The Scarlet Bastard series - a soldier's memoir set on the colony of Samsara, twenty light years from Earth. Alexander 'Sikunder' Armstrong - a seventeen year old runaway to the United Nations Off-World Legion - faces the grim realty of a hard life on the wild frontier. Surrounded by colourful characters and dangerous enemies in this epic scifi series punctuated by action, humour, and adventure, Sikunder recounts his adventures as a jawan soldier in lavish detail and with an eye to finding the humour in even the most dire of circumstances.
Surrounded by a palisade of rusting razor wire and disintegrating gabions leaking sand and gravel, the cantonment was made up of a dozen long tents, steaming in the sudden warmth. It housed a decuria of four contubernium or infantry squads which, when combined with a handful of staff from the Duceni, or support company, and a score of women and children family members, it numbered over eighty. In between the chalky puddles that dotted the rocky maidan, seven Mitsubishi transports – one of them a mere rotting relic propped on blocks – sat immobile and forlorn on flat tires in the gloom beside eight decayed flatbed trailers, a host of corroding cargo containers and a peeling flagpole with a tattered UN ensign.
Such was the might of the United Nations Off-World Legion that I could have wept.
“It’s meant tae be mobile, jawan.”
I turned to stare at the owner of the deep, bass voice behind me. Beside a drooping supply tent, his massive ebony face nearly hidden by a huge forked beard, stood a veritable gorilla of a man wrapped in threadbare crimson salwar trousers, a faded cobalt blue chapan coat with the two red stripes of the rank of subedar and decuria leader (a captain in any other military), a thick red tartan scarf and topped by a misshapen black turban. His name was Angus Motshegwa – a Scots raised Zulu originally from Cape Town – but better known to those in Panthera Centuria as MacShaka the Tartan Zulu.
“Pack up the transports and cargo containers an’ off we gae. Mind,” he added with a smile as he walked towards us with hands stuffed in pockets – and a hungry wolf had nothing on this man – “we no’ dae it tae much.”
The other jawan recruits joined me from the transport, threading between the cages of clucking chickens that were being unloaded by the driver, and a wandering goat curious at the commotion. The subedar eyed us curiously for a moment, his gaze lingering on me the longest.
“Names, an’ whaur ye’re frae.”
Perplexed by the thick brogue we stood in mute confusion. MacShaka rolled his eyes and snapped, “Och, whaur ye from, ye pack o’ glaiket dilly-daws?”
“Fawzi Abd-al-Kadir, Dushanbe refugee camp, Tajikistan,” volunteered the villainous Hazara bandit who smoothed his long salt and pepper beard and spat defiantly.
“Usman Imran Khan, Kandahar,” replied the youngest of us – the tender youth of sixteen.
The three girls answered, quiet, eyes down cast, and thoroughly submissive. They were all from Kabul and all sold into service by their relatives for a tidy bounty.
I, however, paused before that graven image as he glared down at me like a bishop. I’d never met his like, and he held me in a quaking thrall that I think both annoyed and amused him.
“Damn it, lad, speak up!”
“Alexander Armstrong, Naramata, British Columbia.”
MacShaka held me in his gaze a moment longer. I hardly fit the description of the common Legion jawan – that ruffian from the Central Asian refugee camps, or an impoverished African facing starvation or service. Few Europeans or North Americans joined the Legion save for the poorest or those foolishly seeking adventure off-world.
I was one of the latter – a choice I was already regretting.
MacShaka sniffed contemptuously then spat. He didn’t seem to think much of me. “Losh, another rich chota wallah no’ worth a docken,” he added to confirm my suspicion.
It meant nothing to me, save for the tone of the delivery. That was painfully obvious.
MacShaka’s brow knit as he looked at me searchingly and tamped tobacco into a pipe with the tempo of a hammer. He still held me in his gaze as he laid the flame of a Zippo lighter onto the bowl. “Och, lad, I hope ye’re no’ an off-world babu that I’ll hae tae place under the care o’ the decuria ayah for lookin’ after.” He puffed deeply, then waved away the smoke. “What on Earth the recruiters think when they take every clarty bauchle crossing their threshold then send ‘em out tae us I’ll never ken. Ye’ve lucked out comin’ here, I s’pose,” he added with a grunt, “instead of service on Gliesium. We’ll haud yer hand and teach ye how tae survive. All ye need tae dae is listen.”
Fawzi glanced at me darkly, then swore and shook his head. Usman looked embarrassed. The girls ignored me and said nothing.
“Aye, weel,” MacShaka announced as he spared me a final inquisitive glance, “time tae get ye dressed. Hae tae keep ye weel happit or ye’ll freeze.”
MacShaka loafed towards the supply tent while Fawzi moved to stand beside me.
“It is not what you expected, Sikunder?” he asked in smooth lightly accented English.
I shook my head, avoiding his evil gaze. Fawzi chuckled coldly and moved on.
For a moment, I stood nonplussed. I had come to this world with childish dreams of great adventure and apparently, with a shameful ignorance of reality. As a dozen brutish jawans looked upon me with a mixture of contempt and amusement, I knew that the five years of indentured servitude I had agreed to was a terrible mistake.
“Move yer arse, Armstrong!” MacShaka roared. I followed in resigned obedience.
 Maidan – a parade square or gathering place
 Jawan – Soldier
 Chota wallah – chota means small and a wallah is a person associated with an activity.
 Babu – Hindu clerk
 Ayay – Nursemaid
This is my opportunity to share parts of my novels both published and in progress as an opportunity for readers to enfold themselves in the story and characters. I love to write vivid, descriptive narrative harnessing - and sometimes freeing - quirky and unique characters, some of whom have been inspired by historical figures and events. The first book I'll will share is from my military scifi series, The Scarlet bastards.