Spires Of Iron

Back with another story. This weeks, I did not notice until reviewing, sounds a lot like Gears Of War. Funny thing is it was Godzilla: King Of The Monsters which inspired it. Anyway, ignoring that aside. This is a sci-fi war-apocalypse story set on a world like Earth but not. In it humanity are losing and that is about as much as I want to say. If you want to know more you’ll have to read it! Hope you enjoy, Spires Of Iron.

Trudging over the hard ground, Sergeant Seamus Ving leads the Grand Unified Nations team known as Kilo.

If the man with a shaved head and dark eyes were to think about the fact that he is still adorned with the GUN insignia he might chuckle. You see there is nothing left of that particular coalition. It died not long after The Swell arrived.

Back then no one knew what The Swell were or where they had come from, other than to say that it was from below. That was three years ago today.

This day, today, has come to be known as A-Day or Arrival Day. One look around; a sweeping glance not only performed by Seamus but the three other members of Kilo, are all that is necessary to see why it has been issued with such a moniker. That is because towering spires of metal attached to wide cylinders still and reflective litter the skyline.

These objects are the methods through which The Swell breached the ground to emerge, plasma weapons in hand, to decimate the surface of Nari. And they have achieved exactly that.

Seamus still recalls a time when the land he is lumbering over currently used to be rich and green, covered in crops which were used to feed entire cities.

He snorts, a snarl accompanying the outburst. There are no cities anymore. They were the first things to fall. The drill transports lanced through them like a hot knife through butter; they stood no chance. Many toppled, collapsed, imploded in the aftermath. Seamus remembers it all; the screaming, the debris, the terror.

It had been bad enough when the first building fell, but with each successive disaster terror grew, spreading like a wild fire unchecked and uncontainable. Then the time had come for Seamus’ tower to begin to lean precariously.

To this day he isn’t sure how he made it out alive, many others didn’t. They had not been so lucky, and yet escaping the skyscraper had not been the end of the madness.

At ground level visibility was reduced to almost nothing. It meant you couldn’t see what chunks of concrete and steel were tumbling down from on high. For some it might have been a blessing. For Seamus, not so much, and why he has issues sleeping still.

The Sergeant, leading the widely spread single file line that is Kilo, does another sweep.

The area around them might look abandoned, still, peaceful but you can never be too sure when it comes to The Swell. The chittering bipedal armour wrapped, not clad like him with his head exposed, enemies are formidable but not invincible.

If they were invincible they would not have suffered defeats. Regrettably those setbacks have not been anywhere near as many as humanity has suffered. Yet, it seems that with each defeat The Swell suffered their numbers have not appeared to be eroded. It is something that no one understands. Largely because it should, according to rational thinking, be impossible. But those claims have generally been made by people who have never set foot on the frontlines, been embroiled in this war that is not.

There are so few humans left on Nari. A few hundred thousand at most is likely all that remains and they are scattered to the five winds. Unable to congregate for fear that amassing might make them an easy target for The Swell.

“Kilo, November and Oscar are ahead. They will reach insertion point first, do you copy?”

The four members of Kilo hear the update but it is the squads ranking officer, Lieutenant Duncan Pienaar who responds from the relatively safe position of third in the line, “Copy command. What is our deficit?”

There is a pause. It seems whoever is on the other end of the line, Seamus certainly doesn’t recognise the voice but then that isn’t surprising as their last command got taken out a few days ago. All hands believed to have been lost. Worst part is, save for the loss of precious life, no one is sure how The Swell managed it seeing as the command had been based off a ship out at sea.

A development that then and now continues to worry everyone, or would if they had the time to sit and dwell on such events. They don’t. Ops continue to be the norm. Seamus remembers a time before ops, missions, battles, war. He only joined the GUN to serve and protect his way of life. That didn’t work out. His way of life is dead, buried and forgotten.

Or at least that is how he feels as he continues to march over the uneven rubble strewn ground that looks as if it has been churned one too many times due to the over-presence of loose stones, rocks, chunks of metal, stretches of severed roots and all manner of other detritus.

“N-nine minutes Lieutenant.” Is the eventual reply that comes once the radio handler has overcome their surprise.

“Copy. We’ll be there.” Duncan says cutting the comms before a reply can be offered. Plus, it means he is able to bark, “Pick up the pace, Sergeant! I don’t wanna be late.” without anyone chattering in his ear.

