The Kadeshi Crusade – Chapter 4 – The Starfarer

Chapter 3 | Landing Page | Chapter 5

The Kadeshi Crusade

A Homeworld Fanfiction

by Crobato

Originally posted May 15, 2001

Chapter 4 – The Starfarer

Zha felt cold and alone, huddled in the small cockpit of the Swarmer. She wondered if her impulsiveness would cost her big this time. She always acted courageous and cool for people in the outside, but inside, the sheer fear of death gripped her spine. There was no people outside to show her ‘courage’ now.

Sitting outside was the most massive fleet she has ever seen. A Kadeshi armada about to leave the Great Nebula for an unknown destination, and will most probably destroy everything in its path. First to be on peril would be her own people, as Turanic outposts were closest to the Great Nebula. Hundreds of Swarmers patrolled the space around her, some in formation, some trying to get in formation, some not in formation. A sense of chaos prevailed, as if the Kadeshi are trying to get their act together. No one noticed her and her Swarmer. Her journey takes her close to some Kadeshi ships, where she got to see Pods, Needleships and the dreaded Multibeam frigates up close. She opened communications to hear the chatter, and she heard among the chatter of pilots, the music of an angelic choir blaring the subwaves. She could not understand the lyrics, but she had no doubt it was extolling a glorious feeling into the Kadeshi pilots. For a while there she felt inspired herself.

She tried to focus in her journey that takes her into the center of the Armada. A feeling, a force compels her to the center, like a star drawn into a black hole. She hoped she won’t share the same fate, but that something there… In the millennia past, the ancestral pioneers that were to become the forefathers of the Raiders spread to the outer, unknown borders of the Galaxy. To survive and navigate in their primitive craft across the vast expenses, some of them through genetic evolution developed an uncanny sense, an extraordinary perception of the space and stars around them. These people would be become legends among the stories and songs of the Raider nomads, and in poem and lyric, they would be called in legend as the Starfarers.

She never knew herself that she would have the potential to be a Starfarer. Her father was not only the great Sha of the House of Khor, he was a great pilot and formation leader. There were many stories of his exploits, and those achievements may be helped with the senses and skills of a Farer. Her father told her bedtime stories of the Starfarer legends, and one day, he admitted having felt the spirit and blood of being one of them. At first she thought he was exaggerating his own sense of ego and skill, till one day she began hearing the songs of the stars themselves.

“Zha,” he said. “You are a Khor. Your name stands for the First Star, a name known throughout all the races of the Galaxy as a remembrance where they came from. Remember you ancient heritage. Remember who you are.”

That was long before a Beast mothership hit the Khor Outpost. Her father died during the attack, or at least she hoped he died there. He could have been one of those whose blood and flesh was assimilated into those monstrous horrors of steel and flesh they call a Beast ship, but she dared not to think of this. Her father died bravely in battle, that was the end of it. With the last survivors of the Khor outpost, she fled with a badly damaged Lord Class carrier. The carrier, now the Mule, had its navigational systems badly damaged, and so they drifted aimlessly while trying to avoid the predatory Beast, whose ships hunted them. Knowing little only of interstellar navigation, she relied on her senses and intuition and guided the carrier towards the first human interstellar base they can find. It was there perhaps her innate abilities of a Farer could have saved her and the ship, and she awakened more to the power of this strange nature.

By a stroke of luck, the base turned out to be a Taiidani Republic starbase, protected by Republican and Hiigaran ships. But even facing the Republicans and the Hiigarans were much preferable to the Beast, and they were also at war with the Beast. Initially, the Republicans and the Hiigrans were alarmed and sent ships ready to attack the Lord class carrier. But she sent a distress signal, telling the base they were refugees desperate for food and medical attention, and the ship was badly damaged to be starworthy longer.

That was when she met Seejuk Liirhra. He was doing services for the base, for the Republican and Hiigaran ships, and was planning his deep space technology salvage venture. The carrier was repaired, the wounded was taken care of, and Seejuk pulled political strings in a manner she could not understand at her age, even though she has seen her father did the same things often. She repaid the Republican’s humanitarian help with her ship and people by helping to defend the base against a Beast attack. The Mule, with Seejuk onboard, also participated in joint allied operations against the Beast. When other Raider Houses sought temporary alliances with the Republicans and the Hiigarans to wipe out the Beast forces in their sectors, her own personal alliance with a Hiigaran became politically palatable.

