New Fiction in the Reckless Faith Universe

The last three months have been a boon for my books.  The Fox and the Eagle has been doing particularly well, and my other titles are doing better than average as well.  With so many new readers, I’ve decided to revisit past ideas for a fifth book in the series.  As usual, I’ll be posting the content as I create it.  The first draft of the prologue and first chapter are below; if the prologue seems familiar it’s because I’ve posted it here before.  However, it concludes differently now.

Prologue

 

“Hey, Agent Smith!”

 

Val was on his way from the front desk to the elevators when he heard someone call his name. He turned to his right and looked into the lounge area. His contact, Special Agent Ben Jones, was sitting at a small table near the bar. Val approached him.

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Infinity Publishing has gone dark. Consider my books with them as out of print.

Due to a messy merger with a new company called FastPencil, Infinity Publishing is no longer responding to communications, nor are they fulfilling orders.  As such, I’ve re-published The Fox and the Eagle directly on Amazon.  Please be sure you are ordering the correct version, especially the paperback.  The easiest way to distinguish these versions are that the new versions are significantly less expensive.

I’m taking action to have Infinity’s versions of my books officially listed as out of print, which could take a few months.  For now, all five of my novels are available directly through Amazon, both in Kindle and paperback.

Here is the link to The Fox and the Eagle, new Kindle Edition.  The link to the paperback is in the sidebar.

 

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Dun Ringill is Live on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that Dun Ringill is now available for the Kindle on Amazon.  Thank you to everyone who helped me edit and refine the final version.

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Dun Ringill: First Draft Complete

The first draft of Dun Ringill is complete.  Next begins the process of editing, and finding a source for cover art.  Until the book is ready to be published on Amazon, I’m making the first four chapters available to a wider audience.  If you would like an advance copy of the whole thing, please let me know, and thank you to all who provided feedback so far.  Below are links to the first four chapters.

Prologue and Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

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Inspiration and the Creative Process

My fifth novel, Dun Ringill, is nearly complete.  All that remains are one or two more chapters, and an epilogue.  Though I’ve been working on it in earnest for over a year, I only recently stumbled upon a bit of information that I wanted to share.

Some of you already know that Dun Ringill is a real place, an approximately 2,000 year old fort on the Island of Skye off of Scotland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dun_Ringill

I was inspired to name my book after it because of its reference in a song by Jethro Tull, the progressive rock group introduced to me by my mother at a young age.  Most of Tull’s lyrics were written by its frontman, Ian Anderson, who lived near Dun Ringill during some of his youth.  Anderson’s recurring themes are rife with references to the ancient peoples of England, their culture, and rituals.  They are all explored in depth on the outstanding fan website Cup of Wonder,

http://www.cupofwonder.com/index2.html

Including, of course, Dun Ringill itself, from the album Stormwatch.

http://www.cupofwonder.com/stormwat.html#DunRingill

Though often inscrutable, Anderson’s lyrics are not always difficult to decipher, and Dun Ringill’s meaning is fairly easy to discern if you know the history behind the ancient structure.  Though in reality the fort probably has no special meaning other than a defensive position that long ago became obsolete, it inspired me to research other ancient English structures that almost certainly did, including the most famous, Stonehenge.  In fact, many ancient structures in England feature astronomical alignments at significant times of the year (solstices and equinoxes, most notably).  Whether built merely for utility or for a ritualistic purpose, people who visit these places often remark on there being a peculiar feel to them, probably the same sense of mystery that Anderson himself experienced at Dun Ringill.

It was while researching these places that I learned about cursus lines, man-made ditches, barrows, or earthenworks put in place thousands of years ago for unknown purposes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursus

I thought these were interesting enough to apply them in a practical way to the science fiction of my novel.  However, I also decided to use them because I suspected that one of Anderson’s lines from Dun Ringill, lines joint in faint dischord, referred to cursus lines and their possible importance in ancient rituals.  As courses constructed by people who may have believed that some kind of mystical power flowed through them, they are related to the pseudoscience of ley lines:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ley_line

But are things like this what Anderson was really referring to in the song Dun Ringill?  I wasn’t sure until I started studying the lyrics of Jethro Tull songs that weren’t my favorites, either growing up or today.  So, it was just last week that I came across an explicit reference to ley lines in the song Cup of Wonder itself.

http://www.cupofwonder.com/songs.html#CupOfWonder

For the May Day is the great day, sung along the Old Straight Track.  And those who ancient lines did lay will heed the song that calls them back.

