Forbidden Sanctuary

Father Al Bernardi, S.J., had a problem.  He had given sanctuary to the one man all the world wanted to see — an alien from Numos.

The aliens wanted him back because he alone could reveal the location of their Forbidden Sanctuary ebookhomeworld and the secret of faster-than-light travel.

The UN was all for giving him back to prevent a retaliatory attack by the aliens.  And the world at large just wanted peace at any cost.

Bernardi merely wanted to save a life . . . so he called his friend at the Vatican.

And then all hell broke loose!

“Highly involving . . . A thoughtful and well-written novel, combining a good mystery with the agonies of a well-meaning people trying to solve an awful dilemma.” –Library Journal

“Exciting . . . with well-developed characters and the pace and style of a top notch suspense thriller.” –Science Fiction Review

“This book is thought-provoking and well-written, involving very credible human and alien characters as well as an objective consideration of various ethical and political issues.  It is also fun to read. . . If skeptics exercise the willing suspension of disbelief, they will find this work very much worth their while. As for the Christian reader, one will enjoy reading Forbidden Sanctuary and sharing it with a friend. –Dragon Magazine

“Spellbinding . . . The strengths of this book are many — vivid and believable characters, subtle humor, excellent insights into alien and human psychology and behavior, mature dialogue, and a plot that twists like Chubby Checker used to.” — Kliatt

Reader reviews:

“I am loving this author. Didn’t know I was a science fiction fan, but Mr. Bowker has shown me otherwise. The religious element was interesting and quite touching. Just a great read.”

“Easy read with excellent philosophical questions without being preachy. The author also didn’t over analyze or complicate the plot with politics. Very enjoyable.”

Forbidden Sanctuary is available from:
Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Here is the first chapter of Forbidden Sanctuary:


“I believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth…”

Some days it was hard to pray. Angela’s mind would float off in any direction but Heavenward. Today, for example, it started on music (what would be the Numian word for counterpoint? For that matter, what was it in Italian?); music was her job, today, and she wanted, as always, to do a good job. Then it drifted back (as it often did) to when she got the job: walking out of her class in Advanced Spanish and seeing the man dressed in the gray suit, incongruously formal for a California fall. “Ms. Summers?”


“How long do you think it would take you to learn a language from scratch—just from hearing it spoken by someone who doesn’t know any English?”

“Depends on the language.”

“Would you like to give it a try?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His Son our Lord…”

Well, her religion had caused them a minor problem or two, but she was too good; they had to have her. Her mind skipped to Bacquier, looking harried, a million decisions to be made, her little request one of the least of them. “All right, all right,” he had said. “But you can’t go alone. Security, you see. Can’t have you people running around alone out there.”

Security was all right by her—as long as her request was granted.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and Son. With the Father and Son He is worshiped and glorified…”

Now the end was in sight: something about the number of cycles that had been completed. And what had come of all of it? Enough to keep scholars busy for quite a while—until the ship returned. If it was going to return.

“They’ve got to come back,” Colin had said. “We have too much to offer.”

“That’s right. Too much,” Natasha had countered. “They’re afraid of us.”

Angela didn’t like to speculate, but she did have one thought on the matter. “What if,” she had asked, “they can’t find their way back?”

There were still far more questions than answers….

The priest plunged ahead. As usual, there had been no sermon. He had nothing to say, Angela supposed, especially to five old ladies and one stranger. That was all right: it was the ritual that mattered to her, even when it was trampled through by an overweight middle-aged man eager to get to his morning coffee and newspaper. Ex opere operato, she thought.  She knew Latin too.

Numian was a bit like Latin, actually. Highly inflected, relatively few irregular verbs. She and her co-workers would write it all up, of course, and someday it might be declassified. It was odd, really, but more than one person had compared the Numoi to the Romans. There might be something to that; there might be something to a lot of things.

She left her pew to receive communion. The old ladies stared at her. She gave them something to talk about, anyway. She shouldn’t be thinking of them, though, she should be praying. Why was it difficult to pray?

Her life was too full, too much had been happening the past few months. Her mind was too busy processing information. She was just a go-between, but so much of it stuck, and got in the way of what was more important. When it was all over…

But when she thought about it being over, she was sad. There would never be another job like this one.

