Copyright © 2002
I had been on this world for several months now, and I was happy and content for the first time in my life. I had my sketching and painting, but I also had people who loved me. On my old world only my grandfather had loved me, and he had been dead for a year before I left it to attend the Arts symposium, so that made it four years in the past.
I was out sketching Regan Smithers barn, or at least what was left of it. His father had been a farmer and had originally built the barn, but Regan had preferred fooling around with automobiles and ended up as an auto mechanic, so for the last thirty years the barn had been falling apart. It wasn't quite ready to fall down but it was getting close, and it made an interesting contrast to the ultra modern house that he had built to replace the old one.
Regan hadn't built the house on an auto mechanics salary. He'd lucked into the position of favorite son of the Ford car dealership where he worked. He did that by marrying the owner's daughter. I heard some of the old biddies' in town say that he'd married her just to get the dealership, but that was a lie. You only have to see Regan and Gracie together to know that they truly love each other and their four children.
Well he had ended up as a partner and then the owner, and despite the fact that Ridge only had a little more that ten thousand people, it was one of the biggest dealerships in the state. We weren't that far from Phoenix and his reputation for honesty and good deals brought people from all over the state. He had finally decided that the barn had gotten into a condition, that it was actually dangerous, and he was going to have it pulled down. Reluctantly mind you. He had fond memories of playing in it as a child. He had hired me to do a sketch and then a painting of it as it had looked originally.
This would give me the structure and the photographs he gave me would give me the look. Peggy, had told me about people getting their favorite pets painted, so why not a favorite memory?
Since this was going to be for a painting it was a quick sketch, so Peggy and Jamie had come along. They were in the field behind me playing catch. I heard a humming about thirty feet in front of me, and then a thrumming sound that went up and down. I gave a whistle and Jamie and Peggy came over to me.
Peg said, "What's up? Have you finished already?"
"Yes, but that's not why I whistled. We have company." I told her and she looked around with curiosity.
She said, "I don't see anybody?"
I took the softball out of her glove and threw it at a point about thirty feet in front of us, and it suddenly seemed to stop in mid-air and dropped to the ground. "A portable stealth field." I said, "it also has a built in shield, so just in case someone finds out it exists they can't just shoot those inside."
Jamie said, "Have they come to rescue you?" and there was sadness in his large gray eyes.
I shook my head, "No. They wouldn't have come down from their ship if they intended to do that. They chose an isolated region, the only ones around are you two and they know you already know what I am. If they just intended to rescue me they would just have used a tractor beam and pulled me into their ship. No they're here for some other reason."
The air shimmered in front of us and suddenly two beings were visible. They were dressed in Federation uniforms and they weren't human though they looked very much like we did. I said, "They're Federation Survey. That's the branch of the Federation services that looks after planets like Earth and though they look human, they're not. They're Hertzel, and they're the Nosey Parker's of the Federation, always sticking their noses in where it isn't wanted."
The female of the pair laughed and it was very much like our laughter though it was higher pitched. The male said, "Now that's not really fair, Brin. I've seen humans stick their noses in where we wouldn't dream of going." and his voice was also much higher pitched than any human's would be.
I laughed, "I just wanted to get a rise out of you. Actually I've only ever met one of your people. He was a reporter for an art journal and was doing an article on me. He hadn't done his homework, and he showed up with tons of electronic equipment and then stuck it right in my face. When it stopped working he got really flustered and instead of asking me what he should do, he spent two hours trying to get his equipment to work. I kept giggling at his predicament and finally he gave up in frustration and asked me what to do."
"I told him that if he moved six or more feet away from me his equipment would start to function properly and as long as he stayed that far away then he wouldn't have any problems. It wasn't an important journal and they intended to do a story on moderately successful artists, and I was one of the half a dozen they chose. While I wasn't as rich as some of the more modern artists I had a pretty good bank balance for a nine year old and the reporter was very gloomy when he left. He sent me a copy of the magazine, probably thinking that it would make me unhappy when they decided to exclude me and chose another artist in my place. Since I sketch and paint for my own pleasure, I couldn't have cared less that they decided to ignore me."
Peggy giggled and so did I and the two Hertzels joined in, but I could see Jamie was baffled. When I controlled myself, I ruffled his hair and told him, "I'll tell you why it's funny later, okay?" and he nodded gravely.
I heard the thrumming of the stealth field go off and the two approached us, and as they did I could see Peggy and Jamie seeing the differences. While their hair looked much like ours, it was in fact made up of tiny feathers, as was their eyebrows, and their noses were much more like beaks, and they had tiny division lines on their skin where they had shed their feathers permanently which was slightly darker than the rest of their skin, only the dividers where the feathers had once been were still visible. Unlike humans, Hertzels were descended from birds, but somehow evolution had made us very similar externally, the only differences were those I mentioned and with a little makeup they could pass for human on any of our worlds.
Humans have developed a classification system, and you guessed it, it is based on humans. I don’t know much about it, but I remember looking it up when I was going to see my first alien in person. It’s written as a period followed by ten decimal numbers marking various parameters. The larger the number, the greater the difference. In stead of the human .111, Hertzel started with .127. The third number showed DNA variance, and obviously there was an enormous difference. The rest of the Hertzel numbers, and their significance escapes me.
The female came right up to us while the male stayed far enough away that so that his recording equipment wouldn't be affected by my aura. She looked at me with her big blue eyes and that was another difference, they had no pupils. "I would say that I was sorry that we aren't here to rescue you, as you surmised, but I know from listening that you are much happier here than you ever were on your world. We told your family about your situation, and none of them seemed to care very much."
I nodded and then said gravely, "I finally found a home and a family, the only member of my family that I miss is my grandfather and he died a year before this happened." I giggled, "I would have thought that Akila would be annoyed. While she didn't care about me either, I would think as my agent she has no paintings to sell, so I would have thought she would have been unhappy."
She smiled, "Actually, since your customers know where you are and know eventually that your works will be available again, she's making you a fortune by selling your sketches. They go for four or five times what they would have if you were available, and you left thousands of sketches Brin. She's very canny. She put together a portfolio of fifty of your sketches which started with some of your earlier works and showing your development as an artist right up to just before you left your world. It sold for more than five million credits. That established you as an artist of major importance in the Federation. Those artists who had always looked down on your art as primitive are suddenly very interested in it."
