Saturday, April 1, 2017

Checkboxes Chapter Four

So, Fucko, what are those things I have to get done today before I go to see the video game club?

First, you have to go talk to Yamiko Tori again.  Then, Takeda Fujimoto will be having some trouble finding a piece for her flute in the cafeteria.  It’ll be underneath one of the warming cabinets, but I can’t say which one due to temporal variance.

No idea what temporal variance is.  Anyway, with those instructions in mind I make my way up to the roof again, and see that Hiromi and Yamiko are still standing right there next to the fence.  I take a deep breath, then walk up to them, pulling the feather I found on Saturday from my bag, “Hey, Tori-san?”

“Yes?” She questions, looking up from the ground to meet my eyes.  She looks tired.  More tired than anyone should be able to physically become.

“I had a few questions for you, and…” I look to Hiromi, “Will you talk to me too, Hiromi-tan?”

“Of course,” Hiromi nods, lacing her fingers together and giving me a soft smile, “I’ve never had anything against you, Hako-chan, even now.  We can’t be close like we used to be, but…”

“Thank you,” I nod to her, then turn back to Yamiko, “I heard you know a lot about birds.  Do you think you could tell me,” I hold the feather out to her, “What type of bird this feather came from, Tori-san?”

“A type of bird?” Yamiko questions, then sighs and shakes her head, holding both hands to her cheeks, “No, Hako-san, I’m afraid that feather is not from any bird at all.  That feather belongs to… Me.  I’m a shinigami, summoned by the occult club of this school.  As a subset, I’m of the kind which inspired the story of barn owls being a shadow of death.  Thus, when I’m not disguised as a human, I have wings with feathers like those.”

“I see…” Thanks to what the occult club told me, I’m willing to accept that she is a demon like she says, and that Hiromi really is a ghost, “Okay, and… Hiromi-tan.  You’re like a ray of utter sunshine in this world, but everyone’s saying that you killed yourself.  That doesn’t seem…”

“It’s true,” Hiromi answers before I can even finish asking, and I take a step backward as she just maintains eye contact, still smiling, “It’s not for any reason you’d think, though, don’t worry.  The thing is… We worked together with the occult club, for this outcome.  You know how I was in the science club?  One of the others there was a demon, and she figured out that if I was to become a ghost, I’d counteract the bad luck that shinigami bring.  So… Here I am.”

“I see…” I nod, “So you gave up on your normal life… So that Tori-san could avoid hurting anybody else?” I tilt my head to the side, then step forward and hug her.  She’s kind of like a heavy fog, but that’s good enough for me, “Well, that’s just like you, isn’t it, Hiromi-tan?  Even when we were kids, you were always giving things up so other people could be happy…”

“Actually,” Hiromi pats my shoulder, then pulls away just enough to look me in the eyes again, “I didn’t do this to make Yamiko happy.  I don’t even know if she’s able to be happy… I did it to make myself happy.  The other thing about this is now… I can be with Yamiko as much as I want without worrying.  I won’t be unlucky, and we won’t be separated because demons live so much longer than humans,” She looks to Yamiko, “And if things don’t work out, well, I can always just depart.  I’ve never had any real goals of my own, so it’s not like I’m sacrificing anything.”

“I still feel like everything that happened was a result of the bad luck that followed me around,” Yamiko groaned, looking away, “Not that I’m not happy we’re together, Hiromi-chan, but I just feel bad that… It had to happen this way.”

“Hey, Tori-san,” I turn to her and hold my hands over my chest, “Please, don’t feel bad.  I’ve known Hiromi-tan for years, and I’m sure if she made a decision like this, it was something she wanted to do.”

“Well…” Yamiko shrugs, “Thank you for the reassurance, Hako-san.  I don’t know that it will do anything to change the way that I feel, but it’s kind of you to try.”

“Anytime,” I nod, “And maybe it won’t change anything now, but I’m sure when you’re ready to start moving forward, you’ll remember what I said… And it will help you then,” I offer, then look to Hiromi, “Hold on to this girl, okay?  Now that our friend groups are shifting, she’s the person you deserve, and she deserves you too.  I think that you’re really great for each other,” With this, I wave, then go back down the stairs to make my way over to the cafeteria.  As soon as I get in, just as Fucko said, there’s Takeda, crawling around and looking for the missing piece of her flute.  I approach her, then crouch down beside her.

