2015-08-28

From the Minutes of the 458,734th Meeting of the Intergalactic Exploration Society
—fiction by Fred Russell

   At our last session we spoke in very general terms of the creatures who inhabited the dead planet called Earth 500,000 years ago. Our aim was to describe the social climate that prevailed there, particularly in the region known as the United States of America, which, owing to the peculiarities of its doomed society, throws everything pertaining to that planet into bold relief and makes it easier to understand why the civilization of the Earth came to an end. We noted that there were two forms of intelligent life there, designated Console I and Console II, the latter prevailing after a period of apparent coexistence, and a race of drones who served them, enslaved as a kind of domestic animal and organized into a hierarchy of "orders." These can be identified in the texts under their "medieval" nomenclatures, namely, "talkers" (oratores), "entertainers" (stultores), "businessmen" (mercatores et negotiatores), "warriors" (bellatores) and "workers" (laboratores). Each order was exploited by the consoles to further their aims and rewarded in accordance with a system that cannot be rationally explained at this point.
   The talkers and the stultores were the "aristocracy" of drone society, the mercatores clearly a kind of "middle class," with the exception of a small number of well-connected negotiatores, and the bellatores and laboratores the unfortunate "lower" class, though hardly more unfortunate than the members of the middle class in that the latter were controlled no less strictly than the former, albeit with a few more rewards thrown in "to sweeten the pot."
   The elevation of a drone from one order to another, though infrequent, was highly publicized, with the aim of creating the illusion that all drones could advance in this way. To foster this illusion, and keep the drones "glued to their seats," occasional competitions were organized in which a worker drone was chosen by "judges" to become an entertainer after demonstrating his ability to "sing songs." The judges were generally stultores who had become "talkers." Occasionally ordinary drones were allowed to vote for their favorite stultor, in much the same way as they voted for the producer consoles who would control them. The results of these competitions were announced with great fanfare after the general drone population was reminded to imbibe their pacifying beverages, lest their excitement exceed acceptable bounds. Worker drones could also be elevated in this manner and become stultors by demonstrating their prowess at hitting a ball with a stick or pretending to be a hero in the various "morality tales" worked up by the consoles to instruct the drones.
   Though it is not clear how and when the consoles established their primacy, it is in fact possible to reconstruct the history of the United States of America, however tentatively, through closer examination of these very same "morality tales," so prominently featured on the memory disks we have uncovered. While the aim of these tales was to instruct and pacify the drones, they incidentally offer fascinating glimpses into the origins of this society and its unspoken assumptions. Though genres vary, the central themes remain the same, most often depicting the triumph of the "hero," which allows the drone to live vicariously through a surrogate self and forget his sorry condition for a while. In these tales we are also able to observe the drone in various geographical and temporal settings and in his daily occupations. One of these settings is generally referred to as the Wild West and clearly belongs to a relatively early time when land was still being "grabbed" and the consoles were apparently just beginning the process of expropriating the country's resources. This is a "pre-industrial" age where drones were allotted "homesteads" that the consoles often stole from them. Sometimes the "hero" was a sheriff or marshal with a colorful "sidekick." Sometimes the sheriff or marshal was a villain himself, "in cahoots" with the landgrabbers, in which case he would not have a colorful sidekick. The "hero" might then be a "stranger" or "loner" with a mysterious past. He would inevitably fall in love with the beautiful and virginal daughter of one of the homesteaders, or perhaps with a buxom "widow" struggling to keep her farm going, in which case it would be made clear that the said widow had not interfaced in quite some time, so that for all practical purposes she could also be thought of as virginal, or at least starved for sex, which the hero would provide after a decent interval. It can easily be imagined how satisfying these spectacles must have been for the drones clustered around the consoles watching them and enjoying the snacks they had been instructed to purchase. The "hero" would also be depicted as not having interfaced for a while, if at all, being "pure" or bashful or nursing some terrible wound, his wife murdered by "Injuns" or even by the cronies of the villainous sheriff or marshal who did not have a colorful sidekick. In the ensuing land war the landgrabbers would at first have the upper hand. The hero might then sign on as a farmhand, being remote but respectful toward the virgin's father or the widow's uncle, always addressing his elders as "sir" and thereby establishing his credentials as someone who subscribed to cherished American values and was therefore worthy of being a hero. In the climactic shootout the hero would take on the landgrabber's "gang," who would be depicted falling off roofs and crashing through windows. The villainous landgrabber would be the last to get his, perhaps taking the virgin or widow hostage, perhaps handling her inappropriately to stimulate the sexual appetite of the drones gathered around the consoles with their mouths hanging open, which stimulation was most often achieved by allowing the drones to catch a glimpse of her long, bare leg or plump breast as she struggled against the villain, at which point the hero would put a bullet through his head.
