There was a visible relaxing around the table. As if by magic a waiter appeared and both Bodil’s and Ellie’s drinks were replaced and a fresh jug of iced water provided.
While this was going on Ellie stared off towards where, just in front of the ship, a small raised stage was, by the copious addition of gold and white bunting, finally nearing completion. Dignitaries from the ship were already filling the dozen or so seats that had been arranged facing forward to where a metre high plinth stood unattended and unadorned near the front of the platform.
As she watched, Ellie gathered her thoughts. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it exhale slowly. When she turned bac, Ellie was calmness personified. She played with her drink, twisting and turning the long glass while what little moisture was in the air condensed on its beer-cooled outside surface. Thoughts now gathered, Ellie spoke while she watched a dribble of moisture zig-zag down the glass.
“Well, let’s see. ‘What the hell is going on here’ covers a lot of ground. You know that what is going on here is what Alicia invited you to come and see, to witness.”
Ellie looked up from her beer to speak directly to Bodil. Although her fingers still played with the glass of the as yet untouched beer.
“You also now know that,” she nodded in Victor’s direction. Victor coughed and found something interesting to look at nowhere near where his boss sat. “What you are here to witness is Alicia about to be whisked off by the man she is to marry.”
Bodil, nursing her second large whiskey, listened while at the same time trying not to show the impatience for the answers to the ever growing list of questions that had been building since she had arrived in ‘Troy-Land’. She acknowledged Ellie’s summary with the slightest of slight nods. She saw Ellie smile the smallest of small smiles in return before continuing.
“What you don’t yet know Professor Hill, and what is perhaps the starting point of ‘What Is Going On Here’ is that when Alicia leaves with her betrothed she will be going on a rather long journey. You see, the ship that she will be departing on. That very ship there. Will actually be leaving our Earth. And not just the Earth, but also our solar system. Alicia’s wedding is, in fact, going to be held in a solar system over two hundred light years away from us.
Ellie stopped talking and watched the professor’s face from behind her sunglasses where the professor couldn’t see the twinkle in her eyes. Ellie had had this conversation several times. People’s reactions amused her.
The pause extended to several seconds before Bodil broke the silence.
“Seriously?” The raised eyebrow expression was one met by many past students who tried to explain their lack of course papers with the most elaborate of excuses. “You’re telling me… what? Aliens? Space ships?”
Ellie made a laconic hand gesture to the great white whale parked fifty metres away.
“Spaceship.” Then she couldn’t help but smile. “And you’ve just met an ‘Alien’ called Poppy. Her father, by the way, is my opposite number for the other alien who is about to marry my… boss… Alicia.”
Bodil tried to speak. To refute. To ridicule. But her analytical brain, with its two hundred years of experience, was putting all the pieces together while temporarily putting her mouth on hold. She remembered a line from one of the Subdane stories, something, something, then ‘…whatever remains must be the truth.’ Her brain eased the pressure on the mouth’s hold button.
“The people in the town? Nudeynarven?”
“Niederurnen” Ellie supplied. “Mostly aliens. Here to learn and to teach some of the engineering skills our people will need to keep the spaceships they gave us flying.”
“The ones we passed?” Bodil gestured with a thumb over her shoulder.
“But I dreamt, one floated past my window…”
“Ah, you saw that? Just a training mission that got a little lost.”
“Right, right.” Bodil was nodding to herself as another little piece fell into place.
There was a rising murmur from the crowd behind them and both women automatically looked to the ship for the cause.
“Okay. So the great man appears.”
Bodil, like everyone in the bleachers, reached for her binoculars. The obvious target for the focusing reticule this time was the man in the flamboyant uniform being escorted by, who Bodil now knew to be, Poppy’s father. What brought an ‘aww’ from the crowd, though, and even made Bodil smile, was not ‘the great man’ but Poppy. The little alien, with broad multihued ribbons draped over her shoulders and several brightly coloured bows tied onto her erect tail, walked next to the man in the uniform. In front of her, and with proud solemnity, she held a silver chalice and Poppy's protruding little pink tongue demonstrated the intense concentration she was putting into not spilling the contents.
“That, Professor,” bringing Bodil’s attention back to the man. “Is Alicia’s betrothed. Admiral Guliard Pfenious Backstrom. The ever so many greats grandson of one Joseph Spivey esquire.