In C.A. Higgins’ debut novel, Althea is a computer scientist aboard the Ananke, a military spaceship under the control of the organization that rules Earth and our solar system. When terrorists invade, Althea is called upon to defend the spacecraft. Lightless, which hits stores today, draws upon Higgins’ degree in physics and is “contained, disciplined, tense and occasionally lyrical,” according to the New York Times. If you’re in the New York area, Higgins will reading at Madison Square Reads on Thursday at 12:30. Read an exclusive excerpt from Lightless below.
EXCERPT FROM LIGHTLESS BY C.A. HIGGINS
The steel door across the room swung open, and framed in its tiny square beneath the wide featureless stretch of white wall above, Ida Stays saw him, her subject, Leontios Ivanov, dressed all in black with his blond hair cropped short. His gaze darted around the room before settling on her, the only creature inside. His wrists were chained behind his back.
Ida let the smile she’d been holding locked away unfurl on her lips, and Ivanov watched her, the full subject of his gaze.
When Domitian gave Ivanov a shove to move him forward, he started to walk straight toward her, and there was consciousness of her attention in every step he took. When he reached the other side of the table, the empty chair with its back to the door, Domitian grabbed him by the back of his neck and pushed him harshly down, pushing him to bend forward over the table until his chin was just above the surface of the table so that Domitian could unchain his wrists. A line was digging into Ivanov’s forehead between his brows as Domitian handled him roughly, but as Ida continued to watch, he looked up at her, his face smoothing over, and smirked at her.
The problem with Leontios Ivanov, she thought as Domitian pulled him back upright against the hard back of the chair and started to chain his wrists to the armrests, was that Ivanov was handsome, and knew it, and intelligent, and knew it. He could not help overplaying both hands. Ida was smarter than he, and Ida had him precisely where she wanted him to be.
Domitian tightened the last chain and took a step back, waiting behind Ivanov’s chair, looking to Ida and wordlessly waiting for instructions, just as he was supposed to. The camera and the polygraph sat to the side on the table between Ivan and Ida, out of the immediate way, but their very presence was a threat.
Ida let the silence of the interrogation room linger a moment longer.
“It’s good to meet you at last, Ivan,” she said, and watched his face
Abigail Hunter did, too. “Ivan” was what he called himself to his friends, to his equals.
Ivan hardly reacted. He tilted his chin very slightly to the side and said, after a breath too long to represent anything but careful consideration, “May I call you Ida, or should I stick to Miss Stays?”
He had recognized her. Ida swallowed her thrill.
“Ida, of course,” she said, and leaned forward slightly, pleasant and charming, and he smiled back in the same way, taking his cues from her. He wore his black turtleneck like armor. “I see you recognized me.”
“Of course.” Ivan’s accent was Terran in full force, as crisp and sharp as only one raised on Earth could achieve, and for an irrational moment Ida wondered if he could hear the hidden traces of Venus in her own imperfect Terran affectation.
“I wanted to know the name of the beautiful woman who has been asking after me for months,” Ivan continued. “So I looked you up.”
Her inquiries had not been clumsy, but they had not been terribly discreet, either. Still, it indicated a greater degree of awareness on Ivan’s part than Ida’s superiors, for certain, would have expected. The glow of gratification had started to fill her chest.
“And is that all you found out?” she asked, as if charmed. “My name and my face?”
Ivan leaned forward, too, as far as the chains would allow. Their faces were still separated by the wide expanse of the table, but the movement imagined intimacy, and he said confidingly, with a curl of amusement in his voice, “I heard that you’re the woman who’s always right. All of your interrogations have resulted in convictions, and all of your suspects have—so far—been found guilty. There are people who think that one day you’ll be head of System Intelligence, or the System itself, if you can keep up your reputation.”
“And does my reputation frighten you?” If his words had pleased her, it was only because they were all true, not because someone had spoken them about her.
Ivan smiled. This smile was different from the others—dangerous, bitter, almost wolfish—and Ida memorized it, cataloged it, filed it for later consideration.
“Not yet,” he said.
Ida would see him afraid before this interrogation was done.
“Have you ever been interrogated before, Ivan?” she asked, and leaned back from the table, leaving him bent forward toward her almost as if partway through a bow. He had been interrogated before, of course, and on the record, but information was not the purpose of the question.
“Not like this,” Ivan said, leaning back into his chair as well. He looked quite at ease, but his eyes were fixed on her in a way that she thought might indicate wariness.
“Then here’s how it’s going to go,” said Ida, as if she wanted this to be as easy as possible for him. “I’m going to ask you questions, and you’re going to answer them all honestly, with as much detail as I am pleased to hear. You will not lie to me or refuse to answer, because if you do, I am authorized to resort to less pleasant methods to obtain the truth. Do you understand me?”
“I understand you,” Ivan said. “But I don’t know what you’re hoping to get from me. I already told your mastiff”—he jerked his chin to the side and beside him in the general direction of Domitian, who was still standing in stony silence—“what he wanted to know about why I was on board. What else do you want from me?”
The perfect opening, handed, wrapped, into her hands.
“Remember, Ivan,” she said, “I am the woman who is always right, and I know all about you.”
He was wary. She imagined she could smell it.
“I know that you know the name of the Mallt-y-Nos,” said Ida Stays, “and I know that you’re going to tell it to me.”