The Nameless Ones (Part 2)

Aubrey shoots up, her body ramrod straight as she sheds her discomfort. He gets up more slowly, training the scanner at the center of the tunnel. The shadows shift like storm clouds breaking and then re-forming. Above them, the sky releases a fresh batch of rain. They steadily inch forward, away from their makeshift lean-to, the rain obscuring their vision as they moved away from the shelter and out in the open. Troy walks in front, one hand holding the scanner steady, the other hand tucked at his hip, fingers tracing the familiar holster of his gun. Behind him, slightly to one side, Aubrey already has her palms open, fingers spread out, eyes blinking back the rain.

The shadow in the tunnel seems to retreat slightly, gathering itself. Troy remembers snorkeling somewhere off Palawan, one summer day, a lifetime ago, and saw a school of fish moving through the ocean waters. The tides pushed them this way and that, and yet they seemed to instinctively follow a pattern, become a whole being that surrounded him, that swam around him like a multicolored whirlwind. He thinks the shadow is like that: made up of miniscule pieces that swam together, forming and re-forming into this vast, cloud-like shape that filled the entire tunnel entrance.

The scanner squawks as they approach, a high-pitched whine replacing the low hum. Troy switches it off, shoves it in his pocket, and instead spreads his palm out in a gesture of peace. Blue-white lines flare up across the skin of his open palm, fine lace-like traceries that form a familiar symbol — familiar, at least, if you were of non-human origins. The mark of A.G.I.M.A.T. “My name is Agent Montero,” he says calmly, reciting each word in a low, non-threatening tone. “This is my partner, Agent Miles.”

“Stupid codename,” mutters Aubrey behind him. He ignores her.

“We don’t want to hurt you. We are seeking an artifact that may be with you. This is a dangerous item. Please, we are asking you to give it up so that we can take it to a safe place.” The shadow croons, its sound like a hundred thousand nails scraping across a chalkboard. Aubrey flinches, but Troy keeps on speaking, his voice rising above the din of the rain. “Can you understand me? We don’t want to harm you. Once you give us the item, you’re free to go.”

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The Nameless Ones (Part 1)

Troy leans against a makeshift shelter, cobbled together from pieces of damp plywood and sheets of corrugated metal. He wraps a thin jacket around his thin shoulders, shivering at the inadequate heat it provides. The shelter faces one side, against the stronger winds, and the slanted roof is supported by twin beams of wood. Another flash of lightning illuminates the face of his partner, Aubrey. She is curled up on the ground, her dark hair twisted in an untidy bun at the nape of her neck, her grimy cheek pillowed on her equally grimy hands. She is also bundled up in a flak jacket and a bulletproof vest, hanging over her thin frame like a turtle shell, and wrapped altogether in a silver blanket that makes her resemble a giant burrito. They’ve both been awake for sixteen hours, and this is the first time they’re getting a reprieve. He’s volunteered to take first watch.

He is almost tempted to call HQ, to abort the mission. He thinks about other rainy nights, about other places where he thinks could double for this godforsaken hole. He flexes his fingers, curses the ache in his wrists. Carpal tunnel. He attempts to catalogue his emotions in an effort to stave off sleep. He’s tired, that’s for sure — he’d barely recovered from the last mission before he was asked to take this one as well. An easy one, said Agent Jimenez. Just a routine pick-up.

He’s also hungry. Their last meal before heading out was lukewarm lugaw and something that resembled fried tokwa but he was quite sure was just another science experiment from R&D. That was yesterday. Sure, they were able to get a plastic cup of taho sometime in the morning, but that was it. His stomach rumbled desperately. What he wouldn’t give for a styrofoam cup of instant noodles and the strongest black coffee on the planet.

He’s also cold. Water is trickling down the back of his neck, soaking his shirt and dripping down his shoulders and back. The jacket isn’t helping, and their umbrella has been discarded long ago, a victim of a particularly strong gust of wind. It wasn’t raining when they left yesterday, and he thought the wind-resistant outfit that Support had provided them was just an affectation, and decided to head out in his usual jeans-shirt-jacket outfit. Now he wished he listened to them. (He keeps on forgetting that there are weather-watchers in Support, and that they were probably sniggering at him now for being too stubborn.)

He feels his phone vibrate against his leg, and fishes it out. The plastic casing is slick with water, but thanks to certain enhancements, the machine is pretty much indestructible. He punches in the code and slides the screen lock. He grimaces as he looks at the message. It’s his girlfriend, Elsa.

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