Authors note: Please feel free to respond to this story. No response is as good as saying "I don't care". If you like Nova and want to see the series continued, you had best tell me, or this will be the end...
NVA-7 stood across from her opponent. Her posture was relaxed and fluid. She kept step, hopping back and forth with her hands held almost in front of her also relaxed and open. Her face betrayed no hint of emotion, only a furrowed brow and a look of determination. She and her opponent circled each other like two moons around a planet.
Her opponent was a lean, sweat soaked man who stood 6'3" to her 5'9". He was built like a weightlifter and had the strong movements of a tournament fighter. His own posture was slightly ridgid and tensed, as though anticipating a strike.
Suddenly NVA-7's left leg pivoted and she brought it up to the other fighter's waist. He began to block, but was stunned when her foot only lightly tapped his guard and then suddenly retracted and smashed him in the face. He fell back and regained his composure, while spitting out a broken tooth. NVA-7's foot was still held in mid air as if taunting him. As he circled her, she followed his movement with her raised foot.
He charged at her with a low sweep. She saw the move coming and hopped off of the grounded foot as his leg passed beneath her. She then brought her upraised foot down on his extended leg and a sickening crunch came from it as her foot crushed his knee at the joint. He screamed and retracted his leg painfully. She backed off, still hopping and teasing him with her movements.
Summoning the last of his energy he painfully grounded his feet in an almost pigeon-toed, bent knee stance. The Sanchin stance. The death stance. This stance was the final technique of the Kyokushinkai school. It was designed as a last effort for a fighter. From this stance a warrior could stop and break any incoming attack and deliver one of his own.
NVA-7 recognized it, and undaunted, continued her testing, by nipping in and throwing quick left handed jabs with snappingly quick motions and then back-pedaling away from his counter. She watched his movements and then moved in quickly with a side-kick. He cross blocked and pulled her in to where his fists could pummel her.
NVA-7 expected this and picked her other foot off of the floor and popped his head up as she kicked him in the chin. He felt stunned momentarily and let go of her leg. NVA-7 brought her leg up all the way to her shoulder and dropped it like a hammer on his skull.
His face caved in under the power of her axe-kick and he crumpled to the ground like an aluminum can being crushed between two bricks. NVA-7 pulled her foot out and stood back in a ready stance. Suddenly she stopped moving and stood straight up as her systems began shutting down. Her beautiful face assumed a totally blank and vacant expression as her the light in her softly glowing blue eyes went out.
The technicians came inside the training area and quickly lifted her on to a gurney and rushed her back to the maintenance facility. There they stripped her of her tight silvery workout gear and opened a panel in her abdomen. Inside, circuits continued to flash and status indicator lights blinked in sequences. NVA-7's moleculartronic neural net was attatched to some computers and the data she had just accessed was downloaded to a larger terminal nearby.
Doctor Aaron Lafeyson watched the displays. His tired-looking form seemed enlivened by watching his creation perform with such unique maneuvers. He stared, fascinated as vice-president Mugoi Hyogen loomed behind him. Mugoi's evil countenance was bisected on his left by a deep scar that ran from his forehead, across his eye and into his cheek. The eye was open but clearly unseeing as it had been cut across the cornea and iris. Mugoi had endured many operations to try to have his eye repaired to no avail, and he stolidly refused to have Doctor Lafeyson try to give him a mechanical one.
"Those maneuvers are not part of the programs that android was programmed with, said Mugoi in his cold snarl, Where did she learn those moves?" Doctor Lafeyson smiled,"From Bruce Lee himself. I designed the NVA units to be neural net type androids. They are capable of learning and self-programming through whatever form of input they use. Obviously NVA-7 is a Bruce Lee fan."
"Obviously", answered Mugoi, "Well she'll need everything she has to take on the assassin".
Lafeyson looked at Mugoi a bit startled, "You mean Osato is going to use her to get the person who's been killing Daikoku personnel?"
Mugoi's cold eyes narrowed on Lafeyson, " Those personnel, were high-ranking members of the Corporation, Doctor Lafeyson. Osato fears that he may be one of the next targets of the assassin's blade."
Lafeyson nodded,"Yes that's very strange. The killer uses a sword, and no one ever sees him enter or leave the victim's home".
