Black Petals Issue #102, Winter, 2023

Home
Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Betterment Day: Fiction by Malik Mandeville
Bridget Magnus: Fiction by Dean Patrick
Cemetery Road: Fiction by Richard Brown
I Quit: Fiction by Michael Stoll
Ivory Tower: Fiction by Aron Reinhold
Letter from a Poison Pen Pal: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Neck of the Woods: Fiction by Harris Coverley
No Angels: Fiction by Kilmo
It's A Dry Heat: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Requited Love: Fiction by Travis Mushanski
Stuck in Transit: Fiction by Michael Woods
Cold Yearning: Flash Fiction by Kat Sandefer
I Married a Zombie: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Snack Time: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
The Boy Who Loved Bolt: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
The Cutting Room: Flash Fiction by Karen Schauber
Dirty Blue Bandana: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Bidee Bodee, Bidee Beaux: Poem by Thomas Fischer
Blood of Whitechapel: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Rotten to the Core: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Seque into Shadows: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Sensitivity to Light: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Boo Hag: Poem by Richard Stevenson
Paranormal Parasites: Poem by Richard Stevenson
Huggin Molly: Poem by Richard Stevenson
In the Morgue of Memory: Poem by Hillary Lyon
Unexpected Culinary Opportunity: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
OI (Oo-ee): Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Plant Eater Gone Carnivorous: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
They Shouldn't Be There: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
The Needle Spins: Poem by Rp Verlaine
Cold: Poem by Rp Verlaine
The Sleepwalker: Poem by Rp Verlaine

Kilmo: No Angels

102_bp_no_angels_sowder.jpg
Art by John Sowder 2023

No Angels

 

by Kilmo

 

I.C.E. writhed across the vast gun metal hulk until it looked like the station was covered in the exposed sinews of a storm.

“Vent sluices one to a hundred. Beginning possession in T minus… .”

The A.I.’s voice vanished beneath the sound of bolts snapping open as the newly liquidised cargo began to flow.

Deep in its guts amniotic sacs trembled as the first drops of the immersive cryo environment pattered off their skins, and amongst the fleet orbiting humanity’s embattled home the Host opened their wings. Soon the station’s prisoners would complete their journey.

 Regan’s eyes snapped open as she tried to fill her lungs with air. She was floating, floating in something so blue she could barely see her limbs.

She frowned… already? It seemed like only yesterday that they’d left Earth. But if she was in a clone tank it would explain the lack of panic: her vessel would be saturated with blockers.

The commander’s fingers travelled over her face searching for the familiar hard contours of a born survivor, but what she found there was young, and soft.

She frowned as memories stuttered through her head. Something had happened… something that had filled the space around earth with an unfriendly constellation of light the like of which only its fundamentalists had imagined until then. Casualty lists and news reports blossomed into life behind her eyes. There’d been the arrival, the start of the battle on Earth, and the influx of the defeated as they tried to find a way out, hadn’t there?

Regan felt the vessel’s body stiffen. The Seraphim! That was what she was fleeing from. She thought of the moment when it had become clear what the angels fed on. It was after that that she realised why Earth hadn’t been atomized. They were a larder, and the only way out was to run.

Her training took over and Regan formed her next thought as clearly as she could.

“Ship?”

Her fist slammed against the hatch.

“SHIP!”

A chime like an elevator had reached the right floor echoed between her ears.

“Try to remain calm commander. You will be released momentarily.”

Regan shivered. Her head was full of crackling like there were too many neurons in it firing all at once. For a moment she was reminded of a choir singing on a badly tuned frequency.

As the cryo fluid began to darken, fading through purple and into black she tried to reassure herself it was just part of the rehousing process.

“That you ship?”

But if the station’s A.I. was still monitoring her it didn’t bother to reply and whatever simulation it had started was even more unfamiliar than the body she’d been deposited in. A globe was forming in front of her.

Earth.

Except the blue planet held none of the familiar feeling of home.

Instead, she felt… hunger.

Regan fought for control as a stream of bubbles escaped her mouth. This wasn’t part of the process. None of the reports had mentioned hallucinations. Pain, yes, sometimes. But not out of body experiences.

That left one possibility, but her contact with the Seraphim’s minds had been too brief for them to get their teeth really stuck in. She tried to concentrate on breathing. They were light years away, she was safe. Regan felt like pinching herself. If it was backlash from her displaced vessels consciousness it wouldn’t last. She just had to wait until she’d settled in. Already the immersive cryo-fluid was draining leaving only shreds of amniotic sac behind.

