Home Fires

Home Fires

by Gene Wolfe

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Overview

Gene Wolfe takes us to a future North America at once familiar and utterly strange. A young man and woman, Skip and Chelle, fall in love in college and marry, but she is enlisted in the military, there is a war on, and she must serve her tour of duty before they can settle down. But the military is fighting a war with aliens in distant solar systems, and her months in the service will be years in relative time on Earth. Chelle returns to recuperate from severe injuries, after months of service, still a young woman but not necessarily the same person—while Skip is in his forties and a wealthy businessman, but eager for her return.

Still in love (somewhat to his surprise and delight), they go on a Caribbean cruise to resume their marriage. Their vacation rapidly becomes a complex series of challenges, not the least of which are spies, aliens, and battles with pirates who capture the ship for ransom. There is no writer in SF like Gene Wolfe and no SF novel like Home Fires.


At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429991582
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 01/18/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 306,423
File size: 343 KB

About the Author

Gene Wolfe (1931-2019) was the Nebula Award-winning author of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy in the Solar Cycle, as well as the World Fantasy Award winners The Shadow of the Torturer and Soldier of Sidon. He was also a prolific writer of distinguished short fiction, which has been collected in such award-winning volumes as Storeys from the Old Hotel and The Best of Gene Wolfe.



A recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award, and six Locus Awards, among many other honors, Wolfe was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007, and named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2012.


Gene Wolfe (1931-2019) was the Nebula Award-winning author of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy in the Solar Cycle, as well as the World Fantasy Award winners The Shadow of the Torturer and Soldier of Sidon. He was also a prolific writer of distinguished short fiction, which has been collected in such award-winning volumes as Storeys from the Old Hotel and The Best of Gene Wolfe.

A recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award, and six Locus Awards, among many other honors, Wolfe was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007, and named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2012.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

GREETINGS

"It won't be long," she promised.

"Not for you," Skip said. "A thousand years for me." Chelle smiled, and all heaven was in her smile.

* * *

Then he was looking down at his hands, and they were wrinkled and old. He stood before a mirror, but there was a mist between them that veiled his face from its own eyes. He raised his hand to push the mist away, knowing that his hand shook, knowing that horror waited beyond the mist.

He woke, sweating and trembling in his narrow bed, rose and went to the washbasin, poured water from the pitcher there into the bowl. The water smelled a little like sewage, but it felt cool and refreshing.

He soaked the cloth again, scrubbed his sweating face a second time. It was only a dream.

Only a dream.

In his dream he had gotten a yellow autoprint that had said she was back and he had been back too, back to the day she left. They had kissed ...

That had been the dream. What had really happened?

He got a water bottle, filled his mug, and decanted this purer water into his teakettle. His striker lit the gas.

They had contracted. He remembered that, and it was no dream. Just before she had left, they had contracted. Together they had registered the contract. How romantic it had seemed!

"You'll have twenty years to devote to your career ..." Chelle was lovely when she smiled. "We'll be rich when I get back, and you'll have a young contracta."

And he was rich, but she would (in all probability) never return to him. Now ...

He looked at himself in the mirror, and saw that he needed to shave and that much of his stubble was white. His hair was gray at the temples, too, and through the doorway — what was that beside the screen?

Yellow paper, of course. He always used yellow for client copies. They were so frightened ... He smiled to himself.

Always so frightened, though they tried (most of them) not to show it. Part of his job was to reassure them, and so there had been yellow paper in the printer.

Something seized him, and he stepped away from the mirror, trembling.

Five hundred. His watch, picked up from its place on the floor beneath his bed, read zero five zero six. His autocall would not come for more than an hour. He could go back to bed, go back to sleep.

He shuddered.

Shave. He would shave instead. Shave, clean up, get dressed, go out and get breakfast.

He went to the window. Magnificent! The view always inspired him. The window would not open, of course. Here, just below the penthouse, the wind would be savage.

Savage and cold.

For the first time it struck him that he could have it replaced with one that would open. He could have a floor-to-ceiling window that would open at the touch of a button. The cost would be trifling and tax-deductible. With a bit of creative accounting ...