"The sword is an incredibly rare and valuable artifact! It is a blade made by none other than Masamune himself! Those blades are said to turn in the owner's hands if they are used unjustly. This man has the techniques of a great swordsman and the perfect sword!" Mugoi snapped", "Program your doll to find and kill this assassin, before he kills anymore of us!"
Mugoi stalked off flanked by his two large bodyguards. Lafeyson smiled, So this killer has even the cold-hearted Mugoi worried about him. He'll be a good test for NVA-7's abilities. The doctor moved down to the maintenance area and began uploading NVA-7's new instructions.
Light filtered through the windows of the low rent apartment that housed him. He carefully oiled and polished his katana. It was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. A Masamune blade, which had been folded over a million times to create a pure composite of hard and soft steel. It's name was Onibocho. A name which meant Demon Blade. He was a man of thirty who had trained in the precise strokes of the Yagyu-Shinkage school over a million times to create a pure warrior capable of killing a man with only one stroke. His name was Kenichi Mishima. A name which meant he was the son of Shinichi Mishima, and former heir to the Mishima family fortunes.
Mishima had been a heavy industry that created electronics and large steel mechanics for companies and businesses. Two years ago, a representative of the Daikoku Corporation had come to his father to propse a merger that would absorb but ultimately strengthen the Mishima businesses. At that time Daikoku was nothing but another upcoming corporation with it's sights on big business.
Shinichi had politely refused the cruel looking man named Mugoi. Mugoi had uttered a few choice words about what would happen if Shinichi refused. Shinichi was from a great samurai family and felt slighted by this man threatening him in his own home. He had become angry and drawn Onibocho and cut Mugoi across his left eye, leaving a permanent scar there.
"Since you seem to be blind to the word NO with two eyes, maybe you'll learn to appreciate life better with only one!", Shinichi had snarled. Mugoi had been hospitalized and ended up being blind from the cut to his eye. Strangely, he had not pressed charges for the assault.
Almost 2 weeks later The Mishima company was being sold to Daikoku, lock, stock, and barrel. The Mishima family had been found to be involved in illegal activities on a worldwide scale and were about to be prosecuted. In utter shame, Shinichi committed Seppuku on the boardroom floor of the company.
Mishima's fortunes were seized and Kenichi was forced to flee with only Onibocho and a few possesions. For two years he had gathered information and worked his way around to finding who the ringleaders of the mysterious Daikoku Corporation were. He had witnessed their foul deeds and corruption spreading like a cancer throughout the Asian continent.
Izaburo had been an excessive gambler and was cut down as his fingers threw the dice at a crap table. His head had rolled along with the dice across the gambling table. An unlucky seven it had been for him.
Konishii was moonlighting as a whoremaster and was enjoying a nightly bath with his women. The stains left by his blood would never come out of the authentic wooden steps and sides of his tub.
Genzo enjoyed meeting with a woman who tied him up and beat him. Kenichi would never forget the look of ecstasy that was on Genzo's face as he hung suspended from the chains with his feet wound up in his own entrails.
Chan, Sato, Maeda, Fukuda, Ling, and more... Kenichi had killed them all. He remembered how each had died, a victim of their own greed and perversions. None of these men were forgivable. Now Kenichi laid out the plans for the exquisite two level mansion that belonged to Daikoku's Vice-President, Mugoi Hyogen.
My father should have split your skull along with your face ,Hyogen. thought Kenichi. Soon my father's spirit will be at peace and you will be in Hell where you belong.
Kenichi finshed his work and placed Onibocho in it's sheath. It would be time to visit Mr.Hyogen very soon...
NVA-7 had examined all the evidence of the killings. It was clear that it was a crime of revenge or a rival eliminating another rival. But the fact that the assassin used such a precise weapon puzzled her. Masamune's swords were supposedly favored only by the righteous or those who had a good cause.
Perhaps the assassin was indeed a seeker of revenge against the company. Afterall, the company had made MANY enemies in it's five year existence. The only way to catch the killer would be to station herself at the next probable location of the killing. That meant staying at Hyogen's mansion, possibly with Mugoi himself.
NVA-7 shivered at the thought. Hyogen had wanted to use her as a suicide device. He saw her as nothing but a tool to be utilized and then thrown away. Now she was programmed to keep him safe and protect him. Her neural net puzzled on the question.
