It’s day three, and three days until the Tomb opens. We are approaching midway, and things are about to go downhill.
Chapter 11 Header: Fifth House skull
Nona’s morning is off to a shaky start, although her dream is progressing: now she dreams of Gideon submerged in Harrow’s body. Camilla records the dream and takes notes, but seems preoccupied and, when Nona goes into the main room, she realizes Pyrrha has not been to bed. She tells Nona that she’s been to the park, where she saw Hot Sauce. She warns Nona to be careful around her. They’re at breakfast when the door busts in.
- Nona: “I’m holding something down in the water. It’s the same water, the good water. But whatever I’m holding doesn’t want to stay down, it keeps coming back. To the surface, I mean . . . The girl with the painted face . . . She’s under the water. She’s not drowning, she’s lying there. Her eyes are closed, I think. The water’s cloudy” (p. 133).
- Gideon, stuck in the salt water, inside Harrow, sequestered by the lobotomy, but still embracing Harrow.
- Camilla helps her reproduce the embrace “like she was drowning; like she wanted to drown” (p. 134).
- Camilla doesn’t smile this morning, and to Nona it feels like an omen.
- Pyrrha has been up all night — Nona can see it instantly and won’t be put off, so Pyrrha admits she went to the park. Nona asks if she saved anyone, and Pyrrha says not as Camilla and Palamedes would define it. She wasn’t alone.
- “Your friend Hot Sauce was there last night at the burn cages and she was keeping some pretty ferocious company” (p. 138)
- Nona asks what Pyrrha thinks is sexy, and she answers, “Landmine people . . . Some people were put into the universe to rig it to explode and then walk away … I always fell for that . . . I mean, also redheads. Love a redhead” (p. 139).
- Honesty is a redhead who had “skin like a horrible ghost’s. You could see all the veins in his eyelids” (p. 139). If Honesty stands out for his whiteness, the rest of the kids — and by extension, most of the population — are not white, despite what illustrators may picture.
- Nona doesn’t like redheads. Interesting.
- Breakfast is quiet and tense. “Palamedes could never stay long, and so there he was resting his hand on Nona’s shoulder, saying, ‘Take care of everyone for me, Nona,’ which was Palamedes all over. Never be good, or even be safe, but leaving you in charge, like he really thought you’d be up to it. Nona always loved him for that” (p. 140).
- Pikelets are similar to pancakes, only smaller and not quite as fluffy.
- “Camilla was grey-eyed and quiet and wrathful” because she knows where Pyrrha was last night. And now we know why she’s tense.
Chapter 12 Header: the fruiting tree
Blood of Eden bundle Nona, Pyrrha and Camilla into a car and take them to an undisclosed site, where they join Crown (Coronabeth) and meet with Ctesiphon Wing leader, We Suffer, whose second-in-command has a serious problem with Pyrrha and Camilla, which leads her into conflict with Crown. Once We Suffer settles them both down, she tells them that the Nine Houses has sent a negotiator and Blood of Eden leadership is, to put it mildly, unsettled. They’re shown an image of the ship, which Crown confirms isn’t large enough to send troops and, given the fuel constraints, Camilla tells them it came through the River. They argue over the value of the intelligence their contacts on the Mithraeum have provided, Camilla asks for proof of life and receives it, and We Suffer adjourns the meeting.
So much juicy information to pick through! Here goes:
- There is zero trust between Trioa Cell and the rest of Ctesiphon Wing. They’re hooded, handcuffed, and forced to lie down on the floor of the vehicle, while Pyrrha is locked in the trunk. Once in place in the meeting room, she’s shackled to a chair and fitted with a kill switch.
- On the way in, they’re tested to make sure they’re really alive.
- The verbal sparring between Crown and Camilla is really something, superficially sparkly but deeply hostile and wounding. Among many of the details, I want to note two:
- Crown calls Pyrrha “the saint” and refers to her as “he.” She knows better.
- Camilla deadnames Crown, calling her “Coronabeth.”
- Crown is the leader of Troia cell, working closely with leadership. This tracks with what we know from “As Yet Unsent.” She’s even taken a Blood of Eden name, and we need to unpack that:
- As we know, BoE names have three parts, cultural references that are passed down from generation to generation. Crown has not inherited a name; she’s picked one for herself, defined herself. If you remember that Blood of Eden has lost most of its cultural memory, so to them the phrases are meaningless. We don’t know how much global culture was preserved in the Nine Houses, but let’s assume it was a fair bit — after all, the culture is pretty static. Therefore, allusions that wouldn’t have meaning for BoE members might well for Imperial figures, especially Imperial figures who are more than 10,000 years old. As it is, her selections are interesting (links to the names go to Youtube videos of the songs):
- First part: Crown Him with Many Crowns — Beyond being a play on the name “Coronabeth,” It’s taken from an 1851 hymn by Matthew Bridges, a nineteenth century Anglo-Canadian High Church hymnist, and is a famous hymn of praise to “the lord of life / who triumphed o’er the grave, / and rose victorious in the strife / for those he came to save.” Not exactly the choice of a dedicated revolutionary in rebellion against God.
- Second part: Thy Full Gallant Legions — from “L’Abidjanaise,” the national anthem of the Ivory Coast, lyrics in English here. It’s equal parts patriotism and religion.
- Third part: He Found It in Him to Forgive — comes from the 1992 song “Dominion Road,” by the Mutton Birds. The lyrics are here, and the protagonist is a man who’s been betrayed by his love and is downtrodden, but manages to forgive.
- So Crown’s chosen name is a heady mix of patriotic zeal and religiosity, of abandonment and forgiveness. Who is abandoned and who is forgiven? Beyond reeking of the zeal of a convert in taking a new name, Crown’s choice of naming renders her powerfully equivocal; as in, is she all in with Blood of Eden or is she deep undercover in cahoots with Ianthe? Remember in “As Yet Unsent” when she begs Judith to take her as her cavalier and says, “Save me, Jody. Bind me to you, or who knows where I will go? What throne will I mount, if you don’t bind me down?” and in the Harrow flashback when Ianthe “went to see a man about a queen.”
- Has Crown, spurned as cavalier by her sister, gone over to BoE out of a sense of betrayal so deep that she turns her back on the Nine Houses?
- Is she hedging her bets by picking name elements that Blood of Eden won’t recognize but the Emperor will, elements that proclaim her abiding loyalty and her trust in his forgiveness?
