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"Are you guys ready for some visitors?" Cynthia asked from the doorway of the recovery room.
"Yeah! I never even thought it was really possible to be bored to death but here we are. This place could do it." Gar said dramatically.
Cynthia smiled at the response, then looked behind her into the hallway and said, "I get the feeling that they might welcome some company. Just be sure not to get them too worked up. Doctor McCoy says that they both need their rest."
"We'll keep it quiet." Lisa promised.
As Gar and Marc watched, Lisa, Steve, and Lee entered the room.
"Steve, I'm glad you came back! Come over here!" Gar called excitedly.
"Calm down or they won't let us visit you." Lisa cautioned the boy.
"Okay. But I want Steve to come over here so I can try something." Gar said urgently.
Steve slithered to Gar's bedside and cautiously asked, "What did you want to try?"
"After you came and got Lisa I started to wonder if I could use my ability to make me be like you." Gar said frankly.
"Why would you want to do that?" Steve asked uncertainly.
"To look cool, for one thing." Gar said seriously, then quickly added, "Besides I think that there's times when it would be good to be able to slither instead of walk."
"Yeah? Like when?" Steve asked slowly.
"Like maybe when you need to go under something really low, I bet you can probably crawl faster than just about anyone." Gar said earnestly.
After a moment to consider, Steve hesitantly said, "I guess that's true."
"He's also really good at climbing and reaching things down off the top shelf." Lee contributed to their conversation.
"Okay. Hang on. I'm going to try it." Gar said quickly, then before anyone could react, he began to shrink down as his facial features began to smooth out.
"Be careful, Gar. If you get stuck, I don't know if anyone will be able to help you." Marc warned.
A movement at the foot of the bed drew everyone's attention as a green snake tail emerged from under the sheet.
As they looked back to the other end of the bed, they found a large snake looking back at them. While the intelligent look in his eyes betrayed his consciousness, his features were nothing less than fully those of a boa constrictor.
"I'm guessing that that's not what you were trying to do." Lee said speculatively.
"Even if it's not, he should still be able to do what he wanted to do, like the crawling and stuff." Steve said cautiously.
As he spoke, Gar began to change again, this time returning to his humanoid form.
"I really need to find a way to make it so that my clothes change with me. Every time I change my body I have to go back and put my clothes back on." Gar said aggravatedly as he fought to quickly dress himself under the sheet.
While Gar was busy dressing, Marc quietly said, "I'm surprised to see you again so soon. Not that I'm complaining, I just didn't expect you."
"If there were anything for us to do to help Beau we'd still be at the gingerbread house doing it, but Beau has to do most of it himself. Slash and Jesus stayed behind to help him with the rest." Lisa explained.
"It sounds like it's going to be a really big deal. I'm sorry that I'm going to miss it." Marc said regretfully.
"Maybe you don't have to." Lee said slowly, then explained, "I don't know of any reason that Andrew can't make a portal so that you can witness whatever happens. He already said that he would be there so all we'll have to do is ask."
"That sounds so great! This feels like something that we should all be doing together as a team." Lisa said happily.
"Yeah. I think so too." Marc said contemplatively.
"If I'm there when it happens, does that mean that I'll be on your team too?" Gar asked cautiously.
"Do you want to be?" Lee asked curiously.
"From the way Doctor McCoy's been talking, he expects me to be on his team someday. He keeps saying that I have such a high level ability that I'm going to have to train a lot, but he seems really sure that even though I'm a kid, I'm probably going to be one of the stronger members of his team." Gar said seriously.
"Well, if that's how it is, how about we count you the same as we're counting Clark, John, and Bobby? You can be a friend of the team, someone that we can go to and ask for help when we need it. Maybe sometime we can help your team or you can help ours." Lee cautiously suggested.
"Yeah. Me being like Clark... that sounds good to me." Gar finished with a contented smile.
"But before we do anything else, right now I think Steve needs to visit with Doctor McCoy for a few minutes." Lee said in a leading tone.
"Yeah. I guess so." Steve reluctantly admitted, then glanced at Gar as he said, "Too bad 'Snake Junior' can't go with me. It'd be good to have his company."
"He needs his bedrest, but I'd be willing to go with you, if you wouldn't mind." Lee tentatively offered.
