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Nerd in Evil's Helmet

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Target: [thought bubble] Her eyes... so lifeless. Her cybernetic augmentations have robbed her of her soul. Emotionless. Hollow. She's the perfect killer.
Space Dread: [thought bubble] I'm glad that it's raining and nobody can tell that I'm crying over a broken laptop right now.
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This villain comes across as really imposing, and they probably have real power to back it up. However, they are really nerdy underneath.

They are trying to hide it, behind a tough façade. So it's a big surprise when the nerd is revealed. This surprise can come to other characters, the audience or both.

The classical façade to hide behind is a literal helmet. But it can be something else.

Nerds are not always wimps. Not a total one at least. However, the villain might exploit such stereotypes and pull a Wounded Gazelle Gambit or similar after his nerdy side has been revealed, even if he actually is a badass.

For a genuinely intelligent villain see Evil Genius. Can be the same kind of dissonance as Villains Out Shopping. Compare and contrast with Evil Nerd — this trope is when a villain's nerdy nature is juxtaposed with their menacing demeanor, while an Evil Nerd's nerdiness is the foundation for their evil.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Jagi from Fist of the North Star, in spite of all his violent actions and Awesome Ego, boils down to a Paper Tiger who was jealous that his vastly stronger younger brother Kenshrio became the successor Hokuto Shinken. Also, despite boasting of his strength, Jagi cheats all the time and uses Kenshrio's reputation to intimidate people, and beneath his Cool Helmet, he's just a disfigured loser.
  • The Major, the Big Bad of Hellsing, has been described by the mangaka as an "otaku", and he is a stereotypical fat, bespectacled geek. Despite being absolutely obsessed and in love with war, he's personally pathetically useless at combat — at one point he opens fire on a minion who failed at point-blank range with at least five guns attached to his chair... and misses.
  • Emperor Pilaf from Dragon Ball is almost a Harmless Villain — while he acts as if he is king of the world all because of his "toys" (mech-suits and torture chambers), in reality he's a tiny Manchild in over his head and is terrified of genuine evil such as Piccolo. Pilaf was even horrified when Bulma assumed he would molest her when she was captured.
  • Ratchet from One Piece Movie 7, unlike the other villains who are usually powerhouses, is a scrawny Spoiled Brat who wants world domination and besides his mecha suits is barely a threat to the Straw Hats. It's telling that after Luffy beats him, Rachet is literally scolded by his mother.

