“ODETTE NO!” I lunged for her as she snatched up the pistol and raised it up towards her head. As the muzzle touched her temple, I grabbed at the pistol and jammed my finger down on the mag release. Odette closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. My shoulders slumped in relief; I’d been right about the magazine disconnect.
Odette’s eyes snapped open as the magazine slipped from her bed and clattered to the floor. She lowered the pistol and stared at it for a moment, mystified, then looked at me, as if she’d just now noticed I was there. Her eyes suddenly filled with burning anger.
“You BASTARD!” she screeched, lunging at me and swinging wildly. I did my best to ward off her blows, but a few managed to connect. Damn, she had a mean left.
“Hey! Knock it off!” I said, “Knock it OFF!” I managed to grab her wrists and shove her away. A second later, she broke down in tears again.
“You bastard,” she said between sobs, “You bastard.”
“What on earth were you thinking?” I asked. There was no anger in my voice; just pure disbelief and horror.
“You bastard, why did you stop me?” she asked, “Why won’t you let me end it?”
“The hurt,” she sobbed, “It hurts so bad…”
“What?” I asked, “What hurts?”
“It’s not… not your problem.”
“I’m making it my problem,” I told her, “What happened? Was it… Robert?” Her shoulders began shaking as she nodded. “What did he do to you?” I asked.
“He…” she sniffed, “He died.”
“Oh. Oh God. Odette, I am so sorry,” I said.
“You… you didn’t kill him,” she sobbed, “I did.” That almost floored me.
“What?” I asked, “What happened?”
“I… He…” she stammered, “We were out on a lake, in that stupid little rowboat of his. He… he pulled… pulled the ring out of his pocket… and… and asked me…” She paused, “Then something hit the boat and knocked us into the water. I felt… something grab me…”
“The naga,” I said. She nodded.
“It… it grabbed me… opened its mouth… oh God, the teeth… it… it tried to eat me… then Robert… Robert grabbed it… pulled it off of me… it let go, and I… I climbed back into the boat. I grabbed an oar… and started hitting it… just hitting it, so it would let go… let go of Robert. But then… the oar broke. So I started… started stabbing at it… just stabbing, like it was a harpoon. It let go… and sank… and I pulled Robert back into the boat. He… oh God!… he had a… the naga had speared him… with one of his spines… through the leg… he… he started screaming… thrashing around… and then, he… he… I… I didn’t… didn’t even get… get to tell him… tell him yes.” She buried her face in her hands as she finally broke down and began weeping uncontrollably.
I don’t know why I pulled her into my arms; instinct, I guess. Whatever the reason, I pulled her close to me.
“I know,” I said after what felt like hours, “I know how much it hurts. I know what it feels like.”
“How could you know?” she asked, “How can anyone know?”
“Because I’ve been there too,” I confessed.
“You killed someone you loved?”
“I couldn’t save someone I loved.” She sniffed, then picked her head from her hands and looked at me.
“My… it was my uncle,” I said. I took a deep breath to steel myself before I started the story.
“It was my junior year of college, a month before I turned twenty-one. I’d gotten a call earlier from my Mom, saying she had to go over to my uncle’s apartment to help with something. Eight o’clock that night, I’m in my bedroom trying to decide on what my first drink was going to be when the phone rings. It’s Mom; she said that Dad and I had to get our butts over to my uncle’s apartment right away.
“It turned out he was drunk, and raving about how he was going to kill himself. Mom had spent the last six hours trying to talk him out of it, but she hadn’t gotten anywhere, so she called us. She hadn’t meant for me to come; the message was just for Dad. There wasn’t much he could do, though, so I tried talking my uncle down. I… I told him how much I loved him, how much we all loved him, and how screwed up everyone’s lives would get if he did go ahead and kill himself. It took four hours… God, that was the longest four hours of my life… and I finally, finally thought I was getting through to him… but then…
“I don’t know what set him off. All of the sudden, he got real angry and ran up to his bedroom, locked the door. We’d already called 911, they had a police car standing by, but by the time they got there and managed to break the door down… he’d already… he hung himself.”
Now it was my turn to choke back tears. Odette just stared at me, trying to process it all.