   The myth of the hero was clearly the great myth of American life. The moral rectitude and sexual purity of the classic hero were ideals "whitewashing" the moral baseness and sexual impurity of the common drone. The solitariness and self-reliance of the classic hero embodied the drone's dream of freedom from the controls of society. The terrible wound that the hero often bore in his breast fed the drone's fantasies of healing love. The triumph of the hero against console-like types reflected the drone's resentment of his "betters."
   However, not all heroes were perfect. Within these morality tales a "modern" hero evolved who was seldom pure and often morally flawed. He was a tough cop whose wife had left him because he drank too much. He was a former commando who had been booted out of Special Forces for disobeying orders and causing the death of his best friend. He drank too much because his partner had been shot while the hero was sleeping with some stripper or even shaking down a drug dealer. He disobeyed orders because his commanding officer was corrupt or a coward. Back on the street he hooks up with a tough broad who is trying to get out from under the thumb of a mobster, or maybe with an innocent midwestern type trying to find out how her brother was killed in the big city, or maybe with his best friend's widow, or maybe with his own estranged wife. The flawed hero is morally more like the drone and more vocal in his resentment of authority, so the identification is stronger. He is the kind of redeemed hero the drone would like to be. In the end he wreaks havoc, just as the drone would like to do, and gets to interface with the tough broad or the midwestern type or his friend's widow or his own wife, making a fresh start.
   The production of morality tales and other forms of entertainment comprised an industry no less important to the American economy than the production of acidic beverages and "processed" foods. Though no one would have missed or desired the products of these industries had they not been habituated to them, their existence was essential, for the American economy would have collapsed without them, forcing Americans to go back to an earlier time when "consumers" ate healthy foods and entertained themselves. This would have put a big hole in the pockets of the consoles, so their leaders arranged generous tax cuts and other incentives to enable them to produce more unnecessary commodities and employ more drones at the minimum wage.
   Some have claimed that the pictures produced for the "viewing enjoyment" of the drones in the all-seeing eye of the consoles do not reflect reality, that the "actors" neither speak nor act like actual drones, let alone like consoles, that the dramas invented by the producers do not represent the actual conditions of life in America and that the "reports" presented by solemn "reporters" are distorted and superficial versions of undigested events. In this respect it may be noted parenthetically that the failure of reporters to report accurately and meaningfully is not necessarily a result of bad intentions. Most often it is a result of lack of talent, for if they could see deeper or write better they would not be reporters, they would be historians and even novelists. As for the actors and producers associated with the morality tales presented to the drones, we have already noted the mythological nature of these extravaganzas and should therefore not expect to find in them a literal reflection of reality but rather a guide to the "dreams" of the audience to which they are addressed.
   The drone, as we have suggested, was ignorant, that is, totally dependent on "reporters," "analysts," and talk show "experts" for his understanding of the world around him. He could not read anything longer than a column or two of newsprint. He could not find his own country on an unmarked map. He could not describe at any length the most important events of his own history or explain the most elementary scientific principles or speak intelligently about the cultural achievements of his race. However, it cannot be said that keeping the drones ignorant was an express aim of the consoles, though there were of course a great many things that the consoles did not wish the drones to know. On the contrary, wishing to inculcate values beneficial to themselves and prepare the drones to serve them, the consoles organized an "educational" system for this very purpose and certainly would have been surprised when it turned out that the drones learned very little within this system and indeed developed a strong aversion to learning as such as a result of being put through it. This was in marked contrast to the ease with which messages and instructions were absorbed when shown in the all-seeing eye of the consoles, though of course this entailed endless repetition, which in itself was not very different from the methods employed by the "schools." Yet in one case the drones, and particularly the young, sat transfixed and did precisely what they were told to do while in the other they fidgeted and couldn't even get their multiplication table straight.
