Tom Thrush thinks basic officer training is tough – until he joins the frigate Kestrel and finds out what tough really means. The crew resents him. The first officer is actively hostile. As the ship hunts pirates in deep space, Tom struggles to fit in and wonders if things can get any worse. They can.
A devastating attack leaves the ship crippled with half the crew dead or dying. The senior officers are wiped out, leaving a terrified sublieutenant in the last place he wants to be.