Corringer Conundrums
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We spent the night at the Architectine equivalent of a ritzy hotel, one filled with oxygen, and with our rooms paid for by an Architect bureaucrat, one who Stephanie informed us was very interested in making sure that Amanda wasn’t going to say anything to the Collective that would make his government look bad. It was a comfortable place to stay, in the sense that any place that expensive would have to be comfortable through sheer overengineering. The rooms were big, because there were relatively few of them, and there was plenty of staff to clean and provide whatever supplies you needed, because the hotel hired them in droves. Notably, none of the staff were Architects; they were Pioneers, Unseen, Penitents, other species that could breathe oxygen without the extra expenditure of a mask. I imagine they probably lived in the lower levels as well, for added simplicity.

The problem was in everything that the owners of the place couldn’t solve by throwing money at it. The aura of the hotel seesawed wildly between tacky and unnerving, a mix of architectural styles taken from planets I’d never set foot on, but which even I could recognize as being a pastiche of a pastiche of a pastiche. It clashed in a way that made you wonder if it was cobbled together from the remnants of multiple older buildings. On top of that, the fact that the entire place was sealed air-tight meant that there was really nothing to do inside the place, aside from eat at the incredibly self-aggrandizing “Architect-themed” restaurant which definitely was not serving anything an Architect was biologically capable of eating.

When Amanda prepared to leave for a long day of organizing Xara’s legal defense, she gave us a choice between staying back at the hotel, or going with her. Miri, Quinn, Stephanie, and I took about five seconds total between all four of us to decide that we were going with her. It was good to know, at least, that I wasn’t the only one who thought that this hotel sucked shit and was creepy as hell. 

To my surprise, however, we weren’t going back to the courthouse where Xara was being kept. Instead, we continued even further south, to the line of autoplexes that stood like prison bars on the city’s edge around the broad hydrochloric river. Amanda pointed out of the bus window at one autoplex in particular. That one was unique, its walls plated with a thin layer of impermeable platinum alloy that shone even through the chlorine haze; Amanda explained that it was known as Kauzid Tower, and it held a substantial fraction of the administrative offices for the entire Architect Interstellar State. She was going to be spending the day, and most of the week after, filing paperwork and searching through records in preparation for the trial.

Kauzid tower was, indeed, one enormous government complex. Unlike any of the autoplexes on New Malagasy, less than half of the people working there lived in it; many thousands of workers commuted every day, in a display of sheer transportation efficiency that boggled the mind. Most of the layout was thus boring things, like the Department of Interstellar Trade, the Department of Spacecraft Registration, the Department of Welfare, each one taking up easily half a dozen floors and more floor space than some small towns. The rest was the sorts of things that every high-rise seems to have, the fast-food and drugstores and other supporting businesses. Amanda took us up to the Department of Legal Affairs or whatever, so we would know where she was, and then gave us free rein over the building.

Whiling away the hours proved to be a challenge. Any time I sat down for too long, the inside of my anti-chlorine suit suddenly felt constricting and itchy, even though it was thin enough that I could barely feel it. So I paced back and forth, going up and down levels and trying to soak in the ambience of the place. Of course, that ambience was mostly “banal government bureaucracy,” so soaking it all in was less of an interesting aesthetic experience and more akin to drinking seawater. And that was how I felt when I was deliberately not thinking about anything. Despite the promise I’d made to him the previous day, I couldn’t help but worry about Xara.

I mean, it was only natural to think about, the day after I’d learned about what had happened to his daughter. And now the AIS was going to do the same thing to him, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it because this was all just so much bigger than me. Injustice was the word, it was all just one big injustice. I didn’t want to see Dr. Erobosh go away for the rest of his life because of the “theft” of something that was his creation to begin with!

So, yeah, I was starting to get angry about it. But I didn’t have anything constructive to channel my anger into, which just made me angrier, until I was almost ready to kick over a trash can or something. That wasn’t going to be a good idea. Considering the Architectine obsession with law and order, they would probably fine me for it, and I didn’t want to have to deal with their legal system any more than I had to. Fortunately for me, my self-awareness was faster than my anger, so I opened up my Ariel and looked for a place that might be good for cooling down. What I found was that, on the roof of the autoplex, above the Department of Interplanetary Communications and Detection, there was a large landing pad for shuttlecraft. Figuring that it would be a break from the relentless monotony, I found and elevator and went up.

The roof of an autoplex is a breathtaking sight. At well over two thousand feet in the air, you could see everything around, and the cold, piercing wind made it feel like you had walked out onto an alpine mountainside. The green haze gave everything a sort of ethereal quality as well, almost dreamlike. It would have been a nice place to sit down and relax, if it weren’t for the fact that literally the first shuttle I saw had the words CORRINGER CORPORATION stenciled onto it. Because of course Corringer was allowed here.

