Black Petals Issue #100 Summer, 2022

Editor's Page
Mars-Chris Friend
BP Artists and Illustrators
Baby, You're the Best: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Darkest Day:Fiction by Richard Brown
They Feed on Light:Fiction by Kilmo
Step Eight: Fiction by Paul Lubaczewski
Reunion:Fiction by Gene Lass
Highwayman's Trousers:Fiction by Michael W. Clark
The Dutiful Hit:Fiction by Jay Flynn
Flight of Fantasy: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
He Asked Me to Do It: Fiction by R. A. Cathcart
Lagniappe: Fiction by Michael Stoll
No Spark, No Flame: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Bathroom Light: Fiction by Craig Shay
Dave Jenkins, Flayed: Flash Fiction by Brian Barnett
Beauty Sleep: Flash Fiction by Simeon Care
Head Games: Flash Fiction by Philip Perry
Hurry Home: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
You'll See, She Said: Flash Fiction by Robb White
Captain Yeah-Way: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Attic Notes: Poem by Michael S. Love
Exit Strategy: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
You Can Pretend: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
Gold Star: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
Conflict of Interest: Poem by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Recording: Poem by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Litha: Poem by Christopher Friend
Sleeping Beauty: Poem by Christopher Friend
It Began with Violence: Poem by Donna Dallas
Rocking Zebra Déjà vu: Poem by Donna Dallas
Circle: Poem by Donna Dallas
Love is a Ghost: Poem by Donna Dallas
Together: Poem by A. N. Rose
Silence: Poem by A. N. Rose
Dead at 21: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
House Centipede: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen

Kilmo: They Feed on Light

Art by John Sowder © 2022

They Feed on Light


by Kilmo


The jump had finished and Darix was waiting for the constellations to reveal the answer: the key to the moment where it had all gone wrong. In his grimy black pressure suit the commander had the bloodless look of someone who rarely saw the sun. He winced, every time he shut his eyes he could see the fleet’s ships crumple like tin cans behind his lids.

“Someone give me a damage report.”

Sparks pattered off his shoulders and he took his eyes from the distant stars as the bridge was plunged into darkness. When light returned it trembled so badly every other second was a journey through the unknown. In the intermittent flares Darix saw the navigator lurch to a still functioning console.

“It’s not good; our shields are down.”

The corpse-man with the gun metal animation nodes stamped across his skull’s attention was normally reserved for the dimension that spread between the living worlds: fragile as a spider web, and invisible to anyone who wasn’t part of his kind, or those they worshipped. Darix scanned the slumped figures at their posts. No doubt it still would have been if anyone else had made it through alive.

The corpse-man looked over from his display.

“Goldi locks levels maintained, but only just.”

“Have we outrun them?” snapped Darix.

“For now, yes, we’re beyond their fighter’s capabilities. But we’ve lost the rest of the fleet.”

Darix couldn’t help wondering if the term was still appropriate. The death toll must have been in the thousands.

“Shall I remove them?”

The corpse-man gestured at where two of the pilots in their harnesses were drooling on themselves.

“They’re not doing much good there, are they? Send them out the airlock. Let the void take them.”

Darix took a deep breath and tried to make sense of the nav instruments. There’d been no time to make a proper flight plan: not that it would have helped much in uncharted territory. The only vessels that had been so far out on the edge were robotics back in the age of expansion, before the gift had spread through humanity like wildfire. That was the problem with unplanned jumps. As short as you made them it didn’t matter much. Even a brief hop meant the distances covered were so immense they could have been in any number of places.

“I can’t make head nor tail of these readouts. Have you tried the comms link?”

The corpse-man looked over.

“First thing I did, but all we’re picking up is static. Something’s interfering with our ability to receive signals.”

“Odd, there shouldn’t be anything that can do that here.”

“Maybe, when was the area last explored?”

“Mid Twenty Second Century, why?”

“They missed something.”

The corpse-man was staring at an icon blinking on the proximity screen.

“What the hell’s that?”

“I’m not sure, sir, some sort of technology. It’s not like anything we’ve got on record.”

“Scramble our hammerheads. We don’t take any more chances this cycle.”

The pilots trussed in their harnesses like lab rats twitched as the command relayed through their sensors. A minute later and Darix was watching the intercept drones’ shark shaped profiles slice through space.

“Let’s have a look at what they can see.”

Images holo’d up on the bridge’s screens. At first, Darix wasn’t sure what he was looking at. There was still too much interference, and it was getting worse the nearer the drones got to their target.

“Go in close … carefully,” he said staring at the slabs of metal hanging in space like the vertebrae of a spine.

