Harry closed the door behind him with relief. The 'clubhouse' always had a homey feel to it even if it was usually a little junky. The guys were never known for their tidiness. The 'clubhouse' happened to be a vacant storage unit, but it was their storage unit. A poker game was in session, as usual, with the tri-D screen tuned to a nice view of a nude dancing girl. Eel threw his cards down on the table with a whoop of joy. "Read 'em and weep!" He scooped the pot of glittering oddments toward him with a broad grin. Harry smiled. "Deal me in?"
       The rest of the players threw up their hands. "Not me."
       "I'm out."
       "Sorry Harry, I'm busted."
       Eel beckoned him over. "I'll go a hand or three with you, Harry."
       Harry snerked. "No way I'm gonna go one on one with a rich man. My pockets aren't as deep as yours right now."
       Eel smiled a broad grin. "Have it your way then." He nodded toward the pile in front of him. "Last of the Geisel heist, and now it's all mine! You guys should have saved yourselves some time and trouble and just let me have your shares when we first got it." He dodged the thrown beverage container. "Ah, you're just sore losers!" The group snickered. Harry didn't join in. He didn't feel much like jokes right now. Eel noticed. Eel always noticed. "What's wrong, Harry? Your Old Man again?"
       Harry flopped into the nearest chair with a sigh. "Yeah. Man, oh man, he gets drunk enough to argue, but not drunk enough to go to sleep and leave me in peace." The guys nodded sagely. They always understood.
       "Aw, forget about him, Harry. He ain't worth your time." Said Eel as he scooped his treasure into a bag. "Have a drink and relax."
       Bert handed Harry a glass of dark ale. "Drink up. We're almost out of that little bit of paradise. Geisel only had one case of it."
       Harry savored the sweet, nutty flavor of the fluid. "Too bad our replicators can't make this stuff."
       Doug waved his hand dismissively. "I checked. It ain't available by replicator for any price. You want Zindan's Premier Dark you have to go directly to the brewery. The brewery never put it on the replicator market. They cater to the Uptowners. You think they care whether or not we insignificant linear rats can get any?" His last comment brought raucous laughter from everyone at such an absurd thought.
       Cleve, always the logical one, started. "I've got an idea!" Harry waited hopefully for him to fall out of his chair, an event which never quite came to be. One of these days, Harry reflected, a thought would enter Cleve's head that would be so monumental as to amplify his physical reaction to ideas to the point where his head would contact the ceiling. All eyes were on Cleve as they waited to hear more. Cleve just grinned and let the tension build.
       Eel glowered. "Well, what is it? Are you going to tell us about it or did your brain just fart?"
       "I think we oughta go get some more." This was greeted with nods and smiles. "It's no secret where the brewery is. No reason we can't arrange to lighten their inventory."
       Harry was grinning broadly. Heists were always fun. Relieve the rich, painlessly, of an overage of stuff and redistribute that stuff to those, namely themselves, who suffered a shortage of the nicer things of life. It was an excellent plan. He nodded. "I'm in." A look around the room told him that the rest of the guys were likewise minded.

       It was late when he returned home. He was surprised to find his Mother still awake in front of the tri-D. "Hi Mom. Can't sleep?"
       She smiled wearily and shook her head. "Your father's snoring pretty bad tonight." She nodded toward her bedroom from which a faint rasping sounded. "Did you have fun with your friends?"
       "We always do, Mom." Harry gave her cheek a kiss. "By the way, this is for you." He handed her a small bundle. "Happy birthday."
       Her eyes and nose crinkled cutely and Harry got a glimpse of the pretty girl in the wedding holo. She was still as trim as ever, but the lines around her eyes and mouth told a story of long sadness and worry. Married life with an alcoholic had taken its toll on her. "Oh Harold, thank you!" She unwrapped the package. A pair of golden pearl ear studs gleamed softly against the dark wrapping. She couldn't quite hide the tears in her eyes as she pulled Harry close in a tight hug. "How ever did you manage this? I was sure there were no credits left in the account this month."
       Harry grinned. "Odd jobs. The guys and I all chipped in for them." He reflected that he wasn't really lying. Any heist was 'odd' since they only did them occasionally, the Giesel heist had been pulled off by all of them, and Eel had generously given Harry the earrings out tonight's poker win. Mom didn't need to know every little detail. He watched fondly as she removed her plain ear studs and installed the pearls.
