Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Helen Damnation

by Robert Moriyama


Around the Port Armstrong Law Enforcement Center, they called Helen McKay ĎHelen Damnationí. Some took it a step farther and called her ĎHell Ďní Damnationí, although few dared to spell it out in her presence. The nickname had started as a joking reference to her religious leanings -- raised in a "born again" Christian commune back on Earth, she tended to lapse into informal sermons promising "eternal damnation to the fires of hell" when annoyed -- but had morphed into a mark of respect for her ferocity in pursuit of the guilty.

That Helen was attractive enough to tempt many men (and not a few women) into sin just made the name seem more appropriate. More than one Ďsinnerí had wasted precious moments admiring Helenís face and figure, only to discover that her fist or foot was not nearly as comely when seen in sudden extreme close-up.

The Amanda Portakis case made Helen a celebrity. The kidnapping, rape, and murder of a child would be news anywhere; in a lunar colony, with a small population and tightly-controlled access, it had been even more sensational. The same surveillance systems that covered every airlock and airtight door in the colony as a safety measure -- a localized loss of pressure could leave people trapped and in urgent need of rescue -- also made it nearly impossible to move around without leaving a trail in the central Artificial Intelligenceís copious storage banks. But somehow, Amandaís killer had erased his -- or her -- trail ...The missing data had been a valuable lead in itself. Finding and removing a few seconds of video from a sequence of vidcam archives required phenomenal hacking skills, top-level security codes, or both. But while this tampering with heavily-protected data focused L.E. attention on the hackers and data pirates, Helen had pursued a different angle: she had asked herself who had the authority and clearances to access the system legally. This had turned out to be a very short list of very prominent people. She had realized that digging into the lives of people who flew in such lofty orbits was a career-killer, but dig she had, and lurking beneath the golden veneer of wealth and power, she had found something nasty.

James Ardenix, astronaut, engineer, billionaire -- one of the founders of Port Armstrong -- had override codes for every system in the colony. No one else had even considered Ardenix as a suspect. But in her review of the people who had legal access to stored surveillance video, Helen had sensed something about him, and had begun studying every byte of archived news video she could access in which the man had appeared.Viewing the videos had changed the vague sense of unease that Ardenix aroused in Helen into tightly-focused suspicion. There was something in his eyes anytime he was surrounded by children, something that made Helenís fingers tighten into a fist. She had seen it before, in edutainment vids of hyenas circling a wounded animal, and in the eyes of a psychopath when a skilled interrogator had managed to tear away the mask of normalcy that made it almost impossible to believe that such a man could do such terrible things.

It was not something that belonged in the eyes of a father and grandfather and patron of childrenís charities.

The brass had learned of her investigation, and had warned her to stop. "Harassment of a leading citizen is a quick way to traffic duty," her Lieutenant had said.

But by that time, Helen had met Ardenix, had shaken his hand at a media event, and she knew he was guilty. "He smelled like a sinner," Helen said later. "Brimstone and musk and blood."

When word of that remark reached the Chief of Detectives, Helen had spent several days on suspension and had been required to speak to a counsellor. She used the time off to shadow Ardenix and hack into his house computers, earning her a reprimand and a longer suspension -- and the evidence she had been looking for.

Ardenix had wealth and influence, and that had made him arrogant enough to assume that he was invulnerable. Like many psychopaths, he had kept souvenirs of his crime. Files Helen managed to download from Ardenixís house computers contained encrypted video clips of Amanda Portakisís short and unimaginably horrible time as Ardenixís Ďguestí. Helen, unfortunately, had no need to imagine what Amanda had suffered; once the L.E. A.I. had decrypted the files, she had seen every horrific second of it.

She had not been gentle when she arrested Ardenix. If not for the indisputable evidence of the video files, the injuries she inflicted would have cost her badge, and possibly earned her a prison sentence of her own. But the files had been leaked, censored versions had been broadcast -- and Helen had become a hero too popular to punish.

"I take sin and sinners very seriously," she told the reporters. "James Ardenix committed one of the worst sins imaginable when he kidnapped, raped, and murdered little Amanda Portakis. It was my duty to Amandaís family, Port Armstrong, and God to bring him to justice."

