Ndeki's Notes is a flash fiction series first published in the Legion Bulletin. We know the notes are written by Ndeki Joshua McCall, the star of Revenge Squad, but to whom is he writing and why? You'll have to read on to uncover the mystery, and learn about NJ McCall's world along the way.
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Episode 1: TRUST
I hope you’re well, happy, and up to fine mischief without getting caught.
Lesson #1. Never accept what people tell you until you know who they are and what they’re after. Until you know them better, assume everyone you meet has their angle, and it will never be the same as yours. Naturally, that goes for me too.
I expect you’ve already learned that, but you can’t hear it often enough.
Well, actually you can. There are people whom you can trust with your life and your heart. Don’t let them in under your guard without a fight, but the rewards when you trust someone who deserves it are so profound that it’s worth a little risk.
I fought through three centuries of war. I sure didn’t fight for my alien officers who murdered so many of my childhood friends. To begin with, I didn’t fight for ideal or principle either, not until I switched sides and joined the Human Legion. Even then, what kept me going was my friends. That bond of trust works both ways, you see. I had to keep going else I’d let my friends down.
When the Legion dumped me on this frontier dustball they named Klin-Tula, I was lost for a long while until I found someone to trust, someone to fight for.
Well… I’ll be honest. I didn’t find someone. They found me.
I’m not good with words, Maite. Dropships, railguns and fists are more my thing. Whiskey too. So forgive my clumsiness, but I’m asking you to open up to the possibility of trust.
Not now. Not easily. Give up your trust like it’s the most precious thing on the planet, but don’t hoard it. Because if you never give away your trust then it becomes worthless.
I’m hoping I can earn your trust myself.
I won’t give my name. It’s not safe for you if I did. Think of a big, old Marine with a manly beard and scars. One who smells of whiskey, blood, or sabot resin, depending on what he’s been up to that day.
I know what you’re thinking. “What a dumbwad! There are thousands in Port Zahir who meet that description.” Well, you’d be right, but I’m not a random old geezer. You and I have met.
So far, I’ve narrowed my identity down to hundreds of people, but there is one amongst them who you hate the most. That’s me. I’m the one who you feel least deserves your trust in the entire galaxy.
I don’t blame you for hating me. I would do the same in your place. You think I abandoned you. I did not. I was protecting you, as best I could. I still am.
Maite, you deserve the best chance of life. You been dealt a bad hand, but you’re still a crècheling, and you can still grow into whatever you want to be.
If it helps, imagine it is guilt driving me to contact you. Think of me as a sad old soldier seeking redemption for his betrayal.
None of that would be true, but run with whatever truth works for you. Most people do.
I’m going to send you these notes when I can. I’m nearly 300 years old, Maite. You don’t get to my age without learning a thing or two, and I hope to pass some of that onto you.
Learn from me. Use what I tell you to give you an edge, because there’s trouble coming to this world of Klin-Tula and an edge might be the difference between life and death.
And then, when you’ve learnt from me, I want you to surpass me. I know you can.
I expect your anger at me is still burning in your young heart like a plasma bomb.
I respect that.
I deserve that.
Nonetheless, I want to earn your trust, and I know it won’t be easy. So I’ll start with something simple: honesty.
I said that it would be dangerous for you if I gave my name. That’s true, but my name is only a random identifier, a label loosely based on my heritage. Instead, I’ll sign myself using a name based on what I am.
Remember, Maite. Prepare yourself for the possibility of trusting. It is important.
I’ll write again when I can. There’s a lot I need to tell you.
Episode 2: FIGHT
I hear you got into a fight last week. More to the point, you got into a fight and lost.
Don’t freak out, I’m not snooping around nearby in person. But I do have friends keeping an eye out for you when they can.
I’d hoped to start off giving you advice on girls, or boys, or drinking. Maybe a little rough and ready philosophy from an old soldier. And I’ve already made notes on the best ways to win at cards (without getting caught).
