The Wooden Box
A Short Story in 5 parts by Guy Jones

Copyright 2020 Guy Jones. All rights reserved. Published by ND Media. Reproduction of this work in whole or part in any format without the authors permission is strictly prohibited.


Sam is preparing to marry his finacee Susan when his friend ... who happens to be an ex of Susan’s, makes a rather interesting discovery in her Grandmother’s rambling old house ...

Part 5

“I am George. Tracey’s Grandmother,” the woman in the cloak said, calmly, once they were alone. ‘They’ being Sam, Tracey’s Grandmother and the form of Tracey who, as far as Sam could work out, was the form of Tracey that he actually knew. The Tracey from his ... er ... dimension ... the one with the lemon drizzle cake ... the one that had touched his leg in the pub ... the one that seemed to look longingly into his eyes, if that wasn’t a figment of his imagination. The real one. If that actually meant anything anymore.

“But I thought you died crossing the road back ... whenever and wherever that was that that happened.”

Tracey looked at him and shuck her head, then turned to her Grandmother. “He is still having difficulty getting his head around all this.”

The Grandmother looked at him and then, with a distinct and unmistakeable hint of sarcasm, said, “It is difficult to get your head around, especially if you happen to have a male head.”

“You died crossing the road having placed a winning bet at the bookies. The day before you even started the time machine thing.” Sam was not going to let the point drop, regardless of the amount of sarcasm being banded around. It was for him pretty fundamental to understanding the situation.

“Have you not worked that one out yet? I just started it off a few days before I had planned. I have always been a bit impatient, and never got round to writing up any notes about it. I’ve always been a bit sloppy about things like that.”

“But the date! The date in the note book for the final testing!”

“Oh, that was the final, final testing. I did it a week or so after I first flew the machine. The controls needed adjusting. It has always been ten minutes out one way of the other.”

“OK. Whatever. But you died.”

“That was the other me, as I am sure you are aware, somewhere in that thing you laughingly call a brain.”

“The other one? Which other one?”

“My dear boy, there were always two of me. Right from the off.”

Tracey felt the need to jump in. “When someone travels backwards in time, for the first time from their dimension, lets call it Dimension A, they instantly create another dimension, Dimension B, remember. Another place just like where you started from.”

“Where everything is the same?”

“Yes, everything is exactly the same.”

“It’s history?”

“Yes, even the history. From then on every time someone travels back from Dimension A they arrive in Dimension B. And every time they return from Dimension B ...”

“They arrive back at Dimension A?”

“Correct.”

The Grandmother coughed gently, to indicate that it was her turn to come back in on the explanation to the rather slow, if harmless male. “You see, when I came back here the very first time ...”

“Before you went back and died?”

“... there was an identical me doing exactly the same thing, at the same time, in this dimension.”

“So she came back to ‘real time’?” Sam felt he might be making progress.

“The way to look at it, my dear boy, is that the dimensions are all just as real as one another.”

“But one gets created.”

“With all it’s history. All it’s memories. And so ... come on. See if you can get it.” The room was becoming awash with sarcasm. There was a pause, while the Grandmother waited for Sam to get it. Then she jumped in anyway. “There is no way of knowing if the one we were in was there first. In fact the very notion of one dimension being somehow superior to the other is a fallacy. It is better to think of them both being created at once. With all their history, memories, all in tact and identical. It would be perhaps better to ask the question, did either of them exist before I jumped into my little wooden box and pressed a few switches.”

“So why are there so many Traceys in this dimension ... Dimension B?”

“They are all the same, apart from the one who was here to begin with. I just came to the same point in Dimension B from different times in Dimension A.” Sam looked at Tracey, blankly. “It sounds complicated I guess. But it’s more complicated than that.

“When Gran from Dimension B went back in time, at the same time as Gran from Dimension A, she created this other dimension ...”

“Erm ... Dimension C?” Sam tried to force his brain through the obstacle course that had been presented to it. Both women looked at him intently. “... so...” The penny was getting there. “... if all the memories are the same ...” The women’s eyes began to light up in anticipation. “... Ok which one is the real time.”

The Gran let her hand fall to the table in a definite sign of frustration, “They are all the real one. How could you know if you came from a created one or not?”

“Well because ... I’d know.”

