March Upcountry

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This article is about the science-fiction novel. For Xenephon's account of the march of the Ten Thousand through Persia, see Anabasis (Xenophon).
March Upcountry
March Upcountry cover.jpg
Paperback cover
Author David Weber & John Ringo
Illustrator John Ringo (maps)
Cover artist Patrick Turner
Country United States
Language English
Series Empire of Man\Roger MacClintock series
Genre Science Fiction
Publisher Baen Books
Publication date
2001
Media type Print (Paperback) & E-book
Pages 586
ISBN 0-671-31985-X
OCLC 45284650
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3573.E217 M37 2001
Followed by March to the Sea

March Upcountry is the first novel in the science fiction series of the Empire of Man by David Weber and John Ringo. It tells the story of Prince Roger MacClintock and his bodyguards of the Empress' Own Regiment who get marooned on the alien planet of Marduk due to an act of sabotage on their ship, and must fight their way towards the local space port (held by enemies of the Terran Empire) in order to get back home to Earth. The book appeared on the New York Times best seller list.[1]

Characters[edit]

Prince Roger MacClintock is the youngest and least loved child of Empress Alexandra VII, ruler of the Empire of Man from her second consort, Lazar Fillipo, the Earl of New Madrid. An extremely handsome and tall 22-year-old man who loves dressing up in extremely fine and expensive clothing, Roger is considered, by most, as a fop and is not well regarded by pretty much anyone except his valet, Kostas Matsugae. Aware at times of his childish behavior and in desperate need of love and genuine parental guidance (and at times, parental discipline), Roger manages to learn several important lessons about life, his responsibilities as a member of the royal family, his behavior towards those who are beneath him socially, and the circumstances of his birth which are the cause for his strained relationship with his mother. He is an experienced game hunter who's used to hunting game that can "hunt back". This experience serves him well throughout the March, as his superlative marksmanship and his high-priced but antiquated chemically-propelled hunting rifle (dubbed a "smoke-pole" by the marines) saves the expedition countless times (though it also gets him in trouble at least once).

Captain Armand Pahner is the commander of Bravo Company, Bronze Battalion of the Empress's Own Regiment, the elite bodyguards charged with protecting the royal family at all costs. A 50-plus year veteran of the Imperial Marines, Pahner is an extremely capable, competent and professionally paranoid individual who possesses a degree of personal calm that is almost frightening and who rarely loses his temper (though Roger's shenanigans manage to unnerve him several times throughout the story). He is a former smoker who now chews gum on a regular, almost ritualized, basis (as seen in the way he unwraps the sticks of gum). While initially disdainful of Roger and constantly at odds with his childish behavior, he does manage to see in Roger the potential of becoming a decent junior commander on the expedition and Roger eventually comes to view him as a surrogate father figure that had been missing in his life.

D'nall Cord is a native of the planet Marduk whose life is saved accidentally by Roger. Cord is a Shaman in his tribe, the X'Intai, the very first society Roger and his marines encounter on Marduk. By saving his life, Cord becomes indebted to Roger for all eternity (known as the bond of asi) and is forced to forswear all relationship with his tribe (as if he died) and follow Roger around for the rest of his life. He was mated only once in his past but his mate died in childbirth. As such, he sees his nephews as substitutes to the children he never had. Having studied in his youth in the fabled city of Voitan, Cord is something of a warrior monk and philosopher who trains Roger in the use of the sword, teaches him the meaning of duty as a "chieftain" to his "tribe" and manages to whack some sense into the young prince's head (once quite literally with a blunt object). He serves as the company's guide throughout the story in region where they land.

D'nall Denat is one of Cord's nephews. A hunter in his tribe who's experienced in hunting by night, Denat joins the March out of curiosity and his liking of playing card games with Poertena. The March brings out of Denat an amazing talent for languages and a natural flair for intelligence gathering, particularly when he plays the role of a "dumb barbarian", listening in on conversations others believe he can't understand.

Eleonora O'Casey is Roger's chief of staff and former tutor. Holding multiple doctorates in sociology, political sciences and human history, O'Casey manages to help the company in their interactions with the locals, serving as both interpreter and political adviser. However, her main area of expertise is Imperial politics and she has a great deal of knowledge in the inner workings and Byzantine plots in the Royal Court (including the reasons for the repudiation of Roger's father, from the Court). She is a city girl who is unused to the horrifying conditions of Marduk, and spends much of March in complete agony (though she eventually adapts).

Kostas Matsugae is Roger's valet and manservant who becomes the company's caravan chief. Kostas is mousey and fussy as he likes to provide Roger with all creature comforts possible (such as fine clothes and good food), even on Marduk. He's also a kind and charitable soul who essentially believes that really terrible things don't happen "in this day and age". While merely a civilian, Kostas is a trusted imperial servator and the only person, prior to hitting Marduk, who is close to Roger.