Instead, I find myself giving advice on how to win fights. I don’t mind. I just like to kid myself sometimes there’s more to me than violence.
I already know you can handle yourself with your fists. I’ve seen you in action.
But there’s more to fighting than skills. It’s only half of what you need to win a battle. The other half is in your heart and your mind.
I’ve fought battles of the official kind – you know, the sort that involves missile launchers, officers, and divisional artillery – but I’ve fought the other kind too, the kind of fight that comes at you unexpectedly in a dark alley. Maybe in your dorm, as happened with you.
I’ve learned that there are three ways to respond to a fight. And you’ve got to make your choice quickly, because if you don’t, you’ve already lost.
One. Run, hide, evade, deflect, avoid conflict in the first place.
Two. Don’t fight back. Take a beating. Sometimes you get no choice on this. Once they’ve made the point, you’ll be surprised how quickly many people leave you alone.
Three. Fight back. Now, here’s the thing. If you fight back, never hesitate. Escalate before your opponent does. Keep the initiative at all times. Never pick up a weapon unless you’re ready to use it without hesitation. Grab that weapon before your opponent grabs his and do not hold back.
The way I’ve heard it, that’s what you got wrong. You grabbed an ornament to use as a weapon but you hoped you wouldn’t have to use it. It’s a tough life, kid. Your enemies would have smelled your hesitation instantly, and they certainly punished you for it.
Learn from that.
I hate having to write this. I fought a war so crèchelings like you wouldn’t have to. We are not using the big guns right now, but I’d be letting you down if I didn’t warn you that there’s fighting ahead.
See, there’s a lot of unhappy folk on Klin-Tula. And a lot of them are in Port Zahir. Some of the people in charge here are very bad sorts. And the people who hold the real power in secret are even worse.
One day – maybe in a few years, maybe tomorrow – somebody’s gonna escalate the fighting onto another level on this planet, just like I told you to. They will reach for a bigger weapon, and they will wield it without restraint. Things will spiral into extreme violence within moments.
I hate having to suggest what I’m just about to, Maite, but I want you to think something over in your head. Play a mental game, if you like, to test out how you would act when the serious fighting comes to Port Zahir in real life.
If it comes….
Things aren’t that bad yet.
Hell, who am I kidding? Armies are being recruited, weapons stockpiled. I’m only saying ‘if’ to stop you having nightmares. Sorry. Wishful thinking is the enemy of anybody who plans to stay alive through violent times.
I want you to imagine…
Oh, Maite. I couldn’t write what comes next. My heart grew too cold. For two days, I’ve looked at this and couldn’t write those words. I even talked it over with my wife to check I was doing the right thing. She has some weird ideas – I mean weirder than you can possibly imagine – but she’s… Let’s say she has a radically different perspective on life, and that makes her a wonderful sounding board.
Okay. She said I need to do this, so here goes.
Maite, I want you to imagine killing someone.
Imagine ending another person. Let’s make it another human being. A grown-up. Someone who is trying to hurt you and your friends.
Scratch that. I don’t want you to imagine any such thing. I was firing live rounds out of my training carbine when I was half your age. I was bred to fight and die in battle. I hoped for something better for your generation. What I want is for you to be so unable to conceive of such a thing as killing another being, that your mind recoils in horror at the thought.
Maybe that’s the life your grandkids can hope for, but we aren’t there yet. Not on Klin-Tula. Not by a long shot.
Not everyone has it in them to kill another person, and that’s a good thing. It gives me hope for our species. Thing is, if you don’t believe you can do that, then if things turned violent, that leaves you with only the first of my three options. Run and hide.
Learn from your beating, Maite, because the next time you lose a fight it might leave you with a lot more than just bruises. If you don’t know for sure that you’ll grab that weapon and use it, then when the fighting comes, run.
When that day comes, I’ll try to find you and keep you safe. But I have a feeling that if battle erupts in Port Zahir, I will be right at the very heart of it.
Think hard and choose well, Maite.
