The Penal Cluster

by Randall Garrett

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Tomorrow's technocracy will produce more and more things for better living. It will produce other things, also; among them, criminals too despicable to live on this earth. Too abominable to breathe our free air.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The clipped British voice said, in David Houston’s ear, I’m quite sure he’s one. He’s cashing a check for a thousand pounds. Keep him under surveillance.

Houston didn’t look up immediately. He simply stood there in the lobby of the big London bank, filling out a deposit slip at one of the long, high desks. When he had finished, he picked up the slip and headed towards the teller’s cage.

Ahead of him, standing at the window, was a tall, impeccably dressed, aristocratic-looking man with graying hair.

“The man in the tweeds?” Houston whispered. His voice was so low that it was inaudible a foot away, and his lips scarcely moved. But the sensitive microphone in his collar picked up the voice and relayed it to the man behind the teller’s wicket.

That’s him, said the tiny speaker hidden in Houston’s ear. The fine-looking chap in the tweeds and bowler.

“Got him,” whispered Houston.

He didn’t go anywhere near the man in the bowler and tweeds; instead, he went to a window several feet away.

“Deposit,” he said, handing the slip to the man on the other side of the partition. While the teller went through the motions of putting the deposit through the robot accounting machine, David Houston kept his ears open.

“How did you want the thousand, sir?” asked the teller in the next wicket.

“Ten pound notes, if you please,” said the graying man. “I think a hundred notes will go into my brief case easily enough.” He chuckled, as though he’d made a clever witticism.

“Yes, sir,” said the clerk, smiling.

Houston whispered into his microphone again. “Who is the guy?”

On the other side of the partition, George Meredith, a small, unimposing-looking man, sat at a desk marked: MR. MEREDITH--ACCOUNTING DEPT. He looked as though he were paying no attention whatever to anything going on at the various windows, but he, too, had a microphone at his throat and a hidden pickup in his ear.

At Houston’s question, he whispered: “That’s Sir Lewis Huntley. The check’s good, of course. Poor fellow.”

“Yeah,” whispered Houston, “if he is what we think he is.”

“I’m fairly certain,” Meredith replied. “Sir Lewis isn’t the type of fellow to draw that much in cash. At the present rate of exchange, that’s worth three thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars American. Sir Lewis might carry a hundred pounds as pocket-money, but never a thousand.”

Houston and Meredith were a good thirty feet from each other, and neither looked at the other. Unless a bystander had equipment to tune in on the special scrambled wavelength they were using, that bystander would never know they were holding a conversation.

“ ... nine-fifty, nine-sixty, nine-seventy, nine-eighty, nine-ninety, a thousand pounds,” said the clerk who was taking care of Sir Lewis’s check. “Would you count that to make sure, sir?”

“Certainly. Ten, twenty, thirty,...”

While the baronet was double-checking the amount, David Houston glanced at him. Sir Lewis looked perfectly calm and unhurried, as though he were doing something perfectly legal--which, in a way, he was. And, in another way, he most definitely was not, if George Meredith’s suspicions were correct.

“Your receipt, sir.” It was the teller at Houston’s own window.

Houston took the receipt, thanked the teller, and walked toward the broad front doors of the bank.

“George,” he whispered into the throat mike, “has Sir Lewis noticed me?”

“Hasn’t so much as looked at you,” Meredith answered. “Good hunting.”


As Houston stepped outside the bank, he casually dropped one hand into a coat pocket and turned a small knob on his radio control box. “Houston to HQ,” he whispered.

“London HQ; what is it, Houston?” asked the earpiece.

“Leadenhall Street Post. Meredith thinks he’s spotted one. Sir Lewis Huntley.”

“Righto. We’ve got men in that part of the city now. We’ll have a network posted within five minutes. Can you hold onto him that long?”

Houston looked around. Leadenhall Street was full of people, and the visibility was low. “I’ll have to tail him pretty closely,” Houston said. “Your damned English fogs don’t give a man much chance to see anything.”

There was a chuckle from the earphone. “Cheer up, Yank; you should have seen it back before 1968. When atomic power replaced coal and oil, our fogs became a devil of a lot cleaner.”

The voice was quite clear; at the London headquarters of the UN Psychodeviant Police, there was no need to wear a throat mike, which had a tendency to make the voice sound muffled in spite of the Statistical Information-Bit Samplers which were supposed to clarify the speech coming through them.

