Unchained Melody of Freedom

May 26, 2018:

Faora-UI decides to make an example out of Captain America. A certain ghostly SHIELD agent offers an assist.

Central Park

So much chaos.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Emma Frost, Tony Stark, Nakano Rin, Agent 13

Mood Music: [*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwmVjzxDsos ]

Fade In…

New York.

Over a year ago, a park bench was dedicated to the Howling Commandos in central park. Not just the bench, but the playground in front of it, and the concert center beside it.

It was all ruined by a woman in armor, who caused a near disaster and loss of life. At least the bench has been rebuilt. But here and now, an important ceremony, not far from that site, in the middle of central park. By the request of the Mayor of New York City and the Honorable Cecil Edmonton, a Justice of the State Supreme court, Captain America is to preside over the most important day one can imagine for someone who has fully embraced the American dream.

Two hundred and twenty five people stand in attendance, looking to a small stage in the middle of central park, having just raised their right hands to swear allegiance to the United States of America, taking the oath and receiving their certificates, they await the words of the man who many feel embody the spirit of an entire country. They will be the first words these men and women hear as Citizens of the United States of America.

When Steve went to this place a few months ago, it was somewhat painful as most of the Howling Commandos were either older or passed on. Now, with the somewhat recent death of (a) Peggy Carter, the feelings of loss seem fresh. The night before, a lonely look through a photo gallery was given. Now, with the morning light pouring in the Man Outside of Time is forced to give a speech on his fellow men that are either ancient or in the grave, all while Steve himself is in the prime of his life. Dressed in his usual dress attire, the legendary hero attempts to speak once more. As if concerned about history repeating itself, the trademark shield rests by the podium he speaks at. But, there is likely nothing to worry about. Calmly, he takes a breath before he does what comes seemingly natural to him, speeches part of what makes Captain America loved (or hated, depending on who you talk to).

Steve Rogers says, “Greetings, my fellow Americans. Thank you for taking the time to join me on this humbling event. When I first was given the option of working with the Howling Commandos, I had no idea of what I would encounter, what I would face, or the friends that I met along the way. I suppose it’s no better way to greet new Citizens then by being reminded of the lessons from long ago, one of them being that while we are different, we have many things that draw us together.

"While we come from different walks of life, different beliefs, and different opinions, we all share a common goal: to live in peace and hope for a better future. During the dark days of World War II, we were convinced that such days lay ahead, if only we could get through the hell before us. Hate and cruelty were our foes and they had captured a people in heart mind and soul. We sacrificed, we fought, and we trusted people that in any other time we might not have ever talked to. It made us better people. It made us united. And that unity is what allowed us to win, allying with those that even once called us enemies like the Russians."

"In this climate of fear and finger pointing, I can think of no other lesson to bring back to our native soil that we had to learn while fighting abroad. There are those that wish to tear the fabric of the American Dream apart. Not the dream where white picket fences and homecooked meals await or one of fast cars and good times, but of the basic dream that every man, woman, and child deserves to be treated with respect as long as they are willing to hold to the tenants of the documents that America can hold so close yet discard so easily in the name of convenience or profit."

"If we can focus on what is most important, we stand a chance of being what we once were or even something greater. If we can defend the freedom and decency of all Americans, even those we personally disagree with, we can be something greater than we could ever be apart. A nation. One that we can all be proud of. I know it is what we fought and bleed for as Howling Commandos then. It’s what we can honor their memory by fighting for now. Thank you very much."

The speech is short, simple and to the point, but few people want to have Cap give a full sermon (no matter how much that they claim they do). After the speech is made, barring any disruption, Steve Rogers will make his way back toward his seat once more.

Phil Coulson slides his hands into his incoporeal pockets. As places to appear go, this isn't a bad one. His hero, giving an inspiring speech, fighting the good fight against oppression. He is just at the back of the crowd. Standing before an empty seat, though the people to either side of him find their breaths are misting out in sudden chill. They reach for sweaters or jackets or hoodies as they clap.

He checks himself over. An encounter with Emma Frost has him feeling better. Even after another weird encounter with the stars. He didn't consciously come here, but he knows where he is, and who Cap is, and it didn't take him a few moments to place the man.

Both good signs.

He doesn't make an effort to go to talk to the man; he's not in any trouble, he doesn't need help, and Phil sees no need to spook him, or to expend the very real energy it takes to do such things.

