In a distant future on a sterile underground base inhabited by earthlings' descendants, now barred from the crowded home planet, a ""pod"" of four more-or-less orphaned 14-year-olds, the terrors of their ""home/school"" colony, is sent on an Outward-Bound-type training adventure. After a slow, undramatic start, the group takes off with their longtime teacher Caper--who behaves strangely from the start and seems to be keeping something from them. Through his manipulation they land on a beautiful, earth-like planet, and gradually realize that he plans to stay. One of the four sides with him, and Romula, the narrator, is torn; but when they meet the planet's other human inhabitants--deserters from other bases who've reverted to brutish primitivism--all four unite, escape, and return to their limited life as explorer technicians in service to the Earth they will never see. Any philosophical issues their choice might raise are deflected by the characterization of the resident humans--and disowned by the fairy-tale ending: Back at home base, where the kids' are now given unprecedented freedom, it's decided that Caper and his band will be left alone and other earth-like planets will be established for explorers' vacation or life-time visits, as the individuals choose. Which leaves us with a pointless, mechanical, and not very exciting space adventure.