    Fanfiction 
  • Darth Vulcan, from The Rise of Darth Vulcan, was a full-core cosplaying, roleplaying, comic book fan geek, who abandoned all his fandoms and deliberately began roleplaying as a "cool kid"/jerk in order to survive high school. Then he found the Alicorn Amulet and everything went downhill from there...
  • The fan-made Revenge of the Sith parody "Star Wars: A Lost Hope" plays up Anakin Skywalker's childlike personality from the prequels. The first scene has Palpatine putting Darth Vader into his iconic armor, only to have Vader/Anakin immediately pull off the helmet and shout, "This helmet is totally chaffing my eyebrows! I swear!". Later, there is a fight between Vader and Mace Windu where Windu breaks Vader's prop lightsaber, to which Vader/Anakin complains, "You swing too hard, ass! I swear!".
  • Lonnie Machin a.k.a. Anarky in Batman: Anarchy for All is simultaneously this trope and its inversion "Evil in a Nerd's Helmet". The persona Lonnie uses for his hacktivism broadcasts is an imposing and eloquent man in a mask, when he's really a fourteen year-old geek with a cute chiptune ringtone. When they're revealed as one and the same, however, the fact a high schooler with Parental Neglect issues and an obsession with Batman is behind Anarky's terrorism only makes him scarier.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Incredibles: Syndrome starts out as a superhero fanboy, then ascends to supervillain after being (sort of) rejected by his idol. Syndrome is more of an inversion — Evil in a Nerd's Helmet. He is clearly a Psychopathic Manchild with a serious Lack of Empathy who's even willing to murder children without batting an eyelid, and there is little to indicate that, beneath it all, he was all that much different when he was a kid (e.g. he doesn't seem to notice or care when one of his stunts nearly causes a train crash). Most important and scarily, though, Syndrome thinks he is the hero, when he actually just has a very, very bad case of Heroism Addict and is willing to kill dozens of heroes and endanger thousands of lives because he is a Glory Hound.
  • Tempest Shadow from My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) is the hardened and violent second hand of the warlord Storm King. While she's legitimately dangerous as the Princesses found out, behind her ruthless and cynical image is a candy-colored unicorn who never grew up past losing her horn and friends. It turns out her real name is Fizzlepop Berrytwist, making her a Nerd with Evil's Alias.
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    Film — Live-Action 
  • DC Extended Universe: Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn't the Magnificent Bastard of the comics, but rather an obsessive rich dweeb who feels worthless with a person like Superman around and convinces himself that Supes is the Dark Messiah and needs to be killed by "The Bat". Worse still, this Lex creates a Monstrous Humanoid just so he can kill Superman without even considering what's going to happen to everyone once Supes is killed and the monster left unchallenged. By the time of Justice League, he seems to have changed and gained more composure in addition to now being bald.
  • 8mm has "Machine", a sadistic killer in a leather mask. When the mask comes off, he's shown to be very schlubby looking and produces a pair of glasses to finish the ensemble. This is very much Played for Drama, as it shows how a mild-mannered looking guy (who doesn't even have a Freudian Excuse) can be such a bastard.
  • Before the final confrontation of Kill Bill, David Carradine's eponymous villain shoots his attacker with a dart loaded with truth serum, then confesses that he got the idea from comic books and launches into some Conversational Troping about superheroes. Elle Driver, played by Daryl Hannah, also shows shades of this when she kills someone with a black mamba hidden in a suitcase full of money and proceeds to gush about how dangerous the snake is in a monologue that she wrote down beforehand in a little notebook!
  • Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be threatening when he wants, but otherwise he's a shrimpy, bookish, Big Bad Wannabe Momma's Boy who just wants recognition and worship after living in his brother Thor's shadow for so long. Even when armed with a powerful scepter and army, Thor sees through Loki immediately and questions who controls "the would-be king", much to Loki's fury. Thor: Ragnarok takes this even further as when Loki gets his wish of ruling Asgard (in the guise of Odin), he builds a statue of himself and orchestrates a play about his "heroics" which he watches while eating grapes and drinking wine on a couch.
  • Donald Pierce in Logan is a ruthless Psycho for Hire who also happens to be a fan of Wolverine and the comics he was featured in.
    Donald: [sheepishly] By the way, I'm a fan.
  • In Machete Kills, Luther Voz is one of the few villains who can fight on par with Machete. He's also a guy totally obsessed with Star Wars and Star Trek, and at the climax of the film, he fights Machete with a bat'leth.
  • Lyutsifer Safin in No Time to Die has an oddly dorky and hesitant manner in most interactions with other people, and is capable of restrainedly nerding out in his obsession with poisonous plants. This doesn't prevent him from being one of the most dangerous James Bond villains ever, since he manages to cause the deaths of both Ernst Stavro Blofeld and James Bond himself.
  • Ogre in the Revenge of the Nerds series is revealed to be this at the end of the second movie. Then, at the end of the third film, Stan (who led the Jerk Jock fraternity in the first film) does a Heel–Face Turn and reveals that he is a Closet Geek, too, dropping the evil scheme he was bullied into trying.
  • In Spaceballs, Rick Moranis gives us the unforgettable Darth Vader Expy Dark Helmet, as seen in the trope image. The surprise comes to the audience only, since his staff already knew him (and pretend they don't know he's playing with dolls).
  • Symbiote Peter Parker of Spider-Man 3 infamy. Like in the comics, the Venom symbiote enhances Spider-Man's powers at the cost of increased aggression. However, this movie's interpretation of "increased aggression" is a dorky nerd's conception of machismo suave. Instead of coming off as the cool anti-hero you'd expect, the audience is treated to Peter getting an emo hair makeover, spouting awkward one-liners, and goofily dancing in the street while women pass him by in disgust. However, this doesn't stop him from having legitimate accomplishments such as exposing a plagiarist, getting "the staff job, double the money" from his boss, and besting his Rival Turned Evil Harry Osborn in a Curb-Stomp Battle. For all these reasons, "Bully Maguire" has become a meme. Venom had a similar effect on Eddie Brock, the aforementioned plagiarist. Instead of the badass Anti-Hero fans of the comics and animated series were accustomed to, this incarnation of Venom remained a petulant Card-Carrying Villain manchild incapable of accepting responsibility and who does himself in by being unwilling to give up the symbiote like a drug when Peter blows it up. Director Sam Raimi didn't like Venom, and it shows.
  • Star Wars: Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens publicly dresses and acts like Darth Vader, but underneath that helmet is a pale, gangly guy who doesn't look threatening in the least. Moreover, in private, he shows a fanboyish obsession with Vader (which explains his fashion choices) and behaves like an angsty teenager. Saturday Night Live had a field day with this ("Star Wars Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base"), as did the "Emo Kylo Ren" page on Twitter. (Emo Kylo Ren even has a self-demonstrating character page on this very wiki now!) In The Last Jedi, he starts moving out of the shadow of his influences, but is still very dorky. Note, however, that his nerdiness does not make him any less dangerous.

