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An Unwanted Inheritance

Cas Dragunov #1


Alex R Carver

An Unwanted Inheritance: Cas Dragunov #1

Alex R Carver

Copyright © United Kingdom 2017

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over, and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

© 2017 by Alex R Carver and ARC Books


The third judge took his seat at the bench which looked down over the courtroom and the order was given for everyone to be seated.

Aside from the panel of three judges there was an usher and two security officers, who remained standing, the prosecutor, who sat ramrod straight at his table, and the defendant and his legal counsel - they were in quiet conversation while they waited for proceedings to get underway.

The last person in the courtroom, the only witness to proceedings who wasn’t involved in them, was Casimir Dragunov, private second class in the Armed Forces of the Federation of Planets - AFFP being the acronym used by those who didn’t want to waste breath or time on the full title - and recent graduate of the basic training course for new recruits on Miravane, second planet and primary colony of the Seeburg System.

Casimir - Cas to the small circle of friends he had acquired since arriving at Tolbrio Base - looked neither left nor right as he waited for proceedings to begin, instead his gaze remained directed forward. For the most part it was focused on the defendant, but every now and then it would flick to the trio of senior officers who made up the panel.

He had done all his looking around that morning when he attended the trial, taking in the wood panelling and tables, as well as the other anachronisms the courtroom held, too many for someone of his less than affluent upbringing to really appreciate.

He knew the courtroom was designed as it was to convey tradition, and to remind those present that the laws it and its officials represented had been handed down from generation to generation, and were not to be taken lightly.

The only impression he had been left with, however, was one of waste; the cost of the wood used to furnish the courtroom would have, he was sure, cost more than he could earn in a lifetime, short of him attaining command rank, which seemed far from likely given present circumstances.

At a signal from the major, who was the senior officer of the tribunal’s panel, the corporal acting as usher stepped forward, opened his mouth, and all but bellowed, “Corporal First-Class Nikolai Dragunov, attention!”

Cas’ eyes had drifted to the usher when he began moving, but now they snapped back to the defendant, his brother, his older brother, the reason he was there in that courtroom, the reason he was on Tolbrio base and a newly graduated recruit in fact.

It was a cruel irony that he joined the AFFP, because that was what the brother he had grown up idolising had done, just in time for his brother’s career with the AFFP to come to an end. All through the six years that had passed since his brother signed up to see the universe and make something of himself, Cas had told anyone who would listen that once he was done with school he was going to sign up and be a hero like his brother, Nikolai.

It was only when he had done so, and there was no turning back, that he had discovered the truth about his brother. Far from flying around the universe, seeing action in this combat zone or that, getting promotion after promotion, and being in line for officer training, not to mention receiving numerous citations for bravery; Nikolai had never seen action, had struggled from promotion to demotion, and spent most of his service time at Tolbrio base.

Worse than the deceit, which had hit Cas like a shot to the stomach, was the discovery that his beloved brother was a debt-ridden gambler; even that was not the last, nor the most difficult to accept, truth he discovered about his brother, after he had signed on for a three-year hitch. To pay off his gambling debts Nikolai had begun selling military supplies from the stores he was assigned to; he did so with the same skill he had shown in everything he tried his hand at, with the result that he was about to be sentenced for his crimes.

The love Cas had felt for his brother, the love which had been slowly but steadily eroded since he arrived at the base to begin training and first learned of the lies he had been told, was now on the verge of becoming hate. Such was the change in his feelings he wasn’t sure why he had requested permission to attend his brother’s trial.

The only reason he could think of was to put an end to that chapter of his life; that was going to be far from easy, however, for no matter what happened to Nikolai once his court-martial was over, Cas knew that he would be reminded of everything each time he looked in the mirror.

He was an inch shorter than his brother, and about half a stone lighter, but other than that the similarities between the two of them were such that they were often mistaken for one another. They both had jet black hair, though Cas’ was currently at the half-inch length required of all recruits going through basic training, while Nikolai’s needed a trim, and matching, pale green eyes. The rest of their features were almost identical as well, the similarities more obvious now that the age gap had less meaning.

