March to the Stars (Empire of Man Series #3)by David Weber, John Ringo
Another Sunny Day on Marduk. Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock has had a really bad year. Bad enough to be the spoiled rotten fop of a prince no one wanted or trusted. Worse to be sent off on a meaningless diplomatic mission, simply to get you out from underfoot, with a bodyguard of Marines who loathe and despise you. Worse yet to be assumed dead and… See more details below
Another Sunny Day on Marduk. Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock has had a really bad year. Bad enough to be the spoiled rotten fop of a prince no one wanted or trusted. Worse to be sent off on a meaningless diplomatic mission, simply to get you out from underfoot, with a bodyguard of Marines who loathe and despise you. Worse yet to be assumed dead and marooned for almost a year on a hell-hole planet while you and those same Marines fight your way through carnivorous beasts, murderous natives, and perpetual rain to the only starport ... which is controlled by the Empire's worst enemies. Worst of all to have discovered that you were born to be a warrior prince. One whose bodyguards have learned the same lesson. And one haunted by the deaths of almost a hundred of your Marines ... for what you know now was an unnecessary exercise in political expediency. A warrior prince who wants to have a few choice words with your Lady Mother, the Empress of Man. But to have them, you, your surviving Marines, and your Mardukan allies must cross a demon-haunted ocean, face a civilization that is "civilized" in name alone and "barbarians" who may not be exactly what they seem, and once again battle against impossible odds. All so that you can attempt to somehow seize a heavily defended spaceport and hijack a starship to take you home. Yet what neither Roger, nor the Marines, nor his allies know is that the battle to leave Marduk is only the beginning. And that words with Roger's mother will be hard to come by. But that's all right. Because what the Galaxy doesn't know is that it's about to receive a fresh proof of an old truism: You don't mess with a MacClintock.
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March to the Stars
By David Weber John Ringo
Baen BooksISBN: 0-7434-3562-1
Chapter One"It's a halyard."
"No, it's a stay. T'e headstay."
The thirty-meter schooner Ima Hooker swooped closehauled into aquamarine swells so perfect they might have been drawn from a painting by the semimythical Maxfield Parrish. Overhead, the rigging sang in a faint but steady breeze. That gentle zephyr, smelling faintly of brine, was the only relief for the sweltering figures on her deck.
Julian mopped his brow and pointed to the offending bit of rigging.
"Look, there's a rope-"
"A line," Poertena corrected pedantically.
"Okay, there's a line and a pulley-"
"T'at's a block. Actually, it's a deadeye."
"Really? I thought a block was one of those with cranks."
"No, t'at's a windlass."
Six other schooners kept formation on Hooker. Five of them were identical to the one on whose deck Julian and Poertena stood: low, trim hulls with two masts of equal height and what was technically known as a "topsail schooner rig." What that meant was that each mast carried a "gaff sail," a fore-and-aft sail cut like a truncated triangle with its head set from an angled yard-the "gaff"-while the foremast also carried an entire set of conventional square sails. The after gaff sail-the "mainsail," Julian mentally corrected; after all, he had to get something right-had a boom; the forward gaff sail did not. Of course, it was called the foresail whereas the lowest square sail on that mast was called the "fore course," which struck him as a weird name for any sail. Then there were the "fore topsail," "fore topgallant," and "fore royal," all set above the fore course.
The second mast (called the "mainmast" rather than the "aftermast," for some reason Julian didn't quite understand, given that the ship had only two masts to begin with and that it carried considerably less canvas than the foremast) carried only a single square topsail, but compensated by setting a triangular "leg of mutton" fore-and-aft sail above the mainsail. There were also staysails set between the masts, not to mention a flying jib, outer jib, and inner jib, all set between the foremast and the bowsprit.
The seventh schooner was different-a much bigger, less agile, somehow unfinished-looking vessel with a far deeper hull and no less than five masts-and, at the insistence of Captain Armand Pahner, Imperial Marines, rejoiced in the name of Snarleyow. The smaller, more nimble ships seemed to regard their larger sister with mixed emotions. No one would ever have called Snarleyow anything so gauche as clumsy, perhaps, but she was clearly less fleet of foot, and her heavier, more deliberate motion almost seemed to hold the others back.
All of the ships carried short-barreled cannon along their sides. Snarleyow mounted fifteen of them to a side, which gave her a quarter again the broadside armament of any of her consorts, but all of them carried a single, much larger cannon on a pivot mount towards the bow, as well. And every single one of them had ropes everywhere. Which was the problem.
"Okay." Julian drew a deep breath, then continued in a tone of massive calm. "There's a line and a pu-block. So why isn't it a halyard?"
"Halyard hauls up t'e sail. T'e stay, it hold t'e pocking mast up."