Of course, those in attendance are not the only people here new to this country. Nor the only ones moved by Steve Roger's speech. But Faora-Ul is moved in a different way. Cape whipping in the wind, a shadow falls over Steve just as he finishes, and though many clap, it is drown out by the sudden shift in attention. The motion of those on the stage to look skyward, until those gathered below scatter like leaves in the wake of Faora's landing.

Fear ripples like a palpable wave among those who had come here to take a solemn oath, and while some look on in confusion, many simply flee. Though her profile is not such that she is known round the world, Faora is known well enough to be affiliated with terrorists who do not hold the same values as Steve Rogers.

"We meet again, Captain Rogers. You will have to accept my apology for ruining yet another event held in your honor. But I promise you, never again will you be bothered by such acts of vanity again. For your crimes of consorting with SHIELD, an organization that conspires to kill all mutant kind, and for representing a government which works willingly with Boliver Trask, I sentence you to be a symbol. I sentence you to show the frailty of man."

A pause in her accented English, and her head inclines just so, fixing Steve with a gaze meant to convey her dire purpose. Her momentary silence hangs in the air like bomb waiting to explode, and when she speaks again, here before photographers, politicians, and newly minted citizens, she appoints herself a judge, jury, and executioner.

"I sentence you to die."

Beams of energy lance out then, at the podium, at the stage, energy hotter than the sun focused in an unstoppable ire, one that will see destruction wrought upon her enemy.

As the attention switches from himself, Captain America looks toward the new arrival. Blue eyes narrow faintly, looking up toward the hostile alien. He waits for her to begin speaking. The venom seems to not draw much of a visual reaction from the Avenger. Understanding the sharp perception and reflexes of the foe in question, Steve doesn’t do anything until she’s done speaking.

One would think that he is accepting of the death before him.

Instead, the energy doesn’t find purchase, Steve having rolled out of the way to get his trademark shield and prepare himself. His free hand moves toward his pocket, not taking out any sort of weapon, but merely a SHIELD panic button. He doesn’t need to report on the situation or what he’s up against. Instead, he’ll trust Big Brother to point the gaze on him and figure it out how to handle this threat themselves. Besides, he’s got more important things on his mind: keeping these people (and himself) alive.

"Trust me, if SHIELD wanted the mutants dead, that would have already happened," Cap announces calmly as he calmly moves so that any attempted blasts of heat vision might not be accidently sent toward someone with much poorer agility than the Super Soldier…. It seems that Cap is unaware that one of the organization’s finest is watching him. "As for allying with Trask, he may work for some people within America, he doesn’t speak for me."

Calmly, the superhero slides into a fighting stance, his shield front and center. "And if you want me to die? You’re welcome to try."

"Oh man. This is bad."

SHIELD's finest is watching, but he's devoid of lots of things that could help. Like weapons. Or hands. People are running, that's good, but at the moment he's helpless. What is he going to do? Throw a folding chair at her? He could, but it probably won't do much good.

He still thinks of himself as a being that has to run, so he does, right to Cap's side.

"Okay," he says, unheard. "Good, panic button is good. Who is this woman? What do we know about her? I'm um. I'm going to borrow your phone a sec, alright? It's not like you're going to play Candy Crush right now right?"

He has figured out he can leap inside of electronics. He can't really hack them, or program them, but he can look at files, and if Cap's phone is linked to SHIELD he can at least get the downlow on this attacker. That might suggest other helpful courses of action.

He's completely unaware that this action makes a fanboyish 'Go Cap Go!' call his phone from number 444. Subconscious fanboying is a bitch.

The heat vision hits the shield and rebounds harmlessly to the ground, Steve's expert motion maybe frying a few empty chairs, but nothing more. It is a short lived assault, and Faora narrows her eyes on the offensive implement of protection. Fingers slowly curl at her side at his challenge, and she resolves to make Steve Rogers feel regret before the end.

Vibranium is known to be completely kinetically neutral, able to absorb any such energy to it's immense structural limit. Faora means to test that limit as she becomes a blur that stops short of the Star Spangled Man, her hand curled to an armored fist that will find his raised shield with enough force to be registered in megatons.

