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Slowed Down
1.

Cutbacks. I hate that word. Even the sound of it sounds bad. Cutbacks. I was in the Chief's office on a Saturday morning, bright and early, which was a feat for me. He had been droning on and on about something but I had stopped listening when he'd dropped the word. Cutbacks in every department, he had said. Seemed KAOS was drying up fast, which meant we were too. The prospect of losing my job only made my mood worse, and when the Chief told me of the government's plan to slash our budget I felt about ready to strangle somebody. Who do they think they are? There are other evil organizations in this world we could tackle. What about the mob? Or the drug dealers? Or gangs? Or Lawrence Welk? Deep down I think Chief agreed with me, but of course he couldn't say it. Instead, he went on and on about cutbacks. We weren't getting half of what we used to for research and development, it was like the weapons department didn't even exist, and we had to lay off three fourths of our agents. Luckily, early on I knew I wouldn't be one. My wife and partner wouldn't be one either. The only good thing I'd heard so far was that the younger, more annoying agents would be laid off first, since they would find it easier to get a job than people like me and 99. Most of them would transfer over to the CIA was my guess. That department was about ready to swallow us whole anyway.

“Max? Are you paying attention?” the Chief snapped at me.

“Oh, sure, I'm here!” I said, trying to sound alert.

“I know you're here. Are you listening?”

“Sure, every word!” He could be such a grouch in the morning! How could a fella be blamed for getting lost in his thoughts? The Chief took it like a personal insult that I wasn't listening to him.

“Then maybe you can repeat back what I just say.” Geez. Sway your attention from the guy for two minutes-ten, at the most-and get burned for it.

“Well…um, you were talking about cutbacks, how every department is losing funding.”

“Yes Max, ten minutes ago!” the Chief sighed. “Max, we haven't got much time. I don't know how much longer CONTROL will be in operation. But this could be the break we're looking for. Now, KAOS isn't very powerful right now, so it would be the ideal time to swoop in and capture Big Len, their leader. If we can show the government that we're still useful, we may be able to hang on a while longer, possibly even find another cause to fight for.”

“Chief, the only causes I will ever fight for is truth and honor!”

“I didn't mean it like that. I meant another organization like KAOS.”

“But we don't want more terrorists on our hands!”

“Yes, but we also don't want unemployment on our hands.” Chief said. He had a point. “I'm not saying I want another evil organization. I'm just saying if one popped up suddenly we would have an excuse to be around.”

“I see. So what is it you want me to do?”

“I want you to go and capture Big Len. We'll put him behind bars. Even if it doesn't prove to the government we deserve to keep operating, at least we'll know KAOS is completely gone, and we've done our job.”

Wait a minute. Hold everything. Me, capture Big Len? Did the Chief even know who he was talking about? This guy killed CONTROL agents like flies. He'd just kill them on the street, when they weren't even doing anything. He did it for fun. And he was a terribly good shot. He was so enigmatic, so dangerous he never even came out. He was a recluse, but when he did come out one of my buddies usually paid for it with their lives. He had directly killed no less than sixty two CONTROL agents in less than four years. Not much scared me, but Big Len did.

“Chief, it's not as simple as that. Remember how many of our men he's killed?”

“Yes Max, I know. It's a terrible tragedy how many men we've lost to him.”

“He doesn't even usually come out unless provoked. I mean, if KAOS is already dissolving, why not just let it die out? Why go risking our necks for something that doesn't even really need to be done?”

“It needs to be done. Not only for the sake of putting a murderer behind bars, but it could be the case that jump-starts CONTROL again. Just think Max-you have an opportunity to save CONTROL!” Chief cried dramatically.

I didn't care about opportunity. I wanted to live to see retirement. “Chief, I might have taken this up when I was younger. But now, I've got a family and-“

“I know Max, I understand that. But you've always risked it before. Why aren't you as eager now?”

“Chief, right now CONTROL's score with Big Len is 0-62. I don't know about you, but I don't like those odds.” I protested, crossing my arms in front of myself.

“Max, please! For me! This could just stop KAOS dead in it's tracks. That would be the end of it. Wouldn't it be nice to see it all end?”

“It would also be nice to watch my kids grow up.”

“You're an experienced agent, Max. You can do this, I know it.”