Major Stevens, along with the captains seated to either side of him, stared down at Nikolai Dragunov disapprovingly. The look filled Cas with a sudden urge to call out to his brother, to tell him to straighten up and stand to attention properly, to remind him that if he couldn’t show the court the right level of respect he had very little chance of them being lenient in sentencing him.

He said nothing, however, for there was nothing he could say; Nikolai wouldn’t listen to him no matter how sensible his advice, and speaking would only see him hit with a contempt charge, a black mark he didn’t need on his record right at the start of his career.

“Corporal Dragunov, you have been found guilty by this tribunal on multiple counts of theft of military property, sale of military property, bribery, corruption, and participating in a gambling operation in contravention of military regulations,” Major Stevens said, listing the crimes precisely so there could be no confusion. “This tribunal was recessed following delivery of the verdict to consider options regarding sentencing - we have now done so. There are two options available to us: firstly, you can accept demotion in rank to private second class and transfer to a front-line unit, where you may, in time, regain your rank and honour through meritorious service; the second option is that you be sentenced to three years imprisonment at the stockade here on Tolbrio Base, at the end of which time you will be dishonourably discharged with loss of accrued pension and other benefits.

“We are prepared to give you fifteen minutes in which to discuss these options with your advocate; at the end of that time, if you have not made a decision, one will be made for you.”

“I don’t need time,” Nikolai said. “Send me to the stockade. You can go to hell if you think I’m going to beg to stay in this Kem Da. I’ll take the stockade, and then I’ll take my freedom.”

Cas would have taken his head in his hands and groaned in despair, if the discipline instilled in him over the last four months had let him. The trial of his brother had not lasted long, less than two days, but Nikolai had not spoken at any time during it, not even to confirm his identity, he had simply glared sullenly at the panel. Cas couldn’t believe that when his brother finally did speak it was to insult the AFFP, and the court.

Cas couldn’t help but wonder if his brother had always been as stupid as a Skryet and he just hadn’t been aware of it. His outburst certainly made him sound like one of those unfortunate survivors from the last major Tar Leksa attack, an attack in which experimental weaponry had been trialled by the enemy, with devastating results.

Major Stevens frowned at the brief outburst but didn’t react beyond that. “Very well,” he said. “Corporal, take the defendant away for processing.”

From his seat at the rear of the courtroom Cas watched as his brother was led away. Nikolai didn’t so much as glance in his direction. As much as he wanted to be upset or dismayed by being so completely ignored, he couldn’t; he had been all but ignored by his brother, who preferred to spend time with the petty, and not so petty, criminals that were his friends, from the moment he discovered they were both on the same base.

With their parents dead, and no close relatives, the two of them had no family but themselves, not that Nikolai seemed to care about that; when the door closed behind his brother Cas was left with the thought that though Nikolai was still alive, he had no family at all.

With a sigh that was equal parts sadness for the loss of his brother and relief that the matter was settled, Cas got to his feet, saluted the panel, as was required of him, and left the courtroom. It was time to do what he had been putting off since his graduation from basic training, it was time to accept his posting.

His intelligence and aptitude scores, compiled from the numerous tests and examinations he had taken during training had left him with many possible postings. Most of those offered postings had been withdrawn, though, following his brother’s arrest, leaving him with just two options: a posting to a front-line unit where he was guaranteed to see combat, a posting his brother had just declined, and which Nikolai had avoided since his first tour of duty, or he could enter the Armed Forces Fleet Exploration Arm.

If he chose the latter option he could either become part of a scout crew, they flew three to a ship and sought out any weaknesses in the fleets and bases operated by the Federation’s enemies, or a crew member on an exploratory vessel searching for planets to colonise or harvest for resources. Whichever route he took, a posting to the AFFEA would involve at least twelve months of extended and intensive training.

“Daciro!” There was no hiding the surprise in Captain Aspani’s voice, which was reflected in his face, as he addressed Private Second-Class Casimir Dragunov. “I can understand why you chose not to take the posting to the AFFEA, that was nothing more than an attempt to get you out of the way in case you were somehow involved with the activities of your brother and his associates, but Daciro! That’s practically a suicide posting.”

Cas stood stiffly to attention in front of his superior, the officer in charge of basic training at Tolbrio base, and said nothing. He had no desire to explain his reasons for picking Daciro as his duty station, there had been enough discussion with his friends, without his superior debating the issue as well.

