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Monday, 7 August 2017

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 2-02: The Circle

Episode:21|Writer:Peter Allan Fields|Air Date:03-Oct-1993

This month on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching The Circle, which is the very first episode of Deep Space Nine to have a 'previously on' clip at the start. That's because it's the second part of the The Homecoming, though you wouldn't know it from the title.

Up until this point, two-parters in Star Trek have been clearly labelled, so we've had The Menagerie, Part II, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, Chain of Command, Part II etc. and Voyager would later continue the tradition. DS9 just had to be different though... except for the couple of times when it wasn't.

This is Peter Allan Fields' first story for the series after Duet last year, which was an oasis of awesome in that desolate wasteland of a season. I'm hoping that this is a: better, and b: pretty average for season two, because the series could really use a sharp increase in quality.

I'll be recapping the whole episode with beautiful SD screencaps from the Region 2 DVDs and throwing in some of my commentary along the way. This means that there'll be SPOILERS for the whole episode and I'm considering anything else with the Star Trek name on it released before October '93 to be fair game too. I won't spoil what comes after though... or things that came before in prequel.




Last time on Deep Space Nine...
  • Anti-non-Bajoran attitudes are spreading across Bajor and Deep Space Nine, and have ruined Jake's date with a Bajoran girl. 
  • Bajoran extremist group The Circle tagged the station and Quark’s forehead. 
  • Kira risked her life and a war with Cardassia to rescue resistance legend Li Nalas from a labour camp. 
  • Li then tried to bolt to the Gamma Quadrant because the tales of his heroism are all lies.
  • Sisko talked him into stepping up and making use of his reputation to do some good. 
  • But the Provisional Government decided to leave him on Deep Space Nine out of the way by giving him Kira's job.
And now, the continuation.

The episode begins with Minister Jaro explaining to Sisko that Kira's actually been promoted, not fired, so it's all good!

Sisko's bullshit sense is tingling though, so he smiles and says "For a minute I was thinking to myself, 'There's a warm wind blowing in from Minicoy'." The universal translator is impossibly good, but as an alien Jaro has no hope of getting that idiom (in fact I think the writer just made it up), so he has to ask for an explanation.
“It's just an old saying from Earth. It all started with a famous ambassador from Minicoy who used to bluster, exaggerate, and dissemble to get what he wanted. Not at all like you or me. He was a bag of hot air and everyone recognised him for what he was.”
I love this Sisko! Where was this Sisko in season 1?

Jaro seems to get the subtle encoded message and decides to move the conversation forward, explaining that with the Circle starting fires and beating up ministers down on Bajor it's safer to have Li Nalas on the station. Has he even seen this TV series? The guy's likely to be infected with a deadly plague by his 5th episode, kidnapped by his 8th and probably brainwashed into being a murderer before the season's out.

With that business concluded Sisko gets another "You need to come down and see this," call like in the last episode, and it turns out to be the Circle symbol spray-painted in a corridor... just like in the last episode. You can't end a teaser with the exact same reveal you did last week!

Okay to be fair, this is on the door to his own quarters this time, so that's added a new twist. We've never been given the impression that the hallway the Siskos live on is any better protected than anywhere else on the station, people can just take a lift up to Ops at any time in this place, the security is terrible. But tagging Benjamin Sisko's door with anti-human graffiti is like kicking a bear in the ass and saying 'come on then!' They really are crying out for attention here.


ACT ONE


Act one starts with Odo dropping by to see Kira as she's emptying out her quarters. He's angry that she's giving up and letting the Provisional Government punish her for breaking the rules, because she's got a personal code that matters more. Seems like a weird thing for the station's security chief to say, but then Odo's always been more interested in justice than laws.

Dax soon arrives at her door and interrupts their argument to return some skin lotion and then Bashir turns up to interrupt their conversation. The writer had some fun with this scene, ramping up the confusion with each new person entering the room. So you've got Bashir walking in while Dax is talking about how Kira's new posting sounds dull, and assuming she must be talking about him etc.

Soon a confused O'Brien turns up as well, followed by Quark, who thinks they're having a party! Poor Odo just wants to finish his argument so that he can convince Kira to stay but he can hardly get a word in with everyone else trying to wish her luck before she goes. Kira on the other hand is wondering if they're doing this to her deliberately.

