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Your Worst Memory

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Everybody has one bad memory worse than any other, a traumatic moment that haunts them for the rest of their lives. This experience often grows to define their character, and drives them to compensate for what it represents. Sometimes, they may even force themselves to forget it, with varying degrees of success.

And then, no matter what they've done to suppress it, along comes something that makes them relive the moment.

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The memory counterpart to Your Worst Nightmare, this trope can occur through a number of different ways: on the simplest level, it can appear in the form of a dream, especially if the memory was traumatic enough; in more extreme cases, it can be brought back through magic, technology, or even an afterlife. In some cases, time travel may be involved. Whatever the case, the character is made to watch their worst memories play out all over again — and if they're unlucky, more than once. If they're really unlucky, forever.

For good measure, a not-uncommon twist to this trope involves someone else being invited along to this particular trip down memory lane, perhaps out of solidarity, maybe by mistake, or perhaps out of sheer sadism.

May involve a Journey to the Center of the Mind, a Mind Probe, Mind Rape, a Mind Prison, a Black Bug Room, or a Psychological Torment Zone.

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Compare and contrast My Greatest Failure, which may be a source of this trope, and Trauma Button, which can be inspired by examples of this.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga and 7th OVA of Hellsing, Seras is subjected to Mind Rape, forcing her relive her painful childhood memories, particularly when she was Forced to Watch her parents being murdered by gangsters and her mother's corpse being raped.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, a mental assault by the Fifteenth Angel, Arael, causes Asuka to relive her whole Dark and Troubled Past, which includes her mother Kyōko going mad after test-piloting EVA Unit-02, being unable to recognize Asuka, shunning her daughter in favor of a Creepy Doll, Asuka herself hearing other people talk about her and her mother's lives, her father cheating on her mother with her mother's doctor, Kyōko trying to strangle Asuka in the manga, and Asuka finding Kyōko's hanging corpse (alongside the doll) on the same day Asuka was chosen as an EVA pilot.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Kaneki holds his mother in high regard, faithfully holding on to her belief that that kind people can tolerate any pain or any wrong done to them and still be happy. However, suppressed memories from his childhood reveal that Kaneki's mother was occassionally abusive towards him and that he held deep resentment towards her after her death. This revelation is what causes him to leave his mother's way of life and starts following his own ideals.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • The crux of The Holy Terror. After exploring the Castle at length, the Doctor learns that it's actually a Prison Dimension for a single inmate: Eugene Tacitus, the court scribe. Most of the time it's a Lotus-Eater Machine to lull the prisoner's troubling memories; every few thousand years, however, a new character appears in the Castle and forces the inmate to relive his crime "in every horrific detail": the murder of his own son.
    • In Master, after finally being forced to spill the beans on "John Smith's" past, the Doctor recounts the Master's worst memory and allows John to experience it as flashback alongside the narration. Here, a young Time Lord murdered a bully to save his best friend's life: the guilt gradually transformed the murderer into the Master, the champion of Death herself, while his friend became the Doctor, his greatest opponent. However, when she later appears, Death reveals a hidden twist: it's actually the Doctor's worst memory, for he was the one who murdered the bully to save the Master; realizing that Death was going to make him her champion, the young Time Lord begged her to take the Master instead — a deal that she accepted. For good measure, she forces the Doctor to relive the incident in flashback just so he knows she isn't lying — leaving him weeping with remorse.