“What do you know about 1968?” Houston asked sardonically. “Your mother was still pushing you around in a baby-carriage then.”

“In a pram,” corrected the Headquarters operator. “That is true, but my dear Aunt Jennifer told me all about it. She was--”

“The hell with your Aunt Jennifer,” Houston interrupted suddenly. “Here comes Sir Lewis. Get me cover--fast!”

“Right. Keep us posted.”

Sir Lewis Huntley stepped out of the broad door of the bank and turned left. He took a couple of steps and stopped. He didn’t look around; he simply took a cigarette out of a silver case, put it in his mouth, and lit it. The glow of the lighter shone yellowly on the brass plate near the door which said: An Affiliate of Westminster Bank, Ltd.

Sir Lewis snapped the light out, drew on the cigarette, and strode on down the street, swinging a blue plastex brief case which contained a thousand pounds in United Nations Bank of England notes.

Houston decided the baronet had not been looking for a tail; he wished he could probe the man’s mind to make sure, but he knew that would be fatal. He’d have to play the game and hope for the best.

“He’s heading east,” Houston whispered. “Doesn’t look as if he’s going to get a cab.”

“Check,” said the earphone.

Sir Lewis seemed in no great hurry, but he walked briskly, as though he had a definite destination in mind.

After a little way, he crossed to the south side of Leadenhall Street and kept going east. Houston stayed far enough behind to be above suspicion, but not so far that he ran a chance of losing his man.

“He’s turning south on Fenchurch,” Houston said a little later. “I wonder where he’s going.”

“Keep after him,” said Headquarters. “Our net men haven’t spotted either of you yet. They can hardly see across the street in this damned fog.”

Houston kept going.

“What the hell?” he whispered a few minutes later. “He’s still following Fenchurch Street! He’s doubling back!”

Leadenhall Street, the banking center of the City of London, runs almost due east-and-west; Fenchurch Street makes a forty-five degree angle with it at the western end, running southwest for a bit and then curving toward the west, toward Lombard.

“Houston,” said HQ, “touch your left ear.”

Houston obediently reached up and scratched his left ear.

“Okay,” said HQ. “Bogart’s spotted you, but he hasn’t spotted Sir Lewis. Bogart’s across the street.”

“He can’t miss Sir Lewis,” whispered Houston. “Conservatively dressed--matching coat and trousers of orange nylon tweed--royal blue half-brim bowler--carrying a blue brief case.”

There was a pause, then: “Yeah. Bogart’s spotted him, and so has MacGruder. Mac’s on your side, a few yards ahead.”

“Check. How about the rest of the net?”

“Coming, coming. Be patient, old man.”

“I am patient,” growled Houston. I have to be, he thought to himself, otherwise I’d never stay alive.

“We’ve got him bracketed now,” HQ said. “If we lose him now, he’s a magician.”

Sir Lewis walked on, seemingly oblivious to the group of men who had surrounded him. He came to the end of Fenchurch Street and looked to his left, towards London Bridge. Then he glanced to his right.

“I think he’s looking for a cab,” Houston whispered.

“That’s what MacGruder says,” came the reply. “We’ve got Arthmore in a cab behind you; he’ll pick you up. MacGruder will get another cab, and we have a private car for Bogart.”

Sir Lewis flagged a cab, climbed in, and gave an address to the driver. Houston didn’t hear it, but MacGruder, a heavy-set, short, balding man, was standing near enough to get the instructions Sir Lewis had given to the driver.

A cab pulled up to the curb near Houston, and he got in.

Arthmore, the driver, was a thin, tall, hawknosed individual who could have played Sherlock Holmes on TV. Once he got into character for a part, he never got out of it unless absolutely necessary. Right now, he was a Cockney cab-driver, and he would play the part to the hilt.

“Where to, guv’nor?” he asked innocently.

“Buckingham Palace,” said Houston. “I’ve got a poker appointment with Prince Charles.”

“Blimey, guv’nor,” said Arthmore. “You are movin’ in ‘igh circles! ‘Ow’s ‘Er Majesty these days?”