    Literature 
  • In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the "technology kid" acts tough, and does a lot of things which should be intimidating, but are so clearly rehearsed other characters can see it and find it kind of pitiful.
  • Transformers: Cybertron: The textstory "Force of Habit" had Hardtop, top Decepticon sniper, and comic book collector. He collects comics from Earth and other organic planets. While he insists on calling them Graphic Novels, he's quite open about his habits, and quite particular about not letting them get damaged. At the end of the story, all the Cons are marooned on a planet waiting for rescue, Hardtop lets all of the other Decepticons read his comics, but continues to insist that they be careful with them.
  • Inverted in The Supervillainy Saga as, despite his intimidating attire, everyone assumes Merciless is a dorky everyman within five minutes of meeting him. Then he proceeds to trash much-much more powerful villains than himself and often leave a large trail of bodies behind him.
  • Vampiros do Rio Douro: Sétimo is the strongest and most dangerous of the Seven, a group of vampires with demonic powers granted by Satan himself, and among his brothers (who can easily take on the army by themselves), he is spoken of in complete and total dread, with them calling him "the devil on Earth" and "evil incarnate", and considering how evil themselves they are, that is saying something. Sétimo is later revealed to look like a teenage boy who is a total dork with technology, which even the protagonists find jarring how can someone so unimposing could be terrifyingly evil.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kamen Rider Build: Night Rogue created a cool name for himself and lounges in a ridiculously tacky chair when observing the work of his underlings. In his free time, he eats sweets, sings karaoke and dresses up in atrocious outfits. He is also the sociopathic leader of the terrorist organization Faust, which conducts (sometimes lethal) experiments on human subjects.
  • Kamen Rider Zi-O: Time Jacker Heure made up many of the most creative and terrible Another Riders in the story like a zombie apocalypse, an unkillable mirror monster, puppeteered corpses and stinkin' Kuroto Dan. Enjoying the mayhem his creations cause doesn't change anything about the fact he is the "diet evil" to his sociopathic co-villains and keeps on failing to impress them. In the end, he is nothing more than a deeply disturbed child with a need for approval from the wrong sort of people.
  • Kamen Rider Revice: Julio/Tamaki Go is an efficient Dumb Muscle for an anarchist cult and has indulged in wanton cruelty a plenty. Without the cult's influence, he is actually harmless, painfully nerdy kid who plays card games and wears stupidly big glasses.
  • Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger: Stacy/Stacaesar's failure to kill Kaito/Zenkaiser is definitely not for lack of trying on his part. Noone dares to understate the danger he poses, but noone deings to give him the respect such a threat should have either. This is largely because a hammy, baby faced Jerkass Woobie like him realistically has the intimidation factor of a chihuahua and throwing in the habits of a petty, ice cream loving Manchild does not help his case either.
  • The Saturday Night Live sketch mentioned in the Film section above ("Star Wars Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base") riffs on Kylo Ren's dorkiness in The Force Awakens.

