Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

The Whispers of Time
 
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Book Three • Chapter 8 — Fragments

February 1991 • Chris-24

My life had become a nightmare. At first I had been treated well. After landing in Hong Kong, I’d been treated to Hudson’s hospitality while he and my boyfriend kept encouraging me to cooperate with them. We stayed in a luxury apartment with a fantastic view of the city, and were fed meals that would have been welcomed in the finest restaurants in the world. During the day, Huang and Angus attended to our every need. At night they gave us our privacy.

The nights were shared with Wang in bed, but I was furious with him. He had betrayed me and I could not forget that. I wasn’t given the choice of whether or not to sleep with him, but they couldn’t force me to have sex with him, or to love him. So we slept together and nothing more. Wang’s advances were rebuffed without exception.

The one thing that was strange was that I always felt tired. I wasn’t sleeping well at all and what sleep I got was dreamless. I surmised that they were probably medicating me with something to block the possibility of my being contacted from the future using TTT.

After weeks of this — I’d long since lost track of time — my life in the lap of luxury came to an abrupt end. Since I hadn’t responded to being wined and dined, I was informed I would be subjected to a different approach. However I was assured that if I ever did cooperate, I would be returned to a life of luxury. I guess the time spent in Hong Kong had been intended all along to give me a taste of what my life could be like if only I did as they asked — to give me a taste of what my life could be, before they took it all away.

They came for me in the middle of the night, roused me out of bed and forced me, naked, into the back of a waiting limousine. Driven a short distance, I was forced at gunpoint onto a boat. Less than an hour after leaving port, we docked at what I presumed to be the mainland. Once again I was loaded into a waiting car and then we drove for hours, stopping only for fuel and so I could urinate at the side of the road, as they and any passerby that cared to, watched me. Not that I could have escaped if I tried. I was naked, a Westerner, and in a vast, strange country where I didn’t speak the language.

Finally as the sky was again darkening, after a day spent dodging bicycles, horse-drawn carts, jitneys, pedicabs, trucks and other assorted forms of transportation, we passed through a fence with razor wire on top and with warning signs that, although in Chinese, clearly showed the fence to be electrified. The area was remote and heavily forested. It was also stiflingly hot and humid, in spite of the nightfall.

We soon came to a small concrete block building — nothing more than a one-room hut really. A single bare bulb provided illumination, revealing a filthy sink of the type used in laundry rooms, a hole in the floor that, by its smell and the buzzing of flies, evidently was supposed to serve as my toilet, and a single bare cot.

As the guards, or whatever they were, prepared to leave, I asked, “Could I please have something to eat?”

One of the guards went outside and brought another man into my humble abode. “What do you want?” He asked.

“I asked for some food,” I replied. “I haven’t eaten since last night.”

“You will be fed once a day, in the morning,” he responded, and then he pulled a small capsule out of his pocket, filled a metal cup with murky water from the sink, and handed them to me, saying, “Here, take this. It’ll help you sleep.” The last thing I wanted was to be drugged, but he wouldn’t leave until he saw me put the pill in my mouth and swallow it. He even looked in my mouth and under my tongue, which earned me a slap across the face when he found it there. Afterwards, he shoved the pill down my throat, gagging me in the process. I had no choice but to swallow the pill. The pill acted quickly and I slept a sound, albeit dreamless sleep.

I awoke in the morning to the sensation of water hitting my face. Sputtering, I sat upright, only to grimace as bright sunlight flooded across my face through a window with bars and no glass. In that instant, my stomach roiled and I remembered the cup of water I’d been forced to drink with the pill the night before. It seemed likely to me the source of the water wasn’t much removed from the pit under the hole in the floor that served as my latrine. Rushing toward that hole, I barely made it before the contents of my stomach, what little there was, made a hasty exit out of my mouth and into the hole. No sooner had I emptied my stomach than I had to turn around and squat over the hole as my colon similarly rid itself of its contents.

“Everybody goes through this,” the guard stated flatly. “Your body has to get used to the water here. Eventually you’ll produce the antibodies you need to keep the local bacteria in check.”

“If I don’t die of dehydration first,” I replied.