Trifling for him.

It would be foolish of course. No one would really want such a thing, and he would never do it. But he could.

Boswash, NAU, was waking. From horizon to horizon, lights sparked into being in the tiny windows of lofty structures that were, for the most part, less lofty than his.

That yellow page. The Weyer murder?

He shook his head.

Shaving occupied the next eight minutes. Preshave, shave, aftershave. Good! He had gotten everything done before the power began to flicker, although his shaver could be plugged into the backup if necessary.

He folded the yellow sheet without looking at it and slipped it into his jacket pocket. Breakfast first, he told himself. Business afterward.

And realized, almost with a start, that he had been lying to himself. He knew what was on the yellow paper.

No. He sipped fragrant tea. That had been the dream. His tea was supposed to smell like tea roses; the knowledge planted a garden in his mind: huge bushes with dark green foliage and cupped pink flowers. Or red. Or white. A fountain in the middle, one in which pure water flowed without letup. The subtropics. There would be places there with gardens like that.

Beyond another window, almost out of sight, wet and heavy snow was falling into the sea.

* * *

The penthouse had a private elevator that stopped for no other floor. He smiled to himself as he waited for wide bronze doors to slide back, remembering what the penthouse rented for. This elevator — his own elevator — served the upper fifty floors, but on this trip it would stop for none of them.

The street was cold and dark, as was to be expected. Filthy, too, like all streets, though the snow had arrived to cover its filth. Despite his firm rule against giving to beggars, he rubbed the hump of a pathetic hunchback and gave him five noras. There were only two others out so early. So early, in cold and falling snow. A flourish of his walking stick sent them scuttling back to their places.

A block and a half brought him to Carrera's. He sat, and waved a waitress over.

"The usual, Mr. Grison?"

He nodded, holding out the yellow paper. "I need a favor, Aleta. Will you read this to me? It's pretty short."

"Sure, Mr. Grison. Forget your glasses?"

"No. I've read it. I need to hear someone else read it." He nearly said, "I need to have it made real," but he did not.

"Okay." The waitress cleared her throat. "It says, 'Greetings. You have contracted with Mastergunner Chelle Sea Blue.' I didn't know you had contracted with anybody, Mr. Grison."

"The rest, please."

"'In accordance with the law, you are hereby notified by Mustprint that Mastergunner Blue is being returned from outsystem. Mastergunner Blue will receive one year and forty-one days of accumulated leave after processing and debriefing.' Wow! She must have been gone quite a while."

Skip nodded. "By Earth-time she was."

"'Mastergunner Blue is scheduled to arrive by shuttle at Canam Port day one-eighty.'" The waitress glanced at her watch. "That's this coming Saturday, Mr. Grison."

"Yes. It is. You don't have to read the rest."

"It says she may've been affected by her experiences —"

"I know what it says."

"And you'll have to make allowances for her." The waitress paused. When Skip did not speak, she said, "Would you like to see a menu?"

He was still smiling at her remark as he poured honey on his buckwheat cakes. Yes, he would love to see a menu. Better yet, a psychological profile....

Which might actually be possible.

It was oh seven thirty-five when he left Carrera's, and oh seven forty-seven when he entered the Union Day Building. The offices of Burton, Grison, and Ibarra were still empty and silent, lit by a single dim fixture.

Once seated in his office, he read headlines on his screen: ANOTHER SUICIDE RING UNCOVERED — NEW ENERGY CONTROLS — SHIPS SEIZED AS CHAOS IN NORTHERN SAU WORSENS. The third made him grin; last week, the same news service had called the chaos total.

Still grinning, he posted a message to All: he would be gone for a week, and perhaps longer. If return by day one eighty-eight (or sooner) should prove impossible, he would notify them.

Next an order to Research: "Obtain psych. profile Mastergunner C. S. Blue; call me at once. — S.W.G."

After that, he assigned Mick Tooley to baby-sit the jewelry wholesaler case and the cyborg murder — the cases he had been handling personally. Tooley was to call him when necessary, but only when necessary.

