Space Marines Do It Better: Independence

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“You’d make me pay for a drink when the world is ending?”
Karra crossed her arms, the mutant horns of her right striking sparks against the black iron augmetic of her left.
“Zeelo, I’d make YOU pay for the drink if Angron appeared in a cyclone of blood and drowned us. And if the world’s ending I’m not spending my last seconds looking at you for free. So pay, leave, or give me an excuse to kill you, and those are in ascending order of preference.”
Zeelo slinked out of the Bloody Cog into the rusting alley between manufactory stacks. No-one had ever proven that Karra served Iron Warriors in the armored upper floor, or that she distilled debtors into the bloodka which got them drunk. But even Zeelo understood this might be because anyone who could prove it was now proof.
Karra unclenched her fists and went back to scouring steel drinking vessels. (Patrons had to pay extra for glass, at considerable markup, but most were smart enough to bring their own blades). She peered at the smog-choked sky through the slats of a presumably sarcastic ventilation grill. A forge world’s sky was always grey, and Ferron V’s seemingly limitless promethium reserves had turned them black even before it had been claimed by Chaos.
Now even the pretence of habitability had been cast aside as daemon-infused manufactories ran with the blood of industrial accident. Truly, Khorne cared not from who the blood flowed, and it seemed a conveyor belt was close enough if was screaming about a False Emperor and carrying replacement sawchains.
(The one smartass comment Karra would never make was “Yes, he’s a mouldering corpse incarnating the rotten lies of a weakling Imperium, true, but he is actually their Emperor. And we don’t have another rival Emperor. So he’s not a False Emperor, is he?”)
No, it was undeniable. The sky was darker. Maybe the rumours of xenos descending to burn the world were true.
Karra turned behind her armored bar/palisade to pour an expensive glass of bloodka. She raised it to the dim grill.
“Skulled for the Skull Throne!” she cried, turning her head to the sky and crushing the glass in her fist, mingled blood and spirit falling into her open mouth.
Any xenos dumb enough to attack this place would join it soon.

Xenos vessels had descended to destroy Ferron V. But it was taking longer than they’d expected. Their shock and awe strategy of awesome sky-filling discs descending into the lower atmosphere to detonate entire cities only worked when there were individual cities. Against the endless sprawl of a forge world it was basically acupuncture. Instead of striking fear and panic into the population they’d been forced to crawl a few kilometers at a time while their weapons recharged. It was like trying to clean a boulder with a toothbrush.
Between shots they’d stared down in disbelief as roving gangs of humans dashed into devastated areas to cart away wreckage for smelting. The surviving manufactories suddenly had new quotas to seize, and until they themselves were targeted they would work to serve their masters’ hunger. A hunger for blood, for vengeance, a hunger above all for the eating of worlds.
And now their masters were descending.

The bridge of World Eaters assault cruiser Knuckle hosted an unprecedented tactical meeting. In that “tactical meetings” of the Blood of Everything warband usually involved fighting your way to the drop pod’s controls and aiming it at the fiercest anti-aircraft fire.
The ship’s human Captain Jakk Beam took another swig from his vodekk canteen and mag-clamped it back to the side of his throne. This was a tactical decision on par with any of his brilliant void stratagems, balancing the risk of movement against the fatal effects of being sober enough to show visible fear. Once the rising star of the Imperial Navy’s Fleet Obscurus, capture by the World Eaters had revealed that his combat genius was not motivated by love of the Imperium but an advanced sense of self-preservation. A sense which had developed new tactics: keep killing enemies even when his masters weren’t on the bridge, and keep his mouth shut when they were.
Right now his mouth couldn’t have been more shut by a Cadian blockade. The assembled World Eaters had just been informed that the xenos’ shields were proof against drop pod assault, and Jakk was just hoping he’d still have some bridge officers left to replace the thin smear of sensorium officer, when the armored bridge portals clanked open to reveal Sergeant Amzara. Now even the other World Eaters went quiet. Jakk held so still his heart stopped.
Amzara’s expressionless helm faced the sensorium bay splattered red in warning lights and bits of its late operator. Glowing lenses turned to the vast circular xenos craft on the main viewscreen. The alien mothership was in high orbit, overseeing its daughter discs’ assault on Ferron V. A tearing grind of gears was revealed as laughter as she removed her helm.

