Jay Horne’s O-Zone
Patching the hole in the O-zone is going to need something other than a quick-fix. Worse, a botched attempt may draw the attention of some…
By Jay M. Horne
Copyright 2020 Bookflurry Inc.
They make a pill for everything these days. But sometimes medications have adverse effects. That’s exactly what is going to happen at the Planet Preservation Corporation when they ignore their commander in chief and take matters into their own hands.
Patching the hole in the O-zone is going to need something other than a quick-fix. Worse, a botched attempt may draw the attention of some unseen forces.
Science Fiction/Space Alien/Short Story
Jay Horne’s O-Zone
“Baz Luhrmann’s parting advice, back in the late 80’s, was to wear sunscreen,” started the President of the United States, “these people have been making outlandish claims since the first pictures were taken from space.”
POTUS was in a meeting with the head of Ecology and Earth Science.
The Ecologist was nodding politely, but she was tougher than she looked, and technically, she was a Democrat.
“I understand your point-of-view, Mr. President,” she said, “but precise measurements have been made and the hole is growing.”
His tight lips cocked a little sideways and she knew he was about to interrupt.
“It’s 2021 and no one is walking around in blue sunscreen or three layers of clothes. It just didn’t happen,” he said suddenly.
She opened her mouth to speak, but he was relentless.
“Look, what you are proposing is basically like prescribing medication for a disease you don’t fully understand.”
She knew she was nearly defeated. If a pitch doesn’t take in the first thirty seconds it’s likely a waste of time. And one thing the POTUS doesn’t have much of, is time.
She pushed her luck anyways, “If that is going to be the analogy, then what were offering is more like a natural remedy, not a prescription.”
He wasn’t buying it, “No. A natural remedy gets at the root of the Thinning O-zone issue. And if the problem is real, we’re already taking great strides in that direction, with alternative fuels and tax exemptions on green energy.”
He extended a wide-open palm while he drove his obvious point home, “You’ll emit a year’s worth of greenhouse gases just launching the rocket!”
She was whipped.
There was no point in explaining that she wouldn’t need a whole rocket to deliver the restorative to the atmosphere; just a ride on one would do.
Because, if she got to the part about it being an actual pill she was having jettisoned into space, he would see just how close his analogy really was to the truth. And God knew he already thought he was right enough.
“Carla, try not to let it get you down. I’m just telling you, it’s gonna be vetoed. Don’t waste your time. There are other things to be done, and it’s not like your job is in jeopardy.”
She maybe would have told him he was an idiot, that the evidence was clearly written all over his own orange face. But he was right about one thing. Her job was not in jeopardy. No sense in changing that. Besides, there was always the private sector.
She closed her laptop and put her folder of photos down on top of it. “Well,” she said, uncrossing her legs and picking up the neat pile, “I thank you for your time, Sir. I hope your other meetings are more, productive.”
A little emphasis in the right spot can go a long way.
She headed for the door.
When she had the door pulled halfway open the President said, “Oh, and Carla?”
She had seen it coming from a mile away.
“Wear Sunscreen?” she asked.
At least I beat him to the punch, she thought.
Carla’s boyfriend wasn’t exactly the type to take her idea to Elon Musk based on an argument about global warming. But she had been persuasive in other ways.
Jorel Richards had headed up hydrogen fuel cell research long before Musk ever launched his first Falcon rocket.
Coincidentally, he was one of Space-X’s leading lenders. As of yet, Musk hadn’t repaid Jorel through any sort of publicity, as promised.
That ace-in-the-hole was the final determinate in the favor that would pass privately between friends.
So far, Space-X had only one failed launch attempt with their automated rockets. Though no lives were lost, thirty-two million dollars made for a pretty expensive error.
Financial backers like Google and Microsoft give you a little cushion, but public mistakes can threaten those supporter’s loyalty, so investors like Jorel can make all the difference.
When he reported Musk agreeing to the minor favor, Carla practically jumped with joy.
“He said that the science wasn’t exactly sound — ”
Carla cringed at that.
“ — but, he also said that he was no one to doubt, in light of all he had achieved.”
“So, he will meet with me?”
Jorel nodded, and then prepared to be pounced on, “Next Wednesday.”
She squeezed him just as tightly as he had expected. It was an impassable chance to trace the panty line under her sundress. Over her shoulder, he smiled.
“There’s a launch date for the new Falcon 9,” he said. “He’s confident in the navigation system and plans on landing the rocket on a barge out in the Pacific.”
She pushed him out to arms length, where he could see that her nipples were hard, “That sounds dangerous.”
He made a little jig with his eyebrows and shrugged, “Guess he’s trying to make up for something.”
Her eyes brightened back up and she squeezed his biceps with both hands, “But getting it up there is the main point — ”
That gave him a little rise.
“ — We’re gonna get into space! Wait till I tell Bobby.”
Damn Bobby, he thought. By now, getting it up was not gonna be a problem, and getting into her space was all that was on Jorel’s mind.
Bobby Jalia was running out of funding. He had been relying heavily on the aerodynamic drafting ideas that Volkswagen’s lead designer had, for all intensive purposes, promised to contract him for.
Then, of course, there was the emissions scandal, and all new investments pretty much came to a halt.
It was a huge curve ball, and the only way he stayed afloat in the industry was by converting his wind tunnel and vacuum chambers into something that could aid in their ECS research.
Now half of the metal hangar looked like a Transylvanian alchemist’s lab.
It was interesting work, he was just doubtful on how he was going to be paid if the whole project was a cover-up. Really, he was hoping if he found success in this whole O-zone thing, then Volkswagen might reconsider the value of investing in his designs.
Besides, who needs emission controls, if the hole in the O-zone is all patched up?
It was a chance encounter with Greenpeace that pissed him off enough to laser O2 atoms inside his vacuum chamber with ultra-high temperature uv light.
To his surprise, the Oxygen in the chamber bonded in triplets and reproduced substantially under the stress.
The visual effect was a light blue cloud in a box. He could make it hold in the vacuum. But at atmospheric pressure it quickly dissipated.
He had one hovering there when Carla came in.
She was nearly tap-dancing in her high heels as she hurried across the concrete hangar.
Bobby had his chin in his hand when he heard the tocking of her hurried little steps.
“Carla,” he turned and spread his arms invitingly. They were old flames; well, she was still a flame. He had apparently puttered out because now she was dancing on the dick of Jorel Richards, a.k.a. Super Dicks.
