Saturday 25th December 2032, 10:41
Kumeshnee was looking through the Bushnell binoculars that she always carried with her, outside of Shaft-17. She had liberated them from the camping store in the Rustenburg Shopping Mall two years earlier. They had been in perfect condition when she had found them and still in the box. The twenty times magnification lenses were a great asset when scanning the lush green landscape. The InstaLawn she was lying on was starting to make her itch on a grassy hill about three hundred meters from the entrance to the Facility.
Mandla was quietly lying next to her before he broke the silence, “They went through grass curtain over there.” He pointed to the entrance of the Facility and continued, “The white woman followed them a couple of days later. There are some other tracks; all from Hilux bakkies like ours and those are all much older.” Kumeshnee was struggling to make out the curtain of InstaLawn that Mandla was talking about when something else struck her.
She quickly lowered the binoculars and said, “Wait a minute, white woman? When did she become a white woman?” Mandla shrugged and said, “I figured that out late yesterday.” Kumeshnee pressed him, “How do you know that she’s a white woman?” He shrugged again and said, “I can tell from the shape of her shoes, the length of her stride and how her weight is placed with each foot fall. She’s white, short, she wears a size six shoe but it looks like her feet are smaller than that.”
Kumeshnee quickly looked through the binoculars again to try and hide her eyes from Mandla. Her initial deduction had been correct; Leigh, it had to be Leigh. She was the only white person in Jabu’s group and Kumeshnee knew about Leigh’s past with him. The brutal way in which he was murdered pointed to her back at the ambush site. Mandla seemed to read Kumeshnee’s thoughts when he quietly said, “I don’t blame Leigh for killing Jabu. No one liked him very much, I wonder why she followed the vehicles instead of coming back to the Shaft.”
Kumeshnee wasn’t at all surprised that Mandla figured out who had survived from Jabu’s team. His nickname amongst the Scavengers was the Sangoma, or Witchdoctor, because he could see things in the InstaLawn that no one else could. He could also disappear into the greenery like a ghost. She quietly said, “We all know what happens to those who either fail or cross the Mistress. If Leigh did kill Jabu then the Mistress would make her suffer. She was awfully fond of Jabu for some reason.” Mandla simply nodded but said nothing. He knew that Kumeshnee was right and he had learned that keeping his mouth shut was one of the safest ways to survive in the Mistress’ ranks.
Kumeshnee changed the subject, “Can you tell me anything else about the vehicles that we followed? Are they Hiluxes?” Mandla shook his head, “No Baas, the wheel tracks are different, my guess would be a something like a Defender but these were heavy, too heavy for normal electric engines and the middle vehicle was definitely a truck. Something bigger than a Hilux and a lot heavier. It’s even stranger because they drove non-stop from the ambush to here and they even passed here a couple of times before going through that curtain. The first vehicle made a hard left turn down the track; I don’t think that they knew the curtain was even there at first.”
Kumeshnee nodded and said, “I’m not surprised, that curtain makes the entrance really well hidden. If they’d had EVs like ours then they would have had to stop to recharge the batteries at least once during the drive.” He nodded and treated Kumeshnee to a very rare and toothless grin when he said, “Exactly!” Kumeshnee said, “Good work Mandla. I need you to move around this place and see if you can find another way in. Please take Ncube with you.” It was unusual for Kumeshnee to ask any of her people to do anything. She was more accustomed to ordering them; but she knew how to handle Mandla and she knew that he was a tricky person to deal with. He didn’t look happy at the prospect of taking Ncube with him but he nodded and carefully belly crawled off the hill and away from view of the facility.
In truth; Mandla was extremely fond of Kumeshnee, she was the only one of the Mistress’ people whom he liked. Everyone distrusted his Khoisan heritage and his propensity to keep to himself. Kumeshnee was different; she left him alone, she didn’t make fun of him and when she did speak to him, it was with respect. This made him fiercely loyal to her but he kept that a very well hidden secret. He had also learned during his time at Shaft-17 that loyalty shown to anyone other than the Mistress was severely punished.
