At the end of the Fifth Frontier War      In September of the year 1107 of the Third Imperium, forces of the Zhodani Consulate swept across the Imperial border with the support of the Sword Worlds and Vargr fleets to begin the Fifth Frontier War.  That war raged across the spinward and coreward subsectors of the Spinward Marches until Imperial forces stopped and destroyed the Zhodani 40th Fleet, which had been the Invaders only remaining attack fleet.  At the same time, Imperial forces had pushed both the Sword World and Vargr forces back and even occupied most of Sword Worlds space.  Imperial forces even brought the war to Zhodani home ports after liberating all attacked Imperial systems.
Imperial forces in the Emerald system, on the edge of Imperial space in the Jewell Subsector, were at the bleeding edge of liberation.  Forces which had been landed there to liberate the system were now handling the result of atrocities left behind by the retreating Zhodani.  Thanks to a moderate level of advanced tech and robotics, the ~50,000 Imperial citizens of the system had done well as an agricultural world, providing farmed meats and vegetables to the local stellar cluster.  Until the Zhodani arrived during the opening of the Fifth Frontier War.  In addition to the Imperial Scout base in-system, every member of the population had a role in system defense, even going to ground as guerillas when all Imperial warships were destroyed, captured or forced out of the system.
The result was a declaration of unrestricted warfare by the Zhodani against any Imperials located.  After that, they 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 ruin in place of any locations where caves had once been known to exist.  So, the only arriving ships carried relief supplies and the only ships leaving the system carried evacuation of forces needed elsewhere and/or those 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 evacuated victims to less damaged systems in the trailing section of the Spinward Marches.  She was stranded thanks to high-priority medical cases among the still-living victims being evacuated from the Emerald system.  Making things worse, post-war demobilization had hit the Emerald system and Mikah's command notified her they'd 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 of his very physical stature.  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 led to his not being allowed to reenlist..  Direct out of a training assignment that also left him holding "certain pieces" of 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 was currently 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 had been commandeered by the Imperial Navy.  The Navy had re-crewed the vessel 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 in-system.
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" had been loaded into the cargo bay of a mega-transport named the INS "Long Stride", to quickly get the smaller ship to the Garda-Vilis system under Naval orders.  There, they were told they were needed to "recover" a team of Imperial diplomats who were being held by a Sword Worlds Confederation government, in a secure base in the Hrunting System (Sword Worlds Subsector)
The Mission :      Trade is the life's blood of any star-spanning empire.  Without it, the taxes any interstellar government needs to pay for anything are 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 was the key act of faith that convinced the angry remnants of the Sword Worlds to accept the offer.
Sadly, this plan was betrayed when disaffected members of a group in the Imperial Naval Intelligence, who'd suffered due to Norris' actions, uncovered it 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 Human 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 and would help them recover the ship before surrendering himself for his crimes.  Still, they were only able to re-take the ship after the ship had emerged from jump, and the Joyeusi had arrived early.  The first shots between ships had already been fired, and the Joyeusi ships escaped as Norris' ships recovered from the surprise appearance of a 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 resisting officers.  Hearing that, crews loyal to the rogue Admiral opened fire.  Knowing what had to be coming, the Gazelle's surviving crew were already on the outer hull of the ship when fire came arcing in.  With no other options, they made an EVA jump as the gazelle had her back broken by the incoming fire.  The Aslan led the EVA-team as they crossed space to grapple with the flagship's hull and board her.  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 the crew were at their battle stations.  As they moved, they spread word of the Admiral's the treachery and many of the flagship crew began to fight among themselves.  That while incoming fire from Imperial-loyal ships rocked the vessel and more ship to ship combat broke out.  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, the Admiral's former commanders surrendered.  Still, despite the end of combat, 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 which they'd have to sneak through.  Drifting, with as much as possible shut down to avoid detection, they played "rogue rock".  Despite being a system with a naval base on a hostile border, they didn't look threatening at all.  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.  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.  They would then disable the package and 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.  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 wasn't the "observant" type.  After killing the team, Quinn and Zimzod couldn't use their spacesuits thanks to the bullet holes.  Stuck for an idea, they cut the fronts off the suits and used water to freeze the cut-outs onto the front their combat armor.  Good enough to fool someone from a distance, it still looked odd, even at a distance.  So, the tech, who'd been watching intently as they got close figured out something was wrong.  Watching him as they closed in, Zimzod realized the game might be up and decided to try and take the man 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 moved closer to the control panel mounted near the main entry.  Even as he'd done that, Zimzod was already off the snow-cat with his gauss rifle, despite not knowing the results of his shot.  Quinn hit the breaks to stop the sled at the same time.  Bringing up his weapon for a second volley, Zimzod killed his target.  Just after the man hit the alarm.  Now, Zimzod had to try and find access to the base below before they were locked out.  Meanwhile, Quinn worked the garage doors to keep them open until the rest of the team arrived.  Getting his warning call, 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 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 as 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, the rest of the team continued the search, eventually finding an equipment lift under a pile of cargo.  That was in place to lower deliveries into the base proper.
Soon, Mikah had Zimzod bandaged and 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 tell to any first responders they had 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 get to a computer, hack into it and figure out where the diplomats were 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 lifts, planning to infiltrate down to various levels of the base and hunt.  Zimzod and Mikah ended up teamed up as they moved into what looked like an administrative section of offices.
Bad luck had its own moment as they soon ran into a responding security team while searching the area for computers to access or other sources of information.  And the confusion of the moment wasn't nearly enough to cover Zimzod's Imperial model of 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 was 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 an office.  There, they were waiting for the reinforcements they'd called when 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 to 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 seemed that 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, so the security teams were spreading thin.  Brian and his team had also been hacking the base computer system and spreading false alarms while hidden in the warehouse level themselves.  So, Brian's team were perfectly placed to support an escape with surprises and confusion!
After being comm'd and even threatened while they hid, Brian and his teammate joined the fight directly, 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.  At the portal behind them, they set explosives to keep anyone following 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 Garda-Vilis system.  In that down time, naval medical personnel treated the wounded and hostages.  From Garda-Vilis, 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