The History of Magic
in the 21st Century

A novel by Brandon Starr

Now, a new fiction story--"The Voice of Cassandra"

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Chapter One: "The First"

     Andy Naramore fell, screaming, from the cliff.

     Not the best way to start a story.  A fine way to end one.  But not the best way to start it.  Especially when, although not the main character, Andy is necessary to the rest of the story.

     But that’s precisely what happened.  Andy, who never had the best judgment, wanted to look down.  The cliff was exceptionally impressive.  It was a sheer rock face plunging down to a cold mountain lake.  At the lake’s surface, you could be in a boat a mere arm’s length away from the cliff, and the bottom of the lake would still be several hundred feet down.

     Utterly spectacular, and, to Andy, utterly tempting.

     So he got too close, and a few rocks gave way, and, after a sickening moment of sliding and tottering, he fell.

     Instantly, wind tore at his hair and face, and he found himself closing his eyes and wishing, with all his might, that he might slow that deadly fall.

     And that’s exactly what happened.

     Andy opened his eyes.  He had stopped some three meters or so above the water.  He was hovering like a Macy’s Day balloon.  The water’s surface was bowed by whatever invisible force was keeping him aloft.

     Andy Naramore was The First.

     He didn’t call himself that.  He was not that narcissistic.  That nickname was later given to him by the media.

     “The First” was an utterly inaccurate nickname.  Andy wasn’t the first in history, or the first on the North American continent, or the first even in the twenty-first century.  He was just the first one to go public.  In other words, he was the first one the media had heard about.  But that’s all the media cared about.  So, as far as the media, and by extension most of the public, were concerned, Andy was and always would be The First.

     Andy considered his predicament.  True, he was only about twice his height above the water, but the water was very cold, and the lake was nothing but cliffs for a long ways.  It would probably be a kilometer’s swim from here.

     He realized he could feel the force pushing back up on him.  Very gently, he reached out with his mind and tried to control it, to move him away from the cliff.

     Instantly, the force vanished.  Andy plunged into the water.

     He stripped off his day pack and most of his clothes away, letting them sink to the bottom of the lake.

     All the way back to the beach, he thought about what had happened, and determined to do it again.

     He didn’t do it from the top of a cliff.  Andy was too nervous to try that again.  Instead, he rented a boat and, wearing a life vest, found a rock overlooking a deep spot in the lake.

     Many, many stinging drops later, he got it to happen again.

     Once again, he couldn’t control it, and it simply vanished beneath him to painful effect.  But that gave him the confidence that it wasn’t just a fluke.  Soon he could gently control his height above the water.  And soon after that, he figured out a way of pushing the force one way or the other to propel him forwards and backwards.  Another milestone was passed when he was able to lift himself from the water without jumping off the rock.

     By then several days had passed, and he had called in sick to his job as much as he could before needing a doctor’s note or a death certificate.  He decided to start practicing over land, so he could go back home.

     The first time, he did a painful grinding belly-flop onto a gravel beach.  The force pushed down much more firmly over land than over water, and he didn’t know that he would have to adjust.  But soon he could control his flight over land as well as water, and he knew it was time to drive back home—dreaming of flying the whole way.

     Andy eventually learned that his power of flight obeyed many more of the laws of physics than, say, the superhero powers in his childhood comics did.  Though he could control the height, if he flew too high, the force became so narrow in its focus that it began to jab into him painfully.  If he flew over someone, even from quite a height, they fell to the ground as surely as if he had jumped on their back.  And at high speeds, he couldn’t see or breathe.  Though he developed a helmet to help with that, high speeds also meant getting extremely cold.  Between the cold and one time nearly decapitating himself on a power line, he had learned to fly slowly.

     Though he tried to keep it all secret, he began to notice some men taking an interest in him:  strange men with nothing to do but sit in a van and follow him around.  Men with radios and odd bulges in their jackets.  Men who looked like they meant business.

     That was when he decided to go public.

     It turned out to be the best decision he had ever made.  Naturally, some people were skeptical—after all, he was the first to demonstrate any sort of genuinely supernatural power—but soon many people understood that he really, truly could do it.

     He could fly.

