Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Back in the Game

The Ministry of Espionage Observation and Whisker's headquarters were beginning to look like the outside forest was migrating inside. Every office door had a wreath hanging on it. The entrance had a large tree. Both entrances actually. Both the M.E.O.W. entrance and the entrance to the cat shelter that was the Ministry's cover. The columns and railing had garlands. The tops of the file cabinets in the records room had a painted plaster village nestled between boughs of evergreen It was as if the calendar turned to December and a Christmas bomb exploded everywhere. Threaded through everything were fairy lights.

In the kittens training area, there was a tree wrapped in lights but decorated with soft cloth ornaments. The kittens were still being trained so the urge to climb the tree hadn't been curbed yet. The human janitorial staff had to right that tree a couple times a day. Lady Gwen would probably be by to take a turn after the office Christmas party next week. (A ride to the floor from the top of a Christmas tree was a kind of fun and stress relief that came one once a year and she would never leave all the fun to the kittens. The tree was decorated to be knocked over and so she would.)

The one area of headquarters that had missed the festive shrapnel was the veterinary ward. There was a small ceramic tree with lights on top of the file cabinets. A green and red quilt was draped on one of the chairs in the waiting area. The rest of the ward was its usual efficient self. That was because Dr. Liz MacDougal didn't want the holiday to interfere with the business of saving lives. She liked the holiday as much as the next person or cat, but she refused to have pine needles drop into open wounds and sap get everywhere.

Colonel Angus MacDougal walked into the ward with his tablet. He breathed in and sighed. This was the one place he could get work done. His assistant had decorated her desk in his office with green needley bits and it was beginning to drive him nuts. It would be alright when the scent wasn't so fresh and he got used to the smell as he always did but the first week of December always seemed like Christmas overload. He prayed for a mission, as he always did this time of year.

“I heard you had come to seek refuge here,” Liz said to her husband as she walked in. “Christmas get too much for you?”

“Yes,” Angus said as he kissed her cheek. “Can I stay awhile?”

“You know you're always welcome, darling,” Liz said. “As long as there are no emergencies for you to get in the way of.”

Angus settled into a chair in an unobtrusive corner. He scrolled through the end of the year reports. Some department heads got right on those once the calendar hit December. The clowder reports wouldn't come in until the last week of the year as some still had on going missions, but any report that he could deal with now meant more time he actually got to take off at Christmas and New Year's.

He had just finished with the budget request of the Research and Development team ( they wanted an extra hundred thousand Pounds Sterling to make the feline laser smaller and more powerful), when his email dinged. That wasn't unusual. He'd been getting emails all afternoon. No, this was the ding that said the email came from the Deputy Minister that was in charge of M.E.O.W. at Whitehall. Normally, an email dinged the same tone no matter the sender, but the late Erik O'Brian was a genius cat who had managed to set up Angus's email so that emails with that one address in the sender line dinged a special ding. Angus always checked those emails as soon as they came in.

Sure enough, the Deputy Minister had a mission for Clowder Number Nine. Not just any mission. No this one wasn't dangerous. At least not physically. It would be more dangerous politically. The Duke of Glasex was hosting a Christmas Eve party for have the people in Debrett's. Strictly the upper half. The people who would have been called the “Ton” a century or two ago. As His Grace's guests were wealthy, important, noble, and in some cases royal, security would need to be tight. But as His Grace's guests were wealthy, important, noble, and in some cases royal, they wouldn't like too much visible security. So His Grace thought that the elite clowder of cats would be the perfect solution.

Angus replied that the Clowder would be pleased to provide security. Then he took the information attached to the email and created a briefing. He called the Clowder together and they started a plan. It was a good mission to send the Clowder on. They had been stood down long enough. It was time to get back in the game.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Seasonal Invitation

It was the first week of December and Nala Grey, the cat in charge of a clowder of feline spies, eyed the envelope that had just been placed in front of her suspiciously. She knew what it was – an invitation from her mother. Svetlana, the feline Countess of Grey, could be extremely formal when it came to the holidays. The Countess knew that when it came to her daughter, formality helped. It wasn't just an invitation to her, but to all of Clowder Number Nine and to Rhys. How the Countess knew about Rhys, Nala wasn't sure but she had her suspicions. Since the invitation was to Phoebe, Fiona, Alex, and Rhys as much as herself, she couldn't just turn it down out of hand and claim she had work to do. Nala was sure that Lady Gwenllian had told the Countess that Clowder Number Nine was still on light duty until the beginning of the New Year.

