At the end of the Fifth Frontier War      In September of the 1107th year of the Third Imperium, forces of the Zhodani Consulate swept across the Imperial border along with allied Sword Worlds and Vargr fleets.  The Fifth Frontier War raged across the spinward and coreward subsectors of the Spinward Marches sector, until Imperial forces stopped and destroyed the Zhodani 40th Fleet.  By then, the 40th was the only undefeated invading assault fleet.  On other fronts, Imperial forces had pushed both the Sword World and Vargr forces back, and had even occupied most of Sword Worlds space.  Imperial strikes even brought the fight to Zhodani home ports, while other forces continued to liberate some Imperial systems.
Imperial forces liberating the Emerald system, on the edge of Imperial space in the Jewell subsector, were at the bleeding edge.  Units that landed there to liberate the system had to quickly transition to handle the result of atrocities committed by the retreating Zhodani.  Before the war, a moderate level of advanced tech and robotics let the ~50,000 Imperial citizens of the system live well as an agricultural world.  The system provided farm-raised meats and vegetables to the local stellar cluster.  Until the Zhodani invaded, at the opening of the Fifth Frontier War.  In addition to those assigned to the Imperial Scout base in-system, every member of the population had a role in system defense.  Even if that meant going to ground as guerillas after all Imperial warships were destroyed, captured or forced out of the system.
When the citizens went to ground, the Zhodani declared "unrestricted warfare", treating any Imperials they located as hostiles.  They then released their mind-hunting teams of psionic "sniffers" to hunt down every man, woman and child.  Imperial relief forces found bombed out cities and towns, blackened forests and wilderness.  Blasted ruins wherever caves had once been known to exist.  Soon, the only arriving ships carried relief and medical supplies.  And the only ships leaving the system carried forces needed elsewhere and/or victims being evacuated for treatment.  No one else was leaving...Period.
Master Chief Petty Officer Mikah Kirlim had been a senior NCO in the medical division of the Troop Transport INS Udiid.  Sent dirtside, along with most of her section and her ship's relief supplies, Mikah found herself "planted" when the Udiid left the system, to evacuate victims to less damaged worlds in the trailing section of the Spinward Marches.  Mikah was stranded thanks to high-priority medical cases among the still-living victims being evacuated from Emerald.  Making things worse, post-war demobilization had hit the Emerald system and Mikah was told her command had been ordered not to accept re-enlistments.  So, she was planted, and found no other options but to volunteer her medical skills in the recovery effort until she could find any way off-world and back to her homeworld.
Sergeant Major Zimzod Egosion had seen it all.  He'd started his career in the Imperial Navy and washed out because he just didn't fit on a starship.  He'd then enlisted in the Imperial Marines, spending the next four years serving as a grunt, and did well while advancing his rank.  But a paperwork snafu blocked him when he tried to reenlist...  Directly out of a training assignment, that also left him in possession of "certain pieces" of specialized Marine gear.  Finally, just before the outbreak of the Fifth Frontier War, Zimzod enlisted in the Imperial Army, though he still considered himself a Marine.
At the war's end, he'd been serving as a paramedic with the 3187th Counter Insurgent Brigade.  That unit had been cycled into the Emerald System, to keep order during the recovery.  But conditions in the Emerald system were such that there was less need for law and order than medical support and evacuation.  For some months, the unit supported rescue, aid and recovery operations.  But that unit too eventually fell to cost cutting and was demobilized.  Like Master CPO Kirlim, Zimzod had no ride off world, and was stuck as a volunteer on Emerald.
Fourth Officer and senior engineer Brian Montgomery had served aboard the Far Trader IMS Urlaegidl, owned by the Dankunlig Trading Line.  A small trading firm based out of the Inthe system(Regina).  The ship had been running a chartered naval supply route to the Emerald System from less ravaged Imperial systems in the Marches.  He was unexpectedly stranded at the Emerald downport when the ship was commandeered by the Imperial Navy.  The Navy re-crewed the freighter with naval personnel and sent it out-system on a specialized mission.  With no chance to get out of the system, he too volunteered for recovery projects on-world.