   Clearly the writers of messages and instructions were more sophisticated than the "educators." We cannot say why one type of console was drawn to "education" and another to message writing. We can only speculate about the failure of the educator to educate when he had before him the successful model of the message writer. Our own researchers have indeed detected a fatal flaw in the methodology of these ancient educators. For unlike the message writers, who recognized and were able to exploit the passivity of the drone, not to mention his unconscious drives, the educators only recognized what they regarded as the "evil" in him and therefore concluded, inappropriately, that the drone must be forced to do what is "good," in this case to learn, an attitude that derives directly from the primitive religion of these creatures. The young drone was thus made to sit perfectly still and ingest huge volumes of "material," memorize it and repeat it. The immediate effect of this bludgeonlike method was to destroy the innate curiosity of the drone and transform him from a creature who wanted to know everything into a creature who wanted to know nothing, except for a scholarly few whose ability and ambition could not be destroyed by the system and therefore survived it.  
   The consoles thus exploited the laziness and passivity of the drone to fill his head with artfully designed messages and instructions while the educator overwhelmed him with information that bored him to death instead of devising methods that captured his attention. Thus the drones were "shortchanged," being made to "pay" for an education they did not receive and becoming easy marks for reporters and analysts who were only slightly less ignorant than themselves, seldom even understanding the languages of the countries they reported from or commented on.
   The consoles are said to have arrived in America from a foreign shore, at some indeterminate date. We do not know if they brought the drones with them or found them already there on the new continent. Proponents of the latter view identify the drones with the so-called "Injuns" who are occasionally observed in the morality tales on view in the all-seeing eye of the consoles. However, it is more likely that the drones and "Injuns" were rivals, for they are often viewed destroying one another, though it may be assumed that the consoles had a hand in this. In any case, we do not know of a time when the consoles were without drones to serve them. From the outset the consoles asserted themselves, "grabbing," as we have said, whatever they laid their eyes on and soon establishing their hegemony, though formally they were ruled by a "king" who sat in a distant place, across the great sea. When the said king interfered with Commerce, well-heeled Americans "rebelled," instructing the drones to do the same, which they eagerly did. Everyone "took up arms," and apparently did not put them down until their civilization was itself destroyed.
   It is in this context that we first encounter George Washington Bush, though it is not known precisely when he came to prominence. What is known is that at a certain point America declared its "independence" and produced a Constitution establishing the property rights of the consoles and the means by which they would maintain power and control the drone population. The consoles then seated themselves in various "houses" and assemblies and proceeded to oversee a system that maintained the existing inequalities. These "houses" were often magnificent edifices built to accommodate the rather squat figures of the console "representatives," who held forth at great length and enacted laws in such profusion that only trained "lawyers" could keep track of them and these lawyers incessantly argued among themselves about the meaning of these laws which even the legislators did not fully understand so that "judges" were often required to intervene while the  poor drones sat hat in hand waiting for their fate to be decided. Naturally enough, since these laws were made by the country's most powerful individuals, they were most lenient in regard to their own crimes and most severe in regard to the crimes of others. Thus the powerful permitted themselves to "grab" as much land as they wished but punished mercilessly those unfortunate creatures led by circumstance to "grab" a loaf of bread.
   In the eight years of his life, before being recycled, George Washington Bush doggedly enforced the laws of this land and conducted its wars, transferring "money" from the poor to the rich and taking care of his good friends the Havemores, a family that apparently had close ties with his own. Frequently he took long vacations on his plantation with his wife, Martha, where he liked to ride and shoot. Occasionally he made a brief visit to the troops and assured them that one way or another his wars were going to be won, neglecting to tell them by whom.
   The Havemores had probably arrived in America together with the Bushes, soon carving out little empires for themselves and sticking up thousands of signs saying keep out private property trespassers will be shot on sight or failing that prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They also got fat government contracts and big tax writeoffs. They ate well and had black maids and Spanish-speaking gardeners. Money wasn't a problem. Dick Havemore was fixed up with a little board chairmanship between stints as a public "servant." That netted him millions. Ditto for Don Havemore.
