Inside his dimly lit cabin on the U.S.S. Dark Horse, Lt. Dwayne Hunter silently wormed his way out of his flight suit. If it had been one of his other uniforms, it might have been a relief to get out of the sweat-stained, bulky outfit, but it just wasn't the same with this suit. Probably because he didn't ever sweat in the suit anymore. His body never had a chance - before it could react, he was either pumped full of chemicals or exposed to temperature controls. It all helped him fight the good fight, but lately Dwayne had started to feel irritable when he was without his second skin, and he knew that meant dependence. Dependence is a weakness, he thought to himself, frowning at the crumpled mass on the floor. In the cold light of a solitary machine-age lamp, the folds of insulated Teflon-toughness lost their organic qualities and revealed a glinting foundation of integrated circuitry. Plastic tubes coiled amid the network, their titanium jaws still dripping fluid. He looked down at the miniature ports screwed into his flesh and shivered.
"I might as well be a robot."
The statement seemed to echo off the steel walls of his cabin, and turned into a hollow monotone. Mechanical, and insulting. Dwayne abruptly busied himself with getting ready for bed, not wanting to continue the train of thought. Gotta get some shut-eye. Had a rough couple of days, what with fighting Pierre's mutant clones. I really wish I could've strangled that kid. Why can't he learn to leave Uncle's experiments alone?! Not that they're even really Donovan's. He just steals from people like the Doc...
At the thought of her, he absentmindedly smirked. She had been so upset after the fight, when she saw him limp out of the BGY-11. Not just upset, maybe even horrified. She kept asking him over and over if he was all right, pleading with him to just let her take a quick look. He had laughed it off, quipping some hurried line about playing doctor, which he regretted now. It probably made him look all the more like an insensitive jock. Yes... For a split second, her features had crumpled into what appeared to be utter misery, but then they smoothed themselves out as she adopted her "professional" mode. He hated that mode, where she referred to him as "Lieutenant Hunter" instead of Dwayne. In fact, for the last couple of weeks, she had been reverting this way every time he tried to give her a compliment. It was a stark contrast to before, when she would blush, or give coy smiles at his witty little comments, sometimes even returning his winks. Dwayne sighed, crawling into bed. Just when he thought he was getting somewhere with Slate, she always threw him a curveball. Didn't she get it? Wasn't it obvious how he doted on her every whim, hung on every word, how he stayed in her laboratory long after it was necessary?
His side ached where it had been crushed against Big Guy's assemblage of levers during a particularly bad blow to the 'bot. A quick peek under his army issue tank top showed no bruising, as of yet. It probably wasn't very serious. Maybe he shouldn't have tried to hide it, but what would she have been able to do for him anyhow? She had a PhD in robotics, not medicine. However, didn't her concern prove that she cared, at least a little bit? Maybe, just maybe, she was hiding her true feelings so that they wouldn't get hurt. After all, his line of work was so unpredictable that it seemed pointless to involve himself with anyone. Tomorrow, he could be dead. Dwayne fumbled underneath the sleek chrome casing of his bedside lamp and switched it off.
An hour later, he turned it back on and surrendered himself to yet another night of insomnia.
"Morning, Dwayne. What are you doing down here so early?" Jo's sleepy voice emanated from another part of the mess hall that wasn't in Dwayne's immediate field of vision. He turned around.
"I should be asking you the same question," he dryly remarked at her slumped figure. She was nursing a steaming cup of coffee and attempting, in vain, to control the mess of blond frizz atop her head with a flopping hand. Bleary-eyed, she gave him a once-over and started to say something else, but bit off her words at the last moment. An uncomfortable silence ensued. At length, he took a seat across from her and rested his chin on his hands. "Don't get the impression that I'm all gung-ho about the job. I've just... been up for a while, and...well, I had nothing better to do than get dressed."
Jo looked away, and then met his gaze again with a lopsided grin. With her bed head and her girlish freckles, she almost resembled a bleached Clara Bow. Dwayne was reminded that Jo could be very feminine, though she usually didn't come across that way. From the start she had proved that she could be one of the guys, handling her responsibilities just as well as, or even better than, the male crewmember she had replaced. It never bothered her when they all sat around and drank beers, talked about sports, and told obscene jokes. On the contrary, she joined in, and was quite adept at hurling insults when the need arose. Jo could also throw a mean punch, as was evident when she and Mack got into a nasty spat over the fact that he dared imply that fixing Big Guy wasn't "woman's work". And yet, she never let her tomboy traits get in the way of being female. Jo seemed just as natural wearing her grimy mechanic's uniform as when she was wearing what she had on now: flannel PJ's covered with adorable Japanese lucky cats. "You got that when you were stationed in Okinawa?" asked Dwayne, trying to cajole her into a conversation.
