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Book Giveaway on GoodReads Ends June 24th

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Daughter Cell by Jay Hartlove

Daughter Cell

by Jay Hartlove

Giveaway ends June 24, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Categories: Writing

Interview from FogCon is now live on Youtube

Categories: Writing

Chapter Ten of Mermaid Steel

Sexual content warning: Yes, Chielle and Sten are at “that” point in their relationship.

Sten started stirring around noon, and Chielle decided she would just wait until he awoke on his own. She wasn’t sure how sick he would be, and she figured more sleep was better. His arm was looking much better. She had applied, washed, and reapplied her mother’s mud half a dozen times through the night, and finally removed it for good. His face was also vastly improved. The cold fish filets had pulled the swelling down, even while they had made her hungry. His fever also subsided during the night. All that was left was for him to sleep it off.

Jacio had come at dawn and finished up what work he could without pounding on any metal. Then he ran an errand for supplies, and went home for the day.

She puttered and tidied around the shop while she waited. The sound of the wave swells rushing around the pilings below the wharf was very soothing to her. It really was the best of both worlds. The smell of the hearth she had come to cherish together with the sound of her beloved ocean.

The only thing that would make it more complete would be if Sten would wake up and join her. She considered singing to him or cuddling in next to him to rouse him, but then decided patience would bring its own reward.

When he finally opened his eyes, she was glad to be the first thing he saw. “Hello there, sleepyhead.”

He blinked at her and started to frown, but then smiled. “Hi.” He looked around. “How did I get here? Why do I smell fish?”

“Do you remember my brother poisoning you?”

“Oh. Yeah.”

“That was yesterday. You passed out, I dragged you up here, then Thymon and Jacio got my mother and Jacio’s mother who treated the poison and bandaged you up from your fight. You’ve got two broken ribs under those wrappings.”

He looked around the room, clearly visualizing the activity she described.

“Yes, it was pretty crowded in here. We patched you up, and I stayed to keep treating your arm and your face. Oh, the fish smell is from the cold compresses to bring down the swelling. You actually look like yourself again today.”

He felt his face. “Wow, you really rallied the troops for me. Thank you. Wait a minute. Fish? You put fish on my face?”

“Cold cut filets. It worked too.”

He shrugged. “Okay. Hold on. Your mother. Your mother was here? So she knows…”

“Everything.”

“She let you stay?”

“She wasn’t going to drag me away, if that’s what you mean.”

He digested this for a moment, then realized, “You stayed here taking care of me all night.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I did.”

“Sorry, I’m a bit slow taking this all in.” He sat up and felt his ribs. “Great job with the bandages.”

“Jacio’s mom showed me how.”

He took her hands in his and looked her in the eyes. “Thank you so much.”

She slipped her arms around his shoulders and leaned in to hug him. “I wasn’t going to leave you in the state you were in.”

He squeezed her back. “I remember seeing you shoot up out of the water and start yelling at your brother, and that was about the last thing I recall. So I guess you heard the chimes after all?”

“No, I didn’t hear any chimes. I think the chimes were up on the deck when I arrived.”

“How did you know to come?”

“Rorra told me you were in trouble.”

He frowned and tilted his head. “How does that work? Don’t get me wrong; I’m really glad she told you. I just don’t understand how.”

“Sound isn’t just sound underwater. We’ve talked about how sounds are muffled yet louder at the same time. Well, for us, the Merrow, all that vibration creates a sense of place and motion. It’s more than just sound. I’m not describing it very well. Along with telling what’s around you and what’s making noise, you can feel what the ocean is doing. You get an intuition into what’s happening all around you, not just within earshot. Sometimes you have to listen for a quiet moment to hear it, and other times it comes at you like a bell. I don’t know how else to tell you. Rorra told me you were in trouble.”

“That’s amazing. How marvelous that you are so in tune with the whole ocean. I’m frankly jealous. We humans don’t commune with our god at that literal level.”

“No? How do you pray to Atlan?”

“We don’t pray to Atlan. We hold Atlan as our ideal. We pray to God. Mostly we pray to God for the strength to be more like Atlan. God doesn’t actually answer us. It’s a different kind of prayer. In any event, thank Rorra that you came.”