“You’re not gonna believe it,” she said.
He felt her positive energy. This could be good. But, he put a hand up and said, “Wait. You’re not gonna believe this.”
She practically skidded on her little heels and pointed her nose up in retaliation. Pulling her fox-tail fur around her neck she glanced at the transparent vacuum chamber.
It was a four by four cube of plexiglass with a pressure gauge mounted on top. Inside, the blue apparition was suspended in midair.
“What, your pet cloud?” she asked.
She had seen it before. Yet, even if she hadn’t seen it before, she would act like she had.
It didn’t matter how much you spent, how much time you gave, or what the result, Carla was the kinda girl who made you feel like your realized dream was about as impressive as a cock on a corpse.
He was used to it.
“Nope,” he said, “this.”
He held up a pellet about the size of a gelcap. It was the pill he’d been touting. The literal prescription for reproducing O3 on a global scale.
“You’ve seen the reaction that can take place at the aft end of a rocket, if it is launched in the right spot at the right time,” he made a chop with his left hand, “destination North Pole — ”
He tilted his head in an effort to express she knew this already.
“ — and given that UV light floods the Oxygen accordingly.”
He walked over to the plastic box where there was a tiny funnel mounted on the end of a tube. The tube had an orifice on the inside of the chamber. It was sealed shut with a spring loaded switch.
Bobby dropped the capsule into the funnel. It settled flushly into the bottom.
He reached beneath the wooden workbench and brought out some overly large safety goggles. He flipped a pair to her nonchalantly, and pulled his over his head with a smug grin.
Bobby stuck his fingers in his mouth and sent a shrill whistle up to the office. A redhat construction worker poked his head out of the window upstairs and gave a thumbs up.
The crane overhead came to life and slowly Bobby began backing Carla up by the wrist.
He knew that she was just as serious with this other guy. If only this works, he thought.
A heavy sheet of plexiglass, on an iron wheel, scraped along far below the crane’s whirring belt. They stepped just beyond where the track passed between them and the experiment and waited for the shield to come to rest.
“Overkill?” she asked.
He pointed up to the ceiling of the hangar and the axle of a giant exhaust fan started turning, first slowly, then more rapidly. The loose rubber on the huge belt making a WHOPP, WHOPP, sound until it was so fast that it became the base frequency.
“We’re gonna expand it.” he said as a yellow light, high up on the back wall, came on.
She raised her voice an octave, “What’s in it?”
The light on the back wall turned orange and a warning buzzer started a low roll.
He looked at her and weighed his chances.
You can’t give a woman like that everything. He had already tried that.
“Trade secret,” he said, but she was giving him that look. He reconsidered and decided to give her an inch, “Mostly cobalt.”
The orange light turned red and the warning bell became a high-pitched dog whistle. Then he pointed at the vacuum chamber and adjusted his goggles.
Jorel was tired of hearing about Bobby.
“You should’ve seen it,” she’d said, lying there in bed, smoking.
He rolled up onto his elbow and acted interested.
“At first it was just a tiny little cloud, but when the cobalt hit it, it blew the vacuum chamber to pieces.”
“Uh huh,” he said, taking the cigarette she was passing his way.
“It was definitely oxygen.”
He took a drag and was surprised when she didn’t chatter on.
Through his exhale he asked, “How do you know? Was he measuring?”
“Not that I know of, but the whole hangar was instantly humid and light blue, like the blue sky on a clear day.”
“Wasn’t he filming?”
“I’m sure,” she considered it, “I would like to have seen my face!”
He gave her back the smoke.
She flicked the ash in the tray on the bed stand, “He’s ready to pitch it to Musk on Wednesday.”
“I thought you were pitching to Musk?”
“Well, I can, but I don’t know all the specifics, and he’s gonna have to get with his team if they’re gonna engineer anything reliable.”
She was right.
However, Jorel wasn’t thinking Bobby would end up spending so much time with Carla. No worries. Maybe he could separate them.
“You don’t really need to pitch it babe. He’s already said yes. You just need to go Wednesday and tell him who Bobby needs to meet with to make it happen.”
She snuffed out the cigarette in the clam shell ashtray, “Are you jealous?”
She watched him roll over and put his feet in his bedside slippers.
“Honey,” he said, leaning down between his knees and reaching under the bed.
When he came back up, a plastic blow up doll, with bright red pursed lips, stared at her through sharpied-on dollar signs.
“ — I got money.”
She wasn’t sure whether she should laugh or retreat when he poured her a drink.
The Space-X mission was going to be a joint effort between Musk and the Planet Preservation Corporation.
Jorel hadn’t talked to Carla, in a week, so he busied himself in a private talk with Elon about getting that publicity he was due.
“I figure, we can knock out two birds with one stone,” he’d said.
“Planet Preservation Corporation has a nice ring to it,” said Musk. “It will open the doorway for getting your hydrogen fuels cells into the automotive sector, and at least it will be a responsible entity if anything goes wrong with Carla’s O3 generator.”
“Technically it’s Bobby’s O3 generator,” said Jorel, thinking that maybe he should minimize his risk.
“Bobby doesn’t have a dime worth of funding. Besides, do you want the credit or don’t you?”
“You said yourself that the science wasn’t sound.”
“Well, my technical team seems pretty convinced with Bobby’s results. The chemistry holds up, and the footage was genuine.”
Musk pushed the release forms and a pen across the desk.
Jorel picked up the pen and eyed it. It had a NASA logo on it.
“Funding the competition?” he asked.
Musk smiled, “It’s a running joke. The US government spent a quarter million manufacturing a pen that could write upside down in zero gravity. The Russians used a pencil.”
Jorel smirked and signed the documents.
Three weeks later, Carla was still dodging Jorel’s phone calls.
When the time came for the launch, she arrived at Kennedy Space Center with Bobby in tow.
“That’s Jacob, down there,” said Bobby pointing over the rail down into the command center, “he says the payload is gonna require a hundred thousand pounds of liquid kerosene and oxygen to get into geosynchronous orbit.”
It was no secret that the payload included sixty Starlink satellites. Space-X was set on monopolizing reliable internet in rural areas; it was the only way he’d net a return for his investors.
As it stood, the image of the Earth and all of the digital icons that blipped on the huge HD display was courtesy of Google.
What was a secret, and would remain so, unless all went well, was the retro-fitted UV/X-ray light projector, and one Cobalt activator tablet.