"Yeah. I don't wear the Neko ears it came with, though," she admitted. Another silence ensued. Dwayne racked his brains for anything, anything at all that could explain her behavior. For a while now, Jo had been acting withdrawn, almost unwilling to be in his presence. She used to play pranks on him almost every morning, playfully taunting him until he was forced to devise a way to get back at her. It acted as something of a catharsis for both of them, and helped ease the pressures they knew they'd eventually have to face later in the day.
It also used to help wake me up, back when I actually slept, Dwayne reflected grimly. He looked down at his crisp olive flight suit, with all its shiny buckles and buttons and piping, and suddenly felt foolish to be in full uniform. It wasn't necessary at this hour, but he had put it on anyhow. Not to relieve any kind of boredom, as he had implied, but because...
Dwayne looked up sharply. Jo averted her eyes, then got up from the table.
"I'm...gonna get a muffin," she mumbled, navigating over to the massive aluminum kitchen that dominated the other side of the mess hall. Her steps faltered and she looked back, visibly forcing out the words: "Do you...want...anything...?"
He gritted his teeth. She obviously knew what he was going to say.
"Not right now. I don't have much of an appetite," he stated dully. It was what he'd been repeating for weeks now, wasn't it? She wasn't stupid. She could see his addiction. He didn't need to eat when he was wearing the damn suit. The suit, the suit, the suit. He could feel her watching him when he wasn't looking. She knew. That's why she had been acting so strangely. She knew.
His metal chair made a ringing scrape as he pushed it backwards. Jo jumped, startled by the sound. Dwayne pretended not to notice. "I'm going for a jog," he declared. She shrugged an acknowledgement and busied herself with picking at her muffin. Nothing would have felt worse than having to deal with her pitiful way of ignoring him. It simply proved that everything he suspected was true.
The riveted deck clanged underneath his feet as Dwayne circumnavigated the ship's exterior. There were some mechanics getting an early start and various low-ranking members of the crew on cleanup duty, but other than that he was solitary. The dawn sky was overcast, but not terribly dark or foreboding. The glassy ocean reflected it, and both elements merged together at the horizon to form a sort of slate-colored neutrality.
He felt his pulse quicken at the mere thought of her, but then the suit compensated for it. In a moment, icy chemical compounds diffused in his system, evening out his blood pressure and regulating his breathing. He had been jogging now for almost fifteen minutes, but he didn't even feel tired.
Does she know?
Perhaps Jo had told her. Could that be why the Doc was giving him the cold shoulder? Who would want a relationship with a drug-addled man who had access to the world's most complex weapons arsenal, right? Dwayne tried to remember if Jo and Slate had spoken with each other within the past month. The Doc never really had time to make idle chat with anybody, and they were all usually far too busy with the catastrophes at hand. The last time she had come on board was when she was there to study pieces of Bad Guy, the alternate Big Guy that the Legion Ex Machina had created in order to infiltrate the BGY-11 project. That day remained muddled in his memory, thanks to the Legion's Duplicate Dwayne zapping him unconscious so that it could assume his identity. At least Rusty had destroyed the impostor before it could harm the Doc. He was sorry he hadn't been there himself to dish out the candy, but he had fallen prey to his own human weaknesses. Afterwards, they had revamped his suit with the express purpose of overcoming such-
Something twinged inside of him and he stumbled. For a brief instant, he was paralyzed by an intense, shooting pain, and could do nothing but sprawl in frozen agony against the hard steel deckplates. The suit whirred and chirped in confusion as tried to keep up with this new predicament. Finally, it chugged to life and injected him with a new batch of solutions. As the pain slowly ebbed away, Dwayne wondered if maybe the suit had a chemical answer for all of life's little problems. He stayed motionless for a while, unsure of what might occur if he tried to move. Should've taken up the Doc's offer, he reprimanded himself. Could be anything - torn ligament, broken ribs, internal injuries... With a deep breath, Dwayne carefully rolled over and attempted to rise, expecting the sore spot from the previous night to flare up. It did, although strangely enough, his right leg felt partially numb and refused to function properly. He experimented with putting weight on it.
