Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 4: “The e-Menace” • by Roxana Arama


[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, cultists, crazies, and dishonest leadership their ancestors thought they’d left behind…



Episode 4: “The e-Menace” • by Roxana Arama

Ximena slipped out the back door of her ten-story building into the cool night, her heart in her throat. She kept to the darkest street corners until she spotted a parked vehicle with its lights off, just as the message on her makeshift communicator had said. It looked like an armored bug on wheels, the kind of shuttle Admin sent to inspect pods. Aadit, the officer she’d managed to contact there, had said that Admin didn’t interfere in the pods’ internal affairs unless truly necessary. But twenty-year-old Ximena had managed to convince them this was one of those times.

She climbed into the shuttle, hoping for a quick extraction from the Elysium pod. In the dim blue-and-yellow light of the dashboard, she didn’t recognize the middle-aged woman at the controls, which was a good thing. The Doyen kept his tight commune closed to outsiders, so this driver must be from the main ship, as promised.

“Thank you… for rescuing me,” Ximena said while the automatic harness pinned her to her seat.

The shuttle started moving, and the doors locked. To keep them safe, Ximena told herself, though worry crept back in. She thought of her home electronics lab, where her newest contraption was hard at work, interfering with the comms of the Doyen’s guards stationed outside her building. Those guards were meant to show Admin that Ximena’s human rights were protected while the tribunal was being assembled.

“Where are we going?” she said.

“Where you’ll answer for your crimes,” the driver said in a low and menacing voice.

Ximena’s worst fears had come true: the shuttle wasn’t there to rescue her. Instead, it would take her to a tribunal in the middle of the night to be found guilty of the terrible things that had happened in her pod this year. The Doyen had recently conveyed a message from the Galactic Divinus: “One of us is bringing all this suffering upon the many.” It hadn’t taken long for the commune to decide that the galactic spirit only the Doyen could hear was singling out Ximena. People assumed she wanted to destroy Elysium. Why else would she try to contact the other pods, defying the Doyen?

On a lit billboard showing him in profile, gazing upward, someone had written in black graffiti, “Death to the e-Menace!” Ximena cringed at the awful nickname her people had given her.

“Believe me, I’m a good person,” Ximena said, her voice cracking.

“So was the driver of the delivery van,” the woman said. “What happened to him?”

Ximena stared at the apartment buildings outside. She didn’t want to talk, but engaging with her captor could reveal the arguments her prosecutors would soon use against her. “I was standing at the crosswalk when his brakes malfunctioned and he veered into a traffic signal pole. I didn’t do anything to make that happen.”

“But you were the only one there. You’ve been messing with forbidden electronics since you were little. Buying them on the black market, against the Doyen’s ban, trying to build unapproved comms. Easy for you to make a device that messed with the van’s controls.”

“But why would I do that? I liked John. He was a good man.” And she was a good person too. All she ever wanted was to meet the engineers who steered the Brahma through deep space. But reaching out was seen as not trusting the Doyen to represent the Elysium pod as one mind and one heart under his divine leadership.

“And the window washer?” the driver said. “Lakoff?”

“He slipped right outside my window,” Ximena said, “and his safety harness didn’t save him.”

“Easy for you to send a jamming signal to his harness, no?”

“No, of course not.” Ximena said, swallowing hard, her mouth dry.

“And Cyrus the store clerk?” the driver said as the shuttle passed the temple where the Doyen channeled the Divinus, just like his ancestor in San Francisco a hundred years ago.

“He was up on the stepladder to fill a bag with a special blend of oatmeal I like. The earthquake started. He died when his head hit the corner of the display.”

“But you were the only one on that aisle with him. In the only corner the security cameras didn’t capture. Because you messed with them, didn’t you?”

Ximena slumped in her seat, staring at the outskirts of the commune outside her window. “I won’t convince you I’m innocent. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m Yasmine,” the driver said, checking the rearview mirror. “I work for Admin.”

“And for the Doyen, apparently,” Ximena whispered. “And you’re here to take me to the tribunal. Even though I’ve just told you I had nothing to do with those people’s deaths.”