“I wouldn’t have had to if Thymon had thought about what he was doing. He knows you don’t have a blubber layer like us.”

“Is that why your skin is so firm?”

“Yes, it’s our armor against cold, and poisons.”

“In his defense, I shared my wine, and he wanted to share his favorite intoxication.”

“I understand, and I’m glad you two had your buddy moment. I’m still mad at him.”

“All right. I’m not. By the way, I am sorry I wasn’t here, let’s see, that would be night before last. I told you to meet me here and I wasn’t able to make it.”

“Yes, you were in jail for public fighting. Jacio didn’t know where you were either. I wasn’t sure what to think.”

Sten looked at her carefully. “I’m sorry if you thought I was standing you up. I was looking forward to seeing you.”

She considered his apology and what it meant. “I’m actually glad to hear you say that. I thought maybe I had been moving too fast. I’m still embarrassed about the courtship dance thing.”

Her caressed her face. “Don’t be. I thought it was great. That whole evening was great.”

She looked him in the eyes, those tender if slightly undersized brown eyes, and saw only love. She let herself sink deep into his gaze, deep enough to get lost.

He parted his lips and took in a breath. She waited on his words. “I’m really hungry.”

She blinked. “Excuse me?”

“I just realized I am famished. I guess that’s a good sign after being poisoned.”

She recovered her composure. “Sure, sounds right. I actually wondered if you would be, and I asked Jacio what I should have on hand. He showed me how to make porridge. I’m still amazed at how you rely on fire to do so much. He explained that you grow these grains which you can’t chew, but you boil them so they finally soften. Why don’t you just grow plants you can chew? I admit it was fun watching it boil down. It just seemed so different than how I would have prepared the grain.” She got up. “Let me get you some.”

“Did you say boiled down? Did you take it off the fire?”

“Oh yes. This was a couple of hours ago. If I had left it on the grill it would have burned up.”

“I’m glad Jacio pointed that out,” he called to her in the front room.

“Oh no, he left hours ago before I started,” she called back. She returned and handed him a bowl full and a spoon.

He looked at it and tilted the bowl around. The porridge did not move. The spoon stuck in it did not move. He smiled up at her, then carved out a spoonful and tried it.

She awaited his approval, but it was slow coming. “Good flavor,” he said as he chewed deliberately. “Comes out tasting nuttier when it’s this dense. This will be filling.” He took another bite. “Thank you for making this for me.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I look forward to showing you more of how to cook with fire.”

She rolled her eyes mischievously. “Jacio also brought you something this morning from town.” She turned and retrieved a sack. “He said the constable gave it to him, that he found it after your fight. Jacio told me I was not to look, that it was surprise you wanted to show me. I was sorely tempted to peek, but I held off,” she said as she handed him the bag.

“Oh, that’s right, I almost forgot. This is why I went into town that day.” He set the bowl down and opened the bag. “I had our shoemaker build these so I can swim with you. I don’t know if they’ll work, or if they’ll just weigh me down, but…”

“They’re…” she cut him off, beaming at the flippers, “they’re wonderful. This is the best present ever.”

“Really? I thought they were kind of clumsy.”

“Are you kidding? What could be better than having you in the water swimming at my side?”

He smiled up at her. “I was hoping you’d like the idea.”

“I love it, but we’re going to have to wait until you’ve healed. Mrs. Bilboa said she felt two broken ribs, and all those bruises. Your body is four different shades of purple under those bandages.”

He swung his legs out of bed and sat on the edge. “Yes, but these bandages are holding everything in place. I feel fine. I’m rested, I’m in no real pain. I say, let’s give ‘em a try.”

“You mean take the bandages into the ocean?”

“Don’t Merrow ever bandage injuries while in the water?”

She remembered poor Serool’s burned hand. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” With that he grabbed the flippers, stood up and headed out the door.

She caught up with him halfway down the ramp. He paused as he struggled to get his shirt off while the bandages held his body stiff. She stepped up and helped him, only to be surprised at how long the tails of his shirt were. “Your shirt goes all the way down into your pants?”

