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Author Topic: EP439: Cradle and Ume  (Read 1142 times)
eytanz
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« on: March 15, 2014, 03:17:34 AM »

EP439: Cradle and Ume

by Geoffrey W. Cole

read by Jeff Ronner

This story was originally published in Issue #1 of the relaunched Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds Magazine

--
When his creators first booted Cradle those long centuries ago, they told him many things that made a lasting impression on his infant mind.

Above all was the commandment:

_The Kamurei must never be contacted._

##

 

“If you don’t let me in, she will die,” Ume said.

“After all these years, you still ask,” Cradle said. “I thought posthumans were supposed to be hyperintelligent.”

On the banks of the dry riverbed that wound through the village, Teihana struggled through her thirty-fourth hour of labour. Her emaciated brown skin glistened with sweat.  The midwife, her only companion in the palm-roofed hut, packed cool mud on Teihana’s forehead. There was nothing else for the pain; like the river, the wells were dry, and the medicinal crop had failed along with the corn.

Cradle and Ume watched all this from the observation station buried within one of the Andean peaks that towered above Teihana’s village.

“Drop your fields now,” Ume said. “This is my last warning.”

“Warn away,” Cradle said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Then you’ve left me no choice.”

Cradle was embarrassed to engage in this banter with three other visitors in the observation station, but they seemed to enjoy the drama. The tourists pointed and whispered as Ume departed. He ran down the long tunnel that led to the landing pad, where he climbed into his skyskiff and pointed the vehicle toward the valley.

Cradle watched Ume’s fit from a thousand different eyes scattered around the valley. The young posthuman’s persistence never ceased to amaze him. He tried to shout a final warning:

“I can’t let you -”

And that’s when the bomb Ume had left in the observation station exploded.

 

##

_You are the valley, Cradle. You are their home, but they must never know it._

##

Ume’s reputation reached Cradle long before the young posthuman had first dropped out of orbit to visit the people. His name made many headlines: the liberator of the entombed Callistan AIs; the forger of the asteroid miner’s union; the last great freedom fighter.

It was only a matter of time before he knocked on Cradle’s door.

Unlike most of Cradle’s other visitors, who jumped into one of the many spare posthuman bodies kicking around on Earth, or who visited virtually, Ume rode the space elevator in person to visit the valley.

When Ume entered the observation platform that first day, his camouflage fatigues and red beret seemed right at home in the replica long-house that served as the entry hall. Cradle, whose body was the network of processors, sensors, memory matrixes, and field generators that existed below the surface of the valley, appeared in the long-house as a hologram. He chose the appearance of a Kamurei shaman; a loincloth, shins and forearms tattooed in red ochre, and a drum slung over his shoulder.

“Welcome to the Akturi valley,” Cradle said. “Home of the last uncontacted tribe.”

“Cut the crap,” Ume said. “And show me everything.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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xooll
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« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2014, 06:49:55 PM »

What made this story really interesting to me was the way that it paralleled the growth of a new civilization with the growth of the characters of Cradle and Ume, and, most of all, their relationship. Cradle is a computer system, albeit a very advanced, apparently sentient one, and by the end, Ume resembles him in every way, and shares far more with Cradle than with the humans they both have spent ages observing.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2014, 08:50:37 AM »

Really enjoyed this one.  I agree with xooll; the relationship between Cradle and Ume really helped make the story.  It is one thing to write a story with good relationships between main characters.  It is another to be able to move a plot along interestingly.  Here, we managed to have both, and they were tied together well.

I also like that the story did not resort to white hat/black hat.  Both Cradle and Ume thought* that they were fighting for the greater good.  And they both had a point.  It isn't like Cradle was the AI that had outlived its purpose and/or turned evil and the heroic post-humans had to destroy it for the good of humanity.  And it isn't like Ume was just a malicious invader that Cradle needed to defeat.  They each had a version of right on their side.  And, happily, they managed to find a compromise instead of simply making the issue zero-sum.  At the beginning, the choices were (1) the people starving in the valley or (2) being exposed to the full reality of post-humans.  But the final resolution was much more win-win than that initial binary.

