Emissaries from the Deadby Adam-Troy Castro
Two murders have occurred on One One One, an artificial ecosystem created by the universe's dominant AIs to house several engineered species, including a violent, sentient race of sloth-like creatures. Under order from the Diplomatic Corps, Counselor Andrea Cort has come to this cylinder world where an indentured human community hangs suspended high above a… See more details below
Two murders have occurred on One One One, an artificial ecosystem created by the universe's dominant AIs to house several engineered species, including a violent, sentient race of sloth-like creatures. Under order from the Diplomatic Corps, Counselor Andrea Cort has come to this cylinder world where an indentured human community hangs suspended high above a poisoned, acid atmosphere. Her assignment is to choose a suitable homicide suspect from among those who have sold their futures to escape existences even worse than this one. And no matter where the trail leads her she must do nothing to implicate the hosts, who hold the power to obliterate humankind in an instant.
But Andrea Cort is not about to hold back in her hunt for a killer. For she has nothing to lose and harbors no love for her masters or fellow indentures. And she herself has felt the terrible exhilaration of taking life . . . .
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Emissaries from the Dead
An Andrea Cort Novel
I've never been a fan of natural ecosystems.
I know they're romanticized. They're great for people who like to swat bugs, step on feces, and catch strange diseases, an odd subsection of humanity that has never included myself. I grew up in urban orbital habitats and pretty much know better. But even I must admit that natural places evolve by accident and therefore can't be blamed for their high level of unpleasantness.
Artificial ecosystems, engineered by sentients who know we're better than that now, are just plain perverse.
The cylinder world One One One was an eloquent case in point.
It was so wrong, in both concept and execution, that it exalted even the most appalling messes arranged by Nature. Like most constructs of its kind, it rotated at high speeds to provide to the internal environment a simulated gravitational pull away from its axis of rotation. That's just basic engineering, so old that dumb old Mankind considered it a brilliant idea long before we went into space and put the basic idea into practice. But most cylinder worlds orbit planets, or hang around inside solar systems, and are built by sentients who evolved on planets to support life that likes to walk around on a solid surface, even when that solid surface has a horizon that curves up on both sides. As a result, they house their habitats on the surface that best approximates planetary notions of up and down: that is, the outermost "floor."
On One One One, the independent software intelligences known as the AIsource had turned that usual model upside down. Thestation itself was situated in deep interstellar space, a good twenty light-years from the nearest inhabited world, and far from any of the territories claimed by any of the major spacefaring species. We never would have known about it if they hadn't given us the address. Its habitable interior centered on an Uppergrowth of knotty vegetation clinging to the interior station axis. The crushingly dense lower atmosphere was a poisonous soup of thick toxic gases above a sludgy organic sea. Only in the upper atmosphere, near the central hub, was there a thinner oxygennitrogen blend of the sort congenial to the life-forms the AIsource had engineered.
The AIsource determination to get into the God-in-a-bottle business struck me as quixotic at best and insane at worst. And pointlessly grandiose, as well. The average human cylinder world is about ten kilometers long by two kilometers in diameter, which strikes me as a compact, manageable size that shows a little sense of humility in matters of cosmic scale. There are some leviathans, like my base of operations, New London, of up to ten times that size. All right, so we need big cities. But this place, One One One, was approximately a thousand times longer and some fifty times fatter than even New London: pretty excessive for the housing of a few brachiating apes who had to spend their entire lives clinging to bioengineered vines. It defined the concept of inexact fit.
Either way, it was an upside-down hell.
Even as the sleek AIsource transport ferried me into the habitat, I mentally catalogued everything I found disturbing here. The storm clouds far below were like a roiling brown cauldron, flashing with sudden light whenever charged by the violent forces at their heart. The giant winged things who sometimes ventured above those were like dragons out of a bad fairy tale: their wingspans up to two kilometers across, the force of their flight leaving entire storm systems in their wake, their sudden screeching dives into the opaque clouds acts of epic predation on creatures nobody flying at my current altitude had ever seen.
I'd been assured that the dragons never ascended as high as the Uppergrowth latitudes. I'd also been advised not to bother thinking about them, as they had nothing to do with the reason I was here.
It was like that old joke: Don't think about the elephant.
(But it's there.)
Don't think about it and it'll go away.
(But it's there.)
You're still thinking about it.
And so on.
The Uppergrowth, dotted here and there with the sluggish forms of the Brachiators, was a vast gray surface of compact, knotted vines that loomed over this world like a hammer waiting for the best opportunity to fall. The thick black pylons that every hundred kilometers or so descended from that Uppergrowth into the cloudscape were anchored at their apparent midpoints to the glowspheres that served as One One One's suns, and looked far too flimsy to hold such balls of corruscating fusion. The glowspheres themselves cast a light harsh enough to burn purple afterimages on my retinas, and there were so many of them that my transport cast multiple, competing shadows on the Uppergrowth above me.
I regarded it all with my usual grim reserve, dimly aware that I'd fallen back into a nervous habit that had plagued me for years: one index finger twirling the single lock of long, black hair that dangled from the right side of my head. Since the rest of my hair is cut very short, the many people who hate my guts like to say I keep that lock long to feed the tic and for no other reason. I know the habit drives people to distraction and therefore practice it whenever I can. I'm too uncomfortable in the presence of others to tolerate their comfort in mine.
The flight might have been bearable if the transport had been properly enclosed; but, no, it was a roofless model, protected against precipitation and wind shear by ionic shielding, offering a ride so smooth that had I closed my eyes I wouldn't have experienced any sense of motion at all. But I knew I was not enclosed. I knew that given just one moment's suicidal madness, it would have been all too easy to hop over the waist-high bulkhead and plunge to my death. I knew it and I could not ignore it.Emissaries from the Dead
An Andrea Cort Novel. Copyright © by Adam-Troy Castro. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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