The turboelectric motor hummed, and the cab shot off into traffic. “According to the report I get on the blinkin’ wireless,” he continued, “a chap named MacGruder claims that the eminent Sir Lewis ‘Untley is ‘eaded for Number 37 Upper Berkeley Mews.”

“One of these days,” said Houston, “all those H‘s you drop is going to bounce back and hit you in the face.”

“Beg pardon, Mr. Yewston?” Arthmore asked blankly.

Houston grinned. “Nothing, cabbie; it’s just that you remind me of a cultured, intelligent fellow named Jack Arthmore. The only difference is that Jack speaks the Queen’s English.”

“Crikey!” said Arthmore. “Wot a coincidence!” He paused, then: “The Queen’s English, you say? She ‘as to be, don’t she?”

“Shut up,” said Houston conversationally. “And give me a cigarette,” he added.

“There’s a package of Players in my shirt pocket,” Arthmore said, keeping his hands on the wheel.

Houston fished out a cigarette, lit it, and returned the pack.

Apropos of nothing, Arthmore said: “Reminds me of the time I was workin’ for a printer, see? We ‘ad to print up a bunch of ‘andbills advertisin’ a church charity bazaar. Down at the bottom was supposed to be printed ‘Under the auspices of St. Bede’s-on-Thames.’ So I--”

He went on with a long, rambling tale about making a mistake in printing the handbill. Houston paid little attention. He smoked in silence, keeping his eyes on the red glow of the taillight ahead of them.

Neither man mentioned the approaching climax of the chase. Even hardened veterans of the Psychodeviant Police don’t look forward to the possibility of having their minds taken over, controlled by some outside force.

It had never happened to Houston, but he knew that Arthmore had been through the experience once. It evidently wasn’t pleasant.

“--and the boss was ‘oppin’ mad,” Arthmore was saying, “but, crikey, ‘ow was I to know that auspice was spelled A-U-S-P-I-C-E?”

Houston grinned. “Yeah, sure. How’re we doing with Sir Lewis?”

“Seems to be headed in the right direction,” Arthmore said, suddenly dropping the Cockney accent. “This is the route I’d take if I were headed for Upper Berkeley Mews. He probably hasn’t told the driver to change addresses--maybe he won’t.”

“The victims never do,” Houston said. “He probably is actually headed toward Number 37 Upper Berkeley Mews.”

“Yeah. Nobody’s perfect,” said Arthmore.

Forty-five minutes of steady progress through the streets of Greater London brought Sir Lewis Huntley to Upper Berkeley and to the short dead-end street which constituted the Mews. By the time the dapper baronet stepped out of the machine and paid his driver, the whole area was surrounded by and filled with the well-armed, silent, and careful agents of the Psychodeviant Police.

Number 37 was an old concrete-and-steel structure of the George VI period, faced with a veneer of red brick. It had obviously been remodeled at least once to make the façade more modern and more fashionable; the red-violet anodized aluminum was relatively fresh and unstained. It wouldn’t have taken vast wealth to rent a flat in the building, but neither would an average income have been quite enough.

Houston looked out of the window of Arthmore’s cab and glanced at the tiers of windows in the building. Presumably, the man they were looking for was up there--somewhere.

So you occupy a station in the upper middle-class, thought Houston. It checked. Every bit of evidence that came his way seemed to check perfectly and fit neatly into the hypothesis which he had formed. Soon it would be time to test that theory--but the time had not yet come.

“Stand by and wait for orders, Houston,” said the speaker in Houston’s ear. “We’ve got men inside the building.”

Sir Lewis Huntley opened the sparkling, translucent door of Number 37 Upper Berkeley Mews and went inside.

Arthmore pulled the cab over to the curb a few yards from the entrance and the two men waited in silence. All around them were other men, some in private cars, some walking slowly along the street. All of them were part of the net that had gathered to catch one man.

Poor fish, Houston thought wryly.

There was no noise, no excitement. Five minutes after Sir Lewis had entered the front door, it opened again. A man whom Houston had never seen before stepped out and gestured with one hand. At the same time, Houston’s speaker said: “They’ve got him. Hit him with a stun gun when he tried to get out through the fire exit.”

An ambulance which had been waiting at the entrance of the Mews pulled up in front of Number 37, and a minute or so later a little clot of men came out bearing a stretcher, which was loaded into the ambulance. Immediately after them came another man who had a firm, but polite grip on the arm of Sir Lewis Huntley.