Peggy ruffled my hair, and said to me, "Don't let it go to your head, Brin. When you put down one of your sketch books you still forget where you put it most of the time. The Library called this morning and said that they had two of them."
I said with excitement, "Which ones were they, did they say?!"
"Well, Mrs. Tompkins said she recognized the Governor's mother in one of them. She knew her when she was a little girl, but she didn't say anything about the other one." Peggy told me.
I sighed with contentment. "That's good. I've been looking for that one for weeks. I never thought of the Library. That's the original sketch and I wanted to give it to the Governor with the painting but I couldn't find it."
I looked at my wife with humor and she was just as amused. Here we had been wondering how we'd be received when we showed ourselves and for the moment we were being ignored. Now Brin was a Federation citizen and though he was from a low tech world by our standards, we would still be familiar to him, and didn't expect to surprise him, but the other two had never seen an alien yet they were ignoring us as well. Obviously these two at any rate wouldn't have any trouble if it ever became the policy of the Federation to make contact before a society broke out into the galactic community by discovering hyper space travel.
Brin looked at us solemnly. "What should we call you? I know your real names would be just as difficult to pronounce for most people as my real last name."
My wife said, "I am called Fi and my husband is called Gil, and you realize of course that we were sent because we can neither catch any of your diseases nor give you any of ours, our DNA is simply too different. At the same time, to a casual glance, we look human. It would have taken three months to prepare a human to land on this world, and another three months to return them to normal, and for the hour or so that they would be here, it wouldn't be worth it."
"This is very important for your people. In more than fifty thousand years of history, we visited on only five occasions a world in this stage of development. These missions are all classified Top Secret, and we were not briefed on the reasons for those visits." she told them.
He nodded. "I didn't expect to see any Federation citizens until this world broke out, knowing how strict the hands off policy was. Why did you come?"
She handed him the binder she had been holding, and said, "About ten years ago on the first world that you colonized, on several key computer systems, a message appeared in English. It simply said, 'Dig here.' and it gave coordinates. It was easy to find and surprisingly it was in an area that had never been built on. Or perhaps not surprising, it was called Landing Site and while not considered sacred it was regarded with reverence."
Peggy and Jamie sat down beside him and he went through it slowly. When he closed it, he looked at us and said, "I suppose you thought because it was in my style and they're all signed Brin that I did them."
We looked at him cautiously. We had, but just the way he said that indicated that he hadn't. He grinned, "Afraid to commit yourselves? All right I can tell you I didn't do them. They're in my style and they're exceptional…" He paused "…for another child, not for me."
He opened the binder at the first picture which showed a man, who had a resemblance to both Jamie and Peggy. He opened his sketch book to a picture and he turned it around so that we could see it. It was of Peggy, and we could immediately see what he meant, and for the first time we appreciated why he was being called a great artist. The precision and clarity was incredible, yet at the same time he had caught much more. The spirit and essence of the girl who was sitting by his side, was there and his sketch in a way was letting us see into her soul. The color sketch in the binder that we had thought so good was suddenly very ordinary. He pointed at the bottom of the page, "I no longer sign my name as Brin, I use the second name that I chose as well, plus I put both the Federation year and the Earth year on what I sketch or paint."
"This first sketch in the binder, was done on Earth and from the name on the ship in the background the Rettin, I see why you're here." He began to turn the pages, "These pictures were obviously done aboard ship, and they show both adults and children. But with the rest the colors are wrong. They were done under a different sky, with different lighting. I would say that they were done under a green sky, and the colors would look normal there."
"The last ten pages which show the geophysical survey, are much better than anything else in the book. I would say they were done perhaps ten or fifteen years later than the others. It would have been interesting to see intermediate sketches between the two to see how his sketching style developed over that period, but obviously they show that he has developed a style of his own. A lot of my style is still mixed in, but he's adapted it and modified it so that it fits in better with his style."
Peggy said, "The ship isn't a government ship of any kind, either. It's private, otherwise it would show something that indicated where it was from before the name. There probably wouldn't be any children aboard either if it was just an exploration ship. It has a specific purpose. They know where they're going and they know they're not coming back, so they want their families with them."
Fi nodded saying, "We had always assumed that the ship was a generation ship, with fifty thousand people or even double that number. This ship is far too small for that. The fact that it can land limits its size. At most it can probably carry four or five hundred people and most of them would have to be in stasis to manage even that many. Instead of people the ship must be carrying genetic samples from your races which they intend to use in cloning. The history of your people Brin is a very frustrating subject to research. We know they never lost their technology. Yet very little of the first one thousand years that your people spent on Lankar, is documented, and it can only have been done on purpose."
Brin grinned, "You poor historians, I feel sorry for you." Then he became serious. "They're worried about BAD BEINGS finding out Earth is the mother planet of humankind, so they carefully obscured their origins. We know that such beings do indeed exist. The Banar would cheerfully come here and slit every human throat they could find if they realized that the human's who colonized Lankar come from our future and therefore the event hasn't occurred yet."
Fi said, "Unfortunately true. That's why only about two dozen beings actually know about the existence of the binder. And we intend to keep it that way. That's why we assumed that it was your work, we couldn't call in any experts, not even those in our own department, not if we want to keep the secret. Actually it didn't really matter if it was your work or not, so we weren't particularly concerned about calling in art experts to validate it. We simply came to make you aware that you are part of the event that we've been waiting for, for several centuries."
Peggy asked, "Does your husband ever say anything?" with a grin.
I grinned back, "She outranks me, while we are both commanders her promotion went through one day before mine, so she has one day seniority over me. Also she's in the Contact branch of the Survey while I'm simply in General Survey."
Peggy asked another question, "Do you know when the event is going to take place?'
Fi said, "Actually we do. On August 8, 2073, there is an event which will begin and last for approximately twenty-two hours. The Campari have records going back more than twenty thousand years, and they have recorded paired events on twelve occasions, none of which lasted for more than fifteen minutes. The first they ever recorded lasted about ten minutes and it's exact duplicate occurred about one hundred and eighty-six years later. It's exact duplicate but in reverse. The other eleven were identical, the second of the pair duplicated the first again in reverse. They have two unpaired events one lasted for approximately twenty-two hours ten thousand years ago and the second lasted for ten times that period about three thousand years ago."
"One of the more daring Campari scientists formulated the theory that they were rifts in time. He doesn’t know, but we agree with him, and that gives us our date when the event we are expecting will occur.
