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A Little Holiday Steplet For You All
A Little Holiday Steplet For You All
#1
Disclaimer and credits will be found after the end of the
story.




                    DRUNKARD'S WALK STEPLET:
                  THE FIRST...  NO...  WELL...

                     by Robert M. Schroeck


  "Keep the Muss in Christmas."  -- Michael R. Singer


To this day I still don't know if it was just a coincidence or if
for some arcane reason I'd been guided to this particular
timeline and this particular era.  I do know that at first I
didn't think anything was amiss.  The ancient Middle East?  Oh
yeah, I'd done that gig before, only in the Bronze Age, not the
Iron Age.  Hell, in one timeline I'd pretty much co-founded the
nation I'd landed in this time, so really, no surprises here.  
Sure, the Romans were a pain, but that was par for the course in
the era.  I didn't bother them and they didn't bother me, and for
the most part we both found that arrangement satisfactory.

I'd fallen in with the extended household of a wealthy farmer who
lived a half-mile outside the small town of Beit Lechem, near the
north edge of the Roman province of Judaea.  I'd arrived in the
late spring, and at that time of year the easiest job to get in
an Iron Age culture was field hand; despite my odd looks I was
taken on quickly.  (A 173-cm blond in 1st-century Palestine?  You
betcha I looked like an alien creature to those folks -- just
like I did to the Midianites a thousand and some years earlier
and oh-so-many timelines away.)  Old Avram was a good and honest
man who paid well for the time and place, and I did my best to
earn my perutahs.

(What's a perutah?  Oh, that's a little bronze coin that was the
most common currency in Judaea while I was there, issued by
whichever one of the Herods was on the throne at the time.  Gods
know I could never keep'em straight as a kid in Sunday School,
let alone living under one.)

Anyway, I'm not averse to the kind of physical labor an Iron Age
farm requires of its workers.  I was in good shape and to be
absolutely honest stronger than all but the burliest of Avram's
sons and farmhands (the numbers of which overlapped by a large
amount).  I did my fair share and then some, and in return I had
good food, a reasonably comfortable bedroll, and some rough but
enjoyable company for as long as I wanted it.

Sure as hell beat living in a cave in a post-human wasteland, let
me tell you.  

Some months later, when the harvest ended, Avram took me aside
and told me I was welcome to spend the winter with them.  Lacking
a pressing appointment elsewhere in the Roman Empire, and because
I liked old Avram and his family, I took him up on the offer.  I
knew the combination of my *very* foreign looks plus the strange
but recognizable strain of Judaism that I practiced in order to
fit in (two millennia in the making!) puzzled and intrigued the
old man, and he'd made half-serious jokes about me coming from
one of the Lost Tribes.  I suspected that in addition to keeping
a good farmhand around for the next season, he planned on
interrogating me thoroughly until he found out for sure one way
or the other -- and offering me room and board through the winter
was the best way to ensure his research project didn't wander on
down the road before he satisfied his curiosity.

So I ended up staying with Avram's family well past the time the
other workers returned to theirs.  I started out bunking in the
barn as I had during the harvest proper, but that changed after I
joined the family for Sukkoth.  When the booth came down off the
roof of the house my pallet was moved indoors with everyone else's
and all my offers to return to the barn were rebuffed.  Avram's
wife Tova threatened me with an iron ladle when I suggested it
one too many times, at which point I gave up and accepted my
promotion to "family member" with a smile.

Winter with Avram's family passed quickly enough.  Folks who've
only lived in an industrial, technological civilization don't
realize how much work went into living (let alone living *well*)
in the Iron Age.  We didn't lounge around looking at snow falling
on the fields, drinking mulled wine -- we *toiled*, doing almost
as much work keeping the farm and family going through the winter
as we did in the warmer months.  Not that it got cold, or snowed,
in our little corner of the Empire, but that just made the work a
bit easier.

Another thing future folks don't quite grasp, either:  just how
slow communications traveled, too.  We'd been noticing and
commenting on the increase in traffic to and from Beit Lechem for
something close to six weeks before we finally heard about some
Roman decree about a census and taxes requiring Judaeans to
register with officials in whatever town their family originally
came from.  Avram's line had been in the Beit Lechem vicinity for
longer than anyone could remember, fortunately, and it took just
a day's travel, round-trip, for him to take care of his
obligations to Rome.  And because I was basically an undocumented
alien, he claimed me as one of his nephews and covered *my*
obligations, as well.  The man was a saint.