Takeda Fujimoto
“...Hako-san?” She looks up, then waves at me with a nervous smile, “Ah… I must look a bit ridiculous right now, yes?  See, I’m looking for something.  I was going to practice a bit in here to see how the acoustics are, in case the light music club ever has to play… But, when I opened my flute case, one of the pieces fell out, and I can’t seem to find it anywhere.  You’d think a shiny, metal part of an instrument would stand out, but…”

“I see,” I nod, then take a look around, “Well, it seems weird that it would go so far, but Fujimoto-san, is there any chance it rolled under one of the warming cabinets?” I point out towards them, “I agree that it would be conspicuous if it were somewhere on the open floor.”

“Uh… Well, it was a completely round piece,” She sits back and shows me the size of it with her hands, “And only about this big, too, so it could fit under one of those.  I just didn’t think of it,” She stands back up to get closer to the cabinets, then leans down again, looking underneath.  I follow her towards the cabinets as well, but since I can’t tell a reed from a drumstick, I don’t bother looking underneath.  I’d probably mistake a cabinet’s foot for her flute part.

Instead, I look over the items in the case.  There are staff that nobody ever seems to see, who keep the cafeteria stocked until the school closes at five.  Some students here don’t get any money from family and can’t find part time jobs, so this keeps them fed.  It looks very nice, but isn’t seasoned very well, as if it was made by somebody who knows the mechanics of cooking but doesn’t have tastebuds, or at least lost the auction for the right to taste food in an episode of cutthroat kitchen taking place right here in our school.

Now that I think about it, Amai always was fond of Alton Brown, even if our grasp of the English language was a bit lacking at times when we watched shows like that.  I wouldn’t put it past her to institute a contest like that with her cooking class… It doesn’t seem Sayaka would participate in that, since she said she doesn’t tend to cook savory foods, but I think about the other members of the cooking club.  Momoko Watanabe, Umi Uchiha, Miki Hanamura, Kaoru Haruhi, and Reed Ka-Fai… Yes, that would be enough to hold the competition, even if another one of them didn’t want to.

“Ah, here it is!” Takeda snaps me out of my thoughts, holding up the piece of flute she’d lost, “You were right after all, about where it ended up,” She stands up and approaches me, “Thank you… I’d be so totally lost without any single piece of my instrument.  It’s really all I have going for me, so I’m sorry if I seemed a bit panicked over having lost it.”

“You seemed calm,” I note, tucking my hair behind my ear then adjusting a ribbon, “So if you were panicking, it didn’t show.  That’s already something else going for you!  Not to mention, you’re cute!  Everyone at this school seems to be, like, the cutest girls in Japan.  I wonder if that’s the real criteria for getting in…”

“Maybe?” Takeda giggles as she steps over to where she left her flute case and finishes assembling it with the recovered part, after wiping it down with the shirt of her uniform to get the dust off, “Hey, Hako-chan, do you wanna hear me play?”

“Could I really?” I ask, clasping my hands together as I step closer to her, “I’d love to, if you wanted to play for me.”

“Of course,” She finishes the assembly, then holds up her instrument, “You know, most people are modest when it comes to something like this, but I don’t think that’s the right way to go about talents.  If you have something you’re good at, sharing it makes you seem like you’re boasting, but if everyone started showing off, then it wouldn’t seem pretentious anymore, right?”

“Huh, I guess you’re right about that,” I nod, then sit down on one of the cafeteria tables, swinging my feet, “Do you think there’s people who belong at Korekara, who just never got an invite because they don’t share their talents with the world?”

“...No, I don’t think so,” Takeda lifts her flute to her lips, “After all, they know things about us which nobody else does.  It’s a school for girls who are not just talented, but troubled too.  Even if we’ve never told anyone about our problems… The talent scouts knew,” She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, then begins to play.  It’s mesmerizing, and I can see why she was invited here.  She’s seriously great.

When she’s done playing, she holds her flute in front of herself, and giggles a bit as she takes a bow, then looks to me for reassurance.  I give her a thumbs up before speaking, “That was amazing!  Thank you for letting me hear it!”

