Pen Wizard

Writing and other stuff by Daniel Ferguson, Pen Wizard

Here’s a thought (about stories)

So, I’m pretty sure I heard/read someone say that we *need* stories. They might even have said it’s for our survival. I’m going to make this an interactive blog post – instead of mere word-vomit in your general direction – and ask you to post links to anything you find on this topic, for, against, or out there so far in left fiend that they turn into right field (whatever that means, I assume it’s a baseball reference though, right?) in the comments. Yep, I want your comments, your links, your thoughts, all of it. I’m like those pink nudist aliens in the first Futurama movie that get hot for information. Except I’m not pink nor a nudist. ‘Or an alien!’ you might say, but I’m not 100% sure about that one.

Anyway, the thought is, do we really need stories? Are they necessary for survival? I don’t know about that. I read that somewhere. So here’s me thinking about it.

Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs  states that our needs are divided into five sections: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. is the picture version if you feel like the wiki is TL;DR.

On this hierarchy, which may or may not be the only valid hierarchy of needs theory out there, it says that creativity is only in the top rung of the triangle.

Anyone familiar with hierarchies will know that for balance, the bottom stuff should be the most while the top stuff should be the least. Think of the food pyramid. Bread, water, fruit and veg are all on the lower tiers of the pyramid, while candy, sugar and chocolate are meant to be occasional (I should heed this advice myself). Same deal with Maslow’s. Food, shelter, safety, security and that kind of stuff is down the bottom, as in you need it more than you need creativity or self esteem.

So. While you may need creative outlets and a need for entertainment/leisure from time to time, you certainly don’t need it anywhere near as much as some writers will make it sound like you do.

As a writer, that’s a little depressing. But I understand. A book won’t keep you alive. If you buy the latest JK Rowling novel, you can’t really eat it. You can devour it, metaphorically speaking, but you can’t really BBQ it and serve it up with a side of chips. You probably could, but why? I don’t imagine paper and cardboard make for a very satisfying, let alone nutritious, meal for four.

A new book might keep you sane. It might give you a place or time or characters who are interesting, entertaining, or thoughtful or provocative. They might draw you in and you might never want to leave. You may have developed a bit of a dependency on a series. Dependency is generally considered a psychotic issue, if it gets out of control. There’s this thing called substance addiction, and a good book can be like heroine.

But absolutely, positively, proven to be part of what keeps you alive? No. Food and water do that. Not books. If you’re barely scraping by, a book – which is $20 here at the minimum – won’t feed you, give you part of your daily energy or vitamin intake. You could buy a few days’ groceries with $20. Or you could read. As a writer, it’d be nice if you opted for the book. But it won’t feed your family. Unless they eat paper.


I’m going to give you a sample of my work to read.

Just one chapter. It’s from way later in the whole big damn story, waaay down the track in book 3, but I’ve been working on it lately, so that’s what you’re getting. For context, well, I won’t spoil too much. This works pretty well on its own. Jessica is a psychic sniper, but she can’t exactly use her sniping skills in this situation, so it’s psychic powers to the max. Which is cool because she’s been growing in her powers, over the course. A running joke – at least it would be if anyone knew – is that she learns a new power every book. Not sure what she learns in this one, to tell the truth.


Anyway, that’s enough talk. On with the sample.


* * * * *


Rorschach’s Journal. October 12th, 1985: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll whisper “no.”

~Rorschach, Watchmen, by Allan Moore, 1986.



Jessica stepped out of the building. Her energy was returning. So she went for a walk to gather some info. She asked random strangers about where she could find a dire wolf’s fang, and was directed eventually to a shop in the Valley.

Fortitude Valley. It had to be the Valley. The accumulation of the city’s filth in the red light district, full of homeless people begging for money or drugs or else antagonising people; prostitutes and sex shops and strip clubs; gangs of kids looking for trouble. And that was just during the day.

Jessica didn’t see a single cop anywhere, not even walking down Brunswick Street (dodging five homeless people and walking right on past two prostitutes). She thought of one of her heroes, the uncompromising Rorschach from Watchmen, and what he’d say about the Valley and all its accumulated filth and blood and greed.

Not to mention the sex and violence. You couldn’t forget the sex and violence.

