152 years ago, exactly, Outpost Pluto lost all contact with every other human settlement or planet.
When no word had come in six months, and trans-light signals failed to be responded to, even on the distress channel, Outpost Pluto faced a choice.
There was one ship on Pluto, the one that had brought them there.
Eventually, it was decided that a group must go look to see what was happening on the other planets and settlements.
The decision as to who would go and who would stay was not an easy one.
Quid sat in the acceleration chair and watched the countdown clock in his visor as he listened to the radio chatter.
"T-15 minutes Rocket Osiris." Crackled in his ear on the override channel from Mission Control. When that subsided he watched the instrument panel and listened to the news channel broadcast from the Hut, the only building humans lived in on Pluto.
The debate had been rekindled by Jena's demands that others be allowed to go on Rocket Osiris after the discovery of the collapsing orbit of lesser moon Romulus, figures which had been known for several months and which were generally disbelieved by most of the colony but which a vocal minority had now decided proved that the colony was entirely unsustainable, now, and which Jena argued viciously even over the earpiece that carried her words to Quid.
"Anyone not on Rocket Osiris is DOOMED!" she practically howled at what Quid knew would be the rest of the assembled colony; even those not directly involved with provisioning and launching the Rocket would have gone to Assembly to watch the launch and ended up hearing the debate that Quid felt had been settled months before.
"Sending everyone is abandoning the colony." he had argued that.
"Leaving people behind is killing them," Jena had said.
She had not taken kindly to her demotion from military leader of the expedition, nor to Quin's promotion to that same post.
"We will be a year, at most. The fabricators are operating perfectly." Fourteen large fabricators -- giant versions of 3D printers -- worked around the clock pulling minerals from the ground and energy from space, their first jobs having been to create housing units for temporary periods, and then larger equipment to build Assembly Hall and other parts for other buildings, and lately they had been putting out smaller printers to create more technical materials, like chips to build computers. One fabricator was devoted entirely to creating food for the colony.
"With no promise of another supply rocket, Rocket Osiris is the only hope we have to return," Jena had said, and most of the 72 people in the colony had seemed to agree.
"Return to what?" Quid had said, quietly.
After the silence engendered by that question had grown too long to ever be comfortable again, he had said "If nobody is out there, then we are all that is left of humanity."
"Which is exactly why we must all go!" Jena had said.
"Which is exactly why it is foolish to put every living human being in the UNIVERSE on one small rocket and blast it into space. This is not the deluge."
Quid's argument had carried the day.
It still raged on and he listened now, thumbing a small switch to let his radio communicate with his crewmates.
"You guys hearing this?"
Affirmative responses flittered into and out of his consciousness. Twenty people -- nearly 1/3 of all that might remain of humanity -- sat in acceleration chairs on Rocket Osiris, ready to head to Neptune, a distance of only 35,000,000 miles at this point, but the journey would be longer because they would slingshot, heading out pushed in part by Pluto's own journey around the earth, their boosters being used only to lift them off the surface and to the Hooke elevation at which the Rocket could begin to orbit faster and faster until it achieved the desired velocity and with a small boost could be pushed on its line, a line that would eventually intersect Neptune's own orbit.
"T-10," came Mission Control.
"They are leaving in 10 minutes. We cannot let them go!" came over the airwaves.
Quid grimaced and watched the clock, nervously chewing his tongue. They could, if necessary, launch as much as two minutes early, but even with that, the first three Hooke orbits would leave them within range of ground weapons.
"Ready..." he told his crew over the internal line, although he wasn't sure what he was ready for.
On the community channel, more voices clamored and shouted, various people yelling to get to Mission Control while others urged calm, and still others suggested contacting Quid and asking him to delay the launch.
Delaying the launch by even a day might mean three more weeks in transit.
Quid wished above all that some signal would come from some one out there. People might be nervous about being left on Pluto, where they'd thought they'd spend their lives, but didn't know that the return ticket might be gone, but what of him? He was launching into the unknown, a trip back among the planets that would not be aided by Isolation Sleep, nor would he have the Hyperspeed rockets that had carried them in a straight line out past the asteroids and sent them tumbling superfast towards Pluto.
He would be working his way, slowly, inward, and if he found nothing at Neptune he would have to move on to the next post, all along hoping that someone still lived. His entire life might now be spent on Osiris, slowly plodding through the galaxy, and whatever had happened to silence the rest of the colonies, he had to go face it.
"Rocket Osiris we are speeding launch. T-6. We will launch at T-2." On the community channel the voices were louder, angrier. Quid had missed something in his thoughts.
"Right. Check," he said. Inter-com: "Everyone batten down."
They would not attack the Rocket, would they?
Would they refuse to let anyone leave, to avoid being left behind?
On the community channel he heard guards outside of Mission Control telling people to stand down, to calm down. He heard a voice above those, Jena's, shouting them down in turn and telling them to back away, that she had the right to get into Mission Control and talk to the Rocket.
"This is a secure area," a guard said.
"This is our right," Jena responded.
Quid listened over the radio.
"Stun settings," the guards said over the radio. It was a warning to those around.
"This is not a military dictatorship," Jena said, stridently.
"Patch me through," Quid said into the Intercom. His voice carried to the hallway speakers in Assembly outside of Mission Control.
"Jena, others," he said, calmly, hoping it was calmly. "Please let the guards alone. This was decided. It is not a military dictatorship. We decided it by a straight vote. The majority ruled and this trip was set. All you are doing is scaring people."
"Quid, we demand to be put on the Rocket!" Jena yelled.
"Jena," Quid said, hoping this would calm her "Outpost Pluto needs competent leadership here. There is a great deal of work to do. In less than two years we could have Pluto Sol up and running and begin making this more and more habitable. And if there really is trouble out there, survivors will need a place to go."
"Outpost Pluto might be the only such place."
"We are not going to be left behind!" Jena yelled.
Quid flipped several switches.
He heard pushing and shoving on his headset.
At least two laser blasts and someone screamed.
The rocket boosters started and he could hear nothing after Mission Control said "Blast off."
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