Introducing The Time Police, the brand-new series by i nternational bestselling author, Jodi Taylor - an irresistible spinoff from the much-loved Chronicles of St Mary's series. Perfect reading for fans of Doctor Who, Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde. 'The best way to describe this book: lots of fun' British Fantasy Society 'Inventive and entertaining... a fast-paced and fun first book in what promises to be an excellent new series' Culturefly A long time ago in the future, the secret of time travel became known to all. Unsurprisingly, the world nearly ended. There will always be idiots who want to change history. Enter the Time Police. An all-powerful, international organisation tasked with keeping the timeline straight. At all costs. Their success is legendary. The Time Wars are over. But now they must fight to save a very different future - their own. This is the story of Jane, Luke and Matthew - the worst recruits in Time Police history. Or, very possibly, three young people who might change everything. DOING TIME is a five-star read!: 'I blooming well loved this book. Read start to finish in only a couple of sittings' ***** ' Excellent start to this St Mary's Chronicles spinoff series. There is Taylor's trademark humour, along with moments of real lump-in-the-throat poignancy' ***** 'Clever, witty, humourous, touching, emotional, just about everything anyone could want. Can't wait for the next one' ***** 'Another superb book from the pen of Jodi Taylor' ***** ' This book does not disappoint ' *****
Release date: October 17, 2019
Print pages: 396
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A long time ago in the future, the secret of time travel became available to all. Naturally, everyone wanted it and because the implications were imperfectly understood, the world nearly ended.
Old wars were fought and refought as world leaders continually pressed ‘Reset’ hoping for a more favourable outcome this time around.
New nations emerged, flickered briefly and then disappeared. The Confederate States of America, for example, arose from the wreckage of North America, was defeated, emerged again and refused all attempts to dismantle it. The subsequent long, bitter and bloody struggle so distorted the timeline that, for a dangerously long time, the Confederacy and the Union existed side by side, playing out their own histories simultaneously.
All over the world, people lived, died, then lived again.
Events happened. Then didn’t happen. Had never happened. Then happened again but differently. Some moments vital to the development of the human race never happened at all. Some happened more than once.
Everyone wanted to change the past for the better, but what was better for A was not necessarily better for B. Not surprisingly, whole new wars broke out.
Many, whose minds could not encompass the many versions of the same events, went mad. History was written and rewritten so many times that the fabric of reality began to wear thin. The world began to spiral downwards to destruction.
At the last moment, when it was almost too late, the Time Police were formed. It was an international effort. Personnel were drawn from the military, from the police, and even a few from a tiny organisation known as the Institute of Historical Research at St Mary’s Priory, situated outside Rushford in England, where they would explain, at enormous length, that they definitely didn’t do time travel – they investigated major historical events in contemporary time, and they’d been doing this for some time without anyone being any the wiser and that all of this was nothing to do with them.
A series of international laws were passed to deal with the situation. The punishment for time travel was death. Anyone caught indulging in time travel faced summary execution – together with everyone else involved. Or even those unfortunate enough to be standing nearby. No one ever bothered with a trial.
Every citizen was required to cooperate fully and completely with the Time Police. Failure to do so was death.
Armed with these powers, the Time Police set about their task of saving the world from its own stupidity.
Thus began what were known as the Time Wars. The Time Police’s remit was simple: to shut down time travel everywhere. No matter what it took – shut it down. With extreme prejudice if necessary. Just shut it down and get the situation back under control. They answered to no one. No one nation had overall control. Their reputation was fearful. Word soon got around. If the Time Police turned up, then things were not going to end well. Not for anyone within a five-mile radius, anyway.
It was bloody and brutal for a long time. A lot of people died. And not just the illegals, as they were known. The Time Police themselves paid an astronomically high price. After the first year, nearly all the original members were dead. Casualties were massive. It is doubtful whether they could have sustained these losses for very much longer but they never faltered, relentlessly pursuing their targets up and down the timeline. At one point they numbered less than thirteen officers in the whole world. No one ever knew how close the Time Police came to extinction.
Fortunately, by then, people were beginning to realise that possessing time travel is like holding a snake in your hand. If you don’t know what you’re doing, sooner or later, it will twist in your hand and bite you.
