Radetsky had only returned from the cargo bay a short while when Ryddoth asked the two scouts to join him on the bridge.  Admiral Meshrumiikiim asked Ms. Vik if she'd be OK alone with the knights?  She comfortably said she would, so they left for the bridge.  They arrived to the sounds of urgent and confused voices coming from the ships comms!  As Ryddoth worked the controls, they could plainly see he'd checked the system schematic and focused the sensors on a vessel further in-system, just off their vector of travel.  As they read the sensor data, Ryddoth said it was a vessel signaling "GK".( Vilani: Gashimeku Kaalariin for "Vessel in Distress" )  It wasn't a question.  Equus and Horizon were closest, but Equus didn't have the maneuverability to turn and help the distressed ship.  So it was up to the Dawnstar Horizon.  With the other two present, Ryddoth contacted the Starport Authority again, looking for a way out of being roped into the rescue operation.
But, making matters worse, the distressed ship was a 400-ton freighter owned by the country of Stepozhevac.  That country had been ruled by a council since a coup by Junior Military officers in 1105 ( ~7 years ago ), and declared itself a "Private Ownership" Bloc nation.  Once, the world of Porozlo was open to mega-corporations which mined great wealth while fueling the almost constant wars for territorial gain.  But the leaders of many countries realized they were being underpaid in weapons exchange for their raw materials and mineral wealth.  In an event which nearly unified the nations of Porozlo, a wave of so called "Private Ownership" swept the governments as they nationalized resources and ousted corporate operations...sometimes securing millions in megacredits of machinery too.
But one common cause was not enough to unify those whose main fight was over territorial control, and the world fell back to warfare.  And, as often happened, the pendulum swung as some countries realized they still needed the corporations, and made a peace with them, at a more agreeable trade rate, to gain the technology to defeat their opponents. So now, the world was divided both by border claims as well as a divide between "Private Ownership" and "Free Trade".  Making things even worse, the Stepozhevac ship had, according to the data they could get, at least one VIP from that nation aboard, though his name and condition were unknown.  Because of this, the Marquis of Porozlo, Insadshiir Manerdagur, and his people had asked that The Horizon attempt the rescue.  And they asked that the Horizon's crew and the knights work together in the process.  The three on the bridge realized that meant giving the knights access to their equipment and putting themselves into the hazard of potentially rogue nobility.
Given the situation, Kyle Van Ryddoth requested Aidan Radetsky push the schematic showing the distressed ship and Horizon onto the lounge screens and take the helm while he and the Admiral went back to the lounge to discuss the situation.  In the lounge, the others were put out to see the movie "K'Kree - Hiver Wars"(clipped together from Imperial and other news reports into a docu-"you are there"-flic) cut off and replaced by a schematic of local space showing the ships.  Ms. Vik was the only one to comment with interest on the schematic, as all attention suddenly turned to Ryddoth and the Admiral.  As Ryddoth began to explain the situation, both Zimzod and Mikah sighed, "Here it comes..."  Ryddoth said they did try to get special permission to bypass while other vessels responded.  But special circumstances made their attempt the method preferred by Marquis Insadshiir's people.  Sir Zimzod said that meant they had to have their gear, so they could be prepared for ( and protected from ) any possible issues.  In the meantime, on the bridge, Aidan was:         1) piloting the ship,         2) working a nav-plot to the distressed ship,         3) working the sensors to get everyone a better idea of what was going on and         4) working the comms to try to get someone coherent from the distressed ship.
Ryddoth said Zimzod's requests were a given, and would be gotten around to, but they needed to discuss what each person would do in the effort?  Then Sir Brian said he would not be boarding the distressed vessel or taking part in any efforts off the Horizon, Period.  Discussion of this and issues such as the cause of the explosion aboard the ship broke out for a short bit, as things got confused.  But several needs were soon nailed down.  First, they needed to know who was doing what?  And second, they needed to investigate what caused the explosion before they arrived to help?  They decided Admiral Meshrumiikiim would lead the "away team", followed by Dame Mikah, for medical needs, Sir Zimzod, for both medical and security needs and Ms. Vik, for diplomatic needs and "extra hands".  Aidan Radetsky would pilot the Horizon and Ryddoth would hold a "command post" in the Horizon's lounge to handle comms and observe Sir Brian.  Sir Brian was tapped to use his engineering expertise to help Radetsky use his sensor skill to investigate the explosion.