The journey to the Republican base was the first time she discovered that she may have the senses of a Starfarer. She suspected it somehow before, when she played as a pilot of her own beloved Raptor scout, but never ventured beyond the sector of space where her Outpost lay. She felt that senses again as the captain of the Mule, the last major capital ship of the Khor, navigating adventurously into the unknown spaces of the galaxy, as she and Seejuk sought to recover technology and artifacts. She suspected Seejuk felt she had the blood of the Starfarers, and he often admired her talent of interstellar navigation. The Starfarer legends was a deep secret among the Turanic people, and they never shared their stories not even with their Imperialist allies.

A Starfarer would know the presence of another Starfarer even distances away. That was part of their extraordinary skill. She always felt the presence of her father when she was alive, and he felt the same way about her too. She thought it was parental or having to do with family, but later discovered to herself, it was their senses as a Starfarer acting. She always felt her father even as his fleet returned to the Outpost after a raiding mission.

The Swarmer passed by formation after formation of other Swarmers and other Kadeshi ships. Towards the center, she felt that presence again. It was the same feeling she sensed when her father was near. But it was not her father, just something like it. The presence of another Starfarer deep inside the Kadeshi Armada… why is there, another one like her?

The feeling grew stronger and stronger. She felt it was right about here. A formation of Needleships circled protectively around a titanic ship that seemed to encase something deep inside its huge scaffold like structures. It looked like a mobile shipyard but it had to be a new Kadeshi mothership class. She carried inside her cockpit a portable sensor equipment that could passively collect data. She turned it on now, pointing the hand held probe at the ship through her cockpit window. Her other hand on the joystick, the Swarmer rolled to get a closer look on the new ship. The Starfarer she sensed had to be inside that massive ship.

***

The sight of the vast armada brought awe even to one as G’yela. She was only a young frail girl, still in her teens, and yet in front of her, she now commands the largest armada the Faithful of Kadesh had ever gathered, a fleet that will challenge and defeat the best the Heathen could ever field against them.

Was it that long ago, when she was first shown the Light?

She was still a child then, near puberty, a street rat that lived out of the scraps left by the temple worshippers. It was in the Arkship of the Apostle A’oth, where on the peak of its upper pyramid section, stood the Temple of the Great Mother N’ua. Every Arkship had a Temple to the Great Mother, and the one on the Arkship A’oth has been one of the oldest and smallest. Yet it was also a place reputed for miracles and visions granted by the Great Mother for the most special of the Faithful and the Devoted.

The upper part of the ship was built like a great hall with a transparent canopy that could see the grand pinkish clouds of the Gardens. But the pink and beige were not the only colors that can be seen in the Garden’s clouds. As the Arkships move around the Gardens, it would pass near primordial infant stars. The light of these baby stars would cast all sorts of different colors as they shine through the clouds. The auras of rainbows can be spectacular, and when viewed, one would fall on their knees to worship and give thanks to the Great Mother for such miracles and for their ancestors to come to a heavenly place like the Gardens.

The temple itself was built on open air, and in the middle of the ring stood the giant image of the Great Mother. The image was beautiful, her face serene, casting a merciful stare at the devoted below praying at her feet.

Like the homeless street rat that she was, G’yela made the steps and the rings of the Temple her home. It was believed that the Great Mother would cast her blessings at the sight of the faithful who show generosity to the poor. She lived on that generosity.

One day, the Arkship passed an infant star. As she watched the image of the Great Mother, the rainbows lighted the clouds behind the back of the statue. There she felt, she had a vision of the Great Mother. The Mother N’ua was flying in a vast ship, leading her people from the wretched evil armies of the heathen, traveling across the vastness of the skies. They had come to the safety of the Gardens, but even the Gardens was not their true home. The Great Mother and the Faithful ancestors of Kadesh were driven away from their true and rightful home. But the Great Mother pledged to return, that all her children must return.

But G’yela was only a street child. Why did the Great Mother choose her to be the Messenger for her people? Why not a Cardinal, any of the Sisters, or the Mother Superior herself? Why she?

The frail child knelt down in front of the image of N’ua. It was not her place to question the wish and the will of the Great Mother. She was Chosen and she must obey.