The Operative stayed behind on the hill to watch the facility and she was grateful to have some time alone. She was looking for any signs of movement but she was having trouble discerning the difference between buildings and fences. The whole thing looked like a mountain of green that just blended into itself. Doubt started to fill her mind again; what if the people inside weren’t with the government? What if they had left already and there was no one there? What if she had to go back to Shaft-17 to face the Mistress?
The binoculars started to shake along with her hands, three years of pressure, tension and frustration were taking their toll. She had been feeling the effects of the stress for more than six months already and she wasn’t sure if she could keep it up for much longer. Every move, every spoken word, even every facial expression had to be carefully crafted before they were made. She closed her eyes and focussed on her breathing; after a few minutes she thought, ‘Pull yourself together dammit, you HAVE to get back to base. You HAVE to warn them about what’s going to happen. You HAVE to see your sister again!’ She opened her emerald, green eyes and a lone tear escaped from the corner of her right eye. Her sister; she must have thought that the operative was dead. She missed her little sister, the Operative had silently cried herself to sleep on more than one night thinking about her.
Kumeshnee blinked the tear from her eye and wiped her cheek with her hand. She thought to herself, ‘I don’t care if anyone is in that place or not. Ncube, Bongani and I are getting the hell away from here in the next day or two. No matter what!’
Saturday 25th December 2032, 10:42
Jack’s breathing sounded magnified in his head like it always did when he wore his SCBA gear. The four of them had spent thirty minutes clearing all of the levels before arriving at the elevator shaft again. They were all becoming more familiar with the subterranean rabbit’s warren that was the facility’s basement levels. Thankfully the booster antenna was still in place and operating effectively plus all of the doors that had been wedged open the day before had remained that way.
Jack moved up to the Elevator doors and he checked the karabiner that they had used to effectively ‘lock’ them from the outside. It was still in place and it looked like it hadn’t been tampered with. Jack spoke over the tac comm system, “Are you all ready?” Gloria, Vusi and Priyanka all responded with, “Check.” He unclipped the karabiner and unlatched the doors. Everyone stood back with their weapons at the ready and holding their breath, not sure what to expect.
When nothing happened for twenty seconds Vusi said, “I guess those creatures need crowbars to open the doors as well.” Jack nodded and said, “It’s starting to look that way.” He and Vusi each jammed a crowbar into the seam that separated the two elevator doors. Using the same technique that Jack and Hannes had used two days earlier they were able to pry the doors open. As soon as the counterweights kicked in the doors moved open smoothly, as they had done in the past.
All four team members stepped back and held their weapons at the ready again, watching the shaft opening with baited breath. Nothing happened for two whole minutes and no sounds emanated from the depths where the tokoloshes were. Priyanka spoke up, “I don’t know if it’s scarier that it’s so quiet or what.” Vusi piped up with, “Oh, it’s scary alright.” Gloria cut them off, “Cut the chatter you two, we have a job to do.” Jack said, “Pri and Vusi cover the shaft while G-LT and I check the ropes and anchors.”
Priyanka and Vusi didn’t answer, they just moved up and shone the beams of their flashlights down the elevator shafts looking for any signs of movement. Jack unclipped three glow-sticks from his harness, cracked them and shook them before throwing them down the shaft. As they landed, the base of the elevator shaft was bathed in more eerie yellow light. The glow sticks that Priyanka had dropped the day before were barely glowing by now. Jack and Gloria checked the three anchors, they were all still secure; they proceeded to pull the ropes up make sure that they weren’t damaged. Once all of the ropes were checked Jack, Priyanka and Gloria clipped themselves into their grigris and descended down the yellow lit elevator shaft.