Eva Kosutic is the senior NCO in Bravo Company and an extremely competent and experienced combat veteran. A native of the planet Armagh, Kosutic is a Satanist priestess, with a wry sense of humor and a matter-of-fact attitude. She constantly presses the troops to maintain their discipline, professionalism and paranoia as members of the elite Empress's Own and she knows more about the troops and Captain Pahner than anyone (including Pahner himself).

Julio Poertena is the armorer for Bravo Company. A native of the planet Pinopa and from a non-English speaking household, Poertena speaks with a heavy accent, enjoys swearing a lot and is something of a joker. He is also an Olympic class swimmer (his home world being mostly made up of archipelagos) and an avid gambler who carries a deck of cards with him everywhere he goes and he introduces the Mardukans to card games (and managing to swindle those who play against him). His professional approach to dealing with recalcitrant weapons and armor is to beat them with a meter-long Stilson adjustable wrench (dubbed his "pick pocking wrench") until it shapes up or ships out. He carries around a huge rucksack that contains everything a first-class armory would need (though not a kitchen sink - the marines asked).

Adib Julian is one of the senior NCOs in the company and the former company armorer. Dubbed "the laughing warrior" by Cord, Julian tends to become humorous in the face of danger and joke around a lot, particularly at the expense of his strait-laced Asgardian best friend Gronningen. His opinion of Roger is not particularly high initially, though it changes as the story progresses.

Nimashet Despreaux is a squad commander in Bravo company. She is beautiful and vulnerable yet also tough and very dangerous. She manages to draw Prince Roger's interest to her as a woman despite all the Prince's formidable self-control where women are concerned, an interest that appears mutual from the very beginning and causes her to be much more sympathetic towards the Prince.

Warrant Officer Mike "Doc" Dobresceau is one of the shuttle pilots who land the company on Marduk. He became a pilot after serving as a Raider medic, trained to perform surgery in the field on combat injuries. His inclusion on the March turns out to be extremely fortuitous, since none of the doctors from the DeGlopper could come along.

Mark & John St. John are identical twins who serve in Bravo Company, with John being the hard-working, smart and capable NCO and Mark being the fighter. While the two maintain a low-level sibling argument throughout the March over every possible topic - from pranks in bygone days to who their mother loves more - they cover each other's backs at all times. Their first sergeant had ordered them to have a distinguishable mark on their bodies at all times (because he couldn't tell them apart) and as such Mark always shaves the left side of his head.

Empress Alexandra VII is the ruler of the Empire of Man and Roger's mother. Their relationship is strained due to Roger's similarity in appearance and behavior to his hated father and because Alexandra has been forced to spend most her time away from him, dealing with the many internal crises that are destabilizing the empire (though she spent much more time with him as a baby). After discovering New Madrid's connections to the Adoula Cabal and consequently expelling him from court, Alexandra considered terminating her pregnancy with Roger (who'd been in a uterine replicator at the time) but eventually decided against it. While highly intelligent and competent, she admits she's not good at dealing with the "personal stuff" in her life.

Xiya Kan is king of the city-state Q'Nkok, the first city the Marines visit on Marduk. King Xyia is a moderate ruler who is forced to contend with an endless number of plots directed against him and the independent merchants of the city by the various great houses of the city; he longs to rid himself of them permanently. Though a member of a technologically primitive race, he is by no means unsophisticated or foolish and knows that direct action is not always the best choice. He happily collaborates with the Marines to expose a plot directed at Cord's people (and threatens war between Q'Nkok and the X'Intai) and later on assists the marines with funds and support that are crucial for their journey.

T'Leen Targ is a Voitanese veteran of the Kranolta wars and a weapons dealer in Q'Nkok who sells a Katana-like sword to Kosutic for Prince Roger. Though a giant even by Mardukan standards and a warrior in his past, his fighting days are long since over after losing his left true-arm at the elbow and sustaining numerous other wounds. Both his horns are capped with "wickedly sharp" bronze points, and a hook has replaced his left true-arm. After seeing the marines in action in Q'Nkok and hearing that they plan to travel through Kranolta territory, he contacts his fellow Voitan and T'an K'tass survivors, seeing an opportunity to reclaim Voitan once more.

Radj Hoomas is king of the city-state of Marshad. An extremely ambitious and devious individual, he seeks to use the Marines in his quest to conquer the Hadur region and unify it under his rule. To that end, he attempts to poison Prince Roger and his commanders, not realizing how alien they truly are. As a result of past actions of his father, Radj Hoomas is the sole land owner and has used his position to accumulate more and more power and treasure at the expense of others, including his own subjects (who live in crushing poverty).