"I don't know, I mean, it's kind of a personal thing, but at the same time, it sucks having to do it alone..."
"Then it's settled. Let's go." Lee said decisively.
That seemed to be all the encouragement that Steve needed. After one last look back, Steve followed Lee out of the room.
* * * * *
"Doctor McCoy? Do you have a few minutes to help Steve?" Lee asked from the doorway of Dr. McCoy's office.
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I had intended to summon him in case he forgot that he was due." Dr. McCoy said as he looked up from his computer.
"No chance of that. My sacs are pulled tight." Steve said anxiously.
"Not to worry. We'll have your situation resolved shortly." Dr. McCoy said before picking up the phone and hitting one button.
Lee and Steve silently watched and waited to be told what to do next.
"Bobbo? Would you go to treatment room two and wait for me? There's a procedure that I'd like for you to observe." Hank asked hopefully.
After a moment to listen to the response, Hank hung up the phone, then looked to Lee and Steve before asking, "That's alright, isn't it?"
"What's alright?" Steve asked cautiously.
"I'm going to have my medical assistant sit in and observe so that in future, it's less likely that you will have to wait for me to be available." Dr. McCoy patiently explained.
"If it comes down to it, I can do it myself. You just won't end up getting my poison." Steve said simply.
"Your venom is incredibly useful. If circumstances conspire to prevent collection, then of course I want you to do what makes you most comfortable. But if at all possible, I would rather harvest as much as we can." Dr. McCoy said professionally.
Steve slowly nodded his acknowledgement.
"So, is it alright if Bobbo sits in?" Dr. McCoy asked to be sure.
"Yeah. That sounds like the smart way of doing it." Steve reluctantly admitted.
"Come along then." Dr. McCoy said as he led the way out of his office.
* * * * *
As Lee and Steve entered the treatment room, they were surprised to see a tall beefy man wearing a labcoat. His physique was that of a linebacker and he seemed to be completely out of place in a professional medical setting.
"He looks like you did before." Steve said before he could think about propriety.
"What was that?" Lee asked curiously.
"Steve remembers how I looked before my mutation progressed to its current level." Dr. McCoy said simply.
"Is that why you hired me? Because I remind you of how you used to be?" Bobbo asked Dr. McCoy curiously.
"Not as such. Although I do recall what it was like for me starting out. People would take one look at me and believe that I was a mindless oaf based only on their first impressions. Even after receiving my first doctorate some continued to treat me as though I were a stupid beer guzzling jock." Hank said distantly as he relived the profound sense of unfairness underlying that time of his life.
"So you wanted to give another muscle-bound jock a chance?" Bobbo asked curiously.
"I let it be known that I had a need for medical assistants. You and Cynthia expressed interest in filling those vacancies. I didn't choose you, either of you, over more qualified candidates due to your physical attributes. I simply chose the people who I thought would do a capable job and fit in reasonably well with the culture at the mansion. Perhaps I thought you might be relatable to me, but I can't say for sure if that had any influence on my decision." Dr. McCoy finished introspectively.
"But if other people see you and think that you're not smart because you're big, then they probably passed you over for scrawny smart people which made it so that you were available when Doctor McCoy needed someone." Steve cautiously reasoned.
"Exactly my point." Dr. McCoy said with a smile of approval of Steve's assessment, then continued, "Steven is here to have his venom sacs drained. I would like for you to witness the procedure so that if I should be otherwise occupied, he could come to you for relief."
Bobbo looked at Steve uncertainly, but didn't appear to object.
"The collection beakers are kept in this cabinet. Be sure to observe full sterilization protocols, since the harvested venom will be used to create antivenom as well as a number of other medicinal serums." Dr. McCoy explained as he quickly passed his hands under an intense blue light.
"I can release the venom on my own, but then Doctor McCoy couldn't use it. It gets mixed with my spit and stuff." Steve helpfully added.
"Yes. But we'll do our best not to let that happen. With a minimal effort on our part we can provide a benefit to a great many people." Dr. McCoy confirmed, then held out a covered beaker to Steve as he said, "In the interest of getting an uncontaminated sample, we massage Steve's venom sacs so that they will slowly release. During that time, Steve will be consciously resisting the release so as to keep the flow steady."
