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Chaordia - A Novel of Transformation Ch. 1

Because of climate change a man wants to transform an old farm into a new way of living.

It's amazing how something happens that changes your life. I mean, you hear something, see something, read something and you know nothing will ever be the same. That's what happened the night I finished reading the final book of the Atlantis Trilogy by Arnold Greenberg. It made me cry, actually sob, and I remember Alice telling me, “Alex, you have to read these books. They changed my life.” If you knew Alice, you'd know why I listened.

Anyway, it was past midnight when I finished the last book and couldn’t wait to see Alice at school. She had already been asking me what I thought, and where I was in the story, and what did I think of the characters, and especially the ending when Mount Atlas exploded and huge waves swept everything away, and suddenly Atlantis was gone. At first, I wasn’t sure why she was so eager to know what I thought, but that’s how she is. She always wants to know what I think, and I always want to know what she thinks, and we have great talks. But this was different.

“So do you think there really was an Atlantis?” she asked. We were standing in the hall near the library, waiting for the first period to begin.

“I don’t know what to think.”

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” Alice took a granola bar out of her pocketbook, opened the wrapper and handed me half. “Do you think there are kids today who have dreams and remember Atlantis?”

“I don’t know. I never thought about reincarnation before.” I munched on the granola bar and couldn’t really talk while I chewed.

“And they think the Bendula are still here. Do you think that could be?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I do,” Alice said before I could say another word. “And I think that’s why our country is always at war. I think the Bendula are still in charge like they were on Atlantis.”

“You mean you think a lot of the people in the government and the military are the Bendula like on Atlantis?”

“It’s possible. I know it sounds nuts, but it’s possible.”

“Those books are fiction. It’s all made up,” I said, “I can’t believe our government is ruled by the Bendula, even though they sound like the enemy in those books.”

The buzzer rang, and I had to go to my Physics class, and Alice had to go in the opposite direction to Biology.

“Later. See you at lunch,” she said and dashed off between kids rushing past us in all directions, some bent over with heavy book bags, others carrying their laptop cases hanging from their shoulders, or looking at their cell phones. Before walking to my class, a poster on the bulletin board outside the library caught my attention. A speaker named Alan Bigalow was giving a talk on climate change at the Bay Shore Library that night. I stopped to look at the picture of a bald headed man with a beard and read the sign,“The Worst is Yet to Come: Storms, Rising Seas, and Hunger.”

Sounds interesting, I muttered and continued down the hall to the classroom and took my seat in the last row by the window. My dad is always talking about climate change and reads about it and brings home documentaries that we watch together. I thought he should know about this talk, so I took out my cell phone and started to send him a message when Mrs. Goshaw told me to put my phone away. I had no interest in Physics and knew I was flunking the class. I ignored her and continued the message and hit send just as she yelled, “Alex, I said to put the phone away.”

She shook her head and took off her horned rimmed glasses and gave me that stupid scowl. Because of my attitude, I was not one of her favorite students. I used to be a good student and did everything I was supposed to, but in the last year or so, it became a waste of time and completely irrelevant to my life. I leaned back in my seat while she asked the class to hand in their homework, which everyone did, except me. I never did homework and for the last two weeks, all I wanted to do was read the books about Atlantis.

After a few minutes, my cell phone buzzed, and I read my dad's message. “Let’s go. We’ll get a pizza before. Ask Alice if she wants to join us.”

I knew she would because she always looks for reasons not to go home, and we hang out a lot after school, talking, listening to music and being best friends. So, when I saw her at lunch, she said, “Sure, sounds interesting.”

As usual, my dad was late getting to Charley’s Pizza. Alice and I ordered so we wouldn’t be late for the talk at the library. He’s usually late because he loses track of time when he’s working or wants to put stuff away. He can be pretty absent minded, too, but that’s the way he is. He’s an architect and used to have an office downtown, but since the divorce and my mom moved out--that’s another story--he works at home. He’s really into solar and designing green buildings.

While we were waiting, Alice was quiet. She gets this look on her face like she’s staring at something out in space. I could wave my hand in front of her eyes, and she wouldn’t see it.