     He became famous, and fabulously wealthy, performing exhibitions of his power and giving speeches and interviews.  His personality blossomed by having to interact with so many people, and he found a woman, Lily, with whom he fell in love.  “Finally!” cried his mother when she heard.

     You might say he lived happily ever after.

     You’d be wrong.

     But that part of the story comes later.


Thursday, November 25, 2004
Chapter interlude

CHAPTER INTERLUDE:  “Magic: the first years”

(From the introduction to Dr. Henry S. Williams’s seminal work Magic:  A New Age Dawns, considered the first scholarly work on the subject following Andy Naramore’s first public demonstration of his powers.)

     …(W)e now have this so-called “The First,” Andy Naramore, literally flying in the face of known physics.

     The best minds have tried to prove that it was all a fake.  Some stage magician’s trick, something with wires, with magnets, anything.

     Those who could not believe it suffered a great blow when James Randi, former stage magician and long-time debunker of psychics, who had long offered the sum of $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate supernatural powers, put Mr. Naramore through the most rigorous tests.  He was required to fly virtually naked, at times and places of Mr. Randi’s choosing, and perform many tasks.  This included flying up after a balloon Mr. Randi had himself released, with an envelope tied to it containing a coded message written by Randi and one witness.

     In the end, Randi had to admit Mr. Naramore truly had a supernatural power.

     That was the end of skepticism for many.  Others, however, dug in their heels.  That is when the membership in SIIAMM clubs grew exponentially.*  I discuss this in Chapter Three, “Backlash.”

     For some believers, the entry of magic onto the world stage was a religious experience; for others, a sign of the end-times; for many, an added confusion to a world already altered by terrorism and war.

     All that, just from one lone example of magic.

     How much more changed when Naramore turned out not to be unique?  At first, a new emp arrived here or there;** then, soon, too many for individual news stories to keep up with.

     It is now believed that, by the one-year mark after The First, one out of every million people worldwide had publicly demonstrated some sort of magical power.  No one knows how many more had them, but kept it a secret, out of fear or a desire for privacy.  Additionally, far more could have probably learned such powers, but techniques for developing magic had not yet been formed.

     Indeed, many tried to emulate The First’s powers of flight, to disastrous effect.  Accidental deaths climbed by twenty percent in the United States the first year alone, nearly all from falls.

     It is not known how much earlier magic had been developed by someone, but the magician had not gone public, as Andy Naramore did.  It is probably too soon to speculate too much on this subject.

 

* SIIAMM stood for “Seen It in a Million Movies,” a quote by one of the early clubs’ founders regarding magic.  It became both the name for this type of club and, for many, their motto.

 

** “Emp” is short for “empowered,” a New-Agey word used to describe those with magical powers.  It is considered fairly polite, compared with “witch,” (always used with the underlying threat “suffer not a witch to live”) “freak,” or “monster.”


Friday, November 26, 2004
Chapter Two: Thom Taggert

CHAPTER TWO:  Thom Taggert

 

     Like the Challenger explosion or 9/11, most people could remember when they heard about The First.

     Thom could, too.  He could also remember where he was ten days before that.

     He was at the Portland Art Museum, looking at a traveling exhibition of late Bronze Age Macedonian and Greek items.

     He had just finished looking at a series of busts and was moving into the next room, devoted to military equipment.

     He’d just stepped through the door when it hit him with as much shock as if someone had thrown a bucket of fish guts at him.

     One of the items, a bronze sword, was glowing.

     A moment later, the shock gone, he walked towards it as though hypnotized.

     The sword had an ornate hilt, which looked as though it had been gilded in gold and silver.  The hilt ended in some sort of monster’s head, which one he couldn’t guess.  The blade was slightly curved and edged on both sides, ending in a fine point.  The glow was greenish-blue and radiated equally from every point on the sword.

     Thom half-expected the glow to be some trick of the lighting which would diminish as he got nearer.  But if anything it seemed clearer now than ever.

     After several minutes, Thom shook himself a bit.  He looked around the room.  Nothing else was glowing, or seemed odd at all.  What’s more, none of the other patrons were spending any more time at this sword than on any other item.

     An elderly man in a U.S.S. Missouri hat walked beside him and looked at the sword.

     “Do you notice anything unusual about the sword?” Thom asked.