Kheder Bijan is the head of the Marshad secret police and a self-proclaimed "tinker". While crafty and outwardly loyal to Raj Hoomas, he joins with the marines to topple the king to install himself as monarch. In turn, he tries to renege on his promises to allow the marines out of the city fully supplied and use them as Raj Hoomas wanted to use them (to conquer the region).

T'Leen Sena is a female "intelligence operative" of sorts in Marshad. Raised in the Voitan ways - where females had much greater standing than in Marshad (or elsewhere for that matter) - she is very independent, strong-willed and capable. She is trained in the enat fighting techniques which make a fairly dangerous individual as well, but is equally capable at remaining unabtrusive and docile-looking which permits her to blend into the background.

Dogzard is a pet Roger picks up at Cord's village. Once the runt of the litter, she grows enormously during the March and follows Roger around slavishly, constantly looking either for food or a fight (or usually both).

Patty is one of the flar-ta pack animals the company employs. While similar to the wild flar-ke beasts the flar-ta are much more docile, though Patty seems to have some flar-ke DNA in her (as seen in her tendency to fight mean and not run away from a fight). Roger develops an unusual rapport with the beast that allows him to use her as a war steed, plowing his way through enemies and letting her do most of the work. It is Roger who gives her this human name since she reminds him of a "Patricia" he once knew in boarding school.

Plot summary[edit]

Prince Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock is summoned before his mother, the Empress of Man, and his older half-brother Prince John, the heir-apparent, and is ordered to attend a flag-showing ceremony on the planet Leviathan, one of the Empire's more distant and backward member-worlds. Roger protests, but eventually accepts the assignment and stalks out of the room. Roger boards the assault transport Charles DeGlopper with Eleanora O'Casey and Kostas Matsugae where they are greeted by its skipper, Captain Vil Krasnitsky, who welcomes them aboard graciously but is put off by Roger's apathy, requiring O'Casey to repeatedly apologize and excuse Roger's juvenile behavior throughout the voyage.

Shortly after the ship enters "Tunnel Space", Sergeant-Major Eva Kosutic goes out to check the status of the troops guarding the prince and discovers a sentry shot dead just outside engineering. She alerts Pahner to the security breach and proceeds to hunt down the suspected saboteur. She discovers that the saboteur has planted shaped charges on the ship's main plasma conduits. Pahner orders Captain Krasnitsky to shut down the conduits but Krasnitsky says that shutting down now could destroy the ship. Kosutic catches up with the saboteur who turns out to be the ship's logistics officer, Ensign Guha, and manages to shoot her in the neck and run for the exit just before the dead man's switch detonates the charges.

Roger, who was forced into a spacesuit and then sat on by two marines (for his own safety), is eventually released and briefed on the attack. Ensign Guha had apparently been a toot-zombie and aside from planting explosives, she also planted computer viruses that crippled every major system. Pahner says their only option is to effect repairs and head for the nearest habitable star system which happens to be Marduk. Though the planet is nominally an Imperial world, it has only minimal landing facilities that are insufficient to repair the damage to DeGlopper. Also, the region is notorious for drug smuggling, piracy and "Saint" activity, all of which raises the risk to the DeGlopper and the prince.

Upon entry into Marduk's star system, the DeGlopper detects the presence of an unidentified warship already in the system, indicating that Marduk is under hostile control. Being too deep inside the system's tunnel wall the DeGlopper is left no choice but to fight. Additionally, the enemy cruiser is not equipped with a tunnel drive which means it must have been dropped off by a carrier, which is much more heavily armed and which might still be in-system. The senior officers of the DeGlopper therefore plan for the impending attack against the enemy cruiser and Bronze Battalion is tasked with taking the space port on the planet. However, they soon detect a second ship and both are assumed to be Saint cruisers. The DeGlopper, so heavily damaged, has no chance of destroying both ships, and with a member of the royal family aboard, surrender is not an option. The battle plan, therefore, changes: The DeGlopper will engage the cruisers and attempt to destroy both by any means, while the shuttles carrying Prince Roger and his body guards will have to be launched from a much greater distance, then land on the far side of the planet and make their way on foot and then over sea to the space port, capture it and then capture a tunnel-drive starship.

O'Casey briefs the company commanders and Roger on what to expect on Marduk though the information she has is very limited. Marduk is an incredibly hot and humid world with unfriendly wildlife and inhabitants. The Mardukans are at a pre-steam level of technology and some of the more advanced cultures have discovered gunpowder and are organized in city-states, small empires or in a state of barbarism. Pahner points out that they can eat the local foods but that they'll still need to carry dietary supplements for materials that simply don't exist in Mardukan biochemistry. He adds that crossing the planet on foot will take months.

