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.”