"That's why if you talk to me I won't be able to answer or even nod, I have to keep concentrating while I'm holding still and keeping the jar steady, all at the same time." Steve seriously explained.
"Fangs out." Dr. McCoy prompted as he moved to allow Bobbo an unobstructed view of what he was doing.
After a slightly nervous look around, Steve opened his mouth wide which turned out to be a little wider than would be possible for a normal person.
A set of dangerous looking fangs lowered down, as though they were on hinges and had been tucked against his gumline.
Bobbo automatically took a step back at the sight.
"You'll need to stand closer so that you can see." Dr. McCoy instructed seriously.
With his mouth still held open, Steve glanced to his side and made eye contact with Lee.
Although Steve didn't alter his expression to indicate what he wanted, Lee nonetheless stepped forward and took gentle hold of the boy's free hand.
Steve responded by squeezing the hand firmly
"I didn't expect them to be quite that big." Bobbo admitted as he moved a bit closer so that he could see what Dr. McCoy was doing.
"We've found it best if Steve holds the collection beaker, so if he needs to move, he can keep the positioning of the beaker constant." Dr. McCoy said instructively.
Bobbo nodded that he had heard.
"Now, if you were to feel Steve's neck, just below the jawline, you would feel two hard nodules. I'm not going to have you do it now because Steve is highly sensitive at this stage of things. Once we've been able to express a portion of his venom, you can have a turn at helping him so that you'll be familiar with the positioning." Dr. McCoy said as he began to gently probe Steve's neck.
"Is there some way you could do this so that Steve wouldn't have to be in such a vulnerable position?" Lee quietly asked.
"None that I can think of. I recognize the amount of trust that Steven is demonstrating by allowing me to do this. I do my best to never give him cause to regret his decision to allow me to collect his venom." Dr. McCoy said reverently.
Steve winced slightly and Lee automatically squeezed his hand to remind him that he wasn't facing the uncomfortable experience all alone.
"Sometimes when you're massaging the venom sacs Steve will have an occasional twinge of pain. There's no avoiding it. Just do your best to be gentle and persevere. Stopping and drawing the process out helps no one." Dr. McCoy said seriously.
"What effect does the venom have in its raw form?" Bobbo asked curiously.
"A small amount of Steven's venom injected or applied topically causes paralysis on a level commensurate with the amount introduced. A larger concentrated deposit additionally has a necrotizing effect, essentially causing flesh to rot." Dr. McCoy said clinically.
"Nasty." Bobbo muttered as he watched Dr. McCoy's movements very carefully.
"How much do you usually collect in one sitting?" Lee asked as he looked at the collection beaker to gauge how much had already been collected.
"It varies. Since we've let it go so long, this time, I would expect thirty to fifty milliliters."
"What's that in cups?" Lee hesitantly asked.
"It's not." Dr. McCoy said with a slight smile at the question, then explained, "If we were to convert that to a measure that's more familiar to you, I'd guess that we're going to collect between two and three tablespoons."
"It doesn't sound like that much, but I guess when you're squirting it out of your teeth, it probably feels like it's a whole lot more." Lee said thoughtfully.
"I would suppose so." Dr. McCoy said as he continued to gently massage Steve's neck.
Lee watched the collection jar carefully and saw a mostly clear, slightly milky, liquid starting to pool in the bottom.
"I think that we've lowered the pressure enough so that we may proceed. Steve, I'm going to move aside and allow Bobbo to massage your venom sacs for a moment. Please try to remain relaxed." Dr. McCoy slowly explained.
Lee kept firm hold of Steve's hand as Dr. McCoy shifted aside and allowed his equally large assistant to take his place.
"Right here." Dr. McCoy indicated, then quickly added, "Be gentle."
"I can be gentle. Don't worry." Bobbo quietly assured him as he placed his hands where Dr. McCoy had shown him.
"Proceed slowly. There's no rush." Dr. McCoy said soothingly.
"Who knows, if I get to do this often, maybe I could use the time to tell Steve about some of my adventures back in college. It might end up being fun." Bobbo said warmly as he very gently duplicated Dr. McCoy's movements.
"I'm afraid that we need for Steve to be awake during this procedure so that he can maintain concentration." Dr. McCoy said in a believable serious voice.
"Hey! I have good stories!" Bobbo insisted, but it was obvious that he was playing along with the joke.
