gang-a-gley

This was the plan: Shelve the Tilly with the Others serial once it got to #50 (and its conclusion, natch), work on something else, and then start turning Tilly into a novel starting 1 June.

It was a good plan, but of course I wouldn't be starting a blog post that way if things had actually gone according to plan.

The "something else" I've been working on is coming along slowly, but it is coming along, and I'm loathe to interrupt it because I'm learning a lot of stuff. It's the first long-form piece I've ever done where I'm making myself figure out the entire plot before I start writing scenes in earnest.

One of the things I learnt is that I have a hard time with antagonists. Because, you know, they're the bad guys, and who wants to hang out with them? Readers, that's who. Not much of a story without conflict, after all.

So I'm sticking with my spreadsheets and notes for now. I still want to have the next draft of Tilly done by the end of this calendar year, but I'm not worried about delaying it. Tilly as a character has existed since the autumn of 2007, when she was created for a collaborative novel project I tried to get off the ground with five other people. (Despite our luck in having some brilliant writers on-board, it crashed and burned. I still think the method could work if people were willing to commit to it, but that's another blog post.) She's had the same biography and the same character arc the entire time; the difference with Tilly with the Others is that the action starts just before she moves to the Annex, whereas in the collaborative effort she was already there. The only thing I've changed is her last name, because "Zondernaam" is a better name for her and, as a name, has a very cool place in history.*

Writing-wise a lot of things have got better in the last year or so. I'm starting to learn how to write when I'm sick. I'm in less pain overall, but I've figured out a few ways to write while I'm in pain too. The one thing I haven't figured out yet is how to get more writing time in, but I keep trying.

*What is Zondernaam's place in history, you may ask? You could always Google it (although I just tried and couldn't find any references on the first results page, perhaps because I'm querying in English). Maybe I can cover that in another blog post too.

tilly with the others: part 50

"Dad?"

Owen lifted his head from his hands and saw his eldest daughter staring at him. "Emily, whatever it is, call Mum and ask her. I just can't today, sweetheart."

"I know." Emily walked up to the armchair Owen was sitting in and gave him an awkward hug around the shoulders. "It's going to be okay," she said, giving his shoulder blades little pats with her hands.

Owen noticed for the first time that Emily could reach all the way across his back with one arm. "You're getting bigger, kiddo."

"Oma always said I was going to be tall like you and Opa."

"Maybe."

"I want to be in between. Taller than Mum, but shorter than you."

"It's not something you really get any say in." Owen untangled himself from Emily's hug and pulled her onto the chair's armrest, their usual way to sit together. "Look, don't give up hope yet. The police are still checking hospitals, asking around the neighbourhood. Some people got temporarily blinded by that meteor or falling satellite or whatever it was, but no mention of Oma. She was just here last week, and we only found out she was missing three days ago. It could be anything. Her suitcase is gone — for all I know she's gone to visit Bea and Dine, and she just forgot to tell us. You know her; it's the sort of thing she would do."

"They checked the departure lists for Pearson airport," Emily reminded him. "Toronto Island too."

"I don't know." Owen spread out his hands. "When I was driving her to the bus station, she was talking about how her and your Opa never planned to move to Toronto. She could be on her way to BC, or traveling back to Montreal and then taking a plane to Holland from there. She might want to surprise us with a postcard from Amsterdam or... where does Bea live... "

"It's okay, Dad. I don't even know where Amsterdam is besides Holland."

"We should go there, it's long past time you and Mercedes were old enough... But listen, don't you and Mercedes worry about Oma. Let me and Mum do that."

"I'm not worried," said Emily. She took a deep breath. "I am positive Oma is fine. If she was hurt or dead it would feel different."

Owen reached up to ruffle Emily's hair, decided she was getting too old for that, and just gave her pony-tail a little tug. "Keep thinking that for me, okay?"

"Okay." She gave Owen another quick hug, then slipped off the armrest and ran up to her room.

Mercedes was hiding out in the basement, avoiding the family drama by burying herself in a video game. If their mum saw how violent it was there'd be a fight, but Beth had just left to buy groceries. Emily closed her door and hung a jingle-bell left over from Christmas on the doorknob. That way she'd know if someone was trying to sneak in on her.

The carpet in Emily's room was the original short-pile wall-to-wall that had been installed when the house was built. It kept indentations from furniture and other heavy objects placed on it so well that Beth was reluctant to move things around when vacuuming, in case she couldn't get the furniture arranged exactly the same way again. It made hiding things under the night-table a cinch. The table had a plinth in the front, but there was a big gap between the bottom drawer and the floor.

Emily carefully placed her reading lamp on the bed and slid the night-table out from the wall. Her hiding-place was almost full now: some Japanese comic book figures that were her friend Stacy's but that her parents disapproved of, so Emily was keeping for her; her diary; and now, Oma's book and the old laptop that was really Stacy's, but that Stacy said she could borrow, because her brother was away at military college and Stacy was using his computer until he got back.

Emily turned the laptop on and entered the password for the house's wireless. No new e-mails from Oma, just the same one from a week ago:
Emily: I wasn't planning on it, but the opportunity for the trip of a lifetime came into my hands, and I've decided I must go. It means I won't have Internet access for a year, and I don't know if I'll get a chance to send you a letter or a postcard — where I'm going is very far off the beaten track.
But I want to ask you to do a few things for me: first, keep this a secret. If your parents find out, they'll ask a lot of questions you won't be able to answer, and everyone will get upset. Second, if they decide to give up my apartment, please try to convince them to save the books and photos. Say you want them if you have to. I don't care about anything else.
Third, remember that no matter what, I love you. I love you, and Mercedes, and your father, and your mother.
A year from now, we'll see each other again, and I will have the most wonderful story to tell you of where I've been and what happened while I was there. I promise.
Emily heard steps in the downstairs foyer and shut down the computer. The steps sounded like they  went back and forth a few times, as if her father wasn't sure if he was going upstairs to her or downstairs to Mercedes. Finally she heard him going down into the basement.

She slid the computer back into its hiding place, and pulled out Tilly's copy of We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial. She flipped to the foreword and read: "In the past hundred years, civilization has advanced by larger leaps, and at greater speeds, than in all of the centuries preceding..."

THE END 

Tune in next week for a Tilly "after-party" blog post!

tilly with the others: part 49

"Yah," the woman in the brown leather jacket breathed, giving a sharp nod of satisfaction to the apartment corridor and gesturing for Tilly and the man in the boiler suit to return to Tilly's flat. They did, using the sliding steps that the woman had instructed them to, the better to keep the tinfoil on the floor in one piece.

The entire corridor, walls and ceiling and floor, was covered in tinfoil. The only parts of the original decor which were visible were the fluorescent light fixtures, because the woman in the brown leather jacket said they had enough metal in them already to count as non-carbon. The hostiles could eat the plastic covers if they could reach them, she said, but that would only buy them minutes before they starved to death.

Back in the apartment, Tilly locked the door behind them. "That still leaves my neighbour, or what used to be my neighbour," she said. "Not to mention, there has to be a permanent solution to all this. Even bedbugs can be got rid of if you're thorough about it."

"And that's why I'm going to leave now, and get something that will destroy all the hostiles in the neighbourhood, permanently," said the woman in the leather jacket. "It's like one of my light grenades, but bigger."

"Why on earth didn't you use that in the first place?"

"Um... because it's harder to explain," said the man in the boiler suit. "I know you think we're doing a terrible job, but we really are trying to be discreet."

"It's big enough and bright enough to blind any humans that look at it directly," said the woman. "It's going to cause a lot of notice."

"I suppose I should just cover my eyes, then," said Tilly.

"You'll already be with our study team," said the woman. "We're going to set up that door."

"You think I'm going to leave behind my family, my planet, just like that? Everything I've ever known?"

"It's not forever," said the man in the boiler suit. "Just one of your planet's orbits. That's not even long enough for you to be declared dead. We checked."

"But even a year —"

"Look," said the woman in the brown leather jacket. "You just helped us wallpaper an entire corridor in aluminum foil. And that hostile colony occupying your neighbour's body... she's going to appear dead once the bomb goes off. Things are going to get weird enough as it is. We can drop you off right back here in a year."

"Wait," said Tilly. "Both of you, be quiet. I need a moment."

"We don't have much time," said the man in the boiler suit.

"Fifteen minutes," said Tilly. "Can I have fifteen minutes? And if, if I come with you, what do I need to bring?"

The woman shrugged. "Clothes, at least enough to last about ten changes, to give us a chance to make you more. Any mementos you want to bring with you. Some books to last until we can show you how to work our libraries. I expect you'll want to read about our history, since that's your speciality."

Tilly flicked on her computer and then headed to the bedroom without bothering to wait for the bootup to complete. She returned to the living room after a few minutes, dragging a large wheeled suitcase behind her. "This is everything but the books," she said. She laid the case on the floor and flipped it open, revealing tidy stacks of clothes and a photo album. She tossed a few books from her shelf into the suitcase, then stepped over to the computer and logged in. She completed a search, checked a web site, and switched to her e-mail application. She sent three e-mails, started to write a fourth, cancelled it, and shut down the machine.

"Ugh," she said. "I need to wash the dishes from the sandwich and tea I had."

"I'll do them," said the man in the boiler suit. "I know how."

"You do?" said the woman in the brown leather jacket.

"I've observed it enough times," said the man. He went into the kitchen. Tilly and the woman heard water being run in the sink.

