Ross has lived his whole life on Halsey’s Planet. Somehow he senses what his fellows cannot or will not: population levels are slowly, inexorably declining. The future will be grim.
Halsey’s Planet is just one of many worlds settled by humans. Contact with its sister worlds is intermittent, carried out by sublight longliners, smaller versions of the ships that delivered the original colonists to Halsey’s Planet fourteen centuries earlier.
A longliner arrives with an inbred crew of happy idiots bearing an enigmatic message and doleful news about the other human worlds. Another Halsey merchant, Haarland, asks Ross to come meet with him. This is odd, as Ross works for a rival firm. It turns out that Haarland has some bad news to share.