From then on she made the decision to join the nunnery, in the hope that she would become one day, a Priestess. There she would preach to the people her vision and know the truth about the Great Mother as N’ua had revealed to her.

It was only a few years ago from that faithful day.

It was true that the power of N’ua had guided her. Without the guidance and faith, she could not claim most powerful position in all of Kadesh. But here she is, with the might of all Kadesh, prepared to realize the prophecy and the vision of the Great Mother N’ua.

For a moment, G’yela was distracted. There was a disturbing feeling and she barked some orders to the bridge officers. The ensign said, it was only a Swarmer that flew too close to the ship, and they ordered it to get away and go back into formation.

G’yela was disturbed by the unruliness of the Armada. In her excusions outside the Gardens, she had honed an elite task force that could navigate interstellar space and disciplined enough to take the best the Unclean could offer. But the rest of the Kadeshi fleet had long been spoiled inside the Gardens. They are having problems dealing with space beyond the Gardens. Much training had to be done, and she hed dispatched experience personnel to every quarter in the fleet to begin extensive training programs to create a resource of interstellar abled officers. The Kadeshi warriors have much enthusiasm, but from the books of N’ua and what she had learned from the outside world and the Unclean, the Kadeshi needs a disciplined and structured force to defeat the Unclean. She had split up the fleet into smaller task groups, each led by a battle experienced officer that served under her task force. It was partly a political move too, to put all her loyalists in every branch and corner of the Kadeshi fleet.

The biggest logistical problem was the Arkships that contain the people and culture of Kadesh. They cannot move as fast as the rest of the force. In order to protect them as they fall behind, a separate force was assigned to protect the Arkships and designated the Home Guard. The rest of the Fleet were separated into Columns. Some Columns will go well ahead of the rest of the Fleet to scout for enemy systems and resources. Others will harvest the star systems and asteroid belts. The main Columns will strike against enemy fleets and bases, relying on speed and surprise. Without the Gardens to sustain them, the new Kadeshi nomads must rely on extensive deep space scouting and resourcing to feed the Arkships. The advance Columns are led by elite officers from her original strike force, and these elite Columns are the pride and joy of the new Kadeshi Crusade, attracting the best people for recruitment.

G’yela closely observed and scrutinized the Fleet movements, watching them navigate in space beyond the Gardens for the first time. The initial chaos gave way to more disciplined formations. The great people of the Gardens will overcome their own flaws.

There are still a few miscreants. From the screen she saw some ships still moving carelessly about. She still had a sense of uneasiness that came suddenly. She felt something is out there, watching her, something not supposed to be here. Yet strangely for the first time she felt not alone. She had always felt too different and alone from the rest of the Kadeshi people, never belonging in any sense. That strange loneliness had been a fire for her to reach out beyond the Gardens, where deep in interstellar space, she felt at home. There goes this feeling again, a strange feeling of kinship with something outside, someone outside.

“Was this sector scanned before we jumped into it, dear Bishop?” G’yela asked M’jor.

“We did a thorough reconnaissance of the area, o great Holiness,” M’jor replied. “Somehow I’m not convinced. As soon as the Fleet jumps, I want a back force to recon the area once again, and eliminate possible enemy reconnaissance forces. We cannot take everything by chance. We cannot lose the element of surprise. The Mother rewards only those who are thorough.”

“Now, we shall all pray to the Great Mother that our Crusade will be successful and bring glory to Her Name. “

***

Seejuk noticed that after Zha returned from her self made recon mission, she still looked troubled as ever. The plus side of it was that she was able to gather valuable data on the fleet from her portable sensor equipment. He was already making plans on a more extensive reconnaissance flight should they encounter the Kadeshi armada again, and this time, a Somtaaw recon probe is being fitted on the nose of a modified Swarmer fitted with long range high efficiency Acolyte engines. The guns in the fighter was removed.

Zha was strangely quiet as they prepared to discuss with the officers the data at the makeshift conference room inside the Mule.

