Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Davies.
This story may not be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of it may be made for private use only and must include all copyright notices, warnings and acknowledgements.
This story depicts a loving relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
A DATE TO REMEMBER
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Ellie gazed up at the rusting metal structure towering 40 feet above her then at the four massive, reinforced concrete legs supporting it. "We must be nuts!"
"Hey, spending Halloween aboard Shivering Sands wasn't my idea!" Leigh tied off the rope mooring the motor boat and tested it. It held.
"I didn't say it was." Anxious green eyes glanced back at her. "Is it safe?"
She shrugged and gestured at the other towers (only six remained - a ship had collided with one in the 1960s, apparently). "It's the best of the bunch. They're all pretty run down - what can you expect after over fifty years of neglect?" She tried to imagine the WW2 fort when narrow walkways had connected its seven towers. "I'm more concerned about the weather. The sea's calm now, but if the forecast for the Thames Estuary is wrong...."
A seagull's raucous scream made the little blonde wince. "I'm not sure I like this. It looks scary."
Leigh moved the sleeping bags, camping stove, and other items into the stern. "Isn't that the point?"
Ellie had been sitting with her friends in The Bandstand, the trendy pub on Herne Bay's sea front, and Leigh had, as usual, been loitering nearby, trying to pluck up the courage to ask out the pretty hairdresser with the green eyes, when someone produced a copy of the latest Things to Do in Herne Bay.
It had, of course, included an article about the sea forts designed to defend London from German bombers flying up the Thames. 'Curious angular forms on the horizon', the guide called them. Leigh thought they looked like H.G. Wells' Martian tripods.
"Hey, listen to this," said Ellie, holding up the pamphlet. "Apparently you should see the forts because they're 'Great for scaring you silly.'" She laughed.
"Bet they'd be even scarier at Halloween," giggled Verity. The redhead, who worked with Ellie in the salon, had drunk too much cider. "Perhaps we should all go. What do you say, Zoe?"
Leigh glanced at Zoe, a brunette who favoured the panda-eyed look. Zoe yawned ostentatiously. "Sounds boring."
"What about you, Ellie?" asked Verity.
Ellie looked doubtful. "It's £24 each. And those boat trips don't let you actually land on the forts themselves, you know. You just get to sail round them and take photos."
Verity shrugged. "It was only an idea."
"I've been on one of the forts," said Leigh, regretting her impulse to speak when Zoe and Verity turned their "What? Are you still here?" gazes on her.
Ellie looked interested though. "Which one?"
"Ooh! Now there's a spooky name." Ellie's fair eyebrows drew together. "But how did you get there if the boats wonít drop you off?"
"I've got my own motor boat," explained Leigh, flushing.
"Typical diesel dyke," muttered Verity. Zoe stifled a laugh behind one hand; her crimson nails made it look as if she'd just clawed something to death.
Ellie ignored her friends. "Really? Where do you go in it?"
"Where I want." Leigh shrugged. "Use it for fishing mostly." At the word 'fishing', Zoe exchanged a rolled-eye glance with Verity.
"So you could take me out to the sea fort in it?" persisted Ellie.
Leigh considered. "Only if the weather was good. It can get pretty rough that far out."
Then Ellie had changed the conversation, and Leigh supposed that was that. Until three days ago, when the little hairdresser had sought Leigh out at the Garage, making her drop a wrench on her foot in surprise. (God only knows what Verity would have said if she'd seen Leigh up to her elbows in axle grease.)
Ellie had come straight to the point. "It's Halloween on Wednesday. Can we spend the night on Shivering Sands?"
Leigh had wiped her hands on a rag while she caught her breath. "Who's 'we'."
"You and me."
"Not Verity and Zoe?"
Ellie raised an eyebrow. "No, just us."
Leigh examined the proposal from all angles. Was it a trick question?
Ellie tapped her foot pointedly. "Well, can we? Yes or no."
"Well, all right," said Leigh slowly. "If the weather's okay...." She trailed off, mesmerised by the smile Ellie turned on her.
"Good. That's settled then. I've booked Wednesday afternoon off work. Let me know what time you want me."
What time? Right now and right here. "Um," managed Leigh.