After loading the shuttles to capacity with all the necessary materials and fuel, the company awaits the battle in the shuttles. DeGlopper engages the first Saint cruiser and wins but, as expected, sustains heavy damage. The shuttles are launched and DeGlopper heads towards the second Saint cruiser. After engaging the second ship, DeGlopper is crippled and the Saint cruiser closes with it in order to board her. Eleonora O'Casey suddenly realizes that she forgot something extremely important on board - her copy of Encyclopedia Galactica. She requests a link to the ship to download the information knowing that the Saint could pick up the transmission. The Saint ship does detect the transmission but not soon enough, as DeGlopper self-destructs, taking the Saint cruiser with it. Aboard the shuttles, O'Casey gloomily reports that she only got a fraction of the data she needed. Kosutic however, isn't worried; the marines come from so many worlds with so many diverse backgrounds that they'll probably find someone there who knows something about primitive technologies such as those used by the Mardukans.

As they approach the planet, the sensors pickup the presence of the Saint carrier that probably brought the cruisers into the system. Though undetected, the shuttles are forced to alter course and land even farther from the port than planned, with very little fuel for such a course correction. In the end they settle on what looks like salt-flats and barely manage a "dead stick" landing. After unloading their equipment, Bravo Company sets out in the sweltering heat on their long journey.

After six hours on the salt flats, Bravo Company reaches the jungle and Roger notices strop marks on some of the trees indicating the territorial markings of a very large animal. The animal in question is soon spotted by the company - an elephant sized beast with horns and an armor ruff protecting its neck with a closer examination revealing a herbivore. Pahner orders everyone to check fire but Roger does not hear the command and guns it down. Pahner is furious and privately chastises Roger, without giving him a chance to explain his reasons for shooting the beast. Minutes later, a Mardukan native suddenly emerges from the treeline. After O'Casey works out a translation "kernel" she manages to figure out the native's purpose. He is D'Nall Cord, a shaman of the X'Intai people and he asks who killed the flar beast. When told it is Roger, he tells him that they are brothers for life. When Roger tries to decline the honor Cord says he isn't all that happy about the situation either but that the laws of people demand it. Pahner is also unhappy about the situation, but thinks it might have some advantages, such as Cord being able to introduce them peacefully to his tribe and his knowledge of the area.

As the company follows Cord to his village he urges them to hurry before nightfall as the yaden come out then. When asked what the yaden are, his response actually translates as "vampire". While inclined to dismiss this as superstition, Cord's description of the yaden is too specific for Roger and Pahner's peace of mind. When night comes and the company is forced to make camp in the "Valley of the Vampires", Pahner sets up the tightest perimeter he can. Sadly, this proves inadequate as one of the troops is found dead in the middle of the night with double-puncture marks over his body and drained of all his blood. The following day, another soldier is attacked by an arboreal worm-like creature that literally melts her to death. Cord identifies the creature as a yaden-cuol (christened a killer-pillar) and tells them to start paying more attention to the jungle if they wish to survive.

The company finally arrives at Cord's village, where they are greeted by the tribal chief D'net Delkra, Cord's brother. Cord tells his brother of his asi bond with Roger and Delkra, while saddened at this news, orders the binding ceremony conducted and a feast to be held for Roger and his "clan". While in the village, Cord and Delkra consult with Roger, Pahner and O'Casey on a serious problem facing the tribe from the neighboring city-state of Q'Nkok. The city and the X'Intai have a treaty whereby the city dwellers are permitted to cut only certain trees in a specific area of the tribe's territory in return for certain goods like iron spearheads. In recent months the woodcutters have been cutting deeper into the jungle than permitted while the goods being paid in return have been of poor quality. As a result, Cord's nephew and protégé Deltan died when his spearhead shattered while attacked by an animal. To attack the woodcutters would mean war with the city while allowing further violations would condemn the tribe to a slow death by starvation as the jungle is depleted of trees and game. The tribe could launch a surprise attack on Q'Nkok and feast on their food stores, but such an attack would leave them seriously weakened and their rival tribes would destroy them. Pahner asks that they delay attacking Q'Nkok until after the company has gone there so that they can resupply and assess the situation there.

Accompanied by Cord and several of his nephews, the company proceeds to Q'Nkok, where the tribesmen are not greeted well by the city dwellers (though a demonstration of the plasma rifle manages to stop the situation from devolving). They are brought before the King Xiya Kan and state their need for supplies in exchange for hi-tech tools while Cord notifies the king of Deltan's death and the continued treaty violations. The company arranges to eavesdrop on the king's council and hear him attack them for their continued misconduct. Believing that the king isn't involved in the plot, the company bugs all the great houses to discover who is. Meanwhile, the company roams the city and Kosutic stops by an arms merchant called T'Leen Targ and purchases a sword for the prince and hears from him the story of the destruction of Voitan and its sister cities by the barbarian Kranolta tribes. She tells this story to the company and points out that they need to cross their territory to get to the seacoast.

