After the small bit drama that concluded chapter 3, we get to see a final proving ground that settles the score for all parties involved.
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After the incident between Amber and Grace, Harry did not see Amber around much and when he did, she seemed to shun him and not even acknowledge his presence. Grace on the other hand was growing closer to him, and becoming someone Harry could rely on, and in all honesty was one of the only things keeping him going. This whole situation and environment had thrown Harry so far outside his comfort zone that it may as well have been as comforting as the cold and endless void of space. However, Grace, she seemed to calm that anxiety and uncertainty that now laid dormant within him, as she brought a sense of certainty and control to his life that he had never felt before.
It had been about two weeks since their first experience at the shooting range and in that time, they had perfected their skill and actually been performing on par with something that looked like military tactics. They had not only practiced that one drill they started with, but also a number of other drills that were designed to gauge things like stress management, accuracy, agility, teamwork, and application of knowledge. All of these tests and drills were leading up to one final test, which was going to be a simulated fight where each team would be put up against each other leading to one team ending as the victor.
Harry wondered how they were going to do this, considering this was already a simulation. Perhaps this was going to be the time where they revealed the truth, or maybe they still weren’t ready yet. Harry actually wondered what qualified as ready and ready to go up and do what? These types of questions used to keep him up at night, just the uncertainty of it shook him to his core, but he was calm now. Whatever was up there on the surface would be dealt with in time, he was sure of it.
Amber laced her boots as Dustin quietly sat across from her staring at a wall and pondering something to himself.
“I wonder if the sim munitions for this upcoming test differing accuracy will have compared to our standard ammunition, I would almost be certain as the projectile and velocity would have to be drastically different in order to be non-lethal.” Said Dustin.
Amber sighed. “I guess.” She trailed off unenthusiastically.
“Something up with you? You don’t seemed to happy.” Said Dustin.
Amber gritted her teeth as she synched down the last lace on her boot and tied it off in a neat knot.
“And here I was thinking, you only understood weapons and history. What gave it away hmm? Was it the long hours of bitter silence as I watched someone who I loved be turned and manipulated by some chick who would have looked down on me in high school, or was it the fact that, the same bitch who stole my friend has also been outperforming us at every drill and flaunting it like she is the cheer captain of this fucked up nightmare.” Amber trailed off with what almost sounded like a sob before she composed herself.
“So yeah, something might be up with me.” Said Amber before she dramatically stormed off.
Dustin merely shrugged to himself as he stood up and followed her out. Dustin had not had really any interest or understanding of women and he probably would remain clueless on that matter. As far as Amber goes, she seemed to kind of just ignore him and really didn’t make an attempt to socialize or coordinate with him, which didn’t bother him personally as he was used to it, but it did hurt on the drills when she was doing one thing and he was doing something totally different. Dustin was pretty sure that Amber blamed him for a lot of the mistakes made on the courses, which some of that was true, but a lot of that was miscommunication and it takes two to make that mistake.
Sammy was still feeling the soreness in his jaw as he slowly chewed on a protein bar while sitting next to Bruce. After the incident, the two had both received an “attitude adjustment” from Drill Instructor Hanes which in all honesty was ten times worst than anything Bruce had done to him. After that experience, the two were dead set on not going through that again and came to an understanding with each other. If either one of them had any chance of competing against the other teams, they needed to use each other’s talents and weaknesses to their full advantage. That’s the other thing, at first Sammy could not give a damn about winning or competing because there was nothing to gain and it was just another obstacle he had to at minimum pass, but now winning comes with perks and not just a pat on the back. The first place winners get a warm meal of their choosing, time on a smart tablet, and comfortable lodging inside and not in the elements. They were currently sitting around a campfire sleeping in tents and the combination of the rain and cold nights had made Sammy dream of a nice comfortable bed in the barracks. The second and third place winners get one less benefit for place and anyone below third place gets nothing. All Sammy needed to do was just scrap by and reach third place for the comfortable lodging benefit, but how he was going to do that considering the three top runners were Grace’s team, then Billy’s, and finally Amber’s, he had no idea. The next drill was going to be a team vs team fight using sim munitions or something, if he could get Bruce to play ball then he might have way to third place yet.
“Alright, what is code word Juliet mean?” Said Grace as she walked alongside Harry to their next march with Hanes.
