The first thing that stood out about the new arrivals was the noise. The ducted rotors of the sleek, silver helicopters made a rather particular sound; rather than the steady, beating thum of an open-rotor copter, these machines let out an unholy howl, the high-pitched whine of an overtaxed jet engine mixed with the rapid passage of air through each of the articulated rings around the contrarotors. Holograms played over the skin of the aircraft, flickering aquamarine shapes running, chasing each other across the craft's narrow frame to form lines and ghostly patterns; here the wolf's head of Legion Security, there the roman numerals of the copter's identification, even a strange, yet familiar globe design.

The dozen bulbous transports, and the two sleek, cross-shaped trirotor designs that escorted them, wove their way gracefully through Camp Ca Lu airspace towards their designated spot on the landing field, each following the trajectory of the last with rigid, machine-like precision. They set down with a hiss of hydraulic landing gear, the blasting force of their rotors kicking up a veritable dust storm that flew up into the small crowd gathering to greet the newcomers.

Technically, there was no official liaison to the newcomers; they weren't part of anybody's military, and so were not afforded a meeting with the camp commander and an honour guard, as would be customary. Instead, a nervous-looking second lieutenant, a squad of fully armoured Peacekeepers, and a band of mostly-bored looking soldiers in a mix of black and jungle green stood to the side of the field, staring dumbfounded at the strange new aircraft.

Unnervingly, the helicopters were staring back.

The rotors of the nearest helicopter folded back, pulling with them doors on either side of the helicopter. A stern-looking man wearing a bizarre, dark camouflage pattern on what looked to be a sharply-cut business suit stepped out, followed by a half a dozen similarly-grim men and women in silver plate, each with holograms not unlike those on their aircraft playing over them. Suit-Guy was wearing a pair of incredibly obnoxious glasses wired into an elaborate headset, the mirror-lenses glinting in the fading sunlight.

“Avē! Lieutenant Barnabé, I presume?” the suited-man raised his hand, displaying his palm to the Peacekeeper in a sharp motion. It was unmistakably a salute of some kind, and Barnabé returned it with a more traditional one. Looking at the strange man was already becoming difficult; the little squares on his camouflage were all blending together, and his eyes just seemed to slide right off.

“Wonderful, wonderful! I am Giancarlo Cesare, legatus legionis of the 7th Legion. Here to show us to our accommodations?” The man spoke with a refined, almost posh english accent, but his tone didn't match his face. He came off all cheerful, but his features constantly looked as though he had just smelt something foul.

Lieutenant Barnabé just nodded silently. He had no idea what to make of the newcomer, and was quite honestly somewhat intimidated. Behind him, his troops shuffled awkwardly, instinctively sizing the mercenaries up; the Legionnaires in their fancy suits honestly looked rather frail next to the huge, bulky assault armour, but it covered them head-to-toe and had to be more effective than it looked. Their long, needle-like bullpup rifles boasted an impressive-looking scope, and wires seemed to curl out of the armour in the most unusual places. Barnabé couldn't help but wince when he noticed one of the troopers scratch at a large black cable that, unless his eyes deceived him, was emerging straight out of the trooper's neck.

“Right this way, legatus. We've set up barrack for your troops in the north corner, and we'll need you to confirm with logistics regarding food and fuel...”

Giancarlo Cesare was not amused. The pathetic excuse for an officer the Peacekeepers had sent his way continued to prattle on uselessly about something-or-other, and the legatus entered the usual smile-and-nod routine he followed when somebody was annoying him. The boy was confused and intimidated, rather than just intimidated, so he had fallen back on his training and was spurting nonsense as fast as his mouth could move. Had he just been intimidated, they could carry out this little exchange in relative silence, but for some unfathomable reason the latest-generation English-language micro-softs he and his Legion had been issued was ripped from some kindly old professor who didn't have a mean bone in his body, never-mind a terrible grasp of military terminology. The little cylindrical device overruled his speech centres, automatically translating his intent to speak (in Italian) to English instantly, but came with all the quirks built up over the years by the original user. Sure, he had access to twelve different words for “delicious”, but no matter how irate he was, he couldn't put an ounce of malice into his voice. He couldn't even use intimidating body language properly; for some reason, every time he got talking he had to suppress the urge to clasp his hands like an idiot.

He had already written to the company responsible, but the reply had been both far too cheery and in English. He suspected he may have forgotten to remove the micro-soft before writing it, and the cubical-dwelling imbecile who had responded had likewise been under the relentlessly uplifting linguistic effects of an English-language micro-soft. Or he was drugged out of his mind and could only think happy thoughts. With wastrels like that, it was hard to tell.

The camp around them was a bustle of activity, with soldiers running to and fro in the sort of organized chaos that can only come from a well-run military base. Somewhere in the distance, the distinct crack of Valkyrie artillery sounded out, reminding the Legionnaire just how close the war was. This wasn't some little police action in a third world hellhole, or a rear-echelon security job. There was real battle here, and it threatened to spill over the wire at any moment. Which is exactly why they had been hired; the Peacekeepers couldn't afford the manpower to run MP duty and fight the communists at the same time. He decided he'd make a backhanded comment mildly disparaging the abilities of the Peacekeeper Divisions that would hopefully put some fear back in his guide.

“I say, that fire sounds a little close! Sounds like you lads have your hands full, wot?”

Well, that didn't come out right at all.

As he passed the motley assortment of off-duty reservists who had congregated around the big blue boy scouts, he heard a few unkind words muttered under the breath of some of them, accompanied by some fantastically-coloured language. Americans made up for their lack of creative obscenity with enthusiasm, it was so endearing. He immediately tagged them on his headset with a simple mental command, sending snapshots of their faces back through the Legion's collective hardware. Not five minutes into the job, and he had already identified the first troublemakers. He was sure they would be violently resisting arrest in no time.

“... and here we are at your corner of the camp. Colonel Faust wants your men taking over by the next shift-change; that's six and a half hours.”

Cesare nodded. “Excellent, old chap!” (“Did I really just say that?” he thought in horror, “oh dear lord!”) “We'll get settled in, and I'll give the Colonel a visit first chance at his earliest convenience!”

The Lieutenant slunk away, leaving Cesare alone with his thoughts. He pushed open the steel door of the prefab barrack, set himself down on the first chair that he came across, and pulled out his 'deck. He had a strongly-worded letter to write to a micro-soft manufacturer, and this time, he would make sure it was in Italian.

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