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CALHOUN & SHELBY
A Little Getaway
After the destruction of the Ambassador-class U.S.S. Excalibur, Captain Calhoun was believed killed. When he returned alive and well, he asked Captain Shelby to marry him, which she accepted after belting him. Before he took command of the new Galaxy-class Excalibur, and before Shelby took over the Trident, the two of them went on their honeymoon. "A Little Getaway" is the story of that happy occasion...
"We're going to Xenex?"
Newlywed Elizabeth Shelby had been looking forward to an increase in the quality and frequency of communication with her longtime love, sparring partner, rival, and commanding officer, Mackenzie Calhoun. They were, after all, husband and wife, married in a ceremony officiated by Jean-Luc Picard that could be called, at best, impromptu, on the bridge of Calhoun's once and future command, the Excalibur.
The truth was that every fragment of Shelby's common sense had warned her that marrying Calhoun was folly. But, hell, the man had literally come back from the dead to ask for her hand in marriage. How could any woman, any person, with a fragment of romance in their soul, walk away from a situation such as that?
Very easily if she had any brains, Shelby was starting to think.
Calhoun, after having undergone a debriefing so that Starfleet knew exactly what his whereabouts had been during the time he'd been believed dead, had been given two weeks' time to rest, recuperate, and honeymoon with his brand-new bride. ("During which time, Shelby will no doubt repeatedly debrief him as well," Kat Mueller had deadpanned, a comment that had gotten puzzled looks from some crewmen and guffaws from others.) Calhoun owned a state-of-the-art runabout, which had been moved to the new Excalibur, almost in a sort of in memoriam gesture. So it was conveniently there when the happy couple required it.
Crew members had assembled on the holodeck, armed with handfuls of rice to be thrown, a tradition that was incomprehensible to Calhoun, who thought it represented a collective desire that they put more fiber in their diet. Shelby had explained that it represented a hope for fertility, which had sent Calhoun into such spasms of laughter that she wished she'd said that yes, it represented fiber. For his part, Picard had taken the opportunity to make reservations for them at the resort world of Risa, generously offering to pick up the cost as a present to the newlyweds. So Risa was, naturally, where Shelby was anticipating they were going to go.
That anticipation took an abrupt U-turn when she saw the coordinates Calhoun had entered into the nav computer and the intended destination.
"We're going to Xenex?" It was the second time she'd said it, because Calhoun had simply nodded the first time.
"That's what I was hoping," said Calhoun."Well, my love...let's fire up the engines and not keep all the nice folks waiting for our depart -- "
"Hold it!" Shelby said, standing. "Nothing's getting fired up, Mac, including you on our wedding night tonight, until you explain this. Xenex? Your homeworld?"
"It's the only Xenex I know of."
"Why?" she demanded.
He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't have assumed. I mean, it would only add a day to the trip, but it wasn't a given that -- "
"Spare me the halfhearted apologies, Calhoun. What's going on?" She leaned against the console, her arms folded, clearly not backing down.
"All right...look," said Calhoun. "I know that Picard conducted the ceremony, and in the eyes of the Federation and Starfleet it's all legal, proper, aboveboard..."
"But...?" she prompted.
"But...I am Xenexian. Before I was Starfleet...before I was anything...I was, and am, Xenexian."
"I know that, Mac," she said, beginning to have a suspicion what the problem was. "And I know it hasn't always been easy for you, balancing the heritage and upbringing you have with the man that your time in Starfleet has made you become." She reached over and ruffled his hair affectionately. Then she glanced at the view on the monitor.The folks outside were looking impatient. "Okay, so...Xenex..."
"In the eyes of Xenexian society," said Calhoun, "our marriage wouldn't be considered legal. We would need to be married in a ceremony conducted by the village shaman. Otherwise, I'd feel like..." Then he stopped and shook his head. "But this isn't your problem, Eppy. You're looking forward to the honeymoon, and you've taken such a leap of faith in marrying me already. This is my problem, not yours, and if the Federation considers us married, that should be all that matters...."
