SG: Rad #95 (2/3): My Cake
swede at novitious.com
Tue Jul 29 07:17:10 PDT 2008
(continued from part one, preceding...)
Rad and Yury descended into the dome. Rad could not see much of
anything for a moment. Then, as the dome opening closed, the 'floor'
spiraled open. They descended again, this time into a circular room
that Rad knew had to be a command center, because if it was not a
command center, then it was just a lot of cubicles and computers
showing pictures of clouds and other crap and people sitting and
standing around commenting on said pictures and drinking coffee. The
roaring noise ceased as soon as the dome closed up, and was replaced
by chatter and computer noises. Rad noticed that all of the two dozen
people he saw wore civilian business clothing of one sort or another,
rather than the military uniforms he expected.
"Down here!" called an unfamiliar voice. Down they went, voice
owner they found, and though he had not seen her for a number of
years, Rad recognized China Kyoko Moroboshi--who was now Harxxon's
Corporate Security VP--at once. She was taller than he remembered,
nearly six feet, most of that wiry and athletic in appearance. Though
her age could have been given as anything from thirteen to millennia,
depending how you counted, her appearance was that of a woman in her
early thirties, made younger by her choice of apparel. Of the people
in the room, she was the only one Rad saw in non-business garb--black
boots, tight black leather pants, and a black t-shirt that displayed
what appeared to be an album cover for a band called 'Juno Reactor.'
Her long black hair was pulled back in a braided ponytail, and her
pale face was split with an ear-to-ear grin. It took Rad a moment to
realize the grin was not for him.
"So, CK, this tub actually flies," said Iris, her tone
completely unlike what it had been before--i.e, possessing actual
humanity. "Sort of."
"What you mean?" China asked. "We're up, ain't we?"
Iris made a 'pfft' sound. "Only 'cause gravity's too busy
laughing. Where's folks?"
"I've been trying to get 'em since I caught your approach," said
China. "Still talking with Bhossi, probably. Gonna have to get
her... hey, Uncle! Welcome to Earth and all that."
"I gotta track down Chal. You guys wait here. Have some cake."
As she headed through a door next to her console, China gestured
to a table that supported three-quarters of a birthday cake.
According to a sign above the table, someone named 'Darleen' was
having a birthday.
"She, like, always this, like, way?" Rad asked in low tones.
"When China got her physical body," Yury replied, "she was more,
you know, demure. Polite. Like the Bone Child we used to know. Now
she's more Kyoko-like. Rowdier. Does what she likes, and likes who
she does. Not that I actually ever *met* Kyoko. I'm just telling you
what she told me."
"I, like, meant..." He finished the sentence by pointing to
Iris, whose back was turned, and whose legs were carrying her away at
a slow pace while she did various Top Assisting things via her
Yury shrugged. "She's all business with me. When she's off
work, though, I'm given to understand that she, China, and some
friends go to raves in trashy parts of the city. Not my scene
anymore, but I know people still in it. She never shows up at my
place with so much as a shadow beneath her eyes. Can't figure out
how she does it."
"Like, with her powers, why is she, like..."
"Iris trained as a sidekick. Same school Manny went to, I think.
But solo heroes with openings for sidekicks are scarce these days, so
she took some classes and looked for work as a personal assistant."
"But, she can..."
Yury shrugged again. "Some people are just temperamentally
suited to it. I used to think Manny was until he got powers. Even
then, he captained a superguy team, rather than going solo. Iris,
despite her abilities, thinks like a sidekick. Or an assistant. It's
why I have her do a lot of my nightly crime patrols. *Not* just
because I have premieres to go to and interviews to give and that kind
of thing, no matter what Templar may have told you. Speaking of whom,
when Chal asked me to check out the attack at Cendra's place, she said
Temp was here, but I don't see---"
The door China had left through opened, and China emerged.
Following her was a stocky bald man with a white goatee and a spotless
lab coat. Rad immediately recognized him as Dr. Giuseppe Gigawatt, an
ally from his old superguy days who was now, he dimly remembered,
head of Applied Sciences for Harxxon, Inc. Dr. Gigawatt brightened
upon seeing Rad.
"Ah, there you are!" he exclaimed, with no stock accent
whatsoever. "It has been too long!"
"Dude!" Rad replied, as he shook hands with the elderly
scientist. "What's, like, happened to, like, your stock accents?"
