*aromatisse noise*

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Posted 3 Weeks Ago
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13.1 Years
Chapter 16 – As Below, So Above

There was something strange in orbit over the world Babs and Jen called home. Something that most definitely did not belong there.

It had looked for all the world like a meteor of some sort, a big lump of rock hanging over the planet. But it had simply popped into existence in a way that ordinary celestial objects didn’t.

Babs had called for the deoxys to stop the thing at once. Whether natural or not, its size alone gave it the potential to wreak terrible destruction simply by falling out of orbit. The deoxys had appeared to do nothing at all in response to her demands apart from speaking in their incomprehensible manner, even as Jen had raised his own pleas and Babs had conjured her dark blades.

Then one of the deoxys had seized Jen, completely without warning, and had used him to tell her that they believed the meteor to be another vessel of their own kind.

“We are trying to communicate with them,” Jen’s puppeteer had said. “We have yet to receive a response.”

The deoxys had kept trying, allowing some time between attempts for an answer to make it through the dimensional shortcut they used to carry their messages. At first Babs had thought they were wasting their time, that the craft—if that was what it actually was—was dead in the water, so to speak. But then it had undergone a dramatic transformation. It had expanded, its shell breaking free in a burst of tiny, shattered stone fragments, and taken on a polyhedral shape. Countless tentacles had sprouted from its red-and-gray surface, waving languidly in the airless void.

Once transformed, the thing had moved. Almost too fast for her eyes to track, it had crossed half a continent, coming to an unnaturally clean stop over a landmass whose shape looked worryingly familiar, even with the view zoomed out.

It had stopped, and then it had opened fire.

A spear of white-hot light. And then another. A third. A fourth. And by this point Babs was sure, sickeningly sure, that the meteor was indeed a ship, its every action fully intentional, and that it had just rained death over part of southwestern Hoenn.

Babs hadn’t gone with her trainer, all those days ago. But she’d been there when he and the rest of his team had plotted their course. She’d known where they were headed. And now she had just seen that area blasted into a deep, dark crater.

She screamed in anguish and frustration. The deoxys around her could have stopped this. Surely they could have stopped it. Why had they wasted their time trying to talk to the thing? Her dark blades reformed in an instant and slashed through the viewscreen, spraying her with dark fluid as it tore like the flesh it was.

No sooner than she’d destroyed the screen, dome-headed deoxys rose from the floor, their broad arms ensnaring her, regenerating faster than she could cut them away. They pulled her down, pinned flat on her back with her limbs and tongue restrained. Another, heavier body hit the deck at her side; she couldn’t turn her head, but she could just make out the form of Jen lying there, no longer surrounded by the blue light that indicated deoxys control.

Then everything gave a monstrous lurch, and for what might have been a single moment or a million on end, nothing her eyes showed her made any sense at all. She then recognized the ceiling above her, same as it had been—but also the many floors above, and an even greater number below her.

Every deoxys occupying the vessel that carried her.

Herself, and Jen, and every last nerve and vein and fiber of muscle that comprised them.

The core of the ship, of a vast deoxys looking every bit as much like an ordinary meteor as the craft on the screen had looked, and the very thoughts and processes darting through it in tiny arcs and flashes.

Too much. All too much. Her own mind went dark, beaten down under the waves of information by their sheer volume.

Eventually she became aware of something touching her face. Propping her up. The off-white lighting of the room she’d last seen on the other side of the rift pressed into her eyes. A groan escaped her, while choking, retching noises sounded at her side.

“Oh gods,” Jen sputtered once he was done being sick, “what… what just…?”

“I don’t…” Her brain was still putting itself back together, it seemed. She shook her head. “Some kind of…”

It was then that she noticed the viewscreen in front of her. A beat later, she remembered destroying it. The ship had grown a new one.

“Whoa, wait, what the hell is that?” Jen asked, sounding very much alarmed despite how hoarse he still sounded, pointing at the now much larger, much closer deoxys-craft on the screen.

“It’s…” Oh God. He doesn’t know. Jen had been in use as an interpreter while the “meteor” had transformed and carried out the orbital strike. He had no clue that down there, in the part of the world that might well have contained his father… her trainer, her friends… there might be nothing left alive.