“I found out later that he’d had a rough time growing up. Hell, that’s the understatement of the century; his father, my grandfather, was a drunk who used to beat the shit out of his wife and kids, my grandmother, mom, uncle, and two aunts, just for the hell of it. My uncle was his favorite punching bag. Eventually my grandmother left the bastard, thank God, but the damage was already done; my uncle became an alcoholic, my one aunt became a drug addict and vanished off the face of the earth, other aunt’s been married to four successive deadbeats. I’m lucky my Mom’s still relatively normal, but even she has issues sometimes.”
“That’s why you don’t drink,” Odette said slowly. I nodded.
“I’m scared to death that I’ll wind up like my grandfather,” I admitted.
“I… I’m so sorry,” she said after a moment.
“For what?” I asked, “For what happened to my family, or for almost making me relive the worst night of my life?”
“I… I’m sorry… but it… it hurts so much!”
“I know, but suicide isn’t the answer,” I said, “It just causes more pain. Maybe not for you, but for the people who care about you.”
“No one cares about me,” Odette said as tears began falling from her eyes again.
“I care about you,” I said, “And so does the rest of the Team. Look, I know it hurts, but you cannot blame yourself for what happened to Robert. You had, what? Four minutes to try and save him. I had four hours to try and save my uncle, and I couldn’t stop him. You can’t blame yourself, and you can’t keep it all bottled up inside. Believe me; I did, and I almost lost my mind.”
“But how… how can I…”
“Talk to Dominique,” I said, “Or talk to me. I’ll always be there if you need me. I swear it, Odette, night or day, no matter what’s going on, if you need to someone to talk to, if you need a shoulder to cry on, if you need anything, you come and find me, okay?”
“Okay,” she nodded, sniffling.
“But I want you to promise me, promise me, that you will not ever try this again.”
“I promise,” she mumbled.
“No, look me in the eye, look me square in the eye, and promise me you will never try to kill yourself again.” She screwed her eyes shut for a moment, took a few very deep breaths, then opened her eyes and looked square into mine.
“I promise, Steve,” she said, “I promise I won’t try to kill myself again.”
“Thanks,” I said, and the knot that my guts had twisted themselves into finally began to ease, “Thank you so much.” For a long moment, we just sat there, on her bed, looking at each other, tears trickling down both of our cheeks. Odette abruptly stood up, and I started to freak out, but she just walked over to her dresser and retrieved a box of tissues.
“Thanks,” I said as she offered me one. We wiped our eyes, blew our noses. I felt like I needed to throw up.
“You know something,” I said, “It’s been five years, and you’re only the third person I’ve told that story to. I mean, all of my friends knew what had happened, but none of them ever got the full story.”
“Only the third?” she asked, “Who where the other two?”
“Well, the first was the psychologist my parents sent me to see. The second was one of my college professors, he found out after the pshrink didn’t work and I had a complete emotional breakdown in his class. Doctor Young; he was the one that really helped me get through it.”
“It never stops hurting, does it?” she asked
“No,” I admitted, “not completely. It does get easier, though. I promise you, it does get easier. And like I said, if it ever gets too much to bear, call me, no matter what time it is or what’s going on, I promise that I will be there if you need me.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. Then the room was filled with an inhuman growl.
“Hungry?” I asked as Odette grabbed at her stomach.
“Yeah,” she said, trying her best not to laugh with embarrassment.
“I think they’re still having dinner over in the cafeteria. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Okay,” she said. We stood up and I headed for the door.
I froze as I head a sharp clack and whirled around to see Odette loading the magazine back into her Smith & Wesson.
“Don’t freak out,” she said as she slipped the pistol into her cross-draw holster, “I promised you, remember?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry,” I said as we began heading for the door again, “Plus, it wouldn’t do you much good to break it. I know someone on the other side, remember? He’d make your death absolutely miserable.
“What? Doctor Bryson?” she asked as we headed outside, “I thought he was your pastor, a man of God.”
“Yeah, but he was also a huge prankster,” I said, unable to keep down a big grin.
“Oh yeah right,” she replied.
“No, I’m serious. One time, when I was in grade school, he lead the church’s Youth Retreat. We were at a camp site up in New York, and he—”
My voice caught in my throat as an unearthly shriek shattered the air around us.
