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The Philosopher's War



About The Book

The second book in the thrilling series that began with The Philosopher’s Flight finds Robert Canderelli Weekes as a rookie Rescue and Evacuation flier on the front lines of World War I in France. He came to save lives, but has no idea how far he’ll have to go to win the war.

Thanks to a stunning flying performance and a harrowing shootout in the streets of Boston, Robert Canderelli Weekes’s lifelong dream has come true: he’s the first male allowed to join the US Sigilry Corps’s Rescue and Evacuation service, an elite, all-woman team of flying medics.

But as he deploys to France during the waning days of the Great War, Sigilwoman Third-Class Canderelli learns that carrying the injured from the front lines to the field hospital is not the grand adventure he imagined. His division, full of misfits and renegades, is stretched the breaking point and has no patience for a man striving to prove himself. Slowly, Robert wins their trust and discovers his comrades are plotting to end the Great War by outlawed philosophical means. Robert becomes caught up in their conspiracy, running raids in enemy territory and uncovering vital intelligence. Friends old and new will need his help with a dangerous scheme that just might win the war overnight and save a few million lives. But the German smokecarvers have plans of their own: a devastating all-out attack that threatens to destroy the Corps and France itself. Naturally, Robert is trapped right in the thick of it.

The Philosopher’s War is the electrifying next chapter in Robert Weekes’s story, filled with heroic, unconventional women, thrilling covert missions, romance and, of course, plenty of aerial adventures. The second book in a series “that grabs readers from its opening lines and doesn’t loosen its grip or lessen its hold all the way through” (Associated Press), Tom Miller again brings Robert’s world to life with unrivaled imagination, ambition, and wit.


The Philosopher’s War 1
JULY 1918

I am a philosopher.

Je suis une philosophe.

I am an American.

Je suis une américaine.

I am a friend.

Je suis une amie.

United States Sigilry Corps, Phrasebook #4 for Overseas Use, 1915

THREE HUNDRED OF US SAT shoulder to shoulder on the rickety wooden bleachers of the stadium in which we would make the transatlantic crossing, sweating under the afternoon sun without a lick of shade. One hour passed, then two. As we waited, the mood went from nervous anticipation to annoyance to dull, stupid endurance.

We were a mixed group of new officers in the United States Sigilry Corps—Logistics hoverers, messagists, smokecarvers, medical philosophers, and sixty-eight freshly minted Rescue and Evacuation fliers, who had just that morning finished our six weeks of advanced flight training. On the infield in front of us sacks and cargo crates were stacked twenty feet high, with a small clearing in the middle in which ten women stood—the Corps transporters who would be jumping us to France in rapid sequence. They at least had parasols. One of them was fanning herself with the cargo manifest.

I shifted on the hard bench.

“They’ve got us arranged backwards,” whispered Essie Stewart, who was sitting next to me. “They should have us in the center and the supplies around the edges. In case the transport bubble comes up short.”

“Well, if we lose something, they’d probably rather keep the cargo than a lot of green recruits,” I joked.

Essie swallowed. We’d heard a lot of talk like that in training from our flight instructors about replacements such as ourselves: disposable; worse than useless; won’t survive ten weeks. We’d tried to chuckle over it, except when our dread that they were right stuck deep in our throats and we weren’t able to force a laugh past it.

And then, without so much as an announcement, the first heavyweight transporter took a knee on the infield, drew a sigil, and jumped the entire stadium from an empty field outside Presque Isle, Maine, to an isolated hilltop in New Brunswick. A few of the passengers cried out in alarm. I tightened my grip on the bench.

The earth beneath us settled into the new locale and the dilapidated stadium creaked and shifted with it—the building must have dated from the Franco-Prussian Intervention. Before I had time to take a breath, the next transporter drew and jumped us to a tiny island off the coast of Newfoundland called Killiniq.

Someone behind us was crying.

“Gosh,” Essie whispered.