“So far we have uncovered several new Kadeshi ship types, suggesting that we may be facing a more formidable and flexible opponent than what we previously thought. Other than what we identified as a salvager ship, there is no true Corvette types but that has not stopped the Somtaaw as we remember…look at these types…first the time in history outsiders are able to feast their eyes on Kadeshi resourcers… Contrary to the opinions of historians about the Homeworld War, the Kadeshi Needleships are not true motherships but some kind of super carrier class…”

“The last ship is the surprise. It’s not like any of the 12 super large motherships. It’s smaller, but definitely of a mothership class, and its bigger than a Needleship. Actually it looks like a pregnant Needleship with something being housed in the middle. We did a structural analysis in the middle structure, and we came up with this.”

“This picture is rather startling. What you see is a ship within a ship, as if the larger ship is built as a structure around this ship. The analysis of this middle ship is another surprise. I thought it was vaguely familiar, and I remembered this artist conception of what the Khartoba would look like.” Seejuk raised a picture.

“As you see, the derelict structure and the Khar’toba looked remarkably alike. I believe that structure is no other than a sister ship of the Khartoba. As you may recall from Kushan history, the Khartoba was the ship that brought my ancestors, the Exiles, to Kharak long time ago. During the Homeworld Wars, our Mothership encountered the Kadeshi in the Great Nebula, and discovered the energy signature of a wreck inside the Nebula that looked remarkably like that of the Kushans. We have also noted the amazing similarties of Kushan ship energy signatures with that of the Kadeshi, suggesting the same technological origins. That sister ship was never uncovered, until now…”

“This has to be the sister ship. As you can see, the Kadeshi built an entire mothership around it. Why would they do that? Unless for them, the ship is also a sacred religious symbol that their fleet cannot do without…”

“A sacred symbol?” Zha asked.

“Yes,” Seejuk replied. “I mean, the Kadeshi must have an entire culture and religion centered around that ship, its relics and its stories. By the Desert Gods, they must also have their own Guidestone. Any race of Exiles, if there was more of them, would have possessed this relic of cultural memory that will inevitably led them back to Hiigara. That was the fate of the Kushans of Kharak, and that will be the inevitable fate of the Protectors of the Garden. Yet, during the first encounter of the Kadeshi and the Kushans in the Homeworld Wars, the Kadeshi failed to join the Kushans in their journey or let them pass. At that moment, I can only guess that their circumstances and reasons for being so were much different then. Today, I think their circumstances have changed different. For the Protectors of the Garden to leave the Garden itself, something—or someone—may have forced this great change. Before the Kadeshi were bordered and were in fear of the Taiidan Empire. The Empire has fallen and inevitably those news would reach to the Kadeshi by the form of some recently captured ship. Another new catalyst is the Kushans themselves. When we entered the Gardens and announced what we were doing, that may have rekindled it for them too, and news of our success in the Homeworld journey would have been both inspiring and sacrilege for them.”

“They would have their massive population ships outside of the Great Nebula and they are moving their most sacred relics. They are obviously migrating their entire population. But where are they headed to? There can only be on place, and the Gods of Kharak have mercy on us all, if this entire fleet is headed for Hiigara… The Kadeshi has started their own Homeworld journey.”

Most of the explanations made sense for Zha, except for one item; Zha still wondered about the Starfarer presence in the Kadeshi mothership. The relationship with the Khartoba would not explain that presence. The Kushans do not have Starfarer blood, nor does the Kadeshi. She was reluctant to tell Seejuk about what she felt, as the Starfarers are a sacred secret of the Turanic race.

“If this armada would be headed to Hiigara, I would suggest we must warn the Hiigaran authorities first,” Seejuk advised.

“It is a plausible theory, but I think we should warn the nearest Raider outpost. There is no Raider forces within the next ten sectors that can challenge that armada. They must be alerted about this,” Zha concluded. “Seejuk, I will let you warn the Hiigaran authorities, but the Mule is a Raider ship first and all. I must warn my Raider brethren first, as they are the closest to the danger.”

A call from the bridge interrupted the session. “Captain, we have multiple hyperspace jump signatures.”

Zha and Seejuk ran to the bridge as quickly as they can. The screens were full of pink and purple circles, each indicating a hyperspace jump event. “Oh my god, the whole damn fleet is jumping into hyperspace. Where are they headed?”

Zha issued new directives. “When the last Kadeshi ship leaves, we will jump to the nearest Turan outpost to alert them. Then we shall alert the Kushan and Republican authorities.”

The number of hyperspace events started to recede until the last Kadeshi ship made its jump. “Rein in the Cloak Generators now, and prepare for Hyperspace Jump. Feed me the coordinates for the nearest Raider outpost.”