If you looked at the Wikipedia article I linked above, you may have noticed that The Old Straight Track was the first published book on ley lines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Straight_Track

D’oh!

Still, despite that I could have answered my own question a long time ago by being more familiar with Jethro Tull’s discography, I was elated to learn of this relationship.  Maybe this makes me a verifiable Turbo Nerd but this revelation sent chills down my spine.

In all of my writing, I’ve been inspired by astronomy, ancient legends, and music.  Whether any of this translates into good science fiction is certainly up to the reader, but the fact that it keeps me going back to the page is good enough for me.  However, now that my characters are about to finally solve the mystery of Dun Ringill, it seems that I have, too.

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Dun Ringill, Chapter Four

When Carthage returned with the rest of his gear, Siobhan was still in her bedroom, trying to decide what to bring with her on the trip. She bid him to come in, so he stood at the doorway. She did a double-take when she saw his rifle, then went back to staging items on her bed.

“No problems out there?” she asked.

Carthage shook his head. “If Ludain went for help, there’s no indication yet. You’re not planning on trying to take all that stuff, are you?”

“No, I can only reasonably carry twenty-five pounds, so I’m choosing which things to take. Your rifle is a SCAR, right?”

“Yup. FN SCAR-H, seven-six-two. My pistol is a Beretta PX4, in forty-five, and I grabbed a spare from the ship. Have you worked on them before?”

“I’ve only seen them in my manuals. There are a wide variety of guns in Romanby, but neither of those ever made it here. How much water should I bring?”

“Whatever you can comfortably carry. I have iodine tablets with me if we need to get some in the field. I take it the original colonists were allowed to take whatever they wanted?”

Siobhan nodded. “Self-defense was enshrined within our constitution before we ever set foot on Skye. I don’t think we ever intended to use them for war, though.”

“Let me guess. After the Wave hit, splinter political factions saw the opportunity to take power.”

“The loftiest of goals are always subject to the machinations of human nature, Carthage. But Skye was never meant to be a Utopia, just a free planet for each of us to make their own way.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about on our stroll through the countryside. Anyway, you’re welcome to carry my spare Beretta if you like.”

“I may do just that. I only have thirty-seven rounds left for my CZ, and I doubt anyone else on Skye brought a weapon in that caliber. I’m also bringing my Vintorez, since I assume you don’t have another SCAR crammed into your backpack.”

Carthage raised his eyebrows. “You have a VSS Vintorez? Those are rare, even on Earth. How much ammo do you have for it?”

Siobhan began shoving items into her rucksack. “I have a hundred rounds, all loaded into five mags. My mom was from Belarus, and my dad met her while there on business. He had an affinity for Eastern Bloc weapons. He brought her and two guns back to Scotland.”

“Wasn’t the rifle turbo-illegal in Scotland?”

Siobhan chuckled. “Of course. I don’t think it ever saw the light of Earth’s sun once my dad got it. On Skye, anything goes, which was part of the reason they came out here.”

“Well, I suggest you choose your shots carefully from either weapon. Though, if you survive after firing all your rounds, chances are you’ll be able to pick up a replacement. Whether or not we’ll be firing at anyone at all is something I want you to tell me once we hit the road.”

Nodding in agreement, Siobhan tightened the straps on her rucksack. She reached under her bed and pulled out a locked plastic case. Opening it revealed her rifle, and she checked the chamber before holding it out toward Carthage.

“Trade you for a minute.”

Carthage smiled, cleared his rifle, and the two swapped weapons. “Nice. It’s lighter than I would have thought. We did Soviet weapons familiarization during training but I’ve never had my hands on one of these.”

Siobhan grinned at the SCAR. “You sure you want this back?”

Carthage looked out of the window through the scope on the Vintorez. “Yes please. You know, this scope looks like it’s meant for the old thirty caliber round. Can you hit anything with it?”