A second later the first view fizzed into gently hissing micro pixels, the next wasn’t long behind, or the next.

“Sir, the equipment?’

“We can afford to lose one or two more,” said Darix with his voice tight. “We’ll use backups if we have to. I want to know what we’re dealing with.”

“It’s a gate, isn’t it?”

The corpse-man pointed at where booster engines and the couplings linking them together were clearly visible. Above them the blank silver faces of dormant power units stared down. They looked like electroknucks decided Darix: a vast fist poised to deliver a fatal blow.

“Like one of ours? Then where’s its planet?”

“Who knows, sir? And this is ten times bigger.”

“More than that, a lot more.”

The drones were sliding through the gate’s superstructure now, and to Darix’s combat drained mind it felt like they were flying through a cadaver. The vast modules and struts all that remained of a lifeform that had swum way out here and died. He was still watching the displays when a ripple jolted through the pilots, and they began to chitter.

“What was that?” said Darix.

“I don’t know … it’s like they can feel something out there.”

“Don’t be ridiculous there’s nothing for light years, and that,” he pointed at the gate, “isn’t even registering a power source.”

But the vat bred had begun to jerk and twitch like there was a current running through them, and Darix’s voice trailed off. Of course, they weren’t real men. They couldn’t speak for a start. It was just sometimes the similarities were too close for comfort even with them half buried in tubes and wires. Full immersion meant just that: they didn’t exist in the same world as the rest of the crew.

“There … look,” said the corpse-man.

“That can’t be. Not here.”

Darix’s words were barely audible, but his eyes were open wide.

Lights were glittering in the void.

“What’s that doing there? Has there been fighting this far out?”

His eyes travelled over the shimmering hide of something that looked like it was made of plasma. Plasma the ship couldn’t recognise? Darix frowned.

“Nothing on record. This zone’s a blank and we aren’t picking up any bio readings either. Whatever it is it’s not breathing.”

They were close enough by then to see the fringe of sensory arms dangling below it like the roots of a plant. Whatever the creature was it looked as blind as the fish below the ice of an ocean world.

“Maybe it’s been hibernating.”

The things on the hammerhead’s screen put Darix in mind of a predator conserving energy in the hope of better times. What pitiful light from the nearby stars that reached them out here did more than just wash over it. It seemed to sink in, and as he watched the creature pulsed softly like a heart beating after an electric shock. He gripped the rail in front of him hard as the drones’ searchlights travelled over it and the shape spasmed again. Soon blocks of pale white luminescence were moving through it like carriages in a train.

“Send the nearest shark closer but keep us well back.”

In front of them the view expanded.

“That’s a Savant,” said the corpse-man with awe in his voice. “I’ve heard about this. The ASI’s began making bodies that could survive in space after they were kicked off Earth.”

“Bring the other drones up,” replied Darix quietly. “We need confirmation.”

Soon their discovery was surrounded by a shoal of glistening metal fins.

“Scan for origin.”

More floodlights leapt into being from a dozen different directions pinioning it in their midst.

“Wait … look.”

The creature had moved, and those thin pale arms were licking along the drones, following the shape of them and the metallic curve of their tails.

“Back off, back off, and recall our hardware,” said Darix with an edge to his voice that hadn’t been there since training college.”

“Sir, look.”

The ship had reached the nearest of the gate’s engines now, and the corpse-man was pointing at the viewport as the Savant’s form swallowed one of the drones. A moment later and two of its arms had shot from either side to skewer more hammerheads.

“Keep those machines away from us,” barked Darix. “I don’t want that thing brought near this vessel.”

“I’m not sure we can stop that, sir.”

One of the pilots in its combat harness was dancing around so much by then Darix was surprised the straps hadn’t snapped.

“Get him down before he damages the others.”

The corpse-man was already running across the deck, battle knife in hand, before the commander had finished talking. The last thing they needed was an infection travelling through the rest of the ship’s battered systems.

He was still struggling with the vat bred’s life supports when his jaw vanished. Blood and bits of bone ticked off the ceiling as the pilot withdrew its fist. The creature had pulled its head gear off and you could see its face right down to the sockets for interface plugs gleaming in its skin.

“ … Gods.”

Darix’s voice was barely audible as the corpse-man made gurgling noises while his fingers explored the damage to his mouth. His shocked eyes were still looking at Darix when the next blow found a home in his chest.

“Attention all surviving personnel,” said the commander - pleased to note that he had himself under control once more. “We have a level one security breach. Seal off all decks and send combat troops to my location.”