Jacob had made his way up from the pit to the balcony. He was dressed casual. Plaid shirt and Crocs.
“Here,” he said, handing them a tablet, “you will be able to track the Falcon on the big screen, and this tablet will let you monitor all the atmospheric readings.”
“Thanks, Jacob,” said Bobby, then he introduced Carla.
“Ah, Planet Preservation Corporation?” Jacob said to her while shaking her hand. “It’s nice to see someone move Musk onto greener pastures.”
“Well,” she said, “the President wasn’t buying it, so to speak.”
Jacob gripped Bobby by the shoulder. “Let’s just try not to get you fired. I’m sure your government pension is worth more than the side gig.”
He gave Bobby an accusing look, which was returned with angst.
“I’m just messin’ with ya,” Jacob said pointing. Then he patted Bobby on the back, “Man’s a genius!”
They watched him turn away, all smiles behind his glasses, and hustle back down the curved steps.
Meanwhile, the POTUS was in a meeting with Commander Livingston, at Space Force, taking their own atmospheric readings via the ISS and multiple weather balloons.
Jorel had mentioned to POTUS over a round of golf that Carla had been oddly absent from dinner lately, ever since her re-union with Bobby Jalia.
The President doesn’t keep all of his eggs in one basket. When it comes to the world of money and power, it’s a small one.
Jorel didn’t have to out Carla altogether, he knew if POTUS heard Jalia was mixed up with Green Peace, that he could put two and two together.
That, he did. Now, POTUS had Livingston keeping an eye on the Space-X launch for just that reason.
Bobby and Carla stood, staring out the bay window of the control center. It was about as close as you could safely be when the countdown hit zero without getting fried.
Neither of them had ever witnessed a launch from up close before, and so they weren’t totally prepared when their senses all became suddenly overwhelmed.
Just across the water, the rocket hardly called much attention from the impressive HD Display and techy devices in their immediate vicinity, but when the boosters ignited, both of them couldn’t help but look to the bright and eerily silent flash of the launchpad.
Just as Carla considered the way thunder comes after lightning, the sound reached them.
A sonic boom. And by then, the missile had lifted from the deck and the ground was protesting under the command center’s foundation.
Once the Falcon curved up and away, the tension down in the pit relaxed a little and every man went to leaning over their consoles.
The display started dotting out a track on the Google Earth.
“It’s never been done before,” said Bobby, pointing to the screen, “a launch oriented toward the North, I mean.”
“What? Why?” Carla asked.
“You see it will track out over New York City during its climb, and if anything were to go wrong… Well, it’s dangerous.”
“That’s why everyone’s so nervous?”
Bobby started dragging some of the reading widows on the tablet into a better configuration.
“I don’t think so. All of Space-X’s rockets have an auto self-destruct just in case of such an issue. I’m pretty sure that every launch is this tense.”
The readings on the tablet were heading in the suspected direction.
Bobby called her attention to the O3 concentration, “Look, just passed over Maine, headed out toward Greenland and it’s already thinning out.”
“Yeah,” she said, understanding. Then she glanced back out of the window and could only see the white ribbon of smoke turning into a schmear of cloud.
When she looked to the screen above, the red dots were progressing over Greenland.
“So, a Northbound heading is a big change?”
Bobby, saw a little worry in her eyes and was empathetic, “Uh, yeah. Unfortunately, I would imagine it has piqued the interest of all parties involved.”
Bobby noticed Carla slide her palms along the fabric of her skirt before she took the tablet from his hands.
She gave a pathetic smile while she watched the readings on the tablet drop, “Fine — ”
Just then Carla recognized another sound that shook her harder than the rocket launch had less than two-minutes ago.
“Well, well,” Jorel’s voice. “Looks like she’s airborne.”
He was just topping the lasts steps up from the pit, hands in his pockets. His transition lenses were going a bit darker in the light.
Bobby watched Carla go pale, and it wasn’t from the blue light of the tablet’s display.
“ — fuck,” she whispered.
Bobby turned to meet Jorel just as he came upon them.
Jorel nodded, “Bobby, how goes it?”
Bobby was empty-handed and wishing he had that tablet to fiddle with right about now. He offered a hand out to Super Dick’s instead.
They shook, coldly.
“Jorel,” Carla said, fighting back her annoyance, “we’re just now getting some readings.”
He had the brass balls to sling his arm around her shoulder and peer with her at the fluctuating numericals.
“So, what? This shows the O3 level thinning,” he pointed, “and I assume it should reach zero right about when the Falcon escapes over the North Pole?”
Carla craned her neck away to get a better look at him, genuinely impressed that he would care enough to have studied up.
But it was Bobby that gave him some affirmation, “Here, in just another minute…”
Jorel looked up at him.
Bobby stammered on, “…but, we aim to fix that.”
Jorel let Carla free and she exhaled. Then he looked up at the HD Display, “So, Musk says the Falcon will cut the thrust at one-thousand feet to escape, and then re-initiate liquid oxygen release until geosynchronous orbit is achieved.”
Bobby was nodding.
“So, the cobalt is jettisoned… but how do you plan on super-heating the O2 to convert it to O3?”
Carla was listening to the two hash it out as she watched the O2 numbers drop on the screen.
Bobby, put both hands on the banister and peered up at the huge Google Earth, “Well, about now, there’s a white-hot strip of tungsten that’s glowing inside a black body radiator. All this time, it’s been priming the onboard laser. Once orbit is achieved, the reticle will open and we should see an instant cloud formation, for lack of better words.”
“Which should be right about,” Carla had started saying as the O3 dropped to zero.
The red dots, tracking the Falcon started appearing as green overhead, and they all noticed a small group of scientist gathered around a console down in one corner of the pit.
At the same time, a picture-in-picture appeared on Carla’s tablet. The small video window was a first-person view from the jettisoned capsule.
The camera was mounted on a gimbal, and was fixed to where you could see the mesh that contained the solid cobalt stone. The gimbal was working overtime to stop the wild swinging of the camera.
Both Bobby and Jorel watched over Carla’s shoulders.
Out in space, it was impossible to remain steady among the constant stream of high-pressure O2. The camera twisting and tumbling as it decelerated from near-zero gravity.
Those few white-coats below, had gathered around the only other screen that featured this top-secret video stream.
“Of course, none of this is gonna be official unless it works,” said Jorel.