“Of course,” She nods, but then frowns as she holds her flute at her side, “But being that good at the flute, it’s impressive of course, but it’s not as if it’s a unique ability.  Flautists are in no short supply.  If it were just that, then maybe I’d have gone to the other school which invited me.  An orchestra school,” She holds her flute out in front of herself, tilting it to watch the fluorescent lights glint off of it, “But Korekara invited me too, and you know what they say.  If you get out of this place alive, you can do anything.”

“Who says that?” I ask, having never heard this statement before.  Is this what Fucko means about saving them all?  Is it really so common for people to die here?  I mean, Hiromi did, but it seems odd that it wouldn’t be a rare occurrence.

“Lots of people,” Takeda shrugs, looking away, “It gets covered up, of course, and since the school is run by sponsors rather than the government, there’s nothing to be done about any rumors.  I don’t even know how much is truth behind it, if there’s something that happens here or if it’s just because we’re… not normal people.  I mean, the alumni seem happy enough, so it can’t be like a killing game or anything.”

“A killing game?” I give her an incredulous look, “Fujimoto-san, I think you’ve been watching a little bit too much anime lately!  Nothing like that could exist in real life.”

“Ah, yeah, I guess I’m just being silly,” She shrugs, then looks down at her fingers, “Oh, so I remembered that, huh?  Where’d that trivia come from?”

“Remembered?” I ask, tilting my head to the side and furrowing my brow, “Fujimoto-san?”

“You can call me Takeda for now, if you like,” Her smile is bittersweet, “It’s not like I’ll remember it tomorrow, anyway.  See, I suffer from a condition where my brain can’t form cohesive memories.  I can pretend to be a functional human being, but… Where most people can think back and see scenes from their past, I don’t get that,” She lifts a hand to her cheek, “And that’s why it’s impressive to a school like this, that I can play the flute so well.  I somehow held the muscle memory for it… I couldn’t tell you what a single note means on sheet music, but if I look at it with a flute in my hands, I can play it anyway,” She chuckles as she looks at me, “But please, don’t feel bad for me.  I have this one talent, anyway, so that makes up for any suffering I may encounter.”

“You may feel that way, but… What about friends?” I question, frowning, “You said you wouldn’t remember me calling you by your first name, tomorrow…”

“That’s just something I have to deal with,” She rubs her arm, “But it’s not like I’m completely friendless.  Everyone in the light music club is so nice to me, and I remember things about them from time to time… Haruka-chan always fills in the blanks for me, where she can,” She pauses, then her smile turns a little happier, “Ah, I remembered Haruka-chan there, see?”

This is pathetic.

Don’t be rude.

“Well, how about this?  It seems like you remember things only when they’re relevant,” I reach into my bookbag and find my bag of rubber bands, then hold out a pink one, which matches her hair, “So why don’t you start collecting things like this?  If you wear this rubber band on your finger, you’ll wonder where you got it, and then you’ll remember that you got it from me.  I bet, if it works, then it will work for all sorts of other things too!”

“I don’t know, Hako-chan,” Takeda holds up her hand and looks at the rubber band, “I’ve tried a lot of different memory tricks, and none of them have worked before…”

“Well, keep trying!  Maybe this one will work and maybe it won’t, but something is bound to help you out eventually!” I insist, but then take a step back, “Unless you don’t want to, of course.  If you’re okay with forgetting things, I don’t want it to seem like I’m forcing pity on you.”

“No,” She sighs, shaking her head, “You’re right… It really is a pain, forgetting things all the time,” She takes another, closer look at the rubber band I gave her, “But… maybe you’re right with this idea.  Box-chan.  Can I call you that?”

“Of course you can,” I nod, then reach out and grab her hand again, “Anytime.”

“Thank you,” She nods, then puts her flute back in the case, “Well, I should be getting back to my dorm before I forget the address again, but I hope that I can see you again.  Have you thought about maybe joining the light music club?  I think somebody said you haven’t joined one, maybe…”

“That’s right, I didn’t join a club during signups because I was trying to decide if I’d stay in cooking club like last year, even though I was bad at it.  I ended up taking an aide position instead, though, to avoid the complicated paperwork of joining a closed club,” I chuckle, “I guess that was a little lazy of me, but I like working in the infirmary.”

