The Contingent

John's Final Words
"... It's exactly what you think it is!"

Samantha held the bronze tube gingerly, eyeing the confounding device with dread. She didn’t ask for it, yet here it was, willed to her by John‘s dying breath. A slow sigh escaped her lips, composing herself. She still hadn’t finished the letter she received from Willard Buss, and wasn’t quiet ready to finish reading it yet. She tucked it away into her jacket, not willing to leave it laying about with Rhys still present in the apartment. She tilted her head, listening for any disturbances from the living room where he lie.

She still wasn’t sure what happened last week, but John had mentioned something about the kaleidoscope, and that Rhys was going to need some help recovering from what he saw. Her brother had been screaming for what seemed like hours at the time. John was pretty sure he had passed out from the lack of oxygen, and said it was probably for the best. Rhys came to his sense later and was noticeably more silent, but he was far from okay. She already had an idea of who she was going to contact to help Rhys. A man by the name of Skinner had treated John before, and she still had the card John arrived with: The one with the the name of their ‘supposed’ brother that he was so convinced they had. Provided she could get the man to leave his professionalism on the shelf for a moment, she might get some answers regarding John, and maybe get some help for Rhys. However, she needed to plan before she started that.

Samantha sat in silence for several minutes, contemplating the letter on the table. She read the opening statement, penned by an unfamiliar hand.

The following is a transcription to the best of my abilities of the last will and testament of Jonathan Miller, on the 25th of May, 2018. A man of imposing stature and a more imposing character whose courage showed us that our past is not to be wholly feared as events made of stone that we must carry around for the rest of our waking moments, but a kaleidoscope of experiences that add color to our lives.

She closed her eyes and took a breath, composing herself before she began to read once more.

Sam, Rhys, I’m sorry to leave like this. I know I’ve been a little erratic since you found me about five months ago, but I appreciate that you took care of me in my time of need. I still don’t recall much after what happened in California, except a few glimpses here and there. All I know is that it has something to do with that damned kaleidoscope. I’m tempted to leave it here in this silver mine, but I told one Sir. Nigel Mulberry that I’d have a chat with him about it since he inquired. Perhaps he can help you destroy it, after his curiosity is satisfied. And, speaking of which, Rhys, I’m sorry you had to see it. I think you’re a bit of an ass for sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, but i’m partially responsible for that. Sam, take care of him.

Since I’m giving up the ghost here, I have a few things I kindly request be addressed.

First and foremost, There is this kid you gotta write too. Any of you reading this, really. Jeremy Pendergrass. I’m not going to get into the details, since Dr. Buss here can peek at the reports possibly, but he is gonna need it. I promised him I would keep in touch, but unless someone pulls the same shit with me that Dr. Pendergrass did with his son, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I have some things I was gonna send his way, which is why I had all those toys, Sam.

Second, another apology to Vicki from R&D. I’ll leave that to you Dr. Buss. There isn’t much to add other than I kinda fucked that up.

Finally, Ask Dr. Skinner about Richard. I’m not sure why you don’t remember him, but I loathe to think that I’ve imagined a sibling as old as I feel for twenty three years. Well, more than that, because I’m definitely not twenty three anymore. Just see what he has to say about it. If it just turns up that I’m nuts, then drop forget it, I guess?

That’s really all I have to say, I guess. Just know it’s relatively painless. I’ve been given a bit of morphine, since the werewolf won’t be needing it. I love you guys.

The unflappable demeanor presented in the letter angered Samantha a bit, almost believing it all to be some obnoxiously cruel joke, but she had seen and heard the video as well. John’s phone recorded several minutes of him talking candidly (albeit pained and labored) to Dr. Buss about his final words. Apparently John didn’t think the letter would be convincing enough by itself. The imagery was bloody and surreal, and glimpses of some others could be seen in the background as they tended their wounds. She listened to the closing remarks from Dr. Buss, stating John’s time of death, shortly before two in the morning.

As Samantha closed the phone, a voice whispered from the livingroom. Rhys was hovering near the doorway, wide-eyed, yet tired.

“Sam… You’ve got that look. What are you getting ready to do?”