As winter transitioned into spring, the farm started gearing up
for the planting season -- and the lambing.  A fair amount of Old
Avram's wealth was in his massive flocks of sheep, and after
taking special care of the pregnant ewes for the previous four or
five months, it was finally coming up on the lambing.  The
weather had improved to the point where the nights were no longer
particularly chilly, and that was the sign that we -- by which I
meant all the farmhands -- had to start camping out in the fields
overnight.  

Why?  Because lambing is a tricky business, and sometimes you
can't just let nature take its course.  If the birth goes badly,
you can lose both the lamb *and* the ewe, and even if you don't
look at it from an economic point of view, that's a loss you don't
want to take.  Those same ewes (and their lambs) were also primo
targets for the various predators that prowled the countryside.
So it was necessary to basically set up a camp right in the
middle of the flocks and set up a series of watches so that
someone would always be awake to hear the sounds of a distressed
ewe (or five) -- or a howling wolf -- in the middle of the night.  

Yeah.  We were shepherds, out in the country, keeping watch over
our flocks by night.  If I hadn't already been working every
*other* part of the farm for most of a year by that point, that
would have been my first clue.

The light show one late April evening would have been another,
but I don't think I'd've needed any more clues after that.

                            * * *

As I watched the sky grow dark once again, I pursed my lips for a
moment.  "Well," I muttered, "I wasn't expecting the accounts to
have been *quite* so literal."

Yeah.  Angels, host of, one each.  Singing, lights, wings, halos,
you name it -- all there.  The announcement was a little longer
than the written record had it, though.  Even allowing for the
inevitable translation issues, it was pretty obvious the
traditional rendering had paraphrased a fair bit.

It hadn't quite caught the attitude, either.  This band of angels
wasn't exactly doing a worshipful alleluia, solemnly informing
the world (via two dozen sleep-deprived animal husbandry experts)
of God's grace and glory and all that.  Instead, it looked and
sounded more like a band of celestial fratboys throwing a
going-away party for a buddy who was already at the airport.  It
was, I reflected, perhaps the least dignified group of Celestial
types I had seen since the night Urd and Bacchus decided to do a
pub crawl through downtown Nekomi.

But to the degree that the incident had been documented in the
Bible, the account was accurate.

Just ... incomplete.

All around me, my "cousins" and the odd temporary hand were
getting up off the ground, where they had fallen to their knees
(or, in some cases, faces) when things got really sparkly.  I
looked them over, stifled a chuckle, and said, "Off to Beit Lechem,
I guess."

We decided to make the pilgrimage in several groups -- Avram
would have our hides if we lost any of the ewes or lambs because
we'd deserted our posts en masse, after all.  (And there was
nothing I could spot in the sky which would fit the loose
criteria for a "star" to lead the Wise Men, so I figured we had
a few days at least before the happy family would head back to
Nazareth.)  

A half-dozen of us would head out to Beit Lechem right away, find
the newly-incarnated savior and his family, pay our respects, and
report back to the rest.  Then, for the next few nights, another
half-dozen at a time would trot into town, take a gander at the
kid, and hightail it back to the fields before dawn.

I made sure I was in the first group, if only because I had
inside info *and* I was the only one not completely dazed by the
experience.  (I don't know what those angels had been passing
about, but it'd given my "cousins" a contact high like you
wouldn't believe.)

Finding the inn wouldn't be hard.  There was only one place that
put up travelers in Beit Lechem.  (It was *that* small -- you could
trade Beit Lechem for a one-horse town and have to give back a
Shetland pony as change.)  And sure enough, it was packed to the
gills.  I didn't even bother to check inside with the innkeeper,
I just led our little group around back to the stables.

Another detail not in the "official" accounts:  The *stable* was
packed, too, and not just with animals.  The Holy Family did have
an entire stall to themselves, though.  It had just enough room
for two adults to lay down in, which explains why they used the
manger as an improvised cradle -- they would've crushed the kid
if they'd laid him between them.  (And unlike the floor of the
stall, it was guaranteed to be clean -- or at least cleanish --
straw.)

Given the hour, Yosef was understandably a bit put out by the
small band of weirdos who insisted on waking him and the missus
up and looking at their newborn.  But we mentioned the light show,
and the winged fratboys, and Miriam's eyes got real wide for a
moment before she laid her hand on her husband's arm and calmed
him down.  (Some of the other folks staying in the stable were
*also* put out by our arrival, but I calmed them down through
somewhat different methods.)

Miriam lifted the kid out of the manger.  He was wrapped up in an
old shawl, a colorful thing quite unlike the white mummy
wrappings you see in any depiction of the Nativity.  It made him
look like a rainbow-colored caterpillar.  What I could see of him
was like any other newborn I'd ever seen -- red, wrinkly and
vaguely unfinished-looking; the only saving grace was that he
wasn't crying or screaming.  As little Yeshua blinked sleepily in
the lantern light, Miriam unwrapped him enough to bare his arms,
and I took the moment to slip into mage sight.