“How?”

“I would know if I were created ... out of nothing ... just like that.”

“With all your memories?”

“Erm ... is there a Duffer’s Guide to this?”

George took this opportunity to go to the bar for a vodka and orange and a gin and tonic. She did not offer to buy Sam a pint.

“How come one Gran got killed and the other one didn’t?”

Tracey decided it was time to be helpful. Grandmother was clearly losing patience and they probably needed to act together in whatever scenario they were working on to solve whatever mess they were actually experiencing.

“You are asking the wrong question.”

“And the right question would be?”

“What was the other Gran doing in our dimension? When she travelled back from Dimension B she should have ended up in Dimension C. So the question should be, ‘how did Gran B end up in Dimension A, instead of Dimension C.’”

Sam looked at Tracey. Despite all this nonsense, he trusted her. Partly because he knew that she was his only source of beer money until he got to the bank in the morning, but mainly it was the trust that comes with the slow realisation that, despite the fact that someone appears to be completely nuts and despite the fact that it has never crossed your mind in all the time you have know each other, you have started to fancy the pants off that someone. “OK. That question.”

“When my Gran, as in the one from Dimension A ...”

“My dimension?”

“Yes that one. When she first went back she created Dimension B. At the same time the Gran from Dimension B went back and created Dimension C ...”

“So how could they meet, or even know about each other?”

“As time goes on the two dimensions diverge. Little changes happen. Well little at first. People end up just being in slightly different places in each of the dimensions ...”

“The horses! That’s why the bets start to go wrong!”

“You are getting it.

“Then it all gets a bit more interesting. The SNP win a landslide victory in the General Election, in Dimension B, because no one in that UK actually trusts the other political parties and the interference in our elections by foreign powers actually pays off. Before you know it, we get William McGonagall on the £20 notes, a surreal obsession with Scottish tourist tat, all of which appears to be manufactured in Russia and the weather starts to change.”

“Isn’t that Global Warming?”

“No. This is the weather not the climate.”

“So why does the weather change?”

“If 20% of all airfreight stops shipping in plastic junk from China and starts shipping in synthetic sporrans from Moscow, over night, it is going have a pretty dramatic effect on weather patterns.”

“And what about the climate change in this dimension?”

“Still fucked. No one actually gives a toss about that, in any of the dimensions. At least no one with the ability to actually do anything about it, gives enough of a fuck. ”

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Sam saw a chance to ask a question that would show just how much of this he had taken in. “So there are 3 dimensions, ours and the other two, which are slowly diverging from our dimension so really crazy things are happening to them? Have he got that right?”

“No,” said Gran returning from the bar. “As ever, the man has grasped a little of the complexity of a very complex situation and consequently thinks he has a handle on the whole thing. Let me try and put it in a way that your cute little head can come to terms with. Firstly, when I came back in time and created this dimension, the other me went back to create another dimension ...”

Tracey took up the explanation “... and the Gran in that dimension, Dimension C. The one that had just been ‘created’ for want of a better term, went back and created another dimension at the same time ...”

“You are not going to telling me that another Gran C went back and created yet another Dimension D ...”

They both nodded.

“... and the one in that Dimension D ...”

They both nodded.

“How many ...?”

“Infinite.”

“And ours is the only one that is not going crazy?”

Tracey looked at Sam, her head on one side like a research scientist who had just discovered that her pet hypothesis had more holes in it than ... something with a lot of holes in it, but she would muster all her intellectual powers to ensure that did not get in the way of a well argued research paper. “Have you read the news lately?”

“Of course all these dimensions are ‘created’ simultaneously ...” Grandmother added.

“So how did Gran B she end up in Dimension A?”

“It all gets out of sink. At each decision point each dimension has the opportunity to diverge. Little differences at first. A strawberry drizzle cake instead of a lemon drizzle cake. But eventually small differences lead to bigger ones. Before you know it things are really quite different. And the different Grans are in different places at the same time."

“We ended up meeting in dimension B and got our time machines mixed up. They were occupying the same space and well ... the same time. They got mixed up. It’s not difficult once you are actually in the presence of yourself and both of you have your time machines at hand. So she came back, or rather went back to my dimension and I got stuck in her dimension.

