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´╗┐Title: Queen of the Blue World
Author: Wells, Basil
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Queen of the Blue World" ***

                        Queen of the Blue World

                            By BASIL WELLS

               Blue vegetation, red insect-men, hideous
               green _thuftars_.... Earth was a strange
             sight to those first space-spanning Martians.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Winter 1941.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

"No sign of the _Indra_!" shouted Rurak Dun, with an angry toss of his
wet hair away from his aching forehead.

It was hot there in the tiny cabin of the wing with the rocket blasts
thrumming behind them. Rurak dropped the sweat-sticky circle of his
radiophone and peered down at the foul blueness of the swampland. A
range of low hills shouldered aside the oozy floor of liquid mud, and
blue jungle crept high up along their rocky slopes almost to their
barren upper tips. Beyond the hills he could see where the outer limits
of the coastal swamp ended and the level stretches of the Mossy Plains
spread away endlessly.

Insect-men, or Yzaps, with almost human intelligence and organization
inhabited Earth--or more properly Soora in the Martian tongue--and
bat-like monstrosities swarmed thick above the rocky uplands between
the blue swamplands and the plains of moss that stretched now before
his gaze.

Rurak Dun felt the sweat bead on the tip of his nose. The thick humid
air of Terra choked him and he wondered. After so many years would
there be any shred of the wreckage left above the lush foliage of the
jungle? After the light-helioed message that the _Indra_ was about to
crash on Earth there had been no other message from Prince Hudar Kel
and his party.

And now, seventeen years later, another space ship had been sent to
search for Prince Kel. His father, the Emperor, had died and within
three days both his elder brothers succumbed to the same mysterious
malady that had taken their father's life. Before the New Year a new
ruler must be found ... and Earth and Mars were again in apposition!

"Nidan," clicked the mandibles of the hideous insect man who shared
the cabin with Rurak Dun, "I see a ship-from-the-Sky."

Rurak's gray eyes narrowed in the golden flesh of his sweating face.
Then he shouted and snapped on his radiophone.

"Gor!" he shouted, "Gor."

"Uh?" grunted a lazy voice in his receiver.

"I've found them," Rurak told him swiftly. "On a level hilltop in the
swamp! The _Indra_ seems rather battered--trees growing up through one
section of her hull--but there are signs of life about her. Probably
Yzaps who have built a village there. Going down to investigate."

"Nidan!" shrieked the Earthling Tis, brandishing the old metal knife
the _Tekna's_ cook had given him, "thuftars attacking! Many thuftars!"

Rurak dropped the mouthpiece and swung his visual scope around the

Scores of vast green thuftars were circling above and about him, their
hideous green shapes, travesties of the human form, gathering for a
concerted attack upon his frail wing. They wheeled easily through
Earth's atmosphere, although no wings or any other evidence of how
they maintained flight was visible. Their scaly bodies terminated in
horny, reptilian hands and feet, and their triple-spiked ears lent the
ultimate in grotesquerie to their appearance.

The thuftars' shrill whistling skirled hideously and constantly as they
dove in toward the wing. Rurak tripped the guns again and again as he
dove and climbed among that circling swarm of scaly harpies and many a
thuftar's greenish blood sprayed from its burst body over its fellows.

Tis had climbed into the gun turret in the cabin's narrow rear but he
understood nothing of how to fire that weapon. Rurak regretted that he
had not brought along one of his own comrades. Perhaps together they
could have driven off the thuftars.

The wing bucked and spun in a tight circle while Rurak let his guns
spray at their ultimate capacity. Thuftars fell, many of them, but
scores of them remained. They were too many. Rurak dove away then,
sounding for the ground. Perhaps under the trees of the hilltop beside
the _Indra_ he could take shelter--drive the scaly beings off.

Blue lacy fronds of the hilltop forest were almost beneath his landing
gear when he felt the first impact of a diving thuftar's weight. Again
and again the wing quivered as more thuftars struck and clung. The
controls were frozen. Slowly the wing nosed over and sideslipped, and
then the upper branches of the forest swallowed them all.

Rurak saw a network of interlacing great branches and thick vines
snaking through them. A wall of blue jungle came smashing inward
against the wing's frail cabin and then a prolonged splintering crash
sounded as though from a great distance.