Amzara had become a Space Marine the same way she’d become slaughter-chieftan of her feral homeworld’s largest tribe: killing anyone who objected. She’d shredded the World Eater’s warrior trials, killing her way to the top of the Skull Mound and just not stopping until the Marines had been left with little choice but to take her or leave empty handed.
She’d been saved the bother of killing again in the implantation chambers by Combat Apothecary Grizt, who’d waved whirring narthecium blades under the chin of an assistant gibbering about hormone levels and rejection tolerances.
“Hah!” Grizt spat, jerking the blades close enough to taste blood. “How weak do you think we are? I’ve seen marines take a tank round to the gut and tear the gunner’s head off. The things we implant, we could shove them into a grox and end up with another World Eater. Probably a smarter one than most.”
He stared into Amzara’s eyes. They did not lower. Nor, he noticed, did her fists relax even though her arms were clamped to the surgical slab. The implantation procedure didn’t work “with” the weak human body. It overwrote it. Overloaded it. Enhanced it beyond all sanity or structure to become a demi-god striding above its old species as an avatar of war. The idea that a few grams of tissue could stand against that wasn’t just laughable, it was pathetic.
He plunged a scalpel into her chest and dragged it down her sternum in a first incision. She twisted in agony but did not cry out. Grizt grunted approval.
“Any progenoid which can’t deal with this isn’t worthy of marines.”

Sergeant Amzara grinned.
“You mangy curs want someone to tell you it’s safe to attack? Should I clean your waste filters for you too? Get to the drop pods!”
The World Eaters roared their approval and stormed off the bridge. Amzara stepped forward to Jakk, who stood, his dignity demanding that he at least be punched to death instead of stood on. (The vodekk helped).
“Don’t worry Jakk, the Knuckle can punch through their shields!”
“Master,” — he’d seen from experience that prefacing bad news with “forgive me” was the galaxy’s least-self-fulfilling prophecy — “We have sustained maximum bombardment for five minutes with no noticeable effect.”
Amzara laughed again, returning to the brutal hacking of vox-distortion as she resealed her helm and strode to the bridge portal.
“Yes, Jakk, but the Knuckle can punch through their shields!”

The World Eater’s craft plunged into the mothership like a knife through flesh. The impenetrable field had flared like a nova as cataclysmic feedback with the Knuckle’s voids had torn them both down. Now it was just ship to ship. The xenos disc was the size of a civilization. But the xenos disc was a civilization, stuffed with all the weak and vulnerable innards that implied, while the World Eaters cruiser was a blade built only for war.
Forward decks clad in meters of multiply-reinforced ceramite tore like an armor-piercing round through flesh. Forward lance batteries and defense turrets burned through storage silos, civilian habs, maintenance yards and medical bays, burning as they plunged into the soft guts of an entire culture. Jakk roared as it all flared and shattered on his viewscreen, vodekk burning in his veins as the starship captain gained an impossible glimpse of the glory of urban assault.
The Knuckle’s realspace engines deafened half the ship as they overloaded and flared out, their actinic flares now the quills of an impossibly vast arrow mortally wounding the larger vessel.
Then the drop pods fired like a shotgun blast.
Designed to withstand atmospheric re-entry and orbital-insertion impacts on the most brutal battlefields imaginable, they shredded soft internal divisions built for long years of civilian life between worlds. And through the stumbling and dazed survivors tore the World Eaters.

The ridiculous little xenos died by the thousands without a shot fired or blade drawn. That these tiny grey things dared attack anyone was an affront to everything the World Eaters worshipped. When the xenos’ own troops finally arrived, struggling through miles of their own stricken vessel from deployment hangars to their own burning homes, they were just larger versions of the same fleshy targets. Worthier foes attacking World Eaters already drenched in their people’s blood. They could not have been a better gift to Khorne.
One wrapped Amzara’s right gauntlet in the flailing tentacles sprouting from its back. She turned her wrist around them and yanked, headbutting the stumbling alien warrior with a squelching crunch. She roared in laughter, tearing the broken head from its shoulders, then ripping wet shards of biological helm from the small grey face within.
“Blood for the Blood God!” she cried across the vox, “Even their armor bleeds!”