It wasn't that Nala didn't want to go home, She did. She loved her parents and her siblings at home. For the year of training and the two years that Natalia was still at M.E.O.W., they had both proudly gone home for holidays – Christmas, New Year, Easter, and the August Bank Holiday. But in the four years since Natalia had gone rogue, Nala had avoided home as much as possible. It was guilt over the way her twin had turned out and how Nala, hadn't brought her to justice yet. Natalia was a blot on the Grey family honor and she felt responsible.

This year, though, Nala did kind of want to introduce Rhys to her parents. In the last month, they had gotten close. Well as close as his work allowed. His Clowder was still on active missions. She had thought about trying to get him to transfer to Clowder Number Nine but street smarts wasn't the skill set they were missing. They needed a computer expert.

She waited until dinner to tell anyone about the invitation. Dinner was the one time every feline would be together. Fiona and Phoebe had noticed how close Nala and Rhys were getting and had asked him to join the Clowder at the meal when he was at Headquarters. Rhys had gratefully accepted as he wanted to get to know the rest of Number Nine. Alex, the no longer quite so young kitten, was glad to have another tomcat at the table. He missed Erik's male influence being left with the three ladies. Others would be envious of having three such lovely and deadly examples of feline femininity to himself, but Alex wasn't so pleased. Not that he didn't agree they were all lovely and deadly. It was just that they were so much older than him and they tended to mother him when not on missions. Erik had been able to influence Fiona to back off but with him gone, the mothering had gotten worse. That was until Rhys had returned. Rhys had distracted Nala and Fiona was keep busy with teaching her history class, which left only Phoebe to mother him. He wouldn't want the mothering to completely stop, after all the attention was nice, so the attentions of one maternal cat was good.

After the dinner – roast beef with cooked carrots – had been served, Nala brought up the invitation. She let her opinion that they shouldn't go be known but the others seemed excited by the prospect. Fiona hadn't be looking forward to Christmas with out her brother. Rhys was both excited and nervous about meeting the Earl and Countess. Alex was awed and honored. He remembered his history lessons and the Grey family were legends. He was awed to be included in their holiday celebrations. Fiona teased him about being so awed when he'd been working with a Grey for the last six months. It wasn't the same he insisted. Phoebe chimed in that she had no other plans except maybe attending the party the MacDougals through in the mess hall every year for the cats who had no where else to go or were on duty.

That was it. Clowder Number Nine and Rhys would be traveling to Northumberland for the Christmas Holiday. Nala conceded to the enthusiasm of everyone else. That evening she went to the offices of headquarters. There was always a secretary on duty to help with any official correspondence any cat needed. Nala requested that the formal stationary her mother had sent her be loaded into a printer ready for when she had finished composing her letter.

It took Nala close to an hour to write the short three paragraph letter. It printed on the ivory linen paper and the secretary took it out and placed it before the gray cat. The secretary opened a blue ink pad and waited for Nala to press her right front paw into the ink and then onto the paper above the line that read “Lady Nala Grey”. The signature done, the secretary brought over a warm damp towel to clean Nala's paw. Paw clean, the feline left for her evening activities and the secretary folded the letter and inserted it in the per-addressed envelope. A stamp was placed on it and the letter was set on the pile of out going post.

Nala went to the gym to pound on the cat sized heavy bag for a while. She loved her family but the idea of having to go visit them with Natalia still on the loose made her angry. She would happily go visit the Earl and Countess when the family honor was restored. Until then, being forced to go made her need to work off the anger. It wasn't just the smudge on the family honor that made her not want to go home, but also the fact that the cottage held good memories of her sister.

An hour latter Nala was in a much better frame of mind. She went and washed the sweat out of her fur. Once that was done she went in search of her boyfriend, Rhys. She found him in the cafeteria having a small snack of leftover salmon.

Nala signaled for a snack herself. A staff member brought out a small plate of salmon for herself. Nala thanked her and set to eating the treat.

Rhys waited until the plate was almost clean before asking the question upper most on his mind.

“Are you ashamed of me?” Rhys asked, in cat because this conversation shouldn't be overheard by the humans. “Is that why you didn't want to take me to meet your parents?”

Nala looked at Rhys. He looked like he was extremely hurt by that suggestion. That was the last thing she ever wanted do. She never wanted to hurt him. Rhys was the best thing to happen to her and she didn't want to loose him. She didn't want to explain her reluctance to go home but her desire to not lose Rhys outweighed that so she told him. Everything.