    Music 
  • From Devin Townsend's Ziltoid concept album: "But, Captain Spectacular has seen through Ziltoid's façade and now sets out to expose Ziltoid for what he really is...a nerd."

    Video Games 
  • In Max Payne 2, Max has to escort gangster boss Vinnie Gognitti, who has a bomb strapped to his head. Vinnie suggests that they head back to his place, where Max discovers that he has a room full of merchandise from the popular Saturday Morning Cartoon, Captain Baseball-bat Boy. (Funnily enough, he's actually right about that.)
    Vinnie: What? I'm a collector! There's nothin' nerdy about it, I'm a collector! Lots of tough guys are into this stuff!
  • Vergil (yes that Vergil) from Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening is unmistakably threatening and powerful. However, Vergil's nasally voice , his overly regal coat, his insistence of carrying his katana everywhere he goes like a cosplaying weeb and the fact (unlike Dante) Vergil tries way too hard to emulate his father Sparda invokes this trope. It's more blatant during Vergil's Villainous Breakdown, as when Arkham and Dante point how Vergil for all his power will never be as strong as his father, Vergil becomes extremely petulant and angry. The special edition also shows that Vergil is a bookworm in its opening scene.
  • Zant, the Evil Sorcerer who nearly conquers Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, is a tall figure dressed in black robes with a creepy chameleon-shaped helmet. But once he removes the scary helmet, you see why he usually keeps it on — he's no more imposing than your average Twili, and a Psychopathic Manchild to boot.
  • The Big Bad from Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault hides his real face behind a mask to keep it hidden that he's the Qwark Fanboy from a side mission in Going Commando.
  • Albert Wesker from Resident Evil, while very strong, evil and genuinely scary at times, is still at the end of the day just a scientist Drunk with Power. It's more apparent in RE5, as Wesker's sneaky plans give way to world domination and purging the weak from mankind to save the environment. Chris Redfield, sick of Wesker's insane beliefs, points out how ridiculous he is in a Shut Up, Hannibal! moment.
    Chris: Do you take all your plans from comic book villains?
  • Hyness from Kirby Star Allies is revealed to be this after his hood falls off, where he's revealed to be some sort of creature with bulging eyes and a massive nose. In a fashion suspiciously similar to that of Zant, above, his personality certainly doesn't help him in this case, as he's flailing wildly, ranting and generally being so hyper you'd think he just did a pound of meth. None of this stops him from being the leader of an Apocalypse Cult seeking to summon an Eldritch Abomination to cause the end of the world. At this point he starts using the other members of his cult as bludgeoning weapons and living shields. In context, his face comes off as more of an Uncanny Valley thing than even remotely humorous, and his frantic flailing really helps sell just how deeply insane Hyness really is, exactly the kind of person who might genuinely believe that summoning Void Termina is a good idea.
  • On first impressions, Remilia Scarlet, the Scarlet Devil, is a dark, sinister, yet aristocratically elegant vampire mistress of immense power and influence. Give her long enough though, and she'll reveal herself as a bratty Chuunibyou trying way too hard to act like a dark mistress of the night that just happens to actually be an immensely powerful centuries old vampire.

