Page 6

You can never go home again....

    Home. Where you are yourself, where everything else can be put in perspective and no matter how bad it gets, you feel comforted. Years may pass while you are away, and they had, but home is home. Stone opened a small ceramic circle in the grass, and pulled on a handle beneath. Mike’s eyes grew as a section of field separated and lifted, then continued up on it’s own to become a roof. The floor led down into the dark depths of Stone’s burrow, and he was content to let Mike pull the cycle up to him before guiding it into the mouth. He knew why he had been gone so long, and returned so infrequently, but now that he was apparently free of his learned claustrophobia, perhaps he could return full-time. Once this was over.

Mike turned full circle in her saddle, surveying the endless flowers bobbing rhythmically in the early morning breeze. Rows of taller stems created isles through the glory, colors and types seeming random at first, then becoming a sculptured garden as the eye found patterns. A lone willow tree kept vigil over african grasses, and gently caressed a carved bench. This was a life’s work,  a labor of decades, to a woman he said he’d barely known. This was the garden of his delirium, the place he’d dreamed about, that had replaced the anguished ground she’d seen before. He does not know what he has done here, she thought. And I could not tell him in a thousand years.

Then the darkness swallowed them, and she heard the thump of the closing ramp behind them. Absolute black all around, she had no choice but to trust his memory as they wended along the labyrinth. Dim light ahead greeted their entrance to the ‘living room’, Mike seeing the dream’s furnishings, unchanged yet unreal. Another memorial, but he would not have realized it. Stone was down and rummaging through chests before she could dismount, and she slid slowly off the seat- like getting down off an elephant, she thought to herself, and smiled inside. He looked up in time to see her slip the last few feet.

“Why didn’t you say you needed help getting down off the cycle? I would have waited for you.”

She gazed around at the scene, half expecting trees to sprout from the floor. “You don’t get down off a cycle,” she said distractedly, “you get down off a duck.” Deep inside, she rolled with laughter. Outside, her face was a mask of passive attentiveness.

Stone frowned for a moment, unsure of her meaning. Then he went back to his search with a shrug. His shirt came off, and the new holes he’d been decorated with shone bright red in the fluorescent lights. Knitting quickly, they were still raw and tender, and he started a shower to soak the bloodstains from his skin. A new set of blacks covered the bed, sans bullet holes.

“Time to scrap the shirt. It was mostly patches after you worked on it, but now… Hazardous duty.” He tossed the dark bundle of rags at a hole in the wall. His shower was no more than  showerhead over a shallow depression in the floor. Stepping into the curtain of water, he dropped a few levels to speed his repairs; behind him, Mike watched his form through the spray. When he turned back around she was asleep on the couch.

He took a blanket from the bed to cover her, wondering what made her seem so small and fragile now, when hours before, she was solid enough to drag him around. Something in the mannerisms, he thought. A shrinking passivity, like she’s trying to be invisible. His blanket was a pathetic replacement for the heavy quilt he’d ruined, but it was what he had, and he tucked it around her shoulders and feet. Her head shifted, seeking, and relaxed again. He left her to sleep while she could.

Dressing in clean, whole clothes was a pleasure. If one cannot be beautiful, he smirked, one can attempt to be well groomed. His extra boots were newer, bought and then left when he could no longer stand being underground, and they fit snug to his knees. Out of fashion, he thought. Too bad. He checked himself out, turning in the mirror. Ricci would be satisfied.

Ricci. Twelve years of memories hit him, and he pushed them away, not ready to deal with it. An incredible pain seized him, like a fist in the gut, but he refused to bend to the grief. There was too much to do, it would hurt less after he’d avenged her agony. But it whispered accusingly, reminding him of his loveless soul - perhaps he did not truly feel, or perhaps he felt nothing more than guilt. He hadn’t made any secret of his not loving her. Honesty or avoidance? He had no way to silence the possible truths.  So he did not, settling for letting them badger him in the background as he cleaned his weapons and opened the closet that contained his armor.

Mike woke from the first dreamless sleep in memory. Stone was not in evidence, but there was a soft light at the far end of the room, so she followed it to a door letting out onto the surface. A black shirt hung on a peg just inside on the stairs. She could hear movement outside among the flowers. Stepping out, the blossoms bobbed a greeting, and she fingered the petals, turning to find Stone working out in the evening sun’s warmth. She stood admiring the incredible leaps  and sudden twists as he fought a bodiless enemy, skin gleaming and rippling with his efforts.