She offered her brother a tight-lipped smile. “Travel. Looks like I’m taking time of for grieving in New York.”

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Blood Screening Procedure #21
Willard Buss, Recorded Notes

My hands haven’t stopped shaking.

That whole mess was so god damn meaningless. Six people are dead, that I know of, seven counting that nut job that was herding us through the woods like game on one of his hunts. All because of some vendetta against the Contingent over getting displaced from his old hidey-hole near DC. Hardly a reason for all this but it would seem that an unstable mind ain’t the place for findin’ reason. The callousness that he slaughtered those hunters…just to torment us. I have never been so afraid in my life. My continued livin’ is a bit of a surprise when I think about it and I have tried my very best not to.

I should be happy to be alive but sitting there holdin’ John’s last testaments, I cannot help but think that I’m alive because of the big man and he ain’t–no thanks to me. The fact that I was buttin’ heads with him just that morning makes it all the more remorseful now. To be a doctor yet rendered so impotent that all I could do for him was to pen a dying man’s last words…It’s bothersome.

Ah..steady hands, clear mind. Without access to lab stores, there are one hundred and forty-one doses left. More than enough for what I need to do. Then I can start the detox process.

Several days have passed, My mind is as unsettled now as it was in the woods. I can’t say if it is the result of withdrawal, exhaustion, or the lingering helpless feeling over John Miller’s death. Regardless, I am close to a breakthrough and can’t afford to lose it now.

Alright, back on topic.

My research has come along with the inclusion of the newly collected research materials. The new blood samples have been immediately useful. The werewolf corpse will need to be set aside for later research. I kept the broadhead arrow that John wounded the werewolf with because it is the second most likely anchor should John Miller manifest as a spirit. (An assumption based on my previous findings of course.) The bronze tube is the more likely anchor, but, unfortunately, that item was packed up and shipped per John’s instruction. The loss of the corpse of Mr. Miller may turn out to be another delay to my research.

The changes made in the blood screening procedure (BSP20) was unable to identify ghoul blood. The latest screening process BSP21 has proven effective in identifying plasma exposed to the immaterial substance. After the cocaine passes through the system, an observable marker remains and is identifiable via BSP21. BSP21 resulted in identifying sample JM01 and WB06 as viable candidates. I will need to complete a full blood panel for the two plasma samples before next steps are determined steps. The preliminary results of cross-match testing came back negative despite incompatible tissue types.

This research, at the very least, could provide transplant patients with more options. Considering some of the research currently going on in R&D, it could present new alternatives for augmentation,

If I’m lucky, it will be valuable enough to get them off my back without needing to provide any of Dr. Hamner’s research.

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Improving Employee Morale
Ms. Herbig stops by the commissary for a chat

As the morning shift of dead-eyed operatives files in to fill their coffee mugs or grab snacks and day-old sandwiches from the commissary, Debbie Herbig stalks into the room, her face an impenetrable mask of resolute cheer; her pencil already hovers over her clipboard in rapt anticipation of checking off each item on her list of morning announcements. She clears her throat and begins to speak.

Good morning, operatives! Before I talk about our team-building opportunities for next week, I want to remind everyone that we do still have a few employees recovering from work-related injuries who I’m sure would love to see their teammates’ happy shining faces! We’ve posted visiting hours for all of them in case you want to drop by while you’re off-duty, as well as a list of allergies if you want to take some goodies or flowers.

Also, a gentle reminder: We’ve noticed that the supplies of ephemeral cocaine provided to the R&D laboratories by the team that investigated that theater in Brooklyn are slowly dwindling, without any log entries indicating that quantities were removed. Now, R&D is looking into this to determine if the ephemera is self-evaporating and devise a solution to preserve it if so…but if any unauthorized experiments on the substance—or, ah, experimentation, for that matter—are going on, then it needs to stop. We’ve placed additional surveillance on that lockup, and we will be reviewing it on a nightly basis. This isn’t a flophouse, people—you can relive the 1980s on your own time and dime! Ms. Herbig stops and sniffs dramatically, a wistful gleam twinkling in her eye as she seems momentarily lost in a reverie of reminiscence.