After listening in on the great houses, the marines discover that three of the great houses are conspiring to topple the king by provoking Cord's tribe into attacking the city, so as to weaken the king's guard. Then a group of Kranolta mercenaries they have employed will be brought into the city to finish off the guard and sack the competing great houses and independent merchants. The king is astounded and infuriated by this, but is skeptical and asks how they discovered this. The marines are forced to tell him about there technological surveillance abilities which deeply impress the king. Pahner and O'Casey offer Bravo Company's services in breaking this conspiracy in return for a portion of the fines and seizures as funding for their mission. Roger however, points out that the plotters didn't invent the woodcutting crisis, but merely capitalized upon it and offers a possible solution: mining coal in the valley on the other side of the X'Intai territory. The king knows of the valley but fears that no one will want to go there because of the yaden. Roger then, very coldly, suggests that he send the plotters there. While the king is impressed by the elegance of the suggestion, Pahner is appalled and privately chastises him, telling him that he can't always go for a "bigger hammer".

The marines and the king's guards assault the Great Houses' homes, while Roger, Pahner and several marines, take out the nobles' guards at a state dinner, allowing the king's guards to arrest them. The king then introduces the marines to D'Len Pah, the leader of a tribe of professional caravan drivers who own several pack animals called flar-ta. D'Len is impressed by the humans capabilities and agrees to join them, believing that they have the best chance of reopening the trade routs to Voitan. With their equipment and supplies loaded onto the pack beasts, Roger, Cord, his nephews Denat, Tratan and Cranla and the marines set forth into Kranolta territory.

Marduk continues to take its toll on the company and its equipment as they journey towards Voitan. Sergeant Cobedra is mauled to death by a large six-legged creature called an atul (damnbeast). Julian's better-than-average hearing saves him from getting killed by group of yaden (vampire-moths). Bands of Kranolta hunters ambush the company repeatedly, and a malfunction in one of the plasma rifles – a result of poor quality control of its power pack and the damaging effect of Marduk's climate on the safety mechanisms - blows up an entire squad in a small nuclear explosion. After jury-rigging a tester and scanning all the power packs they find many are defective and Pahner orders all but a couple of the packs discarded and that all the plasma rifles be sealed in bags and not used (seriously reducing the company's firepower). They are forced to travel two days through an enormous swamp, face the enormous atul-grak (bigbeast) and cross a river infested in Mardukan crocodiles (damncrocs). The experience causes Roger to start growing up and to get to know his troops better and appreciate the sacrifices they are willing make for him.

Meanwhile, the Kranolta assemble all of their tribes and decide to attack the human invaders. Their vanguard strikes the company just short of the ruins of Voitan and the company is forced to abandon several people trying to get to walls of the city. When they get there however, Pahner notices that Roger is missing and nearly explodes when he discovers that he lagged behind trying to help evacuate an injured marine. Roger soon finds himself facing several dozen Kranolta in one-on-one ritual combat and manages to kill every opponent. Pahner in the meantime orders the powered armor to be used to extract Roger, only to find that all but four of the suits aren't operational. When the armored marines do arrive, Roger calls out to the leader demanding safe passage in to the city and orders a demonstration of the plasma cannon. The leader consents but promises to return to finish them off.

When Roger arrives in the city, Pahner explodes on him, telling him that he must survive at all costs, even if that means that none of the marines survive, because his family is the only thing holding the empire together these days and that he needs to understand his place in the company. Pahner also tells him that he takes no joy in abandoning his people to die but that he must do this if it means succeeding in the mission to protect him. Roger finally realizes that the fault lays with him and that Pahner is right. Pahner then asks Roger to take command of Third Platoon (filling in for its dead CO) and to familiarize himself with the defenses they are preparing for the expected attack.

Come dawn the next day, the Kranolta approach the Citadel that the humans' have dug-in to in numbers far exceeding Pahner's estimate (18,000 instead of 5,000). The battle is fierce and lasts hours, with the Kranolta attempting to scale the walls and break open the gate, regardless of their casualties, while the marines and Roger rain plasma cannon fire, grenades and bead volleys at them. During the battle Roger and Cord are lightly wounded while the marines suffer serious casualties. Despite their incredible losses, the Kranolta are undeterred and continue to assault the Citadel. Suddenly, a new force emerges from the jungle and marines fear they are reinforcements for the Kranolta. However, the new forces raise the banners of fallen Voitan and of T'an K'tass and assault the Kranolta's remaining forces from the rear and pin them between them and the marines, leaving very few survivors. Pahner then negotiates a ceasefire, to allow the Kranolta to bury their dead and the marines to depart Voitan unmolested.