     “That pommel is unusual.  I think that may be a sort of gorgon.  It’s been a while since I studied up on my mythology.”  The man looked over at Thom.  “That what you meant?”

     “Uhm, no.  It seems to be…glowing.”

     “Glowing?” the man asked.  He moved his head around, as though trying to catch a glimpse from a better angle.  “I’m not sure what you mean.”

     “It looks like one of those kid’s glow-in-the-dark items they might get from a box of overly sugary cereal.”

     “No, I don’t see anything like that,” the man said.  “Maybe you have a torn iris.  My cousin had eye surgery, tore her iris, made her see all kinds of halos and light spikes and crap.  Couldn’t drive at night afterwards.  You have any eye surgery lately?”

     “No,” Thom said.

     “Then I don’t know what you’re seeing,” the man said.  He wandered off to look at a shield with a bull device.

     After asking several more people similar questions, Thom had learned a couple of things.  One was asking questions like these caused people to avoid you and watch you closely, like a mean dog on a chain that doesn’t look strong enough.  Another was that no one saw the sword, or anything else, glowing or doing anything else unusual.

     Thom tried in several ways to convince himself that it was his eyes tricking him.  He put on his sunglasses.  He walked to another room and came back.  He looked at the sword from every angle he could think of.  He even looked at it from a reflection in a case opposite the sword.

     In every case, the glow remained.

     Then he got out his picture phone.  He knew the museum didn’t want pictures taken of the exhibits, but he had to check.  He surreptitiously took a picture of the sword, then took a look at it.

     The picture showed no glow.

     Either I’m hallucinating, or something very strange is going on, Thom thought.

     All the way home, and for the next few days, Thom couldn’t get the sword out of his mind.  He reluctantly put it aside only for his plumbing business.  But while unclogging toilets and fixing pipes, he couldn’t stop thinking about the sword.  Finally, he couldn’t bear it any more, and went back to the museum.

     It glowed just as strongly as before.

     Thom went back three more times before The First made his first big press conference.

Thom had heard the rumors.  Andy Naramore had already made private demonstrations to certain well-connected people an hour before, which ensured that rumors would be flying about the man who could fly.

     Thom, who had finished his last job as quickly as possible, turned on CNN and watched the press conference.  He wished he could go up to Seattle to see it in person, but it was several hours’ drive away.

     After flying from some distance away, landing at the podium, and making a brief speech about how he could fly and how he discovered it, Andy took some questions.

     “Are you like Superman, then?” one reporter asked.

     “No, I’m not super-strong, like Superman.  In fact, flying is pretty dangerous.  I have to be very careful.  And I don’t seem to have any other powers at all.”   

     “Can you give me a ride?” another asked.  Polite laughter rippled through the audience.

     “Well, maybe,” Andy replied.  “I’ve done some experimenting on how much I can lift this way, and it’s more than enough for one person.  But it’s difficult to do, because it’d be like giving you a piggy-back ride, and just as uncomfortable—for both of us.”  More giggles.

     “Are you saying you can use magic?” came the third question.

     “I don’t know what else you’d call it.  Maybe some scientist will be able to explain it someday.  But if you want to call it magic, I don’t know of a better word for you to use.”

     “Does it tire you out?”

     “Surprisingly, no.  It’s no more strenuous than concentrating on anything else, like reading or playing a video game.  Obviously, I’m using a lot of energy by flying, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from inside me.”

     “What are your plans from here?”

     “I plan on giving demonstrations, trying to make a few bucks.  By the way, Mr. Hitchins, I quit.”

     Thom watched, fascinated.  He was already putting two and two together.  Andy wasn’t glowing, but he hardly expected him to, since he was watching the press conference on a television.

     He had to see Andy Naramore fly, in person.


Posted at 03:09 pm by brandonstarr
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Saturday, November 27, 2004
Chapter 2: Thom Taggert (cont'd)

     After a week of appearances, many of them for national television, The First was going to perform in his home city of Seattle.  Thom had made plans.  It was a Saturday, and his schedule was free.  He had purposely worked long hours all that week, distracting himself from thinking about all he had seen and hoped.  He also was trying to get ahead on money.  He had the feeling he would need it.