    Comic Books 
  • Across the Batman franchise, the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents serves as the most consistent example of this trope. Numerous works depict Batman still occasionally suffering nightmares and flashbacks when reminded of the event, while hallucinogenic substances — like Scarecrow's fear gas — may force him to relive it in detail.
  • In the Captain Britain: A Crooked World, Linda McQuillan (AKA Captain UK) is revealed to have escaped Mad Jim Jaspers' anti-superhero pogrom and is now living an ordinary life in our dimension. However, she's soon stricken by horrific nightmares of her worst memory from the world she escaped: the day her husband died at the hands of the Fury while getting her to safety. The horror is compounded when she discovers that Jaspers' counterpart in this dimension has just been elected Prime Minister... and then the Fury finds her again. Suffice it to say, this was a plot arc that spent a lot of time hammering Linda's Trauma Button.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen makes it abundantly clear that Mina's encounter with Dracula left her both physically and emotionally scarred, growing upset whenever it's brought up. However, in Century, this comes back to haunt her during a live band performance when a flock of bats are unleashed upon the audience: by this time, Mina has been unwillingly dosed with LSD by Tom Riddle and narrowly escaped possession by Oliver Haddo over the course of the trip, so she perceives the half-suffocated bats as Dracula coming to get her. Suddenly reliving the moment when she was bitten, she suffers a Freak Out! and is hospitalized.
  • One particularly infamous issue of X-Men features Emma Frost getting caught having an affair with Cyclops. Enraged, Jean Grey psychically assaults Emma at length, forcing her to relive all of her most painful memories, most prominently her failure to save the Hellions.
  • While X-23 has endured loads of pain and trauma in her young life, and it has taken years for her to come to terms with the terrible things she has done, and had done to her, it's implied her single worst memory is of being forced to kill her mother under the effects of the trigger scent. Emma Frost specifically uses this memory to torment her in an effort to drive her away from the school. It reduces The Stoic Laura to tears.
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    Fan Works 
  • In Equestrylvania, Death has the power to inflict an instantaneous Mind Rape on anyone who makes the mistake of looking upon his face, forcing them to relive their most painful memories.
  • Throughout The Land of What Might-Have-Been, visitors from Oz begin to receive the memories of their counterparts in the alternate universe, experienced as dreams and nightmares. Through this process, Dorothy eventually finds herself reliving the worst moment of her other self's life: the destruction of Kansas, the death of her family, and her agonizing transformation into the Hellion.

    Film — Animated 
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: Several Gems are stricken with Identity Amnesia, and the only way to fix it is to remind them of the significant life experiences they've forgotten. In the case of Spinel, the movie's antagonist, she has to be reminded of the worst experience of her life: being abandoned for 6,000 years in Pink Diamond's garden, and not knowing that she had been abandoned until she saw the transmission Steven made at the beginning of the movie.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • As part of the ongoing Mind Rape of the rescue team in Event Horizon, the eponymous ship summons up illusions of their most traumatic memories: Captain Miller experiences visions of an ensign he was forced to leave behind in a spaceship fire, while Dr Weir repeatedly hallucinates his dead wife — until he relives the moment she committed suicide. Everyone ends up deeply disturbed by what they witness, except for Weir, who crosses the Despair Event Horizon and tears his eyes out, before becoming a thrall of the ship.
  • In Inception, Dom Cobb has created a prison inside his mind in which he stores his most painful memories. Ariadne pays a visit, and discovers that chief among them are the scene of Mal's suicide and the moment when Dom had to leave his children to go on the run. Later in the film, as the heist grows more strenuous and his composure begins to slip, the image of his children begins to haunt Dom alongside Mal's shade, always out of reach and always with their backs turned to him.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier features this as an apparent effect of the villain's powers: Sybok has the ability to telepathically confront others with their "secret pain" and heal them of it, usually converting them to his side in the process. Bones relives the moment he was forced to take his father off life support, while Spock recalls his birth and the conflict between his human and Vulcan heritage that resulted; however, neither of them join Sybok.note  In Spock's case the effort backfires when Spock points out to Sybok that he had already made his peace with that demon.
  • Loki inflicts this on Valkyrie during their fight in Thor: Ragnarok. During the backstory, her fellow Valkyries were all wiped out in a hopeless battle against Hela, leaving the future "Scrapper 142" as an alcoholic Shell-Shocked Veteran: a little Mind Rape from Loki brings back the memory in exquisite detail, giving her an extended flashback of all her friends being slaughtered en mass, portrayed in eerie slow-motion glimpses that make it look all the more like a nightmare. For good measure, it's also implied (and later confirmed) that Valkyrie lost a lover in this fight, given her devastated reaction to a fellow soldier Taking the Bullet to save her from one of Hela's blades. However, instead of stopping her, the mind rape just pisses Valkyrie off: kicking Loki's ass, she then decides to give up the life of an outcast and join Thor.