She and I had joined up together after a year at Radcliffe College and had gone through flight training in the same group. She’d been a godsend. I tried to imagine what it would have been like as the first man to join Rescue & Evac without Essie’s constant reassurance to the other recruits that yes, I could do the work if they would only let me, and no, I wasn’t some sort of pervert or sex maniac or transvestite or any of the hundred other delightful theories they came up with. Yes, he really was the first man to medal in the long course at the General’s Cup. Yes, he really shot Maxwell Gannet, the crazed anti-philosopher who’d wanted to exterminate American sigilry in the name of God. Yes, he was really lover to Danielle Hardin, who’d rescued the entire Commonwealth army at Gallipoli, a hero without parallel to the young empirical philosophers we’d trained alongside.

Essie’s word had carried a lot of weight. Her performance in the General’s Cup had made her famous, too. She’d edged out the two fastest fliers in the world in what the Detroit Defender had called “the greatest upset of all time.” Then the other girls had met her and, of course, Essie had been Essie: shy but determined, a prim, rail-thin rich girl who never put on airs. All through our grueling training in the dead of the Texas summer, she’d never flinched at floor scrubbing or powder bag filling or any other hard duty. She’d always volunteered for overnight watch and guard shifts. Always a spare minute to help patch a uniform or take dictation from her less literate squadmates so they could send letters home. They’d loved her. (That she could outfly the entire company in a race of any distance—one hundred yards or one hundred miles—didn’t hurt either.)

I looked at her beside me now. Her lower lip was trembling.

We jumped again, making the long swap from Killiniq across the Labrador Sea to an ice-covered valley in western Greenland. Danielle had once told me that the Corps transporters intentionally mispronounced it as the “killing jump,” because of the strain that the distance put on the sigilrist. Every few years, one of them dropped dead from the effort.

“That’s the hard one,” I said to Essie. “We’re going to be okay.”

She tried to put on a stoic face, but her eyes were full.

Six hours earlier, in morning assembly, the whole company had been in a celebratory mood: our last day of training. Graduation ceremonies would be held in the afternoon and then we would have three days’ leave before our overseas deployment. My mother, a retired corpswoman, had planned to attend the formal commissioning ceremony; Danielle had arranged to come too and then stay on in San Antonio so she and I could spend my last stateside days together.

I’d stood in line with the other trainees, laughing and jibing, as our flight instructors handed out the single plain brown bar of rank that we would sew on the collar of our uniform in preparation for the afternoon’s exercises. No longer Provisional Sigilwomen, but rather proper Sigilwomen Third Class, or Sig-3 as we called the rank.

Our chief flight instructor had skipped over Essie, much to the poor young lady’s distress, only to return to her at the end: for her outstanding performance, she’d been promoted to Sigilwoman Second Class. We’d applauded and Essie had done her damnedest not to bawl. Not, I suspected, out of joy. The promotion meant she would outrank many of the more seasoned women in France, and R&E fliers were notorious for balking at orders if their socks had been in the service longer than their Sig-2.

Then came the bad news for the rest of us: pre-overseas leave, canceled. Graduation ceremonies, canceled. Immediate deployment. Ten minutes to pack. Dress in field skysuits with harness and tackle stowed at the ready.

Once the shock had worn off, we’d rushed to pack our things, the women in their barracks and me in my tent removed from the main building by fifty yards. It had taken me little enough time. I’d stuffed my duffel with two spare olive-green skysuits—the padded, high-necked coveralls we wore while flying—which I’d had to procure from a civilian vendor, as the Corps quartermasters were not in the practice of issuing suits to six-foot-tall men. One army dress uniform in place of the Corps’ traditional jacket, blouse, and full skirts. And to complete the time-honored full-dress outfit, a parasol and saber, which had been presented by my mentors at Radcliffe—not that I seemed likely to be deployed to any formal balls.

We’d ridden the civilian transporter line to Maine, then hiked a half mile up the road to the Corps stadium to cross the Atlantic with our own women.

Now, we jumped to the eastern shore of Greenland, then a rocky field in Iceland and a beach in the Faroe Islands.

Essie put her head so close to mine that our foreheads were almost touching.

“What?” I asked.

“We’re going to be there in two minutes,” she whispered. “They could put me out there in command. In the field. Today.”

“Not on the first day.”

“If we catch a mass casualty—”

“Then you’ll run it by the book and it’ll be great.”

“Robert, I can’t.” Essie had her chin to her chest and her eyes closed so she wouldn’t cry. “I can’t do this. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!”