The company stays in Voitan for three weeks to allow it to recover. O'Casey busies herself with assisting T'Kal Vlan, the last ruler of T'an K'tass, and T'Leen Targ whom the company met earlier at Q'Nkok, while Dobrescu makes a few discoveries. He tells the Voitanese that the secret of their famous "water steel" (Damascene steel) is a combination of the unique ore composition found in mines there and the techniques they used and predicts that they should be able to produce the best weapons-grade steel they have yet. He also discovers that the Mardukans' genders are reversed; the males are actually ovipositors while the females produce the sperm and carry the fetuses. However, it is merely a technical definition (which explains the problems with the translators) and Pahner decides that the marines should continue to refer to the "females" as males. The Marines also use the time to bury their dead in the city's catacombs (a sign of high honor from the Voitanese), to collect good weapons and train with them.

The reduced company departs from Voitan and continues to march until they reach the Hadur region to a city called Marshad. They are soon intercepted by a tinker of some sort who also urges them to go to Marshad and acts as a sort of guide for the area. They arrive at the king's palace just in time to see him behead a hapless peasant and the Company is ordered to dress ranks to deter any idea of attack. Prince Roger addresses the king, presents his credentials and declares that Voitan has been restored. The king states that he has heard of their exploits, that a place has been prepared for them and that a feast shall be held in their honor. Though the locals seem friendly enough, Pahner, Roger, Kosutic, O'Casey and Cord all agree that King Radj is not to be trusted and need to consider the possibility that Radj will attempt to assassinate Roger or some of the marines.

At the lavish dinner, the humans eat very little due to the presence of a foul-tasting herb. O'Casey keeps herself busy by conversing with Jedal Vel, the Pasulian envoy. Afterwards, the king asks Roger if his puissant warriors could kill all of his guards in the room. Roger says that they probably could and the king glances at his guard captain, who promptly kills the Pasulian envoy sitting next to O'Casey. Roger remains unfazed by this, and with his usual speed pulls out a bead pistol and shoots the guard in question dead and immediately trains the weapon on the king himself. The king however never intended to kill them but to "motivate" them to do his bidding, which is to conquer Pasule for him. The humans at the dinner are then separated from the rest of their party.

As the rest of the company settles in for the duration, Poertena and Cord's nephews continue their card games. However, a Mardukan female in the room hums a song that is actually a message regarding the prince and a way to save him. Poertena realizes that this is an intelligence contact and discreetly transfers the request for a meet to his commanders. Lt. Jasco, Kosutic, Julian, Poertena and Denat meet in the kitchen as requested and are soon startled when a wall behind the lieutenant opens up to reveal the female and Kheder Bijan. Kheder tells the humans that had they failed to follow him to Marshad, King Radj would have sent his entire army to destroy them since they are his ticket to control of the Hadur region and that he will use them until they are all dead. Kosutic asks what the plan is and Kheder says that there are factions in Marshad in league with Pasule, who desire a change in regime in Marshad. All the marines need to do is to turn upon the army of Marshad with their "lightning weapons" on the day of the battle. The female, Sena, is to be their conduit to Kheder. The troops consider the plan and decide to go along with it with some changes that anger Kheder but which he has no choice but to agree to.

Denat is then sent out with Sena with a bomb that he is tasked to attach to the bridge the night before the attack. They arrive at her house, where Denat is introduced to her family. He explains his mission to them and they help with the details of the plan. They are then resolved to wait until the attack and share what little food they have with their guest, her father stating that "the House of T'Leen is not so fallen as to be unable to provide hospitality!". Upon hearing his name, Denat mentions that he knows a T'Leen Targ and Sena's father says he is his cousin T'Leen Sul. Happy to impart good news, Denat tells him about Targ and his role in recapturing Voitan and how the city is restored. Sul is overjoyed to hear this and resolves to return to Voitan with his wife.

As Pahner, Roger and O'Casey finish their plans and turn in for the night, a casual remark by O'Casey about his father draws Roger's attention. He is surprised to hear that O'Casey is fully briefed on the story and he surprises her in turn, by saying he was never told the reasons for his father's expulsion from Court. O'Casey then tells him the story, how his grandfather was an ineffectual emperor whose policies had weakened the empire's military and destabilized it politically, how his mother had fallen in love with the Earl of New Madrid and how she discovered his connections to certain treasonous factions and had him repudiated and how she chose not to abort Roger. Roger realizes that his strained relationship with his mother is the result of his similarity, both in appearance and behavior to his hated father and that no one told him this story, because they assumed that he already knew. Worse, they assumed that his behavior was a sign that he was siding with his father and not his mother. Roger is infuriated by his mother's distrust, and orders O'Casey and the marines out of the room, which he then proceeds to demolish with his sword. O'Casey then turns to Pahner to explain what happen and that they need to talk, while the marines fear that Roger has become treasonous.