Rhys listened to Nala's story – to her pain. He nudged her shoulder with his head. He purred. She relaxed against him. Soon she started purring too. She might not want to face her family but with Rhys at her side she could. He gave her strength. He couldn't make Natalia's betrayal go away but Rhys could make it easier to bear.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

St. Andrew's Day

Colonel Angus MacDougal, an SAS officer, proud Scot, and chief cat herder for the Ministry of Espionage, Observation, and Whiskers, strolled into the gym at headquarters humming “Flower of Scotland”. His kilt of the day wasn't the usual utility kilt made out of ripstop cotton. It was a traditional wool short kilt in the MacDougal Clan Tartan. His usual outfit had cargo pockets instead of the sporran he wore today.

“What's the occasion?” asked the computer voice of the old white Persian cat currently doing pull ups on the cat sized TRX machine.

“It is November 30th,” the tall man replied.

“Ah,” Lady Gwenllian, the cat, said as she dropped to the ground. “Scotland's National Holiday.”

“Aye,” Angus said as he stepped up onto the treadmill to begin his morning workout. That was the thing about being back at base – regular hours and a schedule. The schedule meant he could get in a proper workout rather than just a run and some stretches.

“I'll allow the unusual clothing choice today,” Lady Gwen said. “But see that you are in uniform tomorrow.”

“I will, ma'am,” Angus said.

Lady Gwen nodded at Angus as she walked by and eyed his knees. She resisted the urge to wrap her tail around his leg and left the gym. She was headed to the showers to wash her fur.
Angus completed his workout, ending with twenty tire flips to celebrate the workout. He took his own shower and started his work day. He did performance reviews of the secretarial staff at headquarters, set up interviews of the new class of feline computer geek agents for Clowder Number Nine, and filled out the requisition forms for some new types of litter. This litter was supposed to feel nice under the paw and lock in odors so it smells fresh every time. Angus would believe it when the cats had thoroughly tested it.

Lunch came and Angus went to go take the meal with Nala, Alex, and Phoebe. After he set his tray down at the table and the meals had been served for the cats, Angus noticed what the cook had prepared - Cullen Sink, a traditional Scottish stew made with smoked haddock. He took a deep inhale of the smell of home. If it tasted as good as it smelled, when he got back to his office he'd upgrade his evaluation on the cooks from great to truly excellent. He tasted it and he could have sworn it was just like his Grandma used to make. Clearly he had some evaluations to redo.

“Colonel MacDougal,” Nala's computer voice interrupted his enjoyment of his meal.

“Yes, Nala,” Angus said as he swallowed his food.

“Have you found any candidates for our tech feline?” Phoebe asked.

“A few of the new class might work,” Angus said. “But they are awfully young.”

“Meow,” said Alex. He hadn't turned on the voice interpretation feature of his collar.

“Not all kittens are that young,” Angus said. “You did just fine but the question is do you all want another kitten or a more experienced cat?”

“I don't think we are particularly picky about the age of our tech cat,” Nala said. “Just so long as the new cat fits in with the rest of us.”

“Aye, that is important,” Angus agreed. “We'll take our time and find the right cat.”

After that they all dug into their meal. Angus ruminated on just what qualities a cat would need to fit in. The feline would need to be good at computers, that was a given. They would also need to be able to put up with the Fifis and their mysterious ways. And Nala's aristocratic bearing and Alex's kittenish ways. The cat would have to be very good at their job, almost instinctual reactions, and that usually came with experience. They'd try the kittens and then work their way through the more experienced cats and see if any wanted a transfer to Clowder Number Nine. Most cats liked the clowder they were with but occasionally a cat wouldn't fit so well and would welcome the opportunity to transfer clowders.

Angus was the last to finish his meal, so he left the empty table. After busing his dishes and those of his feline companions, he noticed the time. Almost one. He had a few minutes to make it Lady Gwen's office.

He arrived right on time. Lady Gwen bid him to enter when he knocked. He entered and sat in the human chair that faced the large desk. The was a large crimson velvet cushion with gold piping and tassels. The surface of the desk was scattered with papers and a monitor was on the other end. A key board with larger than usual keys sat next to the cushion so the white fluffy Persian cat can use the keyboard and look at the monitor.

“Colonel MacDougal,” the slight Welsh accented computer voice of the cat said. “You asked for this meeting. So what can I do for you?”

“My Lady,” Angus began. “We have talked about the fraternization rules before.”

“We have,” agreed Lady Gwen. “In regards to Rhys Llewelyn and Nala Grey.”

“That's who I want to talk about,” agreed Angus.

“I'm prepared to look the other way whilst they are courting, here at headquarters but not out in the field on missions or during field training,” Lady Gwen said.

