The field agents of Clouder Number Nine calmly walked across the field to the town of Aberbran. Well except for the new recruit who was a ball of excited kitten fur. Alex fairly bounced with an energy that belied his scruffy appearance.
Nala put a paw out and stilled the kitten. She glared at him and he got the message. It was time to put his training to use. He calmed and walked more sedately.
Once they reached the edge of town, Fiona stepped up to Nala and nodded. Then Fiona turned and walked to the train station.
Fiona liked train stations. Some of her favorite assignments in the past involved hitching rides on the rails. It wasn't easy for a cat to jump up to the bed of a train car, though Fiona had managed to do it. Once. Other times she had walked up loading ramps and into the car. On one memorable occasion, she had made friends with a vagrant and he had carried her up. She like standing and watching the scenery go by through the slats of the freight cars. The one time she had gone through the Chunnel, though, had been scary.
The stations themselves were full of fascinating humans. It was a good cross section to watch. There were commuters and tourists and people just trying to get to a bigger city to shop. She like seeing how humans behaved when not at headquarters. The MEOW humans were different then everyday people and Fiona liked to observe and compare.
She walked into the station. The Aberbran station had been built at the height of the train popularity in the mid eighteen hundreds and had been modernized, some what, in the nineteen eighties. It still had the original benches and tile work. As far as human buildings went, Fiona felt at home. She snuck in behind a young mother and her three children. The youngest, who appeared to be about two years old, noticed her.
“Cath,” the youngster said. “Pretty cath.”
Fiona walked up to the youngster and rubbed against him. He petted her. Fiona purred. That was the other reason she liked hanging out at train stations – plenty of people to give her her feline due and pet her. Not that the humans of MEOW never petted the cats, there were just other things that needed doing most of the time, though Angus could be counted on for a good scritch behind the ear if she walked up to him and tickled his knee with her tail.
“Dai, get over here,” called the youngster's mother as she went towards the platform where a new train was just pulling in.
Most of the people in the station surged towards the platform to catch the train. Fiona looked around the station to find the best vantage point and finally settled on curling up on the middle of the long wooden bench. No one would find it odd to find a cat curled up and sleeping there. The microphone in her collar would pick up the conversations around her and transmit them back to headquarters for the technical cats to decipher, and she could keep her eyes open and watch but no one would see because of the way she had head tucked.
The first train of the day contained no suspicious activity. Neither did the second. Fiona was getting petted by all sorts of people coming and going. It was not a bad way to spend a mission. A few of the younger train passengers did not know the difference between petting and pulling fur but Fiona was willing to overlook those few occasions as their mothers quickly came over and taught them the difference and soon she was dozing in the sunlight.
The whistle of an oncoming train sounded again and the passengers lined up to board. The station was a buzz with activity again. The four year old, on whose lap Fiona was currently settled, stood up when his mother commanded and Fiona found herself abruptly on the floor. She shook off the indignity and watched this new batch of activity.
The flurry of incoming and departing passengers slowed until there were just a dozen people in the station. The Station Manager and two ticket ladies could be ignored for now. Fiona's orders were to observe strangers that came into town. That ruled out the family of four that looked harried by travel but were clearly almost home. The father's mutterings of “Now where did we park the car?” meant that they had left from here.
That process of elimination left five people for her to watch. An elderly lady was inquiring about a taxi. The ticket lady was just lifting the phone to summon one when a twenty something year old young man ran in.
“Gram, I told you I'd pick you up,” the young man said.
“And I told you, I could see myself home,” said Gram.
Not them, Fiona said to herself as she scanned the remaining four people. There was a Twenty something couple with large backpacks that clearly had been traveling through the United Kingdom. They were examining the map and trying to decide if they had arrived at the town they wanted to or if they had gone too far or maybe not far enough. This couple Fiona dismissed from her suspicions as well.
She turned her attention to the other two gentlemen. One had an accent that sounded familiar. It took her a moment to place it but when she did, Fiona started. The man sounded almost exactly like Angus. She looked the man over closely and was much relieved to find that he was older and had dark hair rather than the red of Angus. Fiona would have been deeply upset to find out Angus had betrayed them. This man would bear watching.
The other man sounded like an add for Guinness ale. Fiona watched him closely as well. It was funny, both men appeared to be waiting for someone and they stood a few feet apart watching the front door. They occasionally exchanged glances and seemed like they wanted to say something but didn't speak. This Fiona noted.
Then another gentleman came in. He looked like an average townsman but he had a strange pin on his sweater. Fiona couldn't quite make it out so she ambled over and did the 'pet me' routine. Sure enough the gentleman leaned down to pet her and she could see what it was – a picture of a daffodil, a thistle, and a shamrock growing from the same stalk. That was odd. It did however fit in with what previous intel had provided. Clearly she was in the right place. One last scritch behind her ear and the man stood up.
“Fe godwn ni eto?” the man with the pin asked.
“Éirinn go Brách” replied the Guinness man.
“Soar Alba gu brath,” answered the man who sounded like Angus at the same time.
“Come with me then, I've got rooms for you at the pub,” said the man with the pin.
Fiona went over to a patch of sunlight that was falling on the bench and curled up again. She had to maintain that she was the station cat for a little while to keep her cover. She really wanted to run back to headquarters and see what they'd make of the conversation she just witnessed. She was sure it was some type of call and response pass code and could be useful The reality was that it would be another forty hours until Angus came and Clouder Number Nine could ex-filtrate the village.
“Some llaeth for the cath?” asked one of the ticket ladies as she put down a saucer of cream next to the bench Fiona had been perched on.
Fiona jumped down with as much dignity and alacrity as she could manage and ambled over to the saucer. She dearly loved cream. She bent her head and lapped up the cream This wasn't going to be a bad place to spend a couple days waiting for the signal to ex-filtrate.