When Sir Brian said he would be arming himself, Ryddoth said he couldn't be armed on the bridge.  After some argument, it was decided Aidan would pipe his data to the screens in the lounge and work, via comms, with Sir Brian.  After that, Ryddoth ordered everyone in the lounge to the cargo bay as he ordered Aiden to repressurize that compartment.  They moved as Ryddoth lagged behind, hitting the ship's locker and pulling a handful of rounds for his shotgun before donning his vacc suit and joining the rest down in the hold.  Once they entered, Ms. Vik and the Admiral moved to their gear, to pull their vacc suits before heading up deck with Ryddoth to pull a personal weapon for "safety reasons".  The knights went to the container but found it was actually welded shut!  In an apparent parting gift, the crew of The Equus had apparently welded it closed to prevent any attempt to use their gear to take the scout and attack Equus.
Sir Brian began searching the cargo bay, bins and storage as Sir Zimzod and Dame Mikah examined the container.  As Ryddoth joined them, he told Sir Brian, "You won't find what you are looking for in those".  When Sir Brian answered, "You don't know what I am looking for", Ryddoth replied, "Something to cut the welds, I am sure."  Sir Brian said, "No.  I am just interested in what you have in here."  Seeing that everything was proceeding, and not interested in letting Sir Brian get into mischief, Ryddoth told the others they'd be right back and told Sir Brian to come with him.  They went up to engineering for gear to cut the weld.  While Sir Zimzod examined the container, Dame Mikah waited and the Admiral and Ms. Vik got into their vacc suits and checked each other's seals.  After Ryddoth and Brian got back, the weld cutting began as those in vacc suits synced their suit comms with Radetsky on the bridge.  The others either got into their own suits, geared up or watched/helped with the cutting.
Soon, Radetsky announced that he had improved the sensor data from the distressed vessel, and could confirm significant damage.  There were also large internal spaces vented to space and he predicted significant crew and passenger deaths.  Radetsky identified frozen bodies of hydrogen and other fluid materials which had been vented after the blast, as well as significant debris and a few visible "crew-cicles".  The knights continued working on opening the container as the rest were more or less done gearing up until the welds were finally cut.  As they talked about how to board the ship, Sir Zimzod said he would be wearing his battledress combat armor!  This surprise cause a lot of discussion, as even 'having' a battledress suit was extremely rare.  Then, Dame Mikah announced her intention to wear her combat armor.  The gist was to talk them out of using the hard-core gear, interspaced with Sir Brian repeating that he'd Not be boarding.  But neither knight could be convinced, and they gave up and put their minds on the mission.
While the knights geared up, Radetsky brought the ship in close to the freighter, and hit it hard and full spectrum with every sensor at his disposal.  He told the crew his scans showed significant areas of the damaged vessel were depressurized, and they should still expect heavy loss of life.  He'd also reached the ship's crew on comms and learned the VIP, a national leader named Councilor Helmik, had been aboard and was badly injured.  They were literally screaming for rescue on one hand while making accusations of Imperial involvement on the other.  Definitely not a fun crew.  The Stepozhevaci were not necessarily anti-Imperial, but their nationalization of significant foreign investments had made them some mega-enemies.  And their policies continued to increase tension and conflict on an already unstable balkanized(multi-national) planet.  They were also obviously a bit paranoid about Imperial power being used against them.  The good news was that all the survivors, numbering seven total, were either gathered in the compartment just aft of the bridge or in the engineering spaces.
