A World Called Crimson

by Stephen Marlowe

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: There was a boy and a girl and a strange new planet; the planet was alive with hideous dangers. But the boy and girl were very young and all Robin wanted to know was: "Who stole my doll?"

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

It was the nasty little boy from B Deck who had stolen her doll. She hated him. He was horrid. She slipped out of their stateroom while her Mom and Dad were dressing for dinner. She’d find that horrid little boy on B Deck. She’d scratch his eyes out.

Her name was Robin Sinclair and she was five years old and mad enough to throw the boy from B Deck out into space, only she didn’t know how to go about that.

She went down the companionway to B Deck, where the people dressed differently. The colors weren’t as bright, somehow, the cloth not so fine. It was a major distinction in the eyes of a five-year-old girl, especially one who loved to run her fingers over fine synthetics and who even had a favorite color. Her favorite color was crimson.

“‘Scuse me, mister. Didja see a little boy with a doll with a crimson dress on?”

A smile. But she was deadly serious. “Not me, young lady.”

She walked for a while aimlessly on B Deck. She saw two little boys, but they weren’t the right ones. Pouting now, almost in tears, she was on the verge of giving up. Mom and Dad could buy her a new doll. Mom and Dad were richer than anybody, weren’t they?

Then, all of a sudden, she saw him. He was just ducking out of sight up ahead. Under his arm was tucked the doll with the crimson dress, her favorite doll.

“Hey!” she cried. “Hey, wait for me!”

Her little feet pounding, she raced down the companionway. As she reached the irising door in the bulkhead, an electric eye opened it for her. She had never come this way before. It was not as bright and clean as the rest of the ship. She had not even seen the sign which said PASSENGERS NOT PERMITTED BEYOND THIS POINT. But then, she could barely read, anyway.

She caught a quick second glimpse of the boy, and started running as he rounded a turn in the corridor. Shouting for him to stop, she reached the turn and saw him up ahead. He looked back at her and stuck out his tongue and kept running.

It was then that the whole world shuddered, like it was trying to shake itself to pieces.

Alarm bells clanged everywhere. Whistles shrilled. Pretty soon uniformed men were running in all directions. Robin Sinclair was suddenly very frightened. She wanted to go back to A Deck, to her Mom and Dad, but she had followed the boy through so many twisting, turning corridors that she knew she would be lost if she tried. She looked ahead. The boy seemed confident as he made his way. She followed him. But she was really mad at him now. It was his fault she was so far from Mom and Dad when a thing like this happened.

Uniformed members of the crew continued rushing by. She heard snatches of conversation she didn’t understand.

“Trying to patch it...”

“The whole stern section of the ship. Losing air fast...”

“The lifeboats. I was just down there. Every last one of ‘em. Gone. The meteor took ‘em right off into space.”

“If the damage can’t be repaired...”

And one man, finally, with a face awful to behold: “Patches won’t hold. We’re losing air faster’n it can be replaced. Better tell the Captain.”

A man in a lot of gold braid rushed into view. He was distinguished-looking, but old. Boy, he was old, Robin thought. He looked as old as her grandfather.

“Captain! We’re losing too much air. It can’t be replaced.”

“Then prepare to abandon ship.”

“But, sir, every lifeboat is gone!”

“No lifeboats? No lifeboats!”

The boy stuck his tongue out again. She ran after him, shaking her little fist. They were completely absorbed in their private enmity while the word went out that the situation was hopeless and almost five thousand people prepared to die.

“I’ve got you now!”

He had run up against a blank wall. She came toward him, holding her hands out for the doll with the crimson dress. He held it behind his back. She reached around to get it but he pushed her and she fell down.

“I’ll fix you!” she threatened, getting up and rushing toward him again. Big arms came down, and big hands grabbed her.

“There now, little miss,” a voice said. “Why aren’t you with your folks? Time like this, you ought to be with your folks. What is it, B Deck?”

“A Deck,” Robin said haughtily. “He’s from B. Why is everybody running around so?”

He was a tall, slat-thin man with a kind-looking face. “Say, wait a minute!” he suddenly said, looking perplexed. “They all the time said I was nuts, building that damn thing. Well, I can’t fit into it, but maybe these here kids can.”

He scooped Robin up with one hand, got the boy with the other. “I want my doll!” Robin cried, but the boy held it away from her.