Speaking of the ‘80s, I know everyone is so excited to attend the Luau being organized by Ms. Ahern and Ms. Aquinas on Friday afternoon, but the Board also took the liberty of picking up some weekend VIP passes for the… Ms. Herbig looks down at the flyer in her hand before she resumes speaking …Glam-O-Rama Hair-A-Thon concert on Governor’s Island, if anyone wants to go. So feel free to get tickets, but come enjoy the barbecue and the Limbo contest before you leave for the concert—and remember, the winner gets a $100 gift certificate for “Yogurt Yoghurt Yogurté” froyo! Oh, and be advised that the Limbo contest is strictly a test of mundane flexibility—there will be absolutely no unauthorized summonings to gain the edge on your opponents! We don’t want another…incident…like what happened at the Veterans’ Day picnic last year, people, so leave your talismans in your lockers!

Finally, remember that next Monday is ‘Bring Your Pet To Work Day’. I am so excited, because I found the cutest little outfit for Murray—he’s gonna be a widdle pirate kitty! I do want to emphasize that no extranormal pets are allowed on ‘Bring Your Pet To Work Day’, however, and that includes ghosts of your deceased pets—which, incidentally, is a very unhealthy means of dealing with your attachment, and you should probably see Dr. Mayo to schedule a counseling session if you are keeping one around.

Thank you for your attention, operatives! Have a lovely day!

Ms. Herbig sets the stack of flyers for the GORHAT concert on an empty table, then turns and walks back toward the Accounting office, oblivious to the fact that half the people in the commissary lounge haven’t even looked up from their tablets or taken out their earbuds while she was speaking.

GORHAT_Flyer.png

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Alone with only your thoughts
Attempting to Decompress

“Gabrielle, Dr. Skinner will see you now”

She sunk her body into the near boiling water, letting the heat and rose scented foam envelope her. This had been her fifth bath after her last mission in the past week, higher water bill be damned. She still was fighting off the chill in her bones from spending a freezing and soaking 36 hours in god knows where Montanan woods.

But she was home now, in her bright, warm apartment, taking a hot bath with a glass of Pinot Noir she had been saving after her last vacation in Napa. This was technically a celebration, a victory. The team had been victorious, the hunters had renewed their namesake, and all was right with the fucking world.

“Ah, Miss Ahern, welcome, please take a seat”

Gabrielle remembered how she stood standing, but placed her tote down. The doctor once again gestured to a pair of chairs as he rose from his desk. She didn’t sit until he had taken a seat, adjusting herself to face him directly.

“Thank you for seeing me today, doctor…”

“Not at all, I’m always happy to help a hunter, I’m glad you came when you did, very rarely do Hunters visit me this early in their career”

“Ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure, right?”

“Indeed, although I was looking over your last mission briefing, and it seems that things were ‘intense’ in your last encounter”

“Intense is the word isn’t it. First mission was spent in some hell dimension, and now I’m back from running through the woods in a Most Dangerous Game nightmare, where every sect of bump in the night came after us”

“How did that make you feel?”

She had shifted in her seat, but kept eye contact, before taking a long breath.

“You know, Angry, Terrified, Useless…the usual”

“Useless?”

“Yes, while I wasn’t a hindrance to the team, I wasn’t helpful either. Well…that’s a lie. Hindered Kenny slightly but I’m making amends”. A day after they had debriefed, Kenny had been sent a beautifully arranged gift basket with some good whiskey, artisan jerky, some amazingly cheesy action movies, a eucalyptus candle, a gift card for at least a week of good Thai take out, and a get well soon card that ended with the note that read: Sorry, and Thank you. I owe you a favor. – Gabrielle

“Your team made it out alive though, I’m sure you were integral to the team”

“I appreciate the reassurance…but still, it’s difficult. I’m terrible at the hunting part of being a Hunter. Put me in a room full of people and I can get them all on the same goal. But fighting these things? I mostly hid in the bushes”

“Well, Contingent doesn’t need all fighters, there are two other divisions”

“Right, I recently joined Human Resources as one of their Emissaries. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m planning a company Luau. That’s more in my wheelhouse, plus party planning is a great distraction from almost dying in the woods. I hate the woods”

“Not much for the outdoors?

