Angus MacDougal, Erik, and Phoebe were in Clouder Number Nine's control room. Their attention was on the monitors in front of them showing the live feed from the collars of the two agents still out in the field. They didn't turn at the sound of the door opening. It was probably Dr. Liz MacDougal and the new cat.
“Howdy, y'all,” came the unexpected American Southern drawl over the computer speakers.
They turned as one. It was indeed a new cat. Just not the new cat they were expecting. This was a twenty four inch, before you measured the tail, thirty pound ball of fur of the type know as a Maine Coon. The accent said this was one of the Yanks on loan to MEOW.
“Howdy, yourself,” Angus said. “Can I help you?”
“If'n you're Angus MacDougal, you sure can,” the cat said.
“I'm Angus,” he agreed. “What can I do for ye?”
“I'm Beruthiel Beauregard,” said the walking ball of fur. “But you can call me Beru.”
“Well, then, Beru,” Angus said. “what can I do for ye?”
“I've been sent to lead this here Clouder until such time as Nala is field worthy again,” Beru said.
“Oh ye have, have ye?” Angus said. “I've seen no such orders.”
“Well, that is a might bit odd since that white cloud of fur that answers to the name of Lady Gwen said she was sending the orders right over,” Beru observed.
“Weel, I havena gotten them,” Angus said staring down the massive cat.
“Angus,” Erik's Irish computer voice interrupted the staring contest.
“What?” Angus asked as he turned back to the bank of monitors.
“This just came in,” Erik said as he pointed a paw at the orders on one of the screens.
Angus read the new orders. Yes, indeed the Clouder had been sent a replacement cat to lead them while Nala was recovering. As there were no qualified British cats available, Beruthiel Beauregard, the cat on loan from the Americans would be leading the Clouder. Beruthiel was the leader of the American version of Clouder Number Nine and was on loan because the other members of that clouder were either on private assignment or on Maternity leave.
Angus looked over Beruthiel's CV and was impressed. The successful missions were numerous, some of them even famous in spy circles. The training was good. The number of commendations equaled what Nala herself had. Maybe the redneck speech protocols had made him draw the wrong conclusion.
“Weel, it looks like she's right,” Angus said.
“Right,” Beru said. “Where are the other members of the Clouder?”
“Still surveilling the town,” Erik's computer voice answered.
“When are they due back?” Beru asked.
“I'll pick them up at 0900 tomorrow,” Angus answered. “Unless you want them back sooner.”
“No, 0900 is fine,” Beru agreed. “I always find more information, the better.”
“We'll have plenty for ye,” Angus agreed.
“The jet lag is hitting,” Beru said as she yawned. “Where do I hit the hay?”
“Ye mean sleep?” Angus asked.
“Yep,” Beru said.
“Follow me,” Angus lead Beru through a door at the side of the room and they entered the Clouder's living quarters.
Beru noted the couch and the cat towers. It was only missing the empty multiple level shelves around near the ceiling to be like the quarters back home. Angus moved over to a small alcove with a carpeted platform near a window. The platform had a soft-looking fleece covered cat bed with two quilts draped over the edge.
“This is the one unclaimed bed in the quarters,” Angus explained. “If it isn't what you're used to we might be able to figure out something.”
“Oh, no,” Beru said around another yawn. “It looks right cozy. I'm sure I'll be happy as a hog in mud here.”
“Then if there is nothing else,” Angus said.
“Actually where might I get a bit of victuals and a scratch at the sand?” Beru asked.
“Victuals?” Angus puzzled.
“A bite to eat?” Beru said. “I'm sure my tummy is empty to my spine.”
“Oh, right,” Angus said. “Food and water are just here.” He pointed to the wall below her platform.
“And the litter box?” Beru asked. “I can't sleep if I don't know where the outhouse is in case I have to get up in the middle of the night.”
“You see that wee little room?” Angus pointed to what would be a closet in a human house.
“Ayup,” Beru agreed.
“The door is pressure operated so just stand on the doormat until it opens and ye'll have your choice of cat boxes,” he explained.
“Thank you,” Beru said around another yawn.
“Have a good nap,” Angus said as he left.
“Never had a bad one,” Beru said as she burrowed under the quilts and twisted and turned to make a comfortable nest in the padded cat bed.
