Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 1: “Iowa” • by Pete Wood


Welcome aboard the Brahma!

Now a century out from Earth and en route to HD 133600, a remarkably Sun-like star and planetary system in the constellation of Virgo, the Brahma is the last, desperate, crowning achievement of human civilization and engineering. A massive three-hundred-kilometer long modular mega-ship, a gigantic ark in space consisting of two hundred and sixteen separate habitat pods, each the size of a small city, at launch Brahma carried two million passengers and crew, along with everything their descendants would need to build new lives on the worlds of HD 133600.

For the Brahma is a generation ship: all the original passengers and crew who left the Earth a century ago are long since dead. Everyone now on board was born on the ship; most will probably die on it. If their mission succeeds, their children or grandchildren will live to see the light of HD 133600.

Right now, the Brahma seems to be on-course and everything appears to be working as designed. The ship is cruising serenely at just slightly below c, a tribute to the engineers and craftspeople who designed and built her a century before. Many on board pray daily that the ship contains the best of humanity, and not the sorts of politicians, criminals, and dishonest leadership their ancestors thought they’d left behind…



Episode 1: “Iowa” • by Pete Wood

Captain Pari Mediretta and Detective Gail Jackson had the car to themselves, thanks to the mission’s priority. The transport tube—not standing room only for once—sped through kilometers of ship.

“You’re entering Bremer County, Iowa. You’re from Des Moines. Understand?” Pari said. “These people may seem nice enough, but they could be separatists.”

“You don’t really believe that do you?” Gail asked. Through the window she saw nothing but sleek sterility, a testament to the unflinching control of Administration. Polished steel walls. Bureaucratic signs. Offices. Storage facilities. The core of the ship had the feel of a hospital or a military base.

“Administration believes they’re separatists,” Pari said. “That’s good enough for me.”

A political answer. Great.

They slowed down to pass an infirmary. Somebody had spray-painted JETTISON NOW! near the ER. The slogans had appeared on bulkheads all over the three-hundred kilometers of the Brahma. Administration blamed separatists—those who wanted to take off from the generation ship and roll the dice with one of the bio pods, which in theory, could act as self-sustaining lifeboats. Any pod could match the main ship’s speed, but you better pray nothing went wrong.

Gail didn’t know if separatists roamed the ship or if Administration had exaggerated or even made up the threat to ramp up control over the passengers. All she knew was that she’d been stuck in a rut lately and this assignment might be distracting. Gail hadn’t enjoyed much of anything since Yasmine had moved a hundred kilometers upship and ended their relationship.

“Boss,” Gail said. “If somebody does jettison a pod, can’t the pod just reconnect?”

Pari stared at her for a second before speaking. “If they want to come back. And, even then, the ship’s gone a hundred years without disengaging a pod. The controls might not even respond. The pod might rip out a kilometer of ship when it goes. Do you want to take that risk?”

The car slowed down for the police barricade. An armed officer waved them through.

“Ever heard of Flat Earthers?” Pari asked.


“Contrarians,” Pari said. “They never believed the Earth was round.”

“Yeah?” Why was she telling this story? Earth had been blown to smithereens for a hundred years.

The car stopped at the airlock.

Pari pointed to the Iowa pod. “Everybody in there might as well be Flat Earthers. Except they don’t believe they’re on a spaceship. When we reach the colony, everybody in the pod will probably say the world is flat again. Damned delusional fools.”

¤   ¤   ¤

The pod sure felt like Iowa. A bright midafternoon “sun” high in the sky. Fields of crops that stretched as far as the eye could see.

Gail had seen worse places on the ship. Some poor souls lived in industrial pods where manufacturing plants ran 24 hours a day. Even with scrubbers churning nonstop and toxins shot out into space, the air still stank.

None of the Brahma’s two million passengers had ever seen Earth. Fifty years left to go until they reached the star system. Gail would probably die on the ship.

She couldn’t really blame the Iowans for coming up with the granddaddy of all coping mechanisms. Nobody wanted to ruminate on their fate of floating in a tin can, light years from the nearest planet

With Pari and the rest of the precinct on the other side of the closed airlock, Gail drove the beat-up pickup down the gravel road that led from the air lock to the main town. Administration sure spent a lot of resources to feed the biopod’s delusion.

What would it be like to never leave your pod? It might force people to live in the now and solve problems. Yasmine might have stuck around if she and Gail had to live in the same community and work things out.

