Emerging from jump, the early signs were good and they started getting signals from one of the many Rhylanor system entry beacons.  This was announced on the all-ship and the crew gave a ragged but happy cheer.  The cheers ended fast when Aiden realized the beacon's broadcasts weren't the instructions he'd expect normally!  The urgent warnings were for all ships to secure themselves, clear the combat zone and be prepared to defend themselves!  When the sensors came back on line, Aiden saw they'd emerged into a cluster of very large vessels!  Seeing this, the ship was filled with alarms while the recovering sensors detected fire control lock on's and naval weapons fire!
Aiden realized they'd emerged on the edge of the battle as he added to the alerts, hitting the all-ship alarms for the crew to take safety measures.  Zach activated their weapons control systems and started trying to bring up the turrets.  In one of the turrets, Zimzod saw that and hit manual over-ride on his lasers, taking control of his guns.  After doiong that, Zimzod started scanning for visual target identification.  Mikah had been in her vacc suit already, while Inger and Aali scrambled to suit up too.  After suiting up, Aali ran for the bridge to man the ship's stockpile of nuclear missiles.  Emkir started suiting up while Aiden searched for a course that would get them out of the battle.  Rol hit his stateroom and stepped into his combat armor to prepare for possible borders.
When challenged to identify or be fired on, Aiden transmitted the ship's ID and mission orders.  Aiden also warned everyone to grab something as he leaned on the space manuvering system and forced the ship into a sudden roll.  Firing the thrusters, he just barely managed to move the ship as a flight of missiles passed close.  Lucky for them, the missiles had targeted someone else and weren't rigged for proximity detonation.  That, or they hadn't self-armed yet.  Aiden continued desperately fighting to figure out how to get them out of the fight when they got comms from an Imperial Lieutenant.  He told them they'd arrived smack in the middle of a surprise attack mounted by Baron von Kreden's ramshackle fleet!
The Lieutenant ordered them to re-set their IFF, if they could, to his instructions and then told them he was beaming them a course they will follow.  He stressed the word "will".  He continued, telling them a cruiser was repositioning on the battle line to cover their escape.  Not hearing the comms, the weapons alarms didn't surprise Zimzod.  He'd secured himself in his battledress and assumed his gunner's couch before they'd emerged.  His "Mark I" eyeball view wasn't confused by electronic haze as the gun-camera on the turret showed him the local space down his barrels.  His battledress combat computer also kicked in to translate data for him.  With his manual target acquisition gear on line, he'd seen signs of ship to ship combat before the sensors cleared, and had been able to visually target one ship and identify it as a Sword Worlds warship engaging Imperial ships!
While Aiden was starting to receive instructions on the bridge, Zimzod had what he realized was a hostile destroyer in his sights and opened fire!  And just as quickly, Zimzod bought the Sable Addix a slice of the destroyer's attention.  The bad news was, his laser fire had gone wide of the ship's flank in a clean miss.  Aiden saw alarms on the bridge and started trying to figure out what the hell was happening?  Events started moving towards pandemonium and Aali arrived on the bridge to see Zach had activated all the missile turrets.  While Aiden cursed up a storm, Zach saw a turret had fired lasers and said to himself 'screw it' as he opened fire with both the regular and nuclear missile batteries.
Zimzod watched the destroyer as she began apply thrust, moving to roll in a classic move to bring weapons to bear on a new target.  At the same time, flares suddenly leapt from the Sable Addix's missile turrets.  Caught repositioning to face a new target, Zimzod's views were automatically dimmed when a missile struck the Sword Worlder.  Zimzod quickly followed that up with another shot from the lasers and was rewarded with some kind of surface explosions.  This followed both a conventional and a nuclear missile strike.  Zimzod could see the nuke took the destroyer in her aft section, and even opened some compartments to space!
Zimzod couldn't see what the conventional warheads did, Since they were obscured by the nuclear flare.  While the blasts faded, he could see the missile fire had ripped open parts of the destroyer's aft section and started extending the tear, driving forward along the ship's outer hull.  Zimzod could see what the sensors were now telling Aiden on the bridge.  The destroyer had been hurt, but wasn't out of the fight as it worked to complete the turn and bring turrets to bear.  The damage done made the turn more lazy than it had begun, so the ship's controls had been effected at least.  Luckly for Zimzod and the crew, they could see signs of continued battle because the destroyer was also still engaged by other Imperial vessels.