The next week of slaughter was forever marked in the warband’s scar-annals. They would mount planetary assaults on this ritual date that the sheer volume of vitae spilled would reach across the warp to bless fresh butchery.
It only ended when a lowly adept of the Dark Mechanicus emerged from the Knuckle‘s smouldering enginarium. Intending only to scavenge scrap to smelt for crude replacement parts, the same heretical thirst for knowledge which had driven her from Mars now plunged her mechadendrites into the glittering xenos system.
A shock of total access almost killed her organic components on the spot. This …. even after decades on a Chaos vessel, what she now found was lunacy. Even the crude operation-daemons of the World Eater’s most basic craft required access codes to engage or rituals to placate. But so arrogant where these invaders that the vast expanse of craft had no security whatsoever.
“My lord!” she voxed to Amzara, “I have total control of the xenos craft! What should I do!”
The reply grated from a throat torn by days of ceaseless roar, and the crackle of augmitter distortion, but the savage joy of it flooded what little flesh remained on the tech-adept’s frame.
“DROP THEM!”

Ferron V thrived like never before. A few paltry cubic klicks of lost manufactorum were nothing compared to the bounty gifted by their heavenly masters. Towers of industry already erupted from the massive discs, the daemon-forges chewing through the corpses of an entire civilization. The xenos had fancied themselves a plague on the galaxy. Locusts feasting on the wealth of countless worlds. Instead they had only served to refine them, gathering a treasury of rare ores, exotic materials, obscure technologies, all dropped into the maw of a forge world’s endless appetite.
Feeding the infinite hunger of the World Eaters.

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Space Marines Do It Better: Metal

The sky screamed around the Thunderhawks as if understanding the doom they carried.  The Iron Warriors cut through the world’s thin atmosphere. Soon they would tear out its rich mineral veins to feed the endless hunger of their Daemon Forges. But first they descended on the single shining city on the planet’s surface. Nowhere near the richest deposits, the ravenous assault fleet could easily have avoided it. But the Iron Warriors’ eternal hatred could bear nothing to stand in their sight. And their Forges fed on more than mere metals.

The Thunderhawks descending through thick clouds of fumes and dirt kicked up by the bulk landers. The craft arrayed themselves in a line a mere hundred meters from the edge of the strangely defenseless city. Every building was metal, windowless, crowded together on a vast flat shining disc.

Serrik strode from the Thunderhawk ramp to the blasted earth and advanced towards the city. His squad fell in behind him, unconsciously matching the metronomic precision of his augmetic legs. Their exactitude, their strength, their perfect endurance were truly Iron Within. His face still snarled around the scars of the krak missile which had nearly torn him in half. His soul still recoiled from the suckered tentacles which had sprouted from the bleeding stumps, whipping and flailing for flesh until they’d been amputated.

Beside him Haksar still carried the Narthecian chainaxe he’d used for the “surgery”. Excision of mutation had become such a regular duty he’d installed a spare narthecium gauntlet in the haft of his axe, the better to study and destroy “gifts” of the Iron Warriors’ would-be sponsors.

Past the yellow-black bulk of the landers stood the city. Harsh. Angular. Plainly unwelcoming, but ludicrously undefended. There were no walls, no ramparts. Emplaced weapons were either utterly invisible or entirely absent, both options equally impossible to the Iron Warrior mind. It seemed that anyone could just stroll in and explore freely unless a defender happened to bump into them wandering the hallways. Though it seemed the arrival of the Iron Warrior’s annihilation force had driven even the careless creatures of this travesty to defend themselves. A door retracted vertically and  line of metal bollards filed from the nearest building, sliding across the metal to form a firing line. Some sort of self-propelled turret? They looked ridiculous. Then they fired. Ten attackers simply disappeared, vaporized by weapons far more powerful than any melta.

But that’s what cannon fodder were for.

Ten out of a thousand were nothing. Regiments of barely armored scum were driven from the holds of the bulk haulers. The vast craft arrived carrying cargos of worthless mortals and left full of precious metals. The Iron Warriors drove the slavestocks forward, chainswords hacking at those too slow to the attack. The vast mass charged at the city uncaring of their losses. Those blinded by vaporization flare screamed and ran at the afterimage of light, instant death a greater reward than most Iron Warriors prisoners had even dared to imagine.

