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September 7, 2012

Sharl wasn't sure what to make of the assignment he'd gotten from Ms. Harcourt, Claremont's hardworking science teacher, but he was there anyway for the "special team project" she'd invited him for. As more of his teammates arrived, it soon became clear that most of Young Freedom, and even one or two faces outside of it, had been invited along for the elective. They were in one of Harcourt's science labs, and Citizen found himself studying the homemade equipment with undisguised fascination as more people entered. _Could she really have made one of these out of household items?_ he thought with a little amazement as he drifted around a big kitbashed cylinder of electronic parts in the center of the room.

"Come on in, everybody!" called Harcourt as more students entered. "Those of you who were asked to bring bags, and that's everyone who could, make sure you have those before you find a seat. This will be an overnight trip, and you need to be self-sufficient."

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"Oh, good! Indira and I are getting super good at sleepovers!" Kimber noted as she floated into the lab alongside her roommate, swimming easily though the air with her long hair waving behind her in a breeze that didn't seem to be there for anyone else. "It helps when you don't actually have to sleep," the phantom confided to Sharl, swooping smoothly down so that she was at eye level with the holographic teen.

A small shoulder bag floated a meter or so behind her, held aloft by her poltergeist powers while a small mass of russet and burnt sienna fun scampered along the floor staring upward as if he knew it was stocked with food for him, his chitinous tail waving excitably back and forth. Reaching down, Kimber scooped the manticore kitten up, his supernatural nature making him unusually solid to her own immaterial being. "It's okay if I bring Avro along, right?" she asked Ms. Harcourt belatedly. "I can't really leave him on his own for two days."

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"Being self-sufficient is much easier when one does not eat or sleep," Indira agreed, only a step or two behind Kimber; unlike her incorporeal friend, however, she was still maintaining a human guise. Humans found the mouthless, noseless, earless thing disturbing, somehow.

She had a very small, simple bag that couldn't have held much - a single set of clothes and a small piece of metal, maybe, just in case. "Does anyone know where it is that we are going?" She gave the others a curious glance, setting her bag down near a chair. "This seems to be a very odd project, so far."

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Koshiro slouched in after the others, the backpack slung over one shoulder looking like it was full enough to burst. He'd obviously taken the instruction about self-sufficiency to heart, and tended to need a bit more for that than his teammates. He seemed to cheer up a bit when he saw Avro hanging around with Kimber, and reached into his pocket while dropping his bag into an empty seat. With a small flourish, he pulled out a little rice paper bat and sent it flying past the manticore kitten's head, its translucent wings flapping madly. Despite his initial misgivings about the not-a-cat creature, Koshiro did enjoy making toys for such an appreciative audience. As he slid into a seat, he looked at the giant machine in the middle of the room and raised an eyebrow. "If that's an airplane, I think we've got some work to do," he noted.

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Mali was well aware of her relative fragility in the world. Aliens, ghosts, and all sorts of other people filled the world she lived in. There was no telling what sort of things could happen on a trip like this. So, when she was told to be 'self-sufficient', she made very sure not to disappoint. Her backpack contained not only food, but various emergency supplies. She had no idea what to expect, but with space simulations, ninjas, and her new-found friends in Young Freedom, she knew that superheroes led strange lives. Best be prepared.

She didn't have a mere backpack, but an entire hiker's pack. Short wave radio, tent, sleeping bag, non-perishable food (more than she needed, just in case), some rope, a water canteen (and several bottles of water), a small pot (with a few fire starters), assorted climbing gear, a compass, and a waterproof watch.

She realized that she might look a little silly, but in her limited heroing experience, one must always be prepared. Even if she never used half the stuff she brought with her, she'd feel even more stupid if she ended up not having what she needed.

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Kristin hadn't taken the request to be self sufficient quite to the extremes that Mali had, but her brand new Gold Coast Suns sports bag was still stuffed full with spare clothes, food, water and other useful bits and pieces.

