2008’s Emissaries from the Dead is the second story and first novel in Adam-Troy Castro’s Andrea Cort series.
When she was eight, Andrea Cort’s home community on Bocai descended into violent mass insanity. Cort succumbed to the madness but emerged one of the few survivors. Cort still thinks of herself as a Monster-with-a-capital‑M but her trauma makes her valuable to the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps. The Corps stands between Cort and the aliens who would like her tried for her past. If Cort is to stay within the Corps’ safe harbour, she must accept every crappy assignment they hand her.
Which is how Associate Legal Counsel for the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps Judge Advocate Andrea Cort finds herself headed to One One One, with strict orders to find a politically acceptable person to blame for a brutal murder, regardless of who the actual killer might be.
One One One is a Brobdingnagian space habitat, built out in the depths of interstellar space. The isolated structure was created by a community of AIs, artificial intelligences, known as AIsource; it is also home to a race of Brachiators created by the AIs. The legal status of the Brachiators has become a sore point between the AI and their biological neighbours. The AIs have grudging allowed a small number of humans to reside in One One One. However, the AIs refuse to grant diplomatic status to the community. They also restrict their visitors to a limited section of the huge habitat, said section being something like a cluster of giant hammocks suspended above human-lethal layers.
The legal status of the Brachiators is very much Not Cort’s Problem. Her problems include but are not limited to
Who cut through Christine Santiago’s hammock (allowing it to plummet into the high pressure region)? How did they manage to acquire the restricted tools needed to sever the durable material?
Who crucified Cynthia Warmuth and why?
Are the two murders connected? Or is the double homicide a mere coincidence?
Populated by a collection of indentured employees each more miserable than the last, One One One is rich in people who might well have had reason to kill either or both Santiago and Warmuth. The condundrum is figuring who might have access to the means, as AIsource have forbidden the humans the tools used in the commission of the first crime. The AIs would seem to be the only beings who could have cut the hammock’s supports.
But not only do the AIs claim innocence, Cort’s superiors fear that to officially accuse them would be political dynamite. The result could be an apocalyptic conflict between the ancient AIs and their biological neighbours. Which leads to Cort’s biggest problem:
Which luckless inhabitant(s) of One One One will Cort pick as the designated scapegoat?
Well, this is certainly a morose setting, at least as far as the humans are concerned. The standard worker is an indentured next-thing-to-a-slave and their situation is as pleasant as that implies. While there are legal protections in place that make indenture theoretically better than slavery, I’d be willing to bet that the game is rigged so that most people spend their whole lives working off a sequence of one-sided contracts.
On the plus side, galactic war seems to be rare, at least the ones involving humans. It would be even better if the reason for that was something other than “humans are too focused on killing each other to kill BEMs” but I will take my wins where I find them.
Cort is an example of the “incredibly abrasive individual who is nevertheless so good at their job everyone just has to put up with their peculiarities.” See also “Dr. Greg House,” and “Dickweed Sherlock Holmes.” But unlike many such characters, Cort isn’t just a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. Due to the horrors in her past, she has been subjected to decades of harassment and forced to accept an extremely one-sided contract. She is depressed and isolated; few people are willing to risk befriending her, or even according her a neutral politeness.
Considering this book only as mystery, I would have to admit that Castro plays fair with the audience; it is possible to work out who the killer or killers are from the clues the author provides. I realized the significance of GREAT BIG SPOILER IF I DRAW ATTENTION TO IT as soon as it was introduced. Credit my many decades of reading and years of reviewing mysteries. SF-focused readers may overlook DELIBERATELY VAGUE REFERENCE HERE. Enjoy the intersection of SF and mystery!
Emissaries from the Dead is currently out of print. I will come back and change this section when the new edition comes out.