The defending drones kept up their fire but didn’t even dent the advance. Hordes of humanity broke over and around them, metal rocks helpless to hold back the tide flowing past and into the city, and suddenly the Iron Warriors slammed into them. The mass of flesh had protected the armored figures from the fusillades and now they were point-blank.

At close-quarters the drones’ defense was laughable.  Squat, flat-bottomed things, their powerful ranged weapons were front-mounted with a tiny field of fire. Their only melee weapon was some sort of … plunger? Serrik lowered his shoulder and charged into the closest, rocking it back on its base, his chainsword cutting through the gun-stalk before it could flail in his direction. The plunger suddenly surged forward and flared to swallow his helm.

The world went dark but for warning runes as it covered his eye-lenses. He roared as tore away his helm, pulling the sucking plunger out of the robot as he did so. Then he slammed his helm down, using it do drive the dangling spike of alien metal through the dome on top of the machine. It squealed and gurgled in a distinctly unmechanical manner, spurting noxious fluids around the improvised misericord before falling silent. He pulled his helm free of the now-lax sucker and resealed it to his gorget. No point in giving up the advantages of tactical insight so easily.

Alert rune directed his weapon as he turned to shatter a second with chattering bolter fire. The pathetic las and solid-slug weapons of the fodder had bounced off the armored hides, and it even weathered a few rounds of mass-reactive, but sustained fire forced dents into breaks through which explosive rounds burst it from within

Another alert and he turned to find Haksar flanked by four of the metal machines. Serrik charged forward, leaping with chainsword raised high above his head to bisect one as he landed. The two halves fell apart to spill a hideous tangled thing deep in the heart of the wreckage.

“Xenos!” spat Serrik, turning to blast the weapon-arms from a second. The machines could not evade, bogged down by the morass of expendable troops, unable to maneuver in the maelstrom of battle.

“Worse!” cursed Haksar, kicking the third from the end of his chain-axe before burying the blade in a third. He leaned in to study the narthecium display in the haft even as the spinning blades mulched the matter within. “ABOMINATIONS!” he roared, gunning his axe to spray an organic slurry from the ruined shell.

He turned to Serrik. “MUTANTS!” he roared, hate harsher than the vox-amplification. “These things were once human!”

“EXTERMINATE!” cried the nearest thing, its screeching vox-torn blare a parody of Haksar’s righteous human anger. “DALEKS ARE THE SUPERIOR BEINGS!”

Not once in his endless war had Serrik stepped backwards, but now he almost recoiled. These things thought themselves superior? They embraced this horror over the pure human form, they desecrated metal to make this mockery of strength, and they dared to have pride? His incoherent cry of hatred almost drowned out the thunder of his bolter, advancing as he smashed the Dalek’s disgusting life to shreds. These were not foes to be killed. These were offenses to be punished.

The Iron Warriors, already the embodiment of brutal close-quarter combat, erupted in fury. The Dalek line collapsed. Several screamed with anti-gravitic energy as they tried to flee into the sky, only to be slammed back down and crumple under the pauldrons of Warriors with meteoric jump packs.

“EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!” The call echoed from synchronized speakers. An armored wedge of Daleks was forcing its way forward from deeper in the silver city. Ranks of their ridiculous guns fired in unison to vaporize entire swathes of fodder.

“PERNAK!” called Serrik. The response was an earthquake in metal as the company’s Dreadnought charged across the battlefield. Mortals too slow to escape his path were ripped and torn on the hooked and bladed flanges across his armored shell.

“IRON WITHIN” boomed the entombed Warrior. The blood-soaked machine smashed into the Dalek wedge, scattering them left and right. His immense left power fist grabbed the closest by its domed ‘head’, hoisting it aloft before closing, crushing, hurling the sparking wreck at two more. His right weapon was an immense Siege Spike – four meters of cursed black iron designed to puncture the stress-points of fortifications – with pistons that screamed as it punched through fallen Daleks.

“IRON WITHOUT!” responded Serrik, the cry taken up by every Iron Warrior on the surface.

“Advance! Destroy! None of this filth will feed our forges!”

Servo-bundles flexed and pumped, master-crafted armor built to embrace and enhance his transhuman perfection, both pulsing with strength as he pushed forward to lead the charge.