- Is she playing both sides, and planning to win either way?
- Not for nothing, she has “rubber bandages” wrapped around one palm (p. 153). That’s a strange detail to include. Is it an injury or is it protection?
- Despite Crown’s breezy reasurrences to Nona, she’s worried and not as “in the loop” as she would like to be, and Nona recognizes it by “a worry pucker” in the center of her forehead (p. 145).
- Camilla puts on the sunglasses (Gideon Nav’s glasses). Nona doesn’t like them because they make Camilla look like a mercenary, but we understand she does it for a reason.
- Pyrrha is strapped into her chair and has been looking at Wake’s picture.
- Pyrrha notes that they’re meeting in a part of the city that Blood of Eden doesn’t control. This means that the city itself is still contested. It’s not civil war, no yet, but it’s close.
- Pash Has Entered the Chat (Two-Thighs-Machete, aka Our Lady of the Passion).
- Pash really hates the Nine Houses.
- Food for thought: why does We Suffer want Pash in this meeting?
- It must be important enough to take Pash away from work and to put up with all the hostility and disruption that Pash brings
- We Suffer says, “What I do is being watched very carefully, Ms. Dve . . . The negotiator arriving throws us all into disarray. Many factions did not expect them to dare to come, not with the blue madness” (p. 150).
- Notice that We Suffer uses Pyrrha’s pronouns, which is respectful.
- No one expected John to send a negotiator.
- We Suffer has been leveraging the political situation to keep her Cell’s advantage:
- Hardcore and anarchist factions want to blow up the negotiator’s ship, but don’t have support. She wants them to overreach: “As time goes by … as we dither and panic here and lose more and more on Antioch … the antinegotiation sect loses momentum” (p. 151).
- Hmmm….they’re fighting at Antioch. Still.
- We Suffer is really tired. “We are not on our A-game today” (p. 149) . . . “I have been in cars all of last evening, all the night, all this morning” (p. 151). Doing what, we wonders?
- They’re shown the ship and agree it’s not a troop carrier; it’s too small. “There were bones inlaid in the sides like fossils in a dried-out riverbed” (p. 152). There’s no room for a stele and it’s unlikely to have come by subluminary travel, which means it hasn’t come any great distance. That leaves the River as its only method of travel.
- Who travels by way of the River?
- The negotiator’s identity hasn’t yet been determined. We suffer says, “This has delighted many factions, Unjust Hope’s included … they are saying, ah, we have the power, John Gaius is taking us and the matter very seriously” (p. 155).
- Camilla says, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he? . . . You’re selling him back the Sixth House” (p. 155).
- Here is the source of tension between Trioa Cell and Ctesiphon Wing: the fate of the Sixth House, parked somewhere on an exoplanet, and of the Oversight Committee: Camilla and Palamedes’ friends and family, who are being held by BoE, but not by Ctesiphon Wing (we learn in a few minutes they’re held by Merv Wing and Unjust Hope, which is really problematic, given the Hopers’ reputation).
- Unjust Hope’s name, by the way, comes from James K. Baxter’s poem “The Ikons” and you need to click through to read the poem. There is no doubt it was in Muir’s thoughts while she worked on The Locked Tomb. It’ll resonate.
- We Suffer tells them “Ctesiphon’s interactions with Source Joyeuse and Source Piotra got us many things”: fleet schematics, the Mithraeum’s location, an assassination attempt on John.
- Source Joyeuse: Mercymorn, Saint of Joy (Joyeuse: French for Joy — obvious.)
- Source Piotra: Augustine, Saint of Patience (Piotra: Polish for Peter, which comes from Latin: petrus, meaning rock. Redolent of Biblical allusions, particularly the denial of Jesus three times on the night of his arrest).
- Source Aegis: Gideon, Saint of Duty (?) Probably. Aegis is a protective shield or skin with an image of Medusa on it, carried by Athena or Zeus and mentioned in The Iliad. Gideon the First was, as Augustine put it, God’s attack dog. Source Aegis put BoE in contact with the Ninth House. Or maybe, just maybe, but it might have been a Lyctor from long ago, maybe someone with connections to the Sixth House. Chrysaor, in case you’re interested, was the twin brother of Pegasus but, instead of being a horse, was a winged boar. Both were born when Perseus decapitated Medusa.
- Source Chrysaor: Cytherea, “who taught us all about the obelisks and steles, and who defeated ten high-ranking House personnel and one necromantic monster” (p. 155).
- This is, of course, revisionist history, as first Pyrrha and then Palamedes correct the record.
- “What happened at Canaan House wasn’t your victory, Commander . . . It was Cytherea’s. She was the only person in that whole building who got what they wanted … you just got lucky off the scraps she dropped. And you still think Lyctors are a gun you can wield?” (p. 157).
- Much of the conversation takes place above Nona’s head, but is centrally concerned with Nona. We Suffer needs a progress report, to which Pyrrha asks, “Do you mean they want to weaponize her? Or is she merely another part of their negotiation bundle?” (p. 156).
- They assume that BoE is going to give the Sixth House back to John, or use them as a negotiating chip. And that Nona is either a weapon to be wielded or another negotiating chip. Either way, they don’t see Nona as a person.
- The proof-of-life recording is from Master Archivist Juno Zeta — Palamedes’ mother.
- We Suffer needs “something” to tell Merv Wing and the others. “Tell them they’ll have a Lyctor, or equivalent, if they wait,” Palamedes tells her (p. 159).
- What could be “equivalent” to a Lyctor?
- Pash openly debates We Suffer: “The city’s only just starting to get over the fear of having their bones come out” (p. 154). Why do I think this is not an overstatement?
- She says that she helped craft the worst case scenario: carpet bomb the barracks, kill every “zombie” on the planet, and then “that big blue son of a bitch” in the sky will go away. “Isn’t it crazy how you always argue for a plan in which the zombies get to live?” (p. 157).
- We Suffer makes a statement of faith to them: “You think I am either cruel and traitorous — that I had thought this was the outcome of the great coming-together that we hoped for — or stupid , that I was naive. I am not naive … I had just never thought we would be given such a terrible scare, or such a terrible chance. I wish for Blood of Eden to fight, and fight beautifully; to win with whatever aid or succour your Houses may bestow. I do not want to run anymore” (p. 159).