Brin opened the binder again at the first page and he looked at the sketch more closely. He said, "Lyndhurst, N. Nicolas, probably in honor of Peggy and Jamie's grandfather. He looks to be about thirty-five or a little older. There's no way of saying whether he's Peggy or Jamie's son or even possibly the son of a child not yet born. Freddie's only thirty-eight, it's quite possible that he'll remarry and have other children. The artist may be Nicolas' son though there's no way of being absolutely certain, until he's born and named."
He turned over the pictures slowly. "There are no name tags shown in any of the other pictures and Nicolas is not shown again. It's almost as if that's deliberate, and I'd say that the pictures were chosen very carefully from a substantial number of sketches. In fact the only person who is seen more than once is a woman about the same age as the presumed Nicolas. I think that it's probably the boy's mother."
He looked up at us and grinned again, "It must have been very frustrating for your department when they found these and got so little information from them. You get the name, Lyndhurst, N. and you knew the name of the ship, Rettin, and until I was stranded here and chose the name Rettin as a last name you didn't even know which of the thousands and thousands of Lyndhurst's were the right family."
Fi laughed, "Gil and I are lucky. We've only known about this binder since you landed, and they were preparing us for contact. The department couldn't really make any informed speculation until, as you say, you were stranded. Since then they've got about as much information as you just mentioned. We would have contacted you sooner, but we had to wait until the FBI got tired of following you around." All three of the children giggled at that.
Fi said, "It's almost time to go. The contents of the binder will like in the television show Mission Impossible, self-destruct. Though it will take about an hour. It will simply crumble into dust and it can't be copied by any technology that now exists on Earth. We're aware that you could in fact do so Brin now that you've seen them, but we ask that you do not. The three of you plus Freddie and Max should be the only ones to know of our visit. We've been keeping a close watch on you since you landed Brin, though audio only and the small Monitor station that is watching Earth is doing no direct surveillance. We are simply monitoring your satellites and picking up the television signals and getting the news like everyone on your world does."
"Even having a Monitor station in the same system of a world that is within a couple of centuries of breaking out is against all regulations, but this world is so important to your people and to the Federation as a whole, that an exception was made. Also you are under Federation protection. Over five hundred years ago the Federation Navy started using Alpha Centauri and the surrounding space as a training ground and there's always a substantial fleet presence in this area."
"On three occasions in the last two hundred years ago they were actually attacked. While there was little damage to either side, we are always aware that it's a possibility. They are also aware that's it's very possible that it was a branch of the Federation testing their combat readiness, and in this case on all three occasions that’s what it was. They are aware of that fact as I said but they can't count on it. They have to assume that it's an enemy."
"One last thing Brin, before we leave." Fi said. She took out of her pocket a small case and handed it to him. He opened it and looked at the bracelet inside.
I said, "Three years ago when we became aware of the lifeboat entering this system and began listening in and learned your name, and of the problems you had with computers, our research department began to develop this. It's a special shielding device. This shield works differently from the majority of similar devices. It has a control with three settings. High, low and off. When turned on high, it will allow you to actually use computers and electronic devices, for a period of eight to ten hours. You'll have to experiment to find out the exact time it will work with you. By removing it and placing it out of your aura's range over a similar time period, it actually regenerates. A normal shield simply becomes dormant and when you put it on again the damage you have caused simply accumulates and eventually destroys it."
"On low, it will limit your aura's damage to about a foot instead of the present five feet. That will last up to thirty-six hours. Again it has to regenerate for about eight or nine hours. Again it's something you'll have to experiment with." She grinned, "The last of course is off, and it won't do anything, neither shield you nor regenerate. However you will still be able to wear it on your wrist for a few hours without affecting it."
He looked at us and his brown eyes were wide with astonishment, "How much did it cost anyway?"
I said, "Fi's not particularly interested in the mechanical aspect of things or the expense, but I gather you could build a battleship with the amount that it cost without any problems at all."
Brin's jaw dropped, "You're kidding? Aren't you?"
I shook my head, "I never kid about billions of credits. Brin, you are probably the most important human being ever born. Not because of who you are but because of what you represent. The key event that will send the first settlers of Lankar into the past, and the rejuvenation of the Federation, which was on the verge of collapse six thousand years ago when humans finally joined the Federation. They injected a shot of life into us so to speak. The collapse had already started, another five hundred years and it would have been past saving. As it was, we lost ten thousand systems before it turned around. We got most of them back and we've been expanding ever since, with no sign of stopping, and no sign of the lethargy that was affecting us just before humans joined the Federation."
"You are so important that if you are ever in danger, we are authorized by the High Federation Council to do anything in our power to protect you, including revealing ourselves to Earth's population if that is necessary."
Brin's eyes got wider and wider, in astonishment, and I didn't blame him. We were indoctrinated from birth never to interfere with a developing world and I had just turned everything he knew about such things upside down. It would probably take him some time to recover. Fi and I still weren't completely recovered even though we had received our orders and instructions three months ago.
I heard three beeps in my com and said, "We're being told it's time to leave. Presently we can see no reason to repeat this visit, so it's unlikely that you will see us again." Fi showed Brin how to put the bracelet on and how to turn it on and then taking my hand we move backward. When we were about twenty-five feet from the children, we turned on the stealth field, and a few seconds later we were grasped gently by a tractor beam and lilted into our ship.
I asked Brin, "Are they gone?"
"Yes," he said, "I heard the hum of a tractor beam when they were pulled into their ship. By now they're probably out of the atmosphere and heading for the Monitor station."
I pointed at the binder. "They called what will happen an event. Well events like that don't just happen. It'll take an organization and a tremendous amount of money. I want us to control it. I'll be President to start off with and Jamie will be Vice-President and Brin, you can be fund-raiser and official chronicler. We're not going to need a tremendous amount of money to start with. For the first few years we simply need to start making contacts. We'll call us To the Stars Incorporated, and our objective will be clearly defined."
I put out my hand and Brin put his hand on top of it and then Jamie put his hand on Brin's, and I stated the credo which we would live by for the next seventy-one years. It was simple but heartfelt. "We three promise to work to send a ship out to colonize Lankar, to create the Human Sector of the Federation."
Both Brin and Jamie said yes emphatically. I knew Brin would stick with it and I thought Jamie would as well, and I knew I would.
Brin didn't really need to actually sketch or paint things from life. He could do very well with photographs, as he proved with the sketch and painting of Nicolas Lyndhurst, and the painting he had done of Elizabeth Masters, the mother of the governor. In those cases however they had both been dead, and he preferred not to rely on photographs when he didn't have to.