What else?

Susan had tidied up his desk, and he had done little to disturb it. The wall safe yielded five thousand noras — more than sufficient, he decided, for emergencies requiring cash. A thousand for his wallet, and four thousand more for his briefcase.

From the doorway, Susan inquired, "Mr. Grison?"

He closed the safe.

"I just wanted to let you know I'm here if you need me. You beat me in this morning."

"I do. I was about to write you a note. I want a first-class compartment on a Bullet for Canam. Depart before twenty tonight."

"Yes, sir."

"I want a suite, one night, at the best hotel near the port. That's for the day after tomorrow."

"Yes, sir. Hypersuite?"

"If you can get one." He paused. "If you can't get a suite of any kind, then the best room you can get. Call me when you've got both, but not before. I'm leaving now. I want to get out before somebody ambushes me with something. Let Mick handle it, whatever it is."

"If there are several trains ...?"

"Nothing before noon — I've got to pack. The first one after that."

He was ready to go, but she whispered, "I'll miss you, Mr. Grison." Already feeling the pangs of treachery, he gave her a quick kiss.

Dianne, his secretary's assistant, greeted him with a bright smile and a cheerful hello as he left his office. Skip reflected that Susan would have work for her. As for him, he would have work for himself.

A doorman touched the bill of his cap. "Lester told me you were out early, Mr. Grison."

If he had made any reply at all, he had forgotten it by the time he reached his apartment.

ANSWERS might or might not be of help. He touched VOICE. "Gifts for returning servicewoman."

"Price?"

"Ten thousand and up."

"Age?"

Chelle's subjective age would have gone up by two years and what? A hundred-day or so. "Twenty-five."

"Designer dresses and suits, jewelry, small red car, total makeover."

"More."

"Cruise, private island, show horse ..."

He telephoned Research. "Boris? What do returning servicewomen want most? Somebody must have done a survey, and there might be two or three. Let me know."

* * *

His gift met him at the station. "Are you Skip Grison?" Smile. "I'm Chelle's mother."

He studied her. She was shorter than Chelle and almost slender. Simply but stylishly dressed. "You're younger than I expected," he said.

She smiled again, a charming smile. "Thank you, Skip. You have my ticket?"

"Not yet. We can square it with the conductor."

"You'll be billed if I have to pay my own way. You understand that, I hope."

He nodded, trying to place her perfume. Apples in a garden? Sun-warmed apples? Something like that.

"There would be a surcharge of twenty percent."

"Certainly. I'll take care of it."

Another charming smile. "You look baffled, Skip."

"I am. I pride myself on my ability to think on my feet, and I was told to expect you. But I ..."

"In a courtroom."

"Correct. I was going to say that even though I put in an order for you and knew you were coming, something about you took me by surprise. I need a moment to collect my thoughts. Where's your luggage?" "A nice porter took it for me. I gave him the number of your compartment."

He raised his eyebrows. "You knew it?"

She nodded. "I found it out — it wasn't difficult. Thirty-two C."

"You're right," he said. And then, grateful for the opportunity to break off their conversation, "Let's go find it."

One side was Changeglass, switched off now for full transparency. His scuffed suitcases were on the lone chair, a red-fabric overnight bag on the lower bunk, a bed currently disguised as a couch. The door of the tiny private bath stood open; after a glance inside, Skip closed it. He stowed his briefcase under the lower bunk.

She was throwing switches. "Good reading lights," she said. "That makes all the difference."

He said, "It's only a day and a half."

"Thirty-four hours, if it's on schedule. So one day and ten hours, since these Bullet Trains always are."

"We need to talk." Removing his overnight bag, he took the chair.

"That's what I'm here for." She smiled, warm and friendly. "To talk with you and my darling Chelle."

"Can you play the part?" "I don't play parts, Skip. Really, I don't." Now she attempted to look severe, but the smile kept getting in the way. "I am your Chelle's mother."

"You mean that she'll accept you, wholeheartedly, as her mother."