“The Mass is ended. Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God.”

The priest shuffled from the altar, and Angela slid quickly out of the pew, feeling vaguely guilty over her dilemma. She genuflected and walked out into the cold and windy New England morning.

Her driver was waiting patiently at the curb, gloveless and hatless. Didn’t he feel the cold? She hurried down the steps and into the jeep. The soldier barely nodded to her. As soon as her door was shut he sped off toward the compound.

She wished Paddy Maloney was still driving her. The ride was a lot of fun with him at the wheel. But shifts had changed or something, and now she had this tight-lipped Canadian who made sure she understood what an imposition this idiosyncrasy of hers was.

“Is this extra duty for you?” she asked as the white countryside slipped by.

He shook his head.

“Well, I’m sorry you have to stay outside in the cold. You could come in, you know. It’s a little warmer inside.”

He shrugged. “I’m used to the cold.”

So much for apologies. They were nearly at the compound before he spoke again. “I used to go,” he said.

“To church?” she asked hesitantly.

He nodded.

“Why did you stop?”

The high fence appeared in the distance. “I just stopped.” He slowed the jeep.

“You could always start again,” she felt obliged to say.

He shrugged once more. “Too late,” he said. The guards waved them through.

* * *

The ship was a large, luminous blue pyramid, sparkling in the winter sun. One long, narrow staircase led down from just above the middle of one of the faces. At the bottom of it stood a couple of UN soldiers, staring stiffly forward. The first time Angela had walked up that staircase she felt as if she were taking part in some ritual—an Aztec maiden, perhaps, going to be sacrificed. But at the same time she had thought, inanely: they too use stairs. Can they be that different from us, if we both use stairs?

Now she stood near the bottom of the stairs, nibbling on a donut and hurriedly scanning an Italian dictionary of musical terms. She had missed breakfast, as usual, and there was no time for deep thoughts about the Numoi.

In a couple of minutes she noticed the group heading over from the motel, and she put away the book. She gave a half-wave to the other interpreters and nodded to Professor Contini. He greeted her effusively, obviously very excited. “Ms. Summers, good morning,” he said in Italian. “This is a beautiful day, is it not? We will learn a great deal today.”

The typical reaction. She had tried to warn him when they had met last night: this will be the most frustrating experience of your life. It will be like trying to learn about Mozart’s music by reading a description written by a deaf person in a language you don’t understand. And just when you think you’re making progress, they will politely decline to answer a question, or your turn will be over, and the opportunity will be gone—perhaps forever.

Well, he would find out soon enough. “Is your tape recorder working?” she asked.

He patted his pocket. “Won’t miss a thing.”

“Then we’re all set.”

One by one they presented their ID cards to the guards, who checked a list and impassively nodded their approval. Then up the stairway, as if they were boarding a plane.

At the top, though, there wasn’t a stewardess—or an Aztec priest. They stepped through an oval door, and were greeted by Samish.

“Hello, good morning,” he said in wretchedly accented English. “I greet you in the name of the Numoi.”

“Good morning,” the interpreters mumbled in Numian, and Samish gratefully lapsed into his native tongue.

He read from a list not unlike that of the UN guards. “Contini—music—with Master Zanla. Ryerson—zoology—with Associate Rothra. Chen—visual arts—with Associate Sudmeta. LaFlamme—mathematics—with Novice Lilorn. Please follow me.”

They followed, down the corridor that was now as familiar to Angela as the corridor to her office at UCLA. But she knew what it was like for Contini, gazing at the intricate tilework, smelling the faintly unpleasant odor (too many of them cooped up here too long; yes, they sweat too), but most of all observing the yellow-tunicked creature in front of them. No, creature was wrong. Put Samish in shirt and slacks and have him walk along Main Street, and no one would take a second look. A little shorter and darker than most Caucasians, perhaps; bone structure a little off for an Indian. But still well within the range of human variability.

Only Samish wasn’t human. Common ancestry (spooky thought), or similar evolutionary pressures? Angela didn’t speculate, but it was certainly keeping a lot of scientists up late arguing. And the sight of Samish, she knew, was making Contini do a bit of revision on what the word alien meant to him.

When they reached the first room, midway down the corridor, Samish stopped, turned, and bowed. “That’s us,” Angela whispered. She bowed in return and led Contini into the room.

