Author's Note: This is my first attempt at writing within the Honor Harrington universe. Enjoy!

Obligatory legal mumbo jumbo: Honor Harrington and associated material are copyright Baen Books and David Weber. All characters are original, unless canon are used

HMS Hexapuma pulled slowly away from her docking tube at Hephestus station. They'd been at the yard for months following the last clash with the Peeps, and the crew was itching to be on the move again. Orders had come down from the Fifth Space Lord, taking them on a cruise that would put them far from Haven space. One person in particular was ..nervous. This was only Beth's second tour after completing her own snotty (midshipman) cruise, and she now filled the slot that put her in charge of Hexapuma's snotties. Sighing, she turned away from her tactical plot, and keyed her comm, requesting that the midshipmen meet in her office in 15 minutes.

Talon prepared himself to leave for his superior's quarters, and for the inevitable leaving of the yard he'd so been looking forward to. He adjusted his black uniform so that it was perfect, and made sure the pulser gun was safe at his side. They were at war, of course, and even an officer -in-training needed to be ready. He walked for almost ten minutes before reaching the appropriate place, where the other midshipmen were entering in.

Beth looked up from the file she'd been reading as the chime at her office door announced the arrival of the midshipmen. Hexapuma was running light in the Middy berths, which was unusual. With a sigh, Beth set down her pad and ejected the chip as she pinched the bridge of her nose. 'Relax, Beth... wouldn't want the Commander seeing you like this...' she told herself. Shrugging, she called out, "Enter!" and waited for the three midshipmen to obey.

Talon led the way of the other two, standing before Beth crisp and at attention. He and the other saluted her properly. She regarded them for a long moment, just until she could tell they were beginning to squirm. It was going to be her job to turn these young people into Queen's officers. "Stand easy, Ladies and Gentlemen." she allowed finally, her voice, carrying well across the few feet that separated them. "Welcome aboard Hexapuma."

Talon relaxed, for even that was an order. The others did as well, but both of them slumped, totally relaxed. Only Talon was still respectful. "Thank you, ma'am," Talon said, the first to speak. "It is an honor to be able to serve the Queen."

Lieutenant Williams allowed the barest hint of a smile to touch her lips as she gazed at the young man who had spoken. She didn't even spare a glance for the other two. She'd deal with them later. "Now then. As you know, this cruise will be your final test before you become full Officers. It won't be easy. This may be one of the hardest things you've ever done. Out here, your decision could very well mean the life of the people who serve under you. However, that does not mean that it will always be that way. You will be pushed. There will be times you will hate me. But keep in mind: all of you are here because you wanted to serve. Never forget that."

Talon gave another salute and the other two, rather worried looking, followed his example. "Yes ma'am," was all Talon said, understanding that this was it: his chance to make it or break it in the military.

Beth's gaze slid sideways as she regarded the other two. "Ladies, and gentlemen: I have reviewed your files. Each and every one of you had excellent marks. However," and her voice took on an edge of steel as she turned fully to the other Midshipmen. "When a superior asks something of you, you respond, 'Yes, Ma'am' or 'Thank You, Ma'am!' is that clear?"

"Yes ma'am!" they all rang out, Talon for the second time. Talon watched her eyes change, her voice take a razor's edge, and suddenly realized this wasn't going to be the cakewalk he'd anticipated.

For a long moment, her gaze bored into each of them in turn. "You may think that because of your family's wealth or position, that such will get you preferential treatment. Let me remind you, Ladies and Gentlemen; this is a Queen's ship. You are here on your Middy cruise. If you do well, you will continue on in the Service. However," and here her voice went quiet...almost dangerous. "If you shirk you duty, you can rest assured that you will be disciplined according to the Articles of War."

Talon and the others chanted, "Yes, ma'am," again, understanding fully from their time in the Academy exactly what those 'disciplines' would entail. The Middies saluted their Lieutenant, each standing as clean and crisp as they could. Only Talon, however, looked a little disturbed. He knew the Navy was tough and strict, but something about all this precaution ate at him. And he surely wasn't from a prestigious noble house. Why had Beth mentioned that?

