With a hiss and a crack, the thick bulkhead door opened out into the morning breeze, letting a rush of cool air enter the vessel's tremendous yet vacant interior. A garnet heel stepped down onto the boarding ramp, and then another, complimented by a candy apple sundress that fluttered tenderly in the wind. Striking azure eyes narrowed as they peered about the runway, before being drawn to the sight of a starship passing overhead which soon led her gaze towards the sight of the rising sun in the distance. It crested over the tremendous city walls, shining through the monolithic skyscrapers which silhouetted against the horizon like mythical giants.
Thin lips spread into a smile at the familiar image as she stepped off the ramp, the wind gracing her pale skin and freckled cheeks and sending a shiver up her back. Voluminous, shoulder-length sunflower blonde hair blew in the breeze, tickling her neck with its curly ends. Taking in a deep breath, she sighed contently to herself. Feeling the familiar ground beneath her feet sent her heart tumbling deep into the warm depths of nostalgia at a past life long gone by.
The petite purse by her side chimed a shrill sound. Her smile faded as she sighed again, a note of frustration in it.
"Same old, same old, eh?" asked a male voice from behind, its tone silky smooth and yet confident, accented by a prominent Castilian accent.
With a glance back up towards the ship's boarding hatch, she nodded as her hand brushed her windswept hair from her face, revealing a cheerful smile even as her handbag continued to ring.
"It's totally just like how I remember it, Alessandro! A little windy, but it's home."
"You're telling me. I don't recall the gravity feeling so light on Albion," replied a tall and slender man as he exited the craft. "I feel as though I'm going to be blown away at any second."
A little laugh bubbled up from the girl.
"Well, if there's any city that's going to blow you away, it's definitely Londinium. Just look at her," she said, looking back at the sprawling megalopolis that stood before them. "God couldn't have built a more amazing place if he tried!"
"Well then, what's say we get you two reacquainted, no? Do you suppose this place has missed you as much as you missed it, Margo?"
His question made her bite her lip because the answer to his question was...complicated. Everything was complicated for Margo Steelbonnet. Everything.
A dozen layers of reinforced concrete and steel, the whir of heavy machinery and headphones blasting bubblegum pop separated Margo from the blaring sound of the sirens outside. In the dimly lit locker room, she swayed her hips to and fro to the rhythm of the music as she slipped her short lithe body into a glossy vibrant vermillion bodysuit. The suit contoured nicely to her body, its shine catching light well even in the low light. The suit was punctuated with sections of deep maroon along her upper arms extending into her armpits and down her flanks, a prominent black puffy section around her hips, and golden trim throughout. All about the room, a dozen other young ladies her age hustled and bustled and talked amongst themselves as they suited up similarly with suits in a broad variety of colours.
Margo inspected herself in the mirror with her hands on her hips, smirking to herself with pride. To her, she was the hottest thing in the room and easily hot enough to start a raging inferno in the hearts of all the boys that laid eyes upon her. A real "Smokin' Hot Babe". Before she could light up anything, however, a smack on the back of the head by another girl doused her colourful considerations.
"Come on, you doofis!" barked the girl. "Quit lollygagging, finish checking your arming suit and get a move on new girl!"
"Alright alrighttttt" chimed Margo nonchalantly in response before running her hands over her high-tech arming suit, more to marvel at herself than to actually inspect it like regulation required.
Reaching into her locker, Margo retrieved several metallic objects from it: a set of cuffed gauntlets and ankle boots, a pair of metal spaudlers for her shoulders, a hefty but streamlined breastplate and backplate that reached down to her naval, and a metal collar. Stamped onto the right flank of her breastplate was a large black square accentuated by a vibrant yellow number four. Across the metal pieces were a series of slits housing small clusters of verniers while the gauntlets featured a pair of outlets upon their cuffs. The whole set of defences bore this glistening steel finish that bordered on outright reflective. The metallic plates clicked and clacked about with every movement as she fixed them to mounting points across her arming suit, starting from her feet before working her way up.
Despite the added plate armour, Margo remained spritely and nimble as she hopped to her feet, the lames of the armour sliding smoothly over one another. Finally removing her headphones, the girl stashed them away in her locker before retrieving one last item to complete her ensemble: a metal headset. It was a chunky thing, fitted with a pair of spike-like antennas and prominent plastic visor that matched her eyes. Donning the headset, Margo winced as she felt the assembly snap tight around her head. The visor crackled to life with a lightshow of HUD data and information as the computer systems of suit and various armour components synchronized with one another.
"Bitchin'," grinned Margo with satisfaction. "To-tall-y bitchin'.~"
Soon the group of kitted-out girls departed the locker room, entering a long metal corridor washed in red light. Across from the entrance to the girls' locker room was a boys' locker room disgorging similarly dressed young men into the hallway. The corridor soon came alive with voices of excitement, laughter, and all the other antics that came with a swarm of eighteen-year-olds.