“Yes,” he said frowning at her. “You didn’t know that? The pants are way too rough for my crotch and the shirt is much easier to wash.”

“So your shirt is a lot like my tunic. You just wear pants on over it.”

He looked her up and down. “Yes, I guess that’s true.” He walked down onto the landing and sat down on the edge. She watched with some amusement as he unlaced his boots, took them off, replaced them with the flippers, and laced them up. She was not used to seeing his hands doing the kind of work she usually did.

She slid into the water without a splash and turned to help him in. He lowered his legs in and she took his hands so he could ease down without jolting his body.

“Hey, it’s a lot easier to tread water.”

“Good.” She was concerned with how much he moved his arms around to stay upright. “Please take it easy.” He was so clearly not suited to open water.

He leaned over and started swimming, alternating his feet up and down along with his arms, as if he was crawling. He was faster than without the flippers. About as fast as a newborn Merrow, Chielle thought. He pulled up and smiled at how far he had gone. “That works for me!”

His joy at being in the water touched her unexpectedly. She felt her heart flutter and she couldn’t help but grin at him. She swam over next to him, took his hand, and began a slow, undulating tail kick, leading him by example. Dipping shoulders, then hips, then fluke, they pushed smoothly through the water. He was having a hard time getting his shoulders to start the wave motion, since he had to keep his face out of the water most of the time. Even with this plowing of the surface, she was pleased to show him how it’s really done.

They pulled up for him to catch his breath. He turned around and saw they were several hundreds of forearms away from his wharf. “Holy smokes! Look at how far we came! I had no idea.”

She shrugged and smiled at him. “Shall we swim back?” She took his hand and led him again.

He figured out how to breathe in on the upswing so he could push harder with the flippers. By the time they were halfway back to the wharf he had a pretty efficient stroke. She was again surprised at how happy she was swimming alongside him. It felt natural despite his unnatural effort. She reveled in the feeling the rest of the way back.

“It’s easier once you get the hang of it.”

“Wow, I’ll say. I never imagined swimming could be so much fun.”

She sidled up to him. “You can’t imagine how happy it makes me to hear you say that.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I can imagine.”

She started to hug him but realized he had to keep moving his arms to stay upright. She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. Then she instinctively kicked passed him, brushing her body across his.

She pulled up and was just as surprised as he was. Instead of the quizzical look she expected from him, he perked up and grinned widely with his understanding. She grinned coyly and did it again, being careful not to bump his bandaged torso too hard as she brushed by. He surprised her by caressing her tail with his hands as she swam by.

She turned to make another pass and saw him attempting to swim passed her. She stayed still and made an easy target of herself. Between his bandages and his pants, his brushing wasn’t as sensual as she had hoped, but it was still pretty exciting.

She turned quickly and caught up to him from below, teasing her body the whole length of his. When she came up face to face with him, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a deep passionate kiss. They sank below the surface, but he didn’t seem to mind as they tangled legs and fins and arms and lips.

After a moment, he had to break free and kick back up for air. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She stroked his cheek. “You wanna get dry?”

He looked her in the eyes, grinned foolishly wide, and nodded.

As he pushed off toward the landing, she circled him, letting her instincts take over. She slid her breasts across him in coiled curves and he fondled whatever part he could squeeze as she swept past. She felt a wave of joyous tension rise all through her body, up through her tail, rippling up her spine, and ending in a wide, shuddering gasp of water through her open gills. A love song of long wavering notes spilled out of her without her even thinking about it. She caught Sten gawking at her underwater with a look of utter fascination. When she danced the side to side writhing dance that went with the song, he stopped swimming, floating there captivated.

She grabbed him by both hands and pulled him along in a spiraling dance. Body against body they spun rolls through the water. She was so caught up in the moment, she had to remember to let him go every few seconds so he could bob back up for a breath. Each time, he held his hands back out for her to spin him around some more. All the while she sang long and sweet, straight from the heart.