That was their situation, until they each got a surprise in the form of orders to report to a naval operations office on-world.  It turned out 'someone important' needed help, and an old R Class trader named the "Star Singer" was being commandeered for an out-system mission.  When they were asked if they wanted to volunteer, the three joined up fast.  They were then introduced to three other "volunteers".  Boarding a shuttle to the ship, they were introduced to the ship's owner, a man named Grift, and his wife.  At the end of that ride, they got another surprise...  The IMS "Star Singer" was loaded into the cargo bay of a mega-transport named INS "Long Stride", to quickly move the smaller ship to the Margesi system under Naval orders.  Enroute, they stopped in the Frenzie system, where they were told they were needed to "recover" a team of Imperial diplomats.  The diplomats were being held by a Sword Worlds Confederation government, in a secure base in the Hrunting System (Sword Worlds Subsector)
The Mission :      Trade was the life's blood of any star-spanning empire.  Without it, the taxes any interstellar government needs to pay for anything were starved away.  When the Fifth Frontier War broke out, trade across the Spinward Marches was interrupted, and it needed to be restarted despite the recent hostilities.  Duke Sir Norris Aella Aledon held one of the spinward-most duchies in the former war zone as fief.  He also held an Imperial Warrant, giving him sweeping authority.  He chose to use that authority trying to restart trade between the Imperial worlds and the systems still controlled by the government of the Joyeuse system (Sword Worlds).
To build trust, Duke Norris used the warrant to take control of an Ancient artifact held by the Imperium, but judged as "beyond Human understanding".  Norris then offered a "good faith exchange" of that Imperial artifact for one under Joyeusi control.  The proposed exchange would be handled by small groups of Imperial and Joyeusi ships, which would meet in open space between the Margesi(Vilis) and Hrunting(Sword Worlds) systems.  To prove his intentions, the team of diplomats sent to make the offer also offered themselves as "good faith hostages".  The Sword Worlders would hold them until the trade was done.  This key act of faith convinced the angry remnants of the Sword Worlds to accept the offer.
Sadly, this plan was betrayed when disaffected members of a faction within Imperial Naval Intelligence learned of the plan.  They'd suffered from Norris' actions, and reached out to supporters of former Grand Admiral Santanocheev.  They then worked with teams supporting Admiral Santanocheev, who'd been relieved by Duke Norris, and who had powerful political friends.  Indeed, he was related to, and a protegé of, Grand Duchess Delphine of Mora.  Thanks to their work, a team of Humans and an Aslan, named "Hruaol Yaryu", were smuggled, in cargo containers, aboard the Gazelle Light Escort tasked to deliver the artifact.  They were to seize control of the ship and artifact, diverting it to another port while the Admiral "dealt with" the Joyeusi ships.
The conspiracy called for them to kill the Aslan, and leave his body drifting in the wreckage to confuse any investigators about what really happened, and protect the conspiracy.  Especially since the largest populations of Aslan serving with Humans were either Darrian or Imperial citizens.  Lucky for Norris, and the Aslan, Hruaol had to appear to have died in a ship battle, so they couldn't kill him right off.  That didn't stop them knocking him out and putting him in chains.  As the Gazelle emerged from jump, the Aslan got free and convinced the legitimate crew he'd been duped.  He swore he would help them recover the ship before surrendering himself for his crimes.  Still, they were only able to re-take the ship after the vessel emerged from jump.  Worse yet, the Joyeusi had arrived early and ships loyal to Santanocheev had fired on them.  With the first shots between ships already fired, the Joyeusi ships escaped as Norris' arriving ships recovered from the surprise appearance of another small Imperial fleet!
