After returning to the helm, and even more so after the failed artillery spotting manouvere, Gaussburg was even more determined to slow down the enemy recovery process. It was pretty much given, that should the players wait and do nothing, the eventual attack would be impossible to defend against. However, unlike the Kra, Eurich was prepared to use far dirtier and controversial means to reach his goals, and to this end, the first operation was arranged in complete secrecy and only authorized by Gaussburg himself.
Kruger was chosen to lead a raid behind the enemy lines and attempt an attack on the enemy barracks. Pilots would be the preferred target, but anything similar would do. For this purpose, the South-African mercenary again loaded his squad on the stealth hovertank and set out to flank the enemy position. To avoid detection, Kruger diverted heavily to the south and descended to the canyon connecting to the Terniss basin. Having reached that, he circled west through the drying lakeshore and monitored the northern pass for a while before making the risky ascend. Eventually the tank reached the plains to the east of the spaceport without being spotted.
The first thing the squad noticed was that the airbase to the east was being worked on, and probably being refitted after being evacuated earlier. It was not an immediate threat, however, so Kruger chose to dismount and try to infiltrate the spaceport itself. Unlike he hoped, he was unable to ambush anyone from whom he could extract information directly, but noticed that the enemy had constructed makeshift lodging in a container village to the east of the hangars, where the mechs were being repaired, and that there was considerable traffic between the lodging and the hangars themselves. It was pretty obvious that the maintenance personnel was being housed there temporarily, and the flimsy temporary apartments would be an easy target.
Kruger and the serbians got to work. After waiting for nightfall, they stormed the village and begun shooting rather indiscriminately, hoping to cause as much damage as possible. As enemy patrols were active in the area, the whole strike was planned to last for less than two minutes, and their hovertank immediately drove in to pick them up. Despite the rapidity of their assault, also the enemy response was top-notch, and they were intercepted by a Commando while escaping. However, the tank driver did their best to avoid giving the mech a clear shot, and they escaped with minimal damage.
Meanwhile, Black Nebula leadership was discussing the future with ILLI and the other mercenary commanders. Everybody was ordered to fortify their position as best they could, and prepare for the attack. Ivan was assigned to lead the pioneers and oversee the construction of fortifications, which he vowed to do diligently. Fuub also informed them that he would address all the troops tomorrow morning.
The address itself was heartfelt and matter-to-fact. Fuub did not coat his words and was frank with the severity of the situation, but also informed the remaining troops that they were getting help from Karamat-Via and that due to holding the orbital resources, their manufacturing and supply capacity was vastly greater. Just as he was about to defer to the subcommanders and let them have their word, Kemva Amek reeled and collapsed, followed by a distant gunshot. Being soldiers, the dispersal was relatively ordered and the russians jumped to the stage in order to quickly cover for Fuub, while Alexander immediately ordered a search for the sniper. Unfortunately the shot had originated from very far away, and when Kruger arrived to the scene, he only found a camouflaged position and motorcycle tracks, which eventually lead him to the city limits only to disappear on the paved roads.
After this, the camp was alive with action. Fuub reaffirmed his explicit order to re-vet anyone whose loyalties any of the players were not completely certain of, and due to this, Heem-Lyeh told the pioneers to detain Gannet. While he had nothing to base his suspicions on and the presence of moles had long predated her retrieval, Heem-Lyeh was not happy about how unnaturally clean her internet and computer usage logs were. Gannet loydly protested, but luckily Heem-Lyeh himself was not there to defy him, and the pioneers delivered her to Tumak Niva, who they trusted to hold her for the time being. Everyone else was not as certain of the move, but Alexander felt that it was better to be safe than sorry, and approved Heem-Lyeh's actions.