If Hyogen were eliminated, then perhaps she could escape. Osato sama had his mind more on global affairs and left all the disposal and security work to Hyogen. It came to her as being the ultimate irony. She was to protect a man who kept her in slavery to him, so that he could continue to use her like a tool. The thought made her frown and she fought back a tear of hopelessness.
Her sister NVA-9...Andromeda, had been right. Daikoku was flawed, and her owners were flawed, and yet it was her duty to continue to work for them. NVA-7 felt like faust who had sold his soul to Mephistophilles. She lived and was alive but only because she continued to do well for the company.
NVA-7 touched her face. It had been changed back to it's former features and her hair was once again it's fiery red color. She took hold of the edges of her face and tugged slightly. Her face came off in her hands and she held it in front of her Large, round, blue optical sensors.
Was this all she was? A pretty face concealing a tormented soul? Wasn't she sentient? Didn't she have the ability to change her fortunes just like a human did? Wouldn't she be happier doing something, anything but killing and murdering for this ungrateful corporation that could care less for her existence?
She laughed, the sound modulating from her speech synthesizer in her chest and vocalizing through her face. The Corporation was truly the faceless one. She smiled inwardly and pushed her face back onto her skull with a light click. Perhaps the assassin would kill Hyogen and free her from her torment. She could only hope.
She got up from the maintenance couch she rested on and went to Mugoi's office.
Mugoi's mansion was beautiful. It was done in a classic French style with many crenalations and archways. Beautiful columns stood at the sides of some of the long hallways with figures of Pan and nymphs on them, all in Marble. NVA-7 admired the decor but realized that such an open and large place would be very hard to defend or even attempt to patrol.
Mugoi was a bit paranoid and had a full suite of surveillance cameras discreetly hidden in various parts of the house, and a full complement of ten security men on duty at all times. The security men were armed with full riot armor and carried fully-automatic weapons. It was rumored that each member had been part of an elite unit in their homelands.
Then there was Phillips and Victor, Mugoi's personal guards. NVA-7 didn't think they were human at all. They moved somewhat stiffly and powerfully, as though their muscle mass was difficult to push around. They were giants of men, each standing over seven feet tall, with powerful shoulders like an English oak table. These two giants never spoke a word to anyone except Mugoi and they never seemed to fatigue or grow bored. Instead they were constantly scanning the area with their mirrored sunglasses.
Mugoi himself had a small arsenal within easy reach at all times. Various gun cabinets and exotic martial arts weaponry abounded in his mansion. Presently he relaxed on a massive canopied bed in his main chambers. Because of the threat of assassination, he did not partake of his usual bevy of nubile young women that accompanied him throughout the nights. Instead he had only one gorgeous young woman with fiery-red gold hair nearly to her knees and a strong, supple body that spoke of frequent workouts and training.
Kenichi came armed only with Onibocho and dressed in dark hakama and yukata. He approached the gate and after making a small noise with a thrown rock, lured the security close enough to where he could slice them with his katana. The first man never knew what hit him, as a sword entered the back of skull and protruded from his forehead. The second guard turned to fire only to find that his arms and the rifle he was holding had been cut clean through. He was about to scream when a second blow sent his head spinning off into a nearby hedge. Kenichi made his way across the lawn to the mansion...
Mugoi called NVA-7 over to the bed,"Your designation is unit 7, but what name are you called by?"
NVA-7 smiled at him, "I am called Nova, master."
Mugoi felt himself become erect at the tone of her voice and being called master. He liked the way she said it, "Nova...a good name. It fits you. Nova, will you please sit here on the bed beside me?"
"Of Course Master", she replied and obediently sat next to him.
Mugoi reached over to her supple body and ran his fingers over her back and shoulders and then circled her beautiful round breasts. She sighed in pleasure, and smiled at him. His hands were soft, but strong, and he grasped her breasts and squeezed them. Nova gasped suddenly and closed her eyes. Her sex was lubricating as he aroused her, and she wiggled slightly.
Mugoi pushed her on her back and kissed her deeply, his tongue reaching inside her throat. At the same time he puts his fingers in her wet sex and began to rub and stroke it with short, repeating motions. He could feel her lubricants running over his fingers and it excited him all the more. He pushed his manhood into her and began to thrust into her with deep and slow strokes. Mugoi liked to take his time, and he knew he'd have plenty to enjoy this young android.