One by one, nations were induced to give it up. Many were secretly glad to see it go. They simply hadn’t wanted to be the first to surrender it. And by then, big business had discovered the past was not theirs to plunder. Their massive investment had led to no returns at all. They too lost interest.
In the shell-shocked aftermath, it was the Time Police, politically neutral, who brokered agreements, treaties and accords or, if that failed, knocked a few heads together. When done at street level, that sort of thing is known as a brawl. Do it at international level and it’s called diplomacy.
After a long while, things settled back down again but, as is always the way, those who had been the first to extol the virtues of the Time Police now began to perceive that the existence of an organisation with such wide-ranging powers might not be such a good thing after all.
Time travel, however, was not completely eradicated. There was Temporal Tourism – illegal but lucrative. Attempting to hide in another time to escape the consequences of an illegal act in this one was always popular. And every now and then, someone would put something up on the Dark Web, and armed with not even moderately accurate information, a hundred enthusiastic amateurs – for whom death by radiation was something that happened to other people – would beaver away in lock-ups, garages, spare bedrooms and science classes, apparently oblivious to the Time Police heading their way, determined to resolve the situation – whatever it took.
Whatever it took.
I’m where I am today because of a stuffed seagull. It stood in a glass case under a skylight at the top of the stairs in my grandmother’s house and it frightened me nearly as much as she did. Which is to say – a lot.
My grandmother was thin and brown-leathery and for years I thought she was a witch. Her room was right at the top of her tall, narrow house and she rarely left it, but somehow, she always knew when I’d dropped a cup or if I’d dawdled on the way back from the shops or stopped to buy myself a rare bar of chocolate.
Her voice, with that imperious rasp, would drift down the stairs.
‘Jane, come here at once,’ followed by the tinkle of her bell, demanding my instant presence.
I hated that bell. Nearly as much as I hated the seagull. But not as much as I hated her.
She was only one woman but I might as well have been toiling away in a large hotel, the amount of work she caused. Clean sheets every day. Whole herds of ghastly china animals to wash several times a month. Furniture to be polished – and with the old-style wax polish too, not the permanent spray-shine you can get these days. The windows were to be done every month – because she wouldn’t have stay-clean SmartGlass – and despite most of the rooms being shut up and never used, they still needed cleaning from top to bottom every month. Every now and then I would try missing one but she always knew. I never found out how.
I thought things would be easier after I left school because there would be more time for her insatiable demands, but that turned out not to be the case. There were just more of them. Her insatiable demands expanded to fit the time allocated. She could have had an army of servants and every single one of them would be as overworked and tired as I was.
My grandmother still left the house occasionally. She went to church on Sundays where, presumably, she harangued the Almighty for failing to wipe everyone not white, middle-class or English from the planet. With extreme prejudice. You always felt she was disappointed that God had confined himself to smiting only the firstborn of Egypt when he could, with just a little more effort, have wiped out the entire country. That would have taught them a lesson, wouldn’t it?
On the third Tuesday of every month, she was collected by someone who almost certainly was unable to get out of it and taken to the Social Centre a couple of miles away, where she found fault with everyone and everything, consumed every mouthful of a lunch that was hardly worth eating and was returned home, refreshed, invigorated and complaining every inch of the way.
And then there was the shopping. I visited the shops every day because everything had to be fresh. In vain did I murmur of refrigeration and its benefits. Every day at ten o’clock in the morning I left the house, squeezed tomatoes, inspected fish, sniffed at melons and then lugged the whole lot back home again. Every single day. I actually expected to be doing this for the rest of my life.
Which brings me back to the seagull. Almost every moment of every day was overlooked by that awful bird with its predatory beak and evil eyes. One of them wasn’t set quite right, giving it an evil leer which followed me wherever I went. Apparently, her husband, my grandad, had stuffed it for her as a personal gift – I’m not sure what that says about either of them – and then died shortly afterwards. The two events were probably unconnected, but it was enough for her to enshrine the thing in pride of place at the top of the stairs, where it was an eternal reminder of her dead husband.
And then I dropped the stupid thing.
I don’t know how it happened. Probably I was away with the fairies, which was how my grandmother usually described me. According to her I was a feckless daydreamer – a useless wimp – who would have starved to death on the streets if she hadn’t taken me in. Or perhaps I was more tired than I thought. I only know that as I picked up the glass case to dust underneath – because she’d know if I hadn’t – it was heavier than I remembered and the whole thing slipped out of my hands and crashed on to the floor.
