The hunt for the deserters went on throughout the next day, but even with the snowstorm weaking, yet no traces of the two stolen half-tracks could be found. Unfortunately, before the storm ebbed, one of the Owleye UAVs encountered a sudden gale of wind, forcing it to go into a flat spin and pancake into the snow-packed terrain.
Captain Blake had no choice but to call back the rest of the UAVs searching for the deserters to prevent more accidents till the storm passes. The recalled UAVs landed one after another and were towed to the maintenance hangers for servicing by the crew. A retrieval team was dispatched to find the crashed UAV, hopefully, the airframe is still sound enough for the crashed UAV to be repaired back into service.
Air Boss Ethan directed the crashed UAV into the hanger bay and strolled over to Chief Gale, "How is it? Can it be repaired?" Both of them stared at the warped wreckage of the UAV. "Lucky the ground is packed shoulder high with snow, it should cushion some of the impacts."
Chief Gale crouched down and peer at the underside of the airframe, tapping the plating with his knuckles, "Well, we will need to do a full detailed microscopic scan, to see if there are any hairline cracks on the frame. Can't tell anything for now. If not we should be able to get up and running in a month or two."
"Damn, now we are down to only three UAVs in active service," Ethan rubbed his tired face, having not slept since the alert went off. "Chief, do your best to fix her up, alright?"
"Sure, I will get my boys on it," Chief Gale shook his head as he cursed under his breath, "Fucking traitors if I get my hands on them," He cracked his knuckles in anger. "I am fucking gonna tear their heads off."
"Sorry for the lost of your two men, Chief," Ethan patted Chief Gale's shoulder. "We will get them."
Chief Gale nodded, "They were just kids. Damn it." He hammered his gloved fist against the wreckage.
Ethan stepped out of the hanger bay and bellowed at his men, "Alright, prep the returned birds for launch, once the storm passes, we are gonna launch again. Make sure the birds are fully refueled and ready to go."
Commander Ford frowned as he read the latest report that came in twice, making sure he didn't read it wrong. Finally, he gave a deep sigh, setting the tablet down on the table. "Well, I got more bad news, Cap."
Captain Blake sprawled over his office sofa, one hand resting over his tired eyes. "What's more shit did they do?" He gestured his other hand to Ford for him to continue.
"We lost contact with the W, T, S Generator earlier but Engineering listed it down due to the heavy storm. An engineering team went down to check when the storm lessened, in case it got disconnected or damaged due to the storm, but when they reached the site of W, T, S generator Four, they reported that it is missing." Ford replied, slumping down weary on a chair. "It is highly likely that they stole it too."
"So not only guns and ammo, a Class 5 fabricator, and now even a power generator is stolen," Blake spoke from his position on the sofa. "And we got a downed UAV for our efforts with still no results on where they ran. Oh, not to mention our stock of gold and silver reserves."
"Apparently one of the security officers manning the vault that morning as part of their gang," Ford confirmed. "At least, he tasered his fellow officers rather than killing them in cold blood, is something we can be thankful for."
"We still lost two kids because of their actions." Blake cut Ford off, who conceded the point.
"They also stole enough of the emergency rations to last the eight of them for a couple of months." Ford sounded defeated. "Its very clear that it was planned long before, as the hacking of the security systems is not something you can do in a day or a week or two."
"Security Forensics also found the files regarding all weapons designs and blueprints wiped off from the system servers, except what was saved in the tablets." Ford continued the bad news, "Even the designing software. We are back to the drawing board or we will need the IT guys to write out a new design software."
"How did we missed all these?" Blake asked, "There should be some signs right? How did they evade the intruder fail-safes in the system?"
"Most of the ship's primary AI server functions were badly damaged in the crash, and the IT guys took down the system to rewrite the lost codes and functions," Ford explained. "Apparently our Indian friend here not only holds a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and firearms design but also a Bachelor's of Science in Computer engineering."
The profile picture and the dossier of Raman Singh appeared on the display screen in the office. Details of his education and background appeared below his photo image.
"He must have slipped in the malicious codes when the IT department rebooted the mainframe." Ford gave his hypothesis. "Forensics is still digging through everything with a fine comb that he had touched or been to onboard the ship. But so far, nothing yet."
"So he's a super hacker, a firearms designer and the son of India's trade minister." Blake checked off the points with his fingers. "Fucking fantastic."
"IT will be shutting the mainframe for debugging and a full diagnostics of the codes to find if there are any hidden backdoors." Ford said, "Weapon systems are already isolated from the mainframe to prevent any remote controlling if he had planted a backdoor, before the codes are checked and cleared, all of the ship's weapon systems will be down."
"Fuck it, it's over 20 hours," Blake said, sitting up from the sofa. "Call it off the search, let the men go get some rest, we can't do anything now till the storm passes and without our main weapon systems, we are practically defenseless."
"Understood," Ford responded and started packing his stuff. "I get the men to stand down for now and focus on defense."
"Go get some rest," Blake advised Ford. "My gut feeling is that they are long gone, but I suspect, it won't be the last we see of them."
Ford stood at the opened hatch and nodded, "Than we need to prepare a warm welcome for them when we see them again."
"You bet we will," Blake agreed. "We will be ready for them."
Camp Alpha, Briefing Room One.
The air was heavy as the human Marines not on duty gathered around the front rows of the theater like seating, listening to the comms of the Marine search parties. When the order came, telling the men to stand down, they all broke out in curses and disagreement. "Alright! Stand down!" Master Sergeant Pike's voice drowned out all argument from the disgruntled Marines. "Go back to your bunks and rest."
"But Top, we still can move out to find those bastards." The men argued. "We ain't tired!"
"I know everyone is pissed with this shit that's going on. It is a serious stain to our Marine Corps honor!" Pike stood in the front and addressed the gathered Marines. "I know everyone wants a piece of that traitorous bastard. So do I!"
"So let us out to find that asshole!" Someone yelled in the back. "We got good trackers here!"
"But the orders came in to stand down for now. Grab some chow and sleep, it isn't over yet!" Pike told his men. "Save your energy till the storm passes, no one can track any shit in this storm. I am also expecting every one of you to be on alert, ready to move out at any moment, do you understand?"
"Yes Top!" The men addressed Pike unofficially as 'Top' due to his seniority and position as the top of the company's enlisted ranks.
The men filed out of the briefing room in ones and twos, shaking their heads and grumbling along the way. Mills grumbled as he and Bartley headed back towards the barracks, "Damn, that black shit, always knew he was up to no good."
Bartley shook his head and replied as he strolled beside Mills, "Bad business." The blast of the cold wind hammered against them as someone opened the main door out of the admin building. They left the building and leaned against the snow storm, before entering the barracks.
"Woooh," Mills shook the snow off his environmental suit and stamped his boots to clear the snow. "Crazy weather, hope those bastards freeze to death in it, saves everyone the energy of killing them."
The newbie Marine on desk duty in the barracks visibly restrained himself from jumping to his feet and greeting the arrivals. Mills chuckled, and asked, "Does the winter storms get this bad?"
The Marine elf nodded, "Normally not as bad as the mountains protect us from winds, but it does storm quite a bit during this time of the year. But the heavy snowstorm normally last a day or two, and once it passes, the next season comes,"
"Well, it sounds like mother nature doing a final dump on us before moving on."