    Literature 
  • Everworld features David being tormented by the memory of a child being molested by a counselor at summer camp, and it's believed that his failure to save the boy from rape is what drives David to be such a Heroic Wannabe. However, after spending time under Senna's influence, he relives the incident in greater detail: it turns out that David was the one being sexually assaulted, and he's been trying to make up for the shame of what was done to him.
  • In the ending of The Fractured Atlas — Five Fragments by John Connolly, the protagonist is psychically imprisoned in his memories of World War One, specifically the catastrophic battle of High Wood. Indeed, the Humanoid Abomination presiding over his sentence notes that the memory was so horrific that there honestly wasn't much more that the Not-God could do to him other than make him relive it.
  • Gerald's Game has the protagonist hearing voices in her head representing different parts of her personality. They all help her extract the painful memory of her father sexually abusing her when she was 10.
  • Harry Potter:
    • The Dementors are Emotion Eaters who suck out all joy from humans, leaving them with nothing but their worst memories. Harry, when attacked by the Dementors, hears the voices of his parents right before their murder at the hands of Voldemort.
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry view's Snape's worst memory using the Pensieve, a Memory Jar containing Snape's unwanted memories, during occlumency class. The chapter is even called "Snape's Worst Memory". The memory involves Snape being brutally bullied by Harry's father, which horrifies Harry. Later revelations in the seventh book reveal that the real reason it was his worst memory was because it was the day he lost Lily, the love of his life, for good.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In A Game of Thrones, Eddard "Ned" Stark is haunted throughout the story by his sister's death, continuously remembering a "bed of blood" and her last words to him: "Promise me, Ned." After getting his leg crushed under his horse in a street brawl with Jaime Lannister, Ned is given milk of the poppy for the pain, and experiences a dream in which he relives both Lyanna's death and the events leading up to it.
    • In A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion Lannister is haunted by the memory of killing his lover and father. Whether or not it's his worst memory, it's definitely the major drive behind his complete breakdown in that book, and he constantly hears the sound of the crossbow he used.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In "The Well", Ward touches an Asgardian staff and is forced to relive what he describes as his worst memory and the first time he felt hate — namely the moment his older brother told him to leave his little brother at the bottom of a well. May picks up the staff later and is able to handle it. When Ward asks her about it, she explains that she sees her memory every day.
  • According to American Horror Story: Coven, those damned to Hell are forced into either their worst nightmare or their worst memory, as the witches discover when they visit during their final exams: in the case of the latter, Queenie ends up working her old self-esteem-destroying job at the fried chicken restaurant, while animal-loving Misty Day is condemned to relive the dissection of a frog in biology class. Of the two, Queenie is able to leave before it's too late; Misty doesn't.
  • Farscape:
    • In "That Old Black Magic", Maldis taunts Captain Crais with a vision of the day he and his brother Tauvo were conscripted for Peacekeeper service, specifically the moment when his father entrusted him with keeping Tauvo safe. Already miserable enough on its own, the fact that Tauvo was killed in in an accident at the start of the series only makes the vision even more upsetting for Crais, fueling his hunger for vengeance against John Crichton — who he blames for the accident.
    • Zhaan's worst memory makes an appearance in "Rhapsody In Blue", deliberately shared with Crichton via her Enlightenment Superpowers: Zhaan was once the student and lover of Bitaal, spiritual leader of the Delvians. Not wanting to give up power, Bitaal and a small faction of conservative priests seized control of the planet with the aid of the Peacekeepers and instituted a reign of terror. Despite loving her tutor with all her heart, Zhaan killed Bitaal to avenge the lives he destroyed — while the two of them were sharing Unity, no less, a process that clearly left Zhaan devastated. She was immediately arrested and imprisoned by the Peacekeepers, of course, but the psychic backlash of succumbing to her darker impulses quickly drove Zhaan insane: she spent the next seventeen years in captivity as "a savage" before she was able to gradually return to her study of the Delvian Seek and regain her sense of self.
    • "The Hidden Memory" brings back Crais' worst memory when he's tortured for information by Scorpius, the memory-extracting Aurora Chair replaying the moment on a nearby screen. Already in agony, Crais spends the next few seconds screaming at Scorpius to turn the machine off — much to Scorpy's amusement. Ironically, this isn't the memory he really wants to keep hidden: as it turns out, it's the moment Crais murdered his loyal first officer to keep his dereliction of duty a secret.
