Fiona O'Brian stood in front of the class of kittens. She didn't really want to be teaching the class. But then again she didn't really want to be anywhere now that her brother was gone. For fourteen years, they had been together- living and fighting to save the world side by side. When they had left Ireland and their family together for training, at least they had each other. Now she was supposed to carry on without him? The last four years, Erik hadn't been in the field but he had been in her ear and at the command center making sure that the clowder had all the tech support and back up they needed and when they needed it. Now he was gone. That voice in her ear would be someone else. Fiona was glad to leave that possibility for another day, which is why she was sort of glad to be facing a class of ten kittens and not some of Natalia's henchmen.
The kittens were rather active, as six week old kittens in a new environment tended to be. Fiona remembered those days. She and Erik had been- she wasn't going to think about that now so she rang the bell on the desk and the class quieted down. This was their third class of the day and it looked like they had learned the first lesson well.
“I am Fiona O'Brian, of Clowder Number Nine,” Fiona introduced herself. “I'm here to teach you the history of M.E.O.W. Do you know why it is important to know our history?”
A little white kitten raised a paw.
“Yes?” Fiona asked.
“Bronwen, ma'am,” replied the kitten.
“Well, Bronwen,” Fiona reasked the question. “Why is it important to know our history?”
“To know where we came from and so we learn from our mistakes,” Bronwen replied.
“Exactly,” Fiona said. “So I'm going to tell you how M.E.O.W. was started and why we are important.”
M.E.O.W. was started back in time of King William IV. There was no Ministry. The idea of cats as spies hadn't really been thought of yet. But One cat served his king and was rewarded with the honorary title to match his human.
Thomas, the first feline Earl of Grey had helped his human counterpart, Charles the Second Earl of Grey, foil a plot against the then Princess Victoria. Henry Wentworth, one of the younger sons of the Earl of Worthington, a member of the House of Lords, was heard making injudicious remarks about the Princess at one of the clubs. His older brother, James, had managed to quiet him and send him home but not before the Earl of Grey had heard about it.
Grey knew there was no time to get a human spy in the Worthington household. The Earl was fond of cats and would take in a stray. Grey had been working with his own cat, Thomas, and knew if Thomas could get into the Worthington household, then he'd know what the young lordling was on about.
That evening, Grey ruffled Thomas to look like he hadn't had been taken care of in days. Once Thomas looked scruffy enough, he ambled to the Worthington door and made himself at home. Sure enough when the Earl of Worthington came home, he bent down to pet Thomas.
“Aren't you a pretty kitty,” Worthington said. “Or you would be with a little care.”
Thomas rubbed against his legs, purring. Worthington bent further and got into the petting. After a few minutes he picked the cat up and carried him into the house.
“You look like you used to belong to someone,” Worthington said. “Well you will again.”
Thomas purred louder. The plan was working. He was being taken into the Earl's townhouse. Then it was just a matter of finding young Henry and listening and reading what the man was up to.
Worthington took Thomas into the kitchens. This caused no little amount of stir. While the Earl had been known to wander down to the kitchens for cream and tidbits for cats, every time he did, it threw the staff into a tizzy. The requsite cream and meaty tidbits were produced. Thomas ate them as if he had been starving instead of having been fed a decent lunch and tea earlier that day. This plan might have it's advantages. The Earl of Grey took care of his cat but he didn't spoil him. The Earl of Worthington didn't just like cats, he spoiled them. Thomas could have sworn he smelled a salmon cooking. He hoped there would be fishy bits for him later. This could be fun.
The snack finished, Thomas followed Worthington back upstairs. The Earl kept up a one sided conversation explaining what rooms were where. Thomas followed, his tail in the air, as he absorbed the information. Sure he could have found out what he needed by exploring but having the whole house laid out before him made it easier. He would confirm what the Earl said and add his observations later but for now he trotted along behind the friendly Earl.
The Earl led him in to his bedroom and invited Thomas to jump up on the bed and be comfortable. Thomas didn't have to be told twice. He got up on to the large canopied bed with dark blue silk satin coverings. He stood and circled three times in the satin and then settled down. The Earl kept prattling on about the people in the house while his valet helped him change for dinner.
Thomas paid attention when the Earl described his sons. James, the heir, was steady and responsible. Just like his father, except he had a fondness for his hunting dogs instead of cats. Thomas vowed to climb on to his lap as soon as possible. Somehow it was more satisfying to cuddle on the lap of a dog person. Though cat people had their uses too. Henry, the middle son, was a cat person. He was described as taking an interest in business but no particular one. His father wasn't one of those peers who thought business was beneath his family so he wasn't discouraged. William, the youngest was still at Oxford reading Philosophy.
The information would prove useful. It was good that the subject he needed to observe was a cat person. That would mean he could get close.