"So when I leave to get the light bomb, you're coming with us, aren't you?" said the woman. "You never actually said, but you're packing your suitcase."

Tilly tossed a few more books into the case. "When you drop me off in a year, does it have to be this exact geographical position?" she said.

"Where else did you have in mind?" said the woman.

"British Columbia," said Tilly. "There's a cherry orchard in the Okanagan Valley. It's not a commune anymore, but it's a co-op, and it's still there."

"That's not any more difficult than returning you here," said the woman. She played with the zip on her jacket. "You might get accused of murder, you know."

"They'd have to show it was murder first, wouldn't they?"

"I suppose," said the woman. "But your judicial system has always seemed very arbitrary to us."

"It's very arbitrary for lots of us, too." Tilly closed and latched the suitcase. "I'm putting my life in your hands with this, you know. I don't want to be vivisectioned or probed or... well. Or die."

"You could be snatched off the street by your own kind and have that happen to you," said the woman. "But it generally doesn't happen. No, we just want your reaction to our collected observations, even though I think they will be largely unflattering."

"I don't know about that," said Tilly. "I don't think my husband ever saw you."

The woman gave Tilly a hard look. "Are you sure about this? We want you to come to complete the research, but we aren't allowed to kidnap you."

"If it really is only a year, then I'm sure," said Tilly. "I only get to see my grandchildren about four times a year as it is. And," she scanned the room, "I thought this place would give me a break. And it hasn't."

"The dishes are washed," said the man in the boiler suit, returning from the kitchen.

Tilly grasped the handle on the suitcase. "All right," she said. "Let's go before I change my mind again."

tilly with the others part 48

"Stay there," the woman in the brown leather jacket said to Tilly. She strode across the living room, pulling a glowing ball from her pocket.

"On three?" said the man in the boiler suit.

"Get on the other side of the doorknob first," said the woman. "Let me be the one nearest the opening."

The man shifted over and let the woman take position. They nodded through the count together, then the man opened the door a few centimetres and the woman dropped the glowing ball just outside the door.

The man slammed the door shut. All three of them, the man, the woman, and Tilly, listened to the screams of the hostiles rise to nothingness and the glow fade from under the door. Tilly noticed that the man and the woman seemed to be able to hear the screams for longer than she did.

Tilly started to say something when the hostiles seemed to be well and truly gone, but the man in the boiler suit held up a hand and she stopped. She waited until the man and the woman left the door and sat down when they did.

"How many do you have left?" said the man.

"Seven," said the woman.

"How soon do you think they'll be back?"

The woman frowned and waved her fingers in the air as if tracing the flights of dust motes in the air. Tilly figured this was the Other equivalent of counting on one's fingers.

"In this perception? An hour, maybe longer. It depends on their breeding capabilities."

"So, then... we could leave now and have time to get out of the building," said the man in the boiler suit.

"Wouldn't solve anything," said the woman. "They're still here, and we're still under orders to clean them up."

"What if you didn't?" said Tilly.

"They'd start by either eating or occupying all the lifeforms in this building," said the woman. "Which it seems they've already done with at least one of your neighbours, maybe more."

"Then some of them would spread to adjacent buildings and all the things living outside," said the man. "The ones that stayed here would consume all the carbon in the building, from the houseplants to the plastic shower curtains."

"And so on, until the entire planet is consumed," said the woman.

"Then they consume each other, and then..." said the man. "We haven't been able to track this part of their lifecycle very well, but at some critcial point they build some sort of catapult and launch a cohort of them into space, to find the next target planet. They're sort of like your viruses that way — they just suspend life processes if they get frozen. Are you all right?"

Tilly gave her head a shake and carefully sipped from her cup of rapidly-cooling tea. "Humans aren't like that," she said. "We most definitely don't suspend life processes very well at all. And the only thing that kills them are those ball.... things." She pointed at the woman's pocket.

"Or if we could keep them from carbon for about sixty seconds. Those ones that aren't occupying a host body to feed on — they need to feed constantly."

"You do have an awful lot of carbon on your planet's surface," said the man in the boiler suit.

Tilly frowned and set down her teacup. She blinked. "I have an awful lot of something else in this apartment," she said. She got up and went to the kitchen, returning after a moment with several rolls of tinfoil under her arm.

"Would this help?" she said.

"How much do you have?" said the man in the boiler suit.

"All of this plus about six dozen rolls under the bed."

The woman in the brown leather jacket stood up. "Then we better get going."

tilly with the others: part 47

When the man in the boiler suit stopped talking, the woman in the leather jacket would take up the thread and continue it. When the woman in the leather jacket stopped talking, the man in the boiler suit would start again.

Tilly sat in her armchair, eyes moving to one speaker and then the other, not speaking even to ask a question. The only time the two Others saw any emotion on her face was when they explained their theory that humans and hostiles were possibly related, given how they both consumed carbon compounds without heed to sustainability.

Eventually they finished, and Tilly got up. "I'm starving," she said. "I'm making tea and a sandwich. Do you two want anything?"

"We can't..."  the woman with the leather jacket started.

"All right, all right," said Tilly. "But I'm going to." She headed into the kitchen, put the kettle on, and used the excuse of making the sandwich and boiling the water to gather some thoughts. She tried to remember every interaction she'd ever had with them. Or, at least, that had seemed to be them.

She sliced up some cheese to make the sandwich with and frowned. Ethics and historical precedence were her strong suits. Neither was going to work here.

"Quantum physics," she announced, carrying a tray with the tea and food on it back to the living room.

The man and woman had been conversing in low voices with each other, casting nervous glances at the door out of the apartment. "Eh? What's that?" said the man in the boiler suit.

"Quantum physics," said Tilly. "There's a theory in quantum physics that once you observe something, you change it. Only applies to the particle level, but scientists have to take a similar outlook into account when they are studying macro objects, like trees or oceans. Or animals."

The woman flinched and shot a look at the man, who said slowly, "We have similar restrictions on our research..."

"Really?" said Tilly. "You could have fooled me, seeing as how I first encountered you when I was six years old." She added milk to her tea. "I've been able to spot you regularly ever since then. You were an administrator at my faculty in university. You were even the bus driver on the Greyhound we took from Montreal to Toronto." She peered at the woman in the leather jacket. "You might have even been the girlfriend of our contact at the cherry orchard co-op."

The woman in the leather jacket shrugged. "I was trying to compare human sexuality to the cherry trees. Sexual reproduction isn't as common in this galaxy as you might think."

"Fascinating," said Tilly, washing down a bit of sandwich with some tea. "The point is, from the point of view of this particular test subject, you haven't been very good scientists. Not by Earth standards, which I suspect are a lot more lax than where-ever you lot are from."

The woman and the man exchanged glances.

"And now," said Tilly, taking another sip of tea to extend the pause, "You're asking your test subject for help. All right, I'll draw on whatever vestigial hunter-gatherer instincts I have and ask you: why should I? Besides scaring me half to death, which was largely your fault for warning me about them — interference on your part again, see — what harm have the hostiles done me?"

"They've killed at least six of your kind," said the woman. "Those bodies they inhabit — they're not alive anymore."

Tilly set down the sandwich half she was holding and forced herself to swallow. "I was wondering about that when they talked to me at the subway station."

The man in the boiler suit startled. "What did they talk to you about?"

"When that homeless man killed himself, said he'd found the door in the ground," said Tilly. "They wanted to know where the door in the sky was. You keep putting it in the wrong neighbourhood, by the way."

The room suddenly smelled of oranges and lilacs, and Tilly could have sworn that for a moment, the woman in the leather jacket turned green. Noises came out of her that Tilly would never have dreamt were possible for a human body to make, but they seemed intelligible to the man in the boiler suit, who paled.

"The door in the sky is for you to travel back to our world with us, safely," said the woman in the leather jacket. "And it's completely against protocol to set it up without determining timing, location, and willingness of the subject beforehand."

"Well, someone's put it up about twice, right altitude, but in completely the wrong neighbourhood," said Tilly. "I've seen it, and my grand-daughter has seen it twice."

Someone thumped at Tilly's door, and all three beings in the living room jumped. "Mrs. Zondernaam?" said a voice with a slight Spanish accent. "I can hear voices. I know you're in there. You left your garbage in the garbage room again. You're supposed to put it down the chute."

"Nonsense," called Tilly. "I always put it down the chute."

"What are you doing?" hissed the woman in the leather jacket. "She's one of them. What did we just tell you?"

"She can hear us talking," whispered Tilly. "I've heard plenty in that corridor. You asked me to, remember?"

"Mrs. Zondernaam, open the door."

"Certainly not," said Tilly. "If you have a complaint about me, we can mediate with the supervisor. You have no reason to accuse me."

"Have it your way," said the voice in the corridor. There was a light thump against the bottom of the door.

The man leapt out of his seat and ran towards the door, while the woman stood up and started fishing around in her coat pocket.

"Hurry!" shouted the man. Tilly stood herself and turned to see what they were looking at.

A white light was slowly brightening the crack under the door.

tilly with the others: part 46

The GO bus arrived more or less on time, and Tilly found a window seat. The coach was emptier than for the trip out, but that was fine by her. She noticed that her helper in the brown leather jacket was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she had returned to Toronto right away after all.

Tilly watched the scenery, her plastic bag of leftovers sitting beside her. She wished she'd had enough time to get a magazine before the bus left, and smiled. Thinking of reading magazines on buses always reminded her of that Simon & Garfunkel song about America.