She took a seat and pulled the bag into her lap to lean on, then smiled at Koshiro as he buzzed Kimber's manticore kitten with a tiny paper bird, turning to watch the game with amusement.

In truth she was glad for the distraction. The collection of talent lined up for this little excursion was rather intimidating and not knowing exactly what they were going to be doing had her a little on edge. Still watching the game she chewed on her bottom lip nervously, wishing that they could just get on with it...

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Once everyone was in, Ms. Harcourt favored her students with a smile, raising her voice to call attention to herself. "Okay, everyone, welcome to your first field trip of the year. As some of you already know, dealing with alternate dimensions is an important part of being a superhero. That's especially true for Claremont students in the last few years, when it seems like we've been falling into, or out of, every dimensional anomaly that's passed through Freedom City." She shook her head ruefully. "As a result of that, we've initiated an exchange program with, er, a brother Claremont in another dimension." She used the wall projector to call up a map of Freedom City, one that looked eerily familiar yet somehow subtly different.

"This summer, the Next-Gen played host to their counterparts, and so this fall it's our turn to travel to another dimension. We'll be visiting a world actually discovered by Claremont students, the first Young Freedom, where you'll be meeting some of your counterparts. This is a safe Earth close to Earth-Prime in alignment; different, but not actually dangerous. I know some of you have experience with this already, but you'll find a planned trip is far more instructive than an encounter with dimensional castaways, or being castaway yourself."

"So what other dimension is it?" asked Sharl, frowning behind his shades. Unbidden thoughts of Erde flashed through his mind; he'd requested additional training on other dimensions, and assumed this was part of it, but if the school was aware of their plans for a secret expedition there, he was going to have to change things up in a hurry! Getting suspended, or worse, before he could save his people was not how he planned to finish out his high school career on Earth.

"Earth-A-Gender-1," replied Harcourt. "A dimension very much like Earth-Prime, except with a complete biological gender inversion. Our theory is they're the result of a quantum mirroring effect at some point early in our history...but of course they think the same about us, so scientists are still investigating the situation on both sides." she added.

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Avro perked up immediately as the paper bat flew into view, shifting in Kimbers arms and watching the origami creature's path with wide, unblinking eyes. Tracking the winding trail for a moment, the cub abruptly leaned forward, the spiny mane about his neck standing on end as a trio of quills shot out and skewered the bat neatly. "Avro!" Kimber cried out in admonishment, the tumbling mass of rice paper and manticore spires freezing in the air just before it collided with some delicate look equipment.

The kitten looked up at the poltergeist innocently. "Mrowr?"

"We've talked about this!" she sighed, guiding the wounded paper over to a waste bin and shooting an apologetic look in Koshiro's direction. Avro simply yawned and settled back down. Defeated, Kimber turned her attention back to Ms. Harcourt. "Um, does 'biological gender inversion' mean what it sounds like?" she inquired. "'Cause boy Mali would have to be crazy buff."

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Indira had been about to compliment Avro's aim when Kimber scolded him; the alien huntress decided to keep her comments to herself and sneak her friend's manticore a mouse or something later.

"It will be interesting to see our alternate selves," she admitted, her attention back on the matter at hand. Her true nature may have been a secret outside Young Freedom and a suspicious number of school staff, but still, she had to wonder what 'complete biological gender inversion' meant for someone like her.... "A male Mali would be very muscular, if they are still otherwise similar. I do wonder how much a different gender changes things."

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For her part, Mali just sort of buried her head in her hands. Talking about the potential musculature of her male counterpart was an odd subject, one she had no intent on addressing.

"So...I'm way over equipped then?" She said with a slight laugh. "You did say self-efficient, so I sort of...went overboard I guess."

She had no intention of taking any of that stuff back. Besides, it wasn't exactly all that big of a deal. Most of the stuff she had could potentially prove useful...maybe.

Either way, it was better than talking about her alternate universe equivalent's muscles.