“These wretched things desire extermination and we shall bring it to them!”

 


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Space Marines Do It Better: Apex

The Catachans were scared of the jungle. Seven words which threatened the entire Jautjex campaign. The Rolling Iron tankers of Sherman’s world, where cribs were fitted with toy promethium motors so that infants learned to sleep through the rumble and stink, flinched at every noise. The 7th Cuchulains — masters of city clearance despite a tendency to treat bars as primary targets — sang no victory songs and only muttered into their drinks. Sure, it was only in the jungle, went the stories, but anything which could kill a Catachan in the jungle could kill anyone else anywhere. The Death Corps of Krieg 544th company said nothing. They marched into the jungle and were never heard from again.

The Imperium’s relentless advance slowed, and stalled. Even minor operations bogged down and ballooned into costly engagements. The Astra Militarum’s mailed fist weakened as the blood of morale was drained by rumor. And all the while Catachans continued to die in the green. Their new fear should have made them cautious, but the resulting shame made them suicidal. Squads tore into the undergrowth desperate to prove their valor, only to find the still-dripping chunks of their predecessors and one sobbing soldier babbling tales of the jungle itself rising to kill them all.

Karn-Tor hung from the branches thirty meters above the trail. The hunt was beginning to bore her. The prey were plentiful and loud, but had become embarrassingly easy to kill. She’d already proven everything she intended, challenging herself on the hunting ground of a planetary conflict, and had to admit to herself that continuing bordered on gluttony. She’d hoped to draw out the elite of this species and was saddened to imagine that she seemed to have found it. It was probably time to move on.
Movement. Herd approaching through the undergrowth on either side of the trail. Thermal lenses revealed eight, no, ten figures. Much larger before. She smiled behind her mask. Maybe this world would offer one last indulgence. She flexed her hands, rolled her neck, waking the muscles in preparation of flensing to come. Perhaps even a trophy. As they came into view she saw some kind of black armor…
Everything exploded. The world disappeared in fire and concussion.
Thermal lenses overloaded, sheer reflex kicked her off the branch. But hot shrapnel tearing through vines and mosses meant her foot slipped through the mulched vegetation to send her plummeting to the ground. Even as she twisted to catch a vine she saw her intended destination disappear in a blaze of fire.
Accident.
The thought cut her like a poisoned blade leaving a wound which would never heal. Accident. She had survived by accident. These filthy prey would scream to give her atonement before night fell. They would fail, but that is what prey were for.
Her invisibility shroud rippled green and brown to hide her from sight as she vaulted across the canopy. But the explosions followed. She lengthened her leaps, aiming further, faster, but she saw more massive black figures emerging from the trees to her right. She zagged through the massive trees, increasing to sinew-tearing speed, but then the trunks to her left erupted with craters. Yet more of the hard-shelled prey emerging on the right. She cut low, sacrificing vantage for sheer speed, dropping to the ground into a full sprint. How big was this herd?
The explosions never stopped. She outran death with every footfall. Only now did her echolocator compensate for the cacophony to pick out distinctive prey signatures. The waterfall of static along the left of her mask display resolved into distinct detections, triangular glyphs scrolling across the bottom.
Close range: low frequency: machinery/combustion — crude transport rockets. Ten signatures. Ten signatures. These were all the same ten prey, flanking her.
Hunting her.
Sheer suicidal rage almost killed her on the spot, sacrificing her escape and her self to stand and spit on such an affront. Karn-Tor was a hunter. The greatest in her clan. Possibly the greatest in her tribe. She had collected trophies from all this galaxy’s most dangerous prey. An Ork skull so large it was now her trophy cabinet, containing the heads of Necron and Dark Eldar alphas, embellished with carved shards of Zoanthrope scale. Her soul held no doubt she was the greatest hunter alive.
But she was no warrior.

A mere hunter operates on their own terms. They understand that they might die, but they never willingly offer themselves for death. Faced with unexpected reversals their first instinct is to flee, to lick their wounds. Then return to base re-arm and restore the total advantage over their targets they enjoy so much.
Karn-Tor angled towards the preparations she’d made only as a matter of excellent hunting technique, with no thought to actually using them. She dove into a gully cut in the jungle by one of countless waterways, through false netting of expertly cut vine and fronds. As she crawled down the narrow channel, far too small for the bulky giants behind her, the plasma cannon on her shoulder rotated to spit an actinic globe backwards, collapsing the entrance.