The same L.E. officials who had threatened her with dismissal when she refused to drop her investigation of Ardenix were quick to claim that they had supported her all along. Her reward, aside from media attention that she could gladly have done without, was a degree of independence to pursue leads that others couldnít see on future cases.

Helen didnít care. She hadnít been trying for a promotion or future perqs when she pursued Ardenix in spite of her orders; she had been seeking justice for a little girl whose life had been stolen. In the end, she had uncovered the sinner, and he would be punished.

Ardenixís money had bought an army of lawyers to defend him, and another army of private investigators to uncover information to discredit witnesses or blackmail them. In spite of this, he was convicted -- the video evidence was impossible to ignore or refute, and, in the absence of an American-style Constitution, entirely admissible.

The nature of the crime earned Ardenix a trip to the Organ Bank. There, he would live until he had to "donate" an organ whose absence couldnít be covered by artificial means. In the meantime, he would be slowly whittled away, losing a patch of skin here, a kidney or a lung there, a cornea, even a hand or foot or arm or leg, as Port Armstrongís citizens were injured or grew ill and needed replacement parts.

Helen thought that being carved up into component parts was an appropriate punishment for Ardenix. The Bible prescribed an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth as a guide to justice -- for the life of a child, it was fitting that he should eventually lose everything.

####

Three months after his sentencing, Ardenix escaped, before he had lost more than a little skin off his well-conditioned buttocks.

To say that Helen was enraged would have been an understatement of Biblical proportions. She personally interrogated the guards, maintenance staff, and medical staff of the Organ Bank prison ward, leaving several in need of hospitalization themselves. But she knew that it was the ones who had failed to report for work who were most likely to have been involved in Ardenixís disappearance.

Alone at her desk in the Law Enforcement Center, Helen stared at her flatscreen, now filled with images and text relating to the missing Organ Bank personnel. She had no need to see anything relating to Ardenix, of course; after weeks of intensive study, she knew more about his life history and habits than anyone, possibly including the man himself.

"Where are they?" she asked. "Weíre on the God-loving Moon here, in a habitat where every milligram of air and water has to be accounted for, where every vehicle that enters or leaves has to budget fuel and consumables if itís going to reach its destination with its passengers alive. How can Ardenix and the money-loving sinners who helped him have disappeared?"

The A.I. in her wrist computer, assuming that the question had been directed to it, attempted to find an answer to the question. It only took a fraction of a second to determine that the information required was not in its large, but limited, onboard files. Still, the A.I. was smart enough to initiate a broader search for answers.

"I am unable to answer your question, Helen," the wristcomp said. "I have relayed the facts to the Port Armstrong central A.I. for analysis --"

"Iím just thinking out loud," Helen said. "But thank you for the effort."

In order for a person or persons to "disappear" while staying inside the closed ecosystem of the Port Armstrong habitat, he or she or they had to be able to hack into the environmental balancing routines of the central A.I. The air and water they used had to be accounted for somehow; simply falsifying the amounts routed to the sector in which they were hiding would eventually result in an obvious shortfall in resources. The most likely way to accomplish this would be to spread the amounts consumed over all the residences of that sector. The incremental differences between the air and water that should have been used by each of several thousand residences and what would appear to be have used by those same residents when the extra demand imposed by a handful of "invisibles" would be small enough that they might be dismissed as within normal variances.

Obviously, for someone with Ardenixís resources and demonstrated ability to alter stored data (or have someone alter it on his behalf), this kind of manipulation would be easily arranged.

Helen queried the individual air and water records for all the residences in the sector closest to the Organ Bank over several months, then calculated the variation. As she had expected, the consumption for any given residence rose or fell by a few percent from month to month. In cases where the air and water used jumped significantly -- enough to account for an extra person moving in -- cross-referencing revealed the birth of a child or the duly-recorded arrival of new tenants.

She repeated this process for each sector in Port Armstrong, one by one, and each sector seemed to fit the same pattern. But there was something there, a blip in the pattern, an inconsistency that her subconscious had noticed while her conscious mind remained locked into its own course.

"Beta Five sector," she said. "Every residence shows a month-to-month variation in air and water use well within the range established for the other sectors. But thereís something ... wait a minute ..."

A moment later, she had the answer. "In every other sector in Port Armstrong, the number of residences that show decreases in consumption in a given month is about equal to the number that show increases. But in Beta Five sector, the balance is off. Nearly sixty-nine percent of residences show an increase."