     When he finally got home, he read until he fell asleep, exhausted.  He stuck to books that didn’t even so much as hint at magic.  Murder mysteries, especially the ones that tended towards the forensic side of things.  A good scientific read.

     Despite these efforts, he really couldn’t get his mind off Saturday’s Seattle trip.  He found himself reading the same paragraphs over and over again.

     Two days before the trip, he was looking for another murder mystery when he came across a picture of his ex-wife.  Given the erratic nature of his earnings, especially since the museum, he had never been gladder than now that she had fallen in love and married a few months ago.

     Or so he told himself.  But that didn’t keep him from looking at her picture for a long, long time before slipping it back between the two books where it had been stuck.

     Is this all my mind trying to distract me from Helen?  he thought.

     Saturday morning, he got up early and got ready for the long drive.  He backed his Volvo S80 out of the garage and, after removing a ladder from the roof, drove his plumbing van in and locked the garage door closed.

     Thom had been the only plumber he’d ever known who didn’t own a pickup truck for off-duty driving.  Maybe it had been the feeling he got while driving trucks of being like a bird on a perch, or maybe it had been the muscle cars he’d had as a teenager.  Maybe it had been the reports he’d seen as an impressionable youth about how pickups didn’t have to meet most of the safety requirements that cars did.

     But in his more honest moments, he remembered Helen, and the day they got this car, and the late-term trip to the hospital soon after that ended up tearing their marriage apart.  He had never understood Helen’s reaction to their loss, or why she could put any of the blame on him, or on them.

     Even going early, he knew he had to have a plan.  Seattle was traffic-snarled even under the best of circumstances:  caught between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and with many hills, there just weren’t enough places to put highways and other important major streets.

     The area around Seattle Center was likely to be a parking nightmare.  He’d already decided to park downtown and take the short monorail ride to the park.  He was looking forward to the monorail ride; it would give him a commanding view of the crowds on the way in.

     When he got there, he looked and looked for anything unusual.  But there was nothing but the crowd.  He’d been there for a few concerts and special events, but had never seen it like this.  It was a wall of humanity—and it was still a couple of hours before the flight.

     The closest thing he could recall was a trip he took to Washington, D.C. on July fourth in the mid-eighties.  Over a million people packed the Mall area to see a free concert and yell patriotic slogans.  It was as though the entire population of an entire state had decided to go to D.C. and do an imitation of a Tokyo subway.

     Thom couldn’t be sure of the numbers, but it had to rival even that crazy summer day.  The crowd seemed to be in a good mood, and the air was buzzing with talk between strangers about what they were going to see.

     Thom looked through the crowd, but saw nothing unusual, and nothing glowing.  He couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.  Then he reminded himself that he was being silly, and did his best to wait for the show.

     When it came, the whole audience gasped.  Andy Naramore, who must have been secreted away inside the Space Needle, stepped off the platform and plunged towards the earth, tumbling softly.  Then, about halfway down, his trajectory changed, and soon he was moving flat straight out over the crowd.  Andy’s control of his powers had improved, and he was able to spread his weight over such an area that any one person barely felt a change as he went overhead.  Everyone in the audience whom he flew over afterwards said they had never felt such anything as amazing as when they were supporting a fraction of The First’s weight when he zipped over their heads.

     To go higher, Andy still needed a small bare area to focus on that was free of onlookers.  He had had one prepared near the base of the Needle, and after flying over most of the crowd, he zoomed there and upward.  He soared up over the platform, then moved towards the tip of the Needle itself.  When he grabbed it and spun himself around it with one hand, the crowd roared.

     Thom stared, fascinated.  From the moment Andy had stopped falling and started flying, he had glowed orange-red.  The glow remained until The First had finished his show and gone back inside the Space Needle.  When he had landed on the platform area and started walking, the glow had vanished.

     Thom was there long after most of the other people had left to go home.


Posted at 05:31 pm by brandonstarr
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Sunday, November 28, 2004
Chapter interlude: "on studying magic"

CHAPTER INTERLUDE:  “On studying magic”

(From Chapter One of Dr. Henry S. Williams’s Magic:  A New Age Dawns.  This is the passage where he posits some of the basic features of magic, which by and large seem to have been borne out.  He also comes up with the magical energy unit now named after him, the Williams, abbreviated wm or wms, and generally pronounced “whims.”)