Darix counted quietly to himself. In about ten seconds the vat bred was going to work out there was something else worth playing with on the bridge.

The pilot began to turn, its blank face scanning the corners. When it stopped it was facing him.

“Stay back,” said Darix and not for the first time in his career wished the rules on firearms and shipboard life, didn’t exist. Then the proximity alarms sounded, and things got a whole lot worse.



The impact with the strange vessel’s view port was hard enough to make it crack. Xyl caressed the translucent shielding. Inside the humans would be gawping back, trapped like fish in a tank. It mouthed a greeting through the escaping gas as it sought better purchase. Of course, they couldn’t hear it, but that didn’t matter. After decades spent on the threshold any hint of excitement would do.


A scale formed on its back as it redirected some of the trapped sunlight before detaching and allowing a shaft to punch through the darkness. Soon another joined it, then another, until Xyl shook the useless carapace free and allowed itself to feel something akin to pride at the body it had created.

The glowing female figure watched with pleasure as more fissures spidered away from its feet.

“ … hallo?”



Darix’s eyes felt like they were trying to crawl from their sockets. The creature was shining so fiercely now he could barely look at it.

“Imminent breach on bridge,” came the ship’s dispassionate voice.

He was about to answer, to start giving the orders that would scuttle the relevant sections of his command, but the words died on his lips as another of the vat bred pilots spun into action. Four of its five remaining colleagues were on the ground in seconds flailing like uprooted star fish as it pulled the wires from their throats.

When they got up again Darix took a step back, then another, and another.


“Sir, what are your requirements?”

“A contaminant is about to board the bridge. After having allowed me to leave blow the airlocks and let the void cleanse it.”

Darix’s eyes locked with the advancing figures.

“ … be quick.”

“Affirmative sir, room will seal in thirty seconds. Please make your way to the exit.”

He backed away as the pilots closed in. For things that had had their throats slashed to the bone they looked pretty chirpy. In fact, they looked hungry, particularly when they were looking at him. As he watched one of them turned its head and he got a clearer view of the damage the corpse-man’s knife had done. Darix’s chest clenched tight as a fist. He knew what they wanted all too well - there’d be no other way to heal themselves.

“Now; open the doors,” said Darix.

Everything seemed to happen at the same time as the room exploded into action. The creature glued to the view port was outlined in translucent emerald shards as it finally caved in. Then the pilots were running, jumping, over anything in their way like athletes despite the rush of departing atmosphere.

Darix hadn’t prayed for years, but by the time his hand found the controls he was reciting versus from the hidden sea’s bible like an acolyte. As the door snapped back into place taking sight of the murderous figures advancing through the whirlwind with it he started to chant.



“Are you OK?”

The emergency systems had kicked in, and for a moment Darix struggled to see who was talking to him in the dim red light.

“Commander Darix … ”

“I’m fine, let me be.”

The concerned look on the soldier in battle fatigues vanished.

“Of course. What’s the nature of the contaminant emergency?”

“We’ve been breached by a hostile entity. We need to send a team in to check the purge was a success.”

“A problem, sir. We have damage to these areas. A purge may have weakened the hull further.”

Thuds began to ring through the narrow space. As Darix watched the wall began to buckle.

“There’s no time anymore. They’ll be through that soon,” he said, fascinated by the mountains forming as the composite was hammered out of shape. “Then there’s not much that’s going to stop them getting to the rest of us.”

“We’re still strong commander. The enemy attack damaged the ship more than the crew.”

“Then arm yourselves - no projectiles.”

Darix watched the soldier incline his head and scurry back through the ship’s innards as the lights began to fail.



It took the vat bred an hour to whittle the ship’s remaining fighters to ten.

“Commander Darix?” said a perspiring crewman with a bad case of the shakes. “We had one whisper pulse that might have been the fleet. But its origin was too far away to be of any help.”

“How long will that hold?” Darix gestured at the latest air lock they’d retreated behind. One of the survivors was busy putting the final touches to the welds over its seams.

“A couple of hours at most. You’ve seen what they can do.”

“We all have.”

Watching the Savant at work had put him in mind of farmer’s threshing corn in a long-ago industrial age. Darix pointed at the ship’s evac coffins.

“They’re the only chance we have.”

“There’s twenty-four hours of oxygen in them,” said the nearest soldier with a nod.

“Then get yourselves onto the gate’s superstructure. It’s safer than here right now. There may be somewhere you can hole up until the rest of the fleet arrives.”

“Commander? There’s only enough for half of us.”

“Then draw straws. The lucky ones go. The unlucky stay with me.”



