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.