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Spaceman Apprentice Dale from Maintenance and Operations scanned his ID chip from the sensor, updating his timesheet, as he entered the Maintenance locker room in Cargo Bay to start work. Humming to himself, he changed into his work overalls and started up the all-in-one robotic cleaners.

After making sure the cleaning solutions and water tanks were all topped up, Dale using his control tablet and four robotic cleaners the size of a large trash bin, followed docilely behind him, running on their many roller wheels as he led the machines out of the garage of the Maintenance locker.

Wearing a pair of head mufflers and running music in the background, he directed the cleaners to clean and maintain the decks of the Cargo Bay. A short while later, as he was enjoying some hot decaf, an alert on his tablet went off and he went to investigate the problem. These bots tend to get stuck easily or if they detected some tools left behind by the mechanics, they will prompt an alert out.

"What's wrong, R2D4?" He named the four robots one to four after some classic science fiction character from the 2D oldie motion pictures archives. "What's got into your gears?"

He looped around the half-track and stopped in his tracks, there were two bodies laying on the deck in their own pool of congealed blood. "Oh, shit." He pulled his personnel comm device and spoke directly into it, "Control? Cargo maintenance... We got dead people here..."

-----

Captain Blake was angry, very angry. He gripped the handrails in the Bridge till his knuckles turned white, as he listened to the reports from Flight Operations. "Sir, we can't launch the UAV in this storm! The current sustained wind speed is at 73 kilometers per hour and with sudden gusts up to 223 kilometers per hour! No to mention the thick snowfall, our sensors will be totally blind!"

"So you are saying we have to let those traitorous bastards off?" Captain Blake slammed the tactical table plot with his fists. "How about the tracking devices on the vehicles?"

The Sensors operator shook her head, "No luck, Sir. It will appear that they disabled the tracker."

"What? Even the secondary backup? Even the Search and Rescue beacon?" Blake pressed the flustered operator.

"Sir, we got no signal to the SAR beacon at all," She replied, after checking her console for the eighth time.

"What do we got then?" Blake turned to the officer wearing Security insignia standing at the side of the tactical table plot. "You better have something for me!"

"Yes, Sir." 2nd Lieutenant Mike Jacobs gave his report. "Central cameras along deck 3A, 4B, 4C, 6C, and 7A had motion detected during the time period between 0100 hours to 0200 hours. We eliminated movement from other locations as those have their alibis and accesses checked."

"In the past hour, we also did a full roll call of all personnel to find out who has not replied." Lt Mike uploaded his report on the Bridge display, showing a few individual dossiers. "These are our current suspects, they have not reported in for the past one hour."

"Spaceman Apprentice Leung, Chun-Kok, born 2109, New Territories, Hong Kong. Maintainance and Operations."

"Spaceman Apprentice Ramu Garcia, born 2111, Manila, Philipines. Maintainance and Operations."

"Spaceman Siddarth Kumar, born 2111, Mumbai, India. Engineering."

"Spaceman Senior Nicolas De Vos, born 2105, Ghent, Belgium. Engineering."

"Spaceman Senior Aaron Hart, born 2109, San Diego, CA, North America."

"Spaceman Senior Tony Petrynec, born 2112, Dnipro, Ukraine. Auxiliaries, Cargo Operations."

"Petty Officer 2nd Class Ivan Pavlo, born 2110, Kursk, Russia. Auxiliaries, Flight Operations."

"3rd Sergeant Raman Singh, born 2108, New Delhi, India. United Nations of Man Marine Corps."

"Apparently, our good Sergeant here has hacked into the armory security system which he was in charge of, changing and erasing logs." Lt Mike said. "As he was very familiar with armory systems, he fried both the main power and the backup power systems for the armory, which when we opened up, found it totally empty."

"What did we lose?" Captain Blake asked as he leaned over the tactical plot. "Has the virus been scrubbed from the systems?"

"We managed to isolate the virus within the armory security systems, it has no threats to the main systems, but to be safe, I will advise we shut down every system and run the codes to make sure there are no hidden viruses and backdoors he might have left behind." Lt Mike replied as he scrolled his tablet for the list of missing items.