The ride itself was uneventful, but as the bus corkscrewed down the exit ramp to the Union Station terminal, it occurred to Tilly that Toronto really was a profoundly ugly city. Not that Brampton was any nicer. The emphasis was on using up the land, rather than living in it. She didn't approve.

She hoped the Others weren't basing their conclusions of an entire planet on just where she had lived.

When it came time to disembark she caught two young women making nasty remarks about her and her plastic bag. She dropped the whole thing in the nearest trash can and decided to "forget" the Tupperware until Beth gave up asking about it.

Tilly decided she needed some fresh air after sitting around retirement apartments and coaches all day, so she walked as far as King and Spadina and then caught the streetcar up to her apartment building. She sighed as she flashed her pass card at the detector by the door, and made her way to the stairwell.

"Do you know anything about a dust mite extermination?" Tilly stopped and turned. The question had come from a young man she'd seen around the building. He seemed to be an actual human, unlike most of the other people in the area.

"Laundry," said Tilly. "And make sure you wash your pillows. That's the best way to deal with them."

The young man looked uncomfortable. "What about.... static electricity? Like a static electricity, um, I don't know, charger or something."

Tilly shook her head. "Haven't heard of that one. Something new on the market, maybe?"

The young man brightened a little. "Yeah. They said it was new. Must be it."

Tilly smiled and nodded, turning to enter the stairwell. At least he hadn't asked her how to do laundry. Just after she'd moved in she'd heard two students debating how to know when water was boiling so they could cook spaghetti.

The eight floors felt like forever, not because she was tired, but because, for once, she was hungry. She wished she'd thought to nip in to that vegetarian diner before climbing all those stairs. All right, there had been Beth's leftovers, but... Tilly shivered. She liked kale, but the way Beth had made it was just wrong.

She double-checked the floor number painted on the door was the right one, and sighed as she shoved the heavy metal handle. The corridor was empty. It usually was, but things seemed overly quiet somehow.

Tilly fumbled in her purse for her keys, fished them out, and worked the locks on the door. They felt loose, like the keys weren't pushing the bolts back. She paused, reconsidered, then opened the door anyways.

The woman in the brown leather jacket and the man in the boiler suit stared at her from their places in the living room.

"Hurry," said the woman, "and lock the door behind you."

Tilly did as she was told, pressing her lips together. When the door was locked behind her she marched to the nearest armchair and flopped into it.

"We can explain," said the man in the boiler suit.

Tilly looked from him to the woman in the leather jacket. "Do they not have privacy on your home planet?"

"Of course," said the woman. "We're breaking protocol just by being here."

The man in the boiler suit looked sheepish. "But you have to understand —"

"Oh, there's a lot I'd like to understand," said Tilly.

"There are occupied hostiles inhabiting the floor of this building," said the woman. "One of them almost cornered us. We only came in here to hide, until we could figure out how to escape."

"This has to end," said Tilly. "I never volunteered to be your damn guinea pig." She gave each of them a glare. "I want this finished with."

tilly with the others: part 45

"Ma, are you actually going to eat that stuff?"

Tilly pulled at the plastic bag between her feet. "Eventually," she said. "I'm going to freeze it, to be honest with you. I have lots of food at home." She ran a mental inventory of her kitchen pantry and refrigerator. Half a block of cheddar, some orange juice, milk, apples, crackers, biscuits. She was pretty sure the pickle jar wasn't empty yet either. Right, so for someone living on their own, that was lots.

Maybe I should order myself a pizza from work. Try out that employee discount, see if it really exists.

Owen stopped at a red light, and Tilly realised that they were going to go by the funeral home they'd used when Marcus had died. Poor Owen. It was right on a major road. He probably went by it all the time. She should say something.

They should have picked somewhere more off the beaten track.

"This is the same way I go to work every day," said Owen, surprising her.

"But aren't you east of here?"

"I turn left on Queen St."

"Ah."

"Ma."

"Hm?"

"Are you really going to move next to Beth's parents?"

Tilly frowned. "I like the Annex, but the neighbours in my building are... something else. It's hard to find a decent place to rent because of all of the students, and if I bought even a little house it would eat up most of the savings. And then there's the bother of upkeep, and property taxes..."

"But if you move back here... you don't drive."

"I thought you wanted me back here."

"Beth always talks about it, but when we went over and visited... I'd never thought about the practical details before. I don't know how you can do it."

They were past the funeral home now. It would have been on Owen's side of the car. Tilly recognised the gas station and doughnut shop where they had bought bagels for lunch. That was the first day of visitations.

"I guess I'll have to see," she said. Owen said nothing, and Tilly wondered if the pause had been so long that he had forgotten what she was responding to. She watched a plaza slide by her window.

"Ma?"

"Yes Owen."

"Why did you and Dad move here, anyhow?"

"To Canada? You've heard that a million times."

"Yeah, but why Toronto?"

Tilly briefly considered lying, then decided anyone who was a parent themselves should understand. "We were going to Vancouver. Your father had a friend there, needed help with a cherry orchard. The orchard was in a town in the mountains, I forget where exactly, but it was sort of a commune at the time. We got a flight to Montreal, were going to take the Greyhound from there to Vancouver. You know, see the country before we got settled."

Owen shot her a look. "You didn't get very far."

Tilly gave a dry laugh. "Marcus made the poor Greyhound driver stop eight times between Montreal and here, not counting the scheduled stop in Kingston. We pulled into the Bay Street bus terminal over two hours late. The driver made Marcus come with him and explain the situation to the manager."

"What? What did Dad do?"

"Oh nothing. It was me. That was the first day I really had morning sickness. I had no idea I was pregnant until we got on that bus. And then," Tilly made an open gesture with her hands, but stared out the window, not wanting to see Owen's face and have to try to read it. "Obviously I couldn't keep taking bus trips, but flights were horribly expensive back then, so Marcus convinced the bus company to give us a refund and he found a job here. Selling... which was first? Right, selling interior finishes for buildings, marble tile and that sort of thing. The first skyscraper boom was on."

Owen tapped his horn at an SUV that changed lanes without signalling. "That can't be right. That photo of you and him in front of the St. Lawrence river, you're still hippies."

"He made a collect call to your grandfather, got some contacts. The refund from the bus money went to haircuts and a nice outfit for me. When we found out how much it cost to get a tailored suit here, your grandfather mailed over a couple of his own. Canadian men are so short."

"They're still taller than you, Ma. So, what, you called up Opa's contacts and..."

"We got invited to a dinner party. That's why I needed the nice outfit. I had to learn how to walk in heels all over again. I remember we bought a tube of lipstick for me on the way to the party. I'd forgotten I was supposed to wear makeup."

"So much for principles."

"We were expecting you. We had to shift gears quickly. I suppose we could have found a crowd here, worked our way in, but it was easier to fall back on what your father already knew how to do."

Owen changed lanes, making a point of shoulder checking and signalling since the SUV was now behind them. Tilly doubted the other driver would notice.

"So if you hadn't had such bad morning sickness, I would have been born on a communal cherry orchard in BC."

"Pretty much."

"I always thought you were vague about what happened."

Tilly shrugged. "You were, you know, ahead of schedule. The birth control failed. We wanted you, we just weren't quite ready."

"That part I didn't need to know," Owen said, but Tilly saw him grin in the reflection of the windshield.

He offered to park the car and stay with her until the bus came, but she said she didn't want him to deal with parking meters and besides, by the schedule it was less than fifteen minutes. He gave her a quick peck on her temple, and she made him stay bent over while she gave him a kiss back on each cheek.

It was only when Tilly double-checked she knew where her bus ticket was that she realised she'd forgotten her copy of We Came from Outer Space back at the house. She knew exactly where it was, too — beside the chair she was sitting in while she watched Mercedes play her video game. She hoped Emily found the book first.

She caught a glimpse of herself reflected in a storefront, and saw a grey-haired, small woman carrying a plastic bag filled with Tupperware. She hoped the damned bus was on time.

tilly with the others: part 44

The core of the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto runs along Bloor Street from Spadina to Bathurst. In that "big block" between major roads, there are pubs and cafés, health food stores and bakeries, music shops and Thai restaurants. There are a lot of students, the other side of Spadina being the start of the University of Toronto campus, and a lot of older people, the Annex being a desirable place to live. One of the city's two subway lines and one of the top three busiest streetcar lines run through it. It's a jumble that goes beyond cheek-by-jowl: old ladies pushing bundle buggies make their way to Honest Ed's discount paradise, hipsters step around them, and young urban professionals discreetly pass by the hipsters. The area is close to Little Portugal, Little Italy, and the old Spadina Chinatown, and has sufficient multiculturalism that it's rather "hick" to even mention the topic. It's what City Hall likes to call a "healthily diverse" neighbourhood.

What City Hall didn't know is that recently it was the site of not one, but two sets of visitors from outer space.

The woman in the brown leather jacket hunched forward in one of Tilly's armchairs, frowning at the glowing light grenade she held in her hand. "I only have nine more of these," she said. "We could make more, but it would take time. Now that they know we're onto them, they're probably going to spread out." She glanced out the window. "Why do humans have to live in such high densities?"

"Don't know," said the man, flopping back on Tilly's couch. "They're sort of like hostiles that way, aren't they?" He frowned. "At the rate they use carbon too, especially from dead matter.... remember when Txq figured out what 'fossil fuels' really were? Amazing."

The woman put the light grenade back in her pocket and settled into the armchair. "You might be onto something there. I should cross-link my work with Txq's environmental assessment once this protocol stuff is over."