Every vague ache brought a new surge from the suit. Mildly intoxicated, he limped towards the nearest hatch, which appeared miles away. "Why's Big Guy never around when I need 'im?!" he complained aloud, guffawing at his own senseless joke. After staggering halfway across the deck, he managed to garner the attention of some nearby sailors, who clustered around him.
"Are you all right, Lieutenant, sir? We can help you to the infirmary," a shippy-shape shipmate in crackerjack blues offered. Dwayne smiled wanly and leaned on the youth's outstretched arm. The sailor peered at him anxiously. "What happened?"
"I must've pulled something," Dwayne answered. "But don't worry about it. I can barely feel it."
If anything, he felt energized, like he could continue running around and around the ship for days without stopping. Now he understood what Rusty had meant every time he hyperactively shrieked that he was "Ready and rarin' ta go!" Each sound was amplified with perfect clarity, everything he saw was in brilliant intensity, he could distinguish a thousand different scents and sensations, and yet... there was an acrid taste in his mouth. Everything tasted like... chemicals. Dwayne coughed and felt his head buzz pleasantly.
"Dwayne? What's going on?!"
Garth. Dwayne registered his baritone even before he had finished forming the first word.
"I'm broke," Dwayne told him nonchalantly, then giggled.
Garth's eyebrows shot up in surprise, then furrowed together as he uneasily inquired,"...What exactly do you mean by 'broke?'" There was something funny about the way the dark-skinned officer was scrutinizing him which made Dwayne feel slightly perturbed, but before he could say anything else Garth took off in the other direction. He could plainly hear his second-in-command calling for Mack and Jo, and then a few moments later they all grabbed hold of him, thanked the sailors for their assistance, and hurriedly dragged him off towards the Big Guy bay.
"Um, isn't the infirmary that way?" The trio disregarded Dwayne's query and emphatic pointing. He cleared his throat and repeated himself, violently wrenching himself away from their grip. "I believe the infirmary is that way, officers." Wincing, he waited for drugs to subdue the dull pain in his ribs, limped a few steps away, and looked back.
Jo's gaze nervously flitted between Garth and Mack. Mack took off his hat, ran a gnarled hand through his thinning gray hair and shifted from side to side. Garth stood tall and silent. After contemplating Dwayne for a time, he nodded his strong jaw almost imperceptibly in Jo's direction. She walked up to Dwayne and gently put her arms around him.
"You are very, very sick, Dwayne." Her voice was trembling. He felt her fingers probing his back as she reassured him, "Everything's gonna be fine, don't you worry."
"But I already feel better than fine," he began, and then everything abruptly faded to black.
The first thing he recognized as his vision focused were the Doc's gold-rimmed specs. They framed her beautiful hazel eyes, which gazed down at him with mixed relief. Her head blocked out a glaring light, causing her dark, curly hair to glow in an angelic halo around her face.
"I must've died n' gone to heaven" Dwayne murmured. Dr. Slate lifted a hand to her lips and turned away. The light source shone in its full intensity, piercing through his squinting eyelids. Shielding his orbs, he sat up and attempted to get his bearings. It looks like the inside of the Doc's laboratory at Quark, but just to make sure... He scanned the room, glimpsed Rusty's collection of patriotic Big Guy propaganda posters through a doorway, and nodded. Definitely Slate's lab. He noticed that his flight suit had been removed, leaving only his black, circuited undersuit. One of his hands instinctively reached up to his coif in order to pat any stray hairs in place, but his hair hadn't budged since the last time he checked. The hand strayed over to Dr. Slate's shoulder, which jerked at his touch. Her mouth was in that hard line he associated with her "Lieutenant Hunter" mode. The prospects already didn't look good, but he decided that a little flirting wouldn't hurt.
"Please say that you kidnapped me and I'm your slave," he implored, with the most debonair look he could muster. Her crimson lips attempted to tug upwards into a smile, the evidence of which evaporated entirely when she spoke.
He mouthed the name along with her, rolling his eyes.
