"Fuck!" Still combing his hair, Steve looked over at Paul, wondering what was wrong. The bassist was staring in dismay at his left hand, which was noticeably trembling. "Not today! Damn it, not today!"
Ray came over, pulling on his shoes. "What's the matter, Paul?" he asked.
"It won't stop shaking!"
"Shit!" George cried. "We've got three in a row today."
"I thought you said it stopped doing that," Ringo said worriedly.
"Well it started again," Paul said, clamping his right hand on his wrist. "Damn! It's never been this bad before."
"You probably just need a maintenance check," Steve said, only realizing what a stupid statement it was after he'd said it.
Paul glared at him. "We don't exactly get maintenance checks out here," he snapped.
"Look, just try to calm down," Ray said. "We'll think of something."
Just then, the guards returned to the dressing room. "Move it." Everyone lined up as usual and walked to the auditorium. Stevie and the other '79's were up first. They played through "Departure," but Steve was having a hard time paying attention. The 83's were tense. Paul had his hands clasped together, obviously trying to make his left hand be still. The others were fidgeting and glancing worriedly at him. He gave Stevie and the others a smile when they'd finished, but he was more worried about Paul. The '83's were up next.
They walked to the stage, took their bow and started to play. The first song went off okay, but by the second, Steve could tell they were off. They kept stealing nervous glances at Paul. He looked at them helplessly. George and Ringo played louder, while Jon did his best to cover the base line on his keyboard while still playing his own part. Steve looked at the Mistress, wondering if she could tell what was happening. Damn. She had a scowl on her face that was slowly deepening. They'd played only a few bars of the third song when she raised her hand. The music stopped immediately.
"Valory '83," she said loudly. "Come here." Paul pulled off his bass and walked slowly toward the dais. She raised a hand again and he stopped walking. "Show me your hands." White faced, Paul held out his arms. His left hand was shaking so much that Steve could see it from where he sat. The Mistress looked at him for a moment, then turned to one of the guards. "It's broken," she said. "Bring me another."
There was a collective gasp from all the dolls. Paul backed away, shaking his head, but unable to say anything. Two of the guards came forward and took him by the arms. They led him out of the room and closed the door. "What?" Ray cried, jolted out of his trance by the sound of the closing door. "No!"
"Silence, Perry '83!" the Mistress said sternly. She turned to the audience. "Valory '86," she said. "Take his place."
Macca forced himself to stop looking at the door. Shaking slightly, he went to the stage and donned Paul's bass. Steve looked at the remaining '83's. They were staring at the Mistress, pale faces expressing horror and disbelief. Steve understood. Their friend had just been sentenced to a bloody, painful death, and now they were supposed to play like nothing had happened. They stared at her for a few seconds. Then, still in shock but unable to do anything else, they picked up where they'd left off.
When the mockery of a concert was over and they were back in uniform, they were all led back to their cells. Paul sat in the far corner of his cell with his knees drawn up, shaking violently. The others looked down at him with sad expressions on their faces. Steve didn't say a word. He didn't even make the "I told you so" face he'd so often given Stevie at home. He just stood there, watching the others and waiting. Finally, Ray tore his gaze away from Paul and looked grimly Steve. "I'm in," he said.
Steve nodded. "Good. What about the rest of you? Nobody can get out of here unless everybody does."
"I'm in," Stephen said.
"Me too," said Lightning.
Soon, everyone had pledged their commitment. "Great," Steve said. "Now, how fast do these guys usually find replacements?"
"They'll probably have one in two or three days," Gregg said.
"So fast?" asked Stevie.
"It might not even take that long," said Stephen. "They usually start looking right away, and I'm sure they have some kind of super-fast tracking equipment."
"Don't worry, Paul," Steve said, noticing that the other doll was looking fairly green. "We're not letting you break up the Beatles again." He got a laugh, which was what he was aiming for. "Stevie and I already have a plan." The other dolls looked at Steve and Stevie with interest. Then they gathered together (as much as they could) and Steve told them what he had in mind.
Rose and Xenith worked on their computers for the rest of the day. They both agreed that Xenith should spend the night at Rose's house. It would save time, and it would be safer. After all, they had just spent the entire day blatantly ignoring the warnings of two angry men. They continued working late into the night, then started again first thing in the morning.
