If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11.
Toronto Harbour is remarkably quiet after midnight, given that over two million people live around it. Air activity at Billy Bishop Airport must stop by eleven PM, and the last ferry run between the islands and the mainland is at midnight. After that, one might see a water taxi bringing a late-night reveller from a pub on the Islands to the mainland, or the motorboat of an Island resident giving a visitor a lift to the quay.
But that's all in the summer, which made the sight of a canoe all the more unusual. It was barely spring, and not only was the canoe travelling from the mainland to the Islands, the opposite direction from the norm, but its occupants seemed to be both expert canoeists and wholly unprepared for their late-night voyage.
The person paddling in the bow was clearly a man, wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The light pollution from the harbourfront made his shirt and greying hair a pale gold.
The person paddling in the stern was of indeterminate sex, dressed in a black billowing coat, hair pulled back tight in a pony tail.
The paddlers gave three quick strokes on opposite sides of the canoe, switched sides by flipping the paddles in the air in front of them, and then three quick strokes again. From the side it looked not so much that they were paddling as much as digging their way through the water. The canoe sliced through the harbour, swiftly delivering them to the strait between Centre Island and Hanlan's Point.
A third figure was sitting very still in the centre of the canoe. Again the sex was impossible to determine from a distance. They were wearing a dark-coloured hooded sweatshirt. A few strands of bright red, chin-length hair escaped from the black baseball cap on their head.
Their face was hidden in the shadow from the cap's peak, and they seemed very busy with something lying on the bottom of the canoe.
The paddlers stopped fifteen metres from the point, and let the canoe glide amongst the sailboats and motorboats tied up in the marina. Back on the mainland shore, shadows raised themselves from the ground and groaned, then swore. By the time the shadows pulled themselves upright and resolved into men, the canoeists and their single passenger had disappeared into the twisting channel between the islands.
Geoffrey switched from the racing-style paddling they had used to cross the harbour to the leisurely C-curl he knew Pepper would expect from him. He pulled the canoe through the water while Pepper steered from the stern.
Somewhere to the west there were the sounds of a party going full tilt, but here everything was quiet, the only sound coming from their paddles reaching into the water.
The channel meandered a lot, but Pepper seemed to know where she was going. When they finally came clear of the Islands. Geoffrey was surprised at how far east they'd come. They passed the rusting hulks of abandoned freighters and the Leslie Street Spit, its skinny fingers grasping at the lake but never quite holding it.
Pepper called out to paddle racing-style again, and they headed southwest until the lights from the city of Hamilton seemed slightly closer than the few streetlights visible on the Islands. The waves were much choppier outside of the harbour, and Pepper altered the orientation of the canoe to minimise how much the water would push them around.
"It should be safe to talk here," said Pepper. "Just remember how much sound carries over water like this."
Geoffrey handed his paddle to Cinnamon and carefully shifted around so he was facing towards the stern.
Pepper looked up at the sky. "Crap," she said. "If that's where Orion is, then it must be... what, three in the morning? No wonder I'm tired."
Geoffrey cupped a hand over his wristwatch and quickly flicked the backlight on. "Three-fourteen," he said. "We have to either find a safe house to sleep in or turn the tables on this lot quickly."
"Both sounds good to me," said Cinnamon. "Want to go the rest of the way to Hamilton?"
"It's farther than it looks," said Pepper. "The lake's forty kilometres across at this point. The sun will be up before we get there, and we'll be spotted."
"We have to go somewhere. There's nothing here."
Pepper chuckled. "According to the local UFO groups, we're floating right over top of a flying saucer base."
Cinnamon snorted. "You think the little green men are after the data?"
"It's not a flying saucer base," said Geoffrey.
"I was just joking around," said Pepper.
"I'm not," said Geoffrey. "It's not a flying saucer base. It's one of ours. During the Cold War someone had the bright idea that if Toronto got nuked an underwater bunker could come in handy. I think the physicists said it would be useless for a nuclear winter, but they didn't control the budget or the project scope. It hasn't been used since late 1980s, but it's still there, and it's still in good shape."
"And we know this because..." said Pepper.
"My first desk job with the agency was mothballing it," said Geoffrey. "The security stuff — files, protocols, code books — that's all been removed. But there's non-perishable food, beds, power... the brass figured that even if we weren't going to get nuked, there could be an epidemic or an insurrection or something that would make a bunker at the bottom of the lake handy."
"Zombie apocalypse, alien invasion..." said Cinnamon.
"We don't have to swim to it or anything, do we?" said Pepper. "The water's awfully cold."
Geoffrey took his paddle back from Cinnamon. "Due west," he said. "We want to get to Port Credit."
To be continued...