Typically, a story has a hero. In stories I like, the Hero is someone I want to root for, someone I want to win, someone I’d like to meet. They have challenges, flaws, but are human enough to recognize them. They also grow over the course of the tale.
Helton, the “hero” of the story, or at lest the central human figure, is smarter than average but no genius. He’s idealistic enough to not be satisfied with “good enough” or “go along to get along,” but also practical enough to know when good enough is just that. Hardworking, he likes doing, not just going through the motions. He gets frustrated when he’s OK enough at a job to earn a living at it, but not so good that he can really make a major difference in the ‘verse. He thinks people should be treated like people, and hates feeling he’s just a replaceable part, or doing something that isn’t really productive. He’s never settled down and had a family because he’s surrounded by shallowness, superficiality, and people that mostly don’t want to make waves. In short, he just happens to be the ideal person to be a captain for Taj.
[Update, forgot this part: going through security was a wake-up call that all was not well in his corner of human-space, that just being good and mostly playing by the rules wasn’t enough. It was a bucket of cold water that woke him up, made him look at the world differently, made him think he was more on his own than he’d thought. If that hadn’t happened, and he’d won Taj in a game at home, he likely would not have stood up to Seymore, and let himself be bled white like the rest before him.]
In the beat up old ship he sees challenge, reward, potential. He finds good people, indeed he attracts good people. He sees settling down in a mobile place as an attractive option, even if he thinks such a thing might be babe-repellant, but he figures there are a couple of them around, so something’s got to work out, eventually, right? Just play it cool, and eventually either Allonia or Bipasha will come to their senses and see him for the wonderful guy he is. *ahem* yeah, well, the universe has other plans.
As he meets more people, interacts with Lag, Harbin, Seymore, Darch, the Hussein, and the rest, he starts realizing how cocooned he’s really been, how much of current events he’s been ignoring, and how the world is starting to not ignore him any longer, because he’s got the audacity to not just roll over when pushed. He sees more of the problems with the world, and how people deal with it. He’s spent most of his life in a comfortable “middle-space,” not doing too bad, but not doing to well, not seeing the ugly underside or the glitzy high end of things and the corruption of power. That starts to be stripped away as he does more. Tau Piper and dealing with the final battle at Dustbowl brings it all into focus, and by the end of the book he’s a man on a mission, and for the first time he really feels alive, like he’s doing something that makes a difference, and he’s not just a replaceable cog in a dysfunctional machine that grinds good people up for the benefit of various masters.