Companies and governments “seeded” vast sectors of space with remotely-piloted drones and the infrastructure to support them–automated repair stations and a network of tiny, cheap hyperspace relays. They took advantage of the fact that propulsion and communication technologies had evolved far faster than the ability to put a human in the driver’s seat. A person traveling at speed in one of the remote drones would be reduced to chunky salsa even if they’d had air to breathe.

But with the relays in place, a person with a decent connection on Earth could pilot a remote drone nearly in real-time, doing surveying and exploration work that completely automated probes couldn’t. And they could sell the minerals they found and potentially habitable sites for future colonization, if the technology ever appeared.

Cam had cashed in his college fund to buy a rattletrap of an RPD, and he spent close to ten hours a day hooked up to its interface, exploring places he’d never see with his own eyes and scraping together just enough cash from what he found to keep the operation going.

Big scores happened all the time–just never to him. So when he saw that a promising system already had a drone in orbit, he wished for the thousandth time that his tiny ship had some kind of offensive weapons.