The reaction from Seamus is a quick roll of his eyes executed alongside an increase in his pace. Not because he wants to but because he has little choice. You see, Duncan Pienaar is a stickler for… well everything really.

He would’ve made a good sergeant; apart from the fact that he thinks he’s a VIP. He isn’t. He’s a lieutenant, like any other in the remains of the human forces on Nari. A group who has no name and so continues to operate under the monikers and insignia they had held in the weeks before they fell.

This increased pace does not last long however as static bursts over their squad radios almost deafening them. Yet, that is not the end of the assault for over the radio someone screams, “November are down. Repeat November are down!”

“Update soldier, down how, they were en route via air, The Swell do not have air…”

Duncan never gets to finish as Swell appear from around Iron Spires which have long outlived their use for having brought The Swell from the Innerworld, as it has been dubbed. The name given because it is a world, so it has been suggested by what scientific minds remain, which resides on the other side of Nari’s outer crust. It sounds mad to hear or say it, but that is what is claimed to be the case.

Back in the moment The Swell, as Seamus would, and has come to expect, waste no time in opening fire. The four members of Kilo in response throw themselves to the ground. Pain ripples through their bodies in response, the ground unforgiving and sharp. If they were not wearing body armour their garb and skin would be shredded, but they are. Sadly, that same armour offers little protection against Swell plasma weapons. But it’s a damn sight better than nothing seeing as this armour provides maybe a thirty percent chance at survival as opposed to none without it.

“Command, Oscar here, we are under heavy fire. It looks like The Swell knew we were coming.” Lieutenant Tobin Ving, ranking officer of Oscar, blares down the radio for all squads, which totals only seven personnel now that November have seemingly been lost, to hear.

Tobin is Seamus’ older brother, by a few years. Unlike the Sergeant of Kilo, Tobin is a career soldier. He served in the GUN long before The Swell arrived. In fact he was half a world way on A-Day. He didn’t remain there though. Like many of GUN’s units, he was recalled.

Back at the time of A-Day he’d been a Sergeant too, like his younger brother is now. And only got the promotion to Lieutenant when his CO died rescuing a houseful of people who had been trapped and cornered.

From what Tobin has said when he’s told the story, The Swell seemed to be playing with their captives. It was almost as if they’d been hoping that someone would come along, find them, attempt to set them free. And his CO, Lieutenant Carmine Steele, did exactly that. Yet, The Swell still got some payback for their losses as Oscar, GUN and the remnants of humanity lost a great soldier that day; when he was pulled into a hole, never to be seen again.

Tobin had even added that the wound in his Lieutenant’s gut and the talon like blade that created it looked as though they belonged to some enormous beast of myth. If it was the creature has never been seen.

Anyway, as a result of Carmine’s demise Tobin was made Lieutenant. And though he would never admit it, he’d been just as heroic as his CO that day. The only difference was that he lived to tell the tale.

All this happened almost two years ago now and he’s lead Oscar ever since.

“Ving, that isn’t possible. The Swell are brainless…”

“If they’re so fucking brainless Dunc, then how come they’re winning?” Is the response spat down the radio by the CO of Oscar, a man who is not the sort to mince his words. Because of that he’s gotten himself into trouble more than once.

For some reason, Lieutenant Pienaar decides right now is the best time to advance. It’s why he switches off the frequency he had been on and orders, “Push forward!”

Sergeant Ving, Seamus, thinks him mad. If they advance now they’ll be walking straight into…

Without pause Duncan scrambles to his feet, from out of a crater caused by likely a bomb dropped some time in the past but there is no way of knowing for sure, and begins to sprint toward a spire of iron some ways up ahead of them.

In shock and disbelief Seamus and Corporal Farrah Kent watch the display all the time wondering what the hurry is all of a sudden.

“Shay, listen to me. I don’t know what Dunc is doing but you need to…”

The line cuts. Tobin is gone.

“Tobin, Lieutenant? Oscar come in, do you read?” There is no reply from Oscar but there is from Lieutenant Pienaar who screams, “Sergeant, advance! That is an order!”

Farrah appears at Seamus’ side and delivers an elbow to his ribs to get his attention. In a single second he affixes her with a stare. It happens just in time for her to announce, “We need to move. The Swell are circling.”