“Why?” Captain Aspani wanted to know. “Why Daciro? With your ratings you could have picked just about any front-line duty station, and six months, a year from now, all those opportunities that were withdrawn would be open to you again. Officer training, a transfer to intelligence or operations, even flight training if you decide you want to go to fleet and become a pilot. That’s just a few possibilities; bide your time, wait for the fuss to die down, and you can go wherever you want.” He stared at the young recruit in front of him, searching for some reaction to his words, some indication, no matter how slight, that he was going to see sense and change his mind. There was nothing, though, and finally he said resignedly, “As long as you’re sure. I’ll process your request; ship-out for the AFFV Hanter, where you’ll be transferred on to Daciro, leaves at oh seven hundred. I suggest you get packed and make whatever goodbyes you need to.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Cas saluted sharply, made an abrupt about-face, and left the office. He was already packed, and only had a few goodbyes to make, which meant he had almost thirteen hours to kill before his shuttle left.



Nikolai Dragunov was a mess. Even without the benefit of the mirror that had been set in front of him he would have known that. What made him feel worse than his physical condition was the knowledge that it was entirely his own fault. He could blame no-one else.

One eye was swelled shut and the other, surrounded by a circle of blue, yellow, and black bruising, threatened to do the same. Blood ran down his face from his forehead, eyebrow, cheek, nose and lip, so much blood that it hid the cuts and bruises marring his features and made it hard, if not impossible, to tell where most of it was coming from.

The rest of the body that hung limply in the grasp of two men who were the very stereotype of thugs - the sort with just enough intelligence to understand who was it was they were supposed to beat up - was marked with the same signs of a beating as the face.

The rest of his senses might be misfiring because of the beating he had received, his hearing, however, was still working well enough for him to pick out the approaching footsteps over the noise of his ragged breathing. He was even able to tell that the footsteps belonged to more than one person, one of whom was of a size with the thugs holding him; the other footsteps weren’t so audible, but Nikolai had no need to hear them clearly to know who one of them belonged to.

The owner of the soft footsteps was as quiet as his walking, he rarely spoke much above a whisper; he didn’t need to be loud, however, he had power, and that meant bigger men, noisier men, fell silent to hear what he had to say.

Nikolai had little chance of escaping the grip of the two men who held him - even if he had been healthy and at the peak of his strength and fitness, which he had not seen for the better part of twenty years, he doubted he would have been able to break free; he wasn’t even confident he could have done so if he had been held by only one of the thugs - and he didn’t even try, he did, however, attempt to straight up and appear less wretched.

It was a futile effort, only a lengthy shower and a significant period in a medical unit would improve his appearance.

Soft, beige, leather shoes, elegant and expensive, and far more familiar than Nikolai liked, moved into range of his one working eye and came to a stop no more than a foot and a half from him. The effort sent pain shooting through his bruised and battered body, but he forced his head up, so he could look the man before him in the face.

Valen Massio looked down on Nikolai Dragunov for almost a minute without saying a word. What am I to do with you, Niki?” he asked finally, a trace of disappointment in his voice, though his face was bland. “I have been nothing but generous to you, kind beyond my nature. Many would have called me a fool, if they dared, for the chances I have given you, yet you slap away the hand of friendship I hold out to you, and then you spit in my face.” He shook his head in dismay. “That is worst of all, that is unforgivable. All else I could have forgiven, or at least turned an eye that is blind to, but you, you do not know to quit when you are ahead.”

“I’m sorry, Mr Massio,” Nikolai mumbled through lips that felt twice their normal size. “I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again. Please, give me one more chance. Please.”

“But I already did, Niki,” Valen Massio said. “That’s the problem.” He stepped back quickly to avoid a droplet of blood that fell from Nikolai’s nose, it splashed onto the pristine floor of the room, where it, like the rest of the blood that had fallen from his body, contrasted with the almost sterile cleanliness of the room. “You came to me for a loan to help you pay off some of your many debts, and I, out of the goodness of my heart, in remembrance of the debt I owe you, gave you that loan, even though you already owe me a considerable amount. Had you taken the money I gave you and paid off your debts, as you said you would, we wouldn’t be here now, but you didn’t, did you.”