    • Scorpius later subjects himself to this in "Incubator". Here, in an effort to persuade Crichton's neural clone of the threat posed by the Scarran Imperium, Scorpius shares the memories of his past as a Scarran test subject. Out of all his memories, the most prominent is the point when his "nanny" forced him to watch recorded footage of his mother being raped by a Scarran soldier — in other words, the only video footage Scorpius has of his parents. The experience of reliving it is so traumatic that the present Scorpius begins to suffer a fit, endangering his life and actually prompting genuine concern from Crichton.
    • In "Mental As Anything", D'Argo finally catches up with his wife's killer at a training camp equipped with a virtual reality machine. Macton, brother to the murdered Lo'Lann, at first appears to have the upper hand: ambushing D'Argo while he's using the simulator to overcome his rage, he gaslights him into thinking that his wife committed suicide after repeated Domestic Abuse, then traps him in his worst memory, namely his cell on Moya after he was framed for Lo'Lann's murder. However, D'Argo gets a Heroic Second Wind and turns the tables on Macton, forcing him to reveal that Lo'Lann's death was due to an accident in the middle of an argument over her marriage — though the frame-up certainly wasn't. Deciding not to kill him, D'Argo instead leaves Macton comatose and reliving his worst memory for the rest of his life: disfiguring his sister's body so that D'Argo would be blamed.
  • The Haunting of Hill House establishes that Nelly's sightings of "The Bent-Neck Lady" comprise some of the worst moments of her life, chief among them being the death of her husband courtesy of a stroke. The house brings this back in a particularly cruel way when it fools Nelly into hanging herself, then sends her ghost plummeting backwards through time: the realization that she was the Bent-Neck Lady all along is bad enough, but the sight of her husband's death repeating itself before her is even worse.
  • In Preacher, the denizens of Hell are forced to relive the worst moments of their lives for as long as they're kept in their cells: Eugene relives the moment of his crush's attempted suicide and his own facial disfigurement; the Saint of Killers repeats the day his wife and child died, then re-enacts the vengeful massacre he inflicted on the town of Ratwater; and Adolf Hitler re-experiences the moment of rejection and humiliation that first drove him to get into politics.
  • This is the main effect of the "A" pill in Maniac. While under its influence, the test subjects relive their worst memory, allowing the researchers to map out their traumas for the next stage of the treatment. Here, Annie repeats the last day she spent with her little sister Ellie, during which Annie went out of her way to hurt her feelings — right before their car veered into the path of a truck, killing Ellie. Meanwhile, Owen recalls an incident in which he suffered a psychotic episode and become convinced that a girl he had a crush on was spying on him — resulting in a public meltdown that destroyed their relationship and left Owen forever in doubt of his own sanity. In turn, the "B" and "C" stages bring back elements of these memories, but in progressively more constructive ways until Annie and Owen should finally be able to confront and overcome them... or at least that's their trajectory up until the computer in charge of the treatment starts developing personality problems of her own.
  • When Commander Sisko first meets the wormhole aliens in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he keeps repeating the worst moment of his life - the day his wife Jennifer was killed at the Battle of Wolf 359. Finally, he demands to know why they keep bringing him to that exact moment. The aliens, who have no concept of linear time, say they are not bringing him there. He is in fact bringing them to that moment, because he has never been able to move past her death.
    Sisko: I see her like this, every time I close my eyes. In the darkness, in the blink of an eye, I see her like this.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Gamekeeper", SG-1 is unexpectedly captured and placed in a virtual reality simulation by the eponymous villain, each scenario modeled off a particularly traumatic moment from a team-member's past: Jackson and Carter relive the day when Jackson's parents died in an accident, while O'Neil and Teal'c repeat a disastrous mission from O'Neil's black ops days. The Gamekeeper initially claims to be giving them a chance to correct the mistakes of the past, but in reality, he's just delaying them with a Lotus-Eater Machine to ensure that none of his captives wake up and spoil the paradise the planet has become. As such, every attempt at righting the wrongs ends in failure.
  • Westworld: To make them more lifelike, each of the hosts is implanted with a particularly intense memory that forms the cornerstone of its personality. Some of the memories are happy, but many are traumatic, such as the death of Bernard's son.