“Take it easy now,” the man said. “Take it easy. We’ll take care of you.”

He ran with them to one of the repair bays of the great, doom-bound starship. In one corner, beyond the now useless patching equipment, was a table. On the table stood a model of the Star of Fire. It was six feet long and perfect in every external detail. He hadn’t got around to the inside yet. The inside was completely empty. It had rockets and everything. There was no reason why it wouldn’t be perfectly space-worthy. Why, it would even hold an atmosphere...

“In you go!” he said.

The little boy was suddenly scared. “I want my Mother,” he said. “I want my Dad.”

“In you go.”

Robin felt herself lifted, and thrust inside something. It was dark in there. She moved around and bumped into something. She moved around some more and bumped against the little boy from B Deck.

“How do you get out of here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“I want my doll back,” she said.

“Oh yeah?”

“You better give it to me.”

He said nothing. There was a hissing sound, and a faint roar. Far away, something slid ponderously.

“Pleasant voyage, little ones!” a voice boomed.

Something sat on her chest all at once, squeezing all the air from her. It was a great weight holding her motionless, squeezing. She wanted to cry, but couldn’t get the sound out. She wanted her Mom. Mom would know what to do.

She was crushed and flattened into a tunnel of blackness.

Thirty minutes later, the starship Star of Fire, outworld-bound from Sol to the starswarms beyond Ophiuchus, lost all its remaining air. It became an enormous coffin spinning end over end in space amid the blaze of starlight near the center of the galaxy.

One tiny spaceship, a small model of the huge liner, sped away. If it went two days finding no planet, its two occupants would perish when the small oxygen supply gave out. If it found a planet it would circle and land automatically. The possibility of this was small, but not remote. For here at the center of the galaxy, stellar distances are more nearly planetary and most of the stars have attendant planets. But even then, it would have to be a world capable of supporting their lives...

They sped on, in all innocence. She was five. He was six. His name was Charlie Fullerton. He had her doll. She hated him.

Two hours after the tiny model spaceship landed on a planet with three suns in the sky, Robin Sinclair awoke. She felt cramped and uncomfortable. It took her a while to orient herself. She had some kind of a dream. A dream was a funny thing. Mom said it wasn’t real. But it sure was real to her.

She got up and pushed with her hands. A section of the tiny spaceship sprang away at her touch, admitting blinding light. She lay there with her eyes tightly shut, but after a while she could see. The boy was sleeping. She still hated him. He was sleeping with her doll in his arms. She took the doll and he moved his arms and woke up. She jumped out of the open spaceship with the doll and started running.

She ran along a beach. But the sand was green. The ocean hissed and roared and there was nobody else. “N’ya! N’ya! Y’can’t catch me!” she bawled at the top of her voice. And fell down in the sand.

He caught up with her and fell on top of her and they wrestled for the doll. The surf thundered nearby. The tide, capricious in the grip of the three suns, rose suddenly, flooding them with chill water. Coughing and spluttering and choking, they retreated further up the beach.

Soon they quieted down.

“I’m soaking wet,” she said.

“My name is Charlie,” he said sullenly. “Let’s go back now.”

“How do we go back?” she wanted to know.

“That’s a nice doll,” Charlie said.

“You took it from me!” Accusingly.

“Aw, I only wanted to look at it.”

“She has a crimson dress and everything.”

“This is some world,” Charlie said after a while.

“What’s a world?”

“Oh, a world is--you know--everything.”


“You think it has Indians?”

She said, “It ought to have Indians, anyhow.”

“And pirates too?” he asked in a voice full of awe.

She nodded her head very seriously. “I like pirates,” she said. “They’re so scarey.”

Just then a ship came into view far away across the water. It had enormous sails and a black hull. On the fore-sail was painted a huge black skull.

“Let’s get out of here!” Charlie cried in alarm. But beetling cliffs reared behind the beach and although they ran frantically along at the edge of the green sand, they could find no way to scale the cliffs. The pirate ship came closer and closer.

They got down whimpering at the base of the cliffs and remained very still. After a long time the pirate ship came close to shore. A longboat was dispatched and its oars flashed in the triple sunlight like giant legs on which the longboat walked across the waves toward the beach.

