Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 3: “Nuclear Family” • by Gustavo Bondoni


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



Episode 3: “Nuclear Family” • by Gustavo Bondoni

Aadit was on dispatch at the precinct when a man with shoulder-length blond hair walked up to his desk. He wore a disheveled uniform, but wasn’t cuffed.

“Yo,” the man said. “I need protection. That rocket scientist who brought me in doesn’t seem quite able to comprehend the importance of what I’m telling him. If you have half a brain, you’ll listen, though I doubt it.”

“Are you in custody?” Aadit asked.

“Hello. Earth to genius behind the desk. Your little processes don’t matter. I need protection.”

Aadit sighed. “Just stay where you are.” He’d been trying to reach the Iowa Pod, but he’d had no luck. His shift was nearly over, and he had very little energy left for this kind of thing. And even less for his tiny, empty, habitation module.

“Like that will help me.” The man ignored him. “Can’t you people get it into your heads? They want to blow me up.”

Aadit perked up. Though the separatist situation was supposed to be classified, everyone who could read graffiti knew something was happening, something that would affect their generation ship, the Brahma. Aadit didn’t exactly know what the separatists were capable of, but they apparently had something to do with the departure of the Iowa pod. If someone started talking about explosions, you stopped everything you were doing and acted on it.

Aadit said, “Do you know about their next target?”

“Me. I’m the next target, genius.”

This guy was obviously just an annoying jerk trying to get some attention. Sometimes you got people like this: those who seemed to go through life believing they ought to be the center of the universe and got annoying when the universe ignored them.

Aadit snapped at him. “Separatists don’t go around blowing up random crew members.”

“What separatists? I’m not talking about any separatists, but someone has blown up every one of my direct male-line ancestors. My great-grandfather, he was blown to pieces by the accident in the atomic reactor core on the Manhattan Pod. That one got his wife and all his siblings, too,” the man said. “My grandfather wasn’t there, but he was blasted to smithereens a couple of decades later in an antimatter annihilation experiment in the propulsion lab. Apparently, there was an antimatter version of him waiting at his desk. They say the energy released pushed the Brahma a couple percentage points closer to the speed of light.”

“Those are just accidents­—” Aadit replied, but the man cut him off.

“And my parents—both of them—blew up when I was a kid because they ate exploding anchovies. Guts everywhere.”

“Were these anchovies they randomly got at a dispensary?”

“Someone sent a food package to my parents with them inside.” He chuckled bitterly. “The anchovies gave them gas of the rapidly expanding type.”

Aadit sighed. “Look, what did you say your name was?”

“Olaf Carnudo. My friends call me Boom. They know the story, you see… and though they pretend they don’t believe it, I notice they’re never around when I’m operating heavy machinery or when I need to take an inventory in the weapons bays.”

A couple of keystrokes brought up the guy’s file. He worked for the logistics team, which made sense. Aadit clicked on the link for family information.

His jaw dropped open. It was true. All of it. And there was also a note that Olaf’s great-great-grandfather’s death was classified secret.

Since he had a bit of clearance because of the sensitive nature of his comms work, Aadit opened that link, too. That ancestor had been on a shuttle doing outside scouting of an unidentified object when the vehicle had been lost with all hands. Though the Brahma couldn’t stop to do an investigation, trace data indicated that the shuttle had been nuked.

“So how are you Einsteins going to protect me?” Olaf said. “I have a son, but he’s not a target yet, so you should worry about me. Besides, I haven’t seen him or his mother in ages, so…” he shrugged. “Don’t tell them where I am, okay?”

Aadit was about to say that there was no need, and that the deaths were accidental, but the phrase “exploding anchovies” kept going around in his mind. Also, the incident with the antimatter version of Olaf’s grandfather raised all kinds of questions.

“Follow me,” Aadit said.

He approached Gina Ginny’s door with some trepidation. Ginny, Director of Sensitive Investigations, could be short with mere cops, like everyone from Admin. Her title implied that there were things that the police simply weren’t competent to handle, something Director Ginny believed fervently. The cops retaliated by taking all the really weird cases to her.

Her door was open, so he led Olaf into the sumptuous office.

She looked up. “Don’t tell me. Let me guess…. Smith, right?”

“Aadit, ma’am.”

“Close enough. What have you brought me? And in the name of all the gods, why?” She looked Olaf up and down like he was a communicable disease.

Olaf sneered. “I hope you’re important. I need help from someone important.”

Aadit explained the situation to the director. She checked her files and nodded.

“Good work, Smith,” she said. “These attacks make me think there’s something in this man’s genetic makeup that makes him a target for someone… but only after having a male offspring so the line continues. It can’t be a coincidence.”

Ginny turned back to them. “We’ve been looking for a break concerning a… faction… on the ship, and you may be just what we needed. We’ve got a perfect place to keep you safe. It’s a blast room outside the hull, through airlock 17D. It’s meant to keep explosions—big explosions—from affecting the ship.”

Olaf nodded. “So get me there already.”

The three of them walked down the halls, Gina in the lead, a skittish Olaf in the middle and Aadit, feeling more alert and important than he had in ages, bringing up the rear.

Olaf looked around. “Are we there yet? Why aren’t we there yet?”

He repeated this so often that Aadit wondered if it would be a huge breach of protocol to brain Olaf with a fire extinguisher. He decided against it: with the way this guy’s family worked, it would probably explode.

 Aadit consoled himself with the thought that it could be worse. Minutes earlier, he’d been nothing but an information relay, the human backup to a bunch of automated comm systems. Now, he was in the middle of the separatist investigation.

They reached the airlock leading to the bomb door.

“Hurry up,” Olaf said. “You people must be the slowest protectors in existence. If the people who wanted to blow me up were any good, we’d all be dead a dozen times over.”

They cycled the lock and moved through a narrow flexible tunnel to a thick blast door. Aadit tried not to think of the vacuum on the other side of the thin corridor.

Ginny keyed the code to the thick blast door, which beeped and disappeared into the wall above the frame and led Olaf into the room.

Aadit realized there was a sign posted on the entrance, big red blocks surrounding big black letters. “Shouldn’t we…”

Ginny held up a hand. “Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t apply to Admin directors. You need to stay outside, Smith,” she told Aadit. “You don’t have quite this much clearance.”

She moved aside to close the door, and as she did, the interior of the room was revealed. A table held a large black disc beeping ominously to itself.

“Ma’am, this notice?”

“Do I look like I care?” Ginny said. “This is too important to worry about bureaucratic b—”

Aadit never heard the rest of it because, at that moment, Ginny clicked the button and the blast door slid shut with a loud clang.

He stared at the grey door, rereading the sign stuck there with blue electrician’s tape, the staple of spaceship maintenance all over the galaxy:


He was about to knock his fists against the door to warn them, but he hesitated. Ginny’s temper was legendary.

He raised his hand to knock, and hesitated again.

Then he lost his chance: a deafening boom sounded, the corridor shook, and the door in front of Aadit bulged out like a balloon.

But it held, leaving him deafened and shocked, but alive.

Alive but in possession of a secret the separatists would surely kill for.



Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA.His latest novel is a dark historic fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna (2022). He has also published five science fiction novels, four monster books and a thriller entitled Timeless. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019), Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
His website is at

His most recent appearance in our virtual pages was “Warranty Claim.” Read it now!


Made in DNA said...

LOL. Absolutely crazy. Good stuff.