Bashir claims that no one could've planned this, but it did take the cast a fair bit of preparation as the entire scene was filmed as one take! It didn't end up like that in the final episode because they had to break it up with close ups for whatever reason, but it still feels very seamless. It's the kind of madcap comedy scene that belongs to bygone era of movies I shouldn't be talking about because I can't actually remember any of them. I should make a note somewhere to rewatch the decent Marx Bros movies.

And the final cast member to knock on Kira's door is...

...the leading contender to be the next space pope, Vedek Bareil! Wait, he's not even a cast member. Is Sisko busy scrubbing the spray paint off his front door or something?

Kira struggles for the right way to describe the group of aliens that Bareil's found in her quarters, and slowly realises that the word she's looking for is 'friends'. It's a nice way to show how much she's grown to like these people (even Quark) and how surprised she is by it.

I'm trying to remember if these Bareil and Kira even had a conversation back in In the Hands of the Prophets, and I'm thinking that if they did it couldn't have been a long one. Still, she must have made an impression as he's come all this way just to offer her an opportunity to stay at his monastery for a while. In the Hands of the Prophets was all about Vedek Winn scheming to blow up a school just to lure this guy out to the space station so that the assassin she'd planted in the DS9 crew could shoot him, but it turns out that all she needed to do was get Kira fired.

That's what the Bajorans seem to call Deep Space Nine by the way, 'the space station'. They haven't gotten around to telling us what the Cardassians used to call it yet, but it can't be long now before that gets revealed.

Once the party's over she comes up to Ops to take one last look the place, in a scene shot as if we're spying on her from the pit. It's a panning shot so I couldn't resist stitching it together.

For some reason when I started re-watching the series I assumed that complicated ceiling they built up there would basically go to waste after the pilot, but nope they're always finding reasons to look up at it. That's one of the main differences between Deep Space Nine and its arch-rival Babylon 5: DS9 could afford ceilings. Though took the DS9 producers another year after this before they decided to swap out the grey carpets and give us something to look at on the floors as well.

Li Nalas (they always call him by his full name) comes over to apologise for stealing Kira's job and admits that they didn't bother to train him how to do it. He's just some resistance fighter... though then again so was Kira when she started out.

Sisko catches her before she leaves to tell her that he's going to get her back somehow, regardless of what Minister Jaro says. Then we get some more pretty shots of Ops, to show that Kira's grown fond of the place and she'll miss it.


ACT TWO


So Li Nalas has got Kira's job of first officer on DS9 and now she's the one stuck on a planet sorting rocks. This seems to be the same place they used for the monastery scenes in In the Hands of the Prophets, so the actress is playing around with the stone paths in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. They've only budgeted for a limited number of location shoots each year and they're using them all up on the opening three-parter!

Kira's really trying to relax here, she's even washed the gel out of her hair, but she can't help stressing out over her crooked path. She explains to Bareil that it's the feeling of uselessness that's really bothering her; she hasn't got the artistic skills needed for monastery path construction and she can't stand not getting things done. She admits that she sucked so badly at finger painting as a four year old that she embarrassed her parents, which is presenting a weird picture of life in a Cardassian refugee camp.

So Bareil decides to take her out of the arboretum to show her his magic Orb.

It's taken a while but they're finally bringing back the Orbs of the Prophets! These were introduced way back in the pilot episode Emissary and then immediately forgotten about.

Bareil introduces it as the third Orb, the Orb of Prophecy and Change. Kai Opaka mentioned in Emissary that Bajor was sent nine of these Orbs and the Cardassians ran off with eight of them, so this is presumably the same Orb we saw before.

Kira stops mid-sentence when she spots the Orb, looking like she's just noticed he has the Holy Grail in his drinks cabinet. Which isn't far off from what's happening here. Nana Visitor always does a good job of portraying someone who really believes in this made up alien religion and its clear how much this means to the character.

All her life Kira's dreamed of getting to look into an Orb... which makes it a little strange that she didn't think to drop by Dax's lab while she was studying the thing on the station during Emissary.

Speaking of Dax, here she is dressed like a vedek in the Chamber of Ministers for some reason.