"Do you think they could be.... you know, related?"

The woman shot him a glance. "Of course they're related, you just pointed that out yourself. High density living, climate and ecosystem manipulation leading to overpopulation, very high consumption of carbon, including from nonrenewable resources." She snorted. "At least hostiles can harvest carbon from inorganic sources as well as organic. This lot do that a bit, but they should be better at it by now."

"No, I mean do you think the hostiles are related to humans?"

The woman rested the back of her head against the armchair back and stared at the ceiling. "We were responsible for the panspermia events that led to life here. That's all well-documented. So humans are related to us, no question. But you're thinking, what, that they're some sort of mutant? Mutually related to us and the hostiles? That seems far-fetched."

"Maybe." The man rolled onto his back and put his feet up on the couch. "But it would explain a whole lot."

"If we could convince the subject to be a sample, we could find out for sure through DNA testing...." The woman frowned. "But if your theory is right, then we're going to bring something that's part-hostile back to the home planet."

"But only one of them. They reproduce sexually. And this one's over that phase."

The woman shook her head. "That's the astonishing thing about working with you."

"What's that?"

"Here we are, breaking every rule in the book just to hold off the hostiles long enough to finish the damn research project, and you come up with a way to make our report one for the awards selection. Except the only way we can finish it... is to break more rules."

The man kicked his feet lightly against the end of the couch. "If it were complacent and easy... it wouldn't be science."

tilly with the others: part 43

"Here we are," said Judy. She handed Tilly a brochure. On the cover, a beaming grey-haired couple stood with their arms around each other, blocking the entrance of Judy's and Ted's building. Tilly noticed that a large pot of petunias was present in the photo that was missing from real life. She raised her eyebrows, but covered up her initial reaction with a smile.

"Aren't I just like a real estate agent?" said Judy, laughing too loudly for Tilly's comfort. Ted made a joke about "welcome wagons" which Tilly hoped Emily and Mercedes didn't catch.

"So you'd actually think about moving here?" said Owen.

Tilly shrugged. "At the least I can read things over," she said.

"I don't know how you can stand downtown," said Judy. "Some of the people there... it's almost like they've been taken over by space aliens or something."

"It's been lovely to see you again, Judy," said Tilly. She stuffed the brochure in her purse. Emily caught the cue and slipped the magazine she'd been reading back in the stand.

Owen quickly glanced in everyone's coffee cups and stood up. "Ma's got a long bus ride back to Toronto," he said. "And I need to get Beth and the girls home before I take Ma to Four Corners to get on the GO."

"Can't we all see Oma off together?" said Emily.

"The car's too crowded," said Beth, standing also and gathering the coffee cups.

"You'll have to plan to stay overnight at Beth's next time," said Judy. "That way you won't have to rush off. We'd love to spend more time with you."

They all finished off saying their good-byes. Tilly narrowly escaped getting a bear hug from Ted.

On the way back to Owen's and Beth's house, Beth prattled on about how much her parents liked their apartment building and the community in general. Tilly only said enough to show she was listening. Owen, Emily, and Mercedes didn't say a word.

"Oh here," said Beth as they pulled into the driveway. "Wait a second, and I'll give you some leftovers. So you won't have to cook tonight."

"I wasn't going to..." said Tilly, but everyone else was already getting out of the car.

Owen and Beth were on the front porch, one or the other of them unlocking the door. Tilly slid over to the passenger side of the car and pushed open the door that Mercedes had closed but not latched. She set her feet on the asphalt, eased herself upright, and made sure she was holding her purse before she slammed the car door shut. Emily still had the door on the other side open, so the slamming sound was loud.

"Oy! Careful!" called Owen from the porch.

"Sorry," said Tilly, but she expected he couldn't hear her.

"Oma," said Emily.

Tilly looked at her. Emily was standing beside the car, one hand on the door handle.

Emily pointed. "There it is again," she said.

Tilly turned. Emily was pointing up, up over the neighbour's pine tree in the front yard, up over the basketball net of the neighbours beyond. Up over the third house away from where they were standing.

There was a door in the sky.

Tilly startled, not so much at the door itself, but that she recognised it. It was painted the same colour as the door that led to the stairwell on her floor. It even had the same scratches and dents.

It was even about eight stories up.

"Hey, you two," said Beth. "Emily, come inside. Mrs. Zondernaam, I'm going to be a few minutes with the leftovers. You may as well come in."

"What should we do?" said Emily.

"We should go inside, like your mother said," said Tilly. Emily didn't move, eyes fixed on the door.

Tilly stepped around the car and gently took Emily by the shoulders.

"I feel like I've seen it before," said Emily. "Somewhere it's supposed to be."

"Where?" said Tilly, trying to keep her tone light.

"I don't know," said Emily. "School, maybe." Tilly gave her a light push, and the spell broke enough that Emily started for the front porch, although she kept stealing glances up at the sky. Tilly slammed the car door behind her and followed Emily, guiding her into the house.

"What were you two gawking at?" said Beth.

"Joey Anderson launched a model rocket," said Emily. "We were watching for the parachute to come back down, but we couldn't spot it."

Beth made a tsk sound. "It's illegal to launch those where there's houses. He should go to the school football field or the park or something."

"He's been working on that thing for weeks," said Owen. "He was probably just excited to see it work."

Beth shook her head. "People ought to know how to behave." She put a plastic container in a shopping bag. "You got the brochure from my mother, right Mrs. Zondernaam?"

"In my purse," said Tilly. Owen quirked an eyebrow at her when Beth turned to filling another plastic container.

"Model rockets," said Beth. "Aren't you glad we had girls, Owen?"

"Girls can launch rockets too," said Owen. "Girls can be astronauts. Look at Roberta Bondar."

"It's not the same," said Beth, snapping the lid on the second container. "Girls never dream about contacting space aliens."

tilly with the others: part 42

The door from the stairwell swung open with a thump. A man in a boiler suit and a woman in jeans and a brown leather jacket stepped through it. The man in the boiler suit winced every time he took a step with his left foot, as if he had a limp.

"Are we almost done yet?" he said, his voice small and reedy, almost childlike.

"This is the eighth floor, so we're over halfway now," said the woman.

"Eighth? This is the floor the subject lives on."

The woman frowned. "Really. Which apartment?"

"On the left, maybe three doors from where we are now... yeah, it is three."

The woman stepped down the hall and stopped in front of Tilly's door. She pressed an ear to the door and listened, holding a hand up for the man to stay away when he moved to join her. Finally she straightened up and shook her head.

"She's not back yet," she said. "We still have time to finish this. Where do you think the garbage chute is?"

The man glanced around. "It's almost the same layout as the sixteenth and twenty-fourth floors," he said. "It should be down that way, just past the elevators."

"Cover me," said the woman. They made their way to a heavy metal door set into the core of the building. The woman opened it, glanced inside, and nodded to the man. She stepped in the small room between the door and the garbage chute. The cracks around the chute door and the surrounding frame began to glow white, and the sound of a thousand tiny voices shouting began to grow.

The woman reached into her pocket, retrieved a glowing ball, and then quickly pulled the chute door open and dropped the ball in. The sound of the voices reached a screaming pitch, peaked, and died away to nothing with the fading of the light.

The man shook his head. "Far too easy," he said. "Something's wrong."

"Excuse me," said a voice behind them. The man and the woman both jumped, only to notice that there was a woman standing behind them, holding a white plastic bag that had been tied shut.

"I just wanted to put this away," the woman said, with the You're in my way message clearly underlined in her tone.

"Sorry," said the man, and he stepped aside while the woman in the brown leather jacket extricated herself from the garbage chute room.

"Not at all," said the woman with the garbage bag. She lifted the garbage bag slightly and moved forward. The man in the boiler suit noticed the plastic reflect the fluorescent tubing in the hallway.

The woman stepped inside the garbage chute room. The man in the boiler suit did a double take. The reflection on the plastic hadn't diminished, even though there was no overhead light in the garbage chute room.

The garbage bag was glowing.

The woman holding the garbage back turned to the man in the boiler suit and smiled. The man smiled back, grabbed the woman in the leather jacket by the arm, and pulled her back towards Tilly's apartment.

"I have a duplicate, right here," he said, patting down his breast pockets. "Here..." He fished a key out of a pocket and opened Tilly's door. He pushed the woman in the leather jacket into the apartment even as she started protesting, and let himself in. He set all of the locks and leaned against the door, breathing heavily.

"What is it with you and breaking protocol!"

The man jerked his head in the direction of the garbage chute. "You didn't see it," he said. "She's replacing the ones we just killed. She's one of them. The woman. She's a hostile."

"Where did she come from?"

The man slumped against Tilly's door. "Here," he said. "The elevator doors didn't open, and we came from the stairs. She had to come from this floor. If it had been the the stairs at the end of the other wing, she would have been standing in a different place when we saw her."

"So what do we do now? We're in Ninth Protocol. We have to finish this off."

The man stood up and shrugged. "We wait for the research subject," he said. "After all," he added, when the woman started to protest, "it's her planet. After all these years of putting up with us studying her, I think it's about time we give her a say in all this."

tilly with the others: part 41

"Oh, I've got it," said Beth, taking the dirty plates from Tilly. "You go sit down again."

"Why don't I start the coffee?" said Tilly.

"Didn't Owen tell you? We're going to have dessert with my parents."

"Ah." Tilly resumed her place at the dining room table, shooting Owen a quick smile, which he dodged with the same look down and away he had perfected by the time he was twelve.