But he must have managed to tear his gaze off the writhing mass that hung over the world and looked past it to the planet below. He must have seen the shoreline and recognized it and put the pieces together, because his eyes grew wide, their light unsteady, and for a moment he swayed as if he might collapse.

Babs felt a thick knot form in her throat. She swallowed against it; it remained firmly in place. Inhaling a shaky breath, she lay an arm across Jen’s shoulders. One of the blades sprouting from them nicked her hand. She didn’t care.

There’d never been any guarantee that Ren and the others would survive their mission. Deranics aside, there was still the threat of the Red Hand’s virus catching up with him after all. She’d tried, with only partial success, to maintain some tiny measure of hope, even against the straining impatience that she couldn’t help but feel with so much empty distance between herself and the answer to whether or not her loved ones were all right.

Now most of that distance was gone. But she was certain that any chance for a good outcome had vanished, as well.

* * *

One moment, Ren had been in the heart of the deranic base, hunkered down alongside four pokémon and a pair of wormlike aliens behind a shield while reality itself seemed to be blowing apart at the seams.

The next, they were out of the fray and surrounded by more deoxys than he would have ever expected to see in his entire lifetime, let alone all in one place.

Rescued? Possibly. But he wasn’t about to assume that meant they were safe.

One of the deoxys drifted free from the crowd. As they approached, spreading their tentacles wide in what looked like an attempt at a welcoming gesture, they emitted a series of bizarre sounds that seemed to buzz and scrape at the inside of his head. He winced, gritting his teeth.

“Wow. That’s, uh, one heck of an accent there,” Karo said.

“We can’t understand you,” Demi told the deoxys.

She sounded so tired, Ren noted. He glanced her way and saw her nearly doubled over as she continued to support her brother’s weight. Acheron, meanwhile, looked like he was on the verge of passing out.

Ren’s arm twitched slightly, old habits compelling it to pull medicine from the pack, but he tamped down the urge. There were too many eyes upon him. Too many eyes, and no way to be certain what their owners would do if they saw him make that move.

The deoxys paused in their approach, tilting their head to the side. They resumed moving just as quickly, finally coming to a stop directly in front of Ren.

“Don’t touch him,” Demi warned, her voice thin but menacing all the same.

The deoxys gave another quirk of their head. They spoke up again, more droning, more static, more crawling and clawing in Ren’s head…

“—never harm children of the elements unless it’s absolutely necessary. The five of you are safe here.”

Ren held the deoxys in a wild stare, his mouth hanging open behind his air filter. Their voice sounded exactly the same as it had from the start. But it made sense now, same as every other pokémon’s voice had ever since he’d emerged from that tube.

More changes. Still coming, even now.

What the hell is happening to me? he wondered yet again.

He licked his lips. Swallowed uncomfortably against a dry throat. “Safe,” he echoed. “Why should we believe that?” He was trembling as he spoke; he clenched his fists as if that would hold him together. “Why did you bring us here? How did you find us?”

“We detected a sudden surge of non-elemental life,” the deoxys said. “Power and intellect much greater than any mere, harmless animal would possess. We thought a surviving pocket of humanity might’ve detected our approach and was attempting some sort of counterattack.”

“It’s them,” said a very small, fearful voice, familiar yet not. “The killers…”

Zaltaphi, Ren realized with a detached sort of surprise. Another language, suddenly intelligible, and possibly not even a pokémon language this time.

“We also detected the presence of one of our own kind,” the deoxys went on, seemingly disregarding the deranic’s interjection for the time being, “along with a great deal of other elemental creatures. We would have loved to have saved more of you, but…” They sounded genuinely sorrowful somehow. Their eyes lowered to the floor, their tentacles knitting together in front of them.

Most of the deoxys’s words failed to take root properly, crowded out by the rest. The fact that Zaltaphi had called their kind killers, and the deoxys’s own words corroborated that accusation. The claim that there was a deoxys among those they’d pulled from the deranic base.

The implications of that claim.

“We can only hope they’ll find peace and fortune in the next life,” the deoxys said somberly. Their eyes lifted from the floor and fixed on the pair of deranics wrapped around Demi’s shoulders. “Just as we must hope for the two of you.”

They extended a tentacle toward the deranics, who shrunk back in plain terror. The tentacle brushed against an invisible barrier.

