69: Joanna

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Tirith hustled her through the woods with deep concern etched into his ace. She had called to retreat, and with that word he became the leader, and would remain so until he believed his Dhan was out of danger. It was the way of their kind. The Dhan must face the enemy, but in danger, her subjects became her wall. He would not listen to her again until either the enemy appeared again or he judged her out of danger.

They were communicating over their alien radio network, she could tell. That one greatest reminder she was a fake, that she didn’t truly belong, always came into play whenever things turned deadly. Every Gireid received a connection to the thing, even here on this world where her own people had found ways to jam and sabotage it, and in any location where it still functioned, it became the bedrock of their teamwork. Without a command or a call she could detect, the flyer was flying low above the forest cover, ready to drop down and extract them the moment they reached the clearing they had scouted earlier.

In regions where the connection did not function, the communication would have been over their local radio gear, and she would have heard it using her weapon stone. That was how she knew they were using the Paeth Giraan.

Another button let loose on my jeans, she noted to herself with resignation. I only have two left on that side.

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Why did she wear the extra sexy peekaboo jeans that night? In retrospect, a solid pair of old-fashioned Levi’s would have been just as good at the C&W club she and her buddies went to, that night.

Because she had no way of knowing how long her outfit would need to last, once she left the house in it, of course. Damn Benjamin and his weird fetishes. He grew happier watching her struggles to keep herself covered with every lost button.

She winced as the slave stone punished her sharply for her ‘disrespect’ of her ‘master’. But she didn’t regret thinking it anywhere as much as she regretted these jeans. She no longer had any interest in fancy designer clothing.

She would have to continue this struggle until he, and only he, gave her new clothing. She could not accept it from anyone else. The only exception was if someone else specifically gave her something required for a particular situation, and she must revert to her own clothing as soon as possible.

That last was an amendment he had made when his order backfired on him. They had been unable to get her to wear the Isura’an, the formal gown of the Gireid, for her ‘wedding’ to the deceased prior Dhan of Mato’khra. Fortunately, Benjamin realized the same situation could come up in another context, perhaps when he wasn’t present to fix it, and made the amendment general enough.

And of course, she could neither explain to her clansmen nor ask for help. She had to wait for them to realize something was wrong and begin looking into why she was acting so peculiarly.

So far her clansmen were being frustratingly obtuse with it, apparently seeing her desire to keep this outfit as some oddity of the Ilidi mind. Someday they might discover the slave stone that Benjamin had hidden within her skull. Its cloak was excellent; she doubted anyone but the strongest perceptors of flux could detect it. If her clan included any such individual, they had yet to realize the stone was responsible for her actions.

She didn’t know what they would do when they found it. Perhaps they would understand her as the threat she was to them and kill her. It would be a welcome release from this purgatory. And as their Dhan, she would give them the loyalty they were due and leave this life approving of their actions.

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