The battle for the Gazelle then became the opening gambit in a larger game.  With control of the ship retaken, the Captain broadcast a call for all loyal officers to stand down and arrest any officers still resisting.  Hearing that, crews loyal to the rogue Admiral opened fire on them!  Knowing what had to be coming, the Gazelle's surviving crew had already moved out, onto the outer hull of the ship.  When fire came arcing in, and with no other options, they made an EVA jump.  Behind them, the gazelle's back was broken by the incoming laser and missile fire.  The Aslan led the EVA-team as they crossed space to grapple with the rogue flagship's hull and board her.  All wearing Imperial Naval uniforms, They fit in and avoided resistance after forcing a hatch to get aboard the dreadnought.
They also ran into very few crew members while moving, because everyone had manned their battle stations.  As they moved, they spread word of the Admiral's treachery and some of the flagship crew began to fight among themselves.  That, while incoming fire from Imperial-loyal ships rocked the vessel and more combat broke out between ships of differeing loyalties.  The Aslan led an attack on the flagship's CIC, incapacitated the Admiral and helped loyal officers take control and order a general stand down.  Out-gunned and without a leader, commanders loyal to the rogue admiral surrendered.  Still, despite the battle's end, the Sword Worlds fleet had jumped back to their home and the lives of the hostage diplomats would be forfeit after they gave their report.
Launching The Mission      In the Frenzie system, Mikah, Zimzod and Brian had their mission explained to them with the rest of the group.  The IMS Singing Star would be transported to the Margesi system(Vilis) and then jump from there on its own.  Their destination was the Hrunting system, a frozen iceball on the Sword Worlds/Imperial border.  The bleak mainworld of the system was only populated by a Sword Worlds military base, built deeply into the icepack.  The base also supported a science mission from operating space made available in the base.  The facility was so isolated it had been the perfect place to hold the diplomats.  And a hell of a place to have to infiltrate to carry out a rescue.
After mission prep, the Singing Star made its jump to the outer fringes of the Hrunting system with the best intelligence the local Imperial command could offer.  Thankfully, the benefit of a system so sparsely inhabited was the significantly low amount of traffic they'd encounter and have to get through.  Drifting, with as much as possible shut down to avoid detection, they played "rogue rock".  Having increased their velocity from an out-system arrival point, they hoped to drift in close to the mainworld without being targeted as a threat.  Despite being a system with a naval base on a hostile border, their drifting ship didn't look like a threatening object at all.  Once they swung by, they'd have to power up and drive into the world's atmo on the far side of the world from the base's sensor systems.  Then, they'd make a power dive into the atmosphere and land where the intelligence folks "thought" the Sword Worlder's weren't watching.
From there, the plan suggested getting close enough to find one of the science packages set up by the research teams.  After disabling the package, they'd wait for the egg heads to show up to fix it.  After two rifle rounds, Zimzod and an Army intelligence-type named Quinn would take their vehicle and impersonate the team to get inside the base's motorpool.  That was the base's upper-most level.  Mikah, Brian and the rest of the team would follow behind on the ship's air/raft.  They'd keep enough of a distance to let the fake science team get through the vehicle portal and gain control of the space.  And far enough back that the base sensors wouldn't see them.  That way, they could keep it open until the rest of the team arrived.
The plan would have gone off without a hitch if the tech on door duty hadn't been the "observant" type.  After killing the team, Quinn and Zimzod couldn't use the scientist's spacesuits because the bullet holes made them useless.  Stuck for an idea, they cut the fronts off the suits and used water to freeze the cut-outs onto the front of their own armor suits.  Good enough to fool someone from far off, it still looked odd, even at a distance.  So, because the tech had been watching intently as they got close, the man figured out something was wrong.  Watching him as they closed in, Zimzod realized the game might be up and readyed his weapon to try and take the guy out as they passed.
