Rhys Llewelyn was nervous. The results of the practical exam were expected back today. If he, and the others in his class, passed then on Saturday they would receive their badges. (Not that cats could carry their badges on their persons but it was the principle of the thing.) If he didn't pass then it would be another month before he could take another practical to try again.
Angus MacDougal, the chief human of M.E.O.W., walked into the room. He looked at the cats--kittens really, except for Rhys of course--being cats. The kittens Myfi and Finn were engaged in a steeplechase around the cat trails on the walls up to the ceiling. Three of the others were watching to see who would win. Another four were engaged in game involving a ball of yarn.
“Ahem,” Angus cleared his throat. All feline activity stopped and the seven cats looked at him with their full attention. It was a good thing he was used to it because that much focused feline attention could be unnerving.
“I am pleased to announce that all of you have passed the practical exam and will be graduating on Saturday,” he said.
The felines nodded and went back to what they were doing. Except Rhys, who hadn't been doing anything to begin with. Angus walked over to him and crouched down.
“Nala is exceptionally proud of you,” Angus confided to the cat. “She told me that if you didn't have other plans, she'd love to see you this evening.” Rhys looked up at the man. Trainees weren't allowed to roam headquarters without orders or an escort.
“Merow?” Rhys said. He hadn't turned on his translator so it came out in cat instead of English.
Angus, with his years of being a human in a feline organization, knew what the cat meant. Rhys wanted to know how he could visit his girlfriend.
“As of today, right now actually,” Angus smiled. “You're not a trainee but you are not an agent yet so you can go where you want.” He looked at the cat who realized what his change in circumstance might mean. “Within reason. There are still classified areas but you don't need an escort anymore.”
Rhys rubbed against Angus's leg. His tail curled up the human's limb under the kilt. Angus laughed and removed the offending appendage. It was one of the hazards of being a Scott around cats.
That night, Rhys and Nala took a ramble through the field around headquarters. It was a beautiful July evening in the heart of Wales. The some of neighboring fields were full of sheep and the others had freshly cut hay ready for bailing. The sun was beginning to set and romance was in the air. The two felines knew that they only had two more days to enjoy this because after Saturday, Rhys would be a full Agent of M.E.O.W. and Nala's convalescence would be over. They would have separate assignments. Rhys wouldn't be a member of Clouder Number Nine because that clouder was full and the powers that be knew of their relationship and while it wasn't against the rules, per se, they did like to keep romantic partners in different clouders to cut down on conflicts of interest.
They walked to the top of the hill and watched the sunset. Their tails twined together and they just sat there. They had so much to say and not enough time to say it so they let their presence say it for them.
Saturday dawned sunny and warm. The graduation ceremony was set for ten in the morning and dignitaries from the Ministry and other intelligence agencies that knew of the cats' existence started arriving an hour before. The graduation was partly to mark the achievement of the kittens, and in this instance a grown cat, and partly to reassure others in Whitehall that the money to train cats wasn't wasted. Video of the practical exercise and their success in France lead the ceremony. Then the seven graduating felines were called up one at a time and Angus fastened their new tactical collars around their necks. Lady Gwen fastened a badge to each collar, but that badge would be removed and placed next to the cat's bed in their quarters later.
“I'm pleased to announce that this class will be forming a new clouder,” Lady Gwen said at the conclusion of the badge ceremony. “Clouder Number Twenty- One.” There was polite applause from the audience. “They also have their first assignment- they have been attached to to the Athlete security team for team Great Britain at the Rio Olympics. Clouder Twenty-One has proved their expertise at low profile security of large civilian gatherings and I expect they will continue to show just what a cat can do.”
Lady Gwen nodded to one of Angus's Lieutenants to step forward. “Lieutenant Archibald Ross, I'm pleased to promote you to Captain and place you as Chief Human for Clouder Number Twenty-One.” She gestured for Angus to pin the new insignia of rank on Archie.
The ceremony ended after that and everyone retired to the canteen for cake and punch. The cats enjoyed cat mint tea and salmon pate instead. The human dignitaries mingled and talked with the graduates, though they still had trouble with the idea that cats could actually converse. Soon the guests went back to their jobs and the cats went back to their quarters.
Captain Ross removed the badges and placed them where they would go. He gathered his new clouder and gave them their briefing. The cats had an hour to get ready to depart. Rhys had had his go bag ready since Wednesday so he went looking for Nala to say goodbye.
He found her in the canteen, finishing off the salmon pate. Ever since she'd had the feeding tube removed, Nala had been eating everything she could. If she didn't get more active, she was in danger of becoming a fat cat.
“I've got to go,” Rhys said, in cat. There was no need for translation.
“I know,” Nala replied in the same language.
“I'll be gone a month,” he continued.
“I'll be leave in a couple days myself,” she said. “Hopefully I'll be back before you.”
“Where are you going?” Rhys asked. “That is if you can tell me.”
“We have a lead on Natalia,” Nala said. “There is very little I can't tell you.”
She moved her head closer to his. They rubbed their heads together. She affectionately licked behind his ear. He purred. They nuzzled for a moment before the door opened and Captain Scott walked in.
“Rhys, it's time to go,” Captain Ross said.
Rhys licked the top of Nala's head and turned to go. Captain Ross lead the way with the cat at his side. Nala watched until they crossed the threshold and the door swung behind them. She hoped Rhys would be safe. She turned back to the plate of the salmon pate as the door clicked shut.