"But it's not," Shelby said. "What matters to you, Mac, matters to me. That's what being married is all about. You've made it clear it's important to you, and all the backtracking you're now trying to do, out of consideration for me...well, it's sweet because it is being considerate of me, but it's unnecessary. I feel good about our being married, Mac. No...I feel great about it. And I don't want there to be any impediment to your feeling great about it as well. And it's one day. One day out of the rest of our married life. Besides, let's face facts: Being married won't be easy. We'll be spending a good portion of our time apart, in separate commands. I want our bonds to be as strong as possible, and if that means having a second ceremony on Xenex, I'm all for it."
"Really." She smiled.
A minute later, the runabout lifted off, and the crew members pelted the vessel with rice as it headed for the forcefield door. It eased through the field, the atmosphere in the shuttlebay staying neatly intact behind it.
The moment they were gone, Zak Kebron said loudly, "All right. Taking bets as to how long it will last."
Activity was fast and furious.
It had been many years since Shelby had set foot on Xenex, and it was every bit as hot and uninviting as she remembered. But Calhoun was grinning ear to ear the moment they disembarked from the runabout, and that alone was enough to make her smile as well. Then again, they'd had a festive and very active wedding night, so it seemed natural that he'd been in an exceedingly good mood. She thought it was sweet the way he kept reaching over, touching her hand or her shoulder, especially since he'd never been that much of a touchy-feely person before. When she'd made an observation about his attitude, he'd simply said, "It helps me to believe you're actually here." That seemed even sweeter.
"Amazing," Calhoun said, gesturing around at the spaceport where they'd landed. "None of this was here years ago. Now look how built up it is."
"Built up" was hardly the phrase Shelby would have used. It was one of the smallest spaceports she'd ever been to,with exactly two landing fields as opposed to the typical nine or ten, and no conveniences for the transporting of luggage. But Calhoun seemed impressed by it, and she had to suppose that, for him, it was impressive. He had, after all, walked this world when he was little more than a savage fighting for his world's freedom, and even a simple glass of water was considered an amenity. So she supposed it was all relative.
Calhoun obtained a land skimmer to take them the fairly short distance to his home territory of Calhoun, the location that had provided him the last name he'd adopted for his career in Starfleet. "Mackenzie Calhoun" was a much easier name for non-Xenexians to say than his given name of M'k'n'zy of Calhoun.
Upon arriving in Calhoun, he was greeted boisterously by other Xenexians, who spoke at him in their rapid-fire native tongue. They'd received advance word of Calhoun's survival when he'd previously been believed dead, so naturally there were joyous greetings from all.The Universal Translator handled it all for Shelby, of course, but she was nevertheless struck by how raunchy and racy virtually all of the Xenexian expressions were. "You look well!" for instance,was literally translated as "I wager your genitals have not shrunk!" It wasn't enough to bring a flush of embarrassment to Shelby's cheeks, but it was sufficient to throw her slightly off her stride. Nor did any of the Xenexians make the slightest pretense of doing anything other than openly sizing her up. They looked her up and down as if assessing a potential racehorse, and they were quite vocal in their appraisals. Some dismissed her as "too stringy," which made it sound like they were considering whether she'd make a good meal. Others, however, nodded approvingly, and made candid comments about which parts of her anatomy were the most pleasing.
In short, the Xenexians displayed a total lack of tact. So much so, in fact, that it gave her a new, fuller appreciation for all the strides that Calhoun had made in his time with Starfleet. Her husband might have been a maverick with little regard for rules and regulations, but at least he didn't meet women and say, "Your hips seem more than adequate for childbearing."
D'ndai, Calhoun's brother, was not on Xenex, a discovery that disappointed and frustrated Calhoun. D'ndai was ostensibly in important meetings on Danter and couldn't get away. "He's there so much, one would almost think he was becoming Danteri," grumbled more than one of the Xenexians, who looked to D'ndai for leadership. From Calhoun's grim expression, it seemed to Shelby that possible problems for D'ndai might be arising in the near future if these attitudes among his people continued.