Sadly, Zimzod was in a moving vehicle and the man was dodging, so the shot only wounded him, as he fell in reaction.  After getting up, the tech lurched closer to the control panel, mounted near the main entry.  Even he did that, Zimzod had already jumped off the snow-cat with his gauss rifle because he'd not waited to see the results of his shot.  As that was happening, Quinn hit the breaks to stop the sled.  Bringing up his weapon for a second volley, Zimzod killed his target.  Just after the man hit the alarm.  Now, Zimzod had to scramble to find some access to the base below before they were locked out.  Quinn rushed over to work the garage doors, to keep them open until the rest of the team arrived.  He also called out a warning over the comms, and the team sped up to reinforce the two and secure the motorpool.
The Battle      The rest of the team, in the trailing air-raft, made it just before the base's controllers finally forced the doors to close enough to block them.  Still, the only access Zimzod could find to the base below the motorpool were now sealed doors.  And those doors held even after they'd found a vehicle with a mounted VRF Gauss Gun and Quinn opened up on them!  All he managed to do was lightly wound Zimzod when some of the shattered rounds ricocheted.  Seeing that, Mikah rushed over with her med-kit and patched the testosterone-poisoned Zimzod.  While she did that, Quinn secured the gun and joined the others searching for access.  Eventually they found an equipment lift with a pile of cargo sitting on it.  That was in place to lower deliveries into the base proper.
Soon, Zimzod had cracked his armor and Mikah had him bandaged.  His armor injected drugged with pain killers and uppers, so he was operational again.  By then, Brian had gotten into the electronics and the lift was working.  The team then dropped into a warehouse level, directly below the garage compartment.  Again, they spread out to look for any access to the base proper.  They also took advantage of the confusion their presence in the warehouse caused as base-defense teams arrived.  Responding to alarms in the vehicle bay, the crew were able to direct any first responders to join a defensive point near the lift.  They even claimed "the intruders" had opened the lift and started firing down on base personnel from above!
When the Sword Worlder defenders moved to the lift, the rescue team used the portal left open behind them to get into the base proper.  That meant they now faced the most dangerous part of the mission.  They now had to find a computer, hack into it and figure out where the diplomats were?  All while the base was directing security forces to find them and take them out!  Counter to all sensible doctrine, the rescuers chose to split up and try multiple routes to search.  They planned to infiltrate down to various levels of the base and hunt.  Zimzod and Mikah ended up paired as a team, and they moved through a passage into what looked like an administrative section of offices.
Bad luck had its own moment when they quickly ran into a responding security team while looking for computers to access, or other sources of information.  And the confusion of the moment wasn't nearly enough to cover the Imperial model of Zimzod's battledress!  There was a brief exchange of snapshots as the surprised Sword worlders opened fire and pulled back to raise alarms.  With Zimzod cutting through their surprised and fearful withdrawal, the alarms started to spread and Mikah followed his advance.  Taking advantage of both the surprise and the toys in his battledress, Zimzod moved to take the team out before they were reinforced.  So, the two advanced as defenders fled in fear.  And Zimzod's actions convinced them he had to be the "point man" for a larger Imperial unit.
Finally, Mikah and Zimzod lost sight of the Sword Worlders just before coming to a split in the passages.  Hunkering down to assess the situation, Zimzod decided to try a passage.  Telling Mikah to stay put, hunkered down and ready, Zimzod lobbed a grenade down the right side branch of the corridor and counted down.  He rose just as the grenade exploded around the bend, and charged into the roiling smoke and debris, planning to use the explosion as cover.  Sadly for Zimzod, the fleeing Sword Worlders had gotten further down the hall and set up a defensive position in some office doorways.  There, they waited for the reinforcements they'd called until Zimzod charged through the smoke.  So, he was the one drawing fire as he emerged from the smoke.
With his armor eating the rounds during the drive against his foes, Zimzod opened up with his weapons and took the troopers down.  After that fight ended, Zimzod carefully made his way back through still-roiling smoke, made thicker by burning bits of office space from his grenade and the other weapons fire.  Mikah had hunkered down and watched until she saw a figure moving toward her position in the smoke.  Working the possibilities, she was sure Zimzod would have called her on comms to tell her he was coming back.  So she decided Zimzod hadn't made it, or was pinned down and this was a swordie.  That decided, she carefully settled into a position, drew a bead on the figure and put a burst from her gauss rifle into Zimzod's gut!