“No, no…not that, I just got lost in the woods one time. I was really young when it happened”

“Oh, that must have been terrifying, what exactly happened?”

“Nothing, nothing…back when we lived in Gilbert, there were these woods surrounding my house. I wandered out and must have gotten turned around. My Dad couldn’t find me before it got dark. It’s actually a funny story… he says I kept saying I had only been gone five minutes. Ever since though, I haven’t ever gone back until last mission”

The rest of the session was fairly normal chatter, they went over some breathing techniques and he suggested meditation going forward to better prepare her. It hadn’t been terrible, but Gabrielle hadn’t liked the fact she needed to go in the first place. She hadn’t had another distraction until Fina had come to her asking to plan a Luau. Calls had been made to a shaved ice stand and Hawaiian BBQ food truck, and she reached out to a Florist and Mixologist who owed her favors. Dr. Mayo had at least been open to the plan. It was easy, and hopefully would be a much needed morale boost.

Her mind was still racing, but not about being trapped in the Montanan woods but now being lost just past her own backyard. It had been decades since she really thought about it. It was nothing, a girl wandering too far from home, it was absolutely nothing. She just remembered the walking in the woods…and a hand?

“Gabrielle”

She shot straight up, a bit of the water lapping over the rim of the tub as she looked around. It was nothing. No one was there.

It was just her alone with her thoughts.

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Bang! Bang! Bang!

Meredith’s hands shook as she picked up the gun. You can do this, she told herself, trying to drown out all the other thoughts in her head. She reached up to check that her earmuffs were on correctly, then turned to face the target 30 yards away from her. Just like in those classes you took. Just aim and fire. Meredith took a deep breath, closed her eyes to try and steady herself.

Massive tree trunks disappearing into the mist, a burning itch in her left hand, constant ringing in her ears like a microphone feedback-

Nope. Meredith opened her eyes again and jerked her head around, setting the gun back down on the table. She rubbed absently at the mark on her palm, looking around for any sign that the Tall Man in the Woods might be near. But, no- all she could hear were guns firing from the other lanes at the Contingent’s shooting range.

Okay. Try again. Meredith picked up the gun once more , tried to gather her thoughts. She had never liked guns much, but- well- it had to be better than nothing, right? If Meredith couldn’t keep herself safe, then she couldn’t keep her friends safe. Ashley’s face flashed through her mind, always so tired, beaten down, but determined. Meredith hadn’t seen her since… the thing. She’d sent texts, but she was afraid that the danger would come back at the wrong time, and she’d lead the monster right to her friends.

She wanted to talk to Jem. She wanted to talk to anybody. She wanted a damn hug, but she couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t infect anyone she touched. The radiation poisoning was gone- for now- but she still felt sick all the time. She felt like a trapped animal, alone and exposed, waiting for some stalking enemy to come and finish her off.

Meredith looked down again at the gun in her hands. The next time something threatened her friends, she wasn’t going to be so useless. Cautiously, she turned to face the target, took aim, flicked off the safety. Finger on the trigger.

Bang! Meredith jumped at the sound of her own gunshot, sending the bullet wide of the target. Heart racing, she set the safety back in place and set the gun down again. She sat down on the floor, forehead resting on her knees. Absolutely pathetic, she thought. When that thing came back, she would be the first one it went after. If she even lived that long to start with. In the meantime there were vampires, and spirits, and werewolves, and who knew what other kinds of predators out there. Hell, Meredith couldn’t even protect herself from other humans. She was like a walking target; it was shocking she’d survived this long.

Meredith felt tears prick at her eyes, and hastily wiped them away. The group from Logistics practicing a few lanes away from her had probably laughed at her enough. Stupid little HR Emissary can’t even shoot a gun. Stupid little reporter can’t even get a real job. Stupid little girl, not going anywhere, dead by tomorrow, don’t waste your time.