When Sisko and Dax looked into the Orb in Emissary they got a vision of an important event in their past, but this doesn't seem like it can be an event from Kira's past... unless they've been up to some weird shit in the holosuites. Plus the scene's got the weird glow effect that was added to Sisko's meeting with the Prophets in the wormhole, and I don't think it's a mistake. I guess this isn't the same Orb after all! Maybe they recovered another one somehow in the meantime.

Vedek Dax gives Kira a hug and then oops she's Vedek Winn now! And Minister Jaro's there too!

Also Kira's misplaced her uniform. "Blasphemy" Winn says. Nudity more like.

Bareil has turned up as well and he's wearing Kira's uniform. I mean the male version of it, not her actual clothes. He tells her that the people aren't calling to Jaro, they're calling to her, and she has to listen to them. So... I guess that's all straightened out then.

And then they've both got their kit off and they very almost kiss... but the vision ends.

Okay Bareil's rigged this Orb hasn't he? He's gone and done something to it. Though if this is a genuine vision and he had it too, then it would explain why he made such an effort to get a woman he barely knows down to his monastery.

Back on DS9, Odo’s apparently upgraded his desk, as now he’s got a trading card monitor to chat to people on. I believe this is its only appearance though. Maybe it was the one card Nog was missing and he nicked it to complete his set.

This security guy is on screen to give crucial exposition on the state of Bajor right now. It's apparently getting rough if you're not living in a cushy monastery, with beatings taking place in the street. The violence has escalated to the point where the Provisional Government is bringing troops into the capital to deal with the Circle.

Just then Quark drops by to tell Odo that it's over. Not just the investigation into his attack last episode, but everything. Bajor, the Provisional Government, the Federation being here. He came to warn him... and deliver the best line of the episode:
"We've got to leave! Well I do anyway, you can just turn into a couch."
Quark's been doing his own investigation and he's found that the Circle has stockpiled enough weapons and supplies to support an army. They're getting them from the Kressari, who are apparently an alien culture entirely dedicated to delivering flowers. Or botanic DNA anyway. But Quark's found out that they can also deliver other things, like guns.

It's nice of Quark to stop by to warn his arch-nemesis before leaving and Odo definitely appreciates it. In fact he appreciates his detective work so much that he's making him his deputy and sending him to find out where the Kressari weapons are going on Bajor, while he finds out where they're coming from. It's an Odo and Quark team-up! Kind of.

Back on Bajor, Bareil admits that he saw Kira in his own vision and it was the reason he came to see her on the station. Though he shies away from giving her any details (the creepy git) and they're soon interrupted by the sound of thunder. Bareil's a bit confused about this meteorological incongruity, seeing as it's a bright sunny day, but Kira identifies it as being distant gunfire. So that's an ominous sign.

And then Vedek Winn appears, grinning on a bridge! These two aren't her favourite people in the world after the events of In the Hands of the Prophets and she's not holding back with the passive aggression this time. Every insult out of her mouth is carefully calculated to sound like the sweetest thing and yet still deliver its payload.

For instance, when she learns that Bareil brought Kira to the monastery she fires off the line "Good for you, Vedek Bareil, after working so hard you deserve a little recreation." Bareil explains to her that Kira's here to explore her pagh, and she comes back with "A worthy endeavour for someone who has led such a life of violence". It's like she's seen Battle Lines and knows how much Kira's bothered by her past.

Winn finishes with "Feel free to stay as many days as you like. Even a week, if necessary," in a way that clearly means 'fuck off as soon as possible'. Seems that having the series' best writer come up with lines for one of their best guest actors is paying off so far.


ACT THREE


Whoa, this is a big set they've built for such a small scene.

This is apparently the war room for the forces defending Bajor's capital city (which still hasn't got a name), and General Krim here is calling the shots. Sisko's come by to visit him because he's worried that the Bajoran military isn't actually interested in confronting the Circle. He's noticed them backing off from potential confrontations, and the Provisional Government isn't going to last without the support of the military.

Damn man, you think you've got enough circles on that map? Now I want to compare it with the matte painting of the city they always show to see if any of it matches up.

Sisko gives Krim the intelligence they have about the Kressari shipping weapons to the Circle and then asks for his help in getting Major Kira back to DS9. Krim just tells him to take it up with Minister Jaro, but it didn't escape his notice that Sisko offered the intel before asking for a favour instead of trying to make a trade.