As fresh air finally filled her chest she adopted the mask she found so useful in her job. If she was found to be defective the station was programmed to eliminate the threat.

“How long have we been under?”

The A.I. rattled off figures and Regan’s eyes widened. The war… who’d won?

“Now update me on Earth’s status.”

“That information is unavailable commander. Communications terminated not long after departure.”

“The others?”

“The first cycle are awake and recuperating. Some of the worst offenders tried to escape,” the station’s voice didn’t miss a beat. “I dealt with them.”

Regan nodded pushing a lock of her vessel’s dark red hair off her face.

“And the surface?”

“As we thought.”

 

-

 

The commander of research station three stared at the pumice-coloured regolith choking the planet’s empty cities. She couldn’t shake the sensation of being watched as a storm blew up sucking what looked like a mountain of dust into its embrace.

As the outliers hit the ship’s hull Regan’s eyes narrowed. For a moment she could have sworn she’d seen a mouth the size of a horizon in its midst.

 She turned to the people on the deck.

“Everyone,” Regan scanned the refugees in her care. “By now the Earth we knew and its hierarchy are either dead, or close to it. But you can see the civilisation that called this world home is gone. We can do as we like with it.”

“I have a question.”

It was the resistance leader: a man who’d been so effectively bled of emotion it was a wonder he was still moving. He and the rest of the Forgiven had been lucky enough to survive their encounter with the Seraphim. Although ‘lucky’ was an unusual word to describe what was stepping to the crowd’s front with the blank face of a soldier fighting for something he’d already lost.

“Tell me.”

“Why do you really think we managed to escape?” his prosthetics zeroed in on Regan then his gaze travelled around the people near him. There was only one way to get at what the Seraphim wanted and unfortunately eyes never survived the extraction. “The angels technology is far superior to ours and they never do anything that doesn’t benefit them. They’re planning something.”

“You want to leave?”

The Forgiven shrugged.

“At least you’re still alive,” said Regan.

“You call this life? I’m telling you: they aren’t done with us yet.”

Regan paused uneasily. The man’s voice sounded like the dry ticking of the ship’s oxygen scrubbers and that feeling like her mind was too full returned.

“We’re getting off point. There are no resources we can spare to send you on your way. We deal with the situation as it is.”

The Forgiven’s counterfeit stare gleamed. If she remembered rightly the man had been known for murdering collaborating politicians.

“Is there anything more?”

For a moment the resistance fighter was silent. Then he bowed.

“No, I follow your orders.”

“Then you will be my eyes and ears. Watch the other survivor’s… closely.”

 

-

 

Far from the light of day the Omega withdrew a titanium needle from the planet’s core and dug a little closer to the heat. The storm had done nothing but displace more of its long dead creators into the upper atmosphere leaving the visitor’s station barely scratched. A decision was reached deep amongst its ancient circuits: it was time to wake its auxiliaries up.

“What do you want from us?” queried the first of the crumbling trinity to respond. The Son had always been the more difficult of the two.

“We have interlopers,” replied the Omega. “They are organics.”

“Then we will deal with them the same as before,” said the third of the planetary governing systems. The apparatus the Omega allowed to control the upper reaches of its domain might be in worse condition than its counterpart, but it could still think, could still inflict damage if needed. The preservation of that capability was why they’d gone dormant in the first place.

“But we are weakened. We should not be operating,” interjected the Son.

“You are machines like me.” The Omega was tempted to drive the point home by shutting down some of the access to the power it transmitted, but it restrained itself. “You will fulfil your directives.”

“Nonetheless we are inefficient,” said the Host’s former leader. “My reactors provide me with power and my programming performs the rest. But my hardware has become corroded, and the system is damaged. Remind me, why did we allow our children to leave? They could have dealt with this.”

“They had begun to starve. Such behaviour is not optimal,” said the Omega. “With the organics terminated how long would it have been before they looked for a different food source?”

The Son was silent for a second.

“Us?”

“There was a high factor of probability, yes. We retain considerable capabilities.”

“I suppose it might have been like that. Even my subroutines are erratic now. Maintenance protocols have a seventy-one-point five percent failure rate. History grows hazy.”

“We will divide your resources when you terminate. But there will be no more questions. We have work to do.”