Roger finally emerges from his funk the next day to ask about the status of the company. He points out to Pahner that given their losses in life and ammunition to date, they are likely to run out of both before reaching the coast and suggests taking on Mardukan guards be it by loyalty oaths or cash. Pahner is forced to agree but is uncomfortable with the idea of hiring mercenaries. Meanwhile, Denat slips out of the city unnoticed and heads to the river, where he places the bomb under the bridge. Radj's new guard captain meets with Roger and demands that he draft orders to his troops to follow the guard captain's commands until they are reunited. After the exchange of threats, Roger complies.

On the morning of the battle, Roger speaks over the radio to the marines, explaining why he'd been so angry at his mother and the reasons that they found themselves on Marduk, stating that he still loves her both as a mother and as an empress and pledging to get all of them back home to Earth and to discuss the matter with his mother. The marines, encouraged by this, set off to the battle field while Roger, Pahner and the rest of the guards are ordered to join Radj in viewing the battle from the palace balcony. As arranged, the plasma cannon team carries the weapon into range and fires it at the Pasulian guards on the other side, who jump at first sight of the weapon. Once the bridge is clear, the rest of the marines and the Marshadan army cross to the Pasulian side and begin the assault on the city while the plasma cannon is hauled to the top of a hill (followed by a group of soldiers Radj has sent to keep an eye on them). Soon after, the smaller Pasulian army is spotted coming out of the city. Just as the two forces are about to meet, the marines spring their trap. The plasma cannon is turned upon the Marshadan army while the forces guarding the marines manning the cannon are blown apart by directional mines and the bridge explodes, cutting off their line of retreat. Pahner takes the king down while Roger and his bodyguards quickly dispatch with the king's guards and use their bodies to block the door until their reinforcements in the barracks get there.

Three days after the battle, Roger meets with Kheder Bijan, who is the new king of Marshad and inquires as to the delay in giving them the supplies and shields that were promised. Kheder refuses to give them what he promised and confidently tells Roger that he and his marines aren't going anywhere and threatens to withhold the antidote to the poison they consumed on their first night there if Roger fails to show him respect. Roger however, tells Kheder that he and the marines aren't from anywhere on his planet and therefore not vulnerable to the same poisons Mardukans are. When Kheder attempts to "renegotiate", Roger shoots him and orders T'Leen Sul to be brought in to replace him. With O'Casey's assistance T'Leen establishes a more rational regime, rearranging Marshad's resources and redistributing the land and dedicating more of it to food production rather than dianda. Soon after, numerous diplomatic delegations from the surrounding city-states arrive at Marshad to meet with the humans both to thank them for removing Radj Hoomas and to promise safe passage through their territory. As Roger conducts the various diplomatic handshakes, Pahner notes to O'Casey in private how much he's grown and thinks to himself that Bravo Company's loyalties are to the no-longer useless Prince. As the marines organize for departure, Kosutic notifies Roger and Pahner that they've picked up a fragment of a radio transmission: someone has spotted the shuttles. Pahner decides that Roger and O'Casey may have been right about telling their friends along the way the truth so as to cover their back trail. Roger then mounts the flar-ta Patty with a recovering Cord at his back and gives to order to continue the march towards the mountains.

Locations on Marduk Visited by the Marines[edit]

Q'Nkok - The first city-state that Roger and Bravo Company visit along the March. Like most Mardukan cities and villages it is located on a hill top to avoid flash floods. The city is ruled by King Xiya Kan and a council composed of the heads of all the great houses. While king is charged with protecting the city and ruling it the council is rife with intrigue and political backstabbing and a serious thorn in the king's side.

Voitan - Once the shining commercial and industrial center of the Hurtan region, known for its superior metal works and Damascene Steel, the city of Voitan found itself overwhelmed by the barbarian tribes of the Kranolta who had sacked the city and the surrounding city-states and occupied the region. However, the sacking of the city-states was not as complete as the Kranolta had thought as many of the cities artisans and workers along with their wealth had fled the city and established themselves elsewhere preparing for the day that they might retake the city. As a youth, D'Nal Cord was sent to study in Voitan.

Marshad - Radj Kordan, who had been king during the fall of Voitan, had found himself facing a rebellion among the great houses. After emerging victorious, he planned to strip them of their guards, fine them heavily and reduce their power, but was assassinated before he could do this. In retaliation, his son killed every member of the rebellious houses and absorbed his single remaining ally, thus leaving the House of Radj the only power in the city. Since then the city has fallen into ruin with crushing poverty everywhere except in the king's palace with all of the city's revenues from the lucrative trading dianda (a flax-like silk which is planted everywhere around the city at the expense of food) going towards defense (retaining lots of mercenaries) and lining the pockets of the king and his advisors while the peasants starve. The city's closest neighbor is the city-state Pasule which lives in constant fear of Marshad and its king.