She found her way to the shop in question, an occult pawnshop named Lazarus’ Lair. Yeah right, she’d thought. Except she was psychic, and they liked psychics at places like this. Maybe this wouldn’t be that bad. Then again, this was the Valley.

‘Authentic Riftwares’ the sign read. Rachel and Sarah might like this, she thought. Even though it’s in the middle of Hell.

She stepped through the portal to a world of occult paraphernalia, from crystals to charms, beads and bracelets, obscure books, incense, bones and teeth, everything for both your hippies and your Satanists. Of course, people only laughed at that stuff Before. Then the mages and monsters appeared and people realised that evil could harm you, so they spent big on protection wards. Salt, iron, paint—for the pentagrams—and all sorts of powders and chemicals to keep evil at bay.

The middle aged woman at the counter looked up at her entrance.

“You need anything specific?” she asked.

“Do you have dire wolf fangs?” Jess asked, making a note to avoid this place in further ventures.

“In the monsters section,” the unfriendly woman said, pointing, and busied herself again.

Jess went into that section and looked through the items on display. All kinds of monsters, all kinds of trophies—teeth, bones, scales, fur, claws… she found the dire wolf section, first trying under ‘d for dire’ then ‘w for wolf’. There was a label on the shelf, but the section was empty. She scanned around for any kind of supply, anything that might indicate they had more not on the shelf yet, but found none.

“I think you’re all out!” Jess called. The shopkeeper came over to inspect the shelves herself.

“Well, that’s too bad.”

“Can you tell me where I might find one?”

“You could always hunt one down. But you won’t find many in Australia, what with monster-rifts being specifically linked by common factors.”

“Like climate?” Jess asked.

“Like climate.”

“Ah. So, I can’t get any around here.”

“Just sold the last one yesterday.”

Jess pursed her lips. Very, very not-good.

If she didn’t get the dire wolf fang, Jarred would die. Simple as that.

So she opened up her mind, and focused her will into reading the older lady’s mind. A year ago, Jess would have been pressed to read only what was currently on someone’s mind. But her power had grown a lot since then, and now she could read a mind on rewind as well as on play. So she rewound the woman’s mind. It wasn’t easy, but Jess found she could manage about a day or so. She rewound to when the woman sold the fang to a probably-roided-up bodybuilder type, likely a drug dealer.

She couldn’t check the address on the man’s ID—they only asked for ID at second hand places—but she could hold the picture of the man in her mind, and search for him on foot.

“Well, thanks anyway,” she said at last. The other woman had gone back to whatever it was she was doing, so Jess exited the store and began walking around Fortitude Valley, searching minds for any images of the man in her mind, a slab of meat with a sloping forehead and muscles upon other muscles. That was kind of generic, but his mismatched eyes were a clear giveaway.

Then she stumbled across a boy drawing in an art journal. And an idea occurred to her.

“Hey, what’re you drawing?” she asked, as polite as she could. The boy looked up.

“Aliens,” he said.

“Mind if I see?”

“Well, okay…” he reluctantly passed her the journal. It was impressive. The amount of detail and realism was uncanny, even on an alien.

“Can you do humans?”

“Sure, flip back, you’ll see some.” She did. His humans were just as good.

“Listen, I need a favour. See, I need to find this man, and it’s very hard not being able to show people what he looks like. But I have a damn good memory, and I can remember exactly what he looks like. So, if I describe him to you, could you draw him?”

“I guess. Won’t come free, though.”

“How about I hook you up with Charles Kingsford Smith?” she asked, placing a $20 note on the surface.

“Okay, what’s he look like?”




Ten minutes later Jessica Mirani had a pretty decent picture of a man from her mind. Now she could go around showing his picture, a stark likeness, asking people if they’d seen him. Eventually someone gave her directions… and a warning. Jess thanked them and gave them ten bucks.

Then she followed the directions to the apartment—on the first floor of a seriously expensive building—and scouted it out from all around the building. The fire escape was just a jump away from a balcony attached to the apartment she needed, so she leaped across and landed silent as a cat on the concrete outside the glass door.