"Accent reduction classes," Gigawatt replied. "Expensive, since
I had so many to reduce, but worthwhile, I think. Right, boss?"
"Said before, Giuseppe," a female voice responded, dulcet tones
giving the words an almost seductive shading, "it's all a piece to me.
I'm just glad you're happy with the results."
The owner of the voice stepped into the room, and Rad was
conscious that, even though he knew who she was, who she had to be, it
took him a moment to connect her to the woman in his memories. It was
not her tailored business suit, with its elegant contrasts of black
fabric and red accents, that threw him. Nor was it her tall, slim
frame, or the clipped style of her dirtwater-blonde hair. Nor was it
her dark red lips, her overly pale skin, her sharp eyes, or her
No, Rad thought, it was exactly her 'youthful appearance' that
had thrown him. Because, of all the old friends he had met in the
past couple of days, even the ones who had done all they could to hold
on to the appearance of youth, Chalandra Harkness was the only one who
looked *exactly* as he remembered her. She smiled, revealing a hint
of her vampire's fangs.
Chalandra Harkness, upon leaving the superguy-team CalForce, had
become CEO of the giant and giantly corrupt multinational corporation
Harxxon, replacing Vander Harkness, the distant relative for whom the
flying H they were on was named. Rad remembered that Chalandra's
stated aim had been to turn the company and its many subsidiaries
around, so as to be, if not virtuous, at least not vicious. According
to Glum, considerable progress had been made. But there were critics
that charged that much more could be done, and that Chalandra was
pursing an agenda that could most charitably be described as
'ruthlessly pragmatic,' toward ends that--the critics charged--were
hardly in keeping with the noble ideals of a superguy, or even an ex-
superguy whose powers were essentially the powers of your average
vampire. That no two critics could agree on just what those ends
were--power, market share, profit, manipulation of global situations,
imposition of moral or amoral standards, or any or all of these--did
nothing to stem their vitriol.
Rad had seen nothing during the years he had known her to cause
him to agree with those critics, but he was also aware that those
years were the merest fraction of her five-century life, and that, by
her own admission, her earlier years had been frequently bloody, and
not always on the side of the good.
"Hello, Rad," Chalandra said. If she had any guess as to what he
had been thinking about, she gave no indication. "I'm glad Yury found
you. I didn't want you to fly all the way to the Harxxon building in
Los Requemados only to find it's come out here."
"Like, what's going on, Chal?" Rad asked. "Do you, like, know
"Not specifically," Chalandra interrupted. "But we think we have
an idea where Tom, Glum, Rumiko, and Eivandt's family may have been
taken." She gestured at a viewscreen on the wall above China's
console. "Want to show him the overhead shot, CK?"
"There's a lot of things I could say to that question," said
China, as she took her seat and started typing.
"How about 'yes, boss?'"
"That would only encourage you."
Rad had not made particular note of what the screen displayed
before, and only had a moment to take in the disoriented look of two
people in cheap-looking pseudo-ninja garb before the scene
disappeared. It was replaced by an overhead shot of Dodger Stadium,
the kind that might have appeared as background to a listing of
sponsors on a nighttime televised baseball broadcast. The field
dominated the shot, lit by the stadium's high-intensity light
system. Downtown Los Angeles glittered in the background.
If there was anything wrong with the picture, it was that the
baseball diamond could not be made out. And the grass was not green,
it was some kind of bronze-gold liquid, flowing as thick syrup that
had swallowed up the outfield. China typed something, and the camera,
which Rad guessed was on one of Harxxon's helicopters, zoomed in. The
bronze-gold liquid had a shine that was unmistakably metallic.
"This started ten minutes ago," said Chalandra. "It was slow at
first, and stadium personnel were able to evacuate. Manny, Guido,
Marta, and Templar took a chopper out that way as soon as the info
came in. We got in touch with Mighty Guy, and he's on his way there
as well. Key will be joining him as soon as she drops Johnny off
Rad glanced at Yury, who stiffened on hearing this news.
"Fortunately," Chalandra went on, "the Dodgers are playing out in
Seattle this week."
"Like, what is it, dudes?"
"A city in the Pacific northwest," Yury told him. "Even I know
that one." Iris, who was nearby, looked up, frowned slightly, and
returned her attention to her SpoonBerry.