“How nice,” She nods, “We needed somebody in the infirmary who was actually pleasant to be around… An angel, of sorts.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to call me that!  I don’t think I’ll be treating anyone’s injuries, anyway.  I’m basically just an intern for the doctor, but she’s not as scary as she seems!” I explain, “Oh, right, you needed to get going, right?”

“Going where?” She asks, then blinks and realizes, “Right, my dorm!  Well, I’ll see you around, Box-chan!” With this, she dashes off, leaving me alone in the cafeteria.  So I think at first, until someone else steps out into view.

Kaoru Haruhi
“Hello, Hako-san,” She greets me, putting her hands in her pocket and biting her bottom lip, “I’m Kaoru Haruhi, and I’d like to talk to you about the seven mysteries of Korekara Academy.”

“Seven mysteries?” I ask, looking up at the ceiling and wondering if it’s okay for me to spend any more time before going to the video game club.

More than okay.  Triggering this flag with Kaoru this early always leads to good things, seeing as she’s emotionally distant.

“Yes, seven mysteries.  Now, the nature of the seven mysteries is that they change as time goes on and the student body, as well as the faculty, changes.  I’ve solved five of the seven mysteries, so if you can solve them too, then we’ll work together on solving the final two,” She explains, cutting right to the chase, “Do you need me to tell you what the mysteries are?”

“I’m no detective, so I probably should hear the mysteries to know why you think that I should be involved…” I recognize Kaoru as a member in the cooking club; she’s not very social, and usually just bakes a lot of cookies, so Amai says.  She’s a first year, so I wouldn’t personally know.

“Right,” She nods, “Tch.  Well, the current seven mysteries of Korekara Academy.  The mystery of the infirmary disappearances… The mystery of the Kaguya sisters… The mystery of the barn owl who shows up in the janitor closet every night… The mystery of the rose-smelling dumpster… The mystery of the calligraphic confession.  These are the five mysteries which I’ve solved.  The two mysteries I haven’t solved…” She sighs, “One is the enduring mystery.  Why is it considered such a feat to graduate this school without dying?  The other is a new one.  Who caused Box Hako’s hospitalization.”

“N-Nobody did!” I lie, “It was an illness-”

“Yeah, nobody believes that,” She gives me a hard stare, “But I won’t ask you to explain yourself.  Just… prove you’re interested by solving those five mysteries first.”

“Oh!  Okay, well, I know two of them already,” I chuckle, “They mustn’t be that mysterious if I can find them out just by getting to know people.  The infirmary disappearances aren’t real, it was a rumor started by Yuu-senpai to make people think she was in peril working there.  The barn owl is actually Yamiko Tori.”

“Huh, I’m impressed.  I guess talking to people is a good way to debunk myths like that too…” She nods, then turns on her heel, “I’m a first year, so you know where to find me when you figure out more of them.  Thank you for your cooperation.”

With that, she’s gone, and now I’m alone in the cafeteria.  Not for long, though!  Not because anybody else shows up, but because I finally leave the room.  As I make my way to the video game club room, I think about those mysteries that Kaoru listed off.  I don’t know anything about a ‘calligraphic confession’ in the first place, but I do know what she meant about the Kaguya sisters.  At the beginning of this year, twin third years named Nami and Tomoe Kaguya vanished without a trace, and all the faculty of the school, when asked, said that there were never students with those names… It’s really freaky.  Maybe they were ghosts too, like Hiromi?

Well, I guess that I’ll be finding out eventually, if I keep following Fucko’s instructions.  I’ve already learned so much about my peers, and it’s only been a few days.  The pressure should be crushing me, but really, I find that I’m just enjoying myself.  It’s nice to make new friends and help people.  Well, I arrive at the video game club, and knock on the door.  Midori opens it.

Aoi Okano
“Ah, Hako-chan!” She greets me with a smile, “I’m glad you made it!  Come on in, nobody’s started any streams or anything yet, so I might be able to convince them to introduce themselves to you… Uh, let’s start with my sister,” She waves me towards a first year I haven’t met before, “Aoi!  This is Box Hako!  She’s trying to make friends with everyone in the school.”

“Why would you do that?” Aoi asks, looking me over, then stands up and holds out a hand, which I shake, “Anyway, I’m Aoi Okano!  Speedrunning is my calling, both onscreen and off.  By which I mean I do parkour.”