Curiously he watched himself grope feebly among the shattered debris of
what had been the instrument panel for the radiophone. He laughed even
as he watched. The wing was a hopeless wreck.

Tis, the Yzap native, crawled out of the shattered turret and helped
Rurak to climb into the vine-latticed branches about them. He hoped
that Rurak would remember to take along his rocket pistol and some
shells and was pleased to see Rurak obediently follow his will. It was
strange to float here impartially a few feet above his own dazed body.
There was no pain, just a dull aching void far back in his brain.

He watched the figures of Rurak Dun and Tis slowly descending and
somehow he was descending with them. They dropped a last few feet to
the mossy soil beneath the great trees and he felt the jar jolt up to
his brain. The misty something that seemed to have separated him from
his body was dissolving. He could feel pain and taste the salty warmth
of sweat in his mouth.

An ominous black wall of metal reared itself out of the jungle a
few yards away and he sensed that here was the handiwork of some
intelligent creature. There was an oval window of transparent material
staring like some empty eyesocket out of the wall at him. Memory jabbed
feebly at him and presently he recalled what this must be.... The

       *       *       *       *       *

Voices were shouting something in a tongue that was familiar; whether
Yzap or Rurak's own beloved Martian he could not tell. And then he saw
a knot of dark shapes, red insect men, crawling toward him through the
blue jungle. But it was not the sudden appearance of these creatures
that made Rurak gape in wonderment. For circling to a landing above
the heads of the insect men was a small golden chariot drawn by two
gigantic crimson birds. And standing in the sky-chariot was the most
beautiful woman Rurak Dun had ever seen. As the queer conveyance
swooped gracefully to rest in the small clearing the girl stepped out
and walked swiftly toward them. Her amazingly golden hair floated
freely about her rounded, shapely shoulders as she approached the
dumb-founded group. Rurak Dun remembered that he was still gaping
rudely. He colored, and started an apology, but with upraised hand, the
girl brushed it aside.

"I am Nitha Kel, daughter of Hudar Kel," she explained tersely.

Now he could see that her brief vest of golden cloth and her short
skirt were made of the carefully tanned hide of some Earthly beast.
Sandals of thick hide were upon her shapely feet and there was a regal
unconscious poise to her whole body that stamped her as the princess
that she claimed to be.

"And I," he said, forcing himself to speak, "am Rurak Dun, fifth
officer of the _Tekna_, come to rescue your royal father if he yet

"Father is alive," she said puzzled, "and is even now fighting off the
attack of one of our renegade crew and his party of Yzaps. But why this
sudden interest in our whereabouts? Is it only because our two planets
are in apposition? Surely a third son of a Martian emperor is not
worthy of a special expedition?"

"Your father is now our Emperor," said Rurak gravely, "if he returns to
claim his throne before the New Year. And the time is drawing short.
Will you take me to him at once?"

She nodded, then turned and ran back to her strange conveyance. A word
of command, and the two giant birds rose gracefully into the air. They
did not disappear, but hovered above Nitha Kel and Rurak Dun as they
made their way on foot through the jungle.

"They are attacking the South Cliff today," Nitha told Rurak as they
walked along. "Jokar Ged and his ferocious Inpo warriors are climbing
ladders of lashed poles and young trees to try to take this hilltop. We
will beat them back of course but many of our brave Yzaps will die."

"Why do you fight?" Rurak wanted to know. "What does Jokar Ged desire
so greatly here upon the hilltop--the wrecked _Indra_?"

Nitha laughed. "He desires me," she said. "I am the only woman on
Earth. My mother died soon after I was born and since then all of the
six members of our crew, save Jokar Ged, have cared for me. Last year
Jokar Ged tried to take me away with him but I escaped and reported his
treachery to Father. There has been war between them since that hour."

"I do not wonder that Jokar Ged was in love with you," Rurak Dun said
boldly. "You are lovelier than all the beautiful women of Mars."

Nitha's clear blue eyes looked coldly into Rurak's admiring gray eyes
and he knew that he had offended her.

So in silence they hurried along the forest ways with Tis and the
friendly insect men of the hilltop trailing along behind them, and the
crimson birds circling above.