We jumped to Inverness, Scotland, where a light rain was falling.

“You’re not allowed to say that, ma’am,” I whispered.

. . . to Manchester under gray skies . . .

“I’m allowed to say it today! I’m allowed to say it to you.”

. . . to London . . .

“One time,” I said.

“I can’t do it,” she said in a voice like a mouse’s squeak.

My own chest echoed the sentiment every time I tried to take a full breath—I can’t, I’m not ready, they’ll hate me, they’ll send me home. So, make a joke. Bear up under it. Don’t let anyone see it, never admit it out loud.

Then the temperature rose fifteen degrees, the sky was clear, and it was early evening. We’d arrived in Le Havre.

A Corps colonel wearing a smokecarver’s gray work apron over her uniform entered the stadium. She lifted a speaking trumpet to her lips, shouted, “Welcome to France!” and exhorted us to exit in an orderly fashion and find the representatives from our units, who were waiting outside.

I hefted my duffel and we made our way down the stairs and across the infield to one of the exits. Outside, the officers picking up their replacements seemed not to have been briefed on the “orderly” part of the operation. Dozens of them milled about, shouting out the numbers of their units or the names of the greenhorns they were trying to find. It would be a wonder if this sorted itself out by doomsday.

As we plowed through the confusion, Essie reached out and took my hand. Her fingers were thin and cool.

“Robert . . .” Her voice caught.

Essie didn’t like strangers, hated crowds, and couldn’t abide racket. She also didn’t approve of hand holding. She gave me a desperate look, but no words came out.

I knew. Even for a callow young man, it was impossible to miss a crush as big as the one Essie had developed on me back at Radcliffe. But fraternization with a fellow officer would get me thrown out of the Corps so fast that I wouldn’t even have time to hear the threads snap when they ripped the insignia off my jacket. And I was saving my heart for Danielle, with whom things were . . . tricky. Especially now that she and I wouldn’t be spending three days’ leave together.

Essie tightened her grip on my hand. She was headed to First Division along with most of the rest of our company. I was the sole flier assigned to Fifth Division. Outside of a major evacuation, we were unlikely to see each other. Maybe it was kinder that way.

“You yell ‘First Division’ loud as you can and let them find you,” I said to her. “Give ’em hell, ma’am.”

I swept a loose strand of hair out of Essie’s eyes and tucked it behind her ear. She let go of me and clapped her hand to her face, as if I’d burned her skin where I’d touched her.

I turned to find my own wing. Behind me, I heard Essie bellow, “R&E! First Division reinforcements, on me!”

• • •

I did very little in the way of shouting, relying on Fifth Division to recognize the single male present. As I circled the crush, I spotted a lanky beanpole of a woman at the edge of the crowd. She’d made a sign out of a piece of cardboard tied to a stick: DIV 5 R&E. I made my way toward her.

She had a portable message board strapped to her forearm and was doubled over it, bobbing her head up and down like a crane. She looked about twenty-five years old. On her collar, she wore three brown bars edged with gold; on the left sleeve of her skysuit, a thin white stripe ran from shoulder to wrist. That made her a squadron commander with at least a thousand souls evacuated, plus the Corps’ highest decoration for valor. A formidable woman.

I cleared my throat and came to attention in front of her. “Sigilwoman Third Class Robert A. Canderelli, reporting,” I announced.

The name still sounded awkward in my mouth. After my brush with infamy a few weeks earlier, the Corps had requested that I enlist under an alias, to protect me against unwelcome attention. (Not idly, as it turned out. A gang of Trenchers had been caught trying to sneak on base at Fort McConnell during my second week of training, with me as their target.) I’d taken my father’s surname.

The tall, skinny woman finished writing her message and looked up at me like I was the lowest worm in existence. My insides turned to slush.

“Hell,” she drawled.

She pulled a harness out of her pack and began putting it on. It was only when she gave me an irritated look that I understood I was to ready myself for flight, too.

“A lot of girls going to be disappointed,” the Sig-1 said.

“I’m sorry, ma’am?” I said.

“They took odds on whether it was Roberta or Robert A. Wagered their spots in the flight rotation. They said Gen. Blandings isn’t crazy enough to take a man. I told them don’t bet on it.”