As Jack’s boots made contact with the InstaLawn covered floor for the second time in that twenty four hour period, he said, “We’re on the ground, Vusi how do you copy?” Vusi’s voice came through their ear pieces, “Loud and clear. Man it’s creepy up here alone.” Jack said, “Copy that, the transponder signals are come through nice and strongly down here. We’re moving out.” The three of them unclipped their grigris from the ropes and moved off down the corridor in tactical formation.
The radio transponders were working perfectly and the team were grateful for the high quality of manufacturing that the South African Military held all of their equipment to. Jack spoke over the tac comm system, “Yesterday we encountered some kind of fog that blurred our vision down here so be careful.” After they had wound their way to the spot where Jack and Jeff had found Hannes on the previous day; Priyanka spoke up, “I’m not getting any kind of fog on my mask.” Gloria chipped in, “Me either.” Jack said, “Neither am I. Whatever it was it must have dissipated.”
They had moved past the last transponder that had been set and Priyanka broke the silence, “Hold up, I’ve got something that isn’t covered in InstaLawn over here. Cecil are you getting this?” Cecil’s voice crackled through their ear pieces, “The video feed is crystal clear, give me all of the angles you can, slow and smooth.” Jack examined the dissolved husk of the tokoloshe that had been bathed in sulfuric acid when he said, “That definitely looks like something that’s been dissolved in sulfuric.” Priyanka panned her Q-5 camera over the husk saying, “Damn, this reminds me the sulfuric acid and sugar experiment in first year.”
Jack turned his flashlight beams to the ceiling above the blackened husk and saw the ruptured tank. He said, “Here we have it, there’s an acid tank directly above this thing. The Sarge must have ruptured it with his shotgun trying to fight this tokoloshe.” Gloria was covering the two scientists, her eyes were glistening at the thought of her late lover fighting for his life against one of these nightmarish creatures. She didn’t shed a tear though; she had decided after speaking to Priynaka earlier that morning that she had cried enough tears. Now she wanted revenge.
Priyanka broke the ensuing silence, “Do you have enough footage C?” Cecil crisply said, “Affirmative, carry on.” With that the three of them moved down the corridor, scanning every angle that they could illuminate with their flashlights. Gloria said, “Am I imagining things or are there patches of missing InstaLawn on the walls and floor down here?” Jack said, “I can see them too but they aren’t consistently spaced or shaped. Pri get some footage of them for C.” Priyanka had already been scanning the patches of bare concrete with her rifle camera when she said, “Already on it.”
The team didn’t say anything but made their way to the next passage junction Cecil’s voice crackled quite badly through their ear pieces, “It’s been awhile since you passed the last transponder.” Jack said, “Check, we’ll set the next one here. C you’re starting to break up. Vusi can you still hear us?” Vusi’s voice crackled through, “I can still make you out clearly and it’s still creepy as hell up here.”
As Priyanka was setting the transponder Gloria said, “Cecil, how are our video feeds coming through?” Cecil crackled, “We’re still receiving signal but it’s starting to get a bit hazy.” Jack swore and said, “We’re going to continue down the left passage from here, according to the directions that Cherokee gave us. Vusi check in with us every minute. As soon as we lose comms with you, we’ll head back.” Vusi said, “Affirmative LT.”
The team turned left and Jack’s flashlights illuminated twenty pairs of glowing eyes down the corridor. He stopped and hissed, “Shit, we have hostiles up ahead, it looks like at least twenty of them.” Gloria was covering the rear and her flashlight illuminated another five pair of eyes, she said, “We have at least five Tangos behind us as well. What are your orders LT?” Jack was strafing the flashlight on his Q-5 from side to side down the corridor and said, “Pick your closest targets and hold your fire. They seem to be keeping their distance for now. Pri keep an eye on the front with me. Gloria keep an eye on our six. Don’t waste any ammo, let them come to us.”
The two groups of creatures seemed to keep their distance from the soldiers and the soldiers didn’t move either. The diversion was working because the soldiers didn’t notice the six tokoloshes that were silently crawling on the ceiling above them.