Suddenly, those not secured grabbed for a surface as the Sable Addix jolted into motion!  Aiden called over all-ship to tell people he'd pumped the maneuver thrust to full and was getting them out of the fight!  The light show and jolts played through the bridge while Aali arrived and tried to take in what was happening?  To add to the surreal effects, Aali heard a voice she didn't know on the comms.  That was the Imperial Lieutenant, reacting to the initial laser fire from the Addix, and urgently demanding, "What the Fuck are you doing!?  Cease fire and get the fuck out of there!"  Of course, the stream of profanity laced orders changed when the missiles struck and the man started demanding who exactly they were?
The level of shock and surprise in the officer's voice was evident as Zach cycled the missile tubes and worked to reload the turrets, and Aali stepped up to get answers.  At the same time, an on-coming Imperial cruiser pinged their ship as it's commander demanded answers about this ship he was supposed to protect while it escaped.  Aiden split his actions and attention between watching the drives, setting their directional thrust and resetting the IFF while screaming for everyone to cease fire.
Hearing Aiden screaming over all ship for everyone to cease fire, Zimzod could see the destroyer still turning to bear on them.  He could also see his initial stutter fire had managed to fry one of the Sword Worlder's turrets.  Since the destroyer was still turning, he had to assume they had, and planned to use, more turrets.  So, he disregarded Aiden and hit the firing studs to light them up again.  On the bridge, the missile turrets signaled they'd reloaded just as Aali arrived at the console and saw Zach add punctuation to Zimzod's actions by firing another full salvo.  Aiden could only work the flight systems and curse at being ignored by the gunners.
Trying to exercise more aim control, Zimzod wasn't as precise as he wanted, but stitched fire across the damaged aft of the ship.  He smiled as he saw what looked like a thruster vent go up.  That was followed by a very satisfying secondary explosion, suggesting he'd damaged their maneuvering even more.  But Zimzod wasn't able to enjoy his handiwork long when the missiles struck and his cameras darkened to protect his vision.  Despite the dimming, they all saw the surface explosions blossom with the missile strikes.  They lit up the hull of the destroyer and the nuke made its way inside the ripped and damaged vessel to detonate with devastating effects!  The detonation finally ripped the destroyer in half!
Zimzod's cheer of victory sounded over the all ship but Aiden heard the warnings they were not out of the battle yet.  Their sensors screamed as fifteen inbound missile tracks lit them up and the destroyer's friends responded to its death!  Knowing they weren't outrunning the missiles, Aiden urged Zimzod to pay attention to his targeting scanners.  Aali took control of the missiles and surveyed the readouts to decide just where to start dropping nukes?  Where a laser might cut one or two missiles out of the sky, a properly placed nuclear blast could vaporize an entire flight.
While that might take care of one flight, they had what looked like fifteen flights "currently" in-bound.  And, they'd made themselves both a combatant and a legitimate target by engaging and killing the destroyer.  This got them more of the attention from whoever could spare a turret to target them.  Unlike the destroyer, it would take less than a single salvo to kill them all.  Zimzod started targeting the closing clusters and began wildly firing as soon as the capacitors recharged.  Aali did a mental test and fired a blast.  Sensors suggested the blast influenced the targeted missile flight, but the missiles had guidance and were correcting.
While Aali tried to decide if she should re-target the same flight or aim for another one, the CiC of the Imperial cruiser demanded to know "who the fuck" the crew thought they were?  "What the fuck" they thought they were doing?  And why the hell they were not ducking into the cruiser's shadow for cover and running?  When Aiden simply sputtered back, "I'm trying!", they responded that it didn't appear the Sable Addix was trying to do anything other than engage superior forces and die.  Despite that, sensor feed did show the cruiser's weapons were engaging the on-coming missiles while simultaneously pumping sand out to enlarge its sensor-shadow and offer more protection.