Ellie had walked off, the little bounce in her step and sway in her hips making Leigh's eye glaze over and the saliva gather in her mouth. She'd probably have been standing there still, fantasising, if her boss hadn't come out of the office and thrown a heavy work glove at her....
"The point?" Ellie put her hands on her hips. "I was after the 'spooky' kind of scary, Leigh, not the 'risking life and limb' kind!"
"It'll be fine. I was here a couple of years ago. It was safe then."
Ellie looked at the rusting ladder hanging down above the bobbing boat. It was just out of reach. "And how am I supposed to climb up?"
Leigh lifted the smaller woman easily, waiting until her grip on the bottom rung was secure, then placing a hand on the shapely backside those tight blue jeans showed off to perfection and giving her a boost.
"Hey!" An indignant voice floated down to her. "No groping."
Leigh pursed her lips. As far as she was concerned, groping, and hopefully kissing and cuddling too, was the point of the exercise. This was the first time she'd managed to get Ellie all to herself and she was damned if she was going to waste it.
She passed one of the sleeping bags up to Ellie's outstretched hand, then jumped up and grabbed hold of the bottom rung herself. It took them two careful trips up the ladder (several rungs were missing) to get the supplies aboard.
Leigh dropped the heavy gunnysack, full of tins and a tin opener, on the floor with a thunk, and watched Ellie taking in their surroundings. The hangar-like space inside the tower had been partitioned into rooms, some just big enough to hold a bunk bed and a chair. Pity the furniture had been removed decades ago, she thought. Sleeping bags on a hard floor would be much less comfortable. Still, as long as she was cuddled up with Ellie....
"God, how appalling!" Ellie grimaced. "Imagine being cooped up in here for any length of time."
"Yeah. Must have got really noisy when the weather was rough." Today the sea was calm; even so, the ocean swell was making the metal structure flex, and each time it did so, it gave off an eerie creak or faint groan. Perfect sound effects for Halloween.
"I thought there was supposed to be a Pirate Radio Station here in the 60s," said Ellie, her tone disappointed. "Where are all the turntables and transmitters and stuff?"
"The pirates probably took all their equipment with them when they left."
Leigh stuck her head inside the door to one of the tiny rooms. A naked wire protruded from the ceiling.
"Did we bring any lightbulbs?" asked Ellie over her shoulder.
"No point; no power. I've brought a lantern." There was a torch in the motor boat, but she'd thought the flickering lantern light would create a suitably scary mood, yet also, if all went to plan after that, a romantic one.
The window was broken and a draught was whistling through it. Scratch that. Leigh went to look for a warmer room where they could bed down for the night. The next one contained an antique - a faded Senior Service cigarette packet. Leigh kicked it and sent it skittering across the floor, then she noticed that the window was smashed, and moved on.
Aha. "This'll do," she announced.
Ellie had followed on her heels and now she peered in. "What's special about it? Looks like all the others. Small and empty."
"The window's intact. Unless you like sleeping in draughts?"
They carried their things into the room, and Leigh laid out the two sleeping bags side by side, then assembled the little stove and unpacked the tins. She also got the lantern and matches ready for when night fell.
Ellie watched her, arms folded. "I can think of better picnic spots," she said wryly.
"Not with this view," said Leigh.
Ellie crossed to the window and rubbed a sleeve over the grimy glass. "All I can see is sea. Which way's the Kent coast?"
"South." Ellie looked none the wiser. "Seven miles in the opposite direction," Leigh clarified. "You have to go up top." She straightened and held out a hand. "Come on?"
After a moment, Ellie took it.
Leigh led her up the stairs to the next storey, then guided her up another rusting ladder (taking the opportunity to ogle that magnificent backside up close and personal again) and clambered through what used to be a trapdoor out onto the tower's deck. There, she 'casually' took Ellie's hand in hers again, and was pleased not to be shaken off. So far, so good.
The sun was setting, tinting the sky with hints of primrose, salmon-pink, and coral. She led Ellie past the broken and rusted stump of an anti-aircraft gun towards the parapet. Oddly, considering how far from land they were, grasses and tall weeds grew there in profusion, forcing their way between the cracked concrete and metal deck plates. The seeds must have got here via seagull droppings, she supposed.
She pointed. "That's the view."
