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Admiral, the Duchess and Steadholder, Honor Harrington was just finishing the last of the day’s paperwork that her command, the 8th Fleet, seemed to generate by the freighter load. This was depressing, because the command wasn’t even officially active yet. Colonel Andrew LaFollet, her chief bodyguard, stuck his head in the door and said, “Excuse me My Lady, but First Lord White Haven just commed and asked if he could have a meeting with you as soon as possible.”
“Very well Andrew, he can come over whenever he wishes.” Honor Harrington frowned, trying to figure out what Hamish would need to talk about face to face. Not that it mattered, she was always happy to see him, especially with how busy they both had been.
Half an hour latter her steward, James McGuiness, knocked quietly and said, “Excuse me My Lady, but Earl White Haven and a guest are here.”
Honor quirked an eyebrow but nodded for Mac to show them in.
First Space Lord, Hamish Alexander, Earl White Haven came in unaccompanied by anyone but Samantha, the Sphinxian Treecat that had adopted him. Nimitz, her treecat, raised his head from the pillow he had been snoozing on as his person went about her duties and spotting his mate, he purred and leapt down onto Honor’s desk. Samantha leapt from Hamsih’s shoulder and joined Nimitz on the desk, purring and rubbing against each other. As soon as Mac closed the door behind him White Haven took Honor in his arms and gave her a kiss.
“Not that I don’t appreciate it My Lord.” Honor said with a smile, “But is that what you needed the meeting for, or did Sam get lonely?”
He shook his head and replied, “Have you heard anything about the security breach out at the Academy today?”
“I had heard that Saganami Island had a breach but no details,” she replied.
“Take a look at this then,” he said, fishing a data chip out of his pocket and tossing it to her.
She slotted it into her viewer and sat down to watch. The image she saw was of the main runway at the Saganami Island Airbase. She knew the camera was there technically to provide a visual record if there was an accident, but it was mostly used for critiquing the piloting skills of the cadets. The playback showed one of the Academy’s Javelin trainers coming in for a landing. Honor, an expert pilot herself, automatically judged this approach and found she had nothing to be critical of. She had just come to this conclusion, when she spotted a small purple dot appearing about a third of the way down the runway. She blinked, thinking it was an illusion or maybe a flaw in the recording, but in the time it took her to do that, the dot swelled to a disk about ten meters across. The camera was at a bad angle for her to tell, but she got the impression that it was very thin, perhaps even two-dimensional.
The pilot of the plane must have spotted it the same time Honor did and hit his throttles just before his wheels touched down. He picked up speed and was just starting to climb again when a strange yellow and black vehicle came hurtling out of the disk.
Honor blinked, she recognized the paint scheme on it, if not the vehicle itself, as she had just authorized the purchase of a dozen similarly painted airbuses for her Steading back on the Planet Grayson. The word ‘School Bus’ across the top simply confirmed it. There was a small blonde woman on the top of the bus grasping some kind of an axe. As the Javelin went over the bus, it cleared it by less than a meter and the wash from its jet engine blew the young woman right off of the roof. She hit the ground and began tumbling down the runway. Honor winced in sympathy at the case of road rash the young woman must have gotten. Whoever was driving the bus must have been startled as the ground vehicle fishtailed and swung off the runway into the grass. Honor could see security and medical vehicles responding in the foreground. Surprisingly the blonde picked herself up off of the runway and began walking toward the bus, dusting herself off as she came, ignoring the injuries that the blood on her clothing seemed to suggest.
Honor looked up at Hamish, her expression questioning whether the playback was genuine, or if someone was playing a joke. “That hasn’t been doctored in anyway, what you saw is what the witnesses say happened. There were about twenty people on the bus, mostly young women. Most of them were also wounded in one shape or form, two were hurt badly enough that if they hadn’t ended up here they might not have made it.”
“Have they said were they come from?” Honor asked.
“They are the last bus out of Sunnydale, California.”
“California? As in Seliesia?”
“No, California as on Earth. And if that’s not enough, they claim to be from the year 2003, AD.”
“Two Thousand Ante-Disporia, or Anno Domini?”
“The second,” White Haven replied.
“That’s insane,” Honor exclaimed.
“Ordinarily I’d agree with you, but the chip certainly implies differently.”
“Chips can be faked,” Honor began; trying to keep her universe in the nice neat orderly condition it had been in before she had watched it.
“Except there are over two hundred witnesses to the event, I doubt they all could be lying.”
“Have they said how they managed it?”
“We’ve got a story out of them, but it’s even more unbelievable than the chip. I’d like you to hear it first hand, and tell me what you think.”
Honor considered; Hamish was one of the few people who realized exactly how special Honor was. Sphinxian treecats were telepathic and empathic. Through their empathic sense they could detect what they called ‘Mind-Glows’ of people. For reasons that even the Treecats themselves didn’t understand certain ‘Cats found something in certain humans that matched; creating adoption bonds. The two individuals somehow linked with each other on a mental level. As far as it was known, humans could not receive information from a cat. But Honor had discovered she could receive emotions from Nimitz. Originally, it had been just been Nimitz’s emotions then grew to the point that they could send simple visual messages, but over the years it had developed to the point were she found she could read people herself, without any help at all from Nimitz. Hamish wanted her to ‘read’ whomever he had with him to see if they were lying. “Okay, show them in.”