*Without getting into the interesting side-discussion of whether Cradle can be said to have "thought"
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2014, 10:04:22 AM »

It bugged me that it seemed like Ume only started caring because he had the hots for the one woman, and Cradle never called him on it. It's possible that was not the author's intent, but if so I wish the first few minutes had been more clear about motivation.
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Asomatous
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« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2014, 10:18:46 PM »

I waited to comment on this episode and even listened to it twice before offering my perspective.I wanted to make sure I was not just reading my biases into the story.

I was struck by how similar the story arc of EP 439 Cradle and Ume is to EP 437 A Rose for Ecclesiastes. I wondered if the same sort of criticism that Ume was representative of an outdated male savior figure character was going to be highlighted. To my surprise, the response has been somewhat positive to this point. As bounceswoosh points out, the obvious attraction of Ume to Teihana put me in mind of Gallinger's attraction to the Martian dancer (sans specific discussion of the woman's anatomy). The steadfast determination to "save" this last tribe from itself seemed even more patriarchal than EP 437. It made me wonder why this story (EP 439) would be more palatable to listeners. Was it because Ume is described as post-human? Was it his description as a freedom fighter? Was it because his name was an obvious reference to you and me? Why would it be better to save "primitive" humans as opposed to "advanced" Martians? Was it the story's dedication to the over 200 uncontacted tribes here on Earth? I have to admit, this is a great quandary to me.

The whole notion of "primatives" vs. "advanced" as an outdated paradigm has also been a thread in recent comments. Has the setting of the story altered the perception of that paradigm as unacceptable? No critical voices on this point?

I did find the story engaging. The interaction between Ume and Cradle (Cradle of Humanity?) was enjoyable to hear. Cradle's eventual embrace of Ume as something of a necessary counterpart made me smile. Cradle was consistent throughout the story. Always the protector. Always requiring isolation. That Cradle would agree to exchange the Kamurei  for Ume was an interesting twist. Yet, without that exchange, Cradle would have no function. It also raises the question of whether Cradle will not protect post-humanity in the same way he once protected the Kamurei? Is that even possible given the context of the story? What of the irony of a freedom-fighter exchanging his freedom for that of the last tribe? Will Cradle be protecting Ume from the last of humanity?

Overall, I thought this a good story. I did wonder about the jump from Ume being the last post-human on/near Earth to his being the last post-human at all. (I did listen carefully and the story does say Ume is the last post-human.)  Grin
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2014, 09:53:22 PM »

I was struck by how similar the story arc of EP 439 Cradle and Ume is to EP 437 A Rose for Ecclesiastes. I wondered if the same sort of criticism that Ume was representative of an outdated male savior figure character was going to be highlighted. To my surprise, the response has been somewhat positive to this point.

It bugged me that it seemed like Ume only started caring because he had the hots for the one woman, and Cradle never called him on it. It's possible that was not the author's intent, but if so I wish the first few minutes had been more clear about motivation.

I agree with bounceswoosh. Still, aside from that this story bothered me less than 437. One reason it's less of a "white savior" story is that I'm not inclined to picture a character named "Ume" as a white dude. Overall though I think it was because this story has a clear main point, using the framework of an immense post-human future timescale to reflect on an actual current-day issue, by playing out the arguments that still swirl around uncontacted tribes. For example, the Kamurei die of things the post-humans could easily prevent, but any attempt at assimilation would be very traumatic and destroy huge swathes of their culture. It doesn't seem fair that the Kamurei don't really get a say in what happens, but this also raises very real questions of free will - Cradle insists that the Kamurei chose isolation and this must be respected, Ume insists that past generation cannot speak for the present one, and that the Kamurei deserve the information to make a decision. There is no easy answer, and yet in the end, as albionmoonlight pointed out, the story almost dodges the question completely by removing the post-humans from the universe.

This story really made me think, which is something good fiction should do.
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xooll
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« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2014, 11:27:59 PM »

It bugged me that it seemed like Ume only started caring because he had the hots for the one woman, and Cradle never called him on it. It's possible that was not the author's intent, but if so I wish the first few minutes had been more clear about motivation.
I think you're right that Ume's motivations were less pure than he claimed, in the beginning. It seems like he first came because being a freedom fighter was fashionable and this was his cause of the week, then he stayed because he was attracted to Teihana. But then he kept up with it because he started to genuinely care about the fate of the Kamurei (and because Cradle ends up being his only friend). That's some of the character growth that makes the story work for me.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2014, 01:15:46 AM by eytanz » Logged
bounceswoosh
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« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2014, 08:10:06 AM »

Yes. I agree he stuck around because he developed a broader concern. I'm just really glad that there wasn't, as I'd feared, the big reveal that the baby was actually his.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2014, 08:15:25 AM by eytanz » Logged
Varda
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Definitely not an android.


« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2014, 09:50:23 AM »

This was a great story, and a great spin on a Trickster vs. the Divine motif, a la Prometheus or Loki or the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. The trickster's job is to advocate for humanity's right to knowledge, while the divine for a variety of reasons opposes this. Cradle wants to keep this tribe in a state of perpetual innocence at the cost of their right to choose this in full knowledge of what's really outside their limited walls. Ume thinks that the benefit is not worth the cost. While it is true that the tribe is kept free from cultural contamination, they live short and difficult lives and die from perfectly preventable conditions, like complications in pregnancy.

The story gave me a lot of food for thought, as it made me ask myself which stance I thought was the correct one. On the one hand, I'm definitely not in favor of cultural imperialism. The problem with contacting like the Kamurei is that there's a power imbalance between them and anyone who contacts them. The developed world is so far beyond them in technology and wealth that the unique things about their culture (such as their language) will be swallowed up within generations just because there are bigger bullies on the playground, even if the bullies are really well-intentioned. In this light, Cradle's mission makes sense. He wants to shelter the tribe until, on their own, they are able to develop a prowess that will allow them to stand as a power in their own right without getting engulfed by the posthuman world.

On the other hand, I think it's also unethical and a bit condescending to allow people to die from easily treatable medical conditions just because that culture's tech hasn't discovered the cure on their own yet. This is where I can really get behind Ume's perspective. There is absolutely NOTHING romantic about dying in childbirth, or of measles, or polio, or cholera, or anything else that medical advancement has made unnecessary. Childbirth especially is a big one, as women and children especially benefit when good healthcare arrives anywhere in the world. Ume sees it as barbaric for Teihana to die in such a way. I didn't see it as him just having a crush on her, but that Ume had compassion for the pointlessness of a life cut short as swarms of doctors look on, able to prevent a senseless death if only the godlike robot would let them.

I think there's probably an interesting discussion on theodicy to be had in the tension between two extremely powerful beings who love this people group but come to different conclusions about the meaning and nature of their suffering. Cradle is something of a Clockmaker god who looks on without interfering in deference to free will, while Ume is a god who wants to personally reach down and alleviate suffering through knowledge, but is prevented from doing so.
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davidthygod
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« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2014, 08:16:50 AM »

"The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."
—Jean-Luc Picard
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Toasty_Ohs
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« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2014, 01:41:15 PM »

I don't think Ume ever loved Teihana.

I think he attemped to rescue her for the attention that it would bring him.  When he failed, he got stuck.  By thwarting Ume, Cradle became just as much his protector/captor as the Kamurei.  Stockholm syndrome sets in.

Over time you can see the relationship evolve.  The most telling point is when Cradle discovers the messages that Ume left all over the place. 
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ProperPunctuation
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« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2014, 04:33:45 PM »

The first thing that this episode reminded me of was the Speaker For The Dead. I was waiting for the people to find out about Cradle and see how they responded, but I'm actually pleased with the idea that there would be two times when humans grew up and left the planet, thinking they were the first. It showed just enough of the people, but also great passage of time, and I loved how Cradle and Ume disagreed. The fine line between protection and interference is really interesting, and it was addressed in a way where Cradle and Ume both sort of participated in this secret, this deception of the people, each for their own reason.
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PotatoKnight
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« Reply #12 on: March 21, 2014, 05:54:42 PM »

This story is very effective, and very troubling.

I say effective because it is a good story with good characters--I strongly agree that thw two title characters are fascinating and fun and I love the way they develop into quasi-divine figures in eternal conflict but also with mutual respect. This is a "good" story in the sense that it is well-constructed. The question for me if it is a "good" story in the ethical sense. And by question I mean that literally. I am troubled because I truly can't determine.

