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Volume 3904
The Sixteenth Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom

Tara with Ghek and Rykor by Frank Frazetta
Part Two (Continued from Part One)
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.

Some readers may be familiar with most of the following material from “Kingdoms of Horror” (ERBzine #3312), but for the sake of a thorough treatment of Ghek and the worldview of the Bantoomians, it is necessary to be slightly redundant. Ghek is one of the greatest fantasy creatures ever created: a super-genius spider, the Sherlock Holmes of his species. He and his species have figured out how to harness the living headless bodies of a humanoid race, once Red Martians, so that they may have the above-ground mobility of humans. And since they can attach and detach themselves to any headless human body they choose, they have still maintained the mobility of their lives underground in tunnels or burrows.

Ghek and his species call themselves “kaldanes” and the headless humans “rykors”. And even though the rykors are mindless slaves, the kaldanes have built such a symbiotic relationship with them that they are virtually helpless without them in their above-ground activities. We are first introduced to the kaldanes after Tara of Helium becomes lost on a flight in her flyer when she makes an emergency landing in the Valley of Bantoom, the land of the kaldanes. Keeping a low profile, she scouts out the area, climbing a hill:

“She came at last to the summit, where, from the concealment of a low bush, she could see what lay beyond. Beneath her spread a beautiful valley surrounded by low hills. Dotting it were numerous circular towers, dome-capped, and surrounding each tower was a stone wall enclosing several acres of ground.

The valley appeared to be in a high state of cultivation. Upon the opposite side of the hill and just beneath her was a tower and enclosure. It was the roof of the former that had first attracted her attention. In all respects it seemed identical in construction with those further out in the valley – a high, plastered wall of massive construction surrounding a similarly constructed tower, upon whose gray surface was painted in vivid colors a strange device. The towers were about forty sofads in diameter, approximately forty earth-feet, and sixty in height to the base of the dome.” (CM/3.)

Tara approaches the enclosure and looks down into it and gets her first real surprise:
“As Tara of Helium looked down into the enclosure surrounding the nearest tower, her brows contracted momentarily in frowning surprise, and then her eyes went wide in an expression of incredulilty tinged with horror, for what she saw was a score or two of human bodies – naked and headless. For a long moment she watched, breathless; unable to believe the evidence of her own eyes – that these gruesome things moved and had life! She saw them crawling about on hands and knees over and across one another, searching about with their fingers. And she saw some of them at troughs, for which the others seemed to be searching, and those at the troughs were taking something from these receptacles and apparently putting it in a hole where their necks should have been. They were not far beneath her – she could see them distinctly and she saw that there were the bodies of both men and women, and that they were beautifully proportioned, and their skin was similar to hers, but of a slightly lighter red. At first she had thought that she was looking upon a shambles and that the bodies, but recently decapitated, were moving under the impulse of muscular reaction; but presently she realized that this was their normal condition. The horror of them fascinated her, so that she could scarce take her eyes from them. It was evident from their groping hands that they were eyeless, and their sluggish movements suggested a rudimentary nervous system and a correspondingly minute brain.” (CM/3.)
If you discerned a disguised orgy scene – beautiful naked bodies of men and women writhing around, groping each other, probing, searching with their fingers – you are gaining experience as an ERB reader. Don’t forget, these beautiful bodies are bare naked, and one can just imagine all that genitalia rubbing against each other. No wonder Tara of Helium was fascinated, unable to tear her eyes off them.

After all, she was in a highly emotional state when she had gotten lost, having been sexually awakened toward men with the brazenness of Gahan of Gathol. She sees things differently now, through the eyes of an aroused adult woman, no longer as a little girl.

Tara is unable to discern how these creatures are able to till the soil, or who feeds and takes care of them. Tara doesn’t have much time to contemplate for she is starving and the hills are full of fierce banths, the Barsoomian lion. She sneaks up close to a tower and finds tasty fruit hanging from a tree. The tree provides her refuge when she is surrounded in the night by a pride of banths. When day breaks and the banths finally give up their siege, she finds that she has to pass three towers to get back safely to her hiding place close by her flyer.