Yup.  Triple helix in the soul.  There was definitely Someone
Celestial in there.

While my "cousins" muddled about I took the lead and approached
the little family, after first taking Dawid out into the street
and cuffing him in the ear to get him to behave.  (You couldn't
take Dawid *anywhere*.)  I bowed to both mother and father, and
then knelt down in front of where Miriam held the boy in her lap.  
Surprisingly, the baby had handled the entire parade with a
strange, quiet dignity.

I cupped the child's face in my hand and looked into his eyes --
eyes that very definitely were too wise for an ordinary newborn.
"Hey there, kiddo," I said in twentieth-century English.  "I
don't know which one of you is in there, but I can't imagine that
you'd be ignorant of the story you've just inserted yourself
into.  Every Earth I've visited it's played out pretty much the
same, far as I can tell."

I shook my head.  "So you've got to know already what you've set
yourself up for, and even if you're just timesharing a typical
avatar, it's still not going to be fun when you reach the end.
And if you've put *all* of yourself inside that baby, well..."  I
trailed off and bit my lip.  While I did so, the infant reached
up and wrapped his chubby fingers around my thumb.  "Either way,
Whoever You Are, you've got my respect -- especially if it's been
you in all those other universes as well.  I suppose that'll have
to be my gift -- damned few gods have my respect, so it ought to
be worth something just for its rarity."  I smiled to make it
clear I was mocking myself and not him.

"Some advice, too, though I doubt you need it," I added.  "Take
the time to enjoy being a kid, for as long as you can get away
with it.  Try to complete a masterwork as a carpenter before you
have to start your ministry.  And see if you can't give Judas a
break this time around.  The poor schmuck gets set up and used
every damned time you do this -- can't you come up with a
different way to move into the endgame that won't destroy him in
the process?"

I furrowed my brow with a moment's thought.  "I guess that's it.
I should let the others have a look at you.  Thanks for listening
to me.  Merry Christmas, kiddo, and happy birthday."  I tried to
pull away, but suddenly the baby's grip on my thumb was like
iron, and I was frozen in place.

*You are welcome, Douglas Sangnoir, once called Aharon the
brother of Moses, and a thousand other names as well.*  The words
formed in my mind without a sound being emitted by the
unnaturally solemn child before me.  *And thank you for your
wishes, and those of your companions.*

"Um," I said, taken aback, and the baby smiled.  Around us, the
moment seemed to be frozen in time.

*I will share a secret with you, Douglas Sangnoir.  Judas is,
like I, one of the Elohim.  We have taken these roles in turns
through the many universes; in this one I am Yeshua ben Yosef,
but in the next I shall be Yehuda ben Avraham of the Sicarii and
my brother shall be Yeshua.  Fear not for the fate of Yehuda,
then, for we both do these things of our free will and with a
purpose.*  The baby's eyes twinkled.  *This is not to say we
adhere slavishly to a set script, though.*

I chuckled.  "Maybe he can take the place of Paul this time
around -- have him repent betraying you, write a major gospel,
and then travel the Middle East building the Church for you."  I
frowned as a thought struck me.  "Just let him strip out the
misogynism and the other stuff that's caused trouble over the
centuries...  If you're at all as beneficent as you want us to
think you are, I'd think you'd want a better legacy than what's
left by the end of the twentieth century."

A light seemed to flare in the child's eyes, and even though his
placid expression didn't change a whit, I got the feeling that
I'd finally annoyed him. *You speak from your own biases, Douglas
Sangnoir,* he said, and the tone carried by his mental "voice"
confirmed my suspicion -- yup, I might not have actually angered
him, but he *was* irritated at me.  Oh, well...  *The time and
place of your origin is not the goal, but a brief milepost
flickering by on the long path to that goal.  The actions that my
brother and I take in each of these lifetimes bear fruit in eras
so far distant that from their perspective, this time and yours
are indistinguishable.*

"Playing pool with history," I growled.  "I suppose I can
understand that.  I just wish fewer people ended up behind the
8-ball."

The annoyance in the mental voice disappeared.  *Because you ask
nothing for yourself, and cared for the fate of a man whom untold
billions in untold timelines have reviled for centuries, my
brother and I will see what we may do.  Our goal is of immense
importance, and we will not see it lost for anything, but... this
time, perhaps, we will see how much we can change without
threatening the outcome we *must* have.*

"Sounds like this isn't some game for you, unlike the things I've
seen so many gods doing with mortals," I offered thoughtfully.

