Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 2: “A Palette of Home” • by Carol Scheina

[skip intro]

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 2: “A Palette of Home” • by Carol Scheina

Captain Pari Mediretta hadn’t taken two steps into the worst part of the generational ship, Brahma, when a tall someone shouldered into her.

“Watch where ya going!” the man growled.

He vanished into mists as Pari patted herself down to make sure she hadn’t been pickpocketed. Phew. Nothing taken.

God, how she hated this industrial pod, where all the grime, grit, oils, and smoke of the ship churned away. No wonder everyone called it Smoketown. The scrubbers filtered out all the toxins so it was safe to breathe, but they couldn’t erase the biting scent of chemicals.

But she’d volunteered for this. Admin wanted officers to patrol the pods, searching for potential separatist activity, and no way would she let one of her people enter this slum.

A maze of gray metal belched warm puffs of smoke at intervals, stretching as far as Pari’s eyes could see. The morning train rumbled and coughed overhead, echoing around her. She wished she could’ve worn a mask, but it would’ve pinpointed her right away as an outsider. She needed to blend in to do the job, then she could get back to her home pod, Green Groves, with its orchards and orderly roads.

Pari eyed faces as she walked, taking note of any actions that might suggest separatist activity. She didn’t see anything, but still, there could be one somewhere. Separatists wanted the individual pods to separate—the idiots—and were doing all sorts of crap like tinkering with ship equipment or smearing graffiti all over the ship’s walls.

Twenty steps into Smoketown, she noticed the black hooded figure with two large metal cans in hand.

Paint cans.

For separatist graffiti?

She kept her footsteps quiet as she followed him, her hands casually in her pockets, easy access to her stunner. Just a week ago, separatists had jettisoned the Iowa pod from the rest of the ship. One of Pari’s own officers, Gail, had been on that ship. The police captain’s jaw clenched as she moved down a tight alleyway. She was going to nail the bastards responsible.

The comm at her side buzzed. Goddammit. Pari flattened herself into a crack between buildings. “What?!” she whispered.

“Admin asked me to check in,” Sergeant Fry said over the screen. The sergeant was standing in for the usual comms officer, Aadit. “You doing okay, Captain?”

Pari rolled her eyes. Bad timing from Admin. As always. Combined with an inexperienced officer at communications. “I’m trailing someone here.”

Fry lowered his voice. “What’s the plan? How can I help?”

“Just… send a team if I don’t report back in an hour.” Pari ended the connection with a deep breath, shaking off her irritation. Hopefully she hadn’t lost the trail. She strolled in the last direction of the hooded suspect, stunner and comm within easy reach as she rounded a cluster of pipes…

And spotted a dozen hooded suspects with paintbrushes, some tall, some appearing quite short. She couldn’t make out faces in the haze, but she saw green paint dripping.

“She’s got a stunner!” One of the suspects had sneaked up to her side without her even noticing. Like a damn pickpocket. Pari didn’t get a clear view.

And they were taking off.

Pari’s dashed after them.

She fingered her side. Stunner was still there.

These could be separatists painting graffiti. They could easily be escaping to a separatist base camp.

Damn criminals could squeeze everywhere. She sucked in her gut to slip between a pipe and a wall. A blast of steam smoked white over her eyes. Goddamn chemicals.

The smoke cleared but where’d they go? Had she lost them?

A faint trail of green drips caught her eye. Like a bloodhound on the trail, she followed them to a dark building.

Should she call for backup? But even as she thought it, she kept moving, carefully opening the door, her movements quiet as her mind raging with thoughts of her lost officer. She could find information here to stop the separatists, once and for all. Her hand fingered her stunner and comm as she slipped in quietly.

“That’s her!” a child’s voice called.

In the dim interior, young faces turned toward her, dirty and tarnished as the pod’s metal equipment. They surrounded a woman with hair as curly and tangled as pipe cluster.

Pari silently cursed at being spotted so easily.

The woman stomped forward. “Who the hell you think you are, chasing my children?”