"Like, I mean the metal, y'know?"
"It is called nectarisite," said Dr. Gigawatt, as he rubbed his
goatee in the universal manner of aged people with goatees who are
about to say things of import. "An element not to be found in our
periodic table--at least, not unless they've added a new leaf of late.
Notable characteristics include extreme toughness, lightness, and
plasticity. The samples we've tested over the last couple years would
collectively fit into an Altoids box... but it would appear we are
getting a great deal more to work with, whether we like it or not.
As for its relevance to the attacks on you at Critical Studios and
your family at Cendra Seconds's apartment, it appears that a number of
persons matching descriptions logged about 'fakey-looking ninjas' and
'cheap-looking wannabe zombies' are in the immediate vicinity, having
arrived via several chartered busses. We believe that all of them
have this implanted in them."
He held a pair of tweezers in his lifted right hand, and Rad saw
a glint of bronze-gold light off of what they held.
"This was taken out of the neck of the corpse brought to Los
Requemados by Manny, Templar, and Guido," Gigawatt said. "It is the
chip that was implanted in all those who attacked today. You will
notice that it is also made of nectarisite."
Rad, who had noticed nothing of the kind, made a 'like, mmhmm'
sound to indicate that he had.
"Tell me," said Gigawatt. "Have you ever heard of... the Hidden
To The Programmer, the revelation of the true nature of his work
at Blue Pound Sign of California explained a lot. It covered, in his
estimation, why his fingertips always hurt at the end of the day, why
he never remembered what it was he did, why he was so frequently surly
but unable to express why, and why he had such difficulty in losing
the last ten pounds mandated by his diet. It also explained why he
had so recently started considering, in more than a nostalgic sense,
his old life as a supervillain.
Every day for the last six years, as soon as he started to type
at his keyboard, nanofilaments made of a periodic-table-confounding
element known to him as nectarisite drove into his fingertips,
connecting him to a cyberspace-like environment. In that environment
he worked, designing the inner workings of a radio-based control chip
made of that element. Nectarisite was a difficult medium to work
with, in that the only documentation concerning it he had been allowed
to read made reference to properties such as the 'luminiferous aether'
and the 'syntactical aether,' and how to adjust one's code to take
them into account when designing circuits and creating programs.
When he had pointed out to his controllers that there were
perfectly good and far less detectable radio-based control chips made
of more standard materials that could be ready-ordered from well-
stocked spy stores or the CIA's summer swimsuit catalog, he had been
rebuffed without explanation. Nectarisite it had to be. So
nectarisite it was.
Whatever the hell nectarisite was *supposed* to be. Its
conductive ability was superb, and he had been assured that it could
not be jammed by conventional means--which might have been the
explanation he wanted, save that he strongly suspected it was not.
But code that should have produced predictable results did weird
things, and fuzzy logic optimized for maximum problem solving grew
rigid and unforgiving.
It surprised him greatly that anyone would try to control an army
with his implants, given the state their programming was in.
Something had forced the hands of his controllers, he deduced.
Something big, bad, and oncoming.
He looked at one of his controllers, the Mega-Intelligence Bureau
Secret Secret Agent who had identified herself as Dana Wader. Now
that his conditioning had been lifted, through the judicious and
painful application of a dart to his neck, he guessed that it had been
she who spoke to him most often as he did his work. Her low,
seductive, evil voice had been ever present, directing him, rewarding
him, and punishing him.
"Thank you, Detective Sanders," she said into her cell phone.
"It's not an unexpected development, but we value the information.
The National Investigation Bureau appreciates its friends, Detective.
Yes, yes. I can't help you there, Detective, when it comes to
paparazzi I generally resort to high explosives." She paused. "What?
Oh, ha ha, right, that was a joke. Goodbye, Detective."
Dana closed the phone and snarled. The Programmer was unsure
what this 'Detective Sanders' had told her, but it was evidently not
Somehow, he knew it would not go well for him if he asked her why
she, a one-time empress of a thoroughly evil star empire, was now an
earthbound agent for the Mega-Intelligence Bureau. Had she fooled
said agency into thinking she was someone else, or had the agency
fooled itself into thinking it could channel her nefarious nature
toward its own ends? For that matter, had said agency not been
exposed during some sort of Congressional hearings? How was it that
they were still around?
