Uncertainty Principle

Nathan W. Toronto

August 1, 2021

The day it happened, kittens were the furthest thing from my mind. The day was so blue-sky, hot-dog-grilling, bird-chirpingly happy that something bad was bound to happen.

For the rest of time, or at least for the few minutes humanity has left, debate will rage over whether it was one or two kittens in the Oval Office that day. But that wasn’t the issue. The President told me what he told me. I have no idea how the kitten color-shifted like that, but what’ll really eat at me (before life on Earth burns to a crisp) is why the black one had it in for us.

Sure enough, on that beautiful day a Cicassian battle cruiser parked itself in geostationary orbit, and I fielded a frantic call from the National Ops Center.

Cicassians are the nastiest alien species known to man, so it was my job as SECDEF to pass on the news and answer the Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot question that I knew was swimming in the President’s head.

“Mr. President, there's a—”

“There's a kitten in my office, Sam.”

“Sir? Uh, there’s also a—”

“You know how sometimes a kitten follows you home and then it’s yours? Well, this one’s looking at me like I followed it home.”

I cleared my throat. “There’s a Cicassian—”

“Wait, it just changed colors. It was white, and now it’s black.”

How was I supposed to know that this was the kitten, the one the Cicassian high military command sends down when they want to send a message? Hindsight is twenty-twenty, you know? Instead, I figured the President had lost his marbles.

“Mr. President, I… Forget it.”

The President chuckled. “I’ll call the white one Shrew, and the black one Digger.”

“That’s very nice, Sir.” Like an idiot, I decided to put our nuclear forces on high alert. I mean, was I supposed to just let them come for us?

Apparently, yes. That was what the message said, wrapped in black-and-white kitten. After the alert, things went downhill pretty quickly. Cicassians never wait to shoot second.

The next day, while the whole world sizzled and social media filled the artificially shortened twenty-two hour news cycle with pictures of missiles and white-hot energy beams raining down, the President called me from Air Force One.

“Sam, I never liked black cats.”

“Mr. President, I don’t think that matters anymore.”

“I fed the white kitten, but not the black one. I took the food away from the black one. It hissed at me.”

“I thought it was the same animal, Sir.”

“I don’t think that matters anymore.”

But it did matter. Immensely. If the kitten hadn’t turned black when it was hungry, we might all still be alive. Heck, maybe in some alternate universe the kitten stayed white, and now we still grill hot dogs and listen to birds chirp against blue skies.

Nathan W. Toronto is a data strategist and scholar of civil-military relations. He is the author of How Militaries Learn: Human Capital, Military Education, and Battlefield Effectiveness and Rise of Ahrik, a military science fiction novel.