"Dammit!" Rose exclaimed after another fruitless search. She slammed the computer shut, rubbing her eyes. "I'm getting nowhere! Whoever built this house didn't get any permits, and they didn't buy their materials from any known company on the whole freakin' Internet!"
"I'm having no luck with the food, either," Xenith said, looking equally frustrated. "I can't link them to any bulk purchases of food, water, storage containers - nothing!" She stood up and gazed out the window. "There has to be something else. Some angle we're not trying."
Rose sighed. "Maybe we should - "
"Get your keys!" Xenith said suddenly.
"The truck! I just saw the truck go by! Come on!" Rose didn't need to ask what truck Xenith meant. She grabbed her keys and they sped out the door. "There!" Xenith cried, pointing to a white truck with no license plate. "It's just like the one they took Steve in."
Rose sped away from the curb and followed the truck, feeling hopeful again. "I wonder what they're up to."
"Who knows?" Xenith said, obviously in high spirits as well. "But they've got to go back to the safe house some time."
Rose nodded her agreement. She followed the truck as closely as she could without looking obvious. Eventually, the truck led them out of the main part of the city. They were headed in the direction of New Forest. The roads were emptier here, so Rose stayed well behind the white truck. Soon, they came to the forest. It was a manmade forest, planted by the government several decades ago after the National Environment Protection Committee decided each major city must have a major forest nearby to ensure good air quality. They drove along the main road at the edge of the forest for several miles. Then the truck turned into the trees.
Xenith gasped. "Don't worry," Rose said. She drove up to the place where she'd seen the truck make its turn. There was a small road there, barely distinguishable between the trees. It was just wide enough for one vehicle to drive comfortably. Rose turned in and drove slowly. After about a mile, Rose saw the truck. It was parked in a drive-way of sorts. Beyond it was a large building. Rose and Xenith both gaped. It looked like an old plantation house, instead of the stark commando base they'd expected to see. Rose stopped the car. "They'll definitely notice us if we keep driving. We'll go the rest of the way on foot."
"Good idea." They both got out of the car and started walking. Neither of them noticed the small white car that had stopped a few yards behind theirs.
Steve was nervous. Really nervous. The guards had taken the "breakfast" cups away, and it was almost time to start the plan. Now that he'd finally gotten everyone to cooperate, all he could think of was how many ways something could go wrong. He looked at Stevie. The other doll was pacing. "You okay? "
Stevie nodded. Then he said, "Steve... if we don't make it... "
"We'll make it, " Steve said immediately.
"But if... if we don't, I just want you to know - "
Steve smiled. "I know, kiddo. I know. " Stevie returned the smile, and he knew he didn't have to say more. He wasn't nervous any more either. He was getting Stevie out of here, no matter what the cost. Steve looked at the others. "Ready boys?" he asked.
"Ready," came the chorus of voices.
"Jordan? Care to count us off?"
The drummer smiled and did the honors. Then, Steve, Stevie, Ray and Stephen began to sing. "He's just a young boy out of school, livin' his world like he wants to. They're makin' laws, but they don't understand. Turns a boy into a fightin' man!"
Steve heard the sound of the outer doors opening. He kept singing, now joined by all the others. "They won't take me! They won't break me!"
Two guards came into view. They glared at the dolls. "What the hell is this?" one shouted over the din. "Shut up!"
According to the plan, everyone stopped except Steve. He continued to sing loudly. "No one could tell him what to do. Had to learn everything the hard way."
The guard scowled at Steve. "That's it," he said. "You've been more trouble than you were worth from the beginning." The guard opened the cell door and stepped in.
"He's on the street, breakin' all the rules," Steve sang, edging toward the back wall. The guard followed him further in, and Steve smiled. "I'm tellin' you that he's nobody's fool!"
"I said shut up!" the guard shouted, not noticing that the other '96's had closed in behind him. He raised his control rod as if to strike Steve's face with it. Quick as thought, Neal grabbed the guard's wrist and forced his arm out straight. Then, before either of the guards could react, Jonathan brought his hand down on the man's arm as hard as he could. There was the crack of broken bone, followed immediately by a scream from the guard.
Steve took the control rod from the guard's useless hand. "They won't take me," he sang. "They won't break me." Then he grinned and aimed at the guard. He waited just long enough for the others to get out of the way before he fired the weapon. The guard was propelled across the length of the cell. His body slammed forcefully against the bars and his head snapped back. He would probably have cracked his skull against the bars if he hadn't been wearing a helmet.