"Now then..." and her voice was calmer. "You should all go get settled into the middy berths if you haven't already." She noticed not one of them had a countergrav locker in tow, so they must have. "You'll have 6 hours to yourselves. I'll have your duty assignments posted to Hexapuma's net within the hour. Dismissed."

Talon and the others saluted their superior, and the two other middies left. Talon turned as well, but stopped at the door an d turned around to face her again. "Permission to speak, ma'am?" he asked, his eyes still strangely set with a determination of some kind.

Beth felt an eyebrow crept upwards, and she gestured towards the chair in front of her desk as she shuffled datacards out of the way. "What can I do for you, Mr. Sky?" She could tell something was bothering him, and part of her hoped he hadn't taken offense to her little speech. She knew there was at least one of noble blood among the Middies, and she didn't want it going to his head.

Talon sat across from Beth, nodding his head. He was still fresh from Academy, still very tight and formal. "I was wondering, ma'am, about our post," he said. "I saw the system announcement, but the briefing was very vague. Almost like we're not being told everything about the assignment." Talon bowed his head. "I apologize if I speak out of turn. Have no doubt my dedication to the Queen and this crew, ma'am, I am simply wondering where my skills would best be laid."

Beth's forehead creased slightly as she gazed at the young man who sat across from her. "There's only so much I can tell you until the Captain makes the official announcement. I do know, however, that we will be quite a ways from any Peep Navy units. We're going to Yeltsin's Star... to Grayson." She sighed. "Unfortunately, I don't even know everything, and some of that is for security reasons.' She smiled briefly.

"That brings me to your next question. You have sound tactical skills, and your scores are excellent. We do have a small security detachment in addition to Hexapuma's Marine contingent. You'd most likely be working closely with them."

At this she held up a finger to forestall his comment. "Keep in mind, that your assignment to the detachment could be seen as favoritism by your fellow Middies. Normally, we rotate all the middies through departments. I'll still have to rotate you through every so often to ah, round out your education." Her eyes twinkled momentarily, "but I can see from your file that putting you anywhere else for too long could dull your skills."

Talon nodded, a smile coming to his face. "Thank you, ma'am," he said. Talon had studied Tactics in the Academy, but unlike his other classmates, he wasn't interested very much in captaining a ship. Talon loved the ebb and flow of combat, and excelled in commanding and executing procedures. He'd have been better suited for the Marines, but had ultimately decided the Navy would show him more of the universe. "And of course. I am here to learn and serve, after all. I probably wouldn't be satisfied if I didn't at least try each position."

Beth's eyebrow climbed a few centimeters again. "Mr. Sky...may I ask why you chose the Navy over the Marines? Your skill set seems rather well suited to the Marines..."

Talon smiled. "Family preference, ma'am," he explained simply. "One who comes from a family of Naval Officers does not join the Marines, what with their rivalry and all," he chuckled. "I may ask for a lateral transfer over one day, but I hope to prove my service valuable to the Navy as well. The Queen will be served no matter my course, I assure you." Talon cleared his throat. "Er, ma'am," he tacked on.

Beth's mouth twitched at his slip. "I'll keep that in mind, then. In the mean time, your duty assignment will be to assist me .. and by extension the Marines aboard Hexapuma should we have a need for their services. Currently, they provide a round-the-clock sentry on the Captain's quarters, and provide security and boarding details in the event we may need to board a ship or one of our Navy personnel is going into a potentially hostile situation. I don't foresee that happening on this cruise, but Murphy likes to mess around. I'm detailing you to be my contact person, and go between when it comes to Marine Country."

Talon nodded, thankful for the pre-opped assignment. "I won't let you down, Lieutenant," Talon promised, standing and giving her a salute. "That is all I had to ask, ma'am," Talon concluded. "Is there anything I may do for you?"

She cracked a smile. "Go get some rest. You're going to need it. Have you been able to stow your locker in the Middy Berth?"

Talon shook his head. "No ma'am, I just arrived when your com called for the middies," he said. He had a basic idea of where to go, however, having learned of standard HMS layouts. She cocked her head for a moment before handing him a datachip. "Here are your orders. The Chief can point you in the proper direction." After all, she couldn't give him all the answers. That was, what a Middy cruise was about. "Dismissed, Mr. Sky..." She gestured to the door to her office, hoping that he really would get some rest.