Major interstellar players[edit]

The Empire of Man - Also called the Terran Empire, it is one of the major interstellar powers in the area of the galaxy explored by humans. Ruled by a monarchy (house MacClintock) and a parliament consisting of an elected senate and a house of lords, the empire encompasses a great many worlds with varying degrees of technological development. Recent political problems, beginning with the reign of Emperor Andrew (Roger's grandfather), have created a great deal of factionalism, unrest and inequality, particularly between the core worlds and the outer planets. The result is a brewing crisis that the Empress has been desperately attempting to prevent and which is the cause of the attack on Roger that strands him and his marines on Marduk.

The Caravazan Empire - The Terran Empire's traditional enemy. Following the ascent of Pierpaelo Cavaza - a devotee of the Church of Ryback (an organization dedicated to removing "humanocentric" damage from the universe) - to the throne shortly after the Dagger Years, the empire embraced the tenets of the church into law. The move had triggered a short civil war that Cavaza had won proving that he was just as ruthless as his ancestors. Now the empire is led by his followers, religious eco-freaks who seek to impose their belief on how nature should be handled. As part of this belief system, the Saints "reclaim" certain worlds by forcing humans to remove all human influence and pollution (including their own waste - which is why they basically starve the people sent to reclaim these worlds to death).

Raiden-Winterhowe - A revanchist empire that was once invaded and forced to defend itself and now continues to expand because it simply can't stop.

The Alphane Alliance - An alliance consisting of 12 worlds and populated by humans, Althari and Phaenurs. The Althari are a female-dominated, stoic warrior race that resemble 3 meter tall koala bears while the Phaenurs are a four-legged, lizard-like race of functional telepaths (among themselves) and empaths. The Althari, being descended from ground burrowing creatures prefer underground dwellings with clear fields of fire, making them more like subterranean bunkers than homes. In Althari society, males are definitely second-class citizens, untrusted by the females, many of whom consider them as being useful only for breeding and housework. Defined by O'Casey as "very shrewd bargainers" since they can't be lied to (the Phaenurs being able to sense deception). The Alliance is on friendly terms with the Empire of Man.

Technology[edit]

Tutorial Implants ("Toots") - An implanted computer processor that interfaces completely with human neural systems without adverse side effects. Used primarily for data processing, storage and training, the toot augments a persons learning capability, including the use of assassination programs (for better marksmanship) or translating alien languages. The device can, in fact, take over for the person and allow him to perform tasks more efficiently. However, it is a security planner's nightmare, as the toot can be hacked and the person forced to do a task against their will (as if they'd been possessed by a demon). People whose toots have been hacked are called "toot zombies" or "toombies".

ChromSten - The hardest substance known to modern science, a form of collapsed matter, used both in ship's armor and in personal body armor. Only a plasma rifle (or something stronger) can penetrate ChromSten.

Tunnel Drive - The faster-than-light method of transport used for interstellar travel. Ships equipped with tunnel drives tend to be huge, as the drive takes up a lot of volume. Every star system, depending on the size of its primary star, has a limit within which entry into tunnel space is impossible (known as the Tsukayama Limit). Travel between star systems takes days and sometimes weeks.

Phase Drive - The drive used when the ship is in normal space.

Bead Rifles and Cannons - Projectile weapons that fire five-millimeter steel-coated, glass- or tungsten-cored beads "accelerated to phenomenal speeds" via electromagnetic lining in the weapon's barrel.

Plasma Rifles and Cannons - The main field energy weapon, capable of taking out powered armor. The plasma rifles utilize a magazine containing lithium-deuteride pellets and a power source to feed the laser compressors that initiate the fusion reaction that drives the weapon.

Chameleon Suits - The standard issue marine uniform that allows the wearer to fade into the background. The suits also offer limited ballistic protection and can be configured for work in vacuum environments.

Powered Armor - ChromSten made armor that offers even better ballistic protection and camouflage capabilities that chameleon suits and are susceptible to damage only from heavy energy weapons such as plasma rifles and cannons or the last-ditch, contact-range weapon called a "one-shot", which delivers a shock wave through the armor to the plasteel matrix supporting it, causing a scab to break free and ricochette inside the armor, killing the person inside.

Nanotechnology - Widely used throughout the story and in many ways. Prince Roger, his staff, the marines and the navy personnel attached all have nannites floating around in their blood stream whose function is to enhance the person's regenerative capabilities (even a lost limb, though this takes a metabolic toll on the body), process alien nutrients into something human anatomy can use, increase the body's endurance and protect against disease and foreign toxins. The marines also have nanotech recording devices used in an intelligence gathering function. These devices are the size of a small insect and can move like one so as to look innocuous.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "David Weber". eBookwise. Retrieved 18 August 2009. 

External links[edit]

  • The complete text of March Upcountry can be found here.