The Sergeants brain, whirring much slower than is normal, wonders if that is why his CO has so recklessly launched into a forward push. It seems likely, but regardless with time short all he can do is react.

Delivering a curt nod in response to Farrah, Seamus motions with his head that the fourth and newest member of their squad, Private Eben Frakes, follows the sergeant and corporals leads.

The fresh faced, wide eyed kid offers no refusal. In fact, he offers no response at all. Rather, he does exactly as gestured and when Seamus and Farrah break from cover, in differing directions, Eben elects to follow his sergeant.

The private has only been with Kilo for a few weeks, but if GUN still existed he would not have been given permission to serve because he’s only seventeen. Yet, in a struggle for survival minimum age requirements are a luxury, especially when your species teeters on the brink of being too few to escape the gigantic looming fist of extinction.

Unlike their CO however, the three remaining members of Kilo do not push forward nearly so recklessly. Rather, they stick to moving from one point of cover to the next cover.

They could loose off rounds as they go but it would only serve as a waste of ammo for their weapons, known as Draugr’s, have a range below that which is between them and The Swell who are now firing from two separate sides, ahead and from their left.

Plasma boils the air as it passes, but it is the shots which touch ground that have the most effect; for the superheated matter bakes, burns and blisters the hard ground turning it to glass.

Without warning Seamus stops, though he orders Eben to continue onward. Farrah is between Kilo’s sergeant and CO, providing covering fire. The Sergeant does the same from his position too.

Again, he wonders how a man that flip-flops from utter cowardice of not wanting to be the one at the head of the squad he commands because he is a ranking officer to running headlong into the enemy without thought or planning, ended up as their CO.

“Move it Sergeant, we need to get clear before…”

Duncan begins only for Eben to interject, “Lieutenant, look out! Behind you!”

The panic in the teen’s voice is evident and can mean only one thing…

Miraculously, Kilo’s CO manages to do an about. In doing so he is left staring at the wide armoured frame of a Swell with its mirror covered eyes. The presence of the lens a necessity it is believed because of the light found on the surface of Nari.

And no, you can’t pry the lens loose. It’s been tried, many a time, and has thus far never been successful.

Regardless of that, the thing reaches for Duncan, who instinctively drives the end of his Draugr assault rifle into its plated gut. Without hesitation he pulls the trigger hard a split second after. The weapon kicks, booming that distinctive roar of overly fast firing rounds. The Swell takes a half step back. The assault weapon slips as a result. The spray of bullets causes the weapon to kick up the armoured mass of a torso, smattering the helmeted head in the process. Alas, none of that prevents The Swell from raising its plasma launcher ready to…

Farrah and Eben fire their weapons at The Swell. This twin stream of metal projectiles shoves the aggressor back properly, putting it into a retreat which does not last nearly as long as either would like.

Still, it’s enough to give Duncan a chance, one he takes by driving his weapon into the weakened mid-riff of The Swell a hair before unleashing hell. The response is swift; The Swell squeals a strange strained sound. It’s the sound they emit whenever they suffer a wound.

Not willing to take the chance, Duncan kicks at the enemies’ one knee. It buckles. The Swell collapses onto its back. Then without hesitation Kilo’s Lieutenant jumps onto the downed foes chest and with the butt of his Draugr begins to bludgeon its head.

Fifteen slams bring an end to its desperate attempts to shake the human officer free, but Duncan doesn’t stop there. Rather, he keeps going and going and going. Farrah pulls him off, hurls him away and then stares him down. CO or not, Duncan is clearly out of control.

Meanwhile, Eben has joined his sergeant in laying down suppressing fire. Sadly, their efforts are not bearing much fruit. Especially, as more often than not they are being forced to blind fire unless they wish to risk losing their face to the plasma being shot in the respective directions. Neither of them do.

“What the fuck are you doing Dunc?” Farrah roars over the open comms channel for Kilo.

“Ending a fucking piece of shit Swell…” The CO delivers a kick to the still body and then continues, “What does it look like, Corporal?” The threat is clear but Farrah doesn’t care for threats.