I had had enough, and I was about to boil over. I took out my Ariel and sent Quinn a quick text. “Hey, want to commit some vandalism?”

He, of course, arrived as quickly as he could, spilling out of the elevator within about fifteen minutes of the moment I sent the message. I was waiting for him a bit out of the way, in a place where I hoped nobody would be able to overhear us. 

“Cathy? Is that you?”

“Only Emissary on the planet,” I said.

“So what’s this about vandalism?” he said at a whisper. “Is everything okay?”

I shrugged. “Not really. I need a way to blow off steam, figured you would know a thing or two about vandalism.”

“You could say that,” Quinn said, warily. “But what’s going on with you?”

“I’m just… I’m mad at everything. Xara getting arrested first and foremost. But also,” I pointed up at the Corringer logo, “that thing being here.”

Quinn shot it a quick glance, then turned back to me with a grimace visible even through the helmet of his anti-chlorine suit. “Why am I not surprised. So I’m guessing our target is the space Fanta truck?”

I nodded. “Yep. Any ideas?”

Quinn grinned. “A few, yeah.”

There was a communications tower that doubled as a docking bay, which currently had an umbilicus connection with the Corringer shuttle. The first step was getting into that tower, which turned out to be fairly easy considering that nobody really cared. Given that we weren’t the only foreigners going into or out of the tower, they probably just assumed that we were affiliated with Corringer or one of the other ships docked there. We didn’t hit the first challenge until the room at the other end of the umbilicus. 

There was a Corringer guard standing watch at the near end of the umbilicus. Just looking at him sent a shiver down my spine as the memory of nearly getting my ass kicked by Corringer goons on Nahoroth came back with a vengeance, and for good reason, because he looked nearly identical to the other four aside from his eerie golden eyes.

We ducked behind a support column, speaking in hushed voices. “How are we going to deal with the goon?” I said. 

Quinn wrinkled his nose in thought. “Alright. I’ve dealt with this kind of guy before. They have only about four braincells apiece, so they’re very predictable. I’ll talk to him, get him out of the way, and you slip past into the ship.”

“You aren’t going to seduce him, are you?”

Quinn shook his head. “Odds are ten to one that he’s super homophobic. No, I’m going to make up some bullshit that maybe sounds like I have a reason to complain about his bosses. Either he’s the kind of stooge who will actually get offended on their behalf, or he’ll panic and try to placate me before I create trouble for him.”

The plan made sense. Until I realized one little thing. “But wait, that means I have to go into the spaceship on my own!” I said, barely managing to keep my voice down. “I don’t know how to commit vandalism, Quinn. The most direct action I’ve ever done is volunteering for a mutual aid network!”

Quinn looked at me in faint shock and disbelief. “Catherine Sierra. You may not know how to be cool, but you have one advantage that I have never had, even in a lifetime of praxis.” He grabbed my lower pair of arms around the wrists. “Knife hands. You’ll think of something.”

He was right. No amount of cops could stop the power of my knife hands. I pivoted around the pillar, looking as far down the umbilicus as I could in an attempt to psych myself up. “Alright. Let’s do this.”

Quinn walked out from behind the pillar with all the confidence of a middle-aged white woman walking into a soccer meet. Before long, he and the Corringer goon were engaged in a heated argument about… something, not that I could tell what was going on. Knowing Quinn, half of it was him making stuff up to be deliberately obtuse. Over the course of about a minute, Quinn talked the guy into walking away from the umbilicus entrance. I’m sure he didn’t even notice, with his attention entirely taken up by whatever they were talking about as Quinn slowly moved back one step at a time. My opportunity came when the entire tower suddenly rattled with the roaring sound of another shuttle landing on the far end of the rooftop, at which point I dashed forward, my wings fluttering so as to keep my weight off of my feet. I didn’t stop running until I was through the door, and into the airlock connecting to the shuttle.

By that point I’d gotten used to what the inside of a spaceship looked like, and this one wasn’t all that much different than any of the other ones I’d been in. The main difference was that this one was decorated, and decorated horribly. Just about every hallway had at least one motivational poster somewhere on it, reminding the people working to give their most for the company, always work with a smile, never use the restroom when clocked in, always report if any of your coworkers are expressing anti-company views, etc. It was creepy as all hell, especially when the lower levels of the ship were almost entirely empty and silent. 

