Monday, January 11, 2016

Agents of MEOW

Deep in the heart of the United Kingdom, though no one knew precisely where, (all anyone knew was that it was a several hour drive to Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London) lay an Academy for secret agents. Most of the students served Her Majesty, though a few followed Uncle Sam. The one thing that all the trainees of the Academy had in common was that they were not human. They were much furrier, as they were in fact cats. The felines at the Academy were as far superior to the average feline home companion upon entry as kittens, and by the time they graduated the cats were equal to their human counterparts, with whom they occasionally collaborated.

The Staff of the Academy consisted of both human and feline instructors. The humans were a necessary evil as far as Lady Gwenllian, the plump white Persian feline who ran MEOW, was concerned. The cats at the Academy and in the Agency were gifted, but they still lacked opposable thumbs and government suppliers weren’t supposed to know of intelligent cats, so someone had to take delivery of the tons of kibble and litter and the pallets of wet cat food. Not to mention some human staff was needed to clean the dozens of litter boxes, open the cans of tasty wet food, and pour the celebratory cream when a mission was completed. Then there were the veterinary doctors and technician staff. All in all there were too many humans for Lady Gwen, but all were necessary, so she didn't complain to the Minister too much.

The one human that all the felines liked, including Lady Gwen, was Angus MacDougal, a Scot whose preferred clothing was a traditional kilt, which caused some distress when a cat rubbed up against him. Tails were known to tickle the backs of his knees and sometimes higher up, but he wouldn't change his uniform nor jobs for anything. He was the chief human handler and the one most often assigned to Clouder Number Nine. MI 6 had the Double O designation. The United States Navy had the SEALS. The Special Projects Agency of MEOW had Clouder Number Nine. Angus provided the human back up for them and he could often be found with one of the cats near him.

The feline contingent of Clouder Number Nine consisted of five cats at the time of the Aberbran mission, but had been as many as six. Nala, the Russian Blue, was the current leader of the Clouder. She was the best at getting into places where she shouldn't. Her particular skill was looking so pathetic that unsuspecting humans invited her in and then left her to nap. That's when she'd get where she needed to be. She was also a pedigreed purebred and could get into the stuffy aristocrat circle. Erik, a white with black markings short hair of mixed parentage, had been a great field agent until he'd come into contact with a strange chemical and had nerve damage that caused his legs to cease working properly. He, however, proved to be gifted at running the computers and remote controlled devices in the other cats' collars. Fiona, Erik's litter mate who was a longer furred black with white markings big cat, worked with Phoebe, a smaller and gray and white version of Fiona. Together Fiona and Phoebe made up the deadly double team known as “the Fifis”. You never got between the Fifis and what they wanted. The last cat in the clouder was a six month old provisional recruit.

Alexander, the pure blood Siamese, had been the kitten with the highest marks in the most recent graduating class so he'd been placed with the others to see if he'd be a good fourth field agent. In fact the day the Aberbran mission began was going to be his first day.

Angus and Nala walked through the Agency's halls to the dormitory wing of the Academy. They made an odd picture, the more than six foot tall kilted Scot and the barely foot tall Russian Blue cat walking proudly beside him with her tail sticking straight up as if trying to look taller next to her companion. They passed several windows that looked into the class rooms until they got to the one with the twelve week old kittens who had just been fitted with their collars and laser beams. Angus paused to look in, as he did every time he passed the room when his errand wasn't urgent. The kittens were so funny. They chased the red dot but never caught it as the source was coming from between their ears. The instructors always let them chase the dot for a while before reminding them that they were about to be highly trained spies and it was beneath them to chase the dot that would never be caught.

Nala stretched up on her hind legs with her front paws on the windowsill. There was one kitten, a calico, that was doing the most acrobatic leaps to get the dot and failing. Nala put a paw over her eyes and shook her head. She was sure she had never been that stupid.

“Och, Nala,” Angus said. “Do you see that wee Calico over there?”

Nala nodded.

“That one reminds me of you when you were a wee lassie cat,” Angus said. “You were a bonny wee thing that liked chasing the dot too. I knew you'd be a good infiltrator cat because of the way ye leaped at the dot.”

Nala thought of the revenge she'd get on Angus. Someday, when he wasn't on guard she'd leap and claw at the vulnerable parts under his kilt. That day was not this day though. Today she had to keep her thoughts and claws sheathed. She removed her paws from the windowsill and sank back onto all fours and started back down the hall.