“Captain, hyperspace jump refuses to engage.”

“Try it again,” Zha ordered.

“No Captain, the Mule won’t engage.”

“Run diagnostics quickly, we don’t have much time,” said Zha.

Seejuk looked troubled and his heartbeat raced. “By the Merciful Gods of Kharak, Red Alert! Go into battle stations now. If I think what this is, we’re in deep trouble.”

“Now what is it, Seejuk?” Zha demanded her answers.

“Hyperspace inhibitors. Some weapon the Kadeshi uses to trap their prey.” At that moment, the sensor screens lit up with the red spots of an attacking enemy. Seejuk looked up into the screen.

“Swarmers!”

“Red Alert! Calling all available fighters! Prepare for launching. Defend the ship!” Zha commanded.

More lights appeared in the screen. Bigger ones, bearing down on the Mule.

“Oh my god Sajuuk,” Seejuk exclaimed. “Kadeshi multibeam frigates, coming to fry this ship. We’re not going to have a chance!”

“We will,” Zha said. “I need you to take over this ship. I will command the fighter squadrons. Ensign, prepare to activate the ion beam. Raise the arrays. ” The Mule sports an unusual modification different from other Lord class carriers. Magnificent magnetic arrays, based on those used by the Turanic Ion Array Frigate, were raised from hidden panels in the Mule, ready to boost the ion beam against the Mule’s targets.

“Release the Koraal Gravwell generator and have it escorted by a Cloak generator. I want that between the Mule and the enemy fighters.” Zha ordered. The Gravwell was kept for emergencies; this was a time as good as any. Activate the Gravwell only when our fighters are clear past is sphere of influence.

She looked at Seejuk. “Keep your head clear and cool, and just follow my instructions.” After saying this, she ran to the nearest launch tube.

Alarms and red lights were going off as Bandits and Brigands began to taxi for the launch. They were followed by Thief corvettes. Joining them would be the Mule’s entire inventory of surplus Taiidani fighters and corvettes. They included like the Fiirkan-Raptors, the original Triikor-Furies fighter and Raalchok-Predator light corvette, which were phased out as the Republicans shifted to the new Mark II Fireblade class Heavy Interceptor. The new interceptor added a second lateral rail gun to double the firepower and balance the design. However, aces lamented for its decreased performance from increased weight and a lower roll rate, and production lines lamented for its increased cost and complexity. The new fighter was a blessing in disguise for Zha as it forced the classic Raptors and Furies into surplus obsolescence, where she can afford to buy them and their parts supply at a pittance. Production lines within the Mule have also learned to make copies of these ships.

Zha slipped into one of her custom Triikor-Furies and gave the thumbs up, as the Fury was being led into the launching rail.

Outside, the Brigands and the Thief corvettes have fallen into formation, while the Bandits, Triikors, Fiirkans and Taalchoks settled into another formation. The Gravwell has left, followed closely by a Cloaking Generator that was activated.

These Swarmers, according to their energy trails, are equipped with the new high efficiency power drives, and the lack of Fuel Pods anywhere confirmed her suspicion. The old Kushan destroy the Fuel Pod tactic won’t work here. Zha’s plan instead was to throw the cloaked Gravwell against the Swarmers, immobilizing them with its gravitational field. The Mule would come over with its anti strike guns and finish off the Swarmers. The corvettes would strike at the MBFs, the Thief corvettes would try to capture as many frigates as possible, while the Brigands would destroy the rest with its missile volleys. The scouts, interceptors, and the Raalchok-Predators would provide cover for the corvettes.

The Brigands hit the MBFs with a massive first stike of missile vollety. The MBFs were unable to turn fast enough as the Brigands readied to swoop down in a second pass. The Thiefs quickly went to do their dirty work, trapping a few MBFs in their jaws. A large formation of Swarmers were headed for the Mule, unaware of the Gravwell that stands between them and their prey. The fields did as advertised, and the Mule moved in to pop the immobile Swarmers with its defensive weaponry. Separated from the main group, some Swarmers headed to defend the MBFs. That was when the fighters and Taalchoks hit them. The extreme speeds made some the Swarmers and Scouts collide with each other. Few Swarmers were lost but the Scouts took the worst damage.