Talon thanked Beth and left her office, following her suggestion to find the Chief and his quarters. It had been a rather exciting day; a few hour's sleep and trimming up would be nice.

Beth sat staring at her now closed door for a long moment, tipping her chair back as she sat in thought. 'That young man has the makings of a fine officer. I just hope it can stay that way.' Again, she glanced at his file. He was from Manticore, while Beth was from Sphinx, a world that had a significantly longer solar year than Manticore.

Talon found his berth on his own, following his own instincts and knowledge. He opened the middy quarters, noting that the others were already inside. Walking inside, Talon gave his fellows a smile and a nod, watching to see if they would return it. Talon had already shown he was more courageous then them, and had probably embarrassed them.

The other two people in the common area looked up briefly. They were both studying. There were two empty bunks, both fitted with brackets to hold Talon's countergrav locker. The other male Midshipman went back to his reading, and seemed to forget Talon was even there. But the young woman allowed a small nervous smile. "I'm glad you found your way, it can be a maze in here."

Talon smiled back. "Yeah, nothing like the small-scale sims at the Academy," he commented, fully coming into the room. His countergrav locker lay on his bed, packed already, and Tom lifted it to examine it. He did not smile. "Rather useless technology, even if widespread," he said aloud, thinking.

The young woman raised an eyebrow. "What? Are you saying you WANT to lug a 50 plus kilo locker by hand through the crowded galleries of spacedock Hephestus?" She sounded skeptical. "The countergrav and tether allow you to keep track of your belongings better. Think about it. How would it look if you had left your locker in the care of a dock worker, and Hexapuma broke free of the station before it got onboard?"

Talon looked at her. "I know it's uses, I just don't carry enough possessions on me to get much use of it. Clothes are what I mostly own, not much else in terms of possessions or heirlooms." Talon simply shrugged it off and climbed into bed. "Whatcha studying?" he asked innocently.

Sharon sighed, but then grinned a little. "Just reading up on some tactical stuff. Grapevine says the Lieutenant likes to quiz her Middies..." After a moment, she brushed her dark hair away from her face.\

Talon nodded. "Wouldn't surprise me." Tom opened his locker and grabbed his own old tactics book, flipping it open to a random page. He'd already read the sizable book many times over. He closed it, rolling over onto his back.

She watched Talon for a moment, snorting softly as she saw him roll over. If he wasn't going to study, that was his problem. She didn't know him that well personally, and the other male midshipman just made her skin crawl. Shaking her head, she turned back to her own studying, ignoring the room's other occupant.

Talon sighed and closed his eyes. He wanted to sleep a little, and his right hand moved to his left. He set the alarm on his wristwatch to go off in four hours. He'd shower and dress after that, unless his roommates needed him before that.

Four hours later, Talon awoke when his alarm went off. He got up and showered, then dressed in his proper uniform, ready for his duties.

Beth had been busy. She'd met with the Captain, an older man of Gryphon descent. Captain Harriman was a by-the-book kind of man, but he also enjoyed testing his crew. It had helped bring them together into a unit over the last three T-years that Beth had been aboard. Again, she glanced down at her padd and allowed a grin to pass over her face.

The Hexapuma's tac officer was... a genius. The simulation that he'd proposed would push the middies. Then she keyed her comm, directly to the Midshipmen berth. "This is Lieutenant Williams. All Midshipmen: report to AuxCon in 20 minutes."

Talon made sure he was properly equipped, and waited patiently for the others to be ready so they could head down as a group. "Training Sim?" Talon guessed aloud, smiling.

Sharon grinned and shrugged as she hefted her skinsuit's helmet, casting an eye towards their companion. His skinsuit was tailored. That could mean only one thing: his family had money. Rolling her eyes in Talon's direction, she spoke to both of them, gesturing Talon through the hatch first, as the one with the better class standing. "Let's go... wouldn't do to be late..."

Talon led the way, not missing Sharon's glance nor her observation, for he'd noticed it too. Their little friend barely spoke to them, but Talon lagged behind a few steps and patted him on the shoulder of his skinsuit nonetheless. He let Sharon lead, realizing she actually knew where she might be going.

