Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 8: “Just Like Mama Made” • 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, cultists, crazies, and dishonest leadership their ancestors thought they’d left behind…



Episode 8: “Just Like Mama Made” • by Carol Scheina

Delilah felt holes in her life as she switched on the ovens in Hazel’s Diner. Her daughter Silvia’s unexpected death. Her granddaughter Alora’s refusal to speak ever since. The diner’s kitchen had been filled with members of Delilah’s family since the Brahma had left Earth, generations ago. Now, the place felt empty without Silvia.

Alora was already busy chopping vegetables for the soup. Were those tears because of the onions? What if she hugged the girl? Delilah took a step forward. “Alora?”

The girl turned her wet face away, her shoulders raised like a shield.

Delilah wrung her hands. If only there was a recipe to follow, telling her what to say and do.

But work couldn’t wait. Soon, the customers—maintenance workers, cops, admin officials, nurses, and all ranges of workers on the ship—would arrive for breakfast, hoping for a taste of Old Earth. Ignoring the lump in her throat, she headed over to the apples and with practiced ease, peeled long strips of red skin. The kitchen echoed with swish-tink of knives hitting the chopping board, the fans blowing hot oven air, and above it all, Delilah heard the silence of their unspoken words.


The ovens gave off sugary breaths as the apple strudel finished baking. Delilah slipped the dish out and sliced off a small section. A quick blow to cool it off, then a taste, to make sure it was just right. It didn’t taste bad but … it felt like it needed something more. Cinnamon? Sugar?

She always followed the same recipe, exactly like her mama had taught her, going all the way back to the original recipe made for the original Hazel’s Diner, back before Earth was destroyed. Before they were two million people on a 300-kilometer ship somewhere in space.

Delilah remembered Mama’s words from when she was younger: “We gotta keep these recipes alive. Guard the tastes of Old Earth.”

Delilah had folded those words in her heart, like a warm pastry. Yet over the years, a desire to add a little something new to the dish had also started baking away in her mind. She’d wanted to add more garlic, or maybe hold back on the pepper. She wasn’t sure why things tasted different than the way she remembered from way back when. Why?

Just like she still didn’t understand Silvia’s death three months ago. Silvia had been tired for some time, but had gone to the doctor’s too late. They could’ve cured the cancer if it had been found sooner. Delilah could still see Silvia out of the corners of her eyes, flipping burgers at the grill, but when she looked, the spot was empty.

Alora peeled carrots in the corner, her eyes bright and blank. She refused to look up when Delilah asked, “You okay?”

Too many holes in the kitchen. Delilah didn’t know how to patch them.


Delilah liked to take a quick break in the observation room: a dusty, dark square of a room. Few gazed out the octagonal windows, as the outside distortion from the ship’s engines could make you dizzy, but Delilah’s mama liked to sit and watch. She’d said you could pretend the windows overlooked traffic in the city, just like in a real diner.

Young Delilah asked, “What’s traffic?”

“I don’t know, sweetie. It’s something my mama taught me.”

Delilah had taken Silvia here over the years to pretend to watch the “traffic.” Alora, too. Now, the teenager refused to come, but Delilah still visited, hoping to find that peace the place used to provide.

Instead, her mind raced with questions. How to help Alora? The girl had wrapped herself in silence and recipes. Delilah needed the right words to let her know things were okay, but… she was feeling alone too.

She stared out the window.

What was that? There, she saw it again. Usually, the outside was like a soup, everything gone soft and blurry, but streaking lights flashed outside. Like a bright new ingredient in the view.

Was she seeing things? Was her blood sugar low? Delilah decided to cut her break short and head back into the diner, now full of the lunchtime scents of toasted bread and cheese. She grabbed a grilled cheese to munch on. 

It tasted ... different.


With the strange tastes combined with the streaks she’d seen, might be time to visit the doctor. If only Silvia had gotten checked earlier.

“Alora? I’m going to head out after the lunch crowd dies down.”