This was beauty. The absolute freedom of it made her ache, imagining herself unbound and able to emulate him. She wished for the ability to tell him the joy she received just watching. She considered what his skin would taste like when he finally collapsed. And she hope desperately that there was no afterlife with it’s possibility of living this way, bound and crippled in her soul a second time. When he finally sank to his knees, panting, dripping and hanging his head, she stepped closer.

The sweet oblivion of exhaustion weighed the pain down, stilling the voices that listed his failings so completely. Stone’s limbs shook, and his legs would not support him. He dropped slowly, losing the battle to gravity, and listened to the silence that was not silence. Wind rustled the blooms, caused the willow to dance; crickets sang their eve’s welcome to katydids who answered in kind. Peace was fleeting, to be treasured for the rare moment it came. He raised his trembling arms to the red sun, tilting his wet head to the sapphire sky. This is all I can ask. “It must be enough,” he whispered.

“Is it enough,” Mike asked softly in response.

He spun and dove before he connected the voice with the disturbance. For a second, he saw Mike close her eyes, face passive, peaceful, but he rolled, hands tucked to his sides as he collided. She sprawled headlong into the green, never flinching, leaving him  to rise and stagger through to find her  beneath the cover of fallen petals.

“Fuck, fuck, FUCK, what the HELL are you doing slippin up behind me, are you TRYING to get killed, fuck are you ok,” he vented loudly, dropping back down beside her prone form. “Shit. Don’t be dead, oh DAMN, don’t be dead. I rolled in time, I know I did.  I did. What were you doing? Mike, You OK?” He pulled her onto her back, checking for a pulse, breathing, and anything else he could think of reassure him. He’d felt no lift, so she was still in there, but she was awful still…  He’d moved her without checking her spine first. Ahh shit. He just couldn’t think with her around. It was always something with her. Some problem to be solved, and now this.

She took a slow breath, holding it, and opened her eyes.  “The stars are coming out,” she whispered. Stone checked her pupils, scanned shallowly through her for damage, and sat back on his heels, irrationally wanting to beat her now that he knew she was alright.

“Never. Ever. Come. Up. Behind. Me. Like. That. AGAIN. ESPEcially when I’m pumped.  I swear I’ll strangle you without mercy if you do. Got it? Never.” He was catching his breath a bit, and the drain was sucking at him, weighing him down. He brushed her hair away from her cheek, pressed lightly where he’d hit, checking for broken bones.  

“I’m alive and undamaged,” she told him. “I regret having startled you, I should have considered before coming out that you would require privacy after the happenings last night.” She sat up, closing her eyes again for a moment, letting the pain pass by. Then she stood, and headed for the ingress.

“Mike. Come back. That wasn’t what I was saying.” He was tired. He did not feel like trying to soothe or mince words. If she was a tool, why did he feel pressured to treat her like a person? Fuck this. He owned her, to all intents and purposes, and things were to complicated without adding more bullshit to the pile. Let her go.

But she had returned, as per instructions. He looked up, and seeing her waiting, could not think of anything worth the effort of saying. He sighed, thinking it would be easier with a  real  person, but there weren’t any real people left to speak of, were there? Just these mind-stunted Corps, taking orders and filling the spaces meant for thought with routine. He snorted, knowing she would stand there waiting till she dropped if he told her to.

“Are you hurt?”

“I will be fine.” She frowned at him. “You, however, show signs of stress fatigue and repressed emotional pain which should be dealt with soon. I am uncertain how to help. Do you need a listener, a distraction, a shoulder, food or sleep?”

“I need this all over with. I don’t know what your life was like before, but have you ever just been so tired of it all that you just wanted it to be done with? No matter how it ended, as long as it did end? I know that doesn’t mesh with your Corporate belief system, the ‘do for the Company’ bullshit, to want something for yourself that doesn’t help them,  but even once, did you honest to god WANT? Anything? Can you imagine wanting to give up? Even if it meant losing whatever it was you were fighting for? Can you? Is it in you to relate to that idea?” He was snarling at her now, spitting words while he looked from her to the setting sun.