Mentally, Sharon shook her head. Nothing good could possibly come from socializing with the son of the Earl of North Hollow. She just hoped Talon knew what he was doing. She began pointing out a few things along the short walk to the lift tube, quizzing them. Soon enough, the lift tube deposited them several decks down and in the bowels of the ship, half-way between the double ended spindle of an impeller-driven ship of the wall.

Talon did not make too merry with their famous companion, any more then he had with Sharon ... perhaps a little less. But where she nearly shunned him, Talon meant to at least make him feel welcome among them. Finally the lift-tube brought them to AuxCon, and Talon once again took the lead. He stayed a single stride before the other two middies as was prudent, not too far that he seemed pompous. This midshipman knew his homework.

Beth turned, hearing their booted feet on the decksole. "Good, you're here." She thought a moment, and assigned Sharon to communications, Talon to Tactical and Ernest Young (North Hollow) to help Sharon. She however, had a slightly higher class standing than Young. Beth could see the young man's shoulders twitch as he made his way to the assistant's station next to Sharon. Beth leaned back in the command chair, her helmet racked neatly on the back.

"Now then, ladies and gentlemen. I have been informed of a Silesian convoy headed towards our vector. The Sollies are quite a ways from the Solarian League. Why don't we go see what they're up to...?" She tried very hard to keep the twinkle from her eye. The tac officer in her was almost rubbing her hands together in glee.

Talon nodded, understanding his purpose. "A wise choice, Lieutenant," he said, already into the Sim. He acted his part perfectly...for him, every Sim was real, a true test. It was what made him so good at them.

With a nod from the XO, Beth turned back to her station, her hands flying over the controls as she directed Hexapuma's passive sensors towards the approaching vessels. She knew she didn't dare roll ship to clear the wedge. That would have been a dead giveaway that Hexapuma was a military craft. Instead, she focused in with the passive sensors, diverting some of the task to Talon's board as she spoke quietly. "Mr. Sky... I need you to see if you can get a better read off the convoy... we need to know if its pirates, Navy, or a merchie convoy. Use passives, though try to refine the data as you can..." She pointed to her tactical repeater, which showed the three vessels each surrounded with a strobing amber marker, denoting them as unknowns, except for their IDs.

"Yes, ma'am," Talon said, his face already over his screen and fingers flying. There was a certain diplomatic protocol to all this, but he was quick and knew how to run the ID's against Manticore's data system. "The ID's are merchants," Talon reported, but his eyes were still flickering. "But their engine specs and output aren't protocol. Either they're illegally modified, or...pirates," Talon confirmed. "I see them positioning in an attack formation, at least precautionary." He turned to face Beth, waiting for more instructions.

"Thank you, Mr. Sky, good work..." she said, just loud enough for the XO to hear, so he knew who had made the discovery. With a few taps of her own board, she sent the data to the XO's console. Commander Stone glanced down at the information as it appeared on the tactical repeater by his left knee, and frowned. The young man had done good work indeed. It took a trained eye to spot something like that. After a moment's consideration, he said, "Action stations! Actions stations!" Around him, the officers of Aux Con began securing themselves, and donning their helmets. Stone then turned to Tactical, "Bring up Missile Two, and load across their bow in...3..2..1!"

As he finished, Beth's finger stabbed the firing key, even as she had Talon begin working on a firing solution to feed into the computer. As Beth went about her task, the XO turned to communications, and Sharon and Young. "Comm, send message as follows: Solarian vessel, you are ordered to heave to and state your business." Sharon pressed her finger to the earpiece in her ear, listening to the recording before she looked at the XO and nodded. "Good copy, sir." Stone returned the gesture. "Send it and let's see what happens."

Talon listened intently as well. As assistant Tactical, he had to be ready to follow whatever Beth or Commander Stone ordered in a moment's notice. All information he had before the orders were given would expedite this. Talon spoke aloud to Beth. "Lieutenant. Impellers discovered, as well as weapon specs. Transferring data," he said, even as he'd pressed the button.