As she passes the second tower she hears noises but the gate does not open and she passes on to the second enclosure unhampered. Again she hears noises within, this time articulated instructions to workers in the fields from a supervisor. Then the outer gate to the enclosure opens and she winds her away around the wall to some tall weeks where she hides. She finds herself paralyzed in horror, ashamed at herself for the fear the headless creatures have created in her. When she finally has the courage to look up she finds that she is surrounded by dozens of workers.

“There were ten, perhaps, in the party nearest her, both men and women, and all were beautiful of form and grotesque of face. So meager were their trappings that they were practically naked; a fact that was in no way remarkable among the tillers of the fields of Mars. Each wore the peculiar, high leather collar that completely hid the neck, and each wore sufficient other leather to support a single sword and pocket-pouch. The leather was very old and worn, showing long, hard service, and was absolutely plain with the exception of a single device upon the left shoulder. The heads, however, were covered with ornaments of precious metals and jewels, so that little more than eyes , nose, and mouth were discernable. These were hideously inhuman yet grotesquely human at the same time. The eyes were far apart and protruding, the nose scarce more than two small, parallel slits set vertically upon a round hole that was the mouth. The heads were peculiarly repulsive – so much so that it seemed unbelievable to the girl that they formed an integral part of the beautiful bodies below them.” (CM/3.)
Her fascination and horror with the creatures proves to be her undoing. One of the creatures spots the top of Tara’s head and reports this to his supervisor. She makes a run for it, hearing in the background strange whistling sounds. Looking over her shoulder see finds herself being pursued. Ignoring commands to halt, she sprints for safety, confident that she can outrun the creatures. But to her dismay blocking her way are hundreds more of the creatures coming at her from fields in front of her.

Judging that charging the group dead center is her best hope, she draws her dagger and attacks, the fighting blood of her father racing through her. She runs through them like a skilled running back, dodging them left and right. There is only one creature left barring her path:

“If she could pass this one without too much delay she could escape, of that she was certain. Her every hope hinged on this. The creature before her realized it, too, for he moved cautiously, though swiftly, to intercept her, as a Rugby fullback might maneuver in the realization that he alone stood between the opposing team and a touchdown.

“At first Tara of Helium had hoped that she might dodge him, for she could not but guess that she was not only more fleet but infinitely more agile than these strange creatures; but soon there came to her the realization that in time consumed in an attempt to elude his grasp his nearer fellows would be upon her and escape then impossible, so she chose instead to charge straight for him, and when he guessed her decision he stood, half crouching and with outstretched arms, awaiting her. In one hand was his sword, but a voice arose, crying in tones of authority. ‘Take her alive! Do not harm her!’ Instantly the fellow returned his sword to its scabbard and then Tara of Helium was upon him. Straight for that beautiful body she sprang and in the instant that the arms closed to seize her her sharp blade drove deep into the naked chest. The impact hurled them both to the ground, and as Tara of Helium sprang to her feet again she saw, to her horror, that the loathsome head had rolled from the body and was now crawling away from her on six short, spider-like legs. The body struggled spasmodically and lay still.” (CM/3.)

If this deadly embrace was semi-erotic to you, congratulations. But don’t get too cocky, ERB is just warming up. The confrontation gives the others time to catch up to her, she stabs another one, and again the head rolls free of the doomed body.
“Then they overpowered her and in another moment she was surrounded by fully a hundred of the creatures, all seeking to lay hands on her. At first she thought that they wished to tear her to pieces in revenge for her having slain two of their fellows, but presently she realized that they were prompted more by curiosity than by any sinister motive.” (CM/3)
I don’t really think I need to explain the suggestiveness of this scene. If you cannot see Tara of Helium being felt up and digitally penetrated you are failing the course. But don’t worry, you still have many chances to catch up.

In the confrontation scene that follows, we first meet Ghek as the antagonist for the swarm hive known as Luud (read “lewd”), who disputes possession of Tara with the antagonist for the rival swarm of Moak, who will not back down.

“‘Not while this Moak holds a sword,” replied the other. ‘Rather will I cut her in twain than to relinquish her all to Luud,’ and he drew his sword, or rather he laid his hand upon its hilt in a threatening gesture; but before he could draw it the Luud had whipped his out and with a fearful blow cut deep into the head of his adversary. Instantly the big, round head collapsed, almost as a punctured balloon collapses, as a grayish, semi-fluid matter spurted from it. The protruding eyes, apparently lidless, merely stared, the sphincter-like muscle of the mouth opened and closed, and then the head toppled from the body to the ground. The body stood dully for a moment and then slowly started to wander aimlessly about until one of the others seized it by the arm.