“Of course, it was an accident. Well I think it was an accident. But I wouldn’t put it past me to have planned the whole thing as a bit of a joke.”

Sam let it sink in for a moment. Then a question came to his mind. It was bound to be another demonstration of his complete lack of understanding of the situation. But he felt compelled to ask it never-the-less. “So if all the dimensions are the same, and there is no way of knowing which one was the original because everything, including memories and motivation and thoughts etc are the same ...”

Both women looked at each other. Was the penny actually, finally in the process of getting into ‘drop’ position?

“... then there should be another Gran who turned up in real time ... erm ... my dimension at the same time, but from another dimension, at the end of an infinite chain of dimensions.”

They looked at each other and sighed.

“If it is ultimately a closed system, then yes,” Tracey said.

“Although we have to be open minded about that. After all, infinity is only a theoretical number,” the Grandmother chipped in. “If that is the case, we just haven’t found her yet.”

“So to recap. Granny 2 went back in your time machine and got knocked down ...”

“Which left me stranded ... well not stranded exactly ... I could go to the Welsh one or back to the Scottish one ... but I couldn’t go back to the English one ...”

“Until I found the time machine, left by my other Gran and reopened the link.” Tracey took a swig of her drink and let the statement sink in.

“There is a Welsh dimension?”

“Oh yes.”

“What is that like?”

“It’s a bit like the Scottish one, without all the Scottish junk. St David’s Day is now the Queen’s Official Birthday, cheese sauce on toast is regarded as a national delicacy and the government have formed a Leek Marketing Board.”

“Who is on the back of the £20 note?”

“Max Boyce.”

“This all has to stop!” Sam cried out, “Where will it all end?”

“Exactly.”

“So how do we stop it?”

The two women looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders then looked at Sam. “Got any bright ideas?”

They set off in the direction of Tracey’s House, still without any real idea of what it was they were going to actually do, but with a vague feeling that, whatever it was, it would start there.

“As it happens, it’s not Tracey’s house. Not in the this dimension. Here it is still legally mine. I never died here, remember,” George said, as she marched with intent along the road.

“But my Gran from this dimension, did.”

“Yes but try proving it in a court of law. Especially a heavily Scottish influenced one. Not Proven, remember, Not Proven,” Grandmother barked and strode on ahead of them to emphasis the point.

“But what are we going to do, Gran?” Tracey shouted after her Grandmother.

“We have to destroy both boxes at once. It might not work, but it is the only thing we can do. And if all the others of us are thinking the same thing ... there is just a chance it might do the trick.”

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Sam’s brain tried to get itself around that statement. “How can we destroy both? They can’t be in the same place at the same time.”

George stopped. Tracey and Sam stopped and bumped into each other. Sam felt a pleasant sort of shock as they collided.

George turned round and gave Sam a look. A look that had he been a better man and fully understood the venom in the look, would have made him a step back and a small part of him would have died forever, out of shear disgust for itself. As it was his insides withered, a little, at the concept of just how thick she thought he must be, but recovered immediately since her opinion, in his opinion, was obviously baseless. “Have you been listening to a word we have been telling you? That, my dear boy, is exactly what they do do.”

George turned and set off with Tracey hard on her heels. They stomped down the road to the corner.

After a moment, Sam pulled himself together and followed.

Just as they were about to turn the corner, both women stopped dead. Tracey called back to Sam in a whisper crossed with a shriek, “It’s the Sporran Brigade! Quick nip down that alleyway!”

“The Sporran Brigade?”

“The Culture Police!” George added with an undisguised disdain, for the Sporran Police, who Sam took for some kind of secret police unit dedicated to ensuring total adherence to the new nationalistic fervour for all Scottish tourist tat.

“Yes that’s exactly what they are, my dear boy, and you don’t stand a bashed neaps chance of passing the test. Down that alleyway, now!”

Sam turned and headed for the alleyway.

“Ouch Aye, officer. Tis a broad bricht moonlitch nitch tonicht ....” George said to one of the officers, in a cheery tone unlike any she had used during the short time that Sam had known her.

Sam was out of sight and ear shot before you could say Rab C. Nesbit.

