Although Bodil was intrigued by the procession of colourfully clad men and women descending from the belly of the ship sized aircraft, the optically magnified and electronically enhanced image settled on a creature that was easily as tall as Ellie’s bodyguard Gregor and every bit as impressively muscled. But, though it stood upright like a man the, whatever it was, was covered in a thick grey-blue fur that shimmered and flowed as the creature moved.
Bodil could see no chain, no collar even, but suggestions of clothing decorated various parts of its apparently feline body. This interpretation was in no way diminished by the head. Eyes, Jaw, ears. All very cat like. Bodil’s best guess was that this was some hitherto unknown mutation from one of the still-being-rediscovered parts of the world.
Just then, a flash of animated whiteness in the lower field of her binocular’s vision distracted her attention from the exotic looking beast now standing at the foot of the steps and looking around. She tried to bring the glasses to bear on what had caused it but is was moving too fast.
Ellie’s terse warning made Bodil give up on the glasses. It took a second for her unaided vision to refocus on the thing streaking towards them across the concrete. She just had time to register white fur, long lithe limbs and the upright, forward pointing ears of a predator before Gregor’s bulk intervened.
There was a high pitched snarling yowl as the charging animal leapt. Gregor’s upper half took the brunt and his flailing arms desperately tried to contain the lighting fast movements of white furred sinew that that climbed and twisted all over his chest, his back and his shoulders.
Bodil’s seat crashed backwards as she desperately tried to put as much space, and as much table between her and the fight. It was only when she was looking around for an escape route through the bleachers that her shocked brain started to take in the fact that the crowd weren’t screaming, but laughing. And that Ellie was clapping her hands in apparent glee like a little girl who’d just won a pony.
Just then Gregor, his suit rumpled and his earpiece dangling, plonked the still agitated animal down on the table. Despite having a body over a metre long, four powerful looking limbs and a tail that swished and twitched and coiled its own almost a metre length, Gregor held it down with one hand while he used the other to pick up the half full jug of iced water. For a moment Bodil thought he was going to smash it down on the creature’s skull but instead he just held it a few centimetres above its head. There was a warning inflection in Gregor’s voice.
“Hen a chiewu poppy. Di ma hen a mah-ey. Ma hen a mah-ey!”
The animal stopped moving at once. Even the tail stopped. The ears went down flat to its head. The response was an almost keening wail.
“Hen na a mah-ey poppee!”
Bodil stared. She sidestepped closer to Ellie.
“Did… Did it just, talk?”
Ellie took Bodil’s hand and gave it a little squeeze.
“It’s okay professor. Yes, she just asked Gregor not to pour the water on her head.”
Ellie leaned in closer to the now very cowed looking creature on the table.
“Poppy? It’s lovely to see you again, but what did we say about jumping on people?”
Bodil doubted the feline ears could get any flatter but it tried.
“Ad et ba…”
“English please Poppy.”
The golden eyes scrunched up in concentration.
“Poppee not to do that only some.”
“Good girl.” Ellie flicked a glance at Gregor who put the jug down and then slowly let go of his captive.
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.