Then the pirates were ashore. The man who led them had only one leg, and a peg. He looked very mean.

“It’s Blackbeard the Pirate!” said Charlie in a frightened whisper. His Dad had once read him a story about Blackbeard.

The pirate with the wooden leg suddenly had a black beard.

“The doll!” cried Robin.

“What’s the matter?”

“We left her down there. Crimson.” She called her doll Crimson because she had a crimson dress.

Now Blackbeard approached the model spaceship with his crew. They gathered around it, frowning. Robin watched, her face pale, her eyes wide. Crimson was there on the sand. They were going to see Crimson. Even as she was thinking these horrible thoughts, one of the pirates saw Crimson and picked her up. Blackbeard came over and took the doll and looked at her. At that moment there was a shout from above the cliffs and an arrow suddenly transfixed one of the pirates. He fell down writhing and Blackbeard and the rest of his men raced back to the longboat.

“Indians,” Charlie whispered knowingly.

The Indians shouted and yelled.

“Are there any cowboys here?” Robin asked hopefully.

“No, sir. No cowboys,” Charlie said very definitely.

“I’m hungry,” Robin said. “I wish we had something.”

With a little squeal of delight, she looked down at her feet. Two platters of fried chicken, with all the trimmings. Her favorite. They ate ravenously, not hearing the Indians any more. They watched the longboat return to the pirate ship. All this way, they could see little Crimson’s dress as Blackbeard took her aboard. Robin finished her fried chicken and started to cry.

“Girls,” said Charlie in disgust.

“I can’t help it. Poor Crimson.”

“Is she dead?”

“Blackbeard the pirate took her.”

“Charles was my grandfather’s name. My grandfather died and they named me Charles.”

“I want Crimson!”

“Get down! The Indians will see you.”

“The Indians went away. I want Crimson!”

“We could name this beach after Crimson.”

“Aw, what do you know? It’s only a beach.”

“We could name the whole wide world.” Charlie gestured expansively.

The green sand of the beach became crimson. The sky had a crimson glow.

“It sure is a funny world,” Charlie said. Laughter loud as thunder echoed in the sky. “A world called Crimson,” he added.

The tide came in. Spray and surf bounded off the rocks, wetting them. “We better go up the hill,” Robin said. By hill she meant the perpendicular cliffs behind them.

The tide thundered in. They were sodden. They clung to the rocks.

“We need an elevator or something,” Charlie said.

Golden cables flashed in the sunlight. The gilt elevator cage came down. They climbed in as a big wave came and battered the rocks. The elevator went up, up to the top of the cliff. They could see a long way across the water. They could watch the pirate ship sailing away, the skull black as night on its sail.

They got out of the elevator at the top of the cliff. They didn’t see any Indians, but they saw the ashes of a campfire.

“Are there lions and tigers and everything?” Robin asked in wonder, gazing out over the beach and the sea and then turning around to see the green forest which began fifty yards beyond the edge of the cliff.

“Sure there are lions and tigers,” Charlie said matter-of-factly.

Off somewhere in the woods, a big cat roared. Robin whimpered.

“I w-was only fooling,” Charlie said, vaguely understanding that you could somehow make things happen on this world called Crimson.

But he learned a lesson that night. You could make things happen on Crimson, but you couldn’t unmake them.

The tiger roared again. But they were downwind from it and it went elsewhere in search of prey. Huddled together near the embers of the Indian campfire, the two children slept fitfully through the cold night.

Then the three suns finally came up on three different sides of the horizon. Crimson was deadly, but beautiful...

Although credit for the discovery of Aladdin’s Planet goes to the explorer Richard Purcell of Earth, two Earth children actually were shipwrecked there twenty years before Purcell’s expedition. But instead of paving the way for Purcell, they actually made the exploration more difficult for him. In fact, it was positively fraught with peril. But since Aladdin’s Planet had become the galaxy’s arsenal of plenty, it was well worth Purcell’s effort. As any schoolboy knows in this utopia of 24th century plenty, Aladdin’s Planet, almost exactly at the heart of the galaxy, where matter is spontaneously created to sweep out in long cosmic trails across the galaxy, is the home not merely of spontaneous creation of matter, but spontaneous formed creation, with any human psyche capable of doing the handwork of God. A planet of great import...