Anyway, while Alice was thinking, I watched Jean, the owner’s daughter, scurrying around taking orders, bringing sodas, rushing to the kitchen to put up an order and pick up a pizza to deliver to an old fat couple in one of the booths, who I swear didn’t say a word to each other the whole time. They both looked up at Jean when she delivered the pizza and then started eating, not even looking at each other.

I turned back to look at Alice staring out into space and thought how pretty she was, how she had freckles and dimples when she smiled. She had the strangest eyes that sometimes looked green and sometimes got really dark when she was upset. She had long reddish hair that she said was strawberry blonde. Sometimes she had it in pigtails and other times in a ponytail, but it was never the same way two days in a row. She also liked earrings and had these long dangling ones with green jade stones she wore most of the time. I wondered what Alice was thinking about and was just about to ask when she took a deep breath and came out of her trance.

“So, do you think there are real people alive today who remember Atlantis in their dreams? Do you think they’ll stop the Bendula and bring back the old ways like on Atlantis, or do you think they're just fantasy books we read?”

I didn’t know what to say and looked at her waiting for my answer. “Well, Alex, what do you think? Tell me.”

Before I could answer, my dad came in and rushed over to our table. “Sorry, I’m late. I had to finish up something. Did you order?”

“Yes, we ordered so we wouldn’t be late for the talk,” I said.

“Good. I’m looking forward to hearing this guy. I read an article of his in the New Yorker a few months ago, and he’s really concerned with what’s happening, and so am I.”

He turned to Alice. “So how are you, anything new?”

“Hi, Eric. I’m good. Guess what?” she added quickly. “Alex and I just read something you might be interested in.”

I liked that she called my dad by his first name because they had become friends since she’d been coming over to my house almost every day after school for the last year or so and often has dinner with us. Also, he told her to. He hated being called Mr. Romberg. You’d like him. He’s easy to be around, and since my mom and he divorced, he’s a lot more relaxed. Alice doesn’t get along with her mom and just rolls her eyes when her she calls to find out where she is. Her mom and dad are divorced too, and her father moved away to be with his girlfriend in Northern New Jersey.

“What did you read?” my dad asked, “What was it?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.” Alice turned back to me, “So do you think Atlantis was real, and now they’re trying to stop the Bendula?”

“Atlantis?” my dad interrupted.“What this about Atlantis?”

“Alex and I just read these books about Atlantis, and we haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. They’re so amazing. You should read them. Really, you'd love them.”

“Are you talking about the so-called Lost Continent?” He scrunched his eyebrows like he always does when he's puzzled.

“Do you know anything about it?” I asked.

“Not too much, but I read about Atlantis in a philosophy class when I was in college. It’s in one of the dialogues of Plato. It’s a myth, but that’s all I know. I remember my professor saying how people have been fascinated by the possibility of a lost continent that was pretty advanced but got destroyed. There are all these theories about it, but nothing is known.”

“Well, what we read is pretty incredible, and the books are really exciting and made it seem so real. They say there are people alive today who are from Atlantis and are trying to fight the Bendula and bring back the old ways just like they did on Atlantis twelve thousand years ago.”

Then his eyebrows rose like they always do when he’s surprised or skeptical. “Bendula? Old ways? And people are alive today from Atlantis? I don‘t know.”

Jean brought us our pizza and a Greek salad for Alice. “Here you go,” she said, “Anything else.”

“I’ll have a beer,” my dad said. “Whatever you have on tap.”

“Just water,” I said when Jean looked at me, and Alice said the same thing.

“Who are the Bendula?” he asked as soon as Jean left.

“They’re the ones who took over Atlantis and changed the way it was for thousands of years. Before then, ever since the beginning, people shared everything and not being greedy was the highest virtue.”

“Really, no greed.”

“And there were no wars,” Alice continued, taking a bite of her salad. “And people farmed, and they had huge lush fields, and no one was poor or hungry because they believed everyone should have all they need. People just shared and worked together. They didn’t need money, and there were no schools because children worked alongside the adults and learned that way.”

“Interesting,” my dad said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “So what happened?”

“According to these books, Atlantis was ruled by five sets of twins who ruled their kingdoms with kindness and generosity. They were loved by the people and kept their selfless way of life alive for thousands of years. Then one of the Kings announced he wanted the wood from one of the other kingdoms that shocked everyone, and despite protests, he chopped down trees and took the wood, and then others did too, and Atlantis started to change. So for the first time, there was fighting and greed took over. It became the New Atlantis and was ruled by people called The Bendula.”