"Thank you, Mr. Sky..." she allowed a faint smile to touch her lips. He was rather quick on the uptake. Talon took the compliment in stride, his fingers already flying across the keyboard again. He tracked every movement the enemy ships made, as well as tried to pin down by energy output exactly how much of a threat these ships were. They still hadn't responded to Beth's command of ID.

Beth nodded, and began feeding the data into the tactical computer as she devised a firing plan. Her work came to an abrupt halt as she saw the Sollie vessel roll ship. It wasn't a military vessel... they had to be insane to take on a Manty cruiser. Biting down on her lip, she called out. "Commander, they just rolled ship to..." and she was cut off as a barrage missiles slammed against Hexapuma's sidewalls. The cruise bucked, twisting as the laser heads stabbed out at her. The sidewalls tried desperately to bend the lasers, but they still got through.

Beth swore, feeling her crash restraints digging into her shoulders. "Dammit!" Beth swore, casting a quick look around AuxCon as she input her own firing sequence and hit the commit key, using Talon's data. Twenty missiles screamed out of their tubes, streaking towards the Sollie vessel on their own impellers once they were clear of Hexapuma. She turned to Talon. "Get me a new firing solution!" Even pirates weren't supposed to have weapons this good. Their own missiles reached the Solarian vessel. A third of them were picked off by the vessel's weak point defense... as if someone was manually controlling it. But the rest got through.

"Already on it, ma'am!" Talon called out, sending the orders out for new missiles to be packed into the respective tubes. "Set!" he called out,sending her the sequence. He was already typing up another firing solution to follow up this latest one.

Beth's eyes widened in admiration as she glanced at the firing solutions he'd fed to her console. They were targeted to take out the majority of the other vessel's broadside capability. Her eyes narrowed. Even a pirate shouldn't have that, which made it illegal. She fed the sensor data to the Commander's repeater. And instant later he snapped. "Helm, roll ship!" The navigator responded, "Rolling ship, aye!" Hexapuma snapped up on her side, presenting the impenetrable belly of her wedge.

And not a moment too soon. Sollie missiles screamed across the blackness, and their laser heads lashed out at Hexapuma, bucking her. With a stab of her finger, Beth sent the first wave of missiles from Talon's program back towards them. This time, she watched in amazement as on the tactical plot, the Solly vessel's wedge flickered and died.

Talon had concentrated his fire there and on several key weapons. On reaction thrusters, it would take longer for the Solly to roll ship to present her undamaged broadside weapons. After a quiet order from Stone to Sharon, she typed out a message to the Solly vessel. "They are standing down sir!" A cheer went up around AuxCon, and it was at that moment that the lights came back up, signaling the end of the sim. "Excellent work, Ladies and Gentlemen." the commander said as he rose. "We'll debrief in an hour."

Talon leaned back in his chair, letting his breath out finally. Even though it was a sim, he'd gotten very into it, far more then the other middies. He wiped his forehead, sweating just a little, before standing.

"Go get some food," Beth said, loud enough for the other middies to hear her. Privately, she was impressed by how both Sharon and Talon had handled themselves. Young, on the other hand hadn't done much of anything.

Talon stood and stretched, taking Beth's suggestion to heart. He walked cheerfully up to Sharon and Young, the latter of which did not look up at Talon. "That was awesome!" he exclaimed, throwing a fist into the air. "We are gonna be the middies of the year," Talon joked.

Sharon smiled, and her eyes twinkled. "There's more where that came from, Sky... let's go get some food." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Lieutenant making her way to the lift tube. The sim had gone rather well. But she knew that she couldn't be the only one who had noticed Young's lack of participation. She vowed to talk to Beth if no one else did.

Talon nodded, and prodded Young. The second Middy rose, shrugging noncommittally. Talon, however, was still pumping and gun-ho. "To the mess hall," he chuckled. "Er, you know, if you guys know where it is."

Sharon just grinned. "Come on... it's 3 decks up. I'm hungry!" She thumped Talon on the shoulder. His firing solution had saved their butts. She had to admit, he was a gifted tactician. Reaching the lift tube, she gestured the others ahead and entered, selecting their destination. Young was even more quiet than normal, and that worried her. She resolved to keep an eye on him. She knew some in the nobility didn't react well when someone showed them up.