The video footage was entirely useless. Besides the wildly swinging miniature cage, everything was pitch black beyond the cone of light.
Whips of grey air, and metal mesh reflecting orange LEDs.
“Why is it so dark?” asked Jorel.
“Winter time,” said Bobby, “the North Pole is angled away from the sun.”
Just then, an array of rainbow light enshrouded the feed and all at once, every transmission in the command center went dark.
Commander Livingston wasn’t having an easy time explaining to POTUS why all of the satellites transmitting from a ninety degree declination suddenly disappeared.
POTUS was quick to assume that U.S. interstellar property was under some kind of attack when twelve low earth orbiting satellites sent last minute maydays before sparking a chain reaction across the northern night sky.
“I need answers, Commander,” The President had his hand on the red phone.
Livingston was nodding with his cell to his ear. Then abruptly he pointed to the conference phone and said, “Okay.”
The green light flashed on the three-way speaker and POTUS pressed the button as Livingston started giving him report.
“That’ll be the ISS on line with Houston so we can listen in,” started Livingston. “We have nothing transmitting from the Northern Hemisphere, the transmission is being relayed off satellites in the south, so it’s suffering delay.”
“So we’re totally blind?” Asked POTUS, losing patience.
“We’re still getting readings from our weather balloons, but they are losing altitude.”
The president was doing circles with his index finger.
Livingston tried to keep up, “The readings indicate a steep upstrike in O3, and the barometric pressure is increasing…”
The Commander looked genuinely confused, “…doesn’t make sense.”
At that moment, the speaker chirped and suddenly they could hear Houston’s exchange with the International Space Station.
“ISS increase altitude to maximum four-hundred-ten kilometers… maintain speed, over.”
Commotion on the other end. Static.
“Manual emergency burn initiated, Houston. Be advised, orbital decay has increased, fifty kilometers per month! Do you copy?” A short pause, then, “Checking systems for malfunctions.”
The speaker on the President’s desk buzzed with panic in central command, he hoped the open mic wasn’t getting through to the ISS.
Commander Livingston assured him it was not.
“Houston, come back.”
“We’re working on the issue. Go ahead ISS.”
“All systems check — ” a buzzer went off in the background and was silenced, “ — but, all our readings say that we just lost seventy kilometers in altitude… Wait one, Japan’s on the comm.”
POTUS looked across the table at Livingston. The silence was long enough that the commander considered the presidents pose. Stiff arms holding the desk, tucked chin, tight lips, narrow eyes of consternation… They were in deep shit.
Then the ISS came back.
“Houston, you’re not gonna believe this.”
Musk stepped off his Segway and onto the marble floor of the command center. The heels of his shoes cut through the silence that accompanied his arrival like a bell.
“Go live with Starlink now,” he said.
There was a false start in the pit, but then people started milling to and fro.
“We’ll have to relay off the southern swarm, to start. Just get me a picture. I want to know what’s going on up there, and I want the falcon back in one piece,” commanded Musk.
Up on the railing, Bobby was sweating bullets. Carla’s tablet had become a paperweight, and Jorel was just considering taking their little powwow down into the pit, when Carla’s phone started ringing.
“Taking personal calls from POTUS now?” Jorel asked.
Aboard the International Space Station, Japanese side, Xiaou Ling had been wrapped in his sleeping bag and stuck to the wall by the window where he normally slept.
When the red strobe blipped out a call to stations, Ling happened to be looking out the window at Earth.
Where he had been enjoying a clear view of the penumbra just south of the arctic circle, he now saw a reflection of the ISS staring back at him over a cloud of translucent blue mist.
The mist dissipated as quick as it came, and ran like a storm front over the ionosphere, stretching from north to south. It left spidery veins of purple and blue as the spread finally slowed.
Ling looked on as, what could only be described as, a partial snow globe materialized over the Arctic.
“Damn it, Carla!”
Now the President’s office was crawling with staff.
Meanwhile, Carla was holding her cell tightly to her ear in an effort to muffle the yell. She was following Jorel down the curved steps into the pit, and having a hard time of it on her heels.
“Elon,” Jorel called, as they made the landing.
“Not now, Jorel,” Musk said, steadily studying the overhead display.
“But, she’s got the President on the phone.”
“I don’t care who she has on the phone, just give me a minute,” he said calmly with a hand out.
Carla was trying to keep POTUS from melting the phone right out of her hand. Only so many gentle words can keep the Commander in Chief on hold.
Finally, Musk placed his chin into his hand and nodded, speaking more to himself than anyone else, “It might have worked, but we dropped it at high altitude.”
He turned to Bobby, who was hiding behind Carla. Bobby, didn’t dare respond.
“It was the cold we didn’t account for,” said Musk, “oxygen solidifies at -232 Celsius. We shoulda jettisoned at low-altitude, just outside the stratosphere… and probably not during winter.”
At that, he gave himself a cursory nod and then said, “We live we learn, Bobby.”
Bobby eased out from behind his human shield, who was holding her cellphone out passionately in Musk’s direction.
“POTUS says you have to live in order to learn,” Carla said. She’d never been so deep in testosterone in her entire life.
Elon smiled and his eyes brightened at the comment.
She was briefly thankful for her pantyliner.
Musk took the phone.
Absently, Musk stood with the cell to his ear as the President relayed the events aboard the ISS.
Jorel all but turned green when he heard musk say something about the Planet Preservation Corporation.
Elon would have been marginally surprised by the President’s report had the Starlink satellites not just pinged back the first myriad of images from space.
Everyone present stood in utter disbelief beneath the screens at Kennedy Space Center.
This was going to be the first time in a long time that POTUS was going to be interrupted.
Musk was the only person who wasn’t completely petrified by the situation.
He was still on the line with POTUS when Jacob finally said, “Is that glass?”
Musk turned his head away from everyone for a moment and put a finger in his ear to block out the murmur that was slowly becoming a roar.
He hadn’t found it funny when the president ended with a sly comment about Baz Luhrmann finally satisfied.
“Obviating sunburn is hardly a benefit when we’ve essential locked ourselves in the garage with the car running,” said Elon.
That had seemed to put a spark under POTUS’s ass to get working on a contingency plan.
When the phone finally came away from his ear, Jacob was stunned to see him take a deep breath. It wasn’t often you saw Musk holding his breath.
“He wants to shoot a ballistic missile at it, doesn’t he?” said Jacob.