“Chief, you know I have never turned down a case, but this time I have to. I'm not going to do it.”

“You'll lose your job if you don't.”

“I'm going to do it!” I declared suddenly. It was crazy to think I could outwit someone like Big Len. Sure, I was cunning, and clever, and intelligent, not to mention downright handsome, but even he might be too much for me. Then again, if I could catch him, it would be the biggest triumph in my career. I could boast that I had single handedly destroyed KAOS. I could feel my ego starting to take over, and that did it. “I'll do it, Chief. I will capture Big Len.”

The Chief shot up out of his chair and shook my hand vigorously. “Good for you! I knew you would agree! If there's one man on this earth who can capture Big Len, it's you, and I know you're going to do it!”

“Right! Just one thing. Do you think I should be buried in a red tie or a blue tie?”

“Max, don't be so pessimistic! Just go out there and get him!”

I didn't really have a say in the matter anyway, did I? It had been decided before I even walked in the room. I nodded. “Ok, bye Chief,” I said, leaving his office for what very well might be the last time. I had to go home first-I had forgotten a few things, plus I had to say goodbye to 99 and the kids without them knowing it. If they knew what I was about to undertake they'd kill me faster than Big Len would.

2.

I realized I'd never really felt this way about a case before. I mean, fear above all other thoughts in my mind. It was a very real possibility I wouldn't be coming back, and that scared me more than anything.

“Hi Dad!” my son Avery called as soon as I was in the door. “How come you're home so early?”

“Oh, well…I just came home to…to get my gun, and then I have to leave,” I lied.

“Um, Dad? You don't keep your gun here, remember?”

“That's right! Then I must have come home for…for…my case file! That's probably it,” I said quickly, already making my way to the desk.

“Max! What are you doing home? I thought you were working today!” my beautiful wife said, coming up behind me. She kissed me on the cheek and smiled.

“I…uh, I just came home to get something, then I'm going back,” I stuttered.

“Ok. Do you want some lunch first?” she asked. The thought of my “last meal” didn't sound too appealing.

“No thanks, dear, I really have to be going. But…but while you're here, I just wanted to tell you, you know, I love you and everything.”

“Aw, that's so sweet. Is anything wrong?”

“Huh? No! Nothing at all, a perfectly normal day. No wild, dangerous case for me! Nope! Not when I've got a family to take care of!”

She nodded slowly. “Um, right. Max, are you sure there's nothing you want to talk about?”

“No, as a matter of fact I'd rather not,” I answered truthfully. I knew I couldn't tell her what I was up to, she'd only want to come along. Plus, what would happen to Avery and Carry if we were both killed? Wait a minute, I didn't want to think about that. I wanted to think about my wife, and how lovely she looked, just standing there with regular clothes on, with her hands wet from washing the dishes. We'd been together for so long, been through so much together.

And my kids! To think I'd never see them again, to think they'd have to grow up without me… I didn't want to do this, every sensible part of me was screaming to just drop the case, but deep down I knew this is what I had to do. I had to put a stop to KAOS, once and for all. 99 would understand…after she got over the part of me being dead, she would understand why I had to do it. Hopefully one day my children would too.

“Where's Carry?” I asked suddenly.

“As far as I know, she's up in her room. Why?”

“Oh, nothing. I'm just going to go see her real quick.” I darted up the steps to her room. Carry and I had never been very close. She had always been sort of a mystery to me, and I to her. Now I regretted not doing something about that. I knocked quietly on her door-she hated it when you barged in-and there was no answer. I opened the door a crack and found her face down on the bed listening to music on her headphones. As soon as I sat down on the bed, she jumped and threw her headphones across the room.

“Gawd Dad! You scared me!” she screeched.

“I just came up to say hi.”

She looked at me blandly. “Well, hi,” she muttered. We sat there a moment, not sure of what to say. “Dad, what?!” she screamed finally.

“Carry, you and I don't know each other very well, and-“

“Dad, can't you see I'm busy?” Carry said, motioning to a pile of fashion magazines yet to swooned over.

“Ok ok! I'm leaving!”

“Gawd Dad! You act like I'm never going to see you again or something!”

I sighed. “Ok, I'm going. Bye.”

“Bye!” she screamed, putting her headphones back on. Geez! If she had known this might possibly be the last time she'd see me alive maybe she'd be a tad more gentile. I walked out of the room and went back down the steps.