As a unit, the '96's turned to face the other guard, who had apparently been too shocked to do anything until then. He aimed his control rod, unsure who to strike first. Steve took advantage of his hesitation and fired. The guard flew back, just as the other one had, and fell to a heap in front of the '83's cell. Steve took the cell key out of the guard's pocket and stepped out of the cell. The others followed him, smiling broadly. Steve opened the '86's cell, while Neal claimed the other guard's key and control rod and released the '83's. Steve opened the '79's cell, grinning broadly at Stevie.
"Oh, now he's leavin'," Ray started to sing. The other Perrys grinned and joined him. "Gettin' out from the masquerade. Oh, gotta go!"
Flanked by Stevie and Neal, Steve led the way toward the outer doors. Steve and Neal put their keys in at the same time, as they'd seen the guards do many times before. They strode into the hall, looking around them. "All right, guys," Steve said. "This is it. Everybody stick together, and remember - we're stronger than they are." They made their way down the hall, checking each room as they went. They found four more guards patrolling the halls and took care of them in short order. Stevie, Val, Ray and Stephen armed themselves. Together with Steve and Neal, they formed the front line. They continued to make their way systematically through the house. No one ever said anything out loud, but they all knew who they were looking for. The Mistress.
Rose crouched down behind a clump of bushes and watched the truck. Two men dressed in black climbed out and opened the back. Xenith gasped. "Recognize them?" Rose whispered.
Xenith nodded. "They're our guys all right," she whispered. Rose couldn't quite read the expression on Xenith's face, but she got the impression that the only reason the other woman didn't rush out and attack them right away was because it would very likely be suicidal.
Rose watched as one of the men climbed into the back of the truck. Soon, a Valory doll walked out - hands shackled in front of him. As soon as he reached the ground, he rushed the man outside, kicking him hard in the groin. Then he ran towards the road. He didn't get more than three yards before the one who'd taken him out of the truck fired his control rod. The Valory doll cried out and fell to the ground. Within seconds, the man was beside him, yanking him to his feet. He shoved the doll back in the direction of the house.
By the time they reached the truck, the other kidnapper had managed to get to his feet. Furious, he hit the doll over the head with his control rod so hard that Rose heard it connect. She winced and Xenith tensed beside her. The man struck the doll several more times, forcing him to his knees. He continued hitting him until the Valory doll had curled himself into a protective ball. Finally, the other man said, "Enough."
The angry kidnapper hit him twice more, then stopped, shaking his arm out tiredly. "Get up," he growled. The Valory doll slowly uncurled himself and stood up, edging away from the man who'd attacked him. Head down, he followed him toward the house, flanked by the other kidnapper. Rose watched them until they were out of sight, wondering if either of her dolls had gone through something like that.
"What should we do?" Xenith asked after a moment.
"I don't know," Rose said. "If all Colonel Stanley's men are in there, that means it's two against thirty. I don't like those odds."
"Should we call the police?"
Rose sighed. "I'm not sure. Who knows how long they'll take to come?"
"If they decide to come at all," Xenith added.
"Let's get closer," Rose said. "Maybe we can find a back way or something." Using the cover of the trees, the two women got as close to the house as they dared. The front door appeared to be controlled by a regular lock and number pad. No getting in that way. Rose was willing to bet that an alarm would sound if they tried the combination. They made their way to the back of the house. There was another door there, also locked. Rose sighed. There had to be another way in! "Let's move a little closer," she whispered. They edged forward. Suddenly, Xenith fell forward with a startled shout. "What happened?" Rose asked, helping her to her feet.
"I tripped," Xenith said, sounding confused. Indeed, it didn't look like there was anything for her to have tripped on. Then Rose noticed that Xenith had tripped on the edge of a wide patch of ground that seemed to be covered more densely with leaves than any other area. "Weird," Xenith said, noticing it too.
"Let's check it out," Rose suggested. She knelt down on the edge of the mysterious patch and started moving leaves out of the way. Xenith investigated a few feet away. At first, all Rose found was more leaves. It must be a pit of some sort. She dug a little further. Then she saw something that brought her heart into her throat. A hand. She stared at it in disgust for a few seconds. Then she reached out and gingerly touched it. It was cold and hard. Very hard. Rose dug a little further, revealing a forearm, then the upper arm. Then it stopped. Rose drew her hand back quickly, realizing with horror that the arm wasn't attached to a body. She was thoroughly disgusted all over again.