   In managing American society, the dilemma of the consoles was clear: by instructing the drones, among other things, to consume "foodstuffs" that would ultimately kill them they were in effect "cutting off the branch" they were sitting on, much like skydiving instructors who knowingly supply their students with defective parachutes. However, this does not seem to have disturbed them in the least, as the "little ones" soon enough replaced the "senior citizens" as eager and pliant consumers, so that a kind of natural cycle was established and no carcinogen-bearing "chow" or fat-saturated "grub" went uneaten, even by the toothless. The producers of these harmful substances were apparently connected in some way with the ubiquitous Havemore family and therefore received certain privileges denied to other "pushers." Ditto for polluters of the air and poisoners of the soil.
   Some researchers have claimed that the drones were subjected to a special surgical procedure in infancy to remove part of their brain and ensure their docility, much like the "neutering" of domestic animals. Though this did not prevent the frequent outbursts of violence among these creatures it ensured their receptivity to messages and instructions, making it nearly impossible for them to form thoughts outside the system of concepts to which they were trained to respond. With a complete brain, it is argued, the drones would immediately have "seen through" the messages they received just as they saw through "glass" and understood clearly what was hidden on the other side. This is merely a supposition, and as we have found no evidence to support such an argument we are inclined to look elsewhere for an explanation of this phenomenon. In fact there is a school of thought that maintains that the drones did understand the deceptive nature of the messages they received and yet were still compelled to respond to them, which perhaps indicates elements inherent in their "psychological" or even biological makeup that caused them to "buckle under," like sheep being led to the slaughter. In the "animal kingdom" such herd instincts along with the primacy of dominant males generally ensured the health and prosperity of the species but among the drones these same instincts made them easy prey for the consoles as well as for their own kind. Not only "weak" individuals were weeded out to preserve the vigor of the herd, but in fact most individuals were weeded out, becoming true drones in the service of the strong, whose polished language mesmerized them like the language of "commercial messages," though, as we have noted, they were more than likely able to "see through" these messages. In the latter case the message writer addressed the subconscious of the drone and thereby animated drives and forces that the drone could not control while in the former case the strong merely asserted their authority and exploited the primitive need of the drone to follow a leader.
   At the same time, as mentioned, the consoles encouraged the drones to affirm the values that served their own interests, such as patriotism to ensure that they would be prepared to fight in the wars organized by the consoles, free enterprise to ensure that the consoles would not be hindered in their rapacious pursuit of wealth, democracy to ensure that the vast majority of Americans who lost the big races would be "good sports" about it and accept the dominance of the few, and of course "hard work," "tenacity," "honesty," "decency," "modesty" and "respect for authority" to ensure that they would keep their noses to the grindstone. So successful were the consoles in inculcating these values that the drones who suffered the most in this system invoked them as evidence of the superiority of the American way of life, unless they were color-coded black and consequently not really privy to the American way of life, despite the frequent casting of blacks as judges and police captains in the morality tales, which was conceivably a subtle counterweight to the black criminals in these tales as much as a gratuitous crumb tossed to the disinherited.
   Many of the drones used to transmit commercial messages seem to have been trained as ventriloquists, utilizing a variety of "voices" to encourage ordinary drones to acquire commodities. Sometimes they spoke "sincerely," sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes even "humorously" to endear themselves to the drone family gathered around the console by pretending not to take the commodity seriously. Clearly a great deal of thought was invested in the selection of these voices and the elaboration of the little dramas played out in the all-seeing eye of the consoles in order to get around the natural defenses of the drone and lead him by the nose, though the fact that huge sums of "money" seem to have been invested in this endeavor leads us to believe that the consoles were confident of a positive result, counting on the stupidity of the drone to ensure his ultimate acquiescence to whatever messages and instructions they transmitted. There is no question that they "studied" the drones quite closely and therefore understood their weaknesses, which they cynically exploited in order to enrich themselves, feeling, we imagine, considerable contempt for creatures who were taken in so easily and perhaps making a few "jokes" at their expense as they sat around the office dreaming up new messages. We can also understand the enormous satisfaction such consoles must have experienced in getting tens of millions of drones to memorize and even repeat their inane slogans and jingles. The commercial message, together with the three-minute video clip, seems to have been the great art form of late American civilization, superseding literature, painting, sculpture and classical music and clearly tailored to the waning attention span of the drone.  