It was lucky Ellie wasn't any shorter. The parapet came up to her chin as it was. But that didn't matter. She shaded her eyes. "Wow!" She stared first at the sunset, then at the Kent coastline silhouetted on the horizon.
"It's even better when it's really dark," said Leigh. "You can see the shore lights then."
They stood hand in hand staring at the view, strands of brunette and blonde hair wafting gently in the breeze. To Leigh's relief, the silence was a comfortable one, broken only by the waves lapping the fort's legs 60 feet below them, the tolling of a distant buoy, and the weird creaking and groaning of the fort itself.
"So," said Ellie, after a while. "You've been here before?"
Leigh nodded. She watched as the sun finally slipped below the horizon and night clouds began to gather.
"Who did you bring that time?"
She gave Ellie a puzzled glance. "No one. Why?"
"Just wondered." Ellie gave a smile, like the cat that had got the cream, and gripped her hand more firmly. Leigh's world reordered itself sharply as she realised a startling fact: she was the one being seduced. Ooh!
The temperature had begun to drop sharply, and she positioned herself behind Ellie, who had complained of feeling cold. She wrapped her arms round the smaller woman and inhaled the expensive smelling fragrance of her shampoo. Probably gets a staff discount from the salon. "Is that better?"
She pushed strands of fair hair aside, revealing a tempting expanse of neck, then bent her head and began to nibble.
"That tickles!" said Ellie. Then moments later, "Did I tell you to stop?" Leigh laughed and gently chewed on an earlobe.
Five minutes later, it was getting too cold on the deck even for the usually warm-blooded Leigh, so, grumbling a little at having to interrupt their first serious necking session, they retreated inside.
"I'll make us something to eat," said Leigh. "That'll warm us up." She had lit the lantern, and now by its flickering light she examined the labels on the tins. "Coffee, frankfurters, and beans do you? And warm beer for afters?"
Ellie stretched extravagantly, then leaned back against the wall. "Great."
They had placed the two sleeping bags on top of one another - the double thickness of the fabric made the hard floor more bearable - and were sitting side by side, their legs pressed together along their length. Leigh could feel the warmth of Ellie's skin through her jeans and was reluctant to relinquish it, but she had to while she prepared their meal.
Kneeling, she lit the little calor gas stove and poured some water from the canteen into a metal cup. While that was heating, she opened the tins and emptied the contents into another metal container. She became aware Ellie was studying her and looked up.
"Your eyes are stunning."
Leigh blinked. "Thanks," she said awkwardly. "But they're just your average blue eyes. Yours, on the other hand...."
"Uh uh?" Ellie shook her head in disagreement. Then she smiled. "Why didn't you ask me out, Leigh? I kept waiting for you to ask, but you never did."
Leigh hoped her blush was invisible in the dim light. "I could never seem to get you on your own. Zoe and Verity stick to you like leeches."
Teeth gleamed as Ellie smiled. "For a diesel dyke, you're pretty shy."
"Don't call me that." Leigh bent her head to her task of pouring hot water onto instant coffee. She unstoppered the little bottle she had filled earlier. "Milk?"
"Please... Well, you must admit, you're always tinkering with engines of one sort or another."
"I work at a garage!"
Ellie laughed. "I know. I'm just winding you up." She yawned. "Besides, I like diesel dykes."
Leigh sighed and shook her head. She was going to have to get used to being teased, she supposed. "Here." She handed Ellie her coffee. The other woman took it and sipped quietly.
Leigh lifted her own cup and gazed over the rim of it at Ellie as she drank. Ellie wrinkled her nose at her, making her smile and spill coffee down the front of her T-shirt.
"Shit!" She mopped ineffectually at it with a tissue, then realised that the Frankfurters and beans were threatening to boil over. Rescuing the food just in time, she doled out equal portions. "Sorry it's not Cordon Bleu." She settled herself beside Ellie on the sleeping bags and began to eat.
Ellie shrugged and dug in her spoon. "It's a picnic," she said.
When they'd finished, Leigh cracked open a couple of cans of lager and they made themselves more comfortable. She sat with her back against the wall, and Ellie eased herself backwards between Leigh's legs and leaned against her.
Leigh put her arms round the small woman. "This is nice."
After a moment spent simply inhaling the scent of skin and shampoo, she resumed her nibbling of Ellie's neck.
