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Prologue

Of Alexandra VII's three children, the youngest, Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock—known variously to political writers of his own time as "Roger the Terrible," "Roger the Mad," "the Tyrant," "the Restorer," and even "the Kin-Slayer"—did not begin his career as the most promising material the famed MacClintock Dynasty had ever produced. Alexandra's child by Lazar Fillipo, the sixth Earl of New Madrid, whom she never married, the then-Prince Roger was widely regarded prior to the Adoula Coup as an overly handsome, self-centered, clothes-conscious fop. It was widely known within court circles that his mother nursed serious reservations about his reliability and was actively disappointed by his indolent, self-centered neglect of those duties and responsibilities which attached to his position as Heir Tertiary to the Throne of Man. Less widely known, although scarcely a secret, was her lingering distrust of his loyalty.


As such, it was perhaps not unreasonable, when the "Playboy Prince" and his bodyguard (Bravo Company, Bronze Battalion, of the Empress' Own Regiment) disappeared en route to a routine flag-showing ceremony only months before an attack upon the Imperial Palace, that suspicion should turn to him. The assassination of his older brother, Crown Prince John, and of his sister, Princess Alexandra, and of all of John's children, combined with the apparent attempt to assassinate his Empress Mother, would have left Roger the only surviving heir to the throne.


What was unknown at the time was that those truly behind the coup were, in fact, convinced that Roger and his Marine bodyguard were all dead, as his assassination had been the first step in their plans to overthrow Empress Alexandra. By hacking into the personal computer implant of a junior officer aboard the Prince's transport vessel, they were able, through their unwilling, programmed agent, to plant demolition charges at critical points within the vessel's engineering sections. Unfortunately for their plans, the saboteur was discovered before she could quite complete her mission, and the ship, although badly crippled, was not destroyed outright.


Instead of dying almost instantly in space, the "Playboy Prince" found himself marooned on the planet of Marduk . . . a fate some might not have considered preferable. Although legally claimed by the Empire and the site of an Imperial starport, it was obvious to the commander of his bodyguard, Captain Armand Pahner, that the system was actually under the de facto control of the Caravazan Empire, the ruthless rivals of the Empire of Man. The "Saints'" fanatical attachment to the principle that humanity's polluting, ecology-destroying presence should be excised from as many planets as physically possible was matched only by their burning desire to replace the Empire of Man as the dominant political and military power of the explored galaxy. Their interest in Marduk was easily explainable by the star system's strategic location on the somewhat amorphous boundary between the two rival star nations, although precisely what at least two of their sublight cruisers were doing there was rather more problematical. But whatever the exact details of their presence in the Marduk System might be, it was imperative that the Heir Tertiary not fall into their hands.


To prevent that from happening, the entire crew of Roger's transport vessel, HMS Charles DeGlopper, sacrificed their lives in a desperate, close-range action which destroyed both Saint cruisers in the system without ever revealing DeGlopper's identity or the fact that Roger had been aboard. Just before the transport's final battle, the Prince and his Marine bodyguards, along with his valet and his chief of staff and one-time tutor, escaped undetected aboard DeGlopper's assault shuttles to the planet. There, they faced the formidable task of marching halfway around one of the most hostile, technically habitable planets ever claimed by the Empire so that they might assault the spaceport and seize control of it.


It was, in fact, as virtually all of them realized, an impossible mission, but the "Bronze Barbarians" were not simply Imperial Marines. They were the Empress' Own, and impossible or not, they did it.


For eight endless months, they fought their way across half a world of vicious carnivores, sweltering jungle, swamp, mountains, seas, and murderous barbarian armies. When their advanced weapons failed in the face of Marduk's voracious climate and ecology, they improvised new ones—swords, javelins, black powder rifles, and muzzle-loading artillery. They learned to build ships. They destroyed the most terrible nomadic army Marduk had ever seen, and then did the same thing to the cannibalistic empire of the Krath. At first, the horned, four-armed, cold-blooded, mucus-covered, three-meter-tall natives of Marduk seriously underestimated the small, bipedal visitors to their planet. Physically, humans closely resembled oversized basiks, small, stupid, rabbitlike creatures routinely hunted by small children armed only with sticks. Those Mardukans unfortunate enough to get in the Empress' Own's way, however, soon discovered that these basiks were far more deadly than any predator their own world had ever produced.


And along the way, the "Playboy Prince" discovered that he was, indeed, the heir of Miranda MacClintock, the first Empress of Man. At the beginning of that epic march across the face of Marduk, the one hundred and ninety Marines of Bravo Company felt nothing but contempt for the worthless princeling whose protection was their responsibility; by its end, Bravo Company's twelve survivors would have fixed bayonets to charge Hell itself at his back. And the same was true of the Mardukans recruited into his service as The Basik's Own.


But having, against all odds, captured the spaceport and a Saint special operations ship which called upon it, the surviving Bronze Barbarians and The Basik's Own faced a more daunting challenge still, for they discovered that the coup launched by Jackson Adoula, Prince of Kellerman, had obviously succeeded. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to realize Empress Alexandra was being controlled by the same people who had murdered her children and her grandchildren. And, still worse, was the discovery that the notorious traitor Prince Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock was being hunted by every member of the Imperial military and police establishments as the perpetrator of the attack on his own family.


Despite that . . .


 


—Arnold Liu-Hamner, PhD,
from "Chapter 27:The Chaos Years Begin,"
The MacClintock Legacy, Volume 17, 7th edition, © 3517,
Souchon, Fitzhugh, & Porter Publishing,
Old Earth


 


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