Back on the station, Li Nalas gets an opportunity to do his job when he gets a call from a disgruntled Kressari frieghter captain who's pissed off that O'Brien's still opening up every container in his cargo hold when the ship was supposed to depart six hours ago. But Li's able to... well he doesn't do much of anything really.

So Dax calls O'Brien while he's putting a box down right up close to the camera to tell him he might as well call it a day and let the captain get on with his life. But I bet the box turns out to be Odo. I'm 86% sure of it.

HE WAS THE LABEL! And then he was a mouse! This is now the best episode.

Meanwhile Kira gets drugged and carried off by a gang of those faceless monks that branded Quark in part 1! They got her just after Sisko came by to bring her up to date on the plot, so they must have been sitting in the bushes for two minutes waiting for him to leave. Not much fun when you've got a mask on that blocks your nose and mouth... though now that I think about it, they've never actually said that Bajorans can't breathe through their ears. They could have gills in their armpits for all I know.


ACT FOUR


Back on the Kressari freighter, Rodent Odo discovers why O'Brien didn't find any weapons on board: the Cardassians have been rendezvousing with the freighter out in space and beaming the weapons over! So an anti-alien Bajoran group is planning a coup with weapons they've bought from the aliens that occupied their planet for the last 50 years. That's... interesting.

Though right now I'm mostly wondering what Odo can actually perceive in different forms. I mean did he have to turn into a rat to spy on this conversation or could he have heard it just fine as a box label? Can Odo see with his eyes closed when he's in humanoid form? There are so many unanswered questions!

Kira wakes up in the Star Trek cave set to find Circle graffiti on the wall and Minister Jaro standing over her. He explains that he's not involved with the Circle... he is the Circle. That's why he made sure Li Nalas was sent over to the space station, where he can't interfere with his sinister schemes. And he's brought her here to get her opinion on what the Federation will do when his objective becomes clear to them. All she has to do is answer his question and he won't just give Kira her job back, he'll give her the commander's office too. He doesn't mention anything about the baseball but I'm sure she can find her own.

So now Kira has to choose between supporting the Provisional Government or helping out a group that wants to sever ties with the Federation. A while back this would've been a harder choice for her, considering was sent to DS9 in the first place because of her criticism of the government and alien races getting involved in their business.

In fact it was a harder choice for her now that I think about it, as she was forced to choose a side back in the second episode of the first season as well (Past Prologue). She made a pragmatic decision that time, as she knew they needed the Federation to help them protect the wormhole and they needed the wormhole to make them proper players in the Alpha Quadrant. But it's been a year since then and Kira's gotten to know the Starfleet officers and what they're about, so now that a Dramatis Personae us vs. them situation's happening for real, she's firmly on Team Sisko. Because she knows that he's on her side.

So Jaro decides to torture her for her opinion instead.

Back on the station, Quark enters Ops through one of the mysterious side doors, giving us a fleeting glimpse of the secrets that lie beyond. It's a shame they couldn't have had some toilet paper stuck to his shoe or something, just to give us a clue about what might be out there.

Quark's here because he's actually done his job as Odo's deputy and has learned the location of the Circle's hidden base... entirely off screen. I guess there wasn't enough room in the episode to fit that subplot in. In fact there's only 10 minutes of episode left so they're going to have to trust his information is legit and get on with the rescue mission.

Sisko decides he'll be leading the team personally. He's been on this show a whole year now and hasn't really gotten to shoot anyone yet, aside from Bashir, so it's time that changed. O'Brien and Bashir are coming too, and Li Nalas invites himself along as well, meaning that Dax is running the station now I guess.

Then we get a rare first person view from the turbolift as it goes beneath the floor... but it's just black down there so there's nothing for me to show.

Man, you wait forever for an episode about a covert ops rescue mission in your Star Trek series then two of them come along in a row.

But hang on, O'Brien just beamed five people down from the runabout in one go. They said they could only beam two last episode, that's the reason they had to land and rescue Li Nalas on foot! Though to be fair to this episode, Star Trek's already shown a runabout beaming three people at once in episodes like Battle Lines and Next Gen's Timescape, so it's The Homecoming that screwed up.