Zha’s special Fury was able to keep up with a Swarmer firing madly at a Bandit. The Bandit blew, unable to escape the Swarmer’s extreme speed and firepower. With the railgun at the side and the mass driver at the nose of the Triikor, she squeezed the trigger, and the deadly fire ripped at the round back of the Swarmer. The Swarmer boosted, but so did her Fury, still pumping its shots, and the Kadeshi ship ended in a big ball of fire. Sensing trouble, she quickly rolled, as an Advanced Swarmer suddenly found itself shooting into empty space, its tracers seeking the spot where the Fury was split seconds ago. The Fury slipped under the Advanced Swarmer, and her guns ripped its belly.

The surprise initiative worked. The MBFs were defenseless prey against the corvette and fighter attack. The Mule’s ion beam cut into the paralyzed cloud of Swarmers, and one after another were blown away. The Mule launched its few Taiidani Resource Collectors, and the Collectors smashed their thick hides against the Swarmers.

That’s when the unforeseen happened. From a nearby dust cloud, a long needleshape emerged, its ion beams lancing into the Mule from behind. The Mule shook at the intensity of the beams, and it turned around to face its attacker. An ion beam retaliated from the Mule, scorching the Needleship. Desperate, the Collectors headed to crash into the Needleship. Pilots ejected from the Collectors in the last moment as the Collectors smash against the Needleship.

“Defend the Mule!” Zha commanded. An MBF torched the Gravwell, and the surviving Swarmers were free. But the MBF did not get away as the Brigands finished it off with a large volley of missiles.

Flames appeared in the Mule, as ion beams one after another connected to its hull. The Needleship was wounded from the desperate actions of the Collectors, and now the Brigands was firing wave after wave of missiles against its long hull. Swarmers, desperately defending the Needleship, took down a few Brigands. The Mule fired and fired its ion beam cannon, sending probes into the Needleship as scuttle bombs. The Thieves and the Predators added their own firepower against the Needleship, while the Bandits, Furies and Raptors continued to engage the Swarmers at a heavy cost to themselves. The battle became increasingly desperate for both sides in a race against time. Swarmers began crashing into the Mule, while Scouts crashed into the Needleship.

The Needleship changed its course, its head directed to the Mule for a ramming attack. “Oh my god!” Seejuk shouted. “Hard right, dammit!” The Mule wrestled at its hard turn, and the Needleship missed it by a few lengths. The Mule proved to be the more agile of the two ships as it turned once again to bear down its ion beam, while the Needleship peppered the Mule with its plasma fire.

The Needleship could not brake its approach, and near the Mule’s last position was a few asteroids. It released the hyperspace inhibitor and moments before it would crash to the asteroids, the jump gate appeared and the Needleship slipped through it. Seejuk sweared at the Needleship. For religious fanatics, it was a cowardly thing to run away, but apparently the Kadeshi were no longer interested in vain sacrifices, and needed to preserve every one of their big ships for more important battles. Lucky thing to, if the battle was prolonged, the Mule would be toast. He called for damage assesement. The communications system was badly damaged and so was the jump capabilty. The hull suffered damage and casualties were in all decks.

Zha landed her ship, and she was livid at the sight of the damage. More than two thirds of her fighter and corvette complement was gone too, as well as all her Collectors, and her precious Gravwell generator. Her consolation prizes were a few captured MBFs, Swarmers and Advanced Swarmers. Prisoners were to be subjected to the interrogation style the Turanics were infamous throughout the galaxy for. The captured ships, which include many Swarmers and the valuable MBFs, had to be quickly refurnished so they may be used for temporary protection, and she needs to train pilots to fly them. She quickly ordered new Collectors to be built so they can harvest resources while the ship is undergoing repairs. The harvested resources would go to rebuilding the Mule’s strike craft complement. She ordered the Cloak Generators out again to hide the Mule, in case the Kadeshi made a return visit. Seejuk was there in the hanger to meet her. “Congratulations for being alive. Not bad for a young one like you. I thought we might not make it. ” Zha gave her thumbs up. Her joy of victory was short lived however. Without communications, the ship badly damaged and without jump capability, the Mule would be stranded for a while, incapable of warning the known worlds of the coming of the Kadeshi Crusade.

Chapter 3 | Landing Page | Chapter 5

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