Set in the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, it introduces the main character of an upcoming trilogy of prequel novels written by Zahn.
Timeframe: 1543 PD
While the Solarian Axelrod Corporation is in the process of hiring the Volsung Mercenaries to invade and conquer the Manticore System, Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long of the Royal Manticoran Navy warship HMS Phoenix gets into trouble for writing up a sloppy subordinate from a powerful family. Soon after, Long is transferred to the experimental light cruiser HMS Casey.
When the Axelrod freighter that was sent for an intelligence update arrives at the red dwarf that the Volsung use as a rendezvous point, the Axelrod representative chooses to edit the report, which states that the RMN is tougher than expected and has even more ships in refit and construction.
A few weeks later, the Volsung Mercenaries arrive at Manticore, acting like a civilian transport looking for help. Casey and her formation come to its aid, but soon detect other impeller wedges nearby; the Manticorans realize they are running into a trap, and prepare for battle. As the engagement starts, Casey is damaged by enemy missiles. Long realizes that one of the enemy ships seems to have problems with an autocannon, and the crew decides to use this to their advantage. Feigning a missile launch at one of the smaller ship, they manage to hit the enemy flagship Odin. However, the Mercenaries return fire, destroying the destroyer HMS Gorgon, the two RMN corvettes are ordered to scatter, the Casey providing a distraction by continuing down the Merceneries' throat.
The battlecruiser Tyr attacks the Casey, but Lieutenant Long manages to deflect its attack with a training missile's wedge, and then destroys the enemy ship with energy torpedos. At the sight of this unexpected turn of events, the other Mercenaries leave to rendezvous with their backup force.
Two weeks later, Long is nominated for the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, but his enemies in higher places deny the request and he must settle with a Royal Unit Citation. He recalls how the backup force suddenly appeared in front of Admiral Carlton Locatelli's formation which was coming to Casey's assistance, and how the real battle had begun. Admiral Locatelli later takes most of the credit, even though many other heroes have died to successfully defend the Star Kingdom.
Captain Heissman explains to Long that he will have to get used to suffering through the vicious internal politics of the Navy, but he will be proud to serve with him again once the Casey is repaired and returns to the King's service.
Bajek | Celia Belokas | Blakely | Castillo | Clymes | Brad Fornier | Cutler Gensonne | Hermie | Rudolph Heissman | Sweeney Imbar | Kebiro | Jeremiah Llyn | Carlton Locatelli | Fenton Locatelli | Travis Long | Tash McConnovitch | Ngo | Lorelei Osterman | Rusk | Shapira | Vance Sladek | Tomasello | von Belling | Edward I Winton | Alfred Woodburn
Royal Manticoran Navy