--from The ANNALS OF SPACE, Vol. 2

She stood poised for a glorious moment on the very edge of the rock, the bronze and pink of her glistening in the sun, the spray still clinging to her from her last dive. Then, grace in every line of her lithe body, she sprang from the rock in a perfectly executed swan dive.

Charlie helped her out, smiling. “That was pretty,” he said.

“Well, you taught me how.” Her figure was not yet that of a woman, but far more than that of a girl. She was very beautiful and Charlie knew this although he had no standards to judge by, except for the Indian women they occasionally saw or Blackbeard’s slave girls when the pirate ship came in to trade.

Unselfconsciously, Robin climbed into her gold-mesh shorts. Charlie helped her fasten the gold-mesh halter. Long, long ago--it seemed an unreal dream, almost--he had been a very small boy and his mother had taken him to a show in which everyone danced and sang and wore gold-mesh clothing. He had never forgotten it, and now all their clothing was gold-mesh.

Robin spun around and looked at him. Her tawny blonde hair fell almost to her waist, and he helped her comb it with a jewel-encrusted comb he had wished into being a few days before.

“I so like Crimson!” she cried impulsively.

Charlie smiled. “Why, that’s a funny thing to say. Is there any other kind of a place?”

“You mean, but Crimson?”


“I don’t know. It is funny. Sometimes I think--”

Charlie smiled at her, a little condescendingly. “Oh, it’s the book again, is it?” he asked.

“All right. It’s the book. Stop making fun of me.”

Many years ago, when they’d been small children, they had returned to the ruined spaceship which had brought them to Crimson. It had been empty except for the book, as if the book had been placed there for them by whatever power had put them in the spaceship. Naturally, they had not been able to read, but they kept the book anyway. Then one day, years later, Robin had wished to be able to read and the next time she lifted the book and opened it, the magic of the words was miraculously revealed to her. The book was called A ONE VOLUME ENCYCLOPEDIC HISTORY and it told about just everything--except Crimson. There was no mention of Crimson at all. Robin read the book over and over again until she almost knew it by heart. Even Charlie had listened to it twice all the way through when she read it, but he had never wished for the ability to read himself.

Now Charlie asked: “Do you really believe the book? This is Crimson. This is real.”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I think this isn’t as real as everything in the book. And sometimes I just don’t know.”

They walked in silence to their elevator and took it to the top of the highest cliff. They had wished for a house there, like one Robin had seen in the book. They had wished for many things to make their lives interesting, or pleasant. They had peopled Crimson with the fruit of their wishes, using the ONE VOLUME ENCYCLOPEDIC HISTORY as a guide.

They lived a mile from the Indian Camp. They traded with the Indians who, strangely, did not know how to wish for things. Neither did the pirates, or anyone. Just Robin and Charlie. The pirates lived across the sea on an island. To the south along the shore were Phoenicians, Greeks, Mayas, Royal Navymen, Submariners, mermaids and Cyclopes. To the north along the shore were Polynesians, Maoris, Panamanians and Dutchmen. Inland were Cannibals, Lotus Eaters, a few settlements of cowboys to make life interesting for the Indians, farmers, Russians, Congressmen and Ministers. All had been created by Robin and Charlie, who visited them sometimes. They never believed for a minute that Robin and Charlie had really created them, although all were amazed by Robin and Charlie’s ability to make things appear out of thin air.

Just as they reached their house, an Indian brave came running down the trail toward them.

“Skyship come!” he cried, gesturing wildly and excitedly.

“Skyship?” repeated Charlie, looking at Robin. “Have you created any spaceships?”

“No. You know it’s a bargain between us. We don’t create anything we don’t think we understand.”

The Indian was sweating. His name was Tashtu, which meant Wild Eagle, and he was their go-between with the tribe. “Skyship sweep across heavens,” he said. “Not land. Go up in Wild Country.”

Charlie’s interest quickened. Wild Country. They had created it on impulse, about twenty miles from the Indian Camp, midway between the settlements of Congressmen inland and Cyclopes on the shore. It was a place of tortuous gorges and rocks and mountains, utterly lifeless. No one ever went there. Someday, he had always told Robin, they would explore Wild Country. If there really was a spaceship, and if it had gone there...

“No,” Robin said. “I know what you’re thinking. But I’m perfectly happy here.”

