TG Universes & Series:
by Erin Halfleven
Abel Crawford looked down at himself. He had legs again, and his right arm ended in a perfectly functional hand, not a claw deformed by the blast that had nearly snuffed out his life. His wounds had led to a lengthy but unsatisfying recovery until they qualified him for entry into the Pretty Soldier Project, the PSP.
The discovery of the Alien Artifact, aka The Suitcase from the Stars, had been a miracle for many wounded vets and active military. Amputations, scars, and disabilities disappeared once a “suit” from the Artifact had been put on, replaced by smooth skin and whole limbs.
The fact that all of the former victims, regardless of age or gender, now looked like 9-year-old girls was — inconvenient? The Suitcase contained an AI that seemed convinced that it could produce other sorts of suits but no one had been able to get anything that didn’t look like Magical Girl costumes straight out of anime from it.
War was Hell, they said, and Abel Crawford’s ruined body was witness. But the suit could give a new life and even a new personality. No one forgot who they had been, but things were different with a younger, healthy, whole body.
Abby giggled. She couldn’t help herself. The impulse to giggle when confused, embarrassed or amused seemed to come with the suit, along with a generally optimistic and cheerful outlook. It did sometimes result in problems with people who still thought in terms of military discipline when dealing with the Pretty Soldiers.
Colonel Charles “Chick” Sanders looked over his glasses at Abby. “What’s funny, Ensign Crawford?” he asked from behind his desk in the Combined Bureau of Augmentation Enlistment Initiation and Operative Utilization.
“Nothing, sir,” Abby replied in the standard issue PSP near-lisp treble. Giggle. She felt herself blushing.
“Now you have four hours to decide if you want to join the PSP, Ensign Crawford,” Col. Sanders went on, ignoring the giggles. “At the end of that time, you can remove the suit and go back to being your old self at your old rank of Master Sergeant with full medical pension and retirement.” He frowned. “Or you can stay in the suit past the decision window and become an Operative of the Project.”
“Uh-huh,” the little girl agreed. “Can I go outside and, uh, try out flying, now?”
The colonel seemed to nod without visibly changing expression or appearing to move his head. Was that really a nod? Abby wondered. That was definitely a nod! she decided.
Quick as the lightning bolts on the shoulders of her new white, gold and sky blue uniform, Abby was out the open window of the office and into the quad, flying for only the second time since she had put on the suit.
She paused for a moment, hovering above the jacaranda bushes, her short skirt, ruffled panties and pigtails touched by the wind of her passage. There were three—no, four!—more Pretty Soldiers in sight. The girl in the purple skirt, flying high over the Operations Center would probably be Lieutenant Janie (neé James) McGrew, leader of Squadron Four which would be Abby’s new unit if she accepted her suit.
The other three girls, in green, pink and yellow skirts, would probably be the other members of the squad—Cassie (Carmody) Wilson, Babsy (Robert) Gordon, and Deetie (Dieter) Fulk. Abby squealed in sheer excitement.
“New girl is It!” screamed Babsy in the green skirt, pointing.
Abby grinned and nodded vigorously in acceptance. “All right you guys, here I come!” And she shot up into the sky to join her new comrades in a lively game of Tag.
“No fair, she’s got lightnings, she’s twice as fast a flyer as me!” protested Deetie in her yellow jumper just before imagining a Bright Shield in Abby’s path, forcing her into a zig-zag detour around it.
All the girls giggled as Abby re-doubled her pursuit of Deetie only to change direction at the last moment and tag the pink wearing Cassie right on her rump.
Was she going to accept her commission, the suit and the powers and responsibilities that went with it? Abby wondered as she cried, “Safety! Safety First-to-ten!” counting off her ten seconds of immunity from being tagged while flying as fast and far as she could from Cassie who was already counting quickly.
“One! Two! Three! Four! 5! 6! 7! 9! 10! Tagback!” shouted Cassie.
“You missed eight!” squealed Abby, triumphantly. “No tagbacks!” The whole squad exploded into gleeful merriment as the chase resumed.
Col. Chick Sanders moved to his window and watched the girls at play. He was fairly certain that Abby Crawford would be the newest member of Squadron Four in a little over three hours. No one mentioned the girl she would be replacing, Angie (Andros) Kostopolis, vaporized stopping a Bogie battlecruiser from attacking Cleveland.
He sighed. He glanced at his own empty sleeve. He’d had his chance to take a suit and turned it down. But a game of flying tag looked like a lot of fun.
He went back to his desk; there was paperwork to complete. Let the girls play. Tomorrow there would still be a war to be fought—and won.
The Bogies from Betelgeuse would never conquer Earth as long there were Pretty Soldiers to defend the planet!
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