“Taking fire from both 3 and 9’o clock” Said Harry.
“And what about Zeta?” Asked Grace.
“Taking fire from the rear.” Harry said hesitantly.
“Nope, but close, one firing at our front while the other is flanking to hit us in the rear.” Said Grace.
“Oh, then was the other Yankee?” Said Harry.
“Yep, but lets drop this, we are coming up on some of the other cadets.” Said Grace.
So far Grace, was doing quite well for herself in her new environment, after taking some time to get used to her situation. She had originally hated every second of this place and part of her still does, but she had at least established herself on top of the social hierarchy here. In order to do this, she had to choose wisely when considering her teammate as their success during the drills would determine where they lay in the food chain. While Harry on paper wasn’t the best shot or the fastest, or really the best at anything, he had one thing going for him over all others. He could easily be controlled and was loyal to the end because he needed her, more than she needed him and with the right instruction he was way more useful than a more skilled person because he never got in the way. However, just to seal the deal on this relationship, Grace had also taken steps to intentionally distance Harry from Amber to make sure that he still remain reliant on her. And also it was kind of fun antagonizing Amber and keeping her off her game because she wasn’t competition to be underestimated and probably could out do Grace in a fair match up, but that wasn’t going to happen. The next biggest source of competition was Billy and Michael, who Grace really hated as they always seemed to be cat calling her and were generally annoying douchebags, but their egos were their weakness and the two could go back and forth like a married couple over the simplest of things. That was at least entertaining to watch.
The next drill that they were currently embarking on was going about as well of all of the other god awful training they have been going through since their arrival at this boot camp, absolutely terribly. For the past week and half, she and Sarah had been living in leaky tents during cold nights with the only source of food being to stupid and barely palatable protein bars. Multiple times throughout the suffering, Rachel had just thought of ending it, but she made a promise to her only friend in this hell hole she wouldn’t abandon her including through death. Rachel knew exactly what the others thought of them, to the others they were the clumsy and incompetent ones which in this climate made them the social outcasts for once. This had originally bothered both Rachel and Sarah to an extent and still does, but as much as their social status sucked the conditions and training suck more. Rachel had heard what they were going to be doing for the next exercise and to be honest she was kind of scared because as much as her slightly narcissistic personality she knew that her and Rachel had no chance against the others. If they were lucky maybe the others would blow each other away before getting to them, she at least hoped.
“Alright recruits!” Drill Instructor Hanes boomed to the assembled recruits who were currently standing outside a thick and heavily vegetated forest.
“Today is the day that you finally put all that you have learned to use in combat like situation!” Said Hanes as he proceeded to go over the drill.
Each team will be equipped with adequate supplies and ammunition to last in the woods for three days were each team will be charged with eliminating the others and the last team standing being the winners. According to Drill Instructor Hanes upon questioning from Dustin, the sim munition ammo they would be using would have the same feel and accuracy as normal ammo with the exception being that hit individuals would be immediately be knocked unconscious and be declared as eliminated. After the explanation and questioning was over they were required to put on black bags and be escorted into the woods and could not take those bags off before the siren or risk being disqualified.
Harry walked through the woods blind, being guided by someone from behind as they walked to their starting position. To Harry’s surprise the walk was abnormally short and after they had waited in their position for about five minutes they clearly heard the siren. This worried Harry as he assumed in order for that to happen they must have all been positioned super close to each other, but when Harry ripped the bag off and raise his rifle, he couldn’t see anyone for at least 50 yards in each direction. Harry looked to his side to see Grace actively scanning their surroundings before seeming to come to the same realization.
She gave a half-hearted laugh. “They must’ve played a trick on us with simulation and just teleported us here, because there is no way we walked through that.” Grace said nodding to the thick saturation of tree and plants that surrounded them on all sides.
Harry marveled at the forest for a moment and all of its natural splendor, even if it was a simulation. There were still few things he had seen in his life that could match its simple beauty and calmness.
“Alright, well one thing is definitely for certain we got to watch ourselves, these trees and foliage would make it easy to set up a surprise ambush.” Grace said.
Harry sighed looking back at the beautiful tree and foliage which had now just become another potential threat.
Sammy gave the signal and at once him and Bruce both sprang out and sprayed down two cadets who had helplessly wandered into their ambush. Sammy ran over to the two who now laid on the ground unconscious and began rummaging through one of their packs.