       She cocked her head to one side. "How do I look?"
       "You look beautiful, Mom." Harry wished with all his heart that he could have given her a nice outfit to go with the pearls. She deserved so much more than the plain garments they could afford, but then again Harry thought bitterly, she would probably never have the occasion to wear anything fancy. As his father's drinking had gotten worse, his parents had gone out less and less. These days, they rarely went anywhere except to the replicator mart. If it weren't for Mom's circle of friends she wouldn't go out at all.
       "I'm so glad the employment agent has been finding work for you! It's certainly been long enough." She clucked at him, "You ought to be saving your credits for yourself, not spending them on me."
       "That's okay, Mom. I think you're worth it. I promise that I'll save some for me." Harry didn't voice the remainder of the words sounding in the back of his head, '...as soon as I get some.' There was a new employment agent nearby that he could visit tomorrow. With any luck, the new agent would be able to place him in some sort of job. He kissed her cheek again. "'Night, Mom."
       "Tell your friends 'thank you' for me?"
       "I will." Harry moved off to his own room. Fortunately, he couldn't hear his father's snoring once the door was closed.

       Morning found him waiting at the door of the employment agent when the office opened. The young woman behind the desk smiled warmly, "Good morning. How can I help you?" She gestured to the chair in front of the desk.
       Harry had a seat and smiled back. So far the morning was going better than the last time he'd tried to apply for work. The last agent had never once stopped frowning and had sounded like he had better things to do than locate work for inconvenient people. "I'm here to find some work."
       "What field are you interested in?"
       "Do you have anything in electrical engineering?"
       The woman consulted her computer. "Yes, there are several openings in that area. Do you have your transcript with you?"
       Harry keyed his PADD with his school ID and handed the device over. "Right here, ma'am."
       The woman took her time looking over his record while Harry waited nervously. He tried to assume a nonchalant posture and expression. Confidence was always a selling point. The woman finally handed the PADD back to him and looked at him with troubled eyes. "I'll be very honest with you. I'll do my best, but I'm going to have a hard time finding you a position."
       Harry winced inwardly. "But my grades are good."
       "Your grades are excellent. The problem is that you have no rating in any single area. You've taken a lot of classes, but they're scattered across a dozen different fields. Employers are looking for specialists, not generalists."
       "Do you have any openings that I would fit? I'm willing to work in any of the areas I've had classes in."
       "Let me see if I can find something for you." The woman turned to her screen and searched carefully for what seemed to Harry like years. Several minutes later she looked back at him. "I'm very sorry, but there's nothing right now in any of those fields that doesn't require at least a basic rating. It would be best for you to continue taking classes in one field until you get that rating."
       Harry sighed. At this rate he would be sixty years old and still a student. He rose to leave. "I'll see what I can do. Thank you very much for your time."
       "Job openings change daily. While you're working on your rating I'll keep looking for you and I'll contact you immediately if I find anything." The woman offered her hand and Harry shook it. "Thanks."
       Harry gave vent to his frustration once out of sight and sound of the office. "DAMMITALL!" He slapped the wall next to him. It was the same old story. Take more classes. He was sick and tired of taking more classes. When would he finally be allowed to use classes he had already taken? He started walking in the direction of home, his chest tight and his head pounding. Maybe he should tell Eel that he wasn't up to taking on the Zindan brewery tonight.

       Harry took the long way home. He needed to think. Disappointing as the morning had been, he was, at least, no worse off than he had been before. You never knew. Occasionally something did come up. The woman had been friendly enough and he could tell that she was almost as disappointed as he was that she couldn't match him with a job. Harry had no doubt that she would be in touch if anything suiting his skills came up, unlike the last agent. He let his feet wander toward the park.
       Once inside, he checked out the benches by the pond. There was a stylishly dressed young couple on the end of the one with his favorite vista, but that was fine. There was plenty of room for him on the other end. The couple looked at him as he made himself comfortable. Harry nodded pleasantly at them. "Good afternoon."
       The man frowned. "Do you mind? We're sitting here." The woman looked as if she smelled something unpleasant.
       "No, I don't mind at all. There's plenty of room." Harry leaned back and stretched his legs out.
       The woman gave him a haughty glance. "We're trying to have a private conversation."