“I’m here to tell you I believe you,” Yasmine said in a changed, warm tone. “You’re no e-Menace to me.” She tapped the controls, and the lights turned on inside the compact shuttle. “I’m really sorry for the harsh interrogation.”

Ximena’s eyes hurt, and she covered them for a moment. Then she looked around.

Yasmine had short black hair and a nice smile, and she held out a bottle of something. “My favorite drink, from our diner. We call it Hazel’s Spatial Glacial.”

Ximena unscrewed the cap and tasted its contents. Cold, flavorful fruit water. As they left the commune grounds, the navigation controls showed a clear road ahead, with no one in pursuit. Maybe everything would be all right after all.

“But three deaths in a row?” Yasmine said, and Ximena’s heart jumped again. “All connected to the same person? Can’t blame them for not believing you. People don’t believe victims of bad luck. It’s easier to assume that the victim caused the problem than to accept that sometimes bad things happen to good people. But I believe you.” She pointed at the dashboard. “I’ve been monitoring your bio signals since you got in: you’ve been telling the truth.”

“So John’s van just happened to veer off?” Ximena said, able to breathe again. After months of accusations, she wondered herself if she’d somehow caused those tragedies without knowing.

“John was tired because his baby had kept him up all night. He fell asleep at the dashboard, and his elbow touched the wrong control.”

“How do you know that?”

“We tapped into the Doyen’s surveillance network. We don’t interfere much, but we like to keep an eye on things.”

“Wait, the Doyen knows I’m innocent?”

“He’ll never let a scapegoat go to waste. This way he’ll blame you for everything else that’s deficient in your pod. And silence any complaining voices.”

That made sense, sadly. “So… Lakoff’s harness?” Ximena said.

“He undid it himself to scratch an itch—”

“And the earthquake?” Ximena said, the proof of her innocence within reach.

Yasmine sighed. “That was the Iowa pod detaching from the Brahma.”

“A pod has left the ship?” Ximena said. “But the Galactic Divinus has guaranteed the integrity of the Brahma until we reach our destination.”

“That’s what the Doyen says,” Yasmine said with a complicit smile. “Do you still believe him?”

“No, not anymore.” Ximena relaxed her shoulders. Her heart stopped hurting in her chest for the first time since she’d started the comms scrambler earlier that evening. Behind the shuttle, the lights of the commune faded away, the dark road clear before them.

“Why all the harsh questions earlier?” Ximena said after a while.

“To make sure you’re really running away from the Doyen and not trying to infiltrate Admin for him.”

Yasmine parked the shuttle in front of a metallic door built into the hillside. Ximena hadn’t even noticed they had arrived there. No light in sight other than the shuttle. The place looked menacing.

“The ship airlock,” Yasmine said before Ximena could panic again. “We need your help.”

“My… help?”

“We’re trying to build a better communicator to get in touch with my partner on the Iowa. The protocol you created to evade the Doyen’s signal jammers is impressive. Your technology could help us circumvent the separatists’ blockers on the lost pod.”

“My silly gadget?”

“Your silly gadget might be the only way I’ll hear Gail’s voice again and tell her how much I miss her.” Yasmine sounded sad. “Like you, she’s a good person who’s had a few bad things happen to her. I used to blame her for that, but you taught me tonight that the obvious explanations are sometimes wrong.”

Ximena didn’t quite follow that part.

“Oh,” Yasmine said, smiling again, “we’ll need a new name for you. No longer the e-Menace, you’ll now be our Comms… Doyen. And what better way to celebrate your freedom than a slice of apple streusel pie at Hazel’s Diner in the company of our best engineers?”

Ximena nodded, exhausted beyond words but ready to see what lay beyond the door sliding open before them.


Roxana Arama is a Romanian American author with a master of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College. She studied computer science in Bucharest, Romania and moved to the United States to work in software development. Her debut thriller, Extreme Vetting, is now available from Ooligan Press (Portland State University). She’s a member of SFWA, the Authors Guild, and Codex Writers’ Group, and her work has been published in several fiction and nonfiction magazines. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family. More at or @RoxanaArama on Twitter.