Thursday 23rd December 2032, 14:28
Gloria grinned as Jack was speaking to the team, “Alright, we’re going back in tomorrow morning, first thing. Joe will stay out here like she did today, Jeff and Vusi will have to double up on over-watch duty. Cecil and Priyanka will be responsible for monitoring the data feed out here. Gloria and the Sarge will be coming into the facility with me.” Priyanka did not look happy when Jack said this last bit, “I don’t think that a three person team is the right call Jack, we should be sending more people down there,” she said.
Jack shook his head and said, “Unfortunately that isn’t an option Pri. We’re in hostile environments up here as well as down there. Plus we have a prisoner to monitor and I want both of you to keep an eye on the video feeds that we send back. Whatever is down there has found a way to survive in an environment with an atmospheric CO2 content above six percent. We NEED a Zoologist and Biochemist to safely and critically evaluate what these things are.” Priyanka cut him off, “We can do that down there with you.” Jack cut her off, “Not if we’re all shitting our pants and running for our lives. I want you both here where you can objectively make your observations and record the data. You two are the only qualified people here who can do that.”
Priyanka was glaring at him and spoke through gritted teeth, “You are also qualified to do that.” Jack shook his head, “I don’t have a biological background, it has to be you two.” Priyanka was losing her temper when she said, “And what are you guys going to do when these things find you? The pulse rifles didn’t work last time.” Jack started to say, “We only know about one creature and we won’t be using stun pulses this time…” It was Gloria who cut them both off, “We won’t be using the Q-5s this time. Jeff, show the nerds the little care package we brought along.”
Jeff had disappeared behind the Unimog during the course of Jack’s conversation with the group. He reappeared carrying two very large pelican cases. He walked into the middle of the group and carefully placed the cases on the floor. Jeff looked at each member of the group in turn and a huge smile covered his face. As he opened the first case he said, “Ladies and gentlemen; when you absolutely, positively have to kill every whatever the hell those things are in the room…” Jeff flipped the lid of the case open and continued, “May I present to you all; the AA-12 automatic shotgun.” The team were looking at two automatic shotguns in pristine condition. Each weapon had a barrel magazine secured next to it in the case.
Gloria carried on where Jeff had left off, “No offense to your Lab Rats and their fancy pulse rifles, but we ALWAYS carry our own kit with us. Sometimes you need some old school ballistics and cordite to do a job properly.” The SciDivs looked on implacably while Jeff resumed, “This tough, son-of-a-bitch, belts out three hundred and sixty rounds per minute. We have a barrel magazine with a thirty two round capacity. The solid slug ammo will literally blow a limb off ANYTHING! The entire weapon is designed to absorb recoil so it feels like you’re firing a Q-5; it’s just a smidge louder. If one of you shoots at something down there, you’re all going to know about it.”
Priyanka had the dreamy look in her eyes that always surfaced when she was examining firearms. She said, “Now I REALLY want to go back down there!” Jack ignored her comment when he said, “Now THAT is quite the care package you guys brought along. G-LT and the Sarge will take the AA-12s…” Gloria cut him off, “There are two more in the other case; plenty for us all to take down there.” Jack held his hand up and said, “I’d rather have a Q-5 at this point. With that rate of fire and magazine capacity that thing will be empty in less than six seconds.” Gloria scoffed, “There a single shot setting Vanilla, or are you scared of blowing your wad too quickly?”
Priyanka bristled at Gloria speaking to Jack that way but he was quick to retaliate, “No. I’m scared of YOU blowing your wad too quickly and not being able to reload in time. I’ll stick to the weapon that has a hundred kill pulse capacity and extra battery mag. You and the Sarge can stick to the heavy fire power.” Gloria just smiled, she seemed to prefer it when Jack gave her the same rough talking that she gave him.
Vusi was in the crow’s nest on over-watch but he had been listening to the whole exchange. His voice came over the tac comm system, “Why don’t you guys just go back in today? You have plenty of daylight left.” Jack involuntarily shook his head, a fruitless gesture considering that Vusi wasn’t near them. “Nope, we have preparations to make for tomorrow. We need to find a way to make sure that we don’t lose comms again like we did this morning. We need to rest properly before we go back in there, those suits get bloody hot. We need to analyse the swabs we took from our HAZMAT suits to see what the atmosphere is like down there. If we’re VERY lucky we might not even need the suits,” Jack said.