“That's fair,” Angus said.

“But I'm not prepared to let them be on the same clowder,” Lady Gwen declared.

“Neither wants to leave their current assignments,” Angus said.

“Good,” Lady Gwen said. “But we've already been over all of this, so why this meeting?”

“I wanted to know what your position would be, if they went beyond dating?” asked Angus.

“Do you know it will become more serious?” Lady Gwen inquired. “Did Mr. Llewelyn ask you to ask me about my position before he asked Nala? I would have thought he would have the courage to ask me himself.”

“He doesn't know I'm asking,” Angus assured her. “I'm asking because I know the cats that work for me and Rhys will ask me before he asks Nala and I wanted an answer when he does.”

“Well then,” Lady Gwen said. “I will treat their engagement and marriage in the same manner as their courtship.”

“I will tell Rhys when he asks,” said Angus.

“Anything else, Colonel?” Lady Gwen said as she turned her attention to the computer monitor.

“No mum,” Angus said as he rose.

“Then you're dismissed,” Lady Gwen said as she got involved in the information on the computer.

Angus stood up, saluted, and left the office. As soon as the door closed, he broke into a smile. He was looking forward to the marriage of the two cats. He knew that was where their relationship was going. It was a matter of time. He needed to get Clowder Number Nine fully staffed, so that when the inevitable honeymoon happened, they could do without Nala for a time. Clowder Number Nine could use the happy news.

Angus went on his way. Today was a good day. Hopefully the next few weeks would have more good days than bad.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Mission That Shall Not Be Mentioned (part II)

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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Mission That Shall Not Be Mentioned (part 1)

Nala paced around the M.E.O.W. Headquarters. She hated being stood down but she also didn't want to go in to the field with the Clowder in its current state. Erik had been a valuable part of M.E.O.W. for fourteen years and the last six with Clowder Number Nine. They all needed time to grieve. Particularly coming on the heels of the loss of Clowder Number Eight. The whole of M.E.O.W. was still reeling from the losses. The last time this had happened, Fiona and then Erik had joined the Clowder and they had been sent to Tromso to babysit the scientists.

Nala remembered that mission. It was both infamous around the halls of M.E.O.W. and something she wanted to forget. Angus also wanted to forget it But thinking back to the mission brought it all to mind like she was reliving it.

Tromso must be Norwegian for land of snow. Tons of snow = Tromso. Nala thought for the tenth time since she and Colonel Angus MacDougal set off for this cursed cave. Some of the scientists, that Clowder Number Nine had been sent to babysit, wanted another machine aimed at the sky to take some measurements. Nala wasn't exactly sure what for. She was a cat, an extremely smart and intelligent cat, but still a cat and the mysteries of astrophysics would remain a mystery to her. All Nala knew was that Jane wanted this thing set up at a particular place and she hadn't the gear to endure the forcastted weather conditions. That was when Angus had volunteered to take it. (Nala was sure he was tired of the bickering and techno babble of the scientists. Because Heaven knew she was.)

A policy of the research station stated that no one was allowed to go off on their own. Everyone leaving the research compound had to be accompanied. (Scientists had been known to wander off and get in trouble without help.) Since there were only two humans with Clowder Number Nine on this mission and one of them was needed to interface between the scientists and the cats, that meant a feline would need to accompany Angus. The felines, Nala, Phoebe, Fiona, and Erik, drew straws with Nala being the lucky feline.

Angus checked the weather forecast and had noted the possibility, slim though it was, of the snow flurries turning to a blizzard. He packed for the worst- sub zero sleeping bag and extra fuel for the alcohol stove among other items of use. Nala didn't have to pack. She was half Russian Blue and half English short hair so she had fur that could withstand some colder temperatures even if she didn't enjoy them very much.

Man and cat, packed and ready to go, set out into the lightly falling snow. The trip to where the machine need to go was uneventful. Angus, a lover of his Scottish heritage and sometime reenactor, had taken the opportunity to field test the fèileadh mòr his wife, Liz, had given him for his birthday a few months back. This was the classic Scottish garment that had been outlawed after the defeat at the Battle of Culloden, all seven yards of wide wool. Angus was conducting personal research into just how warm and practical the garment could be. So far his research showed that it was quite toasty and warm until he stepped into snowdrifts taller than his knees. Still he could see how useful so much wool fabric could be.

The day wore on and they finally placed the thingy where they were supposed to. The snow was falling faster now. The wind began to pick up. The sun was about to set as it had taken them longer to slog through the snow than planned. They'd never make it back to the science base in the dark and growing blizzard.