“Really...interesting.”

Then Alice interrupted, “In one of the books called, Daughters of Atlas, there’s a place on a big mountain in the jungle of Bimini, one of the Caribbean islands that was part of Atlantis and didn’t sink, so part of Atlantis is still there.”

“Dad, these books seemed so real, and I got the strangest feeling when I read them—especially the last one, ‘Children of the Dream—the Coming --that’s when this guy Jesse said he was Jesus and has come back to keep the memories of Atlantis alive. He was a carpenter and musician with dreadlocks and was mulatto, but he had a special way of teaching these kids to sing.”

“Really, this guy Jesse thought he was Jesus?” My dad shook his head. “Wow, that’s pretty wild. There are people who believe there’s going to be a second coming.”

“And because of the dreams, this kid, David learned a lot about Jesus and what happened to him over two thousand years ago. I never knew anything about Jesus until I read this book.”

“Wait a minute,” my dad interrupted. “I don’t understand. How did this kid David learn about Jesus from his dreams?”

“That’s what’s amazing. These kids in the book started having dreams about when they were on Atlantis, and that’s how the memories are kept alive. When they turn thirteen, they start having these dreams where they remember Atlantis, and this kid David had vivid, powerful dreams about a kid named Daveed who lived in the time of Jesus, and he saw everything that happened to him. It was all in his dreams.”

“What does Jesus have to do with Atlantis?” My dad looked baffled. “I don’t understand the connection.”

Before I could explain, my dad sat back in his chair, glanced up at the clock, then looked at Alice and me. He sighed and shook his head. “We better get going, but it sounds like whoever wrote those books you read had a great imagination, but it's all fiction. I hope the two of you aren't taking it seriously.”

“I know it's fiction,” I said. “We just really liked the books. It’s hard to explain, but they had a huge impact on Alice and me. They’re inspiring.”

“Well, we better get over to the library,” my dad said, taking out his credit card.

Jean came over with the bill, took my dad’s card, picked up the empty pizza pan and Alice’s wooden salad bowl. “I’ll be right back,” she said, scooting away.

My dad took another deep breath before speaking and tugged at his beard. “Well, I don’t know if Atlantis ever existed, or why it got sunk, but unless things change, our world could end up like the lost continent. I’ve been reading a lot of articles, and I’m anxious to hear what this guy, Alan Bigalow has to say. He’s pretty controversial.”

The lecture room at the library was half empty or half full depending on your point of view. It’s a pretty cool library because they always have art shows and lots of events. Alice and I come to the library to get DVDs to watch, mostly on our laptops, but sometimes on our old television that no one watches.

We walked down the center aisle with blue cushioned chairs on both sides and sat in the second row. The only person in the front row was an old woman who looked like she was ninety with lots of wrinkles and skin hanging from her neck like on a turkey and white hair that was tied in a ball at the back of her head. She had a hearing aid and a black cane. I wondered why someone so old even cared about climate change.

Dad always sits in the second row in the same seat on the aisle. Alice sat in the middle between us and turned around to look at the people then whispered, “We’re the only kids here.”

“I’m usually the only kid here when I come with my dad,” I said, nodding. “I guess they have too much homework to do to go out on a school night and hear something important.”

“I’m here, and I have a stupid Biology test tomorrow and have to get at least a B, or my average will be in the toilet.”

“Mine already is, and I couldn’t care less. I don’t even know why I go. It’s such a waste of my time.”

“Why do you go?” Alice asked. “Don’t tell me it’s because you want to be around me.”

“No, that’s not why,” I said, chuckling, “It’s because I promised my mom I would graduate even though I have a D average.”

Just then, a woman holding a clipboard stood up at the lectern, glanced up at the clock, then put on her glasses to read her notes. She brushed a few strands of brown hair from her face and welcomed everyone. The guy who was going to speak sat next to the wall while the woman rattled off the books he had written, and the places he has taught, and how he was now the head of a commission studying the rising amount of acid in the ocean. We applauded and he came up to the lectern and held a book and a folder. After thanking the woman, he looked out at the audience. He glanced at Alice and me before speaking and smiled like he was glad we were there. I guess because we’re kids.