The alleyway went between two shops then turned left around the back of one. It was dark, dank and smelt of wet dog’s paws. After 50 metres it turned right, then left again. A cat screamed the way that cats do, and a milk bottle was knocked over not too far away. A distant owl hooted or rather twoooted! Just as you would expect in such a scene, if it had been filmed for a Hollywood spooky movie, on a budget.

After a while Sam arrived at a T junction. He went left. Then there was a 4 way junction. He could go back, turn left, right or go straight on. He went straight on.

The passage continued for a short while and then opened out into a courtyard. It was surrounded on all sides by the backs of buildings. There was no way out except the way he had come in. He turned to retrace his steps.

“Sam! I have been waiting.”

Sam turned round. In the far corner, in the shadows and wearing a large heavy cloak with the hood up, sat, and Sam was unsure what it was sitting on, a figure.

“We haven’t got much time,” it said. The voice was too deep to be a woman and too high to be a man. In fact the voice spoke in a slightly affected manner, like it was trying to disguise itself.

“Time for what?”

The figure turned it’s head, slightly to one side. Clearly Sam was not following the plot closely enough. It seemed to sigh.

“There are two things that you must do.”

There was a pause. Sam suspected for dramatic effect.

“And?”

“Firstly. When you get back to Tracey’s house, by which I mean Tracey’s house in the other dimension, not Tracey’s house in the this dimension.”

“You mean Trace’s house not her Gran’s house?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” the voice said impatiently, “however you have managed to work this shit out.”

“And?”

“When you get back to the house in the other dimension, make sure that it is you that is given the task of destroying the box.”

“Why?”

“Because then, when the time comes, you can just move it. Don’t destroy it. Just hide it ... somewhere ... anywhere!”

“Why?”

“Because then we can use it to get rich! Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!!!” The laugh would have done justice to Bela La Gosy had he made it into the age of the talkies. The laugh echoed around the courtyard, hitting each of the walls twice before fading and leaving silence.

A window on the second floor of one of the buildings opened. “Can you kids stop messing around down there and go home, some of us are trying to watch Dr Finley’s Casebook up here!”

They waited until the window shut again and all was quiet.

Then Sam whispered, “And the other thing.”

“Oh yes the other thing. You must break off your relationship with Susan.”

“With Susan, but we are going to get married.”

“And that is why you must break it off.”

“But I want her.”

“Do you?”

“I need her!”

“Do you?

“I love her!!”

“Seriously?”

The figure rose from whatever it was sitting on. “Look.” it said, losing the affectedness in it’s voice. It started to sound familiar. “The relationship is crap and you are going to spend the next 10 years painfully finding that fact out. Why not do both of you a favour. End it now. Fall out over it. Don’t talk to each other for a couple of years and then meet in a bar somewhere, have a few drinks, laugh about it and just be friends. Join her bridge club. Send her jokey facebook messages about what you had for tea, that she will ignore, then once in a blue moon, meet up for a few drinks and go over some old memories and laugh at the same jokes. ”

Sam was more trying to place the voice than actually listening to what she was saying.

Her hands went up to the hood and slowly pulled it back over her head.

It was Susan. A little older than she had been earlier today. She was wearing a Yves Saint Laurent tee shirt, too much makeup and had developed the slightest hint of a Parisian accent. But Susan never-the-less.

“Susan, are you saying it is all over?”

She looked him in the eye and gave a gallic shrug. “C’ est la vie,” she said.

“Look I’ve told you lot once! If you don’t clear off this instant I’m calling the Sporran Brigade,” and the window on the second floor closed with a bang.

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Sam arrived at the time machine room in Tracey’s Grandmother’s house, just in time.

“Ah! The male one has arrived, just in time. What took you?,” George barked at him as he burst through the door.

“I met up with ... someone.”

“Well now you are here you can make yourself useful.”

Sam looked at her. Then looked at Tracey.

“Don’t listen to her she just doesn’t like men.”

“Now listen to me ... what’s your name again?” George grunted over her shoulder.

“Sam, actually.”

“Now listen to me, Sam Actually, and listen good.” she turned around and looked him in the eye to make sure he was paying full attention. “We have to fly these things out of here and then destroy them.” She nodded towards two cans of petrol by the side of the wooden box.

“Why do we need two cans of petrol and what are the ‘things’ that we are going to fly out of here?”

