Bodil was still trying to get her head around the idea that an animal had just spoken English.
Very slowly, Poppy sat up on the table, curling her tail around her hip. She propped herself on her hands with both arms stretched out to the sides.
The ears lifted and started to swivel, taking in all the sounds around her. She peeked up under the parasol and waved at the crowd. Those who could see cheered and waved back.
Poppy's pupils dilated with pleasure and now her ears stood erect and forward facing.
Bodil watched all this with a kind of confused blankness.
What had streaked across the ground on all fours, for all the world like an attacking cheetah now sat upright, cross-legged like a human.
Though Poppy's back legs retained the grace and sleekness of a big cat, her front legs, from the shoulders down seem to have reconfigured to an approximation of human arms.
Though the 'fingers' were short, when Poppy waved to the crowd, they demonstrated the dexterity necessary for handling tools. They were hands, not paws.
And, most incredible of all, Poppy had used language.
By now Bodil had surmised that this white furred example of a human/feline cross and the much larger blue furred one were likely very close genealogical relatives.
Were they natural mutations though, or had they been designed? Genome manipulation was heavily regulated for obvious reasons.
In the meantime, Victor had come forward to retrieve Bodil's fallen chair while Gregor tried to rearrange his clawed and thread-pulled suit into some kind or order.
Bodil sank into the seat, still watching Poppy, who was now rubbing faces with the delighted Ellie.
Not for the first time since accepting Alicia's offer, Bodil wondered what the hell she was getting into.
Ellie and Poppy chatted happily with each other in a mix of English and the expressive sing-song language the furry little animal had used before with Gregor.
Both of them used mime, too, to convey what their limited knowledge of each other's words could not.
They looked to Bodil like two infants who had met each other for the first time after the long summer school break and were animatedly sharing their holiday stories.
Bodil heard Ellie mention her name and the little cat-girl's head twisted around to look at her. She found herself under the scrutiny of those bright golden eyes as Ellie talked.
At one point during whatever it was that Ellie was saying to her the cat-like ears flattened just a little and the pupils of the eyes became narrow vertical slits.
Bodil glanced at Ellie, who had also noticed the change in demeanour. Ellie put a hand on Poppy's shoulder, whether to hold her back or to reassure her Bodil couldn't guess.
But Ellie's next words, which included the name Alicia, seemed to have an effect and the predatory stare gave way to curiosity. The ears, however, never quite regained their full height.
Just then Ellie's notebook bleeped and Ellie was preoccupied for several seconds reading the incoming message.
This left Bodil and Poppy looking appraisingly at each other and Bodil noticed the small pink nose twitch for a moment or two, reading whatever the professor's scent told her.
Then Poppy very slowly blinked and turned her head away.
Ellie's voice broke the spell. Reading from the notepad, she gave Poppy an unwelcome message.
"Poppy. Your father wants you back. He's not happy I'm afraid."
On the table, Poppy's expressive ears sunk, slowly rotating so that seemed to be pointing straight down. She emitted a very pitiful, very cat-like little mew.
Ellie Looked up. Trying to hide a grin, she delivered the second half of the message.
"He says you have five minutes to get back and dressed or you'll be getting your tail lifted."
Bodil just managed to catch the table and so prevent an accident of broken glass and spilled drinks while Ellie deftly rescued her notebook.
Poppy was already a white blur on her way back to the ship and didn't even look around to acknowledge her cheering fans in the crowd.
Only when Poppy was seen to disappear up the steps of the forward landing strut did a sense of normality seem to return. Bodil drained her whisky in one swallow.
Then a thought struck her and the professor spoke for the first time since Poppy's excited arrival.
"Dressed? You mean she was naked?"
Ellie, who was still grinning at her little friend's speedy departure, laughed out loud.
"No, well yes. I suppose. But not really. The Haethien don't wear clothes like we do, they have fur after all.
But Imperial society uses colour in their clothing to signify all kinds of things, like rank, or profession, social standing, political leaning... all kinds of things.
For the ceremony Alicia brought you here to see, Poppy will have her own little role to play and for that, she needs to have some way to show her function."
Bodil listened. Not quite understanding but picking up on certain words.
"Wait... what? Haethien? Imperial society? Since when have we been an empire?" As she was putting two and two together in her mind, her words were taking on a rising angry inflection.
"The 'Troy Empire? Is that what you mean?" Behind her, she heard movement which stopped as Ellie raised a finger.
With an effort of will Bodil managed to stop her words but couldn't do anything about the anger in her eyes. Ellie was watching her, the good humour gone again.
"Professor. I understand that you have a bee in your bonnet about the Troy family." The words were quiet and spoken without anger. "Some of what you believe is even true.
But as Alicia said, there are reasons and by the time you have finished your research in the archive I hope you come to understand that."
Ellie took a breath and sat back in her chair.
"Alicia and I argued after you left that evening. I told her I didn't think you could get past your anger and distrust. Alicia thought, once you had seen this...
" Ellie waved a hand in the direction of the ship and the activity going on around it.
"That you could put your little squabble over Troy family matters aside and see the momentous events taking place."
Ellie reached forward and took her beer. She didn't drink it, just looked at it for a few moments, deep in thought. Then she went on.
"Despite my best warnings, one of Alicia's last acts as head of the family was to give you the okay to publish whatever your findings from the archive reveal.
She's letting you do so because she wants to show you that, compared to the history being made today, any skeletons in the Troy family closet...
Actually, to be more precise, in the 'Grand Mother's' closet,
are worth sacrificing to keep you from publicly suggesting that Joe Spivey was anything less than a one hundred percent bona fide Hero Of The Fallen Earth."
Now she drank the beer, emptying the glass like a pro before banging it, upside down, on the table.
"So, Professor. Do you want to know why that stupid statue in New Flagstaff is so damned important?"