"So, your father is dead," begins the message on Howell's terminal. "Um. Sorry if that was blunt. But he is." From the tiny screen built into his cabin bunk, Howell's Aunt Karen looks like a videogame sprite, jagged pixel mouth jerking mechanically. Her voice is emotionless, but he can't tell if she's trying to hold it together or if it's just an artifact from the compression.

"The funeral's Thursday, but you won't be able to get home in time, will you? I talked to the University."

"Karen," he says, crawling into the bunk, "It's a recording. You can't ask me questions."