Houston sighed and leaned back in his seat. That was that. It was all over. Simple. Nothing to it.

Another Controller had been apprehended by the Psychodeviant Police. Another deviant, already tried and found guilty, was ready to be exiled from Earth and imprisoned on one of the Penal Asteroids. All in the day’s work.

There’s just one thing I’d like to know, Houston thought blackly. What in the hell’s going on?

In his hotel room near Piccadilly Circus, several hours later, David Houston sat alone, drink in hand, and put that same question to himself again.

“What’s going on?”

On the face of it, it was simple. On the face of it, the answer was right in front of him, printed in black and white on the front page of the evening Times.

Houston lifted the paper off the bed and looked at it. The banner line said: Controller Captured in Lambeth!

Beneath that, in smaller type, the headline added: Robert Harris Accused of Taking Control of Barrister Sir Lewis Huntley.

The column itself told the whole story. Mr. Robert Harris, of No. 37 Upper Berkeley Mews, had, by means of mental control, taken over the mind of Sir Lewis and compelled him to draw one thousand pounds out of his bank. While Sir Lewis was returning to Harris with the money, the United Nations Psychodeviant Police had laid a trap. Sir Lewis, upon recovering his senses when Harris was rendered unconscious by a stun gun, had given evidence to the PD Police and to officials at New Scotland Yard.

Houston looked at the full-color photo of Harris that was printed alongside the column. Nice-looking chap; late twenties or early thirties, Houston guessed. Blond-red hair, blue eyes. All-in-all, a very pleasant, but ordinary sort of man.

There had been evidence that a Controller had been at work in London for some weeks now. Twelve days before, several men, following an impulse, had mailed twenty pounds to a “Richard Hempstead,” General Delivery, Waterloo Station. By the time the matter had come to the authorities’ attention, the envelopes had been called for and the Controller had escaped.

Robert Harris was not the first Controller to be captured, nor, Houston knew, would he be the last. The first one had shown up more than sixteen years before, in Dallas, Texas, USA.

Houston grinned as he thought of it. Projective telepathy had only been a crackpot’s idea back then. In spite of the work of many intelligent, sane men, who had shown that mental powers above and beyond the ordinary did exist, the average man simply laughed off such nonsense. It was mysticism; it was magic; it was foolish superstition. It was anything but true.

But ever since “Blackjack” Donnely had practically taken control of the whole city of Dallas, the average man had changed his mind. It was still mysterious; it was still magic; but now the weird machinations of the supernormal mind were something to be feared.

In the sixteen years that had ensued since the discovery of the abnormal mental powers of “Blackjack” Donnely, rumors had spread all over the world. There were supposed to be men who could levitate--fly through the air at will. Others could walk through walls, and still others could make themselves invisible. The horrible monsters that were supposed to be walking the Earth were legion.

Actually, only one type of supernormal psychodeviant had been found--the telepath, the mindreader who could probe into the mental processes of others. Worse than that, the telepath could project his own thoughts into the mind of another, so that the victim supposed that the thoughts were his own. Actually, it was a high-powered form of hypnotism; the victim could be made to do anything the projective telepath wanted him to.

“Blackjack” Donnely had made that clear in his trial in Texas.

Donnely had been a big man--big physically, and important in city politics. He had also been as arrogant as the Devil himself.

It was the arrogance that had finally tripped up Donnely. He had thought himself impregnable. Haled into court on charges of misappropriation of public funds, he had just sat and smirked while several witnesses for the State admitted that they had aided Donnely, but they claimed he had “hypnotized” them. Donnely didn’t try to interfere with the evidence--that’s where he made his mistake. And that’s where his arrogance tripped him up.

If he’d used telepathic projection to influence the State Attorney or the witnesses or the judge or the Grand Jury before the trial, he might never have been discovered as the first of the Controllers. But that wasn’t Donnely’s style.

“None of this namby-pamby stuff,” he had once been quoted as saying; “if you got enemies, don’t tease ‘em--show ‘em who’s running things. Blackjack ‘em, if you have to.”

And that’s exactly what “Blackjack” Donnely had done. The trial was a farce from beginning to end; each witness gave his evidence from the stand, and then Donnely took control of their minds and made them refute every bit of it, publicly and tearfully apologizing to the “wonderful Mr. Donnely” for saying such unkind things about him.