She watched him talk, incredulous. He was asking. If asked a direct question, it was wrong to lie except under well- laid out circumstances. None applied here. But unless asked, most things were not to be spoken of.  She was without precedent. He was still speaking, but it was an expansion of his original question, and she could think of no better answer than the most basic. He turned to her again, getting to his feet, and she had to look up into his shaded eyes. Courage failed, but for the first time in her memory, her programming served her.

“Yes.” No more. A word spoken, held forever, but finally spoken, it seemed too small to fill the need. He stopped, disbelieving, considering the possibility that she was humoring him, and she was afraid of him for the first time. So close, she had actually said it, and it meant nothing.

“Don’t fuck with me.” He was so tense, she could hear his teeth grinding even as he warned her. “I’m deadly fucking serious.”

“I understand.”

“Do you? I truly doubt it. Be careful where you walk here, Hon, ‘cause you’re on dangerous ground. If I thought for a moment that you were playing therapist, or being cute, … I would break you in fucking two right now.”

She continued to meet his eyes, too terrified to look away, unable to speak further. Ask again, continue the thought, but don’t leave it there, she wanted to scream, but her jaws were locked until given leave by an outside force. Even tears were beyond her boundaries, 'because no one likes a crybaby'.

She believes she relates, Stone thought grimly. Maybe she does. Maybe there’s enough human left in them to despise what they are.

“Come on.” He walked past her and to the passage. She followed after a moment, despair crushing her lungs, making the beauty of the field seem a lesson in futility. Nothing lasts except pain. Eyes to the ground, she ran into him when he stopped, looking out into the night.

“We’re in trouble.”

She looked as well, but saw nothing. “What do you mean?”

          “Somebody’s coming, a lot of somebodies, and they’re pissed. Get inside.”

She dropped down the stairs, and he followed close behind.  He strapped on armor, got her busy packing up clothes and weapons, listening to the sound of men’s minds coming closer. They wouldn’t get out before they had company. How did they find us? The visitors knew where they were going, and that they were to take the  girl back after they gutted Stone beyond repair. No  chance was to be left that he might survive. The hornet’s nest was alive and humming; he had stirred them up more than he would have guessed by tampering with this project. 

“Mike, you ready? We gotta move!” She was emptying cabinets, packing rags and canned goods, and he dragged her to the bike. His armor was bulky and stiff, but he would have dressed her the same if possible. There was no time, and no room in here. Passing the couch, she grabbed the blanket and pulled it along behind her. The cycle wasn’t up yet, and Stone gripped the bars in a fit of frustration. How did they find us? He looked back at Mike for a second, aware that she’d been alone in here for a good while. It had not occurred  to him to look for a weapon after he’d jumped her, but it would explain the silent approach from behind. She was a Techie. She could have found the relay, she could have a gadget with her. He’d let his guard down. And there was no time to scan her.

The cycle came on-line, and he gunned it, catching Mike one-handed when she slid off the saddle. “Huh-uh, Honey. You ain’t goin’ nowhere yet. Hold on.” Up was where the problem was, so he headed out into the remnants of the buried factory. Halls meant for hand-trucks and flatbeds became a road, and they sped around the wide  corners. There was an exit at the far eastern side of the basement, over a mile away. It would be out of reach on foot, and he hoped the wave coming did not have wheels. Mike tried not to squeeze to tightly around his so often aggrieved middle, but the speeding walls on either side seemed so close… She pressed her face into his back, shutting out the view.

Stone saw the warehouse coming up, knew it was the halfway marker. The center of the utility, it had been almost empty forever, a place to hear your heartbeat amplified a thousand fold. He gave it more speed, figuring it safe in the open space.

What a shock to find it full.

Movers poured in from the opposite end, filled with armed and armored men. No room to turn, and the cycle skidded leaping sideways. Lay it down, he thought wildly, but another thought screamed Ram through!, knowing that once the momentum was gone, all was lost. Too many guns, too many angles.

Mike looked up, feeling the cant and skid, but could not register the overwhelming numbers. Whatever she’d expected, this was beyond. Her fingers clutched at Stone’s skin, and he drew a quick breath. They were going down, no doubt about it. Then they tipped too far, and the ground screamed with the passing of the metal beast’s hide. Stone tried to keep Mike off the ground as they slid, letting the armor take the abuse, but it only went so far. She cried out as her skin tore on the ‘crete, and she heard a light snap as something broke. They came to rest against the treads of a crawler, gasping in pain. Stone fought to stand, but Mike lay still against the grass covered teeth.