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • General Tarquin in The Order of the Stick. The surprise came to the readers as well as the characters. Despite being a ruthless tyrant and Chessmaster, he's also just as drama-obsessed as his do-gooder, Cloudcuckoolander son Elan. Given the nature of the world they live in, this only makes him more dangerous.
  • Dark Smoke Puncher from The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. After seeing how his parents practically disowned his older brother for pursuing a medical degree, Sean McNinja took on a wannabe-gangsta persona and his current name to hide his intelligence and interest in robotics.
  • Krakow brings us Kia's father, an intimidating man in a red cloak with glowing red eyes and horns. Under the hood, he's a standard businessman and Bumbling Dad with glasses... and horns.
  • Homestuck: Both Vriska Serket and Eridan Ampora are dedicated FLARPers — though in Alternia, mutually advantageous teamwork in Fatal Live Action Roleplaying leads to the both of them racking up a pretty impressive death count.
  • The Glass Scientists has a new, interesting take on Edward Hyde. In the original book, Dr. Jekyll was so obsessed with maintaining the image of a proper British gentleman that he invented the potion that made him into Hyde so he could go out into the night to visit strip clubs, gamble, and generally cut loose. In the webcomic, Jekyll still cares deeply about his reputation and Hyde still spends the nights with debauchery (with an even more fluid sexuality), but Jekyll's pride shines out as Hyde's Small Name, Big Ego. He's a Card-Carrying Villain, but he's always wishing that he could be more intimidating.
    Rachel Pidgley: Oh, it's just you, Master Hyde! For a moment there I thought that I was in real danger!
    Hyde: Who says you're not? What could a little maid like you know of my dark ocean of depravity?
    Rachel: [giggles]
    Hyde: There is no giggling in the depravity ocean!
  • Space Dread of Val and Isaac is a feared intergalactic mercenary with cybernetic modifications and dark magical powers. She spends most of her time playing video games and quietly worrying about what her friends think of her on jobs. Her alias comes from an old MMO character, and her Badass Longcoat started life as a cosplay, which she made herself and had to do a job in when she realized she forgot about a job at a convention.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Not-Tengu is an international fugitive cult leader who uses mind-control magic on his victims and is introduced as an imposing monster, but he apparently spends a lot of time online, discussing magic with people who don't know he has magical abilities. He also criticizes Charlotte's web forum for its inadequate selection of smilies and late notifications about new posts.