“I know why you’d wanna!” Somebody else I’ve never met joins in, and I assume that she’s another first year, since I’m bound to be familiar with everyone in my year and the year above me by now, “You’re going after an irl achievement, right Ha-kun?  Befriending everyone in your school, that’s a big one!  I bet it’s a top rarity one!  Diamond tier!”

“Ehhh…” I can’t help but give her a weird look, “What are you talking about…?”

“Oh right, sorry!” She shakes her hands out, then gives me double peace signs, “I’m Yumiko Tachibana, and I’m a completionist!  Everyone in this club has got some sort of gaming specialty, and mine is scoring achievements!  I’m so good at getting achievements that I got to beta test an Assis-co device that registers achievements accomplished irl.  I assumed you had one too, to decide to do something so challenging!”

Yumiko Tachibana
“No, I’m afraid not,” I shake my head, then realize I can actually use this to my advantage, “I have a different Assis-co beta.  It’s not for achievements, but it’s kind of a walkthrough for life and stuff.”

“Oh wow, that’s cool!” Yumiko nods, then looks back to Aoi, who’s already buried herself in a game, “Aoi-chan isn’t very social, you know.  I mean, I guess I’m not either, but I can be social given the chance!  By the way, I’m a third year,” She turns to look around the club room, “I don’t know if our club president,” She points to a girl who’s wearing a tiara for some reason, “Will want to, she barely talks to any of us as it is.  But the mobile gamers might!” She grabs my wrist and drags me over to a corner where two students are staring at their phones, one vertical and one horizontal, “Hey!  Mayucchi, Narahashi-kun!”

“What do you want?” The one with the horizontal phone alignment doesn’t look up at all as she says this, and I actually recognize her.  She’s in my class, and always has headphones on; Makoto Narahashi.

“Oh no!  Super sorry Narahashi-kun!” Yumiko clutches her chest melodramatically, “Did I screw up your combo?”

Makoto Narahashi
“It takes more than that to distract me from my combo, and just talking to me wouldn’t even make me screw up on deresute, let alone SIF.  I’m playing the rock Maki score match right now,” She answers, continuing to tap the screen, “So talk away, I guess.”

“We can wait,” Yumiko shrugs, then turns her attention to Mayu, “So what are you up to, Mayucchi?”

“I’m playing the dgf event,” She shrugs, looking up, “But that’s just tapping without any meaning or effort, so I can definitely chat if you want,” She gives me a smile, “Hi there!  You’re in the other second year class, right?  I’m Mayu Wang.  It’s nice to meet you!”

“Are you a transfer student?” I ask, noting that her last name isn’t Japanese, then give a nervous chuckle, “I mean, nice to meet you too!  I’m Box Hako.”

“No, I’m not,” She shakes her head with a small giggle, “My dad’s from China, that’s all!  I get that a lot, though, so please don’t feel bad!”

“Right,” I nod, then step over to take a look at her phone, “So what’s this game you’re playing?”

Mayu Wang
“It’s called Dream Girlfriend!” She answers, then taps the ‘home’ button and shows me what is apparently her dream girlfriend, “It’s just a silly little game where you do lots of different things to get outfits and such to dress her up in!  I have one who’s based on Nozomi Toujou, and one named Tsukki who I just dress however!  You can get up to four when you level up, but I haven’t been playing long enough...”

This club is, hands down, the nerdiest group of people I’ve ever met, and I haven’t even talked to every member yet.  I can, however, pretend to care about this weird game, “Oh, that’s adorable!  But, isn’t Tsukki usually a name for a boy?”

“I know, right?” Mayu grins, then goes back to the game, and her grin turns into a frown, “As for Tsukki, well, I named her after a friend of mine, that’s why…”

“Okay, I finished that score match,” Makoto shuts her phone off and puts it in her pocket as she butts into the conversation, voice a little louder than it should be, as if she’s eager to change the subject, “So, Hako-san, you’re trying to befriend everyone in the school…?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I nod, “That’s my goal, anyway!  I’m not really good at anything except making friends, so…”

“I see,” Makoto nods, then narrows her eyes and gives me a smirk, “Well, then I have a challenge for you to earn my friendship…”

“A challenge?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.  First Kaoru, and now Makoto?  What’s with people giving me quests today?