Dr. Abnerson pressed the health analyzer to Delilah’s tongue. “How’s your stress level?”

Delilah waited for the analyzer to finish whatever it did, the glowing apparatus leaving her tongue dry, as always. She smacked her lips a bit to bring a bit of moisture back, then answered, “Things have been fine.” Except not being able to talk with my granddaughter.

The young doctor shook his head as he looked at the analyzer’s report. “Your taste buds are normal, eyes fine.”

“What about the flashes out the window?”

“You’re … not the only person reporting that.” He closed his mouth, as if he didn’t want to say more. “I suggest you stop visiting the observation deck. It’s really not good for your eyes.” Dr. Abnerson checked off an electronic form. “I’m giving you a clean bill of health, but I’ve got a theory about the food. Some older patients have also mentioned tastes changing. I’ll run some tests on our food produce.”

Though Delilah still didn’t feel right about the doctor’s explanation for those flashes, she nodded. “Thanks, Doctor.”


“Everything okay, Alora?”

The teen seemed to smile a bit at Delilah’s words, then her face grew as hard as stale bread. She turned to her mixing bowl. Looked like she was making red velvet cake, taking care to follow the recipe down to the last measured gram. Delilah had taught her daughter and granddaughter that recipe, years ago. They’d worked side by side back then.

Delilah stepped toward her granddaughter, then changed her mind. Maybe Alora needed space. Better to head out and take orders.

Table five had a newish customer doodling on a napkin. Ximena, that was her name.

“What’ll you have, dear?”

No response.


Delilah glanced at the napkin, which had an octagonal shape with streaky bits inked inside it. “Looks like a ship window.”

Ximena covered the sketch and didn’t reply.

“You seeing any flashes out there?”

The young woman looked around. “It’s … nothing.”

But her face said otherwise. Delilah pressed, “What are they?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have answers, so I don’t really want to talk about it. Just … things are changing.”

Things were changing. Things had changed. That fact felt like a lump of heavy lard in Delilah’s stomach.


In the kitchen, Alora mumbled. “Someone sent a message.”

Delilah checked the tablet. A note from Dr. Abnerson, with a lot of scientific jargon, but as best Delilah could translate, it seems the ingredients in the food they used had genetically changed over time. There was a lot about the ship’s soil nutrients, artificial lighting, and other scientific things that apparently was slowly changing the taste of things.

Alora’s voice sounded from over her shoulder. “That’s from the doctor, right? It’s bad news.”

“No, sweetie, no.”

“You’re going to die next! Everyone’s leaving. Everything’s changing.” Whatever had been bottled up in the teenager exploded out in gasps and tears.

Delilah took a breath and pulled her granddaughter into a hug. It felt oven-warm and just right. She should’ve done this ages ago. “Oh, my darling, the doctor says I’m fine. Really.”

Alora’s body shook.

But things weren’t fine. Things would never be the same. Even the recipes they’d tried so hard to preserve would never be the same, with all those genetic changes. What could she do? How could they move on?

Food. That’s what she knew best. “Alora,” Delilah spoke slowly. “How about we make a new recipe, you and me?

The teen backed up. “But we’ve always made the same things. My mama made these recipes.”

Delilah’s tongue fumbled as she tried to find the right words. “And we’ll keep on making those, but let’s try something new. Play around in the kitchen. Whatever we make, we’ll call it Silvia’s Special. It’ll be just for her. And we’ll teach it to the next generation and the next. So she’ll always be here in the diner.”

The teen’s face warmed with a small smile. “I’d like that, Grandma. … I bet she would’ve liked that too.”

Delilah pulled her granddaughter into her arms once more. Things had changed, but they could adapt. Together. “Maybe we should go down to the observation deck, like we used to with your mom. Look at the traffic.”

And whatever those strange streaks out the windows were …

She couldn’t help but wonder: what was out there?

Delilah hugged Alora tighter.



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

» Support Stupefying Stories • Subscribe | Donate »