"Contact Captain Barnum," Helen said. Her wristcomp beeped, and a voice said, "Captain Barnumís office."

"This is McKay, badge alpha three zero niner seven two. I have reason to believe that one or more of the missing persons associated with the Ardenix escape is hiding in Beta Five sector."

"McKay, Captain Barnum here. Explain."

"Air and water consumption in Beta Five shows a blip in terms of the percentage of residences with a month-to-month increase versus the same stat for all other sectors," Helen said. "I know it isnít much, but if I had the money to hire somebody good enough to spoof the records ..."

After a pause of several seconds, the Captainís voice said, "Iíve initiated surveillance on the entry and exit points for Beta Five. But itís going to be hell -- sorry, itís going to be very difficult -- to get the manpower to sweep Beta Five at the same time."

"No need to apologize, Captain," Helen said. "It wasnít the Lordís name you were abusing. I am heading for Beta Five now -- Iíll see what I can do to start a search with other resources."

"All right, McKay," the Captain said. "But if you think youíve found Ardenix or any of the missing Organ Bank staff, call for backup."

"I always follow the regs, Captain," Helen said. What she didnít specify was that she counted the Ten Commandments as regulations that overrode any of Manís laws, and Port Armstrong Law Enforcement rules as well. Various other Biblical injunctions also outranked human laws in Helenís view ...

"Yes, of course you do," the Captain said. "If we donít count the number of orders you disobeyed and rules you broke to bring Ardenix down, youíre a model officer."

"Ardenix wonít get away," Helen said. "He might lose the use of a limb a bit sooner than if heíd stayed in the Organ Bank, but he wonít get away."

The Captain sighed. "I didnít hear that. And the Law Enforcement A.I.ís communications log is going to suffer a bout of amnesia covering the last minute or so."

"McKay out," Helen said.

It took about five minutes by tube train to reach the main airlock separating sector Beta Five from Beta Four. Helen made her way through the crowd waiting to get through the control point that the Captain had arranged, flashing her badge as she went. This drew a few angry words from people who blamed her (rightly, as it happened) for delaying them, but then someone recognized her.

"Thatís her! Thatís Hell Ďní Damnation herself, the detective that caught Ardenix!"

Helen winced. Sheíd heard the nickname before around Law Enforcement Center; finding out that it was now in common use among the ordinary citizens did not please her. She was glad that her parents were still back on Earth -- they would not have approved of the name or the fame that it implied.

Still, it turned the angry muttering of the crowd into murmurs of anticipation, and her passage through the throng became much smoother.

"Go get the bastard, Helen! Send him back to the Parts Bin!"

Helen said nothing, not wishing to encourage such sentiments. If she was wrong, and Ardenix was not in Beta Five sector -- or worse, none of the fugitives were there -- the crowd would be angrier than ever when the news got out.

The patrol officer manning the checkpoint recognized Helen immediately, and waved her through without more than a cursory glance at her badge. "I hope this pays off, Detective," he said. "Every parent in Port Armstrong has been frantic since they heard that Ardenix got out. And this crowd ainít too happy to be delayed."

"I noticed," Helen said. "Just make sure that nobody gets in or out without being checked."

Beta Five sector was home to most of the lower-level techs and maintenance workers, and it showed. There wasnít much in the way of frills in the design of the buildings or public places, just the bare minimum of oxygen-producing plants and ground cover in small patches here and there. No soaring, low-grav architecture here, just squat and square structures, all in shades of gray -- the color of the lunar regolith that had been processed into building materials.

Still, a less-refined (or less-pretentious) population made for a more lively place, in spite of the drab surroundings. The best bars and restaurants in Port Armstrong were in Beta Five, at least in terms of value for your L-dollars and quality of entertainment.

Beta Five was also the site of Port Armstrongís only "soup kitchen". While no one had to go hungry as long as they made some effort to contribute to the colonyís wellbeing, some spent a little too much on recreation and needed a free meal to bridge the gap between paychecks. As on Earth, the free meals came with sermons attached.