Finally, Calhoun turned to her and said, "This way." Cutting through the throng, shaking hands, assuring them that he'd take the time to continue conversations later, he led her across the city. The buildings were all very simple, built low to the ground, and although Calhoun kept commenting on how living conditions on Xenex had improved, it still looked terribly primitive to her. But Shelby was, first and foremost, a Starfleet officer, and she refused to sit in judgment on the Xenexians.
"Here," Calhoun said finally when they stopped in front of one particular house. It was smaller than the others, and the exterior was covered with various symbols and signs that Shelby couldn't begin to comprehend. Calhoun saw the way she was looking at them, and said by way of explanation, "They're prayer symbols, asking the gods for strength, wisdom, and guidance."
"Ah," said Shelby."Well, they're very nice. Very striking. Is this the residence of the shaman...?"
"Yes." He nodded. "B'ndri. He has been the shaman here since I was very young. He seemed ancient to me even then, so I can't even begin to guess how he'll look now. But he was always supportive of me, particularly when I took on the responsibilities of warlord. If he hadn't been behind me, I doubt I would have gotten the confidence of the people...or perhaps even had confidence in myself."
"I find it hard to picture you without confidence in yourself," Shelby said with a grin.
Calhoun returned the grin, and then knocked on the edge of the front door. There was silence from within for a moment, and then a gravelly voice said, "Come, M'k'n'zy."
Shelby and Calhoun exchanged glances. "How did he know?" she asked.
He shrugged. "He just does." Then he led the way in and she followed, feeling a bit tentative and mentally assuring herself there was no need for her to be that way. She had met any number of planetary dignitaries under a vast array of circumstances. Granted, this had a certain personal involvement, but nevertheless, it shouldn't be anything she couldn't handle.
The moment she entered the small house, she started wondering if she was wrong.
There was exactly one room in the place, and the man she presumed to be the shaman was seated directly in the middle of it. He was wearing long blue robes, with a gray beard dangling from the point of his chin, and his lighter gray hair splayed around his head as if it had exploded there instead of growing upon it in orderly fashion. His eyebrows were so thick that it was difficult to see his eyes beneath them. He was seated crosslegged upon the floor, his hands resting upon his knees. The room itself was devoid of furnishings. If he had possessions, Shelby couldn't see where they were.
Calhoun bowed deeply to him, and Shelby immediately imitated. "I bring greetings, B'ndri," said Calhoun. "It has been a long time."
"Too long, M'k'n'zy," replied B'ndri, "so long that I have come to believe you have forgotten your roots." The problem was, he wasn't looking at Calhoun. He was looking at Shelby.
"Never, B'ndri," Calhoun said.
"You say never. Yet you do not even call yourself M'k'n'zy anymore, do you?" Still he was focused on Shelby. It was disconcerting.
"It was painful to hear offworlders pronounce it," said Calhoun lightly, clearly trying to bring some levity to the proceedings. Unsurprisingly, B'ndri didn't so much as crack a smile. Calhoun cleared his throat loudly and said, "B'ndri, it is with the greatest supplication that I present you my mate, Elizabeth Paula Shelby. Elizabeth, this is the honorable B'ndri."
To play it safe, she bowed again. "A great honor indeed, sir," she said.
He looked her up and down, and then finally stared at Calhoun. "This is one of those who has weakened you."
"What?" said Shelby.
"What?" echoed Calhoun, shaking his head. "Honored one, no. She has been a source of strength, not weakness. I've learned much from her..."
"And I from him," Shelby quickly added. "That's why we're so good for each other. We shore up each other's weaknesses..."
"The world you represent is the only weakness that M'k'n'zy has had to contend with," B'ndri told her. "He was a great man, a great leader, before he left here."
"And I still am," Calhoun said flatly. She could see that he was becoming more irritated with each passing moment. "Honored one, with all the respect in the world...you seem ready to pass judgment on me, and on Elizabeth, so quickly...yet you hardly know us...."
"That," B'ndri said, "is precisely the point, M'k'n'zy. Once, you were someone I knew. Someone I knew better than he knew himself. I look at you now...and it is as if the M'k'n'zy I knew is gone. As if his warrior heart has been cut out."