Inside, a group of six men—as best as she could tell from this angle—lay or sat around the lounge room, unconscious. A cartoon blared from the gigantic TV. Drug addicts. Dealers. The scum of the Earth. That was the gist of the warning. Drug dealers were a whole different breed of bad guy. She wasn’t sure if she could handle them on her own. But if she was very, very careful, she wouldn’t have to.

The door slid open easily, making exactly zero noise. She forced herself not to celebrate that minor win, and slowly, carefully moved through the drug dealers. They snored, and the smell of the drugs almost overpowered her, but she moved along regardless, because her leader’s life depended on her. Her heart beat so hard she feared it would wake them up, however.

This sneaking about reminded her of the mannequin job Tesla Squad took a fateful year ago. They had to sneak through a den of sleeping goblins at one point, and that scared her to her bones. This was no different, except that this time it was tattoo-covered drug dealers beefed up on steroids. And the drugs she could smell reminded her that these were the scum of the universe.

She found the dire wolf fang on the mantelpiece in pride of place. Prestige. Of course they felt like they should have the status such a thing brought the owner. It was at this point that she thought that maybe this was a bad idea.

But she pressed on. For Jarred.

She crept up to the mantle and examined the stand it was on. The thing was twice the size of a normal wolf’s. That made sense, dire wolves being larger than ordinary wolves. Not that wolves were actually that big, really. She’d seen actual wolves, and they were amazing creatures, especially for something their size. She knew the facts about wolves, that they didn’t attack humans unless provoked—generally because of humans getting too close—but as for dire wolves, the data wasn’t as clear.

She carefully lifted the thing off the stand and turned around to find one of the drug dealers standing there, eyes red, Magnum .45 pointed at her. Time seemed to freeze as neither moved.

“Who the fuck are you?” the gunman asked.

Jessica’s grip on the tooth tightened. Could she use it like a dagger? Probably not—it’d need a handle. And a dagger was no match for a gun, unless she could throw it before the drug dealer fired. But her aim would have to be spot-on. And she didn’t think any human was faster than a speeding bullet, to borrow a certain phrase. Except maybe Jarred.

Psychic power it was, then.

“I’m nobody,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to fucking meet you too, Nobody. Now, hand that over.”

“What, this thing?”

“Hey, who’s the slut?” Another drug dealer had woken and stood up.

“We got some hookers in here?” Another one. Then they were all up and awake. This was going just great.

“Hey, yeah,” the first guy said. “Hookers and drugs! We should have another party!”

“Fuck, I’m hung over though,” one of them said.

“You drank a whole bottle of tequila, you magnificent cunt.”

“Just drink some more, ya pussy. Dog’s hair!”

Jessica thrust a concussive psionic blast their way. It pushed everyone off their feet and tipped the furniture over. At the same time she put up a psionic shield. So, when she pushed everyone over, and a stray bullet from the first man’s gun came her way, it bounced off the energy-surface of her shield with a loud ping and hit another guy in the leg.

She then dashed for the open door. One of the dealers sprang back up and emptied his mag at her back, thinking it was just in front of her protected by the barrier. His bullets sprayed all around the room at crazy, ‘fun’ angles and impacted wetly with yielding skin and muscle and bone.

Turning to the room again, Jess grabbed two grenades from her belt, primed them, threw them, turned, and leapt off the balcony as the room exploded behind her. She hit the ground hard, rolled, rolled over onto her front, put her arms around her head and closed her eyes as glass and other shrapnel rained down upon her.

Six drug dealers didn’t scream in agony. Apart from electrical sizzles and the sounds of things burning, there was nothing. No chance of being followed, then.

Jessica Mirani turned up the hood of her jacket and pulled out a pair of shades, and walked casually from the scene, making sure to go the other way that what she’d taken to get to the fire escape in the first place. Then, tooth in her pocket, she slipped away into the panicked crowd and made herself a ghost in the minds of everyone there.



I’m wondering if I can make the drug dealers symbolic or metaphoric, ie ‘drug dealers = zombies? Saw that in a short story once. Very cool metaphor/symbol/whatever. Shut up, I’m done ‘braining’ for the night.

I’ve given Children of Fire/Elemental/whatever I call it a break, and instead been writing something else. And it’s been fun.