It was small and windowless. In the center was a black metal table; two chairs on the near side, one on the far side. Perfectly neat and symmetrical. Angela sat in one of the chairs on the near side. “This is Zanla’s office,” she remarked, motioning to Contini to sit down. “They call him the Master, which I guess is equivalent to a ship’s captain.”

“How do they choose who will speak with us?”

“Knowledge and interest, mainly. The four officers and Samish are the only ones allowed to converse with humans. I assume Zanla knows more about music than the other three.”

“This Zanla—is he a good man, er, alien to talk with?”

“Well, he seems more interested in the information exchange than the others—probably because it was his idea—so I think he tries harder. But since he is the Master they often call him in to consult about something: whether they should answer a particular question, you know, or how much they should say. That can get frustrating.” Angela decided to try once again. “And you know, Professor, he isn’t an expert. He won’t know a quarter of what you want to find out, and—”

“Yes, yes, we’ll see.”

He was too excited to hear such things. He tapped impatiently on the table and scanned his notes—enough questions for a month of meetings, Angela was certain. She took out her dictionary and studied it until she heard the door open behind them.

“I greet you in the name of the Numoi. Angela, good morning.” Zanla bowed deeply to both of them and swept into the room. He was slightly taller than Samish, and slightly darker. He wore blue robes, and had a clear air of authority. Angela liked him.

She introduced Contini to Zanla quickly but formally. Zanla was scrupulous about learning names, and was quite good at remembering them—even if he couldn’t learn an Earth language. Natasha thought their linguistic incompetence was all an elaborate pretense to gain them some kind of obscure advantage. Perhaps. But really, everything could be a pretense, if one wanted to be suspicious. Why believe we were the first intelligent race they had contacted? Why believe, even, that they came from outer space? Angela preferred simply to do her job.

Which began immediately, with Contini firing questions eagerly and hopefully, fretting every time Angela stumbled over a term or asked for something to be repeated. Theoretically, in the morning session the Numoi answered questions and in the afternoon session asked them, but as usual it wasn’t long before both parties were stumbling over themselves to exchange information, each awed by the similarities and differences of their two worlds.

Luckily, in talking about music there was little need for the sudden awkward pause and the (apparently) sincere apology. “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you that.” Each side had things they had judged best kept secret, but their music was not one of them.

This problem did intrude on them, though, when Lilorn would knock on the door and bring Zanla outside for a whispered discussion. Mathematics, Angela thought. Always tricky. Natasha said there were more pauses than words during the mathematics sessions. Angela welcomed these respites, although they drove Contini into a frenzy of impatience. “Doesn’t he realize—” Contini would begin, and Angela would give an I-told-you-so shrug. By the time the morning session was over he had gotten through a twentieth of his questions, and only reluctantly followed Angela back along the corridor and down to the surface of the Earth.

“Not enough time,” he said, shaking his head. “So much to learn.”

“They’ll be back,” she responded, to cheer him up. “They’ve spent generations looking for another intelligent race. They won’t just forget about us. They’ll bring their finest musicians. You’ll have jam sessions together.”

Contini forced a laugh. “I have a lot to look forward to. Meanwhile, I must prepare for this afternoon. If you will excuse me…” He strode quickly off toward the motel. Angela followed at a slower pace, letting the cold air clear her thoughts.

She ate lunch with the other interpreters, and as usual the conversation revolved around words. Natasha, as usual, had a theory. “It will be the linguists who unlock the door to this mystery of faster-than-light travel.”

“How’s that?” Scott asked.

“Because the Numoi can hide everything else, but they can’t hide their words—not if they want to communicate with us at all. For instance, have you noticed the way their number words correspond to their emotion words? Eblo—one, ablo—tranquility…”

Gava—seven, gavo—uneasiness,” Colin offered.

“But what does that suggest?” Angela asked.

“It’s their approach to mathematics,” Natasha replied.

“Sure,” Colin said, “if we’d listened to Pythagoras we might be visiting the Numoi, instead of the other way round.”

It was all too much for Angela. “Tell it to Aronson,” she suggested. “Bright idea number 804.”

“Well, all we need is for one of them to be true.”