A flash of light on impact, and the rush of a powerful shockwave shatters windows for miles, flips cars and powers people from their feet, a resounding, dull echo wavering in the wake of that vicious assault, one that tilts Faora's head to the side in pure amazement at the intact shield, and the man holding it.

Still, the after effects are devastating. The grass has been torn from the ground. Glass covers people for blocks. The stage is utterly destroyed and while it does not appear anyone in the immediate vicinity perished, one can only imagine what cost this battle will bring.

Still, Big Brother assuredly has a fix on them now.

"I am not only going to kill you. I am going to make everyone in your beloved nation watch. I am going to make them understand that the best of them is no match for those who would seize this world and bring it true order. It is the time of the Children of the New Dawn. Yours is over."

There is little surprise at the result as Cap can deflect the blow with little effort. Faith in his shield is legendary, only a few select times in his personal knowledge where the Red, White, and Blue was not able to withstand an assault. Most of those times involved beings much stronger than the one he faces now. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Faora doesn’t have the power to make good on her threat. On the contrary, if not for the shield and Cap’s experience, this fight would likely be as short and one-sided as this woman clams it will be.

"For someone who wants to defend the mutants from the horrors of genocide, you sure seem keen on the idea," the WWII vet replies, unaware that Coulson is messing with his phone. That is, until he actually hears Coulson’s voice. In confusion, the American hero turns his head. Plans for battle are momentarily put to the wayside.

"What?" Rogers offers in confusion, clearly not having been brief on ghosty agents being on the roster.

Phil thankfully misses the carnage. He is frantically flipping through files. He's using old authorization codes, which means that he sometimes finds himself locked out. But he issued a lot of the agent's still-current authorization codes, those on his team, so he is rapid-fire flipping through many of those, winding through the network. He can't hear the outside world from in here.

It's a mad rush of data, and he experiences it as if he is just floating there in his suit, using the world's most irritating holotable. At least this one turns on, but holotable above and below and behind and to the side is still really flipping irritating. He shoves files aside when they're not relevant, burrows through the network.

His unconscious self continues to broadcast to the phone. That is what is paying attention.

Which is why number 444 sends: "Holy crap, Cap, don't get distracted now!"

The next sound is far less cacophonous, but no less ominous, a gauntlet-covered hand slapping down along the top edge of the shield the moment Steve turns his head. Faora pulls it, down and away, a slow peel that will show him how much stronger she is than even those who might call themselves Gods. That slow tilt of her head brings a saccharine smile, and with it a response to his accusation.

"You misunderstand us. We do not wish to see humanity burn. You accomplish this on your own quite well enough. No, we mean to rule you. We mean to help you know your place, so that one day you might join us in the sun. I offer only the genocide of hope, for while humanity still clings to the foolish belief that they are in control, I will see them corrected… one hero at a time."

Grey and black blur again, and she strikes with every intent to catch him in his body. It will not matter where, for she strikes hard enough to kill any human being. The only question that remains is how much more than human is the man known to the world as Captain America?

The only question is, will Phil Coulson have doomed his idol to share his fate?

"Tony, this is poor form, even for you."

Clearly thinking this is yet another one of those ‘Stark messes with Steve’s VERY HIGH-TECH flip phone’, Steve finds that his disappointment is soon paired with pain. The defensive trademark weapon is striped away to allow a powerful blow to center mass which causes Steve to fly back about ten feet or so before skidding on the ground another two feet. Still, as expected, the hero rises once more, though with a few cracked ribs a little more slowly than usual.

"I’ve heard talk like that before, but I’m still not impressed!" Cap replies simply. With the ringing of the shield still echoing through his arm from the previous powerful blow, Steve tries to bring it to bear in a powerful swing meant to bring up the woman’s guard toward her face with the intention of letting it hit the fortress of forearms. Should this work, he’ll then focus a powerful stomp right for the side of her knee, trying to cripple her stance just enough to get in a good blow with the shield. That’s the plan anyway, but sometimes things don’t exactly the way Steve wanted.

"Come on, come on, come on," Phil mutters. He finally yanks up his XO's files. "I'm banking on you, Sharon," he mutters, focusing on those exclusively. That means he can stop worrying about the hurdles of picking his way through various agent logins. But of course, she changed access codes.