The glass case shattered and the long-time inhabitant just fell apart. Heaven knows how old it was or how long it had been there, but it didn’t take kindly to being bounced off the gleaming parquet (forty-five minutes hard polish every other Thursday). The body hit the floor with a soft explosion of what looked like sawdust and the head skidded off underneath the highly polished walnut chest of drawers (fifteen minutes hard polish every other Thursday – before doing the floor but after cleaning the windows) and out of sight.
I stared, appalled. I had no idea what to do. When I thought of the way she carried on if I so much as dropped a cup, I could hardly begin to imagine what this disaster would earn me. My agitation even caused me to run in small circles as I tried to work out whether I should try to reassemble things – no chance. Or try to hide the evidence – no chance. Or even try to deny there had ever been anything there in the first place. ‘What seagull, Granny?’
Or – and I don’t know where this thought came from – I could simply . . . go. It wasn’t as if I’d never thought about it. I’d done it a thousand times in my dreams. I could grab a few things and leave. And never come back. I remember standing stock-still, suffering all the paralysis of someone whose dream could suddenly come true.
It was Tuesday. She would be gone for hours. I could be miles away before she got back. And then what would she do? What could she do? And she was perfectly capable of looking after herself if I wasn’t there to do it for her.
‘Don’t be so silly,’ said the voice within. ‘Where would you go?’
A good point, I had to concede – Gran always said I was about as much use as boil-in-the-bag ice cream – the venom in her voice robbing the comment of any humour – but compared with staying here with a shattered seagull, starving to death seemed a very viable option. If I remained, my life would hardly be worth living. And besides, I was old enough to go. In fact, I was too old to stay. Whoever heard of anyone my age living with their granny? And she could manage on her own. It wasn’t as if she needed me. She didn’t even like me. Thoughts I never knew were inside me came suddenly bubbling to the surface.
Wimpy Jane was horrified. ‘But I have no money.’
‘There’s the housekeeping. She keeps it tucked in her pillowcase.’
Wimpy Jane nearly fainted. ‘You mean . . . steal it? She’ll go ballistic.’
‘More or less ballistic than when she sees what you’ve done to her seagull?’
Wimpy Jane folded without a fight. ‘Good point. I should go. Now.’
Wimpy Jane cast aside the shackles of years. ‘I’m going.’
There’s nothing like suddenly giving yourself permission to do something you haven’t dared to do nearly all your life to catapult you into a vortex of panic and indecision.
I ran to my room. Halfway there I thought I’d better clear up the mess and veered off towards the stairs for a dustpan and brush. Halfway there I suddenly thought, what are you doing? Leave it. She’ll see what’s happened and at least then you won’t have to bother with an explanatory note along the lines of:
I broke your bird and by the way I’ve hated every moment here, and you claiming my carer allowance for yourself for my board and lodging was a really mean trick so I’m running away. I’ve taken the housekeeping in lieu of non-existent wages and I can promise you’ll never see me again.
PS The seagull head is under the chest of drawers. Don’t think you’ll be able to reach it. Hope it doesn’t start to smell. Goodbye.
On second thoughts . . . why not? Why not leave a note just like that?
I left it lying on her pillow. Right next to where the housekeeping used to be.
My heart was thudding fit to burst. I think I was terrified she’d come home early and catch me. She never had – she paid what she always classed as ‘an enormous sum’ of money to the Centre to take her and feed her and entertain her and she’d never leave until she felt she’d had her money’s worth. I had plenty of time.
I made myself slow down, select stout shoes, something waterproof, warm clothes and some underwear. I stuffed the money – I hadn’t had time to stop and count it – into my toilet bag and shoved the whole lot into a carrier bag, because I never went anywhere, so why would I have a suitcase?
I threw on my coat, flung open the front door and ran down the path. I heard the door slam behind me and realised I’d left my key behind.
Now I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to.
I see I’ve begun in the middle but the seagull thing was a truly major event for me. It changed everything. Fear, coupled with shame and anger at being so afraid, propelled me from the house and out into the street and then deserted me completely. I found my way to the High Street and stood on the pavement watching the world go past. Where to go?