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Series:
    • As with the rest of the franchise, Batman is haunted by the death of his parents: his second dose of Scarcrow toxin in Arkham Asylum results in him regressing back to childhood and stumbling across the bodies, while Arkham VR allows the player to experience a nightmare of the event in first person.
    • However, in Arkham Knight, Batman is more driven by his fears of losing the Bat-family, and so his original worst memory appears to have been succeeded by Jason Todd's murder at the hands of the Joker (reportedly seen on tape after the fact). As such, Batman's efforts to keep Tim Drake safe at Panessa Studios results in his increasingly-unhinged mind conjuring up visions of each stage of Jason's torture, concluding with the now-branded and brainwashed prisoner being shot dead by Joker... until Batman finally caves in and locks Tim in a quarantine cell, believing that he'll be safe there. In the end, this only makes it easier for Scarecrow to kidnap him in the finale.
  • In Dead Space 2, Isaac is haunted by the death of his girlfriend Nicole, and the power of the Marker brings the memory back in the form of an illusory Nicole exactly as she was just before her suicide, even re-enacting her final moments early in the game.
  • During a visit to Korriban in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, you have the opportunity to stray into the tomb of Ludo Kressh. Much like the cave in The Empire Strikes Back, it forces the the Exile experience nightmarish visions: one involves the ex-general's memories of an infamous battle during the Mandalorian War, in which the Exile ordered allied troops to cross a minefield, killing most of them; from the dialog options, it's clear that the event still haunts the Exile. However, in this vision, you have the opportunity to either force the troops to re-enact their senseless deaths, disable the minefield one by one, or cross it yourself to save the troops.
  • The Secret World
    • Spinoff game The Park is eventually revealed to be an entire instance of this trope for Lorraine Maillard. In the aftermath of her visit to Atlantic Island Park, during which she suffered a Mind Rape and was forced by Nathaniel Winter to murder her own son, she repeats the opening lines: "in my heart and mind, I always return to Atlantic Island Park." Then, once the credits are over, you have the option of "continuing" the finished game; this, combined with your inability to leave the area on the grounds that you "still have things to do," indicates that the whole game was just Lorraine reliving the events of her visit to the park in her nightmares... and she will continue to do so for the rest of her natural life — and given the fact that she becomes effectively immortal in the main game, this may be a while.
    • In the main game, Lorraine's brushes with this trope continue in "The Seven Silences." At some point, she's set herself the task of finding seven dreams powerful enough to end her torment once and for all, and it's up to the player to follow the trail of dreams in order to find out what happened. All the dreams she experiences somehow tied back to the traumas she experienced during and after the visit to the park, but the fourth actually requires her to return to Atlantic Island Park in her nightmares and confront the monstrous inhabitants again. Just to drive in the trauma for Lorraine, there's also a vision of Callum's body there.
  • In the Mind Prison arranged for her in Saints Row IV, Shaundi is forced to witness the death of Johnny Gat all over again. Unknown to her, Johnny is actually still alive and in a Mind Prison of his own.
  • In Spec Ops: The Line, Captain Walker is left traumatized by the White Phosphorous incident, particularly the sight of the mother and child he'd burned alive during the massacre. Not only does this cause him to experience flashbacks to the incident for the rest of the game, Colonel Conrad is able to get under Walker's skin by painting the incident on canvas. And then it turns out that the Conrad you've been talking to for most of the game is nothing more than a hallucination, making the painting just another product of Walker's guilt-stricken mind.
  • World of Warcraft: Sylvanas' worst memory is undoubtedly the moment she was raised by the Lich King as a banshee and forced to raze the homeland she swore to protect, Quel'Thalas.
  • Another Code: Ashley's worst memory is her third birthday, seeing her mother get shot to death. The fact that she frequently sees this as a fuzzy nightmare doesn't help her any.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, Durkon being kicked out of his homeland without any notice or explanation was the worst day of his life. The experience left him miserable and bitter for decades until he met Roy and became friends with him. The vampire spirit controlling his body then forces him to relive that memory, using it as the basis for a Breaking Speech that leaves Durkon unable to speak back. He later inverts this, regaining control long enough to let Belkar stab his vampirized form, as Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. So badly, in fact, That he ASSIMILATES the vampire spirit!
    Durkon: Thar's na much ta explain. Ye told me b'fore tha ye are who ye are on tha worst day o' yer life. An' tha's true. Tha's 100% true. But ye know who else ye are? Ye are who ye are on the next day. Tha day ye wake up an' haf ta decide: are ye gonna make this tha new worst day o' yer life, or na? An' ye are who ye are the day after tha, which can also be yer new worst... or na. Ye are who ye are on all o' yer days. All o' em. Includin' tha worst an' tha best. Ev'ry single one counts. All tha way ta tha end.