Angela finished her lunch quickly, excused herself, and went up to her small room on the third floor of what had been, until recently, a Holiday Inn. She sat by her window and looked out on the highway where now no traffic was allowed.

The aliens would soon be gone, she reflected, and this room would no longer be home. Back to running graduate seminars, grading dull papers, preparing dull lectures. Funny, they hadn’t seemed dull before. One quickly got used to being at the center of things. A pleasant feeling, but transitory, like all the things of this world—and of all other worlds. She took her rosary beads out of her desk drawer and sat by the window, praying, until it was time for the afternoon session.

* * *

Contini worked her hard through the long afternoon, getting quite upset when she stumbled through a discussion of harmony and he sensed his chance slipping irrevocably away. Then Zanla was summoned again, and his mood blackened further. Zanla stuck his head in the door a moment later and said, “I hope you will not mind. There is a problem, you see, with the mathematics. I must help them.”

“Of course,” Angela replied. It was nothing to her.

Zanla turned around and motioned to a passing crew member. He muttered something hastily to him and turned back to Angela and Contini. “I hope you will not mind,” he repeated, gesturing at the crew member, who stepped inside and stood at attention by the door.

“We understand perfectly,” Angela said. Zanla bowed and walked quickly off with Lilorn.

“Damn nuisance,” Contini grumbled. “And why do we have to be guarded?”

“If this were your ship, wouldn’t you protect it from aliens?” This had only happened a few times before. The Numoi appeared to have rather rigid laws of hospitality that made them quite uncomfortable in this situation—but still, guests like these could not be left alone for a long period of time.

The Numoi’s problem was an acute one. As one puzzled scientist put it, “These guys have conquered the Universe with a bow and arrow.” Everyone had a difficult time crediting the notion that the Numoi’s technology was at best early industrial. No computers, no telephones, no airplanes; it was doubtful whether they even had the internal-combustion engine. Many members of the Alien Study Team still refused to accept this, preferring to think that the Numoi possessed incredible cunning and acting skill than to deal with the alternative: that faster-than-light travel was somehow attainable by a preindustrial society.

And that was the Numoi’s problem: the one thing they possessed that Earth could want, beyond the hazy benefits of cultural exchange, they could not afford to let slip away.

Angela wondered: if I had the run of the ship, would I be able to solve the mystery? Aronson and the other members of the team were forever pumping them for facts, details, impressions. “It’s a puzzle,” Aronson had said. “Anything you notice is worth reporting, because it might be a piece of the puzzle.” What if there were strange devices in the base of the pyramid—could she describe them accurately? What if there were nothing at all? What if—

A movement at the edge of her field of vision broke her rambling train of thoughts. She turned her head. It was the guard, who had evidently moved gradually away from the door. So that he could see our faces, Angela thought. She smiled tentatively at him.

He bowed in return. “Do you speak the language?” he asked in a rushed whisper.

The language was Numian, and the answer was simple. But should she give it? The crew was forbidden to speak with them, she knew. The guard was clearly afraid—of her? or of the consequences if he was caught?

“I speak the language,” she replied finally, “but are we allowed to talk?”

“Don’t worry. The Master told me he would be at least twenty vobi.”

The vobi was a short unit of time that Angela had forgotten how to convert. The response was not exactly what she had wanted. Her hesitancy must have been obvious, because the guard tried again almost immediately. “My name is Tenon,” he said. “I would like to be your friend.”

Well, she could not resist an offer of friendship. “My name is Angela,” she replied politely. “I want very much to be your friend, too.”

“Yes, yes,” Tenon cried enthusiastically, causing Contini to look up from his notes.

“Are you supposed to be talking to that guard?” the professor asked Angela.

“It’s all right,” she said, although not very sure of herself.

He stared at her dubiously for a moment, and then went back to his work.

“You are the first”—outlander? barbarian?—”I have spoken to,” Tenon said in a lower tone. “I was afraid the Voyage would end before I had a chance.”

“Your Master is—”

“Yes, yes. Tell me, Angela: is it permissible to ask questions of a friend?”

“Of course.”

Tenon glanced nervously at the closed door. Angela didn’t like this. “The Master has not told us of your hasali. Do you have the Numoi’s hasali?”

