Myassa al-Thurayya chambered a fresh round in her rifle and looked through the scope for another target. None presented itself; the Vyaeh assault squad had apparently been held off for now. Myassa adjusted her aim, cursing as her hijab got in the way and temporarily blocked her sight picture until she batted it free.

“Why do you wear that thing?” Jai Chandrakant said, covering her flank with his freshly reloaded assault rifle. “If the sailor-talk wasn’t enough to show that you’re not exactly daddy’s proper little meek religious girl, there’s everything else you’ve ever said or done alongside it.”

“The last person who asked me that is still waiting for the wires to come off of their jaw,” said Myassa, without budging from her rifle. “You don’t ask. You’re told, when and if I choose to tell you.”

“Fair enough,” Jai said.

There was a pause, and at length Myassa made a resigned grunt. “I am a secular Muslim,” she said. “I wear the hijab so that people know my heritage and I have a tangible link to thousands of years of religion and culture that shaped me into who I am today.”

“A secular Muslim?” said Jai. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“And yet nobody is surprised when someone calls themself a secular Jew or a secular Christian, even though they do the same thing for the same reason,” said Myassa. “You can be a secular anything. It’s a frame of mind; I didn’t fill out a bloody application form.”

“Well, sure, but why something like a hijab?” Jai said. “Why not just wear a crescent on a chain around your neck like I’ve seen people do with a Star of David or a cross?”

“The crescent is an Ottoman symbol, not an Islamic one,” said Myassa. “I have no desire to associate myself with that hoary old despotism, thank you very much.”

“Well, then what about that Arabic creed thing? The sha…shaha…hada…”

“The Shahada,” Myassa said. “And no. It’s a statement of faith, and I have none. Believe me, Jai, I’ve thought this through.”

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