   In addition to appearing in the "news" broadcasts, most often as criminals or victims, ordinary drones also appeared occasionally on the "talk shows" alongside the experts and analysts to complain about their misery or display a certain quality of freakishness which the experts and analysts might then discuss in a learned manner. Freakishness and misery were also the leading motifs in the confessional or confrontational shows in which a "host" egged on the guests until a fistfight broke out. These were rare opportunities for the drones to "have their day" and get an all expenses paid trip to Hollywood or New York in the bargain. Granted these drones were generally "bellatores" and "laboratores," and as such didn't count for much, but as they comprised at least a third of the American population there were plenty of them around, so producers had little trouble finding large numbers who were freakish or miserable enough to appear on daytime and even prime time TV. The freakish and the miserable were also brought into the competitions to give the "studio audience" and viewers at home a good laugh before getting down to the serious business of upgrading a worker drone into an entertainment drone. The criminals among them had their own day on "cop" shows and were usually last seen with their faces in the gutter and their hands cuffed behind their backs.
   Many of these criminals were housed in "prisons," which were sometimes the subject of the morality tales, as were law courts and hospitals, and if the confrontations in these tales were less convincing than the "live" confrontations in the "reality" shows, they at least had the advantage of being bloodier and were therefore suitable vehicles for peddling sanitary products and pain killers. Though many of the drones were squeamish, the thirst for blood among them was always present in varying degrees and therefore the producers of sanitary products and pain killers made sure they got plenty of it and deliberated solemnly about which of the bloodbaths would "move" their products more quickly. Mr. Bush was proud to be associated with such producers, the producers of bloodbaths and the producers of sanitary products, and assured the drones that they helped make America great, like the Havemores.
   Other nations tried to imitate the American way of life, but with less success, being perhaps less "materialistic" or having less stupid populations. The Europeans, for example, had historically never found it necessary to foster the illusion that their "orders" were fluid and that anyone could improve his lot through ambition and hard work. Everyone knew his place and consequently there were fewer disappointments and fewer mental breakdowns. The illusion of freedom and social or economic mobility left tens of millions of "middling" Americans with the uncomfortable feeling that they had no one to blame but themselves for their lack of success. Some therefore pretended to be successful, "aping" the manner of prominent drones, reading book reviews instead of books and filling their homes with fake antiques. Some just talked big. The poor, on the other hand, knew better and understandably became bitter. Nonetheless, in the latter part of the 20th century, many Europeans became infected by the democratic "bug" and began to dream of prominence in the American tradition, becoming easy prey for the European consoles who let loose hosts of reporters, message writers, experts and analysts to control and manipulate them.
   All this being said, we cannot deny the possibility that we are "misreading" the materials at hand. Certain scholars have argued that it is inconceivable that a society should function in the manner that the United States of America seems to have functioned, that "leaders" should engage in such flagrant deceptions and communicate in a language consisting substantially of meaningless rhetorical devices, that wealth should be hoarded by the few, and that the many should consent to and even celebrate a system that strangles them. We too acknowledged that the images projected in the all-seeing eye of the consoles often had  hidden meanings, so that while the "news" broadcasts were distorted narratives and the "talk shows" were forums for idle chatter, the morality tales were mostly parables. We believed that we perceived a purpose in these spectacles and the messages that accompanied them, which were designed to control and manipulate the drones. And yet at the same time we found it difficult to understand how the drones could be so stupid as to be taken in by them and organize their lives precisely in accordance with the instructions they received from the consoles. Accordingly, we concluded that certain "psychological" and even biological factors must be at work making the drones such easy prey. Many of these factors were apparently "selected out" in the monkeys who succeeded the drones and conceivably form the "link" between the drones and the consoles. It is also conceivable that the consoles themselves are linked in some way to us, though if this is the case there have obviously been many significant intermediate stages in the evolutionary process.
   This is the most reasonable interpretation of the materials at hand. However, certain other interpretations have been put forward which it may be profitable to examine. One is that it was the drones who originally were the masters of the consoles and became their slaves in a "coup" of some kind, or perhaps through some insidious process in which the positions of slave and master were reversed without the drones fully understanding what had occurred. Proponents of this view argue that this reversal of positions must have occurred in a very early stage of their common history because it is inconceivable that drones would have subjected their own kind to the atrocities commonplace in this society and conspired to cheat, starve and poison their brethren, stepping over bodies, as it were, in pursuit of their own ends. Only creatures of another species, it is argued, would be capable of such "inhumanity."