“One of the two heads crawling about on the ground now approached. ‘This rykor belongs to Moak,’ it said. ‘I am a Moak. I will take it,’ and without further discussion it commenced to crawl up the front of the headless body, using its six short, spiderlike legs and two stout chelae which grew just in front of its legs and strongly resembled those of an Earthly lobster, except that they were both of the same size. The body in the meantime stood in passive indifference, its arms hanging idly at its sides. The head climbed to the shoulders and settled itself inside the leather collar that now hid its chelae and legs. Almost immediately the body gave evidence of intelligent animation. It raised its hands and adjusted the collar more comfortably, it took the head between its palms and settled it in place and when it moved around it did not wander aimlessly, but instead its steps were firm and to some purpose.” (CM/3.)

They lead her to one of the enclosures, one of the creatures carrying the one free head until they near other headless bodies. The head is put on the ground and it then proceeds to crawl to a headless body, this time a female, where it reattaches itself. The sex of the body seems to make little difference to the kaldanes.
“In fact, Tara of Helium had noticed during the scramble and the fight about her that sex differences seemed of little moment to her captors. Males and females had taken equal part in her pursuit, both were identically harnessed and both carried swords, and she had seen as many females as males draw their weapons at the moment that a quarrel between the two factions seemed imminent.” (CM/3.)
They begin their descent into the arachnid underground through one of the dome-capped towers, with its curious inner chamber:
“The chamber, though on a level with the ground, was brilliantly lighted by windows in its inner wall, the light coming from a circular court in the center of the tower. The walls of this court appeared to be faced with what resembled glazed, white tile and the whole interior of it was now flooded with dazzling light, a fact which immediately explained to the girl the purpose of the glass prisms of which the domes were constructed.” (CM/3.)
Unlike all other Barsoomian architecture, the kaldanes use stairs rather than ramps to get from one level to another, so they descend a set of stairs deeper and deeper, sometimes confronted by other creatures wanting to know their purpose.
“Presently they reached a room from which a circular tunnel led away from the tower, and into this the creature conducted her. The tunnel was some seven feet in diameter and flattened on the bottom to form a walk. For a hundred feet from the tower it was lined with the same tile-like material of the light well and amply illuminated by reflected light from that source. Beyond it was faced with stone of various shapes and sizes, neatly cut and fitted together – a very fine mosaic without a pattern. There were branches, too, and other tunnels which crossed this, and occasionally openings not more than a foot in diameter; these latter being usually close to the floor. Above each of these smaller openings was painted a different device, while upon the walls of the larger tunnels at all intersections and points of conveyance hieroglyphics appeared. These the girl could not read though she guessed that they were the names of the tunnels, or notices indicating the points to which they led.” (CM/3.)
Tara holds on to her faith that she will be all right, even humming a tune to uplift her spirits. This proves to be Ghek’s downfall, or, looking at it another way, his moment of epiphany, where he breaks out beyond his species into a greater community of intelligent beings, where his brain will always be superior.
“The creature at her side turned its expressionless eyes upon her. “‘What is that noise you are making?’ it asked.
“‘I was humming an air,’ she replied.
“‘“Humming an air?’”’ he repeated. ‘I do not know what you mean; but do it again, I like it.’” (CM/3.)
Ghek asks her about the nature of the act of singing and she wonders if she would be able to teach him to sing. She tells him she would be glad to try.
“‘We will see what Luud does with you,’ he said. ‘If he does not want you I will keep you and you shall teach me to make sounds like that.’” (CM/3.)
They journey on until finally they turn into an opening on the right side leading into a large well-lighted chamber. Tara’s feeling of well-being takes a sudden turn for the worst.
“The song that had been upon her lips as she entered died there – frozen by the sight of horror that met her eyes. In the center of the chamber a headless body lay upon the floor – a body that had been partially devoured – while over and upon it crawled a half a dozen heads upon their short, spider legs, and they tore at the flesh of the woman with their chelae and carried the bits to their awful mouths. They were eating human flesh – eating it raw!” (CM/5.)
We may assume that the kaldanes had not yet eaten the woman’s breasts or vagina, otherwise Tara would not have been so sure the headless body was female. But of course this is more gruesome than erotic. By now you should be fully immersed into ERB’s sense of erotichorror, the standby of the pulp fiction master.