“Leave them alone,” Ren said, cold sweat running down his temples. The tremor was still there, but its source had transformed. He still feared these creatures. He’d read all about them, knew what even a single one was capable of—and here were many. But now… now he hated them. Hated them for all that they’d done and for the fact that there was almost certainly not a damn thing he could do to stop them from doing more.

The deoxys peered at him in silence for a moment, their face as inscrutable as their voice had once been. There was a faint shuffling sound, almost like footsteps across sand—and the deoxys dropped into the floor as if it were liquid.

Green-and-red tentacles shot up from under Karo’s feet. They dragged him under faster than even Demi could react.

The nosepass rose up from the floor in front of Ren with the deoxys looming behind him. Blue light surrounded his body and shone brightly from the dark recesses where his eyes were.

Dark blurs shot toward the others from both sides. Ren saw Demi’s hands fling out to intercept the one hurtling her way, but her senses were no match for that speed, especially in her current state. In an instant, she’d taken on a blue aura of her own, the work of a speed-deoxys at her side. Another speed-deoxys had taken hold of Syr.

“Let them go!” Ren shouted.

“They won’t be harmed,” the deoxys in front of him said, speaking through Karo in the nosepass’s own language. “Even now, we’re healing their injuries.”

Refusing to believe them, Ren stole a quick look for himself. The darts embedded in Demi’s skin were falling out, the wounds they left behind closing swiftly. The same was happening to Syr.

Acheron suddenly dropped to the floor, no longer supported by his sister; Ren flinched at the sound of the heavy impact. No aura shone around the unconscious kwazai. He had no puppeteer.

“We cannot extend our power to your dark-type friend,” one of the speed-deoxys said, using Syr’s voice.

A strangled cry sounded to Ren’s left. He turned his head in an instant. Demi had pulled Kiat and Zaltaphi off her shoulders and was now holding them by their necks. Their tails were wrapped tight around her arms, their tongues lolling out and trying to pry her fingers from their throats… but it was all in vain. She snapped the deranics’ necks with faint, sickening pops, then let the two of them fall limply to the floor.

Ren stared at them in shock for a moment. If Demi knew she’d been used to murder innocent people in cold blood, without having any say in the matter… A sickening, vicarious fury pooled in his stomach.

“You shouldn’t be troubled by the extermination of such wretched creatures,” the other speed-forme deoxys said through Demi. “Despite your appearance, I know you’re not one of them. You’re not an aberration.”

“And while that is an impressive transformation,” Karo’s controller said, “it’s time to let it go. You’re among your own kind again. You can be yourself once more.”

Ren said nothing. Didn’t want to acknowledge the deoxys’s words. Didn’t want to believe them. I’m not one of you. I am not one of you!

Yet he understood pokémon, as if he were one of their own.

Yet he had been trapped in a capture ball, however briefly.

Yet he had developed psychic abilities, even if it had taken decades to happen.

Something, something, had caused the deoxys to sense the presence of their own kind in the deranic base.

He wanted to throw up. Damn it all, he was not one of them!

But maybe… if he let them believe he was…

The idea of playing along with them when all he wanted to do was will them all to hell did nothing to calm his heart or settle his stomach. But it was the only way, the only course of action he could conceive of to buy himself and the pokémon who’d joined him on this mission some time. The only way they might ever be free of this horrible place and these horrible people.

He hung his head. “I don’t know how,” he said morosely. “After all this time… I don’t know how anymore. But… I do know that if I can’t put my friend in here—” He gestured carefully toward one of the dusk balls at his belt. “—he could die.” Best to let Acheron rest for now, he reckoned, lest the kwazai do something that might get him killed.

“Then yes,” said the deoxys puppeting Syr, “please do.”

Slower than he liked, still none too keen on making overly sudden movements with the eyes of so many powerful beings trained upon him, Ren recalled Acheron. His hand brushed the other unoccupied capture balls at his side as he reattached the kwazai’s dusk ball, lingering for a moment upon Demi’s, and an idea crossed his mind. He gave Karo’s controller a questioning look.

“The others are fine as they are,” they said.

They don’t trust me, Ren noted. Not entirely. Even if they believed he was one of their kind, he wasn’t really one of their number. He was just some castaway they’d picked up, one who’d already expressed disapproval of their behavior.