       Harry didn't move. He looked the woman slowly up and down. "Well, don't talk loud and I won't hear you."
       The man's frown became a scowl. "Look, since you seem incapable of understanding, I'll say it plainly. We would like you to sit somewhere else."
       "No." Harry crossed his arms. "You don't seem to understand the meaning of 'public'. This is a public bench and is therefore open for anyone who cares to park their butt on it. Well it just so happens that I care to." He stared into the man's face unflinchingly. The man stared back for long moments, but Harry's expression might as well have been carved into stone. Finally, he helped his companion to her feet. "Come on, Dear. I think the view is nicer over there anyway." They moved away stiffly, muttering about rudeness.
       Harry watched them go. Damned snooty Uptowners think they're too good for anyone else. He picked up a handful of pebbles from the gravel at his feet and began pitching them, one by one, into the pond. He laughed as the ducks dove frantically for the non-edible objects, then laughed louder when the ducks realized that they'd been had and quacked at him accusingly. By the time he'd run out of pebbles, Harry was feeling much better. He might as well follow through with the brewery heist. All this thinking was just giving him a headache and getting him no closer to a solution.

       He got home just in time for dinner. He didn't have an answer about his work situation, but he was hungry and knew where an answer could be found about that. The apartment door opened to the usual scene. Dad was sprawled in front of the tri-D with his meal on his lap. Harry noticed that his lap was looked lot smaller than it had been just a few years ago. Dad's once hard, stocky body was now soft and definitely fat from lack of exercise and his face had an almost constant alcohol flush.
       Dad looked up cheerily as the door closed. "Ah, Harold my boy! Come watch! I found a wonderful old movie!" He motioned toward the tri-D. Harry noticed that it was the same movie he had been watching a week ago. "Dad, we watched that movie last week."
       "Nonsense! I haven't seen it in ages!"
       "You don't remember it because you were drunk." Harry noted silently that Dad was drunk tonight too.
       "I may have a little tipple now and then, but I'm never drunk enough to not remember such fine acting."
       Harry's could feel his shoulders tensing. "Dad..." His mother called from the dining room table, interrupting his train of thought. "Harold, come have your dinner, it's getting cold."
       Harry sighed in resignation and joined his mother at the table. A quick glance back at Dad confirmed that he had forgotten Harry and his attention was back on the tri-D. Harry leaned toward Mom and spoke very quietly. "Mom, he's never going to change. Why do you stay with him? You could have so much more if you were on your own."
       She smiled. "It's called a promise, Harold. When I married your father I made a promise 'to have and to hold as long as we both shall live'. I'm not going to break that promise."
       "Didn't he promise the same thing to you?"
       "Yes, he did."
       "And he's breaking that promise. He's been breaking it for years."
       "Yes, he has."
       "So why do you stay?"
       "Just because he's broken his promise doesn't make it right for me to break mine. Besides, I still love him."
       Harry shook his head and took another bite. "I don't think he loves you anymore."
       Mom laid a gentle hand on his arm. "The love is still there, but he's so wrapped up in himself right now that it doesn't show much. Your father has many faults, but never once has he been disrespectful or abusive toward you or me, even in his worst tantrums. I don't love what he does, but I still love him. Someday he may realize what he's done to himself. If that day ever comes, he's going to hate himself and he's going to need every bit of support he can get to climb out of the hole he's dug. If that day comes, I intend to be there for him."
       "But what will it do to you? Mom, it hurts to see you living like this."
       "Harold, the choice is mine to make. You can't live my life for me. I can't live your father's life for him. Each person is responsible for their own actions and reactions. In the end, you have to live with yourself." Mom patted his arm and cleared her dishes, leaving Harry to finish his meal alone.
       By the time Harry was done, so was Dad's movie. "Ah, that brings back the memories! Harold, did you know that you can actually feel the good energy from an appreciative audience? One of these days I'll be back on the stage again!" Dad was waving expansively.
       "Dad, you haven't been on the stage in fifteen years! Nobody even remembers you! You're not going to get any more roles until you go out and find them!" Harry was trying desperately not to shout. If he could just make the man listen to what he was saying.
       "They haven't called me yet because the right role hasn't come along. When one worthy of my acting skills comes along, they'll be knocking on the door." Dad smiled and nodded decisively. "In the meantime, why should I not enjoy a life of leisure?"
