Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Beruthiel Beauregard looked around the sleeping shelf she had inhabited for the last few weeks. It wasn't nearly as good as the one she was headed to, that would be home and always preferable, but she'd miss this place. Her own team would be reassembling by the end of the week and it was time to get back. Back to the good old United States of America, where team was a good enough word for a group of cats working together. Nothing fancy like Clouder was needed. It was just another sign of the poshness of the British cats. She would miss Angus and his kilt. Maybe she should suggest a uniform change back at HQ.

A polite little meow sounded from the floor below her and Beru looked over to see Phoebe looking up at her. Beru waved an inviting paw and the gray and white Norwegian Forest cat runt joined her on the platform. They held a conversation that, to any humans listening, was all meows and chitters and purrs. They sorted out what Phoebe would do with her month leave: join Beru in the States. She would secure the necessary permissions whilst Phoebe packed. They would be leaving that afternoon.

Elsewhere in Clouder Number Nine's private quarters, the Irish brother-and-sister duo Erik and Fiona O'Brian were plotting how to handle her private mission. A request had come in for some subtle back-up to the bodyguards for a minor branch of the Royal family as they vacationed in the Scottish Highlands. It would be bank rolled by the family and not the government, and so it would be rather cushy. The pay would pad Erik and Fiona's retirement accounts nicely. The main issue was whether Erik could use the resources of MEOW or if he needed to run the operation from the O'Brian' London flat. Either way, Fiona was being paid to ride one of the most exclusive trains around – The Royal Scotsman. She had dreamed of doing so but knew she couldn't stowaway on such a train, so to be invited, even if it meant working, was a dream come true. It sounded like her job would be to find a comfy spot near the family and watch. If someone or something slipped by the obvious bodyguards, then Fiona would need to act. Otherwise she just needed to be the twelve-year-old girl's beloved pet cat. It was a perfect short-term mission.

Alexander Cattus was in his sleeping quarters. Everyone else in the Clouder had plans to do things with the unexpected downtime, but he did not. The Aberbran Mission had been his first and he had no contacts to visit or private job offers to pursue. He was finished with his training so he wouldn't even be able to hang out with Rhys, and Nala was too sick for visitors yet. He was at loose ends and sliding quickly into depression.

A knock sounded on the doorway to his sleeping quarters. That meant a human wanted him. Alex bounded up with all the energy of the kitten he still was. He opened the curtain he'd closed. Sure enough, Angus was crouched next to the shelf. He was decked out in his full military uniform. That was unusual. Angus usually wore a military kilt and tee shirt around headquarters, but now he was in full field uniform of the British army, ribbons and rank insignia and all.

Alexander snapped to attention. He raised a paw and saluted. Angus returned the salute.

“Mr. Cattus,” Angus said formally. “I have need of your assistance.”

“Anything,” purred Alex. He turned the computer voice in his collar on and purred it again.

“Good,” Angus said. “Follow me.”

Alexander jumped down and followed the human from the room. They twisted their way down corridors until they arrived at the helipad. There the Angus, his two lieutenants--one who oversees the Clouder's supplies and the other who works with Erik at the computers--and Alex lined up and saluted as Beru and Phoebe walked past. It was a formal acknowledgment of the help of an ally as Beru departed the base. There hadn't been time for a formal welcome when she'd arrived, but she'd be given full honors as she left.

No sooner had the helicopter with Beru and Phoebe taken off, than another arrived. This one was greeted with similar formality. Alexander recognized one of the two men who stepped out. He was a minor member of the royal family. The training on recognizing the royals was still new enough to recognize him. The other member was the Deputy Minister in charge of MEOW.

“Commander MacDougal, his Grace, the Duke of Glasex,” introduced the Deputy Minister.

“Commander,” nodded the Duke. He looked at the cat beside Angus. “Is this the cat I've come to meet? He looks a little young to be of much use.”