So he was sitting on a bench in the town square park preparing to sketch the façade of the bank. And that's what it was, a façade. It was the original from the 1880's and though the interior was as modern as any other bank, the outside was a throwback to the past. He watched a blue Ford Focus pull into a parking space in front of the bank and two men got out. One on the front passenger side and the other from behind the driver. He couldn't see the driver but the front window was open and the man had his hand on the roof of the car, and he was wearing a black driving glove.
He looked at his watch and it said ten-thirty and then he began sketching and he was no longer conscious of anything except the sketch, and the image of the bank façade etched into his mind. He was oblivious to everything else so he didn't see the two men who had gotten out of the car running out of the bank, with stocking masks over their heads and waving guns. They jumped into the car and it backed out of the parking space with a squeal and then took off along Main Street heading east.
Within two minutes three police cars roared up with their sirens blaring. Two were from the Ridge Police Dept. and one from the Sheriff's Department. The four officers from the Ridge Police made their way inside the bank with their guns drawn. They didn't expect to need them at this point, but they were taking no chances.
A crowd was starting to gather though they were staying well back, while Max Lyndhurst began to look around to see if there might be anybody who might have been here for a while who might be witnesses. She spotted Brin, who was paying no attention to what was happening right in front of him and she realized he was sketching. She'd get around to him in a minute.
She gave a yell, "Anybody see what type of car it was." and she got half a dozen calls that it was a blue Ford Focus. She got on the radio and reported that fact to the Sheriff's Office and the Ridge Police Department. Once she had done so, "Let's go see if Brin saw anything, Charlie." and she and her partner walked across the street.
Despite the seriousness of the situation when she stood over Brin she grinned. Charlie looked at the little boy in bewilderment, and asked, "Why is he ignoring all the fuss, Max? Most kids would be up in the air about seeing a real bank robbery."
"He's not ignoring it, Charlie, he isn't even aware of it. Now, how do we get his attention? Peggy takes the pencil or brush out of his hand when he's concentrating this deeply." She reached down and took hold of the end of the pencil and pulled it out of his hand. She watched as unaware that the pencil was gone, he tried to make some lines on the paper, and he frowned as nothing happened. He looked at his hand, shrugged and reached for another pencil, but Max had moved them beyond his reach. Unable to get a pencil he began to come to life, shaking his head and blinking his eyes several times.
When he realized that Max was standing in front of him, he looked around and saw the people who had gathered and the three police cars. He said, "Hello, Max, did something happen?"
If anyone had been hurt her attitude would have been much different but as it was she could hardly stop herself from laughing, as she said, "Somebody robbed the Ridge Bank, Brin."
"Oh. When?" Brin asked her seriously.
"About five minutes ago, Brin. You really should learn to pay more attention to things going on around you when you're sketching. You might find you're missing something." she said though she knew he wouldn't change. Actually couldn't change would be a better term, since he simply had no control of how absorbed he became when he was sketching.
"What time did you start to sketch?" she asked.
"Ten-thirty exactly by my watch." he said.
"What did you see just before you started sketching?" and she watched as he closed his eyes, and she knew that he was mentally visualizing the scene.
"A dark blue Ford Focus, pulled into a parking spot right in front of the bank. Two men got out and looked around, and the driver had his left hand on the roof of the car." Brin said.
"What's the license plate number, Brin."
"It's an Arizona plate, 8387-ABB." he said opening his big brown eyes. [Note: Arizona uses a 3 number 3 letter combination. I've used one extra number to avoid inadvertently using an actual plate.]
Charlie had taken down the license plate number and he headed across the street to radio it in. Max said, "I would like you to do a quick sketch of each of the bank robbers. Five minutes for each. You can do more detailed ones later."
He nodded, and turning over the sheet he had been working on, he took his pencil back, and began sketching. When he was finished with the first one he tore it off and handed it to Max and she looked at it and said, "Nobody I recognize. I'll send it in by fax to see if they can find him."
She walked across the street. She handed the sketch to Charlie, and he looked at it and his eyes widened. The Ridge Police officers had come out of the bank, to report to her as the senior officer in charge. She directed one to each end of the block to direct traffic around the square then had the other two canvas the crowd to see if they could find anyone who had seen anything. She said to Charlie, "Fax it in to headquarters also send it to the State Police, and I'll go see what else our little Mr. Identikit can produce."
She saw him tear off a sheet when she was almost across the sheet, and thought, 'That was too fast, probably didn't see enough of him to get much.' But when she reached him she found out that she was wrong as she took the sketch, and it was of a tattoo. A rattlesnake with it's tail in its mouth and inside the circle made by the snake the capital letter H. She realized that Brin had taken her literally and even though he had only seen the arm of the driver he had provided enough to identify him. Brin said, "He was wearing black leather driving gloves and so were the other two."
She took the sketch and headed back across the street and just handed it to Charlie. He looked at it and grinned, "Is that kid always that observant? When I first saw him I figured he was a lost cause."
"Tell him the name of the states and he'll probably forget them in a few minutes. Show him a map of the states for a few seconds and he'll reproduce it exactly and to perfect scale, and if he has fine enough instruments he'll reproduce every color, line and name exactly." said Max. "You figure it's Snake Houston as well, I gather."
"He boasts that he designed it himself, and nobody has anything exactly like it. I'd say yes. Whether it can be proved in court I don't know, but I'll fax it in. I figured we had seen the last of him when he moved to Phoenix." Charlie grinned. "I'll notify the Phoenix police to see if they can find him and to put a watch on him, also the State Police."
Max headed back to Brin. When Brin tore off the sketch and handed it to her she didn't recognize this man either. Bringing it back to Charlie she said, "These two are probably from Phoenix. Snake probably told them about the quarter mil in payroll money that the bank gets every two weeks on the Wednesday before payday. They knew we have extra cars close by while it's being delivered so they waited until the delivery was made and gave us long enough to relax."
She saw another Sheriff's car approaching followed by a van. She nodded in that direction, "Here comes Freddie and Forensics."
When Freddie stopped two detectives got out of the Jeep and conferring briefly with the Police Officers she had assigned to question the crowd they headed inside. Two of the Forensics team went inside as well two of them began looking around in the parking space where the car had been parked.