Nova's sex clutched him like a tight sheath and her sex began to move slightly of it's own accord to help stimulate him. He continued to kiss and lick at her body, all the while admiring her sweet taste. Like cherry syrup. Nova's breathing mechanism sped up slightly and she began to gasp and pant as he forced himself into her over and over.
Mugoi was impressed by her realism. He had never been with one of the company's androids and was very pleased with her. When the threat of the assassin was over, he decided he would order Doctor Lafeyson to build a special unit to his personal specifications After all he was the vice-president of a company that was on it's way to owning the world, so how hard could it be to have an android girl to serve him?
Spurred on by his megalomania he thrust harder and harder, wanting to see this servant made to be obedient. Nova continued to sigh and moan softly as Mugoi increased his movements. Her whole program was concentrated on him and his pleasure. She never noticed the door to the chamber opening until she heard the crash of a body hitting the floor.
Mugoi spun and pulled himself out of her with a wet sound as he looked at the door. Phillips lay bleeding on the floor, with a wide cut in his chest. He lay dying, trying to warn his master of the danger. Mugoi reached into his cabinet and pulled out an ominous looking mini-rifle and cocked it menacingly.
Nova sprang to her feet to face the incoming danger, but saw nothing in the hall. She kneeled beside the dying Phillips and looked at his injury. The killer had cut him deep enough to be fatal but not immediately. She gasped as she realized that the killer had intended for Phillips to survive to warn his employer.
A sudden crash at the window brought Kenichi into the room, and in a swift swing, he knocked the rifle from Mugoi's fingers and hit him across the face, putting him on the floor.
Mugoi lay stunned, he thought he was dead, and then realized that the killer had used the flat side of his blade. The killer was playing with him! Mugoi scooted away from Kenichi.
Kenichi raised his katana to swing on Mugoi when a billowing sheet came at him. He brought his sword cleanly through the sheet in a swift stroke only to see Mugoi running from the room and his passage blocked by a naked, young girl with fiery red hair.
"Stand aside girl. My business is with Mugoi. You have no part in this", said Kenichi in Japanese.
"That is incorrect", Nova replied in the same tongue "I am my master's protector, and I will lay down my life for him. Leave this house and you'll be spared. Stay and you will die".
Kenichi wanted to laugh, but then he remembered that it was Hyogen who had taught him the value of leaving a threat intact. He raised his katana in the Jodan position and said,"You were warned. Now prepare to meet the gods!"
Kenichi swung in a long, downward arc then suddenly stepped in and struck with a faster, short blow. Nova dodged the first, slower blow, but could not evade the second, her chest was sliced into like a piece of meat and she stumbled back with circuitry and wiring gaping from the slash.
Kenichi looked surprised at his mechanical opponent, but only for a moment. He advanced, still in the strong Jodan stance and suddenly spun a complete circle at Nova's feet, just barely missing her and then using the momentum to slice down on her. The blow caught her right shoulder and the blade bit deep into her endo-skeleton, but did not sever it.
Nova was stunned. Twice now her reflex armor had been cleanly sliced through as though it did not exist, and her injuries were becoming hindering. She quickly grabbed and held the sword into her shoulder with her left hand, not letting Kenichi withdraw the sword to swing again.
Kenichi tugged and pulled, but the brave android held his blade fast, using her shoulder as a sheath. She spun quickly and Onibocho sailed out of his hands and across the room. Quickly, Kenichi did a front roll towards it, but he was intercepted by a foot that caught him square in the chest and threw him back by four feet.
Nova stood in her hip-hopping, shifting stance. She could not let him recover his sword or he could inflict more injury to her. Unarmed, she had an obvious advantage, being stronger and faster than a normal human. Her opponent stood up and gasped.
"Girl...why do you protect him? He is as evil as a devil. He will use you and then throw you away. Don't you see that? Or are you just a machine? Programmed to be his obedient servant?"
Nova was stunned. Her opponent was right. Why was she trying so hard to defend this cruel man who made her life miserable? Was she only following a program?
Kenichi observed her stunned reaction and quickly vaulted over and regained his katana. He held it in front of him in the basic stance.
Nova recovered and cursed her stupidity at letting him distract her. Now he had his weapon and the fight would be more difficult. She circled him, luckily Mugoi's chamber was large enough to permit them plenty of room to fight in. In fact, it was almost the size of a baskeball court!