I couldn’t stay here. Everyone knew my grandmother, therefore, everyone knew me. I turned left for the airbus station. I would buy a ticket to . . . somewhere. In the meantime, I needed to survey my resources.
Actually, I was astonished at the really rather large sum of money I’d grabbed. Given the way she doled it out in pitifully small amounts whenever I went shopping and snarled at me if she thought there was insufficient change, there was a lot of money here. I could go almost anywhere.
I stuffed it all back into my bag before anyone saw it, bought myself a coffee and sat down on a bench to think. There was one of those holographic news and advertising boards on the wall. I sipped my coffee and watched the adverts slide by. Cheap airship travel, the latest blockbuster holos, Parrish Industries, cheap loans, national news, international news – image after image flickered by while the words slid past at the bottom of the screen. It was all on a continuous loop and I think I watched it twice before it registered.
The Time Police were recruiting. And they especially wanted women.
I don’t know at what point it occurred to me that this could be just what I was looking for – a job with living accommodation provided. I watched it go by a couple more times – I was worried in case they changed their minds suddenly and took it down, but they didn’t so I caught the airbus to London and enlisted.
The bleeping woke me. I had a message coming through. I blinked and tried to focus. Blinked again, tried again, blinked again and gave it up, hoping the whole thing would go away.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I sat up and waited vainly for the pounding behind my eyes to go away, until I was finally able to focus on the read-out.
Hey, what do you know? A message from dear old Dad. Had he remembered my birthday? A bit of a first for him. And it’s not as if he had any excuse – he had armies of people to remind him about things like this. There it was, though. His name flashing on the screen.
I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time, and actually I’d rather been expecting to be on the receiving end of massive parental displeasure over the Tannhauser business, but there had been complete silence and since that had been some time ago now, he’d obviously missed it.
Like an idiot, I was pleased to hear from him. I thought he was messaging me because today was my birthday. Celebrations had begun last night – hence the pounding head this morning – and were due to continue for quite some time. And then I read the message and thought – shit.
It was a bit of a bugger getting the girl out of bed and I couldn’t remember her name. Dianna? Dinah? Yes, Ruth – that was it. Actually, it turned out her name was Deidre so I wasn’t that far out. But calling her Ruth would account for her snippy exit.
Heroically and despite the hangover, I made a real effort to clean up my apartment. Well, technically, I just shoved everything into a black bag and hurled it into the incineration chute. I can’t think why people find housework so difficult. It wasn’t wonderful, but thirty minutes later things did look considerably tidier. He’d never been here before so I wanted to make a good impression. It would be nice if he liked the place.
I’d just selected Scottish Heather for the air conditioner when the doorbell rang. He was here.
No, he wasn’t. He’d sent his PA, Ms Steel, instead.
I don’t like Ms Steel. Steel by name and steel by nature. She is extremely good-looking in a severe sort of way. It really gets my goat that it’s OK for Dad to surround himself with shit-hot women but not me. Anyway, there I was, staring gormlessly at the severe but sexy Ms Steel. I really wouldn’t have minded easing her between my sheets – freshly changed after Ruth, before anyone gets the wrong idea – but so far that opportunity hadn’t been granted me.
There was no opening preamble. No ‘Hello, Luke, how are you? Do you fancy a spot of afternoon delight?’
‘A message from your father,’ she announced, laying a whole rainforest of documents on the table.
A bit environmentally irresponsible, as I pointed out and she ignored me. I did try a quick squint at them, but my head was still pounding and quite honestly, my eyes weren’t focusing that well, either.
Ms Steel sighed, conveying an entire continent of impatience and judgement. ‘Can you even see the papers, Mr Parrish?’
‘I’m actually having difficulty seeing the table. Can’t you just tell me?’
‘Very well. These are enlistment papers for the Time Police.’
I was shocked. Seriously shocked. ‘What? Why the hell is the old man joining the Time Police?’
She didn’t bother to laugh. ‘Your father feels that after the Tannhauser incident last year, your life would benefit from more structure. Hence, you will serve two years in the Time Police.’
I had the feeling I was fighting a losing battle but I had a go anyway. ‘He can’t do that.’
‘He has already done it.’