Leigh was enjoying sucking an earlobe when Ellie said, "So. It's Halloween and we're all alone on this weird place in the middle of the Estuary. Are we going to tell one another ghost stories?"
She groaned. "Do we have to?"
Ellie's tone was firm. "Yes."
Disentangling herself from Leigh's clinging embrace, Ellie began to make the room more 'spooky' - this involved draping over the lantern a green chiffon scarf she had brought specially for the purpose. The green light wasn't actually very scary, but Leigh kept that thought to herself.
For the next hour, they told each other scary tales. The room seemed to be infested with ghostly hitchhikers who vanished while the car was still moving, tragic women in black wailing for their lost lovers, and terrifying Elder Gods (Leigh's contribution - she had been reading an H.P. Lovecraft paperback while she waited for Ellie to turn up at the slipway).
The smaller woman insisted on acting out her tales, with melodramatic gestures and expressions, and Leigh found herself more amused than scared. She, however, succeeded in making Ellie shudder several times, especially when she confided in a spooky voice that the WW2 soldiers used to call these sea forts "floating coffins... bwa ha ha."
At last, when all the lager was drained dry and Ellie's voice had dwindled to a husk, they decided they had observed the traditions enough. It was also getting cold, so they zipped the two sleeping bags together, crawled inside, and snuggled close.
After that, it seemed only natural that they should resume what they had been doing earlier. Soon, the sound of the waves and the buoy were joined by gasps and moans and quivering sighs that had nothing whatsoever to do with ghosts....
When Leigh came up for air, she noticed that something about the little room had changed. How odd!
She reached out a hand and swiped it through the oddly transparent bunk bed that had appeared next to the far wall, then she chuckled. Must be all that lager, or maybe just lack of oxygen - Ellie had one hell of a liplock, she'd discovered. She took a deep breath, exhaled, then blinked... and frowned. The apparition was still there.
"Mmmm?" came a dreamy voice.
She glanced at the woman sprawled under her. "Ellie. Take a look at this. Can you see what I can?"
"What?" With a longsuffering groan, Ellie sat up. Leigh pointed and Ellie's eyebrows shot up. "Is that a bunk bed?"
"Looks like it, doesn't it?" Leigh reached over and pulled the chiffon scarf off the lantern. It was a relief to be rid of the green glow. But though the light was brighter, the phenomenon remained. In fact, if anything, the bed was becoming clearer by the minute.
Ellie squinted. "It's as though another room is overlapping this one," she said. "Look." She pointed at the wall above the bed, and Leigh saw that a pin-up poster had appeared. The model was wearing an old-fashioned bathing costume. Her legs seemed to go on forever.
She'd watched her share of black-and-white war movies. The woman in the poster seemed familiar. "Isn't that Betty Gable.... No, Grable?"
Ellie shrugged. "Before my time." Leigh poked her in the ribs. "Hey!"
Something was hovering at the edge of her hearing. Music of some kind. She listened intently.
"What is it?" asked Ellie.
"Shhhhh!" Leigh screened out the creaking and groaning of metal, and the tolling of the buoy. Surely those were saxophones, trumpets, trombones.... Big Band music! And if she wasn't mistaken, the vaguely familiar tune - which was getting louder by the second - was one of her grandmother's favourites: 'In the Mood'.
"That sounds like Glenn Miller!" said Ellie. "What's going on?"
"I donít know, but I intend to find out." Reluctantly, Leigh slid her long legs out of their cosy nest and into the cold night air.
"You're letting the draught in!"
"Sorry." She pulled up her jeans, which due to their earlier activities had ended up around her ankles, slid her feet into trainers, and headed out the door.
On the threshold, she stopped dead. She had expected darkness but the space that hadn't been partitioned off into smaller rooms was now lit by dim bulbs dangling from the ceiling.
The dilapidated interior of the fort had been overlaid with a busy common room. Young men in brown WW2 army battle dress were sitting at utilitarian chairs and tables, smoking and drinking and playing cards. There was also a low buzz of conversation, but though she strained to hear, she couldn't make out the words. 'In the Mood' was coming from an old-fashioned radio in the corner of the room.
A hand in the small of her back shoved her forward. "Why are you blocking the-" Ellie stopped beside her as she took in the scene. "Oh my God!"