Episode 3: ALIENS
I’m going to offer you the benefit of my dubious wisdom on a topic that used to be very clear in my head, but has become a whole lot more complicated in recent times – ALIENS.
I’m so old that when I was raised and trained, we’d never even heard of the Human Legion. Hell, my grandmother’s generation never even spoke a word of the modern human tongue, so she would’ve called it by a different name altogether. (My grandparents used to speak Kiswahili, a language that isn’t even spoken on Earth anymore, Zanj Bīn Lugha, being the dominant tongue that replaced it).
The point I’m trying to make is that I come from another era altogether. And it’s a good thing that it’s passed into history because your time will be so much better, although you’re gonna have to work hard to keep it that way.
Life was brutal back when I grew up. Most never even earned the right to adulthood, but at least we knew where we stood about aliens.
Humans were not just an expendable junior race, we were earmarked for extermination as an embarrassment to our White Knight masters. Consequently, there was no point training or engineering us for authority. Humans could never be officers in Human Marine Corps regiments. That role was left for slightly less junior vassal races.
I’ve heard the Navy was experimenting with junior human officers in the last years before the Human Legion changed everything. Mind you, if your life is spent sitting down or floating inside a pressurized gas canister, then I suppose you have to find something to fill your time, even if you’re an alien. I’m convinced the idea of promoting Navy humans was the result of one bored alien admiral daring another, after a hard day’s sitting down and floating.
(I’m joking about Spacers, by the way. I’ve met many who are brave and resourceful. Although… next time you meet one, take a close look at their butt. You’ll see it’s engineered for extra padding to survive the stress of all that sitting down.)
I wasn’t Navy, of course. Our regiments were mostly officered by Jotuns, though there were also Pavnix in sister battalions. They’re a weird lot, Jotuns, as we’ll come to later on. They’re staunch allies of ours and took incredible risks to be protective of humanity as a species, while being utterly careless of individual human lives. I doubt any of us on Klin-Tula would be alive today if not for Jotuns.
Doesn’t mean I like them.
Before the Legion retired me to this planet, there were only two types of aliens I’d ever encountered.
First of all, there were the aliens on our side in the war. They were the ones you weren’t supposed to shoot at, but they were at liberty to decapitate or disembowel you if they didn’t like the way you looked at them. You had to please the Jotuns to pass the novice and cadet training programs, and then graduate as a Marine. In my era, about a third of kids made the Marine grade, and were stored on ice ready to send to the front. The remainder might live for a few years as slave laborers but mostly they were just killed.
Even after graduation, survival as a Marine was always dependent on remaining useful. At least the Jotun sense of honor meant that when they decided you were too old or too badly wounded to deserve your rations of air, food, and water, they would ceremonially dump you in space rather than feed your molecules into the recycling system.
And the Jotuns are an example of what we call good aliens!!
Then there were the aliens on the other side of the war. This was much simpler. You had to shoot them before they shot you.
The idea that you could be friends with an alien never occurred to us, and when the Legion dumped their veterans on this planet and told us to play nicely together, it became obvious it had never occurred to the aliens who wound up on Klin-Tula either.
I’ve never hated aliens. I just wanted them to keep out of my way, and almost all the aliens I’ve ever met say the same about us.
They probably teach you in school to celebrate our differences and all that drent. It’s a fine idea in theory, but the reality is frakking difficult. Which is why I’m going to strip out all the sing-songs-together-around-the-campfire fluff and give you a Marine’s-eye view of the alien races you are likely to encounter on Klin-Tula. I’m going to tell you what you need to know to avoid getting killed, and maybe how to parley to achieve a little co-operation. If enough people learn this kind of basic stuff, then maybe there’s a chance for our new world after all.
I hope so. Took me a long time to realize, but Klin-Tula’s future is worth fighting for.
First stop will be the timid fish people who are far too polite to raise their voice, or ask for the restroom, but will declare holy war and burn down your planet before you can ask whether anything’s the matter. And then compose a choral symphony about it.
You guessed it: Littoranes.