Tara has a sudden realization that she is witnessing her future fate as she watches thespiders devouring the poor woman.

“‘They are eating the flesh of the woman,’ she whispered in tones ofhorror.
“‘Why not?’ he inquired. ‘Did you suppose that we kept the rykor forlabor alone? Ah, no. They are delicious when kept and fattened. Fortunate, too,are those that are bred for food, since they are never called upon to do aught but
“‘It is hideous!’ she cried.” (CM/5.)
She is taken into another chamber where several creatures have heads and bodies attached but many headless bodies lay alone against the wall. There is a whistling and many spider heads appear out of many smaller openings in the wall. They crawl to their bodies, attach themselves, and then physically examine the hot babe, Tara of Helium.
“Several of those who examined her felt her flesh, pinching it gently between thumb and forefinger, a familiarity that the girl resented.” (CM/5.)
For those of you seeking redemption, this is the place where you should have imagined some vigorous tweaking of the nipples. ERB never disappoints.

Indignant, Tara slaps their hands away, unable to tell how they are reacting to her show of offended royalty. They appear nonplussed, recommending that Tara be fattened up because she is too skinny.

“The girl’s eyes went wide with horror. She turned upon her captor. “Do these frightful creatures intend to devour me?’ she cried.
“‘That is for Luud to say,’ he replied, and then he leaned closer so that his mouth was near her ear. ‘That noise you made which you called song pleased me,’ he whispered, ‘and I will repay you by warning you not to antagonize these kaldanes. They are very powerful. Luud listens to them. Do not call them frightful. They are very handsome. Look at their wonderful trappings, their gold, their jewels.’” (CM/5.)
Tara is not impressed but inquires about the name of their species. Ghek explains that only the spider heads are kaldanes while the bodies are called rykors, which he describes are less in value than their jewels or harnesses. Luud is notified of their presence and Tara has contrary feelings about her situation.
“Often her body was shaken by convulsive shudders as she looked at the kaldanes, but when her eyes wandered to the beautiful bodies and she could for a moment expunge the heads from her consciousness the effect was soothing and refreshing, though when the bodies lay, headless, upon the floor they were quite as shocking as the heads mounted on bodies. But by far the most gruesome and uncanny sight of all was that of the heads crawling about upon their spider legs. If one of these should approach and touch her Tara of Helium was positive that she would scream, while should one attempt to crawl up her person – ugh! the very idea induced a feeling of faintness.” (CM/5.)
An official, Sept, approaches to conduct them to Luud. He asks for names and Ghek identifies himself but does not know Tara’s name. Sept says it does not matter, which infuriates the Princess. She realizes her status as Martian royalty means nothing to them. They are led through a short, S-shaped corridor into another chamber, this one entirely lined with the white tiles. Numerous small apertures line the base of the compartment, circular in shape, most of them sealed. Directly opposite, however, one aperture is framed in gold with a peculiar device inlaid in the same precious metal. The three of them face this aperture and wait. Then Luud
makes his grand entrance.
“On the floor beside the aperture lay a headless male body of almost heroic proportions, and on either side of this stood a heavily armed warrior, withdrawn sword. For perhaps five minutes the three waited and then something appeared in the opening. It was a pair of large chelae and immediately thereafter there crawled forth a hideous kaldane of enormous proportions. He was half again as large as any that Tara of Helium had yet seen and his whole aspect infinitely more terrible. The skin of the others was a bluish gray – this one was of a little bluer tinge and the eyes were ringed with bands of white and scarlet, as was its mouth. From each nostril a band of white and one of scarlet extended outward horizontally the width of the face.” (CM/5.)
Luud proceeds to examine Tara, wanting to know who she is and what business she has in the land of the kaldanes, otherwise known as Bantoom. Tara brags about her royalty, but it falls on deaf ears. He tells her that all who enter Bantoom never leave, a theme standard for all of the kingdoms on Barsoom. In his brief judgment, most of the worldview of the kaldanes is revealed:
“‘None who enters Bantoom ever leaves,’ repeated the creature without expression. ‘I know nothing of the lesser creatures of Barsoom, of whom you speak. There is but one high race – the race of Bantoomians. All Nature exists to serve them. You shall do your share, but not yet – you are too skinny. We shall have to put some fat upon it, Sept. I tire of rykor. Perhaps this will have a different flavor. The banths are too rank and it is seldom that any other creature enters the valley. And you, Ghek; you shall be rewarded. I shall remove you from the fields to the burrows. Hereafter you shall remain underground as every Bantoomian longs to. No more shall you be forced to endure the hated sun, or look upon the hideous sky, or the hateful growing things that defile the surface. For the present you shall look after this thing that you have brought me, seeing that it sleeps and eats – and does nothing else. You understand me, Ghek; nothing else!’
“‘I understand, Luud,’ replied the other.
“‘Take it away!’ demanded the creature.” (CM/5.)
In their conversation following the meeting with Luud, Ghek has Tara sing for him again as he explains the worldview of the kaldanes to her. Ghek is deluded into believing that all kaldanes like the same things. For example, he is convinced that all kaldanes will like singing because he does. As we learn later, he has made an almost fatal error in genius thinking. Tara tells him that her people think differently, not all liking the same things.