They're looking for Kira in a labyrinth of caves, so they should really have their tricorders out... but I'm glad they're don't, as it always looks ridiculous. They've learned their lesson after episodes like Move Along Home and Q-Less.

Whoa, Star Trek characters actually taking cover in a firefight, it's amazing! Though it's a shame about that dumbass beigeshirt who couldn't find a place to hide and ended up standing in the open waiting to get shot.

It's a miracle that Bashir didn't get shot as well, the way he ran right across everyone's line of fire like that.

Oh there you go.

Li Nalas actually turns out to be a badass though, nailing the guy with a shot straight to the heart. It was probably a stun shot though, probably. I'm only counting one beigeshirt getting beamed back though so I guess the other guy wasn't so lucky.

That's a rare angle for a transporter beam effect. Also I'm glad to see that they remembered to use the blue Starfleet one instead of the brown Cardassian one because they're using the runabout. Gotta keep your sparkles straight.


ACT FIVE


Huh, why's Bashir the one healing Kira with the sonic screwdriver? He's the one who took a blue space ray to the back, someone should be treating him! Or did that happen already during the 2+ hour trip back on the runabout?

Odo's back from his ride on the Kressari freighter as well (they knew it was due to return to DS9 in 2 days so he just waited around as a mouse I guess) and he's brought a borrowed PADD with a thumb scan on it, proving that the Cardassians sold them the weapons. And the Circle likely don't even know about it.

Why the Cardassians thought it was a good idea to get involved, I don't know. Sure they want the Circle to win so that they can swoop in and take the wormhole once the Federation gets kicked out, but by supplying the guns they've left a trail leading back to them. Now the crew just has to get this proof to the Chamber of Ministers and they'll kill all support for the Circle.

Unfortunately they're just five minutes too late to call them from the station as their frequencies are being jammed. Dax was well aware that this had happened, she just didn't think to tell Sisko until he asked her because it works better for drama this way.

Cut to Jaro paying Vedek Winn a visit. I'm watching two great actors discussing a very serious matter, but I can't help being distracted by the flame she's using to light the candles throughout the scene. I keep thinking she's going to catch the minister with it and set his coat on fire.

It turns out that she's not actually allied with him yet, she was tormenting Bareil and Kira earlier for her own amusement, but he convinces her to publicly bless his ascension to leader of Bajor. In exchange he'll do what he can to make sure she becomes the next space pope instead of Bareil.

So she's going to use religion to help him gain political power and he's going to use politics to help her gain religious power. There's no mystery to what I'm supposed to think about this as the music's getting very sinister all of a sudden.

Meanwhile on Deep Space Nine, Sisko is having a chat with a Starfleet officer called Chakotay.

Hey that's not the bloke with the tattoo from Voyager! Oh, the subtitles say that this is Admiral Chekote. Entirely different guy. No Voyager cameo here.

Sisko does something very weird here as he starts talking to the admiral while walking into his office, despite the monitor being turned to face the other way. It's like they started the conversation earlier, but Sisko had to pop out for a moment and leave his boss staring at his chair.

He tells the admiral that Jaro has the military on his side, communications have been cut off and assault vessels are on the way to take the station. They've given non-Bajorans seven hours to evacuate, which doesn't give Sisko much time to sort this out.

But Chekote doesn't want Sisko doing anything but packing his bags. Even if he can prove the Cardassians are involved it's pretty much none of their business. The Prime Directive states that they don't get involved in the internal matters of other civilisations, even if they've got a sweet-ass wormhole. This is Bajor's space station and once their welcome has worn out it's time to leave. This actually paints Starfleet in quite a positive light really, as they really are living up to their philosophy and promises instead of taking steps to retain their control of the wormhole.

But if Sisko has to pack his bags then he wants to do it properly and more importantly slowly. The assault vessels will be here in seven hours, but they've going to stay as many days as they need. Even a week, if necessary. Until they've picked up absolutely everything with a Starfleet serial code printed on it, or ended a coup and saved the government, whichever happens first.

So there's a proper cliffhanger for you: Bajor's gone to shit, the military's on the way to seize the Deep Space Nine, the crew have been ordered to leave by both the owners and their boss, and Sisko ain't gonna.