The Pinopan had grown up around the arcane terminology of the sea. In fact, he was the only human member of the expedition (with the exception of Roger, who had spent summers in Old Earth's blue-water recreational sailing community) who actually understood it at all. But despite the impression of landsmen-that the arcana existed purely to cause them confusion-there was a real necessity for the distinct terminology. Ships constantly encounter situations where clear and unambiguous orders may mean the difference between life and death. Thus the importance of being able to tell hands to pull upon a certain "rope" in a certain way. Or, alternatively, to let it out slowly, all the while maintaining tension.
Thus such unambiguous and unintelligible orders as "Douse the mainsail and make fast!" Which does not mean throw water on it to increase speed.
"So which one's the halyard?" Julian asked plaintively.
"Which halyard? Countin' t'e stays'ils, t'ere's seventeen pocking halyards on t'is ship...."
Hooker's design had been agreed upon as the best possible for the local conditions. She and her consorts had been created, through human design and local engineering, to carry Prince Roger and his bodyguards-now augmented by various local forces-across a previously unexplored ocean. Not that there hadn't, as always, been the odd, unanticipated circumstance requiring last-minute improvisation. The fact that a rather larger number of Mardukan allies than originally anticipated had been added to Roger's force had created the need for more sealift capacity. Especially given the sheer size of the Mardukan cavalry's mounts. Civan were fast, tough, capable of eating almost anything, and relatively intelligent. One thing they were not, however, was petite. Hardly surprising, since the cavalrymen who rode into battle on their backs averaged between three and three and a half meters tall.
Carrying enough of them to sea aboard the six original schooners had turned out to be impossible once the revised numbers of local troopers had been totaled up. So just when everyone had thought they were done building, they-and somewhere around a quarter of the total shipbuilding force of K'Vaern's Cove-had turned to to build the Snarleyow. Fortunately, the local labor force had learned a lot about the new building techniques working on the smaller ships, but it had still been a backbreaking, exhausting task no one had expected to face. Nor had Poertena been able to spend as much time refining her basic design, which was one reason she was ugly, slabsided, and slow, compared to her smaller sisters. She was also built of green timber, which had never been seasoned properly and could be expected to rot with dismaying speed in a climate like Marduk's. But that was all right with Prince Roger and his companions. All they really cared about was that she last long enough for a single voyage.
Although she was scarcely in the same class for speed or handiness as Poertena's original, twin-masted design, Snarleyow was still enormously more efficient than any native Mardukan design. She had to be. The nature of the local weather was such that there was an almost unvarying wind from the northeast, yet that was the very direction in which the ships had to sail. That was the reason for their triangular sails. Their fore-and-aft rig-a technology the humans had introduced-made it possible for them to sail much more sharply into the wind than any local vessel, with its clumsy and inefficient, primitive square-rigged design, had ever been able to do. Similar ships had sailed the seas of Earth all the way up to the beginning of the Information Age, and they remained the mainstay for water worlds like Pinopa.
"Now I'm really confused," Julian moaned. "All right. Tying something down is 'making fast.' A rope attached to a sail is a 'sheet.' A rope tied to the mast is a 'stay.' And a bail is the iron thingamajig on the mast."
"T'e boom," Poertena corrected, wiping away a drop of sweat. The day, as always, was like a steambath, even with the light wind that filled the sails. "T'e bail is on t'e boom. Unless you're taking on water. T'en you bail it out."
"I give up!"
"Don' worry about it," the Pinopan said with a chuckle. "You only been at t'is a few weeks. Besides, you got me an' all t'ose four-armed monstrosities to do t'e sailing. You jus' pull when we say 'heave,' and stop when we say 'avast.' "
"And hold on when you say 'belay.' "
"And hold on tight when we say belay."
"I blame Roger for this," Julian said with another shake of his head.
"You blame Roger for what?" a cool female voice asked from behind him.
Julian looked over his shoulder and grinned at Nimashet Despreaux. The female sergeant was frowning at him, but it slid off the irrepressible NCO like water off a duck.
"It's all Roger's fault that we're in this predicament," he replied. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have to learn this junk!"
Despreaux opened her mouth, but Julian held up a hand before she could retort.
"Calmly, Nimashet. I know it's not Roger's fault. It was a joke, okay?"
Despreaux's frown only underscored the classical beauty of her face, but it was dark with worry.
"Roger's ... still not taking Kostas' death very well, Adib. I just don't ... I don't want anybody even joking about this being his fault," she said, and Poertena nodded in agreement.
"T'e prince didn't maroon us here, Julian. T'e Saints an' whoever set t'at pocking toombie on us marooned us." The diminutive armorer shrugged. "I guess it wasn't very pocking punny."
"Okay," a chagrined Julian said. "You've got a point. Roger has been sort of dragging around, hasn't he?"
"He's been in a funk, is what you mean," Despreaux said.
"Well, I'm sure there's some way you could cheer him up," Julian suggested with an evil grin.