When they got to the landing, Sten struggled to lift himself in obvious pain. She gave him a push up and found her hands firmly on his buttocks. He turned around surprised. She hopped up, scooting her own bottom onto the deck. He pulled off his flipper boots while she stood up and straightened her dress. He got up and wrapped his strong arms around her, holding her waist firmly against him. He rubbed his face against hers in the sweetest Merrow kiss she had ever had. She felt like she would melt in his arms, and suddenly she was in his arms, up off the deck, cradled like a baby, her tail draping down. “Sten, your ribs, you’re going to kill yourself.”

“Nah, you’re light enough” he dismissed as he walked up the ramp.

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders to help hang on. They were solid under her touch. She couldn’t help but kiss the muscles that bulged on the base of his neck as he held her aloft. She giggled as he spun her around trying to navigate through the doorway with her long tail sticking out. She coiled it up to help out. She wasn’t thinking about where he was taking her until she saw the bed. Ah, of course.

“Can I lay you on your fin?”

“Yes, it just folds aside.”

He laid her down and climbed in next to her. He leaned over her and kissed her face with his lips and his cheeks, starting with her forehead, down the front of her gill fringes, under her chin, and onto her neck. She stretched out her tail and wagged it over the foot of the bed. His kissing journey moved southward and onto her light green dress. He tenderly scooped up a breast in his hand and kissed it. He didn’t seem very sure of what to do with it.

“Let me guess. It’s different than you’re used to?”

“I’m sorry. It’s so firm, it doesn’t hardly yield under my touch.”

“That’s the blubber layer we talked about. I assure you, they are every bit as sensitive as breasts should be.”

“Good,” he said as her tried unsuccessfully to slide her tunic off her shoulder. “Oh, it’s two layers.”

“It’s actually three. Here let me,” she said as she sat up. “These wrap around and hold everything in place,” she explained as she unwound the criss-crossed bands of cloth from around her torso and hips, leaving only a simple, loose, translucent light green sheath dress. “There,” she said invitingly.

“There indeed,” he said as he slipped his hand up under the hem and caressed her hip, waist and ribs. He pulled her close with his other hand and kissed her firmly on the mouth.

Not satisfied to just let him make love to her, she clutched at the base of his neck with one hand while sliding the other around his waist below the bandages. His skin was soft and pliable, yet through it she could feel hard flexing muscles. That and how every bit of him was covered in hair made him fascinating to touch.

He pulled her dress up and lowered his head to take a breast in his mouth. As he licked her tiny hard nipple she ran her webbed fingers through the hair on his head. All these sensations were so new and so strange and yet so right and wonderful.

She reached up and pulled the dress off completely. He stared wide eyed for the briefest of moments, then saw that she had caught him. “Chielle, you are more beautiful than I could imagine.” He ran his hand around the edge of her smooth white tummy where it met the silver gray of her back while his eyes drunk her in.

“Thank you. Let’s have a look at you,” she said reaching for his belt. She had no difficulty figuring out how the buckle worked, or the buttons below it. On the other hand, when she slid her hands around his hips and pushed the trousers down, she was not prepared for what popped out. Now it was she who was caught staring.

“Surely you’ve seen one of these before.”

“Well, yes. But I’m not sure…”

“Humans aren’t built that different than whales and dolphins, are we?”

“I’m not a whale. I am a mammal, but I also have gills like a shark. I also don’t have…that shape.”

He looked down at her genital vent, which of course showed nothing.

“Merrow men are much wider, and nowhere near that long.”

“Really? Well, do you want to try this or not?”

“Of course I want to try it.” She grabbed his pants and pulled his legs free. “Rorra, you really are completely covered in hair.”

“Yep, that’s me. Lay back and let me see what I can do.”

“All right,” she said with more than a little doubt in her voice.

He stroked her until he felt his way in between her lips. She was happy to note she was quite aroused and wet. That could only help. His touch was tender and cautious despite the roughness of his fingertips. “Doesn’t seem all that different to me.” He probed around while watching her reaction as if he were looking for something.

“Find it yet?”

“What?”

“Whatever you’re looking for.”

“I’m looking for the sensitive spot to get you ready.”

“Sten, foreplay for me is that dance we did in the water. Believe me, I am as aroused as I can be.”

“Oh. Okay.”

She looked down, trying to hide her alarm under humor, and asked, “Are you ready?”