So obviously the first act of petty vandalism I committed was tearing their stupid fucking posters off of the wall and ripping them to pieces. Then I found a supply closet, detached the gloves of my suit, and started getting creative. Doing property damage was difficult at first, with some nagging part of me saying that this was illegal and a terrible idea. But the more I cut wires and slashed at instruction cards and generally made a mess of things, the more cathartic it all became. One of my closest friends had been arrested, dammit! This company was working with the people who’d tried to exterminate my species, dammit! I’d had everything I’d ever known turned upside down, leaving me alone and unmoored in a cold and unforgiving universe, dammit!

Quinn caught up to me just as I was getting finished with that first supply closet, nearly making me jump out of my carapace in the process. “Hey Cathy, how’s it… holy crap, alright. You’re getting way into this for your first time.”

It took me a second to make my heart stop trying to escape from my chest after Quinn showed up behind me. I took a breath. When my eyes opened again, what I saw surprised me: the storage closet was a complete wreck, looking like some kind of rabid animal had been locked inside of it. 

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I have some things I have to work through. How’d you get past the guy?”

Quinn shrugged. “I made up some bullshit about a Corringer product malfunctioning, like, thirty floors down from here and threatened to send a complaint if he didn’t check on it. It’ll be a few minutes before he realizes I was bullshitting him.”

I turned away from the ruined supply closet. “Good.”

“So do you want to leave it at that, or do you want to do them real and lasting harm?” Quinn said with a smile. “Because it would probably be safest to go now, but also I saw a directory that said there’s a walk-in freezer a few floors up, and if we turned that off it would super fuck with them.”

I wasn’t completely done letting out my repressed anger. “Let’s do the walk-in freezer.”

It only took a few minutes of going up ladders and following signs to reach the walk-in freezer. The shuttle continued to be eerily silent; presumably because the crew were all running around the Architect government, spreading smug corruption wherever  they went like they were trying to start the Catastrophe. We did eventually find the door marked “Walk-in Freezer”, but something was immediately off. There was no temperature control, and the metal of the door wasn’t even cold. Quinn picked the lock, and we went inside.

Whatever that room was, it sure as hell wasn’t a walk-in freezer. In fact, the rows and rows of computers and electronics equipment venting into the air, stacked from floor to ceiling, meant that that room was about fifteen degrees warmer than the adjoining corridor.

“I guess we found their server rooms?” Quinn said.

“But why would they mislabel the room on all the maps, then?” I said, poking at the wires hanging from the ceiling. “It’s like they were trying to hide it.”

“Maybe this is their cryptocurrency farm?”

I groaned at Quinn’s joke, wishing that I could be so blissfully unaware as to not think that was a serious possibility. “No, I don’t think this is. In fact… I think I recognize what this does.”

“Really?” Quinn said, crossing the room to look over my shoulder.

I gestured to an odd bit of electronics equipment, something that looked a bit like a bunch of metal pancakes stacked on top of each other and turned sideways. “Xara showed me a smaller one of these on board the Helium Glider. It’s used to coordinate long-distance radio transmissions going in multiple directions at once.”

“So they’re doing communications?”

I nodded, and was about to start musing about what Corringer might need this heavy-duty equipment for, when we both froze. There were footsteps in the hallway, coming closer. We spared ourselves the luxury of exchanging exactly one worried look before diving for cover, rushing to find a space that wasn’t completely full of equipment to hide in. The upside was that, with all of the hanging wires, there was plenty of cover. 

“I don’t know why you have to follow me around all the time,” came a voice from the doorway. “It’s the same equipment checkup that I’ve been doing every eight hours since we arrived here.”

“Organics. Are. Unreliable.”

And at that, my whole body went cold. It was a voice I’d heard twice before, a crudely synthesized mechanical droning that I could not possibly forget. Without even needing to look, I knew that it was the voice of a spectrademon. The Order was here.

“The Corringer Corporation’s services come with a guarantee of reliability that just can’t be beat in known space,” the goon said, mechanically. “And besides; where did you learn how to operate a large-scale communications jammer?”

“We. Do. Not. Learn. We. Know,” said the spectrademon. “Perform. The. Check.”

“Right away,” the Corringer goon said. He was indeed a Corringer goon, identical to every other aside from his sandy brown hair and the little decorative pin stuck through his shirt. He strolled over to one of the monitors, turned it on, and pressed a little plastic datastick into a port on the side. As he passed me, I very quickly leaned out to get a look at the door. There were two spectrademons standing in the doorway; we weren’t getting out until he left.

He worked in silence for about a minute, then without looking up said, “Just so you know… it’s not easy, spoofing transmissions for an entire planetary sensory network, even one that’s this poorly designed. It’s only a matter of time before somebody catches on.”

“You. Were. Hired. To. Prevent. Detection. By. Architectine. Forces.”

