Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cat Down

Angus MacDougal stood beside Erik in Clouder Number Nine's mission control room. He hated it when the mission involved his cats out in the world without him. He knew they were highly trained and could go places he couldn't but he preferred being on scene with them. As it was, he was over an hour away and a lot could happen in an hour.

Erik looked up at the human. He knew Angus was worried. He always was. Erik was too. So he offered the human the only comfort he could, he waddled over to the man, nudged him and purred. The man reached down and scritched the cat behind the ears.

“I know,” Angus said. “They can take care of themselves.”

Erik nodded and waddled back to the bank of monitors and computer keyboards. He typed in the Welsh commands to change the rotation of the video between the cats. There was Nala making the rounds to each of her cats. Wait a second. That wasn't Nala. Erik let out a howl to get the human's attention.

“What is it?” asked Angus. Erik pointed. “Nala's just making her rounds.”

Eric flipped the switch that let his speech be translated for the human. “That's not Nala.”

“If it isn't Nala,” Angus said. “Then that cat looks enough like her to be her...”

“Sister,” agreed Erik.

“Ifrinn!”, said Angus.

“Exactly,” agreed Erik.

“I'm heading for Aberbran now,” Angus said.

“But our orders...” started Erik.

“Didn't take Natalia into account,” Angus said. He grabbed his go bag of emergency supplies. If Natalia was back then the mission had gone pear shaped and he wasn't taking any bets on the amount and kinds of casualties.

“Right,” agreed Erik. “I'll let Lady Gwen know that the mission is about to go sideways.”

“Do that,” Angus agreed. “And let Liz know.”

“I'll tell her to prep an emergency ward, shall I?” asked Erik's Irish computer voice.

“And let me know the progress over the car radio channel,” Angus ordered as he left the room without waiting for Erik's reply.

“Aye, Aye, sir,” Erik said as he saluted the closing door. He sent a couple emergency texts to alert those who needed alerting before he flipped the speech toggle to off and concentrated on the screens in front of him.

Angus rushed to his Land Rover and loaded the bag of supplies. He got in and rushed out of the car park and was halfway to Aberbran before he was able to think straight. Natalia was bad news. She not only knew half the cats in MEOW but had trained as one of them. She knew their methods, protocols, and the limits of their operational directives. She had no respect for rules and orders and she knew the MEOW agents would have to follow them. All of which meant Natalia was a dangerous cat because she wouldn't follow any of it and use the rules and regulations against any cat who came her way.

From the previous run ins, of which there had been only two, Angus knew two things - Natalia hated her sister, Nala, with a passion that few expected cats to be capable of, and that she blamed him, Angus, for her being kicked out of MEOW, though she usually said she left over a difference in philosophy.

Those thoughts had been what had spurred him into action but now that he was getting close to the village, it was time to think of a plan. He reviewed where each of the cats of Clouder Number Nine had been stationed along with their probable level of interest to Natalia.

Fiona at the train station would probably be all right. For some reason, Natalia liked the big black and white fluffy cat. They had been friends and Fiona had even been a kind of mentor to Natalia when she had been a kitten. Fiona was the one cat that still had Natalia's respect. That might be useful.

Phoebe at the Royal Mail office was probably safe as well. She hadn't been around when Natalia was at MEOW, having been on a two year exchange program with the Americans at the time. As long as Phoebe didn't get in the way, she was safe.

Alexander, the kitten, would probably be on the list, the very short list, of cats in danger. Natalia usually left the older agents alone but for some reason the new members of MEOW were her favorite targets. Angus reasoned that he should head for the pub. The kitten would be humiliated at having to have human back up at his first surveillance mission but better humiliated then injured or worse. Alex would have to learn that lessen sooner or latter.

“Angus,” said the computerized Irish man's voice that was Erik over the radio. “We have an update on Natalia. She appears to be at the pub.”

Angus tapped the button to return the communication. “I'm ten minutes out. I'll head straight for the pub.”

“Will update you when we know more,” Erik said before the radio went dead.

Ten minutes later, Angus was just parking the Land Rover when the emergency alarm went of on his phone. He looked at the GPS display. It was Nala and she was on the other side of the village. He grabbed the emergency bag and headed off that direction. He was a couple of blocks away from the pub when Phoebe's alarm went off as well and in the same place. He started to run as fast as he could. This was getting bad.