Freddie said to Max. "We found the Focus in the Wal-Mart parking lot. So far at least we haven't found anyone who saw them switching vehicles. We've set up road blocks on the main roads going east inside the County line, and the State Police, further east, but if they know the area they can probably avoid them."
Max handed him the sketch of the tattoo on the arm and he winced. "Snake Houston, there's probably very few people who know this area better, so it's unlikely we'll catch them on the road. It'll probably be up to the Phoenix Police to find them. Even if we convict them it's unlikely that we'll get the money back. It'll be too well hidden."
Judge Maria Esperanza
Personally I thought the prosecutor had proven his case. The evidence may have been circumstantial but despite that it supported the key witness's testimony. But I didn't know what the jury would think. The defense attorney Dave Tryon, was a good one, and he was doing his best to compromise the child's testimony in his cross-examination. I didn't think he had succeeded, but again you didn't know what juries would do and this one had been carefully stacked by the defense attorney. They were the old fashioned type mainly in their fifties and sixties and both the eight men and four women I felt would have trouble with any child as a witness.
Justin Howard was more than good and I had wondered why he had let Tryon choose the jury he wanted, but he had only challenged once. With the defense counsel's questioning complete, he sat back with satisfaction evidently convinced he'd put doubt in the minds of the jury.
Justin Howard, the prosecutor, stood up, and I had known him all his life and I could see the look on his face and it was one of glee, though only those who knew him well would recognize it. "Your Honor, we thought the defense would concentrate on our witness's somewhat unconventional behavior and testimony. That's the key to the case. That Brin Rettin could see the bank robbers for a few seconds and then draw them so accurately that they would be instantly recognizable. Secondly that he could concentrate so completely on what he was doing that he didn't even realize there had been a bank robbery until Max Lyndhurst took the pencil out of his hand and brought him back to reality."
He paused, "I would like to arrange a little demonstration with the Court's permission."
I asked with interest, "Yes, what is it Mr. Howard?"
"I propose to have a man and a child come into the courtroom for a few seconds and then have Brin Rettin sketch them. We have chosen them very carefully. They are father and son, and he came here to pick up a license for his car. They moved here from California and they arrived on Monday. They moved in on the opposite side of town from Brin so that he wouldn't have seen them while they were moving in, and he's been in the Town Hall for the last two and a half days until he was called as a witness this morning."
The defense attorney's satisfaction was gone and he didn't look very happy, but the jury showed interest and I had no objection. I said, "Unless Mr. Tryon disapproves, I will allow it. In my estimation it's a valid demonstration." I looked inquiringly at the defense attorney and he shook his head, and I realized that Justin had set him up. If Brin could do what the prosecutor expected by allowing the defense attorney to stack the jury he had just the type of people on it that would buy Brin's testimony completely. The seeing is believing type.
I looked down into the bright brown eyes of Brin Rettin and asked, "Do you mind, Brin?"
He shook his head. "Wherever I am, normally I'm sketching, I have no objection, even under the conditions Mr. Howard has imposed."
"Your Honor, will you have the Bailiff call Mr. Seaton and his son, Chandler. They have been instructed what to do." Justin said.
I nodded at the bailiff. "Please do so, Taylor."
He opened the courtroom door and went out and returned in a few seconds, and opened both doors. Once they were open the man and the boy showed up in the doorway turned a full circle and then were out of sight again. With a shock I realized that all told they could only have been in sight for three or four seconds.
I looked at Justin and he was smiling slightly and I realized that he must be very confident of Brin's ability. "Your Honor, we took several Polaroid's of Mr. Seaton and his son. While the bailiff moves the table that's in the corner into plain sight so that Brin can sketch, I would like you and the defense attorney to view them."
I nodded to Constance, the other bailiff and she went to the corner and got a table and put it in front of the press box, and I took the photographs that Justin handed to me. There were five all told, and one of them told me why they had chosen the child.
Justin went back to his table and picked up a sketch pad and brought it to the bench. He handed it to me, "Just so that you can be assured Your Honor that the sketch book is indeed filled with blank pages, and not sketches already done."
I flipped through it and nodded, "The pages are all blank. Would you please show this sketch book to the jury, Mr. Howard." and he walked over and handed it to the foreman. He flipped through it and nodding he passed it to the next and so on until they were all satisfied and Justin got it back.
He returned to the bench and handed it to the defense attorney who flipped through it as well and with a sigh he handed it back to me. I think he knew then that his case was balanced very precariously. After Dave Tryon handed me the blank sketch book back and I reached down and handed it to Brin.
I looked at Justin Howard, "Exactly what do you want sketched Mr. Howard?" He took a card from out of his pocket and handed it to me, and I nodded and handed it to Brin. "All right Brin, you can go to the table and begin sketching."
He did so, and Justin Howard called his next witness. About ten minutes into the testimony, Justin said, "The defense attorney doubted how deep Brin's concentration was. I would like to do a second demonstration Your Honor to show the Court exactly how deep it gets."
"How do you intend to do that Mr. Howard?" I asked.
"Simple, Your Honor. I have a paper bag here. I'll blow it up and pop it. Even when you know it's coming, it's almost impossible to avoid showing some sign." he said. "Especially when it's right above your head."
I looked inquiringly at Dave Tryon, he said heavily, "I have no objection, Your Honor."
"Very well, Mr. Howard, the demonstration is allowed, but please try to make it the last one. This isn't a circus, though at times you treat it like one." I told him trying to be stern, knowing I didn't succeed, as he gave a half bow.
He walked over and stood behind Brin. With paper bags so rare nowadays probably a lot of the younger members of the audience had never seen or heard a paper bag pop. But I had and the jury was about my age, and would know exactly what was going to happen. Justin blew up the paper bag and held it above Brin's head. I could see the jury watching intently and I turned my attention just as Justin brought his hand hard on the bag and it exploded with a pop.
I must admit I jumped, even though I knew it was coming, but Brin didn't, not even the slightest twitch to indicate that he had even noticed it. I looked at Dave Tryon, and he was drooping even more. He'd been doing so well, he'd got the jury uncertain of the circumstantial evidence and of Brin's testimony and partially torn it down and Justin was building it right back up again.
I saw him shake his head, and he pulled himself together, and in a few seconds he was apparently the totally confident attorney he had been earlier in the day.