Anyway, Lieutenant Pienaar has nothing to back them up with. Corporal Kent on the other hand is one of the toughest soldiers you could ever meet. Like Seamus’ brother, Tobin, she was a GUN long before A-Day. Apparently so was Duncan Pienaar. Though, Farrah has assured Seamus the Lieutenant wouldn’t win in a fight against anyone, not that they ever likely to come to blows.

Still, doesn’t change the fact that Farrah is not a woman to fuck with. She might be a GUN, a soldier, who follows orders but if you’re a CO who steps out of line, well she’s going to make sure you know about it.

At one time she’d been a sergeant herself but apparently her mouth got her busted back down to corporal. She’s never made attempts to remedy that since, so the story goes.

In fact, she refuses to talk about how it happened other than to say it was a thing that occurred at some point in the past.

Seamus had asked his older brother about it. If he’d known he didn’t let slip. In fact, all he’d said was that GUN had been a big place. That suggested to Kilo’s Sergeant his brother knew but didn’t feel it was his place to say anything, other than that Corporal Farrah Kent is one of the good ones, best ones actually. Those were his words. Whether he knew how telling they were or not the younger sibling could not say.

What does that matter now?

Seamus realises it doesn’t and while he should, and theoretically still could, do something about this confrontation if he does he will risk them being overrun by The Swell.

That might happen anyway!

He is fully aware. But believes that leaves him with even more reason not to abandon poor Private Frakes and have him fend off their enemies alone.

And before you ask; no, there is no chance if he ordered Farrah to stand down that she would right now. To get them to part he’ll need to physically separate them but doesn’t have the…

Eben screams and spins away. Thankfully, the teen is bright enough to shelter behind cover. Still, he is whimpers and whines while doing so.

“Soldier hit!”

The screamed response from Seamus is reflexive, not something he has to think about to do.

It’s what comes from hundreds of combat scenarios and far too many souls lost, for his liking especially.

In that moment, at the mere mention of those lost, he recalls all the faces, those that still had them. It’s not unusual for him to see them. After all, they haunt him every night, giving him nightmares. Not because he should’ve or could’ve saved them but because… He doesn’t know why to be honest.

Thankfully, Farrah being the best kind of soldier continues her stand-off no longer. Rather, she breaks it off and slides from the cover provided to her and Duncan by the tight cluster of long abandoned Swell drill transports. They are of the smaller variety. Overall dimensions unknown because no one has had the time or tools to dig one free and analyse it properly.

Yes, it might sound daft, but when you’re at war things tend to slip the net. It’s because they do not matter as much as winning, or simply surviving. And sure, if someone did they might learn more about The Swell than is currently known, but these fields are not safe, far from it.

In fact, nowhere is safe. A revelation which was made when The Swell bored straight through solid rock to topple a number of makeshift population centre camps that had been confidently setup with the belief that mountains, because of their composition, would be impenetrable. They weren’t, and that blunder, that hubris, proved almost nowhere was.

Now with November having been taken down while airbourne, following the loss of a command ship too, that seems more accurate than ever before.

Looking him over, including the seared flesh of Eben’s left arm, the corporal is mildly relieved to be able to announce, while shoving a sealant foam can’s nozzle into the wound, “It’s a flesh wound. He’ll live. His arm too.”

That is a relief for Seamus to hear. Not that it changes the fact that The Swell are closing in, fast.

What has happened to the lot that had been ahead of them during their cover to cover advance he hasn’t a clue but it seems they are no longer present. Whatever the reason might be he can, if they survive, consider such things at a later date.

Yet, Duncan has still not joined them in this fight. Rather, he has remained at the periphery. From short, quick glances it appears as though his will to fight is gone. In some other situation the sergeant might roll his eyes. But here, now, he doesn’t have that luxury.

Mercifully however, with Eben patched up Farrah joins the fray. The Private too does his best to contribute, which impresses Seamus. Sadly, it doesn’t look as though it is going to be…

A flash of motion catches the Sergeant’s eye. Instinctively he turns toward it. To his shock he finds it is Lieutenant Pienaar. His brow furrows as he goes to scream at his CO; to query what he is thinking, because it certainly doesn’t look as though he is doing it rationally. Alas, he does not get the chance for a Swell appears alongside him.