Musk forced a smile, “Hardly. In fact he’s more concerned about the falcon colliding with it on re-entry. For once, we’re on the same page, though ashamedly I admit that his reasoning is more humanitarian.
“Jacob, send POTUS the IP addresses for the entire Starlink array — “ Jacob jumped right to it, “ — Bobby, before we can find out how to reverse this thing, we have to recreate it. That means you’ll need a nuclear demagnetization refrigerator, and the closest one is at the Microkelvin laboratory of UF in
Musk was swiping at screens on his cell.
The Space-X team was gathering around, preparing for duties to be reeled off. They were use to Musk getting into the flow, and knew he would be at this till he solved it.
Bobby ventures a question. “You don’t think it could be ice?”
“Sure don’t look like ice,” he said, “and we can’t really risk a worldwide hailstorm of plate glass based on assumptions, right?”
“Jesus,” Jorel said, “that’s like final destination stuff.”
“A chopper can get you to Gainesville in under an hour, take anyone you need,” Musk told Bobby.
“Weather balloons,” said Carla, “we always have weather balloons. Can’t we get up close and sample the surface in a balloon.”
“No good,” said Musk, “POTUS informed me that the barometric pressure near the ceiling is higher than a balloon can reach. Balloons are actually descending. Getting caught in a kind of limbo between pressure systems.”
“So what’s our biggest concern?” asked one of the interns.
Musk took a full twenty seconds before answering.
“Besides, suffocating in our own bad breath, and crashing our multi-million dollar project, again… plate glass shower… realistically, it’s the probability of jolting the moon into orbital decay.”
He let that sink in.
“The ISS has experienced an exponential decline in altitude and we can only assume that all of our satellites, including the moon will experience something similar. We already have lost most of our LOA’s.”
“Jesus,” Jorel exclaimed again.
“What kind of time frame are we working with,” asked the intern.
Musk pointed with his cell phone over toward Jacob. Jacob’s stopped his rapid pecking of keys. He looked up at them,
“… three hours until the moon reaches an irreversible state of decay,” he said.
POTUS turns to Livingston.
“Elon’s rocket is programmed for re-entry in two hours and is totally autonomous,” he said. “That means that we’re going to have to have this thing under cover before then.
“If the falcon meets catastrophe at the edge of the stratosphere, we’ll have every curious prick with the Starlink IP tuning in to see what we have up our skirts over here.
“No. We can’t have that.”
Livingston says, “Well, another problem is that Musk’s satellite array is the only reliable eyes we have up there.”
POTUS sat down in his chair.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to blind him,” he told Livingston, “damn shame, too. He was just warming up to me.”
The IP addresses and satellite coordinates were already in the Oval Office inbox.
“Get those satellites under temporary control, and get someone on the horn with NORAD.”
POTUS pulled out a drawer on the left-hand side of his desk. In it was an old-fashioned rotary telephone. It was painted in lime green. He lifted the receiver and dialed the six.
Somewhere out in the Nevada desert, deep underground, things began buzzing.
The secrets beneath area fifty one are more than real. Evolution is only self-propelled for so long. Once a species becomes a danger to itself, it needs someone watching over it. And, like all children, there should always be an opportunity to admit when you’ve gone and done something really stupid rather than waiting for dad to find out after it’s too late.
Essentially, that is what POTUS had done. He had sent the signal like an intergalactic tattletale.
A solar flare bubbled up from the blindingly impenetrable outer atmospheres of the sun. It burst like a soap bubble and became a ribbon of plasma, twisting and dancing in the wake of the mechanical, yet conscious entity that burst forth in the direction of our little blue marble called Earth.
The Starlink satellites had gone totally out of Space-X’s control.
“Bastard’s commandeered our probes,” said Jacob, now only able to watch the multiple feeds via the IP addresses, which were falling off one by one.
Bobby stops taking the stairs mid-flight and looks back over top of Jorel and Carla’s heads at Musk and Jacob collaborating over the most popular console. He saw worry and briefly doubts his ability to save the world via a chopper back to college.
“What the fuck is really going on?” Bobby whispered to Carla.
Jorel looked at him, slightly annoyed by Bobby’s head suddenly appearing between his and hers, then he spoke up, “Just what the hell is going on, Elon?”
Elon poked his head up briefly, “Solar flare.” Then to Jacob, “What about the Falcon? Do we have any hope in salvaging it? What’s it’s ETA to re-entry?”
“Should return to the Arctic Circle in ninety minutes.”
Jorel shook his head, “I can’t believe this prick’s worried about his stupid rocket!”
Carla couldn’t help it, “He’s your friend!”
“This is your mess!” yelled Jorel directly in her face.
Bobby grabbed him by the collar, a comical scene for the onlookers since Jorel had a hundred pounds on Bobby, though mostly in the midriff. “You watch it, Super Dicks!”
Jorel shoved Bobby back on the steps, and toppled over on him when he refused to let go of his shirt. Jorel’s shades went clattering away.
“Hey!” Carla yelled, pulling at Jorel who was panting and trying to get up, but looked as though he was attacking Bobby.
The whole team of Scientists exploded into an uproar.
“Get off me you fat bastard!” Bobby reeled.
Jorel wasn’t sure he could get up. He’d had a sudden onset of angina and was just trying to roll off to one side.
Bobby shoved him that way.
Clutching his chest and then trying his best to straighten his shirt, Jorel berated them through wheezes, “If it wasn’t for all your damn… sneaking around,” he coughed, “and your… messing with shit you don’t understand…”
He was finally catching his breath as Bobby took his feet like an amble tiger. Carla put a hand out to Bobby and he saw in her eyes a direction for him to have some compassion. He abided. Carla sat down on the steps by Jorel.
Musk piped up above the chatter, “I don’t ever mess with things I don’t understand. Just give me time. We’ll figure it out. And Bobby, get on that chopper.”
An hour later, Bobby Jania and a team of four were nearing Gainesville. Bobby was feeling more than a little woozy.
“You’re telling me without that little ribbon on the front, you wouldn’t know up from down?” He was asking the pilot, who had been stirring up his interest in aeronautical navigation.
“Could you?” The pilot asked through a sideways smile.
Bobby leaned forward and took another look out of the front windshield at the little windsock on the hood of the helicopter. The way it was kiting up and back in the wind told him they were moving forward and descending.
It made him wonder how the commercial airliners were getting on without satellites or GPS.