Then Rose thought of something. Smell. There was no scent at all, except that of fallen leaves and dirt. If there were dismembered body parts under all these leaves, they should have smelled them ages ago. Curiosity finally won out over revulsion, and she forced herself to pick up the arm. It was heavier than she expected. Then she saw why. Circuitry showed at the place where the arm had been separated from the body. It was a doll's arm.
The moment Rose made this realization, Xenith gave a sharp intake of breath. Rose looked up to see her get to her feet and back away quickly, a look of sickened horror on her face. "Are you okay?" Rose asked. Xenith shook her head and pointed a shaking finger at something she'd seen in the leaves. Rose looked worriedly at her, thinking she had seem something similar to the arm. "I know it's awful," Rose said slowly. "Just try to calm down, okay?"
Xenith shook her head violently, still pointing. Her breaths were coming in swift gasps and her eyes had filled with tears that were quickly starting to fall. Frowning, Rose walked over to where Xenith had been, trying to find what had caused such a reaction. Finding a severed limb was bad, yes, but Rose didn't think it was cause for hysteria. She looked in the direction Xenith had been pointing and saw a dark shape. She grimaced. A head.
Rose knelt down and turned the head over so she could see the face. She gasped. It was a Perry doll. His face was grimy. His hair was matted and caked with dirt and rotting leaves. It looked as if the head had been outside for quite a long time. Rose's stomach churned. His face was forever frozen in an expression of pure and utter terror. She closed her eyes and turned away, unable, or unwilling to imagine what kind of horrible fate had befallen the doll to have caused him to die in such fear. Then, in a flash of insight, Rose understood why Xenith had reacted so violently. The head had belonged to an '83.
The dolls had already been through the top floor of the house, taking care of any guards they met and arming themselves along the way. By the time they finished upstairs, sixteen of them were armed all together. They surrounded the unarmed dolls and strode back downstairs. They started to sing again. It was not their intent to sneak out quietly and they didn't care who heard them anymore. "I'm finally out in the clear and I'm free. I've got dreams I'm livin' for. I'm movin' on where they'll never find me. Rollin' on to anywhere." Stevie sang at the top of his lungs, with a smile on his face. It was liberating to do so after being forced to keep silent for so long.
"I'll break away. Yes, I'm on my way! Leavin' today. Yes I'm on my way!" Back downstairs, the dolls encountered their first real resistance. The remaining guards must have gotten wind of their escape. Twelve of them had set up two lines of defense in the middle of the main hallway. One of the guars raised his hand and the front line aimed their control rods. Before their leader could bring his hand down, Steve shouted "Now!" The dolls fired and the line of men flew back, slamming into the men behind them. By the time the guards who were still conscious extricated themselves from the ones who weren't, the dolls were practically on top of them. They gaped at the dolls for a moment, apparently gauging their chances. Then they made a decision. They ran. Stevie smiled and sang, "Just when you think you had it all figured out."
"Runnin' scared can change your mind," the others sang. Then, without waiting for a signal, they fired on the retreating guards. Paul, Red, Nathan and Smitty were the last to arm themselves. Several of them, including Stevie, took a second control rod from the excess. Now, Stevie felt completely invincible. Walking at Steve's right hand with 18 other armed dolls to back him up, there was nothing he couldn't conquer. They met no further resistance. There were only two guards unaccounted for, and they didn't even bother to look for them. Stevie wanted one thing now, and one thing only. To get to the Bitch.
The dolls made for the ballroom, knowing instinctively that she would be there. When they reached the ballroom doors, they stood silently for a moment, remembering all the pain, fear and humiliation that had been dealt out behind them. Then, without further ado, Gregg strode forward and kicked the doors in. Stevie looked around the room, quickly taking in the scene. The two missing guards were there, holding the arms of a Valory doll - Paul's replacement. The Mistress was in her chair. Apparently, they'd been waiting for guards to bring Paul in for the new doll's "lesson." All of them looked completely shocked when the army of dolls entered.