"Come on!" he shouts in frustration. He bangs his fists on nothing at all, even though the holographic 'screen' feels solid under his hand. And then he takes a deep breath and grabs another file. Nakano Rin has decryption keys that work pretty fast. He suspects she's made them for the internal servers too. He grabs it and shoves it into Sharon's files. "Come on," he says again, as if these are the only words that he knows in all the English language anymore.

He can see it starting to work. That's a good thing.

Thankfully, the admonishment to Tony Stark seems to have at least produced a respectful moment of silence out of the phone. Proof that it really is All His Fault.

Stories are one thing. None are left alive from her world to cast false images of her accomplishments, but Steve Rogers? It was always possible. Especially with human beings, so prone to speaking grandly of those who do not deserve it. As Captain America rises, the forward stroll of the Last Scion of House Ul slows. The small tells cast aside any doubt she might have had that this man is anything less than his legend. It steels her mouth into a line that will show less a taunting a monster and more a warrior who's respect Steve has earned.

But it will not matter.

In his charge to take the fight to her, she is nothing short of astonished, the blow towards her head caught not on her arms, but on her face, a resounding crash of vibranium against skin that may well be made of tougher stuff. Her head tilts ever so slightly to the side, and as that foot slams to the inside of her leg, Steve Rogers will know the measure of Kryptonian muscle. Her hand lifts, even as the shield swings in for another blow, catching it at it's edge to hold firmly, and it will allow them eye contact, if but for a brief moment.

"You are everything they have told me you are."

Then she places her foot against those broken ribs of his and pushes, meaning to steal his iconic shield. If she is successful, Steve will know how it feels to lose more ribs to her onslaught, to feel vibranium crack against his arms and legs, for she will begin the process of beating him to death with his very own weapon.

The shield is caught in the powerful grip of the extreme extraterrestrial. The foot is placed firmly on Rogers’ chest, pushing and causing cracked ribs to continue to break. He hates when the shield is used against him. But when it’s your greatest asset, it’s logical for enemies to seek to steal it from you. With a grunt of frustration and pain, the treasured item is taken away. However, oddly enough he stands his ground even as the first and second blows tear into him. Understanding that his chest is not exactly the best place to be hit right now, the tactical warrior brings his forearms up, using the armored exterior of them to defend as best they can from the attacks, the strength of each strike causing him to stagger slightly. Finally, when he looks fatigued, there is there moment where the final strike seems likely. But that is when he tries to catch the shield himself, using both hands to keep it from hitting a third time.

"It’s not what I am, it’s what I need to be."

While his enhanced power is no match for the Kyptonian strength, he does try and combat it as best he can, offering a simple mutter to himself in a mirror of Phil's louder frustration. "Come on."

Steve knows the score. Just hold out. SHIELD with an ace in the hold, a fellow Avenger, even a random superhero with the ability to make a difference… Rogers isn’t picky at this point.

There. "Thank you, Rin," Phil mutters, finding what he needs in the files of his former XO as Rin's keycode makes it all unfold before him. He reads quickly, gaining a crash course on Kryptonians. His features screw up into concern. He can't exactly summon kryptonite here. And this weakness against magic, how can he exploit that? Short of racing to find Miss Manifest Destiny…

"Ghosts have gotta be close enough, right?"

He darts out of the phone, only to realize that Captain America is in dire, dire straits. Not only that, this woman is touching the sacred shield.

No time left to second-guess. "Just like Uber," he mutters.

And so it is that Steve will have a really weird experience.

In the vast landscape of his own mind, there is suddenly one Phil Coulson. Looking pale, and, because he's hardly concentrating on his own appearance, gruesome. The fact that his ripped up heart now eternally pumps his lifesblood into his crisp white shirt through one of two stab wounds that sits there is testament to the fact that yes, he really is dead. He's just. Not done helping, apparently. "Give me two seconds and I'll give you back the wheel," he tells his hero, his icon, his idol. "It's a long shot, but it just might work."

He focuses on charging Captain America's fists up with his own otherworldly, ectoplasmic energy. It's a desperation move. He's got no idea if it will work. But the Man with the Star Spangled Plan's fists take on a greenish-white glow. His gloves start to drip with ectoplasm. Ghosts are gross, there's no getting around the fact that ghosts are gross.