Angus shook his head and left her to her sleep. He'd worked with other Yankee cats but never had he had so much trouble understanding one.
He's a strange one, Beru thought. Talks a might funny, but sure is nice to look at. The voice is nice and calming, for a human. It could be worse. She could have been stuck with some pinkies-up, society English snob. This handsome Scot would do.
Beru started to think about the other cats she had seen but before she could even figure out who she might be working with the jet lag caught up with her and she was sound asleep. She dreamed of salmon sandwiches served by faceless humans with strong Scottish accents.
She was just taking a bite of succulent pink fishy flesh when an annoying buzzing penetrated her dreams. She startled, fully awake, and jumped straight up in bed. Her fur puffed out making her seem to be some sort of behemoth cat monster. Her landing was just a little off so she fell off the platform and onto the floor. Seeing as how she was a cat and a highly trained one at that she landed on all four feet and managed to walk away with her feline dignity fully intact. It was a good thing she didn't know that Angus had been watching over closed-circuit television or he would have been speaking like a lassie for a week.
Beru shook off the abrupt waking and sauntered over to the nearest monitor. She pressed her paw to the identity scanner and the screen came to life. It wasn't anything serious just that Angus had returned with the other members of the clouder from their surveillance mission. There was a briefing as soon as she could be in the command center. She figured she had time for a visit to the litter box and a light snack so she walked to the closet where the first was kept.
Ten minutes later, Beruthiel walked into the control room. Her fur was back to normal and she seemed in control once more. It really was amazing what a snack and a little wash could accomplish to pull a cat together. She looked around the room and took in the other four cats and Angus. He was wearing that skirt thing again. A kilt, she remembered it being called. Hmm. If the human gets out of line, it offers many possibilities. She walked over to the empty chair with a small pillow on it next to the others. She made herself comfortable and flipped the talk switch on her computer station.
“As my Papaw would've said,” Beru drawled, “Let's get this show on the road.”
Phoebe and Alex spent the next hour laying out their observations of the town and pub. The Gaelic League was planning something big and soon. They had been rather cagey about it but the plans did hinge on some information hidden up at the castle.
“Ok, let me see if I understand the situation,” Beru said in the most business like manner, most of the traces of her Southern drawl fading in favor of getting down to brass tacks and being understood. She could talk as proper as the rest of them but enjoyed being underestimated and being thought dumb by the stuffy Brits. She found it worked in her favor as they usually did what she suggested out of surprise that she had thought of something intelligent.
“A group of domestic terrorists from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have formed a group to do something dastardly and you don't know exactly what or when? All you know is there is some information hiding a hidden room up at the castle but you haven't yet figured out how to get into the room?” Beru summed up.
“Don't forget Natalia,” Erik said.
“Right,” Beru said. “Your leader's twin sister, who once trained and worked for MEOW, is apparently working for the terrorists.” She let out a long low whistle. “Y'all got yourselves in some kettle of fish, haven't you?”
“Aye, we're in a right swivet,” Angus agreed. “But getting out of these things is what we do.”
“Never doubted it,” Beru said. “I just like to understand the scope of just how impossible things are before I get out of them. It makes me feel like a miracle worker when it is all over.”
“So do you have a plan?” asked the impatient Phoebe.
“First of all, I'm not nearly acrobatic enough for the castle mission,” Beru said looking down at her ample proportions and fur. “Way too much mass to be capering about like a kitten.” She turned her gaze on the kitten in the room. “He could probably do it.”
“You bet I could,” agreed and enthusiastic Alex.
“Aye, you're agile enough,” Angus agreed. “But we don't know if you could carry whatever it is they're after out of the castle.”
“We wouldn't need to remove it necessarily,” Beru said. “We just need to know what it is. And I've found that kittens are the best at ferreting out information from tight locations.”
Alex beamed. He was being sent out on an actual mission not just eavesdropping in the local pub. He could put his training to use.
“I suppose that Natalia knows what y'all look like,” Beru said.
“You's suppose right,” answered Fiona.
“Then I'll keep tabs on her,” Beru said. “But we still need a few more pairs of eyes in the village, so you Fiona and Phoebe need to take up your posts and keep out of Natalia's way.”
“Aye, aye,” said the Fifis.
Beru looked at the clouder. It wasn't her usual group but she had every confidence that it would get the job done.