"Information is still coming in on what had been taken by the deserters, but based on the last updated armory report from Master Sergeant Pike's inspection, which is two weeks outdated, we estimate that we lost 8 M7A1s, 30 PWDs, 10 M3 shotguns, 30 Glocks 88s and a dozen M1 Magelocks. For ammunition stocks, 7,000 rounds of 6.5mm in both ammunition types, 20,000 rounds of 5mm, a thousand rounds in 12 ga. 00 buckshot and over three thousand black powder loads. 20 sets of MK VI body armor. Also over a hundred High Explosive Anti Personnel grenades and flashbangs were missing."

Captain Blake closed his eyes as he crunched the numbers in his head, "That's almost the remaining one-third of our remaining hi-tech ammunition stocks!"

"On the plus side, Sir," Lt Mike continued, "We had dispersed most of the weapons and ammunition to several locations all over the base in the past week. If not our losses will be worse."

"What else is confirmed missing?" Blake asked, trying to keep his temper in.

"We have no concrete evidence yet, but we are suspecting that they might have stolen a full set of a Class 5 Fabricator. We found reports of parts listed as deflects and recycled in the system, the Forensics team is putting together the lists of parts to be self but it looks like a Class 5."

A Class 5 Fabricator is man-portable advanced materials 3D printer capable of printing anything handheld from mobile comms units to assault rifles as long as raw materials are available. The workshops were printing out Class 5 fabricators to increase production of smaller parts to free the larger Class 3 Fabricators on other larger important projects.

"Also Forensics found that several database topics in the system were copied, mostly on manuals on basic infrastructure, agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine and sciences like chemistry and physics," Mike added.

"Captain!" The UAV operator called out, "The storm has dropped, we can resume flight operations."

"Do it, Launch all the UAVs on standby. Do a 100-kilometer grid search pattern." Blake ordered. "Target the northern and southern parts of the West Gate."

-----

The flight deck was a flurry of activity, as the two standby UAVs were loaded onto the electromagnetic launch catapults. The whine of the supercharged turbofans of UAVs drowned out all conversation in the flight deck, as the launch crew ensured all systems were operational. The Catapult Officer did a last minute check on the launch pad and signal the Air Boss waiting inside the Primary Flight Control room.

As the maws of the armored flight bay swung open, the wind from the lessen storm blew in, rattling the two UAVs locked side by side on the dual launcher bay. The Catapult Officer checked the wind speed and gave a worried look at the Air Boss, signaling with hand signs that the wind speed might be too strong for the UAVs to handle during the takeoff.

Air Boss, Chief Petty Officer Ethan Turner who was in charge of all Flight Operations on the Flight Deck frowned as he double checked the instruments. The current wind is very unstable, even though it had dropped to 45 km per hour, well within the safety takeoff speed for the Owleye UAVs. It was the gushes of wind that worried him as it could suddenly jump up to 100 or 200 km per hour, which might catch the UAVs in a crosswind and that would crash the precious UAVs.

Damn, those traitorous murdering bastards are getting away in the bloody storm, he thought to himself. Fuck it, let's take the risk. "Alright, all hands, clear the bay, fuck the wind, the Captain's ordered it and we are gonna find those traitors!"

The roars of approval were drowned by the high pitched whine of the electromagnetic pulse launcher as it powered up and "pulse fired" the carriage holding the UAV out at speeds of over 250 km per hour into the angled ramp and out into the stormy skies.

The Owleye staggered as it hit the storm but managed to right itself. The UAV operator wearing the full immersion headset controller skillfully piloted the UAV into the air and directed the nose of the UAV towards the search grid.

-----

The two half-tracks packed side by side in the cover of the everblue forest, taking shelter from the raging snowstorm. "Quickly get those smart camouflage covers over the vehicles," Raman shouted over the storm.

The conspirators struggled against the wind and finally managed to pin and lock the camo covers over the vehicles. "Good work! Let's continue moving!" Even with the dozer blades deployed to clear the snow in their tracks, the snow storm quickly covered up their tracks. Raman tried to peer out of the window and into the sky, he might not be a true Marine, but he had learned enough of how to avoid aerial surveillance and recon.

The smart camouflage plus the snowstorm will effectively negate any emission of infrared, thermal and electronic signals, making them invisible to anything sensors. He smiled happily and yelled loudly into the direct laser comms linking the vehicles.

"Let's go build our own Kingdom!"

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A note from neo Koh

Typhoon Mangkhult is currently raging at the South China Sea, those in HK, PH, CN, and TW please take care!

 

 


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neo Koh

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