Calhoun looked visibly staggered at that, and it was more than Shelby could take. She kept her voice neutral, polite, but there was undeniable iron in it as well. "Again, with all respect, sir...you're wrong."
"Eppy," Calhoun tried to say.
But she'd started talking and wouldn't back off. "This man, whether you call him M'k'n'zy or Mackenzie, has more of a warrior heart than anyone I've ever met. It's what has gotten him through all of the challenges he's had to face, be it adjusting to the world of Starfleet or facing down death itself. He never gives up, never stops believing in himself. It's the thing that most attracts me to him."
"Indeed. You are attracted to it...because you yourself do not possess it?"
Shelby was thunderstruck that he would say such a thing, but it was Calhoun who immediately responded. "No, B'ndri. Not at all. Elizabeth has just as strong and determined a heart as me. I couldn't love her, marry her, if she did not."
"So I am to take your choosing to wed this woman as sufficient proof that she is what you say she is. That she is a fit mate?" asked B'ndri. "I am to substitute your judgment for my own? Have you grown so far from our ways, M'k'n'zy, that that is what you would expect of me?"
And Shelby saw the darkening of the scar on Calhoun's face. She knew what it meant, knew that his temper was starting to become inflamed. Obviously he had come into this situation with a set of expectations as to how it would go, and what he was getting instead was so far away from those expectations that he was having trouble keeping himself in check."B'ndri," Calhoun said with exaggerated attempt at self-control, "your support, your blessing...means a great deal to me. But Elizabeth means the world to me, and if you're unable to -- "
"Wait," Shelby interrupted, and Calhoun looked at her curiously. She reached over, put a hand on his arm, and said softly,"Don't try to diminish what this means to you. I know you. I can see it in your eyes, in your face. Let me try to make this right."
"Please." And before he could say anything else, she turned to B'ndri and said, "What would I have to do?"
"Do?" said B'ndri, challenge in his voice.
"You spoke of substituting Mac's...M'k'n'zy's," she said, stumbling over the pronunciation as best she could, "judgment for your own. But you can't make a judgment based on nothing. There must be something, some sort of procedure. Questions you can ask, traditions. I know cultures such as yours. They're always steeped in traditions."
"Eppy, you don't know what you're saying," Calhoun told her.
"She speaks accurately enough for one who doesn't know," B'ndri observed, and that comment bolstered her confidence.
"All right, then," Shelby said. "You're the shaman. The wise man. If there are any procedures, any official ways to test worthiness, you would know them."
"I would," he said, "and there are."
"Eppy, for the love of God, this isn't necessary...."
"Yes, it is," she told him. "The shaman claims he knows you better than you know yourself. Well, to some degree, I do, too. You're willing to walk away from this on my behalf, but I know you. It took a lot for you to admit to me that this meant a great deal to you in the first place.Try to diminish it now, and that will only make its absence worse. I won't be responsible for that."
"Eppy, you don't have to prove anything to me."
"Well, maybe I have to prove something to myself," she said. "You came a long way to be a part of my world, Mac. Maybe, before we embark on our wedded life together, I should try to come a little way toward being part of yours." She turned back to the shaman. "I'm sure there's some sort of official words, but let me just say it this way: I desire your blessing on our union, and I desire for you to conduct a ceremony that will join us, in the eyes of the gods of Xenex, as mates. Whatever I need do to prove to you I'm worthy of this blessing, tell me and I'll do."
"Very well," said the shaman. "The tests will begin immediately."
"Grozit, no," Calhoun immediately said, and turned to Shelby. "Eppy, listen to me. You don't understand. This is an ancient series of rituals that we almost never do anymore. You won't be able to handle it. This is supposed to be our honeymoon. It's not right that -- "
Shelby bristled at that. "What do you mean,'won't be able to handle it'? I'm a Starfleet officer, Mac, and I'm also your wife. Don't underestimate me, and don't underestimate what I can handle."
"The rituals will take three days," said the shaman.
"See?" Calhoun said quickly." Three days. We're supposed to be on Risa by tomorrow morning...."