“You’ve spent too long among them,” the normal-deoxys went on. “But I can help you find yourself again.”

A real deoxys would agree to it, Ren suspected. But actually acting on that suspicion proved very difficult. His throat seemed paralyzed, unwilling to let him actually answer one way or another.

The deoxys didn’t allow it, either.

In an instant, the blue aura surrounding Karo was gone. The nosepass toppled over and stayed down. His former controller’s tentacles lashed out and seized Ren. They wrapped themselves around his arms, two to each, and then the tips pierced the skin.

Ren gasped, more in shock than anything else. The pain came in, stinging deep, when he began struggling in spite of himself. Large hands descended upon his shoulders and clasped around his ribcage, while a thick tail wrapped itself about his legs, holding him still.

Something stirred inside him. His stomach heaved, and a foul taste filled his mouth. There was a sudden, hideous pain just below his sternum, a tearing pain that forced the breath right out of him. When it came back, he screamed, crying out in agony as tears flooded his eyes and something warm poured out over his abdomen.

“It’s all right.” Demi’s voice. “The pain won’t last.”

It didn’t. Already, it was beginning to recede. The deoxys was healing him… or he was healing himself. He didn’t know. He didn’t want to think about it.

But even though the pain was nearly gone, something wasn’t right. Something was there, below his heart, radiating a gentle but distinctly foreign warmth.

The floor next to the normal-deoxys rippled. Another one emerged fluidly from its surface.

“The craft that has been trying to contact us has drawn nearer,” they said. “They demand to know why we’ve fired upon the planet.”

The words were perfectly clear—Ren understood all deoxys now, not only the one who’d first spoken to him. But their ramifications took a moment to sink in properly, raising a cloud of questions in their wake. Craft? What… what kind of craft? A spacecraft? Who…?

Murmurs arose from the crowd of deoxys onlookers, their voices too soft for Ren to make out their words.

“Those sorts… they’re incapable of understanding our mission,” Syr’s controller said bitterly. “There’s only one message worth sending them…”

* * *

“Maybe they hadn’t made it that far yet.”

Jen, still trying to reassure himself. He didn’t sound as though he believed his own words, nor did he look the part. His head was lowered; it was clear he could no longer stand to look upon the screen any longer. His arms hung limp at his sides.

Meanwhile Babs stared at the ship on the screen as if it were the ugliest thing she’d ever laid eyes upon.

“Come on,” she muttered. “Stop talking. Start shooting.”

The ship she stood aboard was a deoxys. Surely they were capable of fighting, same as any deoxys was. Surely they could pay the other craft back in kind for what they’d done to the planet below—for what they’d done to her closest friends.

She wanted to get her hands on those murderers herself. Seeing them burn from afar wasn’t the same as feeling her conjured blades severing tentacles and shattering crystalline cores. But it would have to suffice.

The screen filled with blinding white light. Jen shrieked in pain, and Babs flung an arm up to shield her eyes. No sooner than she’d done that, the entire room quaked, threatening to throw her off balance.

“We’ve been hit!” Jen cried.

Babs widened her stance, bracing herself in case of another tremor. “Fight back!” she shouted at the deoxys who shared the room with her—only to find them all disappearing into the walls and floor. “Hey! Get back here, damn it!”

An ominous rumbling and creaking reverberated throughout the room, followed by a sound like crashing thunder and a jolt that flung her onto her back despite her efforts.

“Gh!” she cried out as her head hit the floor, bending her crests back. She sprung to her feet once more, cursing at the way the sudden motion took her head from sore to screaming. Her eyes found the viewscreen again and saw chunks and flakes of rock shrinking into the distance, as well as green-and-red tentacles flexing in and out of view. A number of them merged together, forming long, scimitar-shaped claws pointed directly at the enemy craft.

“I think they’re taking your advice,” Jen said.

“About damn time,” said Babs.

* * *

I’m awake…

It almost sounded like one of Ren’s own thoughts. The mental voice was like his own, but there was a sort of distance to it. It was almost as if he were being spoken to, silently, by a copy of himself.

What… we’re awake?

The pain was gone, but the normal-deoxys’s tentacles were still buried in his arm, still trying to coax him out of a human shape. He couldn’t feel himself transforming at this point, but here was his brain apparently talking to itself. Speaking independently. Something was being done to him.

