Short Story: The Canary Principle

They watched the burly troops finish their preparations while the kettle boiled. Henry always said that if they were going to save civilisation as they knew it that they should make an effort to be civilised in the process. Gerard had his reservations, but on the other hand a cup of tea was a cup of tea.

There were six men in the squad whose preparations they watched. Each wore plain tactical armour with no rank markers or insignia beyond a number stencilled on helmet, back, and chest. The van containing the mobile armoury was parked a short distance away, with fire engines and ambulances nearer the perimeter to block a clear line of sight by any gawkers.

While Gerard poured hot water onto the teabags, each of the soldiers was presented with a kitten in a sling of webbing. Henry was paying more attention to the screen of his tablet than his surroundings, so Gerard had to reach over and tap his shoulder. Henry looked up, his finger tapping the lock button to hide the diagram on his screen.

Gerard pointed across at the group, each of whom was attaching their live cargo to webbing. “Do I dare ask?”

“Oh they’re essential gear on these sorts of missions.” Henry didn’t seem inclined to elaborate, so Gerard tried again.

“Are you telling me we’re using kittens as weapons against eldritch horrors these days? That they have some secret power over tentacled or undead monsters?” He watched as weapons were issued from the van.

“Well, if you want to put it that crudely…”

“Please don’t tell me someone actually made exploding kittens. You know that game is just a joke right?” Gerard removed the teabags and added milk. Henry accepted his cup and saucer and took a sip before answering.

“No, of course not, that would be horrible, not to mention inefficient to manufacture. We’re not savages – we have Leng-grade scripture bombs for that. By the way, thank you, that’s exquisite tea.”

“So why are six force recon guys taking kittens into the incursion area?”

“Well I suppose you’re cleared for it. They’re early warning systems. Cats can see across different realities when things are thin enough, and they find our visitors quite uniformly disturbing. So they react quite noticeably when they spot them, which is usually before we poor people can.”

“Ah, so they’re an early warning system?”

“That’s as good a description as any. The slings are warded appropriately to protect them when things get hairy.”

“That’s good. What happens otherwise?

“Oh, well in this case they’ll probably experience a vigorous exothermic reaction. Better for everyone that doesn’t happen really, if only for the cleaning bill and counselling sessions.”

Gerard nodded and thought about the phrase he’d just heard. “Hang on a minute, they explode? I thought you said we didn’t manufacture anything so horrible?”

“We don’t. That’s the effect of any higher energy entity attempting to download into something native to our neck of the woods. The kittens are the first crack in the dam, so to speak, but the wardings and bindings protect them. Gives the men a chance to pull back.”

“And that’s when they send us in.” Gerard adjusted his dog collar and tried not to look uneasy.

“Correct. Our unexploded kittens warn their carriers who then tell us where to start work. Thoroughly more civilised than following a trail of corpses don’t you think?” Henry finished his cup and then held it out for a refill while the troops moved into the building. “More tea, vicar?”