Angus rounded the corner to the park and the sound of yowls and hisses met him. There on the corner was Phoebe. She ran over to him and rubbed his leg, in the signal to follow her so Angus did. They sprinted into the park.

It was both as bad as he had feared and better. Bad because Natalia was indeed trying to take the fur off of one of his agents. But good because it was only one agent. Bad because it was Nala in the fight but good because if there was a cat who knew Natalia's dirty tricks it was Nala.
The cat fight was ringed by the feral cats of the village. All appeared to be trying to keep the fight going except one small tom cat who was pacing around the edge trying to get in. Clearly Nala's gift of winning friends and influencing cats was working. She'd been in the village a morning and already had an admirer.

Angus made a mental note to seek that cat out later for possible recruitment but he turned his attention to the blur of snarling, yowling gray fur in front of him. The fight seemed to be slowing, both cats tiring. Now was the time when he could reach in and pull the cats apart without ending up at the Accidents and Emergency ward himself. He knew the only way to take Natalia in would be to sedate her so he got a small syringe of a sedative out and reached for the gray cat on top of the writhing mass and plunged the syringe into the fur. It was the wrong cat. While he was laying an unconscious Nala out on the grass, Natalia glared at the other cats to make a path for her and slinked away to lick her wounds.

Angus hit the emergency call button on his phone as he picked up Nala. He cradled the cat to his chest as he made his way back to the Land Rover. Phoebe followed him at a full run. She would be needed to fill in the details of the fight and the mission so far. Neither the human nor the feline noticed another cat keeping up with them. Rhys had seen the man take Nala and cuddle her so he was sure this human wouldn't endanger his new friend but he wasn't taking any chances. He would go along just as far as they let him.

“MEOW veterinary,” came Liz's voice over the speaker on the phone.

“Liz, I have an injured cat,” Angus said. “Nala has been in a fight. Lacerations, contusions and bites plenty.”

“Is she conscious?” Liz asked.

“She would be if I hadn't injected her with the sedative,” Angus snapped.

“Why did you do that?” asked Liz.

“I'll explain when I get back,” Angus said. “Can you...”

“Activate the emergency protocol and alert the local constabulary to ignore a speeding Land Rover,” Liz completed. “Already done.”

“Thanks love,” Angus said as he opened the door to the auto and fastened Nala onto the stretcher in the back.

Phoebe hoped up in to the vehicle and pawed at the safety belt and it snapped into place. Before Angus could shut the door, the feline tag-a-long hopped into the other seat and mimicked the movement Phoebe had made.

“Well, all right then,” Angus muttered as he closed the door and took his place behind the driver's seat. “You can come too.” He started the Land Rover and tore out of the car park towards Headquarters.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Nala's Mission

Nala took a last look at the pub as she left the kitten by himself. Alex was a trifle excitable, but then again so were all freshly trained kittens. Let him survive a few missions that went pear shaped and he'd be a great agent. But let this mission not be one of the ones that went pear shaped, was her next thought. She didn't need that kind of excitement in her life right now. She had survived missions with explosions that singed her fur, nearly freezing to death with Angus, and even parachuted into foreign countries, but she was looking forward to a nice and simple domestic surveillance mission.

Nala walked down the street and around the corner. She needed to find the village pack. Every village had one, the pack of cats abandoned by their humans when the humans moved or died. The pack would know everything that went on in the village and if Nala made friends with the Alpha female she'd know everything too. Who the strangers were, where they stayed, and if she was very lucky what they were talking about.

Nala prowled around the town and eventually spotted a cat who carried itself like it was a street feline and not someone's pet. People's pets gave off a vibe of being pampered and they knew when and where their next meal was coming. They walked like they had no cares because they really didn't. Street cats on the other hand were leaner, cautious, and ever watchful. When you didn't get fed on schedule you kept your eyes open and looking for the next meal. The cat, that Nala saw, was like that. It was looking in every doorway and alley. She didn't directly approach the cat. Instead she sat down next to the tea room's garbage and started cleaning her private parts. That was the International Cat signal for 'I'm not going to harm you.'