"She will, Skip, and she'll be right. You, thinking me a fraud, will be mistaken. Please try to understand. For thousands of years, we thought death the end, even though we knew of cases in which that had been untrue. Until we could raise the dead ourselves, we refused to believe that death was not necessarily final."

Almost unnoticed, the train glided from the station.

"You call me Skip."

She smiled yet again. He felt that he should by now have come to detest that smile, but found that it enchanted him instead. "I do, Skip, and I shall continue to do so."

"Chelle calls you ...?"

"Mother." She sat down on the lower bunk.

"Then I'll call you Mother Blue."

Her eyes flashed. "Not without a quarrel. I have never used Charles's surname, and I most certainly don't intend to begin after going though a world of nonsense to terminate our contract. I am Vanessa Hennessey. You may call me that. Or Ms. Hennessey. Or Vanessa. But not Essy or Vanie or anything of that silly sort."

"Vanessa, then. I don't know where Chelle's mother is buried, but it should be easy to find out. Suppose that I do, and that I take Chelle there and show her the grave — her real mother's grave. What would you do then?"

Vanessa laughed. "Why should I do anything? Why should my daughter do anything, for that matter? I was dead, and now I'm alive. Pay close attention, Skip. You haven't been thinking."

"I'm listening," he said.

"Are you? We'll find out eventually. Every brain scan I ever had — and there were a good many of them — has been uploaded into the brain of a living woman whose own brain was scanned and wiped clean. Once it had been done, that living woman became me, the woman sitting across from you now."

"Ms. Vanessa Hennessey."

"Exactly. I'm so glad you understand."

This time it was he who smiled. "Who is legally dead."

"An error that could be corrected by any competent attorney. Surely you know that a person missing for seven years can be declared legally dead. You must also know that those people sometimes turn up, after which the record is set straight."

"I paid a small fortune to have you resurrected."

"A very small one. Yes."

He wanted to pace, as he had so often in court. "Thus it's against my interest not to accept you myself."

The delightful smile. "I'm glad you understand."

"Thus I shall venture one more question, and no more. None after this. Currently, I am paying the company by the hundred-day. I paid for the first in advance."

She nodded. "That's standard."

"Suppose I stop paying?"

She laughed. "As you will, eventually. I understand that. Let's say when you stop paying. We both know that you will. I'll be returned to Reanimation. My brain will be scanned and wiped, and the earlier scan uploaded."

"You'll be dead."

"I will. But I will die secure in the knowledge that death is not final — that if ever I'm wanted enough, I can be recalled to existence." Smiling, she turned to look at the factory buildings and city streets they passed. "I'd heard that these things were wonderfully fast, Skip. But hearing it and seeing it ... How fast can it go?"

"Sixty-seven kilometers an hour. Or so they say. That's almost twice as fast as the fastest motor vehicles, so I wouldn't be surprised if they were stretching the facts a little."

"Marvelous!"

"It is. We're riding on a thin film of air, which is what makes the energy expenditure feasible. These cars are very light, of course. They say four men can lift one."

She laughed and clapped like a delighted child. "I'd love to see that done. To really see it, I mean, with my own eyes. They do all sorts of tricks on tele."

* * *

Later, in the dining car, she said, "You haven't asked me about Chelle. Not one thing. I've been waiting for it, Skip, but it hasn't happened. Want to tell me why?"

He shook his head.

"She divorced me, you're quite correct. She divorced her father, too, after she enlisted. Were you aware of that?"

"No." He studied the menu before touching several items.

"It doesn't mean she doesn't love me, and it certainly doesn't mean I don't love her. If you thought she didn't love me, why did you spend so much to bring me back?"

"I hope she'll like having you again. I wanted to get her something that would delight her, and you were the only gift I could find that seemed to have much chance." He hesitated. "I wanted to get you a separate compartment, a nice one near mine. We were too late with that, the train was full."

"We?"

"Susan. Susan's my secretary. She takes care of things like that for me. I asked if you'd mind sharing a compartment with me. They said they'd tell you that you had to."

"They did. I made no objection."

"Aren't you going to order?"

