Dale’s Remote Piloted Drone loomed large on Cam’s viewscreen, attached to one of the many pieces of icy debris that made up planet HD 11765d’s ring.

“Cam and Ev,” Dale’s voice said. “I wouldn’t have figured you two to be the ones to find me.” His transmission was a nightmare of static and interference, with no video link. With a start, Cam realized that he was transmitting from his RPD to theirs rather than simply linking to their pilot stations on Earth, which was a lot more reliable and less expensive.

“Switch to a earthbound link, will you?” Ev said. Her image on the left of Cam’s screen was scowling. “I can barely hear you.”

“No,” Dale cried. “I’m totally off the grid here, at least as much as that’s possible. I’ve hacked my RPD to pieces to keep their prying eyes away, and I’m not letting them listen in on an earthbound link.”

“Who’s ‘them,’ Dale?” said Cam. “The government that set up the remote relay network? The company that you leased your RPD from? The people buying the mineral and colonization rights you’re charting and selling? This whole thing has always been about listening in. It’s the only way to cash in.”

“Wrong!” Dale cried. “Wrong. I’m on the cusp of something big, Cam. Really big. If they knew…knew for sure…they’d disconnect me.”

“Big whoop,” Ev said. “You’d lose your RPD and have to get a job on Earth instead of sitting in your apartment hooked up all the time.”

“No…that’s not it at all,” Dale said. “If what I’ve found is true, they can erase me as surely and completely as you trashing a bad song. If what I’ve found is true…there isn’t an Earth to go back to, at least not one we’ll ever be able to reach.”

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