Sure enough the street cat came into the alley and dove into the rubbish bin. He came out with a bunch of crusts of what had to be smoked salmon tea sandwiches. He looked at Nala and dropped the pile between them. He beckoned her over and shared his meal with her. After the crusts were finished, Nala joined the strange cat in bin diving and extracting the edibles.

The meal concluded when there was nothing more of interest in the rubbish bin. They sat side by side and washed up, cleaning the remains of the meal and rubbish off of paws and faces. Between swipes of paws to get the hard to reach places, they had a conversation. If a human had been listening it would have been a series of purrs, meows, growls, and chittering, but to the two cats it was conversation.

Nala learned that the cat's name was Rhys. He had had a human until a year ago when she got old and died. Since then he'd lived on the streets of Aberbran. The local feline pack had been friendly until recently when a new cat had shown up and taken over. If you couldn't help her then you were left on your own. Rhys had thought Nala might be this new cat as she looked remarkably like Natalia but Natalia would never demean herself by cleaning her privates in public because she always meant to hurt you.

There was more but Nala wasn't listening. She let her collar record it. Erik would figure it out. Things were worse than she thought if Natalia was around. Natalia, her litter mate, sister and near identical twin. She had been trained by MEOW but had gone rogue a couple years ago. Last Nala knew, Natalia had been working in Russia. The snow must have gotten to her. Or the pay was lousy. Natalia liked velvet cushions, caviar, and the finest cream and those were rare treats for an agent of MEOW. Whatever was going on, they were well funded. Natalia didn't work for an ideal just cold hard gold and plenty of it. If she thought an employer wouldn't be able to provide that long term she didn't take the job.

“Want to come back to my pad? I've got a comfy patch under the bridge by the river,” Rhys offered.
Nala tore her thoughts away from her sister in time to hear that incredible offer. Not that she didn't keep company with the occasional tom cat but, Rhys was not her type. Besides she had a mission to do. But she had to let him down gently. Rhys could be valuable in the future.

“Thanks for the offer,” Nala started to say.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Rhys finished for her. “The story of my life.” He started to slink out of the alley but Nala called to him.

“It's not that,” she said. “I know that Natalia. I've got to go do something about her, now before she does something really bad.”

“Oh,” Rhys straightened up. “Need any help?”

“Not right this minute but when I do, I'll let you know,” Nala said as she walked quickly down the alley. She liked Rhys and didn't want to make things awkward the next time she ran into him by prolonging things.

She rounded the corner back on the main street and put all thoughts of Rhys out of her mind. She had to find her rogue sister. That was the important thing – to find Natalia and figure out what she was up to. The whole mission could revolve around what Natalia knew and Nala wasn't going to let her get away.

“I wondered when you'd find me,” said a cat with a strong Russian accent.

Nala looked up and there was her sister. She's been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't noticed the other cat was near. That wasn't good. That could get a cat killed.

“Well, I found you,” Nala answered back.

“I knew you had to be around here somewhere,” Natalia said. “Isn't the kitten at the pub a little young for this kind of work?”

“You leave Alex out of this,” Nala said. “This is between you and me.”

“Are you seriously going to take me on without Angus here as your back up?” Natalia taunted. “How is sweet Angus anyway? Has his accent gotten any more understandable?”

“Angus is just fine,” Nala said. “I've never had any trouble understanding him. I never understood your problem.”

“That's the problem,” Natalia snapped back. “You never understood me. I wanted more than just to be a kept cat living off of the questionable generosity of Her Majesty’s government. I want a more than comfortable life that I can control.”

“And these Gaelic terrorists can do that for you?” Nala asked.

“Gaelic Freedom fighters,” Natalia corrected. “And yes they can. Plus there is the added bonus that Her Majesty’s questionable generosity won't be available to anyone when they're finished because Her Majesty’s government won't be around.”
“What do you mean?” Nala asked. This was interesting. If she could just keep Natalia talking, then they'd know what was being planned. It sounded big and dangerous and like MEOW needed to know about it right now.

“Wouldn't you like to know?” Natalia taunted before turning to run for the park. How easy. Nala would follow her and she'd get her revenge for having to put up with a know it all sister who was just to good to live. She'd fix that before she was done.

Nala watched Natalia run away. That was a familiar sight – Natalia running away from anything that might get uncomfortable. Never would she stay and figure things out, she just ran away. Nala wasn't going to let her get away with that.