“GET DOWN!” Odette screamed in my ear as she roughly shoved me to the ground. Not a second later I felt something whoosh through the air above us. My SIG was out of the holster before the echo of the screech had faded. I looked up to see a dozen shapes circling in the air high above us. In the silhouette of the full moon, they looked like women with giant wings.
“Harpies!” Odette and I shouted at the same time.
“Move!” I shouted. She turned to run back to her house, but I grabbed her arm, stopping her. “You have any guns in there?” I asked. To my disbelief she shook her head no.
“I put the UMP back in the armory.”
“Okay,” I said, “My house then… heads up!” I snapped my pistol up and dumped the magazine into the harpy that had swooped down towards us. It fell from its smooth dive like a marionette with cut strings. Angry shrieks pierced the sky as the rest of the harpies turned as one and dove for us.
“Oh shit!” Odette said, “MOVE!” I needed no second bidding and tore after her towards my front door.
“Steve, hurry! Odette said as she started firing her big 4563 at the incoming Harpies. After a few terrifying seconds, I found the keys, pulled them from my pocket, and began desperately fumbling for the right one.
“Steve…” Odette said as her pistol ran dry. She dropped the mag and went for a fresh one, “any time now would be really good!” I glanced over my shoulder and nearly dropped the keychain; the harpies were less than a hundred feet from us and closing fast. At that moment, her cell phone started ringing. Her ringtone, I’m not even kidding, was Ride of the Vaklyries.
“Got it!” I shouted as I jammed the appropriate key into the lock. We barreled into the house a second later, then both turned and slammed the door shut. I threw the deadbolt home. A second later, the whole house shook as at least one harpy slammed into the door at full speed.
“In here!” I said and took off towards the bedroom. “And answer the phone!” Odette snatched the phone from her pocket as I pulled a footlocker out from under my bed. Inside were my Crusader Partisan, Garand, Stoeger, 1911, Kel-Tec, and P6. The FAL and Mossberg were still locked in the trunk of the GTO, so these would have to do. I half-listened to the conversation as I set about loading each of the weapons and laying them out on the floor.
“Hello?… Dominique thank God! I’m at Steve’s… yes, harpies. We’re inside, I think we’re… yes, Steve’s with me… yeah… we’re safe for right now, I think… okay… will do.” She hung up the phone and turned to me. “The rest of the team’s on the way.”
“Thank God,” I said. I picked up the Partisan and handed it to her, “You know how to run one of these?” She nodded. “Good.” I handed her a set of electronic earmuffs from the footlocker. She put them on and shouldered the rifle. I put my MHI-issue plugs in my ears and picked up the Garand. Through the embedded speakers, I suddenly heard a scratching, thumping sound coming from above us. They were on the roof. I pointed to the ceiling and mimed crawling. Odette nodded and aimed her rifle up at the roof. For terrifying minutes, the sounds continued. Then, just as suddenly as they’d started, they ceased.
“What do you think?” Odette asked me, eyes still on the ceiling, “are they gone?”
“Doubt it,” I replied. As if on cue, the window on the far side of the room exploded inward. We swung around and fired into the harpy that was already halfway into the room. I ripped through the eight-round clip so fast it seemed like the rifle was full auto; before I knew it the clip had ejected from the gun and the bolt was locked back. I quick reached back into the footlocker for another clip, reloaded, and brought the rifle back up, only to see the shooting had stopped. The harpy, or at least what was left of it, hung limply half-in and half-out of the window. Its head and a bit of its torso were gone; torn to shreds by three .30-06 FMJs and about a dozen .223 ballistic tips. I realized that my ears were ringing something terrible; in the close quarters of my bedroom, the electronic earplugs couldn’t block out all of the incredibly loud gunfire.
The headless harpy was suddenly pulled from the window and two of its friends appeared in its place. We opened up on them. Black blood splattered all over the room. Our guns ran dry at the same time. Odette dropped her mag and went fishing for a reload while I dropped the Garand and snatched up the Stoeger. No sooner had the stock touched my shoulder than I dumped both barrels into the window. A harpy’s head disappeared in a black mist and it fell limp into the room.
Pretty much all of ancient mythology portrays the harpy as a beautiful woman with large, graceful, feathery wings. Sort of like an angel, only it eats people. Yeah, right; they’re really ugly, demonic-looking hags with blue-grey skin and big leathery bat wings. Jason and the Argonauts gets its depiction of the creature pretty close to reality; I’m pretty sure Ray Harryhausen was a Hunter at some point.
