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."