I was fascinated by how he didn’t say anything for a few minutes and just looked out at the audience. Then he took a deep breath and shook his head. “It’s bad folks, really bad, and that’s why the title of my new book is, The Worst is Yet to Come.’ He held the book up, and I could see slips of paper sticking up from the pages.

I can’t begin to tell you everything he said, but it was the sadness and concern in his voice that made me want to listen to every word. He opened his folder and shuffled some papers, but then he never once looked down at the pages and started speaking.

“First we had Katrina that put the city of New Orleans underwater and where many people died, and thousands of people lost everything they had. Then the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed so much sea life and cost millions of dollars to clean up, and we still don’t know how much irreversible damage was done. A few years ago, we had Hurricane Irene that flooded many cities in New England, especially in Vermont and caused billions of dollars in damage. In my new book, I have stories from the weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated so many communities along the Jersey Shore and New York over a year ago, and I will read a few passages to you because this was just as bad as Katrina, and like I said, the worst is yet to come.”

He stopped and took a drink of water from the glass on the stool next to the lectern. He glanced over at Alice and me before continuing. “By the way, my book is dedicated to my two children, Adrian and Rebecca, because I’m writing about the world they will be living in when they’re my age.”

Again, he glanced at Alice and me and took a deep breath, and I could tell by the way he shook his head he included us in thinking about his own children. He opened up his book, turned the page where he had a strip of paper as a marker and read. I remember most of the stories, but a few really got to me. What he described was horrible, a nightmare and I couldn‘t imagine being there.

While he read, the old woman in the front row was shaking her head as she listened. He read several other stories, each one more horrible than the last, then looked up from the book. “These are just a few of the stories I heard, but a whole way of life has been wiped out. Coney Island, Staten Island, long stretches of the Jersey coast completely obliterated. The boardwalks are gone. People remember the boardwalks and the beach and say with tears in their eyes, “It’s all gone. What will we do?”

He took a deep breath, then continued and told about a heat wave in Europe that killed over fifty thousand people and devastated the wheat crop, then in 2010 the same thing happened in Russia and huge fires burnt over a million acres. Then he told about the droughts that had ruined farming in the Midwest for the last three years, how cattle were dying and nothing could grow. One thing that really got to me, was how the Mississippi River is so low that the barges that take food and other things to New Orleans can’t move, and there’s a battle going on with Missouri because they won’t release water into the Mississippi and how fighting over water and river rights will be a serious battle bringing out the National Guard. I had no idea stuff like that was going on. Then he said, It’s our children who will pay the price. That’s the legacy we’re leaving.”

He took another drink of water and leaned on the lectern and asked if there were any questions. “I’d rather have a discussion than lecture to you.”

The room was silent. I could tell people were thinking, but no one spoke. He looked around the room, waiting for someone to ask a question.

Finally, someone in the back of the room asked, “Why isn’t the government doing more? Why don’t they stop these oil companies from drilling in the ocean and running pipelines from Canada, and now they’re talking about building one to go through Maine?”

Alan Bigalow sighed, then said it’s because the government is controlled by these large corporations who spend millions of dollars getting people elected and make sure they get large subsidies from the government even though they’re already making huge profits.”

Then he said something that made the old woman in front of us stiffen and shake her head. He said, “The fact is we live in an oligarchy.”

“Bendula!” she grumbled then grunted like something had hit her in the stomach.

“Did she say Bendula?” Alice whispered.

“I think so,” I answered, puzzled and looked at the back of her head.

Neither of us said anything, and I wondered if the woman had read the same books we did and thought. How does she know about the Bendula?

“Our country has the largest military in the world,” the speaker continued. “We have over seven hundred bases around the world. It’s all about protecting our access to the natural resources of those countries--oil in the Middle East, tungsten and copper in Asia, lithium for our cell phones and computers in Chile and a few other places in South America, but it has made us the enemy of so many people.”

The old woman grunted again, shook her head and gripped her cane harder. Alice and I watched her reaction, while we listened to the guy talking.