"It's the 1940s!" whispered Leigh.
"We've gone back in time?"
"No. We're here and they're there, but we're... as you said earlier, overlapping somehow."
"Can they see us too?"
Leigh bit her lip. That hadn't occurred to her. Gingerly she waved her hand at a young private with red hair and freckles. He looked right through her. She let out her breath. "No."
Abruptly an alarm sounded, faint but unmistakable, and the soldiers looked up, their expressions reflecting a mixture of anxiety and excitement. Leigh sensed movement behind her and turned Ö just in time to see a soldier, wearing a tin helmet and gripping a rifle, running straight towards her.
She flinched as he ran right through her. "God!"
"Are you all right?" Ellie gripped her biceps so hard Leigh knew she'd have bruises there later.
"I think so." She made a show of patting herself to check, giving her pulse time to slow. "He didn't hurt me, it just felt really 'odd' for a second."
All around them now, soldiers were running, grabbing their battered tin helmets and the rifles that had been propped against the walls, and heading for the stairs.
"Come on," said Leigh, impulsively grabbing Ellie's arm. "They must be going up top."
"Hang on. It'll be freezing up there," chided Ellie, dashing back to fetch their jackets. She was wearing hers when she returned carrying Leigh's.
"Thanks." She was just finishing doing up the zip when Ellie put a hand on her arm. "Look at him. Isn't he dashing?"
Leigh glanced up just as another ghostly soldier brushed past them, making the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Static electricity, or something else? His Clark Gable moustache and short back-and-sides made him look older than he was, and his hard hat was at such a jaunty angle it would be almost useless against shrapnel. Leigh smiled at the young man's vanity and wondered, if this had happened in the past, whether he had survived and was now a whiskery old gent who loved to bore his grandchildren rigid with tales of what he did in the war. For a moment, she watched him stride towards the stairs, then she exchanged a glance with the waiting Ellie, nodded, and followed him.
Climbing the ladder to the deck was more fraught than it had been, as Leigh discovered the hard way when she reached for a ghostly rung and her hand passed right through it. Finally, though, she was climbing through the exit hatch, and turning to pull Ellie up after her.
They turned to take stock of their surroundings. A ghostly outline overlaid the familiar outline of the tower. As her brain tried to make sense of the overlapping images, Leigh felt slightly nauseous. She could still see the tall weeds growing in the parapets, the rust flakes on the deck, but she could also see ghostly walkways connecting the seven towers to one another. Seven! The lost one had been restored. As for the distorted chunk of metal that was all that remained of the anti-aircraft gun, it still existed, but the gun was also simultaneously in pristine condition.
Around the gun clustered a group of soldiers. Leigh watched them unloading shells from crates and feeding them into the gun's breech. They worked with precise, economical movements, as though they had done this many times before. And all the while, a man in a tin helmet with sergeant's stripes on his sleeve was scanning the sky with his binoculars.
"That alarm must mean they're expecting trouble," said Ellie. She glanced up at the brilliant full moon then frowned. "Shouldn't there be two moons? Ours and theirs?"
"Maybe the effect doesn't reach that far."
Just then, Ellie caught sight of the distant lights of Herne Bay. "Wow. I see what you meant about the view."
"Yeah." Leigh was distractedly groping for a fragment of memory. "I think they used to call this kind of moon a Bomber's Moon. Which means -"
She stopped as the sergeant put down his binoculars and bawled something, his lips moving but his words barely audible to them. The soldiers loading the shells jumped back and clasped their hands over their ears. Then the gun's angle of elevation increased sharply, and it began to swing round, as though tracking something in the night sky.
"Uh oh!" muttered Ellie. "I think they're going to-"
The gun barrel jerked, and a rapid stream of ghostly shells blasted skywards. Fortunately, the sound of their passing was muffled, like all the other sounds of over fifty years ago.
The two women stared up at the night sky, open-mouthed. They could see the shellbursts easily, but without binoculars they couldn't make out the German bomber that was presumably up there.
Leigh hugged Ellie to her. "I can't believe this is happening!"
They became engrossed in the events unfolding around them, and Leigh mastered the impulse to step back whenever a soldier hurried towards her. At one point, the men cheered and clapped one another on the back.
"They must have downed one," said Ellie.