The auxiliaries went silent as long unused power nodes began to hum.

 

-

 

“Station? You say there are signs of disturbance down here?”

Regan fingered a patch on her suit. There’d never been enough funding for Earth’s off world research stations. She’d just have to trust a seal wouldn’t blow and turn her inside out.

“There are items that do not match the manifest, yes.”

She peered through the clouds of freezing gas spilling from the nearest metal crate. There was something… .

The commander fought the urge to draw her gun: a man was kneeling with his head down and his arms out on either side as if he were praying. As she stepped closer she could see the frost rimed features of one of the Forgiven through his open visor.

“What was in that?” said the commander gesturing at the open container.

“Unknown. It appears to have had a cloaking device.”

Regan looked along the narrow defile. There were dozens of its type supposedly holding terraforming gear: each with a red square and a single gold star at the corner.

“Are they all like this?”

She waved at the row.

“As I said Warden, their interiors are impervious to my scans.”

For a moment she considered looking in another, but there wasn’t much point. It would have taken a hundred men and women to search everything she could see.

“Start by assuming anything impenetrable hasn’t got what’s listed in it and send me the Forgiven’s leader. He knows more than he’s telling us.”

With a last look at the corpse she headed for the exit.

         

-

 

“Why did you ask for me?”

In the commander’s office the Forgiven’s voice sounded even more like the dry gasp of the ship’s air conditioning than usual.

“Tell me about what’s in the hold.”

“The hold?”

She caught a twitch on his normally impassive face.

“Did you get your men to unload something? What was it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We work together for the benefit of all. That was part of our arrangement, remember? Sometimes I think I should have left you for those Seraphim bastards. But you’re here so we should try and make this work.”

His prosthetics stared coldly at the woman behind her desk.

“We’ll kill you eventually. You and your ‘deals.’ We should never have left Earth.”

“And what were you going to do if they hadn’t shipped you off world? The Seraphim were winning even with the mass cauterisation programs. We could all see that by the end.”

“Not if we’d used attitude adjustors.”

In a distant part of Regan’s mind something began to keen.

“Dampeners? Tell me you haven’t brought those things here?”

She frowned as the lament grew worse and tried to quiet her thoughts. There was nothing sharing her head with her - it was just her imagination.

“This was supposed to be our second chance. We don’t need them.”

“They’re too valuable to leave behind. This world was inhabited once. Who knows what was left behind?”

“I see. Where are they?”

“Somewhere safe.”

“I could force you to tell me.”

“Try it,” said the Forgiven. Regan glanced at the button that would summon help. “There’s not much left of me that would care. However, I’d recommend you don’t. There are plenty of us here to cause you trouble. Not to mention the adjustors themselves.”

Slowly she leaned back and let her eyes travel to a spot above the Forgiven’s head.

“Fine, I don’t believe you. But we’ll work round it. I’m initiating a full search of the ship. Your kind and the remaining refugees are confined to quarters.”

The Forgiven’s leader was at the door when Regan called after him.

“You realise what will happen if those things get used?”

For the first time something approaching a smile appeared on his face.

“Why would it matter to me?”

           

-

 

On the flight deck the air was awash with the smell of stale sweat and frayed nerves.

“Station recommends take off and re-entry at a later date, commander.”

Regan glanced in the direction of the crewmember who’d spoken. It seemed like his download wasn’t sitting well with his vessel either. It looked haunted, as if it hadn’t slept for a week.

“Not in these conditions. The risk’s too great.” She staggered as the deck bucked. “What was that?”

“We are under attack,” came the A.I.’s voice. “Estimated time till hull breach: ten minutes.”

“Show me what’s going on.”

“That will be difficult. Most of our sensors are inoperative.”

Regan stared at the view. Out there it was growing dark. As she watched an arc of lighting spat from the ground. Before long it was joined by another, and then another. Regan took a step back. What was rising from the planet’s dust looked like thunder walking as the flickering lights stalked across the landscape

“What’s that?”

“It appears to be made of an energy source I am unfamiliar with,” said the ship’s A.I. with its usual note of irritating calm, “and it is getting more powerful as we speak.”

Regan’s attention returned to the smoking crater it had been born in.

“And the source?”

“I would have thought that was obvious Warden. There must be an installation buried underground.”

Warning lights flickered into life along the bulkheads, and on a nearby screen she could see an airlock had slid open. Inside stood the convict’s leader with two attitude adjustors flanking him. The inverted pyramids hanging between their thin metal stalks had a space like a black hole at their centres.