The man in charge -- chief cook, bottlewasher, and dispenser of the Word of God -- was an old friend from the same commune as Helen. He had worked as an engineer back when Port Armstrong was little more than a big hole in the lunar surface with a handful of sealdomes barely large enough for two men to stretch out on the floor; after his retirement, he had stayed Upstairs to minister to the workers who, from his experience, needed all the spiritual help they could get.

"Hey, Max," Helen called out, "I need your help."

"Little Helen, all growed up, taking names and kicking butt, or so I hear," Max said. "Or is it kicking butt first and then taking names?"

They embraced, and Helen planted a kiss on Maxís stubble-covered cheek.

"I just do whatever works, Max," Helen said. "Just like you."

Max handed food-dispensing duties off to one of his regular patrons, then led Helen to a table in the back of the room.

"What can an old worn-out engineer do for a famous detective like you?"

Helen leaned closer. "I think that Ardenix or some of the Organ Bank people that must have helped him to escape are here in Beta Five. Maybe both."

Max frowned. "Organ Bank staffers -- even the guards and cleaning crews -- mostly get paid enough to live somewhere better than old Beta Five," he said. "I suppose some of them might have friends or relations here. Hell, even Ardenix might have some buddies from back in the old days whoíve managed to stay poor."

Helen shrugged. "I donít know. I didnít find anything to suggest that any of the fugitives had connections here. But Ardenix still has a lot of L-dollars, and that could buy him some privacy anywhere in Port Armstrong, friends or not."

"What makes you think heís here, then?" Max asked.

"Water. Air. Consumption here went up this month in more Beta Five residences in than it should have -- instead of about an even split between residences using less than the previous month and residences using more, there was a bias toward more usage that didnít show up for any other sector."

Max shook his head and whistled. "Man, you are like a bloodhound and a bulldog rolled into one -- but prettier than either," he said. "Thatís a pretty fine point to pin your search on, but Iíll bet L-dollars to soy patties that youíre right."

"The problem with finding somebody based on statistical evidence is it doesnít narrow things down much," Helen said. "The computer records were cooked to disperse the extra consumption across every residence in the sector -- thereís no way to tell which one or which ones have special guests in them."

"So why arenít your L.E. colleagues swarming through here, knocking on every door?"

Helen laughed. "Thereís barely enough of us in Port Armstrong to make a swarm," she said. "Short of sending everybody here, leaving the rest of the colony completely without police, thereís no way we can conduct a good search. The Captain managed to call in enough people to control the entrances and exits -- the main ones, anyway -- but thatís about it."

Max nodded, as he understood what Helen needed.

"You need a whole lot of warm bodies," he said. "People I trust -- so you can trust them, too."

"The more the better," Helen said. "The way things are laid out, we can control movement fairly well if we get enough people -- keep our targets from slipping around the search lines, moving from where weíre about to search to where weíve just been."

"Let me make some calls," Max said. "While youíre waiting, have some soy pattie stew."

"Do I have to? Iíve tried your stew before."

Max sniffed and wiped away imaginary tears. "Iím hurt, Helen, really hurt. But beggars and L.E. officers asking for favors canít be choosers!"

Helen raised her hands in surrender. "Fine, fine, Iíll eat. Go make those calls before the people lined up to get through the main airlocks get tired of waiting."

The stew did smell pretty good, and she hadnít eaten anything since ... She couldnít remember when or what she had eaten last. Stomach rumbling, she joined the line for a free (aside from a sermon that she would probably enjoy anyway) meal.

####

Max soon reported that he had lined up almost a hundred volunteers to perform a residence-to-residence search for Ardenix and his suspected accomplices. Helen downloaded holopics of the fugitives to Maxís desk computer, and he in turn transmitted them to the wristcomps of his impromptu army.

"I couldíve had a lot more people out there," Max said, "but some of them would be inclined to shove a mining charge down Ardenixís throat and toss him out an emergency-purge airlock."

"Shame to waste the organs," Helen said. "Also a little too quick for what that sinner did to little Amanda."

"ĎThe quality of mercy is not strainedí", Max began, but Helen interrupted him.

"Thatís a pretty speech, but itís Shakespeare -- or Bacon, or Marlowe -- I canít remember if they ever settled that -- anyway, itís not the Word of God."

"You always were an Old Testament kind of girl," Max said. "Makes me glad Iíve stayed on the right side of Godís laws as well as Manís."