“I saw a cave on the map just over there,” Angus said to his feline work companion.

“Meorow...” chattered Nala through clack teeth. She was getting cold from the snow starting to penetrate her fur.

Angus took that as assent to the plan and led off towards the cave. An hour latter they made it. Nala stayed just at the entrance to stay out of Angus's way as he made camp. She ruminated on the Norwegian language and snow whist she waited.

Angus ventured into the cave. It was twenty feet wide and that long with the ceiling about eight feet at it's highest, but barely six feet at the walls. There was, in the center, a column where a stalagmite and a stalactite met. The wind whipped down the sides of the cave all the way to the back. Past the first ten feet the floor was dry and clear of snow. Angus took his pack off and set it on the dry ground at the rear of the cave. He unpacked the sleeping bag and spread it out before unpacking the small alcohol stove to try to heat some water. He got the stove lit but the wind would blow it out right away. He needed a windscreen but there was none. Then he remembered he was wearing a good wind screen. He could attach an end to each of his trekking poles and use the column as the other corner. He did just that and it made the cordon off room warmer by just blocking the wind. Unfortunately, removing the kilt had left him half naked so he dug out the high tech cold weather pants out of his pack and put those on.

Once he was dressed again he called to Nala to join him. She couldn't see a path around the plaid so she executed the most graceful feline acrobatics she could with her paws going numb from the cold. She managed to land on Angus's should and dump snow from her fur down his shirt.

“Och, cat!” Angus exclaimed. Nala, of course, ignored him. She was cold and he was warm so she cuddled closer. He unzipped his jacket and let her burrow in while he heated the water for their suppers. For him it would be a bowl of freeze dried beef stew reinvigorated by hot water. For the cat it was a mash of kibble powder mixed with hot water to make a hot meal to warm a frozen cat. The meals were eaten in companionable silence. Nala wasn't normally a fan of the kibble porridge but she was cold enough that the warm food tasted heavenly. Angus washed out the bowls and emptied the was water beyond the plaid wall. That done, Angus changed his shirt into the spare high tech one and put the one he had been wearing in the foot of the sleeping bag so it would be warm when he dressed in the morning. He dosed the little stove and climbed into the sleeping bag. Nala settled on top of his chest. An hour latter she was shaking with cold. She was shaking so hard she woke Angus up.

“Och, cat,” Angus said as he wormed an arm out from the sleeping bag to wake Nala. He thought she was having a kitty nightmare, but when his hand touched her fur he figured out the truth. She was very, very cold.

“Cat, ye're going to be the death of me,” Angus muttered as he pulled the cat into the sleeping bag with him. He quickly figured out that sleeping bags nicknamed “Mummy Bags” do not allow for additional sleepers even if they are twelve pound cats. He eventually found a way to fit them both and Nala warmed. Unfortunately her warming up meant he cooled down and it was sometime before he returned to the cozy warm state he had been in before bring the feline in bed with him.

A bell sounded and it brought Nala out of her reverie. She snapped back to the here and now and joined the rest of those in residence at the cafeteria. Yes, all of the Clowder barracks had unlimited kibble dispensers in case a cat got hungry in the night or missed a meal, but one of the good things about being at HQ was hot meals. She sniffed the air. It smelled like salmon. There was no way she was going to miss her favorite fish.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A History Lesson

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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Author's Note - The Passing of a Cat

In regards to the last chapter, I hadn't intended to kill another cat but on Monday afternoon my husband and I had to put down his cat, Dearecca. What does this have to do with Erik? Well the original four cats of Clouder Number Nine are based on our four cats - Nala, Fiamain, Dearecca, and Phoebe. When I started I knew that the names Fiamain and Dearecca would be hard for readers so I changed them to Fiona and Erik. I also didn't want an all female clouder so I changed Dearecca to Erik.

Dearecca had had some neruological damage from a cheap flea treatment I had used on her. Her back legs didn't work so well for the last few years. But a month ago, she lost a lot of her movement and moved into the bathroom to be close to her food, water, and litter. Then late last week, she wasn't even able to move that much. So we had to do the hard thing and put her out of her misery.

That left me with a fictional cat counter part still living. I wasn't sure I wanted to continue with writing Erik with his counterpart gone. And I wanted a way to pay tribute to Dearecca, so Erik died. I didn't want to have him killed in a fire fight but I also didn't want to have him put down at Liz's office so I came up with the series of strokes.