“Much as you won’t feel like it and as often as you may vomit it back up, you must eat and drink plenty of water…”

“Tainted water,” I pointed out.

Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “You’ll get used to it. Welcome to the third world, where people drink each other’s shit. It fortifies the immune system.”

“If you don’t get dysentery,” I responded. “After all, I’m not worth much to you if I’m dead.”

“Death should be the least of your worries, Dr. Michaels, remember, if you cooperate, you’ll be returned to Hong Kong and a life of luxury. If you continue to be obstinate, trust me, you’ll come to wish for death, but death will never come.”

At that moment, another guard, or whatever he was, entered the shack carrying a metal bowl filled with what appeared to be rice and beans. It was actually just what my stomach needed. Seeing no eating utensils, I asked, “No chopsticks?”

“Nothing that could be used as a weapon, Dr. Michaels. Your hands will suffice.”

Both men laughed when I got up and walked to the sink, rinsing my hands in the murky water. There wasn’t any soap, but I figured it was better than nothing. I then greedily took the bowl and scarfed the meal down. I probably should have taken it more slowly, but I was starved, and the meal was surprisingly tasty.

Handing me the metal cup, the first guard said, “Take the cup, Dr. Michaels, and keep it handy. You need to drink the water to replace what you have lost.”

Taking the cup from him, I went to the sink and drank several cupfuls. It tasted sulfurous — putrid actually, but I had little doubt that I’d be made to suffer if I tried to use dehydration as a weapon. Besides which, I had an obligation to humanity to survive. I had to survive this ordeal and to escape. Only by returning to America and inventing TTT, could I stave off disaster. Only by returning home in one piece could I avoid a paradox that might well consume time itself. Somehow I would get out of this. I had to believe that, and so survival was my top priority.

Over the course of the next few days — again, I lost track of time — I got into a routine of passing time. At first a good deal of my daylight hours were spent puking and shitting my guts out, but then indeed my stomach did adapt and I had no difficulty drinking the putrid water and eating my one daily meal of rice and beans, and keeping them down. Every night I was given a pill and the guards made sure I swallowed it, without fail. The pill made me sleep, but I never dreamed and I always awoke feeling drugged and tired.

I wasn’t allowed out of my stone hut and I was never given any clothes to wear. With a single open window, covered only by bars, mosquitoes were a constant problem and I slowly became used to the constant itching from the numerous mosquito bites. Temperatures were stifling, particularly during the day, although frequent, heavy rain showers did bring some relief. Rinsing my hair and my body also helped to bring some relief and it helped me feel less disgusting, even though there was no soap. I learned quickly, however, that the water supply was limited and if I used much of it for bathing, there wasn’t enough left for drinking.

To prevent my muscles from wasting away, I made it a point to exercise. I did push-ups, sit-ups and, using the bars in the window for support, chin-ups. I ran in place and eventually substituted dancing to whatever music I could conjure up in my head. This still left hours and hours with nothing else to do. I made up mind games, tried to remember the favorite books I’d read, daydreamed, and I spent a lot of time hashing out the physics of TTT in my head. I couldn’t write the equations down, nor would I dare, but eventually I got to the point where I could visualize them, fully formed, in my head. Slowly, I began to develop strategies for how the inconsistencies of multiple realities of time could be resolved.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

February 1984 • Chris-17

She’d been all over me from the moment the lights had dimmed. It was a shame, really, as for once my date had chosen a movie that was really good. Not that I was a Woody Allen fan, mind you, but Broadway Danny Rose had a surprisingly good plot with both romance and suspense that demanded my attention. I really wanted to watch the movie, but Cecile seemed more interested in making out.

I did the best I could, or so I thought, in trying to watch without seeming to be disinterested in my date. Finally, the lights came up and I was disappointed that I’d missed so much of what was obviously a really good movie.

Exiting the theater, I asked, “Shall we go out for coffee or a bite to eat or something?”

“Sure, I’d like that, Chris,” she answered, and then added, “Actually, a bite to eat would be great. I didn’t have the time to eat something before the movie, so I’m starved.”

“Really? I’m so sorry, Cecile,” I responded. “I just assumed when you said you had to work and then picked this movie and show time that you’d grabbed a quick bite in between. I guess I should have asked.”