Pari flashed her badge. “I’m Police Captain Pari Mediretta. These… children were seen defacing ship property.”

“Whose property? This pod is our home.”

Pari quickly assessed the situation. No wires, no weapons, nothing separatist-y. Just kids and this woman. But she needed more information. “Can you tell me about your operations here?”

The woman kept frowning. “I’m Linh. I run this orphanage. And these are my children.”

“Are you aware of what they’re doing?”

Linh raised her chin. “I am. You gonna stop us?” The woman’s crossed arms indicated she had no intention of anyone stopping her and her kids.

“Graffiti isn’t permitted.”

A child: “It’s not graffiti! It’s art!”

Other voices shouted agreement. Then, “Show her! Please, Ms. Linh!”

Linh’s faced softened at the kids. She beckoned for Pari to follow.

What was the harm? Pari followed the orphanage director.

The dark building had several rooms with small beds and what looked like a schoolroom set-up. Outside a back door, Pari blinked in the smoky light and saw what they’d been creating.

This courtyard still had the same pipes and metal and cement floor of Smoketown, but these were blasted with color. Green ribbons of grass wove around pipes, a blue sky higher up. Pink and purple flowers, some childish in their shape, hid the grays of the metal and cement. A high-up pipe puffed a white cloud over this painted garden.

A tall man called over his shoulder before leaving. “Hey Linh! Found some more paint in the trash. Put the cans over there for you.”

Pari recognized the voice of the rude man who’d bumped into her earlier.

Linh waved. “Thanks, Sam!” Her voice snapped toward Pari. “We’ve been reading old books around Earth and how people had gardens in their backyards. They wanted to make our own garden. People around here have been helping. It’s not criminal to make our home better.” 

“No, no it’s not.” Pari’s own home pod had green trees. In fact, a lot of the pods had plant material. Why couldn’t an industrial pod have a bit of garden too, or at least a painted one? Pari’s own mom had always said, “Home is what you make it,” and that saying popped into her mind just then. “They’re doing really great work. I hope they keep this up. I’m sorry for interrupting.” I’m sorry for judging so quickly. She’d let her anger at the separatists get the better of her.

Linh gave a curt nod. “Thanks.”

¤     ¤     ¤

Two mornings later, Pari sat down with comms officer Aadit at Hazel’s Diner, the best food in the precinct. Delilah, the waitress, a descendant of the dead-for-generations Hazel, brought a cup of coffee, black, not too hot, without a word. Pari smiled her thanks, then turned to Aadit. “Still got nothing on the separatists. Dammit.”

Aadit nibbled a pastry. “Got some news you won’t like. Admin saw your report on Smoketown. They’re redirecting paint supplies from the pod, saying there must be a surplus if juveniles are using leftover paint.”

Pari frowned. “Wait, they want to take paint away from orphans?”

Aadit nodded.

It was just like Admin, focusing on the wrong things. And if Pari hadn’t assumed everyone was a separatist in Smoketown, if she hadn’t followed those kids, there wouldn’t have been a report. Maybe Admin wouldn’t have found out what they were doing.

Pari rubbed her forehead. So many problems—separatists, the Iowa, Gail, those children.

Their faces, dirty and uncertain, came to mind. What hope did they have? Most people lived and died on their pods. As a police captain, she got around more than others, but even she was more comfortable with her home pod. She was just lucky enough to have been born in a pod with green. It wasn’t really fair, was it? Those kids didn’t choose where they were born.

But they’d chosen what they wanted to do with their home.

Pari clenched her fists. Dammit, she’d made this problem, she could solve it. At least fix something on this ship. Her mind raced. There was surplus paint outside of Smoketown, probably being trashed. That one guy who bumped her had rescued paint from the incinerators. What if every pod saved excess paint and delivered it to the industry pod? Aadit could use the comms board to share the plan with the other pods.

Admin’ll be pissed if they found out, but this was worth the fight. She could help Smoketown make a home.



Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at