“What are doing?” Said Bruce as he causally wander over while still looking over his shoulder every once and awhile.
“Found it!” Sammy said as he held up three cholate chip flavored protein bars.
“Nice, but aren’t you worried about getting yelled at for stealing?” Said Bruce.
Sammy did a mock offended gesture. “Stealing I can’t believe such an idea, no Bruce my boy this is not stealing, it is merely reaping the spoils of war or something.” Said Sammy reassuringly.
Bruce shrugged. “Eh it worth it, those chocolate chip ones are the only ones to look forward to.” Said Bruce.
And with that the two looted the other cadet and made off into the wood to pull this stunt again.
David was not optimistic about his chances during this drill, but he kept it to himself as they crept through the woods trying not to make much noise, but still making enough racket that he must of have been heard from a mile away.
“Okay so do we have much of a plan if we run into someone out here?” Said Mavis as she walked beside him scanning their surroundings.
“Shoot first and ask questions later, look really don’t know what to say, our odds ain’t good if we run into any of the front runners.” Said David.
“Yeah, but still it would be nice to have a plan to get just a slight leg up on perhaps some of the other teams.” Said Mavis.
Dustin shrugged, he was about to make another remark when he saw moment to their left in one of the bushes. He stopped and motioned it to Mavis who nodded and began to approach the possible threat. David could feel his heart beat faster as he approached closer and closer until he could barely hear the sound of his heavy breathing over the drumming of his heart. He round the corner and…
“Ekkk!” Is all Sarah got out before her and Rachel simply froze up in the sign of danger.
Dustin saw an opportunity and he was going to take it.
“Woah, woah, woah, easy there, no need for us to shoot each other now!” He said as Mavis gave him a puzzled look.
“Look the fact of the matter is, everyone currently standing here has been the underdogs and the butt of everyone joke around here. Now I know you two won’t last against the others, just like us, but if we were to join forces we could have a chance.” Said David.
Rachel look of fear faded and was replaced by look of curiosity.
“You propose an alliance?”
“Propose a way to win against all of those people who looked down on us, which yes requires an alliance.”
Dustin knew he had sold her with that last line because as he recalled she used to be part of the popular kids and social status was everything to her.
“Sarah what do you think?” Said Rachel.
“Could we do much better?” She replied.
David look to Mavis who merely gave a shrug as her sign of approval.
The now team of four, marched through the woods with a new sense of bravado with the feeling of safety in numbers.
Sarah was taking the lead, while Mavis, Rachel, and Sammy walked several feet behind her.
Everything was going well until they heard the sound of a pop and Sarah went limp ahead of them. They spotted two figures off to the right in the trees and the remaining three began to lay full auto in that general direction while retreating to cover. Mavis fled to the right where a large fallen tree lay surrounded by a lot of bushes and Rachel and David fled left behind two large and thick trees. They waited there for a good couple seconds, none of them knowing what to do before they heard it.
“I am going to make you cheating motherfuckers pay for Billy. Your numbers won’t save you!” Said the mistakable Michael of the Red Team boys who were usually one of the front runners.
“Crap.” David quietly muttered to himself as then began hearing full auto fire whiz by their cover.
Mavis popped her head out to take a shot, but was swiftly mowed down.
“Looks like y’all are just dropping like flies even with your numbers!” Said Michael as his voice seemed to get closer by the second.
“We have to both attack him.” David whispered.
“No, I am not going out there.” Rachel whimpered
David could now hear Michael’s footsteps as they closed in. He took a breath and release.
Then in one swift motion he pushed Rachel out of cover in front of him as he attempt to raise his rifle to shoot Michael before a quick burst from Michael’s rifle sent Rachel collapsing on him and pinning his rifle. Michael was about fifteen feet away, and David awaited his fate, but Michael turned and began walking off thinking he had already shot. David quietly praised whatever source of dumb luck granted him this opportunity. David rapidly pushed Rachel’s body off of him, but unfortunately not as quiet as he would have liked, but it didn’t matter because David let off a long six second burst from his rifle before Michael even had a chance to get a shot off. David watched in just satisfaction as a hand of full of the rounds from the large salvo found their mark and Michael collapsed to the ground.