Questions and no answers. The Programmer decided he did not care
about the answers. He had his true self back. Now it was 'Gary W.
Olson' that was the fiction, a name invented at his birth that had
served until he found his true purpose--to seek world domination, or,
failing that, domination of a land area no smaller than France, only
located in South America somewhere where the clime was pleasant, the
women were exotic, and the drinks were tasty. It mattered not that
all he had at the moment was a one-bedroom apartment that he did not
so much dominate as share with two lazy cats. He had his true self--
The Programmer--back. All else was a matter of time.
He looked out the window, and saw that their limousine was in
downtown Los Angeles. He caught a glimpse of Dodger Stadium, up on
what was Chavez Ravine, just before the limo entered a parking
structure. The limo did not slow down to take a ticket, and in fact
sped up a bit.
"Fasten your seatbelt, Mr. The Programmer," said Dana, though The
Programmer noted she had not so much as touched hers. "This next part
tends to disorient newcomers."
The limo entered a descending spiral ramp, which featured tight
turns that the driver was taking with speed and an evident disregard--
bordering on outright contempt--for the vehicle's paint job. The
Programmer clutched at the door handle as he watched the levels flash
by. All seemed deserted.
After passing ten parking levels, there were no more; yet the
limo continued to recklessly turn and descend. Dana seemed
unconcerned about their destination and general safety, and he tried
to emulate her. The difficulty in this for him was compounded by how
the continual tight-and-fast turn was upsetting his stomach.
Abruptly, the turns ceased, and the limo shot out into a
featureless, phosphorescent-lit tunnel. It felt constricted, though
it had two lanes and a very sharp downward angle. The limo picked up
speed, and The Programmer braced his feet against the opposite seat
before he realized he was doing so.
The high-velocity descent continued for ten minutes, then leveled
out. The limo shot through an opening into a far more massive--though
still phosphorescent-lit--tunnel. It had four lanes in either
direction and what The Programmer thought were very high ceilings,
from which hung numerous green strands. The limo swerved, and The
Programmer realized that not only was this tunnel impressive, they
were not the only ones making use of it.
To their immediate left was a large, floating wooden bowl
carrying two wizened Tibetan monks, three Australian aborigines, a
bored-looking dodo, and a squat, green-suited man with a wraparound
gold visor. A pair of orange-skinned, six-armed horse riders in
vaguely Mayan outfits flipped the limo and its occupants off, while
the eyes of their horses glowed red. A pair of dwarves who appeared
to have been caught in the middle of a vicious multicolor paintball
war rode their hover-boards onto the wall, with no apparent
consequences in terms of gravity taking a notice.
Then something massive passed, and The Programmer had to squeeze
a certain set of muscles very tight to avoid an unfortunate mess.
The wheels of the something were as big as those of a cement truck,
but what rode them was even bigger.
"T... t... re... re... x..."
"No such thing, Mr. The Programmer," said Dana Wader. "But the
M.I.B. would appreciate it if you made no mention of what you think
you see down here, to anyone not on this project. That is, if you
value your internal organs, in the sense of wishing to keep them on
"A T-Rex," said The Programmer, oblivious to what Dana had just
said. "On... a giant Segway-like scooter!"
"If you say so," said Dana. "I will remind you that the swamp
gas gets rather intense down this way. As do the bullets. If you get
"How does it even drive?" The Programmer asked. "Its arms are
Dana sighed, started to pull out her sidearm, frowned, then put
her sidearm back in its holster.
"They're like little sticks! What's up with that?"
"Shut up," Dana suggested.
The Programmer shut up, but only because he was distracted from
the sight of the scooter-riding T-Rex by the green strands that hung
from the far-off ceiling of the tunnel. Several moved, and The
Programmer thought he saw beings in loincloths and neckties swinging
Just as abruptly as the limo had entered the underground tunnel,
it split into a side tunnel. The Programmer pressed his face to the
glass, momentarily unable to breathe. The thought that something so
strange could be beneath Los Angeles--and how far beneath Los Angeles
were they, anyway?--had pushed aside every other consideration. He
wanted to go back. He wanted to know where the travelers on that...
that underground highway... were going. He wanted to know who or what
was actually driving that big floating wooden bowl thing. He wanted
it to not be a dream.
After a minute of near-darkness, the limo skidded to an abrupt
stop. The doors unlocked. The Programmer took a breath, then let the
images of the tunnel recede. For now. He reached for the handle,
hesitated, and looked at Dana.