I dropped the Stoeger and started to reach for the Garand when three more harpies started to climb through the window. I immediately went for the 1911 and dumped the magazine into the window. They seemed to hesitate, but managed to shrug off the hits and continued to pull themselves through. I dropped the big pistol and started to feel around for another gun when the room filled with noise and the harpies’ heads exploded. Odette had found another mag.
“We can’t stay here!” Odette shouted.
“No kidding!” Even with electronic ear protection, we could barely hear each other.
“Where’s your truck?”
“In the garage!” Each house had an attached garage, but they were only big enough for one vehicle, hence the reason why The Beast – and my main guns – were in the motor pool. “Want to make for it?”
“You have a better idea?” she asked as another harpy started to poke through the window. She dumped the rest of the magazine into it. I quick handed her another.
“Nope. Cover me.” I quick pulled a half-dozen PMags from the footlocker and handed them to Odette. She stuffed them in her pockets as I reloaded the Garand and Coach Gun and stuffed my pockets with as many en-bloc clips and shotgun shells as I could carry. “Okay, move!”
“Wait, what about your SIG?”
“It’s… oh shit.” It wasn’t in my holster. I must’ve dropped it as we were coming through the door. I quick checked the back of my waist and sighed with relief as my fingers brushed my backup 220 Compact. “I’m good, let’s go!” Odette sprinted for the garage as I snapped up the Garand and fired it into the harpy that was almost through the window. It went down hard just like its friends. By now, the inside of my bedroom was covered in black spatter. I turned to follow her a second later, sprinting out of the bedroom and into the hall. I dashed into the garage and was halfway around to the driver’s side door when I looked in the cab and stopped dead in my tracks.
Odette wasn’t in the truck.
An inhuman shriek filled the garage. I whirled around, snapped up the Garand, leveled it straight at… a tool chest?
“Help me!” I glanced over and saw Odette with her shoulder braced against the side of the chest. Right away I figured out what she was trying to do. I ran over, set the Garand down, and threw my weight against the heavy metal chest, helping Odette to shove it in front of the door. It would buy us a minute. The tool chest rocked as a harpy slammed into the other side of the door. A minute, if we were lucky. I retrieved my rifle as Odette clambered into the truck. I pulled myself up into the cab a second later, jammed the keys in the ignition. The big V8 caught on the first turn. I let out a whoop of delight and slammed the transmission into reverse.
“Hang on!” I shouted.
“What? WhyOMIGODWHATAREYOUDOING!?!?” Odette screamed as I floored the gas and sent the truck plowing through the closed garage door. The cab rocked as debris bounced off of it.
“Are you crazYIEEEE!?” She screamed again as I snapped the truck into a J-turn, slammed on the brakes, shifted into Drive, and floored it again. Odette opened her mouth to yell at me, but something slammed into the back of the truck and cut her off. We both turned to see a Harpy standing in the bed of the truck. Odette grabbed the Partisan gun from the floor, shoved it through the rear window, and pumped five rounds into its chest. The creature staggered back a step and then was thrown from the bed as we lurched over a bump.
“Sorry,” she said, wincing as pieces of safety glass fell from the rifle’s handguard.
“Don’t worry about itWOAH!” I shouted as another Harpy landed on the front of the truck. Its claws gouged into the hood, leaving nasty looking tears in the metal. It lunged at us, destroying the windshield with a powerful swipe, missing us by inches. I grabbed the Coach Gun from between the seats, shoved it through the open windshield, pressing the twin muzzles into the creature’s nose. The harpy’s eyes crossed, then got wide as dinner plates as it realized what was about to happen. A second later, I pulled both triggers. We were instantly splattered with gore as the harpy’s skull exploded. A quick flick of the steering wheel sent the headless creature sailing from the truck. I glanced over at Odette. Her face was covered in black blood, and I could see bits of harpy skull and brains in her hair.
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Getting you covered in blood and guts?” I asked, “No, of course not!”
“I meant blowing that thing’s head off with the shotgun,” she replied with a slight grin, “You seem to do that an awful lot.”