Rest in Peace Dearecca! Rest in Peace Erik!
(These pictures are of Dearecca in her prime before she got sick.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Job Completed

While Natalia was sleeping the sleep of a feline villainess, Angus and the agents of M.E.O.W.- both feline and human- were seeking intelligence about the island. The aerial drone pictures showed the anti-cat measures. Down to the last ball of yarn.

After the intel had been gathered, the several clouders of feline agents and their humans sat around the large kitchen table of the house that was there headquarters in this part of France. The computers and speakers needed for the cats to air their thoughts were set up on the counter near the table. Several piles of papers and carts were at one end and

“Well, that rules out cats,” Nala said through the computer speaker.

“Natalia does seemed to have planned for you, Nala,” Angus agreed. “Have we any good sonar views of the island's bases and any security measures in the sea?”

Lt. Brewster pulled out a couple of charts. She spread them out in the center. Lt. Smith and Angus each grabbed a corner.

“It looks like the only sea based defenses are aimed at the two docks and the single path to the sea,” Lt. Brewster reported.

“She's counting on no cat deigning to set paw in the water,” Nala said. “I'd love to prove her wrong.”

“You'll get your chance but I think I'll need to go in first,” Angus said.

“So you have a plan?” asked Fiona's computer voice. The big, fluffy black and white cat was studying the map. “I really want to catch Natalia but I'm not sure I'm up for a mile swim.”

“If the plan goes right, no cat will be swimming,” Angus pointed out.

He detailed the plan and the various cats and humans prepared for their roles. Liz and Erik would stay be hind. The doctor would ready the supplies for any treatment beyond field first aid and the feline would run the computers.

Angus and Lt. Smith took a boat out. Angus was in SCUBA gear to make the stealthy approach to the island. Lt. Brewster and a couple of the other human handlers had two boats with cats ready to infiltrate when Angus gave the all clear.

Angus rolled backwards over the gunwale of the boat into the Mediterranean Sea. He dived down and swam to the island. Just as he thought, there were no anti-human measures. He disabled the sea defenses before he climbed out on shore. Then he made his way up the shore and stashed his tank and flippers in bushes that surrounded the cat nip field. He went back down the sides of the paved path and disabled the sensors. Finally, he signaled for the others to land.

It took ten minutes for the boats to come ashore, as they had been far out to sea to avoid detection. In that time he rounded up the cardboard boxes nearest the path so there would be a wider path for the invading felines to take to the house. The invasion force landed and started carrying out the plan.

The invasion went as exactly according to plan, for once. All the human lieutenants and cats working for Natalia were rounded up. The humans were taken to the French authorities to hold until Interpol could deal with them. The cats would be taken to the French Gendarmeire Chat for interrogation and sentencing.

Angus, Lt. Brewster, Nala, Fiona, and Phoebe had Natalia surrounded on the patio of her bedroom. She had just woken up and was enjoying a moonlit repast of fresh salmon when the invasion began but she had trusted her defenses and kept eating until they had breached the room.

“Natalia,” Nala said. “You've no where else to go, so just come with us.”

“Never,” Natalia backed up from her towards the low wall around the patio.

“Angus,” Liz said over the comms. She sounded a bit anxious but still professional.

“We're just getting Natalia now,” Angus answered.

“Good,” Liz replied. “But you and Fiona need to get back here. Now.”

Angus looked around at the situation and the mentioned cat. They could wrap this up in five minutes and be back to the house in just over a half hour. Fiona looked at him. The others briefly glanced his way. Natalia took the opportunity to get up on the ledge of the wall.

“Go,” Lt. Brewster said. “The rest of us have this.”

Angus nodded and Fiona and he left. They ran to the boats. One had already pulled away to take a load of captives back to the mainland but it halted a few feet from shore. Angus picked up the black and white fluffy cat and waded out to it. He handed the cat to Lt. Smith and climbed in.

“Ifrinn,” came Brewster's voice over the comms. “Natalia just jumped for it. All teams on the beach look out for Natalia.”

“Angus,” Liz came into the comms conversation again. “You and Fiona had better be on your way back.”

“We are,” Angus answered. “We'll be there in twenty minutes.”

“We got eyes on Natalia,” Brewster replied.

“Ifrinn,” this time it was Nala's computer voice. “That evil sister of mine has a personal watercraft and has escaped again.”

“Ifrinn,” chorused all of Clouder Number Nine. (Everyone had learned that but of Gaelic cussing from Angus and used it liberally.)

“Brewster, you and the rest of Clouder Number Nine get on the next boat out and leave the others for mop up operations,” Angus ordered. “Now, Liz, I assume something has happened to Erik?”