After fifteen minutes, Gail came to Waverly, the seat of Bremer County. She parked in front of First Methodist Church and waited.

The locals just went about their business. They couldn’t be used to strangers. She wondered if any could be separatists.

True to Pari’s prediction, the front door to First Methodist opened eventually. A middle-aged woman eyed Gail curiously and walked over.

“Hello, I’m Gail Jackson. I’m from the Co-op,” Gail lied. “Johnson and Anderson couldn’t make it. Pick up and payment will be three or four days late.” She had to choose her words carefully. If she somehow upset the collective delusion of Bremer County, law enforcement wouldn’t storm the place to rescue her. Better to let her fend for herself than make a bad situation worse.

“I’m Reverend Nancy Tucker,” the woman said. “You sure came a long way to tell us that.”

Gail smiled. “We pride ourselves on personal service.”

“I’d hate for your trip to be a complete waste,” Reverend Tucker said. “We have a service on Wednesday night and a congregational supper. Care to join us?”

Gail had counted on that invitation.

¤   ¤   ¤

Gail hadn’t been to a church service since childhood, when Mom dragged her to Mass. A couple of fellow officers had been trying for years to get Gail to join them at church. She refused until they stopped asking. She had no use for the mumbo-jumbo. Could religion help you escape a sun going nova? Could religion help a couple patch things up?

Gail listened through a dinner of fried chicken, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and biscuits. She had two helpings of strawberry pie with fresh whipped cream. The congregation sat at long picnic tables underneath sprawling oaks behind the church. Children ran around squealing. Dogs waited patiently for scraps.

Nobody seemed to question anything. Why should they? What did Gail question? She accepted what those who ran the ship told her. She didn’t exactly delve into the science that kept the ship running and on course. Why should somebody who lived in a 1950s town with a yearlong growing season and a “sun” that ran like clockwork doubt their reality?

People discussed the sermon, or radio and television programs provided by the Ship. They gossiped. They talked about the basketball game this weekend between East Bremer and West Bremer. A half dozen gathered around one table and sang hymns while a grizzled farmer in overalls played a guitar.

 They asked her polite questions about Des Moines, but Gail could tell nobody had a deep curiosity about what lay outside the county.

She tossed out conversational feelers, but nobody expressed any interest in science or cosmology. Everybody seemed perfectly satisfied living the same lives their parents and grandparents had in a small county in Iowa.

If Gail couldn’t volunteer for far-flung assignments at work and had to stay rooted in one place, would she be climbing the walls or would she be happy too? Would Yasmine have stayed if Gail hadn’t been working nonstop?

After the dinner broke up, the “sun” lay low in the sky and the crickets sang. Gail stood by the truck and talked with Reverend Tucker.

“You’re not much of a church person, are you?” Tucker asked.

“No, I guess not.”

“That’s Des Moines for you. Too many distractions.”

“How’d you know I didn’t go to church?”

“You kept looking at the hymn book.”

“Must be comforting to have everything memorized,” Gail said.

“Yeah, we don’t like change around here,” Tucker said.

¤   ¤   ¤

Gail knew what she’d report. These people had stuck their heads in the sand and seemed all the happier for it. They didn’t want to believe in the outside ship. Jettisoning from the ship would require a clean break from their collective fantasy. She doubted anyone in Bremer County had the knowledge or ego strength to disengaged from the Brahma, pilot the pod, or dock again.

Gail parked at the air lock and pressed the access panel on the galvanized steel door.


She returned to the pickup and fumbled for the communicator. She signaled the Precinct.

“Dispatch,” a familiar voice said. “What is your situation, officer?”

“Hey, Aadit,” she said. “I went to church tonight. And it wasn’t a mosque. It was Methodist.”

“Where was this?”

“Iowa pod.”

“You’re not still in the pod?” He sounded alarmed. “Listen, you—”

The ground rumbled. The quake intensified. She lost her balance and fell.

Sirens shrieked.

“Prepare for departure,” a robotic voice proclaimed. “Pod will disengage from the ship in seven minutes, thirty seconds.”

Gail punched the air lock panel buttons over and over again as if the door would magically open. Soon more than a mere one hundred kilometers would separate her and Yasmine.

In the distance, church bells pealed.



Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past two years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles, and now with Tales from the Brahma, a shared world saga that will be running here on every Wednesday for the next few weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Jason Burnham, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Coming next week: Episode 2 of Tales from the Brahma, “A Palette of Home,” by Carol Scheina.

See you next Wednesday!