When Aiden said he had an idiot for a gunnery officer, the comms tech on the cruiser admitted he could understand that.  Aiden again played the cruiser's orders across the all-ship.  Zimzod stopped firing while Aali started pumping sand out, to obscure them from the missile targeting systems.  Despite getting a moment's cooperation, the sand cloud they fired was made useless because Aiden worked to maneuver the ship into the cruiser's shadow.  The good news, after the burns, was that they'd avoid three of the salvos as the cruiser engaged the inbound fire.  The bad news was that those salvos were now becoming the cruiser's problem as they followed the turns of Addix until she'd been obscured and re-aquired the larger target.  Still the cruiser had some luck as other vessels had been called in to "protect the VIP", and were moving to support.
When they finally complied with the orders given, Aiden got a request from an Admiral Umisadi, demanding to know who Aiden was?  Aiden responded formally, identifying himself to the officer who then issued Sir Aiden a direct order to get the light escort out of the combat zone!  Aiden wanted to punch the comms panel as he bit out a "yes Sir" and again checked to verify they were generating and firing every bit of thrust they could.  The sensors showed that any missiles still tracking them would be coming up their six, so Aiden advised Aali to begin firing sand now that they wouldn't lose the cloud.
After an hour and a half of white knuckled prayer and defensive fire, assisted by actual naval fire-support, they managed to evade or destroy all the incoming fire.  At the same time, reinforcements had arrived and von Kreden's forces were broken, and being mopped up in fairly short order.  The news from the sensors was not all good, though.  The cruiser which had moved in to cover their withdrawal had taken damage in the effort.  By the time they burned in-system, they got orders to dock at one of the naval stations and hold up there until they got further orders from the Duke.
Finally clear of the fighting, the crew were specifically ordered not to participate in rescue operations as support forces were arriving on station to handle that job.  When Mikah protested, because she was a doctor, it was made very clear they were to proceed as ordered and wait for further decisions from the Duke.  Period.  Hearing the byplay on the comms, Aiden could only think how much he needed a drink!  Their arrival in-system ended when they docked at the naval station and were surprised to be taken into custody!  The crew were then held, at first, in a waiting area before being moved to a cluster of staterooms.  They were then held there until the next day.  When Mikah requested they make sure the Duke was notified of were they were, she was assured the Duke knew exactly where they were.
While they waited, they watched the news, to see what stories didn't involve them in the system.  What they found was only a single story with any update:     Glisten (A000986-F 2 Hi Na In As Cp 821 Im K9 V)                    Date: 237-1112     Reports of growing unrest are increasing in the Mertactor system (District     268 ), which is preparing to receive the first ever "off-world visit" from the     "Voice of the One Star" choir, representing the Pavabid system's "branch"     of the Church of Stellar Divinity.  Protesters are gathering from a number     of organizations representing opposition to the "Pavabid Heresy" and it's     stain on more mainstream Stellar Divinity practices as well as those     protesting the perceived slavery state the Church government is believed     to be running.     From these two of the major issues, a list of other opposition issues grew     which was lengthy.  Imperial authorities who supported this first-ever     crack in the Xeno-exclusionary practices of the Pavabid government were     ramping up protections and defenses as the system was "Imperium-Friendly"     and the Imperium wanted to increase the strength of pro-Imperial systems     and support in that independent region of space.   Listening to this story, they recalled the updated star charts, not yet released, which Emkir and Aali got from the Mora Scout base which suggested this system would be, or had already covertly been made an Imperial Client State.    Friday, 294-1112: The Investigation Begins
As the crew rose, cleaned up and waited, they had no news of the outside universe.  Their food and other needs were taken care of by naval staff.  Eventually, a Captain arrived, with his adjutant and some ratings, to deliver the Duke's compliments in a neutral tone.  He then announced he and his people were there to debrief the crew.  After settling in, he introduced his staff.  Then he made it clear he would ask some personal questions before he would start the official inquiry.  He then asked what had been going through their minds?
And into the near silence, Aiden pointed at Zimzod and acerbically said, "Ask him."  When the Captain asked Zimzod to explain, the Knight simply said they'd emerged from jump space into what appeared to be a battle.  When he was able to identify a hostile ship firing on Imperial vessels, he acted accordingly.  Checking his datapad, the Captain asked to confirm he was speaking to Sir Zimzod?  Zimzod agreed and the Captain asked if he had been firing the nuclear missiles?  Zimzod said it wasn't and, when asked who it was, Zach said, "That would be me."  Glancing at his datapad to confirm, he said, "You would be Squire Wood?"
