Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Strike Out in Siberia

The MEOW jet touched down in Yekaterinburg. From the outside, the jet looked like just another plane owned by a rich businessman and was at home in the executive section of the airport. It pulled in to the hangar space as directed by the tower. The door opened, the stairs descended, and Angus, dressed as the business man cover complete with a briefcase, exited the plane. The briefcase contained the papers that Clouder Number Nine and their support humans needed to enter Russia and carry out their mission.

“Colonel MacDougal?” asked the approaching Russian immigration official.

“I am,” Angus answered as he extended his free hand.

“I'm Colonel Boris Pieteroff,” the Russian said as he shook Angus's proffered hand. “I'll be you liaison while you're in my country.”

“Is there somewhere we can talk?” Angus asked as he noted the busy airport and the ramp workers everywhere. His briefing of the Russian would be better with less ears to hear.

“We should go review your papers in my office,” Pieteroff suggested.

“Lead the way,” Angus agreed.

An hour later, the paperwork was completed and the other arrangements for the mission were completed. The arrangements weren't what Angus would have preferred but he could deal with them. Chief condition was that if the Clouder split up, each group needed a Russian observer. Boris Pieteroff, himself, would accompany Angus and Nala. Tatiana, Pieteroffs's secretary, would stay on the plane with Erik, Alexander, and Lt. Steven Smith. She would be both the Russian baby sitter and facilitate cutting through the administrative colored tapes, since Russia enjoyed bureaucrats in such large numbers that red wasn't the only color tape tieing things up. Lastly, Pieteroff's lieutenant, Oleg Federoff, would keep tabs on the Fifis and Lt. Jane Brewster. Angus didn't like having the Russians know more about operations than absolutely necessary but it could be helpful for Russians to interface with local officials.

Lt. Jane Brewster and Oleg Federoff took Fiona and Phoebe to inspect the area where Natalia was last seen. They were hoping to pick up her trail, either going or coming. One would tell them where she might be. The other would give context for the meeting.

Angus, Pieteroff, and Nala would find out who the man the fugitive feline met with was. That would hopefully tell them what the meeting had been a bout. So they started tracking down the car. It was a part of a fleet of personal drivers for businessmen. Pieteroff would be handy in intimidating records out of the company's administrative personnel.

Tatiana and Erik were deep into requesting and hacking, where needed, to access CCTV cameras and requesting records before the others had even exited the hangar. Tatiana was was searching for property records for Natalia or any of her known front companies. Erik was searching for any more security footage of the cat in question.

That left Lt. Smith and Alex to patrol around the plane. The lieutenant was also the pilot of record for the plane so he could hang out in the pilot's lounge and other places a pilot would be expected to be. It would look strange if he kept circling the plane on patrol so that task was left to Alex. Most people would never notice a stray cat. If they did, it would never occur to them that the cat was doing anything other than searching for a mouse for its next meal. Alex might tire of patrol if the mission lingered on for several days, but he was still new enough to field work that he was still pleased to have a job to do.

It took twenty-six hours but all three lines of inquiry led to the same place – an abandoned estate of a really minor branch of the Romanov family. It was exactly the kind of place Natalia would like – secluded, opulent, and Royal. It was also a three hour drive away. There was no place closer to hide the plane in plain sight, so Erik, Alex, Lt. Smith, and Tatiana would remain in Ykaterinburg, but the others would go scope out the place.

Angus was continuing in his role as a wealthy business man for a cover. Pieteroff was taking the role as his driver and would drive the Colonel and his cat to the estate. They would enter by the front door. The story was that Angus had some business he wished to discuss with Grey Import and Export, one of Natalia's holding companies.

The Fifis and the humans with them would arrive separately, by helicopter to few miles away, and sneak in. The estate was built into the side of foothills of the Ural mountains. It would take humans and cats working together to get inside.

Phoebe took point. She was the smallest and an able to squeeze into the smallest of openings in the wall. She scaled the wall and caught the grappling hook that Lt. Brewster shot. The feline anchored the rope and the Lieutenant climbed the wall with Fiona in her pack. (The black and white feline couldn't follow Phoebe since Fiona was both fatter and fluffier and thus had to suffer the indignity of being carried.) Lt. Federoff followed as the cats and Lt. Brewster were taking in the lay of the land.

It was odd but the grounds and what they could see of the house, or more accurately- the palace, looked deserted. If Natalia was here there would be patrols at the very least. Either she wasn't here or she had left a very clever trap. The foursome worked their way down from the walls searching for the answer.

