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8 March 2007

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Fifteen

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

        Halli blinked, then shook her head and instantly regretted it as the demons pounding on her head redoubled their efforts.  If this was what a hangover felt like, she resolved never to drink so much ever again.  “Lisa?  What are you doing here?” she asked, trying to recall what happened.  “Ohh, my head . . . “  She touched a paw to her skull, searching for holes or cracks.
        “Your head?  My head,” the vixen said blurrily, trying to roll over on her back and succeeding on the second attempt.  She looked up at the slowly turning ceiling fan and closed her eyes immediately.  “Don’t want to look at that too long,” she muttered.  “Now, how did I get up here?”
        Halli closed her eyes and started to think.  It was difficult with the pounding in her head and the taste in her mouth.
        The taste in her mouth . . .
        “Lisa, did we – ?”
        The vixen’s eyes snapped open and she turned her head slowly to stare at the rabbit.  “I prefer guys, thank you,” she said slowly.
        “Then why do I have vixen musk all over me?” Halli asked, sniffing delicately.
        Lisa looked at her quizzically, then lifted her paws to her nose and sniffed.  Her eyes got even larger as she whispered, “Oh, my God . . . Think, Halli, what went on last night?“ she asked urgently.
        “I’m trying to think,” Halli said miserably, “but nothing’s coming out – wait a minute.  You were playing jazz.”
        “I was?”  The vixen’s brow furrowed.  “Yes, I was.”
        “We were both drunk.”
        “That’s obvious.”
        “And you said that you were . . .”
        “. . . Claiming diplomatic privilege,” Lisa finished the sentence, and her ears went straight back.  She carefully rolled back over on her side and hugged Halli.  “I’m sorry, Halli,” she said quietly.  “I didn’t mean to . . .”
        “It’s okay, Lisa,” the rabbit said, thinking of a way to make the vixen feel better.  “We were both pretty drunk last night.  I don’t think anyone here will think worse of you for it.”
        Fallingwater licked her lips and blinked.  “An acquired taste,” she muttered to herself, and looked at the rabbit.  “I – I think I was trying to make you feel better.”
        “You did,” Halli told her, and she smiled wistfully.  “It was the first good night’s sleep I’ve had since Trina died.”  She closed the distance with the vixen.  “Thank you,” she said, and kissed her.
        Lisa’s eyes widened, then she relaxed and leaned into the kiss, the two women holding each other close for a moment.  The vixen then broke the kiss and said, “I think we should get cleaned up before we go downstairs.”
        Halli nodded gingerly and they both slowly climbed out of bed.  As they entered the bathroom she couldn’t help herself, and giggled. 
        “I was just wishing I could remember what happened,” the rabbit said, the ghost of a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.  “I’ll bet you were Ambass-adorable.”
        She yelped as the vixen threw water at her.

        Despite the bath and a session with furbrushes, each of them still had massive hangovers which made for rough going down the stairs.  As they entered the bar area they saw Covina washing glasses.
        Before they could shush her, the Malinois yelled, “Good morning, both of you!”
        Halli groaned, closed her eyes in pain and slumped against the balustrade.  Lisa glared venomously at the canine, who grinned and said, “The coffee pot’s over there, just in case you forgot, Lisa dear.”
        Lisa grumbled, “Plergb hfarizz ungemby, and coffee”* under her breath and staggered over to the coffee, pouring two cups for her and Halli.  She plunked Halli’s down on a table, the sound making both of them wince.  As the rabbit seated herself Covina asked, “You two want some breakfast?”
        “Eggs and toast, please,” Halli said, holding her coffee with both paws as she slurped the beverage.  It was strong, but not distastefully so.
        “Lisa?  Anything?”
        The vixen raised her coffee cup in an eloquent gesture, and the canine nodded.  She sat down facing Halli, then leaned forward and whispered, “Think she knows?”
        “Probably not, and I don’t think she’d care if she did,” Halli said with a smile.  She laid her free paw over Lisa’s.  “I can’t recall what you did, ma’am,” and she affected a drawl she’d heard in pilot’s school, “but you did me a power of good.”  She giggled as the vixen blushed, and the two sat back and drank their coffee.
        Covina showed up with Halli’s breakfast a short while later.  “So,” the Malinois asked briskly, “anything happen last night?”
        “You know I prefer guys,” Lisa said after sipping her coffee.  “Halli’s a pilot, and she suffered a loss.  I was trying to console her.”
        Covina nodded, a sly gleam in her eyes.  “That’s your story.”
        “And I’m sticking to it.”


        It took breakfast and three cups of coffee to clear Halli’s head enough to enable her to venture out into the sunlight, and even then she wished she had brought along the sunglasses that she usually kept with her flying kit.  The baseball cap that was part of her uniform didn’t help much.
        She still felt depressed, despite the beautiful weather and the noisy crowds of tourists.
        She felt better when she got closer to her family’s longhouse, and one of her younger siblings spotted her.  “Halli!” the sister cried in Spontoonie.  “Welcome back!  I’ll go tell Mother.”  She scampered off, leaving Halli to walk on alone among the taro fields to the house.