Zephyr Wind adventures is a deliberately pulpy airship tale, so far with two stories, and likely to be up to ten, involving the crew of the eponymous airship the Zephyr Wind. It’s been fun to write, and has so far been received really well with my writing group, so I’m definitely writing more in this series. I’ve got two stories plotted and one ‘finished’ (critique pending) and I’ll be looking at magazines I can submit to.

Another thing I started planning involves mecha, tentatively titled Ghost Titan. Of course just released recently is a game called Titanfall, so maybe Ghost Titan is not exactly safe. I really like it, though. I’d prefer a more exotic name, though. This other thing has not been fitting together very well, so I’ve decided to leave it and let it simmer for a bit.

All this stuff has allowed me to go back to COF refreshed. I’ve been working on a bit of the third book, about 3000 words so far. It’s come along rather nicely, I must say. I’ll still work on this series, but at the same time my writing group want more non-COF stuff, so I’ll be writing a bunch of Zephyr Wind and maybe Ghost Titan. This isn’t just for them, it’s for me too.


Everyone seems to want to live forever, apparently. At least where teen fiction seems to be concerned. And some rockstars.

I’ve been doing some research on this concept, because I’m writing about an immortal assassin, and thus I headed to a couple places (one familiar and one not) to find out what they think immortality, or at least several centuries of life, would actually be like.

The first was at and for part 2. The highlights to me were basically how they’d have to live in the cracks of the world, because they wouldn’t be able to explain their age to the police officer or the registry of births, marriages and deaths, or the bank, etc. Basically, they’d have to go off the grid. The idea that they’d be able to rise to the top of the corporate ladder is, frankly, a bit laughable at best. They also can’t be famous, or people will find out that their birth certificate is fake or otherwise problematic. says basically the same thing. It also has advice on writing assassins, so I’ll post that bit here as well:

The latter site is about fantasy/sci fi and also gaming.

Ugly inside

So I’m lying awake, thinking about this sort of thing, so hey, why not?

I’m not a people person. I find it hard to walk up to strangers and start conversations. Therefore I don’t have a highly-experienced grasp on what’s what, regarding people in general. So, what I’m going to say is based on below-average amounts of interaction. I should also put up a disclaimer that it’s mostly females that are like this.

I once knew a rather, well, unattractive member of the opposite sex who hated attractive women. She was nursing some serious bitterness, and it skewed her view of people, namely other women. It was depressing listening to her talk about attractive women that way. She was also promiscuous. And last I heard moved to some country she didn’t know to be with someone she had known maybe a month and hadn’t met in real life. Honestly, I don’t know what I saw in her.

Fast forward the better part of a decade, and pretty much all the women I know are beautiful, smart, creative, passionate, kind… and harbour no resentment towards females they perceive as prettier than themselves. They all have their heads screwed on right. I’m definitely picking them better these days. I’m surrounded by the type of women I want to be surrounded by, instead of the kind that I felt I had to settle for. By settling, I mean the first example. Haggard. Bitter. Resentful. So full of crap they were impeding their ability to live life. Maybe it’s that they’re just far more confident. Maybe they’re just more Real. Or they’re just full of love. Any and all of these, really.

If being demanding where women are concerned is somehow wrong, I don’t want to be right. I love the women I know, these days. Maybe I should extend that love to the women I used to know, and who I’ve defriended due to their bitter attitudes, because most people aren’t undeserving of love. But by the same token, they say you gotta rid yourself of poisonous people in your life in order to move on and up and all that. And I can tell you from experience, my life has been a lot brighter since I did that. And the antidepressants and sleeping pills. Seriously, I was miserable before the medication. And I was surrounded by women with terrible attitude. Poisonous bitches had to go, so I gave em the flick.

This has really made me question the stereotype of ugly outside = beautiful inside, beautiful outside = ugly inside. I question it hard. I’ve met some seriously unattractive people who are bitter and resentful, and thus ugly inside. And basically 100% of the beautiful women I know are also smart, creative, passionate, driven, confident, and generally amazing examples of the best humans can be. But maybe that’s just my classically autistic pickiness coming through.

So that’s that.


