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.

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