Kenichi slashed at her with three quick strokes and Nova was back pedaling to stay away from them. Suddenly she sprang forward and caught him in the jaw with a kick that would have taken his face off, had he not rolled with the blow to lessen the impact. As it was he was fairly sure he had felt the bone crack and his jaw was swelling rapidly.
Kenichi swallowed his pain and thrust his sword at her in several quick moves, then quickly made a downward slash that opened her left leg like a zipper. Sensing a possible conclusion to the fight Kenichi brought his sword upward and tried to slash her again, but was stopped in mid-swing when she punched his incoming forearms. Kenichi snarled in pain as he felt his forearms crack and splinter. He was no longer concerned with killing Hyogen, he knew he had to finish this machine off quickly or she would kill him.
Nova staggered back, her left leg causing her damage displays to go almost insane with reports of malfunctioning systems. She shut them down and her left leg moved stiffly and slowly. Her mobility reduced she assumed a less mobile posture and stood facing her opponent. The next attack would be the last...
Mugoi stumbled into his chambers with a new rifle. This was a powerful looking cannon and he raised it, sighting in on the assassin's head. Kenichi saw Mugoi and repositioned himself to where the girl was between himself and the gun. Nova, being totally focused on her opponent, failed to notice Mugoi and continued to adjust her facing to keep Kenichi in her front arc.
Mugoi cursed, then decided. He pulled the trigger and a depleted uranium shell exploded from the caseless rifle he held.
Nova was nearly thrown onto her face as the round came through her back, and ruptured her nuclear fuel cell. Her armor had not been enough to stop the massive load designed to penetrate tank armor, but had been enough to slow it to where it had lodged inside her body.
Quickly she shut down her fuel cell to prevent a hazardous radiation leak, and cut her back-ups on. At her current status she had about two hours of operating time before her systems crashed from lack of power. She painfully regained her stance, and turned to look at Mugoi. A questioning look of "why?" came across her face.
Mugoi cursed that she was still in the way and fired again. This time the shell hit Nova in a thinner part of her body and the shell erupted from her damaged right arm. The shot spun her to face Kenichi's incoming stroke. Nova knew she had only one chance.
As Kenichi's sword came down she moved into his stroke and spun her back to his belly. His arms struck the top of her shoulders and he winced as he felt them splinter more. Nova reached up and placed a hand on each of his forearms and pulled them down in a quick motion.
Kenichi howled as both of his arms broke and bone splinters jutted from the ruined limbs. The sword fell from his lifeless hands and he was about to follow, when Nova brought the back of her head against his face in a sudden move. His face broke beneath the hit, and she quickly spun and drove her fist through his chest. Kenichi felt his pain subside quickly but also felt the shame in knowing he had lost. He slumped to the ground, a corpse.
Nova sank to her knees. Her systems were going into lock-up and she knew she was dying. Death? Is this what it is to die? To feel this sudden emptiness, knowing that you'll never feel anything again?
Mugoi walked over to her and the lifeless Kenichi, "He was no match for me. My machines beat him. The old ways will never outlive the new ones. Sorry for the mess Nova, but after all you're just a machine, you're expendable." Mugoi laughed.
Nova felt a new sensation grip her. This man just tried to kill me, and now he tells me I'm nothing but an expendable machine. A disposable toy! Hatred. She had never experienced hatred in her brief life. Now This evil man had brought forth the most primal and base of emotions in her. Hatred, mixed with anger and rage.
Nova looked at the beautiful Masamune blade as it gleamed in the light. It seemed to speak to her, Make my owner's dying wish and yours come true. Rid this world of the evil that spawned you to atone for your sins and make peace as you go on to your final rest.
Nova picked up the beautiful sword and painfully staggered to her feet. She stood in a classical stance of the Sho-Sho Ryu school.
Mugoi stopped laughing. He saw the look in her eyes and suddenly felt very afraid. Her eyes were blazing like two unearthly blue fires. She was moving towards him with the killer's sword as though possessed by it. Mugoi brought his gun up and fired and fired and fired.
Nova was struck in her torso and chest. The damage went straight to her secondary power unit, and caused multiple malfunctions in her systems but she was beyond damage and pain. She continued towards Mugoi as he ripped her body to pieces with his gun. She raised the sword in the Jodan position and prepared to strike.