“He had a small seizure right after you left,” Liz explained. “He seemed all right after that. Then about ten minutes ago he had another, and is still unconscious.”

“We'll be right there,” Angus said. The boat captain looked at him in question. Angus nodded his permission and the captain opened up the throttle to maximum. It cut the transit time in half. When they reached the docks, Fiona allowed Angus to pick her up and carry her. The house they were running the op from was just a few doors down, so Angus just ran with the cat under his arm.

Liz saw them coming and opened the door. Angus put the feline down. Liz lead them to the bed room where Erik was laid out on the bed. Fiona jumped up on the bed and curled around her brother. They had been through much since they had been from the same litter. She started grooming his head and though Erik didn't wake he leaned into his sister.

Twenty minutes later, the rest of the Clouder entered the house. The cats all curled around the siblings and purred. Erik's breathing got shallower and shallower.

“Can't you do anything?” Angus asked his wife.

“If we were at HQ, I might be able to but by the time we get to a vet's now, nothing can help,” Liz said. “Either he comes out of this or he won't.” She took Angus's hand. “With two seizures so close together, I'm afraid he won't recover.”

Angus gripped tight to her hand and with his free hand, he stroked Erik's head. This was the hard part. Cats didn't live nearly as long as humans and Erik was fourteen. He had lived a full life and been useful to his country.

An hour later, Erik slipped away. The other cats concentrated their concern on Fiona. Liz made the official pronouncement and Angus made arrangements to take the body back to Wales for burial.

Lt. Brewster and Fiona took Erik's body home and did the necessary preliminaries while everyone else completed the job in France. Erik would have wanted that. Fortunately that only took a day and then everyone was gathered graveside for the service. As the cat sized coffin was lowered, Angus and an honor guard, culled from the humans of various Clouders whom Erik's computer skills had saved, fired a three volley salute. Then Lady Gwen read a condolence letter from Her Royal Majesty.

The ceremony over, Clouder Number Nine retreated to their quarters. They were on stand down for the next fortnight to grieve. They would do so while pouring over the records of the villa in France. They would go back in the field with Lt. Smith at the computers until they could find a new cat to work with. But until then, they'd console each other and drink cream.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Hideout at Sea

Natalia looked over the moonlight on the blue green water and admired the view. It was pretty to look at but she wasn't tempted in the slightest to venture into it. The sea would get her fur wet and salty. As a cat, she had an aversion to being wet and the salt was a pain in the tail to clean. Not to mention, it tasted funny. Even though she didn't want to swim in the Mediterranean Sea that surrounded the latest of her hideouts. Though the term hideout conjures the image of a shack deep in the woods and this was more of a luxury villa on its own island in the French Riviera, but it still served that function. Though hideout wasn't exactly what it was either. It was more like a trap. A trap designed to capture the secret agent cats that M.E.O.W. would send after her.

Natalia might be a former M.E.O.W. agent with no current contacts in the Ministry, but some of her contacts had contacts. So what if the news was second or third hand, it was still news. The latest was all about the mission in Turkey that went sideways. It was bad luck that by keeping her rivals close that she and her followers had been next to where three cats and two M.E.O.W. handlers had died. Natalia knew Lady Gwen and Angus well enough to know they'd be after those responsible and then Natalia and her культ кошки. Hence the retreat to the island.

The island was very nearly cat invasion proof. Natalia and a half dozen cats resided on the island with a similar number of humans. The rest of the культ кошкиhad founded a commune in the hills of the Western United States where they could live in relative peace until it was time to rise up and take out M.E.O.W. once and for all. No cat could get on the island because a boat would be seen from miles away. M.E.O.W. cats might parachute in, but the element of surprise would be lost because the island was not on the regular flight route of planes capable of deploying parachuters and the noise from such a plane would be a dead give away of the plan. The drop from far enough away not to be noticed would be too far for a small cat to make. But if it was tried and a cat made it to shore, there were other anti-cat measures. Empty cardboard boxes, arranged in concentric circles on the ground, would be the first such measure. The boxes would only delay cats as highly trained as M.E.O.W. agents were, but even a delay could be helpful. After the boxes came patches of cat nip. Again, a M.E.O.W. agent wouldn't be stopped, they were trained to work through the high, whether they went manically nuts or became stoned. It would further delay the invasion until Natalia could escape. After the cat nip came the balls of yarns and the feathers on sticks. A delayed cat could be captured and interrogated. That was what the humans were for.

One would think with all the cat traps, the resident felines would succumb to the traps themselves, but they knew where the traps were located and could avoid them. They used the easy paved paths around the island. If the sneaking agents used those paths they would be easily spotted and taken out.