“That’s OK, Chris, seriously,” she responded. “There just wasn’t time. I made the choice to put off eating and it wasn’t your fault. But I’m glad you asked now. I could really go for a burger and fries.”

I was glad she’d told me that. This dating thing was getting to be expensive and I was most definitely on a tight budget. More than once I’d ended taking my date out to a nicer restaurant than either of us really wanted, just because I didn’t want to seem cheap. “Steak ’n Shake?” I suggested.

Her whole face lit up as she said, “You must have read my mind.”

I really liked eating at Steak ’n Shake restaurants. It was a Midwestern chain patterned after the soda fountain restaurants of the1950s. Although some of them were drive-ins, most were not, which was fine with me. Drive-ins may have made sense in the 1950s, when cars had front bench seats, but in the 1980s, with standard bucket seats, there was no way to cuddle up with a date. At least inside, seated in a booth, one could sit together on one side and cuddle, or sit opposite each other and play footsie. Not that I relished doing either, but the whole point of my dating girls was to be comfortable enough with them to father my son when the time came.

Tellingly, Cecile chose to sit opposite me, which meant that cuddling and making out was not on the agenda. Even though I’d already eaten, I ordered a full meal. Steak ’n Shake’s burgers are the best, and I opted for a crock of their delicious baked beans in place of the fries. I might have done otherwise if I thought I’d be taking Cecile to bed tonight, but I could tell by her demeanor that it wasn’t in the cards. Of course I ordered a shake too — vanilla ’cause I wanted to have it with the meal and chocolate just doesn’t mix with a burger. Cecile ordered the same meal I did, except she got the fries.

“So, how did you like the movie, Chris?” my date began.

“I really liked it,” I replied. “I’m not usually a Woody Allen fan, but this was different. It had a kinda retro feel to it that really suited the time period and the plot. It almost seemed like a period piece. And I really liked the way Allen took an oblique approach. He’s quite a genius.”

“It seems you really made an effort to watch it… not that I blame you. I’m not much of a Woody Allen fan either, which was why I chose it. You’re cute, I really like you, and I thought it’d be a good movie for makin’ out.

“But Chris, my brother’s gay too,” my eyes opened wide when she said that, “and I understand the pressures you face and the need to appear normal. Chad’s still in high school. He’s almost your age, and he’s very much in the closet. He goes on dates with girls too, which is a shame, ’cause it’s really not fair to the girl.”

Hanging my head, I responded, “I’m sorry, Cele. It’s not that I’m trying to use girls as a cover. I even had a boyfriend once, but it ended badly for both of us. At least my parents are more accepting than they used to be, but they seem so happy when I go out with a girl, and I really do enjoy it, and it comes without all the social stigma you get when you go out with a boy. I’d like to think I show my dates a good time…”

“You do, Chris.”

“And I don’t pressure them to go to bed with me,” I added for good measure.

“Some of us want to go to bed with you, though, Chris. You’re a good looking guy, and sexy, but it wouldn’t be fair to pressure you into having unwanted sex either.”

“But maybe I do want it,” I countered.

Shaking her head, she replied, “No, Chris, you don’t… not if the way you responded to me in the theater is an indication.” Damn, my plan wasn’t working. “Something tells me if it had been Chad sitting next to you, you wouldn’t even remember what the movie was about. Truthfully, although I hate to admit it, and if pressed, I’ll deny ever saying it, but my brother’s smokin’ hot.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at the way she put it.

After we’d polished off our burgers and shakes and as I got up to pay the bill, Cecile handed me a napkin with a phone number on it. “Seriously, Chris. Give my brother a call. I really think you and Chad would hit it off.”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

“You really think so?” I snorted as I practically laughed my head off.

“No doubt about it,” Chad replied as he laughed just as hard. We both reached forward and grabbed the same slice of pizza at the same time, causing our hands to touch. The feeling was electric. I adjusted my aim and reached for the next piece instead. We were enjoying a large vegetarian pizza for a change, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I usually chose a meat lover’s pizza, but Chad was a vegetarian — the first vegetarian I’d ever dated.