*Indeed, Douglas Sangnoir.  Though the lives we live in these
many worlds are for the most part good and enjoyable ones, we
would not ceaselessly take on the pain and blood of their endings
if it were not a matter of importance whose magnitude approaches
the ineffable.  We are not *all* the spoiled children you believe
us to be, as you should well know by now, and our goal benefits
mortals as much as the Elohim.*

Then the world started moving again and, to Miriam's surprise,
the baby smiled and shrugged.  *Still, I must admit, it's a hell
of a way to make a living.*

------------------------------------

This work of fiction is copyright © 2013, Robert M. Schroeck,
and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

"Douglas Q. Sangnoir," "Looney Toons", "The Loon" and any
representations thereof are copyright by and trademarks of Robert
M. Schroeck.

Other Drunkard's Walk stories can be found at:

        http://www.accessdenied-rms.net/dwmain.shtml

The Drunkard's Walk discussion forums are open for those who wish
to trade thoughts and comments with other readers, as well as
with the author:

       http://www.accessdenied-rms.net/forums/index.php

C&C gratefully accepted.
 
-- Bob
---------
Then the horns kicked in...
...and my shoes began to squeak.
Reply
 
#2
Minor note: Winter in that part of the world is the rainy season. This is when all the plants grow the most, and IIRC, is the season leading up to the most important of the three harvests in a year.
-----
Stand between the Silver Crystal and the Golden Sea.
"Youngsters these days just have no appreciation for the magnificence of the legendary cucumber."  --Krityan Elder, Tales of Vesperia.
Reply
 
#3
Mm. One of my prereaders told me he was surprised I'd have the guts to post this. Was it a mistake then? Did I offend so badly that no one even wanted to say so? Should I delete this thread?
-- Bob
---------
Then the horns kicked in...
...and my shoes began to squeak.
Reply
 
#4
No, no - sometimes there's nothing that needs to be said about a good work.
--
Rob Kelk
"Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose
them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of
the same sovereign, servants of the same law."

- Michael Ignatieff, addressing Stanford University in 2012
Reply
 
#5
I tend to take religion with a big pinch of "meh," but it's an interesting enough short.
--
"Anko, what you do in your free time is your own choice. Use it wisely. And if you do not use it wisely, make sure you thoroughly enjoy whatever unwise thing you are doing." - HymnOfRagnorok as Orochimaru at SpaceBattles
woot Med. Eng., verb, 1st & 3rd pers. prsnt. sg. know, knows
Reply
 
#6
There isn't a SEP field around this fic by any chance?  I know I've checked the forum several times since the fic was posted but I missed it everytime!  I only found it cause I saw Bob's reply on the eyrie comments page (which I only read cause I was looking for the bonus fic mentioned on the Eyrie post threads) and decided to go back and look for the fic.
I can't speak for anyone else but to misuse a song title I view it as just another winter (well nativity) tale.  It was nice to read but I doubt I will be giving it much thought tomorrow.
As to the date of Christmas or the nature of the star.  A couple of things I read on line but I probably can't find the links to again.  I don't know if the timing matches but I read a suggestion that there would be a symmetry if the baby was born on Passover.  I also saw a different site that suggested the "star" was a conjuction between Jupiter and Venus in the constelation Leo near the star Regulus around 2BC.
There might be a hundred reasons why neither idea makes sense but I will leave that to people with more knowledge of the subjects.
Mark
Reply
 
#7
I, likewise, didn't spot it until just a few minutes ago.

I've no complaints.  I like the bit about speaking up on Judas' behalf -- although you or Doug didn't consider that since the accounts of the angelic manifestation were slightly off, there might have been things about Judas' character that didn't make it into the record and would've justified the odium in which he's generally held.  Still, it's always bugged me how the anti-Semitic argument that Jews "killed Christ" ignores the fact that getting killed was his purpose.  If they hadn't shouted "Crucify him," they'd have been acting against what the Bible tells us was God's will.
-----
Big Brother is watching you.  And damn, you are so bloody BORING.
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#8
I was reading it expecting Brian in the stable, tbh..... I have that sense of humour.
________________________________
--m(^0^)m-- Wot, no sig?
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#9
Solid story and a reasonable approach says I, back from xmas exile to the lands of no interwebs. Salut!
D for Drakensis

