Since expulsion means that Rick's family will no longer be able to claim their welfare bonus, Rick begins looking for a job. One of his former teachers encourages him to get a job for the Vanguard Mining corporation, whose primary financial interest is in space mining of asteroids in the asteroid belt. The book follows his progress through an initial grueling examination period on Earth, initial training on an asteroid in a high orbit of Earth, and through an apprenticeship on another training facility in the asteroid belt. After proving himself, Rick is recruited to join a secret program to infiltrate and subvert Earth's education systems away from its current initiative-deadening pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Much of the book is a thinly veiled criticism against current public policy concepts like centralization, socialism, federally managed education, and cultural attitudes about individual responsibility, particularly concerning children and young adults. The novel has a distinctly libertarian tone, which is typical of both Sheffield and Pournelle's work, and certainly a common theme throughout speculative sci-fi in general.