“Fuck yeah! Take that you dumbass jock, not everything revolves around football and your fragile ego!” David rejoiced.
David felt a level of euphoria that had not remember feeling ever in his life, and honestly didn’t mind when the round hit him in the back sending face first into the dirt, still with a smile plastered on his face.
“Nailed him.” Said Dustin from halfway up a hill that overlooked the skirmish.
Dustin had only seen the last bits of the fight take place, and patiently he waited to see which side would come out on top. To his surprise and joy, he recognized the unconscious forms of both Billy and Michael through his modified rifle sight. He was happy to see this because he expected they were going to be one of their toughest opponents in this drill. So far, he and Amber had made short work of most of the groups they had come across, this was Dustin’s second elimination, with Amber taking out most of them. This really didn’t bother Dustin however, because his one source pride came from the fact that Amber was using a rifle he had modified to great affect and so far, has given him three compliments about it. While this wasn’t something most people would be prideful about, to Dustin this crowning achievement that he was very proud of.
Dustin turned and walked up the hill and just on the other side about halfway down the hill was Amber who was currently scanning the ground and bushes as she slowly pieced together where the person who was here had gone. Dustin personally never even took note of the tracks or disturbed vegetation as he walked, but Amber so far has used this trick to track down two groups so far, which impressed Dustin.
“What happen with the gun fight over the hill?” Amber asked still not taking her focus off of tracking.
“A streak of luck, it appears three groups battled it out and the Billy and Michael were among the ones eliminated. I only had to take care of one stragglers.” Said Dustin.
“Good.” Amber said as she smiled to herself.
“Look I think I got the trail of another group down, I believe they must be heading straight west and…” Amber was cut off by the sound of distant pops in the distance.
Dustin checked his rifle. “And that would be them.”
Harry was walking to the right of Grace as they both casually strolled through the woods while making minimum noise. So far the two had performed flawlessly as they had swift alright eliminated six groups and it had not even reached nightfall of the first day. Harry scanned the trees who were illuminated in by the sunlight of dusk warning of eminent night. Grace had wanted to find and eliminate all of the groups before nightfall and they had been both pushing themselves to get it done, but that might not happen and they might be forced to set up camp. Both of them were wary as it was, as they had been going all day and only taking small breaks to seat and eat something to partially restore some of their energy. Grace was tempted to the respawning trick, but they both figure they had fixed the simulation to prevent someone merely killing themselves to come back as an undamaged form.
Harry was just about to propose they start setting up camp when Grace yanked him left behind a tree as rounds peppered the ground he was just standing on before.
“Charlie, Charlie.” Grace said she peaked out and took three concentrated shots which seemed to cause the attackers to take cover because the firing ceased for a moment.
Harry still dazed, tried to remember what Charlie was. He then remembered, attack coming from their 2’o clock. Harry peak his head out to take a shot at their attacker when gunfire whizz past him and their attackers from their 10’o clock.
“Crap, crap, crap.” Sammy said to himself as he hid behind a fallen tree with Bruce as another group seemed to enter the fray uninvited.
So far their simple yet effective ambush tactics had been working fairly well, but that was because they were both able to ended the fight before it really even started. However now they were in a gunfight and to add to the trouble another group must’ve been strolling by and decided to join in the fun.
“Yeah, I think that was one of the front runners we just shot at, I didn’t get a good look at the group, but they came in from our right I think.” Said Bruce as he looked at his dwindling ammo count.
Against Sammy’s recommendation Bruce used the full auto setting on his rifle religiously and had some success with the spray and pray tactics, except now he was low on ammo.
“I don’t think we can take them.” Said Bruce as he gave a small peak over their cover.
“Fuck it, just let those two groups go at and hopefully they will eliminate each other.” Sammy as he pulled out his pack and handed Bruce and himself a chocolate chip protein bar and waited.
Amber was not happy with Dustin as the idiot had carelessly fired to soon and now both groups were aware of their presence and the element of surprise was lost. From the limited recon she could get in before Dustin had spoiled it, the two groups were Sammy and Bruce who were currently hiding behind a large fallen tree, and Grace and Harry who were in cover being a thick group of trees and foliage. Upon contact, it appeared Sammy and Bruce didn’t make any attempt to return fire and instead waited it out, but that bitch Grace kept taking pot shots which were getting way to close for comfort, and making her return fire less accurate. She watched the trees group of trees like a hawk and when she saw a blur of moment, she immediately place her crosshairs on it and became to squeeze the trigger when a pain of recognition hit her. In her crosshairs was Harry as he seemed to fire a few rounds in the direction of Sammy and Bruce before scanning the hill side for their presence. The moment was involuntary as she jerked the cross hair to the right just before the shot went out.