I saw Brin put down his pencil for the last time and he leaned back in his chair. I saw Justin's assistant give him a nudge and he looked at Brin and grinned. Then he also sat back in his chair and he had a look on his face like a cat who's just eaten a canary. He let Dave Tryon finish his cross-examination of the present witness and then he stood up and said, "I'd like to recall Brin Rettin to the stand, Your Honor." He said to Brin, "Please take the witness chair again please Brin."
Brin nodded and after the present witness had vacated it he stood up and walked over and sat down in the witness chair. Justin held out his hand and Brin handed it to him and Justin handed it to me. I began to look through the five sketches and comparing them to the photographs. It was a good thing I had a poker face or it would have showed my astonishment. They were closer to photographs than to sketches and somehow even though I hadn't got a very good look at the man and his son, I knew that every detail would be right.
I handed the sketches and photographs to Constance and said, "Please give these to the jury."
She brought them over and handed them to the foreman and they began to look through them carefully. After about ten minutes they huddled together briefly, and then the foreman stood up. "Your Honor, from the photographs the sketches show a simply incredible likeness. We would like to see the man and his son and especially the fake tattoo the boy has on his wrist."
I had the bailiff summon the Seaton's into the courtroom and as they approached the jury the likeness was even more astonishing, and I could see amazement on the faces of the jurors. But what they really wanted to see was the fake tattoo on the boy's wrist. It was from a transfer sticker and the image looked like a tattoo of Mickey Mouse.
After a few minutes the foreman collected the photographs and the sketches and handed them to the bailiff, and said to me, "Thank you, Your Honor, we've seen all we need to see for the moment."
I thanked the Seaton's and the man said, "It was a pleasure Your Honor. I've helped the court system, and come away with a conversation starter for the next six months, and Chandler has something to write about, when the teacher asks the class to write a story about what the children did on their summer vacation."
I thought with amusement that not everyone would have taken it so well, not seen benefits in what had been something of an inconvenience. I looked at Mr. Tryon, as I got the pictures and sketches back and he got up and approached the bench to have a look at them. He didn't seem to show anything outwardly and I knew the jury wouldn't have seen anything, but he was close enough that I could see his eyes and they were the eyes of a lawyer who had just lost a case.
Everything had been going so well. Without Brin Rettin all they had was circumstantial evidence. I had known when Justin Howard had suggested the demonstration that I had no chance. He wouldn't suggest it if his witness couldn't back it up. As he had done. The jury which he had allowed me to stack so it would go my way, had turned right around and become his jury. The old-fashioned qualities I had wanted backfired on my clients.
I looked at the three of them. They had smarmy looks on their faces as if to say guilty, not me. I had known they were guilty when I had been assigned the case, but as a Public Defender I didn't have any choice, and of course under our laws even the guilty had the right to counsel, and I had done my best.
I said, "I've been given an offer by the prosecutor's office. Change your plea to guilty and turn in the money and they'll ask for five to seven years, since the only guns they could find were replicas. If you're not willing to change your plea they'll ask for seven to twelve years with no parole for seven years.. The jury is going to find you guilty, that demonstration by the kid in court today guaranteed it. The only hope I had was to cast doubt on his testimony. That in the brief time he had he couldn't possibly have seen enough to remember you well enough to produce the detailed sketches that we saw. He can because he just proved he could do so.
They looked at each other and the smarmy look disappeared. After a few minutes Snake (Albert) Houston looked at me and said, "All right we'll take the deal. Even the two hundred and fifty grand isn't worth spending an extra four or five years in prison, especially since it has to be divided three ways." I looked at the other two, Pete Hayes and Cole Evans, and they said they agreed.
Judge Maria Esperanza
Justin Howard stood up and said, "May we approach the bench, Your Honor?"
"Permission granted, Mr. Howard." and the two men met at the front of the bench. I smiled at them. "I assume you've come to some sort of deal, Mr. Howard?"
"Yes, Your Honor. The defendants showed the police where they stashed the money and they will be changing their plea to guilty. In return we'll ask for a sentence of five to seven years." Justin said and Dave Tryon nodded.
"Young Mr. Rettin killed us Your Honor. After bringing up his atrocious memory and general absent-minded professor mannerisms I thought I had them home free. That demo killed us." Tryon said.
Justin said, "We tested him, obviously, Your Honor. His general memory is as bad as the defense attorney established. His visual memory however is astounding. He saw the Seaton's for about three seconds, but we found that when we showed a picture on a big-screen television, for as short a time as 1/20 of a second, his sketches were as detailed as the ones he produced in Court yesterday."
I nodded, "You'll have to make a motion to change the plea to guilty Mr. Tryon. Once I ask the defendants if that is their wish I will dismiss the jury and set a date for the sentencing."
He nodded and the two attorneys went back to their positions. The defense attorney made a motion to change their pleas to guilty and after asking the defendants if they all agreed, which they did, I thanked and dismissed the jury, and then set September 13 as the sentencing date. I wondered with a bit of humor whether they were superstitious and if they'd think Friday the 13th an unlucky day. Well if they didn't now, they would then.
Part 3-One-Thursday-June 15,2073
Nicolas Lyndhurst, Captain of the Rettin
I looked at the two Brins. My ten year old son and the boy who was my uncle by adoption. They were both sketching, though I would have to hold my pose for my son, since he didn't have the facility of memorizing a visual event and then working from that. He could use photographs, but he thought this event was too important to do it that way. He was using the special paper that we had developed that was intended to last for many thousands of years. This according to my mother, uncle and Brin, was the first picture in the binder they had been shown by the two Federation visitors seventy-one years ago.
He said cheerfully, "Finished Pop." and he came over and showed it to me. It was an exceptional sketch for a ten year old, and he knew it, and he was never discouraged when Brin Sr. produced sketches focusing on the same subject matter. There was no living artist who could match the ability of Brin Rettin in sketching or painting, and only a double handful of historical ones, who were considered as good or better.
I turned around and looked at the Rettin, the ship named after Brin Sr. I still marveled that my mother and uncle Jameson and Brin had somehow managed to raise the money to build her and stock her, especially since they had never lied about what was going to happen. Of course the fact that Brin wasn't aging certainly helped establish the fact that the Federation did indeed exist, but we were going to disappear as perhaps no other ship in history had done.
Most of the passengers were already aboard in stasis chambers, sound asleep. Only the ten crew members and our families and the eight shuttle pilots were still awake. The shuttles were the most dangerous part of the enterprise, so the pilots were all bachelors. I took a deep breath of satisfaction as I looked forward to tomorrow's takeoff, though we had a lot of preparations still to do before we would actually be heading out of the solar system.