At that point, the Captain said, "This is where we'll begin the official inquiry."  He then rolled history back to just before they emerged from jump and asked where they were in-bound from, and what task brought them to Rhylanor?  Mikah said they had been returning from the Mora system on Duke Leonard's business.  Emkir added in, "Via the Gerome system."  The officer confirmed the last leg of their trip was a jump from the Gerome system.  The Captain then confirmed they'd had credentials to transit that system and had received them from Duke Leonard.  He also confirmed those were in the computers aboard the Sable Addix.
Since Mikah had taken control of responding for the crew, he asked her what happened at the moment they emerged from jump and she said she had been in the engineering compartments.  With that, the Captain asked who was on the bridge and was told Sir Aiden had been the command pilot.  Checking his datapad again, he confirmed he was now speaking to former scout, Aiden Radetsky.  When Aiden corrected him that it was "Sir" Aiden Radetsky, there was an exchange of Idents.  The Captain checked Aiden's social promotion since the news didn't seem to have gotten to the Rhylanor military yet.
After his identity and rank were confirmed, Aiden was asked what circumstances they found themselves in when they emerged?  Aiden bluntly said they'd found themselves in a naval firefight.  As if checking off a list, the Captain asked what action Aiden had taken at that point?  Stuttering, Aiden admitted that he'd sent out a transmission of their identity and started gunning the ship's engines to escape the battle.  Hearing that, the Captain asked, "Who made the command decision to open fire on the Sword Worlds Hostile?"
This shifted attention to Sir Zimzod, since he'd been the first to open fire.  He was asked where he was in the ship when he decided to open fire on the hostile?  Zimzod said he was in one of the ship's laser turrets.  When he was asked if he had, or requested, communications with his bridge command, Zimzod said he didn't have, nor did he ask for any communications.  Zimzod then started explaining that he'd realized there was a Sword Worlds vessel firing on Imperial forces, and was cut off by the Captain.
The officer then asked, "Sir Zimzod, Did you, at that time or at any time following, request communications with the Captain of your ship?"  When Zimzod said he hadn't, the Captain confirmed that Zimzod, in a combat situation, took it upon himself to open fire on an apparently hostile vessel which was superior to his own in size and firepower?  In a satisfied tone, Zimzod agreed that would be the correct way to describe what happened, as he sat back with a very satisfied smile.
Nodding, the Captain turned and addressed Zach formally, asking at what point he chose to open fire with the missile batteries?  Zach said that, after Sir Zimzod had fired, and the destroyer had started turning to bear on them, he figured he'd better start firing before they fired on the Sable Addix.  Less formally, the Captain asked, "So it seemed like a good idea to open fire after Sir Zimzod invited them to play?" and Zach firmly said "I thought it was a superb idea.  And I didn't miss."  The last part was said with very smug satisfaction.
The Captain confirmed that, according to records, he didn't miss, and congratulated Zach, despite knowing, at that range, there was hardly a chance to miss.  Turning his attention to Mikah, he asked, "Lady Kirlim, You are the Captain of the vessel?", making it clear some information had made it to Rhylanor from Mora because he knew she was a "Lady of the Court".  Mikah confirmed she was in command.  He then asked where she was during the combat situation and she confirmed she was in engineering as she'd said earlier.  After that was noted, the Captain simply asked, "Why?"