“You just now said you sometimes thought Crimson wasn’t real and there were other, real worlds which--”

“That’s different. I can dream, can’t I?”

“But don’t you see, if a spaceship’s really come, maybe they can tell us.”

She gripped his arm. “Charlie. Oh, Charlie, I don’t know. I’m afraid. We’ve been happy here, haven’t we? We really wouldn’t want it to change...”

“I’m going to Wild Country,” Charlie said stubbornly.

Tashtu nodded his head. “It is good that you do. For the braves--”

“Don’t tell me they went after the skyship?” Charlie asked.

“Yes, Lord. Skyship come low, ruin crops mile around. War dance follow. War party leave last sunrise.”

“Six hours ago!” Charlie cried. “Can we overtake them?”

Tashtu shrugged. “Hurry, Lord.”

“Don’t you see,” Charlie told Robin. “They’re savages. They wouldn’t understand anything like spaceships. They wouldn’t want to. If they get the chance, they’ll kill first and ask questions afterwards. We’ve got to go to the Wild Country now.”

Big and brawny Tashtu was nodding his head earnestly, but Robin seemed unconvinced. “Why,” she said, “there isn’t even anything about Wild Country in the book.”

“That’s because we made it.”

“And besides, the Congressmen are dangerous.”

“Congressmen? Don’t you mean the Cyclopes?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. The Cyclopes are dangerous.”

She couldn’t possibly have meant the Congressmen. It was never clear to either of them precisely what a Congressman did. But there were hundreds of them on one side of Wild Country and they were forever making speeches and promises, little round bald men with great, rich voices and wonderful vocabularies. Charlie loved to hear them speak.

“We go, Lord?” Tashtu asked.

Charlie nodded and went inside swiftly for his rifle. It was modeled after the most powerful rifle in the encyclopedia and was called a Mannlicher Elephant Gun. Robin came with her own smaller Springfield repeater.

“Ready?” Charlie asked.

“Yes. We can think up food along the trail.”

“Hurry, Lord,” Tashtu urged.

Charlie could hardly contain his excitement. The Wild Country, at last. And a spaceship.

By the time they were ready to make planetfall on the unexplored world, Purcell knew his dislike of Glaudot bordered on actual hatred. Purcell, who was forty-five years old and a bachelor, liked his spacemen tough, yes: you had to be tough to land on, explore, and subdue a couple of dozen worlds, as Purcell himself had done. But he also liked his spacemen with humility: facing the unknown and sometimes the unknowable at every step of the way, you needed humility.

Glaudot, younger than Purcell by fifteen years, confident, arrogant, a lean hard man and handsome in a gaunt-cheeked, saturnine way, lacked humility. For one thing, he treated the crew like dirt and had treated them that way since blastoff from Earth almost five months before. For another, he seemed impatient with Purcell’s orders, although Purcell was not a cautious man, and certainly not a timid one. What had been growing between them flared out into the open moments before planetfall.

“I can’t get over it,” Purcell said. “I’ve never seen a world anything like it.” They had made telescopic observations from within the atmosphere. “Giants living in caves,” Purcell went on. “Sailing ships flying the Jolly Roger. A town consisting of miniature replicas of the White House on Earth. Mermaids.”

“Don’t tell me you really thought you saw mermaids?” Glaudot asked a little condescendingly.

“All right, I’ll admit I only caught a glimpse of them. I thought they were mermaids. But what about the Indians?”

“Yes,” Glaudot admitted. “I saw the Indians.”

Using their atmospheric rockets, they had flown over the Indian village at an altitude of only a few hundred feet, to see bronze-skinned men rush out of tents and stare up at them in awe. After that, Purcell had decided to find some desolate spot in which to land, in order not to risk a too-sudden encounter with any of the fantastically diversified natives.

Now Glaudot said: “You’re taking what we saw too literally, Captain. Why, I remember on Harfonte we had all sorts of hallucinations until Captain Jamison discovered they were exactly that--we’d been hypnotized into seeing the things we most feared by powerless natives who really feared us.”

“This isn’t Harfonte,” Purcell said, a little irritably.

“Yeah, but you weren’t there.”