- “I feel that Blood of Eden would stand with me if they only knew how, if they were given good reasons. Please help me give them those reasons” (p. 160).
Chapter 13 Header: Third House skull
The meeting adjourns. Camilla and Nona go into the basement with Crown to see the Captain, who is in awful shape. She is by turns delirious and defiant. Palamedes stabilizes her and they leave.
Of course a lot more than that happens; there’s a tremendous amount of interpersonal tension and revelation.
- Our Lady of the Passion asks, “Can I bloody well leave now? . . . The package is late for work” (p. 161).
- Again, we have to wonder why Pash, who didn’t want to be there, was there. Was it to provide a good cop/bad cop vibe? (Somehow I doubt it.) Was it so they could report to someone else about the meeting? (Possible).
- “’Pash,” said Crown darkly, ‘is what happens when nepotism and bullshit collide” (p. 161). The bullshit we’ve seen, the nepotism we haven’t, not yet.
- Camilla asks to see “her,” and Crown says, “So long as Dve doesn’t tag along” (p. 162).
- Nona wants to chew the leaves of the red and green plants in the waiting room because they look juicy. They would be plastic. And the lights in the basement are strung up in “thick juicy plastic wires” (p. 163). This has nothing to do with anything, but it’s interesting.
- Camilla asks if Judith is part of the negotiation with the Emperor, and Crown says, “No. She’s our ticket out of here” (p. 163). Crown being equivocal again.
- As Nona approaches, Judith “opened her mouth and droned, punctuated by huge wheezing lungfuls of air: ‘Dust of my dust — such similar star salt — what they did to you and what they wrung from you and what shape they made you fill — we see you still — we seek you still — we murdered — we who murder — you inadvertent tool — you misused green thing — come back to us — take vengeance for us — we saw you — we see you — I see you’” (p. 164).
- Well, that’s . . . something. Tuck it in the back of your mind.
- While Judith is in crisis and Camilla intervenes to stabilize her, Crown “had chewed her lips so badly that they had split and were now red, like lipstick” (p. 165). Remember from “As Yet Unsent” that Crown has a thing for Judith. Apparently, that hasn’t changed.
- “I knew you weren’t in the hand bones the Ninth made anymore. I don’t know what you and Cam have done, Sextus, but I haven’t told. I haven’t told but I have known, for a long time” (p. 165).
- “The whole time I knew her she was grieving … she couldn’t hide that. At the same time I was grieving . . . but Camilla was gone. Camilla was gone and then we met Harrowhark, and she came back (p. 166).
- Judith tries to convince them to go back to the Nine Houses, and offers to testify that they were all coerced. “We were hostages. Incidental pieces … in a much larger game … played by Lyctors, traitors, monsters” (p. 167).
- She has some choice words for Crown: “You’re the one facing the dark night of the soul, Princess . . . Gave yourself up … gave all of us up … for what? Propaganda and a leash … promise of salvation without understanding the sin . . . You think you’re walking the tightrope with fast talking and your face … ” (p. 168).
- A “dark night of the soul” is a religious term for a crisis of faith.
- If Judith is to be believed, Crown was the principal negotiator in the evacuation of Canaan House.
- Judith knows that Crown is “walking the tightrope” balanced between both sides.
- Judith to Nona: “Ninth, where is the mercy of the Tomb? Where is your sword in the coffin? Who are your masters now, and who do you master? Where is my cavalier, Reverend Daughter? Where is yours? . . . Because I saw her in the waves — she was there in the grey water — I saw them all — they hurt me — where is my hunger? I eat and eat and eat without surcease, my green thing, my green-and-breathing thing …” (p. 168).
- Judith is not really in her right mind, but she recognizes Harrow in Nona. But then her voice merges with the other strange perspective that calls her a “green-and-breathing thing,” a perspective that says it saw “her” in “the grey water.” I won’t say any more about this now, but keep it in mind.
- Camillia comes back and is upset that Palamedes told Crown who he was. Crown swears “by my sister” that she’ll tell no one.
- Crown tells Camilla not to trust Pyrrha: “there’s a lot that you don’t know” (p. 171).
- I’ll bet that goes both ways.
- Nona asks what Judith was talking about when she was shouting about the water, hunger and the green thing. Crown tells her, “The Captain didn’t say anything when you came into the room. She only screamed” (p. 171).
- Nona understands all languages. What language was Judith speaking?
Chapter 14 Header: the Locked Tomb
Crown rides back into the city with them. She stops the car near Nona’s school and announces that she’ll walk her there, despite Camilla’s objections. Nona is delighted, other than temporarily feeling guilty about not listening to Cam. They get to the school at the same time as the Angel, who lets them in. Crown tells the Angel that she’s Camilla’s partner, which Nona disapproves, and Crown says goodbye.
- Nona worries about Camilla’s disapproval, and Crown says that she thinks Camilla is too strict with her, as she’s not much older than Nona is. “This resembled some of the darker and more resentful thoughts in the back of Nona’s head” (p. 175). It’s worth noting that Nona is changing.
- The Angel is on three-days of looking rumpled. Crown pulls off her mask and “the Angel was a bit shocked” (p. 176).
- Nona tells Crown that Camilla will be furious, and Crown says, with real contrition, “I have a ripple of evil running through my soul — I know I do” (p. 177).
- “She was smiling as though Nona had said something a little sad, and her eyes didn’t sparkle anymore . . . ‘You darling, I know what you are, even if they refuse to see it,’ she said softly. ‘All I can say, sweetheart, is I envy you more than anyone else in the universe’” (p. 177).
- There’s no explanation given, but I think Crown sees Harrow’s body and Gideon’s eyes, and thinks she’s a full, albeit amnesiac, Lyctor. And she envies her, because Ianthe didn’t take her as cavalier, and neither would Judith.
Chapter 15 Header: Seventh House skull
Hot Sauce tells Nona that the Angel is being watched and protected, and Nona wonders why the Angel is special. Camilla doesn’t pick her up for lunch, Hot Sauce tells the teachers that there will be a broadcast. With the rest of the gang but Kevin gone, Nona and Hot Sauce lie on mats and talk. Hot Sauce tells her about her brothers’ deaths, and Nona tells Hot Sauce a secret before she falls asleep.
- Hot Sauce is hard for Nona to read. She “constantly stood as though she were disconnected from her own head. Her body and her mind seemed to actively ignore each other” (p. 179).