“And I am, so far,” he said, defensively. “I’m just saying, your friends had better get here soon.”

“It. Will. Not. Be. Long.”

“Good,” the Corringer goon said, unplugging the datastick from the monitor in front of him. 

Then he started moving directly toward the corner where I’d hidden myself. I cringed back, scooting closer to the wall, pressing one hand against my mandibles so that he wouldn’t hear my panicked breathing. Sure enough, he stopped directly in front of my hiding spot and logged on to the computer sitting on the desk directly above me.

I didn’t dare to move, and it was only out of necessity that I allowed myself shallow breaths of air. How he didn’t notice immediately, I have no idea. But he didn’t, and he went about his work as though there was nothing unusual happening, mumbling jargon to himself as he pressed buttons and turned knobs. Over time, I relaxed, wondering if he was going to miss me after all. 

But then he shifted his weight, causing one leg to bend forward, bringing it within inches of touching my own. Every drop of fear suddenly rushed right back into me. I shifted away from him… and right into a thick cord hanging down from the desk above. There was the softest, most subtle click as the cord unplugged.

“What the hell? I might need to speak to management about getting the hardware refitted,” the Corringer goon muttered. 

He stuck one arm under the desk and began groping around in search of the misplaced cord. There was no more space for me to back into, and the cord he was looking for was behind me, out of my reach. Part of me wanted to scream, beg for mercy maybe, if only to not prolong the tension for even an instant longer, but I was so terrified that my entire body refused to respond. His hand was only six inches away now… five inches… four inches… three…

Quinn leapt out from under the desk where he’d been hiding with a scream of rage, fully tackling the Corringer goon from behind with enough force to slam his head into the machine in front of him. The man didn’t let out more than a short yelp before he crumpled to the floor, passed out.

My hand immediately flew to my chest, and the Waterspindle. I thought of the quick glimpse I’d gotten of the spectrademons, hoping that that would give it direction, then allowed myself to get pissed at the agents of the group that had killed my people. Now that I knew how the Waterspindle worked, it flared to life in under a second. As I crawled out from under the desk, it became so hot that I could feel it even through the chest of my anti-chlorine suit. Sure enough, the spectrademons were paralyzed, groaning in pain as they struggled to scrape together enough control to draw the blaster carbines hanging at their sides.

Quinn gave the Waterspindle a nervous glance as I stood up and started putting my gloves back on. “How long does that thing last for?” he said.

“As long as I can hold off exhaustion,” I said. I wheeled around and yanked the datastick the Corringer goon had been using out of its slot, shoving it into my pocket and silently hoping that it could resist exposure to concentrated chlorine. “We should go.”

As we ran through the halls of the Corringer ship, I realized that the Waterspindle had a lot more range than I thought it did. We found more spectrademons and Corringer goons as we went, but all of them were nearly incapacitated with pain, or quickly became so as they got near. Only once or twice did we even have to take any action to avoid them, juking out of the way of hastily-fired blaster shots. We arrived at the exit airlock with nobody immediately on our tails.

There was an Architect traffic controller waiting for us at the other end of the umbilicus. “What do you two think you’re doing in there? I could arrest you for breaking and entering!”

“Whatever,” I said, “but before you do that, you should know that that ship is full of spectrademons, and Corringer is in full collaboration with the Order of the Pale Star.” I held up the datastick. “I think this proves that they’ve been messing with your communications for a while.”

“A likely story. Now tell me what you were actually doing in there, or I’ll— Oh. Well fuck me running, that’s a spectrademon.”

Quinn, the Architect, and I had about half a second with which to hit the deck before the entire bay was riddled with the echoey distortions of agony rifles firing. “Well there’s the vermin,” said a disturbingly human voice. “Kill it, kill the liberate, and kill anyone else who gets in your way.”

At the same time, the Architect crawled over to get close enough to whisper to me, “The Department of Planetary Security is a dozen floors down. Good luck.”

I nodded at her and looked to my right, to see that Quinn was already running serpentine toward the elevator. With no time to waste, I fluttered my wings and leapt up, bounding across the room as quickly as I could, with a small army at my back.

So, a brief update on things: this may not be the only late Earthborn Emissary chapter happening in the next couple of weeks. After completing NaNoWriMo, I'm going to take a week off, which will give me just barely enough time to write the next chapter of the book in time for release. But after that, all the breaks are coming off; with my other novel, Snows of Selene, complete, I have nothing to work on aside from finishing this book over the next two months. And my plan is to finish it, because I'll be having surgery in late January and I don't know how long it will take for me to recover from that enough to be able to write again. As always, if you want to support me, you can join my Patreon by clicking the link below. New chapters will hopefully continue to come out every two weeks on Mondays.