He looked down too. “Oh, yeah.” He straddled her hips and lowered himself against her. He used his hand to guide himself inside. He seemed pretty satisfied until he started to push.

“That’s all I’ve got,” she said.

He took hold of himself with his hand again and tried to reposition, seeking another angle.

She grimaced apologetically as he kept trying and finding no way to get deeper. “You feel good inside me, nice and warm,” she tried. “Maybe I can find a better angle. Here, you lie back and I’ll get on top.”

As they traded places, he chuckled, “We’re like a couple of teenagers trying to figure it out for the first time.”

“It’ll be even more fun if we *can* figure it out.” She spread his legs and bent her tail up under her on the bed so she could lower herself down over him. She balanced herself by holding onto his hips with her pelvic fins. He seemed a bit alarmed at the configuration. He probably just wasn’t used to having the woman on top.

She rotated her hips and got him inside her without any problem. Again, though, as she twisted and bent to find a way to take in more of him, she just ran out of space. “This is so annoying.”

“Is this working for you at all? I mean are you feeling anything?”

“As you can feel for yourself, you are right up against my cervix, which feels great, but you’re barely touching the walls of my vagina and that’s where all the nerves are.”

“Really?”

“Would you stop saying, ‘really’ every time you learn something new about me?”

“Okay, sorry.”

“No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“This is pretty frustrating.” He got a glint in his eye. He grabbed her under the ribs with his fingertips. “Are you ticklish?”

She squirmed off of him laughing. “Why, yes I am.” She grabbed him by the backs of the knees, hoping they were as sensitive as they looked. “How about you?”

He jumped and howled with laughter. “Yes, yes, I am too.” He looked her in the eye. “Chielle, I love you so much. You’re a weaver and I’m a blacksmith. We’re makers. If anyone can figure out how to do this, it’s going to be us.”

“If it can be done.”

“Oh now, wait a minute. You said the side walls are where you’re sensitive.”

“Yes, but you’re the wrong shape.”

“Ah, maybe not.” He guided her onto her back and moved down to face her crotch.

“What are you up to?”

“Watch and see,” he said before licking her outer lips. He opened her up with his fingers and started licking the inside edge.

“That’s nice,” she said with a curious nod.

He pulled her open a bit farther and stuck his tongue much deeper.

“Oh, but what about your teeth?”

He looked up with this mouth open showing his small, blunt teeth. “What about them?”

“Oh,” she said, greatly relieved. “Merrow don’t use our mouths for sex, because of our sharp teeth.”

“There, you see, our different anatomies are going to be good for something after all.” He returned to his licking and at last he found the right place.

“Oh, there,” she gasped. “That’s a good spot.”

“All along this edge here?” He stroked her with this finger.

“Yes, but it’s much better with your tongue.”

“Like this?” he asked rhetorically as he dove in.

What started as an exciting tickling sensation rapidly grew into muscular waves of heat that rolled up her body and down her tail. She found herself gasping for air and clutching the covers. The feeling piled higher and higher and she wasn’t sure how or where it would end. “Slow down, too much too fast.”

He obliged, but the waves kept coming. Her tail started quivering and jerking uncontrollably. She caught him looking back at her tail’s antics. Her pelvic fins started slapping the bed next to him. He licked deeper and faster and held onto her hips tighter so she wouldn’t flip out of the bed. She heaved impossibly guttural groans.

Finally she reached a breaking point and she felt her entire abdomen seize up in rhythmic spasms. She gripped his shoulders with her pelvic fins and her tail wrapped over the bottom of the bed and seized the edge. She let out a deafening squeal of pure delight. The first spasm carried all her might, then each one came calmer than the last. After a few moments of complete mindless ecstasy, the waves subsided to a warm glow that flowed through her whole body.

She noticed that she was lying on the bed motionless and limp like a dead body except for her shallow panting breath. She looked up at Sten, who was sitting by her side looking very proud of himself.

She pushed herself up to sitting. “I have never, in my life, ever, oh come here,” she said as she draped her arms around his shoulders and held him. “That was wonderful. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I wish I could do the same for you.”

“Ah, but you have those amazing teeth of yours.”