I really enjoyed being with Chad. He was witty and funny, and could hold an intelligent conversation on a wide variety of subjects. Because his parents and sister were away for the weekend, rather than go out to a movie and a restaurant, Chad suggested we order a pizza and rent and watch the entire Star Wars trilogy. Science Fiction was our shared passion, so I readily agreed. Because watching six hours of Star Wars in a row would have practically taken all night, however, we decided I’d stay over. We’d watch the first two movies tonight, then snuggle up together in bed and watch the final movie in the morning — or whenever we decided to get up.

We’d just finished watching the first movie and had stopped to eat our pizza, as we agreed completely that watching Star Wars demanded our full attention.

“You still planning to transfer to Stanford in the fall?” Chad asked. I guessed Cecile had told him a bit more about me than I’d expected.

Nodding, I replied, “That’s the plan.”

“I expect I’ll apply there, but my first choice is MIT. Still, you never know.”

“That’s true,” I replied, knowing full well the chances of our ending up in the same university were slim. Still, there was no reason we couldn’t be friends in the meantime. There was something to be said for a relationship free of commitment.

“So Cele told me you decided to spend your first year here in St. Louis, ’cause you wanted to finish your research project in Professor Dawson’s lab. She said it has something to do with particle physics, which certainly narrows things down a lot,” he said as he rolled his eyes. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Actually, it has to do with something a bit more obscure called String Theory,” I replied, assuming he’d have no idea what I was talking about and the matter would quickly drop.

“Oh really,” Chad responded. “I’m fascinated by some of the concepts and, even though it’s out of favor right now, I really think there’s something to it. The biggest drawback is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to test it, but I expect there are indirect methods that will at least show that String Theory or rather Superstring Theory can bridge the gap between Relativity and Quantum Theory.

“How do you know about String Theory?” I asked.

“Theoretical Physics fascinates me and I’ve read a lot about it, at least in the lay literature. I’ve tried to understand the math, but it’s pretty intense.”

Laughing, I replied, “The biggest limitation for sure is the math. It’s not that the math is difficult, but that our existing mathematical constructs are too cumbersome. We almost need to come up with a new form of mathematics, just to handle the complexity of String Theory. It’s possible to derive exact equations, but you’d need a supercomputer more powerful than any on earth to solve them. I can’t help but think there must be a way of defining mathematical operators that would let us simplify things, combining some of the terms and equations.”

“That’s very cool,” Chad answered. “What I have trouble with is that ‘Many Worlds’ shit. I mean the idea that everything that can happen does happen, that random events actually split the universe into multiple versions is just plain spooky.”

“Spooky’s a good way to put it,” I agreed with a laugh. “But that’s just an outgrowth of quantum theory. After all, Schrödinger’s cat was postulated long before the advent of string theory.”

“Schrödinger musta been one fucked-up dude to come up with the idea of a cat in a box with a cyanide capsule, activated by a Geiger counter and a piece of uranium,” Chad interrupted. “That’s really sick, you know? And the whole idea that at the end of the experiment, there’s a fifty-fifty chance of the cat either being dead or alive, but until you look, it’s both?

“Our research suggests the many worlds hypothesis is a rather naïve conceptualization,” I replied. “The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter whether the cat is dead or alive until we make it matter. In other words, the state of the cat, whether or not it’s alive or dead, is irrelevant until we make it relevant by taking a peek. As we say, the state of the cat is indeterminate.”

“So in other words, the cat’s in limbo,” Chad responded, “but surely, whether or not the cat is dead or alive matters to the cat!”

“Therein lies the greatest fault with Schrödinger’s thought experiment,” I replied. “Whether or not the cat lives or dies is tied directly to a quantum event. Radioactive decay of uranium triggers the release of cyanide, which kills the cat. But what a convoluted way to create a strictly random occurrence. The quantum world and the macroscopic world are seldom so directly linked.

“The reality is that isolated quantum events don’t occur in nature. The universe is teaming with quantum fluctuations, but there are so many of them that they mostly cancel each other out and we perceive them as a continuum. Time itself is a series of quantum events that, together, we perceive as what we call the passage of time. In theory, it’s only when we intervene that discontinuities result and multiple realities can coexist.”