Nala ran after Natalia but Natalia was faster. Nala crouched down and gathered all her energy in her back legs and leaped at her sister, claws out.

Natalia twisted and dislodged Nala. She swiped at her sister with claws out. Soon they were a mass of writhing, hissing, and yowling gray fur. They moved up and down the park. Each landing several good slashes with their claws. They were evenly matched, they had the same trainers in combat after all. The fight attracted every cat within hearing distance, including Phoebe from her spot across the road. Soon there was a ring of interested felines around the combatants and no feline help could get through though Phoebe did try.

Nala feinted right and escaped getting a particularly nasty claw swipe to the eye. She wasn't sure how much longer she could keep this up. She and Natalia were just too well matched to have either one emerge as a winner. She was tiring and bleeding and so was Natalia. The cat who had more stamina would win and she was afraid it wouldn't be her.

A sound came from her collar. Help was on its way. She just had to hold on. Nala was relieved and got her second wind. She leaped back into the fray, literally. She leaped on to her sister's back and held on with all fours paws digging their claws into Natalia's back. She went for the coup de grace and clamped down on the back of Natalia's neck with her teeth.

Natalia tried to dislodge her sister but when Nala's teeth sank into her neck, the only thing she could do was drop and roll over making her sister let go or be forced onto her back beneath her sister. Nala let go. Natalia took advantage of Nala being on her back and flung herself on her. Both cats had claws and teeth sunk into the other and they were rolling over and over on the ground when Angus showed up and reached into the fray.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Alex's Mission

After leaving Phoebe at the Royal Mail office, Nala and Alex ambled their way around town until they came to the Black Boar Inn. The local pub had been established sometime in the seventeenth century as a coaching inn and pub and was still the heart of village life. There were newer and more modern hotels on the outskirts of town but the Black Boar was where everybody went to have a pint and talk. The visitors they were interested in might not be staying here but people here would be talking about them. Anything new and or unusual was always discussed, in great detail, at the local pub.

Nala took one last look at Alex and ruffled his fur some more. He still looked too much like a pure bred Siamese to be believed as a stray but hopefully people would believe him to be the pub cat. Buildings this old usually had a cat or two to keep the vermin population down and as far anyone knew at MEOW the last pub cat had disappeared a month ago. This left a vacancy for Alex to fill. If he could get in with the publican.

Nala finished her grooming of Alex and nudged him on his way. He looked at her, unsure of himself but excited. She nodded to him to go on and he did. She hoped that the faith everyone had in the kitten was well founded. They would soon find out and luckily her own part of the mission was to get in with the street cats so she'd be able to keep an eye on him.

Alex crept into the pub. A fire was lit in the ancient fireplace and an empty cat basket sat next to the hearth. He was here to be the pub cat, so he strode with great purpose to it. He looked right and left to make sure no other cat was coming and then settled down into the basket. He curled up to look asleep but really watching the tap room.

“Och, look at the wee cheetie,” said a Scottish guest to Rhys, the publican.

“That is indeed a bold cat,” answered Rhys. “But I guess he can stay there, if no one comes looking for him. Our cat disappeared a while ago and there is just something about having a cat at one's hearth.”

“Aye,” agreed the Scott. “Cats and warm places just seem to go together.”

Alex smiled to himself. So far so good. He had permission to make the hearth his base of operations for the next few days and then Angus would conveniently come looking for him and he'd be ex-filtrated with ease.

“Now aboot that meeting room,” the Scottish customer said to Rhys.

“Yes?” asked the publican. He would be only too happy to rent the Assembly room to this patron as it stood empty most of the week.

“I'll be needing it every Thursday for the next two months,” the customer said. “Any break on price for such a good customer?”

Rhys thought. Most of the people with whom this Scott met were from elsewhere and some were staying in the rooms above the pub and he did want the room for eight days when it would stand empty.

“I'll give you eight days of rental for the price of seven, Mr. Mac Andrew,” Rhys answered.

“Och, that is dear but I'll take it,” agreed the Scotsman, Mac Andrew. “We'll be here tomorrow at 9AM sharp.”