“‘How strange!’ commented Ghek. ‘All kaldanes like the same things and dislike the same things. If I discover something new and like it I know that all kaldanes will like it. This is how I know that Luud would like your singing. You see we are exactly alike.’
“‘But you do not look like Luud,’ said the girl.
“‘Luud is king. He is larger and more gorgeously marked; but otherwise he and I are identical, and why not? Did not Luud produce the egg from which I hatched?’
“‘What?’ queried the girl; ‘I do not understand you.’
“‘Yes,’ explained Ghek, ‘all of us are from Luud’s eggs, just as all the swarm of the Moak are from Moak’s eggs.’
“‘Oh!’ exclaimed Tara of Helium understandingly; ‘you mean that Luud has many wives and that you are the offspring of one of them.’
“‘No, not at all,’ replied Ghek. ‘Luud has no wife. He lays the eggs himself. You do not understand.’
“Tara of Helium admitted that she did not.
“‘I will try to explain, then,’ said Ghek, ‘if you will promise to sing to me later.’
“‘I promise,’ she said.
“‘We are not like the rykors,’ he began. ‘They are creatures of a low order, like yourself and the banths and such things. We have no sex – not one of us except our king, who is bi-sexual. He produces many eggs from which we, the workers and the warriors, are hatched; and one in every thousand eggs is another king egg, from which a king is hatched. Did you notice the sealed openings in the room where you saw Luud? Sealed in each of those is another king. If one of them escaped he would fall upon Luud and try to kill him and if he succeeded we should have a new king; but there would be no difference. His name would be Luud and all would go on as before, for are we not all alike? Luud has lived a long time and has produced many kings, so he lets only a few live that there may be a successor to him when he dies. The others he kills.’
“‘Why does he keep more than one?’ queried the girl.
“‘Sometimes accidents occur,’ replied Ghek, ‘and all the kings that a swarm has saved are killed. When this happens the swarm comes and obtains another king from a neighboring swarm.’
“‘Are all of you the children of Luud?’ she asked.
“‘All but a few, who are from the eggs of the preceeding king, as was Luud; but Luud has lived a long time and not many of the others are left.’
“‘You live a long time, or short?’ Tara asked.
“‘A very long time.’
“‘And the rykors, too; they live a long time?’
“‘No; the rykors live for ten years, perhaps,’ he said, ‘if they remain strong and useful. When they can no longer be of service to us, either through age or sickness, we leave them in the fields and the banths come at night and get them.’
“‘How horrible!’ she exclaimed.
“‘Horrible?’ he repeated. ‘I see nothing horrible about that. The rykors are but brainless flesh. They neither see, nor feel, nor hear. They can scarce move but for us. If we did not bring them food they would starve to death. They are less deserving of thought than our leather. All that they can do for themselves is to take food from a trough and put it in their mouths, but with us – look at them!’ and he proudly exhibited the noble figure that he surmounted, palpitant with life and energy and feeling.” (CM/5.)
With the words “proudly exhibited,” and “palpitant with life and energy and feeling,” ERB is clearly describing a male strutting peacock kind of scenario, and the reader would not be far off speculating that Ghek is exhibiting an erect penis to Tara of Helium. After all, “palpitant” means throbbing or pulsating.
“‘How do you do it?’ asked Tara of Helium. ‘I do not understand it at all.’
“‘I will show you,’ he said, and lay down upon the floor. Then he detached himself from the body, which lay as a thing dead. On his spider legs he walked toward the girl. ‘Now look,’ he admonished her. ‘Do you see this thing?’ and he extended what appeared to be a bundle of tentacles from the posterior part of his head. ‘There is an aperture just back of the rykor’s mouth and directly over the upper end of the spinal column. Into this aperture I insert my tentacles and seize the spinal cord. Immediately I control every muscle of the rykor’s body – it becomes my own, just as you direct the movement of the muscles of your body. I feel what the rykor would feel if he had a head and brain. If he is hurt, I would suffer if I remained connected with him; but the instant one of them is injured or becomes sick we desert it for another. As we would suffer the pains of their physical injuries, similarly do we enjoy the physical pleasures of the rykors.’” (CM/5)
Let us stop for a moment and contemplate what Ghek is getting at here. If you guessed the pleasure of human orgasm give yourself ten points. After all, the whole time he is talking he has a throbbing erection that Tara can plainly see. I imagine if his eyes weren’t lidless, he would have been winking with this last comment. Anyway, back to his explanation.
“‘When your body becomes fatigued you are comparatively useless; it is sick, you are sick; if it is killed, you die. You are the slave of a mass of stupid flesh and bone and blood. There is nothing more wonderful about your carcass than there is about the carcass of the banth. It is only your brain that makes you superior to the banth, but your brain is bound by the limitations of your body. Not so, ours. With us brain is everything. Ninety percentum of our volume is brain. We have only the simplest of vital organs and they are very small for they do not have to assist in the support of a complicated system of nerves, muscles, flesh and bone. We have no lungs, for we do not require air. Far below the levels to which we can take the rykors is a vast network of burrows where the real life of the kaldane is lived. There the air-breathing rykor would perish as you would perish.