“Are you suggesting that humans can create multiple realities? How in hell can we do that?” Chad asked. This was getting dangerously close to TTT — a subject I definitely did not want to discuss. As I was trying to formulate a reasonable answer, however, Chad continued, “But if there is a way for mankind to create multiple realities, surely it must be a reflection of natural phenomena. I’m sure there must be examples in nature of random statistical variations leading to a non-zero outcome, for example.”

Thinking about Chad’s supposition, and grateful for his taking the conversation in a different direction, I began, “There is one, and it’s a big one.

“When the Big Bang occurred, the entire universe consisted of a singularity, an enormous black hole. All matter, energy, the forces of nature… gravity, electromagnetism and nuclear forces, were undefined at that moment. It was only as the universe expanded and the temperature cooled that the forces separated from each other, allowing quarks, the fundamental building blocks of matter, to precipitate out. These formed the protons, antiprotons, electrons, positrons, neutrons and so on from which atoms are made. But if equal numbers of particles and antiparticles existed, as one might expect, nearly all of them should have annihilated each other, yielding intense gamma radiation that should still be observable in the background radiation that permeates space, the so called echo of the Big Bang. Because the universe is not suffused with gamma rays, most astrophysicists believe that only matter was formed, but they don’t have an explanation as to why.

“Obviously if the number of particles and antiparticles was identical, there wouldn’t have been anything left and we wouldn’t be here. Personally, I think it’s because of statistical variation that there were slightly more particles than antiparticles, allowing matter to form and, hence, we exist. Because all the visible stars and galaxies in the universe are concentrated in islands of matter, called superclusters, separated by vast, empty voids, I believe it’s very likely that the universe consists of interspersed regions of matter and antimatter, reflecting the statistical variations present in the universe, shortly after the Big Bang. And as to why we don’t see intense background gamma radiation, that is easily explained if the speed of light has not been constant over time, resulting in a kind of Doppler shift.”

“Wow, that’s quite an example!” Chad exclaimed. “It’s fascinating. So my point is that if there are random quantum fluctuations throughout the universe that we perceive to form a continuum, there would have to be statistical variations and they should be observable. Surely there must be a way to test this idea.”

With the force of a nuclear explosion going off in my head, I realized that Chad was right. TTT itself made use of statistical variations in paired quantum states, but this was a natural phenomenon. We knew that. But surely there were other manifestations of that, and those manifestations had to be observable. If that were the case, might there be a way to make use of this to reconcile multiple realities?

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

March 2005 • Not For Sale

“Happy birthday young Andrew,” the KGB agent said as he passed through the open door. Behind him were several large boxes that he pointedly left outside in the snow as he closed the door behind him. “I brought you some gifts,” he added as he walked further into the dacha, but then he abruptly turned to face the young, naked boy and continued, “a full wardrobe of clothes. All you have to do is to make that video we talked about. Your father must be worried sick about you. Don’t you want to show him that you’re OK?”

“So that you can use the video to get my dad to defect? Like I’ve told you a hundred times before, no… fuckin’… way.”

“Such disgusting language from such an angelic face,” the KGB agent said as he shook his head. “Maybe we should give you a face to match the filthy language you use.”

“Staas, that’s totally uncalled for,” the professor said in protest. “He’s just a boy!”

“A boy who’s old enough to enlist in the Russian army. A boy with his mind in the gutter,” the KGB agent pointed out.

“There’s nothing you can do to me that’ll make me change my mind,” the boy responded. “Like I’ve told you before, I saw my mother shot dead in front of my eyes. I spent nearly a week in the same room with her rotting body. For a week I sat in my own piss and shit with hardly anything to eat or drink. If I could survive that, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to me that’ll make me change my mind. I’m not gonna help you, especially when it comes to helping you abduct my dad.”

“Don’t be so sure, Andrew,” the KGB agent replied. “I’m not discounting what you went through, but you have no idea what it feels like to experience heroin withdrawal. Couple that with breaking each of your fingers, one at a time, or maybe applying steady, increasing pressure to your testicles? Eventually you’ll give in. And now that you’re sixteen, I would have no restraint when it comes to using torture on you.”