     The problems of studying magic scientifically were twofold.

     The first has now been solved.  With “The First” and scores of others having been demonstrated genuine by experts from around the globe, the debate over whether or not there is magic is now over.

     The second remains, and may be all but insuperable.  How do we study magic?

     The problem is one of subjectivity.  Magic may or may not follow the laws of physics.  I for one think that it will be shown that it does.  I also believe that it will be shown to be a new form of energy, one which for some reason may be channeled and called upon by certain processes within the brain.

     But even assuming that it does follow the physical laws, it remains deeply subjective.  We can study light because if we get a certain element to glow at a certain temperature, we get specific wavelengths of light to emanate.  It is duplicatable throughout the world, and probably throughout the universe.  But if a wizard casts a spell that creates light, how do we get another wizard to cast the same spell to create the same wavelengths of light?  For that matter, can we even get the same wizard to duplicate his own spell?

     Because of this deeply subjective nature, we also often have trouble putting bounds on the spells themselves.  The energy is not coming from the body or brain of the user; it instead seems to be released from somewhere else.  Since this energy is both not from the subject and highly fungible, it is very difficult to say how much energy is being used.

     If the spell is, for instance, causing light to be emitted, the light itself may be measured and thus, assuming no loss in energy in the change from magical energy to light, we can know how much magical energy is being used.  But how much energy does a disguise spell use?  A hypnosis spell?  How can these, and a thousand others, be measured?

     Though not a perfect solution, I would say that a reasonable first step would be to quantify what we can.  I have been using a 1,000,000 calorie base.  This is equal to 1,000 kilocalories—the kind that dieters count and just call “calories.”  This amount of energy is enough to heat one liter of water by 1,000 degrees Celsius.  It seems a reasonable amount, given that only a few spells fall below the 1,000 kilocalorie level, and those so far measured above it do so without jumping too many orders of magnitude.  I haven’t yet fully decided what to name this unit of energy.  In my notes, I have started to call them magi units.

     My greatest hope is that sometime soon, we will be able to fashion a device which is sensitive to magical energy being emitted, and will enable us to measure the use of magic directly.

     Even once that happens, we will have a lot of work ahead of us.  There are so many questions we have absolutely no answers to as yet.  Does the magical energy come from some quantum source—perhaps from one of the seven non-infinite dimensions?  Why is it sensitive to thought?  Are animals capable of using magic in any way?  Why is it some seem to have the capability, and others do not?  Why is magic only happening now?  Has it ever been here before, and where did it go in the meantime?

     Assuming magic doesn’t disappear again tomorrow, we in the field of magology will have a lot of job security.


Monday, November 29, 2004
Chapter Three: Sekhemib

CHAPTER THREE:  Sekhemib

     It was late one night when he felt it:  that quiet, almost unbearably drawn out moment when he knew that the time to awaken was finally upon him.

     Then it passed, and he awoke.

     His bandaged hands caressed the stone slab above him.  It was almost the gesture of a master to an obedient guard dog.

     Then, a flash:  the interior of the sarcophagus lit up as brightly as a desert noon.

     The bandaged figure cried out in a language not heard since before the Great Pyramids had been finished:  “The decay!  Has it really been so long?”

     A quick scrabble in the cramped enclosure, and a small, secret recess was opened.  A staff and a pectoral were withdrawn.

     Slowly, Sekhemib closed his eyes and cast a simple spell.  He then knew that it was about midnight.  But how long had the sleep been?  That was always more difficult to tell.

The state of his bandages told him the sleep had been very long indeed.  He concentrated on his staff.  Certain gems set along its length glowed.  He knew then that magic was awakening at a fast pace.

     It is time, he decided, to take my place of power again.

     It is a shame that no archaeologist was there to witness the rising of Sekhemib, because it would have answered so many questions:  why was he buried in a sarcophagus with no coffin, for instance.

     It would also have been an opportunity to see something that no one had seen in over three millennia:  a mummy gasping in shock.

     Where he expected the close-fit, yellow stones of his crypt, he saw white walls of an unknown substance.  Where there used to be torch sconces, there were recessed holes in the ceiling emitting a glow unlike any magical light or fire he had seen before.