       *       *       *       *       *

It happened so suddenly they had no chance to seek cover. One moment
they were crossing a round hilltop, surrounded by the strange, jagged
blue peaks of this unbelievable world. The next, with a sound of
rushing wind, one of the hideous green thuftars was in their midst.
Before Rurak could draw his ray-gun and fire, he felt the creature's
scaly, lizard fingers wrapped about the protective collar of his
throat. The world spun crazily, then began slowly to go black before
his eyes. He was dimly aware of Nitha's voice. "Trak! Odap! Down,
quickly," and the beating of pinions as the mighty birds settled to
earth. Then miraculously the pressure about his throat was gone, and
he shook his head to clear his sight. Blurred at first, then stronger
he saw a startling scene. Nitha had mounted her chariot, and now,
sharp spear poised stiffly before her, had sent her weird team into
a headlong charge at the thuftar. The enraged beast tried to launch
itself into the air to parry the attack, but he had waited too long.
There was the sound of metal against a scaly breast, then Nitha and her
bird-chariot had passed by, and the thuftar was clawing futilely at the
shaft of the long spear that was buried deep within its body. With a
last convulsive effort, he tore it loose, and foul green blood gushed
from the jagged hole. He staggered a few steps, then fell gasping to
the rocky ground. He twitched convulsively once, then lay still. Nitha
again descended, and ran swiftly to Rurak. He raised himself on one
knee and elbow, still breathing gaspingly. The insect men crowded about
him with queer clacking noises. He staggered weakly to his feet.

"I'm--I'm all right," he gasped. "Let's get on before more of them
come." He smiled twistedly. "And thanks for the favor. I guess I wasn't
much help."

Nitha waved aside his thanks perfunctorily, and once again the little
party moved forward.

They came abruptly to the brink of a sheer cliff that dropped away
perhaps thirty feet to a rock-strewn brushy slope. Down there a burly
golden man, his massive chest and arms shaggy with a tangled mat of
reddish hair, led a hideous horde of Yzaps from the distant Mossy
Plains on to the attack.

Ladders, a dozen or more of them constructed of massive limbs of wood
and stout saplings for uprights, leaned against the cliff almost at
its top. Sprawling heaps of Yzaps, their glistening black exoskeletons
spattered with their own yellowish blood, attested to the failure of
the preceding assaults.

But this time the Yzaps carried heavy shields of sticks two or three
layers in thickness before them as they advanced. Spears drove up from
below and other spears smashed down into the attackers' crude shields
without doing any apparent damage.

Rurak shot a quick glance along the cliff-top on either hand and
saw that a thin line of fierce looking Yzap warriors, with here and
there a golden Martian to direct their defense, held firm. None of
the Martians, however, was armed with anything save crude spears and
crossbows such as Martian boys have constructed since time immemorable.

Then the insect men of Jokar Ged swept up to the ladders and swiftly
mounted toward the hilltop above.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crossbow bolts and spears could not drive back that swarming horde.
The defenders tried with poles to fend off the ladders and their loads
of bloodthirsty Yzaps but spears from below soon put an end to their
endeavor. Then they hurled great rocks down upon the enemy, sweeping
many of them off but never for an instant halting that dogged advance.

Rurak Dun saw that the tide was turning against the defenders of the
hilltop even as he slipped his rocket pistol over the rim of the cliff
and started picking off the attackers one by one. Fear of the explosion
as much as the sudden death that struck among them made the Plains'
Yzaps falter and then come to a halt.

"Only a popgun!" Jokar Ged was bellowing as he dashed among his
startled followers. "Will you be driven back by a little stick that
spits lead? Come along, up the ladder with you."

His heavy fists were lashing out, trying to beat courage into the
insect men. Rurak shot at him again and again but the luck of Droog
must have protected his evil carcass from death. All around him the
Yzaps were falling dead with bullets in their heads.

The weapons of the other defenders now increased their fire and shortly
the demoralized ranks of the renegade Martian's party were straggling
away among the brushy cover that the lower slopes afforded. For the
time there would be respite from battle.

