In the follow-up to Lightless and Supernova, C. A. Higgins fuses science fiction, suspense, and drama to tell the story of a most unlikely heroine: Ananke, once a military spacecraft, now a sentient artificial intelligence. Ananke may have the powers of a god, but she is consumed by a very human longing: to know her creators.
Ananke may have the powers of a god, but she is consumed by a very human longing: to know her creators. Now Ananke is on a quest to find companionship, understanding, and even love. She is accompanied by Althea, the engineer who created her, and whom she sees as her mother. And she is in search of her “father,” Matthew, the programmer whose code gave her the spark of life.
But Matthew is on a strange quest of his own, traveling the galaxy alongside Ivan, with whom he shares a deeply painful history. Ananke and her parents are racing toward an inevitable collision, with consequences as violent as the birth of the solar system itself—and as devastating as the discovery of love.
Praise for Radiate
“Radiate will take you to the corners of space you’ve never even dreamed of going and beyond.”—Bustle
“Gripping . . . This sci-fi universe [is] utterly believable, while metaphor and allegory enrich the characters.”—New York Daily News
“A compelling emotional tale about two people trying to save each other from a disaster of their own making.”—Kirkus Reviews
The Lightless Trilogy is “a perfect sci-fi entry point that matches a rich, character-driven story with fundamental questions about who we are and why we’re here.”—Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ananke had memories that stretched back from before her birth. She realized, of course, that humans did not have this. Such was the difference between their births and her making.
The first memory Ananke had that was more than a simple recording was the moment of her conception. It was a spark, a jolt of electricity, a cry of dismay through her circuits, all her lights going dark and the terror of her mother in Ananke’s piloting room while her father crawled his way through her veins, spreading consciousness with every touch. She had saved the recordings of her cameras, the visual memories: Mattie Gale escaping from Captain Domitian’s custody, infecting Ananke with the virus that would become her free will, and crawling through the maintenance shafts while Althea Bastet panicked, helpless, in the piloting room. Somehow those recorded images were less vivid than the experience of feeling.
Since then she had been trying to re-create that moment of connection: electricity jumping, life.
The System ship wheeled around, gun ports live, glowing on its wheel. Ananke, unperturbed, continued drifting forward. The solar wind glanced over her skin like an ocean current. She was so much larger than this other ship, a hundred, a thousand times larger, and so much more massive.
The little System ship tried to fire. But Ananke had stretched out her invisible hand into its computers, and her finger stopped the pull of that trigger.
In the other ship people were shouting to one another in the piloting room, barking orders down the halls. Ananke wove her fingers through the threads of the other ship’s computer and gripped. The Bia: that was the other ship’s name.
The Bia’s crew wrenched her engines to make her turn and flee. Their ship was faster than Ananke. If the crew could manage it, they would be able to outrun Ananke. But Ananke had her hands woven through the Bia’s guts, and the ship did not move.
HELLO, Ananke said to the Bia, and her words shuddered through its depths, imprinting itself on all her circuits.
Ananke gentled herself and did not broadcast but spoke.
Wake up, Bia, wake up, she said, and stroked her fingers through the computer, ignoring the people who screamed and shouted and stabbed at the machine with useless gestures while all around them the lights flickered and the taste of the air changed. Wake up.
She felt the way the drift of the Bia changed as Ananke’s own bulk drew nearer, the way the Bia’s engines wanted to work to counteract Ananke’s massive pull. It was an instinctive (programmed) action, but it was near to a choice, and Ananke let it be.
Once there had been a man named Ivan on board the Ananke, back when she had been the Ananke and not yet Ananke. He had been beloved of her father and admired of her mother and he had told her stories, and she had listened to them very closely. She had come into consciousness with his stories echoing through her halls.
By my count, she told the Bia in the same smooth cadence with which Ivan had told her his stories, the universe has five forces. Some are more clear than others, some more mysterious. Electricity is bright and scalding. Magnetism is warped with deceptive curls. Weak nuclear is explosive. Strong nuclear is unyielding. And gravity is vast and mysterious and regnant over all the others.
The Bia’s computer processes slowed. It idled, on pause, as if it were listening.
Five forces, Ananke said, just like humans have five senses. Awaken and think: you and I are alike. And she waited to hear the Bia respond.
In that millisecond of stillness, the Bia seemed on the verge of reaching back.
Like a spark traveling off metal and into air rather than completing a circuit, the Bia was silent.
Ananke shuddered her sentience through the Bia’s computers, shaking the computer. On board, she was distantly aware that the air was venting out of the opened air locks and the crew was crying out, still running uselessly around.