But the jubilation was short-lived and soon the anti-aircraft gun had resumed its endless pumping of shells into the night sky.
Leigh had no idea how much time had passed when the outlines of the men started to become hazy. She glanced down at her watch: Midnight. The faint sounds of gunfire stopped abruptly.
"They've gone!" said Ellie simultaneously.
She glanced up. The moon shone brightly on rust and waving grasses, and the ghostly walkways had vanished as though they had never been. She walked across to the mangled stump that had once been the anti-aircraft gun and patted it approvingly. "Good job," she whispered.
Ellie joined her and snuggled into her arms for warmth. "Show's over." She sounded disappointed.
"Looks like it." Leigh stroked Ellie's hair and thought about what had just happened, absently aware of the waves lapping at the tower's supports and the distant tolling of the buoy.
They waited half an hour longer just to be sure it was indeed all over, then, yawning widely, Leigh suggested they retrace their steps inside.
Back in the little room that they had commandeered, which was once more minus the ghostly bunk bed and pin-up poster, they stripped off their jackets and crawled once again into the double sleeping bag.
Leigh held Ellie close until they were both as warm as toast. "Remember," she whispered in a shell-like ear, "we have to be up early to catch the tide."
The little blonde simply grunted, turned over, and burrowed into her chest.
"Well," said Ellie, as Leigh cast off the mooring rope and reached for the outboard motor in the stern. "That was different."
Leigh tugged on the starter cord, then, when nothing happened, tugged again. The motor burst satisfyingly into life, and she steered the boat slowly away from the fort.
"What? Halloween or our first date?" she said, increasing speed when they reached clear water.
"Both." Ellie made herself comfortable on the wooden seat facing Leigh. Shading her eyes against the reflected morning sunlight, she shifted her gaze between Leigh and the receding tower.
"'Different'. Is that a good thing?"
Ellie grinned. "What do you think?"
Leigh smiled back at her.
"Of course, Verity and Zoe are never going to believe me when I tell them what happened."
"Then donít tell them."
"Oh, I have to," said Ellie firmly. "That's what friends do."
"What will you say, that it was scary?"
"Not scary, more..." her gaze turned inwards as she searched for the word, "gobsmacking."
Leigh laughed. "Gobsmacking?"
Ellie exaggeratedly smacked her lips and gave her a lascivious grin. "Definitely."
Leigh blushed and looked at her hands until she had her libido under control again. "I was talking about the soldiers."
"Oh, they were gobsmacking too, but in a different way."
Leigh nodded. Earlier, while waiting for a sleepy Ellie to wake up, she had been thinking hard about what happened. "I think it was a psychic recording."
"A playback of an event that occurred during the war. It probably happens whenever the conditions are just right."
Ellie looked doubtful.
"That kind of thing happens elsewhere too," continued Leigh. "That's how I know about it. There's a place in York that regularly has Roman soldiers tramping across its cellar. You can't see the men's legs below the knees, apparently."
Ellie gawked at her. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"Because the cellar floor is higher than it was in Roman times," added Leigh.
"Oh!" Ellie looked thoughtful. "I see. That makes sense."
"It does, doesn't it?"
"Even if we tell them we saw a 'psychic recording', Verity and Zoe will probably think we just drank too much lager anyway."
Leigh grunted. "Whatever."
A fair eyebrow rose. "You know, you're going to have to learn to put up with them, Leigh. Just as they are going to have to learn to put up with you."
Ellie nodded firmly. "Yeah. My friends, my girl - you'll all just have to learn to get along."
"Your girl?" Leigh liked the sound of that.
They exchanged warm smiles, and, for the next mile, no words were needed so they listened instead to the comforting drone of the engine and the cry of the seagulls.
"Only one problem," said Ellie, eventually.
Leigh blinked. "What's that?"
"Our first date was so memorable, how on earth are we going to top it for our second?"
She laughed. "We'll think of something," she promised as they left the strange rusting hulk of the Shivering Sands far behind them. "Iíll make damned sure of that."
Artistic Licence Warning
The Shivering Sands sea fort actually exists and stands in the Thames Estuary, 7 miles off the Kent coast. I have never been aboard it, however, and would like to stress that it is probably unsafe for all except UberXenas. <g>.