       Harry's frustration reached the boiling point. "BECAUSE YOU'RE MAKING THE REST OF US CRAZY!" He realized that he was going to totally lose it with the old man if he stayed any longer and stomped toward the door. He saw his mother's face looking sadly from the kitchen. She'd worry if he just left without saying anything and she didn't deserve any more stress tonight. He stopped long enough to give her a kiss on the cheek. "I'm going out with the guys, Mom. Don't worry if I'm home real late, we've got a big do." She nodded and Harry couldn't get out the door fast enough. He needed to let off steam and tonight's work would take care of that beautifully.

       Despite his excitement, Harry listened carefully to the night sounds around them before he took a look at the electrical panel. There was just enough background noise to mask any unusual sounds his tinkering might cause. Perfect. Only then did he take a good look at the panel in front of him. Even more perfect. There was sufficient ambient light to see by without risking calling attention to the job with a pocket flash. The panel was one of the better ones, but he had covered just this kind of circuitry in his classes a couple of years ago.
       The guys knew the drill. Eel waited beside him to hand him his tools while the rest kept a lookout for any guards. Eel was too impatient on these jobs to be a good lookout, but was almost psychic when it came to making the necessary piece of hardware appear in Harry's hand just in time. By this time Harry was used to Eel's fidgeting, but hadn't figured out how to get him to stop asking if they were there yet.
       It only took Harry a few moments of tinkering to figure out the oddities of this specific alarm system, but predictably, Eel felt it was taking too long. The whisper came in Harry's ear, "Hurry up! We don't have all night!" Harry didn't even turn his head. "Relax. If I don't do this just right, the system will lock all entrances down the minute it picks up your readings on the inside. You'll never get out until the cops come for you." A few cross connections later Harry's meter indicated all clear. "That's it. You're clear to go."
       The two of them moved to the ground under the entrance to the ventilation system. Harry braced himself against the wall and gave Eel a boost. Eel had the cover open in a minute and disappeared inside. Eel was born to work in tight places. Long, lean, and as flexible as his namesake, he had no problems navigating the tight twists and turns of air ducts. A few more minutes and Harry's phone whispered at him, "I'm opening the door now. C'mon around." He joined the rest of the group at the loading door as it slid open. Eel was grinning at them. "I passed the stuff on the way in." He showed them over to the kegs of Premier Dark that they were looking for. Harry picked up one of the small kegs as did the rest of the guys, all except Eel. Eel was climbing to one of the top racks. "Looks like something interesting up there."
       "Hey! Get down here, grab a keg, and let's go! You're wasting time!" Harry rasped softly into the semi-gloom. Eel didn't answer, but Harry could just barely hear him working his way along the rack. Harry turned to the other three, whispering, "Why don't you take yours out and keep watch. I'll wait for Eel." They all nodded and turned to go.
       A sudden change from the interior night lights to full illumination stopped the lot of them in their tracks. A new, strong voice called out to them. "Who are you and what are you doing here?" The tone demanded an answer. Harry straightened his back, turned to face the owner of the voice, and tried to look as if he belonged there. Hopefully, he could pass as a maintenance tech in his overalls. "Just checking a trouble report, sir." He smiled in what he hoped was an ingratiating fashion at the well-dressed older man who was frowning at them.
       The man came forward. "If you lot are techs, what are you doing with those kegs?" Harry's brain was racing. The man was no fool. He wasn't getting close enough for physical contact. Harry smiled again. "I assume you'd like to see our IDs."
       "Yes." The man was watching them. Harry began patting his pockets as if he'd forgotten which one his ID was in. Cleve, Bert, and Doug, no fools themselves, followed suit. Harry kept willing the man closer. If he would just get a little closer, the four of them could disable him and get out of there. Eel was probably already gone the same way he'd gotten in.
       The man's eyes narrowed and he reached for his pocket. "All right, you four, we're going to..." The sentence turned into a grunt as Eel landed on his head and shoulders. "Grab him!" Harry and the guys piled on. The man fought back, but it was five against one and, with a minute's struggle, they had the man face down on the floor. Eel let the others control the captive while he rummaged through the man's pockets. Among the odds and ends was a small rectangular device. Eel turned it over in his hands. "Well, well. What's this?" He smiled. "It's a stunner...and a fancy one!"