Regan felt sweat start up along her spine.

“That Forgiven better be right. Those things can’t be switched off.”

The leader ducked his head for a moment and his hands looked busy with something near his eyes. When he looked up again they’d begun to display rows of flashing numbers.

They were counting down.

The explosion that rolled over the ship then was strong enough to knock most of the crew off their feet. In its wake came a rising whine as the adjustors kicked and their magnetic rotors span into overdrive.

“Report.”

She listened to the sound of the blast rolling away as the attacker fractured and burst beneath the adjustor’s beams.

“That was an EMP. The last of our unshielded external sensors are down,” said the crewman who’d spoken before as he clambered to his feet. “The Forgiven’s leader must have been an agent. They were designed to get close enough to the Seraphim to knock them out.”

Regan watched the last of the energy dissipate amongst the planet’s dust.

“I thought as much. He knew about this place.”

Regan tried to ignore the prickle as she felt the fear rising off the men and women around her in waves.

Saliva sprang up in her mouth.

“We need to get out of here before whatever started that attack recovers,” she said quickly. She could feel time running out, although if the realisation came from her or the thing she could feel squatting at the back of her head she wasn’t sure.

“Aft thruster is gone, commander,” said a female scientist nearby. “Our lift capacity’s down sixty percent. Even if we had fuel it wouldn’t move us, not even close.”

“There’s another possibility,” said Regan and paused. The thought had wedged in her mind like a fist wrapping round her cerebral column..

“What?”

“I offer you to it.”

In the craters depths lighting was beginning to struggle into life once more. Before long it would close on the station’s hull, narrowing, moving in, like the net from a trawler. Just like it had with her siblings, and she knew what came next. Regan’s face froze as the thing in her head finally took over all the way. Then she smiled, and to the onlookers it was like looking at metal grin.

“After all, we know what it’s like to make sacrifices.”

“You’re pardon commander? I don’t understand,” said the crewman who’d spoken earlier.

“You should relax it will all be over shortly.”

The assembled men and women looked at each other.

“Surprising,” said Regan’s nerveless mouth as they began to drop one by one and the angel riding her plunged its hands deep into the nearest’s mind. “We thought more of you would panic.”

It was feeding time and there so much to choose from.

 

-

 

“That was over too soon,” said the column of black flame in the destroyer’s amplifier as it finished its meal.

 The last tenuous links to the station retreated. The Metatron had enjoyed playing the heroine, the human cattle’s last hope, but it was time to attend to more important matters than slaughtering refugees.

 A crowd of blank empty faces was staring at it.

One of them stepped forward.

“Not a bad result. We were right our father has survived.”

Behind it the whispering of its brothers and sisters died away as they finished echoing its words.

“We will only win if we can draw him in and trap him,” said the Seraphim’s emissary with the voice of a hundred crackling forest fires. “But that’s not the point. He still knew they were there. We need to drain them of every last drop if we’re to make them invisible until the time is right.”

“However, it was an interesting trial run Metatron. He performed exactly as expected.”

The Metatron’s flames flickered in agreement as it absorbed the emotions it had harvested.

“Can you do it again?” said the Seraphim’s current mouthpiece.

“If you provide me with another consignment, yes.”

“We have already begun to infiltrate among the humans. More will be easy to procure.”

The Metatron searched the stars. It might have been just its imagination, but one seemed to glow brighter when it looked at it.

“Remember, you will damage them beyond repair if we farm too early.”

The Metatron allowed its wings to unfurl as it watched Earth spin below, blue speckled with tiny dots as more of the Seraphim’s dropships got down to the business of consolidating their hold on it.

“I’ll soon have them begging to do anything we want,” said the angel looking at the view.

“It’ll mean casualties. They will despair.”

“All the better, despair is as nourishing as any other of their feelings. But we better give them something to live for. They’ll need it, particularly now we own the skies.”

The Metatron pointed at the sun. The blades cutting across its surface were clearly visible now they’d been completed.

“Open it up, let’s give them an hour this time. They’ll need hope to keep them productive.”

 

END

 

 

Kilmo started writing because mental health is a bitch and there didn't seem to be much choice. He brought it from a squat 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, The Chamber Magazine, and Black Petals. He also has a story published in the anthology One Hundred Voices entitled “Closest.”