   This is a compelling argument, but the fact is we see many prominent drones behaving no less callously than the consoles, such as "reporters" in pursuit of "stories" or "mercatores" and "negotiatores" in pursuit of "money." In essence there is no great difference between the behavior of drones and consoles aside from the fact that the consoles are smarter and more powerful. Nor are we convinced that a "rebellion" of the kind described took place. It seems far more likely that the consoles were the masters of the drones from the moment these two species came into contact with one another, though we concede that there may have been a time when the drones ruled themselves, in a society not much different in principle, if far less sophisticated and far less vicious, from the one organized by the consoles as soon as they established their dominance, or were perhaps ruled by the monkeys until the consoles came along. In the latter case it is also doubtful if the cruelty that characterized relations between master and slave would have been so marked, despite the natural aggressiveness of the monkey. The mind of the monkey ran along less fiendish lines and he certainly would not have known how to run a whorehouse or an advertising agency.
   Though we are inclined to believe that the consoles ruled the drones from the outset, we acknowledge that the entrenchment of this rule may have occurred over a certain period of time during which the consoles devised ever more sophisticated methods with which to enslave the drones. However, as we can see from what we believe to be early disks belonging to Console I, their methods were quite sophisticated to begin with and the drones sat at the feet of the consoles with the same rapt attention as they displayed in a later period, consuming the same acidic beverages and breakfast cereals and no doubt dreaming the same dreams of acquiring commodities, pinning females on the ground and destroying other drones in the name of freedom and democracy. The only significant differences seem to have been in the depiction of the way drones interfaced and in the system of color coding. With respect to color coding the early disks restrict themselves to a simple "black and white" differentiation while later disks display a greater variety of "colored" drones in positions of prominence, like the judges and police captains mentioned above and even an occasional brain surgeon or nuclear physicist. With respect to interfacing the early disks rarely displayed females with long, bare legs or any other provocatively exposed body parts, unless they were "beauty queens" in "swimsuits" or "ladies" in handsome gowns that showed some "cleavage," or perhaps "loose women" flaunting their wares or innocent "girls" bathing in the nude and offering a tantalizing glimpse of their rosy flesh or well-endowed females being seized and pinned on the ground, or anything else the producers could get away with to excite the drones and capture their attention. The later disks are less coy and undoubtedly lost some of their effect, forcing the producers to go to greater lengths "to get a rise" out of the jaded drone though of course without offending "public taste."
   The system of seemingly flexible boundaries that in fact enclosed a series of rigidly constructed boxes "channeling" the movement of the drones from one prison to the other – from the home to the school, from the workplace to the mall, and finally to the grave – with numerous "sidetrips" on circular byways that led back to their starting point, comprised the whole of dronish society. The few who rebelled against it became outcasts or outlaws, deprived of its meager material rewards and the comfort of the herd. They gathered "on the other side," in an undefined space, beyond the reach of the messages and instructions that rained down on the heads of the drones from morning to night, and consequently ruled themselves. The consoles despised them, persecuted them, tempted them, or simply ignored them, pretending they didn't exist. The drones, for their part, feared them, thinking they would shatter the illusions on which their peace of mind was based and divert the thoughts of the "little ones" from the games and snacks that nurtured them. Such rebels were called "beatniks" and "hippies" by some and sociopaths by others. Fortunately the former generally "grew up" and recanted while the latter generally ended up in prison. In this way American society was able to endure for a while longer, until the final catastrophe that ended human civilization, paving the way for more rational beings like ourselves.

___
Fred Russell is the pen name of an American-born writer living in Israel. His novels Rafi's World (Fomite Press), dealing with Israel's emerging criminal class, and The Links in the Chain (CCLaP), a thriller set in New York against an Arab-Israel background, were both published in 2014. His stories and essays have appeared in Third Coast, Polluto, Fiction on the Web, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ontologica, Unlikely Stories: Episode 4, The Satirist, CounterPunch, Gadfly, Cultural Weekly, Ragazine, etc. A chapbook collection of his shorter opinion pieces called Short Takes: American Notes may be downloaded as a free PDF file at http://scars.tv/chapbooks/ under the publisher's listing for 2015.

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