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Koshiro's brow furrowed at the thought of a world where everyone was the opposite gender. It seemed overwhelmingly weird, but probably generally harmless. Which was, he guessed, why the school thought it was a good training ground for interdimensional travel. The idea of a female version of him was especially strange, but he figured it was quite likely she'd act something like him and look like an older version of his sisters. Anyway, he'd managed to work together with his counterpart from Erde under much more difficult circumstances. This shouldn't be that tough. And there was always the possibility of finding another piece to his puzzle.

He slouched in his chair and studied the machine, absently taking out a sheet of paper to fold another bat. "What are we actually supposed to do there?" he asked Harcourt. "I'm guessing this field trip comes with homework."

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"When you come back, I'll be expecting a five-page paper on the differences you observed between your own life and the life of your double on Earth-XX," answered Harcourt to Koshiro's question. "Take note of the differences while you're there, and don't be afraid to talk to them about your own lives, at least as much as you feel comfortable. They have the same assignment you do. I want you thinking about one change can influence a person's entire life."

"Mali, you're welcome to bring all of that through," she added in Crimson Tiger's direction. "I know your counterparts have set up accommodations in their team headquarters, but there'll be plenty of options." She fell silent for a moment, then added, blushing slightly even behind her dark skin, "I do ask that you make sure to bunk down with your own team when you finally do that. In past years," she said very carefully, "we've had some incidents with conflict, and such, and that's not something we want to repeat. This can be a very emotionally fraught moment."

"Indira," she went on in Wraith's direction, "if you have any concerns about your medical history, let me know now. Your counterpart has been alerted as well. The last thing we want is for an interdimensional medical crisis to develop," she added elliptically.

"Well, uh, if I'm compatible with Sharla's systems," said Citizen carefully, thinking again about the counterpart of himself he'd met on Erde, "that shouldn't be a problem for me. I can just stay projected, or we can partition some other section of the 13th Floor's mainframe aside for me." He didn't sound too worried by the prospect of meeting a female version of himself, and he wasn't. _Hey, someone else who I can talk to about Tronik..._ After all, with the perfect gender equality where he came from, how much could things be different?

"If there are no further questions," said Harcourt inquiringly, "why don't you start coming down here to stand by the transporter?" she suggested with a nod to the big cylinder by her podium.

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KImber turned to Indira and silently mouthed 'and such?' with a raised eyebrow, the subtlety of the exchange some what marred by the finger quotes she made with her free hand as Avro made himself comfortable in the crook of her opposite arm. Aloud, the phantom balked, "Oh, there is no way she's named 'Sharla'. That'd be like if boy-me was 'Kimbro'. I mean, 'Sharlene' maybe, sure." Bag still floating behind her, she flew over to sizable device Ms. Harcourt had indicated. "You're not going to get too literal about the 'life' part of the paper, right?" she questioned the teacher.

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Kristin felt like she had about a million questions. Most of them didn't quite seem appropriate to ask out loud though. Would boy-Kimber still be.. well.. dead? What medical problems did Indira have? Did Sharl actually know his counterpart's name? Just how impressive would boy-Mali's muscles be?

Wish I'd spent more time on that interdimensional relationships stuff...

Her thoughts turned to her own counterpart. Would he have come into his powers in a similar manner to her? Naturally it followed that he'd have a brother instead of a sister, what other differences might he have in his life? Hopefully more than five pages worth I guess.

It was all a little overwhelming. A trip with Young Freedom to another dimension where they were going to meet themselves, except with reversed gender. Despite the strange circumstances however, she found herself rather looking forward to the trip as curiosity got the better of her. She shouldered her bag and headed over towards the transporter.

"I have so many questions it's not funny," she said to Ms. Harcourt with a smile. "But I think most of them are best answered by just going and seeing what it's like on the other side."