- We learn a lot more about Hot Sauce in this chapter, and it’s a good idea to assemble the information here.
- We know she hates necromancers. She’s surprised to learn that Nona knows she was at the park for the burnings, asks whether Nona was there, and is relieved that Nona wasn’t (p. 183).
- She tells Nona that the three died too quickly. “Someone high up … took them out before they burned … sniper rifle … stupid, when people think you have to destroy the brain or they don’t go … don’t really die, not even if you burn them” (p. 183).
- Now we know what Pyrrha, who had been crouching all night as Nona could see that morning, was doing. She “saved” people, but not as Camilla or Palamedes would have understood it.
- She tells the story about how her brothers died “setting up the turrets. One of the minions made it through with a sword” and no one would go near their bodies, for fear they might have been turned into “scarecrows” (pp. 184-185). The last brother blew himself up with a truck bomb.
- “First necromancer who gets in range, I shoot” (p. 185).
- She says the Angel is a doctor who helped her when she was shot at and her collarbone was broken (p. 186).
- Hot Sauce is a child soldier and, seeing her vehemence and simplicity, we can understand why despots like child soldiers.
- The school is under surveillance, the Angel is dropped off in a vehicle fitted with a grille designed to “drive it through rocks or people,” and Nona starts putting things together: “It was beginning to dawn on her that this level of care was strange when directed at someone whose contribution to the world was Noodle and the Hour of Science, which was truly wonderful but really only important to the refuge school” (p. 180).
- Who is the Angel and why is she important? We get more clues in this chapter: she works at a medical clinic and yesterday said she’d been getting “a crash course in triage.”
- Her name is Aim (p. 180).
- She’s exhausted, so much that she’s drinking scalding hot coffee in the heat of the day, and it helps her look more rested.
- The news about the broadcast doesn’t surprise her, it just makes her look “extra sodden and tired” (p. 181).
- Then there are the changes in Nona herself, from jumping out of the car to deducing that the Angel is more than a science teacher and Noodle’s owner.
- She looks at Joli, the teacher, and thinks “She was really just a baby herself” (p. 180).
- Her lunch is ice cubes and half a pencil: “She loved the cool sandy core of grey stuff and the painted, painful crunch of the wood” (p. 182).
- “She was always a little afraid of sleeping now” (p. 182). Does this mean now, as if at school, or now, as in all the time?
- “It was painfully sweet lying there whispering — even if it was half-truths, or quickly shut-up truths” (p. 184). Nona is fulfilled when Hot Sauce says, “I wish you were my sister.”
- And then there’s the secret she keeps, the one that makes her say to Hot Sauce, “I don’t want you to be sad or mad if anything happens to me. Promise not to be sad — I don’t like it on your face” (p. 178).
- Hot Sauce tells her to talk to the Angel, and suggests “an organ market . . . Sometimes they’re cheap” (p. 186). When Hot Sauce takes off her jacket to put it on Nona, she recognizes the gesture for what it is, an act of love.
- “The children — I mean, Hot Sauce and Nona — say there’s going to be a public broadcast. I thought they ran out of money for that a year ago. I’ve certainly heard nothing but pirate radio for months” (p. 181). These little details draw for us a world on the edge with almost nothing left of a government except an increasingly violent police force and an assortment of squabbling rebel groups.
- The Angel’s name is Aim.
- Joli wonders if this is about the attack on the port, the same attack that Palamedes asked We Suffer whether Blood of Eden knew about in advance.
- Hot Sauce, Honesty, and Born in the Morning are members of a group that’s more radical than Blood of Eden, which is full of “Traitors … Fat cats. Zombie lovers,” but who sell their group guns (p. 184).
- The confusion over Born in the Morning’s name comes about because Nona is a universal translator (p. 183).
- Isn’t it nice to know that, in a world of Unjust Hopers, there’s always someone who’s worse — more extreme, more strident, more bloodthirsty? And that’s who these kids gravitate to.
Just for fun, look at the code that’s used in the John sections. It’s a simple alphanumeric cipher, meaning that 1=a, 2=b, 3=c, and so on.
Here is where we know for sure that “she” is Alecto. She and John have moved to a concrete building, and he continues his story. Online streaming brings visitors who ask for proof, receive it, and the group goes viral. John learns he can heal the sick and they’re thronged. The government moves to shut them down forcibly, but John raises an impenetrable wall of regenerating bone and the tissue of local sheep and cattle, which he agrees was terrible optics. He hopes, though, that now when he talks about saving the earth and humanity, people will listen.
- “He’d never liked losing control . . . she knew he could not be coaxed to sleep unless she stood in the doorway, or in the worst times stroking her thumb between his eyebrows” (p. 188).
- He’s a control freak, and he can’t sleep. Why can he not sleep? Is it conscience? Is it something else, something that she doesn’t recognize?
- She doesn’t know how to sleep: “She did not understand what it meant or signified,” but she would collapse in exhaustion and wake up wherever he put her: old mattresses or “baby-soft skin hammocks” (p. 188).
- Let that sink in. “Baby-soft skin hammocks.” Between skin hammocks made of babies and thighs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they’re inhabiting (and using) a figurative harvest of the dead.
- The flashlights “made his brown skin bluish, and the white ring around his black iris a satiny gold” (p. 188). His eyes have already changed from gold to black, he has only one companion, the companion doesn’t have much experience in human living (remember that Mercy said in Harrow that AL could never act human); therefore, Alecto.
- Alecto, by the way, is one of the Furies, the Erinyes, the Eumenides, the Kindly Ones, born of Gaia when Cronos castrated Uranus and spilled his blood. Her name means “eternal anger.” Remember when John said that anger was AL’s besetting flaw?
- At first, the public reacts to their streaming efforts like it’s a big con. Then a few people show up, report back, and their publicity goes viral.
- M— brings in her best friend, who’s a nun, and who tells him to cool it on the healing stuff: “Christ never said no and never asked anyone to pay and got way too much attention and brought the heat down on everybody” (p. 190).
- She gets the Vatican to decide whether or not John is performing miracles because he was baptized. “Didn’t mention that I’d only gone to Parachute ‘cause of the underage drinking” (p. 191).
- Parachute was a Christian rock festival.
- “We knew it was going to be a big problem [the publicity]. You’ve got this guy with an army of upward of forty walking corpses that he acquired legally but was meant to bury a while back, it’s time for some hard conversations” (p. 190).