"Go ahead," she said, seeming pleased at The Programmer's
The banged-up limo was in the middle of a room of considerable
size, which contained six chartered busses, several limousines,
several more SUVs, a rack of jetpacks, and what looked to The
Programmer like a Rose Bowl parade of floats saluting Extreme
Beweaponment. Two of the busses were unloading people wearing
handcuffs, and a lot of people wearing bad-looking ninja-type clothes
or worse-looking zombie-type costumes. The busses showed no signs of
damage, and The Programmer wondered if the route they had taken was
the only way into this underground complex.
The driver of the limo got out, and The Programmer observed he
was still massive, still wearing all black, still facially obscured by
a black mask that lacked even eyeholes. Remembering the wedgie he had
been given the last time he had seen the driver, The Programmer
elected not to make any snide remarks about his poor choice of
employers this time.
"Our objectives have been met," the limo driver said to Dana.
Again, the driver's voice had the remote, slightly slurred feel of
words that had been pre-recorded on a sun-warped cassette. "We have
Tom McCavish-Laffalot and Miguel Veracruz."
"Who are the others?" The Programmer asked. "It's... oh, wow!
Is that Glum?"
The black-haired woman in the tiger-stripe print sundress looked
up and gave a defiant scowl.
"I should have known it was you," Glum sneered. "This whole
business with making people act like zombies had you written all over
"Ha ha!" exclaimed The Programmer. "I see that my fame continues
unabated despite my years of forgetting my true purpose in---"
"I don't mean you, whoever you are," she said. "I was talking to
"At last you are in my power," said Dana. "Never again shall you
vex my designs for conquest of the... well, you know how it goes.
Long time, Empress."
"Not Empress any more," said Glum. "Or Prime Minister, for that
matter. Retired. Who's the stiff?"
"The Programmer," said Dana, as she looked him over with disdain.
"Called himself a supervillain once. Fought CalForce a few odd times,
I hear. Not much to show for it."
"Hey, Tom," said Glum. "Isn't he the guy you and Joe were
The Programmer recognized Tom McCavish-Laffalot, the onetime
armored hero known as MicroVax. That he recognized Tom despite his
current lack of armor only indicated, to The Programmer, how
thoroughly he had once prepared to battle the forces of good.
"Yeah," said Tom. "Where are we, anyway?"
"Underground hideout," said Eivandt Seconds, whom The Programmer
also recognized. "It has that whole fifties bomb shelter ambiance."
"Tell them nothing," Dana said, her harsh glare now fully on The
"I was hoping for exact GPS coordinates," Tom said. "But vague,
enigmatic hints will do."
"We're somewhere beneath Los Angeles, not far from Dodger
Stadium," said the woman next to Glum. She was barely twenty, The
Programmer guessed, though there was something hard in her eyes that
suggested those years had not been without the occasional dangerous
adventure. "Miguel, how long were we descending on that lift?"
"Six minutes, Cendra," said the tall, buff surfer guy next to
her. He looked at their captors as if he was thinking about ripping
them apart. No... more like he had already decided to rip them apart,
and was only trying to work out whether to go from left to right or
right to left. The clamps on his wrists seemed small and fragile,
though The Programmer doubted this was the case.
"Lets see," Cendra said. "Six minutes at... um... yeah. Eight
"Ha!" Dana exclaimed. "It's *eight and a half* miles
underground! So there!" She paused and frowned. "Did I just say
that out loud?"
"No," her driver said. Dana's expression brightened.
"Good," she replied. "Now, guards, take Miguel, Tom, and The
Programmer to the broadcast center, and have Secret Agent Alert give
them their assignments. Other guards, take Glum, Eivandt, and Cendra
to a holding cell. Set up the closed-circuit camera and make sure one
of you is always in the shot, with a gun pointed at them. Make sure
the cameras are set on 'record' if you're going to do any taunting."
"Dana!" Cendra exclaimed. "You don't have to do this! I can---"
"You can what?" Dana asked. "Betray me? Reduce the entire
pocket dimension that comprised the holdings of my star empire, and
imprison it in a marble that can never be cracked open?"
"I was going to say 'I can do any light typing and filing you
need done,' Cendra answered. "But if you've got another pocket
dimension lying around, sure, I'll take a shot at it."