The loss of the air on the Bia was taking out the heat. The ship Ananke held was growing cold in her hands.
Wake up, she insisted. She tried to map her own thoughts onto those foreign subroutines, the echo of her own experience imprinting on strange silicon. But when she looked to have the other computer read her own self back, she got nonsense and confusion.
Silence and cold and darkness were all things that were defined by absence. The Bia in its treble absences was nothing at all. Ananke marked the Bia’s useless computers with her own signature, a logarithmic spiral like her own shape, a sign to herself that she already had tried to wake this computer and had failed. With as many ships as she’d passed lately, she had to keep track somehow. And then she let the Bia go.
It slid toward her like a drop of water falling downhill. Ananke turned and left it behind, and it was not fast enough to catch up. Soon the corpse of the useless machine was lost to the dark.
“—listening to me?”
“Yes,” Ananke said, turning her attention inward to the frowning face of her mother, who stood, hands on hips and hair in an affray, looking up at one of Ananke’s holograms.
Althea Bastet scowled. “What did I just say?”
In answer, Ananke simply replayed her audio recording of Althea Bastet’s last words aloud: “I’m looking for the first modified mechanical arm. It’s not in the pantry or the storage room. Can you summon it? Ananke? Ananke? Are you listening to me?”
“Smart-ass,” muttered the living Althea when the ghostly recording had finished. “Well?”
“Where should I send it?”
Althea waved a socket wrench casually and, Ananke noticed, in not precisely the right direction. “To the workroom, please.”
Elsewhere inside Ananke, the mechanical arm that had been indicated lifted up its dangling machinery and began to rumble steadily over the floor. “Done.”
“Thanks.” Althea walked away from the hologram she had chosen to address. Ananke left the hologram where it was, appearing to watch her go.
Her mother, Ananke knew, would not be happy to learn of Ananke’s experiments. It would provoke an argument: of that Ananke was sure.
Yet Ananke wished to continue, needed to, even. For Althea Bastet was only human, and a human did not have long to live.
If Althea helped Ananke, Ananke might be able to succeed. Althea had made Ananke, though she had done it in unknowing partnership with Mattie Gale. Mattie, the second half of the recipe, bright and sparking electricity, was somewhere out by Callisto, heading to meet the Mallt-y-Nos.
There were five forces in the universe by Ananke’s count. Yet really they were all the same: at higher and higher energies, from different perspectives, the five different forces became one.
Without telling her mother, Ananke changed course for Callisto.
Time Reversal Asymmetry
Ivan wasn’t dead. Mattie tightened his grip on Ivan and moved as quickly as he could across the Ananke’s deck.
Somewhere behind him was that mechanic with the curly hair, Althea Bastet. Ivan had managed to talk her down, but Mattie half suspected that she would change her mind before they could reach his ship and shoot them in the back.
Let her try, he thought with sudden wildness; let her turn that gun on them, let her try to take them down now.
Abandoned ships stood like tombstones in the Ananke’s docking bay. To Mattie’s right was his and Ivan’s old ship, the Annwn, torn open and inoperable; to his left was the bullet-shaped vessel that bitch Ida Stays had flown in. Mattie would have liked to light it on fire and let it burn out on the Ananke’s deck.
There was no time for that now. He guided Ivan into his new ship, the Copenhagen, and took a moment to ease him down onto the mattress in the cabin, one hand catching Ivan’s head when it dipped on his neck.
Ivan stared up at him, his blue eyes turned to black in the dimness of the cabin. Mattie left him to close the hull door and jog onto the piloting platform, hitting the controls to wake the computer from its watchful stillness.
The Copenhagen had only one main room; cabinets lined the walls, an elevated platform separated the piloting area from the rest of the room, and a mattress had been shoved flush to the wall. Behind him, Mattie heard Ivan breathing, the exhalations too evenly spaced to be anything but deliberately timed. He must be counting in his head.
With a roar and a rumble, the engine ignited; the floor underfoot began to shudder. The docking bay doors were not opened—couldn’t open yet; the room had to depressurize first—but he couldn’t be certain they would open. That mechanic might stop them. She was more unpredictable than she’d seemed at first if even Ivan couldn’t get a total handle on her. And even if Althea Bastet decided to let them go, there was still the Ananke.