Mikah said she'd been helping the engineer with her duties since they were a small crew.  When asked if she responded to engineering after becoming aware of the combat situation, she said she'd been in the compatment before they'd emerged.  Nodding at that, the Captain looked at his adjutant before saying, "OK.  This is the end of our part of the inquiry.  We will download all the data we need from the ship's computer and let you know what our findings are when we file our report."  With that, the officer and his staff closed up their devices and finished off recording their data before they said their goodbyes and left.The Party For The Condemned
After that, the crew were left on their own in their barracks section for an hour before the station commander arrived with his executive officer and some other junior officers.  Arriving, he addressed Lady Kirlim, asking how many actions her ship had fought in with that crew?  When she confirmed he was asking about the Sable Addix, she thought before honestly answering, "One", and wondering why he was asking?  The commander asked if she was aware they'd engaged a 1,000 ton destroyer and she started to say she'd found out later, but cut herself off saying, "Yes", in a neutral tone.  Some in the crew couldn't hold in the giggles as they admitted she became aware after the fact.  The commander asked if she was aware how many 400 dTon ships survived actions like that?  Mikah just shrugged, smiled and said, "Don't tell me the odds."
The officer nodded back at her with a smile, saying, "They're significantly slim."  Mikah just waived the comment aside saying, "Never tell me the odds."  Resuming his comments, the commander told them that, that in the day since the battle, there had been a lot of search and rescue, and it appeared their part in the battle had not gone unnoticed.  With that, he turned to his executive officer, who produced a small pouch.  Reaching into the pouch, the Executive Officer pulled out a small panel to show it was some sort of ship's name plate.  Looking at the plate, they realized it wasn't written in GalAnglic but in a language Emkir and a few others recognized as that used on some Sword Worlds planets!
The commander told them that some of his crew were involved in the search and rescue.  He'd had some of his crew board the forward remains of the destroyer they'd blown in half.  They recovered the name plate from the bridge of the dead ship and he wanted to give it to her as a trophy.  Mikah proudly accepted the plate and said it would go in an honored place on their ship as Ms. Vik silently added, "or in the brig we get imprisoned in."  After the plate was handed over, the commander said he was aware the Navy was investigating their actions because they'd disregarded orders given during the battle.  Despite that, he wanted to hold a dinner in the crew's honor for their actions during the battle.
He also advised them orders had been cut to reposition the Sable Addix.  So, he told them his crew would help moving all their gear and possessions off the Gazelle before it was moved.  After their gear was moved, he told them, they were at liberty to move about and visit the station until ordered transported somewhere else.  The commander then left and Emkir loudly announced he needed a drink, and wasn't the only one.  To their own rousing cheers, the crew decided to find the nearest bar to get a drink.  Moving out, the crew found that word of their actions and status preceded them.  And when they did find a bar, they learned their money was no good there, as they were congratulated and cheered.
Aali especially wanted to celebrate having been able to light her honeymoon voyage with nuclear-tipped missiles, even if she'd not fired on any vessels.  And the station's crew were prepared to honor their actions in the battle, no matter how ill advised.  When the drinking started, the celebration got very loud until someone called down the whole bar.  They changed settings on the bar's vid-screen to a news channel and heard reports on rumors that Lady Mikah Kirlim and her crew were instrumental in leading Imperial reinforcements to victory over the rogue fleet, according to unnamed sources.  After the first cheer came back down, Emkir raised a toast to unnamed sources, drowning out a comment from Sir Zimzod.
Zimzod didn't care though, since he, Mikah and Emkir had decided to drink until they remembered no more.  Aiden stuck to a one-drink limit as did Aali.  She knew someone would have to pour Emkir into bed.  Inger declared herself under a "one-bottle" limit as she hugged a magnum the bar tender had just delivered.  The announcement got laughs as those around her helped her pour herself a first drink.  Zach said he'd stop at three drinks while Zimzod started asking about cigars?  Some had no idea what he was talking about while others said they were too expensive for that station.
The party in their honor really got going after the dinner, when it was made clear everyone who wanted to would find willing companionship without even looking.  This was very clear, as Zimzod was led off to female quarters very early on by a rating who was already almost out of uniform.  Eventually, the only members of the crew not hooking up with someone from the station were Aali and Emkir, who had each other.  Even Mikah and Ms. Vik found friendly faces to disappear with.    Saturday, 295-1112: Duke Leonard Lowers The Boom
Somehow, though with few memories of how in some cases, each of the crew returned to their quarters as military restrictions in 'single spacer quarters' was officially "No visitors".  Not that there would've been arrests, but that rule was followed.  And that turned out to be a good thing as naval personnel arrived early the next morning to wake the crew, get them showered and dressed.  Any protests were answered with the response that Duke Leonard wanted to see them on Rhylanor Prime.  Emkir did beg them, "Not so loud".  When they asked how that crew were so sober and cleaned up so early, the officer leading the detail explained they were crew of the INS Kanas Mimusi, which arrived from Rhylanor Prime orbit overnight to carry out His Grace's orders.
