Cam sometimes mused about how people with time on their hands used to debate the Fermi Paradox. Given the staggering number of suns and worlds out there, it seemed very likely that some would have evolved intelligence and that we’d have seen some sign of them, even before the Remote-Piloted Drone revolution. Were we listening in the wrong way? Were powers greater than us watching silently and keeping us ignorant? Was a great and evil empire going to come down on us when we met a certain milestone, exterminating us like you would a newly-discovered virus?

Turns out, as Cam and every other RPD jockey knew, we were just early.

RPD pilots like Cam saw life all the time, in the form of tiny lichen-like patches of things analogous to bacteria and other simple dinguses on Earth. You had to be really lucky or really patient to get beyond that stage of just germing around (hell, Earth was stuck in that phase for something like two billion years). Going beyond that was pretty rare so far – the handful of planets where multicellular life was known to exist were off-limits for RPDs pending further investigation, but a few things that looked like boneless suckerfish were as complex as it got.

There were a few RPD pilots that specialized in following up on reports of life, but the equipment was so specialized and expensive that most were pros. Someone like Cam could make a couple bucks reporting xenolichens on the side, but more often than not it wasn’t worth the bandwidth. It was kind of funny and kind of sad at the same time: humans were, thus far, lucky enough to be in first place in that particular evolutionary race–Ptolomy had been right in some sense about a human-centric universe!–and we were more concerned with inorganic mineral deposits than something which might evolve into a peer if we gave it three billion years or so.

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