- After the government asks them to come in quietly, they send out a SWAT team to take them. P— warns them, and John takes action: “I pulled up walls close to three foot thick, what you’d now call perpetual bone, staked six feet down . . .” (p. 191). He makes them out of organic material: sheep and cattle. “It wasn’t clean. I had to unsleeve them to get two piles to work from, softs and bones, and it was not beautiful. But it worked” (p. 192).
- “They took us seriously after that” (p. 192).
- “It wasn’t my fault that turning several hundred animals inside out makes you look like the bad guy” (p. 192).
- “I didn’t care what they thought, I wanted the attention. I wanted to break my NDAs. I wanted to let them know about the cryo plans and how we got shut down. I wanted to talk about you. About how we’d been going to save the world and then the cash dried up for no reason” (p. 193).
- Not for nothing but, when people list their reasons for doing something, the most important one is first, and then they follow in descending order.
Chapter 16 Header: a turret
Honesty breaks in with the news that officials are setting up a video screen in the square, and it means that the “zombies” are back. The Angel asks all the kids to promise they won’t go to the square, and they swear, but Nona sees that Hot Sauce has crossed her fingers. To keep the kids occupied, the Angel has them draw. Five o’clock arrives, and Camilla still hasn’t come to get Nona. The Angel asks her to take Noodle outside and Hot Sauce goes with her. Once outside, they agree to go to the square, where a crowd has already gathered. The broadcast begins, and it’s a list of terms delivered by Prince Ianthe Naberius the First, the Lyctor Prince, the Saint of Awe. Then the camera pulls back to reveal a second figure, Crown Prince Kiriona Gaia, the Emperor’s daughter. It’s Gideon Nav — Nona recognizes her as the girl in her dream. As soon as the broadcast ends, people begin to panic. Nona and Hot Sauce escape and are picked up by the Angel and a driver in an armored truck. They take her home, where Camilla is waiting, and Pyrrha isn’t. She has disappeared.
Big meaty chapter with lots happening. I don’t think we need to belabor the points, so I’ll stick to what may not be obvious by now.
- Honesty reports that in the square “the militia’s setting up, all wearing their old uniforms, all getting the netting out” (p. 195). Which means that the militia is responding to a new imposition of authority. Netting is presumably for crowd control.
- Beautiful Ruby’s mother thinks the announcement will be to report on resettlements, while Born in the Morning doubts that the Nine Houses are involved, because of Varun’s presence (p. 195).
- The Angel warns the kids off the square: “I don’t want to see your bodies paraded through the streets and your mugs up on photographs, for one cause or another” (p. 196).
- In response to the question about why they set up a video screen, “Nona, who thought about this kind of thing a great deal,” has the answer (p. 197).
- More evidence that Nona is changing. Why has Nona been thinking “about this kind of thing a great deal”?
- Born in the Morning needs to go home, but the Angel doesn’t want him alone in the street: “They’ll be jabbing and temperature testing everyone in sight, even if they’ve seen you before, to make sure you’re not House” (p. 197).
- Hot Sauce says about the Angel: “She’s vulnerable, with us. We have to keep her safe . . . more than ever” (p. 201).
- As they decide to go to the square, Nona tells Hot Sauce, “You can’t let me get hurt . . . Even like a sunburn or if there’s a dust storm” (p. 202).
- She has Lyctoral healing powers and can’t let anyone see or they’ll know.
- Running down the street, Nona regrets disobeying. “She had some vague notion that when you committed to a thing you had to do it all the way. Who had said that to her? Who had taught her that? Once you’ve stepped in, said the voice in the back of her head, you’re in. This isn’t the Hokey Pokey” (p. 203).
- The phrase “Hokey Pokey” doesn’t appear anywhere else in The Locked Tomb. This is new, something dredged up from Nona’s memory.
- The speech is already underway when the sound system kicks in and the crowd hears Ianthe dictate terms.
- They won’t punish the whole population, unless . . . .
- “No legal ramifications will fall on groups or individuals, unless they are found guilty of terrorism in the aforementioned tribunal. Definitions of terrorism will be agreed on via elected representatives. All households and individuals can make a plea for restitution, which will be answered not through local authorities but by the Emperor of the Nine Houses” (p. 205).
- There will be a tribunal and, not just individuals, but entire families, will be punished.
- “Terrorism” has yet to be defined. It could be what we recognize as terrorism, but it could be, well, anything even vaguely rebellious.
- This policy could have been instituted by a Republican administration. In fact, it was, in Texas, within the past six years.
- The population has no choice: “The agreement will, without further negotiation, be considered legally binding” (p. 206).
- Has there been any negotiation? No — this is a dictation of terms.
- “However — as I mentioned at the start of this broadcast — there are conditions that must be met.”
- These conditions cannot be met, as we shall see.
- “Any individual or group who violates these conditions renders the entire agreement, I’m sorry to say, null and void.”
- This is why the conditions can’t be met.
- When the civilians fail, the entire population “will consequently represent a legal entity that has damaged property, acted unlawfully, committed or been accessory to murder, and performed a coup.”
- This gives the Houses the excuse to crush the population, which is almost certainly the point.
- “This is per the contracts drawn up between you and the Emperor Undying over seven hundred years previous when this settlement was created” (p. 206).
- Then the video picks up, and we see a white-clad “frightening pale” person with “alarmingly perfect” hair and eyes that are “blue, with brown bits: (p. 207). Looking pale and waxy, Prince Ianthe Naberius the First issues “a list of the Emperor’s conditions”:
- All violence at the barracks stop.
- All attacks on Cohort soldiers stop.
- All “casualties” of House personnel be surrendered at the barracks’ gate.
- Blood of Eden stand down, and no one support them.
- “That any member of House personnel who has left their post — disappeared into the population — arrived after the siege and failed to make themselves known to the authorities — that anyone who serves the Emperor, Cohort or otherwise, and who has made themselves absent without leave, present themselves to me immediately, at the barracks, during the next twenty-four hours. This is the amnesty period. Take it or leave it. Remember that it is in your power to turn Emperor’s Evidence and be granted the mercies of the King Undying” (p. 208).
- Does anyone doubt they’re looking for the Sixth House, and the punishments will be severe?
- If anyone does turn up, they’ll be interrogated and used to root out Blood of Eden and the other groups.
- Because the first part of the broadcast was missing, Ianthe repeats the start:
- This planet is New Rho. “He has no desire to see the end that . . . has come for the rebels of Ur” (p. 208).