The pair traded rifles again. “My dad told me you basically have to double the holdover for the heavier bullet. The furthest I’ve ever fired was one hundred meters, but I found that if you aim for the head at that distance, you’ll strike center mass. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much ammo to spare on target practice. My dad kept the cases but we never had the ability to cast new rounds, and our supply of smokeless powder and primers is long gone anyway.”

She loaded her rifle, and clipped a belt of magazine pouches around her waist. She picked up her rucksack, and she and Carthage returned to the workshop. He handed her a PDA, and she began to glue the front sight from Ludain’s Glock onto it.

“Do you think this will actually work?” she asked, blowing softly on the glue.

“No clue. I hope, for our sake, that the anomaly Ludain marked on the map is still there. Otherwise we may be flying blind. When you’re done with that, I’ll go over the basic operation of the PDA.”

“Okay, go for it.”

“I apologize in advance if I insult your intelligence. I mean well.”

Carthage spent several minutes showing Siobhan how to use the device. It quickly became obvious to him that she wouldn’t have any problem with the technology. Once that was done, he pulled up the mapping program and synchronized the PDAs.

“All right,” he began. “Here’s Abernathy, and here’s the supposed location of the anomaly. It’s right at the halfway point, five miles north. We have about five hours of daylight left, so we shouldn’t have any problem getting there before dark, even if we take it slow. Now, if we skirt around the east side of town, what are the chances we’ll hit the north road before anyone spots us?”

Siobhan pondered that. “It depends on whether or not Farnham is out tending to his corn. If he is, and he freaks out, we’ll be out of town before he can raise an alarm. The odds of running into anyone else randomly on our way out is minimal.”

“In that case, I’m ready to go. You?”

She gestured toward the door. “Lead the way, soldier.”

 

 

__________

 

It was a beautiful afternoon, the weather sunny and mild, and Carthage and Siobhan couldn’t have asked for better conditions for a hike. The north road out of Romanby went steadily downhill toward the coast, moving them out of deciduous forest and into rolling plains. They passed by a few abandoned homes and some fallow farmland, but so far hadn’t encountered anything other than birds and a few disinterested rodents. For Siobhan, the experience was a mixture of elation and terror; she had never ventured this far out of town, but the possibility of encountering something horrible was impossible to ignore.

She was having a hard time keeping one eye on her PDA, although Carthage seemed to be picking up her slack. They had detected elevated radiation levels compared to inside the safety of the town, but it wasn’t yet any concern. They had filled the time with a mostly one-sided conversation about splinter factions on Skye, the most prominent of which was an oligarchical regime that called themselves the Knights of Aberdeen. A social organization with plutocratic ideals prior to the Wave, they had seized power in many areas around the planet, in an attempt to supplant the constitutional republic originally founded. As Siobhan understood it, their movement gained in popularity because of the power vacuum created by the decentralization of Skye’s government, and the perception that city-states would be necessary to sustain life in the new environment.

Siobhan had few opinions on whether or not this system was better than the old one, and if Carthage did, he hadn’t yet shared them. Since her latest information was five years old, anything could have happened, though it seemed likely to her that the Knights were still very much in power. Romanby was too isolated to have ever fallen under their influence, and Abernathy was at the extreme edge of their sphere. Siobhan warned Carthage that the closer he got to Edinburgh, the more careful he would have to be about revealing his true allegiances.

About a mile away from the location Ludain had marked for them, they slowed their pace considerably and kept their eyes mostly fixed on their PDAs. The bright sunshine had rendered the tritium pistol sights useless, but they still had their active scans. A sudden change in their readings caused the pair to stop dead in their tracks, and Siobhan’s adrenaline spiked.

“You see it, too?” asked Carthage.

“Yes,” she replied, almost whispering.

He had told her what to expect, and it was happening right before her eyes. Ambient radiation levels had spiked to 0.5 mSv, an increase of a factor of a thousand. Her PDA was also showing a drop in elevation of 20 meters, which obviously hadn’t happened. It was also noticeably colder than a moment ago. She cupped her hand over the top of the PDA and the tritium sight seemed to be brighter.