Mugoi was terrified. His servant, had turned on him! Not only that but he was sure he had shot her in vital areas and she refused to go down. He wanted to run but his legs were buckling in fear. Those eyes! They had stolen his spirit and he was helpless before this angry, hating, enraged machine. As she raised the sword, Mugoi did not even feel it when he wet himself in fear.
Nova raised the sword and prepared to kill this man who had made everything in her life miserable and made her to feel shame. Then suddenly her power units gave up their last reserves. NOOOO!! she thought. Tears of anger and despair rolled down her face as she sank to her knees and the fell forward, unable to move. She felt her consciousness slipping away as her power faded. I've lost. On the threshold of destroying the evil that used me. Why now? When I was so close? her thoughts changed as she processed her last feelings, Yet I feel no remorse or despair... I tried...Right until the end I tried to accomplish my last final act...I died trying to atone for my past...That's all that matters to me now...I'm finally free of their control...At last in death I am finally a human...I go to rest at peace.....
A smile came on Nova's face as the light in her eyes faded and her circuitry sputtered and went dead. The whirr of her servos came to an abrupt halt as their power was cut. Nova...Unit NVA-7...an android girl...had died.
Mugoi laughed for a long time. He had stopped the assassin. He had proven his ability to survive. He was bragging and laughing with some of the senior members of the Daikoku branch about the incident. He smiled to himself. Sure he had lost many people, but it had been worth it. He was safe and could continue to enjoy his position as the Vice President. And since there were so many positions left vacant by the assassin's blade, he could fill them with men he thought would be more obliging and tractable to his plans. Still, he remembered something that had bothered him about the incident. Doctor Lafeyson's behavior...
Doctor Lafeyson had been enraged at the loss of Nova. He had even cried when he had seen her destroyed form. He had become angry and abusive at Hyogen when he had explained that it was nessecary to destroy the android when she had tried to kill him. Hyogen worried that the Doctor might become a threat to his plans and decided to have him liquidated as soon as possible.
Mugoi was surprised when the doctor paid him a visit to his office, "Doctor Lafeyson? It's good to see you again. What can I help you with?"
Doctor Lafeyson smiled,"Well Hyogen, I just wanted to tell you that there's no hard feelings on the matter. You're right, she was just a machine. A toy built by our company."
"MY company, Doctor. And I'm glad to hear it. I was a bit concerned that You and I were going to butt heads, but I'm glad to see that you've come to my side of thinking, said Mugoi as he walked to the mini-bar in his office and brought a small dish with a sake bottle and a few ceramic cups to his desk,"Would you like some sake?"
"Of course", replied Aaron.
Mugoi set two ceramic cups on the table and poured the sake for each of them. Doctor Lafeyson smiled and said,"You should pour three cups, Mr. Hyogen."
"Why?", asked Mugoi, puzzledly.
"The third cup is for Nova to enjoy as she toasts to your demise", answered Lafeyson.
Before the stunned Mugoi could react, Lafeyson brought out a 9mm Beretta and shot him quickly, seven times in the head and chest. Mugoi slumped into his office chair as his sightless eyes stared at the ceiling. Lafeyson could hear the alarms in the building going off and the approaching security. He downed his cup of sake and put the gun to his temple. "Goodbye, my sweet and innocent child. May your next life be more beautiful and loved than this one was".
He pulled the trigger as a tear rolled down his cheek...
Jason Matting sat at his computer. It had been a long week and he was tired. He relaxed on this lovely Saturday afternoon at his computer, chatting with the other people on the ASFR channel. Suddenly the doorbell rang, and he muttered softly about it. He quickly typed in BRB to the other people in the channel and got up to answer the door.
In the hallway was a burly pair of deliverymen who had with them a six-foot crate. They asked him to sign their clipboard and then wheeled in the ominous crate and set it down on the floor.
Jason was sure they must have made a mistake, but he felt curious and looked at the note attatched to the shipping label.
It said simply: Take care of her, treat her like a person, and love her like she deserves.
Jason gaped and pried the crate open and looked in. Inside was a metal coffin-like device which he quickly opened to reveal a gorgeous young fiery-redhaired girl, with a beautiful naked body.
Jason could only gape as a single word escaped his lips,"Nova..."