I can’t see… why? Human? Human! Why can’t I see?

…Can’t you hear me?

He could, in a manner of speaking. But he couldn’t respond now, silently or otherwise. His entire body refused to heed his commands now, limp and powerless. His head had fallen to his chest; if it hadn’t been for the pokémon holding him tight, he would’ve crumpled to the floor.

“This shouldn’t be taking so long,” the deoxys controlling Syr said.

“The core has reformed, but the flesh is unchanging,” Demi’s controller noted aloud. “The human brain persists, but why?”

The deoxys in front of Ren kept silent, seemingly too absorbed in their work to respond. Their tentacles bristled, creating a faint tugging sensation in their patient’s arms.

The floor gave a jolt that nearly flung Ren up out of Syr’s grip. Demi stumbled where she stood, nearly toppling over onto the deoxys behind her. The sudden motion yanked the embedded tentacles out of Ren’s arms, causing the deoxys who’d been working on him to cry out in several discordant tones at once.

We’re under attack!

Ren tried to lift his head to see what was happening and found it responding to his wishes again. The normal-deoxys before him was shuddering, staring at the damaged tips of their tentacles as they swiftly mended.

“We’ll come back to you,” they promised, and then everything went black.

In near-unison, Ren, Syr, and Demi collapsed in a loose, unconscious heap. Ren’s pack fell open, its contents tumbling out over the arbok’s side and clattering against the floor and the nearby nosepass, as the deoxys filling the room slipped away through its metallic gray flesh.

* * *

It was a direct hit. So were the two that followed. Babs might’ve cheered if it weren’t for the fact that none of the attacks appeared to do any actual damage to the enemy craft. The thing was shielded.

She’d expected that much. But she snarled and swore and punched the screen all the same.

“They can’t keep it up forever…” Jen said, almost inaudible. Talking to himself again, Babs assumed.

“You’re right,” she responded all the same. “They can’t. No shield lasts indefinitely. As long as they keep pounding at—”

Babs broke off, covering her eyes once more. The room lurched again, hard. Another impact came right on its heels. She’d anticipated this sort of thing, but the jolts still nearly brought her down.

She spat out another curse. Hopefully their own shields would outlast the enemy’s.

Their own ship was changing position. The view of the other deoxys-craft was rotating, the curved arms no longer bearing on them. The enemy ship’s mass of tentacles, waving in the nothingness like something aquatic, all flexed toward them, following their movement as if watching them. Some of them formed a new set of scimitar-claws while the previous set unraveled themselves. Points of light formed at their tips.

Babs and Jen’s ship was quicker on the draw. A piercing ray cut the darkness, and a multitude of tentacles floated free from the opposing craft, severed. One of the enemy’s shots went wild, flying toward nothing for a short distance before petering out. The other three found their mark, and the last made the floor leap up beneath Jen and Babs and sent a sound like a thunderclap throughout the room.

The lights flickered and almost cut out completely. They stabilized quickly enough, but they were dimmer now.

“Oh gods, I think the ship’s hurt,” Jen said. His eyes were practically strobing with fear. “The shields, they’re—”

“Down. Yeah,” Babs said tersely. Her heart was hammering, stoking nausea. The image on the viewscreen wavered. The screen itself rippled as if it wanted to lose its shape. “But so are theirs.”

She tried to sound more hopeful than she felt. It helped, if only somewhat, that their last shot had inflicted actual damage upon the other deoxys-craft. But for all she knew, that was only a flesh wound. Maybe the enemy had landed a vital hit, and she and Jen wouldn’t know it until they found themselves suddenly unable to breathe.

Come on, she willed the ship, watching as the view of the enemy shifted once more and the claws of their own ship charged up for another attack. There are a lot of people counting on you.

* * *

The floor was shaking. It took Karo a moment to realize that he wasn’t dreaming, wasn’t imagining it. His eyes opened to flashing lights and the sight of a spent max revive crystal lying just inches from his face. Beyond it, his trainer was lying draped over Syr, with Demi a tangle of limbs beside them and two small, yellow shapes half-buried beneath her.

“Hey! Hey!” he called out to them. No reactions from anyone. He tried to stand, levering himself up on one arm—which folded right back underneath him as everything dipped sharply to the left. His friends went sliding. So did he.