The guards let go of the Valory doll and reached for their control rods. "Down!" Val shouted. The Valory doll didn't need to be told twice. He dove out of the way and in an instant, the last of the guards had taken care of. As one, they turned to the dais.
The Mistress was standing beside her chair, looking amazed. Stevie was pleased to see that her eyes were filled with something besides self assured superiority. She was afraid. She held up her hand. "Stop!" The dolls ignored her. She stepped back, still holding her hand out. "Stop, I said! You are mine, and you will do as I say!"
The dolls stopped for a moment. Then they laughed. Grim, mirthless laughter that caused the Mistress' face to grow white with horror. "We were never yours, you bitch," Ray spat.
"I am your mistress. You won't hurt me!"
"Wanna bet?" asked Lightning.
The Mistress stepped back. Then she straightened and glared at them. "You will be punished! All of you! My guards -"
"Your guards aren't going to save you," said Macca.
She faltered. Then her expression suddenly changed. She smiled sweetly at them. Stevie wasn't sure, but he thought the smell of flowers had grown stronger. "Boys," she said in a placating voice. "There is no need for this. If you stop now, none of you will be punished. I will see to it."
Stevie glanced at Steve. "Can you believe this bitch?"
"No punishment, huh?" asked Steve. "We can all be good boys and go back to our cages? You're crazier than I thought if you expect us to stay here, performing for you and carrying out your fucking sex games!"
"Perry '96, how can you say that?" she asked, sounding hurt. Then she grinned smugly. "I know you all enjoyed them as much as I did."
The other dolls seethed at those words. Stevie could feel the tension in the room rise as each of them recalled the countless humiliations they'd been forced to endure at her bidding. "You're a sick, twisted monster," he shouted, stepping up onto the dais. "And now you're going to pay." He raised his control rod and fired.
The Mistress screamed and stumbled back. Stevie gasped, backing away himself. The guards - who were all at least six feet tall and 200 pounds - had been propelled at least fifteen feet when they'd been struck, unless they were stopped by a wall or a piece of furniture. The Mistress had stumbled. There was complete silence in the room as everyone took in the significance of her reaction. "She's a doll," Steve said in wonder.
There was another moment of silence. Then, suddenly, a great cry of rage erupted from all the Journey dolls. They aimed their control rods at her and fired repeatedly. The Mistress screamed again - a long, drawn out screech that ended abruptly when she fell to the floor. The dolls stopped firing and stared at her. Then Stephen spoke into the silence. "We did it," he said in disbelief. "It's over."
Stevie shook his head. "No it's not," he said. "Not yet." He tossed his control rods to the floor and stepped forward. He walked past the Mistress' still form without looking at it and lifted one of the axes from the wall. He turned and looked Steve directly in the eyes, remembering the pain and guilt that had been there after the Mistress had forced them to "entertain" her together. "This is for you." Stevie walked back to the Mistress' body, raised the axe and brought it down heavily on her neck, severing her head with one clean stroke. Then, like a victorious Roman hero, Stevie grabbed a handful the Bitch's hair and held her head aloft for the others to see. They cheered.
Stevie made his way to the front of the group of dolls and saw the new Valory doll. He was still crouched on the floor, staring at them in utter amazement. Stevie walked up to him and he drew back a little with a wary glance at the head Stevie still carried. Stevie looked at it for a moment, then back at the Valory doll. "Looks like you picked the perfect day to come," he said. Then, without warning, he hurled the head across the room, sending it crashing against the far wall. Smiling, he held out a hand and helped the new Valory to his feet. "I never knew I had so much to give."
"How hard times can fool ya," his friends sang. Smiling, Stevie led the way out of the house. They were free.
Rose sat on the grass beside Xenith, stroking her back while she cried. She was a little concerned about their being noticed, but not enough to try to make Xenith stop. Her sobs were deep and so heart wrenching that Rose wanted to cry herself. She could only imagine what the other woman must be feeling. Xenith had searched faithfully for her doll for over a year. Now, it seemed, her search was at an end. Rose didn't try to speak, knowing that there was nothing in the world she could say that could possibly make it any easier. She was half afraid to continue her searching herself, lest she find that her own dolls had suffered the same fate.
Then Rose thought of something. "Maybe it's not him," she said.
Xenith looked up, her face streaked with tears. "What?"