Instinctively, Seamus recoils, pivots and fires. The bullets do little to the armoured mass. A plasma launcher is levelled at his chest. He grabs for it, desperately, and somehow manages to force it away. It discharges. Superheated energy turns a section of hard ground to black charred glass. A sudden sharp upward jerk of Seamus’ knee dislodges the plasma launcher. In a heartbeat Seamus retrieves it, hears Farrah demand he collapse and complies.

The Corporal fires a burst into The Swell’s helmet. It disorientates the foe for a moment. The Sergeant takes the opportunity and with plasma launcher in hand fires at The Swell’s leg. The aggressor unleashes shrieks of pain which escapes the mass. Then it topples, a hard boom left to ring in the wake of the impact of its mass meeting with the ground. Still, it does not give in. Rather, it reaches for Seamus’ ankle, to grab hold. For its efforts it is rewarded with a single plasma shot which severs said reaching hand from the stretching arm. Another shriek follows, garbled sounds accompany. It could be these sounds are speech, there is no way of knowing and the Sergeant has no intention of waiting to find out. If he were he would not fire two more plasma shots into the injured enemies back.

The Swell never moves again and the weapon signals that it is spent.

Dumping it, Seamus reclaims his Draugr, ducks back into cover expecting his position to be bombarded at any moment, and looks in Farrah’s direction. She is continuing to fire on the encroaching foes trying to surround and overwhelm them.

There is a demand he open fire. He ignores it and turns his gaze toward Eben instead.

The Private is stood, mouth agape.

“Private, what is it?”

Without a word the youngest member of Kilo points. Luckily, he has the forethought to not extend and risk his arm. Smart kid, Seamus thinks following an invisible line from the pointing fingertip.

At the end of the invisible line the Sergeant spies Duncan, again clubbing a Swell. It is clearly dead. But it seems he hasn’t noticed…

“Lieutenant!!!” The Sergeant bellows loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the firefight.

Proof of that is when Duncan stops, raises his head and then is grabbed from behind a nano second prior to something being impaled through his gut.

In a flutter of eyelids, Seamus recalls the story of Oscar’s lost CO as told by his brother Tobin.

“NO!!” Is all the Sergeant manages before Duncan, writhing, fighting, determined, is yanked off his feet, down and out of view.

“Lieutenant down!” Are the next words out of the Sergeant’s mouth.

Yet, as true as that might be there is no time to mourn the lost CO of Kilo for The Swell continue their assault, forcing what is now a trio, the number usual for GUN squads, to collapse into the small area that the cluster of spires of iron, where Duncan and Farrah had looked ready to go at it hand-to-hand, can be found.

“What’s the plan Sarge?” Corporal Kent queries while breathing heavily.

Her brow drenched in sweat, it’s from the plasma shots which heat the air to mercilessly him temperatures, causing thin strands of brown hair to cling to her forehead.

“Fight until we can fight no more, Farrah. You know the drill.” Is the response which is issued. One that has been spoken more times than it rightly should. It’s not one Seamus likes delivering either, but what other choice is there? None is the answer as far as he is aware. They either fight, and have a chance at survival, or lie down and die. The Sergeant knows which option he prefers. He thinks Farrah will prefer it to. Especially, when you consider the presence of the burning hatred that is in her hazel eyes.

Out of respect, the Sergeants gaze flicks to Eben. He thinks the teenager too looks determined not to die here today. That means he’s a fighter. Which is a good thing in this world because fighter’s have a better chance at survival. Might only be a couple extra points but it’s better than…

“On my mark, we open fire with everything we’ve got. Eben, is that your throwing arm?” Seamus gestures toward the wounded limb.

“No Sergeant.” Is the clear, curt reply from the Private.

“Good. You know what to do then.”

That is it. There is no explanation beyond that, no mention of a plan.

A quick swap of magazines follows and then a hand gesture which demands execution.

Immediately, Farrah and Seamus break from cover, firing. The Swell are close, far closer than any of them would like.

As the corporal and sergeant unleash hell, Eben tosses shatter grenades.

A few seconds pass and then Seamus orders, “Collapse and hold your breath!”

Without hesitation or query they do exactly that. The shatter grenades go off a few short breathes after that, decimating The Swell by shattering the compounds which make up Nari’s air into their individual component parts.

The ‘explosives’ are super effective at killing Swell, but are a recent technological innovation. Because of that and the state of human civilization, the fact that there isn’t one and that they are little more than barely assembled ragtag bands, manufacturing them is difficult. In turn that means shatter grenades are limited and best used only in the most dire of circumstances.

