be a Jawa." Some of the other costumes were: Dragon/Human hybrids, generic sci-fi extra, a wizard, and the Queen of the Damned (complete with a metal bra that she welded herself.)

After Masquerade, the DJ was going to start playing for the night’s dance. It was time for all us old folks to leave. Virginia disappeared quickly to turn in for the night. She told us the next day that if she stops to talk she can’t get away for quite a while.

With the evening’s festivities concluded, it was time for that time honored convention tradition: the party crawl. While the convention had just a fraction of the people that CONvergence attracts, there seemed to be just as much alcohol if not more. It is Fargo, after all. There’s nothing else to do, so the people are world-class drinkers.

Tom and Rick are from the Iron Range in northern MN, so they’re no slouches to begin with when it comes to drinking, and Sharon and Rick did 8 years in Fargo. Unfortunately, as it turns out, they are all very old and out of practice as evidenced by the level of hungover-ness that was going around on Sunday morning. More on that later.

Sandy was the oldest, so she went right to bed. Rick, Sharon, and Tom headed out to the party crawl. There were only about 10 party rooms around the pool that were actually having parties, but they were remarkably entertaining.

KPLA, Klingon radio, was there from Minneapolis. Cthulhu Coffee was next door to them at CONvergence and they were very friendly.

Ghost Rider in fluorescent green paint, in the Rack party room.

Photos by Sharon Snyder, 2002

We also spent a lot of time at the Rack room, which was a suite that was wallpapered from floor to ceiling in black paper and decorated with blacklights and glowing paints. They were playing Zombie and other good music so we spent quite a bit of time there. Dave DeVries came in and did another Ghost Rider in fluorescent green paint and it looked very cool. Rick and Tom told him it looked good and struck up a conversation with Dave. Dave remembered Tom and Rick from the demo and decided to hang with us for the remainder of the evening and drink way too much.

Everyone’s downfall was that the Klingon room (not KPLA) had shots in four colors/themes that they were giving out for free. Green Romulan Ale, Blue Saurian Brandy, Red Klingon Bloodwine, and Yellow Something Something. Rick was once upon a time a bartender and thinks they were more or less different Kamikazes, which are shooters with no mix. Either way, Dave, Rick, and Tom drank way too many over the course of the evening, while Sharon wisely stuck to just the raspberry malt drink that Rick had bought her. A good time was had by all until about 3AM, or at least that what leading experts put the conservative turn-in time at.

Sunday, October 6th

Sharon awoke at about 9:30 or so, remarkably hangover free. She showered and got dressed, then attempted to get the boys moving. The key word there is attempted.

She packed up some of her stuff and then proceeded downstairs to see if anything was going on. First up was a quick swing through the dealers room to see if there was anything she absolutely had to have. She had already picked up a Farscape postcard set on Friday, and that ended up being her only purchase for the weekend. Dave was at a table selling his prints, and she chatted with him for a while. He had stayed up later than Rick and Tom, but was feeling remarkably good. Then she wandered out to the hall and chatted with Virginia again for a while. Then it suddenly dawned on Sharon that she had not had Virginia sign the Zhaan postcard yet. After signing it, when Sharon tried to give Virginia the $15, Virginia refused to take it. She said that we had been having too much fun together over the weekend.

Pardox Comics, Sharon's old stomping grounds.

Photos by Sharon Snyder, 2002

It was at this point that Sharon’s DFB showed up. Remember him? He was mentioned briefly earlier. Sharon had successfully avoided him all weekend, and whenever she saw him in the same room as her, she would cuddle up to Rick (or Tom if Rick wasn’t available). This had seemed to be working... until now. Because of their "condition", Tom and Rick were still up in the hotel room. This left Sharon unguarded. She was turning away from Virginia’s table and he was right there! This guy was a customer at the comic store she worked at in Fargo, and later would come into Paradox. He had a crush on her but was so nervous every time he talked to her that he would literally shake. Sharon used to slip off her shoes and go barefoot while working until she noticed that every time he was in he would comment on how pretty her feet were and offer foot massages. Ick! A creepy nerd with a foot fetish!

Anyway, there was no way to avoid him. He said "I don’t know if you remember me. I used to come into your store. I haven’t seen you for a while"

Sharon made a point of saying that yes, she has lived in the Twin Cities now for the last six years, and that "Me and my husband just love it down there."

It was a very brief encounter, almost completely free of uckyness, until DFB turned to walk away. As he turned, he glanced down at her feet. Ugh! Sharon was very grateful that she wasn’t doing the barefoot convention thing.

Back up to the room, Sharon found that the boys were just about ready to go. She showed them the signed postcard. Fifteen minutes later the car was loaded and we all went to hunt down Virginia again for the promised moose pictures, and also pictures of Rick and Tom with her. She had a blast posing with moose. After the first picture of her just holding him, she put him on top of her head for a picture. Then she stuck him in the front of her shirt.

At this point Rick turned to Sharon and said "I want to be the moose!"

Virginia was, if anything, even warmer and more friendly Sunday morning and we all felt very special for meeting her.

At this point we checked in with Sandy and she was ready to pack up. We had finally made contact with Becca and had plans to meet for lunch, so we spent a half hour or so just hanging out chatting with people. We picked up a couple of Dave’s prints that he was selling. When Virginia was getting up to take a break from her table we said goodbye and she said "I’ll be back in a bit." We told her we most likely would not be there, as we had a long drive ahead of us. When Virginia heard that we were leaving leaving she rushed over and gave each of us a huge hug and kiss on the cheek. She was truly the highlight of the weekend.

We then had a quick lunch at Culver’s with Becca and her fiancé Rob before hitting the road for the long drive home.

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