"Then Risa will wait," Shelby said firmly. "Mac...you came back from the dead for me. I can do this for you. And don't you dare, ever, tell me there's something I can't handle. It's insulting."
"I'm just trying to protect you."
"I can take care of myself," said Shelby.
They were given temporary quarters, and Shelby was marched off for the first of the trials.
Calhoun sat there and waited,worrying. He sat there as the sun crawled across the Xenexian sky and, ever so slowly, set.
Finally he heard footsteps at the door and rose.
Shelby entered. Her face was streaked with dirt. Half of one of her eyebrows was burned off. Her hair was disheveled, her eyes were bloodshot. Her left nostril was caked with blood.
"Eppy," Calhoun said softly, and started toward her.
She put up a hand and whispered, "Piece of cake. No problem."
"Eppy, let's just get out of here. This is -- "
"Remember survival training?" she asked, her voice still a whisper. "This...doesn't even come close to that. It's...it's nice to know...I can still handle it. Don't worry about it. Just...help me get...my clothes off...wash me down...maybe...we can even make the night...interesting."
He did as she asked. And once her clothes were off and he'd washed the soil and dirt from her, she promptly fell asleep, curled up naked against him. He held her close, shaking his head. "You're crazy," he said quietly, and resolved to get her out of there first thing next morning.
When he woke up, she was already gone. She'd left behind a note that said, "Don't you even think about interfering."
The day passed slowly. Calhoun thought he was going to go out of his mind with worry.
When the sun set, Shelby staggered in. She was limping. Her other eyebrow was completely gone. She had small red bumps all over her skin.
"What the hell...?"
"Insect bites," she said, her voice hoarse. She held up a tube. "They... gave me this for them. Clear 'em right up...."
"Eppy, this is insane! The hell with the shaman! The hell with all of them! We're leaving right now!"
"The only way I'm leaving," she told him, surprising strength in her voice, "is if you pick me up and carry me out of here."
"Not a problem," said Calhoun.
He reached for her, and she promptly backed up, even though her legs were wavering. She leaned against the wall to shore herself up. "Don't touch me," she said.
"Well, those are the words that every husband wants to hear during his honeymoon," he said. "Elizabeth, what are you trying to prove here? That you can be as stubborn and pigheaded as me? Okay. Fine. You've proven it. Now let's go."
"You know what, Calhoun," she rasped out. "Sometimes not everything in the galaxy is about you. Sometimes things get to be about me."
"I got you into this, Eppy! How in the name of all that's holy is this possibly about you?"
"Because maybe I want to prove something to myself instead of you."
"And what would that be?" he demanded, fists on his hips.
"You showed up, years ago, at the Academy. This...this..." she gestured helplessly. "This guy. This barbarian. There, I said it. Barbarian. And you went and proved that you could be as good as anybody we had at the Academy. Better. Well, maybe what I need to prove is that I can come into your world and prove that I can be as good as any Xenexian woman."
"But you can't!" and he immediately regretted saying it as he saw her expression. Quickly he tried to repair the damage. "Eppy...it's a different environment. A different culture. Xenexian women...particularly in the ancient times that spawned these tests...they were bred from birth to withstand all manner of challenges, physical and mental, that simply aren't part of your world. It's ludicrous to expect you to make up for that gap in upbringing simply out of sheer willpower. It's too grotesquely unfair to you. It's not a proper test of the type of woman you are."
"I disagree. I think it's exactly the type of test I need...and maybe the type you need as well."
"I don't need a..."
She gripped him by the shoulder and said intensely, "Bull. You do. Admit it. You think you're superior to me. That your culture, your upbringing are superior to mine."
"I thought you said not everything in the galaxy is about me."
"I lied. Happy? Admit it."
"No. I don't feel that way."
"Yes, you do. You always have. You think you know better than me about everything. About how to live. About how to think. About rules, about conduct, about..."
"Eppy!" He was stunned by the vehemence in her voice. "If you feel this way about me, if you're so convinced I think so little of you, why the hell did you marry me in the first place? Maybe this was a huge mistake!"
"Maybe it was," she said.