“Yeah,” I replied with a smile of my own, “I guess so…” A flash of motion in the rearview mirror grabbed my attention for a moment. My eyes must’ve gotten as wide as that last harpy’s because Odette turned to look out the back of the cab.
“GET DOWN!” we screamed as one. We both grabbed each other and pulled ourselves under the dash an instant before something huge hit and tore the roof of the cab off all the way down to the base of the windshield.
“That’s… that’s a gargoyle!” I said as we watched the gigantic creature climb into the night sky.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Odette replied. She grabbed the Garand, braced it against her shoulder, and loosed a round at the giant stone creature. She fired again a second later, then dropped the rifle.
“Need a clip?” I asked.
“No,” she said. Her words were laced with pain. I saw her holder her shoulder with one hand and cradling her jaw with the other. She must’ve gotten kicked by the big rifle. I winced in sympathy; that thing kicks like a moose. The enormous living statue wheeled around in the sky, impossibly fast, before swooping back towards us. “DUCK!” Odette screamed in my ear. I couldn’t think of a better idea. At the last second, I swerved right to avoid those massive claws. I almost made it; the creature’s talons hit the rear quarter of the truck. The big machine snapped left like a whip and rolled over on its side. We spun across the asphalt, totally out of control, the side of my head inches from the asphalt. All we could do was hold on and pray that we didn’t turn over completely. If that happened, we’d be hamburger. After the most terrifying twenty seconds of my life, the truck finally stopped. For a few seconds, we both just sat there, staring straight ahead into space, unable to believe we’d survived. I recovered first.
“You okay?” I asked Odette.
“Yeah,” she winced, “Nice driving.” She undid her seatbelt and tumbled in top of me. “Oh Lord!” I followed her gaze and felt the blood in my veins freeze. The gargoyle was starting to dive right at us.
“Move!” I shouted. Odette scrambled to her feet and sprinted away from the truck. I undid my seatbelt and lunged out of the seat. Or at least tried to. I looked down towards my leg and my stomach tied itself into a knot. My leg was stuck under the dashboard. I twisted around, trying to work my way free, but it was no good. The door must’ve crumpled inward when the truck rolled. My leg was pinned firmly in place. I lunged forward again, trying to pull myself free. Nothing. I glanced up again. The gargoyle was headed right for me. I started thrashing around, desperate to tear myself loose. Neither the dash, the door, nor my leg budged. Then I heard and felt something pop in my knee, and I screamed as fire raced up and down my leg. The gargoyle swooped closer. I heard Odette scream my name. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her start to run back towards me. She’d never make it in time.
In sheer desperation, I reached behind my back and pulled the P220 Compact from my SOB rig. Even as I thumbed the hammer back, I knew it would be useless; gargoyles can only be stopped by heavy artillery and high explosives. At the very least, bring a .50 BMG if you’re trying to kill one. For all the good my measly .45 ACP would do against it, I might as well be shooting spitballs at it. I lined the sights up square on the bridge of the stone nose, said a silent prayer, and pulled the trigger. The gun rocked back in my hand. There would be no time for a second shot.
The gargoyle’s head exploded.
As the stone behemoth fell from the sky, all I could do was stare in amazed bewilderment at my little SIG. What the f
A ferocious crash snapped me back to reality and I looked up to see the gargoyle smashing into the pavement. Its forward momentum not totally spent, it slid down the asphalt, carving a deep trench as it went.
It took a second for me to realize that the multi-ton behemoth was heading straight for the truck. I tried to lurch out of my seat again and bit back a scream as pain lanced through my leg. I yanked again, my eyes watering. Ignoring the pain, I bent down and began desperately twisting my leg, my ankle, trying anything and everything to break myself free. The thundering roar of granite tearing through asphalt and dirt hammered my ears. I looked up and almost screamed. The dead gargoyle was less than fifty feet from me. I was dead.
A moment later, I noticed two things. Firstly, everything was silent. Secondly, I wasn’t dead. I slowly inched my eyes open. The gargoyle had ground to a halt less than two feet from the truck.
“STEVE!” I looked over just as Odette all ran right into me. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, ignoring the painful throbbing in my knee “That was one hell of a spitball.”
“Why didn’t you run?” she asked.
“I’m stuck,” I said, indicating my trapped leg.