“There are no avenues of escape.  Remain stationary. Resistance will only cause further punishment.”  It could be the same voice from the lot, Stone thought. A very organized assault. He turned to reach for Mike, but a shot struck between them, followed by a harsh reprimand. “Do not move. Do not attempt to arm yourself.”

“She’s hurt, you stupid son-of-a-bitch,” he yelled back. “I bet you didn’t bring a medical unit, did you, asshole? She’s gonna bleed to death if you keep yammering out there.”  He reached out to Mike, checking on her the only way he could, and felt the pain she did not feel while unconscious. His mind’s touch stirred her, and her grimace was not a true expression of her feelings when she moved. He watched her try to sit, hearing her bite down on her moans, and she became aware of his presence.

Do something.”

“You got a lot of faith, Hon, but we’re shit out of luck. Or I am, at least. If you,… I can fix the arm from here, but that’s about it. Shall I?”

“I will survive.”

“Offer’s open. But they’re comin’ for us. You can go broken or whole. Or almost whole,”  he added. Muscular forms edged toward them from around equipment.

If it does not hinder your chances of escaping, with or without me, I accept the offer with gratitude.”   She looked around at him, and wiped at the blood dripping across her eyes.

No chance now, Hon.”  He  opened up the systems that would bind and seal the bone, minor compared to the repair of flesh, and made the changes. Her grimace eased as the pain faded in that one area, and she glanced at the approaching men with a calm demeanor.

The first to reach Mike pulled her up almost gently, avoiding her welling abrasions. Several more trained their guns on Stone, surrounding him on all sides. It was flattering in a sick way, to know how much your enemy fears you. They thought him capable of miracles, obviously. Ten, twelve, then twenty to one, and they still looked warily at him, waiting for him to DO. He saw Mike being pulled away by two civilian-looking men, and several hurried up to her when she was in safe range. Debriefing the spy? Easy to think so, based on the deference they showed her, and the attention to her comfort. Somewhere, she’d slipped  her leash; on the cycle, when he delved into her fears, perhaps? If the opportunity for mayhem arose, he might let her live anyway, if just for the blow-job.

But they cut his thoughts short, knocking him to the ground and locking his hands behind him. No kid gloves for him, eh? He searched for their orders, finding mostly meat and mindless obedience in their heads, but they would wait until Mike was out of sight before they dismembered him. Dismembered? They were taking no chances on his return, obviously. Mike was being led to the surface, he knew, and then they would commence. Did Mike have the data-cot? He could not remember, but he guessed she probably had when they were caught. Now… That was the point, wasn’t it?

No kiss goodbye, Sweety-pie?,” he thought at her, seeing the guns come up. A disturbance in the background caught his ear as the first bullets hit him. Then the screaming began, and the guns were waved aside frantically by a skinny Tech with a talk-box. It was hard to care with the pain riding him, and he resented the slow death that was coming. What was the hold-up? Kill me or don’t, he thought, but don’t get indecisive in the middle, Guys. He rested his forehead  on the cold floor, gathering himself. Better to go with a good attitude.

The shuffle of boots around him had him worried for a second that they’d decided to beat him first, but small cool hands lifted his face, turning him gently to his back, and Mike put his head in her lap. She stroked his cheeks with her palms, looking intently into his eyes, while raised voices debated and a pushing match ensued.

“Forget somethin, Hon, ” he whispered with an effort. She frowned at him, and shook her head no. He was not up to guessing games. She continued to stare at him, waiting for something, and the tension got the better of him.

“They’re gonna take you home. You’re free again. What more do you want?” She looked away, and he pushed the barb deeper. “ Isn’t this what you wanted?”

She met his gaze again without hesitation.

“No. It is not what I wanted,” she stated softly, boring her gaze into him. He knew he must be missing something, but it was beyond him to guess what.

“So what DO you want?”

She did not blink for a long time.

She shut her eyes tight, breathing hard. “I want you to get us out of this or kill me so they cannot take me back.” He lay there, rehearing it, over and again, as he tried to process the information. She leaned down to kiss him, her lips warm and soft on his, and  whispered to him.