“No,” Nikolai admitted, dropping his head in shame as he shook it. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed.

“Look at me, Niki,” Massio instructed in his quiet yet firm voice.

When Nikolai didn’t do as he was told the thug on his left took hold of him by the hair and pulled his head back until he was looking up at Valen Massio again.

“That’s better,” Massio said when he could once more see the mess that was Nikolai’s face. “I don’t like talking to the tops of people’s heads.” He smiled briefly, though there was neither humour nor satisfaction in it. “We’re here because you insulted me; you took my money and then you tried to cheat me. I can forgive a lot of things, Niki, more from you than from most because of the debt I owe you. When you try to cheat me, however, you spit not just on me but on my reputation, and you should know how important that is to me.”

“I would never spit on you, Mr Massio,” Nikolai protested in as strong a tone as he dared use. “Never, not you nor your reputation. You’ve been good to me since I came out here. It wasn’t you I cheated, it was the other gamblers, only them. I was trying to win enough money to pay off everyone I owe, especially you.”

“But you did so at my club. Everyone knows I don’t tolerate cheats in my club, and anyone caught cheating is punished, not just for themselves but as a lesson to others who might be thinking of trying to cheat. I guess you could say you’ve been punished already, certainly no-one who sees you is going to think I’ve let you off light.” Massio ran his eyes over the mess that had been made of Nikolai Dragunov’s face and body. “I’m still left with the problem of your debt, however; what am I to do about that?”

“My…my brother…” Nikolai gasped. Pain lanced through him with every breath, making each inhalation and exhalation torture; it was made worse by the effort of speaking, even though he had only uttered three words. He had enough experience with beatings to be pretty sure that several of his ribs had been broken - cracked at the least - though experience did not make him feel any better about his injuries; nor did he feel any better knowing that once Valen Massio released him he would be able to get treatment, especially pain relief, because it would still be at least two weeks before his ribs were healed.

“What about your brother?” Massio wanted to know. “I hope you’re not about to tell me that your brother will come after me for revenge if I do anything more to you.” A smile curled his lips at that, the very idea that someone might try to get revenge on him was humorous.

Nikolai shook his head quickly, even though doing so made him grimace in pain. “Of course not, Mr Massio, I’d never do that. I just meant…” He had to stop for a few moments while he tried to get the pain, which seemed to be coming from every nerve in his body, under control.

“What did you mean?” Massio asked. “Come on, spit it out before I start to think you were going to say something stupid.”

After a deep breath, as deep a breath as he felt he could take without passing out from the pain, Nikolai said. “I’ll call my brother…he’ll help…help me fix everything… make it all right,” he gasped the words, with every breath he felt as though he was being stabbed. If it hadn’t been for the two thugs holding him semi-upright he was sure he would be curled up in a ball on the floor, possibly crying.

“And why,” Massio bent a little so his face was level with his prisoner’s, “should I trust your brother, whom I have never heard of, let alone met, when you have proven yourself so untrustworthy?” he asked.

“A-F-F-P,” Nikolai struggled to verbalise what he wanted to say. “Cas is with…with A-F-F-P, can be trusted not…not like me. He’ll come…he’ll help; you can trust Cas.” He couldn’t remember a time when speaking had been so difficult for him and he worried that his injuries were more serious than a mangled face and some messed up ribs. As quickly as that worry entered his thoughts he pushed it away, there would be time to worry about that later.

“Does your brother have enough money to clear your debts?” The doubtful look on Massio’s face made it plain how likely he thought that was.

Nikolai was tempted to lie and say yes in the hope of buying himself some time, time to try and figure out a way to come up with the money he owed, time to try and dig himself out of the hole he was in. He wasn’t sure how he had ended up in as much trouble as he was, but he knew how it had started; it had started, as it always did, with a bad run on the cards, and snowballed from there.

He quickly realised that lying was a bad idea, nothing would get him dead quicker than lying. Valen Massio had an uncanny knack for knowing when he was being lied to, and if there was one thing he hated worse than people who cheated in his club it was people who lied to him.

“I-I don’t know,” Nikolai admitted.

“So we’re back where we began, with the problem of your debt. How do you propose to pay it off?”