Seamus thinks this situation they are in right here qualifies, but doesn’t dare breathe until an additional eight seconds have passed following the initial detonation.

Then having raised his head, the sergeant looks at the world around him. It looks exactly as it did, except there are no Swell anymore, at least not standing up anyway. Rather, their bodies are laid out, still, dead.

“That worked.” Eben signs more relieved than he thinks he has ever been before in all his life.

The words leave his lips while his head is pointed up toward the cloud choked sky. It looks to be threatening rain but as yet none has fallen. That isn’t unusual on Nari. The weather has always been a fickle mistress, difficult to predict and anticipate. Not that the private cares what weather might come or not for he still has his life, for which he is enormously grateful.

Sickened by the sight of The Swell, Kilo’s Sergeant heads in the direction of where he thinks he last saw Lieutenant Duncan Pienaar.

He finds nothing upon arrival, except for a hole.

There is no body, at least no human body. A dead Swell, the one Duncan had been bludgeoning past death, is splayed out but that is all.

Farrah appears at the now CO of Kilo’s side.

“What was he thinking?” She asks with a shake of her head.

“I don’t know. Not sure he did either.”

As if pre-ordained to bring an end to any further conversation on the matter, the radio breaks with static and someone announces, “Kilo, do you read? Please come in. Oscar are MIA, please Kilo, come in.”

The voice is desperate, young sounding, fearful but the words serve as a reminder. Seamus heard comms with his brother, and his squad by extension, sever. And as the new CO of Kilo he takes charge of the situation.

“Command, this is Kilo, we copy. Lieutenant Pienaar is KIA. Repeat, the Lieutenant has been…”

A steely older male voice cuts in and demands, “Who are we speaking to then soldier? Give me rank and name, on the double.”

By the sounds of things whoever is talking would have to be a major of some sort.

To be honest Seamus didn’t know there were any left. At least that weren’t hunkered down somewhere out of sight, mind and potentially danger. More cowards who don’t deserve the positions they hold.

“Sergeant Seamus Ving, sir.” Is the quick response uttered in an even tone of voice.

“Then you are acting CO of Kilo from here on out Sergeant. Mission unchanged. You are to get to the insertion point and breach. We need to know what The Swell are…”

“With all due respect sir, one squad has little chance.” There is a breath and then Seamus continues, “November have been lost, we are down one man and Oscar, what has happened to Oscar exactly?”

“Oscar are MIA, you heard the Lieutenant. I know you did because I heard them, so you must have.” The tone is short, agitated, angry.

“Sir, we need to know what happened to Oscar. Where did they go missing? They were inserting via sea so you must…”

“Negative Sergeant, I am not green lighting a rescue mission. You are to continue to your infiltration point as originally planned. We have to know if there is a way to beat…”

“No Sir.” Is the flat-out refusal given.

“You’re refusing an order from a superior officer, soldier? That is a court martial offence! Do you want to end up in a cell waiting for The Swell to get you?”

Ignoring the threat, Kilo’s now CO states, “Sir, all I want is to know where communications with Oscar were lost. I’m not asking for…”

“Yes you are Sergeant. And it’s too much. We’ve lost seven already today, I am not about to lose…”

“Contact was lost near the Flandriel Gorge, Sergeant.” The comms operative, a Lieutenant according to whoever this unnamed officer is, blurts over the line.

“Copy Lieutenant, thank you, Kilo out.” With that Seamus cuts his link to command and looks to his Corporal and Private.

“I can’t order you to go with me on this. It’s my choice. I’m not leaving Tobin, or Esmae and Xiang behind.”

“And you think I’m going to?” Farrah asks with a raised eyebrow and a disapproving look in her hazel eyes.

“I’m with you all the way Sergeant.” Comes the nervous reply from Eben who likely doesn’t realise that if they survive whatever comes next, will not face court martial.

It might sound strange but Seamus will claim he gave the Private no choice in the matter. Sure, it’s a lie, but there is no need for a teenager to rot in a cell because of someone else’s, in this case it would be his, sins. And anyway, he’s a minor, GUN can’t try him.

Nevertheless, he appreciates the gesture and offers a curt, “Thank you.” before demanding they, “Move out.”

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