"I don't like having dessert with Gran and Gramps," announced Mercedes. "They don't let us have any tea or coffee and the cookies taste weird."

"Caffeine isn't good for growing people," said Beth. "And the cookies are from the health food store. They're high in fibre and low in sugar."

"They're weird."

"Mercedes," said Owen. He kept his voice soft and calm, but Mercedes understood she had to stop. She started tracing her finger along the border pattern of the tablecloth.

"I thought Gramps said he was playing golf today," said Emily.

"In the morning. He said he'd be back for lunch."

They left as soon as Beth had finished stacking the dishwasher, with Tilly sitting in the back between the two children. Tilly took turns chatting to Emily and Mercedes about school, music, clothes, books... anything they wanted to tell her about. A few times Emily started to tell her something, but altered her wording slightly when a glance in the rear-view mirror indicated that Beth was paying attention. Tilly sighed inwardly. She didn't like that Emily was becoming so adept at hiding things from her parents, but given her own dealings with them, she couldn't blame her either. She just hoped Emily would go to her or another trustworthy adult in case she needed advice about something important.

Beth's parents lived in a senior's residence somewhere on Brampton's west side. Tilly was never sure where; Owen would take a few major roads, but also shortcut through a few subdivisions, and by the end of it she wasn't completely disoriented, but she didn't have a good idea of the precise location either.

They signed in with the security guard at the gate, who as usual forgot to hide his surprise that Tilly wasn't a resident.

Beth had called her parents on the way over, and they were waiting on the front walk to their apartment building.

"So this is Judy, and this is my father, Ted," she said to Tilly. Her voice was so strained and bright it reminded Tilly of the hostiles in her garbage chute.

"Yes, I remember. The last time was Mercedes's fifth birthday party, wasn't it?"

Judy and Ted laughed the same way at the same time, then Judy invited them in for dessert.

"So, how are things?" said Owen, in a tone that made Tilly suspect he had been told ahead of time what to say and when to say it.

Judy and Ted took turns gushing about how much they loved living in the residence complex. Tilly watched Emily pick up a back issue of Chatelaine from a magazine rack and start flipping through it. Mercedes looked like she was thinking of something sulky to say. Emily handed her an old copy of Sports Illustrated with Venus Williams on it. Williams was one of Mercedes's heros. She perked up and started reading.

Tilly wondered if she could get Emily to give her a copy of Chatelaine or Canadian Living without anyone else noticing.

"Tilly, hon, how do you take your coffee?" Judy bawled from the kitchen.

"One spoon of sugar, one spoon of milk, please," said Tilly.

"Sugar and milk? Okay." Tilly saw Judy bustling at the counter. "Right, so sugar and... oh honey, I'm sorry, I made a double-double. Is that okay?"

"That's fine, thank you." Tilly accepted the mug of coffee as graciously as she could, wondering why Judy and Ted didn't have cups and saucers like normal people.

Ted sat a little too close to Tilly on the couch. Tilly inched over towards Owen, who had already noticed and squeezed over.

"Owen says you moved downtown," said Ted. Tilly caught Emily eyeing them over the top of the magazine.

"The Annex," said Tilly. "Marcus and I lived there when we first moved to Toronto."

"Rent must be high."

"It's lower than you might think."

"Word to the wise," said Ted, leaning into Tilly's space. Tilly put her hand over the top of her coffee mug and leaned against Owen's arm. "There's a one-bedroom opening up here in a couple of months. I bet it's the same as what you pay downtown, and they have on-site medical care."

"That's good to know, but I don't have any chronic medical issues right now."

"It's easy to get used to being unwell," said Ted. Judy gave him a cup of coffee and nodded and smiled in agreement on her way back to the kitchen. "High blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis...."

"I don't have any of those things."

"It's true," said Owen, who seemed to have decided to not go along with whatever had been pre-planned. "The doctor always says Ma's in better shape than most people young enough to be her kids."

"We'll get you the co-ordinator's contact info," called Judy from the kitchen. "So you can discuss it with them. You know, learn the pros and cons."

"Of course," said Tilly. "That would be lovely."

"Gran," said Mercedes, "do you have cookies?"

"Even better, pumpkin," said Judy. "The health food store had carob brownies on sale."

"Is that the stuff that everyone says tastes like chocolate but doesn't?"

"Look how nice they look," said Judy, setting a tray down on the coffee table.

"Yes," said Mercedes, "that's them. I like them. They're not real chocolate, but they're good."

Tilly frowned. "Aren't there any elevators in this building?"

Ted shook his head. "It's only two stories. Either you're spry enough to live on the second floor, or you get a ground floor unit. Or else you're in assisted living."

"But there must be a garbage compacter... the chute's at the end of the hall, I guess?"

"The facility sends someone around Saturday mornings. If we fill up before then I just take it out to the skip."

"Ah." Tilly sipped her coffee, and reached forward to take a carob brownie. She tucked the co-ordinator's business card under the brownie and dropped it into her lap when she straightened up.

tilly with the others: part 40

"One more time," said the woman in the brown leather jacket. She pushed the Up elevator button on the lobby wall while the man in the boiler suit pressed his hand against the doors of the leftmost elevator. This time the doors cracked open a little. The man pulled at one door with both hands, while the woman ran the few steps to join him and pull at the other door. They forced the doors a few handwidths apart, then the woman pulled another glowing ball out of her pocket, just as the depths of the elevator shaft started to glow on their own. The woman tossed the glowing ball into the shaft. A sound like a thousand tiny screams rose and pitched before fading into the higher frequencies, then the white light of the ball and the shaft faded after it.

The man and the woman let go of the doors, and the man carefully forced them shut again.

"One down, two more to go," said the woman.

"What the hell is that supposed to do?" The man and the woman turned to find that a young man had just come in the rear lobby entrance, and had been watching them.

"Dust mite exterminators," said the man.

The young man jerked his head towards the woman. "How come she's not in uniform but you are?"

"I'm a consultant," said the woman.

"Dust mite exterminations have to be carried out in all elevator and garbage chutes in buildings over three stories," said the man in the boiler suit. "New City of Toronto regulation. Once every five years."

The young man frowned. "Is this going to make my rent go up?"

"Not at all," said the woman. "It's a pilot project right now. I'm here to help and observe, and... then in a few months I'll come back and check on the efficacy of the... treatment."

"That stuff's not bad for pets or anything, is it? I keep canaries and my girlfriend's got a rabbit."

"Oh no," said the woman. "It doesn't use chemicals. The light causes a static discharge, and the static electricity kills the mites. It's very environmentally-friendly, and it doesn't work on any animal much larger than a dust mite."

"Friend of mine is majoring in chemical engineering," the young man said. "I'm gonna ask him about it."

"It's a very new process," said the woman. "Don't be surprised if your friend hasn't heard of it. Actually, if you have any friends who are electrical engineers or physicists, you might be better off talking to them."

The young man scowled, muttered a thank-you, and left through the front doors.

The man in the boiler suit pulled a handkerchief out of his breast pocket and made a show of wiping his hands as the front doors closed and the young man walked out of earshot. "Did you have to tack on that last bit?" he said.

The woman shrugged. "I'd be surprised if even the student of chemical engineering is real," she said. "Did you see his coat? Sixty years on this planet, and I'm telling you that has to be a fine arts major."

The man in the boiler suit grunted. "So much for disinterested research."

"There's nothing non-disinterested about inferring from previous observations. Come on, let's get the rest of this lot over with."

They had trouble with the doors of the second elevator, but the third one went smoothly. In both cases the hostiles simply screamed their way into oblivion, with no counter-attacks or attempts at defence.

The man in the boiler suit pushed the last set of doors closed, checking that no other tenants had entered the lobby. "That seemed a little too easy."

The woman nodded. "Even if they're just starting an infestation, it's surprising that there's only the two sites and no backup," she said. "The ones at the subway station had formed parasitic relationships with local hosts. Here they haven't even bothered to do that."

"So what now?" said the man in the boiler suit.

"It's safe to take the elevators now," said the woman. "We go to the top floor, drop some light grenades, then figure out the garbage chute layout and go to the next collection floor and drop some more."

"Do you have enough grenades with you?"

"We could do two buildings this size and I'd still have leftovers. Not to worry."

The man hit the elevator Up button. "Might as well get going."

tilly with the others: part 39

The man in the boiler suit and bow tie reached the top of the stairs and sniffed. Irate TTC riders pushed past him on the way to the streetcar platform, the east/west subway line, or the street level.

A woman in a brown leather jacket gently pulled the man wearing the bow tie out of the way.

"I think the convention is to move out of the flow of travel if you need to stop," she said quietly.

"I can't smell him," said the man wearing the bow tie. "He's not here."

"He must be here," said the woman. "Let's walk the concourse and try the other side of the station."

The man wearing the bow tie picked up a scent on the other end of the concourse. After some pacing around that earned them not a few stares from passers-by, the man in the bow tie led the woman to the driver's breakroom door. Two steps from the door, the man froze.

"He's been terminated," he said.

"We're following the Ninth Protocol," the woman said. "We will eliminate the hostiles, then complete our report and clean up before any more can show up." She shook her head. "Thousands of primitive inhabited planets in this galaxy, and we have to wind up on the one hostiles are interested in wiping clean for mining. Are we the only planet left that does pure research anymore?"

"I really don't think this is a good time to get philosophical," said the man in the bow tie.