Meredith got to her feet, anger making her steadier. Y_ou can die running from it,_ she thought, or you can die fighting it. She wasn’t going to go without a fight. She could do this. She could do this. She thought of the Tall Man in the Woods, how bad he’d scared Jem, what he’d done to all those people. It wasn’t happening again. Not on her watch.

Bang! The bullet was nowhere near the center of the target, but it did hit. Meredith lowered the gun, breathing hard. She imagined that strange, weightless black blood drifting from the hole. Imagined that creature screeching in pain as she drained its life away- for good. She raised the gun again.

Bang! The Stryx, sucked away into the shadows between worlds.
Bang! The Stripling Prince, unable to take a woman’s will ever again.
Bang! The prison guard, that one that the others warned her about, his smug expression replaced with shock and pain.

Something fierce and hot coursed through Meredith, growing stronger with each shot. She was never, never, never again going to sit back and let her friends get hurt. She’d always been selfish, and a coward- she’d lost the love of her life because of it. No more. She was going to keep her friends safe, or die trying.

When the gun was empty, she stood there panting, staring at the target. She’d mostly managed to hit it, though her aim still needed work. Meredith swallowed and set the gun down, then turned to the bag of extra ammunition she’d brought with her.

She reloaded the gun and turned to face the target. Time to try again.

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Who's Hunting the Hunters?
Storyteller: Eric

You’ve been summoned to Vivian Chastain’s office. With no time wasted on introductions, she cuts to the task at hand.

“I selected each of you to undertake a mission of utmost discretion,” she starts, pacing the room.  "We have a problem.  Hunters are missing and we have no idea how or why.  They left HQ on finishing their debriefing, but never made it to their destinations.

“In front of you are their dossiers, with details of where they were heading and who they were. Family members are frantically calling about where their loved ones are, and we don’t have any answers for them. As such, I am sure you understand the severity of the situation.

“You are to find these lost assets, terminate any agencies hostile to our people, and report back your findings.  I don’t like to be caught unprepared, and this is pissing me off.   Now, get to work!”

Investigators

Kenny Crowder
Gabrielle Ahern
Alexander Nolan
Fina Aquinas
Sir. Nigel Mulberry

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Once You See Him, Nothing Can Save You
Storyteller: Byerly

“Two Weeks ago, the authorities found a teen wandering in the Ramble of Central Park. This itself isn’t odd, but the kid was clearly troubled, dirty, and showed signs of exposure. Medical came to the scene and took the boy to Manhattan State Psychiatric Center. They found an old-style medical bracelet on his wrist, which was the only way we’ve been able to get his name Michael Fowler. Beyond a name, we’re still searching.

“With each passing day, Michael is more and more erratic and difficult to control. He’s drawing the same symbol over and over and mumbling about something coming to get him. He refuses to stay in any one place for long, becoming increasingly violent until we move him to a different room. The problem is, and the reason we’re calling you, is that the last 2 nights, the patients placed in Michael’s former room have gone missing…”

- J. B. Skinner

Investigators

Eileen Fisher
Maddy Summers
Father Xander Court
Morgan Lindsey
Meredith Cohn

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...It's Exactly What You Think It Is!
Storyteller: Evan

“You’ve got to help me. They’re dead! They’re dead I tell you! I was hunting in the River of No Return with my buddies, and this… thing ran into camp! It was a giant wolfman! It ripped them apart! You’ve got to find it, and kill it before it kills anyone else!”

Chad Middleton has called in a report of a werewolf killing hunters in the River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.

Investigators

Willard Buss
Tyr Anasazi
John Miller
Miles Jaggens

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Every Loophole Has Its Trap
Storyteller: Justin

“Contingent, I just had an APB come through for five missing people. I noticed they’re all Contingent hunters.”

-Laura Shearer

Investigators

Zak Zimmerman
Dru Westing
Junior
Jack Mills
Dr. Ryan Langston

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It wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Rhys lofted a brow at the curious item that his youngest-now-eldest brother seemed to obsess over. It’s brass exterior was dull from the excessive man-handling as John fidgeted with it. Yet, the little crystal lenses still captured and reflected the light in a mesmerizing and brilliant manner.

“You’re gonna wear a hole into that thing, John.”