“Yes, a challenge,” She nods, then leans in close to me, “You’ll be my best friend if you can set me up with my waifu, Sachiko.  Now I’m not talking about the Sachiko in Deresute, or the N rarity Sachiko in SIF.  I’m talking about Sachiko Ryuunosuke, who I have never talked to but who I am in love with.”

“That’s kind of creepy,” I blurt.

“It’s not creepy at all,” Makoto shakes her head, “Haven’t you ever had a crush you’ve never spoken to?  She’s beautiful… And I feel like we would get along.  You don’t have to get us to date.  You just have to help me meet her.  Please.”

“I guess that’s less creepy,” I shrug, then look over across the room to see the club president.  Even without Fucko saying anything to me, I feel like I have to talk to her.  Even if she doesn’t want to talk…  Without another word to Mayu or Makoto, I wander over in her direction, then speak once I’m standing next to her, “Hello?”

Shizuka Inbo
“What do you want?” She asks without looking away from her computer, frowning, “This club isn’t for socialization, you know.  It’s just somewhere to go to play games instead of just going straight home.”

“That may be the case, but I want to talk to you anyway,” I shrug, pulling over a chair to sit down next to her, “Inbo-san, right?  I’ve seen that reality show about your family.”

“You have?  Well then, I guess you know that I’m barely associated with them,” Shizuka sighs, squinting closer at her game, “So…”

“I don’t think so,” I shake my head, “I mean… It’s easy to get that impression, but I think there’s something else going on.  That’s what I thought when I watched it, anyway.  Sorry if I’m mistaken,” I shrug, then lean closer to her, “You are close to them, aren’t you?  There’s another reason you were in barely any scenes during the show’s run.”

“You’re fuckin’ nosy,” Shizuka scoffs, “There’s nothing other than what’s on the surface.  Even if there was, I wouldn’t tell you about it here.”

“Okay then,” I stand back up and hold out a hand, “Tell me about it outside.”

“Hold your horses Hako-senpai,” She shakes her head, “I have to get to a safe spot where I can pause, first.  My specialty is running games without saving.”

“Okay,” I agree, though I can’t imagine that this specialty of hers is very fun.  I may not play a lot of games, but I do know that if you never save, you’ll have to do everything over again from the start, and that must just be tedious, “I’ll meet you out behind the school?”

“Yeah, whatever,” She doesn’t sound like she’s actually going to come meet me, but I decide I’ll go wait out behind the school anyway, just in case she changes her mind.  When I arrive in the area, there’s a familiar smell; a rosey perfume.  This must be the rose scented dumpster, but it’s more familiar than that; I smelled it just last night.  This is the perfume that Sakazaki Yuu wears, and I realize that I’ve just solved the mystery of the rose-scented dumpster.  I’m shocked that I didn’t make the connection earlier, if I’m being honest.  Well, I’m sure the other mysteries won’t be quite as easy to figure out.  While I’m contemplating this, I hear footsteps, and turn to see that Shizuka has actually come to find me.

“Inbo-san,” I turn to see her, wide-eyed, “I didn’t think you’d actually come.”

“You didn’t think I would, but you waited here for me anyway,” Shizuka mutters, and looks away, “That’s just the type of person you are, huh?”

“Yeah,” I nod, then smile at her, “You get along really well with your family, don’t you?”

“I do,” She nods, then crosses her arms, “How did you figure that out?”

“Most people forget about season one, I think, since it’s never been rerun,” I shrug, holding a finger to my chin, “You were in that one a lot, and your family was always nice and supportive of your gaming hobby.  It seems weird to me that you’d have a big falling out between then and season two… So was it something to do with the show itself?  Did the crew not like you?”

“No, I didn’t like the crew,” She shrugs, looking away, “And you’ve probably figured that out too.”

“I haven’t,” I shake my head, and lean back against the wall of the school, “Whatever happened between you and the TV crew… I won’t pry, because you don’t know me.  I didn’t want to try and console you, because I’m not in the same world as you, not in any way.  I don’t play video games, and I’ve never been rich or famous, and we probably wouldn’t get along if we tried… But there are people in that club of yours who will listen, and who you’ll be able to trust.  I just wanted to tell you that… You should try to do that, okay?”

“...Okay,” She nods, and walks away.

Next Chapter ->

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