Beware the Lack of Obstacles in any Direction (ancient Caritani proverb)
There's only one man who makes Dr. Karin Vexley supremely uncomfortable, and he has just transferred to her ship. Finding out this nasty bit of news, is a revelation and a warning. Karin wants to shut out the former and ignore the latter. The child prodigy has packed a lot of accomplishments into her tender twenty-one years, but shutting out the man who says she looks like a gorgeous angel, is not going to be one of them.
Those two seemingly innocuous words, gorgeous angel, threaten to unleash a flood of memories that Karin does not want to deal with. It's what her father used to say to her mother. It's the last thing child-Karin remembers of her parents on that fateful day on Dracken's World, when they took the (speedy) ride down a shaft on their way to work—as mining engineers.
Today, Karin is a Chief Medical Officer on the latest Devon-class prototype starship, the UGS Trevor Meridian. Her friend, Kitaya, serves beside her – often literally since all Fleet crew members are encouraged to train for double or triple classification. Their current mission is as curious as it's troubling. It will take them to the most dangerous and volatile region in the Federation-held starfields, the Neutral Zone. It is a space corridor filled with leftover wreckage from the battles and skirmishes that had gone on for hundreds of years. It is a strip that separates the free worlds from those captured by the dreaded Shoultain enemy; a marine race of humanoids that, in spite of their obvious physical differences, are not that much different from humans. Once there, they're expected to do something that makes everyone on board – including the Captain, Gallen DeWynter, acutely uncomfortable.
Their orders are to hunt for and capture as many enemy crew patrols as possible. The Federation has layers and layers of strict laws dealing with treatment of captured enemy crew. But those who are waiting in the wings for the Meridian to carry out her questionable mission, aren't concerned with ethics. And they certainly aren't concerned whether such a dangerous mission will be without casualties.