       Harry signaled the others to take a better grip on the man. "Hang on to him. I wanna see that." He walked over to Eel who was examining the device closely. "Lemme see." Eel displayed the stunner, but didn't hand it over. Harry didn't have to look twice at it to realize that it was not a stunner or civilian issue. "That's a phaser. The guy's a cop! Now what?"
       Eel shrugged. He held up the phaser. "We've got the means to take care of the cleanup right here."
       "This will take care of him." Eel shoved the power selector all the way forward. "It's got a disintegrate setting. That means we won't even leave a body behind."
       "Over a few kegs of beer? You can't do that!"
       "Why not? You know I don't like loose ends."
       "You're the one who's always going on about Uptowners not giving a damn for anyone but themselves. Killing him makes us morally superior, how?"
       "Morality be damned! This guy can finger us. I don't intend to spend my life on a prison planet somewhere."
       Harry glanced at the man on the floor. His face was turned toward them, watching. He locked eyes with Harry for just an instant and Harry knew the face would haunt him for the rest of his life. He would have another devil riding his back; only this one would be of his own making.
       Eel raised the phaser and motioned to the man's captors. They scrambled out of the way as the man made a last ditch effort to get to his feet. Eel pressed the trigger, but nothing happened. Harry didn't question the malfunction, but reacted to the opportunity. He leaped at Eel, grabbing for the phaser, but it skittered out of their hands. Eel might have the advantage of reach, but the much stockier Harry had the advantage of mass. Eel fell back and twisted, grabbing a handful of Harry's overalls. "HAVE YOU GONE NUTS?" Harry didn't waste breath on a reply as he aimed a punch at Eel's middle. Eel jabbed an elbow into Harry's side, then they were jerked apart. Cleve had a good hold on Eel, while Bert and Doug pulled at Harry. "LATER! LET'S GO!" A second later, the world erupted in white fire that ended with a crashing darkness.

       Light. It was dim and far away, but Harry realized he needed to reach it. Slowly, painfully, he pulled himself toward it. It was like climbing out of a deep pit. As he climbed, he became aware of a dull throbbing in his head. The throbbing slowly resolved into words, "I see you have returned, Mr. Roberts."
       Harry opened his eyes and the world swam its way into focus. The 'world' as it currently existed appeared to be someone's living room and he was lying on the couch. The voice sounded again, "Don't try to sit up too fast or you're going to have the world's worst hangover."
       Harry looked toward the voice. The man from the brewery was sitting quietly and watching him. It took Harry a moment to get his voice working. "Wha' happen?" His voice sounded like a croak.
       "I stunned you. You're suffering the aftereffects right now."
       "Stunned?" Harry tried to piece his memory and the man's words together. "But, th' thing din't work."
       "It works, but not for anyone but me. It has a biometric interlock. If I'm not holding it, it doesn't function."
       "You sure you only used the stun setting?" Harry lifted an arm that felt as if it were made out of uranium to the back of the couch.
       "Quite sure, Mr. Roberts. Don't worry. The aftershock is unpleasant, but it wears off fairly quickly."
       "How d'you know my name?"
       The man held up Harry's PADD and chuckled. "Emergency contact information."
       "Oh." Harry glanced around the room. "Where's the guys?"
       "You're friends are currently enjoying the hospitality of the county jail and awaiting trial."
       "So why am I here? This don't look like a jail to me."
       "It's not a jail. This is my apartment."
       "You didn't arrest me too?" Something wasn't right, but Harry's brain refused to think any faster.
       "I wanted a chance to talk to you before the police hauled you away."
       "Then you're not a cop? Your phaser isn't a civilian issue piece."
       "No, I'm not and no, it's not. I'm Admiral Zindan. I'm with Starfleet."
       "What's Starfleet doing in a brewery?"
       "Everyone needs a hobby. My family has been brewing for generations and it just so happens I enjoy the art. My brother runs the business, but I come by when I'm on leave and check up on things. Last night I was inspecting the progress of a new recipe when I noticed you and your friends."
       "So why am I here?", Harry repeated. The headache was fading slowly and he sat up slowly.
       "You and I need to have a talk, son. You're different. You were willing to go against your friends for the sake of someone you'd never met before. I want to know why."
       Harry scowled. "Why should I tell you anything?"
       Zindan leaned forward and locked eyes with Harry. "You'll either talk to me or you'll find yourself in jail with your friends. Which is it going to be?"