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"Geez, it was just a guess, you guys," said Sharl, long-suffering in the affectionate way he had reluctantly developed with Kimber. Friends were friends, even if they were kind of crazy most of the time. "Sharla's the feminine version of my name in the original Lor. It wouldn't be Sharlene, anyway, that's..." He blushed slightly and shot a glance in the teacher's direction as she was adjusting one last dial on the machine. "Not something I should say around Ms. Harcourt." he added with a smirk.

Ms. Harcourt lined up all the Young Freedom members, as well as Kristen, around the big humming cylinder in the middle of the room. She went through and made sure everyone had their necessary supplies and other equipment, and that no one was about to freak out, before heading back to the control panel. "This is a fairly standard two-way dimensional transporter. My colleague has a similar one on the other end, and we can send you back and forth. It's not as fast or as powerful as a Freedom League model, but it's much safer. Is everyone ready?"

When everyone was, she threw a switch, and with a hum of dark energy the room faded out all around the Young Freedomites, as if the lights had all been turned down and off at once. Seconds later, the 'lights' came back on, and the team found themselves back in the room they'd just left. Except Mr. Harcourt, a handsome middle-aged African-American man, was speaking into the cylinder. "They're all here! Thanks again, Stephanie." And turning around, the team found themselves confronted with themselves! Albeit...changed.

The female Tulink was a hair shorter than Sharl, her black hair combed tightly to the top of her head, matched by a black sleeveless shirt, black jeans, and black leather jacket. She looked like any teen he might have seen on the streets of Tronik; well, not like any _he_ would have seen. "Welcome to Freedom City," she said, crossing the distance and shaking her counterpart's hand. Both of them projected; they were solid enough to each other as they gripped hands. "You came further than most, huh?" she asked her counterpart with fascination. "I'm Sharla Tulink."

Man, I guess Mom and Dad are as predictable as I always thought, thought Sharl in the moment it took him to shake her hand in reply. Oh well, it's a good name, and it doesn't mean anything dirty. "We've been in weirder places. At least the company is good," he said with a grin, "and maybe your headquarters finally got that pool I've been bugging the boss about." Did she had a Mr. America? A nerdy George who controlled it? It was a weird thought.

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Indira's counterpart wasn't hard to pick out, being the only tall, handsome Indian boy in the room; if there was ever any doubt it was dispelled the moment they spotted each other. In almost perfect unison they both blinked twice, their eyes becoming pure, featureless black for just an instant.

"Hello," the Prime variant greeted, bowing a bit with her hands together. She had to wonder: did her counterpart consider his world 'Prime'?

Her gender-swapped version did the same, following with a quick...something in a fluid language that was clearly not English. Indira blinked again, smiling and replying with more of the same - whatever it was sounded a lot like a formal or traditional greeting.

"Ah - I am Indivar Singh," the teenager finally said to the other newcomers, repeating the greeting gesture - if not the definitely-not-English bit. "Welcome."

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Indira felt the telekinetic equivalent to an elbow nudging her in the side as her floating floating roommate let out an appreciative whistle and grin. The melodic sound came out as a pitch perfect harmony as the translucent blue individual across from the Earth-Prime group followed suit. With faded jeans framed by a flannel shirt tied around his waist and hiking boots, the male poltergeist was a little more obviously outdoorsy than his counterpart but wavy, shoulder length hair nearly as long as Kimber's made it clear he was just as much rooted in the past.

"Hey, not bad!" both phantoms decided appraisingly, bursting into laughter as they heard their own unison. "Ha ha! Jinx! You owe me a Coke!" Broad, matching smiles turned pensive simultaneously. "Not that I can drink, obviously... Still!"

Their strange exercise in spontaneous choral reading was interrupted as the small, canine nose poked out nervously from behind one of the labs installations. Cautiously padding forward, the nose turned out to be attached to the head of of a black and brown furred puppy, which wouldn't have been too strange if she hadn't been sharing a body with two more heads, all sniffing and looking about at the new people independently. In the crook of Kimber's arm, Avro turned perfectly still, locking eyes with the middle head. Immediately she began barking, short but repeated burst of sound. The right read, the one which had lead the way, pressed herself to the floor, covering her eyes with a paw while the left head continued panting happily and watching the newcomers closely. The manticore kitten responded by puffing out his quills and hissing menacingly.