Karn-Tor’s ship was buried deep in a narrow ravine in the rock with snares set on the only approach. She ducked through the hatch, sealing it behind her, and swung across to the pilot console. She settled into the single pilot throne. She would take fine trophies from these new prey to slake her shame. And if they were still alive as the flayed them, well, that would only…
Cold metal at her throat.
Shadow Captain Kyre appeared behind her. There was no other word for it. The heavy gauntlet which was suddenly holding the knife was painted black. Another slowly turned her chair, that she might see him. No. That he might inspect his catch. The same hand raised and tore the tribal mask for her face, revealing her blotched skin and fanged mandibles. She could feel disgust pulsing even through the glowing lenses of his armor. Harsh blare thundered through a crude vox-grille.
“It is right that you hide your vileness from the Emperor’s sight. But none can hide from His justice. Even the darkest shadow cannot save you.”
The blade did not cut sideways but pushed forwards, servos shoving pushing the metal blade clean through flesh and bone.
“For the Raven Guard are already there.”


More glory to the Space Marines in

 

The Four Chaos Gods of Writing

When struggling with abstract or existential problems there’s no better life coach than Warhammer 40,000. Because they solve abstract existentialist horrors by sharpening knives and fitting them to chainsaws. It’s a literary universe where the word “rip-roaring” isn’t just a valid description, it’s the subject-object interaction between most of the inhabitants, and everyone is always getting on with it. Which makes them the ideal motivator for most writers.

Their dark pantheon are four Chaos gods which handily represent the four stages of writing.

1. Slaanesh: God of Lust and Sensation

Slaanesh is all about the orgy of indulgence, the adrenaline of exploration, the thrill of sensation and the joy of experience. It represents that glorious first stage of writing where you’re bursting with new ideas and can’t wait to try them all out. But just like (his and her) chaos demons most of these ideas never escape into our world. They’re trapped in an imaginary realm where none will ever truly enjoy anything. And most of those who make it into our plane don’t survive for long, their imaginary impossibilities collapsing under the weight of existence. But those who make it have so much fun. And the one conjuring them always enjoys it.

2. Tzeenntch: God of Chaos and Change

The second stage is the sinuously shifting god of change. Ever-flowing, ever-moving, ever plotting and planning and shifting the stage to better suit its desires. Tzeentch is the power of rewriting. His is the glory of mutation, taking things that thought they were one thing and twisting them into shapes better suited to the new plan. This is the shifting of schemes in react to real problems. This is the glory of random creative chaos suddenly resolving into success, then getting to claim that you were an Architect of Fate all along.

3. Nurgle: God of Death and Decay

The oldest god, a bloated and scabrous thing which claims victory not through strategy, nor strength, but simple rot and neglect. Nurgle is all the articles left unfinished. The stories shelved because they got difficult. The endless bandaged forest of mummified corpses left waiting for inspiration which will never come. Of all the gods, Nurgle is the most powerful. Nurgle is always waiting for you to fall. Nurgle must be defeated.

But you have a powerful ally.

4. Khorne: God of Violence

Khorne is the god of rage and blood. The most savagely simple of the gods. The most despised by amateur writers who fancy themselves apostles of Tzeentch but he is the most vital for their victory. Because Khorne is the god of editing.

You must get in there and finish things. You must chase your pieces down and end them, dispatch them to where they’re going, and that means ripping and tearing and cutting them to the bone. Feel the savage joy of blades separating the rot and bloat, carving away the unnecessary and the ugly. Only the worthy survive.

Of all these inspirations, I most love the idea of Khornate berserkers set loose on the magical Faerie forest of Muses. Blood-drenched barbarians of spiked iron and action chasing down those diaphanous excuses, burning down their sun-dappled copseso f inspiration with the war-fires of immediate assault, dragging the flittering malingerers before their god of editing so that their blades can draw deadlines. Because the god of editing does not care from whom the word count flows.

Only that it flows.

Bonus: He’s not a Khornate, but I conjured my Inner Space Editor long ago, and he still does sterling duty in service of the Typing Throne

spaceeditor2


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