       "Not much choice is it?" Harry sighed. The idea of being confined, perhaps for years and maybe the rest of his life, made him queasy. He gulped, quietly he hoped, and straightened his shoulders. "Alright, what do you want to know?"
       "Why did you attack your friend to save me?"
       "It just wasn't right!" Harry searched for words. "Uptowners don't care about anyone but themselves. I hate that. If I don't care about anyone but me, then I'm the same way and I have to live with myself." He grimaced. "I want..." Harry's voice trailed off, his eyes focused on the empty air over the Admiral's head."
       The Admiral spoke gently, "What do you want?"
       Harry felt as if he was ready to burst, his mind racing. There was something he wanted all right, but words just didn't seem adequate to describe it. How to say it? Long seconds later the words came out in a shout. "I WANT TO BE!" He felt the Admiral studying him, waiting. Harry swallowed hard and tried to put his thoughts into some semblance of coherency. "I want to be something more than just a linear rat. I don't want to just exist. I want...I NEED...to do something more than that!" He looked at the Admiral who was nodding quietly. Did he understand? Harry took a deep breath. The pressure was easing. Somehow the very act of naming the problem had eliminated much of the tension. "My dad. He just exists. Living like that makes me crazy."
       Zindan sat back, still nodding. "Ah yes, the need to be needed. It's part of being human. We all have that need, although some of us feel it stronger than others. So why aren't you working?"
       Harry sighed. "I can't get work. My schooling isn't sufficient."
       The Admiral handed the PADD back to Harry. "Let's see what you've done so far." Harry brought up his college transcript and handed the PADD over. The Admiral studied the list carefully. "Advanced Electrical Engineering, Dynamics of Fluditic Art, Comparative Mythology, Basics of Robotic Programming, The Use of Mathematics in Music, History of Ancient Egypt, Replicator Chemistry..." He looked at Harry quizzically. "An eclectic mix of subjects indeed. Why did you choose these in particular?"
       "Uh..." Harry decided to tell the absolute truth, corny as it sounded. "They sounded interesting." He grimaced and waited for the Admiral to say the inevitable statement about focus and specialization. He waited a long minute, but the Admiral remained silent, seemingly lost in thought. Finally Harry could stand the silence no longer. "Did you want to know anything else?"
       Zindan studied Harry's face carefully. "Yes. Have you ever thought about entering Starfleet?"
       Harry snorted. "Starfleet? Not a chance! They're snooty. They only take Uptowners and the like."
       "No, Starfleet takes anyone who has the aptitude and is willing to work." Admiral Zindan rose and began to pace the room. "Starfleet is an extremely diverse group of people. We come in many different colors, shapes, sizes, and philosophies, but we all have some things in common. We are all intelligent, curious people who are willing to defend our principles...sometimes with our lives." He caught Harry's eyes again. "I think you have what it takes. Your grades prove you're intelligent. You wouldn't have chosen the mix of subjects you did if you weren't curious, and you've proven that you're willing to fight for your principles." Harry just stared at him, mouth open. The Admiral smiled. "If you have the talent I think you do, they'll take you. You'll work harder than you've ever worked in your life, but if you can make the cut I guarantee that you'll be doing something that's badly needed. Are you willing to try?"
       Harry blinked owlishly, his mind frantically working out how many credits were left in the household account and how many he needed to get transportation to San Francisco. The final tally wasn't nearly enough. What Dad hadn't drunk had to go to put food on the table. Harry almost sobbed with frustration. "There's no way. I can't afford to get there."
       Admiral Zindan keyed something into Harry's PADD before handing it back to him. "I'm leaving for San Francisco tomorrow morning. If you're willing to apply with Starfleet, meet me at this address at 8:00. You can ride on my ticket. The shuttle leaves at 8:10."
       "Thanks!" Harry had a definite feeling of unreality as the Admiral showed him to the door. "Am I free to go?"
       "You're free to go." He clapped Harry on the shoulder. "What happens from here on is up to you."