The co-polit sensed Bobby’s unease. “Don’t worry, we’ll get ya there. Unless there’s fog. Can’t land in fog.” He shared a secret smirk with the pilot.
“Why can’t we land in fog?”
“Can’t see the ground coming. If there’s fog we’ll wait it out… Long as the fuel lasts, that is.” another smile.
Bobby tightened his seat belt and exhaled. The team laughed.
Then he looked out the window to the sky and wondered if what was up there was really solid or gas.
When you think of the distance between Florida and New York as being roughly a thousand miles, you realize that the ISS orbiting at just over two-hundred-fifty miles up, really isn’t that far away.
The view of Earth from there is like front row at a drive in movie theater, and the flick that was about to play, for those inhabiting the ISS, hadn’t been loaded on the reel since nineteen-forty-seven.
Back at Kennedy, after almost forty-five minutes in the dark, there were about to be developments.
“Roswell, nineteen-forty-seven,” started Jacob, “A weather balloon crashes near a New Mexican ranch and the media blitz that follows stirs up controversy for the next half-century into today…”
Musk intercepts and takes up the dialogue, they’ve had this conversation before, “It would have been a better cover story if the balloon’s launch had been a major media event, but it hadn’t.”
He’s taking slow steps toward the center console while he watches the screens above his head with interest, “Before the alien overseers were ever contacted by the government, astronomers and philosophers had worked out for themselves that the Sun must contain some type of utopian future for planet Earth.”
Musk ran his fingers gently over some of the consoles controls, considering things, “Cosmologists in the central intelligence agency had produced a full report about the evolution of planetary biology. Of course, this was all fully confidential. It’s absurd that the general citizens of Earth don’t know the simple truth:
Planets go to heaven, just like people. Only, Heaven isn’t up in the sky somewhere. It’s direction is more relative, according to Einstein. Eventually, all planets become one with the Sun.”
He flipped a switch. His general lack of concern was more disturbing than ever for the team at Space-X.
In the north-end of the pit a display came to life with a bright flash. When the light faded, Musk looked down at his cellphone, which had for the past hour temporarily become a paper weight, but now winked back to life.
The screen dimmed down to a mirror image of Musk’s handheld device.
On it, was a streaming view of the Earth. Not, from the ISS, nor from a Starlink satellite, but from another fixed position in the Exosphere.
“The thing is, there have been many who have gone before us, like Mercury and Venus. In private conversations, some of the elite cosmologists agree that, ancient civilizations, as a people, had a better grasp on reality than the modern masses. Information at your fingertips is only as good as those who are producing it,” Elon pointed to Jacob’s kiosk.
“Reverse the encryption.”
A perfect HD display showed clear space, the sun’s radiation glimmering slightly off the invisible shield and from around the camera’s edges. Carla watched in awe as the ISS floated over the glass encapsulated Earth. It was like a silent nature film in 4k.
“I can’t,” said Jacob. Every finger in the pit was punching keys to no effect. The ticking sounds de-escalated in tune with Musk’s next thought, “Use the IP of that one and ping it off of my personal satellite.”
He pointed to the corner of the crystal clear display hanging above. It had a neat IP address in wavering crimson.
“Done,” said Jacob.
The satellite’s readings were coming on-line again, but unlike the rest of those present at Kennedy Space station, Jacob was still involved in making measurements and tracking an anomaly that was instantly out of place.
His voice broke the silence.
“I’ve got something,” he said, punching buttons and clicking. Dragging a line across his display to project the craft’s strange line of travel.
“It’s not possible, but something is coming fast, and it’s not abiding any laws of gravity.”
Musk sidled through the congregation over to where Jacob had mapped out its trajectory.
His eyes reflected the flickering of Jacob’s monitor, “You’re telling me this thing is moving in a direct line toward the Earth?”
“What? That would take an infinite amount of fuel. There’s nothing remotely close to that technology yet.”
“There’s no sign of NORAD setting up any defenses,” Jacob said, obviously shaken by the idea of an incoming threat.
“It’s not the solar flare that your tracking?”
“No. The radiation from the flare is behind it, and moving more slowly. I don’t think that it will have any real effect this far out.” Jacob pointed toward the readings on his left hand monitor.
The mass and speed ratios were fluctuating wildly.
Jacob turned his face up to Elon, “It couldn’t be moving that fast without generating infinite mass, could it?”
“Theoretically. But look, it’s changing its mass in conjunction with its speed and its relative distance from the other bodies it’s passing. It’s already past though Mercury and Venus’s orbits, and hasn’t altered them.”
He put his hands on Jacob’s shoulders and squeezed, “This is it!” Then he patted him on the back in congratulations.
Jacob seemed genuinely proud of the show of enthusiasm.
Musk stepped up onto the platform of Jacob’s workstation and addressed them, “There is only one rational explanation for something moving like this thing is.”
“I think we’ve gone far beyond rational,” commented Jorel.
Musk was patient with the ridicule. “Someone, or something, must be at the helm of that craft.”
There was a general spattering of conversation at that point and Elon let it subside under his upraised hand.
“NORAD isn’t setting up any defenses, and that can only mean that whatever it was has been signaled by the government. That would also explain why they tried to keep us in the dark.”
Carla turned her head to Jorel, “I think someone needs to call Hollywood and let the Scientologists know that their mother ship’s about to arrive.”
No one seemed in the mood for jokes. Carla bit her lip and tried not to take the lack of attention personally. It wasn’t something she was use to.
“How far out is the Falcon, Jacob?” Musk asked.
“And the incoming?”
He leaned heavily over the readouts, and when he came back up for air he said, “Twenty.”
Then Jacob recalculated, “Hey, whoa, whoa!”
He turned his head up to the satellite’s view, “It’s slowing!”
Silence crawled back from the overhead HD display.
When the son of God tries to show out he gets burned!
That’s gonna be the etching on the plaque beneath Elon’s new desk in Nova Scotia, where his back up lab and servers are being fabricated next year.
Two unofficial sources captured still images of the metal dragon as it passed by the reticle of Musk’s personal satellite.
One was Carla. The other was Ling, aboard the ISS, but the memory of his SD card was washed with the rest of the digital material in range of the great Sentient’s sting.
If space had a sound it would have been the cold grinding of titanium alloy against jointed segments, and possibly the high-pitched wail of a dragon’s wrath.