They stood there for a long moment, and she started to tremble. He thought she was going to cry, and he reached for her. But she brought her arms up and brushed him away. He stepped back and she fought for control, finally achieving it.
She held up the cream.
"Would you rub this on me, please?" she asked.
He did so and they spoke no more that night.
The next morning she was gone again. This time Calhoun did not simply stay within their quarters. Instead he asked around, trying to determine where she'd been taken, but he was unable to do so. The shaman was gone as well. Presumably he'd gone with her. To make matters worse, the weather had chosen that day to get bad, and within an hour of his awakening, Calhoun was faced with a torrent of rainfall. The people of Xenex were grateful, naturally, for the precipitation, as the rainfall had been light this year. Calhoun was livid. He was more than prepared to try and track Shelby to wherever she was, but the downpour effectively erased everything from spoors to footprints. After a half-hour of coming up empty, a frustrated Calhoun returned to their domicile to wait.
He considered jumping in the runabout, flying out from the local area in ever-widening circles, and tracking her that way. But he thought about the way she had looked at him, the anger, the vituperation in her voice. This had taken on far more aspects than just being a personal challenge to her. She had managed to tie up everything, all her perceptions about the worth of their marriage, into this insane set of trials. He didn't know how much of it was coming from her, and how much might be stemming from things the shaman had said to her. But the bottom line was that Shelby had staked even more importance to this business than Calhoun had, and he suspected that if his marriage was going to survive, he was going to have to let her have her head in this.
Presuming she had a head by the time it was over.
This time she didn't return until the sun set. When she walked in, Calhoun barely recognized her. She was soaked to the skin. Her clothes were torn, and both the clothing and her exposed skin were covered with dirt. She was walking with a pronounced limp, and was holding her left shoulder gingerly. He gaped. "'Sokay," she managed to say, her voice sounding like something from beyond the grave. "Managed to pop the arm back into the socket."
He moaned softly. He got up and went to her, and again she backed off. "Elizabeth, I'm...I'm so sorry about yesterday..."
She shook her head and forced a smile. "No...it's all right. Just...nowhere on my body that doesn't hurt. So just...don't touch me...okay?"
He helped her out of the tattered clothes as best he could without putting any pressure anywhere on her body. "I'm going back to the runabout," he told her. "The medikit can do a lot for you...get rid of the cuts, the bruises, the..."
She laughed. It seemed such an odd noise for her to make. She reached up and touched the scar on his face. "What...you're the only one...allowed to carry scars as...badges of honor?"
"We can do it...later. Now...let me sleep. Tomorrow morning...it ends. He told me. Last test is tomorrow. Said...you could be there."
At this point, the only way I'd let you go without me is over my dead body, he thought.
It was a one-mile drop.
Shelby stood there on the edge of the cliff, staring down. Calhoun was next to her, and he looked equally appalled. Nearby, B'ndri calmly repeated the statement he'd just made that had been met with such disbelief by the two Starfleet officers. "You must dive off the cliff," he said.
She looked at him, then at the drop. It didn't look any shorter. There were stiff winds blowing about her, mussing what was left of her hair.
"Of this cliff."
"And she is to survive...how?" demanded Calhoun.
"If she is worthy," said the shaman, "then the gods will increase the great gusts of wind, and she will be lifted gently back to the top of this cliff."
"I see," said Shelby.
The shaman approached her and said, "If you truly believe...if you think you are worthy of our ways, of this man, of -- "
She hit him.
She didn't know she was going to do it until she did it. Later she would swear that the fist had moved on its own. That her arm had simply swung up, straightened out, and delivered a right jab into the shaman's face purely of its own volition, and she was simply an innocent bystander.
Whether it was her idea or not, it caught the shaman squarely in the face. He staggered and almost toppled over, but a quick-moving Calhoun came in behind him and caught him.
Shelby opened her mouth, and for her it was like watching herself from outside her own body. She had no clue what she was going to say until she said it.