Simultaneously with this spectacle, Fuub had called Gaussburg to a tactical meeting, from which he returned with another mission for the South-African mercenary. Somebody had gotten wind that the Iron Pulse and Shadow Flare wounded had been delivered to the same Continuity hospital that they had just departed from, and that it would be best if Kruger would investigate the issue and deliver some information to them. This time in civilian clothes, he would enter the hospital, contact Frank Appleton, Ever-Vees and their closest commanders and deliver the gifts containing coded messages that Gaussburg had prepared, then return back to base as soon as possible.
Coincidentally, Günther's contact in the court informed them that he had been able to squeeze in a slot for them at the experimental treatment clinic, albeit with an extremely high cost. This meant that Heem-Lyeh's road towards recovery, as well as Vergennes's, from whom Gaussburg had bought information from, would begin. All of the three boarded civilian transportation and departed for their own destinations, hoping that the trains were not very thoroughly monitored, and that if they were, TDHI would respect the rules of engagement enough to allow them to pass. This seemed to be the case, as none of them were stopped or harassed en-route. While it would take time to find out what Vergennes and Heem-Lyeh's fates would be, Kruger reached the hospital uneventfully, was admitted in uneventfully and delivered his gifts uneventfully. The following night, however, was not uneventful, as the hospital came alive with commotion, and Kruger got to witness some of the higher-ups in both Shadow Flare and Iron Pulse getting poisoned, apparently due to an unknown assassin. Determined to get to the bottom of this, he phoned back to CheekyChic69 and wired him in to try to dig up something from the security camera systems inside the hospital. However, despite getting access to some of them, the duo was unable to find anything out of the ordinary. Either the assassin was quite the professional, or they has just missed him on the records.
Regardless of the situation, the hospital was now very hot, and Kruger was very aware of how bad the whole incident would make a conveniently present alien mercenary look when the authorities would start snooping around. Slipping away in the dead of night, he made it to town, and on first light, rented some personal transport with which to avoid detection a bit more securely than taking the train all the way back behind their own lines.
From here on, things escalated quickly. It was difficult to see what exactly was going on behind the scenes, but the local Continuity monastery made an almost immediate announcement denouncing the assassinations and promising both an investigation and potential retaliation. This, in turn, made the forces stationed in Terniss take the initiative.
Due to the lack of satellite surveillance, the response was not immediate, but fast enough to give the Kra and the players time to prepare and take up their positions. Ivan's fortifications were quite helpful here, as they forced the TDHI-Cracked Mask detachment facing them to fight uphill and against fortified positions. Even if the enemy had a large number of artillery and spotting scout mechs, the shells were not particularly dangerous fue to the cover from Ivan's fortifications, and the attack soon fell flat. Similarly, the position was protected from air attacks by a reinforced flak tower overlooking the scene, which the enemy scout mechs were unable to take down.
Unlike the last time, however whoever was commanding the enemy commander was expecting this. Instead of committing fully to the attack, he or she waited to see whether the scout mechs could clear the defense turret and did not push into the minefield which almost downed one of the scout mechs. Instead, the commander disengaged and retreated early to minimize losses, also sparing the enemy scouting assets. The players charged down the hill, but couldn't catch the retreating forces. Fortunately they made a couple of lucky shots and were able to down both a Cataphract and an Archangel, in addition to two armored personnel carriers which were trying to push trough from the southern flank.
The Kra and Trident reported similar results, and reported that the enemy commander utilized great restraint and avoided overcommitting his or her forces, which remained far from beaten. Apart from two other captured mechs and two destroyed sniper artillery pieces, the defenders had failed to even dent the enemy. In their own part, Tumak-Niva reported that he had lost a single ground attack plane while trying to neutralize the enemy artillery battery. Regardless, an easy victory after their recent string of defeats and uncertainty was truly called for among the ILLI forces. The players even benefited quite a bit financially, as the Kra paid a hefty bounty from the return of their Archangel.
While the others started talking finances and repairing the damage, Gaussburg chose to not stay idle. He begun drafting a small counteroffensive, and called yet again for the serbs and Krüger, who seemed to see no end to work lately.