The word was not easily translatable—belief system was what Angela and the other interpreters had settled on. Part of the problem was that Zanla forbade discussion of many aspects of the Numoi’s hasali, so that the exact limits of the definition were vague. “I do not know the Numoi’s hasali,” she replied. “Humans have many different hasali. They do not all believe the same things.”

Tenon seemed to reflect on this. “Tell me yours then, Angela,” he said finally. “What is your hasali?”

Angela smiled. In less than twenty vobi? What did he want to hear about? Politics? Economics? Ethics? Just what was her hasali? She thought of morning Mass, the words of the Creed that had drifted across her consciousness. Not easy to explain that. But it was what he had asked for, and it was the truth. “I believe,” she began, “in a Supreme Being Who created and rules the Universe. He chose to become one of us for a while, under the name of Jesus, to teach us how to live good lives, so that we could exist with Him after we die. But humans would not accept His teaching. They did not understand Him, and they feared Him, and so—”

Angela fell silent. Why was Tenon acting this way? His face was animated, his hands were twitching, his whole body seemed to quiver. Was it excitement, or illness, or some totally alien response? “Is there something—?”

“And so they put Him to death,” Tenon finally managed to whisper. “They put Jesus to death.  But He came back to life again, to show the truth of His message. Didn’t He?” he asked, reaching out toward her. “Didn’t He?”

“How—I mean, I don’t understand—”

“Tell me,” he said. “Tell me. Finish it.”

“They put Him to death,” she continued, barely able to think it through. “They nailed Jesus to a cross of wood along with common criminals. But yes, to show He was indeed the Supreme Being, He came back from the dead, and showed Himself to some of His followers. Not to everyone, though, because we must have faith in Him if we are to be united with Him after death. But how did you know? Surely Zanla doesn’t—”

Tenon waved the explanation away. “Vomurd,” he said.

Angela was unfamiliar with the word. “What is that?”

“It is… it is when something unexpected happens that nevertheless is part of a pattern in things-as-they-are. I cannot—it is difficult to explain.” He fell silent for a moment, swaying slightly in what Angela recognized as deep concentration. “What was His name again?” he asked.


That seemed to mean nothing to him. He thought some more. “If I tell you of this,” he said finally, “I put my life in your hands. You will not tell the Master I have spoken with you?”

“I will tell Zanla nothing.”

“And the other?”—motioning to Contini.

“He does not speak the language.”

“Very well.” He stopped swaying, but his hands still twitched with excitement. He began talking in a low tone, quickly, so that Angela had to strain to follow him.

“We Numoi rule over much of our planet, but there are other nations, other races. You perhaps know this. The Council could conquer them, I suppose, but it does not choose to. In a hilly region of the north there is a race who call themselves the Stani. There are not many of them but they are strong and proud, and they have never accepted the Numoi hasali. They have their own instead, which is difficult to put into the language. They say that there is… is personality in things-as-they-are, and that they—the Stani—will one day become the living focus of this personality. Is this clear at all?”

No, but there wasn’t time to make it clearer. “Please go on.”

“They have had these beliefs for many generations. But over time their hasali has become coarsened—just like the Numoi’s. Many of them began to believe that somehow it meant that one day they would defeat the Numoi and rule the planet themselves. So when Chitlan—”

“Who is Chitlan?”

“Oh, I’m going too fast. It’s so hard. Chitlan was a Stani teacher. He was born poor and humble, but he became very great, and many people listened to him. He claimed—he said that he himself was not only the living focus, but the personality itself. He said the Stani had been chosen not to destroy the Numoi but to bring peace and love to the world, so that everyone could join in the unending happiness of sharing in the universal personality.”

“My God,” Angela whispered in English.

“This was his message to the Stani,” Tenon continued. “He traveled throughout their land, performing wonders to show the truth of what he preached. Many believed him, but many chose not to, because his message was a difficult one. It was much easier just to hate the Numoi. So the rulers of the Stani plotted against him and they arrested him and—”

“They put him to death,” Angela said.

“You see?” Tenon cried. “You see? And he too came back to life. Oh, they tried to claim it was a trick, a rumor spread by his followers, but that is nonsense. Too many people saw, too many people believe.”

“And do you believe?”