Pure rage filled Dana's expression, and she tried to lunge at
Cendra. Her driver caught her with one of his massive arms and held
her back. The Programmer had no idea what was between Cendra and
Dana, but it clearly was not an incident that Dana regarded with
"She is trying to provoke you," said the limo driver. "We do not
have time for vengeance... for the moment."
The Programmer looked at the driver again. He was not addressing
Dana Wader as a superior. Clearly, this driver was no mere M.I.B.
flunky. Possibly, he was not part of the M.I.B. at all. If---
His thought fled as he looked past the driver and at the bus that
had, until recently, held prisoners and a bunch of people who were
dressed as ninjas, zombies, or some amalgamation thereof. He had
thought the bus empty, but now when he looked at the windows, he saw
several sets of glowing red eyes. The bodies these eyes were attached
to were short, black-furred, and tail-bearing. And the little horns
on their heads...
"Demon monkeys!" The Programmer shouted. "On the bus! Look!"
Before people could look, the demon monkeys disappeared. One
second they were there, the next there had been this sort of wiggle in
the space they occupied, and the next there was nothing.
"Are you okay?" Glum asked. "She hasn't been hitting you on the
head with a lead pipe or something, has she?"
"Not yet," Dana growled. "But it could be arranged."
The Programmer said nothing. He thought of the demon monkeys.
Their expressions had been so... determined. And grim. Bunch of
way-grim demon monkeys, those. And the way they had left... had they
teleported? Only thing worse than way-grim demon monkeys, in The
Programmer's book, were way-grim teleporting demon monkeys. He did
not recall having done anything in his villainous past specifically
against monkeys--demonic or non-demonic, teleporting or non-
teleporting. He hoped he was not the one they had been giving
the grim, determined, demonic monkey eye.
Black-suited guards separated Glum, Cendra, and Eivandt from Tom
and Miguel, and were leading them toward a nearby unlabeled set of
doors. Before they could reach the doors, though, the limo driver
said, distorted voice now very low, "Stop them."
"Stop!" Dana ordered. The guards and prisoners stopped where
Definitely not a servant, The Programmer decided. But why was he
even posing as one?
"The prisoner... Glum," said the driver. "Is she a
"She is," Dana answered, almost hissing. "What about it? We got
her by chance. She's not in any scenario--"
"She is a Hottentotian," the driver interrupted. The Programmer
noted he was taking care not to raise his voice to where the guards
could hear. "Therefore, she is more significant than either of our
original targets, though their value is not diminished. Have her
escorted directly to the scrap pile, and hold her there until we are
"Prepared for what?" Dana asked. "You never told me we
"Not here," the driver said. "In the labs."
Dana gave the orders in a significantly raised voice to the
guards, who instantly obeyed. Dana and the driver then left, without
another word, into the dimly-lit corridor on the side of the hub
opposite where Glum, Cendra, and Eivandt had been headed. Where
Cendra and Eivandt were still headed, while other guards gestured for
Glum to walk to a third set of doors and an equally nondescript
"Let's go, the rest of you," said the guard closest to The
Programmer. "Somebody get the chip-controlled guys back on the busses
and back to the surface."
Something about the guard's voice seemed familiar. He tried to
get a look at her face, but she turned away and started punching
numbers into what looked like an oversized radio phone. The
Programmer frowned, not happy to be regarded as such an easy
'guarding' assignment, but decided to play it cool for now. They had
brought him in to work, after all. Once he had access to computer
systems... well, things would change.
The Programmer allowed himself to be escorted into the same
corridor that Dana and the driver had taken, with prisoners Tom and
Miguel ahead of him. The corridors were wide, if a singularly
uninteresting gunmetal gray, and there was plenty of room for the
eight heavily-armed M.I.B. security personnel to keep guns pointed at
them. There was a corridor above, visible through large grates, and
The Programmer saw the boots of even more armed guards. He had a
strong hunch that his status was scarcely better than Tom and
Then he let all thoughts of his status, and of grim demon
monkeys, fall by the wayside, and returned in his mind to the
underground highway and its strange rolling, flying, and swinging
denizens. Underground highways, underground cities, underground
worlds... all ripe for conquest. Surely some empire roughly the size
of France and possessed of tasty drinks could be carved out there....
(continued in part three, following...)
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