I said with confidence, ‘They’re not going to take someone like me.’
‘With the right inducements, they would take even someone like you.’
I thought the ‘even’ was a little bit offensive and said so.
She shrugged, giving an excellent impersonation of a woman who really couldn’t give a fu . . . give a damn.
Time to turn on the old Parrish charm. Never lets me down.
I inched my chair closer. ‘I feel sure there’s been a mistake somewhere along the line, Ms Steel. He didn’t actually mean me to join. It’s just to scare me. And it’s worked. Obviously, I’ll be a good boy from now on. Please pass on my congratulations regarding his tactics. Is he coming to my birthday party tonight?’
‘No. And neither are you. These papers order you to report immediately. Later today, in fact.’
I blinked furiously. As if that would make any difference. ‘He can’t do this.’
She didn’t bother with a response this time.
I stirred the papers with my finger. They all looked horribly genuine. Not that I’d know any differently but they did all the same. My headache redoubled its thumping. I couldn’t join the Time Police. What was the old man thinking?
‘I can’t join the Time Police,’ I said. ‘I have . . . responsibilities. Commitments I must honour.’ The old man was very big on honouring commitments. Now was obviously a good time to make a start. ‘I’ve got Glastonbury. And Wimbledon. A fortnight at a mate’s house in the Caribbean. There’s the test match next month. I can’t let people down.’
‘Mr Parrish has instructed me to say that letting people down is second nature to you. And that you have never shown the slightest inclination to shoulder any of your responsibilities. The Tannhauser affair was the last straw, I’m afraid. Responsibilities are about to be imposed upon you.’
‘I know the Time Police,’ I lied. ‘You can’t just waltz in and sign on the dotted line. There are tests and interviews and . . . things.’
‘All of which have been completed on your behalf.’
I scoffed. ‘They wouldn’t take me sight unseen.’
‘They know you by reputation. Everyone knows you by reputation.’
Ten minutes ago I might have thought that was a compliment.
‘I am sure your vanity will be happy to hear it took a very great deal of persuasion and an extremely large sum of money to induce the Time Police even to contemplate the idea. You are not cheap, Mr Parrish.’
Time to switch on even more Parrish charm and get myself out of this. I pulled my chair closer still, smiled into her flint-hard eyes and said, ‘I’ve never been cheap, Ms Steel, but I can assure you I am extremely good value.’
Not a flicker. Not a bloody flicker. I was obviously a lot more hungover than I thought. Or she was a lesbian. Yes, that was far more likely. Typical Dad to send a lesbian.
‘Officially, your father has made a very generous contribution to their Widows and Orphans Fund. They were extraordinarily grateful.’
The net was closing. ‘I’ll bet they were.’
‘To the extent they would take even you.’
I noticed we were back to the ‘even’ again. Lesbian, for sure.
‘So,’ she said, indicating the dead trees strewn across the table. ‘It’s all here. Travel documents. Joining instructions.’ She paused for the kicker. ‘Contract of employment.’
I leaped at a perceived opportunity. ‘I haven’t signed a contract.’
‘Haven’t you?’ She pushed a document across the table and I peered at it. The throbbing behind my eyes now quite bad and getting worse by the second, because there was my signature. Quite definitely mine. The clouds of alcohol grudgingly parted to make room for the airbus of memory. I had vague memories of signing an enormous number of bar bills. This must have been among them and I hadn’t noticed.
I pushed it back. ‘Signed under the influence of alcohol. And a couple of other things as well. Probably not legal.’
She pushed it back again. ‘Substance abuse these days is punishable by considerably more than a two-year gaol term, and is invariably served in institutions far less benevolent than the Time Police. The end result will be the same, however – you out of harm’s way for at least two years. Your father is graciously offering you a choice. I’ll tell him you’ve declined the Time Police and chosen the other option, shall I?’
She began to gather up the papers.
It started to dawn on me with a very nasty thud that there was no way out of this other than to do as my father . . . well, I was going to say ‘wished’, but ‘commanded’ would probably be more accurate.
I held out my hand for the documents. Could be worse, I suppose. The uniform was pretty cool and you got to shoot people. And they were based in London, so apart from showing up for work occasionally, I could just carry on as before. My dad’s not as clever as he thinks he is.