“Well that's it! I've said goodbye to everyone!” I said somewhat sadly to 99, already beginning to walk out the door. She grabbed my arm gently.

“Max, something is wrong. I can feel it. Why won't you tell me?” she pleaded softly. Still, I couldn't bring myself to tell her. Not even when she was giving me that look.

“Nothing is wrong! I have to go now,” I said, trying to sound brave. Actually, more than anything on earth I wanted to hug 99 and tell her I did want lunch, and that we should just leave today and go on vacation to somewhere beautiful. Instead, I left.

3.

I had literally never been so scared as when I pulled up in front of the KAOS headquarters. It was spooky seeing no one around. Usually there were a few guards, or at least a few people reading newspapers, but there was no one this time. I looked up at the steep warehouse-like building and gulped. No one would be able to hear me scream.

I couldn't feel anything as I went inside. It was self protection of course, my mind was trying as hard as it could to distance itself from this situation. I didn't know where to start-I didn't even know if Big Len was in here. He could be hiding out in some other country.

“Mr. Smart! I have waited so long!” I heard a voice boom behind me. Shoot. He was here. Even though I had never seen Big Len, or heard Big Len, I automatically knew it was Big Len. I turned to face him. He was about seven feet tall and seemed at least that wide. His voice was deep and deafeningly loud, and his eyes seemed to pierce into me. “Always they send me little puny agents who pose no threat to me, who are no challenge to me! And always I say, where is Maxwell Smart? Why is he not man enough to come to face me?” He smiled cruelly. “But I see now that you have come at last. And I am glad.”

“What's it gonna be, Big Len? Are you going to try to shoot me? Torture me?”

“Oh, I don't know. Why don't you choose?”

“I really shouldn't.”

“You're the guest.”

“But you're the host. Go on, I'm not picky.”

He laughed. “Very well!” He aimed a handgun at me. “Say goodbye, Mr. Smart!”

I ducked behind some barrels just as the first shot fired. He sighed, muttered a few obscenities, and made his way towards me. “You're only angering me, Mr. Smart. Why not let me kill you and get it over with?”

“Because, too many of my friends have gone that way and I don't want to!” I said, popping up with a gun of my own. We were face to face, each with guns pointed at each other.

“You're too chicken, Mr. Smart. You deem it unkind to shoot me simply because I'm standing in front of you. Would you like me to go first, so that you have an excuse?”

“You're not getting to me, Len. Just keep talking.”

“I wasn't trying to get to you. Do you honestly think I care about your worthless life? Does the fact that the government is shutting down CONTROL tell you anything about your lifetime achievements? I don't see other job offers popping up for you, now do I? You may not know it, but I do follow CONTROL's operations. I have to. Otherwise I wouldn't be responsible for KAOS' best years!”

I snorted. “Best years? Then why are you shutting down?”

“Shutting down? Who said we were shutting down? Maybe we are merely preparing,” he whispered dangerously.

“Preparing for what?” I shot back instantly.

“Tell me what you think of this scenario, Mr. Smart. CONTROL shuts down due to KAOS' lack of activity. With no oppostion, KAOS immediately springs forth its greatest plan of action ever. Yes, Mr. Smart, we want you to think we are dying down. Once you're out of the way, the world is ours! Can the CIA stop us? No, of course not. It took years for your organization to learn all of our tricks and our codes, and the same will be true for the CIA. Only this time we would have had years of experience on our side. We would be ready! Mr. Smart, this is merely the dawning of a new age!”

Inwardly, I gasped. I knew it! KAOS wouldn't just disappear! It wouldn't be like them! So they were plotting something! Just waiting, biding their time until the government shuts us down! Sure, the cold war was over, but that doesn't mean there still isn't power to be won in the world! And to think I was told I could just mosey on in here and get the big man because KAOS was non existent! Suddenly I wanted to go home very, very badly.

“Well, ah…I will be leaving you, I guess, let you get back to work.”

“Not so fast, Mr. Smart! Do you really think I would have told you all that if I was going to let you out of here alive?”

“Well, I suppose if you were a nice guy, and-“

“Silence! I will now pound the last nail in CONTROL's coffin! Say your prayers, Mr. Smart!”