My Sig-1 had probably made that up, but had I been a woman in one of the R&E wings, a Roberta with a typo might have seemed likelier than a male philosopher.

“Are you a gambling man, Robert A?” the Sig-1 asked me.

It struck me as a question with a correct answer, though I couldn’t decide which.

“Not often,” I said.

“A Christian?” she asked, sounding suspicious.

“Not really.”

She heaved a twenty-pound powder bag to me and attached a second to her own rigging.

“Gonna have to pick one,” she said. “Serve long enough with Fifth Division and you’re bound to believe in either Jesus Christ or the laws of probability.”

I nodded, hoping I hadn’t just given myself a reputation for indecisiveness.

“You belong to second squadron,” she said. “So, I own you until such time as the Lieutenant decides you fit better with the layabouts in first squad or the incompetents in third. My name’s Millen and there’s no ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ or curtsying, unless we have a visiting dignitary.”

“Understood,” I said.

Sig-1 Millen put on her leather crash helmet and adjusted her goggles over her long, angular face.

“You’re no fun at all!” she complained. “Were you born without a sense of humor or did they beat it out of you in training?”

“More the latter.”

“Well, locate it. In the field, it’s laugh or go mad.”

“I’m not even supposed to be here today!” I blurted out. “We were supposed to have three days’ leave and then come over on the Olympia.”

The rumor, from the very first day in Texas, had been that our unit was one of the lucky ones that would ship to France aboard a luxury liner pressed into service as a troop transport. She was a beautiful Eupheus ship that put up four banks of kite sails and set a perpetually westward course at forty knots, blown by the hurricane-force winds summoned up by her philosophical officer. Our training instructors had spent the final weeks providing ever more lavish descriptions of the Olympia’s opulence: a swimming pool, wood-paneled staterooms, a seventeen-piece orchestra, a gourmet chef.

Millen slapped her thigh. “Now that’s funny. The Olympia! Does she still have a shuffleboard court and Persian carpets in the bathrooms?”

“Umm . . . something like that.”

“Robert A, the Olympia sank ten years before you joined up. Shit, they’re making Sig-3s just as stupid as they used to. The Olympia. Oh, you’ll do fine.”

Possibly our training company hadn’t been the first one to believe the story. Millen helped me secure my overseas bag to the back of my harness.

“I am sorry about your leave,” she added. “First Division set a couple wings down in a minefield last week. Chewed up enough women that they cried for their reinforcements early and got near your whole training company. You ready?”

I clipped my powder bag to my right hip. I pushed the thumb lever on the mechanical regulator to open it and set the flow rate. The mixture of sand and fine-ground cornmeal, which provided the catalyst for philosophical flight, began to trickle out. I gripped the tip of the reg between my thumb and forefinger like a pencil.

On Millen’s signal, I drew a glyph to launch and popped into the air. I redrew to adjust course, adding speed and altitude, then drew again every eight seconds to prevent my sigil from fading, following Millen southeast.

Being airborne was a relief. Even thousands of miles from home, the regulator had the same solid feel in my hand; the powder produced the same subtle hiss as it flowed out of the waxed canvas bag. The sigil’s thrust lifted through the center of my body and the sense of buoyancy was as intoxicating as ever.

We flew for an hour. Beneath us, fields slipped by, a chaotic patchwork of yellow and gold instead of the orderly rows of farms I’d known in Montana. Even the grass looked foreign: it was the wrong shade of green, bending and swaying to a different rhythm than it had back home. Gradually, the ground became more scarred, the roads muddier, the earth marred with shell craters, the farmhouses and villages in ruins. This had been disputed territory as recently as a few months before. We didn’t see any soldiers or artillery, though. They were farther east.

I glanced over at Millen, ten feet off my shoulder with her speed matched to mine. She had her eyes closed. She wasn’t sleeping—not the way she was holding her course and redrawing sigils—but something akin to sleep. Even my mother, who was the most experienced flier I knew, didn’t dare do that.

The sun was nearly touching the horizon by the time we reached Fifth Division’s encampment outside the village of Commercy, twenty miles behind the front lines. Millen waved with her off hand to catch my attention. She pointed to the ground, where a large landing field had been drawn with white paint on a flat stretch of grass. I put two fingers to my temple to indicate that I understood.