       Harry headed for home with his feet on automatic pilot, but his mind was in overdrive. Starfleet...the most elite bunch of people anywhere and this Admiral thought that he, Harold Roberts the Linear Rat, just might belong with them. It was a scary thought. To take the opportunity meant taking what he could carry with him and stepping into a totally unknown world. What if he didn't measure up the way the Admiral thought he did? There would be no friends or family to fall back on. He would be totally on his own in a strange place. Harry felt balanced on the edge of a wide chasm. His mouth was dry as a desert, his heart was racing, his palms were sweating and he realized that the choice was his and his alone. He could take the leap of faith or he could do nothing and remain where he was sure of things. He checked the time. He had less than twenty hours to make up his mind. Where had the sureness and certainty he'd felt last night gone?
       He keyed the apartment door. Breakfast first and then a heart to heart talk with Mom. Her calm input would be a big help in grasping the big picture. Dad, in his usual place in front of the tri-D, nodded. "Morning Harry. You and your friends have a good time?" He had a glass of booze in his hand, but seemed fairly sober. Obviously he hadn't yet started his serious drinking for the day.
       "Yeah, Dad. It was loads of fun. Where's Mom?"
       "Your mother went to visit Mrs. Jackson this morning. She left your breakfast in the preserver for you."
       Just wonderful. The one person he really needed to talk to was out. He glanced at Dad. Since he wasn't blitzed out yet, maybe he could get some lucid advice from him. "Dad, I need some advice if you don't mind."
       "Not at all, my boy! Come tell me what's on your mind!" Harry was shocked when the man actually turned off the tri-D and looked at him.
       "I've got a once in a lifetime opportunity, Dad." Harry took a deep breath and launched right into it. "I've got a chance to apply with Starfleet in San Francisco, transportation included. My... um... counselor says that I've got a good shot at getting in too."
       Dad stared at him for just a moment, then threw back his head and laughed. Finally he wiped his eyes. "Oh my, I haven't heard such a good one in a long time." He clapped Harry on the shoulder. "You really had me going there for a minute."
       "Dad, I'm not kidding. This is for real."
       "So you want my advice on whether you should go ahead and do it or not?"
       "I want your input. I'm not sure I thinking straight right now." Harry held his breath and hoped Dad was.
       "You want to bust your butt and risk your life for a bunch of elitists? Where's your sense, boy! You're already getting paid to sit back and do nothing. You don't have to lift a finger to have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your stomach." He waved at the tri-D. "You've got entertainment at your command, as much education as you can stomach, and you're beholden to nobody. For this you don't have to risk your life or your health. What more could you ask for?"
       "You're not getting it, Dad." Harry could feel his blood pressure beginning to rise. "Right now, I'm just existing. I want more than that." He sighed. "It's like you wanting to get back on the stage."
       "Nobody's asking me to risk life and limb for a role. I'll be back up there someday."
       "No, Dad, you won't. As long as you sit on your drunken butt and wait, you'll never get there."
       "I beg your pardon! How dare you speak to me in that fashion!"
       "I dare because it's the truth!" Harry jumped to his feet and turned to go. "Sorry to have bothered you."
       "You asked for my advice! Well, I've got some more to give you." Dad moved to block his way. "How can you even think of doing something so dangerous? Your mother will be beside herself with worry. If anything happened to you it would kill her!"
       "I asked for advice, not a guilt trip!" Harry's fists clenched. "If you care so much about Mom, you'd quit drinking!"
       "We're not discussing me, young man! It's you who wanted my input!"
       "Now I'm sorry I asked!" As Harry stalked off toward his room Dad called after him. "You go do this thing! You can't get work here as it is. What makes you think you'll make it into Starfleet? Mark my words, you'll be right back here within the month!"
       Harry shut the door and locked it. He closed his eyes and concentrated on getting his breathing back under control. The fear he had felt on the way home was gone. The only thing he felt right now was anger. How dare that man imply he wasn't good enough! He grabbed a duffle and began tossing clothes into it. There was only one way to know whether he was good enough or not and that was to try.

       He spent the rest of the morning and afternoon going through his things and deciding what to take and what he could leave behind. Thankfully, his father seemed to have forgotten him and left him alone. Much later, his mother's voice drifted through the door. "Harold, may I come in?"
       What time was it? Harry was shocked at just how late it was. No wonder he was starving. He opened the door. Mom was standing there with a plate in her hand. Harry took it gratefully. "Thanks, Mom. C'mon in."
       She sat on the end of the bed. "If your father got the story right, you have a chance to join Starfleet?"
       "Yeah, Mom. If I'm gonna go, I've got to leave early tomorrow."
       "What a wonderful opportunity, Harold! I'm sure you'll do splendidly."