"I suppose. What's the green button?" The slight smile that twitched her lips made him suspect that she already knew.

"It means that you're ordering what the previous diner at the table ordered. Women — young girls for the most part — often want to do that. I don't know why."

"But you know about them."

"Yes, I do."

"I won't pry, Skip." The smile appeared in earnest. "Not now, because I know I wouldn't find out anything. Later, possibly. Some girls are terrified of ordering anything too costly. I was never one of those, but I knew some like that."

He nodded.

"Others are afraid they'll order something they don't know how to eat. Lobster or pigs' trotters, a dish that takes finesse. If they order what the man orders, he can't object to the price, and they can see how he eats it."

"So you ordered what I ordered, without knowing what it was."

"It seemed simpler like that. Either I'm not hungry at all, or I'm so hungry I'll eat anything. I'll know when the food comes. Wouldn't you think they'd have a waiter to take our order? He could answer our questions then."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Home Fires"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Gene Wolfe.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Cover,
Title Page,
Dedication,
Acknowledgments,
1. Greetings,
Reflection 1: The Journey,
2. When Janie Comes Marching Home,
Reflection 2: Seashell,
3. Getting Away,
Reflection 3: Old Things,
4. Just One of the Guys,
Reflection 4: Winds,
5. Day Trip,
Reflection 5: The Ride Back,
6. Stateroom One,
Reflection 6: The Best Course,
7. It's My Ship,
Reflection 7: Guns,
8. Going Down,
Reflection 8: Negotiations,
9. Achille's Miracle,
Reflection 9: A New Plan,
10. Rescue,
Reflection 10: Susan Clerkin,
11. Right and Left,
Reflection 11: The Ring,
12. Jane Sims,
Reflection 12: Women and Men,
13. Jerry's Room,
Reflection 13: Sleep,
14. No You Don't!,
Reflection 14: Much Later, While Watching the Atlantic,
15. Formal Night,
Reflection 15: Summum Jus Summa Injuria,
16. Table for Four,
Reflection 16: Couples,
17. The Double Agent,
Reflection 17: Looking Over the Rail,
18. Not the End,
Reflection 18: What Happened — and Might Happen,
19. Back to Boswash,
Reflection 19: Cobblestones,
20. 'Til Then,
Reflection 20: Walking,
Characters,
By Gene Wolfe,
Copyright,