The judge and the jury knew something funny was going on, but they had no evidence, one way or another. The case, even at that point, might have ended with an acquittal or a hung jury, but Donnely wasn’t through using his blackjack.

He took over the mind of the foreman of the jury. The foreman claimed later that the jury had decided that they could reach no decision. Other jurors claimed that they had decided Donnely was guilty, but that was probably an ex post facto switch. It didn’t matter, anyway; when the foreman came out, he pronounced Donnely innocent. That should have ended it.

The other jurors began to protest, but by that time, Donnely had gained control of the judge’s mind. Rapidly, the judge silenced the jurors, declared Donnely to be free, and then publicly apologized for ever daring to doubt Mr. Donnely.

The State’s Attorney was equally verbose in his apology; he was almost in tears because of his “deep contrition at having cast aspersions on the spotless character of so great a man.”

Donnely was released.

The next evening, “Blackjack” Donnely was shot down at the front door of his own home. There were fifteen bullets in his body; three from a .32, five from a .38, and seven from a .45.

The police investigation was far from thorough; any evidence that may have turned up somehow got lost. It was labelled as “homicide committed by person or persons unknown,” and it stayed that way.

Donnely was only the first. In the next two years, four more showed up. Everyone of them, in one way or another, had attempted to gain power or money by mental projection. Everyone of them was a twisted megalomaniac.

Houston looked again at Harris’s picture on the front page of the Times. Here was one Controller who neither looked nor acted like a megalomaniac. That wouldn’t make much difference to the PD Police; as far as the officials were concerned, the ability to project telepathically and the taint of delusions of grandeur went hand in hand. Controllers were power-mad and criminal by definition.

Fear still ruled the emotional reactions against Controllers, in spite of the protection of the Psychodeviant Police.

But David Houston knew damned good and well that all telepaths were not necessarily insane.

He should know. He was a Controller, himself.


David Houston tossed the paper on the bed and walked over to the phone. He cut in the circuit, and waited for the phone’s TV screen to show the face of his caller. But the screen remained blank.

“Who is it?” Houston asked.

“Is this CHAring Cross 7-8161?” It was a woman’s voice, soft and well-modulated.

“No, this is CHElsea 7-8161,” Houston said. “You must have dialed C-H-E instead of C-H-A.”

“Oh. I’m very sorry. Excuse me.” There was a click, and she hung up.

Houston walked back over to the bed and picked up his paper. He looked at it, but he didn’t read it. It no longer interested him.

So Dorrine was finally in London, eh? He’d recognized her voice instantly; even years of training couldn’t smother the midwestern American of Chicago completely beneath the precise British of the well-educated English girl.

The signal had been agreed upon, just in case his phone was tapped. Even the Psychodeviant Police could be suspected of harboring a Controller--although Houston didn’t think it too likely. Nevertheless, he wasn’t one to take too many chances.

He glanced at his watch. He had an hour yet. He’d wait five minutes before he phoned headquarters.

He sat down in his chair again and forced himself to relax, smoke a cigarette, and read the paper--the sports section. Perusing the records of the season’s cricket matches kept his mind off that picture on the front page. At least, he hoped they would. Let’s see, now--Benton was being rated as the finest googly bowler on the Staffordshire Club...

Everything went fine until he came across a reference to a John Harris, a top-flight batsman for Hambledon; that reminded him of Robert Harris. Houston threw down the paper in disgust and walked over to the phone.

The number was TROwbridge 5-4321, but no one ever bothered to remember it. Simply dial 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, and every time a voice at the other end would answer--

“Hamilton speaking.”

“Houston here; will I be needed in the next hour or so?”

“Mmmm. Just a second; I’ll check the roster. No; your evidence won’t be needed personally. You’ve filed an affidavit. No, I don’t think--wait a minute! Yes, there’s a return here for you; reservation on the six A.M. jet to New York. Your job here is done, Houston, so you can take the rest of the evening off and relax. Going anywhere in particular?”

“I thought I’d get a bite to eat and take in a movie, maybe, but if I’m due out at six, I’ll forego the cinematic diversion. When’s the trial?”

“It’s scheduled for eleven-thirty this evening. Going to come?”