“Goodbye, Sweetie-pie?”

The comment brought him full circle. The hands came down on her shoulders, and the Tech screeched at them about damage to the project. Stone thought wildly, searching for a way to get free, get out, get gone. But he was damaged already, and bound as well. Options were limited.

Hold on.

A cannon of thought hit Mike as she was hauled towards the waiting transport. She staggered under the onslaught, but soft hands caught her, supporting her for a minute or two as she found balance in her new state.

“You up to this, Hon? Or am I over-stepping my bounds? If I misunderstood your earlier ‘something’, I can go home…”

“Do SOMETHING. If this will suffice, I am quite satisfied with the arrangement. If it does not, it will fulfill my other requirement, won’t it?”

“You talk too much, Mike.”

Mike watched her hand slip out of the Tech’s and slide into his chest. It was surprisingly warm there, and she blinked at the sensation. Then she was moving, giving a quick twist to this neck, and a blow to that nose. It was effortless, like dancing without a partner, and she closed her thoughts to the sounds her victims made as she removed them from their lives. This was the most opposite extreme from her normal existence possible, action without consideration, function and form as one fluid beast.

I may need a body when this is done, no matter how well we work together. Mind getting mine off the floor?”  The Security meat wasn’t smart enough to deal with the change of plans. Don’t damage the woman meant don’t shoot her, for sure.  So what to do when she shot at you? They gave way, trying to subdue without actually touching her, and she/he/they created a path of bloodied bodies on thier way  to Stone’s empty shell.  A quick turn brought her a gun, and she emptied rounds into the  wall of flesh that sought to restrain her. Bodies dropped. Mike was treated to the sound of a soul’s expansion and lift as it departed it’s earthly prison.

Where  do they go?”

“They never say….”

“Have you asked?”

A rough hand slipped around her neck, and she fought for breath.  The part that was Stone struck out, and it grasped at her shoulder as it fell. She marveled at the ease of action and decision he had.  Then she was bending over his still form, pulling at it, sliding it along  the ‘crete floor to an empty carrier.

“You’re heavy,” she whispered.

Armor. Glad I had it, too. They got me a few times before you came back, so be thankful I had SOME protection. I need to get back”

Stone cut off, finding himself talking to nothing. Mike was sliding away, the wall sliding over her mind. He sought her, heard only a high-pitched whine growing in the background. He turned full circle, seeking the source; far across the cavern a troop carrier was caught behind a roof support and overloading. It’s hydraulics screamed in protest as the panicked driver tried to force it through the too-small space. Then metal scraped loudly against stone pilings, adding to the din, and Mike shuddered, Stone fighting to keep her upright.

What can I do, Mike? You there?”  Meat pressed closer, sensing weakness, and Stone brought up the gun again. Still the screeching grew, and an answering tension seized Mike’s spine, causing her to shake and twitch. How to defend them in this state, he wondered. He dark spot had fulfilled it’s promise as expected, causing disaster at a crucial moment. But he’d taken the risk with full knowledge. Compensate.

He spent the gun out on the remaining Secs., half-hearing the pain and death he created while he fought the rising paralysis in Mike’s limbs. Even he was bothered by the painful noise echoing through the enclosing walls, and a few heads dropped without his assistance from the sheer volume the tortured machine offered. Moving was harder, and he defaulted to a simple mass mind-kill where he could reach, cursing again as his own weighty shell slowed him. Then something vital broke free in the bowels of the machine, and he was pushed out and into his throbbing body as he recognized the soul-killing voice of Mike’s terror dream. He saw for a moment the blind head of the beast bending to devour him, and heard the crunch of his bones in it’s jaws, then he was free, watching from below as Mike’s head slammed into the side of the carrier. Rolling eyes and grinding teeth, she stood only because of her locked knees.

The terrible decision was made.

Her head snapped down, her eyes seeking unerringly the open window of the driver’s cab. Two quick shots took out the driver then a low console with devastating speed. Her narrowed, empty eyes never flinched from the spectacular explosion.

We’re going to die, Stone thought. No way around it. He watched deep fissures run though the ceiling, dropping it onto the heads beneath. She doesn’t see me or the carrier, much less the need to run.

Last time.