The woman shrugged and positioned herself to one side of the door, while the man in the bow tie stood in front of it. The woman put her hand over the doorknob. There was a loud pinging sound, and the door popped off its hinges.

The bow-tie man and the woman peered in.

Inside were two men in TTC driver uniforms, sitting on broken-down orange plastic chairs and sipping at coffee. Neither of them looked like they had even blinked when the door had been popped off its hinges, a fact perhaps explained by what was on the floor. A man dressed in a boiler suit and bow tie, twin to the man in the doorway, lay there in four or five pieces.

"Two against two," said one of the men drinking coffee.

"Not really," said the woman, reaching into her pocket. She threw something the size and shape of a cricket ball into the breakroom. It bounced off one of the chunks of dead body, hit the floor, and flashed out a blinding white light.

The men's screams peaked quickly beyond the range of regular human hearing and cut off abruptly. The white light faded, and the regular fluorescent tubing spluttering in the ceiling of the breakroom revealed that the only remaining occupant was the corpse.

"Better fix the door," said the woman. The still-living man in the boiler suit put it back in place and melted the hinges into a fixed position.

"Right," said the woman. "Let's clean up the subject's domicile."

tilly with the others: part 38

"Mrs. Zondernaam! The girls are in the rec room. You just go down these stairs and hang a left."

"I remember," said Tilly, forcing a smile and hoping she managed to convey a warm tone in her voice. "Thank you for having me over, Beth."

"Oh, you're wearing stockings, the floor's cold in the basement..." Beth frowned. "I suppose you could wear your shoes, it's dry out..."

"It's all right, I have my travel slippers in my purse." Tilly fished around in her bag and pulled out a pair of moccasins that zippered shut on themselves.

"Oh what a good idea!"

Tilly smiled blandly and put her slippers on. She had learned that Canadians consider wearing shoes in the house the height of boorishness long before she'd met Beth. What she had never been able to figure out was why so few of them bothered to bring indoor footwear when they visited.

Owen ducked through the front door. "Um, I got the kale... red is okay, right?"

"I don't know, the recipe didn't say. We'll make it work."

Someone's trying to be in a good mood, thought Tilly as she eased her way down the stairs. The stairs were polished wood without a runner or treads, and looked slippery enough to skate on.

"Oma!" Emily and Mercedes ran to meet Tilly at the bottom of the stairs. She bent down and gave them a kiss on each cheek. For Emily she hardly had to bend down at all.

"Come on!" Mercedes pulled at Tilly's hand. "We got a new game. You'll like it."

Tilly let herself be led to the rec room and settled into the same armchair she always used. It had been in her and Marcus's rec room when Owen was growing up, and they had given it to him when he moved out. Somehow it had survived Beth's redecorating — probably because the seat was high enough to be comfortable for Owen. Tilly's feet didn't touch the ground when she sat in it.

"Can you two keep a secret?" she said, meaning both of them but mostly addressing Emily.

"Windmill cookies?" said Mercedes.

Tilly retrieved the packet of speculaas from her shopping bag. Mercedes cheered.

"We can have some after," said Emily. "I'll put it behind the DVDs on the middle shelf. 'Kay, Oma?"

"They're for you, not for me. I can get my own."

"Thank you." Emily smiled. "They'll be good for after school."

Mercedes launched into a rapid-fire, incoherent description of the new video game. Tilly listened politely and then asked Mercedes to demonstrate it. Emily sat in the chair beside Tilly and didn't say anything, even when her sister said or did something Tilly knew usually got Emily annoyed.

Tilly and Emily watched Mercedes work her way through four levels on the game before Owen called down the stairs and said lunch was ready. Mercedes saved the game.

"I'll put everything away," said Emily. "You go wash your hands first."

Apparently Mercedes still hated tidying up, Tilly noted, because she ran out the rec room and up the stairs without any arguing or back talk.

Emily popped the game disc out and put it back in its case. "Have you seen or heard anything about the door?" she said.

"Nothing," said Tilly.

"I haven't either," said Emily. She turned off the TV set and gaming console. "I thought I would e-mail you when I saw or heard something, but nothing's happened. I should just e-mail you anyhow."

"Don't get in trouble," said Tilly.

"I won't." Emily let Tilly leave the room ahead of her, turning off the lights behind them.

"LUNCH!" Beth yelled down the stairs. "It's getting cold!"

"We were just putting everything away," Emily called up the stairs.

Owen appeared at the top of the stairs and quirked an eyebrow at Tilly, but didn't say anything before he headed to the dining room.

Tilly closed her eyes and made herself breathe as she climbed the last few steps. All of a sudden dealing with extraterrestrials in the elevator shafts didn't seem so bad.

tilly with the others: part 37

The GO bus pulled into the Union station depot about an hour after it left the Brampton Four Corners stop. The passengers disembarked, mostly teenagers heading to Queen Street West and senior citizens planning to catch a musical on King Street.

The only passenger not very young or very old — by looks, anyhow — was a woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties. She was wearing a classically-cut brown leather jacket over a cream sweater and dark-coloured jeans. Her hair was long but not in any noticeable style. She could have fit in amongst the downtown passers-by in any era from the late sixties to now.

The woman walked with the rapid gait of a native Torontonian. She made her way to the train station building, moving confidently but glancing to side to side as if looking for someone. Once in the lower level, she paced the GO ticket booths, the shopping concourse, and the gates to the subway and streetcar platforms before heading upstairs to the cavernous rail station. She circled the information booth with its giant brass clock, still looking and still not seeming to recognise anyone. She frowned and headed to the area that was added on in the 1950s.

"Over here," a voice called, and the woman's face brightened. She increased her pace and greeted a man sitting in the waiting area near the candy stand. He rose to meet her, but sat down again when she gestured at him and sat on the bench beside him.

The man looked like he had time warped in from when the addition was built. He wore a dark grey boiler suit with a white shirt and black bow tie. He clutched a dark grey visored cap in his hands.

"The subject's secured, at least for the next few hours," said the woman. "Status?"

The man shook his head. "According to the sensors, he's still in there," he said. "But it's been over two hours."

"Is he moving?"

"It's too small a space to tell. Even if he is moving, he couldn't move enough for it to show up on the sensors."

"All right," said the woman, standing up. "Did you get subway tokens?"

"Yes," said the man, rising. "But surely you don't mean we're just going to go there."

"Follow me." The woman headed towards one of the stairwells that led to the subway concourse. "If it's a small room, and if — " she made a sound like a metal zipper being pulled up quickly " — is in there with them, there can't be more than five bodies total. The hostiles have evolved to think that filling as much possible arena space is a benefit, because it means their enemies can't get in to get them. They don't take into account that 'space' can be measured more than one way, and they certainly don't think they're going to need room to fight."

"But there's more of them in the subject's building — "

"They won't abandon their posts, not if it means being exposed in the no-man's land between the apartment building and the subway station."

They reached the turnstiles leading to the subway platform. The woman dropped her token into the slot on the turnstile and strode through. The man hesitated, token held over the slot. Someone behind him said something rude. The man put the token in the slot and passed through, running a little to catch up with the woman, who was already stepping on the down escalator.

"What's the big deal if they are here? It's not a proper invasion force. There'd be a lot more of them?"

The woman half-turned on the escalator steps and glared at him. The scents of sulphur and roses wafted around them.

"I want this research project done," she said. "I want to have my reports filed and be home in time to see my children spawn. And if we have to invoke the Ninth Protocol to have that happen, so be it. We're already going to have to take interference into account in our results."

The man stared down at his shiny black shoes and said nothing until they were on the subway and halfway to Spadina station.

"What if things have gone very badly?" he said.

The woman shrugged. "The subway's running, and they're not announcing anything about the stop," she said. "It can't be that bad."

tilly with the others: part 36

The Four Corners GO bus depot always bewildered Tilly. Somehow they had carved it out of a back street in the heart of the old farm town that had been Brampton before the suburbs came and paved the fields over. Just when a bus rider thought that there was nowhere for the bus to stop, it turned some impossibly tight corners and pulled into a dedicated berth just a few steps away from the intersection that was officially Four Corners.

The man who had tried to talk to her about her book had disembarked at the more popular Bramalea stop in the east end, to Tilly's relief. She left the bus and walked to the nearest corner. The intersection it led to was not Four Corners, although there were banners hanging from streetlights proclaiming the area was the Four Corners neighbourhood.

"Are you lost?" Tilly started and noticed the woman who had spoken to her at the Toronto bus station was standing beside her.

"Er, I was just looking for the Tim Hortons," said Tilly.

"That way," the woman pointed.

"Thank you," said Tilly. She pretended to hesitate. "I'm sorry, but have we met before today? You look awfully familiar. Did you used to work out this way?"

The woman smiled. "We've never met, but you've met some of my... colleagues."

"Ah," said Tilly. "Spadina subway station, am I right?"

The woman's smile broadened. "No, I'm pleased to say. But we've been watching you since you were six years old. I'm sure you remember how that started."

"You blend in a lot better than your colleagues."

The woman shrugged. "I don't usually go out in the field, so I haven't had to choose a form until recently." She looked as if she was going to say more, but then glanced apprehensively at the GO bus. "I have to return to your domestic area," she said.

"I understand," said Tilly, although she wasn't sure she did. The woman smiled once more and turned back towards the bus depot.

"Take care, and thank you for the directions," Tilly called out, but the woman didn't acknowledge that she had heard.