The Earl left for dinner. Thomas followed him down stairs but instead of going into the dining room with the Earl, he went to the library to scout out any papers. He hopped up on the desk and started looking through the letters and such there. There were bills to merchants in Town and for some repairs to the country house but nothing out of the ordinary. Thomas cast a glance at the fire burning in the grate. Clearly someone planed to return to this room, so all Thomas had to do was wait here. There happened to be a large stuffed ottoman in front of the fire. Thomas declared that his spot and he hopped up there, turned around three times, and went to sleep.
The clock struck ten when James and Henry walked into the library. Their voices roused the sleeping cat. He was going to be grumpy about being woken up but then he heard what was being discussed.
“What were you thinking?” James demanded. “Going on about how Princess Victoria should never be Queen?”
“She shouldn't,” Henry said. “She's just a female and they can't rule. You agree with me.”
“I do,” James said. “But speaking such a thing in public could be considered treason.”
“So?” Henry said as he went to the sideboard and poured himself a brandy.
“They put people in the Tower for that,” James said.
“I'll remove to America before that happens,” Henry said.
“That will break Mother's heart,” James insisted.
“Better to break her heart then bend a knee to girl,” Henry said. “You know Prince Ernest Agustus should inherit Brittian as well as Hanover.”
“He should but the law clearly gives it to the Princess,” James reasoned. “We cannot change the law.”
“But we can change who is around to inherit,” Henry insisted as he resumed his seat.
Thomas kept quite still. This was why he was here and he wouldn't spoil it by moving. He was afraid that any movement would cause the brothers to change topics.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked James, shocked.
“I and a few friends,” Henry began to brag. “Have recruited a maid in the employ of the Duchess of Kent. We can arrange for her to have an accident and that will be that.”
“Are you sure?” James asked amazed.
“In fact arrangements have been made for such an accident to happen Thursday when she is out riding,” Henry continued. “Maria will make sure of it.”
“I still think it far fetched and a bad idea,” James said. “I'm off to find better entertainment.”
“I think I'll go to bed,” Henry said. “I have an appointment at nine.”
“In the morning?” James asked.
“Yes,” Henry said. “That's when the business day starts.”
“What an ungodly hour,” James said as he left the library.
Henry followed not much latter. Thomas hurried out into the hall. He reached it just in time to slip out of the house behind James. The information he had needed to get back to the Earl of Grey tonight.
Hopkins, the Earl of Grey's groom, had been set to watch the Worthington house in case the cat should appear. Thomas made right for the prearranged meeting place and found Hopkins. The groom picked up the cat and carried him off to the waiting Earl.
The Earl of Grey was waiting in his own library for the cat. He thought it might take longer than one night but it might not. He had been writing letters on pieces of paper so that the cat might spell out the information. He wasn't disappointed in his optimism when Hopkins carried Thomas in.
Thomas wasted no time in spelling out “Maria, Duchess’s maid. Horse riding accident. Thursday.”
“Thursday?!” exclaimed Grey. “That's the day after tomorrow and tomorrow is almost here.” The clock chimed a quarter to midnight.
Grey went to his desk and wrote out several letters. He had Hopkins deliver them whilst he went and got dressed in day clothes as he wasn't going to get any sleep for the next thirty-six hours.
The Earl had been right. The next thirty-six hours had brought many meetings but the plot was foiled. The maid was fired and the Princess was saved. The King was grateful. He demanded a meeting with the Earl who had saved his heir and Grey went and extolled the virtues of Thomas the cat.
King William IV was disbelieving that a cat could be of use, but when the human Earl insisted could couldn't have foiled the plot without the feline's help, the King made Thomas of equal honorary rank. The feline Earl and his wife, Charlotte, the feline Countess, retired to Grey's Northumberland estate of Howick to be pampered by the staff there.
Thomas and Charlotte had a comfortable life. They roamed the estate at will, hunting when they wanted and being fed like nobility when they didn't. They were both gray in color and had many gray colored children but only four showed any signs of being intelligent enough to serve as their father did. It wasn't that the other cats were dumb or incapable of working in intelligence, but more that they didn't show an aptitude or desire to the work.
Together the feline and human Earls of Grey founded a Ministry where those cats, with aptitude for intelligence, to do their work. It was called the Ministry of Espionage, Observation, and Whiskers. M.E.O.W. was a secret not just to keep the agents a secret but because no one would believe such agents could work.
“The descendants of the feline Earls of Grey still work here,” Fiona finished. “I happen to be privileged to work with Nala Grey, the daughter of the sixteenth feline Earl of Grey.”
A distant bell rang.
“That is all for today,” Fiona said. “You are dismissed to your luncheon.”
The kittens got up and left the room. Fiona looked around her. The memories with Erik were strongest here where they trained together, but teaching the kittens would be rewarding. Seeing their eyes light up as they got into the story and the importance resonated was lessening her grief. She might not be out on the front lines but she was still making a difference. That was something until Clowder Number Nine was able to be reinstated.