He threw himself at her again, opening her nerves to his commands, and listened for the response of a conscious mind. Finding none, he grabbed his limp wet body and dragged it into the waiting cab, strapping it to the seat. He found a power source and started it, wishing for the speed of the cycle, finding a lumbering safety.  Pushing past and over fallen flesh and equipment, he headed for the entrance they’d made in the far wall, steadily ignoring the crash of ‘create on the cab roof and the slow drip from his cooling body in the seat next to him/her. He couldn’t inhabit both fully, stopping his bleeding and using her to drive.  He needed her back, NOW, and couldn’t find her.

Through the wall, and out on to the backside of the hill, they emerged to the new night. Stars and rabbits flickered through the fragrant dark. Behind their wheels, bloody shapes ran out of the light and into the safety of the open. Crickets hushed under the new attack, and Stone grieved for the ruined ground his nemesis had made of his garden. Deep trenches cut into the field, crushed blossoms oozing their scent to the empty shadows. His memorial desecrated, he turned the carrier around, aiming upper turrets at the escaping men below him/ her.

Those who were not already gone into the field were cut down on first sight. Not until the last dust had settled on the flattened hill did he leave his flowers. And not until a hand wiped at his cheek did he realize he was weeping and that Mike had rejoined him. His immediate response- embarrassment and shame at the weakness- was quickly given over under the warmth of Mike’s comforting thoughts. Setting a destination, she sat back and cradled his empty shell, doing what she could to bandage as he gave vent to what he’d held earlier. Eventually he found himself in his own battered body, leaning against her in the quiet cab. Again, he was weak and dependent on her for survival, his mind more damaged than his flesh.

The time lying empty on the ground had taken its toll. He’d lost as much blood this time as the first, having been absent, and system shutdown had begun. He saw patterns within patterns; one leading him to Ricci and Mike, one leading him to repeat the morbid dance he’d just finished in an attempt to escape his pain, one leaving him humbled before the living replica of his obsession repeatedly in some sick need to do penance… how many others was he missing? He’d suffered lesser wounds, yet left his body, knowing it might mean death. Yet he had not committed fully to his death, masochistically forcing himself to continue one last time.  How long would it continue? 

Why had he lived this time? Because he resented the idea of Mike  betraying him? He’d had to get the last word,  throwing it in her face. He’d been desperate  to be wrong. Why? It was expected that the accomplice turn, often trying to kill him outright. Was it so different now? And if so, why? Because she was the first to look like Her? Because she was the first he’d been intimate with? Too many variables. The result was the same.

He’d been too  relieved  knowing she hadn’t turned. He was becoming attached to her, like one would with a stray, insisting it not come inside, it would not stay, ect.  Before you knew it, it was sleeping on the bed, and you couldn’t sleep if it didn’t come home one night.

She’d asked him to get her out, and he had, even when he’d been positive he could not save himself.

He did not know where she intended to take them, god knew his options were run out, so he did not care. The transport ran on in the night air, and when his tears had finally passed, he slept, leaning on her as he had that first night, smelling her skin, feeling her hand on his cheek as fell into the pit.

“No sir. The Class 3 still has possession of Project -Basement 1001.”

“Yes Sir.”

“I cannot express my regrets, Sir.”

“I understand, Sir.”

“If you think that is necessary, Sir, I will comply fully. I will also do whatever I can to inform and assist the new operative if that is what you decide, Sir.”


“Sir? ……….Are you still there?”

 “I understand.”

“Yes Sir. I have already been tended to, will keep the limited use of that arm,  and have reinforcements en-route as we speak. It is a true shame, though, since the talents in the first segment were irreplaceable.  Most of them were not even fully on-site when things fell apart.”

“Sir, I could not even begin to explain what happened. One second, it was in my hands, the Class 3 in custody and elimination initiated, then I was on the floor. When I opened my eyes, most of the complement were dead or dying, and an explosion was bringing the ceiling down on us.”

“Yes Sir. Several … most of the survivors attest that it was NOT the Class 3 that attacked the Removal team. It appeared to be unconscious at the time.”


”Yes Sir?”

“Thank you Sir. I am honored by the trust you are putting in me.”

“Which database? Could you spell that password, Sir?”

“That’s what I thought you said. Should I assume that it will be explained in the file?”

“Thank you Sir.”

“I will Sir.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Goodnight Sir.”


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