Rather than answering the KGB agent directly, the young boy turned abruptly from the agent, marched into the kitchen, opened a drawer and pulled out a rather large knife. The agent watched in alarm as the boy marched back steadily toward him, knife at his side. Frightened, the agent pulled out his gun and aimed it at the boy, but then the boy stopped abruptly at the kitchen table, placed his right hand flat on the table and brought the knife swiftly down upon the tip of his little finger, barely flinching as the blade sliced through the finger and his blood spread quickly across the table.

“Jesus!” the professor exclaimed when the knife made contact with the table after passing through the boy’s finger.

Pushing the amputated stump of his finger into the palm of his hand to stem the bleeding, the boy picked up his severed fingertip and, leaving the knife on the table, walked the remaining distance to the shocked KGB agent, who still had his gun trained on the boy. Holding the fingertip out toward the agent, he said, “Take this. You can send it to my father instead of the video, to prove you have me. Only it’ll strengthen his resolve not to cooperate with you. And know that there is nothing you can do to me that’ll make me change my mind.”

The agent took the proffered fingertip from the boy in disgust, turned abruptly and walked out the door, not even bothering to close it. Stopping apparently to deposit the fingertip inside the vehicle, he gathered up all the boxes from where he’d left them in the snow and loaded them back into the waiting car.

Once the KGB agent had driven away, the professor helped the boy wrap up the stump of his amputated finger using the limited materials on hand. He then began, “That may have been the stupidest thing anyone has ever done, Andy. For one thing, we have absolutely no way to treat your finger if it becomes infected. The local doctors would just as soon amputate the whole hand as treat it with precious antibiotics, which are in critically short supply.

“And then there’s the issue of what to do with you, now that you’ve so convincingly showed them you won’t cooperate. Now, the Soviets have absolutely no reason to keep you alive, but killing you outright is not their style. More than likely they’ll just send you to the Gulag to punish you for your lack of cooperation. You could end up rotting away there for the rest of your life.

“Even though I never got TTT working for them, the worst they did to me was to send me to exile in this dacha. You could have strung them along for years, promising to ‘consider’ making their precious video. They wouldn’t have done serious physical harm to you in any case, as they need you alive and well when it comes to enlisting your father’s cooperation.”

“Don’t you see,” the boy replied, “I’ve shown them what I’m made of. Like it or not, I’ve earned their respect. At the least, they’ll treat me as an adult rather than as a child. That’s step one.

“Step two is to let them know that I actually know something about TTT.”

“Are you out of your mind?” The professor shouted in a whisper. “They can hear you.”

“I know,” the boy replied.

“But TTT doesn’t work over here, the professor responded.

“Yes, I know, “the boy reacted. “They ruined any chance of it working when they conducted the largest above ground nuclear test in history.”

“And I’ve explained that to them at least a thousand times. They may not believe it, but Andy, even if you knew everything I know, you wouldn’t be able to fix it for them. You wouldn’t be any more successful than I was.”

“I don’t need success,” the boy countered. “I need access to equipment. That little demonstration today showed them I’m serious enough to be given direct access. With the right equipment, I can fix the damage we’ve done to time and space, I can restore the continuity of the timeline, and even though I can’t restore the Soviet Union to the glory its leaders desire… no one can compensate for failed political and economic policies… not even the United States… at least I can return the world to a reality in which everyone has the chance to succeed. Of course they’ll assume they can use the same technology to fix the past to their liking. They’ll quickly learn that the past they were dealt originally is best left alone, in the past where it belongs.”

“You know it probably won’t be long before Staas returns… maybe a week or two.”

“I know, Marion, and we’ll be ready for him. But don’t worry about what they can get from me,” the boy added as he held up his amputated finger. I’ll only tell them what I want them to know.”

“Which won’t stop them from trying otherwise.”

Smiling broadly, the boy replied, “That, professor, is what I’m counting on.”

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope and Anthony Camacho in editing this story, as well as the support of Awesome Dude for hosting it.
This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals other than named historical figures is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and at times engage in homosexual acts. Because the story explores characters at various stages of their lives, they may be underage during early sexual explorations. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.

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