"Maybe it's not him," Rose said again, thinking it sounded even more plausible the second time. "You said they've been stealing dolls for about three years, right?" Xenith nodded. "Well, maybe they stole your doll to replace that one. It's not like they can get servicing for stolen dolls, right? Maybe that one broke down, and they had to get a new one. Or," she added, remembering the look of terror on the doll's face. "Maybe he did something the kidnappers didn't like. The point is, your doll could still be alive."
"You really think so?" Xenith asked hesitantly.
"Yes, I really do," Rose said. Xenith smiled and dried her tears. Rose could see she was clinging to that meager thread of hope like a lifeline. She hoped to hell she was right.
"What do we do now?" Xenith asked.
"Well,-" Rose was interrupted by the sound of singing. "Oh, I'm okay. I'm all right." She looked at Xenith. "Did that sound like - ?"
"Perrys," Xenith said, nodding. Then Rose heard several more voices. "Feelin' good, out on your own." "Hey," Xenith said suddenly. "They're singing - "
"Escape!" Rose cried. "Come on!" She got to her feet and ran in the direction of the music, followed closely by Xenith. When they reached the front of the house, they stopped short. A large group of men were gathered just outside the house, smiling and singing. They all wore black pants, and shirts that were either grey, black or white. Rose gasped. "Oh my god," she said. "Journey."
"Yeah," Xenith said, sounding equally breathless. "A lot."
They continued to stare until the Schon doll in the black shirt noticed them. "Hey," he said sharply. "Who are they?" Several of the dolls looked in their direction. With a start, Rose noticed that they were all armed with the no-nonsense control rods the kidnappers had used.
"I don't know," a Smith doll in dark grey said.
The Schon doll who'd spoken stood up. "Let's check it out." He started to walk toward them, flanked by a two Valory dolls, a Cain and a Perry. Rose backed away nervously. Their control rods were aimed squarely at them and their faces were grim and mistrustful. Rose glanced at Xenith, who was looking decidedly green. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," she whispered.
"Maybe," Xenith whispered dryly.
Rose raised her arms slowly in a gesture of surrender. Xenith did the same. The dolls kept walking until they were only a few feet from them. "Who are you?" the Valory doll in the white shirt asked.
"I'm... my... my name is Rose," she stammered. They looked at Xenith expectantly, but she didn't seem able to speak. She stared at the control rods fearfully, and Rose guessed that she must be thinking about her months in physical therapy. "Her name's Xenith," she supplied.
The dolls all looked surprised. Then, smiling, they lowered their control rods. "Well, how's that for timing?" the Cain doll said. "Hey, Ray," he called. "Steve! Stevie! Come 'ere! You're not gonna believe this!"
Steve glanced at Ray and Stevie. They looked as mystified as he felt. Who could it be? He hadn't got a good look at the intruders before Neal and the others had blocked their view. Steve shrugged. "Come on."
They trotted over to where the others stood, followed by the rest of the company. "Look who's here," Stephen said.
He stepped out of the way and there was a collective gasp from the other three Perrys. Steve didn't recognize the woman on the left, but he smiled broadly at the other. "Steve?" she said breathlessly. Steve stepped forward and pulled Rose into a long awaited embrace. She squeezed him tight, and he felt like he would never let go.
After a few heavenly moments, there was a tap on his shoulder. He looked up. Stevie was there, his eyes glinting with unshed tears. "Do I get a turn? " Steve smiled and turned Rose to face the other doll. Stevie grabbed her and hugged her so fiercely that Rose had to remind him that he was the one of titanium, not her. Steve shook his head, smiling at the scene, like so many he'd witnessed at home. Home. He grinned broadly, realizing that it wouldn't be long before he would see it again.
Then Steve looked over at Ray. The doll was standing perfectly still, staring at the woman who'd come with Rosie as if he couldn't believe she were real. The woman bore much the same expression. "Xenith?" he whispered. The woman smiled and nodded. Tears were streaming down her face. Ray reached out with a shaking hand and brushed a tear from her cheek. He took a deep, shuddering breath. "Oh, God," he said, starting to cry himself. "I thought I'd never see you again." Xenith didn't say anything. She just put her arms around Ray, rested her head on his shoulder and gave vent to her tears.
"Man," Ross said. "Couldn't you just puke?" Everyone laughed, but Steve noticed that there wasn't a dry eye in the group.