"Argus, we talked about this!" the local ghost chided the puppy, swooping down to pick her up and receiving a triple combination of wet noses and rough tongues across his cheek for his efforts. "Ha, alright, alright, good girl! Sorry about that," he apologized to his double. "I'm Roy!"

"Kimber!" the visiting apparition replied as the beast she was carrying settled down put continued to watch the three-headed puppy warily. "And this is Avro. Thanks for having us!"

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Koshiro found himself standing nearly opposite his female counterpart, both of them having wandered to the edge of their respective groups. At a glance, the pair of them looked startlingly alike. Both were tall and lean, with short, shaggy haircuts and a perpetual hipshot slouch. They were also wearing the exact same clothes today, faded blue jeans and black t-shirts with the logo for one of Detroit's urban exploration groups. A second look, though, revealed enough differences to make telling them apart easy enough, more like fraternal twins than identical. The native version spoke first. "Koshiro, huh? I'm Kotone." Instead of extending a hand to shake, she gave him a quick upnod.

He returned the gesture. "Pleasure." They both looked around at the others, their own introductions apparently handled satisfactorily.

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Mali blinked as she immediately spotted her alternate. He was a bit taller than her, and noticeably bigger. He definitely seemed more comfortable with being himself, having dressed in a plain black t-shirt and simple jeans. It was obvious that he worked out as much as she did, if not more so. He had certainly packed on more muscle.

She smiled. "Hi, I'm Mali." This was exciting, and a bit strange, also frightening. She'd have to tell her parents all about this.

"Malian." He said, giving her a nod and reaching his hand out. They shook hands, firmly, both seeming to test the other's strength a bit. "I see you train as much as I do." He said.

"Yeah, I can tell you do too. This is pretty cool...."

"And kinda scary, yeah." He clearly had all of her nervous ticks as he stuck his hands in his pockets.

Neither of them knew quite what to say...

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Kristin stepped away from the transporter as she spotted her counterpart and took a couple of steps towards him, then stopped for a moment as she turned to watch the spectacle of two equally cheerful and remarkably synchronized spirits meeting each other for the first time. She turned back and smiled even more broadly as she noticed her double had paused to watch the same thing. "Hey," Kristin started by way of greeting as she stepped forward and offered her hand. "I'm Kristin. Nice to meet you."

The two Australians were quite similar. While the male version was slightly taller both shared the same light, freckled skin and red hair as well as a lean, wiry build. The similarities apparently also ran to their taste in clothes, for Kristin's black cargo pants and simple white t-shirt were mirrored by the green trousers and black shirt of her host.

"Kristopher," her double replied in a voice that carried an almost identical Australian accent, and the pair gave a faint snort of amusement at the similar names. "Most people call me Kris, though I'm guessing you get that too?"

"I do," Kristin agreed with a nod. "Maybe we should just stick with the full names while I'm here, save ourselves the confusion?"

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"All right, everyone, it looks like you've all made your acquaintances with each other," said Mr. Harcourt, who certainly had the good cheer of his Earth-Prime counterpart. "Why don't we take a walking tour of Claremont on the way to the Wonder-Car?" The team headed out, Sharl and Sharla in the lead, the reserved programs both seeming not to have much to say to one another at first before Sharl cocked his head suspiciously.

"Our signals must be too compatible. I can't understand what you're saying." Losing out on the chance to talk privately was a shame, but they could live with it. As they walked, he studied the Claremont campus; eerily familiar in almost every aspect, if not for the people. Is that...Etain, maybe? Or whatever he calls himself here. And that must be Morgana. "So did you buy your ride from the Cholaxian too?"