"The only reason, and I repeat, ONLY reason you are here, is because you sustained massive internal injuries during your last Big Guy brawl, and were too proud to inform me." She strode over to the far wall, flicked a switch extinguishing the brightness overhead, and paced back towards him. "I don't care if it's a paper cut; if you get hurt I need to know about it. Is that clear?" The severity of her assertion was intimidating. Dwayne found himself nodding in agreement before he realized what he was doing.
"Okay...okay, Doc, I'm sorry." He solemnly held up his palms. "I promise I'll tell ya next time. I just truthfully thought that it was nothing. I didn't even get swelling, honest- Heyyy, wait a minute." The realization that she wasn't a physician struck him anew. "You're not a doctor - at least, not a person-doctor. Why should I come whining to you about my aches and pains?"
She hesitated, than took his hand awkwardly in hers. "...I- I don't want anything to happen to you, because I... care... about you, and I personally know a- a good doctor..." she stammered flatly. Her eyelids lowered and she stared at the ground, clearly discomforted by what she was saying. Scarcely breathing, he could only gawk at her in amazement. Was she finally telling him the words he had long only fantasized about? Dwayne pulled her towards him, and for once she didn't fight the action. His fingers gingerly brushed past her shoulders and wound their way into her hair. The thick brown curls were velvety soft. For once he was happy to be without his flight suit's meddlesome intervention, as every thrilling sensation rushed through his body uninhibited.
"I'll do anything you say," he breathed. His heart pounded wildly, and he drew her into an embrace. She smelled of some darkly alluring aroma that he found absolutely irresistible. Was it just his imagination, or did he actually see the same desire, the same pent-up hunger reflected in her steely gaze? In a momentary fit of passion, he leaned over and kissed her deeply. Dr. Slate stiffened and roughly pushed him away.
"I can't keep fooling myself- You're not the same!" she sobbed. Confused and hurt, he tried to comfort her, but she strained against him. "You'll never even come close to what you were before!" Tears streamed down her face.
"Wait- I know I've been under the influence of the suit, but I swear to you, I'll give it up for us-"
"The suit?! Keep your suit, you need it to survive!" Her voice was bordering on hysteria. With one final shove, Dr. Slate ran from his arms deep into the confines of the Quark building. Dwayne was in shock. What had just happened?!
It all went back to the suit.
Dejected, he stared blankly into space, replaying the scene over and over again in his mind. Preoccupied as he was, he didn't notice that Rusty was in the room until the boy robot physically tapped him on the leg, scaring the hell out of him.
"Are you feeling better now, Lt. Dwayne?" he asked in his precocious, raspy little boy voice. Dwayne tried to hide his utter despair from the kid by putting on a falsely cheerful demeanor. It was parallel to adopting the Big Guy persona.
"I sure am!" He beamed at Rusty, who grinned back at him.
"That's sure as shootin' good! I was worried that no one would never be able to put you back together again. You were all broken inside." Rusty chewed on a gloved finger as Dwayne shook his head in bewilderment.
"I can't believe that much trauma wouldn't show up for a whole 24 hours. It just doesn't make any sense."
Rusty's eyes glowed for emphasis. "Ohhhh, it happens a lot, especially to more complicated hardware. One component breaks down, and then the ones around it can't work anymore, and pretty soon-" The robot cringed and bowed his melonic head. "Oops. That's right..." He trailed off.
"...I'm not a robot like you, Rusty," Dwayne completed. He laughed, in spite of himself. Somehow, Rusty always had a way of lifting his spirits whenever he was heartbroken and moody. "Say, Rusty," Dwayne proposed, "How would you like to play with Big Guy later today?" The energetic little machine whooped and bounced off the walls in anticipation. As Dwayne watched in amusement, he tried to convince himself that he wanted to give Rusty some company, but the suit remained a sliver in the back of his mind.
"THANKS, CITIZEN!" Big Guy's booming voice shook colorful autumn leaves off of the maples in New Tronic's Central Park. The flinching businessman who had just handed Rusty his basketball back tipped his hat and went on his way. "SO, RUSTY, HOW 'BOUT ANOTHER ROUND?" Dwayne skillfully piloted Big Guy's levers into an inviting configuration. To his surprise, Rusty declined.