Houston shook his head. “Not if I’m not needed to give evidence. Those Controllers always give me the creeps.”

“They do everybody,” said Hamilton. “Well, you caught him; there’s no need for you to stick around for the windup. Have a good time.”

“Thanks,” said Houston shortly, and hung up.

The windup, Houston thought. Sure. That’s all it will be. A Controller’s trial is a farce. Knock him out with a stun gun and then pump him full of comatol. How can he defend himself if he’s unconscious all through the trial?

Houston knew what the average man’s answer to that would be: “If a Controller were allowed to remain conscious, he’d take over the judge’s mind and get himself freed.”

Houston said an obscene word under his breath, jammed his hat on his head, put on his coat, and left his apartment.

With the coming of darkness, the heavy fog had become still denser. The yellow beams of the sodium vapor lamps were simply golden spots hanging in an all-enveloping blackness. Walking the street was a process of moving from one little golden island of light to another, crossing seas of blankness between. The monochromatic yellow shone on the human faces that passed beneath the lamps, robbing them of all color, giving them a dead, grayish appearance beneath the yellow itself.

David Houston walked purposefully along the pavement, his hand jammed deep in his overcoat pockets. One hand held the control box for the little earpiece he wore. He kept moving the band selector, listening for any sign that the Psychodeviant Police were suspicious of a Controller in their midst.

If they were following him, of course, they would use a different scrambler circuit than the one which was plugged into his own unit, but he would be able to hear the gabble of voices, even if he couldn’t understand what they were saying.

So far, there hadn’t been a sound; if he was being followed, his tailers weren’t using the personal intercom units.

He didn’t try to elude anyone who might be following. That, in itself, would be a giveaway. Let them watch, if they were watching. They wouldn’t see anything but a man going to get himself a bit of dinner.

The Charles II Inn, on Regent Street, near Piccadilly Circus, was a haven of brightness in an otherwise Stygian London. It was one of those “old-fashioned” places--Restoration style of decoration, carried out in modern plastics. The oak panelling looked authentic enough, but it was just a little too glossy to be real.

Houston pushed open the door, stepped inside, removed his hat and coat and shook the dampness from them. As he handed them to the checker, he looked casually around. Dorrine was nowhere in sight, but he hadn’t expected her to be. There would be no point in their meeting physically; it might even be downright dangerous.

The headwaiter, clad in the long waistcoat and full trunk-hose of the late Seventeenth Century, bowed punctiliously.

“You’re alone, sir?”

“Alone, yes,” Houston said. “I’ll just be wanting a light supper and a drink or two.”

“This way, sir.”

Houston followed the man to a small table in the rear of the huge dining room. It was set for two, but the other place was quickly cleared away. Houston ordered an Irish-and-soda from a waiter who was only slightly less elaborately dressed than the headwaiter, and then settled himself down to wait. If he knew Dorrine, she would be on time to the minute.

She came while the waiter was setting the drink on Houston’s table. She stepped in through the door, her unmistakable hair glowing a rich red in the illumination of the pseudo-candlelight.

She didn’t bother to look around; she knew he would be there.

After a single glance, Houston averted his eyes from her and looked back at his drink.

And in that same instant, their minds touched.

Dave, darling! I knew you’d be early!


And then their minds meshed for an instant.

I--(we)--you--LOVE--you--(each other)--me!--us!

Houston looked complacently at his drink while the headwaiter led Dorrine to a table on the far side of the room. She sat down gracefully, smiled at the waiter, and ordered a cocktail. Then she took a magazine from her handbag and began--presumably--to read.

Her thought came: Who is this Richard Harris? He’s not one of our Group.

Houston sipped at his drink. No. An unknown, like the others. I wonder if he’s even a telepath.

What? Her thought carried astonishment. Why, Dave--he’d have to be! How else could he have controlled this Sir Lewis--whatsisname--Huntley?

Well--I’ve got a funny idea, Houston replied. Look at it this way: So far as we know, there are two Groups of telepaths. There’s our own Group. All we want is to be left alone. We don’t read a Normal’s mind unless we have to, and we don’t try to control one unless our lives are threatened. We stay under cover, out of everyone’s way.

Then there are the megalomaniacs. They try, presumably, to gain wealth and power by controlling Normals. And they get caught with monotonous regularity. Right?

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