Over the next several hours, Max and Helen coordinated the movements of the searchers, deploying some to keep watch on exit points from each area as the rest went door to door. There were a few incidents where residents had protested allowing the unofficial deputies to enter their homes, but a direct vidlink from Helen quickly averted the trouble. Having a famous face to back up her L.E. ident codes did have its advantages.

As the sweep of each residential block was completed, the search teams reported in, and Helen relayed the information to the L.E. officers controlling Beta Fiveís access and egress points.

"100 block clear."

"200 block clear."

"300 block clear."

"Main entertainment complex clear. You should have heard the howls when we made them turn the lights up."

Finally, the report they had been waiting for came in.

"This is Leonov at the south end of 500 block. Ardenix and one of the Organ Bankers have been spotted. They are running north toward the 600 block."

"Thatís us," Max said. "Or close enough."

"Thatís me," Helen corrected him. "Tell your people to hold the line -- make sure the sinners canít double back."

"Sure you donít need any help?"

Helen smiled. "I took him down once. I think this time I may make sure that heís not so fast on his feet after he goes back to the Organ Bank."

"Shame to waste the knees," Max said. "Mine are a bit creaky, and Ardenix might be a close enough match --"

"Iíll keep that in mind," Helen said. Then she was up and running.

####

Running in lunar gravity was a trick that had taken months to master. A normal running step with muscles developed under a Earth gravity could bounce you off the ceiling; worse, it took much longer for the lead foot to touch down than Earth-born reflexes expected, so bouncing off the floor with a sprained ankle or knee was a frequent occurrence for newbies. Helen had been on the moon long enough to have developed a fast shuffling run that kept her close to the ground and covered distance with enviable speed.

Ardenix, of course, had been on the moon much longer. He ran with the grace of a gazelle, easily achieving velocities that would have qualified for the Olympics back on Earth. His companion was nowhere near as adept; she stumbled and fell in a slow arc that still drove the breath from her lungs (well-padded though they were) when she landed.

Helen paused long enough to slap memory-plastic restraints around the womanís wrists and ankles, then rose and began to run again.

"Ardenix! Give it up! Thereís nowhere to go!"

Ardenix kept running.

"The main airlocks are all covered by L.E.ís, and thereís a hundred Beta Fivers out to harvest your organs right now!"

Ardenix slowed, shortening his stride gradually, then stopped.

"L.E. McKay," he said, breathing hard. "I thought it might be you who found me first."

"Where in the Lordís name did you think you could go?" Helen asked.

"I was making arrangements to rendezvous with a surface-to-surface hopper near one of the utility airlocks," Ardenix said. "Unfortunately, you and your friends arrived sooner than expected, too soon for my ride to get here."

"Easy enough for you to bribe someone to hide a pressure suit in an emergency Ďlock, I guess," Helen said. "Enough money could buy you a ride to another port, or even to an L5."

"And extradition treaties between colonies are notoriously spotty," Ardenix said. "So -- once out of Port Armstrong, I could probably live out my life in the style to which you will never become accustomed."

"The best-laid plans," Helen said. "Please tell me youíre going to resist arrest. You have places I didnít get to bruise last time."

Ardenix laughed, a hearty politicianís laugh that made Helenís teeth clamp down to hold back a snarl of anger.

"After the beating you gave me, Iím not going to resist arrest," Ardenix said. "Besides, I have people to do that for me."

Two men stepped out from the doorway of the building to Ardenixís left. Each carried a small knife, with the hilt held loosely between the right thumb and forefinger.

"This little exercise was mainly about getting away with as much of my skin in one piece as possible," Ardenix said. "But just in case things turned out the way they did, I made contingency plans."

"Plans for revenge, if not for escape," Helen said. "To cause me pain as I caused you pain?"

"You are such a bright, attractive young woman," Ardenix said. "I almost regret what is about to happen to you."

"Squawk distress, beacon on," Helen said. Her wristcomp beeped twice, acknowledging the command.

"It will be several minutes at least before help arrives," Ardenix said. "This wonít take nearly that long."

"Weíll see," Helen said. Then the men were moving towards her in quick, gliding steps that told her they were not FOS -- fresh off the shuttle.

On the other hand, they didnít move like people who had trained in low-gravity martial arts, either.