Hearing that, Zimzod shrugged and said it was time to head off to do important hero stuff.  Aboard the transport Kanas Mimusi, they found their gear, which had been unloaded from the Sable Addix by the station's crew, was aboard the ship too.  And, as the ship cast off, the crew of the Mimusi began to feed the crew the fluids and antioxidants they appeared to need.  Aali and Aiden quickly learned the transport crew's definition of "need" didn't necessarily match up with actually needing it.
Eventually, the ship set down at a naval base on Rhylanor Prime and the crew were escorted off and onto a ground transport.  From there, they were brought to the Duke's offices to find His Grace's Seneschal waiting, a disapproving look on his face.  Finally, the Duke arrived, looking as if he'd not slept in a number of nights.  Leonard swept them all with his gaze as he said, "If you didn't work for me, I'd have you all shot."  And while all of them knew he was dead serious, some of them wondered why that was stopping him?  Duke Leonard continued, "I'd ask you what you were thinking, but I already have that report.  I am rather glad you survived this scrape because, quite frankly, from the combined sensor data that I've seen, it really doesn't appear you should have."
After letting that settle in during a brief silence, Leonard continued, saying, "You should, by all rights, be explaining yourself to your maker, but you're still here."  All of them caught the tone of regret with which that last was said and were wise enough to hold their tongues.  After another pause, the Duke congratulated them for killing the destroyer.  he continued, saying that destroyer had engaged a number of gunships before their arrival.  So, their intervention actually saved a gunship which would have likely been completely destroyed were it not for their actions.  That got smiles from the group when he confirmed there were survivors from that ship's crew who would be dead if not for them.
After a brief period letting them to feel good about how things worked out, the Duke also said that, because of how they emerged from jump space at that point, there were no legal clauses that could punish any of their actions.  And, because they'd saved the lives of Imperial crews in mortal danger, he was inclined to close the investigation there.  After they waited for a 'but', he continued, saying if the they stretched the point, the investigation would continue, while accepting the decisions made would let it die.  He then told them that was the good news.
The bad news was that someone had made public their actions, along with somehow getting gun-camera footage from the Sable Addix's weapons!  And while he was certain none of the crew were involved, or could have been involved, all that data had made the news and already had been spinning for many cycles.  He was sure the culprit was obviously someone over-zealously celebrating the victory, and he could choose not to investigate that too.  The Duke continued, saying, "We do, however, have to react to the actions.  And we have to react in a way that resolves the situation completely in the minds of the people.  That was because they were involved, so he couldn't make the entire civilian population angry at once."
Then the Duke lowered the boom as he deliberately said, "So there will be a ceremony in two days."  The hearts of the team dropped as he continued, "And you are all going to attend.  And you are all going to receive awards.  And you are all going to like it."  The last was said as a flat-toned threat.  Then, Leonard continued, "And somehow, I will too.  Until then, we're going to fly you and your belongings out to the Hotel California so you can settle into your repaired ship.  And you are going to stay docked at that naval station until it is time for you to return for the ceremony."
As 'two days stuck on a naval station sunk in, the Duke turned to Zach saying, "Mr. Wood.  I understand it was you who was firing the nuclear warheads?"  When Zach confirmed that, Duke Leonard asked, "Do you not recall anything of the discussion we had the last time we spoke?"  As a very confused Zach said he did, the Duke asked him if he really thought his actions did anything to help him return to the Duke's good graces?
Deciding to go for broke, Zach honestly answered, "Well, I'd rather not be in your good graces and be alive than be in your good graces and scattered all over space."  With a nod at that, the Duke said, "I can understand that Mr. Wood.  It'll make what I'm about to do to you so poetic.  See you in two days."  The last was spoken in the tone of a dismissal as the others decided Zach was getting Knighted as a punishmnet.  And with that, the Duke left them and the room.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: Marching Toward The Coming Thunder