“It’s a her, and her name is Buffy Summers,” Hamish explained as he went to the door, “Buffy? Could you come in please?”
When Buffy, accompanied by Andrew LaFollet, came in Honor examined her, she was short enough to be from Grayson, Honor’s adoptive planet. She was dressed in a set of blue shipboard coveralls. She had long blonde hair and looking at it Honor realized that this was the young woman from the top of the bus. Honor was shocked that there was no evidence that this woman had skidded down the runway at probably better than 80 kilometers per hour.
The young woman in question swept her hazel eyes around Honor’s office. They lingered on the two treecats that where still entwined on her desk and Honor could feel her evaluate them as possible threats. That was when Honor noticed and odd duality to the young women’s thought process, it was finely meshed, but it was almost like there were two entities in her mind. The eyes moved on, but Honor could tell that the other woman had not dismissed the ‘cats as possible threats. Most people would do that, a ‘cats relatively small size and fuzzy cuteness made most people dismiss them. Usually it was only after someone saw a ‘cat in action did they come to believe that something so small and cute could be dangerous.
“Buffy Summers, this is Duchess Honor Harrington. We’d like you to tell your story to her again please,” White Haven said by way of introduction.
“Ms. Summers, please have a seat, can I offer you something to drink?” Honor said as she motioned Buffy to the chair in front of her desk. She smiled to herself as Nimitz and Samantha went into ‘cute and fuzzy’ mode as they checked out the young woman. Buffy for her part returned the checking out, but nothing in her posture or emotions seemed to indicate that she thought the ‘cats were anything other than the pets they appeared to be.
“Juice if you have it or some other soft drink please.” Buffy replied, wondering if there was some special way you were supposed to talk to a Duchess. “The Proper form of address for a duchess is ‘Your Grace’,”
Giles voice came through her mind.
Both treecats stood up, eyes wide, their shock radiating through her link with Nimitz. Even though she hadn’t heard anything, Honor was almost stunned by the ‘cats’ surprise.
Buffy froze at the reaction, trying to figure out what had happened.
A voice rippled through her mind, it made Buffy think of honey, thick, rich and golden, “Can you hear me?”
“What’s going on?” Buffy asked, for an instant she almost panicked remembering her last bout with telepathy.
Nimitz turned to his human and going up on his hind legs he signed, “I heard someone, in her mind.”
“You’re telepathic?” Honor asked in a hushed voice.
“Buffy, what’s going on, who’s this other voice we’re hearing?
” Willow asked over their link.
“I am Golden Voice, or Samantha as Steel Heart calls me.
Buffy stared at the gray-dappled six-legged cat that Hamish had brought along with him. She had thought it was a pet, but now staring into the eyes of the creature she realized she was looking at a sentient being that was telepathically talking to her.
Then deciding there was no use pretending, she said aloud, “We mentioned that magic brought us here. Willow is a witch and she cast a spell that allows us to talk telepathically. We thought it would be a good way to keep track of what was going on.”
“And to let your friends know if we did something underhanded to you,” Honor finished, with some respect in her voice. “Perhaps if you start at the beginning you can tell us where you come from and then we can see how best it is we can help you.”
Buffy began her explanation. The group had decided that since they didn’t know were they were, the fact that the sun in the sky was wrong, plus there was another really bright star that none of them had seen before, it was pretty obvious that they weren’t in Kansas anymore. Added to this they had gotten generally good vibes off of the soldiers that had taken them into custody, and the prompt medical care that Robin and Rona had been given. It had been decided that they would come clean with their hosts. Of course they had also decided not to mention their little telepathy trick to keep a secure communications channel open. With these tree cats in the picture that probably just went out the window. She would still down play Willow’s abilities until they were sure of these people though. A half hour later Buffy was finishing the brief overview of her life these last eight years of her life, with them driving out of Sunnydale in the commandeered school bus when the portal had opened right in front of the bus and they had found themselves on the runway of the base in the way of a landing jet.
Honor stared at the young woman in front of her. As far out as the story was, Honor could tell that the young woman was telling the truth. Well there was some gray areas, gut they were more of the not telling the whole truth, rather than I’m skirting the truth feelings. Hamish was looking at her expectantly waiting for an answer. “She’s telling the truth My Lord.”
“I’m glad you believe her Your Grace, it makes my job a whole lot easier,” said a voice with an odd accent from the back of the room.
All six occupants turned around. Andrew LaFollet pulled his pulsar out to cover the newcomer, who had apparently walked through the wall to get there, because the office only had the one door. Most of the others regarded the oddly dressed person with curiosity and shock. Honor and the treecats could tell that whatever this person might look like, he wasn’t human.
Buffy? She snarled “Whistler!” And launched herself at him, hands outstretched.