Brain computers

I’ll be honest: I haven’t read a lot of science fiction. The first sci fi book I read since childhood was by Alastair Reynolds, who had – among others – the idea of computers inside people’s heads. I’m not 100% sure if they were surgically implanted or injected as nanomachines that swum all up in that business (I just read the latter in Blue Remembered Earth, with the elephants, a new series (yay!) that also has head-computers) so that’s why the two versions.

The Conjoiners in his earlier works, the series Revelation Space, had them installed in their meaty ol’ brains. And I thought this was the coolest thing I’ve ever read. They communicate almost exclusively by thinking in wifi, is probably the most colourful way of explaining it. Probably the most realistic depiction of a hive mind, is what the reviewers said of it.

Except, well, the tech was used only in scientists, and boundary-pushing ones at that. Not sure if the Ultras used the Conjoiners brain-tech, I think they do, but Conjoiners are the ancients in this work, I think, I barely recall all the details.

Anyway, brain computers I can see as a possibly future. I don’t know how they’d do it, they’d probably be limited by size constraints – it’s the human skull after all – and they might not be powerful, although they’d certainly get that way in future. I’ve even seen experimental tech that allows quadriplegics to control computers with a chip in their brain, this was actually on a documentary I think. So we’re looking at it as a possible scenario.

Question is, how would society act when such a thing becomes possible for the masses? Imagine, you could never lose your phone again. Because it’s built into your head!

I imagine the military would be using it waaay before civilians. Scientists, even sooner. The average person? They’d be using their wifi brains to look up cat videos, listicles and porn. And speaking a language that doesn’t resemble anything remotely coherent. Unless drastic measures are taken in the public school system and people have Proper English drilled into them so that society as a whole goes back to Victorian English. That could be an interesting setting for something, and I’m sure I’m not the first to think this.

Meanwhile, I’m writing all this on a failing laptop that’s on its last legs, sort of. It’s giving me new trouble every other week. Alas, I might have to save up for a new one in the near future. Then it’ll just be a couple decades till I’ll be going to a brain surgeon instead of JB Hifi.


I mention all this because, well, I’m writing something that contains brain computers. I don’t want to give too much away, but it involves mechs controlled via Kinect, due to brain computers, and is set on a terraformed Mars. So yes, this goes in the ‘writing stuff’ category.

Vision and zombies

Writers Group was yesterday, which meant nail-biting anticipation of feedback on my writing.

I needn’t have been so stressed; turns out the group gave me glowing praise, along with their critiques. That’s the best kind of critique – when they say they loved it, but also give you feedback on what didn’t work, and how to improve it, and above all, not doing it in an asshole kind of way. Nobody wants that. Another writing group I’m in caused someone they critiqued to quit writing forever. Nasty. Not this group, though. Well, some people might get offended, but I basically believe that this group is good and that some people don’t come back simply because they don’t have thick enough skin. You have to have thick skin, if you put your stuff onto a forum for critique and review by other people. Vision is a great critique group that’s only gotten better in the time I’ve been there (and I’ve improved substantially, according to someone who’s known me for about 2.5 years).

Something that was bound to come up, of course, was that the zombies in my fiction weren’t original. I’d like to remedy that, but the question is, how do you make zombies different? Nobody seems to have figured that out, yet. Least of all me. So. Different zombies… hmmmm.

Eerie glow? Definitely cool. Fits with *these* zombies, the voodoo magic kind, so maybe.

Regeneration? That’d make the characters mess themselves.

Flight? “OH GOD IT FLIES!” I don’t know how zombies would fly, though. Humans don’t have wings. Angel-zombies, on the other hand, maybe.

Invisibility. The ultimate terror. Same problem, though – how?

Fire-breathing. Awesome, though I don’t know how to explain why reanimated human corpses can suddenly breathe fire.

Mutated zombies. I think Resident Evil did that. They had tentacles and dog-zombies. (On that note, “And then tentacles” was uttered at least three times during the meeting)

Acid drool. Always popular. Could work.

Cold breath. Not sure, but it’s an idea.

Intelligent, able to speak: I know someone who did it in their work. I read another where they could act as speaker to a Big Bad.


That’s my attempt. How about you?

Final Fantasy

I recently re-played two of the games in this series – 8 and 10 – and compared the two.

8 is still better. This did not surprise me. Even having played it about as many times as there are Final Fantasies. (I was 15, I had no money, and of course it had a truly epic, engaging story following a hilariously cold central character that I really, really got).