“You guys okay?” I looked over and saw Scotty jog around the back of the truck. A Milkor MGL grenade launcher hung from a sling across his chest, smoke rising lazily from the muzzle.
“So much for the spitball,” I muttered.
“What?” Odette asked.
“Nevermind. Could someone find a crowbar or something and get me out of here?”
Once Jon and Chris had found a giant pry bar and freed my leg, the team regrouped in the main building’s conference room. Shannon, it turned out, was the team’s medic as well as our intelligence specialist. She looked over my knee for a few minutes, pronounced it a bad sprain, wrapped it in a big ACE bandage, then wrapped the whole thing with bags of ice. I’d be going to the ER first thing in the morning to get it checked out. Until then, I was stuck, along with Odette, getting my brain picked by Dominique and the rest of the team.
“You two have been here for forty-eight hours,” Dominique said, “and in that time, we’ve been ambushed by monsters three times. Why? Andrews, any ideas?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, “Doctor Bryson won’t tell me anything, and I’ve told you all I know about my dream. Guys, I’m sorry, but I really have no clue.”
“Odette?” Dominique asked. Odette just shook her head and shrugged. She didn’t know anything.
“You really think someone’s targeting us?” she asked.
“It would appear that way,” Chris replied.
“It could be just a random attack,” I suggested, “Monsters hitting MHI to get back at the organization in general.”
“That’s highly unlikely,” Dominique said.
“She’s right,” Shannon said before either Odette or I could argue, “I’ll check with Albert Lee in Alabama, but as far as I know, there’s only been one direct attack on any MHI compound in over a century, actually happened five years ago, and that assault was targeting a specific Hunter.”
“Moose?” Jon asked.
“Right,” Shannon said, “As it turned out, Moose’s grandfather also worked for MHI, died taking out a Master Vampire. The Master’s lover, also a Master, by the way, responded by killing off the rest of Moose’ family for revenge until just Moose was left.”
“What happened to him?” Odette asked.
“Moose kicked that vampire bitch’s ass,” Chris replied, “Staked her himself.” I whistled in amazement.
“Damn,” I said.
“So,” Dominique said, “I guess the question is who have you two pissed off recently?”
“No one,” Odette replied, “I didn’t even know monsters existed until… the naga… and I didn’t have any more encounters with them until the other night.”
“Same here,” I replied, “And I’m pretty sure none of my relatives or ancestors were Hunters.”
“I don’t think any of mine were either,” Odette added.
“They weren’t,” Dominique said, “we’ve checked; none of you are related in any way, shape, or form to past Hunters.” Well, that was a relief.
“So why are they coming after us?” I asked.
“Actually Steve, we’re fairly certain they just want you,” Dominique said.
“Me? How can you be sure?”
“Well,” Shannon said, “Nagas are only semi-sentient. They have limited ability to reason, but they don’t have any written or spoken language. No higher thought processes like humans. Now, vampires, on the other hand… well, they’ve been known to hold grudges in the past.”
“Speaking of which,” Dominique interrupted, “any luck on tracing the family history of Steve’s vampire?”
“Not so far,” she replied, “I… ah… I actually haven’t been able to find any record of the attack.” That got everyone’s attention. “It’s not in the MCB Database.”
“That makes no sense,” Dominique said, “The Feds talked to him about it, there are police reports, you’re sure it’s not there?”
“If it’s there, haven’t been able to find it,” Shannon said.
“Well…” Dominique said after a moment’s thought, “Keep looking. Steve’ll help you once he gets back from the hospital.
“With that leg, you’re not going to be Hunting for a while,” Dominique said. “No argument. You’re useless to us in the field right now, and we need to know what this thing is and why it’s after you. We need you here.”
“Okay, fine,” I fumed. Dominique was my boss. She could make me ride a desk, but she couldn’t make me like it.
“Okay, that’s settled. Anything else?”
“Actually…” I said hesitantly. I glanced over at Odette. She didn’t meet my gaze; her eyes fell instead to the floor. “Dominique, can Odette and I talk you you? In private?”
Author’s Note: Moose and his adventures are featured in Moose42’s excellent FanFic entitled Monster Hunter: Miller’s Blood, which you can read over at We The Armed. Many thanks to Moose for letting me reference his story here.