As the teens broke into their own little cliques, Margo hovered about the packs of guys like a roving raptor searching for prey. The little predator spotted a group of rather nerdy boys busy discussing a video game and bit her lip with anticipation before swooping in for the kill. One of the boys was about to gleefully go into his thoughts on an upcoming game but went quiet as he spotted Margo slinking over to them, taking in every part of her. His friends noticed and followed his gaze to her, and they too went quiet. Margo struck a cutesy pose and smiled at them.
"Hiyaaaaa," she asked, voice almost a purr as she batted her eyelashes at him. "Whatcha talkin' about?"
The boy fumbled his words as her eyes dug into him like talons.
"O-Oh, uh, h-hey. Me and my friends were just talking about this new game that's hitting arcades on Earth. I think it's called Omega Zone Crisis or something like that. I read in a bunch of magazines that it's really big over there and that its gonna hit arcades here soon too."
"Oh, I've like totally heard about that game back on Earth! I wanted to play it and stuff when I was there, but I didn't have the time. Sayyyyy, maybe one of these days we can like get together at an arcade when it comes out or whatever and play."
All of them looked at each other and quickly smiled and snickered with one another, one boy whispering to his friend "Dude we're gonna be playing with a sexy chick!"
"Oh reallyyyyy? And who's she?" asked Margo, tilting her head, causing him to go quiet upon realizing she was asking him.
"Attention," spoke a voice over the intercom as alarms sounded in the hallway. "Troopers of Cuirassier squadrons Red, Blue, and Green report to launch bay for mount-up. Sitrep and mission info will be sent to your computers shortly."
The crowd went wild with whoops and cheers as the door at the far end of the hallway opened, letting in a bright white light.
"Well, I'll keep my eye out for that mystery girl thennnn," replied Margo with a coy wink to the boy. "Now, don't get toooooo distracted now. We don't waaaant anyone to be off thinking about something he shouldn't be on mission, now do weee?"
She spun around and took off, every boy in the group watching her from behind and a few still thinking too hard about her last comment and what exactly she was implying. She could feel them watching, and she tingled with satisfaction. She certainly wasn't planning on going anywhere with the bunch of geeks, and frankly she didn't even care enough to ask that boy name. Every glance, every probing gaze, was a thrill. Girls, boys, nerds, jocks, preps, all of them were fodder for her hunger for attention.
The summoned crowd hastily began to make their way towards the light. Hung above the doorway was a single old rapier, suspended by its elaborate handguard with point facing downwards towards the floor. One boy jumped up to slap the top of the doorway near the weapon, while another jokingly saluted it and another still made a rude joke about where he was going to shove the ancient weapon.
Passing beneath the hanging sword, Margo and the group entered a brightly lit hangar bay punctuated by several colour-coded mechanized runways which terminated in shut bulkhead doors. Various robotic contraptions filled the place as did ground crew toiling away at their tasks. At the far end of the hangar was a large painting of a golden anchor bound by chains upon a moss green background, the phrase "Only in Heaven" written beneath it.
Following other members of her squadron, Margo stepped onto the runway for Red Squadron. The launch platform was numbered one through nine, with each numbered position spaced apart from one another. Margo took her spot at the number four slot with a bounce in her step, sliding her feet into place on number four's launch catapult.
The rest of Red Squadron followed suit and took positions as pair of dirty and roughly dressed mechanics carrying tools and data tablets stepped onto the launch platform. One of them, a stocky Irish girl with puffy black hair capped under a brimmed hat-like helmet, went trooper to trooper for inspection. Despite her somewhat short stature, the mechanic had no trouble in being heard amongst the machinery with her high-pitched voice and loud, gleefully cheery presence.
"Ahh story t'ere, Ret Four! Toin' okay like for yourself?" chirped the girl in a thick Cork accent. "You're a new face aroun't here like!"
Margo stood there wide-eyed, having no blithering heck of an idea what the mechanic was saying.
"Uhhhh...y-ya? Like, everything is totally okay I guess?"
"Ahh alrighty-righty! Your suit feelin' okay like, dear? Not'in' funny like or unusual like about it? Not'in' I need to know like about?"
Margo shook her head as some of the girls of Red Squadron watched on snickering.
"Uhhhh...like, not really..." replied the trooper with a confused blink before shaking her head.
Nodding, the mechanic took note of Margo's statement as she circled around her, giving her a good looking over before peering at her tablet. The screen flickered for a few minutes with various diagnostic windows before she returned her gaze to Margo.
"No system or synch trouble like as far as I can see like. Sabatons, Cuirass, Spaudlers, Gauntlets and Hood like are all greener t'an mi mot'er's garden. Alrighty, next up is t' real craic like."
With a press of a button, a robotic set of arms lowered from the ceiling of the hangar bay, carrying a chunky jet pack. It consisted of a central assembly with a dozen small thrusters across its form facing in several directions and a pair of prominent thick wings, with each wing flanking the central jet pack. Margo looked up at the descending device for a moment with awe, before facing forward and bending over to receive the pack. The hefty thing pressed against her back as she arched her back into it. The weighty clicking and ratcheting indicated a successful mounting as more HUD information presented itself on Margo's visor.