Tenon moved his hand in a circle, gesturing assent. “Chitlan’s followers have brought his message to Numos. They are persecuted savagely. But some of us believe. Some of us think the Numoi hasali is corrupt and dying, and that Chitlan is the future, Chitlan is the truth. Our belief has to be kept secret, though, or we too would be killed. Someday, perhaps…” He fell silent.

“What do you make of it?” Angela asked after a moment.

“They are the same,” Tenon whispered slowly. “How could they not be? The words we use are different, but the meaning, the truth… they must be the same.”

“We too were persecuted,” Angela remarked.

“Did your Jesus live long ago?”

“Many, many generations ago.”

“But His hasali survived?”

“Countless millions believe.”

“Millions,” Tenon repeated in wonder. “Perhaps there is hope for our future then.” His hands started to twitch again in excitement. “One cannot ignore vomurd. The pattern is there. One must submit to the pattern. That much of the Numoi hasali is true.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You humans have much that the Numoi lack, Angela. Zanla does not tell us crew members everything, but we know about your communications instruments, your calculating machines, your fast land vehicles. The Council will do much to get these things, because they will give meaning to the Voyages and power to the Numoi. If your leaders could only say: we will share our knowledge with you, but only if you let the followers of Chitlan be free to live by their hasali. The Numoi might agree. They might, do you see?”

He looked at Angela hopefully, yearningly. She shared his excitement, she wanted to help, but… he understood so little and asked so much. “I will do what I can,” she said. “But I have no power. I don’t know exactly what—”

The door opened. She stopped. They stared at one another, and she could see the plea in his alien eyes, and she realized she would probably never speak to him again.

“You are dismissed,” Zanla said curtly to Tenon, who bowed and left immediately. Zanla sat down and inclined his head to Angela and Contini. “Please excuse the interruption. Now, we were discussing chord structures?”

Contini began in a torrent of Italian. Angela sighed, and struggled to do her job.

* * *

She sat by her window and stared at her notes. Writing them had been the easy part. The hard part was deciding what to do with them.

Tenon had not asked her to do anything, but her task was clear—and it was hopeless. To bring the matter before the proper authorities would be to have it quietly ignored. The UN would have no wish to jeopardize relations between the two planets for the sake of a tiny cult. Pressure would have to come from outside. But, as a member of the Alien Study Team, she was forbidden to say anything about the Numoi without first clearing it with Bacquier or Aronson. To do so without permission was illegal; it would certainly cost her this job, no matter how valuable she was, and probably threaten her entire career.

Learning and teaching languages were the only things she could do well. The only things she enjoyed. Still, if she knew she could be successful, the loss of her career wouldn’t matter. But how in the world could she do what Tenon wanted her to?

She looked out the window at the empty highway, and after a while she realized this was the wrong question. The question was: could she live with herself, could she face her God, if she did nothing?

She put on her coat and went outside. It took her a few minutes to find Paddy Maloney, talking with a couple of Canadians by the garage. “Could I see you for a moment, Paddy?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could manage.

Paddy smirked at the other soldiers. “Aw, she’s forever following me around. It’s disgusting.” But he moved agreeably away from them with Angela. “What’s up?” he asked. “Need to go to confession?”

“Not exactly, Paddy.” She took a deep breath. “I have a friend in town. A very good friend. I’d like to be able to get off the compound for a couple of hours to see him tonight.”

Paddy hooted. “A man, is it? Does the good father at Most Precious Blood know you’ll be committing licentious acts of carnal depravity?”

Angela smiled in spite of herself. “I’ll have to commit them alone if you don’t get me into town.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t want that. Not at all.” He pondered for a moment. “There’s some fellows off duty going out tonight. We’ll get something wrong with the jeep and take the van instead. Sneak you under the back seat. Show up at the garage around eight-thirty. What I won’t do for a beautiful woman.”

“How can I ever repay you, Paddy?”

He laughed. “Tell me the whole disgusting story tomorrow. That’ll keep me warm on guard duty.”

“You’re a dear.” She kissed him on the cheek and headed excitedly back to the motel.

Darkness was falling, and the alien ship glowed dully in the fading light. She gazed thoughtfully at it as she walked past. It—and everything—seemed different now.

8 thoughts on “Forbidden Sanctuary

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