Lee and Dr. McCoy's matching incredulous stares were all the response that was needed.
* * * * *
"How's it going in here?" Steve asked quietly, noticing that Gar appeared to be asleep.
"We were just talking with Cynthia. Gar pooped out about five minutes ago." Lisa easily explained, then thought to ask, "How did everything go with you?"
"Wonderful. After having that pressure relieved, I feel like I could use a good nap." Steve said frankly.
"You know what they say, 'The more the merrier'." Marc said with a smile as he lifted the edge of his sheet in invitation.
"Tempting, but no. I think I'd rather be awake so that I can enjoy this feeling." Steve said with an air of tranquility surrounding him.
After a long silent moment, Cynthia finally said, "Lisa was just telling us what you're going to be doing later. It sounds really spooky."
"I don't know if we're supposed to be telling everyone about that." Lee said frankly as he looked at Lisa uncertainly.
"If Cynthia's going to be working in MedLab, she's probably going to see a thousand more interesting things than a ghost transplant." Lisa said frankly.
"Ghost transplant?" Steve asked with a chuckle.
"Yeah, well, that's what I'm calling it. I mean, it's not hurting anyone, so why not make it sound like the harmless thing that it is? We're going to take Fallen, who's a spirit that's floating loose, and contain him in something so that he won't dissolve and completely disappear. We're doing a good thing, so why act like it's something dark and menacing?" Lisa asked reasonably.
"It sounds to me like you've found your own unique way of preserving the essence of a lost friend. While most people are satisfied to do that with mementos and photo albums... It sounds like a healthy and beautiful way for your group to find closure." Cynthia said speculatively.
Lee and Steve gave Lisa matching curious looks at Cynthia's strange interpretation of events.
"Yeah. And if this doesn't work, we can still put up a plaque or something." Steve cautiously ventured, watching carefully for Cynthia's reaction.
"Exactly." Cynthia said happily.
"Any idea of when the rest of the team will be out of their testing?" Marc asked curiously.
"Nobody said anything about it, but I think they'll probably be taking a break for lunch pretty soon. It's about that time." Lisa said speculatively.
"Already? I totally lost track. That snack at the gingerbread house really threw me off." Lee said honestly.
"Me too. As nice as it was, I doubt that I'll feel like eating much at lunch." Lisa agreed.
"Just don't make the mistake of not eating because, if you do, you'll be starving before dinner." Lee warned.
"My head knows that, but my stomach may need some convincing." Lisa said unenthusiastically.
"Marc, are you feeling alright? You look tired." Cynthia asked with concern.
"I don't want to miss a minute of visiting with you guys, but yeah, I am starting to wear down." Marc quietly admitted.
"Let's go up and see if the test-takers are about ready to take a break." Lee quietly suggested.
"Before we do that, maybe we should check in with Beau and the guys to see if they'll be able to go to lunch with us. If they're doing something where they can't, then we could take some food back to them." Steve cautiously suggested.
"Yeah. That sounds like an even better idea." Lee agreed.
"Marc, we're going to leave now. Get lots of rest and we'll be back to visit again later." Lisa said before leaning in to give him a gentle kiss.
When the kiss finished, Marc looked at her lovingly for a moment before finally responding, "That sounds good to me. Enjoy your lunch."
The group left quietly as Marc rested back and closed his eyes.
* * * * *
"How are things going here?" Lee asked as the group passed through the portal into the gingerbread house.
"I seen a lotta weird shit in my life, but this... let's just say you don't ever have to worry about me ever becoming a witch." Slash said unsteadily.
"Nobody asked you to." Beau said as he slowly stirred a bowl that he was holding close to his chest.
"Where's Jesus?" Lisa asked curiously.
"Outside. He said to call to him mentally if we need him for anything." Beau said seriously.
"So he really was becoming claustrophobic?" Lee asked with concern.
"Maybe a little, but I think it's more likely that he just needed to go behind a tree for a minute." Slash said seriously.
"Oh. I hadn't thought about that. I guess a regular toilet probably wouldn't work too well for him." Lee said thoughtfully.
//I can use a toilet just fine, but going behind a tree is much easier for me.// Jesus said into all their minds.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to be talking about you behind your back." Lee said with concern.