George turned to Tracey as she leant over and grabbed one of the petrol cans. “Tracey, explain it to your boyfriend. I’m off.” Then she turned to him one last time. “ Listen Tom ...”

“It’s Sam.”

“Whatever. Just do what Tracey tells you. To the letter ... and ...” She looked around as if trying to find the words. As her eye rested on the second petrol can she seemed to have found her train of thought again. “Just don’t fuck it up, Tim.” And with that she looked at Tracey. Nodded a sort of confirmatory nod, with just a hint of affection and recognition that she could have been a better Grandmother if she’d had a mind to. It’s just that she didn’t. Then got into the box and slammed the door with as much of a hint of ‘God preserve us from bloody men’ as it is possible with a slam of a well hung door on a large wooden box.

Tracey went up to the box and opened the door again. Then she turned to Sam with an air of triumph, “It worked! She did it!”

“Did what?”

“Destroyed the time machine. Now it’s your turn.”

“I’m not getting this again.”

Tracey sighed audibly. Then began to explain.

It seems that Gran had taken the time machine to the furthest point that time had moved to with a time machine in it. Which was three weeks last Thursday ahead of where they were.

“Which would incidentally make it my wedding day.”

“Yes your wedding day. Once there she will have dragged the machine off it’s position, to break the temporal link, taken it out into the garden, poured petrol over it and set light to it.”

“And that will stop all this nonsense?”

“Not exactly.” Tracey looked at him as though she was looking over a pair of spectacles which she didn’t have on. “Because, that leaves this.” She placed her hand on the wooden box.

“Hmmm. I thought you might bring that up.”

“There were two time machines occupying the same temporal space. Gran’s has gone, leaving this one which is from your dimension. Are you with me?”

“Sort of. Your Gran has moved her time machine and set fires to it. Now, we must do the same with the one that is from our dimension, thereby completely breaking the link and stopping all this nonsense for good. Am I right?”

“No.”

Sam stood there waiting for an explanation.

“We are not going to do anything. You are.”

“But won’t that mean you are trapped, here, in the wrong dimension?”

“No. This is my dimension. I am the Trace that was in this dimension from the very beginning.”

“What!”

“Your Trace went back half an hour ago. While you were getting yourself lost. She had something important to sort out before you got there.” Tracey picked up the petrol can and put it in Sam’s hand. “Then she sent the time machine back to the here and now.”

Tracey nipped into the machine, as she spoke, to set the controls, gave Sam a kiss on the cheek, pushed him in through the door, hit the large ‘GO’ button and shut the door.

Sam felt himself being turned upside down. Then sort of inside out. Then Back to front. The box around him became sort of vague. Lots of colours and shapes all moving round him, and round each other. He looked at the Time Distortion Detection Meter. It had taken on the appearance of a rabbit with a spoon. The spoon was dipping into what looked like a trifle. The whole thing was on a merry-go-round ... spinning and spinning and spinning ... the spoon in the rabbit’s hand remained, throughout the whole thing clearly in the AOK position.

Then it all stopped as suddenly as it had started. Sam fell over against the inside wall of the box.

He had arrived back at Tracey’s house. He flung open the door of the time machine ... yes he had now accepted that that is exactly what it was. A machine that could travel in time. At least between the points in time that it has or does exist in.

He put the petrol can out on the patio and then slowly, painfully dragged the wooden box out as well. All the time he was thinking about what Susan ... or rather what a ‘version’ of Susan, had said about not destroying the time machine. How it would make them rich. About how she said that he shouldn’t marry her. About ... what the fuck was she doing there in the first place? She must have got to use the time machine in some version of ... in some dimension of ...

He laid the box on it’s side, well away from the house, took the cap off the petrol can and started to pour petrol over it.

If Susan has managed to travel back in time to ask him not to destroy the time machine, then that meant two things ... well actually it meant several things.

He lit a match.

Firstly, she must have had access to the time machine at the moment they had the conversation ...

Sam stood over the box not sure what to do.

... which also means that ...

He made ready to throw the match on the box.

... he doesn’t destroy the time machine ...

The match went out.

... that he keeps it and they go on to make a fortune ... but don’t get married ...

Sam felt a strange, unmistakable sense of relief.

... so why did she need to come back and ask him not to ...