    Western Animation 
  • Infinity Train: In "The Cat's Car", Tulip is trapped by a device that sucks her into her own memories. It's pleasant at first, but then things get increasingly distorted. Tulip realizes she's romanticizing her pleasant memories and exaggerating her bad ones, and she has to remember what really happened. This includes facing her memories of the day her parents told her they were undergoing a separation, and confronting how bad she feels for lashing out at her parents and blaming herself for their divorce.
  • Rick and Morty episode "The Rickshank Redemption" features this courtesy of a Virtual Reality Interrogation: imprisoned by the Federation, Rick is grilled for info on the physics behind his portal gun and sent back through his memories to find out how he got it to work. As it turns out, our Rick was once an unambitious family man who gave up on interdimensional physics when he saw what the other dimension-hopping Ricks across the multiverse were like, even turning down an offer of assistance from the Council of Ricks. Unfortunately, the Council retaliated by murdering his wife and daughter, leaving Rick with nothing left to do but work out the calculations in the ashes and cobble together his first portal gun. It's made abundantly clear that his present self is left absolutely devastated from re-witnessing this moment — not helped by the fact that the agent supervising the interrogation couldn't give a damn about any of it. And then subverted when it turns out that Rick faked the memory from beginning to end just so he could hack the Mind Probe and steal the supervising agent's body.
  • Twelve Forever: In "Secrets Forever", Reggie, Todd and Esther comes across a grocery store in the middle of Endless that doesn't seem to have any groceries within initially. However products with their faces on the labels start popping up and they find that anytime they they open them, it plays a embarrassing memory from their lives. Todd and Esther's aren't too bad on the first few products, but when they get to Reggie's, hers turns out to be a memory she's not keen on. Namely that on her eleventh birthday, she tried to invite her class to her party, but no one other than her mom's friend showed up. It does end up subverted in the end as, while disappointed her classmates didn't come, her mother and said friend did cheer her up.
  • World of Quest: In "The Fall Of Odyssia" two-parter, the protagonists enter the Valley Of Sorrows, in which the mist causes them to relive their worst memories. Excluding Way, we see their respective bad memories, but the episode gives most focus to Quest's bad memories, specifically from the day when he was banished by the Queen for failing to prevent the then baby Nestor's kidnapping.

    Real Life 
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, aka PTSD, is based largely on this; the sufferer essentially relives the event which caused the trauma when they're reminded of it, and enters the same state of panic. It can be triggered by something relatively mundane, (e.g. first-responders at the Pulse nightclub massacre being triggered by cell phones because of the victims' phones ringing as their loved ones tried to contact them), and sufferers often feel like they're back at the traumatic event.

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