- John promises to restart resettlement and supply. Who believes that’s true?
- Ianthe says that Varun is “no barrier to the graces or the punishments that the Nine Houses can distribute” (p. 208). Who believes that, either?
- The camera pulls back to reveal Gideon sitting “ramrod” straight with “weird, waxy” skin and a “crooked mouth [that] was set in a serious, bloodless line” in an expressionless face. (p. 209). Nona recognizes her as the girl in her dream. Ianthe tells the crowd that this is “Her Most Serene Highness, Crown Prince Kiriona Gaia, heir to the first House, the Emperor’s only daughter” (p. 209).
- Kiriona is Maori for Gideon.
- Ianthe continues, “’The Emperor Undying has sent nothing less than his own Tower Princes, as gracious tokens of his extreme love and concern . . . his unimpeachable authority.’ There was something irrepressible hovering at the edges of the person called Prince Ianthe Naberius’s mouth at love and at concern — like the struggle not to smile, or not to explode in a fit of temper” (p. 210).
- This is the first mention of the Tower.
- “’Hail to the Emperor Undying, to his Nine Houses, and also to you, his respected pactmates, beneficiaries, and allies’ . . . In quite a different voice the person said, ‘That’ll fix their little red wagons” (p. 210).
- The broadcast ends and the people are stunned. Just as panic starts, the police move in and “unsettled” becomes “panicked.”
- Someone says that Ur is still fighting and the Houses are losing.
- New Rho isn’t the only planet that’s been in rebellion.
- There are, as you recall, only three planets where people have been resettled, and all of them are in rebellion: Ur, Antioch, and New Rho.
- New Rho is unusual in that it has a Resurrection Beast periscoping in its atmosphere.
- Again, why is Varun hanging around, we wonders?
- Hot Sauce is falling apart, and finally Nona can read her: “She was terribly afraid all of a sudden, Nona could see, filled with the fear her body spent so much of its time rejecting” (p. 211).
- They run to escape the square and Nona cuts herself before the Angel picks them up. Hot Sauce sees it.
- The Angel’s driver has “a low, terse voice and surprisingly good House” (p. 214).
- Nona tells them where she lives and the two are stunned. “The driver tried to crane their nect around to look at her . . . The Angel, who could crane, had craned immediately” (p. 214).
- And they’ve just figured out who she is.
- They know she’s been cut and she panics, “It can’t be my blood. It must be someone else’s. Maybe it’s tomato sauce. Who knows? It could be anything” (p. 215).
- Nope, not suspicious at all.
- The driver says, “’If people knew this was how you spent your time, Aim . . . Pretending you can bandage bipeds? Teaching snot-nosed kids about particles?’ . . . ‘Now I see. Chance to be her, huh? A little independent living for once?’ ‘It is my enormous privilege to be they’’” (p. 215).
- Pin this. Aim is not an individual.
- The Angel promises that the school will be safe tomorrow.
- Exhausted, Nona crawls to her own door and finds that Pyrrha was supposed to pick her up before lunch. “I thought she was with you” (p. 218).
Alecto and John reach the site of John’s lab, but they don’t go inside. John tells her about the panic that surrounded them, the collection of skeptics and the true believers. He says that his preoccupation had become reanimating the dead, but he didn’t know how. Then he learned that the money that had been funding him had been pulled and switched to building FTL spaceships that he knew wouldn’t work. His former funders destroyed his reputation and he knew they were going to abandon the planet and let it die.
- “He was always scared of the water” (p. 219). In the dream, it’s the sea being referenced. He’s afraid of salt water. Remember the role of salt water and it’s sacral quality.
- He raises up land from the water. “He said the hardest thing was remembering that he could do it” (p. 219). One of the pieces he raises contains “a broken concrete building guarded by enormous shards of cracked bone.” This is the facility. They don’t approach it, not yet.
- “We didn’t have much time left, and new data fucked around with the numbers every day. Every time you breathed funny, we wet ourselves” (p. 219).
- John thinks their old financial backers were the ones who worked hardest to discredit him.
- He wants to “bring back” Ulysses and Titania. “Problem was I couldn’t bring anyone back once they’d gone . . . I didn’t know what I was doing. And that ate at me” (p. 220).
- “Our nun kept saying of course you can’t bring them back, their souls are gone . . . I didn’t want to believe that there was a thing like a soul. I wanted to believe I hadn’t got it right” (p. 220).
- Finding out where their pulled funding had gone infuriates him again. “She wondered again why anything that hurt them only hurt briefly, but that anger took such a long time to go away” (p. 220).
- “They took the ships, our ones, the new ones. They said they were going to use FTL instead, faster than light travel . . . it was never really about light speed . . . They said they’d managed to find some poor dipshit geek who’d fixed the FTL problem of getting locked in the chrono well, you know, moving so fast you were stuck doing quantum wheelies” (pp. 220-221).
- John and the team don’t believe them.
- “These trillionaires were acting like they’d got the Holy Grail” instead of using scientific method and testing their theories and equipment (p. 221).
- Imagine Elon Musk in charge of a project like this and you understand John’s frustration and anger.
- The trillionaires say they’re building a lot more ships to carry the population. He knows it won’t work.
- When he points out the practical flaws in the new plan, they call him a crazy monster. “They kept saying cows watched sunsets” (p. 222).
- Raising the meat-and-bone wall has soured his image for good.
- The “cows and sunsets” line recur.
- Recall the decoration above the private lab entrances: cattle. This is where the cow motif starts — it’s not a cute design accent, but a reminder of John’s rage and humiliation. I’ll have more to say about this later.
- It tells you a lot about John and his ability to hold on to a grudge.
- M— says that “we were looking at a private flotilla carrying the rich bastards to safety. And A— agreed with her . . . He said they were going to try to generation ship it to Tau Ceti using stuff we’d come up with, tech we’d created, and just be all bye-bye, fuck you, planet, thanks for the oil and for the chicken yakitori, we loved that stuff” (p. 222).
- This is literally the plot of Netflix’s 2021 series Don’t Look Up. Can you say zeitgeist?
- John doesn’t believe anyone will buy the trillionaires’ lies. “Look at all the division we caused because we proved magic was real and turned Bidibidi inside out because we didn’t trust the cops” (p. 222).