Certain Earth-developed fighting styles worked well in lunar gravity, mainly those that kept the feet on the ground for the most part -- wing chun, pa kua, kenpo karate, krav maga, for example. Styles that encouraged high kicks, or worse, flying kicks, did not work at all, as they tended to leave the kicker hanging in the air like a balloon with a target painted in the groin area.

Helen had practiced wing chun for a few years before she had moved Upstairs, and had picked up pa kua since then. Now she circled left to place both attackers in front of her, her feet sliding over the pavement in quick, precise arcs.

A low block deflected the first knife thrust, then changed to a grip that pulled the man off balance and into a vertical punch that splintered teeth and rocked his head back. Helen pivoted, pushing the man with both hands so that he stumbled into the path of the second assailant even as she glide-stepped around and caught the second man with a palm strike to the temple.

Now both men were hurt and disoriented. Helen circled, pulled a memory-plastic restraint strip from her belt, and strapped the first manís left arm to the second manís right arm. This forced them to work as a single unit, one with four legs, three arms, and two confused brains. If those brains had been working a little better, they would have surrendered immediately. But frustration and pride sent them stumbling toward her, knife hands flailing. Now they were forced to attack her together, and worse, one had to switch his knife to his off hand.

Again, Helen circled, and one man pivoted to follow her before the second had a chance to realize what was happening. The men found themselves almost back to back, unable to move forward or back, barely able to stay on their feet.

"Oh, crap," the first man said.

Helen circled them again, and they tied themselves into a knot trying to follow her. She barely had to feint a punch to make one man flinch enough to send them both down. Two more memory-plastic restraints turned them into a squirming bundle of embarrassment, bound together and completely helpless.

"You were right, Ardenix. That didnít take long at all," Helen said.

Ardenix growled and attacked. He had obviously studied martial arts in his younger days. Unfortunately for him, he had studied a style that fell into the "not for use in low gravity" category, and had probably watched a few too many Hong Kong action movies for his own good.

Ardenix threw a spinning crescent kick that lifted him at least half a meter off the pavement and left his groin exposed for far too long to be safe. Never one to waste an opportunity when the Lord offered one, Helen stepped inside the radius of the kick and drove her fist into the obvious target.

Ardenix made very little noise as he fell to the ground, but the expression on his face made it clear that he was a very unhappy man. Or perhaps unhappy eunuch.

"Iíd say it was a shame about the wasted organs, but I suspect that nobody would have wanted those anyway," Helen said.

####

It took only a short time for the remaining Organ Bank employees to be found. Two of them actually surrendered before the search had reached their hiding places. With Ardenix back in custody, the only chance they had to avoid going back to the Organ Bank as inmates instead of staff was to cooperate to a degree that bordered on being annoying.

"Well, Helen, I guess Ardenix will be paying his full debt to society after all," Max said.

"Aside from a couple of minor organs, yes," Helen said. "Apparently, I really did ruin them when I hit him."

Max laughed. "They never mentioned those in the bible verse, did they? I mean, eyes, teeth, yeah, but cojones?"

"God provided us with a clear accounting of His will," Helen said. "If He trusted us to fill in some of the details, well, thatís a blessing, isnít it?"

"ĎBlessings and curses and ever-filled purses,í" Max quoted.

Helen shook her head. "Gilbert and Sullivan. Thatís even further from the Word of God than Shakespeare."

"Waitíll I hit you with my scholarly knowledge of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Suzanne," Max said.

"Itís a good thing you balance your irreverence with good works," Helen said. "Otherwise Iíd have to treat you as just one more sinner."

"Have some stew. I used the cajun-style spicy soy patties in this one."

"I said good works," Helen said. "That may not qualify."

####

Port Armstrong newsvid, August 20, 2035

"L.E. Helen ĎDamnationí McKay received a special commendation today for her re-capture of convicted kidnapper, rapist, and murderer James Ardenix. This commendation came not from the Port Armstrong Law Enforcement Center, but from the Medical Center. The return of Ardenix to the Organ Bank and the sentencing of two of Ardenixís accomplices provided a much-needed influx of materials just in time to handle the surge in demand following the tragic loss of pressure in Gamma Three sector. The hearts, lungs and blood vessels harvested helped to save the lives of eight survivors of the Gamma Three incident ..."

THE END


© 2004 Robert Moriyama

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