Carthage motioned for her to move to her right, and he moved to the left, toward the curbs of the road. As Siobhan moved, the readings dropped.

“It’s right in front of us,” began Carthage. “Grab your balls.”

Siobhan had brought a tube of three tennis balls, so she unlimbered her rucksack to retrieve them. She tossed one down the road, and it came to a rest about ten meters ahead. The pair nodded to each other, and moved forward slowly. When they got to the ball, she threw it again. They repeated this process a few times until something odd happened.

About halfway through the arc of Siobhan’s leisurely throw, the ball seemed to triple in speed and shot to the ground. It landed where they expected, but in a fraction of the time. She threw another ball and the same thing happened.

“Time is moving faster there,” said Carthage. “Check your readings.”

Siobhan replied, “Zero point six milliSeiverts. Elevation two hundred forty meters above sea level. Ambient temperature ten Celsius. My tritium is glowing like brand new.”

“Okay, let’s back off, nice and slow. Those readings will be our point of no return. Let’s see if we can navigate around it.”

Carefully, the pair flanked the anomaly on both sides until they met again in the road. The anomaly was about ten meters in diameter. They walked down the road several steps, and readings returned to normal.

Siobhan sighed in relief. “That wasn’t so bad. We should try to mark it so nobody wanders in.”

“I don’t have anything to mark it with, do you?”

“Not really.”

Carthage shrugged. “We could grab some smallish boulders and create a ring around it. Then I can put some duct tape on either side and write a warning with my marker. I think that’s the best we can do for now. But if we encounter more anomalies that shit is going to get old, fast. We can’t waste too much time playing combat engineers out here.”

“We should at least mark this one, it’s in the middle of the road.”

“Fine, but we should really get to Abernathy before dark.”

It took the pair about twenty minutes to arrange a circle of twelve boulders around the anomaly. Carthage chose a couple of larger rocks for each side, and put a couple of strips of duct tape on each. With a permanent marker, he wrote, WARNING: TEMPORAL ANOMALY – DO NOT ENTER CIRCLE.

“There,” he said, wiping his hands on his trousers. “If they can’t read, then they deserve whatever happens to them.”

Siobhan drank from her canteen, then said, “Thank you for doing this, Carthage. I know this is just another mission to you, but Skye is my home. If we can eventually catalog anomalies on popular routes of travel, then maybe life can start to improve. If we can’t repair the damage done by the Wave, then we can at least resume safe travel and trade.”

“Perhaps, but you’re gonna need a lot more functional PDAs and willing scouts. Grab your rucksack, we should get moving. If you think it’s eerie out here now, wait until the sun goes down.”

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Dun Ringill, Chapter Three

Siobhan had directed Carthage to fill two tumblers with scotch, and the man sipped slowly from his glass as she began her story.

“I was five when the Wave hit, so most of what I’m going to tell you is second-hand.  There are persistent rumors of the true reason for colonizing Skye, other than the pedestrian explanation of manifest destiny.  The most popular one involves wormholes and the concept of a galactic Lagrange Point.  Do you know what those are?”

Carthage nodded.  “Of course.  Lagrange Points are spots of gravitational stability in a solar system.”

Siobhan quaffed some scotch.  “The idea is that some eggheads speculated that Skye is a Lagrange Point for the entire galaxy.  This could, theoretically, allow a stable place for an artificial wormhole that could be used to travel to other Lagrange Points in the galaxy.  If true, it could open up exploration and trade routes thousands of light years away.  What is known for certain is that a research facility was built about a hundred miles from Edinburgh, and dubbed Dun Ringill.  What happened there is shrouded in secrecy.  Twenty years ago, there was some kind of disaster at the facility.  A wave of radiation circled the entire planet, rendering vast areas uninhabitable, and creating temporal anomalies like the one you encountered.  Small towns like Romanby became difficult to reach, and previously safe routes were prone to shifts in stability.  This made travel and trade virtually impossible, and in our case, we haven’t had any visitors in five years.  More than likely, everyone gave up trying to reach us.  As I mentioned, our own scouts often never returned.  Fortunately our town is self-sustaining, though life will gradually get more difficult as our mechanical devices wear out or break.  Our power station is probably going to have to shut down within a year.  We’ve resigned ourselves to scratching out a basic existence, barring some miracle.  Anyway, any theories amongst us are pure speculation.  No one in Romanby knows what really happened.”