“No, your Grace,” Angus said. “Alex here is a newly trained agent and has just completed his first mission. Quite admirably too. But he is not the cat you're needing.”

“Then where is that cat?” demanded the Duke.

“She is studdying the briefing your people sent over an hour ago and strategizing with her technical support to plan the mission,” assured Angus. “Alexander and I were just seeing off a colleague and an American just prior to your arrival.”

“Take me to the cat,” the Duke insisted, ignoring the explanation of Alex's presence.

“Certainly, you Grace,” Angus said as he turned precisely on his heels and led the way into the building. He made a subtle hand motion and Alex fell in, at his side, tail proudly in the air.

The little procession made its way back down the corridor. They arrived outside the Clouder Number Nine control room and stopped. A sound that could only be described as a caterwaul was emanating from the room.

“Dear God, what is that?” demanded the Duke.

“That is two cats singing the song of their people,” Angus said calmly.

“Clearly,” said the Deputy Minister. “Is there anyway to get them to stop?”

“Maybe if we knew what they were singing it might help,” Angus said as he flipped the switch for human speech translation.

“Dulaman na binne bui, dulaman gaelach
Dulaman na farraige, b'fhearr a bhi in Eirinn...” sang an Irish tenor and soprano in harmony.

“That's not much better,” said the Duke dryly. “What is that?”

Angus opened the door and walked in. The two cats stopped their singing and heard the Duke's last comment.

“Irish Gaelic folk songs,” answered the Irish man's voice that was Erik.

“Why?” asked the Duke.

“Because my sister and I were waiting for you all to get here,” continued Erik. “We finished the plans a couple minutes ago and I'm going to miss my sister so we thought we'd sing a goodbye song.” He put on his most innocent feline face and everyone except Angus bought it. Angus looked at the O'Brian siblings and glared his 'we will talk about this later' look at them.

“Which one of you is coming with me?” asked the Duke. He wasn't sure about this cat thing, but the Deputy Minister assured him that this team of secret agent cats had actually been the ones responsible for saving Westminster a few weeks ago, so he was willing to have a cat along.

“That would be me,” Fiona's Irish woman's voice said as the big black-and-white fluffy Norwegian Forest cat stepped forward.

The Duke sized up the fifteen-pound ball of fur and thought, with claws out, the cat might be useful in a fight. Particularly if it could identify friend from foe, then there would be a lot fewer friendly casualties compared to other weapons on board a moving train. There might be something to this cat thing after all.

“What kind of plan did you guys come up with?” asked Angus trying to herd the cats back on track. The last thing MEOW needed was to get a reputation as undisciplined in royal circles.

“Well, as I'm to be Lady Anne's pet,” Fiona said. “I was looking into what she likes.”

“That's actually what got us singing Dulaman,” interrupted Erik. “She likes Celtic Woman.”

“Of course,” replied the Duke. “I've heard that song before. Just not sung by cats.”

The Deputy Minister manfully refrained from laughing. It was always interesting to come to MEOW headquarters when not in the middle of a crisis.

“I'll leave you in Commander MacDougal's capable hands,” the Deputy Minister said to excuse himself from the plans. “I must go consult with Lady Gwen.” He slipped out the door before anyone could respond.

A half hour later, the Duke was impressed despite himself. The plan had been laid out logically before him by the cats with minimal input from Commander MacDougal. The supply Lieutenant carried out a box of necessary supplies and stowed it in the helicopter. Fiona walked proudly by his Grace's side and was seat belted in next to him. He had instructions on how to put the leash onto her harness for appearances sake and the app installed on his phone so he could receive texts from her in the field. Texts from a cat on his daughter's safety, the Duke couldn't believe it but there it was. He also had what appeared to be a blue-tooth headset for his phone which would allow him to talk to and hear from the cat. The things he'd do to keep his family safe, thought the Duke as the helicopter lifted away. It was going to be an interesting two weeks.

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