As we came over the landing field, Millen pirouetted to kill her forward momentum, then pulled her knees to her chest and reverse-drew to descend smartly. She halted a few inches above the ground and straightened her legs to set down. A classic tuck-and-groove approach, though too conservative for my taste.

I flared into a forward half somersault, so that I was flying upside down and backward, braked hard, and pushed toward the ground. At an altitude of fifty feet, I flipped back upright and drew for maximum upward thrust to stop my dive. I came to a halt just above the ground and settled my feet.

“Oh, holy Jesus in a wheelbarrow!” Millen howled. “He’s a hotshot! Did you grow up in the circus?”

“No, ma’am,” I said. “That’s a standard flare and—”

“That’s a circus landing for when the Germans take a shot at you! There’s no one to impress out here and I can’t replace you if you break a leg.”

I’d spent months at Radcliffe working on that maneuver—the fastest and most precise landing approach possible—and then six weeks doing it at Fort McConnell, where no one had ever considered it showy or dangerous.

Millen led me down a row of eighteen canvas tents to the last one in line.

“This one’s yours, so drop your gear,” she said. “It’s supposed to be two sigilwomen in each, but it’ll rain lemon drops in hell before Fifth Division gets a full complement. You’ll share with the foul-weather gear.”

Half the tent was crammed with piles of rubberized capes and boxes of wool sweaters. The other half had a cot and a hat rack. It stank of mothballs and looked like the spiders had been busy in the corners.

“We’ll find your squadmates,” Sig-1 Millen said. “Unless you want one right now.”

“One what?” I asked.

“One. An evacuation, a quick one. I’ll take you forward and you can grab one.”

I had flown passengers on hundreds of occasions, but the thought of taking one now made my heart stutter. I’d waited my whole life to fly a real evacuation. If the war ended tomorrow, I could at least say I’d had my one.

“Yeah,” I said, not wanting to sound overeager.

“Of course he does!” Millen hooted. “The squadron hotshot’s going to get his first evac before he even goes on duty. I love it!”

About The Author

Abigail Carlin

Tom Miller grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He graduated from Harvard University and went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame and an MD from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of The Philosopher’s Flight and The Philosopher’s War. He works as an emergency room doctor.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 16, 2019)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476778181

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Raves and Reviews


"An even more propulsive follow-up to emergency physician Miller's imaginative debut, The Philosopher's Flight. A fantastic example of worldbuilding on a grand scale that combines cinematic action with historical accuracy to great effect. [With] Miller's concept of "empirical philosophers," nearly all women who practice a kind of magic that employs glyphs and sigils penned with silver chloride, not to mention a few more complicated potions, to enable healing, smoke summoning, and, most importantly, flight. Imagine Quidditch on steroids plunged into the First World War and you'll get an idea of what to expect here. Miller has accomplished something really grand here: Despite its lone fantasy element, this is a visceral war novel that blends into a twisty spy novel with brief interludes of heated romance between Weekes and his beloved Danielle Hardin, not to mention the quiet yearnings of Weekes' best friend, Essie Stewart, who secretly loves him. The combat is incredibly tense, the palpable tension between characters is genuinely authentic, and the character arc that changes Weekes from an eager young soldier to a hardened veteran is truly compelling."--KIRKUS REVIEWS (STARRED REVIEW)


“[Begins] with rollicking fierceness that grabs readers from its opening lines and doesn’t loosen its grip or lessen its hold all the way through… Miller’s writing is intoxicating and one doesn’t need to be a fantasy or sci-fi fan to adore this book. One only hopes Miller can manage to take a break from doctoring to write another book and another and another.”—Kim Curtis, Associated Press

“Part thriller, part romance, part coming-of-age fantasy, The Philosopher’s Flight by debut novelist Tom Miller has already set a high bar for any book vying to be the most entertaining novel of 2018…The wild and soaring The Philosopher’s Flight is as fun a read as you’ll come across. Miller appears to have left room for more at the story’s end; let’s hope this is the start of a new series.”—Ian Schwartz, Bookpage