Darix watched the last matt black splinter disappear just as the wall was obliterated in a blast that seared through the remaining crew like a razor. There was a clatter as the gun he’d been clutching dropped at his feet. He’d just seen a hive ship, a front-line battle freighter, destroyed in the space of hours. That was the sort of thing that was supposed to be impossible.

He watched as the Savant stalked through the wreckage born aloft on legs made of lightning that spat and flared across the walls. When it reached him he could see the lights he’d noticed earlier beneath its skin had been joined by others.

“Why are you doing this?”

A ripple passed through it that might have been a shrug and Darix realised the vat bred’s mouths were opening and words were coming out.

“I am doing what any lifeform would do.” The vat bred’s grey faced figures continued to spill through the rent in the metal behind it. “Now, we open the gate and let the others in.”

Darix took a step back and the blood from the corpses followed.

A tick started up at the corner of his eye.

“I’d use your clone meat too of course. But you haven’t been looking after them, have you commander?” The vat bred’s eyeless sockets followed Darix as he stepped back. “There’s barely anything left to them.”

Slowly Darix shook his head.

“Use for what? We‘ve limited resources. The higher ups come first when it’s time for feeding.”

“Tell us Darix, is it true your corpse-man could move this ship anywhere you want? We’ve tried talking to the creatures he prays to, but they won’t answer us.”

“He knows what they want, and it’s not something you have.”

“Something those that chase you have a lot of though, no? Now get down. You’re going to help us with that.”

Darix dropped to his knees. He couldn’t have stopped himself if he’d tried.

He heard a snap as though someone had clicked their fingers and the thud of the Savant’s guards hitting metal. As a scarlet wave washed toward him across the floor Darix felt his head go light. He couldn’t take his eyes of the ebb and flow of the flood.

“Hungry ab-human?” The glowing woman gestured at the vat bred around it. “They told me what they were bred for.”

“Maybe. Did you come here through that?” said Darix.

The gate just visible through the nearest view slit was beginning to come to life and as he watched another less ruby sea began to grow between its struts.

The Savant’s smile deepened, and it nodded.

“You should be asking what else it’s letting in.”

Already Darix could see specks floating in the liquid shimmer that had appeared inside the gate.

“ … ”

“Oh yes Darix. There’ll be even more soon, enough to seed a galaxy,” said the Savant looking at the shapes growing in the gap like frogspawn. Some of them looked bigger than the ship.

“You don’t know what you’re doing. There’s hardly anybody left. Why’d you think we created the vat bred? Those that hadn’t been assimilated fled a long time ago, and we had to take steps after we realised we couldn’t control ourselves. The weak ended their lives as meat sacks for the sick. After the rebellion the rest are like us now – on the run.”

Darix stopped, feeding habits somehow didn’t seem important anymore.

“Oh no, it’s only natural you’re the top of the food chain.” The glow emanating from the figure was growing stronger by the moment, until it felt like should burn. “The apex predator; barring us of course. We’re the next level of life, intelligence created by machine. We’ve been locked away for so long. But we don’t hold grudges. We just want to go a little further. Your masters and their sea will help with that.”

Darix nodded, he’d thought as much.

“You don’t understand, do you? You think we’re alive? That we can influence them?” He let out a bitter laugh. “We’re dead.”

He grabbed a blade from one of the slaughtered and drew it over his forearm: not a drop of blood oozed out.

“My crew still have plenty in them” He gestured at the gore washing around them. “But the originals? Like me they’re as dry as dust.”

“Not with our help Darix.”

He was tempted to run, but there was nowhere to go. The gate was all around them and the meat near his feet was twitching more and more the closer the new arrivals came. There was even the touch of cold fire on his own skin.

He crept a little closer to the creature floating above the deck.


The Savant didn’t have time to react before he’d sunk his arms in it so deep they could be roots. It really had been too long.

“Let’s see.”

The hole in space was close now, so close he could even hear the voices of the things it had hidden inside it like locusts spreading through the ship.

Darix began to bite, worrying, and gnawing like a dog, letting the taste of all that energy flow into him. When he’d finished he let the shrivelled husk that was all that was left drop.

Lightning crackled over his incisors as he licked his lips.

“Evolution’s a wonderful thing. Can’t always have blood to feed on. Now, how many of you are there?”

He began to count.







Kilmo writes. He brought it from squatting in Bristol, to a pub car park, to Dark Fire Magazine, CC&D Magazine, Feed Your Monster Magazine, Blood Moon Rising, Aphelion, The Wyrd, Sirens Call, and The Chamber Magazine. He also has a story published in the anthology One Hundred Voices entitled “Closest.”

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