Instead, the team at Space-X watched in awe as the silver plated body of a serpent moved silently in waves past the satellite’s viewpoint. In one moment, the giant thing turned its head back toward the camera and the great shield, that was its tipped nose, gleamed. In its eyes everyone could make out deep dark slits in the retinas.
It was then that Carla had slowly taken her feet in the pit, jaw locked in the open position. Slowly she had lifted her cell-phone, there in the back of the crowd…
Intelligence there, under the steely horned rimmed cowl of its forehead, pupils dilating beneath shifting silver lids.
…she snapped the pic and then watched as the hugeness of the living craft blotted out the entire landscape of the display.
The chaotic report from the ISS fell on deaf ears, as the round-the-clock mission recorder had been shut off for the first time in all of its existence.
The White house was under a total order of plausible deniability.
Regardless, the crew of six was now huddled together peering out of the wrap around bay window. Ling held his digital camera languidly in one hand. He had managed a single picture before losing interest and just staring at the unbelievable sight they beheld.
It was like the Power Rangers had summoned a Mechazord. Or perhaps it was the Chinese new year in some futuristic metallic steam-punk era.
The six astronauts held onto handles that were suspended from the ceiling of the space station. They all faced the same direction, their bodies suspended out behind them like kids at a sleepover. There was only one thing more captivating than the earth out there.
“Chto, chert voz’mi, my vidim? What are we seeing?” said Michail, the Russian cosmonaut.
Ling didn’t realize he had let go of his camera.
“C’est un dragon. Mai ce n’est pas possible. It’s a dragon. But, it’s not possible,” Amélie said gaping.
William had been constantly hailing Houston with no response.
Ling’s camera floated past and no one noticed, as they were watching the armored dragon make s-shapes toward their home. The sheer magnitude of its size made it hard to tell how close it was to their precious blue planet.
All those aboard the space station may have considered the beast robotic if its movements were choppy and pronounced, but there was a biological fluidity to the way its arms and legs hung languidly. Even perfectly greased rotors and servos couldn’t have imitated the smooth flexing of the fanged elbows and un-methodical motion of its thorned tail.
Houston come in. Come in Houston.
“It’s an alien,” said Ling in English.
Then the mechanical being came in close proximity to the glass shield around the globe. Its reflection hovered below it as it arced a spiral north over the arctic circle. Only then could they tell that it could nearly encircle the planet with its full length.
William had given up on the radio; they’d been black balled. And when the dragon reached out a silver gauntlet to the glass surface, he said, “It’s Washington.”
From the surface, the skies were bluer than they had been in a thousand years. Even over Greenland, in the twilight, a deep navy lingered. Stars were blotted out from what may have been cloud cover. But it was more than that. And when the sound of terrible thunder broke across the sky, civilians considered it only the foreboding of bad weather.
All but those aboard the ISS and the team at Kennedy Space Station were ignorant to the ancient sun god positioning itself above the steamy glass exoskeleton of Planet Earth.
But then there was Bobby and his team, and they were the closest to it in altitude. There had been fog, and Bobby was sweating because the fuel was getting low and they had been forced to hover till it cleared or perform a blind daredevil’s landing.
Three fingers drifted along the glass surface of the newly minted container around earth. Like massive silver sickles, the fingernails scored away the glass in strict lines as easily as dozers through sand. But behind the deafening rakes, the trenches filled in as fast as they were cut.
Seemingly unsatisfied with the sample it had taken, the ancient dragon drifted away from the glass, contorting its snakelike body in a swift twitch to let the Hubble Telescope continue through its orbit unharmed.
Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 was approaching its re-entry corridor with a eight minute eta to the Karman line.
A handful of scientists had filed up the curved stairwells and out on to the lawn of the Kennedy space center in hopes of glimpsing the events above the clouds with the naked eye.
They would be disappointed. The greenhouse effect had already produced a thick bead of sweat along the interior of the glass globe.
Instead, one man wondered at an aircraft flying overhead which had resorted to off-line flight charts and low altitude radio towers to communicate with air traffic control.
Jacob, Musk, and the freelancers were all still engaged in the pit.
“Did you see that?” said Jacob.
With a finger, Musk made little swirls in the air up at the screen, “It’s almost like a dance. The way it flinched away from the Hubble. It’s avoiding any damage to our infrastructure.”
“Well, it’s gonna have to dodge another bullet. The Falcon’s got a five minute ETA,” Jacob said.
Jorel gave Carla the kind of look that said he was more than a little creeped out. His eyes led her up the stairwell back to the banister looking out over the, now bustling pit.
“I guess no one is going to address the elephant in the room?” he asked her, his gaze mostly trained on the big screen.
She gave him a playful nudge, “What, never seen a dragon before?”
“Only on television,” he said.
“Well, you can still stick to that for now.”
He watched the thing draw its tail back like one of those monsters on the movie Aliens. “Let’s hope,” he said, “you can’t believe what we’re seeing is some hoax? Next, you’ll be saying the moon landing was filmed in a basement.”
Carla grabbed the banister with both hands, “No. It’s real. I just don’t know how I will ever forget it.”
He looked at her, gazing out there at the display. He felt sorry for being such a bastard. There’s nothing like an alien invasion to make you recall how short life can be.
Now the giant serpent had its tail in a threatening position and the spear-pointed tip began emanating a faint blue glow.
They could hear Musk over the raucous below, “Get that barge moved to the new coordinates in case it successfully punches through. She’s coming in at a sharper angle. We’re gonna have to do our best to catch it manually.”
“One minute ETA to Karman,” warned Jacob.
Musk fought to keep his attention on the monitor, but really, he didn’t even want to look.
The Falcon 9 rocketed past the ISS and the crew watched its eminently catastrophic approach to the glass barrier beneath the eerily still dragon. The only thing that had moved was the devilish tail, with its many metal vertebrae and topped with an iron spade.
It had flexed back like a bull whip and the point came back around, aiming at the north pole like a scorpion ready to strike.
As the Falcon completed its arc toward entry the tip of the creature’s tail began shinning, the single point coalescing all of the blue veins of energy that ran the length of the dragon’s exoskeleton. Like a machine may have hydraulic lines, it seemed the life-blood of the poised organism was flowing in those conduits.
The ISS team was pressed against the glass of the bay window, captivated and horrified for the fate of the Falcon and people of Earth.