The Tim Horton's was exactly where the Other woman had said it would be. It was full of people that Beth would definitely not approve of — most of them were in torn jeans, dirty lumberjack shirts, and faded t-shirts bearing the logos of various 1970s prog and heavy metal bands. Tilly noticed one preppy-looking couple huddled in a corner, as if they were afraid they were going to be attacked at any moment by the other customers.

The male half of the couple noticed Tilly as she approached the order counter and gave her a nervous smile. Tilly smiled back and then turned to face the back of the customer ahead of her. She wondered what the preppy couple would have been so friendly if she had time-warped in from 1968 wearing the kind of clothes she had back then. She rather suspected not.

Tilly ordered her standard coffee and doughnut, then found an empty table in the dining area. She noted that this particular shop had not just the usual one, but several signs saying there was a twenty minute maximum for sitting at the tables. It made sense — there were a lot of people living in the area for whom hanging out at a doughnut shop was a major event on their social calendar. She hoped Owen wouldn't be too late, and for the first time in her life wished she had a cell phone. It wouldn't make him hurry up, but it would help her either convince any by-the-rules manager she wasn't loitering if she stayed longer than twenty minutes, or else convince Owen to show up on time in the future.

She ate her doughnut first while letting her coffee cool down a bit. Then she took a sip of her coffee and pulled out We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the preppy husband blanch as he noticed the name of her book. She suppressed a smile.

Twenty-five minutes later, Tilly had finished her book, her coffee was cold, the preppy couple had left, and the shop staff hadn't said anything to her about loitering. A glance at the clock above the doughnut racks told her that Owen was fifteen minutes late. She sipped her coffee and grimaced.

She had picked up her purse from the floor, wondering if she should get a second coffee, when Owen came in, hair windblown and face red. He glanced around the shop with such alarm that Tilly was worried the staff would say something.

"Owen, I'm here," she said, standing up.

"Sorry I'm late, I had to pick something up from the supermarket, I should have done it after...."

"Good to see you," she said, patting him on the sleeve. "Let's go."

tilly with the others: part 35

Torontonians are a jaded lot, but a few non-tourist heads turned as the man made his way down through the entrance gates to Spadina subway station. First of all, although he carried a Metropass, he stopped dead at the turnstile. He had to look very carefully at both the card and the reader on the turnstile before he figured out how to get the machine to scan the card and let him through. The TTC worker at the ticket wicket would report later that the man traced is finger along the diagram beside the card reader several times, but ignored the worker when she offered help. She said he glanced in her direction when she spoke over the intercom, but didn't seem to understand her.

The lack of familiarity with the turnstiles could be explained away easily enough. One could assume the man was a suburbanite who didn't normally come downtown, perhaps using a borrowed pass. His appearance, however, did not suggest suburbia, or at least not one that had existed for sixty years. The man himself looked closer to fifty-five, but he wore a dark grey boiler suit with a light grey shirt and bow tie. He salt-and-pepper hair was topped with a visored cap made of the same fabric as the suit, and which the passers-by who recognised it at all were more used to seeing on Ralph Kramden's head in reruns of The Honeymooners.

A student who was a witness to some of the events later told a Toronto Star reporter that she'd never seen anyone outside of a movie with such perfectly shiny black shoes.

After passing through the turnstiles, the man paused and read the sign above the stairwell to the platform. He frowned, then shrugged and followed some other people down the stairs.

The stairs at Spadina station lead to an underground concourse with two levels. The main level has a tunnel to the north-south line, a few newsstands, and the streetcar platform. The lower levels let people board the east-west subway trains.

The man walked to the stairs leading to the eastbound subway platform, but he didn't go down the stairs. Instead, he leaned against the railing and stared down for a few minutes. He started, stared harder, then stepped away from the railing, shaking his head.

"That's where that dude offed himself this week," said a teenage boy passing by.

The man closed his eyes and nodded. "Do you know —" he started, but a women brushed by him and he opened his eyes, startled. He glanced around himself, bewildered, as if he expected the teenage boy to still be there.

Behind the nearest newsstand, on the far wall, a TTC security guard opened the door to a breakroom. A man wearing a TTC driver's uniform could be seen, sipping on a coffee.

The man in the boiler suit squinted for a second or two. Then his face cleared. "Thank you," he said to no-one in particular, and crossed the concourse to the breakroom door.

"Employees only," said the driver sipping coffee to the man in the boiler suit. The two other drivers sitting at the laminate table shoved to one end of the room nodded agreement.

The man in the boiler suit slipped in the room anyhow. "Oh, I'm not going to stay long," he said. "I'm just here to make a delivery. For someone's birthday. It's a surprise."

"Surprise them outside," said the security guard. "The guy's right, it's employees only here. No exceptions."

"Suit yourself," said the man in the boiler suit. He walked up to the security guard, spun a neat half-turn so he was standing directly in front of the guard, facing the same way, and then took a half-step back... into the guard. The gently smiling face of the man in the boiler suit shimmered over the security guard's shocked expression briefly, then disappeared completely.

The drivers dropped their coffee cups and leapt up. The one who had been sitting opposite the door crossed the room and closed it.

"Where'd the Other one go?" he said, scanning the faces of the drivers.

"Are we supposed to attack..." started one.

"But if we do, then we might kill...." started the other one.

The security guard was trembling as if he were about to vibrate apart. The guard started making "mmmh-mmh-mmh" sounds, lips forced closed. The drivers all backed away to the opposite corner of the breakroom.

The guard's mouth shot open in a wide scream that quickly faded into frequencies too high for a human ear to detect. White flashing light poured out of his mouth, nose, and ears. His eyes bulged, pushing out of the guard's face just before they too were dissolved in white light. The same light sprang from the sleeves and pantlegs of the guard's uniform.

The drivers watched slack-jawed as the security guard dissolved in flashing white light. Although the guard's scream had been well beyond human hearing for several seconds, one driver put his hands over his ears while the other two cringed, just as the guard's body was completely consumed by the white light.

The light pulsed and filled the entire room, then faded to nothing. There was a faint smell of coffee mixed with ginger and melted plastic. The drivers blinked, waiting for their imitation human eyes to readjust to the light given off by the single fluorescent tube in the ceiling.

The man in the boiler suit smiled at them from the spot where the security guard had stood.

"That wasn't too difficult," he said. "Just a moment..." He reached out a hand and put it on the doorknob. There was a brief scent of hot metal and ozone, and then the man in the boiler suit removed his hand. The doorknob was melted onto the metal doorframe.

"Now then," said the man in the boiler suit, "would anyone like to go next, or shall I just pick randomly?"

The driver who had been sitting opposite the door stepped forward. "They don't use decoys on your world?" he said.

The man in the boiler suit's smile faded. He nodded. "What the humans call a 'pawn sacrifice' sometimes," he said. "All right. Let's continue."

tilly with the others: part 34

Between "the morning she took the light bulb out of the fridge", as Tilly insisted on thinking of it, and the Saturday she was due to have lunch at Owen's, nothing much happened either with the hostiles or the Others. Then again, Tilly stayed in her apartment as much as possible, only making one trip to the ground floor to put her garbage directly into the dumpster out back. The two Pizza Tela shifts she'd had on Thursday and Friday had been mostly uneventful — she'd received three messages from the Others which seemed to be warning her about where the hostiles were in her building, but she'd already had to find that out for herself.

Friday her shift had ended late — ten at night — but she hadn't felt sleepy, so for the first time since his funeral she'd pulled out her photo albums and looked at snapshots of her and Marcus. She didn't look at any of the albums with photos of Owen in them, only the ones from university and from just after they'd arrived in Canada. Well, probably Owen was conceived back home, but before she was showing, anyhow.

Saturday morning she got up and made breakfast, spent a few minutes agonising over clothes (comfortable, but dressy enough to keep Beth off her back), then headed down the stairs. She got as far as the seventh floor before deciding to head back up and get her copy of We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial to read on the bus.

She made a quick detour to the local Metro to pick up a packet of speculaas to sneak to Emily and Mercedes, then took the subway down to Union Station. It was only when she disembarked that she stopped worrying about the hostiles posing as TTC workers.

Union Station was an odd jumble of old and new. The old, grand railway station was upstairs from the subway stop. Tilly loved the marble floors and the carved stone walls. Downstairs was a hash of 1950s practicality mixed with budget-conscious 1970s renos. But downstairs was where the regional bus tickets were sold. She found a wicket, paid for a round trip, and learned that the bus stops had all moved since the last time she had taken one.

She had to wait about fifteen minutes before the bus she wanted arrived, so she stood at the stop and read her book.

"Hey," she heard someone say, and glanced up. It was a middle-aged man, maybe a bit older than Owen. Once he saw he had her attention, he nodded at her book.

"Gibbs has been refuted, you know," he said. "I saw a Nova episode once, they went through all of his theories and explained how he was wrong."

"It's still a good read," said Tilly. "And I like to read books for historical reasons."

The man blinked, apparently surprised that Tilly hadn't immediately put away the book and asked him the title of the Nova episode. "But don't you want to find out the truth about the history of civilisation?" he said. "Something that doesn't involve little green men?"

"I'm ninety per cent of the way through, and Gibbs has never called the extraterrestrials 'little green men'," said Tilly. She held up the book sideways to show the man where her bookmark was. "And I am interested in the history of civilisation. I even have a degree in it. Do you?"

The man scowled and shuffled away. A few more people gathered around the stop. Tilly hoped the bus wasn't so crowded that she'd wind up sitting near the man for lack of choice in seats.