        The story had to be retold again, to the consternation and sorrow of her parents.  Finally her mother dried her eyes and hugged Halli close.  “You know we grieve with you, Daughter,” the older rabbit said.  “Tell us what we can do to help.”
        “Mother, just being here with you and the family helps,” Halli replied.  She thought for a moment, then looked up.  “I would like to find a Wise One,” she said, “to heal my heart and do something for me.”
        The young rabbit looked solemn.  “I wish to have an Ata-fa’aipoipoga.
        Her mother’s ears perked at the words.  “A Shadow-Marriage?  But Halli – “  She paused when she looked into her daughter’s eyes.  The Shadow-Marriage was a rare custom that allowed a person to marry the shade of a deceased lover.  The ceremony would tie her to the memory of Katrina, and would probably help soothe her troubled spirit.
        “I will send Hanao to find a Wise One and an acolyte,” her mother said briskly.  “You will stay for dinner, of course.”
        “Yes, Mother.”

        The Wise One was named Aiata, and was a broad middle-aged bovine whose girth almost overflowed the mat she was invited to sit upon.  She arrived leaning on Hanao’s arm and on the arm of a slim canine who was her student and acolyte.  She had a jolly demeanor, and blessed the family profusely as she joined them for dinner.  When the dishes were finally removed and the younger children had been sent off to bed, Aiata turned to Halli and asked, “I am told that you desire a Shadow Marriage, young one.”
        “Yes, Wise One,” Halli said respectfully.
        The bovine eyed her sharply, her demeanor fading like snow on a hot stove.  “Do not suggest this lightly, Halli-daughter-Reva,” she admonished.  “This will require calling forth the spirit of your love, a warrior like yourself.”
        The young rabbit’s ears dipped, and she nodded.  She knew that there were certain dangers, and the Wise One’s skills were necessary.  “I understand, Wise One, but Trina’s passing has left a void in my soul.”
        The bovine brooded for a moment, closing her eyes in thought before asking, “Have you anything of hers?”
        “Yes, Wise One,” and Halli reached into her dress and removed a thin chain from around her neck.  The chain bore her identity disk and two braided fur rings.  “I have her Tailfast locket,” Halli said, passing them to the priestess and adding, “We were Tailfast by the shaman on the base.”
        Aiata examined the two rings by the light of the fire, her eyes hooded and her features unreadable.  She suddenly looked up at her student, who bowed.
        “I shall do this,” Aiata said.  “Meet me at the shrine a mile south of here.”  She climbed ponderously to her feet.  “Be there at the rising of the moon.  Prepare yourself.”
        Halli bowed, and when she looked up the two were gone.

        As the moon rose above the mountains on the eastern end of South Island Halli made her way through the forest, clad in a grass skirt with her fur freshly oiled and her family, clan and Tailfast symbols meticulously brushed into place.  She wore flowers in her headfur and a garland of cowrie shells around her neck, as befitted a bride on her wedding day.  At the fringes of a small clearing she took a deep breath and stepped forward.
        The shrine was a small construction of wood and palm thatch containing several tikis, and she bowed to each in turn before kneeling on a woven mat.  Aiata squatted there, looking rather like a tiki herself for all the reaction she showed to the young rabbit, who knelt facing the Wise One.
        Aiata raised her paws, and Halli bowed until her forehead touched the mat as the bovine intoned an introductory prayer and blessing.  “Call to your loved one, Halli-daughter-Reva,” Aiata said softly.  “Let your love for her evoke her presence.”  A sweet-smelling odor, borne on a drift of smoke, wafted past her nose.
        Halli concentrated, reaching out as her outward senses filled with the smoke until she fancied she could sense herself poised several feet above the shrine.  Using the techniques she had been taught by Melli and others in Guide School, she used her Tailfast locket as a focus, searching for her love.
        “Halli?” came a soft voice, and the rabbit almost opened her eyes.
        “Trina,” she breathed, eyes tightly closed and tears beginning to seep from closed lids.  In the same barely audible voice she followed the ritual and said, “I have called you, my love, to marry you and bridge the rift that divides us.”
        She smiled, hearing the voice say yes; Aiata started to intone a variant of the usual marriage ceremony, her voice sonorous and almost hypnotic.  Halli murmured the responses at the right moments, and opened her eyes as Aiata pronounced the final blessing that bound the lepine to her feline lover.
        The clearing was dark; no torches and no moonlight filtered through the branches.  Halli gave a little start as she felt a pair of slim paws glide over her oiled fur and move aside her grass skirt.  She sniffed, but smelled nothing as the unseen woman caressed her.
        The sensations she felt were poignant, and it was easy to imagine that she held her deceased lover in her arms.

        Sunlight poured through the trees the next morning as Halli stirred and sat up.  She was dressed only in her shell jewelry and fur, curled up on a mat facing the shrine in its tiny clearing.  The torches were gone, and there was no sign of either Aiata or her acolyte.
        A tiny movement in the high grass drew her attention, and a small non-anthro squirrel scampered into view.  Its fur was pure white and its eyes were a bright red, and it regarded Halli curiously.
        Halli stared.  The albino squirrels were a common enough sight on Casino and Main Islands, to the extent that they were barely noticed; having one on South was rare.  Since their introduction, the Wise Ones had cultivated the idea that the rodents were the ghosts of departed loved ones.  It made a good story to tell tourists.
        To have one show up the morning after her Ata-fa’aipoipoga, though . . . that was rather too close to be a coincidence.  
        The squirrel scuttled off into the tall grass as the rabbit started to gather up her grass skirt.  Halli suddenly paused, looking down to see a new set of patterns combed into her fur – the markings of a married woman, differenced by a symbol that described her spouse as dead. 
        It may have been a product of the smoke she inhaled, but her heart felt at peace as she stood up, dressed and headed back to her family’s home.


*As a special tribute to the late John M. Ford, from the book How Much for Just the Planet?