10, surprisingly, didn’t annoy me half as much as it did the last time I played it. Now, to be fair, I was hanging out with a really extreme, yet surprisingly persuasive, guy who was not right in the head. He convinced me that it was shit. It wasn’t hard, because that wasn’t *that* far from the truth. I mean, 10 is goofy in all the wrong places, focused on graphics and gameplay, and the story is not great. Final Fantasy had great stories on the SNES and PS1 eras. I generally hear people say their favourites are 6, 7, and occasionally 8 (depending on the group I’m in; it’s soooooooo refreshing to hear 8 in this one particular group, where they post primarily 8 memes when they do FF memes). Then 10 happened and they traded story for trying (too hard) to cram as much awesome as they could in. Do not get me started on the choices they made for 10-2 (God, they continued that instead of a favourite?!) They sold out, basically. 10 I recall stinking, but this time through it didn’t smell so bad. But then corpses stop smelling once they’re skeletons.

I haven’t played 11. I’ve played 12, and it’s pretty neat, but I still haven’t finished that one. 13… well, I’ll give you a link to this review. 

As for 10, well, I remember it being worse than this. But it still annoyed me. Mostly the voice acting. Mostly Tidus. Rikku doggy paddling during a touching, heartfelt goodbye was just baffling, too. Then they went and made a 14 year old boy’s wet dream of a sequel, and now I hear they’re making another one.

Ugh. 8 stands up well. 10 does not, though the graphics and combat are amazing.


It occurred to me, halfway through reading the contract for my writing group’s anthology, that I’m going to be a published author. 

I have no idea how much exposure the anthology’s getting, but hey, it’s an anthology of writing and it’ll have me in it. 

I enjoyed the challenge, of writing something inspired by the number 18, the name of the anthology, chosen because that’s how old the group is turning this year – we think. Hopefully it’ll be ready for the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, maybe even Supanova too (also in September if I’m not mistaken). 

It’s pretty cool. Daunting, and all this legal talk gives me an eerie kind of feeling, but it is awesome that I’ll see my name in print. 

New stuff, ageless fun

Right, so, someone said I should just finish up the Tesla Squad book, get some beta readers, edit it and send it out there. You know, be done with it. 

While there’s still work to be done, and then there’s sequels, I can see the sense in that advice. Mainly, it’s because I’m about done with it, mentally speaking. I’ve been working on it for ages and could use the break, to be honest. So, when it’s published, that’ll be it for a while. Good thing it’s capable of standing alone, while being the first in the series. 

I’ll come back to *that* project after some time has passed. The vacation won’t be me just twiddling my thumbs, though. Oh no. I’ll be working. Maybe on the fantasy story I’ve been working on here and there, but probably not. 

What I’d really like to do is work on something completely new, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m like that: I like starting things, but not so much seeing them through to completion. You can see how that’s a problem if I wish to make a career out of writing. 

But change is good, and new beginnings are good, and I’m in need of one, so that’s what I’ve been doing the last couple days – beginning something. That something is kind of a homage to Firefly, and partly to a book series that was inspired by it, the Tales of the Ketty Jay. 

This new work is about sky pirates, airships, zombies, dinosaurs, nazis (in deeds, not in name), sewer folk, that sort of silliness. I think it could be YA suitable, but then, what is YA these days? Does that term even still apply? Because youth are reading all sorts of things these days, is the impression I’ve gotten from one or two guest talks on the subject that I’ve been to. Me, I’m not really concerned about what is and isn’t YA or what the two main genders are reading. I’m concerned with writing something fun. Something with youthful playfulness, even. If that includes dinosaurs, zombies and nazis (the trifecta of things that immature males like) then that’s something I’ll write, because well, it’s not like I’m the Literati. I seem to have found writers who share my kind of brain, in David Wong/Jason Pargin, and Chuck Wendig. I also feel like tapping into my inner child’s persona and stuff. Actually, my inner child kinda rules me these days. Couldn’t that have happened in, you know, high school? Weird. 

I look forward to writing this. It’s going to have all the stuff teenage me loved (and adult-me still loves, unashamedly, because like I said, I still think like a 15 year old). 


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