I don't know who shot first, but we were both hit in the stomach. All the air was sucked out of me as soon as that bullet entered me. I managed a loud groan before I collapsed on the floor. Colors swirled in my head, making it hard to distinguish reality from fantasy. I struggled to get back up, but there was no energy left in me. Through blurred vision I saw Big Len coming at me with a thick metal pipe he had grabbed from the side of the room. Blood covered his shirt and his face looked enraged. He held the pipe up over his head, and I braced myself as best I could. I couldn't even move my arms, or maybe they just hadn't gotten there yet, but a millisecond later he smashed the metal pipe right across my face. WOW that hurt! My head snapped sideways and my vision immediately went red, and I felt like I was completely out of control of my body. I just went lax and half unconscious. I tried to move but everything went so slow…I couldn't react fast enough.

He brought the pipe up over his head, ready to strike again. With horror I realized I couldn't survive another blow. I was going to die, right here, on this cold asphalt in this terrible little warehouse and lose to a man who held the secret that we at CONTROL had been longing to hear. It would die along with me. CONTROL would shut down and KAOS would rule the world in a matter of months. CONTROL probably wouldn't even find my body. KAOS would probably dispose of it in some way, throw it into a river or burn it. Or they'd mail it back to CONTROL, with blood still covering me and my expression holding one of pain and shock. Even if they did find me, I'd be lying here covered in blood, a gruesome end to an illustrious career. Still, I regretted nothing-I really didn't have time to.

I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for imminent death. Suddenly, I heard two gunshots and Big Len's scream. I forced open my eyes just in time to see him toppling over sideways, already dead. If I could have sat up and seen who had just saved me, I would have. Instead I waited for them to come to me, hoping they were on my side.

“Max!” I heard 99 scream. I managed to make some sort of a sound, sort of a moan or something, just so she'd know I was still somewhat alive.

“Ni-nin-nin…” I stuttered, unable to even get her name out. Her face scrunched up like she was going to cry. She instantaneously looked away when she caught a glimpse of my face. She grabbed a towel from a box nearby and threw it over my face. It must have been pretty bad.

“Max, are you going to be ok?” she asked breathlessly.

I didn't know what to say. It's not like I could give her a thumbs up sign, or even say, `Sure, I feel great!' I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone say anything. I just lay there, looking up into my wife's eyes, and wishing I would live to see another day with her.

I guess she took my silence to mean no, and immediately started to cry. I fumbled until I found her hand and held steadfastly onto it, trying in some way to make her feel better. “Help will be here in a minute, Max. Hold on. Please, don't lose consciousness, just stay right here with me.”

I was trying desperately to hang on to reality, to stay awake, but I was so so tired. I wanted to go to sleep. My head didn't hurt anymore, and neither did my stomach. I felt light as a feather, like I could do anything if only I went to sleep. I could get away from pain and hurt, I could leave and all I had to do was sleep. I closed my eyes. 99 squeezed my hand, but I barely felt it.

“Max, don't you dare lose consciousness! You'll die if you, don't you see?” she screamed, through floods of new tears. I know but I'm so tired, I thought as I drifted off into my dreams.

4.

It was still hazy. I could only see gray. I could hear someone muttering something, but I couldn't make out all of it.

“…severe skull fractures…almost completely ruined stomach…done all we can do…have to wait and see…” I must have been in the hospital because that was unmistakably a doctor's voice. I struggled to stay awake, but lost to the heavy drugs a moment later.

What seemed like thirty seconds later I started hearing things again. The pain was a little less severe this time, but nevertheless I was grateful for the painkillers. I heard the same doctor droning on and on again.

“His stomach is healed. Well, as healed as it's going to get. The bullet entered at such an angle that it completely tore away most of the stomach lining and some small intestine. We managed to stitch some of it back together, but his complete digestive tract is going to be in very delicate condition for a while. If we hadn't operated on him when we did he would have died.”

“Well, that's a relief.” That was 99! I recognized her voice! She was here, she was still with me! I must be alive!

“But of course, the thing that we're most worried about is his brain and skull. If it had only been his stomach he would have been out of here two weeks ago. As you know, he's been in a sort of…comatose state for the last four weeks.”

“The nurse said it wasn't a coma. She said he was just resting,” 99 whispered bravely.