Brin Sr. came up beside us, "It's a weird feeling, Nic, to know that you're my ancestors, though looking at my namesake it's a little easier to believe."
I had to grin in agreement at that. Aside from identical twins it was very rare for two children to look as much alike as the two Brins. My son got his blond hair and brown eyes from my wife Moira, who was also my first officer.
It wasn't a formal party, just family and friends, but there was over a hundred and fifty men, women and children there. I looked over those gathered and I had to grin. It wasn't many families that could boast of having a dozen governors, the President of the United States and the Prime Ministers of England and Canada, plus a dozen heads of smaller countries as close friends, and that wasn't counting former politicians.
I saw mother headed our way, and when she reached us she kissed Moira and I on the cheek and Brin on the top of the head. There was a sadness in her blue eyes, but at the same time there was a look of triumph. She said, "Brin would like to see you and the rest of the control crew, the shuttle pilots and your children in his studio. Knowing him I imagine he wants to avoid crying in front of the world." and she nodded at the Vid cameras. She pressed my arm hard, "I'm glad for Brin, that Jamie and I had so many children between us. It would have been hard enough for us if you were an only child, but it would have been devastating for Brin to watch you go knowing he'd never see you again if you'd been the only one."
She sighed, "Well, the Federation knows now what will happen to a child over a long period of time, when they have to replace normal bacteria with the artificial substitute. Emotionally he remains a child, and Brin is finding it very hard, much harder than Jamie and I, to accept that the event is finally here, even though intellectually he accepts it.
I nodded ruefully and Moira and Brin and I headed for his studio, and we waited in the hallway for the rest to join us before opening the door to his studio. Brin was standing by the floor to ceiling window looking at the stars and he turned when we entered. There was sadness on his face and unlike mother, there was no triumph to offset it.
He said huskily, "It's hard to say goodbye when you're a child. I wish I had been able to age emotionally as well as mentally, perhaps I could accept your leaving much more easily if I had, but then again perhaps not. I've known all of you too long. For the adults from your early to mid-teens, and for Nicolas and the children since they were born. I’d really liked to come as well, it's to bad the electronics can’t take my aura for the duration."
I could see the tears trickling slowly down his cheeks, and I wished that I could comfort him, but there was simply nothing that I could do that would do that.
He walked over to the desk and he picked up a remote control. Pointing it at the wall he pushed a button and the whole wall which was a Vid screen lit up. He cleared his throat, "I've been working on this for a couple of years." and a Vid started to roll. First it showed those of us actually in the room and then it showed the passengers one by one with their names and ages and countries. The last picture was the Rettin in orbit, fully assembled with it's stern thrusters starting to push it away from Earth on it's long journey, not in space but in time.
It was a moving experience for those of us in the room, for like Brin we knew everyone of those people and we'd be spending the rest of our lives with them. The last picture lingered for a couple of minutes and then faded to black. He ejected the Vid disk and handed it to me. "I have a feeling that Gil and Fi didn't tell us everything that they found. It'll be your decision whether to include this with the binder."
I pulled him into my arms and I felt him begin to cry much harder, and his body was shaking with it. I began to stroke his back trying to comfort him, and the others left us alone except for Moira and my son, allowing Brin to cry himself out. I don't know how long it took before he finally stopped. Exhausted from his emotions, I carried him into his bedroom beside the studio and put him on the bed, and he quickly fell asleep.
I gripped Moira's hand, and looked around at the control crew and the children meeting their eyes one last time, smiled at Brin and got an excited smile back.
I turned my attention back to my instruments. "Control, all lights are green." I said.
"Roger, all lights are green here as well. Countdown at sixty seconds and holding. You are set to go. You have a launch window of two hours, all traffic being routed around our area for that length of time. Continuing countdown. Sixty, fifty-nine, fifty-eight, …"
I could hear it in the background of the control room, counting down, but it wasn't for our benefit. I knew if I had been outside on the ground it would be a blast of sound that could be heard for miles, giving warning that we were about to take off.
At ten seconds I flicked the twelve switches that powered up the engines, the eight belly thrusters and the four stern thrusters. I reported, "All engines are firing at minimal thrust. Throttling up belly thrusters." I pushed the throttles forward one notch and watched the attitude indicator slowly moving to one foot. I pushed the throttles to the second notch, and we began to move slowly but smoothly upward. Ten feet, fifty feet, one hundred feet, two hundred and the Rettin seemed to hesitate and I added one more notch and we continued to move upward slowly. Five hundred feet, one thousand feet.
Feeling more confident now, this was the first time I had flown the Rettin fully loaded, and I was being wary. I advanced the throttles an additional three notches, and slowly we began to accelerate. At fifty thousand feet I adjusted the forward thrusters so they were pushing harder and the bow of the Rettin began to rise faster than the stern. Soon we were at a forty-five degree angle.
"Throttling up stern thrusters." and I began to push the stern thruster throttles forward, and we continued to ascend on the belly thrusters as we began to move forward. At three notches the belly thrusters flipped back to zero automatically and at five notches we were at full standard power. The Rettin had been designed to land almost anywhere, all it needed was a space large enough to take it. That's why the belly thrusters were so important in both takeoffs and landings. It was unlikely we'd find a landing strip where we were going. The four shuttles had been designed in the same way. Soon we were in our parking orbit, twenty-two thousand miles up.
The Rettin was a very unusual ship. Despite its size, and it was larger than an aircraft carrier built in the early part of this century, larger than any ship ever built to takeoff and land, even the giant lighter-than-air ships that had made their appearance in the last fifty years, it was only half a ship, though you couldn't see it if you were standing on the ground. The upper hull was flat and designed to take containers, which had been brought up by the shuttles over the last two months. They would be loaded on the flat hull and clamped and locked down. The outer containers had a curved outer side, and over the next two or three days the Rettin would take on the familiar circular shape of a spaceship.
Some people who had seen computer simulations of the containers being loaded had compared it to a three-dimensional puzzle, and possibly it could have been, but we had an automatic computer solution. There was a key container of course, but each of the containers had four built in beacons. Once clamped down and locked in position it actually called to the next container in the sequence. Over the last couple of years we had tested it using the empty containers and assembled them on four occasions and assembly and disassembly had all gone without a hitch, and as we were to find out, the real thing went as smoothly as the tests.
