Meanwhile, ILLI forces were gathering at TDHI-R-397. The situation was dense, since a retake effort of the asteroid was expected. Shadow Flare had lost a significant amount of their forces, being even more strained as a fighting force that it already was, and there was not much for the players to salvage, making them appear rather under-equipped.
Reinforcing the base defenses and fixing the gauss towers was ongoing, and our mercenaries themselves were cannibalizing the Killer Whale launcher of the tower for their own use. As usual for their trade and accustomed to corporate squabbling (though perhaps not on this scale), the extraplanetary workers present weren't particularly loyal to anyone and were happy to accept pay from BHI, which certainly made the restoration operations work smoother than expected.
It's said that time crawls when you wait, and while Black Nebula had waited quite a bit recently, the standstill was still quite excruciating. The end result was as unsatisfactory as previously, though, as the attack never came. Under the prying eyes of the defenders, a small approached from the inner system and rendervouzed with the local garrison, but insted of making a move for their position, the combined force headed back towards the inner system, abandoning the garrison.
This made Fuub curse his luck, as for him, this meant that TDHI was playing it extra safe and ILLI wasn't ready. The BHI main flotilla was still being prepared and the players were forced to wait yet more. In the meantime, however, Fuub received Meek-Ria's word about the missing warheads from a courier pod, and sat down with Black Nebula to consider their options. What was important to know right now was whether the weapons had already been used, and if so, how recently and where. The best way to know would be to possess a neutrino detector and hope to catch a trace of the explosion. However, BHI had none, and the only existing ones in the system belonged either to the government or, possibly, to the public universities down on the Outlier. The latter was a much easier target, but far out of reach for now, as ILLI couldn't afford to send Black Nebula operatives deep into TDHI space so close to their planned invasion. However, Fuub knew that the government detectors were orbiting the star just inside the perimeter of the asteroid belt and the closest of them was easily reachable in a few days.
A plan was set in motion. Black Nebula would board the detector, get the data, and get out. Analysis would follow later. Heem-Lyeh was chosen to fly the Aquila left behind by Juho and the rest would suit up in power armor in wait in cargo capsules. The remaining air assets of Shadow Flare would assist the operation and fly escort to them. Herein Fuub gambled heavily on the assumption that the detectors would be relatively lightly defended. Despite their possible value in a wartime situation to detect powerful nuclear reactors such as those in capital ships, due to their status as government property and primarily scientific devices, they would likely be considered stricly out-of-bounds in the current corporate conflict. However, for this very reason, secrecy was paramount, and no traces of the raid would be acceptable. Everybody would fly IFF off and any logos and distinctive markings would be painted over.
The plan was superficially sound, but in the end, things did not go smoothly. Having decided to also take part in the away team and directing the operation from inside the cargo capsule, Gaussburg's situational awareness was compromised. Combined with a passing government patrol ship making an almost clairvoyant call of their intentions, the players quickly found themselves being intercepted by a fighter wing. Despite trying his very best, Gunther couldn't couldn't come up with an excuse good enough, and the choises were clear – fight or run.
Disppointed with his earlier calls, Gaussburg deferred the ultimate decision to Heem-Lyeh, who highly suspected Shadow Flare's ability to defend them against a trio of heavily armed medium fighters. Even calling off the raid turned out to be a close call, as the required delta-velocity was great and Heem-Lyeh had to do his very best to avoid giving the fighters a lethal firing solution. Fortunately he was able to reach the relative safety of the Shadow Flare support ship, degenerating the situation to another standstill and allowing for a controlled retreat.
Unfortunatly, with the patrol ship reaching the detector and their plan clearly visible, the window of opportunity had clearly vanished. ILLI officials quickly recalled the force to TDHI-R-397 and continued the preparations for invasion.