Karo tried to focus on them as hard as he could despite the way the wall-crystals flashed and flared. He could feel the strain behind his eyes. Multiple targets. Not impossible to lock onto that many, but definitely not easy. He buzzed in frustration as the tension built further. Then a sharp, white outline suddenly surrounded his insensible allies, and everything else seemed to slow and desaturate for a moment. The lock-on was successful.

He cast a block field out like a net. It caught, and the five beings within it came to a less-than-gentle halt.

Five. Where was Acheron?

The floor beneath Karo leveled out. He took the opportunity to finally right himself, getting back to his feet with a grunt, and immediately set about scanning the scene for the missing kwazai. There was no sign of him. No sign of any deoxys, either. He, along with most of his allies and the two deranics, were all alone in the vast room.

He waddled his way over to the others—slower, so much slower than he wished he could. The floor still rattled ominously beneath him. Geez, what’s going on here? he wondered. Once he finally caught up to his friends, he expanded the shield to include himself, reinforcing it and making sure to cover the floor as well, making the pile of unconscious bodies shift slightly as the force field slid underneath them. Nothing’s gonna touch you. Nothing—

An almighty blaze of light ripped across his vision, momentarily blinding him. In its wake, an endless black expanse opened overhead and soon surrounded him. He felt his feet leave the floor of his conjured bubble, felt his back leave the wall he’d created behind him—he was floating. A weightless, hard-edged rock, trapped in a bubble with soft-bodied creatures whom he was utterly helpless to avoid crushing against the invisible walls.

Karo swore internally, at a loss for what to do. He felt himself bump into the block field again—and an idea hit him. With an effort, he conjured a second block field, just a small band across himself that pulled him flush against the barrier at his back. He could only hope it would hold. His head was already killing him.

Ren floated free of Syr’s already-loose coils and bumped gently into Karo’s forehead. His trainer’s shirt was covered in blood, fresh and revoltingly damp. But Ren was still alive, still breathing. At least a couple of the others were. Karo could hear them. He’d managed to trap some air along with them.

But it wouldn’t last forever, much as he dearly wanted to believe otherwise. And sooner or later, his stamina would give out, and the force field with it.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking, and not solely from the strain of maintaining the blocks. “I tried…”

* * *

“We got ‘em…”

Babs stared wide-eyed at the screen, scarcely daring to believe what it showed her. But it was true. The Red Hand’s spacecraft was torn wide open, the vast deoxys-ship’s orbit slowly beginning to decay. Another volley of searing beams shredded the wounded vessel into smaller chunks, some with still-flailing tentacles.

“Oh my god, we got ‘em!” she said, with more confidence this time.

More shots were fired, breaking the destroyed ship down further and further until nothing remained but clouds of dust. Some of the sweeping rays caught free-floating deoxys in their path, disintegrating their bodies and leaving behind small, violet spheres that glittered in the light reflected from the bright disc of the planet.

“So… I guess it’s over, then.” Jen sounded relieved but not satisfied.

Babs understood all too well. On a grander scale, this might have been a tremendous victory. There was no telling how many lives they had just saved.

On a personal level, it still felt an awful lot like a loss.

As she watched another swath of enemy deoxys get reduced to their crystalline cores, she spotted an odd shape among the debris, something blue and gray and purple that almost looked like…

No. Not almost.

Dad?” Jen extended a clawed hand toward the screen as if he could pluck the impossible sight out to safety. “Oh gods, Dad! How? How did he get out there?” he demanded, panicked.

That question could wait. The people out there couldn’t. Maybe it was already too late for them. But she could see how closely clustered they were, when she figured there ought to be nothing stopping them from drifting apart. Karo had wrapped them all up in one of those block-shields he’d learned to make. If those unseen walls were thick enough, and there was enough air in that thing…

“Hey! Hey!” she shouted to any deoxys who might be listening. “I know at least one of you can hear me. There’s people out there! People who aren’t deoxys! You gotta get ‘em on board right now! Hurry!”

Holding her breath, biting her tongue, she watched the screen for signs that someone had indeed heard her. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw her friends take on a familiar seafoam glow and then vanish altogether.

Don’t you die on me, the greninja willed the new arrivals. Don’t you dare.