- Bidibidi is a refugee camp in Uganda that’s become a “city.” There are lots of links if you want to read about it from your friendly search engine — I can’t pick just one because they’re ubiquitous and most are from old sources or aid organizations.
- Point is, John compares the encampment of skeptics and believers clustered around him in Wairarapa to Bidibidi.
- “They left you, they left you. They saw you suffering on dollar-shop life-support, and they didn’t look back. They didn’t give a fuck about trying to save you” (p. 223).
- “You is, of course, Alecto. First. John’s cavalier. But at this point, you should be asking yourself the obvious: who is Alecto? As in, before she was First, and John’s cavalier. Who is she?
All the players are in place. We’ve passed a tipping point. From here, the story turns from “Nona is a lone flower blooming in a desert” to “seat-of-the-pants heist.” Hang on.
Finally, an editorial reminder: Even though relatively few of us are commenting and discussing, we have to assume that others are following along silently. And there are more, I know, who haven’t begun the series because they’re waiting for Alecto to be published, and then they’ll go back through these reads. For their sakes, let’s not spoil the pleasure of discovery with specifics that have yet to be revealed. It’s one thing to post pins or draw connections to points that have already been revealed but not explained, but another to give away the store. Some comments and discussions have trodden close to terra incognita, close enough that a timely reminder is in order. Thanks!
The memes are fewer in Nona, and there’s no comprehensive list of them. I’ll note the ones I find. You should do the same.
If you haven’t tuned into the Locked Tomb Podcast, you should.
Here is a list of things I suggested we pay attention to. Since the list is long, I’ve removed items that have been resolved.
Nona the Ninth
Nona’s Waking World
- The week’s codewords:
- Lowdown: Danger, everyone scatter
- Deadweight: All clear
- Red ribbon: Someone following
- Fritters: Someone listening
- Fishhook: Important resource, come and help secure it
- There are millions of people from many different planets who have come from being resettled on other planets before this one, and none of them are happy.
- Pyrrha insists they have to choose between the barracks and Palamedes’ people.
- Merv Wing has the upper hand among Blood of Eden.
- The school is being watched.
- The Sixth House had a “break clause” and the “installation” had a secret.
- Nona dreams the pool scene from Gideon.
- Salt water relieves Nona.
- The Sixth House Oversight Committee is being held by Blood of Eden.
- Nona hears Varun sing.
- Why is Varun here?
John’s Dreamtime Memories
- “The corpses were my batteries.”
As yet unsent
- Gideon’s corpse is incorruptible.
- Blood of Eden has a ship with a stele, and a necromancer to power it.
- Mercymorn worked directly with Blood of Eden.
HARROW THE NINTH
- The Mithraeum. The bovine skulls in Canaan House. Also Sprach Zarathustra.
- Harrow: “Beloved dead...let me live long enough to die at your feet.”
- John: “I mastered Death; I wish I’d done the smarter thing and mastered Time.”
- From “The Little Mermaid”: the chance to live as a human, also the bit about sharing souls.
- Harrow was the 311th direct descendent of the Tomb keeper, and the 87th Nona.
- John says there’s a hiccup with FTL travel in that it destroys something to do with time and distance.
- John has been fighting with Blood of Eden for 5,000 years. He’s been searching for another enemy for 10,000, but we don’t know who.
- Ianthe: “I always take the smartest option first . . .” Pair this with Harrow’s opinion that Ianthe dismisses as unimportant everything she isn’t interested it.
- Something has gone wrong with the River.
- John says his work is “not yet finished.”
- A.L.: The First, Alecto. Who/what is she? She’s John’s cavalier.
- Why did John lie to his Lyctors and induce them them to kill their cavaliers?
- Gideon tells Ianthe that Harrow has already opened the Tomb. Never forget that Ianthe has her own plans, and they involve Harrow staying alive . . . among other things.
- “Space was being cleared for a new character” (p. 464).
- Mercy says that the Resurrection Beasts were coming for Alecto.
- Augustine begs John to stop his 10,000 year old mission. “Nobody has to be punished anymore for what happened to humanity” (p. 483).
- Pyrrha wishes that Augustine had given them the packet.
- Abigail tells Harrow that the “soul longs for its body.” Others have said so, too, over the course of the books. The soul longs for its body.
THE MYSTERIOUS STUDY OF DOCTOR SEX
- Dulcinea writes a letter to “My dearest pals...” Either to Palamedes or to him and Camilla both. Also worthy of note: in Harrow she calls Palamedes her first strand and Camilla her second, and three strands were not undone.
- The Lyctoral letter: Darling girl,
Tomorrow you will become a Lyctor and finally go where I can’t follow. I want you to keep this letter when you are far away and think of me and want me and can’t have me, and know that no matter how far you travel, nor how long the years feel, the one thing that never stays entombed is
APPENDICES OF GIDEON THE NINTH
- Thanergenic planets: are powered by thanergy. Only the Nine Houses are thanergenic.
- Thanergy planets: are planets in the process of being killed by necromancy. Every part of the Empire outside the Nine Houses is made of thanergy planets, whose inhabitants are colonized, but aren’t citizens. On thanergy planets the life is slowly mutating and dying off.
GIDEON THE NINTH
- “Die in a fire, Nonagesimus.” (p. 47)
- Aiglamene: “Things are changing. I used to think we were waiting for something...and now I think we’re just waiting to die.” (p. 55)
- “’Down there resides the sum of all necromantic transgression . . . The unperceivable howl of ten thousand million unfed ghosts who will hear each echoed footstep as defilement….” (p. 151).
- Ianthe: “I’m interested in the place between death and life . . . where the things are that eat us” (p. 382).
- Colum Asht is possessed by something with mouths for eyes, a long blue tongue.
- God: “There are things out there that even death cannot keep down. I have been fighting them since the Resurrection. I can’t fight them by myself’” (p. 441).
- God can’t go down Canaan House. He says, ‘I saved the world once — but not for me” (p. 443).
- House of the Emperor, his servants, and his Lyctors.
- Seat: Once Canaan House, now the Mithraeum.
- Skull: no adornment.
- Planet: Earth
- Primary: John Gaius (gold eyes), aka God; his cavalier: Alecto (black eyes).
- Pre-Resurrection John was a scientist.
- Colors: white and scarlet, martial. Home of the Cohort, God’s armies.
