Meal time over, Nala found herself back in the Clowder Number Nine barracks by herself. The mission she had been thinking about before the interruption (and salmon would always be a welcome interruption) returned to her memories.
The next morning, Nala tried to get out of the cave she was sleeping in. It was strangely smooth in three walls and the other was both hard and soft but very warm. The walls were very very close and she could barely move about. If it wasn't for the fact that she needed to use the litter box and she was having a hard time breathing, she might stay right where she was all day. She tried to get out but couldn't find the entrance she extended her claws and tried to dig out. Unfortunately she chose to dig at the warm wall.
“Ouch, cat!” exclaimed Angus. He was grumpy from being awoken by cat claws too close to his privates for his sanity. He dug down and pulled out Nala.
The cat now realized what the cave was. She was sorry she hurt Angus but he was funny when he was woken suddenly. She shouldn't have used her claws. The second her paws his the floor of the actual cave she ran for the small gap between the plaid and the wall. Sure it was cold beyond the plaid but there was no way she was going to use some of their living space as a littler box. Once the necessities were taken care of she walked to the mouth of the cave to check the snow situation as Angus used the same corner of the greater cave for a human litter box as well.
Once done he joined her at the entrance.
“Och, that's no good,” Angus said.
Nala rubbed her head against his leg in agreement. The entrance was filled from the floor to roof with snow. They could hear the wind still kicking up outside. This was going to be more than a one night stay. Angus went back to the walled off room and retrieved his collapsible bucket and filled it with snow from the middle of the entrance. He hoped to do two things with that. One was fill the bucket so he could melt it for water for breakfast (parriatch for him and kibble mash for the feline). Two was to gauge how thick the drift might be. He did fill the bucket but the drift was more than a few inches thick. That would require serious digging by both he and Nala.
He and the cat started to get cold so they retreated to their little room. While the snow drift helped keep the wind out, the additional insulation of the plaid helped keep their body heat confined. The heat from the little stove also helped make it bearable back there, though Angus did foresee spending a fair bit of time holed up in the sleeping bag for warmth. Trying to tunnel out before the storm passed wouldn't accomplish anything and there wouldn't be much else to do.
After breakfast, Angus tried to signal the science base. He thought he was successful at letting them know where they were and that they'd be fine but he hadn't been sure. (He had been successful as it turned out but the base had been snowed under as well so the rescue would take a couple days.) That done he explored the cave some more to see if there was more than just this one chamber.
Ten minutes later, he confirmed the one chamber was all there was to the cave. There was light filtering through the snow so it was day. He pulled his tablet computer out of his pack and set about completing some of his back paperwork. (There was always paperwork to be done – mission reports both pre and post, requisition orders, personnel evaluations, and much more.)
While the human was occupied, Nala did her own reconnaissance of the cave. She didn't find much, except a small mouse's nest. She didn't eat mice as a general rule, as she usually had plenty of food she was accustomed to and unusual food could upset her tummy, but if she had to eat the hot kibble mash too long a small mousie would be a tasty treat.
Nala returned to Angus's side after her cave inspection. She was warm from her exertions but would soon cool so she made to sit next to the human to share bodily warmth.
Angus worked until it was time for lunch. He got up and got another bucket of snow to make lunch. After the hot soup and kibble dishes were mixed up, he made himself a cup of tea. Good and strong and warming all the way down to his wame. It would be better with some whiskey but he hadn't packed his flask on this little excursion.
After lunch, both human and feline had a go at digging out. Nala dug at the bottom, kicking the snow behind her. Angus used the bucket to dig from the middle. He carried the buckets to the back of the cave to make a snow pile away from the walled off room. The worked for a few hours and while they cleared to the mouth of the cave but there was still snow.
It was teatime and Angus made a small snack for each of them. Then another cuppa for himself. A good strong brew of Scottish Breakfast soon warmed and cheered him up. Nala finished her snack and came to sit on his lap. He absentmindedly stroked the cat with the hand that wasn't holding the collapsible tea cup. He petted her from her ears to the tip of her tail and repeated the action. Nala started purring and relaxed into sleep on his lap.
What little light that had penetrated the snow began to fade and Angus lifted the cat off his lap and turned on the solar powered lights that resided on the outside of his pack to charge as he hiked. He used the light to make dinner for them both. Then it was time for bed, again. He changed into his other set of clothes to be dry to sleep in. He dowsed the light and the stove and climbed into the sleeping bag. This time he remembered to bring the cat under the covers with him.
The thing about trying to fit a six foot something man and a fifteen pound cat in a “Mummy Bag” to sleep was there was only one place to fit her – between his legs. Nala slid her hindquarters down between his limbs readily enough but she wanted a soft place to rest her head so she laid it on the top of his thigh. She didn't like having to choose her sleeping spot without turning around three times to make the spot perfect so she chose a soft and warm spot. Her head on his thigh and her front paws beside her. She pawed and massaged the spot with her claws half out and purred herself to sleep.
Angus was not so sure about her sleeping position but he tried not to move. If he did, the claws might come fully out and he'd have a hard time explaining the scratches to his wife. If he didn't displease the cat the claws wouldn't dig in. Claws half out pricked but didn't draw blood, so he was fine with what she was doing. Well not fine because it hurt a little but it would be fine when she fell asleep and stopped. The purring was soothing and he soon fell asleep. The cat joined him in slumber a few minutes later. The temperature dropped and neither man nor cat noticed as they kept each other warm.