"What? No." said Sharla, raising an eyebrow at her twin in bafflement. "Mister Olympic had it made for me, and the team uses it when we all need to get to the HQ. He says everyone needs a good ride. The technology's very advanced for Earth-Prime; it's almost as good as anything back home. What's a Cholaxian?" He told her the unlikely story of how his team had come to acquire their transdimensional transport, Sharla looking a little suspicious at the whole story.

Geez, she's judgemental, thought Sharl a little irritably, before they reached the sleek red, white, and blue vehicle parked curbside. The Wonder-Car was equal parts limo, tank, and hovercar, an luxurious craft that could easily have held the whole team and maybe more besides. It did look a little like a Tronikian hovercar, albeit modified with a more Earthly sensibility.

Together, the Tulinks grinned. "Nice."

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"Oh my goodness, Malian is outrageously ripped! We were just talking about how pumped a boy-Mali would have to be," Kimber told Roy as the ghosts floated above the heads of the combined group, respective pets kept away from each other.

Her Earth-XX counterpart laughed. "Ha, seriously, right? I was telling Indi that girl-Kris would have to be like three apples tall and she totally is!" Looking ahead at the holograms leading the way, he admitted, "I owe Sharla an apology, though, I guess! I figured her double would be Sharlton or Sharles or something a little more outrageous, y'know?"

"I totally do know!" Kimber agreed emphatically. "Actually, everybody's name seems to be a lot closer than ours, huh?"

Roy placed a contemplative hand on his chin as he rolled over as if doing a backstroke through the air, the cerberus puppy lying down on his chest with a staged, triple yawn. "Hm. Well, mine's short for Leroy--"

The female phantom slapped her free hand to her cheek in realization. "And mine's short for Kimberly! Rad! Ghost high five!" The pair exchanged the enthusiastic gesture with gusto.

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Mali looked around, at least a bit surprised at how identical everything was. She supposed she shouldn't be, after all it was almost identical.

"So, how's mom and dad?" He asked.

"Dad got into a fight a few weeks ago, he's recovering but still sore. Mom is the same as ever."

"So your mom is the normal one and your dad's the martial artist, right?" Malian asked.

Mali laughed. "Yeah, Dad learned from Grandpa, and he taught me. I was the one who wanted him to be harder on me and make me learn more than the basics."

"Mom was the same way with me..." Malian said.

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"" Indira admitted as they made their way toward the bus - she and her double were both making a rather obviously deliberate, careful effort to maintain a couple feet of space at all times. They were back to speaking that weird, liquid language again; if nothing else they both seemed more comfortable speaking it. ""

"" Indivar replied - or hummed, it was hard to tell for some words - looking a little surprised. ""

They stood in silence for a moment, two sets of black eyes sizing up this world's somewhat less odorous bus.

"<...if we are able to touch without killing each other, we must spar.>"

""

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Ever curious, Kris and Kris were trying to hold a conversation while also watching each of the meetings around them. Rather predictably their own discussion had quickly turned towards sport, and Kristen was quite aggrieved to hear that this dimension's version of her favourite AFL team was far more successful than her own.

"Ten wins? That's not fair, my mob only managed three!" she complained before turning her glare on Roy. "Hey! I'll have you know that I'm at least three and a half apples tall mister!" she declared, although her tone made it quite clear that she was rather amused both by his assessment of her height and his measuring stick of choice.

Kristopher chuckled at the exchange, then nodded at Mali. "So does she kick your butt around the gym as badly as Malian does mine?" he asked, and Kristin chuckled. "Mmmhmm, that she does. Well unless I cheat!" she replied. "But I'd never do that, obviously."

The exaggerated care that Indira and Indivar were taking to maintain separation between them attracted the attention of both Aussie teens, and as the team reached the rather remarkable Wonder-car Kristin nudged her counterpart subtly, thinking back to Ms Harcourt's mention of 'medical difficulties'. "You have any idea what that's all about?" she asked quietly, but Kristopher simply shrugged. "Nope, but I guess we'll find out if we need to know."

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