“Um, well, ok, resting. Anyway, the blow to his head hit him-as you can see in these x-rays-right in the most sensitive area of the skull, that being right above his eye.”

“Is that why he has that patch on?”

“Yes, but we're not so much worried about the eye right now. We're more concerned with getting him to wake up. I'm…going to bring up a sensitive subject…are you up to it?”

“Of course! Whatever it is, we'll be ok together.”

“Well…it is a very definite possibility that he will have some brain damage.” The doctor paused after this, letting it sink in. I was even shocked myself, but then again you never think you're going to fall victim to that sort of thing. I felt 99 grab my hand.

“Go on.”

“Now, I'm not really talking dehabilitating. That is, he'll probably still have complete control over himself. That is something we should be really thankful for. If the blow had been to any other part of his head, that could have been a possibility.”

“Ok, and the rest?”

“Um…basically, I'm talking about…personality changes.” Oh man. The big word. “Now, there's really no way to know how it will affect him-“ I couldn't see it, or even hear it, but I knew that my 99 started crying right then. I had to force myself awake, I had to see her. Slowly, slowly, and what seemed to take an eternity, I opened my eyes. The lights in the room were blinding, and my head throbbed. My stomach felt like it had been ripped out and put back in again. It was inhumane pain, but I had to see my wife.

I couldn't move my head. All I could see was the ceiling and the lights. I couldn't say anything either, but 99 noticed I was awake almost immediately.

“Max! You're awake!” she cried. “You've been unconsciousness for over four weeks! Oh baby, we've been so worried!” she cooed, giving me a kiss. I could only stare at her, I couldn't say anything or even move. “Can you say something?”

I tried to open my mouth, but that didn't work. I just kept looking at her blankly. Her face fell after a moment of anticipation.

“I told you, he's going to have some brain damage. That metal pipe nearly destroyed one part of his brain, and it might never heal! You'll have to get used to the fact that your husband won't be the same man he once was,” the doctor said. “You should just be glad he's alive.”

“I am. And if he's not the same man, so be it. We'll be ok,” 99 whispered, never breaking our gaze.

Someone walked in the room. I could hear them but I couldn't turn to see them. “Chief!” 99 cried, running out of my line of vision. “Thank god you're here…”

So the Chief had come to see me. The man who had nearly sentenced me to death. “Is he any better?” I heard him ask softly.

“He's awake, but I don't think he can see us,” she answered back. The Chief stepped into my line of view, and his face fell.

“He's not even there, is he?” he muttered sadly. 99 shrugged.

“Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't.”

“I'm here!” I stammered out. My voice sounded weak and different, but at least I had found it. 99 smiled broadly.

“Oh Max, you can talk!”

“Don't rush him,” the doctor warned.

“Bi-Big Le-Len,” I said.

“Oh! He wants to know what happened with Big Len, Chief!”

“Ah, he has his memory! Very good!” The Doc said, jotting it down in his notebook.

“He's dead, Max. 99 killed him.”

“Know. KAOS?” I knew she had killed him. What I wanted to know is if KAOS had made their move yet. The Chief smiled.

“It's dead too, Max,”

“No! No, Chief, not dead!” I said, barely above a hoarse whisper. Talking sure was tiring-I hoped I could spit out what I wanted to before I fell asleep again. “Len told me…'fore dead…KAOS…preparing!” I stuttered. I could not get out what I was trying to say! I meant Big Len had told me before he died they were preparing for something! Why couldn't I put that in words?

“Four dead? Who, Max?”

“No dead! Preparing!”

“Max, what are you talking about?” 99 asked, exasperated. “Who's dead?”

No dead!

“Then why'd you say `four dead'?”

I was completely out of breath and exhausted, and couldn't keep talking. I closed my eyes.

“What happened?” 99 cried in alarm.

“Talking at this stage is very tiring. I'm surprised he got out what he did,” the doctor explained.

“That's right, Max. Get some rest. We'll talk later.” I didn't sleep, but kept my eyes closed. It felt so good to rest.

“I hate seeing him like this, 99.”

“I know. Me too. But he's talking!”

“I hope it gets better than that. What did he mean by `four dead' anyway?”

“And `preparing'?”

“Many times the patient will be talking about things they have seen in their dreams. At this point, they cannot tell dreams from reality. Often times they will mistake their dreams for reality, and attempt to convince family and friends about them. That's probably what's happening in this case.”