Sipping his drink, Carthage let all of this sink in.  “Sounds like you’re right proper fucked.  Listen, Siobhan, I have a mission to complete, that’s my motivation.  I may be able to help you find a safe route to the next town, but that’s only because I need to find more answers.  Unless someone in town has been holding out on you, I can’t get them here.  So, I need your help.”

“I thought you said you were going to fix your ship, and go to Edinburgh.”

Carthage grimly swirled his scotch.  “The ship crashed.  I’m the sole survivor.  I lied to you before because I needed you to think I had backup, in case you or your people were hostile to me.  I think I can trust you now, but I don’t really have a choice anyway.”

“What went wrong?”

“It’s complicated.  Suffice it to say that the ship is unsalvageable.  I’m going to have to reach Edinburgh the old fashioned way.”

Siobhan laughed.  “You can’t be serious.  I hope you’re a good swimmer, Carthage.  You’re on the wrong continent.  The Wave fried the circuitry of anything electronic that wasn’t indoors, and that included the only Atmo ship in Romanby.  Some of our cars survived because they were garaged at the time.  I haven’t seen anything fly overhead in twenty years that didn’t have feathers.  We assume most ships were disabled, and if any are still flying, they haven’t had a reason to come here.  Not to mention the fact that nobody knows how localized the temporal anomalies are.  Flying could be just as hazardous as surface travel.  Maybe you could find a sailboat to traverse an ocean, but as far as I know, nobody ever needed to build a sailboat capable of such.  Even if you could make it to Edinburgh, what do you hope to accomplish?”

“My mission is to find out what caused the Wave, and report back to Earth.  I won’t stop until I do.”

“And if you could, would the Planetary Union try to save Skye?”

Carthage shrugged.  “I don’t know, that’s beyond my pay grade.  I imagine they would at least offer to evacuate anyone who wanted to leave.”

Siobhan finished her scotch.  “Gathering the intel you want may be several orders of magnitude easier than getting off this planet, soldier.”

“One step at a time then, I suppose.”

“What’s your next step?”

“I want to talk to any scientists you may have in town.  I had a couple of ideas for modifying my PDAs to detect anomalies before I wander into one, but I have no idea if it will work.  I’d like to talk to someone more knowledgeable before I resume traveling.”

“You have more than one PDA?” asked Siobhan, her face perking up.

“Yes.”

“Then it sounds like you would benefit from taking someone with you on your journey.  Two scanners are better than one.  As far as a scientist, the only person here who remotely matches that description is Gordon Ludain, the chief engineer of the power plant.  As of five years ago there was a fixed anomaly to the north, and he had attempted to study it.  I have no idea what the results of his research were, but since then keeping the plant running has occupied all of his time.”

Carthage nodded.  “Will you take me to him?  How will he and the townsfolk react to seeing me?”

“They’ll want to take you to see the mayor and explain yourself to him.  If you have any weapons on you then the constable will take them until they can verify your story.”

“I can’t take the chance that they’ll detain me, Siobhan.  You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical that everyone else will be as friendly as you.  Is there any way that you can get Ludain to come here instead?”

“As it happens, he dropped off one of his pistols last night right before I closed.  He wanted the burned-out tritium sights replaced with standard sights.  I was going to do it first thing today.  The job will only take fifteen minutes, why don’t I do that now and then I’ll call him to come pick it up?”

“If he’s busy running the plant, how long will it take him to show up?”

“He asked me to do it as soon as possible.  He’s not a patient man.  I’m surprised my phone isn’t already ringing.  I bet as soon as I call him he’ll come by to get it.”

Carthage smiled.  “Sounds like a plan, then.  While I’m waiting, can you spare some food?  My own supply is somewhat limited.”

Siobhan stood up, and put her pistol in her front pocket.  “Help yourself to anything in the fridge.  Changing out the sights on a Glock is easy, if you have the right tools.  This won’t take long.”