Both had access to pressurized passages connecting to a commonly available air lock directly aft of the bridge on the starboard bulkhead.  That meant the wounded, engineers and flight crew could gather in a single compartment, just in-board of the air-lock.  When things were ready, Radetsky lined them up, air-lock to air-lock, with Ryddoth and Sir Brian in the lounge communicating, coordinating and scanning respectively.  The rest were lined up "Admiral first" at the hatch. Once they got the word the docking passage was extended and pressurized, those in-board looked at each other thinking, 'who opens the hatch?'  Finally, Sir Zimzod broke the silence, looking at the Admiral, saying, "Your in command of the mission, Sir" in an accusatory tone.  Meshrumiikiim let out an exasperated laugh, saying "By your command, Sir" as an ironic comment on how his earlier words had come back to bite his ass before he reached for the hatch release.
Checking to verify the atmo-discrete was green, Emkir turned the wheel and pulled, swinging the hatch up and open.  As soon as Sir Zimzod's battledress HUD signaled no pressure change, he acted as expected under normal "threat ops" conditions.  Not knowing what they faced and that fighting could have caused the explosion, standard Marine ops dictated moving forward and securing the space or taking out opposition.  Sir Zimzod almost shoved Admiral Meshrumiikiim out of the way and moved into the compartment, assuming a guard position with his auto-pistol in a two-arm assault ready stance.  This 'just happened' to give him the appearance of an "Imperial Storm Trooper on assault" to the battered crewman who opened the hatch on the other end.  The result of Sir Zimzod's actions was the instant shock and fear in the Stepozhevaci crewman's face as he suddenly tried to slam the hatch closed!  Fortunately for the boarding party, Zimzod's battledress enhanced his speed and ability to move, letting him catch and force open the hatch with one hand.  Sudden panic among the survivors froze most of them in place.
Sadly, this didn't freeze the bridge crew who, slammed the panic button to secure the bridge access, locking it.  Once Zimzod decided all was secure, ignoring the cowering crew white with fear and those using their bodies to cover the wounded, he stepped aside from the hatch letting the quickly following Admiral enter followed by the combat armored Dame Mikah and Ms. Vik.  As the boarding party started assessing the situation, Dame Mikah looked for the injured VIP and moved to those covering two bloody bodies in an aft corner of the compartment.  Unarmed and unarmored, not even in vacc suits, the two tending the wounded showed every sign of being willing to defend them with their lives.  Seeing this, Dame Mikah held up her medical bag and produced an auto-hypo to hold in front of them.  This finally convinced them the combat armored figure might actually be there to help, and they grudgingly moved aside.  Though not far.
As Dame Mikah moved to begin diagnosing her patient, she saw a crew member was also injured very badly.  But orders had been given that all anyone cared about was Councilor Helmik.  At the same time, Sir Zimzod maintained his "relaxed security" stance while Admiral Meshrumiikiim assessed the situation and the closed and locked bridge access.  Stepping over to the comm panel, Meshrumiikiim tried to buzz the bridge but got back a garbled shout exclaiming the Imperial Navy may have crippled and invaded his ship but they would never take the bridge!  The Admiral sighed and let his shoulders sag, shaking his head at the futility of idiots...  At that point, a comms from the Dawnstar Horizon asked what was going on aboard the crippled ship?  They'd begun getting reports from the Stepozhevac bridge crew that Imperial Marines were storming the still intact compartments of the vessel!
Over on the Dawnstar Horizon, things had escalated ridiculously.  In addition to the Starport Authority and those Imperial Naval teams who automatically responded to any Signal GK in-system, they had picked up teams of governmental figures working for both Marquis Insadshiir and the national government of Stepozhevac.  Claims by the bridge crew, along with one in-ship vid clip of a battledressed figure rushing the hatch, had convinced Stepozhevac officials the claims an Imperial Navy ship had fired on the vessel were true!  As the gist of this was fed to the boarding party for explanations, Admiral Meshrumiikiim shook his head again before glaring at Zimzod and saying, "Great!  This is becoming an international incident!"  From where she was finishing diagnosis on her patient, Dame Mikah looked up saying, "Another one!?!" as she looked towards Zimzod.  Then she looked towards the Admiral saying, "He does this all the time", obviously referring to something in their shared past.  Zimzod had pulled out his medical kit and shown the time honored red cross to the crew so they'd let him examine and diagnose the other wounded man.