You're only young once, but immaturity is forever.
Reply
 
#10
Bob Schroeck Wrote:Mm. One of my prereaders told me he was surprised I'd have the guts to post this. Was it a mistake then? Did I offend so badly that no one even wanted to say so? Should I delete this thread?
I wouldn't say "offended" (though my sense of historical accuracy is sitting in the corner going "FFFFFFFFFFFFF-" at the the census line) more like "needs to remember that there's more to the forum than just the top page." 'S a cute story, and it appears that somebody's been reading the Gospel of Judas... Big Grin
Mr. Fnord interdimensional man of mystery

FenWiki - Your One-Stop Shop for Fenspace Information

"I. Drink. Your. NERDRAGE!"
Reply
 
#11
Bump for the season.
-- Bob
---------
Then the horns kicked in...
...and my shoes began to squeak.
Reply
 
#12
I liked the story.
****************************************************************
“When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. When you desire a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it.”
― Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory
——————————————————-
What zombie movies got wrong about the actual apocalypse, part 1,487: they omitted scenes of people on the street demanding the right to be eaten by zombies.
—Kelly Davio, Twitter, 4/19/2020
Reply
 
#13
Heeee. Missed this one for some reason. Thanks for bumping it, Bob. ^_^

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
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#14
You're welcome!
-- Bob
---------
Then the horns kicked in...
...and my shoes began to squeak.
Reply
 
#15
... yet another in the 'Cant believe I missed it first time around' court.
Hear that thunder rolling till it seems to split the sky?
That's every ship in Grayson's Navy taking up the cry-

NO QUARTER!!!
-- "No Quarter", by Echo's Children
Reply
 
#16
One thing that I was kinda worried about in the story - Doug is lucky that Avram didn't offer him a daughter in marriage, because IIRC a refusal of something like that would have been gravely offensive. :p

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Reply
 
#17
Doug is usually upfront about explaining early that he's traveling to re-join his wife. Already being married is usually good and sufficient reason to refuse an offer of another marriage.
--
Rob Kelk
"Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose
them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of
the same sovereign, servants of the same law."

- Michael Ignatieff, addressing Stanford University in 2012
Reply
 
#18
I must have missed this this first time around.  That was beautiful, Bob.  It's always fun to have Doug meet another dimensional traveler, or a very rare instance where he respects a celestial.  These kinds of stories are important, as they allow those of us who are believers to think about our faith in a new way.
I do wonder what would happen if Doug were to meet Siddhartha Guatama on his travels, though.  If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him? 
-- ∇×V
Reply
 
#19
Dont be silly. You whip out your flashlight and enlighten him, of course!!! :p :p Tongue
Hear that thunder rolling till it seems to split the sky?
That's every ship in Grayson's Navy taking up the cry-

NO QUARTER!!!
-- "No Quarter", by Echo's Children
Reply
 
#20
Among Zen Buddhists it is said that, "When you meet another bodhisattva on the road, greet him with neither words nor silence." This leaves you with a vast selection of barnyard noises from which to choose. -- The Principia Discordia
-- Bob
---------
Then the horns kicked in...
...and my shoes began to squeak.
Reply
 
#21
Nah man. That's when you whip out your resonator guitar and crank out some sick-as-hell blues rips. Big Grin

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Reply
 
#22
Is the bit about Paul a deliberate reference to AU elements? As far as I recall, Paul never betrayed Jesus, because he was never one of the disciples when Jesus was walking the Earth. Paul, then Saul, was a zealot persecuting the fledgling Christian cult up until a divine encounter on a road to Damascus, but calling that a betrayal implies that Saul was on Christianity's side earlier.

Now, Peter is famous for denying any association with Jesus near the end, and then having guilt over it afterwards.
----------
No, I don't believe the world has gone mad.  In order for it to go mad it would need to have been sane at some point.
Reply
 
#23
No, it was Doug suggesting that Whoever They were mix up things a bit. Paul is responsible for a lot of the misogyny and other troublesome bits that got added to Christianity; Doug is suggesting that They try making Judas the voice that spread the Word instead of Paul.
-- Bob
---------
Then the horns kicked in...
...and my shoes began to squeak.
Reply
RE: A Little Holiday Steplet For You All
#24
And bump again for the new holiday season. Consider this my annual "Christmas Special".
-- Bob

I have been Roland, Beowulf, Achilles, Gilgamesh, Clark Kent, Mary Sue, DJ Croft, Skysaber.  I have been 
called a hundred names and will be called a thousand more before the sun grows dim and cold....

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RE: A Little Holiday Steplet For You All
#25
*wipes a tear*

Thanks for the Reminder bump Bob. I cant explain why but this year the story resonates more with me than in years past.
Hear that thunder rolling till it seems to rock the sky?
Thats' every ship in Grayson's Navy taking up the cry!
NO QUARTER!

No Quarter by Echo's Children
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