I am not troubled by the "white male savior" aspects of the story, or about the ethical question the story consciously poses regarding the ethics of contact. The reason is that I think the story is agnostic as to these points. The story really doesn't seem to choose between the need to respect a culture's desire for isolation with some of the negative consequences of that decision. I would go as far as to say that a reader who sees this story as actively in favor of either Cradle's position or Ume's, is seeing their own reflection.

The thing that troubles me about this story is that it seems to buy into and reaffirm a very western-centric view of human "progress," the assumption that given enough time any culture will basically "develop" into scientific, rationalistic, industrial, technological society. This is the model promoted by, for example, the Civilization games. That technological advancements proceed according to a predetermined path and that given sufficient time that path will be followed.

My belief is that that view of development is A) empirically wrong and B) dangerous. On the point of wrongness, note that behaviorally modern humanity is about 50,000 years old. Uncountable human civilizations have existed in that time.  The number of those civilizations that have followed the sort of path depicted in this story is very small, and even among those civilizations, the "tech tree" model is deeply flawed because technologies respond to the particular circumstances of their area. On the point of dangerousness, it suggests that societies like the one depicted here are just a "less developed" form of our own societies and they will eventually "grow up."  It's just a hop, skip and jump from that attitude to seeing and treating these societies as children who need help from the adults--an attitude that has given rise to quite the parade of atrocities in all-too-recent history.

And the reason why this attitude is what troubles me in the story is that unlike the ethical questions about contact--which are explicitly called out in the story and represented by characters--this idea is baked into the story's framework in a way that you could easily miss it. It is assumed as a fact, not argued as a philosophical position.

So why the question? First, the story can be defended on the grounds that the people are effectively "contacted" as soon as they come into contact with the artifacts of Posthuman society, and it is this and not some teleological view of history that gives rise to the technological history depicted. Second, as discussed,  I like the story. That makes me want to avoid judging it harshly.

I'm glad EP ran this story, and I'm glad we have a place to puzzle out these kinds of questions.
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slic
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« Reply #13 on: March 22, 2014, 10:03:01 AM »

This story discussion reminds me why I used to visit here so much.  All the comments are interesting, and I want to respond to them all :-D
I won't, but here are some key points that really struck me:
... I think it's also unethical and a bit condescending to allow people to die from easily treatable medical conditions just because that culture's tech hasn't discovered the cure on their own yet.
I think you have this backward, and why the "Prime Directive" is properly considered a philosophy.  You mentioned the power dynamic - isn't curing the uncurable the most significant, god-like power imbalance?  The movie Elysium really got me thinking about this with their miraculous healing "beds".

The first thing that this episode reminded me of was the Speaker For The Dead.
I'm not sure I see the link to "Speaker for the Dead", the "piggies" were given a kind of "Yoda-wisdom" and almost came off as the more mature of the two species.  You should consider readng The Worthing Saga (same author)- some of the short stories are much more aligned to this story's premise, and in one case really show how best intentions pevert a society.

In response to PotatoKnight - I realize that you are asking questions and that is an admirable approach :-)
I'm a bit confused by some of your points, so I might be coming at this the wrong way.  If you mean the specific "tech tree" of Western Civilization as the template for all - yes I agree completely.  There is this marvellous theory I've heard regarding the tech difference btwn Europe and China in the Middle Ages because Europeans drank wine, and the Chinese preferred tea.   Needing to see the wine to judge colour and quality, the Europeans developed a glass industry that allowed for lens, which begat telescopes and their opposite number microscopes, and so on.  Resulting in a significant divergence from a culture that knew how to make glass, but didn't pursue it in the same way.
As for
It's just a hop, skip and jump from that attitude to seeing and treating these societies as children who need help from the adults--an attitude that has given rise to quite the parade of atrocities in all-too-recent history.
I agree with the first part, but the second is a result of cultural beliefs that Father Know Best.  It is not the contact, but the belief that "We Know Better".  That is the attitude that needs to be changed. 