Trained with paramedic skill, Zimzod knew the man would lose his right arm entirely along with other issues.  But he was able to give the crewman an injection for the pain, at least, before protecting him from shock and stabilizing him enough to move.  Councilor Helmik, on the other hand, had been hit in the chest by shrapnel.  Lucky for Dame Mikah and her patient, the crew hadn't tried to remove what they could see.  So Mikah looked under the first aid dressing and examined the wounds.  She could tell, through her medical scanners, that there was significant lesser vein damage as well as an extreme danger of shock.  So Mikah had much more work ahead to stabilize her patient than Zimzod had, despite the significantly reduced level of damage.  Ms. Vik first looked to help the Admiral with the bridge crew but that was something now far beyond her presence.  She then looked to help the medics, but they weren't ready to move or seriously work as yet so extra hands were not needed there.  She finally examined the compartment they were in and noticed a slight hiss!"
Sure enough, her investigation soon proved there was a small fissure located in the beveled fitting on the edge of the inboard iris valve!  While there hadn't been any noticeable pressure drops, there was definitely a loss of atmo going on.  Zimzod was finishing up his diagnosis as she raised the alarm, and was certain it was safe to inject some pain killers and sedatives into the crewman, in addition to what had been injected by the crippled ship's crew after the explosion.  Dame Mikah reached the same conclusion with her patient, but had to be extremely careful as further sedatives could help her patient's slide into shock.  At that point in relations with Stepozhevac, this was the last thing she, her team and the Marquis needed.  As Zimzod injected his patient, he checked his HUD for the pressure discrete and found the read as nominal.  So he wasn't too worried, but was thinking ahead too.  Once ready, he set his plan in motion, telling Ms. Vik to help the still groggy and ambulatory crew man into the Dawnstar Horizon along with the rest of the able-bodied crew, who'd been ordered over by the Admiral.
As Mikah treated her patient and Zimzod stood by to help her transport the unconscious man, Admiral Meshrumiikiim continued to work to get the bridge crew to unbutton so they could be saved.  Sadly, as everything in space, except in the freighter bridge, was straightening out, things down-well were getting worse.  Stepozhevac officials were adamant that freighters don't just suddenly suffer unexplained explosions in transit, and small random civilian traffic are not just packed to the gills with battledress-clad Imperial knights ready to storm survivors.  No matter what The Marquis or Imperial authorities said, there was nothing that they could provide which the Stepozhevac could not claim was doctored with Imperial "High Technology."  Emkir slowly realized this was coming to a standoff.  Complicating things, the Stepozhevac authorities down-well ordered that, with the Councilor's team all dead in the explosion, the only person they cared about was the Councilor.  They demanded the bridge crew be left behind, to die, in order to save the Councilor's life.
As the boarding team and crew of the Dawnstar Horizon heard, the strident voice of a Marine Major joined the link.  The officer identified himself as Major Kellic, Commander of The Marquis' personal Marine detachment, and he asked to speak to Sir Zimzod.  Zimzod heard, and calmly asked what he could do to help, after which the Major told all on the link that he would instruct Zimzod to activate the "play and broadcast" built into the POV-data recorder in his battledress.  While Zimzod, and any battledress-trained Marine, knew the data recorder was there, and could broadcast, he hadn't had the training to activate it from the field.  Following Major Kellic's instructions, Zimzod activated the playback and broadcast all data from the power on-self test to the present.  While Stepozhevac officials could have claimed a fix, they would be hard pressed to explain that the video did fit the time line exactly.  And it included a bit of obvious medical work provided by Sir Zimzod, though not footage for the squeamish.