"Oh, pock," Poertena muttered, and backed up quickly. After a crack like that the fecal matter was about to hit the impeller.
"Now this is a mutinous crew, if ever I've seen one." Sergeant Major Eva Kosutic said, joining them. She looked from Despreaux's furious face to Julian's "butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth" expression and frowned. "All right, Julian. What did you say this time?"
"Me?" Julian asked with enormous innocence but little real hope of evading the consequences. The sergeant major had an almost miraculous sense of timing; she always turned up just as the action was hottest. Which come to think of it, described her in bed as well. "What would I have said?"
Now he looked from the sergeant major to the fulminating Despreaux, decided that coming clean offered his best chance of survival, and shrugged with a repentant expression.
"I just suggested that there might be a way to cheer Roger up," he admitted, then, unable to help himself, grinned again. "I guarantee I'm right. God knows I've been more cheerful lately."
The sergeant major rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
"Well if that's your attitude, you'll damned well be less cheerful for a while!" She looked at the three noncoms and shook her head. "This is a clear case of His Evilness' finding work for idle hands. Poertena, I thought you were supposed to be conducting a class in rigging."
"I was trying to get Julian up to speed, Sergeant Major," the Pinopan said, tossing a length of rope to the deck. "T'at's not going too good."
"I've got all the stuff loaded in my toot," Julian said with a shrug. "But some of the data seems to be wrong, and the rest just seems to be hitting and bouncing. I mean, what's 'luff' mean?"
"It's when the sail flaps," Kosutic replied, shaking her head. "Even I know that, and I hate sailing. I guess we should've known better than to try to teach Marines to be sailors."
"We don't really need them, Sergeant Major," Poertena told her. "We've got plenty of Mardukans."
"We need to work on our entry techniques, anyway," Julian pointed out. "We've been engaging in all these open-field maneuvers, but when we take the spaceport, it's going to be mostly close quarters. Whole different style, Smaj. And we haven't really done any of that since Q'Nkok."
The sergeant major frowned, then nodded. She was sure Julian had come up with that because it was more fun than learning to sail. But that didn't mean he was wrong.
"Okay. Concur. If we wanted sailors, we should've left you on the DeGlopper and brought Navy pukes. I'll talk the change over with the Old Man. If he approves, we'll start working on close combat techniques for the rest of the voyage."
"Besides," Poertena pointed out gloomily, "we might need them before t'en. I've never seen a place like t'is t'at didn't have pirates."
"And then there's the 'fish of unusual size.'" Julian chuckled and gestured out over the emerald waters. "So far, so good, right?"
"Don't laugh," Despreaux muttered. "I read that log. I do not want to tangle with something big enough to bite a boat in half, even a small one."
"Well," Kosutic said, with a tug on her earlobe. "If worse comes to worst, we can always give Roger a pocket knife and throw him at it."
"Ooooo!" Julian shook his head. "You haven't even met one of these little fishies and you hate them that much?"
* * *
Prince Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock, Heir Tertiary to the Throne of Man, turned away from the creaming waves to look across the shipboard bustle. The sergeant major had just broken up the huddle around Julian, and the four NCOs were headed in four different directions. He took a moment extra to watch Despreaux make for the fo'c'sle. He knew his depression was beginning to affect her, and that he needed to snap out of it. But the loss of Kostas was the one wound that would not seem to heal, and he'd had too much time to think about it since the frenetic haste of getting all seven ships built had eased into the voyage itself. For the first time in what seemed forever, he wasn't engaged in frantic efforts to train native troops, fight barbarian armies, build ships, or simply hike through endless jungle. For that matter, nothing was actively attempting to kill him, devour him, assassinate him, or kidnap him, and a part of him was distantly amazed to discover just how much having that respite depressed him. Having time to think, he had learned, was not always a good thing.
He supposed he could pull up the list of casualties on his implanted toot. But there wouldn't be much point. When they'd first landed, the Marines of Bravo Company, Bronze Battalion of the Empress Own Regiment, had been just so many faces. And the officers and crew of the Assault Ship DeGlopper, long since expanding plasma, had just been blurs. But since some time after the pilots of the shuttles had brought them to deadstick landings on this backward hell, some time between the internecine fighting that had erupted at the first city they'd visited and the furious battles with the Kranolta barbarians, the Marines had become more than faces. In many ways, they had become more than family-as close as a part of his own body.
And each loss had been like flaying skin.
First the loss of half the company in Voitan, fighting the Kranolta. Then the constant low-level seepage as they battled their way across the rest of the continent. More good troops killed in Diaspra against the Boman, and then a handful more in Sindi against the main Boman force. The ones who fell to the damnbeasts and the vampire moths. And the crocs.
Excerpted from March to the Stars by David Weber John Ringo Excerpted by permission.
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