"A Martian!" a hearty voice boomed beside Rurak Dun and he spun about
to face a grag-bearded giant of a man, "a Martian come to rescue us at
an opportune moment. Jokar Ged grows more cunning with every fresh
attack and soon this little hilltop will fall before his superior

"But tell me, stranger," he went on, "how you came here. Did you come
to find where my ship crashed, or are you merely carrying out a routine
exploration of this planet? What has happened on Mars?"

"You are Prince Hudar Kel?" inquired Rurak.

"Yes," nodded the bearded giant.

"Then I have news for you, my Emperor," Rurak told him, "that will
perhaps not be pleasant. Your father, the Emperor, and your two
brothers have all died. We have come to find you and take you back to
Mars before the New Year."

The bearded giant's hard fingers sunk convulsively into Rurak's
shoulder and he said nothing for a time. Then his tall body stiffened
proudly and he smiled gravely down at the young Martian.

"I am ready to return and assume my duties," he said simply.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Two days we have been floating down this stinking river," squat Elko
Sohm groaned as he wielded his crude native paddle. "Two days with
the blistering hot rain scalding our poor backs and the stench of
mouldering purple vegetation in our nostrils. Hurry, you tell me, that
we may reach the _Tekna_ before she blasts off again for Mars.

"If you ask me we'd better have stayed with the old _Indra_ and
waited for them to find us. For seventeen long years, figuring by the
shorter year of this soggy hell of a planet, we lived there on that
hilltop. There was no danger from the swampland monsters and only the
green-scaled thuftars could get near us. And now you take me, a warped
wreck of an old man, and plunge into the thick of this unknown hell."

Rurak grinned crookedly through lips that insect-bites had swollen
grotesquely. Ahead of him the glistening form of Tis dipped his paddle
rhythmically into the liquid scum that floored the sluggish river. Tis
was at home here in the watery blue marshes and liquid mud flats of the
continent's eastern shore.

Somewhere ahead the huge bulk of the _Tekna_ wallowed atop a marshy
island not far from one of the myriad crystalline growths that dotted
this three-tailed continent's marshy places. Seeking always the
marshy seaboards or inland rivers and lakes these colonies of linked,
silicon-based, crystalline cells--sometimes called the "cities" of
Earth by imaginative astronomers--spread over miles of area and soared
in fantastic towers and spires hundreds of feet into the thick moist
air of Earth's heavens.

And toward that crystal signboard beside the Great Sea they were
driving their rude dugout to carry the glad news that the new Emperor
was found.

Two days had they waited for another flying wing to contact the hilltop
and on the second night old Elko Sohm, Tis, and Rurak had slipped away
in the darkness and headed eastward. Past native villages of thatch and
mud floating upon living rafts of vegetation they raced and through
dense water-lanes where the blue and purple of foliage shut off the
murky light of the swollen sun....

"Elko Sohm! Rurak Dun!" the cry sounded faintly from the foggy depths
of the river behind them.

Tis guided the clumsy boat into the arched cave of a swamp tree's roots
and picked up his spear. Elko Sohm grunted as he stripped the oiled
leather case from about his sturdy crossbow.

"The voice of a woman," he announced resignedly. "Nitha has for some
reason trailed us this far."

"Elko!" the voice called again and now they could see another smaller
dugout, stolen perhaps from the same Yzap village where they had found
theirs, with but two passengers aboard.

"Here," announced Elko Sohm sadly, "under this tree's roots with water
dripping from the moss down along my raw-fleshed back and the swamp
vermin chewing away at the little hair left upon my skull."

The tiny craft followed their own ragged trail through the bluish
broken scum upon the river and shortly the two dugouts were warped side
by side. Nitha was there, well smeared with the sticky blue gum of a
swamp tree against the onslaught of insects and with her golden hair
bound tight within an ugly skin cap, and with her was an Yzap from the
village, called Thod.

Nitha laughed as she saw the swollen features of the two Martians and
handed a leaf-wrapped gob of the sticky blue gum that she had smeared
upon her own skin.

"Not very attractive," she admitted, "but very effective."

       *       *       *       *       *

"And now," Rurak demanded, "why did you follow us? This journey is
dangerous enough without a woman trailing along."

"Ill bred young man isn't he?" asked Nitha of Elko Sohm. "However I
suppose I might as well tell _you_ all about it, Elko. He can listen in
if he really wants to know.