Those of the crew who hadn't been involved in loading the containers had been doing full diagnostics on the ship and its living cargo, and hadn't found any problems. However before we left on the twenty-seventh of June, the diagnostics would be running continually just in case.
It was funny but whenever I walked through the ship, usually with Moira or Brin though occasionally alone, I could almost feel the Rettin champing at the bit, calling to me, 'It's time to go Nic, the Federation is waiting. Waiting for us. Waiting.'
"Rettin to Control, the shuttles are clamped in place, and we're ready to don the Collar." I told them.
"Roger, Nic, proceed." I looked at Moira sitting beside me, this was it. Once we donned the Collar, we would be ready to go. She smiled at me and held out her hand, and I gave it a squeeze before getting back to business.
"Powering up rear engines and maneuvering thrusters. Engaging rear thrusters at minimum power." I watched the view screen as we began to move forward, heading for the Collar which was an enormous tank filled with pressurized hydrogen, deuterium and tritium for the fusion reactors in the Rettin, and for the shuttles, once we reached our destination. It had gotten its name because it looked like an old fashioned horse collar, with its open bottom to allow the use of the belly thrusters.
Moira said in her cool calm voice, "Moving at six inches a second. One hundred yards to target."
She continued to give me updates until we were at fifty feet. "We're six inches out of position. Hitting port maneuvering thruster." I felt the light shaking in my seat as the thruster moved us the six inches needed. That was deliberate, to let us know when the maneuvering thrusters were in operation. "Cutting thruster at four inches. Continuing to turn, we're at five inches, firing reverse maneuvering thruster." A pause, "Thruster off, we are at six inches, and in proper position."
I fired reverse forward thrusters at ten feet to bring us to a stop, which we did in exactly the right position. Moira said, "Activating electromagnets." The Collar was pulled into full contact and the lights on the Collar instruments all went green, showing we had a good seal. "Engaging clamps. Instruments say clamps are all in the proper position. Locking clamps down. Umbilicals in proper position. Running tests. All tests show green. Topping off our tanks… No problems, hydrogen flowing freely, locking umbilicals down." and she leant back and grinned with relief, and I could feel the tension in the cabin disappearing.
With satisfaction I reported, "Rettin to Control. The Collar is in position. We are ready to go." I looked around the control cabin and said, "Twenty-four hours before we leave people." and I got grins of excitement from all of them, including the normally unemotional Gail Pearson.
Brin Rettin-7:10 AM
The cry I had the night of the party, had helped, I was a little more accepting emotionally now than I had been, but there was still an ache in my heart knowing that I would never be able to touch them again. Peggy and Jamie were more accepting, but then they had adult emotions and they knew that those on the Rettin weren't going to die they were simply going on a long journey from which they wouldn't return. But then they had been much wiser. Except for Nic and Moira and Brin, they had kept their distance from the others, something I had simply been unable to do.
I knew all of them. All four hundred and thirty-one men women and children. People I'd never see again and it would take me a while to get over it, and possibly I never would be able to do so completely.
Their journey would start in just under an hour, and they would be heading at right angle to the plane of the ecliptic, which meant that they wouldn't be travelling along the orbital paths of the planets but ninety degrees away from them. With the selected acceleration and deceleration we figured the audio and video would cease when they were 1.3 light days away from Earth which would take six weeks.
I heard Nic say, "All lights green, engines running fine, ready to start acceleration phase." and on the view screen he gave us a thumbs up.
The Head of Control said, "You have permission to go, Nic. Godspeed to all of you."
"Throttling engines up. We are moving. Increasing acceleration to one notch. Two notches." I watched as he and Moira were concentrating on their instruments. Five minutes later, he announced, "We are at our planned acceleration of one standard gravity, throttling back to maintain that level."
As the time passed it remained at that level, and after two hours I forced myself to leave and had my driver take me home. I could follow it as easily from there as from here, and I could distract myself by doing some painting.
On July 21 Nic sent a code phrase which told us that they had been contacted by the Federation, something that Jamie, Peggy and I had been sure would happen.
Wednesday LA TIMES August 9,2074
CONTACT LOST WITH THE RETTIN
Audio, video and telemetry no longer
being received from the Rettin. Ship
I didn't see the first broadcast, but I saw it on a Vid internal recorder. I recognized Fi and Gil immediately. He said, "I am Admiral Gil of the Federation Survey Ship Guide and this is my wife Fi. They are simply nicknames since our real names are unpronounceable by most humans. Some of you are aware that the Federation exists, however this is an unprecedented broadcast and was authorized by the High Federation Council, which is our top legislative body."
"This broadcast is being made because of the disappearance of the Rettin which in fact did not disappear in the conventional sense that it was destroyed as you have been fearing. What in fact happened was that the Rettin went back in time over ten thousand years. The following footage was taken by the Guide and by a probe sent to follow the Rettin back in time and then return."
Suddenly there was a Vid of the Rettin close enough to clearly identify her, and it followed her for half an hour until she suddenly disappeared, and then she was visible again, as was the solar system ahead of her. Suddenly the solar system enlarged and twelve red lights lit up on the screen and there was a voiceover. "This is the solar system that the Rettin is now heading for. The Rettin is slightly further out from Newsome than from your sun at 1.6 light days. As you can see there are twelve planets in this system represented by the twelve red lights, and a spectrographic view of the sun has been included at the end of this broadcast for your scientists to confirm that it is a different sun than yours. This system is clearly recognizable to scientists on our ship as the Newsome system, in which Lankar is the third planet."
"Perhaps many people will think that this is a hoax, but to scientists and governments the fact that this broadcast is being received simultaneously in the Asteroid habitants, the Mars colony and bases on the moon and Earth will prove that we are using a faster than light communication system."
"Since in a sense we interfered with the development of your space program by encouraging the building of the Rettin, we just want to make sure that we don't discourage any of your governments from canceling any of your space programs which will eventually lead to your contacting the Federation. The Rettin was not destroyed and the people on it did not die, but thrived and eventually it led to the inhabitation of more than five thousand planets, most of which belong to the Federation and in fact it saved the Federation from disintegrating."
"We will not contact you again until your planet discovers hyper space travel which by our estimates will take another sixty to one hundred years. As a Federation representative I can tell you that we will welcome that moment."
I still felt sadness but as I grasped Peggy and Jamie's hands I also felt a warmth travel through me. We had succeeded, and had kept the vow we made to ourselves so many years ago.
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