Phil makes sure he can maintain the connection, then sort of…shoves Cap back into the driver's seat of his own head. "Go get 'em, tiger," he says. He takes up shotgun again, because he can't continue to gift Steve with this power, he's sure, from outside him. And if it's clear he's feeding pieces of himself into the effort, making his own situation more dire than ever before, undoing all of Emma Frost's careful work to preserve him, he can think of no greater honor than to die (again) for the sake of Steve Rogers himself.

Here's your ace in the hold, Steve. Use it well.




Rib after rib.

Pain is one thing, but there is only so much anyone can take, and after Steve takes hold of the shield to stop her, Faora steps closer, pushing him to his knees and grabbing hold of the back of his head to shove his shield against his throat. At some point pressure goes beyond pain.

At some point, a person realizes they're going to die.

But it occurs to Faora that any other man, even a man enhanced, should have fallen before now. For all the holding back to make sure the people watching from afar got to see their hero suffer and fail, this has taken longer than she would have liked. So she repays him with a slow crush of his throat, unerring. Unstoppable, right up until his form lights in a sudden, unexpected glow.

It does not stop her forward motion or crushing grip, but her forward motion stops anyway. Try as she might, that grip of his covered in lambent flame of ectoplasm can hold her strength at bay. Her eyes go just a little wide, and frustration brims behind the warrior's gaze.


A fist curls and draws back, intent on giving him more than just a push or a shove with his shield, and while he has hold of it, and so does she, she'll use it to line up a punch at his perfect face and his perfect teeth, unaware how far things have changed, and that Faora is now in an unusual position: Equal footing.

And there in the mind’s eye Coulson will see Cap there in all his grand glory… Just blinking with a dumbfound express. "Huh?"

The blow to his face meets with a solid crack. Most people in Steve’s position would be down at this point. From time to time, perhaps even Steve himself would be decked by such a power. But for now, he pushes himself forward, knowing that for the time being, it’s just him (and Phil). Time to make it count.

Despite Steve Rogers’ seemingly constant state of bewilderment when confronted with the unknown, he adapts quickly and in the passenger seat of Steve’s mind, he will see the almost mechanical nature of Steve’s style, a harsh contrast to his personable demeanor. The woman in front of him becomes less of a foe and more like a problem, something to study and take apart with the right moves and methodology. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to mind the shield and even moves to discard it or let Faora have it for the time being. "Thank you," he offers allowed to Phil, even blood pours from his busted lip.

Steve will start with a light punch, meant to test the woman’s guard and perhaps even shake her even more to let her know it’s not a fluke. If Phil feels like this will be the ace in the hole, then the blow might find more purchase than it would normally and cause her to be on the defensive. The problem solving begins at full swing.

A swift jab moves to pierce the defenses and clip the nose, opening the door in theory to a series of four blows in rapid succession to the collar bone and the sternum, which concludes with a powerful gut.

The brief pause allows for Steve to push off the woman, sliding into ready fighting stance again. She’ll be likely to come, perhaps with a powerful punch or a kick. The answer is still the same as Steve understands Coulson’s assistance comes is directed in the fists. An open palm greets any attack, redirecting in a way that seems effortless, but given the power of the woman is still anything but.

Still, if the attack is deflected or it never comes, Steve will go right back into the fray. A targeted attack for the shoulder, aiming to dislocate, followed by a throat punch and lowering of his entire body to give an uppercut that takes him off his feet. Once he lands, he knows it’s weakened her enough for the finishing touch.

With understated grace, Steve leaps back, the balls of his feet landing on the edge of the bench honoring the Howling Commandos. He’s crouched and leaning forward like a coiled spring, a snake ready to strike as if a ‘Don’t Tread on me’ flag. Mirroring the iconic motion of her nemesis, Steve leaps forward with both fists aiming to clock her right in the face. Hit or miss, he will then break into a roll which brings him right next to shield, which he brings to bear by stomping on the edge. Snapping it from the air, Steve turns his head toward Faora to see the still bleeding form of Captain America.

"This misguided battle to help mutants is over. Surrender now and we can find a better way to help them than with unnecessary violence."

Phil Coulson hears Captain America's thanks, but he doesn't answer, not wanting to distract either one of them. And really, let's face it, if he answered it would all just be incredible awkwardness about how he's always happy to get inside of Steve. And that would just derail the whole thing, would kill the majesty of this epic moment, and truly, we wouldn't want to do that.