“By 2050 there will be nine billion people on the planet and two billion will be displaced. Where will they go? The rich will live in gated communities with guards to keep people out. This country will be a Third World country like a Banana Republic made of a handful of rich people and the rest of us will be poor and will work for whatever they want to pay. It will be like the Middle Ages when Lords lived in their castles and everyone else will be serfs growing food for them and cleaning their messes.”

My dad raised his hands to get his attention. “I have a question that’s been bothering me. What can we do to help our kids survive? What are you doing with Adrian and Rebecca?” he asked, surprising me that he remembered the guy’s kid’s names.

“Good question,” he answered, shaking his head. “I’m not sure. I’m worried and upset and can’t imagine how they will adapt to temperatures of 110 degrees in the summer--too hot for gardens and farms. Droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires, starvation and disease will be a way of life. I wish I had answers. It’s going to be chaos and a lot of suffering.”

The room was silent after he said that. Though it was interesting to hear him explain what he saw coming, I was sure he had a lot more details in his book and whispered to Alice, “We should read his book.”

“I think you’re right,” she said, nodding.

“It kind of reminds me of the end of Atlantis with all the fires and flooding,” I said.

As soon as I said, “Atlantis,” the old woman suddenly turned around to face us with a piercing look that made me shiver. It all happened in a flash, but then she turned back to listen to the speaker. Why did she look at us like that?

Alice's surprised eyes widened and her mouth hung open. It was one of those strange moments when you know something important happened, but you don’t know what. Then I heard a voice speaking to me, interrupting my thoughts. “May I ask how old you are?”

At first, I didn’t know where the voice came from, then realized it was the speaker looking at me and I snapped back. “I’m seventeen.”

“Thank you.” He nodded, then looked at Alice. “And you, how old are you?”

“The same as Alex.” She looked at me, then at the old woman, then up at the speaker.

“So in 2050, how old will you be?” he asked me.

“I don’t know. I suck at math.” I was so confused by what just happened with the old woman I couldn’t think straight.

“We’ll be like thirty-five or thirty-six,” Alice answered.

When Alice spoke, I still wondered why the old woman looked at me when I mentioned Atlantis.

“So, young lady, what are you planning to do with your life?” he asked. “I mean, do you have a career in mind. I assume you will go to college. I hope you don’t mind my asking.”

“No I don’t mind. I don’t know for sure. I’m a dancer. I take modern jazz and I like acting, but I’m also interested in being a doctor and have fantasies of working with Doctors without Boarders, but it’s just a fantasy.”

“That’s a good fantasy,” he answered. “Let me ask you another question. Do you want to have children?”

“Wow, I don’t know. I might. I guess so, but it scares me to think what it’s going to be like when I’m in my thirties and would I want my children to have it so hard if what you say is going to happen. I don’t know if I would want to bring a child into the world.”

“How about you?” The speaker looked at me. “What are your plans?”

“Surviving. I mean, I like writing stories, but I’m really confused. I doubt I'll go to college, maybe when I’m older, but lately I’ve been really frustrated with how stupid everything seems. I don’t get it. Why is this happening? I’m pretty cynical, and it makes me not want to have plans. It seems useless and scary.”

“Thank you, I understand your frustration,” he said. “You have a right to be angry. You didn’t create this situation and now it’s facing you. I worry about how my kids will survive.”

“I do too,” a woman behind me said. I turned and saw she had been knitting during the talk. “I have a daughter who is three and I’m pregnant with a boy. My husband just got laid off from the paper mill where he works and where his father used to work before he got cancer. I have Medicaid, but I just got a letter that the benefits are being cut. I usually don’t come to talks at the library, but I saw the poster for this one and came. I mean your book says the worst is yet to come. How am I going to live if it gets worse than it is now?”

“That’s the sixty four dollar question,” he answered. “I wish I could answer you, but it’s going to get worse unless we get off of fossil fuels and stop the oil companies and government subsidies, but it’s an uphill battle stopping the oil industry and other corporations who are making huge profits at the expense of our future.”

“Bendula,” the old woman grunted again, loud enough for us to hear. She shook her head from side to side.

How does she know about the Bendula? Who is she? I stared at her, then glanced at Alice and knew she was wondering the same thing.

“It’s looking pretty bleak,” Alan Bigalow continued.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” the woman behind me asked.