“All right,” Angus said. “Back to work.” He set off after the cat. He was sure that Nala had been contemplating some murderous thought in his general direction for the comment about when she was a kitten. She, of all the cats he worked with, was the most conscious of her dignity. He did enjoy teasing her, even if it meant he had to be on guard all the time from cat claws.

They entered the dormitory wing and there to meet them was the six month old Siamese, Alexander. He was vibrating with the excitement that the very young and anxious to get on with life can have. His bundle of things was next to him.

Noticing the excitement of the new recruit Nala looked up to Angus. She waited until she had his attention and rolled her eyes. That level of bounce was never good in a new recruit.

“I know, Nala,” Angus said. “We'll have to train him out of some very bad habits.”

Alexander bounded over to Nala and just before he would have pounced, as his feline instincts demanded to play, he remembered to bow with his front paws. Then he rolled over and exposed his stomach in acknowledgment that Nala was his superior. She lifted a paw and rubbed his tummy. Feline formalities over with, Nala nodded to the kitten to fall in and he did. Angus picked up the bundle and followed behind Nala and Alex.

Nala led the small procession through the halls of the Agency. Finally, they reached a door different from the others; it had an actual doorknob and not the pressure sensitive plate in the floor to open. Nala reach up and hit a button. A light next to the button turned green and Nala motioned to Alex to get the doorknob. Alex looked up to Angus.

“Go on,” Angus said. “Show us what ye've got.”

Alex leaped for the knob, grabbed it with both front paws and twisted. The door swung open. Alex lost his grip and fell to the floor but landed on all four paws anyway. It might not have been the most graceful of landings but he proved he could indeed do the door opening trick.

Nala led the little party inside. The room was a mix of old world office and high tech command center. In the center of the room on a cherry wood platform with stairs up to it sat a large red velvet cushion with gold tassels. If one looked closely at the tassels one could see that they were a bit worse for wear as if the feline occupant of the cushion would occasionally attack them. (Which would be a correct assumption; when stressed Lady Gwen would dismiss everyone from the office and have a good romp attacking tassels for five minutes and then return to work.)

Said feline occupant was a luxuriously long white furred Persian named Lady Gwenllian. She was the top cat at MEOW and answered directly to the Minister. The symbol of her rank was a gold and pearl diadem seated between her ears. This wasn't just a piece of fancy jewelry but it also housed an electronic unit that read her brainwaves and feed them wirelessly to a computer next to her. The computer used a text to speech application and spoke for her so all could hear. (It was similar to some of the technology in the collars of other cats but more fitting to her station.)

“Come in,” said Lady Gwen. “Is that a new kilt, Angus?”

“Yes, my lady,” he replied. “The new recruit in Clouder Number Two shredded one last week.”

“I trust the kilt was the only thing to suffer damage and you took the cost of the replacement out of the clouder's budget,” Lady Gwen said.

“It was and I did, my lady,” Angus replied.

“Good,” Lady Gwen said as she looked at Alex. “So this is the new member of Clouder Number Nine.”

“Yes, my lady,” came another voice from the computer. This one was female with a slight Russian accent which was to represent Nala. “May I introduce Alexander.”

“Alexander,” Lady Gwen invited. “Come here.”

Nala nudged the kitten to the base of Lady Gwen's platform. Lady Gwen looked him over. Alex shook a little with nervousness but held his ground.

“He'll do,” Lady Gwen pronounced. “Are you ready to take your oath and begin your service?”

“Yes, my lady,” another computer voice sounded in the room. This one was the voice of a teenaged boy whose voice was trying to deepen, and was the computer's attempt at trying to keep all the cats' voices distinct so everyone could tell who was talking.

“Then raise your right paw and swear the oath,” Lady Gwen said.

Alex stood in the indicated spot and raised his right forepaw. “I, Alexander Cattus, swear to serve Her Majesty and my country, to protect and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, obeying all lawful commands for as long as my nine lives shall last.”

“Very good,” said Lady Gwen. “Now get him settled in the Clouder's quarters. There will be a mission briefing in an hour.”

“Yes, my lady,” Angus said and led the two cats out.

Once in the corridor, Nala bumped her head against Alex's in acceptance. Angus pinned a charm to Alex's collar.

“There,” Angus said as he straightened up. “You're a full member of SPA. Let's get you settled before she sends us off on an assignment.”

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