He lit another match, threw it on the box and as the flames burst into the air he set off in search of his wedding suit.

Now Sam was notorious at losing things. You name it and he had more than likely misplaced it at sometime in his life.

House keys? Always. They were usually in the pocket of his jacket that he never puts house keys in or in his other trousers, that were in the washing basket, even though he hadn’t worn them the night before when he must have had his house keys otherwise how would he have got back in the house after a night at the Dog without waking Susan and causing an almighty row.

Glasses? He spends half of his waking life looking for his glasses that are usually on his head. He just can’t see them.

He once even lost the car. He had parked it in a multi story car park and gone off to do some shopping. Forgot that he had not used public transport to get into town that day, assumed he had lost his bus ticket, was annoyed with himself for having to buy a second ticket. Got home. Assumed the car had been stolen. Phoned the police, who after three days informed him that it had been found, in a multi story car park. It seems that the thief had just wanted to go shopping, but for some reason chose an alternative method of transport to get home.

All of these are perfectly acceptable things to loose. But your wedding suit? On your wedding day? His normal approach would have been to ask Susan. But ‘where is my wedding suit’ wouldn’t go down well on such a morning and besides, Susan had spent the night at her mother’s it being a wedding tradition that he couldn’t see her in her dress before the actual event.

Sam had left it hanging in the wardrobe. It was there! Right there! But not anymore. He looked in the spare bedroom. He looked in the hall way. He even looked in the garage following the old principle that if it is not where you have looked, then however unlikely the scenario, it must be where you haven’t looked.

Not a sign of it.

Time was ticking on. He had to be at the church in an hour. He chose the smartest things he could find, which weren't actually that smart. He doesn’t normally do suits. He found a light blazer. Light in weight but not colour. It was dark blue, with white piping on the collar, a nice purple round necked T-shirt and a pair of beige slacks. He thought he looked pretty cool.

Then he hightailed it to the church.

Sam was just about on time. Most of the guests had already arrived, there was a huddle or two of people still hanging around outside, having a last vape, waiting for the bride.

He strode towards the church.

He was grabbed by someone wearing a false Scottish looking beard. She pulled him behind a gravestone.

“It’s me,” Tracey said pulling off her beard.

“What are you doing here?”

“I had to stop you from making a complete fool of yourself. Put this on.”

She gave him another Scottish looking bread. “What is this for?”

“So they don’t know who you are.”

“Don’t know who I am? Of course they will know who I am. It’s my wedding day! ”

“Not anymore it isn’t”

She put the bread on his face and the elastic strap around the back of his head, then frogmarched him into the church and sat him on a pew at the back.

The groom ... Sam ... a version of Sam? ... was already in position. With his back to them. Waiting nervously for the bride and wearing Sam’s wedding suit!

Sam looked at Tracey for an explanation.

“Later. I’ll explain later.”

Then the organ started up a mournful dirge that Sam eventually recognised as the wedding march and everyone stood up.

Susan looked splendid. A well of pride rose up in Sam. Then he remembered that this was his big day too. That he was supposed to be the one she was going to get married to. He made a movement to ... well he didn’t know what he was going to do. And he never found out. Tracey grabbed and twisted something that hurt. He stayed where he was.

Susan, arm in arm with her elder brother, walked slowly down the aisle until she reached the groom. They looked at each other. Susan smiled at the groom. Sam couldn’t see the groom’s, the other Sam’s, face from where he was.

Then the ceremony started and everything passed him by in a blur. There were too many questions. Too many thoughts.

At length they reached the part. You know the ‘does anybody here know of any just cause ...’ part. “I do! She’s Mine!!! How dare you!!!” Sam thought, but said nothing because Tracey had a stern look on her face and a finger stuck in the ‘Don’t you dare!’ position on her lips.

Rings were put on fingers, kisses exchanged. And that was it. Sam had just watched his fiancee marry another man ... another him ... and there was nothing he could do about it.

The couple turned and started to walk slowly down the aisle. And as they approached the end of the aisle. As they reached where Sam sat, the groom ... or rather the ‘groom’ ... looked straight at him and winked. It was Tracey. Well a form of Tracey.

Sam looked at the other Tracey sat next to him. She shrugged her shoulders, squeezed his hand and kissed him, for the first time, square on the lips.

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