"All systems a go like, Ret Four." spoke the mechanic after looking over the jet pack. "Standard armament load-out for your squire-pack for a nice ol' bit of craic in t' evenin' like. Now, keep sketch an' knock'em one for t' team, deary!"
With the confounding Cork girl's departure, Margo took a moment to pull up the situation report on her visor and review the mission info and parameters. There was a dizzying amount of information to keep track of, but the gist of it was thus:
At around seven thirty PM, confirmed reports of a substantial breach in Neo-Londinium's western defences by local wildlife had begun to stream onto the Colonial Trained Band's overwatch channels. Visual confirmation was established by eight PM confirming the presence of a Basilisk in industrial district fourteen, and a sizable one at that. A detachment of mobile infantry was immediately sent in to keep the beast pinned in place while orders were issued across district fourteen and surrounding districts for colonists to make their way to shelters. After much debate back and forth between the different branches of the CTB and Londinium's governor, an order was passed down at nine PM to the CTB's heavy cavalry branch to begin mobilizing. Objective is clear: relieve the mobile infantry and render assistance in terminating the Basilisk. Parameters are clear: do not let the beast escape the district. The use of heavy weaponry and field combat harnesses is expressly denied by gubernatorial order to keep collateral damage to a minimum.
"Evening lobsters!" called out a charismatic and confident woman's voice, snapping Margo to attention. "I hope none of you had any plans for this evening, cuz it seems you're gonna be spending it with me."
Stepping onto the launch platform was a tall, broad-shouldered woman in her thirties. She cut a lean and mean figure in glossy-black armour, its curves complimenting her own. It was substantially more armoured than the arming suits worn by the rest of the squadron, most notably featuring much more extensive arm and leg protection. A glorious mane of curly golden hair poured down over her shoulders and back like a waterfall. In one hand she carried a sleek, close-fitting helmet. The face of the helmet featured metal bars that extended down over a bright cyan visor, while the sides of the helmet were adorned with even more robust antennas than the headsets of the rest of the squadron.
"Wouldn't dream of it, ma'am!" called out one amused boy. "I'd have brought flowers too if I knew we had this planned tonight."
"Thanks, but we can skip the flowers tonight, Red Six." replied the woman with a laugh as she took her voluminous hair in hand and tied it into a loose ponytail. "We've all read the situation report. Talk to me, ladies and gents. Any questions, comments, or concerns?"
"I got one, Red One!" chimed another boy. "How come the govie's gotta be a killjoy and declare no harnesses? If we're putting our butts on the line for a bunch of stupid Dragoons, fighting something THIS big, why can't we go Full Haselrig out there?"
"You wanna fork over the moolah to pay for collateral damage, Red Five?" said the squadron leader as she slipped her head into her helmet. "As cool as those big walking tin cans are, they cost more to arm and repair than a small army, so that's no-good right now. Besides, it's not like we have many qualified operators for them anyways. We have to make do with what we've got."
Receiving her squire-pack, Red One glanced back.
"Any other questions? I know we have a new trooper, so don't be afraid to speak up, rookie. I won't bite, unless you ask something REALLY dumb, Red Four."
Margo grinned enthusiastically.
"Don't worry about me, ma'am. I've, like, totally got this in the bag."
"Are you sure, Margo?"
Red One continued to stare back at Margo for a moment, before turning away.
"If you say so, kiddo. Just make sure you let me know if you hit any trouble. Procedure says once a trooper is knocked out of the fight, we can't go back for them until the mission is complete."
After checking over her equipment one last time, Red One waved a signal to the ground crew to initiate launch.
"There's a hurricane tonight, Red Squadron. I'm not exactly keen on this being your first combat sortie, but orders are orders. Just do me a favor or two, okay? Keep low. Last thing I want is some hotshot flying too high and getting electrocuted on the skyline barrier like he's Icarus caught in a bug zapper. No drawing pistols until I say so. Keep chatter to a minimum as well. Lastly, for heaven's sake don't start anything with the Dragoons. I'd never hear the end of it and that's a fact. All that sound good?"
The troopers responded by clattering their armoured fists loudly against their breastplates with excitement, chanting "LOB-STERS! LOB-STERS!" as the bulkhead doors heaved themselves open. Beyond the hangar bay, the glow of the city illuminated the darkness of the night with splendid colours and dazzling lights. Margo's eyes widened as she took in the magnificent view, heart pounding in her chest.
"This is it" Margo thought to herself with a smirk. "This is really it!"
The ground crew flashed an all-clear to Red One who nodded in response as the launch pad came to life with hisses and hums.
"Command," started Red One over the radio. "This is Cuirassier Red Squadron leader Justine Potts, all troopers armed and cleared for launch. We await final approval."
The radio crackled for a moment, before a woman's voice responded.
"Red Squadron Leader, this is Command. You are GO for launch. Repeat, you are GO for launch. Happy hunting, lobsters."