He looked over at Leigh, who was sleeping and now plasticuffed to a camping stretcher under a tarp. Jack continued with, “We also have a prisoner now. I want to speak to her again before we head back in there, she seems to know something about this place.” Priyanka shook her head and said, “She seems delirious and crazy to boot. Whatever crap she was talking about earlier was probably from a bad dream she was having.” Josephina spoke up, “The Second Lieutenant is right, she is delirious. She was badly dehydrated when she was neutralised by the stun pulse and it looks like she hasn’t had a decent meal in years.”
Jack looked at Josephina and said, “When she wakes up, make sure she gets a decent, warm meal in her, perhaps we can win her trust a little bit. Then she’ll be able to confirm or refute what she was saying about this Mistress character and who, or what, exactly she keeps here.” Gloria echoed Priyanka’s sentiment, “She was probably talking crap. I wouldn’t trust a Roamer anyway; they’ll say and do anything for a bowl of pap or half a glass of water.” Jack fixed Gloria with a very level stare when he said, “I thought that there weren’t any Roamers left. And weren’t you the one who said the group that attacked us was unusually large.”
Gloria’s eyes spat a look of pure venom at Jack. She couldn’t stand having her own words used against her, unless she was in the mood to play. She steadied her voice and said, “Until we know otherwise, she’s a Roamer.” Jack’s voice was completely calm when he pointed out, “We won’t know otherwise, until we question her and we’ll get a lot more out of her if she trusts us.”
Cecil cut in at this point, “Look, Jack is in charge while we’re here so we’ll do things his way. We’re losing daylight while we argue about this and she isn’t even awake now anyway. Surely we should be preparing for tomorrow?” Jack and Gloria held each other’s gazes and they both start to feel a little sheepish about their exchange in front of everyone. Jack broke the silence, “Cecil’s right, there’s no point in arguing about this now. Gloria, you’re our communications guru?” Gloria rolled her eyes and said, “You know I am Vanilla, what do you want?”
Jack nodded his head at the datalink antenna that had been set up to communicate with Roodepoort from where they were. “Any luck getting in touch with Mabuse and the base?” He asked. She shook her head and said. “No. It’s weird, we should be able to get a signal just fine from here. I’ve run all of the diagnostics and everything comes back normal, except for the absence of a signal. There is a lot of steel around us, in the facility, but that shouldn’t be an issue. In cases like these I would normally think that someone had set up a jammer but there’s no one here and all of our transponders seem to be working fine.” Jack carried on, “Is there any chance we can jerry-rig that thing to boost our comms in the basement?”
Gloria flashed him a grin, Jack was starting to think that she was bipolar with her mood swings, and said, “Actually yes we can, that antenna is so powerful we will definitely not be losing comms anywhere down there.” Jack nodded and said, “Excellent, please will you get onto setting that up for us?” Gloria did a mock curtsey and strode over to the antenna.
Cecil walked over to Hannes and said, “Sarge, may I ask you a few questions about what you saw this morning?” Hannes looked at Cecil somewhat suspiciously; the two of them had started to form a friendship. Hannes was used to Jeff and Vusi’s wise cracks and he didn’t appreciate them very much; so he was wary of anyone asking him questions. He carefully said, “That depends on the questions.” Cecil looked a bit confused but pushed on, “You say that the creature had a girl’s face?” Hannes nodded and said, “Ja.” Cecil carried on, “When you say girl, do you mean like a twelve year old, or a nine year old?” Hannes shook his head, “No man, girl as in a woman. I couldn’t tell how old she, or it, looked.” Priyanka walked up to join the other two for the conversation.