In despair, William had cast his eyes away when the Falcon was reflecting its own image in the glass. But, just when all hope seemed lost, the metallic beast’s weapon shot forth like a slingshot and pierced the glass just where the Falcon was making its dive.
There was a transfer from the alien to the glass. The ultraviolet light spread out over the surface of the enclosed Earth with a ripple. Then the tail came back to its position in a quick jerk as if burned by the action.
“It’s not gonna make it!” said Ling.
Bolts of lightning ran through the ionosphere like a science classes plasma ball. Purple, pink and blue reached out skinny fingers all over the planet.
“No, that’s the heat shield. It’s started its re-entry,” said William finally daring to look.
The condensation on the inner side of the glass atmosphere was instantly vaporized and the heat from the steam obliterated the fabricated 03 in one swift wash.
A brief but heavy and global downpour occurred unbeknownst to weather reporters. What followed could only be seen from space.
While from the surface of the planet, people would report strange celestial activity, the occupants on the ISS witnessed a rare and beautiful experience.
The intense sublimation of the upper atmosphere, for a moment, reflected the sun’s light from a sphere of water, and the effect was an infinite rainbow. Spherical and breathtaking.
The team was so entranced by the sight, they hardly noticed when the Sun Dragon peered into the bay window of the ISS, on its way back to the Sun. In one wink of its huge yellow eyes, the entire station was washed in a staticy blinding light.
Every one at Kennedy was in an uproar, cheering and clapping.
Elon was mashing the keys of a midair piano with both hands from the platform, “Alright, alright. We got lucky. But, we still have to catch it.”
“The dragon?” asked Jacob.
“No, you idiot, the rocket!”
“Oh,” said Jacob, watching as Musk’s personal satellite went dark in the Dragon’s flash, “I knew that.”
But, Elon was well aware of what happens when you try and match human intelligence with self-learning autonomy.
One always out smarts the other.
The warning buzzer was going off on the dash of the helicopter.
The sound wouldn’t have been too terrifying if Bobby couldn’t see that the red emblem was shaped like a fuel can. And then, of course, after every ten or so high-pitched BEEPs, a yellow light would flash on the co-pilot’s side of the cock pit, and a dull BOOP would follow.
“We’re gonna have to take her down,” said the pilot to Bobby’s dismay.
The rest of the team had stopped finding everything so funny about ten minutes ago.
Bobby, however had begun to develop a sense of dire humor, “Nothing like a little rain to brighten the mood.” He smiled.
The co-pilot’s sarcastic aire had also seemed to have waned, but at least he got it.
Heavy drops had briefly pounded the aircraft out of nowhere, and now a frighteningly out-of-place Aurora Borealis was washing its way across the skies over them.
Bobby gazed up while the Pilot wrestled with the stick. He looked down at his analog watch. The Falcon should be on re-entry about now.
At that exact moment, the baby blue sky transitioned like Jorel’s broken glasses, and for a brief second, Bobby could see the extraterrestrial underbelly of a gigantic dragon.
Suddenly, descending in a chopper wasn’t so scary.
“It’s okay.” said the pilot, “The rain’s cleared the fog.”
Sure enough, Bobby looked away from the skies above, which had returned to their normal hue, and saw that the helipad could be made out clearly below.
“It’s a wash,” said POTUS. He was replacing the green phone in the drawer again.
Things were uncomfortably ordinary around the oval office.
“Livingston, get over there and make some press,” POTUS said, “and for God’s sake, someone tell Carla she’s fired.”
Bobby and his team were crossing the Lobby of the Microkelvin laboratory at UF. He paused when he noticed a television was broadcasting the news.
“Hey,” Bobby called to the receptionist, “what service do you have here?”
The student looked at him quizzically, and then got a hold of her self, “I don’t know. Direct TV, I think.”
Interesting, he thought.
What was more interesting was the story broadcasting on FOX.
In a disastrous effort, Space-X’s Falcon 9 has met with catastrophe in the Atlantic ocean after a routine test of its automated launch and landing capabilities. The craft was launched earlier today from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and gauged its performance in medium earth orbit before returning terrestrially this evening.
This footage shows the landing attempt on what appear to be calm seas. Unofficial sources claim that the landing barge had to be re-positioned at the final moment, possibly causing the ill-effect.
Commander Livingston of Space Force joins me to speculate on possible causes of the miscalculation…
“Even with this unfortunate and expensive failure, the automated launch and landing capabilities of the Space-X team are more than promising…” started Livingston.
Well I’ll be a son of a bitch, whispered Bobby, and then he touched Carla’s number among the recent contacts on his now perfectly able cellphone.
You’d think when all cellular communication has been down, one would want to answer the first call that finally came in. But, Carla wasn’t in the mood. She skipped the White House’s attempt and instead answered Bobby.
Good thing, too. She was warming back up to Jorel a little bit, and that was just stupid.
Where do these guys get off, playing with power, she thought. She eyed her cell.
Three days later Carla entered the Oval office in a tight red dress, sequined high-heels, and red lip gloss. You know, the kind that comes on a little spongy applicator. The good stuff.
She sat down in the rounded leather-back chair, across from the President of the United States and crossed her legs, Sharon stone style. But, at least she had on a thong.
Today, she didn’t sport a laptop, only a little triangular purse on a gold chain, large enough to hold her cellphone and her charge cards. Yet, she was still here for business.
“Carla,” said POTUS shifting uneasily in his chair, or was he adjusting himself from the excitement?
She preferred to assume the latter.
He pulled his lapels tight and wiped invisible lint off his thighs, “I suppose you deserve to hear it in person.”
“What’s that?” She said, fishing out the little applicator and starting to draw a shiny line across her bottom lip.
“Well,” he faltered when she puckered, “obviously, insubordination calls for some kind of…”
She made a pop sound with her lips, loud enough to stop him mid-sentence.
Look who’s gotten to be a pro at interrupting, she thought.
Then, she produced her cell phone. Screen shot. She laid it on the table and turned it one hundred and eighty degrees to face him. Slid it over.
The president was starting to look a little like the kid on the cover of Mad Magazine.
“What do you want, Carla?” he eventually says, “Your job back?”
She took out her compact and looked at her self in the mirror. After a full twenty seconds of silence, she snapped it shut and tucked it in her purse.
Then she looked at him directly in the face and thought like a man.
“I was thinking more along the lines of a little cunnilingus.”
Jay Horne is an author and publisher out of Bradenton, Florida. He is a husband and father of four.
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