Alex smiled to himself. That was an excellent start to his spy career. Headquarters would be buzzing with that information. He would probably have a standing mission to be around this pub for the next eight Thursdays, starting tomorrow. Good work he said to himself.

“Here, cat,”Rhys said as he brought over a dish of cream and another of shredded chicken bits. “You look like you could do with some meat on your bones. But don't eat too much. You need to catch the little mousies.”

Alex tucked into the meal purring his appreciation. He'd catch a few mice to keep his cover. Really if all missions went like this, then he'd be a great agent. Maybe as good as the famous Nekkosan. He shook his head, splatting cream all over the hearth. He couldn't think like that. He had to survive this mission first and if there was one thing the Academy drilled into the kittens, it was looks can be deceiving. By that motto, Alex knew he should be prepared for this mission to go pear shaped at any moment.

Alex finished his meal and curled back up into the basket. He decided he could take a little nap so he'd be awake later to make a full inspection of the pub. It wasn't a dereliction of duty, his collar would still record and transmit the conversations, around him, back to headquarters. When he checked in later, they'd let him know of any changes to the mission. With that happy thought and a full tummy, Alex went to sleep for an appropriately named cat nap.

He woke to the sound of another cat purring at him. Alex opened one eye and saw that the cat sitting on the hearth next to him was a Russian Blue. He started to close his eyes again thinking it was Nala, but opened them again when it occurred to him to be offended. This was HIS mission, why was the leader not trusting him to do his job? He woke up fully and looked at the cat. Yes, she looked like Nala but her collar was wrong and she had a strange gleam in her eyes.

The cat moved over and took a good look at Alex and then walked away. Alex, belatedly, shook his head so that the camera in his collar could emphasize the recording of this strange cat and looked after her until she was gone from the tap room. He started to follow her but the men he'd over heard before were starting to climb the stairs to the meeting room. He had to follow them.

Alex got upstairs to the door of the room when the emergency alarm on his collar went off. He turned to leave but a chirp sounded from his collar. He pressed a hidden button on the collar and an earphone slipped into his ear. Orders from headquarters were quickly relayed to him. Yes, a member of his clouder was in trouble, but he couldn't help. Instead, he was ordered to stay and complete his mission. He was to follow and eavesdrop on the men he had seen. Then he was to stay the night and find away to be in the room for their meeting tomorrow. Headquarters would give him an update on the rest of his clouder when he checked in after the pub was cleared for the night.

Alex acknowledged his orders and the earphone retracted. He went about his business with part of his mind worried for the rest of his clouder. The worry increased when the second and then the third emergency signals sounded. Then he heard the sound of Headquarters responding. He was comforted to know the humans were on the way. He had his orders and he had to follow them. This was his first assignment and his clouder was counting on him. He rushed to keep up with his targets. He could and would do this.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Phoebe's Mission

The remaining members of Clouder Number Nine ambled down the high street of Aberbran, away from the train station and the team member they had just left to take up her post. They passed the tea rooms near the train station and the little shops and found the office of the Royal Mail. There Phoebe peeled off from the little group. Nala and Alex watched as she made herself comfortable on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Phoebe was not at all sure about how effective her placement would be. On one hand all the post came through this office so it was central to the town's business. On the other the post was all sealed. But still it was on the town green so it was central to keep watch on the rest of the town.

She settled in the weak morning sunlight beside the door. It was still an hour until the office opened to the public but the workers were already there sorting the post. They were busy gossiping already and Phoebe could barely hear but her collar's microphone would be able to pick it up. Then the workers moved to the back of the office and out of range of even the microphone.

Phoebe busied herself looking around her assigned area. She was supposed to keep an eye on the sidewalk a block in all directions as well as the village square across the street. She took a quick patrol of the area- up the sidewalk and down around the corner. Still nothing happening, so she crossed the street and took a run around the square. She thought she saw something in the rafters of the gazebo so she launched herself up on to one of the support poles and crawled out on the beam. It turned out to be a bird's nest so she ran down the beam and made a series of jumps – to the top of the tree next to the building then to the railing and finally to the ground. If she hadn't been a trained Agent of MEOW, she would have been one of those unfortunate felines, that the humans liked to laugh at, the kind that got curious, stuck and had to meow until a human rescued them. But as she was a trained agent, if she could get up to a place she could get herself down again with no help. Phoebe completed her circuit and returned to the sunlit sidewalk for her morning nap slash covert 
She was just settling in for her morning nap when a familiar silhouette approached her. What was Nala doing back here already? Nala was supposed to drop the new kitten at the pub and make a survey of the whole village before returning to the square. That was supposed to take an hour and it had only been forty- five minutes, so Phoebe looked again as the cat approached. It wasn't Nala but another Russian Blue. She knew this cat. Well not exactly. She'd seen pictures and heard stories. This cat had been trained and served a few months at MEOW and gone rogue. If the stories were true then this cat was Nala's twin sister, Natalia.

