AntipodeanSF

Issue 304

By Paul Cesarini

Next StepsHe’ll keep asking. thought Braask, trying to ignore the flashing red light on the holopanel in front of his workstation. He’ll keep asking, and asking, and asking. He won’t stop — not until we’ve all been devoured. The light kept flashing. Braask reached over and switched it off. He can do this on his own. He doesn’t need my help. 

Braask served in the Drunin administrative class of the Matriarchy — the brutal, female-dominated empire that spanned across three galaxies — for most of his professional life. He specialised in logistics, analytics, punctuality, and meekness. He preferred to keep a low profile, figuratively and literally, keeping his head down and his tail mostly tucked between his legs.  

The light flashed on again. He switched it off again, only to have another flashing red light activate next to it. He switched that one off, too. Then, another went on just below it. He immediately switched it off and activated his autoresponder, effectively blocking any male (but no female!) from reaching him through any of the main comms channels. There. he thought, cracking his knuckles. Enough of that. Back to work. He pulled up two more holopanels and flipped through a series of reports.

Just then, a red light blinked on Braask’s comm bracelet. He glanced down, annoyed, tapped a few buttons on it, then pulled up a smaller holopanel from there and switched on that autoresponder. He smiled slightly and got back to the reports. 

Then his comms bracelet started vibrating. With a mix of fear and frustration, Braask yanked off his bracelet and put it on a nearby shelf. It kept vibrating, causing it to move slightly closer to him each time. Braask rolled his eyes, grabbed his bracelet, stuffed it into his left pocket, then got back to work. 

Then a chirping sound came from his right pocket. Braask grimaced, resting his forehead on the smooth metallic wall of the ship. He reached into that pocket and pulled out a small, emergency communication orb the size of a ping pong ball. It pulsed and vibrated an angry red.

Fine. Okay.

He tapped the orb twice then made a swirling motion with his index finger. The orb rose from his hand until it was at eye-level, then it projected a new screen. 

“Hello Gaarth,” said Braask, nervously, his eyes quickly glancing in either direction.

“Why didn’t you answer?” said Gaarth, seemingly genuinely confused.

“Why didn’t I answer? Why?! Because you’re going to get yourself killed, me killed, and all of us killed — that’s why. I won’t let that happen.”

“You don’t even know why I’m calling. For all you know I could be calling just to check-in, to see how your recovery has been since that bout of food poisoning you had last cycle.”

Braask was unimpressed. “Are you calling to ask about my well-being?”

“Well, of course I am. That, and…”

“You need to ask a favour. Another favour!” said Braask, whisper-screaming.

“A small one, yes.”

“They’re always small ones — at first. Why do you keep asking me? You were never like this before your… time away. You were focused on your duties, as you should be. We are the gears that propel the Matriarchy forward. You used to be content knowing that. Now, you’re distracted all the time. You barely meet your key performance metrics. You reroute resources from entrail production and distribution to Fek knows what, and you ask the rest of the Drunin class to cover for you. You were the one who earned promotion to Abletto Drunin — the first male to reach this status in at least eight spawning cycles. Now, you’re throwing it all away for… what, exactly?”

“Freedom.”

“Freedom?! There is no such thing. We serve the Matriachy — as all males do — at the pleasure of the females who rule it. Even the smallest one of them is stronger, faster, deadlier, and infinitely more terrifying than the largest one of us. Why, Balrek Na Goreth, the Abominably Large Destroyer of Gith Prime, just spaced poor Duurk right before the end of his shift — all due to her not understanding his sector report. His recommendations were sound but she’s barely literate! Should he have died because of her questionable intellect?! We stand zero chance — zero — at changing our situation. Best to focus on what we can change: production quotas, supply chain. You make the best pivot tables any of us have ever seen — why can’t that be enough?”

“Braask, my friend and colleague. I am doing this for all of us, believe me. A very wise male once told me that in order for the rest of the galaxy to breathe, the Matriachy needs to start failing, and soon. We are uniquely suited to engineer that failure. We can contaminate entrail shipments to High Council. We can reroute shipping lanes to have cruisers slam into each other at sub-drift speed. We can send entire phalanxes so deep into the Outer Rim it would take them generations to return. We can do all this without anyone even realising it was us until it was too late to stop it. We just need the courage to do so.”

“Courage? Are you seriously asking me to be courageous?! I am competent. I am meticulous. I am professional. I am not courageous.”

“Yes, well. You will need to be, very soon.”

“What?! How soon?”

“Well, kind of now-ish, really. Do you see the indicator for the third turbovator?”

Braask quickly pulled up another holoscreen, flipped through until he reached a schematic of the surrounding decks, then paused as a red dot on the screen slowly ticked upward toward his location. He could feel himself tensing up. 

“What… is coming up the turbovator?”

“Three guards, all Blood Honor Calling, Level 2.”

“W-why?!”

“Braask, it’s now or never, old chum. Or rather, it’s now or be devoured.”

“But, I… I…” Braask said, in full-blown panic, looking with dread toward the end of the hallway. Then, he thought about all the other Drunins in his group. If Gaarth was caught, they would all die horribly. None of them deserved that fate, except maybe that fool Duuth. And Jaaner. But even they weren’t that bad really.

“Braask! Focus!”

“W-what do you need me to do?”

“Replace the duty rosters on levels 3-6 from the last cycle with the ones I’m sending you now. Deactivate the aft security sensors until the end of your shift and replace the missing footage with a looped holo from our sister ship in the third Phalanx. Switch all drift engines into a timed maintenance mode.”

“Are you kidding?! That will take time — time I don’t have!”

“Hold on,” Gaarth said, checking something on his communicator bracelet. “There. I’ve just made sure their turbovator stops at every level and opens and closes the doors on the way to your location. That should buy you a few units.”

“Um, okay. I think I can…”

“And Braask?”

“Y-yes?”

“When those guards come, they’ll be looking for me, not you. Act busy. Seem annoyed, like you can’t be bothered right now. Tell them nothing. Once the engines go into maintenance mode, the whole ship will slip out of drift. We’ll all feel it as the hum from the engines stop. Those guards will be called back immediately. Braask, you are the bravest, most competent administrator I have ever served with. It’s been an honour working alongside you all these cycles, my friend.”

“I — I understand. Goodbye, Gaarth.”

At that, the holoscreen winked off and the communication orb powered down and dropped to the floor. Braask swatted it out of sight with his tail, then raced against the stalled turbovator to complete each of the tasks Gaarth gave him. Right as he finished, he heard the chime from the turbovator and saw the doors slide open. He could see the silhouettes of the guards. He tried not to look as they marched down the hallway toward him.

The bravest person he knows? He thought. 

Me? 

Brave?

Brave.

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

Paul Cesarini 300Dr. Paul Cesarini is a Professor & Dean at Loyola University New Orleans.

He has been published in numerous peer-reviewed venues over the years.

He is a big fan of Asimov, Le Guine, Adams, Vonnegut, Ellison, Moseley, and Heinlein. 

He is not a fan of wax beans.  Beans are supposed to be green, not yellow.

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