There we have stored vast quantities of food in hermetically sealed chambers. It will last forever. Far beneath the surface is water that will flow for countless ages after the surface water is exhausted. We are preparing for the time we know must come – the time when the last vestige of the Barsoomian atmosphere is spent – when the waters and food are gone. For this purpose we were created, that there might not perish from the planet Nature’s divinest creation – the perfect brain.’
“‘But what purpose can you serve when that time comes?’ asked the girl.
“‘You do not understand,’ he said. ‘It is too big for you to grasp, but I will try to explain it. Barsoom, the moons, the sun, the stars, were created for a single purpose. From the beginning of time Nature has labored arduously toward the consummation of this purpose. At the very beginning things existed with life, but with no brain. Gradually rudimentary nervous systems and minute brains evolved. Evolution proceeded. The brains became larger and more powerful. In us you see the highest development; but there are those of us who believe that there is yet another step – that some time in the far future our race shall develop into the super-thing – just brain. The incubus of legs and chelae and vital organs will be removed. The future kaldane will be nothing but a great brain. Deaf, dumb, and blind, it will lie sealed in its buried vault far beneath the surface of Barsoom – just a great, wonderful, beautiful brain with nothing to distract it from eternal thought.’
“‘You mean it will just lie there and think?’ cried Tara of Helium.
“‘Just that!’ he exclaimed. ‘Could aught be more wonderful?’
“‘Yes,’ replied the girl, ‘I can think of a number of things that would be infinitely more wonderful.’” (CM/5.)

This is a good place to stop for Part Two. In the next installment we will see how the presence of Tara and her singing make Ghek reevaluate everything his culture has taught him.
7 WONDERS: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

RUNNERS UP: I.a | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII.2.2b.3a.3b | IX | X.2.3.4XI. |
.XII.2.| XIII.|.XIV.|.XV.| XVI.

A Princess of Mars
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Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Chessmen of Mars
Mastermind of Mars
A Fighting Man of Mars
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