Atmosphere on the asteroid was tight. The players received word that Meek-Ria was returning and the original contract of Black Nebula was about to expire. This gave Alexander the opporturnity to vie for better pay and one could say that their negotiations were successful. Unfortunately, as a safeguard, ILLI demanded that Meek-Ria would step up from being a liaison officer to having the strategic command, which greatly aggravated Eurich.
The decision was almost a breaking point for him and the colonel threatened to ditch Black Nebula altogether, but after her return, Gunther managed to secretly convince Meek-Ria to issue a statement of complete trust and continue to defer full tactical command to him, for as long as ILLI's wishes were followed to the letter. Regardless of this, our german officer was deeply insulted, and demanded for Meek-Ria to accompany the players to the battlefield onboard his Battlemaster. As a response for this, however, Meek-Ria demanded that the mercenaries would accommodate and train her liaison-officer-in-traing, Tumak-Niva, who she had recently bought from the Karamat-Via. Alexander readily accepted, especially after hearing that Tumak was a pilot and they were already short of those. In the process, he ended up finalizing this web of demands and mistrust necessiated by the contract he had just signed. As always, Alexander was quite happy with the end result.
While this all was going on, Gunther was acting as the resident alien resources manager and interviewing one of Shadow Flare's previous support staff they chose to let go. Jiira, a weleka specialized in salvage and repair operations and rather desperate work, accepted.
After the last redistribution of resources, the flotilla was ready to go. Another briefing ensued and the mercenaries learned that ILLI had been placed on the forefront of the ground invasion, and given important targets. Black Nebula would capture Terniss, a medium-sized city famous for its orchards and seasonal underground water reservoir, while Shadow Flare and the Kra sisterhood, who had recently been placed uner Fuub's command, would assault a military base on the north, residing close to the city of Meak and its spaceport.
The travel itself was uneventful, but at the end of the counterburn, TDHI revealed an ace, as one of the Nea-Heer orbital installations was hiding a PPC destroyer quite like the one our mercenaries had seen on the military base archive footage. Immediately, it opened fire, and while the beam wasn't aimed at them, even the diffraction was bright enough to blind Alexander's sensors. What followed was the as-of-yet biggest and most important space battle of the corporate war, but Black Nebula wouldn't be there to witness it.
Meek-Ria's orders were simple: dive down and carry on with the mission, and so they did. While descending, more recent satellite data came available and Eurich made the bold call of assaulting the Terniss spaceport directly, being aware that it should have the same kind of defense emplacement as the one in Mirika, which would make combat operations extremely lopsided in the long run. Dry canyons would provide the perfect cover for an approach, and while they couldn't stay undetected, a surgical strike was still deemed to be the best approach.
The full force of Black Nebula was in play. Alexander and Tumak were flying Samurai medium fighters, while Heem-Lyeh was piloting a Corsair. Eurich had dragged Meek-Ria to his Battlemaster, while Gunther, Josef, and Ivan piloted their signature mechs. Huug-Gun chose to field Juho's King Crab and Jiira drove his very own Thunderbolt. What they ended up facing was a wing of enemy aircraft, a battallion of tanks and two elite pilots on high-end mechs. It was to became both the most difficult and most costly fight Black Nebula had yet to encounter, as the enemy were holding a defensive position and their fighting was more coordinated than of the units they had faced before.
An enemy bomber opened with two successful runs on Huug's King Crab, and the tanks also concentrated fire on him, giving the old biotechnician a hard time. Meanwhile, Josef was losing an one-on-one fight against an enemy Black Knight, which left him behind with two engine criticals and virtually disabled. Meanwhile, an Annihilator, a cheap but effective long-range weapons platform, focused fire on the targets that suited it best.
The turning point of the fight was that despite the covering fire of the laser defense platform, Black Nebula pilots won the air battle and forced the enemy interceptors to retreat, while taking down the enemy bomber. Eurich held the line, fighting almost carelessly, as if to impress and intimidate Meek-Ria. Indeed, LBX shrapnel pierced the cockpit and the spy was visibly distressed, but way too proud enough back down. This drove Eurich to an even riskier move, as he charged behind enemy lines in order to deliver spotting data for their dropship, which was delivering cruise missiles from beyond the horizon. This bombardment indeed did take down the enemy LRM carriers and together with Ivan, the colonel eventually faced the Annihilator, which couldn't fight against their combined close-range firepower.
Unfortunately, while this was going on, Heem-Lyeh took a direct hit to his left wing from the defense laser. Even though the fighter barely survived the blast, Heem-Lyeh was unable to retain control and was forced to eject, forced to watch as the brand-new corsair streaked down against the southern canyon walls. Also, Huug-Gun was trying to fend off the tanks while stubbornly refusing to eject. He almost managed to retreat into safety, but with armor breached on multiple locations, surviving the last salvo from the Annihilator was a hopeless prospect. An ammunition explosion shattered the King Crab like porcelain doll, and everybody feared for the worst. This almost wasn't the last loss either, as the Black Knight was just about to execute both Gunther and Jiira. Fortunately, Tumak managed to strafe it from behind, landing a critical engine hit and forcing a shutdown. Cooling off in his immobilized mech and staring down the barrel of Gunther's pulse blaster, the pilot chose to eject.
When the dust cleared, the tank crews saw that they were surrounded and without air support, being forced to surrender. Furthermore, Huug-Gun's transponder was still beeping with life signs, so there was hope, but the mercenaries would have to capitalize on their position quickly.