In the morning, Nala woke and remembered where she was, which was very good as she had shifted in the night to lie fully on Angus. If she had used claws to did out like she had the morning before, Dr. Elizabeth MacDougal, Angus's wife, would clip Nala's claws and keep them clipped for a month as punishment. It would be inconvenient but unlike normal cats, claws weren't Nala's only weapons. She could use her teeth and if she had her collar on, there was the laser beam, either way she wasn't defenseless without sharp claws. (Liz would never declaw a cat particularly a M.E.O.W. agent but she would clip the claws to be piratically useless.)
Nala decided to crawl out of the sleeping bag by crawling up Angus. She put a paw directly into his stomach and shifted all her weight onto that paw. This woke Angus from sound sleep muttering.
“Then let amorous kisses dwell, On our lips, begin to tell.” muttered Angus.
Nala stopped her exit. Poetry? That little tid bit was going to go in the report. Not which poem because that information would be saved for a properly timed reveal. Preferably when it would most embarrass the human. He settled back down and drifted off to sleep again. She resumed her journey to exit the sleeping bag. She finally emerged and scampered off to take care of business.
Business taken care of, Nala returned to find the human still asleep. There wasn't an obvious way back into the sleeping bag so she was going to have to burrow under. She walked on top of the sleeping man to his shoulder. She ducked her head between his shoulder and the fabric. She then hooked a paw under and pulled at his shoulder to move a little further along. Then she flipped the rest of her body and nearly hit Angus in the head. Her tail curled around his head and tickled his ear. He twitched his head to get away. Nala smiled to herself and wriggled under. It was a lot of work for a nap but she was a cat and naps, when they can be worked into her day, are a cat's specialty.
When Angus woke a couple hours later, Nala was ready to get up and see if they'd get out of the cave today. She thought it likely as the sound of the wind had died down and more light was filtering into the cave.
“I think we might get out of here today,” Angus observed as he crawled out of the sleeping bag and pulled on his boots. “The wind seems to have died down.” He stood and moved to the spot designated as the bathroom.
Nala moved to the spot where his head usually rested and started grooming her privates. She just couldn't bring herself to assent to his observation when she had just thought the same thing. It would be redundant.
Breakfast and morning rituals taken care of, man and cat set to making an opening in the snow drift. They made more progress than the day before. They worked steadily til luncheon. After that meal, Angus, once again, got out his tablet computer to try to contact the base. This time there was a message waiting for him. There would be no rescue unless medically necessary because there wasn't anyone to spare. It was what he figured so he sent back that he and Nala were fine and should be back that night.
They worked another hour and there was enough room for Nala to wiggle out. She did and preformed a quick recon. She got back into the cave and turned on the speech translation on her collar to tell Angus what she had found. (She could have turned it on yesterday but she had little to tell the human. It would have also drained the battery as she had no way to recharge it, so she had rationed the usage to make it last.)
Nala's trip out and back had widened the hole enough to shove Angus's pack through and theoretically widen it further to let the Scott through. He packed up his pack and stuffed the plaid in. The woolen fabric might not make for great sub-zero clothing but had been handy in other ways. He was going to include that in his report and suggest that a plaid be listed on the optional equipment list so that he and others could take them on missions, officially.
The plan worked the way they thought. Angus made it out and man and cat headed back to the research station. They used the time to coordinate their stories for their reports, agreeing that no one, not even Liz, needed the details of how they managed in the cave. The less said about it the better as far as they were both concerned. They arrived in perfect accord. Clowder Number Nine finished up their time at the research station and turned over security duties to Clowder Number Two and Angus and Nala remained closed mouth about their time in the cave. The event passed out of memory and into legend at headquarters.
Nala returned her attention to the here and now as the door to the Clowder's barracks opened with a chime, indicating that it wasn't a clowder member or Angus. She sprang to alert, even though the room was deep in headquarters and only someone or some feline with M.E.O.W. clearance could get in. It never hurt to be prepared.
“Meow?” said Rhys as a greeting.
Nala relaxed and purred an invitation for him to join her. As it was another cat, there was no need for vocal interpretation devices. They could both speak cat.
Rhys lumped up on the couch next to Nala and curled next to her. He hadn't seen her, socially, since he had graduated and been sent to Rio on assignment for the Olympics. They had seen each other in Russia and then France in the last couple weeks but that was on assignment. They had a long conversation and caught up on all that had happened. When Nala got to Erik's death, Rhys put a paw around her and pulled her into his furry embrace.
Angus came to check on Nala, as no one had seen her for a couple hours. Sure a lieutenant could have been dispatched to do that but he had time. He was also concerned about how Nala was taking Erik's death as she was leader of the Clowder. Fiona was taking it hard, as she was his sister, but she was working through it and making daily progress. Nala was just hunkering down and not socializing in anyway to help grieve and heal.
Angus looked in Clowder Number Nine's rooms and found her. Nala was curled up against Rhys. They made a tight pile of fur. Her gray against his orange fur. Angus smiled, and backed out of the room. Nala would be fine. He needed to talk to Lady Gwen about bending some fraternization rules.