The limousine with Angus, Nalla, and Pieteroff came up the drive as the others entered the palace. The car was not challenged at the gate. In fact Pieteroff had to get out from the driver's seat to open the gate. The car pulled up to the palace and parked. Pieteroff opened the door for Angus and Nala. They played out the fiction of Angus being a business man and Pieteroff his hired help as they entered the palace. Again there was no one there.

They rendezvoused with the others and together they searched. No one was there and no on had been there for a few days. They found papers for several other holding companies and the deeds to three other estates.

“Colonel MacDougal,” came the computer voice of Erik over the comms.

“Yes, Erik?” asked Angus.

“There is a message coming from HQ,” Erik said.

“Go ahead,” Angus said.

“The message reads, 'if mission is done, then return home immediately',” Erik said.

“That is it?” Angus asked.
“All that can be said over comms,” Erik said with the implication there was more but had to said in person.

“We'll rendezvous as planned,” Angus said.

Three hours later, the MEOW agents – both human and feline- bid farewell to the Russians and left for home. The part of the message Erik hadn't relayed over the comms was the sad news that Clouder Number Eight had suffered heavy losses in an ambush meant for cats. Lady Gwenllian was recalling all Clouders until the larger implications could be evaluated and the Ministry formulate a plan. Clouder Number Nine took off in the airplane with heavy hearts and headed for home.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Captain Ross and the cats of Clouder Number Twenty- One looked around the room in the athlete village in Rio to make sure they hadn't left anything behind. They had been living there for the last month doing security for the athletes of Great Britain at the Olympic Games. It had been an eventful games – in the exciting feats of skill by the athletes with a few minor jobs for the cats to do.

They had arrived a week before the athletes themselves. They had scoped out the venues and gotten the lay of the land. They had met the security details of the other countries. Among the details was a familiar face for Rhys, one of the British cats, Beruthiel Beauregard of DERP. That was the great things about the Olympics, every country with a cat spy program set a detail of cats. It was part job and part international spy cat conference with war stories and techniques being exchanged in the off hours. The cats of the Mossad being the cats everyone else stood in awe of and slightly scared of. The others learned from them.

Once the athletes arrived, the atmosphere changed from congenial conference to actual work. The first event for security was the opening ceremony. The cats of the larger nations – Great Britain, the United States, Canada, and Australia were easy to get into the ceremony among the humans. The greater numbers of humans disguised the cats among them. But the smaller teams it was harder. Three cats were assigned to the Refugee team but those cats were able to get by because no one was looking farther then the remarkable story of each of the ten members of the team. The ceremony went off without a hitch and the games began.

Rhys had been given the job of escorting the Synchronized Divers. He witnessed the surprise gold by Jack Laugher and Chris Mears. In fact he was doing his job, patrolling the pool area – the surprisingly green pool- when the dive happened and the celebrations started. Then The American dove and the lead held and then the Chinese went and the gold was Great Britain's. The celebrations poolside got out of hand and Rhys was nudged and then shoved into the pool – the green pool. He sunk down sputtering and then remembered the hated swimming training. He kicked and gained the surface and swam to the ramp and walked out. By that time the celebrations were winding down and Mears noticed the wet cat. He picked Rhys up and laughed at the soggy feline. He scritched the fur and then grabbed a towel and rubbed the cat dry. Rhys wasn't exactly happy at the treatment but it was the fastest way to get dry so he put up with it. Besides it would be a good story to tell Nala when they were both back at headquarters.

After the diving, Rhys was assigned to Copacabana Beach for the beach volleyball. Late nights in the party atmosphere was just the kind of place for a former street cat. No problems there, except staying out of Liev's way.

Liev was one of the Mossad cats. The most terrifying of them. The tiger striped cat actually sat a round sharpening his claws so that the merest touch would draw blood. Of course the claw had to get through fur for cat on cat violence, but most of the other international cats steered clear of Liev. Beruthiel had private lessons in feline Krav Maga from Liev's partner, Rachel, so she was the one exception to the fear.

Liev and Rachel were also on the Copacabana patrol. The most exciting thing, besides the late night antics of the US Olympic coverage, was the upset in the ladies competition and the favored team winning Bronze instead of Gold. The problem with patroling the beaches was the sand in the fur.

Rhys was happy when that duty was done. He was tired of eating sand when he groomed. It was a relief to help with the security of the marathon. It might be wet and rainy, but Rhys was Welsh. Rain was nothing new to him. In fact it felt like home.

The games proceeded through the closing ceremony with no problem. The cats walked in the parade and enjoyed the party. The cats kept getting scritched and picked up for selfies with the excited athletes. Myfi was turned into an Instagram sensation when one of the US women's gymnastics team posed with her. All in all it was a very easy first assignment. Though the next one wouldn't be so easy.