    Western Animation 
  • The first episodes of Bonkers deal with the Collector, a toon with a creepy mishmash appearance. He collects other toons by sealing them in plastic with a device called "the Laminator". However, when his glove is ripped off, it turns out he has five fingers instead of four, and when his mask comes off afterward, he is fully outed as a geeky-looking human (though the fact that he's animated in the same style as the rest of the show makes it hard to tell).
  • Played with in an episode of Garfield and Friends featuring the Masked Mauler, a pro wrestler so bloodthirsty that nobody will wrestle him because he never follows the scripts. When he ropes Jon into a match against him, Garfield saves Jon by discovering that the Masked Mauler is allergic to cat hair, making him sneeze so hard that his mask flies off, revealing his "nerdy" face. But he doesn't act like a nerd, so...note 
  • Dark Vegan on Johnny Test comes off as a parody of this.
  • Elmer Fudd in What's Opera, Doc?, wearing a magic helmet instead of his usual hunter cap.
    • Likewise, one of the New Looney Toons shorts in the The Looney Tunes Show invokes this and is a music video of Daffy Duck imagining himself as an all-powerful Evil Sorceror, although in that case it's more nerd fantasizing himself in evil's helmet.
  • An episode of Cow and Chicken had this. The new bully in town turned out to be a wimpy kid in an inflatable suit. (Along with everyone else.)
  • Similar to the Cow and Chicken example, one episode of Johnny Bravo has Johnny accidentally replacing the captain of a Star Trek-esque ship, where he ends up encountering and making an enemy of a hulking, menacing galactic warlord, who facially resembles Carl, and is implied to be some sort of genetic ancestor to said character. When Johnny meets him in battle on a nearby planet, the warlord removes his armor... and is revealed to be just as weak and wimpy as his earthly descendant underneath.
  • Father in Codename: Kids Next Door wears glasses and suspenders underneath the black silhouette suit generated by his powers, but still manages to be intimidating without it considering that he could be Burning with Anger at a moment's notice.
  • Two instances in My Life as a Teenage Robot: in "This Time with Feeling", Jenny battles a knockoff named Himcules voiced by Bruce Campbell who also happens to be a sexist Politically Incorrect Villain that grows stronger from others' pain. After beating the robot to a pulp (because she had installed a robot nerve system that was accidentally switched to feeling excruciating pain), Jenny switches to "tickle" and reduces Himcules to a "90-pound weakling" when Jenny and the town's laughter drains his power. In "Ear No Evil", Jenny (who had enormously large robotic ears installed to impress a group of Rich Bitches but only caused her intense humiliation) battles the "Lancer", a large imposing knight who steals everything in the city. After destroying his armor and weapons, Lancer is revealed to be a tiny elf-like man with ears comically larger than Jenny's.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Prince Zuko is genuinely handsome (despite his prominent scar) and skilled at fighting, giving orders, and anything that doesn't involve casual social interaction. But sit down and have a conversation with the guy and you'll discover his dorky side pretty quickly. He does join the good guys in the third season, but he remains at least as dorky.
    • Zuko's sister Azula is a frighteningly competent Magnificent Bitch, but when she tries to act normal, she fails spectacularly.
  • Hunter/Golden Guard from The Owl House is a formidable fighter and imposing right hand to Emperor Belos. When he removed the bird-like mask of the Golden Guard, many were disappointed to see that he is a scrawny, pale teen with Idiot Hair forelock sticking out above his face. Even worse for him, at least two characters have independently called his voice annoying. A forbidden interest in wild magic, lack of social skills and sheltered upbringing make for a decent rival to prince Zuko (mentioned above).
  • South Park
  • Xanatos from Gargoyles has shades of this trope.
    Xanatos: It's alive, ALIVE! You know, I Always Wanted to Say That.
    • The whole reason he's involved in the plot is because he believed a magical story he read in a thousand-year-old book. Of course he's a nerd at heart.
    • And when he finally gets Elisa and Co. stuck in a genuine Death Trap, he casually asks, "It's my first real stab at clichéd villainy. How am I doing so far?".
  • Obligatory example from The Simpsons: in "Treehouse of Horror X", the second segment takes this trope to its logical extreme by having Comic Book Guy turn into a literal superhero-comicbook-esque supervillain, The Collector, whose main gimmick is based on collecting people.
  • Lord Dominator from Wander over Yonder. When her helmet's faceplate is down and her armor is up, she looks and sounds like a fairly typical Galactic Conquerer. Underneath, however, is an excitable Green-Skinned Space Babe who'll gush over her how cool her latest villainous acts were as soon as she's alone. However, the trope is played with in that Lord Dominator is still a complete sociopath, even when she's in private.
    • Lord Hater himself starts out as a prime specimen of this: his electrokinesis and his imposing Evil Overlord persona hide the fact that he's a socially-awkward, overly-emotional Psychopathic Manchild who is easily distracted, struggles to talk to women and plays action figure games with his equally-dweeby Dragon as they plan out their conquest of the week. Thanks to his obsession with besting Wander, he's suffered in-universe Villain Decay by Season 2 and everyone's very aware of what he's really like.
    • Speaking of Hater's Dragon, Commander Peepers defines Evil Nerd and even gets his Proud to Be a Geek speech in when he's bullied in classic style by rival evildoer Emperor Awesome.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: The episode "Beware The Grey Ghost" features this trope. A mysterious bomber has been destroying buildings using remote-controlled cars which Batman recognizes as props from the long-lost TV series The Grey Ghost, and enlists the help of actor Simon Trent (famously voiced by Adam West), who played the main character. After a good deal of drama, Trent realizes that only one man can be the Mad Bomber: the nerdy comic store owner who bought his old show memorabilia. When Batman and Trent corners him, he reveals himself to be obsessed with toys to the point of psychosis, and the only reason he's been extorting Gotham is to buy more toys.
  • The Dominator from the fifth season of Samurai Jack looks like an imposing and powerful robot at first, but moments before his defeat, is unmasked and revealed to be an incredibly ugly and unimpressive man wearing Powered Armor. Aside from that, though, he's a Sadist who Would Hurt a Child and acts really creepy and perverted towards Ashi, making him undeniably far more evil than nerdy.
  • Season 2 of The Owl House introduces the Golden Guard, a mysterious if quirky masked enforcer for Emperor Belos. Turns out the mask is very important for him because in reality he's a baby-faced teenager who the grunts of the Emperor's Coven don't even recognize when unmasked.

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