A round struck a few inches from Harry and he instinctively ducked behind the tree he was using for cover. To his left he saw Grace calmly waiting with her rifle propped against the tree for a sign of moment.
“Oh come on don’t you want to try and take a shot at me.” She quietly muttered to herself.
Harry took another look out of cover and saw what looked like the beginning of someone making a dash before a shot rang out and the figure fell limp to the ground.
Amber looked behind her to see Dustin’s limp form in the dirt five feet from her. She thought to herself that she should have tried to warn him of the fact Grace had them zeroed in, but looking back at it she probably wouldn’t have been able to warn in him in time before he ran out into the line of fire without telling her. This was rather unfortunate, because currently Grace had her pinned and there was no sign of Sammy or Bruce taking her attention away from her position, so she was stuck for the time being. Amber looked up to the orange haze in the sky as the sun drifted away into the dark void of night. Right then and there, she realized her night course of action as she unslung her pack and pulled out a protein bar to eat while she waited for night to come.
Night came quicker than what was expected and Sammy and Bruce still had no idea of a victor between the two enemy teams. So far, it had been mostly silent leading into night as it seemed both sides grinded to a stalemate.
“Been awful quiet so far, I bet those fuckers are trying to outlast each other.” Said Bruce.
“Probably so, but I got to wonder how many more people are out there? Surely, we are do to only a couple more teams..” Said Sammy.
“I bet that this is it, just these two teams to go.” Said Bruce.
Sammy let those words sink in, two teams left which means that at minimum they would be third place and anything on top would be bonus.
“Bruce, I don’t know about you, but sitting here waiting for these two to kill each other is just not going to do if it takes them several more hours to do it. Now if you are right and these are the only two left, then we have already made third place and anything else is bonus.”
Bruce paused for a second and pondered the implications of was he was saying.
“Okay so what would be your plan of action?”
“You take left and I’ll get right, use the trees to guide you and don’t use your light until you’re in position then light them up.”
Harry sat next to Grace behind their cover as they peer out into the darkness that was quickly enveloping them. It had been about two hours from Harry’s count that they had been sitting here and waiting for someone to make move and so far it seemed they wanted to wait till the cover of night to launch their attack. So far to Harry knew that they were going up against Amber who was now by herself, and one unknown team that had originally ambushed them. Harry held his breath as he waited for Grace’s word on what they were going to do. While Harry was not scared of the dark, he certainly didn’t like the idea of something waiting in it to ambush him.
“Okay, while we got the cover of night, I think we need to make our move or they will make a move on us. However to throw them off we can’t use our lights, except if we position them as decoys, so make sure to disconnect your light from your rifle.” Said Grace as she looked out into the night and at where the other two groups should be.
“Alright, you go hard left and get far up the hill before coming down on where Amber is hiding out. I’ll flank right and get the two who ambushed us, sound good?” She said.
“Yep, I’ll get right on that.” Harry said with a smile as he began to start trudging up the hill.’
Grace smiled to herself, before focusing and getting herself back on task. She quietly crept through the woods, but could obliviously hear she wasn’t alone. Taking out her disconnected flashlight and positioning herself close to cover, she activated the light before tossing it away from her. The response of fast as burst of fire immediately lit up her disembodied flashlight, trying to locate the fire was hard as the rifles gave now muzzle flash, but by the sound of it she had a close guess of where it originated from. She aimed and fire a quick burst in that direction and heard someone curse which meant she was close, but not close enough. She was just about to fire another burst when whoever she had fired at just started shooting… everywhere. Grace quickly took cover as she listened to what must’ve been a burst that lasted ten seconds.
Once it stopped, Grace carefully creped out of cover and forward. However, she made the mistake of stepping into the outline of her thrown flashlight arc just enough to be seen. All of sudden Grace heard lots of moment before seeing the outline of a figure charging toward her in her peri fail vision.