CONCLUSION

I thought I was enjoying The Circle while watching it, but after writing out everything that happens in it I'm starting to wonder why; it's not the most compelling series of events on paper.

It starts with  a bit of farce with seven actors in one apartment. Kira goes and hangs out in a monastery, stacks rocks and has a sexy vision. Odo becomes a label and then a rat. Sisko has three separate chats with high ranking officials that get him nowhere. There's an exciting blink-and-you'll-miss-it rescue scene which I pretty much showed in its entirety in those two clips. And the two villains have a talk while one of them lights candles.

So was it at least as good as the best episodes from season 1? I'm going to say... yes. This is right up there with Duet and In the Hands of the Prophets and a considerable step above the typical season one episode. Though I think the main reason for that is because season one was very very dull.

The pilot episode set up Deep Space Nine as being a distant outpost far from Federation backup which had the wounded spiritual Bajorans on one side, the sneaky militaristic Cardassians on the other, and a gateway to utterly unexplored space in its backyard that everyone want control of. And then it fell into a boring routine with the crew basically just keeping their sleepy frontier town/airport running while waiting for an anomaly from the Gamma Quadrant or a guest star from Next Gen to come by and give them an excuse to wave their tricorders and talk about gravitons. When they visited Bajor they ended up dealing with a milkshake monster in the ass-end of nowhere. When they explored the Gamma Quadrant it was only because the space pope came and forced them to show some damn interest in the wonders of the unknown. And the Cardassians basically left them alone all year! The series was just pissing away the promise of its premise.

But now the Cardassians are finally back and are scheming again for the first time since... uh... Star Trek: The Next Generation I think. Supporting a faction of nationalists so that they seize power and then drive away all their allies isn't the most complicated plan, but it's definitely working. More importantly it's setting the Cardassians up to be actual antagonists with an agenda again, instead of being part of the backstory. It's a bit of a shame that almost everything The Circle does with their new weapons happens entirely off screen, as the characters are hanging out in a beautiful monastery, but we do get to see their cave at least! A cave they only found because Quark managed to get the location entirely off screen.

On the downside the Li Nalas plot seems to have been exiled along with the character, as all he gets to do here is help out and be likeable. But likeable's good, plus it's interesting to see someone much less passionate doing Kira's job, and we do learn a bit more about who this legendary (fake) resistance leader really is when he proves to be pretty damn good in a fight. Kira doesn't get to fight anyone this time, but she's on a real roller coaster here, going from being fired, to being caught in a comedy scene, to stacking rocks in a garden, to getting to see a sacred Orb of the Prophets, to getting a sexy vision, to getting kidnapped and tortured by people she might have supported this time last year. Sisko's adventures are less exciting but it's great to see him holding his own in his scenes with politicians and high ranking officers. He's still kind of wooden, but I was half expecting him to spontaneously sprout a goatee a couple of times.

Also, here's another coincidental Babylon 5/Deep Space Nine similarity for you: they both finally feel like they're going somewhere at the start of season 2! I suppose the cryptic visions of the future helped (that's another trick B5 loves to pull) as it's rare to get so much evidence that the writers are planning ahead.

This still doesn't feel like proper Deep Space Nine, but it feels like good TV at least. They're playing to their strengths for once.

ODO'S MORPHS OF THE WEEK:

A box label and a tiny rodent (again).



COMING SOON
This epic Deep Space Nine trilogy will conclude with The Siege. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching Babylon 5's A Race Through Dark Places.

Comments are awesome, so if you find yourself coming up with one, please place it in the box provided below. Thank you.

3 comments:

  1. Have they forgotten to give the Magic: the Gathering security guard Bajoran make-up? Or are the Bajoran security services employing humans?

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure the guy's fully en-nosed, it's just really hard to tell when he's on a monitor screen in a fuzzy JPEG of a fuzzy DVD screencap. Maybe one day they'll finally make a HD remaster and we can solve this mystery once and for all.

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    2. I thought maybe the reason he seems so stressed about the Circle is because he's the only human security guard on a Bajor that's turning against non-Bajorans.

      There have been a few Trek card games over the years; I would love it if there was a card of the Trading Card Guard in there somewhere.

      Delete