Seeing the figure go down, Mikah waited a beat or two, to be sure, before she moved forward to confirm her kill.  Maybe, after that, she could move in to see what happened to Zimzod?  So, Mikah was understandably surprised when she realized she'd shot Zimzod!  Lucky for her, the medical suite in his armor had already gone into action, dumping pain meds and other drugs into his system to manage the bleeding and keep him lucid enough.  When she reached him, Zimzod cracked the seal on his armor and let her use her medical skills.  He was again patched and drugged enough to get back on his feet, when they suddenly received the team recall.
It turned out another team, Quinn and a woman named Kandisima had scored pay dirt.  She had been a former-Imperial intelligence agent on their crew and he had been an Imperial Army intelligence type.  They'd not only found the diplomats, but gotten them to one of the base's upper levels.  Now, they had to get them through the warehouse and motorpool compartments.  And those were likely filled with some of the base's security.  The only good news was that they'd made sure alarms of intruders had been spreading throughout the base.  That had base security teams spreading thin.  Brian and his team had also been hacking the base computer system and spreading false alarms from a hiding spot they found on the warehouse level.  So, Brian's team were perfectly placed to support an escape with surprises and confusion!
After being comm'd and even threatened, Brian and his teammate left their hide hole and joined the fight directly.  They did so, opening up with the full wrath of their carried weapons!  This surprised the swordies on that level, who'd marked that space as "clear" of combatants.  The sudden eruption of fire panicked the security units holding the space.  Adding to the panic, the other "rescue teams" were making assaults on their flanks, convincing the Sword World teams into thinking they'd been tricked into a kill box!  As the Swordies fled with little return fire, the rescuers got back up into the vehicle bay.  They set explosives in the portal behind them, to keep anyone from following to blow off their tail.  They then manned a vehicle, blew the outer motorpool doors and drove out onto the icepack.
Escaping The Base And After      Thanks to the barren and dangerously arctic nature of the world, the Sword Worlders had never considered the need for ground defense.  That meant they were clear and heading back to their ship while the base commanders were still trying to sort out what was really happening?  Many of the internal alarms also kept the defenders from looking outside as the team fled for their ship.  Despite wounds and setbacks, the crew succeeded in recovering the diplomats and suffered no casualties.  Burning off-world hard, they reached the outer edge of the system well ahead of any pursuit.  Burning past the jump limit, they were well out-system before they rendezvoused with, and were picked up by, an Imperial carrier that had made a stealth entry far enough out to not be detected.
With the Star Singer then secured in one of the carrier's large craft bays, they were transported back to the Margesi system.  In that down time, naval medical personnel treated the wounded and hostages.  From Margesi, they moved on to the Frenzie system, where the Duke of the Vilis Subsector thanked the crew.  As part of those thanks, he created them all Knights of the Imperium.  While they would still have to have their titles confirmed, they were each granted rights or properties which pulled many of them in different directions.  Along with their Knighthoods they'd each been granted certain rights and prerogatives too.
Newly knighted, Sir Grift and his wife were granted a subsidized Imperial trade route.  So, they left quickly to learn the worlds in their new concession and take up their responsibilities.  Most of the others also went their own way, leaving Mikah, Zimzod and Brian to start on the path to get their titles confirmed.  To do that, they'd have to meet the Dukes of Regina and Rhylanor, as well as the Grand Duchess in the Mora System.  Facing at least four months in space, not counting the time spent in the Regina and Rhylanor systems before reaching Mora, they embarked on a Grand Tour of the coreward Marches.  Regina was close and would be fairly easy, because Duke Norris of Regina was a personal friend of their patron Duke.  They were even brought to Regina by the Vilis Duke.  From Regina, with a confirmation from Duke Norris, the trio took high passage on a liner for Rhylanor intending to travel in high style.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: An Interrupted Party