"I wanna go swing," he bubbled enthusiastically, the apples of his cheeks shining. Rusty blasted over to an empty swing set and plopped down on a rubber seat. "Puuuushmeeeee!" He pleaded up at his idol. Dwayne chuckled.
"3...2...1...BLAST OFF!" With a mere flick of Big Guy's massive fingers, Rusty was propelled vertically, then backwards over the bar. He enjoyed every minute of it. After a few experimentations with his rocket thrusters and acrobatics that would have made any parent pale, Rusty finally settled down and swung in a steady rhythm. His perpetual smile faded as a more worried expression took its place.
"Can I talk to you about something, Big Guy? You won't tell, will you?"
Inside the cockpit, Dwayne smirked. "It depends," he commented to himself, imagining all sorts of situations that Rusty might have accidentally instigated. Turning on the microphone that deepened his voice into Big Guy's resonant tone, he answered, "FIRE AWAY, SON! YOU KNOW YOU CAN TALK TO ME ABOUT ANYTHING."
"Mommy's very sad today," Rusty said quietly. "It's because of Lieutenant Dwayne."
Big Guy froze. His diminutive sidekick continued, oblivious.
"She's been sad for a while, but now it's even worser."
"...RUSTY..." Dwayne paused for a moment, trying to word his explanation in a way that Rusty could understand. "...LT. HUNTER ISN'T WELL. HE'S GOT A TYPE OF SICKNESS,CALLED AN ADDICTION, WHERE HE FEELS THAT HE NEEDS ADDITIVES IN ORDER TO FEEL NORMAL..." Big Guy cut off as he noticed Rusty vigorously shaking his head in the negative. The boy robot stopped swinging entirely.
"Mommy told me not to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyways. I just don't got anyone else to talk to, Big Guy." Rusty's sculpted red hair vanished from view as he craned a desperate face upwards. "It won't matter anyhow," he mused, voice almost losing its childish overtones. "You probably won't understand, because you don't have feelings." At that, Dwayne closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.
"GO ON, SON."
"You probably think mommy's sad because of Lt. Dwayne's special suit. That's what Lt. Dwayne is supposed to think, too. But it's just a trick." Rusty began twisting the swing absentmindedly from side to side. The metal links jangled. "He's dis-trac-ted by it. So that he doesn't notice that he's not real anymore." There was a moment of heavy silence where Rusty pondered what he was going to say next, and Dwayne's mind reeled in utter incomprehension.
"N-NOT-REAL? WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?!" Big Guy sputtered.
Rusty tilted forward in the swing and whispered, "Lt. Dwayne is a robot."
Incapable of speech, Dwayne could only sit in a kind of fascinated immobility. Did Rusty know the truth about Big Guy? Of course not. The kid asks Slate what's wrong, and she tells him that I'm married to my duties; that I've become an automaton. A robotic slave to the suit. It's just a misinterpretation of what she said, that's all. He let out a nervous laugh and toggled his mike switch. "LT. DWAYNE ISN'T A ROBOT, AT LEAST NOT LIKE YOU AND I. SHE WAS JUST USING THAT AS A METAPHOR."
Visibly irritated, Rusty raised his voice. "No she wasn't. You don't know what you're talking about, because you weren't there. You were all wrecked after the fight with Bad Guy.
"There was an evil Legion Dwayne that got on the Dark Horse. It was sent to take Lt. Dwayne's place, just like how Bad Guy took your place. But Lt. Dwayne fought back. He couldn't get any help, so he fought it all by himself, with his bare hands. The Robot Dwayne had a weird raygun that it was gonna fry the real Dwayne with, but Lt. Dwayne must have knocked it away. We found them both on the floor of his cabin... The Dwaynebot was all overloaded because Lt. Dwayne shot it with the raygun..." Grimacing, Rusty wavered as he dredged up the memory. "...Lt. Dwayne was all bloody. General Thornton said he had bad breathing, and that he was... he was gonna die. Dr. Slate wanted to take him to the hospital, but everyone said that it was too late. Lt. Dwayne tried to tell her some things, but I didn't hear what he said. It made her cry a lot.
"...Then, General Thornton got an idea that we should take both Dwaynes to Quark, where the Neugog Machine was. He made Dr. Slate download Dwayne's brain into Quark's compooter. She didn't want to, but the General said she had to. It worked, but the real Lt. Dwayne died." He stared off into space. "I'd never seen a real dead person before."