The larger man pulled his attention from whatever held his thousand-yard stare to Rhys. John was certainly looking better than when they first found him, though he still looked 20 something years older than before and miserable bags haunted his eyes. Rhys blinked again, still trying to reconcile how much John aged.

“You consider asking R and D to carbon date you,” Rhys asked half-jokingly. John didn’t seem to find it humorous. Rather, it seemed to stress him out.

“No. I’m not going to bother them anymore. I’ll figure it out myself.”

The remark was stated in a matter-of-fact tone. He rubbed a thumb along the rim of the odd little kaleidoscope, turning his gaze to a small collection of books sitting on the couch beside. John had taken up an interest in video editing recently, and Rhys noted to keep any remarks to himself about the “For Dummies” appended to the titles. John stopped pursuing academia when they were younger. Something about living in the shadow of… Someone? Rhys blinked in confusion, trying to reconcile the gap in memory before shaking it off. It didn’t matter. It was best not to bring it up.

“Yeah? How’s that coming along? Is it because of that Vicki woman? What was the deal with that?” Rhys strained his sympathy. Despite the publicity, the business revolving around the supernatural just didn’t sit well with him. The world was under a deluge of ‘fake news’ as it were, and this just took the cake. People were taking it seriously, too. Rhys wasn’t convinced. John picked up that too, apparently.

“I asked to get some recordings from this here,” he started, lifting the little brass tube to display it. “I guess I failed to mention that looking through it… hurts?” He grumbled, twisting the two tubes in opposing directions and peeked through it once more, grumbling before lowering it and staring off into the distance once again.

Rhys pursed his lips, his expressed distaste unseen by John. He eyed the brass kaleidoscope, then John, then the kaleidoscope once more. “That sounds ridiculous,” he responded as he nimbly plucked the device from John’s inattentive grasp. He stepped back from his brother as he lifted it to his right eye, only briefly catching a glimpse of the anger and panic spreading across John’s face.

The world exploded.

Raking winds ripped through his frame and through his memories. Before him stood a great mountain riddled with caves, and out from one of its many passages came forth a dark man dressed like a pharoah, and crowned in golden light. Rhys fell to his knees as the regal figure approached, but Rhys didn’t know why. Just beyond, he could see two other people chained in the darkness. One was John, the other looked familiar but he couldn’t place it.

“You have come too far, child of Earth,” the figure intoned. “This place is not for you, and that eye you carry will not save you. You seek answers, but only chaos and horror wait for you.”

Rhys heard the sound of pebbles falling and glanced about. Giant spiders could be seen for brief moments, stalking through the sharp rubble surrounding him. He stumbled back.

“You neither know the gate nor the key. You hold the map and the spyglass, but without the compass, it is nothing but torture and shadows. Run home, the way you came, lest you fall to ruin like those who came before you.”

A path! Rhys glanced about looking for a path. Some way to get home and safe and warm. The wind suddenly gusted and rattled his skull, knocking about his thoughts like they were leaves.

“Ah, you are too far gone already. Death is your only solace. Hei! Aa-shanta ’nygh!

A spider leapt down and in one swift movement, ripped out Rhys’s shoulder muscle. It clamped down again, lunging for the heart.

On Earth, John watched Rhys scream. Then the sound drowned itself as he began swallowing his tongue. He held him and jabbed a pen in his mouth to hold back the tongue.

“It is NOT for you to fuck with! I fuckin’ told you, man! Jesus Christ!”

John was far more alert now than he was before, now leaning down and checking his brother’s eyes, snapping his fingers in front of him. A steady, silent, and repeated stream of ‘Fuck’ filtered from John’s mouth as assessed his brother’s state.

“Hey, hey, hey. Look at me. I’m gonna call Sam, okay? I’m gonna call Sam. Just stay calm, yeah?” John began lying, echoing Rhys’s usual sentiment. “It’s all just a gag, yeah? Stupid trick from one of the guys. A recording. CGI and all that crap, one of the eggheads in R and D put together to fuck with me, yeah?”

After a seeming eternity, Rhys quieted. He looked kind of like himself, but something had died.

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