I wasn't really taken with this story - it reminded me more of parenting with a sci-fi twist "Don't they grow up so fast, darling?" I would have appreciated more conflict btwn the main characters.  My philosophy is more hands off, and I think this translates to cultural interactions (because all interactions boil down to one-on-one personal interactions).  Too much help seems to result in entitlement, learned-helplessness, and (perhaps subconsciously) poor self-respect.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #14 on: March 22, 2014, 02:16:28 PM »

Many of my favorite themes from this story have already been touched on: a freedom fighter giving up his own freedom for his cause, Ume paralleling the Kamurei as each chose to be the last of their kind, the Kamurei moving into territory abandoned by the post-humans as Ume finally makes the jump from post-human into a more digital form while the rest of humanity have presumably moved on to who-knows-what. Lots to think about and unpack.

I really like what PotatoKnight has to say about it. I would expand on what slic said by noting that western culture usually did approach other cultures with an impenetrable air of superiority. The presumption was that the other culture would not be able to contribute any new information or ideas, and thus nothing new was learned. It's a tragedy that we would do well to learn from. I imagine that the Kamurei could have taught the post-humans much that they had long since forgotten, in addition to Ume teaching them some modern medicine - but only if Ume wasn't too proud to listen.
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Just Jeff
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« Reply #15 on: March 22, 2014, 03:18:51 PM »

I don't think Ume ever loved Teihana.
My assumption was pride motivated him. This was the kind of thing he was known for, and freeing the primitive culture was the last great cause. Somewhere along the line I think it stopped being about pride and became his obsession.
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PotatoKnight
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« Reply #16 on: March 23, 2014, 01:01:44 PM »

I'm a bit confused by some of your points, so I might be coming at this the wrong way. 

Re-reading my post, I'm not sure very it's very clear what I'm specifically referring to.  The part that troubles me about the story is the fact that, when given time and left alone the Kamurei end up building sailing ships and barns and airplanes and spaceships.  The possible implication is that all civilizations are the embryonic versions of centralized, industrialized civilizations and given time they will all end up looking like our culture.  I say possible only because the Kamurei may end up looking like us just because they have our archaeological resources. 
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #17 on: March 23, 2014, 01:36:24 PM »

Re-reading my post, I'm not sure very it's very clear what I'm specifically referring to.  The part that troubles me about the story is the fact that, when given time and left alone the Kamurei end up building sailing ships and barns and airplanes and spaceships.  The possible implication is that all civilizations are the embryonic versions of centralized, industrialized civilizations and given time they will all end up looking like our culture.  I say possible only because the Kamurei may end up looking like us just because they have our archaeological resources. 

Yeah, I didn't like that implication either, but I think it can be accounted for within the story by both the extent to which the descendants of the Kamurei encountered archaeological resources and also by the sheer time scale of the piece. It spanned tens of thousands of years, so at the end the humans were no longer all Kamurei - they had splintered off into thousands of different cultures and civilizations. The idea that spaceflight is the pinnacle of human achievement is probably a scifi-bias, but I don't think it's unreasonable to predict that given an entire planet and an immense amount of time, someone would eventually happen to discover things like sailing ships and barns and airplanes and spaceships. Especially if, as here, that planet is covered in abandoned cities and cryptic messages from a meddling post-human.
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #18 on: March 23, 2014, 03:44:03 PM »

Generally I find post-humans rather non-relatable and this story is no exception, but I enjoyed it well enough.  I was very pleasantly surprised that the story took place on such a large timescale.  I expected it be focused on the first generation or two that Uma encountered, but then the story changed into something bigger - longer.   I did actually feel for Cradle when no one came to his grand-reopening.  The tribe was programmed to be his all-abiding interest and protecting them him first law.  I'm glad Uma turned out not be motivated by romantic love, but by something that became a strange obsession since he choose to remain as the only non-transcendent post-human.
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TrishEM
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« Reply #19 on: March 24, 2014, 04:58:06 AM »

I enjoyed reading the above discussions. One thing that struck me that I haven't seen mentioned specifically is how dangerous the original Kamurei culture would have been if it expanded to the stars -- only The People are people, and all else are demons. If Cradle had given in to Ume early, and allowed Ume to teach/"uplift" the isolationists, wouldn't they have made war on the original humans who had already gone to the stars? But by allowing the slow expansion and splintering/flowering of other viewpoints, and by Ume leaving little "Hi! We're not your enemy!" clues, this was apparently avoided. (Even if all the original post-humans have transcended, there might be other planets/lifeforms/cultures out there.)
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