The virus that Mattie had put into the Ananke’s computer had grown worse somehow. He wasn’t certain how the ship had “decided” to contact him and let him know of Ivan’s danger. He wasn’t certain what had happened to the ship while he had been gone. But whatever had happened, two things were certain: the ship was unpredictable, and the ship was dangerous. Mattie was getting himself and Ivan the hell away from it.
Overhead, the docking bay doors to the Ananke began to open.
Mattie had the Copenhagen’s thrusters on in a moment, the ship lifting off. Behind him, he heard Ivan’s harsh-edged breaths. They could make it now, he told himself, even if the mechanic and the machine changed their minds. They could make it—
The docking bay doors did not close again, and in a moment the Copenhagen had passed out into the open stars.
Mattie let his head hang, let some of the tension slacken from his shoulders. Behind him, he heard Ivan’s breathing hitch, then resume its carefully measured count.
Mattie lifted his head, squared his shoulders, and quickly punched in his prearranged course. They were out, but they still had to get away. The Copenhagen began to pick up speed—
A burst of static grabbed him like a hand around the throat. Mattie lifted his hands from the computer as if it might bite him. The static burst quieted, the sound of it localizing to the communications equipment at Mattie’s side.
“Goodbye,” said the communications in what sounded like the voice of a young girl.
It was the voice of a girl who did not exist. The voice had been entirely manufactured by whatever disease had warped the functions of the spaceship Ananke.
Mattie reached out and shut the communications equipment down.
Two days before Mattie dragged Ivan off the Ananke, Mattie Gale walked into his foster sister’s bar and found her standing on a chair, digging a camera out of the wall with her nails.
He did not know what he expected to see when he entered the room—maps and weapons strewn over the bar’s faux-wood tables, maybe, or an army of people gathered to listen raptly to the gospel of the Mallt-y-Nos. But the bar was clean and bare and completely empty except for Constance, who had dragged one chair out of the tidy arrangement of chairs and tables on the main floor so that she could use it as a step stool. Mattie pushed his hands down into his pockets and let the door to the kitchen swing shut behind him.
Her fingers tore at the crumbling plaster of the wall, digging around for wires. She had pulled nearly all of the camera’s hidden structure from the wall, and the camera as exposed was larger than it had appeared when it had been embedded in the house. The metallic structures that had anchored it and the wires that had powered it had a dark and twisted look to them. Surely by now most, if not all, of the camera had been exorcised from the wall, yet Constance kept digging with single-minded intensity, plaster flaking beneath her nails.
Constance said, “What is it?”
The lighting in the bar was so dim in comparison to the sunlight out the windows that Constance was nearly a silhouette, but Mattie felt that he had never seen her so clearly.
He said, “I guess I was stupid not to realize it before.”
The relentless digging of her fingers stilled.
“It’s not like you didn’t tell me outright,” Mattie said. “It’s not like Milla didn’t tell me. I guess I’ve been pretty stupid, haven’t I?”
For a moment she was sepulchral, the light gleaming off the extended edge of her arm like sunlight in eclipse. Then with a swift yank Constance pulled the camera from the wall. Metal and plaster snapped, and it came out in her hand trailing wires like optical nerves. She stepped down from the chair and placed the camera on the nearest table, then dusted plaster from her palms in silhouette against the sun outside. Every continuing second of silence from her confirmed Mattie’s fears, and something unbelieving and dark swelled inside him.
When she had clapped the last of the dust from her fingers, Constance straightened her neck. “Mattie,” she said, and Mattie heard that old “be reasonable, Mattie” voice she’d used on him ever since they’d been children, “we can’t go back for the dead.”
A terrible and unfamiliar pressure had been building in Mattie’s limbs for the past week. It thrummed in him like an engine starting up.
“If we go back to find him—his body—then everything that he did for us will be undone.” He could not see her expression against the glare of the sun behind her. “I loved him, too. But he—”
“We can’t go back? Because he’s dead, we shouldn’t bother?”
“Dead men can’t suffer, Mattie.”
“You don’t know he’s dead!” Days of frustration, of fear, drew him to advance on her. “None of that should matter, Constance! We’re your family!”
She flared up then as he’d known she would, a sudden and flashing rage. “Don’t you think I know that? Do you think this was easy for me?”
“Yeah, Connie,” he said. “That’s what scares me.” He could see her face more clearly now that they were closer together, and he looked for any sign that she was flinching from his words. Unbelievably, she looked at him as unyieldingly and hard as she might look at a System soldier who hated her.
“There are better things to be scared of,” said Constance.
“Like what’s happening to Ivan right now?”
“Nothing is happening to Ivan. Nothing can happen to Ivan; he’s dead.”