The moonlight had given way to the beautiful yellows, oranges, and blues of dawn. Natalia yawned. It might be early morning but it was late for a cat. She took one last circuit of the island and made sure her traps were ready. Once she was sure no strange cat would breach the island's defenses, she headed into the house.

Natalia made her way to the kitchen, where the cook had made a bedtime meal of chicken tidbits and warm milk waiting for her. After consuming her repast. Natalia visited the necessary box. The litter was fresh and at the perfect depth, so she had bit of fun playing in the stuff. She may have made a bit more of a mess than necessary but that would give the humans something to do later. After shaking the last of the litter from her paws, she padded up stairs to her room.

The room was a corner room with big windows in the South and East walls. Natalia made her way over to the large, soft, velvet cushion positioned in the space where the light from both windows fell. She climbed onto the cushion where the sunlight fell and turned around three times and settled with her head on her crossed paws. After a moment she realized she had forgotten part of her bedtime ritual. She stood up, hopped off the cushion and cleaned her nether regions. Once she had all the last litter bits removed, she returned to her spot in the sun, turned around three times and settled in for her sleep. Sometimes it was very good to be the head of a villainous conglomerate.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cat Cult

Colonel Angus MacDougal led an unprecedented strike force of M.E.O.W. agents. Never in M.E.O.W.'s history had so many agents been deployed together. Sure, during the World Wars, all of M.E.O.W. worked on intelligence but the various clouders were all on unique assignments. This was a strike force of clouders One through Seven, Nine through Seventeen, and Twenty-One. That was seventy cats and forty- two humans. Forty – three humans since Dr. Liz MacDougal insisted on coming along. She wanted to be close in case of injury and with that size of clouder, injury was almost certain. The Turkish Government was warned about the size of the force and had agreed to allow it if the humans blended in.

Angus was dressed like a tourist in cargo shorts and tee shirt with a camera around his neck. Liz was playing the vacationing wife. They were posing for pictures with interesting backgrounds. Some were typical tourist photos at the Grand Bazaar but others were at the scene of the explosion with the zoom on max over Liz's shoulder. They found where the explosives had come from, exactly. It was indeed a rival gang. One with Russian ties and a cat cult religion.

A Russian cat cult sounded strange since before Communism, Russia had been Christian but there were people who had given up on both Communism and Christianity. Those people were looking for something and there was a gang with a seeming feline leader, one who was strong, ruthless, and efficient. The cat cult, 'культ кошки', had attracted a couple dozen former military men and women. The took their security seriously and thus the concussion bombs. Their compound was next to the original target.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Something that was reported that the cat leader Natalia had said, when they had taken over the compound. So культ кошки moved next door to their rivals and started booby trapping the approach. And because their leader was supposedly a cat they planned for attacking forces with cats.

Angus looked closer and saw that while cats had been planned for a force such as he had assembled could defeat the counter measures. It would take most of the humans and half the cats working simultaneously to disable the traps. They would be back tomorrow with the dawn so they had as much time as needed. Now it was time to rendezvous and share intel.

Clouders Number One and Two took off to deal with the intel about the original target while there rest dealt with the культ кошки because an enemy that prepared for an army of cats was the bigger threat. The remaining humans and cats went right to disarming the booby traps. It had to be done simultaneously or they would all go off and kill everyone.

A few hours later, the trap was disarmed and the cats were exploring the compound. Once again it was abandoned but it had been left in a hurry. It took the rest of the day but the compound was searched and the other assets of культ кошки were revealed as well as the next base location. When the majority of the compound had been searched, Clouders Number Three and Four went and joined One and Two in securing the original target.

All the members of the original target gang were rounded up and left to the Turkish authorities. The original mission was completed in the original time frame and the clouders involved went home to other missions. Shortly after their departure, Angus determined that Clouders Number Five, Six, and Seven were better used back at headquarters and on their other missions, as were Clouders Number Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen. This left him with six clouders – twenty- four cats and eighteen humans- a large enough force to face anything that культ кошки could have in store for them.

Angus, Liz, the other humans and the remaining cats packed up for a three and half hour flight to the airport at Nice, France. The humans settled the felines in for a nice nap with easy access to covered water and food bowls and litter boxes should they wake mid flight. Twenty-four cats on a plane was a very interesting proposition. Once the feline agents were settled, the humans found their seats for the flight and tried to get a little rest. There might not be another chance as good for a nap, for either feline or human agents, for a couple days so everyone took advantage of the opportunity.