"To hell with you!" she bellowed. "To hell with your tests! To hell with your rituals! To hell with your whole damned planet! This isn't a test of endurance or worthiness! This is unbridled sadism! Do you think I liked causing an avalanche and then having to dodge it? Do you think running through a maze of fire was my idea of a good time? What part of 'My God, get these damned insects off of me' made you think that I was enjoying my honeymoon?" She paused to take a breath. "And now -- now, you want me to jump off a cliff? You jump off the goddamn cliff, because I've freakin' had it! I must have been out of my mind! I don't have to jump through hoops to prove my love for Mac! And you know what else? I don't care how much the whole stupid official Xenex marriage ceremony means to him anymore!"
"Eppy, I tried to tell you that it -- "
"Shut up! I did this for you! Be grateful!"
"I'm grateful," he said immediately.
"You hit me!" said B'ndri, touching his nose tenderly.
"Damned right! You're lucky I don't tear your bowels out with my teeth!"
"M'k'n'zy," B'ndri said, turning to face Calhoun. "This woman's actions are the ultimate insult. You must sever all ties with her immediately."
"Sever all ties? Honored one," said Calhoun, his voice flooding with relief, "if she'd been insane enough to try and throw herself off this cliff, I would have tackled her before she could do it. I'm glad she's called an end to it. It never should have started in the first place. And we're leaving."
"If you do so," B'ndri said with great severity, "if you walk away now...you can never return to your people again."
There was dead silence then. The only sound was the whistling of the wind across the cliff.
"What do you mean?" Calhoun asked.
"You will be dead to us. Shunned. You will be a nonperson. You will have shown us, for good and all, that you have thrown in your lot with...these," said B'ndri, casting a contemptuous glance at Shelby. "These, who do not even believe in themselves enough to trust the gods to support them. Never again will any of our people -- "
"I get it. Dead. Nonperson. Fine. Let's go." Calhoun held out a hand to Shelby. Immediately she took it, and they started to walk away.
They'd gone five paces when B'ndri said, in a grudging voice, "You passed."
Calhoun and Shelby slowly turned and stared at him. "What?" they said in unison.
B'ndri looked pained as he said, "You, M'k'n'zy, have proven your love for your mate is so great that you would sacrifice everything for her, no matter what it may mean to you. No man can do more for his intended than that."
"And what have I proven?" demanded Shelby.
"That you're not stupid enough to walk off a cliff. Come. We will return to the city, where I will perform the marriage ceremony."
"Forget it," said Calhoun. "None of this was worth it. If you think I'm going to accept..."
And Shelby spun, grabbed Calhoun by the front of his shirt, and snarled. "You want to get hit in the face, too?"
He was possessed of a sudden urge to laugh. Wisely, he suppressed it.
"After everything I've been through," continued Shelby, "you don't get to pull that. You don't get to walk away. We have this ceremony now or I throw you off the cliff."
B'ndri looked at the two of them and then said to Shelby, "I'm starting to like you better than I do him."
The marriage ceremony -- or, as the Xenexians called it, the ceremony of bonding -- was held with great celebration and festivities. The medical supplies on the runabout weren't required; long, lavish, scented baths restored Shelby to full health, easing the sores, the cuts and bruises, and, most important, the itchy bug bites. They didn't regrow her eyebrows or burned-away hair, but that didn't detract from her beauty as she was brought before Calhoun in as elaborate and beautiful a gown as the women of Xenex could muster. Many of them didn't hesitate to tell Shelby that they would never have been able to withstand the types of trials she had been put through, and that they admired her greatly. And the men told Calhoun that he had picked quite a woman to mate, and wanted to know if she was like a wild animal during sex. He assured them that she was.
And after the ceremony, a very lavish honeymoon suite was prepared for them. It was not their wedding night, granted, but for Calhoun it was even more special, because it was in his native land, with the full support and appreciation of his people. He felt a greater connection to them than he had in a very long time, and he owed it all to Elizabeth Paula Shelby.
Which he would have been more than happy to tell her, if she hadn't fallen fast asleep the moment she was horizontal.
"So much for the Xenexian wedding night," said Calhoun with a sigh, and he curled up next to her, held her close, and allowed her soft snoring to lull him to sleep.
Copyright © 2003 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.