       Harry took a good, long look at her. He could see the tears sparkling in her eyes, but she was smiling broadly. "Mom, I'm gonna do it, but I'm worried about you. How are you going to manage?"
       "I'll manage the way I always do." She took his hand and pulled him down to sit beside her. He leaned against her shoulder into a cuddle that he hadn't had since he was very small. Mom patted his hand and kissed the top of his head just the way she'd done when he came home with a skinned knee. "You're not to worry about me. You see, I know now that I've done my job." Harry glanced up at her. "Parents give their children roots to grow with and wings to fly. I can't help you with this one. You have to try out your wings on your own."
       Harry sat up straight and took her hands. "Thanks, Mom. This means a lot to me."
       "I know. All I ask is that you call me when you can and let me know how you're getting on."
       "That's a promise!"
       Mom rose to leave. "You'd better eat your dinner. I noticed you didn't get to breakfast."
       "Uh, no."
       "By the way, you don't have to worry about your father tonight. Mrs. Jackson gave me a ticket for the local theater troupe's performance. I sent him off with it."
       Harry grinned. Drunk or not, Dad never could pass up the chance to watch live theater. "Thanks, Mom. I'm not sure I could be civil to him right now." Mom just nodded.
       The rest of the evening was spent in companionable silence in front of the tri-D and that night, Harry slept soundly for the first time in months.

       He was up early the next morning and slipped out of the apartment without waking anyone. He knew Mom would cry, and Dad would probably yell, and he didn't want to deal with any of the fuss. He would call them when he got to San Francisco to let them know that he'd arrived safely. Now if he could just find Admiral Zindan. Harry scanned the crowd anxiously. He just couldn't miss this appointment. 8:01 and Harry was beginning to panic. Had he been duped? Maybe the Admiral really wasn't and this was some kind of elaborate joke.
       A tap on his shoulder made him jump and spin to face the tapper. He sagged in relief when it was Admiral Zindan, complete with uniform this time, smiling at him. "I see you've decided to join me, Mr. Roberts. Welcome aboard."
       "Thanks." Harry followed the Admiral into the shuttle.
       "Have you ever ridden a shuttle, Mr. Roberts?"
       "No, sir."
       "Then why don't you take the window seat. The view is quite breathtaking."
       Harry grinned and strapped himself into the indicated spot. "Thanks!"
       Ten minutes later the shuttle lifted off and Harry had a good view of the crowd as they began to rise. One broad figure stepped out of the crowd and waved up at him. Harry caught just a glimpse of his father's smiling face as the shuttle picked up speed and he waved back. 
Direction Sense -- Susan Stahl, Febuary 2006 
       Harry Roberts has always been defined as a bit of a loose cannon. Susan has wondered what got him into Starfleet in the first place. This tale is her explanation as to the how and why.
       She was also concerned that some of my concepts for Earth of the 24th century might not be clear to the reader. So I will keep this as short as possible.
       We are told Earth is a paradise, a world sized park. If that is the case were are all the people? Star Trek has indicated a huge population on Earth, yet it is a paradise. Most of the people must therefore live in cities. Arcologies would be preferred as these sit lightly on the world. The entire US population could be housed in Arizona if we were willing to live at New York density.
       Enter the Linears. Mile high city blocks when most of the world's population is housed. As no one needs to work, most people find occupation in the arts and sciences. Those that wish maintain the world, and those jobs no one wants to do will become the provence of Harry's former friends.
       If you choose not to work you live at the "subsistence level". In the 24th century that means a standard of living enjoyed by households in the $40,000 yearly income range today. You are not rich, but you are comfortable if you husband your resources. If you produce something of value, you get more. All the schooling you want is free. However, for every artist, independent researcher, and engineer you have 9 people who do nothing or as little as is needed to get the extras they want. Among those are the Harold Roberts Seinors and the Archie Breedses, those that choose to do nothing, or in the case of Harold, to actually waste themselves.
       The rich still exist, people like the Picards or Jerry LaSaille that have large tracks of land, and put them to good use. People that produce art and science, or do the work the world needs are well rewarded. Among the "Uptowners" that Harry and friends decry are the people that see than Harry and friends have the necessities of life. There are no idle rich. -- Garry Stahl

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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

Copyright Susan Stahl: Febuary 2006. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.

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