     Someone had dared to move his sarcophagus.

     His anger was quickly replaced by terror.  What situation do I now find myself in?  he asked himself.  Will the powers who rule here know the name of Sekhemib and quake?  Or am I the one who should fear them?

     The lights were what he focused most on, sitting in his half-open sarcophagus.  It is far too early for these to be magical lights, he thought.  The rate of awakening is too quick, the learning curve too steep.

     The humans have a grasp of technology, he realized, far in advance of anything I had previously dreamed.

     He regretted, then and there, his decision to let the priests learn to read and write.  That was the first push that allowed learning to supercede the short individual lives and become permanent.  Every generation then knew a little more than the last.

     This is terrible, Sekhemib thought.  I may not be able to control them at all, if they have this sort of power.

     Just then, a man ran into the room.  He skidded to a stop.

     “Barhg srowng sroe!” the man said.  Or, at least, that’s as close as Sekhemib could understand him.  He fixed his eyes on the man.  The man wore strange garb, not a robe at all, but a set of clothes that lay much closer to the body.  The shoes completely covered the feet.  He wore nothing at all on his head, and though he seemed to be well into adulthood, had shaved so that he had no beard at all.

     A droning sound erupted from Sekhemib’s throat.  Soon the man stopped shouting, then stood as if stunned.

     Sekhemib crawled from his sarcophagus and walked towards the man.  Fangs erupted from his withered smile.

     With a clang, Sekhemib crashed against an invisible wall.  He nearly lost concentration on his spell.  “Osiris on a stick!” he swore, and redoubled his efforts on keeping the man under his will.

     Once it was clear the trance had been maintained, he examined this wall.  It was of an unknown substance, but not quite invisible, now that he knew it was there.  It was remarkably smooth and completely flat.  There were four of them, all the way around his sarcophagus.

     Looking up, he saw that the ceiling was a good six meters up, but the walls only extended three meters or so.

     With a chuckle, he crouched and leapt over the wall.

     Time for a quick snack while I consider my options, he thought.  Better keep this one alive.  He was easily entranced, and undoubtedly has information I need.


Posted at 02:25 pm by brandonstarr
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Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Chapter three: Sekhemib (continued)

     A couple of hours later, Sekhemib was already starting to get a basic grasp on the new language.  He had also had the guard take him around the museum, pointing out different things.  He also found the other guards and put a simple spell on them that would have them lose all track of time, and forget they had seen him.

     One of the most interesting objects to him was an ornate, oversized globe.  Sekhemib stared at it, fascinated.  The guard pointed at the ground, and then at a small irregular marking on the globe.  “Lon-don,” he intoned, overenunciating each sound.  Then he pointed at Sekhemib, turned the globe, and pointed at a corner of a much larger, also oddly-shaped marking.  “Ee-gypt.”

     But it wasn’t so much the words, or the pointing, that helped him understand.  It was all the blue.  Those were oceans.  That strip, such a tiny ribbon on that globe, represented the Nile.  That medium-sized blue oval was the mighty Mediterranean Sea.

     I’m a long, long way from home, Sekhemib thought.  And I’m in trouble.

     He took some newspapers from the guard’s work station, and some books from the souvenir shop.  Then he focused his attention on making sure the guard stayed under his command until the next night.

     Afterward, he went back into his sarcophagus, sliding the top closed above him.

     He had a lot of learning and work to do, and not much time.  The time of sleeping was over.  He had awakened, and it would be centuries before he would sleep again.

     The next night he was armed with a somewhat better grasp of where he was in time and place.  He had discovered that his most recently learned tongue, Latin, was the basis for a good part of this new language, English.

     Sekhemib put up a disguise spell.  Soon the guard came back again, bringing one of the other guards with him.  Sekhemib entranced both of them, then fed, being careful not to take too much, despite the hunger that screamed within him.

     It was time to explore the city.  Shortly after leaving the museum, he had to alter his disguise:  the security guard outfit was drawing too many looks.  Within minutes he had a more effective disguise.

     Soon he would begin exploring the centers of power of this society, and find its weak spots and dark, hidden places where he could safely hide, and pull the strings.

 


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