The other cat came up to Phoebe and looked her over and walked on. Phoebe got a good look at her and it was indeed Natalia. That wasn't good. She shook her head in the manner that made the camera in her collar focus on the Russian Blue so that Headquarters would take notice.

Phoebe wanted to follow the cat but just then she heard a muttering of what she'd been listening for – Gaelic and not the local Welsh. She had to stay here to record that conversation. So she settled for watching Natalia as best as she could while still recording the conversation.

Soon the two men who were conversing in Irish Gaelic came around the corner. Phoebe picked herself up and walked over to them and twined between their legs to get a better recording. One of the men bent down and petted her while still carrying on the conversation. Inwardly, Phoebe gritted her teeth. She had a low tolerance for petting on the best days and this man was petting against the fur grain and then smoothing down the fur. She only tolerated that behavior from Angus and Liz, but this was a mission so she couldn't turn around and bite the hand that petted her in such an undignified manner.

Finally the man got tired of petting the cat or his companion had urged him on about his business, either way he straightened up and the two walked away. Phoebe followed to the end of the block, which was as far as she was supposed to stray from her assigned look out post. While it would be helpful to hear what the men discussed, right now the mission was just to identify who the players were.

She stayed until the men were out of sight and then went back to the patch of sun in front of the Royal Mail office. The sun had shifted a bit and now the patch was directly in front of the door. Phoebe thought about staying just to the side of the door but the siren call of the warm sunlight was too strong not to heed. She curled up in the sun and settled in for her nap. So what if humans tripped over her, she'd be sure to record any interesting conversations and people entering to send or retrieve their post which was her assignment after all.

The nap was interrupted when a boot made contact with the curled cat. Phoebe woke instantly and hissed. Then she reacted on pure instinct, the claws came out and she wrapped herself around the human who had tripped on her. The human yelped and tried to pry the cat off of his leg but Phoebe dug the claws in deeper.

Once she felt the human had suffered enough for interrupting her nap, Phoebe let go. The human limped into the mail building. Phoebe settled down to clean her fur but then she saw what the human had been backing away from- a cat fight. The local feral cat pack was roaming around a mass of writhing gray fur. Phoebe would have ignored this as not her problem but her collar buzzed in the clouder emergency signal.

The signal coming so close together with the cat fight made her think that one of her clouder was probably involved. As the fighters both seemed to be gray, it was probably Nala and that other Russian Blue, Natalia. Phoebe sighed and ambled over to the perimeter of cats. Sure enough, that was a MEOW collar on one of the combatants. Phoebe tried to get closer to the fight but one of the pack stopped her.

Phoebe raised a paw and pressed the emergency button on her collar. If she couldn't stop the fight, then at least she could call back up. Fiona might have better luck worming her way through. Alex might be able to play the clueless kitten and break it up. If both of them failed then the human back up would arrive soon after and that would be that.

She watched the fight continue. There was blood in both cats' fur now and the yowling was attracting notice but the ring of cats was menacing enough to keep the average human away. The other cats should get here soon. Sure enough, Fiona's black and white bulk was seen coming from the train station. She had no luck either in getting into break up the fight. Phoebe saw her touch the emergency button on her collar as well. That would bring the humans. One cat could be helped by another but two more pushing the distress call always brought the humans. Not that the cats weren't highly trained but they were cats and if they acknowledged they were in over their heads the humans came. Phoebe was a proud cat but even she acknowledged that they needed Angus and the others now. She ambled over to the corner of the square to wait and lead him to the fight. The GPS on the collars was good but not that good. He'd get within a block and then see Phoebe and follow her to where he was needed.