//You weren't.// Jesus said simply, then thought to ask, //Beau? Is it okay if I open the door?//
"Let me get it for you. I don't want to disturb the diagram in case I need to do another summoning." Beau said as he set the bowl that he had been stirring aside and carefully walked to the door.
"We just came by to see if you guys want to go to take a lunch break with us or if you'd like for us to bring something back for you." Steve said as he absently reached to one side to take a book at random off the nearest shelf.
"As much as I'd like to stay and keep working on this, the truth is, there's not much more I can do without Seth's help." Beau said regretfully as he held the door open long enough for Jesus to enter. As soon as Jesus was inside, Beau closed it, particularly careful not to disturb any part of the diagram on the floor.
"Well, Ms. Mordigan seems to be on board with what we're doing, so I'm sure that if we tell her that we need Seth for a few minutes that she won't have a problem with it." Lisa said confidently.
"Besides that, we're planning on stopping by the library and getting the others before we go to lunch anyway." Lee said seriously.
"Do you know if you have any snake spells?" Steve asked absently as he casually leafed through the book that he had picked up.
"These aren't my books. I'm not sure what Dawn has." Beau responded disjointedly at the non sequitur, then continued more steadily, "As far as going to the library, that sounds like a good idea. I could use a few minutes away from this before I have to dive into the hardcore spellcasting."
"I thought with you being all superpowered that it was going to be like a walk in the park for you." Lee said curiously.
"I don't have to worry about stirring up the forces to power the spell, but the other edge of that sword is that I have to be exact in my spelling or all the magic that I command will flow to the wrong place and do the wrong thing." Beau said frankly.
"Are you sure it won't hurt for me to read this stuff?" Steve asked as he looked up from the book that he had chosen.
"You can scream at the moon all night long and it will never hear you. Speaking the words without any source of mystic power to drive them won't cause anything to happen. To become a witch requires the transformative power, a spell of intent and most of all, your free will for it to be so. Lacking any of those, the spells in those books will only ever be just words to you." Beau carefully explained.
"So he wouldn't have to sell his soul to the devil to gain the power?" Lee asked curiously.
"Only metaphorically... well, I suppose that there are some demonic entities who can make a contract with you, but no one does it that way anymore." Beau finished with a grin at the absurdity of the idea.
"So it won't hurt anything if I read this?" Steve asked to be sure.
"If you were to lose it or damage it, Dawn might cause something unfortunate to happen, but I don't think there's anything to worry about besides that." Beau said honestly.
"How long will it be before you're ready to go?" Lee asked curiously.
"Oh, I'm just about ready. Hold on." Beau said as he took the gallon jug of water and poured some of it into the bowl that he had been stirring.
"Would you like to come up here and ride with me?" Lee asked down to Jesus at their feet.
//Sure. If you wouldn't mind.// Jesus responded with surprise at the kind offer.
"It's kind of nice having you up here. I can see why Louie enjoys it." Lee said with a smile.
Jesus jumped from a standstill and gently landed on Lee's left shoulder.
"Peter, I'm going to need for you to stay here with Emily while I get the supplies that we'll need for your embodiment. If you start having problems or need me for any reason, Emily can come and get me. I won't mind." Beau carefully instructed.
After apparently receiving a favorable response, Beau looked to Lee and said, "I'm ready."
"Do you need to lock the door?" Lisa cautiously asked.
"I don't know who ended up with the key, but it doesn't matter. I can make it work." Beau said as he slowly looked around the room.
There was a long moment of silence during which all those present collectively felt a chill of foreboding wash over them.
"Let's go." Beau said casually, breaking them out of the breathless moment of fear inspired paralysis.
"What the hell did you just do?" Lisa shakily asked in a whisper.
"I just put a little protection spell on the gingerbread house. Don't worry, as long as no one tries to break in, nothing will happen." Beau assured the group as he led the way through the open portal.
After a moment of walking down the brushed metal hallway, Steve asked what they all were wondering, "What happens if someone does try to break in?"
"The phoenix protects her nest. I basically took a minute to establish where it is." Beau said frankly.
"Um... I don't really know anything at all about the phoenix, but from what little I've picked up since I've been around you, it sounds like you just connected the detinator to the powder keg." Lee said anxiously.
"Basically, yeah." Beau said simply.
"And you're okay with that?" Lisa asked as she glanced in the direction of the MedLab.