After a short pause for consideration, communications resumed among the diplomatic parties at a much more civil level.  Soon after that, and just as Mikah was finishing up with her patient, the bridge crew unbuttoned and, after a brief frightened glance at the still present armored figure of Zimzod, agreed to follow Admiral Meshrumiikiim to the Dawnstar Horizon.  As they prepared to move the Councilor, Mikah saw a personal palm computer about to fall from the councilor's pocket, and put it in one of her pouches before anyone noticed.  Following them, Zimzod used the enhanced strength and support in his battledress to gently lift the injured Councilor and they carefully transferred him into the lounge of the Dawnstar Horizon with Aidan lowering the effects of the grav-plates along the way.  That let Mikah could protect the councilor's injuries.  Once they got to the lounge, they found the two bridge crew being directed into one of the Horizon's staterooms to join the other three uninjured survivors.  The wounded crewman had been set up where he could relax and be comforted as the sedation did its job.  Sir Brian was also working from the coordinated screens and workstations in the lounge with data linked back from Aidan on the bridge.
To this point, they had found the explosion had come from within the forward-lower cargo deck and blasted through into the upper decks.  That had instantly killed all the unprotected crew in the bay, the upper staterooms and the forward corridors from the starboard to port sides of the ship.  It was luck that the Councilor and wounded crewman were at the starboard end of the passage.  They were thrown back into the surviving compartment as the iris valve slammed shut.  It was also lucky for the Councilor that the crewman was apparently between him and the blast, taking most of the damage.  As the down-well chatter continued, Mikah started setting up for serious surgery, assisted by Zimzod.  Zimzod realized that, should the patient die, Mikah would be responsible as the attending surgeon as she setup her tools.  Sir Brian complained bitterly about having to watch the grisley work as he worked under the main screen, delivering his data.  The others did their best to ignore him.
As time passed, the medics worked and the diplomats talked until they finally worked out a solution that was acceptable to all sides.  First, the crew of the Dawnstar Horizon would speak with the surviving engineers and bridge crew to decide the best way to put the damaged freighter into an orbit that would not decay and kept it from crossing into traffic lanes.  They'd board the ship and prepare it to self-initiate the course change and burn after confirming the flight systems weren't damaged.  Finally, they'd place a beacon on it stating the ship was interdicted and not to be approached on order of The Imperial Navy.  The Marquis would send ships to tow it back to the highport as they became available.  After that, the Dawnstar Horizon would burn the remaining hour in-system and pass through Porozlo prime orbit to re-enter.  Then they'd land at an airfield in Stepozhevac national territory.  The crew would be questioned on the incident by Stepozhevaci authorities before lifting for Imperial space.  This last part wasn't what those aboard the Horizon wanted, but what they were being forced to do after a fight that included the Marquis, the Stepozhevaci and others.
Medical authorities wanted the Horizon to dock at the highport, Imperial authorities wanted the ship to land at the downport, Tukera representatives 'demanded' the ship land anywhere but the highport while Equus was in-port.  And Stepozhevaci authorities demanded the ship land in Stepozhevac territory.  The final agreement allowed that Imperial Marines would deploy to create an "Imperial Exclusion Zone" at the field in Stepozhevac.  The ship would land inside that.  Once there, a Stepozhevaci team would board the ship and interview each member of the crew.  The Councilor and other injured man would be moved to a Stepozhevaci hospital for further care and the other survivors allowed to return to their home country to be debriefed.  A last remaining issue came up when Zimzod announced his intention to be "interviewed" by the Stepozhevaci in his battledress!  All those present saw this would create a huge issue, but it was Ms. Vik who acted first, reaching out to the Marquis' people.
Again, Marine Major Kellic called for "Imperial Marine Sergeant Zimzod Egosion".  Zimzod reminded the Major he was no longer enlisted in the Imperial Marines, but wondered how he could help the Major?  The Major responded to that by reading orders present, backed by the authority of The Marquis as the Imperial Governor of the Porozlo system, re-activating Sergeant Egosion into the IMC.  He then issued the Sergeant a direct order to appear in his choice of Marine Class 'A's or a ship's Jumpsuit.  Sir Zimzod said he would wear class A's if they could get him a uniform to wear.  Otherwise, the battledress was the only proper Marine uniform he had.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: The Destroyer Mission