- Characteristics: discipline
- Necro: Judith Deuteros, age 22, (Judith beheaded Holofernes), cavalier: Marta Dyas, age 27, (Marta=martial).
- Lyctor: Gideon, saint of Duty (brown eyes); his cavalier: Pyrrha Dve (green eyes).
- Canaan House trial: Projection and winnowing (the big bone construct). Pyrrha invented it.
- Pyrrha was a “bombshell” (John) and a “stone-cold fox” (Augustine).
- Pre-Resurrection: Gideon was G—, an engineer and childhood friend of John.
- Pre-Resurrection: Pyrrha was P—, a police detective and G—‘s best friend.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, use of thanergy in battle. They siphon their enemies to strengthen their cavaliers.
- Skull: A Spartan-style helmet
- Planet: Mars
- Colors: Violet?
- Characteristics: wealth and flash
- Necro: Ianthe and Coronabeth Tridentarius, princesses of Ida, both age 21 (purple eyes), cavalier: Naberius Tern, age 23 (blue eyes).
- Lyctor: Cyrus; his cavalier: Valancy Trinit.
- Cyrus drew the sixth Resurrection beast into a black hole.
- Valency thinks that “one flesh, one end” sounds like instructions for a sex toy.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, “animaphilia” — lover of the soul
- Skull: Jewels in the eyeholes.
- Planet: by the process of deduction: Neptune. It’s beautiful. It’s also the RB Number Seven.
- Colors: Blue
- Characteristics: courage
- Necro: Isaac Tettares, Baron of Tisis, age 13 (hazel eyes); cavalier: Jeannemary Chateur, knight of Tisis, age 14 (brown eyes). (eye color here and elsewhere h/t DesiderataDetritus)
- Lyctor: Ulysses; his cavalier: Titania Tetra.
- Augustine calls Ulysses “a madman” who incited “the sexy parties.”
- Specialty: Spirit magic? It’s unclear, but Abigail Pent was training Isaac, so it’s logical.
- Skull: Wears a laurel wreath
- Planet: Saturn? (h/t RunawayRose)
- Notes: The Fourth supplies soldiers and necromancers to the Cohort. The Fourth has large families, since so many die in battle. The Fourth is first on the ground in war.
- Colors: nothing formal, but sensible brown works.
- Characteristics: Intelligence. Temporal power.
- Necro: Abigail Pent, age 37, Koniortos Court cavalier: Magnus Quinn, age 38. Husband and wife.
- Lyctor: Augustine, saint of Patience; his cavalier: Alfred Quinque (eyes gray).
- Pre-Resurrection Augustine was A—, a scientist.
- Alfred, with Christabel, coin the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- Second disciple in the Resurrection.
- Alfred “led astray” by Cristabel.
- Pre-Resurrection Alfred was A— Junior, a hedge fund manager and Alfred younger brother.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, speaking to the dead. Abigail is a famed historian.
- Skull: Wears a decorated headband, possibly a crown of thorns (h/t Ahianne).
- Planet: Jupiter
- Notes: “Koniortos” = “dust” (h/t BMScott).
- Colors: gray
- Characteristics: scholarship, rare book librarian and conservatorship skills, medical expertise
- Necro: Palamedes Sextus, master warden, age 20, (Palamedes: genius Greek soldier in the Trojan War) (eyes clear gray), cavalier: Camilla Hect, age 20. Second cousins, (eyes gray/brown).
- Lyctor: Cassiopeia; her cavalier: Nigella Shodash.
- Cassiopeia developed the magma metaphor to explain travel in the River.
- She led a Resurrection Beast into the River and was ripped apart by ghosts in seven minutes.
- Described by John as “brilliant and sensible and careful.” (HtN, p. 97). And a good cook. And an easy drunk. Protective of and/or jealous around Nigella.
- Pre-Resurrection Cassiopeia was C—, a lawyer
- Nigella: “prettier” than Pyrrha Dve.
- Specialty: Flesh magic, emphasis on science and magic.
- Skull: Clutches a scroll in its teeth.
- Planet: Mercury.
- Notes: the Sixth House developed the process of cramming numerous souls into a body. Purpose and application still unclear.
- Colors: seafoam green
- Characteristics: love of beauty, especially the fleeting type. Fans of the beautiful death and heirs with hereditary cancer.
- Necro: Dulcinea Septimus, duchess of Rhodes, age 27 (pallid blue eyes); cavalier: Protesilaus Ebdoma, age 39 (Protesilaus: the first Greek to die in the Trojan war). Rhodes: island in the Aegean, site of the Colossus, visited by both Herod the Great and the Apostle Paul.
- Lyctor: Cytherea, Saint; her cavalier: Loveday Heptane (blue eyes).
- Cytherea was one of the 2nd generation Lyctors.
- Loveday was fiercely protective of Cytherea, and the rest at Canaan House disliked her.
- Second generation of disciples, the last to arrive at Canaan House.
- Specialty: flesh magic, with emphasis on beauty.
- Skull: A rose in one eyehole.
- Planet: Venus.
- Colors: White
- Characteristics: orthodox purity, dogmatism, “White Templars,” the “Forgiving House”
- Necro: Silas Octakiseron, age 16 (eyes brown); cavalier: Colum Asht, age 32, 34, or 37.
- Lyctor: Mercymorn, saint of Joy; her cavalier: Cristabel Oct (grayish hazel eyes).
- With Alfred, Cristabel coined the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- First of the disciples after the Resurrection.
- Augustine calls Cristabel “a fanatic and an idiot,” and blames her for “leading Alfred astray.”
- Pre-Resurrection Mercymorn was M—, a medical doctor.
- There’s some relationship between the Eighth House and the stoma, a place that God cannot comprehend. Augustine says the House “sucks at it . . . like a teat.” Likely has a relationship with soul siphoning.
- The entropy and siphoning challenge at Canaan House: Mercy designed it.
- Specialty: spirit magic, focus on soul siphoning. Also hypocrisy.
- Skull: Blindfolded, denoting blind loyalty.
- Planet: Uranus (of course). It’s a pale planet.
- Colors: black
- Characteristics: devotion to the Locked Tomb.
- Necro: Harrowhark Nonagesimus, age 17 (eyes black); cavalier: Gideon Nav, age 19, (eyes gold).
- Not-a-Lyctor: Anastasia; her cavalier: Samael Novenary.
- Specialty: bone magic.
- Skull: lacking a mandible.
- Planet: Pluto.
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