That was a question to which Nikolai had no answer, though after a few moments he did put forward a suggestion, not that he expected it to be accepted. “I could sell the Aces & Eights,” he said.

Massio smiled briefly. “Do you really think that rust-bucket you call a ship will get you anywhere near the kind of money you need to pay off everyone you owe? It wouldn’t even make you enough to cover this week’s interest on what you owe me.”

From off to one side, out of Nikolai’s limited vision, came a new voice, a female one. “I’ve got an idea how he can pay you back, father.”

Nikolai recognised the voice and felt hope flood through him, washing away the pain. The voice belonged to Alcina, Valen Massio’s only child; if there was anyone who could save him from his current predicament it was Alcina Massio, whose life he had saved soon after moving to the frontier sector to start a new life following his release from the AFFP stockade where he had been incarcerated.

“How’s that, Alcina?” Massio asked.


Cas Dragunov’s eyes flickered open and he found himself looking up into a strange face. The face was not strange in the sense of being odd or bizarre, it was strange in the sense of being unfamiliar, and unfamiliar, in his experience, meant dangerous. He reacted instinctively to the danger; his right hand lashed out to close around the throat below the unfamiliar face, to squeeze and choke the life out of the threat. At least that was the intention.

Pain erupted in his shoulder, making him cry out, though that didn’t stop him reaching for the throat of the person standing over him. It was another hand that stopped him, one that caught his in a vice-like grip and then, with surprising gentleness, lowered it.

“Careful, Captain, you don’t want to go hurting the medic before he’s finished patching you up.”

Cas recognised the voice, it was that of his best and most trusted friend, the man who had been with him almost since the beginning of his fourteen-year military career. He turned his head to the left, slowly, because he couldn’t seem to move it quickly, until he brought his friend into view.

“How bad is it?” he asked in a voice that was far calmer than many people’s would have been under similar circumstances. It was a calmness that came from years of dealing with pain and injuries, a calmness that only a military person used to being treated on site for battlefield injuries, and who couldn’t see the extent of his current injuries, might be able to demonstrate.

“You’ve had worse,” Sergeant Max Baker growled in his gruff voice, which didn’t quite conceal his concern. “But you’re going to be out of action for a while. That’s no bad thing, though, you’ve been in the field for six months now, we all have; you’ll get a holiday out of this, and maybe the rest of us will as well.”

Cas scowled at his friend. “You didn’t answer my question, how bad is it?” He fixed Max with a look that told him he wanted no evasive talk. “I felt slugs hit me in the side and leg, punched straight through my armour - I think we can take it as read that the intel reports of the rebs being supplied by the Tar Leksa are accurate, only mil-spec would have gotten through the armour - then it felt as though the world blew up all around me. What happened? And what happened to my shoulder, that feels worse than the last time I took a slug in it.”

“They had the place booby-trapped, somebody must have tripped something,” Max said. “Intel’s fuming, they were hoping to find something that would tell them where the rest of the rebs are hiding out. They apparently know there’s two more camps and three urban cells in this sector, but they’ve got no idea where they are. You got hit by some of the shrapnel from whatever blew; soon as the medic’s finished with you, you’re on the medi-vac topside for surgery, along with the others who made it.”

“Who didn’t make it?” Cas was quick to pick up on the implication of his sergeant’s words; if some of their men had made it, then some had not - bad news at the best of times, but they had already been under strength, something which had been ignored when the local head of intelligence insisted they make the assault on the located, but not very well scouted, camp being used by the Leihdan rebels.

Max hesitated for a moment, reluctant to trouble his friend and superior with the tally of their losses, until he saw that the conversation was distracting Cas from the steps being taken to prepare him for the medi-vac. “Green, Gamber, Ben, Schulti, Zeed…” That was as far as he got for the medic finished what he was doing and stuck a hypo-spray against the side of Cas’ neck; the next thing Max knew, his captain was out of it and being manoeuvred onto a stretcher identical to the one on which he lay. “He’s going to make it alright, isn’t he?” he asked of the medic.

The medic looked from the captain to the sergeant, and then down to the blanket that covered his mangled legs. He had seen bravery many times, and in many different forms, but this was something new; having done the emergency work to stabilise the sergeant, he knew that he was going to be lucky to lose only one of his legs, yet he had given no sign of it as he talked to his superior.