“It must be. KAOS is gone. And now, so is CONTROL.”

“Please Chief, don't tell him that until he's way down the road to recovery. It would break his heart if you told him now.”

“I know. I won't.” He sighed. “I wish now I hadn't sent him in there. Or, at least not without backup. I was just so eager to tie up the loose ends I ignored the risks. He even told me he didn't want to do it…and I made him.”

“There's nothing we can do about it now. The best we can do is hope Max will turn out ok.”

“Yes. Well, three more days at CONTROL until it's shut down indefinitely. Hard to believe it finally happened.”

“It had to one day. I'm just sorry it had to happen like this,” 99 said, putting her hand on my forehead. The Chief must have left after that, but I didn't hear him go out. 99 stayed beside me for what seemed like years, just stroking my hair and staying silent. I was halfway between sleep and consciousness-it had to be the drugs they had me on. I wanted to tell my wife that I was ok in some way, but how? I couldn't even open my eyes, I was too weak! All the energy had just been sucked out of me. I felt like I was two hundred years old.

“Ma'am? Visiting hours are over,” I heard a nurse say.

“He's my husband. Can't I just stay here a little while longer?”

“I'm afraid not, ma'am. Not unless you're staying over night.”

99 sighed. “I can't. I have to get home to my children. When can I visit again?”

“Any time after 7 am.”

“Thank you.” Wait a minute! I didn't want 99 to leave! I'd be all alone in this hospital, in the dark and in pain! I had to, if only for a moment, open my eyes and tell her that she just could not leave me.

This time opening my eyes was much more difficult. I was screaming at myself to open my eyes but nothing was happening. Oh no. Was this part of the brain damage stuff? No, it could not be! Maxwell Smart would not spend the rest of his life fighting to do things that came instinctively to other people! I had to force my eyes open! Not only for 99 but for myself! With every last ounce of strength I had in me, I wrenched my eyes open and focused on her.

“Max!” she cried happily. Ok, this time I had to warn her about KAOS!

“99…not much time! Must…listen!”

“I'm listening, Max!”

“Reason…KAOS not doing anything…they…preparing for something…”

“Max, KAOS is gone. You dreamed that.”

“No! Must listen 99! Am not making up!”

“Max, Big Len is gone. Therefore, so is his organization.”

“No! They…preparing! Big Len told me…'fore died…”

“Who are these four you're talking about?”

“No! I mean…BEfore died! Told me…reason not doing anything…they preparing!” There! I did it! I told her! She looked shocked, but I got my message across!

“Max! You mean Big Len told you before he died that the reason KAOS has been dormant for so long is that they're preparing for something?”

“Yes!” I cried happily. “That it! Try…to get CONTROL…gone…so they prepare!”

“What?” 99 asked, completely bewildered again. My strength was fading and fading fast.

“Paper! Pen!” I ordered as a last resort. She handed me a pad of paper and a pen, but I found my grip was too weak to grasp the pen. In frustration, I shoved the pen in 99's hand and put it to the paper. I then carefully and painfully slowly traced out my message by directing her hand. It took forever, seeing as my eyes just wouldn't focus on the paper and I couldn't spell right. It came out,

    kaos are dormat so contrl wil die when we gone they tak ovr

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't grammatically correct, but it was there and 99 understood. “Max, do you realize what you've done? You've just saved CONTROL!” She kissed me euphorically and got up to leave. “I'll tell the Chief right away!”

Almost on cue, I fell asleep. She wasn't even out the door when I started to snore.

I dreamt good dreams that night. Dreams of 99 and me, doing the things we used to do. Just at home, just doing normal things. And I dreamt of our more successful and memorable cases together. The whole night, my thought was flooded with thoughts of her and our life together. The pain was gone while I slept.

I was going to be ok. It was going to take some time and I knew that, but I would be all right. I hadn't been defeated, I hadn't lost, I had just gotten slowed down a little that's all. There's nothing wrong with being slowed down. It has to happen every now and then, just to remind you that life isn't permanent and that what many people emphasize so much isn't important at all. It happens for a reason, and you won't necessarily know that reason until it actually happens. Like I said, there's nothing wrong with being slowed down. It has to happen sometimes.

THE END