Moments before launch, the captain asks me why us pilots all wear lingerie.
It should be the furthest thing from his mind. I have ten tons of armor strapped to my body. I’m moments away from being dropped across the enemy’s side of the Worldwide Division. Enough firepower at my disposal to end the war single-handedly if he wants me to, and all the captain can ask is why we wear lingerie under our armor.
Not that I assume he’s being perverse or sexist. It’s simply bad timing, with me in no position to explain. Talking is the hardest thing to do in armor. The electric pulses surging through the armor that make it possible for girls to lift all this weight without snapping our limbs also causes our vocal chords to seize. My entire body felt like it was shaking apart the first time I got locked into the suit.
Of course there’s pain afterwards. Assuming I come back from this mission, I’ll spend at least a week in the medical bay. It’s probably a thrill for plenty of dirty-minded officers. Girls in lace underwear hooked up to IVs, twisting and wriggling all over the bunks. We’re waiting, praying for our muscles to finally relax after the strain they’ve suffered. But I’ve never noticed the captain watching us, so I can’t accuse him of anything except curiosity.
Do the same things happen on the other side of the Worldwide Division? We’re just girls who believe in peace so strongly we’re willing to go to war for it. Each of us, ally and enemy, loaded with weapons, tearing across this world with a line down the middle. A division that reaches all the way to the core.
Most girls are sympathetic to the men who command them, who have no choice but to be officers. It’s not like they can join us on the battlefield. They simply aren’t built for that. The officers who tease us, make crude jokes, they’re the most pathetic. Any girl can see the envy and misery in their eyes. Men have to rely on us to stay alive, we’re all that stands between them and one lucky shot.
It all comes down to luck, sooner or later. Our rockets stutter for a split second, a cannon jams and suddenly life becomes very precious. We don’t want to die, but none of us think about it until something goes wrong. I’ve lost a lot of friends to luck. We’re so well-trained that luck is the only deciding factor in this war. Lucky and unlucky is just another division stretching across the world. And there are countless more.
The world itself is nothing but divisions. Someday it’ll all pull apart.
“Lieutenant Shunga, did you hear me?”
I struggle to respond. “Yes, Captain.”
I tilt my head as far back as I can without turning. He’s not smirking. An honest question from his perspective, with no idea the effort it takes me to answer.
“We wear lingerie so we don’t forget we’re human. Locked into these suits, holding these guns and sabers, are ordinary girls with lives. With dreams. Lingerie helps us remember that. In a way, it protects us better than the armor.”
My launch is delayed by what I tell the captain. The physical exertion is monumental, and for the first time since my first time, I shake uncontrollably.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I‘ve always wondered about that.” The captain starts raising his hand to give the signal, then pauses. “Ready to resume launch?”
I nod. It takes everything I’ve got left.
He gives the signal, the doors open and I’m falling through. I have no more time to waste shaking or worrying. A hundred rockets blaze with fire, sending me soaring past our side of the Worldwide Division. All I can count on now is myself. It’s what everyone else is counting on too.
Samuel Barnhart’s stories have previously appeared in Fabula Argentea, Page and Spine and Slink Chunk Press. He lives in South Florida, where the biggest division is between those who put up hurricane shutters at the first sign of a stiff drizzle, and those who could care less if their house gets swept away.
Image by Rudolf Getel