So. As well all his attention is focused on this weird thing he is doing, but he's aware of the battle, and he's rather in awe of it. Seeing it from the inside of Captain America's mind is a whole new level of getting to see his style. It's humbling, too. Phil certainly has had hand-to-hand training, with a heavy focus on aikido as his style of choice. But he will never match either this level of calm, cool problem solving or the sheer grace and fury with which Steve Rogers brings that mindset to bear.

He is tired by the time Steve Rogers demands Faora's surrender, but he dares not let up. The otherworldly glow continues to coat Steve's fists. And will until he's sure Captain America is safe, or until he runs out of strength, whatever comes first. He is all grim stubbornness.

That testing punch comes in, and what would Faora do? She would do nothing, of course. Even the most powerful beings on this planet struggle to harm her, and taking it to the jaw is often as jarring to them as it might be to her. But this time, it hurts. It staggers her, and the jab to her nose sends her off kilter in her defense, behind now in the blur of green fire on those freedom-hurling fists.

Collarbone, sternum, and that punch to her gut draw a cry from her. That pause Steve gives in anticipation of a counter attack gives her time to reassess, and then she rejoins the battle with Kryptonian martial arts that mix with Steve's brutal combinations in a way that looks like a beautiful dance in slow motion.

The jab to her shoulder draws a fire at the joint, and her other hand to cradle it. The strike for her throat catches jaw instead, but is no less destructive, whipping her head to the side, the rebound caught by an upper cut that sends her reeling and back into a nearby news van.

It tilts backward, then forward again, delivering Faora to the brutal, two-fisted blow that drives her to the a rolling tumble on the ground, one that she stops with fingers digging into dirt, and blood clearly dripping from her mouth.

Her armor is broken in several places, showing the black of her bodysuit beneath, and her step is a stagger, every ounce of her willpower required to keep her conscious. Her eyes show the surprise of an opponent beaten, and though she knows not how, she knows by the sound of SHIELD gunships in the distance and the glowing aura of power around this man that his resolve will not break, and that she is in dire straits.

So she plays her last gambit.

Her hand uncurls, and a small metal ball rolls between them. For someone who might be inclined to jump on a grenade, it may evoke alarm. And it does explode, in a way. Light springs forth, showing a hologram most detailed. Faora slowly finds her feet, rising to look at Steve through the Helix design between them, and what is clearly a virus at work. A genophage, turning off the X-Gene. Not to destroy mutant powers, but something far more insidious: It will make sure this person cannot pass on the X-Gene. It will wipe out mutantkind in just a few short generations.

At the bottom, to the right, is a SHIELD logo and an index number.

"I can see it in your eyes. You don't even know you have allied yourself with the enemy. Now you know why our violence is most necessary."

Railguns fire, and at the same moment, Faora powers into the sky. The ground rips with the force of the gunships, but she is already gone, off to lick her wounds and reassess the might of the man who would stand as humanity's champion.

The Brotherhood has much to discuss.

Cap merely remains at the ready, not really offering a word to Coulson, hoping that this is the end. However, the woman makes her way into the sky, but he knew it was better not to press the advantage. With all her powers to bear and the innocents here, it's far safer to take the fight to her another day.

With the hologram displayed, Rogers takes a slow seat as his keen mind goes to work.

"You're a ghost, like in that movie with the Marshmallow Man," he points out. Then he looks toward the hologram as he IDs it. "That's a DJA strand, the genetic code within us all."

He was close with that second one. He was really close.

"No. SHIELD couldn't possibly," Coulson says, in horror.

He remains in Cap's body for a second longer than he has to, staring at it. He falls right out of Captain America after that. The ectoplasm thing ends, so does the green glow. He's tired, so tired. He fizzles in and out of existence, trying to make himself seen, heard. "Cap…y…have…op…is…"

And then the tug on his tether. Snapping him back to that endless field of stars. The horrifying DNA strands are forgotten, though the anger isn't. The horror isn't. It is a mixed blessing. A reason to fight his way back to life, but the final kick in the teeth, too, vis a vis his faith in SHIELD. His life's mission, his only family.

But there are the stars. Endless and neverending and painful.

Dazed, minutes, hours, an eternity later, in a way that demonstrates just how severe his deterioration still is, Phil murmurs, apropos of nothing…

"So that's what it's like to have hair."

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