"The same night you left," she went on, "Jokar Ged and his Yzaps came
in the darkness and attacked the village. All who could escape came
inside the _Indra's_ metal shell. They built fires against the hull
hoping to drive us out but the insulation prevented any great passage
of heat. But there were few provisions stored there and practically no

"With early morning I slipped out through an escape lock with Thod as
my guide and at a safe distance showed myself to the horde of Jokar
Ged. As I had known he would, he sent all his forces after me--it was
for me that he stormed the hilltop--and my people were free to emerge
from the _Indra_ again.

"I knew that you had headed for the coast to bring help and so Thod and
I picked up your trail. Only now have we come up with you."

"Jokar Ged?" demanded Rurak.

"Close behind," the girl answered, "with ten dugouts loaded with his
insect warriors."

"Then shove off!" ordered Rurak. "We will bring up the rear and stand
them off as best we can."

Even as he spoke and the two heavy boats slid away from the sheltering
tree-roots a shout of hideous triumph sounded from further upstream as
a flotilla of hollowed-out logs manned by the clicking, whistling Yzaps
of Jokar Ged swept into view. The fugitives bent to their paddles then
and slowly the gap between ceased to narrow.

Several times Rurak lifted his rocket pistol and sent a bullet
crashing through a savage Yzap's head. Every time the insect men hurled
a volley of spears in return that always fell woefully short. But soon
Jokar Ged saw that most of his men were weaponless, save for their
stone knives and short knotted clubs, and he forbade them to waste any
more spears uselessly.

"Floating village," clicked Tis and they swept around an abrupt wedge
of jungle growth and swung back toward the left into a widening of the

"Big one," grunted Elko Sohm. "Twenty-odd huts and a central dome.
Better hug the shore. Bad medicine, these swamp Yzaps."

"Too late," Tis told them. "Already warriors in round boats coming to

A dozen bowl-shaped craft of reeds daubed with some sticky waterproof
substance were shoving off from the U shaped island of buoyant, linked
water plants. Before the conical low domes of slime-smeared reeds and
branches there swarmed the mates and young of the hideous Yzaps, urging
their warriors on to the attack of these two hapless dugouts from
further upstream.

The insect men paddled their clumsy-seeming boats swiftly across the
path of the Martians and their two loyal Yzaps and then started to
encircle them. They closed in.

The insect men swung up their spears ready to hurl them into the bodies
of their five victims and in that instant two things happened that
saved the Martians from death beneath those bristling shafts.

From far up the river a piercing challenge of hatred and savage
challenge rolled up as the Yzaps of the renegade Martian swung into
view, and beneath the dugouts of the trapped ones a vast saurian bulk,
dulled-yellow-scaled and vast, heaved upward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rurak felt the hollow log spill over and in that instant caught a
glimpse of the other boat in a like predicament. The bowl-boats of the
Swamp Dwellers were scattered, racing madly away from the great shape
emerging from the muddy thickness of the river. Then the foul scum of
the water's surface closed over his head and he was fighting madly to
reach the surface again.

A long snaky neck, strangely pink and innocent of bony plates or
scales, had sprouted from the saurian thing's vague bulk and vast
ridged jaws were gaping wide just above one of the fleeing boats as
Rurak's head broke through to the surface. The Yzaps whistled in wild
terror and made as though to leap over the side but that enormous maw
engulfed them and they disappeared from view. Only a few shreds of the
bowl-boat dropped from the corners of the _thing's_ mouth.

Then it was gone.

The ten dugouts of Jokar Ged swept down upon the demoralized Swamp
Dwellers and soon Yzap fought Yzap in hand-to-hand combat.

"Nidan!" called Tis from nearby.

Now Rurak could see four more heads in the muddy stream about him. They
were all safe then! Tis was swimming toward the downstream side of the
artificial floating island of the Yzaps.

"We hide here until night," Tis told them all as they gathered about
him swimming. "No place to go ashore. Only swamp. We steal a boat
tonight. Go on down river in it."

"Yzaps on the island!" gasped Elko Sohm, looking like some befouled
bladder-doll of the primitive Martian tribes.

"They watch the battle," Tis clicked.

Up to the low bank of the floating island they swam and then Tis and
Thod started to slash an opening into the cheesy structure of the
watery growth. For perhaps three feet they slashed with their knives
and then broke through into a low, moist tunnel.