She threw the book in her reusable shopping bag, which already held the speculaas. A bus that had been parked in a different part of the terminal pulled up at long last. Tilly got her ticket ready and started gently pushing forward with the crowd, wishing Canadians would learn how to queue.

A woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties put her hand on Tilly's arm. "Don't mind that man," she said. "He's in the same boat you are, trying to figure us out." She gave Tilly a wink and got on the bus ahead of her.

Tilly made her way up the steep steps to the bus aisle, presenting her ticket as she went. GO buses were more like coaches, although there wasn't as much storage space. Tilly found a window seat, grateful when the bus pulled out of the station with no-one sitting beside her. She put her shopping bag on the empty seat beside her, but kept her purse on her lap.

She started to get her book out to finish it — she only had one more chapter and the afterword to go — but decided it could wait until she got to the Tim Horton's. She didn't want the book to attract any more attention, and Owen was bound to be late. He always was.

The words of the woman who had got on the bus before her sank in. Who was "us" — humans or Others? Tilly glanced around the bus to find her, but couldn't figure out which seat the woman was in. Maybe she'd have a chance to ask her when they all got to Brampton.

Confirmed. Subject has left the vicinity and is under protection.

Time to move.

tilly with the others: part 33

She was on a narrow cot pressed hard against a spongey wall, and she couldn't see anything because a white light was being shone directly into her face. She was hot and cold in patches, all over her body, and the hostiles had wrapped her in some sort of restraint around her elbows and waist, and she was trying to free herself, but she couldn't hear if there were any near her, because they weren't talking, and the light was blinding her and getting hotter and hotter but her feet were freezing and it was uncomfortable to breathe, she was worried that in her struggles she would get stuck with her face pressed into the spongey wall and suffocate, and the white light was getting hotter and hotter in her face...

Tilly woke with a start. The morning sun was streaming through the sheers hung over the living room window, behind the couch she was lying on. It took her a moment to recognise that it was her couch, her living room. It took another moment to realise she was still in day clothes. Her feet were freezing, and she supposed at some point during the night the rest of her had been too, because she'd pulled down the afghan she'd knitted in the mid-80s from the back of the couch onto her torso. Somehow she'd got wrapped up in it.

Tilly found a free end and pulled the knitted throw off. She had to sit up and wriggle around a bit before she could unwrap herself entirely. With a sigh she stood up, shook the afghan out, and put it back where it belonged.

The hip that sometimes gave her trouble was fine, but her left shoulder was giving off a dull but intense pain, and it felt like her neck would never straighten on its own again.

Tilly shuffled to her purse, and double-checked that her memory was correct — no, she didn't have to work that day. Just as well, because she had a suspicion she was going to wind up spending most of it in bed. She tucked her pocket calendar back in her purse and made her way to the kitchen.

At first she was going to take her pain medication with a glass of water, but then she remembered that she had never had supper the night before and that there was apple juice in the fridge. Glass in hand, she wandered to the refrigerator and opened the door.

White light streamed from the fridge. Tilly shrieked and dropped the glass, which bounced once on its base before shattering into hundreds of tiny shards around her stockinged feet. The door tilted to a ninety-degree angle with the fridge, hovered for a few moments, then swung lazily open to its fullest extent, making contact with the kitchen wall with a decisive thunk sound.

Tilly stood whimpering in the broken glass, staring into the fridge. But there was no babble of voices, no mass of hostiles pouring out of the appliance.

The light was just the regular refrigerator light.

"You stupid old fool!" Tilly barked in Dutch. I have to keep my wits about me, she added silently.

She forced her inflamed spine to let her look behind herself. There didn't seem to be any broken glass in the dining room area. She carefully took a giant step backwards to extricate herself from the broken glass, then reached under her skirt to pull off her pantyhose, making sure she turned them completely inside out to trap any tiny shards which may have stuck to her feet. She wadded up the pantyhose and threw them in the wastepaper basket she kept by the computer desk, cursing her jitteriness and grateful that at least she'd decided to keep the brush and dustpan in the linen closet down the hall. The vacuum cleaner was there too. She hated leaving the fridge door open and wasting electricity, but there was nothing to be done about it until she knew the floor was clean.

She pulled on an old pair of jogging pants and her pink fuzzy slippers before tackling the floor. Brushing up the shards of glass made it feel like the arm with the sore shoulder was going to fall off, but she made herself keep going until she couldn't see any more pieces, then vacuumed over the entire kitchen and dining room.

When she was done she unscrewed the light bulb in the refrigerator and added it to the kitchen garbage with the broken glass. If she really couldn't see into the fridge, she could just turn the kitchen light on.

Tilly retrieved a fresh glass from the cupboard. The glasses were on the right-hand side, over the sink, and out of habit she opened the cupboard door with her right hand and reached for the glass with her left. She had just closed the cupboard door again when her left arm spasmed and she dropped the glass into the sink. It broke into three large pieces, with smaller shards glinting against the stainless steel.

"SHIT!" Tilly swore in a rich blend of Dutch and English spiced with French and German. She felt tears prick her eyelids, and added a few Italian and Danish curses she hadn't used since university. She propped her hands on the edge of the sink and made herself breathe slowly, counting to thirty before she tried moving again.

She tucked her bad arm behind her back and carefully picked up each large piece of broken glass one at a time from the sink, dropping each in turn into the kitchen garbage. She wanted to cringe as she heard each piece chime against the other pieces and the now-broken light bulb. When all the large pieces were disposed of, she rinsed the sink out, being careful only to use her right hand, and got a third glass down from the cupboard. Keeping her left arm tucked away, she got the bottle of apple juice from the fridge. She let her left hand hold the bottle in place on the counter while she used her right hand to unscrew the lid, poured her juice, and used it to wash down two pills.

When the glass was drained, she put the juice away and marched herself straight to the washroom to use the toilet and brush her teeth, then got ready for bed.

You made a mess. You cleaned it up. Now calm down, she thought, and eventually drifted back to sleep.

tilly with the others: part 31

Tilly sipped her cappuccino as slowly as she could manage without arousing the ire of the café barrista. She hadn't enjoyed the Art Gallery of Ontario so.... thoroughly in a very long time. Normally she just made a beeline for the Old Masters section and then lingered a little over the miniatures, but this time she'd chosen to start in the basement. The AGO had an astonishing collection of model ships there, huge ones four feet long or more, each with a painstaking amount of detail carved, painted, and rigged onto them.

Some of the models were carved from bones by eighteenth-century prisoners of war. Prisoners, even in wartime, had had to pay their own way back then, so the men had saved soup bones to carve and sell to their captors. They'd used their own hair for "rope" on the models, and other sad little odds and ends to make exquisitely detailed work. Just as nice as the ivory carvings in the miniatures upstairs, really.

Tilly had even gone upstairs and spent some time in the Canadian collection. At dinner parties, when friends or the wives of Marcus's colleagues had asked her if she ever regretted moving to Canada, she'd always commented on the winters. This seemed to be what immigrants were expected to comment upon. Truth be told, Tilly liked taking Owen tobogganing and ice skating when he was little. It was Canadian art that annoyed her. She'd never been sure why. Maybe because of all the time she'd spent in Canadian government offices when they were getting their citizenship papers together, fighting her impatience by trying to get lost in yet another Tom Thomson reproduction.

Still and all, today she meditated on the lumpy renditions of trees and rocks, and paused thoughtfully to consider the formal portraits of Family Compact members. The colonialist elite were always depicted as if they were completely sure they were doing the right thing, which was sometimes good for a laugh if one knew enough history.

The café was on the same level as the contemporary art exhibition area, which this month consisted of several abstract glass sculptures. They reminded Tilly of a toy Owen had had when he was about twelve. Capsella, that was it. Tilly thought it was a pity the artist hadn't known about Capsella. If he had, she was sure he would have made at least some of the sculptures with moving parts.

Tilly took another tiny sip of her cappuccino. She'd almost managed to forget about this morning, but she'd have to go back to the Annex and home eventually.

If she could get home. The idea of switching from using to subway to taking cabs didn't appeal to her, and she had a feeling that even if she did, the hostiles would find a way to get to her eventually.

She'd just have to be more careful.

The trip back from the gallery to the Annex was uneventful, at least. Tilly left the streetcar one stop early, at Harbord. Really her apartment building was in between Harbord and Spadina station, but she used to always use Spadina. Not anymore.

The half-block between the stop and her building looked the same as it always had. People walked along like it was just a regular day. Tilly let herself glance up the street, and didn't see any emergency vehicles near the subway station. Maybe things had finally settled down again.

The security entrance to her building was just its regular self too. Tilly started to relax  little. She waved her keycard in front of the scanner and let herself into the lobby, then pressed the Up button to call an elevator.

All of the elevator doors shone bright, pure white light in the spaces between the door and the wall. Tilly could hear the babble of voices rising up, the same as had come from the garbage chutes twice now.

Fortunately, the building's stairwells had doors with windows in them. Tilly didn't see any lights coming from there, so she walked to the stairwell, opened the door, and started to climb.

By the third floor her knees were hurting.

By the fifth floor she was out of breath.

Tilly let herself rest in the landing between the fifth and sixth floors, checking for bright white lights. There weren't any, so as her gasping changed to something like a regular breathing rhythm she tried to figure out how to handle this.

She could use a backpack instead of the bundle buggy to pick up groceries.

She would have to be more clever about buying groceries, period.

She squared her shoulders and started to climb again.