Cecil nodded and continued, “Grey skin and yellow eyes, did it seem at all perturbed by your flashlights?” Hannes nodded at the first part and shook his head for the second saying, “I’m not sure hey. I didn’t really wait to see if light would irritate it before I shot it. I don’t THINK the light bothered it; it just kind of stood there looking through me until I shot. But it all happened so quickly, I’m not too sure.” Cecil nodded again and asked, “The big rotten teeth, would you say that they were actually rotten or just yellow?” Again Hannes shook his head, “They were big and yellow, they looked rotten to me but…” The big man just spread his hands. Cecil nodded again and Priyanka asked, “What are you thinking C?”
“Nothing yet,” Cecil said looking off into the distance. “Rubbish. You’re always thinking something,” Priyanka said playfully. Cecil’s mind was far away when he mindlessly replied, “I don’t have enough facts just yet.” He shook his head and continued, “I want to see this thing in ultra-high definition before I think anymore about it.” Priyanka winked at him and said, “I know, but I hope that we don’t see anything else before we find the Osmium.” Hannes nodded and said, “Maybe taking three stun shots to the chest will make it think twice before coming after us tomorrow.”
Cecil and Priyanka looked unconvinced. Jack had sauntered up behind them and said, “Well only one has been seen. And we don’t know what it is so let’s just take it easy until we know more about it.” Cecil, Priyanka and Hannes all gave each other knowing looks. Josephina and Gloria had come over to call Jack, Josephina said, “Leigh is awake LT.” Jack nodded saying, “Have you given her something to eat and drink?” Josephina shook her head and said, “She says that she’s not interested, she wants to speak to you.” Jack said, “I’m coming now.”
He walked off to where Leigh was secured to the stretcher, she saw him approaching her and tried to sit up straight. Before Jack reached her she said, “I want my stuff and I want to go please. I promise I won’t tell anyone that you’re here. I just need to get away from this place.” Jack simply replied, “Why do you want to leave here so badly?” She looked genuinely worried when she said, “I don’t know much about this place but I know that we NEED to leave here!” Jack looked her in the eyes and asked, “Why?” Leigh shook her head and said, “PLEASE! I can’t be here!” Jack remained implacable and said, “You’ve said that several times, if you want us to trust you or to cooperate then you need to give me something to work with.”
Jack kept his eyes locked with her’s and gave her a level stare when he asked, “Why do you feel that you need to leave here? Who is the mistress? Who does the mistress keep here?” Leigh looked surprised and asked, “How do you know all that?” Jack replied, “You told me all of that earlier.” Leigh looked genuinely scared and said, “I shouldn’t have said anything, she’ll kill me if she finds out.” Jack kept his gaze level and said, “The Mistress isn’t here and I have no intention of telling her what you said.”
Jack smiled at Leigh and it had the desired effect, she blushed and looked away from him. He persisted with Leigh, “Who is the Mistress?” Leigh looked at Jack with shy eyes and said, “She’s the Mistress, she’s the queen of this area. At least that’s what she wants us to believe.” Jack asked, “Then why doesn’t she call herself the Queen?” Leigh shrugged and said, “I don’t know, but she isn’t a nice person.”
She dropped her voice and said, “I don’t like her.” Jack dropped his voice and said, “I don’t know her but I don’t particularly like her either,” he winked at Leigh. This also worked; she blushed again and let a shy smile slip from her lips. Jack persisted again, “Who does she leave here?” Leigh allowed herself a quick glance at his sapphire blue eyes and said, “I don’t know who they are; all we ever heard were rumours from her special guards. They would tell stories about how they protected the Devil himself and how he was making Demons for the Mistress.” Jack tilted his handsome face and gazed intently at her when he asked, “Making Demons? How was he making Demons?”
Leigh shrugged and carried on looking into Jack’s eyes, she found that she quite enjoyed doing that. She was also enjoying the fact that he was interested in what she had to say. Men had never paid any attention to her mind; only her body and she started to enjoy this kind of attention for a change. She carried on, slightly more enthusiastically, “None of us knew how he made them. All we ever heard was that he was making them. The guards called him the Devil, the father of the Tokoloshe, and this is where she keeps them. Away from the rest of us.”
Jack looked at her and just said, “Tokoloshe?”