"_Trak's_ burrow," Tis explained. "The floating islands and low rises
of mud are honeycombed with them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tis and Thod cleared out the soggy passages that underlay the floating
island and found a way that led to the upstream side. Five of the
many-legged _traks_ they encountered and killed with the thrust of a
shortened spear or a skilfully wielded knife, shoving the gruesome
lizard carcasses into the gaping watery pits that opened along the low
tunnels they traversed.

Rurak left Elko to guard Nitha and crept on hands and knees after the
two Yzaps. He came up with them just as they had pierced an eyehole
through the living wall of the island's upper side.

"Jokar Ged is being beaten!" Tis clicked. "More of the Swamp Dwellers
are coming from the island and from the swamps. There are many of them.
They kill the Yzaps of Jokar Ged with spears and fishing harpoons.

"Jokar Ged is wounded! Blood, red blood, comes from his body! His boats
are turning.... They paddle away up the river. Spears thrown by the
Swamp People strike among them.... A boat overturns...."

"Let me see, Tis," ordered Rurak.

A glimpse of the fleeing knot of dugouts, five of them now, with the
circling score or more bowl-boats closing in, was all that Rurak could
see before the wedge-shaped arm of jungle just upstream blotted out
vision. He saw Jokar Ged sagging weakly in one of the fleeing boats,
the spear that had wounded him yet hanging in the wound.

Then he saw the overturned dugout drifting toward the island. He turned
to the Earthmen.

"Could one of you swim out there and steer that boat around to the
lower side of the island?" he demanded.

"Yes, Nidan," clicked Thod and with a slash of his crude stone knife he
made an opening and was gone.

Rurak waited until he saw the derelict craft shift its drifting course
and move away downriver and then he led the way back to the others. If
they could sink the boat or conceal it under the bulk of the island
until darkness came....

       *       *       *       *       *

"A close shave that," Elko Sohm growled as he paddled the boat along a
salty watercourse parallel with the Great Sea, "if the Yzaps had come
back before Thod reached us and we hid the boat we would all be dead.
I'm thinking yet we should have remained on the hilltop. A foolhardy
undertaking this."

"All that happened a week ago," Nitha laughed up into Elko's stubby,
filthy, moon of a face, "and still you're grumbling. We got away didn't

"Almost there," Rurak said to Elko. "Around the second loop ahead of us
lies the edge of the crystalline horde near which we landed. Before
long we will be with our friends and then back to Mars. Home again,

Abruptly the ominous hushed sounds of the swamplands, the hum of
insects and the raucous cries of the flying lizards among the treetops,
was smashed across by a vast explosion. It was a continuous explosion
that swelled louder as it continued, a rapid series of controlled

"The _Tekna_!" cried Rurak in despair, "blasting off for Mars!"

A long gleaming pencil of metal soared on a long slant into the sky
overhead; the flame of her rocket jets boomed a thunderous farewell,
and then the _Tekna_ was gone.

Half-heartedly the five passengers of the little dugout took up their
makeshift paddles and held to their course. At least there would
be the plastic dome they had erected beside the _Tekna_ to prevent
the overcrowding of the ship and perhaps there would be a stock of
provisions and weapons left behind for Rurak if he should ever find his
way back to the coast.

The dome was still standing although blackened somewhat by the blast of
the takeoff.

Into the dome the Martians hurried to find it well stocked with all
sorts of provisions and equipment. There was a message left there too
in a heavy transparent case bolted to one of the uprights supporting
the dome.

"Listen to this, Nitha!" cried Rurak. "They made contact with your
father's crew after all. The time was too near for them to wait for
us--the New Year you know--so they blasted off for Mars with your
father. And next year, or the year after, another expedition will come
to Earth. Until then...."

"Yes," asked Nitha, smiling, "until then?"

Rurak felt the warmth of her woman's body beside him as he looked
around the snug little dome. Tis and Thod were clicking softly together
near the entrance and Elko Sohm was squinting along the sights of an
automatic rocket rifle.

"Two more years in this blue hell," he groaned hopelessly. "An old man
like me abandoned here on this sponge of a world!"

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Queen of the Blue World" ***

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