The world drained of all color and sound, save for the droning of Dwayne's suit. He was dimly aware of its circuits prickling against his skin in an effort to rouse him from his stupor. What Rusty had just articulated should have been irrational, absurd, completely insane- but with a sinking feeling, Dwayne realized that his mind was already subliminally making connections, because on a certain level, it made sense.
"...They stored his memories in the computer system..." Big Guy's voice was now a faint ghost of its former self.
"Yup," Rusty nodded. "At first I didn't understand why General Thornton wanted to do that, but he explained that Lt. Dwayne was special, and we needed him alive again. And then, he told Dr. Slate to fix the Dwaynebot so that it could be rebooted with Lt. Dwayne's brain. Dr. Slate took my backup emotion chip and changed it a little, so that the new Dwayne could have emotions. He got pain receptors and pressure receptors too. She deleted all the memories he had about the evil Dwayne an' dying an' all that, 'cuz he wasn't supposed to know that he was a robot now. If he knew, it might crash his emotion grid," he stated matter-of-factly.
Crashed. That was how Dwayne felt. As if he had been hurtled against a brick wall at 300 mph.
"The suit..." he managed in a hoarse voice that translated badly over the pickups. The kid squinted up at him.
"Are you O.K, Big Guy? I think your speakers are shorting out. Anyways, the Dwaynebot picked up where the real Dwayne left off. Dr. Slate made him a special suit that he thinks is controlling his organs, but he really doesn't have any! I think he has a thing inside of him that's attached to his emotion grid and programmed to make heartbeat sounds, and breathing sounds too, but that's all. The suit really gives him chemical fuel that he turns into energy, so he doesn't ever have to power down. Everyone is worried that someday, Lt. Dwayne will find out he's a robot, and he almost found out today because he broke an' Doctor Slate had to fix him." A hand clamped over Rusty's eyes in shame. "I forgot, for a minute, and I talked to him about his robot parts, but he didn't notice."
Big Guy was mute.
"Mommy misses the old Dwayne. She tries to pretend that the robot Dwayne is real, but she can't. It hurts her feelings, because the Dwaynebot likes her. I saw him bring her flowers once!" Rusty stopped his babbling when he noticed Big Guy walking away. "Hey!" He called out, hanging upside-down in the swing. "Where are you going, Big Guy?"
"Duty calls, kid..." Dwayne mumbled, then fired the thrusters under the BGY-11's feet, propelling him towards the Dark Horse.
He saw it in their eyes. They way they pierced through him like an X-ray as he disengaged himself from the cockpit. How had he overlooked this for the past few weeks?! But he hadn't. It had registered, and he had written it off as various other things, like the suit. Dwayne passed Mack, Jo, and Garth without greeting them and went straight to his quarters.
It was dark, but actually, he could still see rather well, couldn't he? He just never noticed, because he always kept a light on-
-Because he never slept. He had thought he was an insomniac. That the drugs had something to do with it.
Just like how he never ate, never peed, never had to shave anymore...
Or did he? Dwayne contemplated and stroked his wrists. He swore he could see veins underneath. Delicate blue lines that branched out below his skin.
His skin... It felt cold and rubbery to the touch.
Collapsing, he heaved a sob, but couldn't continue crying. For some reason, his tears were trapped inside of him, or dried up...
...or they hadn't built him with tear ducts.
"I'll prove I'm not a robot," Dwayne feverishly blurted out loud, reaching into one of his flight suit's bottomless pockets. He pulled out his Army issue knife. Yes, he would do this little experiment, and either way it didn't matter, because nothing mattered anymore. Not saving America's ass, not his distant pit crew, not the kid, or even the Doc. They were forgotten. The blade flashed silver in the darkness, and settled on his pasty wrist.
He dug it in deeply, separating himself from the pain. A glimmer of hope, the hope that thick burgundy would ooze out of the gash, proving him warm and alive and vulnerable, was quickly extinguished as his wound remained immaculately clean. Barely able to bring himself to do so, Dwayne clumsily groped at the incision with deadened fingers. They pushed back the simulated flesh to reveal bundles of blue circuitry, a skillfully crafted network that ran over the intricate mechanisms underneath.
One by one, all the components in his processing unit slowed, than ceased to function.