‘One other thing,’ she said. ‘During your period of service, you will receive no money other than that which you earn.’
I must have gaped like an idiot.
‘Your allowance is rescinded. Your social engagements are cancelled. All your accounts except one have been closed and that one is now empty. Your property – all your property – is confiscated. You may take with you one small suitcase. I advise you to choose wisely – the contents will have to last you two years. And now I must take my leave, Mr Parrish.’
Honour demanded I have one last try.
‘Oh, don’t go yet, Ms Steel. I thought we could spend a little time discussing things and . . .’
‘I’m a very busy woman,’ she said, clicking her case closed. ‘You are simply number three on my list of Things To Do Today, Mr Parrish. Good luck with your new career.’
And she was gone. Just like that. I know I was well hungover but surely I hadn’t lost that much of my touch.
I made a giant pot of coffee and sat down to read. There were more words there than I’d read in the last five years put together. It made my eyes ache but at the end of it there was no doubt. Like it or not, I was now a member of the Time Police.
I always knew I’d join the Time Police. I hadn’t said anything because I knew my parents wouldn’t like it. They work for the Institute of Historical Research at St Mary’s Priory and the two organisations tend to hate each other on sight. St Mary’s does work with the Time Police occasionally – although not for them, as my mother is always very keen to point out. Sometimes it ends well, although usually it doesn’t, so I was expecting all sorts of fuss when I told them.
There was a long silence and then Dad said, ‘For how long?’
‘Two years,’ I said, and they both looked so relieved that I felt compelled to add, ‘to begin with.’
‘I don’t know. Depends how it goes, I suppose.’
‘But why?’ said Mum.
‘The initial contract is always for two years. After that there’s a variety of options, ranging from . . .’
‘No, I mean why on earth would you want to join the Time Police? They have the combined intelligence of a pencil sharpener.’
I nearly said, ‘It’s my home,’ but although this was true to some extent – the Time Police had once housed and educated me – it wasn’t what Mum and Dad wanted to hear at that moment, so I told them the work interested me.
‘They shoot people,’ said my mother, waving her arms about. ‘They race up and down the timeline wearing stupid black cloaks and buggering up everything they touch. They’re a bunch of lying toerags with no principles or honour. They don’t keep their word. You can’t trust them an inch. They . . .’
Dad pulled her back down again and she subsided. ‘We agreed,’ he said mildly, ‘that Matthew should choose his own way and that whatever he decided to do with his life, we would support and encourage him.’
‘I am supporting and encouraging him,’ she said, crossly. ‘I’m just making sure he understands what a terrible mistake he’s making and that he’s aware of the true nature of the imbeciles with whom he intends to spend every moment of the next two years. Always supposing they don’t manage to kill him on his first day. Which could happen. Especially the way they go about things. Seriously, Matthew, if you want to join a bunch of mindless thugs who can’t get anything right and ruin people’s lives, why don’t you become a politician?’
‘It’s no different to the way things have been up till now,’ I said, keeping calm because one of us had to. ‘I’ve been in and out of the TPHQ for a couple of years now and you’ve been all right with that.’
‘Yes, but that was different. You could come home any time you liked. You were a sort of guest there. This is something else completely. You’ll be one of them. You’ll belong to them and they could have you doing anything. Do you honestly think you could kill someone?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said, because I didn’t. ‘I suppose there’s training for that sort of thing. I might not get through. In which case . . .’
‘Are they making you do this?’ demanded my mother. ‘Have they been putting pressure on you to join them? Because if so, then just tell me and I’ll shoot off and have a quick word with Commander Hay.’
‘No, no,’ I said, meaning no, they weren’t putting any pressure on me and no, for God’s sake, don’t shoot off and have a word with Commander Hay. Mum and Commander Hay frequently had far too many words together and the results were never happy for anyone. ‘Look, you said yourselves, you’d support any career choice I made and this is it.’
She seized at another straw. ‘But you’re too young, surely?’
‘Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? No one knows how old I am. The Time Police have chosen to believe I’ve reached the minimum age.’
‘But . . .’ she said, because she never goes down without a fight.
Dad put his hand on hers. ‘Max . . .’
‘I know,’ she said, ‘but even so . . .’
‘I was never going to come and work here,’ I said a
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