 

 

__________

Gordon Ludain had a wide, expressive face, and a narrow nose on which balanced a pair of heavy gold-rimmed glasses.  Meeting Carthage, and listening to his story, had given him the opportunity to show surprise, shock, and finally, elation.  He shifted back and forth on the edge of his chair and excitedly poked through the mission files on Carthage’s PDA, muttering nearly incomprehensibly as the visitor spoke.  Carthage was glad he wasn’t stuck with a guy like this on the journey to Skye, it would have been a much longer trip.  He suspected the isolation of Romanby was starting to effect Ludain’s mind.  Carthage had just told the older man about the modifications he’d made to his PDA, and had waited a little too long for a reply.

“So,” Carthage prodded, “do you think we can detect an anomaly with these settings?”

“Mmm, yes,” Ludain began, his Scottish brogue as thick as his glasses.  “It’s more than what I had to work with, lad.  Miss NicKennon, get me the old sights from my pistol.  And do you have any CA adhesive?”

“Sure,” said Siobhan, shooting a brief look of impatience at Carthage, and retrieved the requested items from her bench.  “Your Glock is ready to…”

“Thank you,” Ludain blurted.

The engineer put a dab of glue on the bottom of the rear sight, and before Carthage could object, stuck it to the top edge of his PDA.

“Okay, then,” said Carthage.  “And this is going to accomplish what?”

“The Caimbeul boy has done well as my apprentice, so much so that I’m almost ready to have him assume some of my duties at the plant.  As such, I was planning on resuming my research into the anomalies.  It occurred to me that phosphorus should luminesce in the presence of one, so I thought these old tritium sights could be used as an early warning measure.  It wouldn’t do to wander around with my pistol drawn all the time, so I asked Miss NicKennon to remove them.  This, along with your modifications, Mister Carthage, and we might actually stand a chance out there.”  Ludain held up the PDA and admired his work.  “Shame we don’t have one more, though.”

“It’s just Carthage, thanks.  I’ve got another PDA.”

“Perfect!  We’ll put the front sight on that one, and we’ll be in business.  When should we leave?”

“Respectfully, sir, this mission is going to be extremely arduous.  And even if this Campbell guy is ready to help out, Romanby can’t afford to lose you right now.”

Ludain gazed at Carthage over his glasses.  “An old sod like me would just slow you down, eh?  I think that’s up to the mayor to decide, don’t you agree, Miss NicKennon?”

Siobhan pursed her lips.  “He wouldn’t let you go either, Gordon.  Best leave the risk-taking to those too young to know better.  Are you sure you don’t have any other insights?”

“Aye.  Take some golf balls with you.  If your sensors are gyrating like burlesque dancers, toss a ball in front of you.  The anomaly I found will announce itself with obvious results.”

Carthage stood up, and folded his arms across his chest.  “Talk to the mayor if you must.  It won’t matter.  I’ll be gone by then, and my PDAs with me.  Your contributions are appreciated, sir.”

Ludain was flustered.  “You’re putting me in a tough spot, stranger.  Without you, Romanby is likely to think I’ve gone completely mad.  Even if they believe me, what’s the point in putting so much hope on a fool’s errand?”

“You must think I’ve got more of a chance than that, if you wanted to come with me.”

“My hope is mine to give.  I can’t trap the townsfolk in the same folly.  Better they know nothing, unless you actually return alive.”

Siobhan picked up Ludain’s pistol.  “I know it won’t be easy, but it will be the right thing.  Keep that plant running as long as you can, Gordon.  Let Carthage confront Dun Ringill.”

Ludain nodded, and took the Glock.  He fought back tears, and left without another word.  Carthage and Siobhan stood in silence for a moment.  Carthage sighed.

“I should get going,” he said, “in case he changes his mind.”

Siobhan flipped the sign around on the door.  “You seem to be forgetting the advantage of two scanners instead of one.  I’m coming with you, unless you think I’ll just slow you down, too.”

Carthage smiled.  “You seem sharp enough, and you know your way around firearms.  How do you feel about taking orders?”

“I hate it,” she said, and locked the front door.

“Then get your gear.  We leave in fifteen minutes.”

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