Sammy was creeping along when he heard the gunfire in the distance, which he hoped was progress as he thought of the other goodies they could get if they managed to get second or dare, he say first place. He had gotten up to where he thought he had seen the last group on the hillside, but there was no sign of them, except he saw they were down one, good one less to deal with. Not sure, where to look next however, he went against his own advice and used a light to get a better view of his surrounding for only a second. He did, a quick sweep of the light in front of him and was nearly jump scared when he saw a figure probably less than 25 yards from him who had definitely now seen him. Gunfire erupted, as Sammy dove behind the fallen tree and began spraying over the top. He could hear more movement, before the source of a light illuminated him.
“Gotcha you.” He thought to himself just before he felt an impact and blacked out.
Amber had moved from her original position to the outskirts to gage the climate of the situation. She could see much, but from the sounds, it seemed both group had the same idea of splitting up and ran into each other. Further down hill she saw there was stationary light, which she deduced as some sort of decoy, but then on the outline of the flashlight’s arc she had seen a female figure. Amber was almost giddy as she lined up the shot, but that was not before a large figure darted out of the darkness and tackled Grace. Amber held her fire, wondering if she should wait for the other two to show, before she heard more gunfire up the hill. She would take what opportunities presented themselves.
Grace didn’t have time to react, before the 200 lbs. of muscle and angry issues tackled her to the ground. Her rifle was pinned between her and Bruce with Bruce actively trying to pry it away from her to use it against her. She tried to fight him, but she could feel the grip on the weapon weakening.
“Harry! Help!” Grace yelled.
The feeling and act of having to call for help sickened Grace and she hated being in such a weak position, but she hated losing even more.
Just then she heard a nearby gun shot before Bruce went limp, which still left her pinned, but at least it was better than previously. That was until she saw the face of Amber illuminated by the light from the flashlight.
“Crap, crap, crap.” Grace thought to herself as she tried to access her weapon, but it was too late because Amber had her at gun point.
“I didn’t know you were already sleeping around on him.” Amber said with a slight to chuckle to no one, but herself.
“You know, I don’t know how you did it, but you are really good at hiding what you are behind all of that popularity and looks. Thing is I see right through your bullshit.”
Grace was almost amused at this comment.
“Tell me Amber what do you think I am hmmm? Am I really a bad person, or am I the scapegoat for all of your inadequacies?”
“You are a manipulator.”
“Am I now? Well what do you call yourself, considering you’re the one who got Harry into a mess he didn’t want to be in. Maybe that’s why he gave you the cold shoulder and decided to embrace someone who did right by him.”
At that last comment Amber saw nothing, but red as her finger creped toward the trigger, before a gunshot echoed and then blackness.
Grace pushed Bruce’s limp body off of her, before she saw a familiar face emerge out of the dark and into the light.
“Here take my hand.” Harry said as held at an open hand which Grace readily took to pull herself to her feet.
She dusted herself off, as Harry exanimated the scene making no comment before turning his gaze back to her.
“I think we…” Harry said right before a sudden jolt and they were no longer in the forest, but now in a sterile white room surrounded by their fellow cadets who looked on quietly. Grace looked around and could recognize some of the ones she had eliminated, who now just stared at her silently.
“This is awkward.” Harry said under his breath before a loud voice drew the attention of the room.
The mass of cadets in front of them parted to reveal the source of the voice.
“I believe a congratulations is in order, because you two have passed the final test.” Said Officer Mclanky as he seemed to take a pause to let those word set in.
“You have passed the simulation portion of your training and from now on, you will be all under one team and that team needs a captain.”
Grace could hear her heartbeat fast in anticipation of what he had to say next.
“After extensive review from the security team and myself, we have decided to nominate…”
Grace held her breath.
“Harry Watson as our candidate for captain.”
And like that, the breath was knocked out of her.
Author's note: Thank you once again for managing to sit through and read this. As far the story goes from here, I hope to conclude the group's time in the Ark by the next chapter and bring them to the new world on the surface. As far as the progress of the rest of the story goes, I have a lot of the plot outlined and some very rough drafts of more chapters with there being gaps as I skip around in the story. Based off what I have now, I estimated there will at least be 25 chapters to this story with more probably being added as I revise drafts of chapters. Again thank you to the time you took to read this, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing this.