"Nothing will happen to an innocent or a person with noble intent. If someone breaks in and tries to cause harm, they will be prevented." Beau carefully explained.
"Permanently." Lee quietly added.
"As long as no one tries to break in, there's no problem." Beau countered.
//Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're really scary.// Jesus said warily.
"Yeah. I know. That's one of the reasons that I was trying to leave the magic stuff behind in Texas." Beau said honestly.
"You were trying to give it up?" Lisa asked curiously.
"Not entirely. I'm a witch. It's part of my life and always will be." Beau said frankly, then explained, "I wasn't trying to quit. I was just trying to move it to the back burner and make something else the main focus in my life."
//Maybe we could help you with that.// Jesus cautiously suggested.
"Actually, that's the part that I hadn't planned on. It never occurred to me that I'd be anything but alone in all of this." Beau said honestly.
"I may not have been part of your team for long, but I've been around for a while." Steve said honestly, then continued, "Most of us arrive here alone. Only a few of the lucky ones find a place to fit in. To me it looks like you're really lucky."
* * * * *
"Can we come in?" Lisa asked from the library doorway.
"Yes. Please do." Ms. Mordigan said happily, then quickly added, "I need to finish going over Quaid's latest test, but then I'll be right with you."
"We just stopped by to ask if you were going to take a lunch break soon." Lisa hurried to ask before Ms. Mordigan could become engaged with evaluating the test.
"Yes. Seth and Brian are nearly finished and I can look over their tests when we get back." Ms. Mordigan said as she picked up a stack of papers and started reading them.
"How was it? Did you have fun?" Louie asked as he welcomed Jesus onto his shoulder.
//Let's just say that now I have an idea of how the sausage is made.// Jesus said cautiously.
"What?" Louie asked in bewilderment.
//Never mind. It doesn't matter.// Jesus said fondly to his companion.
"Mine's done." Seth said as he stood from his table and carried his papers to Ms. Mordigan.
"Perfect timing." Ms. Mordigan said as she accepted the papers from him.
As Seth was returning to his desk, Beau stopped him by asking, "When we're done eating, I was wondering if you could take us to the nygo-husk to gather some webbing?"
"I can do it now if you want. I think Chesser still needs a few minutes to finish up." Seth said honestly.
"Well, we can't collect it now, because I'm going to need for you to stabilize it until I can cast a spell on it. But if you wanted, we could go for a few minutes now and scout around for a piece of webbing big enough to use for a shroud for Fallen. The husk by the gingerbread house doesn't have a usable amount." Beau said seriously.
"Is that okay, Mad? Can you spare us for a few minutes?" Seth asked cautiously.
"Yes. That should be fine." Ms. Mordigan answered with a smile.
"Hang on." Lee said quickly to Seth, then turned and asked, "Quaid, do you want to go along?"
"Yeah. Sure. Why?" Quaid asked cautiously.
"I just thought of a way that we might be able to help. If you'll come with us, we can find out if I'm right." Lee quietly explained.
"I love to help." Quaid said with a grand smile.
"Anyone else?" Seth asked as he looked around.
"I'm good." Lisa assured him.
"Maybe next time." Steve said as he looked up from his book.
//Yell if you need anything from us. I'll be listening for you.// Jesus said seriously.
"Is there going to be anything I can do to help you?" Slash asked cautiously.
Lee shrugged, then looked to Beau and Seth inquisitively.
"Not that I know of. But this should only take a few minutes. You can come along if you want to." Beau offered sincerely.
"Yeah. I've been in on everything so far. I'd like to see it through." Slash agreed.
After a look around, Beau enthusiastically said, "Fantastic. Let's get going."
To Be Continued...
This story continues to give new meaning to the term long day, yet, even though it is long, it seems to fly by very quickly. We seem to have made progress, at least to some degree.
Steve has emptied his venom sacks, and is feeling much better. Marc got to spend some time with his friends, and it is almost time for lunch.
It almost reminds me of a CSU story. The only major difference would be that if this were a chapter from the CSU, it would be several thousand words longer, and we wouldn't have progressed any farther in story time.
Speaking of CSU, can we get one or more Vincents to join this story?
Maybe we could visit the valley of snuggles and cuddles.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Thanks, MM, for another great chapter.