“We will have to adapt to harsh weather conditions and it won’t be easy.” He looked at her, then at Alice and me. He glanced at the old woman, then at my dad. “The fact is our children and grandchildren will be living on a planet that is no longer the same. I will leave you with these dire words…‘the worst is yet to come.’”

After everyone applauded, he picked up his folder. “Thank you for coming. There’s a table in the back where you can buy my book and I’d be glad to sign them.”

My dad leaned over. “I think I’ll buy his book and we can all read it.”

“Thanks,” Alice said. “I really want to know what it’s going to be like.”

When my father left us to go to the back of the room, Alice and I couldn’t take our eyes off of the old woman. She hadn’t moved, but took a deep breath, as if gathering the strength to stand up. I wanted to say something but was reluctant. She leaned on her cane and slowly stood up, picked up a large black leather pocketbook from the seat next to her and placed it in the crook of her arm. She turned and faced us, then after an awkward silence, Alice finally spoke. She’s not as shy as I am, so I was glad she blurted out the question. “Why did you say the word Bendula before? Have you read the books about Atlantis by Arnold Greenberg?”

“What books?” she asked. “No, I never read anything by him.”

“Then why did you say Bendula? You sounded like you know who they were.” Alice glanced at me.

“That’s because I do.”

“What do you mean you know about them?” I asked. “They’re in these books we read, but I didn’t think they were real.”

“The Bendula are real,” she said. “Believe me, I know.”

When she said that, she looked towards the back of the room. I turned and saw a tall black man wave to her. She put up her finger, indicating she'd be a minute. I figured the man must be a chauffeur and that’s how she got to the library.

“What do you mean you know they’re real?” I asked. “And how do you know about the Bendula?”

“Who are you?” Alice asked, in her usual blunt way.

“My name is Elizabeth, but I know that’s not what you’re asking.”

She leaned on her cane, then sighed deeply, and I could see her dark, sad eyes behind her glasses. “I have memories.”

“Memories, what memories?” Alice asked.

“It’s hard for me to talk about my memories. I don’t want to think about them, but when Mr. Bigalow spoke about the oil companies and the military being in control of everything, I remembered the Bendula.”

“What do you mean you remembered? What do you know about Atlantis?” I asked. “Was there really an Atlantis?”

“It doesn’t make any difference now. The past is the past,” she said and paused. “Well, I must be going.” She leaned on her cane and started walking up the aisle.

I wanted to follow her and ask more questions. I started to walk after her when Alice stopped me. “This is really weird,” she said. “It looks like she doesn’t want to talk about it. Maybe we should just let her go. She seems so sad.”

I watched the black man help her walk out of the room. Before she left, she looked back at us, then left the room.

“What was that about?” Alice asked.

“I don’t know, but it sounds like she knows something about Atlantis. What did she mean she has memories?”

We walked to where my father had just paid for the book. Alan Bigalow scribbled his name inside, then looked up at me and Alice as he handed it to my dad. “Thanks for coming and good luck. I hope my book is helpful.”

When we walked outside towards my dad’s old Subaru, Elizabeth was being helped into the back seat of a big black car at the other end of the parking lot. It had drizzled and was chilly, but in the dim light of the parking lot I could see her sitting in the backseat of her car. She glanced over at Alice and me, while she waited for her driver to get behind the wheel. I got in the backseat of our car and Alice sat in the front and put on her seat belt.

“Well, that was an informative, depressing evening,” my dad said, starting the car.

Alice glanced at me in the backseat and I knew she was thinking about Elizabeth and what she had said.

While my dad backed up, the big black car stopped before continuing out of the parking lot. When we were right behind her car. Alice fumbled in her pocketbook and took out her pen, and just before the rear red lights of Elizabeth’s car disappeared in the darkness, she wrote something on her palm. Just as my dad drove out of the parking lot, he turned to Alice. “Who was that old woman you were talking to?”

“Just some old woman,” Alice glanced back at me again, and I knew she didn’t want to talk about it.

My father turned the radio on to the jazz station he always listens to. No one spoke while we drove Alice home. Though we were silent, I knew what she was thinking about. When she got out of the car, she said goodbye to my dad, then turned to me while I got in the front seat. “Call me when you get home.”

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