Customer Reviews

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Home Fires 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Due to an interstellar military duty, affluent attorney Skip Grison is now two decades older than his contracted paramour Chelle Blue though they were the same age when they met at college. Her time in outer space was months, but years in North America where he waited for his wife to come home from serving in the combat. Skip seeks a special present for his beloved who came home early due to war related injuries; he thinks he may have one. Skip arranges for Chelle and her estranged mother Vanessa, whose essence has been loaded into a new body, to see one another. Soon after the mother-daughter reunion, Skip takes Chelle and her mom on a cruise that circles the globe. However, the vacation proves anything but relaxing as hijackers, assassins, and others of their ilk come after someone on board with collateral damage acceptable. This is a terrific science fiction mystery with the whodunit and why-do-it thriller themes up front as the prime thread, and the futuristic SF elements serving as background enhancement. The fast-paced story line grips the reader from the moment Chelle and Skip reunite with her so many years younger than him chronologically but in many ways her military experience makes her seem older than him. Red herrings abound in this exhilarating character driven thriller. Harriet Klausner
adzebill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A lazy, dull book. The characters all sound exactly the same (there's a cast list at the back so we can tell them apart) and talk like computers. With its flat, boring writing, lack of an feel of character, and story that's like solving a Rubik's cube (and about as engaging) the book feels like it was written in the 1960s. The plot is twist on twist, but we don't care. Very disappointing after all the great work Gene Wolfe has done. I have to wonder if he's lost his way.
timothyl33 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Famous for his "Book of the New Sun" series, Gene Wolfe's latest book, "Home Fires" is similar to that series in that it's something that really seems to defy description. However, the lack of words this book generates comes from the fact that there's essentially no plot whatsoever to talk about. When reading the product description for Home Fires, it gives the impression that this is a story of a love that transcends space and time. Sadly, that seems to be far from the case as there really seems nothing at the core of this story that really ties everything together. Instead, the majority of the book seems to be more about that one sentence at the end of the description regarding "challenges [...] of which are spies, aliens, and battles". Contrary to expectations, that in itself might have made an interesting read, but instead all the events occur at a 'stream of consciousness' pace that seems to lead readers somewhere, but leaves one high, dry, and puzzled instead. Granted, Wolfe is famous for the surreal nature of his stories, where events seem to be experience, not understood. But it just doesn't seem to work here, as everything is built up (a la Lost) only to have it fall to the wayside.One gets the impression that this book just came of happenstance because Gene Wolfe had an old script laying around that normally wouldn't get published if written by a new author. Is it any coincidence that his name takes almost half the cover, while every blurb on the cover is about the author himself, not of the story?While not terrible or awful, I would say readers expecting another classic would be in for a major disappointment.
bespen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One word to sum up this book: disappointing. Perhaps I came it with my expectations raised too high. I had heard of Gene Wolfe from a number of sources, First Things ran an article on him, and a sci fi blog I used to read was named after one of Gene's ideas. When I saw this book on the newish rack at Bookmans, I grabbed it quickly. Here at last was my opportunity to experience an author who has been desciribed as "too difficult, and too religious".The book hooked me immediately. No ambling prologue introducing the characters and the setting, we are just dumped into the action, in media res. Everything moves quickly, I wanted to keep turning the pages because I knew a new twist was coming soon. And there were many, many twists. It was difficult to keep track of everything that happened, I felt much like Skip must have, bewildered but fascinated. The setting is dystopian, but you can imagine getting there from here without too much trouble. I liked the lawyerly perspective; some of my best friends are lawyers.Yet, for all that, I got to the end and I didn't like it. Maybe it is because Skip and Chelle are such horrible people. Really everyone is in this grayest of dystopias. Skip strikes me as the best of a bad lot, and that isn't saying much. If I wanted to read about this kind of thing, I could just turn to the news. I suppose my tastes in fiction are thoroughly bourgeois. I really do want evil to be vanquished and love to win out in the end.I like my scifi hard, and moderately didactic. If, like Wolfe, the author is known to be thoughtfully religious, I like to see how that plays out in the way the story is written. Those things are not present here. I feel that Wolfe wrote the kind of book that critics like, and readers hate. This book is full of artful ambiguity and clever literary devices that will delight bitter and penurious English majors. As a writer, Wolfe is probably better than Pournelle or Powers, in the technical ways such things are understood. But this book failed its primary purpose: to entertain. The story is depressing, and not all that fun to read. The book was challenging in a good way, and thought provoking, but I doubt that I will ever read it again.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Skip Grison has been a lawyer for almost twenty years and is wealthy and successful. Returning soldier Chelle Sea Blue, Skip¿s contracta (a neologism indicating the female partner in a civil union), has been away from the planet for a matter of months, fighting the alien species known only as the Os, but due to the relativistic effects of time travel is now twenty years younger than Skip. As Skip prepares for Chelle¿s return, wondering what she will make of her youthful sweetheart turned middle-aged man, he chooses to download her dead mother Vanessa¿s electronically recorded personality into a new body as a gift to Chelle. He also books the two of them onto a luxurious Caribean cruise. Chelle, however, is quite literally a new person as well. Having been severely injured during her tour of duty, she was patched up with donor body parts and may well harbor a split personality. As the three of them attempt to put their lives back together and find a balance between old and new, darker happenings¿including a hijacking, a bomb, mercenaries, and several attempted or accomplished murders¿hint that someone, or something, isn¿t done with Chelle. Or possibly they want Vanessa. Or Skip. Or something else altogether. Genre-bending elements such as the multiple red herrings, fast-paced plot, layer upon layer of psychological and narrative complexity, and mistaken or hidden identities make this a good choice for those who don¿t usually read science fiction. This title should have broad appeal for anyone who enjoys untying a knotty plot.
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