Prologue
Foxkit

Location: ESS Astyanax, Jovian Sphere
Date: Mon 09 Jan 114
Time: UST 0244

As soon as the hangar was sealed and repressurized, nearly every pilot of Carrier Airwing Group Three-Two swooped in like raptors to feast on the fresh meat that the latest shuttle had delivered. No one disembarking from the shuttle ranked higher than ensign, all newly pinned, wearing their immaculate brand-new dress uniforms. The majority of them, though, were third-year cadets from the Academy on their Midshipman's Cruise. One label fit both the midshipmen and the new inductees into the 'real Navy' and it was chanted like a mantra by the pilots.
"Nugget, nugget, nugget!"
The ensigns only had a single quadrimester between themselves and their own Midshipman's Cruise, unlike the old days before training times were shortened and they had a whole year to wrap up their studies. Even with six months of active-duty service on various warships in the Fleet, most of them looked as rattled as the midshipmen who were setting foot on a combat vessel for the first time. Of course, their fear only egged on the pilots, who were now peppering their chant with all manner of taunts and insults. If the pilots could get at least one of them to cry, their day would be made.
Their sport, however, what cut short by the ear-piercing blare of an airhorn. Besides a few scattered bits of profanity from the pilots, this more or less succeeded at quieting things down, enough for a woman's commanding voice to demand, "What's with all the grabass in my hangar?"
The pilots turned to see Commander Han standing there with her arms crossed, the airhorn still dangling from her hand.
"Your hangar?" one of the pilots balked. "You ain't CAG, Foxcat."
"I'm DCAG, ain't I?" the Commander snapped back.
"Acting DCAG," another pilot corrected.
Commander Han rolled her eyes. "'Cause that shit don't get old." She then asked them, "What've we got here?"
"Boatload of nuggets," the first pilot to speak up--a senior lieutenant whose nametape read 'Karkarian'--responded. "Mostly mids, it looks like."
"Alright," the Commander said, "now back the hell off so I can check these hyokkos out."
As the pilots put some distance between themselves and the new arrivals, Commander Han shouted, "Hyokkos! Fall in!"
The ensigns and midshipmen formed up with the promptness only freshly trained sailors ever seemed to demonstrate. The Commander ordered them into open ranks and went right into an impromptu inspection. She went down the line, digging up any miniscule flaw in uniform, bearing or personal appearance. Some of it was just to psych them out, the usual "You shave this morning?" and disparaging comments about using all spit and no shine in the full knowledge than none of their dress shoes required actual shining. It was a formality more than anything else and the new arrivals had become well-accustomed to it by this point, so there were scarcely any genuine deficiencies to be found.
As the Commander made her way down the third rank, she stopped at a female midshipman who looked a little younger than the rest, who no doubt got a waiver to enroll early.
"What's your handle, Midshipman?" Commander Han asked.
"Foxkit, ma'am," the midshipman replied pertly.
"Looks like someone's got a fan," Lieutenant Karkarian quipped from the cluster of pilots.
Ignoring him, the Commander then asked, "What ship are you cruising on?"
"The Oliver Cromwell, ma'am."
"The Ollie C's a good ship. Lieutenant Cluess'll take good care of you."
"Yes, ma'am."
Commander Han leaned in closer to look at the midshipman's collar, noting the class rank insignia opposite the third-year pin.
"Only a petty officer?" she asked critically. "You know I was a captain back in the Academy."
The midshipman continued her prompt responses with yet another "Yes, ma'am."
"You've still got time to climb the ladder when you get back. I expect you to make commander before you graduate."
"Aye-aye, ma'am."
Straightening up, the Commander then said, "Make me proud, Midshipman Han."
The midshipman's chest seemed to swell a bit and the faintest trace of a smile crossed her lips as she replied, "Aye-aye, ma'am."
Several of the pilots leaned in, apparently disbelieving their ears. Again, Lieutenant Karskarian was the one to speak up.
"Whoa, did you just say 'Midshipman Han'?"
"Maybe I did," the Commander said curtly. Stepping away from the formation, she started to shoo the pilots away, saying, "Alright, break it up, people. If you've got time on your hands, I'm sure I can think of something for you to do. Unless you're a sponsor for one of these nuggets, I want you to de-ass my hangar."
"Yeah, yeah, we're goin', Foxcat," Lieutenant Karkarian grumbled over all the other less intelligible grumblings in the crowd.
The pilots dispersed, some of them in spite of the fact that they were sponsors for the new arrivals, but they would be hunted down later. The Commander went back to her inspection, all the while one of them quietly contended with the conflict of the great pride and anxiety of the expectations placed on her.