“Debut novelist Miller offers a wealth of worldbuilding in this deft, nonconformist historical fantasy set during World War I…Miller offers a nuanced adventure story that mixes romance, gunplay, and social awareness into its steampunk-ish revelry. A fun, fast-paced coming-of-age story laced with magic.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Miller’s imaginative debut reads like an American cousin to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, filtering 19th and 20th century U.S....[T]he history of this alternate world and its magic tech are inventively executed."—Publishers Weekly

"A very accomplished debut....measured, compelling, and well-paced. Exceeded my expectations...The real charm of The Philosopher’s Flight is in its characterization...Miller surrounds Robert with so many varied, opinionated, and interestingly flawed—with so many intensely human—women in a complex setting that it never comes close to being such a simplistic narrative."—Liz Borke,

"Frothy and fun...There are many opportunities to go astray in a setup like this, but Robert's charmingly heroic character and Miller's woman-power alternate history set their feet right, delivering a yarn full of derring-do and historical asides."—Amazon's Ominvoracious Blog

"Miller does a fine job not only of building a fantastic magical world, but of imbuing it with a highly relatable political ambiance...The Philosopher's Flight is a book you’ll race through, not only because you want to know who won the philosopher’s race, but also to see what happens to Robert."—Book Reporter

"Readers who like to challenge themselves will have a field day with Tom Miller’s debut novel...It reads like Sinclair Lewis, but with a colorful candy coating to sweeten the bitter elements. Whether you’re delighted, intrigued, or alarmed by Mr. Miller’s America, you certainly won’t be bored. “The Philosopher’s Flight” is an excellent pick for a book club looking to expand its horizons and spark conversation."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Miller has done a clever and entertaining job of creating that world using actual history as his framework and overlaying it with the world of empirical philosophy that is rich in detail and development. This is a smart, funny book that pulls you in and keeps you going while also delivering sly social commentary."—Aspen Daily News

"Tom Miller’s tale The Philosopher’s Flight is imaginative enough that readers could almost believe they are entering a parallel universe when they open the book...Those who pick up this book will find it entertaining and satisfying on several levels."—Manhattan Mercury

"Impossible not to love...Miller’s complex world-building and loveable characters made my experience thoroughly enjoyable."—Fredericksburg Free Lance Star

"A fun ride...a well-paced, satisfying adventure." —Historical Novels Review

"Spell-binding...a fantastical coming-of-age tale that will inspire and chill you." —Rhode Island Monthly

"A coming-of-age novel packed with adventure, romance, humor and social commentary, The Philosopher’s Flightrecalls the magic realism novels of such writers as Lewis Shiner, Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock that operate in a recognizable world where magic—empirical philosophy, or sigilry—exists as an accepted reality."—South Bend Tribune

"Wonderful...impossible to put down...a solid coming-of-age tale in a world made believable."—Philadelphia Free Press

The Philosopher’s Flight has all the right ingredients to launch an epic story, bringing us into a vivid world rich with both history and imagination. Its narrative of magic warriors and healers feels remarkably grounded and authentic. Like his characters, Tom Miller casts a spell.”—Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Last Bookaneer

“In his first novel, Tom Miller creates a world that feels both fantastical and authentic, and he does it with a playful spirit and sharp wit. I’d follow his hero Robert Weekes anywhere. The Philosopher’s Flight is deeply original, utterly transporting, and absolutely fun.”—Janet McNally, author of Girls in the Moon

“Tom Miller is one of the rare literary geniuses I have read who possesses a sense of humor and The Philosopher's Flight displays both qualities in heady quantities. Go along for the ride and you will be stimulated, educated, as well as happily overcome by laughter.”—William O'Rourke, author of Idle Hands and Criminal Tendencies

“Tom Miller’s a sly wizard, reminiscent of L. Frank Baum on his best days, and The Philosopher’s Flight is a thrill-a-minute, genre-busting display of narrative spells and delights.”—Valerie Sayers, author of The Powers

The Philosopher’s Flight is a romp of a tale... it will launch a hundred thousand glyphs and sigils in every reader’s imaginations.”—Sheheryar B. Sheikh, author of The Still Point of the Turning World UZACHKN -
04/24/19 10:21:40 AM

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