“I know that, Glaudot. I’m only trying to point out that each world must be considered as unique. Each world presents its own problems, which--”

“I say this is like Harfonte all over again. I say if you’d had the guts to land right smack in the middle of that Indian village, you’d have seen for yourself. I say to play it close to the vest is ridiculous,” Glaudot said, and then smiled deprecatingly. “Begging your pardon, of course, Captain. But don’t you see, man, you’ve got to show the extraterrestrials, whatever form they take, that Earthmen aren’t afraid of them.”

“Caution and fear aren’t the same thing,” Purcell insisted. He didn’t know why he bothered to explain this to Glaudot. Perhaps it was because Ensign Chandler, youngest man in the exploration party, was in the lounge listening to them. Chandler was a nice kid, clean-cut and right out of the finest tradition of Earth, but Chandler was, like all boys barely out of their teens, impressionable. He was particularly impressionable in these, his first months in space.

“When you’re cautious it’s as much to protect the natives as yourself,” Purcell went on, and then put into simple words what Glaudot and Chandler should have learned at the Academy for Exploration, anyway.

When he finished, Glaudot shrugged and asked: “What do you think, Ensign Chandler?”

Chandler blushed slowly. “I--I’d rather not say,” he told them. “Captain Purcell is--the captain.”

Glaudot smiled his triumph at Purcell. It was then, for the first time, that Purcell’s dislike for the man became intense. Purcell wondered how long he’d been poisoning the youth’s mind against the doctrines of the Academy.

Just then a light glowed in the bulkhead and a metallic voice intoned: “Prepare for landing. Prepare for landing at once.”

Purcell, striding to his blast-hammock, told Glaudot, who was the expedition’s exec, “I’ll want the landing party ready to move half an hour after planetfall.”

“Yes, sir,” said Glaudot eagerly. At least there was something they agreed on.

“Men,” Purcell told the small landing party as they assembled near the main airlock thirty-five minutes later, “we have an obligation to our civilization which I hope all of you understand. While here on this unknown world we must do nothing to bring discredit to the name of Earth and the galactic culture which Earth represents.”

They had all seen the bleak moon-like landscape through the viewports. They were eager to get out there and plant the flag of Earth and determine what the new world was like. There were only eight of them in the first landing party: others would follow once the eight established a preliminary base of operations. The eight were wearing the new-style, light-weight spacesuits which all exploration parties used even though the temperature and atmosphere of the new world seemed close enough to Earth-norm. It had long ago been decided at the Academy that chances couldn’t be taken with some unknown factor, possibly toxic, fatal and irreversible, in an unknown atmosphere. After a day or two of thorough laboratory analysis of the air they’d be able to chuck their spacesuits if all went well.

They filed through the airlock silently, Purcell first with the flag of Earth, then Glaudot, then the others. White faces watched from the viewport as they clomped across the convoluted terrain.

“Nobody here but us chickens!” Glaudot said, and he laughed, after they had walked some way across the desolate landscape. “But then, what did you expect? Captain took us clear of all the more promising places.”

The man’s only motive, Purcell decided, was his colossal ego. He made no reply: that would be descending to Glaudot’s level.

After they walked almost entirely across the low-walled crater in which the exploration ship had come down, and after Purcell had planted the flag on the highest pinnacle within the low crater walls, Glaudot said:

“How’s about taking a look-see over the top, Captain? At least that much.”

Purcell wasn’t in favor of the idea. It would mean leaving sight of the ship too soon. But the radio voices of most of the men indicated that they agreed with Glaudot, so Purcell shrugged and said a pair of volunteers could go, if they promised to rejoin the main party within two hours.

Glaudot immediately volunteered. That at least made sense. Glaudot had the courage of his convictions. Several others volunteered, but the first hand up had been Ensign Chandler’s.

“I don’t want to sound like a martinet,” Purcell told them. “But you understand that by two hours I mean two hours. Not a minute more.”

“Yes, sir,” Chandler said.


“Yes, sir,” the Executive Officer replied.

“All right,” Purcell said. He walked over to the first of the big magna-sleds piled high with equipment. “We’ll be setting up the base camp over here. I know the men still in the ship will want to stretch their legs soon as possible. We don’t want to have to go looking for you, Glaudot.”

“Not me, Captain,” Glaudot assured him, and walked off toward the crater rim with young Ensign Chandler.

“What the devil was that?” Chandler said forty-five minutes later.

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