She let go and looked him in the eye. “True, but you have that length.”

“What do you mean?”

“Merrow men are built short and wide. Merrow women can’t pleasure them with our mouths because they’re too short to get past our teeth. It’s the same problem our men have trying to do what you just did.”

“So you’re saying I’d get past your teeth?”

“Yes, Sten, I’m not going to bite you. I’ll hold my lips over my teeth. I’ve got all kinds of room in back with my gill manifolds. You don’t look convinced.”

“Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic.”

“You said yourself, let’s use our differences to make this work.”

####

Patry Bilboa was just leaving the Garden Market Apothecary when the door opened and in walked Vanda Rymerand. Patry was first taken with the woman’s elaborately pleated bright yellow dress, and didn’t recognize her right away.

“Mrs. Bilboa, what a lovely surprise!”

“Vanda? Little Vanda, all grown up. My goodness, look at you. What a vision of loveliness you’ve become.”

“Why thank you. You’re looking beautiful yourself.”

“How is it that I haven’t bumped into you in years? This town just isn’t that big.”

“I left town for a while, but I’m back now.”

“Isn’t that nice. Welcome back. Are you married?”

“No, ma’am. Almost, a couple of times, but still single.”

“That doesn’t speak well for the young men around here, what with you wearing bright colors and necklines like that one, and still no suitors.”

“I’ll take that as a complement, thank you.”

“Well it is grand to see you again. I’m always reminded of how old I’m getting when I see someone I knew as a child, like yourself, suddenly all grown up. Please tell your mother Hello for me. Goodness, it’s been an eternity since I saw Selna, at least fifteen years.”

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but my mother passed away about a year ago.”
“Oh, I am sad to hear that. Was she ill for long?”

“No, she caught a fever years ago that weakened her heart. It suddenly gave out with no warning. So she did not suffer.”

“I am so glad to hear that. She was such a dear friend for so many years.

“She did mention you from time to time.”

“Here I thought it was my lucky day to see all my old friends from when I was young. Selna and Gonnakaa and I were inseparable, you know.”

“It’s good that you have those happy memories.”

####

Chielle lifted her head and Sten immediately pulled her up under her arms and covered her face with kisses. She was so surprised by his reaction she didn’t know what to make of it. He held her by whatever he could reach, her head, her shoulders, her waist, as he squeezed her and kissed her a dozen, two dozen times all over her head and neck. He rolled over on top of her and held her tight, burying his face in the crook of her neck.

She laughed at his enthusiasm and wrapped her arms around him. He had made it clear during her pleasuring him how much he was enjoying it. Even with his visceral eagerness, she was surprised at his outpouring of emotion now. He repeated, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” into her neck as he held her.

She took a breath and sighed, “I love you too.”

After a moment, she realized he had laid his head on her shoulder and wasn’t moving. She pulled back and saw his eyes were shut. He had fallen asleep. “Rest, my darling. You have had quite a day.”

She found herself opening her mouth and gills and pulling big breaths trying to figure out the odd taste he had left. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but she couldn’t decide if she liked it or not. No, she didn’t like it. He had certainly enjoyed it. She decided she could live with this taste if this was how they were going to make love. Still, she couldn’t stop trying to air out her passages.

She gently slid out from under him and twisted off the bed. She went into the front room and found the water bucket and a length of rope. She tied the rope to the handle as she walked out to the edge of the deck. She wasn’t concerned about being nude in the dark on the vacant wharf. She lowered the bucket and filled it with sea water. Tilting her head back and opening her mouth and gills completely, she lifted the pail up and poured the water in and through and out, flushing everything clean. She tasted again, and was pleased with the result.

When she came back to bed, Sten was awake. “Everything all right?”

“Oh yes,” she said climbing in beside him. “Nature calls.”

“Hey, is your skin going to dry out sleeping above water?’

“A little rough skin will be worth sleeping in your arms.”

“Is there anything we can do about that?”

“We use cocoa butter to protect our skin when we are going to be out of the water for long periods.”

“I’ll get some and keep it on hand for you.”

“That would be very sweet of you.”

“It’s the least I can do for my favorite house guest of all time.”

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing
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