The second time Cas woke following the explosion that tore his company apart he was in a sterile-looking hospital room. He couldn’t be certain, but he guessed that he was on the hospital ship, Selarcon, which had been in orbit around Leihd for months as the battle with the rebels who had taken control of significant portions of the planet raged, with heavy losses among the AFFP forces.

Cas and his company had been on Leihd since the beginning of the rebellion, and this was his second time needing surgery, which was why he was sure of where he was. The medical staff on the Selarcon were first rate, he knew, which meant if it was at all possible he would recover full use of his shoulder. That was a relief to him for any impairment in his shoulder or arm would put him at risk of seeing the end of his military career, his combat career at least - for fourteen years he had been a front-line combat soldier, fighting in one arena or another, and he wasn’t ready for that to end.

If there was a long-term problem with his shoulder or arm, then he might no longer be eligible for front-line duties; that would also mean he couldn’t take the J fighter posting he had trained for and been offered. Without a front-line position his choices would be an admin role or transfer to the exploration arm.

With all of that running through his mind, it was inevitable that he would try and move his arm. Nothing happened, and he felt panic course through him as his brain sent commands to his arm and shoulder, and received no response. He had been a combat soldier for so long that the thought of having to give it up for anything other than age was distressing. Some of his panic subsided when he turned his head, which moved much better than it had the last time he was conscious, and he saw that his shoulder and upper arm were hidden from view by a mass of bandages; the sight was not a pleasant one, but it did explain why he had had no luck in moving his arm, it also gave him hope that the lack of movement was only temporary.

A faint hiss made Cas turn his head. The door was off to his left, and already closing behind the nurse, a stern-looking woman with a strict face that made Cas hope she wasn’t the person in charge of his case; he could only imagine what a dreary recuperation he was likely to have with her in charge.

“Awake now are we, Captain?”

Cas grimaced inwardly, he hated the falsely sweet voices adopted by some nurses. Such voices were bad enough when issuing from the mouths of innocent young nurses, yet to be worn down by their work. When they came from someone who looked as though they had been nursing for longer than he had been alive, as did the nurse now at the side of his bed, it was almost too much to tolerate.

“So it seems,” Cas remarked, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. He couldn’t help it, no matter how much he tried to avoid doing so, he nearly always found himself being either sarcastic or flip when he had to deal with medical personnel. He was usually alright with field medics and surgical personnel, it was the ones he had to deal with during recovery, the ones who acted as though they had played an integral role in saving his life, who made him react as he did.

“That’s good, we like to see people wake up quickly following surgery,” the nurse said, irritating Cas still further with her use of the plural, as though she was not the only nurse in the room. “You’re not suffering any ill effects, are you?”

Cas shook his head. “I’m not even feeling any pain right now,” he said, very much thankful for that.

“Well, if the pain should return, your bed is programmed for pain relief; it will deliver a pre-set dose once every four hours, all you have to do is press the appropriate button. If you find the dose is insufficient, ring for assistance and someone will come. Now, I’ve got some water for you, you need to stay hydrated, and once you’ve had a drink you should get some rest, it’s the best thing for you.”


The bandaging around his shoulder restricted Cas’ mobility, to his annoyance. Fortunately, he was out of hospital now, though he did have to go back for weekly therapy to make sure his recovery was continuing apace, and he could do what he wanted.

Almost before the door slid closed behind him, leaving him alone in his quarters, which were cramped by civilian standards but ample for him, he had his knife out so he could attack the bandaging with it. It was fortunate that he was adept at using a blade with either hand, had that not been the case he would have been at risk of undoing the good work done by the surgeon who fixed his shoulder.

Once he had removed both the bandage and the dressing, he made his way into the small bathroom, so he could check his shoulder in the mirror; five stitches marked where the injury on the front of his shoulder had been repaired, there were more in the back, he knew, and under them the skin was red and angry-looking. The wounds on his leg and on his side looked similar, but were less serious, and so were further along the road to being healed, to the extent that he had no difficulties breathing anymore, and could walk without a limp so long as he didn’t push himself too far.

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